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Showing posts from May, 2010

Canada Lynx

The Canada Lynx ( Lynx canadesis ) is the only wild cat found in Alaska. This initially surprised me, since I assumed Mountain Lions made it up there as well, but their range stops just south of the state. This leaves the 20lb Lynx as Alaska's top (and only) feline predator. They are very  elusive  animals and avoid human contact. Seeing one in the wild is a rare treat! Image from Center for Native Ecosystems Lynx are primarily nocturnal, and dwell only in forested areas, where their prey is abundant and where they can build their dens. Like many feline species, Lynx are solitary creatures. They travel and hunt alone, and come together during the March-April mating season. Young Lynx (kittens!) remain with their mother for a year, learning how to hunt. Lynx have exceptional adaptations -long legs, huge paws- for hunting snowshoe hare, which makes up most of their diet. The Lynx and the Hare populations are closely linked. Every ten years the Hare population peaks, and the nu


Rock Let's start off Alaska Week (which is now starting to look like Alaska Week-and-a-half based on all the suggestions I've been getting) with a Bird! The lovely bird that is one of our Alaska Week logo mascots- the Ptarmigan. Now, there are actually three species of Ptarmigan that share the genus Lagopus , which in turn shares its taxonomic family with grouses. The three species are the Willow Grouse (also known as the Willow Ptarmigan), the Rock Ptarmigan (which is often just called Ptarmigan), and the White-Tail Ptarmigan, which thankfully only as one common name. From here on out here I'm just going to refer to them as Willow, Rock and White-Tail. Willow All three species inhabit Alaska, with the Willow found pretty much everywhere, the Rock living everywhere but the flat tundras near the Western and Northern coats, and the White-Tail inhabiting the rocky uplands. When all three species live in a close area, the Willows live at the lowest altitudes, the Ricks

Przewalski's Horse

The Przewalski's Horse was extinct in the wild for over 30 years. Also known as the Asian Wild Horse and Mongolian Wild Horse, it is a true wild horse, the only one left after the complete extinction of the Tarpan over 100 years ago. Other seemingly "wild" horses, like the North American mustangs and Australian brumby, are feral populations. This means they descend from domesticated individuals. The Przewalski's horse is completely untouched by human domestication, and even posess two more chromosomes in their genetic makeup than domesticated horses. Przewalski horses have short, stocky bodies and large heads. They stand about 13 hands (hand = 4 inches) at the shoulder and weigh between 550 and 750lbs. They are characterized by their brownish dun bodies and white underbellies, with dark muzzles and tails and a short, upright mane with no forlock (forehead hair). Visually they appear similar to the horses depicted on the walls of the Lascaux Caves which are ar

One Whole Month!

It's been an entire month since Animal A Day began... which probably doesn't seem like a whole lot, but hey, something to celebrate! Thanks to everyone who has been giving great comments and suggestions, it has been a huge help :) Next week we'll be doing our first theme in honor of this (sort of) momentous achievement, so stop back on Sunday and check out Animals of Alaska!

Angora Rabbit

Angora is not simply one breed of domestic rabbit, it is many. French, English, Giant and Satin are all recognized by the American Rabbit Breeder's Association and are bred for the fine hair that they produce. A 5th breed, the German Angora, is recognized in other places, and was bred specifically to create a high yield, high density wool that could be harvested commercially.  The English Angora is the one most commonly kept as a pet, and is the smallest of the breeds. It is characterized by large tufts of fur on the entire face save the nose, which is a trait that is more of less unique to that breed. Facial trimmings, as they are called, are found in other breeds, but not to the extent as in the English. The history of the Angora Rabbit dates back to the 18th century, when it was believed to be imported to France from Turkey. ( Ankara , the capital of Turkey, was called Angora from 1073 until 1930. This also the origin of Angora Cats and Goats) The rabbits appeared in the en

