Monday, June 30, 2014

Creature Feature #254: Fulmar

Although it may superficially resemble a gull, a Fulmar is actually a tube-nosed sea bird, making her kin to the petrels and albatross. She leads a pelagic lifestyle, patroling the ocean in search of squid, fish and shrimp. She spends most of her life on the wing or the water, being clumsy on foot. During breeding season, she selects a rocky cliff ledge on which to lay her single egg. Historically, Northern Fulmar populations have been exploited for food, with their oil and feathers also being used by the island inhabitats of St Kilda until 1930.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Creature Feature #253: Fugu

The Fugu is the Japanese name given to the pufferfish, where it is a served as a delicacy in restaurants. There are several species of Fugu -all of which are toxic. Fugu poison is 1200 times stronger than cyanide and leads to paralyzation and asphyxiation. This poison is most concentrated in the liver. The fish has to be carefully prepared before it is suitable for human consumption, although aquaculture has now lead to "safe" fish being bred. In the wild, the Fugu is not a fast swimmer, although he can swim backwards and manoeuvre well. If threatened, he fills his elastic stomach up with water, bloating up to become almost spherical.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Creature Feature #252: Fruit Fly

Okay, so my Fruit Fly looks a wee bit punk.

The Fruit Fly is a small species of fly beloved by biologists and very popular in genetic studies. This is because she only has four pairs of chromosomes and breeds fast, producing a great many eggs. This does not make her so popular amongst homes, restaurants or orchards, however, where fruit left to spoil can quickly become infested. This individual is a female of the wild type, as it characterised by her red eyes and barred abdomen. She will be mated fairly quickly after emerging from her pupae, and will lay up to 400 eggs, in lots of 5, in rotting vegetative matter. Larvae can reach maturity within 7 days if temperatures are optimal (yes, this does mean that your compost bins, in summer, can quickly become a swarming hive of fruit flies).

Friday, June 27, 2014

Creature Feature #251: Fruit Bat

Fruit Bats, also known as Flying Foxes, are large tropical bats characterised by their fox-like muzzles. As the name suggests, her diet predominantly consists of fruit, nectar, pollen and sap. Unlike other bat species, Fruit Bats do not possess echolocation, relying instead on their well-developed eyesight and strong sense of smell. She can roam over 60 kms in search of food. Fruit bats are social roosters, gathering together in the same tree to sleep during the day. They are very noisy, and can be damaging to trees in the area. Recently a flock had to be evicted from the Sydney Botanic Gardens as they were threatening the palm trees growing there.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Creature Feature #250: Frogmouth

Frogmouths are related to the Nightjars and are sturdy, nocturnal birds characterised by their extremely large gape. The Australian species, like this Tawny Frogmouth, follow are carnivorous diet, eating invertebrates, small mammals, frogs and even other birds. During the day, he stands motionless in a tree and pretends to be a branch. He is so good at this, that despite the fact that he will happily reside in the urban environment, he is not frequently seen. He forms a long-term monogamous bond, holding the same territory for a decade or more. The pair will roost together, maintaining close physical bonds and grooming one another.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Creature Feature #249: Frogfish

The Frogfish is related to the Anglerfish. With his short, stocky body he has an atypical appearance fo ra fish, but it does permit him powerful camouflage. He relies on camouflage to both protect him from predation and also to ambush prey. If prey comes to rest near him, he will creep slowly forward, preparing himself for the lunge. His mouth opens to create a massive cavity and he engulfs the prey, literally sucking it in within about 6 milliseconds. He will happily devour anything up to twice his own size, and in captivity has been known to eat other frogfish, even potential mates.

