Skip to main content


Showing posts from July, 2010

Coming Soon!

If anyone besides me is keeping count, Thursday, August 5th will be Animal A Day's 100th animal. So in celebration of this momentous occasion I'll be having yet another special theme week. And this time, I'm going to be stepping outside of the box: we're going to be talking about Mythical Creatures!

So come back on Thursday (and heck, every day up till then too, I still have lots of fun animals planned until then) and meet our first featured Mythical Beast. I'll also be making a few other site changes as well during the next week or so, including a slightly different layout, new pages, and a new suggestion system. Be sure to check it out and let me know what you think!

And take a look at that awesome sloth over there. I found a set of zoology textbooks from the 1920s at a book fair last week. Absolutely full of amazing drawings and diagrams. I'm trying to figure out something to do with this new resource...

Wolf Spider

The Tarantula Wolf Spider, Lycosa tarantula is the very first spider to ever be given the name "Tarantula," due to its native habitat around Taranto, Italy. Interestingly, what many non-Europeans consider to be Tarantulas are not even within the same taxonomic family as the genus Lycosa, and are instead their own distinct family, Theraphosidae. Tarantula Wolf Spiders are often simply called Wolf Spiders because of this.

There are over 200 species within Lycosa alone, and several hundred more spread throughout the family Lycosidae. Wolf Spiders are large (some can grow to 2 inches) and are distinguished by their large eyes positioned centrally on their heads. Like all spiders, they have two body segments, and eight legs. They are (mostly) diurnal, ground dwelling spiders that hunt down their prey. This differentiates them from many other spider types, as they do not use webs. Another interesting trait is that the females actually carry their egg sacs with them, holding their …

Raccoon Dog

So, is it a dog? Or a raccoon? If you guessed canine, you'd be right. Raccoon Dogs (also known as Tanuki)  are in fact canids, through they split away from the other members of family Canidae somewhere between 7 and 10 million years ago. They are the only species within the genus Nyctereutes.

Raccoon Dogs and actual Raccoons are far, far more distantly related, but the species name of the dog, procyonoides, is a nod to Procyon, the genus in which Raccoons are found. Raccoon Dogs are native to East Asia, and are now abundant in Central and Eastern Europe due to introduction there for the fur trade. In some areas of Scandinavia, Raccoon Dogs outnumber the native foxes. Raccoon Dogs are still hunted for their fur, but their numbers are large, and so the species as a whole is not threatened. They live in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, dense forests, and urban areas.

As one could probably guess by now, Raccoon Dogs have such a name for a reason. Their facial markings rese…

False Gharial

I saw one of these interesting crocodilians at a zoo while I was on vacation last month, and its odd appearance blew me (and my family members who I went with) completely away. Tomistoma schlegelii is known as the "False" Gharial because it shares a similar snout to the "True" Gharials, but other morphological features place it within the family Crocodylidae. However, recent studies are showing that it might just be closely related to the True Gharials after all, and now the classification is a tad bit up in the air.

False Gharials are huge.. though not as huge as the other Gharials. They do however, regularly reach lengths of over 4 meters. Their snout is one of their most interesting features, because while the rest of their body is long and wide, their snout it quite thin. They live in Malaysia and Indonesia, and like all crocodilians, most of their time is spent in the water. Not a whole lot is known about their behavior. It is suspected that females build moun…

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiaca) go by a variety of different names: Artic Owl, Great White Owl, Ghost Owl, or my personal favorite, the White Terror of the North! Even their scientific name was a bit up for grabs, as for years they were classified as the sole extant species within the genus Nyctea. But now, thanks to the magic of *science*, they are now classified with the Great Horned Owls within the genus Bubo.

Snowy Owls are large, diurnal owls that can be found in Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions across the planet. As their name might suggest, they are white birds as adults. Younger birds have some darker coloration, as do the adult females. (In the Harry Potter films, Hedwig was played by a male owl, as the females have more dark spots)

They are a very nomadic species, as in, individual birds do not live in the same area their entire lives. They follow the prey. Many birds also have separate breeding and wintering grounds. Because they breed in open tundras, their nests are built on the…

Pistol Shrimp

The common name Pistol Shrimp can refer to one of the 600 species belonging to the family Alpheidae. They are also sometimes referred to as Snapping Shrimp. Most species are found in tropical and temperate saltwater, though others are able to live in colder seas, and even in freshwater caves. They feed off of fish and other crustaceans and typically live within burrows.

