Sunday, March 31, 2013

Corn Crake

Crex crex
The Corn Crake is a member of the Rail family-- a group of birds that can be found on every continent but Antarctica, and who are often found in wetland areas. Corn Crakes themselves are migratory, breeding in Europe and Asia and wintering in southern Africa. They inhabit lowland meadows, grasslands, and wetland areas.

It can be difficult to spot these birds because their tawny coloration blends in so well with the grasses that they live among. They spend most of their time on the ground, feeding mainly on invertebrates that live there.

They also do their nesting on the ground as well. When it comes to breeding, it is the female who incubates and cares for the chicks-- the males leave after mating to find another female. In order to attract females, the males make very grating calls that can be heard from over a mile away!

Until very recently (2010), the Corn Crakes were listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN. It looked like their European populations were declining, despite the massive range. In fact, at one point there were less than 600 adults males in the United Kingdom, where they were once populous. The bird were bumped to Least Concern because numbers are on the rise, and because the global population is still very large (estimated to be more than 8 million breeding birds in Europe and Asia).

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Africa, Europe, Asia
Size : Body length 12in (60cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Gruiformes
Family : Rallidae -- Genus : Crex -- Species : C. crex
Image : Richard Wesley

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Cape Weaver

Ploceus capensis
The Cape Weaver is a small nest-weaving bird found only within South Africa. They are residents, meaning that they do not migrate, and can be found in grassland and scrubland habitats.

Males of the species are more vibrant in color than the females. When it comes time to breed their feathers become bright yellow and their head goes orange. The rest of the year they are more dull in color, and the females are a paler olive-yellow year round.

Breeding is a very notable times for the males, because not only do their colors change, but they also undertake massive construction projects. They weave large, glove-like nests that are suspended from tree branches with openings near the underside.

If a female likes a particular nest, she will choose its builder as her mate. Picking the best nest means that she will have a good comfortable home to incubate from, and ensures that the genes of a good builder get passed on!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South Africa
Size : Body length 7in (17cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Ploceidae -- Genus : Ploceus -- Species : P. capensis
Image : Brian Ralphs

Friday, March 29, 2013

Forty-spotted Pardalote

Pardalotus quadragintus
There are four different species of Pardalote, all of which live in Australia. Today's animal, the Forty-spotted Pardalote, is by far the most rare. These little songbirds are one of
the most endangered bird species in Australia.

You will find them only in a handful of colonies on Tasmania. They used to be found on the mainland as well, but all of those birds have now died off. Habitat loss is the biggest threat to the Forty-spotted Pardalotes, because they rely on very specific conditions to live. You will only find them in dry Eucalyptus forests where there is an abundance of White Gum trees. The birds forage for insects near those specific trees, often in small groups.

Forty-spotted Pardalotes are named for the bright white dots on their wings. Males and females look alike, sporting paler undersides and darker yellow-green heads.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Australia
Size : Body length 4in (10cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Pardalotidae -- Genus : Pardalotus -- Species : P. quadragintus
Image : JJ Harrison

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Burrowing Cobra

Paranaja multifasiata
The Burrowing Cobra is sometimes referred to as the Many-banded Snake... which is kind of a confusing name because they don't actually have true bands on them at all. They have s
hiny black scales that also have creamy-yellow blotching on them, giving an almost checkered pattern.

Burrowing Cobras are the only the only members of the Paranaja genus, and they live only in a handful of countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Camaroon. They are not as long as teh Forest Cobra, one of their closer relatives-- they grow to only about 2ft.

Little is known about this species-- there has been no major conservation studies, which is why they are not listed at all by the IUCN. And we don't even know how dangerous their venom is! (Like all members of the Elapidae family, they are a venomous species). Interesting to think of all the potentially deadly creatures out there that we we so little about!

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Africa
Size : Body length around 2ft (60cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Elapidae -- Genus : Paranaja -- Species : P. multifasciata
Image : Wuster

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Greater Bamboo Lemur

Prolemur simus
The Greater Bamboo Lemur is yet another one of the 22 different Lemur species found on the island of Madagascar.  They are the largest of the Bamboo Lemurs, sporting an average body length about about 1.5ft. They are identified by their bright white ear tufts.

