Saturday, December 31, 2011


Ah, the Chamois, one of my favorite quadrupeds. How could one not be smitten with their cute little backwards "J" horns?

Rupicapra rupicapra
Chamois (pronounced Sham-Wah!) are antelope-like goats that can be found throughout Europe. In fact, there are more than half a dozen location-based subspecies, all of which live in mountainous areas. They inhabit ranges from the Alps in France, all the way over in the Caucasians and Carpathians. They have also been introduced to New Zealand. It is unsurprising that, due to their mountainous lifestyle, they have developed great speed and agility over the steep terrain.

Female Chamois and their young live in small groups, while the adult males are solitary and only interact with others during the breeding season. Males will fight fiercely for the right to breed, and will drive away the young males from the family groups, occasionally killing them!

Interestingly, Chamois are not hunted for their meat, as many other ungulates are. Rather, their skin is very sought after, and produces a very soft, absorbent, and non-abrasive. This cloth is often spelled as "Chamois," but is pronounced like "Shammy." Chamois are protected in many countries, but hunted is still allowed in restricted numbers.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Europe
Size : Height up to 30in (75cm), Wieght up to 60lbs (27kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Rupicapra -- Species : R. rupicapra

Friday, December 30, 2011

Black Sparrowhawk

Accipiter melanoleucus
The Black Sparrowhawk is one of many species of Hawk found within the genus Accipiter. They measure less than two feet from head to tail, but are the largest of all the Sparrowhawks.

This particular species can be found throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, living in just about any non-desert ecosystem that also supports large trees for nesting. Black Sparrowhwaks are very particular about the trees that they nest in; the foliage must provide good coverage for the offspring, and the tree cannot be too deep into the forest.

Black Sparrowhwaks form monogamous pair bonds for life, and it is not at all uncommon for a pair to raise multiple broods at a time. They typically have two nests going at once, with a second set of eggs laid when the first set of chicks as fledged but have not yet left their parents care.

Suburban areas have been good for the species, as they absolutely love hunting doves and pigeons which have increased in number along with man-made development and expansion. They also pick off the occasional chicken, and can even capture birds as large as Guineafowl.

The ability for the Black Sparrowhawk to adapt to new environments has allowed them to maintain a large, widespread population, and they are not currently threatened.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Sub-Saharan Africa
Size : Length up to 22in (58cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Falconiformes
Family : Accipitridae -- Genus : Accipiter -- Species : A. melanoleucus

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Asian Ostrich

I don't have very much to say about today's animal, as there isn't a whole lot known about it. The frustrations of extinct species, right?

Modern Ostrich
I picked the Asian Ostrich today because I read this really interesting article on Chinese Phoenixes. They have been depicted in art for thousands and thousands of years, but where they really an Ostrich?

Giant Ostriches lived up until the end of the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago. Phoenix Imagery has been appearing for 7,000 years, so was the Giant Ostrich, which roamed about China, the source of this myth?

Makes you wonder what other now extinct creatures inspired the animals of legend!

IUCN Status : Extinct for around 10,000 years
Location : Asia
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Struthioniformes
Family : Struthionidae -- Genus : Struthio -- Species : S. asiaticus

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Red Spitting Cobra

Naja pallida
As its name hints at, the Red Spitting Cobra spits. They have fangs that allow them to spray venom from their mouths, and they are very accurate too. A Red Spitting Cobra can hit a target from 8ft (2.5m) away! When you consider their small size (only a few feet long) that is quite the distance!

Red Spitting Cobras live in the grasslands, deserts, and savannas of East Africa. They are a terrestrial species, and feed on small mammals, other reptiles, and birds and bird eggs. They typically rear up and spit when they feel threatened.

Did you know that these snakes can be kept as pets in many countries? Their captivity doesn't make them any less dangerous, and one snake owner died after being spit on by his pet just a few months back. In the wild they very rarely cause human deaths.

IUCN Status : Not Evaluated
Location : East Africa
Size : Length around 4ft (1.2m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Suborder : Serpentes -- Family : Elapidae -- Genus : Naja -- Species : N. pallida

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Shortfin Mako Shark

Isurus oxyrinchus
Yesterday we talked about the Viviparous Lizard, a reptile that gives birth to live young. Today's animal, the Shortfin Mako Shark, also gives birth to live young and are Ovoviviparous. This means that their young are incubated inside their bodies, but inside an egg sac, not a placenta. Once the eggs hatch, the offspring practice Oophagy while still in the uterus. This means that they consume all of the unfertilized or underdeveloped eggs. Gestation can last as long as 18 months, and as many as 18 pups can be born at a time!

