Thursday, March 31, 2011

Townsend's Big-eared Bat

Townsend's Big-eared Bat
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Chiroptera
Family : Vespertilionidae
Genus : Corynorhinus
Species : C. townsendii 

Body Length : 4in (10cm)
Wingspand : 11in (28cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

The ears of a Townsend's Big-eared Bat can grow as long as 2.5cm, which is astounding considering that that is 25% of their body length! These flying mammals can be found throughout western North America, ranging from southern Canada down into Mexico.

Townsend's Big-eared bats are phenomenal fliers, and feed almost exclusively on moths that they pick off of trees. Echolocation and low frequency sounds play a major role in their hunting and bat-to-bat communication. They are able to receive sound thanks to their massive ears, that they can swivel about to focus in on moving targets. Young bats also make unique chirping calls that their mothers use to locate them.

Mating takes place in the fall, and fertilization is delayed until the following spring. Females group up into maternity colonies at that time, and these groups can number over 1,000 bats! They each give birth to only one pup at a time, and infants are quite large, up to 25% of the mothers size. The species is rather long lived if the pups can survive their first year. Adults as old as 30 have been identified.

During the winter Townsend's Big-eared Bats go into hibernation, and during warmer months they often go into torpor when the temperate cools.

The species overall is not threatened, though localized populations  have had their numbers reduced due to habitat loss, pesticides, and disturbance of hibernation sites. Some subspecies, including Ozark and Virginia Big-eared Bats, are federally endangered.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Black Softshell Turtle

Black Softshell Turtle
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Order : Testudines
Family : Trionychidae
Genus : Aspideretes?
Species : A. nigricans

IUCN Status : Extinct in the wild

Like the Yangtze Soft-shell Turtle, the Black Softshell Turtle is also extremely rare, so rare that they are listed as being extinct in the wild. There are between 150-300 living in a man-made pond at the Hazrat Sultan Bayazid Bastami Shrine in Chittagong, Bangladesh, and it is believed that there is one other small population in Assam, India.

The Turtles at the shrine are protected, and cannot be killed or harvested. It is believed that the Turtles are actually connected to the saint. Pilgrims offer food to the turtles, and females nest in protected, walled off areas. They lay up to 40 eggs at a time which take around 100 days to hatch.

Not much else is known about these turtles and their historical habitats or wild behaviors. They were already living near exclusively in the shrine when they were first described in 1875.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Domestic Goldfish

Pearl scale Goldfish
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Actinopterygii
Order : Cypriniformes
Family : Cyprinidae
Genus : Carassius
Species : C. auratus auratus

Length : Up to 12in (30cm)

IUCN Status : Not Listed

Did you know that  Goldfish were one of the first fish species to be domesticated? It happened nearly 1,500 years ago in China, where they took rather plain looking Asian Carp and bred them down. They spread to Japan in the 15th century, and were in Europe by the late 17th. Domesticated Goldfish can now be found all around the world!

There are dozens of different Goldfish varieties, coming in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Orange, black, white, and speckled are all common colors. Tail shape is also highly variable, with some being short and blunt and others growing quite long and flowing.

Shubunkin Goldfish
Did you know that there is a reason why Goldfish nibble at tiny bits of food all day? This is because they don't actually have a stomach in which to store food during digestion. Because of this, they have to eat very small amounts several times a day.

Another interesting fact about these popular fish is that they don't actually have three second memories. This misconception has been debunked by scientists and even by enterprising young Australians. Goldfish have the ability to store and recall information, and are able to recognize food and predators just like any other creature.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Ermine

Winter Coat Ermine
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Carnivora
Family : Mustelidae
Genus : Mustela
Species : M. erminea

Length : 13in (33cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

Ermines (also known as Stoats) can be found natively throughout the Northern Hemisphere. They are one of those curious creatures that possesses the ability to change color with the season. In summer, they are brown with lighter undersides, but in the winter they are almost completely white! Ermines are skilled predators that consume mostly birds and small mammals.

Ermine's don't live particularly long, in fact, their average life expectancy in the wild is only a year or two! Because of this, females are sexually mature at the age of only two months, which is remarkable since young are born blind and helpless. Interestingly, males take a year or two to sexually mature, meaning they often only live through one mating season.

Summer Coat Ermine
The winter fur of an ermine has been highly sought after, and has been used as a symbol of royalty and nobility. Ermine fur is also mimicked in heraldry.

