Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Outtasight! The 10 Most Amazing Eyeless Animals

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Outtasight! The 10 Most Amazing Eyeless Animals: [ By Steve in Animals & Habitats, Nature & Ecosystems, Science & Research. ]

Seeing is believing? Not so fast there – these 10 amazing animals believe they’re doing mighty fine without seeing their surroundings, so much so that they don’t waste precious resources growing eyes. It’s a strategy that makes, er, sense when living in an environment where vision is impractical, unnecessary and even impossible.

Leptodirus Beetle

(images via: ICSB-2010, Wikipedia France and Petkovanja in Pondelkovanja)

So-called troglobites – not to be confused with troglodites, or cave men – are creatures that have adapted their physical forms to best suit the environment of caves, typically to the point where they cannot survive when removed from said caves. The first troglobite to be described in scientific literature was the Leptodirus beetle (Leptodirus hochenwartii), back in 1832.

(image via: Wikipedia)

Leptodirus beetles average about 4/10 of an inch (1cm) in length and are thought to survive by feeding on the carcasses of deceased cave creatures. Found only in several limestone caves in southeastern Europe’s Dinaric Alps, Leptodirus beetles are considered to be a vulnerable species as their ecological requirements span a very narrow range.

Kauai Cave Wolf Spider

(images via: Earlham College, Animalaqua, Bishop Museum and Dreamstime)

The Kauai Cave Wolf Spider (Adelocosa anops), discovered in 1971, can be found on the Hawaiian island of Kauai and inside five caves where only about two dozen in total are thought to live. The caves were formed between 3.6 and 5.6 million years ago so the spider has had several million years to evolve into its current eyeless state – “anops” means eyeless, by the way. The creature relies upon a finely tuned sense of touch and the ability to note minute vibrations when stalking prey within the volcanic caves’ pitch-black environs. That’s a normal Wolf Spider at above right, compared with A. Anops on the left.

(image via: Red Orbit)

Though biologists and environmentalists may bemoan the exceptional rarity of the Kauai Cave Wolf Spider, spelunkers and arachnophobics (or both) might feel the opposite: this intriguing eyeless spider is quite large, measuring over 3 inches (8cm) across. It’s considered to be harmless to humans, if that’s any help when you’re exploring the deepest depths of a Kauai cave and the battery in your flashlight dies.

Kentucky Cave Shrimp

(images via: USGS and Unusual Kentucky)

The Kentucky Cave Shrimp (Palaemonias ganteri) is one of a number of eyeless and/or sightless troglobite shrimps that have successfully exploited lightless cave environments the world over.

(image via: The Infinite Sphere)

Living mainly in Kentucky’s famed Mammoth Cave and other subterranean caves in the area, the Kentucky Cave Shrimp is considered to be endangered due to above-ground dams and canals that have affected the natural rate of water flow and sedimentation in the Mammoth Cave system. The shrimp, which are both eyeless and transparent, grow to a length of 1.25 inches (3.15cm) and are closely related to other cave-dwelling shrimp found in Texas, Alabama and Florida.

(image via: Ben’s Biz Blog)

The rarity of the Kentucky Cave Shrimp and the fact that its existence is threatened by groundwater pollution has made the shrimp somewhat of a poster-child for environmental activism and a local cause celeb in the area of Mammoth Cave. In 2009, the newly formed Bowling Green baseball club staged a Name The Team contest and although “Hot Rods” was the winning (or at least, chosen) entry, Cave Shrimp received at least some votes. Pity it didn’t win – just imagine the above awesome logo on players’ uniforms.

Blind Cave Crayfish

(images via: USGS, Dayo Scuba and ScienceRay)

Almost 40 different species of Cave Crayfish live in various cave ecosystems scattered across the United States alone. Common to most of these species is eyelessness, lack of pigmentation and very long lifespans – in some cases estimated at over 75 years! Cave Crayfish are among the largest troglobites, reaching lengths of almost 4 inches (10cm).

