Our Strange World

A Fish Out of Water

We’ve all heard that old saying, “A fish out of water”. Unusually meant to describe something that makes you feel uncomfortable, completely out of your environment, etc. Though it was previously believed that fish had evolved to survive, at least briefly, on land once or twice it is know believed, thanks to a new study, that they can survive dozens of times.


Though the transition between water and land is extreme, it is not necessarily difficult. Well, what does this mean?

Well, it means something else prevent fish from becoming full-time, land-swelling creatures. The authors of the study, published in Evolution in August, ask a fundamental question: “How do species establish themselves in new environments?”

It can be gathered that most species fail to establish themselves in new environments…most of the time. For fish, there are many hurdles to overcome such as breathing, moving, and metabolizing. All of these things, and even more bodily functions, have to be modified in a way that accepts radically increased gravity and seriously decreased wetness.

Authors of the study, Terry Ord and Georgina Cooke of the University of New South Wales, had a few theories, as summarized below.

  • Fish that live in the intertidal zone would be more likely to have contact with land and away from their water due to their twice-daily transformation of the tides. Similarly, fish that live in ponds, puddles, or creeks that shrink and grow face a similar challenge.
  • Fish that live in water that is prone to heating up are known to lave it because warmer water means less oxygen, which leads to suffocating. In these cases, air/land provide some relief.
  • Fish that live on the bottom of their body of water also seem like better candidates for land-dwelling due to the fact that they have certain adaptations that make them more suited to the ground, such as flattened bodies that make walking easier and fins that are limb-like.
  • Since getting around on land is difficult for any fish, it might be easier for those whose diets don’t depend on seeking out mobile prey.

Based on these, they began a deep dive of all fish species that fit the above parameters. They found amphibious behavior in about 130 fish, from 33 different families that reach the oldest and youngest branches of the fish family tree. Many of these 33 families have a great evolutionary chance to transition from water to land.

But let’s get back to the question at hand – why have so few fish pioneered into the terrestrial world, because breathing, walking, and reproducing do not seem to pose huge barriers.

The authors theorize that, at the root of the issue, is staying wet. Fish drying out is the real challenge, especially the desiccation gills. Gills must remain moist in order for a fish to breathe, and without that guaranteed moisture…they’re doomed.


The above picture comes from Flickr user Alan Levine and is licensed under creative commons.

The Great Kentucky Meat Shower

You read that title correctly, this is not a drill. Over 100 years ago, on March 3rd 1876, large hunks of flesh began falling from the sky over Olympia Springs, KY. Allen Crouch and his wife, both witnesses to this occurrence, shared their expereince in a New York Times article published the following week. Crouch said, "The meat, which looked like beef, fell all around her [his wife]. The sky was perfectly clear at the time, and she said it [the meat] fell like large snowflakes.

Most of the meat chunks were about 5x5 cm, and began spoiling around the town the next morning. Two unidentified men turned up to the strange event on March 4th and tasted the meat-rain. They declared it tasted like venison or mutton.

But where did this mystery meat come from?

The first theory burst forth about three months later, when someone called Leopold Brandeis, who had been sent samples in glycerine, announced the meat was not meat. He claimed it was "no more or less than nostoc".

Okay, so what the hell is nostoc? Well, it's a type of cyanobacterial that forms colonies that are protected by a gelatinous envelope. It is well known for swelling up into jelly-like masses whenever it rains. It has garnered colorful nicknames like star jelly and witches' butter throughout the years.

Notice anything wrong with this statement? "Whenever it rains"...but eye witness reports confirmed it was a perfectly clear night. And, with that, the first logical theory was dismissed.

Another histologist, Dr. JWS Arnold, studied the specimens and concluded that they consisted of animal cartilage and lung tissue.

Dr. L.D Kastebine followed up with Dr. Arnold by writing in an 1876 edition of the Louisville Medical News in which he surmised the strange meaty substance to be...projectile vulture vomit.


The above picture is unrelated to the story and comes from Flickr user Marius Boatca it is licensed under Creative Commons.


There's a Bird that Thinks it's a Chainsaw

As we know from TV, movies, and the news, Australia is home to many strange creatures. But more than creepy crawlies, Australia is also home to a wide array of birds. The Superb Lyrebird is one of the greatest representatives of Australia's amazing animals. link

Scientifically known as 'Menura novaehollandiae' the Superb Lyrebird is one of the largest of the Passerines. The Passerines are a group of birds that comprises over 50% of all known bird species. The Passerines are commonly known as perching birds and, mistakenly, song birds.

Visually, the Superb Lyrebird looks like a cross between a pheasant and a peacock, due to their size and the fact that the males have an impressive plume. But it isn't any old plumage, in fact, it is two diftinct kinds of plumage: lace-like feathers and two outer-feathers that are curled, and resemble a greek lyre. But their plumage isn't the only impressive thing about them, their amazing ability to mimic sounds also makes them a notable species.

