Friday, November 30, 2012

Icadyptes salasi

Icadyptes salasi
Penguins are weird and interesting. Seabirds who swim better than they can fly.. or even walk? Well if the modern, waddling Penguins are so unique among birds, just take a look at some of their ancestors. Thankfully, the Penguins odd flightless bodies have been a huge help in studying them-- their bones are thicker and their fossils have survived quite well.

Icadyptes salasi is a Penguin ancestor that lived 36 millions years ago. Its fossils were uncovered in Peru, which is notable because Peru at that time was just as close to the Equator as it is now, and was even warmer in temperature. Today there are very few Penguins that live that far north, and they are much smaller in size.

Oh, have I not mentioned how large Icadyptes was yet? 5ft (1.5). That's one tall Penguin, taller than the largest modern Penguin-- the Emperor. Interestingly, it is only the third largest Penguin ever discovered. Icadyptes also had an incredibly long, spear-like beak that made up about 2.3 of their head length. These beaks were spears that could be used to catch prey.

The presence of this species in such a warm climate has causes researchers to revise the Penguin timeline. It was previously believed that the birds only spread north around 10 million years ago.

Status : Extinct for 36 million years
Location : South America
Size : Height up to 5ft (1.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Sphenisciformes
Family : Spheniscidae -- Genus : †Icadyptes -- Species : †I. salasi

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Giant Forest Hog

Hylochoerus meinertzhageni
As a species, the Giant Forest Hog of Central Africa is considered to be the largest pig in the entire world. Its only rivals for this title are a handful of Wild Boar subspecies, but even if there is a bigger hog out there somewhere, a body length of nearly 7ft is nothing to sneeze at! (There are actually three different subspecies of the Forest Hogs themselves, with the easternmost being the largest.)

Giant Forest Hogs only live in a handful of African countries, and require humid, densely vegetated habitats. Because of their forest swelling nature, they were not first officially described until 1904, and even now they aren't especially well studied.

The Hogs live in family groups called "sounders" that normally contain one adult males, a handful of females, and their offspring.   Males will fight for breeding rights, charging at each other and ramming their heads together. These fights are occasionally fatal for one or even both parties. Though they do breed year round, most births take place around the rainy season.

Giant Forest Hogs are nocturnal and typically herbivorous-- they feed on different grasses and sedges, and will sometimes take eggs and carrion as well. And even though these Hogs are huge, they still have predators, especially the young ones. Hyenas and Jaguars are their biggest threats.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Central Africa
Size : Length up to 7ft (2.2m), Weight up to 610lbs (275kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Suidae -- Genus : Hylochoerus -- Species : H. meinertzhageni

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bargibant's Seahorse

Hippocampus bargibanti
I got a request to talk about Pygmy Seahorses, but there are actually several species that fall under that common name, so today we'll talk about one in particular. All Pygmy Seahorses are relatively new to Science, and most were actually described for the first time only in the last ten years or so. The Bargibant's Seahorse is the species that we've known about the longest, and it was first discovered back in 1969.

Bargibant's Seahorse can be found in the coastal waters of Southeast Asia and Australia. They are very tiny, and seldom grow over 1in long. That, combined with their camouflaging bumps and colors, makes them very hard to spot on Corals that they live among (it's even difficult to tell exactly what you're looking at in that picture!). Bargibant's Seahorse is only known to live on Coral from the Muricella genus. They are so well hidden that the very first ones observed were not even spotted until after the Coral was collected and placed in an Aquarium!

Adults tend to live in small groups, and 28 of them were once observed on a single Gorgonian Coral. They feed on small little Crustaceans that also hang out near the Coral. Like most Seahorses, it is actually the male that incubates the eggs, stashing them away in a brood pouch. As many as 30 offspring can be born at once, and the young Seahorses are completely independent at birth.

IUCN Status : Data Deficient
Location : Southeast Asia, Australia
Size : Length up to 1in
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Syngnathiformes
Family : Syngnathidae -- Genus : Hippocampus -- Species : H. bargibanti

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Eocursor

Eocursor parvus
Eocursor is the name of a Dinosaur genus whose fossils were first uncovered back in 1993. It took an additional 14 years for the discovery to be properly studied and described, and the result was a creature whose name translates to "Dawn Runner."

Eocursor lived during the Late Triassic, and is an example of an early Ornithischian. In fact, this creature is the oldest found, and has the most complete skeleton of any early member of it's Order, which has helped to bring in information about the origins of the group. Until this discovery, very little was known at all about the rise of the Ornithischians (a group that includes Stegosaurus and Triceratops).

We don't have a full skeleton of Eocursor, but we do have hands, legs, a pelvis, and skull fragments. These pieces are enough to tell us that the Dinosaur walked on two feet, was a very swift runner, and probably had an omnivorous diet (which we can tell from the teeth).

