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Showing posts from April, 2013

Argiope lobata

Argiope lobata is a species of spider with a range that extends across Africa, and into southern Asia and even parts of Europe. They are not dangerous to humans.

These spiders can be identified by their silvery abdomens that are ridged speckled with black. The males are quite small in size, measuring only 6mm. The females on the other hand, can reach up to 25mm and are more noticeably colored.

Argiope lobata, like all members of its genus, builds zig-zag patterned webs. They also build thicker white lines, called stabilimentum, into their webs. These lines help to camouflage the spider from prey, but also make the webs noticeable by larger animals (so that they don't get destroyed).

When it comes time to breed, the male spiders will build webs next to the females. After mating, the female will place her egg sac on the web, and this sac can contain as many as 1,400 eggs. Interestingly, the eggs hatch during the autumn months, but to stay warm the tiny spiderlings remain in the sac t…

Sacred Crocodile

The Sacred Crocodile is an amazingly fascinating animal, because until very recently modern science was unaware that it was a unique species at all. Though there were some theories (based on skull shape) that date back to the early 19th century, the general thought was that all large Crocodiles in the Nile region belonged to the same species.

Well, as of 2011, we now know that there are actually two different creatures. Also surprising? They aren't closely related at all! In fact, the man who originally DNA sequenced a skin sample from a Sacred Crocodile kept running the test over and over because he thought something was wrong!

Nile Crocodiles and Sacred Crocodiles look very alike, but have different genetics, slightly different scute patterns, and very different behaviors. In fact, Ancient Egyptians knew all about the different temperaments of the Crocodiles that they lived among, and recognized that there were two different species thousands of years ago. The Sacred Crocodiles…

James's Flamingo

The James's Flamingo is a small South American species that lives high up in the plateaus of the Andean Mountains. They feed off of different algae and diatoms that are found in high elevation saline lakes. Like all Flamingos  they are excellent filter feeders, and use their long necks and curved bills to dunk their faces in the water and snatch up tiny meals.

This species is the palest pink of all the Flamingos, and can also be told apart by their red eye patches, bright yellow bills, and orange legs. They are named for naturalist Henry Berkeley James, who went on expeditions to the Andes in order to collect species of natural flora and fauna in the late 19th century.

James's Flamingos have a favorite breeding location -- Laguna Colorada in Bolivia. They gather there in the thousands, and perform giant group displays prior to finding a mate. Once mates are selected, the two birds will stay together until one dies. They produce only one egg each season, laying it on a volcano…

Snow Leopard

Happy 3 years of animals everybody! Wow, it's weird to think it's been that long already!

Today we'll be learning all about the rare and beautiful Snow Leopard, an endangered species of cat that lives in the snowy mountains of Asia. These striking creatures have thick furry coats, stocky bodies, wide paws, and small ears. All of those traits help them to survive in cold, rocky climates. Another great adaptation?  Their tails! They have tails that help them to balance while moving about, and they can nearly double the overall body length.

Snow Leopards are solitary, and the only times they are seen with others of their own species are during mating, or when a mother is rearing her cubs. She will usually only have one or two cubs at a time, and they are helpless at birth. They first leave the den around 2-4 months, but will live with mom for up to two years!

During their time with mom, young Snow Leopard learn to hunt. These cats can take down prey three times their size (l…

Eskimo Curlew

Today is the birthday of famed painter and naturalist John James Audubon, a man who is especially notable for his work The Birds of America, which was made between 1827 and 1838.. That massive work, which contains around 450 plates of North American birds, actually has images of
six birds that are now extinct.

The Eskimo Curlew is one of those six... maybe. It is a bird that is officially listed as Critically Endangered, but the last official live sighting was in 1962. There have been reports of varying reliability since then, but the exact status is still up for some debate.

Eskimo Curlews were once a species with an incredibly large population-- they were one of the most common shorebirds in the Arctic. They bred in the far northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, but made astounding long migrations all the way to Argentina.

Unfortunately those migrations were the reason for their population decline. Hunters started to target the birds during these movements, and the wild ranges tha…

Sri Lanka Blue Magpie

Would you be shocked to hear that today's bird is a relative of the Crows and Ravens? This bright, colorful creature belongs to the very same family as those often-darker birds, an example of how brilliant things can be in other parts of the world!