(image via: Dayo Scuba)

Cave Crayfish have evolved over millions of years to be totally in sync with their exceptionally demanding environment. As such, they can be looked at as “canaries in the coalmine” – environmental indicators as to the health of the pristine, naturally filtered groundwater in which they live.

Blind Cave Crab

(images via: Daily Mail UK, DBS/NUS and Biotagua)

Like many troglobites, Cave Crabs exist in dark, flooded cave environments around the globe. They share a number of common evolutionary adaptations, such as eyelessness and depigmentation that gives them a ghostly appearance – not that anyone (or anything) saw them before humans with lights and cameras invaded their space.

(image via: Biotagua)

Cave Crabs are often found around the inlets where freshwater enters caves, bringing with it food for the opportunistic crabs to eat. The Cave Crab in the topmost image above, Sesarmoides jacobsoni, was discovered in a cave located on the Indonesian island of Java.

Blind Cave Fish

(images via: FOX News, NPS and National Geographic)

The Blind Cave Fish, or Mexican Tetra (Astyanax mexicanus) has evolved from normal Tetra fish that can be found today in the Rio Grande river and other rivers and streams in Mexico and Texas. Growing to about 4 inches (10cm) in length, the Mexican Tetra displays extreme albinism, a semi-transparent skin and most shocking: complete eyelessness. Such traits are shared by the newly discovered blind cave fish Milyeringa veritas (above, lowest photo), a 2-inch (5cm) long eyeless fish found in Australian freshwater aquifers.

(image via: Wikipedia)

Mexican Tetras are one of the only cave-dwelling troglobitic creatures that are not endangered – they can even be bought and maintained as unique aquarium fish! Owners report that though completely blind, Mexican Tetras kept in aquariums use their highly developed non-visual sense organs to avoid bumping into aquarium objects and walls, and

Brazilian Blind Characid

(images via: BBC)

Stygichthys typhlops, a blind relative of the fearsome piranha, may be “the most threatened underground fish species in Brazil” according to ichthyologist Dr. Cristiano Moreira of the Federal University of Sao Paulo. The fish lives in a single, 15.5 mile (25km) long aquifier in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.

(image via: Treehugger)

Villagers drawing water from wells in the town of Jaiba reported seeing strange pale fish swimming in the well. Maybe it’s just me but when you’ve got piranhas in the well it’s time to think about moving, amiright?

Texas Blind Salamander

(images via: Academic.ru, Silverfish Attack and Why Evolution Is True)

The Texas Blind Salamander (Eurycea rathbuni) is an extreme example of eyelessness as an adaptation to low or zero light conditions in underground environments. Growing up to 5 inches (13cm) in length, this rare and unusual creature is found in just one location: the San Marcos Pool of the Edwards Aquifer in Hays, Texas.

(image via: CaliforniaHerps)

Texas Blind Salamanders are amphibians and they lay their eggs in water. They eat snails, amphipods and blind shrimp – a case of the blind eating the blind, pardon the pun.


(images via: Wikipedia and ScienceBlogs)

The Olm (Proteus anguinus) is the only member of its genus and the only troglobitic vertebrate on the European mainland. Like the Leptodirus beetle, it can be found in the freshwater caves of southeastern Europe’s Dinaric Alps. First described in 1768 but not recognized as a purely cave-dwelling animal, the Olm is known to people in Slovenia and Croatia as the “human fish” due to its pale, pinky coloration.

(images via: Arkive, Oracle ThinkQuest and Posing Facts)

The Olm’s snakelike body averages 8 to 12 inches (20–30 cm) in length with occasional examples reaching 16 inches (40cm). As one of the symbols of Slovenia, the Olm was featured on some of the country’s coins before they switched to the Euro.

