Sunday, October 31, 2010

The New Jersey Man Eater

The New Jersey Man Eater might be a single shark, or it might be many different sharks. Either way, they were responsible for five attacks between July 1st and 12th, 1916.  These attacks resulted in four deaths and one injury.

Summer at the Jersey Shore in 1916 was a hot one, with temperatures hitting over ninety degrees, forcing droves of people to to the cool ocean waters. On July 1st, Charles Van Sant, a 23-year-old on vacation from Philadelphia, went for a swim, going out about one hundred yards. Other swimmers saw a shadow approaching and called ou in warning, but Van Sant was unable to hear them. When he was about 50 feet fromt he shore, something grabbed at his legs, which caught the notice of Alexander Ott, a former Olympic swimmer. Ott dove out to help Van Sant, and carried him back to the shore, but it was too late for the young man. Both of his legs were badly mangled and he died on the shore. This was the first reported Shark Attack in New Jersey history.

July 6th, 1916. Charles Bruder, a 27-year-old bellboy, goes for a swim on his day off. A woman on shores shouts that a man is in distress, but by the time rescuers make it out to him there was nearly nothing left from the waist down. The death of Bruder is the true beginning of the panic. Some communities install wire nets, others patrol the shore in boats with shotguns. But little did they know that the remaining three attacks would take place in a body of water they least expected.
Bull Shark (Image Source

Wednesday, July 12th. Lester Stillwell, an 11-year-old boy, decides to go for a swim with friends in Matawan Creek, sixteen miles inland. The boys see a fin and scramble out of the water. Stillwell doesn't make it and is pulled under. The boys run into town, seeking help. Watson Stanley FIsher,a  24-year-old business owner, is one of those who answer the call. He dives into the creek, looking for Stillwell's body. He too is attacked. Fisher is rushed to the hospital, but dies from shock and loss of blood a few hours later. A half mile and 30 minutes after the Fisher/Stillwell attack, 14-year-old Joseph Dunn is also hit. His brothers and friends play tug-of-war with the shark, who eventually lets go. Dunn survives with the loss of his leg.

After the attack on Dunn the New Jersey Man Eater seemed to be at rest. On July 14th, an 8.5 foot White Shark was caught a few miles from Matawan Creek. Human bones were found in its stomach that matched the size of the victims. Everyone believed that this was the Man Eater, but six days after the attacks, a 7 foot Bull Shark was caught in the creek itself. Numerous studies have been done on the identity of the shark that caused so much terror. Many have been skeptical that the White Shark was  responsible; they are rare in New Jersey waters and almost never travel inland to brackish waters. Bull Sharks, on the other hand, have been known to travel upstream, and are far more common to the New Jersey area.

It is also likely the the attacks were caused by more than one animal, perhaps by sharks to separate species. We will probably never know for sure what caused these attacks, which were an incredibly rare occurance. The summer of 1916 attacks inspired several studies, books, and documentaries, including a 2009 Shark Week special titled Blood in the Water.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wojtek

Iran, 1943. A group of Polish soldiers, freshly released from Soviet camps in Siberia, were on a trek back east to join up with their fellow countrymen fighting in Egypt and Italy. The Polish Second Army Corps, as they were called, came accross a wandering young boy. They in return for some food, the boy gave them a brown sack... which contained a young, orphaned Brown Bear Cub.
(Image Source)

The Cub was less than a year old and badly undernourished. The soldiers nursed him on condensed milk from an old vodka bottle. They named him Wojtek (pronounced Voy-tek) and he became the unofficial mascot of the 22nd Transport Artillery Supply Company.

Wojtek became one of the guys. He enjoyed cigarettes, (eating them, not smoking) would drink bottles of beer, and knew how to march and salute. He figured out how to work the showers, and one one occasion, actually discovered an enemy spy in the unit's bath house.  His reward for such heroism? Two beers and an entire morning in the bath hut!

In 1944, his unit was shipping out to Italy. The British soldiers that  they were traveling with would only allow enlisted men aboard the ship, so Woktek became an official member of the Polish Army. He received the rank of private, was given a serial number, and was listed on all of their official documentation.

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Wojtek was there for the Battle of Monte Cassino, traveling in the passenger seat of supply trucks and carrying heavy shells and boxes of ammunition. He was an excellent soldier, unfazed by everything that was going on around him. After the war, the men of his company were stationed at a camp near Hutton, Scotland, as their home country was under Soviet control. Woytek found a new home at the Edinburgh Zoo, were he responded favorably to visits from Polish soldiers who would try and sneak him cigarettes.

Wojtek became the star of the zoo, and passed away in 1963. Numerous commemorative plaques have been erected for him and there are currently plans in Edinburgh to erect a permanent memorial. In addition, the Sikorski Museum in London is holding an exhibit about this remarkable bear, which runs through November.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Harriet

Before she passed away 2006, Harriet was considered one of the oldest animals alive on the planet. Her age was placed at 176 years. While this seems incredibly old for us, it's quite normal for Galapagos Tortoises to exceed over a hundred years. Harriet is the third oldest tortoise recorded, after a fellow Galapagos who lived to 188, and an Aldabra Tortoise named Adwaita, who was reported to be a whopping 255 at his death in 2005.

(Image Source)
Harriet is considered special not only due to her old age. She is also rumored to be one of three Tortoises collected by Charles Darwin on his Beagle voyage in 1835. Recent research has cast some doubt on that story, as scientists claim she was a member of a subspecies (Geochelone nigra porteri) that lives on an island the Beagle never went to. We know that Darwin took three tortoises with him, which he described as being as large as dinner plates. Harriet was born around 1830, and would've been about that size in 1835. We know that Darwin's three tortoises ended up with John Clements Wickam, who was bound for Brisbane Australia. We also know that Harriet was present at the Brisbane Botanical Gardens by 1870, and lived there until it's closing in 1952. Another one of Darwin's Tortoises, Tom, died in the Gardens in 1929.

