Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Holidays

AaD is taking a holiday break. See you all back in January!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Common Minke Whale

Balaenoptera acutorostrata
The Common Minke Whale is one of the most abundant whale species on the planet-- there are believed to be around 800,000 of them! They also happen to be the smallest of the Rorquals (baleen whales with throat grooves), and reach only 30ft in length.

Common Minke Whales are found in ocean waters worldwide. They usually swim alone, though sometimes pairs or very small groups are observed. Their small size helps to identify them, as does their slim, sleek body, cloudy-grey skin, white fin bands, and double blowhole.

Like all Baleen Whales, the Common Minke feeds on very small fish and invertebrates, filtering their prey through the baleen plates that hang in their mouths.

Because of their abundance, Minke Whales are common targets for human interaction. They are frequent stars of whale watching tours, but they are also hunted by whalers as well. In the past, Minke Whales were not popular whaling targets because of their small size. However, most larger Baleen Whales are now protected, and the Minke Whales have been thriving in their absence. As a result, countries like Norway and Japan take hundreds of the whales each year. The population is believed to be stable overall, but stocks in certain areas are dwindling.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Oceans worldwide
Size : Length around 30ft (9m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Cetacea
Family : Balaenopteridae -- Genus : Balaenoptera -- Species : B. acutorostrata
Images : Rui prieto

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dromedary Camel

Camelus dromedarius
Did you know that the Dromedary Camel was domesticated 4,000 years ago? There are around 13 million of these beasts of burden living around the world-- most notably in Africa, the Middle East, and in the deserts of Australia.

Most of these camels are either living as domesticated creatures, or they are surviving in feral populations. Australia, for example, had several thousand camels imported during the late 19th and early 20th century. Today there are nearly a million living in feral groups across the dry western half of the continent. These feral groups live in herds of around 20 individuals, though much larger packs have also been observed. The Camels feed on whatever vegetation they can find, including prickly, thorny plants.

Dromedary Camels are well suited to desert life. Their single hump can store up to 80lbs of fat, which converts to energy when food or water is unavailable. They are masters of co
nserving their energy, and can travel over 100 miles without any extra water! And when they do drink, they drink very fast-- Dromedary Camels can take in 10 gallons of water in as many minutes! Other desert adaptations include their long, double-rowed eyelashes (perfect for keeping sand out), closeable nostril holes, and thick feet with pads that can spread to provide traction and stability over uneven surfaces.

A Dromedary Camel can live to be 40 or 50 years old, and they reach sexual maturity by the age of 4. Young Camels are born without their humps, because they haven't consumed enough extra fuel to fill it with fat.

As adults, the Dromedary Camels are creatures that serves many purposes. They are excellent pack animals, they can pull plows and carts, and they can carry passengers. They also provide milk, meat, and fibers.

Status : Domesticated
Location : Africa, Asia, Australia
Size : Height up to 7ft (2.1m), Weight up to 1,500lbs (680kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Camelidae -- Genus : Camelus -- Species : C. dromedarius
Images : Public Domain, Witoki

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Seven-arm Octopus

Haliphron atlanticus
The Seven-arm Octopus has a misleading name. They do actually have eight arms, like all Octopuses do, it's just that one of the arms (the hectocotylus, used for egg fertilization) is often curled up on the males' bodies, making it difficult to see. Females of the species do that have that issue.

Seven-arm Octopuses live in both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. It was believed to live only in the former until about fifteen years ago, when one was caught off the coast of New Zealand. Interestingly, these creatures have also been found at both the sea floor AND near the surface, which is unusual for Octopuses.

The species is also notable because they are quite large. In fact, they are the largest Octopuses in the world, and can measure over 11ft in length!

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
Size : Length up to 11ft (3.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Mollusca -- Class : Cephalopoda -- Order : Octopoda
Family : Alloposidae -- Genus : Haliphron -- Species : H. atlanticus
Images : RL Hudson

Monday, December 16, 2013

Four-horned Antelope

Tetracerus quadricornis
The Four-horned Antelope is named for the four permanent horns that are found on the males' skulls. That trait actually makes them unique among living mammals. yes, there are some breeds of sheep that have multiples horns, but those are not guaranteed. The male Four-horned Antelope always has that number!

These Antelope are also interesting because of their small size-- they stand less than 2ft tall, which makes them the smallest Bovids in Asia.

When it comes to behavior, the Four-horned Antelope is a solitary creature that feeds on fruits, leaves, and flowers. Males and females remain apart until the breeding season, where the sexes will perform courtship rituals like kneeling and strutting in order to select mates. The gestation period lasts about 8 months, after which one or two young are born. The offspring remain with their mother for about a year, and reach sexual maturity themselves at about 2 years of age.

The species is found in only two countries, India and Nepal, and they are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. Their unique horns make them popular hunting targets, and habitat loss has been dimishing their habitat. At present there are around 10,000 individuals left in the wild.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : South Asia
Size : Height up to 2ft (60cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Tetracerus -- Species : T. quadricornis
Images : Kalyan Varma

Friday, December 13, 2013

Bonelli's Eagle

Aquila fasciata
The Bonelli's Eagle is named for 19th century Italian Ornithologist Franco Andrea Bonelli. It is a large bird, with a body length of around 2ft, and can be found in southern Europe, southern Asia, and throughout most of Africa.

These Eagles are identified by their brown upper-parts, dark-streaked white under-sides, and by the black band at the end of their tail. Adults and juveniles can be told apart by that band-- Juveniles don't have it. Another way to know a Bonelli's Eagle is near? Their call! They make a klu-klu-klu-klee sound while near the nest.

Bonelli's Eagles prefer to live in areas that are neither too open, nor too dense with trees. They typically hunt from trees, swooping down on ground-dwelling prey when spotted. Birds and Lagomorphs are their most common targets.

Did you know that many species of Eagle build multiple nests at a time? The Bonelli's Eagle is one of those species. Pairs mate for life, and will build as many as six nests within their territory. And these are no small nests either-- they can be more than 2m across and 1.5m deep, and the pair will maintain and add to them every year. One theory for the multiple nests is that the birds will have someone else to go should their current nest become unusable.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Europe, Africa, Asia
Size : Length up to 2ft (60cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Accipitriformes
Family : Accipitridae -- Genus : Aquila -- Species : A. fasciata
Images : Paco Gomez

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Anomalocaris is the name of a genus that lived during the Cambrian period... over half a billion years ago!

