Friday, August 31, 2012

Sinocalliopteryx

Sinocalliopteryx gigas
Sinocalliopteryx certainly has a mouthful of a name! It actually translates to "Chinese Beautiful Feather," as they had feathers, and their fossils were uncovered in the Yixian Formation in north east China. It is a relatively new species, in terms of discovery, and was only first described in 2007.

Sinocalliopteryx lived around 130-125 million years ago, during the Early Cretaceous. They are the largest known members of their entire family, measuring nearly 8ft long. These guys were bipedal, and had powerful hind legs and arms that were longer than most others in their family. They also had "proto-feathers," which were thin, hairlike feathers. (I imagine something that looked similar to the feathers on a Cassowary).

New research has come out that suggests Sinocalliopteryx hunted much like a modern cat does. Fossil evidence shows that they flying creatures, including small aerial Dinosaurs. They probably stalked these animals quietly, hiding in the underbrush. Then, when the right moment hit, they would jump up into the air with their powerful hind legs and snatch on to the prey. This theory is still controversial, as fossils are only able to tell us so much about behavior. However, the leg anatomy, coupled with the presence of flying creatures in the digestive system, makes for a compelling argument.

Status : Extinct for around 125 million years
Location : China
Size :  Length up to 8ft (2.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- clade : Dinosauria
Family : †Compsognathidae -- Genus : †Sinocalliopteryx -- Species : †S. gigas

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Greater Blue-ringed Octopus

Hapalochlaena lunulata
The Greater Blue-ringed Octopus is, interestingly, not even the largest of the Blue-ringed Octopuses. That honor goes to the confusingly named Lesser (or Southern) Blue-ringed Octopus, which is only a hair larger. In fact, all members of the Blue-ring groups are quite small-- most are only a few centimeters in body length, with tentacles only a tad longer.

 The Greater Blue-ringed Octopus is distinctive among its family members in that it has a relatively large range. Most others live in a very specific watery area, but the Great Blue-ringed can be found in tropical waters throughout the Pacific Ocean, and in parts of the Indian Ocean as well.

These Octopuses get their names from the bright blue circles that appear when they feel threatened. I should note that these rings are visible during calm periods as well, but they are much less noticeable. Those vibrant patches serve as warnings to predators because these guys are venomous! Greater Blue-ringed Octopuses actually have two types of venom-- one that they use to deter would-be attackers, and one that they themselves use to attack prey (small little invertebrates and fish).

Great Blue-ringed Octopus venom can be incredibly dangerous to humans. They don't usually attack unprovoked, but if you do something to make them feel threatened, watch out! The toxin paralyzes and can kill in a matter of minutes!

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Tropical Pacific Ocean
Size :  Body length up to 5cm
Classification : Phylum : Mollusca -- Class : Cephalopoda -- Order : Octopoda
Family : Octopodidae -- Genus : Hapalochlaena -- Species : H. lunulata

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ring Ouzel

Turdus torquatus (male)
The Ring Ouzel is a Thrush that belongs to the very same genus as both the Common Blackbird and the American Robin. They look quite a bit like the Blackbird, and their name "Ouzel" actually comes from an Old English term for that bird. Males can be identified by their black bodies and white chest bands. Their wings also take on a silvery color, due to white feathers at the tips. Females lack the white chest ring, and are duller in appearance.

Ring Ouzels can be found in various parts of Europe. Some populations are migratory, moving to the North to breed, and down south to the Mediterranean in winter. The birds are usually found alone or in pairs, though they will form very loose flocks during migrations.

When breeding season comes, they build small cup-shaped nests in branches or rock piles. Up to four eggs are laid at a time, and they hatch after only two weeks. The young are fledged after another 14 days. This quick breeding cycle allows some birds to raise more than one brood each season.

These birds have an omnivorous diet. During the spring and summer they feed heartily on Earthworms and other invertebrates. However, when fall and winter set in, they eat Juniper berries and other plant materials.

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

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Confusing Toad

Incilius perplexus
Meet the Confusing Toad, which has certainly confused scientists when it comes to their classification! I've found three different possible genus names for this little guy, dating back to 1943, though it looks like the most recent classification (in 2008) has stuck. Incilius perplexus it is!

The Confusing Toad also happens to be a very Endangered Toad. They are endemic to one small area of Mexico-- the Tepalcatepec Basin to be exact. They may live in other areas as well, but so far only that location has yielded any sightings.

Confusing Toads live near streams and ponds around tropical rain forests. Unfortunately, these same areas are under constant threat from agricultural and commercial development. The Toad population is on the decline, and they unfortunately do not live in any protected areas. If they go extinct, the Confusing Toad may remain a rare and confusing species forever.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Mexico
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Amphibia -- Order : Anura
Family : Bufonidae -- Genus : Incilius -- Species : I. perplexus

Monday, August 27, 2012

Side-striped Jackal

Canis adustus
The Side-striped Jackal is one of three different Jackal species, all of which can be found on the continent of Africa. This particular brand lives not only in grasslands, but also in wooded areas and scrub lands. They can be identified by the prominent black and white horizontal stripes that run down their sides.

Side-striped Jackals are nocturnal, and they live either alone or in small groups that are headed by a monogamous breeding pair (they often mate for life!). The pair breeds annually during the rainy season, and litters number between three and six pups. The pups will remain with their parents until they are nearly a year old.

