Monday, February 28, 2011

Speckled Padloper Tortoise

Speckled Padloper Tortoise
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Sauropsida
Order : Testudines
Family : Testudinidae
Genus : Homopus
Species: signatus

Length : 4in (11cm)

IUCN Status: Near Threatened

The Speckled Padloper Tortoise is the smallest tortoise in the entire world! Found in South Africa, this tiny guy has a speckled shell whose carapace rarely grows longer than a third of a foot!

Their speckles help to keep them camouflaged in rocky areas, where they spend a great deal of their time hiding. Not much is known about their behavior in the wild, other than that females lay only one egg at a time and that the species is herbivorous.

Speckled Padloper Tortoises have several threats working against them. These include loss of habitat, introduction of highways, poaching for the pet trade, and the introduction of new predatory species. Their low birth rate has also made it difficult for this tiny species to survive through so many changes.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Scarlet Ibis

Scarlet Ibis
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Ciconiiformes
Family : Threskiornithidae
Genus : Eudocimus
Species : ruber

Body Length : 24in (61cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

My family is pretty into the Oscars and all of the film awards shows that lead up to them. Tonight is the big event, and I wanted to write about a red animal to celebrate the red carpet. And what animal is more red than the striking Scarlet Ibis?

Scarlet Ibises are found in South America, and are the national bird of Trinidad and Tobago (which is quite impressive, considering the number of species there.)

Male Scarlet Ibis
Like Flamingos, Scarlet Ibises get their striking coloration from the food that they eat. They gain pigmentation from various small crustaceans and grow more and more red with age. Their long beaks and long legs allow them to wade through water and locate their prey.

Female Scarlet Ibises lay 2-3 eggs, which hatch after about 3 weeks. Both parents incubate the eggs and acre for the chicks. The young are a dull brown color. It will take about two years to reach a full, bright red.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Giant Huntsman Spider

Giant Huntsman Spider
Phylum : Arthropoda
Class : Arachnida
Order : Araneae
Family : Sparassidae
Genus : Heteropoda
Species : maxima

Legspan : 12in (30cm)
Body Size : 2in (4.7cm)

IUCN Status : Not Listed

The Giant Huntsman Spider is a newly identified species that was first discovered in the Mekong region in 2001. It has the largest legspan of any spider species yet uncovered (though since 2001 we've found over 1,000 new species in the Mekong alone, so who knows!)

Despite its scary huge size, the Giant Huntsman Spider is not dangerous to humans. They get their name from the fact that they stalk and hunt down their prey (insects, small vertebrates); they are also quite fast on their long, gangly legs.

Giant Huntsman Spiders are not venomous, and a bite from them will just give you a regular old spider bite.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Chinese Giant Salamander

Chinese Giant Salamander
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Amphibia
Order : Caudata
Family : Cryptobranchidae
Genus : Andrias
Species : davidianus

Length : 40in (1m)
Weight : 25lb (11kg)

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered

The Chinese Giant Salamander is the largest Salamander species in the entire world. Individuals measuring 6ft (1.8m) have been recorded, though most specemins today around only around 3ft (.9m).

Chinese Giant Salamanders are found in the mountain streams of China, but due to habitat loss, harvesting for food and the pet trade, and the introduction of pesticides, these gigantic amphibians are fragmented in their population and are near extinction. They have been bred in captivity, but very few are actually kept in zoos around the world.

Chinese Giant Salamanders are most active during the night time, when they come out to hunt and feed on fish, small vertebrates, and various types of invertebrate species. They hunt primarily by smell and touch.

During the fall breeding season dozens, if not hundreds of Salamanders congregate and fight over breeding cavities. Females enter these lairs and lay up to 500 eggs, which are then guarded by the male until they hatch about two months later. A newly hatched Chinese Giant Salamander is only 1.2in (3cm) long!

Chinese Giant Salamanders are a long-lived species, and captive individuals have lived over 50 years.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dinothesaurus

Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and PaintingsBy Douglas Florian
Hardcover : 56 Pages
March 10, 2009

Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings is a short, illustrated work that features the poems and paintings of Douglas Florian. All of the material relates to Dinosaurs or other prehistoric reptiles (since Plesiosaurs and Pterosaurs are not technically Dinosaurs.)

