Thursday, January 31, 2013

Anatolian Shepherd

Anatolian Shepherd
The Anatolian Shepherd Dog is a Turkish breed (Turkish that has roots dating back over 6,000 years. These large dogs are descended from the multitude of different central Asian breeds that arose to accompany the human civilizations that were emerging.  They are muscular dogs, and are most commonly colored with light bodies and dark muzzles and faces.

Interestingly, Anatolian Shepherds aren't sheep herders at all-- the name is misleading. They are actually livestock guardians, meaning that they protect their flocks rather than move them. They are very independent dogs, due to their work, and they are able to protect their flocks without much human direction. This can make them very challenging pets, however.

One especially neat fact is the Anatolian Shepherds are being used in Cheetah conservation. The Cheetah Conservation Fund breeds these dogs and gives the puppies to farmers. They teach them how to train and care for the dogs, and then the dogs protect the livestock. Because the dogs scare away the Cheetahs, less Cheetahs are trapped and killed by farmers.


Status : Domesticated
Location : Turkey
Size : Height up to 30in (80cm), Weight up to 150lbs (68kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Canidae -- Genus : Canis -- Species : C. lupus -- Subspecies : C. l. familiaris

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Panther Chameleon

Furcifer pardalis Male (top) 
Furcifer pardalis Female(bottom)
Meet the Panther Chameleon, a Reptile native to Madagascar that has also been introduced to the nearby islands of Reunion and Mauritius.

Panther Chameleons are one of the popular pet Chameleons, due to the dazzling color patterns exhibited by the males. They show off vivid blue, green, and even pink patterns, and their specific habitat range can have an effect on their overall appearance. Females can also be colorful, but are typically a duller brown or green. Pinks and yellows appear during the breeding season.

Panther Chameleons are masters at catching and consuming invertebrates. They have projectile tongues that they can whip out and extend towards prey, and the tips of these tongues are sticky for perfect grabbing precision.

In the past, the export level of these Chameleons was as high as 15,000 individuals per yer. Such numbers were cause for concern, but they have now been reduced. Though Panther Chameleons are still popular reptilian pets, they are thankfully listed as being of Least Concern in the wild.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Madagascar
Size : Length around 20in (51cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata --Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Chamaeleonidae -- Genus : Furcifer -- Species : F. pardalis

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Eosinopteryx brevipenna

Eosinopteryx brevipenna
Man, I love it when new Dinosaurs get discovered, and this recent one is really, really cool.

First officially described just this past week, Eosinopteryx brevipenna is a creature from the Late Jurassic that lived around 160 and 145 million years ago. It is known from a single skeleton found in China and had a short snout and a short tail. E. brevipenna is interesting because it was very small-- only about 12in long. It also had a body covered in feathers! The species did have wings, but it is very unlikely that it actually flew, based upon the location of the wing bones.

E. brevipenna, along with other feathered Dinosaurs that have been uncovered, are helping scientists to piece together the origin of the flying birds. When Archaeopteryx was first unearthed in 1860, the lineage seemed much more straightforward. The discovery of so many new species is showing a much more complex picture, with multiple lineages contributing to the birds we know today.

Status : Extinct 145 million years
Location : China
Size : Length around 12in (30cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Clade : Dinosauria -- Order : Saurischia
Family : †Troodontidae -- Genus : †Eosinopteryx -- Species : E. brevipenna

Monday, January 28, 2013

Pied Tamarin

Sanguinus bicolor
The Pied Tamarin is an endangered species of primate that is found only within a small part of Brazil, just near the city of Manaus.

Pied Tamarins are named for their coloration. They have dark, bald head, white upper bodies, and brown lower bodies and tails. They live in small family groups of up to 10 individuals, and feed on fruits and invertebrates.

They actually are great seed distributors. They eat fruit and then either drop or excrete the seeds, helping to spread new plant life around the rainforest.

The major threat to the Pied Tamarins was habitat loss. That is how then ended up restricted to such a small area. Within most of their small range they now are protected, but a major new threat is actually competition from one of their cousins-- the Red-handed Tamarin. An unfortunately, it seems like the Red-handeds are displacing the Pieds.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Brazil
Size : Length around 15in (40cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Primates
Family : Callitrichidae -- Genus : Saguinus -- Species : S. bicolor

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Pegasus

Pegasus and Bellerophon vs. the Chimera
We'll close off this iteration of Mythical Creatures Week with one of the best known out there-- Pegasus. This winged horse has its origins in Greek Mythology and has been featured in stories, art, and emblems for several thousand years.

