Saturday, June 30, 2012

Fearful Owl

Nesasio solomonensis
Say hello to the Fearful Owl, a very large owl that sports a dark face and very distinctive white eyebrows. They are very similar in appearance to the Whekau, or Laughing Owl. And if nothing is done about the downward trend they are on, they might just be extinct like the Whekau as well!

The Fearful Owl is a tropical owl found in lowland forests of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. They are very rarely seen, but they do have their own Solomon Islands postage stamp! These Raptors are a top predator in their range, most commonly feeding on the Northern Common Cuscus, along with other Cuscus species. Cuscus hunting is one of the reasons that the Fearful Owls are now Vulnerable-- their main prey is being over-hunting by man, giving them fewer things to eat.

Another reason for their decline is the growth of the logging industry. Fearful Owls need the forests in order to survive, and without them they have no where to go. It is estimated that only 6,000 of these birds remain, and there are currently no major conservation efforts in place to keep them around.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands
Size : Length up to 15in (38cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Strigiformes
Family : Strigidae -- Genus : Nesasio -- Species : N. solomonensis

Friday, June 29, 2012

Greater Long-tailed Hamster

Tscherskia triton
Did you know that there are literally dozens of species of Hamsters, not just the ones that we keep as pets? Today's animal is one of the wild ones. It is considered to be a "Rat-like Hamster" and is actually considered to be quite the nuisance!

Meet the Greater Long-tailed Hamster, a rodent species that is found in China, North and South Korea, and parts of eastern Russia. They live in open areas near water, including grasslands, marshlands, and agricultural fields. The Hamsters that live near crops and rice fields are considered to be pests, as they will eagerly go after the grains and seeds. All members of the species, regardless of what they eat, stockpile food for the winter, sometimes up to 20lbs of it!

Greater Long-tailed Hamsters have a very short lifespan-- only about a year. But during that year they do their very best to carry on their genetic line. They can produce three litters of up to 10 offspring in only a few months time!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : East Asia
Size : Weight up to 185g
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Rodentia
Family : Cricetidae -- Genus : Tscherskia -- Species : T. triton

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Milky Stork

Mycteria cinerea
Today's animal is the Milky Stork, a tall bird with a milky-white body and black flight feathers. They can be found in the marshes, mudflats, and mangroves in Indonesia, Cambodia, and Malaysia. They breed in large, multi-species colonies during the dry season, building nests that can be several feet in diameter.

Milky Storks were historically found throughout Southeast Asia, but they are now locally extinct in several countries and are on the sharp decline in their remaining range. It is estimated that there are only 5,000 of them left in the wild. What are the threats behind this population plummet? Hunting and habitat loss. Land development for agriculture has destroyed many of the mangrove nesting sites that the birds rely on, and they continue to be hunted for food and feathers (eggs are also taken).

It has been illegal to trade Milky Storks internationally since 1987, but domestic exchanges still occur. The birds do appear in some protected areas, and are legally protected in Malaysia and Indonesia, but only time will tell with this species. Captive populations have been breeding successfully, but reintroduction has been slow and less successful than hoped for (though two chicks did hatch in Malaysia in 2010).

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Southeast Asia
Size : Length up to 3.3ft (1m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Ciconiiformes
Family : Ciconiidae -- Genus : Mycteria -- Species : M. cinerea

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Chocolate Chip Sea Star

Protoreaster nodosus
It's no wonder how the Chocolate Chip Sea Star got its name. These tropical echinoderms have creamy, brownish bodies topped with dark brown tubercles all over the top, making them resemble the popular cookie!

You can find Chocolate Chip Sea Stars in the shallow waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, hanging out in sandy beds and near coral reefs.

Sea Stars have no eyes, so they must find they prey using their sense of smell. Chocolate Chips aren't picky about what they eat, so their meals can range from live sea aponges, to coral, to the waste of other animals. When they find some food, they actually push their stomach outside of their mouth, engulf the meal, and then bring it back inside their body!

The species has the ability to reproduce both sexually and asexually. Sexual reproduction is done externally-- the eggs and sperm are released into the water at the same time, where they mix and fertilize. The Sea Stars can also reproduce asexually, making exact copies of themselves through regeneration. If they lose an arm, they can grow it back. But that chunk of lost arm can also grow a whole new Sea Star! Baby Chocolate Chip Sea Stars go through five growth phases over 2 years, when they finally reach adult size and become sexually mature.

Chocolate Chip Sea Stars are sometimes kept in aquariums, due to their appearance and non-aggressive behavior. Keeping them with coral is probably a bad idea though, since they will eat it!

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Pacific and Indian Oceans
Size : Length up to 16in (40cm)
Classification : Phylum : Echinodermata -- Class : Asteroidea -- Order : Valvatida
Family : Oreasteridae -- Genus : Protoreaster -- Species : P. nodosus

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Western Jackdaw

Corvus monedula
Meet the Western Jackdaw. These mostly-black birds are the second smallest members of their genus, and are one of the littlest species in the entire Corvid family. Western Jackdaws can be found across Europe, as well as in North Africa and Central Asia. Most of the populations are residents, though some in the north and east migrate. They are a very adaptable species, and can be found in habitats that range from sea cliffs, to meadows, to urban building ledges!

