Monday, October 31, 2011

Common Vampire Bat

Desmodus rotundus
Happy Halloween! Could there be any better day to talk about the Vampire Bat?

Bats are the only mammals able to truly fly, and Vampire Bats are the only mammals who feed entirely on the blood of other animals. They feed only at night, using heat sensors to find the best spot to feed from (Horses and Cows are common prey). Because they only consume blood, their teeth are used only to pierce skin, and they are actually so thin and sharp that the prey doesn't always know they've been bitten!

After making the bite, the Vampire Bat will lick up the blood for around 30 minutes. They don't take enough blood to cause harm to the prey, though infections can occur.

Vampire Bats are very social, and live in colonies of up to 150 members. They are remarkably altruistic; if one Bat hasn't gotten enough to eat, other Bats will regurgitate blood for them to feed on. Gross, but incredibly nice, as a Bat can die if it doesn't feed for three days! The regurgitation technique is also used for young pups who are weaning off of milk but are not yet able to hunt on their own.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Central and South America
Size : Body Length 3.5in (9cm), Wingspan 7in (18cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Chiroptera
Family : Phyllostomidae -- Genus : Desmodus -- Species : D. rotundus

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Guinea Turaco

Tauraco persa
The Guinea Turaco is a brightly colored bird with a large head crest found in Central and Western Africa. They are a member of the Turaco family, which contains many other brightly colored species. They feed on flowers, fruits, and buds.

There are some really cool facts about Turacos! For example, did you know that they are the only birds to have true red and green pigmentation? They actually have copper in their feather pigments, which cannot be found in any other animals!

Guinea Turacos form monogamous breeding pairs during the rainy season, and build nests in trees. Two eggs are laid at a time, and both parents care for the young until they mature and leave at around 15 weeks.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : West and Central Africa
Size : Length 17in (43cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order: Cuculiformes
Family : Musophagidae -- Genus : Tauraco -- Species : T. persa

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Oriental Fire-bellied Toad

Bombina orientalis
Oriental Fire-bellied Toads are aquatic amphibians that cane be found in China, Korea, Japan, and parts of southern Russia. They are referred to as Toads not because they belong to the Toad family, but because they have warty, toad-like skin. Isn't animal naming confusing sometimes?

On any normal viewing, the Fire-bellied Toad will appear green with a black mottle pattern. However, once they are threatened they will rise on their hind legs and present their smooth, bright red and black underside to the predator, sometimes doing a near back-flip in the process! The red color warns against the dangerous toxin that the Toad secretes from its skin.

Oriental Fire-bellied Toads are very common throughout most of their range, and they are also kept as pets in captivity. They are very hardy, require only a 10 gallon aquarium, are considered to be suitable for beginning Frog keepers, and can live ten years or more!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : East Asia
Size : Length 2in (5.5cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Amphibia -- Order : Anura
Family : Bombinatoridae -- Genus : Bombina -- Species : B. orientalis

Friday, October 28, 2011


Puma yagouaroundi
The Jaguarundi is a small, strange looking feline with an elongated body and short legs. One of their alternate common names is "Otter Cat," and it's not much of a stretch to see why. They are also sometimes confused with Tayras!

Jaguarundis have a range that spans from Texas all the way to Argentina, and are most commonly found in open areas. They are solitary cats, and are primarily diurnal, though they sometimes hunt through dawn and dusk as well. Jaguarundis spend most of their time on the ground, though they are able to both climb and swim quite well.

Small mammals, birds, and fish make up the Jaguarundi's diet. They typically hunt by stalking and pouncing, and mothers teach their cubs how to hunt during their first year of life.

Finally, can you guess who the closest relative to the Jaguarundi is? It's not any of the other small cats, nor is it the Jaguar. Despite their massive size difference, Cougars and Jaguarundis are the only two living species in their genus!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Central and South America
Size : Body Length 30in (77cm), Weight up to 20lbs (9kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Felidae -- Genus : Puma -- Species : P. yagouaroundi

Thursday, October 27, 2011


B. africanus
There are two species of Oxpecker, the appropriately named Red-Billed (B. erythrorhynchus) and Yellow-Billed (B. africanus). Both are found throughout the open habitats of Sub-Saharan Africa, though the Red-Billed tends to live more on the eastern half of the Continent.

Oxpeckers are named after their primary activity- pecking parasites and dead skin off of various hoofed mammals. Buffalo, Rhinos, Impalas, Giraffes, and an several other species are living buffets for these colorful beaked birds. Domesticated livestock also benefit from the relationship.
B. erythrorhynchus on a Giraffe

Oxpeckers are astounding because they can eat as many as 400 adult ticks in a single day, and up to 150,000 in a year! They can also consume tens of thousands of larvae over the course of the day as well! Their large beaks allow them to eat bigger parasites, and to curb the spread of parasite-borne illnesses. The birds are even being reintroduced to areas where they were once locally extinct, because of the positive effects they can have on keeping things like Heartwater Disease away.

