Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Antiguan Racer

Alsophis antiguae
The Antiguan Racer is believed to be the rarest snake in the entire world. It is so rare, in fact, that in 1995 there were only 50 left! The Racers grow to lengths of around 1m, prefer to live in shady areas, and are completely harmless to humans.

Unfortunately, humans were farm from harmless toward the Racer population, which dwindled due to human involvement and introduced predators. When colonists arrived on the island of Antigua, they inadvertently brought Black Rats along with them. The Rats multiplied quickly, feeding on crops and Racer eggs, among other things. The farmers, wanting to get rid of the rats, introduced Asian Mongooses. Unfortunately, the Mongooses also fed on Snakes, and not just their eggs. It wasn't long before the Antiguan Racer was completely extinct on the island of Antigua itself. They continued to survive in small numbers on the Mongoose free Great Bird Island.

Though they were free from Mongooses on Great Bird Island, the snakes still had to worry about Rats, natural disasters (like hurricanes and droughts), and a loss of genetic diversity due to inbreeding. In 1995, when the population hit 50 individuals, a successful effort was made to eradicate all Rats from Great Bird.

The population doubled with the loss of the Rats, but it was discovered that the island was too small to sustain a larger snake population. Efforts are ongoing to remove Rats and Mongooses from other offshore islands, so that the snakes can be reintroduced there as well.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Antigua
Size : Length up to 1m
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Sauropsida -- Order : Squamata
Family : Colubridae -- Genus : Alsophis -- Species : antiguae

Monday, July 30, 2012

Aquatic Warbler

Acrocephalus paludicola
Today's animal is one of the most threatened Passerine birds in Europe, and is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. The species was once widespread and numerous, found in wetland areas throughout the continent. At present, the Warblers are restricted to only a few dozen sites across six countries, and it is estimated that there are less than 12,000 males left.

So why are these once abundant birds now threatened with extinction? It all has to do with their habitat needs. Aquatic Warblers live in very specific marshes and fen mires, and as those areas are taken over by human activity, the Warblers have no where to go. The only breeding populations left are found in Eastern Europe, and luckily there have been efforts made to maintain the habitats that are still viable.

But it isn't just their breeding sites that need protecting-- Aquatic Warblers migrate up to 7,500 miles (12,000km) every year to Sub-Saharan Africa. Their stopover points need protection as well, and so do their wintering grounds. Until recently, no one knew where the birds did their wintering, but a site was discovered in Senegal that houses up to 10,000 birds each year (potentially half the worldwide population). Obviously it will be very important to keep this site preserved as well, and promotional efforts are being made to do so.

So now that conservation measures have been discussed, we can move on to some other facts. Aquatic Warblers have a really fascinating breeding system. From May to July, the males fly about and sing as loudly as they can, trying to attract as many females as possible. They have no parental duties, so they are free to advertise themselves continuously. But don't think that the males are the only ones to have more than one mate! Females will also breed multiples times, and around 60% of all broods are fathered by more than one individual!

Aquatic Warblers are insectivores, though they do sometimes eat fruits as well.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Europe, Asia
Size : Length up to 5in (13cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Acrocephalidae -- Genus : Acrocephalus -- Species : A. paludicola

Sunday, July 29, 2012

American Dipper

Cinclus mexicanus
I confess, when I hear the term "Songbird," I usually think of a bird that lives up in the trees, flitting around eating seeds or insects. But today I learned that there are Songbirds that actually submerge into water for their food! Meet the American Dipper, the only truly aquatic Songbird in North America!

You'll find these birds around fast moving, rocky rivers. Their range runs down the western side of North America, from Alaska all the way down to Mexico. American Dippers are residents, and when it gets cold they move to larger rivers that do not freeze. The also adapt to the cold by having a thick coat of feathers and a low metabolism.

Did you know that American Dippers molt all their wing and tail feathers at once (a simultaneous molt) and cannot fly for a short period of time? Though many waterfowl species do this, most songbirds do not, making the Dippers even more unique (Songbirds molt, but it is a more gradual process).

American Dippers feed on underwater insects and larvae. They have membranes over their eyes that let them see well underwater, and have oily feathers that keep them insulated in the cold streams. When searching for food they will dip their entire body underwater over and over. That dipping motion is what gives them their name. They will also search for prey by walking on the river bottom!

IUCN Status : L:east Concern
Location : Western North America
Size : Length up to 7in (16cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Cinclidae -- Genus : Cinclus -- Species : C. mexicanus

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tailless Tenrec

Tenrec ecaudatus
Today's animal is native to Madagascar, and has been introduced to the Mascarene Islands. But happily, unlike some of the other critters we've talked about this week, the Tailless Tenrec is not on the verge of extinction! These interesting little mammals actually have a stable population, no major threats, and a wide range.

So now that we've got conservation status out of the way, what on Earth is a Tenrec?! The answer is... interesting. Tenrecs are members of that weird African Superorder known as Afrotheria. Their hodgepodge of relatives includes Elephants, Manatees, Hyraxes, Aardvarks, and Sengi. Tenrecs themselves look a bit like shrews or opossums, and some species even resemble Hedgehogs. This is due to convergent evolution-- Tenrecs evolved to fill the ecological niches that were normally filled by the aforementioned creatures. They May look alike and act alike, but they aren't actually related!

