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Showing posts from November, 2010

Squid Worm

Image by Laurence Madin ( Image Source ) Two miles deep, down in the waters between Indonesia and the Philippines, there lives and animal so unusual that on first glance, no one knew what it was. Was it a squid? Was it a worm? What is this thing? After a few years of study, we now know. It is, in fact, a Squid Worm, a member of the earthworm and tube worm filled Annelid phylum. Squid Worms ( Teuthidodrilus samae ) are interesting because they are remarkably abundant, and are relatively large for a deep sea creature. They measure about four inches in length. The name comes from the ten tentacles that protrude outward from the head. The Squid Worm also has iridescent bristles that run down the length of their body, aiding in movement. They feed off of plankton and small floating debris. Another notable fact about the Squid Worm is that it might be a transitional species ; and animal that stradles the line between species that reside on the sea floor, and those that swim openly

South American Bushmaster

( Image Source ) Lachesis muta is the largest viper in the world, and the longest venomous snake in the Western Hemisphere. They can reach lengths of over nine feet, with large specimens growing several more feet on top of that. The South American Bushmaster can be found in tropical forests in the north and central parts of the continent, including the countries of Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, and Bolivia. They are also found on the island of Trinidad and in some areas of Central America. Overall, they are a very widespread species. The South American Bushmaster is venomous , and its bite can kill a human. They have long fangs that sink deep into their target, injecting the venom far in. The venom is not as strong as that of other snakes, but it is hemotoxic; causing organ degeneration and loss of red blood cells. Luckily, they are nocturnal snakes and do not frequently come into contact with humans, so the total number of bites is relatively low. There is an anti venom availab


Like the Kakapo, the Takahe is a colorful, flightless bird endemic to New Zealand. Also like the Kakapo, Takahe are on the brink of extinction, with less than 200 birds remaining. They were even believed to be extinct previous to 1948, as no one had seen them in decades. The population is now divided between a handful of protected, predator-free areas. ( Image Source ) Takahe ( Porphyrio hochstetteri ) are the largest members of the family Rallidae, measuring up to two feet in length and weighing 5-9lbs. As mentioned, they are flightless, and have small wings that are used for displays of both aggression and courtship. They are primarily blue in color, with green on the back and bright pink beaks and legs. Young birds are born almost completely black, including on the beak. They can their color as they age, and reach sexual maturity around three years old. Both parents care for their chicks for the 30 day incubation and three months of feeding, though usually only one of the 1

Maned Wolf

Maned Wolves are the largest Canids in South America, standing nearly three feet tall on extremely long legs. It is the lone member of genus Chrysocyon , and their common named comes from a strip of hair that runs down the back of their heads and shoulders. The Maned Wolf is not especially close with Wolves or Foxes (despite looking quite fox like.) Their closest relatives are Bush Dogs. C. brachyurus  is an omnivorous species. They feed off of birds and rodents, and sometimes get in to trouble with farmers for eating domestic chickens. Maned Wolves also have a fondness for lobeira , a tomato-like fruit. They are nocturnal and do all of their hunting at night. ( Image Source ) Maned Wolves are solitary, unlike true wolves which live in packs. A pair mates for life, but they are only actually around each other during the breeding season. Other times, they share an overlapping territory that they both defend. It was long believed that only the female cares for the pups, but in c

Black Mamba

We got Turkey for Thanksgiving, and now a deadly, venomous snake for Black Friday. Though did you know that the Black Mamba isn't really black ? Their bodies are actually grayish-brown; the name comes from the color of their mouths, which they open and display when threatened. ( Image Source ) Black Mambas can be found in Southern and Eastern Africa. They live in a variety of habitats, but are most common in grass and scrubland areas. They are the longest venomous snakes on the continent, with average lengths of over nine feet, and some individuals reaching up to fourteen. Because of their long size, they can strike from four to six feet away, and they tend to strike multiple times. Before their was an anti-venom, Mamba bites were 100% fatal. There is now an  anti-venom , but because it kills so quickly there are still human deaths in many remote areas. Black Mambas are slowly loosing their habitat to farmland, which puts them in close proximity to humans. Their nervous de