(images via: Wired and Nature Manchester)

Though it may superficially resemble the Texas Blind Salamander and like it is completely eyeless, the Olm is a completely different animal. It is neotenic, remaining in the gill-breathing larval stage its entire life (which may be as long as 100 years!). Olms also have 3 toes on the forelimbs but only 2 on their hind limbs. Here’s a short video on the Olm from the acclaimed PBS television program Nature:

Land of the Falling Lakes – Alien Creatures, via PBS

Madagascar Blind Snake

(images via: IO9 and WebEcoist)

The Madagascar Blind Snake (Xenotyphlops mocquardi) is one of 15 different kinds of blind snakes that call Madagascar their home, though Xenotyphlops takes sightlessness to a whole new level. In fact, unless this 10-inch (25cm) long, pencil-thin burrowing reptile opens its mouth – or happens to be in motion – it’s tough to know which end is which. While not eyeless per se, the Madagascar Blind Snake is negatively phototaxic, meaning it avoids light and when brought to the surface immediately tries to burrow back underground. Xenotyphlops and its blind relatives are the only snakes that eat insects exclusively, homing in on ant and termite nests with a highly developed sense of smell.

(image via: MSNBC)

The Madagascar Blind Snake was actually discovered twice: once in 1905 and again one hundred years later after not being seen at all in the interim. It obviously has perfected the art of deception; the genus is believed to have split off from its ancestral line about 155 million years ago when Madagascar was part of the composite Gondwanaland continent.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Outstanding Offices: 12 Unorthodox Business Buildings

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Outstanding Offices: 12 Unorthodox Business Buildings: [ By Steph in Architecture & Design, Furniture & Interiors, Urbanism. ]

Why should office buildings be sprawling gray complexes in uninspired shapes, filled with depressing gray cubicles in which workers sit and long for a glimpse of nature? For a space so integral to a company’s most important functions, offices tend to be far too bland – but not these 12 buildings. Like a breath of fresh air in a stale room, the architecture of these structures is a welcome change, from high-energy urban penthouses to peaceful glass lookouts in the woods.

White Mountain Office, Sweden

(images via: arch daily)

Deep underground in a former anti-atomic shelter is the White Mountain Office, a 1200-square-foot complex that exploits the jaw-dropping contrasts between raw, rustic rock faces and the sleek curvature of modern glass and steel architecture. Albert France-Lanord Architects admit that science fiction films and even James Bond served as inspiration for the office structure, saying “The client is an internet provider and the rock shelter hosts server halls and offices. The starting point of the project was to consider the rock as a living organism. The humans try to acclimate themselves to this foreign world and bring the ‘best’ elements from earth: light, plants, water and technology.”

Saxo Bank Office Building, Denmark

(images via: new house of art)

Based online, Saxo Bank is a financial institution for the modern age, so it makes sense that its office headquarters would be thoroughly of the 21st century, unlike many banks which were founded centuries ago and retain those old-fashioned aesthetics. Though the exterior may be a bit harsh with all of its sharp angles, the interior is softened by a towering spiral staircase that serves as its focal point.

Stecklehorn Office Complex, Germany

(images via: architecture design)

The center of old Hamburg in Germany isn’t exactly a hopping spot for ultra-modern architecture, but all the better for the somewhat bizarre Stecklehorn Office Complex, built by J.H. Mayer for Alstadt Cogiton Projeckt. The contrast between its sloping white surfaces and the aged look of the historic buildings beside it serve to make it even more eye-catching.

Vodafone Headquarters, Portugal

(image via: canonuleague.com)

“Life in Motion” – that’s the slogan for Vodafone, one of the world’s largest communications companies, and it seems to be illustrated well in the design of their headquarters in Portugal. Like some living being that could get up at any moment and walk away, the asymmetrical building is somehow organic despite its angularity. Three of the building’s tiered floors sit beneath the ground. The architects, Barbosa & Guimaraes, say “Seeking inspiration from painting, sculpture, photography, arts which had already faced this dilemma, the office building, designed usually linear, begins to become an irregular body, out of balance, with many faces in motion.”

