Friday’s Featured Organism: Somniosus microcephalus

Somniosus microcephalus

That's one creepy-ass shark.

Still snowy as hell, so here’s Somniosus microcephalus, the Greenland Shark, a huge (6 meters long) motherfucker typical of cold, northern sea waters. This creepy fuck has poisonous flesh that has neurotoxic effects on man and other animals, and thus can’t be used as food unless properly prepared. Wikipedia just informed me that the copepod Ommatokoita elongata permanently colonizes the shark’s eyes (as you can see in the photo), eating the corneal tissue, but apparently the crazy mofo doesn’t give a flip because it doesn’t rely on keen eyesight for survival – and looking at this photo it’s not really that hard to believe.

Saturday’s Featured Organism: Ficus watkinsiana

Ficus watkinsiana

This plant adds a whole new meaning to the term "tree-hugger".

Not a single update this week, and I even post the Friday’s Featured Organism a day later. Yes, I suck. Anyway, here’s Ficus watkinsiana, one of the strangler figs, plants that have always been in my top “most awesome plants” list. Their seeds arrive (thanks to birds) on the top of the enormous trees of tropical rainforests, and they germinate there as an epiphyte that kind of looks like a liana. It slowly grows upwards to reach light (in rainforest, it’s a precious resource for which plants engage ferocious slowmo battles) and downwards to reach the ground and grow roots in it, envelopping and “strangling” the host tree with its branches in the process. If the host die and decompose, only the strangler fig will remain, as an hollow column of branches.

Friday’s Featured Organism: Colpocephalum californici

Colpocephalum californici

It's the one on the left, guys.

Parasites aren’t really widely appreciated, and they can be annoying or even dangerous to people and environment. Most of the times, however, they’re just part of a balanced ecosystem, and they fill an important role of population control and selective pressure on many species. Also, they’re living organisms, like all the other species: why, from a conservation point of view, a tiger that brutally kills animal to survive deserves appreciation and protection, and a louse that sucks a little blood to survive can die out and nobody cares? The California Condor, Gymnogyps californianus, was saved from extinction thanks to captive breeding and reintroduction but its louse, Colpocephalum californici, was lost forever. Think about it, folks.

Friday’s Featured Organism: Hippobosca equina

The little fucker.

by Francesco Lami

This one will be longer than usual.

You know, unlike some people who say to like animals when they only like dogs, horses, cats and pets in general, when I say that I like animals, I mean it. Blue whale or jellyfish, whip scorpion or gastrotrich, they’re all fascinating and beautiful in their own way. Hell, I find fascinating and important even animals that are fucking annoying like mosquitoes or even plain dangerous like parasite nematodes. But if there’s something that I find very hard to like even a little bit, although it DOES have remarkable capabilities, that’s Hippobosca equina.

To Hippobosca equina, I say “Fuck you”.

The common english name for this critter is “forest fly”, and in fact the times I’ve encountered it I was in the woods. I didn’t know exactly what it was at the time: it was certainly a Diptera, and I suspected it was some kind of bloodsucker since it always returned stubbornly to bug me, no matter how hard I tried to drive it away. I discovered the family Hippoboscidae (louse flies) by chance navigating the internet, and it was clear that the mysterious fly was part of it, with its flattened body, long legs and that goddamn bloodsucking stylet. Discovering the exact species was easy because it turned out it was very common here in Italy. I read at Biodiversity in Focus that the reason they are flattened and have many setae on the thorax and the abdomen might be to hold on the feathers (and hair in this case, I guess) of their victims – seems a pretty good explanation to me, and the long, robust legs have probably the same function. I’ve never even been bitten by one of this animals, and they’re much less common than mosquitoes and other bloodsuckers, so why do I hate them so much? Because their ecological speciality is drive you insane. As I’ve already mentioned, they’re extremely stubborn; they take a hold on your skin and even if you force them away with your hand they come back in the exact same spot in less than half a second, like a goddamn living jet-powered boomerang. And that’s not the worst part – they’re indestructible. You simply can’t kill ’em because their exoskeleton is too fucking resilient. I tried with my bare hands, with a book, I even trapped one under a tissue and repeatedly smashed it with an heavy stone, but H. equina wasn’t even stunned, and continued to try to bite me. Mosquitoes and other insects have evolved not to be noticed while they bite you, and so they often succeed leaving you with unpleasant souvenirs; the forest fly just don’t give a fuck: it’s extremely easy to spot it and feel it on your skin, but it counts on the fact that it’s so relentless that you will soon be too tired to continue to resist it (and let’s not forget its near-immortality); and, since its favourite victims are horses and other animals that don’t have hands to continuously defend themselves, it surely works well.