Wild Turkey

Come on, how could I write about anything else on (American) Thanksgiving? Turkeys are absolutely central to the holiday, as both the main meal and as an icon for the season. But rather than talk about the domestic bird that gets eaten, we're going to talk about their wild cousin, the feathered friend that Benjamin Franklin described as "a... respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America." Due to reintroduction and transplanting of wild populations, Wild Turkeys are now found in every U.S. state except for Alaska. ( Image Source ) Wild Turkeys ( Meleagris gallopavo ) are natively found throughout North America in six different subspecies. Turkeys were domesticated by the Aztecs, and by other native groups around the same time, and are one of only two bird species to be domesticated in North America (the other being the Muscovy Duck). It was once believed that the South Mexican subspecies was the wild ancestor to the domestic birds, but that has now

American Coot

( Image Source ) I injured my back a few days ago and spent a lot of time on the sofa watching nature documentaries. I finished up Great Migrations and in the process noticed a neat looking little bird that apparently lives (for at least part of the year anyway) right in my proverbial back yard, though I've never seen one. I really feel like I need to take up bird watching. Hmm. Anyway, the species in question is the American Coot ( Fulica americana ), a gregarious waterbird of the Rallidae family that can be found in just about every part of North America during some part of the year. Birds that reside in the Western United States and Mexico are residential, while other populations are migratory , heading up to Eastern Canada, the Midwest, and the American Northeast in order to breed. American Coots spend their lives on or near water, though interestingly, they do not have webbed feet like ducks do. They swim and dive for their food, and they are very opportunistic feede

Moon Jellyfish

( Image Source ) Aurelia aurita is an exceptionally abundant species of Jellyfish that can be found throughout the oceans of the Northern Hemisphere. Moon Jellyfish range in size from 5 to 40cm in diameter, and are most easily recognized by their translucent bodies (the top part is known as the medusa) and four, horse-shoe shaped gonads visible in the dome. Interestingly, Moon Jellyfish have no real respiratory parts. Instead, it obtains oxygen by passing it from the water through its membrane. They also have no excretory or circulatory systems as we commonly known them. They do however, have distinct males and females, who reproduce sexually. ( Image Source ) Moon Jellyfish feed primarily on zooplankton, including small mollusks and crustaceans. Their tentacles have venomous nematocysts on them, which help to capture and trap food on their mucus-covered exterior. Their tentacles then push the food along eight different canals which run into the stomach. These canals are

Wandering Albatross

( Image Source ) The Wandering Albatross is one of many Albatross species found within the family Diomedeidae . What makes them special? They have the largest wingspan, with a tip to tip range of up to eleven feet! They are a circumpolar species, and can be found flying over the southern oceans. Wandering Albatrosses are truly remarkable birds. Their narrow wings allow them to utilize the ocean winds and glide with very little effort for hours and hours. They can even lock their wings into a position for an extended period of time, which reduces further energy expenditure. Wandering Albatrosses spend most of their lives at sea, feeding off of fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans. They will sometimes come to rest in the water, but floating in such a position puts them in danger of being prey upon themselves. ( Image Source ) Every other year the Wandering Albatrosses  come ashore in colonies in order to breed and care for their young. Pairs mate for life, which can be an exce


This morning I had originally planned on another invertebrate, but I was more in the mood for something fuzzy and cute, which is why we're going to learn about the chipmunk! Cliff Chipmunk ( Image Source ) There are actually twenty-five distinct species of Chipmunk, traditionally classified in one genus, though a three-genera organization is also floating around out there. Of all those species, only one , the Siberian Chipmunk, is found outside of North America. All species have striped patterns across their faces and bodies, and different species range in color from gray (like the Cliff Chipmunk) to reddish-brown. Chipmunks are the smallest members of the squirrel family overall, though the Eastern Chipmunk can reach sizes of over eleven inches. Chipmunks are perhaps most notable for their giant puffy cheeks that they can carry food around in. Food collection is of vital importance to this tiny rodents; though they do hibernate, they don't store fat. Instead, they hav


( Image Source ) Insects of the family Notonectidae are often known as Backswimmers because of the fact that they swim upside down, both on the surface, and under the water. There are eight total genera, with species commonly found ponds, lakes, and rivers across Europe and North America. Backswimmers range in size between .5 to 1.5 cm. They have large eyes, back legs with log hairs that help them to swim, and a convex dorsum (back). Backswimmers also have wings that allow them to get up and find a new body of water to hunt in. Because it is difficult for them to actually distinguish between types of water, they are often seen in swimming pools. Backswimmers prey on other insects and sometimes even small vertebrates, like tadpoles. As nymphs, they will consume each other. They are actually a quite beneficial group of insects because they consume mosquito larvae. So if you find one in your swimming pool, scoop it up and let it go!

