Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Holy Mola Mola

Size Comparison
 I often take requests on which animals people want me to write about.  Recently my friend Bernie asked me to write about the Mola Mola.  Interestingly enough this fish happens to be a great part of one of my favorite topics, how animals deal with environmental changes. It is a rare week where you don't hear someone talking about global warming and climate change. I'm not going to discuss whether i believe it is human caused or part of a natural earthly rhythm, well I won't discuss it today. But the truth of the matter is the worlds oceans are showing some of the effects from our changing climate. First some facts about the Mola Mola. In Latin, Mola means millstone which the fish resembles due to its flat shape and grey color. Where its English name Sunfish refers to its basking behavior.
Exhibiting Basking Behavior

The Ocean Sunfish otherwise known as the Mola Mola is the largest bony fish in the world. Fish come in several types but the main two are bony and cartilage. Cartilage fish include sharks. Mola Mola's can weigh up to 2,000 lbs while being as tall as it is wide. They are rather flat in width and exhibit a very unusual basking or sunning behavior.  They will go to the surface of the water and swim on their side. It is believed they swim along the surface on to prep for going into colder deeper water. The Mola Mola is truly a sun-loving fish and enjoys warmer water, mainly tropical and temperate waters. The Mola Mola is able to reach such a large size due to some odd features. Its spinal column contains fewer vertebrae and is shorter in relation than any other fish. The skeleton also contains vast amounts of cartilaginous tissue. Cartilage is lighter than bone and can allow for the fish to grow to sizes larger than any other bony fish. 
I happen to live in the beautiful city of San Diego, and recently there was a sighting of one of this fish nearby. This is highly unusual because we have rather cold water.  It could be an indicator of our ever warming oceans. Jellyfish have blossomed to larger numbers than ever. Jellyfish thrive in warmer water. This has encouraged animals who prey on jellyfish to travel with them. Some of the main predators of jellyfish are sea turtles and the Mola Mola. Warming waters can be beneficial to some creatures but extremely harmful to others. Many fish can migrate and adjust their patterns to a more ideal water temperature.  But what happens to coral reefs or kelp beds?  Both highly specialized environments that don't have the option to pack up and leave. I love to point out animals that are bioindicators.  One of my first posts in this blog was about frogs as bioindicators. I wouldn't consider the Mola Mola a bioindicator (there's just too few of them in the world), but their main food source jellyfish are.

Mola Mola's must consume vast quantities of jellyfish to maintain their considerable bulk.  A jelly fish has very low nutritional value. This also may be one of the reasons the Mola Mola are so temperature sensitive, to maintain such great size on food of poor nutrition is very difficult. Animals trade off abilities in many ways, the Mola Mola has opted for large size, but they have poor temperature regulation. Aquariums have had a hard time keeping these giant fish in captivity. They require large space and often injure themselves bumping into sides of tanks. These fish haven't been studied as indepthly as others. I hope that fish as unique as the Mola Mola have a future ion our oceans. Their future is an uncertain one, but there's always hope.

That's it for now,

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Popcorn the Super Skink

Damn he's a sexy lizard
 So recently the urge to add a new addition to my herd overwhelmed me.  For those who know me I already have 3 horses, a cat, giant bunny, toad, fish, and now (drum roll please) a Skink!  His name is Popcorn and he is a Berber (not like Justin Bieber) or Schneider's Skink.  As you can see he is absolutely adorable and very friendly (please take a moment to adore his cute face). 

Skinks are lizards and not the missing link between snakes and lizards. The do look very snake-like with their long body and short legs. Skinks can range in size from 3 in to 32 inches, though the Berber Skink (Popcorn) will be about 15 inches including tail. Skinks live in a variety of habitats, to determine where your skink lives simply look at its toes. The longer the digits, the more arboreal (tree dwelling) the species is likely to be. This is reffered to as the Scincidae Ecological Niche Index, a ratio based on anterior foot length at the junction of the ulna/radius-carpal bones to the longest digit divided by the snout to vent length (nose to butt).  Popcorn happens to have medium digits, Berber skinks are largely terrestial. Berber Skinks are originally from North Africa and West Asia.  They come in a variety of colors including gray, red, brwon, sand, and even in Popcorn's color, bright yellow with orange spots.

Popcorn's favorite perch
Skinks enjoy a wide variety in their diet, some are vegetarian, most are insectivores, and a few eat meat.  Berber Skinks happen to be mostly insectivores, Popcorn's favorite food is a fat juicy cricket.  Eventually if he grows large enough he could a eat pinky mouse (though I tend to not like feeding or watching mammals die so he will have to stick to fat crickets).  Skinks are generally mellow and tame, as my friends have discovered Popcorn is very cuddly. He loves to hang out on your shoulder and crawl up to your head and scope things out. As far as defenses, well Skinks don't have many. Teeth are non-existent, and they're not very aggressive, instead they take the duck and cover approach burrowing under sand to hide. 

Hope you enjoy the pictures of Popcorn, what are some of the members of your herd?
Thanks for reading,

Thug life

Thursday, August 9, 2012

If I Were an Alligator

Today's post is going to edge along the humorous side more than informational . . . As little kids, we're often asked "If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you what to be?  For years I thought of myself as all these exotic animals like tiger or okapi, but the truth is I'm a total alligator.

Lets start with the physical similarities:

The American Alligator has a thick body and a broad, powerful tail.  Their tail is used to propel them quickly through the water, and also as a defensive weapon. I happen to be gifted with a larger, um . . . Well, I have a big butt. This gives me a great center of gravity, and if a person happens to disturb me I have a broad, powerful booty bump that has been known to send people flying. Alligators also have extremely strong jaws which works like a vice. The biting force of the alligator is enormous, packing enough power to smash a turtle's shell or through bone ; it's designed to grip rather than chew, and thanks to an accident in 2010 I happen to have titanium jaws. Similarly I have a much easier time biting into food than chewing it. 

Onto the Aligators behaviors! Alligator's are one of the few reptiles who are maternal and watch after their young. They guard their nests and will carry the baby alligators around in their mouth. While I do not have any human young, I am the proud parent of many furry babies. Everyone knows I love my horses, cat, lizard, toad, bunny, etc., more than anything. I have a protective nature in general towards my friends in family.

Alligators live in swampy marshes and prey on a variety of aquatic foods. Younger Alligators eat mostly fish, while mature alligators will occasionally go onto land for food, but still maintain a mainly aquatic diet. The nutria (a large aquatic rodent) is an invasive species which has become a new prey source for large alligators.  My favorite food is sushi and sashimi, I love the taste of raw fish.  I also live in San Diego and love the water. Alligators will often bask in the sun to regulate their body temperature. I have also been caught sun bathing on more than one occasion.

About to prey on some lobster...
Once an Alligator has captured prey, if not already in the water they will drag it in, then proceed to "death roll." They spin at high speeds under water while holding onto the prey, effectively breaking it's neck or drowning it. I have my own version of the death roll. As I have been told by numerous ex-boyfriends, while sleeping I will grab the sheet or blanket then proceed to roll, wrapping it around myself and stealing it from my unsuspecting victim. If one tries to steal my blanket back I become highly aggressive, refuse to relinquish my prize. And I wonder why I'm single . . .

The similarities between alligators and myself can go on and on. We all have the animals we would like to be, but at the end of the day, I'm just an alligator. That's it for now,