Wildlife trivia

Articles in ‘Wildlife trivia’

Great natural wonders

August 23rd, 2009 The Lonely Planet has come up with this list of the greatest natural wonders in the world, one for each “continent”: Read
  • South America: the Amazon
  • North America: Grand Canyon
  • Europe: the Matterhorn
  • Africa: Mt Kilimanjaro
  • Asia: Sundarbans (“Everyone who has read Midnight’s Children was captivated by Rushdie’s magical description of the languorous Sundarbans, one of the most mysterious forests on Earth.”)
  • Australia: Great Barrier Reef – actually shared by Australia and Papua New Guinea.
  • Pacific: New Zealand’s Milford Sound
Elsewhere, the ‘New 7 Wonders’ project allows you to vote for their shortlist of 28 wonders.

Names for new species

August 18th, 2009


The slime-mold beetle Agathidium bushi named after the world’s least favourite American.

More than 15,000 new species of animal are identified every year by science. In the 18th century, the discoverers would often pay tribute to a colleague but by the mid-19th century new species were often named after the rich patrons who had funded the expedition. These days, scientists have a perchant for honouring the famous. This article in the Guardian has an whimsical review of recent denominations. We have for instance the carnivorous plant capable of eating a rat Nepenthes attenboroughii named after the great man.

Some new species recently named after celebrities:

  • a sea snail – Bufonaria borisbeckeri,
  • a ground beetle – Agra katewinsletae
  • several dinosaurs named after Steven Spielberg.
  • a dinosaur – Masiakasaurus knopfleri
  • a wasp named Polemistus chewbacca
  • a beetle – Agathidium vaderi).
  • a lichen – Caloplaca obamae in honour of Barack Obama’s support of science.
  • slime-mold beetles (Agathidium bushi after George Bush, Agathidium cheneyi after Dick Cheney and Agathidium rumsfeldi after Donald Rumsfeld)

See also the superb Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature

  • Campsicnemius charliechaplini Evenhuis, 1996 (dolichopodid fly) “Etymology: This species is named in honor of the great silent movie comedian, Charlie Chaplin, because of the curious tendency of this fly to die with its midlegs in a bandy-legged position.”
  • Malo kingi Gershwin, 2007 (jellyfish) Named after Robert King, who died after being stung by it.
  • Otocinclus batmani Lehmann, 2006 (catfish) is named after the caped crusader, because of a bat-shaped mark on its tail.

Using ants as sutures

August 9th, 2009

In some cultures, ants and beetles have been used as natural, emergency sutures, and in fact this ancient method can be seen as the predecessor of modern wound clamping.

The ancient Indian Sanskrit text on surger, Sushruta Samhita, contains methods of skin suture, including a description of how insects have been applied in the healing of wounds.

. . large black ants should be applied even to the perforated intestines . . . and their bodies should be separated from their heads after they had firmly bitten the perforated parts with their claws [jaws]. After that the intestines with the head of the ants attached to them should be gently pushed back into the cavity and reinstated in their original situation therein. Here

In East Africa, the remarkable strength of the jaws of siafu or army ants are used by the Maasai when they suffer a gash in the bush. They collect these ants and provoke them to bite on both sides of the gash. Then they break off the body, leaving the head and jaws clamped around the would, and hey presto!, they have a suture. The seal can hold for days at a time.

The ant suture technique is also found in South America.

The mandibles from the Eciton burchell are particularly large. Its mandibles would close on the wound and the body would then be pinched off. Contemporary clips work according to the same principles but the ‘ant-method’ is still practised by some South American tribes. Gottrup, F. & David Leaper (2004). “Wound healing: historical aspects