When it comes to food, these Jackals will eat just about anything. They are scavengers, but they also occasionally kill their own prey and forage for plants. Insects, small mammals, reptiles, eggs, and fruits are all common meals. They will very seldom kill slightly larger animals, and when they do it is usually nothing larger than a very young antelope. They pose very little threat to livestock.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Africa
Size :  Length up to 32in (81cm), Weight up to 30lbs (14kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Canidae -- Genus : Canis -- Species : C. adustus

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Brown Falcon

Falco berigora
Meet the Brown Falcon, a smallish Falcon that lives in just about every type of habitat in Australia (except for dense forests). Unsurprisingly, they have brown feathers-- darker on top, more buff colored underneath. They also sport tear strips below the eyes.

Brown Falcons are carnivores that feed on small mammals, as well as on a variety of birds, reptiles, and insects (they tend to eat more insects during the winter months). In order to hunt, they wait very patiently on perches, gazing down to watch for passing prey. The Falcon then swoops down, grabs its new meal, and kills it with a bite to the spine.

Breeding usually takes place from June to November, and the birds often recycle nests that were build by other Falcons. Both parents will help to incubate and feed the young birds, but it if often the male that laves the nest to find food.

Brown Falcons are very common throughout Australia, and can be spotted quite easily (reminds me a bit of the Red-tailed Hawks that we have in North America!)

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Australia
Size :  Length up to 19in (50cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order-: Falconiformes
Family : Falconidae -- Genus : Falco -- Species : F. berigora

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Cabezon

Scopaenichthys marmoratus
The Cabezon is a fish whose name means "Big Head," and their genus actually translates to "Scorpion Fish," though it is interesting to note that they are not actually true Scorpion Fish. Those animals belong to a completely different family.

Cabezon can be found in the shallow, rocky, kelp-bed waters off of the Pacific Coast of North America, running all the way from Baja to southern Alaska. They can grow to pretty substantial sizes, with the largest ever caught growing just short of a meter. Size actually determines their sexual maturity-- males are mature at 13.5in, while females are at 17.5in. A small female can lay over 50,000 eggs in a breeding season, and the males will actually guard those eggs until they hatch!

You can identify a Cabezon by their mottled red, green, and brown bodies. Most reddish fish are male, and most greenish fish are female. As the name suggests, they have large heads relative to the rest of their body, and sport 11 spines on their dorsal fins. They also have no scales! Crabs make up about half of the Cabezon diet, with Fish and Mollusks filling in the other half.

Cabezon are often taken as game fish in California. They are said to have an excellent taste (especially when compared to how ugly they are!) However, do not eat the eggs! Cabezon roe is poisonous.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Pacific Coast of North America
Size :  Length up to 40in (1m), Weight up to 25lbs (11kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Scorpaeniformes
Family : Cottidae -- Genus : Scorpaenichthys -- Species : S. marmoratus

Friday, August 24, 2012

Cebu Hawk Owl

Ninox rumseyi
We've been learning about many extinct animals lately, so I thought today we'd shift gears and talk about a species that is extant but was just discovered-- an example of all the mysterious animals out there that are completely new to us!

The Cebu Hawk Owl is actually one of two new Owl species found in the Philippines. They are so new that the first publications regarding them just came out this month!

The Owls was discovered by a team that has spent fifteen years researching the calls of the local Hawk Owls. It was once believed that these vocalizations all came from the same species, and an investigation was taking place to determine if there were new subspecies out there.

The interesting thing about these Owl calls is that they are not learned, like the calls of Parrots. Each call is unique to their species or subspecies, an is ingrained into their DNA. The calls of the Cebu Hawk Owl, and that of the other new species, the Camiguin Hawk Owl, were so different that scientists were able to classify them as a new species entirely.

The calls aren't the only feature distinguishing them from the other Philippine species. They also have differences in plumage, body shape, and body size when compared to the previous known species.

There is still much to learn about the Cebu Hawk Owl-- there are many many vocal recordings, but only one has ever been seen.

Status : Possibly endangered
Location : Philippines
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Strigiformes
Genus : Ninox -- Species : N. rumseyi

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Asian Koel

Eudymanys scolopaceus (male)
The Asian Koel is a bird named for its call-- Koel is an onomatopoeia for one of the many sounds that they commonly produce during the breeding season. You can see (and hear) these large, long-tailed Cuckoos in southeast Asia and northern Australia, where they live in wooded and shrubby areas.

The coloration of the Asian Koel is dependent on their sex-- males are a dark bluish-black all over, and look almost crow-like at first glance. Females are brown with creamy speckles all over their head and wings.

Female Asian Koel
Like many Cuckoo species, Asian Koels are brood parasites. They do not build their own nests, rather they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. Their host parent of choice depends on the location, but House Crows and Mynas are popular picks. Young Koels don't always "eliminate" their adopted siblings after hatching. In fact, most newly hatched Koels will actually act and sing like their fake families!

Though they share the common Cuckoo brood parasitism characteristic, Asian Koels are relatively unique among their family in that they are mostly frugivores as adults. They do sometimes feed on small insects, but fruits and berries are their preferred picks!



IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Southeast Asia and Australia
Size : Length up to 18in (46cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Cuculiformes
Family : Cuculidae -- Genus : Eudynamys -- Species : E. scolopaceus

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Archelon

The Archelon type specimen
I love covering extinct Turtles because they have such an interesting evolutionary history. Turtles have been around since the Triassic, dating back 220 million years. They've even had roughly the same body shape for the last 200 million of those years, with modifications being made to their teeth (losing them), their shells (going from soft to hard) and their size (varies completely!)

Today's Turtle, Archelon, definitely had a unique size. These giant Sea Turtles grew to be 12 feet long! Archelon lived during the late Cretaceous Period, and its fossils have been found primarily in South Dakota and Wyoming, which were once covered by shallow seas.

