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Showing posts from August, 2012


Sinocalliopteryx gigas Sinocalliopteryx certainly has a mouthful of a name! It actually translates to "Chinese Beautiful Feather," as they had feathers, and their fossils were uncovered in the Yixian Formation in north east China. It is a relatively new species, in terms of discovery, and was only first described in 2007. Sinocalliopteryx lived around 130-125 million years ago, during the Early Cretaceous. They are the largest known members of their entire family , measuring nearly 8ft long. These guys were bipedal, and had powerful hind legs and arms that were longer than most others in their family. They also had "proto-feathers," which were thin, hairlike feathers. (I imagine something that looked similar to the feathers on a Cassowary). New research has come out that suggests Sinocalliopteryx hunted much like a modern cat does. Fossil evidence shows that they flying creatures, including small aerial Dinosaurs. They probably stalked these animals quietly

Greater Blue-ringed Octopus

Hapalochlaena lunulata The Greater Blue-ringed Octopus  is, interestingly, not even the largest of the Blue-ringed Octopuses. That honor goes to the confusingly named Lesser (or Southern) Blue-ringed Octopus, which is only a hair larger. In fact, all members of the Blue-ring groups are quite small-- most are only a few centimeters in body length, with tentacles only a tad longer.  The Greater Blue-ringed Octopus is distinctive among its family members in that it has a relatively large range. Most others live in a very specific watery area, but the Great Blue-ringed can be found in tropical waters throughout the Pacific Ocean, and in parts of the Indian Ocean as well. These Octopuses get their names from the bright blue circles that appear when they feel threatened. I should note that these rings are visible during calm periods as well, but they are much less noticeable. Those vibrant patches serve as warnings to predators because these guys are venomous! Greater Blue-ringed Oct

Ring Ouzel

Turdus torquatus (male) The Ring Ouzel is a Thrush that belongs to the very same genus as both the Common Blackbird and the American Robin. They look quite a bit like the Blackbird, and their name "Ouzel" actually comes from an Old English term for that bird. Males can be identified by their black bodies and white chest bands. Their wings also take on a silvery color, due to white feathers at the tips. Females lack the white chest ring, and are duller in appearance. Ring Ouzels can be found in various parts of Europe. Some populations are migratory, moving to the North to breed, and down south to the Mediterranean in winter. The birds are usually found alone or in pairs, though they will form very loose flocks during migrations. When breeding season comes, they build small cup-shaped nests in branches or rock piles. Up to four eggs are laid at a time, and they hatch after only two weeks. The young are fledged after another 14 days. This quick breeding cycle allows s

Confusing Toad

Incilius perplexus Meet the Confusing Toad, which has certainly confused scientists when it comes to their classification! I've found three different possible genus names for this little guy, dating back to 1943, though it looks like the most recent classification (in 2008) has stuck. Incilius perplexus  it is! The Confusing Toad also happens to be a very Endangered Toad . They are endemic to one small area of Mexico-- the Tepalcatepec Basin to be exact. They may live in other areas as well, but so far only that location has yielded any sightings. Confusing Toads live near streams and ponds around tropical rain forests. Unfortunately, these same areas are under constant threat from agricultural and commercial development. The Toad population is on the decline, and they unfortunately do not live in any protected areas. If they go extinct, the Confusing Toad may remain a rare and confusing species forever. IUCN Status :  Endangered Location :   Mexico Classification :  P

Side-striped Jackal

Canis adustus The Side-striped Jackal is one of three different Jackal species, all of which can be found on the continent of Africa. This particular brand lives not only in grasslands, but also in wooded areas and scrub lands. They can be identified by the prominent black and white horizontal stripes that run down their sides. Side-striped Jackals are nocturnal, and they live either alone or in small groups that are headed by a monogamous breeding pair (they often mate for life!). The pair breeds annually during the rainy season, and litters number between three and six pups. The pups will remain with their parents until they are nearly a year old. When it comes to food, these Jackals will eat just about anything . They are scavengers, but they also occasionally kill their own prey and forage for plants. Insects, small mammals, reptiles, eggs, and fruits are all common meals. They will very seldom kill slightly larger animals, and when they do it is usually nothing larger tha

