Monday, December 31, 2012


Today's animal is one of the oldest breeds of horse in the world. It is also, in my opinion, one of the most stunning. They originated in Turkmenistan, with ancestors dating back over 5,000 years. They share a common bloodline to the Arabians, and have been influential in the creation of several other breeds, including the Trakehner and the Nez Perce.

Though the Akhal-Teke's come in a handful of colors, they are best known in their buckskin and palomino varieties, where their coats have a famous metallic sheen to them. They have very little in the mane and tail department, and posses slim bodies that make them excellent for endurance work.

As mentioned, ancestors of the breed first showed up in Turkmenistan thousands of years ago, and the horses were bred there by tribesman until the country was taken over by Russia in 1881. Members of the Russian government and military took a liking to the striking horses, and they developed a breeding program and produced the first official studbook in 1941. It was from a Russian general that the breed got its modern name-- derived from the Teke Turkmen who lived near the Akhal Oasis.

The horses nearly died out post WWII however, due to the slaughtering of horses for meat. Even today there are only around 3,500 in the world. They remain a national symbol of Turkmenistan today.

Akhal-Teke horses excell in distance running, jumping, and dressage. Several Akhal-Tekes have even medaled in Dressage at the Olympic games. They are very lively horses, but are said to attach themselves to only one owner.

Status : Domesticated
Location : Turkmenistan
Size : Shoulder height up to 16hands (64in, 1.6m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Perissodactyla
Family : Equidae -- Genus : Equus -- Species : E. ferus -- Subspecies : E. f. caballus

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Achilles Tang

Acanthurus achilles
The Achilles Tang is a beautiful species of Surgeonfish that cane be found in the tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean. They are moderately sized, with adults reaching about 10in in length.

You can identify this Tang from other Tangs by their black scales, orange spot near the tail, and bright orange tail with white edging. They live near coral reefs, and tend to move in groups. The Achilles Tangs feed on various types of algae

Achilles Tangs are very difficult to keep in captivity. Though they can be kept as pets, only a very experienced saltwater aquarist should consider this species. They require large tanks (180+ gallons) that have strong water flows, and are difficult to feed. They can also become very aggressive and are susceptible to ich and other diseases.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Pacific Ocean
Size : Length up to 10in (25cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Perciformes
Family : Acanthuridae -- Genus : Acanthurus -- Species : A. achilles

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Steppe Mammoth

Mammuthus trogontherii
The Steppe Mammoth is an interesting creature because it actually predates the Woolly Mammoth that we known so well. These monstrous Proboscideans lived between 600,000 and 370,000 years ago, roaming about the steppes of Europe and Asia.

Steppe Mammoths were one of the largest members of their entire order, living or extinct. At the shoulder they stood around 13ft, which would make them just slightly taller than an average male African Elephant today. Even larger specimens have been found, with some reaching as high as 15ft, and sporting tusks around 10ft long.

Unlike the Woolly Mammoths, whose preserved carcasses have actually been found, and whose skeletons and tusks turn up regularly, the Steppe Mammoth is a more rare find. Most of the fossils found have been teeth, and only a handful of near-complete skeletons have been unearthed. A very rare skull was actually just located in France back in 2008.

Steppe Mammoths most likely followed the Southern Mammoths in terms of evolutionary history, and may have been directly followed by the Woolly Mammoths once the ice age completely set in.

Status : Extinct for about 370,000 years
Location : Europe and Asia
Size : Height up to 13ft (4m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Proboscidea
Family : Elephantidae -- Genus : Mammuthus -- Species : M. trogontherii

Friday, December 28, 2012

Coconut Octopus

Amphioctopus marginatus
The Coconut Octopus is a rather unusual Cephalopod, in fact, they are one of only two different Octopus species that has been observed walked in a bipedal nature. Furthermore, depending on how you look at it, they actually use tools!

The tropical waters of the western Pacific Ocean is where there creatures call home, dwelling in areas where there is a sandy bottomed floor. They aren't especially large-- their heads are about 3in long, while the tentacles measure an additional 6. They feed on small Crustaceans and Clams.

Coconut Octopuses get their name from the fact that they use coconut shells for protection and shelter. They pick up discarded half shells and carry them around their soft bodies. When threatened, they can cover themselves with the shells, creating a permanent hiding place. There are many scientists who argue that this constitutes tool usage, while there are a handful that dispute the claim.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Pacific Ocean
Size : Arm length around 6in (15cm)
Classification : Phylum : Mollusca -- Class : Cephalopoda -- Order : Octopoda
Family : Octopodidae -- Genus : Amphioctopus -- Species : A. marginatus

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Normally when one thinks of prehistoric sharks, they imagine gigantic sea dwelling monsters like Megalodon-- huge beasts with jaws the size of human beings that could devour anything and everything.

Today's animal breaks that stereotype. Lissodus was an entire genus of Sharks that lived on this planet for over 100 million years, spanning from the Triassic into the late cretaceous. They swam not in the oceans, but in fresh water, and their fossils have been found all over the world. So far there have been ten different species identified.

Other differences between these sharks and their giant counsins? Lissodus was tiny. Especially compared to some of the super sharks. These guys measured only 6in long! They also had very interesting teeth, which they used for a specialized diet. Lissodus had flat teeth that allowed it to crush and eat clams.

Status : Extinct for 100 million years
Location : Worldwide
Size : Length up to 6in (14cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Chondrichthyes -- Order : † Hybodontiformes
Family : Lonchidiidae -- Genus : Lissodus

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Antilopine Kangaroo

Macropus antilopinus
The Antilopine Kangaroo, also referred to as the Antilopine Wallaroo, is one of the lesser known Kangaroo species. They aren't as popular as the Grey and Red Kangaroos, though they are common and abundant, and decently large in size. (The name confusion stems from the species being very large and slender compared to other Wallaroos, but smaller than the other Kangaroos).

