Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Barbary Macaque

Macaca sylvanus
Meet the only primate (besides humans of course!) to live on the European continent. Barbary Macaques, which  also live in Morocco and Algeria, exist in a handful of colonies within the British territory of Gibraltar, which is located on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula.

Though they are sometimes referred to as Barbary Apes or Rock Apes, that name is not technically correct. Though they do not have tails, they are actually true Old World Monkeys. They live in colonies that can number over 100 members, and they are relatively unique among Macaques in that the males actually help care for the young. This is due to the fact that the females will mate with more than one male, so the paternity of all offspring is uncertain.

Legend has it that British rule will continue on the tiny, 2.5 square mile stretch of land as long as the Macaques are around. (Sound familiar to a certain tale about the Tower Ravens, huh?) When the Monkeys began to dwindle in population during the early 1900s due to illness, more were important from Africa and reintroduced. There are now close to 300 Barbary Macaques living on the Rock of Gibraltar in a protected nature reserve (though they do come down to the city from time to time), and they have become quite the tourist spectacle!

Elsewhere the Barbary Macaque populations aren't doing so well. They were once widespread throughout Northern Africa, but now live in only a few pockets of Morocco and Algeria. Habitat loss from human encroachment and the logging industry has led to declining numbers. Hunting and culling practices have also led to lasting, negative effects on the species. They are now protected in a handful of national parks, and there are suggestions to reintroduce them to Libya and Tunisia.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Northern Africa, Gibraltar
Size : Body length around 2ft (60cm), Weight around 22lbs (10kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Primates
Family : Cercopithecidae -- Genus : Macaca -- Species : M. sylvanus

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Burmese Peacock

Polyplectron bicalcaratum
Burmese Peacocks are also referred to as Grey Peacock-Pheasants, which is probably a more apt name, as they are not actually Peacocks... though they do belong to the same family. At any rate, they share some physical resemblances to Peacocks- most notably the eyes on their tail feathers.

Burmese Peacocks are the national birds of Myanmar, which was called Burma until 1989, though some still refer to it as such. The birds live in several other Southeast Asian countries as well, and are divided into four subspecies.

The species as a whole is listed as being of Least Concern, because they have a large range and population size. It unfortunately appears that they may be declining in number, but it is a slow descent that does not yet meet the vulnerability thresholds. The birds are listed under CITES Appendix II, because they can be kept in captivity and grabbing individuals from the wild could become problematic for the species.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Southeast Asia
Size : Length up to 30in (77cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Galliformes
Family : Phasianidae -- Genus : Polyplectron -- Species : P. bicalcaratum

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mute Swan

Cygnus olor
Mute Swans are some of the most common Swans in the entire world. They are found across Europe and Asia, and have even been imported to North America, where they have also become widespread in many areas near larger bodies of water.

The common name comes from the fact that Mute Swans aren't especially vocal. They can make hisses, whistles, and snorts, but they aren't very loud due to the orientation of their trachea. Most of their communication comes from visual displays.

Mute Swans are monogamous, and tend to have the same mate for life, but this is not always the case. Swan divorce has been observed, and widowed Swans will choose new mates. In the cases of "remarriage" the younger Swan will almost always join the territory of the older Swan. Both mates help to incubate the eggs and defend the nest.

Because they are so widespread Mute Swans aren't in any real population danger. They do, however, pose slight threats to other species, especially in their non-native areas. In North America they compete with Loons and Trumpeter Swans for food and territory.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Europe and Asia
Size : Length up to 65in (1.65m), Wingspan up to 95in (2.4m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Anseriformes
Family : Anatidae -- Genus : Cygnus --Species : C. olor

Edible-Nest Swiftlet

Aerodramus fuciphagus
Edible-Nest Swiftlet... what a weird name for a bird! But have you ever heard of Bird's Nest Soup? This is the bird whose nest is in that soup. Makes more sense now, right?

When you normally think of a birds nest, you think of sticks, and leaves, and rocks, and little plastic things. Not things that are generally found in soup. But the Edible-Nest Swiftlet uses none of those materials. Their nest is a collection of built up, hardened saliva!

