Saturday, April 30, 2011

Excalibosaurus

Excalibosaurus costini
Excalibosaurus is the name given to a genus known only from two specimens from a single species. Both of these fossils were found in England. That fact, combined with the long, swordlike nose, gave this creature a name derived from the legendary sword Excalibur.

Excaliboasaurus was a large, marine Ichthyosaur that had an asymmetrical jaw. Its upper snout (the rostrum) extended far beyond where the lower jaw (mandible) ended. In some ways it is similar to our modern swordfish, and may even have used this long snout to stir up or spear at fish in a similar way.

Because only two specimens have been found, an adult and a juvenile, we don't know much more about this extinct creature. But it's still fun to learn even a little bit about all the strange animals that walked (or swam) on our planet millions and millions of years before we did!

Status :  Extinct since the Early Jurassic, approximately 190 million years ago
Location : Fossils found in England
Size : Estimated body length of 23ft (7m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Sauropsida -- Order: †Ichthyosauria
Family : Leptopterygiidae -- Genus : Excalibosaurus -- Species : E. costini

Friday, April 29, 2011

Barreleye Fish

There are actually several fish species that fall under the name "Barreleye," but today we're just going to focus on Macropinna microstoma, an incredible looking deep-sea fish that has a transparent head!

Macropinna microstoma
Researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California have been studying these strange looking fish, which were first described in 1939, and they believe they have discovered how they live and behave. Barreleye have two large, barrel-shaped eyes that are visible through their transparent head domes. These eyes are able to move in different directions, enabling the fish to look at what is directly above their heads, and also what is in front of them.

Because they live at depths of around 2,500ft (762m) down, there is very little light. It is speculated that the Barreleye fish use their large, flat fines to remain motionless in the water, and fix their eyes upward. The green pigments in their eyes might help them to filter out any sunlight that reaches down into the water, allowing them to more easily locate the bioluminescent glows of various jellyfish and other creatures. When prey has been found they then swim upwards, moving their eyes into a forward position.

There is still much to learn about the Barreleye and many other deep sea denizens. Just image what else is down there, new things are discovered all the time!

IUCN Status :  Not Listed
Location : Deep Sea Oceans
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Osmeriformes
Family : Opisthoproctidae -- Genus : Macropinna -- Species : M. microstoma

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Griffon Vulture

The Griffon Vulture is a large, Old World Vulture that can be found in mountainous areas of Europe, North Africa, and Asia. They have light, buff colored bodies, white neck ruffs, and bald heads that help them to stay disease free when digging around in corpses.

Gyps fulvus
As one would expect, Griffon Vultures are scavengers. They have excellent eyesight that helps them to locate dead and dying animals. Because the Vultures typically only swoop down when prey is spotted, other Vultures know what is going on when they spy one of their kind making a plunge. This behavior is how a newly dead corpse can be covered with Griffon Vultures in only a short matter of time. Griffon Vultures are also built for soaring, and can fly around for several hours and up to 100 miles looking for a meal.

Griffon Vultures are not actually territorial, though they do live in roughly the same area their entire lives. It is believed that pairs mate for life, and they lay only one egg at a time. Griffon Vultures are quite long lived, with ages frequently reaching over 40 years.

Griffon Vultures are listed as being of Least Concern, though populations in many localized areas are on the decline. This is due in part to changes in farming methods that have affected the Vultures' food supply; dead domesticated animal carcasses are seldom left laying around anymore.

IUCN Status :  Least Concern
Location : Europe, North Africa, and Asia
Size : Body Length 40in (102cm), Wingspan 100in (2.5m), Weight up to 30lbs (13.6kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Falconiformes
Family : Accipitridae -- Genus : Gyps -- Species : G. fulvus

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bactrian Camel

Can you believe it's been an entire year of Animal A Day already? To celebrate this monumental occasion I wanted to write about one my my favorite animals that I haven't yet talked about : The Bactrian Camel. These two humped ungulates are quite interesting because there are over 1,000,000 of them, yet they are critically endangered!

You see, Bactrian Camels were domesticated over 4,000 years ago, and almost every single Camel we have left  is considered domesticated. There are only between 800 and 1,000 truly wild Bactrians left, which is why they are listed as critically endangered. In fact, the wild and domesticated Camels are considered by the IUCN and a few other groups to be separate species. C. ferus is the wild variety, while C. bactrianus is the domesticated. (Other groups class them all under C. bactrianus)

These wild herds can only be found in four small subpopulations in China and Mongolia, though their historic range spread across Asia. There are several causes for the species decline, including subsistence hunting (even in protected areas), predation, drought, competition with livestock, and interbreeding with domestic herds.

Bactrian Camels at the Milwaukee County Zoo
Wild Bactrian Camels are well adapted to harsh, arid environments where temperatures can fluctuate nearly 150 degrees Fahrenheit! They have shaggy coats that grow thicker in winter, but shed in the summer. Additionally, they have very long eyelashes and hair lined ears that keep those parts safe from blowing sand and strong winds. These Camels also have large, padded feet that assist them in moving over difficult terrain, and are able to consume just about any type of vegetation and drink brackish water to keep themselves going. Overall they are a hardy, well suited species within their wild homes.

