Wednesday, February 29, 2012

African Bullfrog

Pyxicephalus adspersus
Happy Leap Day! To celebrate, let's learn about one of my favorite "leapers," the monstrous and voracious African Bullfrog!

These frogs are some of the largest in the world, with some males weighing up to 4.5lbs! Males are larger than females, a trait that is not especially common among frogs (females are often larger). Regardless of sex, African Bullfrogs have broad bodies, short snouts, and a dull green coloration. They also have teeth in their lower jaw!

African Bullfrogs are very, very aggressive, especially when it comes time to mate. Males can get incredibly territorial, both before and after mating. Once the females lay their eggs (up to 4,000 of them!) the males stick around to guard them, fighting off any attackers. Unfortunately, the mortality rate for the young frogs is very high. Only 20% of all females will reach adulthood.

I mentioned earlier that African Bullfrogs are voracious. They will eat just about anything that they can fit in their mouth, from small insects, to mice, to birds, and even other frogs! They use those lower jaw teeth to grab on to struggling prey.

One final fact that I found really interesting is that African Bullfrogs hibernate.... but not in the way one normally thinks of. Instead of hibernating during the cold winters, they hibernate during the hot, dry summers. They burrow deep down into the soil and then develop a watertight cocoon made from dead skin. This enables them to retain fluids and not dry out during this troublesome season.



IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Africa
Size : Length up to 9.5in (24cm), Weight up to 4.5lbs (2kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Amphibia -- Order : Anura
Family : Ranidae -- Genus : Pyxicephalus -- Species : P. adspersus

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Elephant Shark

Callorhinchus milii
The Elephant Shark goes by many, many names. Ghost Shark, Whitefish, Elephant Fish, and Silver Trumpeter are all names given to Callorhinchus milii, a cartilaginous fish that is a member of the Chimaera subclass. Despite the name they are not Sharks. Sharks, Skates, and Rays are their distant cousins, and they share an overall Class.

Elephant Sharks cane be found in the continental shelf waters off of Australia and New Zealand. They don't tend to go much deeper than 200m, and they actually move very close to shore for reproductive purposes. They lay egg cases in the substrate of shallow water, and when the eggs hatch after 8 months, the young Sharks  will live  in the shallow areas until they grow larger.

Now, you may be wondering what they weird nose-thing is. That protrusion is actually covered in sensory pores that the Elephant Sharks use to locate food. They can detect the small movements and electrical fields that come from the shellfish and mollusks that they eat.

Elephant Sharks have been commercially and recreationally fished in Australia and New Zealand for a number of years. The population is stable, and the species is listed as being of Least Concern.

One final fact about the Elephant Shark is that its genome is currently being sequenced. It has the smallest genome of any of the cartilaginous fishes, which makes it an ideal candidate. Cartilaginous fishes are some of the oldest jawed vertebrates, so understanding their genome gives us a better look at vertebrate evolution.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Australia and New Zealand
Size : Length up to 47in (1.2m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Chondrichthyes -- Order : Chimaeriformes
Family : Callorhinchidae -- Genus : Callorhinchus -- Species : C. milii

Monday, February 27, 2012

Least Weasel

Mustela nivalis
The Least Weasel has a very appropriate name- they are the smallest member of the entire Carnivora order! Though their size is small, their home range is not. These little Mustelids live in Europe, North America, North Africa, and Asia. They have also been introduced to several other locations as well.

Least Weasels feed on other small mammals, and on rare occasion also hunt birds and amphibians. While their prey is usually smaller, like a mouse or gerbil, they have been known to take down much larger animals like adult rabbits.

Like a handful of other Mustelids, the Least Weasels change color depending on the time of year. In winter their coats are dense and white, while in summer the hair is more coarse and brown.

The breeding season of the Least Weasel is completely dependent on their prey. If the rodent populations are high they might breed a few times a year. But if the populations are low, there may only be one litter. The young  Weasels can be born in litters of up to ten, and they grow very fast. A Least Weasel reaches sexual maturity when they are 3-4 months old.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Europe, Asia, North Africa, North America
Size : Length up to 10in (25cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Mustelidae --  Genus : Mustela -- Species : M. nivalis

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Yellow-billed Kingfisher

Syma torotoro
Yellow-billed Kingfishers are medium-sized members of their family, and have a very distinctive yellow coloration that gives them their name. Their heads and bills are a very bright yellow, while the rest of their bodies are blue (on the backs) and white (on the undersides).

Yellow-bellied Kingfishers live in New Guinea and in the northern, rainforested areas of Australia. They are solitary and live on the lower trees and mangroves.

