Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sulawesi Fanged Frogs

Fanged Frog
A few weeks back stories began popping up about new species of Fanged Frogs found on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Nine of the thirteen species located there had not been previously known to science. These thirteen species, found within the genus Limnonectes, were able to evolve in amazing ways in order to fill specific niches on the island. This is due to the fact that they face no competition from frog species found in other areas.

But before we get into some of those adaptations, what is the deal with those fangs? Well you see, they aren’t actually teeth at all, but bony protrusions that extend up from the jaw. Because these species have only just been discovered, scientists aren’t completely sure about their purpose. One theory is that they help the frogs to catch fast moving aquatic prey. The rationale for this is that the frogs that have the largest fangs are the ones that feed on fish and tadpoles.
Fanged Frog guarding Jelly-Like Eggs

Interestingly, the some of the fish eating frogs are also incredibly large. Almost double the size of some other species. This may be because they need to swim against strong moving currents.
Large size is only one of the adaptations found in the Sulawesi Fanged Frogs. A different species, which dwells on land, lays thick jelly-like eggs so that their offspring can go through their early life phases without being near water. Foot webbing also varies across the frog species, with those living in watery habitats have larger webs than those who live more on dry land.

It’s pretty awesome when you realize that these thirteen related species all specifically evolved differently to satisfy niches on their little island. And they did it in only 15 million years!

Location : Sulawesi, Indonesia
Size : Varies
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Amphibia -- Order : Anura
Family : Dicroglossidae -- Genus : Limnonectes

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

African Pied Crow

Corvus albus
African Pied Crows are medium sized Corvids (Crows and Ravens) that hail from sub-Saharan Africa. They are distinguishable from many other crows by the bright white feathers that cover the neck and chest. They are highly adaptable birds, and can found in a variety of habitats.

Like other Crows and Ravens, African Pied Crows are quite intelligent, and can be taughts to perform all kinds of tricks and tasks in captivity. In the wild they are very social birds, and live in small groups. They will even work together to mob prey from much larger birds of prey!

African pied Crows can be kept as pets, but they take a great deal of care to be properly raised. (Interestingly, native Crows and Ravens cannot be kept in the UNited States, but foreign birds like the Pied Crow can) Their high intelligence and craftiness means they can become destructive if not given proper socialization and enrichment. They are extremely active and require a good deal of space to stay happy. While they can make for exciting and enjoyable pets, they  are definitely not for everyone!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Africa
Size : Length up to 20in (50cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Corvidae -- Genus : Corvus -- Species : C. albus

Monday, August 29, 2011

African Spurred Tortoise

Geochelone sulcata
After the Galapagos and Aldabra Tortoises, the African Spurred Tortoise takes the title as third largest in the world. These land giants dwell in drier regions of central and northern Africa where they subsist on a diet of fruits and vegetables. During the driest times of the year, the Tortoises build burrows and enter states similar to hibernation in order to keep from dehydration.

Breeding occurs during rainier parts of the year, and males will fight for the right to breed with females. During the copulation itself, females will be unable to move due to the weight of the male Tortoises. About two months after mating the female will dig a large nest and deposit 15-30 eggs into. They will incubate for an additional 8 months before the 2" hatchlings emerge. It will take the Tortoises fifteen years to reach sexual maturity. But, like their large Tortoise cousins, they can live over 100 years.

African Spurred Tortoises have experienced some drastic population drops. They've been losing their habitats due to urbanization and the spread of livestock, and have also been hunted for meat. African Spurred Tortoises are also collected for the pet trade when they are in their younger years. This makes re-population difficult, as they take so long to mature.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Africa
Size : Length up to 36in (90cm), Weight up to 200lbs (91kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Sauropsida -- Order : Testudines
Family : Testudinidae -- Genus : Geochelone -- Species : G. sulcata

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Perodicticus potto
Meet the Potto! This interesting looking mammal is a member of the Primate order, and lives in the Equatorial Rainforests of Africa. They are the largest member of the Loris Family.

Males and females look alike and they have some neat little adaptations that help them to thrive in arboreal habitats. For one, they have highly flexible ankle and wrist joints. They also have opposable thumbs and vestigial index fingers that allow them to get better grips. Pottos also have special blood vessels in their limbs that allow them to keep their tight grips for longer periods of time.

Pottos also have a strange bit of anatomy whose full purpose we aren't 100% sure of. They have bony projections on their neck vertebrae that form a sort of shield. These bones are covered by a very sensitive layer of skin, which means the purpose may be for social reason, and it may also help to protect the Potto from predators. When threatened, Pottos tuck their head, in which presents the shield, and then they sway side to side making warning noises.

