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Showing posts from June, 2010


I feel like I've been writing a lot about poison and neurotoxins lately, but hey, interesting! Pitohuis (pronounced pit-oo-eey) are the six species found within the genus Pitohui . (clever) They are all brightly colored songbirds endemic to New Guinea. They are also among the most toxic birds in the world. One species, the Hooded Pitohui ( Pitohui dichrous ) takes the top prize as the most poisonous bird on earth! (It is also interestingly the first poisonous bird ever discovered) Hooded Pitohui from Smithsonian Pitohuis do not actually produce their own poison. They consume beetles of the Choresine genus, who themselves produce high amounts of batrachotoxins (BTX), a type of neurotoxin. This is the same substance that makes Poison Dart Frogs so dangerous, and the word batrachotoxin itself comes from the Greek for "Frog" and "Poison." Anyway, after beetle consumption the toxin then finds its way into the skin and feathers of the Pitohuis, and serves to

Portuguese Man Of War

The Portuguese Man Of War, found in the world's warm water oceans,  is a very interesting animal indeed. First off, it is not a jellyfish . Even though it may look like a Jellyfish, and sting like a Jellyfish, (more on that later) it is a siphonophore, an animal that is actually made up of multiple organisms working together. How does this work exactly? Well, the Man Of War consists of four distinct parts, a gas-filled bladder (the pneumatophore), the tentacles which can detect and capture prey, a polyp containing digestive organs, and a polyp for reproduction. Image from ImageQuest The Man Of War takes its name from part #1- the gas-filled bladder. This polyp rests atop the water and has a sail like appearance ala a Portuguese battleship. This polyp can reach up to a foot in length and extend 6 inches above the water. The Man of War is only able to float and has very little control over its movements, which is why they tend to wash up on shore. The other three polyp types


The Binturong ( Arctictis binturong ) also has an equally awesome alternate common name, the Bearcat! However, it really isn't much of a bear OR a cat. While it is true that it is part of the Feliforma suborder, it is not a member of family Felidae. Binturongs are a part of their own family, Viverridae, which is shared with Civets, Linsangs, and Genets. There are six subspecies of Binturong, all of which have slight differences based upon location and habitat. Binturongs range in body size from 60-100cm in length, (not including their tail which has roughly the same length) and weigh between 20 and 30lbs. Binturongs are nocturnal animals native to the rain forests of South East Asia. The species range spans through several countries including China, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. They are tree dwelling mammals, and have fully prehensile tails that basically double their body length and can be used to cling to the trees or to grasp food. Binturongs are phe

Blue Tongue Skink

Tiliqua scincoides consists of three subspecies of reptile native to Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats ranging from rain forests to deserts to grasslands. One of the subspecies, the Northern Blue Tongue Skink,  are the largest members of the skink family, and are capable of reaching lengths of 24 inches. Image from Animal Pictures & Dictionary Blue Tongue Skinks are identifiable by their -you guessed it- blue tongue. And when I say blue, I mean really blue. They are omnivores and use their tongue, strong teeth, and extremely powerful jaws to crush insects and snails. They also consume fruits and flowers. They also ingest small stones, which help in their food digestion. Blue Tongue Skinks also have the interesting anatomical feature of a transparent lower eyelid that helps the desert dwelling skinks to keep sand and dust out of their eyes. They are also capable of shedding their tails when threatened. It takes roughly a y

Brazilian Wandering Spider

Brazilian Wandering Spider is a blanket term for the eight species contained within the genus Phoneutria . There are actually relatively few species of spider that pose serious threats to humans.... and these are some of them. Members of this genus are responsible for more human deaths than any other spiders. But remain calm! All members of the genus are native to specific forest and rainforest areas in Central and South America. (Though one did show up in some fruit packaging in Tulsa last year...) They are relatively large spiders on top of being incredibly venomous. Leg spans of the species range between 4 and 5 inches, and body size is 1-2in. Image from Really Good Magazine Brazilian Wandering Spiders get their name because they actually move about and hunt actively on the forest floor, rather than residing in nests or webs. This is one of the reasons why they are dangerous to humans. They are nocturnal creatures and thus need a place to hide out during the day

On Vacation

I'm off on vacation in South Carolina for the next week or so. I should have internet while there, and I have several posts written and already scheduled for publishing, so things will hopefully be running as normal... hopefully. Just a heads up!


