Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for Zorilla

The zorilla (Ictonyx striatus) is a small carnivorous mammal that looks just like a skunk.  It is a weasel from Africa and also has the name of striped polecat.  Like skunks it has anal sacs that can excrete some pretty stinky fluid which they use to protect themselves from predators.  Some people believe they smell worse than North American skunks and call it the worst smelling animal on earth.

The zorilla is carnivorous and feeds on invertebrates, small rodents, birds, reptiles, and eggs.  It is primarily a solitary animal and is usually only seen together when mating.  After 36 days, mom will give birth to 1-4 young which she raises in a burrow for approximately 18 weeks.  Sexual maturity is reached at 20-30 weeks, almost a full year.  

Monday, April 29, 2013

Y is for Yellowfin Tuna

The Yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) is a large predatory fish found worldwide in tropical and subtropical waters, minus the Mediterranean. Just like Dori from Finding Nemo, the yellowfin tuna is built for speeeed.  Also, endurance.  

The yellowfin gets it's name from the yellow tiny fins (finlets) that run down the top and bottom of the fish.  Yellowfin are schooling fish, however they prefer to school with fish of the same size, rather and fish of the same species.  They are often found schooling with skipjack tuna and bigeye tuna and even porpoises and dolphins.  

Like other tuna species across the globe, yellowfin are facing decline. Recent reductions in catch numbers have led to their reclassification by the IUCN as Near Threatened.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

X is for Xenopus

Had to go backwards for this one.  X is for Xenophus laevis, the African Clawed Frog. They are native to southern Africa though they can now be found across the continent and have been introduced to parts of the United States, Chile, and the United Kingdom.  As you can guess by their name, they possess a unique feature on their front feet- claws.  This is not found in any other frog species.  They use these claws while hunting- they are carnivorous.  Once they catch their prey they use their claws to shove the prey into their mouths.

The frog has developed to be a bottom-dweller.  This provides them more protection from predators since they are not at the surface all the time.  In fact, they very rarely come to the surface.  It can swim surprisingly fast, up, down, left, right, front, back.  If you can think of a direction- it can swim it.

Like all other amphibians the African clawed frog has external fertilization, meaning both sexes expel their gametes out into the water and with a hope and a prayer they meet and fertilize.  Females can produce up to 2,000 eggs at a time.  Their tadpoles live a life just like any other tadpole- eating and avoiding predators.  They reach maturity at 10-12 months and can live up to 15 years in the wild.  Very impressive for a small amphibian.

African clawed frogs are of least concern on the IUCN Red List.  Really the only threat facing them are predators, a natural threat.  They are a very adaptable species and are invasive in many areas they now reside in.  They do, however, have a possible threat to other amphibian species around the world- Chytridiomycosis or Chytrid fungus.  This is a fungus that affects amphibians, causing population declines around the globe.  It was detected in museum specimens of this species way back in 1938.  So, it is possible that the trade in these frogs led to the spread of the disease around the globe.  And, of course, they do not seem to be affected by it either.

Friday, April 26, 2013

W is for Whale Shark

Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus)!  Our second aquatic animal on the list!  You may be wondering, is it a whale or a shark?  It is a shark.  But what makes it similar to a whale is 1) it's massive size and 2) it's fondness for plankton.

The whale shark is the largest fish in the world at 9-12m (18-36ft) and weighing up to 12,500kg (27,500 lbs or almost 14 tons).  Whale sharks are typically solitary though they have been seen feeding in large groups.  They are highly migratory animals, traveling thousands of miles.  The reasons behind this travel is unknown, though it is likely due to a search for food.  They generally remain in tropical waters, ranging from 30° to 40° latitude.

Whale sharks are generally quite docile and, as mentioned before, feed on plankton and other small fish by suction filter-feeding.  Females are ovoviviparous, meaning they carry their fertilized eggs until the young hatch inside them and then give birth to live young.  One shark was reported to have 300 fetuses.  Whoah baby!

Not much else is known about these gentle giants, simply because of their habitat and extreme migratory patterns.  What is known, however, is the threat they face from Asian markets.  The recent rise in demand of shark-fin soup could be extremely detrimental to this species.  Based on their size they are likely to be long-lived and slow reproducing animals which could face a rapid extinction if their populations are not cared for.  Luckily some countries have instituted anti-hunting laws and many more have tourism interests that help protect the whale sharks.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

V is for Vicuña

Vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) are pretty adorable members of the camelid family, and are actually the smallest members as well.  They are thought to be the wild ancestors of the alpaca.  Like the alpaca, it has a long neck and legs with large, forward-facing eyes.  Their standard coloration is a pale brown back with a dirty white underside.  The results of all of this?  Adorableness.

