Monday, April 28, 2014

Four!

For anyone who was counting, yesterday was our birthday-- four years! Four years filled with animals from A to Z, more than 1,100 of them! I can't thank my readers enough, it's been wonderful!

And in celebration of that milestone... I'm taking a break. Hopefully not forever, but for a little bit at least. In the mean time I plan on getting a new layout out, along with some updates to some of the older articles.

I'll post updates here and on the Facebook page, I'm also brainstorming some new animal-related projects, so keep an eye out!

Thanks again for four awesome years!


Friday, April 25, 2014

Bornean Orangutan

The Bornean Orangutan is one of two extant Orangutan species in the world. It is the third largest primate (after Gorillas) and is the largest primarily tree-dwelling animal in the world. Males are substantially larger than females, and average at around 165lbs.

Bornean Orangutans are largely solitary. A handful might live within a small range but they will seldom interact with one another. Males and females only meet up to breed, which happens only once every several years. A young Orangutan will stay with it's mother for about five years, and the females tend to go about eight years between births. That is the longest interim period of any animal!

Sadly, the Bornean Orangutans are in a lot of trouble. They need large forests in order to thrive, and deforestation and habitat degradation has left many homeless. They are also hunted for meat and for traditional medicines. Conservation areas are being established to help these guys in the wild, and it is believed that there are around 50,000 left in the wild.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Indonesia
Size : Weight up to 165lbs (75kg) for males, 85lbs (38kg) for females
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Primates
Family : Hominidae -- Genus : Pongo -- Species : P. pygmaeus
Image :  Nehrams2020

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Indian Star Tortoise

Geochelone elegans
It doesn't require a huge imagination to figure out where the name "Star Tortoise" comes from. These reptiles have carapaces that are predominantly dark with a lighter, starburst-type pattern.

You'll find these fancy Turtles in the drier regions of India, including scrub forests, semi-deserts, and arid grasslands. They are most active during the early morning and late afternoon hours, when they spend time foraging for flowers, grasses, and leaves.

During mating season, which coincides with the rainy season, males will fight one another for mates. During these matches they will shove back and forth and attempt to flip their rival over on to his back. The last one literally standing wins. After mating, the females will dig a hole and lay her eggs-- each season she can produce up to 10 clutches of up to a dozen eggs each. Those eggs can take anywhere from 1.5 to 6 months to hatch (depends on the weather conditions) and the young Tortoises are totally on their own from the start.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : India
Size : Length around 10in (25cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Sauropsida -- Order : Testudines
Family : Testudinidae -- Genus : Geochelone -- Species : G. elegans
Image :  CBurnett

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Le Conte's Thrasher

Toxostoma lecontei
Le Conte's Thrasher is a bird named for John Lawrence Le Conte, an American entomologist. Though he was a renowed Beetle expert, he discovered this particular bird while on a Beetle-finding trip to Arizona. Le Conte ended up collecting many different birds on his Beetle trips, sending them back to the Smithsonian.

But lets learn more about this bird! The Le Conte's Thrasher is a very pale colored bird found in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. It lives in very dry, desert areas that have little vegetation. They live in some of the most desolate parts of North America!

Their habitat is so dry that standing water is only present for a few days a year. Luckily these birds are able to get all the water they need from the insects that they eat. Invertebrates are their main prey, but they will eat fruits and seeds as well when they can find them.

These birds are currently listed as being of Least Concern, though they have become rare in some parts of their range. They need a Desert environment to survive, so areas in their former range that have been irrigated and developed are no longer suitable for them.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North America
Size : Length around 11in (28cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Mimidae -- Genus : Toxostoma -- Species : T. lecontei
Image :  CPNM

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hairy Scorpion

Hadrurus arizonensis
Meet the largest Scorpion in North America-- the Hairy Scorpion. These arachnids can grow over 5in long, and their large size makes them quite the predator within their desert habitat. They feed on smaller invertebrates (including other Scorpions) and will even hunt snakes, lizards, and small vertebrates as well.

Hairy Scorpions are named for the dark brown hairs that cover the backs of their otherwise yellow-ish bodies. Their coloration helps them to blend in with the dry environment that they live in. You'll find these Scorpions in the Mojave and Sonora Deserts.

The large pincers on these arachnids are used for more than just grasping at food. These guys are excellent burrowers, and can dig tunnels that are more than 2m in length. They hang out in them during the daytime, emerging at night to hunt.

Even though they are large in size, the Hairy Scorpions shouldn't frighten you. Their sting is venomous, but tends to be no worse than a beesting for the average person.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : North America
Size : Length around 5.5in (14cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Arachnida -- Order : Scorpiones
Family : Caraboctonidae -- Genus : Hadrurus -- Species : H. arizonensis
Image :  Fritz Geller Grimm

Monday, April 21, 2014

Brown Hyena

Hyaena brunnea
Today's animal is the Brown Hyena, the rarest of the different Hyena species. These interesting carnivores live only in southern Africa, and they make dry desert and semi-desert areas their home.

Brown Hyenas live in small social groups that are led by an alpha pair, very similar to wolves. These packs have a specific hierarchy that is enforced through aggressive and submissive displays. Typically only the dominant female will breed, though not always with the dominant male!

Scavenging is the name of the game with the Brown Hyenas. Their packs will consume animals killed by other predators, and sometimes they will even drive that exact predator off in order to get to the meal. They aren't very good at hunting their own food though, and because they never know when a carcass will be available they often hide extra food to come back to later.

Brown Hyenas are considered Vulnerable because they tend to come within close range of human settlements. Their aggressive behavior causes problems, and many residents attempt to poison or shoot them. They do live within a few protected areas, but they continue to be killed outside of those borders.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Southern Africa
Size : Shoulder height around 30in (76cm), Weight up to 120lbs (54kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Hyaenidae -- Genus : Hyaena -- Species : H. brunnea
Image :  Pistoleros

Friday, April 18, 2014

Australian Pelican

Pelicanus conspicillatus
Despite its name, the Austrlian Pelican is found in more places than Australia. Fiji, New Guinea, and Indonesia are also countires that this bird calls home. Some have even made their way over to New Zealand!