They are an interesting little family of Crustaceans in that they share a handful of bizarre characteristics. The first is physical: all species have one "normal" sized claw, while the second claw is much, much larger. They use these claws for what is probably their most interesting trait; their title as one of the loudest creatures in existence. Even though they are small, growing not much larger than a few inches, Pistol Shrimp are able to produce 218 decibel sounds. This is louder than a gunshot, (typically around 190 decibels) and comparable to sounds made by the 50 ton Sperm Whale. They do so by snappi…

Giant Swallowtail

Papilio cresphontes is the largest butterfly species in North America. They can be found throughout the Southern United States and Mexico, and in spattered areas across the Eastern and Central United States.

Giant Swallowtails are pretty easy to pick out. Not only are they large, with wingspans of up to 6 inches, but they have some pretty interesting coloration. The wings of the adults are black, but a horizontal band of yellow crosses from wing to wing, with additional mirrored yellow patterns found below, and possibly above, this band. Red marking are also sometimes found in the tail. Caterpillars are brown with white splotches, which camouflages them to look a lot like bird droppings. They are called "Orangedogs" due to an orange gland that acts as a further defense mechanism by secreting a toxin.

Giant Swallowtails feed off the nectar of a variety of plants, including Azaleas and Goldenrods. The caterpillars feed off of Citrus trees, and are considered to be pests by gro…

Short-Beaked Echidna

The Short-Beaked Echidna is one of the most bizarre mammals in existence. It, along with four other Echidna species and the Duck-Billed Platypus, are the world's only living Monotremes. Monotremes are considered to be very primitive mammals, in that they lay eggs in order to reproduce. All other mammals practice placental birth. There has been some arguement about where Monotremes should be placed taxonomically. Some consider them to be a separate, sister class to mammals, while others believe them to be reptiles (due to additional similarities in the digestive and excretory systems). Currently, they are placed as an Order within a separate subclass within Mammalia.

The Short-Beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) is found throughout Australia and parts of New Guinea. There are five different subspecies that inhabit various ranges throughout. Within their range, the Short-Beaked Echidna  lives in a multitude of different habitats, ranging from mountain areas to deserts, and every…

Moustached Tamarin

I try and write about so many random animals that when I realize I've neglected a specific type (like spiders and sharks in the past) I feel I need to rectify the situation immediately! I've never written about a primate! They are the creatures most genetically similar to ourselves and yet in three months I have not once mentioned them. For shame! So today we're going to talk about the Moustached Tamarin, a tiny member of the Primate order that I think looks pretty darn terrific.

The Mustached Tamarin, or Saguinus mystax, is a small little guy. Their body length (tail not included) is between 25 and 35 cm, with a non-prehensile tail adding on an additional 30-40cm. They are identified by their entirely black body... save for a white mustache that gives them their name. (Though the Emperor Tamarin, a fellow genus member, has an even more spectacular 'stache.)

Mustached Tamarins are omnivores, and feed off of fruits, insects, and other small animals. They are found in th…

Victoria Crowned Pigeon

I know I wrote about another pigeon just last week, but I read about these guys in a book yesterday and just had to learn more about them. Pigeon the size of a turkey you say? To the internet!

The Victoria Crowned Pigeon is the largest living species of pigeon. They can stand over 70cm tall, and weigh up to 5lbs, with the males being slightly larger than the females. They are actually not the largest pigeons of all time, however. The extinct Dodo was a member of the pigeon family, and weighed over 40lbs! Victoria Crowned Pigeons sport beautiful blue and purple plumage, including a crest that the top of their head. Both the males and females display these dazzling colors and crests. They are named for both their crest, and for Britain's Queen Victoria. They are found in the dense forests of New Guinea and other small, surrounding islands.

