Thursday, April 24, 2014

Indian Star Tortoise

Geochelone elegans
It doesn't require a huge imagination to figure out where the name "Star Tortoise" comes from. These reptiles have carapaces that are predominantly dark with a lighter, starburst-type pattern.

You'll find these fancy Turtles in the drier regions of India, including scrub forests, semi-deserts, and arid grasslands. They are most active during the early morning and late afternoon hours, when they spend time foraging for flowers, grasses, and leaves.

During mating season, which coincides with the rainy season, males will fight one another for mates. During these matches they will shove back and forth and attempt to flip their rival over on to his back. The last one literally standing wins. After mating, the females will dig a hole and lay her eggs-- each season she can produce up to 10 clutches of up to a dozen eggs each. Those eggs can take anywhere from 1.5 to 6 months to hatch (depends on the weather conditions) and the young Tortoises are totally on their own from the start.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : India
Size : Length around 10in (25cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Sauropsida -- Order : Testudines
Family : Testudinidae -- Genus : Geochelone -- Species : G. elegans
Image :  CBurnett

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Le Conte's Thrasher

Toxostoma lecontei
Le Conte's Thrasher is a bird named for John Lawrence Le Conte, an American entomologist. Though he was a renowed Beetle expert, he discovered this particular bird while on a Beetle-finding trip to Arizona. Le Conte ended up collecting many different birds on his Beetle trips, sending them back to the Smithsonian.

But lets learn more about this bird! The Le Conte's Thrasher is a very pale colored bird found in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. It lives in very dry, desert areas that have little vegetation. They live in some of the most desolate parts of North America!

Their habitat is so dry that standing water is only present for a few days a year. Luckily these birds are able to get all the water they need from the insects that they eat. Invertebrates are their main prey, but they will eat fruits and seeds as well when they can find them.

These birds are currently listed as being of Least Concern, though they have become rare in some parts of their range. They need a Desert environment to survive, so areas in their former range that have been irrigated and developed are no longer suitable for them.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North America
Size : Length around 11in (28cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Mimidae -- Genus : Toxostoma -- Species : T. lecontei
Image :  CPNM

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hairy Scorpion

Hadrurus arizonensis
Meet the largest Scorpion in North America-- the Hairy Scorpion. These arachnids can grow over 5in long, and their large size makes them quite the predator within their desert habitat. They feed on smaller invertebrates (including other Scorpions) and will even hunt snakes, lizards, and small vertebrates as well.

Hairy Scorpions are named for the dark brown hairs that cover the backs of their otherwise yellow-ish bodies. Their coloration helps them to blend in with the dry environment that they live in. You'll find these Scorpions in the Mojave and Sonora Deserts.

The large pincers on these arachnids are used for more than just grasping at food. These guys are excellent burrowers, and can dig tunnels that are more than 2m in length. They hang out in them during the daytime, emerging at night to hunt.

Even though they are large in size, the Hairy Scorpions shouldn't frighten you. Their sting is venomous, but tends to be no worse than a beesting for the average person.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : North America
Size : Length around 5.5in (14cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Arachnida -- Order : Scorpiones
Family : Caraboctonidae -- Genus : Hadrurus -- Species : H. arizonensis
Image :  Fritz Geller Grimm

Monday, April 21, 2014

Brown Hyena

Hyaena brunnea
Today's animal is the Brown Hyena, the rarest of the different Hyena species. These interesting carnivores live only in southern Africa, and they make dry desert and semi-desert areas their home.

Brown Hyenas live in small social groups that are led by an alpha pair, very similar to wolves. These packs have a specific hierarchy that is enforced through aggressive and submissive displays. Typically only the dominant female will breed, though not always with the dominant male!

Scavenging is the name of the game with the Brown Hyenas. Their packs will consume animals killed by other predators, and sometimes they will even drive that exact predator off in order to get to the meal. They aren't very good at hunting their own food though, and because they never know when a carcass will be available they often hide extra food to come back to later.