The Tailless Tenrec is the largest of the land-dwelling Tenrecs. They actually do have tails, despite the name, though the tails are very, very short. They look a bit like a Shrew crossed with a Hedgehog, and the younger Tenrecs even have spines to protect them while they grow up (adults have long, coarse hairs).

The Tailless Tenrec is one of the largest insectivores in the world. They detect prey with their long whiskers (they are nocturnal), and capture it with their mouths. Aside from insects, they do also feed on small vertebrates and plants.

You will only really see these Tenrecs in groups during a  few times each year-- during the breeding season when males attract mates, and after the young are born when females are taking care of their offspring. They are very solitary otherwise. Tailless Tenrecs can have massive litter sizes-- up to 32! The young are helpless for the first week or so, but they grow fast and will be on their own after about 5 weeks. They reach sexual maturity around 6 months of age.

Tailless Tenrecs communicate in a number of different ways. When threatened, the ridge of hair on their back rises up. They also hiss, squeal, and even scream!

IUCN Status : L:east Concern
Location : Madagascar, Mascarene Islands
Size : Length up to 15in (39cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Afrosoricida
Family : Tenrecidae -- Genus : Tenrec -- Species : T. ecaudatus

Friday, July 27, 2012

Wattle-necked Softshell Turtle

Palea steindachneri
Wow, this week is becoming an unofficial Mascarene Islands theme week, and sort of by accident too! I came across today's animal while browsing around a site that listed the reptiles and amphibians of Hawaii. I zeroed in on a Softshell Turtle, as they are very interesting looking creatures... and what do you know, they've been introduced to Mauritius!

And though I found the animal in a Hawaiian context, they aren't native Hawaiians. The Wattle-necked Softshell Turtles are actually native to Vietnam and southern China, and were introduced to islands elsewhere. Interestingly, most of what we know of their biology and behavior comes from those Hawaiian individuals.

Wattle-necked Softshell Turtles belong to an entire family of Softshell Turtles, Trionychidae, but they are the only species in their genus. Like their cousins, they have flat shells covered with leathery skin rather than bony scutes. They also have long, retractable necks that have wattle clusters around the base (hence the name).

Unfortunately, like many other Softshell Turtles, the Wattle-necked Softshell Turtle is Endangered. This is due in part to their desirability in the food trade in Asia. Captive breeding farms have been set up to keep the wild Turtles from being hunted. But those farms may actually be hurting the Turtles, as they make the food more popular. The introduced populations in Hawaii and Mauritius may some day be the only populations left.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Southeast Asia, Hawaii, Mauritius
Size : Length up to 10in (25cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Testudines
Family : Trionychidae -- Genus : Palea -- Species : P. steindachneri

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Réunion Kestrel

Falco duboisi
A few days ago we learned about an entire genus of Tortoises that went extinct from the Mascarene Islands in early 19th century. Today's animal didn't make it that long-- the Réunion Kestrel was gone before 1700.

It is a similar sad story, with the arrival of man prompting a fast decline... But the exact cause of the extinction is still a bit of a mystery. European colonization was in full swing by the mid 17th century, and the last time one of these birds was recorded as being alive was in 1672. A few may have hung in there for a while longer, but by 1700 they were considered extinct. Persecution probably played a part in their decline, but if there were other factors, they remain unknown.

Everything we know about the Réunion Kestrel comes from fossils and a few notes written by in the 1670s. They probably lived throughout the island, inhabiting open areas. They probably fed on smaller birds, as other Kestrels do, and may have taken domestic chickens (prompting some of that persecution). Unfortunately, little else is known about their behavior and lifestyle, as they were only known to science for a few short years before completely disappearing.

Réunion Kestrels are the only Kestrels to have gone extinct. Interestingly, the nearby island of Mauritius has its own extant Kestrel species, though it is listed as Vulnerable.
IUCN Status : Extinct
Location : Reunion Island
Size : Length up to 14in (36cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Falconiformes
Family : Falconidae -- Genus : Falco -- Species : F. duboisi

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Giant Water Bug

Lethocerus sp.
Today we'll be talking about an entire taxonomic family-- Belostomitidae. Insects within this group are more commonly referred to as Giant Water Bugs. There are around 160 different species, organized into nine different genera.

The "Giant" name is certainly apt, as some members (especially those in the genus Lethocerus) can reach lengths of several inches. Even the smallest group members are a few centimeters in length.

Giant Water Bugs can be found all over the world, and are most concentrated in the Americas and in South Asia and Australia. All of the insects, regardless of continent, live in ponds and other shallow bodies of water. They spend most of their time in the water, but they must surface for air, as they do require it to breathe. Respiration takes place thanks to two appendages that extend from the abdomen. Speaking of abdomens, the eggs of two of the genera, Abedus and Belostoma, are deposited on the backs of the males, who carry them around for a week or two until they hatch!

Giant Water Bugs are amazingly little predators. They ambush hunt other bugs, small crustaceans, and even fish, birds, and amphibians! They strike, biting down with their powerful mandible and injecting a digestive saliva that liquefies the insides of their prey. Once that process has taken place, the Water Bugs can slurp up their meals. These bites can be very, very painful to humans, but are not dangerous overall.

