Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tree Cricket

Tree Cricket
Today we'll be learning about a whole bunch of different animals-- the members of the Subfamily Oecanthinae. More commonly referred to as "Tree Crickets," these insects can be found on every single continent, except for Antarctica.

Tree Crickets have two pairs of wings, and powerful hind legs for jumping. Their coloration depends on the species and habitat, but they are always well camouflaged. Some come in green shades, while others are more brown, to match either the shrubs, bushes, trees, or grasses that they live in.

These Crickets, as with many other insects, make their calls by rubbing their wing tips together. Only males can make these loud calls, female are unable.

One really interesting feature of the Tree Cricket is that they practice something called "Courtship Feeding." After mating, the male produces a fluid that is taken by the female. It is full of nutrients and helps the female to successfully reproduce. She will lay the eggs in small holes drilled into tree bark. And though they are deposited in the fall, they will not hatch until spring. The young Crickets will struggle to get out of their egg cases, and will feed on tiny insects like aphids in order to grow. Depending on the species, it can take between 5 and 12 molts for them to reach adulthood.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Every Continent but Antarctica
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Orthoptera
Family : Gryllidae -- Subfamily : Oecanthinae

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Najash

Najash rionegrina
Najash is an extinct Snake named for the Hebrew word Nahash-- the biblical snake who tempted Adam and Eve. They lived around 90 million years ago, during the Late Cretaceous, and their fossils have been uncovered in Patagonia, Argentina.

Najash is notable because it still had legs. Two of them to be precise, and they weren't just vestigial little limbs that weren't connected to anything. Najash still had a sacrum, a pelvic girdle, and clear femora, fibulae, and tibiae!

This species was only recently discovered back in 2003, and it has helped to answer long standing questions regarding the nature of Snake evolution. There have been aquatic theories in the past, ideas that Snakes came from the same common ancestor as the Mosasaurs. Since the 1990s, however, the terrestrial origin theories have been gaining more ground (it was around then that early vestigal-limbed snakes were found). The discovered of Najash with its fully functional, burrowing-capable appendages has only given that theory more legs to stand on (forgive the pun).

Status : Extinct for 90 millions years
Location : Argentina
Size : Length up to 5ft (1.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Suborder : Serpentes -- Genus :Najash -- Species :N. rionegrina

Monday, October 29, 2012

Black-throated Loon

Gavia arctica
Meet the Black-throated Loon, also known as the Arctic Loon and the Black-throated Diver. (The name we'll use today is a compromise between the other two names, a name thought up by the International Ornithologists Union). These migratory birds can be found across Europe and Asia, breeding in the northern, Arctic areas, and wintering further south. There are also some populations in Alaska and Canada.

Black-throated Loons have grey faces, black throats, and checked backs. Their breeding plumage also differs from their non-breeding plumage-- non-breeding has a white chin and drabber hues overall.

As the "Diver" name suggests, these birds are experts at diving for their food. They plunge underwater to catch their prey, which consists of fish, amphibians, and crustaceans.

Black-throated Loons are listed at Least Concern because they have a truely gigantic range, and because their population is very large. While it is on a slight decline, it is estimated that there are as many as 1.5million of them.

Check out the video below to hear some of their calls!


IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Europe, Asia, North America
Size : Body length up to 30in (77cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Gaviiformes
Family : Gaviidae -- Genus : Gavia -- Species : G. arctica

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Desert Iguana

Dipsosaurus dorsalis
The name "Iguana" usually brings up images of gigantic green lizards hanging out in rainforests. Today's Iguana is a little bit different, sporting a dry desert habitat and sandy-colored, brown spotted scales. He is the appropriately named Desert Iguana, and he hails from the Southwestern United States.

Desert Iguanas are actually incredibly common throughout their range, and even though temperatures can hit well over 115° F (46° C) they are still most active during the daytime. If temperatures do get exceptionally high they seek out shade. Shady areas include burrows that they build or take over after other animals (like foxes) have abandoned them.