Ermines have unfortunately become quite problematic in several island areas. For example, in the 1880s they were brought to New Zealand to control of the rabbit populations. The Ermines bred and flourished, which proved disastrous to many of the country's flightless bird species. The New Zealand Department of Conservation is constantly working on ways to eliminate what they refer to as "public enemy number one for New Zealand birds."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kleinmann's Tortoise

Kleinmann's Tortoise
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Sauropsida
Order : Testudines
Family : Testudinidae
Genus : Testudo
Species : T. kleinmanni

Length : 4.5in (11.5cm)

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered

Kleinmann's Tortoises are also referred to as Egyptian Tortoises, though sadly they are completely extinct in Egypt. Small populations still live in desert and semi-arid areas of Libya and a few other nearby areas.

When we last visited the world of the Tortoises, we looked at the Speckled Padloper Tortoise, the smallest tortoise in the world. Kleinmann's Tortoises are the smallest Tortoises in the Northern Hemisphere, and the second smallest overall in the world.. They are easy to identify due to their small size, high carapaces, and dull yellow shells. They also have two very distinct dark triangular marks on their plastrons.

Kleinmann's Tortoises have seen their populations fragmented due to habitat loss. Their small size has also made them incredibly popular in the pet trade, and thousands of them were taken in the past few decades. It is estimated that there are only 7,500 left. The species is protected in Egypt, but not in Libya, where most of the wild individuals still live.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Green Peafowl

Male Green Peafowl
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Galliformes
Family : Phasianidae
Genus : Pavo
Species : P. muticus

Length : 3.5ft (1.1m) 
Weight : 11lbs (5.5g)

IUCN Status : Endangered

The Green Peafowl is a rather large gamefowl found in South East Asia. They are far more rare than the Blue (or Indian) Peafowl, which is commonly kept in captivity.Green Peafowl are known for their upright posture and brilliant green necks.

One of the big differences between the Green and Blue Peafowl is that male and female Greens look alike, with the exception of the males' long tails. Females are a tad more dull in color, but they are a far cry from the drab, camouflaging brown of the female Blue Peafowls.

Female Green Peafowl
Female Green Peafowl live in small groups together, along with juveniles. During the breeding season they are courted by the males who fan out their massive, colorful tails. Pairs do not form lasting bonds, and after the mating season the males molt their spectacular tail feathers.

Unfortunately, the long beautiful feathers and the substantial size of this species has caused them to be hunted. Habitat loss has also affected their population.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Common Barn Owl

Barn Owl
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Strigiformes
Family : Tytonidae
Genus : Tyto
Species : T. alba

Length : 15in (38cm)
Wingspan : 43in (110cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

Did you know that the Common Barn Owl is one of the most widespread of all bird species? They are found on every single continent except Antarctica, as well as on a whole mess of different islands. They live in pretty much any type of habitat, though open woodland areas with hollow trees to roost in are preferred.

Common Barn Owls also go by a huge number of other names, including White Owl, Church Owl, and Monkey-Faced Owl. There are also over two dozen different subspecies that vary in size, color, and location. Overall though, the species is known for their white, heart shaped faces.

Common Barn Owls are masters of rodent hunting, so much so that their breeding seasons can be dictated by an overabundance of prey. They hunt by flying low and slowly, and then swooping down and grabbing the small mammals with their long talons. Barn Owls are nocturnal and have superb vision in low light.

Unfortunately, the species is not especially long lived in the wild. Due to predation their life expectancy is only a few years. In captivity that can actually live much, much longer, as long as 20-25 years!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Woolly Rhinoceros

Woolly Rhinoceros by Charles R. Knight
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Perissodactyla
Family : Rhinocerotidae
Genus : †Coelodonta
Species : †C. antiquitatis

Length : 12ft (3.7m)
Weight : 2-3 tons (1,800-2,700kg)

Status : Extinct since around 8,000 BCE

We've all heard about Woolly Mammoths, but what about Woolly Rhinos? These huge beasts lived across Europe and Asia during the Pleistocene. They shared land with the aforementioned Mammoths, but never manged to make it to the Americas. Despite that, they had one of the largest ranges of any Rhinoceros to ever live.

Preserved Woolly Rhino
Woolly Rhinos were amazingly well adapted to cold environments. They had a thick double coat of fur, with dense under-hairs and longer top hairs. They also had large horns that they used to push away snow in order to feed on grasses. We know what we do about this species thanks to a few specimens that have been found in Eastern Europe and Siberia. A pretty amazing carcass, found preserved in a tar pit, is now on display at the Museum of Natural History in Krakow, Poland.