Both species of Oxpecker are gregarious, and they typically breed during the  rainy season. Nests are built in tree cavities and lined with vegetation. 2-5 eggs are laid at a time.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Sub-Saharan Africa
Size : Length up to 8in (21cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Buphagidae -- Genus : Buphagus

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Banteng Cow and Calf
Banteng are wild cattle that can be found in South and Southeast Asia. They have even been domesticated in some parts of their range, and it is estimated that there are around 1.5million domesticated individuals in the world, as compared to only a few thousand of their wild counterpart. In their domestic form, they are often referred to as Bali Cattle.

Banteng Bull
Though there are many Banteng in captivity, their wild populations are dwindling, and the species is considered to be Endangered. Hunting, habitat loss, and interbreeding with Cattle have caused the population to decline, and they are becoming regionally extinct.

One neat little tidbit about the Banteng involves their coat coloration. Males and females are sexually dimorphic; though they are both born with reddish coats, over time the females will stay red and develop white stockings, while the males' coats will darken to an almost black color.

Another even more amazing fact is that the Banteng is the second endangered species to ever be cloned. A couple dozen embryos were implanted into female Cattle in 2003. Two calves made it through the entire pregnancy and were delivered by C-Section. The ability to clone endangered, and possibly extinct species presents new ways of maintaining the planet's biodiversity, though it is also important to maintain genetic diversity within the species as well.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : South and Southeast Asia
Size : Height up to 5.25ft (1.6m), Weight up to 1750lbs (794kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Bos -- Species : B. javanicus

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Redtail Shark

Epalzeorhynchos bicolor
Do not let the name fool you! The Redtail Shark is not a shark at all, it is a member of the Carp family! The Shark moniker actually comes from the tall dorsal fin, not from any close relational status.

Redtail Sharks are popular pets due to their vibrant coloration. But did you know that they are critically endangered in the wild? The species is endemic to freshwater rivers in Thailand, and over the last 40 years dams and other man-made obstructions have caused the population to drastically decline. Most Redtails in aquariums are now captive bred in Thailand, and then exported.

Redtail Sharks are omnivorous scavengers that feed on smaller creatures and plant material. In captivity it is advised to keep only one per tank, as they can be aggressive and territorial towards other members of their species. Don't be shocked if they chase or harass other fish as well, and make sure to keep a lid on the tank, they can jump out!

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Thailand
Size : Body Length up to 6in (15cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Cypriniformes
Family : Cyprinidae -- Genus : Epalzeorhynchos -- Species : E. bicolor

Monday, October 24, 2011

Spotted Cuscus

Spilocuscus maculatus
The Spotted Cuscus is a very shy, nocturnal, arboreal marsupial that can be found in parts of Australia and New Guinea. They are very difficult to spot, but that is due to their elusive shyness, and not to the fact that they are rare or uncommon. These Cuscuses are hunted in their range, but their population is stable.

The Spotted Cuscus lives in lowland tropical rainforests, and they feed primarily on leaves and fruits, though they have been observed consuming small animals and eggs as well.

Mating happens year round, and like most of their other actions, takes place in trees. The female will be pregnant for about a week, before giving birth to offspring that weigh only a gram! Though she is capable of raising three babies at a time in her forward opening pouch, there is usually only one. The offspring will stay in the pouch for 6-7 months, and will reach sexual maturity after a year.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Northern Australia, New Guinea
Size : Body Length up to 26in (65cm), Weight up to 13lbs (6kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Subclass : Marsupialia
Order : Diprotodontia -- Family : Phalangeridae -- Genus : Spilocuscus -- Species : S. maculatus

Sunday, October 23, 2011


If you though the Emperor Penguin was the largest of all the Penguins, you'd be correct... sort of. While they dominate the size charts for all living species, they would have been dwarfed back in the Eocene. Today's animal, Anthropornis, is an extinct Penguin that stood six feet tall!

There are two identified species within the genus Anthropornis, A. nordenskjoldi and A. grandis. Their genus name translates to "Man Bird," and fossils have been found in New Zealand and on Seymour Island off of Antarctica. They lived between 45 and 37 million years ago.

Anthropornis lived an aquatic lifestyle as modern penguins do, but they had bent wings. This is a trait that they carried over from their flying relatives.

Fun fact about Anthropornis: they were indirectly mentioned in the H.P. Lovecraft novel At the Mountains of Madness. Six foot tall albino cave penguins!

Status : Extinct for 37 million years
Location : Australia, Antarctica, New Zealand
Size : Height up to 6ft (1.8m), Weight up to 200lbs (90kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Sphenisciformes
Family : Spheniscidae -- Genus : Anthropornis

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fire Ant

Fire Ants
The name "Fire Ant" applies to nearly 300 different worldwide species of Ant all found within the genus Solenopsis. They are named for their coppery-red color, and possibly for the itchy, awful irritation that their stings can cause. Fun!