These ancient relatives to the arthropods of old swam in the seas that covered the planet. Their fossils have been found in places that are (now) as far apart as Canada, China, and Australia.

Anomalocaris grew up to 3ft in length, and had a segmented body that allowed it to swim using an undulating motion. They also had complex, stalked eyes, and two arms covered in barbs that extended from the mouth. The mouth itself was circular, and may have been able to crush hard-bodied prey like Trilobites.

The interesting anatomical features of Anomalocaris made it difficult to identify for many, many years. Different body parts were found independent from one another, and were actually attributed to several different animals, including Jellyfish and Crustaceans. While the first fossils were discovered in 1892, it took until 1985 for scientists to realize all of those fossils belonged to the same animal!

Status : Extinct, lived during the Cambrian ~500 million years ago
Location : Worldwide
Size : Length up to 1m
Classification : Class : †Dinocaridida -- Order : †Radiodonta
Family : †Anomalocarididae -- Genus : †Anomalocaris
Images : Worldlesstech

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Abyssal Grenadier

Coryphaenoides armatus
Today's animal is one of those deep sea fish that we so uncommonly see alive. Even though they live in all of the world's oceans, the Abyssal Grenadiers normally hang out between 1,000 and 15,000 feet down!

These fish are abundant in the dark depths of the oceans. As adults they can grow nearly a meter in length, though smaller sizes are more common. They feed on other fish, sea urchins, crustaceans, and cephalopods.

Abyssal Grenadiers have a very distinct look to them. They have large heads (featuring large eyes) but bodies that taper out into a tail that completely lacks a caudal fin, along with spined fins that run down both their dorsal and central sides. These fish are known to be very slow-growing, and live as long as 60 years.

Amazingly, while many fish species are suffering, the Abyssal Grenadier populations are booming! They live so far down that they aren't affected by the fishing industry, and between 1989 and 2004 they doubled in number. Scientists don't know much else about them though. Their reproductive habits are unknown, and they have never been kept in captivity.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Worldwide
Size : Length up to 1m
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Gadiformes
Family : Macrouridae -- Genus : Coryphaenoides -- Species : C. armatus
Images : Fishbase

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Giant Banjo Frog

Limnodynastes interioris
The Giant Banjo Frog, also known as the Great Bullfrog, is an amphibian found in Southern Australia. At a body length of around 9cm, it is the largest Frog in Victoria.

As adults, Giant Banjo Frogs spend most of their time in underground burrows that they dig, keeping themselves moist by absorbing water from the soil around them. They typically are only seen at the surface after it rains, which is when they spawn and hunt for food. During the wet season, the male Frogs will make fast, low pitched calls in order to attract mates.

The Giant Banjo Frogs do their spawning in smaller, slower moving bodies of water like ponds and marshes. They will even lay them in flooded burrows! As Tadpoles they stay in those still or slow-moving zones, maturing slowly before metamorphosing and reaching sexual maturity around 2-3 years of age.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Australia
Size : Length up to 3.5in (9cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Amphibia -- Order : Anura
Family : Myobatrachidae -- Genus : Limnodynastes -- Species : L. interioris
Images : Victoria Dept. of Environment

Monday, December 9, 2013

Mountain Goat

Oreamnos americanus
The Mountain Goat is a large ungulate found only in North America. They are the only species in their genus, but belong to the same subfamily as True Goats and Sheep, Musk Oxen, and Takin.

Mountain Goats live in the Rocky and Cascade Mountains, and they are the largest animals (in their range) to live above the tree line. Males can weigh over 300lbs, while females are usually 2/3 the size.

Despite their large size, the Mountain Goats are very good climbers. Their cloven hooves spread apart for balance, and their footpads help them to maintain traction while traversing areas that have up to 60 degrees of incline. They can also jump up to 12feet in a single leap!

Aside from the size, male and female mountain goats look like-- stark white fut with short beards and black horns. Males live alone most of the time, while females live in small herds with other females and their offspring. Kids are born during the Spring months, and because of the lack of ground cover they have to be up and moving within minutes of birth!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North America
Size : Height around 3ft (.9m), Weight around 200lbs (90kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Oreamnos -- Species : O. americanus
Images : Robert Shepherd

Friday, December 6, 2013

Greater Siren

Siren lacertina
While it looks like an Eel, today's animal is actually an amphibian-- related to frogs, toads, and salamanders. The Greater Siren is its common name, and it is one of three water-living, practically leg-less Siren species.

The legs are there, but they are very, very small, and can sometimes be totally obscured by the large external gills that these creature have. These creatures are typically brown or black, and have faint stripes as juveniles (though they lose them over time).

Greater Sirens are some of the largest Amphibians found in North America-- they can grow up to 1m in length! They are found in the freshwater rivers and lakes of the southeast United States, where they hunt crayfish, small fish, snails, and other aquatic invertebrates.

The reproductive habits of these Amphibians is unknown. Mating has never been observed! They don't have the organs that typically go along with internal fertilization, but they lay their eggs like an internally fertilized amphibian would. Mysterious!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North America
Size : Length up to 1m
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Amphibia -- Order : Caudata
Family : Sirenidae -- Genus : Siren -- Species : S. lacertina
Image : USGS

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Florida Gar

The Florida Gar is a large freshwater fish found in the waters of the southern United States, especially in Florida and Georgia. They can grow to lengths of 3-4ft, and can be identified by their blotchy dark spots that cover the body and fins.

Florida Gars are able to live in shallow waters that have very little oxygen. They have a special organ, called an air bladder, that allows them to breathe air.

You'll find these fish living in small groups that number between 2 and 10 individuals. They breed in the early spring during a large spawning events where the females lay sticky eggs in the aquatic vegetation and males swim over them and release sperm to fertilize. The parents have no more involvement with the eggs after the spawning event.

As juveniles, Florida Gars feed on insect larvae, plankton, and very small fish. As they grow up they move to larger fish and invertebrates. The Gars hunt by stalking prey very slowly, and then lunging with inedible speed and catching the victims in their jaws.

