Earth's Top 10 Weirdest Animals, Part 1

Our beautiful Blue Planet is home to a staggering variety of life that ranges from the simplest, single-celled amoeba to the most complex and advanced mammals. We interact with a variety of these species on a daily basis, whether its swatting away an annoying fly, taking your dog for a run or giving your husband a pat on the back for being civil to your mom, even when she chews him out for not being Brad Pitt.

Then of course there are those species we only get to see on the odd occasion – perhaps at the zoo, on safari or even in your own backyard if you’re lucky (or unlucky depending on your worldview). Bears, raccoons, porcupines, deer, wild cats, monkeys… the world is full of places where human and beast regularly brush shoulders with each other. Unfortunately, it’s rarely for the good of the beast or for your neighborhood’s aesthetics.

However, this blog isn’t about any of these critters. This blog is about the truly exceptional and outlandish; the animals you’ve probably NEVER heard of and that make you “ooh,” “aah” and “UGH, what IS that?” And so I present to you: Earth’s 10 weirdest animals according to me and my life experiences, environmental exposure and current opinion on what is normal and what isn’t, which is dodgy to say the very least.

Capybara

Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris
Capybara funny picture
 If you like your hamsters supersized, here’s a great pet for you! Capybaras are the largest rodents on the planet and are not only coveted by South American tribes for their meat and fat, but also by slightly more civilized folk for their company. That’s right: it’s not unusual to find families with a pet capybara taking up the majority of the TV room couch. These gargantuan rodents may wear a perpetual expression on their hairy faces that could only be described as morose or philosophical at best, but capybaras are chipper creatures that enjoy recreational swimming, hanging out with friends and lumbering about sniffing out jungle floor delicacies.

Close Relatives Include: Rock cavies and guinea pigs

Physical Address: South America

It’s On This List Because: Capybaras are the largest rodents on the planet and they look like giant hamsters.

Pet capybara on couch
Image Source: http://www.deathandtaxesmag.com

Amazon River Dolphin

Inia geoffrensis

What’s pink, wet and slippery?

The Amazon River dolphin, of course! And you thought I was being rude.

Pink amazon river dolphin
Image Source: http://www.maxisciences.com

This particular species of odontoceti or “toothed whale” is also aptly known as the pink river dolphin for its rather strange color, which is (can you believe it) PINK! They’re also the largest river dolphins and are as unfussy about what they put in their mouths as a broke hooker. The Amazon River dolphin’s diet includes more than 50 different kinds of fish and, if they happen to come across them, crabs and turtles, too. Unfortunately, these dolphins don’t do very well in captivity, which makes breeding and conservation programs a tad tricky.

Close Relatives Include: Flipper, the dolphin.

Physical Address: The Amazon and Orincoc basins, as well as Bolivia’s upper Madeira River.

It’s On This List Because: It’s a PINK dolphin, for crying out loud!

Star-Nosed Mole

Condylura cristata

Star-nosed mole
If you can look at this picture without feeling like you’ve been touched by your uncle, I commend you.

With 22 fleshy tentacles offensively wiggling about at the end of its nose, this astounding critter would be the envy of any self-respecting octopus. Well, it’s the star-nosed mole and it uses its rather grotesque schnozz to sense out the unfortunate invertebrates that make up its diet. This “touch organ” is rather extraordinary, not only in appearance: it houses a staggering 25,000 sensory receptors, which enable the mole to negotiate its way around and detect food.

Physical Address: The wet lowlands of the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada.

It’s On This List Because: It’s got a nose that makes me want to wear a chastity belt and cross my legs.

Blob Fish

Psychrolutes marcidus

Ugliest animal blob fish
Image Source: http://www.lbc.co.uk

I’m pretty sure the blob fish was the inspiration behind the classic horror film “The Blob” and for obvious reason. Although, instead of looking disgustingly malignant, the blob fish looks more like a cartoon rendition of a pasty, overweight, middle-aged guy called Steve. From the front, it doesn’t even look like a fish! Actually, these deep-sea fish are fish, but unlike the fin-and-flipper variety we’re used to, blob fish are jelly-like masses whose buoyancy (and the fact that they’re slightly less dense than water) allows them to drift just above the deep ocean floors they forage off of. With a lack of sophisticated hunting machinery, the blob fish will simply eat anything remotely edible that happens to float past its maw.

