Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Egyptian Plover

Egyptian Plover at the Milwaukee County Zoo
The Egyptian Plovers have long been one of my favorite birds at the Milwaukee Zoo, but before I got my new camera I could never get good shots of the enclosure. Well my photo drought has ended!

I'm drawn to this little bird by its small size and striking, contrasting colors. What a looker! This, and their nesting habit (which we will get to later) make them a very distinctive shorebird.

Egyptian Plovers can be found living near sandy riverbeds throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. They are sometimes called "Crocodiles Birds" due to a 5th century BCE account by Herodotus stating that they pick food from between a Crocodiles teeth. The story has persisted, but there is no actual proof that the birds engage in this risky feeding behavior.

In reality, Egyptian Plovers feed on insects, seeds, and the occasional mollusk. They tend to remain sedentary, and breeding pairs will aggressively defend their territory. These couples will produce 2-3 eggs at a time which they bury them in the sand! Burying the eggs helps to keep them warm, and also helps to protect them from the eyes of hungry predators. But sometimes the eggs get too hot, so in order to cool them down the parents will wet their feathers and use the water to chill the eggs. Baby Plovers leave their "nests" when they are only a day old, though they will stick around their parents for about a month.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Sub-Saharan Africa
Size : Length up to 8in (20cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Charadriiformes
Family : Pluvianidae -- Genus : Pluvianus -- Species : P. aegyptius

Monday, January 30, 2012

Morelet's Crocodile

Crocodylus moreletii
Allow me to introduce you to the Morelet's Crocodile, named for P.M.A. Morelet who discovered the species in 1850. This species, which lives in Central America, grows to lengths of up to 3m. They can be found in secluded freshwater swamps and marshes near the Gulf of Mexico.

Morelet's Crocodiles have been in trouble for a number of decades. They have been illegally hunted since the early 20th century because their skin can be used to make high quality leather. Habitat destruction has also hurt the species. Since the 1970s they have been monitored by the Crocodile Specialist Group, and their numbers have been improving.

Behavior wise, Morelet's Crocodiles are considered to be shy, which is why they prefer secluded habitats. They have the distinction of being the only New World Crocodile that they exclusively build mound nests for their eggs. These nests can be 3m wide and 1m tall, and the female will guard over their eggs until they hatch. She will then dig out her offspring and carry them to the water.

IUCN Status : Least Concern - Conservation Dependant
Location : Guatemala, Belize, Mexico
Size : Length up to 9.8ft (3m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Crocodilia
Family : Crocodylidae -- Genus : Crocodylus -- Species : C. moreletii

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Elegant Tern

Thalasseus elegans
Today's animal is a migratory bird with a long bill and a nifty black crest. Elegant Terns live off the Pacific North American coasts, hanging out at different latitudes during different points of the year. They are shore birds and are very rarely found inland.

Elegant Terns have a massive migration route, though it as not as long as that of their Arctic Tern cousins. They spend their summers breeding up near California and Mexico, and then winter as far south as Chile. Interestingly, it is estimated that 90%-97% of all Elegant Terns nest in one colony on Isla Rasa in the Gulf of California, Mexico!

Elegant Terns breed in monogamous pairs, and both parents help to incubate and feed the chicks. Chicks leave the nest after only a week, and they join a large colony, or creche, of similarly aged young birds. They will stay with the creche for a little over a month, and their parents will continue to feed them during that time. Once they fledge, they remain near their family for several more months.

Elegant Terns are carnivores that feed primarily on fish. They hunt by flying over the water, adn then diving down swiftly to snatch up a meal.

IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : Pacific Coasts
Size : Body length 16in (41cm), Wingspan 42in (107cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Charadriiformes
Family : Sternidae -- Genus : Thalasseus -- Species : T. elegans

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Pygmy Mammoth

When one thinks about Mammoths, they probably conjure up images of absolutely gigantic, hairy elephant-like mammals. The Pygmy Mammoths of the Channel Islands skew that image a bit- many were less than half the size of their mainland relatives!

At some point tens of thousands of years ago, a group of Columbian Mammoths made a six mile swim out to Santarosae, a "superisland" that existed when the ocean was 300 feet lower. Today only the very highest land points remain above water, and form four of California's Channel Islands.

Pygmy Mammoth Model from the Field Museum
Why did these 14ft tall, 20,000lb Mammoths swim so far? Perhaps they were allured by the smell of food! Mammoths, and modern Elephants, are excellent distance swimmers thanks to their trunks and buoyant bodies, so travelling a few miles for a buffet of fresh vegetation is a definite possibility!

Once on the island the Mammoths bred and the population grew. At the same time, the water levels rose, creating a larger gap between the island and mainland and trapping the Mammoths. As the number of animals rose, the amount of food fell. Having a smaller size (and thus requiring less sustenance)  became the favored trait, and the Columbian Mammoths evolved and diverged into a new species.

