Strange and Delightful Creatures Part 1

​ We have absolutely no idea how many species there actually are. Guesses range up to ten million. Recent progress in DNA analysis shows that some species are actually several. And by the time gene sequencing starts identifying fungi and bacteria, the numbers may balloon.

​ Many of the ones we have identified are interesting, baffling, beautiful, cute and just plain strange. Here is a selection of some interesting ones.

​ The Pink Fairy Armadillo, Chiamyphorus truncatus. This little fellow is one of many species or armadillo native to the Americas. Adults or no larger than four or five inches and might weigh four ounces, and they can fit in a human hand. They only come out at night and are adapted to desert conditions in their subterranean life. Their shell is used for thermoregulation, and is pink because the color of the blood used to control their body temperature shows pink through the shell. They dine on ants and worms, and are found in parts of Argentina. Pink fairy armadillos are elusive and not seen very often. They are cute, but attempts to make them pets usually result in a dead armadillo.

​ Then there’s the fish called the Pacu, a relative of the piranha, found in the Amazon basin and other river systems in South America. There are actually several species, and the fish is rather ugly. It has teeth, not like the usual small sharp teeth in other fish, but thick teeth that look remarkably like a fish wearing a thick pair of dentures. The teeth serve a purpose. The rivers the pacu lives in seasonally flood large areas of forest, and the pacu eats nuts and fruit that fall from the trees. Some species of this fish can be large, up to 3.5 feet long and close to a hundred pounds. Some have been placed in small aquariums by fish hobbyists, only to find the pacu grows too big, so hobbyists have released it into the wild. Pacu have been found in Russia, Scandinavia and New Guinea. The pacu is good eating and is being introduced as a food fish.

One of the more peculiar names for a fish is the Sarcastic fringehead, Neoclinus blanchardi. The “sarcastic” part of their name comes from their peculiar looking expression, and the “fringehead” comes from fronds of tissue that fall over its head, something like bangs on humans. This fish is an ambush predator, meaning that it hides and when prey comes near, snaps it up. They have a distendable mouth that enables them to capture prey in one gulp. They hide in shells, crevices in coral, and even in soda cans. They can be up to almost 12 inches long. Their prey is not well known, although the eat squid eggs. One of the more unusual features is that when two sarcastic fringeheads have a dispute they face each other and press their mouths together. This is not a kiss, it’s a contest, and the bigger mouth wins.

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