The book includes short poems, typically only a few lines long, that highlight a specific species or type. The poems are accompanied by a painting (often in collage style) of that animal, which also reflects the text in the poem. The poem on Deinonychus for example, mentions that they could ruin your whole day. The painting includes illustrations of Deinonychus with a background of newspaper clippings of days of the week.

Florian covers all sorts of species, some that I've never even heard of, like Minmi and Troodon. The drawings are rather interesting, and poems are cute and highlight an important feature of the species. Each poems also includes a pronunciation guide, which is especially helpful for Micropachycephalosaurus. The book also includes a glossary that covers all of the species mentioned, as well as a list of notable museums and fossil sites.

Overall I really liked this book. If you're looking for something with catchy poems and fun illustrations about Dinosaurs, then this is the book for you!

Brontomerus mcintoshi

Brontomerus fights off an attacker!
Genus : Brontomerus
Species : mcintoshi

Length : 46ft (14m)
Weight : 13,500lbs (6,100kg)

Status : Extinct since the Early Cretaceous, approximately 110 million years ago

This animal came across my news radar this morning and I just had to cover it.This new species was actually first discovered in Utah in 1994, but wasn't fully evaluated until 2007. When scientists finally got a good look at it, the realized that this species had a really interesting feature.

Brontomerus mcintoshi has a bony plate that projects from the hip bone. This plate serves as an anchor for the dinosaur's leg muscles. It is between 31% and 55% longer than bone plates in other sauropods. This means that this new dinosaur had substantially powerful hind legs, the most muscular legs of any Sauropod! These legs were so powerful, in fact, that scientists gave it the name Brontomerus, which means "Thunder Thighs." (The species name, mcintoshi, is in honor of John McIntosh, a world authority on Sauropods.)

It is believed that the animals used their powerful legs to move across rough terrain, and that they also used them to kick and stomp at predators!

Bones from two individuals have so far been uncovered, an adult and a much smaller juvenile.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Kinkajou

Kinkajou
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Carnivora
Family : Procyonidae
Genus : Potos
Species : flavus

Length : Up to 44in (112cm) including tail
Weight : 3-7lbs (1-3kg)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

The Kinkajou looks an awful lot like a Primate, or maybe some sort of weird Weasel. But they are, in fact, members of the same family that contains Raccoons and Coatis. Kinkajous are found in South and Central America, where they reside in tropical forest habitats.

Kinkajous are nocturnal, and have large eyes that help them to see at night. They sport prehensile tails which are fantastic for getting around in the canopy, and feet that they can turn backwards. They are the only members of their family with prehensile tails, and their feet allow them to climb about easier and move up and down treetrunks quickly.

Kinkajous are actually pretty social. They live in groups and are are more often heard than seen, due to their loud and frequent vocalizations. They are omnivores that feed off of fruits and small vertebrates during the night, and by day they sleep in tree cavities. Kinkajous are also sometimes called "Honey Bears" because of their habit of raiding bees nests.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Orchard Oriole

Male Orchard Oriole
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Passeriformes
Family : Icteridae
Genus : Icterus
Species : spurius

Length : 7in (18cm)
Wingspan : 10in (25cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

Sometimes I randomly ask my acquaintances to "name an animal that isn't a mammal." I get some strange responses sometimes (Antlion for example), and usually I've already written about many of the suggestions. Yesterday though, response number one was "Oriole," a songbird that I haven't yet written about! Imagine my excitement!

...But I had no idea that there were around 30 species of Oriole, so I just had to pick one. When faced with such a decision I tend to go toward extremes, so today we have the smallest Oriole species in North America; the Orchard Oriole.

Female Orchard Oriole
The Orchard Oriole can be found throughout Eastern North America and Central America, depending on the time of year. One interesting tidbit about them is that they migrate to their summer grounds in late spring, but some birds return to their winter homes very quickly, as early as mid-July! In their winter grounds they are important pollinators for many tropical trees, as they feed off of nectar and pollen and move it from plant to plant.