The yellow flowers of the Creosote Bush are their favorite food, but they eat many other plants as well. They will additionally feed on insects here and there, as well as on carrion and on feces pellets (yuck?). They breed from April to May, laying up to 10 eggs at a time. The hatchlings emerge around September.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Southwest United States
Size : Length up to 16in (41cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Sauropsida -- Order : Squamata
Family : Iguanidae -- Genus : Dipsosaurus -- Species : D. dorsalis

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Pale Fox

Vulpes pallida
What do you know about the Pale Fox? Not much? Me neither. But readers, we aren't alone in our lack of knowledge about this canine. You see, the Pale Fox is one of the least studied foxes in the entire world!

There are a few reasons why they hold such a distinction. 1.) They live in remote, sandy areas of the African Sahel. 2.) They have sandy colored coats that make them very difficult to spot in these habitats. 3.) They are nocturnal.

Pale Foxes are so little studied that it took until this year (2012) for the species to get a conservation designation from the IUCN. Before that, no one really knew how numerous they were, or how potentially threatened. They have been labeled as Least Concern for now, but the population trend is still unknown.

In addition to the facts given above, we know that these foxes live in small family groups, and build burrows underground. They also have a surprising diet-- they eat a whole lot of plants, and have the back molars to prove it. (They do also eat small critters and insects). Finally, Pale Foxes look a lot like Fennecs, but have larger bodies and smaller ears.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Africa
Size : Body length up to 18in (46cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Canidae -- Genus : Vulpes -- Species : V. pallida

Friday, October 26, 2012

Utah Prairie Dog

Cynomys parvidens
There are five different species of Prairie Dog, with the Utah being the smallest. They also happen to be one of the most rare, and are listed as Endangered. They have cinnamon colored backs, white tails, and brown spots above and below the eyes.

Unsurprisingly, the Utah Prairie Dog is found only within the State of Utah. They, like all Prairie Dogs, are members of the Squirrel family, and they are most closely related to the White-tailed Prairie Dog. The two species may have once been a single species way back when, though they are now separate and live in different ranges (the White-tailed lives further north and east).

Utah Prairie Dogs build extensive underground burrows, and their large extended families live together within them. They live in these "towns" year round, and remain in them exclusively in the winter, though they don't take part in a true hibernation process. Utah Prairie Dogs are primarily herbivores, preferring to feed on flowers and seeds, but they will eat grasses when necessary, and will also grab the occasional insect.

The Utah Prarie Dog is considered Endangered because their population went on a large decline due to habitat loss and intentional killing. They were causing damage to crops and farmland, which led to shootings and poisonings that decimated populations. Since the 1970s, efforts have been made to move colonies from private to public land, but nearly 70% of the Prairie Dogs still live in unprotected private areas. The population is still on the decline, and it is estimated that there are around 10,000 left.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Utah, United States
Size : Length up to 14in (36cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Rodentia
Family : Sciuridae -- Genus : Cynomys -- Species : C. parvidens

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pliosaurus funkei

Pliosaurus funkei (compared to an Orca, Blue Whale, and Human)
Today we'll be learning about yet another newly discovered species... only this one is already extinct, and has been so for around 150 million years.

Back in 2006, scientists uncovered several fossils in the Svalbard Islands. The dig there has taught us a great deal about the creatures that once swam the Arctic Ocean. It has uncovered several new species, including two new Ichthyosaurs, a new Plesiosaur, some invertebrates, and a gigantic creature known as Predator X. They knew that this massive marine monster was probably a Pliosaur, but it took several years of analysis to confirm that the bones belonged to a new species. The official report came out just this past month.

We know now that Pliosaurus funkei was something new because it had longer front paddles, differently shared vertebrae, and differently spaced teeth. It may have grown as large as 40ft long, and had a skull nearly 7ft long. Pliosaurus funkei was certainly an apex predator-- it had four times the bite power of a T-Rex! They most likely hunted Plesiosaurs and other smaller marine reptiles.

Status : Extinct for 150 million years
Location : Found in Svalbard, Norway
Size : Length up to 40ft (12m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : †Plesiosauria
Family : †Pliosauridae -- Genus : †Pliosaurus -- Species : †P. funkei

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Allenius iviei

Allenius iviei
Well hurray, it's time to learn about a brand new species! This recently discovered Ladybird Beetle is one of the rarest in the United States, and is known from only two specimens.

