Category Archives: Uncategorized

*Update – Oops*

Animal Review would like to thank another alert reader for pointing out a factual error which might be classified as a disaster. In the Platypus review (our second review after Panda, who kicked things off back in May of 2008) we incorrectly referred to mammals as ‘animals with hair that don’t lay eggs.’ Of course, this joke should have read something like: ‘animals with milk-producing mammary glands that don’t lay eggs, except now for the stupid echidna.’ We stand by our pithy definition as the preferred joke definition of mammals. However, we should have been more accurate (or at least accurate), are terribly embarrassed over the whole thing, and extend a hairy mammalian fist bump to Leo who noticed and reported the blunder.

Sidewinder Rattlesnake

Alternately known as the horned rattler, the sidewinder rattler, and Gary, the sidewinder rattlesnake (Crotalus cerastes, lit. ‘Have you seen this thing move????’) is a relatively small rattlesnake found in the desert covering eastern Arizona, southeastern California, southern Nevada, and the southwestern corner of Utah. Ranging in size from just over a foot to two and a half feet, the sidewinder is a triumph of American engineering and can-do ingenuity whose method of locomotion across hot and shifting desert sands of the southwestern United States1 (and its infrared sensory organs) made it a perfect model for the premiere short-range air-to-air heat-seeking missile in the US arsenal.

‘You know this missile actually started out as a snake, Private?’

The sidewinder rattlesnake exhibits two modes of travel: normal, regular straight-line slither and a truly amazing side-slipping S-shape that powers it quickly over low-traction desert sand while minimizing contact with sweltering silicon. Minimizing energy use, only two points of its body touch the ground at a time. The resulting movement is nearly-hypnotic, having entranced generations of settlers and ranchers who quickly came up with an apt and scary-sounding name for their new neighbor.

‘Show of hands for ‘Joey McSlitherWeird’? And then for ‘Sidewinder’? OK, Sidewinder it is.’

The resulting ‘J’ pattern left behind in sand covered by a sidewinder is one of its distinguishing features. Other features distinguishing it include supraocular scales that give the appearance of horns, added to keep sun and sand from the sidewinders eyes. It can also survive without any water (it gets its supply from its prey of small desert animals). Additionally, females are usually larger than males (unusual among rattlers), and its small size combines with a relatively weak venom to pose only a small threat to human bite victims. Though one report included a story of a man bitten by a single fang of a sidewinder on his finger and quickly treated with antivenom, but within three hours his arm was swollen beyond belief and the pain was described ‘as if the arm had been boiled in oil.’ So it’s probably best to learn to move sideways across the hot desert from a correspondence course.


1 Though it is important to note that the sidewinder also inhabits parts of Mexico, and no Ken Burns special would be complete without acknowledging the many contributions of Mexican and Mexican-American NASA employees to the production of the sidewinder rattlesnake.

*Update* – Animal Review. On Facebook. Whatevs.

Animal Review and the upcoming Animal Review book now have an official page on Facebook.

Why should you go there and join? We’ve been over this in our heads like a billion times, and nothing. We really have zero on this issue. Unfortunately, we realized this AFTER we went through the major hassle of putting it up and uploading our photo and adding links and RSS and all that rigamarole. Honestly, it seemed kinda like a decent idea at the time (our other idea was Animal Review ‘cloud computing,’ but we couldn’t figure out what that meant exactly).

So once again:

Anyway, we’re almost 100% certain that the Animal Review Facebook page will do nothing to improve your life. Our apologies for shoving this on everyone.

Africanized Honey Bees (A.K.A. Killer Bees)

Review Prelude: How to Survive a Killer Bee Attack!

Some Do’s and Dont’s from the experts.


  • Run. In a straight line (it’s faster than a circle) and into the wind (increased drag slows the bees more than it slows you. Bees only took Physics 1 and they always assume no friction).
  • If possible, find shelter. It’s better to be inside a car with 40 bees than outside seriously regretting your profound oversight.
  • Pull your shirt over your head. Why? Killer bees like to sting you in the face. In fact, it’s the only thing they like to do.

Note: If you don’t think you can run fast with your shirt pulled over your head, then clearly you’ve never been attacked by bees. Rest assured, you can run fast with your shirt pulled over your head. You can run really, really, really fast.

