Friday, December 31, 2010

Asian Small-Clawed Otter

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The Asian Small-Clawed Otter, (Aonyx cinerea) also known as the Oriental Small-Clawed Otter, can be found in freshwater wetlands and swamps of South and Southeast Asia, as well as in Indonesia and the Philippines. They have slender, short furred bodies, with very small, blunt claws (hence the name). Their feet are not fully webbed, which gives them increased dexterity with their hands. This allows them to catch prey- which includes Crustaceans, Mollusks, small Mammals, and Fish- with their hands rather than just with their mouths like other Otters do.

Asian Small-Clawed Otters have a couple more cool features. They are the smallest of all the Otters, weighing in at a maximum of 10lb (4.5kg) and measuring up to 24in (61cm). They are also the most vocal. They make about a dozen different sounds, each with its own specific meaning. They also have excellent vision both above and below water.

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These Otters live in small, female-dominated groups of up to a dozen individuals. Partners mate for life, and they both take part in the raising of their children. This social behavior makes them different from many other Otter species, which are either more solitary in general, or the father takes little part in the raising of offspring. Couples produce up to two litters a year, each with 2-3 pups. The pups are born quite helpless, and wont even open their eyes for six weeks. They will then be swimming after nine. Many young Otters remain with their parents and help raise subsequent litters.

Asian Small-Clawed Otters are listed as Vulnerable with a decreasing population trend. They are threatened by the loss of their wetland habitats, and by a loss of food supply from over-fishing and pollution.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


Profile with "Tearmarks"
The Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is the only living member of it's genus and is found in populations across east and south Africa, though they historically had a much wider range that spread throughout Asia. Other, now extinct members of the genus, including the Giant Cheetah, spread into Europe as well. Cheetahs have long, slender bodies, and are smaller in size than many other big cats. Their top weight is around 140lbs (64kg).

Leopards, Jaguars, and Cheetahs are all spotted big cats, but Cheetahs are easy to distinguish based on their body shape. They possess deep chests, long legs, and small heads that sport two well defined black "tearmark" streaks that run from the eyes to the snout. The physical features of the Cheetah all serve to enhance their speed and hunting style. For example, they have claws that only partially retract and serve as "cleats" for running traction. Their small heads also have small teeth that allow for larger nasal passages and easier breathing while on the hunt and while in recovery from a chase.

Cheetah Family
Cheetahs are the fastest of all land animals, and also have the unique ability among big cats of being able to turn in midair. They are able to sprint to speeds of up to 70mph (112kph), but can only maintain these chases for a short distance before they get over-exerted. Only about half of all chases result in a successful kill, and they cost the Cheetah a tremendous amount of energy. If prey is caught, the Cheetah kills them by clamping over the mouth and suffocating them. The cat must them consume the meal quickly before larger predators arrive and try to scavenge. One Cheetah fact that I found particularly interesting is that they only need to drink every three or four days!

Female and Male Cheetahs mix only to mate. Females give birth, typically to a littler of three, and those cubs will stay with her for about a year and a half, learning to hunt and survive. Males Cheetahs often live in small groups, typically with their brothers.

Cheetahs are listed as Vulnerable, and it is estimated that there are around 12,000 left in the wild. Habitat loss, human encroachment, loss of prey, and loss of genetic diversity are all threats to the species.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Goliath Grouper

Measuring in at lengths of up to 8ft (2.5m), the Goliath Grouper (Epinephelus itajara) certainly lives up to its name. This giant, which tips the scales at around 800lbs (360kg), is found in the tropical Atlantic waters off of West Africa and the Americas, and in the Pacific from California to Peru. They are the largest members of the family Serranidae.

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Goliath Groupers have large, stocky bodies that are nearly half as wide as they are long. Adults sport small spots across their greenish-brownish-greyish scales, and smaller individuals tend to have vertical bars down their sides.They have three to five rows of teeth in the lower jaw, though they are rarely used. Groupers are carnivores and consume fish and crustaceans, but they swallow their prey whole. While young, Goliath Groupers are preyed upon by other fish, but once full grown Sharks and Humans are their only real predators.

Goliath Groupers have a long lifespans; they reach sexual maturity around 6 years and it is believed they can live as long as 50. They are typically solitary fish, sometimes living in small groups, but during the breeding season they congregate in schools of 100 or more. Reproduction takes place via spawning, and the eggs are dispersed into the water currents. Newly hatched Goliath Grouper larvae are very small and kite shaped, and will reach juvenile form a month after hatching, when they reach about 1in (2.5cm) in length. Many other Grouper species exhibit hermaphroditic tendencies, with the fish ages as females before becoming male. This is not confirmed in the Goliath Grouper species.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Elf Owl

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Elf Owls (Micrathene whitneyi) are very small Owls that live in the southwestern United States and Mexico. Their habitats include riparian woodlands, brushland, and desert. Nests are often built within old Woodpecker-created cavities, and are found in either trees or large, saguaro cacti. They are nocturnal birds, and possess excellent eyesight and hearing.

Elf Owls are one of the smallest of the Owl species, growing to about the size of a sparrow. They measure about 5in (13cm) long, and sport a 9in (23cm) wingspan. Elf Owls have rounded heads with no ear tufts, and sport greyish-brown plumage and white "eyebrows." They are also identified by their distinctive vocalizations.

Due to their size, Elf Owls hunt only very small prey- almost exclusively arthropods. They do most of their capturing while in mid-flight, as they are very agile flyers.  Prey is then brought back to a perch, torn apart, and consumed.  Elf Owls themselves have numerous predators, including other Owls, Coyotes, and Snakes. They built their nests as high up as possible in order to keep away from danger.