Allenius iviei was identified as a new species when a male landed on a trap set in Montana by entomology grad student Ross Winton. Winton at first thought that the tiny creature was a body part of an ant or another insect, not a whole specimen. Most confusing was the fact that the insect looked headless!

It was soon discovered that the Beetle was not headless at all-- it actually was able to retract it back into its thorax, much like how a turtle can pull their head into their shell. It was also discovered that the specimen was a male, and matched a female that was found in Idaho. Because there are now two examples, one of each sex, the insect was able to be declared a new species (with the species name derived from the name of Winton's adviser, Michael Ivie).

There is still much to learn about Allenius iviei. But for now it remains a rare, elusive, and unusual Ladybug. The head retracting, tiny size, and sand-dune habitat have made it unique enough to belong to a brand new genus, which it shares with A. californianus, another recent discovery.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : United States
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Coleoptera
Family : Coccinellidae -- Genus : Allenius -- Species : A. iviei

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kagu

Rhynochetos jubatus
I couldn't talk about the Sunbittern yesterday without talking about it's interesting cousin, the Kagu, today. For a fast refresher, the Sunbittern and the Kagu appear to be the only extant members of the Eurypygiformes Order, and both are the only living species in their Families. Despite being relatives, they live in opposite parts of the world-- the Sunbittern in Central America, and the Kagu in New Caledonia.

New Caledonia is a French territory in the Pacific Ocean, an archipelago about 750 miles east of Australia. The Kagu currently lives only in the dense, mountainous forests of the island of Grand Terre, and even though they live among the trees, they are actually a terrestrial species, and are almost completely flightless (they have full sized wings and can glide, but do not actually fly). The hunt for insects on the forest floor, and even build their nests on the ground.

The wings of the Kagu are not used for flight, but they are used for mating, fighting, and defensive displays. When their wings are tucked in, they look like a plain, bluish-grey bird with long red legs. When their wings are out, however, they show a striking barred pattern. They also have a head crest the sticks out during these displays, and it is that crest that gives them their species name, jubatus (derived from Latin for "crested"). On a related note, the genus name Rhynochetos, means "nose corn" and refers to the skin flaps on their noses that keep dirt out while they forage for insects.

Kagu pairs will form monogamous bonds that can last throughout their lifetime. The couple will live alone in their territory, and will typically raise one chick per year. After fledging, chicks often hang around for several years, helping to defend the territory.

The Kagu is a national symbol of New Caledonia, and appears on various emblems. Sadly though, they are very Endagered, with less than 1,500 remaining in the wild. Their beautiful barred wing feathers made them popular targets for 19th century hat makers, and habitat loss and predation from cats and rats have led to a decline. Luckily they are now fully protected, and reintroduction and captive breeding efforts have been going well, allowing the population to stabilize.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : New Caledonia
Size : Length up to 22in (55cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Eurypygiformes
Family : Rhynochetidae -- Genus : Rhynochetos -- Species : R. jubatus

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sunbittern

Eurypyga helias
Yesterday we learned about the Yellow Bittern, a small Heron that lives in southeast Asia. Just looking at the names, you would assume that today's animal would be a very similar creature... but interestingly, they are not closely related at all. They belong to completely different Orders and don't even live in the same Hemisphere. Crazy how common names work, huh?

The Sunbittern is actually a pretty remarkable bird in that it doesn't really have any close relatives at all. It is the sole member of its entire Family, and appears to shares an Order only with a bird called the Kagu that lives on the opposite side of the planet. Both birds were once classified as Gruiformes (alone with Cranes and Rails), but now they've been placed in their very own unique little group.

Sunbitterns live in Central and South America, ranging from Mexico down to Brazil. They are typically found in forests that are close to bodies of water.

Wing Display
On first glance, the Sunbittern may not look like anything special. They have long bills, striped faces, and body feathers that are barred with black, brown, and grey. But wait till they open their wings! They have bright red and yellow eye-spots that are used in displays to scare off rivals or predators, and to also aid in courtship. This wing display is one thing that they share in common with the aforementioned Kagu.