"Antilopine" means "antelope-like," a reference to their long legs and speed. Males and females differ in both size and color, with males being larger and more red, while females are small and grey. They live only in northern Australia, inhabiting the forests and tropical woodlands there. The Kangaroos often live in groups of three or more, and they move about their territory grazing on various grasses and plants.

Typically only one offspring is born per year, and the young kangaroos emerge from the pouch each year during the wet season. Males will try and breed with many females each year, and do not take part in the care of their offspring.

Though they are listed as Least Concern, increased global temperatures could spell disaster for the Antilopine Kangaroos. One prediction is that a 2 degree Celsius increase could reduce their range by 90%!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Australia
Size : Weight up to 70kg
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Infraclass : Marsupialia
Order : Diprotodontia -- Family : Macropodidae -- Genus : Macropus -- Species : M. antilopinus

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Rambouillet Sheep
Meet the Rambouillet, a large breed of dual-purpose domestic sheep that has quite an interesting history and legacy.

Before the late 18th century, the Merino sheep breed in Spain were under close guard. They were protected by the government and exportation was forbidden... Until 1786 when the government finally granted a special request by the French King, Louis XVI (the kings were cousins). 359 carefully selected sheep were sent to a farm in Rambouillet, near Paris.

Once the sheep made it to France, they were kept under royal control for a few years, but that did not last. They eventually spread elsewhere in Europe and added their genes to other breeds both on that continent and abroad. By the mid-1800s they had made it to America.

The Rambouillet breed is a large one, with rams growing up to 300lbs and ewes measuring around 200lbs. They have a high wool yield, and long wool at that-- greater than 3in. They are also great meat producers, and are incredibly adaptable. Rambouillet are farmed in all kinds of environments and climates, from hot Texas and Mexico to the chillier regions in Canada and the northern U.S.

Status : Doemsticated
Location : France
Size : Weight up to 300lbs (135kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Ovis -- Species : O. aries

Monday, December 24, 2012


Platecarpus tympaniticus
The name Platecarpus means "flat wrist," a title that describe their large steering flippers. These members of the Mosasaur family lived during the late Cretaceous, around 85-80 million years ago, and swam that seas that covered what is now North America, Europe, and Africa.

Platecarpus could grow as long as 24ft, but even at that size they were considered a medium-length Mosasaur. They sported long, narrow jaws and hunted small fish and squid in the shallow seas. (We know they probably ate softer aquatic creatures because they had less teeth.) Platecarpus swam using its strong, vertically paddled tail, moving in a very snake-like fashion and steering with those aforementioned flippers.

Though they were not the largest Mosasaurs, nor the most ferocious, they were one of the most abundant... at least when it comes to fossils. Remains have been found in three different continents, and were first discovered back in the 1860s, at the early part of the paleontology boom.

Status : Extinct for 80 million years
Location : North America, Europe, Africa
Size : Length up to 24ft (7m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Order : Squamata -- Family : †Mosasauridae
Genus : †Platecarpus -- Species : † P. tympaniticus

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Callaeas cinereus
The Kōkako is an island bird found only in New Zealand. it is, like many bird of those islands, Endangered. In fact, it belongs to a small family of Wattlebirds that contains only three known members-- the Tieke (listed as Near Threatened), and the Huia, which is already extinct.

The Kōkako comes in two different subspecies-- North Island and South Island, though it is very possible that the South Island subspecies is already extinct (there have been no official sightings in a few decades, but there have been numerous unconfirmed reports). The two differ by their location and by their wattle color, as the North birds sport blue wattles, while the South birds have orange.

Aside from their wattles, the Kōkako are relatively plain looking, with grey feathers and a black mask. They are better known for their voices than their beauty-- in the mornings breeding pairs will single lovely duets that can lost more than a half hour. Other birds will occasionally join in, creating a "bush choir."

Kōkako are featured in numerous Māori myths and legends. The most notable of these is the story where the  Kōkako helped the hero Maui in his fight with the sun. The bird filled its wattle up with water and gave it to the hero. As a reward, Maui gave the Kōkako long legs so that he could move easier on the forest floor. (Interesting note: Kōkako can fly, they are just really bad at it).

There are currently several programs in place to help sustain and rebuild the Kōkako population, including ones centered around reintroduction and pest management. Though they are endangered, the birds actually have an increasing population, which is fantastic for the species!

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : New Zealand
Size : Weight about 230g
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Callaeidae -- Genus : Callaeas -- Species : C. cinereus

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wandering Leg Sausage

Crurifarcimen vagans
Today's animal has to have one of the best common names I've ever seen... or at least the most amusing. The Wandering Leg Sausage is a species that was only recently discovered in 2012, and it looks very much like the name it has been given.

Even its scientific name, Crurifarcimen vagans, translates to Sausage Leg that Wanders. It's it's not really a surprise why-- these large African Millipedes measure about 1.5cm in diameter and grow to lengths of up to 15in!

Despite their size, they are still not match far the Giant African Millipede, but they give them a run for their money. You'll find the Wandering Leg Sausages, as well as many, many other species, in Tanzania's Eastern Arc Mountains.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Africa
Size : Body Length around 15in (38cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Subphylum : Myriapoda -- Class : Diplopoda
Genus : Crurifarcimen -- Species : C. vagans

Friday, December 21, 2012

White-fronted Bee-eater

Merops bullockoides
Today's feature is the White-fronted Bee-eater, a bird found all throughout the Savannahs of Africa. They are identified by their white foreheads, black masks, brilliantly red throats and bright green wings. And as their name suggests, they feed on bees and other flying insects.