It also turns out that you’re amazing at Parkour.


  • Jump in water (the bees will be waiting for you at the surface, and probably not with a piña colada).
  • Swat at the bees (this only attracts them).
  • Immediately remove your pants and underwear. Just saying don’t do that.

Alright. On to the review.

It is strange and unfortunate that there is not a Nobel Prize for Really Bad Mistakes In Science1. This international award could be presented annually in Stockholm by a sad clown wearing a lab coat and goggles, giving scientists that much more of an incentive to get things right for once. Brazilian geneticist Warwick Estevam Kerr would have made a fine nominee. For it was Mr. Kerr who introduced Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) to the Americas.

Oops. Bring out the clown.

It all started in 1956 when Kerr was contracted by the Brazilian Agriculture Ministry to hybridize aggressive, hardy, African honey bees with their relatively gentle-but-hard-working cousins that we all know and love, the European honey bees2. His goal was to selectively breed a super bee that was friendly and produced lots of honey, but liked the weather in the tropics and spoke fluent Portuguese. Everyone was to get rich. That was until some African queen bees escaped from Kerr’s facility in 1957 using a grappling hook made of cafeteria trays and bed sheets.

The full scope of the blunder was not immediately apparent to Kerr. Being a brilliant geneticist, he brilliantly assumed the African queen fugitives would breed with feral bees — thus diluting their infamous aggression. He was half right. Keep in mind that in the world of genetics, 50% is considered pretty good3.

The sole entry from Warwick Kerr’s lab notebook on the day the bees escaped. To a  fault, the man tended towards optimism.

And breed they did, spreading their dominant genes that coded for fury out into Brazil (where one farmer died from more than 1,000 stings) then South and Central America and Mexico before heading towards the southern United States. Here, the news media was waiting in a full-tilt frenzy that surprised even the killer bees. It was mayhem. So crazy were the major news outlets with killer bee fever that they were routinely putting entomologists on television. Actual entomologists. On television. The hysteria may have culminated in 1978, when Hollywood produced a movie starring Michael Caine called The Swarm. Now we had serious actors playing entomologists. That’s how nuts it was. And this was all fifteen years before the first killer-bee fatality on U.S. soil4 (1993).

‘Sorry, communism, but we’re afraid of these now.’

To be fair, our neurotic preoccupation with killer bees is not entirely without cause. They are certainly terrifying. Whereas normal European honey bees are slow to respond to intrusion and limit their defense to a relatively small area, Africanized honey bees will attack a perceived threat (like, say, a hippie gathering flowers) up to 100 feet from the hive, immediately, in far greater numbers and pursue over a much larger area. Africanized bees will give chase for up to ¼ mile from the hive, and are not above hopping on a Vespa if it means stinging you just a few hundred more times.

Bee rage has been neatly standardized by an experiment in which a little felt flag was briefly waved in front of hives with the help of a mechanical arm. European honey bees typically delivered between zero and ten stings to the flag in 30 seconds. In contrast, Africanized bees stung it between 400 and 500 times in the same interval. That little felt flag later passed away at the East Houston Regional Medical Center.

Furthermore, when honey bees sting, they release – along with their venom – an alarm pheromone5 called iso-amyl acetate that, curiously, smells like bananas.  The pheromone is a chemical signal for other bees to attack. Because if there’s anything killer bees hate more than felt flags, it’s a non-banana that still stinks like a banana. It just makes them completely insane. So then more bees attack, which in turn releases more alarm pheromone in a horrifying fruit-scented positive feedback loop.

‘Is that banana?  I think that’s banana.  If that’s banana I am seriously going to lose it right now.’

The venom of Africanized honey bees is no different than European honey bees, nor do they deliver more of it per sting. It’s just that they’re total jerks. Disturb a hive of Africanized bees and you can expect to be pursued by hundreds or even thousands of apoplectic flying syringes (as opposed to the comfortable 20 to 40 norm). And just FYI, the average non-allergic person can withstand about 7 bee stings per pound of body weight before death becomes a real possibility. If you’re allergic to bees, you can use the same formula — just be sure to enter your weight as 1/7th pound.

This is all bad. But on the bright side, Africanized honey bees pollinate plants and plants are crucial to agriculture production everywhere in the blah, blah, blah, blah.