Final fun fact of the day-- Giant Water Bugs are considered a culinary delicacy in some parts of the world. They are eaten both raw and prepared!

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Worldwide
Size : Length up to 12cm
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Hemiptera
Family : Belostomatidae

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cylindraspis Tortoises

Cylindraspis peltastes
There were five different Tortoise species within the Cylindraspis genus:
  • Cylindraspis indica - Réunion giant tortoise
  • Cylindraspis inepta - Saddle-backed Mauritius giant tortoise
  • Cylindraspis peltastes - Domed Rodrigues giant tortoise
  • Cylindraspis triserrata - Domed Mauritius giant tortoise
  • Cylindraspis vosmaeri - Saddle-backed Rodrigues giant tortoise
All five have been extinct for around 200 years.

The Cylindraspis Tortoises were once found on the Mascarene Islands of Rodrigues, Réunion, and Mauritius (home of the Dodo). This small group of islands is located in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Madagascar. They were first discovered by Europeans in 1507, and were colonized around a century later. When humans arrived, the Tortoises were abundant across the island chain, but within 100 years they were almost completely wiped out. A few decades after that they were gone entirely.

How and why did this fast extinction happen? Well, it is a story very similar to that of one of their more famous island neighbors-- the Dodo. These Tortoises were very large, and very slow moving. This made them easy targets for hunting, much like the Dodo. The Tortoises also required very little food and maintenance, which made them ideal creatures to take on boats as a food supply.

Some of the species saw a decline faster than others (the Réunion Giant Tortoise was nearly gone by 1730, for example). Most were eliminated by 1800, with the last individuals dying out by 1840.

Sadly, the Cylindraspis Tortoises are not the only island turtles to be negatively affected by humans, and even the popular Galapagos Tortoises have faced extinction (some subspecies are gone entirely). Hopefully modern conservation measures and learning from the past can prevent more Tortoises from going the way of the today's animals.

IUCN Status : Extinct by 1840
Location : Mascarene Islands
Size : Varies
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Testudines
Family : Testudinidae -- Genus : †Cylindraspis

Monday, July 23, 2012

Calandra Lark

Melanocorypha calandra
Meet the Calandra Lark, a bulky member of the Lark family that can be found in different parts of Europe and Asia, depending on the subspecies and time of year. Some of the populations are residents, such as those in Western Europe that live near the Mediterranean year round. Others, like those farther east in Russia, will migrate north and south with the seasons. They live in open grassland habitats where they feed on grasses and seeds.

You can identify a Calandra Lark by its robust size, large bills,  and white throat with large black spot. They are also distinct when viewed from below while flying-- they have dark wings with small white contrasting spots. Males and females look alike, though the female has less pronounced black spots on the throat.

Larks are known for their songs, and this Lark is no exception. In spring the males produce very loud songs that contain both beautiful notes, as well as very harsh ones. They also have the ability to mimic the songs of other birds!

Calandra Larks are monogamous. Pairs build their nests on the ground, but not out in the open. They often seclude themselves with small plants and bushes. 4-5 eggs are laid at a time, and they take 2 weeks to incubate. After hatching, around 20 days go by before the young Larks are able to fly. This quick incubation/fledging period allows the parents to produce two broods per season.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Europe and Asia
Size : Length up to 8in (20cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Alaudidae -- Genus : Melanocorypha -- Species : M. calandra

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Meet the Zubron, a hybrid creature that is the result of crosses between European Bison (Wisent) and Cattle. Think "Beefalo" but with a longer history and a slightly different Bison in the mix.

The first Zubron dates all the way back to 1847, when a Polish man named Leopold Walicki created crosses between male Wisent and female Cattle. The result was a hardy animal that was less susceptible to disease. Other benefits? Zubron would graze on less desirable tracts of land that didn't need a huge farm infrastructure. They also required far less human interaction. Downsides? First generation males were infertile, though the females weren't. So a female Zubron could be bred back to either Cattle or Wisent, creating fertile male offspring.

Zubron breeding continued through the 19th century and into the 20th. By 1958 the work was taken on by the Polish Academy of Sciences, and several dozen animals were born in those first few years. In 1969 a contest was held by the newspaper Przekroj, and the name Zubron was chosen for the hybrids.

By the late 1980s, however, the results of the crosses were no longer considered desirable and state farms were losing interest. There was also fear that the hybrids would contaminate the gene pools of the purebred Wisent, a Vulnerable species.

There are a few Zubron left now in Bialowieski National Park, and there is still some work being done to create the hybrids, but on a far more limited scale.

Status : Hybrid
Location : Developed in Poland
Size : Weight up to 2,600lbs (1,200kg)
Classification : Bos taurus × Bison bonasus

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sind Sparrow

Passer pyrrhonotus
Sind Sparrows look very much like the House Sparrows that live throughout Europe and Asia, though they are a tad smaller, and are located only around India and Pakistan. It is easiest to tell the two species apart when looking at the males. Sind Sparrows have short black bibs on their throats. House Sparrows have the same bibs, but they are much larger. Females are much harder to tell apart, tricky birds! They do have different calls though, with the Sind Sparrows having higher, more staccato-like voices.

