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Showing posts from April, 2012

Mary Anning

Portrait of Mary Anning, c. 1842 So far all of our Naturalists have dealt with the living animals that they saw during their studies and travels. Today we'll mix that up a bit and learn all about a woman who made some pretty awesome contributions to Paleontology... some of which she did when she was only twelve years old! Mary Anning was born in Dorset, England in 1799. Her parents had ten children, but only Mary and her brother Joseph lived to adulthood (Mary herself was actually named after an older sister of hers that died before she was born). From a young age Mary's father would take her and Joseph on fossil hunting trips to the nearby cliffs. They had the great luck to live near the Blue Lias, a geological formation in the cliffs that dated back to the Jurassic Period. Anning's father died in 1810, leaving his family with next to nothing. Mary and Joseph continued to hunt for fossils, so that they could sell them for profit and support their family. Fossil hun

Georg Steller

If you are a frequent reader of Animal a Day, you'll recognize today's featured naturalist. That is because, in the past, we've featured several of the different animals species that were named after him! Hmm... just doing a quick search we have: Steller's Eider Steller's Sea Cow Steller's Sea Eagle Steller's Sea Lion So if those animal names didn't give it away already, Georg Wilhelm Steller was a naturalist and explorer who that did his work while on Ocean Expeditions. No images of Steller exist. So let's look at a drawing he did of Sea Otters! Steller was born near Nuremburg Germany in 1709, and was later educated at the University of Wittenburg. Though he was German by birth, he moved to Russia in 1734, and it is with Russian expeditions that he did his major studies. After finding work at Saint Petersburg's Academy of Sciences, Steller joined Vitus Bering's expedition to the ocean east of Siberia in 1740. Bering hims

Maria Sibylla Merian

Portrait c. 1700 Today's featured person is one you may have never heard of- 17th century German illustrator Maria Sibylla Merian. She is known for the numerous paintings and engravings that she did of plants and insects, as well as the accurate observations that she made while creating these images. Merian was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1647. She came from a family that was already very established in the art world. Her father, Matthaus Merian , was a prominent engraver and publisher, and her stepfather was still like painter Jacob Marrel . Marrel taught his stepdaughter to draw and paint from a very young age, and she studied under him along with his male pupils. Insects fascinated Merian, and by the age of 13 she was already producing works of art based on specimens that she had captured and observed. At 18 she married one of her stepfather's pupils, and soon moved to Nuremburg. While there she began to take on students of her own, and her increased wealth and so

Pliny the Elder

Let's kick off this theme week by going really, really old school. Our first naturalist is noted Roman scholar Pliny the Elder. And by Rome, I don't just mean the city, I mean the Empire! Pliny lived nearly 2,000 years ago! A 17th century depiction. No images from his lifetime survive. Gaius Plinius Secondus was born around 23AD in Como Italy and had quite the interesting life. His father was a member of the Equestrian class, which meant young Pliny was able to be educated, and he spent his late childhood and teenage years in Rome. Around 45AD he entered the army, and traveled to what are now the Low Countries and Germany. His time in Germany inspired his first literary work, a short treatise on how to throw spears from horseback (a military technique that he observed there). He also later wrote a 20 volume work titled History of the Germanic Wars . At the age of 36 Pliny returned to Rome, but the political situation was not exactly favorable towards serious historians

Second Anniversary!

Happy Birthday to Me! Well... blog me, not real me... though to confuse things today is my brother's actual birthday. Anyway. Today is the 2 year anniversary of Animal a Day! That means we have learned about 732 different animals! So to celebrate the start of another great year full of animals, we've got another theme week! And I'm really, really excited about this one, because it's pretty outside the box. Even more so than the Mythical Creatures week. We're gonna learn all about Famous Naturalists! That's right, people! Hey ,  humans are  animals after all. So prepare to learn all about some interesting guys and gals who made important contributions to Zoology, Biology, Paleontology, and general animal awareness! And while we're in the middle of an announcement post, please check out the revamped Facebook page. It has extra pictures, interesting animal news stories, weird facts, and I'd like to get some contests and giveaways going in the future!