Shortfin Mako Sharks also have the interesting distinction of being very, very fast. Their bodies are remarkable hydrodynamic, and they have been clocked at speeds of 31mph (50kph). Their is even some evidence that they can swim in fast bursts of 46mph (74kph)! They can also leap several feet into the air!

One biological feature that allows them to move so fast is their circulatory system. It allows their body to be several degrees warmer than the water that they swim in, which lets them be more active. (Great Whites have a similar system)

Fishing for both food and sport has caused this species to be listed as Vulnerable. They also do very poorly in captivity, and the longest one held only lasted a few days.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Tropical Waters Worldwide
Size : Body Length up to 10ft (3.2m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Chondrichthyes -- Order : Lamniformes
Family : Lamnidae -- Genus : Isurus -- Species : I. oxyrinchus

Monday, December 26, 2011

Viviparous Lizard

Meet the northernmost reptile in the entire world- the Viviparous Lizard! They can be found across Europe and Asia, have a very large range, and can live as far north as Arctic Russia!
Zootoca vivipara

Now, I believe at some point we've discussed the whole Viviparous-Oviparous thing, but let's rehash anyway. These terms all relate to how a create gives birth. Viviparous means they have live young. Oviparous means they lay eggs. That means that, due to its name, this little lizard gives birth to live young! (Though if we want to get technical, they do still lay eggs, but they are incubated inside the mother, making them Ovoviviparous)

Viviparous Lizards are small little guys, and only grow a few inches long (though their tail can doubel their body length!) They are very agile and fast, and they use that speed to both hide from predators, and to hunt after their own invertebrate prey.

Because they are still cold blooded, and because they live so far north, Viviparous Lizards hibernate. They will spend the winters hiding under logs and in other underground areas, and will emerge again when the temperatures rises enough for them to becoming fully active.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Northern Europe and Asia
Size : Body Length up to 5in (12cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Lacertidae -- Genus : Zootoca -- Species : Z. vivipara

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Red Drum

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... Twelve Drummers drumming...
Sciaenops ocellatus

And we've reached the final day! Huzzah! Today's animal is the Red Drum, also known as the Channel Bass or Spottail Bass. This particular species is the only member of its genus, and can be found in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.

Red Drums are fast growing fish, and can reach 11in long in only a year. They can reach length of up to 5ft overall! By 3 years they have reached sexual maturity, and the oldest recorded individual lived to be 37!

These fish are typically a coppery red, like their name implies, but they can also be a darker black or in a lighter silver. They can be identified by a large black spot that appears on the tail base. Sometimes you will find even more black spots, but it is rare to have no spots at all. The species name ocellatus even means "marked with spots!"

Red Drums are carnivores, and they use their downturned mouths to dig around on the sea floor for crustaceans and other hidden invertebrates. They also hunt higher up in the water column, and feed on many different species of fish.

Red Drums were once farmed commercially, but that practice was banned in most federal and state waters back in 2007. This ban has allowed the species to rebuild in areas where they were once harvested by the thousands. The fish continues to be caught recreationally.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Size : Length up to 5ft (1.5m), Weight up to 90lbs (40kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Perciformes
Family : Sciaenidae -- Genus : Sciaenops -- Species : S. ocellatus

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Upland Sandpiper

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... Eleven Pipers piping...

Bartramia longicauda
Wow, only one more day to go! And after a few days' break we are back to the birds.

The Upland Sandpiper is an interesting little bird in that it doesn't inhabit shores like other Sandpipers do. Instead, they make themselves comfortably at home in open grasslands. In some areas of the American Northeast, they've even taken to nesting in Airports!

Upland Sandpipers are a migratory species that spend their summers up in the United States and Canada (sometimes as far north as Alaska!) and their Winters down in countries like Brazil and Argentina. They nest during the summer, scraping multiple depressions into the ground, but using only one to lay their eggs. This makes it more difficult to locate their actual nest, and keeps the eggs and young birds safe.

Though they are listed as being of Least Concern, Upland Sandpipers have faced a decline in numbers, and are  rare in some areas. They used to be abundant throughout North America, but hunting over the last hundred years has affected the species. Fortunately, they still have a very large population size, and their widespread range keeps the overall threat of extinction very low.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North and South America
Size : Length up to 1ft (31cm) Wingspan up to 21in (55cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Charadriiformes
Family : Scolopacidae -- Genus : Bartramia -- Species : B. longicauda

Friday, December 23, 2011

Irish Lord Fish

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... Ten Lords a'leaping...
Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus

Finally, a fish makes it to our list! Though I must say, when I mentally picture a lord, it looks nothing like this odd ocean dweller.