Loss of Habitat has decreased the population in some areas, and the Elf Owl is now listed as endangered in the state of California. Reintroduction efforts have been ongoing throughout their range.

Monday, December 27, 2010


70 million years ago, on the island of Madagascar, there lived a frog, but it was not just any frog. Beelzebufo ampinga was the largest frog to have ever lived... so large in fact that it may have actually consumed dinosaur hatchlings.

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Let's compare, shall we? The largest frog alive today is the Goliath Frog of West Africa. It can grow up to 12in (30cm) and weigh 7lbs (3.2kg). Beelzebufo was over 16in (40.6cm) and weighed 10lbs (4.6kg)!

Beelzebufo is notable not only for its size, but also for what it says about Madagascar and its connection to the continent of South America. It was previously believed that the connection was lost as long as 120 million year ago, but Beelzevufo's close relationship to modern South American Ceratophyrine (Pac-man) Frogs, suggests that the island and the continent were linked for much longer.

Beelzebufo was more than twice the size of its closest living relative, but they all possess the same large mouths and powerful jaws. It also most likely hunted by the "sit-and-wait" approach. Beelzebufo was first discovered in 1993 and published about in 2007 and 2008. Over 75 fossil pieces have been discovered.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Red Kangaroo

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For boxing day let's take a look at a boxing beast! Red Kangaroos are the largest of the marsupials, with males weighing up to 200lbs (90kg) and standing close to 6ft (1.8m) tall. They live in the inland areas of Australia, residing in open scrub and grasslands.

Red Kangaroos (Macropus rufus) are quick and powerful, with strong legs an sharp claws. They can hop at speeds of up to 39mph (64kph) and can jump in strides of 25 ft (8m) and go as high vertically as 6f t(1.8m).  During the breeding season males will fight over mates by leaning back on their tails and "boxing" with their feet. 

Like all marsupials, Red Kangaroos give birth to tiny, tiny offspring that then continue to develop and grow inside  of a pouch. Young Kangaroos, called Joeys, are only 2.5cm at birth. They crawl into the pouch, latch on to a nipple, and don't emerge again for 2 months. Joeys remain with their mothers for about 8 months after birth.

Red Kangaroos live in small groups, called mobs. These groups are made up of females and their offspring, along with a male or two. They are herbivores, and feed on grasses and flowering plants. Red Kangaroos are preyed upon by Dingos and Humans, and large birds will sometimes go after the Joeys. They are listed at Least Concern.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Polar Bear

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I was going to write about Reindeer for the holidays... but then I remembered that I had already talked about them a while back. So instead we'll discuss another creature of the North Pole, the aptly named Polar Bear.

The Polar Bear (Ursus martimus) is one of the largest land carnivores on the entire planet, with adult males weighing up to 1,700lbs (771kg). They are perfectly adapted for a cold weather environment, sporting think fur everywhere, including on their feet. The fur is white to camouflage them in the snow, but underneath their skin is black, which allows them to soak up heat more quickly. They are also excellent swimmers.

Though they are technically omnivores, Polar Bears feed mostly on other animals. Seals make up a large part of their diet, and are hunted by waiting on the ice near breathing holes where Seals surface for air. They do also feed on carrion, fish, birds, and some vegetation. Some bears will travel thousands of miles in a year while tracking food.

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Polar Bears "hibernate", but not in the true sense of the word. Their metabolism slows, but they do not go through a full drop rate in heart rate or body temperature. Female bears dig dens in snow and give birth in these dens, typically to two cubs. These cubs will remain with their mother for two years or more, learning how to hunt and survive. Males have nothing to do with the raising of cubs, and will even kill cubs.

Polar Bears are listed as Vulnerable, and their numbers are threatened by habitat loss and climate change. Warming in the Arctic and loss of pack ice has limited their ability to hunt, placing the population on a decline.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Steller's Sea Eagle

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The Steller's Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus) is an enormous raptor found on the Eastern Russian coast, as well as in Japan and parts of Korea. They inhabit coastal cliffs, as well as forested areas near bodies of water. Steller's Sea Eagles are the largest members of their genus, sporting a wingspan of up to 8ft (2.4m) and weighing up to 18lbs (8kg). They are among the largest and heaviest of the Raptors.

Steller's Sea Eagles are sexually dimorphic, with the females growing much larger than the males. Both sexes feature very striking coloring, with a dark body and white shoulders, legs, and tails. They also sport very large, yellow beaks and yellow feet. Their beaks and feet aid them in catching and tearing apart their prey. They feed off of Salmon, other fish species, small mammals, and birds. The Eagles hunt by waiting at a perch before diving down on a targeted animal. Steller's Sea Eagles are also practitioners of kleptoparasitism, meaning that they will steal kills from other birds.

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Like the Steller's Sea Cow, which I've written about previously, the Steller's Sea Eagle was named after Georg Wilhelm Steller, an 18th century German naturalist and explorer who did a great deal of his work in Alaska and Russia. Steller's Sea Eagles are listed as vulnerable, and have a decreasing population trend due to loss of habitat and from a loss of food supply. It is estimated that there are less than 5,000 birds remaining.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dall Sheep

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Dall Sheep inhabit the areas of the Northwestern United States and Western Canada.. They live in a variety of habitats but are typically alpine, as they are very sure-footed and can use such terrain to escape predators. Dall Sheep are herbivores that feed off of a variety of grasses.

Until the age of about three, males and females look exactly the same... and then the horns begin to grow. Males grows horns made of keratin, and they may be as old as eight years before a full horn spiral is completed. Females also grow horns, but they are shorter and much more slender.