White-fronted Bee-eaters are not only very pretty birds, they are also very socially interesting birds-- they have one of the most complex family-based social structures of all our feathered friends.

The Bee-eaters lived in colonies that can number up to 200 individuals. These colonies have large territories that can spread over several kilometers, but they have central roosting sites comprised of holes dug into the earth for use in resting and breeding.

Within these colonies are monogamous family groups called clans, led by a single breeding pair and their numerous, non-breeding family members. These helpers (which may be siblings of the parents, adult offspring, or even in some cases completely unrelated birds) contribute greatly to the raising of offspring that are not their own. They assist in nest building, they bring food to the mother, and they even incubate and feed the young! All in all, about half of all nesting attempts have assistance from helpers!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Africa
Size : Body Length around 9in (23cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Coraciiformes
Family : Meropidae -- Genus : Merops -- Species : M. bullockoides

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Collared Lemming

Dicrostonyx groenlandicus
So I'm stuck at home with a snow day today, so what better animal to talk about than one that turns white in the winter? The Collared Lemmings are members of a genus native to North America. They are the only rodents that change color with the seasons!

Collared Lemmings look quite a bit like large Hamsters. They have round bodies, tiny ears, and very short tails. They also possess very strong claws that allow them to dig out burrows in the ground and in the snow. They line these long tunnels with anything soft that they can find, including grasses and muskox hair.

Even though the Collared Lemmings are able to change from brown to white to camouflage themselves, they are still easy prey for a number of different species. In fact, most Lemmings don't live longer than a year in the wild, due to predation rates. it should come as no surprise them they they breed frequently, and produce large litters. In one year a female can have 3 separate litters of up to 8 offspring each time.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North America
Size : Body Length around 6in (14cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Rodentia
Family : Cricetidae -- Genus : Dicrostonyx

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Patas Monkey

Erythrocebus patas
The Patas Monkey's claim to fame is that it is the fastest of all the primates-- these guys can run at speeds of up to 35mph!

You'll find these quick Primates in the open grasslands of central Africa. Unlike many other Monkeys  they do not live in trees, preferring a terrestrial lifestyle.

They live in social groups that are often led by one adult male, and contain several females and their offspring. Females are the only permanent members of these groups, as the young males leave when they reach maturity. At that time they either join temporary, all-male groups, or they remain solitary for a time.

Communication is very important within the Patas Monkey groups, and they use visuals, vocalizations, and scents. They produce a series of different warning calls, creating different sounds for different predator types. The Monkeys also strengthen bonds through communal grooming and play.

Though they are currently listed at Least Concern, the population is on a decline. Hunting and habitat loss are their main threats, and though some live within protected areas, many do not. They are also relatively rare in captivity-- only 15 American zoos have them.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Africa
Size : Body Length around 32in (82cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Primates
Family : Cercopithecidae -- Genus : Erythrocebus -- Species : E. patas

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Gavialis gangeticus
Meet the Gharial, one of the most interesting looking extant members of the Crocodile order. If you take a glance at the body, all seems normal. But the head? Gharials have incredibly narrow snouts, and the males have large bulbous appendages at the ends of theirs. The species actually gets its common name from that round appendage-- "Ghara" is an Indian word for a pot. It is believed that the males use the ends of their snouts for mating or for communication purposes.

Gharials have a range that extends across the Indian Subcontinent, and they are usually hanging about in the calmer areas or large rivers. Because their legs are so weak they seldom come on land-- only doing so to build nests or to bask.

It should come as no surprise then to hear that Gharials primarily eat fish. Their long snouts are excellent for fast, underwater lateral snatches, and their pointy teeth let them hold on with ease.

When it comes to breeding habits, the significantly smaller female Gharials live in harems that are watched over by an individual male. Mating takes place in December and January, and the eggs are laid in nests dug on shore a few months later. As will many Crocodiles, the female Gharials will help their new hatchlings crawl toward water, and will watch over them for several months.

Unfortunately, the odd looking Gharial is in a lot of trouble. They are listed as Critically Endangered, and are one of the most threatened Crocodilians out there. They nearly went extinct in the 1970s due to hunting and habitat degradation, but captive breeding and wild release programs have kept them going.. but barely.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : South Asia
Size : Length up to 20ft (6m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Crocodilia
Family : Gavialidae -- Genus : Gavialis -- Species : G. gangeticus

Monday, December 17, 2012


Yesterday I finally had a chance to see Extreme Mammals at Chicago's Field Museum. (It closes January 6th, so if you're interested, go now!) One of the very first thing that you come across is a display of both the largest land animal ever (Indricotherium), as well as the smallest.

Batodonoides is that very creature-- the smallest mammal ever discovered. This itty bitty, tiny little shrew-like critter lived during the Eocene between 53 and 42 million years ago. It was so small that is weighed less than a dollar bill and could comfortably sit on the top of a pencil!

There are three species within the genus, the first of which was discovered back in 1976. All have been found in the western United States. The smallest of the three, B. vanhouteni, is also the oldest-- it dates back 53 million years and weighed less than 2 grams!

Of course, we still have tiny mammals today. The smallest still alive, the Bumblebee Bat, is only a hair bit larger than these Eocene shrews.

Status : Extinct for 42 million years
Location : United States
Size : Weight up to 2g
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Insectivora
Family : Geolabididae -- Genus : Batodonoides

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hairy-footed Flying Squirrel

Belomys pearsonii
Despite being first described in 1908, not much is known about the Hairy-footed Flying Squirrel, due to their habitat and behavior. These rodents live in central and southern Asia, inhabiting deciduous forests at elevations of between 1500 and  2400m. They also happen to be nocturnal, which makes them difficult to track.

Name for the long hairs on their feet (that keep them warm in cold seasons), Hairy-footed Flying Squirrels have a body length of around 9in, and a tail that is only about 5. Their fur is reddish-brown on the top, with lighter undersides. They live in tree hollows.