Brown Falcon

Falco berigora Meet the Brown Falcon, a smallish Falcon that lives in just about every type of habitat in Australia (except for dense forests). Unsurprisingly, they have brown feathers-- darker on top, more buff colored underneath. They also sport tear strips below the eyes. Brown Falcons are carnivores that feed on small mammals, as well as on a variety of birds, reptiles, and insects (they tend to eat more insects during the winter months). In order to hunt, they wait very patiently on perches, gazing down to watch for passing prey. The Falcon then swoops down, grabs its new meal, and kills it with a bite to the spine. Breeding usually takes place from June to November, and the birds often recycle nests that were build by other Falcons. Both parents will help to incubate and feed the young birds, but it if often the male that laves the nest to find food. Brown Falcons are very common throughout Australia, and can be spotted quite easily (reminds me a bit of the Red-tailed


Scopaenichthys marmoratus The Cabezon is a fish whose name means " Big Head ," and their genus actually translates to "Scorpion Fish," though it is interesting to note that they are not actually true Scorpion Fish. Those animals belong to a completely different family. Cabezon can be found in the shallow, rocky, kelp-bed waters off of the Pacific Coast of North America, running all the way from Baja to southern Alaska. They can grow to pretty  substantial sizes , with the largest ever caught growing just short of a meter. Size actually determines their sexual maturity-- males are mature at 13.5in, while females are at 17.5in. A small female can lay over 50,000 eggs in a breeding season, and the males will actually guard those eggs until they hatch! You can identify a Cabezon by their mottled red, green, and brown bodies. Most reddish fish are male, and most greenish fish are female. As the name suggests, they have large heads relative to the rest of their b

Cebu Hawk Owl

Ninox rumseyi We've been learning about many extinct animals lately, so I thought today we'd shift gears and talk about a species that is extant but was just discovered--  an example of all the mysterious animals out there that are completely new to us! The Cebu Hawk Owl is actually one of two new Owl species found in the Philippines. They are so new that the first publications regarding them just came out this month! The Owls was discovered by a team that has spent fifteen years researching the calls of the local Hawk Owls. It was once believed that these vocalizations all came from the same species, and an investigation was taking place to determine if there were new subspecies out there. The interesting thing about these Owl calls is that they are not learned, like the calls of Parrots. Each call is unique to their species or subspecies, an is ingrained into their DNA. The calls of the Cebu Hawk Owl, and that of the other new species, the Camiguin Hawk Owl, were

Asian Koel

Eudymanys scolopaceus (male) The Asian Koel is a bird named for its call-- Koel  is an onomatopoeia for one of the many sounds that they commonly produce during the breeding season. You can see (and hear) these large, long-tailed Cuckoos in southeast Asia and northern Australia, where they live in wooded and shrubby areas. The coloration of the Asian Koel is dependent on their sex-- males are a dark bluish-black all over, and look almost crow-like at first glance. Females are brown with creamy speckles all over their head and wings. Female Asian Koel Like many Cuckoo species, Asian Koels are brood parasites. They do not build their own nests, rather they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. Their host parent of choice depends on the location, but House Crows and Mynas are popular picks. Young Koels don't always "eliminate" their adopted siblings after hatching. In fact, most newly hatched Koels will actually act and sing like their fake families! Th


The Archelon type specimen I love covering extinct Turtles because they have such an interesting evolutionary history. Turtles have been around since the Triassic, dating back 220 million years. They've even had roughly the same body shape for the last 200 million of those years, with modifications being made to their teeth (losing them), their shells (going from soft to hard) and their size (varies completely!) Today's Turtle, Archelon , definitely had a unique size. These giant Sea Turtles grew to be 12 feet long! Archelon lived during the late Cretaceous Period, and its fossils have been found primarily in South Dakota and Wyoming, which were once covered by shallow seas. Once you get past its car-like size, you'll notice that Archelon did look quite a bit like our modern Sea Turtles. In fact, its closest living relative is the large (but not that  large) Leatherback Sea Turtle. In fact, like the Leatherbacks of today, Archelon probably ate jellyfish and other so