Muscovy Duck

So ugly its cute? Or just plain ugly? Moscovy ducks (not actually from Moscow) are recognized by their signature bald faces and protruding caruncles (the bumpy looking things). The baldness and caruncle coverage is more pronounced in the males than in the females. Overall, Muscovy Ducks with smooth heads are frowned upon by the Standard of Perfection set forth by the American Poultry Association . Bumpy (well, uniform bumpiness) = Better. No one is really sure why the Muscovy Duck was given its name, as its origins come from no where near Russia. It is also interestingly known as Barbary Duck... and it isn't from the Barbary Coast either. One thought on the name origin comes from the Muscovy Trading Company, which traded the birds, but even that is just a theory. Wild Muscovys actually come from South and Central America, and had already been domesticated for hundreds of years when first European contact was made. There are remaining wild flocks in their native habitat, but in

Red Footed Tortoise

Popular as pets , the Red Footed Tortoise originally hails from South America, where export permits are required to take them out of the individual countries. Most tortoises now found in captivity were captive bred. The Red Footed Tortoise is of least concern on the IUCN list. Tortoises at the Lincoln Park Zoo They are a medium sized species, growing up to 14 inches in length, though the males are typically longer and heavier than the females. Red Footed Tortoises are primarily herbivores, consuming grasses, fruits and mushrooms, though they will sometimes consume carrion. They are also attracted to red and yellow flowers . Red Footed Tortoises are quite colorful... for a tortoise.  They have red, yellow and orange colorations on their legs and heads, and their shells range from brown to black with lighter patches. An interesting feature of their anatomy is that as they age, their top shells (known as carapaces) become slightly concave on the sides, giving them a "waist.&


Image from Wikimedia Commons Male Topis are tricky little guys. According to some new findings reported by National Geographic , the males deliberately trick females into sticking around by issuing warning signals. The entire mating system is  lek based , which I mentioned in the feature on  Kakapo  parrots. Males have a small section of land that they fight for a defend, and the females come and go throughout them to decide whom to mate with. If a female in heat appears to be wandering off, the male will begin to snort and stare and act as if a predator is near so that the female will want to stay by him. Tricky indeed! So beyond that tomfoolery, what is a Topi? A Topi is a mid-sized antelope that lives in Savannah and floodplain areas of Africa. Females and their young live in small groups, while males are mostly solitary, though they sometimes form small bachelor herds when young. Migratory herds with members int he thousands are also seen. Topis consume grasses as their prim

Cape Thick Knee

Continuing on with South African wildlife, (completely unintentional, really) we have the Cape or Spotted Thick Knee. These guys are one of the 9 members of the  Burhinidae family, birds who are typically nocturnal insectivores who inhabit tropical and sometimes temperate zones. The Cape Thick Knee resides in southern areas of the African continent, including the South African Cape, with the "thick knee" part coming from, well... their thick knees. These birds are sedentary, meaning that they do not normally migrate. As already stated, they eat all kinds of invertebrate species, but they will also make meals of small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and will also dine on the eggs and chicks of the White-Fronted Plover .The primary predators of Cape Thick Knees are other birds, such as eagles and owls. If a predator is after one of a Thick Knee's chicks, the chick will lie motionless while the adults will pretend to have a broken back or wings in order to draw attentio

Green Protea Beetle

Image from Natural Solutions The Green Protea Beetle is one of 30,000 members of the scarab beetle family which is distinguished by heavy-bodied oblong figures, and who feed primarily on plant materials (though the Dung Beetle  side has slightly different tastes). The Green Protea Beetle is the common named for Trichostetha fasicularis , a remarkable little pollinator. They reach about 25mm in length and have a smooth black and green topside, but what drew me to them was their underside. It is covered in little brownish hairs that are used to help propagate another species - the Protea plant... which is also its namesake. (And the namesake for both goes back to Mythology yet again) There are actually numerous types of Protea plants spreading through Africa, Asia, South America and Australia. In the country of South Africa, especially around the cape, there are numerous species of Protea, which, like many plants, require outside help to pollinate. This is where the beetle comes