We don't really know how well the Hairy-footed Flying Squirrel is doing out there, since they are so little studied. It is believed that their population is on the decline, due to habitat loss from logging and agricultural use.

IUCN Status : Data Deficient
Location : Asia
Size : Body length around 9in (22cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Rodentia
Family : Sciuridae -- Genus : Belomys -- Species : B. pearsonii

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Martelli's Cat

Felis lunensis
Did you know that the Felis genus, which contains domesticated cats, has been around for 12 million years? Today's animal isn't quite that old, but it did live around 2.5 million years ago, and is one of the very first "modern" cats.

Felis lunensis, also known as Martelli's Cat, was discovered in the early 1900s. Its fossils were uncovered in both Italy and Hungary, and the common name comes of the naturalist who first described it-- Ugolino Martelli.

Martelli's Cat may actually be a direct ancestor of domesticated cats. It appears that the Asian Wildcat, F. silvestris, evolved from them. One of the subspecies of that animal, F. s. lybica, is the wildcat that housecats were domesticated from!

Status : Extinct for 2.5 million years
Location : Europe
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Felidae -- Genus : Felis -- Species : †F. lunensis

Friday, December 14, 2012

Pine Processionary

Thaumetopoea pityocampa
The Pine Processionary is a major pest... well, at least in their larval stage. Those little insects are native to Southern Europe, and they continue to spread to areas that they previously were not found in, causing problems with their dangerous spiky hairs.

The common name for the species comes from their larval form, and their marching behavior. They actually build these strange nests up in the trees, and then come down at night to forage. On their way to food the larvae form long, processional, head-to-tail lines that can numbers into the hundreds.

You would think that long lines of Caterpillars would be easy targets for predators... but it's not that easy. Pine Processionary larvae have those aforementioned long, spine-like hairs that they can eject outward. If you get stung by one of these hairs it causes severe irritation. Despite this, there are still a handful of species that feed upon them in that phase. People (and pets) should stay far, far away!

When the time comes to pupate, the Caterpillars again for their long lines, and search far and wide for soft soil in which to bury themselves. This usually takes place in March, and the adults emerge and fly from May to July. Adults are harmless to humans.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Europe
Size : Length around 1in
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Lepidoptera
Family : Thaumetopoeidae -- Genus : Thaumetopoea -- Species : T. pityocampa

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Sordes pilosus
Meet Sordes, a small Pterosaur that flew around during the Late Jurassic-- 150 million years ago. It had a wingspan of around 1.5-2ft (so far from the gigantic Pterosaurs we see in pop-culture), and most likely ate small amphibians and insects.

The name Sordes refers to the genus, and it actually derives from a Greek word for devil. The actual species name, pilosus, means "hairy"... but we'll get to that in a second.

Sordes caused quite the ruckus when it was first discovered in Kazakhstan back in the late 1960s. You see, the fossils of these creatures showed that they had small hairs covering their bodies! This was the very first time that proof was given for Pterosaurs having hair. The presence of this body covering gives weight to the theory that Sordes was actually warm-blooded, rather than cold-blooded like many other Reptiles.

Status : Extinct for 150 million years
Location : Central Asia
Size : Wingspan up to 1.5ft (45cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Pterosauria
Family : Rhamphorhynchidae -- Genus : Sordes -- Species : S. pilosus

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cozumel Fox

Engraving of the Island Fox, a similar species
Today's animal is so mysterious, and so rare, that there are no photographs of it, despite it being sighted in 2001. In fact, it hasn't even been officially described by science, has no official species name, and there are no known skins or complete skeletons in museum collections!

The Cozumel Fox lives only on the Mexican island of Cozumel. They have lived isolated from the mainland for thousands of years, and have developed a smaller overall size, as many island species do.

We know that they exist from scant archaeological evidence (and rare sightings), but there has never been a full study or survey done. They may even be extinct by now, and if not, they are most certainly critically endangered.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Cozumel, Mexico
Size : Length up to 30in
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Canidae -- Genus : Urocyon

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


The Araucana is a most interesting breed of chicken, one that had three very distinguishing traits-- blue eggs, no tail, and ear tufts. They originated in Chile, and there are numerous theories on how they got the traits that they have, including crossbreeding with pheasants, crossing with European breeds, and genetic mutation.

The blue eggs of the Araucana are not unique among chickens, but they are rare. Only a handful of breeds produce them. One of those other breeds, the Collonca, was a direct ancestor to the Araucana. There is also a theory that way back, Chilean chickens crossed with Pheasants, and that some of the hens remained fertile. The blue eggs were still rare on the whole in late 19th century Chile, but were grew more and more common only a few decades later.

The Araucanas ear tufts are another distinguishing trait, one that may have arisen from a simple genetic mutation. It is also seen in a few other South American birds, including the Quetro, another direct ancestor. This mutation does have downsides-- it causes a higher percentage of fertilized eggs to be non-viable.

Finally, Araucanas have no tails. This trait was most likely bred for because a tailless chicken was harder for a predator to catch! They are sometimes referred to as the South American Rumpless, due to this lack of tail.

Status : Domesticated
Location :  Chile
Size : Weight up to 7lbs (3.2kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves --   Order : Galliformes
Family : Phasianidae -- Genus : Gallus -- Species : G. gallus

Monday, December 10, 2012


Dzo is the Tibetan name for hybrid creatures that are the cross between Yaks and domesticated Cattle. The name technically refers to only the male crosses (females are reffered to as Dzomo), but for the sake of ease we'll use Dzo today for a general term.

Dzo are used as pack animals in Tibet and other mountainous regions because they can survive at high elevations as well as Yaks do, but have more strength and size due to the Cattle ancestry. In general, these hybrids have the faces of Cattle, but the shaggy coats of Yaks.

