300 episodes

A podcast about living, extinct, and imaginary animals!

Strange Animals Podcast Katherine Shaw

    • Science
    • 4.7 • 208 Ratings

A podcast about living, extinct, and imaginary animals!

    Episode 381: Out of Place Birds

    Episode 381: Out of Place Birds

    Thanks to Richard from NC, Pranav, and Alexandra for their suggestions this week!



    Further reading:



    ABA Rare Bird Alert



    One Reason Migrating Birds Get Lost Is Out of This World



    Inside the Amazing Cross-Continent Saga of the Steller's Sea-Eagle



    A Vagrant European Robin Is Drawing Huge Crowds in China



    Bird migration: When vagrants become pioneers



    A red-cockaded woodpecker:







    Steller's Sea Eagle making a couple of bald eagles look small:







    Steller's sea eagle:







    A whole lot of birders showed up to see a European robin that showed up in the Beijing Zoo [photo from the fourth article linked above]:







    A robin:







    Mandarin ducks:







    Richard's pipit [photo by JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/) - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23214345]:







    Show transcript:



    Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.



    We’re talking about some birds again this week, with a slightly mysterious twist. These are birds that have shown up in places where they shouldn’t be, sometimes way way far from home! Thanks to Richard from NC for inspiring this episode and suggesting one of the birds we’re going to talk about, and thanks to Pranav for suggesting we cover more out of place animals.



    Last week we talked about some woodpeckers, and I said I thought there was another listener who had suggested the topic. Well, that was Alexandra! Let’s start today’s episode talking about the red-cockaded woodpecker, another bird Alexandra suggested.



    The red-cockaded woodpecker is native to the coastal southeastern United States, where it lives in pine forests. It’s increasingly threatened by habitat loss since the pine forests get smaller every year, and not only does it need old-growth pine forests to survive, it also needs some of the trees to be affected by red heart fungus. The fungus softens the interior wood, which is otherwise very hard, and allows a woodpecker to excavate nesting holes in various trees that can be quite large. The female lays her eggs in the best nesting hole and she and her mate raise the babies together, helped by any of their children from previous nests who don’t have a mate of their own yet. When they don’t have babies, during the day the birds forage together, but at night they each hide in their own little nesting hole to sleep.



    It’s a small bird that doesn’t migrate, which is why Beth Miller, a birder in Muskegon, Michigan, couldn’t identify it when she spotted it on July 1, 2022 in some pine trees near a golf course. She took lots of photos and a recording of its calls, which she posted in a birding group to ask for help. She knew the bird had to be a rare visitor of some kind, but when it was identified as a red-cockaded woodpecker, she and nine birder friends went back to the golf course to look for it. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find the bird again. It was the first time a red-cockaded woodpecker had ever been identified in Michigan, although individual birds do sometimes wander widely.



    While bird migration isn’t fully understood, many birds use the earth’s magnetic field to find their way to new territories and back again later in the year.

    • 12 min
    Episode 380: Woodpeckers

    Episode 380: Woodpeckers

    Thanks to Joel and Mary for suggesting some really interesting woodpeckers this week!



    Further watching:



    Rare woodpecker thought extinct spotted in Ohio



    The green woodpecker really likes to eat ants [picture by Remyymer - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65008314]:







    The white-headed woodpecker looks like its face got splashed with paint:







    The red-headed woodpecker has the prettiest shade of red [picture by colleen - originally posted to Flickr as Red Headed Woodpecker, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6639146]:







    The acorn woodpecker looks like it got its face splashed with white paint and then dipped its beak in black paint [picture by Charles J. Sharp - Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography.co.uk, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=136903489]:







    Show transcript:



    Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.



    This week we’re going to talk about a type of bird that several people have suggested, the woodpecker! Thanks to Joel and Mary for their suggestions, and I could swear someone else suggested woodpeckers a while back. If that was you, thank you and I’m sorry I didn’t write it down!



    It’s funny that we haven’t talked about woodpeckers very often, because they are definitely strange animals. How many animals use their head to hammer holes in wood? The woodpecker has a strong, heavy bill that it uses to drill holes in trees to find hidden insects and other invertebrates. A lot of insects dig little burrows in wood, and the woodpecker hammers away at the wood until it exposes the burrow. Then it has to get the insect or grub out of the burrow without it getting away, so it has a long, sticky tongue with barbs at the end. It can stick its tongue into the burrow and use it to drag the insect out and eat it.



    When I say woodpeckers have long tongues, I mean their tongues are way longer than you think. The woodpecker’s skull contains a special cavity that wraps all the way around the brain and back down to the right nostril, and this cavity is where the main part of the tongue is when the woodpecker isn’t actually using it. It also helps cushion the brain and keep it from moving too much while the woodpecker is pecking. The skull itself is lined with spongy bone to soften impacts too.



