Sunday, September 30, 2012

Lystrosaurus

Lystrosaurus
Have you ever heard of Lystrosaurus? This amazing little creature was one of the very few lifeforms that actually survived the massive Permian/Triassic extinction event. Because they were able to make it through, they absolutely thrived during the Early Triassic, and were the most common land animals!

There are about half a dozen different species within the genus, and they have been found in what is now Southern Africa, Asia, and Antarctica. If that sounds like an odd distribution, remember that back 250 million years ago, those continents were actually joined together.

So what was Lytrosaurus? Well.. it was't a Dinosaur, despite the name. They actually weren't really reptiles either... Confusing, right? They were Therapsids, odd, mammal/reptile like creatures that would eventually evolve into the mammals we have today.

Lystrosaurus was about the size of a small pig and had short snouts, and only two, shovel-like teeth. They were herbivores that probably walked with a semi-spawling gate. There are many theories on why these animals survived when others did not. Some think that because they burrowed, they could cope with the low Oxygen air.  Others think that their small-ish size, semi-aquatic lifestyle, and varied diet helped to keep them going.

We know quite a bit about this extinct genus because their fossils are amazingly abundant. They were so common back in the Triassic that 95% of fossils in some sites belong to these animals!

Status : Extinct for 250 million years
Location : South Africa, Asia, Antarctica
Size : Length up to 3ft (.9m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Synapsida -- Order : Therapsida
Family : †Lystrosauridae -- Genus : †Lystrosaurus

Saturday, September 29, 2012

South American Armored Catfish

Corydoras semiaquilus
The South American Armored Catfish gets its name from the visible plates on their sides. Many Catfish species have no scales at all, but this small fish has bony scutes that run the length of their body, giving them a very interesting look (as opposed to the smooth appearance of other members of their Order).

The Amazon Basin of South America in where these fish call home. Like many Catfish, they are nocturnal bottom feeders, using their flat heads and barbels to search for and uncover food. They are very small, usually not growing larger than a few centimeters, which means their prey must also be small-- they consume worms, insects, small crustaceans, and various bits of plant matter.

The species is commonly kept in captivity, and are also referred to as the Peru Black Cory. They are said to be a very peaceful fish that won't bother other tank residents, and they prefer to live in small groups. The fish do best in tanks that have bottoms covered in a small substrate, rather than large rocks (since they dig around to feed).

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Amazon Basin
Size : Length up to 2.5in (6cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Siluriformes
Family : Callichthyidae -- Genus : Corydoras -- Species : C. semiaquilus

Friday, September 28, 2012

Cape Porcupine

Hystrix africaeaustralis
Allow me to introduce you to the largest Porcupine in the world, and the largest Rodent on the African Continent-- the Cape Porcupine. They shiny critters can grow almost 3ft long (not including the tail), and individuals have been found that weigh over 60lbs!

Though the name hints at a specific location, the Cape Porcupine can actually be found throughout central and southern Africa. They live at elevations below 2,000m, and can be found in a large range of habitats, though they prefer open, rocky areas.

Obviously, Cape Porcupines have quills. Their back and tail is covered with them, and the ones in the tail are  especially hollow. This allows the Porcupine to make a rattling sound in order to scare off predators. If that tactic fails, the Porcupine will charge at its attacker and try and stab them with their quills. Contrary to popular belief, they do not shoot the spines out-- they stab and then dislodge them.

Cape Porcupines are rodents that mate for life. Monogamous pairs will live and raise their young together, and will mark and defend a specific home range. They are also a nocturnal species, and are herbivores. The Porcupines  typically eat fruits, bark, and roots, but will also go after crops. They are considered to be a pest in some places, do to crop and tree damage.

Cape Porcupines have a stable population and are not under any major conservation threat.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Southern and Central Africa
Size : Body Length up to 32in (80cm), Weight up to 53lbs (24kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Rodentia
Family : Hystricidae -- Genus : Hystrix -- Species : H. africaeaustralis

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Himalayan Quail

Ophrysia superciliosa
The Himalayan Quail is one of the rarest birds in the world... if they are actually still out there. Are they extinct, or are they still alive in the remote mountains of India?

The last confirmed sighting was way, way back in 1876. Since then there have only been a light spattering of unconfirmed reports, and official searches have turned up nothing definitive. So why not just say that they are extinct? It has been nearly 15 years after all. Well, the issue is that while the birds are most certainly gone from human-populated areas, there could still be a group of birds in a more remote grassland location. Quails are also very difficult to spot in general, due to their camouflaging coloration and behavior, so not seeing any does not necessarily mean that they aren't there.