The common name of this fish is a little confusing. Despite being called the Red Irish Lord, they are not native to anywhere even remotely close to Ireland; they are found in the Pacific Ocean! They also comes in many, many colors besides red, and can even change color to match their surroundings. How perplexing!

Red Irish Lords may look a bit familiar to you. They are members of the large Scopaeniformes superfamily, which also includes Rockfish. Like the Rockfish, Red Irish Lords are carnivores. They live close to shore on rocky reefs at depths of less than 1,500ft (450m) and hunt crustaceans, mussels, and barnacles by waiting patiently and them ambushing them.

Red Irish Lords are also pretty good dads! After mating, the females will lay her eggs and leave. The males however, sticks around and guards over them until they hatch.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Northern Pacific Ocean
Size : Length up to 20in (51cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Scorpaeniformes
Family : Cottidae -- Genus : Hemilepidotus -- Species : H. hemilepidotus

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Painted Lady Butterfly

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... Nine ladies dancing...

Vanessa cardui
Meet the Painted Lady, one of the most widespread Butterflies on the entire planet! They can be found living in temperate areas of just about every continent (except South America and Antarctica... though Antarctica isn't temperate anyway)

Painted Lady Butterflies live their lives in four stages. They start as eggs, which are laid on thistle leaves and hatch after 3-5 days. Then they live for another week or so as a spiny black Caterpillar that eats the thistle leaves that they were laid on. After that they pupate for up to 10 days before turning into an adult. The Butterfly can fly only a few hours after emerging with their fancy new wings.

Over the course of their lifetime, a Painted Lady Butterfly may travel up to 1,000 miles! This is pretty amazing when you realize that they are only adults for a couple of weeks at best. It can take multiple generations to make the full trip between migration points. In some years the migrations have been larger and more populous than others. Back in 1973, the larvae from the Painted Ladies were so abundant in Orange County, California, that exterminators had to come in due to infestation!

Painted Ladies are very popular classroom "pets." They are often raised in classrooms, as their 3 week lifecycle  makes for a great visual lesson plan on the stages of metamorphosis.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Worldwide, except South America and Antartica
Size : Wingspan 3.5in (9cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order  Lepidoptera
Family : Nymphalidae -- Genus : Vanessa -- Species : V. cardui

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Milking Shorthorn

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... eight maids a'milking...

Milking Shorthorn
And now we come to the half the song proliferated by humans in various occupations. And because this is "Animal-A-Day" and not "Random-Profession-For-Hire-A-Day," we'll be getting a bit creative for the remainder of the entries.

Though to be honest, today's entry isn't that far out of the box. Milking maids? A dairy cow? Not altogether unexpected. At any rate, the Milking Shorthorn, which is also referred to as the Dairy Shorthorn depending on the country, is a relatively old breed of Cattle that was developed as an offshoot of the Shorthorn Breed. The Shorthorn and Milking Shorthorn have the same ancestry, but have been adapted to serve different purposes.

Milking Shorthorns were fist developed in Northern England during the late 18th century, and were exported to the United States, New Zealand, and Australia during the next few decades. At this time they were sometimes referred to as "Durhams," for the area in which they originated.

The breed is incredibly versatile; the calve easily and regularly, they grow very fast, graze efficiently, and they produce large volumes of nutritious milk. Milking Shorthorns also have long lifespans, and they have a high salvage value when they eventually pass away.

One interesting trait of the breed is that they come in a roan color, which is a speckled mixture of white and red. This color is not found in any other Cattle breed! They also comes in more solid shades of white and red. Milking Shorthorns have passed their color on to the handful of breeds that they have helped to create, including the Illawarra Cattle and the Swedish Red Cattle.

Status : Domesticated, but listed as a critical breed by the ALBC
Location : Originated in England
Size : Height up to 55in (1.4m), Weight up to 1,500lbs (680kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Bos -- Species : B. primigenius

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Black-necked Swan

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... Seven Swans a'swimming...

Cygnus melancoryphus
Ah yes, another day another bird. Did you know that if you were to actually buy all these gifts (the real versions in the song, not the animal equivalents like Dragonflies) you would shell out the most money for the Swans?

The Swans in the song are probably not the Swans we're talking about today. I'd place bets on the Mute Swan, which is widespread in Europe and Asia. But I've already written about that particular species, so today we'll learn about it's different, South American cousin.

Black-necked Swans are named for their black necks that contrast with an otherwise white body. They also sport bright red knobs at the base of the bill that enlarge (on males) during the breeding season.