There are actually four different subspecies of Western Jackdaw. All of them differ by location and by their head and neck coloration. All four have dark grey/black bodies, but the size and lightness of the crown varies.

Western Jackdaws
Western Jackdaws are incredibly social, and can be found in large flocks that number into the hundreds. These flocks function with a strict hierarchy, and birds will fight and create threat displays to assert dominance. The birds are also very social when it comes to feeding. Not only do the flocks forage together, but they also share their food with one another. They are opportunistic with their feeding, taking grains, insects, eggs, and just about anything else they can find.

During the breeding season the birds pair up, and most of these couples will stay together throughout their lifetimes. Pairs will preen and groom each other to strengthen their bond. They build nests in crevasses, dropping sticks in order to make a platform (which can be problematic for chimneys). They lay 4-6 greenish-blue eggs at a time, and both parents incubate, defend, and care for their offspring.

Western Jackdaws are under no real conservation threat whatsoever. In fact, it is estimated that their global population is somewhere around 90,000,000 birds and rising. They are able to be hunted in several different countries throughout their range.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Europe, Asia, North Africa
Size : Length up to 15in (39cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Corvidae -- Genus : Corvus -- Species : C. monedula

Monday, June 25, 2012

Cookiecutter Shark

Isistius brasiliensis
Today's animal is no joke! Though they only grow to be about a foot and a half long, they can do some really amazing looking damage to much larger sea creatures! Cookiecutter Sharks get their name from their relatively unique jaws and what they do with them. They have large, powerful sucking lips, a row of narrow teeth on the top, and a row of much larger, knife-like teeth on the bottom. Like other sharks, they regularly replace their teeth. However, instead of losing a single bottom tooth at a time, they replace the entire row at once! Old teeth are swallowed, giving the Cookiecutters a good source of Calcium.

Cookiecutter Sharks attract their much larger prey using bioluminescent photophores (which grow bright green). The bigger sea creatures will go after the shark, but in a twist they will become the actual prey. The Cookiecutter will latch on with its mouth, spin its body around, and remove a perfectly circular chunk of flesh (just like a cookie cutter does to dough). Seals, Marlins, Tuna, Whales, and larger Sharks have all been found with these circular chunks taken out of them. Cookiecutters have even taken bites out of rubber domes in submarines!

Cookiecutter Sharks are found in tropical and temperate oceans all over the world, and they undergo daily migrations between shallow and deep water. During the day they can be found as far as 2-3 miles down, but during the day they move toward the surface in order to feed.

The question that I'm sure many of you are asking is "what about people? Do they bite people?" The answer to this (99.9%) no. There has only been one documented case ever of a Cookiecutter Shark biting a human, and that occurred in Hawaii in 2009. Before that only two other instances of bites were recorded, but both were incidents where a person died in the water and bitten post-mortem.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Temperate and Tropical Oceans Worldwide
Size : Length up to 22in (56cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Chondrichthyes -- Order : Squaliformes
Family : Dalatiidae -- Genus : Isistius -- Species : I. brasiliensis

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Proailurus lemanensis
Meet Proailurus, a cat-like creature from the early Miocene that is shrouded in taxonomic mystery. Its fossils have been found in Europe and Asia, dating back 25-20million years.

Proailurus looked quite a bit like modern Fossas-- they had long bodies and short arms. They also possessed the same binocular vision as modern cats, and a similar dental structure. These prehistoric cats most likely climbed trees and stalked their from their as present-day leopards do.

But is Proailurus a true feline? Or is it even more than that? Many believe that Proailurus is the common ancestor for all cats, but it may also be a common ancestor for other creatures as well. A recent genetic study has placed Proailurus into the Feloidea superfamily, which also encompasses the Hyenas and Viverrids (like the aforementioned Fossa). Additional fossils and genetic studies may shed more light on this in the future.

Status : Extinct for 20 million years
Location : Fossils founds in Europe and Asia
Size : Length around 2ft (60cm),Weight around 20lbs (9kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Felidae S -- Genus : †Proailurus -- Species : †P. lemanensis

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Lesser Electric Ray

Narcine bancroftii
The Lesser Electric Ray is a smaller species of ray that is found in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. They are very slow, sluggish swimmers, and are most commonly found in shallow, sandy waters.

As the name suggests, Lesser Electric Rays are able to create a small electric charge, thanks to two organs in front of their eyes. They are capable of producing up to 37volts, and use their skill to hunt prey and to defend themselves.

The Lesser Electric Ray is in trouble. The species is listed as Critically Endangered, due to high amounts of bycatch capture over years and years. Even if a captured Ray is set free, damage may have already been done, as pregnant captured females will often abort their offspring. Lesser Electric Rays are ovoviviparous, and can have very long gestational periods due to the ability to delay embryonic growth. Terminated pregnancies due to bycatch can have a huge impact on overall reproductive success in the species.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Atlantic Ocean
Size : Length up to 18in (45cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Chondrichthyes -- Order : Torpediniformes
Family : Narcinidae -- Genus : Narcine -- Species : N. bancroftii

Friday, June 22, 2012

Moon Wrasse

Thalassoma lunare
Today we're going to learn all about the beautifully colored Moon Wrasse, which gets its name from the crescent moon shaped pattern on its tail. They are also sometimes referred to as Lunar Wrasses and Cruscent Wrasses.

