May 2011

Squishy, Sharp-Toothed Giants: The Giant Salamander

Over the weekend I watched an interesting episode of River Monsters in which the host went tracking the legend of the Kappa. He ultimately decided that the source of the legend was the real-world (but very freaky) Giant Japanese Salamander.

The Giant Japanese Salamander runs to about five feet long, and about 55 pounds. It lives in high, splashy mountain streams with good circulation and cool water. It needs these conditions because it absorbs oxygen through its skin, and therefore requires a highly oxygenated environment.

There are many points of confluence between the Giant Japanese Salamander and the Kappa. The salamander has a broad, dish-shaped head, and it is very moist (being covered with slime). It's conceivable that it could be seen as a dish holding water, as in the legend of the Kappa. The salamander also nicely fits the description of "a fish with hands," as it does have creepy little hands and feet with very distinct toes. (Imagine Mickey Mouse's hands, made of slugs.)

Dolphins to Chat with People Soon

Flipper fans, rejoice: soon dolphins will be able to communicate with humans. A new translation machine will apparently be able to allow humans to hear exactly what it is that dolphins are saying. Many science followers may already be familiar with the photos, sounds, and commands that humans already use to communicate with dolphins; indeed, it is how they often train the creatures while in captivity. However, we’ve never been able to understand what dolphins want to say to us—until now. This could be a revolutionary scientific breakthrough similar to the works of scientists like Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey and others who made it possible for us to communicate with and study primates.

The Mysterious Singing Mice

Deer mice discovered to call to each other melodically

Animal sounds take on a variety of forms, but there are only a few that we humans consider melodic. We learned to make music from the birds, of course; the way we structure melody in music theory is ultimately rooted in birdsong. Whales, too, we consider singers. But only recently have mice joined the ranks of musical beasts.

Scientists first captured a singing mouse in 1925. Apparently it produced a tune akin to those heard from birds. The confounded scientists, who had never heard a mouse sing, tried to breed the creature with a non-singing mouse. Its offspring lacked the same musical talent as their father, although they were said to “chitter.” 

How many Sugar Gliders can Fit in a Cool Whip Container?

Cute overload warning . . .

The Sugar Glider, or Petaurus breviceps is a marsupial, a subspecies of opossum native to the vast canopied forests of Australia and New Guinea. It is nocturnal, with large eyes, and agile paws. Sugar Gliders "glide" by making heroic jumps from tree branch to tree branch, favoring eucalyptus trees, acacias, and mimosas, sources of sap and fruit, both important parts of the Sugar Glider's diet.