These birds prefer habitats that have a lot of open water. Lakes, reservoirs, lagoons, and rivers are just some of the different bodies of water the Pelicans will live near. But really, any body of water that has enough food to sustain them will do.

Australian Pelicans are large birds, but are medium-size when compared to only other Pelicans. Tehy do, however, have the largest bill in the world-- the longest recorded was 20in long!

The Pelicans use those bills in order collect and store prey. They hunt together, working in groups to drive small fish and aquatic animals to shallower areas. Once that is accomplished they use their bills to snatch up prey. Fish is their primary food source-- but they have been observed killing other waterbirds to. Because they lack sharp claws or a tearing beak, they have to kill them by drowning them.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Australia
Size : Wingspan up to 8.5ft (2.6m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Pelecaniformes
Family : Pelecanidae -- Genus : Pelecanus -- Species : P. conspicillatus
Image :  Quartl

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Banggai Cardinalfish

Pterapogon kauderni
The Banggai Cardinalfish is a small tropical fish that is becoming very rare in the wild, even though it has been successfully bred in captivity.

You will only find these small, 3in long fish around the Banggai Islands of Indonesia. They are the only members of their genus, and you can tell them apart from other Cardinalfish by their three-striped bodies, tasseled first dorsal fin, long second dorsal, and their deep-forked tail fins.

Banggai Cardinalfish are diurnal and live in small groups of about a dozen members. They are opportunistic feeders who dine on whatever smaller plants and animals they can find.

Courtship and mating is pretty interesting for these guys-- females are the ones who initiate. They isolate a male and the pair will perform various courtship rituals before spawning. The Cardinalfish are mouthbrooders, which means that the males take the fertilized eggs (up to 90 of them) into their mouths and incubate them for up to 30 days. During that time they do not feed. The female will stay near the male and defend the territory for the first few days, but she eventually leaves.

Banggai Cardinalfish are very popular in the aquarium industry. They breed in captivity, but more than half a million fish are still captured from the wild each year. The small range and high rate of collection has led the species to an "Endangered" listing.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Indonesia
Size : Length around3in (8cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Perciformes
Family : Apogonidae -- Genus : Pterapogon -- Species : P. kauderni
Image : Jens Petersen

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Black Noddy

Anous minutus
The Black, or White-capped Noddy is a seabird that is found in tropical areas all around the globe. These members of the Tern family are named for the nodding motion that both sexes display during courtship!

The two possible common names both describe this bird pretty well. On one hand, they are almost completely black in coloration. On the other, that black is broken up only by a white cap of feathers on the head. No matter which name you chose, it would still identify Anous minutus.

Black Noddies live pretty close to shore. They hunt for fish and squid during the daytime but return to various coasts and islands at night in order to roost in large colonies. When it comes to breeding, pairs will choose each other thanks to flight displays and the aforementioned nodding dances, and will often form lifelong bonds. Only one egg is laid with each clutch, and depending on the location these birds will produce between 1 and 3 clutches each year. Many pairs will actually reuse the same nest over and over again each season.

The Black Noddy is listed as being of Least Concern, and their worldwide population estimate is between 1 and 1.5 million birds.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Tropics Worldwide
Size : Length around 15in (39cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Charadriiformes
Family : Sternidae -- Genus : Anous -- Species : A. minutus
Image : Sirrob01

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Irrawaddy Dolphin

Orcaella brevirostris
The Irrawaddy Dolphin is a rare species of Dolphin that is found only in the coastal waters near Australia and Southeast Asia. They are sometimes called Irrawaddy River Dolphins, even though they are not true River Dolphins. This is because they often inhabit estuaries and river mouths, and because some sub-populations have even made their homes in freshwater rivers like the Mekong and Irrawaddy.

Unfortunately, many of those sub-populations are not doing too well, and are considered to be Critically Endangered. In the Mekong, for example, there are less than 100 Dolphins. The populations in India and Bangladesh appear to be more stable, and actually account for most of the worldwide count. They are listed as Vulnerable overall because of those groups.

Irrawaddy Dolphins look a bit like small Belugas, though they are actually closer relatives to Killer Whales. They aren't especially large, maxing out around 7ft and 300lbs. They live in very small groups, and are very slow moving, passive Dolphins who feed on a large variety of fish, cephalopods, and other marine invertebrates.

The major threats to the Irrawaddy Dolphins are fishing and habitat degradation. Because they live in rivers and so close to shore they are often accidentally captured by fishing nets. They are also affected by damming and mining run off, and they have also been captured for the performance aquarium industry. They are protected by CITES, but the conservation efforts vary country to country.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Indian and Pacific Ocean
Size : Length up to 7.5ft (2.3m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Cetacea
Family : Delphinidae -- Genus : Orcaella -- Species : O. brevirostris
Image : Stefan Brending

Monday, April 14, 2014

Coral Trout

Plectropomus leopardus
Meet the Coral Trout, also known as the Leopard Coral Grouper. These colorful fish make the western Pacific Ocean their home, and they can be found near the coral reefs that give them their name.

Coral Trout can be identified by their red and yellow bodies and their blue spots that have darker rings around them. They grow to a maximum of 2ft in length.

One amazing fact about these fish is that they are all born as females. No one really knows what triggers a female to male change, but they are usually well over a year old when it happens. The average length at change is around 1.5ft!

The spawning rituals of these fish are also pretty interesting. Males establish territories and they do dancing displays to attract females-- fanning out their fins and shaking from side to side. If a female likes what she sees, the two will spawn around sunset. This practice involves the pair swimming very quickly towards the surface and releasing the eggs and sperm into the water. The fertilized eggs float near the surface, and the larval fish will emerge after only a few days.

IUCN Status : Near Threatened
Location : Pacific Ocean
Size : Length up to 2ft (60cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Perciformes
Family : Serranidae -- Genus : Plectropomus -- Species : P. leopardus
Image :  Leonard Low

Friday, April 11, 2014

Boreal Chorus Frog

Pseudacris maculata
Today's animal is an itty bitty little Frog that is more often heard rather than seen. They are called Boreal Chorus Frogs, and they are one of the first Amphibians to emerge after the winter season, making lots of sounds as they do so!

Boreal Chorus Frogs only grow to about 3cm in length. They are typically brown in color, though some trend towards green. The darkness also varies. They all have dark facial stripes though, one of each side of the head that runs from the nose across the eye.

