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Showing posts from November, 2012

Icadyptes salasi

Icadyptes salasi Penguins are weird and interesting. Seabirds who swim better than they can fly.. or even walk? Well if the modern, waddling Penguins are so unique among birds, just take a look at some of their ancestors. Thankfully, the Penguins odd flightless bodies have been a huge help in studying them-- their bones are thicker and their fossils have survived quite well. Icadyptes salasi  is a Penguin ancestor that lived 36 millions years ago. Its fossils were uncovered in Peru, which is notable because Peru at that time was just as close to the Equator as it is now, and was even warmer in temperature. Today there are very few Penguins that live that far north, and they are much smaller in size. Oh, have I not mentioned how large Icadyptes was yet? 5ft (1.5). That's one tall Penguin, taller than the largest modern Penguin-- the Emperor. Interestingly, it is only the third largest Penguin ever discovered. Icadyptes also had an incredibly long, spear-like beak that made

Giant Forest Hog

Hylochoerus meinertzhageni As a species, the Giant Forest Hog of Central Africa is considered to be the largest pig in the entire world. Its only rivals for this title are a handful of Wild Boar subspecies, but even if there is a bigger hog out there somewhere, a body length of nearly 7ft is nothing to sneeze at! (There are actually three different subspecies of the Forest Hogs themselves, with the easternmost being the largest.) Giant Forest Hogs only live in a handful of African countries, and require humid, densely vegetated habitats. Because of their forest swelling nature, they were not first officially described until 1904, and even now they aren't especially well studied. The Hogs live in family groups called "sounders" that normally contain one adult males, a handful of females, and their offspring.   Males will fight for breeding rights, charging at each other and ramming their heads together. These fights are occasionally fatal for one or even both part

Bargibant's Seahorse

Hippocampus bargibanti I got a request to talk about Pygmy Seahorses, but there are actually several species that fall under that common name, so today we'll talk about one in particular. All Pygmy Seahorses are relatively new to Science, and most were actually described for the first time only in the last ten years or so. The Bargibant's Seahorse is the species that we've known about the longest, and it was first discovered back in 1969. Bargibant's Seahorse can be found in the coastal waters of Southeast Asia and Australia. They are very tiny, and seldom grow over 1in long. That, combined with their camouflaging bumps and colors, makes them very hard to spot on Corals that they live among (it's even difficult to tell exactly what you're looking at in that picture!). Bargibant's Seahorse is only known to live on Coral from the Muricella  genus. They are so well hidden that the very first ones observed were not even spotted until after the Coral was co


Eocursor parvus Eocursor  is the name of a Dinosaur genus whose fossils were first uncovered back in 1993. It took an additional 14 years for the discovery to be properly studied and described, and the result was a creature whose name translates to "Dawn Runner." Eocursor lived during the Late Triassic, and is an example of an early Ornithischian. In fact, this creature is the oldest found, and has the most complete skeleton of any early member of it's Order, which has helped to bring in information about the origins of the group . Until this discovery, very little was known at all about the rise of the Ornithischians (a group that includes Stegosaurus and Triceratops). We don't have a full skeleton of Eocursor, but we do have hands, legs, a pelvis, and skull fragments. These pieces are enough to tell us that the Dinosaur walked on two feet, was a very swift runner, and probably had an omnivorous diet (which we can tell from the teeth). There is still much

Reddish Egret

Egretta rufescens The Reddish Egret is an appropriately named species of Heron that can be found in Central America, and around the Gulf Coast in the United States. They stand a little under 3ft tall, and typically sport long dark legs, reddish heads and necks, and slate-grey coloration on the wings and back. Do not confused them with Snowy Egrets! Now, you may wonder how anyone  could mistake a red and grey bird for an all white one, but it happens! You see, Reddish Egrets have a white color morph . This means that they sometimes turn out completely white, much like their Snowy cousins. The two actually do have a slight overlap in ranges, so the easiest way to figure them out is by the color yellow. Snowy egrets have some yellow on their beaks and feet, Reddish Egrets do not. Reddish Egrets are most active during dusk and dawn, and they are usually seen on the move. They hunt for prey in shallow waters, running around in search of Fish, Amphibians, and Crustaceans. The Herons

