There Otter be a Post!

The novel that I am currently developing is set in a future where changes to the environment have caused the extinction of several crustacean and fish species in the ocean, which led in turn to the extinction of many of the marine birds and mammals that we know today. Fortunately, not all marine mammals were driven to extinction. Enhydra lutris, better known as the sea otter, managed to survive the mass extinctions as their diet primary diet included sea urchins and shelled mollusks.

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The fuzzy face and playful attitude make otters a popular animal to photograph, and in recent years some breeds, such as the Asian Small-Clawed Otter, have become more popular as exotic pets in parts of Southwest Asia. All otters belong to the scientific family Lutrinae, a branch of the Mustelidae family, which also includes badgers, weasels, and wolverines. As a group, they are versatile carnivores, dining on anything from shellfish to small birds and mammals. While all thirteen species of otter are adorable, intelligent, and playful, only one species is capable of living its entire life afloat.

An ancestor of the modern Sea Otter is believed to have diverged from the other species of otter somewhere around five million years ago and is different enough from the other species that many scientists believed them to be more closely related to seals until genetic analysis was completed in the 1980s. They are the heaviest of all the otters with females weighing between thirty and seventy pounds and males sometimes weighing in at a hundred pounds or more. Unlike other marine mammals, however, they are not endowed with a layer of blubber to keep them warm. Instead, they have a dense coat of fur, the densest fur in all of the animal kingdom with between 100,000 to 400,000 hair follicles per square centimeter of skin. The coat is made up of a short layer of soft, insulating fur, covered by a layer of longer guard hairs, which helps to keep water away from the shorter layer underneath. It requires a great deal of maintenance in order to retain the ability of the guard hairs to repel water and otters that are unable to keep their guard hairs properly groomed run the risk of becoming either chilled or waterlogged, a dangerous prospect for an animal that lives in the ocean. Their incredible fur nearly spelled the extinction of these animals in the late 18th and early 19th century. Populations of Sea Otters were much greater in the 1700s, believed to be around 100,000 to 150,000 members, but were reduced by hunting to around 1,000 to 2,000 specimens by the time that laws were developed to protect them in 1911.

While most otters enter the lakes, rivers, and oceans around their homes mainly to hunt and play, the Sea Otter also sleeps, eats, and gives birth in the water. They spend a great deal of their time floating on their backs, leaving their paws free to hold on to their young or to manipulate their food and eat. The sea otter is more than capable of chasing down fast moving fish for dinner, but they usually prefer to harvest sea urchins, crabs, clams, and abalones from the sea floor. In order to harvest their favorite foods, many Sea Otters have developed the ability to dislodge their prey and crack open hard shells by using a rock, making them one of just a few animals known to regularly use tools. It is not a skill that they are born with, it is one that they typically learn from their mothers, and if they don’t learn the skill by the time they are an adult, they are unlikely to pick it up. While any old rock will do in a pinch, some tool using otters tuck specific rocks in the natural pouches or pockets that they have developed, which are located under each arm. The pouches, unique to the Sea Otter, are also used to store food that they collect along the ocean floor so that they can carry more to the surface.

I’m not sure where or how all of this information will fit into my novel or into the short stories that are based in the same futuristic world, but I’m sure it will. Eventually.

The Sting of the Cnidarian (jellyfish and their relatives)

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I do a great deal of research when working on my novels and short stories. The as-of-yet untitled novel that I am currently working on involves some genetic manipulation theories, and I needed to learn a little bit more about the anatomy of jellyfish, specifically a type of cell that they have called a cnidocyte. 

The phylum of animals known as Cnidaria, which contains jellyfish, tube-dwelling anemones, minute polyps, and certain types of coral, have a rather unique adaptation that allows the cnidaria to thrive. All of the creatures in this phylum are characterized by cnidocytes, a type of cell unique to these animals. Cnidoctyes function as projectiles, used to ensnare and immobilize prey as well as to defend the cnidarians against those that see them as prey. 

Each cnidocyte is composed of a tough capsule known as a cnida, which stores high concentrations of calcium ions. The cnida is covered by a lid which scientists refer to as an operculum; either a single hinged flap, or three pie-shaped flaps that cover an opening in the cell. A coiled tubule resides inside the capsule until it is triggered by the cnidocil, a hair-like sensory device that is activated by a combination of physical contact and chemical response. When the cell is activated, calcium ions are released into the fluid in the cell, which forces a rapid influx of water causing the coiled tubule inside to spring out- a process that can take as little as seven hundred nanoseconds to complete. Cnidocytes can only be activated once then it takes approximately two days for the cnidarian to grow new stinging cells.

Cnidocytes come in three different classifications. Ptychocysts are used to build protective tubes rather than to catch prey and are unique to tube anemones. Spirocysts are hollow tubules that adhere to the things they come in contact with, entangling their prey, and nematocysts. Nematocysts are the most prevalent of the three, they contain hollow tubules with spikes on the end that penetrate the skin, in most cases injecting the victim with some form of neurotoxin.

Handling Stings

  • Rinse the area with vinegar or warm water (avoid seawater or cool water)
  • Avoid rubbing the area or scraping the stingers off as this can push additional toxins into the wound
  • Pull off any remaining tentacles with tweezers, do not use your hands

Dangerous Symptoms: Call an Ambulance

  • Stings cover a large part of the body, or are located on sensitive areas such as the eyes or mouth
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Swollen lips or tongue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle spasms
  • Headache
  • Dizziness

 

The type of neurotoxin and the amount of damage it does can vary greatly between species, as can the overall size of the cnidocyte cell. Sea anemones have cells so small that they don’t penetrate human skin but to certain marine animals such as small fish they are deadly predators. Jellyfish stings are more likely to affect humans, with effects ranging from slight pain accompanied by redness, itching, or numbness at the site to cardiac arrest, depending on the species and amount of toxin injected. 

Super Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse

blood-mooncreativecommonssmTonight is a conjunction of several lunar events; it is a full moon, a fairly common occurrence, a lunar eclipse, which happens a few times a year, and a super moon, which can also happen a few times a year.


A super moon is when the new or full moon is at or very near the closest point of its orbit to the earth, usually within 90%, causing it to look somewhat larger than average. Astrologically speaking, super moons are somewhat more intense than your average full moon, although how much more intense is hard to quantify, and can depend on how closely the moon aligns to your own chart.


During a total lunar eclipse, the moon gains a coppery or red hue, one that conjures images of blood and battle, giving it the moniker of blood moon. In truth, it is a phenomenon of the light, and while the shorter wavelengths found in blue and purple are scattered more easily, the longer wavelengths of the orange and red hues are still able to reach the surface of the moon and to be reflected.


Lunar eclipses occur a few times a year, in 2019 there are three; a full eclipse and two partial eclipses. The first partial eclipse was January 6th, and the first and only total lunar eclipse for the year occurred around nine pm tonight, just an hour or two before I sat down to write. We can expect the second and final partial eclipse on July 16th. Lunar eclipses tend to intensify the effect of a full moon, although the full effect of those changes may be a bit hazy until the partial eclipse in mid-July.


A full moon in Leo, as it is tonight, tends to be a good time for creative endeavors, especially those that highlight the more incredible things in life. It is often a good time to find balance between recognition of yourself and the notice of others, but can also be a time of overextending oneself, either physically, mentally, or emotionally. While this is generally true for everyone, the intensity of the effect and the direction it takes can differ from person to person, depending on the type connections it makes to your own chart as well as the degree of proximity to the planetary bodies in your chart.