    The woodpecker also has a lot of other adaptations to using its entire head like a hammer. To protect its eyes from debris and pressure damage, it has a thick membrane that it uses to cover the eye, like built-in safety goggles. It has tiny, tough feathers that protect the nostrils from debris, and its nostrils are usually very small and thin too. Even its skin is thicker than that of most birds.



    Woodpeckers have weird feet too. Almost all species have four toes, two that point forward, two that point backward. This arrangement is called zygodactyly, and it’s a trait also found in parrots and some other birds, and in chameleons. It allows the woodpecker to climb trees and branches securely and easily. The woodpecker also has a relatively short tail with stiff feathers that it uses to prop itself up against a tree trunk while hammering.



    The woodpecker doesn’t just use its hammering ability to find food. It also hammers to communicate with other woodpeckers, the same way other birds use song. Each species has its own pattern of drumming, and the sound can attract a mate or tell rivals that this territory is already taken. When it’s communicating, the woodpecker will drum on different surfaces than when it’s just looking for food.

    • 10 min
    Episode 379: Animals That Inspired Pokemon

    Episode 379: Animals That Inspired Pokemon

    Thanks to Pranav, Isaac, and an anonymous listener for their suggestions this week! Let's learn about some animals that inspired three Pokemon.



    Sandshrew:







    Possible Sandshrew inspirations:







    Drowzee:







    Possible Drowzee inspiration:







    Fennekin:







    Undoubted Fennekin inspiration:







    Show transcript:

    Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.

    This week we’re going to do something slightly different. At least two people and probably a lot more have suggested that we talk about some animals that were the inspiration for Pokemon, so I picked three that you might not know about. Thanks to Pranav and Isaac for their suggestions, and if you suggested the same topic at some point and I didn’t write it down, thank you too! Thanks also to an anonymous listener who suggested three of the animals we’ll talk about in this episode. I didn’t intend to cover three animals suggested by the same listener but it worked out that way, which is kind of neat.

    Some of you may not be familiar with what Pokemon are. The word is a shortened version of the term “pocket monsters,” and it started as a video game where players catch various monsters and store them in little round cages called pokeballs. A lot of Pokemon are so cute you can’t really call them monsters, but they all have different abilities and can evolve into even more powerful versions with enough training. My only real experience with Pokemon is the game Pokemon Go that came out in 2016, although I don’t play it anymore, but the franchise has had multiple games, including a trading card game that is still really popular, TV shows, movies, and of course lots of toys.

    Sometimes it’s easy to figure out what animal inspired a Pokemon. Rhyhorn obviously looks like a rhinoceros, Magikarp looks like a goldfish, and so on. But sometimes it’s not so obvious. Let’s start with Sandshrew.

    Sandshrew is a sandy-brown color on its back with a lighter belly and muzzle, and prominent claws. Its tail is big and its ears are small. It’s covered with armor plates, and in some versions of Sandshrew, most notably the Pokemon TV show, it can curl up into a ball. What does that remind you of?

    Some of you just said “armadillo” and others of you just said “pangolin.” Both were suggested a while back by an anonymous listener. The two animals aren’t related but they do share some physical similarities, like armored bodies and the ability to curl up into a ball to make their armor even more effective.

    We talked about the pangolin in episode 65, about animals that eat ants. The pangolin is related to anteaters, and is sometimes even called the scaly anteater, but it’s not closely related to the armadillo. Their similarities are mainly due to convergent evolution.

    The pangolin is a mammal, but it’s covered in scales except for its belly and face. The scales are made of keratin, the same protein that makes up fingernails, hair, hooves, and other hard parts in mammals. When it’s threatened, it rolls up into a ball with its tail over its face, and the sharp-edged, overlapping scales protect it from being bitten or clawed. It has a long, thick tail, short, strong legs with claws, a small head, and very small ears. Its muzzle is long with a nose pad at the end, it has a long sticky tongue, and it has no teeth. It’s nocturnal and lives in burrows, and it uses its big front claws to dig into termite mounds and ant colonies. It has poor vision but a good sense of smell. It’s a good fit for Sandshrew and some species are even the same color as Sandshrew. It lives in southern Asia and much of sub-Sahara Africa, and all species are critically endangered.

    Meanwhile, the armadillo is also a mammal that’s covered in armor except for its belly,

    • 9 min
    Episode 378: Ichthyotitan

    Episode 378: Ichthyotitan

    Thanks to Nathan-Andrew for suggesting giant ichthyosaurs!



    Further reading:



    Paleontologists unearth what may be the largest known marine reptile



    Ruby and some other scientists with the ichthyotitan fossils [photos taken from this page]:







    How the pieces fit together:







    Show transcript:



    Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.



