Lisenbee: Giant earthworms, dangers of birdwatching and swimming porcupines
This is a column unlike any I have ever written. It is filled with miscellaneous facts, most of which I have managed to check out for correctness.
But I wrote it for the humor as well as the scientific facts. So enjoy it, and drop me a note if you do too.
► The giant Gippsland Earthworm, Megascolides australis, is just one of Australia’s 1,000 known earthworm species. They average around three feet in length, but are known to reach more than twice that length in some areas. And their girth can be more than one-half an inch in diameter.
They take five years just to mature, and are now considered a threatened species. But this species is absolutely puny. The largest earthworm on record was found in South Africa and measured 22 feet long!
► Here is a fact that someone actually researched. Did you know (or even suspect) that baby robins will eat around 15 feet of earthworms every single day? Personally I never even thought about a baby robin’s diet, But, since we have plenty of robins, I can only surmise we also have plenty of earthworms.
► It has been erroneously said that squirrels cannot carry the rabies virus. The truth is that all mammals, including all species of squirrels, are capable of carrying the rabies virus.
However, squirrels are almost never found to be infected with the rabies virus. Squirrels also have not been known to cause rabies in humans within the United States. Bites from a squirrel are not considered a risk for rabies unless the animal was sick or behaving in an unusual manner, and rabies is widespread in the area.
► The heart of an adult giraffe weighs around 26 pounds. After witnessing a necropsy of a juvenile giraffe at the National Zoo in Wash., D. C. and observing the massive heart of that critter, I have no doubts that this statement is very true.
► Did you know that birds “chew” with their crop or gizzard? You see, adult birds do not have teeth, so they routinely swallow tiny stones (grit) or pebbles. These stones become vigorously agitated in the crop and actually grinds the food as it passes through to the stomach and digestive system.
► And get this. A British medical journal, “The Practitioner,” has determined that bird watching can be hazardous to one's health. It has officially designated bird watching as a hazardous activity, using the example of the death of a bird watcher who became so wrapped up in watching a particular bird that he failed to notice his potentially dangerous surroundings and was eaten by a crocodile. Say what?
► As much as 40% of the entire world's varieties of freshwater fish are to be found in the Amazon River basin. There are about 8,600 species of birds in the entire world, and more than half of them are also represented in the same river basin. But if you go bird watching in this area be careful where you step.
► Baby songbirds seem to learn how to sing from the adult birds of their species, and if they are raised by other species, they don't sing the same as their ancestors. They often make strange warbling noises, but may also learn the songs of other species.
In the latter case, they can pass these songs on to their offspring. However, cowbirds are the exception. Once they have “fledged” from their nest and the parent birds have taught them how to feed, they leave in search of others of their own kind, which they apparently recognize by both sight and sounds.
Did you ever wonder about how much information is passed along to baby birds by “instinct?” They may “learn” what insects or seeds to eat from mom and dad, but how do they know how and where to build a nest? Or what materials to use in its construction?
► Because porcupines have hollow quills, they are great swimmers.
► And, all true cats have 18 claws. Cheetahs have 20.
► And here is another tidbit of knowledge: Maggots were once used by doctors to treat many body infections and injuries, including gun shot and arrow wounds.
► Male birds actually do most of the singing, primarily to stake out their territory and to invite females of their species over to mate. Females tend to select as mates those male birds who sing the most.
It is believed they do this not because they like the quality of the singing, but because they have learned the males who sing the most have the most food in their territory. Since the male doesn't have to spend much time hunting for food, it has more time to sing.
► Mongooses were brought to Hawaii to kill rats. This plan failed because rats are nocturnal while the mongoose hunts during the day.
► And did you know that mosquitoes prefer children to adults, and blondes to brunettes.
► Ostriches, the world’s largest birds, are often not taken seriously. They can run faster than horses, and the males can roar like lions. They stick their heads in the sand to breath in moisture that condenses on their tongues or in their throats, often their only source of water for months at a time. And a single kick from an adult can kill a human. The average adult male ostrich weighs around 345 pounds.
► Are snakes really “cold-blooded”? Well, yes and no. They cannot generate the quantity of body heat necessary to qualify as warm-blooded, but the slow digestion of their most recent meals just prior to hibernation does generate some body heat.
And those leg-less critters have learned over eons that, if a bunch of them den together for the winter, they can share their meager bodily warmth and all of them benefit.
► Scientists have identified more than 350 viruses capable of bringing fatal diseases to insects. The organisms are believed to be entirely different than those that cause disease in humans, and are thus harmless to man.
► The “snood” is the fleshy projection just above the bill on a turkey.
► The African lungfish can live out of water for up to four years.
► The beautiful but deadly Australian sea wasp (Chironex fleckeri) is the most venomous jellyfish in the world. Its cardio-toxic venom has caused the deaths of at least 75 people off the coast of Queensland since it was first identified in 1880, with most victims dying within one hour if medical aid is not available.
► The beluga whale is often referred to as the “sea canary” because of the birdlike chirping sounds it makes.
► The cells that make up the antlers of a moose are the fastest growing animal cells in nature.
► And, the flying gurnard, a fish, supposedly swims in water, walks on land, and flies through the air. But in reality it does not fly or walk other than while in the water.
► The smallest of American owls is the elf owl. It often nests in the Gila woodpecker’s cactus hole after the woodpecker leaves. The owl measures barely 6 inches tall. It specializes in catching scorpions, seizing each by the tail and nipping off its stinger. It then swallows the scorpion’s body, pincers and all.
Interesting? Just plain silly? Well, at least I hope you enjoyed it.
Len Lisenbee of Potter is the Outdoor Columnist for the Chronicle-Express' affiliate, The Daily Messenger. Contact him at lisenbee@ frontiernet.net