In the wild, Moon Wrasses can be found in the tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They prefer shallow, oxygen rich waters that are no deeper than about 60ft, and are most common in and around Coral Reefs. They are carnivorous, and feed on small invertebrates like crabs and starfish.

Moon Wrasses actually change color as they age, starting out with blueish bodies and black spots, and then becoming green, pink, and blue over time (with those bright yellow crescent tails!) These fish also have the fun distinction of being protogynous hermaphrodites. This means that they all start out as female, and that some will change and become male depending on different environmental triggers. This process only takes 10 days to complete!

Many Moon Wrasses live in small schools that are made up of females, juveniles, a dominant male, and sometimes a few other males as well. The dominant male is often more brightly colored than all of his school mates, and they will nip aggressively to maintain his position in the school and assert leadership. When it comes time to breed, he rounds up the females for a spawning frenzy.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Indian and Pacific Oceans
Size : Length up to 12in (30cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Perciformes
Family : Labridae -- Genus : Thalassoma -- Species : T. lunare

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Island Fox

Urocyon littoralis
Meet the Island Fox, one of the smallest foxes in North America, and also one of the most endangered. These small Canines are found exclusively on six of the eight Channel Islands off of the coast of California, and are the only carnivores found only in that state.

Did you know that there are actually six different subspecies of Island Fox? One for each of the six islands that they inhabit? Around 10-16,000 years ago, Grey Foxes from the mainland made their way over the islands. Once there, the population evolved over time to be smaller in size (an example of Insular Dwarfism). They are around 1/3 smaller than their cousins.

The Foxes are incredibly important to the Channel Island habitat because they keep rodent populations down, they keep bird populations stable (by feeding on the small mammals that feed on birds), and they help to disperse the seeds of many native island plants. The foxes are omnivores that hunt during both the day and night, due to the fact that they traditionally has no natural predators.

Unfortunately that is not the case anymore, and Island Foxes have been in trouble for a number of years. About a decade ago some of the subspecies had fewer than 100 individuals left! Disease and the introduction of non-native farm animals and plants have contributed, but the main reason for this rapid decline is the growth of Golden Eagle populations on the islands. Bald Eagles were once the dominant birds-of-prey, and Bald Eagles feed on fish, not Foxes. DDT introduction caused the Bald Eagles to go extinct on the islands, allowing the Golden Eagles to settle in. Golden Eagles, if you couldn't guess, eat Foxes. And they almost ate several of the subspecies into extinction. The San Miguel and Santa Rosa Island Foxes were down to populations of only 15 apiece!

Since 2000, several different conservation efforts have been underway, and the Island Fox populations have been rebounding. Captive breeding programs were quickly established for the remaining Foxes, and their offspring have been re-released to the wild. Golden Eagles have been captured and relocated, and Bald Eagles have be reintroduced. A new report shows that no Foxes have been killed by Golden Eagles in nearly 18 months! Other non-native plants and animals are also being removed or managed more carefully. The species is still Critically Endangered, but the numbers have been on the rise and things are looking promising for the Island Foxes.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Channel Islands
Size : Height up to 12in (30cm), Full length around 2ft(60cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Canidae -- Genus : Urocyon -- Species : U. littoralis

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ivory Gull

Pagophila eburnea
The Ivory Gull is a small to medium sized Gull that spends most of its time at the high Arctic latitudes. They migrate only very short distances (it is rare for them to enter temperate zones), and are usually found within close vicinity of pack ice. They are the only members of their genus, Pagophila.

Ivory Gulls are appropriately colored for a snowy, winter-year-round environment. Their feathers are completely white, the bill is a bluish grey, and their black legs and eyes are the only dark shades on them. As juveniles they have a bit of black flecking on the feathers, and it takes about two years to develop the snow-white plumage.

These seabirds are both hunters and scavengers. They snatch up crustaceans, fish, rodents, and small birds, but they will also feed on corpses, including those of larger animals like seal and caribou. Other things that these opportunistic feeders will chow down on? The feces and placentas of other animals! Mmm.

Ivory Gulls will also sometimes regurgitate pellets filled with things like fur and bones (similar to what owls do). This practice is more common in areas where rodents make up a larger percentage of the diet.

The Gulls themselves are prey for many larger creatures, ranging from Raptors to Polar Bears. Even their nests become dinner-- once vacated, Caribou will feed on the structures, which are made out of mosses and lichens. Perhaps the most dangerous threat, however, is the Arctic Fox. Foxes will eat the birds at any life stage, and are capable of clearing out entire breeding colonies!