There is still much to be learned about the origin and evolutionary history of all Dinosaurs, and hopefully future finds will help to fill in some of the breaks in our knowledge. Alas, the fickle nature of fossils, and the incredible environmental needs that have to be met to create them, mean that we won't be able to know it all. But even with a few bones, like the handful found for Eocursor, we can still learn a lot!

Status : Extinct for 210 million years
Location : South Africa
Size : Length around 3ft (1m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Clade : Dinosauria -- Order : †Ornithischia
Genus : †Eocursor -- Species : † E. parvus

Monday, November 26, 2012

Reddish Egret

Egretta rufescens
The Reddish Egret is an appropriately named species of Heron that can be found in Central America, and around the Gulf Coast in the United States. They stand a little under 3ft tall, and typically sport long dark legs, reddish heads and necks, and slate-grey coloration on the wings and back.

Do not confused them with Snowy Egrets! Now, you may wonder how anyone could mistake a red and grey bird for an all white one, but it happens! You see, Reddish Egrets have a white color morph. This means that they sometimes turn out completely white, much like their Snowy cousins. The two actually do have a slight overlap in ranges, so the easiest way to figure them out is by the color yellow. Snowy egrets have some yellow on their beaks and feet, Reddish Egrets do not.

Reddish Egrets are most active during dusk and dawn, and they are usually seen on the move. They hunt for prey in shallow waters, running around in search of Fish, Amphibians, and Crustaceans. The Herons often move about with their wings outstretched, as this creates shade and reduces glare on the water surface.

As far as reproductive issues are concerned, the Reddish Egret reaches sexual maturity around 4 years of age. Their courtship displays include head bobs, chases, and various flights, but once a mate is chosen they remain monogamous for at least that season. The couple will build a nest together, either on the ground or in a tree, and they often nest in very large colonies that can contain hundreds of birds. They lay up to 4 eggs, and the color of the chicks depends on the color of the parents. Dark morph parents can have chicks of either color, but two white morph parents will always have white morph offspring.

Reddish Egrets are listed as Near Threatened due to habitat degradation. Like many other birds, they were hunted extensively in the 19th century for their feathers, but their population has since rebounded.

IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : North and Central America
Size : Length up to 32in (.8m), Wingspan up to 50in (1.3m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Pelecaniformes
Family : Ardeidae -- Genus : Egretta -- Species : E. rufescens

Sunday, November 25, 2012

House Finch

Haemorhous mexicanus
The House Finch is a bird that once was found only in the Western United States and Mexico, but over the past few decades that have spread across the continent and can now be found on the Atlantic Coast! Estimates are that there are over a billion of them in North America, and they can form flocks that number several hundred birds.

House Finches are small little birds with brownish coloration and blunt, squared tails. The males actually change color slightly over the course of the year, becoming more vibrant when they have the best food supplies. You see, their red or yellow colors come from what they eat, so abundant food leads to brighter hues.

The bright feathers are very important come breeding time. Females pick the males with the best colors to mate with, because those males clearly known how to locate food-- a very important trait when you may have up to 6 offspring at once! Interestingly, House Finches feed their chicks an exclusively vegetarian diet. Most birds, even ones that eat plants as adults, feed their young insects and other critters to give them a good amount of protein.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North America
Size : Length up to 5.5in (14cm), Wingspan up to 10in (25cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Fringillidae -- Genus : Haemorhous -- Species : H. mexicanus

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Giant African Snail

Achatina fulica
Meet a member of the invasive species club-- the Giant Afican Snail is considered one of the top 100 worst Invasive Species on the planet. Ant not only are they on the top 100 list, they actually sit at #2!

African Giant Snails are naturally found in East Africa, but they have spread to warm locations around the world in the last few decades. They are large snails (hence the name), sporting shells that can grow to nearly 8in in length. They reach maturity after about 6 months, and can live as long as ten years. During that time they never really stop growing.

They are a hermaphroditic species, possessing both male and female reproductive organs. They do not reproduce asexually-- they need another snail. But their interesting reproductive system makes it easier to multiply, since they do not need to track down a member of the opposite sex.

They feed on over 500 different species of plant, so you can see why they are considered to be such a nuisance! However, the African Giant Snail isn't just considered troublesome because it eats native plants. They also carry parasites that can cause Meningitis in humans, as well as other diseases that can severely damage the crops that they don't consume. In order to keep the invasive Snails in check, quarantines, pesticides, and even flame throwers have been used.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : East Africa
Size : Length around 8in (22cm)
Classification : Phylum : Mollusca -- Class : Gastropoda -- Family: Achatinidae
Genus : Achatina -- Species : A. fulica

Friday, November 23, 2012

White-collared Blackbird

Turdus albocinctus
The name "Blackbird" is one that applies to several dozen different bird species. Most of these are "New World" birds, meaning that they are found in the Americas. however, three species, all members of the Turdus genus, are "Old World" Blackbirds.

