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Biodiversity Stories

Last updated 9 months ago

Interesting stories about a variety of species.

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    Image of Alytes obstetricans

    Midwife Toads are well known for their unusual parental care: males attach the egg masses to their bodies and carry them until the eggs hatch, at which point the tadpoles are released into bodies of water.

    Sort value: FB13.07.08

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    Malaysian Dead Leaf Mantis (Deroplatys lobata) threat display

    Image of Deroplatys lobata

    May I introduce the Malaysian Dead Leaf Mantis? If looking like a dead leaf doesn't do the trick, this animal will try a threat display, like this one is getting ready for. Wait for it...

    Sort value: FB13.05.19

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    USNM 137901 Ibacus novemdentatus

    Image of Ibacus novemdentatus

    The Digging lobster is not actually green when you meet it in the Indo-west Pacific or South Africa (this species really gets around), but staining the larvae with Fast Green sure makes them easier to examine under a microscope!

    Sort value: FB13.05.17

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    Image of Calochortus tiburonensis

    Image of Calochortus tiburonensis


    The Tiburon Mariposa Lily, Calochortus tiburonensis, is a rare plant endemic to Marin County, California. Only a single population is known from serpentine soils on Ring Mountain, Tiburon Peninsula on the northwestern side of San Francisco Bay. While the land on which it grows is protected, the limited distribution of this species puts it at high risk of extinction due to random events like drought or wildfires. It is also threatened by damage from off-leash dogs, hikers, cyclists, wildflower collectors, and other vandals. Learn more about this species

    Sort value: FB13.05.16

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    File:Magicicada fg08.jpg

    Image of Magicicada septendecim

    The North American periodical cicadas in the genus Magicicada have a life cycle spanning 13 or 17 years, the longest known for any insect. They spend most of this cycle living as nymphs (larvae) underground, where they suck juices from plant roots. In the spring of their last year, they emerge with precisely synchronized timing to molt into their adult form, mate (which involves loud, species-specific choruses by the males to attract females), and lay eggs. Learn more about periodical cicadas.

    Sort value: FB13.05.15

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    Head - antero-dorsal view - close-up - enlarged - black backg...

    Image of Facelina auriculata

    Nice defensive coloring, little nudibranch! When you're four centimeters long and soft-bodied, you have to protect yourself somehow. Nudibranchs or sea slugs, like many soft marine animals, employ a lot of visual and chemical defenses. Bright colors can work a couple of different ways: if they are the same color as the coral or whatever you are sitting on, they help you blend in and avoid detection. In other cases, bright, visible coloring warns predators that you contain noxious or toxic chemicals. Which is often the case if, like this individual, you feed on hydroids. Check out the other colors in our Nudibranch gallery.

    Sort value: FB13.05.11

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    Multilayer Image (DOF)

    Image of Asterionellopsis glacialis

    Each of these diatom cells is only about 50 microns long, but they aggregate in chains that can be shaped like stars, or helix shaped, like this one. Diatoms are very abundant and an incredibly important component of marine and aquatic foodwebs. They have very distinctive shapes, but they are not all the same. Check out the diversity of form in our Diatom gallery. Check out a helix of this species from the side.

    Sort value: FB13.05.10

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    Image of Trapezia tigrina

    Image of Trapezia tigrina

    Hello, Beautiful. What's your name? She is the Red Spotted Coral Crab, but she's not likely to tell. If you'd like to learn the names and basics about coral reef fauna- or the different penguin species of the world, or the common butterflies of North America, or any of a hundred other sets of wildlife, try the Name It app. It's free in the iTunes store, and will train you in recognizing and naming Caribbean reef fish, (or the trees of Switzerland, or whatever you choose), flashcard-style. The app will track your progress, and offer snippets of information about each organism. Are you an educator training the next generation of naturalists for your region? Create your own custom deck of digital flashcards for the wildlife that interests you. All you need is a list of their names. You can create the collection on EOL and load it into the app in a few minutes. Android version is in development; stay tuned!