Here he is in action:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Creature Feature #248: Frilled Lizard

The Frilled Lizard inhabits humid forests of northern Australia and southern New Guinea. He is characterised by the large ruff of skin that normally lies flat about his neck. This frill is supported by cartilage which allow him to erect it when he feels threatened or wishes to impress a female lizard. He leads an arboreal existence, feeding on beetles and termites, with a preference for moths and butterflies. His colouration varies based on his environment, with the mottled and cryptic blends of brown, black and grey allowing him greater camouflage.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Creature Feature #247: Frigatebird

You may have noticed that my entries are a bit later and more abridged recently. For this I apologise. I have begun writing my novel again and my art time has become somewhat reduced.

The Frigatebird is a bird built for the skies. His wings are very long, enabling him to remain aloft for up to week at a time, riding updrafts and landing only to roost and breed. He cannot swim and is clumsy on the land. His main diet is fish, and he is a pirate of the skies, ambushing other birds to steal their catches and even snapping up fledglings. In breeding season, the male inflates his bright red gular pouch in an effort to impress the females. One mate will be selected, and they remain together for the season, hatching their single egg chick together.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Creature Feature #246: Fox

The name "Fox" is given to a number of smaller species of the Canine Family, but "true foxes" fall into the Genus Vulpes. The most well known and well recognised species is the Red Fox.  He is extremely widespread across the Northern Hemisphere, with numerous subspecies. The Red Fox lives in pairs or small family groups, either establishing a territory or leading an itinerant lifestyle. His main diet consists of rodents, with the occasional rabbit or larger prey taken. Urbanised Red Foxes have become something of a problem in cities, where they can raid rubbish bins, attack chickens and ruin gardens.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Creature Feature #245: Fossa

If you have seen the movie "Madagascar" you may think you know what a fossa is.
You are, quite probably, wrong.
How they portrayed this muscular, lithe and somewhat unpleasant creatures was almost demeaning to the species. In fact, the whole movie bugged me on various levels and helped inspire my Lemur Saga. Why call a movie "Madagascar" and make the four main characters all African? Why portray fossa as sort of shoaling hyena without brains? At least they kept the lemurs relatively true to their spirit (I can imagine lemurs partying, oy yeh).

So what is a fossa really then?

Fossa have always been hard to categorise, once classified in with the Viverrids, they have now been shifted into their own Family, Eupleridae, with all of Madagascar's unique carnivores. They somewhat resemble a giant mongoose on steroids. However, unlike mongooses (yes, that is the plural, ask google) she is extremely agile and will leap through the trees with the greatest of ease. Her tails is exceptionally long - as long as her body - and act as a counterbalance. Fossa walk with a plantigrade stance and her ankles are jointed such that she can twist them about and climb down trees head-first. Why must a fossa be such an exceptional climber? Because she loves to eat lemurs.

So you may be able to understand why I am not exactly fond of the fossa. Sure, she plays an important role in nature and is a most interesting creature indeed but she does enjoy chowing down on my favourite animals and also smells rather rank when you meet her in person.

Fossa are not generally social. They certainly don't live in packs as depicted in the afore-mentioned movie, although three male fossa have been recorded hunting one poor Verraeux sifaka, then sharing the kill. When the female comes into heat, she climbs up onto a sturdy branch. She will use the same tree year-by-year and as fossa's cycles are fairly precise, can collect a large array of suitors. The males gather from all around and she decides which ones she wishes to mate with. If she does not like the male, she will back up onto branches that will not bear their shared weight and snarls at him. Fossa mating is very noisy and can last for three hours. She will remain there for up to ten days, mating with multiple partners, before eventually heading off to find a den and birth up to six cubs. Fossa cubs develop quite slowly for a carnivore and do not become independent until they are one year old.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Creature Feature #244: Forktail

Forktails are small insectivorous birds related to the Old World Flycatchers. They are comprised of seven species spread across Southeast Asia and characterised by their forked tail. This fellow, the chesnut-naped, inhabits sub-tropical and tropical forest. Most associate closely with waterways, where they flit from rock to rock snapping up insects and their larvae.Although shy in nature, he has been observed eating small snakes. He is threatened by habitat loss due to deforestation, but can survive in secondary forest if the need arises.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Creature Feature #243: Fork-Marked Lemur

It's been a while since I'm submitted a lemur through my Animal-a-Day, so here she is, the Fork-Marked  Lemur, known also as the Tanta.