Once you get past its car-like size, you'll notice that Archelon did look quite a bit like our modern Sea Turtles. In fact, its closest living relative is the large (but not that large) Leatherback Sea Turtle. In fact, like the Leatherbacks of today, Archelon probably ate jellyfish and other soft-bodied sea creatures like squid.

Archelon did have two major differences though. The first was that its shell wasn't hard-- it was actually soft and leathery and supported by an internal bone structure. Secondly, they had remarkably broad, paddle-like flippers (modern Sea Turtles also have long flippers, but they are not nearly as broad proportionally).

They died out at the end of the Cretaceous Period, around 65 million years ago, and no Turtle since has come close to rivaling it in size!

Status : Extinct for 65 million years
Location : North America
Size : Length around 12ft (3.6m), Weight up to 2tons
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Testudines
Family : †Protostegidae -- Genus : †Archelon -- Species : A. ischyros

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Schomburgk's Deer

Rucervus schomburgki
The Schomburgk's Deer, named after British consul to Bangkok Richard H. Schomburgk, was first described in 1863. Less than 75 years later this graceful species was extinct.

It appears that the Schomburgk's Deer was endemic to Thailand, based on sightings and information, though they may have also lived in Laos and parts of China as well. They were large, graceful Deer with dark brown fur and lighter undersides. Males had antlers that could measure nearly a meter long each, females had no antlers. Their range was in open, swampy plains that were free from dense vegetation, and they lived in small groups that consisted of one male, a handful of females, and their offspring.

The habitat that they lived in played a major role in their extinction. In the late 19th and early 20th century, those same swampy plains were converted into commercial rice paddies. The deer moved into the few locations available to them, but would get even more condensed during the floods. They would flock to higher ground, but would then be easy targets for hunters. By 1932 the last wild Deer was killed, and the final captive specimen died 6 years later.

There is only one mounted Schomburgk's Deer in the entire world (at the Paris Natural History Museum), in addition to a handful of skulls, skins, and antlers. Some believe that the Schomburgk's Deer might still be out there, as a relatively fresh set of antlers was uncovered in 1991, but there have been no confirmed sightings, and the species remains listed as Extinct.

IUCN Status : Extinct since 1938
Location : Thailand
Size : Shoulder height around 3.3ft (1m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Cervidae -- Genus : Rucervus -- Species : †R. schomburgki

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ferret

Ferrets
Today's animal will probably be a familiar one, as they have become very popular pets in the last 30 or so years. But did you know that Ferret domestication goes back much, much further than a few decades? Through mitochondrial DNA testing, we know that Ferrets were domesticated from either the European Polecat or the Steppe Polecat (or a hybrid of the two) somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 years ago!

The first domesticated Ferrets were used specifically for the hunting and capture of other small animals, and the name "Ferret" itself derives from the Latin word furonem-- "Thief". Wild Ferret relatives (like the aforementioned Polecats) are naturally good at moving their lean bodies through underground tunnels and burrows, flushing out prey like Rabbits and Moles. Domesticated Ferrets have the same skill set, and for hundreds of years were used to hunt small mammals and control rodent populations.

Ferret hunting does still exist in some areas, but it is much more controlled that it was previously (so as not to completely imbalance the rodent and rabbit populations). They are now kept as house pets, and are also common lab animals that have been used extensively in bio-medical research. Ferrets and humans share many metabolic and physiological features, which makes them ideal for studies dealing with (among others) heart disease, nutrition, and respiratory illness.

Did you know what Ferrets are one of the most popular pets in North America? However, they aren't for everyone! Ferrets are very active critters with big personalities and curious natures. They do best when allowed to roam outside of a cage, and also prefer to live in groups.

They are demanding pets that require attention and a large degree of maintenance to keep happy and healthy. For example, they have very quick metabolisms and have to eat roughly every four hours. They also require yearly medical checkups and vaccinations, and should be spayed or neutered. De-scenting is also a common medical procedure, as Ferrets naturally have anal musk glands that are used for mating and defensive purposes. If you can handle the Ferret lifestyle, they make for very interesting and engagement pets that can live as long as ten years.

Status : Domesticated
Location : Originated in Europe
Size : Length up to 20in (51cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Mustelidae -- Genus : Mustela -- Species : M. putorius -- Subspecies : M. p. furo

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Shuvuuia

Shuvuuia deserti
Meet Shuvuuia, a small Cretaceous Dinosaur that was most likely covered in a coat of feathers! The type fossil of the species was found with many deteriorated structures surrounding it, structures that were similar to the central shafts of modern bird feathers. Further analysis showed that these structures once contained beta-keratin, but not alpha-keratin, which gives further evidence towards a feathery coat (as only bird feathers have beta-keratin, but not alpha).

Aside from the feathers, Shuvuuia had a few other bird-like traits. Their skulls, legs, and feet were all very similar to those on birds, but their arms are not, leaving them still within the realm of the Dinosaurs.

Shuvuuia even has a bird name, literally! Their genus is named for the Mongolia word for bird, shuvuu, as the fossils were found in Mongolia. Shuvuuia dates back between 85 and 75 million years, putting it in the Late Cretaceous period.

These Dinosaurs were very small, standing only a foot or so high and having a full body length of 2-3ft. They probably ate insects and small mammals, and were most likely very quick on their feet. All that we know about Shuvuuia comes from only a few fossils, so there is still very much to be learned and uncovered!

