A selection of wonderful little illustrations found in a Fifteenth Century Book of Hours attributed to an artist of the Ghent-Bruges school and dating from the late 15th century.
In the pages without full borders the margins have been decorated with an array of different images depicting flowers, birds, jewellery, animals, household utensils and these superb rainbow-coloured ‘grotesques’.
Manlike monsters in medieval manuscripts take on many different forms.
The main types are man-beast hybrids, those with too few human features and those with too many.
A good example of the first type is the manticore.
It was a creature of Persian legend which found its way into medieval bestiaries via Pliny’s Naturalis Historia (a text which seems to have been an important and apparently unquestioned source for medieval writers).
Manticores were thought to have the body of a lion, a human head with three rows of sharp teeth, and a trumpet-like voice.
They could have horns, wings, or both, and they would paralyse and kill their prey – which they devoured whole – by shooting out poisonous spines.
The second type of humanoid monster includes monopods and blemmyes.
Monopods, dwarf-like creatures with a single foot extending from one leg centered in the middle of the body, were first mentioned in Aristophanes’ play The Birds (413 BC).
Pliny reports that monopods have been spotted in India, a piece of (mis)information which might have derived from sightings of Indian sadhus, who sometimes meditate on one foot.
The Blemmye also from the Nuremberg Chronicles.
The blemmyes are perhaps even stranger.
Blemmyes were believed to be headless cannibals living in North Africa and the Middle East, whose eyes and mouths were located on their chests.
The name comes from an ancient African tribe based in what is now Sudan; perhaps something about them or their dress made European travellers think that their heads were in their chests, although science fiction author Bruce Sterling writes about a Blemmye during the Crusades who turns out to be an extraterrestrial, so who knows…
That giant claw is perfectly natural: The shrimp uses it to snap so hard that it briefly heats the water to 8,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Photo: Arthur Anker/Flickr
The greatest real-life gunslingers have to be the pistol shrimp, aka the snapping shrimp, hundreds of species with an enormous claw they use to fire bullets of bubbles at foes, knocking them out cold or even killing them.
The resulting sound is an incredible 210 decibels, far louder than an actual gunshot, which averages around 150.
Pound for pound, pistol shrimp are some of the most powerful, most raucous critters on Earth.
Yet at the same time they are quite vulnerable, allying with all manner of creatures and even forming bizarre societies to protect themselves from the many menaces of the ocean bottom.
The Life Despotic
The pistol shrimp has two claws, a small pincer and an enormous snapper. The snapper, which can grow to up to half the length of the shrimp’s body, does not have two symmetrical halves like the pincer.
Instead, half of it is immobile, called a propus, which has a socket.
The other half, called a dactyl, is the mobile part. It has a plunger that fits into this socket.
The shrimp opens the dactyl by co-contracting both an opener and closer muscle.
This builds tension until another closer muscle contracts, setting the whole thing off with incredible force.
Humans are naturally afraid of the dark, mostly because it can cloak myriad dangers. But take a closer look, and it turns out many of the creatures that go bump in the night are adorable, resourceful and awe-inspiring.
Now fossil studies suggest that the very first mammals may have been born into darkness.
Today a wide variety of known animal species are nocturnal, mostly active at night, or crepuscular, mostly active at dawn and dusk.
These behaviors offer three main advantages: reduced competition for resources with daytime critters, protection from heat and water loss in arid regions and a way to hide from predators or find unsuspecting prey.
Photographer Traer Scott became fascinated with night-dwellers while watching moths fly near her porch lights on summer evenings—and then thinking about the bats that prey on those moths.
In her new book, Nocturne: Creatures of the Night (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014), Traer highlights the diversity of nocturnal species around the world, offering a glimpse at birds, bats, spiders and other animals that most humans rarely see.
While nocturnality makes sense for those animals and many others today, how or why it first emerged has been unclear. One prevailing scientific theory was that nocturnality evolved in early mammals as a defensive strategy to escape the jaws of predatory dinosaurs, which were mostly active during the day.
But according to research recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. being nocturnal may have been the status quo for the common ancestor of all mammals.
Traer Scott is an award winning photographer and the bestselling author of four books including Shelter Dogs and the recently released Newborn Puppies; Dogs In Their First Three Weeks from Chronicle Books.
Her work has been featured in National Geographic, Life, Vogue, People, O, and dozens of other major national and international publications.
This shot was the overall winner of the Ecology Image Competition run by the journal BMC Ecology. It shows a Namaqua rock mouse getting dusted with pollen as it takes a night-time drink from a Pagoda lily in South Africa, and marks the first time that “nocturnal rodent pollination” has been captured on film in the wild.
(Photo: Petra Wester).
Capturing two simultaneous meals on a single flower in the mountains of eastern Panama, this image won the “Community, population and macroecology” category. It shows a Crab spider preying on a bee, while a butterfly coincidently looks for nectar.