Close Relatives Include: Eyeless cave fish

Physical Address: Deep ocean off the coast of New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania.

It’s On This List Because: It’s a gelatinous beast that thrives at an ocean depth where the ambient pressure is as much as 120 times that of sea level! Also, it’s the official mascot of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society and 2013 winner of the world’s most hideous critter!

Komondor Dog

Komondor-Dog
Image Source: http://www.odditycentral.com

If Bob Marley were reincarnated as a dog, THIS would be it. The Komondor is a type of sheepdog that, given its vocation as a shepherd, is obviously struggling with some serious identity issues. I mean, can you imagine how many times this poor dog has had to politely turn down the amorous advances of unsuspecting male sheep? This be-dreaded pooch naturally grows these long matted locks, but don’t be too hasty to make fun of it. The Komondor is a proud breed of Hungarian sheepdog and a powerhouse of discipline and service, accounts of which date as far back as 1544.

Physical Address: The Komondor is believed to have been introduced by the Cuman warrior tribe to Hungary. Today, it’s not a breed often seen in your neighborhood dog park, but it can probably be found on all continents with the obvious exception of Antarctica. Because no domesticated dogs live there.

It’s On This List Because: It’s a sheep dog that looks like a sheep and could probably double up as a Swiffer or a floor mop.

Having Fun So Far?

 Good, but you should really get some work done and so should I, so stay tuned for Part 2 on Monday 21st December to read about more creepy, exotic, strange, otherworldly and outlandish creatures!

The 6 Most Awesome Rock Minerals (For Various Reasons), PART 1

Blue stone lapis lazuli macro

Geology is just one of the many scientific disciplines that have fascinated me over the years. As a teenager, I became fanatical about collecting rocks, rock minerals, crystals and fossils, every specimen of which I arranged fastidiously along the wall shelf that overlooked my desk (see photo below). I am proud to say that this extensive collection has been lovingly preserved in its original arrangement by my mother, starting with translucent colourless quartzite crystals, ranging right through the colours of the rainbow and ending with opaque, jet black fragments of obsidian. Dust and the occasional long-dead beetle aside, not a single rock has been discarded. They’re all there and they’re all special. I would like to extend a thank you to my mom for preserving my collection, although it wouldn’t hurt you to dust once in a while…

rock mineral collectionMy personal collection of rocks, rock minerals, crystals, coral and fossils.

Collecting Rocks is Not Just for Boring People

Why on Earth would anyone collect rocks? Well, rocks tell us about the history of the ground underneath our feet and you don’t need to be terribly nerdy to appreciate that! Unfortunately, too large a percentage of that ground has been covered in concrete, ceramic tile, plush carpets, hardwood or laminate (if you’re a cheapskate.) But beneath the man-made veneer of our planet lies a fabulous variety of rock types, minerals and crystals, each with a history, each with a unique set of properties, each comprising a piece of the puzzle that, once put together, tells the story of the formation of the Earth and how the land came to be shaped the way it is.

My deep interest in mineralogy and geology was and is about more than just the pretty appearance of certain rock minerals and crystals. It’s about their unique properties, characteristics and traits, a handful of which you will come to learn about in this two-part blog. Of the many rock minerals I have collected over the years and encountered during my University geology classes, there are some that have remained firmly lodged in my memory, just like pyroclasts in a volcanic breccia. These are the rock minerals that, in my mind, are true testaments to the sheer awesomeness of the natural world.

And the Nominees Are…

Firstly, in the interests of scientific rigor, let me stipulate the following: this list is totally subjective, so forget the part about “scientific rigor.” The facts I present, however, are true! Secondly, my choice is restricted to rock minerals or gemstones. Not rock types, such as marble, granite and shale. Minerals are the building blocks of rocks, just like desperate and marginally talented 20-something year old girls are the building blocks of girl groups.