So why so much similarity? Well, the two birds are definitely relatives-- the share the same genus (along with about two dozen other species). The original thought was that the Sind was a newer species that evolved from populations of House Sparrows cut off during the last Ice Age (around 15,000 years ago). But now, new genetic studies are showing that the Sind Sparrows may have split apart millions of years ago, rather than thousands.

Sind Sparrows live in small little groups that number around half a dozen birds, though these groups can swell to larger numbers during the winter (the non-breeding season). These groups forage for grass seeds in areas near rivers.

When it comes time to reproduce, both sexes help to build the nest, which is an untidy collection of sticks placed a few meters up into the trees. Both parents also help with the incubating.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South Asia
Size : Length up to 5.5in (14cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Passeridae -- Genus : Passer -- Species : P. pyrrhonotus

Friday, July 20, 2012

Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher

Ceyx erithaca
Today's animal is an absolutely stunning little bird, sporting bright yellow, red, and bluish-black plumage. Though we'll refer to them as the Oriental Dwarf Kingfishers, they are also sometimes called Black-backed Kingfishers, due to the darker colors that contrast with the bright feathers elsewhere.

If you're looking for a Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, you'll find them (well... maybe... they are very elusive) in south and southeast Asia, where they live in dense forests near small bodies of water. Water plays an important role in their lives-- they breed during the very wet monsoon season and they feed on aquatic animals. And while were are speaking of breeding, these Kingfishers build tunnel-like nests that can measure over 3ft in length!

At present, the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher is listed as being of Least Concern, but the population is on the decline. Habitat loss is the number one threat to their numbers.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Southeast Asia
Size : Length up to 5.5in (14cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Coraciiformes
Family : Alcedinidae -- Genus : Ceyx -- Species : C. erithaca

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mountain Pygmy Possum

Burramys parvus
The Mountain Pygmy Possum is a tiny little Marsupial whose prehensile tail is actually longer than the rest of its body! They are only about the size of a mouse, measuring only a few inches in length, and weighing just 45g. They have dense dark fur on the top, with lighter undersides.

Mountain Pygmy Possums are rare and critically endangered. They were actually considered extinct until 1966, when the first live one was found (before then they only known from fossil forms).

Only three populations of these little guys are known to science, and it is believed that there are less than 2,000 individuals left. All three of these populations are found in southern Australia, in either New South Wales or Victoria. The Possums live in rock screes and boulder fields of high elevation areas. They are the only Alpine Marsupials in Australia.

Mountain Pygmy Possums also have the distinction of being more terrestrial than their other Possum cousins. While they are still excellent climbers, they spend most of their time on the ground. They are a nocturnal species, and hunt moths during the evening hours. During the winter months they hibernate, surviving off of stored up fat reserves.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Southern Australia
Size : Length up to 11cm
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Infraclass : Marsupialia
Order : Diprotodontia -- Family : Burramyidae -- Genus : Burramys -- Species : B. parvus

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Yellow-spotted Millipede

Harpaphe haydeniana
Not all Millipedes are gigantic like the big, 15in long African Millipedes. Today's animal is one of those Myriapods on the smaller side of the scale-- it doesn't get much bigger than 2in long!

The Yellow-spotted Millipede is found along the Pacific coast of North America. They are very important members of their ecosystem, as they help to break up leave litter and release nutrients.

As adults, have these Millipedes have predominantly black bodies with yellow patches that run along the sides. When full grown they have 20 body segments. Females have 31 pairs of legs, while males only have 30. The difference in number has to do with the placement of the males' reproductive organs.

Did you know that Yellow-spotted Millipedes have very few predators? Though they live in an area with lots of invertebrate-eating creatures, they remain very safe. This is because they have the ability to secrete Hydrogen Cyanide! The species is sometimes called the Almond-scented Millipede, due to Cyanide's almond-like smell.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Western North America
Size : Length up to 2in (5cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Superclass : Myriapoda -- Class : Diplopoda
Order : Polydesmida -- Family : Xystodesmidae -- Genus : Harpaphe -- Species : H. haydeniana

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Brown-throated Sloth

Bradypus variegatus
There are four species of Three-toed Sloth in the world, and the Brown-throated Sloth is the most common of the bunch. They can be found in different forested areas of Central and South America, typically living at elevations below 4,000ft.

Brown-throated Sloths can walk on the ground (kind of...), and they can even swim, but they spend almost all of their time up in the trees. They sleep as much as 18 hours a day, though 14-16 is more common. They are active the rest of the time, feeding and moving and protecting their territory, but only in 2-3 hour bursts.

The home range for a Brown-throated Sloth is pretty small-- only around a dozen acres. In this range they will move from tree to tree, feeding slowly on different leaves and fruits. Their metabolism is so slow that it can take a month to digest a single meal! In fact, the Sloths will usually only descend from their arboreal homes in order to go to the bathroom. This happens only once every eight days!

