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Showing posts from January, 2011

Greater Flamingo

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Phoenicopteriformes
Family : Phoenicopteridae
Genus : Phoenicopterus
Species : roseus

Height : 43-60in (110-150cm)
Weight : 4.5-9lbs (2-4kg)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

The Greater Flamingo is both the largest, and the most widespread of all the Flamingo species. They are found in wetland parts of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, living in large colonies that can number as many as 200,000 birds. These colonies can be so large that breeding pairs develop special calls just so they can locate each other.

Because they are taller than other flamingo species, Greater Flamingos are able to move into deeper water in search of food. They wade about, stirring up the water with their feet before collecting it into their beaks and siphoning it through filters in their mouth. Greater Flamingos feed on small invertebrates, as well as vegetation.

Greater Flamingo nests are pretty weird looking. They pile up mud and make in indentation in the top for th…

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading, is where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It is a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list.

Regrettably I wasn't able to finish Witness to Extinction this week as planned. Grad classes starting again killed a bunch of my free time. Hopefully that should be completed this week, along with a review. It's great so far, but really sad and makes you think a lot about the way different countries view wildlife conservation, and just how incredibly difficult the process can be from multiple angles.

I ordered a few more library books, most notably Feathered Dinosaurs: The Origin of Birds by John Long and Peter Schouten. I've browsed around a bit and so far I'm really liking it. The illustrations are absolutely fantastic! As a child of the Jurassic Park era, I grew up with a pretty specific concept of what dinosaurs looked lik…

American Pika

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Lagomorpha
Family : Ochotonidae
Genus : Ochotona
Species : princeps

Length : 6-8in (15-20cm)
Weight : 6oz (170g)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

Pikas are small, round little members of the Lagomorph order. There are around two dozen different species of Pika which can be found in mountainous habitats around the world. The American Pika, and its name might suggest, is found in the mountains of Western Canada, the United States, and Mexico. In the northern part of their range they can sometimes be found at sea level, but the species is not very tolerant of warm weather. In the south they are rarely found at elevations lower than 2,500m.

American Pikas are extremely vocal little guys. In fact, Pikas are sometimes referred to as whistling hares. They make calls to warn each other about potential predators and intruders, to establish territories, and also as a part of their mating behavior. Pikas live in colonies, with individuals having their own t…

What's Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew?

By Robert E. Wells
Paperback : 32 Pages
January 1, 1995

A companion book of sorts to Is a Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is?, What's Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew? looks at the very very small. Starting with the minutly sized, 3inch long Pygmy Shrew, it works its way down to tiny bugs, single celled organisms, and even the cells and their individual components.

Once again intended for children around age 4-8, the book attempts to explain difficult terms and concepts in a cutely illustrated format, with examples and comparisons. I never before would have thought to teach five-year-olds about quarks, but this book certainly tries hard to make these microscopic particles and parts understandable and accessible to those of a young age.

Overall it is a fun and informative book that I would recommend to anyone with a child interested in science, or just to anyone in general. It's been a few years since I've taken a microbiology class, and this actually worked pretty well for a…

Laughing Kookaburra

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Coraciiformes
Family : Halcyonidae
Genus : Dacelo
Species : novaeguineae

Length : 18in (45cm)
Weight : 1lb (.5kg)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

The Laughing Kookaburra is one of the most iconic animals in Australia, and is native to the eastern side of the continent, though they have been introduced elsewhere. They are most commonly found in open woodlands where breeding pairs establish a year-round territory.

Laughing Kookaburras get their name from their interesting laugh-like call. This call is most often heard at dawn and dusk, and is used to announce territories. This timed laughing behavior has earned them the nickname of "Bushman's Clock." Laughing Kookaburras also produce other sounds for situations like courtship and aggression.

The Laughing Kookaburra is actually the largest member of the Kingfisher family, though they don't really eat all that much fish.  They prefer instead to feed off of reptiles and invertebrates, w…

Camera Critters : Snuggie For Dogs

Maybe Snuggie for dogs works for some dogs.. but not my family's dogs. My favorite thing about this product is that they advertise the "large" size with a picture of a Collie. Because you know, Collies really need more fluffy covering.

Anyway, we tried one of these suckers out on Wicket and Loki, and they were none too pleased. Most of the short lived experiment involved them trying to rip it off each other.

Is a Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is?

By Robert E. Wells
Paperback : 32 Pages
January 1, 1993

Is a Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is is an adorable book written with 4-8 year olds in mind. While it doesn’t exclusively cover animals, I enjoyed it so much that I’m going to add it in my bibliography anyway. Hey, it’s science!

Anyway, this book asks the titular question, and then, with use of charming illustrations and examples, explains how there are things much larger than the Blue Whale, and even much larger than our own planet and sun.

