Monday, January 31, 2011

Greater Flamingo

(Image Source)
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Phoenicopteriformes
Family : Phoenicopteridae
Genus : Phoenicopterus
Species : roseus

Height : 43-60in (110-150cm)
Weight : 4.5-9lbs (2-4kg)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

The Greater Flamingo is both the largest, and the most widespread of all the Flamingo species. They are found in wetland parts of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, living in large colonies that can number as many as 200,000 birds. These colonies can be so large that breeding pairs develop special calls just so they can locate each other.

(Image Source)
Because they are taller than other flamingo species, Greater Flamingos are able to move into deeper water in search of food. They wade about, stirring up the water with their feet before collecting it into their beaks and siphoning it through filters in their mouth. Greater Flamingos feed on small invertebrates, as well as vegetation.

Greater Flamingo nests are pretty weird looking. They pile up mud and make in indentation in the top for the single egg laid. These eggs hatch after about a month, and within a week the chicks join a Creche with other young Flamingos. Chicks return to the nest to be fed via regurgitation, and parents and chicks are able to find each other based on their calls. Greater Flamingos mate for life.

Greater Flamingos are quite long lived. They often don't breed till they are round 10 years old, and can live as long as 40 years in the wild. One Flamingo from the Adelaide Zoo has lived at least 75 years.

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading, is where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It is a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list.

Regrettably I wasn't able to finish Witness to Extinction  this week as planned. Grad classes starting again killed a bunch of my free time. Hopefully that should be completed this week, along with a review. It's great so far, but really sad and makes you think a lot about the way different countries view wildlife conservation, and just how incredibly difficult the process can be from multiple angles.

Feathered Dinosaurs: The Origin of BirdsI ordered a few more library books, most notably Feathered Dinosaurs: The Origin of Birds by John Long and Peter Schouten. I've browsed around a bit and so far I'm really liking it. The illustrations are absolutely fantastic! As a child of the Jurassic Park era, I grew up with a pretty specific concept of what dinosaurs looked like. Science has progressed so much that we now know that many species actually had feathers at some point in their life, and seeing those findings matched with beautifully interpreted visuals is quite stunning.

I also wrote up reviews for What's Smaller Than A Pygmy Shrew? and Is a Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is? More books by Wells are incoming.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

American Pika

(Image Source)
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Lagomorpha
Family : Ochotonidae
Genus : Ochotona
Species : princeps

Length : 6-8in (15-20cm)
Weight : 6oz (170g)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

Pikas are small, round little members of the Lagomorph order. There are around two dozen different species of Pika which can be found in mountainous habitats around the world. The American Pika, and its name might suggest, is found in the mountains of Western Canada, the United States, and Mexico. In the northern part of their range they can sometimes be found at sea level, but the species is not very tolerant of warm weather. In the south they are rarely found at elevations lower than 2,500m.

(Image Source)
American Pikas are extremely vocal little guys. In fact, Pikas are sometimes referred to as whistling hares. They make calls to warn each other about potential predators and intruders, to establish territories, and also as a part of their mating behavior. Pikas live in colonies, with individuals having their own territory within the colony.

They are a diurnal, herbivorous species that forages for a variety of plant materials. They store excess materials in piles that they dry out and move to their dens. American Pikas do not hibernate in winter, and depend on these stocks for a bulk of their food during that season.

American Pikas are listed as being of Least Concern, but overall their population is declining. Fragmented habitats have caused low population densities, and feral cats have had an impact as well well.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

What's Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew?

What's Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew?By Robert E. Wells
Paperback : 32 Pages
January 1, 1995

A companion book of sorts to Is a Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is?, What's Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew? looks at the very very small. Starting with the minutly sized, 3inch long Pygmy Shrew, it works its way down to tiny bugs, single celled organisms, and even the cells and their individual components.

Once again intended for children around age 4-8, the book attempts to explain difficult terms and concepts in a cutely illustrated format, with examples and comparisons. I never before would have thought to teach five-year-olds about quarks, but this book certainly tries hard to make these microscopic particles and parts understandable and accessible to those of a young age.

Overall it is a fun and informative book that I would recommend to anyone with a child interested in science, or just to anyone in general. It's been a few years since I've taken a microbiology class, and this actually worked pretty well for a very basic refresher! A glossary in the back provides child-friendly definitions for all of the terms covered.