Monkfish is a common name for species found within the genus Lophius. Goosefish, Anglerfish and Frogfish are also names sometimes bestowed upon these strange Lophiiformes. (Hey, that's two in one week! Go Lophiiformes!) The various species live in the benthic (ocean-bottoms) zones of the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea. The discrepancy in common names comes from the locations in which the fish is found. Image from Maryland Recreational Fisheries Anatomically Monkfish have some interesting features. Their mouth is gigantic, and they are extremely opportunistic eaters . They'll eat fish, (including other Monkfish) crustaceans, mollusks and even seabirds. They can consume prey that is nearly as large as they are. Like many other anglerfishes, Monkfish have spines that can be bent forward to dangle in front of the fish's mouth to act as a lure for prey. There is some sexual dimorphism within the species. Females tend to be a few inches longer, (they can grow longer than


I actually wrote today's article about a week ago, and then it published it for that original write date rather then today. My fault! It's up and fixed now.

American Bullfrog

Rana catesbeiana is the largest frog native to North American, and has a range that covers the entire eastern half of the United States, up to about the Rocky Mountains. They extend well into Canada and parts of Mexico, and have even been found on other continents entirely. However, like many non-native species, they have become invasive and problematic. In South Korea they were brought in as a food source during the 1960s and have now multiplied to high levels and are devouring the native fish and insect populations. Image from iFrog You see, American Bullfrogs have an absolutely voracious appetite , and will consume just about anything that they can overpower and fit into their mouths. They'll eat rodents, insects, fish, invertebrates, turtles, birds and other frogs (including other Bullfrogs, those cannibals!). Their hunting technique is to ambush their prey. They will remain in a location and wait until something wanders by... and then lunge and attack. American Bullfrogs

Musk Ox

The Muskox is actually one of the animals that did not make my Alaska Week final cut, but here they are now! By popular demand! Muskoxen are large arctic bovids that can be found throughout Canada, Alaska, Siberia and Scandinavia. They live farther north than any other hoofed mammal. Despite the name they are actually more closely related to goats and sheep than they are to actual oxen. Defensive Formation from AlaskaOne Muskoxen haven't changed a whole lot since the last ice age , and have probably existed pretty much as-is for 600,000 years . They are perfectly adapted to the arctic climate with long guard hairs growing nearly two feet long and thick, woolly undercoats. The guard coat protects against the elements, as well as insects. The undercoat of a Muskox is 8 times warmer than sheep wool! They can continue to function at temperatures of -40°C. Most the males and females of the species have horns, though those of the bulls are larger. The average adult weighs

King Cobra

At maximum lengths of 18 feet, the King Cobra ( Ophiophagus hannah ) is the world's longest venomous snake... though they are not the most deadly. In fact, they don't even seem to make the top ten in regards to most potent venom. But do not underestimate them! A single bite contains about 7ml of neurotoxin which is strong enough to kill an elephant. Image from Photosfan King Cobras are the only members of their genus, but they belong to a pretty large family of Elapids which is home to hundreds of venomous snakes from around the world. The King Cobra itself is found in China, India, and South East Asia. They are diurnal, carnivorous reptiles, and are comfortable on land, in trees, and even in water. The King Cobra actually feeds primarily on other snakes , though they will also eat other reptiles, mammals, birds and eggs. The King Cobra is well known within the context of snake charming. They are able to stand up straight with a third of their entire body length. Cobr

Magnificent Argentine Bird

Argentavis magnificens is the largest flying bird ever discovered... but it died out about 6 million years ago. The name that I  listed in the title of this post is a basic translation from the Latin of its binomial name, which was bestowed upon the creature after its discovery in 1980 . With a wingspan of roughly 25 feet, a length of 11 feet from beak to tail, and 60 inch long flight feathers, magnificent certainly seems to fit. Despite  its huge wings and flight feathers, it is speculated that magnificens was unable to truly fly . It weighed around 150lbs, making it difficult to take off. Instead, the birds most likely had  to run downhill into a headwind, which would then lift them up and allow them to glide. Gliding is a trait common in many modern species of  raptor, especially the condor, who have the  some of the largest wingspans of any living birds and are excellent soarers. The estimated glide speed for magnificens is 67kph (or about 41mph for those who ar