Pygmy Mammoths were comparable in size to our modern Clydesdale Horses. They rarely stood larger than 7ft and weighed around 2,000lbs. A very far cry from the species they evolved from!

Fossils have been discovered on four of the Channel Islands, with the first specimens uncovered in the 1870s. A near-complete skeleton was unearthed in 1994.

Radiocarbon dating has shown that Mammoths were living on the islands for over 40,000 years. However, the species went extinct around 11,000 years ago, which was around the same time that many of the mainland megafauna species were also dying out.

Status : Extinct for 11,000 years
Location : Channel Islands, California
Size : Height up to 7ft (2.1m), Weight up to 2,000lbs (910kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Proboscidea
Family : Elephantidae -- Genus : Mammuthus -- Species : M. exilis

Friday, January 27, 2012

Morganucodon

Morganucodon
Meet some of the very first mammal-like creatures, members of the genus Morganucodon. Fossils of these tiny rodent-resembling animals have been found across Europe, Asia, and North America.

Morganucodon is named for Glamorgan, Wales, where it was first discovered in 1941. The remains date back over 200 million years, to the late Triassic period! For some perspective, that is over 100 million years before T-Rex even showed up!

Members of the genus are so interesting because they have both mammalian and reptilian characteristics, though they are classified as mammals. They have hair and teeth like mammals, but their lower jaw is reptilian. They also laid eggs and had venomous spurred feet like modern Platypuses do! Morganucodon ate insects and was most likely nocturnal, based on the eye size.

Status : Extinct for 200 million years
Location : Europe, Asia, North America
Size : Body Length around 4in (10cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Morganucodonta
Family : Morganucodontidae -- Genus : Morganucodon

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dusky Dolphin

Lagenorhynchus obscurus
The Dusky Dolphin is a small little Cetacean that rarely grows longer than 2m. They can be found in coastal waters throughout the Southern Hemisphere, and are divided into three subspecies based on location. These groups live near New Zealand, in the Indian Ocean, and off of South America.

The species is known for its acrobatic skill and they are frequently seen leaping and jumping in groups. They are also very fond of boats, and like to swim and tumble alongside them. Dusky Dolphins are fast swimmers, and can reach speeds of up to 20 knots.

Dusky Dolphins live in interesting social groups. At night when they swim closer to shore their group is very small, numbering somewhere between 6 and 15 individuals. But during they day they swim to deeper water and join up with other groups in order to cooperatively hunt, play, and socialize. These gatherings can include several hundred dolphins. At night they break up again into their smaller sections.

The small social groups themselves seem to be strong, but there are no strong bonds between mated pairs. Dusky Dolphins are promiscuous breeders, and males compete with each other over females.

There are no good population estimates for the Dusky Dolphins. As a result, we don't know for sure how much hunting for food and bait, and gill-net tangling has affected their numbers.

IUCN Status : Data Deficient
Location : Coastal waters in the Southern Hemisphere
Size : Length around 6ft (1.8m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata --Class : Mammalia -- Order : Cetacea
Suborder : Odontoceti -- Family : Delphinidae -- Genus : Lagenorhynchus -- Species : L. obscurus

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Carolina Wren

The Carolina Wren is a stout little cinnamon colored bird that lives in the eastern parts of North America. They are year-round dwellers, but are sensitive to the cold. Because of this, their more northern populations tend to shrink after cold winters, though in recent decades the warmer winters have caused the species to spread north.

Thryothorus ludovicianus
Carolina Wrens are unique among Wrens in that only the male is a loud singer. They actually have one of the loudest songs, by size, of any bird, and it is often described as sounding like teakettle-teakettle-teakettle. One captive male Wren was such a prolific singer that he was recorded doing 3,000 songs in a single day!

Pairs will form at just about any time of the year, and they will remain monogamous, often for several years. The male and female will stake out a territory that they will nest and forage for food in. They will build nests just about anywhere, including in trees, in mailboxes, on stumps, and even in old boots! A pair will raise multiple broods in a single year, with the female incubating and the male bringing food.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Eastern North America
Size : Length around 7in (18cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Troglodytidae -- Genus : Thryothorus -- Species : T. ludovicianus

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lizard Buzzard

The Lizard Buzzard is a relatively small raptor that can be found in the tropical, open woodlands of Sub-Sahran Africa.

Kaupifalco monogrammicus
You can identify the Lizard Buzzard by its white chin, striped over with a vertical black line. They also sport black and white barred chest feathers, dark gray wings and back, and black tipped wings and tail feathers. Juveniles look a lot like their parents, but their feathers are tipped in brown rather than black.