    This week we’re going to learn about some of the biggest animals that have ever swum through the oceans of this planet we call Earth, a suggestion from Nathan-Andrew.



    We talked about ichthyosaurs way back in episode 63, but we haven’t really discussed these giant marine reptiles since. Ichthyosaurs and their close relations were incredibly successful, first appearing in the fossil record around 250 million years ago and last appearing around 90 million years ago. Most ichthyosaurs grew around 6 and a half to 11 feet long, or 2 to 3.3 meters, depending on species, so while they were pretty big animals, most of them weren’t enormous. They would have been fast, though, and looked a lot like fish or dolphins.



    Even though ichthyosaurs were reptiles, they were warm-blooded, meaning they could regulate their body temperature internally without relying on outside sources of heat. They breathed air and gave birth to live babies the way dolphins and their relations do. They had front flippers and rear flippers along with a tail that resembled a shark’s except that the lower lobe was larger than the upper lobe. Some species had a dorsal fin too. They had huge eyes, which researchers think indicated they dived for prey. Not only were their eyes huge, they were protected by a bony eye ring that would help the eyes retain their shape even under deep-sea pressures.



    We know a lot about what ichthyosaurs ate, both from coprolites, or fossilized poops, and from the fossilized remains of partially digested food preserved in the stomach area. Most ichthyosaurs ate cephalopods like squid and ammonites, along with fish, turtles, and pretty much any other animals they could catch. Ichthyosaurs also ate smaller ichthyosaurs.



    Nathan-Andrew specifically suggested we look at Shastasaurus and Shonisaurus, two closely related genera that belong to the ichthyosaur family Shastasauridae. Both genera contained species that were much larger than the average dolphin-sized ichthyosaur. The biggest species known until recently was Shonisaurus sikanniensis, which grew to almost 70 feet long, or 21 meters.



    Scientists are divided as to whether S. sikanniensis should be considered a species of Shonisaurus or if it should be placed in the genus Shastasaurus. The main difference is that species in the genus Shastasaurus were more slender and had a longer, pointier rostrum than species in the genus Shonisaurus. Either way, S. sikanniensis was described in 2004 and at the time was the largest ichthyosaur species ever discovered.



    But in May of 2016 a fossil enthusiast came across five pieces of what he suspected was an ichthyosaur bone along the coast of Somerset, England. He sent pictures to a couple of marine reptile experts, who verified that it was indeed part of an ichthyosaur’s lower jawbone, called a surangular. Studies of the fossil pieces compared it to S. sikanniensis, and it was similar enough that the new fossil was tentatively placed in the family Shastasauridae. Based on those comparisons, scientists estimated that this new ichthyosaur might have grown to around 72 feet long, or 22 meters, or even longer.



    Almost exactly four years after the 2016 discovery,

    • 7 min
    Episode 377: The Giant-est Snake Ever

    Episode 377: The Giant-est Snake Ever

    Thanks to Max for suggesting Titanoboa!



    Further reading:



    Largest known madtsoiid snake from warm Eocene period of India suggests intercontinental Gondwana dispersal



    This Nearly 50-Foot Snake Was One of the Largest to Slither on Earth



    Meet Vasuki indicus, the 'crocodile' that was a 50ft snake



    Titanoboa had really big bones compared to its modern relatives:







    Vasuki had big bones too:







    Show transcript:



    Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.



    Almost exactly two years ago now, Max emailed to suggest we talk about titanoboa. The problem was that we had covered titanoboa in episode 197, and even though there’s always something new to learn about an animal, in this case since titanoboa is extinct there wasn’t much more I could share until new studies were published about it. But as the years passed I felt worse and worse that Max was waiting so long. A lot of listeners have to wait a long time for their suggested episode, and I always feel bad. But still there were no new studies about titanoboa!



    Why am I telling you all this? Because we’re finally going to talk about titanoboa today, even though by now Max is probably old and gray with great-grandkids. But we’re only going to talk about titanoboa to compare it to another extinct snake. That’s right. Paleontologists have discovered fossils of a snake that was even longer than titanoboa!



    Let’s start with Titanoboa, because it’s now been a really long time since episode 197 and all I remember about it is that it’s extinct and was way bigger than any snake alive today. Its discovery is such a good story that I’m going to include it too.



    In 1994, a geologist named Henry Garcia found an unusual-looking fossil in Colombia in South America, in an area that had been strip-mined for coal. Fifty-eight million years ago the region was a hot, swampy, tropical forest along the edge of a shallow sea.