As their name indicates, these primates feed almost exclusively on Bamboo (98% of their diet!) They have very strong jaws that they use to strip the hard grass down, and amazingly, they can also eat the young leaves. Those same leaves are chock full of cyanide, yet the Lemurs show no ill effects towards them!

Another amazing thing about the Great Bamboo Lemurs is that everyone believed they were extinct during the first half of the 20th century. They were first identified in 1870, but were thought to be gone by around 1900. They were re-discovered in 1972, with tiny populations hiding out in two very small ranges.

They are currently listed as Critically Endangered, due to their tiny habitat zone and specialized Bamboo diet. That same area is also under threat of deforestation. It is estimated that less than 150 are still left in the wild. Surveys are being done, but they are tragically receiving very little protection from the local government.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Madagascar
Size : Body length around 18in (45cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Primates
Family : Lemuridae -- Genus : Prolemur -- Species : P. simus
Image : Save Nature

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bluethroat

Luscinia svecia (male)
Allow me to introduce you to the lovely (and aptly named) Bluethroat. These small members of the Flycatcher family have a very large range due to their migratory habits. They breed in Europe, Asia, and Alaska, but spend their winters in Africa and on the Indian subcontinent. In fact, they are one of the few birds that breed in North America but winter in Asia, and currently no one is exactly sure where the Alaskan birds specifically go to.

Only the males of the species have the namesake coloration. They have buff underparts, brownish-grey backs and wings, and vibrant blue and orange necks that are separated by black and white band. The blue to orange ratio changes depending on each birds location. For example, those who breeder further north have more orange than those who breeder further south. Females have the same black bands, brown wings, and buff undersides, but lack the colored throats.

Bluethroats live in open forests and scrublands where they hunt for insects either on the ground or while in flight. They build their nests on the ground. They lay 5-7 eggs at a time, and the chicks are helpless at birth.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Erueop, Asia, Africa
Size : Body length around 6in (15cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Muscicapidae -- Genus : Luscinia --Species : L. svecica
Image : Daniel Bastaja

Monday, March 25, 2013

Atlas Bear

The Atlas Bear was the only Bear native to the continent of Africa. A subspecies of the Brown Bear (that is found in nearby European and Asian countries), these large mammals once roamed the mountains that give it its name.

The story of these Bears is a tragic one. They lived throughout Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria, but once the Romans arrived their numbers were drastically reduced. The Atlas Bears were hunted as a sport, and were even captured to be used in arena games. By the end of the Roman era the Bears were fragmented and rare. They did hang around for several more centuries, but were finally finished off in the late 1800s.

Atlas Bears were large, weighing up to 1,000lbs. They had long-ish black/brown fur and short muzzles. Some scientists believe they should be their own separate species, but for now they remain classified with the Brown Bears.

IUCN Status : Extinct since the late 1800s.
Location : Northern Africa
Size : Height around 60in (1.5m), Weight up to 1000lbs (453kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Ursidae -- Genus : Ursus -- Species : U. arctos -- Subspecies : U. a. crowtheri
Image : MNN

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mauritius Owl

Mascarenotus sauzieri
Once upon a time the Mauritius Owl was the largest predator on the entire island that it was named for. That all changed when humans arrived. It fared better than some of the smaller bird species, which fell victim to all the introduced cats and rats rather quickly. Alas, it did go
extinct though, with an estimated date around 1850.

It took a while before people realized that the Mauritius Owl was just one bird. There were no official descriptions until the late 1700s, and the bones that were discovered led scientists to think that these birds were related to Barn Owls. By the 1800s it was determined that the Mauritius Owls were from a different genus entirely, and shared it with two other Mascarene species that are now also extinct.

One it was actually correctly identified in the early 19th century (though the official name did not come till 1893), it wasn't very long before they went extinct. The islands were cultivated for sugarcane and tea, and the Owls lost their habitat. They were reported as extinct in 1859.

IUCN Status : Extinct since the 1850s
Location : Mauritius
Size : Body length around 2ft (60cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Strigiformes
Family : Strigidae -- Genus : Mascarenotus -- Species : M. sauzieri
Image : Illustration by Emile Oustalet

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bridge's Degu

Common Degus
In the past we've learned about the Common Degu, a small relative to Chinchillas that is sometimes kept as a pet (by weirdos like me). But the Common Degu isn't the only member of its genus-- there are actually three more lesser-known species.