Florida Gar don't taste very good, so they are not commonly captured by human fishermen. They are abundant through their range and the population is currently stable.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Southern United States
Size : Length up to 4ft (1.3m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Lepisosteiformes
Family : Lepisosteidae -- Genus : Lepisosteus -- Species : L. platyrhincus
Image : Kihn Quyen

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mauritian Tomb Bat

Taphozous mauritianus
Though named for the island of Mauritius, the Mauritian Tomb Bat is found throughout sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. They live in open habitats, including dry-scrub areas where there is little moisture, though they prefer areas with more rainfall.

Outside of the mating season, these bats live in small groups that roost together in cavers, tree cavities, and even on buildings. During the breeding season females roost together in larger groups (several dozen), while males are typically alone. They typically mate once per year, though some populations (depending on location) will make twice. The Bats are polygamous, and males take no part in raising their offspring.

Mauritian Tomb Bats can be identified by their completely white undersides and mottled-gray backs. They have long, narrow arms, and their wingspan is close to double their body length (about 21cm as opposed to 10-11cm).

As with other bats, the Mauritian Tomb Bats use echolocation to hunt at night. But did you know they also sometimes hunt during the daytime? And at those hours they hunt by sight? Moths, butterflies, and other winged insects are their prey of choice. These bats also use audible communication with one another. They chip and screech, though the exact purposes for their calls are unknown.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Africa
Size : Length up to 11cm
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Chiroptera
Family : Emballonuridae -- Genus : Taphozous -- Species : T. mauritianus
Image : Frank Vassen

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pied Kingfisher

Ceryle rudis
The Pied Kingfisher is one of the most common Kingfishers in the world. You'll find them throughout sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, where they live in lowland regions near bodies of water.

Pied Kingfishers are very distinctive in appearance. They have white faces with black masks, stark black bills, and patchy (pied) white and black feathers on their crest, back, and wings. Males and females differ in their chest bands-- males have two, females only one.

Fish are the primary prey of the Pied Kingfisher, though aquatic insects and crustaceans will also be consumed. They hunt by hovering over the water, and once they spot prey they dive in with their large bill first and snatch it up. They can swallow small fish whole, which allows them to hunt longer (rather than returning to a nest to feed).

Pied Kingfishers do their nesting in holes that they dig out in vertical sandbanks. These holes can be more than 4ft long, and can take up to a month to excavate. As many as seven eggs are laid at a time, and mom and dad often have help in raising their brood-- chicks from the previous year often stick around to help out their younger siblings, and non-breeding adults will sometimes also lend a hand.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Africa and Asia
Size : length up to 7in (18cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Coraciiformes
Family : Cerylidae -- Genus : Ceryle -- Species : C. rudis
Image : Koshyk

Monday, December 2, 2013

Mexican Wolf

Canis lupus baileyi
The Mexican Wolf is a subspecies of Grey Wolf-- and the most rare subspecies at that. They are listed as Critically Endangered. On top of being close to extinction, they are the smallest (about the size of a German Shepherd), most genetically distinct, and the most southern-living of the North American grey wolves.

Mexican Wolves used to have a range that spread across northern Mexico and the southwest United States. Over time, the large prey mammals that the wolves hunted became more rare, and so the wolves turned to livestock, resulting in widespread wolf hunting. By the 1970s they were extinct in the wild.

Today there are about 75 Mexican Wolves in Arizona, placed there as part of a reintroduction project that began in 1998. The population has been growing, but very slowly. In addition to those wolves, there are about 300 individuals in captivity, with 47 breeding facilities.

Unfortunately those reintroduced Wolves are being hunted, with two shot illegally in 2011. Another troubling issue facing the subspecies is hybridization. Coyotes are common in the area, and research has shown that Coyotes and Mexican Wolves have bred in the past, as genetic markers have been found across the wild populations. Keeping the two species genetically separate is vital to the full recovery of the Wolf populations.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Mexico, southwest United States
Size : Height up to 2.5ft (.8m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family: Canidae -- Genus : Canis -- Species : C. lupus -- Subspecies : C. l. baileyi
Image : Ltshears

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Ready for a history lesson? Alaunt is the name given to a now-extinct breed of dog that lived for hundreds, if not thousands of years before vanishing during the 17th century.

The Alaunt originated in Central Asia, being bred by the Alani tribes that were nomadic and spoke an Indo-Iranian language. These people used the large working dogs for many purposes-- hunting, herding, and livestock protection among them.

In the 4th century AD, the Alani tribes were split following a Hun invasion, and they moved in two separate directions. The eastern group eventually merged with the Ossetians, while the western group went with the Vandals who raided Western Europe over time. The Alaunt diverged at this point as well, and interbred with breeds throughout Europe and central Asia, and continued to vary in purpose.

After several hundred years, the name Alaunt referred less to a specific breed, and more to a general working type of dog. Some where lighter, like modern sight-hounds, while others were bigger and more Mastiff-like. By the 17th century the Alaunt as an actual breed was no more, though they helped to influence the creation of several modern dogs, including the Bulldogs. Various Central Asian breeds, like the Caucasian Ovcharka, also share ancestry with the ancient Alaunt, which probably originally looked very similar to a shorter-haired version of the Ovcharka.

Status : Domesticated, currently Extinct
Location : Europe and Asia
Size : Varied
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Canidae -- Genus : Canis -- Species : C. lupus -- Subspecies : C. l. familiaris

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Hawaiian Squirrelfish

Sargocentron xantherythrum
Meet the Hawaiian Squirrelfish, a species that is found only around the Hawaiian Islands. They, and all other Squirrelfish, get their name from the defensive sounds that they make-- they sounds like chattering Squirrels!

Hawaiian Squirrelfish are bright red with bold white stripes running horizontally down their bodies. Their scales and gill spines are rough, which sometimes causes the fish to get caught up in netting material. They
also have very large eyes, which make seeing in dark water easier. These fish are nocturnal and are normally only active at night.

During the daytime hours the Squirrelfish hide out in various nooks and crannies of the coral reefs that they live around. You will usually find them in small schools, and they feed on small invertebrates like starfish and crustaceans.

Hawaiian Squirrelfish are sometimes found in the aquarium trade. They are said to be hardy, and are generally peaceful. Keeping several at a time requires a large tank, because they will fight over daytime hiding spaces otherwise.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Hawaii
Size : Length up to 17cm
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Beryciformes
Family : Holocentridae -- Genus : Sargocentron -- Species : S. xantherythrum
Image : Aquarium Domain

Monday, November 25, 2013


Triceratops is one of those iconic Dinosaurs, everyone recognizes it! These four-legged herbivores were discovered by Othniel Charles Marsh during the famous late 19th century "Bone Wars," and their fossils have been found in various deposits in western North America.