Grade: F

Warwick Estevam Kerr Grade: F-

1 Past winners might also include American chemist Thomas Midgley, Jr., who gave us tetra-ethyl lead additives for gasoline (it turns out that lead in the air is not too helpful) AND chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) a refrigerant/aerosol propellant that helped keep our drinks cold and our hair styles groovy, but also tended to destroy our planet’s vital ozone layer at an alarming rate. Bring out the clown.

2 These are the normal honey bees you prefer. The ones that sting you less than 2,000 times. They were originally imported from Europe.

3 75% is excellent. And 100% is considered practically a sure thing.

4 They’ve killed about 26 since in the US, the latest in Tivoli, Texas. Killer Bees also inhabit New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Oklahoma, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and Utah. So maybe take “I love camping and the outdoors!!!!” off your online dating profile now.

5 This is why beekeepers employ smoke. It’s thought to mask the effect of the bee’s alarm pheromone. Neat.

*UPDATE* – Antlers as Organs

There has been some chatter in the blogosphere after Animal Review referred to moose antlers as ‘organs.’  Some commentators have weighed in against that assertion, on account of antlers appearing externally and having a wood-like texture.

That being said, antlers are in fact organs.  In fact, some scientists believe that they may hold clues to human organ regeneration.  Very few deer or moose believe this, but they mostly practice Eastern medicine anyway.


The moose (Alces alces) is the largest member of the deer family.  Which is good news, given that anyone who’s ever bumped into a moose in the woods will tell you that they are indeed enormous, so anything larger in the deer family would really strain logistics.

‘Did you get my authorization request for 11,000 coffee creamers?’

How big are moose?  A male moose can be seven feet tall at the shoulder and ten feet at their head, with a massive rack that can easily span six feet across and requires turning one’s moose head 90 degrees to sneak between trees.  They can easily reach 1,500 pounds (females, which are smaller, work out obsessively), though the record trophy is over a ton, with a 38-point rack that must have been a nightmare to carry and completely ruined the feng shui of the family room.

‘Look what I did!  Say…does anyone know anything about levers?’

Moose inhabit the upper regions of North America (specifically Canada and Alaska, but also Northern New England, Upstate New York, Minnesota, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the North Rockies, and South Florida1).  They can also be found across Northern Europe and Russia, where they are known as elk, or ‘Elch’ in German or ‘elg’ in Scandinavian tongues, or лось in Russian.  This all gets a bit confusing, since in North America the word elk refers to the second largest deer species, the elk (Cervus candesis, lit. ‘Not A Moose’).2 A simple rule of thumb is this: In Europe it’s an elk, in North America it’s a moose and a non-elk elk spelled Elch or Elg (meaning moose), and in Russia there is a лось, which is a moose (лось).

Got it?  Good.

Oh, лось?  He’s over in Russia.

The word moose itself is derived from the Algonquian Eastern Abnaki word moz, which translates loosely to ‘twig eater.’  Originally meaning to taunt the moose, the bullies soon found themselves humbled by a stern lecture from an antler.  Only the males have antlers and shed them in the winter to conserve energy, and they do come in handy for impressing lady moose (cows), clonking into things, being inconvenient, and weighing a lot.  Given that the male moose has to regrow a massive rack every year in preparation for mating season, their antlers are among the fastest-growing organs in the world.  Even more fascinating, if a male moose is ever castrated, he will immediately shed his antlers and begin growing a new set of misshapen and deformed antlers that he will wear the rest of his life without ever shedding again.  Why?  Because of his shame.

As the largest deer family member, the moose needs to consume nearly 10,000 calories a day just to maintain its body weight.  This is just one of many reasons that moose make notoriously bad pets.  While other deer make fine, if slightly confusing pets, the moose not only sucks up hundreds of dollars a week in food but also take hours in the bathroom getting ready every morning and needs to be taken on walks 47 times a day.

‘Hey, Carl….you busy?’

Like many animals, moose like to make a contribution to the natural ecosystem.  But unlike most animals, they also like to contribute to destroying automobiles.  As terrible as hitting any animal is, and as much damage as, say, a whitetail deer might do to your car, hitting a moose will really ruin your Kia Spectra (yet another reason not to get a baby moose on impulse).   In Scandinavia, they test their Scandinavian cars on fake moose, and then turn around and attack the competition in ads with the slogan, ‘There are no moose in Japan.’  Upon hearing of this ad campaign and realizing that they had shamed their nation by not having moose, hundreds of executives at Honda Motor Corporation committed ritual suicide.