Schomburgk's Deer

Rucervus schomburgki The Schomburgk's Deer, named after British consul to Bangkok Richard H. Schomburgk, was first described in 1863. Less than 75 years later this graceful species was extinct . It appears that the Schomburgk's Deer was endemic to Thailand, based on sightings and information, though they may have also lived in Laos and parts of China as well. They were large, graceful Deer with dark brown fur and lighter undersides. Males had antlers that could measure nearly a meter long each, females had no antlers. Their range was in open, swampy plains that were free from dense vegetation, and they lived in small groups that consisted of one male, a handful of females, and their offspring. The habitat that they lived in played a major role in their extinction. In the late 19th and early 20th century, those same swampy plains were converted into commercial rice paddies. The deer moved into the few locations available to them, but would get even more condensed during


Ferrets Today's animal will probably be a familiar one, as they have become very popular pets in the last 30 or so years. But did you know that Ferret domestication goes back much, much further than a few decades? Through mitochondrial DNA testing, we know that Ferrets were domesticated from either the European Polecat or the Steppe Polecat (or a hybrid of the two) somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 years ago! The first domesticated Ferrets were used specifically for the hunting and capture of other small animals, and the name "Ferret" itself derives from the Latin word furonem -- "Thief". Wild Ferret relatives (like the aforementioned Polecats) are naturally good at moving their lean bodies through underground tunnels and burrows, flushing out prey like Rabbits and Moles. Domesticated Ferrets have the same skill set, and for hundreds of years were used to hunt small mammals and control rodent populations. Ferret hunting does still exist in some areas, bu


Shuvuuia deserti Meet Shuvuuia, a small Cretaceous Dinosaur that was most likely covered in a coat of feathers! The type fossil of the species was found with many deteriorated structures surrounding it, structures that were similar to the central shafts of modern bird feathers. Further analysis showed that these structures once contained beta-keratin, but not  alpha-keratin, which gives further evidence towards a feathery coat (as only bird feathers have beta-keratin, but not alpha). Aside from the feathers, Shuvuuia had a few other bird-like traits . Their skulls, legs, and feet were all very similar to those on birds, but their arms are not, leaving them still within the realm of the Dinosaurs. Shuvuuia even has a bird name, literally! Their genus is named for the Mongolia word for bird, shuvuu, as the   fossils were found in Mongolia. Shuvuuia dates back between 85 and 75 million years, putting it in the Late Cretaceous period. These Dinosaurs were very small, standing on

Poitou Donkey

Poitou Donkey We've talked about several Horse breeds in the past, but today just might be the very first Donkey breed. And what an interesting breed it is! Like many equine breeds, the precise origin story of the Poitou Donkey is unknown. They date back at least a few centuries though, and we do know they were established in Poitou, France by 1717, as a memoir of a French royal official discussed the breed. They are large Donkeys, just about Mule-sized, and traditionally could be easily identified by their long shaggy coats. Their hair is finer than that of other Donkeys, and if left to grow it will form long cords (like dreadlocks). Modern Poitou Donkeys are sometimes shorn for hygiene purposes, but such a thing was not allowed for showing in the past. Poitou Donkey and Foal Poitou Donkeys were developed for one purpose, and no, it wasn't their hair style! Because they are so large and sturdy, they were important in the creation of very large Mules . The male D

Ground Cuscus

Phalanger gymnotis After a week of cold-blooded, carnivorous Sharks, I think we're due for something warm, fluffy, and fruit eating. Meet the Ground Cuscus, a furry Marsupial native to New Guinea and its surrounding islands. The Ground Cuscus has short grey hair with a white belly, along with a  prehensile tail and opposable digits on their back feet to assist in climbing. They are nocturnal, solitary creatures, and feed during the night on fruits and leaves. The Cuscuses really only come together to breed, and like all Marsupials they have very, very short gestational periods. A mother Cuscus will be pregnant for only 13 days , though it will be another 100 days before their young actually leave the pouch. Cuscuses are relatives to the Possums, and like the Possums, most of them are found living up in the trees almost exclusively. Not so with today's Cuscus! While they do feed in trees (and have the aforementioned adaptataions to help with climbing) they actually bur