The Bridge's Degu is one of them (are are so little known that I couldn't find a picture!). These rodents live in Argentina and Chile, and unlike their more popular cousins, they are nocturnal. They are named for Thomas Bridges, a naturalist who first identified them and collected specimens in 1844.

These animals look similar to Common Degus-- they have brown fur, rounded ears, and long tails with tufts on the end. They are decent tree climbers, and do not dig as much as their more common cousins.

Bridge's Degus happen to be listed as Vulnerable. Deforestation has been a major culprit to their population decline, as they need the rocky woodlands in order to survive.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Chile and Argentina
Size : Body length around 6in (15cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Rodentia
Family : Octodontidae -- Genus : Octodon -- Species : O. bridgesi
Image : A. Savin

Friday, March 22, 2013

Franklin's Bumblebee

Bombus franklini
When we hear about endangered creatures, the most prominent species in the spotlight tend to be bird, mammals, and other large vertebrates. But there are certainly endangered invertebrates as well, and the Franklin's Bumblebee is one of them.

No one has actually seen one of these bees since 2006, when a survey turned up only one worker. They live in a very small range between Oregon and California, and actually have the smallest range of any Bumblebee in the world.

The decline for Franklin's Bumblebee has been swift. They were still abundant back in the 1990s, but pesticides, habitat loss, and the introduction of new diseases have been devastating. It is very possible that they are already extinct.

The Franklin's Bumblebee is not the only Bee in danger though. Colony Collapse Disorder has led to a 96% decline in Honey Bees across the United States. The spread of infected, commercially raised Bees is thought to be a major contributor to this catastrophe. Unfortunately, the Franklin's Bumblebee, due to its tiny range, may not have survived this huge drop, and could be gone forever.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : United States
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Hymenoptera
Family : Apidae -- Genus : Bombus -- Species : B. franklini
Image : Thorp

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Elephant Bird

Elephant Bird
"Elephant Bird" is the name given to members of the Aepyornithidae Family. These gigantic, flightless Ratites lived on Madagascar, and all are extinct. Though they are distant relatives to Ostriches, it is believed that their ancestors branched off from those birds as far back as 85 million years ago.

There were half a dozen different Elephant Bird species, and all were quite large-- some stood over 10ft tall! They were even an inspiration for Marco Polo's fantastical tales of the legendary Roc. They were similar in size to the Moa of New Zealand, but were much heavier. The Elephant Birds could reach 900lbs, while the Moa were only around 550.

It is difficult to get the full evolutionary history of the Elephant Birds, because Madagascar is a rainforested island, and fossils do not do well in such conditions. We do know that they survived into modern times, and may have still been around in the 17th century based on reports. Semi-fossilized eggs have also been located, and some even have young birds still inside them!

Humans were most likely the culprits in the extinction of the Elephant Birds. We know that they were hunted for many years, as evidenced by tool marks on bones. Their eggs were also consumed. They may also have died out with help from diseases brought over by introduced birds like chickens.

Status : Extinct since 17th Century, possibly earlier
Location : Madagascar
Size : Height up to 10ft (3m), Weight up to 900lbs (408kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : †Aepyornithiformes
Family : †Aepyornithidae
Image : Cryptomundo

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Longisquama

Longisquama
Longisquama is a bit of a conundrum. These extinct reptiles were very small, lived way back in the Triassic, and had massive protrusions sticking out of their backs. In fact, those crazy looking growths are responsible for the genus name-- "Long Scales."

What were these hockey-stick shaped things? The most popular theory is that they were primitive feathers. However, it is still a mystery as to how they were specifically oriented. In a straight line? Staggered? Did they help the reptiles to glide? Or where they purely ornamental?

Notice that I never call Longisquama a Dinosaur-- that's because they weren't one. They were primitive reptiles in the Diapsid group, or so we think with the limited evidence. There is also some speculation that they may be a very ancient bird ancestor, but that would really mess up years of thinking-- it has generally been accepted that Birds evolved from more advanced Dinosaurs, not from primitive Diapsids like Longisquama!