The main thing to know about moose is that they are enormous.  More pointedly, owning one as a pet is a decision almost bound to bring a lifetime of regret.  It will most certainly cause family conflict, and in all likelihood your friends will stop coming over.  Plus your neighbors will gossip.  You may end up on the news.  And there are at least even odds that your chandelier will need frequent repairing.

‘Hey did you need that crystal chandelier or were you planning to get rid of it?’



1 Floridian moose are mostly retirees, and if you think old people and cars don’t mix – or moose and cars don’t mix – then just imagine old moose and cars.  It’s a mess.

2 This was due to European settlers deciding that C. candesis looked more like their elk than their own silly red deer species, so they did the logical thing and called this obviously-completely-different animal an elk (moose).


Hailing from the order Crocodilia (lit. ‘But I’m not a crocodile.’), the family Alligatoridae (lit. ‘You’re getting closer.’) and the genus Alligator (lit. ‘Was that so hard?’) the alligator is an evolutionary anachronism. It has remained, in style and substance, relatively unchanged for millions and millions of years. Basically, the alligator is the ineffective, old-but-nobody-knows-just-how-old, mid-level executive in nature’s corporate office. A living fossil, it pretty much just sits around, draws a huge paycheck and does very little other than go to lunch.

‘Hey Zack, how about that new dame at reception? By the way, you hear anything about layoffs?

Trapped in a world he no longer understands and surrounded by young, hipster mammals sporting untrimmed beards, canvas military caps, bluetooth headsets and those new-fangled placentas, the alligator appears at work each day in the same old armored suit with the mustard stain on the sleeve that he’s been wearing for about 230 million years. He refuses to evolve, insists on hard copies of everything, and will surely never retire.

There are two extant species of alligators: the Chinese alligator and the American alligator. Regardless of which version is present in the meeting, the alligator will always make reference to Cretacious pop culture that everyone kind of remembers their grandparents talking about, but nobody really understands without googling it. Alligators will frequently quote silent movies. Generally, everyone nods in feigned amusement and then they all make fun of the alligator at lunch.

Much of this is deserved. While other animals take pride in evolving new and exciting ways to kill each other, the alligator resorts to the same old trick that used to be cool in the age of the dinosaurs but lacks relevance in the modern world. Breathing through terribly outdated, upwards-facing nostrils, alligators will hide underwater in their corner offices and wait for something to happen by. Perhaps the new flamingo in accounting. When the prey gets close enough, the alligator will lunge out of the water and snatch the unsuspecting animal with jaws that are powerful enough to smash through the shell of a turtle. That’s so not PC anymore.

‘Brittney, be a dear and help me put some toner in the fax machine.’

Anyway, small animals are swallowed whole. Larger animals are either drowned or subjected to the alligator’s ‘death roll,’ a move that was popularized in New York City night clubs during the Cenozoic era. In a death roll, the alligator uses its huge tail for leverage and spins its entire body along the ground while still grasping the prey in its jaws. Anything that doesn’t spin along with the alligator is subjected to enormous torque that bones and flesh simply cannot withstand. Thus, large pieces of anatomy tend to become separated or badly damaged during the death roll. Sure, it works. But the same can be said of the alligator’s rotary phone.

Once immobilized, the prey is dragged into the water where it’s either devoured, or asked to help the alligator open a .pdf email attachment.

‘After this maybe you can show me how to get on to the facebook?’

Even when it comes to reproduction, the alligator is frozen in time. Female American alligators (found from North Carolina to Texas) lay 35-50 eggs of all things. Then, rather than determining the sex of their offspring via X and Y chromosomes like most normal people, alligators rely on temperature. That is to say, they deposit their eggs and let the temperature of the nest do the work. If it’s hot – above 93 degrees Fahrenheit – the offspring will be male. If it’s below 86 degrees, the offspring will be female. And if it’s between 86 and 93, there’s no telling what will happen. In any event, the alligator hands out cigars. Unironically.