All that we know about the Himalayan Quail comes from a couple of specimens taken during the 19th century, and from a scant handful of reports taken around the same time. They are small, dark birds with red bills and legs. Males also have white streaks on their heads. They live in groups of 6 to 10, residing in areas with tall grasses and feeding on the seeds that they find there. Reports also state that they rarely fly, and will only take to the air when predators are incredibly close (just about the be stepped on).

So what do you think? Is the Himalayan Quail still out there? Or has it really been gone for over a hundred years? For now it joins the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Baiji, and others in the list of "creatures that may be gone completely... but we don't know for sure."

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : India
Size : Length up to 10in (25cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Galliformes
Family : Phasianidae -- Genus : Ophrysia -- Species : O. superciliosa

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ankylosaurus

Ankylosaurus magniventris
About a week ago we learned all about an armored Sauropod, Ampelosaurus. Today we'll learn about one of the most famous armored Dinosaurs of them all- Ankylosaurus. Like Ampelosaurus, Ankylosaurus lived during the late Cretaceous period... though a few million years later and in a different part of the world.

There is only one identified species within the Ankylosaurus genus-- A. magniventris. It was first uncovered in Montana back in 1906, and officially named in 1908. Ankylosaurus translates to "Curved Lizard" or "Stiffened Lizard," while magniventris means "great belly," a reference to the animal's width.

Ankylosaurus was covered by osteoderms of varying sizes, and those plates most likely had keratin on top of them as well. They also had large, clubbed tails-- those clubs were actually osteoderms fused with the last few vertebrae on the tail. Those plates and club (and the horns on their head) made them a difficult animal for predators to take down.

Ankylosaurus was an herbivore, and had a beak and small teeth that were used to browse from trees. They actually lacked molars, so food wasn't really ground up. Overall, we know a lot about the anatomy of the Ankylosaurus... except for what its feet looked like! No foot fossils have ever been found, though based on the feet of closer relatives, they probably had five toes on each foot.

Status : Extinct for 65 million years
Location : North America
Size : Length up to 30ft (9m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class:  Reptilia -- clade : Dinosauria
Order : †Ornithischia -- Family : †Ankylosauridae
Genus : †Ankylosaurus -- Species : †A. magniventris

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Short-eared Dog

Atelocynus microtis
The Short-eared Dog is one weird Canine. Though sometimes also called the Short-eared Fox, they are close relatives of neither domestic dogs or foxes. They actually belong to their own separate genus, apart from any other current living Canid.

Short-eared Dogs look just as their name suggests-- they have small rounded ears. They also have very fox-like faces and bushy tails, but short little legs. You can find them living in the undisturbed lowland rainforests of South America, where they live a solitary lifestyle.

As with most dogs, this species is mainly a carnivore, though they will also eat fruits. They also have the interesting distinction of having females that are about 1/3 larger than the males! Unfortunately, not much else is known about their behavior, including their exact reproductive habits. We also don't even know how long their lifespan is!

Short-eared Dogs are listed as Near Threatened, due to habitat loss and degradation. It is estimated that there are only 15,000 left in the wild.

IUCN Status : Near Threatenened
Location : South America
Size : Height up to 1ft (30cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Canidae -- Genus : Atelocynus -- Species : A. microtis

Monday, September 24, 2012

Plott Hound

Tan Brindle Plott Hound
The Plott Hound is an interesting breed of dog in that is also not too well known (even though it is the state dog of North Carolina!). They are strong, active, athletic dogs, and their coats come in either black or a brindle variation.

One interesting fact is that the Plott Hound is the only breed of American Hound that does not trace its ancestry back to English Foxhound. The story of this particular breed goes back to Germany in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. They were bred there for generations, creating a dog built for boar hunting. When Johannes Plott emigrated to the United States in 1750, he brought a pack of these dogs with them, and the breed continued to form and develop.

Plott ended up in the mountains of North Carolina, and his family stayed there, breeding the pack of dogs, for nearly 200 years. Plott Hounds, which once hunted Boar back in Europe, were now adept at hunting the game of the Appalachian Mountains.

The Plotts rarely sold their dogs, which is why the breed was so little known. In 1946 they were recognized by the United Kennel Club, but it wasn't until 2006 that the Plott Hound was listed by the AKC.

Status : Domesticated
Location : Germany, United States
Size : Height up to 24in (61cm), Weight up to 55lbs (25kg)

Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Canidae -- Genus : Canis -- Species : C. lupus -- Subspecies : C. l. familiaris

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Metamynodon

Metamynodon
Don't you just love convergent evolution? Today's animal is a great example of the phenomenon-- it looked and acted a lot like a Hippopotamus, but was actually an ancient Rhinoceros! (Hippos and Rhinos are not closely related in any way).