    Sort value: FB13.05.07

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    prop roots of maize

    Image of Zea mays

    Adventitious roots- they're not just for Mangroves! Lots of vascular plants develop roots in slightly unusual places, like the stilt roots on this maize plant, which give it added stability. Check out some other examples of stilts, props, and other adventitious roots.

    Sort value: FB13.05.05

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    Myrmeleontidae>Heoclisis Antlion adult DSCF4197

    Image of Heoclisis

    Who, meeee? Engineer optimal slope of a sand pit to devour helpless ants? The adorable lacewing perched on this photographer's thumb currently lives a very gentle life, visiting flowers. As a larva, however, it was an Ant lion, of the family Myrmeleontidae, the celebrated predator that lurks at the bottom of a conical hole in the sand, waiting for an ant to tumble down. See more portraits of the wide-eyed vegetarian adults and their wide-jawed predatory young in our gallery

    Sort value: FB13.05.05

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    Image of Calanus glacialis

    Image of Calanus glacialis

    Who feeds the Arctic fisheries? Calanus glacialis, among others. This giant among copepods, (the individual pictured is a whopping 6mm long) is one of the most abundant in Arctic surface waters. This animal is an important food source for cod and herring. The copepods in turn feed on phytoplankton and are believed to be one of the most important grazers in the region. Food availability is low in the winter, so C. glacialis store up lipid deposits in their bodies while the grazing is good, and migrate to deeper water to pass the winter in a state of diapause (hibernation). Read more

    Sort value: FB13.05.04

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    Image of Pteropus giganteus

    Image of Pteropus giganteus

    Busy mom, on the go. This Indian flying fox, and her baby (clinging underneath) and about 100 of her kin were spotted a week ago near Manu, Dhalai District, Tripura. The photographer got 10 magnificent photos of males and females, including one clinging juvenile breastfeeding in flight. No problem, apparently! To see the whole gallery, visit iNaturalist.

    Sort value: FB13.05.04

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    Image of Deilephila elpenor

    Image of Deilephila elpenor

    I wear my sunglasses at night. With apologies to Corey Hart; in fact, the precisely nanostructured surface of a nocturnal moth's eyes, like those of this Elephant hawk-moth, is almost the opposite of sunglasses. The tiny nipple-shaped protuberances all over the surface of the eyes maximize the amount of light that enters the eye instead of reflecting off. This both increases the sensitivity of the moth's eyesight, and reduces eye-shine that might be spotted by predators out looking for a tasty lepidopteran snack. That's not their only trick, either. Check out the other functional adaptations of moth eyes.

    Sort value: FB13.05.03

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    Caribbean Hermit Crab

    Image of Coenobita clypeatus

    Who are you calling tiny? Compared with some of my relatives, I'm gigantic! This juvenile Caribbean Hermit Crab has a point. That shell he/she is inhabiting is about 2cm long. Now imagine a snail shell one tenth that long, about the size of this animal's eye. And imagine a hermit crab living in THAT shell. Carcinologist Rafael Lemaitre and colleagues gathered at a recent workshop at the Université Blaise Pascal in France didn't need to use their imaginations, although some magnification equipment was needed as they sorted through thousands of tiny micro mollusks from the Caribbean, less than 4 millimeters in length, and the hermit crabs that inhabit many of them. To read more, and to see photos of the micro mollusks and the micro crabs, check out Most of these micro fauna are new to science, and the species will shortly be formally described and given names. What would you call the tiniest of the tiny hermit crabs?

    Sort value: FB13.05.03

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    Image of Teuthidodrilus sp.

    Image of Teuthidodrilus sp.

    The Squidworm, Teuthidodrilus, was formally described just three years ago, toward the end of the Census of Marine Life. There have only been a handful of sightings, all at great depth. This individual was spotted more than two kilometers deep in the Indian Ocean by the SERPENT Project. The genus is unusual in bearing characteristics of both benthic and pelagic lifestyle.