Status : Extinct for around 75 million years
Location : Mongolia
Size : Length up to 2ft (60cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- clade : Dinosauria
Family : †Alvarezsauridae -- Genus : †Shuvuuia -- Species : †S. deserti

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Poitou Donkey

Poitou Donkey
We've talked about several Horse breeds in the past, but today just might be the very first Donkey breed. And what an interesting breed it is!

Like many equine breeds, the precise origin story of the Poitou Donkey is unknown. They date back at least a few centuries though, and we do know they were established in Poitou, France by 1717, as a memoir of a French royal official discussed the breed.

They are large Donkeys, just about Mule-sized, and traditionally could be easily identified by their long shaggy coats. Their hair is finer than that of other Donkeys, and if left to grow it will form long cords (like dreadlocks). Modern Poitou Donkeys are sometimes shorn for hygiene purposes, but such a thing was not allowed for showing in the past.
Poitou Donkey and Foal

Poitou Donkeys were developed for one purpose, and no, it wasn't their hair style! Because they are so large and sturdy, they were important in the creation of very large Mules. The male Donkeys were bred to Mulassier Horse females, and the resulting Mules were large, powerful, and highly prized.

The downfall of the Poitou Donkey came about when Europe began to industrialize. Their was less of a need for Mules, and so Donkey husbandry fell into a decline. By the 1970s there were only 40 of them left, but careful conservation has now increased that number to around 200 (which an equal number of hybrids). They are still a very rare breed, and are listed as Critical by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

Status : Domesticated, listed as Critcal by the ALBC
Location : Originated in France
Size : Height up to 14.3 hands (1.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Perissodactyla
Family : Equidae -- Genus : Equus -- Species : E. africanus -- Subspecies : E. a. asinus

Friday, August 17, 2012

Ground Cuscus

Phalanger gymnotis
After a week of cold-blooded, carnivorous Sharks, I think we're due for something warm, fluffy, and fruit eating. Meet the Ground Cuscus, a furry Marsupial native to New Guinea and its surrounding islands.

The Ground Cuscus has short grey hair with a white belly, along with a prehensile tail and opposable digits on their back feet to assist in climbing. They are nocturnal, solitary creatures, and feed during the night on fruits and leaves. The Cuscuses really only come together to breed, and like all Marsupials they have very, very short gestational periods. A mother Cuscus will be pregnant for only 13 days, though it will be another 100 days before their young actually leave the pouch.

Cuscuses are relatives to the Possums, and like the Possums, most of them are found living up in the trees almost exclusively. Not so with today's Cuscus! While they do feed in trees (and have the aforementioned adaptataions to help with climbing) they actually burrow in the ground (hence the name). They are the only Cuscus species to do this, but unfortunately those burrows make them easy to find by predators as well as human hunters.

Ground Cuscuses are taken by humans for use in traditional medicine, as food, and for the pet trade. Though they are listed as being of Least Concern (due to their large range and number of individuals), the population is on the decline overall and has actually been eliminated from some areas. Currently the species can be found in a handful of protected locations, but more measures will need to be taken if the downward trend continues.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : New Guinea
Size : Body Length up to 17in (44cm), Weight up to 6.5lbs (3kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Diprotodontia
Family : Phalangeridae -- Genus : Phalanger -- Species : P. gymnotis

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Crocodile Shark

Pseudocarcharias kamoharai
Our final Shark of the week is the Crocodile Shark, a small Mackerel Shark  that can be found in tropical  oceans all around the world. They are the smallest members of their Order, which also contains giants like the Great White and Megamouth Sharks.

Crocodile Sharks grow to lengths of up to 3ft, and can be identified by their slender bodies, large eyes, long gill slits and small dorsal fin. Their large eyes help them to hunt at night, and they also posses a very large liver (up to 1/5 their entire body weight) that helps them to maintain a very neutral buoyancy. The species undergoes daily migrations, moving from deep waters during the day to more shallow hunting grounds at night.

Crocodile Sharks are another one of those interesting Ovoviviparous species. And even more intriguing is that they have litters of 4 pups... two in each uterus. This is a trait not especially common in sharks-- most others have only one pup per uterus.

Because of their small size, Crocodile Sharks are not generally considered dangerous to humans. Man-made structures however? That's a while different story! Back in 1985 AT&T laid down the first deep sea fiber optic cable. The cable was shorting out, and expensive repairs were needed to fix it. Turns out that a bunch of Crocodile Sharks were attracted to the new installation and were biting it!

IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : Tropical Oceans Worldwide
Size : Length up to 3.3ft (1m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Chondrichthyes -- Order : Lamniformes
Family : Pseudocarchariidae -- Genus : Pseudocarcharias -- Species : P. kamoharai

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Greenland Shark

Somniosus microcephalus
Today's Shark is one of my all time favorites-- they are just so unique! Greenland Sharks live farther north than any other Shark species in existence, swimming in the cold waters of Greenland, Iceland, and the North Atlantic. They can also grow to lengths over 20ft, allowing them to rival the Great White in size.

Greenland Sharks are such unusual creatures. While many other Sharks species are quick moving, these icy giants swim very very slowly (only around 1mph!). They also spend a great deal of time not moving at all-- another name for these guys is "Sleeper Shark" since they are so frequently inactive.

Don't let their slowness fool you! Greenland Sharks are still predators! They feed primarily on fish, but are also able to snatch up unsuspecting sea mammals as well. Horse, Polar Bear, and Reindeer remains have all been found in Greenland Shark stomachs, though how much of that was carrion is not quite known.

