Friday, October 16, 2015

A Matter of Defense

Thought for the day:  You'd better not mess with me. I know karate, kung fu, judo, tae kwon do, jujitsu, and a whole bunch of other bad-ass words. 


When humans are threatened, we have an impressive range of  self-defense tools, both psychological and physical, but to find the most impressive and disgusting wow factors in survival, we have to take a look at the animal kingdom. Which is what we're gonna do.

Hey! What can I say? If it's disgusting... I'm gonna share it with you. I'm generous like that.




hognose snake [wikimedia]
To tell the truth, the humble hognose snake inspired me to write this post, and he isn't disgusting at all. Not that I'm a snake-lover, but this guy with his little turned up snout is kinda cute. In some pictures, it looks like he's wearing a perpetual smile. And he's harmless, too.  Non-venomous, and he hardly ever bites.

But this snake is a really grrrrreat pretender with a boatload of bravado.




[source: Dana Oliver, GA Department of Wildlife]

When threatened, this harmless guy will puff up like a big bad cobra, which has earned him another name... puff adder. He'll even hiss like a cobra.









[wikipedia- credit: Albert Herring, VA State Parks]

But if all that bluff and bluster doesn't do the trick? No problem. He'll just roll over onto his back with his tongue hanging out, and... play dead. Even manages to emit a foul scent to help convince whatever or whoever is bothering him to go away... nothing here worth eating, buddy, just keep moving... because I'm dead, dead, DEAD, dammit.

But the thing is, after learning about this snake, I decided to research some of the self-defense techniques used by other animals. Turns out, some of their defensive methods are rather offensive and disgusting. So natch, I'm gonna share some of that stuff with you. (Aren't you lucky?)

The hognose snake, of course, isn't the only critter who plays dead in the face of danger. Probably the best-known is the opossum, which actually collapses and falls into a coma-like state that can last for hours. Unfortunately, far too many of them collapse right in the middle of the road. Not exactly the smartest move (Or should I say non-move?) in terms of their survival.

Nature already gives many creatures an appearance that blends in well with their natural environments, but many more also have the ability to change their camouflage to better match a changing environment. Like the chameleon and the walking stick insect, and the king of 'em all, the cuttlefish, which not only changes color, but also changes its texture.

Oh, and how about the skunk? Even if you've never actually encountered a Pepe La Pew in person, I'm sure you know all about how they send predators scurrying by lifting their tails and letting loose with a foul-smelling spray. I mean FOUL. Really really really foul. Foul enough to chase away a bear. And it's so bad, it can even cause temporary blindness.

But enough about stuff you probably already know. Let's turn now to some of the more bizarre... and disgusting... stuff you might NOT know...
[wikipedia- credit: Patrick Coin]
Like this guy. This rather innocuous-looking bug is called a bombardier beetle. Not only does he spray a noxious toxin out his butt to protect himself, but that toxin is scorching hot, to boot, so he both poisons AND burns. When he feels threatened, he initiates a squeezing action that forces the chemicals and catalyzing enzymes from two separate chambers in his body to combine, and the resultant chemical reaction yields a high-velocity toxic spray which is at approximately the temperature of boiling water. Believe it or not, these beetle chemists live on every continent but Antarctica.

[credit: Chris Stubbs, Edmonton Zoo]


The bombardier beetle isn't the only critter that squirts poison out its butt. The Malaysian exploding ant has large glands filled with a corrosive venom, and all it has to do is contract its abdomen to burst the glands and spray predators. (No mixing needed. No boiling temperature either, but still. Kinda impressive.) Some bugs, like the potato beetle and the cereal leaf beetle, are somewhat lazier, but equally as off-putting. They cover themselves in feces. Other animals, rather than roll in poop, ooze poison through their skin. The motyxia sequoiae, a type of millipede, bioluminesces if threatened, while oozing cyanide and other foul-tasting chemicals through its skin. The sea cucumber, as shown in the picture, is capable of oozing a sticky poison, but it does something else even more astounding... and yes, disgusting.



[wikimedia]

And here it is. Know what the sea cucumber is doing in this shot? It is self-eviscerating. Really. In extreme circumstances, to reeeeeally convince a predator that it's dead, a sea cucumber will squeeze its muscles so tightly, it actually forces some of its organs out its anus. Talk about extreme.

Getting sick of hearing about the disgusting stuff animals shoot out their butts to defend themselves? Okay, let's look at the other end, then. There's always vomiting. (Sorry.) Yeah, some critters use that as a means of self-defense, too. Mostly birds. Like the European roller bird, the fulmar, and the turkey buzzard. The roller bird spews a nasty-smelling orange liquid, and the fulmar produces a putrid oil in its stomach, which it projectile vomits in the faces of predators. It's bad news for other birds, too, because it mats their feathers, which makes flying impossible. The turkey buzzard is a little less genteel, if one considers projectile vomiting genteel. He simply arfs up the entire disgusting contents of his stomach into one untidy putrid pile. Makes him lighter, so he can get away faster, and the pile of barf smells so bad, most predators quickly lose interest. (Wouldn't YOU?)

