Inside Nature’s Giants

A great new series was broadcast in the UK this summer: Inside Nature’s Giants. In each programme, veterinarians and biologists dissect a big animal to trace its evolutionary past. It contains numerous explicit scenes showing the giants’ internal anatomy. It is as enjoyable as any of BBC’s nature series, including those narrated by Attenborough.

The first series can now be viewed on YouTube. Here I embed the first 10 minutes of each four episode.

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Tongue-eating isopod: an amazing parasite

FishParasite My favourite parasite is back in the news. This is an isopod (a crustacean, closely related to woodlice) named Cymothoa exigua, and here’s what it does: it slips into a miserable fish’s oral cavity and clamps itself on the base of the tongue and commences to drain blood. As it grows on the fish’s expense, the tongue will atrophy and waste away completely leaving but a stub. Then it assumes the role of the tongue and starts acting like a normal tongue! It is no doubt hideous to look at, but it just as much amazes me how this sort of adaptation can come about. It apparently does no other harm to the host, but I still definitely don’t want one in my mouth.

Great tits took to bat-eating

An incredible behaviour has been observed in the Bükk Mountains of Hungary. Great tits (Parus major) developed the habit of hunting down and killing bats for food. Scientists are quite taken aback, for these nice little passerines were not expected to be able to predate on prey as large as pipistrelle bats. The behaviour is most likely a ‘cultural phenomenon’, that is one of them made a hit by trial and error and, being quick-learners, the new type of food acquisition quickly spread through the population.

See more on this in BBC News (with a grisly photo of a half-eaten bat) and Times Online. The original results appear today in the journal Biology Letters.