It is still a bit of a mystery as to why and how the Woolly Rhino went extinct. The spread and growth of human populations might have had something to do with it. It may also have been due to climate change,which saw the loss of the Rhino's favorite grasslands. This same climate change could account for the loss of many other grazing mega-fauna species, and explain the continued existence of browsers like Reindeer and Musk Oxen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pakicetus

Pakicetus Illustration by Carl Buell
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Cetacea
Family : Pakicetidae
Genus : Pakicetus

Length : 3ft (.9m)
Weight : 50lbs (23kg)

Status : Extinct since the Early Eocene (40 million years ago)

Take a look at that picture. That little guy is a possible ancestor to dozens of modern mammals. If you had to guess which, would you say dog? Cat? Weasel? Well those would all be wrong! Pakicetus (if you couldn't guess from the taxonomic cheat sheet up there) is an ancient Whale.

Pakicetus gets its name from its location and type. Paki for Pakistan, Cetus for whale. It is the earliest known, well-preserved, prehistoric whale. Pakicetus was a terrestrial, but potentially semi-aquatic animal, since its ears were not yet developed to hear well underwater. Its actual habitat is still debated because it had eye sockets and limbs that might suggest more aquatic activity than initially thought. Other early cetaceans, also found in Central and South Asia, have similar characteristics and are known from more complete skeletons.

Eventually Pakicetus and other early Cetaceans would take to the water more and more, and evolution would do its part to turn arms into fins and tails into flukes. By the end of the Eocene (about 35-30 million years ago) we had fully aquatic whales swimming in the prehistoric seas. Isn't it awesome how life moved out of the oceans, and then creatures like whales eventually went back again? And now animals whose ancestors were dog-like land mammals have become the largest animals to ever live? So cool.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Herring Gull

Herring Gull
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Charadriiformes
Family : Laridae
Genus : Larus
Species : L. smithsonianus

Length : 24in (60cm)
Wingspan : 53in (135cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

It's a pretty disgusting day today, but the Seagulls are still out and about, which made me want to write about them. And then I remembered that I had run into this problem when writing about the Little Gulls- there are like a zillion species of Seagull. So I tried to figure out which one was the species that I see all the time, and I think it might be today's animal, the Herring Gull.

The Herring Gull is, to quote Cornell's All About Birds, "the quintessential basic "seagull," with no distinctive characters that immediately set it apart from other gull species." It can be found all across North America, including several Caribbean Islands. Their habitat types vary, but are always close to water. They are found in both natural and urban environments, and have quite the affinity for garbage dumps.

Herring Gulls are large-ish Gulls, and have coloration and patterning that makes it easy to confuse them with many other Gull species. One interesting mark they have is a small red dot on their lower beak.

They are a carnivorous species, and are very opportunistic feeders. They eat a wide variety of vertebrates and invertebrates, and also feed off of carrion and garbage. Herring Gulls have the ability to drink salt water, possessing glands near their eyes that allow them to excrete the salt.

Herring Gulls live in flocks that are organized around a loose hierarchical system based on size. Many populations migrate, though not all, and they communicate through a wide variety of calls.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea

Philip Hoare'sThe Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea [Hardcover](2010)By Philip Hoare
Hardcover : 464 Pages
February 2, 2010

It's a bit hard to describe exactly what The Whale is. It's part biology, part history, part memoir, part literature, part travel guide. Overall, it is the story of the author and his experiences with whales. A great deal of this book deals with the whaling industry, paralleling the author's journey with Moby Dick, Ishmael, and the life of Melville himself. But at the same time it is a work of natural history, explaining the hows and whys of whales and their place within the ocean and within human history and industry. It was a fascinating work, and the inspiration for at least one of my posts (with more to come I'm sure.)

Spring Peeper

Spring Peeper
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Amphibia
Order : Anura
Family : Hylidae
Genus : Pseudacris
Species : P. crucifer

Length : 1in (2.5cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

It's that time of year again in the northern hemisphere: spring! And with spring comes the return of the birds, the bugs, the squirrels, and, in certain areas, the Spring Peeper frogs! Spring Peepers are tiny little frogs found in wetland areas across the eastern United States.

They are tan and brown in color, with darker "X" like shapes across the back. These colors allow them to blend in to their surroundings remarkable well, making them difficult to see, but easy to hear. They create high pitched whistles and trills, which can be amazingly loud when multiple frogs are calling at once.

During breeding season hundreds of male Peepers can be calling out from one location, trying to locate mates. One mating takes place the females lay her eggs and leave, and no parents provides any additional care for the nearly 900 eggs.

Spring Peepers are nocturnal, and come out at night to feed off of insects. The are active only during the warm months, and spend their winters in hibernation.

 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Upland Moa

Upland Moa Illustration by Peter Schouten
Phylum :Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Struthioniformes
Family : †Dinornithidae
Genus : †Megalapteryx
Species : †M. didinus

Height : 4ft (1.3m)
Weight : 55lbs (25kg)

Status : Extinct since 1500CE

I feel like this might be a little bit of a cheat here, since I did actually cover Moas before, albeit in a very general fashion. Today though, I'll be talking about one specific species of Moa, the Upland Moa, which was the smallest of the species, as well as the last to go extinct.

