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

Friday, February 21, 2014

Snowberry Clearwing

Hemaris diffinis
The Snowberry Clearwing is a species that belongs to a group collectively known as "Hummingbird Moths."

You can identify this particular species by it's furry yellow and black banded body that can be anywhere from 1-2 inches in length. They also have wings that appear to be clear, due to a lack of scales (hence the common name).

Snowberry Clearwings live in most of the United States, and in parts of western Canada. As pupae they feed plants like Snowberry and Honeysuckle. As adults they drink nectar, hovering in place like a Hummingbird. They are most commonly seen during the daytime hours.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : North America
Size : Length up to 2in (6cm)
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Insecta -- Order : Lepidoptera
Family : Sphingidae -- Genus : Hemaris -- Species : H. diffinis
Image : Lonniehuffman

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Friesian

The Friesian is a breed of horse that originated in the Friesland province of the northern Netherlands. Their ancestors were war horses that could carry men in full suits of armor, but as the centuries went by and the need for heavy armor went away, they lightened in weight and took on uses in agriculture and harness work.

They nearly went extinct a handful of times, as the needs of the people dictated the types of horses needed. This meant that Friesians were crossbred with other breeds, diminishing the pure-blooded genepool. In 1913 an official registry was founded to promote and continue the bloodline, and today all Friesians can trace their ancestry back to a single foundation sire who was born in 1885.

Today, the Friesian is an interesting step between a heavy draft horse and a light riding horse. They are powerful horses, but are remarkably agile and swift on their feet. They are becoming popular in Dressage due to their exceptional movement and easy to train demeanor. Friesians are also incredibly popular in the film industry. Seen a large black horse in a movie recently? It was probably a Friesian!

Friesians stand anywhere from 15 to 17 hands at the shoulder. They should be totally black in color-- only a very small white forehead marking is permitted. Sometimes they are seen in brown, but it is a penalized color in competitions. They have thick, long, wavy manes and tails, and "feathers" at their hooves.

Status : Domesticated
Location : Originated in the Netherlands
Size : Height up to 17 hands (1.7m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Perissodactyla
Family : Equidae -- Genus : Equus -- Species : E. ferus -- Subspecies : E. f. caballus
Image : Daisyree Bakker, Just Chaos

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Marble Trout

Salmo marmoratus
Meet the Marble Trout, a freshwater fish that has distinct coloration pattern and a very limited range.

The name "Marble Trout" comes (obviously) from its scales, which have a marbled pattern to them. Their specific habitat affects the darkness and the exact coloring. Aside from color, the Marble Trout can be identified by their skinny, cylindrical bodies and their 1-2ft size at maturity.

Marble Trout are found only in a handful of rivers and basins in the world. Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro are the only nations that they are currently found in. They live only in freshwater, and feed on smaller fish and aquatic invertebrates.

Despite their small range, the Marble Trout are considered to be of Least Concern. Though damming and habitat loss have made them rare (and possibly extinct) in some localized areas, there are enough of them, and they breed fast enough, that they aren't in major imminent danger as a species.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Europe
Size : Length up to 2ft (65cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Salmoniformes
Family : Salmonidae -- Genus : Salmo -- Species : S. marmoratus
Image : Jaz pa Pojdem

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Black-footed Cat

Felis nigripes
Today's animal may look like a normal house cat, but it is actually a wild animal that you want no where near your sofa! Black-footed Cats are some of the smallest wild cats in the world and are close relatives to our domesticated pets.

As adults, Black-footed Cats rarely weigh in at more than 5lbs. They have spotted bodies, and feet that are black on their toes and pads, hence the name.

The species is hard to come by in the wild. They are not only small, they are solitary and nocturnal as well. The Cats hide out in dense grasses during the daytime hours, and are very skittish when other creatures come near.

As with all cats, the Black-footeds are carnivores. They eat mostly rodents and small birds, and will consume up to 1/6 of their body weight every single night.

Black-footed Cats are considered Vulnerable, due to habitat loss and the use of pesticides that make their way up the food chain. They are one of the lesser studied cat species in the wild, but there are about 700 kept in Zoos worldwide. They have been successfully bred in captivity, though not many times.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Africa
Size : Length up to 17in (43cm), Weight up to 4.5lbs (2kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Felidae -- Genus : Felis -- Species : F. nigripes
Image : Patrick Apfeld

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pteranodon

Pteranodon longiceps
There have been dozens of different Pterosaurs discovered, and today's animal is one of the best well known. In fact, it is the "type species" for the genus. This means that when you hear the term "Pteranodon," it refers to not just the genus that contains several difficult species, but also to a single specific species -- Pteranodon longiceps.

This large flying Reptile (Pterasaurs are not Dinosaurs) lived between 85 and 75 million years ago, and its fossils have been found in both Europe and North America. It was first discovered in Kansas back in 1876 by Othniel Charles Marsh, and many hundreds of fossils have since been found at and around that Kansas site.

Pteranodon had a massive wingspan-- most fossils show a spread of 20ft or more! Like modern birds, Pteranodon had hollow bones that made them light enough to fly. Interestingly, Pteranodon may have had fur!