Boreal Chorus Frogs are found in North America, primarily in the middle-northern parts of the Continent, though they are also found in a few places of the American Southwest. They live in grasses near permanent bodies of water.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North America
Size : Length around 3cm
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Amphibia -- Order : Anura
Family : Hylidae -- Genus : Pseudacris -- Species : P. maculata
Image :  USEMC

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Northern Goshawk

Accipiter gentilis
Today's animal is the Northern Goshawk-- a bird that is found in North America, Europe, and Asia. It also happens to be one of the largest Hawks in North America, and is the largest of its genus in that range.

The Northern Goshawk has a dark back and wings, but an underside of light-colored feathered covered in dark lines. They also have white eye stripes and long tails. The exact chest coloration does vary by location-- some individuals in Siberia are almost completely white!

These raptors are incredibly powerful and persistent predators. They have been observed chasing after prey for close to an hour! They, like many birds of prey, are opportunistic feeders, and will go after rodents, hares, small birds, geese, and even larger mammals like foxes and raccoon!

Spring is the breeding season for these birds, and during that time they will perform undulating flight displays in order to entice a mate. Once mates are chosen the birds often pair for life. 2-4 eggs are laid at a time, and the male will do most of the hunting and feeding while the female incubates. Young Goshawks will hang around in their parents' territory for about a year before reaching sexual maturity and finding and mate and range of their own.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North America, Europe, Asia
Size : Length around 27in (70cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Falconiformes
Family : Accipitridae -- Genus : Accipiter -- Species : A. gentilis
Image :  Doctor Rukinogi

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mule Deer

Odocoileus hemionus
The Mule Deer is a species that has a large range spanning across the western half of North America.They are named for their large, Mule-like ears and can be further identified by their black-tipped tails.

Mule Deer are an incredibly adaptable species. They live in grasslands forests, and even deserts, and are able to consume whatever vegetation is available in those areas in order to satisfy their nutritional needs.

Food supply dictates the movements of these Deer, but so does the rut season. Each fall males will fight each other for the breeding rights of females within a territory. They move from place to place breeding with as many females as they can (and if they do not get pregnant the female will mate with more than one male). At the end of the season the males lose their antlers and begin to grow a new pair that will be ready for battle next rut season.

Female Mule Deer typically give birth to twins, but a new mother may have only one fawn. Fawns are born in spring and will stay with their mothers through summer, leaving when the fall rut begins again.

Mule Deer are very widespread and have a large overall population. They are listed as being of least Concern.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North America
Size : Shoulder height around 40in (1m), Weight between 200-350lbs (90-158kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Cervidae -- Genus : Odocoileus -- Species : O. hemionus
Image :  Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Dusky Grouse

Dendragapus obscurus
Meet the Dusky Grouse, one of the largest Grouses in North America. Fun fact #1? Until recently it was thought to be a subspecies of the Blue Grouse. But the Blue Grouse is actually no more. DNA analysis split it up into two full-fledged species-- the Dusky Grouse and the Sooty Grouse.

These birds can be found in the Rocky Mountains of North America, and their habitat depends on the time of years. During the winter they live near-exclusively in the coniferous forests, but during the summer breeding season they will live in grasslands and low, dry mountain forests.

The Dusky Grouse has a really curious anatomical feature. Most bird species have about 10 tail feathers, and that number is the same bird to bird. The Dusky Grouse has anywhere from 15 to 22 tail feathers-- a huge variance!

Male and female Dusky Grouses are different in appearance. Females are grey-brown ans speckled, while males are darker brown and have a bare purple throat sack ringed with white feathers. They also have an eye-wattle that varies from yellow to red.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Western North America
Size : Length up to 18in (45cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Galliformes
Family : Phasianidae -- Genus : Dendragapus -- Species : D. obscurus
Image :  National Park Service

Monday, April 7, 2014

Greenback Cutthroat Trout

Oncorhynchus clarki stomias
We are bouncing all over the world now-- from India, to Antarctica, and now to the Rocky Mountains of the United States!

Today's animal is a subspecies of fish that is found only in those particular mountains-- the Greenback Cutthroat Trout. These freshwater fish once had a massive range that extended over the Rockies and the American West. Today they are limited to only 1% of that, and are found only in the state of Colorado (where it is the state fish).

The Greenback Cuttroat Trout grows to lengths of around 1.5ft, and weighs up to 10lbs. They have brilliant green and red coloration, complete with spots, and become even more vibrant during spawning.

The reason for the decline of this fish is threefold-- they were over-fished, they dealt with industrialization and toxic runoff from mining, and they had to compete with introduced fish species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been undertaking recovery efforts for the past few decades. Unfortunately, inter-breeding and the persistence of threats have kept these fish to just a 4 mile stretch of the Bear River.

IUCN Status : Not listed, but Endangered by USA Endangered Species Act
Location : North America
Size : Length up to 18in (45cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Salmoniformes
Family : Salmonidae -- Genus : Oncorhynchus -- Species : O. clarki -- Subspecies : O. c. stomias
Image :  Joel Sartore

Friday, April 4, 2014

Wilson's Storm Petrel

Oceanites oceanicus
We finally arrive at our last animal of this Antarctic theme-- a bird that is not confined just to the southernmost continent. Wilson's Storm Petrel is a common bird that is one of the most abundant species in the entire world with a population of over 100 million!

These particular birds breed on Antarctica's coasts during the summertime, and during the rest of the year they travel the seas of the Southern Hemisphere. They can fly thousands of miles in a single year, but they are often difficult to spot because they spend nearly all of that time over open ocean.

Wilson's Storm Petrels are small birds. They only measure about 6-7in in length. In fact, they are the smallest warm-blooded creatures to nest in Antarctica! They are so small that they live a mostly nocturnal lifestyle while nesting. This strategy keeps them safe from the larger birds that will either feed on them or try and steal the food that they capture. Krill, small fish, and various aquatic invertebrates make up the Petrels' diet.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Southern Hemisphere
Size : Length up to 7in (18cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Procellariiformes
Family : Hydrobatidae -- Genus : Oceanites -- Species : O. oceanicus
Image :  Patrick Coin

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Macaroni Penguin

Eudyptes chrysolophus
What would an Antarctica Theme be without a Penguin? Today we have a seriously awesome looking species-- the Macaroni Penguin. What a wonderful hairdo!

Of course, that isn't really hair, just long feathers forming a vibrant crest. But it is that crest that gives the species its common name. Macaroni was an 18th and early 19th century term for a flamboyant fashion style that used excessive amounts of ornamentation. British soldiers traveling in the Falkland Islands (where these guys live, in addition to Antarctica) coined the common name.

Macaroni Penguins are, like most Penguins, very social birds. They forage (almost exclusively for Krill) and nest together, and have developed a large number of communication displays because of the large population size. These birds take on specific poses and mannerisms depending on the situation-- aggression, submission, courtship, etc-- and they also have a large repertoire of cries and brays.

Most Macaroni Penguins are monogamous and stay with the same partner season to season. Weirdly, these birds lay two eggs each season, and the first of which is usually smaller and underdeveloped. It is believed that the parents abandon the first egg once the second, stronger egg is laid.

Macaroni Penguins are listed as Vulnerable even though it is estimated that there are around 18 million birds. Why the designation? Rapid population decline. Groups in certain areas have decreased in number by 50% since the 1970s-- a drop that is very concerning. It is believed that climate changes and a decrease in Krill are to blame.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Antarctica, South America
Size : Length up to 28in (.7m), Weight up to 12lbs (5.5kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Sphenisciformes
Family : Spheniscidae -- Genus : Eudyptes -- Species : E. chrysolophus
Image :  Liam Quinn

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ross Seal

Omnatophoca rossii
The Ross Seal is one of the least studied Seal species native to the pack ice of Antarctica. They are less common overall than the Weddell and Leopard Seals, and because they tend to live alone they have a very low population density.

Ross Seals are also smaller in size than many other their cousins. They rarely grow larger than 2m in length, which is as much as 5ft shorter than the Leopard Seals. They do, however, have incredibly large eyes. In fact, their genus name, Omnatophoca roughly translates to "Eye Seal," because they can grow up to 7cm in diameter!

Another interesting anatomical feature of the Ross Seal is its voice. They can create some really interesting siren-type noises, both on land and underwater. Because these noises carry for long distances, scientists believe that the Seals use them to either locate other Seals, or to warm them away from their territory.

Ross Seals are listed as being of Least Concern, but because they are uncommon and not well studied we don't really know much about their population size or its trends. Estimates suggest anywhere from 100,000-250,000 individuals.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Antarctica
Size : Length up to 6.6ft (2m), Weight up to 450lbs (204kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Phocidae -- Genus : Ommatophoca -- Species : O. rossii
Image :  Dave Buller

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Strap-toothed Whale

Mesoplodon layardii
The Strap-toothed Whale, also known as Layard's Whale, is a little-studied Cetacean found in the cold waters of the Southern Oceans. They have beaked faces and grow to lengths of around 20ft, with the males being slightly smaller than the females. Males also have the curious distinction of having long front teeth that just upwards from their jaw. These teeth can grow to nearly a foot in length, and are probably used for mating and communication purposes, as scarring is common in males.

We don't known much about their reproductive habits, their lifespan, or their social behaviors. They are shy creatures who don't often come near boats, which is one of the reasons why studying them has proven difficult.

Most of what we know about the Strap-toothed Whales comes from their remains. The facial scars on the males lead us to believe that they fight one another, for example. Their stomach contents have also been looked at, which is how we know that Squid is their favorite prey-- over two dozen different deep sea squid species have been identified in their stomachs!

IUCN Status : Data Deficient
Location : Antarctica, Southern Oceans
Size : Length up to 20ft (6m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Cetacea
Family : Ziphidae -- Genus : Mesoplodon -- Species : M. layardii
Image :  Marinebio

Monday, March 31, 2014

Rakery Beaconlamp

Lampanyctus macdonaldi
Previoulsy we learned about a very large fish found in the Antartic Waters. Today, we'll learn what we can about a very small one -- Lampanyctus macdonaldi, also known as the Rakery Beaconlamp.

This deep sea fish can actually be found in the Arctic as well-- it's a creature that really enjoys polar seas. Like most fish in cold waters, these guys are small, maxing out around 6in in length. They feed on creatures that are even smaller still, like tiny shrimp and other crustaceans.

Rakery Beaconlamps undergo small migrations every single day, moving up and down to different depths depending on the time. During the day they travel as far as 1,000m down. During the night they move upwards, hunting between 150 and 250m.

IUCN Status : Not Evaluated
Location : Antarctica
Size : Length up to 6in (16cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Myctophiformes
Family : Myctophidae -- Genus : Lampanyctus -- Species : L. macdonaldi
Image :  SFSA

Friday, March 28, 2014

Antarctic Toothfish

Dissostichus mawsoni
Today's animal is a pretty cool creature-- it is one of the top predators in Antarctica's Ross Sea, dominating over other species of fish that barely reach 1/3 its size!

The Antarctic Toothfish can grow up to 2m long, making it a giant in cold waters where the fish tend to stay half a meter or less. They are also important because they serve as prey to the large Mammals that feed in those waters-- one group of Orcas actually feeds almost exclusively on them!

The life habits of the Antartic Toothfish haven't been extensively studied, but we do know that they can live as long as 50 years, and don't reach maturity until 16 or 17. Scientists believe that they migrate in order to breed, but that hypothesis hasn't been confirmed because no eggs have ever been found!

Another weird fact is that these fish are able to produce proteins in their body that act like anti-freeze. Those proteins are incredibly efficient at keeping the Toothfish's blood from crystallizing!

IUCN Status : Not Evaluated
Location : Antarctica
Size : Length up to 6.6ft (2m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Perciformes
Family : Nototheniidae -- Genus : Dissostichus -- Species : D. mawsoni
Image :  Last Ocean

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Snowy Sheathbill

Chionis albus
Meet the Snowy Sheathbill-- the only bird species in Antarctica that is primarily land dwelling and widespread. They are endemic to the continent and the nearby southern Islands, though very rare vagrants sometimes make it to South America and Africa.

Snowy Sheathbills are named for their cone-shaped bills that have a sheath made of a horn-like keratin covering their nostrils. They also have small, fleshy wattles, naked skin around the eyes, and bodies covered in white feathers.

These birds are scavengers, and will eat anything they can find. They live near the coasts, and seals are one of their favorite food sources-- they will pick as seal scabs and dried blood, eat placenta and umbilical chords, and will even eat seal feces. Yum.... The Sheathbills eat insects and seaweed as well.

Snowy Sheathbills have a large population and are widespread. They don't have any major conservation threats at present, and are listed as being of Least Concern.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Antarctica
Size : Length up to 16in (40cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Charadriiformes
Family : Chionididae -- Genus : Chionis -- Species : C. albus
Image :  David M. Jensen

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Belgica antarctica

Belgica antarctica
Did you know that insects do live on Antarctica? You may have assumed that the cold weather would scare the tiny invertebrates away from the continent, but you would've assumed wrong! Today's animal is one of a handful of little Arthropods that make our southernmost landmass home year round.

Belgica antarctica has the important distinction of being the largest terrestrial-only inhabitant of Antarctica-- at a whopping 6mm in length! These insects have some seriously amazing adaptations that allow them to survive in the hard environment-- they can go without oxygen for several weeks, they can survive their bodily fluids freezing, and they are able to produce specific compounds that keep that freezing to a minimum.

Warm temperatures are actually harmful to B. antarctica. They need to stay close to freezing in order to thrive. If it gets too cold though, they are in trouble. Luckily, they spend nearly all of their time just under the surface of the snow, which keeps the heat to within a few degrees of freezing.

Belgica antarctica can live up to 2 years, and spends most of that time in four different larval stages. As adults their lifespan in very short-- only around 10 days. They live just long enough to mate and lay eggs before dying.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Antarctica
Size : Length up to 6mm
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Diptera
Family : Chironomidae -- Genus : Belgica -- Species : B. antarctica
Image :  Richard Lee

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Weddell Seal

Leptonychotes weddellii
For the last week or so we've been learning about animals that live in mountain rainforests. This week let's totally mix it up and move to a completely different ecosystem and location entirely-- Antarctica.Our southernmost continent doesn't harbor a ton of year-round terrestrial life, but it is the migratory home of several different birds, and it is surrounded by waters that are teeming with life of all types.

The Weddell Seal is one of those marine animals that makes Antarctica its home. These large, docile mammals live further south than any other Seal, and they tend to stick close to home-- most never move more than a few miles from where they were born.

Weddell Seals take advantage of the rich waters surrounding Antarctica. They hunt Cod, Silverfish, Octopus, Crab, and many other sea creatures. While searching for food they can dive as far as 2,000ft, and stay under for 45 minutes. An adult Weddell Seals eats anywhere from 20-110lbs of food every day!

You'd think a 10ft, 1,000lb mammal would be near the top of the food chain-- but Weddell Seals have predators of their own! Orcas and Leopard Seals love to track them down, so they have to be careful while fishing and especially while raising their young. Little Weddell Seals grow fast-- they can swim at 2 weeks -- but they aren't weaned or able to hunt on their own for another month after that.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Antarctica
Size : Length up to 10ft (3m), Weight around 1,100 lbs (500kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Phocidae -- Genus : Leptonychotes -- Species : L. weddellii
Image :  NOAA

Monday, March 24, 2014

Sun Catfish


Horabagrus brachysoma
Finally we get to our last animal of the Western Ghats series (for now...), the Sun Catfish. It goes by a whole mess of other names-- Guther's Catfish, Yellow Catfish, Bullseye Catfish, etc. Thankfully we have scientific names to sort out the confusion!

Sun Catfish make their homes in the high-vegetation-filled, slow-moving rivers and streams pf western India. Because they live in waters of varying depths and salinity levels, they aren't especially picky when it comes to diet. These adaptable fish will eat anything and everything they can swallow, and since they can grow up to 18in in length that gives them lots of options!

Sun Catfish have been captured for the pet trade, and for food. They are currently listed as "Vulnerable" due to over-exploitation and because of habitat degradation in the nearby areas.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : India
Size : Length up to 18in (45cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Siluriformes
Family : Horabagridae -- Genus : Horabagrus -- Species : H. brachysoma
Image :  N. Hepworth

Friday, March 21, 2014

Indrella ampulla

Indrella ampulla
Today we meet yet another creature endemic to the Western Ghats-- Indrella ampulla.

It is the only species within its genus, but it comes in all sorts of different colors and varieties. Yellow is a very common body color, but it can be bright red, black and white as well. The shell is dark in color, normally contains three whorls, and typically meaures no more than 2in in diameter.

Indrella ampulla lives in mountainous rainforests. There, they feed on different Fungi varieties, using their radula that contain more than 100 rows of tiny teeth!

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : India
Size : Shell width up to 2in (6cm)
Classification : Phylum : Mollusca -- Class : Gastropoda
Family : Ariophantidae -- Genus : Indrella -- Species : I. ampulla
Image :  NHM

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Denison's Barb

Sahyadria denisonii
Finally we move to a cold-blooded inhabitant of the Western Ghats-- the Denison's Barb. This small fish makes it home in the fast moving rivers and streams of that particular range.

Like the other creatures this week, the Denison's Bard is Endangered. Unlike those animals, it's number one threat isn't habitat loss. Primary issue for the Barb? Overfishing for the Aquarium Trade. While these animals are becoming rare in the wild, they are growing in popularity in captivity. Which is really unfortunately, because they don't breed well in captivity, which means even more are taken from the wild as a result.

Denison's Barbs grow to around 6in in length, are can be identified by the lateral black and red lines on their bodies. They live in small schools, and forage for just about anything they can find. Algae, Crustaceans, Insects, and plant detritus are all commonly consumed.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : India
Size : Body Length around 6in (15cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Cypriniformes
Family : Cyprinidae -- Genus : Sahyadria -- Species : S. denisonii
Image :  Stan Shebs

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Malabar Large-spotted Civet

Viverra civettina
The Malabar Large-spotted Civet is yet another creature endemic to the Western Ghats of India. It is also the rarest of the ones we have learned about so far.

It is estimated that there are less than 250 of these guys left alive, and because the population is fragmented, no single group numbers more than 50. Worse still is that the decline is ongoing, which means the population could be extinct very soon. They were actually thought to be extinct until the early 1990s, when a few were spotted in the wild again. But in the last 20 years sightings have been very few and far between.

Unsurprisingly, we know very little about these Mammals. Their biology and behavior has not been extensively studied. What we do know is that they live a nocturnal lifestyle, and prefer lowland forests in their range.

In the past, the Civets were hunted for their oil, and to keep them away from chickens and other domesticated poultry. Today habitat loss and a fragmented population are their biggest worries. Sadly, they do not live in any protected areas, and unless an urgent conservation plan is put into place they could be gone forever.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : India
Size : Body Length around 13in (33cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Viverridae -- Genus : Viverra -- Species : V. civettina
Image :  Kerala Tourism

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Black-chinned Laughingthrush

Continuing with our "Animals of the Western Ghats" theme-- today we have the Black-Chinned Laughingthrush, an Endanered bird that lives above elevations of 4,000ft.

This bird has a a confusing taxonomic past, and you will sometimes see it referred to as the Nilgiri or Rufus-Breasted Laughingthrush. It has also gone through 3 different genera before ending up in Trochalopteron!

Today, we know it as T. cachinnans, though it does have a few different subspecies. You can tell those apart based on their coloration and location. Different subspecies have varying amounts of grey and red on their breasts.

All of the subspecies exhibit similar behavior. They live at higher elevations hear forest edges. They forage for berries and insects either alone or in small groups. And they nest between February and June, building nests in low bushes near the ground. Two blue eggs are laid at a time, and the chicks are fully fledged after 3 weeks. Interestingly, the parents will completely deconstruct the nest after fledging!

Like the other animals we've been learning about this week, the Black-chinned Laughingthrush is in trouble due to habitat loss. They also have a small, fragmented range that does their population size no favors.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : India
Size : Length up to 10in (24cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Leiothrichidae -- Genus : Trochalopteron -- Species : T. cachinnans
Image :  Lee's Birdwatching

Monday, March 17, 2014

Nilgiri Wood Pigeon

Columba elphinstonii
Like our previous entry, the Lion-tailed Macaque, the Nilgiri Wood Pigeon is also an animal found only in the western Ghats of India. It is also, unsurprisingly, a rare and Vulnerable creature.

Nilgiri Wood Pigeons are best identified by the black and white checkerboard pattern that appears on the back of their neck. Aside from that pattern they are brown and grey, with a purple sheen that is more prominent on the males.

These Pigeons are most active during the daytime, and are most commonly seen alone or in pairs. They feed on fruits and seeds, but are not averse to snacking on the occasional insect or snail!

In the past these birds where hunted for sport, which led to a population decline. Today their major nemesis is habitat destruction. These birds rely on forests to live, and those forests are being chopped down for agriculture and human settlement.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : India
Size : Length up to 16in (42cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Columbiformes
Family : Columbidae -- Genus : Columba -- Species : C. elphinstonii
Image :  N. Kishor

Friday, March 14, 2014

Lion-tailed Macaque

Macaca silenus
The Lion-tailed Macaque is a Monkey found only in the western Ghat Mountains of India. The inhabit the moist evergreen forests of that range, and live in groups of between 10 and 20 members.

The Macaques are diurnal, and spend most of their time up in the trees. They travel all day, foraging as they go and stuffing food (Fruits, seeds, and small animal) into their cheeks for storage. When they reach a nightly resting point, they rub their cheeks to get the stored food out.

Lion-tailed Macaques get their name from their long tails that sport lion-like tufts at the end. They also have grey manes that contrast with their dark black-furred bodies. The dark coloration makes it difficult to see them up in the trees.

Sadly, these Monkeys are Endangered. They are found only in one specific part of India, and human settlements have been taking over their precious home range. They have also been captured for the pet trade, and for use in traditional medicines.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : India
Size : Length up to 2ft (62cm), Weight up to 22lbs (10kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Primates
Family : Cercopithecidae -- Genus : Macaca -- Species : M. silenus
Image :  N.A. Naseer

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Rhinoceros Auklet

Cerorhinca monocerata
Meet the Rhinoceros Auklet, a seabird that is a close relative to the more well-known Puffins. Like Puffins, they live in cold arctic areas-- specifically the northern Pacific Ocean.

One curious feature of these birds is the horn on their beaks. Both males and females have it, but no one really knows what its purpose is! Decoration? Protection? Attracting a mate? Either way, it has given them their Rhinoceros name!

Another cool fact about these birds is that they can dive down quite far in search of food. Dives of 150-180 feet have been observed! They catch fish, krill, and squid, but always wait until nightfall to take food back to their nests. The reason for this is that other, larger seabirds will try and steal their prey. Flying home with food at night helps them keep more of their hard-earned food.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North Pacific
Size : Length up to 11in (27cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Charadriiformes
Family : Alcidae -- Genus : Cerorhinca -- Species : C. monocerata
Image :  Tokumi

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Maltese


The Maltese is a dog breed with ancient and confusing origins. It was bestowed that name "Maltese" during the 19th century, but it actually dates back much farther-- possibly to Greek and Roman times!

Maltese Dogs have always been small. Today they weigh less than 10lbs and stand less than a foot tall. It is believed that their small size came from either Spitz breeds that were bred to be tinier than normal, or from Tibetan Terriers. Either way, by around 500BC there were depictions of Maltese-looking dogs in northern Italy. These dogs were mentioned by writers like Pliny and Strabo, and were said to come from a Mediterranean Island (of which Malta is one).

By the 1800s these dogs were very popular with the upper class, though years of crossing with other breeds led to nearly a dozen different varieties. An official breed club was established, and they were recognized by the AKC in 1888. Official standards came along with the formal recognition, and today all Maltese Dogs are white furred (in the past other colors, and even mixed color dogs were seen).

The Maltese has always been a companion breed, ever since its creation thousands of years ago. They are lively and playful, and do well in small home and apartments. They also do not posses an undercoat, and shed very little. For this reason they are popular with dog owners who suffer from allergies.