The Black-necked Swan is interesting in that it is both the largest native Waterfowl in South America, and also the smallest of all the Swans. They also have the designation of being one of the fastest Swans, and are capable of flying at speeds of up to 50mph (80kph).

Black-necked Swans are social birds during the non-breeding season, but when it comes time for mating and nesting they become aggressive and territorial. Partners are typically monogamous for life, but will find a new mate if their previous one dies. Though the female does all of the incubation,both parents help to care for the cygnets. They will even let the little Swans ride on their backs for the first few weeks of life!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South America
Size : Wingspan up to 70in (178cm), Weight up to 15lbs (6.8kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Anseriformes
Family : Anatidae -- Genus : Cygnus -- Species : C. melancoryphus

Monday, December 19, 2011

Orinoco Goose

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me... six Geese a'laying...

Neochen jubata
Do not fear bird people! After yesterday's Dragonfly we return to the world of feathered friends. Allow me to introduce you to the Orinoco Goose, a small species of Goose found in the northern, rainforested areas of South America. The are the only true forest Goose.

I find Orinoco Geese to be rather lovely in appearance. The contrast between the cream neck, the pink legs, and the chestnut and black wings creates a pleasing color composition (using my Art History degree!). Unlike many of our other Christmas birds so far, both male and female Orinoco Geese display the same plumage, though the males are slightly larger.

Once upon a time the Orinoco Goose was one of the most populous waterfowl species along the Orinoco River. Unfortunately, hunting and deforestation has caused their numbers to decline and they are now rare in many parts of their original range. Projects are underway to foster and protect the species, including the building of nest-boxes. Orinoco Geese nest in large trees near bodies of water, but they've been losing those nesting sites as trees get cut down. Nest-boxes placed on poles allow for the Geese to reproduce again in areas that were deforested.

IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : South America
Size : Length up to 30in (75cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Anseriformes
Family : Anatidae -- Genus : Neochen -- Species : N. jubata

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Golden-ringed Dragonfly

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me... Five Golden Rings!

Cordulegaster boltonii
Well, after four days of birds (don't worry, there are still a few more to go for you bird-lovers!) we finally have a whole different type of critter... though it still has wings.

Meet the Golden-ringed Dragonfly, the longest Dragonfly in the entire United Kingdom. The species is named for its black body and and the golden bands that pattern down its length. They can be found near streams and rivers of all sizes, and are abundant throughout Great Britain.

Female Golden-ringed Dragonflies are a tad bit larger than the males. This is due to the presence of an ovipositor at the ends of their abdomens. This is the organ used for laying eggs, which is a process done by flying over the river banks and jabbing the abdomen into the sediment. Eggs hatch in a few days and the Dragonfly larvae remain in the sediment for as long as 5 years! They undergo numerous molts before finally reaching their adult form, with metamorphosis typically taking place at night.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Great Britain
Size : Length up to 3in (8cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Odonata
Family : Cordulegastridae -- Genus : Cordulegaster -- Species : C. boltonii

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Superb Lyrebird

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me... four calling birds...

Male Superb Lyrebird
Alright, today's animal was a little less specific on type. We've had Partridges, which are contained in one family. We've had Turtledoves, a term that relates to only a few species. But now we have "Calling Birds," which I've taken to mean some sort of songbirds (though this one source claims it refers to Blackbirds, which is an interesting read.)

Anyway, my choice to go with a songbird puts me in a pickle, as songbirds aren't found in just one genus, or family. Nope, that's an entire order. So you know what? Let's go big. And awesome. Or dare I say... Superb?

Meet the Superb Lyrebird, one of the largest, longest, and heaviest songbirds on the planet. Not the petite little guy that typically comes to mind when you think of the song, huh? These birds live in the forests of Australia, and are sexually dimorphic. Females are brownish-gray, and have short tail feathers. Males, on the other hand, have spectacular tails with lacy feathers and two large plumes that form the shape of a Lyre.

Superb Lyrebirds aren't just large and flashy... they have some serious pipes. They have the ability to mimic the calls of other birds, and can even duplicate other random noises as well (watch the video clip below, it's pretty amazing). Both the males and hte females sing, but the males are louder and do it more frequently.

Singing is done more often during the breeding season, when males work to attract females into their territories. Superb Lyrebirds are not monogamous; females will enter male territories and scope out potential mates. The males built mounds, where they stand and do their displays. Upon mating, she will build a nest in her own range, and incubate and care for the single chick alone.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Australia
Size : Length (with feathers) 3.2ft (1m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Menuridae -- Genus : Menura -- Species : M. novaehollandiae

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Rooster and Hen
On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me... three French Hens...