(Image Source)
Harriet's true story is still a mystery, but Darwin's tortoise or not, she lived a pretty extraordinary life that spanned an amazing period in human history. Andrew Jackson was president when she was born. Photography has just been invented. Telephones and Telegraphs were non-existent. She lived though wars, political upheavals, and scientific innovations... all while munching happily away in her garden.

Harriet was originally named "Harry" and was thought to be a male. It wasn't until the 1960s that she was discovered to be female (which explained why any breeding attempts failed.) Harriet was brought to Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo in Queensland in 1987 and became a fast favorite of all the staff and guests. She was reported a very good natured tortoise, " a grand old lady" to quote Irwin. He considered her a part of the family. Harriet died of a heart attack following an illness on June 23rd, 2006.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Secretariat

I was a little apprehensive about doing today's animal, just because he is so well known already (heck, there is even a movie out right now about him.) But I think the following video is just too good to not be posted.

Behold! The 1973 Belmont Stakes.



Secretariat is without a doubt one of the greatest animal athletes to ever live. In his short racing career he set numerous track and world records, and won the Triple Crown for the first time since 1948 (the longest drought save the current 32 year one that we are in now). His 1:58 2/5 track time for the Kentucky Derby is still a record, and it took almost 30 years for another horse to even break the two minute mark. One of the most remarkable things about that race is the fact that he never slowed down. Every single quarter mile he ran was faster than the one before it. His Belmont run, which is also a standing World Record, was one of the widest winning margins ever. He was named American Horse of the Year in 1972 and 1973, and only one other horse in history has been named Horse of the Year as a two year old.
(Image Source)

Secretariat was sired by Bold Ruler, the 1957 Preakness Stakes winner and 3rd place runner in that year's Derby and Belmont. His dam, Somethingroyal, only raced once but was the mother of four stakes winners. In 1973 she was named Broodmare of the Year. Secretariat was born on March 30th, 1970, and his ownership by Penny Chenery was literally determined by a coin toss. The name of the horse was actually chosen by the farm's secretary, who had previously submitted ten names that were all rejected by the Jockey Club. Finally, the eleventh name (and the one associated with her profession) was chosen. He was a huge chestnut, nicknamed "Big Red," and at his peak stood 16.2 hands tall and weighed 1,200lbs.

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Secretariat won 16 out of this 21 races, and placed outside of the top three in only one. He was retired after his three year old year and went on to sire a handful of future champions, but none ever matched his greatness. Secretariat was euthanized in 1989 after suffering from laminitis, an extremely painful hoof disease. His necropsy went on to show that his heart was two and a half times larger than that of a normal horse's.

In the ESPN list of the 100 greatest athletes of all time, Secretariat placed 35th, the highest non-human on the list. He was also inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1974 and was voted Blood-Horse Magazine's #2 Horse of All Time (behind Man O' War.) A statue of him now stands in front of Belmont Park. His legacy lives on today through countless descendants, including last year's Kentucky Derby winner, Super Saver and 2004 Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cher Ami

We're going to begin famous animals week with the extraordinary story of a remarkable bird that was responsible for saving the lives of nearly 200 men. Way back when, in a post about Rock Pigeons, I mentioned that these birds had long been used by the military for the delivery of messages. Cher Ami was one of these wartime Pigeons. His name meant "Dear Friend" and he flew 12 missions during World War I.

Cher Ami was active in the Verdun campaign, and his last mission, flown on October 18th, 1918 is one of the most remarkable animal stories I've ever heard. . The Lost Battalion of the 77th Infantry Division had become trapped and surrounded by enemy soldiers. The commander, Major Wittlesey, had sent out several pigeons with messages for assistance, but all had been shot down, and the group of 600 men had dwindled down to around 200. Cher Ami was their only pigeon left. The following note was attached to the bird's leg :
(Image Source)

"We are along the road parallel to 276.4.
"Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us.
"For heaven's sake, stop it."


Cher Ami took off, and was shot at by German soldiers. He received a wound through the breastbone, and was blinded in one eye, but Cher Ami just kept flying. He made the 25 mile flight in only 25 minutes. When he arrived as his destination his message leg was completely mangled, and the note was hanging on by a tendon. He saved 194 lives.


Doctors worked to save the heroic bird; they were unable to save his leg, but he did eventually recover enough to travel to the United States.
His boat was personally seen off by General Pershing.

Cher Ami received the French Croix de Guerre for his service, and was inducted to the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame. He eventually died from his war wounds, but almost a year after his famous flight, in June 1919.


Cher Ami was mounted by a taxidermist and is now viewable with his Croix de Guerre at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Famous Animals Week

I'm really excited about this week's special theme, which will be starting tomorrow. In the past I've always covered animals at (typically) the species level, so going so specific and focusing on a single, individual animal is going to be a really nice change. The downside to this theme however, is that most "famous animals" have been birds or mammals, so I'm afraid this may not be incredibly diverse from that standpoint.

While asking friends and family members for suggestions many of them brought up Paul, the Common Octopus that became a sensation during this year's World Cup (and sadly died this morning, R.I.P. Paul, you were the best!). Unfortunately, I feel like I covered a great deal about Paul already during a July post on his species.

I have a handful of animals lined up and planned, but if you have suggestions on some more non-birds or mammals (currently I have one reptile) to add to the list, please let me know! I definitely have wiggle room (and can always make a week run a few extra days.)

Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading my 6 Month celebratory theme week as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it :)

Fennec Fox

Fennec Foxes (Vulpes zerda) are the smallest of all the foxes, and can be found in desert regions in North Africa and the Middle East. They reach around 28 inches from head to tail (with a good foot of that being just the tail) and weigh between two and four lbs. Fennecs have cream colored bodies, with darker-tipped tails.