This the Metamynodon, a large aquatic mammal that lived between 35 and 30 million years ago, from the Late Eocene to the early Oligocene. There are actually three different identified species (Metamynodon is the genus name), and the fossils have been uncovered in North America.

Metamynodon had a very large, round body and short legs like a Hippo does. They had eyes that were situated further up on the head, so that they could see while partially submerged. They also did not have the horns that make Rhinos so identifiable. But! Metamynodon's successor in the family tree did have the start of a horn, which, combined with the foot type (Rhinos are Perissodactyls, Hippos are not) tells us that these were not Hippos at all, just another example of Convergent Evolution.

Status : Extinct for around 30 million years
Location : North America
Size : Length up to 13ft (4m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Perissodactyla
Family : †Amynodontidae -- Genus : †Metamynodon

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Liben Lark

Heteromirafra sidamoensis
Meet the Liben Lark, one of the most endangered birds in the world. If nothing is done and their populations continues to decline, they may also have the unfortunate distinction of being the first bird to go extinct in mainland Africa.

Liben Larks are endemic to Ethiopia, and are restricted to a very small range of grassland that measures only 36 square kilometers. They are small birds, with brown streaked feathering and buff undersides. Males and females look alike. Because of their scarcity, they haven't been extensively studied.

Habitat loss and degradation have been major causes for the rapid decline. Increased human and livestock encroachment has led to a dramatic loss of open grassland for the Larks, which forage and nest on the ground. Their remaining range is not protected, and though a number of conservation measures have been proposed, the bird could very well be extinct in only a few years. It is estimated that there are between 100 and 250 left.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Ethiopia
Size : Length up to 5in (14cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Alaudidae -- Genus : Heteromirafra -- Species : H. sidamoensis

Friday, September 21, 2012

Ampelosaurus

Ampelosaurus atacis
Ampelosaurus is one incredible looking Dinosaur. Not only are they members of the gigantically long Sauropod group, but they also had armor on their backs!

Ampelosaurus wasn't as long, or even as long-necked as some of its Sauropod relatives, but at 50ft in length they were far from tiny. They bony plates on the back are called osteoderms, and they grow from the dermal layers of the skin. Ankylosaurus and Stegosaurus are two other Dinosaurs famous for their Osteoderms.

This Dinosaur is also pretty distinct because its fossils have been found more-or-less complete. Typically, Titanosaurs (the very large sauropods that lived in the Late Cretaceous) have to be reconstructed using only a handful of found remains. Ampelosaurus has provided us with dozens of fossils, including a skeleton that is very close to complete! They are one of the best known Dinosaurs in Europe.

Ampelosaurus ("Vineyard Lizard") lived between 70 and 65 million years ago, at the very end of the Dinosaurs' reign. They stomped around what is now Europe, and most of their fossils have been recovered from the Marnes Rouges InfĂ©rieures Formation in France. They were first uncovered near a Vineyard, hence the name's translation.

Status : Extinct for 70 million years
Location : Europe
Size : Length up to 50ft (15m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Superorder : Dinosauria -- Order : Saurischia
Infraorder : Sauropoda -- Genus : Ampelosaurus -- Species : A. atacis

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Midas Cichlid

Amphilophus citrinellus
Many of the other Cichlids that we've talked about up to this point live in the African Rift Valley. Today's species is a bit different, and actually hails from the other side of the world-- the San Juan River and nearby waters in Central America.

The Midas Cichlid, as it is often called in the aquatics trade, is a large, hardy freshwater fish that is actually a pretty popular pet, due to their size and coloration. In nature, males have much larger humps than females, though they are only especially large during the breeding season. Those same humps remain year round in captive individuals.

Midas Cichlids are not at all picky about what they eat. In the wild they consume plants, invertebrates, and small fish. In captivity they have a similar diet, and will readily consume vegetation, as well as live and frozen creatures.

One interesting quirk that I discovered is that these fish really like to redecorate! If you keep a Midas Cichlid as a pet, don't put them in a tank with decor that can be easy moved around. The fish will dig up substrate, dislodge plants, and even knock around water heaters and filters!

Keep in mind though, Midas Cichlids can be very aggressive. This behavior is less pronounced when they have more space, so a big aquarium is a must.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Central America
Size : Length up to 30in (75cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Perciformes
Family : Cichlidae -- Genus : Amphilophus -- Species : A. citrinellus

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Japanese Badger

Meles anakuma
Why it's that day of the year again. Happy Badger day! (We actually could go for another eight years before running out of Badgers to talk about...)

