Sunday, December 29, 2013

Creature Feature #74: Bittern

The last of the Bs, the Bittern has been included because I have had to move the Babakoto from the "B" volume into the "IJ" volume, to help bring up the numbers. Who would have thought - there are far more animals beginning with "B" than there are I and J combined.
Suggestions for I or J animals will be graciously accepted. I am also quite low on animals beginning with "E".

The cryptically coloured Bittern clan belong to the Heron Family. She is the shy cousin, her colours affording her great camouflage amongst her marshy home. She is most active at dawn and dusk, stabbing the shallow, muddy water for fish, frogs, reptiles and invertebrates. If danger threatens, she will freeze with her beak arched to the sky in the hope of being mistaken for a tree branch or stump. To attract a mate, the male Bittern emits a low, loud booming call that can carry for several kilometres.

This is the last Animal-a-Day for 2013. We shall resume again on January the 1st with the Cs.
Please continue to send through any suggestions or requests for future Creature Features.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Creature Feature #73: Butterflyfish

Butterflyfish are a Family of small and colourful fish that make their home amongst the coral reefs in the tropical and sub-tropical oceans of the world. There are over 120 species, and an entire rainbow of colours, the colouration is thought to be used as a form of interspecies communication.The diet of the different species varies: some are corallivores, others dine on zooplankton. Corallivores, like this Eclipse Butterflyfish, are territorial, forming mated pairs and defending their personal corals. Whereas the zooplankton feeders form shoals. Butterflyfish are generally found within 18m of the surface and are active during the daylight hours, hiding in reef crevices during the night. Some of the species even change colour, their dark lines increasing and brightness becoming diluted, to allow them some camouflage during the nocturnal hours.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Rhapsody Kelpdancer

Rhapsody Kelpdancer, my conceited and snooty sea dragon character, insists that I draw her every couple of years, each time doing a slightly different variation of her colouration and her plumes. This particular rendition was for Dragonstarr's fantasy themed moley. She's just doing her thing, taking a swim and looking for sunken treasure.

Creature Feature #72: Bustard

Bustards are large, heavy birds that spend the majority of their life on the ground. The male Kori Bustard, featured here, can weigh over 20kg, ranking him among the heaviest flying birds. To get airborne, he needs a considerable run-up and thus he makes his home in the open plains of Africa, where there are few trees to hinder him. To attract a mate, he puts on a fine display: puffing up his white throat, arching his head back, fanning his tail and strutting his stuff in an effort to out compete his rivals. He will mate with all willing females and plays no role in raising his offspring. The female lays her eggs in a shallow, unadorned hollow, often near a patch of cover, and rarely leaves them to forage for food. Sometimes she will cover herself in branches for additional camouflage. Chicks are precocial and forage with their mother within a few hours of hatching.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Creature Feature #71: Bush Dog

This diminutive canine measures two feet long and 12 inches at the shoulder. He lives in lowland forests of Central and South America, in small family packs lead by an alpha pair. He is generally to be found near water and his feet are partially webbed, allowing him to swim well and even dive. Bush dogs hunt in packs, vocalising regularly to one another.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

A Christmas Pukeko to brighten up your day.

Creature Feature #70: Bumblebee

There are over 250 species of these furry bees, which occur naturally across most of the Northern Hemisphere and South America, and have been introduced to New Zealand and Tasmania. She is covered in long, branched bristles, called “pile”, which make her appear fuzzy. This pile becomes electrostatically charged whilst the bee is flying, and when she crawls inside a flower, the pollen is attracted to this charge. She also stores nectar in her crop and in specially modified concaves on her hindlegs, in which it is held in place by hairs. Unlike bees, her sting is not barbed, and she can sting multiple times.

I have once been stung by a bumblebee: it burned horribly, painfully, for several minutes, enough for me to start researching on the ‘net quite how serious they are, but faded within an hour and did not even leave a mark or swelling.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Creature Feature #69: Bulbul

There are numerous species of Bulbul, naturally distributed across Africa, the Middle East and Asia. As relatively attractive songbirds, they have enjoyed some popularity as pets and as such have now become established outside of their natural homes. Here they have become rather a pest as many of the species, particularly the red vented, are aggressive and damaging to crops. The red whiskered fellow here is less aggressive, but has been found to carry bird malaria parasites and also aids the spread of introduced, exotic plants.

