Freaky Friday Fauna

Today's post is just about CRAZY looking and acting animals - what's your favourite freaky fauna?

Fabulous hatterpillar

Last night I was idly trawling through Twitter and found this fantastic creature (hat-tip - or should that be head-tip? - to fellow nature nerd @theatavism) on Bug Girl's blog.

Taking a leaf out of Princess Eugenie's book, the gum leaf skeletoniser caterpillar is very fashion-forward with its approach to headgear. (Photo: Nuytsia@tas)

She had posted up a picture of this amazing-looking caterpillar (hat-terpillar?) who enjoys wearing all of its moulted head-shells on its head in a big stack - for no discernible reason whatsoever.

This fancy creature is actually an Aussie import that's a pest here. It's called a gum-leaf skeletoniser and was first found in New Zealand 20 years ago, when it was eradicated locally, but it has since appeared in good numbers in Auckland and has been found in Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Napier and Nelson. The gum-leaf skeletoniser has hairy spines along the length of its body which are venomous and can cause irritation and pain if touched. If anyone has any ideas or theories as to why this caterpillar wears its moulted heads as hats - I'd love to hear them!

Harvestman headgear

Sticking with invertebrates, David Winter has some incredible photos of harvestmen, which are related to spiders, generally pretty small, but look like something that Sir Peter Jackson dreamed up for the Hobbit. This creature is Pantopsalis albipalpis, and is sporting some incredible jaws that must be extremely heavy for him to lift around. Since it's only the blokes that grow them like this, scientists believe that they must be (as in a peacock's tail) another mechanism for trying to attract girls. 

This male harvestman has his work cut out for him trying to keep those jaws up (photo: David Winter)

White rat-tail

I've never been a fan of rat's tails in any form (rodent or human-hairstyle), so I can't say I have much love for this new species of deepwater fish discovered off the Chatham Rise last year by NIWA.

One large white rattail (genus Coryphaenoides) caught at about 2600 m. Not previously recorded from New Zealand waters. Rare. (Credit: Peter McMillan)

Star nosed mole

As I repeatedly bang on about, New Zealand is a "land without teeth", we do not have any native terrestrial mammals (except for two tiny species of bat). But the star-nosed mole reminded me a bit of kiwi with their ability to detect movement in the ground, so I reckon they're worth a look.

That incredible nose is made up of 11 pairs of fleshy dangly bits which make up 25,000 sensory receptors that create such sensitivity that it may well be able to detect seismic waves. 

Horned lizard

Not a native either, but gets on today's freak list because it shoots blood out of its eyes! They live in the United States, and if they are threatened, they increase the pressure in their heads to such a degree it ruptures the blood vessels around their eyes.  This stream of blood shooting out (apart from being terrifying) weirds out predators, and apparently tastes a bit gross to dogs and cats. I've got the "red mist" of rage before, but never enough to pull of this gruesome trick.

Gruesome attack strategy by the horned lizard (photo: Dave Beaudette, via Flickr)

Sea pig

Not a pig, but in fact a sea cucumber - this incredible looking creature is found in extremely deep oceans, including around Antarctica, where the NIWA team found them on an expedition to the Ross Sea in 2008.  It's an echinoderm, making it a relative of the starfish.

If you want to know more about the sea pig in a HILARIOUS way, please watch this video (but probably with headphones on if you are at work! You have been warned).

What are your favourite weirdest creatures? and what makes them so freaky? I'm keen to hear your thoughts.

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