The Hindu: Not so pretty, mate

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YOUNG WORLD

Not so PRETTY, mate

         AREFA TEHSIN
Commons

You may think they look “ugly”. But ask them, and they’ll tell you who really fits the bill.

In the sub-Saharan Africa, there is a wild member of the pig family called warthog, which would make its domestic cousins look rather glamorous in comparison. If you think it looks naked, see closer and you’ll notice bristly hair on its wrinkly skin. They have four sharp tusks, a crest of hair on their backs and shovel shaped heads covered with warts, which are not warts at all but protective, fleshy pads. We have named them after their warts. How considerate!

We discussed some of the animals we think as the great uglies in the first part of this article, that appeared last month. Here are some more. Maybe after this we should have an article on what these animals would name us according to our looks or reputation. (Pimply Prema, Nerdy Nargis, Ratty Rijjo, Bittu Buck-teeth. Nah… Bittu Bad-breath, more likely.)

Sea Hare

ature’s uglies: Sea hare. Photo: Creative Commons/Scott A-P Muzlie   | Photo Credit: Creative Commons/Scott A-P Muzli

The two long growths on its head would have looked like rabbit-ears to the ancient Romans and they named this sea slug ‘sea hare’. Never mind that they are actually not ears but a nose. The largest species of sea hares can weigh up to 14 kg! When disturbed, they can release an ink to deter the predator. The slug with frills is a hermaphrodite — both a male and a female at the same time. When pregnant, it lays long noodle shaped strands with millions of eggs. Isn’t that egg-citing!

Vampire Bat

With their dark leathery cloaks, fang-like teeth, wrinkled noses and their appetite for blood, these bats are one of most feared animals of South America. Hundreds of them live together in dark caves and abandoned building and come out at night in search of unsuspecting victims. Their heat sensing noses lead them to warm blood. Making a cut with their razor sharp teeth, they lap the blood of animals like cattle and horses. Don’t find the vampire handsome? It won’t bat an eyelid.

Naked Mole Rat

Pinkish yellow skin wrinkled like a baked apple, giant incisors, spindly limbs and tiny eyes make them radically ugly to most of us. But these subterranean rodents who live in colonies under a queen are super animals. They do not get cancer, don’t feel pain and live much longer than animals their size. And to top that, a recent study shows that they can “turn into plants” to survive without oxygen! In the experiment, they survived for 18 minutes. They alter their metabolism so their cells sustain on fructose instead of glucose.

We tend to preserve only the creatures we find good looking and cute, like pandas and tigers, and do not care about those we find repulsive. In 2013, blobfish, a blob of a fish with a permanent miserable frown on its face, was voted the world’s ugliest animal. It has much to be miserable about as it is facing extinction due to over-fishing by humans. Now, who’s the ugly one?

The writer is a columnist, author of fiction and non-fiction books, and Ex-Hon. Wildlife Warden, Udaipur.

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The Hindu: Ugly, Am I? Part I

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Ugly, Am I? Part I

 
 
 
 
 
If they are neither cute nor cuddly you wrinkle up your nose in disgust. But, these animals think well of themselves and don’t give a hoot about our opinions. 

 

We drool over the tall, dark and handsome, or the slanting doe eyes or the rose-petal lips. And the majestic mane of the lion king, the emerald blues and greens of the proud peacock, the fins of a goldfish forming liquid golden clouds… What about a pendulous nose like that of the Proboscis Monkey, or a smile with zigzagged teeth like that of a croc, or a nose tipping with fleshy rays like that of the star-nosed mole? Don’t tell me only a mother could love that.

Aye Aye

“Nay nay,” this primate will say. “Who are you calling ugly, dude?” Found only on the island of Madagascar, these rare dark brown mammals of the night have big eyes and ears, long bushy tails and rodent-like front teeth that keep growing their entire lives. They spend their days on trees sleeping curled up like a ball in their leafy nests and seldom descend on land. They have pointed claws on their long fingers and toes. It’s not just their gremlin look that makes them freakishly ugly to us, it’s their skeletal long middle finger.