Despite the name, Yellow-bellied Kingfishers don't fish! They actually feed on insects and small reptiles. Other species of Kingfisher actually consume fish, but this one (and a few others) have branched out to other meals.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Australia, New Guinea
Size : Body Length 8in(20cm), Wingspan 16in (40cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Coraciiformes
Family : Halcyonidae -- Genus : Syma -- Species : S. torotoro

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Brookesia micra

Juvenile Brookesia micra
While we're on the topic of animals in the news, lets discuss the discovery of the world's smallest chameleon. Scientists recently identified four new members of the Brookesia genus in Madagascar. They were all first spotted between 2003 and 2007. All of them are very small, but B. micra takes the cake.

As adults, these mini Chameleons measure only an inch from snout to tail. And as you can see from that picture, the juveniles are much smaller than that!

Brookesia micra has only been found on the island of Nosy Hara. The small size of the island most likely contributed to the minute size of the animal. Many island species exhibit dwarfism due to limited space and resources.

Because the species is still very new to science, we don't know a whole lot about them. We're not even sure how threatened they are. Habitat loss is typically a big deal for island animals, but the small size of these Chameleon may mean that they are able to live in areas that are inaccessible to humans.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Madagascar
Size : Total Length up to 1.2in (3cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Chamaeleonidae -- Genus : Brookesia -- Species : B. micra

Friday, February 24, 2012

Shepherd's Beaked Whale

Tasmacetus shepherdi
The Cetacean World is all abuzz this week! The Shepherd's Beaked Whale, a very rare and elusive species, has just been photographed alive for the first time ever. This is all thanks to the Australian Antarctic Division research team, who stumbled across some of the surfacing whales while hunting for their much larger, Blue Whale cousins.

This species lives in deep waters near New Zealand and Australia; their distance from shore is one of the reasons that they are so rarely seen. The Beaked Whales were first discovered in 1937, but have only been seen alive a scant handful of times. Most of what we know about the species comes from beached carcasses.

One of the most exciting things about the filming is that we now know that they are social animals. It was speculated that they were solitary, or lived in very tiny groups. This time the researchers discovered a pod of 10-12 individuals!

Understandably, not much else is known about the Shepherd's Beaked Whale, though the research time hope to publish more about their findings in the future.

IUCN Status : Data Deficient
Location : Australia and New Zealand
Size : Length up to 20ft (7m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Cetacea
Family : Ziphiidae -- Genus : Tasmacetus -- Species : T. shepherdi

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Australian Sea Lion

Neophoca cinerea
The Australian Sea Lion is a sedentary Pinniped found off of the southern and western coasts of Australia. They breed on beaches and offshore islands, and rarely stray far from the area in which they were born. Australian Sea Lions are the only species within their genus, and they are also one of the most endangered Pinnipeds in the world.

Back in the 18th century, when Australia was first colonized by Europeans, the Sea Lions were hunted extensively for their hides and oil. The population plummeted and didn't receive any national protection until the 1970s. There are now around 14,000 individuals left, but habitat interference and fishing net entanglement continue to be threats.

Luckily, many of the breeding beaches are receiving protection, and the breeding cycle for the Australian Sea Lion is a rather interesting one. The season lasts for about 5 months, but because the males are unable to continuously protect their harems, they only come ashore for 4 weeks at a time. When they are with the females, the males are incredibly aggressive toward other males, and they will sometimes kill young pups that are not their own.

Females are pregnant for almost 18 months, and will breed again almost immediately after giving birth. However, there is some debate over how long the true gestation period actually is. It is generally agreed that there is delayed implantation, but the length of the delay is unknown. Periods of 3 months, 6 months, and even 10 months have been suggested.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Southern Australia
Size : Body Length up to 8ft (2.5m), Weight up to 660lbs (300kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Suborder : Pinnipedia -- Family : Otariidae -- Genus : Neophoca -- Species : N. cinerea

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Redwing

Turdus iliacus
The Redwing is a member of the Thrush family that can be found living in various parts of Europe and Asia during the year. They are a migratory species, spending their summers in northern areas like Scotland, Scandinavia, and Iceland, and their winters in Southern and Central Europe, Northern Africa, and Central Asia. Some populations have even made their way to Greenland and North America.

The Redwing is rather obviously named for its reddish-brown wings and sides. The rest of the body is brown and buff, with streaking underneath. A pale line above the eye also helps the identify the species. The males and females look the same, and juveniles also look similar, but have more spots and less red.