The White-collared Blackbird is one of those three species. Found on the Indian Subcontinent, this small bird is a very common species, and is found across several countries. They live in tropical and subtropical mountainous forests, and are generally residents.

They are named for the white rings around their neck (as if you couldn't guess), and have round little bodies. Like most thrushes, they feed on insects, worms, and other invertebrates.

White-collared Blackbirds tend to breed once per year, laying up to 5 eggs in a small cup-shaped nest. Both parents help to care for the chicks.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Central Asia
Size : Length around 8in (22cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Turdidae -- Genus : Turdus -- Species : T. albocinctus

Thursday, November 22, 2012

American Eel

Anguilla rostrata
Well, it's Turkey Day here in the United States, but we've already talked about the two different Turkey species. So why not learn about one of the other critters that made an appearance at the very first Thanksgiving? Yup. Eels.

American Eels are a very common fish that have been commercially harvested for hundreds of years. Though we don't eat them too often in the States, they are still consumed across the pond in Europe. You'll find them in the Atlantic Ocean, though they often spend their early years hanging out in nearby rivers and streams.

American Eels have a complex aging process that contains 6 distinct phases and can take up to 10 years. The whole shebang starts with the external fertilization of the eggs, which are laid out in the middle of the ocean. A single female can release 30 million eggs during spawning! It is assumed that the adults die after spawning, but this is unconfirmed.

The eggs hatch after only a week, and the second life phase begins- Leptocephali. These larval eels are very transparent looking, and spend most of their life phase being carried by the currents towards to coast. This journey can take as long as 12 months! Once there, they shift to yet another phase, the "Glass Eel." At this point they are still transparent, but they look more like eels, having the distinctive elongated bodies (but the lack of skin color still gives them some camouflage).

The final three phases in American Eel life all relate in part to their coloration. Stage 4, "Elver" is where they finally start to gain skin pigmentation. Oftentimes the Elvers will move to freshwater, and will continue to grow there before reaching the fifth, "Yellow" stage. At yellow they finally have a distinct sex, and have more color in their skin. Their final stage, "Silver," is when they are finally considered sexually mature adults and are strong enough to return to the open ocean. They may not return to spawn until they are 25 years old!

Unfortunately, because they have no many life phases, in so many locations, they face a number of conservation threats. Construction of dams and other structures have caused habitat obstruction, and over-fishing and pollution are additional concerns.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Atlantic Ocean
Size : Length up to 4ft (1.2m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Anguilliformes
Family : Anguillidae -- Genus : Anguilla -- Species : A. rostrata

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ringneck Snake

Diadophis punctatus
The Ringneck Snake has a very large range that covers most of the United States, bits of Canada, and stretches of Canada. They live in a huge range of habitats, from forests, to grasslands, to riversides. However, despite their spread and general abundance they are rarely seen, due to a secretive nature and a nocturnal lifestyle.

If you do happen to come across one, you would notice their small size (up to 15in) and their name-sake ringed neck. Most of the subspecies have some variation of this band, and it ranges in color from yellow to red. You also may notice their undersides, as they tend to flip upside down, striking a strange, defensive warning pose when threatened. Though their tops are olive green, brown, or grey, their undersides are vibrantly yellow, orange, or red.

Not so unsurprisingly, Ringneck Snakes have been little observed in the wild. Only around 6 instances of mating have ever been recorded. One might think that to be enough to get a general idea, but the snakes appear to have varied social structures. While the mating act may be similar (female attracts male with pheromones, male bites female on neck), the egg laying and hatching varies. Some of the Ringneck Snakes live alone, while others live in colonies of up to 100. In those larger groups, communal nests are more common, while single snakes nest alone. Only one brood is produced each year, with mating taking place either in spring or fall (delayed fertilization is possible), and hatching occurring in August and September.

It is estimated that Ringneck Snakes have a lifespan of up to 20 years, though the oldest in captivity only made it to 6. They feed on Salamanders, Frogs, and invertebrates, using some constriction to secure their prey, and then injecting it with venom to finish it off.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North America
Size : Body Length up to 15in (38cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Sauropsida -- Order : Squamata
Family : Colubridae -- Genus : Diadophis-- Species : D. punctatus

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Swedish Vallhund

Swedish Vallhund
The Swedish Vallhund is a dog breed that goes back around 1,000 years-- way back to the Viking times! Their name translates to "Herding Dog," which is exactly what they are, short legs and all. Like the more famous Welsh Corgis, the short-legged Swedish Vallhunds were bred to herd the much larger cattle!