Upland Moas, as the name suggests, lived in the higher, cooler elevations of New Zealand's South Island. One remarkable feature of this species is that they are the only Moas to have feathers all the way down their legs and feet. The feathers and their small size were adaptations to their cold weather environment.

Mummified Moa Head
How do we know about these feathers? Mummification of course! Because Upland Moas lived in such cold, dry habitats, their bodies have been subject to the process of natural mummification. We have examples of mummified Upland Moa heads and feet, which allow us to know more about the species than mere bones would. For example, we know from these specimens that Upland Moas had small olfactory chambers, which means that they may have had greater vocal skills then other Moas.

Their high elevation habitat is probably what allowed these birds to live longer then the other Moas. They only had one predator before the arrival or man, the Haast's Eagle, and due to their remote location it took humans longer to find and hunt them. They went extinct sometimes around 1500CE.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Vampire Squid

Vampire Squid
Phylum : Mollusca
Class : Cephalopoda
Order : Vampyromorphida
Family : Vampyroteuthidae
Genus : Vampyroteuthis
Species : V. infernalis

Length : 1ft (30cm)

IUCN Status : Not Listed

Vampyroteuthis infernalis literally means "Vampire Squid from Hell," which is a scary name for a creature so small. They are remarkably interesting because they are the sole living members of the Vampyromorphida order, and the have traits of both Octopuses and Squids. When they were discovered and described in 1903, they were initially placed within the Octopus Order.

The Vampire Squid is different from True Octopuses and Squids in a handful of ways. Their bodies posses the same color changing chromatophores that Squids have, but they lack the ability to actually change color. They have webbing between their eight arms, which is similar to Octopuses, but they also have two long filaments that can extend and retract. These filaments look similar to the two long tentacles found on Squid, but are different in function and composition. The Vampire Squid's arms, (along with their sometimes red eyes) help to give them their name. Each arm has a row of suckers, along with a row of spines that look a bit like pointed teeth.

Juvenile Vampire Squids go through an interesting metamorphosis as they grow, causing a total change in the way that they move. When they are young they move by jetting themselves around, and the two little fins on their mantle don't do much. When they reach about 2.5cm long, they grow a whole new pair of fins, and the first set is absorbed into the body. At this point the Squid propels itself with the fins rather than with jetting.

Vampire Squids, like many other crazy looking ocean dwellers, can be found in the deep seas between 1,000-10,000 ft (300-3,000m) down. They are found in temperate and tropical oceans around the world. Their bodies have proportionally huge eyes and numerous bioluminescent organs called photophores. The photophores are larger at the tips of the arms, and the Vampire Squids ability to manipulate these lights helps them to disorient prey and to escape from their own predators.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson's Snipe
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Charadriiformes
Family : Scolopacidae
Genus : Gallinago
Species : G. delicata

Length : 25in (63cm)
Wingspan : 43in (109cm)

IUCn Status : Least Concern

Wilson's Snipe is a birds that can be found in a variety of marshy and watery areas. They are a migratory species, spending their summers breeding in the northern parts of North America, and then moving south, sometimes as far as South America, during the winter. They were once thought to be a subspecies of the Eurasian Common Snipe, but are now designated separately.

Male Wilson's Snipes create a strange, non-vocal sound to attract mates and defend territory. They beat their wings to flow air over their back tail feathers, creating a low whistling sound called "Winnowing." After finding a partner and mating, Wilson's Snipes have an interesting parenting strategy. They almost always lay four eggs, and the male takes the first two to care for, and leaves the female with the nest and the last two. They have no further contact.

Did you know that Snipes are the source of the word "Sniper?" These birds are notoriously difficult to hunt, so in order to shoot one you had to be an excellent sharpshooter.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wisent

Wisent Bull
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae
Genus : Bison
Species : B. bonasus

Height : 6ft (180cm)
Weight : 2,000lbs (900kg)

IUCN Status : Vulnerable

Also known as the European Bison, the Wisent once had a range that spread across the whole of Europe. Unfortunately, like their American cousins, they were hunted to near extinction. By the end of World War I, Europe's largest land animal had gone completely extinct in the wild, and only 54 individuals were living in captivity.

Captive breeding and reintroduction have saved this species, and there are now around 1,800 free ranging Wisent in Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and several other Eastern European countries. In 2010, seven individuals, two males and five females, were released in northern Spain, a nod back to the days when the Wisent could be found across the entire continent.

