Exploring Our World

Earth's Amazing Creatures - Part 1

1. Indian Purple Frog

Found in India, this species of frog has a bloated body and an unusually pointy snout; it only spends two weeks a year on the surface of earth, leaving the underground for mating. These frogs have only recently been discovered, and around 135 purple frogs have been recorded since their discovery. They only grow to between 2.5 and 3.6 inches long.

This animal is among the most endangered species that are found in nature. Part of the reason it is endangered, the people in that area sometimes hunt them for food, believing they are good for medicinal purposes. Deforestation has also disrupted many of the frog’s natural habitats.

Purple frogs are known to communicate through use of harsh calls. These calls are said to sound similar to chickens. This is how they also attract a mate, both underground and above the surface. The tadpoles are well adapted to torrents caused by rain, and they have sucker-like mouthparts that can cling to steep, wet surfaces.

Unlike many other burrowing species of frogs that emerge and feed above the ground, this species has been found to forage underground, feeding mainly on ants and termites. It has a narrow mouth with a flexible jaw. It has a short, fluted tongue that protrudes while feeding.

2. The Leafy Sea Dragon

They are Near Threatened, which means they may be an endangered species in the future. The Leafy Sea Dragon has no known predators. Their leafy camouflage and spiny fins keep large fish from snacking on them. They slurp up their food, using their long snout like a drinking straw. The leafy sea dragon eats small shrimplike animals called mysids that live among the algae and seagrasses.

Endemic to the waters off south and east Australia. Sea dragons are some of the most ornately camouflaged creatures on the planet. Adorned with gossamer, leaf-shaped appendages over their entire bodies, they are perfectly outfitted to blend in with the seaweed and kelp formations they live amongst. It can be difficult to spot among the kelp as it slowly sways back and forth with the current.

Leafy sea dragons are closely related to seahorses and pipefish. They are generally brown to yellow in body color with spectacular olive-tinted appendages.

In the past, unscrupulous collectors stripped habitat areas bare in their search for leafy sea dragons to sell to the pet trade, and for use in Asian medicines. Today, the leafy sea dragon is protected in both south and western Australia. The south Australian government allows one brooding male to be collected each year. The captive-bred hatchlings are sent throughout Australia and overseas for education and research programs.

As with its seahorse kin, a male leafy sea dragon carries its mate’s eggs until the eggs hatch. But unlike seahorses, male sea dragons don’t have a pouch. Instead, a male sea dragon carries the eggs on the underside of its tail in a brood patch that develops as mating season approaches. The brood patch contains capillaries that deliver oxygen-rich blood to the cuplike tissue.

The female sea dragon transfers up to 300 eggs to the male’s brood patch, where the male fertilizes the eggs. The male cares for the eggs until their birth approximately four weeks later. Newborns, equipped with enough yolk to sustain them for two to three days, are on their own from the start. Once they deplete their yolk, the newborns must find their own food sources such as zooplankton and baby mysids.

At birth, leafy sea dragons are only around .8 inches (20 mm) long. Within one year, they can grow up to 7.9 inches (20 cm). They reach their mature length within their first two years of life.

3. Japanese Spider Crab

The Japanese spider crab is a species of marine crab that lives in the waters around Japan. It has the largest leg span of any arthropod (12 feet long) and weighs about 42 pounds. It is the subject of fishery and is considered a delicacy. Although this crab has some ferocious appearances, it is actually known to be very gentle towards others. The males have larger claws, called chelipeds, to fend off predators and opposing crabs. The females tend to have wider and rounder bodies to house their eggs. While adults tend to live at deeper depths the Japanese spider crabs will migrate to shallower waters during their mating season which is normally between January and April.

They live at depths between 160 to 2000 feet (50-600 m) deep and thrive at water temperatures of approximately 50 degrees. They sometimes live up to 100 years.

The Japanese spider crab are animals with no backbone, external skeletons, and multiple-jointed appendages. In this crab’s case, those appendages are its 10 legs. Due to their length and spiny attachments, the legs of Japanese spider crabs may get torn off when caught in fishing nets or by predators. These limbs can regrow when the crab goes through a molting cycle.

They prefer to eat dead and decaying animals and plant matter on the sea bed such as plants, algae, mollusks, shrimp, and small fish. Its predators are large fish, stingrays, and octopuses.

This species belongs to a group of crabs termed “decorator crabs” which have been observed decorating their shells with sponges, plants, and anemones.  This ornamentation allows them to camouflage and blend in with their environment, protecting them from predators and other threats.

4. Leatherback Sea Turtle

The Leatherback Sea Turtle is the largest turtle in the world. The largest leatherback ever recorded was almost 10 feet (305 cm) from the tip of its beak to the tip of its tail and weighed in at 2,019 pounds. Contrary to appearance, the leatherback doesn’t actually have a shell. What looks like a shell is in fact a leathery skin supported by small bones. This gives it a flexibility that a solid shell would not provide, allowing it to dive to astonishing depths.

