If you were lucky enough to be bobbing around in Space and looking down on our big wet rock, you might notice some bits that are rather dry. In these dry bits are some places that are particularly parched and in them are some seas. These aren’t the sorts of seas you’d want to sit aside with a sandwich and a light ale until you went a fetching shade of pink mind, they are the great sand seas; Erg… No, no, I’m feeling fine, that’s what these huge shifting sands are called; ‘Erg’… No, I’m fine, it’s the blasted name ‘Erg’… bugger it, let’s just call them the ‘great sand seas’.


These sand seas are whopping great lakes of powdered rock, enormous waves of stone constantly shifting, ebbing and flowing with the winds. Swathes of nothingness; very little vegetation, with a smattering of creatures surviving on whatever is unlucky enough to be blown into a scorching hot desert full of hungry things.

... how do you do?

One of these hungry little devils is the rather smashing sandfish. These fishy characters are actually a type of skink; a big group of lizards known for their lack of neck and weeny limbs. Of course he’s not the only chap with a rumbling tummy in these big desolate sand pits. The problem with empty spaces is that they are very hard to hide from things that see you as supper. Hungry sods aren’t the only thing that is trying to give you a dreadful day at the seaside either, there is a bloody big hot thing in the sky trying to put the kibosh on it too. Thankfully the wee sandfish has had a rather smashing idea.

This particular wee skink is the fish of these great sandy seas, which goes part way to explain why they are so imaginatively titled. If there is any sign of anything hungry, or indeed if it’s hotter than a Khartoum canteen that day, he just sploshes under the surface of the soft sand and swims off, the sand being so fine in the Erg it behaves like a gloopy fluid.

... a sandfish acting all fishy in sand

Before you bugger off on some other noble pursuit, and of course before one begins something ignoble, it may be of note that ours isn’t the only big rock that has these big sand seas. There are Erg on Mars and Venus, and doubtless countless other planets… and who knows what could be sploshing around under them.

Erg on Mars

Published in: on April 27, 2010 at 11:16 am  Leave a Comment  

Greenland shark

Bigger than a great white shark, it’s a crocodile that tastes like cheese… and has proven to be rather helpful for us monkeys that make stuff… sometimes this stuff just writes itself…


In the icy Arctic seas lives a massive shark; the Greenland shark – Somniosus microcephalus ‘the sleepy one with the tiny head’. It’s not the only name this chap is known by; the sleeper shark, the gurry shark, the grey shark. Not to mention a number of aboriginal names such as; iqalujjuak, eqalussuaq that roughly translate as ‘that shark we should remember next time we play Scrabble.’

The shark is rather hard to eat, not content with being a shark and therefore not the first thing you’d want to wrestle into a kitchen, the fearsome bugger is also poisonous. You can however render it edible by boiling it for about a Wednesday or two, or simply leave it to rot in the ground one for a number of months until thoroughly manky. It is said to taste like a particularly ripe Gorgonzola, or particularly putrid poisonous shark.

A remarkably bad supper isn’t the only use for this blighter either. The Inuit refer to it as ‘the shark who provides’ and indeed it does. Back in the day the natives would use the shark as a haberdashers; the skin making natty boots. The tribes tonsorial salon was also rather obliged of the fellow too; its teeth being particularly suited to fashioning hair-do’s. Of course as man has progressed he’s found a number of other uses for the poor sod; they are a source of vitamin A and their liver can be used to produce a remarkable motor oil, not to mention plans to use them as fuel for a power station. Rather a sad ending for such a terrific beast, yes… quite… one would have to agree, but since the first baldy ape thought ‘I reckon I can do something with that’ we’ve been using bits of animal to do exactly that. Starting with clonking each other over the head with bones, not to mention clonking other creatures over the head with bones… other creatures that were soon to be turned into stuff. We made flagons for mead from their horns, and corsets from the teeth of whales. Just when the animals thought things were looking a bit peachier as the industrial revolution kicked in, we started compressing penguins into engine oil and turning whales into lipstick. We still make many things out of animals, in fact it is probably safe to say that the pig is the modern whale, from one animal literally hundreds of products are made.

