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Showing posts from June, 2011

Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise

The Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise is one of the largest members of the Bird-of-Paradise family. Like many of its cousins, this spectacular bird can be found in New Guinea. It is actually the national bird of Papua New Guinea, and can be found on their flag and on stamps! Their feathers have long served a cultural purpose, and have been used during ceremonies and festivals.

Raggiana Birds-of-Paradise, named for a Genoese marquis, are brilliantly colored... if they are male. Yellow crowns, green throats, and long, orange feathers help these dapper fellows to attract mates. Females are a more drab, reddish brown.

Breeding is done in a lek style, with multiple males coming together in an arena of sorts. They find perches that they defend and show off on, clapping their wings and shaking their heads. Raggiana Birds-of-Paradise do not form pair bonds. After mating, the female goes off to nest and incubate alone while the males works to attract yet another mate.

The Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise is…

Nyala

The Nyala is a medium-sized antelope found in forested areas and grassland thickets in southern Africa. Males are much larger than the females, and are grey colored with massive horns that can measure as long as 31in (80cm). Females and juveniles are smaller and red. Both sexes have white striping on the sides and crests of longer hair that runs down the back to the tail.

Female and juvenile Nyalas live in groups of up to 30 individuals. Males also form groups, but they are less cohesive. Groups are not very territorial, but they do intermingle with other species, reacting to their alarm calls. Nyalas are most active during dawn and dusk, and they feed by both grazing and browsing.

Breeding can take place at any time of year, and when a female is in heat, males use their huge horns to fight over her. One calf if born at a time, after a gestation of around 7 months. The calf is then hidden by its mother for a few weeks, to protect it from predators while it is still weak.

Though habit…

Jellies

I took a trip over to Chicago's Shedd Aquarium this past weekend. Partially to hang out with some sweet Lungfish (I love you Granddad), partially to check out how big Nunavik the baby Beluga is getting, and partially to hit up their current special exhibit: Jellies!

Jellies explores the strange and amazing world of Jellyfish, fascinating little creatures with no bones or brains. The exhibit highlights around a dozen Jellyfish species, while also providing information about how the eat, move, reproduce, and fit in with the ocean ecosystems.

The Jellyfish themselves are breathtakingly beautiful, especially the various Sea Nettles. Other species, including the Moon Jellies and Upside-down Jellies, make the exhibit visually stunning, especially when combined with colorfully decorated aquariums.

Jellies is on exhibit at the Shedd Aquarium until May 28th, 2012.

And if you live near the Chicago area and love aquariums, I'd recommend getting a one year membership. Not only does it pay f…

Yeti Crab

The Yeti Crab, or Yeti Lobster, is a relatively new species as far as human discovery is concerned. Scientists discovered this interesting little crustacean in 2005, hanging out in waters 7,540ft (2,300m) deep.

Located in waters south of Easter Island, the Yeti Crab is incredibly unique. So unique, that an entire new family has to be created for it! This is quite a remarkable tidbit, as most new species found are able to fit comfortably into pre-existing taxonomic groups.

But wait there's more! We haven't even discussed the Yeti Crab's most remarkable feature: the furry arms! These arms support colonies of bacteria that the crab may cultivate for food. Another theory is that the crab carries the bacteria around to counteract the toxic chemicals that spew from sea-floor vents. Scientists aren't totally sure yet on either count.

We still have much to learn about the Yeti Crab, and countless other species that are new or yet to be discovered.
IUCN Status : Not Listed Locat…

Australian Lungfish

Yesterday I had the delight to meet Granddad, the world's oldest fish in a public aquarium. Granddad is an Australian Lungfish who first arrived at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium in 1933! So if you only learn one thing from this article, know that Lungfish can live for quite a long time.

But if you're after two cool tidbits, know that the Australian Lungfish is essentially a living fossil. Fossilized evidence of its family members date back to the Devonian, and the Australian Lungfish itself has remained relatively unchanged for nearly 100 million years! There are five other Lungfish species still alive, and one of their closest lobe-finned relatives is the Coelacanth. Lobe-Finned fish are especially notable because it is from them that tetrapods eventually evolved!

So why are they called Lungfish anyway? Because they have lungs of course! In the case of the Australian Lungfish, only one lung is present. But if there is a lack of water it is able to surface and breathe air for …

Wonambi

Named for an aboriginal deity sometimes called the Rainbow Serpent, the Wonambi was a massive snake that lived in Australia during the Pleistocene. Measuring as long as 20ft, the two species within the genus were formidable predators in their time.

Now keep in mind that Wonambi were not venomous. Though unrelated to our modern boas and pythons, the Wonambi ambushed and constricted its prey in much the same way. They used their powerful muscles to tighten around and strangle victims.