Pottos are nocturnal, and eat mostly fruit. They also consume gums, insects, and even small vertebrates! They are generally solitary, but they do interact with other Pottos at various non-breeding times, as well as during the very flexible breeding season. Because the ranges of males and females frequently overlap, it is believed that they have a either a promiscuous or polygynous breeding structure.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Africa
Size : Length up to 15.5in (40cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Primates
Family : Lorisidae -- Genus : Perodicticus -- Species : P. potto

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Khapra Beetle

Trogoderma granarium
There has been quite the tizzy recently over these tiny insects, and for very good reason. The Khapra Beetle is one of the most dangerous invasive species in the entire world! A specimen in larval form was found in a grain shipment that entered Chicago from India. That larvae was enough to reject the entire shipment; these guys are that bad. The last time the Unted States saw a major outbreak, in 1953, it took 13 years and several million dollars to eradicate.

So what is it that makes these guys so frightening? Well, their favorite foods are dry, low-moisture grains. This, coupled with their small size, the fact that they can live for long periods of time without food, and are resistant to many insecticides, adds up to some serious trouble. If the Khapra Beetle gets into a stored grain supply, it can lead to massive damage, and they are incredibly difficult to get rid of. They are considered to be one of the worst grain pests on the planets, and one of the world's worst invasive species.

Khapra Beetles are antive to India, but by this point they have spread to other parts of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and several Mediterrannean countries. They measure only 2-3cm long as adults, and only about 5mm as larvae, so they are remarkable hard to detect if they get into a rice supply. They can consume food that contains as little as 2% moisture, which means that while they will eat all sorts of plant matter, stored grains are a particular favorite.

Though US Customs has been sucessful in keeping these Beetles ouf the country for 40 odd years, they number of interceptions has been particularily high this year. From January to April 2011 they had uncovered more Khapra beetles then in all of 2010 combined. Overall, the trend has been rising year to year, requiring more vigilance to keep the invading bug out. Shipments that contain evidence of only dead Beetles are even rejected, in order to really play it safe.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Originated in India
Size : Length up to 3cm
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Coleoptera
Family : Dermestidae -- Genus : Trogoderma -- Species : T. granarium

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tasmanian Giant Crab

Pseudocarcinus gigas
Tasmanian Giant Crabs are some of the largest crabs in the world. While they aren't as long-limbed at the Japanese Spider Crabs, they are incredibly heavy. These massive crustaceans can weigh over 20lbs (9kg) and sport a large claw that is 17in (43cm) long!

As the name suggests, Tasmanian Giant Crabs can be found off the coast of Tasmania and southern Australia. They live at depths of between 20 and 600m, but are most common in the 200m area. They are long lived and slow growing.
Females of the species are actually decent parents, as far as invertebrates go. They will carry their eggs with them for up to fourth months. What's pretty spectacular is that their can be almost 2 million eggs!

Since the early 20th century, Tasmanian Giant Crabs had been caught  up as a byproduct of Lobster fishing. In 1992 it became possible to fish for the Giant Crabs directly, and the industry has been carefully monitored and regulated. These careful actions allow for the Crabs to be taken without causing over-fishing and damage to species balance within the ecosystem.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Australia
Size : Length up to 5ft (1.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Subphylum : Crustacea -- Class : Malacostraca
Order : Decapoda -- Family : Menippidae -- Genus : Pseudocarcinus -- Species : P. gigas

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Barndoor Skate

Skates are cartilaginous fish that look similar to Rays, which are probably more widely known. The Barndoor Skate, today’s animal, can be found in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, swimming from the coasts of Canada all the way down to North Carolina. They are one of the largest Skates in this area of the ocean.

Dipturus laevis
You can identify a Barndoor Skate by its sharp angles, pointed snout, and reddish brown spotted dorsal side. They have very long lived and slow to grow. These fish don’t reach sexual maturity until the age of 11

Barndoor Skates are not picky when it comes to their food. They are exceptional predators, and will eat just about any type of small, benthic dwelling creature. This includes Crustaceans, Cephalopods, Fish, Mollusks, and Worms! 

Barndoor Skates have commercial value to humans, though they are not typically fished intentionally, and are often a bycatch. Their parts are used for bait, fish meal, and for pet food. The meat off their wings is consumed by humans. While these Skates were once abundant, their numbers have declined significantly since the 1960s. It is believed the population may have dropped by as much as 99% in certain areas. Since the 1990s, fishing has declined in their range, and prohibitions on their capture have allowed the population to become stable
IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Northwest Atlantic
Size : Length up to 5ft (1.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata – Class : Chondrichthyes – Order : Rajiformes
Family : Rajidae – Genus : Dipturus – Species : D. laevis

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Common Pheasant

Male Common Pheasant
Though the Common (or Ring-Necked) Pheasant is the State Bird of South Dakota, it is not actually native to North America. Common Pheasants actually originated in Asia, and have been introduced all over the world. Pheasants were brought to the British Isles as long ago as 1,000 CE, and have been in the United States since the 1850s.

There are actually over 30 different subspecies of Common Pheasant, divided geographically. They are, as a species, the most common Pheasant on earth. Even though they are quite abundant, wild populations are sometimes supplemented with captive bred birds for hunting purposes.

Because they are a common, introduced species, Common Pheasants can be found in all sorts of habitats. In their native lands they are most often seen in open grasslands and agricultural areas. They are omnivorous, eating plants, seeds, nuts, fruits, and insects.