Brown-throated Sloth
Brown-throated Sloths have some interesting anatomical features, including their hair-- each follicle has multiple cracks on the surface. These cracks are the prefect places for algae to grow. The algae get a nice host to live on, and the Sloths get some extra camouflage. But the algae aren't the only passengers that the sloth has. A species of moth, Cryptoses choloepi lives in the Sloth fur and lays its eggs in the Sloth's dung.

Other strange anatomy facts? Brown-throated Sloths have 10 cervical vertebrae, and can rotate their necks 270 degrees. They also have a lot of trouble regulating their body temperature due in part to their small hearts and lack of muscle mass. This is why Sloths are only found in tropical warm areas.

Females sloths will make loud vocalizations in order to attract a mate. A male will come to her, and she will usually mate with the first one to show up. After copulation the male leaves, and the female goes through the 5-8 month gestation period alone. They give birth either on the ground or in trees, and the young sloth will cling to its mother's underside for up to 5 months. They wean quickly but stick around for much longer to learn important Sloth skills from mom, including motor skills and which leaves are best to eat.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South and Central America
Size : Length up to 31in (80cm), Weight up to 14lbs (6.3kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Pilosa
Family : Bradypodidae -- Genus : Bradypus -- Species : B. variegatus

Monday, July 16, 2012

Green Ibis

Mesembrinibis cayennensis
The Green Ibis is a short little wading bird that also happens to be the only member of its genus. It can be found in Central and South America, living in wetlands and swampy woodland areas. These birds are typically residents of an area, though some may make very small migrations during the dry season.

Though it may not look it, depending on the light, the Green Ibis is actually green. It's a dark green, and sometimes it appears black, but it's green nonetheless. Juveniles have the same coloration, only it is more dull. They look quite a bit like the Glossy Ibis, but are more broad and have shorter legs.

You will find the Green Ibis living either alone, or in very small groups. Pairs are monogamous, and will build large platform nests in the trees, laying between 2 and 4 eggs each brood. They feed on water creatures like fish and frogs, and will take insects as well.

The species has a decreasing population, but it is still very large and they have an extensive range. They are currently listed as being of Least Concern, but that may change in future years.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South America
Size : Length up to 22in (56cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Pelecaniformes
Family : Threskiornithidae -- Genus : Mesembrinibis -- Species : M. cayennensis

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Green Stink Bug

Acrosternum hilare
Today's animal is quite the stinker! Literally! The Green Stink Bug has a very large gland on the underside of its thorax. These glands discharge a huge (for a bug) amount of smelly liquid when the bug is disturbed.

You can find Green Stink Bugs across North America, and they are the most common Stink Bugs on that continent. They are actually considered to be pests in some places, due to their love of seeds, grains, and fruits. They are not at all picky when it comes to food, and can have many, many different types of host plant that they snack on with their needle-like mouths.

Green Stink Bugs are shield-shaped and vibrantly green in color, even as small nymphs. Nymphs come from tiny barrel-shaped eggs that are laid on the undersides of leaves. One new generation is laid each year in the northern range, while two are more common in the south.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : North America
Size : Length up to 2cm
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Hemiptera
Family : Pentatomidae -- Genus : Acrosternum -- Species : A. hilare

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Chinese Mountain Cat

Felis silvestris bieti
The Chinese Mountain Cat is a very elusive feline. In fact, they are so hard to find that they were the very last cats to be discovered by science! Even then, most of what we knew was taken from skins, and it wasn't until 2007 that the first photograph was taken of one in the wild! They were once considered to be their own separate species, but genetic testing in recent years has led to reclassification.

This subspecies of Wildcat is endemic to China, where it can be found at high elevation grasslands, coniferous forests, and shrublands. They are active at night, and hunt for small animals like Birds, Pikas, and other Rodents.

It should come as no surprise that the Chinese Mountain Cat is a vulnerable subspecies with a small population size. Estimates state that only around 10,000 mature individuals remain. The intentional poisoning of Pikas has a lot to do with the Cat's decline. The Pika population goes down, lowering the Mountain Cat's food supply, and the cats themselves can become poisoned and die as well. Chinese Mountain Cats are listed in CITES II, and are protected in their native country, though the protection isn't as enforced as it is in other animals.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : China
Size : Body length up to 33in (84cm), Weight up to 9lbs (20kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Felidae -- Genus : Felis -- Species : F. silvestris -- Subspecies : F. s. bieti

Friday, July 13, 2012

Dwarf Crocodile

Osteolaemus tetraspis
Meet the smallest living Crocodile, the appropriately named Dwarf Crocodile! These guys top out at lengths of only 5ft, which is pretty minuscule when you compare them to their larger Nile cousins. Those guys can grow to 16ft or more!

Dwarf Crocodiles are found in tropical west and central Africa. They live in ponds, swamps, and marshes, where they are most active during the nighttime hours.

When it comes to their personality and behavior, Dwarf Crocodiles are pretty timid and slow moving, but that doesn't mean they aren't still effective predators! They feed on all sorts of invertebrates and vertebrates alike, and will also consume carrion when available.

Mother Dwarf Crocodiles are very attentive parents. They build mounds out of decaying vegetation, which generate the heat needed to incubate the eggs. She will guard the mound until the eggs hatch, and then watch over her offspring for up to a year, as their small size makes them very vulnerable to predation.