Crowned Eagle

( Image Source ) Stephanoeatus coronatus  is the second largest Eagle in Africa, behind the slightly larger Martial Eagle. They are also sometimes referred to as the Crowned Hawk-Eagle. Their common name comes from a crest of feathers on their heads, and they have dark bodies with mottled undersides. They have short but powerful wings that are excellent for flying in wooded areas. Their distribution is patchy, but covers areas in Sub-Saharan and East Africa. Crowned Eagles primarily hunt mammals , including monkeys, feral cats, and small antelope. They are able to take down animals that weigh up to 44lbs, using their long, powerful hind talons to break spines. The downside to larger prey is that they can't carry it with them, and so they will rip the meal up in chunks and carry it back to be stored in trees and consumed later. Mated pairs will sometimes hunt cooperatively. Courtship for the Crowned Eagles involves a quite amazing display. The male will perform a series of a

Cone Snail

Conus textile ( Image Source ) There are around 500 species of Cone Snail, marine gastropods that belong to the genus Conus . They live in tropical and subtropical waters around the world and vary in size depending on the species, with the largest measuring over 20cm in length. Cone Snails also look quite pretty . They have long, attractive shells that tend to have nice little patterns and designs on them, no wonder they are popularly used as jewelry! But beware! Cone Snails have a extremely potent toxin (called Conotoxin ), and they have to. They are tiny little guys who don't move very fast. Their toxin needs to paralyze their prey quickly, otherwise it'll get away. The toxin in these Snails has the ability to kill a human being, and there is no known antivenom. They attack via a barb that shoots out from their shell, and the type of paralysis is dependent on the species. When their prey is immobilized, they draw it back in to their shell, still attached to the barb.

Marbled Polecat

They may look like abnormally cute ferrets, and while   Vormela peregusna  are  Mustelids, and members of the same subfamily as Weasels, Martens, and Badgers, but they belong to a genus all their own. They are one of the rarer Mustelids of the world, though their range covers large parts of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Marbled Polecats can be found in open habitats like grasslands, and steppes. ( Image Source ) The Marbled Polecat gets its name from the interesting pattern that shows up on its back. Their face is black and white, but their body is a rich marbled combination of yellows, browns, whites, and reds. They have short muzzles, long tails, and powerful front claws that help them to dig and burrow. When threatened , Marbled Polecats hiss and fluff up their hair, making their bodies appear much larger. They also have some exceptionally stinky glands under their tail that release foul odors. Normally solitary creatures, Marbled Polecats come together to bree

Puff Adder

It's not the longest snake, or the heaviest, but the Puff Adder is one of the most feared. Why? Because they kill more people on their home continent of Africa than any other species of snake. Though numbers are hard to track down, something around 60% of all bites come from Bitis arietans . ( Image Source ) Puff Adders only measure about three feet in length, and have very wide, sluggish bodies that rely on camouflage for hunting. However, don't let their girth fool you, they can strike extremely fast, and their venom can cause shock, unconsciousness, skin necrosis, and hemorrhages. They have long fangs and can inject the venom deep into their target, easily causing death if not treated. Though the threat to humans is there, Puff Adders normally go after and feed upon small rodents, reptiles, and birds. Human attacks typically occur when the snake is startled and confronted. Puff Adders are (my favorite word!) ovoviviparous, and can give birth to several dozen live

New Things!

New layout! And I've added a handful of new things to the Bibliography, Links, and Glossary. Check them out! ... now I just need to get going on formatting the 400 photographs that I have laying around.


