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Showing posts from October, 2010

The New Jersey Man Eater

The New Jersey Man Eater might be a single shark, or it might be many different sharks. Either way, they were responsible for five attacks between July 1st and 12th, 1916.  These attacks resulted in four deaths and one injury. Summer at the Jersey Shore in 1916 was a hot one, with temperatures hitting over ninety degrees, forcing droves of people to to the cool ocean waters. On July 1st, Charles Van Sant, a 23-year-old on vacation from Philadelphia, went for a swim, going out about one hundred yards. Other swimmers saw a shadow approaching and called ou in warning, but Van Sant was unable to hear them. When he was about 50 feet fromt he shore, something grabbed at his legs, which caught the notice of Alexander Ott, a former Olympic swimmer. Ott dove out to help Van Sant, and carried him back to the shore, but it was too late for the young man. Both of his legs were badly mangled and he died on the shore. This was the first reported Shark Attack in New Jersey histor


Iran, 1943. A group of Polish soldiers, freshly released from Soviet camps in Siberia, were on a trek back east to join up with their fellow countrymen fighting in Egypt and Italy. The Polish Second Army Corps, as they were called, came accross a wandering young boy. They in return for some food, the boy gave them a brown sack... which contained a young, orphaned Brown Bear Cub. ( Image Source ) The Cub was less than a year old and badly undernourished. The soldiers nursed him on condensed milk from an old vodka bottle. They named him Wojtek (pronounced Voy-tek) and he became the unofficial mascot of the 22nd Transport Artillery Supply Company. Wojtek became one of the guys. He enjoyed cigarettes, (eating them, not smoking) would drink bottles of beer, and knew how to march and salute. He figured out how to work the showers, and one one occasion, actually discovered an enemy spy in the unit's bath house.  His reward for such heroism? Two beers and an entire morn


Before she passed away 2006, Harriet was considered one of the oldest animals alive on the planet. Her age was placed at 176 years. While this seems incredibly old for us, it's quite normal for Galapagos Tortoises to exceed over a hundred years. Harriet is the third oldest tortoise recorded, after a fellow Galapagos who lived to 188, and an Aldabra Tortoise named Adwaita , who was reported to be a whopping 255 at his death in 2005. ( Image Source ) Harriet is considered special not only due to her old age. She is also rumored to be one of three Tortoises collected by Charles Darwin on his Beagle voyage in 1835. Recent research has cast some doubt on that story, as scientists claim she was a member of a subspecies ( Geochelone nigra porteri ) that lives on an island the Beagle never went to. We know that Darwin took three tortoises with him, which he described as being as large as dinner plates. Harriet was born around 1830, and would've been about that size


I was a little apprehensive about doing today's animal, just because he is so well known already (heck, there is even a movie out right now about him.) But I think the following video is just too good to not be posted. Behold! The 1973 Belmont Stakes. Secretariat is without a doubt one of the greatest animal athletes to ever live. In his short racing career he set numerous track and world records, and won the Triple Crown for the first time since 1948 (the longest drought save the current 32 year one that we are in now). His 1:58 2/5 track time for the Kentucky Derby is still a record, and it took almost 30 years for another horse to even break the two minute mark. One of the most remarkable things about that race is the fact that he never slowed down . Every single quarter mile he ran was faster than the one before it . His Belmont run, which is also a standing World Record, was one of the widest winning margins ever. He was named American Horse of the Yea

Cher Ami

We're going to begin famous animals week with the extraordinary story of a remarkable bird that was responsible for saving the lives of nearly 200 men. Way back when, in a post about Rock Pigeons , I mentioned that these birds had long been used by the military for the delivery of messages. Cher Ami was one of these wartime Pigeons. His name meant "Dear Friend" and he flew 12 missions during World War I. Cher Ami was active in the Verdun campaign, and his last mission, flown on October 18th, 1918 is one of the most remarkable animal stories I've ever heard. . The Lost Battalion of the 77th Infantry Division had become trapped and surrounded by enemy soldiers. The commander, Major Wittlesey, had sent out several pigeons with messages for assistance, but all had been shot down, and the group of 600 men had dwindled down to around 200. Cher Ami was their only pigeon left. The following note was attached to the bird's leg : ( Image Source ) &quo

