Friday, September 30, 2011

Eastern Newt

Notophthalmus viridescens
Eastern Newts can be found in the Eastern United States, where they have a range that spans all the way from southern Canada down to Texas. They live in fresh bodies of water, typically near forest areas.

Eastern Newts go through some pretty interesting life phases. Adults will mate on land during the early spring, and the female will lay up to 400 eggs a season, one at a time,  in the water. The eggs are attached to aquatic plants, and will hatch in anywhere from 3 to 8 weeks, depending on the temperature.

Larval Newts look just like their adult selves, only much much smaller. They measure only about 7mm long! The larvae spend their summer eating as many little invertebrates as they can. When late summer comes around they metamorphose into their Juvenile or "Eft" form.

Eft Phase
Efts look different from the adults and larvae. For one, they completely lose their gills in favor of a set of lungs. They also have thinner, less powerful tails. Efts live on land for two to four years and feed on terrestrial invertebrates like snails and springtails. They hibernate under logs and rocks during the winter. Eventually they will grow large, flattened tails and return to the water as adults.

Thanks to those tails, adult Eastern Newts are very powerful swimmers. They remain in water for the rest of their lifetimes, and will feed on just about any invertebrate that they can catch. If they make it past the high mortality larval and eft phases, Eastern Newts can live up to 15 years!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Eastern North America
Size : Length 5in (12.5cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Amphibia -- Order : Caudata
Family : Salamandridae -- Genus : Notophthalmus -- Species : N. viridescens

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Boeseman's Rainbowfish

Melanotaenia boesemani
The Boeseman's Rainbowfish is one of the many species in the Rainbowfish family. All are colorful, freshwater fish that are found in Australia and New Guinea.

This particular fish measures only about 4inches in length, and hails from the Western end of  New Guinea. Both males and females have the bright coloration, though males are larger and more vibrant. Their bright colors and ease of ownership make them especially popular for aquarists.

Unfortunately that popularity caused some serious harm to the species. In the 1980's over 60,000 males were exported every month. The high volume of capture bestowed the Rainbowfish with an "Endangered" status with the IUCN. Captive fish now come from fish farms, rather than from nature.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : West New Guinea
Size : Length 4in (10cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Atheriniformes
Family : Melanotaeniidae -- Genus : Melanotaenia -- Species : M. boesemani

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mormon Cricket

Anabrus simplex
Contrary to the name, Mormon Crickets are not actually true Crickets at all, they are Katydids. A major difference between Katydids and True Crickets is the antennae length. In Katydids they can be longer than the entire rest of the body!

The other part of this animal's name, "Mormon" comes from the devastation that Crickets inflicted on Mormon Settlers in Utah in the 1840s. If it weren't for the Seagulls that came and consumed the Crickets, the settlement may have failed. These little insects are quite the nuisance across their range, and can cause massive amounts of damage to crops like wheat and alfalfa.

Mormon Crickets can grow a couple of inches in length. They cannot fly, but they are still incredibly mobile. As adults they can travel up to a mile a day, and can move up to 50 miles in a single season!

Mormon Crickets continue to be pests due to their mobility, appetite, and ability to creature swarms that number into the millions. Though they are preyed upon by other animals, chemical baits and barriers are still needed to keep the insects in check. Massive infestations still occur; a 2003 Utah swarm was one of the worst in recent history.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Western North America
Size : Length 2in (5cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Orthoptera
Family : Tettigoniidae -- Genus : Anabrus -- Species : A. simplex

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Six-Lined Racerunner

Cnemidophorus sexlineatus
Six-Lined Racerunners are lizards that can be found from Rhone Island down to Florida, and then across to Wyoming and Texas, giving them a decently large spread across the United States. They live in drier, open areas that have loose soil, and feed on insects and other invertebrates.

Six-Lined Racerunners are terrestrial Reptiles that can be identified by their six yellow strips that run down the body from head to tail. This pattern is pretty unique among Lizards within their region. Their species name even means "Six lined!"

They dig burrows into the ground, and use the burrows for hiding, resting, and egg laying. Mating takes place after hibernation ends, and only about half a dozen eggs are laid at a time.

One cool fact about these guys is that they are one of the fastest reptiles on land! They can run at speed of up to 18mph (29kph). Not bad for a tiny Lizard that is barely a foot long!

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : North America
Size : Length up to 10in (25cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Teiidae -- Genus : Cnemidophorus -- Species : C. sexlineatus

Monday, September 26, 2011

Kerry Slug

Geomalacus maculosus
The Kerry Slug is a rare Slug that was first discovered in County Kerry, Ireland back in 1842. Since then they have also been found in parts of northern Spain and Portugal. They are medium sized slugs that are easy to identify by their spotted pattern.

The one thing that makes them stand out from other slugs is the fact that they aren't at all considered to be a pest. They are found only in wild areas, rather than in gardens. Their need for wild habitats in one of the reasons the slug has become so rare.

They are also distinctive because of their defensive behavior. When they feel threatened they roll up into a tight ball and unstick themselves from whatever they were holding on to. Other Slugs remain attached.