Tritonia diomedea

Tritonia diomedea My daily inspiration for animals comes from all kinds of sources.. and today it comes from a big cute pink slug monster that I saw hanging up at a graphic design exhibit. Convenient muse, huh? So let's talk about a real-life pink Slug, one that doesn't have anthropomorphic eyes! This is Tritonia diomedea , and it is a Nudibranch. Nudibranches are soft-bodies marine slugs all found within the clade Nudibranchia. There are around 3,000 species, many are stunningly beautiful, and they can be found in oceans worldwide. T. diomedea  lives off of the Northern Pacific Coast of North America. They inhabit relatively shallow waters, ranging at depths between 5 and 750m where there is a sandy or silty sea floor . Though the image I present is pink, the species can also be found in various shades of red and orange. The Sea Slugs feed on tiny little Cnidarians like Sea Pens and Corals, and they hunt them out using their tentacles to smell! After looking at so

Discus Cichlids

Symphysodon aequifasciatus    Today's animal is actually.. well... three animals. There are three species of Discus Cichlids, all of which live in the Amazon River Basin, all of which have compressed, disc-like body shapes, and all of which have some really neat colors and patterns. There is a little bit of controversy over how the three species are named and identified. There are two general camps , and both agree that there are three different species within the genus, but there is confusion over the classification. One group claims that S. discus  and S. aequifasciatus  are close relatives, and a newly discovered species, S. tarzoo , is different due to its spots. Of course, a year after that finding was published another report came out arguing that S. tarzoo is actually S. haraldi , and that Haraldi adn Discus may have formed hybrids. I'm confused just writing all that. And it doesn't help that these two studies give the same common names for different fish. Th

Parabogidiella Shrimp

Parabogidiella ?? I just love new species, don't you? And today's animal is so  new that it doesn't even have a species name yet! Meet the newest member of the Parabogidiella  genus. This tiny little half-inch Shrimp-like creature was discovered just last month in an underground pool in New Mexico. Like many cave dwellers it lacks skin pigmentation, and it is also blind. Scientists found it in a subterranean body of water in the Carlsbad Caverns. The cave has been explored before, but this is the first time water samples were taken. These little Crustaceans were down there this whole time, and may have been in that cave for thousands of years, right under our noses! There isn't much else to say, yet, about this new critter. But fingers are crossed that it will get a name soon! IUCN Status :  Not Listed Location :   New Mexico Size :  Length around .5in (1.3cm) Classification :  Phylum : Arthropoda -- Class : Malacostraca -- Order : Amphipoda Family : B

Painted Stork

Mycteria leucocephala The Painted Stork is a rightly colorful wading bird found in south and southeast Asia. They have bright yellow beaks, orange-ish heads, black and white banding across the body and wings, and bright pink tertial feathers. Males and females share that same bright coloration, though you can tell the sexes apart by the body and beak size (males tend to be larger). The coloration on the Painted Stork also becomes more dull when it is outside of the breeding season. Plumage plays an important role in finding a mate, as does dancing! When seeking out a partner, the male Storks perform elaborate bows . If a female likes the male's bow, they will do a bit of a dance. One paired up the couple will go on to build a platform-like nest out of sticks and vegetation. These birds are highly gregarious during the breeding season, and sometimes nests end up almost on top of one another. Both parents incubate the eggs and feed the hatched chicks using regurgitated fish. De

Earth Day!

Earth Day was started in 1970 by a Wisconsin senator named Gaylord Nelson who was interested in environmental issues after witnessing the destruction of a California oil spill. What started as an American teach-in day has since grown into an global effort, with events now taking place worldwide. Around 500 million people take part in Earth Day activities each year, and in 2009 it was designated as an International Holiday by the United Nations. If you are interested in taking part in an Earth Day event, head over to , where they have a huge database of beach cleanups, recycling drives, tree plantings, and much more. Also, please take a look at the fantastic infographic that I have posted after the break. I try and talk about conservation on AaD as much as I can, but this graphic really sums up the effect we have on animals due to climate change, poaching, and habitat loss .