Brown Hyenas are considered Vulnerable because they tend to come within close range of human settlements. Their aggressive behavior causes problems, and many residents attempt to poison or shoot them. They do live within a few protected areas, but they continue to be killed outside of those borders.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Southern Africa
Size : Shoulder height around 30in (76cm), Weight up to 120lbs (54kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Hyaenidae -- Genus : Hyaena -- Species : H. brunnea
Image :  Pistoleros

Friday, April 18, 2014

Australian Pelican

Pelicanus conspicillatus
Despite its name, the Austrlian Pelican is found in more places than Australia. Fiji, New Guinea, and Indonesia are also countires that this bird calls home. Some have even made their way over to New Zealand!

These birds prefer habitats that have a lot of open water. Lakes, reservoirs, lagoons, and rivers are just some of the different bodies of water the Pelicans will live near. But really, any body of water that has enough food to sustain them will do.

Australian Pelicans are large birds, but are medium-size when compared to only other Pelicans. Tehy do, however, have the largest bill in the world-- the longest recorded was 20in long!

The Pelicans use those bills in order collect and store prey. They hunt together, working in groups to drive small fish and aquatic animals to shallower areas. Once that is accomplished they use their bills to snatch up prey. Fish is their primary food source-- but they have been observed killing other waterbirds to. Because they lack sharp claws or a tearing beak, they have to kill them by drowning them.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Australia
Size : Wingspan up to 8.5ft (2.6m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Pelecaniformes
Family : Pelecanidae -- Genus : Pelecanus -- Species : P. conspicillatus
Image :  Quartl

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Banggai Cardinalfish

Pterapogon kauderni
The Banggai Cardinalfish is a small tropical fish that is becoming very rare in the wild, even though it has been successfully bred in captivity.

You will only find these small, 3in long fish around the Banggai Islands of Indonesia. They are the only members of their genus, and you can tell them apart from other Cardinalfish by their three-striped bodies, tasseled first dorsal fin, long second dorsal, and their deep-forked tail fins.

Banggai Cardinalfish are diurnal and live in small groups of about a dozen members. They are opportunistic feeders who dine on whatever smaller plants and animals they can find.

Courtship and mating is pretty interesting for these guys-- females are the ones who initiate. They isolate a male and the pair will perform various courtship rituals before spawning. The Cardinalfish are mouthbrooders, which means that the males take the fertilized eggs (up to 90 of them) into their mouths and incubate them for up to 30 days. During that time they do not feed. The female will stay near the male and defend the territory for the first few days, but she eventually leaves.

Banggai Cardinalfish are very popular in the aquarium industry. They breed in captivity, but more than half a million fish are still captured from the wild each year. The small range and high rate of collection has led the species to an "Endangered" listing.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Indonesia
Size : Length around3in (8cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Perciformes
Family : Apogonidae -- Genus : Pterapogon -- Species : P. kauderni
Image : Jens Petersen

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Black Noddy

Anous minutus
The Black, or White-capped Noddy is a seabird that is found in tropical areas all around the globe. These members of the Tern family are named for the nodding motion that both sexes display during courtship!

The two possible common names both describe this bird pretty well. On one hand, they are almost completely black in coloration. On the other, that black is broken up only by a white cap of feathers on the head. No matter which name you chose, it would still identify Anous minutus.

Black Noddies live pretty close to shore. They hunt for fish and squid during the daytime but return to various coasts and islands at night in order to roost in large colonies. When it comes to breeding, pairs will choose each other thanks to flight displays and the aforementioned nodding dances, and will often form lifelong bonds. Only one egg is laid with each clutch, and depending on the location these birds will produce between 1 and 3 clutches each year. Many pairs will actually reuse the same nest over and over again each season.

The Black Noddy is listed as being of Least Concern, and their worldwide population estimate is between 1 and 1.5 million birds.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Tropics Worldwide
Size : Length around 15in (39cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Charadriiformes
Family : Sternidae -- Genus : Anous -- Species : A. minutus
Image : Sirrob01
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