(Image Source)
Fennec Foxes have some great adaptations to help them survive in their hot, dry climates. First of which are those gigantic ears, which they use to regulate body temperature. They also have thick coats that work as insulation; keeping heat out during the day, and holding it in during the potentially freezing nights that they are active during (Fennecs are nocturnal.) The coloration of their coat is also an adaptation. The sandy color acts to both reflect heat and to serve as camouflage. Fennecs also have furry paws that help to give them traction and to keep their footpads from burning on the hot sand. Finally, Fennecs have a remarkable set of kidneys that helps them to retain maximum levels of moisture.

Fennecs are social animals that live in groups of around ten individuals. They live in burrows during the day and do their hunting at night. Fennecs are opportunistic omnivores, feeding on everything from plants, to insects, to eggs, to small rodents and birds. The Fennec's main non-human predators are large(ish) cats and birds.

Not much is known about their wild status, and they are listed by IUCN as being of Least Concern due to deficient data and unavailable information. You apparently can own Fennecs as pets legally, but keep in mind that they are burrowing, nocturnal, wild animals. I wouldn't recommend it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail Butterflies (Papilio polyxenes) are found in many regions of both North and South America, and have a handful of subspecies that reflect different areas. They are an abundant, secure species within low numbers found only on the fringes of the range. Black Swallowtails have a wingspan of between three and four inches.

(Image Source)
These Butterflies get their name from their predominantly black body which is outlined with yellow spots or bands. Males and females can be distinguished based upon the prominence of the yellow. Females have a more spotted yellow and a more obvious band of blue across their lower wings. It is believed that the coloration of Black Swallowtails is intended to mimic that of Pipevine Swallowtail, which is bad tasting.

Larvae of the species are banded black and white with yellow spots. The eggs are typically laid on plants belonging to the Apiaceae plant family, which are consumed by the larvae upon hatching. Adults feed on nectar and can be attracted to your garden by growing the types of plants that they lay their eggs on, including dill, carrots, and Queen Anne's Lace.

Caterpillars have a rather interesting defense mechanism. They have an organ on their necks known as an Osmeterium, which raises when threatened and produces and extremely distasteful odor.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Six Months!

Next week Wednesday, October 27th, will mark six months of animals! To celebrate I'm doing yet another theme week, which I'm just going to leave as a surprise for now. So please check back and check it out! It'll be a good one, I promise :)

Amazon Horned Frog

(Image Source)
Amazon Horned Frogs are a very large species of frog native to the Amazon Rain Forest that can grow to lengths of up to eight inches. On top of that, they have very round, large bodies that are obtained by having voracious appetites. They will eat just about anything that is smaller than them in size, which includes quite a few different species including their own. Their taste is so indiscriminate that they will sometimes try and eat things that are simply too large to swallow, causing them to unfortunately choke and die.

Amazon Horned Frogs (Ceratophrys cornuta) do their hunting by literally burying burying themselves into the substrate on the forest floor, leaving only their head out. They are then able to ambush any prey that strolls on by. The coloration of the Horned Frog helps to camouflage them, and it is believed that their "horns" also aid to disguise them among the leaves. Amazon Horned Frogs are also extremely territorial.

Females are slightly larger than the males, though it is the male that initiates mating through a series of calls. Over 1,000 eggs are laid at a tine, wound around underwater plants. They are then left completely alone to hatch and grow up.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Black Widow

Black Widows are spiders that belong to the genus Latrodectus. Species of within this genus can be found in tropical and temperate climates around the world. In the United States, Latrodectus hesperus is one of the best known. It lives in the western parts of the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

(Image Source)
All species of widow are venomous, with the females being more potent than the males, and having much larger venom glands. The bite of a Black Widow  is 15 times more potent than that of a Rattlesnake and is responsible for the condition known as Latrodectism (named for the genus.) Females are also larger than the males, and often have a red, hour-glass shaped mark on their abdomen. Both males and females range from brown to black in overall color.

Widows are so named because of the cannibalistic behavior that they exhibit during the mating process. After mating is complete, the male is sometimes killed and consumed. Cannibalism is further witnessed in the spiderling stage. Females will lay hundreds of eggs, but very few young will hatch and actually survive to adulthood due to consumption of one another.

Black Widows typically feed off of other insects, capturing them in their extremely strong webs and then injecting the prey with enzymes that will liquefy their insides. The spiders are then able to drink up the fluids.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tasmanian Devil

The Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) is a frequently misunderstood, yet absolutely fascinating animal. They are the largest of the carnivorous marsupials (of which there are very few species) and are now located only on the island of Tasmania. Devils once had a range that encompassed all of Australia, but the spread of the Dingos led to competition for food. Because Tasmania is separated from Australia by the 150mile wide Bass strait, Dingos never crossed and the Devils continued to exist there.

(Image Source)
Of course, their Tasmanian existence was thanks in no part to humans, who killed off the animals, thinking (erroneously) that they were a threat to their livestock. They became a protected species in 1941, but the population is now far from genetically diverse. Tasmanian Devils grow to 30 inches long and weigh around 25lbs.

Tasmanian Devils were so named for their crabby, aggressive behavior (especially around food and mating time) and the absolutely bizarre sounds that they make. They are solitary, non-monogamous, nocturnal animals, and live in burrows. Devils eat a wide variety of other creatures, though they typically only hunt things that are smaller than themselves. They also consume carrion, and thanks to their powerful teeth and jaws, are able to completely consume an animal. Devils are at their most aggressive when feeding, as it is a time that the normally solitary creatures come together and (attempt to) share a meal.
(Image Source)

As previously stated, Tasmanian Devils are marsupials. Females are pregnant for an extremely short amount of time, and will give birth to a few dozen raisin-sized infants. Unfortunately, the female only has four teats, and so only the first four young to make it into her pouch will have any chance of survival. The young will latch on and remain in the pouch for several months. They will come out of the pouch at about four months and be weaned by six.