Wonambi went extinct around 40,000 years ago, and fossils have been found in Southern Australia. It is believed that aboriginal activities may have led to the decline of the large snake.
Status : Extinct for 40,000 years Location :Australia Size : Length up to 20ft (6m) Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Sauropsida -- Order : Squamata
Family : †Madtsoiidae -- Genus : Wonambi

Wild Boar

Wild Boars are the ancestors of domesticated pigs. They are native across Europe and Asia, but have been introduced to Australia and North America. The species first appeared in these locations for food, but were later imported for sport hunting. The United States Department of Agriculture now considers them to be an invasive species, because they damage native plants and crops.

Wild Boars are the largest members of the Sus genus. There are a whole mess of subspecies spread across the Eastern Hemisphere, but the exact number is disputed due to interbreeding between them.

In the wild, Boars live in forest areas near bodies of water. They like to stay near mud so that they can wallow, a practice that helps to both keep them cool, and to remove parasites. Wild Boars live in loose territories, and the females are rather social, living in groups that can number up to 30 individuals. Males are more solitary and will intermingle only during the breeding season. Mating happens only once a ye…

Cuban Giant Owl

The Cuban Giant Owls were the largest Owls to have ever lived. As the name suggests, they inhabited the island of Cuba, where numerous fossil remains have since been found, including three almost-complete skeletons.

This particular Owl was so large that it probably couldn't fly all that well, if at all. At best they could maybe move short distances or parachute down from higher areas.

Rather than fly, they relied on their long, powerful legs to move and hunt. Cuban Giant Owls lived in forested areas, nested in caves, and preyed on rodents and other small mammals by ambushing them with their strong talons.

There are four species within the genus, all of which went extinct between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago.
IUCN Status : Extinct for 8,000 to 10,000 years Location :Cuba Size : Height up to 3.3ft (1m), Weight up to 20lbs (9kg) Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Strigiformes
Family : Strigidae -- Genus : †Ornimegalonyx

Whalesucker

Remoras are interesting little fish. They latch on to hosts like sharks, rays, and dolphins, but they don't actually do any real harm to them at all. Instead, Remoras use the adhesive disks on their heads to stick to hosts and bum free rides. They also get the bonus of eating any leftover scraps, while also munching on parasites and dead skin.

The Whalesucker is the rarest of the Remoras, though that may be because they adhere to very specific hosts. If you couldn't guess already, Whalesuckers latch exclusively to Cetaceans. Blue Whales in particular seem to be a favorite. For a really spectacular size comparison between the world's largest animal and a foot long fish, check out this Flickr page.

They can be found in tropical ocean waters all around the world. They are grey or brown in color. The age and size of the Whalesucker can also contribute to the type of Cetacean that they attach to. Smaller, younger fish will attach to smaller dolphins.
IUCN Status : Not Listed Loc…

Andean Huemul

The Andean Huemul, or Andean Deer, is an endangered ungulate that lives in the mountains and valleys of the southern Andes.
Andean Huemuls are diurnal, and live in small family groups. They feed primarily by browsing. During the mating season males will attempt to breed with as many females as possible. The resulting fawns are a bit unique when they are born; they have no spots for camouflage, they are solidly colored. Fawns will be hidden by their mothers until they are stronger.
It is estimated that there are only 1,500 Huemul left in the wild, most of which live in Chile. Competition with introduce livestock, loss of habitat, and hunting are all causes for their decline.
The Andean Huemul is featured on the Chilean coat of arms, and is considered a national symbol. They have been protected in the country since 1929, but poaching still occurs and captive breeding has been less than successful. IUCN Status : Endangered Location :Argentina and Chile Size : Height up to 35in (90cm), Weig…

Egyptian Vulture

Egyptian Vultures are relatively small Vultures that can be found in parts of Europe, North Africa, and Asia. They are predominantly white, with bald faces and dark flight feathers.

Though carrion does make up a large chunk of their meals, Egyptian Vultures also feed on live prey, including insects, reptiles, and small mammals. They have also figured out how to crack open bird eggs with rocks, and will feast on those as well. These Vultures are sight hunters, and will soar about looking for prey. They also take cues from other Vulture species; when those birds dive down to eat, the Egyptian Vulture follows suit.

Egyptian Vultures mate for life, and they typically return to the same nest year after year. Two eggs are laid at a time, which make up almost 10% of the female's body mass.

The species is currently at risk, due to a whole slew of reasons. Habitat loss, hunting, poisoning, turbine collisions, collection for traditional medicines, and Avian pox have all played a part. Ther…

Liger

Oh the controversial Liger! This Hybrid cross between a male lion and a female tiger is both infamous and condemned. There have been records of these strange creatures dating back over 200 years.

Ligers are the largest of all cats, due to the specific genetics involved in the cross. (It is not, as many claim, a hormonal issues). The largest individual, Hercules, weighs over 900lbs.