Like many bird species, the Victoria Crowned Pigeon mates for life. A nest is built from twigs and leaves, and in it is laid one egg. Both parent…

Elephant Seal

The genus Mirounga holds two extant species, the Northern Elephant Seal (Mirounga angustirostris) and the Southern Elephant Seal (Mirounga leonina). The two species, predictably enough, reside in their respectively named hemispheres. The Northern Elephant Seals are often found on offshore islands and along the California coast. Southern Seals live in Antarctica, splitting time (depending on the season) between the mainland and the offshore pack ice.

Southern Elephant Seals are the largest of all the seals. The heaviest males recorded were over 8,000lbs. Both the Southern and Northern seals demonstrate extreme sexual dimorphism. Females rarely weigh much over 1,000lbs, and only grow to be about half as long as the males. They also do not sport the species' naming feature: the elephant trunk-like nose that is exclusive to the males. These noses assist the males in making loud, resonating sounds during the breeding season. Both the males and females lose a large amount of their body …


Today, one of the most deadly and dangerous sharks is the Great White, which can grow to lengths of 20 feet. less than two million years go, however, we would've had the Megalodon to deal with. It is perhaps the largest predatory fish ever to exist, sporting lengths of over 50 feet, and a jaw 7 feet wide. Their individual teeth could grow to 7 inches long, and during the Renaissance, fossilized teeth were thought to be the teeth of mythical dragons! It wasn't until the late 17th century that scientists realized they were looking at a really, really big shark. (Teeth are really the only remnant that we have of these beast, as cartilage fossilizes very poorly)

So what did the Megalodon eat? In short, probably everything. It is estimated they they consumed up to 2,500lbs of food each and every day, which really doesn't seem like all that much when you consider that they have to power a muscular body that weighs over 50tons. They most likely consumed whales of the time, as wel…


In 1993, a film called Jurassic Park was released that thrust the Velociraptor into the forefront of our collective Dinosaur fascination. Unfortunately... its depiction was pretty darn wrong. Granted, that wasn't wholly the fault of the movie-makers, because one of the primary physical characteristics of the Velociraptor wasn't even discovered until several years after the film's release. But the other major discrepancy... yeah, that one is probably on them.

There are two species of Velociraptor, and both lived in what is now Central Asia. In 1998, a forelimb from one specimen was found that contained some interesting features. There are marks in the bone known as quill knobs. This revelation points to the fact that Velociraptors definitely had feathers. Velociraptors could not fly, but they probably used their feathers for maneuverability, display, and for temperature control. And guess what? They were probably warm blooded.

The other physical trait that the movie got wr…


Also known as Elephant Shrews, Sengis are small mammals belonging to four genuses within the Macroscelididae Family. They are not actually related to true shrews all that closely, for they belong to a different Family and Order entirely. Because Elephant Shrew is a bit of a misnomer, biologists have been using the name "Sengi," which is their Bantu name. Interestingly, molecular research in recent years show that Sengis could be more closely related to the Elephant and they are to the Shrew.

Sengis are found only in Africa. Depending on the species, they live in savannahs and scrublands, as well as dense forests. Some species are diurnal, while others are active during both the day and night. Sengis are carnivores eat a variety of invertebrates, including worms and spiders. A few species will also supplement their invertebrate diet with fruits and other plant matter. They themselves are preyed upon by a wide variety of larger creatures, and as such, they must always be alert…

Amur Leopard

Panthera parus orientalis is the rarest cat in the world. There are only an estimated 30-40 left in the wild. Amur Leopards are a leopard subspecies that is native to the temperate forests of far eastern Russia and China. They are distinguishable from other leopards by their longer coats and widely spaced, thick bordered spots.

Amur Leopards are solitary animals. Males and females come together to breed, but only rarely does the male stick around to help raise the cubs. Cubs will stay with their mother, learning how to hunt and survive, for up to two years. Amur Leopards eat mostly Sika and Roe deer, as well as small mammals.