Unfortunately, Dwarf Crocodiles are listed as Vulnerable. They aren't as well studied as their larger cousins, so the exact population status isn't as understood. It appears that hunting and deforestation are contributing to their decline.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Africa
Size : Length up to 5ft (1.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Sauropsida -- Order : Crocodilia
Family : Crocodylidae -- Genus : Osteolaemus -- Species : O. tetraspis

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Eight-spotted Forester

Meet the Eight-spotted Forester, a small moth found in the eastern United States and in parts of eastern Canada. As adults, they have dark black bodies and eight white or yellow spots across their wings, giving them their common name.

Alypia octomaculata
Location has everything to do with the lifespans and generations of the Eight-spotted Forester. Only one generation is produced each year in the north, with adults flying from April to June. Two generations are more common in the south. Adults don't live through the winter months, but the pupa do! They bunker down in the soil or in wood crevasses when it gets cold.

Eight-spotted Forester larvae come from eggs that are often laid upon Grape or Virginia Creeper plants. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on those plants (adults feed on nectar). The young Moths are just as boldly patterned as the adults are, with bright orange bands interspersed with smaller black and white ones.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Eastern United States, Canada
Size : Wingspan up to 1.2in (3.7cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Lepidoptera
Family : Noctuidae -- Genus : Alypia -- Species : A. octomaculata

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Eastern Long-necked Turtle

Chelodina longicollis
It's easy to see where this animal gets its name-- the Eastern Long-necked Turtle has a neck that can be nearly as long as their carapace! These necks are so long that they aren't pulled directly back into the carapace. They bend in sideways.

These Australian natives have flat carapaces that grow to around 8in in length and are colored in shades that range from black to brown to green. Their undersides (plastrons) are cream colored with very distinctive black lines.

You can find these Turtles living in slow moving freshwater streams and ponds. They have powerful webbed feet that allow them to dig and swim with ease, and they spend a good deal of time basking on rocks and logs. In the wild Long-necked Turtles are 100% carnivorous, feeding on insects, mollusks, tadpoles, fish, and other small creatures. When the Turtles themselves feel threatened, they secrete a stinky fluid from their musk glands. This gives them one of their other common names-- "Stinker."

Eastern Long-necked Turtles can be kept as pets, but they require a good deal of space, as well as a long commitment. These guys can live for decades!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Australia
Size : Carapace length around 8in (20cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Sauropsida -- Order : Testudines
Family : Chelidae -- Genus : Chelodina -- Species : C. longicollis

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Giant Golden-crowned Flying Fox

Acerodon jubatus
The Giant Golden-crowned Flying Fox (also known as the Golden-capped Fruit Bat) is one of the largest bat species in the entire world... but it is also one of the most threatened. These monstrous bats are found only on a handful of islands in the Philippines, and they are in grave danger due to poaching and deforestation.

Giant Golden-crowned Flying Foxes (that is a mouthful!) are named for a patch of golden colored hair found on the tops of their heads. The rest of the body ranges in color from brown to black. The "Giant" title comes from their incredible size-- they can have wingspans that measure over 5 ft! Don't worry about that huge size though, these bats are gentle giants. Their favorite food is Fig, and they also eat several other fruit and plant types. They even help to plant the forests since they deposit seeds with their droppings.

These Bats can be found exclusively on nine different Philippines islands, though that number could drop to even fewer locations-- they have already gone extinct on several smaller islands. They live at low elevations, in areas that are uninhabited by humans. When they were more abundant, the Golden-crowned Flying Foxes could be found in combined colonies with the Large Flying Foxes, and these groups could number near 100,000. At present, the largest colonies measure around 5,000.

The species is on the decline, but a number of different programs have been put into place to keep it going. They live in a few protected areas, are under study, and a captive breeding program is underway. However, enforcement in some of the protected areas is very light, allowing poaching to continue.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Philippines
Size : Wingspan up to 5.5ft (1.7m), Weight up to 2.6lbs (1.3kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Chiroptera
Family : Pteropodidae -- Genus : Acerodon -- Species : A. jubatus

Monday, July 9, 2012

Common Bronzewing

Phaps chalcoptera
The Common Bronzewing is a medium sized species of Pigeon that is found throughout Australia. They live in a wide range of habitats, usually near sources of water,  and can be found just about anywhere that isn't a dense rainforest or a dry desert.

The common name from the species comes from their brightly colored wings. Both males and females sport patches of blue, green, red, and (of course) bronze, on them (though the females are a bit less shiny). These colors stand out when compared to greyish-brown feathers found on the rest of their bodies. The birds also have small white lines under their eyes, and juveniles posses the same coloration, only more dull.

Common Bronzewings are very adaptable birds. As already mentioned, they live in a huge range of habitats and temperature ranges. They also live in all sorts of differently size social groups. Some birds around found alone, others travel in pairs, while others move in small flocks. They are also adaptable when it comes to feeding, taking different kinds of available seeds and grasses while foraging on the ground.