Red Bull Headquarters, London

(images via: design verb)

What else would you expect from the signature beverage of the hyperactive than an office building featuring a gigantic slide? Outfitted in the brand’s red, blue and silver color scheme (along with plenty of steel), the building is thoroughly modern and adult yet retains a sense of playfulness.

Pixar Offices, California

(images via: veerle pieters)

For a team as creative as Pixar, an ordinary office environment certainly won’t do. Luckily, the company provides its programmers, artists and other employees with suitably zany, colorful, personalized little ‘huts’ in lieu of cubicles. It’s almost like having your own “tiny house” inside the Pixar building, for all the privacy you need yet easy access to all the other cool features at Pixar headquarters.

Studiometrico Bastard Store & Office, Italy

(images via: bastard.it)

Skateboarders aren’t exactly the types to happily sit indoors in a boring office environment all day. More than likely, they’re daydreaming of spacious skate parks – which they would have right there at work if they were employees at the offices of Bastard Store, a skateboarding equipment company in Milan. The sleek and modern building features at its heart a full-size indoor skate park that hovers 18 feet above the ground.

Las Palmas Penthouse Building, The Netherlands

(images via: benthamcrouwel.nl)

As if having a beautiful view of the river in Rotterdam weren’t enough, employees who spend their days at the Las Palmas penthouse building in the Netherlands get to do so in a structure that is a work of art in itself. Designed by Bentham Crouwel Architects, the penthouse is an elliptical-shaped add-on to the roof of the Las Palmas building, standing on 18-foot supports with a vast, open view from a giant wall of windows. Inside, the curved shape gives it the feel of an immense airplane.

Selgas Cano Architecture Office, Spain

(images via: iwan baan)

Everyone needs a window in their office so they can take a moment every now and then to gaze out at nature for a while and recharge before getting back to work. But what if half of your office building’s roof were open to the sky, framed by a canopy of trees? The Selgas Cano Architecture office building in Madrid is set partially into the ground with one side entirely transparent, giving employees the ideal inspiration to design more incredibly architectural masterpieces.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Slovenia

(images via: sadar vuga)

Known mostly for its old world architecture and breathtaking mountains, the Eastern European nation of Slovenia may not seem like the most obvious setting for a stunning modern building like this – but in fact, this beautiful glass structure is home to those tasked with bringing in visitors and revenue, and it certainly makes a good impression. The architects, Sadar Vuga, say “By retaining the huge public forecourt, the programme along the existing building is verticalized, thus giving it a new fa├žade, designed like boxes piled on top of each other.”

Treetop Office, Washington

(images via: inhabitat)

Anyone who has ever sat in a windowless cubicle for eight hours a day knows how powerful the desire to see a single green leaf can be. But imagine if this were your daily view as you accomplished your tasks at work – golden sunlight on towering trees, with a lake and a wooded hill in the background. Customer experience consultant Peter Frazier built this inspirational treetop office after decades of feeling disconnected from nature.

Galiliee, France

(images via: arch daily)

The combination of static, neutral-colored geometric shapes and a dynamic white band of concrete give the ‘Galilee’ office building near Toulouse, France a sense of hushed expectation – of precarious balance between the formal and informal, the mundane and the surprising. The slatted facade of the building is actually a sunshade that lets in plenty of natural daylight while also keeping the interior cool.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Animal Metallicism: 10 Amazing Golden Creatures

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Animal Metallicism: 10 Amazing Golden Creatures: [ By Steve in 7 Wonders Series, Animals & Habitats, Nature & Ecosystems. ]

Got the gold bug? Golden animals are both beautiful and rare, much like the precious metal itself. These colorful insects, arachnids, vertebrates – and even one very special lady – are linked by a common bond: the warm, golden glow that gives them the look of exquisite, living treasures.