Interestingly, there may be an ancestral link between the Vallhund and the Corgis. Some historians believe that the Vallhunds were brought to Wales during Viking expeditions, while others think that the Corgis were taken back to Scandinavia as prizes. The exact history and relationship is still unknown, and perhaps DNA testing will someday solve the puzzle.

However, despite their long history, Swedish Vallhunds nearly went extinct during World War II. If not for the  work of two men, Bjorn von Rosen and K.G. Zettersten, we may have lost the breed completely.  Those two searched the country for the best specimens they could find, and then started a breeding program.  Swedish Vallhunds have since been exported to numerous countries around the world, though they are still a relatively rare breed to encounter. They were only recently admitted into the AKC, entering in 2007.

As a breed, the Swedish Vallhund is known for its good temper, active lifestyle, intelligence, and sometimes clownish behavior. They are incredibly versatile dogs, and do well in all sorts of events, including herding, agility, flyball, and even tracking (a callback to their days as combination herding dogs/vermin exterminators).

Status : Domesticated
Location : Sweden
Size : Shoulder height around 13in (33cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Canidae -- Genus : Canis -- Species : C. lupus -- Subspecies : C. l. familiaris

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hong Kong Newt

Paramesotriton hongkongensis
Hong Kong Newts are the only Salamanders found within the territory Hong Kong, though they can also be found in a few other parts of the surrounding area. They can be found in and around slow flowing streams and pools that have sufficient pebble coverage for hiding. Hong Kong Newts do not hibernate  and can be spotted year round.

You can identify these smallish Amphibains by their brown, warty bodies and vibrant orange-spotted undersides. Those bellies are used as a warning to drive predators away. They themselves feed on worms, crustaceans, tadpoles, insects, and small fish.

As with most Amphibians, Hong Kong Newts go through a metamorphosis as they grow. Their tadpole stage has black skin and pink gills, and they have spotted stomachs, but those are yellow instead of orange. The Larvae hatch at around 14mm, and reach their final transitional stage at around 40-44mm. It can take as long as 3 years to reach full sexual maturity.

The major threat facing the Hong Kong Newt is collection for the pet trade. The population is protected in Hong Kong, but is on the decline. Luckily they are able to be bred in captivity, so they aren't in major danger of going extinct just just. They do very well in captive environments, and are said to be quite hardy as adults.

IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : Hong Kong
Size : Body Length up to 15cm
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Lissamphibia -- Order : Caudata
Family : Salamandridae -- Genus : Paramesotriton -- Species : P. hongkongensis

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Richmond Birdwing

Ornithoptera richmondia
The Richmond Birdwing is one of the smallest species of Birdwing Butterfly... though they are still quite large as far as Butterflies go-- their wingspan can get as large as 15cm. Males and females differ in appearance. The female are larger, but have plainer, brown-grey wings. Males have black wings, but with bright, iridescent blues and greens. Both sexes have red on their thorax.

They are endemic to Australia, and as larvae they normally feed on two specific plants that are also endemic to the continent, Pararistolochia praevenosa and Pararistolochia laheyana. Those larvae need very specific conditions to survive, which is why the Butterflies live in only a very specific range (and are rare-sighted). The larvae require soft plants (like those listed above) to feed upon, but they also need a large volume of food to quell their ravenous appetite. As adults, the Richmond Birdwings are strong fliers, and are often found high up in the canopies, coming down only to feed or lay eggs.

The Richmond Birdwing has not been officially listed by the IUCN, but they are considered locally vulnerable in a few areas, but stable in others. Because their larvae have specific needs, habitat loss and the loss of native plant life are major concerns.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Australia
Size : Wingspan up to 15cm
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Lepidoptera
Family : Papilionidae -- Genus : Ornithoptera -- Species : O. richmondia

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pale Toadfish

Ambophthalmos angustus
The Pale Toadfish is a deep sea species that belongs to a Saltwater-dwelling Family of fish sometimes called "Fatheads." It's pretty easy to see why-- these underwater creatures have very large heads compared to the rest of their bodies.

This particular Fathead is found only around the islands of New Zealand. Their depth range is usually between 550 and 650m down, though they will occasionally be found both deeper and shallower. They measure around a foot long.

Unfortunately, there is little else known about the pale Toadfish, or even about their entire family! Today's animal article just goes to show how much is still out there in the oceans, waiting to be studied and cataloged! Just this past week an estimate came out saying that only about 1/3 of all the life in the ocean has been named. And the Pale Toadfish shows that even when something is named, it may still not be very well known. There is still so much to learn, and hopefully someday we can come back to this interesting looking animal and know more about it!