One final example of their adaptability concerns their reproductive habits. They don't have a set breeding season, and will reproduce during any time of the year as long as there are suitable conditions. Males put on a bowing courtship display, displaying their shiny feathers to the females. The pair will build a very flimsy-looking nest, and two eggs are laid at a time. The parents share incubation duties (which is a very short 14-16 day time period) and they both feed and care for the chicks, which are fed "Pigeon Milk" from their parents' crops.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Australia
Size : Length up to 14in (36cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Columbiformes
Family : Columbidae -- Genus : Phaps -- Species : P. chalcoptera

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Plotosus Catfish

Plotosus lineatus
Today let's talk about the Plotosus genus, which is made up of nine different species of Eel-Catfish. All nine species can be found in proximity to the Indian Ocean, ranging from Madagascar all the way over to New Guinea. They are typically found in salt water areas, though some do swim up streams and freshwater rivers. One of the species, P. lineatus, is the only Catfish found in Coral Reefs!

These Eel-Catfish are named for their long, slender, eel-like bodies, but from there they vary in appearance. Some have stripes, some are solidly colored, and others have gradient patterns. They even very in size, witht he largest (P. canius) measuring around 1.5m, while some of the others (like P. lineatus) are only about a foot. All species, especially as juveniles, prefer to swim in schools, rather than alone. Some of these groups can number into the hundreds. The schools feeds by trawling the bottom with their barbels, and by stirring up small invertebrates in the substrate.

Eight of the nine Plotosus species are venomous. They have spines on their dorsal and pectoral fins that can be incredibly dangerous. Though it is rare, these stings can be fatal for humans.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Indian Ocean
Size : Length between 14-60in (34-150cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Siluriformes
Family : Plotosidae -- Genus : Plotosus

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Gold Dust Day Gecko

Phelsuma laticauda
The Gold Dust Day Gecko is a smallish Gecko, named for the gold specks that develop on their backs and legs as they age. They also happen to be diurnal, giving them the second part of their common name.

The species is native to Madagascar and the Comoros Islands, but they have also been introduced to far away Hawaii, and inhabit several of the islands in that chain. They live in trees and (now) near human establishments. The Geckos live solitary lifestyles, and males can be very aggressive when it comes to their territory.

It isn't just adult males that can be testy, juveniles can be just as aggressive. Up to five pairs of eggs are laid during the breeding season, and they will hatch after a month and a half. The young geckos are only about an inch long at the time of hatching and they disperse quickly, as fighting can occur (the male territoriality starts young!).

Gold Dust Day Geckos are omnivores, feeding on insects, smaller lizards, nectar, and fruits. They can sometimes be found en masse, congregating around a single plant in order to feed. The Geckos can also be very bold in human areas, entering kitchens and snatching food right off the countertops!

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Madagascar
Size : Length up to 6in (15cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Gekkonidae -- Genus : Phelsuma -- Species : P. laticauda

Friday, July 6, 2012

Blood Pheasant

Ithaginis cruentus
The Blood Pheasant has kind of a disturbing name, but it gets it from the red skin of its face and legs, and the red feathers on the chin, chest, and tail. They are small members of their family, and are the only species found within the genus Ithaginis, though there are a dozen recognized subspecies.

Blood Pheasants are found in the countries surrounding the Himalayas-- China, India, Nepal, and Bhutan. They prefer to live in coniferous forests, and range at elevations of 10,000-15,000 feet during the breeding season, and slightly lower during the rest of the year.

These birds are not the best fliers, and they get around mostly by running on the ground. They even build their nests on the ground, constructing them under rocks and inside shrubs. These ground nests can be problematic, however, as sometimes the eggs must be moved or abandoned altogether if the parents feel there is too much risk. Broods can number over a dozen in size, and the young chicks are able to get up and follow mom around when they are only two days old. They will remain as a group until winter.

The species is very rarely found in captivity, and at present it does not appear that there are any in United States institutions. Blood Pheasants live in very remote regions in the wild, and so have been safe from many of the threats that endanger different pheasant species. However, the population does appear to be on the decline, though it is slow enough to list them as being of Least Concern.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Himalayas
Size : Length up to 17in (43cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Galliformes
Family : Phasianidae -- Genus : Ithaginis -- Species : I. cruentus

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Blue-and-yellow Macaw

Ara ararauna
The Blue-and-yellow Macaw is a very striking parrot found in the tropical forests of South America (though there are a few introduced populations in Florida as well). They are large members of their family, growing to lengths of nearly 3ft.

These Macaws have some pretty amazing mouths. They are able to move both their upper and lower beaks (a feat that many bird species cannot physically accomplish) and they have an amazing range of strength and dexterity with them. They can crack huge nuts and seeds, but also delicately peel fruit! They even use their beaks to help them climb!

Their beaks aren't their only neat feature. Blue-and-yellow Macaws also have the ability to mimic sounds, including human voices. They also produce a wide range of other vocalizations, including screams and whistles, that can be heard from long distances away. Blue-and-yellow Macaws are incredibly social animals-- they live in flocks that can number over 100 birds. Imagine seeing that many Macaws flying over your head!

Blue-and-yellow Macaws
Macaw pairs mate for life, which can be quite a long time. They reach sexual maturity around age 4, but can live as long as 60 years! Pairs will always stick close to one another within the flock, and when it comes time to breed they build a nest in a tree cavity. Mom does all the incubating, while dad brings her food. Sadly, though they lay 2-3 eggs, the parents will really only care for the strongest chick. This means that the siblings will most likely die before they are old enough to fledge.