The origin story of Pegasus is as follows-- a beautiful woman named Medusa was punished by Athena for cavorting with the god Poseidon in Athena's temple (though some stories say she was being raped... either way, she was punished). Her curse was was to have a face so terrible that it would turn onlookers to stone, and to have hair made from live snakes.

The hero Perseus was sent on a quest to kill Medusa, and did so with help from a mirrored shield that was a gift from Athena. When he beheaded the Gorgon, Pegasus was born. One story says that the winged horse (and his brother, the gold giant Chrysaor) sprung from Medusa's severed neck. Another says the the two brothers were born when her blood mixed with sea form. Either way, Medusa and Poseidon (who is, among other titles, the god of Horses) are the parents of Pegasus.

Pegasus was instrumental in Bellerophon's fight with the Amazons and the Chimera. The hero tamed him with a golden bridle and the two went to battle. After defeating their foes, Bellerophon attempted to ride to the heavens, but was bucked off by Pegasus. The horse continued to fly upward, and became a steed in Zeus's stables. He would eventually be given his own constellation.

Pegasus is typically depicted as a white horse with giant wings. He has appeared in sculpture, pottery, and art, and is the emblem of several groups and companies, including TriStar Pictures and Mobil Gasoline.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Jörmungandr

Jörmungandr with Hel and Fenrir
Jörmungandr, also known as the World Serpent or the Midgard Serpent, is a creature from Norse Mythology. He is the middle child of Loki and the giantess Angrboða, which makes him the sibling to Fenrir and Hel.

In the 13th century Prose Edda, it is said that Odin took Jörmungandr and threw him into the sea. There, the serpent grew so long that he could circle the entire earth and grasp his tail with his mouth. This is the source of the "World Serpent" name, since he literally can circle the globe.

Jörmungandr is an enemy to Thor, and it is said that the two will battle during Ragnarok. During the battle, Thor will kill the serpent, but then will himself collapse, poisoned by Jörmungandr.

There are other stories of the rivalry between Thor and Jörmungandr, including the tale of an unsuccessful fishing trip. Thor and the giant Hymir go fishing, and despite Hymirs warning, Thor wants to go very far out to sea. Once there, he takes the head of an ox and puts it on a line-- Jörmungandr bites. The two fight, but Hymir is so scared that he cuts the line and releases the serpent.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Griffin

Griffin
The Griffin (or Gryphon) is a well known legendary creature that has the head and talons of an Eagle, but the body and hind legs of a Lion. Sometimes they are also shown having a snake for a tail, and oftentimes only the female have wings-- makes have large spikes.

These animals show up in art that dates back more than 5,500 years. The first Griffin-type creatures appear in Persian and Egyptian art over five millennia ago, about by about 1,500BCE full Griffins as we know them today were popping up in Greece and Central Asia. For the past several thousand years they have been featured in various works of art, including sculpture and architecture, and they have shown up in numerous writings as well (including those of Pliny the Elder).

In most mythologies, Griffins are wise and powerful creatures that command a great deal of respect. They are often said to seek out and guard various treasures, and their strength and wisdom has led them to become popular figures in heraldry. Don't confuse them with Hippgriffs though! Those are very different animals, with the bodies of horses rather than lions. Hippogriffs are said to me the crosses of Griffins and Mares.

There is actually a pretty decent theory surrounding the origin of the Griffin myth. Folklorist Adrianne Mayor has speculated that fossils of Protoceratops confused the ancient people, leading to the invention of this mythical beast.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Nandi Bear

Nandi Bear?
Asia and North America have Bigfoots and Yetis. Africa has the Nandi Bears-- cryptids that have been "sighted" for well over 100 years. The first Western sighting was reported in 1912, but native accounts date back even further.

Nandi Bears are named for the Nandi People of western Africa, who believe that the Bears take human lives in order to eat their brains. In fact, brains seem to be their favorite meal, as they are said to wipe out entire livestock herds for just the brains.

These creatures are generally described as being about 4ft tall at the shoulder, with higher front shoulders and powerful legs. The faces tend to be bear-like, but interestingly, Bears are not found on the continent of Africa.

So if it is real, what is the Nandi Bear? Is it really a lost African Bear species (making it very unique), or is it something else? One theory is that these creatures are actually relatives to Hyenas, since there were once very large Hyenas roaming about Africa. Another  is that they are exceptionally large Babboons. Additionally, some think they make even be descendants of the extinct Chalicotherium, a large herbivore that walked on its knuckles.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Gandaberunda

Emblem of Gandaberunda
The Gandaberunda is a two-headed bird that is found within the Hindu mythology. It is an incarnation of the god Vishnu, and is said to possess magical strength.