Wisent Calf
There are unfortunately a few issues that plague the success of the species, one being the lack of genetic diversity. Because all Wisent  are descended from only 12 individuals, they are extremely susceptible to disease, including foot-and-mouth. Another issue is the existence of hybrid American-European Bison herds in the Caucasus Mountains. These hybrids live very close to the reintroduced Wisent, and there are fears that there will be intermingling.

Wisent are actually not all that different from American Bison. They are slightly smaller, and have longer legs but less hair. Wisent also browse, while Bison typically graze for their meals. They live in herds that are not typically family groups, and females give birth to one calf at a time. Wisent can live as long as 25-30 years.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pygmy Marmoset

Pygmy Marmoset
Kingdom : Animalia
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Primates
Genus : Cebuella
Species : C. pygmaea

Length : 6in (15cm)
Weight : 5oz (140g)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

The ever so adorable Zooborns site alerted me to the birth of twin Pygmy Marmosets at the Perth Zoo, and I just had to look into these tiny, tiny little primates. They are the smallest members of their entire order, with adults measuring barely half a foot long! These diminutive monkeys are found east of the Andes in the upper Amazon Basin.

Pygmy Marmoset
Pygmy Marmosets are rather unusual among monkeys because they form monogamous breeding pairs. Females also typically give birth to twins, rather than to a single child, and both parents help to care for the youngsters. Pygmy Marmosets live in small social groups where only one female actually breeds. The other members of the group are often older offspring who help to take care of their younger siblings.

Tree gum and sap are the favorite foods of Pygmy Marmosets; they gauge holes into the tree trunks and strip away the bark to get to the gum and sap. They also have specialized incisors to help accomplish this important task, and spend up to 2/3 of their feeding time dealing with trees and sap. Pygmy Marmosets also feed on insects and fruits.

It is difficult to know how many Pygmy Marmosets their are. Their habitat and small size makes it quite difficult to count them. IUCN lists them as being of Least Concern, though their population is decreasing due to habitat loss and collection for the pet trade. In the wild their major predators are birds of prey. They live about a decade, and up to twenty years in captivity.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

American Lobster

American Lobster
Phylum : Arthropoda
Class : Malacostraca
Order : Decapoda
Family : Nephropidae
Genus : Homarus
Species : H. americanus

Length : 8-24in (20-61cm)
Weight : 2-9lbs (1-4kg)

IUCN Status : Not Listed

The American Lobster, as its name might suggest, can be found in the waters of the Atlantic, running from Canada down to the Carolinas. They do not swim, instead they move about by crawling thanks to four pairs of walking legs. The fifth pair, (or rather, the first if going from head to tail) makes up the large claws.

Molting is a very important activity in the life of a Lobster. As they grow towards adulthood, juvenile Lobsters will molt their carapace multiple times a year. They essentially grow a whole new shell under their old one, and then seek out a safe place to shed. The Lobsters are vulnerable for a time after their old shell has been discarded, because the new one is still soft. It will harden over time, and adult Lobsters molt about once a year.

Molting has a big part in Lobster reproduction, as females can only mate when their new carapaces are soft, right after molting. They can lay thousands of eggs at once, which are carried on the underside of the female's tail for as long as a year!

American Lobsters are opportunistic feeders. They dine on Plankton, Mollusks, Fish, Algae, Worms, and even other Lobsters. They have also been known to consume their own recently molted shells!

The harvesting of American Lobster is a $300,000,000 industry, and overfishing exists in some areas of southern New England. Measurements are in place by the NOAA that outline the protection of breeding females, the minimum size a Lobster must be at to be caught, and what types of traps can be used. The largest American Lobster ever caught weighed 44lbs (20kg).

Monday, March 14, 2011

Jackson's Chameleon

Male Jackson's Chameleon
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Order : Squamata
Family : Chamaeleonidae
Genus : Chamaeleo
Species : C. jacksonii

Length : 12in (30cm)

IUCN Status : Not Listed

Jackson's Chameleons are native to Kenya and Tanzania where they spend their time up in trees. There are three subspecies, with C. j. jacksonii being the most common.

Three-Horned Chameleon is another name for this species, and it refers to the three large horns that are found on the males. These Chameleons are normally a green color, but can change depending on where they are and their stress level.

Female Jackson's Chameleon
Color change takes a large part in Chameleon reproduction. A male will approach a female, making bobbing movements and changing color. If the female does not want to mate, she turns very dark, which means she feel threatened. If she does want to mate, the color remains green. Females give birth by dropping their young onto the ground, which coaxes them out of their thin egg sacs. The young Chameleons are on their own after that.