Sperm Whale

It just dawned on me that I have not yet written a single post about a cetacean! What have I been thinking?! That's going to change, right here, right now. I present Moby Dick himself... the Sperm Whale. Not only is the Sperm Whale ( Physeter macrocephalus ) one of the most well known of all ocean mammals, but they are very topical creatures as well. 1,665 of these guys live in the Gulf of Mexico, which, as everyone on the planet should probably know, is undergoing a major environmental crisis with the BP oil spill. As top tier predators in the region, Sperm Whales can be hugely affected by the oil. Not only can the spill make them sick directly, but it also affects their prey, which then makes its way back to the whale during consumption. This past week a young whale was found dead 70 miles from the spill, and scientists are looking into cause of death. Sperm Whales have also hit the news this past week due to a new study that shows that their excrement actually removes carbon


Image from Aquaportal Fish with hands? You bet! There are 5 genera and 14 living species of handfish, all of which are pretty rare and difficult to study. Only four examples of the pink handfish have even been found, the last being in 1999. Another species is known only from a single fish... caught in the 19th century. Overall, differentiating between distinct species has been difficult because of the lack of specimens. Taxonomically, the are all members of the family Brachionichthyidae, which takes its name from the Latin words for both arm, (bracchium) and fish (ichthys). They belong to the overall order Lophiiformes, which also includes those terrifying looking deep sea anglerfish . So what do we know about the elusive and interesting Handfishes? Well, as previously mentioned, there are 14 species, nine of which were just recently named and identified, including the aforementioned Pink Handfish. The Spotted Handfish is a previously known species, and is the best st

House Centipede

Inspired by a crisis at work involving one of these little friends, today I present the House Centipede. Though there are a few species who are commonly called the House Centipede, the most abundant of them is Scutigera coleoptrata . It was originally found only in the Mediterranean region, but not you can spot them worldwide. House Centipedes are not actually "insects." They belong to the Myriapoda subphylum , rather than Hexapoda, which houses the class Insecta. Image from BugGuide House Centipedes have 15 pairs of legs and can grow to about 2 inches in length. Their final pair of legs grows much longer than the rest. The Centipede's legs are vital for both movement (obviously) and hunting. they are very fast moving and are able to darts about on many kinds of surfaces, vertical or horizontal. They are able to consume multiple types of prey at a single time, and will hold additional meals within its legs. House Centipedes feed on insects and smaller arthropods, in

Roman Snail

Also known as the Burgundy Snail and the Edible Snail, Helix pomatia  is probably most commonly known by its culinary moniker... Escargot . Now, these snails are not the only species that can become Escargot, but they are certainly one of the most traditional. Roman Snails have been picked up and eaten since well, Roman times, if not earlier. While they are found in all of continental Europe, it was the Romans who first brought the snails with them to England , were they can still be found, albeit rarely. These snails now have legal protection in the U.K. Courtship image from The Living World of Molluscs They are quite large, with body lengths of 4 inches and shells up to 2 inches in diameter. They are the largest land snails found in Europe. Roman Snails are hermaphroditic, meaning they are both male and female at the same time, and their courtship rituals are quite extensive. The process can last for hours as the snails circle around each other before touching their soles agains

Inca Tern

The Inca Tern is one of my all time favorite birds. Why? It has a mustache! Their mustache and unique patterning make them special among seabirds, which is why they are the only member of genus Larosterna . Overall though, they are one of several dozen members of the Tern family, Sternidae. Inca Terns are seabirds that live on the rocky cliffs and islands off the west coast of South America, in the area of the Humboldt Current . Unlike their far flying relatives the Arctic Terns, Inca Terns are non-migratory. They spend their lives living in their cliff areas, where they also breed and raise young. They are monogamous birds and lay clutches twice a year, usually around April/May and October. Nests are formed in natural burrows, and both parents assist in rearing the chicks, who remain in the nest for 7 weeks . Because they are seabirds, Inca Terns feed on fish. They actually share a predatory range with Humboldt Penguins, but there is little competition over food as the penguins

