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The return of Weird Creatures

04 October 2007

Nick Baker returns to the Natural History Museum in search of more bizarre and wonderful animals for the second Weird Creatures television series.

Unusual animals such as the alligator snapping turtle, hellbender, mimic octopus, olm and more feature in the new series, which begins this Friday.

Nick investigates each species by talking to scientists at the Museum. He finds out why some animals have developed unusual adaptations, such as mimicking other creatures or developing brand new eyes! Nick finds answers to questions such as why some creatures have such powerful bites or why they live to such an old age.

Alligator snapping turtle
Nick Baker holds an alligator snapping turtle. © five

Nick Baker holds an alligator snapping turtle. © five

The alligator snapping turtle, Macrochelys temminckii , has one of the most powerful bites in the natural world. It is the largest freshwater turtle in North America and lives primarily in southern US waters.

The inside of the turtle's mouth is camouflaged, and has a worm-shaped tip to its tongue, which it uses to lure prey in before snapping its mouth shut, and thus ambushing its food.

Mimic octopus

The mimic octopus, Thaumoctopus mimicus , can reach over 48 centimetres (1.6 feet) in length, with brown and white stripes or spots covering its body. It lives in the tropical seas of South East Asia and was not officially discovered until 1998, off the coast of Sulawesi.

It is the first octopus species ever observed to imitate a poisonous or nasty-tasting animal.

Animals it mimics include the sea snake, where is buries its body to reveal just two tentacles; the flatfish, where it forms a flat delta shape and glides across the sea bed; and the venomous lionfish, where it spreads its body to form a star shape.

Museum mollusc expert, Jonathan Ablett, says, 'It was only when I started doing some research on the mimic octopus for the filming that I discovered that several other species of cephalopod (the group of animals that includes squid, octopus and cuttlefish) utilise mimicry.'

The olm, or proteus, lives deep in caves.

The olm, or proteus, lives deep inside caves.

'For example broadclub cuttlefish, Sepia latimanus, impersonate dead mangrove leaves, and Caribbean reef squids have been seen to mimic parrotfish in order to catch prey. Small males of the giant cuttlefish, Sepia apama , impersonate females in order to escape larger males who would try and fight them for courtship rights, and to gain access to the real females to mate with them.'

Olm

The olm, or proteus, Proteus anguinus , lives in cave waters in parts of Europe, and has adapted to life deep underground. They have no eyes or pigmentation in their skin as a result of living in total darkness, yet when left to develop outside the cave they develop rudimentary eyes.

The olm is also called the 'humanfish', cave salamander or white salamander. It reaches sexual maturity at 14-15 years and can live up to 58 years.

Most amphibians can live on land but need to return to the water in order to breed. The olm, however, is wholly aquatic, not only breeding in water, but spending its entire life there.

Hellbender
Hellbenders are the largest salamanders in North America. © five

Hellbenders are the largest salamanders in North America. © five

Hellbenders, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis , are the largest salamanders in North America and are one of the largest salamanders in the world, beaten only the by giant salamanders of China and Japan. They are also known as 'snot otters', 'devil dogs' and 'Allegheny alligators'.

The hellbender has been known to reach 740 millimetres (2.5 feet) long, but the average male is 426 millimetres and female 540 millimetres. They can live a relatively long time, with the oldest known hellbender in captivity reaching 29 years old.

Like all salamanders they have short legs with four toes on the front legs and five on their back ones, and their tails are keeled to propel them through water.

Although the hellbender has working lungs, it also absorbs oxygen from water through capillaries in its side-frills (the skin folds along the sides of the body). Only the immature hellbender has gills.

Spectral tarsier
The spectral tarsier has the largest eyes of any mammal. © five

The spectral tarsier has the largest eyes of any mammal. © five

The spectral tarsier, Tarsius spectrum , is the shortest primate in the world at only nine centimetres tall. In comparison to its body, it has the largest eyes of any mammal. In fact, its eyes are so big it cannot physically move them, and has to rotate its neck 180 degrees and even up to nearly 360 degrees.

Although timid, tiny and harmless looking, the tarsier is an extremely aggressive bug hunter, pouncing on and devouring insects over half the size of its own body.

TV show

Nick Baker's Weird Creatures is on Fridays at 8pm on five, starting tomorrow and continuing until 23 November.

Further Information

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