There is a campaign in Auckland, New Zealand, at the moment  - where the red vented bulbul has been sighted, to eliminate it and stop it establishing itself there. It has already been foiled in attempts at colonisation in the past, and if it did manage to breed here would quickly become a major pest that would beat up on our remaining native birds and damage our agricultural industry. The mynah bird is bad enough, it does not need any more aggressive companions.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Creature Feature #68: Bufflehead

The Bufflehead is a diminutive sea duck, one of the smallest species in North America. They are highly active, diving almost continuously to feed their high metabolism. Due to their small size, they are able to fit into the nesting cavities evacuated, and abandoned, by the Northern Flicker. Pairs form a monogomous relationship and the female uses the same nest cavity year after year. The term "bufflehead" is a shortened version of "buffalo head" for the male's large head: during mating season he fluffs up his head feathers for dramatic purposes. Outside of breeding season, they form in small flocks and migrate.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Creature Feature #67: Brown Hyena

Ever since I read the wonderful "Cry of the Kalahari" in my younger days, I have been fascinated by the Brown Hyena. I also saw a lovely documentary called "Survivors of the Skeleton Coast".

Hyenas have always been quite difficult for me to draw - with their short, round muzzles that are not quite cat-like, but not precisely dog-like either, somewhere in between. Despite their social structure, they are more akin to cats or civets. I am intending to draw all of the four hyena species - the other two being the spotted and the striped. The spotted will feature in "H" for "Hyena", as it is the species everyone immediately identifies with the word "hyena". The Aardwolf was #2.

The Brown Hyena lives almost solely on scavenged food, stealing it with some ferocity from lone leopards or cheetah. Her sense of smell is particularly powerful - and she can scent dead things from 2km downwind. Social in nature, she lives in a "clan" with a distinct social hierachy, particularly among the females. Clans do not maintain territories, and hyena forage alone, congregating together at the end of their hunting night. Normally it is only the alpha female that breeds, often mating with a nomadic male, although the males of her own clan help protect and raise the cubs. If a non-alpha gives birth, the alpha assists with her offspring and even orphans are well cared for and raised by the clan.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Creature Feature #66: Boomslang

With his large eyes and vibrant green scales, the Boomslang is an attractive tree snake. The female tends to be browner in colouration. His bite is venomous, containing a hemotoxin which disables the blood clotting process. The effect of this is slow, but can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness and death. However, he is generally timid and will not bite unless provoked. He spends much of his time crawling through the trees and eating bird’s eggs, small mammals and anything he can swallow whole. In cooler months, he will occasionally hibernate in a weaver’s bird nest.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Creature Feature #65: Booby

Boobies are a species of sea bird, related to gannets. The name derives from Spanish slang "bobo", meaning "stupid", a moniker given to the bird by early sailors, who found them particularly easy to catch, kill and cook. Like many naive birds, the boobies had not learned to fear humans, and thus fell easy prey to curiosity. Like a gannet, he dives for fish. He has airsacs about his face to cushion it as he strikes the water. The most well known of the six extant species is the blue-footed booby, extensively studied by Charles Darwin and now noted for his courtship dance. When displaying to the female, he struts before her, lifting each of his large blue feet to show them to their best advantage. The bluer his feet, the healthier the bird, as the colour pigmentation is linked to his immune system.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Creature Feature #64: Bongo

The Bongo is an attractive forest antelope species found in western, central and eastern Africa. There are two subspecies: the Lowland and the Mountain;  the latter is Critically Endangered and only found in an isolated pocket of forest in Kenya. Her chesnut coat and white stripes break up her form, providing camouflage. The Bongo lives in small herds of females and their calves, whilst the bulls remain solitary, only mingling with the females during mating season. She favours the denser undergrowth, browsing on leaves, using her long, prehensile tongue. She is most active at night,  with occasional forays during the daylight hours. If danger threatens, she is quick to flee and will then seek cover, presenting her less conspicuous hindquarters in the direction of the disturbance.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Creature Feature #63: Bombardier Beetle

There are more than 500 species of Bombardier Beetle, which are named for their powerful defense mechanisms. If threatened, they spray a hot and noxious chemical mixture from their abdomen. The chemistry behind this small, controlled explosion is intriguing - inside the abdomen are two different sacs: one of hydroquinone, the other of hydrogen peroxide. These are mixed in a third chamber with water and catalystic enzymes and the reaction sets the water to boiling point and releases a gas that results in the ejected spray. This can kill small predators, and is painful to larger ones. This novel defense mechanism is sometimes cited as evidence of “intelligent design”.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Creature Feature #62: Bobcat

