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Showing posts from April, 2011

Excalibosaurus

Excalibosaurus is the name given to a genus known only from two specimens from a single species. Both of these fossils were found in England. That fact, combined with the long, swordlike nose, gave this creature a name derived from the legendary sword Excalibur.

Excaliboasaurus was a large, marine Ichthyosaur that had an asymmetrical jaw. Its upper snout (the rostrum) extended far beyond where the lower jaw (mandible) ended. In some ways it is similar to our modern swordfish, and may even have used this long snout to stir up or spear at fish in a similar way.

Because only two specimens have been found, an adult and a juvenile, we don't know much more about this extinct creature. But it's still fun to learn even a little bit about all the strange animals that walked (or swam) on our planet millions and millions of years before we did!
Status :  Extinct since the Early Jurassic, approximately 190 million years ago
Location :Fossils found in England
Size : Estimated body length of 23…

Barreleye Fish

There are actually several fish species that fall under the name "Barreleye," but today we're just going to focus on Macropinna microstoma, an incredible looking deep-sea fish that has a transparent head!

Researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California have been studying these strange looking fish, which were first described in 1939, and they believe they have discovered how they live and behave. Barreleye have two large, barrel-shaped eyes that are visible through their transparent head domes. These eyes are able to move in different directions, enabling the fish to look at what is directly above their heads, and also what is in front of them.

Because they live at depths of around 2,500ft (762m) down, there is very little light. It is speculated that the Barreleye fish use their large, flat fines to remain motionless in the water, and fix their eyes upward. The green pigments in their eyes might help them to filter out any sunlight that reaches down into the wate…

Griffon Vulture

The Griffon Vulture is a large, Old World Vulture that can be found in mountainous areas of Europe, North Africa, and Asia. They have light, buff colored bodies, white neck ruffs, and bald heads that help them to stay disease free when digging around in corpses.

As one would expect, Griffon Vultures are scavengers. They have excellent eyesight that helps them to locate dead and dying animals. Because the Vultures typically only swoop down when prey is spotted, other Vultures know what is going on when they spy one of their kind making a plunge. This behavior is how a newly dead corpse can be covered with Griffon Vultures in only a short matter of time. Griffon Vultures are also built for soaring, and can fly around for several hours and up to 100 miles looking for a meal.

Griffon Vultures are not actually territorial, though they do live in roughly the same area their entire lives. It is believed that pairs mate for life, and they lay only one egg at a time. Griffon Vultures are quite…

Bactrian Camel

Can you believe it's been an entire year of Animal A Day already? To celebrate this monumental occasion I wanted to write about one my my favorite animals that I haven't yet talked about : The Bactrian Camel. These two humped ungulates are quite interesting because there are over 1,000,000 of them, yet they are critically endangered!

You see, Bactrian Camels were domesticated over 4,000 years ago, and almost every single Camel we have left  is considered domesticated. There are only between 800 and 1,000 truly wild Bactrians left, which is why they are listed as critically endangered. In fact, the wild and domesticated Camels are considered by the IUCN and a few other groups to be separate species. C. ferus is the wild variety, while C. bactrianus is the domesticated. (Other groups class them all under C. bactrianus)

These wild herds can only be found in four small subpopulations in China and Mongolia, though their historic range spread across Asia. There are several causes for…

Dalmatian Pelican

Dalmatian Pelicans are one of the largest Pelican species, and are found in two populations that migrate between . The first is located in Eastern Europe, and the second can be found in Russian and South and Central Asia. They have white plumage and large yellow bills outside the breeding season, but when that time of year rolls around their feathers take on a silvery-white sheen and the pouches turn reddish-orange. They also sport a bushy crest of feathers on the back of their heads and necks.

Adult Dalmation Pelicans reach sexual maturity at 3-4 years of age. They form monogamous pair bonds that will return to the same nesting site year after year. Nests are often built among floating vegetation, which protects the eggs and hatchlings from terrestrial predators.