As you may have guessed from the name, Lizard buzzards eat a lot of reptiles, though insects also make up a good portion of their diet. They even kill poisonous snakes, utilizing a quick strike to the head to kill. Lizard Buzzards typically hunt by waiting perfectly still on top of a high perch, swooping down to snatch their meal, and then bringing it back up to the perch to be consumed. The birds will occasionally hunt while in flight as well.

Lizard Buzzards are monogamous, and mates will find each other by making calls from their perches. Unlike many raptors, they do not perform aerial displays during courtship. Females do most of the incubating, while the males hunt. The normally quiet male Buzzards become very territorial and aggressive during nesting.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Africa
Size : Length around 14in (36cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Accipitriformes
Family : Accipitridae -- Genus : Kaupifalco -- Species : K. monogrammicus

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sambar

Rusa unicolor
Meet the Sambar, one of the most widely spread Deer species in the world... and also one of the most confusing. Sambar can be found throughout South and Southeast Asia, and they have been introduced into the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. However, they vary greatly in size depending on their specific location. This has led to a lot of taxonomic confusion, and currently you might see them refereed to as both Rusa unicolor and Cervus unicolor.

Sambar can grow to some pretty huge sizes. Males have been recorded at over 600lbs! (That is more than double the average weight of the American White-Tailed Deer, for reference) Their antlers can also grow up to a meter long!

Like many Deer, Sambar are crepuscular, meaning that they are most active during dawn and dusk. They are typically solitary, though sometimes small groups of females and their young will forage together. Males live alone, and form aggressively defended territories during the breeding season.

Sambar have adapted very well to different habitat types, and can be found in all types of forested areas, from the very wet to the very dry. The habitat variety has also allowed them to consumes many different types of vegetation. Unfortunately, their adaptability has not kept them off of the Red List. They are currently ranked under "Vulnerable," due to hunting and habitat loss through many countries in their large range.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : South and Southeast Asia
Size : Length around 80in (2m), Average weight up to 400lbs (180kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Cervidae -- Genus : Rusa -- Species : R. unicolor

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Staghorn Coral

Acropora cervicornis
Today we delve into the story of the Staghorn Coral, a really cool species that is very quickly going extinct.

Staghorn Corals are named for their deer antler-like shape, and their individual branches can grow up to 2m long. They are the fastest growing of all the western Atlantic Corals, capable of adding on another 4-8in each year. Staghorn Coral has a relationship with algae, and the Coral gets most of its food from the byproducts of the algaes' photosynthesis.

Unfortunately they are a species that does not handle change very well, and  even slight variations in temperature or water salinity can damage and even kill the polyps. Hurricanes, White Band Disease, Algae overgrowth, increased predation, and human interaction has caused a 98% population decline since 1980.

Staghorn Coral is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, and was placed on the United States Endangered Species List in 2006. Efforts are being made to revitalize the species, including retattaching broken branches, but the future of the Staghorn Coral is still very much in question. Not helping matters is the fact that the Coral primarily reproduces asexually. Fragments break off and then reattach elsewhere to create new Corals. While this works to repopulate after hurricanes and other natural events, it doesn't work well in cases of disease and bleaching. Lack of genetic diversity can hurt the revitalization of the species.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Caribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean
Size : Branches can grow up to 6.5ft (2m)
Classification : Phylum : Cnidaria -- Class : Anthozoa -- Order : Scleractinia
Family : Acroporidae -- Genus : Acropora -- Species : A. cervicornis

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Amphicoelias fragilis

We all know that the Blue Whale is the longest (and largest) living vertebrate. But is it the longest one to have ever lived? What about Dinosaurs? And what are "The Bone Wars?" Time for a story!

The year is 1877, the place- Colorado. Two paleontologists, Othniel C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, had been embroiled in a paleontological battle of one-up-manship for nearly a decade. These "Bone Wars" stem back to 1868 when Marsh publicly humiliated Cope for reconstructing an Elasmosaurus incorrectly. The battle then intensified when Marsh tossed scientific decorum to the wind and bribed excavators to exclusively send him fossils from a site in New Jersey.

These underhanded actions went on well into the 1890s, as both men resorted to theft, bribery, and destruction of property in attempts to come out on top. They also strove to ruin the other's credibility and get their funding cut off. In the end, both men were ruined financially, and gave American Paleontology some pretty bad PR in the eyes of their European counterparts.

Cope's A. fragilis vertebrae drawing
However, the competition was pretty good for discovery, as they did end up identifying almost 140 new species of Dinosaur in the process. (If you  had to pick a winner, it would probably be Marsh. In the end he simply had more money and was able to hire larger crews, thus enabling him to discover 80 new species, compared to Cope's 56) These two rivals were responsible for the discovery of some of the most famous Dinosaur types. Triceratops, Stegosaurus, and Diplodocus were all finds that can be attributed to the Bone Wars.