Vicuña live in groups, either family groups, bachelor groups, or individual males.  Family groups consist of females and juveniles with one dominant male.  He protects the group and defends two territories- an eating territory and a sleeping territory at  higher elevation.  The higher elevation is better protected from predators and so they spend their time migrating between the two locations.  If the group is threatened the male will give a high whistling call which alerts the herd to run.

Vicuña are classified as Least Threatened by the IUCN.  They do face danger from poachers and ranchers, howeverPoachers hunt the vicuña for their fibre, which is smuggled in large quantities.  Ranchers believe the vicuña pose a threat to livestock and will kill them if they see them.  Habitat loss and climate change are another two threats to their populations as they live in delicate climates.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U is for Umbrellabird

The umbrellabird.  I'm sure you can picture exactly what they look like, right?

Well as adorable as this little guy is, he's not an umbrellabird, per say.  There are 3 species of umbrellabird, all of them native to the rainforests of Central and South America.  There is the Amazonian Umbrellabird (Cephalopterus ornatus), Long-Wattled Umbrellabird (C. penduliger), and Bare-Necked Umbrellabird (C. glabricollis).  All three species look relatively similar, with their key characteristic being the umbrella-shaped feathers on top of their heads.

The males will use this crest during mating, extending the feathers out until it covers their entire head.  They then make rumbling sounds, enhanced by the wattle on their fronts.  All of this show will hopefully attract an interested female.  Unfortunately the males compete in large groups of other males, called a lek.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T is for Tuatara

Tuataras (Sphenodon Punctatus) are a unique nocturnal cornivorous species found only in New Zealand. They are remnants of an ancient ancestral reptile group that was around during the time of dinosaurs.  They are reptiles, but they are not in the same family as lizards, despite their appearances.

Although tuataras are relatively small- 30 inches long, most of that tail, and up to 2 pounds- they can live extremely long lives.  They mature between 15-20 years of age and can live up to 100 years old!!  Females will reproduce every 2-5 years.  About 8-9 months after fertilization she will lay 6-10 eggs.  It takes another 11-16 months (yes, really!) for the eggs to hatch.  Tuataras have TSD or Temperature- based Sex Determination.  The warmer the soil around the eggs, the more males they'll get.  The cooler, more females.  And in this case warm v. cold is only a matter of a few degrees.

Although native to the main islands of New Zealand, tuataras are now extremely rare there.  The main reason for their serious long-term decline  is the introduction of predatory mammals to the islands, including dogs, cats, rats, and stoats.  These animals not only eat the tuatara, they eat their eggs as well.  Add to this their extremely slow life histories, and tuataras can easily be wiped from existence.

The conservation of this species is of great importance to New Zealand and to the world because of their historic genealogy.  A main method of conservation has been the translocation of animals from the North and South Islands to smaller outlying islands which have been removed of predators.  Here the tuataras are free to roam and reproduce at their own pace. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

S is for Slow Loris

Lorises in general are small to medium sized primates.  There are five subspecies of slow loris, though I am focusing on the Greater slow loris (Nycticebus coucang).  All five species (Bengal (N. bengalensis), Bornean (N. menagensis), Javan (N. javanicus), and pygmy (N. pygmaeus) being the other four) are from Asia.  The greater slow loris is found in a range from the tip of Thailand out through Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore, plus some smaller neighboring islands.  

As you can guess by the name, slow lorises are generally slow moving animals.  They spend their days in the trees and are active at night.  They prefer living on forest edges due to the higher abundance of insects- their main prey.  Like other nocturnal animals, lorises have large eyes to help them see.  Their eyes are located at the front of their head, and like other primates they possess opposable thumbs which they use for gripping branches.  This is especially useful during the day when they curl up into balls to sleep in the trees. 

Slow lorises also also eat fruit, small animals, bird eggs, gum from trees, and nectar.  They have developed one of the longest tongues of any primate in order to reach the nectar.  Lorises will occasionally hang from a branch with their rear legs to catching passing prey, but in general they will keep all four feet in contact with a branch.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

R is for Reticuated Python

The reticulated python (Python reticulatus) is the first species on my list found exclusively in Asia.  Crazy, I know!  Asia is HUGE and I managed to avoid all it's animals up until now.  Not on purpose, it just happened.  I think the retic is a good place to start with Asian animals as they are the largest pythons in the world.  Some people believe the anaconda of South America can grow larger than the reticulated python, but the records of live animals in the wild and in zoos reside with the retic. 