The Bobcat is an adaptable survivor. Despite centuries of hunting and persecution, of being trapped for her fur, her numbers are still stable throughout much of North America. Here she will live anywhere she can find suitable habitat, woodland, and prey. She has even become a bit of a pest in some urban areas, preying on livestock such as chickens.  She is crepuscular - active at dawn and dusk - and hunts alone, pursuing birds, rodents and rabbits. Her diet is more variable than that of her cousin, the Lynx, and she can go for some time without eating.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Creature Feature #61: Bobbitworm

The Bobbitworm is an acquatic polychaete worm, found in warmer oceans - such as the Indo-Pacific and Atlantic. He generally lives in tunnels beneath the ocean floor. Here he lurks, waiting for his prey to come close. When something - ie: a fish - brushes against one of his five antennae he strikes with devastating speed and can actually chop his prey in half. If that is not enough, he also injects a narcotizing or killing toxin into the victim, so that it can be safely ingested, especially important if the prey is larger than his gut. He can grow up to 3 metres long - although most measure around 1m - but is only an inch or so in diameter.

Here’s a Bobbitworm in action:

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Creature Feature #60: Blue Morpho Butterfly

The Blue Morpho is a large and attractive butterfly. He makes his home in the tropical forests of Latin America, where he actively flits from flower to flower. The topside of his wings are a vibrant, irridescent blue; the undersides a dull brown and when he flies these flash and give the impression that he is vanishing and reappearing. When at rest, his wings are folded shut to offer camouflage against the many predators. The irridescence is created by microscopic scales that cover the wings and reflect light. Due to these vibrant colours, the Blue Morpho is prized by collectors and is hunted, but also bred in captivity, for this purpose. He is also under threat from deforestation.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Creature Feature #59: Blue Dragon

The Blue Dragon, or Blue Angel, is a species of nudibranch. Like all nudibranches, the Blue Dragon is a hermaphrodite. They can grow up to 3 cm in length. Despite their tiny size, they are a voracious predator, preying on the venomous Portugese Man O’war. They are immune to the poison and actually devour the whole victim, taking the poison into their own system. This then becomes concentrated within this tiny critter and makes them even more venomous than that which they consume.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Creature Feature #58: Black Lemur

This “true lemur” species shows rather dramatic sexual dimorphism: only the male is actually black, whereas the female is a rich chesnut red. She is found in north-west Madagascar and, like all lemurs, leads an arboreal existence. The majority of her diet is fruit, although she will sample invertebrates and enjoys nectar. She has been observed capturing millipedes, biting them into an agitated state, in which the millipede begins releasing its toxin. She then rubs it across her fur. These toxins are not fatal to lemurs, and it is thought that it is used to repel insects, but the lemur also clearly enters a blissful state, more or less getting itself “high” on this narcotic substance.
Watch it here in this over-dramatised video:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Creature Feature #57: Bison

The Bison is the largest land animal of North America. He leads a nomadic existence, travelling with his herd across the river valleys and plains of Wyoming and Montana. His herd will probably consist of other males, all over three years of age, remaining separate from the larger female herds until mating season. Then competition to secure a mate is fierce, with the bulls clashing in dramatic battles as they endeavour to start their own, short-term, harems. Once they have mated, the bulls play no part in caring for the calves and will return to their bachelor existence. Once widespread across America, the Bison suffered decimation in the 19th century and now fragmented populations remain, whilst stable and increasing there are fears of lost genetic diversity and also inbreeding with domesticated cattle.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Creature Feature #56: Bird-of-Paradise

The Birds-of-Paradise are part of a Passerine Family who m ake their home in Papua New Guinea and its surrounding islands. The males are noteworthy for their elaborate plumage which can include crests; tail plumes or other flamboyant feathering, all of which is displayed in a colourful and quite complicated courtship dance. Sometimes the females he attracts may be different species, and hybrids are not unknown. Outside of these mating rituals, he pursues a frugivorous diet, and is an important agent in seed dispersion throughout the rainforest.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Creature Feature #55: Binturong

The Binturong is sometimes known as the "bearcat" for he has features not disimilar to both a bear and a cat, with a bit of mop thrown in for good measure. He is, in fact, a member of the Viverrid Family and makes his home in tall forests, with a distribution partly across Indochina and SouthEast Asia. He is a large Viverrid and the female is up to 20% larger than the male. His sturdy tail is prehensile and used as he clambers about the trees to help him keep his balance. He does not hang from his tail as a monkey does, however. He enjoys an omnivorous diet - fruits and other vegetable matter featuring highly on the menu, along with small mammals, birds and the occasional earthworm or fish, should he stumble upon them. He is not predatory by nature. His scent is not unlike slightly rancid popcorn and whilst sometimes kept as a pet, can prove to be unpredictable and ill tempered.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Creature Feature #54: Bharal

