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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Fabulous sea slug

Spider cartwheels

Chicken from hell

Parasitic plant

Mushroom jellies

Wasp house of horrors

Live-birth frog

Hiding in plain sight

Unknown bromeliad

Crop circle pufferfish

Phyllodesmium acanthorhinum

Terrestrial slugs aren't attractive creatures, but once you dive beneath the waves, slugs get gorgeous, with vivid colours and waving fronds. Phyllodesmium acanthorhinum [PDF], found in the waters around Okinawa, Japan, isn't just a pretty face: it's a sea slug "missing link", falling between sea slugs that feed on hydroids and those that feed on coral.

The slug, which typically measures between 17 and 25 millimetres, also helped scientists gain a greater understanding of the evolution of symbiosis.

Phyllodesmium acanthorhinum feed on coral. The slug becomes the new host for zooxanthellae, a kind of plankton that lives on the coral, which provides the slugs with additional nutrients through photosynthesis.

Caption by / Photo by Robert Bolland

Cebrennus rechenbergi

This Moroccan spider hightails away from danger using acrobatics. Rather than scampering on its eight skittery legs, it cartwheels like a tumbleweed. First, it acts tough, rearing up and raising its forelegs in the air in a typical spider threat pose. If that fails, the spider cheeses it.

Around half the time, its flight turns into a tumbling cartwheel that doubles its speed, regardless of terrain.

Cebrennus rechenbergi was discovered by a bionics professor, Ingo Rechenberg at the Technical University Berlin, who modelled a rolling, rumbling robot, called the Tabbot, after the spider's crazy gait. You can see the spider rolling in a video here.

Caption by / Photo by Professor Ingo Rechenberg, Technical University Berlin

Anzu wyliei

The discovery of this egg-thief -- affectionately known around the CNET traps as the Hellchook -- marked a great day for the study of Caenagnathidae, a species of oviraptorosaur (aka egg-eating dinosaur).

Until the discovery of three 66-million-year-old partial skeletons found in North Dakota and South Dakota, not much was known about it, because most of the remains found were scraps and fragments too small to glean much information.

Thanks to the finds, the Hellchook, or Anzu wyliei, was discovered to measure 3.5 metres (over 10 feet) from nose to tail-tip and weigh around 225 kilograms (496 pounds). It had a feathered body, bone-crested head and wicked-sharp claws.

Caption by / Photo by Mark A. Klingler, Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Balanophora coralliformis

Newly discovered and just as newly endangered, Balanophora coralliformis is a parasitic plant found in the Philippines. Deceptive in its appearance, it looks, with its tuberous appendages, like a coral -- the only known member of the Balanophoraceae family that does.

Like other members of its family, it grows on tree roots. Unable to produce its own chlorophyll, it needs to draw its nutrients from another plant. It flowers directly from its stems.

Balanophora coralliformis is known to be found on fewer than 50 plants found in the misty forest areas around Mt. Mingan.

Caption by / Photo by P.B. Pelser and J.F. Barcelona

Dendrogramma enigmatica

These peculiar little beasts are found on the seafloor at a depth of 1,000 metres (3,200 feet) off the coast of Victoria, Australia.

They look like fungus, but it's not actually known what they are. The best guess is some sort of relation to jellyfish, either the phylum Cnidaria or the phylum Ctenophora.

However, it has none of the evolutionary quirks or characteristics of either. It could be an entirely new phylum.

Interestingly, they resemble fossils from the Precambrian time, around 541 million years ago, a time when the land seemed empty of plants and animals. The "enigmatic" creature, which measures just 11 millimetres across at its flat end, could be a living fossil.

Caption by / Photo by Jørgen Olesen

Deuteragenia ossarium

This China-based wasp, also known as the "Bone-house wasp," builds a home for her larvae in a unique way. She finds a hollow stem and puts a single egg in each chamber, adding a dead spider in each cell so that the hatching larva will have something to munch on. The final chamber contains no egg, but a pile of dead ants.

The smell of these ants, researchers believe, could be used to hide the eggs from predators that hunt by scent. Compared to wasps that build similar nests, but with no ant-chamber, the theory seems sound.

You can see an example of the wasp's nest at the bottom of the image to the left.

Caption by / Photo by Merten Ehmig

Limnonectes larvaepartus

Most frogs and toads lay spawn -- a protective jelly encasing the eggs in which tadpoles develop. The female lays the eggs, after which the male will fertilise them.

Not so the Limnonectes larvaepartus, a species of fanged frog found in Indonesia. These frogs give birth to live tadpoles in pools of water, with fertilisation taking place internally. It is just one of about a dozen frog species of the 6,455 known frog species to fertilise internally, and the only one to give birth to tadpoles -- the others either lay fertilised eggs or give birth to tiny frogs.

This image shows the male on the left and the female on the right.

Caption by / Photo by Jimmy A. McGuire

Phryganistria tamdaoensis

This stick insect is pretty big. It's not the longest ever discovered; that honour belongs to a specimen at the Museum of Natural History in the UK, measuring 567 millimetres (22 inches).

Phryganistria tamdaoensis is considerably smaller at 228 millimetres (nine inches), but still big enough to be classified as a giant stick insect.

What makes it so unusual isn't just its size. What is truly unusual about Phryganistria tamdaoensis is that it is very common in its natural habitat, the town of Tam Dao in Vietnam (a popular haunt for entomologists) and yet no one officially found it until 2014.

Caption by / Photo by Jonathan Brecko

Tillandsia religiosa

If you ask the locals of Sierra de Tepoztlan, Tlayacapan, San Jose de los Laureles and Tepoztlan in Mexico about Tillandsia religiosa, they know precisely what it is -- although maybe not by that name.

The gorgeous bromeliad grows on cliffs at altitudes between 1,800 and 2,100 metres (6,000 and 7,000 feet) and is frequently incorporated into nativity displays, or nacimientos, at Christmas time.

The 1.5-metre tall plant flowers from December to March, forming long red petals from a central rosette.

Although it has been known to the locals for a long time, the plant was not known to science until last year, when it was named and classified.

Caption by / Photo by A. Espejo

Torquigener albomaculosus

Some species build elaborate nests for their young, and this pretty pattern on the sea floor is one of them. It's the nest of a newly discovered pufferfish off the coast of Amami-Oshima Island, Japan. He builds this elaborate creation in the sand by wriggling his body in and under it to attract a mate.

It's not just for show: The double edges, troughs and grooves in the two-metre-wide nest minimise the ocean current at the nest's centre, protecting the eggs from turbulence.

For 20 years, divers had not known the origin of these mysterious, underwater "crop circles." The discovery of Torquigener albomaculosus put that mystery to bed once and for all.

Caption by / Photo by Yoji Okata
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