In North America they are called Moose, but in Europe they are referred to as the European Elk. Either way, Alces alces is one huge deer, the largest in the Cervidae (deer) family! Adorable Moose from LA Times Article On Tuesday, the LA Times posted a story about two adorable moose babies born at the Berlin Zoo, Hagen and Finn. Moose have an eight month gestation period, and the calves stay with their mother for roughly a year after birth, which is about the time she gives birth to her next offspring. Twins are very common in moose, and triplets can also occur as well. Calves weigh around 30lbs at birth, and as adults can hit 1,600lb as males, and 1,300 as females. These weights (and the fact that a bull can reach 7 feet tall at the shoulder) tie Moose for first place in the world's-largest-deer-ever contest. Their co-champion, the extinct Irish Elk , was of similar height and weight, though they sported antlers that were over 160 inches from tip to tip. The largest Moose re


Did you know that a cuttlefish is not actually a fish? It's a mollusk! They are actually more closely related to snails then they are to fish. Like squids, octopi, and nauteluses, the cuttlefish is a cephalopod. Members of class cephalopoda have been dated back 500 million years! There are currently 120 species of cuttlefish recognized, all of which live in shallow tropical and temperate waters around Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. Cuttlefish have a pretty interesting mechanism built in to their bodies: the cuttlebone. Made primarily of aragonite, these structures act as buoyancy mechanisms, enabling the cuttlefish to float at a steady, desirable level. The existence of this bone is also what prevents the cuttlefish from surviving at deep depths, as they will implode when there is too much pressure. Cuttlebones are very rich in calcium, and are often given to caged pets like parakeets and reptiles as supplements . Cuttlefish have the ability to change their skin colo


Meet the world's heaviest, rarest, longest-lived parrot - the Kakapo. Found on only a few small islands off the coast of New Zealand, ( sounds familiar ?!?) they also have the distinction of being nocturnal and flightless. Oh, and there are only 123 of them alive. One hundred and twenty three. Because of their rarity and unique traits, an extensive conservation program has been underway. One of the major efforts of the program was to actually relocate the birds to those aforementioned small islands, because they were being preyed upon by feral cats and mustelids on the South Island (they went extinct on North Island by the 1920s) Image from Kakapo Recovery Programme Kakapo are pretty unique birds, though they are herbivores like most other parrots. Besides the natural, heavy and flightless traits, they are also the only flightless bird to take part in a lek mating system . The system entails a group of males coming together on high ridges and hilltops, with each males having

Crocodile Monitor

New Guinea is an island of roughly 300,000 square miles, while the total surface area of the planet is about 57,000,000. That means New Guinea constitutes less than 1% of all the land on Earth, yet the island is home to nearly 10% of the planet's vertebrate species. Yesterday, new agencies around the world were abuzz with images of new species discovered in the Foja Mountains of New Guinea. These new creatures include the world's smallest wallaby, a black and white butterfly, a giant, woolly rat, and a long nose frog. While I would love to cover some of these fascinating new creatures, there simply isn't enough material out there yet, so instead I'm going to cover another one of New Guinea's interesting species, the Salvadori's or Crocodile Monitor. Image from BioLib When you think about huge lizards, you normally think of the Komodo Dragon, right? Well, the Crocodile Monitor and the Komodo share the same genus, Varanus , and can grow to very similar len

Ethiopian Wolf

Despite looking quite foxy, the Ethiopian Wolf (or Abyssinian Wolf, Abyssinian Fox, Ethiopian Jackal, etc) is actually.. A wolf. Canus simensis  in fact. They are endemic to only a few small mountainous pockets in Ethiopia. This canine has become seriously endangered with the rise of high altitude agriculture, which brings with it humans and domestic dogs, which compete for food and carry disease.  Image from the EWCP The disease issue has been especially troubling in recent years, with 90 wolves dying of rabies in 2003, and 40 dying to distemper in 2008. Another rabies outbreak also hit in 2008. Vaccination campaigns have been underway in order to save the species, which numbers only around 500 individuals . This is especially alarming when one finds out that not only have these wolves  never  been bred in captivity, but there don't seem to be any in captivity in the first place. Those 500-ish wolves are the only ones we've got. Ethipian wolves differ in many ways