Foxes aren't the only threats though. Ivory Gulls are listed as Near Threatened, and their population has been on the decline since the 1980s. This is due to climate change, human encroachment, and the spread of pollutants in the oceans. Mercury levels in sea bird eggs have risen incredibly in the last 30 years, and those levels have an impact on reproduction.

IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : Arctic
Size : Length up to 17in (43cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Charadriiformes
Family : Laridae -- Genus : Pagophila -- Species : P. eburnea

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Brown Leaf Chameleon

Brookesia superciliaris
The Brown Leaf Chameleon belongs to the same genus as some of the smallest reptiles in the entire world (B. micra is the tiniest Chameleon on record). Like the other members of the genus, today's species lives on the island of Madagascar, and it also happens to be rather small.

The full head to tail length of the Brown Leaf Chameleon is only a few inches. The small size certainly helps with their defensive camouflage. You see, Brown Leaf Chameleons resemble curled up, dead leaves! They can change color, but shades or brown and green are the most common, as those are the colors of the dead leaves that they forage in.

Brown Leaf Chameleons spend most of their time on the forest floor, where they hunt for insects. If they themselves feel threatened by a predator, they roll up and lie very still, hiding in with their surroundings.

Camouflage isn't the only thing interesting about these tiny reptiles. They also have a neat little mating ritual. Males will approach females while doing a head bob. If the female doesn't like it, she responds with jerky movements of her own, sending the male away. If she does want to mate, she walks alongside the male for a while. He will then climb on her back and she will carry him for a spell, and the pair will eventually copulate.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Madagascar
Size : Length up to 4.5in (12cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Chamaeleonidae -- Genus : Brookesia -- Species : B. superciliaris

Monday, June 18, 2012

Broad-bodied Chaser

The Broad-bodied Chaser is a very distinctive Dragonfly that is found in several locations across Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East. They are typically found around areas of still water, and fly from April until September, though are most common from May to June.

Both the male and female Chasers have very flat, broad abdomens (hence the name). Both sexes have yellows spots running down the length of the abdomen, but the primary color differs. Males develop a pale blue pruinescence, while females have abdomens that are golden brown.

Libellula depressa (male)

Males of the species are very territorial, and will fight other males that enter their airspace. If a female enters the territory, the male will often approach and grapple them, mating in mid-flight. The coupling is very brief, and afterwards the female will search for a suitable place to lay her eggs. She deposits them by flying over water with submerged vegetation, and dipping her abdomen in. It will take around a month for the eggs to hatch, and the young Dragonflies can live underwater as larvae for up to two years. Once they become adults, they often spend some times away from the water.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Europe and Asia
Size : Wingspan up to 7cm
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Odonata
Family : Libellulidae -- Genus : Libellula -- Species : L. depressa

Sunday, June 17, 2012


There are several different types of fish swimming around today. We have the Ray-finned Fish, The Cartilaginous Fish, the Jawless Fish, and the awesome prehistoric Lobe-finned Fish. But once upon a time we have a 5th group-- the Placoderms, or Armored Fish.

Placoderms once swam in waters all over the world, but the entire class died out during the late Devonian period around 360 million years ago. These scary looking armor plated fish are probably best known from their largest class member-- Dunkleosteus. But keep in mind that not all Placoderms where over 20ft long. Like the other fish classes, they had members of all sizes!

Coccosteus is one genus of fish on the opposite side of the size spectrum. These little guys were only around 16in at the longest. They still possessed the same armored heads as their larger cousins, and they also had a modified jaw that let them open their moths extra wide in order to eat larger prey.

Coccosteus fossils have been sound in freshwater areas of Europe and North America. Also proving that Placoderms were found in both water types. There are several species within the Coccosteus species, but all died out at the end of the Devonian, along with their larger Placoderm cousins.

Status : Extinct for 360 million years
Location : Europe and North America
Size : Length up to 16in (41cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : †Placodermi -- Order : Arthrodira
Family : Coccosteidae -- Genus : Coccosteus

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Galapagos Penguin

Spheniscus mendiculus
Did you know that there is only one species of Penguin that lives north of the Equator? Today's animal is the very one! The Galapagos Penguin is endemic to its namesake islands which lie smack dab on the Equator, giving the birds their unique distinction!

Galapagos Penguins are small little guys, standing only about 18in tall when full grown. They have black heads and bodies, with white bellies and white horse-shoe-shaped lines that run from their eye to chin.

Living in such a warm climate can be rough for a bird from an Antarctic Family! In order to stay cool the penguins spend the daytime in the colder current waters, and then they come ashore at night. They also pant, hold their flippers out to let heat out of their bodies, and stand hunched over their bare feet.

Galapagos Penguins don't' have a set breeding season-- they tend to reproduce whenever the food supply is the most abundant. pairs will mate for life, which helps when you have such irregular breeding patterns. They lay two eggs at a time, nesting in rock crevasses. Parent have to protect their offspring carefully during the first month of life-- they don't have feathers yet that can protect them from the harsh sun!