Domesticated Bactrian Camels are a remarkably useful species to humans. They are strong and large, and can be used as both pack animals and for riding transportation. Meat and milk are consumed, hair and hides are used for a variety of purposes, and even dung can be used as fire fuel!

IUCN Status :  Critically Endangered (wild population)
Location : Domestic populations live worldwide, wild population are restricted to China and Mongolia
Size : Hump height up to 7ft (2.2m), Weight 1,000lbs (455kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Camelidae -- Genus : Camelus -- Species : C. bactrianus, C. ferus

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dalmatian Pelican

Pelecanus crispus
Dalmatian Pelicans are one of the largest Pelican species, and are found in two populations that migrate between . The first is located in Eastern Europe, and the second can be found in Russian and South and Central Asia. They have white plumage and large yellow bills outside the breeding season, but when that time of year rolls around their feathers take on a silvery-white sheen and the pouches turn reddish-orange. They also sport a bushy crest of feathers on the back of their heads and necks.

Adult Dalmation Pelicans reach sexual maturity at 3-4 years of age. They form monogamous pair bonds that will return to the same nesting site year after year. Nests are often built among floating vegetation, which protects the eggs and hatchlings from terrestrial predators.

Dalmatian Pelicans are excellent fishermen, and use their large bill pouches to scoop up and carry their prey. In some areas, like the Prespa Lakes in Greece, the Pelicans work with Comorants to catch fish. The Comorants are divers, and when they plunge down into the water the fish move up to the surface, making it easier for the Pelicans to snatch them up.

Dalmatian Pelicans are vulnerable due to loss of wetlands, hunting, pesticides, and loss of food. They are currently listed on CITES Appendix I.

IUCN Status :  Vulnerable
Location : Europe and Central Asia
Size : Length up to 75in (190cm), Wingspan 10ft (3m)
Classification : Phylum  : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Pelecaniformes
Family : Pelecanidae -- Genus : Pelecanus -- Species : P. crispus

Monday, April 25, 2011

Silver Arowana

Osteoglossum bicirrhosum
The Silver Arowana is a bony fish indigenous to the Amazon and a handful of other rivers in South America. What is so remarkable about them, and their family, is that they are considered to be an ancient group of fish. Fossilized ancestors have been uncovered that show these fish have remained relatively unchanged for 150 million years!

Silver Arowanas are quite large, and can grow almost 4 feet long! They are covered with large, pearly scales and have an elongated body with a tail that is tapered off. They swim about near the surface, and have an upturned jaw that lets them open up and snatch things floating on the water. Silver Arowanas are carnivores that will eat just about anything that they can fit in their mouths. They also have the ability to jump several feet out of the water to catch prey.

Silver Arowanas are mouth-brooders. After the female lays her eggs, the male will incubate them in his mouth until they hatch nearly two months later!

Some experienced aquarists keep these fish as pets, and they are not recommended for novices. They require tanks that are 250 gallons in size, and the tanks need to stay covered, otherwise they might jump out!

IUCN Status :  Not Listed
Location : Amazon flood plain, South America
Size : Length up to 45in (114cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Osteoglossiformes
Family : Osteoglossidae -- Genus : Osteoglossum -- Species : O. bicirrhosum

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Eastern Cottontail

Sylvilagus floridanus
The Eastern Cottontail Rabbit is one of the most common rabbit species in North America, though they can also be found in parts of Central and South America as well. They are a crepuscular species, meaning they are most active at dusk and dawn, and they prefer to live in habitats that are not quite fully forested, but that aren't completely open either.

Eastern Cottontails are very, very territorial and don't like being around each other much outside of the mating season, which involves males both fighting each other, and performing displays for females. These Rabbits reach sexual maturity when they are only 2-3 months old, and females can have as many as 3-4 litters a year, sometimes more! The high reproduction rate is necessary though, since Cottontails have what seems like an endless number of predators, and nearly 80% of adult rabbits are killed each year.

The Rabbits have a few ways to escape from those who hunt them. They can jump distances of 10-15ft (3-4.5m) and when they run, they do so in a zig-zag pattern to try and break the trail. They can reach speeds of up to 18mph (29kph).

Eastern Cottontails are herbivores that both graze and browse. They are not very picky about the vegetation that they eat, which can cause problem when they go after crops and gardens.

IUCN Status :  Least Concern
Location : North America, parts of Central and South America
Size : Body length 17in (43cm), Weight 3lbs (1.3kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Lagomorpha
Family : Leporidae -- Genus : Sylvilagus -- Species : S. floridanus

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Face Spider

Theridion grallator
What an amazing looking spider! Theridion grallator, also known as the Happy Face Spider, is a remarkable looking arachnid found in Hawaii. Though keep in mind, not all individuals have such distinctive markings; the species varies from island to island, with some having no happy faces at all!