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : New Zealand
Size : Length up to 1ft (30cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Scorpaeniformes
Family : Psychrolutidae -- Genus : Ambophthalmos -- Species : A. angustus

Friday, November 16, 2012

White-tailed Deer

Odocoileus virginianus (Bucks)
It's that time of year again-- deer season. I live in a state where Deer hunting is a norm and a common topic of conversation  and was actually surprised that I hadn't covered White-tailed Deer on this blog in the past!

The White-tailed Deer is well known throughout North and Central America, and they have even been introduced to parts of Europe and New Zealand. They are one of the most widely distributed mammals in the Americas, and it is no surprise that there are around three dozen different recognized subspecies. They are incredibly adaptable, and live in a huge range of habitats. Grasslands, woodlands, subtropical forests, scrublands, and even suburban neighborhoods all play host to these Deer.

Doe
White-tailed Deer are named for the undersides of their tails, which they raise when alarmed. Those tails communicate danger to one another, but is not their only form of communication. The Deer also produce a variety of sounds (Does and their Fawns bleat to find each other), and mark their territory using scent glands.

White-tailed Deer vary in size, depending on that territory and location. The Key West subspecies is the smallest (weighing around 80lbs), while Bucks in the northern United States and Canada can reach near 300lbs. Bucks are larger than Does, and also are the only sex to sport antlers, which are shed and regrown each year after the rutting season.

Rut takes place in the late fall, and during that times males will compete against one another for breeding rights. A Buck may reproduce with multiple Does each season, and has nothing more to do with the female or her eventual offspring after copulation. Does can have up to three fawns at a time, and they hide their small, spotted offspring in the undergrowth while they go off to feed (mothers of multiples will hide each fawn separately). The young deer are weaned by the end of summer, but will often hang around with mom for another year or two.
Fawn

Because White-tailed Deer live in so many places, they are able to eat many different kinds of plant life. Leaves, grasses, acorns, cacti, fruits, and mushrooms are all consumed by the species. They can also cause problems in farms, orchards, and gardens when they decide to go after corn and other crops.

Overall, White-tailed Deer are listed as being of Least Concern, though some of the subspecies (like the aforementioned Key West variety) are listed separately with their own conservation classification.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North and Central America, introduced to Europe and New Zealand
Size : Weight up to 300lbs (136kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Cervidae -- Genus : Odocoileus -- Species : O. virginianus

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Stoplight Loosejaw

Malacosteus niger
Stoplight Loosejaw is the common name for the two species found within the genus Malacosteus. They are a relatively deep-sea dwelling fish, living between 500 and 1,000m down.

The "Stoplight" name derives from the fact that they can produce two different lights from photophores near their eyes. One of these lights is blueish-green, while the other is red. The red light is especially interesting-- most of the other organisms near them cannot see the red light, which lets the Loosejaw hunt secretly and stealthily. (The blue light penetrates further in the water, but can be seen by others).

The "Loosejaw" name is a reference to their interested head. They have a very minimal connection between their head and neck, and can tilt their heads back at normally unnatural angles in order to thrust their long, lower jaws even further forward. These lower jaws have very sharp, pointed teeth that impale prey, after locating it and swiftly darting forward in attack.

Like many deep sea fish, we don't know much about the specific behaviors of the Stoplight Loosejaw. In fact, most of what we know about them comes from dead specimens. Next to nothing is known about their reproduction, but there is some speculation that the lights play a part in courtship.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Oceans Worldwide
Size : Length around 25cm
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Stomiiformes
Family : Stomiidae -- Genus : Malacosteus

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cape Gannet

Morus capensis
The Cape Gannet is a very striking seabird, identified by its yellow face and neck and sleek white and black feathers. They breed on islands off the Cape of South Africa, and winter along the African coastal shores. Fish makes up their primary food source, and they retrieve it by plunging into the water from substantial heights.

Cape Gannets breed on only six different islands, nesting in large colonies. Males arrive on site first and stake out a territory, females are then attracted to his site thanks to calls, head bobs, and shakes. If she likes what she sees, a monogamous bond is formed. The couple will work together to build a nest out of guano and plants, creating it in depressions on the ground. They both help to incubate the single egg, which takes around 45 days to hatch. After hatching, it will take 3-4 months for fledging to occur. Once the Juveniles leave their parents, they will head out to see and not return to breed for 3-4 years.

Unfortunately, the fact that the Cape Gannets breed on only six small islands means that they are quite vulnerable. Over-fishing of their main prey led to a population drop, as did oil spills, pollution, and guano collection. The six island breeding sites are now protected, and one site in particular has an interesting story behind it.