Giant Panda

Captive Panda at the Smithsonian National Zoo Earth Day has arrived! And in celebration let's talk about the symbol of the World Wildlife Fund and one of the most iconic conservation poster animals out there- the Giant Panda. These large mammals are endemic to China Giant Pandas are some weird bears. And yes, they are  actual, Ursidae family-member bears , though in the past there has been speculation that they belong to some other group. At any rate, they have a digestive system made for processing a carnivorous diet, but they don't eat meat. As you probably know, Pandas eat Bamboo... which is odd because they get very few nutrients from the Bamboo. The result of their unnatural diet is that they have to eat lots and lots of the grass, up to 30lbs a day, in order to get their dietary needs satisfied. Though their digestive tract hasn't adapted to the Bamboo diet, other features of their anatomy have. Their faces are especially round because they need large back m

Turkey Vulture

Cathartes aura Happy Earth Day Weekend Everybody! I'll be putting together a lengthier post about that later, but for now lets get to our animal. And really, what animal could be more "green" than a vulture? Nature's natural garbage men! The Turkey Vulture is one of the New World Vultures, and one of the most widespread ones at that. They can be found throughout North and South America, with some populations migrating and others remaining year round. Though they look an awful lot like the Old World Vultures, New Worlds actually belong to a separate family, and possibly, to a completely different Order. Like the Giant Golden Mole yesterday, New World and Old World Vultures are examples of convergent evolution , and are only distantly related. Some biologists think that the New World Vultures might actually be me closely related to Storks and Ibises than to the similar looking Raptors across the Atlantic! You can identify a flying Turkey Vulture by looking at

Giant Golden Mole

Chrysospalax trevelyani Oh Classification, you can be so confusing, and so contentious! Moles. Burrowing, insectivorous animals that have tiny or no eyes and giant claws. You'd think they'd all be closely related, right? Nope. There are actually True Moles, Marsupial Moles, and Golden Moles. They all belong to completely different orders and are examples of what convergent evolution can do! Today's animal, the Giant Golden Mole is (unsurprisingly) one of the Golden Moles. This group of 21 species is found only in southern Africa, and the Giant itself is endemic to the nation of South Africa. They belong to the same Order as the Tenrecs, which itself is part of that odd hodgepodge Superorder known as Afrotheria . That's right, the Giant Golden Mole is technically more related to Manatees and Elephants than it is to the True Moles. Weird how that all works out! Giant Golden Moles are not, in fact, golden. Their fur is a dark brown. They have powerful front claws a

White-headed Buffalo Weaver

Dinemellia dinemelli Let's start out today by breaking down the common name of today's animal, since that will tell us quite a bit about them! White-headed : Self explainitory. They have white feathers on their heads and on their chests, orange coloration on the underside, and dark wings. They also have strong black beaks that are used for cracking seeds. Buffalo : They live in very close proximity to African Water Buffalo , and feed on seeds knocked away by the Buffalo, as well as on the insects that the large mammals stir up. Weaver : These birds are members of a large family of Weaver Birds. They build large, elaborate nests by weaving together twigs, branches, thorns, and grasses. Their abandoned nests are often used by other bird species who don't desire to build their own. White-headed Buffalo Weavers can be found throughout the open grass and scrub-lands of eastern Africa. They are a gregarious species, and their small flocks forage together on the gr

Waterfall Climbing Cave Fish

Cryptotora thamicola Today's animal is one of those strange, mysterious cave dwellers that is rarely seen by human eyes. Its common name is the Waterfall Climbing Cave Fish, and it does exactly what its name describes! These fish have fins that allow them to climb, and have been founding moving up ledges near small underground waterfalls! The species has only been found in eight subterranean sites within Thailand's Pang Mapha karst formation . It is believed that they only live within that formation, as it is unknown whether those caves are connected to ones elsewhere. Like many cave dwellers, the Waterfall Climbing Cave Fish have adapted to their dark surroundings. They have no eyes, and their bodies lack all pigmentation. Because why waste valuable energy on sight and color when it is pitch black anyway? They live in fast moving underground water, and feed off of the small organisms that live within the cave (and they themselves are very small, only about 1in long).