Some scientists think that the Happy Face Spider may have evolved it markings to ward off birds and other potential predators, but not one really knows for sure yet. Happy Face Spiders live on leaves, and spin webs. Interestingly, the females will guard their eggs before they hatch.

Though they are not listed yet by the IUCN, Happy Face Spiders are becoming threatened. They live only on very specific islands, whose fauna are at risk from introduced species.

IUCN Status :  Not Listed
Location : Hawaii
Size : Body length about 5mm
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Arachnida -- Order : Araneae
Family : Theridiidae -- Genus : Theridion -- Species : T. grallator

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fossa

Fossas are the largest carnivores on the island of Madagascar. While they kind of resemble cats, they are actually more closely related to mongooses... even though they have retractable cat-like claws. This strange creature owes its uniqueness to millions of years of evolution on a single island habitat. Remember that Madagascar is also the exclusive home of the world's Lemurs, and was also the stomping ground of the 10ft (3m) tall Elephant Bird!
Cryptoprocta ferox

Fossas are solitary animals that live on both the ground and in trees. Their long, heavy tails helps them to balance while climbing and moving about. Until recently it was believed that they were exclusively nocturnal, but scientists have now discovered that they are active at either time of day, depending on mood and situation.

As previously mentioned, the Fossa is a carnivore, and it feeds off basically anything that it can get its claws on. This includes mice, birds, lizards, and even lemurs! In fact, the Fossa is the only native carnivore able to kill the largest lemur species.

Fossas are a vulnerable, due in part to habitat loss, introduced canine and feline diseases (that they are susceptible to) and hunting. Farmers aren't huge fans of them, because they sometimes kill livestock like pigs and poultry. The species is now becoming fragmented and rare in local populations, which puts it in danger of extinction.

IUCN Status :  Vulnerable
Location : Madagascar
Size : Body length up to 31cm (80cm), Weight 20lbs (9kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Eupleridae -- Genus : Cryptoprocta  -- Species : C. ferox

Happy Earth Day!

...and almost Birthday to Animal a Day!

For those of you who have been keeping track, Animal a Day will be celebrating its first birthday on Wednesday, April 27th. And in true anneversary form, I'll be putting together a theme week. ...Though it will be a bit belated. I'm going to be on vacation for a bit in May, so I'm going to hold off on the theme week till then, so sit tight!

But anyway, back to Earth Day. If you'd like to do your part, and take part in some of the Earth Day going-ons, do a Google search for Earth Day in your area. I know just near me there are several donation drives happening, a 5k run, and a whole mess of stores and restaurants giving proceeds to environmental charities.

There are also several different sites out there outlining all the neat things happening today. And did you know all National Parks are free today?

So get out there are take part!



Thursday, April 21, 2011

Finless Porpoise

Neophocaena phocaenoides
Did you know that there are only six living porpoise species? And that today's animal, the Finless Porpoise, can be found in both salt and fresh water, making it the only freshwater Porpoise? Finless Porpoises live in coastal waters off of Asia, but there are also small populations that live in rivers, including the Yangzte. They typically swim in small groups of 2-3 individuals, though larger pods of up to 20 have been rarely observed.

Finless Porpoises, as their name suggests, do not have a dorsal fin. Instead, they have a very low ridge on their backs. They also have unfused neck vertebrae, which allows them to move their head in different directions. Overall, they are a small, streamlined Cetecean species, and they feed on Krill, Fish, Octopuses, and a handful of other invertebrate species.

Gill nets and other types of fishing gear are some of the biggest causes for Finless Porpoise death. They are also very susceptible to water pollution, habitat change, and habitat loss. The Yangtze subpopulation is quite rare, and estimates are that there are less than 2,000 left.

Finless Porpoises have appeared recently in the news, when a young Porpoise was washed a mile inland during the Japanese Tsunami. The Porpoise was rescued and returned to the ocean.

IUCN Status :  Vulnerable
Location : Asian coastal waters
Size : Length up to 5ft (1.55m), Weight up to 100lbs (45kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Cetacea -- Suborder : Odontoceti
Family : Phocoenidae -- Genus : Neophocaena -- Species : N. phocaenoides

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal

The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal (P.S.)By Jared Diamond
Paperback : 432 Pages
Originally published January 1992, Paperback Edition January 2006

Even though The Third Chimpanzee is primarily about the evolution of humans, humans are still animals, and our primate relatives are featured strongly so I'm going to throw it a review and add it to the list. While some of the information in this book is now out of date (Homo sapiens did cross-breed with Neanderthals after all!) it still paints a great portrait of why we are who we are, and how close our link to modern primates actually is. Did you know that the common ancestor between humans and chimpanzees is more recent then that between chimpanzees and gorillas? The version I picked up is a reprint that includes an afterward addressing new developments in anthropology since the initial printing (like Homo floriensis) so if you can grab the 2006 edition, it adds a bit more!