Crocodile Shark

Pseudocarcharias kamoharai Our final Shark of the week is the Crocodile Shark, a small Mackerel Shark  that can be found in tropical  oceans all around the world. They are the smallest members of their Order, which also contains giants like the Great White and Megamouth Sharks. Crocodile Sharks grow to lengths of up to 3ft, and can be identified by their slender bodies, large eyes, long gill slits and small dorsal fin. Their large eyes help them to hunt at night, and they also posses a very large liver (up to 1/5 their entire body weight) that helps them to maintain a very neutral buoyancy. The species undergoes daily migrations, moving from deep waters during the day to more shallow hunting grounds at night. Crocodile Sharks are another one of those interesting Ovoviviparous species. And even more intriguing is that they have litters of 4 pups... two in each uterus . This is a trait not especially common in sharks-- most others have only one pup per uterus. Because of their

Greenland Shark

Somniosus microcephalus Today's Shark is one of my all time favorites-- they are just so unique! Greenland Sharks live farther north than any other Shark species in existence, swimming in the cold waters of Greenland, Iceland, and the North Atlantic. They can also grow to lengths over 20ft, allowing them to rival the Great White in size. Greenland Sharks are such unusual creatures. While many other Sharks species are quick moving, these icy giants swim very very slowly (only around 1mph!). They also spend a great deal of time not moving at all-- another name for these guys is "Sleeper Shark" since they are so frequently inactive. Don't let their slowness fool you! Greenland Sharks are still predators ! They feed primarily on fish, but are also able to snatch up unsuspecting sea mammals as well. Horse, Polar Bear, and Reindeer remains have all been found in Greenland Shark stomachs, though how much of that was carrion is not quite known. Greenland Sharks are


Cladoselache species Today's Shark is the largest one that we have talked about so far, and it is also the oldest. Cladoselache  is the name of a genus containing eight different Shark species, all of which lived during the Devonian Period, around 370 million years ago. Sharks have been around for hundreds of millions of years, and the Cladoselache  Sharks are some of the best known of the ancient species. This is because many of their fossils were very well preserved in a formation near Lake Erie. Some of these fossils are so detailed that we know their stomach contents! These extinct sea creatures are interesting not only because they lived a very, very long time ago, but also because they had some interesting anatomical features . For one, they almost completely lacked scales. The only scales it had were found on the tips of the fins, and around the mouth and eyes. Secondly, these Sharks lacked "claspers"-- the reproductive organs that are found not only in mo

Horn Shark

Heterodontus francisci Today's Shark is a very interesting looking species-- it has a very blunt head, prominent ridges over its eyes, two tall dorsal fins with spines, and a sandy colored body covered in dark spots. It also happens to be on the smaller side, though not as small as yesterday's Shark. Horn Sharks can reach lengths of around 3ft. You can find Horn Sharks swimming off of the western coast of North America, in a range that extends from Monterey to Baja. As juveniles they live in deeper sandy flats, and as adults they move closer to shore, swimming near reefs as shallow as 2m! The adult Horn Sharks have small ranges, and actually return to the same shelter after each night of hunting (they are nocturnal). They feed in small fish and a large variety of benthic invertebrates, including squid, crabs, and sea urchins. Interestingly, Horn Sharks aren't the greatest swimmers, and are quite slow and clumsy. They often use their large pectoral fins to pull them

Dwarf Lanternshark

Etmopterus perryi The 25th Annual Shark Week starts today, so obviously we need to learn about a Shark! Sharks have been very popular on Animal A Day, and we've learned about loads of them in the past ( a full list can be found here ). But we haven't yet talked about the smallest of all the sharks-- the Dwarf Lanternshark. Dwarf Lantersharks reach mature lengths of around 7in, and pregnant females can grow a small bit larger, topping out around 8in. They are an ovoviviparous species, and give birth to 2-3 pups at a time. Not only are these Sharks  very small , but they are also quite mysterious. They have only been found in a small section of the Caribbean, off the coat of Colombia and Venezuela. They swim at depths of between 900-1,400ft (274-426m), and are rarely caught or observed. So little is known about the biology and population size of these tiny sharks that they are listed as " Data Deficient ." They have no economic value in the fishing industry an

Eastern Tiger Salamander

Ambystoma tigrinum The Eastern Tiger Salamandar is the largest land-dwelling Salamander is all of North America, and it also has the distinction of being the most widespread. You'll find these guys just about everywhere on the continent except in the coldest northern reaches-- they live throughout the United States, Mexico, and in most of Canada. You can identify Eastern Tiger Salamanders by their large size and their blotchy green and black markings. As adults they are almost completely terrestrial, and live in burrows that can be as far as two feet underground. They live in a huge range of habitats , including forests, grasslands, and developed areas. Adults are very loyal to their birthplace, and will return to that spot to breed int eh Spring. Larges numbers will congregate on a single spots, and males will have to isolate the females from the group in order to breed. Males will deposit spermatophores that are picked up by the females to fertilize the eggs. Sometimes o