Wild Devil populations are now experiencing a horrific epidemic that is wiping out the species. Devil Facial Tumor Disease is a contagious cancer that causes larger tumors to form on their heads, making them unable to eat. It is believed that the disease is able to spread so easily because of the lack of genetic diversity within the population. DFTD free populations are being quarantined and captive breeding programs are trying to keep the species going to prevent extinction.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sea Anemone

Though they look quite plant-like, Sea Anemones are actually animals. Animals of the order Actiniaria to be exact. There are over 1,000 species, which come in various shapes and sizes, and live in every ocean on the planet. The largest and most colorful Anemones are found in coastal, tropical waters, but other species can be found in the deep oceans, and even off the frigid shores of Antarctica! Anemones are everywhere!

Deep Sea Anemone (Image Source)
All Sea Anemones are carnivores, and can range in size (depending on species) between a few millimeters and several feet! They are often radially symmetric with an adhesive foot (pedal disc) that keeps them stuck in place, though there are a handful of free floating species as well.

Sea Anemones also have a single mouth opening that is surrounded by tentacles. Their tentacles serve two purposes. The first is protection. You see, the slightest touch causes the tentacles to shoot out a neurotoxin-filled filament. This toxin paralyzes and then leads to the second purpose of the tentacles: feeding. The Anemone then uses them to push the paralyzed creature into their mouth opening. Interestingly, their mouth opening is the only orifice an Anemone has, so it also serves as the final stop in their digestive system.

Clownfish with Anemone (Image Source)
Sea Anemones reproduce in a variety of ways, dependent on the species. Some have both males and females, while other Anemones are hermaphroditic. Both sexual and asexual reproduction occur, with sexual taking place externally via the release of sperm and egg into the water. One method of asexual reproduction occurs by breaking off part of the pedal disc, which is then able to grow into new, small Anemones!

Anemones are famous for their symbiotic relationship with the ever so adorable Clownfish. Clownfish have a protective layer of mucus on their body that keeps them safe from Anemone venom. They are then able to hide safely within an Anemone's tentacles, and in return for protection, the Anemone receives bits of the Clwonfishes' meals.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Opah

I found this book entitled "The Riverside Natural History" that was published in the 1880s and filled with tons of really amazing images. While browsing through I stumbled on this interesting little guy:


That's right. He's the King of the Herrings.

So this of course intrigued me, and prompted me to look further in to this species. As it turns out, they don't seem to be related to herrings at all. Best I can tell, the closest taxonomic level they share is that of class, which encompasses every single ray-finned fish. Does the moniker mean that they lord over the herring with their vast size and appetite? Most likely not, as Opah eat mostly squid and krill, and the occasional small fish. Silly old book! Then again, they messed up the species name too, which they don't have much of an excuse for. Lampris guttatus  has been called as such since 1788.

(Image Source)
There are two species of Opah (also called Moonfish, Sunfish, and a handful of other names), both within the Lampris genus. They are also the only two living members of the family Lampridae. Opah are very large and very distinctly shaped, with their bodies actually being quite narrow width-wise. They are silver in color, with red fins. Opah can reach lengths of up to 6 feet from end to end.

Opah are found in tropical and temperate oceans worldwide, and live at depths of between 100 and 400m. Opah are believed to be solitary, and they are not fished for commercially. They are occasionally caught as a byproduct of tuna fishing, and most of the Opah meat sold in the United States is from Hawaii.

There really isn't all that much else known about Opah. There is no indication that their population is threatened or in a decline.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Carolina Parakeet

The Carolina Parakeet was the only parrot native to North America. Notice that I said "was" and not "is." You see, the Carolina Parakeet went extinct about 100 years ago. Bizarrely, the last captive specimen, a male named Incas, died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918. What's so bizarre about that? Well, he died in the exact same aviary cage that the world's last Passenger Pigeon, Martha, died in four years earlier.
(Image Source)

When they were alive, Carolina Parakeets inhabited the eastern parts of the United States in deciduous forests and near forest edges. They sported green bodies, bright yellow heads and orange cheeks.

The extinction of the Carolina Parakeet has a couple of causes. The first was deforestation and habitat loss. The second was hunting for both their feathers and for use as pets. The third was that as land was developed and agriculture grew, the birds took a liking to various crops and were slaughtered as pests. By the 1860s the species was in major decline and seen rarely outside of Florida. It was considered officially extinct in the 1920s.

The image I'm using for this post is one of the most iconic of the species. Painted by John James Audubon around 1825, this portrait contains depictions of adults and juveniles (the fully green birds) and was completed while the species was still abundant. An additional portrait exists for his comprehensive work, "Birds of America," featuring only four birds- two males, a female and a juvenile.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ocelot

(Image Source)
Though they look alot like Leopards, Ocelots are actually members of the genus Leopardus. Despite the name, actual Leopards are found within the genus Panthera... ahh naming confusion! Leopardus  contains a handful of small spotted cats that are found exclusively in the Americas. The Ocelot in particular inhabits a range between Texas and Argentina. It can be found in every Central and South American country save Chile.

Ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) are small, but still larger than your average house cat. They can reach weighs of up to 30lbs and span up to 64 inches in length. Their coat is spotted and can range in color depending on their specific location. The spots help to camouflage them in their forested habitats, where they live solitary, nocturnal lifestyles. Ocelots can also be found in quasi-open areas like scrub land and marshes, but they are never found in completely open areas. They are territorial and will fight over range. Females inhabit much smaller sections, while the range of a male might overlap that of several females.

Ocelots are wonderful hunters, and take to the ground stalking rodents, amphibians, and even armadillos and small deer. They are also excellent climbers and will ascend to hunt birds and monkeys. An interesting difference between Ocelots and house cats is the fact that Ocelots are not averse to water, and are great swimmers.

Unfortunately, Ocelots have seen their populations hit hard. For many years, they were killed for their pelts, but this has now been deemed illegal. Deforestation and capture for the pet trade continue to be threats to the species. Ocelots are endangered in the United States, and are legally protected throughout the rest of their range.