make of it what you will old bean

Still back to our chum the Greenland shark. As we mentioned it’s huge, reportedly bigger than the great white. Though it appears to be something of a split personality. While it can apparently catch the most nimble of prey; seals, fish, even giant squid. No one quite knows how it does it. There is a theory that a small luminous creature that nibbles at the eye of the shark acts somewhat like an anglerfishes lure, but there is no evidence for it. It certainly is docile, the Inuit say if you ever see one you can just drag it out of the water and it will put up less of a fight than hauling a bundle of washing out of a river. Though once again there appears to be a certain duality in this chaps persona, it can also be a vicious brute. Indeed the Greenland shark is thought of as Canada’s crocodile. Like the swarms of snappy chappies of Africa that are so famous for their snaffling on wildebeest, the sirloin steaks of the Serengeti, as they splosh across the rivers of the epic plains. The Greenland shark has discovered a similar easy meal at the mouth of the St Lawrence River. When the majestic Caribou cross the epic Canadian plains, they may have to cross the river and there lying in wait are swarms of some other snappy chappies just waiting to wake up to a nice hot supper.

Published in: on April 14, 2010 at 11:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Celebes Crested Macaque


The rather delightful Celebes crested macaques can be found bobbing around the forests of Sulawesi, formerly known as Celebes, in Indonesia.

... I say!

There they have come down from the trees to live on the floors. The macaques are a curious bunch who will happily pop down out of the forest looking for tasties. On Sulawesi they are a tad rare, thankfully on a number of islands nearby they are a bit more populous, what with there being less of those big bald apes making a blasted mess of things. The islands with a decent population of the beggars aren’t hindered by the fact that they are a remarkably randy wee bunch.

... a rather unlikely looking island...

You see the ladies are rather promiscuous, God bless ‘em. Actually that’s the last thing He’d do isn’t it? … moving on… The chaps of course are rather promiscuous too, though we’d expect them to be; that’s what we were all taught in biology class. You’ll remember that chaps are bounders and cads and will get as many fillies in the sack as possible. Fillies on the other hand are delightful creatures who will only sleep with their husband and only then with the light off and with none of that funny stuff involved… though it doesn’t take a degree in advanced calculus to work out that 1 + 1 equals fun, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise that ladies are rather partial to putting it about a bit too.

While it’s true that chaps do tend to be promiscuous, and will try the rather rakish ploy of getting as many fillies up the duff as possible. Nuptials and reproduction are also rather important for the fairer sex too. Indeed it can be beneficial for her to pick out a couple of chaps… or more. If she has more lovers she is more likely to have a wee one, and if she has a litter they may have a nice spread of genes… and be therefore more likely to survive. The males may offer her food or protection for nuptials, and when she does have kids the male may have his suspicions about them looking a bit like Geoff two doors down… but when it comes down to it he’s a couple of millennia off sussing out that using polymerase chain reaction or restriction fragment length polymorphism is probably the most effective method of paternity testing… and is more likely to find sniffing what he’s just scratched off his buttocks a profound intellectual awakening… and will just go on assuming that Timmy is his child.

That’s why ladies of many species put it about a bit… promiscuity is the norm. Only a few percent of creatures are considered monogamous and then it is very rare that they are found to be not naughty when scrutinized. Animals that are considered faithful such as the swans very rarely are, studies in other ‘monogamous’ birds have shown that if the male partner is sterilized year in and year out the female will have young. While it’s thought that 90% of birds are said to be in a monogamous relationship it’s thought that 90% of that 90% in fact have a little bit extra on the side. The queen honeybee’s maiden flight is anything but virginal… quite the opposite – she’ll mate with about 40 drones on the way. The list could go on and on.

Though we wouldn’t be too judgmental of the Celebes crested macaque if we were you. It wasn’t that long ago that your ancestors were bobbing around along to the forest floor, edging out of the forest looking for tasties… and indeed other funny looking apes to have some fun with… lots of them.

Published in: on April 7, 2010 at 2:35 pm  Comments (2)