    Garcia thought he’d found a piece of fossilized tree. The coal company in charge of the mine displayed it in their office along with other fossils. There it sat until 2003, when palaeontologists arranged an expedition to the mine to look for fossil plants. A researcher named Scott Wing was invited to join the team, and while he was there he poked around among the fossils displayed by the mining company. The second he saw the so-called petrified branch he knew it wasn’t a plant. He sent photos to a colleague who said it looked like the jawbone of a land animal, probably something new to science.



    In 2007, the fossil was sent for study, labeled as a crocodile bone. But the palaeontologists who examined the fossil in person immediately realized it wasn’t from a crocodile. It was a snake vertebra—but so enormous that they couldn’t believe their eyes. They immediately arranged an expedition to look for more of them, and they found them!



    Palaeontologists have found fossilized remains from around 30 individual snakes, including young ones. The adult size is estimated to be 42 feet, or 13 meters. The largest living snakes are anacondas and reticulated pythons, with no verified measurements longer than about 23 feet long, or 7 meters. Titanoboa was probably twice that length.



    Because titanoboa was so bulky and heavy, it would be more comfortable in the water where it could stay cool and have its weight supported. It lived in an area where the land was swampy with lots of huge rivers.

    • 7 min
    Episode 376: The Horned Lizard AKA Horny Toad

    Episode 376: The Horned Lizard AKA Horny Toad

    Thanks to Khalil for suggesting the horny toad, also called the horned lizard or horned toad!



    Further reading:



    The Case of the Lost Lizard



    The Texas horned lizard:



    Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum)



    The rock horned lizard [photo taken from article linked above]:







    Show transcript:



    Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.



    This week we’re going to learn about a reptile suggested by Khalil, who is Leo’s friend, so a big shout-out to both. Khalil wants to learn about the horny toad, also called the horned toad or horned lizard.



    We talked about it briefly back in episode 299. The horny toad is actually a lizard that lives in various parts of North America, especially western North America, from Canada down through much of the United States and into Mexico. The largest species is the Texas horned lizard, with a big female growing about 5 inches long, or almost 13 cm, not counting its tail.



    The horny toad does actually resemble a toad in some ways. Its body is broad and rounded and its face has a blunt, froglike snout. Its tail is quite short. It’s also kind of sluggish and spends a lot of time just sitting in the sun, relying on its mottled coloration to camouflage it. If it feels threatened, it will actually just freeze and hope the predator doesn’t notice it. It’s covered with little pointy scales, and if a predator does approach, it will puff up its body so that the scales stick out even more and it looks larger. It also has true horns on its head, little spikes that are formed by projections of its skull, and if a predator tries to bite it, the horny toad will jerk its head up to stab its horns into the predator’s mouth.



    Horny toads mainly eat a type of red ant called the harvester ant. The harvester ant is venomous but the horny toad is resistant to the venom and is specialized to eat lots and lots of the ants. Its esophagus produces lots of mucus when it’s eating, which collects around the ants and stops them from being able to bite before they die.



    Because it eats so many venomous ants, many scientists think the horny toad stores some of the toxins in its body, especially in its blood. Its blood tastes especially bad to canids like coyotes that are common in the areas where it lives. But it does the horny toad no good to have bad-tasting blood if a predator has to bite it to find out, so the horny toad has a way to give a predator a sample of its blood in the weirdest way you can imagine.



    If a horny toad is cornered by a predator and can’t run away, and puffing up isn’t helping deter the predator, the lizard has one last trick up its sleeve. It increases the blood pressure in its head by restricting some of the blood vessels carrying blood back to the heart, and when the blood pressure increases enough, it causes tiny blood vessels around the eyelids to rupture. It doesn’t just release blood, it squirts blood up to five feet away, or 1.5 meters. As if that wasn’t metal enough, the horny toad can aim this stream of blood, and it aims it right at the predator’s eyes.



    Imagine for a moment that you are a hungry coyote. You’re young and don’t know that horny toads taste bad, you just know you’ve found this plump-looking lizard that doesn’t move very fast. It keeps puffing up and looking spiky, but you’re hungry so you keep charging in to try and grab it with your teeth in a way that won’t hurt your tongue on those spikes. Then, suddenly, your eyes are full of lizard blood that stings and makes it hard to see, and the blood drips down into your mouth and it tastes TERRIBLE. It doesn’t matter how hungry you are, this fat little lizard is definitely off the menu.

    • 9 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
208 Ratings

208 Ratings

The odd Boy Scout ,

Impress your friends

A lot of cool facts and information that you can impress with.

P.S. can you please do a episode on animals native to New England

Thanks

Cold Blooded Lord ,

Suggestion =D

Can you do an episode on animals that understand the concept of zero? It’s really interesting and includes bees 🐝

Lfive3814 ,

Good but…

I wish that you does not do the mistake the last minutes. Also, can you do a episode on The cheetah? I have not really learned about it much. Keep up the good work! (Can anyone agrees that she is smart?)

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