Octodon degus For the last decade or so I've kept Degus, but that came to an end this weekend when my last girl passed away. For some reason I hadn't written about these neat little rodents before, so now seems like the fitting time to do it. When people heard about my ownership of these animals, their first response was always "What the heck is a Degu?" And I don't really blame them. Before I stumbled upon the breeder of my first girl, I really didn't have a clue either. (Note, Don't impulse buy! I went home and read all about them before I made any decisions!) Degus love to sleep in piles Degus are small rodents that are native to central Chile, and they share a family with several species of Viscacha Rat. They are also relatives to Chinchillas and Guinea Pigs. The picture there doesn't do a whole lot of good, but they can grow up to a foot long, including the tail. All Degus are incredibly social animals. In the wild they can live in h

Sahamalaza Sportive Lemur

Lepilemur sahamalazensis It amazes me sometimes that we are still only just discovering new species. And not just tiny little frogs and insects, but 2ft long Primates as well! Today animal, the Sahamalaza Sportive Lemur, was described for the first time in 2006! And it wasn't the only Lemur recently uncovered in the forests of Madagascar, it was actually one of fifteen! The name of today's animal comes from the Sahamalaza Peninsula, the location in northwestern Madagascar where they live. Scientists aren't sure of their exact range and population size, but the Lemurs appear to be restricted to a small area and number somewhere in the low thousands. Observation has shown that they live alone or in pairs, and live a nocturnal lifestyle. Like many Lemurs, the Sahamalaza Sportives are under pressure from hunting and habitat loss. They are particularly easy target for humans who want to do them harm, as they sleep in tree holes during the daytime and are relatively defe


Mohoua ochrocephala The Mohua, also known at the Yellowhead, is a small endangered bird that is endemic to the South Island of New Zealand . Mohua is also similar to the name of their genus Mohoua , which they share with two other species, the Whitehead and Brown Creeper. They are insectivores that live in forested areas, typically feeding up in the trees. When it comes to reproduction, the females do all the incubating , but both parents spend a very long time caring for the chicks after they hatch. Mohua were once incredibly common, but these once populous birds have seen a drastic decline in their population, as many New Zealand birds have. The culprits? Introduced rats and weasels. Those predators, combined with habitat loss, have caused a decline of around 75%. A recovery plan is in place to protect the species, and it involves a whole lot of predator management . Luckily the Mohua breed very quickly and have large clutches, so it might be possible to restore them to the

Some Delightful Changes...

Did you know that the Caribbean Flamingo was the 14th animal that I ever wrote about? For those that keep track, Animal A Day is less than two weeks away from it's 2 Year Anniversary. That's over 700 animals! In celebration I've been making some updates to the different pages. "About" was finally updated, which was long overdue. I finished graduate school almost a year ago :/ "Glossary" got a really wonderful and much needed overhaul. There are a couple dozen new terms, as well as pictures. Who doesn't like a Picture Dictionary? "Bibliography" is now "Books & Movies" and I'll be adding in some new entries to that section soon. "Follow" and "Suggestions" also got little tweaks... nothing major. More changes coming up in the near future, as well as another Theme Week!

