The T. rex and other bloodsucking leeches

leeches

There are between 700 and 1,000 species of leeches throughout the world.  Most prey on insects, snails and other small creatures.  Some swallow their prey whole.  Others have an extendible proboscis, which they use to spear their prey and suck up their juices.

And then there are the “bloodsuckers.”  These sanguivorous (blood-feeding) leeches feed on fish, reptiles, waterfowl, small mammals, earthworms (their closest biological relatives) and, yes — humans.  Sanguivorous leeches generally have either two or three jaws, which contain small teeth or a sharp cutting edge.  A bite from a two-jawed leech leaves a V-shaped bite, while that of the three-jawed variety results in a Y-shaped one.

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Mopane worms taste just like… potato chips

mopane worm

Cruncy, salty mopane worms are a favorite snack in Zimbabwe and other parts of southern Africa.  The “worm” is actually a caterpillar of Gonimbrasia belina, commonly known as the Emperor moth.  It is called a mopane (or mopani) worm from its diet — the leaves of the mopane tree.

Ounce for ounce, mopane worms contain three times as much protein as beef.  They have a whopping 31 mg of iron per 100 grams of dry weight, and are a good source of potassium, sodium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc, manganese, copper and B vitamins.

To harvest mopane worms, mature caterpillars are plucked by hand (or shaken from higher branches) and placed into buckets. Stubborn worms are pried loose with a stick. As they are handled, the worms excrete a brown liquid, which leaves the pickers’ hands slippery and wet. Continue reading

Al-Buraq, the Steed that Took Muhammad to Heaven

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Muslims believe that in around 620 A.D., the prophet Muhammad journeyed to Heaven, where he was purified and given the command to pray five times a day.  This is known as the Miraj –a/k/a the Night Journey or the Ascension to Heaven – and it wouldn’t have been possible without a white, winged steed known as al-Buraq.

The image of an immortal, winged steed that could journey to Heaven didn’t originate with Islam.  Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek myth, dates from at least as far back as the 4th century BCE.

In the Muslim account, however, the Archangel Gabriel awakens Muhammad from a sound sleep outside the Ka’aba (sacred mosque) in Makkah and leads him to al-Buraq, who lets Muhammad mount him.   Al-Buraq and Gabriel take Muhammad to the “Farthest Mosque,” believed by Muslims to be the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

There Muhammad dismounts and prays with prior prophets – including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus — after which he is presented with a vessel of wine and a vessel of milk. When he chooses the milk, Gabriel says to him, “you have chosen the true religion.”  From Jerusalem Muhammad ascends to Heaven on al-Burqa, returning to Ka’ba that very night.

Is That a Gun in That Duck’s Pocket?

lake-duck

It’s the oldest story in the book.  Drake meets hen, drake loses hen, another drake gets hen and cleans her oviduct with his penis.  What?!?

Most male birds don’t even have penises.  Rather, both sexes possess a cloaca, a single organ into which the intestinal and urogenital tracks disgorge.  Such birds copulate by means of a “cloacal kiss”, during which they briefly touch genital openings.

But a few species of birds do have penises, including turkeys, geese and ducks.  And one of these – the Argentine Lake Duck – has a penis almost as long as its body, nearly 17 inches (42.5 cm) when extended.

The Lake Duck’s penis is shaped like a corkscrew, and when not in use retracts into the duck’s abdomen.  Just as interestingly, it has a based covered with coarse spines, and a tip that is soft and brush-like.

Researchers postulate that the tip may serve to remove sperm deposited in the female’s oviduct by another male, thus increasing the latecomer’s chances of paternity.

And they say that romance is dead.