Tiger Cowry

Cypraea tigris
Tiger Cowries are one of the most abundant Molluscs in the Ocean, and their shells have been used by people all over the world, despite the fact that they are found only in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. But more on that later.

Underneath the shiny white, brown, and grey spotted shell lives a nocturnal snail that feeds off of algae. What makes Cowries especially interesting is that they have a mantle that they can spread over the surface of their shell. It keeps other, smaller creatures from sticking to them, and also keeps the shell clean, smooth, and shiny. They can draw the mantle into the shell if threatened.

Cowries and their shells have been used for a wide variety of human purposes. They have served as food, as currency, as decoration, as fishing lures, and as religious objects. Tiger Cowry shells, and other Indo-Pacific Cowries, were even found in Pompeii, far from their natural distribution. This just goes to show how far these objects were moved and traded.

IUCN Status :  Not Listed
Location : Pacific and Indian Oceans
Size : Length up to 6in (15cm)
Classification : Phylum : Mollusca -- Class : Gastropoda -- Order : Mesogastropoda
Family : Cypraeidae -- Genus : Cypraea -- Species : C. tigris

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hoary Marmot

The Hoary Marmot can be found in the mountainous areas of the North American northwest, living in alpine meadows just above the tree line. It is the largest of all the North American ground squirrels.

Marmota caligata
These Marmots get their name from their coloration; "hoary" is a word that means gray or white with age. Hoary Marmots have thick, silvery gray fur on their heads and upper backs, and more brownish coloration on their lower backs.

Hoary Marmots typically live in colonies that are comprised of a dominant male, many females, and a handful of subordinate males. Only the dominant males breed, and mating takes place not long after the Marmots wake up from their winter hibernation.

Hoary Marmots are known for two other behaviors, the first being their whistling. They have a wide variety of screams and whistles that they use to communicate with, and warn for predators (like eagles and coyotes). Hoary Marmots are also known for their wrestling, which often takes place between young Marmots during the summer months.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Northwest North America
Size : Length 20in (51cm), Weight 20lbs (9kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Rodentia
Family : Sciuridae -- Genus : Marmota -- Species : M. caligata

Birdology: Adventures with a Pack of Hens, a Peck of Pigeons, Cantankerous Crows, Fierce Falcons, Hip Hop Parrots, Baby Hummingbirds, and One Murderously Big Living Dinosaur

Birdology: Adventures with a Pack of Hens, a Peck of Pigeons, Cantankerous Crows, Fierce Falcons, Hip Hop Parrots, Baby Hummingbirds, and One Murderously Big Living Dinosaur (t)By Sy Montgomery
Hardcover : 272 Pages
April 6, 2010

Birdology is a book about a woman and her experiences with, and passion for, birds. Each chapter outlines a different species or family (you can probably guess which by the descriptive sub-title) and juxtaposes the author's personal anecdotes with facts and findings about those specific birds. This book was informative, funny, and exciting, and made me wish I had a flock of hens of my very own, and the time and money to embark on my own personal quest for the Cassowary.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cape Dwarf Chameleon

Bradypodion pumilum
Cape Dwarf Chameleons are actually one of the largest of the Dwarf Chameleon species, topping out at a whopping 3in (8cm) body length! They, and many other members of their genus, have a very small range, specifically the area directly around Cape Town, South Africa.

Like many other Chameleons, the Cape Dwarf has an exceptionally long tongue; it is over twice their body length! When they locate prey (they are pure insectivores) they shoot out their tongues and snatch them up.

Cape Dwarf Chameleons are ovoviviparous, and at birth the young are seldom over 2cm long! Females give produce between 5 and 15 tiny offspring at a time. They are born brown, and will develop greener colors as they age. Sexual maturity can be reached after a year, and both males and females grow to roughly the same size.

IUCN Status :  Not Listed
Location : South Africa
Size : Full length (including tail) 6in (15cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Chamaeleonidae -- Genus : Bradypodion -- Species : B. pumilum

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Saluki

Saluki
The Saluki is one of the oldest of all dog breeds, as images of dogs extremely similar in appearance have been dated to as far back as 5,000 years ago. Mummified Salukis have also been found in tombs, mummified with the likes of Pharoahs. The breed spread far and wide, making its way into China and being brought back to Europe by Romans and later Crusaders. They made their way to America in the late 1800s. Salukis were recognized by the AKC in 1929.

Back then, and now, Salukis were used as hunting dogs. They belong to a specific hunting type known as the sight hounds. These dogs use their eyes to pinpoint prey, and then make use of their exceptional speed to run it down. Many modern Salukis still actively hunt, especially in their home region. In other areas, like in the United States, a canine sport called "Lure Coursing" has been developed to simulate the sight hounds' traditional role.

Running Saluki
Salukis are independent, spirited dogs, sometimes referred to as "cat-like." They can be trained, but it will require patience and practice. They have short coats, with longer hair on the ears and tails, and they come in a wide variety of colors.