This caprid is sometimes known as the “blue sheep” due to the blueish tinge to his pelt. He is a nimble footed beast, making his home in the Himalayas and surrounding mountainous regions. Both male and female develop horns, with the females measuring in at around 20 cm, the males up to 80cm. These horns are used by the male in rutting season, when he goes head-to-head with rival males to secure himself a mate.

If threatened, he will either freeze, or leap up the almost vertical cliffs and then freeze, relying on his slate grey colouration to camouflage him against the rock. He features regularly on the menu of the snow leopard, and is sometimes trophy-hunted, but population sizes are healthy.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Creature Feature #53: Bee-Eater

This colourful and charming bird derives its name from, of course, its diet, which consists mainly of insects - especially bees and wasps. To catch this dangerous diet, he snatches the bee from the air, smacking it and rubbing it repeatedly against the branch to extract the stinger. Most prey is captured in flight, with the bird selecting a perch and using it to watch and wait. These perches can be branches, telegraph wires or sometimes even the back of a larger bird (bustard) or animal. If the prey insect lands on the ground, it is generally ignored.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Creature Feature #52: Bear

The Bear Family are characterised by their bulky size; plantigrade walk and (generally) omnivorous diet. Despite their relatively short legs and powerfully built bodies, they are adept climbers, runners and swimmers. Eight extant species are spread throughout the Northern Hemisphere, with only one in the South. This one, the Brown Bear is the most widely distributed having populations across North America and Eurasia, in a number of distinct subspecies. Brown Bears range in weight from a mere 80 kg, up to 680 kg depending on habitat and diet. The Brown is an opportunistic forager, and eats a wider range of food stuffs than any other bear species - which includes scavenging through garbage or raiding cars or tents. Her more natural diet consists of anything she can get her paws of, and when the salmon are swimming upriver to spawn, she will take prime advantage of this tasty addition to her diet. She will catch them in her mouth when the fish jump up the rapids; wade in and pin them with her paws; or even dive to catch them.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Creature Feature #51: Bat Eared Fox

The Bat-Eared Fox is a medium sized canid who makes her home in the savannah of Africa.  She is nocturnal and possesses extremely large ears, measuring approximately 13 cm in length. These ears act to help her keep cool, with a number of blood vessels that help shed the heat. These ears are also very sensitive to sound, and at night she will wander her territory with her nose to the ground and her ears cocked, listening for the sounds of nocturnal insects. Termites make up 70% of her diet, but she also will enjoy the occasional beetle, other invertebrates, lizards, fruit and eggs. She has more teeth than most other mammals, but they are blunter and adapted for crushing and chewing insects.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Creature Feature #50: Bat

Bats are small, generally insectivorous, mammals that have evolved the ability for controlled, sustained flight. Their forearms have modified into wings - connected to their hind legs by a delicate and sensitive membrane. They are also characterised by their nocturnal nature, sharp hearing and the use of echolocation - making high pitched, ultrasonic sounds and listening for the echo - to navigate.

This fellow, the Bulldog Bat hunts for prey over water, using his echolocation to pinpoint water insects or small fish via the ripple disturbance on the surface. Then he pounces, sweeping close and snatching it up. The name "Bulldog" is derived from the fleshy skin around his face, which form cheek pouches and allow him to store food.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Creature Feature #49: Basilisk

Taking its name from the mythological monster, the Basilisk is also sometimes nicknamed the “Jesus lizard”. It startled, it will take off, running upright and actually sprint across the surface of water. Due to its large feet and flaps of skin along the toes, when he is moving fast he can slap his feet down in a manner that creates an air pocket, pushing the water out of the way. He then moves his foot back, propelling himself forward, before bringing his foot up to repeat the procedure. This is effective against some terrestrial predators, but he must always be wary of aquatic ones. Young, or small, Basilisks can manage ten to twenty metres, whereas the heavier adults will sink after only one or two. Once submerged, he will then continue to swim away from the predator.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Creature Feature #48: Barracuda

This elongated, ray-finned fish comes equipped with a mighty array of teeth, and a reputation to match. He can reach over 2 metres long and will eat anything fleshy that he can catch - biting smaller fishies in half and ripping chunks from larger prey. He is also a carrior eater, and may mistaken humans for large aquatic fish, trailing them in the hope that they will make a kill. Actual attacks on humans are rare, but barracuda are attracted to shiny things - they remind them of fish scales - and may be inclined to take a bite out of a ring finger, should it flash silver at them. Therefore care must be taken when swimming in mangrove swamps or the ocean, if barracuda are present.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Creature Feature #47: Barn Owl

The Barn Owl is the most widespread of all owl species, being found in almost every part of the world, except the desert and the polar. She has even recently extended her range to include New Zealand, with immigrants coming in from Australia and breeding in Kaitaia, Northland.