As with many hybrids, a downside to the Dzo is that the males are sterile. Females are not always sterile though, which means that the animals can be bred back to other Cattle and Yaks, creating 3/4 crosses. It is speculated that many supposed purebred Yaks and Cattle actually have genes from the other species, due to this ability to back-cross.

Status : Hybrid
Location : Asia
Size : Weight around 1,300lbs (580kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Bos -- Species : B. grunniens × B. primigenius

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Munchkin Cat
The Munchkin is a very new breed of cat that has only been around for 30 years or so. Its creation has led to controversy, as there are many who believe that significant health issues will arise, and that the breed itself is based completely on a mutation.

Munchkins have very short legs, similar to the Dachshunds and Corgis in the dog world. This trait is genetic, and cats sporting the short legs were reported back in the 1940s. In 1983 in Louisiana, a woman found a pregnant stray and took her in. Half of the resulting kittens had short legs, and it is from that cat that the Munchkin breed descends from.

There was uproar in the early 90s when the breed was first introduced to the cat show circuit. Many believed that these cats would end up having major hip and spine problems, but so far there has been little conclusive evidence for this-- the problems that have arisen are those that can be found across many species of domestic cat. Though there is the issue of breeding-- two crossed Munchkins are likely to have a very small litter size, as kittens with the trait are often non-viable.

The controversy continues, as several cat organizations do not, and will not officially recognize the breed. They cite that it is a cat based upon an abnormality and a genetic disease, and that they are un-sound. There are a handful of registries that do recognize them, including TICA and the United Feline Organization.

Status : Domesticated
Location : United States
Size : Weight upt o 9lbs (4kg)

Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Felidae -- Genus : Felis -- Species : F. catus

Saturday, December 8, 2012

King Quail

Coturnix chinensis
The King Quail, also known as the Asian Blue Quail, or Painted Quail, is the smallest of all the "true Quail" species. They measure only about 6in in length, and the females are actually larger than the males. You'll find them in south and southeast Asia, Australia, and on several Pacific islands.

Males are where the "Blue" name comes from-- they have slate blue breasts that are not present at all in females. Elsewhere their feathers range from a reddish brown, to lighter shades of brown, to black. This Quail species is quite popular in aviculture, and in captivity there are several other color variations that can be found.

King Quails live in either pairs or in small groups called Coveys. The rainy season dictates when they breed, and the females can lay as many as 14 eggs at a time! The newly hatched chicks are precocial, and go incredibly fast-- they can reach full adulthood after only a month! This quick maturation serves them well in the wild, as they usually only live a few years (they can live more than a decade in captivity).

Because the King Quails are such prolific breeders, and because they have such a massive range, they are listed as being of Least Concern. Some local populations (like those in parts of Australia) are becoming more rare, and are receiving protection.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Asia, Australia
Size : Length up to 6in (14cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Galliformes
Family : Phasianidae -- Genus : Coturnix -- Species : C. chinensis

Friday, December 7, 2012

Short-tailed Hopping Mouse

Notomys amplus
The last time anyone saw a Short-tailed Hopping Mouse was back in 1896, and everything that we know about this now-extinct desert Mouse comes from two specimens collected over a hundred years ago.

Did you know that there are, in fact, Hopping Mice? And no, they are not Marsupials (like many of the convergent evolution critters in Australia), they are Rodents that arrived from Asia around 5 million years ago.

The Short-tailed Hopping Mice and four of the other species in the genus went extinct during the 19th century. This is due to the spread of introduced predators like cats and dogs, and increased competition for food. All in all, half the species of Hopping Mice are extinct.

We know that the Short-tailed lived in the scrubs and dry grasslands of central Australia, and were the largest of the Hopping Mice. They had the long hind legs, sandy colored fur, and they fed on various seeds.

IUCN Status : Extinct
Location : Australia
Size : Weight up to 80g
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Rodentia
Family : Muridae -- Genus : Notomys -- Species : N. amplus

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Prussian Carp

Carassius gibelio - image by Viridiflavus
If you look closely, and use some imagination when it comes to color, you might just recognize today's animal.

You see, the Prussian Carp, which actually originated in Siberia and not Germany, is the wild ancestor to our domesticated Goldfish. Around 1,000 years ago these fish were selectively bred in China to become the colorful aquarium fish that are so prevalent around the world. Like their domestic progeny, Prussian Carp have also spread from their native habitat, and can now be found in rivers and ponds across Europe and Asia.

Prussian Carp are medium sized members of their family, measuring up to 1.5ft long and weighing up to 6lbs.  They have an omnivorous diet, feeding off of plant matter as well as various small invertebrates.

As adults, the Prussian Carp have a grey, greenish color. But when they are younger they tend to be more golden, which  is where the inspiration for the domestication may have some from.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Asia, Europe
Size : Length up to 18in (45cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Cypriniformes
Family : Cyprinidae -- Genus : Carassius -- Species : C. gibelio

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pale-billed Mountain Toucan

Andigena laminirostris
The Andes mountains of South America are where you'll find the Pale-billed Mountain Toucan. They live in the humid forests that sit just under 10,000ft.

You'll identify these birds by all their various color patches. They have blue chests, chestnut wings, splashes of red and yellow near the tail, and ivory, black, yellow, green, and red on the face and bill. They are similar in look to the other species of Mountain Toucan (all of which have a Andean range), but each of the birds differs in the face and bill.

As with all Toucans, the Pale-billed Mountain Toucan is a frugivore, and is a vital spreader of seeds for their habitat. They eat as many as 100 different kinds of fruit (I didn't even know there were that many fruits growing in one place!), and either digest or regurgitate the seeds. This diet even plays into their courting rituals-- males will feed fruit to the females to gain favor.