Greenland Sharks are solitary, but that doesn't mean that they are alone! They have a really bizarre relationship with a tiny crustacean known as Ommatokoita elongata. These copepods feed on the Sharks' eyes. The Sharks have impaired vision, since their corneal tissue is being gobbled up, but they don't use their eyesight all that much anyway. Besides, the partnership isn't completely one-sided. The parasites are bioluminescent, a trait that helps the Sharks to attract food!

The lifespan of the Greenland Shark is still a bit mysterious. Know one really knows how long they can live or when they reach maturity, but we do know that they grow very slow. A tagged Shark was re-captured 16 years after its original identification, and had only grown 8cm in that time-span (from 2.62m to 2.7m).

And before I leave you with a video of one of these guys, one final fact-- Greenland Shark skin is toxic! But that doesn't keep people from eating it. The skin is considered a delicacy in Greenland and Iceland, and must be repeatedly boiled in order to be safe for consumption.


IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : North Atlantic
Size : Length up to 21ft (6.4m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Chondrichthyes -- Order : Squaliformes
Family : Somniosidae -- Genus : Somniosus -- Species : S. microcephalus

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cladoselache

Cladoselache species
Today's Shark is the largest one that we have talked about so far, and it is also the oldest. Cladoselache is the name of a genus containing eight different Shark species, all of which lived during the Devonian Period, around 370 million years ago.

Sharks have been around for hundreds of millions of years, and the Cladoselache Sharks are some of the best known of the ancient species. This is because many of their fossils were very well preserved in a formation near Lake Erie. Some of these fossils are so detailed that we know their stomach contents!

These extinct sea creatures are interesting not only because they lived a very, very long time ago, but also because they had some interesting anatomical features. For one, they almost completely lacked scales. The only scales it had were found on the tips of the fins, and around the mouth and eyes. Secondly, these Sharks lacked "claspers"-- the reproductive organs that are found not only in modern sharks, but in many other ancient species as well. Scientists are still unsure how they specifically reproduced. Finally, the Cladoselache Sharks had smooth, blunt teeth. Rather than tear apart their prey, they grasped it and swallowed it whole.

Cladoselache Sharks were probably very fast and agile, based on their body shape, dorsal fins, and large tail fin. They were high speed predators who also needed to be quick in order to avoid becoming prey themselves. Sharks weren't the only large predators swimming the seas-- this was the time of the 30ft Dunkleosteus as well!

There are no close relatives of the Cladoselache Sharks left today. All other genera within the family are extinct, and that family was the only one within the entire order.

Status : Extinct for around 370 million years
Location : North America
Size : Length up to 6ft (1.8m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Chondrichthyes -- Order : †Cladoselachiformes
Family : †Cladoselachidae -- Genus : †Cladoselache

Monday, August 13, 2012

Horn Shark

Heterodontus francisci
Today's Shark is a very interesting looking species-- it has a very blunt head, prominent ridges over its eyes, two tall dorsal fins with spines, and a sandy colored body covered in dark spots. It also happens to be on the smaller side, though not as small as yesterday's Shark. Horn Sharks can reach lengths of around 3ft.

You can find Horn Sharks swimming off of the western coast of North America, in a range that extends from Monterey to Baja. As juveniles they live in deeper sandy flats, and as adults they move closer to shore, swimming near reefs as shallow as 2m!

The adult Horn Sharks have small ranges, and actually return to the same shelter after each night of hunting (they are nocturnal). They feed in small fish and a large variety of benthic invertebrates, including squid, crabs, and sea urchins. Interestingly, Horn Sharks aren't the greatest swimmers, and are quite slow and clumsy. They often use their large pectoral fins to pull themselves along.

Horn Sharks are one of those cool Shark species that shows some sort of care towards their offspring. After mating takes place in December or January, the female will spend 2-3 months laying her eggs two at a time (layings are spaced 11-14 days apart). Each egg measures 4-5in long, is conical in shape and has spiraled flanges around it. The females will take the eggs and wedge them into crevices so that they are protected from predators (other sharks will often just lay their eggs and leave). The eggs take 6-9 months to hatch.

Horns Sharks are not normally dangerous to humans, though bites have happened due to harassment. The Sharks are kept and bred in captivity, and are sometimes hunted for their spines (which are made into jewelry).

IUCN Status : Data Deficient
Location : Western North America
Size : Length up to 3.3ft (1m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Chondrichthyes -- Order : Heterodontiformes
Family : Heterodontidae -- Genus : Heterodontus -- Species : H. francisci

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dwarf Lanternshark

Etmopterus perryi
The 25th Annual Shark Week starts today, so obviously we need to learn about a Shark! Sharks have been very popular on Animal A Day, and we've learned about loads of them in the past (a full list can be found here). But we haven't yet talked about the smallest of all the sharks-- the Dwarf Lanternshark.

Dwarf Lantersharks reach mature lengths of around 7in, and pregnant females can grow a small bit larger, topping out around 8in. They are an ovoviviparous species, and give birth to 2-3 pups at a time.

Not only are these Sharks very small, but they are also quite mysterious. They have only been found in a small section of the Caribbean, off the coat of Colombia and Venezuela. They swim at depths of between 900-1,400ft (274-426m), and are rarely caught or observed.

So little is known about the biology and population size of these tiny sharks that they are listed as "Data Deficient." They have no economic value in the fishing industry and there are no conservation measures being taken.

So unfortunately there isn't a whole plethora of information out there regarding this particular shark, but that's isn't all that surprising considering its small size and tiny range. Stay tuned for a few more sharks during the rest of the week!