( Image Source ) National Geographic has been playing their Great Migrations  series the past few weeks, and during one of last night's episodes they talked about the Pronghorn, and how it is a species with no close living relatives. This caught my interest, so here we go, Pronghorns! Pronghorns are members of the order Artiodactyla- even-toed ungulates. From there, they also belong to the Infraorder Pecora,  which they share with antelope, cattle, goats, giraffes, etc. But that's were any taxonomic similarities to other living species ends. Pronghorns are the only extant species in the family Antilocapridae. There are nearly two dozen completely extinct genera in the family, and only Antilocapra remains. Antilocapra americana  has a number of different subspecies, all of which live in the Western United States and Canada. They stand about three feet at the shoulder, and both males and females have those characteristic backwards facing horns. Pronghorns are the fastest

Mallard Duck

I apologize for the absurdly late post today, got a bit sidetracked with some other stuff. But one of those projects was a short trip to the zoo! In 40 degree weather! Not a whole lot was outside in that kind of climate, but there were loads and loads of Mallard Ducks. More Mallards than I've probably ever seen in one place, so tonight we're gonna dive into the wonderful world of ducks! Mallards are the most widespread of all ducks, and are found in freshwater areas across the Northern Hemisphere, and have been introduced to many other locations. Mallards have become so widespread that some localized  populations  have changed enough to be considered their own separate species. Some Northern Mallard populations are migratory, while others remain in their location year round. Mallards can fly at speeds of up to 40mph. Did you know that the Mallard is the  ancestor  of all the domestic ducks we have today, save the Muscovy Duck ? When you think of the wild Mallard, and even

Red Bellied Piranha

When pop culture talks about tiny fish that swarm the water and devour everything in sight, they are almost always referring the the Red Bellied Piranha. But interestingly, the reputation of the Piranha as a bloodthirsty killer that will eat a man alive is more or less undeserved . Let's learn why! ( Image Source ) Red Bellied Piranhas ( Pygocentrus nattereri )   live in the Amazon and in other surrounding coastal rivers in South America. As their name might suggest, they have red coloration on their undersides, and a silvery top. These Piranhas do  have razor sharp, interlocking teeth, and they do  sometimes have " feeding frenzies ," where a school of them will consume prey and strip it to the bone. But their normal meals includes other fish, insects, crustaceans, and even algae! Don't get me wrong, Red Bellied Piranhas will sometimes feed on much larger creatures, but it's typically because they are sick or injured. In their native habitat, humans are n

Gentoo Penguin

Gentoo Penguins (pronounced jen-TOO) stand about 30 inches tall and are the third largest species of penguin, behind the Kings and Emperors. They also possess one of the widest distributions of all penguins, inhabiting the shores of Antarctica and numerous islands including the Falklands and South Georgia. Their genus, Pygoscelis , also contains the Chinstrap and Adeilie Penguins. ( Image Source ) ( Image Source ) Pygoscelis papua is identified by its vividly bright orange beak and feet. They also have a "cap" of white feathers that runs over their head from eye to eye. Gentoo Penguins are carnivorous, and consume crustaceans, small cephalopds, and fish. Hunting is done close to their breeding colonies. When hunting , the penguins are able to dive over 300ft, and can reduce their normally 80-100bpm heart rate down to only 20bpm. During a single day, an individual penguin may dive for food several hundred times! Gentoo nests are typically found on

Duckbill Platypus

Oh Monotremes. You are so amazingly, incredibly bizarre. And as weird as the Echidna was, it's got nothing on the Platypus, a mammal so darn weird that British Naturalists actually believed it was a hoax stitched together by Chinese sailors. And you know what? I really don't blame them. How would you react to a weird, otter-like creature with webbed flippers, a beaver tail and a bird-like bill? ( Image Source ) Platypuses ( Ornithorhynchus anatinus ) are one of a kind, the only living members of the Monotreme suborder Platypoda. Other, now-extinct Platypuses exist in the fossil record as far back at 60 million years. (The first known Monotremes, while we're on this topic, are thought to have diverged from other mammals over 160 million years ago .) They are found exclusively in Australia, along the eastern edge of the continent and on the island of Tasmania. All of the Platypus's features serve a purpose. Their bill is actually one long snout full of sensory or