Famous Animals Week

I'm really excited about this week's special theme, which will be starting tomorrow. In the past I've always covered animals at (typically) the species level, so going so specific and focusing on a single, individual animal is going to be a really nice change. The downside to this theme however, is that most "famous animals" have been birds or mammals, so I'm afraid this may not be incredibly diverse from that standpoint. While asking friends and family members for suggestions many of them brought up Paul, the Common Octopus that became a sensation during this year's World Cup (and sadly died this morning , R.I.P. Paul, you were the best!). Unfortunately, I feel like I covered a great deal about Paul already during a July post on his species . I have a handful of animals lined up and planned, but if you have suggestions on some more non-birds or mammals (currently I have one reptile) to add to the list, please let me know! I definitely have wiggle roo

Fennec Fox

Fennec Foxes ( Vulpes zerda ) are the smallest of all the foxes, and can be found in desert regions in North Africa and the Middle East. They reach around 28 inches from head to tail (with a good foot of that being just the tail) and weigh between two and four lbs. Fennecs have cream colored bodies, with darker-tipped tails. ( Image Source ) Fennec Foxes have some great adaptations to help them survive in their hot, dry climates. First of which are those gigantic ears, which they use to regulate body temperature. They also have thick coats that work as insulation; keeping heat out during the day, and holding it in during the potentially freezing nights that they are active during (Fennecs are nocturnal.) The coloration of their coat is also an adaptation. The sandy color acts to both reflect heat and to serve as camouflage. Fennecs also have furry paws that help to give them traction and to keep their footpads from burning on the hot sand. Finally, Fennecs have a remarkable se

Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail Butterflies ( Papilio polyxenes ) are found in many regions of both North and South America, and have a handful of subspecies that reflect different areas. They are an abundant, secure species within low numbers found only on the fringes of the range. Black Swallowtails have a wingspan of between three and four inches. ( Image Source ) These Butterflies get their name from their predominantly black body which is outlined with yellow spots or bands. Males and females can be distinguished based upon the prominence of the yellow. Females have a more spotted yellow and a more obvious band of blue across their lower wings. It is believed that the coloration of Black Swallowtails is intended to mimic that of Pipevine Swallowtail, which is bad tasting. Larvae of the species are banded black and white with yellow spots. The eggs are typically laid on plants belonging to the Apiaceae plant family, which are consumed by the larvae upon hatching. Adults feed on nectar a

Six Months!

Next week Wednesday, October 27th, will mark six months of animals! To celebrate I'm doing yet another theme week, which I'm just going to leave as a surprise for now. So please check back and check it out! It'll be a good one, I promise :)

Amazon Horned Frog

( Image Source ) Amazon Horned Frogs are a very large species of frog native to the Amazon Rain Forest that can grow to lengths of up to eight inches. On top of that, they have very round, large bodies that are obtained by having voracious appetites. They will eat just about anything that is smaller than them in size, which includes quite a few different species including their own. Their taste is so indiscriminate that they will sometimes try and eat things that are simply too large to swallow, causing them to unfortunately choke and die. Amazon Horned Frogs ( Ceratophrys cornuta ) do their hunting by literally burying burying themselves into the substrate on the forest floor, leaving only their head out. They are then able to ambush any prey that strolls on by. The coloration of the Horned Frog helps to camouflage them, and it is believed that their "horns" also aid to disguise them among the leaves. Amazon Horned Frogs are also extremely territorial . Females are

Black Widow

Black Widows are spiders that belong to the genus Latrodectus. Species of within this genus can be found in tropical and temperate climates around the world. In the United States, Latrodectus hesperus is one of the best known. It lives in the western parts of the United States, Mexico, and Canada. ( Image Source ) All species of widow are venomous, with the females being more potent than the males, and having much larger venom glands. The bite of a Black Widow  is 15 times more potent than that of a Rattlesnake and is responsible for the condition known as Latrodectism (named for the genus.) Females are also larger than the males, and often have a red, hour-glass shaped mark on their abdomen. Both males and females range from brown to black in overall color. Widows are so named because of the cannibalistic behavior that they exhibit during the mating process. After mating is complete, the male is sometimes killed and consumed. Cannibalism is further witnessed in the spider