Faverolles are one of the many breeds of Chicken out there that originated in France. They are named after one of the cities in which they were developed, back in the 1850s. The breed is a great all purpose chicken, good for both meat and eggs, and they are excellent egg layers even in the winter months.

I chose Faverolles as the "French Hen" today because I think they look delightfully awesome. They have feathered feet, muffs, and beards. That's a lot of fluff on a Chicken! They come in three recognized color varieties, white, salmon, and mahogany.

One really neat thing about Faverolles roosters is that they aren't as aggressive as roosters of other breeds. Both males and females are calm and good natured, and they do well in colder weather.

Status : Domesticated, listed as Threatened by the ALBC
Location : France
Size : Weight up to 8lbs (3.6kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves --   Order : Galliformes
Family : Phasianidae -- Genus : Gallus -- Species : Gallus gallus

European Turtledove

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me, two Turtledoves...

Streptopelia turtur
Day two introduces us to the European Turtledove, a mostly-migratory member of the Pigeon family that lives in Europe during the spring and summer, and Africa during the autumn and winter. They can also be found as far east as China, and some populations that live in warmer areas (North Africa for example) remain there year round.

Do you know where Turtledoves get their name? It has nothing to do with a reptilian connection! It actually comes from their Latin species name turtur, which describes the purring sounds that they make.

It's a good thing there are two Turtledoves gifted in the song, because these birds live in pairs throughout the breeding season. Both sexes help to incubate the eggs, and the young Doves are off and on their own after only 20 days!

Outside of the breeding season the Turtledoves tend to live in large flocks. Groups that number into the thousands can be found at wintering sites in Africa! They forage for food in groups, and feed on nuts, seeds, fruits, and the occasional invertebrate.

European Turtledoves are listed as being of least concern because they have an incredibly massive range and a humongous worldwide population. In 2004 it was estimated that there were between 10 and 20 million birds just in Europe, and Europe only constitutes a fragment of the overall group. Numbers could be as high as 100 million! They are the most common native Dove on the entire European continent.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Europe, Africa
Size : Length up to 11in (29cm), Wingspan up to 22in (58cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Columbiformes
Family : Columbidae -- Genus : Streptopelia -- Species : S. turtur

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Crested Partridge

Male Rollulus rouloul
Surprise! It's a theme week! (Or... two weeks-ish). I realized I haven't done one of these in ages and ages, and I was inspired by this years Cost of 12 Days of Christmas. So we're doing the song!

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a Partridge in a pear tree.

Well, we don't really cover plants here, so sorry Pear Tree. Partridge gets all the spotlight today!

Meet the Crested Partridge, a stunning little fellow found in Southeast Asia. The species is sexually dimorphic; males are black with brilliant red crests, while females are green with brown wings.

Crested Partridges can be found in dense, lowland, forested areas. They need lots of cover to survive, as they both feed and nest on the ground. These birds are omnivores that consume fruits, nuts, insects, and snails, and there are even reports of them working with wild pigs, picking up the food bits that the hogs leave behind. They typically forage in pairs or groups, and are monogamous breeders (the fact that they live very social lives makes me sad that only one gets to go in the Pear Tree!). Both of the parents help to care for and feed the chicks, which are precocial.

Crested partridges are listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN. Habitat loss from the logging industry has decreased the numbers in some countries, though many of the birds do live within protected areas.

IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : Southeast Asia
Size : Length up to 10in (25cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Galliformes
Family : Phasianidae -- Genus : Rollulus -- Species : R. rouloul

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Atlantic Tarpon

Atlantic Tarpons are large saltwater fish that live in the coastal waters of the (surprise!) Atlantic Ocean. They live on both sides of the ocean, are are typically found in tropical and subtropical waters, though their range extends into Nova Scotia and southern Argentina.

Megalops atlanticus
Atlantic Tarpon are slow growing fish, and don't reach sexual maturity until age 6 or 7. Males can live to around 30, while females can have lifespans of over 50 years! In those decades the fish can grow rather large. Fish measuring 8ft long and 350lbs have been recorded. As adults, Tarpon use their large size to hunt down and swallow other fish whole.

One really cool feature of the Atlantic Tarpon is that it has a modified swim bladder that allows it to gulp down air. This give the fish an advantage when swimming in waters that are low in oxygen. Studies have also suggested that as juveniles, the Tarpon MUST breathe atmospheric air in order to survive.

The Atlantic Tarpon is the State Saltwater Fish of Alabama. Have I mentioned how much I love the concept of official state animals? Not just the state fish (that's the Largemouth Bass), but the Saltwater Fish. My home state of Wisconsin has eight different official animals, including an official dog, and official "wildlife animal." Love it.