Late Post

I've been having a terrible day and just locked myself out of my apartment for the first time ever, with my dog, wearing sandals and a long sleeve t-shirt in 50 degree weather... for three hours. I'm now really behind on what I had to do today, so today's animal is going to be a little bit late. In the mean time... check out the cuteness that is Enrique. (Baby Alpaca at the Milwaukee County Zoo)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mola Mola

The Mola Mola (Mola mola), or Ocean Sunfish, is the largest bony fish in the world, and has been recorded at sizes of eleven feet from fin-tip to fin-tip. But you many ask, what about Whale Sharks! Basking Sharks! Certainly they are larger! But sharks you see, are cartilaginous, meaning they are made from cartilage rather than bone. This makes the massive, 3000lbs Mola Mola, the most massive of all bony fish.

Interestingly, the Mola Mola shares some characteristics with their large, sharky neighbors. Despite their large size, they eat only very small little meals with their parrot shaped beaks, comprised mainly of plankton, small fish, and jellyfish. Mola Mola are found in tropical and temperate waters around the world and are a pelagic species.

(Image Source)
Mola Molas have a couple of really interesting behaviors and characteristics. The first are swimming and basking. If the image is no indication, the Mola Mola has a laterally compressed body. In essence, it kinda looks like a dinner plate. It moves about by flapping its two large fins back and forth. Molas also bask on the ocean surface, laying side up. It is believed that this serves some sort of purpose is regulating body temperature and removing parasites. Did you also know that Mola Molas don't have scales? Their entire body is covered in an elastic, thick skin.

Mola Molas are also one of the most prolific egg layers in the undersea world. One small female was found with 300 million eggs in her ovaries, and a large specimen would most assuredly be carrying even more. Once the eggs hatch the Mola larvae resemble tiny little pufferfish, and they lose their spines as they grow. Pufferfish and Mola Molas actually belong to the same taxonomic order, Tetraodontiformes.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Blakiston's Fish Owl

The Blakiston's Fish Owl might possibly be the largest of all the owl species. Bubo blakistoni weighs a massive 4kg and sports a wingspan of up to 190cm. They live in one very specific area in the entire world, namely a small little chunk of Northeast Asia. Their are two subspecies, one that lives on the mainland in areas that are part of Russia and China, and one on the northern Japanese islands and Russia's Kuril Islands. Their may be birds in North Korea, but the nature of that political situation makes it difficult to go in and get an estimate.

(Image Source)
Blakiston's Fish Owls are quite endangered. There are only a few thousand left, if that, and the island subspecies is down to only a few hundred. This decline in population has been a result of habitat loss. Blakiston's Fish Owls live in very old, dense forests that are near large rivers, and this type of habitat has been on the decline due to construction and forest clearing. Another major threat to these birds is general human encroachment. Birds in Japan sometimes get hit by cars or trapped in power lines.

Despite the name,  Blakiston's Fish Owls eat more than fish. They also feed off of small mammals, waterfowl, crustaceans, and amphibians. The most common hunting tactic observed is dropping down on prey from a low perch. Small meals are brought back to a perch and consumed, while larger targets will be partially consumed on the spot.

Blakiston's Fish Owls mate for life, and each breeding pair inhabits a specific territory. They are believed to non-migratory over large distances, though they might make small, seasonally based movements.. They pair does not breed each year, and it is suspected that breeding is dictated by environmental factors. One or two eggs are laid at a time, and the female incubates while the male hunts and brings back food. After the eggs have hatched, both parents take turns hunting. Chicks fledge around 50 days.

Blakiston's Fish Owls are protected by the nations that they are native to, and there are a handful of captive breeding and release programs. A major problem in their conservation is that despite the fact that the birds are protected, their habitat is not. A national park has been proposed for part of their Russian range, but as of right now it is only a suggestion.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Yangzte Soft-Shell Turtle

The Yangtze Soft-Shell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), also known as the Shanghai Soft-Shell or Swinhoe's Soft-Shell, is the rarest, most endangered turtle in the entire world. There are only four known specimens in existence, and all are getting quite old. They are also one of the largest of the Soft-Shell Turtles, members of the family Trionychidae. Soft-Shell Turtles are so named because their shells have a more pliable, almost leathery feeling carapace that is essentially really thick skin.
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Yangtze Soft-Shell Turtles are natively found in South East Asia, though their is only one believed specimen in the wild today. They measure up to a meter in length and have tails and pig-like snouts. Females are slightly larger than males. Yangtze Soft-Shelled Turtles are omnivores, and feed off of plants, fish, snails, crustaceans, and small amphibians.

As already mentioned, the Yangtze Soft-Shell Turtle is the most endangered Turtle in the world. It might also possibly be the most endangered animal, period. Their species was potentially irreparably damaged due to loss of habitat and hunting for use in traditional medicines and as food. Two specimens are in captivity in China, and there are two reported individuals in Vietnam. For a few years now, scientists have been working to save the species by breeding the Chinese pair. Unfortunately, the female previously lived in an enclosure that was dirty and saw a lot of vandalism, and her poor diet of garbage caused her first clutch of eggs to be almost completely infertile. The second breeding, which took place earlier this year, yielded a few fertile eggs, but they never made it to term. Cleaner, protected conditions and a better diet are making conservationists hopeful about breedings in the years to come.

The main problem however, is that the females is over eighty years old, and the male is over one hundred. While many turtle species have exceptionally long life expectancies (especially compared to humans) time is ticking to save this rare species.Another breeding is planned for 2011.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Footballfish

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I absolutely love the name of these guys, though their looks leave much to be desired. Footballfish is the common name for members of the Himantolophidae family, which has only one genus, Himantolophus, and eighteen species. They are also members of the order Lophiiformes, which is more commonly known as the Anglerfish order! I've covered other order members in the past, but these Footballfish are more in line with what comes to mind when one thinks of Anglerfish. They live in the deep sea, they have large, round bodies with scary looking teeth, they sport "fishing poles," and last but not least, they have some rather interesting mating habits.