House Finch

Haemorhous mexicanus The House Finch is a bird that once was found only in the Western United States and Mexico, but over the past few decades that have spread across the continent and can now be found on the Atlantic Coast! Estimates are that there are over a billion of them in North America, and they can form flocks that number several hundred birds. House Finches are small little birds with brownish coloration and blunt, squared tails. The males actually change color slightly over the course of the year, becoming more vibrant when they have the best food supplies. You see, their red or yellow colors come from what they eat, so abundant food leads to brighter hues. The bright feathers are very important come breeding time. Females pick the males with the best colors to mate with, because those males clearly known how to locate food-- a very important trait when you may have up to 6 offspring at once! Interestingly, House Finches feed their chicks an exclusively vegetarian die

Giant African Snail

Achatina fulica Meet a member of the invasive species club-- the Giant Afican Snail is considered one of the top 100 worst Invasive Species on the planet. Ant not only are they on the top 100 list , they actually sit at #2! African Giant Snails are naturally found in East Africa, but they have spread to warm locations around the world in the last few decades. They are large snails (hence the name), sporting shells that can grow to nearly 8in in length. They reach maturity after about 6 months, and can live as long as ten years. During that time they never really stop growing. They are a hermaphroditic species, possessing both male and female reproductive organs. They do not reproduce asexually-- they need another snail. But their interesting reproductive system makes it easier to multiply, since they do not need to track down a member of the opposite sex. They feed on over 500 different species of plant, so you can see why they are considered to be such a nuisance! However,

White-collared Blackbird

Turdus albocinctus The name "Blackbird" is one that applies to several dozen different bird species. Most of these are "New World" birds, meaning that they are found in the Americas. however, three species, all members of the Turdus  genus, are "Old World" Blackbirds. The White-collared Blackbird is one of those three species. Found on the Indian Subcontinent, this small bird is a very common species, and is found across several countries. They live in tropical and subtropical mountainous forests, and are generally residents. They are named for the white rings around their neck (as if you couldn't guess), and have round little bodies. Like most thrushes, they feed on insects, worms, and other invertebrates. White-collared Blackbirds tend to  breed once per year , laying up to 5 eggs in a small cup-shaped nest. Both parents help to care for the chicks. IUCN Status :  Least Concern Location :   Central Asia Size :  Length around 8in (22cm)

American Eel

Anguilla rostrata Well, it's Turkey Day here in the United States, but we've already talked about the two different Turkey species. So why not learn about one of the other critters that made an appearance at the very first Thanksgiving? Yup. Eels. American Eels are a very common fish that have been commercially harvested for hundreds of years. Though we don't eat them too often in the States, they are still consumed across the pond in Europe. You'll find them in the Atlantic Ocean, though they often spend their early years hanging out in nearby rivers and streams. American Eels have a complex aging process that contains 6 distinct phases and can take up to 10 years. The whole shebang starts with the external fertilization of the eggs, which are laid out in the middle of the ocean. A single female can release 30 million eggs during spawning! It is assumed that the adults die after spawning, but this is unconfirmed. The eggs hatch after only a week, and the se

Ringneck Snake

Diadophis punctatus The Ringneck Snake has a very large range that covers most of the United States, bits of Canada, and stretches of Canada. They live in a huge range of habitats, from forests, to grasslands, to riversides. However, despite their spread and general abundance they are rarely seen, due to a secretive nature and a nocturnal lifestyle. If you do  happen to come across one, you would notice their small size (up to 15in) and their name-sake ringed neck. Most of the subspecies have some variation of this band, and it ranges in color from yellow to red. You also may notice their undersides, as they tend to flip upside down, striking a strange, defensive warning pose when threatened. Though their tops are olive green, brown, or grey, their undersides are vibrantly yellow, orange, or red. Not so unsurprisingly, Ringneck Snakes have been little observed in the wild. Only around 6 instances of mating have ever been recorded. One might think that to be enough to get a gen

