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Showing posts from May, 2012

Flammulated Owl

Otus flammeolus The firs thing that came to mind when I saw this animal for the first time was, "wow... that's a tiny Owl!" And they certainly are! Flammulated Owls are really small members of their family. Their bodies are only about half a foot long, and their entire wingspan is around 14in. For a comparison, the Eurasian Eagle Owl (one of the largest Owls) can have a wingspan as large as 6ft! Aside from their small size, Flammulated Owls can be identified by their small ear tufts and coloration that... sort of matches their name-- "flammulated" means "of a reddish hue," and the owls certainly have little bits of reddish brown here and there, though they are mostly grey. You can find these little guys in western Canada and the United States, as well as down in Mexico where they migrate to during the winters. It was once thought that they were very rare in their range, but better surveying methods have shown otherwise. One issue was simply fin


Fruitadens haagarorum Allow me to introduce you to a tiny little Dinosaur named Fruitadens . They are the smallest discovered members of the entire Ornithischian (bird-hipped) Order. These tiny guys only measured 2ft in length, and weighed less than 2lbs! Fruitadens are not, in fact, named " Fruit Tooth ." The moniker actually comes from the Fruita region of Colorado, which is where their fossils were discovered. Confusing the issue even more is the fact that they little guys probably did eat fruit... but they also ate small critters, insects, and other plants as well. It seems that they were very opportunistic feeders . Fruitadens was first described only 2 years ago, but the bones where uncovered back in the 1970s and 1980s! They sat stored at the Los Angeles County Museum for decades until a more exact study could be done. The resulting analysis turned up one species, Fruitadens haagarorum (named for the President of the Museum's Board of Trustees), which lived

Brown Tree Snake

Boiga irregularis Today's animal is the Brown Tree Snake, a reptile that would be nothing particularly special... if it wasn't for the impact it has has as an invasive species over the last 60 years. They have caused an incredible amount of destruction on the island of Guam, resulting in the extinction of a handful of other species and costing millions of dollars of damage. You see, they aren't originally from Guam. They actually hail from Australia, New Guinea, and a handful of other large islands in Melanesia. In their native range they can be found in a variety of habitats, including areas free of trees! You heard me right, Brown Tree  Snakes can be found in grasslands and in cliff areas, as well as in forests. Sometime after World War II, but before 1952, a couple of Brown tree Snakes made their way to Guam as stowaways in ship cargo. When they reached the small island it didn't take long for massive devastation to occur. By 1968 they had spread across the


Pseudois nayaur The Bharal is one of those animals that goes by many different common names. Nabo, Naur, and Himalayan Blue Sheep are all some of the different monikers given to the species. Why so many names? Well, the Bharal lives in Central and East Asia, so different countries with different languages refer to the animal in different ways. Bharal live in the Himalaya Mountains, as well as in other mountainous regions of China. They can be found at altitudes of between 10,000 and 18,000ft. They graze on the mountain slopes, and their grey coats give them excellent camouflage against predators. If they feel threatened , the Bharal stand perfectly still, blending in with the rocks. If that defensive tactic doesn't work, they can scamper up the cliffs with their sure-footed hooves before trying to blend in again. Of course, they can't always escape from predators. They make up a huge portion of the Snow Leopards' diet , and it is estimated that the Leopards consume 

Six-spot Burnet Moth

Zygaena filipendulae Today's animal is a small, colorful insect with a name that describes it pretty much to the tee. The six-spot Burnet Moth does in fact have six spots on each wing... though sometimes they get a bit merged together, which can result in some spot-count confusion. Six-spot Burnets live throughout Europe and are incredibly common on the continent. There are over 20 different subspecies! Most of the subspecies have dark bodies with wings of a metallic sheen. The wing spots are red, which warns predators that these Moths are poisonous! Sometimes the spots are yellow or brown, but only rarely. Six-spot Burnets are active during the day, when they live in colonies and feed on the nectar of large flowers. They prefer sunny days, and fly from June to August. The Moths only reproduce once, and the caterpillars overwinter before pupating and becoming Moths in June. (Sometimes they will even overwinter twice!) Caterpillars are very plump and greenish-yellow, with

Mourning Dove

If you live in North America, I'm sure you've met today's animal before. This is the Mourning Dove, or Turtledove, or Carolina Pigeon, or Rain Dove... It goes by a whole lot of names. These members of the Columbidae family are some of the most widespread and abundant birds in North America, boasting a range of over 11 million square miles! Mourning Doves spend a whole lot of time eating. They forage on the ground, storing up as many seeds as possible in their crop (there can literally be thousands of seeds in there!) In a single day, a Mourning Dove can eat 20% of their body weight. Seeds make up nearly 99% of their diet, but they aren't especially picky about the type of seed. This helps them to survive and spread into different habitats. The Doves are even able to live in deserts, thanks to their ability to drink incredibly brackish water! Another cause for their large population and extensive range is their nesting behavior. Banding studies suggest that Mournin

Hazel Grouse

Tetrastes bonasia (male) Meet the Hazel Grouse, a little bitty member of its family that can be found across the northern areas of both Europe and Asia. They are sedentary birds that live and breed in dense forests, laying their eggs in nests on the ground. These birds can be identified by their gray backs, reddish-brown wings, and barred white and dark underparts. Males have black throats that are outlined in white, as well as a short crest on the head. Females are smaller than the males, have shorter crests, and lack the black throats. Even if you know what they look like, you will still probably  hear the Hazel Grouse long before you see it... if you see it at all! Their dense forest habitat makes them very hard to see, and their shy personalities often keep them hidden. The males make very high pitched ti-ti-ti calls, and the females have smoother sounding tetete. Female Hazel Grouse IUCN Status :  Least Concern Location :   Asia, Europe Size :  Body Length up to


Percheron Horses Ever since yesterday's Abyssinian Cat, I've been in a bit of a domesticated animal mood. So today let's learn about one of the most distinct draft horses out there, the Percheron. (And don't be shocked if you see another domesticated breed tomorrow...) The breed is best known for its grey coloration, and in France and Britain only grey and black horses are allowed to be registered. The United States is a bit more lenient on color-- chestnut, bay, and roan are also allowed. They are strong horses, know for their ruggedness, hard-working attitude, and adaptability. Percherons are named for Le Perche, a region in France located about 50 miles southwest of Paris. Horses have been breed there for hundreds, if not thousands of years. But like many other ancient breeds, the exact details of the Percherons' ancestry is unknown. There are a couple of different theories regarding the origins of the Percheron. Some suggest they descend from Roman

Abyssinian Cat

Abyssinian The Abyssinian Cat is yet another domesticated creature that has a slightly confusing back-story. The breed gets its moniker from Abyssinia, an old place name for what is now Ethiopia. Only... there is no evidence that the cats actually came from Ethiopia. It is more likely that the breed developed further north in Egypt, and before that came from ancestors in Southeast Asia. The cats strongly resemble the felines painted in Ancient Egyptian wall murals, and recent genetic studies show resemblances to cats around the Indian Ocean. The ancient origins may never be fully understood, but the modern ones are a little bit more clear (with some exceptions of course). The Abyssinian breed as we know it today was first bred in the United Kingdom at the end of the 19th century. Some claim that the cat who started to whole line was a female named Zula who was imported in the 1860s. However, there is no concrete evidence that this story is true. What is factual is that all cu

Common House Mosquito

Culex pipiens We learn about all sorts of creatures on Animal a Day. Sometimes they are majestic Leopards, sometimes they are beautiful Birds-of-Paradise.... and sometimes they are tiny little disease carriers that everyone hates. I'm sure you've met Culex pipiens  before; he is usually referred to as the Common House Mosquito. These tiny insects cane be found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, and are usually the most common Mosquitos in suburban and urban areas (yes, there are actually many  different species of Mosquito). I'm sure this is no surprise to you, but Common House Mosquitos feed on blood. Bird blood is their favorite drink, but humans and other mammals also appear on the menu. However, all those bites can be attributed to the females-- males actually do not feed on blood at all . They do not have biting mouth parts, and feed instead on plant nectar. Common House Mosquitos have a short breeding cycle and can reproduce quickly and in very large numbe