Dalmatian Pelicans are excellent fishermen, and use their large bill pouches to scoop up and carry their prey. In some areas, like the Prespa Lakes in Greece, the Pelicans work with Comorants to catch fish. The Comorants ar…

Silver Arowana

The Silver Arowana is a bony fish indigenous to the Amazon and a handful of other rivers in South America. What is so remarkable about them, and their family, is that they are considered to be an ancient group of fish. Fossilized ancestors have been uncovered that show these fish have remained relatively unchanged for 150 million years!

Silver Arowanas are quite large, and can grow almost 4 feet long! They are covered with large, pearly scales and have an elongated body with a tail that is tapered off. They swim about near the surface, and have an upturned jaw that lets them open up and snatch things floating on the water. Silver Arowanas are carnivores that will eat just about anything that they can fit in their mouths. They also have the ability to jump several feet out of the water to catch prey.

Silver Arowanas are mouth-brooders. After the female lays her eggs, the male will incubate them in his mouth until they hatch nearly two months later!

Some experienced aquarists keep thes…

Eastern Cottontail

The Eastern Cottontail Rabbit is one of the most common rabbit species in North America, though they can also be found in parts of Central and South America as well. They are a crepuscular species, meaning they are most active at dusk and dawn, and they prefer to live in habitats that are not quite fully forested, but that aren't completely open either.

Eastern Cottontails are very, very territorial and don't like being around each other much outside of the mating season, which involves males both fighting each other, and performing displays for females. These Rabbits reach sexual maturity when they are only 2-3 months old, and females can have as many as 3-4 litters a year, sometimes more! The high reproduction rate is necessary though, since Cottontails have what seems like an endless number of predators, and nearly 80% of adult rabbits are killed each year.

The Rabbits have a few ways to escape from those who hunt them. They can jump distances of 10-15ft (3-4.5m) and when …

Happy Face Spider

What an amazing looking spider! Theridion grallator, also known as the Happy Face Spider, is a remarkable looking arachnid found in Hawaii. Though keep in mind, not all individuals have such distinctive markings; the species varies from island to island, with some having no happy faces at all!

Some scientists think that the Happy Face Spider may have evolved it markings to ward off birds and other potential predators, but not one really knows for sure yet. Happy Face Spiders live on leaves, and spin webs. Interestingly, the females will guard their eggs before they hatch.

Though they are not listed yet by the IUCN, Happy Face Spiders are becoming threatened. They live only on very specific islands, whose fauna are at risk from introduced species.
IUCN Status :  Not Listed
Location :Hawaii Size : Body length about 5mm Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Arachnida -- Order : Araneae
Family : Theridiidae -- Genus : Theridion -- Species : T. grallator

Fossa

Fossas are the largest carnivores on the island of Madagascar. While they kind of resemble cats, they are actually more closely related to mongooses... even though they have retractable cat-like claws. This strange creature owes its uniqueness to millions of years of evolution on a single island habitat. Remember that Madagascar is also the exclusive home of the world's Lemurs, and was also the stomping ground of the 10ft (3m) tall Elephant Bird!

Fossas are solitary animals that live on both the ground and in trees. Their long, heavy tails helps them to balance while climbing and moving about. Until recently it was believed that they were exclusively nocturnal, but scientists have now discovered that they are active at either time of day, depending on mood and situation.

As previously mentioned, the Fossa is a carnivore, and it feeds off basically anything that it can get its claws on. This includes mice, birds, lizards, and even lemurs! In fact, the Fossa is the only native carni…

Happy Earth Day!

...and almost Birthday to Animal a Day!

For those of you who have been keeping track, Animal a Day will be celebrating its first birthday on Wednesday, April 27th. And in true anneversary form, I'll be putting together a theme week. ...Though it will be a bit belated. I'm going to be on vacation for a bit in May, so I'm going to hold off on the theme week till then, so sit tight!

But anyway, back to Earth Day. If you'd like to do your part, and take part in some of the Earth Day going-ons, do a Google search for Earth Day in your area. I know just near me there are several donation drives happening, a 5k run, and a whole mess of stores and restaurants giving proceeds to environmental charities.