So lets break this down. Footballfish (and many other Anglerfish) live in the deep sea. In this case, in tropical and subtropical waters around 3,300 ft. Footballfish display extreme sexual dimorphism, with the females being much, much larger than the males. This will come into play later. The females, with their large, round forms, are slow swimmers, and actually hunt by doing well, not much of anything at all. They have a rod known as an ilicium that has a biioluminescent bulb attached to the end. Due to the depth of water that they live in, the water is especially dark and this bulb attracts prey. Females are then able to snatch their meals right in front of them. They feed mostly off of small fish and cephalopods.

Females are also quite good at attracting potential mates. Remember those tiny male Footballfishes? Well, they never get very big, since they don't typically have the ability to feed, but they are able to track down females due to their great sense of smell and pheromones that the females emit. Once a male finds a much larger lady, he latches on to her with his mouth, and eventually his entire body dissolves into her, leaving behind only gonads which the female is then able to use to impregnate herself with. This comic sums it all up quite nicely (potentially NSW).

It should be noted that not all Footballfish species reproduce this way. Some species have males that are free-living. The whole "attach and dissolve" thing is also common in many other Anglerfish families.

Thanks to Eric for the suggestion!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sacred Ibis

The Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) is a wading bird native to Sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, and Iraq. They occur primarily in marshes and wetlands. Sacred Ibises stand around 30in tall, and are covered in white feathers with the exception of the neck and head. These are featherless and covered in black skin that begins to show around two years of age.

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Sacred Ibises get their name due to the fact that they were literally were worshiped as gods. The ancient Egyptians believed the Ibis to be the earthly manifestation of the scribe-god Thoth. They even mummified these birds, and one tomb group contained over one million Ibis mummies! Killing an Ibis was a act punishable by death, as it was also believed that the birds prevented plague. Interestingly, the birds actually did prevent a disease, Bilharzia (or Schistosomiasis). The disease is carried by a parasite that latches to snails that were a favorite snack of the Ibises. By eating these snails en masse the disease was kept at bay. Unfortunately, the Sacred Ibis is now extinct in the very country that once worshiped it, due to loss of swampland (and the disease that they once held in check has now reappeared there.)

The Sacred Ibis is able to eat a pretty wide variety of meals, thanks to their curved bills that allow them to probe into muddy areas. They eat snails, amphibians, and insects, and will also scavenge for other types of food on land, including other birds' eggs. Sacred Ibises are communal, and will sometimes even roost among other bird species. They are also very quiet, and only vocalize while on breeding grounds. Both parents assist in the guarding and feeding of chicks, who will fledge and leave the colony when they are less than two months old.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Angelfish

For some reason whenever I think of fish my brain automatically reverts to strange or colorful deep sea creatures. So when I was brainstorming for an animal today, I made a very conscious effort to look at something of the freshwater variety, and thus today we're going to learn all about Angelfish!

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Angelfish is the common term for species within the Cichlid genus Pterophyllum, but it is also the term given for the specific species Pterophyllum scalare. Their natural habitat is the Amazon River Basin, in the Amazon itself and in other rivers of the surrounding area. They live in water that is highly vegetated, and their color actually depends on the overall clarity of the water. Angelfish are omnivorous.

Angelfish have a very distinct, compressed body shape. They can reach lengths of about five inches, and measure nine to ten inches tall. A mutation known as "veil tail" can add an additional couple of inches. In the wild they are typically silver with black bars, but multiple colors have been bred in captivity. Their shape and coloration work to camouflage them in the wild.

Angelfish have been kept as pets since the 1920s and crossbreeding for specific colors has been a hobby for decades. If you especially interesting in keeping these little guys as pets, check out some of the article links for information about feeding, water quality, breeding, and behavior with other species (they can apparently be none-to-friendly with other types of fish)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sarahsaurus

I might not have a whole lot to write about this particular Dinosaur, but that is because it is simply so new! Sarahsaurus, named after Sarah Butler, an Austin, TX philanthropist, was first discovered in 1997 and findings regarding it have just recently been published. Sarahsaurus lived in the early Jurassic around 190 million years ago.

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Sarahsaurus is so awesome because of what it tells us about the dispersion of dinosaurs across North and South America. The traditional view was that Dinosaurs were so dominant that they out-competed everything else around them. A new view is rising that Dinosaurs in the Americas were successful because they were opportunistic rather than dominant. There were no Dinosaurs in the area prior to the Triassic-Jurassic extinction, and then after the previous residents went extinct, Dinosaurs like Sarahsaurus moved in.

Sarahsaurus was a Sauropodomorph, a precursor to Sauropods like Apatosaurus. Like the Sauropods, Sarahsaurus had a long neck and a small head. It also interestingly had hands! They were about the size of human hands, but much, much more powerful. It is now thought that these Dinosaurs were something more than herbivores. Their strong hands and versatile teeth point to the fact that they may have been scavengers.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Carolina Anole

The Carolina or Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) is an arboreal lizard that is native to North America. They are found along the Atlantic Coast and can also be found in some Caribbean islands. They reach lengths of 6-7inches, and males are slightly larger than females.

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Anoles are able to change color, but are not true Chameleons because they can only shift between two colors, rather than a more complete blending. Temperature and sexual activity dictate which of the two colors they will be at a given time. Typically, if it is warm outside, they are found as bright green. In cooler weather, they change to a drabber brown. This is due to the fact that darker colors absorb more heat, which is a valuable trait when you're cold blooded. Males have a flap of skin on their throats called a Dewlap which also changes colors. It is normally white, but when stretched out due to mating interest or territorial protection it becomes red. Males are extremely territorial and will fight to defend their turf.

Carolina Anoles are carnivorous, and feed off of insects. They are solitary reptiles from birth. After the mother lays her eggs she has nothing further to do with them.

Carolina Anoles are often kept as pets, and are quite common in the wild. They do have one major threat however, and that is encroachment by invasive Anole species like the Brown Anole. Browns have forced the Carolinas to compete for food and habitats, which has damaged their numbers.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Spinner Dolphin

Spinner Dolphins are small cetaceans that can be found throughout the tropical waters of the world. They have slender bodies, and generally do not exceed seven feet. Spinner Dolphins weigh 130-170lbs. The external appearance of these animals is dictated by their location and subspecies. Overall though, they come in shades of gray with white bellies.