Like all owls, she is a predator, and nocturnal. On silent, ghostly wings she swoops across farmland and open countryside, seeking small rodents on which to dine. To achieve silent flight, she has modified flight feathers, with serrations along the leading edge, which break up the air flow and reduce turbulance, and therefore noise.

She does not hoot, but makes a screeching call. Her ears are positioned assymetrically, with one higher than the other, which allow greater precision in pinpointing a sound and she can hunt entirely by hearing alone, swooping on her prey with deadly accuracy.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Creature Feature #36: Barnacle

Barnacles belong to the crustacean Family and are sessile suspension feeders - which means they stick in one place and collect food from the water using their feathery modified legs. Most species are hermaphrodites and reproduce sexually - this means that they need a means of transferring their sperm to other individuals. For this purpose, the Barnacle has the longest penis in proportion to body size of any animal. The fertilized egg hatches into a nauplius: a one eyed larvae that grows through several phases until finding a suitable place to settle and assume its adult form.

This species, the goose barnacle, is a delicacy. Back before naturalists became aware of migration, it was assumed that when the barnacles dropped from their goose-like stalk, they would transform into the barnacle goose. This was because no one had ever seen a barnacle goose nest.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Creature Feature #45: Barking Tree Frog

The largest native tree frog of the USA, the Barking Tree Frog can be found from Southern Delaware to Florida, particularly near coastal areas. His name comes from his loud and strident barking call. Sometimes he will chorus with other frogs of the same, or related, species.  He is most active at night, and spends his days buried beneath sand, if it is too hot, or up in the trees. During mating season he utters a repetitive single-syllable call and the female chooses her mate on the basis of his vocal prowess.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Creature Feature #44: Barbet

The name Barbet comes from the bristles around his beak - which makes this chap’s - the Bearded Barbet of Africa - two-part name rather redundant. He has the most pronouced barbets of any Barbet species.

These have senory nerve cells at their base, and probably are used in a manner similar to whiskers on a cat.
As has been noted, this fellow hails from Africa, where he favours dry woodland and is particularly fond of fig trees. His main diet consists of fruit, although chicks are fed on insects. as well.  He is a social species, usually gathering in groups of 4-5 birds, who will roost together in a tree cavity.

Despite being a relatively popular cage bird and a frequent inhabitat of aviaries in zoos, little information seems to have been recorded on these rather charming birds.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Creature Feature #43: Baiji

The Baiji lived in the longest river in China, the heavily industrialised Yangtze River. As pollution and river traffic increased, the numbers of this charming river dolphin plummeted. Nicknamed the “Goddess of the Yangtze”, a popular Chinese tale spoke of a princess who, after refusing an arranged marriage, was drowned by her family and was reincarnated as a dolphin.

From the 1970s and into the 90s, efforts were made to establish a captive population - but few were captured and even fewer survived. The longest living captive baiji was QiQi, who survived 22 years. A mate was found for him, an adult female, but she perished when her pool became flooded. QiQi died in 2002.

The Baiji was declared functionally extinct in 2006.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Creature Feature #42: Barred Bandicoot

This tiny marsupial once made her home in Tasmania and Victoria. Alas, thanks to the fox and land development, she is now all but extinct in the wild, with the Victorain subspecies now only remaining in captivity. The Tasmanian subspecies is still clinging on - mostly because the fox never made it across the strait.

Her habitat is dry grasslands, and her main diet is earthworms and other invertebrates, which she hunts at night, using her long snout to dig in the soil and locate the tasty beasties. During the day she sleeps in a grass-lined burrow. She is not gregarious and favours a solitary existence, only meeting with males when she is ready to breed.