The species is omnivorous, feeding on invertebrates in the summer and on seeds and nuts in the winter. The Redwings typically breed between April and July, and pairs usually are solitary. Up to six eggs are laid at once, and they hatch after two weeks. The chicks grow very fast, fledging after 15 days, and leaving their parents entirely when they are about a month old.

If you couldn't tell from the description of their location up above, the Redwing is incredibly widespread. Their overall range measures several million square miles, and the total population is somewhere around 63,000,000 birds! Needless to say they are listed as being of Least Concern.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Europe and Asia
Size : Body Length up to 9.5in (24cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Turdidae -- Genus : Turdus -- Species : T. iliacus

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bailey's Snake

Thermophis baileyi
Yesterday we learned about a Monkey that lives at a higher altitude than just about any other primate species. Today we'll talk about a snake that has that same distinction within its own family (what can I say, I got really inspired by an episode of Nature.)

Bailey's Snake is a species that is only found around the Chutsen Chugang Hot Spring in Tibet, though they may also be present by a few other nearby springs. The altitude of this area is around 14,300ft (4350m). They live higher up than any other snake species on the planet!

These snakes can be identified by their small size (they only grow to about 2.5ft), olive coloration, a dark stripe down the back, and a lighter underbelly.

Not much is known about the Bailey's Snake, even though they were first discovered and identified in 1907. The species is considered to be Vulnerable. Their home range is very small which makes them susceptible to population decline should anything happen to that area.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Tibet
Size : Body Length up to 30in (76cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Colubridae -- Genus : Thermophis -- Species : T. baileyi

Monday, February 20, 2012

Golden Snub-nosed Monkey

Rhinopithecus roxellana
The Golden Snub-nosed Monkey is found only in a small, temperate, mountainous section of central China. They live at altitudes as high as 10,800ft, and can withstand cold temperatures better than just about any other primate species. Their snub-nose is actually a trait to help them deal with the cold; a longer nose would be more susceptible to frostbite!

Golden Snub-nosed Monkeys spend a majority of their time up in the trees. Their diet consists primarily of Lichens, but they'll also eat leaves, fruits, and seeds as well.

The species is highly social. During the summer they may come together in troops that number into the hundreds. During the winter the groups are much smaller, but still number 20-30 individuals. Within these bands are smaller family units that consist of a dominant male and a handful of females and their offspring. It is actually the females that initiate mating; the let the male know that they are ready with postures and signals. Usually only one infant is born after a gestation of 6 months, but twins sometimes occur.

Golden Snub-nosed monkeys, along with the other species of Snub-nosed Monkey, are endangered. This is because of habitat loss, and because of the practice of clearing dead trees. Lichens grow much better on dead trees, so the removal of this food source has a big impact on the Monkeys.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : China
Size : Body Length up to 30in (76cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Primates
Family : Cercopithecidae -- Genus : Rhinopithecus -- Species : R. roxellana

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lesser Antillean Iguana

Iguana delicatissima
Meet the Lesser Antillean Iguana, one of the two members of the Iguana genus, and a resident of the Carribbean Lesser Antilles Islands.

Males of the species have a very interesting anatomical trait- they change color when it comes time to breed! They are typically more green in color, but when the time comes to mate their bodies goes gray, their jaws go pink, and the tops of their heads turn blue!

During the breeding season the dominant males will defends territories that contain up to half a dozen females. Reproduction coincides with the growth of vegetation during the wet season. This allows the new little hatchlings to have plenty of food right off the bat.

The Lesser Antillean Iguana was once found throughout the island chain, but they are now confined to only a few locations. Habitat loss, fragmentation, and hunting by both humans and introduced predators all played big parts in the population decline. Another factor was inbreeding; non-native Green Iguanas were introduced to the area and began to reproduce with the endemic species. The Lesser Antillean Iguanas are now illegal to hunt, but feral predators and hybridization still pose threats. There have been efforts to breed the species in captivity, but success has been extremely limited. The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust is the only location to produce fertile eggs.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Lesser Antilles
Size : Body Length up to 16in (40cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Sauropsida -- Order : Squamata
Family : Iguanidae -- Genus : Iguana -- Species : I. delicatissima

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Red-crowned Crane

Grus japonensis
The Red-crowned Crane is a large species of bird that can be found in the rivers and marshes of East Asia. They are the heaviest of the Crane species, and are also the most aquatic; they live, breed, nest, and feed there. The Crane's diet consists of fish, insects, amphibians, and a wide variety of reeds and aquatic grasses.