Like yesterday's Yellow Bittern, the Sunbittern forms monogamous bonds. Both parents build a nest (a domed structure up in the trees), and both help to incubate the eggs. The pair remains solitary, and will rarely intact with other members of the species. (This lifestyle can make them very difficult to find in the wild).

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South and Central America
Size : Length up to 24in (60cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Eurypygiformes
Family : Eurypygidae -- Genus : Eurypyga -- Species : E. helias

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Yellow Bittern

Ixobrychus sinensis
The Yellow Bittern is a small species of Heron that lives in southern and eastern Asia. They only grow to sizes of around 15in (about a quarter of the size of the largest Heron-- the Goliath Heron!) The name comes from the coloration of the male, who is a dull yellow-brown with lighter undersides. Females are streaked brown. They are difficult to spot while not in flight, as their colors camouflage them in the reeds and other aquatic plants.

Yellow Bitterns are, on the whole, resident birds, though some that live further north will seasonally migrate small distances. They live in freshwater wetland areas like marshes and ponds, and even near man-made canals and reservoirs. There they feed on fishes, amphibians, and insects.

In places closer to the equator, where the temperatures remain more consistent, the Yellow Bitterns breed year round (elsewhere they have more defined seasons). Males attract females by hunching up their necks, puffing out their chests, and performing a series of calls (their bills also take on a reddish color at the base). The parents will construct a nest together, built near water using reeds and other plants. 3-5 eggs are laid at a time, and incubation duties are shared by both the mother and father.

Yellow Bitterns have a very large range and a large population size, so they are currently listed as being of Least Concern.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Asia
Size : Length up to 15in (38cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Pelecaniformes
Family : Ardeidae -- Genus : Ixobrychus -- Species : I. sinensis

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Chambered Nautilus

Nautilus pompilius
The Nautilida Order contains six extant species and a handful of extinct ones, some of which date all the way back around 550 million years. They are primitive Cephalopods that often are given the "living fossil" moniker-- they have changed very little over the past several million years.

The Chambered Nautilus is perhaps the best known of the bunch. They are large in size (one subspecies reaches just under a foot in shell diameter) and have a very widespread distribution across the Pacific.

The shell of the Chambered Nautilus is covered in dark and light stripes-- a coloration pattern that camouflages them. The shell serves as protection, and also helps with buoyancy  as the Nautilus can fill and empty out different pockets with gas. As they grow, the shell gains new chambers, and full grown adults will have around 30 different compartments.

Aside from the shell, the Chambered Nautilus displays several other interesting traits. For one, they have no lenses or corneas in their eyes. Secondly, they have around 90 tentacles, none of which have suckers (something most other Cephalopods have).

The Chambered Nautilus is a very slow growing creatures. They are between 15 and 20 years old before they reach sexual maturity. Reproduction takes place internally, with four of the males' tentacles forming a part called the spandix. They use this to transfer a spermatophore mass to the female. The mass attaches to the female's mantle and releases the sperm. Newly hatched babies have shells that measure about 1in in diameter.

Back during the Renaissance, Chambered Nautilus shells were very popular with artists and collectors. They would attach the shells to metal stems, forming decorative cups. Some got exceptionally elaborate-- like this piece using guilt silver that looks like an Ostrich!

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Pacific Ocean
Size : Shell Diameter up to 10in (25cm)
Classification : Phylum : Mollusca -- Class : Cephalopoda -- Order : Nautilida
Family : Nautilidae -- Genus : Nautilus -- Species : N. pompilius

Friday, October 19, 2012

Costa's Hummingbird

Calypte costae (male)
The Costa's Hummingbird makes its home in the southwestern United States and in northern Mexico. They live in arid scrub areas, and feed on plant nectar and small insects. The body size of this species is quite small, measuring only about 3in.

Male Costa's Hummingbirds are brilliantly colored little guys, sporting green backs, black wings, and a vibrant purple head and throat. (Females are less colorful, with green backs and paler underparts). They use their flashy colors in order to attract females. Males perform elaborate zig-zagging passes and dives for viewing females, using the light from the sun to reflect off of the violet head feathers.

