QI of the Day: “Why do fish have stripes and spots?”
“To confuse and scare predators”
Actually, recent research by Kelly et al provides a range of counter evidence that the leading theories, ie. “Predator defence by mimicking predators’ enemies’ eyes, deflecting attacks or intimidating predators…Striped body patterns have been suggested to serve for both social communication and predator defence.”). These hypothesis are contradicted by a range of data and observations. For example, “Contrary to our expectations, spots and eyespots appeared relatively recently in butterflyfish evolution and are highly evolutionarily labile, suggesting that they are unlikely to have played an important part in the evolutionary history of the group.”
And why does the Cocoon resort have a trompe l’oeil shadow on the wall of a wrought iron grille as if the sun was shining through some window on the Riviera? Just for a bit of aesthetic whimsy (maybe that is an explanation for reef fish too). Even more mysterious is how the shadow is created as there is absolutely nothing on the villa windows except what appears to be clear glass. It’s a bit more design wizardry from the resort…floating furniture, shadows of invisible things – it’s like staying a Hogwarts. Magic all over the resort from the reef to the rooms.
- Q: What colour is the blood of an octopus?
- A: Red?
- Q: Buzzzz…no blue.
- Q: How many hearts does an octopus have?
- A: Ah, you said “hearts” so it must be 2!
- Q: Buzzzz…no, they actually have 3.
- Q: What does the octopus have 8 of that as inspired technological innovations?
- A: Legs?
- Q: Buzzz…8 layers of films that make up their cornea – used in camera technology to reduce the number of lens so reducing costs of cameras
- Q: Give me an incorrect version of the plural for “octopus”.
- A: “Octopuses”?
- Q: Buzzzz. Actually “octopuses” is perfectly acceptable English. You can also refer to them as “octopedes”
Octopus Day today. One of our favourite things to see underwater. And yet so elusive. We never see enough of them (although we did have fun encounter on the Olhuveli house reef this summer with the creature in question playing hide-and-seek with us changing his skin texture and colour with every new hiding place her moved to).
If you think the fun facts above are intriguing (thanks Isley), you ain’t seen nothing until you read about the Pillow Octopus…
- Female pillow octopus is 40,000 times larger than the male. Equivalent of a male human dating a woman 4 times larger than the Statue of Liberty
- For a male pillow octopus to “pull one off” is actually more literal than colloquial. Hectocautilus – arm that contains sperm. Gets broken off and then they die within a year. Only reproduce once. (Female dies after reproducing too)
- Pillow Octopus are known to rip of tentacles of a portugese man-o-war (built up resistance to poison) and use them as swords. Some octopuses have learned to open jars (where their food was kept)
Octopi are clever creatures. They have personality and have been observed playing, problem solving, learning. In fact, some octopus use coconut shell halves as a portable home (see photo at top).
Octopus’s garden in the sea is a curious place indeed.
Q: What living thing is most likely to kill you in the Maldives?
A: A shark?
Q: Buzzzz! Actually, there are not recorded incidents of shark attacks at all in the Maldives.
The real answer is likely to be the innocent coconut. And today being Coconut Day is an appropriate time to investigate the treacherous hazards of the humble coconut. Exhibit A is the ABC News article “Coconuts Called Deadlier Than Sharks”…
- “George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, Fla…pointed to recent data that suggested people were 15 times more likely to be killed by falling coconuts than by a shark. “
As it turns out, many resorts have staff who regularly harvest coconuts from the trees. I always thought that this was to get refreshing treats for the guests, but speaking to a manager this past trip I found out that their primary motivation is to reduce the risk of ripe ones falling and hitting guests.
Science Day in nearby India seems like an apropos time for another instalment of Maldives QI. Like all good science teachers, I’m bringing out the video player for special occasions like this. With some lessons about some unexpected swimmers in the Maldives…
- Q: Name a creature that lives in the water but doesn’t move from place to place
- A: Sea anemone?
- Q: Buzzzz! (see above) How about one that lives on land, moves about a lot and doesn’t swim?
- A: Bat?
- Q: Buzzzz! (see below)
Seems like everyone enjoys a swim in the crystal clear waters of the Maldives.
- Q: What’s the best way to remove coral reef devouring Crown of Thorns Starfish?
- A: Spear them and collect them?
- Q: Buzzz…When a COTS is distressed, by something like being speared, it reacts by releasing its eggs. These number about 10,000 per female. So spearing a COTS just makes it worse.