But.... they were also responsible for some pretty big screw ups. The whole Brontosaurus/Apatosaurus confusion? Marsh. And what about today's animal? Amphicoelias fragilis? That one is all Cope.

You see, back in 1877 there were some huge digs going on in the American west. Rich fossil sites with dozens of undiscovered species were being fought over by the two men. During this time an absolutely massive vertebrae was uncovered, measuring 5 feet by 9 feet. A creature would have had to measure nearly 200ft long in order to have a bone that size! That would make this Sauropod the longest vertebrate to have ever lived!

...But Cope screwed up somewhere. Because the bone was lost not long after it's uncovering. The only evidence we have are notes and drawings made by Cope. Did he exaggerate? Was there a clerical error? No one really knows, and so Amphicoelias fragilis remains an asterisk on the "Longest-Creatures" list, pending additional fossil evidence.

Status : Extinct
Location : United States
Size : Length up to 200ft? (61m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Saurischia
Superfamily : †Diplodocoidea -- Genus : †Amphicoelias -- Species : A fragilis

Friday, January 20, 2012

Crested Auklet

Aethia cristatella
Today, where I live, it is finally cold. I got out the winter coat for the very first time, which is a little shocking for a Wisconsin winter. Seriously, it was 50 degrees three days last week. Anyway, I'm in a frosty mood, with it being 3 degrees outside, so lets learn about an Arctic critter today!

The Crested Auklet is a small Arctic Seabird that nests in the Bering Sea and in the Sea of Okhotsk. They live in huge colonies on rocky coasts and islands, and they don't even build nests! The females just lay their single egg right there on the boulders!

Male and Female Crested Auklets looks the same, and are named for the fancy crest of feathers that forms during the breeding season. They feed primarily on Plankton, but will also feed on small fish on occasion. Crested Auklets are birds that are built for swimming, and their body position makes them pretty awkward on land. And don't confuse them with Antarctic Penguins! Crested Auklets can definitely fly!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Alaska and Russia
Size : Length up to 11in (27cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Charadriiformes
Family : Alcidae -- Genus : Aethia -- Species : A. cristatella

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Paedophryne amauensis

Have you ever wondered what the smallest vertebrate in the world is? Well today is your lucky day to find out! The honor goes to a tiny, itty bitty little frog found in Papua New Guinea, Paedophryne amauensis!

Paedophryne amauensis
So how small is this wee Amphibian? Well... that picture there should tip you off- it's sitting on a US dime! You're seeing it right; P. amauensis measures only around 8mm, which is less than half the diameter of the ten cent coin.

The species is a very newly discovered one; it was first spotted in 2009 and published about just this month. It's no wonder that the species was hard to spot, as they live on the rainforest floor and blend in with all of the substrate and foliage. They also make calls that sound more like those of an insect than a frog!

P. amauensis is helping scientists to understand the limits of vertebrate size. Because there are so many anatomical features involved in being a member of the Chordata phylum, there is a lot that needs to be stuffed into an extra-tiny package. The frog has adapted for its smallness by having shorter fingers and toes and a simplified skull. Their small amount of surface area also means that they need to live in very wet areas so that they don't dry out. But, just like bigger frogs, they slurp up insects... albeit very tiny ones.

There has already been some controversy about the "smallest vertebrate title," as Ichthyologists are claiming that the crown should really go to the males of a species of Anglerfish. They are only 5mm long, but are lacking some vital organs and essentially live as parasites off of the much larger females. Herpetologists are countering that they are looking at a species average size, which would place the Anglerfish out of the running.

IUCN Status : Not Evaluated
Location : Papua New Guinea
Size : Length .27in (7.7m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Amphibia -- Order : Anura
Family : Microhylidae -- Genus : Paedophryne -- Species : P. amauensis

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Brittlestar

Brittlestar
Invertebrates can be difficult to write about. There are literally hundreds of thousands of species! To compare, there are only 50,000 members in the Chordata phylum, but almost 1,000,000 Arthropods! And that doesn't include the Nematodes, Molluscs, Annelids, and the 30-somethings other Invertebrate phyla out there!

Unfortunately, even though there are way, way more invertebrates, it can be incredibly difficult to find exact information about a single species. To be fair, some are quite prolific- like the American Lobster, Black Widow, and Common Octopus. But other times it is difficult to say much about an entire family, much less a specific genus or species.

Such is the case today with the Brittlestar. There are close to 2,000 species within the Ophiurida order, and they can be found in oceans worldwide. Not only is their geographic range huge, but they also live in many different ocean environments, from shallow coasts to deep sea floors!