Last year we talked about the internet-famous Honey Badger, and the year before we learned about my beloved American Badger, but this year we'll be discussing one of the lesser known Badgers, the Japanese Badger!

Japanese Badgers belong to a different subfamily from the previously featured Badgers, and are close relatives of the yet-to-be-discussed European and Asian Badgers. As you can probably guess, they are endemic to Japan, and their island dwelling lifestyle has left them slightly smaller than their continental cousins. It is hypothesized that their ancestors entered Japan from the Korean Peninsula, which would explain why the species has not been found on the northernmost island, Hokkaido.

You can identify the Japanese Badger by their grey-brown hair and chocolate colored facial stripes that are similar to those found in the European and Asian Badgers, but are a bit less pronounced. They have tiny ears, short tails, and large, powerful feet with non-retractable claws for digging expertise.

One thing I found rather interesting is that Japanese Badgers have a polygynandrous breeding system. This means that both the males and the females will mate with multiple partners throughout the year. Unlike their close European cousins, they do not even form pair bonds to rear the offspring-- females do that duty alone. They actually will mate at all times of the year, but the females are luckily able to delay implantation so that her cubs are only born during the favorable spring season. Another fun fact? Female offspring will stay with their mothers for up to 14 months, but males will hang around for more than two years! Outside of mother/offspring groups the Japanese Badgers are solitary, more so than other Badger species.

Though they are currently listed as being of Least Concern, the Japanese Badger population has been on the decline for the last 30 years or so. Habitat loss has been a big factor, as is the spread of invasive Raccoons who compete for food and breeding sites.


IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Japan
Size : Length up to 30in (75cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Mustelidae -- Genus : Meles -- Species : M. anakuma

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Meganeuropsis

Meganeuropsis
A while back we learned about Meganeura, a genus of gigantic Dragonflies that lived around 300 million years ago, back when the oxygen levels were higher and the earth could support insects of tremendous size.

So, it should not come as a shock that there were other huge Dragonflies out there, aside from Meganeura. Enter Meganeuropsis, a genus containing two species that rival the previously mentioned insects in size. (It's also important to note that the two genera occupied different areas. Meganerua in what is now Europe, and Meganeuropsis in the middle United States.)

The two known species are M. permiana and M. americana. They were uncovered in Kansas and Oklahoma respectively, back in 1937 and 1940. M. permiana  may be the largest insect ever, even bigger than the Meganeura species.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to tell just how large these insects were able to get, since the fossils had to have very specific conditions in order to stay preserved, and because the parts themselves were so delicate. In short, it is very rare to find these parts intact, so it can be difficult to determine overall size. The largest preserved wing so far  demonstrates a nearly 2.5ft wingspan (the fossil currently resides at Harvard).

Status : Extinct for 250 million years
Location : North America
Size : Length up to 17in (43cm), Wingspan up to 28in (71cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : †Meganisoptera
Family : Meganeuridae -- Genus : Meganeuropsis

Monday, September 17, 2012

Gold Tegu

Tupinambis teguixin
Tegus are large, omnivorous lizards that inhabit South America. They essentially fill the same niche that the Monitor lizards fill in Asia and Africa. Though the two lizard types look similar and do the same jobs, they are not closely related (go convergent evolution!)

The Gold Tegu is one of the seven species of Tegu. They live in the northern parts of South America, inhabiting tropical forests. They have powerful legs, a very thick tail, and can reach lengths of up to 3ft. They are also sometimes referred to as "Black Tegus," due to their gold and black stripes.

Gold Tegus feed on a wide variety of things, from insects, to small reptiles and mammals, to fruits. They can live up to 20 years, and are sometimes kept as pets, though there are other Tegu species that are more suitable. They tend of be more aggressive than their close cousins, but can become relatively tame with proper handling.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South America
Size : Length up to 3ft (90cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Teiidae -- Genus : Tupinambis -- Species : T. teguixin

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sivatherium

Sivatherium
Today there are only two living members of the Giraffe family-- the Giraffe itself, and the mysterious mountain-dwelling Okapi. But there were other Giraffes in the past, even as recently as 8,000 years ago!

Today's animal, Sivatherium, is one of those ancient Giraffes. Members of this genus (meaning "Shiva's Beast") lived in Africa and South Asia between 5 million 8,000 years ago. They had bodies similar to Okapis, but where taller and more heavily built. They also had huge, moose-like horns, along with having the small ossicones that the modern Giraffids have. They had very thick, powerful necks in order to hold up those heavy skulls.