Common Pheasants are very sexually dimorphic. The males have much longer, more colorful plumage. They have green necks, red cheeks, and bold, barred patterns. Females in comparison, are a very drab, mottled light brown. The males' feathers play a part in their mating habits. They use them to attract harems of females that can number up to 18 birds. They guard their females fiercely, but only until they start incubating their eggs. At that point the males abandon the females, who are left to incubate alone. Luckily the mom won't be busy for too long, the chicks are precocial and can begin making short flights after only two weeks!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Originally from Asia
Size : Length 35in (90cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Galliformes
Family : Phasianidae -- Genus : Phasianus -- Species : P. colchicus

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

North American Tarantulas

Did you know that there are over 850 species of Tarantula, spread across a dozen subfamilies and nearly 100 different genera. That is a lot of spiders! Because covering hundreds of spiders that like around the world is a pretty daunting task, today we’ll just learn about those critters that reside in the genus Aphonopelma, the North American Tarantulas.

Narrowing down to one genus still leaves up with around 90 species, but many of those are poorly studied and we know little about them. There are also many problems with the taxonomy and what we know about specific species identification and distribution. What we do know is that just about every species of Tarantula in North America belongs in this grouping, along with many from Central America. There are about four dozen in the United States alone.

We also know that like the Tarantulas in Africa, South America, and other parts of the world, members of genus Aphonopelma do not spin webs. They actually hunt down their prey. This does not mean these spiders lack the ability to spin, however. They live in burrows and will often create trip-wires that alert them to the movement of prey around their home. The venom of these Tarantulas is poisonous, but causes little damage to humans. It is similar to being stung by a bee!  
Aphonopelma Tarantula
The Aphonopelma Tarantulas build their burrows in areas that correspond to their habitat. For example, the spiders of the American Southwest build their burrows in the foothills and desert basins. In order to reproduce, the male Tarantulas must first deposit sperm by rubbing his abdomen on a woven surface that he created. He then picks up the sperm with strange syringe like parts within small arm-like appendages called pedipalps. Once that is done, he lures a mate and then places the pedipalps into pouches in her abdomen. The female will then lay an egg sac which can contain upwards of 2,000 tiny spiders!

Aphonopelma Tarantulas are not threatened, though it is hard to say that for sure due to the little study and taxonomic uncertainties. Some species, like A. chalcodes, are kept as pets due to their docile nature and their ability to live as long as 20 years! 

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : North America, parts of Central America
Size : Body length up to 4in (10cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Arachnida -- Order : Araneae
Family : Theraphosidae -- Subfamily : Theraphosinae -- Genus : Aphonopelma

Monday, August 22, 2011

Swamp Wallaby

Though the name might suggest that they are denizens of the swaps, Swap Wallabies also live in forests and upland areas of Eastern Australia. They are the only members of their genus, Wallabia.

Wallabia bicolor
Swamp Wallabies are nocturnal, solitary marsupials. They are mostly-browsing herbivores that eat a huge variety of plants, including grasses, shrubs, and bark.

They can live up to 15 years, and reach sexual maturity after only 15 months. Like all Marsupials, they give birth to very tiny, underdeveloped young. Swamp Wallabies have only one Joey at a time, which is born after a gestation period of about five weeks.  They remain in the pouch for eight or nine months, and will often remain with the mother until they themselves reach sexual maturity. Swamp Wallabies are unique in that their gestation period is longer than their estrus cycle.

Some farmers consider Swamp Wallabies to be threats, because they feed on crops. Hunting and habitat loss have have been issues for these Wallabies, but overall they remain very common.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Australia
Size : Length 30in (76cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Infraclass : Marsupialia
Order : Diprotodontia -- Family : Macropodidae -- Genus : Wallabia -- Species : W. bicolor

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mexican Burrowing Toad

Rhinophrynus dorsalis
Mexican Burrowing Toads are the most evolutionarily distinct amphibians in the entire world. They are the only members of their genus, and of their entire family, and are separated from their nearest relatives by 190 million years of independent evolution!  That means that the last time they diverged from another modern family was at the beginning of the Jurassic Period!

Though many evolutionarily distinct animals are rare and endangered, the Mexican Burrowing Toad is actually pretty common in its current range in Mexico and Central America. And before they died out millions of years ago, other members of this distinct family spanned across North America!
Mexican Burrowing Toads are named for the burrows that they spend a great deal of time in. They remain in them during winter and times of drought. And they aren't often seen outside during the other times of year unless heavy rains force them above ground or they wish to mate.
They can mate during all months of the year, and lay their eggs in water above ground. Mexican Burrowing Toads make very loud, low-pitched calls, both to attract mates and to cry out in alarm. When alarmed, these Toads also puff up and resemble flattened balloons!

The Mexican Burrowing Toad population is now stable, and they really don't face any major threats as far as the IUCN is concerned. They are protected under Mexican law, and live in protected zones of other countries as well.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Mexico, Central America
Size : Length up to 3in (7.5cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Amphibia -- Order : Anura
Family : Rhinophrynidae -- Genus : Rhinophrynus -- Species : R. dorsalis
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