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The Crown-of-Thorns Starfish is a large nocturnal sea star that preys upon coral polyps. The Crown-of-Thorns receives its name from venomous thorn-like spines that cover its body. The Crown-of-Thorns is endemic to tropical coral reefs in the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean. As solitary animals, they feed alone and maintain constant distance between themselves and other members of their species. The Crown-of-Thorns is the second largest sea star in the world. Only the Giant Sunstar is larger. The Crown-of-Thorns can grow from the size of a grain of sand to the size of a dinner plate. An exceptionally large crown of thorns can grow to be the size of a school bus tire. Like other sea stars, the Crown-of-Thorns is capable of limb regeneration, and can regrow to full size from a severed limb. The sharp spines on the sides of the starfish's limbs resemble thorns and create a crown-like shape, giving the creature its name. These thorns are very sharp and are capable of piercing through standard wetsuits and other clothing. They are also venomous. The natural defences of the adult starfish make it an unattractive target for other reef predators. Venom and sharp pointy parts aside, the Giant Triton (a mollusc) and the harlequin shrimp attack and feed on Crown-of-Thorns starfish. Some large reef fish, particularly Humphead wrasse, may also prey on the starfish. To prevent overpopulation of Crown-of-Thorns causing widespread destruction to coral reef habitats, humans have implemented a variety of control measures. Injecting sodium bisulphate into the starfish is the most efficient measure in practice. Sodium bisulphate is deadly to Crown-of-Thorns, but it does not harm the surrounding reef and oceanic ecosystems. [READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE]



Thomas Vincent Savini is an American actor, stunt man, director, award-winning special effects and makeup artist. He is known for his work on the Living Dead films directed by George A. Romero, as well as Creepshow, The Burning, The Prowler, and Maniac. Though officially retired from special effects, he has continued to direct, produce and star in several movies. Savini has been known to refer movie make-up effects projects to graduates of his school. Savini is primarily known for his groundbreaking work in the field of special makeup effects. He got his breakthrough working with Pittsburgh filmmaker George A. Romero, providing a convincing wrist slashing effect in the opening scenes of Martin (1977). The following year, working with an expanded budget on Dawn of the Dead, Savini created his signature palate of severed limbs and bite-marks. Some say the gore effects in Dawn have been widely imitated but never bettered for sheer visceral impact, the only exception being Savini's own work in the subsequent Day of the Dead (1985). Savini has also worked on films by Dario Argento (Trauma, Two Evil Eyes) and Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2). His signature realism livens otherwise plodding genre films such as Maniac (1980), which incidentally contains the infamous "shotgun" scene. Perhaps Savini's most noteworthy special effects occurred in the zombie epic Day of the Dead. Savini has noted that most of the characters he has played are bikers. He played a relatively straight, innocuous character in Martin (1977), but played a menacing biker called 'Blades' in Dawn of the Dead (1978), a role he reprised with a brief cameo appearance in the 2005 continuation of the series, Land of the Dead. He also had a cameo as a sheriff in the 2004 remake of Dawn. Savini did have a much more prominent role as biker/Renaissance fair participant Morgan in George Romero's Knightriders (1981), and had a small role as a biker in The Boy Who Loved Trolls in (1984). In 1985, he had a small part in Twisted Sister's video for their song Be Chrool to Your Scuel. He also played the whip-wielding, vampire-fighting biker 'Sex Machine' in the 1996 Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez film From Dusk Till Dawn. (This character was a riff on the "Blades" character Savini created for Dawn of the Dead replete with the same costume.) Savini runs the Special Effects Make-Up and Digital Film Programs at the Douglas Education Center in Monessen, Pennsylvania and is the author of several books on special effects including Grande Illusions I and II (1983, 1994) which detail the production and mechanical workings of many of his famous film effects. He is also associated with other books in the horror genre including Book of the Dead and Horror 101 for which he wrote the foreword. [READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE]