IUCN Status : Extinct for 230 million years
Location : Asia
Size : Body Length up to 6in (15cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Subclass : Diapsida
Genus : †Longisquama -- Species : L. insignis
Image : Nobu Tamura

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ratas Island Lizard

Podarcis lilfordi (extant relative to the Ratas
Island Lizard)
The Ratas Island Lizard is a subspecies of the Lilford's Wall Lizard. It lived only on the rocky shores of Isla Ratas, a tiny island in the Bay of Mahon, Balearic Islands, Spain.

In the 1930s, that small island was completely demolished so that larger ships could enter the bay. When the island was destroyed, the small lizards went with it.

The Ratas Island Lizard has been formally listed as extinct since 1950. There have been no efforts to revive the species, and there are only a handful of museum specimens out there.

There are still a few other subspecies out in the Balearic Islands, but most are Endangered. The Lilford's Wall Lizard actually has been divided into 27 different subspecies, and most find themselves in similar situations to the Ratas Island variety. They live very fragmented on small islands, and could easily face extinction due to a single catastrophe (natural or man-made).

IUCN Status : Extinct
Location : Spain
Size : Body Length up to 7cm
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Lacertidae -- Genus : Podarcis -- Species : P. lilfordi -- Subspecies : P. l. rodriquezi
Image : Blomberg

Monday, March 18, 2013

Hihi

Notiomystis cincta (male)
The Hihi, or Stitchbird, is a small, rare, honeyeater-like bird found only in New Zealand. I say "honeyeater-like" because they actually did belong to that family until recently. However, genetic testing showed that these birds actually belong to their very own, unique family. They were moved to Notiomystidae in 2007.

Hihi exhibit sexual dimorphism. The males are larger in size, and have bright black head feather and a vibrant yellow neck band. They have additional yellow coloration on the wings and shoulders. Females are greyish-brown overall. Both sexes sport thin, curved bills that help them to get at nectar.

The Hihi live in old forests where there are hollow trees. They are cavity nesters, and thus need those trees in order to reproduce. They have a monogamous breeding system, and both parents will help to care for the young.

Diseases brought my introduced species, along with introduced predators have caused these birds to decline in number. There is currently only one natural, self-sustaining population left, and that is on Little Barrier Island. There are recovery efforts to reintroduce and sustain additional groups on different islands. It is estimated that there are between 500 and 1,000 adults left.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : New Zealand
Size : Body Length up to 7in (18cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Notiomystidae -- Genus : Notiomystis -- Species : N. cincta
Image : Internet Bird Collection

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Irish Wolfhound

Meet the tallest of the dog breeds-- the Irish Wolfhound. These gigantic canines can stand 3ft tall at the shoulder!

Not only are they the tallest dog, but they are also one of the oldest breeds out there. Their ancestors appear in art and writings that date back to around 300BC, and they could be even older than that! They were bred to be all-purpose dogs, able to be used for war purposes, as well as herding and hunting. For a while they were only be owned by members of the nobility, and were involved in wolf, bear, and elk hunts. As those species became rare and extinct due to over-hunting, the Wolfhound lost part of its purpose and dwindled in number.

The breed was revived in the late 19th century by using the few remaining Wolfhounds and crossing them with Great Danes, Deerhounds, Borzoi, and Mastiffs. The results was the breed we now have, and its first breed club was founded in 1885.

Irish Wolfhounds are very sweet-natured, easygoing dogs. They are very loyal, gentle dogs, and are great with children. The downside to such a gentle giant? They have a very short lifespan (usually only 6-8 years), and are susceptible for bone cancer and heart disease.

Status : Domesticated
Location : Ireland
Size : Height around 32in (81cm), Weight around 120lbs (54kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Canidae -- Genus : Canis -- Species : C. lupus -- Subspecies : C. l. familiaris
Image : Dux

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Eurasian Hobby

Falco subbuteo
The Eurasian Hobby is a species of Falcon that is small and slim, with long wings that resemble those of a Swift. They live in Europe, Asia, and Africa, inhabiting open country areas. They are also migratory, with populations moving to central Africa and southeast Asia during the winter months.