Okay, don't want to hear anything more about vomit, either, huh? Okay, well, I've got a super odd one for you. The Texas horned lizard puffs up a bit when threatened, which isn't all that unusual, but what he does next is astounding. He shoots blood... out of his eye! And believe it or not, the stream of blood can travel up to five feet! Wanta see...? (Of course you do!)


Pretty cool, huh? The best is yet to come, but I'll save it for next week.

Rah! Rah! Siss Boo BAH! [wikimedia- credit: Hectonichus]

Looky here. I'm ending on a ♪cute note ♫. Nothing at all disgusting about this cute little cheerleader look-alike, who's only about an inch in size. He's a boxer crab, and although it looks like he's holding pom poms in his claws, they're actually anemones. The crab helps the anemones by toting them around, and they help him by providing protection. They're the muscle. So to speak. Don't they make a lovely menage a trois?

                                                           Such a beautiful relationship...


Some of you might find it odd that one of the words I used to tag this post is appreciation. And that's because, no matter how disgusting we might find the behavior of some animals to be, it is fascinating to learn about them. The more we discover about them, the better we can appreciate them. Not that I'd recommend attempting to make friends with a bombardier beetle...

                                        Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

P.S. Here's news about something that should be of interest to both readers and writers alike. Author Jessica Therrien is featuring a Read and Review Challenge on her blog from now until the end of March, in which a long list of authors has agreed to provide a FREE book to any reader who is willing to write and post a review. Each month, anyone who writes and posts a review for one of these books will be entered into a drawing for a ten-dollar Amazon gift card, and anyone who writes five reviews over the entire challenge period becomes eligible for the grand prize drawing of a fifty-dollar gift card. What's not to love, right? Authors, here's a chance for your book to get more exposure and potential reviews, and readers, FREE BOOKS! Need I say more? Go ahead. Check it out. The list of books is growing all the time.

62 comments:

  1. I feel robbed. There have been occasions in my life, and no doubt will be again when I could have done with one or more of those defensive tricks. Mind you, it is hard to choose which one I would like most to have in my arsenal. Sigh.

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    1. HA! Yeah, I know what you mean. Maybe you'll find an even better survival technique in next week's post. :)

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  2. I am laughing so hard right now. What a hoot !
    We should trade stories on our wierd. poisioness critters !
    Love love love the hog nosed snake. So cute and so very interesting what they can do.
    You have a great weekend.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. Cool! I'm glad this post tickled your funny bone.

      I LOVE learning about some of the weird things animals do. And it is absolutely ridiculous how excited I was to find that picture of a hog-nosed snake playing dead. :)

      You have a super weekend, too.

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  3. Great and delightful post indeed.

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  4. Hi Susan - can't say I'm enamoured by these critters ... but as you say I can appreciate their abilities - nature is awesome .. that it's allowed flora and fauna so many ways to protect itself. These were wonderful to read about - though snakes I'm not a fan of ... so interesting .. cheers til your next set of clever critters ... Hilary

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    1. You're right; nature really is awesome. The more we learn about it, the more awesome it becomes.

      Cheers back atcha!

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  5. I like that little boxer crab, such a cutie.

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  6. I did not know most of this. I wouldn't want to run into these animals.

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    1. I wouldn't mind running into one of those hog-nosed snakes, especially if he'd play dead for me. :)

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  7. I do some pretty nasty things when cornered, but I can't describe them here!

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  8. As much as I thought I didn't like beetles, I will be sure to stay away from those ones that shoot out liquid that is hot as boiling water... it is really amazing what animals and bugs can do to protect themselves ...

    I wish I had more time to read, I just know with the weather still being great that I will be walking as much as I possibly can, maybe I will have time to start reading again when the nasty Winter hits... I hope everyone has fun with all the free books xox

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    1. HA! Yeah, those bombardier beetles make other beetles look rather innocuous, don't they?

      Hopefully, your winter will be much milder than it was last year, and you'll still be able to enjoy your walks. But since it will also be getting dark earlier, you'll still have plenty of time to read. Win-win!

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  9. Survival involves some stinky and icky means. We have all had those weekends.

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    1. HA! Not sure I've had any weekend quite THAT stinky and icky...

      Wait. Never mind... there were those times when the kids passed a stinky icky stomach flu around...

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  10. I had to scroll through this post quickly - snakes and bugs - ugh! At least it is morning as I read this, otherwise scary dreams could arise at night. Nature is bizarre, that's for sure. Steer clear of the nasties this weekend and have fun. (it's still too hot for October)

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    1. Sorry about that. :)

      You have a super non-nasty weekend, too. It's actually starting to feel like autumn here... it's heavenly!

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  11. These are great!! I'm brainstorming a possible science fiction story and needed some bizarre alien creatures to populate it. Seems like I need look no further than some of the critters here on earth for ideas!

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    1. For sure. Earth boasts some really bizarre creatures!