If you are interested in owning one of this historic, iconic dogs, a fence is basically a requirement. Due to their long-bred history of hunting, they will instinctively chase after just about anything, so letting them off-leash in a non-enclosed area is a very bad idea.


Location : Originally bred in the Middle East
Size : Height 23-28in (58-71cm), Weight 40-60lbs (18-27kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora -- Family : Canidae
Genus : Canis -- Species: C. lupus -- Subspecies : C. l. familiaris

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise

Female (top) and Male (bottom)
Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise is a small Passerine bird found on only two islands in Indonesia, Waigeo and Batanta. They typically inhabit forested hill areas, though they have also been found in forests of both lower and higher elevations.

Birds-of-Paradise are known for their amazing plumage, typically found only in males. Wilson's is no exception to this. They exhibit a dazzling range of colors, with red backs, yellow mantles, green breasts, and turquoise crowns. Males also have small black curving tail feathers. Females and juvenile males are duller in color, with lighter blue crowns and brownish shades elsewhere.

Adult males use their spectacular plumage to attract mates. They enter well lit clearings, where the sun can reflect off their colorful feathers, and perform intricate song and dance rituals to impress potential partners.


IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : Indonesia
Size : Length up to 8in (21cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Paradisaeidae -- Genus : Cicinnurus -- Species : C. respublica

Friday, April 15, 2011

Screaming Budgett's Frog

I recently picked up an amazing book, appropriately titled Astonishing Animals, by Tim Flannery and Peter Schouten. In it, they describe and illustrate little known, and often endangered species. That is how I stumbled upon today's animal, the absolutely awesome Screaming Budgett's Frog. (It it also a reference for some of this information)

Screaming Budgett's Frog in Captivity
To paraphrase Flannery, the Screaming Budgett's Frog looks like a  turd. This actually is how the frog camouflages itself in its waterside habitats. When their camouflage fails, they puff up their bodies, arch their backs, and scream (hence the name).

So they look like turds, they scream like dying cats, and they also bite! And eat each other! Picking up a Screaming Budgett's frog can result in blood being drawn, as they have two teeth-like projections in their mouths. And as for the cannibalism? After the tadpoles hatch, their primary food source is one another. They can actually swallow other tadpoles whole!

Screaming Budgett's Frogs are quite common in the northern parts of their range, but are becoming rare in the south due to habitat loss.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay
Size : Length up to 6in (15cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Amphibia -- Order : Anura
Family : Leptodactylidae -- Genus : Lepidobatrachus -- Species : L. laevis

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Indian Muntjac

Male Muntiacus muntjak
The Indian or Common Muntjac is a small species of deer found in South and Southeast Asia.They are also known as "Barking Deer" due to the dog-like barking sound that they create when they are startled. When they feel especially threatened they may repeat this call over and over for as long as an hour.

Male Indian Muntjacs have both antlers and tusks, which they use while competing over females and territory. Outside of the breeding season they are solitary animals. Rutting can take place at pretty much any time of year, and females give birth to one offspring at a time.

Indian Muntjacs are rather interesting due to their diet. Despite being deer, they are omnivores. They feed on grasses, fruits, and seeds, but they also eat small mammals! The Minutjacs use their feet to stomp prey to death, and are able to tear at meat with their tusks.

Indian Muntjacs are hunted in many parts of their range, and they are used for meat, skins, and medicines. Muntjacs actually serve a positive purpose for humans in that their barking can warn against the presence of major predators.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South and Southeast Asia
Size : Weighs 15-30lbs (6.8-13.6kg), Shoulder height approx. 20in (50cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Cervidae -- Genus: Muntiacus -- Species : M. muntjak

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mountain Quail

Oreortyx pictus
The Mountain Quail is the largest Quail in the United States. They have a very striking appearance, with brown faces, gray bodies, and bold brown and white banding on the underside. Both males and females sport the iconic head plume, though it is more pronounced in the males.

Ground foraging is the Quails' method of feeding. They are an omnivorous species that consumes nuts, seeds, and the occasional insect. Juveniles and adult females tend to eat more insects than adult males, and young males will become more and more herbivorous as they age.

Mountain Quails are monogamous, and both parents incubate and care for the brood of 10-12. Chicks are precocial, meaning that they are up and about following their parents very soon after birth. Mountain Quails live in very small groups (called Coveys) that typically number fewer than 10 adult birds.

Due to their small Covey sizes and elusive behavior, it is difficult to determine exactly how many Mountain Quails are out there. We do know that habitat loss has been a contributor to population decline, as numbers have continued to shrink even in the states that have banned their hunting. Despite some of these local declines, the large range of the Mountain Quail has kept them listed as being of Least Concern.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North America, west of the Rocky Mountains
Size : Weighs up to 9oz (255g), Length 12in (30cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Galliformes
Family : Odontophoridae -- Genus : Oreortyx -- Species : O. pictus

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Burton's Legless Lizard

Burton's Legless Lizard
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Order : Squamata
Family : Pygopodidae
Genus : Lialis
Species : L. burtonis

Body Length : 12in (30cm)

IUCN Status : Not Listed

As the name may suggest, Burton's Legless Lizard is a Lizard... without legs. It lives in Australia and New Guinea, and the species is quite common and widespread. They are often a brownish-gray color, though they can come in many other shades as well, giving the species a wide range of color. Overall though, Burton's Legless Lizards can best be identified by their extremely pointy snout.