After mating, the pair separates, and the female will construct a small cup-shaped nest up in a tree. She lays two eggs which take 15-18 days to hatch. The young Hummingbirds are fully fledged after 23 days.

One especially amazing thing that I learned about these birds is that while awake, their heart can beat between 500 and 900 times per minute. And that isn't even while they are being especially active! They also have the ability to enter a torpor state (during cold nights). During that time the resting rate slows to a mere 50 times per minute-- what a huge difference!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : United States and Mexico
Size : Length up to 3.5in (9cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Trochiliformes
Family : Trochilidae -- Genus : Calypte -- Species : C. costae

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Guanaco

Lama guanicoe
The wild Guanaco is a close, genus sharing relative of the domesticated Llama. In fact, it is believed that Llamas actually came from Guanacos around 6,000 years ago. These elegant, slender Camelids live in the arid, mountainous regions of South America. About 90% of the wild Guanacos now live in Argentina.

Guanacos are one of the largest wild herbivores in South America. Though they look slim and lanky, they can actually weigh more than 250lbs. Guanacos both graze and browse, and have a split upper lip that allows them to grasp at vegetation better. They eat many different kinds of plants, and rarely need to drink water since they derive it from their food.

Guanacos typically live in small herds that consist of a dominant male, several females, and their offspring. Young males are eventually kicked out of these herds, and will sometimes form small bachelor herds. These groups are important for the development of the young males, as they learn how to fight and maintain dominance. After 3-4 years in one of these herds, the males will embark and try to challenge older males for their females and territory.
Young Guanaco

Unlike Llamas and Alpacas, which come in a whole mess of colors, Guanacos are almost always light brown with even lighter undersides and a greyish face. They are, in fact, used for skins and wool like their relatives, and the fiber is very soft and warm. Unfortunately, excess hunting (along with other threats) has led to a sharp decline in the population. When Europeans first arrived in South America there were around 50 million of these guys, and the number is now around 600,000. Habitat loss and competition from livestock are other causes for the drop.

Luckily, the population is currently stable, thanks to habitat protection and regulated trade. While poaching does continue, the animals have a large enough range and population size to be listed at Least Concern.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South America
Size : Shoulder height up to 4ft (1.2m), Weight up to 264lbs (120kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Camelidae -- Genus : Lama -- Species : L. guanicoe

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Archey’s Frog

Leiopelma archeyi
The Archey's Frog is a very primitive looking species, in that it looks very much like 150 million year old fossils. It also has some anatomical features that are rather uncommon, including tail wagging muscles (but no tail), no external eardrums, an extra back vertebrae, and no true vocal chords. Some females also have a special extra W-Chromosome, which determines sex.

There are four species within the Leiopelmatidae family, a group that diverged from all other frogs around 200 million years ago. This fact isn't surprising when you learn that they hail from New Zealand, a location whose eventual split off and isolation led it to evolve all sorts of creatures found no where else in the world (Tuatara and Kakapo anyone?)

The Archey's Frog (named for former Director of the Auckland Institute and Museum, Sir Gilbert Archey) is the smallest member of its family. The females can reach sizes of about 37mm, while males are a bit smaller at 31mm. They are terrestrial and nocturnal, and they even lay their eggs on land (in damp soil and leaf litter).

Because of their terrestrial lifestyle, the Archey's Frogs do not metamorphose from tadpole to adult. They actually hatch as tiny little froglets. The males will guard over their eggs, and then the froglets, even letting their offspring ride around on their backs.

Archey's Frogs are listed as Critically Endangered, and the population has been on the decline since at least 1996 (when a study specifically targeting decline was done). Climate change, habitat loss, and the introduction of predators and competing animals are all factors that have affected the species. Archey's Frogs are protected by the New Zealand Department of Conservation, and their population continues to be monitored.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : New Zealand
Size : Length up to 35mm
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Amphibia -- Order : Anura
Family : Leiopelmatidae -- Genus : Leiopelma -- Species : L. archeyi

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Akohekohe

Palmeria dolei
The Akohekohe is an extremely rare, critically endangered bird found only on the island of Maui, one of the Hawaiian Islands. They were once found on Molokai as well, but have been extinct there since the early 20th century.