In addition to being the largest sea turtle, leatherbacks are also the most wide-ranging. They can be found as far north as Newfoundland, Canada, and as far south as South America. As a species, leatherbacks are generally thought of as pelagic (inhabiting the open waters beyond the coastal shelf), but they can also be found in waters closer to shore.

Unlike land turtles, sea turtles (including leatherbacks) can't retract their heads into their shells, which makes them more vulnerable to predators.

While they might be great in size, leatherbacks' jaws are relatively fragile. As a result, they feed primarily on soft-bodied invertebrates such as jellyfish and tunicates such as salps. Rather than teeth, leatherbacks have sharp beaklike cusps that help them grasp prey and spines (papillae) in their mouth cavities and throats to ensure the animals they eat can enter but not exit once swallowed. Because they keep overabundant jellyfish populations in check, leatherbacks are considered an essential aspect of the marine food chain.

5. Lions Mane Jellyfish

The Lions Mane Jellyfish is not only the largest jellyfish in the world, but it also harbors a powerful sting that it uses to catch its prey. Most humans have little to fear from this ferocious jelly, but its poison is more than enough to scare away enemies, thus creating a safe space for both the jelly and other species that are lucky enough to be immune to the toxin. The bell can grow up to 8 feet in diameter with hundreds of tentacles up to 120 feet long. Remarkably, only 6% of the jellyfish is solid matter; the rest is water.

Using the powerful sting of its tentacles, the lion’s mane jellyfish catches small fishes, tiny crustaceans and even other jellyfish to satisfy its diet. Lion’s mane jellyfish are continual swimmers that can cover great distances when strong marine currents are present, and while most individuals prefer to swim solo, large swarms occasionally occur when storms and tides are prevalent. The lion’s mane jellyfish breeds in March and early May via external fertilization. Larvae will settle on the seabed and develop into polyps that eventually grow into jellyfish within 30-40 days.

The lion's mane jellyfish is preyed upon by sea turtles (which do not seem to be affected by the neurotoxins), birds, and larger fishes as well as other jellyfish.

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish come in a variety of colors. Large individuals are often red or purple, while smaller specimens tend to be shades of tannish-orange.

Lion’s mane jellyfish go through four life stages. They start as larva. Then they transform into a polyp, and then they go into the ephyrae stage, and finally the medusa. This jellyfish species has a very short life span of one year.

6. Long-Eared Jerboa

The Long-eared jerboa which inhabits China and Mongolia. It is a rodent with similar features of a mouse. It has long back legs with large feet, and it moves and jumps similar to a kangaroo. With their large ears they can hear predators from a great distance. They can jump almost 10 feet. They can also run about 15 miles an hour. Its tail is twice as long as its body.

The soles of their feet are covered in stiff hairs which help when traveling over the desert. The front legs are relatively rather small, and they are not useable for getting around.

Long-eared jerboas are insectivorous and eat mostly flying insects, thus affecting insect populations in their range. The greatest threat to this species is human disturbance to its habitat. Greater numbers of grazing livestock could be a threat in certain areas, as are drought and the drying up of water sources.

7. Lowland Streaked Tenrec

Lowland streaked tenrecs are small insectivorous mammals from Madagascar. Their snouts are long and pointed, while the coat exhibits spines. This small tenrec is the only mammal known to use stridulation for generating sound – something that’s usually associated with snakes and insects.

The hair, or fur, is black with yellow stripes that run down the side of the body, and a yellowish band running from the crown to the tip of the snout. It has a messy assemblage of quills which are barbed and detachable. If threatened by a predator, a streaked tenrec will raise the barbed quills on its back and around its neck and buck the head violently to attempt to drive the quills into the attacker’s nose or paws.

The head and body are 4.8 to 6.5 inches (12.2 to16.5 cm) in length. The weight is about 7 ounces (200 grams).

The Lowland streaked tenrec is the only sociable tenrec species, gathering into groups. Groups of these animals are family units, consisting of up to 20 animals. They are diurnal creatures and can forage both solitarily and in small groups. They can be found on land, splashing in shallow waters, or digging underground.

The streaked tenrec is active during day and night, feeding primarily upon earthworms, but also on insects. During the winter (May to October), tenrecs can drop their body temperature to nearly that of the surroundings to conserve energy, but in the coldest weather, they must hibernate.

The average size of a litter is 6 young. The young are weaned at 18 to 25 days.

Females are reproductively active at a young age, sometimes breeding at just five weeks!

Charles Darwin stated: 

“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find no such case.”

Would any of these incredibly unique one-of-a-kind creatures meet that challenge?