- A: Poison them?
- Q: Buzzz…Not great to put toxic substances into the marine environment
QI returned to our screens this weekend with “Season N” as in nautical nature news. And today’s Maldives Complete QI instalment on the occasion is just that. Breaking news on the fight against this scourge of the reefs.
Like so many Maldives islands, Kandolhu faced an outbreak of COTS earlier this year and researched a number of methods for effectively solving the problem. The resort Deputy Manager Laura is a trained marine biologist so they had a bit of a ringer in the battle against this reef destroying creature.
One technique she found was injecting bile salts that you could get from Australia. But that was very expensive. Then, they found out that injecting them with vinegar was effective in killing them and was a non-toxic substance. In the end, Kandolhu has removed 9,000 COTS in the past 6 months and appear to have the situation well under control now. We didn’t see a single one in our near circum-navigation of the island.
…for “X” marks the spot where in the world the Great Whites are.
Q: When was the last shark attack in the Maldives?
A: A year ago?
Q: Buzzzzz! No. The Maldives have never had a recorded shark attack on a human.
World Tourism Day today and the Maldives stand tall (much taller than its famously low elevation) among the titans of the travel industry as a bucket list destination. And for selachophiles, the bountiful populations of a range of shark species is one of the many oceanic attractions.
Still, for a few of the more aquatically apprehensive, all these dorsal fins can evokes a number of cinematic fears brought on by everything from Jaws to Deep Blue Sea and Thunderball. In fact, nearly all species of shark keep quite a distance from diving and swimming humans. When you spend some time diving and snorkelling with them, you quickly figure out how they are the scaredy-cats of the ocean turning and fleeing at the least disturbance.
In most cases, these cartoonishly portrayed “man-eaters” are the species “Great White”. And if sharks’ docile temperament isn’t enough to re-assure you then, you can at least travel to the Maldives knowing that you won’t encounter any Great Whites. Great Whites are found pretty much all over the world east-to-west, and north-to-south. But there is one place they don’t hang out in and that’s the Indian Ocean (except for a patch off the coast of east Africa).
This bird is not attractive in the way you might think…
Q: The “Makana” bird (heron) is found everywhere in the Maldives (each resort seems to have its own resident). What makes it such a good fisherman?
A: The Heron making his own oil secreted from the toes which attracts fish.
Q: Buuzzzzz! No. The “stinky feet” story about herons turns out to be an old wives tale (or old fishermans tale)
“Fishermen of yore were convinced that a heron’s foot exuded oil that enticed fish within range of the bird’s five-and-ahalf-inch serrated beak. A formula from the year 1740 for a witches’ brew, Unguentum Piscatorum Mirable, to be smeared on fishing lines included heron’s fat as well as cat’s fat and ‘Man’s fat [which] you may get of any surgeons who are concerned in anatomy.’ To debunk this myth for his 1954 book on the grey heron (spelled ‘gray’ in this country), the Old World counterpart of our great blue heron, British naturalist Frank A. Lowe dropped heron’s-foot extract in an aquarium. The fish ignored it.” – National Wildlife Federation
QI Series N should be hitting our screens in a few weeks time. “N” as in “noisome nippers” perhaps.
Hatchling scampers to a new live at sea during our 2015 Velaa visit.
Q: What is the best way increase the odds of sea turtle hatchlings surviving?
A: Put them in nurseries to help them grow stronger?
Q: Buzzzzzz! Nope. The fairly common practice of collecting hatchlings and protecting them by nurturing them in special nursery pools turns out to cause long term problems for the turtles.
World Turtle Day today is the opportunity “to bring attention to, and increase knowledge of and respect for, turtles and tortoises, and encourage human action to help them survive and thrive”. Most people know about the dangers of plastic refuse to turtles (they get caught in six-pack rings and mistake plastic bags for jelly fish which they try to eat). But even those keen to help the critters are less aware of the issues with well-intended turtle nurseries.
The nursery misconception stems from the “numbers game”. As Marine Biologists Tess Moriarty and Dee Bello (who kindly provided most of the research for this piece) from Velaa resort (THE Turtle resort – “Velaa” means “Turtle” in Dhivehi) describes, “For turtles it is always a numbers game, they have many threats to their survival and it is commonly known that many do not make it to adulthood.” The concept of nurseries is to allow the hatchlings to grow to a more significant size where much fewer predators would be able to manage eating them.