The Fork-Marked Lemurs are a Family of Dwarf Lemur, consisting of four species. She is characterised by the stripe that runs along her spine and forks at her head into dark stripes down her face. She has large feet, enabling her strong grip on the branches as she scurries through the forest. Nocturnal in nature, her principle diet is tree sap. She uses her long premolars to break through the bark, and extracts the sap inside with her long tongue. She will also eat invertebrates for additional protein.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Creature Feature #242: Flying Fish

Flying Fish are a Family of ray-finned fishes equipped with elongated pectoral fins, which resemble wings. He uses his tail to propel himself out of the water, tilting his fins for lift. In this manner he can fly for up to 50 meters, skimming a few feet over the water.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Creature Feature #241: Flower Mantis

The beautiful Flower Mantis use aggressive mimicry as his hunting technique. Delicately coloured, he lurks near flowers of similar colour and waits for flies to flutter by. This fellow, the Devils Flower Mantis, is one of the largest species with males measuring 10 cm in length. If threatened, he will rise up in a deimatic display, exposing the brightly-colorued underside of his legs and opening his wings to appear larger and more threatening.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Creature Feature #240: Florican

The Florican are the smaller members of the Bustard Family, with two species occuring: the Bengal and the Lesser. This fellow is the Lesser. He lives in open grasslands of India, but is highly endangered across much of his range. Males colour up dramatically in breeding season, sporting long plumes of feathers upon their heads. He will lurk in the grasslands and court the female by jumping up in front of her, croaking and fluttering his wings.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Creature Feature #239: Flea

Today's animal is one I am sure you will all love. NOT!

The Fleas are an Order of wingless insects with a taste for blood.With his long hind legs he can leap up to 18 cms vertically and 33 cms horizontally. This allows him to hop from one host to another. Different species parasitise different hosts - with cats and dogs being common carriers. The female Flea will lay her eggs after engorging herself with blood. These eggs easily roll off and become lost in the carpet, where they will hatch up to two weeks later, thus inflicting a plague of epic proportions on poor, unsuspecting humans who have allowed an afflicted feline to share their living space.

Bitter? Heck yes, we had to deal with a flea infestation back in my old flat - and all because my flatmate befriended a stray cat and let him sleep inside. Have you ever tried to rid your house of fleas? It involved several cans of fly-spray, vacuuming, washing the sheets (and pillows) almost every day and far too much itching! Not only is it uncomfortable and embarrassing (because the presence of fleas is generally thought of in relation to poor hygiene) but it is also dangerous as fleas can carry disease and the bites can become infected. Calamine lotion helps with the irritation.

Anyway, back to the factual stuff. 

These eggs hatch into larvae, which feed on any available organic matter - which probably also includes bits of dead human skin - and will then pupate. They are capable of over-wintering in this state. Once they emerge as adult fleas they wait for a likely host and hop aboard, ready to start the cycle again. A well-fed adult flea can live for 100 days and lay over 5,000 eggs.

So, let that be a lesson to you - keep your pets flea-free!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Creature Feature #238: Flatworm

There are thousands of species of Flatworm: some are parasitic, others are free-living predators. The free-living ones are rather more pleasant to both look at and draw and they mostly occur in the sub-division Turbellaria. Flatworms are characterised by their bilateral symmetry: their right side mirrors their left and they have three cell layers. They lack a body cavity and contain no specialised respiratory or circulatory organs. Thus they use their entire body to breathe, and if they dry out then they will die, thus species are found in water, damp forest, or the intestinal tracks of other creatures. The predatory Turbellaria species use cilia or body contractions for locomotion. Some species even throw a thread of mucus for them to climb up. Mouths are often located on the underside of the body, and sometimes very large.