Like all marsupials, the Bandicoot gives birth to a tiny infant - or in her case, a litter of up to 5, after a 12 day pregnancy - that spend the first month or so of life inside her pouch and are weaned after only 55 days, becoming independent at around 86. With a lifespan of only 2-3 years, they need to be prolifict breeders and indeed, if conditions are ideal, they can raise 5 litters a year.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Creature Feature #41: Badger

Badger is the common name given to a number of large, stocky carnivores of the Mustelid clan, spread throughout the Northern hemisphere. This fellow is the American Badger, who makes his home in North America and Mexico. Primarily nocturnal, he spend his days in a burrow and comes out at night to snuffle around and eat whatever he can catch - mainly burrowing rodents - which he unearths with his broad claws. He has been known to block exit holes with objects to prevent his prey making a break for it, as he digs in, corners it and despatches it.

During winter, he does not hibernate, but does slow down, and can enter a state of torpor lasting up to 29 hours. He makes his home anywhere with ample prey - grasslands, parklands, open forest, although he prefers dry soil and open areas.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Creature Feature #40: Baboon

A large African monkey, the Baboon is characterised by her relatively short tail and heavy body. Unlike most monkeys, she prefers the terrestrial life and lives in the savannah and open woodland of Africa. One adaptation to this life are the fleshy calluses about the buttocks. These are nerveless and hairless and provide a sort of portable, built-in cushion.

She lives in a large troop, comprising of a mix of males and females, young and old, with a set hierachy. Together they forage across their range, feasting on a diet that mostly consists of vegetation, but also includes the occasional insect, reptile, lizard - or even other mammals, including vervet monkeys.

Rather long-lived creatures, baboons do not reach breeding maturity until 8 or 9 years old and can live to be 30.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Creature Feature #39: Agama

The  Agama lizard is found in sub-Saharan Africa, where he spends his days basking in the sun or climbing rocks or walls in search of insects. He is highly territorial and once he has defined his domain he will protect it from other males by confronting them, nodding vigorously, dancing around them and clashing tails until the intruder is forced away. He does not mind if females wander through, however.

Most of the year he is a rather dull brown, but he "dresses up" for the breeding season in a fine skin of orange and blue. To further attract the attentions of females, he does push-ups.

(But hadn't you finished "A", I hear you cry? Well, yes, I had, but due to an unfortunate goof-up I needed another critter. So, here he is!)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Creature Feature #38: Babirusa

This handsome looking beast belongs to a Genus of pigs found in Indonesia. Like most pigs, he is omnivourous, using his tusks and snout to  forage for fruits, roots, leaves and anything delicious he might come across. Unlike other pigs, he lacks a rostral bone in his snout and cannot dig in the same manner. Also, his tusks are particularly unusual. The upper pair originate from his upper canines, curling upwards through the flesh and curving back towards his skull. The low canines are likewise elongated and slot in neatly against the upper.  The upper tusks are used for defense, the lower for offense.

Male babirusa lead a solitary existence, whereas the females and their offspring gather together in groups of up to 84 individuals, with no adult males.

Like most rainforest species, he is threatened by poaching and deforestation.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Creature Feature #37: Babakoto

From one lemur to another - this one is the Babakoto, more commonly named “Indri”. It is the largest of the lemur species, the size of a small child, and belongs to the Sifaka family. With its long legs and lanky appearance, the Babakoto cannot walk on all fours but must instead make squatting hops on the rare occasion that it pursues a terrestrial lifestyle. For the most part, it lives high in the trees, where its long legs allow it to make impressive leaps from tree to tree as it forages for its diest of leaves. Like most of its Family, babakoto have a highly specialised diet that cannot be replicated in captivity, therefore the only hope for their future is in the wilds of Madagascar - which are still disappearing.

Once protected and revered, by a fady, taboo, surrounding it, the babakoto is now being poached by for the pot. There are various myths surrounding the creation of the babakoto which also explain its Malagasy name which literally translates as “father of the boy”.

Its call is among the most haunting sounds I have ever heard, akin to whalesong and heavy with melancholy and longing. It is the sound of a dying wilderness and a species approaching the brink of extinction..

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Creature Feature #36: Aye-Aye

This rather creepy looking mammal is characterised by his wide, pale  and ghostly eyes; the great ears of a bat; the blunt front incisors of a rat; the plume of a fox; the fur of a microwaved cat (as described by John Cleese) and amazingly dextrous fingers - sort of a biological Swiss Army knife. Together, these give a fearful appearance and It is no wonder that the natives find him somewhat frightening and consider him an omen of death.