Pronounced Axe-oh-lot-ul, this salamander is native to only one small are of Mexico, Lake Xochimilco . Axolotl's differentiate themselves from other salamanders in that they retain their tadpole-like characteristics throughout their entire lives, specifically the external gills and tail. Axolotl's are almost extinct in the wild, because, like the previously featured Texas Blind Salamander , their habitat is being threatened. Due to their natural homes being right next to Mexico City, the 2nd most populated city in the world, their watery homes are being used up and polluted. Interestingly though, they are used extensively for scientific research, and are kept as pets in multiple countries, ensuring that the species won't ever become truly extinct for a very long time, if ever. Image from Wikimedia Commons Now, just why exactly are Axolotls being used for research? Because they can completely regrow their limbs! Unlike most creatures, who just have to deal with an ar

Red Panda

Red Pandas don't look real. They look like muppets. Just watch this. Too cute. So cute in fact that it won "World's Cutest Animal" in a contest held by the Houston Zoo. Just look at this entire photo gallery . Seriously. Red Pandas were long though to be members of both the bear and raccoon families, but they are in fact the solo member of their very own taxonomic family, Ailuridae. This family in turn is a part of the super family Musteloidea, home to skunks, weasels, raccoons and otters, though nucleotide testing has shown that they are not especially close with any of those guys. Like the Tuatara , Red Pandas are considered by some to be living fossils. Their nearest fossil ancestors existed 3-4 million years ago and nothing else that is especially genetically similar to them still exists. It has been proposed that the red panda has existed for so long due to its remote habitat and solitary lifestyle. Members of the extinct Parailurus genus, one of the afore


Yesterday NASA launched Space Shuttle Atlantis for its final mission. And while I sadly do not have any extra-terrestrial lifeforms to report about, I can talk about one of the creatures that inhabits the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge , a nature preserve that overlaps the Kennedy Space Center: The Osprey ( Pandion haliaetus ).  NASA's  image of the day yesterday was of a family of these fellows who nest just outside of the vehicle assemblage building. Image from the US Forest Service Ospreys are large raptors that can be found in either migratory or permanent residences on every continent save Antarctica. 99% of their diet consists of fish, and their have special pads on their feet to help them hold on to their prey over large distances. In order to catch their meals in the first place they will slowly fly over bodies of water, and then dive in feet first from heights of up to 120 feet. Once a fish is caught, they readjust it in their claws so that it is moving hea

Leafy Seadragon

The Leafy Sea Dragon (Phycodurus eques) is saltwater fish found off the coast of southern and western Australia. They are slightly smaller than the other species of sea dragon, the Weedy Sea Dragon, but are more  ornately decorated. Both species are able to camouflage themselves and hide among their surroundings, giving them few, if any , natural predators.They live off of a diet of small crustaceans, who they consume by sucking through their straw-like mouth. Unlike most crustacean predators, they have no teeth. image from Dive Gallery Leafy Sea Dragons swim very slow speeds because none of those leafy appendages are used for movement. Tiny little pectoral fins on the sides of their neck allow them to steer, while all propulsion comes from small dorsal fins that run down the spine. They also do not possess the ability to grasp with their tails, as sea horses can. This can result in them being washed adrift during rough waters. But like sea horses, Leafy Sea Dragon fathers