Pale-billed Mountain Toucans will form monogamous pairs once they reach sexual maturity at age 3. The couple will often take over the nest of another bird and line it with sticks and regurgitated materials. Both the mother and father incubate and care for the chicks.

Sadly, the species is on the decline and is listed as Near Threatened. Habitat loss from logging, human settlement, and agriculture plays a big part in this. The birds do live within nature reserves, more more conservation action is needed outside of those areas.

IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : South America
Size : Length up to 21in (53cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Piciformes
Family : Ramphastidae -- Genus : Andigena -- Species : A. laminirostris

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

European Jaguar

Panthera gombaszoegensis
The modern big cats are spread all over the world, but then to have very distinct ranges. Tigers in Asia. Cheetahs in Africa. Jaguars in South America. But in the past this was not the case. Lions lived in Europe and Asia. There was a strange Cheetah-like cat in North America, and today we'll learn that there were Jaguars in Europe.

The European Jaguar lived about 1.5 million years ago, and its fossils have been found throughout central and western Europe. These cats were larger than their cousins who now live halfway around the world, reaching nearly 450lbs in size. They were probably solitary creatures, and their size allowed them to take down large prey.

European Jaguars were so similar to the big cats of today that they belong to the very same genus (Panthera). There are even some who think they might be a subspecies of modern Jaguars!

So if there were Jaguars in Italy, how the heck did they all end up in South America 1.5 million years later? Well, there were also Jaguars in Asia. And those Asian Jaguars spread about a few million years ago. Some eventually made their way into the America, while others moved west to Europe. Eventually the European and Asian lines died out (possibly due to competition with other large cat species), but the South American Jaguar, the only large Cat in its range, flourished.

Status : Extinct 1.5 million years
Location : Europe
Size : Length up to 20ft (6m), Weight up to 460lbs (210kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Felidae -- Genus : Panthera -- Species : P. gombaszoegensis

Monday, December 3, 2012


Palaeocastor sp.
Today there are only two species of true Beaver, the North American and the Eurasian. But these large rodents have a long history, with many now-extinct relatives, dating back millions of years.

Palaeocastor is one of these ancestors. This 1ft long critter lived in the Oligocene around 25 million years ago in North America. They didn't have the big paddle tail that our modern Beavers do, nor did they spend as much time in the water.

Interestingly, the burrows of Palaeocastor were discovered long before the fossils. Unlike modern Beavers, Palaeocastor did not build dens out of sticks and mud. Instead, they constructed strange, corkscrewed burrows... by digging with their teeth! Preserved remains of these burrows have been found, and are called "devil's corkscrews." It actually took some time for science to figure out what those strange structures were!
A fossilized "devil's corkscrew"

Status : Extinct for 25 million years
Location : North America
Size : Body Length around 1ft (30cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Rodentia
Family : Castoridae -- Genus : †Palaeocastor

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Welsh Terrier

Welsh Terrier

The Welsh Terrier is a breed that was developed in Wales during the 19th century, and was first shown back in 1884. They have also been called the Old English Terrier and the Black and Tan Wire Haired Terrier.

They were originally bred for their hunting ability-- they would crawl into the dens of Badgers and Foxes and flush them out. They are still used for sporting activities, but are more common now as show dogs and companions.

Welsh Terriers look very much like small versions of the Airedale Terrier, another breed from the British Isles, sporting brown throughout the body, with black on the back. They have two coats, a soft undercoat and a very dense, wiry overcoat.  Despite this, they actually shed very little, if at all. Their coat does need to be groomed regularly, and plucked a handful of times each year.

The breed is very active and lively, and requires frequent activity to stay happy. They are relatively intelligent, but can be very independent in their decisions if not properly trained.

Status : Domesticated
Location : Wales
Size : Height up to 15in (39cm), Weight up to 22lbs (10kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Canidae -- Genus : Canis -- Species : C. lupus -- Subspecies : C. l. familiaris

Saturday, December 1, 2012

African Rock Python

Python sebae
The African Rock Python is the longest snake on the African continent, and is one of the longest snake species on the planet, measuring up to 20ft. They live throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, in two different location-based sub-species. They live in a wide range of habitats, from forests to open scrublands.

African Rock Pythons kill their prey through constriction-- wrapping their bodies around an animal and squeezing it until it dies (usually from cardiac arrest or suffocation). Because of their flexible jaws they can kill and consume animals whole that are very large, including Antelopes, Warthogs, Crocodiles, and Monkeys. These snakes are capable of killing and consuming adult humans, but these attacks are incredibly, incredibly rare.

The strong coils of this snake aren't just used to kill-- mothers actually wrap around their eggs to protect them from predators. They are one of the egg-laying snake species, and deposit up to 100 hard shelled eggs at a time. It can take as long as 90 days for the eggs to hatch.

In the past few years African Rock Pythons have become an invasive species in Florida. They are a common, captive kept snake, and these invasive populations comes from escapes and releases.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Africa
Size : Length up to 20ft (6m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Pythonidae -- Genus : Python -- Species : P. sebae

Friday, November 30, 2012

Icadyptes salasi

Icadyptes salasi
Penguins are weird and interesting. Seabirds who swim better than they can fly.. or even walk? Well if the modern, waddling Penguins are so unique among birds, just take a look at some of their ancestors. Thankfully, the Penguins odd flightless bodies have been a huge help in studying them-- their bones are thicker and their fossils have survived quite well.

Icadyptes salasi is a Penguin ancestor that lived 36 millions years ago. Its fossils were uncovered in Peru, which is notable because Peru at that time was just as close to the Equator as it is now, and was even warmer in temperature. Today there are very few Penguins that live that far north, and they are much smaller in size.