Brittlestars are named for their starfish-like bodies and long, stringy arms that break away easily when they are under attack. Don't worry, the arms grow back! They are also very fast movers, and tend to come in camouflaging colors. These are excellent traits to have when you have literally dozens, if not hundreds of predators.

Brittlestars, and many other invertebrates, are so interesting because they are so very different anatomically from more familiar critters. They don't have brains! Their mouth and anus are the same exact orifice! They sense light and smells through their feet! Some of them are even bioluminescent! Most species feed on floating debris that they grab using their arms and transport to their central organs, but some also make use their tooth-ringed mouth/anuses to feed on small animals.

Location : Worldwide
Size : Typical body diameter around 1in (2.5cm)
Classification : Phylum : Echinodermata -- Class : Ophiuroidea -- Order : Ophiurida

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

European Yellow-tailed Scorpion

Euscorpius flavicaudis
The European Yellow-tailed Scorpion is native to North Africa and Southern Europe. They have also been introduced to Great Britain and far off Uruguay. The colonies in the UK are the northernmost Scorpion colonies in the world!

This particular species is on the small side, as far as Scorpions go, though they are the largest in their genus. They typically top out at around 1.5in. They can be found in a whole mess of dry habitats, and are usually found living under stones and in various cracks and crevasses.

The Scorpions rarely leave their homes, but do so to mate during the summer months. Females will lay only one clutch each year, and will carry the juvenile scorpions on her back until they reach their first molt about a week after hatching. It will take two years for the young Scorpions to reach adulthood!

European Yellow-tailed Scorpions are ambush predators that patiently wait within their cracks, and then snatch up unsuspecting passerbys with their claws. They then consume their meals head first. Yum! Interestingly, they rarely use their stingers. Though they do have venom, it is weak and is not at all dangerous to healthy humans.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Europe, North Africa
Size : Length up to 1.7in (4.5cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Arachnida -- Order : Scorpiones
Family : Euscorpiidae -- Genus : Euscorpius -- Species : E. flavicaudis

Monday, January 16, 2012

Chinese Goral

Central Chinese Goral at the LA Zoo
While walking through the Los Angeles Zoo I was intrigued by the use of space. It's in a very hilly area, but instead of just having empty land, they used those slopes for the enclosures of animals that are right at home on them.

Such was the case with the Chinese Goral, a small goat-like antelope native to the steep, rocky areas of East Asia. Their typical elevation is 3,000-8,000ft, and they have been found in places much, much higher! Naturally, they are very swift and agile over this rough terrain, and are able to use their sure-footedness to escape from predators. As adults, Chinese Gorals have virtually no predators aside from humans.

Chinese Gorals live in small groups year round, and females give birth to one or two kids each May or June. Both the males and females have horns. When it comes to food, they are typically browsers, but they will also consume grasses and other plant materials that are available.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : East Asia
Size : Shoulder height up to 50in (130cm), Weight up to 93lbs (42kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Naemorhedus -- Species : N. griseus

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Giant Tiger Prawn

Penaeus monodon
Today we learn all about the Giant Tiger Prawn, one of the most widely distributed Shrimp in the world. They can be found throughout the coastal regions of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and have the potential to become a troublesome invasive species in the Gulf of Mexico.

Giant Tiger Prawns are members of the Shrimp Infraorder. Two major differences between Shrimp and Prawns are the number of claws (3 sets in Prawns, 2 in Shrimp) and the abdominal bend that exists in Shrimp but not in Prawns.

When you think of Shrimp, you don't usually imagine something very large. Jumbo Shrimp being an oxymoron and all that. But Giant Tiger Prawns can grow to be a foot long! Their large size has led them to be farmed for food in some areas.

In the past few months, a handful of Giant Tiger Prawns have been found in the Gulf of Mexico. Their large size and huge appetite could severely upset the balance in that ecosystem. No one is sure yet where the Prawns came from, or how much effect they could have, but they could be incredibly damage to to the native Crustacean populations.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Indian and Pacific Oceans
Size : Length up to 1ft (30cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Malacostraca -- Order : Decapoda
Family : Penaeidae -- Genus : Penaeus -- Species : P. monodon

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lesser Kudu

Male Lesser Kudu and Calf
at the San Diego Zoo
As you could probably guess, the Lesser Kudu is a smaller species of antelope when compared to the very large Greater Kudu. But like their larger relative, they too have striped bodies and large, spiraling horns that can grow up to 3ft long!

Lesser Kudu are most active during the nighttime hours, and they are relatively shy critters. When startled they give out a barking sound, and can bound away quickly if needed. They are very fast (unlike the slow Greater Kudu) and are also excellent jumpers. There have been reports of leaps as high as 2m!