Tasmanian Devil

The Tasmanian Devil ( Sarcophilus harrisii) is a frequently misunderstood, yet absolutely fascinating animal. They are the largest of the carnivorous marsupials (of which there are very few species) and are now located only on the island of Tasmania. Devils once had a range that encompassed all of Australia, but the spread of the Dingos led to competition for food . Because Tasmania is separated from Australia by the 150mile wide Bass strait, Dingos never crossed and the Devils continued to exist there. ( Image Source ) Of course, their Tasmanian existence was thanks in no part to humans, who killed off the animals, thinking (erroneously) that they were a threat to their livestock. They became a protected species in 1941, but the population is now far from genetically diverse. Tasmanian Devils grow to 30 inches long and weigh around 25lbs. Tasmanian Devils were so named for their crabby, aggressive behavior (especially around food and mating time) and the absolutely bizarre s

Sea Anemone

Though they look quite plant-like, Sea Anemones are actually animals. Animals of the order Actiniaria to be exact. There are over 1,000 species, which come in various shapes and sizes, and live in every ocean on the planet. The largest and most colorful Anemones are found in coastal, tropical waters, but other species can be found in the deep oceans, and even off the frigid shores of Antarctica ! Anemones are everywhere! Deep Sea Anemone ( Image Source ) All Sea Anemones are carnivores, and can range in size (depending on species) between a few millimeters and several feet! They are often radially symmetric with an adhesive foot (pedal disc) that keeps them stuck in place, though there are a handful of free floating species as well. Sea Anemones also have a single mouth opening that is surrounded by tentacles. Their tentacles serve two purposes. The first is protection. You see, the slightest touch causes the tentacles to shoot out a neurotoxin-filled filament. This toxin pa


I found this book entitled " The Riverside Natural History " that was published in the 1880s and filled with tons of really amazing images. While browsing through I stumbled on this interesting little guy: That's right. He's the King of the Herrings. So this of course intrigued me, and prompted me to look further in to this species. As it turns out, they don't seem to be related to herrings at all. Best I can tell, the closest taxonomic level they share is that of class, which encompasses every single ray-finned fish. Does the moniker mean that they lord over the herring with their vast size and appetite? Most likely not, as Opah eat mostly squid and krill , and the occasional small fish. Silly old book! Then again, they messed up the species name too, which they don't have much of an excuse for. Lampris guttatus  has been called as such since 1788. ( Image Source ) There are two species of Opah (also called Moonfish, Sunfish, and a handful of o

Carolina Parakeet

The Carolina Parakeet was the only parrot native to North America. Notice that I said "was" and not "is." You see, the Carolina Parakeet went extinct about 100 years ago. Bizarrely, the last captive specimen , a male named Incas, died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918. What's so bizarre about that? Well, he died in the exact same aviary cage that the world's last Passenger Pigeon, Martha, died in four years earlier. ( Image Source ) When they were alive, Carolina Parakeets inhabited the eastern parts of the United States in deciduous forests and near forest edges. They sported green bodies, bright yellow heads and orange cheeks. The extinction of the Carolina Parakeet has a couple of causes . The first was deforestation and habitat loss. The second was hunting for both their feathers and for use as pets. The third was that as land was developed and agriculture grew, the birds took a liking to various crops and were slaughtered as pests. By the 1860s the


( Image Source ) Though they look alot like Leopards, Ocelots are actually members of the genus Leopardus. Despite the name, actual Leopards are found within the genus Panthera ... ahh naming confusion! Leopardus  contains a handful of small spotted cats that are found exclusively in the Americas. The Ocelot in particular inhabits a range between Texas and Argentina. It can be found in every Central and South American country save Chile. Ocelots ( Leopardus pardalis ) are small, but still larger than your average house cat. They can reach weighs of up to 30lbs and span up to 64 inches in length. Their coat is spotted and can range in color depending on their specific location. The spots help to camouflage them in their forested habitats, where they live solitary, nocturnal lifestyles. Ocelots can also be found in quasi-open areas like scrub land and marshes, but they are never found in completely open areas. They are territorial and will fight over range. Females inhabit much sm