    Sort value: FB13.04.28

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    Aggregation in situ (East Pacific Rise: 9°N, 2540 m)

    Image of Lucernaria janetae

    Who are you? Where are you from? Wouldn't you like to know? What habitat a given organism lives in is one of those basic, immediate questions most of us have for a novel creature. That information is documented somewhere for every known species, but for most, the information is buried in a piece of text that you have to wade through (kind of like you're doing now) to get to the answer you want: Stalked jellyfish, hydrothermal vents. An international research project called Environments-EOL is working to bring that information to the surface. They are currently refining a vocabulary of environment terms which will be used to process text sources, beginning with the EOL collection, to sort out which terms are applied to which species, and create a dataset which indexes species by their habitat. This will help us to complete biodiversity inventories for the different environments of the Earth, for the use of conservation science, ecological modelling, and anyone who wants to be able to inquire "What are all the species that live on the underside of polar ice?" You can follow the semantic adventures of the Environments-EOL team at their blog

    Sort value: FB13.04.28

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    Echinometra lucunter, aboral view

    Image of Echinometra lucunter

    This sea urchin is plastic. No, really! Plasticity describes the ability of a species to grow into different shape, size or other attributes depending on the conditions they live in. Echinometra lucunter was studied in different sites in Barbados, and individuals in Little Bay were quite different from those at Graves End: their bodies were flatter to the ground and more oval (possibly because higher wave action in Little Bay made it important to by hydrodynamically shaped), and their coloring was different (perhaps because they had a different array of algae to feed on). This species is also pretty widely distributed, mostly in the Caribbean and Atlantic. The plasticity and the wide distribution may be why these critters have cost taxonomists so much work. At least fifteen different species have been discovered and named, only to turn out to be Echinometra lucunter. Check out the list and the Barbados study

    Sort value: FB13.04.26

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    Spotted Jellyfish Mastigias papua at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

    Image of Mastigias papua

    Who practices photosynthesis in the ocean? Glad you asked! In addition to all the hardworking plants and algae that are directly responsible for turning sunlight into energy, there are a number of animals that rely on photosynthesis by hosting symbiotic algae in their tissues. Corals are a familiar example, but not the only one. The Golden Medusa gets about two thirds of its energy from the algae residing in its tissues. It can't build a skeleton out of dissolved calcium carbonate like its reef forming cousins can, but there are advantages to its swimming lifestyle: During the day, it stays near the surface, where its algae can soak up the most sunlight. At night, it descends to deeper water with higher concentrations of nitrogen compounds- nutritious algae fertilizer.

    Sort value: FB13.04.26

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    Image of Parastichopus californicus

    Image of Parastichopus californicus

    Populations of P. californicus in the Puget Sound eviscerate during October and November and then regenerate new sets of organs. Evisceration may also occur if the animals are kept in warm or stale water. Also, respiration takes place in the hindgut.

    Sort value: FB13.04.21

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    File:Brooding sea anemone Epiactis prolifera 1.jpg

    Image of Epiactis prolifera

    Baby Sea Anemones! Brooding Sea Anemone, Epiactis prolifera. The numerous young are seen on the pedal disk are derived from eggs fertilized in the digestive cavity. The motile larvae, after swimming out of the mouth, migrate down to the disk and becomes installed there until they become little anemones ready to move and be able to feed themselves.

    Sort value: FB13.04.20

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    Image of Gentiana setigera

    Image of Gentiana setigera


    Is blue coloration more likely to occur in high altitude plant species? Rubenstein Fellow Chantal-Marie Wright is trying to find out, by analyzing EOL's image galleries for a large set of plants and cross referencing color with preferred habitat. The color properties of light differ at different elevations, and some organisms might be expected to react to this difference in their pigmentation. For instance, the genus Gentiana, pictured here, includes many blue species that are found at high altitude. This kind of example has been observed before, but now, using the combined plant image galleries of EOL's partners, Ms. Wright can investigate whether this is really a broad pattern reflecting a biological law.