Status : Domesticated
Location : Central Europe
Size : Height up to 12in (30cm), Weight up to 10lbs (4.5kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Canidae -- Genus : Canis -- Species : C. lupus -- Subspecies : C. l. familiaris
Image : SheltieBoy

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sumatran Striped Rabbit

Nesolagus netscheri
Today we'll be learning about another animal that is found in only a very tiny range-- the Sumatran Striped Rabbit. These Lagomorphs are endemic to the mountain rainforests of Sumatras Barisan Range.

Sumatran Striped Rabbits are actually one of the few Rabbit species to live in rainforest environments, and they also have the distinction of being one of the rarest Rabbits in the world.

Because of their remote, dense habitat and their nocturnal behavior they are rarely ever seen, and haven't been well studied. In fact, they were not seen at all between 1972 and 2000, and have only been reported 3 times since!

There are about half a dozen museum specimens around the world, but most were collected over 100 years ago, before many of the current conservation threats ramped up. Their rarity makes their "Vulnerable" listing unsurprising, and they continue to be in trouble due to habitat loss.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Sumatra, Indonesia
Size : Length up to 16in (40cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Lagomorpha
Family : Leporidae -- Genus : Nesolagus -- Species : N. netscheri  
Image : Tios

Monday, March 10, 2014

Long-whiskered Owlet

Xenoglaux loweryi
The Long-whiskered Owlet is a tiny little bird of prey that is found only in the Cloud Forests of a very small section of Peru. It is estimated that there are as few as 250 remaining in the wild, giving the bird an "Endangered" status.

Long-whiskered Owlets are some of the smallest Owls in the world-- they are only about 4-6 inches in total body length, and weigh less than 2 ounces! They are best identified by their long facial feathers that jut outwards, giving them the name-sake whiskered look.

Not much is known about these birds habits and behaviors. They have only been known to science since 1976, and captured a handful of times. Needless to say, they have not been well studied. Their tiny, remote range and small size make them especially difficult to track down, and it actually made news when one was spotted back in 2007.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : South America
Size : Length up to 6in (15cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Strigiformes
Family : Strigidae -- Genus : Xenoglaux -- Species : X. loweryi
Image : Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Friday, March 7, 2014

Ankole-Watusi

Today's animal has some pretty amazing headgear-- just look at it! The Ankole-Watusi breed of Cattle is known for it's massive horns that can grow more than 8ft from tip to tip. Those horns are used both for defense, and for helping to keep the animal cool in the warm climate it originates from.

This particular breed originated in Africa, and pictures of its ancestors (Sanga Cattle) go back to the days of the Pyramids. The reason for the hyphenated name is because groups in Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi have different names for the same animal. Hyphenating was the easiest naming option!

Traditionally, Ankole-Watusi cattle were used mostly for their milk. That is because in many places they held more value to their owners alive than dead. Today, there is a registry for the breed in the United Sates, and its purpose is being expanded on. The Registry hopes to promote this breed, and to keep it from extinction.

IUCN Status : Domesticated
Location : Africa
Size : Weight around 1,200lbs (540kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Bos -- Species : B. primigenius
Image : Beckstei

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Rhim Gazelle

Gazella leptoceros
Rhim Gazelles are also known as Slender-horned Gazelle, because of the two thin horns that both males and females posses. In males, these horns can reach around 16in in length, while females top out around 1ft.

Rhim Gazelles are also the palest of the different Gazelle species. They have light colored backs, a thin band of darker brown, and pale undersides. Their coloration helps them to blend in with their Sahara Desert surroundings, where they live a nomadic lifestyle in search for food.

This species was once abundant through their African range, but now it is estimated that only a few thousand remain in the wild, with less than 200 in captivity worldwide. They are most abundant in the countries of the northern Sahara, but their population is on the decline due to habitat loss, warfare, and hunting.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Sahara Desert
Size : Shoulder height up to 2ft (64cm), Weight up to 66lbs (30kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Gazella -- Species : G. leptoceros
Image : TheOnlineZoo

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Craspedacusta sowerbii

Craspedacusta sowerbii
Did you know that there are Jellyfish that don't live in the ocean? Now you do!

Today's species is Craspedacusta sowerbii, and it is found in calm freshwater bodies of water, like lakes, reservoirs, and slow moving rivers and streams.

These Jellyfish have actually have a distribution that spans the entire globe. They have been located on nearly every continent (sorry Antarctica) and in almost every single U.S. State. However, you won't see them constantly-- they pop up randomly, sometimes in bodies of water where they have never been seen before!

Craspedacusta sowerbii is able to move from place to place because during colder months their polyps contract and become podocysts. These Podocysts attach to other plants and animals that carry the Jellyfish to new places. And because they reproduce asexually, they are able to massively expand their populations very quickly.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : North and South America, Asia, Europe, Africa
Size : Diameter around 1in
Classification : Phylum : Cnidaria -- Class : Hydrozoa -- Order : Limnomedusae
Family : Olindiidae -- Genus : Craspedacusta -- Species : C. sowerbii
Image : Microscopy-UK

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Accipiter striatus
The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawks in all of North America, and one of the smallest in the entire world. Their bodies measure between 9 and 13 inches, and their short wings give them a span that tops out at only 22in! As with most birds of prey, the females are larger than the males-- in this case up to 1.3 larger!

These little birds of prey are found primarily in North and Central America, though some make their way down to South America as well. Many are year-round residents, while others migrate between the north and south. They are found primarily in forested areas.

The prey of a Sharp-shinned Hawk depends on the size of the Hawk itself. A 4in difference in body length is a pretty big deal! Songbirds make up most of their diet, but larger Hawks will go after Quails, Pigeons, and even small Falcons!

One particularly interesting fact about these birds is that they will continue to feed their offspring for quite a while after they have fledged. At first they bring the food to the nest, but eventually they feed their children while flying, passing the prey to them in mid-air.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : North, Central, and South America
Size : Length around 1ft (30cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Accipitriformes
Family : Accipitridae -- Genus : Accipiter -- Species : A. striatus
Image : NPS Photo

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sumatran Rhinoceros


Today let's learn about the Sumatran Rhinoceros, a very unusual mammal that is also in grave danger of extinction.