Late Post

I've been having a terrible day and just locked myself out of my apartment for the first time ever, with my dog, wearing sandals and a long sleeve t-shirt in 50 degree weather... for three hours. I'm now really behind on what I had to do today, so today's animal is going to be a little bit late. In the mean time... check out the cuteness that is Enrique. (Baby Alpaca at the Milwaukee County Zoo)

Mola Mola

The Mola Mola ( Mola mola ), or Ocean Sunfish, is the largest bony fish in the world, and has been recorded at sizes of eleven feet from fin-tip to fin-tip. But you many ask, what about Whale Sharks! Basking Sharks! Certainly they are larger! But sharks you see, are cartilaginous, meaning they are made from cartilage rather than bone. This makes the massive, 3000lbs Mola Mola, the most massive of all bony fish. Interestingly, the Mola Mola shares some characteristics with their large, sharky neighbors. Despite their large size, they eat only very small little meals with their parrot shaped beaks, comprised mainly of plankton, small fish, and jellyfish. Mola Mola are found in tropical and temperate waters around the world and are a pelagic species. ( Image Source ) Mola Molas have a couple of really interesting behaviors and characteristics. The first are swimming and basking. If the image is no indication, the Mola Mola has a laterally compressed body. In essence, it kinda lo

Blakiston's Fish Owl

The Blakiston's Fish Owl might possibly be the largest of all the owl species. Bubo   blakistoni  weighs a massive 4kg and sports a wingspan of up to 190cm. They live in one very specific area in the entire world, namely a small little chunk of Northeast Asia. Their are two subspecies, one that lives on the mainland in areas that are part of Russia and China, and one on the northern Japanese islands and Russia's Kuril Islands. Their may be birds in North Korea, but the nature of that political situation makes it difficult to go in and get an estimate. ( Image Source ) Blakiston's Fish Owls are quite endangered. There are only a few thousand left, if that, and the island subspecies is down to only a few hundred. This decline in population has been a result of habitat loss. Blakiston's Fish Owls live in very old, dense forests that are near large rivers, and this type of habitat has been on the decline due to construction and forest clearing. Another major threa

Yangzte Soft-Shell Turtle

The Yangtze Soft-Shell Turtle ( Rafetus swinhoei ), also known as the Shanghai Soft-Shell or Swinhoe's Soft-Shell, is the rarest, most endangered turtle in the entire world. There are only four known specimens in existence, and all are getting quite old. They are also one of the largest of the Soft-Shell Turtles, members of the family Trionychidae. Soft-Shell Turtles are so named because their shells have a more pliable, almost leathery feeling carapace that is essentially really thick skin . ( Image Source ) Yangtze Soft-Shell Turtles are natively found in South East Asia, though their is only one believed specimen in the wild today. They measure up to a meter in length and have tails and pig-like snouts. Females are slightly larger than males. Yangtze Soft-Shelled Turtles are omnivores, and feed off of plants, fish, snails, crustaceans, and small amphibians. As already mentioned, the Yangtze Soft-Shell Turtle is the most endangered Turtle in the world. It might also possi


( Image Source ) I absolutely love the name of these guys, though their looks leave much to be desired. Footballfish is the common name for members of the Himantolophidae family, which has only one genus, Himantolophus, and eighteen species. They are also members of the order Lophiiformes, which is more commonly known as the Anglerfish order! I've covered other order members in the past, but these Footballfish are more in line with what comes to mind when one thinks of Anglerfish. They live in the deep sea, they have large, round bodies with scary looking teeth, they sport "fishing poles," and last but not least, they have some rather interesting mating habits. So lets break this down. Footballfish (and many other Anglerfish) live in the deep sea. In this case, in tropical and subtropical waters around 3,300 ft. Footballfish display extreme sexual dimorphism , with the females being much, much larger than the males. This will come into play later. The