The story behind this legendary creatures goes like this-- Lord Vishnu took the form of Narasimha in order to slay the demon Hiranyakashipu. However, Narasimha/Vishnu became so powerful after this battle that the rest of the world feared destruction. The people prayed for Lord Shiva to intervene-- and he did, taking the form of Sharabha (half beast/half bird).

Sharabha was able to pacify Narasimha, but the destructive energy turned Vishnu into an even more powerful form-- Gandaberunda. The two aspects fought for 18 days before Vishnu was able to regain control and end the fight.

The Gandaberunda is an official state insignia of Karnataka, and has appeared on minted coins and emblems for the past 500 years.  It is also a popular motif on temples, and can be found on several Hindu sites dating back even further.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Champ

The Mansi Photograph of Champ
We've all heard about the Loch Ness Monster, but what about some of the other, similar sea creatures that are said to be hiding in the waters of the world?

Champ is just one of the creatures. He (or she?) calls Lake Champlain home. This 100 mile long lake stretches between the United States and Canada, and creates a border between the states of Vermont and New York.

The very first published report of a creature in the lake came in 1819, when a "Captain Crum" claimed to see a 187ft long monster with the head of a seahorse. If there ever was a creature fitting this description, it stayed hidden for nearly 50 years. Then, around 1873, new reports started to pop up, and they've been rolling in ever since.

These reports vary in their descriptions, with Champ being anywhere from 10 to the aforementioned 187ft long. Its head shape is also all over the place. Seahorse? Alligator? Antlers? The colors are at least somewhat consistent, with most reports giving it a dark grey-green-brown color.

The most famous Champ sighting came in 1977, when a photograph was taken by Sandra Mansi. Mansi, her fiance, and her two children were stopped at an overlook when they saw something breach the surface of the water. The group watched the creature before it submerged, and Sandra was able to get a photograph. Of course, skeptics think that the image is just of a log risen to the surface during the decaying process.

Like Nessie, there are many theories out there on what Champ could be. Plesiosaurs, Eels, Seals, and Sea Snakes are all in the running. While we may never know the truth, the legend has been lucrative for the surrounding area. Vermont even has a minor league baseball team called the Lake Monsters!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Hippocampus

Hippokampoi pulling Poseidon's Chariot
The Hippocampus is also known as the Sea-Horse, and these half horse/half fish creatures are found in Green, Phoenician, and Etruscan mythology.

These aquatic equines are depicted as having the bodies of horses, but the long, scaly tails of fish or serpents.   They were even sometimes drawn having fin-like manes. Some ancient people believed them to be the adult forms of actual seahorses, rather than a separate creature altogether.

17th Century Depiction
Interestingly, one of the first depictions of the Hippokampoi (the plural) was found within the hotly contested Lydian Hoard, a collection of 7th century BCE artifacts from Turkey that were once owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A small golden Hippocampus was a part of this collection, though it was stolen around 2007 and has not yet been recovered.

Hippokampoi were the mounts of the sea nymphs and the steeds that pulled Poseidon's chariot (he usually used four of them). They have appeared in these roles through countless works of art spanning centuries. They were popular in bathhouse mosaics, they were used in heraldry during Medieval times by maritime families, and they continued to be painted and sculpted in the Renaissance and beyond. Winged Hippokampoi are even found in the famed 17th century Trevi Fountain of Rome.

Mythical Creatures Week, Part II

So we've finally hit 1,000 animals. Wow! 1,000! So to celebrate we have yet another theme week-- this time a visit to a familiar theme from the past. Mythical Creatures Weeks, Part II!

Sit sit back, relax, and enjoy some crazy and sometimes confusing animals from legends and lore.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Iberian Lynx

Lynx pardinus
It is estimated that there are less than 150 adult Iberian Lynxes left in the wild, making it one of the most endangered cats on the planet. In fact, were they to go extinct, they would be the very first cat to do so since prehistoric times.

Iberian Lynxes are found only in a few isolated pockets in southern Spain. They were once found in Portugal too but it is unknown whether any still remain there. There only two main breeding grounds, one with a few dozen, and the other with perhaps a hundred... though the two groups are divided by enough distance that they do not intermingle. This of course makes the species even more vulnerable.

As with most endangered species, habitat loss has played a major role in the decline of the Iberian Lynx. However, there is another cause that is even more devastating. The primary prey of this cat is the European Rabbit. 80-100% of their diet is made up of these lagomorphs. Because rabbit populations are in decline (due to hunting and a disease called Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease) the Lynx have little to eat. Some attempt to hunt other prey, but that puts them in competition with other carnivores. The result is that the Lynx populations declines right along with that of the rabbit.