Laughing Kookaburra

(Image Source)
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Coraciiformes
Family : Halcyonidae
Genus : Dacelo
Species : novaeguineae

Length : 18in (45cm)
Weight : 1lb (.5kg)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

The Laughing Kookaburra is one of the most iconic animals in Australia, and is native to the eastern side of the continent, though they have been introduced elsewhere. They are most commonly found in open woodlands where breeding pairs establish a year-round territory.

Laughing Kookaburras get their name from their interesting laugh-like call. This call is most often heard at dawn and dusk, and is used to announce territories. This timed laughing behavior has earned them the nickname of "Bushman's Clock." Laughing Kookaburras also produce other sounds for situations like courtship and aggression.

Juvenile Kookaburra
The Laughing Kookaburra is actually the largest member of the Kingfisher family, though they don't really eat all that much fish.  They prefer instead to feed off of reptiles and invertebrates, which they snatch up with their large (up to 4in long) beaks.

There is a strong bond within Kookaburra families. Pairs mate for life and remain in the same territory, using the same nest year after year. Young Laughing Kookaburras are helpless and naked, and don't even open their eyes for three weeks. After fledging, the juveniles often hang around for a few years, assisting their parents with future broods before establishing territories of their own.

Kookaburras are quite the cultural figures in their native land. They are the subject of a popular childrens song, have had coins and stamp featuring their likeness, and they were even one of the three animals selected as mascots for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.

Camera Critters : Snuggie For Dogs

Maybe Snuggie for dogs works for some dogs.. but not my family's dogs. My favorite thing about this product is that they advertise the "large" size with a picture of a Collie. Because you know, Collies really need more fluffy covering.

Anyway, we tried one of these suckers out on Wicket and Loki, and they were none too pleased. Most of the short lived experiment involved them trying to rip it off each other.



Friday, January 28, 2011

Is a Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is?

Is a Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is?By Robert E. Wells
Paperback : 32 Pages
January 1, 1993

Is a Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is is an adorable book written with 4-8 year olds in mind. While it doesn’t exclusively cover animals, I enjoyed it so much that I’m going to add it in my bibliography anyway. Hey, it’s science!

Anyway, this book asks the titular question, and then, with use of charming illustrations and examples, explains how there are things much larger than the Blue Whale, and even much larger than our own planet and sun.

Wells tackles the concept of size by using ingenious comparisons between objects. For example, if you pretended our sun was an orange, and put it in a crate with 99 other “oranges,” you could neatly place that crate on the Supergiant Star Antares.. multiple times! Wells uses similar examples to move between increasingly larger and larger things.

I really enjoyed this book, and I feel it handled its topic very well. I’d image explaining the vast, expansive size of the universe to a 3rd grader might be difficult, but this book certainly makes it easier. And the lion drawing at the very beginning is exceptionally cute.

Whip-poor-will

(Image Source)
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Subclass : Neornithes
Order : Caprimulgiformes
Family : Caprimulgidae
Subfamily : Caprimulginae
Genus : Caprimulgus
Species : vociferus

Length : 9-10in (23-25cm)
Wingspan : 16-20in (40.5-51cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

The Whip-poor-will is a migratory Nightjar that spends its summers in the Eastern United States and it's winters further south into Mexico and Central America. Their name is an onomatopoeia that reflects that type of sound that they make. In their range they are typically heard but not seen; Whip-poor-wills have grayish-brown mottled feathers that serves as excellent camouflage.

Whip-poor-wills are nocturnal predators, and feed off of flying insects. They hunt by waiting at a perch and then swooping down on their prey, they also sometimes chase after the insects for sustained flights.

Whip-poor-wills have some pretty interesting nesting habits. First off, they don't build nests at all, they lay their eggs on leaves. Eggs are laid in cycle with the moon phases, so that the adults are able to forage all night during the full moon. This allows them to feed their chicks more. After the chicks hatch they tend to stay spread out, hiding among the leaves so that it is more difficult for predators to find them.

Whip-poor-wills are least as being of Least Concern, but it is believed that they are declining in certain areas. Their camouflage makes it difficult to perform an accurate census.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Zebra Mussel

(Image Source)
Phylum : Mollusca
Class : Bivalvia
Subclass : Heterodonta
Order : Veneroida
Family : Dreissenidae
Genus : Dreissena
Species : polymorpha

Length : .25-2in (.6-5cm)

IUCN Status : Not listed

Zebra Mussels were originally located in Southwest and Central Asia, in the Black and Caspian Sea regions. By the 1800s however, these little guys were invading waterways throughout Europe, making it as far as England and Ireland. In 1988, they were first discovered in the American Great Lakes, and are now considered an invasive species.