In 2005, Bird Island was abandoned as a breeding site, due to the spread of seabird-killing seals, but the birds were wanted back by the local human population. The theory was that because ducks will go to sites that have duck decoys, Gannets will as well. Gannet decoys were deployed onto abandoned nests, and voila! The Cape Gannets began to return! The seals still pose a threat, but efforts are being made to keep them at bay.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Africa
Size : Length around 3ft (.9m), Wingspan around 6ft (1.8m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Suliformes
Family : Sulidae -- Genus : Morus -- Species : M. capensis

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Varanops

Varanops brevirostris
Varanops is one of those cool ancient reptiles that wasn't actually a Dinosaur. In fact, they lived before Dinosaurs even existed, and belonged to the same group that modern mammals eventually evolved out of millions of years later!

Varanops was not only a Synapsid-- it was also a Pelycosaur. In fact, its claim to fame is that it was one of the very last surviving Pelycosaurs. This group of Reptiles lived before the existence of Dinosaurs and included the more prominent Dimetrodon. (And for more information about Synapsids, check out that article!) Dimetrodon was gone around 280 million years ago, but Varanops made it at least another 20 million years.

They looked similar to today's large Monitor Lizards, and probably moved and behaved in a similar fashion (think Komodo Dragon). They consumed larger prey, as they had a very strong torso and legs, and were most likely terrestrial rather than arboreal.

Varanops went extinct around 260 million years ago, probably due to increased competition from all the new, Diapsid (Reptile), and Therapsid (Mammal-Like) predators. Therapsids actually evolved directly from other Pelycosaurs around 275 million years ago, making the Varanops that they deposed distant cousins!

Status : Extinct for about 260 million years
Location : North America
Size : Length around 5ft (1.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Synapsida -- Family : †Varanopidae
Subfamily : †Varanodontinae -- Genus : †Varanops -- Species : † V. brevirostris

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sir David's Long-beaked Echidna

Zaglossus attenboroughi
Of the four extant species of Echidna, only one is named after one of the greatest naturalists alive-- Sir David Attenborough. Sir David's Long-beaked Echidna is also referred to as Attenborough's Echidna, and as teh Cyclops Long-beaked Echidna. "Cyclops" comes from the mountain range they live in-- the Cyclops Mountains in Papua, Indonesia.

The Sir David's Echidna is literally only found in that tiny region, so it is unsurprising that they are listed as Critically Endangered. They were actually thought to be extinct, since the last specimen was collected way back in 1961. However, local people claim that they have spotted the small Monotremes recently, and scientists have located "nose pokes" which are evidence that they are still around somewhere.

The aforementioned "nose pokes" are the holes created when the Echidnas stick their snouts into the soil in search of termites, worms, ants, and other underground invertebrates. Like all Echidnas, they lay eggs, and aside from breeding it is believed that they are solitary animals.

Scientists are working with the local peoples to preserve and protect the few Sir David's Long-beaked Echidnas left. There are only fives Monotremes in the world, and it would be very sad to lose one completely.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Island of New Guinea, Indonesia
Size : Length around 40in (1m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Monotremata
Family : Tachyglossidae -- Genus : Zaglossus -- Species : Z. attenboroughi

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Yochelcionella

Yochelcionella
Today's animal is one of the older ones that we've talked about. Older than Dinosaurs, older even than the existence of land animals. Yochelcionella is the name from a genus of now-extinct  Molluscs that lived during the Cambrian over 520 million years ago.

About a dozen species have been identified from fossils, and they have a very wide distribution. Remember, back 500 million years ago, the world looked like a very different place! Remains have been found in places like China, Australia, Greenland, Canada, Spain, and Antarctica!

Members of the genus can all be identified by their interesting shells. They are very high cones, with little spouts sticking out of them. Scientists tend to agree that these spouts were used for respiration. Because only the shells are found, they are usually reconstructed to look similar to a Snail. Like just almost all animals during this time period, the Yochelcionella species lived underwater.

Perhaps my favorite little fact about these guys is that one species, Y. daleki, is named after the murderous Daleks from the long running British Sci-Fi  series, Doctor Who. The little spout on the Mollusc does kind of bear a resemblance to the Dalek arms...

Status : Extinct for around 525 million years
Location : All over the world
Classification : Phylum : Mollusca -- Class : †Helcionelloida -- Order : †Helcionelliformes
Family : †Yochelcionellidae -- Genus : †Yochelcionella

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Savannah Monitor

Varanus exanthematicus
Savannah Monitors are one of the more popular Monitor Lizard species to be kept in captivity. This is due to their small(er) size, docile attitude, and general toleration of handling. (Disclaimer: Don't just go out and buy a 4ft long lizard! Please do your homework, and buy from a responsible source!)

Anyway, in the wild Savannah Monitors can be found in the warm climates of Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the Savannah name, there is a misconception that they are a desert dwelling species, but obviously this is not the case. They are found in grassland regions and are a primarily ground-dwelling species.