Orchard Orioles vary in color depending on sex. Males are the characteristic orange and black, with the orange sometimes being very dark. Females and young males are a bright yellowish green.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Zebra Duiker

Zebra Duiker
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae
Genus : Cephalophus
Species : zebra

Height : 18in (45cm)
Weight : 45lbs (20kg)

IUCN Status : Vulnerable

Did you know that US President Calvin Coolidge had a wide assortment of strange pets? On top of nine dogs, four cats, and about half a dozen birds he also had a raccoon, two lions, a pygmy hippopotamus, and a bear. Coolidge also had a Duiker, a small African antelope that is todays featured animal!

I have been unable to figure out what specific type of Duiker he had, so I selected one that I thought looked pretty cool, the Zebra Duiker. These little guys are found in the Ivory Coast, Seirra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. They inhabit forested areas.

Zebra Duikers are solitary animals that eat various types of fruit and foliage. They have a very distinctive striped pattern that helps them to blend in with their environment and protect them from predators.

Even though they spend most of their time alone, it is believed that mated pairs remain monogamous season after season, and that the pair will defend a territory together. Both males and females have horns, and interestingly, the females are often a tad larger than the males are.

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.


It's been quite the busy week between work, school, and work #2, so my pages read this week has been pretty low.

Water for Elephants: A NovelI just finished Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, which is a work of historical fiction that deals with a circus in the 1930s. The main characters all dealt directly with the animals, so I suppose that makes it relevant to post about here. There has been a lot of controversy (especially in recent years) regarding Circuses and their treatment of animals. Whatever your stance on the issue, the book was pretty good and gave an interesting look at Circus life and culture during the Great Depression.

I also went through a few more books by Robert E. Wells, What's Older Than a Giant Tortoise?Did a Dinosaur Drink This Water?, and What's Faster Than a Speeding Cheetah?. Like some of the other books of his that I've looked it, each of these had a concept- Age, Water, and Speed- and they explained that concept to a young age level.

I have a few things on the plate for next week, including finishing up Feathered Dinosaurs: The Origin of Birds, and taking a crack at The Audubon Reader.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Last Chance to See

Last Chance to SeeBy Douglas Adams, Mark Carwardine
Paperback : 256 Pages
October 13, 1992

In 1988, writer Douglas Adams teamed up with zoologist Mark Carwardine to travel the word and see some of its rarest and most spectacular animals. Their journey was made into BBC radio series, as well as a book that Adams penned.

In Last Chance to See, we follow these two as they search for the Aye-aye, the Kakapo, the Northern White Rhino, the Baiji, the Komodo Dragon, Mountain Gorilla, and the Rodrigues Fruit Bat. These are all species that were down to scarily low numbers.

Fact : The Kakapo is the cutest bird.
While the material is now dated*,  the book was a delight to read. I'm a big fan of Adams and his Hitchhiker's Guide series, and the book reads with his same voice and sense of humor. It's amazingly entertaining, on top of being an informative work on some of the most critically endangered species of the time.

Not too long ago, Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine went back and revisited some of the animals from the original 1988 trip (Adams died in 2001), this time making a video documentary series. I'm seriously considering buying the DVD off Amazon. Stupid Netflix.

*The Baiji is now extinct, the Northern White Rhino is most likely extinct in the wild, and other species have been rebounding well due to conservation efforts.

Iguanodon

Iguanodon
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Superorder : Dinosauria
Order : †Ornithischia
Family : †Iguanodontidae
Genus : †Iguanodon

Length : 33ft (10m)
Weight : 10,000lbs (4,500kg)

Status : Extinct for around 110 million years

"Iguanodon" refers to several different discovered species within the genus Iguanodon. Theses Dinosaurs are notable because they were actually discovered before the word Dinosaur even existed! Around 1820 English geologist Gideon Mantell discovered a tooth of one of these guys in Sussex, England. He thought the tooth looked like a large Iguana tooth and the name stuck. Mantell continued to do research on Iguanodons and other fossilized species until his death in 1852.