Flatworms are hermaphrodites, and can be both male and female simultaneously. To mate some species engage in "penis fencing" in which the winner gets to be the male for the encounter, and the loser adopts the female role and must carry the eggs.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Creature Feature #237: Flamingo

The Flamingo is a long-legged wading bird who makes his home in mudflats and lagoons. His large beak is used for filter-feeding, straining through the water for brine shrimp and blue-green algae. The carotenoids in this diet are what lead to his pinkish colouration. He is extremely social, living in vast flocks that can number in the thousands. Within this massive gathering, both male and female dance an elaborate courtship ritual, to attract a mate. The bonded pair then find and defend a breeding site. Together they raise a single chick, and at two weeks old she is pushed into a creche with other chicks. This allows both adults to feed whilst leaving their chick in relatively safe circumstances.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Creature Feature #236: Fishing Cat

The stocky and muscular Fishing Cat makes his home in South and Southeast Asia. His favoured habitat is wetlands, and true to his name, his main diet is fish. He will sit at the water's edge and tap gently on the surface with one paw, mimicking the movements of insects. When fish are lured to the surface, he scoops them out or dives in after them. He is a skilled swimming, capable of swimming considerate distances, even beneath the water. Solitary in nature, he only comes in contact with the females to mate, which can happen at any time during the year. Cubs are raised in a den made in a thicket of reeds, wtih the kittens venturing out after about a month and shortly after will begin playing in the water.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Creature Feature #235: Firefinch

Firefinches are a Genus of Old World Finches, comprised of eleven species, spread across Africa. This fellow is a Red-Billed. He is widespread and sociable, travelling in large flocks between feeding grounds. His main diet is seeds, and he can be damaging to agricultural crops. They are colony breeders, constructing elaborate domed nests  low in the tree branches. Pairs are monogamous and long-term, only seeking a new mate if one dies. Firefinches are fairly common in aviculture and breed readily in captivity.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Creature Feature #234: Fin Whale

The Fin Whale is one of the longest animals in the world, measuring up to 27m. She is sleek and slender, capable of speeds greater than that of an ocean liner - about 37 km/hr. She mates in low-latitude seas during winter, giving birth to her calf some 11 months later. Newborns are about 6m long and will remain with the mother for 6-7 months, accompanying her to the summer feeding grounds. She can live up to 140 years. Fin whales are occasionally predated by orca, but their main threat comes from humans, both through whaling and collisions with boats.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Creature Feature #233: Finfoot

The Finfoot is elusive and secretive. He is usually to be found in mangrove swamps or near bodies of water. Here he glides across the water, scooping up invertebrate larvae, frogs and small fish. His toes are partly lobed and he is well equipped with a long neck and sharp beak. Nests are constructed loosely of twigs and reeds, in branches or fallen trees that span over the water. Two eggs are laid, and the takes sole incubation duty. At only a few days old the chicks depart the nest.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Creature Feature #232: Ferreret

The Ferreret, or Mallorcan Midwife Toad, is endemic to Mallorca, where it has now disappeared from much of the island. Like all Midwife toads, the male carries the developing eggs. These are strung around his legs like garlands, and he keeps them moist. The habitat of the Ferreret is very dry, and often the only moisture available is small rain-filled puddles. Once he finds a suitable body of water: a cattle trough, large puddle, or river pool, he deposits the eggs and they hatch spontaneously. Considered extinct, he was rediscovered in 1977 and now captive breeding populations have been established.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Creature Feature #231: Ferret-badger

Ferret-badger is the name given to five species of mustelid, resembling somewhat a hybrid between ferret and badger (hence the name). This fellow, the Chinese Ferret-badger, inhabits tropical and sub-tropical forests, including grasslands. He is the smallest species of badger, measuring a mere 30-40cm from nose to tail-tip. He is nocturnal and follows an omnivorous diet of earthworms, amphibians, insects and fruit. During the day he retreats into burrows or rock crevices and is a skilled climber, occasionally ascending to sleep in the crook of a tree.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Creature Feature #230: Ferret

The regular ferret: the one that has been banned as a pet in New Zealand and certain states of America, is a domesticated beast and will feature under P, for Polecat, its wild ancestor.