Swedish Vallhund

Swedish Vallhund The Swedish Vallhund is a dog breed that goes back around 1,000 years-- way back to the Viking times! Their name translates to "Herding Dog," which is exactly what they are, short legs and all. Like the more famous Welsh Corgis, the short-legged Swedish Vallhunds were bred to herd the much larger cattle! Interestingly, there may be an ancestral link between the Vallhund and the Corgis. Some historians believe that the Vallhunds were brought to Wales during Viking expeditions, while others think that the Corgis were taken back to Scandinavia as prizes. The exact history and relationship is still unknown, and perhaps DNA testing will someday solve the puzzle. However, despite their long history , Swedish Vallhunds nearly went extinct during World War II. If not for the  work of two men, Bjorn von Rosen and K.G. Zettersten, we may have lost the breed completely.  Those two searched the country for the best specimens they could find, and then started a br

Hong Kong Newt

Paramesotriton hongkongensis Hong Kong Newts are the only  Salamanders found within the territory Hong Kong, though they can also be found in a few other parts of the surrounding area. They can be found in and around slow flowing streams and pools that have sufficient pebble coverage for hiding. Hong Kong Newts do not hibernate  and can be spotted year round. You can identify these smallish Amphibains by their brown, warty bodies and vibrant orange-spotted undersides . Those bellies are used as a warning to drive predators away. They themselves feed on worms, crustaceans, tadpoles, insects, and small fish. As with most Amphibians, Hong Kong Newts go through a metamorphosis as they grow. Their tadpole stage has black skin and pink gills, and they have spotted stomachs, but those are yellow instead of orange. The Larvae hatch at around 14mm, and reach their final transitional stage at around 40-44mm. It can take as long as 3 years to reach full sexual maturity. The major threa

Richmond Birdwing

Ornithoptera richmondia The Richmond Birdwing is one of the smallest species of Birdwing Butterfly... though they are still quite large as far as Butterflies go-- their wingspan can get as large as 15cm. Males and females differ in appearance . The female are larger, but have plainer, brown-grey wings. Males have black wings, but with bright, iridescent blues and greens. Both sexes have red on their thorax. They are endemic to Australia, and as larvae they normally feed on two specific plants that are also endemic to the continent, Pararistolochia praevenosa and Pararistolochia laheyana . Those larvae need very specific conditions to survive, which is why the Butterflies live in only a very specific range ( and are rare-sighted ). The larvae require soft plants (like those listed above) to feed upon, but they also need a large volume of food to quell their ravenous appetite. As adults, the Richmond Birdwings are strong fliers, and are often found high up in the canopies, coming

Pale Toadfish

Ambophthalmos angustus The Pale Toadfish is a deep sea species that belongs to a Saltwater-dwelling Family of fish sometimes called " Fatheads ." It's pretty easy to see why-- these underwater creatures have very large heads compared to the rest of their bodies. This particular Fathead is found only around the islands of New Zealand. Their depth range is usually between 550 and 650m down, though they will occasionally be found both deeper and shallower. They measure around a foot long. Unfortunately, there is little else known about the pale Toadfish, or even about their entire family! Today's animal article just goes to show how much is still out there in the oceans, waiting to be studied and cataloged! Just this past week an estimate came out saying that only about 1/3 of all the life in the ocean has been named. And the Pale Toadfish shows that even when something is named, it may still not be very well known. There is still so much to learn, and hopefull

White-tailed Deer

Odocoileus virginianus (Bucks) It's that time of year again-- deer season. I live in a state where Deer hunting is a norm and a common topic of conversation  and was actually surprised that I hadn't covered White-tailed Deer on this blog in the past! The White-tailed Deer is well known throughout North and Central America, and they have even been introduced to parts of Europe and New Zealand. They are one of the most widely distributed mammals in the Americas, and it is no surprise that there are around three dozen  different recognized subspecies. They are incredibly adaptable, and live in a huge range of habitats. Grasslands, woodlands, subtropical forests, scrublands, and even suburban neighborhoods all play host to these Deer. Doe White-tailed Deer are named for the undersides of their tails , which they raise when alarmed. Those tails communicate danger to one another, but is not their only form of communication. The Deer also produce a variety of sounds (Does

Stoplight Loosejaw

Malacosteus niger Stoplight Loosejaw is the common name for the two species found within the genus Malacosteus. They are a relatively deep-sea dwelling fish, living between 500 and 1,000m down. The "Stoplight" name derives from the fact that they can produce two different lights from photophores near their eyes. One of these lights is blueish-green, while the other is red. The red light is especially interesting-- most of the other organisms near them cannot see the red light, which lets the Loosejaw hunt secretly and stealthily. (The blue light penetrates further in the water, but can be seen by others). The "Loosejaw" name is a reference to their interested head. They have a very minimal connection between their head and neck, and can tilt their heads back at normally unnatural angles in order to thrust their long, lower jaws even further forward. These lower jaws have very sharp, pointed teeth that impale prey, after locating it and swiftly darting forwa

