Saturday, 5 June 2010

Strange beasts (and big ones, too)

So which animal do you think is the biggest?

Some may say it's the elephant but I guess people that dumb are not likely to end up reading this. Most will agree it's the blue whale, which is a perfectly valid answer. However, the true geeks may instead reply with "what exactly does 'the biggest' mean? by what measure?". Which is, in this case, a very good point.

It turns out that if you take length into account, the title is disputed between two species, none of them being the said ocean-dwelling trip-loving mammal.

Most biologist agree that the longest animal is, guess what, a jellyfish! The lion's mane jellyfish's (Cyanea capillata) tentacles can get up to 35 meters long. It's diameter is mere 2.5 metres, rather slim, compared to the blue whale, but still a hell of a jellyfish - definitely not one that you'd like to encounter when swimming, unless you're in a later stage of scuba diving freakness. It's actually totally unlikely as the most formidable specimens live in the ocean depths far north. Thus, they are quite elusive but some remarkable ones have been photographed:

Although I hate close encounters with even modestly sized Black Sea jellyfishes, I will be thrilled to see one of these beauties... from a safe distance (although actually they are not deadly).

Some may wonder why the hell would a jellyfish, be it a 2.5 metres wide one, need shitloads of 30 metre long tentacles. In fact, they need them for feeding and these beasts sure need a lot of food as they grow to these formidable sizes in less than a year! Its life cycle is annual, much like peas and weed.

And if you think that this is weird, just wait and see who's the other contestant for the title "longest creature ever to walk/crawl/swim the earth/oceans". It is, in fact, a worm! A worm less than a centimetre thick! The bootlace worms (quite understandably called Lineus longissimus) have been measured to grow to 30 metres, and are believed to be able to get to 60. I'm pretty sure this thing has never seen most of it's own body!

After a storm in 1864, one of these creatures measuring 55m was washed ashore. However, their bodies are quite elastic and under extreme circumstances can stretch up to 5 times their original length, so it's a bit tricky to measure and thus the title is disputed.

On pictures the beast looks more disgusting rather than impressive, I hope that leaving them for the end won't ruin your fascination with the powers of mother nature: