Friday, May 17, 2013

Summer Break

Hang tight!
After 3 years and over 1,100 featured critters, Animal A Day is taking its very first break.

As some of you may know, I am the only person who does the writing and updating for the site. With weddings (including my own), vacations, and home renovations time is going to be short and a good internet connection is going to be spotty.

I'll be back full swing this August though, with a redone site and all new animal features, so don't go anywhere!

And in the mean time, continue to follow AaD on Facebook and Pinterest-- I'll be making updates there, and sharing lots of great new animal stories and pictures.

Thank you for three awesome years, I'll be back very soon!

-Lauren


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Crested Guineafowl

Guttera pucherani
The Crested Guineafowl is a bird with a serious hairdo! They have an incredibly distinctive mop of feathers on the top of their head that looks like a funky hair-style!

Aside from their awesome 'do, these birds have bodies covered in black and white spotted feathers, and featherless faces.

Like all members of the Numididae (Guineafowl) family, these birds live on the continent of Africa. They have a range that covers the open forests and tree-spotted savannas south of the Sahara desert. There, they feed on a range of items like seeds, grasses, and insects.

Interestingly, these birds practice courtship feeding-- the partners bring food to one another to strengthen their bond. Crested Guineafowl are monogamous, possibly for life. They nest on the ground, hiding it in tall grasses or under the cover of bushes.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Africa
Size : Body length up to 20in (50cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Galliformes
Family : Numididae -- Genus : Guttera -- Species : G. pucherani
Image : D. Keats

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Porbeagle

Lamna nasus
The Porbeagle is a large shark that is found in the cooler and temperate waters of the world's oceans. They can grow to lengths of around 12ft, and weigh over 500lbs!

The name "Porbeagle" is a mysterious one. It's exact origins are unknown, though there are a few theories. One is that the name comes from Cornish terms for "harbor" and "shepherd." Another is that it is a combination of the words "porpoise" and "beagle," because of its porpoise like shape and dog-like hunting ability.

Like many large sharks, the Porbeagles give birth to live young. They have up to 6 at a time, which take 8-9 months to gestate. At birth the young sharks are already more than 2ft long! Also like other members of their family, Porbeagles are effectively warm-blooded. They have vascular counter-current heat exchangers in their muscles which allow them to store up all the heat that they generate through fast swimming. They can make their bodies warmer than the surrounding water, which is why they can live in such cold areas.

Porbeagles are actually listed as Vulnerable, and some local populations are Endangered. They have been hunted commercially for their meat and fins in a number of countries, and because they take so long to grow it is difficult for them to quickly repopulate. Also, even though they are very large, Porbeagle attacks on humans are very, very rare.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Temperate and Cold Oceans
Size : Body length up to 12ft (3.7m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Chondrichthyes -- Order : Lamniformes
Family : Lamnidae -- Genus : Lamna -- Species : L. nasus
Image : Citron

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Amami Rabbit

Pentalagus furnessi
Today's animal is one of those creatures that is sometimes referred to as a "Living Fossil." You see, these Rabbits have evolved in complete isolation over thousands of years, and now have traits that make them a bit unusual.

Amami Rabbits are found on only two small islands-- Amami and Tokunoshima. They are located between the large Japanese island of Kyushu, and Okinawa. That isolation has led them to maintain primitive rabbit traits-- short ears, thick dark fur, and stocky bodies.

These Rabbits are nocturnal, which is also an unusual rabbit trait. They spend the daytime in underground dens. They also give birth to only a single baby at a time, though a female may have more that one child during a single year.

Sadly, because these Rabbits live on only two islands, they are very susceptible to habitat loss and the trouble caused by introduced species. Mongooses have been especially problematic to these rabbit, and have caused a significant population drop since they were first introduced 30 years ago. Mongoose (and feral cat and dog) eradication programs have been proposed to save the Rabbits, along with the restoration of habitat.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Japan
Size : Body length up to 20in (50cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Lagomorpha
Family : Leporidae -- Genus : Pentalagus -- Species : P. furnessi
Image : Animal Photos

Monday, May 13, 2013

Timema Stick Insects

Timema genevieve
Timema is the genus name for a group of 20-odd stick insects that are all found within the western United States. Most of these species live in the state of California, and a few others are found in neighboring states.

Like all Stick Insects, the members of the Timema genus are all very well camouflaged. They resemble small, stout, sticks and branches, and range in color and size depending on the species. All of these critters are nocturnal, so their coloration is especially important since they need to hide out and rest during the daytime. At night they come out to feed on different shrubs and trees.

One absolutely remarkable feature of this genus is that it is the earliest, most basal branch of the living Stick Insect groups. This means that they have a few very primitive traits that are all their own. For one, their legs only have three segments, instead of five. Secondly, about 1/4 of the species are asexual, and are able to reproduce through Parthenogenesis (females lay eggs that do not need to be fertilized by males). Two of the species exclusively reproduce asexually, and have been doing so for over a million years!

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : United States
Size : Varies
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Phasmatodea
Family : Timematidae -- Genus : Timema
Image : Paradise Reserve

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Alpine Salamander

Salamandra atra
Today is Mother's Day, so I thought it might be appropriate to talk about an animal that has one of the longest gestational periods on the planet. Nope, it's not a large mammal like a Giraffe, Whale, or Elephant-- it's a 5in long Amphibian!

Alpine Salamanders live at very high altitudes in the European Alps. That altitude is actually what helps to determine how long they will be pregnant for. The higher up they live, the longer the gestational period. At around 1,700m up it can last as long as three years.

That is particularly amazing considering they only have a 10 year lifespan at best. Also amazing? These Salamanders give birth to live young (ovoviviparous) and at birth their two offspring can each measure 2in long. Mom might only be 5in herself! Talk about big babies!

Alpine Salamanders are completely terrestrial, unlike many of their family members. They range in color from all black to various degrees of yellow spots, depending on the subspecies.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Europe
Size : Length up to 5.5in (14cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Amphibia -- Order : Caudata
Family : Salamandridae -- Genus : Salamandra -- Species : S. atra
Image : bohringer friedrich

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Birman

The Birman is a breed of cat that should not be confused with the Burmese (which has a similar name) or the Siamese (which has similar coloration). These cats are a breed all their own, and have been recognized as such since 1925.

Birman Cats have a history that is shrouded in mystery and legend. No one is 100% sure of their true origins, but one common belief is that they came from Burma (the French name is Bimanie) and were originally kept by temple priests. They eventually made their way to France, either as gifts or through smuggling, but by World War II they were almost completely wiped out. Only two cats remained, and the breed was rebuilt using their offspring and by outcrossing to Persian and Siamese cats.

Birmans have medium-long hair that is pale all over the body, with dark points on the faces and feet (called colorpoint). Interestingly, Birmans are one of the few cat breeds that are colorpoint... except for their feet. Though their legs grow dark in color, their toes are white. Birman kittens are born white, and start to develop color around 1 week old.

Personality-wise, Birmans are quiet, but like attention. They tend to follow their owners around are are quite social.They are both calm and playful, and are a good breed choice for those who have small children or other pets

Status : Domesticated
Location : France, Burma?
Size : Weight up to 12lbs (5.5kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Felidae -- Genus : Felis -- Species : F. catus
Image : D.Maillard

Friday, May 10, 2013

Booted Eagle

Aquila pennata
Allow me to introduce you to the Booted Eagle, a much smaller bird of prey than many of the more famous Eagle species. These birds have a body length of around 1.5ft, with a wingspan of up to 4ft. They come in two different color forms-- pale and dark. While the birds all share dark backs and wings, they either have pale undersides, or very dark, streaked undersides. Booted Eagles also have heavily feathered legs.

The Booted Eagles have a pretty large range that extends across southern Europe, northern Africa, and western and central Asia. Because they live in so many places it is unsurprising that they also exist in a variety of habitats. Woodlands, grasslands, and even dry desert-like areas are home turf for these Birds.

The habits of these Eagles also vary due to their many habitat options. In some locations they prefer to feed on other birds, taking them right out of the air. But in other locations reptiles and rodents are more popular dinner fare. Even nesting differs. Booted Eagles that live further north tend to nest more often in trees, while those in the south take to cliffs.

One final interesting note is that the Booted Eagles are actually close genetic relatives to the now-extinct Haast's Eagles that lived all the way in New Zealand. This is pretty amazing considering the distance and the size differentiation. Haast's Eagles had 10ft wingspans and could hunt Moas!

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Europe, Asia, Africa
Size : Length up to 18in (46cm), Wingspan up to 4ft (1.2m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Accipitriformes
Family : Accipitridae -- Genus : Aquila -- Species : A. pennata
Image : Lip Kee Yap

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Bull Ray

Pteromylaeus bovinus
Today's animal, the Bull Ray, is a very large Stingray that has a wide distribution. They live in the coastal waters of the Mediterranean, and along the Atlantic and Indian coasts of the African Continent.

These Rays have very flat, rounded snouts that kind of look like duckbills. In fact, in some parts of the world they are also called "Duckbill Rays." Including their tails, they can reach anywhere from 5-8ft in length, and can weigh well over 200lbs. Females are actually larger and heavier than the males, and the size different even extends to the size of their tale spine. It can grow up to 3in in females, but only half that in males.

Bull Rays are usually found in small groups. They live in coastal areas because they feed off of the small bottom-dwelling mollusks and crustaceans that are found there. These Rays also happen to be ovoviviparous, meaning they incubate their eggs internally and give birth to live young.

IUCN Status : Data Deficient
Location : Atlantic, Indian Oceans
Size : Length up to 8ft (2.4m), Weight up to 220lbs (99kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Chondrichthyes -- Order : Myliobatiformes
Family : Myliobatidae -- Genus : Pteromylaeus -- Species : P. bovinus
Image : Fotonatura

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Siberian Weasel

Mustela sibirica
Meet the Siberian Weasel, also known as the Kolonok! These Mustelids have a huge range that spans across not just Siberia, but China, Mongolia, India, and several other east and central Asian countries as well. They have also been introduced to parts of Japan.

These long, slender mammals have impressively long tails-- they can be half their entire body length! They have fur that ranges from blonde to red, and have black masks and a white snout.

Siberian Weasels live in burrows, but the term "burrow" is very non-specific. They will hang out in tree stumps, fallen logs, and in dens that were built by other mammals but were vacated. The Weasels tend to have multiple burrowing sites-- one primary location and a number of more temporary hiding places.

Theses burrows are also were the Weasels care for their young. They line the area with feathers and other soft materials. Mating takes place in April and May, with a gestation period of about a month. A female can give birth to 10 offspring at a time, and the young ones are born blind and helpless. They grow very quickly though! By August they are off on their own!

Siberian Weasels, like many of their breathern, have pelts that are used by humans. In this case they are very popular with paint brush manufacturers. They don't do well in captivity though  so the hairs are usually only taken from wild individuals, making the brushes more expensive. At this time the range of the Siberian Weasel is quite large, and they are numerous in number, so human hunting has not massively affected their population.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Asia
Size : Body Length up to 15in (38cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Mustelidae -- Genus : Mustela -- Species : M. sibirica
Image : YoPhotographer

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Round Island Boa

Casarea dussumieri
The Round Island Boa, found on the islands of Mauritius, is now the only living member of its entire family, and is one of the rarest snakes on the planet. Only one other species had even been identified, and it went extinct in 1975.

This snake is most common on Round Island, an uninhabited 1.7 square kilometer patch of land in the Indian Ocean that has been a designated nature reserve since the 1950s. They have been introduced to a number of other islands as well, and there are currently around 1,000 individuals in the wild. Habitat loss an
d introduced animals were major causes to their decline, and efforts are being made to remove some of the invasive species from the Boa's habitat.