One really cool thing that I learned was that human-drawn pictures of the Sivatherium have been found in the Sahara. This means that the animals were quite recent, but it also may unfortunately suggest that hunting was a major cause of their extinction (like many other megafauna of the time).


Status : Extinct for 8,000 years
Location : Africa, South Asia
Size : Height up to 7.4ft (2.2m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Giraffidae -- Subfamily : †Sivatheriinae -- Genus : †Sivatherium

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Blackspotted Puffer

Arothron nigropunctatus
We've talked about Pufferfish more generally in the past, getting a quick overview of the 121 different members of the Tetradontidae family, but today we'll cover one of these brilliantly colored fish more specifically.

Meet the Blackspotted Puffer, a species that can grow to about 1ft in length that lives in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They also happen to be popular in aquariums due to their friendly looking faces and general lack of agression (though they have some intense care requirements).

Blackspotted Puffers can come in a variety of different colors, including yellow, white, and blue. They always have their namesake black spots, regardless of their overall color. Like all Puffers, they can inflate their bodies to a large size in order to ward off predators.The Puffers themselves are predators in their own right. They feed on Corals, Crustaceans, and various types of Mollusk.

And have I mentioned that these fish are toxic? Eating them can actually cause death!

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Indian and Pacific Oceans
Size : Length up to 1ft (32cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Tetraodontiformes
Family : Tetraodontidae -- Genus : Arothron -- Species : A. nigropunctatus

Friday, September 14, 2012

Great Barracuda

Sphyraena barracuda
The Great, or Giant, Barracuda is a very slender fish that can grow to lengths of 6ft (though the average is around 3.5). They swim in the warm, tropical and subtropical ocean waters of the world, typically living near shore but sometimes also venturing to the open ocean.

The species can be identified by their long torpedo-like bodies, their large eyes, and their doubled-notched tail fin. Their upper scales range from grey, to green, to blue, and their undersides are more pale. Sometimes they have dark spots on their sides as well.

Great Barracudas are solitary swimmers, a lifestyle that works well for their preferred method of hunting. They lie and wait, and then ambush their prey with bursts of incredible speed. For short distances this predator can move up to 36mph (58kph). They feed on all sorts of fish species, and can bite larger fish in half with ease, thanks to their large mouths.

Barracudas can be dangerous to humans, but attacks are rare and usually a misunderstanding on the part of the fish. They sometimes mistake shiny objects (like parts on a diver suit) for other fish, and erroneously attack. There have only been a handful of reported deaths.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Tropical and Subtropical Oceans
Size : Length up to 6ft (1.8m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Perciformes
Family : Sphyraenidae -- Genus : Sphyraena -- Species : S. barracuda

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Lesula

Cercopithecus lomamiensis
I love writing about newly discovered animals, and this one is so new that it was just introduced yesterday! Meet Cercopithecus lomamiensis, locally referred to as the Lesula.

The Lesula avoided detection for so long because their native range is in very remote forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was only noticed because a man found a young one on a hunting trip, and brought it back to his 13-year-old niece, Georgette. Congo researcher John Hart noticed the beautiful monkey in Georgette's village in 2007, and spent the next five years trying to figure out what it was.

This new species is very striking. They have bright golden manes, red patches on their backs, and the males have bright aquamarine backsides (which allow the lady monkeys to find them in the thick vegetation-- bright blue really stands out!). They live in groups of up to five individuals, and feed on fruits and leaves.

The Lesula is one of the many monkey species that faces danger from local hunting. The meat is cheap, and in some places, very easy to obtain. Hart is currently trying to set up a preserve to keep this brand new species protected, as they are probably threatened enough to be listed as Vulnerable. Sadly, the monkey that started it all, was probably taken for food by one of Georgette's fellow villagers.

IUCN Status : Not Listed (Probably Vulnerable)
Location : Democratic Republic of Congo
Size :  Weight up to 15lbs (7kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Primates
Family : Cercopithecidae -- Genus : Cercopithecus -- Species : C. lomamiensis

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Grizzled Giant Squirrel

Ratufa macroura
The Grizzled Giant Squirrel is a threatened species that is found in only a few spots of India and Sri Lanka. There are three different subspecies, and as a whole they are the smallest of the Indian Giant Squirrels.

Grizzled Giant Squirrels are named for the white flecks of hair that cover their greyish-brown bodies, giving them a grizzled look. They also have very long tails that can constitute over half their total body length, and small round ears with tufts.

Though there are Squirrels that live on the ground (I'm looking at you Marmots), this particular species lives just about exclusively in the trees. Their long tails make them great jumpers, and they can leap as far as 6m between trees! Grizzled Giant Squirrels are very territorial, and usually live alone or in pairs. They forage during the daytime, searching for fruits, nuts, insects, and even bird eggs. Pairs produce one little a year, number 1-2 offpsring.