Sea Cucumber

( Image Source ) There are over 1,200 known species of Sea Cucumber, invertebrate echinoderms of the class Holothroidea. All species are ocean-dwellers, living in waters throughout the world, including the frigid waters near the North and South Pole. They come in a variety of sizes and colors, with the largest (the appropriately named Giant Sea Cucumber ) measuring up to several feet in length. Because of their soft bodies, Sea Cucumbers have not fossilized well, but we do have examples dating back around 400 million years to the Silurian. Sea Cucumbers are scavengers, feeding off of plankton and debris that floats through the water. They draw meals in using tentacle-like appendages around their mouth, and then digest and expel the waste back into the water, where it becomes food for bacteria. Most Sea Cucumber species have very tiny tube-like feet that help them to move slowly. One of the most interesting (and probably disgusting) habits of Sea Cucumbers is their ability to

Golden Pheasant

( Image Source ) The Golden or Chinese Pheasant ( Chrysolophus pictus ) is a rather interesting looking bird belonging to the Galliformes order and found natively in China. There are also feral populations in England and elsewhere. To be perfectly honest, I chose this bird because of its absolutely spectacular looks. The males are simply gorgeous birds, with red, blues, greens, golds found throughout their color palette. The females are quite less stunning; they are a dull brown color which aids in camouflage. Even though the males are quite flashy, they live in very dense habitats and are not easily seen. Golden Pheasants are omnivores, feeding on invertebrates, berries, grains, and other forms of vegetation. They are able to fly, but are  a bit clumsy, and are typically found on the ground. ( Image Source ) Golden Pheasants interbreed with Lady Amherst Pheasants, (also of the genus Chrysolophus ) and many captive individuals are mixed breeds. Captive Goldens are bred


( Image Source ) The Arapaima ( Arapaima gigas ) is one of the largest freshwater fish in the world. Measuring up to ten feet long and weighing 400 pounds, it is a true river giant. They are native to the Amazon River, where they and their descendants have been swimming since the Jurassic. Arapaimas are air-breathers , meaning that they inhale their oxygen through the air rather than through the water. Because of this, they are typically found near the surface of the water, though they are able to hold their breath for 10-20 minutes. The breeding cycle of the Arapaima is dependent on the seasons. Eggs are laid February-April, when the water is at its lowest, and hatch during the flooding season so that the young fish can thrive and feast on all of the organisms that are churned up. Male Arapaimas take an interesting role in the process, incubating the eggs in his mouth (mouthbrooding). ( Image Source ) Water birds beware! Though the Arapaima mainly eats fish, they will


I know that Famous Animals Week has ended, but yesterday saw the end of one of horse racing's greatest careers, and I just couldn't resist writing about this amazing horse. Zenyatta was born in 2004, and purchased for a sum of $60,000, a relatively low amount in the world of thoroughbred racing. She was a late bloomer,  racing for her first time near the end of the 2007 season. But all that waiting paid off. Until yesterday, Zenyatta was undefeated in 19 starts, a record practically unheard of for any horse. She placed second in the Breeders Cup Classic, racing as both the only female, and the oldest horse on the field. She won the same race last year, becoming the very first filly to do so. She is 17.2 hands and just over 1,200lbs, exceptionally large for a racehorse. Zenyatta has a personality and a demeanor that those around her describe as human-like.  She loves to dance and show off, and she loves a good, room-temperature Guinness. And even though her final race was

Black-capped Chickadee

( Image Source ) The Black-capped Chickadee ( Poecile atricapillus ) is a cute little bird that I'm sure many of us see each and every day. Chickadees are common across the Northern United states and Canada, and are found in forests, open woodlands, and in suburban areas. The Black-capped Chickadee is characterized by its small body, short neck, and large head. The head is black with white cheeks, the back and wings are a light grey, and the underside ranged from cream to white. They have short beaks and long, (for their size) narrow tails. They are very active, social birds. They live in flocks that often intermingle with other species, and have a wide variety of calls that they use when communicating. Black-capped Chickadees are monogamous birds, typically for life. They build their nests in pre-existing cavities, and lay 8-12 eggs which hatch nearly two weeks later. The female is the sole incubator, and the male provides food. Insects and Seeds make up a majority of


