Monday, January 23, 2012

Turtle Power!

Turtles are one of the oldest animals dating back to 215 million years ago, this makes turtles older than snakes, lizards and crocodiles.  Turtles are divided into two groups by how they retract their neck into shells.  One group compresses their spine while the other puts their head to the side.  Turtles like all reptiles lay eggs.  In some species of turtles the temperature that the egg develops determines in the baby will be male or female.  Higher temperature causes females, and lower temperatures cause males.  This is a phenomenon known as Temperature-Dependent  Sex Determination.  The exact reason why turtles and some reptiles and birds have TSD is unknown but theorized that it is advantageous to have females earlier in the season so they have more time to grow and be ready to mate sooner.  But there is little evidence showing turtles actively choose their offspring's sex.

Sea turtles have a special gland in the corner of their eye to get rid of excess salt.  They live in sea water and eat jellyfish and other prey with high salt concentrations.  Now I think of this special salt gland and think of how can it be used in humans.  Well kidney failure patients have a horrible time dealing with their salt regulation, if the same chemicals and processes in the sea turtle eye gland could be replicated it could help many people currently undergoing dialysis.

The Alligator Snapping Turtle is built like a tank, with a huge head and heavily plated back with three rows.  Algae will often grow on their shells allowing them to fully blend in underwater.  Inside the turtles mouth is a small appendage that looks like a small worm to draw fish in, once there their powerful jaws snap down!

Well hopefully I have taught you a little more than what you already knew thanks to teenage mutant ninja turtles...  That's all for now,

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Outrageous Otters

In honor of some special people in my life who love otters, today's blog post is for them (yes you Mow Wow).  Otters are related to weasels, badgers, and wolverines, quite a list of tough relatives.  There are many types of otter including but not limited to, North American river otter, Sea otter, Eurasian otter, and Giant otter.  Most view otters as adorable critters who frolic in the water...  Otters are actually incredibly tough little guys. (click on the video to watch them take on a crocodile, sorry I couldn't find this minus the ads, but the best part starts at 1:00 minute)

Now Sea otters do not have an insulating layer of blubber like other ocean mammals (seals and whales), instead they have very dense fur that traps in air.  They will bob to the surface and blow into their fur to keep it warm.  An otters coat is very dense at 26,000 to 165,000 strands per square centimeter of skin, compare that to humans with 3175 strands per centimeter on their heads.

The Giant otter lives in South America along the Amazon and Panthal rivers.  They live in large colonies lead by a dominant breeding pair.  This otter species is exclusively diurnal, or only active during the day.  Being diurnal indicates that otters have amazing eyesight, in and out of water, and shows they are a sight predator.   Otters on the whole are extremely vocal, with the Giant otter being the most vocal.  Their chirps and barks mean anything from greetings to warnings.  Otters are opportunistic eaters devouring a wide variety of food including fish,  crabs, snakes, and caimen babies.  One commonly eaten fish by Giant otters is even piranha, now that's a tough guy!

Hope you all enjoyed the break from my pet posts, and learned a little more about one of the toughest and cutest critters out there.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Being a Crazy Cat Lady Doesn't Sound Too Bad

Fluff and her unique face
 I know lately you have been inundated with my posts about my pets.  First my horses, then the giant bunny, well I'm not quite finished...  I introduce you to Fluff!  Well technically her name is Penelope, but my dad started calling her "The Fluff" and well, it stuck.  Fluff is a shelter kitty whom I got on my 18th birthday.  She is my constant companion and basically my child.  So how about some fun facts about Fluff and other cats.  Please note this blog contains lots of genetics terms and discussions...

Most know cats come in a variety of colors, calico being a tri-colored cat (Fluff happens to be a calico).  A little known fact is calico coloring is almost exclusively reserved for female cats.  Wait, how is this unusual coloration created, and why do only females get it?  Both questions can be answered by a scientific principle, X inactivation.  Lets break this down to basics, a male has an X and a Y chromosome, where as females have two X's.  The X chromosome is far larger than a Y and contains far more information, including the coding for hair color.  During the developmental process one X chromosome is dominant over the other therefore the other X is inactivated, but not for long.  The two X's take turns.  Now if the X chromosomes code for different colors, they will display the calico pattern as the X's take turns switching on and off.  Depending on the frequency and duration that each X is on/off you get different size patches or even patches that appear interwoven.  This either gives you a brindle colored coat (like Fluff) or a patchwork coat more like a quilt.
Now a few people may argue that thy have seem male calico cats.  They are very likely chimeras, or have two genotypes.  The possible types would be XX XX, XY XX, or XY XY.  This can also create a calico coat pattern through a somewhat similar process except with two completely different sets of chromosomes.  There are a few other genetic disorders that can also lead to calico males but mainly, calico cats are female.

Polydactyl Cat

Cats can have extra toes, this is called Polydactylism.  It can give cats six or even seven claws on each paw.  A normal cat has five toes up front and four on hind feet.  This is caused by a congenital abnormality, basically it is inherited.  It is caused by an autosomal dominant gene in cats.  So the polydactyl factor is located on a chromosome that isn't X or Y and is dominant so you only need to get the one copy to get it. 

Whew, did I overload your brain with all that genetic jargon?  On a lighter note it has been drawn to my attention that I could be considered a crazy animal lady.  My best response is I am 100% one, I love my animals and given enough room and resources would gladly have a zoo or animal center.  My animals will never maliciously hurt me if I didn't provoke it, and love me unconditionally.  Thus far there is no human who can compete, myself included.  That's all for now,
Sleeping Fluff