Unfortunately, the Grizzled Giant Squirrels is listed as Near Threatened. They are hunted by humans for meat and fur, and habitat degradation has made them either lose their homes entirely, or live in thinned out forests where they are easier to spot by avian predators. They are protected in a few places, most notably the Shenbagathope Grizzled Squirrel Sanctuary in Southern India.

IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : India, Sri Lanka
Size :  Total length up to 35in (90cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Rodentia
Family : Sciuridae -- Genus : Ratufa -- Species : R. macroura

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

King Eider

Somateria spectabilis (male)
Take a look at the male King Eider in its breeding plumage. What a gorgeous duck! Their blue, yellow, and green face, contrasted with the stark white chest and black body, makes for a truly spectacular looking bird.

Of course, they don't look as brilliant all year-- outside of the June and July breeding season the colors dull significantly.

And of course, like many other ducks, the females are significantly less dramatic looking-- their feathers are reddish brown, barred with black and white. But those brown barred colors certainly help around breeding time, as the females are left alone to incubate their eggs. They nest on the ground and press their bodies low to stay hidden. They rarely even get up to feed during that three week incubation period!

King Eiders are highly gregarious birds, and can form flocks that number into the tens of thousands. They breed on the tundras of the Northern Hemisphere, and spend their summers on the Arctic and Sub-Arctic coasts, never travelling much further south than Scotland or New England. They feed on aquatic plants and animals, and can even dive down over 80ft to forage!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Northern Hemisphere
Size :  Length up to 24in (61cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Anseriformes
Family : Anatidae -- Genus : Somateria -- Species : S. spectabilis

Monday, September 10, 2012

Common Chaffinch

Fringilla coelebs (male)
The Common Chaffinch is a bird with a very large distribution. They can be found throughout Europe, large patches of western Asia, and north Africa and the Middle East. They have also been introduced to Australia and New Zealand, and are occasionally found in southeast Asia and even in the United States. There are many different location-based subspecies.

The males of the species are easy to identify-- they have white barred wings, a red chest, and a bright blue cap. Females are less colorful, and sport hints of green. Their name comes from "Chaff Finch," because they are fond of pecking out different grains to eat.

Most of the Common Chaffinches live in resident populations. Only those that live in colder regions will migrate to warmer climates during the winter. Migrating flocks can sometimes become quite large, though most of the time the birds live in very small groups or in pairs.

Breeding time brings about courtships displays from the males. After mating, the males leaves and the female nests in a tree fork. She will lay up to four eggs which take only two weeks to incubate and another two weeks for the chicks to fledge. Interestingly, the young Chaffinches are fed insects rather than seeds, though seeds will be their primary food source as adults.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Europe, parts of Africa and Asia
Size :  Length up to 6in (16cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Fringillidae -- Genus : Fringilla -- Species : F. coelebs

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Parictis

Meet the Parictis genus. The eight species found within it are the oldest known bears in the world, dating back between 38 and 33 million years.

Polar bears have skulls 6 times longer
than those of their Parictis ancestors!
These ancient bears first appeared in North America around 38 million years ago, during the Late Eocene. By the time the early Miocene rolled around a few million years later, different species had spread to Europe and Africa, with some presence in Asia as well.

Parictis bears were very small, like the size of small dogs. They had skulls that measured only a few inches long! There is still a whole lot to learn about these ancestors to the giant bears of today, as the only fossils found have been very fragmentary. (I couldn't even find a photo or reconstruction image!) Even still, it's always amazing to think about how much things have changed over time-- from a 3in skull to one nearly a foot and a half long!

Status : Extinct for around 33 million years
Location : North America, Europe, Africa
Size :  Skull size around 3in (8cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Ursidae -- Genus : Parictis

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Two-toed Amphiuma

Amphiuma means
The Two-toed Amphiuma is actually one of the longest Salamanders in the world, and the longest in the United States, capable of reaching lengths of 3-4ft! You can find these long, eel-like Amphibians in the slow moving, often stagnant waters of the southeastern parts of the country. Though they are sometimes referred to as "Conger Eels" or "Congo Snakes," they are still Amphibians.

The species gets its common name from their odd little feet. They have four tiny little vestigial legs, each one ending in two toes. These legs are pretty much useless, which is good, cause they don't particularly need them for anything. Two-toed Amphiumas are almost exclusively aquatic.

Their underwater lifestyle explains their tiny legs, their long bodies, lidded eyes (as juveniles), and their incredibly slippy skin. Curiously though, they have no external gills as adults, and they posses fully formed lungs!