Because of their shyness, Lesser Kudu are difficult to hunt, and so their population has remained relatively safe from hunting, though poaching does exist in some areas. Even more unfortunate is that the species was extremely susceptible to Rinderpest, a virus that spread across several ungulate species until the early 2000s. The population is currently rebounding, but is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN.

IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : East Africa
Size : Shoulder height up to 43in (1.1m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Ammelaphus -- Species : A. imberbis

Friday, January 13, 2012

African Openbill Stork

Anastomus lamelligerus at the San Diego Zoo
Meet yet another cool animal that I encountered on vacation... albeit one that has significantly less written about it.

This is the African Openbill Stork, a species that can be found throughout the wetlands of the Sub-Saharan Africa in resident populations.

Though the dude in my picture is playing with a dead mouse, these large birds most commonly feed on snails and various bivalves in the water. They have special beaks that let them sever the snail shell muscles to get to the meat. Other critters can take longer to kill.

African Openbill Storks live in colonies that are comprised of several dozen breeding pairs. These pairs are monogamous and share nest-building, incubating, and chick rearing duties.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Southern and Central Africa
Size : Length up to 3.2ft (1m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Ciconiiformes
Family : Ciconiidae -- Genus : Anastomus -- Species : A. lamelligerus

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sumatran Tiger

So to carry on with my unofficial theme of "cool animals I saw in California Zoos" we come to the Sumatran Tiger. This subspecies is found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and is the smallest of all the extant tigers. For a quick size comparison- the Siberian, or Amur Tiger, the largest of the subspecies, can weigh as much as 475lbs. The Sumatran only reaches around 260lbs.

Once upon a time there were two other subspecies that were closely related to the Sumatran Tiger- the Bali and Javan Tigers. Both went extinct during the 20th century, and the Sumatran Tiger could very well meet that same fate. They are listed as critically endangered, and there could be as few as 400 left in the wild.

It is now illegal to hunt the tigers, but poaching continues to be a major problem (hunting was the major contributor to the extinction of the other Indonesian subspecies). Tiger bones and other body parts are frequently found in countries that no longer have Tiger populations, as their is a high demand for those parts within traditional medicine. Unfortunately as the Tiger population drops, the supply cannot meet the demand and the black market prices grow higher and higher. This only continues to motivate poaching.

Thankfully there are a number of Sumatran Tigers in zoos worldwide, and captive breeding has proven sucessful in a number of locations. The Los Angeles Zoo, for example, had three cubs born this past fall (one has sadly passed away). Those cubs marked the third litter born at the zoo to mother "Lulu."

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Sumatra, Indonesia
Size : Length up to 8ft (2.5m), Weight up to 260lbs (118kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Felidae -- Genus : Panthera -- Species : P. tigris -- Subspecies : P. t. sumatrae

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Visayan Warty Pig

Visayan Warty Pig as the LA Zoo
One of my favorite things about going to new zoos is seeing incredible species that I never even new existed. One critter that I encountered at both the Los Angeles and San Diego zoos was the Visayan Warty Pig, one of the most endangered pigs int eh entire world.

The species was endemic to only six islands in the Philippines, and they are now extinct on four of those due to overhunting and habitat loss. When farming began to spread, the pigs were considered pests and were exterminated. Negros and Panay are now the only places were the Visayan Warty Pig can be found in the wild. Because they are so rare in the wild, and were only recognized as a species in the early 1990s, little is actually known about their behavior outside of captivity.

We do know that the species is social, and lives in small groups of around half a dozen members (sometimes more). The give birth during the dry season (January through March) and have an average of four piglets. They are herbivores that feed on fruits and roots.

Once the species was evaluated, emergency breeding programs were set up in a handful of zoos worldwide. Los Angeles, San Diego, St. Louis, and Oregon are some of the locations in the United States that are working to preserve this species that has lost 95% of its wild population.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Philippines
Size : Body Length up to 4ft (1.2m), Weight up to 88lbs (40kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Suidae -- Genus : Sus -- Species : S. cebifrons

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Cowboy Beetle

Chondropyga dorsalis
Meet Chondropyga dorsalis, often referred to as the Cowboy Beetle. They can be found in southwestern Australia, inhabiting mostly forested areas and residential gardens. They are not considered to be a pest, even though they can spend their entire lives in one backyard.

As larvae, the Cowboy Beetles feast on rotting things, like dead wood and compost. Their eggs are actually laid in the rotting logs so that when the larvae hatch they have something to eat right away. Then then use that same material to construct their pupae.

As adults, Cowboy Beetles have a taste for food that is a bit more palatable to us non-rotten-debris eaters. They feed on the nectar of various flower species, and they use their newly acquired wings to move from different shrubs and bushes.

Their gold and black coloration actually helps them to avoid predators. When in flight they resemble the far more dangerous Wasp!