Cape Gannet

Morus capensis The Cape Gannet is a very striking seabird, identified by its yellow face and neck and sleek white and black feathers. They breed on islands off the Cape of South Africa, and winter along the African coastal shores. Fish makes up their primary food source, and they retrieve it by plunging into the water from substantial heights. Cape Gannets breed on only six different islands, nesting in large colonies. Males arrive on site first and stake out a territory, females are then attracted to his site thanks to calls, head bobs, and shakes. If she likes what she sees, a monogamous bond is formed. The couple will work together to build a nest out of guano and plants, creating it in depressions on the ground. They both help to incubate the single egg, which takes around 45 days to hatch. After hatching, it will take 3-4 months for fledging to occur. Once the Juveniles leave their parents, they will head out to see and not return to breed for 3-4 years. Unfortunately, the


Varanops brevirostris Varanops is one of those cool ancient reptiles that wasn't actually a Dinosaur. In fact, they lived before Dinosaurs even existed, and belonged to the same group that modern mammals eventually evolved out of millions of years later! Varanops was not only a Synapsid-- it was also a Pelycosaur. In fact, its claim to fame is that it was one of the very last surviving Pelycosaurs. This group of Reptiles lived before the existence of Dinosaurs and included the more prominent  Dimetrodon . (And for more information about Synapsids, check out that article!) Dimetrodon was gone around 280 million years ago, but Varanops made it at least another 20 million years. They looked similar to today's large Monitor Lizards , and probably moved and behaved in a similar fashion (think Komodo Dragon). They consumed larger prey , as they had a very strong torso and legs, and were most likely terrestrial rather than arboreal. Varanops went extinct around 260 million y

Sir David's Long-beaked Echidna

Zaglossus attenboroughi Of the four extant species of Echidna, only one is named after one of the greatest naturalists alive-- Sir David Attenborough. Sir David's Long-beaked Echidna is also referred to as Attenborough's Echidna, and as teh Cyclops Long-beaked Echidna. "Cyclops" comes from the mountain range they live in-- the Cyclops Mountains in Papua, Indonesia. The Sir David's Echidna is literally only  found in that tiny region, so it is unsurprising that they are listed as Critically Endangered. They were actually thought to be extinct, since the last specimen was collected way back in 1961. However, local people claim that they have spotted the small Monotremes recently, and scientists have located "nose pokes" which are evidence that they are still around somewhere . The aforementioned "nose pokes" are the holes created when the Echidnas stick their snouts into the soil in search of termites, worms, ants, and other underground i


Yochelcionella Today's animal is one of the older ones that we've talked about. Older than Dinosaurs, older even than the existence of land animals. Yochelcionella  is the name from a genus of now-extinct  Molluscs that lived during the Cambrian over 520 million years ago. About a dozen species have been identified from fossils, and they have a very wide distribution . Remember, back 500 million years ago, the world looked like a very different place! Remains have been found in places like China, Australia, Greenland, Canada, Spain, and Antarctica! Members of the genus can all be identified by their interesting shells. They are very high cones, with little spouts sticking out of them. Scientists tend to agree that these spouts were used for respiration. Because only the shells are found, they are usually reconstructed to look similar to a Snail. Like just almost all animals during this time period, the Yochelcionella species lived underwater. Perhaps my favorite littl

Savannah Monitor

Varanus exanthematicus Savannah Monitors are one of the more popular Monitor Lizard species to be kept in captivity. This is due to their small(er) size, docile attitude, and general toleration of handling. (Disclaimer: Don't just go out and buy a 4ft long lizard! Please do your homework , and buy from a responsible source!) Anyway, in the wild Savannah Monitors can be found in the warm climates of Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the Savannah name, there is a misconception that they are a desert dwelling species, but obviously this is not the case. They are found in grassland regions and are a primarily ground-dwelling species. Savannah Monitors have two main activities in life-- eating and basking in the sun. They feed on invertebrates, rodents, and smaller reptiles. They themselves are prey for birds, larger reptiles, and humans (who hunt them for skins and meat). The Lizards have pretty decent camouflage, so their main defensive strategy is to stay undetected. But if threat