Triceratops is a genus name that encompasses three different species, with Triceratops horridus being the most well known. They measured as long as 30 feet from nose to tail tip, and could weigh well over 20,000lbs.

These Dinosaurs were named for the three horns on their skulls. These horns, and the large bony neck frill behind them, were probably used for defense. And Triceratops certainly had a lot to defend against-- these guys lived at the end of the Cretaceous, in about the same time and place that T. Rex and other very large, very powerful predators lived!

Aside from defense, the horns and neck frill may have served a purpose in during mating season. The neck may have even helped to regulate body heat!

Triceratops lived up until the very end of the Cretaceous, and died out along with all of the other Dinosaurs that were around for the K-T Extinction Event.

Status : Extinct. Lived 72-65 million years ago
Location : North America
Size : Length up to 30ft (9m), Weight up to 26,000lbs (12 tonnes)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Order : †Ornithischia
Family : †Ceratopsidae -- Genus : †Triceratops
Image : Nobu Tamura , Minnesota Jones

Friday, November 22, 2013

Ox Beetle

The Ox Beetle is a species of Rhinoceros Beetle that can be found in North, Central, and South America. They are medium-sized for their subfamily-- only growing to about 4cm in length, as opposed to their largest cousins which can be half a foot long! Interestingly though, they are still one of the largest Beetles in North America.

Ox Beetles  are sexually dimorphic, with males having much larger horns. There are actually two different types of male-- one with very large horns (the "major" variety) and one with shorter, stubbier ones ("minor").

Both sexes are great diggers, and they even bury their eggs underground. The Beetles typically stay in their larval stage for about a year, and during that time they feed on decaying vegetation. As adults they will only live 4-6 months (typically during summertime), and spend that time breeding and eating leaves and fruit.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : North and South America
Size : Length up to 4cm
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Coleoptera
Family : Scarabaeidae -- Genus : Strategus -- Species : S. aloeus
Image : Shawn Hanrahan

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Inland Taipan

Oxyuranus microlepidotus
Meet the most venomous snake on the planet-- the Inland Taipan. This 6ft long Australian Snake has enough venom in its bite to kill 100 men!

Thankfully, very few bites on humans have ever occurred, as this snake lives in the dry interior of the Australian continent. Amazingly, the human death count is zero! The anti-venom for these bites has been very successful.

Rodents and other small mammals make up the Inland Taipan's diet. The snake waits silently for prey to come near, and then strikes very, very quickly, injecting the venom deep into the unlucky critter.

Inland Taipans are also interesting because they change color with the seasons. During the summer they are pale, but in the winter they are dark. The darker color helps them to absorb more heat during chillier months.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Australia
Size : Length up to 6ft (1.8m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Elapidae -- Genus : Oxyuranus -- Species : O. microlepidotus
Image : Bjoertvedt

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sardinian Pika

Prolagus sardus
The Sardinian Pika was one of a kind-- the only member of its genus to survive till modern times. These cousins to the modern Pikas (themselves relatives to Rabbits and Hares, not rodents) lived on the islands of Sardinia and Corsica before they went extinct in the late 1700s.

Written accounts and fossil remains show that the Sardinian Pikas were once abundant on their home islands. They were hunted by the peoples that arrived there around 6,000 years ago, and may have been considered a delicacy.

Unfortunately, these Lagomorphs are no more. Many factors contributed to their decline-- the introduction of dogs and foxes and increase human populations among them. The exact date of extinction is unknown, but it was some time at the end of the 18th or the beginning of the 19th century.

IUCN Status : Extinct
Location : Sardinia, Corsica
Size : Length up to 10in (25cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Lagomorpha
Family : Prolagidae -- Genus : Prolagus -- Species : P. sardus
Image : Animal Photo Album

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Common Gundi

Gundis are rodents that live in the dry regions of Northern Africa. There are five species total, including today's animal the Common Gundi.

Common Gundis have very compact bodies, with short legs, tan fur, and very large eyes. They can grow to be 8in long-- making them roughly the size of a Guinea Pig.

These rodents live in colonies that can have over 100 members. The size of the group depends on the specific habitat and how great the food supply is, and they communicate through different chirps and foot stomps. Females give birth to two offspring at a time, who are fully weaned after 4 weeks. They have to grow fast because the food supply is so scarce that the mothers don't produce much milk.

Common Gundis feed on whatever plant matter they can find, but because they live in the desert they sometimes have to travel far to find it. These trips can take them more than half a mile from home, which is really far for such a little rodent. Because they don't store food very well they have to alternate eating and resting when they make these long foraging expeditions. The Gundis also do not drink water-- they get what they need from the plants they eat.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Northern Africa
Size : Length up to 8in (20cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Rodentia
Family : Ctenodactylidae -- Genus : Ctenodactylus -- Species : C. gundi
Image : Salix

Monday, November 18, 2013

Tropical Mockingbird

Mimus gilvus
The Tropical Mockingbird is a creature than can be found in South and Central America, as well as on a handful of Caribbean Islands. They are residents in there locations-- meaning they do not generally migrate. These birds live in open habitats, and can commonly be found in human-inhabited areas. They feed on insects, as well as on fruits.

These birds can be identified by their grey heads and backs, dark wings and tail, and by the two thin white stripes that run across each wing. Males and females look alike.

Unlike its closest relative, the Northern Mockingbird, Tropical Mockingbirds do not mimic the songs of other species. They sing their own tunes (which they sometimes copy from each other), and the songs can be quite long and are often repeated several times.

Attracting a mate is one of the purposes for these songs. Males will sing and build a nest. If a female responds, she will help him to finish the nest and the pair will feed and raise a clutch together. If no females respond to a singing male, he will abandon his nest and find a new location.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South and Central America
Size : Length up to 10in (25cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Mimidae -- Genus : Mimus -- Species : M. gilvus
Image : Brian Gratwicke

Friday, November 15, 2013

Saxual Sparrow

Passer ammodendri
The Saxual Sparrow, named for a plant whose seeds it often eats, is a relative to the Common House Sparrow. It is found in remote areas of Central Asia, and because of its range it is little studied.