Leopard Shark

Leopard Sharks are found in muddy bays and estuaries off the West Coast of the United States, with a preferred underwater depth of around 6 meters. They aren't exceptionally large sharks. The largest one ever recorded was only 6 feet long , which pales in comparison to the Great White, which not only can exceed 20ft, but also will dine on Leopard sharks (and well, a lot of other things too). The species is known by the distinctive bar shapes on their backs and prominent dorsal fins. They are  sometimes confused with Zebra Sharks , which have similar markings but do not even remotely share a habitat. (Zebra Sharks are found in the Indian Ocean and around Australia) As far as their diet goes, they are carnivores, and feed off of crustaceans and smaller fish. Leopard sharks are ovoviviparous , which means that they give birth to live young, but not in the way that viviparous sharks do. You see, viviparous means that the young develop inside the mother with help from an umbilical

Lipizzan Horse

Today, in a continuation of an unofficial World Cup theme, we celebrate one of the national symbols of Slovenia. Slovenia you see, is a small country of about 2 million people that has made it to the World Cup for their second time. Yesterday morning, they even won their first game... though they're in a group with England and the United States so future wins would be quite the upset indeed.... Anyway. Animals. Image from AMNH The Lipizzan (or Lipizzaner) is a breed of horse that is relatively rare. In fact, only about 3,000 of them exist around the world. The horse has its origins with the Hapsburg family, a royal dynasty that controlled various territories in Europe up until the end of World War I. In 1580, Archduke Charles II established a stud farm in Lipica, Slovenia (Well, it wasn't Slovenia then, but you get the idea) with the intent of creating first class riding horses. Lipica is also known as Lipizza in Italian, which is where the breed's name comes from. Lip

Blue Crane

World Cup 2010 has begun, and unless you've been living under a rock, you're probably aware that it is taking place in South Africa, the first time it has ever been held on that continent. So in honor of this grand event, I present the national bird of South Africa : the Blue Crane. I had debated doing a write-up on the Springbok, their national animal, (and Rugby mascot) but I feel like I cover deer/antelope species far too often , so I'm going to put that one off till a later date (the finals perhaps?) Image from Anyway, less musing, more birds. 99% of all Blue Cranes ( Anthropoides paradisea ) are found within South Africa. They have the most restricted distribution of any crane species. They live in grassland areas, and sometimes use wetlands for breeding and roosting. Blue Cranes are a medium sized crane, standing about four feet tall and weighing in at eleven pounds. (In comparison, the largest crane, and also the largest flying bird, is the Saru

Hispaniolan Solenodon

Alright so. The Hispaniolan Solenodon ( Solenodon paradoxus ) is considered to be one of the best examples of what mammals looked like during their beginnings over 70 million years ago. The ancestors of this shrew-like creature branched off from other mammalian families during the late Cretaceous period, and the extant Hispaniolan Solenodon is now one of the last few remaining native mammal species in the Caribbean. Literally dozens of mammal species existed on these islands prior to human colonization, but now due to loss of habitat and increased predation from introduced species populations, only around fifteen remain. Image from Focus on Nature The Hispaniolan Solenodon is unique to the island of Hispaniola, were it can be found in a multitude of habitats... well, that is, if  you can find them. They are very difficult to locate in the wild, and at times many believed them to be extinct. Conservation efforts have been ongoing between various government agencies, zoo organiza

Magnificent Hummingbird

The Magnificent Hummingbird, once known as Rivoli's Hummingbird,  is native to Central America and the south western United States and is one of the largest hummingbirds with a whopping 14cm body length and an 18 cm wingspan! (OK, I guess that's not really whopping, but it's pretty largest compared to the Bee Hummingbird which is only 5cm long!) There are two subspecies , Eugenes fulgens fulgens  in the northern part of the range, and E. f. spectabilis  in the south, primarily in Costa Rice and Panama. They are the only members of the genus Eugenes . Image from These lovely birds are identified by their green, purples and gray colors. The sexes appear differently , with the males having dark green backs, black undersides, purple crowns and shiny metallic green necks. The females are a bit less flashy, with a more olive colored green on their backs and grey undersides. They are typical of hummingbirds in many ways, but their size gives them a few d