Round Island Boas are slender, with very thin, pointed heads. They grow to a maximum of 5ft, with females being slightly longer than males. They (and their now-extinct family member The Round Island Burrowing Boa) are the only snakes to have split jaws, which may help them to hunt their favorite prey-- Lizards and Geckos.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Mauritius
Size : Length up to 5ft (1.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Bolyeriidae -- Genus : Casarea -- Species : C. dussumieri
Image : Captive Reptile Forums

Monday, May 6, 2013

Black-faced Spoonbill

Platalea minor
Of all the Spoonbills in the world, only the Black-faced Spoonbill is considered to be Endangered. It is estimed that there are around 2,700 of these wading birds left in the world, and they
breed only on a handful of islands off the coast of Korea and the Liaoning Province of China.

Black-faced Spoonbills have white-feathered bodies, with black bills and faces. During the breeding season their neck feathers turn yellow, and they also develop a crest along the back of their head. They breed in May, building nests on cliffs, and spend their non-breeding time living in coastal wetlands and mudflats. Their spoon-shaped bills help them to dredge up small fish and crustaceans.

These birds are endangered due to habitat loss. The wetlands that they live in are being drained for development and agriculture. It also doesn't help that they have very few wintering sites (specific locations in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and Vietnam). Should something happen to any of those sites (natural or man-made), the birds would be in even more trouble. Black-faced Spoonbills are protected in most of their breeding and wintering ranges, and a survey is being continuously done to track their numbers.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : East Asia
Size : Length up to 30in (77cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Pelecaniformes
Family : Threskiornithidae -- Genus : Platalea -- Species : P. minor
Image : Alnus

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Common Pillbug

Armadillidium vulgare
Despite the name, the Common Pillbug is not a bug at all. It is actually a Crustacean! They live on land (unlike many of their more well known relatives) and feed on decaying plant matter.

Common Pillbugs are named for their ability to roll up into little balls when they are alarmed. Interestingly, their genus name Armadillidium, is named for another rolly-polly creat
ure-- the Armadillo!

These critters are found in abundance throughout continental Europe and the British Isles. They have also been introduced to parts of North America. They live on land, and hide in dark, moist places during the daytime hours.

Many Crustaceans breed in water, but not these Pillbugs! They actually reproduce on land, and pay their eggs in large sacs. The eggs incubate within those sacs, and tiny juvenile Pillbugs emerge from the sac fully formed.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Europe
Size : Length up to 18mm
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Malacostraca -- Order : Isopoda
Family : Armadillidiidae -- Genus : Armadillidium -- Species : A. vulgare
Image : Folini

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Sir Barton


Today was the Kentucky Derby, the first of the races that form that American Triple Crown. The elusive award has only been won 11 times, with the last occurrence way back in 1978.

Many of the horses to win this title have names that are remembered by history  Secretariat. Affirmed. War Admiral. Sadly, the very first winner, Sir Barton, has not fared as well in the memory of the sport.

He won the Crown during the 1919 season. And amazingly, Sir Barton was an incredible longshot. As a two year old he entered six races and won none of them, and was eventually sold. His first race as a three year old actually was the Kentucky Derby, and he was entered to be the pacemaker for his much more regarded stablemate Billy Kelly. But being a pacemaker just wouldn't do for the chestnut Thoroughbred. He led the entire race and won by 5 lengths.

Back then, the time between Triple Crown races was far shorter, and Sir Barton entered and won the Preakness that same week! Only a few weeks after that he entered and won the Belmont Stakes as well, setting an American record and obtaining the first Triple Crown in only 32 days.

Sir Barton did actually race as a four year old, including a match race with Man O' War that he lost. He retired after that season and was put to stud for a number of years, ac
hieving moderate success. In the 1930s he ended up at working for the U.S. Army Remount Service in Nebraska, and was eventually sold to a rancher in Wyoming. He died in 1937.