These birds are very fast, and use that speed and agility to hunt down their prey. They are one of the quickest birds on the planet, able to reach speeds up to 100mph! Eurasian Swifts usually eat flying insects, consuming them on the go, but they also eat birds and other small vertebrates.

The breeding season for these birds actually coincides with the peak season for their prey. Their chicks hatch  in late summer, which is the prime time for both dragonflies, and for fledgling birds that are still novices at flying. This gives the Hobby chicks more to eat!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Africa, Europe, Asia
Size : Body Length up to 14in (36cm), Wingspan up to 33in (84cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Falconiformes
Family : Falconidae -- Genus : Falco -- Species : F. subbuteo
Image : Biopauker

Friday, March 15, 2013

Spix's Guan

Penelope jacquacu
Guans are relatively large birds that live in South and Central America, and this particular species is found in the countries like Colombia, Venezuela  Brazil, and Ecuador. They inhabit the wet lowland forests that are found within that international range.

Spix's Guan has brown feathers with white flecks, a small head, and a very bright red wattle. If you can't identify them by sight you may be able to my sound. They make loud yelling noises at night, and at dawn and dusk they do what is called a "wing rattle." The birds stretch out their wings and shake them while moving from tree to tree.

Currently the Spix's Guan has a large range and population size. However, that population is on the decline, and habitat loss may require re-evaluation of their conservation status.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South America
Size : Body Length up to 6in (16cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Galliformes
Family : Cracidae -- Genus : Penelope -- Species : P. jacquacu
Image : Arthur Chapman

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Chow Chow




















The Chow Chow is a very ancient breed of dog, and may actually be one of the very first breeds developed. There are depictions of similar animals within 2,200 year old artwork!

The breed was developed to serve many purposes. They were hunting dogs, herding dogs, and guard dogs. They coats were even used for clothing, and they were also bred to be eaten!

Today, most Chow Chows are simply kept as pets. They have very protective personalities, and can be aggressive if not properly trained. (They are also one of the breeds that are frequently listed by insurance companies as high risk-- and can cause your rent or homeowners insurance to go up).

Chow Chows are best known for their very thick double coats. They come in many colors, including red, black, cream, and brown. They also are notable for their black/blue tongues, a trait only found in Chow Chows. The breed overall is very stocky, with straight back legs, a short face, and a curled tail.

Status : Domesticated
Location : China
Size : Height up to 22in (56cm), Weight up to 70lbs (32kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Canidae -- Genus : Canis -- Species : C. lupus -- Subspecies : C. l. familiaris
Image : Juriaan Schulman, Lily M

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Paddletail Newt

Pachytriton labiatus
Paddletail Newts do indeed have a paddle-like tail. It is laterally compressed, and rounded at the end. They are an aquatic species, so this tail helps them greatly while swimming. They also use their tails for courtship and communication-- they wave and fan them from side to side when excited or afraid.

These particular Amphibians are kept as pets, but are very often mislabeled as Firebelly Newts. Paddletails are actually larger than Firebellies, and are more aggressive-- they will even attack and kill other Newts. So it's very important to do your homework if you're after one of these as a pet!

In the wild, Paddletail Newts are found only in China. They live in streams of varying sizes, and are considered to be common at this point. Worms, Mollusks, and Insects make up their diet, and when it comes to reproduction, they make pretty good moms. The females will guard over their eggs until they hatch, a practice that not many Amphibians partake in.

Though they are common now, the population of Paddletail Newts is declining. Habitat loss, collection for the pet trade, and their use in traditional medicine are all causes for concern.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : China
Size : Body Length up to 6in (16cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Amphibia -- Order : Caudata
Family : Salamandridae -- Genus : Pachytriton -- Species : P. labiatus
Image : SADelPlata

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Pygmy Spotted Skunk

Spilogale pygmaea
Pygmy Spotted Skunks are found only on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, where they live in wooded areas. Because of their range, they are listed as Vulnerable. Tourism and development has lead to habitat loss and fragmentation.

Pygmy Spotted Skunks have small, slender bodies that reach up to a foot in length. Their fur is black with 2-6 white stripes running down the length. Those stripes eventually break up into spots near the hindquarters.