As you may have guessed from the name, the Sri Lanka Blue Magpie is found only on the island of Sri Lanka. They live in the hilly rainforests, grouping up into small flocks of 6-8 birds. These birds are primarily carnivorous, and feed on small reptiles, amphibians, and insects.

Sadly, these gorgeous blue and chestnut birds are considered to be Vulnerable. Habitat loss due to logging and agriculture is the biggest threat. Air pollution has also damaged the rainforests that these birds call home. Luckily, they are protected by the Sri Lankan government, and live in a handful of protected parks.
IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location :Sri Lanka
Size : Length up to 18in (45cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passerifor…

Barasingha

The Barasingha is a medium-large Deer that is found in the swamps, marshlands, and grasslands of southern Asia. In fact, they are sometimes referred to as "Swamp Deer."

On average, the Barasingha live in groups of around 10-20 deer, though during the breeding season these herds can become much larger. At that time the males will fight fiercely for the right to breed with large harems of females. Their large antlers that have as many as 20 tongs are instrumental in these fights.

Sadly, these Deer are now considered Vulnerable, and are no long found at in in large portions of their historical range. It is estimated that 3,000-4,000 remain in the wild. Poaching is a big factor in the decline, as is habitat loss. Not only do these eat the tall grasses that are being destroyed, but they also rely on those grasses to hide their young.

Interestingly, though these Deer are rare in their natural habitat, they are bred for stock hunting in some parts of the United States. Permits to …

Black Guillemot

Guillemots, Puffins, Murrelets, and Auks all belong to the same family-- Alcidae. They are like the Northern Hemisphere's answer to Penguins (black & white, live in cold waters, dive for fish)... only they can actually fly!

Black Guillemots are one of a several Alcid species that live near the waters of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. They breed on the coasts, congregating in colonies that can number more than 20,000 birds. One interesting tidbit is that these birds look different depending on how far north they live. The higher the latitude, the more white they have on them. Some of these normally black birds can be entirely white in their winter feathers, with the exception of black wings.

These birds are wonderful swimmers, and can fly decently to boot. Walking? Well... it's a little funny looking. It's no wonder that these birds get all of their food from the water-- they are able to dive down several dozen feet, using their wings to paddle. A Black Guillemot…

New Zealand Greater Short-tailed Bat

Happy Earth Day everybody! Because today we are supposed to focus on conservation, I wanted to talk about one of the rarest animals on the planet-- one that might actually be extinct already. Let the New Zealand Greater Short-tailed Bat be a cautionary tale, and let's also hope they aren't completely gone from the Earth.

There are only three extant Bat species in New Zealand, the the Greater Short-tailed Bat is the largest of the group (though they are still only about 9cm long). They, and their sister-species the Lesser Short-tailed Bat, are the only two members of their family. They may have split off from other Bat Families more than 40 million years ago. Once upon a time you could find these bats abundantly on the North and South Islands, but human arrival in New Zealand was the trigger for their decline.

The New Zealand Greater Short-tailed Bats are interesting creatures because they spend quite a bit of time on the ground. They can fly, of course, but are slow and never…

Spiny Turtle

The Spiny Turtle, also known as the Sunburst Turtle, is a land-dwelling Turtle named for the pointed spikes that extend outward from the rim of their carapace. These spines are much more pronounced in juveniles, and as adults they are most noticeable on the rear of the shell.

Spiny Turtles live in the hilly rainforests of Southeast Asia. They live relatively close to bodies of water, and feed mainly on plants and fruits. Interestingly, we know next to nothing about their wild breeding habits. In captivity it appears that breeding is triggered by the rainy season, and that the females will lay only two or three eggs per clutch. But we don't know the exact nuances of their reproductive process when left in a wild habitat.

Sadly, the Spiny Turtles are listed as endangered. They have been hunted extensively for their meat, and currently their populations are very small and are typically isolated from one another. Very little is being done to conserve the species. Unfortunately, they a…

Kinder Goat

The Kinder Goat is actually a very new breed that has only existed for a few decades. It was created in 1985 when two Nubian Goat does were left without a mate on their farm in Washington State. The farm owners allowed their Pygmy Goat Buck to do the breeding instead, and not long after the first Kinder Goats were born.