Also known as the Crested Honeycreeper, the Akohekohe is found only in a small, 50 square kilometer area near the Haleakala Volcano. They are large for a Honeycreeper, and are very distinctive in their plumage. The bodies are predominantly black with silver flecks. Orange feathers sprout out from the nape of the neck, and they have large white crests that come out from the bill.

The Hawaiian name probably derives from one of calls that the birds make-- "Ah-kohay-kohay". They also make a variety of other noises, including "wolf whistles." The Akohekohe feeds primarily on the nectar of Ohia-Lehua blossoms, though they will take other plants and insects as well.

A number of things have contributed to this birds' population decline. Introduced plants and animals have been a factor. Pigs especially have been dangerous, as they destroy the undergrowth and damage the plants the that Akohekohe feeds on. Rats and mosquitos have also caused many problems, including the introduction of diseases. Deforestation has played a part as well. The birds and their habitat have been protected since 1967, but it is estimated that only 3,700 remain.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Hawaii
Size : Length up to 7in (18cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Fringillidae -- Genus : Palmeria -- Species : P. dolei

Monday, October 15, 2012

Daring Jumping Spider

Phidippus audax
Daring Jumping Spiders are common jumpers in North America. They are large for their family, and are predominantly black with some spots or stripes on the legs and abdomen. They also have incredibly shiny, metallic blue-green mouth parts (called Chelicerae).

Compared to body size, humans can't jump very far. Even the very best long jumpers only make it to distances of 3-4 times their height. The Daring Jumping Spider has us beat for sure! These little 2cm Spiders can leap between 10 and 50 times their own size!

So why do they need to make such gigantic jumps? Well, unlike many other Spiders, the Daring Jumpers do not build webs to hunt. They actively stalk their prey, using their amazing vision (their family has the sharpest eyesight among all Spiders). When they spot a meal, they leap after it from afar.

The spiders also use their great legs and eyes in courtship rituals. They are able to perform different dances, and can be seen from far away. Daring Jumping Spiders do actually build webs, but only for egg laying or shelter purposes.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : North America
Size : Length up to 20mm
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Arachnida -- Order : Araneae
Family : Salticidae -- Genus : Phidippus -- Species : P. audax

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Green Junglefowl

Gallus varius
The Green Junglefowl is a close relative to domesticated chickens, as it belong in the same genus as their ancestor, the Red Junglefowl. They are endemic to Indonesia.

Males and females look very different. Females are covered in brown feathers, and don't have long plumes or a comb. Males have both the plumes and comb, and from a distance look to be black, though closer up you will notice that those feathers are actually shiny greens, blues, and bronzes.

Green Junglefowl live in small flocks led by a dominant male. During the breeding season those males are challenged by other who don't have flocks of their own. Fighting often takes place, with involves flapping wings and grappling with their claws and spurs.

Green Junglefowl are being specifically bred in captivity these days. This is because in their native parts they are becoming hybridized with domestic chickens. These crosses are called "Bekisar" and are popular

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Indonesia
Size : Length up to 30in (75cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Galliformes
Family : Phasianidae --  Genus : Gallus -- Species : G. varius

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Megalania

Megalania prisca
I am really, really excited about today's animal. I love Megafauna, I just find those giant Pleistocene animals to be hands-down amazing. We've talked about several different animals in the past, but most have been mammals-- we haven't talked about too many giant, Megafauna reptiles. To be honest though, there actually aren't a whole ton of reptiles in that group. Aside from Crocodiles, most post-Dinosaur reptiles remained quite small. Well, Megalania didn't!

You know Komodo Dragons? The largest lizards in the world? They reach full body and tail lengths of about 10ft, and at most weigh in around 150lbs. Megalania was a monitor lizard, just like the Komodo Dragon. Only double that length. More than double it. Speculation is that they could reach 23-26ft. The weight is incredible too. If Megalania had the same body/tail proportions as the Komodo, they could have weighed up to 4,000lbs!

Of course, we don't know their full size and weight for sure, as full fossilized skeletons have not been found. But even if the lower, 15ft length estimates are true, Megalania would still have the distinction of being the largest Lizard ever, and the largest venomous vertebrate in the world.