IUCN Status : Data Deficient
Location : Caribbean
Size : Length up to 7in (18cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Chondrichthyes -- Order : Squaliformes
Family : Etmopteridae -- Genus : Etmopterus -- Species : E. perryi

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Eastern Tiger Salamander

Ambystoma tigrinum
The Eastern Tiger Salamandar is the largest land-dwelling Salamander is all of North America, and it also has the distinction of being the most widespread. You'll find these guys just about everywhere on the continent except in the coldest northern reaches-- they live throughout the United States, Mexico, and in most of Canada.

You can identify Eastern Tiger Salamanders by their large size and their blotchy green and black markings. As adults they are almost completely terrestrial, and live in burrows that can be as far as two feet underground. They live in a huge range of habitats, including forests, grasslands, and developed areas.

Adults are very loyal to their birthplace, and will return to that spot to breed int eh Spring. Larges numbers will congregate on a single spots, and males will have to isolate the females from the group in order to breed. Males will deposit spermatophores that are picked up by the females to fertilize the eggs. Sometimes other males will actually interrupt this process, deposing the first male on the scene and then placing his own spermatophores. Once the eggs are fertilized, they are laid in masses that number up to 100. The young Salamanders are completely aquatic, but grow very fast-- by the end of summer they have already become adults.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North America
Size : Length up to 14in (36cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata --Class : Amphibia -- Order : Caudata
Family : Ambystomatidae -- Genus : Ambystoma -- Species : A. tigrinum

Friday, August 10, 2012

Pumpkinseed

Lepomis gibbosus
The Pumpkinseed is a species of small freshwater fish that belongs to the same genus as the Bluegill. They once had a range that spread only through eastern North America, but they can now be found all the way west to the Pacific Coast. Pumpkinseeds have also been introduced in Europe, where they are considered an invasive species (due to their competing with other fish for food).

Pumpkinseeds have body shapes similar to their namesake, and have scales that range from brown to olive green. They also have small speckles across their bodies, and faint vertical lines. The coloration is more vibrant and pronounced during the breeding season. The Pumpkinseeds' scales are used for protection-- they are able to reflect back their surroundings and serve as camouflage.

The species is most commonly calm, clear waters. They are active during the day, feeding on insects and small aquatic creatures both at the surface and near the bottom. At night they hide out in submerged plants and other covered areas.

During the breeding season males will actually build little nests in the lake floor, sweeping away rocks and debris and making an indent. These nests are often built in small colonies, and are sometimes intermingled with Bluegill nests (Bluegills and Pumpkinseeds sometimes school together, and will even interbreed). Females can lay up to 1,700 eggs, and will sometimes lay them in multiple nests. They leave after the laying is done. Males hang around until the eggs hatch (around 3 days) and will actually guard their new offspring for up to two weeks. If they wander off the dads will even return them back to the nests in their mouth!

Pumpkinseeds are often fished up by anglers, due to the fact that they swim close to shore and will take worms very easily. They are sometimes a source of some frustration though, as they'll often bite when fishermen are going after larger fare.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North America
Size : Length up to 8in (20cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Perciformes
Family : Centrarchidae -- Genus : Lepomis -- Species : L. gibbosus

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bohaskaia monodontoides

Bohaskaia monodontoides
The animal that we're going to learn about today has been extinct for around 3 million years-- but it bears a very striking similarity to some of the creatures that are still swimming around in the Earth's oceans, and also gives scientists some insight into where those modern animals came from.

Bohaskaia monodontoides is known from just a single skull that was unearthed in Virginia is 1969. It wasn't until very recently that it was studied using modern methods, and the species was only just named in spring 2012. The skull looked similar to that of a Beluga or Narwhal, yet was still different enough to be recognized as a different genus and species entirely.

Belugas and Narwhals, as you may know, live in cold waters. B. monodontoides swam in warmers seas, yet shared many of the same physical traits. Interestingly, another extinct whale Denebola brachycephala also hailed from warmer parts (the fossils were found in Baja, Mexico). It now appears that this particular group of whales evolved in the more temperate waters, but were eventually driven north were they adapted to the climate and survived. How this happened, and when it happened is not yet known, but it is pretty amazing to think that the warm-water origin discovery was due in part to a single fossil found over 40 years ago!

Status : Extinct for 3 million years
Location : North America
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Cetacea
Family : Monodontidae -- Genus : †Bohaskaia -- Species : †B. monodontoides

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Dunlin

Calidris alpina (breeding plumage)
Meet the Dunlin, a small wading bird that can be found all over the Northern Hemisphere (depending on the time of year). Populations breed in the northern reaches of Europe, Asia, and North America, and migrate south as far as Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central America during the winter. The species is highly gregarious, especially in winter, and can be found in massive flocks that number into the thousands. The worldwide population as a whole is estimated to be around 4 million birds.

Dunlins are easy to identify in their breeding plumage. They have bright reddish-brown feathers on their backs and a large black patch on their underside. During the winter their backs turn a duller grey and the underside is pale. Dunlins are also easy to tell apart from other Shorebirds in that their long black bills curve downwards. They use those bills to probe into mud and shallow water for insects, crustaceans, and other small creatures.

When the breeding season rolls around, males are the first ones on the scene. Females get to the nesting ground after, and the birds pair up. They are monogamous during the season, and some pairs will continue to couple up year after year. Males start out the nest building process, scraping a few possible locations into the ground. The female will pick the location she likes the best, finishing the construction at the site.