There is some hope though. The two main areas where the Lynx live are now being carefully managed, and there are efforts being made to revitalize the rabbit populations there. Furthermore, captive breeding is making some strides, and these new kittens are being used to boost the wild populations. There is hope that additional populations will be reintroduced to areas that the cats once lived it.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Spain and Portugal
Size : Length around 40in (1m), Weight around 30lbs (13.6kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Felidae -- Genus : Lynx -- Species : L. pardinus

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Spaghetti Worm

Eupolymnia crassicornis
The Spaghetti Worm is an annelid that lives underwater in the tropical oceans near Bermuda and Puerto Rico. They live on the sea floor, burying themselves in the rocks and sand and growing long tentacles outward. These tentacles can measure up to 1m in length and give the species it's common name.

Spaghetti Worms feed by using their tentacles to grab floating detritus. Once snatched, the food moves down the tentacle towards the mouth at the base. They feed almost exclusively during nighttime hours.

When it comes time to reproduce the Spaghetti worms release sperm and eggs externally. Interestingly, the worms will release their gametes even when members of the opposite sex are nowhere around. The reason for this behavior is unknown.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Tropical Atlantic
Size : Length up to 1m
Classification : Phylum : Annelida -- Class : Polychaeta -- Order : Terebellida
Family : Terebellidae -- Genus : Eupolymnia -- Species : E. crassicornis

Friday, January 18, 2013

Scarlet Lobsterette

Nephropsis atlantica
The Scarlet Lobsterette is a small little Lobster (though still of a decent size when you compare them to all Crustaceans.) They measure it at only 4in long, which makes the diminutive name appropriate. They have bright red bodies, and are covered in small bristles.

You'll find these little guys in the East Atlantic, where they dwell in water as deep as 1,800m... though a "shallower" 1,400m range is more common. Due to their deep sea living they have unpigmented eyes, and they are not often photographed (hence the illustration).

They are interestingly the only Lobsters in their region that are not commercially fished, in part because of their depth range, but also because of their small size. They belong to a genus that contains a handful of other deep-sea dwelling Lobsters.

Scarlet Lobsterettes feed on a variety of different materials, both plant and animal. They also scavenge for their food.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Eastern Atlantic
Size : Length up to 4in (10cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Subphylum : Crustacea -- Class : Malacostraca -- Order : Decapoda -- Family : Nephropidae -- Genus : Nephropsis -- Species : N. atlantica 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Heck Cattle

Heck Cattle
Way back we talked about the Aurochs, a now-extinct species of Cattle that once lived throughout Europe.  The Heck Cattle are an attempt to recreate the massive Aurochs by back breeding the animals until they resemble their ancestral form.

This project isn't recent... it actually started back in the 1920s in Germany. Two brothers, Heinz and Lutz Heck, developed programs in Munich and Berlin respectively. Interestingly, these programs were, in part, supported by Nazi leader Hermann Göring.

The two brothers used different breeds in their methodology-- Heniz used Friseians, Hungarian Greys, Scottish Highlands, and a handful of other breeds, while Lutz focused more on French and Spanish Fighting Cattle. The results were actually very similar, producing calves in only a few generations that looked like the images of Aurochs from old cave paintings and representations. However, after WWII the Berlin line was lost.

There has always been controversy over the Heck Cattle project, and not only because of its benefactor. Other scientists have criticized the brothers' messy methodology, and their quick proclamation of results. There is also the fact that many other cattle breeds resemble the Aurochs even better than the Heck Cattle do. There is even a newer project, the TaurOs Programme, which is worker to create a better Aurochs.

There are still Heck Cattle today, though most remain in Europe. Of the estimated 2,000 of them, many live in nature preserves. This is because of the Heck's claims that these animals were resurrected wild animal, and thus should be left in nature as the Aurochs were.

Status : Domesticated
Location : Originated in Germany
Size : Height up to 4.5ft (1.4m), Weight up to 1,300lbs (600kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Bos -- Species : B. primigenius

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Emperor Gum Moth

Opodiphthera eucalypti
Emperor Gum Moths are large Moths found in Australia, as well as in New Zealand where they have been introduced. They have a wingspan of around 6in (15cm), and furry, reddish-brown wings with eye spots.

As Caterpillars they are born very dark, and actually turn a striking green color before spinning a cocoon  The Caterpillar stage can last weeks and even months, and during that time they feed on as many leaves as possible, as this stage is the only time that these insects actually eat.