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Dall Sheep have a very well organized social system. Ewes, lambs, and very young rams live in one group, while adult rams live in another. These two groups will not associate with each other until mating season takes place in November and December. Over the summer, the adult rams will fights each other to establish a dominance ranking come breeding time. It is the most dominant males that mate the most often. This fighting also continues during mating season itself. The sound of rams clashing horns can be heard from a kilometer away.

Ewes are pregnant for about 175 days (roughly 5.7 months) and give birth to one lamb. These lambs grow quickly and are weaned after 3-5 months. Ewes typically breed every year.

Dall Sheep are listed as being of Least Concern.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Spotted Garden Eel

The Spotted Garden Eel (Heteroconger hassi)is a species of Conger Eel native to the tropical marine waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They are found in sandy areas at depths of between 20 and 150ft (6-15m). Spotted Garden Eels get their names from the spotted patterning on their bodies, and they measure up to 23in (60cm) in length.

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Spotted Garden Eels live out their lives in massive colonies that can number over 1,000 individuals. Each Eel lives in its own burrow, which is created by making its body rigid and by driving into the sand tail first. Spotted Garden Eels spend nearly all of their time in these burrows, positioning themselves to face currents that carry food. When threatened, they will retreat downward into the sand. Some colonies even live among sea grasses to provide better camouflage. These defensive strategies do not make them 100% safe from predators. Snake Eels will dig into the sand and attack from underground, while other species of fish will actually dig after the Garden Eels.

During the mating season burrows of males and females will be placed closer together. They intertwine with each other to breed. Eggs of the species are laid in open water, and will float about before hatching. When the young Eels reach a large enough size they will create a burrow of their own.

Spotted Garden Eels have a stable population, but they are collected for the pet trade, though they can be extremely difficult to keep as pets.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Common Tapeworm

And now for something kind of gross... The Common Tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum) is a parasite found in intestinal tracts around the world. It most commonly affects dogs and cats, though humans can also prey host to these creatures. Common Tapeworms require fleas in order to reproduce, and so must be in an environment that supports them as well. They can reach up to 20in (51cm) in length.

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Tapeworm biology and reproduction is actually pretty fascinating. They attach to their host with a scolex, a hook like structure on their heads. Common Tapeworms are also hermaphroditic, and continuously grow new body segments during their lifetime. Each one of these segments contains an independent digestive and reproductive tract. New segments grow closer to the head, pushing the older ones farther and farther back until they drop off as an egg sac. These sacs eventually leave their host via feces.

And it just gets weirder. These eggs will hatch into larvae, but the larvae do not infect our pets or us. Instead, the larvae depends on the young of another parasitic species to spread. Young Fleas are voracious eaters, and consume the tiny Tapeworms. If a flea gets ingested (by a pet licking itself, for example), they pass the Tapeworms along, who them latch on and begin feeding and growing.

How does one get rid of a Common Tapeworm? Well luckily, we have pills and injections for these things now, but since they are spread by fleas, its also very important to rid your environment of those as well, in order to prevent re-infection. Humans affected by the Common Tapeworm often experience no symptoms, but abdominal pain and diarrhea can occur.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pygmy Shrew

If you couldn't tell from the name, the Pygmy Shrew is a tiny little guy, typically measuring less than 2in (52mm). They also weigh next to nothing, at a whopping .14oz (4g)! They are found across Europe and Asia and are one of the world's smallest mammals.

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Pygmy Shrews are so tiny that they aren't even able to hibernate; they have nowhere to store any fat reserves. They also have ridiculously fast metabolisms which force them to consume 125% of their own body weight every single day. Pygmy Shrews eat invertebrates like spiders, grasshoppers, and beetles.

Females give birth to multiple litters each year, each containing 4-7 young. They age quickly, and only live about a  year and a half at the maximum.

Pygmy Shrews are listed as being of least concern. Their population is stable, but their small size does make them susceptible to environmental changes.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Common Kingsnake

California Kingsnake 
(Lampropeltis getula californiae)
Common Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula) are native to the United States and Mexico, living in a wide variety of terrestrial habitats including forests, fields, scrublands, and near bodies of water. There are eight named subspecies. Common Kingsnakes measure 30-85in (76-216cm) and are identified by their shiny scales and dark and light banded pattern. Their coloration can vary depending on subspecies population and location, but they are most commonly either brown or black with white bands.

Desert Kingsnake
(Lampropeltis getula splendida)
One really interesting fact about he Common Kingsnake is that it is immune to the venom of rattlesnakes and several other venomous snake species. Because of this, the Kingsnakes are actually able to kill and consume these snakes, though they also feed on birds, rodents, amphibians, other reptiles, and eggs. Essentially, they will kill and consume whatever they can overpower. They are non-venomous and kill their prey through constriction.

Common Kingsnakes are oviparous, meaning that they lay eggs. Females lay them between May and August and they hatch between about 50 and 80 days. Hatchlings measure up to 1ft (30cm) at birth.

Common Kingsnakes are popular in the pet trade, and their population is not currently at risk.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


(Image Source)
Olms are absolutely fascinating creatures with some amazing adaptations for the environment that they live in. You see, they are the only cave dwelling vertebrates found exclusively in Europe, and are found in parts of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Olms are members of a very ancient line of amphibians that diverged from its nearest living relatives during the Jurassic period over 190 million years ago! There are currently six living species in this line, including Mudpuppies.