Even though captive breeding programs exist, the gene pool is not the purest. Accidental Interbreeding between other leopard subspecies had taken place at the start of the captive program, making few of the captive leopards truly purebred. Genetic diversity is also (obviously) threatened in the wild populations, as the few remaining cats only have each other to b…

Rock Pigeon

You may recognize today's bird. For it is the Rock Pigeon, conqueror of city sidewalks world round! Rock Pigeons (Columba livia) can be found just about everywhere, either as a native species or as an introduced one. Aside from urban areas, rock pigeons can be found in their native, rocky cliff habitats, and in open, unwooded areas. Pigeons are non-migratory, and they have the ability to find their way home from just about any location. It is speculated that they are able to do this because in nature they were forced to find their specific nest within a large colony setting.

There are actually several subspecies of the rock pigeon. These include the wild birds, domestic pigeons, and the feral, city dwelling populations. There is evidence that pigeons were domesticated between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago. Humans have used pigeons for many purposes over the years. They have been used as a food supply, as animals for experimentation, for sport, and as message carriers. During World War…

Great Blue Heron

I'm on a bit of a bird kick this week, so bear with me as I work my way through some of my favorite feathered creatures. Yesterday a huge Great Blue Heron flew over my car, and I was simply inspired. Great Blue Herons are one of the most widespread of all the herons, as well as one of the largest. They can be found in nearly every part of non-arctic North America at some point of the year.

Great Blue Herons don't get their name from being tiny. They have a body length of around 4 feet, and sport a wingspan of over 6 feet. They have long legs, a ruff at the base of the neck, and a black stripe that extends across the side of the head.

Herons are wading birds, and are found living in coastal areas, swamps, ponds, rivers, marshes, etc. They use their long legs to wade and hunt, doing so by standing still and waiting for prey to swim by. When it does so, the Heron strike with it's long, spear-like bills. They also slowly stalk their prey. Great Blue Herons eat all sorts of cr…


I've been reading this quite delightful book called Birdology, which devotes each of its chapters to a different type of bird, and the author's experiences with the bird. Well, chapter two is all about the Cassowary. Cassowaries are large, flightless birds endemic to Northern Australia and New Guinea. They are among the largest birds in the world, and their closest living relatives are the Australian Emus.
There are three extant species of Cassowary, all belonging to genus Casuarius. They are the Southern Cassowary, the Northern Cassowary, and the Dwarf Cassowary. All three species are similar in appearance. The birds sport large crowns called casques on their heads. The true purpose of the casque is unknown, but speculation is that they may help to produce low frequency sounds. Cassowaries have long, course, black feathers that cover most of their bodies. They neck is naked, and sports blue and red skin. The species differ in size, casque appearance, and type of (or lack of)…

Alligator Snapping Turtle

Macrochelys temminckii is the largest freshwater turtle species in the entire world. They live in the Southeastern United States and can reach weights of 80kg (about 175lbs). Weights of over 200lbs have also been found, and an unverified report of a 403lb monster exists from the 1930s.

Alligator Snapping Turtles spend nearly all of their time in the water. As juveniles they stick to small streams,  and as adults live in deep river and lake areas. They are able to remain underwater for 40 to 50 minutes before needing to surface for air. Females of the species are usually the only ones who go to land, and they do so in order to lay their eggs. This trek usually takes them around 150ft inland, where up to 50 eggs are laid. The sex of the hatchlings is determined by the incubation temperature. Extreme temperatures create females, while moderate temperatures create males.

Not only are Alligator Snapping Turtles large, they are also long lived. While ranges of 20 to 70 years are normal, it …

Canada Goose

If you live in the United States or Canada, you've probably come across a Canada Goose once or twice... or heck, every time you step outside. Branta canadensis is an extremely widespread species. Flocks from the northern reaches of the range are often migratory, spending their winters in the Southern United States and Mexico. Birds living in more temperate latitudes however, will remain in the area year-round. Canada Geese are found near bodies of water, and they aren't picky about what that body is. They can be found in habitats ranging from large lakes to man-made suburban drainage ponds to water features in golf courses. Due to their suburban invasion, they are sometimes considered pests. They are especially detrimental to airfields, which are typically placed near water.