Mantell's Iguanodon
 Teeth Illustration
Iguanodons were herbivores that lived in what is now Europe, Asia, and North America. The various species lived in the early Cretaceous, around 140-110 million years ago. They had three fingers on each hand, along with a thumb that had a hooked claw that could be used for grasping food and for defense. Iguanodon mouths had teeth in the back but none in the front. This was so they could tear apart plant materials with their beak-like mouths and then chew.

Iguanodons could move on all fours, but also on just their hind legs, due to the fact that their front limbs were only about 3/4 the size of the back limbs. They most likely moved in packs, like many modern herbivores do, and they laid eggs.

The Greatest Show on Earth

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for EvolutionBy Richard Dawkins
Hardcover : 480 Pages
September 22, 2009

Written by the famed (and perhaps infamous) evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution explains the Theory of Evolution in wonderful detail, providing information from expeditions, experiments, and from the observation of nature itself. Like the man or not, he really knows and loves this material, and that devotion to the science shines through.

Though there are copies in audiobook form read by the author, as well as black and white eBook editions, I would recommend the print version which is chock full of color diagrams, illustrations and plates that back up and enhance the arguments, and help to bring better understanding to the examples.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Antlion

Adult Euroleon nostras
Phylum : Arthropoda
Class : Insecta
Order : Neuroptra
Family : Myrmeleontidae

Wingspan : 1-6in (2.5-15cm), varies by species

If we want to get technical, the term "Antlion" most commonly refers to the larvae of the family Myrmeleontidae, but it has come to be a collective term for the 2,000 different species as well. Antlions can be found in sandy and arid habitats worldwide.

Antlion Larvae
In North America these insects are also referred to as Doodlebugs, due to the the tracings that they leave in the sand when building their pit traps. Larvae build pit traps by creating spiraled funnel in loose soil. They then sit at the bottom of the trap with only their head exposed, waiting for prey to fall in.

The Antlion name comes from the fact that their larval form primarily hunts and consumes ants. Antlions spend a majority of their life in larval form, sometimes up to three years! Once they cocoon and become winged adults they live only for about a month, which is enough time to find a mate and reproduce.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Hippopotamus

Hippopotamus
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Hippopotamidae
Genus : Hippopotamus
Species : amphibius

Length : 10-16ft (3-5m)
Weight : Males 3,500-10,000lbs (1,600 to 4,5035 kgs); Females 3,000lbs (1,400 kgs)

IUCN Status : Vulnerable

The Hippopotamus is the third heaviest of all land animals, behind the Elephant and White Rhino. A large males can weight as much at 10,000lbs (4,535kg)! Even at birth they are huge; a newborn weighs around 100lbs (45kg).

Hippopotamuses are one of the most dangerous land mammals in Africa. Males are especially territorial and use their long tusks for fighting over land and harems of females. Threatened Hippos can attack and kill humans, and are able to run at speeds of up to 14mph (30kph).

Hippopotamus Teeth
Hippopotamuses have skin that needs to constantly stay moist. In order to accomplish this they remain in water for as long as possible, sometimes up to 16 hours a day. Adults can hold their breath for around 5 minutes (though longer times have also been observed in necessary situations), while newborns can last only about half a minute. Hippos also secrete a weird, reddish colored mucus that keeps the skin moist and helps to prevent sunburn. It is also thought that this mucus might help to prevent skin infections.

At night, the Hippos leave the water to graze. Interestingly, they eat very little compared to their body weight, only around 1-1.5%.

Illegal hunting and habitat loss have hurt Hippopotamus numbers, and overall their population is decreasing. They are protected in many areas, but coverage and enforcement is spotty.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

King of Saxony Bird-of-Paradise

Male King of Saxony Bird-of-Paradise
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Passeriformes
Family : Paradisaeidae
Genus : Pteridophora
Species : alberti

Body Length : 8.5in (22cm)
Plume Length : 20in (50cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

The King of Saxony Bird-of-Paradise is a little bird with a HUGE name... and some pretty long feathers to match. Females are brownish-gray and plain, which helps to camouflage them, but males of the species are colorful and have some incredible headgear- long plumes that appear to stick out from their ears! These scalloped, iridescent feathers can stick up at will, and are used in their mating displays.They are so strange looking that when the first specimens were brought back to Europe, many believed them to be fake!