As mentioned, Olms live in caves, exclusively underwater. Because they live in light-less environments, they lack most pigmentation in their skin, and they have essentially lost their sense of sight (their eyes are actually covered with skin and serve only as basic light sensors). To make up for the darkness, Olms have developed their other senses to an amazing degree. They are able to sense other organisms in the water using a chemical receptor in their taste buds. They are also able to detect different vibrations and sound waves, and even have a sensory organ that lets them register weak electric fields.

Olms have a few more relatively unique characteristics. One is that they remain suspended in a larval state for their entire lives. They retain large gills and a tail fin. The Olm also has a remarkably long lifespan for an amphibian. They might not reach sexual maturity until the age of 15, and individuals have reached 70 or older. They also reproduce externally, and the mother guards her eggs until hatching. The eggs are extremely dependent on the water temperature, and there is one hypothesis that females will hatch their eggs internally if the water is too cold.

Olms are extremely vulnerable to climate change, as their watery underground habitats are directly affected by what is going on on the surface. They are listed by IUCN as endangered.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Asian Palm Civet

The Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) is a viverrid found in tropical forests throughout Asia, though they are mostly concentrated in the South and South East areas. They have a rather interesting look to them, almost like a cat crossed with a weasel. They have body lengths of up to 21in (53cm) with a tail of about the same length. They weigh 4-10lbs (2-5kg). Asian Palm Civets are also known as Toddy Cats and Common Palm Civets.

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Asian Palm Civets are nocturnal and terrestrial. They come out at night to feed without as much risk from predation, and their diet consists of small mammals and insects, as well as fruits and other native vegetation. They are solitary animals, and really only come together during the brief breeding season. Liters range from 2-5 young.

One interesting fact about the Asian Palm Civet is that they eat whole coffee beans. These beans pass through their digestive system whole and are then harvested from their feces by humans. This coffee, known as Kopi Luwak, is the most expensive coffee in the world, and sells for upwards of $200 per pound.

Asian Palm Civets are currently listed as being of Least Concern, though habitat loss could affect their population in the future.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Beluga Whale

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Belugas Whales (Delphinapterus leucas) are very iconic whales with their all white adult bodies, short beaks, absent dorsal fins, and large "melon" foreheads. They are found in the waters of the Arctic, and migrate to sub-artic waters to stay away from freezing ice. Belugas can grow to sizes of up to 20ft (6.1m).

Did you know that Beluga Whales are not always white? As calves they are a darker gray color, which gradually lightens as they age. They will reach their full white color by around age 5. Females gestate for 14 months, and a newborn calf can measure 4-6ft (1.4m) long. Calves remain with their mothers for up to two years, and feed off of milk that is 28% fat in order to grow and maintain warmth in the cold waters.

Beluga Pod
Belugas are extremely social creatures. They live in pods that communicate through a variety of whistles, mimics, and clicks. They are also rather unique among Cetaceans in that they have non-fused neck vertebrae, which allows them to turn their heads and even make facial expressions!

Beluga Whales hunt using echolocation, a process that involves sending out clicks that then bounce off potential prey and echo back to the whale. The Beluga's large forehead contains a melon, which helps to amplify and focus these clicks. They feed on fish, worms and crustaceans, and consume 50-60lbs (22.6-27kg) a day.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Giant Freshwater Stingray

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The Giant Freshwater Stingray (Himantura chaophraya) is a massive, massive fish found in the tropical river waters of South East Asia and Australia. They can grow to sizes of over 94in across (about 240cm) and the largest specimen caught weighed 1,322lbs (600kg). Even their young are huge! They are an ovoviviparous species whose offspring can measure 13in (34cm) at birth!

Giant Freshwater Stringrays are in fact dangerous to humans, but not because they eat them. These creatures actually feed on small fish and invertebrates. However, as their name might suggest, they have stinging barbs on their tails. These venomous, mucus covered barbs can grow to 15in (38cm) long, and with their whip-like tails, these Stingrays can pierce bone.

These enormous creatures are currently very vulnerable, and all populations are listed as at least that by the IUCN. The Thailand sub-population is Critically Endangered. They faces issues with habitat destruction, fishing, mine-caused silt deposits, and population fragmentation.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


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Look at that picture to the right. What do you think that guy is? If you're thinking a Dinosaur, you'd actually be wrong. That guy over there is a Dimetrodon, an animal belonging to the genus of the same name that actually predated the Dinosaurs by 40 million years.

Want to know something else awesome?

Dimetrodons are actually more closely related to mammals than they are to reptiles. They are synapsids, tetrapods with one hole in the skull located closely behind each eye. Mammals are also synapsids, while animals like birds and reptiles are saurapsids. Synapsids were dominant creatures during the Permain period (299-251 million years ago), and the Dimetrodons in particular were apex predators. The name actually refers to the fact that they have two types of teeth, canines as well as sheering teeth.

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Dimetrodons are perhaps best known for the massive sails on their backs. This sail is actually made from spines that grow directly from the vertebrae. No one really knows for sure what the purpose of these sails was, but one theory is that they helped to regulate temperature. Dimetrodons were also pretty big for tetrapods of their day, with some species growing up to 13ft (4m).

Unfortunately, the Permian period met a disastrous end. Around 251 million years ago the largest mass extinction ever took place, wiping out 90% of all marine life and 70% of all land animals. Dimetrodons did not make it (in fact, they were already gone 30 million years before that-- around 280 million years ago), but some other synapsids did, including our very own distant relatives!