This breed is dual purpose-- they can be raised for their milk or their meat, and are ideal for very small farms. They produce large amounts of milk with a high (7%) butterfat percentage, and tend to be more muscular than the dairy-specific Nubian goats. Size-wise, they are right between their two ancestors. They can reach 150lbs, and stand about 2.5ft tall.

Kinder Goats come in many different colors, and have the luxury of being able to breed year-round. They are also known for their multiple births-- triplets and quadruplets are actually very common to the breed.
Status : Status
Location :United States
Size : Shoulder height up to 28in (71cm), Weight up to 150lbs (68kg)

Chinese Hwamei

The word "Hwamei" derives from the Chinese "hua-mei," which translates to "Painted Eyebrow." Looking at this bird, you can tell that that is a very accurate name! These birds have reddish-brown feathers covering their bodies... except around their eyes. There, they have a white ring that circles that eye and then extends backwards as a line.

The Chinese Hwamei live in many different countries, not just China. They are also found in Laos and Vietnam, and have been introduced to Japan, Taiwan, and even far-away Hawaii. They live in open woodlands and scrublands.

You may stumble across one of these birds as they forage on the ground for fruits and insects. (Though keep in mind that they can be difficult to spot!) They tend to live in small groups or pairs.

At present, the Chinese Hwamei has a very large range and is common throughout it. They are listed as Least Concern for now, but it appears that the population is declining (albeit very slowly).
IUCN Statu…

Koa Bug

The Koa Bug is the largest species of true bug that is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. They can be found on all of the main islands of the chain, living in Koa trees and `a`ali`i bushes.

Like all true bugs, Koa Bugs have no chewing mouth parts. Instead, they have a little tube-like mouth part that they use to get inside the seeds of their host plants. Once inside, they suck out the insides.

Kos Bugs are also members of the "Jeweled Bug" family, Scutelleridae. Because of this they sport an enlarged, sheild-shaped thorax. However, the Koa Bugs are different from many of their cousins because they do not have the ability to secrete a stinky, defensive chemical. They are sometimes called "Stinkless Stink Bugs".

Unfortunately, the Koa Bug populations are being hurt by some introduced species. Non-native Stink Bugs made their way to the islands and started to cause damage. To get rid of those invasive bugs, a Stinkbug-eating Fly was brought in... only it can't tell…

Bufflehead

It's been absolutely pouring all day, and all this water is making me think of Ducks. So lets learn about one today, shall we?

The Bufflehead is a Duck that is found in the lake, ponds, and oceans in and around North America. They migrate seasonally, spending winters further south and their summers breeding in more inland areas of Canada and Alaska. Sometimes they end up in far away places during these migrations-- birds have been found in Japan and in Western Europe!

Buffleheads feed on a variety of different aquatic plants and animals-- it all depends on their location. Ducks that live near lakes and ponds consume more insects, while ocean-dwelling ducks consume mollusks and crustaceans.

Buffleheads are relatively unique among Ducks in that they remain monogamous for several years. They nest in trees, utilizing old cavities that were often created by Northern Flickers or Pileated Woodpeckers. Around 10 Ducklings are born each season, and when they are only a day old they leap do…

Wood Mouse

The Wood Mouse is an incredibly common rodent in Europe. They have a range that extends across the continent, including the British Isles. The can even be found in northern Africa. It should come as no surprise that they are amazingly adaptable, and can be found in most habitats.

The most remarkable thing about the Wood Mouse is its breeding season. They are actually "in season" for 3/4 of the entire year! From February until October these mice are constantly reproducing. A female can produce seven litters of up to nine offspring each during that time. Young Mice born early in the season might start breeding themselves before it is even over!