A challenge coin is a small coin or medallion (usually military), bearing an organizationís insignia or emblem and carried by the organizationís members. They are given to prove membership when challenged and to enhance morale. In addition, they are also collected by service members. Like many aspects of military tradition, the origins of the challenge coin are a matter of much debate with little supporting evidence. While many organizations and services claim to have been the originators of the challenge coin, the most commonly held view is that the tradition began in the Army Air Corps (a precursor of the current United States Air Force). Air warfare was a new phenomenon during World War I. When the Army created flying squadrons they were manned with volunteer pilots from every walk of civilian life. While some of the early pilots came from working class or rural backgrounds, many were wealthy college students who withdrew from classes in the middle of the year, drawn by the adventure and romance of the new form of warfare. As the legend goes, one such student, a wealthy lieutenant, ordered small, solid-bronze medallions (or coins) struck, which he then presented to the other pilots in his squadron as mementos of their service together. The coin was gold-plated, bore the squadronís insignia, and was quite valuable. One of the pilots in the squadron, who had never owned anything like the coin, placed it in a leather pouch he wore around his neck for safekeeping. A short while later, this pilotís aircraft was heavily damaged by ground fire (other sources claim it was an aerial dogfight), forcing him to land behind enemy lines, resulting in his capture by the Germans. The Germans confiscated the personal belongings from his pockets, but they didnít catch the leather pouch around his neck. On his way to a permanent prisoner of war facility, he was held overnight in a small German-held French village near the front. During the night, the town was bombarded by the British, creating enough confusion to allow the pilot to escape. The pilot avoided German patrols by donning civilian attire, but all of his identification had been confiscated so he had no way to prove his identity. With great difficulty, he crept across no-manís land and made contact with a French patrol. Unfortunately for him, the French had been on the lookout for German saboteurs dressed as civilians. The French mistook the American pilot for a German saboteur and immediately prepared to execute him. Desperate to prove his allegiance and without any identification, the pilot pulled out the coin from his leather pouch and showed it to his French captors. One of the Frenchmen recognized the unit insignia on the coin and delayed the execution long enough to confirm the pilot's identity. Once the pilot safely returned to his squadron, it became a tradition for all members to carry their coin at all times. To ensure compliance, the pilots would challenge each other to produce the coin. If the challenged couldnít produce the coin, he was required to buy a drink of choice for the challenger; if the challenged could produce the coin, the challenger would purchase the drink. [READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE]



The blue whale is a marine mammal belonging to the suborder of baleen whales. At 30 metres (98 ft) in length and 170 tons or more in weight, it is the largest known animal to have ever existed. Long and slender, the blue whale's body can be various shades of bluish-grey dorsally and somewhat lighter underneath. As with other baleen whales, its diet consists almost exclusively of small crustaceans known as krill. Blue whales were abundant in nearly all the oceans on Earth until the beginning of the twentieth century. For over a century, they were hunted almost to extinction by whalers until protected by the international community in 1966. A 2002 report estimated there were 5,000 to 12,000 blue whales worldwide, located in at least five groups. Before whaling, the largest population was in the Antarctic, numbering approximately 239,000. Mating starts in late autumn and continues to the end of winter. Little is known about mating behaviour or breeding grounds. Females typically give birth once every two to three years at the start of the winter after a gestation period of 10 to 12 months. The calf weighs about 2.5 metric tons and is around 7 metres (23 ft) in length. Blue whale calves drink 380Ė570 litres (100Ė150 U.S. gallons) of milk a day. Estimates made by Cummings and Thompson suggest the source level of sounds made by blue whales are between 155 and 188 decibels when measured relative to a reference pressure of one micropascal at one metre. All blue whale groups make calls at a fundamental frequency between 10 and 40 Hz; the lowest frequency sound a human can typically perceive is 20 Hz. Blue whale calls last between ten and thirty seconds. Blue whales off the coast of Sri Lanka have been repeatedly recorded making "songs" of four notes, lasting about two minutes each, reminiscent of the well-known humpback whale songs. Due to their enormous size, power and speed, adult blue whales have virtually no natural predators. There is one documented case in National Geographic Magazine of a blue whale being attacked by orcas off the Baja California Peninsula; although the orcas were unable to kill the animal outright during their attack, the blue whale sustained serious wounds and probably died as a result of them shortly after the attack. Up to a quarter of the blue whales identified in Baja bear scars from orca attacks. Blue whales may be wounded, sometimes fatally, after colliding with ocean vessels, as well as becoming trapped or entangled in fishing gear. The ever-increasing amount of ocean noise, including sonar, drowns out the vocalizations produced by whales, which makes it harder for them to communicate. [READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE]





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