There are only around 1,000 Galapagos Penguin breeding pairs left in the wild, and they are considered to be Endangered. Climate Change has been a major factor in their population decline-- warmer water temperatures lead to smaller food stocks.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Galapagos Islands
Size : Length up to 19in (49cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Sphenisciformes
Family : Spheniscidae -- Genus : Spheniscus -- Species : S. mendiculus

Friday, June 15, 2012


Kentrosaurus aethiopicus
Meet the Kentrosaurus, a member of the Stegosaurus family whose fossils have been found exclusively in the African country of Tanzania.

Kentrosaurus lived during the Late Jurassic, between 155 and 150 million years ago. They were smaller members of the Stegosauridae family, and only measured around 15ft from head to tail. Kentrosaurus had hind legs that were longer than their front legs, which means they fed primarily on low lying vegetation. These Dinosaurs were herbivores, possibly traveled in herds, and were most likely not very intelligent (very small brain size compared to body size).

This Dinosaur had a double row of bony plates that ran from the head to the mid back. No one is especially sure what the plates were used for-- temperature control and for mating displays are two theories. Where the plates end, a double row of long spikes begins. There were most likely used for defensive purposes. The name "Kentrosaurus" is actually inspired by those spikes-- Kentron is Greek for "point" or "prickle."

I can't talk about Kentrosaurus without mentioning some of the history surrounding their discovery. The first fossils were uncovered by a German team in 1909, and over the following years around 1,200 bones were dug up and sent back to Germany. Unfortunately, many of these bones (around 70%!) were destroyed during World War II. All of the remaining material is located in Berlin and Tubingen, so if you are interested in checking out some Kentrosaurus fossils, you know where to go!

Status : Extinct since the Late Jurassic, around 150 million years
Location : Found in Tanzania
Size : Length around 15ft (4.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : †Ornithischia
Family : †Stegosauridae -- Genus : †Kentrosaurus -- Species : †K. aethiopicus

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Malabar Tree Toad

Pedostibes tuberculosus
The Malabar Tree Toad is a very small, slender species that is found only in the forests around the Western Ghats in India. They are also referred to as the Warty Asian Tree Toad.

If you couldn't guess from the name, these Toads live in the trees that are usually close to a body of water. They are found on the ground as well, as that is where they breed and lay their eggs, but they ascend into the trees during the night time.

Malabar Tree Toads are small little guys, and measure only around 1in in length! (Yes, that is a human fingernail in the picture.. for a size reference.) Females are slightly larger than the males. They can be identified by their warty brown bodies and the black and white bands that run down their sides.

The Malabar Tree Toad is currently listed as Endangered, and its population is on the decline. Its main threat is habitat loss due to the logging and farming industries. They are found within several protected refuges, and are the topic of ongoing study.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Europe and Asia
Size : Length up to 12in (31cm), Wingspan up to 26in (67cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Amphibia -- Order : Anura
Family : Bufonidae -- Genus : Pedostibes -- Species : P. tuberculosus

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Spotted Redshank

Tringa erythropus
The Spotted Redshank is quite the little traveler. These birds spend their summers in Scandinavia and in parts of Siberia. When the autumn comes, they head south. Some go as close as the British Isles or the Mediterranean, while others make it all the way to Southeast Asia and even Australia! These migrations can start as early as late June, and will take months to complete with several stopover points.

Spotted Redshanks are wading waterbirds that can be found in marshes, forests, and wetland regions in whatever country they happen to be in at the time. They feed on very small water dwelling creatures, usually insects and their larvae, though they will take small vertebrates on occasion as well. Spotted Redshanks typically wade in order to feed, but they will also swim into deeper water and upend themselves like ducks do.

The population of Spotted Redshanks is currently stable, but that may not always be the case. Habitat degradation is happening in many of their winter and summer homes, as well as in many of their extremely important migration stopover points. For now though, their population size and massive range is enough to keep them listed as being of Least Concern, though they are listed by the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA).

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Europe and Asia
Size : Length up to 12in (31cm), Wingspan up to 26in (67cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Charadriiformes
Family : Scolopacidae -- Genus : Tringa -- Species : T. erythropus

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Golden-crested Mynah

Ampeliceps coronatus
The Golden-crested Mynah is a smallish Starling that can be found throughout a large range in South and Southeast Asia. They have also been introduced to a handful of islands as well. Their preferred habitats lowland, subtropical forests.

These birds are very appropriately named-- they have bright yellow crowns on their heads, and darker feathers over the rest of their bodies. Like many other Mynahs, the Golden-cresteds are able to mimic other sounds. They can even recreate human voices! The word Mynah itself actually derives from a Sanskrit word meaning "joyful," which is turn has a root word that means "bubbles." "Bubbling with joy" is a pretty apt description of these active, talkative birds.

Golden-crested Mynahs are omnivores that feed mostly on fruits and small insects, though they will go after some small vertebrates as well. They live in small flocks, pairs often remain together for several years, and they have a lifespan that can last as long as 20 years.

The population of the Golden-crested Mynah has not been quantified, and is on the decline due to habitat loss and degradation. The decline is slow, however, and the bird remains common in most of its range (though it is more rare on the fringes).

