The Crown-of-Thorns Starfish

This is the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish, which, as you can guess from its name, is a lovable creature and a true friend to all.

Notice how everything else in this picture is dead.
Seen here bringing a little colour to a dead, decaying underwater hellscape.

The Crown-of-Thorns starts its life like any other starfish – five arms and radial symmetry – but the older it gets, the more the arms split, and the more spikes sprout from its nasty Hellraiser skin. Eventually, it will turn into a huge barbed disk with a frill of arms, blindly feeling its way across the ocean floor, looking for food.

And for the Crown of Thorns Starfish, food means coral. Not just the animals that live there – the coral itself.

The starfish is a problem because it eats the very creatures that make up the reef, and is difficult for other animals to stop. Methodically, it moves across the reef, killing and consuming the coral, cracking the ecosystem apart from the bottom up.

What’s worse, in many parts of the world human-induced chemical runoff has caused plankton to bloom, creating the perfect conditions for an uncontrollable starfish “outbreak”. One such outbreak has destroyed 42% of the Great Barrier Reef in the last 15 years.

Like a Resident Evil monster in every way that matters.
They’re like a Resident Evil monster in every way that matters.

Notice how it’s pretty tough to tell them apart in the photo above – there’s just too many of them, too crammed together.

Like that, they move over the marine landscape, and leave only the coral skeletons behind. Made brittle without their owners, the coral skeletons usually break apart in the next storm, and the reef is destroyed. On the wreckage, algae will grow, and the ecosystem will change completely.

Before.
Before.
Mad Max: Ocean Edition
After.

The phalanx can defend itself, too. Like regular, non-evil starfish, the Crown-of-Thorns has a body full of saponins – chemicals which act like a natural detergent.

Keeping one of these starfish in an enclosed pool will quickly have it foaming, like bubble bath, but whatever you do, don’t light a few candles and put some Barry White on. The Crown-of-Thorns got its name for a reason, and it isĀ covered in sharp spikes, intended to punch deep into flesh and get the saponins into the wound. Regular bubble bath stings your eyes; Crown-of-Thorns bubble bath stings wounds, and usually means massive swelling, crippling agony, and a trip to the hospital.

General rule of thumb for nature: if it's this brightly coloured, it is evil.
General rule of thumb for nature: if it’s this brightly coloured, it is evil.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the spines also have a nasty habit of breaking off deep inside a predator or an errant foot, resulting in some quality time spent with the nearest surgeon.

So, I guess we just sit back, keep our hands and arms away from the starfish and let it eat all the reefs ever, right?

Think again, you spiky asshole starfish.
Think again, you spiky 5-to-28-armed asshole.

The defence of the reefs has to come from two angles – eliminating the chemical runoff that’s causing the starfish outbreaks, and culling the existing population back down to their natural, non-apocalyptic numbers.

Three boat crews on the Great Barrier Reef are deployed every year to try to bring the starfish population down, with divers injecting each one with ox bile and moving on. It’s a race against time, trying to beat the starfish’s phenomenal reproductive speed, and the bile is expensive and difficult to store and use.

Recently, however, it was discovered that normal household vinegar does the same job with a 100% starfish kill rate. Much cheaper, available in any supermarket and easy to store, ocean tests are underway now to see whether it may hold the key to saving the reefs.

The other side of the rescue, however, is not going well. The industrial and agricultural runoff that creates the outbreaks has continued without rest – the conditions are perfect for another endless swarm.

Alien biology, venomous spikes, mindless swarm eating all living things, created by pollution... It's like a Monster Movie checklist.
Alien biology, venomous spikes, a mindless horde eating all living things, created by pollution… It’s like a checklist for monster movie creatures.

All we need to do to stop the outbreaks forever is cut back on the pollution of the oceans.

That should be easy, right?

The Pangolin

Pangolins are cool, but man, are they weird.

Really weird.
Really weird.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that’s a goofier Sandslash – it totally is.

sandslash

The pangolin is far more than just scales and being beaten by Water-Types, though. It’s got all kinds of tricks up its heavily-armoured sleeves.

For starters, the armour itself. Pangolins are covered in thick scales made of keratin – the same stuff that makes hair, nails, rhino horns and other stylish mammalian outerwear. The scales interlock to create a suit of armour thatĀ goddamn lions can’t get through, which, since they are found in Asia and Africa, is pretty nifty.

Notice how the fucking pride of lions is not currently eating the pangolin.
Notice how the fucking pride of lions in this photo are not currently eating the pangolin.