Berghia coerulescens

Berghia  coerulescens I always love writing about Nudibranchs . They are such colorful little Gastropods! Today's Nudibranch is Berghia coerulescens , a species with that can be found in the Atlantic Ocean, as well as in the Mediterranean and Caribbean Seas. (I was unable to find any common name for the species, but if anyone knows of one, let me know!) B. coerulescens  are quite small, typically between 4 and 7cm. You can identify them by all the weird blue and yellow fringes that grow out from their bodies. These growths are called Cerata, and they aide in respiration and defense. This species consumes Anemones (as do most members of their family). Anemone venom passes through the Nudibranch and actually collects at the tip of the Cerata, making the Nudibranch venomous as well! Berghia  coerulescens  is a common species in the temperate waters of its range. They are also sometimes kept in captivity, though they have a relatively short life expectancy (only a few months).

Red-rumped Swallow

Cecropis daurica Today's animal is the Red-rumped Swallow, a bird that has a pretty wide distribution , and can be found across Africa, Europe, and Asia. Some birds of the species are migratory, while others (mostly in Africa and India) live in resident populations. You can identify one of these birds by their cool coloration. They have reddish heads, blue backs, and a bright, red-orange rumps. Red-rumped Swallows are also sometimes referred to as Striated Swallows . You can find these Swallows most commonly in grassland areas, flying about in search of dinner. They hunt from the air , picking off insects in flight. One fact that I found particularly interesting was that these birds live in large groups outside of the breeding season, but do not colonize while nesting. many other birds do the exact opposite. They build small, spherical nests with tunnel openings, and lay 3-6 eggs at once. IUCN Status :  Least Concern Location :   Africa, Asia, Europe Size :  Body Len


Proganochelys quenstedti Poor Proganochelys. For over 100 years it was the oldest turtle species ever discovered. its fossils dated back 210 million years! ...And then Odontochelys was found in 2008 with fossils 10 millions years older... and ruined that "oldest" distinction. Ah well, such is science! I'm sure even Odontochelys will be dethroned at some point; we still have such much to learn about the Earth's past. Proganochelys fossils have been found in Germany and Thailand, and they show that this was a creature around 1m long. They look remarkably like the turtles that we have today, and even shed some light on how turtle got to be how they are. Since it already has its shell, Proganochelys doesn't teach us much about shell evolution (Odontochelys helped a bit with that though!). It does, however, demonstrate how turtles lost their teeth very on in their evolutionary development. and it also has the large ear opening that is also found in modern tu

Karner Blue

Karner Blue (male) I recently learned that the third Friday in May is Endangered Species Day ... which would make that today! So let's learn a little about one animal on the United States Endangered Species List-- the Karner Blue. They are very small subspecies of the Melissa Blue Butterfly , sporting wingspans of around 1in. They have different appearances based on their sex-- males are a deep blue with silvery fringing, while females are more brown with orange spots. One fact I found particularly interesting is that the subspecies was actually discovered and named by Novelist and Lepidopterist  Vladimir Nabokov in 1944. Karner Blues are Butterflies that  are now found only in a few States. They used to live in a large band that stretched across the northern United States, but their population is now fragmented between parts of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, New York, and New Hampshire. This pretty little insects were federally listed in 1992, due to habitat destruct

Southern Tree Hyrax

Dendrohyrax arboreus The Hyrax is such a weird little animal! There are four different species within three genera, all of which are found in Africa and the Middle East. They look like rodents, digest their food like ungulates, but are most closely related to Elephants and Manatees. So bizarre. As a side note to that-- the Superorder Afrotheria encompasses several genetically distinct animal species that all evolved on the African continent, share a common ancestor way  back, and have no other close relatives. Sengis , Aardvarks , Elephants , Manatees , and Golden Moles are also members of this interesting group. You may already know about the more common Rock Hyrax (they are fairly popular in Zoos)-- a ground dwelling, diurnal member of the family that is found across Sub-Saharan Africa with the exception of dense, forested areas. The Southern Tree Hyrax is just the opposite. They live in trees (if the name didn't give that away), are found in the denser forests that the