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Australia
Size : Length up to 1in (2.5cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Coleoptera
Family : Scarabaeidae -- Genus : Chondropyga -- Species : C. dorsalis

Monday, January 9, 2012

Antique Bison

Bison antiquus fossil at the Page Museum
Meet the ancestor of the modern North American Bison- the Antique or Ancient Bison. These huge herbivores were some of the most common mammals found on the continent during the end of the last Ice Age.

Antique Bison themselves most likely evolved from the Eurasian Steppe Bison that had crossed over to North America through the Bering Land Bridge. The species then spread across the entire continent, and could be found from Canada to Mexico, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific, though they were most abundant in the American Southwest.

American Bison and Antique Bison share some differences. The Antique Bison had a larger body size overall, and was about 1/3 larger than its descendant. They also had much large shoulder humps, and longer horns.

Antique Bison went extinct around 10,000 years ago. The spread of the modern Bison most like contributed to their decline. Fossils have been found at numerous sites, sometimes with as many as 200 individuals at one location. This suggests that they were hunted in large numbers, which may have also been a cause of their extinction.

Status : Extinct for 10,000 years
Location : North America
Size : Shoulder height 7ft (2.1m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Bison -- Species : B. antiquus

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Wampoo Fruit Dove


While trekking through the Aviaries of the San Diego Zoo I came across several species of brightly colored Dove, including many beautiful examples of today's animal, the Wampoo Fruit Dove. (The name comes from the call that they make!)

These birds are the largest Fruit Doves found in New Guinea and Australia, and they measure up to 18in in length. Both males and females sport green and purple plumage, while juveniles are more dull in color.

As you may have already guessed, Wampoo Fruit Doves feed on fruit. They aren't especially picky either; they feed on whichever fruits are available in their geographic area at that time of the year. The Doves can even swallow large fruits whole! They live in flocks that rarely travel far from a specific range.


IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Australia and New Guinea
Size : Body length up to 18in (45cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Columbiformes
Family : Columbidae -- Genus : Ptilinopus -- Species : P. magnificus

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Corsac Fox

Vulpes corsac
How can you not love the face on this guy? It just looks so... devious.

Anyway. This is the Corsac Fox, a member of the Vulpes genus that can be found throughout the steppes of Central Asia.  There are three recognized subspecies that are distributed across the continent.

Corsac Foxes live in the arid steppes,  which are dry grasslands that don't contain an overabundance of water. In order to survive, the foxes have adapted to the point that they don't need to drink actual water, they ingest it all from the food they eat! These foxes eat all sorts of small mammals, including wild gerbils and hamsters. They also eat insects and carrion.

The mating season in spring is pretty interesting for Corsac Foxes. Males fight each other for females, but then instead of mating and leaving, they actually stick around and form a monogamous bond with the female. The two parents help to raise their litter, which can number as many as 11 kits at one time! During the winter months the foxes often hunt in groups with their now grown-up children.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Central Asia
Size : Body length up to 2ft (63cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Canidae -- Genus : Vulpes -- Species : V. corsac

Friday, January 6, 2012

Ribbon-tailed Astrapia

Astrapia mayeri (male)
Though it does not bear the name, the Ribbon-tailed Astrapia is in fact a Bird-of-Paradise. They are endemic to a small range in central Papua New Guinea, where they are luckily still common due to their remote environment.

As with all Birds-of-Paradise, the Ribbon-tailed Astrapia is more spectacular looking in its male form. They have iridescent green, blue, and bronze plumage around their heads, and shiny black bodies. When full grown they sport the longest tail feathers (in comparison to body size) of any bird. Though their body length is only about one foot, their long white tail can grow to three or four feet!

Females are a duller brownish-black, and do not have a fancy tail. But then again, they don't need such flashy displays to mate. The males compete in a lek system, and jump from branch to branch flaunting their plumage. Females select who they want to breed with, and after doing the deed they go off to nest and incubate alone (where the camouflaging brown certainly comes in handy!)

Though they are common in their range, the fact that the range is so tiny has caused the bird to be listed as near Threatened. Interestingly, they share their little patch of land with another species, the Princess Stephanie's Astrapia, and the two are known to mate and produce hybrids. The genus name Astrapia is Greek for "flashing" which is very appropriate for a group of wonderfully plumed little show offs!

IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : Papua New Guinea
Size : Body length up to 1ft (32cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Paradisaeidae -- Genus : Astrapia -- Species : A. mayeri

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Milkfish

Chanos chanos
Meet the Milkfish, an interesting creature that can be found off of the coasts and in the reefs of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They are also a national symbol in the Philippines.

What makes the Milkfish so interesting? Well, for one, they are the only living member of their entire family, and are one of only a few species living within their entire order that dates back to the Cretaceous! Secondly, they have no teeth. Despite the fact that they can grow to lengths of up to 5ft, they feed only on algae and very small invertebrates.