One interesting tidbit about this species is that, like snakes, they have the ability to unhinge their jaw in order to swallow very large food. Burton's Legless Lizard feed primarily on other reptiles, like small snakes and geckos. They kill prey by grabbing it and holding on tight around the chest, causing suffocation.

Did you know that if you look close enough, you can see two tiny little skin flaps near where the Lizard's leg should be? These are in fact the remains of their hind legs, which have over time shrunk down into tiny, almost unnoticeable nubs.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Andean Condor

Female Andean Condor
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Disputed
Family : Cathartidae
Genus : Vultur
Species : V. gryphus

Weight : Up to 33lbs (15kg)
Wingspan : 10ft (3m)

IUCN Status : Near Threatened

Andean Condors are the largest raptors in the world, as well as the largest flying birds on the continent of South America. They are so large that they need strong wind currents to keep them soaring, since the amount of energy required to keep their massive wings flapping would be difficult to maintain. A good draft can mean that the Condor only needs to flap its wings once per hour!

These birds are natively found in the both the Andes mountains, and along the entire western coast of South America. Unfortunately, the species is in danger, and has a decreasing wild population due to human persecution. There are only a few thousand in the wild, though reintroduction efforts have been underway in several countries.

Andean Condor in Flight
Andean Condors are scavengers, and their bald head reflects that feeding style. The lack of feathers makes it easier for them to stay clean while digging around in corpses. They also have strong, hooked beaks that allow them to tear into flesh. Andean Condors have excellent eyesight that lets them easily spot meals while soaring about. Did you know that they can also consume as much as 15lbs (7kg) of meat in a single feeding?

There are some distinctions between the male and female condors. Males are larger and have combs on the top of their heads, as well as a neck wattle that is used to attract a mate. Andean Condors mate for life, and can live well over 50 years.

Brookfield Zoo

I made my first trip over to the Brookfield Zoo yesterday, and had at the great fortune to stumble upon several species that I'd never seen in person before.

...Unfortunately it was about 85 degrees out, which was unseasonably warm for Chicago, so most of the animals were pretty lethargic, but it was a fun time nonetheless.

Some pictures and highlights below the cut

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Caracal

Caracal
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Carnivora
Family : Felidae
Genus : Caracal
Species : C. caracal

Height : 18in (46cm)
Weight : Males up to 40lbs (18kg), Females up to 25lbs (11kg)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

Caracals are small, reddish-brown cats found in dry scrub and grassland areas of Africa and Asia. They are named for the Turkish word "Karahkulak," which means "Black Ear." This Moniker refers to their long, black, tasseled ears. It's still debated what those tassels are for, but they might help the Caracals to hear prey better, or to communicate with one another.

There is still some debate about where exactly Caracals should go in the cat family tree. They were long considered close relatives of the Lynxes, due to the eat tufts, but there are now some who think they are closer to Servals. Caracals are still sometimes called "Desert Lynxes."

Caracal
Caracals have never been domesticated, but they have been tamed. In Iran and India, young Caracals were taught to hunt alongside humans, and respond to commands. Cheetahs have also taken on similar roles.

Birds watch out! Caracals are excellent hunters, and can jump as high as 10 ft (3m) in the air in order to bring down their prey. The aforementioned tamed Caracals would be used in contests to see how many birds the cats could take down in a single try. 10 birds at a time was not unheard of.

Overall, Caracals are not a threatened species, though certain localized populations are becoming scarce. They will hunt and kill livestock, which has led to many farmers shooting at them.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Jaragua Sphaero

Jaragua Sphaero
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Order : Squamata
Family : Gekkonidae
Genus : Sphaerodactylus
Species : S. ariasae

Length : 16mm

IUCN Status : Not Listed

Did you know that the Jaragua Sphaero, also known as the Dwarf Gecko, is perhaps the smallest bird, mammal, or reptile ever discovered! As you can see from the picture, the Jaragua Saphaero can comfortably curl up on a coin!

These tiny little guys were discovered in the Dominican Republic by biologists Blair Hedges and Richard Thomas in 2001. They are only found in Jaragua National Park. The Jaragua Saphaero lives in relatively dry areas, but ones that also have moist leaves so that they don't dehydrate.