Lepomis gibbosus The Pumpkinseed is a species of small freshwater fish that belongs to the same genus as the Bluegill. They once had a range that spread only through eastern North America, but they can now be found all the way west to the Pacific Coast. Pumpkinseeds have also been introduced in  Europe , where they are considered an invasive species (due to their competing with other fish for food). Pumpkinseeds have body shapes similar to their namesake, and have scales that range from brown to olive green. They also have small speckles across their bodies, and faint vertical lines. The coloration is more vibrant and pronounced during the breeding season. The Pumpkinseeds' scales are used for protection-- they are able to reflect back their surroundings and serve as camouflage. The species is most commonly calm, clear waters. They are active during the day, feeding on insects and small aquatic creatures both at the surface and near the bottom. At night they hide out in sub

Bohaskaia monodontoides

Bohaskaia monodontoides The animal that we're going to learn about today has been extinct for around 3 million years-- but it bears a very striking similarity to some of the creatures that are still swimming around in the Earth's oceans, and also gives scientists some insight into where those modern animals came from. Bohaskaia monodontoides  is known from just a single skull that was unearthed in Virginia is 1969. It wasn't until very recently that it was studied using modern methods, and the species was only just named in spring 2012 . The skull looked similar to that of a Beluga or Narwhal, yet was still different enough to be recognized as a different genus and species entirely. Belugas and Narwhals, as you may know, live in cold waters. B. monodontoides  swam in warmers seas, yet shared many of the same physical traits. Interestingly, another extinct whale Denebola brachycephala also hailed from warmer parts (the fossils were found in Baja, Mexico). It now app


Calidris alpina (breeding plumage) Meet the Dunlin, a small wading bird that can be found all over the Northern Hemisphere (depending on the time of year). Populations breed in the northern reaches of Europe, Asia, and North America, and migrate south as far as Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central America during the winter. The species is highly gregarious, especially in winter, and can be found in massive flocks that number into the thousands. The worldwide population as a whole is estimated to be around 4 million birds. Dunlins are easy to identify in their breeding plumage. They have bright reddish-brown feathers on their backs and a large black patch on their underside. During the winter their backs turn a duller grey and the underside is pale. Dunlins are also easy to tell apart from other Shorebirds in that their long black bills curve downwards. They use those bills to probe into mud and shallow water for insects, crustaceans, and other small creatures. When the breeding

Poli's Stellate Barnacle

Chthamalus stellatus Did you know that Barnacles, those weird bumpy things that attach themselves to rocks, are not only animals, but they are Crustaceans just like Crabs and Lobsters? Let's learn about one species today! These Barnacles, named for Italian biologist Giuseppe Saverio Poli, can be found in Southern Europe and off the coasts of England and Ireland. They attach themselves to rocks and other firm objects in inter-tidal zones. Once attached, the Barnacles don't really go anywhere. They feed by reaching their tiny legs out from their shell and latching on to plankton and debris. Poli's Stellate Barnacles have chalky-white shells that have kite-shaped openings as juveniles, and oval openings as adults. Underneath that shell, their tissue is bright blue with black and orange markings. The Barnacles are usually cone-shaped, but they become more tubular in crowded areas. They grow to a size of around 14mm, but the size is  dependent on their habitat and food

Swan Goose

Anser cygnoides The Swan Goose is a very large Goose that breeds in China, Russia, and Mongolia, with some small populations also being found in surrounding countries. They breed in wetland areas of the steppe and taiga, and during the winter they migrate to more coastal areas. Though they are waterfowl, these Geese  aren't often found in the water-- they graze on dry land. They feed on sedges and berries, typically at night, with their diet shifting each season to accommodate what is available. Swan Geese are the ancestors of two different Domesticated species-- the Chinese Goose and the African Goose. Most other Geese trace their lines back to the Greylag Goose which is native to most of Europe and Asia. Swan Geese are the second largest Geese in their genus, just behind the Greylag. Unfortunately, Swan Geese are listed as Vulnerable . Though their domestic descendants can be found around the world, they themselves are threatened by unsustainable hunting and habitat loss