As with all Skunks, this particular species has scent glands near the tail. However, when threatened their first reaction is not to spray, but rather to flee. If cornered, they will puff up and get aggressive  and will only turn to spray if that still does not work.

Pygmy Spotted Skunks are omnivores, and will feed on insects, fruits, small mammals, and reptiles, and will even climb trees in their search for prey. Baby Skunks follow their mother around during her nighttime forages.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Mexico
Size : Body Length up to 13in (34cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Mephitidae -- Genus : Spilogale -- Species : S. pygmaea
Image : elhogarnatural

Monday, March 11, 2013

White Witch

Thysania agrippina
Thysania agrippina is a moth that goes by many different names-- "White Witch" is just one of them. Ghost Moth, Great Grey Witch, and Birdwing Moth are all common titles given to this moth species.

This particular Moth is one of the largest such insects in the entire world. They have wingspans that can reach 12in, which gives them the largest overall spread, though the Atlas Moth has a greater wing area. You may have noticed the relatively slim wings on the White Witch, which are speckled with white and grey.

Though the White Witch is not listed by the IUCN, it does have some local conservation designations. In parts of Brazil, for example, it is considered to be endangered. The species has a range that extends from southern Brazil all the way up to Texas, and they lay their eggs on plants within the Legume family.

Interestingly, this species was drawn several times by Maria Sibylla Merian, one of the famous Naturalists that we covered way back when!

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Central and South America
Size : Wingspan up to 12in (31cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Lepidoptera
Family : Noctuidae -- Genus : Thysania -- Species : T. agrippina
Image : David Bygott

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Crested Oropendola

Psarocolius decumanus
The Crested Oropendola is an  interesting looking bird. They have shiny black feathers, except for their long yellow tail feathers. They have bright blue irises and very large, pale yellow beaks. Males also have a crest of feathers that is lifted during mating displays.

You'll find these birds living in flocks in South America, as well as on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. During the daytime these groups remain small, and the birds forage together for fruits and insects. But at night, the Oropendolas roost in much larger flocks.

These flocks have a polygamous breeding structure. There may be a few dozen females but only a handful of males. Typically there is only one dominant male who actually does all of the mating. In order to entice the females, the male will do an elaborate bowing display-- they sometimes bow so far forward on their perches that they end up upside down!

Crested Oropendolas are very vocal during the breeding season, creating a variety of calls for both mating and territorial purposes. Outside of that time of year, however, they are quite quiet.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South America
Size : Length up to 18in (46cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Icteridae -- Genus : Psarocolius -- Species : P. decumanus
Image : Dick Daniels

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Giant Cowbird

Molothrus oryzivorus
The Giant Cowbird is indeed a large bird... at least when you compare it to other members of its genus. They can grow well over a foot long, dwarfing the 8 or so inches that the others reach.

Like it's relatives though, the giant Cowbird does practice brood parasitism. They lay their eggs in the nests of other bird species-- typically Oropendolas and Caciques. It can be rough finding a suitable nest to lay in, as their host birds tend to nest in very large group and can be quite aggressive about their territory.

There is a difference between the male and female Giant Cowbirds. The males are just a few inches longer in body size, and their feathers are more iridescent. They also sport a neck ruff that is absent in females.

Many other Cowbirds do, in fact, ride along on cows while in search of insect meals. Not this Cowbird! They are not often found on Cattle, but in some places you can see them riding on Capybaras!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : South and Central America
Size : Length up to 14in (36cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Icteridae -- Genus : Molothrus -- Species : M. oryzivorus
Image : S. Romany

Friday, March 8, 2013

Emperor Goose

Chen canagica
The Emperor Goose is an interesting looking. It sports grey feathers over most of its body, but has a bright white head and neck... only it's not the front of the neck (like you see in other birds), the white patch actually goes down the back side!

Emperor Geese are also unusual (for Geese) in that they don't live in very large flocks. They tend to stick to small family groups. They do migrate though, breeding further north and wintering further south... though they don't go very far overall-- the species is found only in Alaska and parts of Russia.

The Aleutian Islands are a popular spot for wintering birds, which makes them especially vulnerable. Because they all move to the same spots, an catastrophic events could spell doom for the Geese. They are currently listed as "Near Threatened," and a hunting ban has been put into place.