Wells tackles the concept of size by using ingenious comparisons between objects. For example, if you pretended our sun was an orange, and put it in a crate with 99 other “oranges,” you could neatly place that crate on the Supergiant Star Antares.. multiple times! Wells uses similar examples to move between increasingly larger and larger things.

I really enjoyed this book, and I feel it handled its topic very well. I’d image explaining the vast, expansive size of the universe to a 3rd g…


Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Subclass : Neornithes
Order : Caprimulgiformes
Family : Caprimulgidae
Subfamily : Caprimulginae
Genus : Caprimulgus
Species : vociferus

Length : 9-10in (23-25cm)
Wingspan : 16-20in (40.5-51cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

The Whip-poor-will is a migratory Nightjar that spends its summers in the Eastern United States and it's winters further south into Mexico and Central America. Their name is an onomatopoeia that reflects that type of sound that they make. In their range they are typically heard but not seen; Whip-poor-wills have grayish-brown mottled feathers that serves as excellent camouflage.

Whip-poor-wills are nocturnal predators, and feed off of flying insects. They hunt by waiting at a perch and then swooping down on their prey, they also sometimes chase after the insects for sustained flights.

Whip-poor-wills have some pretty interesting nesting habits. First off, they don't build nests at all, they lay their eggs on leaves. Eggs are lai…

Zebra Mussel

Phylum : Mollusca
Class : Bivalvia
Subclass : Heterodonta
Order : Veneroida
Family : Dreissenidae
Genus : Dreissena
Species : polymorpha

Length : .25-2in (.6-5cm)

IUCN Status : Not listed

Zebra Mussels were originally located in Southwest and Central Asia, in the Black and Caspian Sea regions. By the 1800s however, these little guys were invading waterways throughout Europe, making it as far as England and Ireland. In 1988, they were first discovered in the American Great Lakes, and are now considered an invasive species.

Zebra Mussels aren't particularly large, as a adults they rarely grow above two inches. They have a "D" shaped shell with an opening. Out of this opening comes a threadlike external organ called a Byssus, which allows them to attach to just about anything. They even attach themselves to other living organisms. Zebra Mussels are filter feeders; they go through about a quart of water each day and consume algae and phytoplankton.

So why are Zebra Mussels …

Pere David's Deer

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Cervidae
Subfamily : Cervinae
Genus : Elaphurus
Species : davidianus

Height : 4ft (1.2m)
weight : 290lbs (135kg)

IUCN Status : Extinct in the Wild

The Pere David's Deer is named after French Missionary Pere (Father) Armand David, who first publicized the species to the outside world in 1865. They are also sometimes referred to as Milu. The deer had become more or less extinct in their native China, but the emperor had kept a large herd within his Imperial Hunting Park. David worked tirelessly to export some of these deer to Europe, and it was lucky that he did, because a terrible flood killed most of the park's herd not long after. All remaining deer in China were killed and consumed by soldiers during the Boxer Rebellion.

With all the deer in China gone, the European specimens were all the world had left. The Duke of Bedford collected 18 individuals from different zoos and brought them to Woburn Abbey, where he…

Secretary Bird

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Accipitriformes
Family : Sagittariidae
Genus : Sagittarius
Species : serpentarius

Height : 4ft (1.3m)
Wingspan : 6.9ft (2.1m)
Weight : 5-9lbs (2.3-4kg)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

Secretary Birds can be found in the grass plains of Africa, and they are the longest legged of all the raptors. They can indeed fly, but they prefer to stroll through the grass in search of prey. Secretary Birds and Caracas are the only terrestrial birds of prey.

What is the story behind the name? Back in the 19th century, male secretaries wore dark tail coats, short trousers, and carried quills behind their ears. The Secretary Bird mimics that visual with their feathered heads, tail, and dark legs. Their scientific name, Sagittarius sepentarius also has a story. It means "the archer of snakes" because these birds are so exceptional at hunting down both venomous and nonvenomous snake species.

Aside from snakes, Secretary Birds feed on rodents, insects, birds,…


Kingdom : Animalia
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae
Subfamily : Aepycerotinae
Genus : Aepyceros
Species : melampus

Height : 29-36in (73-92cm)
Weight : 99-132lbs (45-60kg)

IUCN Status : Least Concern, but Aepyceros melampus petersi (Black Faced Impala) is listed as vulnerable

Impalas are found in Eastern Africa in light woodland and grassland areas. The species exhibits sexual dimorphism, with the males growing slightly larger than the females. Males are also the only sex to have horns, which grow in a S-shape to a size of up to 35in (90cm).