Reticulated pythons live in tropical rainforests, often near a source of water.  There is much differentiation in color, however, they are relatively easy to identify based on the net-like pattern and the size of the head.  As the largest python they can reach over 16 feet in length but are commonly recorded at 25 feet or more.  The largest on record in a zoo was 28.5 feet and 320 pounds.  Her name was Colossus and she lived at the Pittsburgh Zoo in the 1950s.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Q is for Quokka

The Quokka (Setonix brachyurus), or 'The Happiest Animal in the World,' is found uniquely in Australia.  Like many of the other species on the continent, quokkas are marsupials.  They live in Western Australia, primarily on Rottnest Island.  Quokkas are actually one of the smallest species of wallaby.

Quokkas sleep in small groups during the day, waking up at dusk to feed on native grasses, leaves, and plant stems in groups of up to 150 individuals!  Their location is often subject to severe droughts.  In response, they have adapted the ability to survive long periods without drinkingInstead, they reuse some of their bodies' waste.  If the drought is exceptionally long, so that it drains the plants of water as well, the quokka is susceptible to dehydration.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

P is for Potoo

There are seven species of potoo in the world.  All of them live in the American tropics.  They break down as follows: Great Potoo (Nyctibius grandis), Long-tailed Potoo (Nyctibius aethereus), Northern Potoo (Nyctibius jamaicensis), Andean Potoo (Nyctibius maculosus), Common Potoo (Nyctibius griseus), White-winged Potoo (Nyctibius leucopterus), and Rufous Potoo (Nyctibius bracteatus).  I personally find these guys hilarious-looking, no matter what stance they're in.

The potoo is another nocturnal bird, awakening with the dusk to find their main diet of moths and other insects.  They have a specially adapted mouth to catch these critters.  It's difficult to see when the mouth is closed, but very obvious when open.

Potoos have a combination of gray, black, and brown plumage that allows them to blend in with tree bark.  They will roost on branches during the day, adopting a 'broken-branch' posture.  They also have adapted eyelids with slits in them that allow the birds to sense light changes and movement, even during the day.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O is for Oilbird

Just a quick note- I've been so wrapped up in making sure everything gets done that I totally forgot I don't have to post on Sundays!  I was two days ahead!  Look at that.  Haha so here's to keeping up with the Challenge!

O is for Oilbird (Steatornis caripensis).  Also called a guacharo, the oilbird is a nocturnal bird found in northern South America.  Oilbirds live in caves during the day, roosting on ledges.  At night they depart from the caves by the use of echolocation, just like bats.  The sounds the birds emit are within the range of human hearing and consist of a series of high-pitched clicks, up to 250 per second!

Oilbirds are unique in that they are the world's only nocturnal avian frugivore.  Frugivore meaning that their diets consists entirely of fruit.  It will hover in the air and pluck the fruit off branches.  And when I say fruit I don't mean apples and oranges.  Think instead of berries and nuts.  They store the fruit in their stomachs until the daylight, when they begin digestion.  They will digest the fleshy portion and regurgitate the stones.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

N is for Noolbenger

The Noolbenger (Tarsipes rostratus) or more commonly known as the Honey Possum, is a small mouse-like marsupial native to Australia.  Honey possums are unique in that they are the last survivors of an ancient group who feed solely on nectar and pollen.

Noolbengers are nocturnal and solitary.  Males and females both have small ranges with the males' ranges overlapping the females', although the females seem to be dominant.  Because they only live 1-2 years at most, mating begins at 6 months of age and can happen at any time of year with females producing up to 4 litters a year. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

M is for Marmoset

Marmosets are some of the smallest monkeys in the world!  The pygmy marmoset (Callithrix pygmaea) hold the title as smallest true monkey in the world.  (The smallest primate is the pygmy mouse lemur.)  

Adults are about 5 inches long with an 8 inch tail and weigh only 4-7 ounces!  They live in groups of two to nine individuals, usually a breeding pair and offspring.  The monogamy found in pygmy marmosets is pretty unique among primates.  They are found in central South America and are active in the trees during the day.  

Dominant females will produce fraternal twins after about 4.5 months of gestation.  After birth, the young are usually carried by the male or other juveniles in the group and return to the mother for nursing.  Pygmy marmosets reach maturity after about 1.5 years and can live up to 12 years in the wild and 20 years in zoos. 