It is a good thing that these rodents breed so quickly-- they have very short lifespans, typically no more than 2 years. They also have more predators than I can count. To keep from being some foxes snack, the Mice have tail skin that can rub off if grabbed. They also store their food (mainly seeds) and sleep in underground tunnel syst…

Goitered Gazelle

Contrary to the name, Goitered Gazelles do not all have thyroid gland conditions. However, the males of the species do have throats that enlarge during breeding season, and their necks can resemble Goiter. They use those throat sacs to create loud courtship bellows.

You'll find these Gazelles in the Middle East and in parts of Central Asia, and there are four recognized subspecies. They live in dry plains and deserts, and are most active at dusk and dawn (the rest in the shade during the hot daytime). Luckily, they are able to get most of their water from the plants that they eat, so they do not have to worry too much about finding additional water in their dry habitat.

Goitered Gazelles are very fast, and can run as swiftly as 36mph. They are also unusual among Gazelles in that the females do not normally have horns (they do in other species). However, like many of their relatives, these antelope live in small groups that migrate seasonally.
IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location :Midd…

Flatback Sea Turtle

The Flatback Sea Turtle is the only member of its genus, Natator, which means "swimmer." Combine that with the species name, depressus, which is derived from "flat," and you get a pretty accurate description of the creature! They are close to a meter in length, with very flat, smooth, grey carapaces.

Flatback Sea Turtles live only in the waters between New Guinea and the northern coast of Australia, where they hunt for squid, mollusks, and other invertebrates. However, they exclusively breed in Australia, nesting on beaches on the continent and on coastal islands.

Speaking of nesting, the Flatback Sea Turtles are distinct among their kind because they lay larger eggs than their cousins, though they also lay a much lower number. For example, the Green Sea Turtle can lay up to 200 eggs at a time. The Flatback lays only 50.

These Turtles are listed as vulnerable by local governments, but the IUCn lists them as data Deficient because the species is so difficult to accu…

Purple-throated Carib

The Purple-throated Carib is a Hummingbird species that can be found on numerous islands in the Caribbean Sea. They are sound in both tropical and subtro
pical lowland forests where they can find their two favorite flowers.

This species in quite interesting because the males and females have different beak types, and they each have a specific flower to feed from using that beak. Both planets are from the Heliconia genus, with the males consuming the nectar of H. caribaea, and the females going after H. bihai.

They two sexes look the same when it comes to coloration-- shiny green wing feathers, dark bodies, and bright purple throats-- but the males are larger and have shorter beaks that are shorter by about 1/3.

Though they are island birds with a relatively small range, the Purple-throated Caribs are common and not facing any major conservation threat at this time. They are listed as being of Least Concern.
IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location :Caribbean Islands
Size : Body length up to…

Genet

The members of the Viverrid family may look like cats, but they are only distantly related to Felines (belonging to the same Carnivore Superfamily as the Cats, Hyenas, and Mongooses). The Viverrids are the most primitive of the bunch, and resemble some of the earliest Carnivoran creatures.

Of the 33 Viverrid species, 14 are Genets. And of the 14 Genets, the Common Genet is... well... the most common. They have a  range that extends across Africa, and they can even be found in parts of Spain, Portugal, and France.

Common Genets have pale yellowish fur with dark rows of spots, a long dark crest of fur down the spine, and a ringed tail. Like Felines, they have retractable claws that help with climbing. Unlike Felines, they have five toes on their back feet!

Also cat-like are the sounds that they make. The Genets mew, purr, and growl, but also produce various clicks and hiccup-type calls as well. Because they are solitary, most of these interactions are between a mother and her offspring…

Black Slug

So you'd probably think that a creature called the Black Slug would always be black, right? Well... not exactly  These European Gastropods actually have white and brown color morphs as well, and tend to be darker the farther north they live.

Black Slugs are nocturnal omnivores, coming out at night to feed on fungi, plants, and carrion. They live in wet areas, and actually produce a slime to keep their skin extra moist. Not only does that moisture help them to breathe better, but the slime itself tastes very bad and helps to deter predators. The mucus also helps them to move easier across the ground.

Like many slug species, the Black Slug is hermaphroditic-- they do not require a partner to reproduce. However, sexual reproduction is the preferred method. After mating, the slugs lay their eggs in dark, moist areas, like under rotting logs or in compost heaps.