Ligers do not appear in the wild. The two species for the most part live in completely separate continents. Most Zoos frown upon the creation of Ligers and hybrids, as they have no conservation purpose, take up a great deal of space, and results in unfit offspring. It is also considered by many to be a simple commercial ploy.

Male Ligers are always sterile, but there is the possibility for females to be fertile. In those cases, it is possible to breed that females to pure tiger and lion males, creating a whole new line of hybrids. But, once again, frowned upon.
IUCN Status : Not Listed Location :Only created…

Ladybird Spider

It seems like there are so many spiders out there with awesome looking appearances. Like the Happy Face Spider, or even the iconic Black Widow. The Ladybird Spider is yet another interestingly "dressed" arachnid; adult males have a bright red abdomen with black spots that quite resemble Ladybirds!

Females are actually about twice the size of males, and are a black, velvety color. Young males resemble the females, and it only obtain their bright colors when they have reached full adulthood.

Both males and females build tube-like burrows in the ground, placing webs externally. They use these to capture other insects in order to feed. Ladybird Spiders thrive in dry climates, and won't even breed if it is too wet of a year! If breeding is to happen, the male leaves his burrow in search of a mate. (Some females can reach four years or older without ever leaving their burrow, and they can live as long as 8 years!)

Once mating takes place, an egg cocoon is laid, which the fem…

Aurochs

Aurochs were gigantic wild cattle that roamed about Asia, Europe, and North Africa for hundreds of thousands of years. Likenesses of them are found in prehistoric art, and they are the descendants of many of our modern cattle. However, the last one died in a Polish nature reserve in 1627. The causes for their decline included hunting by humans, and competition with domestic cattle.

But then along came science. Researchers in Europe are now hoping to recreate the Aurochs using a technique called "back-breeding." This process includes looking at a mapped out Aurochs genome and attempting to isolate specific traits that can be found in modern cattle.

There has been a little bit of taxonomic confusion surrounding the Aurochs. Both Bos primigenius and Bos taurus have been used, with the former winning out on the "named first" game. Many domesticated Cattle are treated as a subspecies to the Aurochs, being given the name B. p. taurus.
IUCN Status : Extinct since 1627 Loca…

Plain Xenops

I chose today's animal out of an interest to find a creature whose name started with the letter 'X.' Xenops are birds found within the genus of the same name, and are small bodied with long tails and flat, upturned bills. These bills are used to hammer decaying wood and forage for insects.

The Plain Xenops can be found living in forested areas ranged from Mexico to the southern fringes of the Amazon Basin. They differ from other Xenops in that their back feathers are a sold brown, rather then streaked. They also live at lower elevations than the other Xenops.

All Xenops belong to the Furnariidae family, AKA Ovenbirds. This name is due to the fact that many species build clay nests. Not so for the Plain Xenops! They roost in hollow and decaying trees that they line with plant materials. Both parents help to construct the nest, and to incubate and care for the offspring.
IUCN Status : Least Concern Location :Central and South America Size : Length 4.5 in (12cm) Classification :…

Marsh Rice Rat

The Marsh Rice Rat is one of the most common mammals found near the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. There are around half a dozen different location-based subspecies that ranged from Texas to New Jersey.

Water is of no concern to the Marsh Rice Rat. As the name may suggest, they are right at home in wet and swampy waters. They have water repellent undercoats, are able to dive underwater, and they have been observed swimming distances of up to 300m!

Marsh Rice Rats breed almost year round, and produce litters of up to five offspring who are weaned and on their own in just three weeks. The Rats are prolific opportunistic feeders, snacking on snails, fish, turtles, and bird eggs among other things. Due to their nocturnal nature, however, they are frequently prey for Owls.
IUCN Status : Least Concern Location :Eastern United States Size : Length 9in (23cm) Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Rodentia
Family : Cricetidae -- Genus : Oryzomys -- Species : O. palustris

Danube Crested Newt

As the name might suggest, the Danube Crested Newt can be found near the Danube River in Europe. They can be found in a huge range of temperate habitats, ranging from rivers and ponds to forests and scrublands.

Slender bodies and smaller heads set the Danube Crested Newt apart from other members of its genus. The species is sexually dimorphic, with males having higher crests that extend on to their heads.

Breeding takes place every spring, and eggs are typically laid in ponds or other areas of still water. After metamorphosis, most adults will leave the water for a life on land, but some will remain in water year round.

The Danube Crested Newt is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN. Their numbers are declining due to habitat destruction and pollution of waterways. Because this species is able to breed with other Newts within their genus, hybridization has also been a cause for decline.

Danube Crested Newts are kept in captivity, and are said to be hardy and easy to maintain.
IUCN St…