Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Creature Feature #319: Horned Owl

The Horned Owls are the most widely distributed "true owls" in America. There are two species - the Greater and the Lesser - and numerous sub-species, occupying much of North and South America. Highly adaptable, she favours forested areas. She is one of the larger owls and her barred colouration offers her substantial camouflage, especially during the day as she sleeps. If crows can locate her daytime perches, they will mob her aggressively, endeavouring to chase her from their territory. At night, she calls several times before taking to the wing to hunt for small mammals such as cottontails and voles.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Creature Feature #318: Horned Lizard

The Horned Lizard is sometimes known as the "Horned Toad" due to his blunt snout and squat, toad-like body. He inhabits the dry desert areas of North America. His body is covered in an array of scales, modifed into spines, and he bears 'true' horns on his head. These, combined with his general camouflage, are the first step towards preventing predation. If these measures fail, he will puff up his body to make himself into an unwieldly mouthful. Some species are also capable of squirting blood from their eyeballs as a further deterrent. This not only confuses the predator, but tastes foul to mammals and most will go off in search of an easier mouthful.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Creature Feature #317: Hornbill

The Hornbill Family can be found in tropical and subtropical Africa, Asia and Melanesia.  They are characterised by their large, down-ward curving bill, which rather resembles the horn of a cow. The first and second neck vertebrae are fused, creating a stronger platform for supporting this unwieldly appendage. He follows an omnivorous diet, enjoying fruit and small animals. Most species form monogamous partnerships, and nest in natural cavities. The female decreases the size of the entrance hole with a wall of mud, droppings and fruit pulp, leaving just enough space for her to squeeze through. The male then seals her in so that only her beak can protrude. This is thought to be a means of preventing rival Hornbill pairs from stealing her nest and destroying her brood. When her chicks are old enough, she will break her way out.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Creature Feature #316: Hoopoe

Sorry about all the birds recently.
Okay, so I'm not really sorry. I love drawing birds. But do not fear - we'll be up to "Horse" soon, followed by a very strange arthropod.

The Hoopoe is a colourful bird, found across Eurasia and Africa. His name comes from his call of "ooop-ooop-ooop". He is an insectivore, and solitary forager. During breeding season, he forms a monogamous bond and fiercely defends his territory from rivals. Ensuring fights can be brutal, with the males stabbing one another with their bills. This occasionally results in a blinding. Eggs are laid in a crevice. The female's uropygial glandstarts producing a foul-smelling liquid, which she rubs into her plumage. This makes her reek of rotting meat and acts as a deterrent to predators. If that fails, nestlings can direct streams of faeces at intruders, or stab them with their bills.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Creature Feature #315: Honeyeater

The Honeyeaters are a diverse Family of birds, spread throughout Australia, New Guinea and the islands of the South Pacific. Here they play an important role in polination, rather like the honeycreepers and sunbirds. This fellow is a New Holland Honeyeater and he was one of the first birds to be scientifically described in Australia. He is widespread across the southern coastal regions of the continent, with five distinct subspecies. Much of his food is obtained from nectar; he uses his beck to probe into the flower, then licks it up with his long tongue. He will also eat insects and spiders for protein.

These guys were pretty common around Sydney, where I nicknamed them the "scolding bird" because of the indignant call they made.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Creature Feature #314: Honeycreeper

The Honeycreepers are several species of small bird related to the tanagers. Flocks forage in the canopy of tropical forests from Mexico to Brazil, including around plantations. As his name suggests, he is a nectar drinker, using his long bill to sip from flowers. Fruit and insects are also eaten. Outside of breeding season, the male sheds his vibrant blue plumage in exchange for a more dowdy and camouflaged olive green, better matching the females. The female builds a small, cup-shaped nest in which she lays two eggs. These hatch within 14 days, and the chicks fledge two weeks later.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Creature Feature #313: Honeybee

The Honeybee is a social insect with a cosmopolitan range. Hives are divided up into three types of bee. The most common is the worker bee - females that are not sexually developed - who play a role in foraging and collecting food and maintaining living conditions within the hive. The male bee is known as a drone, and he only remains with the hive during the spring and summer, during winter he is pushed out as the swarm go into survival mode. There is also one female bee that is sexually developed, known as the queen bee. She spends her entire life laying eggs and when she dies, a worker bee will be fed on "royal jelly" which will stimulate her maturity. The queen also produces chemicals that directly influence the behaviour of the other bees.

Bees play a very important role in pollination, as the workers fly from flower to flower, collecting nectar to carry back to their hive. It is of considerate concern that bee numbers are in the decline, possibly due to the widespread use of pesticides. It has been predicted that if the Honeybee  were to go extinct, then many of our crops would no longer become viable as a food source.

There is so much that can be said about the humble honeybee. She truly is a remarkable creature.