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It is difficult to generalize the Spinner Dolphin because the habitats and behaviors of the different subspecies vary. Hawaiian and Costa Rican Spinners, for example, tend to live in coastal areas, while most other populations are far more pelagic. The Hawaiian Dolphins also tend to live in groups that number in the hundreds, while others congregate in the thousands. Many Spinner pods travel with other cetacean groups, including Humpback Whales and Spotted Dolphins. Their tendency to coexist with other sea creatures had led to some problems. In the East Pacific, Spinner Dolphins sometimes travel with Yellowfin Tuna, which has resulted in many dolphin deaths as the Tuna are fished up.

But lets move on to less sad things. Like jumping! Spinner Dolphins are so named because of their amazing acrobatics. They can do as many as fourteen leaps in a row, and are able to jump and spin on their body axis. It is believed that these antics serve as a form of communication and as a method of removing parasites.

Spinner Dolphins reach sexual maturity at around age seven, and females calve roughly every three years. Spinners feed off of small fish and squid, and they are preyed upon by sharks and larger cetaceans. The aforementioned Tuna fishing has damaged their Pacific populations since the 1960s. Spinner Dolphins do very well in captivity, and can be found in several aquariums.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Kangaroo Rat

Not kangaroos, yet not actual rats, Kangaroo Rats are rodents of the genus Dipodomys. There are currently around 20 known species, all of whom live in arid regions of the American West and Southwest. California is especially rich in species.

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Kangaroo Rats are well adapted to their dry environments. They have kidneys that are extremely efficient; they are able to dispose waste without wasting precious water. They are able to take in water from the food they eat, and are able to store that food for long amounts of time in  cheek pouches. They also neither sweat nor pant as they would result in water loss. Kangaroo Rats get their name from the fact that they bounce around on their hind legs much like the large marsupials. They are able to jump several times their own body length, sometimes over six feet, to escape predators, and they have especially long tails that help for balance.

Kangaroo Rats are solitary animals and live in burrow and in territories that they defend. They use their powerful hind legs to kick sand at and attack trespassers. The sand technique is also used when fleeing from predators. They do have numerous natural predators including Coyotes, Snakes, and Owls.

Females may have three litters a year, and the overall life expectancy is between two and five years. Kangaroo Rats are not currently threatened.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Blue Marlin

Blue marlins are incredibly large, iconic fish. In fact, they are one of the largest fish species in the entire world. Interestingly, the females are larger than the males and can reach lengths of 14ft and weight close to 2,000lbs. Males are substantially smaller and rarely weigh more than 300lbs. This means that all of those gigantic trophy fish are in fact female.

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There is some debate on the taxonomic status of the Blue Marlin. Some consider to be the Atlantic fish to be a very separate species from those in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Others consider them to be all one species within the genus Makaira. For the sake of this entry we are going to go with the earlier view: that of different species. Makaira nigricans is found in tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic Ocean, where they prefer to live near the warmer surface waters. They are migratory, solitary hunters, and will move to areas where the food supply is better. They eat a variety of pelagic fishes, and will also dive down deeper for squid and other prey. The characteristc beak of the Marlin is actually and extension of their upper jaw, and it is used to slash at schools of fish and stun victims.

Spawning occurs in tropical waters, and females may lay several million eggs at a time. They will hatch after about a week but very few of the larvae will live to reach sexual maturity. Blue Marlin females can live as long as 27 years, while the lifespan for males is around 18.

Blue Marlins are not yet a threatened species, but many fear that the amount of fishing that they are subjected to will damage the population in the future.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Guinea-zilla"

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Oh do I ever love mega-fauna, especially when it's something you completely wouldn't expect. Giant Mammoth? Alright, sure, Elephants are big. Giant Bear? Yeah, that too. But what about a Giant Guinea Pig? And now, I'm not talking about something Capybara sized. (Capybaras, for reference, are the world's largest living rodents and weigh up to 130lbs) Oh no, no no no. Phoberomys pattersoni, first discovered in 1999 and just recently published about, was a massive rodent that exceeded 1,500lbs. A typical modern guinea pig weights about 2lbs. That is 750 Guinea Pigs or about the size of a Buffalo!

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But never you fear. Phoberomys pattersoni died out about eight million years ago, and even when it was alive, it was an herbivore that fed off of sea grasses in Venezuela's Orinoco Delta. Its hind limbs were much more powerful than its front ones, and it had a strong tail that suggests that it sat up while eating.

So what ate it? Well, back around the same time and place their also existed one of the largest Crocodylians ever; Purussaurus brasiliensis measured somewhere in the ballpark of 12m. And given that P. pattersoni was found in semi-aquatic riverside habitats, they may have interacted. It is believed that P. pattersoni went extinct because they were so big. They were too large to burrow and were unable to outrun predators like many of the lither, hoofed mammals could.

P. pattersoni was named in honor of Brian Patterson, a paleontologist who worked in the region of its discovery back in the 1970s.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Golden Poison Dart Frog

By now you should know that I definitely have some favorites in the animal kingdom. I love gigantic birds. I love anything that moos or bleets, and I definitely love anything that has enough natural toxin in them to kill a man without even trying. Morbid? Maybe, but totally awesome nonetheless. So today we're going to talk about one of the single most toxic animals on the planet: the Golden Poison Dart Frog.

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There are actually a whole mess of Poison Dart Frogs, all of whom are found within the Dendrobatidae family and all of whom are (you guessed it) poisonous. The Golden is the king of them all. This itty bitty two inch frog has enough venom in it to kill ten men. The toxin is actually secreted through the skin, and can cause severe problems if held. If you ingest the poison or have it come in contact with an open would... well, then you are in even more trouble. The poison actually stops nerve impulses, causing  heart attack or fibrillation.