Saxual Sparrows are relatively large for their type-- they can grow more than 6in in length. Males have black throats, crowns, and eye stripes. Females lack the bold black markers and are s tad duller in color overall.

The full details of this bird's behavior are unknown. We do know that they live in small flocks outside of breeding season, and during the breeding season they aren't especially social. That is most likely due to their dry habitat, where nesting sites are few and far between. We also know that they feed on insects, as well as on seeds.

We also know that there are enough of them in a large enough area for the species to be listed as Least Concern.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Asia
Size : Length up to 6.5in (17cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Passeridae -- Genus : Passer -- Species : P. ammodendri
Image : Russian Birds

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Argentine Giant Tegu

Tupinambis merianae
Tegus are lizards that fill the same ecological niche of the Monitor Lizards, despite not being related... or even living on the same continent.

Of all these South American lizards, the appropriately named Argentine Giant Tegu is the largest. Also referred to as the Black and White Tegu, these reptiles can reach up to 4.5ft in length, including their tails.

Argentine Giant Tegus are not picky about where they live. They are terrestrial and have a wide diet that includes both plants and animals, which means they are able to live in rainforests, grasslands, and semi-deserts alike! During the colder months they enter a sort of hibernation, moving into deep underground burrows.

Argentine Giant Tegus are considered to be very intelligent, and they are popular in captivity due to their attention-loving personality and calm demeanor.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : South America
Size : Length up to 4.5ft (1.3m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Teiidae -- Genus : Tupinambis -- Species : T. merianae
Image : Ltshears

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Parasitic Jaeger

The Parasitic Jaeger, sometimes refereed to as the Arctic or Parasitic Skua, is a seabird that spends half its time in Northern Europe and Asia, as well as in the high latitudes of North America. They breed during the summertime, and during the winter they migrate south to more tropical regions.

Parasitic Jaegers are named for one of their most common feeding behaviors-- they harass other seabirds and steal their food. The Jaegers will hunt their own kills as well, but theft is frequent and widespread.

It can be tough to identify these birds in the wild because they come in three different color morphs (dark, light, and intermediate) and because they look very similar to other seabird species that share their range. In general they are either dark colored above, with pale underparts, or are completely dark feathered all over.

Parasitic Jaegers have a very large population size (well over 1,000,000 birds) and a massive range. hey are not currently in any major conservation danger.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Eurasia, North America
Size : Body length around 18in (45cm), Wingspan up to 50in (1.3m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Charadriiformes
Family : Stercorariidae -- Genus : Stercorarius -- Species : S. parasiticus
Image :  Fish and Wildlife Service

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Esmeraldas Woodstar

Meet one of the tiniest Hummingbirds on Earth-- the Esmeraldas Woodstar. These itty bitty birds are only a few centimeters long!

These Hummingbirds aren't just small, they are pretty rare too. They are found in only a tiny portion of coastal Ecuador, where they live in tropical lowland forests.

Until very recently, no one knew for sure what female Esmeraldas Woodstar looked like. Males are a shiny green color, with white underparts and a purple throat. Females were a bit of a mystery until the very first specimen was discovered in 2009. For a long time they were confused with female Little Woodstars, but now we know the two are different. The female Esmeraldas Woodstars are a duller green than the males, with buff undersides and no purple on the throat.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Ecuador
Size : Body length around 2in
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Apodiformes
Family : Trochilidae -- Genus : Chaetocercus -- Species : C. berlepschi
Image :  Ana Agreda

Monday, November 11, 2013

MacFarlane's Bear

Ursus inopinatus may have just been a hybrid between
a Grizzly Bear (pictured) and a Polar Bear
Today's animal is a confusing creature-- we don't really know if it actually ever existed!

The story goes that back in 1864, Inuit hunters killed a large, blonde bear and gave its skin to naturalist Robert Macfarlane. Macfarlane, not really knowing what the bear was, gave the skin to the Smithsonian Museum, where it sat collecting dust until 1911.

At that point in time, Dr. Clinton Hart Merriam dug the skin out of storage and studied it for the first time. Because the notes said that the bear lived outside of a Brown Bear's range, and because it didn't match up with a Polar Bear skin, Merriam declared the bear to be a new species-- Macfarlane's Bear.

But is it really a new species? If so, is it extinct? Is this bear a holdover from the Pleistocene times? Or is it just a Hybrid? Hybrids between Grizzly bears and Polar bears have been discovered, so perhaps this "new species" is really just a combination of two others. So far there has been no DNA testing done, so the hybrid theory remains just that.

Status : Unknown
Location : North America
Size : Weight around 1,000lbs (453kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Ursidae -- Genus : Ursus -- Species : U. inopinatus
Image :  Grizzle Bear Blog

Friday, November 8, 2013

Eld's Deer

Panolia eldii
The Eld's Deer is an endangered mammal that lives in only three isolated populations in south and southeast Asia. These three groups are distinct enough to be considered different subspecies, and all three face dangers from hunting, habitat loss, and lack of genetic diversity.

Eld's Deer are sometimes called Brow-antlered Deer, and they have very slender bodies and large ears. Males also have distinctive curved antlers that are regrown each year.

Outside of the breeding season the Deer tend to be solitary. They feed on different grasses and wetland plants, and are active throughout the day. When it comes time to breed, the females will gather up into groups of up to 50, and males will compete with one another for breeding rights. The gestation period lasts about 8 months, and a single fawn is born.

Sadly, these deer aren't doing too well. They occur in a few protected areas, but there is inadequate funding to keep those locations safe, and insufficient manpower to deal with poaching. The deer are also so fragmented that inbreeding is common, which weakens the genetic diversity and causes health issues within the group.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Southeast Asia
Size : Height up to 50in (1.3m), Weight up to 380lbs (172kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Cervidae -- Genus : Panolia -- Species : P. eldii
Image :  Raul654

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Obdurodon tharalkooschild

Obdurodon tharalkooschild
Some newly discovered fossils have been all the rage this week-- gigantic extinct Platypus! The modern Platypus is a strange enough creature, but this prehistoric version takes it to a new level!

As you may know, the Platypus is one of only a handful of living Monotremes-- primative mammals that lay eggs. It was long believed that the Platypus had a very direct evolutionary story, one with very minimal branches. Obdurodon tharalkooschild, which was found in North-west Queensland (an area absent of modern Platypuses) was over a meter long and had teeth.