They lived from 2 million to 40,000 years ago in Australia, and hunted the massive marsupials and giant birds that were wandering about at the time, like Dromornis and Diprotodon. They were apex predators, and only really had competition from the substantially smaller (200lb) Marsupial Lion, Thylacoleo.

Megalania probably died off as a result of its prey disappearing. Diprotodon and other giant mammals went extinct (probably from a combination of human hunting, habitat loss, and climate change) and the massive Lizards no longer had enough food to sustain themselves.

There are some Cryptozoologists out there who think Megalania is still around, and unconfirmed reports of giant lizards have been surfacing for years in both Australia and New Guinea.

Status : Extinct for around 40,000 years
Location : Australia
Size : Length up to 23ft (7m), Weight up to 4,000lbs (1,800kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Varanidae -- Genus : Megalania -- Species : M. prisca

Friday, October 12, 2012

Giant Grouper

Epinephelus lanceolatus
Meet the largest reef dwelling fish on the planet, the appropriately named Giant Grouper. These giants can reach lengths up up to 9ft, and weigh well over 800lbs!

Interestingly, even though they are very large, they are not often seen in the wild. They are a Vulnerable species, and live solitary lives hanging out near the seafloor. In fact, not much is really known about their wild behavior. We do know that they are carnivores that feed on crustaceans, small sea turtles, and other fish, and that they probably spawn during the summer time (no spawning events have been directly observed by scientists). It is believed that they reach maturity at around 4ft (1.3m).

Giant Groupers live in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and are sometimes referred to as Queensland Groupers. The population is considered Vulnerable due to overfishing. They are a very long lived fish, and can take decades to grow, which means replenishing the species can take a very long time. They are protected in several parts of Australia and India.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Indian and Pacific Oceans
Size : Length up to 9ft (2.7m), Weight up to 880lbs (400kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Perciformes
Family : Serranidae -- Genus : Epinephelus -- Species : E. lanceolatus

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tibetan Antelope

Pantholops hodgsonii
Meet the Tibetan Antelope, or Chiru, a endangered ungulate that has been on a free-falling population decline over the past century.

Around 1900, it was estimated that there were over a million of the Antelope roaming about the Tibetan Plateau. Today, estimates are around 75,000 and falling. What has caused this species to decline in such a way? In short, habitat loss, competition from livestock, and shahtoosh.

Shahtoosh is the fine, soft wool that is unique to the Tibetan Antelope (it can be identified by the courser guard hairs in the fiber). Though the Antelope does don't need to die for the wool to be taken, poachers kill them anyway. Even though the animals are protected, the poaching continues and the population declines year after year.

The Tibetan Antelope is a shy animal, and it is (rightfully) wary of humans and other potential predators. They live in herds and are constantly on alert for danger, even digging shallow depressions in the ground when resting so that they are difficult to see. During the mating season males form harems with up to 20 females. They will defend the females, getting into fights with other males that can sometimes be fatal (due to their sharp horns that can grow 2ft long).

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Tibetan Plateau
Size : Shoulder height up to 32in (1.8m), Weight around 80lbs (36kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Pantholops -- Species : P. hodgsonii

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wattled Crane

Bugeranus carunculatus
There are 15 species of Crane in the world, and we've talked about a few of them already-- tall, elegant birds that are symbols of luck and serve as national icons. (On a side note, you can see all fifteen Crane species in one place at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, WI. I'll make it out there one of these days...)

Anyway, today's Crane is a little less... beautiful... than some of its relatives. But it is still a very statuesque bird, albeit one with some interesting facial features. The Wattled Crane, as I'm sure you can deduce, has a red, warty-looking wattle that hands down from its neck and beak. Though its face is a little different, it still has the same long legs and feathers possessed by members of its family. (The tail feathers are so long they nearly touch the ground!)

Wattled Crane
Wattled Cranes are actually the tallest Cranes in Africa, and the second tallest Cranes in the world-- they can stand as high as 6" (1.8m). They also sport an 8.5ft (2.6m) wingspan. You'll find them living in the wetlands of Sub-Saharan countries, with the largest groups found in Zambia, and in Botswana's Okavango Delta.