Golden Beetles

(images via: MindCafe, BugGuide and TravelPod)

Certain types of beetles can appear so golden it’s hard to believe they haven’t somehow incorporated 24-carat gold into their gleaming shells! They haven’t – if they did, human treasure hunters would have long since driven them to extinction. Among the most golden of these “gold bugs” are the Golden Scarab Beetle and the Golden Tortoise Beetle.

(images via: Home Schooling Aspergers, Laurie and Matt and Extreme Science)

These insects get their golden appearance using some pretty sophisticated science. The Golden Tortoise Beetle can adjust the moisture content between two layers of its wing covers, resulting in varying levels or golden iridescence as seen by the human eye.

(image via: DK Images)

The Golden Scarab Beetle (Chrysina resplendens) goes even further: its chitinous cuticle reflects circularly polarized light which is “left-handed”. Sounds complicated; looks brilliant!

Golden Jumping Spiders

(images via: Johnbird30 and BugGuide)

Jumping spiders are hunters and ambush predators rather than web-weavers so one would think having a gleaming, metallic exoskeleton would not be in their best interest. Possibly these spiders’ golden appearance is something only human eyes – and not those of its prey – can appreciate.

(image via: Bug Guide)

Jumping spiders are one of the most intelligent spider species and this 1/4-inch long iridescent gold example is one of the most striking in appearance. The rose petal upon which this jewel-like arachnid has set up his or her hunting grounds makes a pleasing contrast with the shimmering iridescent gold of the spider’s exoskeleton.

Golden Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis

(images via: Micro Cosmos, Dave A. eh? and How Stuff Works)

Monarch butterflies are known for their bold orange wings bisected with black veins and contrasting white spots. Their caterpillars, often found grazing on Milkweed plants, are striped with black, white and yellow. It’s only in this majestic creature’s intermediate stage that it chooses to flash its gold: the chrysalis. Oh, uhh, the dude in the chrysalis suit? Gold, pure (comedy) gold.

(images via: Clayruth and About.com)

A Monarch butterfly chrysalis is mainly emerald or jade green in color highlighted by bright metallic gold trim – a horizontal line about 1/3 of the way down and raised golden bumps set apart symmetrically on its lower portion. About 24 hours before the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, the surface will darken and then turn transparent. Through this process and even after the butterfly has emerged, the golden stripe and spots remain.

Golden Fish

(images via: Smile-O-Smile)

To quote the website copy describing this “truly unbelievable” golden fish, “This is an amazing creation of the Creator. Gold Fish, which was found in the sea in Taiwan was put to display in Taiwan’s Natural Museum.” Okie dokie, I have an open mind and I’m sure you do too… but then: “Scientists have found that some of the parts of this beautiful fish are of 24 carat pure gold.” That noise you heard? That was my mind snapping shut.

(image via: Rojaks)

Seems this particular goldfish, er, gold fish is an animatronic device that may have a creator; just not THE Creator. One can be sure, however, that Koi breeders are actively engaged in producing a truly believable golden ornamental carp. Such a fish might not have 24-carat gold parts but eager buyers would likely pay as if they were.

Golden Poison-Dart Frog

(images via: Jassy World and Bukisa)

There are several different species of Golden Poison Frogs including Phyllobates terribilis, said to be the world’s most poisonous vertebrate. Just how deadly are the alkaloid toxins exuded by these frogs through their skin? Just milligram of the frog’s Batrachotoxin poison is enough to kill approximately 10,000 mice, or 10 to 20 humans, or two African bull elephants – from 1/1,000th of a gram of poison! Another way of stating its toxicity is roughly 15,000 humans killed per gram. “Look but don’t touch” was never so appropriate.

(images via: The Dog Walker, Harunyahya and Know Your Meme)

Golden Poison Frogs are not metallic gold in hue; in fact they can be pale green, various shades of yellow or even bright orange. Where you WILL see metallic gold on frogs (or toads) is in their eyes – the iris’ of many types of common frogs and toads displays a rich, brassy golden tone that contrasts with a midnight black background. Quite beautiful… some might even say, hypnotic.