Red-crowned Cranes are also sometimes referred to as Japanese or Manchurian Cranes. They are symbols of peace, long life, and fidelity in their native countries, and have long been represented in folklore and art. These birds are popular icons in Japanese wedding ceremonies, as the Cranes form lifelong monogamous pairs that frequently dance and sing to one another. They were also designated as one of Japan's National Animals in 1952.

Despite the reverence and persistence in culture and folklore, the Red-crowned Crane almost went extinct during the 20th century. Hunting, habitat loss, and devastation caused by World War II reduced the Japanese population down to only a handful of birds, and similar threats damaged populations elsewhere.

The species is now protected in Japan, South Korea, North Korea, and Russia. Other conservation efforts include the creation of supplemental feeding stations and the installation of bird-visible power lines. The population is rebounding, but wetland drainage and development continue to pose threats. Interestingly, the Demilitarized Zone has become a popular spot for these birds, but the fragile political nature of that area could cause the birds to lose this now human-free habitat.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : East Asia
Size : Height up to 62in (1.6m), Weight up to 22lbs (10kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Gruiformes
Family : Gruidae -- Genus : Grus -- Species : G. japonensis

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pekingese


Malachy the Pekingese
The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show took place earlier this week, and they crowned a tiny ball of fur named Malachy as the Best in Show. The toy breed, known as a Pekingese, is one of the oldest breeds of dog out there! (And no, they don't always have fur that crazy!)

The Pekingese originated in China some 2,000 years ago, and their name derives from the former name of Beijing, Peking. Their flat face gives them a strong resemblance to the Guardian Lions, and they are considered to be one of the "Foo Dogs," along with breeds such as the Chow Chow and Shar Pei.

Early 20th Century Pekingese
Pekingese were kept exclusively by members of the Chinese nobility for hundreds and hundreds of years. Stealing one was actually a crime punishable by death! The first of the dogs to leave China didn't do so until 1860, when British troops occupied the Forbidden City during the Opium Wars. Five Pekingese were found within the palace, and were sent back to England to live with members of the British aristocracy. One of the five even went to Queen Victoria. Additional Pekingese left China as gifts from the Dowager Empress Cixi during the end of the 19th century. Famous recipients of these dogs include J.P. Morgan and Alice Roosevelt, daughter of Theodore Roosevelt.

The breed was recognized by the AKC in 1906, and was placed within the Toy Group. Pekingese are described as being brave, intelligent, and independent dogs, but they can be difficult to housebreak. Not every Pekingese has that long, perfectly placed coat. That hairstyle is the one favored for confirmation; many house pets have shorter, spaniel-like coats. Regardless of length, the Pekingese has a double coat and will need to be brushed frequently.

And to wrap today's article up, check out this Slideshow of the Westminster Winner. It reminds me that under all that fur and impeccable grooming, a champion show dog is just like any other puppy happy to get a treat.

Status : Domesticated
Location : China
Size : Height up to 9in (22cm), Weight must be under 14lbs (6.3kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Canidae -- Genus : Canis -- Species : C. lupus -- Subspecies : C. l. familiaris

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cobb's Wren

Troglodytes cobbi
The Cobb's Wren is a small, mousy brown bird endemic to the Falkland Islands. They tend to live near shorelines and feed on the invertebrates that live among the beach grasses and kelp. Their coloration and ground-dwelling nature makes them hard to spot, but they love to sing. You will most likely hear them before you see them.

Cobb's Wrens are one of the many, many species of island bird that is suffering from the introduction of non-native species. These little Wrens adapted to lives nesting in long, dense tussac grasses and ground crevasses. This allowed them, and their eggs, to remain safe from the avian predators that they share their home with.

...But then the people showed up on the Falkland Islands and they brought rats and cats with them on the ships. These new predators were easily able to hunt down the docile birds and their ground-laid eggs.

Cobb's Wrens are now completely extinct on the two largest islands in the Falkland chain, and are restricted to a couple of small, rat and cat free islands. Rat eradication has been ongoing for the past decade, with success on several of the islands. Population surveys are also ongoing, and their are hopes that the rat removal will encourage the Wrens to recolonize.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Falkland Islands
Size : Length up to 5in (13cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Troglodytidae -- Genus : Troglodytes -- Species : T. cobbi

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ornithomimus

Ornithomimus
Ornithomimus means "bird mimic," and what an appropriate name that is! This genus of Cretaceous Dinosaur had long slender legs, a log neck, and a toothless beak. Think of it as an ancient Ostrich- they had similar omnivorous diets, similar body-types, and could even run at comparable speeds. They may have also been covered with feathers, but the evidence doesn't prove anything 100%.