Horseshoe Crab

I've been working my way through back episodes of the PBS series " Nature ." If you have never seen it, go to their website, they have tons of full episodes. It's amazing, really. Anyway. Recently I came across an episode titled " Crash: A Tale of Two species " and it drew me in in a way I had never expected, especially for a show whose major star is a weird looking invertebrate. Without doing an entire plot synopsis, it details the intricate relationship between a small, migratory sea bird known as a Red Knot, and the strange, ancient Horseshoe Crab. So today, inspired by that episode, we dive in to the world of the Horseshoe Crab! Image from University of Delaware First off, it isn't actually a crab at all. Though it belongs to the Arthropod phylum, along with crabs and other crustaceans, its subphylum is Chelicerata, home to spiders and scorpions. Moving further down the taxonomic chart, the four species of Horseshoe crab are the only living mem


I haven't written about any Extinct animals since the Mother's Day Quagga , so I'm definitely overdue. Thus, I present the Torosaurus, a dinosaur which walked the earth during the late Cretaceous Period, around 70 million years ago. It also just so happens to be the very first dinosaur that you see when entering that particular wing at the Milwaukee Public Museum . First discovered in 1889 in Wyoming, and then named in 1891, all Torosaurus fossils have been found in the western United States and Canada. The Torosaurus was a bird-hipped , herbivorous dinosaur that probably weighed around 4 tons. It used a beak like mouth to shear tough vegetation, and it also had the largest skull of any land animal yet discovered, with fossilized skulls measuring 8 feet in length. The skull also included a massive frill which had two large symmetrical openings, which possibly existed in order to cut off some weight. In addition, the Torosaurus had three large horns , two immediately

Solomon Islands Leaf Frog

Because Alaska wasn't exactly teeming with cold blooded wildlife, (besides a few species of sea turtle, one toad, and two frogs) I've gotta give the reptiles and amphibians some love. So today's featured animal is a frog native to a climate that is the complete opposite of Alaska's: The Solomon Island Leaf Frog. Also known as the Solomon Island Eyelash Frog and the Triangle Frog, Ceratobatrachus guentheri  is indigenous to the forest floors of hot and humid Papua New Guinea, and of course, the nearby Solomon Islands. Frog at the Lincoln Park Zoo Solomon Island Leaf Frogs are quite interesting in that they are one of the few types of frog that do not undergo a metamorphic phase. Most frogs (and amphibians in general) are born as tadpoles, and as they age they shift from their young aquatic forms to their adult land dwelling ones. Solomon Island Leaf Frogs have no tadpole phase outside of their egg development. They undergo metamorphosis within their eggs, and then h

Alaska Week Complete!

Well, I can finally post an update here now that Blogger is back online. Alaska Week is over! And it didn't actually last two weeks! (just 8 days...) I had so many animals I wanted to include, so the few that I was able to force myself to cut out will be showing up sometime soon... Anyway, I wanted to thank everyone for the great comments and feedback. The animal randomness will be going back to normal for a bit. Keep sending over suggestions! Oh, and you may have noticed yet another new layout. This blog is still new and I'm still messing around with things, so bear with me on the changes :)

Grand Cayman Blue Iguana

Grand Cayman Blue Iguanas (or Grand Cayman Iguana, or even just Blue Iguana) are extremely endangered in the wild, and have been for quite some time. In fact, they are the most endangered iguana in the entire world. Their species name,  lewisi , comes from the naturalist who first wrote about them, Bernard C. Lewis . Even back in 1938, Lewis understood their rarity, stating that he doubted more than a dozen even lived on the island. Blue Iguanas live naturally in only one location, Grand Cayman, a 76 square mile island in the Caribbean Sea. It is the largest animal native to the island, growing 5 feet long and weight 25-30lbs. These iguanas are also one of the longest-lived species of  lizard, with the oldest on record dying at the age of 69. Like most iguanas, Grand Caymans are herbivores. Studies show that their diet entails 45 different species of plant, with 80% of their overall consumption coming from leaves, and the remaining 20% from fruit. These iguanas are solitary anim