They can also roll into an almost perfect ball to avoid exposing any weak points to a predator, which you can see above, but here’s another photo anyway because honestly, how cute are they?

I want to hug it, even though that would be a terrible idea.
I want to hug it, even though that would be a terrible idea.

The name “pangolin” even comes from a Malay word, “pengguling” meaning “something that rolls up”.

I’m sensing some trepidation here. There must be a catch, right? This animal isn’t terrifying at all!

It must be awful to be right all the time.

The pangolin is not the scariest thing to us, but to its prey, it acts pretty much like fucking Godzilla. The pangolin eats ants and termites, which it unearths using its comically enormous earth-rending claws, shown here in a picture of a pangolin descending onto an urban center full of terrified ants.

A bug;s Life would have been a very different film with this thing in it.
A Bug’s Life would have been a very different film with this thing in it.

Once it’s torn the nest wide open, the pangolin uses a long sticky tongue (that can be as long as its entire body) to whip around the inside of the nest, into every nook and hollow, hoovering up ants wherever they try to hide. When the ants fight back, the pangolin’s scales, sealable ears and nostrils, and immensely thick eyelids prevent them from doing any damage. It seals up every weakness, and then annihilates the ants.

Rare footage from inside the ant's nest after the pangolin attack.
Rare footage from inside the ant’s nest during a pangolin attack.

There’s a reason I’m picking such a cute animal and pretending it’s scary this post instead of just picking any one of the actually scary animals out there: the pangolin is in real trouble.

It’s one of the most hunted animals in the world, with people killing them for their armour (which they use to make hideous clothing) or to break the scales up and sell them as a snake-oil miracle cure for everything from baldness to cancer. Their meat is prized, and their habitat is being destroyed.

All 8 species are listed as “Threatened with Extinction” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature – but all is not lost. The little goofballs have their own awareness day (World Pangolin Day, 21st Feb) and a charity dedicated to helping them – savepangolins.org.

You should check them out. The world’s better with little armoured, tongue-as-long-as-their-body, ant-terrorising mini-T-Rex walking pinecones in it. Its weirder and more interesting and just better.

Above: adorable, and only deadly if you're a termite.
Above: adorable, and only deadly if you’re a termite.

Alligator Snapping Turtles

Ok, so you’re a fish. Nothing mental or big, just, like, a minnow or something. You’re chilling in your river, looking for food, when you spot a tasty little worm in the mud.

“This looks both harmless and delicious.” – Fish

Then, just when you’re close enough to grab it, BAM. You’ve been cut in half. No warning, no chance to escape, just one second tasty worm, the next second dual guillotine fatality. You got Alligator Snapping Turtled.

The Alligator Snapping Turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in the world, and looks very much like the offspring of a tyrannosaurus, an armoured personnel carrier, and one of those unsettling staple removers with the jaws.

You know the ones I mean.

It can be found in fresh water all over the south-eastern United States, sitting on the bottom of rivers, lakes, ponds and swamps with its mouth open, daring things to try to catch that worm.

The worm lure is an appendage on its tongue – as even the inside of its mouth is heavily camouflaged, it can lie in wait with its mouth open without risking detection. The “worm” is an example of aggressive mimicry, where predators imitate something harmless or appealing to prey, to put their prey at ease or draw them closer. The angler fish’s glowing lure is the most famous example of this, but that thing where your boss pretends to be a customer is an equally scary and devious human example.

Alligator Snappers have been recorded at up to 113kg (249lb, or “two-thirds-again as heavy as me”) and can bite through broom handles. In the wild, they eat anything they can get their scaly mitts on, predominantly fish (living and scavenged), other turtles, water birds, amphibians, snakes, molluscs… The list goes on. Larger snappers even drag down aquatic rodents, swimming mammals such as armadillos, and small alligators.

Here’s a picture of an adorable newborn, which one day hopes to tear the bottoms out of canoes and eat the explorers within.

They are estimate to be able to live from 120 to 200 years, but no-one really knows how long they can keep going in the wild. So, if all else fails, if you won’t take the worm bait, if you won’t swim near by, if their extendible neck and lightning-fast scissor jaws are too slow for you… That’s ok. The Alligator Snapping Turtle will just wait. It’s got time.

“See you soon.”

Dan

(images taken from – image 1 – maxresdefault, youtube.com: image 2 – austinsturtlepage.com: image 3 – http://www.theonlinecentral.com: image 4 – http://www.drunkonblue.com)