Horned Grebe

Podiceps auritus  in breeding plumage with offspring Meet the Horned Grebe, a migratory bird that can be found in North America, Europe, and Asia. They breed far, far inland during the summer months, and during the winter they hang out further south along the ocean coasts. When it comes time to breed, Horned Grebes are unmistakable. They have fantastic summer plumage with bright reddish feathers, a dark head, and huge light puffy tufts over their eyes. Those puffs give them their "horned" name. During the winter months they are far less colorful, sporting black and white feathers with no tufts. Winter Plumage Feathers play an important role in Horned Grebe digestion. Adults actually eat some of their own feathers in order to create an internal plug . This plug serves as a filter to keep bones and other slower digesting materials in the stomach longer. Parents even feed feathers to their babies to get this plug started! And while we are on the topic of baby Grebe


Amia calva Today's animal is one of those really neat fish that harkens back to the Dinosaur days! They are the Bowfins, and they are the only surviving members of their entire Family, as well as their whole Order. The three other extinct Families within the Order date back between the Jurassic and the Eocene, with most of the fossils going back 100 million years! For whatever reason, the other neat ancient fish we've talked about are found in more exotic locations (or at least exotic to Americans)-- the Coelocanth of South Africa, the Lungfish of Australia , etc. But congratulations North America! This is a weird old fish all your own! Bowfins are found in southern Canada and in the eastern United States, where they can be found in the Great Lakes, as well as in other lakes and slow moving rivers. You can tell that the Bowfin come from an ancient lineage because they have a half bone, half cartilage skeletal system. They also have the ability to breathe air, thanks to

Red Admiral

Vanessa atalanta Today's animal is one that is very close to home for me... literally. They live on the tree outside my front door. It is the Red Admiral Butterfly, a species common throughout Europe, Asia, and North America. In warmer areas they live as residents, while colder areas see them only during the seasonal migrations. Red Admirals can be identified by their brown wings banded with bright orange and tipped with black covered in white spots. Their wing undersides also possess those same colors, but with a more mottled pattern. As Caterpillars they are typically darkly colored and spiky, though some are more greenish or even red in hue. Red Admiral Caterpillars feed on Nettle plants. As adults they will feed on flowers, but they prefer different fruits. In North America the Red Admirals hatch in two broods in the northern areas, and then winter in southern Texas. During their migration south they can be found living in just about every habitat imaginable, includin

Gray Whale

Eschrichtius robustus As it is Mother's Day, we're going to learn about one really awesome mother from the Animal Kingdom-- the Gray Whale! Gray Whale breeding season takes place in November and December, and happens while the Whales are wintering in warmer waters near the Equator. Females gestate for a whopping 13.5 months and give birth to a single calf while in their wintering grounds the following year. Calves are born in safer waters off of Baja, Mexico that are free from predators, and the mothers will help lift their infants up to the surface so that they can breathe... at least until they become stronger swimmers. Calves are around 4ft long at birth, and grow very quickly. They can drink up to 80 gallons of milk a day, and that milk is 53% fat! Eventually, the mother an calf must travel back to colder climates in order to feed. The wintering waters are safe for giving birth, but that is because there is so little food, and thus very few predators. All Gray Whal

Helmeted Iguana

Corytophanes cristatus The Helmeted Iguana is also sometimes referred to as the Forest Chameleon. Confusing, right? They are members of Corytophanidae, a family that also includes Basilisks and other Helmeted Lizards. The helmet name comes from the fact that these little guys have a huge helmet-like crest that extends from the back of their heads down over their necks. They also have a much lower crest that extends down their back. Males have larger helmets than females. Helmeted Iguanas can be found in tropical rainforests ranging from Mexico down to Colombia. Their long limbs and grasping toes allow them to be excellent climbers. One interesting feature to the Helmeted Iguana is that it can change color (hence the Forest Chameleon Name). They really can only shift from greens to browns, but that is enough to allow them some camouflage while out basking in the sun, or while hunting for insects. IUCN Status :  Not Listed Location :   South and Central America Size :  Le