There are also severaldifferent sites out there outlining all the neat things happening today. And did you know all National Parks are free today?

So get out there are take part!



Finless Porpoise

Did you know that there are only six living porpoise species? And that today's animal, the Finless Porpoise, can be found in both salt and fresh water, making it the only freshwater Porpoise? Finless Porpoises live in coastal waters off of Asia, but there are also small populations that live in rivers, including the Yangzte. They typically swim in small groups of 2-3 individuals, though larger pods of up to 20 have been rarely observed.

Finless Porpoises, as their name suggests, do not have a dorsal fin. Instead, they have a very low ridge on their backs. They also have unfused neck vertebrae, which allows them to move their head in different directions. Overall, they are a small, streamlined Cetecean species, and they feed on Krill, Fish, Octopuses, and a handful of other invertebrate species.

Gill nets and other types of fishing gear are some of the biggest causes for Finless Porpoise death. They are also very susceptible to water pollution, habitat change, and habitat loss. T…

The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal

By Jared Diamond
Paperback : 432 Pages
Originally published January 1992, Paperback Edition January 2006

Even though The Third Chimpanzee is primarily about the evolution of humans, humans are still animals, and our primate relatives are featured strongly so I'm going to throw it a review and add it to the list. While some of the information in this book is now out of date (Homo sapiens did cross-breed with Neanderthals after all!) it still paints a great portrait of why we are who we are, and how close our link to modern primates actually is. Did you know that the common ancestor between humans and chimpanzees is more recent then that between chimpanzees and gorillas? The version I picked up is a reprint that includes an afterward addressing new developments in anthropology since the initial printing (like Homo floriensis) so if you can grab the 2006 edition, it adds a bit more!

Tiger Cowry

Tiger Cowries are one of the most abundant Molluscs in the Ocean, and their shells have been used by people all over the world, despite the fact that they are found only in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. But more on that later.

Underneath the shiny white, brown, and grey spotted shell lives a nocturnal snail that feeds off of algae. What makes Cowries especially interesting is that they have a mantle that they can spread over the surface of their shell. It keeps other, smaller creatures from sticking to them, and also keeps the shell clean, smooth, and shiny. They can draw the mantle into the shell if threatened.

Cowries and their shells have been used for a wide variety of human purposes. They have served as food, as currency, as decoration, as fishing lures, and as religious objects. Tiger Cowry shells, and other Indo-Pacific Cowries, were even found in Pompeii, far from their natural distribution. This just goes to show how far these objects were moved and traded.
IUCN Status :  N…

Hoary Marmot

The Hoary Marmot can be found in the mountainous areas of the North American northwest, living in alpine meadows just above the tree line. It is the largest of all the North American ground squirrels.

These Marmots get their name from their coloration; "hoary" is a word that means gray or white with age. Hoary Marmots have thick, silvery gray fur on their heads and upper backs, and more brownish coloration on their lower backs.

Hoary Marmots typically live in colonies that are comprised of a dominant male, many females, and a handful of subordinate males. Only the dominant males breed, and mating takes place not long after the Marmots wake up from their winter hibernation.

Hoary Marmots are known for two other behaviors, the first being their whistling. They have a wide variety of screams and whistles that they use to communicate with, and warn for predators (like eagles and coyotes). Hoary Marmots are also known for their wrestling, which often takes place between young Mar…

Birdology: Adventures with a Pack of Hens, a Peck of Pigeons, Cantankerous Crows, Fierce Falcons, Hip Hop Parrots, Baby Hummingbirds, and One Murderously Big Living Dinosaur

By Sy Montgomery
Hardcover : 272 Pages
April 6, 2010

Birdology is a book about a woman and her experiences with, and passion for, birds. Each chapter outlines a different species or family (you can probably guess which by the descriptive sub-title) and juxtaposes the author's personal anecdotes with facts and findings about those specific birds. This book was informative, funny, and exciting, and made me wish I had a flock of hens of my very own, and the time and money to embark on my own personal quest for the Cassowary.