Young Dunlins are precocial, and are flying after only 3 weeks. Interestingly, the mother usually abandons her family within the first week of hatching, and it is the father who cares for the offspring until they are fully fledged.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Europe, Asia, North America
Size : Length up to 8in (20cm), Wingspan up to 14in (35cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Charadriiformes
Family : Scolopacidae -- Genus : Calidris -- Species : C. alpina

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Poli's Stellate Barnacle

Chthamalus stellatus
Did you know that Barnacles, those weird bumpy things that attach themselves to rocks, are not only animals, but they are Crustaceans just like Crabs and Lobsters? Let's learn about one species today!

These Barnacles, named for Italian biologist Giuseppe Saverio Poli, can be found in Southern Europe and off the coasts of England and Ireland. They attach themselves to rocks and other firm objects in inter-tidal zones. Once attached, the Barnacles don't really go anywhere. They feed by reaching their tiny legs out from their shell and latching on to plankton and debris.

Poli's Stellate Barnacles have chalky-white shells that have kite-shaped openings as juveniles, and oval openings as adults. Underneath that shell, their tissue is bright blue with black and orange markings. The Barnacles are usually cone-shaped, but they become more tubular in crowded areas. They grow to a size of around 14mm, but the size is dependent on their habitat and food supply.

One thing I found particularly interesting is that all Poli's Stellate Barnacles are hermaphrodites. If isolated, the Barnacles can actually self reproduce, though in most cases they will take on a male or female role. "Male" Barnacles have very long sexual organs that they can use to search for "Females" in the nearby area. Keep in mind that this whole time the Barnacle itself remains latched on to a surface, and does not otherwise move. "Females" keep their fertilized eggs inside their shell with them until they hatch, and there can be up to 4,000 eggs at a time!

After hatching, the larvae are free-swimming and go through several molts until they hit their Cyprid stage. At this point in their life they are completely unable to feed, and must find a rock or something else to latch on to in order to metamorphose into their final shelled adult form. These Barnacles can live up to 5 years, and reach full maturity after around 10 months.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Europe
Size : Diameter up to 14mm
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Subphylum : Crustacea -- Class : Maxillopoda
Order : Sessilia -- Family : Chthamalidae -- Genus : Chthamalus -- Species : C. stellatus

Monday, August 6, 2012

Swan Goose

Anser cygnoides
The Swan Goose is a very large Goose that breeds in China, Russia, and Mongolia, with some small populations also being found in surrounding countries. They breed in wetland areas of the steppe and taiga, and during the winter they migrate to more coastal areas. Though they are waterfowl, these Geese aren't often found in the water-- they graze on dry land. They feed on sedges and berries, typically at night, with their diet shifting each season to accommodate what is available.

Swan Geese are the ancestors of two different Domesticated species-- the Chinese Goose and the African Goose. Most other Geese trace their lines back to the Greylag Goose which is native to most of Europe and Asia. Swan Geese are the second largest Geese in their genus, just behind the Greylag.

Unfortunately, Swan Geese are listed as Vulnerable. Though their domestic descendants can be found around the world, they themselves are threatened by unsustainable hunting and habitat loss. It is estimated that there around around 90,000 left, though the population is on a fast decline.

Their wetland breeding areas are being  used for development and agriculture, so the birds are being forced into very small ranges. The major downside to these small breeding ranges is that a single localized natural disaster can completely wipe out a huge portion of the population. The birds are protected in several areas of Russia, Mongolia, and Korea, but there is much more to be done to keep these Geese from going extinct.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Asia
Size : Length around 3ft (.9m), Weight up to 7.7lbs (3.5kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Anseriformes
Family : Anatidae -- Genus : Anser -- Species : A. cygnoides

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Bagheera kiplingi

Bagheera kiplingi
Today's animal is rather unusual-- it has an almost exclusively herbivorous diet, which makes it very unique among the 40,000 different spider species out there!

Bagheera kiplingi was only first discovered in 2008. It is a species of jumping spider that is native to Central America. Like other Jumping Spdiers, it possesses large eyes and the ability to leap large distances (as far as 50 times their body size). Unlike its cousins, however, it does not hunt its food.

B. kiplingi has figured out a way to steal nutritious protein and fat-rich nubs from Acacia trees. These nubs, called Beltian Bodies, are formed due to a symbiotic relationship between the Acacia tree and Ants. The Spiders ignore the Ants that guard the Bodies, and feed almost exclusively on the nubs. I say "almost exclusively" because the Spiders do sometimes feed on the Ant larvae as well, but it is a very small percentage of their diet.

B. kiplingi exhibits sexual dimorphism-- the males have a dark greenish cephalothorax, while the female's is reddish brown. Females also have much larger abdomens.

And for those who were curious, Bagheera kiplingi is named after the Panther in Kipling's The Jungle Book and Kipling himself. The Genus named was derived back in 1896 by George and Elizabeth Peckham. They named a handful of other genera after Kipling characters as well.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Central America
Size : Length around 2cm
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Arachnida -- Order : Araneae
Family : Salticidae -- Genus : Bagheera -- Species : B. kiplingi

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Netherland Dwarf

Netherland Dwarf
I'm heading over to the Wisconsin State Fair today, and for those of you who have not had the pleasure, the fair is known for three things: Every type of food imaginable.... on a stick. Pig races. Animals. Lots and lots of animals. While the horses, cows, and other large livestock usually get all the glory, I've always been a fan of the Rabbits and Poultry building. You get to see all kinds of different breeds, from the common to the completely unusual. Today we'll be learning all about one of the more popular Rabbits- the Netherland Dwarf.