Atlantic Tarpon are also very popular with anglers. This is not only due to their large size, but also due to their fighting spirit when caught on a line. The Tarpon aren't fished commercially, but they do generate a great deal of the money for the sport fishing tourism industry. They are typically released after being caught, but there is some debate regarding the ability of the returned fish to successfully recover from the stress and oxygen depravation.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Atlantic Ocean
Size : Length up to 8.3ft (2.5m), Weight up to 350lbs (161kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Elopiformes
Family : Megalopidae -- Genus : Megalops -- Species : M. atlanticus

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Indian Palm Squirrel

Funambulus palmarum
Indian Palm Squirrels are also sometimes referred to as Three-Striped Palm Squirrels, due to the patterning on their backs. They are found as a native species in India and Sri Lanka, and were intoduced to Australia where they have become quite the nuisance.

Did you know that the Indian Palm Squirrel has it's own Hindu legend? According to the story, a bridge was being built by Lord Rama, and a small squirrel decided to help by carrying small rocks and pebbles, all the while chanting Rama's name. He was so impressed by the contribution of this tiny animal that he stroked her back, leaving stripes where his fingers would've touched.

Indian Palm Squirrels are a very adaptable, and are able to live in a variety of habitats. Unsurprisingly, they have taken to urban areas just as well as wild ones. They eat fruits, nuts, insects, and eggs.

As previously mentioned, Indian Palm Squirrels have become an invasive species in Australia. They consume crops, eat the eggs of native birds, and have few natural predators. It is illegal to import, possess, or sell them within the country.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Indian, Australia (introduced)
Size : Length up to 8in (20cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Rodentia
Family : Sciuridae -- Genus : Funambulus -- Species : F. palmarum

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Giant Koala

Giant Koala Model
Thousands and a millions of years ago, Australia went through a boom of Megafauna. Cow-sized Wombats! Huge Kangaroos! Massive Snakes! There was even a Giant Koala!

Unfortunately... the Giant Koala wasn't really all that giant. Fossils demonstrate that the species was about 1.3 larger, but much heavier and more robust.

What makes the species really interesting is that they happened to live side by side with modern Koalas. They were not their ancestors, but rather their genus sharing cousins. This brings up questions regarding where Koalas actually came from, as for a long time they were considered to be descendants of the Giant Koalas. So far the fossil record hasn't provided the full picture (which is common, as there are very exact conditions that must be met for something to fossilize).

Unfortunately, we do not know what caused the extinction of the Giant Koala. But with modern Koalas facing a similar fate, we may see history tragically  repeat itself.

Status : Extinct for 50,000 years
Location : Australia
Size : Weight around 30lbs (13kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Infraclass : Marsupialia
Order : Diprotodontia -- Family : Phascolarctidae -- Genus : Phascolarctos -- Species : P. stirtoni

Queen Alexandra's Birdwing

Male (top) and Female (bottom)
Meet the largest Butterfly in the entire world- the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing. We learned about a different Birdwing species not too long ago, so you may already be aware that the members of the genus tend to grow really large, and this Butterfly is the largest of them all.

The Wingspan of the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing can grow to as large as a foot, and the females are the larger sex (males grow only to around half the size!). The sexes actually look quite different from one another. Females have broad, rounded, brown and white marked wings. Males have narrower wings that are dark, but are flecked with iridescent blues and greens.

Females of the species will lay around 27 eggs in their lifetime, depositing them on Aristolochia schlechteri  vines. Upon hatching the larvae feed on their own eggshell, and then move on to the plant. The plants produce an acid that causes the Larvae and adult Butterflies to become poisonous to predators. As adults, Queen Alexandra's Birdwings feed on the nectar of plants that are large enough to allow them to perch.

The species named after the wife of England's King Edward VII, who was ruling at the time of discovery back in 1907. They are rare Butterflies, and can only be found in the rainforests of northern Papua New Guinea. Their habitat is being reduced as a result of agricultural pursuits in the Oil Palm industry. Queen Alexandra's Birdwings are listed as Endangered by the IUCN and their international trade is banned by CITES Appendix I. Unfortunately, their large size and rarity allows them to sell for large prices on the black market, which drives further poaching.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : New Guinea
Size : Wingspan 12.2in (31cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Lepidoptera
Family : Papilionidae -- Genus : Ornithoptera -- Species : O. alexandrae

Friday, December 9, 2011

Miniature Horse

Miniature Horse
The term "Miniature Horse" is often thought of as more of a designation than a breed, though in the last few decades a few organizations have popped up to make Miniature Horses an actual, standardized breed that is separate from other small equines like Falabellas and Ponies.