Monday, December 13, 2010

American Goldfinch

Male (right) and Female (left)
Sorry for the completely last post today. I'm snowed in and everything is white, so today I felt like writing about an animal with some color: the American Goldfinch. As their name might suggest, there songbirds are native to North America, and can be found throughout at varying points of the year. Some populations remain in place year round, while others are migratory, moving between Canada and the Northern USA, down to the South and Mexico. They are found in brushy, mostly open habitats.

Both male and female Goldfinches are yellow, though the males are far more vibrant, especially during the breeding season. They are the only finch species to molt twice a year, and breed relatively late for a songbird.

American Goldfinches are notable for their very strict vegetarian diet. While many bird species feed on the occasional insect, Goldfinches eat exclusively seeds. This has an interesting affect on the Brown-Headed Cowbird. These birds sometimes lay eggs in Goldfinch nests, but the hatchlings are unable to survive due to the all-seed diet the Finches provide for their young.

Goldfinches are not a threatened species. They have a massive range spanning some 5 million square miles (about 8 million square km).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Chan's Megastick

Phobaeticus chani is a Phasmid, a type of insect that mimics its surroundings by looking a lot like a stick. This particular species, found in the treetop canopies of Borneo, is one of the longest. Only three specimens have ever been collected, but the longest, a female, has a body length of 14in (37.5cm). When you toss the legs in there, it reaches 22.5in (56.7cm).

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Chan's Megastick (named for it's discoverer, Datuk Chan Chew Lun) is also notable for its strange eggs, which have wing-like flaps on the cases to help them float and disperse.

This entry is a short one, unfortunately, because so very little is actually known about this amazing insect. Its habitat is so high up that they are extremely difficult to locate, and with the loss of rainforest areas, who known how many other species like this will never actually be discovered?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Little Penguin

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As the name might suggest, Little Penguins (Eudyptula minor) are the smallest penguin species in the world. They stand 17in tall, and weigh only 2lbs. This is quite a difference when compared to the Emperor Penguin, the world's largest. They stand 48in and can weigh up to 90lbs! Little Penguins are found in New Zealand and Australia, where they are also referred to as Fairy Penguins (for their tiny size) and Blue Penguins (for the color of their plumage.)

 Little Penguins are a slate-blue color, with a bright white belly. The males and females look exactly the same, though the males are sometimes a tad bit larger. Juveniles also look a great deal like their parents. Little Penguins are nocturnal carnivores, and hunt fish, squid, and crustaceans, making dives of around 60feet that last less than a minute.

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Little penguins are monogamous over many seasons, and will typically only find a new mate if their previous one dies. They also form a strong attachment to specific nesting sites, and will return to those sites year after year. Two eggs are usually laid, and both parents will care and feed for thir young, who are raised in burrows. Chicks fledge after 8 weeks, and reach full maturity by three or four years old. Chicks also have a tendency to nest near the areas where they themselves where hatched and raised. A very small number actually disperse to farther sites as adults.

 Little Penguins are not threatened, but their numbers have been affected by introduced predators like dogs, cats, and weasels. Cars and vehicular deaths have also hurt their populations in some areas.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Giant Isopod

Of the nine members of the genus Bathynomus, B. giganteus is the largest. These crustaceans, closely related to shrimp, look like something out of science fiction, but they are in fact real, living creatures that crawl around in the deep sea of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Giant Isopods live at depths of over 2,000 feet and can grow to nearly a foot and a half in length!

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Like the Giant Squid and the Giant Tube Worm, Giant Isopods are an example of deep sea gigantism, which causes animals on the sea floor to grow far larger than their near-surface counterparts. One thought on why this happens is that the large size helps compensate for the huge amount of water pressure that is placed on the creatures by their deep habitat. Giant Isopods have a rigid exoskeleton that also lets them roll up into a ball to avoid danger.

Giant Isopods are opportunistic, carnivorous feeders, and they have to be! They live in an area where food is scarce, and so they will gorge on whatever they can find. This often includes parts of dead fish and larger marine creatures, and it is believed that they may also hunt slow moving deep sea dwellers as well. They are also capable of surviving for weeks without food, and adaptation that helps them to survive.

Another adaptation comes in the form of their reproductive habits. Giant Isopods lay eggs, rather large ones in fact, and these eggs are incubated in a pouch created by the female. When the eggs hatch, the young have already bypassed the entire larval stage, and look like tiny versions of the adults. This helps them to survive easier early in life.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Japanese Macaque

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When you think of primates, you probably think of tropical environments, or at least warm weather climates. Such is not always the case for the Japanese Macaque, the northernmost non-human primate in the entire world. They inhabit three of the four large islands of Japan, (all but Hokkaido) and not only do they live far north latitude-wise, but they also live in elevations of up to 9,600 feet. Of course, it should be noted that in the lower elevation, southern areas of their range, the temperatures do get to be sub-tropical. But other population live in absolutely frigid conditions, making the climate range of the population as a whole very diverse.

Even though their tails are very short, Japanese Macaques (Macaca fuscata) are classified as monkeys. In fact, one of their other common names is "Snow Monkey." In the winter months, the cold-weather Macaques save energy by moving less and sunning themselves. Some tribes even locate hot springs in order to stay warm, though the monkeys are very picky about who gets to bath and where. They live in very rigid, hierarchical communities that can number up to 100 individuals.

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One really interesting tidbit about these communities is that they pass information along between their members. It is by this spreading of information that hot springs where discovered as a source of warmth. One notable Macaque, a female named Imo, learned how to clean and flavor sweet potatoes in salt water, and passed that information along as well. Young Macaques have even learned how to roll snowballs, a behavior that servers no purpose other than for having fun.