The fist Ornithomimus fossils were uncovered in Colorado back in 1889. Who found them? Why none other than one of our Bone Wars buddies, Othniel C. Marsh! He named the genus in 1890, and since then more fossils have been located in other spots of North America, as well as in Mongolia.

Ornithomimus fed on plants, fruits, seeds, and small creatures like insects and tiny mammals. They had no teeth and very small heads so it is unlikely that they ate anything very large. Even though their heads were small, they had large brain cases. This suggests either a greater level of intelligence, or a larger brain devoted to movement and kinesthetic pursuits.

Status : Extinct for 65 million years
Location : North America, Mongolia
Size : Height up to 8ft (2.4m), length up to 20ft (6m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Superorder : Dinosauria
Order : Saurischia -- Family : †Ornithomimidae -- Genus : †Ornithomimus

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pudu

Pudu puda
There are two species of Pudu in the world, the Northern and the Southern. Both are found in South America, appropriately hanging out int he northern and southern stretches of the Andes, respectively. They also (in my opinion) have some of the cutest babies in the entire animal kingdom. Just watch the video if you don't believe me.

The Northern Pudu is the smallest species of deer in the entire world, and the Southern is only a hair bit larger. They have stocky bodies and skinny little legs, and the main difference between males and females is the presence of antlers in the former.

Not much is known about Pudu behavior in the wild because they are both solitary and secretive. They come together only during rut, and the female gives birth to a single fawn that she raises alone. Fawns wean after 2 months, are full grown by 3, and are sexually mature by 8. However, they often stay with their mothers for 8-12 months before leaving and becoming fully independent.

Pudu are active during both the night and day time, and they forage for food along a network of trails and pathways that they create through frequent use. They mark these territories using scent glands. Sometimes Pudu are simply too small to reach their meals, forcing them to stand up on their hind legs to feed.

Both species of Pudu are listed as Vulnerable. This is due to hunting and habitat loss. Captive breeding programs have been set up, and there plans to reintroduce them to the wild.




IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : South America
Size : Height up to 18in (45cm), Weight up to 30lbs (13.5kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Cervidae -- Genus : Pudu -- Species : P. puda, P. mephistophiles

Monday, February 13, 2012

Volcano Rabbit

Romerolagus diazi
The Volcano Rabbit is the second smallest Rabbit in the entire world (after the very appropriately named Pygmy Rabbit). They have short ears, short legs, and a coat that allows them to easily blend in with the soil in their home range. They live in a very, very small range in Mexico and are currently listed as Endangered.

Surprise surprise, Volcano Rabbits live on the slopes of Volcanos! The Pelado, Iztacc√≠huatl, Tlaloc, and Popocatepetl volcano slopes are where they make their homes (all of these volcanoes are now extinct). They live in burrows that can stretch up to 16ft long, and live in small social groups led by a dominant breeding pair.

Volcano Rabbits have the interesting distinction of being the only member of their family to make vocalizations. They make quiet squeaks and high pitched barks that are similar to those made by Pikas.

The species is listed as endangered because habitat loss and hunting have drastically reduced their population and their home range. An action plan is currently in place by the IUCN, and captive breeding colonies have been set up in a number of zoos.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Mexico
Size : Body Length up to 10in (25cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Lagomorpha
Family : Leporidae -- Genus : Romerolagus -- Species : R. diazi

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Stingless Bee

Trigona carbonaria
Did you know that there are Stingless Bees out there? How awesome! Bee stings stink! ...Though the name is a little bit misleading, as these 500 or so species are not the only bees out there with reduced stingers.

Stingless Bees can be found in Tropical and Subtropical regions around the world, like in Australia, Africa, and Southeast Asia. They belong to the Tribe Meliponini, and are active year round due to their warm environment.

Stingless bees actually do have stingers, but they are reduced to the point that they can't really be used effectively for defense.

Even though they lack stingers, these Bees still are able to perform the same pollinating and honey producing functions as their stinging cousins. They also have the benefit of not being susceptible to many of the parasites and diseases that stinging bees have. And did you know that Mayans kept Stingless Bees for honey production for thousands of years?

Location : Tropical and Subtropical Areas
Size : Varies
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Hymenoptera
Superfamily : Apoidea -- Family : Apidae -- Subfamily : Apinae -- Tribe : Meliponini

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Stoneflies

There are over 3,500 species within the  Plecoptera order, and these insects are commonly referred to as Stoneflies. They can be found on every single continent except for Antarctica. They are poor fliers as adults, which means the individual species tend to remain in small, specific areas. This is one of the reasons why there are so many distinct species.
Chloroperlidae Enderlein

Stoneflies are awesome because they are a very primitive order. Fossils of their close relatives have been dated to the Carboniferous and Permian periods, and the order itself has been around since the Mesozoic. That is several hundred million years of history!