The Wattled Cranes, like all Cranes, are omnivores. They feed on insects, grains, seeds, amphibians, and aquatic plants. Also in true Crane fashion, they perform elaborate courtship rituals and pair bonding dances. They jump, flap, bow, and vocalize during these performances. Wattled Cranes mate for life, and live in small flocks. They build nests on the ground, and lay only one egg or two each season (though usually only one will survive).

Sadly, the Wattled Crane is a Vulnerable species. Because they are so Wetland dependent (other African Cranes are more terrestrial) they are especially susceptible to habitat loss due to draining and development. There are around 8,000 left in the wild.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Africa
Size : Height up to 6ft (1.8m), Wingspan up to 8.5ft (2.6m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Gruiformes
Family : Gruidae -- Genus : Bugeranus -- Species : B. carunculatus

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Rusty-spotted Cat

Prionailurus rubiginosus
The Rusty-spotted Cat is one of the smallest cat species in the world, and as adults they weigh only a tiny 3.5lbs. For a comparison, that makes them less than half the size of a normal domestic cat!

You'll find these mini-felines in India and Sri Lanka, though good luck spotting one in the wild. They are incredibly secretive and difficult to locate due to their camouflaged fur and small size. It also doesn't help that they have a generally small population size-- it is estimated that less than 10,000 adults remain.

Rusty-spotted Cats are nocturnal and partially arboreal. They often sleep in trees, and flee up into them to escape their own predators, but they do most of their hunting on the ground. Rodents, birds, and small reptiles make up their diet.

Deforestation and the spread of agriculture has hurt this population immensely. They are listed as Vulnerable, are protected throughout most of their range, and are listed in CITES I (in India) and CITES II (in Sri Lanka). However, the population is still on the decline. They are kept in a handful of zoos, but are not common in captivity.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : India, Sri Lanka
Size : Length up to 19in (48cm), Weight up to 3.5lbs (1.6kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class: Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Felidae -- Genus : Prionailurus -- Species : P. rubiginosus

Monday, October 8, 2012

Halloween Crab

Gecarcinus quadratus
The Halloween Crab goes by many names, including the Red Land Crab, Whitespot Crab, and Moon Crab. I personally like Halloween Crab though, since it really reflects the interesting colors. They have black carapaces, orange-red legs, and purple claws!

Halloween Crabs live in the Pacific coast mangroves and forests of Central and South America. They actually live in the forests as adults, and return to the ocean in order to reproduce. Did you know that they live as far away as 18 miles (30km)  from water? Not where you normally think Crabs to be!

While living in the forest, the Crabs forage nocturnally for different plant matter, including leaves and sapling. They also dig long burrows into the ground for protection. These burrows can measure nearly 5 ft long!

Halloween Crabs are sometimes kept in captivity, and can be very tricky pets due to their excellent climbing skills.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Central and South America
Size : Carapace length 2in (5cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Subphylum : Crustacea -- Class : Malacostraca
Order : Decapoda -- Family : Gecarcinidae -- Genus : Gecarcinus -- Species : G. quadratus

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Madras Treeshrew

Anathana ellioti
Have you ever heard about the Treeshrews? These small mammals belong to the same Superorder (Euarchontoglires) as Primates, Rodents, and Lagomorphs, but are listed in a unique Order all their own. They also have the very cool distinction of having the highest brain to body mass ratios of any mammal type, including humans!

The Madras, or Indian Treeshrew is one of twenty different Treeshrew species, and is monotypic for its genus. They are considered to be locally common on the Indian subcontinent, where they live in hilly forests, stony slopes, and near pasture land.

Though they sometimes live near trees, and are called "Treeshrews", they are not an especially arboreal creature. The Madras Treeshrews are usually found on the ground, searching for insects, fruits, and seeds. They do most of their foraging during the morning and evening hours, and do so alone.

Madras Treeshrews are currently listed as being of Least Concern, but the population is the decline due to habitat loss.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : India
Size : Body length up to 7in (18cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Scandentia
Family : Tupaiidae -- Genus : Anathana -- Species : A. ellioti
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