Pteranodons were Carnivores, even though their beak mouths were missing teeth. Of course, the lack of teeth doesn't stop modern birds, so why would a 75 million year old Reptile be any different? Pteranodons captured sea creatures that swam near the surface of the water, and may have swallowed them whole.

Status : Extinct, lived 85-75 million years ago
Location : Europe, North America
Size : Wingspan up to 20ft (6m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Order : †Pterosauria -- Family : †Pteranodontidae
Genus : †Pteranodon -- Species :  P. longiceps
Image : Heinrich Harder, Andre Engels

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Common Duiker

Sylvicapra grimmia
The Common Duiker is a species of antelope native to Africa. They are sometimes also referred to as Grey Duikers because of their grey-brown coats.

Common Duikers are small, standing less than 2ft tall at the shoulder. They are found in most of southern Africa, preferring grassland habitats.

Socially, these antelope typically live alone, though sometimes they travel in pairs. Males are very territorial, and will attack any other male who comes within his land tract. Breeding

Common Duikers are nocturnal, doing most of their feeding between the dusk and dawn hours, and then resting in tall grasses during the day. They consume different seeds, grasses, leaves, and fruits. Amazingly, they will occasionally eat other animals as well! Insects, frogs, and even small birds and mammals have been eaten by Duikers!

The name "Common Duiker" really does suit them, as they are one of the most successful members of the Bovidae family in Africa. They have a huge range and a large population size.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Africa
Size : Height up to 20in (50cm), Weight up to 55lbs (25kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae -- Genus : Sylvicapra -- Species : S. grimmia
Image : Ton Rulkins

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Chinese Mitten Crab

Eriocheir sinensis
Today we're going to learn about the Chinese Mitten Crab-- a Crustacean named for its large, furry front claws.

You may not think too much about the environmental impacts this crab, whose body is about the size of a fist, but they are actually a very troublesome invasive species! Chinese Mitten Crabs are native to eastern Asia, but they have now spread to Europe and North America as well.

Chinese Mitten Crabs are troublesome because they make large migrations, displacing native species at every step of the journey. They breed in the oceans, grow up in freshwater rives, and hatch in estuaries. Due to their movements they can even be found hundreds of miles from the sea! In all of those different habitats the Crabs compete with native species for food and burrows. They also damage fishing nets, and have caused that industry to lose great amounts of money.

Not everyone is frustrated with the Chinese Mitten Crabs though-- they are a delicacy in parts of China and some can sell for over $100 a kilogram!

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Native to Asia
Size : Carapace up to 4in (10cm) in diameter
Classification : Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Malacostraca -- Order : Decapoda
Family : Varunidae -- Genus : Eriocheir -- Species : E. sinensis
Image : NHM

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Four-clawed Gecko

The Four-clawed Gecko is a creature of many names. Gehyra mutilata also goes by the Stump-toed Gecko, the Pacific Gecko, and the Sugar Lizard. It has several monikers because it lives in several different countries-- its range extends across Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The "Four-clawed" and "Stump-toed" names refer to the feet on these small Reptiles. They have stubby toes, four on each foot. As for the rest of their anatomy, they have a body length of up to 5in, with a tail that grows another 3-4. Their skin tends to be a brownish-greyish-reddish color, and typically covered with darker spots.

Four-clawed Geckos are very adaptable creatures, and are found in a variety of habitats-- including human dwellings. They are even considered invasive in some places due to how well they get by.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Southeast Asia, Pacific Islands
Size : Body Length up to 5in (12cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Gekkonidae -- Genus : Gehyra -- Species : G. mutilata
Image : Ecology Asia

Monday, February 10, 2014

Bulwer's Petrel

Bulweria bulwerii
For a Petrel, the Bulwer's Petrel is relatively small. Its entire body length does not normally get larger than 10in (compared to some of their cousins that can be more than double or triple that!).

Just like those cousins, the Bulwer's Petrel is a seabird that spends huge portions of its time living flying across the open sea. They have large wingspans compared to their body length (up to 3ft!) that allow them to soar long distances without using large amounts of energy. They feed on very small creatures that live at the ocean's surface, snatching them while in flight.

The Bulwer's Petrels do come ashore in order to breed, and their nesting sites are typically in the small islands chains of the Atlantic Ocean, though some populations make it to the Pacific as well. They breed in large colonies before dispersing again to fly across the oceans.

IUCN Status : Least Concern
Location : Atlantic Islands
Size : Length up to 10ft (25cm), Wingspan up to 3ft (.9m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Procellariiformes
Family : Procellariidae -- Genus : Bulweria -- Species : B. bulwerii
Image : Peiwen Chang

Friday, February 7, 2014

Raso Lark

Today's animal is named for the tiny island that it lives on-- Raso Islet in the Cape Verde chain. When I say tiny, I really mean tiny-- it is only 7 square kilometers!

No humans live on Raso, which is good for the few animals that reside there, as most are very, very endangered. Raso is the only home of the Raso Lark, which is itself critically endangered.

The Raso Lark has not been studied extensively-- there are very few of them and they live in a rather remote area. It is estimated that the population numbers around 150 individuals, but that the male to female ratio is quite off (about 2 males for every female). Reproduction is especially tough due to some of the Lark's neighbors. The island is home to the also-rare Cape Verde Giant Gecko, which loves to feed on eggs.

Raso Larks have irregular breeding seasons which are tied to the availability of food and water. Raso Islet is a volcanic island that is very dry and has little vegetation. Food and water can quickly become scarce. When food is to be found, it usually comes in the form of plant bulbs.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : Cape Verde
Size : Length up to 3ft (.9m), Weight up to 130lbs (65kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Passeriformes
Family : Alaudidae -- Genus : Alauda -- Species : A. razae
Image : Winkel

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Bonobo

Pan paniscus
Human readers, meet one of your closest biological relatives-- the Bonobo! Bonobos and Chimpanzees share more than 98% of their DNA with humans. In fact-- we are so closely related to them that there are some who argue that Bonobos and Chimpanzees should belong to the Homo genus, rather than Pan.

Bonobos are smaller than Chimpanzees, but otherwise look very similar. They are even sometimes referred to as Pygmy Chimpanzees, and weren't considered separate species until 1929. Physically, Bonobos are lean and have dark black hair. Males are larger than the females-- sometimes weighing twice as much!

The wild range of the Bonobo is quite small-- they live only in the Democratic Republic of Congo which is one of the reasons why they are so Endangered. Not only is their range small, but they live in an area of civil unrest, where government protections for the species are nearly impossible to uphold, and where there are few regulations concerning habitat protection. The wild population has been on the decline for decades, and it will have difficulty rebounding because of the long reproductive cycle of the Primate. Unlike many mammals that reproduce yearly, a female Bonobo will produce offspring only once every 4-5 years.

Bonobo social groups are actually led by the females, and mother-child bonds are very important to the group. In fact, they are the only primate groups to be female-led. A male's standing is influenced by who his mother is. These communities can number over 100 members, but they tend to break up into smaller sections while foraging. Bonobos primarily eat fruit, but they will also consume leaves, insects, and small vertebrates. They have been known to eat other, smaller Primates as well.

IUCN Status : Endangered
Location : Africa
Size : Length up to 3ft (.9m), Weight up to 130lbs (65kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Primates
Family : Hominidae -- Genus : Pan -- Species : P. paniscus
Image : USAID, Pierre Fidenci

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Puijila darwini

Though it may not look like it, the animal in that picture-reconstruction is an ancestral Seal! Yes, Seal! The finned, sleek bodied ocean mammals! In fact, it is the most ancient Seal ever found.

Puijila darwini was only discovered in 2007, so it is a pretty recent find. Amazingly, only one fossil has been uncovered so far-- but the skeleton was almost totally complete! It was found in Nunavut, Canada.

Puijila lived a semi-aquatic carnivorous lifestyle. It had webbing on all four feet, and swam by paddling through the water. It is an interesting fossils not just because it is the most primitive Seal known, but also because it is an example of a transitional species. All land animals evolved from sea-dwelling creatures, and Seals and Whales are examples of mammals that returned to the sea. Puijila was a step between fully land-dwelling Carnivore and the eventual ocean-dwelling Pinnepeds.

Status : Extinct, lived 21-24 million years ago
Location : Canada
Size : Length up to 3.3ft (1m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Suborder : Pinnipedimorpha -- Genus : Puijila -- Species : P. darwini
Image : Smokeybjb

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Affenpinscher

The Affenpinscher is a breed of dag that dates back more than 400 years. It's name comes from the German word for "monkey," probably because they have very primate-like faces.

Like many breeds, modern Affenpinschers look different now when compared to their ancestors. They are smaller now, and generally come only in black (some other colors are also recognized, but they are rare to see). The Affenpinschers of centuries past came in many other colors more commonly, and even had white feet and chests.

When it comes to temperament, Affenpinschers are very adventurous and playful. They tend to get along well with other dogs (and other pets in general) and are very active.

Affenpinschers tend to be one of the lesser-known breeds. But last year they got a spot in the limelight when one received the Best in Show award at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Status : Domesticated
Location : Germany
Size : Height up to 12in (30cm), Weight up to 13lbs (6kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Canidae -- Genus : Canis -- Species : C. lupus -- Subspecies : C. l. familiaris
Image : Kennel Imrun

Monday, February 3, 2014

Ocellated Dragonet

The Ocellated Dragonet is also called the Scooter Blenny, even though it is not actually a member of the Blenny family. Weird huh?

In the wild, these fish are found in the western Pacific Ocean, where they live on the seafloor of shallow coral reef areas. You will often see several of them living in a loosely-affiliated group, though they don't form actual schools. They feed on very tiny Zooplankton.

Speaking of size, Ocellated Dragonets are small, only about 3in long, and have brown bodies that are covered with stripe and spot patterns. You can tell the difference between males and females based on the dorsal fin. The fin is larger for males, and it has bright orange coloration at the base.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Southwest Pacific Ocean
Size : Length up to 3in (9cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Actinopterygii -- Order : Perciformes
Family : Callionymidae -- Genus : Synchiropus -- Species : S. ocellatus
Image : GraouQuarium
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