Savannah Monitors have two main activities in life-- eating and basking in the sun. They feed on invertebrates, rodents, and smaller reptiles. They themselves are prey for birds, larger reptiles, and humans (who hunt them for skins and meat). The Lizards have pretty decent camouflage, so their main defensive strategy is to stay undetected. But if threatened, they have a strong bite and a powerful lashing tail in their arsenal.

The species is listed as being of Least Concern, but they face many human-related threats. It is estimated that  around 100,000 are exported every single year, either for the pet trade or for leather. For now, studies show that that number may be sustainable, though in some localized areas the population is on a decline.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Sub-Saharan Africa
Size : Length up to 4.5ft (1.4m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Varanidae -- Genus : Varanus -- Species : V. exanthematicus

Friday, November 9, 2012

White-throated Dipper

Cinclus cinclus
Allow me to introduce you to the White-throated, or European, Dipper. These aquatic Passerine birds can be found throughout the European Continent, as well as in western Asia, either as residents or seasonal migrants. They live near fast flowing streams and rivers, and prefer cold climates.

They are rather round little birds, measuring about 7in long and sporting short beaks and tails. They have black backs, brown heads, and a bright white throat that leads to a chestnut-colored band on the lower neck. Males and females look alike, and juveniles are greyish-brown overall.

Though they look like your average songbird, White-throated Dippers are one of five members of the Cinclus genus that actually swim underwater for their food. They have short, but strong wings that can be used like flippers, nose flaps to keep water out, and dense feathers that can be preened to be waterproof. They can swim underwater for about 30 seconds at a time. They do all their hunting by sight, and have an additional eyelid-membrane that protects their eyes while hunting for aquatic insects and small fish underwater.

White-throated Dippers are usually monogamous, and they lay their eggs quite early-- sometimes as early as late February! The adults teach their young how to feed, and the baby birds first learn how to hunt and swim in shallow pools. After fledging, it can take from 1 to 2 weeks for the juveniles to leave and go out on their own (depending on their learning speed).

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Europe, parts of Asia
Size : Body length up to 7in (18cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Cinclidae -- Genus : Cinclus -- Species : C. cinclus

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Neotropical Pygmy Squirrel

Sciurillus pusillus
The Neotropical Pygmy Squirrel is an animal that really intrigues me... because I know almost nothing about it. There is actually so little recorded about these rodents that they are listed as "Data Deficient" by the IUCN. It is even difficult finding pictures of them!

Neotropical Pygmy Squirrels are the smallest of all the South American Squirrels, weighing as little as 40g. (For comparison, the Western Grey Squirrel of North American can weigh ten times that much!) They have a patchy distribution in the lowland rainforests of Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and nearby areas.

Their small sizes means that we don't see them very often, and only recently have them become subjects of study (but there is still so, so much to learn!) We have learned that they are monotypic for their subfamily, that they have very small littler sizes (no more than 2), and they probably feed on the barks, gums, mosses, and insects and grow/live in the trees.

Hopefully more studies and observations will be done in the future, so that we can learn even more about this tiny little Squirrel!

IUCN Status : Data Deficient
Location : South America
Size : Body length up to 10cm, Weight up to 43g
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Rodentia
Family : Sciuridae -- Genus : Sciurillus -- Species : S. pusillus

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Kiang

Equus kiang
The Kiang is the largest species of Wild Ass in the world, and can be found in the Tibetan Plateau where it lives in the mountainous grassland steppes and meadows. There are three location-based subspecies, with the Eastern Kiang being the largest of the group.

Kiangs stand at around 13.5 hands, which makes them about the size of a large pony. (Horses tend to be designated as Equines over 14.2 hands). Despite this, they are still the largest Wild Asses, standing over 6in taller than their smallest relative- the Somali Wild Ass. They have coats that change with the season-- darker and shaggier in winter, and sleeker and more chestnut-colored in the summer. During all times of the year they have pale underparts and a thick, dark brown dorsal stripe.

Kiangs live in herds that can grow to incredibly large sizes-- up to 500 individuals! These groups are typically led by a older female, and they travel in tight, cohesive groups while searching for food. The breeding season takes place in August and September, and at that time males will fight each other over breeding rights, and will fiercely guard their females. Gestation lasts about a year, and females will breed again not long after giving birth.

In nature, the Kiang has only one predator-- the wolf. Humans have long hunted them as well, using the Asses for their meat and skin. This hunted as reduced the overall range of the Kiang, but the population size is large enough that it is listed as being of Least Concern for the time being. Additional conservation concerns include habitat loss and competition from livestock.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : China (Tibet), Nepal
Size : Shoulder height up to 13.5hands (54in, 1.4m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order: Perissodactyla
Family : Equidae -- Genus : Equus -- Species : E. kiang

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Spotted-necked Otter

Hydrictis maculicollis
The Spotted-necked Otter can be found in many of the rivers and lakes of Sub-Saharan Africa. They prefer to live near clear, continuous, fresh water, and will build dens near these sources.