Jackson's Chameleons feed off of insects and other invertebrates. Their eyes can move independently from one another, and they use them to sit quietly and spot for prey. When a potential meal is found, the Chameleons traps it by propelling its long, sticky tongue.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Falabella

Falabella Miniature Horse
Phylum :Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Perissodactyla
Family :Equidae
Genus : Equus
Species : E. ferus
Subspecies : E. f. caballus

Hight : 25-34in (63-86cm)

Despite their tiny size, Falabellas are not considered ponies. Rather, they are miniature horses, and one of the world's rarest breeds at that.  They have similar proportions to other horses, only they are much, much smaller. They are also a very adaptable breed, thanks to their history, and can tolerate changing conditions.

Falabellas have an interesting history. They were first bred in Argentina as descendants of the horses brought to South America by the Spaniards. These horses had to adapt to harsh environments and became quite hardy. By the 19th century isolated populations had seen significant amount of inbreeding, which, combined with their need to adapt, resulted in much smaller horses. It was at this time that formal selective breeding began, with Shetland and Welsh Ponies, as well as Thoroughbred horses, added to the mix. The first official registry was created by Julio C. Falabella in 1940.
Falabella Foal

There are currently about 900 registered Falabellas, and the world population of the breed numbers only a few thousand. Falabellas can only be ridden by small children, due to their size, but showing and cart-driving are popular activities for the breed. They are sweet natured horses, and are easy to handle.

Falabellas can come in all colors, as well as in a handful of patterns.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Shoebill

Shoebill
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Pelecaniformes
Family : Balaenicipitidae
Genus : Balaeniceps
Species : rex

Height : 45-60in (115-150cm)
Wingspan :125cm (260cm)

IUCN Status : Vulnerable

Today's bird isn't the most attractive fellow, but you certainly won't forget him! Shoebills are large wetlands-living birds that are related to Storks and can be found in East Africa.

Shoebills are also sometimes known as Whaleheads, and are named for their larged, patchy colored bill that resembles a shoe. Males are slightly taller and larger billed than the females, but both sexes are greyish-blue in color.

Shoebills are carnivores, and feed off of the reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals that live in their marshy habitats. They hunt by ambushing their prey, waiting patiently and then striking with rapid speed using their large, hooked beaks.

Pairs of Shoebills are monogamous, and breed at the start of the dry season. Nests that measure up to a meter in diameter are woven on the ground, and 1-3 eggs are laid. Chicks are cared for by both parents, but typically only one will survive from each brood. Shoebills are relatively long-lived, with some wild individuals reaching 36 years of age.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Dugong

Dugong
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Superorder : Afrotheria
Order : Sirenia
Family : Dugongidae
Genus : Dugong
Species : dugon

Length : Up to 10ft (3m)
Weight : 500-1,100lbs (226-499kg)

IUCN Status : Vulnerable

According to EDGE, the Dugong is one of the most evolutionarily diverse mammals still alive. It's closest known relative, the tragic Steller's Sea Cow, was hunted to extinction in the 18th century. Dugongs belong to the same order as the three extant Manatee species, and that order is more closely related to Aardvarks and Elephants than it is to the other aquatic mammals like Whales and Seals!

Dugongs can be found in the warm coastal waters of the Indian Ocean, stretching from Africa to Australia. They are very seldom found in freshwater. Dugongs were once hunted for their oil and meat, but are now protected through their range. Unfortunately, these large aquatic herbivores still die as the byproduct of net fishing. Because of their large size, Dugongs have very few natural predators. Only large Sharks, Orcas, and large Crocodiles actively hunt them.

Dugong
Dugongs live exclusively in water, and come to the surface only to breathe. They are able to hold their breaths
for up to six minutes at a time while they feed off of underwater grasses, and they move slowly at speeds of around 6mph (10kph).

Dugongs are typically seen alone or in very small groups, though historically there are reports of herds numbering in the hundreds. Baby Dugongs are born underwater after a one year gestation period, and the mothers push them upwards so they can take their first breaths.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Superb Fruit Dove

Male
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Columbiformes
Family : Columbidae
Genus : Ptilinopus
Species : superbus

Length : 9in (23cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

As the resident of a large city, I am insanely jealous of the beautiful pigeons and dove found in Australia and New Guinea. Sure, our good old Rock Pigeons can be sort of neat looking sometimes, but overall they can't hold a candle to the Victoria Crowned Pigeon, or today's animal, the Superb Fruit Dove. This species, found in New Guinea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, and various other islands, has striking coloration in both males an females, though the male has an absolutely fantastic color palette.

Female
Superb Fruit Doves live up in the canopy, and the females are predominantly green in order to remain camouflaged. They do however, have speckles of other colors, including a purple crown. Males take that crown to a whole new level, mixing it with a bright orange neck, blue breast, and green feathers and bands elsewhere. Juveniles resemble females, though they lack the purple crown.