In fact, it was the fossilized tooth that put this whole story together. Modern Platypuses have teeth only as infants. They lose them as they grow up and they are never replaced. O. tharalkooschild had incredbily large teeth that it kept it's entire life. It had a carnivorous diet and could've used its giant chompers to feed on turtles and lungfish.

A few other extinct Platypuses have been discovered over the years, but all had smaller, and fewer teeth as they got chronologically closer to the present. O. tharalkooschild, which lived between 15 adn 5 million years ago, bucks that trend, which is why scientists believe it was part of a different Platypus evolution branch!

Status : Extinct, lived 15m-5m years ago
Location : Australia
Size : Length up to 3.3ft (1m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Monotremata
Family : Ornithorhynchidae -- Genus : †Obdurodon -- Species : O. tharalkooschild
Image :  Peter Schouten

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

New Zealand Grebe

Poliocephalus rufopectus
The New Zealand Grebe, or Weweia, is a small, dark waterbird found only on it's namesake islands.

These Grebe are wonderful swimmers, and are very well adapted to the water. They have movable webbed toes that are great for paddling, along with slim necks that allow them to dive underwater efficiently and find food. They feed on aquatic invertebrates, and can stay underwater for about half a minute.

New Zealand Grebes live near freshwater lakes, and do their nesting year round beside them. 2-3 eggs are laid at the time, and the offspring are precocial. After 2 months the chicks are completely independent from their parents.

Wierdly, the New Zealand Grebes went extinct from the South Island during the 1960s, and no one really knows why. Their population is currently stable, and the birds are protected. Monitoring and other measures are being taken to make sure the mysterious disappearance 50 years ago does not repeat itself.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : New Zealand
Size : Length up to 28in (70cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Podicipediformes
Family : Podicipedidae -- Genus : Poliocephalus -- Species : P. rufopectus
Image :

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


A couple million years ago there were all sorts of gigantic mammals living in North and South America, including the Toxodon. This beat, which weighed over 3000lbs, and measured up to 9ft in length, inhabited the South American plains until about 10,000 years ago.

From its skeleton you might think that Toxodon was a Rhinoceros. But such is not the case. Amazingly, Toxodon belonged to a now completely extinct order called Notoungulata. All animals in that Order are examples of convergent evolution-- they looked and behaved the same as other creatures that they weren't related to at all!

Even though Toxodon and modern Rhinos weren't related, they still had a lot in common. They were very large, they had stout, powerful bodies, and they feed on leaves and other plants. Toxodon was even hunted by humans. Several fossils have been found with arrowheads in the vicinity, proving that these animals were prey for early humans. Hunting may have also played a major role in their extinction-- one theory on the decline of Megafauna is that human hunting wiped them all out!

Status : Extinct, Lived 2.6million to 10,000 years ago
Location : South America
Size : Length up to 9ft (2.7m), Weight up to 3,300lbs (1500kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : †Notoungulata
Family : †Toxodontidae -- Genus : †Toxodon
Image : Richard Owen

Monday, November 4, 2013

Dark Sword-grass

Meet the Dark Sword-grass, a moth that can be found in temperate regions all around the world, and which also happens to be quite the pest while in its larval stage.

Many moth species stick to a specific plant-type while in their larval stage. Not so for this insect! They feed on grasses, weeds, fruits, grains, vegetables, and many, many other plants. Understandably, they can be quite the pest in agricultural areas. They like to feed on the crops near ground level, which can very quickly kill the plant!

As adults they are far less damaging-- they consume flower nectar. Their adult stage also has the interesting distinction of being one of the fastest flying insects! They can sustain ground speeds of 70mph!

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Worldwide
Size : Wingspan up to 5cm
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Lepidoptera
Family : Noctuidae -- Genus : Agrotis -- Species : A. ipsilon
Image : M. Virtala

Friday, November 1, 2013

Julia Butterfly

The Julia Butterfly is an insect with a very large range that spreads from the southern United States all the way down to Brazil. They are residents in most of their range, though in the U.S. they sometimes move north to Midwestern states during the summer.

Both male and female Julia Butterflies are orange, though the males are more vibrant. They have a black border that runs around the edge of the wing, though the exact pattern varies with the subspecies.

You'll find Julia Butterflies living in grasslands and near forest edges. They are fast flyers, and as adults they scurry about in the daytime in search of both mates, and nectar to feed on. As caterpillars they consume Passion Vines.

Julia Butterflies are not listed by the IUCN, but they are abundant through most of their range. The population only really dips when it gets to the fringe areas.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : North and South America
Size : Wingspan up to 9cm
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Lepidoptera
Family : Nymphalidae -- Genus : Dryas -- Species : D. iulia
Image : A Machado

Thursday, October 31, 2013

White-winged Vampire Bat

Happy Halloween everyone! I figured that, in the spirit of the holiday, we would learn about one of the iconic animals associated with it-- the Vampire Bat!

Now, there are actually three different species of Vampire Bat, all of which below to their own genus, but the same subfamily, Desmodontinae. The White-winged Vampire Bat is one of the three, which can be found in both the wet and dry forests of South and Central America.

White-winged Vampire Bats have not been studied very closely, so the exact extent of their range is still a bit of  a mystery. We also know very little about their reproductive habits, but since their two cousins are polygynous and give birth to just one offspring at a time, they probably do too.

We do know about their eating habits-- like all Vampire Bats, this species feeds nocturnally on the blood of other animals. Their favorite prey are birds, interestingly enough. They sneak up on roosting birds and bite into their feet with their razor-sharp teeth. Their saliva contains an anti-coagulant, so the blood flows quickly. Amazingly, the sleeping birds may not even notice the feeding happening, since the bats will drink for up to 15 minutes!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Central and South America
Size : Body length around 8.5cm
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Chiroptera
Family : Phyllostomidae -- Genus : Diaemus -- Species : D. youngi
Image : Jude Hirstwood

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Glaucous Macaw

Anodorhynchus glaucus
Today's animal is one of those creatures that is probably extinct... but we don't 100% know for sure. It is the Glaucous Macaw, a tropical Parrot related to both the Hyacinth and Lear's Macaws. It hasn't been reliably sighted since the 1960s, so even though it is listed as Critically Endangered, there is a good chance it is already gone for good.

These birds once lived in the forests of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Their habitat was remote, and they were typically seen near bodies of water.