Another interesting fact is that a handful of Stonefly species, including the Lake Tahoe Benthic Stonefly, have the distinction of being some of the only insects to live their entire lives in the water.

All Stoneflies spend their larval stage in the water, and they are very picky about the kind of water they live in. It must be oxygen rich and pollutant free, which means that Stoneflies are a good indicator of water cleanliness and ecological degradation. Young Stoneflies may molt anywhere from 10 to 30 times, depending on the species. It can take 1-3 years for them to reach their full adult form.... but then tragically, like with many insects, their adult life is very brief. It lasts only 1-4 weeks.

The diet of a Stonefly is dependent on both the species and the instar period. (Instars are the many phases that the larvae go through while molting to reach the adult form) Some young flies eat plants or detritus. Some hunt. Some start with one diet and end up with another a few instars later. The adults of some species don't have any mouthparts at all, which means that are unable to eat, giving them shorter lifespans.

Location : Worldwide except Antarctica
Size : Varies
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Subclass : Pterygota
Superorder : Exopterygota -- Order : Plecoptera

Friday, February 10, 2012

Imperial Shag

Phalacrocorax atriceps
The Imperial Shag goes by many names, including the Blue Eyed Shag and the Blue Eyed Cormorant. They live in the southern reaches of the planet, hunting and breeding as far away as Antarctica.

As with all Cormorants, the Imperial Shag dives for its food. They have very little body fat and heavy bones. This allows them to be less buoyant and to swim underwater easier. The Shags posses a large volume of blood, and that extra oxygen lets them stay underwater for up to 4 minutes. They also have powerful webbed feet that propel them, and hooked beaks that enable them to catch and hold on to slippery fish.

Outside of the breeding season Imperial Shags may live either alone or in flocks. But when the time comes to reproduce they always end up in massive colonies that often consist of other bird species as well. Pairs are monogamous, and 2-4 eggs are laid each season. Both parents incubate and  care for the offspring until they fledge after 2-3 months.

Because most Imperial Shags live in areas that tend to be human-free, they aren't threatened overall. However, some small island populations are vulnerable to natural events that could affect their breeding and hunting range.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Southern Oceans
Size : Length up to 31in (78cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Pelecaniformes
Family : Phalacrocoracidae -- Genus-: Phalacrocorax -- Species : P. atriceps

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Green and Gold Tanager

Tangara schrankii
Another day, another pretty bird. Today's feathered friend is one of the 49 species found within the Tanager genus, Tangara. Meet the appropriately named Green and Gold Tanager!

While it would be appropriate for these guys to live up near Lambeau Field (horrible football reference, I'm sorry), they are actually found in the tropical and subtropical forests and swamps of the Amazon Basin.

Green and Gold Tanagers are omnivores that forage up in the trees for fruits, nuts, seeds, and insects. They also build their nests up in the trees, constructing small cup-shaped structures in which they lay 2-3 reddish-brown eggs. Females do just about all of the incubating and feeding, and the chicks fledge only 15 days after hatching.

While it appears that the population is declining due to habitat loss, the rate is not nearly fast enough for there to be major concern at this time. The species also has a pretty huge range, placing them as being of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South America
Size : Length up to 5in (13cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Thraupidae -- Genus : Tangara -- Species : T. schrankii

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Yellow Tang

Zebrasoma flavescens
I remember going to pet stores as a child and always admiring the huge display tanks of saltwater fish. And one particular fish always stood out- the Yellow Tang. How could it not? Its large(ish) size, its bright, almost neon coloring. It's quite the beauty!

Yellow Tangs are native to the shallow, coastal reefs of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They don't swim much deeper than 46m, and the larger fish tend to stay in the shallowest waters. Hawaii is a particular hotspot for the species, and most of the fish captured for captive living come from this area.

In the wild they feed on different algaes and plants, and live in small schools. They spawn several times a year, with these sessions coinciding with the full moon.

If you're interested in owning a Yellow Tang you'll need to have a large aquarium, and a lot of time and patience required to correctly maintain the habitat. Because they can reach lengths of up to 8in, and because they can get aggressive with other surgeonfish (the group in which they belong), a size of 55gallons is absolutely necessary.

