Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fainting Goat

I feel like I've been covering a lot of domesticated animal breeds lately, but oh well, there are just so many interesting ones out there!

Fainting Goats
The Fainting Goat is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting of them all. This small breed of goat is characterized by a congenital genetic condition called myotonia congenita. When they get scared or startled their muscles completely tense up for as long as 20 seconds, which often causes them to fall over. Young goats are more prone to falling, while older individuals typically figure out ways to keep themselves upright. For a more detailed and scientific explanation on myotonia congenita and Fainting Goats, read this excellent article.

So where did Fainting Goats come from, and what is their purpose? The first goats with symptoms of M.C. were brought to Tennessee from Nova Scotia in the 1880s, and the herd grew from there. They ended up becoming so successful because of their small size, high reproductive rate, less escape-prone temperament, and use as a meat animal. Fainting Goats continue to grow in popularity, both for their meat purposes, and as novelty pets.

Fainting Goats are typically small, but are a highly variable breed. They can come in almost any color, can have both short and long hair, and can range in size between 60 and 160lbs!

Status : Domesticated
Location : Originated in North America
Size : Height up to 25in (64cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Capra -- Species : C. aegagrus -- Subspecies : C. a. hircus

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Red Pierrot

Talicada nyseus
The Red Pierrot Butterfly has a favorite food, the Kalanchoe plant. These tiny little South Asian insects live in areas where these plants are abundant, because it is on them that they lay their eggs and feed while in the larval stage. As adults, the Red Pierrots also feed on herb flowers for nectar.

Red Pirrots are quite beautiful, especially when you look at the patterns on the undersides of the wings. The topsides are dark in color, almost black. The bottoms on the other hand, are white with black spots, with beautiful orange and black edging.

Adults aren't the strongest fliers, and are usually found fluttering near the ground. They lay their eggs on the underside of Kalanchoe leaves, and when the caterpillars hatch that bore down into the lives, living between the layers for protection. They will exit the leave in order to create the pupa.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : South Asia
Size : Wingspan 3cm
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Lepidoptera
Family : Lycaenidae -- Genus : Talicada -- Species : T. nyseus

Friday, July 29, 2011

Tibetan Mastiff

Tibetan Mastiff
This past March, a red Tibetan Mastiff was purchased for 10,000,000 Chinese Yuan, which is equivalent to about $1.5million dollars! Hong Dong, who was bought by a Chinese coal baron, is one of the most expensive dog in the entire world! But what is it that made that dog so valuable, especially when specimens of the breed typically sell  for far, far less in the western world?

Tibetan Mastiffs are a very old breed, and many in their native lands believe that they are holy creatures. Red is an especially lucky color, which is part of the reason for Hong Dong's extravagant asking price. (The article also states that owning these huge dogs has become a new status symbol for the wealthy elite)

When I say old breed, I mean old breed. Records of large dogs began to appear in the region over 3,000 years ago. Unfortunately, the full details of the breed's history are shrouded in mystery, as they were kept in isolation for so long. Europeans did not stumble upon the breed until the 1800s, and the first standard was adopted in the 1930s.

Tibetan Mastiffs can now be found outside of central Asia, but they remain rare. This intelligent and independent breed was, and still is, used for property and personal guardianship. Not surprising since they can weigh over 150lbs (68kg).

Status : Domesticated
Location : Originally from Central Asia
Size : Height around 28in (72cm), Weight around 160lbs (73kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Canidae -- Genus : Canis -- Species : C. lupus -- Subspecies : C. l. familiaris

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Southern Rockhopper Penguin

Southern Rockhopper Penguins on the Falkland Islands
Meet the colorfully adorned Southern Rockhopper Penguin. These birds of the Antarctic waters are known for their bright yellow head feathers, spiky plumage, massive colony sizes, and aggressive personalities.

Once upon a time, all Rockhopper Peguins were considered to be members of one single species. But that time has come and gone and these crazy head-feathered birds have now been reclassified into three separate species. The smaller of these species is today's Southern Rockhopper.