Miniature Horses were developed from all sorts of different horse and pony breeds, both large and small. Shetlands and Dartmoors are among those ponies that can be found in their history. There is some argument over whether Miniatures are Ponies or small Horses. The definition of a Pony is a horse under 14 hands (56in). As Miniatures are under 34-38in (depending on registry), they fall within this category. However,  if you look at the basic body shape of many Miniatures, the proportions are more horse-like. Different organizations prefer different looks, as there is no universal standard.

Guide Horse
Miniature Horses serve many different purposes. They are companion animals, they can be ridden by children, and they can compete in shows relating to things like jumping and obstacle maneuvering. They can even be trained to pull carts!

Did you know that some Miniature Horses are being used as guide animals? They can be trained to assist visually impaired individuals due to their focus, excellent vision, calm attitudes, and great memory. One additional plus is that they are able to live 25-35 years, much longer than a dog, which makes their training more cost effective. The practice has only been around since 1999, but it has been growing over the years. (My favorite feature is that the horses wear tiny tennis shoes, so that they don't slip while walking on tiled surfaces)

And just for good measure, watch some foals!

Status : Domesticated
Location : Worldwide
Size : Height up to 38in (97cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Perissodactyla
Family : Equidae -- Genus : Equus -- Species : E. ferus -- Subspecies : E. f. caballus

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Red-Billed Streamertail

So yesterday we learned about the National Bird of Singapore, a Sunbird that has many characteristics of the New World Hummingbirds. So today let's learn about a Hummingbird that also happens to have a National Bird designation!

Meet the Red-Billed Streamertail, also known as the Doctor Bird. It is endemic to the island of Jamaica, and is the country's National Bird. They are even found on stamps!

Male Trochilus polytmus
As a Hummingbird, the Streamertails are small little guys. The males' tail feathers are actually longer than the rest of their bodies! As with many birds, males and females have different appearances. Males have the name-inspiring tails, red bills, and bright green bodies. The name "Doctor Bird" is also a reference to the tails, as they resemble old fashioned coat tails. Females have no streamers, dark bills, and greyish, brownish green coloration.

Red-Billed Streamertails feed on nectar and small insects, and live in a variety of habitats throughout the island. They are common and widespread, and are in no immediate danger as a species.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Jamaica
Size : Length 7in (15cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Apodiformes
Family : Trochilidae -- Genus : Trochilus -- Species : T. polytmus

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Crimson Sunbird

Aethopyga siparaja
Though they aren't actually related, Sunbirds and Hummingbirds have quite a bit in common. Today's animal, the Crimson Sunbird, is very small in size (only about 4in long), flies incredibly fast, and consumes nectar. They can even hover while feeding, though they usually perch, and are unable to fly backwards. Because Hummingbirds live only in the New World, Sunbirds fill their ecological niche in the Old!

Crimson Sunbirds exhibit sexual dimorphism through their coloration. The common name for the species refers exclusive to the males, who have vibrant red breasts. Females are significantly less colorful, with olive-green feathers covering most of the body.

Crimson Sunbirds are distributed throughout South Asia, and have been divided into fifteen subspecies. Overall they are not a threatened species, due to their extensive range. They are even the National Bird of Singapore!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Southern Asia
Size : Length 4in (11cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Nectariniidae -- Genus : Aethopyga -- Species : A. siparaja

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Phacochoerus africanus
Let me introduce you to the majestic Warthog, the pig king of the Savanna! Did you know that Warthogs are, in fact, the only pigs to have adapted to life in open, exceptionally dry habitats? Other species are forest dwellers that cannot go without for extended periods like the Warthogs can.

So why does a Warthog have warts?
Well actually... they don't. The bumps on their faces are thick skin pads that are used for protection. These come in handy during the mating season when males fight each other over females. Though the fights can get vicious, the males rarely are seriously injured thanks to the cushioning on their faces.

Warthogs are split up into four separate subspecies that are distributed throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. They live in family groups that are typically comprised of a female an her young, though sometimes females pair up with other (often related) females, and live in larger groups. Males are typically solitary, and only interact with these groups for mating purposes.

Warthogs are omnivores. They feed most commonly on grasses and bulbs, and they use their long snouts to root around for meals. They also regularly consume insects, especially during the wet season. Warthogs themselves are preyed upon by big cats, wild dogs, and birds of prey. Thankfully they have unusually long legs for a pig, and can run at speeds of up to 34mph (55kph)! The Warthogs will also fight their attackers using their tusks.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Africa
Size : Length up to 5ft (1.5m), Weight up to 170lbs (75kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Suidae -- Genus : Phacochoerus -- Species : P. africanus

Monday, December 5, 2011

White-Throated Monitor

Varanus albigularis albigularis
The White-Throated Monitor is a subspecies of Rock Monitor that lives in both open and wooded habitats in southern Africa. They have very muscular limbs, long bodies, and powerful tails. Their tails are so strong, in fact, that when the Monitors are threatened they will use them to lash out at attackers. They also puff up their bodies and hiss.