Cape Dwarf Chameleon

Cape Dwarf Chameleons are actually one of the largest of the Dwarf Chameleon species, topping out at a whopping 3in (8cm) body length! They, and many other members of their genus, have a very small range, specifically the area directly around Cape Town, South Africa.

Like many other Chameleons, the Cape Dwarf has an exceptionally long tongue; it is over twice their body length! When they locate prey (they are pure insectivores) they shoot out their tongues and snatch them up.

Cape Dwarf Chameleons are ovoviviparous, and at birth the young are seldom over 2cm long! Females give produce between 5 and 15 tiny offspring at a time. They are born brown, and will develop greener colors as they age. Sexual maturity can be reached after a year, and both males and females grow to roughly the same size.
IUCN Status :  Not Listed
Location :South Africa Size : Full length (including tail) 6in (15cm) Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Chamaeleonidae -- …

Saluki

The Saluki is one of the oldest of all dog breeds, as images of dogs extremely similar in appearance have been dated to as far back as 5,000 years ago. Mummified Salukis have also been found in tombs, mummified with the likes of Pharoahs. The breed spread far and wide, making its way into China and being brought back to Europe by Romans and later Crusaders. They made their way to America in the late 1800s. Salukis were recognized by the AKC in 1929.

Back then, and now, Salukis were used as hunting dogs. They belong to a specific hunting type known as the sight hounds. These dogs use their eyes to pinpoint prey, and then make use of their exceptional speed to run it down. Many modern Salukis still actively hunt, especially in their home region. In other areas, like in the United States, a canine sport called "Lure Coursing" has been developed to simulate the sight hounds' traditional role.

Salukis are independent, spirited dogs, sometimes referred to as "cat-like.&…

Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise

Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise is a small Passerine bird found on only two islands in Indonesia, Waigeo and Batanta. They typically inhabit forested hill areas, though they have also been found in forests of both lower and higher elevations.

Birds-of-Paradise are known for their amazing plumage, typically found only in males. Wilson's is no exception to this. They exhibit a dazzling range of colors, with red backs, yellow mantles, green breasts, and turquoise crowns. Males also have small black curving tail feathers. Females and juvenile males are duller in color, with lighter blue crowns and brownish shades elsewhere.

Adult males use their spectacular plumage to attract mates. They enter well lit clearings, where the sun can reflect off their colorful feathers, and perform intricate song and dance rituals to impress potential partners.

IUCN Status : Near Threatened Location :Indonesia Size : Length up to 8in (21cm) Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeri…

Screaming Budgett's Frog

I recently picked up an amazing book, appropriately titled Astonishing Animals, by Tim Flannery and Peter Schouten. In it, they describe and illustrate little known, and often endangered species. That is how I stumbled upon today's animal, the absolutely awesome Screaming Budgett's Frog. (It it also a reference for some of this information)

To paraphrase Flannery, the Screaming Budgett's Frog looks like a  turd. This actually is how the frog camouflages itself in its waterside habitats. When their camouflage fails, they puff up their bodies, arch their backs, and scream (hence the name).

So they look like turds, they scream like dying cats, and they also bite! And eat each other! Picking up a Screaming Budgett's frog can result in blood being drawn, as they have two teeth-like projections in their mouths. And as for the cannibalism? After the tadpoles hatch, their primary food source is one another. They can actually swallow other tadpoles whole!

Screaming Budgett'…

Indian Muntjac

The Indian or Common Muntjac is a small species of deer found in South and Southeast Asia.They are also known as "Barking Deer" due to the dog-like barking sound that they create when they are startled. When they feel especially threatened they may repeat this call over and over for as long as an hour.

Male Indian Muntjacs have both antlers and tusks, which they use while competing over females and territory. Outside of the breeding season they are solitary animals. Rutting can take place at pretty much any time of year, and females give birth to one offspring at a time.

Indian Muntjacs are rather interesting due to their diet. Despite being deer, they are omnivores. They feed on grasses, fruits, and seeds, but they also eat small mammals! The Minutjacs use their feet to stomp prey to death, and are able to tear at meat with their tusks.