Molting Chicks
The Southern Rockhopper also has its own distinct subspecies. One is found on the Falkland Islands, and on islands off of Argentina and Chile. The other is found in the far southern Indian Ocean, reaching from South Africa all the way to New Zealand. Whichever island they live on, these penguins are known to live in massive groups. During the breeding season one colony can contain over 100,000 nests!

Southern Rockhopper Penguins typically mate for life, and most couple will return to the exact same nesting site year after year. Interestingly, they usually lay two eggs at a time, the first being far smaller than the second. While this first eggs is capable of hatching, it is normally lost and only one chick will survive.

The Falkland Islands was once home to over 2 Million breeding pairs. Unfortunately, their numbers have since dropped to around 300,000. Overall, commercial fishing and other factors have led to a 30% drop in the Southern Rockhopper Population.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Antarctic Water
Size : Body length up to 24in (60cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Sphenisciformes
Family : Spheniscidae -- Genus : Eudyptes -- Species : E. chrysocome

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Gap In Nature

A Gap in Nature: Discovering the World's Extinct AnimalsBy Tim Flannery, illustrated by Peter Schouten
Hardcover : 192 pages
September 10, 2001

A Gap in Nature : Discovering the World's Extinct Animals is an illustrating world representing nearly all of the animals that have gone extinct since the year 1500. (A list in back contains other animals and the reasons for why they weren't included.)

Each entry contains information about the creature- where it lived, how it died, what its behavior was like- and a fully colored illustration. The book contains some well known extinctions, like the Dodo, the Passenger Pigeon, and the Carolina Parakeet. It also has dozens of animals that you may have never knew existed, like the Bulldog Rat and Atitlan Grebe.

What amazed me is the number of birds, and island birds at that. So many of those species were only found on a few tiny islands, and died out so quickly after human contact that we know little about them.

I'd recommend this book to any animal lover. The illustrations are gorgeous and the information is fascinating, but sad. It's a great read for learning about the human impact on the animal kingdom over the last 500 years.

Short-Faced Bear

Reconstruction of Arctodus simus
The genus Arctodus is now extinct, but when it was still around it was home to some of the largest predators the world has ever seen. Nicknamed "Short-Faced Bears," these massive creatures could weigh as much as 1,800lbs (800kg)! In comparison, our modern Grizzlies typically top off at around half that.

The largest and most commonly found of the extinct species is Arctodus simus, which lived across mostly western North America in higher ground areas. It is the more recent of the two species, having died out only at the end of the last Ice Age.

The other species, known only from a smattering of fossils, is Arctodus pristinus. These guys were smaller and probably more omnivorous. They lived down the Atlantic coast in lowland areas until about 2 million years ago, and may have died out due to competition from Brown and Black Bears.

Around 30 members of A. simus have been found in the La Brea Tar Pits in California. It is the most common of all the bars found in that specific dig site, and the largest bear to have ever lived in North America. Short-Faced Bears most likely died out due to loss of prey, competition from smaller, more adaptive bears, and from human hunting.

Status : Extinct for 11,000 years, some species longer
Location : North America
Size : Weight up to 1,800lbs (800kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Ursidae -- Genus : †Arctodus

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When Bugs Were Big, Plants Were Strange, and Tetrapods Stalked the Earth

When Bugs Were Big, Plants Were Strange, and Tetrapods Stalked the Earth: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life before DinosaursBy Hannah Bonner
Hardcover : 48 Pages
March 1, 2004

The second book of Bonner's book chronologically, (though the first published) When Bugs Were Big takes a look at the Carboniferous and Permian periods. This span includes the movement to land by insects and tetrapods, the changing world, and the mass extinction that would give way to the Mesozoic and the age of the Dinosaurs. Once again Bonner has created a text that explains the timeperiod in a fun, illustrated way.