The subspecies is typically found on the ground, but they are able to climb trees as well. They head up to hunt and to avoid the animals that prey on them (like Honey Badgers). White-Throated Monitors are incredibly voracious eaters, especially during the wet season that falls between January and March. They will pretty much eat anything that they can easily capture, from small insects, to birds, to snakes. One really interesting fact is that the Monitors are very conscious of their caloric intake. They will try and eat animals that can give them the most benefit with the least amount of catching effort.

White-Throated Monitors are kept in captivity, but they are classified as threatened under CITES Appendix II. Habitat loss is the biggest threat, but they are also hunted for skin, meat, and for their use in local, traditional healing practices.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Southern Africa
Size : Length 6.6ft (2m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Sauropsida -- Order : Squamata
Family : Varanidae -- Genus : Varanus -- Species : V. albigularis -- Subspcies : V. a. albigularis

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Dulus dominicus
Meet the Palmchat, a special little birds that is endemic to the island of Hispaniola. It also has the designation of being the national bird of the Dominican Republic.

Why is the Palmchat so special? Because it is the only member of its entire family! Its taxonomy has been a bit disputed from there, but some believe that is it most closely related to the Waxwings, a group of birds that pretty far away from the Palmchat's island.

Palmchats live in flocks and inhabit semi-open areas. They are herbivores that forage for fruits, berries, and even flowers. The species is very social, and they produce a variety of loud calls.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Hispaniola
Size : Length 8in (20cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Dulidae -- Genus : Dulus -- Species : D. dominicus

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Recreation of the fossil site
When we talk about extinct, prehistoric reptiles, we are usually talking about the Dinosaurs, but they definitely weren't the only scaly creatures crawling around millions of years ago. Today's animals, Sanajeh indicus was a species of snake that not only lived with the dinosaurs.... it actually ate their children.

Snakes first appeared around 98 million years ago, but the fossils from that long ago are few, fragmented, and are typically just scattered vertebrae. Not so with the 67 million year old Sanajeh. The holotype specimen (the fossil to which all other fossils of the species are compared) actually has a near complete skull and lower jaw, along with several segmented sections of vertebrae.

What is even more awesome, however, is the way in which the fossil was found- it's coiled around a Dinosaur nest, complete with baby Dinosaur! After study of the fossil, which was found in India, it was determined that the Snake was in the process of hunting when it, and the nest of three eggs and a baby, were caught unaware by a deposit of sediment. Landslide perhaps? When an additional Snake fossil was found, also within nest proximity, Sanajeh's status as an eater of mini-Dinos was cemented!

Status : Extinct for 67 million years
Location : India
Size : Length 11ft (3.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata -- Suborder : Serpentes
Family : †Madtsoiidae -- Genus : †Sanajeh -- Species : †S. indicus

Friday, December 2, 2011


I'm sure you've heard of hybrids like Ligers and Mules, but what about Wholphins? They are the result of crosses between two ocean-dwelling mammals- Bottlenose Dolphins and False Killer Whales. I should note, however, that the False Killer Whales (like regular Killer Whales) are members of the Oceanic Dolphin family along with the Bottlenoses, so the relationship isn't as far off as one might think.

While this hybrid might appear in the wild, we only know of them definitively from two individuals living at Sea Life Park in Hawaii. Back in 1985 a female Bottlenose and a male False Killer Whale lived in the same tank, and were performers in the park's aquatic show. No one expected the 14ft Whale and 6ft Dolphin to mate, but the surprise result was Kekaimalu. She herself actually gave birth to a 3/4 Bottlenose offspring in 2005 (She had two previous calves, one died shortly after birth, and one lived till the age of 9). That makes Kekaimalu and Kawili Kai the only known captive Wholphins in the world.

Wholphins are interesting because they area true mix of the species. They grow to a size somewhere in between that of the two species (Kekaimalu's calf was the size of a 1-year-old Bottlenose when she was but 1 month old!). They have an intermediate gray color, and their teeth also fall right down the middle- False Killer Whales have 44, Bottlenose Dolphins have 88, but Kekaimalu has 66!

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Hawaii
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Cetacea
Family : Delphinidae -- Genus : Pseudorca, Tursiops
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