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  12. Playing dead in the middle of the road sure isn't the brightest move indeed haha so in other words, avoid butts and mouths and one will be okay? Blah.

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    1. Avoiding butts as much as possible is always a good idea. Some mouths are worth the risk. :)

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  13. Fun and fascinating post! I enjoyed this a lot. That boxer crab is really cute. Happy Friday, Susan! :)

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    1. Thanks! (Poor Joanne doesn't think so!)

      Happy Friday to you, too, Daisy. Have a super weekend!

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  14. Wow, never knew snakes had the ability to play dead! Heck, I didn't know about these other...er, unique defense mechanisms animals have, either... XD

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    1. I thought a snake who could play dead was pretty darned neat... and I was reeeeeally excited to find a picture of it.

      Yes, "unique" is the word for it...

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  15. Quite an impressive collection of spewings,sprayings and collapsings. But when humans get to doing them it's time to leave the party before the police arrive.

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  16. I've seen horned lizards and stink bugs in action, but I've never heard of an exploding ant.

    I've never used my butt as a means of defense. I can spew a venomous array of words from my mouth - - but I prefer to just lie on my back with my tongue hanging out, like the snake.

    Thanks for another amusing and informative post!

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    1. Since you lived in Texas, I'm not surprised you've seen a horned lizard in action. A teensy bit jealous, but not surprised.

      You? Spew a venomous array of words? Say it ain't so...! :)

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  17. Poison-squirting butt. There are so many ways in which I could combine that phrase... But not now, I'm still cracking up. Nature, nature! You never cease to surprise me. Thank you ever so much for such a great post.

    Greetings from London.

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    1. See what kinda weird stuff you can learn about here?:)

      Greetings back atcha.

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  18. You just never know what you'll learn when you come here to read your latest post. Venomous stuff from butts, snakes playing dead, exploding ants - stuff that is so important and they don't teach in school! :-)

    I'd love to learn from that horned lizard and spew blood from my eye. All I know to do so far is giving people the stink eye. Not nearly as effective in keeping attackers away...

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    1. HA! Maybe I missed my calling. Should have started a school to teach all things weird. :)

      Spewing blood from the eye would score high on the shock factor, but some people can pull off "stink eyes" that are much more frightening...

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  19. I'm so scared of snakes...all types.

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    1. Snakes are usually more afraid of us than we are of them. They just want to be left alone. But I understand your sentiments. They aren't exactly cuddly critters.

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  20. here's another human defense (song by the man bka "the hardest working man in showbiz" and "the godfather of soul" himself -- james brown) -- i know karazy. funny and informative post - as usual. cheers!!

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    1. Hi-ya! It's good to hear from you again. (It's been awhile!)

      Yep ,karazy as ever. Cheers back atcha!

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  21. You know, frightened enough, I bet I could do a few of those tricks myself! Won't mention which ones, but gosh, I think my assailant would think twice about attacking an old woman like me again! LOL
    Last night, our last night in Ocean City - I had a nightmare and screamed so loud hubby was sure I'd awoken the entire hotel. The assailant I saw in that dream - would have thought twice, if he had't just been a figment of my imagination. :)
    Checking out that book review group - thank you!

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    1. No,no,no, you are supposed to get scared... your job is to scare other people with your writing. Sheesh. (And I suppose that assailant in your nightmare will be showing up in one of your stories,eh...?)

      You're welcome on the R&R Challenge. :)

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  22. Susan, I usually come here for yuks, but all I can say is YUCk! Sadly, I find myself feeling extremely envious of their clean colons. Thanks for the National Geograph-icks!

    Julie

    Julie

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  23. Shudder! I find all these creepy crawlies too much. Thanks for that read and review challenge.

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    1. Hey! It's Halloween month...what better time to feature creepy crawlies?

      You're welcome about the R&R.

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  24. Nature is so wonderfully hilarious. You really can't make this stuff up. I knew a few people in college who sprayed body fluids when threatened, but that may have been the alcohol acting as their defense.

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    1. Yep, alcohol does have a way of giving imbibers a bunch of newfound "talents."

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  25. Nature is amazing and has a wonderful sense of humor.

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  26. Oh, goodness. Some of those facts were gross and/or disturbing, but all of it was interesting, so thanks for sharing! I must say, I'm glad to be a human and not one of those creatures! Haha.

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    1. You're welcome. What can I say? If it's gross AND interesting, chances are I'm gonna share it. :)

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  27. Some of the facts are so icky! Happy Halloween month!

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    1. Icky and Halloween kinda go together. :)

      Happy Halloween month to you, too.

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  28. Fun and interesting post. Thanks for the pics.

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  29. Really? Really? I come here and this is what I get? (LOL!) I think the snake playing dead was my favorite detail.

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    1. HA! You cracked me up.

      The snake playing dead is one of my favorites, too.

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  30. Haha...interesting. Snake can play dead? Deadly!

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    1. Luckily, that snake that plays dead ISN'T deadly. Think how scary it would be if a highly toxic snake did that... and someone was tempted to pick it up...

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