At night, they tap-tap on the tree trunks with their long finger, hear the echo with their sensitive ears, tear away the bark with their large teeth to reach the insect tunnel and use their long finger as a grub dip-stick. It comes in handy to pry for insect larvae and grub…I mean grab a bite. People believe they are harbingers of bad luck. If they point their long witchy finger at you, you’ll die. People often kill them at sight and hang them upside down. Now if that isn’t ugly (and supremely idiotic), then what is?

Shaggy Frogfish

You may call it shaggy and unkempt due to its round, hairy appearance, but count your stars it can’t hear you and doesn’t stay on land. Shaggy Frogfish is a deadly predator of the seas who can swallow a prey almost as big as its own size, opening its mouth as wide! It doesn’t like company except when it goes out on a date. If the lady chooses to hang around a little after the date, the gent might get cross and have her for dinner. These fish, which are around 20 cm long, are masters of disguise. They can change their colour and use their dorsal spine as a fishing lure. Even if their fin is eaten by an unsuspecting prey, they regenerate another one. Simple. But the prey is unlikely to grow another head before next Christmas.

Panda Ant or Cow Killer
  • This black and white furry ant, which is actually a wasp, looks like a giant panda. Well, only in looks, not size. It is a kind of velvet ant that prefers to live alone and has an arsenal of defenses like hard slippery shell and legendarily painful sting. It has earned them the name ‘cow killers’, though their stings are far from that potent. Holy cow! Let not the gau rakshaks hear about this one! And it is South American, that too!
  • We’ll check out a few more weird creatures in the second part of this article. Hadn’t someone said that it’s weird not to be weird? We all are differently weird with our own preferences of food, friends, clothes… Maybe striped pajamas make you feel like a convict. But zebras wear stripes of every stripe. Maybe you hate flies over your food. But Kremlin the frog says, “Time’s fun when you’re having flies.” See?

The writer is a columnist, author of fiction and non-fictions books and Ex-Hon. Wildlife Warden, Udaipur

The Hindu: Sleep Deep

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Deep SLEEP

HANG OUT: Time to rest.   | Photo Credit: MAIL PIC

Check out these animals as they grab a shut eye. Not all of them need a bed!

“O bed! O bed! delicious bed! That heaven upon earth to the weary head.”

Thomas Hood rhymed in his cautionary tale of Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg. While she wanted a precious golden leg, we all want our precious golden slumbers. One can live without love, but sleep? Nah… What is life without those forty winks, the short naps, the afternoon siestas, the long deep night sleep and, well, those open dripping-mouthed snoozes. Ah…such comfort. In the first part of this article, we spoke about the REM (rapid eye movement or deep-wave sleep) and non-REM sleep; how humans need to have both while some animals don’t.

You would have seen mammals and birds sleep. Insects, fishes and reptiles too need their brains to rest in some or the other form. The little kankhajura would even risk falling prey to a hungry vagabond crow while he dreams of the multi-legged beauty who preferred to hang out with the Centi-the-senti-pede instead.

A few more snoozing secrets

Saddle up

Horses get most of their sleep while standing. They have a mechanism called “stay apparatus” where their ligaments and tendons allow them to remain upright with ease, even while sleeping. They do occasionally lie down to get REM sleep, but only for short periods. As they are standing, they can just bolt away if a predator attacks, even if they are asleep. No wonder, our wars have been fought and won on horses.

Don’t bat an eyelid 

Standing up and sleeping is fine, but can you beat sleeping upside down? Bats are masters at that. Unlike birds, they can’t take off in flight. They have to fall in it. This is because their wings are not strong enough to alight in flight and their hind legs not sturdy enough to bear their weight in an upright position. The special tendons on their feet let them hand effortlessly while they sleep. They are so effective that even a dead bat can continue to hang!