Zebra Mussels aren't particularly large, as a adults they rarely grow above two inches. They have a "D" shaped shell with an opening. Out of this opening comes a threadlike external organ called a Byssus, which allows them to attach to just about anything. They even attach themselves to other living organisms. Zebra Mussels are filter feeders; they go through about a quart of water each day and consume algae and phytoplankton.

So why are Zebra Mussels so bad? Well first off, they are prolific breeders. Females produce between 30,000 and 1,000,000 eggs every year, and adults can live as long as 6-8 years. The larvae are small and free-swimming, which makes it very easy for them to get into new water supplies and cause contamination. Because they attach to most surfaces and filter so much water, they threaten the food supplies of native species. They have also caused the decline of other Mussel species, since they will attach themselves to those as well.

(Image Source)
Zebra Mussels also have a very expensive impact on humans. They clog up the pipes of power plants and water treatment centers, and it costs over $500 million dollars per year to control them. Special metals and coatings can be used to deter them from attaching themselves, but so far there is no single, completely effective method of controlling them.

Strangely, Zebra Mussels have a positive effect on some species. Because they filter so much detritus, water is clearer in certain areas, which prompts growth in underwater plants. This in turn feeds fish and other aquatic animals. Zebra Mussels are also a food source for several species. However, there are so many of them that even with rapid consumption their numbers are not put in check.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pere David's Deer

(Image Source)
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Cervidae
Subfamily : Cervinae
Genus : Elaphurus
Species : davidianus

Height : 4ft (1.2m)
weight : 290lbs (135kg)

IUCN Status : Extinct in the Wild

The Pere David's Deer is named after French Missionary Pere (Father) Armand David, who first publicized the species to the outside world in 1865. They are also sometimes referred to as Milu. The deer had become more or less extinct in their native China, but the emperor had kept a large herd within his Imperial Hunting Park. David worked tirelessly to export some of these deer to Europe, and it was lucky that he did, because a terrible flood killed most of the park's herd not long after. All remaining deer in China were killed and consumed by soldiers during the Boxer Rebellion.

With all the deer in China gone, the European specimens were all the world had left. The Duke of Bedford collected 18 individuals from different zoos and brought them to Woburn Abbey, where he worked on a captive breeding program. Though the two World Wars resulted in some setbacks, by 1946 there were over 300 deer at the park.

(Image Source)
In 1985 the first captive bred herd was released into Beijing Milu Park, and 1986 another group was brought to Dafeng Milu Natural Reserve, north of Shanghai. There are now several hundred Deer in Chinese reserves. The overall world population is increasing, and does not seem to be adversely affected by the inbreeding that had to take place over 100 years ago.

Pere David's Deer historically lived in swampy marsh areas. They are reddish brown in the summer, and take on a more gray color in the winter. Males have antlers that they shed off each year. Females have a long gestation period that can last up to 9 months, and they typically give birth to one or two fawns.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Secretary Bird

(Image Source)
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Accipitriformes
Family : Sagittariidae
Genus : Sagittarius
Species : serpentarius

Height : 4ft (1.3m)
Wingspan : 6.9ft (2.1m)
Weight : 5-9lbs (2.3-4kg)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

Secretary Birds can be found in the grass plains of Africa, and they are the longest legged of all the raptors. They can indeed fly, but they prefer to stroll through the grass in search of prey. Secretary Birds and Caracas are the only terrestrial birds of prey.

What is the story behind the name? Back in the 19th century, male secretaries wore dark tail coats, short trousers, and carried quills behind their ears. The Secretary Bird mimics that visual with their feathered heads, tail, and dark legs. Their scientific name, Sagittarius sepentarius also has a story. It means "the archer of snakes" because these birds are so exceptional at hunting down both venomous and nonvenomous snake species.

(Image Source)
Aside from snakes, Secretary Birds feed on rodents, insects, birds, and other reptiles. They often hunt in pairs or small groups, stalking as far as 20 miles a day throughout their territory. Once food is found, they either strike with their beak, or stomp as it with their feet. They also sometimes use a technique that involves picking up the prey and hurling it into the air.