Granite, for example, generally consists of three different rock minerals: Scary Spice, Baby Spice, Fanta Pants and one that looks like a lesbian. Hold on… I’m getting confused. That’s four spices.

Anyway, you get the point, so now that you know what a rock mineral is, let’s get to it! Get your De Beers on ‘cos we’re going digging!

Awesome Rock Mineral # 1: Iron Pyrite

gold (iron pyrite mineral)

AKA: Fool’s Gold

Chemical Composition: Iron and sulphur

Why it makes this list: Iron pyrite crystals are one of the most incredible demonstrations of symmetry in nature.

Name Origin: Pyrite originates from the Greek word for “fire”

We tend to think of nature as being random and chaotic, but rock crystals are a beautiful example of how there is more flawless pattern and symmetry in nature than there is entropy and disorder. Iron pyrite is one of my favourite examples, with its brassy yellow crystals that are seemingly impossibly square in shape. Pyrite frequently grows in great tangles of inter-grown geometric shapes, most commonly cubic and octahedral. The result is both incredibly beautiful and intriguing: something that could pass as the work of an abstract artist on acid.

Iron pyrite has been dubbed “fool’s gold” owing to its glistening metallic yellow colour, which makes it look quite similar to gold; one of the most coveted elements on Earth. There are many differences between pyrite and gold, of course, but the most important to mankind is that iron pyrite is appallingly common and is likely to get an icy reception from your wife or girlfriend if given as a gift.

Then again, Jessica Simpson is living proof that you can be appallingly common AND rich at the same time.

Awesome Rock Mineral # 2: Diamond

Beautiful diamond gem copy

AKA: A girl’s best friend.

Chemical Composition: Carbon and sometimes trace elements

Why it makes this list: Diamond doesn’t need an excuse to make this list.

Name Origin: Diamond comes from the Greek word adamas meaning “unconquerable” or “invincible.”

Diamond is the Chuck Norris of gemstones. It’s hard, it’s tough and it’ll charm the pants off any lady. Formed deep in the Earth’s crust under conditions of bone-pulverizing pressure and temperature, diamond is the hardest known substance in existence and it wins this title by a very, very, very large margin.

When cut correctly, diamond’s reflective and refractive properties emit a kaleidoscopic disco of light, coruscating with every colour of the rainbow. Uncut, diamonds are translucent and have an almost greasy or soapy lustre; certainly not something one might describe as breathtakingly beautiful. Most ladies prefer it cut. Their diamonds too.

A rough, uncut, brown diamond.

An uncut diamond, which just goes to show how important cut is to the aesthetic appeal of this gemstone.

In addition to their aesthetic appeal, which has been adored and worshipped by cultures and civilizations across the world for centuries, diamonds also have rather useful modern applications. Actually, 80% of all the diamonds unearthed are exploited for their incredible strength as blades, grinders, bearings and drill bits. The other 20% are considered too pretty to be used for drilling open rotten teeth and so they are square-cut and pear-shaped, these rocks don’t lose their shape DIAAAAMOOOOOONDS…

*ahem* sorry.

There are many things that make diamonds exceptionally awesome: they’re the only gemstone composed of a single element (carbon), they’re the hardest substance known to humankind, they’re incredibly beautiful and they’re incredibly expensive. But the bottom line really is that diamond’s awesomeness transcends time, culture, civilization and class. Diamond is king (and a giiiiiiiiiiiiirl’s beeeeeeeeest frieeeeeeeeeeend!)

Awesome Rock Mineral # 3: Fluorspar

natural fluorite stones

AKA: Fluorite

Chemical Composition: Calcium and Fluorine

Why it makes this list: For its, like, totally insane property known as thermoluminescence.

Name Origin: “Fluo” is the Latin word for “to flow.”

I first came across Fluorspar on a seven-day canoe trip down the Orange River, which is the natural border between South Africa and Namibia. On our fourth or fifth day, the guides pulled the canoes off the river onto Namibian shores and took the younger whipper-snappier of us on a gruelling 45-minute hike up the steep, boulder-strewn slopes. At the summit, we found an old abandoned fluorspar mine. There were just piles of this translucent green and purple mineral lying everywhere. So, we all filled our pockets and headed back down towards the camp.

