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.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Creature Feature #27: Assassin Bug

The Assassin Bugs include nine separate genera of predatory insects, all a part of the larger Family, Reduviidae. I am not sure precisely what species I have illustrated for you. Anyhow, these hunters use a variety of techniques to capture their prey - including lie-and-wait ambushing, camouflaging itself with dust or other particles; hunting spiders by plucking the strings of their web, pretending to be prey, to lure the arachnid out before grabbing it; others drink the blood of mammals; some will cover their legs in resin to attract bees. They are sneaky and devious hunters.

Once they have their invertebrate prey within their grasp (some species have specially modified forelegs for strong grasping, like those of a praying mantis), it is injected with an enzyme that paralyzes it and liquifies its internal organs, turning them to mush (yuck). The assassin bug then sucks out the juicy innards. The "beak" of the assassin bug is in several parts - the piercing mouthpart that injects the venom and a sort of "straw" that is then inserted - presumerably in the hole already bored - to suck out the insides.

 But the depredations of this little insect do not end there - some species, in Malaysia, decorate their carapace with the hard outer shells of their drained prey, creating an extra exoskeleton armour. Different species hunt different prey and they are of interest to humans for the role they can play in biological control.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Creature Feature #26: Pink Fairy Armadillo

I probably should have waited until "P" to feature on this adorable critter, using for armadillo the more traditional 9-banded species - but who can rest a face like that? Who can resist something so completely obscure and so pink!

You may not have heard of the Pink Fairy Armadillo, or pichiciego as it is also known. That's okay, for I had not either until I stumbled upon it whilst researching obscure creatures. She is the smallest armadillo species and measures only as much as 115 mm. Nocturnal, and spends much of her time buried in the sand of arid grasslands in central Argentina. Her burrow is normally made near ant or termite nests, providing her with ample food supplies. She is torpedo shaped, with a shield on her forehead to protect her in her underground manouveres. Her front talons are likewise broad and flat, and she uses these to agitate the sand, swimming through it.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Creature Feature #25: Aracari

The Aracari, in this case the Collared Aracari, is a member of the Toucan family, making her home in the rainforests of South America. She is a sociable bird, often gathering with a flock of her kin and foraging amontst the tree branches for fruit and insects to feast. Somewhat opportunistic, she is also known to eat small fledglings and eggs. At night, she roosts in tree hollows, squeezing in with other members of her flock.They are also monogamous, and pair for life, sharing the duties of raising their chicks with the rest of their flock, a trait that is relatively rare in birds.

The huge beak measures almost a quarter of her body length but despite its size, it is surprisingly light. The outer layer is thin and it is reinforced inside by a criss-cross of rods made of bone. These teeth like protrusions help the bird seize and consume large fruits.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Creature Feature #24: Aoudad

The Aoudad, or Barbary Sheep is not in fact a sheep at all, but a goat-antelope. Did you know that antelope and goats are closely related? This regal chap used to roam wild in North Africa, running fleet-footed  atop the mountainous peaks in order to evade predators. Now, his numbers are falling in his native range but has proved to flourish elsewhere - such as Spain and North America, where he was released as a game animal.

He lives in arid areas and obtains most of his moisture from the dry grasses and lichens he eats, however if water is available he does enjoy a drink. He is most active in the early morning and the evening, a behaviour known as crepuscular. If threatened, he can jump up to two metres from standing.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Creature Feature #23: Antpitta

The Antpitta is a relatively small passerine found in the subtropic and tropical regions of South America. This particular species is known as the Black-Crowned Antpitta, for reasons that should be immediately obvious. As his name suggests, he likes to eat invertebrates, and bears a superficial resemblance to the not-closely-related pitta bird. To catch his insect prey, he fossicks about in the leaf litter and hops along the forest floor. Whilst not social with others of his species, he does sometimes hang out near swarms of army ants (which might also explain the name) and will pounce on any prey that they flush out.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Creature Feature #22: Anteater

The weird-looking Giant Anteater is a large insectivore found in South America.  He can grow up to 217 cm in length and weighs up to 41 kgs. Unlike other anteater species, he is terrestrial. His front claws are long, sturdy and large - perfectly adapted for tearing apart ant and termite nests. To keep them sharp, he curls them back as he walks, putting his weight on his knuckles. Other adaptations to this insect diet include the long snout, lack of teeth andvery limtied jaw movement. His tongue is about 60cm long and covered in short, sticky hairs.

The long bushy tail doubles as a blanket at night.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Creature Feature #21: Alligator

Another cold-blooded American, the alligator is found in swampy regions of the southeast of North America. He can grow up to 15 feet in length and has a broader snout than his neighbour, the American Crocodile, also overlapping jaws (when his mouth is closed, the edge of his upper jaws covers his lower teeth) and is darker in coloration.  He has between 74 and 84 teeth - although it is a very brave man who counts them, at least on a live 'gator.

He makes his own swimming pool by modifying his swampland habitat - these are known as "Alligator Holes" and are very useful in the drier seasons as a home for small aquatic animals. Larger ones will swiftly find themelves on the menu, as the alligator is a carnivore and will eat anything he can catch - including birds that land near the water's edge. On warm nights, he may hunt climb out of his hole to go hunting, waiting to ambush animals that might come down to the water for a drink.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Creature Feature #20: Anole Lizard

Anolis are a genus of lizards comprising of nearly 400 species. This fellow is the Green, or Carolina, Anole and is the first lizard to have his entire genome sequence. He makes his home in the lower east coast of North America - the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia and as far south-west as Texas, as well as being introduced to Hawaii. So territorial is this wee reptile, that he will even attack his own reflection. His favoured diet is small invertebrates that hop or squirm - worms, crickets, and occasionally he will also eat grasses.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Creature Feature #19: Anoa

This miniature buffalo lives in the rainforests of Sulawesi and Buton, Indonesia.It only grows to 30 inches at the shoulder, which is 76 cm meaning they are about as tall as a large goat, but are much stockier, weighing up to 300 kg.

Unlike most cattle, they live solitary or in pairs although the females do gather into small herds when they are about to calve. Calves are born covered in a thick fur that thins as they mature (in lowland anoa), showing the skin beneath quite clearly. the mountain anoa remains hairy throughout its life.

Both the male and female have horns.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Creature Feature #18: Ani

This strange looking bird is a member of the cuckoo family. Although, unlike other cuckoos, she is social and shares her territory with up to five other breeding pairs. Her eggs are laid into a communual nest, and all the birds take turns incubating and feeding the chicks. Gregarious and noisy, her and her fellow flock mates like to hang out in pastures, where they eat the insects disturbed by the livestock. She also enjoys a diet of termites, frogs, large insects and lizards. Her native home is the grasslands and open terrain of South America, but her kin have been gradually making the move north, into the United States.

The "Creature Feature"  will be erratically on hiatus over the month of November, as I am penning a novel for NaNoWriMo - this does not mean we shall be entirely without art, but it may not be daily. We shall resume again fully in December, at which point I shall hopefully be up to "B".

Friday, November 1, 2013

Creature Feature #17: Angwantibo

The angwantibo, or potto, is the mainland cousin to the lemurs. His large round eyes indicate his nocturnal nature. He has a good sense of smell and stalks his prey - caterpillars or fruit - before striking it with a lightning quick pounce. He is solitary, although his territory will cross that of several females.

His longer snout and round ears give him the German nickname of barenmaki - "bear lemur".