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South and Southeast Asia
Size : Length up to 8.5in (21cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Sturnidae -- Genus : Ampeliceps -- Species : A. coronatus

Monday, June 11, 2012


It's pretty amazing to think about the origins of some of the animals that we know so well. When you picture a camel, you probably envision a large, humped mammal with cloven, padded feet. But did you know that their earliest discovered ancestor was comparatively tiny, had no humps, and had four toes?

Meet Protylopus, the oldest known camel. These guys lived during the Eocene, around 45-40 million years ago. They were absolutely diminutive by modern camel standards. They were barely two feet tall, and about the same measurement in length. Protylopus probably weighed no more than around 50lbs. Think of them as about the size of a medium sized dog!

There are five different species within the Protylopus genus, with P. petersoni being the type species. All lived in what is now North America. Based on their teeth, they most likely fed on leaves and other soft plants, and it is possible that they even stood up on their hind legs to feed, as their front legs are shorter and they carry their weight in the 3rd and 4th toes. Fossils also indicate that these toes probably had small hooves, instead of the giant toe pads that our modern camels have.

Status : Extinct for 40 million years
Location : North America
Size : Length up to 2.5ft (80cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : †Oromerycidae -- Genus : †Protylopus

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Eolophus roseicapilla
The Galah, or Rose-breasted Cockatoo, is a very wide-spread Cockatoo that cane be found throughout Australia. Their name is derived from the Yuwaalaraay word that is used to describe the birds.

Galahs can be found in just about every corner of the continent, living in habitats that range from urban cities to woodlands, to open fields. They feed on different seeds, leaves, and grains, as well as on insects.

As adults, Galahs have bright pink heads and chests, with a lighter pink crest and grey wings. They are even sometimes referred to as "Pink and Greys." The only real difference between males and females is the eye color-- males have dark eyes, while the females have reddish-brown eyes.

Galahs live in flicks that can number from a few dozen to a few hundred. They stick together while foraging, but  will often go slightly off on their own while nesting. Males perform a dance, complete with stick waving and head bobs, in order to attract a mate. Galahs are monogamous for life, and form very strong bonds with one another. When it comes time to breed they will build a nest in a tree cavity and lay 2-3 eggs which are incubated and cared for by both parents.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Australia
Size : Length up to 14in (35cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Psittaciformes
Family : Cacatuidae -- Genus : Eolophus -- Species : E. roseicapilla

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Morgan Horse

Morgan Colt
The Morgan Horse is one of the earliest horse breeds developed in the United States, dating back to the late 18th century. They are small, strong horses that often toe the line between being of horse size (over 14.2 hands) and pony size (under 14.2 hands). They come in a wide variety of colors, though black, chestnut, and bay are the most common.

The breed dates back to 1789, when a Massachusetts businessman named Justin Morgan bought a young colt that he named "Figure." Figure was known for his expressive nature, athleticism, gentile nature, and his endurance. When Morgan died, Figure was passed to different owners, and was eventually renamed Justin Morgan after his first master. He became the foundation sire for an entire new breed, and was able to pass on all of his defining traits to his offspring

The breed took off, and by the Civil War it had become a very popular mount for the cavalry, because of their ability to work under pressure and because of their incredible endurance. Several prominent generals on both sides of the conflict rode Morgans, including Stonewall Jackson and his mount "Little Sorrel," and Philip Sheridan's "Rienzi."

The Morgan breed has also been influential in the creation of other American horse breeds. Around 90% of all Saddlebreds carry Morgan blood,  and Standardbreds, Tennessee Walkers, and Quarter Horses all have Morgans in their ancestry.

Morgans continue to be used as riding mounts for all sorts of disciplines. They have their very own breed-specific competition circuit, and they perform in several different events including jumping, dressage, and driving. Morgans are the state animal of Vermont, and are the state horse of Massachusetts.

Status : Endangered
Location : Developed in the United States
Size : Height up to 15.2 hands (1.6m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Perissodactyla
Family : Equidae -- Genus : Equus -- Species : E. ferus -- Subspecies : E. f. caballus

Friday, June 8, 2012

Blue Whale

Balaenoptera musculus
Happy World Oceans Day everybody! And what animal could represent the oceans better than the largest one in them? Meet the astonishing Blue Whale, the biggest creatures to have ever lived!

Blue Whales can reach lengths of up to 100ft, and weigh nearly 400,000lbs. That is incredible! Their hearts are the size of a small car, and their tongues can weigh as much as an elephant! In fact, right at birth they are already one of the largest animals on the planet. A newborn can measure over 25ft long and weigh 3 tons. (They also will grow 200lbs every single day!)

It is amazing to think that an animal so massive has a diet that is based exclusively on tiny little crustaceans called Krill. During the Arctic summers, they can consume up to 4tons of Krill in a single day! They feed by gulping a huge amount of water into their mouths, expanding their mouths and belly out in the process. They then push the Krill up into their baleen plates and strain the water out, leaving only the tasty little crustaceans behind.

Blue Whales can be found in all of the world's oceans, and they often migrate long distances between the poles and the equator every year. They typically travel alone, but are sometimes found in very small groups. Even if they are alone, they can still find one another with relative ease, considering they are the loudest animals out there. Their low frequency, 188 decibel sounds can be heard hundreds of miles away!