American alligator hatchlings are about 8 inches long. Males can grow to up to 20 feet in length and weigh up to 1,000 pounds. At this length they can expect to be downsized at any moment and replaced by an eager, highly-motivated mammal who will do a better job for a quarter of the pay. And also feed on nuts and berries as opposed to all of its coworkers.



The Leafy Sea Dragon (Phycodurus eques, lit. ‘Oh, you like it?  Thanks, I made it myself’) is a relative of the seahorse and the only member of Genus Phycodurus.  Found at overcrowded clubs with lines down the block in seas around western and southern Australia (though it always waits until the last minute to pick which club to go to), the leafy sea dragon is distinguished – as it clearly wants to be – by the long leaf-like protrusions all over its body.  Designed to resemble seaweed in appearance and motion, these appendages serve no purpose besides camouflage and helping the leafy sea dragon win the $50 Amazon gift card during the Halloween costume contest.


‘I started planning in August.’

You have to hand it to P. eques. While other animals were busy evolving exceptional speed or intelligence, the leafy sea dragon could have cared less about the future, instead focusing on coming up with the most awesome Halloween costume. When it first told everyone that it was going to dress up as seaweed, nobody paid attention or cared.  No, they were too busy studying hydrodynamics and mating rituals. But when the week leading up to Halloween finally arrived and the hammerhead shark was running around trying to figure out how to dress up like a hobo, the leafy sea dragon was busy planning how it would manage to show off its outfit at seven different parties in one night, two of them in the Valley.  (There’s a lot to consider too. Like, the cops are gonna be out in force so cabs are gonna be a good idea, but they’re gonna have to wait forever to get one each time, etc.)

But come Halloween night, the leafy sea dragon figures out all the logistics (Doug will be the designated driver) and wows everyone with its truly eerily-real seaweed costume.

The other interesting thing about the leafy sea dragon is that the male tends to the eggs, which likely has something to do with the female leafy sea dragon spending about half the night gossiping in the bathroom with her friends.

GRADE: A (for effort)

Deep Sea Anglerfish

Light diminishes rapidly as one descends into the ocean — and one’s experience becomes less and less like a bright blue paradise and more and more like a bad part of Atlantic City.  At about 600 feet (100 fathoms), the sunlit euphotic zone ends and the disphotic zone reluctantly begins.  Here, only a tiny fraction of sunlight penetrates, and one finds no plants, no police presence, and paycheck cashing/bail bondsmen services on every corner. If you get out of your submersible in the disphotic zone (NOTE: this is not advised), then you’re on your own.  But if you do, definitely lock it, set the alarm, and put your valuables in the trunk.

Drop down to 3,000 feet (500 fathoms) and you enter the aphotic zone, where even light fears to go. Known as The Void (or V-Town to the locals), the aphotic zone is a dreadful, unforgiving world set in perpetual darkness.  It is here that Nature has hidden her most gruesome creations, which are collectively some of the worst cases of DNA expression one can imagine.  Truly, the aphotic zone is no neighborhood for a Queen Angelfish to find herself at 3 A.M., heels in hand, after taking a wrong turn down a coral alley and suddenly realizing her phone has no bars and there’s not a cab in sight.


‘Oh dear. Not good. This is not good.’

The Deep Sea Anglerfish (Order Lophiiformes, lit. ‘nothing but trouble’) is a prime example.  The Anglerfish is mostly mouth, and the parts of its anatomy that aren’t mouth – tissues, organs, fins, and a couple of eyes just for show – exist only to serve the mouth and move the mouth around.  While polls show that most people consider a floating angry mouth is creepy enough as it is, this one is packed with sharp, horrifying, inward-angled teeth that are specifically designed to prevent the escape of its victims.


‘Plus everyone tells me I have bad breath.’

To say that anglerfish are antisocial is an understatement – they are natural born killers, through and through.  The roughly 200 species of anglerfish bobbing around the Atlantic and Antarctic oceans are all business.  Directly above the mouths of females is a fleshy stalk that protrudes from their dorsal spines. When an anglerfish spots prey, it goes deathly still, wiggles the end of the stalk as bait, and dinner swims right up to those waiting jaws.1 To understand how disappointing this is for their prey, try to imagine a late night fast food drive-thru that has tempting pictures of yummy double-bacon burgers on the menu, only when you pull around to the first window there are no yummy double-bacon burgers but instead you get punched in the face, dragged from your car and eaten alive.