Emperor Geese feed on grasses and other plants, and they breed out on the open tundra. Females do all the incubating for the eggs (up to 7 at a time), but the males are responsible for protecting the nest from predators and from other male Geese.

IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : Russia, Alaska
Size : Length up to 27in (.7m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Anseriformes
Family : Anatidae -- Genus : Chen -- Species : C. canagica
Image : Sandy Cole

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Qantassaurus

Qantassaurus
Qantassaurus is one of the more recently discovered Dinosaurs-- it was first unearthed back in 1996. The genus is named after QANTAS, the Queensland and Northern Territory Air Service, which has funded digs and transported fossils for several projects. It should come as no shock then to discover that these DInosaurs were found in Australia.

Qantassaurus was smaller in size-- only about 3ft tall and 6ft long. Scientists have had to estimate these measurements as this particular Dinosaur is only known from jaw fragments. They have been able to come up with those numbers based on the size ratios of other family members. Qantassaurus also had a very blunt face and large eyes.

Interestingly, 115 million years ago when Qantassaurus lived, Australia was even further south than it is now. Conditions were colder, which is why these guys were so small. Larger Dinosaurs would not have been able to live in such climates, as there would not have been enough vegetation.

Status : Extinct for 115 million years
Location : Australia
Size : Height up to 3ft (.9m), Length up to 6ft (1.8m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Sauropsida -- Superorder : Dinosauria
Order : Ornithischia -- Family : Hypsilophodontidae -- Genus: Qantassaurus
Image : debivort

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Protoceratops

Protoceratops
Meet the Protoceratops. If the name sounds familiar, it may be because you are already acquainted with the Triceratops-- the two genera were in the same family, and the Protoceratops is an evolutionary ancestor to the more well-known Dinosaur.

Protoceratops was quite small, especially when compared to its more famous descendants. These Late Cretaceous Dinosaurs only grew 2-3ft tall, and around 6ft long. They were still relatively heavy for their height, topping out at around 400lbs, but that is a far cry from the 20,000+lbs Triceratops. Interestingly though, their smaller size and beaked skull may have helped to found the Griffin myth!

The fossils of this Dinosaur were first uncovered in Mongolia back in 1922. So far two different species within the genus have been identified from various Mongolia expeditions-- P. andrewsi and P. hellenikorhinus. One of the most stunning fossils of Protoceratops was unearthed in 1971. It shows the creature fighting a Velociraptor! The two Dinosaurs were probably caught in a sandstorm mid-struggle, and have stayed preserved that way for millions of years.

Other cool Protoceratops finds? Nests! In 2011 a nest containing P. andrewsi young was found. This find suggests that the adults did in fact care for their offspring, at least for a short while.

Status : Extinct for 70 million years
Location : Mongolia
Size : Height up to 3ft (.9m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : †Ornithischia
Suborder : †Ceratopsia -- Family : †Protoceratopsidae -- Genus : †Protoceratops
Image : wikidino

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Beluga Sturgeon

Huso huso
The Beluga Sturgeon is the largest of all the Sturgeon species, and is also one of the largest freshwater fish in the entire world (though they can also be found in brackish and saltwater areas). Some of the largest ones caught were close to 20ft long, though most observed around in the 6-10ft range.

Beluga Sturgeons grow very slowly, meaning that the largest of them are also the oldest. They can live over 100 years, and the oldest recorded was 118!

You'll find these predatory fish in the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Volga River, and occasionally in the Adriatic Sea as well. They live at sea most of their lives, but swim up rivers in order to spawn. When the time to reproduce arrives, a single female can lay up to 3.5 million eggs!

Unfortunately, those eggs are the reason why these giant fish are listed as Critically Endangered  You see, Beluga Sturgeons are where Beluga Caviar comes from. That Caviar is the most expensive in the world, and close to 50% of it is illegally traded. The Sturgeon are over-fished, and on top of that, their habitats are degrading. They are protected by CITES and a few other agreements, and the importation of the caviar is now banned in the United States.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Eastern Europe
Size : Length up to 10ft (3.2m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Acipenseriformes
Family : Acipenseridae -- Genus : Huso -- Species : H. huso
Image : 1stfun

Monday, March 4, 2013

Eastern Bluebird

Sialia sialis (male and female)
The Eastern Bluebird is a small little Thrush that is named after the coloration found in the males-- they have bold blue backs and orange-ish underside. The females have similarly-colored undersides, but have grey feathers up top.