Kerry Slugs are protected in all of the locations that they are found in. Habitat loss and loss of some of their favorite foods (lichens and mosses) have been hurting the populations of the unique little slug. Protection, monitoring, and captive breeding of the species have helped to keep them going.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Ireland, Spain, Portugal
Size : Length up to 3.2in (8cm)
Classification : Phylum : Mollusca -- Class : Gastropoda -- Superfamily : Arionoidea
Family : Arionidae -- Genus : Geomalacus -- Species : G. maculosus

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Illustration of the Whekau
 by John Gerrard Keulemans
The Whekau, or Laughing Owl, is one of the many island bird species that have gone extinct in the past few hundred years. When European settlers arrived in New Zealand in 1840 this bird was abundant on the islands. After only 40 years they declined to rarity, and the last Owl was found dead in 1914.

Whekau  lived in rocky, open, relatively dry areas, where they fed off of insects, rodents, small birds, and reptiles. One interesting tidbit is that these Owls actually hunted on foot! they had long, sturdy legs that helped them to chase down prey.

The Laughing Owl name comes from the fact that these birds had a very unique call. It was very loud, and sounded like a series of repeated "dismal shrieks."

Whekau went extinct for a number of reasons. Habitat loss was a major factor, as was the introduction of feline and mustelid predators to the islands. Before their extinction several specimens had been sent abroad for museum study, and luckily a handful of naturalists were able to observe the birds in the wild before they completely disappeared.

Since 1914 numerous unconfirmed sightings have popped up, and cracked egg shells were allegedly found in 1960. While the Whekau is probably extinct, it is nice to imagine that there might just be a couple of them still out there.

Status : Extinct (?) since 1914
Location : New Zealand
Size : Length 15in (38cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Strigiformes
Family : Strigidae -- Genus : Sceloglaux -- Species : S. albifacies

Saturday, September 24, 2011

German Cockroach

Blattella germanica
If you saw a German Cockroach, you may not even realize it's a Cockroach! These small, light brown insects measure only about half an inch in length, which is a bit of a difference when you compare them to the American Cockraoches (about 1.3in) or the massive Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches which get as big as 4 inches!

Despite the name, German Cockroaches are actually from Africa, and are close relatives to the Asian Cockroach. German Cockroaches can survive in colder climates, which has allowed them to spread all around the world and become widespread pests in many areas. Luckily, though they have wings, these roaches cannot actually fly.

German Cockroaches go through three life phases- egg, nymph, adult- and it takes about 2 months for the roaches to hatch and make it to their adult phase. They have a very high reproductive rate, which is one of the reasons that they can be very difficult to eradicate. In just one year a single female can produce 10,000 descendants!

German Cockroaches can appear in both dirty and clean areas, it just depends on what is available for them to eat. They are omnivores that will consume just about anything, including the glue on canned food wrappers! There are numerous ways to get rid of the roaches, including trapping, baiting, and chemical spraying.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Worldwide
Size : Length up to .5in (1.3cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Blattodea
Family : Blattellidae -- Genus : Blattella -- Species : B. germanica

Friday, September 23, 2011

Crested Screamer

Chauna torguata from the
Milwaukee County Zoo
The Crested, or Southern, Screamer is a large Goose-sized bird native to southern South America. They can be found near tropical and subtropical aquatic areas. Though they live close to water, and are able to swim, they spend a lot of their time on land. They don't even have webbed feet!

Crested Screamers get their name because boy, are they loud! Their vocalizations can be heard more than 2 miles (3.2km) away! But keep in mind, they aren't the prettiest sounding birds. Their vocalizations includes booming trumpeting noises and gutteral drumming.

A pair of Crested Screamers will typically remain together monogamously for a few breeding seasons. Sometimes the pair bond will even last for a lifetime. (Which is about 15 years) The couple will build a huge nest in an area near water. This nest may be used multiple times over the years, and is vigorously defended. Up to seven eggs are laid, and the hatchlings leave the nest and are able to feed on their own very shortly after birth. After only 3 months they will leave their parents and join groups of other young, non-breeding birds.

Crested Screamers are relatively common birds throughout their range. Farmers will even snag them as chicks and raise them along with their chickens. When the Screamer grows up it watches over the flock and warns (loudly) against danger.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South America
Size : Length up to 3ft (.9m), Weight up to 10lbs (4.5kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Anseriformes
Family : Anhimidae -- Genus : Chauna -- Species : C. torquata

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bumblebee Cichlid

Pseudotropheus crabro
Cichlids are truly amazing little fish. Their family contains as many as 3,000 diverse species, many of whom evolved in isolated habitats, allowing them to adapt to specific niche needs within that environment.

The Bumbleebee Cichlid is one of those species. Named for the yellow and black bands that run vertically down the body, these small fish have evolved to serve a very specific purpose.

Living exclusively in the Lake Malawi area of east Africa, Bumblebee Cichlids feed on the parasites of other fish. Their primary targets are those that infest the Kampango Catfish. The Catfish, which normally eat Cichlids, leave the Bumblebees alone, as they recognize them as helpers. However, in an interesting twist of events, the Bumblebee Cichlids sometimes feed on the Catfish eggs. When this happens, they change to a murky brown color to snatch at the eggs. Once feeding is complete, they shift back to the recognizable black and yellow.

Male Bumblebee Cichlids use their color changing ability to attract females for breeding purposes. They go jet black and circle the female. Bumbleebee Cichlids are mouthbrooders, like many other Cichlid species.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Lake Malawi
Size : Length up to 4in (10cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Perciformes
Family : Cichlidae -- Genus : Pseudotropheus -- Species : P. crabro
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