    Sort value: FB13.04.13

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    Larva 5th Instar

    Image of Hypanartia kefersteini

    Who are you eating, hungry caterpillar? Butterfly-hostplant associations are a great example of an embarrassment of scientific riches. This relationship is very well studied across many species of butterflies and plants, but the information is scattered in many thousands of literature sources. A number of projects have been digitizing this information and bringing it online. The research team at Papilionoidea of the World has just begun an ambitious textmining project to extract butterfly-hostplant relationships from open access online repositories, including EOL. Their code, data harvest protocols, and their datasets are publicly available, so you can play too if you like Big Data and biodiversity. Check out their blog for details: see this critter in various life stages at:

    Sort value: FB13.04.12

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    Orang-Utan Crab (Achaeus japonicus) on Bubble-Coral (Plerogyr...

    Image of Plerogyra sinuosa

    Orangutang Crab to Orangutang: "I love your hair. I can catch food particles from passing currents with mine. How about you?" More about both animals: AND

    Sort value: FB13.04.12

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    Bee Fly

    Image of Bombylius mexicanus

    Hungry Bee flies at your fingertips- trying to stab you? No, actually. From the photographer: "I know it looks like it's trying to stab my finger, but since I am not a flower, I am safe." See more lovely bee flies on their preferred, floral, perches.

    Sort value: FB13.04.05

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    File:Mammillaria guelzowiana.jpg

    Image of Mammillaria guelzowiana

    The pincushion cactus Mammillaria guelzowiana is a critically endangered species. Endemic to hot deserts and grassy mountain tops in an area of about 6 km² west of Nazas, Durango, north-western Mexico, this species is threatened by illegal collecting and temperature extremes. It had an estimated population size of more than 10,000 plants in 1994. A subsequent visit in 2000 revealed a population reduced by more than 95% to less than 500, apparently largely a result of the 1997 freeze on Mexico’s altiplano. New plants are propagated from seed sown in the natural habitat. Learn more about this cactus.

    Sort value: FB13.04.04, FI13.04.02

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    File:Drawn like a Moth to a flower.jpg

    Image of Hyles lineata

    For most hawkmoth species, there's a correlation between the length of their tongue and the length of the nectar tubes of the flowers they usually visit. Visit us to find out why.

    Sort value: FB13.03.31

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    Pseudobiceros hancockanus life animal

    Image of Pseudobiceros hancockanus

    Flatworms like to have all their bases covered. This animal, Pseudobiceros hancockanus, is a hermaphrodite. Each individual is equipped with a complete female reproductive system, and two independent sets of male equipment- just in case. Read more

    Sort value: FB13.03.30

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    Image of Coenobita clypeatus

    Of Househunting and Hermit Crabs. Have you heard of vacancy chain theory? This is how sociologists study the transfer of discrete, reusable, and limited resources such as apartments, jobs, and cars among humans. There's a useful model organism for this! Guess who... Read more

    Sort value: FB13.03.30

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    Atelopus limosus lowland color form, juvenile (first-ever ca...

    Image of Atelopus limosus

    Endangered Panamanian frogs at your fingertips, acing their captive breeding program! This little animal is quite the trail blazer- with a little help from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. This individual is the first ever captive bred limosa harlequin frog. Young from two different breeding pairs are currently being raised by the Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. More about the project here.

    Sort value: FB13.03.29

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    Image of Palomena prasina

    Image of Palomena prasina

    Sort value: FB13.03.24

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    Image of Volvox

    Volvox are green algae that inhabit a variety of freshwater habitats across the world. These microscopic organisms form hollow, spherical colonies of thousands of cells. In some species, individual algae are connected by strands of cytoplasm, and there is division of labor between different groups of cells. Volvox and its relatives have therefore been used as model systems to study the evolution of multicellularity and cellular differentiation. Learn more about these algae .