As young chicks, lyrebirds mainly imitate their parents’ vocalizations but as they continue to mature, their repertoire of sounds increases as they experience a broader environment. Their ability to mimic plays an important role in their ability to find a mate. During their mating season (June-August) males showcase their collection of sounds to put on a wonderful show for the females. His ability to mimic is parallel to his level of fitness, one of the main factors in finding a suitable mate.

So how does the bird sound like a chainsaw? Well,as tourism, humans, and construction begins to invade many of the the Superb Lyrebirds habitats their talents for mimicking have grown. Not only that, but the Lyrebirds have actually grown to include manufactured sounds they pick up into their mating rituals!

Sound a little nuts? Check out this video to hear it for yourself!

This picture is from Flickr User Dave Hosford and is licensed under Creative Commons.


Why is the Deepest, Darkest Place on Earth so Noisy?

Scientists from NOAA have recently released audio recordings taken from the Mariana Trench, the very deepest part of the ocean. Strangely enough, sounds from humans, animals, and the earth itself can be heard echoing in its dark depths. link

Researchers sunk a hydrophone 36,000 feet into the Challenge Deep in the Mariana Trench in an effort to establish some baseline for oceanic noise. They were, logically, expecting to capture nothing more than silence - given the remoteness of the trench and its depths.

Much to their surprise, over the course of several weeks, they were able to capture whale calls, ship propellers, earthquakes, and the sound of a category four typhoon passing above.

How is this possible?

Well, sound waves travel around 5x faster through water than through air. In addition to the speed, they also have to deal with fewer disturbances and obstacles, which helps them travel further distances.

One of the main reasons NOAA conducted this 23 day study was due to the prevalence of noise pollution. Human generated noise pollution, like ship propellers, have been often linked to disruptions in marine life behavior. At close to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, researchers thought they would be too far away from these disturbances to hear a thing.

There is a return investigation planned for 2017 to see if noise levels have increased.


This picture was taken by AvocadoGirlfriend and is licensed under Creative Commons.

Would you still eat if you had to rip open your mouth every time?

Having to completely rip your once sealed mouth every time you want to enjoy a taco seems like a lot of work. But, that's exactly how the hydra consumes most of its meals. The hydra is a small freshwater creature that has to tear its mouth, a sealed (and re-sealing) piece of skin, each time it wants to eat. link

The hydra lack bones, measure less than half an inch, and live underwater. They typically exist attached to an underwater plant stem. Their tubular bodies, which end in tentacles and stingers, are the perfect bio-weapon for spearing microscopic crustaceans and corepods. Eva-Maria Collins, a cell biologist and physicist that led the study comments, "We were really struck by the fact that it can open its mouth wider than its body...nobody actually knows how it achieves this feat".

Through some serious microscope sleuthing, the team realized that the cells are not actually moving relative to each other when it opens its mouth. Instead, each cell keeps its neighbor and both stretch together. The stretching is allowed by the muscle-like cells in the mouth's outer later. The process, they say, is similar to how muscles in the iris of a human eye contract to widen the pupil. Additionally when the researchers decided to add a muscle relaxant to the hydras, they couldn't open their mouths at all!

Biophysicists have jus recently filmed these hydras and their eating process as a hope to finding more clues about tissue regeneration.

This photo is licensed under Wikimedia Commons and Public Domain.

The Ways of the Waterbear

Link At Astonishing Legends, we’re a little more than obsessed with Tardigrades (also known as waterbears). If you’ve ever been to our front page, you’ve probably noticed it. But, now, there’s big news about these little creatures.

For those not yet indoctrinated in the ways of the waterbear, here’s a quick catch-up. They are microscopic animals first discovered in 1773. They have eight legs and are, roughly, 1mm long. Their phylum name “Tardigrada” means “slow stepper”. They populate all the craziest places on earth, from mountaintops to the deepest depths on the ocean.

Now researchers have successfully revived these micro-animals that were kept frozen for over thirty years.

The researchers are Scientists from Japan’s National Institute of Polar Research. They originally gathered the creatures from a moss sample in 1983. The tardigrades have been stored at -4 Fahrenheit ever since. A previous study conducted brought them out of freezing conditions after only 8 years, and it was believed the upper length of survival would be about 10 years.

Two waterbears were resuscitated and, though one died after twenty days, the other reproduced with a third specimen hatched from a frozen egg. It then laid 19 eggs, with 14 successful hatches. So, not only have they revived animals that were frozen for 30+ years…they actually got them to reproduce with relative success.

So, how did they survive? Well, they enter a state called “cryptobiosis” in which their metabolic processes systematically shut down and they show no visible signs of life.

The National Institute of Polar Research is now pursuing this research on the creatures’ genes and its spectacular recovery ability to gain a better understanding of its enviable long-term survival mechanism.


This picture was taken by Bob Goldstein and Vicky Madden, UNC Chapel Hill. it is licensed under Creative Commons. You can find more of their work and pictures of tardigrades here.