Thus do we arrive at the name ‘anglerfish.’ They are fish that fish.

Because they live in absolute darkness without even a keychain flashlight, deep sea anglerfish species have developed a lure equipped with a bioluminescent photophore.  That is to say, the organs at the end of their organic fishing poles actually glow in the dark, thanks to light-producing bacteria, most of whom either have no clue what manner of horror they’re intricately involved with or, at the very least, choose to look the other way. Plus, the lure glows in the same wavelengths of blue that the anglerfish’s skin tends to absorb, meaning the light from the lure doesn’t reflect back from the anglerfish and thus the anglerfish remains virtually invisible to its prey. All a victim sees is a shiny blue neon sign that promises good times but delivers the polar opposite (much like the entrance to a casino in Atlantic City).


‘All-you-can-eat shrimp for $3.99 and the loosest slots in town. Also, I’ll comp your drinks. No losers here.  Bada boom, bada bing.’

When it comes to reproduction, many species of Deep Sea Anglerfish have adopted an adorably romantic strategy.  Consider Ceratias holboelli. The male is tiny, black, and about the size of a finger, so if a female floats by when he’s feeling randy, he bites her, holds on, releases an enzyme and waits. Soon his mouth fuses with her flesh and their bloodstreams merge2. Then it gets really mushy and sentimental as his eyes and internal organs and skin dissolve away, leaving only his gonads and the keys to his cherry-red Camaro3 for the female to haul around wherever she goes.

Naturally, he regrets this almost immediately, but it’s too late and there’s no pre-nup. What’s more, the female may carry around the remains of up to six males fused to her body. So when she’s ready to settle down and have larvae she has some dudes already lined up. All she has to do is look down and see who’s grafted to her abdomen.

None of this good in any way.


1 The jaws of anglerfish are extremely pliable, allowing them to swallow fish twice their size. And, we’d guess, lots of maximum strength Pepcid AC.

2 This is why, when you’re heartbroken, you should never listen to people who try to console you with the maxim ‘there are plenty of fish in the sea.’ While this is technically true, you should also be aware that Deep Sea Anglerfish (and, for that matter, barracudas and deadly venomous Stonefish) are among those other fish in the sea.  And as long as we’re on the subject of Deep Sea Anglerfish, you can also now confidently ignore ‘Don’t be afraid of the dark.’  Also, on a completely unrelated note, ‘Lead, follow or get out of the way’ is kind of pointless too.

3 T-tops, low miles, aftermarket tachometer, sheepskin seat covers, 6-disc CD changer. Perfect interior, but needs some body work. $2,000 OBO.

*UPDATE* – Pandas To Go Extinct (Hopefully!)

It is often said that Animal Review leads and science follows.1 So it was unsurprising that acclaimed British nature host Chris Packham of the BBC has joined Animal Review in suggesting that it may well be past time for panda bears to collectively shuffle off this mortal coil.

Joining the rising tide of voices in the animal commentariat, Packham says, ‘Here’s a species that, of its own accord, has gone down an evolutionary cul-de-sac. It’s not a strong species.  Unfortunately it’s big and cute and it’s a symbol of the WWF, and we pour millions of pounds into panda conservation.  I reckon we should pull the plug.  Let them go, with a degree of dignity.’   Animal Review agrees whole-heartedly, and if there is any sense in the communist government of China, they’ll see the wisdom in this policy as well.  Perhaps if it were somehow tied to putting lead in toys they’d get on board faster.   Maybe it could somehow involve suppressing political dissidents.  Diplomats should consider both.

Packham suggests that the piles of money poured into panda protection, panda conservation, panda breeding, panda houses, panda weekend getaways, and panda sailing trips to Bermuda instead be redirected to guarding the world’s biodiversity hot spots.  This is simple common sense, and while Animal Review would first like to get a look at what we’d be protecting in said hot spots before we all start protecting them too hard, letting pandas do what they so clearly desperately wish they could do – die out – is a fine plan indeed.2

So three cheers to Chris Packham for having the courage to say what pandas have been saying (through their refusal to mate) for what seems like forever.

1 Nobody says this.

2 Plus more bamboo for the rest of us. Visit for a glorious glimpse of a pandaless future.