Though Black Slugs originated in Europe, they have made their way over to Canada and the United States, and are now considere…

Bicolor False Moray

Moray Eels can grow very large. In fact, the largest of them, the Slender Moray, can reach up to 13ft long!

The Bicolor False Moray? Yeah... not so big. Males only reach about 8in, and females are even smaller. The smaller size is actually why False Morays are "False." They belong to a different family whose members resemble the "True" Morays, but get no where near the size.

Bicolor False Morays are predominantly a greyish-brown, with white on the underside (hence "bicolor.") They live in the coral reefs near the Galapagos Islands, an no where else!

Because of their small range, the IUCN lists the species are Near Threatened. They live in only ten specific reef areas, and though there is no bottom commercial fishing to disturb them, it is unsure what will happen to the population as a result of climate change or El Nino events.
IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location :Galapagos Islands
Size : Body length up to 8in (20cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- …

Abyssinian Roller

The Abyssinian Roller is a striking blue bird found throughout the open habitats of sub-Saharan Africa. They are large in body size, growing up to 1ft in length with an additional 5-6in of tail feather.

You can identify these birds by their vibrant blue head and wings, and the reddish-brown feathers on their back. Males and females do look alike, and juveniles are similar as well, only more dull in color.

Abyssinian Rollers, like all Rollers, get their name from the rolling flying motion that they make, especially when trying to attract a mate. They build very rough nests in tree cavities or on building ledges (they have adapted well to human settlement) and lay up to 6 eggs at a time. These birds don't just nest high up, they hunt from perches as well. The Rollers keep and eye out for insects, rodents, and other small creatures. One spotted, they swoop down on their prey.

As mentioned, the Abyssinian Rollers have adapted to human encroachment. They have made good use of building…

Big-belly Seahorse

The Seahorses that we see in aquariums are often very small fish, usually no more than a few inches long. The Big-belly Seahorse is a very different creature entirely!

This species, which is found in the shallow waters off of Australia and New Zealand, can grow to be 14in long! They are one of the largest Seahorse species on the planet.

Big-belly Seahorses get their common name from the large size of their abdomen. It protrudes on both males and females, though the males have an extra pouch for incubating the young. Yes, male Seahorses care for the babies! The female will lay her eggs in his pouch, and he will swim around with them until they hatch. He can carry hundreds of eggs at a time!

Big-belly Seahorses spend most of their time near seaweed, coiling their tails around the plants to stay in place. They feed by sucking in tiny crustaceans through their long snouts. They swallow their prey whole.

To keep from becoming prey themselves, the Big-belly Seahorses attempt to camouflage t…

Yellow Sac Spider

There are a couple of species that go by the common name "Yellow Sac Spider," but the specific one that we will be talking about today is Cheirachanthium punctorium (what a mouthful!)

These spiders, which are found in Central Europe and Asia, grow to about 15mm in length. They get their name from their yellow coloration, and from their egg-laying behavior.

Females build large (compared to their bodies) egg sacs in the grass, and they defend these 4cm long pouches very aggressively. And their aggression should be taken somewhat seriously! Their bites can actually pierce human skin, and cause reactions similar to a wasp sting in most humans (though some people will of course react in worse way).
IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location :Europe, Asia
Size : Body length up to 15mm
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Arachnida -- Order : Araneae
Family : Miturgidae -- Genus : Cheiracanthium -- Species : C. punctorium Image : Rainer Altenkamp

Deinonychus

One of my favorite movies ever, Jurassic Park, came out twenty years ago this month! And though it's not the most scientifically accurate movie ever, it does make some great comments about the Bird-Dinosaur evolutionary relationship.

Today's animal, Deinonychus, is an excellent example of that link, and (fun fact) it is also the inspiration for the Velociraptors in the movie! (Real Velociraptors were much smaller in size-- but have a much easier to pronounce name. At least the two were members of the same subfamily!) They lived during the Cretaceous period, around 115-108 million years ago, and their fossils have been found in western North America.

Deinonychus means "terrible claw," an appropriate name for them since they had massive claws on their feet that they used to slash at their prey. They also hunted in packs, as evidenced by the grouped fossils that have been found. (Sound similar to the movie Raptors?)