You'll spot these birds all over the Eastern United States, where they live in open areas that have access to nesting sites. They require either tree cavities or nest boxes in order to reproduce, and in fact the growth of man-made nest boxes has helped the species to bounce back from low population levels in the 1960s. Nest boxes allow the Bluebirds to breed in areas where they once couldn't, and they keep the nests safe from certain predators.

When it comes to courtship, the male Eastern Bluebirds select a nest site,  bring materials to it, and do aerial movements to attract females. If a female is enticed, it is she who will actually build the nest and incubate the eggs, though both parents will help to feed the young. The young birds each insects almost exclusively, though as adults they will expand their diets to include fruits and other invertebrates.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Eastern United States
Size : Length up to 8in (20cm), Wingspan up to 13in (32cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Turdidae -- Genus : Sialia -- Species : S. sialis
Image : Gary Irwin

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mangrove Monitor

Varanus indicus
Mangrove Monitors, if you couldn't guess, as lizards that live near mangrove swamps, lakes, and rivers. They have an absolutely massive distribution, and are found in Australia, New Guinea, and on dozens of Pacific Islands.

They didn't always live in so many places, in fact, in most cases the spread only happened a few decades ago. Sailors transported the lizards before and during World War II.

Because of their large range and fragmentation, there is a great deal of variation in these lizards. Individuals on some islands are larger than others, and they also differ in coloration. Overall though, they stay below 5ft in total length, with their long tails making up at least half of that.

Those very tails help the Mangrove Monitors to swim, and they are excellent climbers as well. Being able to hunt in water, on land, and in trees means that they have a very diverse diet. They eat fish, birds, rodents, crustaceans, and other reptiles. They can actually eat large prey due to their ability to drop their lower jaw, similar to snakes (but not quite the same).

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Australia, New Guinea, Pacific Islands
Size : Length up to 1.5m
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Sauropsida -- Order : Squamata
Family : Varanidae -- Genus : Varanus -- Species : V. indicus
Image : Cliff

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Charnia

Charnia masoni
Meet Charnia, an animal so ancient that it predates pretty much everything we've ever talked about on this blog-- it loved over 500 million years go!

Though they look like leaves, they actually were like modern sea-pens. They are animals that lived on the sea floor where photosynthesis cannot occur.

Charnia are named for England's Charnwood Forest, where they were first discovered in 1957. They are notable because they were the very first fossils ever discovered from the Precambrian period. Before that point, no one knew if there was life that long ago, or if any existing lifeforms could even meet suitable fossilization conditions.

There is still much to be learned about these ancient invertebrates, and their classification may yet change. For now, all we can postulate is that they live on the sea floor, possibly in deep sea water. No mouth part has been observed, so they were probably filter feeders.

Status : Extinct for 540 million years
Location : Fossils found in Europe, Canada
Size : Length up to 1m
Classification : Phylum : Petalonamae -- Genus : Charnia -- Species : C. masoni -
Image : Smith609

Friday, March 1, 2013

Flower Hat Jelly

Olindias formosa
Flower Hat Jellies are pretty easy to recognize-- these Cnidarians have translucent bells that are covered in dark pinstripes. In addition to that, they have short-looking tentacles that coil up close to the body, giving them a more compact look. Overall they are small in size, sporting diameters of around 6in.

You will find the Flower Hat Jellies swimming in the Pacific Ocean, in the waters near Japan. They feed mainly on small fishes, which they catch using their stinging tentacles.

If you are a human who gets stung by a Flower Hat, you'll feel some pain. These stings are not lethal.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Pacific
Size : Diameter up to 6in (15cm)
Classification : Phylum : Cnidaria -- Class : Hydrozoa -- Order : Limnomedusae
Family : Olindiidae -- Genus : Olindias -- Species : O. formosa
Image : kenpei
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