The blue-feathered Macaws declined in number due to hunting, collection, and habitat loss. Their decline started back in the late 19th century, and continued on until the mid 20th, when official reports ceased all together. A few searches have been undertaken, but none have turn up evidence of the birds. It seems like they may be gone for good, especially since no elderly locals can even remember seeing them in their lifetimes.

But of course, there is always that small shred of hope. Unconfirmed sightings pop up from time to time, as do rumors of hidden populations in hard-to-reach areas. Fingers crossed that they are still out there!

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : South America
Size : Length up to 28in (70cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Psittaciformes
Family : Psittacidae -- Genus : Anodorhynchus -- Species : A. glaucus
Image :  Bourjot Saint-Hilaire

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Yellow-backed Duiker

Cephalophus silvicultor
Today we'll learn about the largest, and the most widespread of the Duiker species-- the Yellow-backed Duiker. Identifiable from the patch of yellow fur on their otherwise brown backs, these Antelope can weigh over 100lbs-- ten times that of their tiniest cousin.

You'll find the Yellow-backed Duikers in Central and Western Africa. They live in dense forests, forming monogamous breeding pairs and marking off small territories by using scent marks and vocalizations. Each year one or two uniformly brown calves are born, and their parents hide them in the vegetation for the first 1-2 weeks of life. After that they grow quickly, and are weaned by 6 weeks. It will take about seven months for their yellow back stripe to appear.

Yellow-backed Duikers have an interesting diet. They eat mostly fruit (about 75% of their diet), but they will also forage on leaves, nuts, bark, and even other animals! They have been observed eating birds and lizards in the wild, though other animals make up a very small percentage of their overall intake.

The IUCN has the Yellow-backed Duikers listed as "Least Concern," though their population is under strain for habitat loss and hunting. They require very dense forests in order to stay hidden, and those are frequently being thinned out to make room for agriculture.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : West and Central Africa
Size : Length up to 4.5ft (1.4m), Weight up to 130lbs (59kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Cephalophus -- Species : C. silvicultor 
Image : KCZoofan

Monday, October 28, 2013

Northern Hawk-owl

Surnia ulula
The Northern Hawk-Owl has a range that spreads across North America, Europe, and Asia, yet they are one of the least studied birds-of-prey out there. They live only in the far north, in remote areas, and a single bird can live quite far away from its nearest neighbor. So even though their three subspecies circle the Arctic, we are unsure of what their actual population size is!

What we do know about these birds is that, like many Owls, the females are slightly larger than the males. They are also, interestingly, diurnal. This of course breaks the stereotype of Owls hunting only at night!

When it comes to their meals, the Northern Hawk-Owls feed primarily on rodents and rabbits. Because the small mammal populations spike every couple of years, the Owl populations fluctuate as well. Years with fewer rabbits, for example, mean that the Owls have less to eat and both produce less offspring, and decrease from starvation.

At present, the Northern Hawk-Owl is listed as being of least concern. However, it is believed that their population is declining, though there is little concrete evidence to back it up. More effective monitoring must be done to both learn more about these birds, and to prevent any major conversation concerns.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North America, Europe, Asia
Size : Body length up to 17in (43cm), Wingspan around 18in (45cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Strigiformes
Family : Strigidae -- Genus : Surnia -- Species : S. ulula
Image : BS Thurner Hof

Friday, October 25, 2013

New Zealand Sea Lion

New Zealand Sea Lions, also sometimes called Hooker's Sea Lions, are the rarest and most vulnerable Sea Lions in the world. It is estimated that only 10,000 still remain, no thanks to decades of human hunting, being scooped up as bycatch for the commercial fishing industry, and bad-luck natural disasters.

Phocarctos hookeri
As the name states, these Sea Lions are found in New Zealand, specifically near the southern, aubantarctic islands. In fact, nearly the entire populations breeds at three colony sites on the Aukland Islands.

Breeding takes place from November to February. The males come ashore first to stake out spots, with the largest, strongest males claiming the most territory and the most number of mates. (Males can grow twice as large as females, if not bigger) Females (who are usually pregnant) arrive soon after. They give birth to a pup, and then breed again 1-2 weeks after.

One standout fact is that during this entire breeding season, the males do not feed. Females return to the water to bring food back for themselves and their growing pups, but the males risk losing their territory if they leave. This is another reason why the largest males tend to be more successful-- they have greater fat stores to sustain them during the summer.

New Zealand Sea Lions are listed as Vulnerable, and their are a handful of actions being taken to keep them safe. Their breeding grounds are now protected, hunting has been banned, and work is being done to prevent them from being captured in fishing nets. Unfortunately, disease has also stricken the Sea Lions-- several different bacterial diseases have spent through the colonies in the past 20 years. The worst, in 1998, killed 53% of all newborns and 20% of breeding females. There is a bright side though-- births in 2013 were the highest they had been in 5 years, and Sea Lions are starting to breed again on islands that had long been absent of colonies.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : New Zealand
Size : Male body length up to 11ft (3.3m), female up to  6.6ft (2m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Otariidae -- Genus : Phocarctos -- Species : P. hookeri
Image : Tomas Sobek  Brocken Inaglory

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Indo-Pacific Humpbacked Dolphin

Sousa chinensis
Indo-Pacific Humpbacked Dolphins have a large range that stretches along the coasts of the Indian Ocean, as well as around Australia and the Western Pacific. They prefer shallow waters, usually sticking around depths of 60ft.

These Dolphins are named for the fatty humps on their backs, that rest just below their dorsal fin.  They are typically grey in color, but can also be white or even pink! In fact, a sub population near Hong Kong bay is famous for its pinkness!

Indo-Pacific Humpbacked Dolphins live in small groups, usually of around a half dozen members. They feed on all kinds of different reef fishes, and can stay underwater for as long as 8 minutes.

These Dolphins are pretty slow moving, especially when compared to other members of their family. They move along at around 3mph, which is similar to a leisurely human walking speed. The fastest Dolphins can swim nearly ten times that pace! Interestingly though, the Humpbacked Dolphins can perform different aerial jumps and tricks, despite their slow swim times.

Sadly, these Dolphins are listed as Near Threatened, and could be in even more danger very soon. They live near very high human population areas, and those waters are becoming polluted and heavily trafficked. The aforementioned Hong Kong Bay group has declined by 60% in the past decade alone, and could very soon be completely wiped out.