The species name, ariasae, is in honor of Yvonna Arias, who is the leader of Grupo Jaragua, a Dominican conservation organization. The Jaragua Sphaero and many other island species are under threat due to habitat loss. Conservation organizations are working hard to keep these species safe.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Roborovski Hamster

Roborovski Hamsters
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Rodentia
Family : Cricetidae
Genus : Phodopus
Species : P. roborovskii

Length : up to 3in (7.5cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

You might recognize this tiny rodent from your local pet store, but Roborovski Hamsters are actually native to the desert and steppe regions of Russia, Mongolia, China, and Kazakhstan. Their small size (they are the smallest Hamsters) and efficient use of water has allowed them to live in these harsh, dry environments. They are also sometimes appropriately referred to as the Desert Hamster.

Roborovski Hamsters were first described by a Lt. Roborovski during an 1894 expedition. They were not fully studied until 1903, and were not really imported anywhere until the 1970s. In fact, these Hamsters didn't even appear in America until 1998!

White Faced Roborovski
While most captive hamsters are fed a vegetarian diet, wild Robos are actually omnivores, and occasionally eat insects and other bits of meat that they can find. They are crepuscular animals, and spend a great deal of time in underground burrows that they dig as far as 6 feet down!

Roborovski Hamsters can live up to three years in captivity, and have been bred to come in three different color variations - Agout (or wild), White Faced, and Platinum. They are relatively easy to breed; they reach sexual maturity at 6-8 weeks and a female can produce a litter every 4 weeks! Males can actually be kept with females after they give birth, as they will help care for the young. However, the females can become pregnant again almost immediately, so unless you want a massive colony of Hamsters, it is probably best to keep them apart. Interestingly, it seems that the Hamsters will actually stop breeding altogether once their colony reaches a specific size.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Brown Centipede

Brown Centipede
Phylum : Arthropoda
Subphylum : Myriapoda
Class : Chilopoda
Order : Lithobiomorpha
Family : Lithobiidae
Genus : Lithobius
Species : L. forficatus

Length : Up to 2in (5cm)

IUCN Status : Not Listed

The Brown Centipede is a very common species of Myriapod that can be found most often in Europe, though their distribution extends outside that range.They are a reddish-brown color, have large antennae, and live in a variety of different habitats.

As adults, Brown Centipedes have 15 pairs of legs, giving them thirty overall. You can tell a juvenile from an adult by counting up the digits. Less than 30 legs means that it still has some growing to do. Brown centipedes are born with 7 pairs, and they have to molt their exoskeletons as they age. Each molt grants them a new set of legs!

Females have an interesting way of laying their eggs. They dig a hole and deposit one egg. Then they dig another hole for another single egg, and so on. Eggs are laid in summer, and Brown Centipedes can live as long as 6 years!

Brown Centipedes are nocturnal carnivores, and they have a couple of neat features that help them to hunt and devour prey. First off, they have two venomous claws they they use to paralyze their targets. Secondly, their back set of legs is much longer than any other set, which allows them to hold on to and carry around meals. Humans should not be fearful of Brown Centipedes. They may try and attack with the venom if threatened, but they rarely break skin. Even if they do, the injury is more mild then your average bee sting.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Satin Bowerbird

Male Satin Bowerbird
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Passeriformes
Family : Ptilonorhynchidae
Genus : Ptilonorhynchus
Species : P. violaceus

IUCN Status : Least Concern

Cripes! I've never written about a Bowerbird! These birds, found in Australia and New Guinea, may not be as crazy looking as some of the other natives, (I'm looking at you Birds of Paradise) but they have a fantastic skill-set all their own!

Satin Bowerbirds are medium size birds found in Eastern Australia. Adult males are a shiny blueish-black color with blue eyes, while females and younger males have green plumage.

Bower
What makes this birds so interesting is the intricate procedure that they go through before mating. Males build two parallel structures out of twigs and grasses, and then decorate around them with colorful blue and yellow bits and objects, including flowers, berries, and even made made materials like pens and bottle caps. Females come to inspect these bowers, and at that point the males put on an elaborate dance. If the female is impressed, they mate and she leaves to lay the eggs and incubate them on her own. The male gets back to work to find more receptive females.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bull Shark

Bull Shark
Phylum : Chordate
Class : Chondrichthyes
Order : Carcharhiniformes
Family : Carcharhinidae
Genus : Carcharhinus
Species : C. leucas

Length : 10ft (3m)
Weight : 500lbs (226kg)

IUCN Status : Near Threatened

The Bull Shark gets its name from its short snout and aggressive attitude, which, combined with its toleration of fresh and brackish water, makes it one of the most dangerous sharks in the entire world.

Bull Sharks have a widespread coastal range, and can be found off the coast of just about every continent except Antarctica. What is so amazing is that they are also found inland. Bull Sharks have be observed swimming up rivers and estuaries, and are even known to breed in freshwater. They have even been seen leaping up rapids to move further inland! There have also been a handful of shark attacks by these predators while several miles from the ocean.