...OK, so saliva is not the most appetizing thing either. But the nests are collected and soaked and steamed to make soup, which is considered by some to be an aphrodisiac. The soup is described as having a gelatinous texture.

Unfortunately, the harvesting of these nests has damaged some local populations over the last few hundred years. Some are even going regionally extinct. Conservation programs have been put into place in some countries to protect the wild birds, and a practice known as "House Nesting" has cropped up. This process involves attracting the Swiftlets to nest in man-made structures. Birds that build the wrong kind of nest have their nests removed, but those with the correct nest type are left alone. Over time, a near-captive colony can be sustained that produces only the nests required by the trade. However, because these nests are produced "artificially," they fetch lower prices and a demand for "true nests" continues. Reminds me a bit of the diamond industry, but that's a whole different story.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South East Asia
Size : Length up to 4in (11cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Apodiformes
Family : Apodidae -- Genus : Aerodramus -- Species : A. fuciphagus

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Three-Striped Damsel

Dascyllus aruanus
The Three-Stripe Damsel is a small, boldly patterned fish found near coral reefs in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They live at depths of up to 12m.

They measure only around 4in in length, and are named for the three black vertical stripes that run down their bodies.

Three-Stripe Damsels make great starter fish in captivity. They are disease resistant, adapt to many different food types, and can be kept in groups.

It is important to note, however, that each Damsel should have its own rock or area in which to live, because this simulates the habitat that the wild fish have within coral reefs, and it prevents the adult Damsels from being too territorial or aggressive with one another.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Pacific and Indian Oceans
Size : Length up to 4in (10cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Perciformes
Family : Pomacentridae -- Genus : Dascyllus -- Species : D. aruanus

Friday, November 25, 2011


Albertosaurus is a Cretaceous carnivore named for the Canadian province of its discovery It was first discovered by J.B. Tyrell  in 1884, and was officially identified as a species in 1905.

As a member of the family Tyrannosauridae, Albertosaurus is a relative to the T. Rex. They share many physical similarities, including a large skull, small forelimbs, and powerful hind legs. Albertosaurus, however, was smaller than the T. Rex, and predated it by a few million years. They were probably very fast runners, and could recovered from stumbles and falls easier than their larger relatives.

Skull Cast
Albertosaurus had quite a few teeth. 14-16 on the lower jaw, and 17-19 on the upper. Though they had only one row of teeth at a given time, there was always a replacement growing in the jaw in case a tooth fell out!

We actually know quite a bit about the Albertosaurus, as there have been fossils of over 30 different individuals discovered. Not only are there numerous fossils, but the individuals that they represent span a large age range. That, combined with the fact that many of the fossils were found on one site, suggests that the Albertosaurus lived in large pack groups.

There is a little bit of confusion surrounding the species within the Albertosaurus genus. A. sarcophagus has long been considered the type species, but for a long time a second species A. libratus was also classified with the genus. Studies have been done to determine whether these two Dinosaurs belong so closely related, and now there are many who have changed A. libratus  to Gorgosaurus libratus.

Status : Extinct for 70 million years
Location : Western North America
Size : Length up to 33ft (10m), Weight up to 5,500lbs (2,500kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Saurischia
Family : †Tyrannosauridae -- Genus : †Albertosaurus -- Species : A. sarcophagus

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ocellated Turkey

Meleagris ocellata
Well, last year I covered the Wild Turkey, so it seems fitting that for this Thanksgiving I write about its lesser known relative, the Ocellated Turkey. Did you know that they are the only two Turkey species in the entire world?

I wouldn't blame you if you had never heard of this bird until today. They have a very limited range and are not well studied. Ocellated Turkeys are found exclusively on the Yucatan peninsula, in a range that covers only about 50,000 square miles. They live in tropical forests, but enter more open habitats during the breeding season.