When he was first discovered, the naturalists did not know what to make of this weird chimerical beastie. Was it a rodent? A bat? A nightmare come to life? Now, with increased taxonomy knowledge, we know that what he is, in fact, is a nocturnal lemur. A sort of mammalian woodpecker - his main diet is insects, particularly grubs, and fruit. To find the grubs buried in bark, he taps the tree with his knuckles, listening for movement, when he finds it, he uses his blunt teeth to gnaw at the wood, peeling back the bark and then probs within the cavity, using his specialised middle digit which is thinner than its fellows. In this manner, he can also crack through the hard skin of a coconut.

He has a pretty rough life - not only does he have a face only a mother or a biased zoological geek like myself could love but his reputation for bringing death does not make him any friends amongst the Malagasy people. Indeed, when an aye-aye is sighted, it is frequently killed on sight, the corpse then moved from one family’s yard to another, like a macabre pass the parcel.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Creature Feature #35: Arrow Squid

Squids originated from the mollusc line, and are characterised by  their distinctive head, symmetrical shape, distinct mantle (“body”) and their tentacles. They have ten limbs - eight of which are arms, and two of which are longer tentacles, used to grasp their prey and crack it apart with their only solid organ - their chitin beak.

According to Wikipedia, the New Zealand Arrow Squid is also known as the Wellington Flying Squid. Alas for this poor, unappreciated Cephalopod, very little is known about it except for its value as a foodstuff -  for endangered New Zealand animals - like the fur seal and the yellow eyed penguin, and also for its purpose upon our plates, in the form of calamari.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Creature Feature #34: Anglerfish

This terrifying underwater denizen is a Humpback Anglerfish. She lives at depths of up to 2,000 m deep, where light never penetrates and her world is the murky black of darkest night. Therefore, she needs a light to show her the way - or to be precise, to show the males the way. And to lure food. She can measure up to 20cm long, and the males only measure 3cm. There are numerous species of anglerfish, almost all of which are hideous by human standards, which share similar traits - namely the light and predatory nature.

In some species of Anglerfish, the male locates his mate and then attachs himself to her permanently, his swimming organs atrophying away and in some cases actually connecting into her circulatory system, essentially becoming a new reproductory organ . Sometimes a female might collect a number of suitors in the form of these parasitic males.  For the Humpback, the male of her species is free-swimming and remains so for all of his life, connecting with the female only to mate, which might be rather risky, given his diminutive size and the amount of voracious predators he shares the water with. Unlike some other species, he has well developed jaws and is capable of predating.

But how does this light work? Firstly, it is called an esca, and it is home to a species of  symbiotic bacteria. These bacteria do not bioluminesce on their own, they require some sort of chemical input from the fish.

The other use for the esca is, of course, predation. The esca can be wriggled, to mimic a tasty morsel for a hungry fish, but then that hungry fish becomes the tasty morsel. Ah, but nature is cruel! Anglerfish possess an impressive array of teeth and enormous jaws. Their teeth are angled such that once the prey is swallowed, it cannot escape and their stomachs can distend to enormous size, allowing an anglerfish to eat prey up to twice the size of its body.

They say it's a dog-eat-dog world, but really, it's a fish-eat-fish world. Dogs rarely engage in cannibalism, but for many of the piscian origin, the only available food is other fish species. Of course, it's not cannibalism unless you are the same species.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Creature Feature #33: Army Ant

There are over 200 species of ants known as “Army Ants” spread over seven genera and inhabitating both the Old and New Worlds. They are all characterised by their nomadic, often destructive, wandering behaviour.

Army Ants do not inhabit a regular territory, instead they roam in huge columns - sometimes as much as 20m wide and 100m long. They begin at dawn and end at dusk. As most Army Ants are blind, they follow trails of pheromones which they use to navigate the hoard and limit collisions with other ants during the march. In one day, the army can devour up to 500,000 different prey animals, mostly comprising of invertebrates, eggs, seeds and sometimes small vertebrates as well. In some cases, dead vertebrates are left behind, as the mandibles of the ant, whilst most formidable, are not capable of dealing with this prey. Some species march underground, others scale into the trees, where they will overwhelm any birds sitting on their nest.

During their march, they are often accompanied by foraging birds, such as the antpitta, thrushes, wrens and antbirds.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Couple of Fowls

About this time last year, I hosted a colouring competition. I did not get very many entries (3) and I chose the winner and sent them their reward. However, as part of that competition, I uploaded the entry form into my blog. And whilst I did write the closing date on it (14 December) I neglected to also write the year.