Secretary Birds mate for life, and often return to the same large treetop nest year after year. These nests can exceed 8t (2.4m) in diameter. Both parents feed and raise the chicks, teaching them to stalk and hunt. Juveniles fledge after 2-3 months, and will leave their parents not long after.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Impala

Male Impala
Kingdom : Animalia
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae
Subfamily : Aepycerotinae
Genus : Aepyceros
Species : melampus

Height : 29-36in (73-92cm)
Weight : 99-132lbs (45-60kg)

IUCN Status : Least Concern, but Aepyceros melampus petersi (Black Faced Impala) is listed as vulnerable

Impalas are found in Eastern Africa in light woodland and grassland areas. The species exhibits sexual dimorphism, with the males growing slightly larger than the females. Males are also the only sex to have horns, which grow in a S-shape to a size of up to 35in (90cm).

Impalas have a really interesting social structure, living in specific group types during different parts of the year. During the wet season young males whoa re non-territorial will form bachelor herds, and females and juveniles form herds that can number over 100 individuals. They will enter territories that are controlled by breeding-age males, and will remain in that territory throughout the season. At the end of the wet season, breeding (rutting) season occurs, and lasts about three weeks.

After rutting the dry season happens, and herds move more frequently and males are less territorial. Adult males will even travel with the female and juvenile herds in search of food and water. Female Impalas give birth in isolation, and will return to the herd after a day or two. Her calf will join a nursery group along with other young Impalas and will return to its mother to feed.

Female Impala, taken at MCZ
One rather interesting fact about the Impala is that it has a varied, adaptable diet. They are able to both graze and browse, and feed on numerous types of grasses, leaves, and seeds. This allows them to obtain a  nutritious diet throughout the wet and dry seasons, and keeps them from having to undergo the migrations that many other African mammals do.

Overall, Impalas are abundant and have a stable population trend. However, one subspecies, the Black-Faced Impala, is in pretty bad shape. Most are found in Namibia's Etosha National Park, where they are protected. Their numbers have been steadily growing, but interbreeding with Common Impalas has impacted their gene pool.

Dogs: Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History

Dogs: Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary HistoryBy Xiaoming Wang and Richard H. Tedford
Illustrations by Mauricio Anton
Hardcover : 232 Pages
July 14, 2008

You know, I had never thought about dentition before reading Dogs: Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History. Probably not something that most people think about, but it sure opened my eyes! Just learning about why the teeth of dogs are the way they are, why cats are so different from dogs, and how every single piece of their anatomy evolved over millions of years to serve such specific purposes was absolutely fascinating.

The illustrations are also amazing, and cover the extensive history of dog evolution over time. Not the most accessible book for all general readers, but worth it for anyone with a real interest in canine evolution, or of mammalian biology in general.

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading, is where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It is a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list.


Witness to Extinction: How We Failed to Save the Yangtze River DolphinI finished up The Search for the Giant Squid last week, as evidence by my review post. And since then I've picked up Witness to Extinction by Samuel Turvey. It's a book about the Baiji, or Yangtze River Dolphin, which was driven to functional extinction in the last century. Turvey was actually the lead author of the report that declared that probable extinction back in 2006.


I'm only about 30 pages in to the book, but so far its been a really fascinating read. It's hard to use positive adjectives to describe a situation that is so sad, but the book is interesting and well written, and tells the tale of an amazing animal with a tragic history.

Is a Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is?What's Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew?
On a happier, lighter note, I'm also looking at Is a Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is? and What's Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew?, both by Robert E. Wells. I technically read them last week, since they are children's books that take about ten minutes to go through. However, I haven't written up reviews for them yet, so that's one of my plans for the week. I also need to get my darn bibliography page restructured, but that's a whole other issue entirely. Baby steps... baby steps.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Common Snapping Turtle

(Image Source)
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Order : Testudines
Family : Chelydridae
Genus : Chelydra 
Species : serpentina

Length : 10-20in (25-50cm)
Weight : 10-40lbs (4.5-18kg)

IUCN Status : Not Listed

The Common Snapping Turtle has a pretty extensive range that covers a great deal of Eastern North America. They are found in fresh water, preferring habitats that have muddy bottoms, which make it easier for them to hide. They are among the largest freshwater turtles in North America.

There are four recognized subspecies, each with their own range. They all possess long tails, clawed feet, and powerful beak-like jaws. They use those jaws to catch and consume just about anything they can fit inside of them. Common Snapping Turtles are omnivores, and eat fish, invertebrates, birds, mammals, plant matter, and carrion. They even consume other turtles, who they kill by decapitation. They sometimes hunt by burying themselves in the muddy water-bottoms, and then ambushing their prey.