We all know about Mustelids; otters, weasels, badgers. But have you heard about the Tayra? Tayras are the only species within the genus Eira  and are found in tropical forests of Central and South America. They look quite weasel-life, with dark brown body hair, a lighter colored head, a body length of around 60cm, and a bushy tail. Tayras weigh up to 11lbs. ( Image Source ) Tayras ( Eira barbara ) are diurnal and solitary, and are both arboreal and terrestrial, often making their homes in hollow trees. Tayras are excellent swimmers and climbers. They are also omnivorous , and prefer to eat rodents, though reptiles, insects, and fruits are also consumed. Tayras are different from some other mustelids in that they do not have delayed implantation during reproduction. After mating the females have a a 63-70 day gestation period before giving birth to 2-3 offspring. These young are weaned after 2-3 months. Many wild Tayra populations are on the decline , due to habitat los

Giant Tube Worm

( Image Source ) Giant Tube Worms ( Riftia pachyptila )  live in one of the most harsh and unpredictable habitats on earth -   the sea floor . These invertebrates live in the deep parts of the Pacific Ocean, at an average of 5,000 feet down. Amazingly, they cluster near thermal vents that spew an array of harsh chemicals that are lethal to most other organisms. Giant Tube Worms use those chemicals to their benefit with help from their partners in   symbiosis . Tube Worms have no mouths or digestive systems, instead, they have a beneficial relationship with their internal bacteria. The bacteria converts the chemicals from the vents into nutrients that sustain the worm. These worms truly are gigantic, and can grow to lengths of roughly eight feet. They are characterized by their bright red "plume" which is actually a hemoglobin-rich organ that siphons chemicals to the bacteria. The outer tube of the worm is comprised of chitin, the same material that makes up the exoskelet

Sacred Scarab Beetle

Ah... back to normal. Though I just might splice in some more famous animals into the daily routine, Animal A Day is pretty open ended after all. (Image Source) Anyway, today I present to you the Sacred Scarab Beetle, a curious little bug that was likened to a god.   Scarabaeus sacer  is one many, many species found within the Dung Beetle superfamily,    Scarabaeoidea. One of its families alone, Scarabaeinae, contains over 5,000 species. But we're going to talk about just one! The Sacred Scarab is a dung beetle native to the Mediterranean region and central Europe. Like all dung beetles, Sacred Scarabs consume dung, locating it with their  sense of smell . Oftentimes they will roll the dung into balls to transport it to burrows for safekeeping, and these balls can become larger than the beetle itself! Females will also lay their eggs within these dung balls, and the larvae will hatch and consume their "nest." The Sacred Scarab's dung rolling and egg-hatching


I've had a really fun time putting together this theme week, and would like to end on a happy note with Ham the Astrochimp! The first ape in space! Ham post-mission ( Image Source) There had been several animals in space before Ham. Mice, Dogs, and Monkeys had all been launched, but the purpose of Ham's trip was to prove something beyond survivability. Ham was trained to perform commands, so that reaction times could be recorded and assessed. He was born in Camaroon in 1956, and in 1959 was brought to Holloman Air Force base, which would be the inspiration for his name: H olloman A erospace M edical Center. (He was originally named #65, and didn't obtain an actual name until after his successful mission) There were originally 40 animals in the program, but it was eventually whittled down to just six , including Ham. These six chimpanzees were placed in Mercury mock-ups and trained to pull levers when prompted by lights. If they performed the task correctly, they


Alex the African Grey Parrot was one of the most extraordinary birds to have ever lived. In 1977, animal psychologist Dr. Irene Pepperberg started an experiment to test the intelligence of parrots, and her first subject was Alex, a one-year old bird from an ordinary pet shop in Chicago. ( Image Source ) Previous to this project, it was believed that the brain's of birds were not capable of complex problem solving and speech formation; that their words were only the result of mimicry. Alex proved all of that wrong. He had a vocabulary of 150 words, including 50 objects and quantities up to the number six. He was capable of understanding concepts like number, shape, material, and color, and could compose short phrases to express responses and wants. He was even able to express frustration, both with repetitive research tasks and with incorrect responses given by his fellow parrots in the project. Alex also remarkably had a basic understanding of the the concept of zero . When