Oh, have I not mentioned how large Icadyptes was yet? 5ft (1.5). That's one tall Penguin, taller than the largest modern Penguin-- the Emperor. Interestingly, it is only the third largest Penguin ever discovered. Icadyptes also had an incredibly long, spear-like beak that made up about 2.3 of their head length. These beaks were spears that could be used to catch prey.

The presence of this species in such a warm climate has causes researchers to revise the Penguin timeline. It was previously believed that the birds only spread north around 10 million years ago.

Status : Extinct for 36 million years
Location : South America
Size : Height up to 5ft (1.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Sphenisciformes
Family : Spheniscidae -- Genus : †Icadyptes -- Species : †I. salasi

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Giant Forest Hog

Hylochoerus meinertzhageni
As a species, the Giant Forest Hog of Central Africa is considered to be the largest pig in the entire world. Its only rivals for this title are a handful of Wild Boar subspecies, but even if there is a bigger hog out there somewhere, a body length of nearly 7ft is nothing to sneeze at! (There are actually three different subspecies of the Forest Hogs themselves, with the easternmost being the largest.)

Giant Forest Hogs only live in a handful of African countries, and require humid, densely vegetated habitats. Because of their forest swelling nature, they were not first officially described until 1904, and even now they aren't especially well studied.

The Hogs live in family groups called "sounders" that normally contain one adult males, a handful of females, and their offspring.   Males will fight for breeding rights, charging at each other and ramming their heads together. These fights are occasionally fatal for one or even both parties. Though they do breed year round, most births take place around the rainy season.

Giant Forest Hogs are nocturnal and typically herbivorous-- they feed on different grasses and sedges, and will sometimes take eggs and carrion as well. And even though these Hogs are huge, they still have predators, especially the young ones. Hyenas and Jaguars are their biggest threats.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Central Africa
Size : Length up to 7ft (2.2m), Weight up to 610lbs (275kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Suidae -- Genus : Hylochoerus -- Species : H. meinertzhageni

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bargibant's Seahorse

Hippocampus bargibanti
I got a request to talk about Pygmy Seahorses, but there are actually several species that fall under that common name, so today we'll talk about one in particular. All Pygmy Seahorses are relatively new to Science, and most were actually described for the first time only in the last ten years or so. The Bargibant's Seahorse is the species that we've known about the longest, and it was first discovered back in 1969.

Bargibant's Seahorse can be found in the coastal waters of Southeast Asia and Australia. They are very tiny, and seldom grow over 1in long. That, combined with their camouflaging bumps and colors, makes them very hard to spot on Corals that they live among (it's even difficult to tell exactly what you're looking at in that picture!). Bargibant's Seahorse is only known to live on Coral from the Muricella genus. They are so well hidden that the very first ones observed were not even spotted until after the Coral was collected and placed in an Aquarium!

Adults tend to live in small groups, and 28 of them were once observed on a single Gorgonian Coral. They feed on small little Crustaceans that also hang out near the Coral. Like most Seahorses, it is actually the male that incubates the eggs, stashing them away in a brood pouch. As many as 30 offspring can be born at once, and the young Seahorses are completely independent at birth.

IUCN Status : Data Deficient
Location : Southeast Asia, Australia
Size : Length up to 1in
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Syngnathiformes
Family : Syngnathidae -- Genus : Hippocampus -- Species : H. bargibanti

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Eocursor parvus
Eocursor is the name of a Dinosaur genus whose fossils were first uncovered back in 1993. It took an additional 14 years for the discovery to be properly studied and described, and the result was a creature whose name translates to "Dawn Runner."

Eocursor lived during the Late Triassic, and is an example of an early Ornithischian. In fact, this creature is the oldest found, and has the most complete skeleton of any early member of it's Order, which has helped to bring in information about the origins of the group. Until this discovery, very little was known at all about the rise of the Ornithischians (a group that includes Stegosaurus and Triceratops).

We don't have a full skeleton of Eocursor, but we do have hands, legs, a pelvis, and skull fragments. These pieces are enough to tell us that the Dinosaur walked on two feet, was a very swift runner, and probably had an omnivorous diet (which we can tell from the teeth).

There is still much to be learned about the origin and evolutionary history of all Dinosaurs, and hopefully future finds will help to fill in some of the breaks in our knowledge. Alas, the fickle nature of fossils, and the incredible environmental needs that have to be met to create them, mean that we won't be able to know it all. But even with a few bones, like the handful found for Eocursor, we can still learn a lot!

Status : Extinct for 210 million years
Location : South Africa
Size : Length around 3ft (1m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Clade : Dinosauria -- Order : †Ornithischia
Genus : †Eocursor -- Species : † E. parvus

Monday, November 26, 2012

Reddish Egret

Egretta rufescens
The Reddish Egret is an appropriately named species of Heron that can be found in Central America, and around the Gulf Coast in the United States. They stand a little under 3ft tall, and typically sport long dark legs, reddish heads and necks, and slate-grey coloration on the wings and back.

Do not confused them with Snowy Egrets! Now, you may wonder how anyone could mistake a red and grey bird for an all white one, but it happens! You see, Reddish Egrets have a white color morph. This means that they sometimes turn out completely white, much like their Snowy cousins. The two actually do have a slight overlap in ranges, so the easiest way to figure them out is by the color yellow. Snowy egrets have some yellow on their beaks and feet, Reddish Egrets do not.

Reddish Egrets are most active during dusk and dawn, and they are usually seen on the move. They hunt for prey in shallow waters, running around in search of Fish, Amphibians, and Crustaceans. The Herons often move about with their wings outstretched, as this creates shade and reduces glare on the water surface.