Indian Muntjacs are hunted in many parts of their range, and they are used for meat, skins, and medicines. Muntjacs actually serve a posit…

Mountain Quail

The Mountain Quail is the largest Quail in the United States. They have a very striking appearance, with brown faces, gray bodies, and bold brown and white banding on the underside. Both males and females sport the iconic head plume, though it is more pronounced in the males.

Ground foraging is the Quails' method of feeding. They are an omnivorous species that consumes nuts, seeds, and the occasional insect. Juveniles and adult females tend to eat more insects than adult males, and young males will become more and more herbivorous as they age.

Mountain Quails are monogamous, and both parents incubate and care for the brood of 10-12. Chicks are precocial, meaning that they are up and about following their parents very soon after birth. Mountain Quails live in very small groups (called Coveys) that typically number fewer than 10 adult birds.

Due to their small Covey sizes and elusive behavior, it is difficult to determine exactly how many Mountain Quails are out there. We do kno…

Burton's Legless Lizard

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Order : Squamata
Family : Pygopodidae
Genus : Lialis
Species : L. burtonis

Body Length : 12in (30cm)

IUCN Status : Not Listed

As the name may suggest, Burton's Legless Lizard is a Lizard... without legs. It lives in Australia and New Guinea, and the species is quite common and widespread. They are often a brownish-gray color, though they can come in many other shades as well, giving the species a wide range of color. Overall though, Burton's Legless Lizards can best be identified by their extremely pointy snout.

One interesting tidbit about this species is that, like snakes, they have the ability to unhinge their jaw in order to swallow very large food. Burton's Legless Lizard feed primarily on other reptiles, like small snakes and geckos. They kill prey by grabbing it and holding on tight around the chest, causing suffocation.

Did you know that if you look close enough, you can see two tiny little skin flaps near where the Lizard's …

Andean Condor

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Disputed
Family : Cathartidae
Genus : Vultur
Species : V. gryphus

Weight : Up to 33lbs (15kg)
Wingspan : 10ft (3m)

IUCN Status : Near Threatened

Andean Condors are the largest raptors in the world, as well as the largest flying birds on the continent of South America. They are so large that they need strong wind currents to keep them soaring, since the amount of energy required to keep their massive wings flapping would be difficult to maintain. A good draft can mean that the Condor only needs to flap its wings once per hour!

These birds are natively found in the both the Andes mountains, and along the entire western coast of South America. Unfortunately, the species is in danger, and has a decreasing wild population due to human persecution. There are only a few thousand in the wild, though reintroduction efforts have been underway in several countries.

Andean Condors are scavengers, and their bald head reflects that feeding style. The lack of …

Brookfield Zoo

I made my first trip over to the Brookfield Zoo yesterday, and had at the great fortune to stumble upon several species that I'd never seen in person before.

...Unfortunately it was about 85 degrees out, which was unseasonably warm for Chicago, so most of the animals were pretty lethargic, but it was a fun time nonetheless.

Some pictures and highlights below the cut

Caracal

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Carnivora
Family : Felidae
Genus : Caracal
Species : C. caracal

Height : 18in (46cm)
Weight : Males up to 40lbs (18kg), Females up to 25lbs (11kg)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

Caracals are small, reddish-brown cats found in dry scrub and grassland areas of Africa and Asia. They are named for the Turkish word "Karahkulak," which means "Black Ear." This Moniker refers to their long, black, tasseled ears. It's still debated what those tassels are for, but they might help the Caracals to hear prey better, or to communicate with one another.

There is still some debate about where exactly Caracals should go in the cat family tree. They were long considered close relatives of the Lynxes, due to the eat tufts, but there are now some who think they are closer to Servals. Caracals are still sometimes called "Desert Lynxes."