If placed side by side, it would be easy to tell the Ocellated Turkey apart from the Wild Turkey. They are smaller in size, but they are much more fanciful in color, sporting bronze and iridescent green plumage (though the males are of course more vibrant than the females). The diet of the Ocellated Turkey is quite varied. They are omnivores that feed on seeds, berries, nuts, and insects.

The species is threatened due to hunting and habitat loss. They are most vulnerable during the breeding season, as the birds enter areas that are more open in order to perform courtship displays.

IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : Mexico
Size : Weight up to 12lbs (5.4kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Galliformes
Family : Meleagrididae -- Genus : Meleagris -- Species : M. ocellata

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wolf Eel

Anarrhichthys ocellatus
Despite the name, Wolf Eels aren't actually related to the true Eels- they are members of the bony fish order! They are a monotypic species in their genus, and belong to the Wolffish family along with four other species.

If you take a look at the Wolf Eel's head, you'll notice it actually looks pretty fish like. But when its body is supposed to stop.... it just keeps going. They can grow several feet long and weigh nearly 40lbs!

Wolf Eels live in relatively shallow water, typically no deeper than around 700ft (213m). They live in rocky crevasses, leaving only their heads exposed. They hunt mollusks, shellfish, and crustaceans by waiting for the critters to wander by. Interestingly, Wolf Eels are monogamous, and pairs will share a den and protect their eggs together.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Pacific Ocean
Size : Length up to 80in (2m), Weight up to 40lbs (18kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Perciformes
Family : Anarhichadidae -- Genus : Anarrhichthys -- Species : A. ocellatus

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Demoiselle Crane

Anthropoides virgo
Demoiselle Cranes are the smallest members of the Crane family, and are also one of the most common species. They live in Central Asia in grassland and steppe habitats.

The common name for the species actually was bestowed upon the birds by Marie Antoinette.  When some of the Cranes were brought to her in France, she named them for their delicate and ladylike appearance. "Demoiselle" translates to "Damsel."

Demoiselle Cranes are migratory birds, and live in very large flocks when they travel. Once they have reached their breeding grounds, however, they pair off (they mate for life) and become territorial. The mated Cranes strengthen their bonds with one another through song, exhibiting a behavior called unison calling. They are also very enthusiastic dancers, and engage in ballets with their mates. They also dance to attract mates, to relieve tension, and to develop motor skills when young. The Cranes also communicate through a variety of calls, and their voices are low and raspy.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Central Asia
Size : Length up to 39in (1m), Wingspan up to 71in (1.8m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Gruiformes
Family : Gruidae -- Genus : Anthropoides -- Species : A. virgo

Monday, November 21, 2011

Barbary Lion

Wild Barbary Lion, photographed in 1893
Barbary Lions are members of a Lion subspecies that once lived throughout northern Africa. They are now considered to be extinct in the wild. There may be some captive specimens left, but there is some controversy as to whether many are true members of the subspecies.

The history of the Barbary Lion is a storied one. They were once fought off by the ancient Egyptians, and they were captured by the Romans for use in gladiatorial events. They also lived in the English Royal Menagerie (and later in the Tower of London) as far back as the 12th and 13th centuries. Morroccan Kings and Sultans  kept Barbary Lions, and there are some captive individuals today who are said to be descendants of the "Royal Lions."

Barbary Lions were huge. Adult males could weigh as much as 600lbs, making them the largest of the subspecies. They also had shaggy manes that extended well beyond their necks, reaching to their backs and even covering their undersides. They also had a grayer coloration to their manes than other Lions.

Possible Captive Barbary Lion
Interestingly, Barbary Lions have more in common genetically with Asiatic Lions than with other African Lions. This may be because of the large Saharan divide between the Barbary Lions and their southern relatives. Another theory is that the now completely extinct European Lion helped to bridge the gap between the cats living in North Africa and Asia.