Impalas have a really interesting social structure, living in specific group types during different parts of the year. During the wet season young males whoa re non-territorial will form bachelor herds, and females and juveniles form herds that can number over 100 individuals. They will enter territories that are controlled by breeding-age males, and will remain in that territory throughout the season. At …

Dogs: Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History

By Xiaoming Wang and Richard H. Tedford
Illustrations by Mauricio Anton
Hardcover : 232 Pages
July 14, 2008

You know, I had never thought about dentition before reading Dogs: Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History. Probably not something that most people think about, but it sure opened my eyes! Just learning about why the teeth of dogs are the way they are, why cats are so different from dogs, and how every single piece of their anatomy evolved over millions of years to serve such specific purposes was absolutely fascinating.

The illustrations are also amazing, and cover the extensive history of dog evolution over time. Not the most accessible book for all general readers, but worth it for anyone with a real interest in canine evolution, or of mammalian biology in general.

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading, is where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It is a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list.

I finished up The Search for the Giant Squid last week, as evidence by my review post. And since then I've picked up Witness to Extinction by Samuel Turvey. It's a book about the Baiji, or Yangtze River Dolphin, which was driven to functional extinction in the last century. Turvey was actually the lead author of the report that declared that probable extinction back in 2006.

I'm only about 30 pages in to the book, but so far its been a really fascinating read. It's hard to use positive adjectives to describe a situation that is so sad, but the book is interesting and well written, and tells the tale of an amazing animal with a tragic history.

On a happier, lighter note, I'm also looking at Is a Blue Whale the Biggest Thin…

Common Snapping Turtle

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Order : Testudines
Family : Chelydridae
Genus : Chelydra 
Species : serpentina

Length : 10-20in (25-50cm)
Weight : 10-40lbs (4.5-18kg)

IUCN Status : Not Listed

The Common Snapping Turtle has a pretty extensive range that covers a great deal of Eastern North America. They are found in fresh water, preferring habitats that have muddy bottoms, which make it easier for them to hide. They are among the largest freshwater turtles in North America.

There are four recognized subspecies, each with their own range. They all possess long tails, clawed feet, and powerful beak-like jaws. They use those jaws to catch and consume just about anything they can fit inside of them. Common Snapping Turtles are omnivores, and eat fish, invertebrates, birds, mammals, plant matter, and carrion. They even consume other turtles, who they kill by decapitation. They sometimes hunt by burying themselves in the muddy water-bottoms, and then ambushing their prey.

Common Snapping…

Viceroy Butterfly

Phylum : Arthropoda
Class : Insecta
Order : Lepidoptera
Superfamily : Papilionoidea
Family : Nymphalidae
Subfamily : Limenitidinae
Genus : Limenitis 
Species:  archippus 

Length : 2.5-3.5in (6.5-9cm) wingspan

IUCN Status : Not listed

I mentioned mimicry briefly in my Butterfly photo post, so I figured I would expand upon it a little more with today's animal. There are actually two ways that butterflies mimic other butterfly species. The first of these is known as Batesian mimicry, and this is when a non-toxic species looks like a toxic species in order to stay safe. The second type, Muellerian mimicry, is when two equally toxic species mimic each other, benefiting one another. The Viceroy Butterfly is a Muellerian mimic, and if you couldn't already tell, their partner in crime is the Monarch Butterfly.

Viceroys and Monarchs looks incredibly similar, with the small difference being a black bar that runs horizontally across the Viceroy's lower wings. The two species…

Camera Critters : Butterflies All Around

A few weeks back I made my way over to the Milwaukee Public Museum, where they have a butterfly wing that you can stroll through. There are a handful of species, but I unfortunately neglected to figure out what was what, so now I have a whole mess of random butterfly pictures. I might try and sort them at some point, but one of the big things they emphasized at the exhibit was that many butterfly species mimic other species as a defense mechanism, so I might just be out of luck! Gave me an excuse to use some close-up settings on the camera though!

The Search for the Giant Squid: The Biology and Mythology of the World's Most Elusive Sea Creature

By Richard Ellis
Paperback : 336 Pages
October 1, 1999

Richard Ellis is one of the foremost painters of Marine Natural History art in the United States, and is an accomplished writer on the subject to boot. He’s published roughly 80 magazine and journal articles, and over a dozen books. The Search for the Giant Squid, published in 1999, tells the fantastic tale of genus Architeuthis, the largest animals in the world to have never been seen alive (at time of publication, see blow). Ellis recounts our history with the Squid, and the mythology that it inspired. Tales of sea serpents and the formidable Kraken were no doubt misinterpretations of Squid sightings, and these sightings continued to baffle sailors well into the modern era. Even today there is so little known about the Giant Squid.

Ellis details our fascination with Architeuthis, and how we’ve struggled to hunt down and understand these giants among animals. Aside from covering the Squids biology and natural history, chapters h…