Because they show aggression towards other fish of their type, most people keep only one, or they keep enough to form a school. The presence of a school prevents the territorial fighting that would arise if there were only 2 or 3 fish. Obviously the larger the school, the larger the required tank.

IUCN Status : Not Evaluated
Location : Pacific and Indian Oceans
Size : Length up to 8in (20cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Perciformes
Family : Acanthuridae -- Genus : Zebrasoma -- Species : Z. flavescens

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wied's Marmoset

Callithrix kuhlii
Wied's Marmoset is a small New World Monkey that lives in a small little pocket of forest near the Brazilian Atlantic Coast.

The social structure of the Wied's Marmoset is rather interesting. They live in a polyandrous society led by a dominant female. This female is often the only one who mates, and she will typically mate with multiple males.

Another, even more interesting fact about these Monkeys is that they commonly exhibit Chimerism. Wied's Marmosets typically give birth to twins, and while in utero the cell lines of the twins can be exchanged, leaving the offspring with their own genotype, and also the genotype of their sibling. Because the society is polyandrous, two zygotes could be fertilized by two different males... which means a Wied's Marmoset can have genetic information from two different fathers. Also astounding is the fact that a male could pass on his secondary cell line, rather than his primary. This would result in offspring that are more closely related to their uncle than to their own father!

The result of the Chimerism is a society that is invested in raising the offspring as a group, as one can never know for sure whose genetic information can be found in with offspring!

The species is currently listed as Near Threatened, and the wild population is on the decline. This is due to habitat loss (for farming purposes) and hunting for the pet trade. Many of the Marmosets now live within the confines of wildlife refuges and national reserves, and they are listed in CITES II.

IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : Brazil
Size : Body Length up to 28in (70cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Primates
Family : Callitrichidae -- Genus : Callithrix -- Species : C. kuhlii

Monday, February 6, 2012

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle

The Olive Ridley Sea Turtle is one of the smaller Sea Turtles; they have a carapace length of around 2ft. They also have the distinction of being the most abundant Sea Turtle on the planet, with about 800,000 females coming ashore to nest annually.

Lepidochelys olivacea
Olive Ridleys, named for their olive coloration, have a very large distribution and can be found in tropical waters around the world. They are a migratory pelagic Turtle, but they also can be spotted in coastal regions as well.

Olive Ridley Sea Turtles exhibit one of the most interesting nesting habits in the world. Once or twice a year, in waves triggered by some unknown event (Lunar Cycles? Wind? No one knows for sure), thousands of female Turtles come ashore in events called Arribadas. Each turtle lays around 100 eggs, and sometimes there are so many Turtles that they actually dig up previously laid nests in order to deposit their offpspring! One beach in India saw 200,000 females at a single event!

Despite the large population number, Olive Ridley Sea Turtles are considered to be Vulnerable by the IUCN. This is because the selected survey sites have shown a population decline over the last 2-3 generations. The Marine Turtle Specialist Group actually reports a 50% decline since the 1960s. The Olive Ridleys are at risk due to hunting, egg harvesting, bycatch, and habitat degradation. So while they are the most abundant of the Sea Turtles, they are also one of the most exploited. The Turtles are currently protected by numerous agreements and treaties, including CITES I.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Tropical waters worldwide
Size : Carapace Length up to 28in (70cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Testudines
Family : Cheloniidae -- Genus : Lepidochelys -- Species : L. olivacea

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Pale-mandibled Aracari

Pale-mandibled Aracari at the Milwaukee County Zoo
Meet the Pale-mandibled Aracari, a species of bird that belong to the Ramphastidae family, making them relatives of the Toucans (can't you tell?) They can be found in the forests of Ecuador and Peru.

Pale-mandibled Aracaris are named for... well... their pale-colored beaks. Their bodies are primarily black, but they sport some really beautiful splashes of color, including bright yellows, oranges, and reds on their chest and underbelly, and a huge pop of red on the back.

These birds are prolific frugivores, meaning that they eat lots and lots of different fruits. In the wild they actually feed off of over 100 different types of plant! They also will eat insects to get some extra protein.

They lay small clutches of of 2-4 eggs that take only 2 weeks to hatch. The young birds fledge after about 40 days.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South America
Size : Body Length up to 2ft (60cm), Weight up to 20lbs (9kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Piciformes
Family : Ramphastidae -- Genus : Pteroglossus -- Species : P. erythropygius

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Nutria

Myocastor coypus
What is this weird, beaver/rat looking Rodent? Why, it is the Nutria! Sometimes also referred to as the Coypu.
These guys are native to South America, where they live near bodies of water and feed on the aquatic plants.