Poison Dart Frogs get their name from the fact that indigenous tribes use their poison to coat their darts when hunting. Because of their toxicity, Golden Poison Dart frogs have only one natural predator; a snake that has developed a resistance to their poison. Interestingly, they aren't born toxic. Instead, it is the diet of the frogs that contribute to their toxin producing ability. The eat alkaloid-rich meals that allow them to create it. Frogs that live off a different diet in captivity are essentially harmless.

Though Golden Poison Dart Frogs seem small in comparison to us, they are actually pretty large within their own family. As previously stated, they can grow to about 2inches in length, and have a very uniform golden color to them, with some small populations being green or orange. They can be found in lowland Rainforest areas on the Pacific coast of Colombia. Habitat loss has caused them to become endangered.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Okapi

Though they look quite zebra-ish, the Okapi (Okpaia johnstoni) is actually a member of the family Giraffidae. They are found exclusively in the Ituri Rainforest of the Democratic Republic of Congo. One fifth of this forest has been set aside as the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, which is a World Heritage Site.

Okapi legs are striped in a pattern much like a zebra. These stripes can distinguish one Okapi from another, and, combined with the brown on the rest of their bodies, provide camouflage in a forested habitat. Okapi are so well camouflaged that scientists did not even know of their existence until 1900!

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Okapis share many features with giraffes, but are not nearly as tall because such heights would be detrimental in a thick forest. They have sloping bodies, with the front end being more elevated than the back, and reaching a shoulder height of around 5.5ft. Males also have giraffe-like knobs on their heads, which grow between the ages of one and five. Okapis also posses extremely long, black tongues that are prehensile and are used to grasp leaves. They are so long that they can groom their own faces with them.

Okapis are solitary animals, and males can become quite aggressive regarding their territory. Males and females  locate each other for breeding using their sense of smell, and the gestation period is a whopping 440 days. Young Okapis are able to walk 30 minutes after birth and have an rather interesting way of protecting themselves from predators. Calves will not defecate at all until they are six to eight weeks old. This prevents predators from being able to track them as easily. Mothers are extremely protective of their young, and will fight to defend them.

Okapis are listed as Near Threatened, and the global populations is estimated at between 35,000 and 50,000 individuals. Loss of habitat and hunting have affected their numbers. They are protected by Congolese law, and are a national symbol of the country.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Coelocanth

Coelocanths are an entire order of lobe-fined fishes that were believed to have died out during the Cretaceous Extinction 65 million years ago. Fossil specimens of 125 species have been identified, some dating back 400 million years. Everyone thought they were a creature of the past and then all of that thought kicked the bucket when a living species of Coelocanth was caught by fishermen off the coast of South Africa in 1938. Since then, dozens of these fish have been found off the east coast of Africa, and in 1998 a second living species was discovered in the waters outside of Sulawesi, Indonesia.

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Coelocanths are so amazing because they really are living fossils. They are lobed finned fish, a class of animals that is now largely extinct but that also includes half a dozen species of extant Lungfish. The fins of Coelocanths jut outwards from the body and rotate almost as if the fish were walking. If is no surprise that lobed finned fish were the descendants of all Tetrapods!

Coelocanths also have a few other special features, including an electrosensitive organ in their snout that helps them detect prey. They also have no vertebrae, and their "spine" is actually a notochord; an oil filled tube that provides the body with support. Coelocanths also have an intercranial joint that allows their mouths to open especially wide in order to swallow prey whole. Coelocanths can reach lengths of up to 6 feet and weigh over 200lbs. Females are ovoviviparous, and two pup baring females have been caught.

It is estimated that there are around 1,000 Coelocanths left, all of which lives at depths of up to 2,300ft. They are an endangered species and are protected by CITES.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Madagascar Teal

The Madagascar Teal (Anas bernieri) is a small, reddish-brown duck that is endemic to (surprise!) Madagascar. They are also sometimes referred to as Bernier's Teal. They are found in a very specific area of Madagascar, namely the coastal regions on the western side of the island. They are endangered, with somewhere between 1,500 and 2,500 birds remaining in fragmented and declining populations. Extensive habitat loss has caused this downtrend.

Captive Teals at the Milwaukee County Zoo
Madagascar Teals are shy little guys, and live in small groups that change location based on the season. They feed off of invertebrates that are filtered through their bills, and they will occasionally upend themselves in deeper water to obtain food. During molting season they will also consume seeds of various aquatic plants.

Madagascar Teals nest in tree holes, often belonging to Grey Mangroves. Average clutch size is 6-7, and the eggs hatch after about four weeks. Madagascar Teals are monogamous and are extremely aggressive about guarding their nests. Chicks fledge after six weeks.

Captive breeding programs have been established to save this species, which faces extinction in the wild. The captive populations was founded by birds from the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Shonisaurus

Shonisaurus is a genus name basically meaning "Lizard from the Shoshone Mountains." There are two identified species, S. popularis and S. sikanniensis. The first of those was discovered in the Shoshone Mountains near Berlin, Nevada in 192. While Nevada is now dry, back in the Late Triassic the entire area was underwater. 37 specimens were found at that site, (one theory is that they all beached together) with excavations under Dr. Charles Camp of UC-Berekley taking place in the 1950s and 60s. The second species was discovered in British Columbia, Canada in the 1990s.

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Shonisaurus is one of the oldest and largest Ichthyosaurs ever discovered. It is rivaled in size only by sea dwellers that existed tens of millions of years after it. The largest Shonisaurus specimens, those of S. sikanniensis were estimated to be 21m long. S. popularis was a bit smaller, at around 15m. Both species lived during the late Triassic between 225 and 208 million years ago.

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Shonisauruses were predators. Their mouths contained teeth, but only at the front end, and their skulls were up to 3m long. They possessed long, narrow flippers in both front and back. They had streamlined bodies and powerful tails for movement underwater.

There is an interesting story that miners actually discovered Shonisaurus back in the 1860s, and used their vertebrae as dinner plates until scientists swooped in decades later and told them what they had. Alas, this story is a myth, with origins possibly residing with a description by Dr. Camp of the eyes being as large as dinner plates.
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