A is for Animals: The following is a list of animals that have some relation to ecology (E), toxicology (T), or chemistry (C).
B is for Bats (E): White-nose syndrome is wreaking havoc on bat populations across the US and Canada. This emergent disease (caused by the fungus Geomyces destructans) attacks bats during the hibernation season, depositing white fluff on their muzzles and rousing them from their torpor, causing them to burn through fat stores. Recently conservationists created a bat hibernaculum, or artificial bat cave in the hopes of maintaining a healthy population of bats.
C is for the Common Carp (E): This non-native (to North America), fish species is decimating habitat and local fish populations in the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers and the Great Lakes, and creating a political and environmental dilemma.
D is for Daphnia (T): Perhaps one of the most commonly used test organisms in biological and toxicological studies, Dapnia is a microcrustacean commonly referred to as a water flea. It is a versatile model organism, with life-history traits that make it amendable to field and laboratory studies, where investigations have included fundamental mechanisms of inheritance and development, cellular function, physiological systems, immunity response, disease, macromolecular structure/function relationships, toxicity assays, and the genetic basis of complex phenotypic traits. Because of its importance, it was the first crustacean to have its genome sequenced.
E is for Echidna (E): Echidnas are one of those weird Australian animals, they are mammals, yet they lay eggs, they are covered in pointy hedgehog-like spines and have a long snout, with the sticky tongue of an anteater. Also the males have a four headed penis.
F is for Fruitfly (T): The fruitfly (specifically Drosophila melanogaster) has been heavily used genetics research and is a common model organism in developmental biology. Below is an amazing video of the development of the fly embryo in real time!
G is for Guam (E): See S for the rest of the ecological cautionary tale, but needless to say I don’t think I will be going to Guam any time soon.
H is for Honey badger (C): The fearlessness of the honey badger is well documented, but the reason for this attitude and willingness to go up against bees, and cobras is not due to a natural immunity to venom, but rather due to its really tough and loose skin.
I is for Invasive’s (E): The introduction of invasive species can have some serious impacts on the ecosystem (see C, L, and S for more).
L is for Lamprey (E): The sea lamprey is a primitive, eel-like fish, that is invasive to the Great Lakes region. The University of Guelph has conducted a considerable amount of research on lamprey, much of which has been performed by Bill Beamish.
M is for Midge (T): The non-biting midge (Chironomous dilutus) is a commonly used test organism for assessing the toxicity of sediment-associated contaminants.
N is for Naked Mole Rat (T): The naked-mole rat is frequently hailed as the best hope for uncovering the secrets to beating/preventing cancers.
O is for Opossum (C): Opossums are very difficult, if not impossible to poison. This is because they produce a protein called Lethal Toxin-Neutralizing Factor (LTNF), which actually has potent anti-venom effects when applied as an antidote in other animals, and may even be a universal therapy for envenomation caused by animals, plants, and bacteria.
P is for Pigeons and Peregrine Falcons (E): If you have ever wondered why cities aren’t littered with the dead bodies of pigeons, one of the reasons is because of the actions of raptors, such as Peregrine falcons. Recently, at a concert at Molson Amphitheatre I saw a raptor perched on the ledge of the amphitheatre, performing crowd control of sorts, keeping nuisance birds (e.g., gulls and pigeons) away from concert goers. Similar programs are in effect in around the world, such as the Urban Raptor Project in South Africa.
Q is for Quahog (T): Quahogs are a very popular clam found along the North American Atlantic coast from Canada’s Gulf of Saint Lawrence to Florida, but are particularly abundant around Cape Cod. It is in the area around Cape Cod, where certain environment conditions create a Perfect Storm resulting in Harmful Algal Blooms or HABs. Because of the filter-feeding lifestyle of the quahog, they end up inadvertently concentrating the algae from these blooms. Some of the algal species (like the dinoflagellate, Alexandrium spp.) contain levels of toxins, that when concentrated to certain degree in the quahog, can result in serious health effects for anyone who eats the quahog, specifically, the ominous sounding Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP). PSP is a life threatening syndrome, with symptoms that are rapid in their onset, and may include tingling, numbness, and burning of the perioral region, ataxia, giddiness, drowsiness, fever, rash, staggering, and in severe cases coma and death. Fortunately there are very proactive monitoring campaigns, which result in the closure of clam beds before PSP can become a very large concern, but it is still a frightening prospect.
R is for Rainbow trout (T): Rainbow trout is a commonly used test species for assessing the toxicity of effluents and receiving waters. In addition to their prominent role is aquatic toxicology tests, Rainbow, and indeed most trout, are also quite pretty.
S is for Snakes and Spiders (E): The introduction of the invasive brown treesnake to Guam has resulted in the decimation of the local bird population. The decline of the bird population has allowed spiders, whose population is normally kept in check by the insectivorous birds, to take control of Guam. Spider-web densities were found to be 40 times greater than the densities seen on three nearby islands with healthy bird populations and no brown treesnakes. This is a textbook, and unfortunate, example of top-down control and the resulting impact on the ecosystem.
U is for Urchin (E and T): The sea urchin is a sometimes used in toxicity studies to assess the acute (e.g., survival) and chronic (e.g., fertilization and reproduction) effects of a toxicant. Sea urchins are also part of the classic top-down ecological control story observed in kelp forests.
V is for Vultures (T): See previous post on the toxicological problems facing old-world vultures.
W is for Worm (T): Worms are probably among the first, and last, animal many people will ever dissect. In addition to their role in educating students about biology, worms are also a commonly used test organism for assessing the toxicity of contaminants associated with soils.
X is for Xenopus (T): Xenopus laevis is another commonly used organism in toxicity testing, particularly with respect to development. Prior to its role in toxicity tests, Xenopus was exploited for pregnancy tests.
Y is for Yellowjackets (C): It is late summer, which means that yellowjackets are out in full force, so be careful not to get stung, but if you do, here are some tips. And speaking of tips, check out these amazing photos of the stinger from a bee being left behind in the arm of a freshly stung man.
Each of those animals/letters could warrant a post all on their own, and maybe one day I will get to that, but in the mean time, this will have to serve as a just a primer.