Once upon a time it was believed that any long maned lion could be a descendant of the wild Barbary Lions. This has been proven untrue. Lion mane size is actually dependent on outsides factors, including temperature. After the last Barbary Lions were killed, various zoos and organizations claimed to have these lions in captivity, including Lions related to the Royal Lions in Morocco. Genetic testing on museum specimens (and on skulls from the Tower of London!) has helped to identify markers of the subspecies, but there is still a great deal to be known about their genetic distinctness. Until everything gets sorted out, efforts are being made to keep the remaining lions in their own selective breeding group.

IUCN Status : Extinct in the Wild since the 1920s
Location : North Africa
Size : Weight up to 600lbs (272 kg) in males, 400lbs (180kg) in females
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Felidae -- Genus : Panthera -- Species : P. leo -- Subspecies : P. l. leo

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tithonus Birdwing

Male Tithonus Birdwing

The male Tithonus Birdwing is a stunning green butterfly found in Southeast Asia and Australia. Females are also pretty good looking, with a bold pattern of black, white, and yellow. They also happen to be larger than their male counterparts, which is already pretty big. Tithonus Birdwings can have wingspans that measure almost 8 inches!

As adults, they breed in the forest valleys, but they tend to do much of their actual courtship and mating higher up on the ridges.

Tithonus Birdwings are prized by collectors for their size and beauty. Many of the Birdwing Butterflies are threatened or endangered. The data behind the Tithonus Birdwing is deficient according to the IUCN, but they are protected under CITES Appendix II.

IUCN Status : Data Deficient
Location : Australia and South East Asia
Size : Wingspan up to 7.5in (19cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Lepidoptera
Family : Papilionidae -- Genus : Ornithoptera -- Species : O. tithonus

Guadalupe Fur Seal

Arctocephalus townsendi
We almost lost the Guadalupe Fur Seal. They were hunted commercially during the 1700s and 1800s, and were believed to be extinct by the beginning of the 20th century. Luckily, some survived and the species has been revived. The population is now nearing 7,500. Though they have been rebounding, they still remain the rarest of the Fur Seals.

Guadalupe Fur Seals breed exclusively on Guadalupe Island, off of the Pacific Coast of Mexico. The location is a protected sanctuary. When not breeding, the seals have occasionally been found up towards California and the Channel Islands.

Guadalupe Fur Seals exhibit incredible sexual dimorphism. Males can weigh nearly 4 times more than the females! However, females tend to live longer. Their life expectancy (around 23 years) is close to double that of a males (only 13 years).

During the mating season males will protect territories and mate with all females inside of their range (usually 4-12 in total). Interestingly, many of the seals will breed in caves rather than on the beaches. One theory is that the hunting of the past drove them to hide.

Fish and Squid make up the Fur Seal's diet. And though they are not truly migratory, they will make round trips that measure hundreds of miles in order to find food. They hunt mainly at night, and will dive to depths of around 55ft (17m).

IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : Guadalupe Island, Mexico
Size : Length up to 7ft (2.2m) for males, 5ft (1.5m) for females. Weight up to 415lbs (188kg) for males, 110lbs (49kg) for females
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Suborder : Pinnipedia -- Family : Otariidae -- Genus : Arctocephalus -- Species : A. townsendi

Friday, November 18, 2011


Alosa pseudoharengus
The Alewife is a member of the herring family that was originally found off of the Atlantic Coast. Though they are still exist in that range, over the last fifty years they have become an invasive species in the Great Lakes.

In the 1950s, Alewives used the Welland Canal in Ontario to get around Niagara Falls and enter the Great Lakes. Around that same time, Sea Lamprey also invaded, killing off many of the large prey species that would have normally consumed the Alewives. Lack of predation allowed the species to spread, and they are now most abundant in Lake Michigan and in Lake Huron.

Though they are still abundant in the Great Lakes, the population is more in check than it once was. This is due to the introduction of predator species like stocked Trout and Salmon. Unfortunately, the Alewives still vie for food (mostly zooplankton) with other fish, and have negatively affected other populations because of that competition.