If you see one of these interesting Amphibians, leave it alone! Though not venomous, they have really nasty bites if handled incorrectly.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Southeast United States
Size :  Length up to 4ft (1.2m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Amphibia -- Order : Caudata
Family : Amphiumidae -- Genus : Amphiuma -- Species : A. means

Friday, September 7, 2012

Knobbed Hornbill

Aceros cassidix (male)
The Knobbed Hornbill is a large Hornbill that is endemic to the lowland forests of Indonesia. They are primarily herbivores, and feed on fruits and berries. They also will snatch up the occasional insect.

Knobbed Hornbills are monogamous, often for life, and are usually found in pairs. Both sexes have large yellow bills and pale blue skin around the eyes and throat. Males have a very large red casque on their heads, and light colored feathers on the neck. Females are smaller in size over, have short yellow casques, and black necks.

Female
The Knobbed Hornbills have an interesting nesting style. When it comes time to mate, the pair will build a nest inside of a tree cavity. The female will then enter that cavity and be sealed in with a wall of mud, saliva, and other debris. A small hole will be left in the wall to pass in food and to keep the nest clean. The male will  spend more than four months slipping regurgitated food into the nest for his mate and their offspring. When his food supply is not enough, the female will break out, leaving the chicks inside to be fed and kept safe for a few more weeks!

One other fun fact that I found about these birds is that they are sometimes referred to as "Year Birds" by the locals. This name references the red stripe-plates on the sides of the bills, which were thought to identify the bird's age. In truth, those plates can fall off and be replaced, so they aren't very good indicators!


IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Indonesia
Size :  Length up to 3ft (.9m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Coraciiformes
Family : Bucerotidae -- Genus : Aceros -- Species : A. cassidix

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Butikaw

Varanus bitatawa
Today's animal goes by two different common names. The first is the titles of this post- Butikaw. This is the name given to the Lizard by the local residents. The second is Northern Seirra Madre Forest Monitor Lizard. Which is a bit of a mouthful. You can see why we'll be using the shorter name, right?

The Butikaw is actually a relatively new species to science-- they were first described and catalgoed as a species only a few years ago. The Butikaw is quite notable because it is one of only three frugivorous Monitor Lizard species in the entire world. They are actually close relatives to the Komodo Dragon, which makes their diet all the more surprising!

Doubly interesting is that this is a new species that is very, very large. Oftentimes the new animals that we find are very small, and are not as easily noticed. The Butikaw can grow to be 2m long! Granted, the indigenous people of the region had known about the large reptiles for hundreds of years, but it wasn't until 2001 that biologists noticed a picture and began to investigate. They also probably avoided detection because they rarely come to the ground. They live as high as 60ft up in the trees, and may only descend once a week for a very short period of time.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Philippines
Size :  Length up to 6.5ft (2m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Varanidae -- Genus : Varanus -- Species : V. bitatawa

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

American Cheetah

Miracinonyx trumani
The American Cheetah is a cat surrounded in taxonomic controversy. Are they Cheetahs? Are they Pumas? Are they both? Unfortunately, the two species, M. inexpectatus and M. trumani, are known only from fragmentary fossils, so until more turns up it will be difficult to know for sure!

What we do know is that the two species lived in North America during the Pleistocene, from around 3 million to 10,000 years ago. They had characteristics that were very similar to modern Cheetahs (who themselves are taxonomically distinct from all other extant cats). Flat faces, short nasal cavities, flexible backs, and long legs are all similarities between the modern and extinct cats.

However, those similarities might just be due to a case of convergent evolution. There is some evidence to suggest that these Cats are actually relatives of Pumas and Cougers, not Cheetahs. They may have just evolved in the same way as the Cheetah, due to the fact that they lived in the same open plains and hunted the same type of prey. Interestingly, there is a theory that Pronghorn Antelopes, some of the fastest land animals alive, evolved their speed directly as a response to the fast American Cheetahs that hunted them!

There will continue to be questions about the American Cheetahs until we uncover more fossils and information. It may even come to pass that the two species are split up from one another-- M. trumani, for example, is more Cheetah-like than M. inexpectatus.

Status : Extinct for around 10,000 years
Location : North America
Size :  Body length up to 67in (1.7m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Felidae -- Genus : Miracinonyx

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Vulturine Guineafowl

Acryllium vulturinum
Meet the Vulturine Guineafowl, the largest of all the Guineafowl species. These strange looking birds can be found in eastern Africa, where they inhabit dry grass and scrublands.