After emerging from their cocoons, the adult moths are unable to feed, and have to rely on all that stored up energy from their Caterpillar meals. They seek out a mate, lay their eggs, and die. This stage lasts only a few weeks, maximum.

The Emperor Gum Moth is a scientifically significant insect, as it is the very first insect that science was able to develop continuous cell cultures from. The process used to do this, back in 1962, is still being used (in a modified form) today.

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Chihuahua

Smooth-coated Chihuahua
The Chihuahua is the smallest breed of dog in the world, and it also has some roots that date back over a millennium. It is believed that this modern breed descended from the Techichi, a dog favored by the Toltecs. Images of these dogs appear around 800CE, with additional possible representations going back a thousand years earlier.

The modern breed comes from the state of Chihuahua, with the progenitor being found near the ruins of Casas Grandes in 1850. Over the next fifty years the breed would be developed, and by 1904 it was recognized by the AKC.

The modern standards describe a dog that stands between 6 and 10in tall, and weighs up to 6.6lbs (3kg). Despite what you may see from some breeders, "Teacup" and "Miniature" are not standard designations-- they are terms often used as marketing gimmicks by those trying to sell puppies.
Long-coated Chihuahua

Chichuahuas come with two different coat lengths-- long-haired and short-haired, and can have just about any color combination you can think of. Many breed clubs do not allow merle dogs, as that gene is linked to a number of health conditions.

Chihuahua temperament varies with the dog. On the whole they tend to be very brave and loyal to their owner, but some can take that protective nature and turn it into aggression if not properly trained. They are also not recommended for people with small children, as their size can put them at risk from rough play, and these interactions can make them nippy and high-strung. However, good training and socialization can lead to a very well-adjusted little dog, and they continue to be one of the most popular breeds in the world.

Status : Domesticated
Location : Mexico
Size : Height up to 10in (30cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Canidae -- Genus : Canis -- Species : C. lupus -- Subspecies : C. l. familiaris

Monday, January 14, 2013

Ringed Water Cobra

Naja annulata
There are two species of Water Cobra in the world, and today's animal is one of them (the other being the Congo water Cobra). They are a largely aquatic species (hence the name) and are rarely seen by humans, as they are active during both the night and daytime, and are non-confrontational.

Ringed Water Cobras live in eastern and central Africa, and are seldom found far from bodies of water. They are slow movers on land, but excellent when hunting in rivers and lakes. These snakes feed almost exclusively on fish, but will also take amphibians as well.

As with all Cobras, the Ringed Water Cobra has a venomous bite. However, because they are not often encountered, their venom has not been as well studied as that of some other species. Also like other cobras, they sport hoods that fan out when threatened... though these hoods are rather narrow. They can be identified by the contrasting brown and black bands that run the length of their body.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : East and Central Africa
Size : SLength up to 9ft (2.8m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Elapidae -- Genus : Naja -- Species : N. annulata

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Marsh Owl

Asio capensis
Marsh Owls live in Madagascar and throughout Central and Southern Africa. Their primary habitats are (unsurprisingly) wetlands, marshes, and savanna areas.

These owls actually build their nests on the ground, hiding then without dense tufts of grass. There they lay up to three eggs each season, which are incubated by the mother. The hatchlings fledge after 35 days.

Because there are few perches in their habitats, these Owls hunt by soaring high above the plains and wetlands, spotting out they prey with their keen eyesight. Once targeted, they swoop in to retrieve their meal.

Overall, the Marsh Owls are listed as being of least concern. They have a very large range, and even though they are dropping number in a handful of local areas, there are still enough of them to be at low risk.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Africa and Madagascar
Size : Length up to 14in (37cm), Wingspan up to 40in (1m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Strigiformes
Family : Strigidae -- Genus : Asio -- Species : A. capensis

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Nile Lechwe

Kobus megaceros
Lechwe is the Bantu word for Antelope, which is what today's animal happens to be. These Endangered ungulates hail from only a few locations in East Africa.They are actually considered to be sacred creatures by some peoples in Sudan. Their primary habitats are marsh and swampland areas.

The Nile Lechwe are very social creatures. They create many different vocalizations, including calls to identifies mothers and children, calls to signify threats, and calls that are used during the breeding season.

Males and females actually look quite different, and not just in size. Though they are all born the same color, the males grow a very dark chocolate brown as they mature, along with growing horns. Females lack horns, and stay a creamier light brown color.