Sumatran Rhinos are the smallest Rhino species. They are also the only Rhinos to be covered in bristly hairs from head to toe. The hair helps them out in their muggy, insect-filled rainforest habitats-- mud sticks to the hair, and the caked on dirt keeps bug bites away!

Dicerorhinus sumatrensis
Sumatran Rhinos also have very small horns, especially when compared to those of their African cousins. Sadly, the small size is not enough to keep poachers away-- these Rhinos have been ruthlessly hunted to the point of near extinction.

Today, there are less than 400 Sumatran Rhinos in the entire world, including thsoe kept in captivity. They don't breed well in captivity either, which makes repopulating the species an uphill climb. A calf born at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2001 was the first captive birth in 100 years!

Poaching isn't the only threat to the species. Habitat loss has also played a massive role. The Sumatran Rhinos are very secretive and solitary animals, and the dense forests of Southeast Asia have been disappearing due to human encroachment and agriculture. Once upon a time you could find these guys in Thailand, India, Cambodia, and parts of China. Today they are restricted to a few fragmented groups on Borneo, Sumatra, and on the tip of the Malay Penninsula.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Southeast Asia
Size : Height up to 4.5ft (1.4m), Weight up to 1,800lbs (800kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Perissodactyla
Family : Rhinocerotidae -- Genus : Dicerorhinus -- Species : D. sumatrensis
Image : 26Isabella, Ltshears

Friday, February 28, 2014

Machairodus

The genus Machairodus is a little fuzzy on the species that it actually contains. Because the fossil record is incomplete, different extinct big cat species have been moved both in, and out of the genus. It also doesn't help that some of the species have been reclassified, combined, or moved to subspecies status... but such is the finicky nature of fossils!

At any rate, Machairodus refers to a group of very large cats, all of whom lived in North America between about 11 million, and 120,000 years ago.

These cats were of the "saber-toothed" variety, possessing long, thin, knife-like canine teeth. Those teeth, combined with their short legs, meant that they probably hunted by ambushing prey, rather than by chasing it down. Machairodus species are often draft with spots or stripes, since that coat pattern would've served them well as camouflage during their ambush hunts.

Status : Extinct, lived 11.6 million to 124,000 years ago
Location : North America
Size : Length up to 8ft (2.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Felidae -- Genus : †Machairodus
Image : Carnivora

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Florida Sand Skink

Neoseps reynoldsi
If you're just looking at a picture, you might think that a Florida Sand Skink is a snake-- no legs after all! But (as the Skink name states), this is in fact a lizard, one with very tiny, nearly absent legs!

There actually are itty-bitty legs on these guys, and they only have one or two toes on each. The Sand Skinks have bodies that are well adapted to moving in the loose sands and soils that they call home-- including wedge-shaped heads and powerful muscles that allow them to move like in a wavy motion.

Florida Sand Skinks are found only in the state of Florida. They live in very specific habitats that contain loose substrate and not too much moisture. They hunt small underground invertebrates.

Sadly, these Reptiles are Vulnerable, and that is due to habitat loss and fragmentation.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Florida, USA
Size : Length up to 5in (13cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Scincidae -- Genus : Neoseps -- Species : N. reynoldsi
Image : Steve Johnson

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Blotched Upside-down Catfish

Synodontis nigriventis
Meet a curious little fish that hails from the Congo River in Africa-- the Blotched Upside-down Catfish.

As the name and picture illustrate, these Catfish actually do spend most of their time swimming upside down. Crazy, huh? Their coloration actually reflects their preferred bodily orientation. Unlike other fish who are dark on the top and paler on the bottom (to beldn with predators who would be looking up or down at them), these guys have pales backs and dark bellies!

Why do they swim like this? For hunting reasons. By looking up at prey they can surprise it easier, catching it quickly from below. They feed on small insects and crustaceans.

Interestingly, the Catfish aren't born swimming upside down-- they don't really invert until they are around 2 months old. Overall they don't get particularly large as they age. 3-4 inches is their maximum size.

Blotched Upside-down Catfish can be kept as pets, and do best in small groups of 3 or 4.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Congo River Basin
Size : Length up to 4in (12cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Siluriformes
Family : Mochokidae -- Genus : Synodontis -- Species : S. nigriventis
Image : SeriouslyFish

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Central American Snapping Turtle

Chelydra rossignonii
Until recently (about 1996), everyone thought that the Central American Snapping Turtle, and its cousin the South American Snapping Turtle were just subspecies of the more widespread and well-known Common Snapping Turtle. But they are different species entirely! (Albeit of the same genus).

As you can probably guess, this particular Turtle lives in the countries of Central America, inhabiting slow moving bodies of water.

These Snappers are solitary animals, and they are nocturnal, which means much is still unknown about their specific behaviors and biology. They are omnivores though, and they feed on different fish, insects, and plant matter. They actually have little barbels around their mouth that they use to lure in prey... and then quickly snap it up.

Central American Snapping Turtles are listed as Vulnerable due to hunting and habitat loss. Theya re now protected in parts of their range, but enforcement is spotty.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Central America
Size : Carapace length around 14in (36cm), Weight around 26lbs (12kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Testudines
Family : Chelydridae -- Genus : Chelydra -- Species : C. rossignonii
Image : Leo7

Monday, February 24, 2014

Socorro Dove

The Socorro Dove has not been seen in the wild for more than 40 years. It was last spotted on Socorro Island, its only known range, back in 1972.

Socorro Dove's are Extinct in the Wild, and there are between 100 and 200 birds living in captivity. Conservationists would like to get the birds reintroduced to their former habitat, a small island off the coast of Mexico, but there are challenges in the way.

The birds have been bred in captivity, thankfully, but their former home is not suitable for reintroduction yet. The birds went extinct due to the introduction of livestock (that overgrazed the bushes that the birds lived in) and feral cats, who hunted the mostly ground-dwelling Doves ruthlessly.

In order for the Doves to return home, feral cats would need to be eradicated from the island. Removal of cats from small islands has been done before (like in the offshore islands of New Zealand where Kakapo are now struggling to make a comeback), but it is very time consuming.

IUCN Status : Extinct in the Wild
Location : Mexico
Size : Length up to 13in (33cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Columbiformes
Family : Columbidae -- Genus : Zenaida -- Species : Z. graysoni
Image : Rob Edwards
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