Monarch Butterfly

Images from Wikimedia Commons If you live in the continental United States, you've probably encountered a Monarch Butterfly ( Danaus plexippus ). Their range literally covers the country and a large chunk of the rest of the continent as well. They've also made their way over to Europe , Australia, and New Zealand due to lucky wind systems and cross oceanic shipping. The Monarch was one of the species initially classified by Linneaus in 1758's Systema Naturae , and its scientific name comes strait out of mythology. In short, Danaus  was a king and had 50 daughters, while his brother, Aegyptus, had 50 sons. Aegyptus wanted the 50 sons to marry the 50 daughters but Danaus refuses until he gets forced into organizing a mass wedding. He then has his daughters kill their husbands, and all but one does. The remaining son gets revenge on Danaus, and he and the daughter become king and queen to a dynasty. See where all this royalty stuff comes from? (Oh, and the species name, p

Green Anaconda

Its head is somewhere in those plants... The Green Anaconda ( Eunectes murinus) is the largest snake in the world by weight. It can top the scales at over 500lbs and reach lengths of nearly 30 feet. It is not however, the worlds longest snake . That award goes to the reticulated python, which had one specimen top out at 33 feet. They live in slow moving river and swamp areas in South America. Green Anacondas feed on all sorts of animals, ranging from small fish, reptiles and birds up to large mammals such as capybaras and even jaguars. Anacondas have even been known to consume one another . While young and smaller they do have several predators, though as adults they are rarely threatened. Green Anacondas are able to locate their prey by sight and smell, and with help from heat sensing pits near their mouths. They are not at all poisonous, they use their large size and constricting muscles to grab and suffocate their kills. Like all snakes, they have very flexible lower jaws th

Caribbean Flamingo

Flamingo Hop! The Caribbean Flamingo ( Phoenicopterus ruber ) is the most vibrantly colored of all flamingos, and the only species truly native to North America . Like all flamingos, this species gains it coloration from the existence of carotenoid pigments within the algae and tiny crustaceans that they ate. In captivity, flamingos exist on a special pellet diet that not only provides them with their required nutrients, but also gives them the pigmentation needed to maintain their snazzy colors. In order to get at their food, flamingos feed with their heads upside down. They use their tongues to suck in water and everything that comes with it, and then using filters built in to the ridges of their beaks they are able to dispel the excess water. Like many animals that I have discussed here, there is some argument surrounding the classification of the Caribbean Flamingo. Some consider it to be its own species , (though it is sometimes called the American Flamingo, due to the fact

Alligator Gar

Image from  Diobas LTD. The Alligator Gar ( Atractosteus spatula)  is North America's largest purely freshwater fish, and is identified by its long, slender body, alligator like snout, and interlocking scales. It's species name, spatula , is  Latin  for "a broad piece," which pretty much describes its snout, as well as our cooking utensils. They are a member of the class  Actinopterygii , fish whose fins are held in place by bony spines , and whose earliest appearance in the fossil record dates back over 400 million years. They weigh over 200lbs at adulthood and can reach sizes of 10ft. Alligator Gar can be fished for in certain states, and the largest specimens ever angled topped 300lbs.  Interestingly, the Gar can live outside of water for up to two hours. They are also served up in restaurants and have a good number of recipes devoted to their preparation. Gar themselves feed on other fish, though they may also make meals out of birds and small reptiles. Fu


My mom really likes Quaggas for some reason. I'm not sure why, but bring up extinct animals and she pipes up with the illustrious Quagga. Most people have never heard of this beast, and if it weren't for my mom, I probably never would've heard of it either. So happy Mother's Day! Have a Quagga. Quaggas were once native to what is now South Africa, and are called by their name after the sound that they, and other zebra species, are said to make. Only one Quagga was ever photographed alive, and that was this lady here. Due to over-hunting and planned extermination, (don't want them competing with the livestock!) Quaggas went extinct near the end of the 19th century. Only one hundred years earlier they filled the South African plains. An account from Thomas Pennant's History of Quadrupeds  reads as follows: "They keep in vast herds like the zebra, but usually in different tracts of the country, and never mix together... It is said to be fearless of the Hyen