Altay Sheep

Altay Sheep Ewe When we think of sheep, we often imagine domesticated animals that are kept and bred for their wool, not for their meat. Such is not the case for today's breed, which was developed in the dry, cold, mountainous regions of China not for their wool, but for both its meat and fat. (They are sheared, but wool is a secondary purpose.) Altay Sheep belong to the " fat-rumped carpet wool " type. And that pretty much means exactly what it sounds like. They have dense, carpet-like wool and exceptionally fatty rumps, which is great for the sheep and for their herders, as they both use those fat stores to survive. The sheep use the fat reserves to live during the harsh, vegetation sparse winter months, and the herders use that same fat for fuel. As you might guess, the breed is very hardy and adaptable, and is able to survive well in the rough conditions that it was bred into. They even typically give birth to just one lamb at a time, which suits them best in

Moustached Treeswift

Hemiprocne mystacea Moustached Treeswifts are not actually true Swifts, but they are close relatives. There are actually just four species of Treeswift in the world, and they all belong to the same genus and live in Southeast Asia. Today's animal is another critter that I chose entirely for it looks. It has a  mustache made of feathers ! Very cute! The Moustached Treeswifts don't seem to be too picky about the habitats that they live in. Lowland forests, mountainous forests, and even swampy forests will all work nicely for these guys, who are found in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. Insects are the preferred diet for these Treeswifts, and they are able to maneuver very easily through the forests in order to find their prey. Males and females form monogamous pairs during the breeding season, and lay only one eggs at a time, which incubates in nest that is attached to a tree branch. The parents will feed their chick regurgitated insects until it i

Great Egret

Ardea alba Are you ready to get confused? Here we go. This is the Great Egret. Or Great White Egret. Or Great White Heron. It looks like a Snowy Egret, but it's bigger. It also has the same common name as a Floridian color variation of the Great Blue Heron... which is white... and is also called the Great White Heron. But thankfully we have scientific names! So no matter what you call today's bird,  Ardea alba  is how it will always be known to science... well, unless they find some weird discrepancy down the road that requires reclassification. But let's not add on to the confusion any more... For the sake of this post, we'll go with "Great Egret," since they are quite large and majestic. They have a distribution that spans most of the world, with some populations living in a range year round, and some migrating North and South seasonally . Great Egrets nest in large colonies, often sharing the space with other bird species. They build their large

Barnard's Lanternfish

Symbolophorus barnardi Today's animal is one of those mysterious deep-sea dwellers that we don't often see, despite their massive range and huge population. It is called the Barnard's Lanternfish , and it gets its name from the bioluminescent photophores that allow its head, underside, and tail to light up! Studies have shown that this Lanternfish, and other members of its family , make up more than half the biomass down in the deep sea, and they live in ocean waters across the globe! Today's species in particular is a small little guy that can be found throughout the Southern Hemisphere , living at depths of up to 3,000ft, though they tend to come up closer to the surface during the night, and can be found in waters as shallow as 350ft. If the fish can be found in (relatively) shallow waters, why bother diving so far down during the daytime? This behavior takes place in order to avoid becoming someone's dinner. Barnard's Lanternfish are a great food sou

Common Moorhen

Gallinula chloropus Meet the Common Moorhen, a very distinctive looking bird that has black plumage, a bright red and yellow beak, and gigantic  feet. Those feet are used to walk across floating vegetation and mud. They aren't webbed, like the feet of many other waterbirds, but the Common Moorhens can swim pretty well nonetheless. These birds are the most widely distributed members of the entire Rail Family, and can be found on every continent save Antarctica! There are currently twelve different subspecies , which all differ slightly by size and plumage. One very distinct thing about the Common Moorhens is their breeding behavior . While most of their relatives have the males fight over the females, it is the female Moohens that fight over the males! After mating, both parents will incubate and care for the young, and newly hatched offspring are precocial , feeding themselves after only a few days. The species as a whole is not at threat for extinction, but some local po

Alpine Marmot

Marmota marmota It's been a while since we last talked about a Marmot- those big old Ground Squirrels that tend to produce some hilarious photographs . Today's Marmot is the largest of the clan, which also makes it the largest of all the world's Squirrels as well! Alpine Marmots are found (where else?) in the European Alps. Though I should also note that they have been introduced to the Pyrenees, the Carpathians, the Tatras, and a few other areas as well. Grassy, high-altitude plains are their preferred habitats, as they allow them to build the complex burrows systems that they live in, and to feed on the grasses and flowers that they prefer. Marmot families are pretty  close knit , are are comprised of a breeding pair and their offspring from previous years. They can number as few as 3-5 individuals, or as large as 50 ! There is some interbreeding within these colonies, but it is minimal as these colonies are typically female dominant, so the males only remain in a