Pygmy marmosets face danger from habitat loss as well as the pet trade, even though monkeys do not make good pets, even these tiny guys. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

L is for Lyrebird

The lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae), or Superb lyrebird, is a species endemic to Australia.  There are actually two species of lyrebird, the other is the Albert's lyrebird.  The Superb lyrebird is more famous for it's displays and vocal abilities.  Not much is known about the Superb lyrebird beyond their famed vocals. 

Lyrebirds are insectivores, eating small insects, worms, spiders, and occasionally seeds.  Males and females look extremely similar, aside from the male's tail feathers.  He develops the tail feathers around two years old.  It consists of 16 feathers with two extremely long feathers on the edges.  He displays his feathers while courting females.

In addition to his feathers he also uses his unbelievable voice to impress the ladies.  And no, the following video is not a joke.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

K is for Kiwi

Nooot quite.  There are five species of kiwi bird: Brown kiwi (Apteryx mantelli), Rowi (Apteryx rowi), Tokoeka (Apteryx australis), Great spotted kiwi or roroa (Apteryx haastii), and Little spotted kiwi (Apteryx owenii).  All five species are found only in New Zealand.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

J is for Jaguarundi

No I didn't type that wrong.  The jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi) is not the same thing as a jaguar.  They are both cats, however, despite the jaguarundi looking more like a weasel.  They have long, slender bodies, short legs, flattened heads, rounded ears, and a long tail.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

I is for Indri

The Indri (Indri indri) is a species of lemur from Madagascar.  The name indri comes from the Malagasy word "Indri," which local people used to yell while pointing out the animal to Europeans.  It means "there it is."  The indri is the largest of living lemurs at a whopping 6-10 kg (13-22lbs).  They are also the only species of lemur to have no tail.  It is these two factors that led the native  people to believe the animals resemble their sacred ancestors.  This protects the lemurs from direct hunting, but habitat loss from logging and agriculture still play a big role in their conservation.

The indri's legs are much more powerful than their arms, allowing them to leap through the forest canopy up to 10 m (30 feet)!  The hands and feet are large and adapted to climbing through the trees, each possessing an opposable digit to grasp tree branches and food. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

H is for Honey Badger

The Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis), or ratel, is part of the weasel family, related to skunks, otters, and ferrets.  They are nocturnal carnivores that are found in a very large range- from sub-Saharan Africa East to Russia and India.  They live in a variety of environments, from desert to rainforest.  These are solitary animals that breed throughout the year.  The female may give birth to 1 or 2 cubs after a 6-8 week gestation period.  She'll take care of her cubs for up to a full year before they go off on their own.

Honey badgers can live 5-8 years in the wild and a recorded 24 yeas in captivity.  Their short life spans may just have something to do with their ridiculously quarrelsome personality!  Honey badgers will attack almost anything, even if they don't have good odds on winning. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

G is for Green Turtle

I recently did a report on Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas), so you are about to receive a boatload of information regarding their life histories and their conservation.  A lot of the conservation issues also apply to the 6 other species of sea turtles out there- Loggerhead (Caretta caretta), Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), Kemp's Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii), Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), Flatback (Natator depressa), and the Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea).  Feel free to skim if you don't have the time to read.  Information on how you can help Sea Turtle Conservation can be found at the bottom.  Enjoy!

The green turtle (Chelonia mydas) is the largest of the hard-shelled sea turtles in the world.  Named after their fatty tissue of a greenish hue, this turtle is historically known for being a good source of meat.  This has led to its nicknames of soup turtle and edible turtle.  The turtles themselves eat large amounts of plants, the only sea turtle to do so.  Adult females weigh approximately 80-220kg with males slightly smaller.  Green turtles reach maturity in 20-50 years, the longest generation time of any sea turtle.   

Once mature, females reproduce every two to four years with one to seven nests laid in approximately two week intervals.  Females lay an average of 100 eggs per clutch and the process takes about 2-3 hours.  Females nest on warm tropical and subtropical beaches within 20 degrees of the equator.  Adults and juveniles live in tropical and warm temperate marine waters around the globe.  In the United States they can be found along the coasts of Virginia through Texas and San Diego south plus the Hawaiian Islands.   

 Green turtles in the Hawaiian Islands also display the unique behavior of basking.  This behavior warms them, protects them from predators, may speed up digestion and egg development, and dries out the shell which may help remove fungus and algae.  Across the globe green turtles can be found in coastal waters of 140 countries with nesting locations in 80 of them.