Atlantic Alewives are anadromous, a term that means the fish live at sea, but come into freshwater to spawn. Great Lakes Alewives obviously live their entire lives in freshwater, though they spawn in more shallow areas, depositing up to 12,000 eggs! The larvae hatch after only a week, and the fish can live 6 to 7 years.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : North America
Size : Length up to 6in (15cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Clupeiformes
Family : Clupeidae -- Genus : Alosa -- Species : A. pseudoharengus

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Channel Catfish

Ictalurus punctatus
The Channel Catfish is the most common, and most frequently angled, Catfish in North America. Their range stretches from southern Canada to northern Mexico, and they'll live in just about any fresh body of water that provides them with adequate food and water temperature.

You can identify a Channel Catfish by taking a look at its tail. They have very deep forked tails when compared to other Catfish species. They also tend of have dark spots on the top side, though in older fish they may merge together.

Channel Catfish can grow to pretty large sizes over their 40 year lifespan, and the food that they eat changes with their size. As young fish they are more omnivorous, eating small critters and plant matter. But as they grow larger they are more and more carnivorous, eating fish, reptiles, and even birds! The Channel Catfish themselves are preyed on frequently when they are in the egg to juvenile phases, but full grown adults have far fewer predators.

Did you know that Channel Catfish are monogamous, breed only once a year, and are pretty good parents? Males and females pair up before the breeding season begins. When it comes time to mate they will swim with their tails wrapped around each other's heads, which stimulates spawning. Once the fertilized eggs are laid the male chases the female off, but she remains nearby to protect her new offspring from a distance. The male sticks around in a much closer proximity, and eventually helps to feed the juvenile fish when they hatch by thrashing in the mud to loosen food bits into the water. The young fish will be independent from their parents within two weeks. Quite the interesting fish!

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : North America
Size : Weight up to 50lbs (23kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Siluriformes
Family : Ictaluridae -- Genus : Ictalurus -- Species : I. punctatus

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hyacinth Macaw

Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus
The Hyacinth Macaw is a stunning member of the Parrot family that can be found in parts of Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia. They are the longest Parrots in the world, and the largest flying species. But they do not take the top prize for heaviest- that honor of course goes to our flightless Kakapo friends.

You can tell you are looking at a Hyacinth due to its vibrant blue coloration accented by yellow around the eyes and beak. There is another parrot species, the Lears Macaw, that has the same colors but a much smaller in size.

Hyacinth Macaws might look like jungle dwelling birds, but they are actually more common in grasslands and semi-wooded areas. They feed on different types of seed and nut, using their strong bills to crack them open. But interestingly, there are some palm nuts that the Macaws will eat only after they have soften... by going through the digestive tracts of livestock.

Hyacinth Macaws are an endangered species, and are protected by law in Bolivia and Brazil. Their commercial export is also banned through CITES Appendix I, but that hasn't completely stopped illegal traders from snatching them from the wild. Their size and coloration has made them very sought after in the pet industry, and can be legally purchased, though they sell for as much as $10,000.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : South America
Size : Length up to 3.3ft (1m), Weight up to 3.5lbs (1.6kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Psittaciformes
Family : Psittacidae -- Genus : Anodorhynchus -- Species : A. hyacinthinus

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Australian Swamp Rat

Rattus lutreolus
The Australian Swamp Rat is a species that is common throughout its range in south and eastern Australia. They prefer areas of dense vegetation that may or may not be swamp related, so don't let the name fool you! They need for vegetation is twofold; Swamp Rats needs to hide from predators (they even cut complex tunnels in the vegetation!), and the females need enough food to have the energy to reproduce.

Speaking of reproducing... The Australian Swamp Rat breeding season can last the entire year, though spring to autumn is more common. The gestation period lasts only 3-4 weeks, and a female can produce multiple litters during a single season.

And did you know that a female rat born at the beginning of the season can herself breed by the end of it? They reach sexual maturity after less than 3 months, and only have a life expectancy of around 18 months.

Australian Swamp Rats are both nocturnal and diurnal (basically they feed when they want), and they are herbivores that dine on seeds and grasses.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Australia
Size : Body Length up to 8in (20cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Rodentia
Family : Muridae -- Genus : Rattus -- Species : R. lutreolus
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