Deinonychus may have also had feathers, though that is…

Flores Giant Rat

Living isolated on an island can do funny things to a species. Some animals get smaller, to cope with the lack of resources. However... some actually get much larger (especially creatures that are normally small) because they don't have larger predators to contend with and can thus move into a slightly different ecological niche.

The Flores Giant Rat is and example of island gigantism. Th
ese monstrous rodents can grow 18in long, which is double the maximum size of a Brown Rat!

These Rats, like many of their kind, are very adaptable and can be found living in all types of forests, and at a variety of elevations within the Indoenesian island of Flores. They also have an adaptable diet-- they feed on fruits, leaves, insects, and a wide range of other plants and invertebrates.

Interestingly, for a Rat so large they aren't seen very often by scientists. Actually, most of what we know is from collected skeletal remains. The species is currently listed as Near Threatened, as they a…

Khonorik

We've talked about a few different Hybrid animals in the past, and most of those are creatures that are completely man-made-- they would never hybridize in the wild. Today's animal is a bit different in that it can and has crossed before in wild conditions (though it is still rare to do so).

Khonoriks are crosses between European Mink and European Polecats. The only meet up in the wild in parts of Europe that have declining Mink populations. There is evidence of this happening at the turn of the 20th century, when warmer climates caused the Polecats to enter Mink ranges.

In 1978 the first captive bred Khonoriks were bred, by Dr. Dmitry Ternovsky in the Soviet Union. The fur produced by the hybrids was more valuable than that of the two parent species, but the breeding projects declined when Mink populations did, and are now more or less defunct.

Khonoriks are are roughly the same size as European Polecats, the larger of the two parent species. They have dark fur with pale ear t…

Gigantactis

The name Gigantactis refers to a genus of deep sea fish that can be found in oceans all around the world. They live at depths of between 3,300 and 8,200 feet (1,000-2,500m).

Because they live in such deep, remote places, very little is known about them. So far there have been twenty separate species identified, all of which have different home ranges and sizes.

What is common to all twenty is sexual dimorphism and an elongated dorsal fin. In all species, the females are substantially larger than the males. For example, the largest of them can reach about 40cm long, while the largest males are only about 2.5cm! Huge difference!

The aforementioned dorsal fin is also a signature of the genus. They can grow longer than the body itself, and have a bioluminescent photophore attached at the end to attract meals. These strikingly long features are found only in the females though. Males have their own special anatomy-- they have a supercharged sensory organs that help them to find females!
IU…

Sulawesi Dwarf Elephant

Did you know that back in the Pleistocene there were several species of Elephant that stood only a few feet tall? These animals were all found on islands around the world, and grew smaller in size due to insular dwarfism. Some were found on Cyrpus, Crete, and other Mediterranean isles, some way over in California's Channel Islands, and some on the many islands of Indonesia.

The Sulawesi Dwarf Elephant is a member of that last group. Fossils of this creature have been found on Java and Indonesia, and they date back to around 2 million years ago. One interesting distinction about the species is that they had functional lower tusks, though there is still much to be learned about them and about the species in general.

What we do know is that these Elephants truly were small! They stood only about 5ft at the shoulders, which is a massive difference from the 9ft height of the living Asian Elephants (the two species belong in the same genus).
Status : Extnict for 1.5 million years
Locatio…

Malagasy Rainbow Frog

The Malagasy Rainbow Frog, also known as the Painted Burrowing Frog, is a small species found only near the Isalo Massif in Madagascar.

These colorful Amphibians grow to only 3-4cm in size, with the females being slightly larger than the males. They have bright red and green patterning on their backs, interspersed with black and grey. As tadpoles they are all black. These frogs have horny tubercles on their feet which help them to burrow underground. They are primarily terrestrial, and are actually poor swimmers.

As you may have guessed from the mention of their small range, the Malagasy Rainbow Frogs are endangered. Each year they are collected by the thousands-- their bright colors make them sought after in the illegal pet trade. Luckily most of their habitat is protected within a national park. And they do have a very fast reproduction rate, which also helps. However, because they live in only one area, an increase in hunting or habitat loss, or a natural disaster could wipe them …