Superb Fruit Doves live alone or sometimes in pairs, and they feed primarily off of fruits. They build nests out of twigs a few meters from the ground, and lay one egg at a time. This egg is watched over by the female at night and the male by day. Many birds migrate between New Guinea and areas in Australia each year.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Eastern Coral Snake

Eastern Coral Snake
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Order : Squamata
Family : Elapidae
Genus : Micrurus
Species : fulvius

Length : 20-30in (51-76cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

The Eastern Coral Snake is found in the southeastern areas of the United States, as well as in parts of eastern and central Mexico. They have a very distinctive body coloration, with large rings of red and black with thinner, yellow rings in between.

Eastern Coral Snakes are venomous, and because of that there are two other species in their range that mimic their coloration. Both the Scarlet Snake and Scarlet Kingsnake are marked with similar bands. This confuses predators into thinking that these non-venomous species are actually dangerous Coral Snakes, and should thus be avoided.

Eastern Coral Snakes are reclusive and really only attack humans when stepped on or handled. When they bite down on their target, be it a human ankle or a frog, they often have to chew a bit to get the venom in. Their bites don't really cause much pain or swelling, but if left unattended the toxin will cause nerve damage and eventually, paralysis. Eastern Coral Snakes are venomous right after hatching.

There is antivenin for Eastern Coral Snakes, and their have been no reported deaths since its introduction in 1967.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Microraptor

Gliding Microraptor
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Order : Saurischia
Family : †Dromaeosauridae
Genus : †Microraptor

Length : 2ft (61cm)

Status : Extinct since the Early Cretaceous, 120 million years ago.

Microraptors were tiny, predatory dinosaurs that most likely fed on insects and small vertebrates, including small mammals. They are some of the smallest Dinosaurs ever discovered.

Around two dozen nearly complete specimens have been uncovered in China during the last decade or so, and what makes these Dinosaurs so remarkable is that we know for a fact that they had feathers. And not only that, but they basically had two full sets of wings, one set on the front arms, and the second on the hind legs. These feathers were similar to the flight feathers that we see on our modern birds, and because of them Microraptor was most likely able to glide. These long flight feathers are a contrast to several other Dinosaurs, where feathers were present, but only as a covering and not for flight.

There is debate within paleontology regarding the origin of birds. Did they evolve directly from dinosaurs, or did they evolve independently through an as yet undiscovered species? Feathered Dinosaurs like Microraptor can help us to one day solve that mystery.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sei Whale

Sei Whale
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Cetacea
Family : Balaenopteridae
Genus : Balaenoptera
Species : borealis

Length : 65ft (20m)
Weight : 99,000lbs (45,000kg)

IUCN Status : Endangered

Sei Whales (pronounced "say") are named after the Norwegian word for pollock fish, "seje." The Whales and fish moved into fishing areas around the same time. Though their name has Norwegian origins, Sei Whales can actually be found in tropical, temperate, and sub-polar oceans around the world.

Sei Whales are one of the longest whale species, with many individuals not even reaching sexual maturity until they are around 45ft (13m) long. Females are often slightly longer than males. Sei Whales also have the distinction of being one of the fastest swimming cetaceans. They can reach speeds of 35mph (55kph).

Unfortunately, whaling has had a drastic impact on the worldwide Sei Whale population. It is now believed that there around only around 57,000 whales left, which is amazingly few when you consider that during the 1964-65 season nearly 25,000 whales were killed. Nearly 300,000 Sei Whales have been taken since the advent of modern whaling. Sei Whales are now listed on CITES and are protected under the Endangered Species act.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bearded Pig

Bearded Pigs
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Suidae
Genus : Sus
Species : barbatus

Weight : 95lbs (210kg)

IUCN Status : Vulnerable

Bearded Pigs are native to the Malay Peninsula, the Philippines, part of Indonesia, and a handful of other Southeast Asian islands. They live in family groups, and are quite unique among pigs for the long migration that they undertake. During these migrations hundreds of pigs travel together under the leadership of an older male. They follow old paths at night, paths that they have probably been traveling for generations. During the day they retreat into the brush, and are in fact dirunal creatures during the parts of the year when they are not migrating.

Bearded Pig
Bearded Pigs also have the distinction of having the slimmest torsos of any pig, as well as the longest head. They get their name from the warts on their faces that are covered with beard-like hair. Thhey also have whiskers all over their face, and bushy tails.

Female pigs reach sexual maturity around 18 months. After a four month gestation period the female will leave her group to go and build a nest, which can be as large as six feet across and three feet high. She gives birth to up to eight striped piglets in this nest, and they will stay in the nest together for the first ten days of life. Piglets remain with their mother for up to a year.

Did a Dinosaur Drink this Water?