Leopard Lacewing

Cethosia cyane (Male, Top) It's not too hard to figure out why the Leopard Lacewing has its name. The males of the species sport colorful orange wings with spotted patterns and a lace-like border around the edges. While the topside is vibrant, the undersides of the wings are even more boldly patterned with dots and bars. Females maintain the same pattern as the males, but their colors are significantly more muted. Instead of bright yellows and oranges they have dull grays and whites. Caterpillars are also brightly colored, and remind me a lot of Coral Snakes. They have bars of red, black, and yellow that run down the length of their bodies. The Caterpillars feed on plants within the Passiflora  genus , and actually produce chemicals from the plant that help to defend against predators. Male Underside of Wing And where can one find these lovely looking Butterflies? Well, there original range was in India and southern China, but they have recently been spotted in the M

Leopard Tortoise

Stigmochelys pardalis The Leopard Tortoise, sometimes also referred to as the African Leopard Tortoise is a large, colorful species of reptile that can be found throughout the grassland and semi-arid regions of the African continent. They also happen to be popular in the pet industry. What blows my mind about keeping these guys as pets is that they can grow to be over 2ft long! One typically thinks of pet reptiles as living in small little terrariums, but not these Tortoises! They are actually best kept in large outdoor pens  in very warm, dry areas. And have I mentioned that they can live more than 50 years ? That is a lifetime pet commitment right there! While we're discussing size, I should also note that these are the fourth largest Tortoises in the entire world, and can weigh more than 50lbs. Surprisingly, even with all that weight, Leopard Tortoises are pretty good at getting around. They have small claws on their front feet that give them good maneuverability over bu

Swallow-tailed Gull

Creagrus furcatus Where I live we have heaps of Seagulls , Canadian Geese , and Pigeons . They're everywhere to the point that most people don't consider them to be especially remarkable.   But of course, every animal is awesome in their own way, and even if you disagree, they still probably have really cool cousins (like every single Pigeon from New Guinea). Case in point- today's animal, the Swallow-tailed Gull. This Seagull is found only on the Galapagos Islands, and it is unusual and unique among all of the Gulls because of its feeding habits. Most Seagulls feed during the daytime, but not the Swallow-tailed Gull! They forage nocturnally for fish and squid. Because they hunt at night, they avoid being the victims of Kleptoparasitism (one of my favorite words!) Other Seabirds, like Frigatebirds, will steal food from hunting Gulls. Swallow-tailed Gulls don't have this issue, as the Frigatebirds practice their piracy during the daytime. The Gulls have even ada


Opisthocomus hoazin Meet the Hoatzin, a bird that can be found near bodies of water throughout northern South America . Hoatzins are... well... kind of weird. Mostly because of what they look like as chicks. Oh, and the fact that they are so genetically distinct from other birds that they have their own entire taxonomic Order . Hoatzins are about the size of a chicken and sport a very small head with a crest, very long wings, and a long tail. Added to the list of their weird traits is their digestive tract. They actually have enlarged crops in their throat that allow them to break down food via bacterial fermentation. But... it makes them stink like garbage . The stink is actually beenficial to the birds, as it tends to keep some predators away. But lets get back to what they look like as chicks, shall we? When they are born, newly hatched Hoatzins actually have tiny claws on their wings. These claws help them to avoid predators before they are able to fly. Young Hoatzins will

White-Faced Saki

Pithecia pithecia (male) The White-Faced Saki is one of the handful of Saki monkey species. They are all New World Monkeys, meaning that they live in the Americas. Today's animal in particular has a range that covers parts of Brazil, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. The white face of the White-Faced Saki is found only on the males. In fact, there is a pretty striking different between the sexes. Males are a shiny black with a prominent white face. Females are brown all over, with only a small trace of lightness on the face. Both sexes have shaggy coats. Infants are born brown, and if male will begin to change color when they are around 2 months old . White-Faced Sakis live in small family groups, and mated pairs are typically monogamous for life. The Monkeys communicate by making incredibly loud calls that can be heard from long distances away. The Sakis live up in the trees, and have very long legs that are adapted for jumping downwards across branches. Th