The green turtle is internationally recognized as endangered and has the possibility to go extinct in much of the world during this century.   The conservation history of this species is its most notable feature.  Turtles face danger from many areas including fishing, pollution, and harvesting.   The “leading cause of sea turtle mortality during the last 50 years has been their unintentional capture by three commercial fisheries: shrimp trawling, gill netting, and longline fishing.”

Saturday, April 6, 2013

F is for Frilled Neck Lizard

The Frilled Neck Lizard (Chlamydosaurus kingii) is yet another Australian species makes it onto the list. It is also commonly known as the Frill Necked Lizard.  Confusing, I know.  As I'm sure you've guessed, it's name comes from the large frill around it's neck.  It uses this flap of skin when frightened.

It will open it's mouth (yellow on the inside), extend the frill, stand on it's two hind legs and hiss at the threat.  If that doesn't do the job, the lizard has no issue with running in the opposite direction, still with mouth open, frill out, and on two legs.

Friday, April 5, 2013

E is for Echidna

I would like to dedicate this post to my friend Joy.  She knows why.

So yes, the Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus).  Echidnas are monotremes.  What is a monotreme, you ask?  A monotreme is an egg-laying mammal.  Your first thoughts may jump to the duck-billed platypus, and you would be correct.  These are the only two species of this order left alive today.  The characteristics that they share originated in ancient mammals, which all other mammals evolved away from.  Not only do these mammals lay eggs, they also have primitive skeletal features including the shoulder girdle and skull characteristics.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

D is for Dik-Dik

A dik-dik is a small antelope in the Madoqua family.  There are four species of dik-dik in the world, Guenther's dik-dik, Salt's dik-dik, the silver dik-dik, and Kirk's dik-dik.  All four species live in Africa.  The tallest of the four, also the most common, the Kirk's dik-dik is only 14-18 inches tall and weighs 8-15 pounds.  Yes, they are that small. 

Dik-diks live in monogamous pairs on their proclaimed territory, living with their most recent young.  When the fawns reach sexual maturity, around 6-8 months, the parents run them off their territory.  The young then finds a mate and takes a new territory.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

C is for Cheetah

The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), as many of you know, is the fastest land mammal in the world.  They use their quick bursts of speed during hunting.  Cheetahs hunt mostly during the day in order to avoid other large predators such as lions and hyenas that mainly hunt at night.  When the prey is captured the cheetah goes straight for the throat to ensure a quick death.  The cheetah then gorges itself as quickly as possible before it is displaced by larger predators.

The cheetah is second only to the lion in terms of sociability.  Siblings stay together for around 6 months after leaving the mom and brothers may stay together for their entire lives.  Males likely do this in order to maintain larger territories of land which then gives them greater access to females.

Females can reproduce at any time of the year and have litters averaging around three or four cubs, the greatest of any big cat.  Litters have even been recorded of up to 8 cubs!  Sadly the death of these young cubs is high for many reasons.  While mum is out hunting the cubs are left alone.  This allows predators to come in and take advantage.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

B is for Bee

...Hummingbird.  The Bee Hummingbird!  The Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae) is found solely on the island of Cuba so, sadly, most of you will never get to see these guys in your life.  The males possess brightly colored breeding plumage that is shed shortly after breeding (March - June) and replaced by more drab plumage.  The females have green plumage with white tips on the tail feathers.

They are very small hummingbirds.  The smallest in the world, in fact, at only 5-6cm long and weighing 1.6-1.9 grams.  For those non-metric folk, that's about the weight of two regular paperclips.  Can you imagine that?!  After having a Fiery-throated Hummingbird land on my finger in Costa Rica and only feeling his teeny claw tips I can't IMAGINE how this would feel-

Monday, April 1, 2013

A is for Aye-Aye

That's right, everybody, today starts the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge!  This is my second year participating in the challenge and I am very excited!  I even have a real theme this year.  You'll figure it out pretty quickly.  Let's get started, shall we?  A is for Aye-Aye!  And no, I'm not talking about a pirate.  I'm talking about a primate! 

The aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is a unique primate from Madagascar.  And yeah, they're pretty strange looking, but they're also really cool critters.

Although they don't look like it, they are related to monkeys, apes, and humans.  The aye-aye is nocturnal, explaining it's large eyes.  They spend their days in the trees in a sphere-like nest placed in the fork of a tree.