Sir Barton only made $116,000 during his racing career, wining only 13 races of 31 starts. He was certainly not the winning-est of the Triple Crown winners, but he was the first! He was elected to the racing Hall of Fame in 1957.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Zebra Dove

Geopelia striata
Today's animal is a Zebra Dove, a bird that is native to Southeast Asia, but that has found it's way to various Pacific Islands as well due to introduction. Like many Dove and Pigeon species they have adapted to multiple habitat types, and can be found both int he wild, and in developed areas.

As you may have guessed, Zebra Doves are named for the black and white stripes that cover their necks. This color pattern helps them to stay camouflaged while they are foraging for seeds and small insects on the ground.

Zebra Doves are kept in captivity, and are said to be calm and quiet. They are actually rare in some of their native range now, due to collection for the pet trade, though they are now also bred on large farms as well. In Thailand, owning one is considered to be good luck.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Southeast Asia
Size : Length up to 9in (23cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Columbiformes
Family : Columbidae -- Genus : Geopelia -- Species : G. striata
Image : DickDaniels

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Death's-head Hawkmoth

Acherontia lachesis
The common name of today's animal actually can be applied to all three species within the genus Acherontia. One of the three lives in Europe and Africa, while the other two call Asia their home. All are very similar in size and appearance, and all actually are able to mimic the scent of bees so that they can enter hives unnoticed to steal honey-- interesting!

Death's-head Hawkmoths get their ominous sounding names from the human skull-like patterns that are found on the thorax. Because of their appearance they have long been associated with evil and death. Their genus name even derives from the name of a river that is said to be a branch of the river Styx. The three species names-- atropos, styx, lachesis-- all relate to the underworld.

Another feature that has given these insects a creepy reputation? They shriek. When threatened they expel air from their pharynx, created a very eerie high pitched squeaking noise.

The Death's-head Hawkmoth has appeared in art and literature, including the novel Dracula and in works by Poe and Dali. It is also the iconic moth found on the poster for the film The Silence of the Lambs, though the skull on that image is actually a derivation of a Salvador Dali work.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Africa, Europe, Asia
Size : Wingspan up to 5in (13cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Lepidoptera
Family : Sphingidae -- Genus : Acherontia
Image : Mosmas

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Cave Hyena

Crocuta crocuta spelaea
Tens of thousands of years ago the Cave Hyena could be found all across Europe and Asia, hunting the massive Pleistocene mammals that live there. A subspecies of the extant Spotted Hyena, the Cave Hyenas were larger (weighed up to 225lbs) and lived far beyond the warm weather confines of the African Continent.

Cave Hyena fossils have been found in abundance, and because these creatures were such prolific hunters, they were responsible for large deposits of herbivore fossils as well. Unsurpsingly, they lived in caves, and sometimes even had to compete for spaces with Neanderthals and early humans. Hyena fossils with tool marks on the bones have been located, and they are also depicted in cave paintings and in sculptures that date back more than 20,000 years.

No one is really 100% sure how and why these predators went extinct. Climate change may have had something to do with it though. The grasslands that they lived in became forests in many areas, and those environments were more suited to hunters like wolves and humans. Hunting by humans may also have played some role, and competition with new predators most certainly had something to do with it as well.

Interestingly, Hyenas might one day return to their old Asian stomping grounds. Out in a Siberia, a nature reserve known as Pleistocene Park is working to restore the tundra to its original grassy steppe condition. They are accomplishing this by reintroducing the large, Pleistocene-like herbivores that lived there thousands of years ago. Now that different herbivores have been thriving, there is talk of bring back carnivores as well. Though the Cave Hyena subspecies is extinct, their close Spotted Hyena relatives are still around, and could one day make the park their home.

Status : Extinct for 11,000 years
Location : Europe, Asia
Size : Weight up to 225lbs (102kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Hyaenidae -- Genus : Crocuta -- Species : C. crocuta -- Subspecies : †C. c. spelaea
Image : Heinz-Wener Weber
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