When it comes to Otter size, this species is on the small end of the scale-- full body and tail length tops out around 1m, and females are generally smaller and lighter than the males. They can be identified by their sleek brown coats, and by the namesake white and brown spots on the neck and underside.

Spotted-necked Otters live either alone or in very small family groups and they tend to be more social during the breeding and birthing seasons. However, some father Otters will help to raise the pups, while others do not. Regardless of how many otters they live with, these guys certainly love to play, and will splash and frolic either alone or in groups.

One of the reasons that Spotted-necked Otters prefer clear water is that they hunt almost exclusively by sight. They feed on small fish, crustaceans, and amphibians.

Unfortunately, their need for such specific water conditions may lead to a decline over time. Habitat loss and pollution are two current conservation concerns.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Africa
Size : Length around 40in (1m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Mustelidae -- Genus : Hydrictis -- Species : H. maculicollis

Monday, November 5, 2012

Huchen

Hucho hucho
Today's animal is the Huchen, a freshwater fish also known as the Danube Salmon. These Salmon-family members originated in the aforementioned river basin, but have since spread to other parts of Europe and Morocco. However, even with introductions, the species is still considered Endangered due to habitat fragmentation and pollution.

Habitat fragmentation has had a huge impact on the reproductive cycle of the Huchen. Like their cousins in the west, they need to swim upriver in order to spawn, a process made very difficult by the addition of dams. Furthermore, some populations cannot breed at all, due to high water temperatures (like those introduced to Morocco). Huchen eggs need specific water temperatures in order to hatch.

There have been efforts made to protect the Huchen and their environment, including cleaning up the rivers, placing more regulations on fishing, and restocking.

You can identify a Huchen by their slender, cylindrical bodies, reddish-brown coloration, and dark patches. They feed on other fish, invertebrates, and water dwelling birds and mammals.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Europe
Size : Length up to 5ft (1.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Salmoniformes
Family : Salmonidae -- Genus : Hucho -- Species : H. hucho

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sooty Tern

Onychoprion fuscatus
There are dozens of species of Tern, and while many look alike, today's animal is quite distinct. Sooty Terns have very dark feathers on their back, wings, and on their face, as well as a black bill and feet. This sets them apart from all the lighter colored, and often yellow-billed Terns.

Sooty Terns are one of the most abundant Seabird species in the tropics-- there may be as many as 60 million of them! They live throughout the tropical oceans, and rarely come to land at all, only migrating to various islands in order to breed and lay their eggs. Did you know that these Terns can spend several years at sea?

When they do decide to come ashore, they craft nests on the ground in scrapes and crevasses. They lay 1-3 eggs at a time. Sooty Terns have decently long lifespans-- lasting around 32 years.

Sooty Terns feed on fish, crustaceans, and squid, and they require these meals to be driven to the surface in order to be caught. Therefore they depend a lot on other predators (like large fish) to also be hunting.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Tropical Oceans
Size : Length up to 14in (36cm), Wingspan up to 36in (92cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Charadriiformes
Family : Sternidae -- Genus : Onychoprion -- Species : O. fuscatus

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Bohor Reedbuck

Bohor Reedbuck
On first glance, the Bohor Reedbuck isn't a flashy antelope. They have short horns, a small to medium build, and sandy, patternless coats. But wait till you hear them and watch them move!

Like a few other species of small antelope, the Bohor Reedbuck likes to hide from predators in tall reeds and grasses. The lack of visibility caused by these tall plants has led the species to create an entire system of shrill screams and whistles in order to communicate. These sounds are used to warn against danger and to mark territory (they do not scent mark). They also posses the ability to perform amazing jumps and leaps which vary in height and length.

You will find the Bohor Reedbuck in Central Africa, living in grassland and wetland areas. They have flexible social groups-- some live alone, other in small groups, and others still in much larger ones (though the large herds usually tend to happen during particularly dry seasons). The Bohor Reedbucks are nocturnal, spending their nights foraging for food. During those aforementioned dry seasons, they will forage well into the daytime as well, in order to get their required sustenance.

There is no specific breeding season, though rainy seasons are more popular. Only one calf is born at a time, and like their parents, they spend a good deal of time in hiding. Newborn calves will stay hidden and secluded for up to 8 weeks.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Central Africa
Size : Length up to 4.5ft (1.4m), Weight up to 140lbs (65kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Redunca -- Species : R. redunca
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