Harbor Seal

Our final Alaska Week animal will be one of my favorites - the Harbor Seal. Like some of our other Alaskan friends, Harbor Seals, also known as Common Seals,  can  be found in other locations. In fact, they exist on the Northern Hemisphere coats of the both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Harbor Seals are abundant in Alaska, numbering over 150,000. This is a substantial amount when the entire Pacific population is only around 300,000. Taxonomically, Harbor Seals ( Phoca vitulina ) are considered True or Eared Seals, and are members of family Phocidae. This differentiates them from the fur seals and sea lions (Otariids or Eared Seals) with whom they share the overall Pinniped super family. True Seals have no external ears, dense, short hair, internal or retractable reproductive organs, and are better suited to ocean swimming and endurance than the Eared Seals, though they trade off is a definite awkwardness on land. Image from Seal Sitters Harbor Seals can dive to depths of 1

Arctic Tern

The Arctic Tern has the longest migration of any animal in the entire world . In a single year, these 4oz, 15 inch wingspan seabirds can fly 44,000 miles. Forty Four Thousand . And with their lifespan of over 30 years, that is equivalent to three round trip flights to the moon. For further perspective, that's 1.5 million miles, or 62 full trips around the Earth. Numbers! Image from the Seabird Group Terns reside in the coastal areas of the two poles, though they also have breeding grounds as far south as England and Ireland . They spend the winters down in Antarctica, feasting off of fish and crustaceans in preparation for the springtime commute up to the Arctic areas to breed and raise their young. Terns mate for life, and both parents care for their offspring, which number between one and three per clutch. Eggs take 3-4 weeks to hatch, and then it is only another 3-4 weeks after birth before the chicks fledge. They remain with their parents a few months after that, and wi


Caribou are also known as Reindeer, though that's mostly a European thing. In Canada and Alaska, wild creatures are Caribou, while the domesticated animals are sometimes called Reindeer. So because this is Alaska Week, and because I'll mostly be discussing the wild specimens, we're going to go with Caribou. There are seven subspecies of  Rangifer tarandus , only one of which, the Barren Ground Caribou, is found in Alaska. Two others, the Peary and Woodland, have ranges in Canada, while the other four are found in Europe and Greenland. There are over a million individual Caribou in Alaska, divided into 32 herds. These herds migrate, sometimes travelling up to 3,700 miles in a year. These migrations have been tracked and studied by scientists for years due to their massive range and overall distance. Caribou are unique as a deer species in that both the males and females have antlers, which they shed yearly. Antlers in males are substantially larger than those in female

Alaskan King Crab

There are three species of King Crab fished commercially in Alaska, the Red King Crab, the Blue King Crab, and the Golden King Crab. A fourth species, the Scarlet King Crab , is also found in Alaskan waters, but is rare and does not support a commercial fishing industry. All four species belong to the overall super-family, Lithodoidea, which houses 113 living species overall. Golden King from King crabs have five pairs of legs . The back pair are much smaller then the rest, and are usually hidden in the crab's carapace (body). They serve an important function during the mating season however, as females use them to tend to the embryos that she keeps under her tail, and they males use them in the fertilization process. The middle three sets of legs are used for walking, and the final set, that which is closest to the front of the body, sports pincers. In most crabs, the right claw is substantially larger than the left. Like most animals, the King Crab grows la

Grizzly Bear

So what is the difference between a Brown Bear, a Grizzly Bear, and a Kodiak Bear? A large part of it has to do with location. Brown Bears stick to the coastal areas, Grizzlies prefer inland habitats, and Kodiak Bears are native to a small chain of islands in Southern Alaska, where they have been isolated from the rest of the bear population since the last Ice Age. (12,000) years ago!) There are also a physical differences - most noticeably, a hump ! Grizzly have shoulder humps made up of fat and muscle that lend extra strength to their front legs, giving them a better ability to dig and swipe. Grizzlies also posses long, white-tipped guard hairs on their shoulders and backs that give them a " grizzled " appearance. Hence the name. There is also some pretty substantial sexual dimorphism going on with these guys, as the males can easily weigh double that of a female and be nearly 2 feet taller when standing on the hind legs. Grizzly bears are omnivores, notoriously consum