Did a Dinosaur Drink This Water? (Albert Whitman Prairie Books)By Robert E. Wells
Hardcover : 32 Pages
January 1, 2006

Did a Dinosaur Drink this Water? is a children's book that deals with how water is used and reused over and over within the water cycle. Concepts are explained with help from dozens of illustrations.

Wells discusses processes like evaporation, precipitation, and how it is that we are drinking the same water molecules that the Dinosaurs did millions and millions of years ago. The book also talks about the importance of water to not only ourselves, but to all living things, and suggests steps that you can take to conserve water.

Recommended for ages 4-8. Includes an epilogue.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Bluebuck

18th Century Illustration of a Bluebuck
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae
Genus : Hippotragus
Species : leucophaeus

Height : 4ft (1.2m)
Weight : 350lbs (160kg)

Status : Extinct since around 1800

The Bluebuck is a notable species because it was the first large African mammal to go extinct in historic times. What is so interesting is that they were already quite rare in their native South Africa when Europeans first described them in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is believed that their decline began as far back as 2,000 years ago, when the climate began to shift and when the first human farmers came to the region with sheep that competed with the Bluebucks for food and space.

During the Ice Age, Bluebucks probably had a range that spread across Africa, but by modern times they had become restricted to areas in the South and East. They were very selective grazers, and only fed on high-quality grasses. They also needed to drink water directly, which makes them different from some other antelope species that obtain most of their moisture through the plants that they eat.

There are four preserved Bluebucks specimens in European museums, along with a handful of horns and skeletons. Interestingly, none of the museum specimens show any hint of bluish hair. It  is thought by some that the name comes from the sheen given off by the mix of black and yellow hairs found in adults.

Bluebucks are related to our modern Sable and Roan Antelopes, though they were smaller in size.

Bird

Bird (DK Eyewitness Books)By David Burnie
Hardcover : 72 Pages
May 5, 2008

Bird is one of many books in the DK Eyewintess series, which is known for its concise, informational paragraphs and wonderful use of photographs and images. Bird is no different.

The book contains sections on all aspects of avian life, and is complete with diagrams, photographs, and hundreds of captions. Flying, eating, and reproductive behaviors are topics that are especially highlighted, and the book contains some great comparison photos of feathers, eggs, and nests.

The concise nature and language of the book makes it most suitable for those of a younger age, but I’d say the graphics and diagrams are quite fun to look at for readers of all ages.

Contains a beginners guide to bird watching and identification, as well as a glossary and index.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Dumpy Tree Frog

Dumpy Tree Frog
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Amphibia
Order : Anura
Family : Hylidae
Genus : Litoria
Species : caerulea

Length : 4in (10cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

I chose today's animal entirely based on one of its common names: Dumpy Tree Frog. Though they are also known as White's Tree Frog and the Australian Green Tree Frog, Dumpy seems completely appropriate. And amusing.

Dumpy Tree Frogs are found in Northern and Eastern Australia, and New Guinea, areas of the world that are rich which strange and amazing animals. They are one of the largest species of tree frog, and females often outsize the males. Like many members of their genus, their typically greenish-blue skin is able to change color, though only slightly.

Though they are typically found up in trees, Dumpy Tree Frogs can also live near numerous other water sources, including sinks and toilets. They feed off on insects and anything else they can fit in their mouths and swallow, since they have a limited ability to chew their food. These frogs have very few native predators, and can live as long as twenty years.

Dumpy Tree Frogs have been quite beneficial to science. Secretions from their body are being worked on as potential treatments for HIV, Staph Infections, Herpes, and High Blood Pressure!

Dumpy Tree Frogs are commonly kept as pets, and are considered a good starter frog for new owners, due to their laid back nature, long lifespan, resistance to disease, and ease of care.

Feathered Dinosaurs: The Origin of Birds

Feathered Dinosaurs: The Origin of BirdsBy John Long and Peter Schouten
Hardcover : 208 Pages
September 1, 2008

Feathered Dinosaurs: The Origin of Birds is a book of beautiful illustrations and accompanying text about feathered Dinosaurs and early Birds. In the past few decades more and more evidence has come to light to suggest that some Dinosaurs did in fact have feathers. Long and Schouten take these findings and use them to craft this guide.

The book begins with a chapter on the history of Paleontology and an overview of Dinosaur evolution. It then includes short chapters on several important Orders and Families. The remaining chunk of the book is made up of dozens and dozens of Dinosaurs illustrated in full color, complete with a short “biography” as well as an authors note regarding the depiction.

This is a beautiful and informative book, and I recommend it to anyone who has any interest in Dinosaurs. It really makes you think about these amazing animals of the past and how they may have looked completely different from how we’ve envisioned them for so long.

Contains references and index.
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