Caracals have never been domesticated, but they have been tamed. In Iran and India, young Caraca…

Jaragua Sphaero

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Order : Squamata
Family : Gekkonidae
Genus : Sphaerodactylus
Species : S. ariasae

Length : 16mm

IUCN Status : Not Listed

Did you know that the Jaragua Sphaero, also known as the Dwarf Gecko, is perhaps the smallest bird, mammal, or reptile ever discovered! As you can see from the picture, the Jaragua Saphaero can comfortably curl up on a coin!

These tiny little guys were discovered in the Dominican Republic by biologists Blair Hedges and Richard Thomas in 2001. They are only found in Jaragua National Park. The Jaragua Saphaero lives in relatively dry areas, but ones that also have moist leaves so that they don't dehydrate.

The species name, ariasae, is in honor of Yvonna Arias, who is the leader of Grupo Jaragua, a Dominican conservation organization. The Jaragua Sphaero and many other island species are under threat due to habitat loss. Conservation organizations are working hard to keep these species safe.

Roborovski Hamster

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Rodentia
Family : Cricetidae
Genus : Phodopus
Species : P. roborovskii

Length : up to 3in (7.5cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

You might recognize this tiny rodent from your local pet store, but Roborovski Hamsters are actually native to the desert and steppe regions of Russia, Mongolia, China, and Kazakhstan. Their small size (they are the smallest Hamsters) and efficient use of water has allowed them to live in these harsh, dry environments. They are also sometimes appropriately referred to as the Desert Hamster.

Roborovski Hamsters were first described by a Lt. Roborovski during an 1894 expedition. They were not fully studied until 1903, and were not really imported anywhere until the 1970s. In fact, these Hamsters didn't even appear in America until 1998!

While most captive hamsters are fed a vegetarian diet, wild Robos are actually omnivores, and occasionally eat insects and other bits of meat that they can find. They are crepuscula…

Brown Centipede

Phylum : Arthropoda
Subphylum : Myriapoda
Class : Chilopoda
Order : Lithobiomorpha
Family : Lithobiidae
Genus : Lithobius
Species : L. forficatus

Length : Up to 2in (5cm)

IUCN Status : Not Listed

The Brown Centipede is a very common species of Myriapod that can be found most often in Europe, though their distribution extends outside that range.They are a reddish-brown color, have large antennae, and live in a variety of different habitats.

As adults, Brown Centipedes have 15 pairs of legs, giving them thirty overall. You can tell a juvenile from an adult by counting up the digits. Less than 30 legs means that it still has some growing to do. Brown centipedes are born with 7 pairs, and they have to molt their exoskeletons as they age. Each molt grants them a new set of legs!

Females have an interesting way of laying their eggs. They dig a hole and deposit one egg. Then they dig another hole for another single egg, and so on. Eggs are laid in summer, and Brown Centipedes can live as lo…

Satin Bowerbird

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Passeriformes
Family : Ptilonorhynchidae
Genus : Ptilonorhynchus
Species : P. violaceus

IUCN Status : Least Concern

Cripes! I've never written about a Bowerbird! These birds, found in Australia and New Guinea, may not be as crazy looking as some of the other natives, (I'm looking at you Birds of Paradise) but they have a fantastic skill-set all their own!

Satin Bowerbirds are medium size birds found in Eastern Australia. Adult males are a shiny blueish-black color with blue eyes, while females and younger males have green plumage.

What makes this birds so interesting is the intricate procedure that they go through before mating. Males build two parallel structures out of twigs and grasses, and then decorate around them with colorful blue and yellow bits and objects, including flowers, berries, and even made made materials like pens and bottle caps. Females come to inspect these bowers, and at that point the males put on an elaborate danc…

Bull Shark

Phylum : Chordate
Class : Chondrichthyes
Order : Carcharhiniformes
Family : Carcharhinidae
Genus : Carcharhinus
Species : C. leucas

Length : 10ft (3m)
Weight : 500lbs (226kg)

IUCN Status : Near Threatened

The Bull Shark gets its name from its short snout and aggressive attitude, which, combined with its toleration of fresh and brackish water, makes it one of the most dangerous sharks in the entire world.