Males are territorial. They call and sing songs to lure in potential females, and wow them with their plume movements. After mating, the female leaves and the male works to attract more females. Females lay one egg, which she alone cares for.

King of Saxony's live in New Guinea, and are one of several "Bird-of-Paradise" species, though they are the only member of their specific genus. They are named for Albert, a late 19th century King of Saxony.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Long Nosed Bandicoot

Long Nosed Bandicoot
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Infraclass : Marsupialia
Order : Peramelemorphia
Family : Peramelidae
Genus : Perameles
Species: nasuta

Length : 12-18in (30-46cm)
Weight : 2.2lbs (1kg)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

I'm going to be honest. Yesterday's animal (the Melon Aphid) grossed me out a bit. Tiny virus spreading insects that lives in massive swarms are just a wee bit unnerving to me, so today I need to turn it around and do something a little less frightening... like Bandicoots. Which I suppose could be a bit creepy if encountered after dark, (which is when they are most active) but better than Aphids at least...

There are actually about twenty different species of Bandicoot, which are marsupials found in Australia. This species in particular is found along the eastern edge of the continent. The Long Nosed Bandicoot is the largest member of its genus, and it has an exceptionally long snout (hence the name.) They are a bit plain in color, and don't have some of the fancy stripes that the other species have.

Did you know that the female Long Nosed Bandicoot is only pregnant for 12 days? The young are helpless at birth, like all tiny marsupials are, but it only takes them 60 days to be completely weaned. The female can then produce another litter just days later. Females have pouches that open toward the rear, which keeps their young from getting dirt kicked at them while mom digs for food.

Long Nosed Bandicoots are omnivores, and spend their nights foraging for roots and insects. They dig holes with their feet and stick their snouts in to sniff for meals. During the day their sleep in burrows.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Melon Aphid

Melon Aphids
Phylum : Arthropoda
Class : Insecta
Order : Hemiptera
Superfamily : Aphidoidea
Family : Aphididae
Genus : Aphis
Species : gossypii

Length : 2-3mm

The Melon Aphid also goes by the name Cotton Aphid, and is found in tropical and temperate regions around the world. They are one of literally thousands of Aphid species, tiny sap-sucking insects that can cause huge amounts of crop damage.

Melon Aphids have some strange reproductive habits. During the spring, winged females in certain areas fly over to suitable host plants and give birth to live young through parthenogenesis (development without fertilization). In other areas, females lay eggs after mating. Regardless of their conception, the nymphs take between 4 and 10 days to mature, depending on the overall temperature. Most adults will not grow wings. However, if there is overcrowding or a limited food supply, some Aphids will grow wings in order to fly to newer, more favorable locations.

Melon Aphids can be disastrous to certain plants. Not only do they consume several dozen different plant species, but they are also carrier of a handful of devastating plant viruses. Melon Aphids have many natural predators, including Ladybugs, but they can still be quite tricky to manage. Insecticides can help, but some bugs grow immune. Crop rotation and eradication of infected plants are also methods of Aphid control.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Lovebird

Peach Faced Lovebird
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Psittaciformes
Family : Psittacidae
Genus : Agapornis

Length : 5-7in (12.5-18cm)

IUCN Status : The Black-Cheeked Lovebird is listed as Vulnerable. Lillian's and Fischer's Lovebirds are Near Threatened. All other species are of Least Concern.

Happy Valentines Day! What better animal to talk about then one that has the word love right there in its name? There are nine different species of Lovebird, all of whom are found natively in Africa, though they are now very popular in captivity. There are now also several feral populations in the United States.

Fischer's Lovebird
Lovebirds are small parrots, but don't let their size fool you! They can be just as intelligent and active as their large family members. Lovebirds can mimic human voices, but it is not a common practice. In the wild, each species of Lovebird has its own distinct markings. Captive breeding has brought out even more color possibilities.

Lovebirds get their name from the incredibly strong bond that monogamous mated pairs make. They show fierce loyalty and affection toward their mates, are are best kept in pairs. Captive Lovebirds can be kept alone, but they will consider their human owner to be their mate and will need a great deal of attention in order to stay happy and well socialized.