Netherland Dwarf
The Netherland Dwarf originated in its namesake country during the early 20th century. They were the result of crosses between small wild rabbits and smaller polish breeds. The first Dwarfs were aggressive, and took after their wild relatives more than their domesticated ones. It wasn't until the past few decades that selective breeding was able to produce more gentile traits. However, there are still some skittish Rabbits out there, a carryover of their early days.

Netherlands Dwarfs are popular due to their small size, and the easier ownership requirements that go along with it. They need much smaller cages, less food, and do not need to live in pairs or groups like some small mammals do. They can be littler box trained, but success will vary on the individual.

Another reason why this breed is so popular? They retain infant-like looks as adults! They also come in just about every color imaginable. Because they are so small, they are kept as pets almost exclusively, as they aren't large enough for fur or meat usage.

Netherland Dwarfs are often crossed with other Rabbit Breeds to create smaller pets, and they have actually help to found several other breeds as well. The Jersey Woolly, Mini-Rex, and Holland Lop are all results of Dwarf crosses with other breeds.

Status : Domesticated
Location : Netherlands
Size : Weigtha round 3.5lbs (1.6kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Lagomorpha
Family : Leporidae -- Genus : Oryctolagus -- Species : O. cuniculus

Friday, August 3, 2012

Green Violetear

Colibri thalassinus
Violetears are Hummingbirds that belong to the Colibri genus. All are found in South and Central America, occupying different ranges and altitudes. All are named for the bright violet color patches that run backwards from their eyes.

The Green Violetear is one of those species, and is named for their vibrant metallic green feathers. Males and females look mostly alike, and the only sexual dimorphism comes in the violet patch size (larger in males).

You can find this particular species in the highlands and cloud forests of Central and South America, and they are sometimes even found in the Southern United States. They are rarely seen at altitudes of less than 1,600ft (500m) and are usually found at the 4,000-7,500ft range (1,200-2,300m). Green Violetears are solitary birds, though groups will sometimes gather at a specific feeding tree, sipping on nectar (they eat small insects as well).

When it comes to their reproductive habits, all that we know comes from a few observations. Females will approach a group of males, and they will chase her. Once one male catches her, the rest give up. The couple will fly side by side for some time, before descending to the ground and mating. Males then have no further involvement in the process. Females build their nests, lay their eggs, and incubate the eggs on their own. The two chicks hatch after 17 days, and fledge at around 4 weeks.

Green Violetears are listed as being of Least Concern, and there are no current conservation programs overseeing their management.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Central and South America
Size : Length around 12cm
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Apodiformes
Family : Trochilidae -- Genus : Colibri -- Species : C. thalassinus

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Trakehner

Trakehner Horse
I've been watching a lot of Olympics coverage lately, and this morning was the start of the team Dressage competition. Without writing an essay, Dressage is an Equestrian Sport where a horse and rider perform a series of moves within an arena. "Horse Ballet" is a term sometimes used, and it's not far off. The horses perform very practiced moves, and there is a huge amount of training involved in the discipline. The sport even dates back hundreds of years.

Most horses involved in Dressage are "Warmbloods," including today's breed. The Trakehner's roots date back to 1732, when Fredrick William I of Prussia established a stud farm at Trakehnen. These early representatives of the breed were stockier than their modern counterparts, but that all changed in the 1800s when Thoroughbred and Arabian blood was added to the line. The result was ultimately a large, intelligent, stable horse with great endurance that could be used for both farm work, and for cavalry purposes.
Trakehner doing Dressage

Trakehners continued to be bred in East Prussia until World War II, when approaching Russian forces forced an evacuation. The breed was reduced to only 600 broodmares and 50 stallions. Trakehners have since rebounded, and their governance in Germany is overseen by the federal government, including the Trakehner Verband. Pureblooded Trakehners are often branded with the emblem of their national association.

The Trakehner stands between 16 and 17 hands tall, and had strong hindquarters and a springy "flaoting trot" gait. Today they are used for farm more than just military and farm work, and they excel at a number of Equestrian sports, including Jumping and Dressage. The breed is often used to refine other Warmblood breeds. Because Trakehners have Arabian and Thoroughbred blood, breeding them to other Warmbloods allows for the traits of those "Hotblood" breeds to enter the gene pool, but without the need for risky direct crosses.

Status : Domesticated
Location : Originated in Prussia
Size : Height up to 16hands
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Perissodactyla
Family : Equidae -- Genus : Equus -- Species : E. ferus -- Subspecies : E. f. caballus

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

St. Lucia Racer

Liophis ornatus
Yesterday we talked about about a snake that is Critically Endangered, and considered "the rarest snake in the world". Today we'll learn about a snake that might be able to vie for that title-- it was considered extinct for nearly 75 years before being recently rediscovered.

The St. Lucia Racer, another snake endemic to a Caribbean Island, was actually declared extinct back in 1936. Its decline was also due to the introduction of Rats and Mongooses to the island. There was a potential sighting in the 1970s, but everyone throught that the small island snakes were gone. Only a few weeks ago (early July, 2012), news stories began to report that the Racer had been found again on a small, 30 acre island. There are at least 11 individuals on the site, though there may be more.

All of the newly rediscovered snakes were micro-chipped and re-released. There is most assuredly inbreeding within the population, but the full extent of their lack of genetic diversity wot be known for a few more months.

Like the Antiguan Racer we learned about yesterday, the St. Lucia Racer is a small snake. It measures less than 1m in length. It is also said to be very docile with humans, and it eats small frogs and lizards.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : St. Lucia
Size : Length around 1m
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Sauropsida -- Order : Squamata
Family : Colubridae -- Genus : Liophis -- Species : L. ornatus
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