    Sort value: FB13.03.23

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    Hero formosa

    Image of Hero formosa

    Can't a sea slug have a few secrets? Hero formosa is found in relatively shallow waters in the UK and Europe, most recently from the west coast of Scotland. Not the most remote marine habitat for curious humans; still, this species is relatively scarce, so there's a lot we don't know about it, like, for instance, what it eats. It is often found on or near hydroids, which are considered tasty by many other nudibranchs, so that's a possibility. It'll probably take a few more careful, and lucky, dives to find out for sure. More tidbits of information here.

    Sort value: FB13.03.23

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    Image of Scalopus aquaticus

    The eastern mole, Scalopus aquaticus, is a highly specialized digger. A flattened head makes pushing through soil easier. Powerful muscles drive digging arms equipped with enormous, clawed hands that extend open and fold back like the powerful booms and shovel of a dirt-moving backhoe. Learn more abou this species.

    Sort value: FB13.03.23

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    Face to face

    Image of Penthea

    Longicorn beetles at your fingertips, ready for their close-up. This handsome portrait brought to you by the steady hands of Michael Jefferies in Queensland, Australia. Meet his other models here.

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    Rana boylii (Angelo Coast Range Reserve, Mendocino Co., Calif...

    Image of Rana boylii

    The Foothill Yellow-legged Frog, Rana boylii, is endemic to river systems from western Oregon to southern California and Baja California, Mexico. This frog has disappeared from over 50% of historically occupied localities. It is threatened by habitat alterations, particularly due to dam construction, logging, livestock grazing, and in-stream mining. Learn more about this species.

    Sort value: FB13.03.18

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    Population in situ from East Pacific Rise: 13°N; cruise Phare

    Image of Riftia pachyptila

    Riftia pachyptila is a giant tube-dwelling worm that inhabits deep sea hydrothermal vents along the East Pacific Rise and Galápagos Rift. Adult worms don't have a functional digestive system. They are nourished entirely by sulfur-oxidizing endosymbiotic bacteria that live in a large sack inside the worm's body. Learn more about this species.

    Sort value: FB13.03.17

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    CIMG0632 Christmas Tree Worm Thailand

    Image of Spirobranchus giganteus

    Like many tubeworms in the Serpulidae family, Spirobranchus giganteus is a reef species that is closely associated with live corals. This one species occurs in a rainbow of different colors. Check out our image gallery for more:

    Sort value: FB13.03.16

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    File:Eciton burchellii army ants.jpg

    Image of Eciton burchellii

    The army ant Eciton burchellii is a keystone predator in the leaf litter of many Neotropical forests. These ants live in colonies that can exceed half a million individuals. In the course of a day, a single colony may capture some 30,000 prey items. Their activity also flushes out larger arthropods, some of which are quickly devoured by ant-following birds. In some regions, there are bird species that depend on following army ants for nearly all their food. Learn more about this species.

    Sort value: FB13.03.16

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    Image of Pseudoceros ferrugineus

    Image of Pseudoceros ferrugineus

    Some flatworm species really get around; Pseudoceros ferrugineus, pictured here, has been reported from Australia, Micronesia and the Philippines. The photographer met this individual in Hawaii.

    Sort value: FB13.03.15

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    Image of Eumeces fasciatus

    Five-lined skinks at your fingertips! This animal exhibited a few moments of unusual patience for a nervous reptile, for a photographer in North Carolina, USA. See the rest of the photo session here.

    Sort value: FB13.03.15

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    File:Sericoceros mexicanus (female laying eggs on Coccoloba u...

    Image of Coccoloba uvifera and 1 other taxon

    Sericoceros mexicanus is a sawfly that occurs in southern Mexico and Central America. The larvae feed on the foliage of seagrapes and their relatives in the genus Coccoloba. Females lay eggs in circular or slightly oval clusters of up to 70 eggs on the undersides of host leaves. While the eggs mature, turning gradually from red to pink, the female stands guard until the first instar larvae hatch two to three days later. Learn more about this species.