As far as reproductive issues are concerned, the Reddish Egret reaches sexual maturity around 4 years of age. Their courtship displays include head bobs, chases, and various flights, but once a mate is chosen they remain monogamous for at least that season. The couple will build a nest together, either on the ground or in a tree, and they often nest in very large colonies that can contain hundreds of birds. They lay up to 4 eggs, and the color of the chicks depends on the color of the parents. Dark morph parents can have chicks of either color, but two white morph parents will always have white morph offspring.

Reddish Egrets are listed as Near Threatened due to habitat degradation. Like many other birds, they were hunted extensively in the 19th century for their feathers, but their population has since rebounded.

IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : North and Central America
Size : Length up to 32in (.8m), Wingspan up to 50in (1.3m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Pelecaniformes
Family : Ardeidae -- Genus : Egretta -- Species : E. rufescens

Sunday, November 25, 2012

House Finch

Haemorhous mexicanus
The House Finch is a bird that once was found only in the Western United States and Mexico, but over the past few decades that have spread across the continent and can now be found on the Atlantic Coast! Estimates are that there are over a billion of them in North America, and they can form flocks that number several hundred birds.

House Finches are small little birds with brownish coloration and blunt, squared tails. The males actually change color slightly over the course of the year, becoming more vibrant when they have the best food supplies. You see, their red or yellow colors come from what they eat, so abundant food leads to brighter hues.

The bright feathers are very important come breeding time. Females pick the males with the best colors to mate with, because those males clearly known how to locate food-- a very important trait when you may have up to 6 offspring at once! Interestingly, House Finches feed their chicks an exclusively vegetarian diet. Most birds, even ones that eat plants as adults, feed their young insects and other critters to give them a good amount of protein.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North America
Size : Length up to 5.5in (14cm), Wingspan up to 10in (25cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Fringillidae -- Genus : Haemorhous -- Species : H. mexicanus

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Giant African Snail

Achatina fulica
Meet a member of the invasive species club-- the Giant Afican Snail is considered one of the top 100 worst Invasive Species on the planet. Ant not only are they on the top 100 list, they actually sit at #2!

African Giant Snails are naturally found in East Africa, but they have spread to warm locations around the world in the last few decades. They are large snails (hence the name), sporting shells that can grow to nearly 8in in length. They reach maturity after about 6 months, and can live as long as ten years. During that time they never really stop growing.

They are a hermaphroditic species, possessing both male and female reproductive organs. They do not reproduce asexually-- they need another snail. But their interesting reproductive system makes it easier to multiply, since they do not need to track down a member of the opposite sex.

They feed on over 500 different species of plant, so you can see why they are considered to be such a nuisance! However, the African Giant Snail isn't just considered troublesome because it eats native plants. They also carry parasites that can cause Meningitis in humans, as well as other diseases that can severely damage the crops that they don't consume. In order to keep the invasive Snails in check, quarantines, pesticides, and even flame throwers have been used.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : East Africa
Size : Length around 8in (22cm)
Classification : Phylum : Mollusca -- Class : Gastropoda -- Family: Achatinidae
Genus : Achatina -- Species : A. fulica

Friday, November 23, 2012

White-collared Blackbird

Turdus albocinctus
The name "Blackbird" is one that applies to several dozen different bird species. Most of these are "New World" birds, meaning that they are found in the Americas. however, three species, all members of the Turdus genus, are "Old World" Blackbirds.

The White-collared Blackbird is one of those three species. Found on the Indian Subcontinent, this small bird is a very common species, and is found across several countries. They live in tropical and subtropical mountainous forests, and are generally residents.

They are named for the white rings around their neck (as if you couldn't guess), and have round little bodies. Like most thrushes, they feed on insects, worms, and other invertebrates.

White-collared Blackbirds tend to breed once per year, laying up to 5 eggs in a small cup-shaped nest. Both parents help to care for the chicks.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Central Asia
Size : Length around 8in (22cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Turdidae -- Genus : Turdus -- Species : T. albocinctus

Thursday, November 22, 2012

American Eel

Anguilla rostrata
Well, it's Turkey Day here in the United States, but we've already talked about the two different Turkey species. So why not learn about one of the other critters that made an appearance at the very first Thanksgiving? Yup. Eels.

American Eels are a very common fish that have been commercially harvested for hundreds of years. Though we don't eat them too often in the States, they are still consumed across the pond in Europe. You'll find them in the Atlantic Ocean, though they often spend their early years hanging out in nearby rivers and streams.

American Eels have a complex aging process that contains 6 distinct phases and can take up to 10 years. The whole shebang starts with the external fertilization of the eggs, which are laid out in the middle of the ocean. A single female can release 30 million eggs during spawning! It is assumed that the adults die after spawning, but this is unconfirmed.

The eggs hatch after only a week, and the second life phase begins- Leptocephali. These larval eels are very transparent looking, and spend most of their life phase being carried by the currents towards to coast. This journey can take as long as 12 months! Once there, they shift to yet another phase, the "Glass Eel." At this point they are still transparent, but they look more like eels, having the distinctive elongated bodies (but the lack of skin color still gives them some camouflage).

The final three phases in American Eel life all relate in part to their coloration. Stage 4, "Elver" is where they finally start to gain skin pigmentation. Oftentimes the Elvers will move to freshwater, and will continue to grow there before reaching the fifth, "Yellow" stage. At yellow they finally have a distinct sex, and have more color in their skin. Their final stage, "Silver," is when they are finally considered sexually mature adults and are strong enough to return to the open ocean. They may not return to spawn until they are 25 years old!

Unfortunately, because they have no many life phases, in so many locations, they face a number of conservation threats. Construction of dams and other structures have caused habitat obstruction, and over-fishing and pollution are additional concerns.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Atlantic Ocean
Size : Length up to 4ft (1.2m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Anguilliformes
Family : Anguillidae -- Genus : Anguilla -- Species : A. rostrata
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