Interestingly, the Canada Goose was almost extinct. At the beginning of the 20th century their numbers were so low that reintroduction efforts were started to raise the population. This movement was obviou…

Common Octopus

The 2010 World Cup ended yesterday, and while the world is abuzz with Spain's first win, there has also been a great deal of talk about Paul. Who is Paul? Paul is the Common Octopus "Oracle" who correctly picked the outcomes of all 7 of Germany's games, plus the World Cup Final. Treats were placed in boxes adorned with national flags. The treat eaten first was the winning team. Paul went 8 for 8. (Though he did make some blunders during the 2008 Euro) Anyway, Paul is retiring now, but in celebration of his strange cephalopod superpowers, enjoy some facts on the Common Octopus (Octopus vulgaris)!
Common Octopuses (Octopi is actually an incorrect plural term) are found in temperate and tropical coastal waters across a great deal of the planet. They live at depths shallower than 500 feet. Octopuses are carnivorous, and are active predators during the daytime. They feed primarily on crustaceans and mollusks, and they will actually stockpile their food to eat at a later …

Tomato Frog

The common name "Tomato Frog" can refer to all three species that are found within the genus Dyscophus. Each species does have its own common name, but they aren't especially helpful since it appears that both Dyscophus antongilii and Dyscophus insularis are given the official "Tomato Frog" moniker, and calling a species the Madagascar Tomato Frog seems kind of redundant, as all three species are native to the rainforests Madagascar. But whatever. I'm talking about all three collectively.

If you couldn't guess from the name, Tomato Frogs are usually red, though the color span, depending on the specific species and the individual frog, ranges from yellow to red to brown. Interestingly it is the females that are the most vibrantly colored. They are also larger than their male counterparts, growning up to 10.5cm in length, while the males hit up to only 6.5cm.

Tomato Frogs use their coloring as a warning to predators. When threatened, they puff up in size.…

Polish Tatra Sheepdog

The Polish Tatra Sheepdog is a very old, and very large breed of livestock guarding dog. They are also quite rare outside of Poland. In the United States there are between 200-300 total dogs. The breed is also known as Owczarek Podhalanski, Polish Mountain Sheepdog, Tatrahund, and Polish Shepherd. It is recognized by the UKC and FCI, but not the AKC.

The Polish Tatra Sheepdog is a large, white breed with a thick double coat. Males stand up to 28" tall, with the females growing slightly smaller. They can weigh up to 130lbs. Polish Tatra Sheepdogs are intelligent, independent, and territorial. For hundreds of years it has been their job to guard over their flocks and families. They are mostly likely related to the Kuvasz, a similarly large, white, Hungarian livestock guarding breed.

Like the Kuvasz and several other large, European breeds, the Polish Tatra Sheepdog can trace its origin to both the Mollaser dogs of the Balkins, as well as from Central Asian Mastiffs. The Tatra Moun…

Water Chevrotain

Are you ready for some tiny, tiny deer? I hope so, because after a few days of not-so-cuddly looking critters, I think I cute little mouse-deer is much needed. And when I say little, I mean little. Water Chevrotains are not the smallest ruminants in the world, but they are definitely up (or down?) there.. though they are the largest of the Chevrotain species.. Adults stand between 30 and 40cm at the shoulder, and top out near 26lbs. Females are about 20% larger than males.

Water Chevrotains are so named because they live near water. One of their methods of fleeing a threat is to dive into the water, where they are capable of hiding while completely submerged. (Watch the video!) They are hunted by most of the carnivores that overlap their tropical central African habitats. Chevrotains themselves eat a variety of fruits and flowers, but they have also been known to consume insects and other scavenged meat. They are nocturnal.
They have a pretty interesting body shape. Their back legs ar…

Northern Pike

I'm from the Midwest. As a child, I spent a great deal of time in various woodland areas, and have swam in my fair share of Northern Wisconsin and Michigan lakes, and well, two fish in particular always freaked me out from those lakes, the Muskellunge, and the Northern Pike. Northern Pikes live throughout most of the Northern United States, Canada, and most of Northern Europe. They are one of the most widely distributed freshwater fish in the entire world. The European specimens tend to be slightly larger, and overall, Northern Pike can easily reach over 2 feet in length and weigh over 20lbs.They are also capable of living 25 years, with the largest fish obviously being the oldest.