Japanese Macaques are diurnal and omnivorous. They are known to consume 213 species of plant, making them very non-picky eaters. Macaques themselves are preyed upon by Feral Dogs, Raptors, and Raccoon Dogs. While the monkeys have been killed by humans, they are listed as being of Least Concern with a stable population trend.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Pelican Eel

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Pelican Eel, Umbrella Mouth Eel, Gulper Eel, Eurypharynx pelecanoides, no matter what you call it, this is one strange looking animal. Pelican Eels are so named because of their absolutely gigantic mouths. They are found in rather deep waters, between 3,000 and 26,000 feet, of both tropical and subtropical waters around the world.

Pelican Eels can grow up to a meter in length, with a large portion of that taken up by its massive head. Their mouths have hinged jaws that would allow them to eat fish much larger than themselves. Their stomachs stretch as well, though interestingly, they have very small teeth. This, combined with found stomach contents, demonstrates that Pelican Eels primarily eat small crustaceans.

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Another rather interesting part of their body is the long, whip-like tail. Pelican Eels have long tails that are tipped with bioluminescent photophores. It is believed that these serve a purpose to lure prey in the dark, deep water.

Not much else is really known about these strange fish. They live so far down that we only really get to study specimens that get accidentally caught by fishermen. They have need been evaluated by IUCN.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Great Spotted Kiwi

Did you know that there are actually five species of Kiwi, the national symbol of New Zealand? And that the largest of these is the Great Spotted Kiwi? Well now you do! This specific, nocturnal, species is currently listed as vulnerable, and is found in only a few forested, mountainous areas on the South Island.

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Great Spotted Kiwis (Apteryx haastii) have some rather interesting anatomical features. First off, females are actually larger than males, growing up to 20 inches in length, as opposed to 18, and weigh up to 7lbs, as opposed to 5. Like all Ratites, Great Spotted Kiwis are flightless. They have wings, but they are extremely small and lack the powerful breast muscles that allow for flight. To compensate, they have strong legs that allow them to move about quickly, and also allow them to attack with the ability to cause fatal wounds. Males use their feet to fight over territory, and the birds are even able to fend off mustelid predators with them as well.

The Great Spotted Kiwis, and the other four Kiwi species, are also unique in that they have nostrils at the very ends of their beaks rather than closer to the head. They have excellent senses of smell, which makes up for their rather poor eyesight. Their noses help them to track down food, which includes insects and fruit.

Great Spotted Kiwis mate for life, which might be as long as twenty years. Only one gigantic egg is laid, which weighs up to 15% of the female's body mass. It is incubated by both parents for 70 days. Chicks become self sufficient within only two weeks, but they stay by the nest for a month or so.

Once numerous across the South Island, Great Spotted Kiwis are now on a population decline. They evolved in an environment with few ground predators, so the introduction of dogs, cats, weasels and other invasive predators has led to a decrease in birds. Conservation measures are being taken to remove predators from the equation, but the total number of birds is now believed to be less than 22,000.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Arctic Fox

Winter Coat
We received our first snowfall of the year just recently, which made me think of all the amazing animals who are adapted to life in absolutely frigid temperatures. The Arctic Fox (Alpoex lagopus) is just one of those creatures. Able to live at temperatures of -58 degrees Fahrenheit, they are animals well suited to the Arctic expanses.

One of the most well known features of the Arctic Fox is its ability to change color depending on the season. In the summer, when the snowfall had abated and the ground is dark, they take on coat that ranges from grey to brown. In the winter, they are a startling white. This adaptation allows the Foxes to camouflage themselves at all times of the year. Arctic Foxes also have short legs, ears, and noses, which leave them less exposed to the elements. Their long, bushy tail is also used for warmth and coverage.

Summer Coat
Arctic Foxes are nomadic creatures. They move around from place to place in search of food, which consists of birds, mammals, and even fish. Lemmings are a major source of food for the Foxes, and the population trends of both species tend to mirror one another. One rather interesting fact is that they will sometimes follow Polar Bears, in order to feed off of their scraps and even their feces.

Every spring, 6-12 young are born in a den built by the mother. Both parents feed and care for the kits, and they remain together during the summer months before going off on their own.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna is found in the areas of the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean. They are reach absolutely gigantic sizes, with specimens easily reaching six feet in lengths and weighing upwards of 550lbs. Even larger individuals are not uncommon. They largest ever caught weighed in at nearly 1,500 lbs! They achieve those sizes because of their voracious appetites. They will eat smaller fish, crustaceans, cephalopods, and even plankton and kelp.

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Atlantic Bluefins have a striking color pattern, with a metallic blue on their top side, and a whiter shade underneath. This serves to camouflage them from both directions. They swim in large schools, oftentimes intermingling with other fish species that are of a similar size. Their bodies are built for both speed and endurance, and they can reach speeds of 60mph while chasing prey.

One of the most interesting tidbits about this fish is that it is actually warmblooded, a trait that is rather rare among fish species. This allows them to move quite comfortably between cold feeding waters and much warmer spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea.. Atlantic Bluefins are a highly migratory species, and can travel the length of the ocean multiple times yearly.

Human fishing since the 1970s has most notably caused a decline in the species. Commercial fishing has greatly reduced the number of fish, and now conservation efforts are being made to keep the species from going extinct in certain areas of its range. The fish are especially popular in Japan, selling for tens of thousands of dollars per animal. The most ever paid for one of these giants was $180,000.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


The Scheltopusik, also known as the European Glass Lizard, looks like a snake, but is not. Though it has no legs and moves like a snake, its ear openings, eyelids, and ventral scales identify it as a lizard. It is one of many species of legless or reduced-legged lizards that are found all over the world.