Sadly, habitat loss and hunting have decreased the overall population, and they are now listed as Endangered by the IUCN. Conservation measures are difficult to maintain, due to all of the political turmoil in teh surrounding region.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : East Africa
Size : Shoulder Height up to 41in (105cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Kobus -- Species : K. megaceros

Friday, January 11, 2013

Smooth Butterfly Ray

Gymnura micrura
The Smooth Butterfly Ray, with its sleek body (thanks to very tiny denticles), actually has a genus name to match-- Gymnura derives from the Greek word for "naked." They are medium-sized rays, with males growing about four feet across and females reaching around 2.5.

These Rays live in the Atlantic Ocean, typically in tropical waters though they can be found as far north as Maryland. They live on the soft sediment bottoms of the continental shelves, feeding on small fish, crustaceans, and bivalves. On occasion they will swim into estuaries and brackish waters.

The species is Ovoviviparous, a term I do not get to use nearly enough. This means that they give birth to live young, but these young are still incubated in eggs... just inside the mothers body (aka there is no direct placental connection between mother and child). They have 3-4 pups per litter.

Smooth Butterfly Rays and humans don't have much interaction with one another. They aren't fished on any large commercial scale, and are only consumed in a handful of countries. They are not dangerous, as they don't posses spines. Currently they are listed as being Data Deficient.

IUCN Status : Data Deficient
Location : Atlantic Ocean
Size : Width up to 4ft (1.2m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Chondrichthyes -- Order : Myliobatiformes
Family : Gymnuridae -- Genus : Gymnura -- Species : G. micrura

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Mountain Zebra

Equus zebra
There are three living species of Zebra out there, the Plains, the Grevy's, and today's animal-- the Mountain. Mountain Zebras are found only in southwestern Africa, residing in hills, and mountain slopes. They live at dry altitudes of up to 3,300ft, and are more surefooted and adapted to climbing than their plains-living relatives. You can identify them from other Zebras by the dewlaps in their throats.

Mountain Zebras live in small groups that are led by a stallion and contain a handful of mares and young offspring. Once colts grow up they leave and join temporary bachelor herds before trying to steal a few females of their own to start a new family group. Mountain Zebras do not form large herds like the Plains Zebras often do.

Equus zebra has two different subspecies that are now regionally separated (and were once thought to be two totally different species). The Cape Mountain Zebra lives in the southern reaches of the range and actually has females that grow larger than the males. In addition, their black stripes are slightly thicker. The Hartmann's Mountain Zebra, which lives further north, has thinner black stripes and exhibits a more standard variety of sexual dimorphism-- males larger than females.

Both of the subspecies are threatened, and are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. Habitat loss and competition from livestock have played major roles in the decline, and they were once hunted so extensively that less than 100 Cape Mountain Zebras remained in the 1950s. Today that number is around 2,500, and many members of the wild population live within protected areas. Captive breeding programs are  also working to reintroduce the animals to their former ranges.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Southwest Africa
Size : Shoulder height up to 4.9ft (1.5m), Weight up to 800lbs (360kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Perissodactyla
Family : Equidae -- Genus : Equus -- Species : E. zebra

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Agassiz's Desert Tortoise

Gopherus agassizii
Today's animal gets its name from 19th century Swiss-American naturalist Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz, and it can be found in the desert areas of the Southwest United States (they are even the state reptiles of both California and Nevada). They can actually live in incredibly hot areas that reach over 140 degrees F, due to their ability to burrow underground to escape the extreme heat.

Agassiz's Desert Tortoises measure about 14in long, and males are slightly larger than females. Interestingly,t he two sexes also have slightly different shell shapes. Males have inward curved at the rear of the carapace, while females have outward curves. This is so that the males can stand upright against the female in order to successfully mate. Males will also fight each other during each breeding season in order to establish reproductive rights, and the Tortoises will have numerous different mates over their 30 to 50 years of life.

Sadly, these Tortoises are listed as Vulnerable (partially) because of decline caused by human activities. Military, agricultural, and urban development have all caused a loss in habitat. Development has not just taken up their habitat, but it has introduced excess predators. Ravens are major predators of Desert Tortoise eggs and hatchlings, and there are more of these birds around due to human land development.

There area number of illnesses that have also affected these Tortoises. Upper respiratory tract disease has been plaguing the population since the 1970s, and  is a chronic, infectious condition. Furthermore, a shell disease called Cutaneous dyskeratosis is also found in the population.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Southwest United States
Size : Length up to 14in (36cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Sauropsida -- Order : Testudines
Family : Testudinidae -- Genus : Gopherus -- Species : G. agassizii

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Elkhorn Coral

Acropora palmata
Elkhorn Coral is a very large, very fast growing Coral that can be found in the Caribbean waters, at depths of up to 30m. because of their fast growth they make wonderful reef builders, and have massive branches that can grow well over 6ft a piece. These branches resemble antlers, hence the name.

