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Meet the World’s Only Known Venomous Crustacean

Science360.gov
Science360.gov

There are some 70,000 species of crustacean—the group that includes crabs, lobsters, shrimp and crayfish—in the world, and until very recently, none of them were known to be venomous. This has made them the odd animals out in their phylum, Arthropoda, which contains tens of thousands of venomous species across its other three subphylums.

Now, biologists have found an exception to the trend. Meet the remipede Speleonectes tulumensis. These tiny critters look like white centipedes, with long segmented bodies and scores of swimming legs, and call the underground caves of Mexico and Central America home. They were first scientifically described in the early 1980s, but studied little because the cave networks they swim through are difficult to navigate and often dangerous to work in. One group of researchers that kept at it, though, discovered that the remipedes, while blind, are formidable predators and feed on the shrimp that share their underground pools. 

On closer examination, biologists from the Natural History Museum in London discovered that the remipedes had a needle-like fang on either side of their head, each attached to a reservoir surrounded by muscle that could pump fluid out through the needle point. Deep inside the crustacean’s body, they also found a gland that produces venom for storage in the reservoirs. 

Remipede venom is odd compared to that of other arthropods. While some spiders, for example, use venom consisting of tiny neurotoxic proteins, the remipede’s toxic cocktail is dominated by larger enzymes that break down the exoskeletons of their prey and destroy proteins in their bodies, softening their defenses and making their insides more easily digestible. In its makeup, the researchers say, remipede’s venom is more like that of vipers than any of its arthropod cousins. There is one familial similarity, though: a neurotoxin that paralyzes the remipede’s victims and is nearly identical to one found in spiders.

With so many crustaceans out there, why is the remipede the only one to become venomous? The researchers think that because the group has such varied diets—some are filter feeders, some are scavengers—none of them really needed a potent weapon for taking down large prey. While remipedes have also been seen filtering small bits of food from the water, their environment and lifestyle pressured them into going toxic. 

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Courtesy of The National Aviary
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Animals
Watch This Live Stream to See Two Rare Penguin Chicks Hatch From Their Eggs
Courtesy of The National Aviary
Courtesy of The National Aviary

Bringing an African penguin chick into the world is an involved process, with both penguin parents taking turns incubating the egg. Now, over a month since they were laid, two penguin eggs at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are ready to hatch. As Gizmodo reports, the baby birds will make their grand debut live for the world to see on the zoo's website.

The live stream follows couple Sidney and Bette in their nest, waiting for their young to emerge. The first egg was laid November 7 and is expected to hatch between December 14 and 18. The second, laid November 11, should hatch between December 18 and 22.

"We are thrilled to give the public this inside view of the arrival of these rare chicks," National Aviary executive director Cheryl Tracy said in a statement. "This is an important opportunity to raise awareness of a critically endangered species that is in rapid decline in the wild, and to learn about the work that the National Aviary is doing to care for and propagate African penguins."

African penguins are endangered, with less than 25,000 pairs left in the wild today. The National Aviary, the only independent indoor nonprofit aviary in the U.S., works to conserve threatened populations and raise awareness of them with bird breeding programs and educational campaigns.

After Sidney and Bette's new chicks are born, they will care for them in the nest for their first three weeks of life. The two penguins are parenting pros at this point: The monogamous couple has already hatched and raised three sets of chicks together.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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iStock

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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