Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Alaunt

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Hawaiian Squirrelfish

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

Triceratops


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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

Ox Beetle

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Inland Taipan

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sardinian Pika

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Common Gundi

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 18, 2013

Tropical Mockingbird

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 15, 2013

Saxual Sparrow

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Argentine Giant Tegu

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Parasitic Jaeger

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Esmeraldas Woodstar

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 11, 2013

MacFarlane's Bear

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 8, 2013

Eld's Deer

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Obdurodon tharalkooschild

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

New Zealand Grebe

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Toxodon

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 4, 2013

Dark Sword-grass

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 1, 2013

Julia Butterfly

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

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

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

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

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