Elkhorn Coral reproduce asexually. Branches of it break off and form new colonies after the reattach in the substrate. They reproduce sexually as well, spawning millions of gametes into the water column once a year. The resulting larvae (if they live long enough) can then form new colonies. Sexual reproduction exists int he species so that there is genetic diversity. However, so few larvae survive that is expected that the diversity is actually very low at this point, with most new Coral colonies created asexually.

Like many of the animals we have been talking about in the past few days, Elkhorn Coral is also dangerously close to extinction. In some locations they have declined by 80-90% since 1980. This is due to disease, bleaching, natural disasters, changes in water quality, and the aforementioned low genetic diversity. The population is being managed, and restoration efforts are taking place... though with mixed results.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Caribbean Sea
Size : Diameter up to 12ft (3.7m)
Classification : Phylum : Cnidaria -- Class : Anthozoa -- Order : Scleractinia
Family : Acroporidae -- Genus : Acropora -- Species : A. palmata

Monday, January 7, 2013

Lappet-faced Vulture

Torgos tracheliotos
The Lappet-faced Vulture is one of the largest Vultures in the world-- they have wingspans of up to 9.5ft! These huge birds of prey around found in Africa and in parts of the Middle East, where they are split into two location-based subspecies.

"Lappet-faced" refers to the skin flaps on their bald heads. As with many other scavenging birds, these Vultures lack feathers on their faces, because that allows them to stay cleaner when digging around in carcasses.

These birds have very powerful beaks, and can break down carrion better than some of the smaller Vultures can. In fact, they often steal kills from their littler cousins, because they aren't dependent on the softer, fresher tissues for food. They actually hunt by sight, spotting other Vultures and going after those meals. Lappet-faced Vultures are not strictly scavengers though-- they have also been spotted staking out ant and termite mounts and taking little insect snacks.

Sadly, this impressively large bird is Vulnerable, and on the decline. A major threat is actually poisoning by humans. Farmers leave out traps to protect their livestock, and though these traps are more intended for the creatures that actually kill the farm animals, the scavenging Vultures will snag them too. Habitat destruction for agriculture and construction has also damaged these birds, especially their nesting sites.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Africa
Size : Length up to 45in (115cm), Wingspan up to 9.5ft (2.9m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Accipitriformes
Family : Accipitridae -- Genus : Torgos -- Species : T. tracheliotos

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Saola

Pseudoryx nghetinhensis
The Saola is a truly amazing animal, but it could be extinct very, very soon. What makes the species so remarkable is that it was only first discovered in 1992, which is an astoundingly long time for a 200+lb bovid to remain hidden away from the world. Also amazing? Scientists have documented less than half a dozen in the wild.

The species was first described from horns collected by hunters in the Annamite Mountain Range in Laos and Vietnam. The straight, Unicorn-like horns gives the species it's name, which translates to "spindle horns" in Vietnamese. They have brown coats and white markings on the face.

The animals have been seen alive by local people in the remote mountainous forests close by, and some have even been captured. Unfortunately, all Saola that have been captured alive have done very poorly. So far 11 have been captured, the most recent in August 2010. All perished, and we still don't know how many are actually out there. Habitat loss and poaching are major threats, and the animal is listed as Critically Endangered.

The World Wildlife Fund has been working to protect and conserve the Saola ever since their discovery 20 years ago. They have helped to improve the management of the Vu Quang Nature Reserve, have conducted surveys  and have helped to bring this animals plight into the international spotlight.


IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Vietnam and Laos
Size : Height up to 35in (90cm), Weight up to 220lbs (100kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Pseudoryx -- Species : P. nghetinhensis

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Big-headed Turtle

Platysternon megacephalum
You may be surprised to find out that the Big-headed Turtle actually isn't that large when compared to other Turtles. Their heads are just proportionally larger than the rest of their bodies (their carapaces measure only about 8in across). In fact, their heads are so large that they cannot retract them into their shells! The translation of their species name, megacephalum, or "big head," is quite appropriate.

This unusual looking Turtle is found in the fast-flowing mountain streams of China and Southeast Asia. They are actually very poor swimmers, but are excellent at climbing and grasping on to rocks. They feed during the nighttime on various underwater animals, clinging to the stream bed to move and hunt.