Blue-and-yellow Macaws are kept as pets, but they are very demanding creatures to own. Their social nature, intelligence, size, and lifespan mean that only the most dedicated owners can keep them content. They need a great deal of socialization and space to fly in. Unhappy Macaws can become incredibly destructive to both themselves and their surroundings.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South America
Size : Length up to 34in (86cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Psittaciformes
Family : Psittacidae -- Genus : Ara -- Species : A. ararauna

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Pygora Goat

Pygora Doe
New breeds of domesticated animal are being created created all the time, and today's animal is one that is relatively recent. The Pygora Goat has only had an official association since 1987, and has been in existence only a few years longer than that. That makes them quite young for a breed, especially when compared to the Angora goats that they are derived from, which have existed for thousands of years.

Pygora Goats are a breed created from crossing small Pygmy Goats with the larger Angora Goats. They have the fine goats of the latter, with the compact size of the former. They were first bred by Katherine Jorgensen in Oregon, and the breed has since spread from there. A registered Pygora Goat cannot be more than 75% Angora or 75% Pygmy.

Three distinct fleece types come from the Pygora Goats-- a soft cashmere-like fleece (Type C), a longer, denser Mohair-like fleece (Type C), and a combination of the two (Type B). Fleeces of all types can be used for spinning and knitting, and they produce very soft, fine goods. Pygora Goats do also produce milk, up to a quart a day. 

Status : Domesticated
Location : Originated in the United States
Size : Weight up to 95lbs (43kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Capra -- Species : C. aegagrus -- Subspecies : C. a. hircus

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Blyth's Hawk-Eagle

Nisaetus alboniger
The Blyth's Hawk-Eagle is a really funky looking bird of prey, with a tall black crest and a black and white spotted breast. They are considered small for Eagles, but are medium-sized when compared to all birds of prey, sporting body lengths just short of 2ft. The common name for the bird comes from Edward Blyth, an English zoologist who was the curator of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.

You can find the Blyth's Hawk-Eagle in parts of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. They live inside and on the fringes of lowland and low mountain forests, living at altitudes of less than 1800m. They hunt from perches of a variety of heights, taking animals like small reptiles and bats.

When it comes to breeding, the Hawk-Eagles build very large, deep nests. So deep, in fact, that an adult bird can sit in the nest and not be seen from eye level! They lay only one egg at a time, but the exact incubation period and time to fledge is unknown.

Blyth's Hawk-Eagles, along with other members of their genus, used to be classified within Spizaetus, the group that New World Hawk-Eagles belong to. However, recent molecular studies have shown that the New World and Old World birds should belong to two different genera, and thus the Blyth's and their close relatives were all moved to Nisaetus.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Southeast Asia
Size : Length up to 21in (55cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Accipitriformes
Family : Accipitridae -- Genus : Nisaetus -- Species : N. alboniger

Monday, July 2, 2012


We've talked about Placoderms before on Animal A Day. Remember? Those armored Devonian fish with gigantic shearing teeth? Well, the now-extinct Placoderms weren't the only Devonian fish swimming around with armor. Cephalaspis did as well, partially as a defensive mechanism against the much larger Placoderms. Their name is actually Greek for "head shield," as they had very large, spade-shaped armored heads.

Cephalaspis is the genus name for four different species of ancient fish. They, along with dozens of other species, belonged to the Osteostraci class (making them Ostracoderms). All Ostracoderms had bony armor, but lacked jaws. They all went extinct at the end of the Devonian, around 360 million years ago.

Cephalaspis in particular only lasted till the early Devonian, around 400 million years ago, and all fossils have been found in what is now Western Europe. They ranged in size from a few inches, to about a foot. These fish were most likely fresh water bottom feeders, since their mouths were located on the bottom side of the head. They may have moved their large heads from side to side, stirring up debris and locating smaller animals to feed on.

Status : Extinct for 400 million years
Location : Western Europe
Size : Length up to 1ft (30cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Osteostraci -- Genus : Cephalaspis

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Snub-nosed Spiny Eel

Notocanthus chemnitzii
Today's critter, the Snub-nosed Spiny Eel is found in oceans all around the world... well, except for in tropical areas. They prefer colder waters, and are usually found at depths of more than 200m-- though individuals have been found as deep as 2,500m!

Snub-nosed Spiny Eels aren't actually true Eels at all. Though they share the same Class, they belong to two completely different Orders. All members of the Spiny Eel order are deep sea dwellers, and are not quite as long as true Eels are.

The Snub-nosed Spiny Eels are solitary fish, rather than schooling ones. They feed primarily on different Sea Anemones, and have compact, serrated teeth that allow them to get at their meals easier. Colors vary greatly within this species, and they range from shades of tan and brown all the way to slate grey.

We don't know very much about the population size of these deep sea fish, mostly because they live in such remote areas. They are not currently listed by the IUCN.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Oceans Worldwide
Size : Length up to 47in (1.2m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Notacanthiformes
Family : Notacanthidae -- Genus : Notacanthus -- Species : N. chemnitzii
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