    Sort value: FB13.03.14

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    Image of Brunsvigia multiflora

    Image of Brunsvigia multiflora

    EOL is pleased to welcome our newest content partner, Botanical Illustrations! These eye-catching plants come from five volumes in the Biodiversity Heritage Library, including species from Africa and North America. Digitally remastered by EOL intern Daniel Salim, full resolution versions of over 150 portraits are available for browsing and re-use here.

    Sort value: FB13.03.13

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    Lagostim-vermelho da Louisiana // Red Swamp Crayfish (Procamb...

    Image of Procambarus clarkii

    For centuries, human commerce has played a role in distributing plant and animal species around the globe. But not every species can claim the title of circumnavigator. In this week’s episode, Ari Daniel Shapiro journeys to the Gulf Coast of the U.S. to meet a tiny Magellan, the star of an unlikely story that has come full circle. Listen to the podcast

    Sort value: FB13.03.13

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    File:Agapornis fischeri - pair.jpg

    Image of Agapornis fischeri

    Like other lovebirds, captive Fischer's Lovebirds can often be seen sitting close together and gently preening each other. Native to northern Tanzania, these lovebirds have long been extremely popular cagebirds and at least until recently the live bird trade has threatened wild populations. Learn more about this species

    Sort value: FB13.03.12

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    Dinochelus ausubeli, holotype (abdomen slightly damaged and c...

    Image of Dinochelus ausubeli

    Ausubel's Mighty Claws Lobster, Dinochelus ausubeli, is a small deep sea lobster discovered in 2007 in the Philippines during the Census of Marine Life and described in 2010 in the new genus Dinochelus. "Dinochelus" is derived from the Greek dinos, meaning "terrible", and chela, meaning "claw", an allusion to the massive, major claw bearing many long teeth on the inner surface. Learn more about this species.

    Sort value: FB13.03.11

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    Image of Limulus polyphemus

    Image of Limulus polyphemus

    Happy International Women's Day to pioneering physiologist Ida H. Hyde! Dr. Hyde, born in 1857, was the third woman to receive a PhD from Heidelberg University, and the first woman member of the American Physiological Society. Her graduate studies focused on respiration in horseshoe crabs and embryology of jellyfish. Later, as the first woman researcher at Harvard medical school, she concentrated on mammalian heart structure. She is credited with the discovery of the coronary valve, the invention of the micro-electrode, and the earliest work examining the effect of music on heart function and blood pressure. More details at the MBL women in science archive and Women in the Biological Sciences: A Biobibliographic Sourcebook

    Sort value: FB13.03.08

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    Tiny Trees

    Image of Dendronotus frondosus

    Branched baby sea slugs at your fingertips! Coming to you from Pillar Point Harbor in California, where roaming photographers have remarked on the dwindling diversity and abundance of nudibranchs over the past couple of decades.

    Sort value: FB13.03.08

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    Image of Lophius piscatorius

    Image of Lophius piscatorius

    The anglerfish, Lophius piscatorius lies half-buried in the mud or sand on the bottom of the sea, attracting fish to its huge mouth by means of its lure. Fish are drawn in by the sudden inrush of water. See more pictures, videos & info about this species.

    Sort value: FB13.03.06

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    File:Stagmomantis carolina Kaldari 05 cropped.jpg

    Image of Stagmomantis carolina

    The Carolina Mantis, Stagmomantis carolina, is a medium-sized mantid native to North and Central America; like other mantids, this species is a generalist predator of arthropods, but it has also been reported to attack small frogs and lizards. Learn more about this species.

    Sort value: FB13.03.06

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    Hunting pose - anterior view - enlarged

    Image of Misumena vatia

    This patient hunter is waiting for a hungry insect to visit this Marsh thistle flower. Flower spiders have no need for webs; they simply lurk on flowers and wait for lunch to arrive. To see some of the unfortunate insects this species hunts, check out the media gallery

    Sort value: FB13.03.02