Consequently, about two weeks ago, in my inbox, what should turn up but two beautifully coloured pictures. I decided not to wait until the 14th, and since the competition was over, I would make them both a little something (since they were siblings, and it would be mean to reward one and not the other). So I asked their dad what their favourite animals were.

He replied that they liked chickens, particularly the brown Shavers breed, which I believe they keep.
So I decided that they needed a pair - a rooster and a hen.
These were drawn while watching "Under the Dome" and then inked and partly coloured using some finetip pens I happened to have handy. Colouring pencils were then applied to give a bit more depth of colour. The rooster might not be a true brown Shavers, but I reckon he's a fine fella.

I hope they enjoy their cards, and that the children can decide on one each!

Creature Feature #32: Axolotl

This amphibian rather resembles the juvenile form of a salamander, but it actually exhibits neoteny - meaning it reaches breeding maturity without attaining an “adult” form. It lacks the hormone that stimulates the thyroid to produce the transformation.

Although a popular pet, the axolotl is almost extinct in the wild. Originally found in two lakes of Mexico, one has now been drained completely and the other reduced to a series of canals running near Mexico City. There is every likelihood that soon only captive axolotls will remain.

Other interesting features of the bizarre creature are its ability to regenerate limbs. They are quite vicious little beggars, and when kept in the same aquarium will fight, often biting each others arms or legs off. These will regrow over a period of months, and sometimes the original injury will also heal, leaving the critter with additional limbs. They can also accept transplants easily and are bred to be studied in the lab.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Creature Feature #31: Avocet

Avocets are large wading birds related to stilts. There are four species, colonising North America, South America, Europe and Australia (with the occasional straggler to New Zealand). With their long necks and bills they are predominently wading birds, although their feet are webbed and they are also able swimmers. Their long bills curve upwards at the tip and they swish these through brackish water, collecting invetebrates that they displace.

The Pied Avocet of Europe (pictured here) is the symbol of the Royal Species for the Protection of Birds in the UK. It became extinct in Great Britain in 1840, due to a combination of land reclaimation and having their eggs and skins collected. However, it returned during World War II and reclaimed land near Wash, which had been returned to its natural saltmarsh state in an effort to stop the landing of enemy craft.

Aggressively defensive birds, they do not like other species near their nesting grounds and will chase off any that try to join them.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Creature Feature #30: Avahi

To mark the first full month of an animal-a-day (but still, not yet, the end of the As), here is the first lemur.

The Avahi, or Woolly Lemur, is the smallest member of the Sifaka family. She is also the nocturnal sifaka species. There are a number of species (9) known, but probably the most amusing is the Bemeraha Woolly Lemur, who bears the scientific name of Avahi Cleesi and is named after John Cleese. This is not that avahi (it has more white on its face), but of the Eastern clan.

Avahi live in small family groups - couples with kids, basically. Youngsters are weaned after six months and independent at a year of age, but tend to stay near their family after that. Like all sifaka, they are vegetarian and eat mainly leaves, with the occasional flower or bud for added flavour. They are found in rainforests, often sharing their home with other, diurnal, lemur species and spend their days sitting high in the trees, dozing in the sun and digesting their foliage diet. At night they venture out to forage.

Like all lemur species, they are threatened by deforestation and poaching.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Creature Feature #29: Crested Auklet

This charming seabird numbers in the millions, forming massive breeding colonies along the Bering Sea, sometimes intermingling with its cousin, the Least Auklet. It is named for the rather appealing crest it dons every breeding season along with a scent reminiscent of tangerine (citrus fruit).

When not breeding and smelling of fruit, the Auklet flocks a short distance out to sea, with thousands of the birds taking to the water, in short dives and well articulated swimming strokes, to chase (and eat) plankton.

Whilst certainly their numbers are large enough (approximately 6 million) to make them of little concern conservationally speaking, some populations having suffered great losses in oil spills and they also experience predation whilst on the nest, particularly from rats that disembark from fishing vessels.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Creature Feature #28: Atlas Moth

The Atlas Moth of South East Asia is the largest moth in the world, with a wingspan measuring up to 25cm (10 inches) wide. The female is larger than the male. To attract a mate, the female releases pheremones to lure the males towards her, using chemoreceptors in their fuzzy antennae. They can detect this up to several kilometres away, which is good because as large and heavy as she is, the female is an unsteady flier and will not move far from her chrysalis.

In India, the Atlas Moth chrysalis has been used to make silk and their cocoons are occasionally used as purses in Taiwan.