Comparison between an average Blue Whale,
a human, and  a Hector's Dolphin
So we've already learned that the Blue Whale is the largest animal, and the loudest. But did you know they are also one of the most long lived? Scientists estimate that their average lifespan is 80-90 years, and that ages of well over 100 are common.

Unfortunately, Blue Whale populations aren't doing so hot. They were absolutely decimated during the commercial whaling boom, with hundreds of thousands being killed before the ban. Hunting of the species has been outlawed since 1966, but recovery has been slow. Blue Whales are listed as Endangered, and there may be less than 10,000 left in the entire world, with most being found in the Northern Hemisphere.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Oceans Worldwide
Size : Length up to 98ft (30m), Weight up to 200tons (180 metric tons)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Cetacea
Family : Balaenopteridae -- Genus : Balaenoptera -- Species : B. musculus

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Delicate Mouse

Mus tenellus
Today's creature is one of those animals that not very much is written about. Maybe it is due to their small size? Maybe specific mouse species just aren't distinguishable enough from one another? Well, we're going to try and learn as much about the Delicate Mouse as possible anyway (though it may not be much). Because who couldn't be interested in a tiny creature with a name like that?

The Delicate Mouse is one of many, many species found within the Mus genus. What makes them (sort of) stand out is their location-- Mice are divided into five different location-based subgenera, and the Delicate Mice belong to the group that is exclusively found in Sub-Saharan Africa. They have been recorded in Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, and Ethiopia, and were first described in 1903.

Within their range, the Delicate Mice live in dry savanna habitats that are at low elevations. They feed on different grains and grasses, and they themselves serve as prey for an absolute plethora of predators, including snakes, birds of prey, and a wide range of mammals.

Their are no major threats affecting the Delicate Mice, and they are common throughout their range. Their population is presently considered to be stable, though it is unknown how adaptable they will be should they encounter increased habitat loss.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Sub-Saharan Africa
Size : Length around 9cm
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Rodentia
Family : Muridae -- Genus : Mus -- Species : M. tenellus

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tufted Puffin

Fratercula cirrhata
Meet the Tufted Puffin, a seabird from the Northern Pacific that is the largest of the Puffin species.

These birds are best identified by their breeding plumage, which shows up only during the summer months. Their normally yellow/orange bills and feet turn bright red, their black faces change to white, and both sexes grow large yellow feather tufts.

The Tufted Puffins breed in large colonies-- some of them have literally tens of thousands of pairs! They build very crude nests, placing a soft lining of feathers and plants in a rock crevice, or in a burrows scratched out with their feet. Only one egg is laid at a time, and the chick is incubated and cared for by both parents.

Tufted Puffins are much better in the water than they are on land. They are able to dive after their fishy food, and they typically eat their meals while still under water. The exception to this is when they have offspring to take care of. A Puffin parent can hold as many as 20 fish horizontally in their beak in order to take the food home to feed their chick.

Tufted Puffins are currently listed as being of Least Concern, but their population was not always doing so well.These birds thrive in areas that are free of mammalian predators, which unfortunately were introduced to several Puffin islands during the 19th and 20th centuries. The mammals destroyed the Puffin colonies, but efforts to remove the invasive hunters have allowed the Puffins to rebound spectacularly. Native peoples have also traditionally hunted the Puffins for their meat, feathers, and hides, but the practice is now discouraged (or even illegal) in many areas.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North Pacific
Size : Length around 15in (35cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Charadriiformes
Family : Alcidae -- Genus : Fratercula -- Species : F. cirrhata

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Catahoula Leopard Dog

Red Merle Catahoula Leopard Dog
The Catahoula Leopard Dog (also known as the Catahoula Cur) is an American dog breed that has an ancestry dating back hundreds of years. Many believe that they are the result of crossings between native bred dogs and the sight-hounds and molossers brought over by European explorers in the 16th century. An alternative theory is that their origin may be more recent-- when 19th century French Settlers brought over Beaucerons those dogs bred with the native stock.

Regardless of their exact date of origin (heck, both theories could even be true!), a mixing of European and North American bloodlines certainly created this interesting looking breed, which is named after a Parish in Louisiana and was designated as their State Dog in 1979.

Catahoula Leopard Dogs were bred to be working dogs, and their most common purposes are for tracking and hunting, and also for livestock herding. They also serve as search and rescue dogs as as drug snigging dogs.

Because the working ability was more important than the appearance, Catahoula Leopard Dogs come in a huge variety of coat colors and lengths, though the short merle and patchwork coats are the most iconic. They can also be found in other combinations of black, grey, and brown, and have coats that are more coarse or more woolly. They even have variations when it comes to their tails! Most are born with tails, while some are born without!

These dogs are described as being incredibly energetic, immensely intelligent, and incredibly hard working. They crave interaction and require a great amount of stimulation in order to stay at their happiest.