Vulturine Guineafowl get their name, of course, from their Vulture-like appearance. While all Guineafowl have bare heads, this species lacks feathers all the way down the neck as well, giving it a very strong resemblance to the scavenging birds.

This bird is also interesting because they much prefer to run rather than fly. When alarmed, they scamper off to hide instead of flying away. They do roost high up in trees, but forage on the ground for small invertebrates, rodents, reptiles, roots, and seeds. Even young Guineafowl are excellent runners. They are precocial and are on their feet not long after hatching.

Vulturine Guineafowl are kept in aviculture. They are hardy, heat tolerant birds.



IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Africa
Size :  Body length up to 27in (70cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Galliformes
Family : Numididae -- Genus : Acryllium -- Species : A. vulturinum

Monday, September 3, 2012

Driver Ants

Dorylus sp.
Today we're going to learn about a genus of Ant called Dorylus. Their are sometimes referred to as  "Driver Ants" or "Safari Ants." There are 63 different species within this genus, and they can be found mostly in Africa, with a few ranges extending into southern Asia. Driver Ants are known for their ground scavenging raids, where large numbers of ants will find, take, and steal food.

Driver Ants are also interesting because of the seasonal migrations that they make in search of food. When supplies run short, the colonies (which can number in the tens of millions) form a massive marching column that slowly moves to a new supply. These columns are very defensive, and will attack anything that gets in their way-- including humans! The soldiers have very strong jaws that can leave significant puncture wounds. Large numbers of ants can even kill and consume much larger creatures than them, like Rats.

Queens within this genus are some of the largest ants in the world. D. molestus, an East African species, has queens that can grow nearly 3in long! As with most ants, the drones are all sterile females. Males (sometimes called "Sausage Flies for their huge abdomens) actually leave the colony soon after hatching, but will be drawn back to the smell of them once they are mature. When the Drones find a male, they rip off his wings and bring him to the queen for mating. He dies shortly afterward.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Africa, Asia
Size :  Worker size from 3-11mm
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Hymenoptera
Family : Formicidae -- Genus : Dorylus

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Kouprey

Bos sauveli (the only captive Kouprey)
Meet the Kouprey, one of the rarest hoofed mammals still alive on our planet-- in fact, it may actually extinct. These large bovines are close relatives  to the Guar and the extinct Aurochs, and could be found in only a very tiny range that includes parts of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Koupreys live in partially forested areas, where they live in small herds and feed on grasses during the night time. (It is believed they may have been diurnal once, but they adapted to avoid human contact). They have long, narrow bodies, very long legs, and have small humps on their back. Males and females can be told apart by their size, their horns, and their necks. Males have larger bodies and much larger horns that branch upwards. They also have dewlaps on their necks. Females are smaller, have shorter curved horns, and no dewlap.

The Kouprey was only first discovered in 1937, and the only captive specimen was taken that same year. There have been no official sightings since 1988, though tracks have been found and bones have turned up. If they are still out there, there are probably less than 50 left. Koupreys are protected in all countries of their range, and were named the national animal of Cambodia in the 1960s. There are no captive Koupreys currently, so the wild bunch is all we have left.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Southeast Asia
Size :  Body length up to 7.5ft (2.3m), Weight up to 2,000lbs (910kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Bos -- Species : B. sauveli

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Spotted Jelly

Mastigias papua
The Spotted Jelly is a neat little Jellyfish that hails from the shallow lagoons and bays of the Indian and Pacific Oceans (Theya re also sometimes referred to as Lagoon Jellyfish). They aren't especially, large, but aren't by any means tiny either. They can grow to lengths of around 1ft (30cm), with bell diameters of about 4in (12cm).

Each Spotted Jelly has four interesting little arms that each have mouth openings on them. That's right, they don't have just one mouth, they have a whole bunch of mouths! They use all those tiny mouths to feed on different kinds of Zooplankton.

Because they only eat really tiny things, small fish sometimes hang out near the Jellies. Like many jellyfish, this particular species has the ability to inject toxins into attackers, so the little fish will actually swim up inside the bell to stay safe! (The toxin will cause pain and nausea in humans, but there have been no reported deaths)

Spotted Jellies are normally solitary, but sometimes groups will form when they swim towards the surface during the daytime (they then descend deeper at night). They are able to reproduce both sexually and asexually. Sexually reproduction takes places only during times when water is cooler, but asexual reproduction (through budding) can happen year round.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Southern Pacific Ocean
Size :  Body diameter around 4in (12cm)
Classification : Phylum : Cnidaria -- Class : Scyphozoa -- Order : Rhizostomeae
Family : Mastigiidae -- Genus : Mastigias -- Species : M. papua
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