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Cool Creatures, Special Post

Christmas special: The Twelve Factoids of Creatures – part 2

So it’s Christmas Eve’s Eve! And as promised here is the second part of the ‘Nature is anything but simple’ twist on a yuletide classic—the ‘Twelve Factoids of Creatures’. As I said in the previous post (read it here), these factoids are inspired loosely (in some cases very loosely) by the gifts in the Twelve Days of Christmas. This second post completes the countdown running from factoid six, down to one:


//Six termites-a-laying:

The goose is the traditional bird for a Christmas dinner (even Scrooge knew this!)—and the domesticated goose breed that lays the most eggs is the Chinese Goose. But even laying up to a hundred eggs in a five-month breeding season seems rather paltry (or should that be poultry – sorry) when compared to a termite queen. This insect’s grotesquely enlarged body pulsates, as it lays an egg about every three seconds, day and night for up to 15 years. As such a queen can lay more than 150 million eggs over her lifetime!


December is apparently the most popular month for sale of engagement rings. But unlike those little gold rings, the blue-ringed octopus is fairly unpopular all year round. Even the smallest, painless bite from this tiny creature—which is typically less than 10 cm in length—can deliver venom powerful enough to kill an adult human within minutes. Bacteria that live in the mouth of this octopus produce the same toxin as found in pufferfish and some poison dart frogs; that, gram for gram, is over 1000 times more lethal than cyanide. Although it is one of the deadliest reef inhabitants in the ocean, and despite a lack of any known anti-venom, only three deaths due to blue-ringed octopi were reported in the last century.

Great Blue-ringed octopus taken in Indonesia | Image by Jens Petersen

Great Blue-ringed octopus taken in Indonesia | Image by Jens Petersen

//Four half-sleepy birds:

According to the fountain of all human knowledge (also known as Wikipedia), the ‘colly’ or ‘calling’ birds of the traditional carol are common blackbirds. Although a familiar sight in your back garden, you might not know that this bird is one of a few species that has so-called ‘unihemispheric slow-wave’ sleep. Like someone half-dozing in front of the telly after a big Christmas dinner; a blackbird is able to have one half of its brain effectively asleep, whilst the other half is awake. This allows the bird to rest yet to stay alert for danger or even rest during long flights.

Male Common Blackbird in the snow | Image from Wikimedia commons

Male Common Blackbird in the snow | Image from Wikimedia commons

//Three not-so French hens:

Whilst in the UK; turkey, or perhaps goose (see above), is the traditional meat of the big day, tucking in to some Kentucky Fried Chicken is a Christmas Eve tradition in Japan. Although clearly a very American meal, chickens themselves, originate from South or Southeast Asia. Their domestication started around 8000 years ago, with the Red Junglefowl, and a small about of crossbreeding with the Grey Junglefowl.

Male Red Junglefowl, in India | Image by Lip Kee Yap

Male Red Junglefowl, in India | Image by Lip Kee Yap

//Two turtle-dives:

Although the turtledoves of the original song were more likely named after their coo-ing (tur tur) call than any marine reptile, the diving ability of sea turtles is definitely note worthy too. The leatherback turtle is the biggest, deepest-diving, and widest-ranging of all turtles. Weighing up to 700 kg or more, and reaching depths of 1000 m below sea level, leatherbacks are found across the world’s oceans—from Norway in the north, to New Zealand in the south.

Leatherback sea turtle | Image by Scot R Benson

Leatherback sea turtle | Image by Scot R Benson

//And some goats in an argan tree:

Although now an iconic symbol of Christmas, a pear tree is an unlikely place to find a partridge. Instead these seed-eating birds nest on the ground. Nevertheless, there are creatures that look even more out of place in a tree, but that will venture up through the branches in search of food. Goats in North Africa will climb argan trees—thorny trees that grow up to 10 m tall—to feed on the young leaves and fruits, which are highly valued for the high quality oils that the contain.

So all together now:

#In the build up to Christmas,

These factoids gave to you,

Twelve woodpeckers drumming,

Eleven pipers probing,

Ten ‘boks-a-pronking,

Nine honeybees dancing,

Eight pups-a-milking,

Seven sturgeons-a-swimming,

Six termites-a-laying,


Four half-sleepy birds,

Three not-so French hens,

Two turtle-dives,

And some goats in an argan tree!#


Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!


About StuartKing

Hi, I'm Stuart, an Assistant Features Editor at eLife and recent life sciences PhD graduate. I blog about evolution and its weird and wonderful creations.



  1. Pingback: Morsels For The Mind – 27/12/2013 › Six Incredible Things Before Breakfast - December 28, 2013

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