Power naps 

A study on fire ants showed that they take up to 250 naps a day! Each lasting around a minute. But those are the workers. The queen, of course, takes lazy long naps. The research suggested that queens dream while sleeping and move their antennas while they dream. RAM instead of REM, get it? Rapid Antenna Movement instead of Rapid Eye Movement. They live almost 10 times longer than the worker ants do. And they ask me why I’d like to be a queen!

The animal world is full of sleeping wonders: Our hairy cousins — the great apes like orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos — make mattresses to sleep on. Sea otters occasionally wrap themselves up in seaweed, float on their backs and at times hold each other’s paws so that they don’t drift away while sleeping.

While elephants can do with three hour sleep a day, an edible dormice can sleep for nearly a year! You may like to hibernate like dormice but I am more like a giraffe who sleeps for five minutes at a time, on an average 30 minutes a day. As the quote collector, Terri Guillements says, “I’ve had such bad insomnia the sleep cops have issued a warrant for my rest.”

The writer is an author of fiction and non-fiction books and Ex-Hon. Wildlife Warden, Udaipur

The Hindu: Hit that Snooze Button!

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CHILDREN

Hit that SNOOZE button!

The Hindu: More Terrors of the Deep

More terrors of the DEEP

Arefa Tehsin

25_yt_anglerfish

The ocean depths hold secrets and horrors that can send a shiver down your back. Last month, we mentioned a few and now here are some more.

You must have heard of the Komodo Dragon. I’ve seen one in a zoo and it is a stud! Ask a water creature how terrifying it finds a Komodo Dragon to be and it’ll huff and say, “Hah! It’s nothing but an upmarket lizard!” Most land creatures we find petrifying will make water creatures giggle. In the first part of this article, we spoke about a few terrors of the deep. Let’s take a peek at a few more here.

Goliath tigerfish

The locals who live around the Congo River Basin believe that the evil spirit mbenga enters the river and attacks people. Their imagination is not too far fetched. The monstrous Goliath Tigerfish, that sports 32 razor sharp, dagger-like teeth, and which can grow up to five ft and 70 kgs lives up to its moniker. This fish can attack and tear up small crocodiles and is a formidable killing machine. It is supposed to be one of the hardest game fishes for anglers on planet Earth. Match that.

Gulper Eel

With the body of a snake and massive jaws, the gulper eel is one of the most bizarre looking fishes of the deep. It is also known as the pelican eel and can swallow prey much larger than its size through its pelican-like big mouth. We haven’t been able to study much of its habits as it lives in the great, dark depths of the seas. It doesn’t have man-eating livers, but this sea-serpent-meets-Jaws is enough to give one nightmares.

Goblin Shark

This slow swimming shark, also known as a “living fossil” has a super fast jaw mechanism. Its long snout hides its needle sharp teeth and a jaw that can be thrust forward at a speed three meters per second in a dramatic, heart stopping motion! Once it has caught its yummy morsel of fish, it fits its protruding jaw back under its flat snout. This rare deep-sea creature with a lineage of 125 million years is one jaw dropping fish!

Anglerfish

Enjoying life? Bah! Anglerfish has reasons to be cross. It lives in the dark, unfriendly depths of the ocean and beats the most hideous of creatures with its looks. A few of the 200+ kinds of anglerfish live in shallow waters too. Its crescent shaped mouth bear fang-like teeth. It is called an angler because the ladies carry a ‘fishing rod’ like appendage with a luminescent fleshy tip to lure the prey. Wouldn’t you be attracted to light in the fathomless dark? The lady anglerfish’s witchy looks hold unending fascination for the much smaller gent. Latching himself to the body of the lady with his teeth, he slowly dissolves — all of his body but his testes. Now that’s taking “two-bodies, one soul” to another level! A female carries four to five males on her body.

There are enough and more absurd beasts of water that humans know of, and many, many more that still remain to be discovered from the endless depths. They can scare even the brave-hearts out of their skins, not to mention those of us who find even the pimples on our cheeks terrifying.

The writer is an author of fiction and non-fiction books and Ex-Hon. Wildlife Warden, Udaipur