Sacred Ibis

The Sacred Ibis ( Threskiornis aethiopicus ) is a wading bird native to Sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, and Iraq. They occur primarily in marshes and wetlands. Sacred Ibises stand around 30in tall, and are covered in white feathers with the exception of the neck and head. These are featherless and covered in black skin that begins to show around two years of age. ( Image Source ) Sacred Ibises get their name due to the fact that they were literally were worshiped as gods. The ancient Egyptians believed the Ibis to be the earthly manifestation of the scribe-god Thoth. They even mummified these birds, and one tomb group contained over one million Ibis mummies ! Killing an Ibis was a act punishable by death, as it was also believed that the birds prevented plague. Interestingly, the birds actually did prevent a disease, Bilharzia (or Schistosomiasis ). The disease is carried by a parasite that latches to snails that were a favorite snack of the Ibises. By eating these snails en m


For some reason whenever I think of fish my brain automatically reverts to strange or colorful deep sea creatures. So when I was brainstorming for an animal today, I made a very conscious effort to look at something of the freshwater variety, and thus today we're going to learn all about Angelfish! ( Image Source ) Angelfish is the common term for species within the Cichlid genus Pterophyllum , but it is also the term given for the specific species Pterophyllum scalare . Their natural habitat is the Amazon River Basin, in the Amazon itself and in other rivers of the surrounding area. They live in water that is highly vegetated, and their color actually depends on the overall clarity of the water. Angelfish are omnivorous. Angelfish have a very distinct, compressed body shape. They can reach lengths of about five inches, and measure nine to ten inches tall. A mutation known as " veil tail " can add an additional couple of inches. In the wild they are typically sil


I might not have a whole lot to write about this particular Dinosaur, but that is because it is simply so new! Sarahsaurus, named after Sarah Butler , an Austin, TX philanthropist, was first discovered in 1997 and findings regarding it have just recently been published. Sarahsaurus lived in the early Jurassic around 190 million years ago. ( Image Source ) Sarahsaurus is so awesome because of what it tells us about the dispersion of dinosaurs across North and South America. The traditional view was that Dinosaurs were so dominant that they out-competed everything else around them. A new view is rising that Dinosaurs in the Americas were successful because they were opportunistic rather than dominant. There were no Dinosaurs in the area prior to the Triassic-Jurassic extinction, and then after the previous residents went extinct, Dinosaurs like Sarahsaurus moved in. Sarahsaurus was a Sauropodomorph, a precursor to Sauropods like Apatosaurus. Like the Sauropods, Sarahsaurus had a

Carolina Anole

The Carolina or Green Anole ( Anolis carolinensis ) is an arboreal lizard that is native to North America. They are found along the Atlantic Coast and can also be found in some Caribbean islands. They reach lengths of 6-7inches, and males are slightly larger than females. ( Image Source ) Anoles are able to change color, but are not true Chameleons because they can only shift between two colors, rather than a more complete blending. Temperature and sexual activity dictate which of the two colors they will be at a given time. Typically, if it is warm outside, they are found as bright green. In cooler weather, they change to a drabber brown. This is due to the fact that darker colors absorb more heat, which is a valuable trait when you're cold blooded. Males have a flap of skin on their throats called a Dewlap which also changes colors. It is normally white, but when stretched out due to mating interest or territorial protection it becomes red. Males are extremely territorial

Spinner Dolphin

Spinner Dolphins are small cetaceans that can be found throughout the tropical waters of the world. They have slender bodies, and generally do not exceed seven feet. Spinner Dolphins weigh 130-170lbs. The external appearance of these animals is dictated by their location and subspecies. Overall though, they come in shades of gray with white bellies. ( Image Source ) It is difficult to generalize the Spinner Dolphin because the habitats and behaviors of the different subspecies vary. Hawaiian and Costa Rican Spinners, for example, tend to live in coastal areas, while most other populations are far more pelagic. The Hawaiian Dolphins also tend to live in groups that number in the hundreds, while others congregate in the thousands. Many Spinner pods travel with other cetacean groups, including Humpback Whales and Spotted Dolphins. Their tendency to coexist with other sea creatures had led to some problems. In the East Pacific, Spinner Dolphins sometimes travel with Yellowfin Tuna

