Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Creature Feature #403: Ladybird

There numerous species of Ladybird - over 5000 -  found all over the world. Most are characterised by their colourful elytron (wing covers) which in many species are spotted. Some species are vegetarian, and have become something of a pest in agriculture, but most species favour a carnivorous diet with a particular fondness for destructive insects such as aphids.  As such, they are generally regarded as the gardener's friend. Although, introduced Harlequin Ladybirds are currently engaged in a full-on invasion of the United Kingdom, where they are spreading at a rapid rate and out-competing their native species.

Sorry about the bad picture - I'll try for another one tomorrow. I wanted to draw one in flight, but it just looks kind of messy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Creature Feature #402: Lacewing

Lacewings are small insects named for their delicate wings, which are cross-veined and resemble lace. She is nocturnal or crepscular in nature and feeds on pollen, nectar and honeydew, as well as the occasional tiny arthropod. When handled, some species will release a vile stench from their prothoracal glands. This has earned her the name "stinkfly". The spiny nature of the larvae attracts grime and sand, providing the juvenile with an element of camouflage.  Larvae are voracious predators, attacking any arthropod of appropriate size and even biting humans. To feed, she injects her prey with venom, liquifying its insides and allowing them to be sucked out.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Creature Feature #401: Feral Cat

Today's critter is more-or-less by popular request, and also because I needed an "invasive pest" to introduce into the forest portion of my TCG. Hence why we are dropping out of the alphabet, temporarily.

A Feral Cat is not just a domestic cat that is living wild, and it is not a stray - when a cat truly "goes feral" she is like an actual wild animal. She has never been socialised with humans. This probably means that her ancestors were strays. Feral Cats can be found in urban environments, as well as woodlands, temperate forests and open countries - anywhere there is relevant prey. Whilst in urban areas and some suburban, she can do little harm, it is isolated habitats that suffer the most impact from her introduction. Many islands are home to birds and small mammals, but may lack in mammalian predators, and for these the addition of this feline - an apex predator - spelled disaster. The extinction of six New Zealand bird species can be attributed to cats. The most well known of which is the Stephen Islands Wren. A tiny bird, almost flightless, and the entire population lived on one small island. There are tales that suggest one cat was responsible, but it is more likely that it was a plague of feral cats, some related to the lighthouse keeper's cat who was probably not called Tibbles) or otherwise dumped on the island. Within a few months the birds were gone.

Domestic cats are interesting in that they are one of the few sociable cat species. Unlike their ancestors, the European wild cat, they will share territory, although unneutered males will fight for dominance. A colony of cats is called a clowder. In some countries, like New Zealand and Australia (where the felines have had a detrimental impact on native mammals) there is talk of banning cats, and hunting ferals is encouraged. However, many people adore our feline companions, even the ones that utterly shun human contact, and the idea of killing cats is anathema. Some countries, including New Zealand, run a trap-neuter-release program, in which ferals are captured, neutered and then returned to their initial habitat. This means that the cat can no longer breed, but can still kill millions of birds, reptiles and bats before eventually sucuumbing to disease, injury or death-by-auto. Sometimes feeding stations are set up in which volunteers feed the half-starved felines. Needless to say, there is a lot of controversy surrounding such projects.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Creature Feature #400: Kusimanse

Today is the 400th "Animal a Day"! How exciting is that? It is also the last of the Ks. Tomorrow we have a special random entry and then on tuesday the 25th, one month from Christmas, the Ls shall begin.

Meanwhile, here's a dwarf mongoose:

This is the Kusimanse, one of several Dwarf Mongoose species. He is a diurnal forager and an excellent digger, hunting for insects, rodents, crustaceans and other small prey.  Groups consist of related Kusimanse and follow a strict hierarchal structure. Only the primary members are permitted to breed. If subordinates produce offspring, these will be killed and eaten.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Creature Feature #399: Kultarr

Keeping up the trend of adorable mammals with long hindlegs, I present the third (or fourth if you count "kangaroo") that begins with K.

The Kultarr is a tiny marsupial, related - but not closely - to the Kowari of two days ago. She makes her home in the arid interior deserts of Australia, inhabiting gibber plains and sandy deserts. Here she hunts alone, at night, for insects and other tasty invertebrates. During the day she hides away in soil cracks or burrows made by other creatures. Her long hind-legs enable her to move in hops and give her a superficial resemblance to jerboas and hopping mice.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Creature Feature #398: Kudu

The Kudu are two species of large woodland antelopes. The Greater Kudu can be found in eastern and southern Africa. Here the females form herds with their calves, whereas the bulls lead a more solitary existence. Only the male sports the long, curling horns and these are used for disputes over mating privileges. Generally the two males will lock horns and wrestle until one surrenders but on occasion they will become trapped together. If this happens they will either starve to death or be killed by a hyena or other large predator.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Creature Feature #397: Krill

Krill are tiny crustceans occuring in every ocean, worldwide. They play a critical role in the ecosystem. Krill feed on phytoplankton, and occasionally zooplankton. In turn they are preyed  upon by fish, mammals, birds, cephalopods and other arthropods. During the night they migrate towards the surface, sinking deeper into the depths during the day. More than half the population is predated each year, requiring a fast and fecund life-cycle. Climate change poses a threat to Krill populations, as can other disturbances.