Sadly, the Big-headed turtle is listed as Endangered. This is because illegal hunting and collection for the pet trade have dropped their numbers significantly. Though they are legally protected in some parts of their range, the illegal capture continues, making the Turtles even more rare and thus more valuable on the black market. If the trend continues in this way they could quickly become extinct in the wild.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Southeast Asia
Size : Carapace length up to 8in (20cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Testudines
Family : Platysternidae -- Genus : Platysternon -- Species : P. megacephalum

Friday, January 4, 2013

Corroboree Frog

Pseudophryne corroboree
There are two species of Corroboree Frogs, the Northern and the Southern. Both live only in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia. Both also happen to be Critically Endangered.

Corroboree Frogs are named for an indigenous Australian word that refers to a gathering where the attendees paint their faces yellow, much like the yellow blotches on these frogs.

The claim to fame of this genus is that they were the very first vertebrates discovered that produce their own toxins. most other species derive their toxicity from the foods that they eat. Not so with these frogs-- they secrete their very own poisonous alkaloid that help defend again predators. In fact, they are so toxic that they have few, if any, natural predators at all.

Habitat loss and feral animals have caused the Corroboree Frog species to teeter dangerously close to extinction, the Southern one especially. They appear in only a tiny fragment of their former range, and rejuvenating their numbers has proven difficult because they lay only about 30 eggs each year (small for a frog), they remain tadpoles for two years, and they don't even start to breed until the age of four. At one point it was estimated that there were only 64 left. Captive breeding and egg protection research is underway to help bring these rare frogs back.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : New South Wales, Australia
Size : Length up to 3cm
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Amphibia -- Order : Anura
Family : Myobatrachidae -- Genus : Pseudophryne

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Tall Sea Pen

Funiculina quadrangularis
The Tall Sea Pen, like all Sea Pens, is a relative to Sea Anemones and Corals. And like Coral, though they may look like one creature, they are actually comprised of several organisms called polyps. These polyps, which are pale in color and possess eight tiny tentacles each, gather onto an axis, a long structure made of calcium carbonate. The species name, quadrangularis, actually refers to the cross-section shape of this axis-- a square.

Tall Sea Pens have a very interesting distribution. You'll find them near the British Isles and the North Atlantic, but you'll also find them way over by New Zealand and Japan as well-- halfway around the world! They live in colonies that can form literal Sea Pen forests, and exist at depths of between 20 and 2,300 feet. A large specimen can grow over 2 meters tall!

The aforementioned polyp tentacles are what allow this Cnidarian to feed. They sway in the water and pick up floating substrate using a method called suspension feeding. The polyps also have unique sexes to them, and each colony will only have polyps of the same sex on it.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : North Atlantic, South Pacific
Size : Length up to 7ft (2.1m)
Classification : Phylum : Cnidaria -- Class : Octocorallia -- Order : Pennatulacea
Family : Funiculinidae -- Genus : Funiculina -- Species : F. quadrangularis

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Greater Ani

Crotophaga major
The Greater Ani is a large member of the Cuckoo family, identified by its black-blue feathers, long tail, and ridged bill. They also have white eyes, which differentiate them from the other Ani species.

These birds live in Central and South America, and live in small groups year round. These groups live within specific territories, and defend their ground by making loud, squawking calls. The Greater Ani is also a cooperative breeder. This means that several females in the group all lay eggs into a single nest, and then they all take care of the incubation and feeding duties. As many as ten eggs can be found in a single nest.

The Greater Ani feeds on insects like Crickets and Grasshoppers, as well as on Lizards and Frogs. Whether on the ground or in the trees, they are very jerky and clumsy in their movement.

The range of this species is quite large, and they are common throughout it. The population is listed as stable, and they have no major conservation threats at this time.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South and Central  America
Size : Length up to 20in (50cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Cuculiformes
Family : Cuculidae -- Genus : Crotophaga -- Species : C. major

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Grison

Galictis vittata
There are two species of Grison in the world, the Lesser (G. cuja), and the Greater (G. vittata). They are both found on the continent of South America, and are sometimes referred to as South American Wolverines. The Greater lives further North, reaching into Mexico and Central America, while the Lesson Grison lives only in the southern parts of the continent.

Though they have a Wolverine name  they are no where near the size. These Mustelids grow only about 1 foot and a half in length, and they actually look a little skunk-like. Both species have black legs, bellies, and faces, but have a grey backs.

Grison are diurnal, and live either alone or in small groups that burrow into the ground for both food and shelter. They are omnivores, feeding on small mammals like mice and chinchillas, as well as on fruits. They kill their prey by a fast bite to the neck.

Interestingly, the Grison can be tamed, and they are used in the hunting of Chinchillas. This is not all that surprising when you remember that they are relatives to the Ferrets, which have been used in hunting for centuries.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South America
Size : Length up to 20in (50cm), Weight up to 3kg
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Mustelidae -- Genus : Galictis
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