Unfortunately, turtle nurseries have a number of problems for the turtles they are trying to help…
- Predator Dangers – Turtles may evade predators when small, but then don’t learn to and how to avoid them later in life which keeps them vulnerable.
- Diet – Nursery turtles don’t get to eat the staples of the normal ocean diet like jellyfish or sargassum.
- Orientation – One of the miracles of turtle procreation is how they instinctively head to the water’s edge on birth, but then also they come back to where they were born to nest s adults. Studies show that taking hatchlings on birth into nurseries disorients them and they don’t return to nest.
So what CAN be done to help these endangered little tykes? Dee offers up the following…
- Hatcheries: This technique is when the nests are relocated from where the female lays the eggs on the beach to a different location. This is used on beaches that have severe erosion or flooding problems and thus the nests would not survive, nests that are too close to the shore line and would get inundated and mostly on beaches where human poaching of eggs for food is abundant. This method actively saves many eggs and ensured they can develop and hatch, thus increasing the number of hatchlings making it to the sea.
- Fencing the nests: Shielding both the hatchery and on the beach deters humans from poaching eggs from the nests as they are under surveillance. It also ensures that there must be someone present to release the hatchlings into the sea when they emerge from the nest and thus predation from crabs and birds is greatly reduced.
- Protection laws: Creating laws that prohibit the killing or possessing turtle products it directly influences their populations. The protection of adult females laying eggs, poaching of the eggs on the beaches and the capturing of turtles in the sea, increases the amount of turtles and nests on the beaches.
Of course, all these measures are focused on the young turtles. But even when they get all grown up, they still could use our help in surviving (especially since human actions cause many of the adult hazards)…
- Turtle Exclusion Devices (TED). Turtles need to breath air in order to survive and unfortunately when they get trapped in nets they are unable to do so. This can be avoided using TED’s where turtles can escape the nets intended for fishing other fish.
- Research: Understanding where turtles migrate to (using advanced tools like satellite tracking), at what times and their feeding and breading patterns can help aim protection to make it more successful and increase awareness.
- Awareness: By spreading the word about the turtle population’s vulnerability, more people understand their situation and need to protect them. This awareness leads to leads to less poaching and donations that support more conservation projects.
- Q: On this so-dubbed “Blue Planet”, what is the earliest and most prevalent word for a colour in early ancient langages?
- A: Blue?
- Q: Buzzzz…A bit of a misleading set-up there, but linguists have actually found that the word for the color “blue” is almost universally the last color to enter a language.
As a result, researchers have even questioned if these earlier generations possibly even perceived colours differently to modern peoples. With the sea around and the sky above, such a conjecture certainly would have limited the descriptive capacity of people living in the Maldives. Fortunately, at leas today, the Dhivehi language does have a word for blue – “noo.”
QI question of the day: Q: What is the base ingredient of gazpacho at Velaa? A: Tomato? Q: Buzzz…wrong. It’s cabbage.
Velaa not only served two of my favourite soups – gazpacho and bisque – but they did so with an entirely refreshing slant. In many respects, they were nothing like gazpacho and bisque and everything like them at the same time.
For starters (pun intended) the gazpacho had no tomato (pretty much the defining ingredient to gazpacho – “Spanish Cookery. 1. a soup made of chopped tomatoes…”). Instead, it uses red cabbage as the base. It also blend in green apple and passion fruit which is a bit more exotic than the classic cucumbers and onions.
Their “Laccadivian Essence” (named after the Maldives sea) was really a bisque of lobster, coconut, fennel, and seaweed. Both were Michelin star quality. They were sort of non-bisque bisque and non-gazpacho gazpacho.
The inventive twists reminded me of the food-play by Heston Blumenthal at his world-famous restaurant the “Fat Duck”. Just down the road from us in the UK, we used to go when Heston first started playing with his culinary chemistry set. We were sometimes the only people dining there and he would step out of the kitchen to have us try some wonderfully weird new concoction.
One of Heston’s signature dishes was the Orange and Beetroot Jelly. As ‘Boots in the Oven’ describes…
“The mousse was trailed by two small trays bearing two squares each; one a garnet red and one a deep yellow. The waiter explained that we would be eating orange and beet root jellies. This opening dish is the perfect example of the Fat Duck dining philosophy. Heston and his team don’t just want you to have an awesome eating experience; they want to f*ck with your head.” [HINT – Not is all as it appears]
In fact, Velaa’s gazpacho might just have been inspired by Heston as Red Cabbage Gazpacho also featured is on his menu years ago.