The Black-Footed Ferret inhabits the prairies of mid-west America. With her diet consisting predominantly of prairie dogs, wild populations declined significantly as the prairie dogs numbers plummeted. This, along with sylvatic plague, lead to becoming extinct in the wild by 1987. Luckily for this little carnivore, a captive breeding project had been launched and from 1991-2008, re-introductions in the wild were made. She is now classified as merely Endangered. She is solitary and nocturnal, creeping through prairie dog burrows and hunting them in their sleep.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Creature Feature #229: Fennec

The smallest canine in the world, the Fennec inhabits the dry nothern areas of Africa. He is nocturnal, sleeping in sand burrows during the day and venturing out at night to forage on insects, eggs, rodents and plants. He is well adapted for the arid environment: his large ears disipiate heat and give him sensitive hearing - he can hear prey moving underground. His pelt is thick to keep him warm in the night and deflects the sun during the day. Even the pads of his paws are furred, to protect against the burning sand.  Dens are large, and often interconnect with those of their neighbours. He mates for life, and offspring will remain with their parents even after the next litter is born. Playing is common, even amongst adults.

These almost cat-like traits combined with the fairy-cuteness of this petite fox have "earned" him a place in the exotic pet trade. They are not, however, domesticated, and are very quick and curious which means special care must be taken to make sure they do not escape.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Creature Feature #228: Feathertail Glider

The Feathertail Glider is a tiny gliding possum. She is characterised by her tail, which is as long as her head and body combined, and serrated along the edge, like a feather. It is prehensile, used to grip the branches, to balance herself as she leaps from tree to tree, and to act as a rudder while gliding. Her main diet is insects, pollen, nectar and seeds. She is highly active and social, living in groups of up to 30 individuals. Often multiple mothers will share the same nest - usually a tree hollow or nest box - and even care for each other's joeys. By sharing the nest, the Feathertails also share their body heat, keeping warm on cooler nights.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Creature Feature #227: Fanworm

Fanworms are an Order of annelid worm, characterised by their fan-like appearance. Their first two body segments are fused, with feathery tendrils that allow them to filter feed. To protect their lower end, they construct a parchment-like tube from debris around them, such as sand and shell fragments, cementing them together with mucus. This they retreat into when not feeding. There are numerous species, with some - like this Mediterranean Fanworm - having only one fan, whereas other species have multiple or spiral fans. The Mediterranean Fanworm is found in shallow estuaries, living at depths of up to 30 m and growing up to 40 cm tall.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Creature Feature #226: Fantail

Fantails are small insectivorous birds of Australasia, Southeast Asia and India. He is a specialist aerial feeder, snatching flies and other insects on the wing. His tail is long, longer than his wing, and spreads into the characteristic fan shape. His short, tapered wings allow him greater maneuvorability in pursuit of his tiny prey. Despite his short wings he is capable of sustained flight and has colonised a number of offshore islands, including New Zealand and Samoa. There are a number of different species, with the largest being Australia's Willie Wagtail (NOT a wagtail). This colourful fellow is a Rufous Fantail. He lives in eastern Australia, heading north for the cooler months, and returning to the south-east breed in spring.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Creature Feature #225: Fangtooth

Although the pelagic Fangtooth may look a most fearsome foe, he grows no more than 18cm in length. He lurks in the deep, dark recesses of the ocean, as far as 5,000 m deep. Unlike most deep sea denizens, he does not use light to locate prey, relying on touch chemoreception and sheer chance. His disproportionately large mouth and teeth assist in the consumption of any prey he might find. His lower fangs are so long that they do not neatly fit into his jaw, and it is difficult, if not impossible, for him to close his mouth. Juvenile fish are planktonic and live near the surface, descending to the depths when they attain their adult form.