Namaqua Dove

Oena capensis (male) The Namaqua Dove is a small member of the pigeon family that can be found in Sub-Saharan Africa and also on the Arabian Peninsula. Both males and females sport one of those long tails, but only the males have the black face with its red and yellow beak. Females have grey faces and dark bills. The social structure of the Namaqua Doves is far from uniform. Most live alone or in pairs, but others congregate is huge flocks near bodies of water. Some remain in a single territory year round, while others wander a larger range, or migrate seasonally. It all seems to depend on the location the birds live in, and the amount of rainfall that happens. The breeding season for these birds is also highly variable. Some populations breed int eh spring, while others do it year round. Male Doves will pursue the females on the ground by doing head bobs and giving out different calls. They will also advertise their availability by singing from tree perches and performing di

New Flickr

I've got an all new Flickr page going, which is infinitely better organized than the old one, and actually has Pro status, so I can' upload much more! Anyway, if you want to check out all the different Animal-related pictures I've been taking, head on over to


Terathopius ecaudatus The Bateleur is a medium-sized Eagle that can be found throughout the open Savannas of Sub-Saharan Africa. Its name actually comes from a French term for a tightrope walker or acrobat . It is a pretty accurate name when you think of the the aerial displays of these birds. During courtship they perform incredibly acrobatic flights, sometimes doing full somersaults ! This Eagle is the only species in its genus, but what a colorful species it is! Dark bodies with grey wings, chestnut coloration on the back, and bright red feet and beaks with just a splash of yellow. Males and females look alike, except for the fact that females have grey flight feathers, while the males have black. Bateleurs hunt over huge areas of land. In a single day they can cover more than 200 miles! They hunt by flying around 150ft above the ground, and then sweeping down on their prey in a spiral motion. They eat all sorts of things, ranging from other birds, to small mammals, to even

White Crested Laughing Thrush

Yesterday, on yet another jaunt to the zoo (memberships are the best!) I happened upon two little birds absolutely making a toddler's day. She would laugh, they would sing back. Over and over. It was pretty cute. Anyway, the birds in question were White Crested Laughing Thrushes, who I confess I have often overlooked on my visits. They share a habitat with the Victoria Crowned Pigeon, and I just love that pudgy turquoise monster. White Crested Laughing Thrushes are found in south and southeast Asia, and they are incredibly common. They have large white crests, black bars across the eyes, and reddish brown bodies. I am now kicking myself for not recording their call, but to call it laughing would be pretty spot on. This website also has some examples of their interesting music. Members of the species are very social , and they live in extended family groups that forage together year round. The birds feed on seeds, fruits, and insects, and males and females form strong mated pai

Gray Tree Frog

Hyla versicolor Though the common name identifies this species as the Gray Tree Frog, the scientific name is a bit more accurate. Hyla versicolor  alludes to the fact that these frogs can actually change color - their skin can slowly change to match their surroundings, moving from gray to green to white to brown to black! They also sport some vibrant yellow patches under their hind legs, though they are difficult to see unless the frogs are in mid-leap. Gray Tree Frogs can be found in the eastern United States and in southern Canada. They are relatively small compared to other species in that range. As their name suggests, they live up in the trees. Breeding is pretty much the only activity that motivates them to leave their tree. If you live in their range, you may have heard their calls! On warm nights during the breeding season the males produce very loud buzzing trills. These calls are made while the males are hiding in vegetation near bodies of water. Females are attracte


Prognathodon waiparensis Prognathodon is a genus of nine extinct lizard species. This genus resides in the Mosasaur family and they lived during the late Cretaceous, ultimately going extinct around 65 million years ago. Prognathodons lived in oceans around the world, and their fossils have been found in Europe, North America, Africa, and New Zealand. They were absolutely gigantic ocean predators, with some measuring as large as 30ft! We know that Prognathodons lived in deep water, since they had bony protrusions around their eye sockets. This anatomical feature helps sea creatures to withstand higher pressures far below the surface. The name "Prognathodon" means forejaw tooth , and these marine reptiles certainly had large, powerful teeth  and incredibly strong jaw muscles. Prognathodons used their huge, strong mouths to crush the shells of different animals like Turtles and Ammonites. One recently discovered fossil actually included stomach contents! Status :  Ext