That night, our chief guide showed us just why fluorspar was so damn cool. Onto the searing-hot coals that were the remainder of our nightly camp fire, he cast a handful of broken fluorspar shards and dust. After a few seconds, these rocks started to glow bright electric blue and green before shattering like popcorn into smaller fragments. In spite of the burning-hot bits of shrapnel that were sent whistling past our heads, we were enraptured by the performance and I have used fluorspar to impress girls ever since.

Unfortunately, I have run out of fluorspar.

Fortunately, I have my personality to fall back on.

Fluorescent Fluorite

Fluorite is the trance party-goer of the mineral world

Fluorspar or fluorite most commonly comes in cubic crystals, although the one’s we found on the Orange River had all been shattered or broken at some stage and so ranged in amorphous size. “Fluo” is the Latin word for “to flow” and this name was given to this rock mineral for its applications in iron smelting. In a peanut shell, fluorite decreases the viscosity of molten iron, helping it to flow better.

It was only after the discovery and naming of fluorite that its awesome physical properties of fluorescence and thermoluminescence were discovered, which is incidentally where the word “fluorescence” comes from. Fluorescence – the emittance of that strange otherworldly light – is caused by the dancing of electrons within the mineral’s atomic structure. As they stomp around to the doef-doef music in their heads, they emit quanta of visible light that is most frequently blue in colour, but can be green, white, red, purple or yellow.

Stay Tuned for Part 2…

You may be bored at work, but you still have to look busy or else your boss will give you the boot. To accommodate this, I have taken the liberty of dividing this post in two. Stay tuned for the second instalment in which we shall intrepidly explore the remaining three most awesome rock minerals!

In the meantime, your homework is to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at this picture…

Lechuguilla_Chandelier_Ballroom

“Lechuguilla Chandelier Ballroom” (New Mexico) by Dave Bunnell. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons. Giant otherworldly fingers of glittering gypsum crystal formations reach down from the cave ceiling.

Previously on Why? Because Science!

… said in the voice of Survivor host, Jeff Probst.

Blog Roll

Click on the blue titles to expand your grey matter and blow your mind. Also, don’t forget to check out the new WBS at Fusion Viral Video!

Hasta La Vista HangoverIs it possible to prevent a hangover? According to science, it may be! Find out what the right mitigative techniques are and you could survive your 20’s.

How to prevent a hangover

We Are Star People: How did the very atoms of our body come to be made from the guts of exploded stars? Find out why we are STAR people!

Scientology: It’s Not the Study of ScienceRead about the cult (calling itself a religion) that’s terrifying the crap out of Katy Holmes. Discovery the hilarity of scientology, the Space Opera and megalomaniacal science-fiction writer, Mr. L. Ron Hubbard. 

Tom-Cruise-retains-his-pride-in-the-Hollywood

What’s In A Name? Bad Science, That’s WhatThe bad science behind expensive brand-name cosmetics is exposed! Consider this next time you get swayed into spending unnecessary money by the promise of “the oil of exotic orchids that only grow on a particular rocky outcrop of Hawaii’s Kahoolawe island.”

Sciencey LOLs

funny cats laughing

Daily Dose of Funny Science 8

Daily Dose of Funny Science 7

Daily Dose of Funny Science 6

Like, Totally Awesome Science Videos:

Top 20 Unexplained Photos of Human HistoryThis is a top collection of eerie unexplained creatures, phantoms, deep-sea monsters and other phenomena performing elegant photobombs that – to this day – remain unexplained. Some photographs may look a little suspect, but others make your hair stand on end.

Creepy unexplained photographs

5 Crazy Science Stunts You Weren’t Taught at SchoolFor a quick and entertaining peak at the world of chemicals and one man’s death wish to get his hands blown clean off, watch this amazing science video.

Symphony of ScienceThe “Symphony of Science” series puts together beautiful graphics and music with the auto-tuned voices of some of the most eminent of modern scientists, notably Neil DeGrasse Tyson, for us to learn from and enjoy.

Also, Neil DeGrasse Tyson… what a rock star.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson badass

And that’s your reading material for the week, folks!