Fire Ants live in large colonies and are comprised of individuals that have one of three different roles. The queen is the only Ant that reproduces. She will lay several thousand eggs in a single day, and is the only ant that will actually live more than a few weeks! Queens can live for several years, while the other females, the workers, only make it a month or so. Drones are the only males in the colony. Their sole purpose is to mate with the female... and then they die after a lifespan of only four days.

Fire Ants use their stings to attack and kill their prey. While they do often eat grasses and leaves, they will also hunt larger insects like Crickets, as well as the occasional larger critter.

If you get stung by a Fire Ant, you will most likely end up getting a painful blister (or two, or two hundred...). People can also be allergic to the venom, and in those cases the reaction can be far more severe. Thankfully, Fire Ant nests tend to be very visible and identifiable, which makes them easier to avoid.

Some species of Fire Ant have now made it into countries that they are not native to, making them invasive. They destroy agricultural crops, as well as cause harm to both humans and livestock.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Worldwide
Size : Length 2-6mm
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Hymenoptera
Family : Formicidae -- Subfamily : Myrmicinae -- Genus : Solenopsis

Friday, October 21, 2011

African Wild Ass

Today we're going to learn all about the ancestor to the modern Donkey: the African Wild Ass. These members of the Equus genus were domesticated 6,000 years ago, and while Donkeys can now be found worldwide, their wild relatives have drastically dwindled in number.

Somali Wild Ass mare and foal in captivity
Though they were once found throughout the northern parts of the continent, African Wild Asses are now found only in scattered parts of Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, and Djibouti. They are regionally extinct elsewhere. The climate in these areas is rocky and arid, and the Asses have evolved to survive in dry climates. They can live through water loss that amounts to 30% of their overall body weight, and can rapidly gain those fluids back when water is available. African Wild Asses are most active during dawn and dusk, and they remain in the shade during the hottest parts of the day.

The Asses live in very loose herds that can number up to 50 individuals. The only strong attachments are between mothers and foals; the rest of the herd comes and goes based on the available supply of food and water. Adult males often hold on to large territories near water sources, and mate with females that come in to that range. The males actually mark their territory using dung heaps, which are excellent visual markers in flat landscapes.

The African Wild Ass in general, and two of its subspecies, the Somali and Nubian Wild Asses, are all listed as Critically Endangered. The animals have been hunted for food, and have been crossbreeding with domestic Donkeys for several millennia. They are also forced to compete for food against livestock. As a result of these threats there are only a few hundred left in the wild.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Northeast Africa
Size : 14hands (1.45m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Perissodactyla
Family : Equidae -- Genus : Equus -- Species : E. africanus

Thursday, October 20, 2011


So have you ever wondered where the fish in your sandwiches comes from? Would you be surprised to find out that one of the most popular commercially served species is a weird looking, skinny fish that lives at depths of around 3,300ft (1000m)?
Macruronus novaezelandiae

Meet the Hoki (or Blue Grenadier), the fish responsible for the McDonalds Filet O' Fish. Found around Australia and New Zealand, this slender, relatively deep sea dweller is considered by many to be a model of sustainable fishing. However, in 2009 a New York Times article questioned the Hoki fishing practices in New Zealand. While the country disputed the article, they did end up lowering the yearly quota by 2/3. Around 11 million pounds of Hokia re used by just McDonalds every year.

Hoki are actually related to Cod, which makes the food popularity less surprising. They live in schools and feed on other deep-ish sea creatures. They are also relatively longed lived for a fish, and have a lifespan of up to 25 years. When it comes time to breed, females can lay up to 1 million eggs at a time!

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Australia and New Zealand
Size : Length up to 45in (114cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Gadiformes
Family : Merlucciidae -- Genus : Macruronus -- Species : M. novaezelandiae

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Imperial Woodpecker

Illustration of Imperial Woodpeckers
A while back I wrote about the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, a species from the southern United States that is believed to extinct.... though unconfirmed sightings pop up from time to time.

The same can be said for the Imperial Woodpecker. This relative of the Ivory-Billed (they belong to the same genus) has not been officially seen in its Mexican homeland since 1956.

Habitat destruction, a fragmented population, and hunting all led to the decline of this species. The last confirmed bird was seen in 1956, though numerous searches have been undertaken to find any living specimens. One search, in 1994-1995, lasted 11 months and turned up nothing. Unconfirmed reports have popped up over the years, with one of the most recent in 2005.

Unfortunately, not a whole lot is known about this rare and possibly gone-forever Woodpecker. If they were still around, they'd be the largest living Woodpecker species. Males sported red crests, while the females' were all black. They fed primarily on beetle larvae.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered, Possibly Extinct since 1956
Location : Mexico
Size : Length up to 24in (60cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Piciformes
Family : Picidae -- Genus : Campephilus -- Species : C. imperialis
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