Gold Tegu Lizard

(images via: Offbeat Pets and Richard Seaman)

The Gold Tegu lizard is a large South American lizard that exploits a similar ecologic niche to that of monitor lizards on other continents. The Gold Tegu’s glossy skin and ornate gold over black striping combine to make it visually very appealing.

(image via: Richard Seaman)

Gold Tegu lizards are popular pets though their feisty nature and hard-to-tame aggressiveness makes them a real handful. Speaking of which, a Gold Tegu can grow rather large – up to 44″ long from tip of the nose to the end of their tails – and unlike other Tegu species they are mainly carnivorous.

Golden Snakes

(images via: Arkive, Steffen und Christina, Eco Terrarium Supply and Polyvore.com)

Several different species of snakes have been graced with the prefix “golden”, including the Golden Tree Snake and the Golden Cat Snake. Most gold-toned snakes live in desert habitats where their coloration helps them blend in with the sandy ground and dry vegetation of arid climes.

(image via: Worth1000)

Now here’s one “rattler” that one wouldn’t mind having coiled close by – it’s one way to un-constrict your finances, at least. I’d say the gilded serpent above was both real and available but then… I’d be speaking with a forked tongue.

Golden Marmoset

(images via: Is America Burning and Purple Slinky)

The Golden Marmoset, or Golden Lion Tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia), is one of the smallest monkeys and also one of the most endangered. It’s estimated only about 1,000 of these primates survive in forested areas of Brazil’s Atlantic coast while another 490 are currently kept in captivity or on protected reserves. It’s estimated that 98 percent of the Golden Marmoset’s original lush rainforest habitat has been destroyed through logging and/or agriculture.

(image via: Uglorable)

The thick, golden fur covering the Golden Marmoset makes it appear larger and heaver than it really is. In actual fact, these New World monkeys only grow up to 13.2 inches (335mm) long and can weight up to 25 ounces (about 700 grams) when fully grown.

Golden Weaver Bird

(images via: Brian Callahan)

The African Golden Weaver (Ploceus subaureus) can be found in eastern and southern Africa roughly from Kenya down to South Africa. These birds can form flocks of many thousands and their teardrop-shaped nests may hang from leaf-stripped savannah trees by the dozens.

(images via: ScienceBlogs and Vijay Barve)

Golden Weaver Birds are not considered to be threatened and indeed, one of their relatives (the Red-billed Quelea) is considered to be the world’s most abundant bird with a population of approximately 1.5 billion. All Weavers are seed-eaters, and flocks sometimes cause African farmers problems when they settle en masse to gorge themselves on mature seed crops.

Golden Bond Girl

(images via: EHV Emmetts and Probert Encyclopaedia)

Our last (but not least) golden creature is of the species Homo Sapien, commonly known as Shirley Eaton, Bond Girl. Eaton played the role of Jill Masterson in the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger. Her claim to fame was her on-screen demise, considered by movie pundits to be one of the top ten film deaths. The crucial scene features Eaton sprawled nude on a bed, her body completely covered in gold. Betty White’s cool and all, but Shirley Eaton is one hot Golden Girl! Here’s a video clip of the notorious (for 1964) scene:

Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterson in Goldfinger (part 3), via Sakieee7

(image via: Screenrush)

The Jill Masterson character supposedly died from “skin suffocation”, a questionable proposition that incidentally was investigated in a memorable episode of the Mythbusters television series. Shirley Eaton was said to suffer no ill effects from her movie makeup though the film’s producers kept a doctor on hand while filming “just in case”. As for Mythbuster’s Adam Savage, his head to toe gold painting also left him none the worse for wear though his pride was somewhat dented.

(image via: Gary L. Todd, Ph.D.)

All that glitters isn’t always gold and what appears to be gold may or may not glitter – then again, animals are animate objects and their golden garb has value much more than that of the metal that has enticed, entranced and blinded humans from time immemorial.