Lovebird commonly live 10-12 years, though there are those who have lived over 20. Most species of Lovebird are in a good condition in the wild, but others, like the Black-Cheeked Lovebird, are listed as vulnerable due to habitat loss.

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.


I read Last Chance to Seeby Douglas Adams last week, and I absolutely tore through that thing. That's probably the fastest I've read in a long while. Last Chance to See was a project put together by Adams and zoologist Mark Carwardine, they go around the world looking for rare animals, and the project was finally assembled as a book and BBC radio show. It is a really funny, entertaining, and informative, and I'll be getting the review for that up soon. I also need to hunt down the updated documentary version with Carwardine and Stephen Fry. Just watch this video!



This week I'm not sure what type of animal joy I'll look at. I just got a Nook this past weekend so now I have even more options!

Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and PaintingsWhile I sort out what longer text I want to look at, I got a handful of Robert E. Wells books in, as well as Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings, which looks adorable.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sea Lamprey

Sea Lamprey Mouth
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Cephalaspidomorphi
Order : Petromyzontiformes
Family : Petromyzontidae
Genus : Petromyzon
Species : marinus

Length : 20in (50cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

Despite the name, the Sea Lamprey can be found in freshwater areas as well as the sea. They are a parasitic species located in and around the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the American Great Lakes. Some Sea Lampreys spawn in freshwater, but some have made the Great Lakes their home, moving in permanently as invasive species.

Sea Lamprey attached to Lake Trout
The Sea Lamprey is a primitive, cartilaginous fish with an eel-like body. They have circular mouths filled with sharp teeth that they use to latch on to their hosts bodies. The Lamprey saliva also possesses and anticoagulant that makes it very difficult for their host's wound to heal. They allows the Lamprey to feed for much longer. If the host doesn't die first, the Lamprey can stay attached for weeks at a time. Lampreys target many different species, and have few, if any, natural predators.

A few measures have been taken to control the Lampreys in the Great Lakes. One is lampricide, a chemical that kills Lamprey larvae but that has little affect on other fish species. Barriers and sterilization have also helped to reduce the numbers. Lamprey populations in Lake Michigan have reduced by 90% thanks to these tireless efforts.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Atlantic Puffin

Atlantic Puffins
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Charadriiformes
Family : Alcidae
Genus : Fratercula
Species : arctica

Height : 10in(25cm)
Weight : 18oz (500g)
Wingspan : 25in (63cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

Atlantic Puffins spend their entire lives in and around the water, but unlike penguins, they can actually fly! In fact, they are even pretty quick on the wing, and can reach speeds of up to 55mph (88kph). At the name suggests, Atlantic Puffins live in areas around the North Atlantic Ocean, including New England, Greenland, and many areas in Northern Europe. Iceland is especially full of Puffins during the breeding season; it is estimated that 60% of all Puffins congregate there each spring and summer.

Puffin carrying food for its young
Atlantic Puffins are amazing swimmers as well at flyers. They hunt their fishy prey by swimming over open water and diving in for the catch. They can dive down as far as 200ft (61m), using their wings to swim and their feet to steer. They eat fish and marine invertebrates, often feeding right there underwater. When it has a chick to feed, the Atlantic Puffin can carry up to 30 small fish back in its beak.

Puffin pairs mate for life, and return to the same nesting spot year after year. They lay only one egg at a time, and both parents incubate, feed, and care for their chick. Puffins wait 3-6 years before their first breeding, and can live as long as 30.

Atlantic Puffins have been hunted for centuries, and actually became rare in some areas, though the population as a whole has never been majorly threatened. They were recently reintroduced to areas in Maine, and that colony is now doing well. Puffins are still hunted and eaten in many areas.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Big Skate

Big Skate
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Chondrichthyes
Superorder : Batoidea
Order : Rajiformes
Family : Rajidae
Genus : Raja
Species : binoculata

Length : 6ft (1.8m)
Weight : 200lbs (81kg)

IUCN Status : Near Threatened

The appropriately named Big Skate is the largest of the North American skates, cartilaginous fish that belong to the superorder that also contains Rays. They can be found off the Pacific coast running from Alaska to California, at depths of up to 400ft (120m).