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The Scheltopusik (Pseudopus apodus) looks a lot like a large, cream-colored worm (it's common name comes from a Russian word meaning yellow-bellied). It can grow to some pretty big lengths, with specimens measured at 100-130cm. A large portion of their body is made up of a tail, which can detach as a defense mechanism. They sometimes do have their hind legs, but they are very small and are essentially worthless.

They make their home in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, in primarily open, dry areas. There, the Scheltpousik hunts a variety of different animals, including rodents, snails, and insects. Females lay up to a dozen eggs at a time, which she guards until hatching. They can live up to fifty years.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Siamangs are the largest of the Gibbons, apes of the family Hylobatidae that live in tropical environments of the Eastern Hemisphere. Siamangs can measure a meter from head to rump, and weigh up to 30lbs. They can be found in the rainforests of Malaysia and Indonesia.

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Siamangs are black in color, and have a sac on their throats that allows them to greatly amplify sound. They are able to produce the loudest sounds of any Gibbon. There is slight sexual dimorphism, with males being larger than the females. Like all apes, Siamangs do not have tails, and their bodies are more upright oriented.

When on the ground, Siamangs are more or less bipedal. When in the trees however (which is about 80% of the time) they move by brachiation, which is hand over hand swinging. During this movement, they are able to carry things with their feet. Their arm span can be as large as 1.5m.

One of the most interesting facts about the Siamang is that it is a species that forms monogamous bonds. This is rare for an ape. They live in family groups comprised of that pair and up to four children. They forage for food together (mostly leaves and fruits, but sometimes insects and birds) and groom each other. Siamangs have a gestation period of 7.5 months, and the young are born quite helpless. They will not be weaned for two years and after that they continue to stay with the parents for a bit longer.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Antarctic Krill

Antarctic Krill (Euphausia superba) are the largest of all the krill, small, semi-transparent crustaceans that can be found the world over. They grow up to two inches long, and have a slight hint on red on their backs.

It is estimated that there are over 500 million tonnes of Krill in the ocean, and that that biomass is the most for any multi-celled creature on the entire planet. They swim in dense swarms that can contain 10,000-30,000 individuals per square meter.

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Antarctic Krill feed on phytoplankton, which is abundant due to updrafts of nutrients from the cold waters. Phytoplankton feed from nutrients and the sun, and Krill feed on them, meaning they lose very little energy as they are so close to the source on the chain. This make Krill a desirable meal for larger animals because they too will lose very little energy. Baleen Whales feed almost exclusively on Krill, scooping up these swarms in a mouthful. Good thing female Krill lay up to 10,000 eggs at a time!

Unfortunately, Antarctic Krill numbers, and the numbers of other Krill species, have dropped nearly 80% since the 1970s. Increased Carbon Dioxide levels have already proven to be a huge detriment to the species. A continued downward trend could have drastic implications for the large marine animals that depend on them for food.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

European Starling

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Outside of my building there is a flock of birds. There are hundreds, if not thousands of them. They hide in a huge tree, making horrible, scary noises that can be heard from blocks away. And they make it impossible to park on that side of the street for all of the warm weather months. Meet the European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), one of the most "successful" invasive species in North America.

There are over 200 million of these birds, and they are one of the most numerous species on the entire continent... and they are all descended from a hundred or so birds brought here in 1890 by a man named Eugene Schieffelin. You see, Schieffelin felt that North America should have all of the birds that are found in the works of Shakespeare. Thanks Henry IV, Part I, and bravo Mr. Schieffelin. Within 75 years they covering the continent, though their genetic diversity is quite low.

Starlings compete for nests with native species, (though luckily most have been holding their own against them) destroy crops, and are carrier of a handful of harmful diseases that affect humans, including Histoplasmosis. Starlings also like to roost near Airports, which has caused numerous problems, including a crash that resulted in the death of 62 people.

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Let's move away from the negatives now and just get into a few facts about the species itself. European Starlings are highly gregarious birds, flocking together in roosts that number up to over a million. When these groups travel, it forms a large black blob shape that is actually pretty interesting to look at. They will eat almost anything, from plants and berries, to vertebrates and invertebrates. The Starlings are also exceptionally vocal, and can mimic around twenty calls from other birds and animals.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Squid Worm

Image by Laurence Madin
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Two miles deep, down in the waters between Indonesia and the Philippines, there lives and animal so unusual that on first glance, no one knew what it was. Was it a squid? Was it a worm? What is this thing? After a few years of study, we now know. It is, in fact, a Squid Worm, a member of the earthworm and tube worm filled Annelid phylum.

Squid Worms (Teuthidodrilus samae) are interesting because they are remarkably abundant, and are relatively large for a deep sea creature. They measure about four inches in length. The name comes from the ten tentacles that protrude outward from the head. The Squid Worm also has iridescent bristles that run down the length of their body, aiding in movement. They feed off of plankton and small floating debris.

Another notable fact about the Squid Worm is that it might be a transitional species; and animal that stradles the line between species that reside on the sea floor, and those that swim openly. Such transitional species are important in understanding evolutionary history.

Monday, November 29, 2010

South American Bushmaster

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Lachesis muta is the largest viper in the world, and the longest venomous snake in the Western Hemisphere. They can reach lengths of over nine feet, with large specimens growing several more feet on top of that. The South American Bushmaster can be found in tropical forests in the north and central parts of the continent, including the countries of Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, and Bolivia. They are also found on the island of Trinidad and in some areas of Central America. Overall, they are a very widespread species.