Bull Sharks have a widespread coastal range, and can be found off the coast of just about every continent except Antarctica. What is so amazing is that they are also found inland. Bull Sharks have be observed swimming up rivers and estuaries, and are even known to breed in freshwater. They have even been seen leaping up rapids to move further inland! There have also been a handful of shark attacks by these predators while several miles from the ocean.

Bull Sharks give birth to between one and thirteen live young, and they reach sexual maturity at 8-10 years old. They are solitary ani…

Southern Giant Petrel

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Procellariiformes
Family : Procellariidae
Genus : Macronectes
Species : M. giganteus

Wingspan : 78in (200cm)
IUCN Status : Least Concern

This particular species of bird goes by many names : the Southern Giant Petrel, Stinker, Stinkpot, Giant Fulmar, and "Bone-shaker" among them. Why Stinker and Stinkpot though? When these birds feel threatened they can accurately spit blobs of regurgitated food and oil at their attackers. Stinky indeed!

Southern Giant Petrels can be found in the Southern Hemisphere, breeding near Antarctica and its nearby islands. They are large seabirds, rivaling the albatrosses for size, though then have slimmer wings and much, much larger beaks. Petrels often skim over the water, and are able to take off and land in it. These abilities are the source of the name "Petrel," which comes from St. Peter, the Apostle who walked on water.

These birds are huge scavengers, feeding off whatever penguin, seal, and wh…

Shell Castle Cichlid

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Actinopterygii
Order : Perciformes
Family : Cichlidae
Genus : Lamprologus
Species : L. callipterus

Length : Males 6in (15cm), Females 2.5in (6cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

Yesterday afternoon I watched several episodes of the Science Channels "Mutant Planet." One of these, about the lakes in Africa's Rift Valley, featured today's animal, a curious fish sometimes known as the Shell Castle Cichlid.

Lamprologus callipterus is endemic to Lake Tanganyika. These fish exhibit extreme sexual dimorphism; the males can weigh 20 times as much as the females! They are predators that feed off of crustaceans and smaller fish.

I chose this particular Cichlid to feature today because of their interesting breeding behavior. The males are highly territorial and protective of their many, many mates. They gather up old snail shells, sometimes hundreds of them, and bring them into their territory. They then attract nearby females, who then enter these shells i…

Dama Gazelle

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae
Genus : Nanger
Species : N. dama

Height : 40in (1m)
Weight : Up to 180lbs (81kg)

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered

The Dama Gazelle is both the world's largest, and the world's rarest gazelle. They once had a range that spread across all of northern Africa, but now they are restricted to only a few isolated pockets in Niger, Mali, and Chad.

Dama Gazelles live either solitary lifestyles, or in very small groups that number up to around 15 individuals. They feed off of scrubs and acacia trees, and are able to stand on their hind legs in order to feed off higher leaves. They are can get most of their water needs right from the food they eat.

A number of factors have contributed to the population decline of the Dama Gazelle. They are illegally hunted, they have lost their habitat, they have been horribly affected by drought, and they are forced to compete for food with grazing livestock. There are only a …

Matschie's Tree Kangaroo

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Infraclass : Marsupialia
Order : Diprotodontia
Family : Macropodidae
Genus : Dendrolagus
Species : D. matschiei

Body Length : 30in (76cm)
Weight : 20lbs (9kg)

IUCN Status : Endangered

The Matschie's Tree Kangaroo (named after German zoologist Paul Matschie) is a herbivorous marsupial found only on New Guinea's Huon Penninsula. Not much is known about their behavior in the wild, but they are relatively common in captivity.

Matschie's Tree Kangaroos have a whole mess of adaptations that let them live the arboreal, rainforest lifestyle. They have large front limbs and padded feet that help them to climb. They also have enormously long tails that act as counter-balances. Furthermore, the Kangaroos have fur on their necks and backs that grows in an opposite direction from the rest of their body. They can then hunch over while it's raining and have all the water run right off, keeping them dry.

Like all marsupials, pouches play a major ro…