Amazing Animal Facts (v)

Sea Cucumber
Sea cucumbers, close relatives of the starfish, are the oceans’ binmen – they process more than 90 per cent of all the dead plant and animal material that settles on the sea floor. Their bodies are made from a connective tissue called “catch collagen”, which gives them an almost miraculous ability to change from solid to fluid in order to escape predators.

Some species can blow themselves up to the size of a football. Others expel water to make themselves look like pebbles. The ultimate cucumber party trick is to blow their guts out of their bottom and flood the water around with a toxic soup. Known as a “cuke nuke”, it can wipe out all the fish in a small aquarium, as well as the cucumber itself.

Spiders’ silk is five times stronger than steel and 30 times more stretchy than nylon. An average spider will spin more than four miles of silk in a lifetime and this can be collected and woven into garments.

However, the spiders’ predatory nature makes them tricky to farm: put 10,000 spiders in a sealed room and you will eventually end up with a single enormously fat spider. (Despite their reputation, female black widows only eat one in ten of their mates, although they can get through twenty five partners in one day.)

Tardigrades are plump, microscopic creatures that fall somewhere between worms and insects. Also known as water bears or moss piglets, they are the toughest animals on the planet. If their water supply dries out, they dry out, too. All life processes come to a complete stop and they become totally inert.

In this “dead” state, tardigrades are practically indestructible: they have been frozen to within a degree of absolute zero (-272°C) and heated to temperatures of 151°C. They have been immersed in chemicals and squeezed by pressures six times greater than those at the bottom of the ocean: but, like living granules of instant coffee, with one drop of water they come back to life – even a century later.

When walruses find a clam, they hold it firm in their lips, create a vacuum around it and use their tongue like a piston to extract the soft tissue. As a special treat, they hoover up seagulls from underneath or suck the brains of seal pups out through their nostrils. Walruses have a sucking power three times stronger than the average Dyson vacuum cleaner, which explains why their stomachs are full of small pebbles.

The Asian giant hornets of Japan, also known as the Yak Killer, are the super-predators of the wasp family. They are enormous – like flying thumbs, with a quarter-inch sting. Their venom is strong enough to dissolve human tissue and they kill more than 50 people a year. But the Japanese get their own back in style: they serve the larvae raw as hornet sashimi and deep-fry the adults, which are reputed to taste like sweet prawns.

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