White-throated Dipper

Cinclus cinclus Allow me to introduce you to the White-throated, or European, Dipper. These aquatic Passerine birds can be found throughout the European Continent, as well as in western Asia, either as residents or seasonal migrants. They live near fast flowing streams and rivers, and prefer cold climates. They are rather round little birds, measuring about 7in long and sporting short beaks and tails. They have black backs, brown heads, and a bright white throat that leads to a chestnut-colored band on the lower neck. Males and females look alike, and juveniles are greyish-brown overall. Though they look like your average songbird, White-throated Dippers are one of five members of the Cinclus  genus that actually swim underwater for their food. They have short, but strong wings that can be used like flippers, nose flaps to keep water out, and dense feathers that can be preened to be waterproof. They can swim underwater for about 30 seconds at a time. They do all their hunting

Neotropical Pygmy Squirrel

Sciurillus pusillus The Neotropical Pygmy Squirrel is an animal that really intrigues me... because I know almost nothing about it. There is actually so little recorded about these rodents that they are listed as "Data Deficient" by the IUCN. It is even difficult finding pictures of them! Neotropical Pygmy Squirrels are the smallest of all the South American Squirrels, weighing as little as 40g . (For comparison, the Western Grey Squirrel of North American can weigh ten times that much!) They have a patchy distribution in the lowland rainforests of Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and nearby areas. Their small sizes means that we don't see them very often, and only recently have them become subjects of study (but there is still so, so much to learn!) We have learned that they are monotypic for their subfamily, that they have very small littler sizes (no more than 2), and they probably feed on the barks, gums, mosses, and insects and grow/live in the trees. Hopefully m


Equus kiang The Kiang is the largest species of Wild Ass in the world, and can be found in the Tibetan Plateau where it lives in the mountainous grassland steppes and meadows. There are three location-based subspecies, with the Eastern Kiang being the largest of the group. Kiangs stand at around 13.5 hands, which makes them about the size of a large pony. (Horses tend to be designated as Equines over 14.2 hands). Despite this, they are still the largest Wild Asses, standing over 6in taller than their smallest relative- the Somali Wild Ass. They have coats that change with the season-- darker and shaggier in winter, and sleeker and more chestnut-colored in the summer. During all times of the year they have pale underparts and a thick, dark brown dorsal stripe. Kiangs live in herds that can grow to incredibly large sizes-- up to 500 individuals ! These groups are typically led by a older female, and they travel in tight, cohesive groups while searching for food. The breeding sea

Spotted-necked Otter

Hydrictis maculicollis The Spotted-necked Otter can be found in many of the rivers and lakes of Sub-Saharan Africa. They prefer to live near clear, continuous, fresh water, and will build dens near these sources. When it comes to Otter size, this species is on the small end of the scale-- full body and tail length tops out around 1m, and females are generally smaller and lighter than the males. They can be identified by their sleek brown coats, and by the namesake white and brown spots on the neck and underside. Spotted-necked Otters live either alone or in very small family groups and they tend to be more social during the breeding and birthing seasons. However, some father Otters will help to raise the pups, while others do not. Regardless of how many otters they live with, these guys certainly love to play, and will splash and frolic either alone or in groups. One of the reasons that Spotted-necked Otters prefer clear water is that they hunt almost exclusively by sight. T


Hucho hucho Today's animal is the Huchen, a freshwater fish also known as the Danube Salmon. These Salmon-family members originated in the aforementioned river basin, but have since spread to other parts of Europe and Morocco. However, even with introductions, the species is still considered Endangered due to habitat fragmentation and pollution. Habitat fragmentation has had a huge impact on the reproductive cycle of the Huchen. Like their cousins in the west, they need to swim upriver in order to spawn, a process made very difficult by the addition of dams. Furthermore, some populations cannot breed at all, due to high water temperatures (like those introduced to Morocco). Huchen eggs need specific water temperatures in order to hatch. There have been efforts made to protect the Huchen and their environment, including cleaning up the rivers, placing more regulations on fishing, and restocking. You can identify a Huchen by their slender, cylindrical bodies, reddish-brow