Milkfish are referred to as Bangus in the Philippines, and the farming of these fish has been an industry there for around six hundred years! China, Taiwan, and Indonesia have also been commercially raising the fish for centuries, and each country has it's own method for handling the nurseries, the raising of the fish, and the harvesting.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Indian and Pacific Oceams
Size : Length up to 5ft (1.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Gonorynchiformes
Family : Chanidae -- Genus : Chanos -- Species : C. chanos

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Javan Myna

Acridotheres javanicus
I spent all day yesterday at the San Diego Zoo and hung out in the various aviaries for quite a while. My favorite was the one that featured the birds of South East Asia- those Bali Mynas just seemed to pose so perfectly! But alas, I've written about the Bali Myna before, so lets learn today about one of their genus sharing cousins, the Javan Myna.

Where the Bali is white, the Javan is black. They have specks of white on their tails and wings, and sport bright yellow eyes and beaks. They are found throughout South East Asia, either as a native or an invasive species, depending on the area. Javan Mynas are very adaptable birds; they live in a variety of habitats and feed on many different types of food.

Javan Mynas live in large flocks, and are actually able to mimic the calls of other birds. Alas, while some Mynas are able to mimic humans, this particular species cannot.

Javan Mynas are incredibly common birds throughout their range, and so they are not in any conservation-related danger. In fact, they might be causing some issues with other bird populations, as they are an invasive species. Their adaptability has allowed them to successfully spread into urban areas, and did you know that they are the most populous bird in the small nation of Singapore?

IUCN Status : Data Deficient
Location : Southeast Asia
Size : Length up to 10in (25cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Sturnidae -- Genus : Acridotheres -- Species : A. javanicus

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Great Blue Turaco

Corythaeola cristata
Allow me to introduce you to the Great Blue Turaco, the largest of all the Turacos. This particular species can be found throughout central Africa, living within small groups in forested areas with elevations below around 2,700 ft. An interesting fact is that they are excellent climbers, but are poor when it comes to flying.

Oftentimes when you see a colorful bird such as this one, you assume that only the males have such excellent, vibrant plumage. Not so with this Turaco! Both the males and the females of the species are bright blue with yellow and red beaks.

Great Blue Turacos feed primarily on different types of fruit, but they occasionally munch on small invertebrates as well.

The species is currently listed as being of Least Concern due to their massive Sub-Saharan range.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Africa
Size : Length up to 30in (76cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Cuculiformes
Family : Musophagidae -- Genus : Corythaeola -- Species : C. cristata

Monday, January 2, 2012

Blue Duiker

Philantomba monticola
The Blue Duiker is a small little antelope found in the rainforests of Central and Southern Africa. They are named for the slight blue tint to their coat, and are one of the smallest antelopes in the world!

Blue Duikers often live in with a mate and they patrol and guard their own little stretch of land. They are very territorial, and will frequently leave dung piles and scent marks to designate their area. They won't even tolerate their own offspring within the territory once they are older than 18 months! (Young Duikers are weaned at around 5 months, but will remain with their parents until reaching sexual maturity)

Blue Duikers are a very, very common species. In some parts of their range there may be as many as 78 per square kilometer! They have adapted well to human settlement, and are often hunted for meat, though their population remains stable.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South and Central Africa
Size : Height up to 14in (35cm), Weight up to 9lbs (4kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Philantomba -- Species : P. monticola

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Lion's Mane Jellyfish

Cyanea capillata
Way back in 1870, a Lion's Mane Jellyfish washed ashore in Massachusetts Bay. Jellyfish wash up all the time, but this one was special... this one has a bell that was 7'6" in diameter and tentacles that were nearly 120 ft long! That means that the Lion's Mane Jellyfish might just be the longest animal alive!

The Lion's Mane Jellyfish doesn't always grow that large. In fact, most of the time their bell is only around a few feet wide, and those that live in the warmer waters max out around a foot and a half. Basically, the colder the water the larger they grow! The species is rarely found at latitudes lower than 42 degrees, and are nonexistent in the Southern Hemisphere.

All Lion's Manes, regardless of size, have tentacles that are clustered into eight segments. There are at least 65 tentacles per segment, though there can be as many as 150, and these tentacles can grow over 100ft long!

If you touch the tentacle of a Lion's Mane Jellyfish, you will probably get stung.. which results in blistering, irritation, and muscle cramps. Stings are not thought to be fatal to humans.

IUCN Status : Not Evaluated
Location : High latitude oceans
Size : Bell Diameter up to 8.2ft (2.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Cnidaria -- Class : Scyphozoa -- Order : Semaeostomeae
Family : Cyaneidae -- Genus : Cyanea -- Species : C. capillata
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...