The Big Skate is very flat and pointy looking, with its nose and pectoral fins all coming to a tip. They also possess a thin tail that is just about as long as the body. They have two large patches on their back that resemble eyes and which are most likely used to confuse predators. The Big Skate's actual eyes on placed on top, but its mouth and gills are found on its underside, which is the perfect position for swimming around and sucking up fish and marine invertebrates.

Big Skates are egg-layers, and produce two very large capsules that can contain up to seven eggs each. It takes a full nine months for the eggs to hatch, and will take eight years for the males to become sexually mature, and up to thirteen for females!

Skates are often taken as bycatch. Their numbers have been affected by this incidental overfishing, and it doesn't help that they have a very slow growth rate, late sexual maturity, and low reproductive rates.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pink Pigeon

Pink Pigeon
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Columbiformes
Family : Columbidae
Genus : Nesoenas
Species : mayeri

Length : 13in (32cm)
Weight : 12oz (350g)

IUCN Status : Endangered

The Pink Pigeon is another one of those species that was on the brink of extinction only a few years ago. Without the tireless efforts of dedicated conservationists, this species, found only on Mauritius, would've been gone forever. In 1990 the population was down to only 10 wild birds. There are now around 300.

Like many other island bird species, the Pink Pigeon saw its number cut due to the introduction of non-native animals like rats. One of the conservation measures is to reduce the number of these damaging predators. Other steps include captive breeding, reintroduction, restoration of habitat, and supplementary feeding.

Pink Pigeons look quite a bit like the common Rock Pigeons that many of us see every day.... except that they are pink! They live in small flocks that feed on vegetative  material. Breeding pairs are monogamous, and both parents help to build nests, incubate, and care for their young.

The Pink Pigeon has thus far been a success story for Mauritius. However, one of it's closest island cousins, the Dodo, was not so lucky, and went completely extinct in 1680.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Giraffe Weevil

Male Giraffe Weevil
Phylum : Arthropoda
Class : Insecta
Order : Coleoptera
Family : Attelabidae
Genus : Trachelophorus
Species : giraffa

Body Length : 1in (2.5cm)

I chose today's animal based entirely on its looks, as it is otherwise a relatively unremarkable creature. Giraffe Weevils can be found on the Island of Madagascar, inhabiting forested areas.The are one of the longest Weevil species.

Giraffe Weevils are sexually dimorphic. Though both males and females have the striking red body coloration, the males have much, much longer necks than the females. Male use these long necks to fight over females when it comes time to breed, they also use them to create rolled up leaf nests, which the females lay only a single egg in. The leaf then serves as a meal for the larvae upon hatching.

Witness to Extinction: How We Failed to Save the Yangtze River Dolphin

Witness to Extinction: How We Failed to Save the Yangtze River DolphinBy Samuel Turvey
Paperback : 256 Pages
October 15, 2009

Witness to Extinction: How We Failed to Save the Yangtze River Dolphin is without a doubt, one of the saddest books I’ve ever read. It is the true life account of the final Yangzte River Survey to locate any remaining Baiji, and the story of the Baiji and Chinese conservation in general.

Turvey, who was the lead author on the paper that announced the probable extinction of the species back in 2006, cares deeply for this subject, and pours out his frustration with the international conservation community. I had never realized the amount of bureaucracy involved, it gets really infuriating just reading it. The book details all of the failed efforts over time, juxtaposing them with the successes and failures of other species around the world.

QiQi, the only successful captive Baiji
I’m really glad I read this book. It gave me new insight into wildlife conservation and all of the steps and measures required to save a species from being gone forever. Unfortunately, Turvey’s Yangtze Project was too late, and the fabled River Dolphin is most like extinct. Witness serves as a passionate and well-written warning to scientists and lay-people alike about the fragility of our endangered species and speed at which they can disappear without true, proactive help.

Recommended to anyone with an interest in Dolphins, Endangered Species, or Conservation in general.
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