Bull Sharks give birth to between one and thirteen live young, and they reach sexual maturity at 8-10 years old. They are solitary animals, and are opportunistic feeders that will consume just about anything they can find. Pieces of Hippopotamus have even been found in Bull Shark stomachs!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Southern Giant Petrel

Southern Giant Petrel - Photo by Paul Gale
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Procellariiformes
Family : Procellariidae
Genus : Macronectes
Species : M. giganteus

Wingspan : 78in (200cm)
IUCN Status : Least Concern

This particular species of bird goes by many names : the Southern Giant Petrel, Stinker, Stinkpot, Giant Fulmar, and "Bone-shaker" among them. Why Stinker and Stinkpot though? When these birds feel threatened they can accurately spit blobs of regurgitated food and oil at their attackers. Stinky indeed!

Southern Giant Petrels can be found in the Southern Hemisphere, breeding near Antarctica and its nearby islands. They are large seabirds, rivaling the albatrosses for size, though then have slimmer wings and much, much larger beaks. Petrels often skim over the water, and are able to take off and land in it. These abilities are the source of the name "Petrel," which comes from St. Peter, the Apostle who walked on water.

Southern Giant Petrel - Photo by Paul Gale
These birds are huge scavengers, feeding off whatever penguin, seal, and whale carcasses they can find. They do on occasion take surface dwelling squids and fishes, but carrion is their primary meal source.

Southern Giant Petrels mate in October and November, and each pair only lays one egg at a time, which takes over two months to incubate. Both parents care for the egg and the chick until it fledges around March and goes off on its own. Young Petrels will fly about on a long migration for several years, but after about six or seven they return to the place that they were born in order to breed.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Shell Castle Cichlid

Male with Females and Shells
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Actinopterygii
Order : Perciformes
Family : Cichlidae
Genus : Lamprologus
Species : L. callipterus

Length : Males 6in (15cm), Females 2.5in (6cm)

IUCN Status : Least Concern

Yesterday afternoon I watched several episodes of the Science Channels "Mutant Planet." One of these, about the lakes in Africa's Rift Valley, featured today's animal, a curious fish sometimes known as the Shell Castle Cichlid.

Lamprologus callipterus is endemic to Lake Tanganyika. These fish exhibit extreme sexual dimorphism; the males can weigh 20 times as much as the females! They are predators that feed off of crustaceans and smaller fish.

I chose this particular Cichlid to feature today because of their interesting breeding behavior. The males are highly territorial and protective of their many, many mates. They gather up old snail shells, sometimes hundreds of them, and bring them into their territory. They then attract nearby females, who then enter these shells in order to lay their eggs. The males then guard over both the females and the eggs until the fry are large enough to leave. At that point neither parent takes any further action in the care of the offspring. Interestingly, the males do not eat at all while they are guarding their "castle." Eventually they become weak and are often chased off by larger, healthier males.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Dama Gazelle

Dama Gazelle
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae
Genus : Nanger
Species : N. dama

Height : 40in (1m)
Weight : Up to 180lbs (81kg)

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered

The Dama Gazelle is both the world's largest, and the world's rarest gazelle. They once had a range that spread across all of northern Africa, but now they are restricted to only a few isolated pockets in Niger, Mali, and Chad.

Dama Gazelle
Dama Gazelles live either solitary lifestyles, or in very small groups that number up to around 15 individuals. They feed off of scrubs and acacia trees, and are able to stand on their hind legs in order to feed off higher leaves. They are can get most of their water needs right from the food they eat.

A number of factors have contributed to the population decline of the Dama Gazelle. They are illegally hunted, they have lost their habitat, they have been horribly affected by drought, and they are forced to compete for food with grazing livestock. There are only a few hundred left in the wild, though recently some have also been released into enclosures and reserves in Morocco, Tunisia, and Senegal.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Matschie's Tree Kangaroo

Matschie's Tree Kangaroo
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Infraclass : Marsupialia
Order : Diprotodontia
Family : Macropodidae
Genus : Dendrolagus
Species : D. matschiei

Body Length : 30in (76cm)
Weight : 20lbs (9kg)

IUCN Status : Endangered

The Matschie's Tree Kangaroo (named after German zoologist Paul Matschie) is a herbivorous marsupial found only on New Guinea's Huon Penninsula. Not much is known about their behavior in the wild, but they are relatively common in captivity.

Mother and Joey
Matschie's Tree Kangaroos have a whole mess of adaptations that let them live the arboreal, rainforest lifestyle. They have large front limbs and padded feet that help them to climb. They also have enormously long tails that act as counter-balances. Furthermore, the Kangaroos have fur on their necks and backs that grows in an opposite direction from the rest of their body. They can then hunch over while it's raining and have all the water run right off, keeping them dry.

Like all marsupials, pouches play a major role in reproduction. The female Kangaroos has a gestation period of only 44 days, and she gives birth to a Joey that is only an inch long. The Joey climbs up and into the pouch where he will stay without leaving for about 8 months. He will return to the pouch off and on for a few more months after that, and will finally leave his mother a year and a half after being born.

Matschie's Tree Kangaroos are on a population decline due to habitat loss and hunting.
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