Common Snapping Turtles are not at all social, and are really only seen together during mating or when fighting over territory. They are quite aggressive when handled out of the water, but become more calm when released back into the preferred habitat. Common Snapping Turtles were (and still are in some places) hunted for their meat. Hunting has not had a serious impact on their population.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Viceroy Butterfly

(Image Source)
Phylum : Arthropoda
Class : Insecta
Order : Lepidoptera
Superfamily : Papilionoidea
Family : Nymphalidae
Subfamily : Limenitidinae
Genus : Limenitis 
Species:  archippus 

Length : 2.5-3.5in (6.5-9cm) wingspan

IUCN Status : Not listed

I mentioned mimicry briefly in my Butterfly photo post, so I figured I would expand upon it a little more with today's animal. There are actually two ways that butterflies mimic other butterfly species. The first of these is known as Batesian mimicry, and this is when a non-toxic species looks like a toxic species in order to stay safe. The second type, Muellerian mimicry, is when two equally toxic species mimic each other, benefiting one another. The Viceroy Butterfly is a Muellerian mimic, and if you couldn't already tell, their partner in crime is the Monarch Butterfly.

Viceroys and Monarchs looks incredibly similar, with the small difference being a black bar that runs horizontally across the Viceroy's lower wings. The two species are not closely related, and belong to different subfamilies. However, both are toxic when consumed, so the similar coloration keeps predators from eating both of them.

(Image Source)
Viceroys and Monarchs share a great deal of their range. They are both found through North America, inhabiting fields, swamps, and marshes. They often live near Willow, Cottenwood, and Poplar trees, as these are where they lay their eggs. Caterpillars eat the leaves of these trees upon hatching, and their coloration camouflages them to look like bird droppings. Adult Viceroy Butterflies feed off of nectar, and have modified mouth parts that can reach down into plans in order to feed.

Viceroy Butterflies are the state Butterfly of Kentucky.

Camera Critters : Butterflies All Around

A few weeks back I made my way over to the Milwaukee Public Museum, where they have a butterfly wing that you can stroll through. There are a handful of species, but I unfortunately neglected to figure out what was what, so now I have a whole mess of random butterfly pictures. I might try and sort them at some point, but one of the big things they emphasized at the exhibit was that many butterfly species mimic other species as a defense mechanism, so I might just be out of luck! Gave me an excuse to use some close-up settings on the camera though!

Camera Critters

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Search for the Giant Squid: The Biology and Mythology of the World's Most Elusive Sea Creature

The Search for the Giant Squid: The Biology and Mythology of the World's Most Elusive Sea CreatureBy Richard Ellis
Paperback : 336 Pages
October 1, 1999

Richard Ellis is one of the foremost painters of Marine Natural History art in the United States, and is an accomplished writer on the subject to boot. He’s published roughly 80 magazine and journal articles, and over a dozen books. The Search for the Giant Squid, published in 1999, tells the fantastic tale of genus Architeuthis, the largest animals in the world to have never been seen alive (at time of publication, see blow). Ellis recounts our history with the Squid, and the mythology that it inspired. Tales of sea serpents and the formidable Kraken were no doubt misinterpretations of Squid sightings, and these sightings continued to baffle sailors well into the modern era. Even today there is so little known about the Giant Squid.

Ellis details our fascination with Architeuthis, and how we’ve struggled to hunt down and understand these giants among animals. Aside from covering the Squids biology and natural history, chapters highlight the iconic rivalry between the Squid and the Sperm Whale, the Giant Squid as portrayed in literature and cinema, and even a brief history of models made of the Giant Squid (which were quite difficult to make accurately since the only specimens that artists can model them after were ones that were dead).

This book is is incredibly comprehensive in covering what we know (and mostly what we don’t know) about the Giant Squid. Ellis incorporates text from eyewitness reports, snippets from literary passages, and copious photographs and works of art to better describe our relationship with this fabled sea monster. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in sea life or a curiosity for the unknown.


The First Live Giant Squid Photographed
As a footnote: At the time of publication, there had been no confirmed live sightings of a Giant Squid in its natural habitat, and no photographic or video evidence. All that we had to study for hundreds of years were washed up carcasses and bits and pieces in the stomachs of whales. In 2004, the first images of a Giant Squid were captured by Japanese scientists using a lure almost 3,000 feet below the ocean’s surface. In 2006 that same team captured and filmed a live female. Though these images and videos have helped to answer some questions, there are still so many left out there. It may be many more years still, if ever, before we can truly understand all of the habits and behaviors of these elusive creatures.
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