When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm

When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life Long Before DinosaursBy Hannah Bonner
Paperback : 48 Pages
September 8, 2009

Chronologically the first of two books by Bonner, When Fish Got Feet... explores the rise of fish in the Silurian and Devonian periods with wonderful comics, cartoons and illustrations. She takes difficult material, such as the rise and fall of the very fish classes (Sharks! Acanthodians! Placoderms! Bony Fish!) and makes it accessible to a younger audience. Even as an adult I really enjoyed this book and it gave me some wonderful ideas on future things to learn about!

Common Egg Eating Snake

Dasypeltis scabra
The Common Egg Eating Snake is one of six interesting non-venomous species that consumes only bird eggs. This particular snake is found in sub-Saharan Africa, living typically in grassland habitats... though they are also common in urban areas.

But let's talk about their eating habits! These snakes are able to consume eggs that are three times the size of their heads. Before swallowing they will first test out the egg with their tongue, making sure that it is not rotten. They also aren't huge fans of fertilized and developing eggs.

If the egg passes the inspection the snake will then wrap its body around it, in order to hold it in place. It then places its mouth over the thinner end of the eggs, using its amazing jaw to take the entire thing in. The snakes then use specialized bony projections to puncture the egg and swallow the contents. After the egg is drained the shell is regurgitated up.

Common Egg Eating Snakes are sometimes kept in captivity, where they are fed quail eggs and even yout run of the mill chicken eggs.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Sub-Saharan Africa
Size : Length up to 35in (90cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Colubridae -- Genus : Dasypeltis -- Species : D. scabra

Monday, July 25, 2011

Giant Kelpfish

Heterostichus rostratus
Giant Kelpfish can be found hiding about the kelp and grasses in the Pacific waters off the coast of North America. When I saw the name "Giant," I assumed they would be rather large, but their length only extends about 2ft. Yet they still are giants when compared to other types of Kelpfish. The Scarlet Kelpfish, for example, reaches only about 4in.

Giant Kelpfish have very slender, blade-like bodies. This shape helps them to live among the sea grasses and remain camouflaged. They can come in a variety of reds, greens, and browns; this allows them to live in different types of grasses. They can even change their color, and females are better at performing this trick than the males.

The kelp forest habitat helps to hide the Giant Kelpfish from predators, but it also helps them to feed and breed. Hundreds if not thousands of species live in these forests, giving the Giant Kelpfish a smorgasbord of food choices. They eat fish, crustaceans, and molluscs.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Pacific Ocean off North America
Size : Length up to 2ft (60cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Perciformes
Family : Clinidae -- Genus : Heterostichus -- Species : H. rostratus

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sandhill Crane

Yesterday a couple of these birds showed up at my parents' house. Drove the dog crazy. At any rate, we quickly found out that they were Sandhill Cranes, some of the largest and most widespread Cranes in the entire world. They can be found across North America, in both year round and migrating populations. A Subspecies can also be found in eastern Siberia. There are about half a dozen location-based subspecies overall.

Sandhill Cranes are very tall, sporting a body length of up to 45in (1.1m). They have distinctive red caps and grey bodies that turn more brown during the breeding season (like those in the backyard).

Sandhill Cranes live, breed, and feed in grassland and wetland areas. They will eat just about anything, from snakes, to worms, to tubers dug up from the ground.

Pairs mate for life, and live together year round. During mating they practice "unison calling," which is an interesting coordinated duet. After mating a huge nest is built on the ground near water, using any materials the birds can find. Two eggs are laid at a time, and the female incubates while the male guards the nest. The chicks are very self sufficient at birth, and grow quickly (they fledge after about two months). Parents will then migrate along with their offspring, teaching them where to go. Interestingly, around 75% of all migrating Sandhill Cranes used the same 75 mile stretch of Nebraska's Platte River as a migratory staging area!

Because they are so common, Sandhill Cranes on the whole are not at risk. However, habitat loss has can have a massive effect on the species (especially when you consider the staging areas). Some of the southern subspecies are becoming quite rare. The Mississippi Sandhill Crane, for example, has a population of only a few hundred birds.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North America, Siberia
Size : Wingspan up to 7ft (2.1m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Gruiformes
Family : Gruidae -- Genus : Grus -- Species : G. canadensis
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