Nutria often live in colonies where they breed at very quick rates. A female may have 2 or 3 litters a year, with each litter producing as many as 13 offspring! The young Nutria leave their mother after only a month or two. They are a short lived and very quick growing species. Male Nutria can reach sexual maturity at four months of age, and they tend to live for only a few years.

Outside of their natives lands, Nutria are very, very destructive. See that shaggy, not especially appealing coat? Well under that is a very dense undercoat that has long been used in the fur industry. The desire for these pelts resulted in the growth of captive breeding fur farms... that the Nutria occasionally escaped from.

The species is now considered invasive in several US states, as well as in parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia. They are destructive because they breed quickly and feed on wetland plants, but care only for the stems. This means that they consume huge amounts of vegetation with much of it going to waste. The loss of vegetation leads to more erosion and soil displacement, which damages the wetlands. Nutria also carry parasites and displace native species. Hunting and chemical control methods are attempting to cut down the invasive populations, but only time will tell.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South America
Size : Body Length up to 2ft (60cm), Weight up to 20lbs (9kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Rodentia
Family : Myocastoridae -- Genus : Myocastor -- Species : M. coypus

Friday, February 3, 2012

Pyrenean Brook Salamander

Calotriton asper
As the name suggests, the Pyrenean Brook Salamander (sometimes called the Pyrenean Newt) is endemic to Europe's Pyrenean Mountains. They live in clear, oxygen-rich mountain streams and lakes, and live at a variety of altitudes ranging from around 175m to 2900m. The species can be identified by its squarish head and warty skin.

Pyrenean Brook Salamanders live most of their lives in the water, though they do have very flattened bodies and heads that allow them to hide under rocks at the waters' edge. Mating takes place after waking up from hibernation, and the eggs are laid underwater.

The length of the larval stage depends a lot on the altitude in which the Salamanders are living. The stage last around 14 months for those at lower altitudes, but can take as long as two years for those higher up on the mountain. Pyrenean Brook Salamanders can live as long as 20 years.

The species is still relatively safe overall, due to their large range. However, some local populations are becoming scarce and even extinct, due to habitat loss from damming, development, and pollution.

IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : France and Spain
Size : Length up to 5.5in (14cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Amphibia -- Order : Caudata
Family : Salamandridae -- Genus : Calotriton -- Species : C. asper

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Blue-bellied Roller

Blue-bellied Rollers are very striking blue, teal, and buff birds that live in the forested areas of western and central Africa. They are social birds that live in small groups, and they feed primarily on small reptiles and invertebrates. Hunting is done by sitting high up in a tree and then dive bombing the prey.

The species is named for their courtship ritual. The male and female birds perform rolling flights while calling out to each other. The birds are believed to be mostly monogamous, though some males will mate with more than one female. 2-3 eggs are laid at a time, usually in a tree hole, and the female does most of the incubating. During this time the birds are incredibly territorial and will attack other birds that come anywhere near the nest!

Blue-bellied Rollers are not in any current danger. They have a large range, are abundant within it, and show no major signs of population decline.


IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Western and Central Africa
Size : Length up to 1ft (30cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Coraciiformes
Family : Coraciidae -- Genus : Coracias -- Species : C. cyanogaster

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hipparion

Hipparion
Hipparion is the name given to an entire genus of now-extinct, yet successful horses that roamed throughout most of the world. They first evolved around 22 million years ago in North America, and from there they spread to Africa, Asia, and Europe over the next 20 million years.

If you looked at Hipparion, you might think it was a small modern horse or pony. They were about the same height and weight... but the legs were a bit... off.

You see, horses didn't always have a single hoof. They are odd-toed ungulates (Perissodactyls) which means that their weight is distributed through a single toe on each leg, rather than between two toes (think of a cloven deer hoof). Early horses started out having several toes, and gradually they lost them all except for that single, central digital. Horse speed can be attributed to the fact that they have longer stride lengths, as they are actually running on a fingernail!

Hipparion moved a lot like a modern horse, which is something we know from looking at fossilized hoof-prints. But even though Hipparion ran on one hoof, it still had some of its other toes! These toes were placed slightly higher up on the leg, one on either side of the hoof, and they did not touch the ground. Modern horses have lost these vestigial toes all together.

The last of the Hipparion species went extinct around 2 million years ago. Though these early equines belonged to the same subfamily as the modern Horses, they are not their descendants.

Status : Extinct for around 2 million years
Location : North America, Europa, Asia, Africa
Size : Height up to 13.3hands (1.4m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Perissodactyla
Family : Equidae -- Genus : Hipparion
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