The South American Bushmaster is venomous, and its bite can kill a human. They have long fangs that sink deep into their target, injecting the venom far in. The venom is not as strong as that of other snakes, but it is hemotoxic; causing organ degeneration and loss of red blood cells. Luckily, they are nocturnal snakes and do not frequently come into contact with humans, so the total number of bites is relatively low. There is an anti venom available, but it must be administered quickly.

South American Bushmasters feed primarily on rodents, amphibians, and small reptiles, which they detect with powerful heat sensors. These sensors are where pit vipers get their names from. They are small "pits" located between the eyes and nose.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Like the Kakapo, the Takahe is a colorful, flightless bird endemic to New Zealand. Also like the Kakapo, Takahe are on the brink of extinction, with less than 200 birds remaining. They were even believed to be extinct previous to 1948, as no one had seen them in decades. The population is now divided between a handful of protected, predator-free areas.

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Takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri) are the largest members of the family Rallidae, measuring up to two feet in length and weighing 5-9lbs. As mentioned, they are flightless, and have small wings that are used for displays of both aggression and courtship. They are primarily blue in color, with green on the back and bright pink beaks and legs. Young birds are born almost completely black, including on the beak. They can their color as they age, and reach sexual maturity around three years old. Both parents care for their chicks for the 30 day incubation and three months of feeding, though usually only one of the 1-3 chicks that hatch will survive their first winter. Takahe can live up to twenty years.

Why are Takahe so threatened? They evolved to be flightless in an environment that had few ground predators or large competitors for food. Introduction of deer, dogs, and other non-native animals had detrimental effect on the population. Habitat loss and hunting have also played a part, and because Takahe reproduce slowly, bringing back their numbers can take a very long time. Breeding itself is even difficult because loss of genetic diversity has created infertile birds.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Maned Wolf

Maned Wolves are the largest Canids in South America, standing nearly three feet tall on extremely long legs. It is the lone member of genus Chrysocyon, and their common named comes from a strip of hair that runs down the back of their heads and shoulders. The Maned Wolf is not especially close with Wolves or Foxes (despite looking quite fox like.) Their closest relatives are Bush Dogs.

C. brachyurus is an omnivorous species. They feed off of birds and rodents, and sometimes get in to trouble with farmers for eating domestic chickens. Maned Wolves also have a fondness for lobeira, a tomato-like fruit. They are nocturnal and do all of their hunting at night.

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Maned Wolves are solitary, unlike true wolves which live in packs. A pair mates for life, but they are only actually around each other during the breeding season. Other times, they share an overlapping territory that they both defend. It was long believed that only the female cares for the pups, but in captivity males have been observed grooming, feeding, and defending pups, so old beliefs may need to be reevaluated.

Maned Wolves are dwindling in number due to habitat loss and hunting. Many peoples believe that the Wolves have mystical properties, and they are killed for their magical body parts. Maned Wolves are listed as near threatened, with around 20,000 remaining.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Mamba

We got Turkey for Thanksgiving, and now a deadly, venomous snake for Black Friday. Though did you know that the Black Mamba isn't really black? Their bodies are actually grayish-brown; the name comes from the color of their mouths, which they open and display when threatened.

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Black Mambas can be found in Southern and Eastern Africa. They live in a variety of habitats, but are most common in grass and scrubland areas. They are the longest venomous snakes on the continent, with average lengths of over nine feet, and some individuals reaching up to fourteen. Because of their long size, they can strike from four to six feet away, and they tend to strike multiple times.

Before their was an anti-venom, Mamba bites were 100% fatal. There is now an anti-venom, but because it kills so quickly there are still human deaths in many remote areas. Black Mambas are slowly loosing their habitat to farmland, which puts them in close proximity to humans. Their nervous demeanor allows them to get easily scared and defensive, especially when surprised or cornered. When threatened, they open their black mouths and spread a cobra-like hood on the sides of their neck.

Black Mambas feed off of rodents and birds, though they are capable of devouring prey much larger due to their flexible jaws. Aside from habitat loss, the only real threat to the Black Mamba is the Mongoose, though due to the snake's size the Mongoose preys only on eggs and young.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wild Turkey

Come on, how could I write about anything else on (American) Thanksgiving? Turkeys are absolutely central to the holiday, as both the main meal and as an icon for the season. But rather than talk about the domestic bird that gets eaten, we're going to talk about their wild cousin, the feathered friend that Benjamin Franklin described as "a... respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America." Due to reintroduction and transplanting of wild populations, Wild Turkeys are now found in every U.S. state except for Alaska.

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Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are natively found throughout North America in six different subspecies. Turkeys were domesticated by the Aztecs, and by other native groups around the same time, and are one of only two bird species to be domesticated in North America (the other being the Muscovy Duck). It was once believed that the South Mexican subspecies was the wild ancestor to the domestic birds, but that has now been ruled out. The true identity of the original birds is still unknown.

Wild Turkeys are smaller than their domesticated brethren, and exhibit sexual dimorphism. Females reach weights of around 12lbs, while males around are 25. They are a polygynous species, with males mating with more than one female during each breeding season. The "Gobble" that is most associated with Turkeys is actually a mating call to attract females. After breeding, males take no part in the care of the chicks. Chicks follow their mother, and quickly learn how to feed themselves. In the wild, turkeys have a very short life expectancy of around two years, though captive birds have lived well over ten.

Did you know that Wild Turkeys are omnivores? They feed mostly on seeds, leaves, and nuts, but they do also eat insects and small vertebrates like lizards. Young Turkeys and Eggs have numerous predators, including Raccoons, Birds, and Skunks, while adults are preyed upon by larger predators such as Coyotes and Bobcats.
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