IUCN Status : Near Threatenend
Location : Indian and Pacific Oceans
Size : Length around 9ft (2.8m), Weight around 440lbs (200kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Cetacea
Family : Delphinidae -- Genus : Sousa -- Species : S. chinensis
Image : Mandy

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur

Cheirogaleus medius
The Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur is an amazingly fascinating Primate. Despite living in the tropics, it actually hibernates, and is the only primate, and only tropical-dwelling mammal to do so!

As with all Lemurs, these little guys are found in Madagascar. They live a nocturnal lifestyle, coming out at night to hunt insects and forage off of fruits and nuts. Socially, they live in small family groups led by a breeding pair and their offspring. Children from the previous 1-2 years often tend to stick around as well.

The name "Fat-tailed" comes from the fact that they store up fat in their tails, which they then live off of while in hibernation. Unlike temperate and arctic dwelling animals, the Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemurs do not hibernation when it gets cold out. Rather, they hibernate when it gets dry and when fun runs scarce. Their hibernation period can last half of the year!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Madagascar
Size : Body Length up to 9in (23cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Primates
Family : Cheirogaleidae -- Genus : Cheirogaleus -- Species : C. medius
Image : Virunga National Park

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Magnificent Riflebird

The Magnificent Riflebird is actually a Bird-of-Paradise, and belongs to the family Paradisaeidae. Like all members of that family, it lives in New Guinea and parts of northern Australia. It inhabits the lowland rainforests that are found there.

Like other Birds-of-Paradise, the Magnificent Riflebird is sexually dimorphic. Males are a smooth, velvety black, with shiny blue-green crowns and breasts. Females are brown and buff all over.

Males use their shiny feathers and smooth moves to attract females. When the breeding season arrives, he will select a perch and call out to nearby ladies. When one arrives, he will raise up his wings, puff out his chest, and dance around her while bobbing his head back and forth to show off the blue-feathers. If the female enjoys the dance, the male will surround her with his wings while they briefly mate. After mating, the females goes on her way while the male continues to try and impress additional mates.

But my words do this dance no justice-- watch the video!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : New Guinea, Australia
Size : Body Length up to 13in (33cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Paradisaeidae -- Genus : Ptiloris -- Species : P. magnificus
Image : Birds From Eden

Monday, October 21, 2013

Common Collared Lizard

Common Collared Lizards are colorful reptiles that are found in the western United States. Their name comes from the black stripe that circles their neck, giving them a collar and (in males) dividing up their body colors.

Only the males of the species boast the brilliant blue and green scales. Females are brown-ish all around. These Lizards grow to just over a foot long, tail included.

One amazing fact about the Common Collared Lizard is that is has the ability to run on just its hind legs! Like the more famous Basilisk Lizard, this Reptile stands up on just its back legs and sprints very quickly with long stride lengths. They use their tails for balance. Common Collared Lizards can only perform such feats for short time periods though-- they still spend most of their time on all fours.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Western United States
Size : Length up to 14in (36cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Crotaphytidae -- Genus : Crotaphytus -- Species : C. collaris
Image : Daniel Schwen

Friday, October 18, 2013

Madagascar Tree Boa

Sanzinia madagascarensis
Madagascar Tree Boas are snakes that are endemic to the African island that gives them their name. They actually come in two different color variations, based on their location. In the east, the snakes are grey and green, while in the western parts they are yellow and brown. Two colors, but the same species!

Though the word "tree" also appears in their common name, these snakes are only arboreal while they are hunting. They do so at night, seeking out prey int he pitch black thanks to hit sensitives pits in their mouths. Once they find and capture their prey, they constrict it with their powerful body muscles, leading to a restricted blood flow, heart failure, then death.

All Boas are constrictors, and are non venomous. Another trait that this Snake shares with it's family members? It gives birth to live young. After a six month pregnancy the female snakes give birth to around a dozen foot-long offspring.

Currently the Madagascar Tree Boas are listed as being of Least Concern, but habitat loss has been drastically reducing their historical habitat range. A great deal of their current range is now protected, and they are also being bred in captivity.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Madagascar
Size : Length up to 5ft (1.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Boidae -- Genus : Sanzinia -- Species : S. madagascariensis
Image : Axel Strauss

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Australasian Gannet

Morus serrator
Meet the Autralasian Gannet, a large white, black, and yellow seabird that lives around Australia, New Zealand, and a handful of other nearby islands. They breed in massive coastal colonies, with the largest groups forming in New Zealand. Groups of more than 10,000 pairs can be found at three different locations!

Australasian Gannets form pair bonds that can last for several breeding seasons, and sometimes they last for life. These birds perform elaborate displays to attract mates, including dancing, head bobby, and presenting seaweed to one another. Once a mate is found, the birds with continue to perform, often through bill tapping, in order to greet their mate and strengthen pair bonds.

Females guard the nesting site while the males go out for building materials. Seaweed is a major component. Only one egg will be laid at a time, and both parents help to incubate it for 6 weeks until the helpless chick is hatched. Gannets are pretty long-lived for a seabird. They can reach just shy of 40 years, and won't breed for the first time until they are 5-7.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Australia, New Zealand
Size : Length up to 6in (15cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Suliformes
Family : Sulidae -- Genus : Morus -- Species : M. serrator
Image : Merops

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hawaiian Butterflyfish

Today's animal goes by two different names, depending on who you ask. Either it is the Hawaiian Butterflyfish (named for its location), or it is Tinker's Butterflyfish (named for the man who discovered it). So choose which one you like!

Speaking of likeable things, these colorful fish are very sought after in captive aquariums. They are said to be hardy and adapt well to new environments, but they usually sell for extremely high prices. As with all captive fish, they should only be purchased from responsible providers!

In the wild, Hawaiian Butterfly fish like to live near steep slopes and the coral reefs that are found on them. They can be found as far down as 450ft. And though 'Hawaii' is in their name, they are also found in the nearby Marshall Islands as well. The Butteflyfish feed on a variety of of different planktons, and when it comes to breeding they will actually pair off, and can be seen swimming together.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Pacific Ocean
Size : Length up to 6in (15cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Perciformes
Family : Chaetodontidae -- Genus : Chaetodon -- Species : C. tinkeri
Image : Klaus Stiefel
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