Kangaroo Rat

Not kangaroos, yet not actual rats, Kangaroo Rats are rodents of the genus Dipodomys . There are currently around 20 known species, all of whom live in arid regions of the American West and Southwest. California  is especially rich in species. ( Image Source ) Kangaroo Rats are well adapted to their dry environments. They have kidneys that are extremely efficient; they are able to dispose waste without wasting precious water. They are able to take in water from the food they eat, and are able to store that food for long amounts of time in   cheek pouches . They also neither sweat nor pant as they would result in water loss. Kangaroo Rats get their name from the fact that they bounce around on their hind legs much like the large marsupials. They are able to jump several times their own body length, sometimes over six feet, to escape predators, and they have especially long tails that help for balance. Kangaroo Rats are solitary animals and live in burrow and in territories tha

Blue Marlin

Blue marlins are incredibly large, iconic fish. In fact, they are one of the largest fish species in the entire world. Interestingly, the females are larger than the males and can reach lengths of 14ft and weight close to 2,000lbs. Males are substantially smaller and rarely weigh more than 300lbs. This means that all of those gigantic trophy fish are in fact female. ( Image Source ) There is some debate on the taxonomic status of the Blue Marlin. Some consider to be the Atlantic fish to be a very separate species from those in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Others consider them to be all one species within the genus Makaira . For the sake of this entry we are going to go with the earlier view: that of different species. Makaira nigricans  is found in tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic Ocean, where they prefer to live near the warmer surface waters. They are migratory, solitary hunters, and will move to areas where the food supply is better. They eat a variety of pelag


( Image Source ) Oh do I ever love mega-fauna, especially when it's something you completely wouldn't expect. Giant Mammoth? Alright, sure, Elephants are big. Giant Bear? Yeah, that too. But what about a Giant Guinea Pig? And now, I'm not talking about something Capybara sized. (Capybaras, for reference, are the world's largest living rodents and weigh up to 130lbs) Oh no, no no no. Phoberomys pattersoni , first discovered in 1999 and just recently published about, was a massive rodent that exceeded 1,500lbs . A typical modern guinea pig weights about 2lbs. That is 750 Guinea Pigs or about the size of a Buffalo! ( Image Source ) But never you fear. Phoberomys pattersoni died out about eight million years ago, and even when it was alive, it was an herbivore that fed off of sea grasses in Venezuela's Orinoco Delta . Its hind limbs were much more powerful than its front ones, and it had a strong tail that suggests that it sat up while eating. So what ate i

Golden Poison Dart Frog

By now you should know that I definitely have some favorites in the animal kingdom. I love gigantic birds. I love anything that moos or bleets, and I definitely love anything that has enough natural toxin in them to kill a man without even trying. Morbid? Maybe, but totally awesome nonetheless. So today we're going to talk about one of the single most toxic animals on the planet: the Golden Poison Dart Frog. ( Image Source ) There are actually a whole mess of Poison Dart Frogs, all of whom are found within the Dendrobatidae family and all of whom are (you guessed it) poisonous. The Golden is the king of them all. This itty bitty two inch frog has enough venom in it to kill ten men. The toxin is actually secreted through the skin, and can cause severe problems if held. If you ingest the poison or have it come in contact with an open would... well, then you are in even more trouble . The poison actually stops nerve impulses , causing  heart attack or fibrillation. Poison Dar


Though they look quite zebra-ish, the Okapi ( Okpaia johnstoni ) is actually a member of the family Giraffidae. They are found exclusively in the Ituri Rainforest of the Democratic Republic of Congo. One fifth of this forest has been set aside as the Okapi Wildlife Reserve , which is a World Heritage Site. Okapi legs are striped in a pattern much like a zebra. These stripes can distinguish one Okapi from another, and, combined with the brown on the rest of their bodies, provide camouflage in a forested habitat. Okapi are so well camouflaged that scientists did not even know of their existence until 1900! ( Image Source ) Okapis share many features with giraffes, but are not nearly as tall because such heights would be detrimental in a thick forest. They have sloping bodies, with the front end being more elevated than the back, and reaching a shoulder height of around 5.5ft. Males also have giraffe-like knobs on their heads, which grow between the ages of one and five. Okapis a