Status : Domesticated
Location : Originated in the Southeastern United States
Size : Height 20-26in (51-66cm), Weight 40-90lbs (18-40kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Canidae -- Genus : Canis -- Species : C. lupus -- Subspecies : C. l. familiaris

Monday, June 4, 2012

Giant Pangasuis

Pangasius sanitwongsei
Meet the Giant Pangasuis, who certainly is one monster of a fish! These dwellers of the Mekong and Chao Phraya River basins can grow nearly 10ft long, and they are second in Catfish size only to the Mekong Giant Catfish. The species is also sometimes referred to as the Paroon Shark and the Chao Phraya Giant Catfish.

In the wild, the Giant Panasuis is a migratory creature, moving upstream in order to spawn just before the monsoon season hits. And when it comes to feeding they are technically omnivores, though they tend to consume meat more often then not. Adults live in the large rivers, while juveniles are found in smaller tributaries.

Unfortunately.. like many large fish in developed areas, they are becoming very, very rare. The Giant Pangasuis is now listed as Critically Endangered. Overfishing, habitat loss, pollution, and capture for the (doomed) pet trade have all been factors for their decline. (I say "doomed" because even though hundreds, if not thousands enter the trade, very few actually live to adulthood, due to their demands, size, and skittish nature that can result in injury.) The Catfish have also had religious rites and ceremonies associated with their capture.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Southeast Asia
Size : Length up to 9ft (2.75m), Weight up to 660lbs (300kg)
Classification : Phylum: Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Siluriformes
Family : Pangasiidae -- Genus : Pangasius -- Species : P. sanitwongsei

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cape Lobster

Homarinus capensis
The Cape Lobster is a species of Crustacean that lives off the coast of South Africa. The main things to know about these guys is that they are incredibly elusive. From 1792 to 1992 only fourteen specimens were collected.

In 1992 the discovery of one of these rare Lobsters prompted a surge in discovery, and another 20 or so have been identified since... though most have been as parts regurgitated by fish.

Why are Cape Lobsters so hard to find? South Africa's waters have been more explored, studied, and cataloged than any other country's on the continent, why is the story here? Well, the Cape Lobsters are very small, especially when compared to the lobsters we normally think of. Their entire length is only around 4in, and their main carapace tops out around 2. This keeps them out of most Lobster traps.

Another cause for their elusiveness is that very little is known about their habitat and biology, and much of the existing information has been proven incorrect (they don't live in fresh water, for example). Cape Lobsters most likely live in rocky substrate areas, which are difficult to dredge or trawl in, so the Lobsters don't show up as a bycatch.

Cape Lobsters were once placed in the same genus as their larger American and European cousins. In 1995 it was determined that their relationship is more distant than previously thought, and they are now members of a monotypic genus.

IUCN Status : Data Deficient
Location : South Africa
Size : Length up to 4in (10cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Subphylum : Crustacea -- Class
: Malacostraca
Order : Decapoda -- Family : Nephropidae -- Genus : Homarinus -- Species : H. capensis

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Variegated Fairywren

Malurus lamberti (male and females)
I just love the look of today's animal-- the Variegated Fairywren. Their name means "having streaks or patches of different colors," which is very true for the males. They sport black chests, bright chestnut patches on the shoulders, and brilliant blue heads. (Females are shades of grey).

You can find the Variegated Fairywren (and most other Fairywrens) in Australia, where they are the most common and widespread members of their genus. There are four different subspecies, each found in a different location across the continent.

These little birds are incredibly active, spending large chunks of their day hopping about on the ground and in low foliage in search of food. Their long tails help them to balance while bouncing around, searching for insects to eat.

The social structure of the Variegated Fairywren is rather interesting. After breeding (which can occur at any time of the year but is most frequent in Spring and Summer) the females do all the incubating on their own. However, they do get chick-raising help from non-breeding helpers, who are oftentimes children from previous broods.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Australia
Size : Length up to 6in (15cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Maluridae -- Genus : Malurus -- Species : M. lamberti

Friday, June 1, 2012


A long, long time ago we talked about the Tuatara-- the last living reptiles that belong to an incredibly ancient Order that dates to the Mesozoic. Though only two species of Tuatara survive today, there were once several other different Sphenodontians roaming the planet, and today's animal is one of them.

Meet Pleurosaurus, a very snake like reptile that lived an aquatic lifestyle in what are now the lakes of Western Europe. Pleurosaurus was a small little guy, measuring only about 2ft long, and its entire body was streamlined for marine hunting efficiency. They had incredibly thin bodies, very short appendages, and a long, powerful tail. They most likely swam in an undulating motion, as Sea Snakes do, and probably didn't use their small arms much at all.

Pleurosaurus also had nostrils that were placed closer to their eyes than to their snout. This adaptation probably allowed them to hunt fish easier in the shallow lakes where they lived.

Fossils of the species were first found in Bavaria, Germany in the 1830s. They date back to the late Jurassic Period, around 150 million years ago.

Status : Extinct since the Late Jurassic - 150 million years
Location : Western Europe
Size : Length up to 2ft (61cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Sauropsida -- Order : Sphenodontia
Family : Pleurosauridae -- Genus : Pleurosaurus
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