Northern Pike are absolutely voracious eaters, and will attack and consume things that are up to four times their own size. They are aggressive and territorial, and are apparently quite interesting to fish for because they'll try and eat just about anything. This includes human feet, so watch out sw…

Hercules Moth

The Hercules Moth is one of the largest moths in the entire world, with a wingspan of up to 27cm! While they Atlas Moth of South East Asia has then just slightly beat in the wingspan category, the Hercules does take the size award in its native tropical habitats in New Guinea and Northern Australia. The largest Hercules Moth ever found was 36cm (14.17in) across! Males are slightly smaller than the females, but their tails tend to be longer and their coloration is more vibrant.

Hercules Moth caterpillars can grow quite large as well, with some measuring 12cm in length. They are bluish green in color, and have false else that are intended to distract and confuse predators. Caterpillars are hearty eaters, with one of their favorite plants being the bleeding heart tree. They only actually consume 6-8 species of plant, despite living in dense and varied rainforest habitats.

As adults, Hercules moths live short lives. Females emerge from the chrysalis without mouths, so they cannot …

Dragon Moray Eel

Enchelycore pardalis  is a rather attractive, yet aggressive little fellow found throughout the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean. They are also known as Leopard Moray Eels and Japanese Dragon Eels, and are members of the 200+ species family Muraenidae. They live in caves and coral reef areas where the can remain hidden while hunting. Dragon Morays can grow almost a meter in length, which is pretty small when compared to the largest of the Morays, the Giant Moray, which can reach lengths of 2.5meters.

Dragon Moray Eels have (in my opinion) some lovely coloration.Their bodies are covered in patterns orange, yellow, white, and black. They even have horns! Though they aren't really horns. They are actually nostrils! Dragon Morays use their sense of smell to hunt, and they snack on crustaceans, fish, and even octopuses! Basically, if they can fit it in their mouths, they'll eat it. They also have teeth that act like traps, due to their backwards positioning. This makes it extremely…

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Also known as the Acadian Owl, Blind Owl, Sparrow Owl and about a dozen other names, the Northern Saw-Whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) is a relatively tiny little guy who measures only 8.5in in length and possesses a 20in wingspan. They are native to North America, and some, but not all, are migratory.

Northern Saw-Whet Owls are identified by their already mentioned small bodies, their lack of ear tufts, and their proportionally large heads. They are chestnut brown with various white markings, including a Y that forms over their eyes. Their large eyes are yellow, and the beaks are black. Northern Saw-Whet Owls are so named because one of their calls is said to resemble the sound of whetting a saw. They are quite vocal during the breeding season, but remain silent during the rest of the year.

As far as diet is concerned, the Northern Saw-Whet Owl really loves its rodents. Typically 70% to 80% of their diet consists of mice and voles, with the rest being filled in my insects, spiders, other…

American Alligator

To celebrate the 4th of July, and the fact that I just got back from South Carolina with more animal pictures than I know what to do with, we're going to talk about the American Alligator! There are only two extant species of Alligator, and the American is the largest. They live in freshwater swamps in the South Eastern United States and can grow up to 15 feet in length, though even larger specimens have been recorded. Alligators and other Crocodylians are very old species, with their ancestors appearing during the mesozoic era and surviving the great extinction that finished off the dinosaurs.

American Alligators are opportunistic predators, and will eat just about anything. There have been documented human killings, and since the statistics began in 1948, there have been 20 killings in the state of Florida. While that number does seem a bit chilling, overall humans are not a major part of the Alligators' diet. They eat birds, reptiles, mammals, insects and carrion. Alligators…


Writing about extinct animals is always a challenge to me because in so many circumstances the information is just not there. We know about the creatures from fossils that are so often incomplete, or from unreliable sources in the case of the more recently extinct animals. The Baiji falls into neither of these categories, as its functional extinction was sadly announced only four year ago, in 2006. If there are still individuals out there, they would be the rarest mammals on earth.
Only a hundred years ago thousands of these freshwater dolphins, also known as Chinese River Dolphins, swam the length of the Yangtze. Industrialization and fishing practices have led to their fast decline, and in 2006 a six-week, multi-national expedition uncovered no specimens. Reports of an sighting surfaced in 2007, but even if a handful of individuals remain, the population is unlikely to be sustainable. They have never been bred in captivity, though the Chinese government and international agencies hav…