Green-headed Tanager

Tangara seledon Happy Saturday everyone! I don't know about where you all are reading from, but here is it pretty dark and rainy, so a bright colored little bird is exactly what I need to liven things up! Meet the Green-headed Tanager... which has a misleading name. Though they definitely sport some green feathers, especially on the neck, their actual heads are more of a Turquoise color. The rest of the body is boldly patterned with shades of blue and green, and when they fly... Surprise! Their rump is bright orange ! Green-headed Tanagers are found in the Atlantic coastal forests of South America, residing in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. They live in small flocks that number 6-20 birds, and they forage for fruits as well as for small arthropods. And did you know that tanager families stick together? The parents often have two broods per season, and their offspring from both will hang around for about a year before going off on their own. Green-headed Tanagers are com

Spotted Wobbegong

Orectolobus maculatus If you look hard enough you'll be able to tell that today's animal, the Spotted Wobbegong, is actually just a very strange looking shark. In fact, all members of it's order are pretty goofy in appearance, and are collectively known as Carpet Sharks due to their mottled coloring and bottom-dwelling natures. Spotted Wobbegongs in particular have a greenish/yellowish/brownish coloration, covered in small, lighter outlined circles. These colors help them to remain camouflaged within the reef zones that they live. These sharks have a range that spreads across the continental shelf in the Indian Ocean and parts of the Pacific, and they are rarely found deeper than 350ft (110m). Crab, Lobster, and Octopus are three of the Spotted Wobbegongs favorite foods. They hunt at night, remaining very still and waiting for prey to come near. They do sometimes sneak up on their prey while hunting, but the wait-and-catch method is more common. One additional coo

West Caucasian Tur

Capra caucasica The West Caucasian Tur might look very familiar to you, cause it definitely did to me! At first glance I thought it was an Ibex, and that guess wasn't too far off. Turs and Ibxes belong to the exact same genus, and there is even quite a bit of taxonomic uncertainty floating around about how genetically distinct all the Turs and Ibexes actually are. As the name suggests, these Turs can be found on the western side of the Caucasus Mountains , and they occur primarily within Russia. They are alpine dwellers, and inhabit areas 2,600-13,000ft above sea level (800-4,000m). Males tend to live at higher altitudes than the females, possibly because those areas are harder to navigate with young calves. West Caucasian Turs feed on over 100 different species of plant. They primarily graze during the summer and browse during the winter. This is because the snowfall can become quite dense, even at the lower altitudes that they travel to during that season, and digging fo

Florence Merriam Bailey

Florence Merriam Bailey, 1904 Alas, the first Naturalist's Week has come to an end. I hope you had an enjoyable time learning about some of the people who helped to discover, innovate, and conserve the animals that we normally learn about on this site. I tried to pick some individuals who may be a bit lesser known and it was fun to go back to my roots (part of my background is in European History, so writing about people, places, and their impact is right up my alley). Anyway, I might do this again, since there are so many awesome people out there who significantly impacted the animal world for the better! But for now, let's learn about Florence Merriam Bailey, a woman who had an intense interest in the feathered creatures of the world, and who dedicated more than 50 years of her life to their study and observation. Born in New York in 1863, Florence Merriam came from a family that strongly encouraged her interest in natural history. Her father was a friend of John

Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold Today's Naturalist is a little more contemporary, at least when compared to those people who have been featured previously. His name is Aldo Leopold, and he is best known for his contributions to Ecology, Environmental Science, and Conservation. He also wrote the influential Environmental book, The Sand County Almanac . Rand Aldo Leopold was born in Iowa in 1887, and he spent a great deal of his childhood outdoors. He did a great deal of hiking, climbing, and hunting, and would spend hours observing, drawing, and writing about the nature around him. It was then only natural that he attended the Yale Forest School, which he graduated from in 1909. After completing his education, Leopold entered the United States Forest Service in New Mexico and Arizona. In 1922 he created the Forest Service's very first fish and game handbook, and established Gila National Forest as the first designated Wilderness Area in 1924. It was during his time in the Southwest that