Bagheera kiplingi

Bagheera kiplingi Today's animal is rather unusual-- it has an almost exclusively herbivorous diet , which makes it very unique among the 40,000 different spider species out there! Bagheera kiplingi  was only first discovered in 2008. It is a species of jumping spider that is native to Central America. Like other Jumping Spdiers, it possesses large eyes and the ability to leap large distances (as far as 50 times their body size). Unlike its cousins, however, it does not hunt its food. B. kiplingi has figured out a way to steal nutritious protein and fat-rich nubs from Acacia trees. These nubs, called Beltian Bodies, are formed due to a symbiotic relationship between the Acacia tree and Ants. The Spiders ignore the Ants that guard the Bodies, and feed almost exclusively on the nubs. I say "almost exclusively" because the Spiders do sometimes feed on the Ant larvae as well, but it is a very small percentage of their diet. B. kiplingi exhibits sexual dimorphism-

Netherland Dwarf

Netherland Dwarf I'm heading over to the Wisconsin State Fair today, and for those of you who have not had the pleasure, the fair is known for three things: Every type of food imaginable.... on a stick. Pig races. Animals. Lots and lots of animals. While the horses, cows, and other large livestock usually get all the glory, I've always been a fan of the Rabbits and Poultry building. You get to see all kinds of different breeds, from the common to the completely unusual. Today we'll be learning all about one of the more popular Rabbits- the Netherland Dwarf. Netherland Dwarf The Netherland Dwarf originated in its namesake country during the early 20th century. They were the result of crosses between small wild rabbits and smaller polish breeds. The first Dwarfs were aggressive, and took after their wild relatives more than their domesticated ones. It wasn't until the past few decades that selective breeding was able to produce more gentile traits. However, ther

Green Violetear

Colibri thalassinus Violetears are Hummingbirds that belong to the Colibri  genus. All are found in South and Central America, occupying different ranges and altitudes. All are named for the bright violet color patches that run backwards from their eyes. The Green Violetear is one of those species, and is named for their vibrant metallic green feathers. Males and females look mostly alike, and the only sexual dimorphism comes in the violet patch size (larger in males). You can find this particular species in the highlands and cloud forests of Central and South America, and they are sometimes even found in the Southern United States . They are rarely seen at altitudes of less than 1,600ft (500m) and are usually found at the 4,000-7,500ft range (1,200-2,300m). Green Violetears are solitary birds, though groups will sometimes gather at a specific feeding tree, sipping on nectar (they eat small insects as well). When it comes to their reproductive habits , all that we know comes


Trakehner Horse I've been watching a lot of Olympics coverage lately, and this morning was the start of the team Dressage competition. Without writing an essay, Dressage is an Equestrian Sport where a horse and rider perform a series of moves within an arena. "Horse Ballet" is a term sometimes used, and it's not far off. The horses perform very practiced moves, and there is a huge amount of training involved in the discipline. The sport even dates back hundreds of years . Most horses involved in Dressage are "Warmbloods," including today's breed. The Trakehner's roots date back to 1732, when Fredrick William I of Prussia established a stud farm at Trakehnen. These early representatives of the breed were stockier than their modern counterparts, but that all changed in the 1800s when Thoroughbred and Arabian blood was added to the line. The result was ultimately a large, intelligent, stable horse with great endurance that could be used for both f

St. Lucia Racer

Liophis ornatus Yesterday we talked about about a snake that is Critically Endangered, and considered " the rarest snake in the world ". Today we'll learn about a snake that might be able to vie for that title-- it was considered extinct for nearly 75 years before being recently rediscovered. The St. Lucia Racer, another snake endemic to a Caribbean Island, was actually declared extinct back in 1936. Its decline was also due to the introduction of Rats and Mongooses to the island. There was a potential sighting in the 1970s, but everyone throught that the small island snakes were gone. Only a few weeks ago (early July, 2012), news stories began to report that the Racer had been found again on a small, 30 acre island. There are at least 11 individuals on the site, though there may be more. All of the newly rediscovered snakes were micro-chipped and re-released. There is most assuredly inbreeding within the population, but the full extent of their lack of genetic