Monday, March 31, 2014

Creature Feature #164: Dogfish

Dogfish are a Family of cartilaginous fish and are, essentially, small sharks. This Spiny Dogfish was once the most abundant fish in the world, but thanks to over-fishing he is now vulnerable to extinction in many parts of the world, populations around Europe having decreased by 95%. Male fish sport a pair of pelvic fins, known as "claspers" which he uses to grasp the female when mating. Fertilisation is internal, and the eggs are retained within the female until they hatch. This process is known as "ovoviviparity".

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Creature Feature #163: Dodo

The Dodo was a large, flightless pigeon who once roamed the forests of Mauritius. His fate was sealed, alas, when sailors landed on the island in the 16th century, bringing with them rats, cats, dogs, pigs - and guns. With no natural predators, the Dodo was a fearless and curious bird, eager to investigate these new arrivals. The sailors killed the Dodo not only for their meat, but for sport. This, combined with the impact the introduced animals had on their habitat, lead to the Dodo’s demise in 1662. Its extinction was not immediately noted - indeed the bird itself was considered a hoax - but he has now become the icon of extinction and the phrase “dead as a dodo” has become cliche.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Creature Feature #162: Dingo

The origin of the Dingo is much questioned. She is a subspecies of wolf and resembles the domestic and feral dogs of southern Asia and thus it is widely theorised that she was once domesticated. She has inhabited Australia for around 4,000 years, and now can be found in desert and grassland. Here she dens down in abandoned rabbit burrows. Packs generally consist of a mated pair and their offspring. An apex predator, her main diet is rabbit and juvenile kangaroo, although larger prey may be taken through co-operative hunting. Whilst her killing of rabbits is beneficial to cattle stations, she is also known to prey on sheep and as such is both loved and loathed.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Creature Feature #161: Dik-dik

The diminutive Dik-dik are small antelopes, standing 30-40 centimetres tall. The name is derived from the alarm call, emitted by the female. Dwelling in the savannah and shrubland, Dik-diks form monogamous pairs, occupying territories of up to five hectares. They keep in contact with one another by shrill whistles. Only the male has horns, although the female is slightly larger. Beneath each eye, a naked dark spot indicates the presence of a preorbital gland, which the Dik-dik uses for scent marking. He rubs this gland against blades of grass and branches to define his territory. When other Dik-dik invade his territory, he will dash towards the intruder and the two will stop, nod furiously and turn around. This behaviour is repeated with the gap between them growing greater every time until one beats a retreat.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Creature Feature #160: Diamondback Rattlesnake

The Western and Eastern Diamondback are venomous vipers found across the USA. Inept at climbing, they are the heaviest of their kind, with the Eastern species weighing in at up to 15 kilograms and measuring up to 2.4 metres long. The Eastern inhabits woodland and prairies, whereas the Western favours the desert. During the night he shelters underground in gopher or tortoise burrows, emerging with the sun to bask and lie in wait for prey to wander by. The rattle is a series of interlocking kerotin segments, modified from the scales on the tail. This can be "shaken" by the contraction of special muscles to create a rattling noise. Diamondbacks do not always rattle before they strike, it is more of a warning to anything that is too large for them to eat that may be a potential danger to the snake.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Creature Feature #159: Diademed Sifaka

The Diademed Sifaka is the most widespread of Madagascar’s eastern sifaka species and inhabits lowland and subhumid forests. He lives in small troops - up to ten individuals - and fiercely defends his territory against rival diademed groups. Both male and female scent mark the outer perimeters of their home range. Purely vegetarian, he will consume parts of 25 different plants: flowers, seeds and verdant leaves. Breeding is seasonal, with females only being receptive a few days a year.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Creature Feature #158: Dhole

The highly social Dhole makes his home in India and Southeast Asia. He lives in large clans of up to 40 individuals, but more regularly numbering 5-12. These split into smaller packs for hunting. Dholes are pursuit hunters, relying not on speed but on endurance; they will run their selected prey animal - usually a deer or other ungulate - into exhaustion, then drag it down and disembowl it.  Female Dholes den together, raising their pups communually. Some adults will remain at the den while the others head off and hunt. At six months of age, the pups join their parents on the hunt.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Creature Feature #157: Demonstinger

It is hard to believe that something this beautiful can be venomous.

The Demonstinger belongs to the same Family as the Stonefish - something you really do not wish to step on. He does not have scales, instead his skin is covered in a knobby array of wartlike glands and spines which help to camouflage him against the oceanfloor. An ambush predator, he uses his ray fins to "walk" along the sea bed, partially burrowing himself into the substrate to await his unsuspecting prey. If disturbed, he fans out his fins as a warning. If that fails, his venom is a powerful combination of neurotoxin, hemotoxin, and cardiotoxin, resulting in severe pain, shock paralysis, tissue necrosis, and even death.

Perhaps not suprisingly, he has no natural predators.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Creature Feature #156: Desman

The Desman is a small Insectivore, closely related to the mole. She leads a semi-aquatic existence, living in and around overgrown ponds, in groups of 2-5 individuals. Here she dives through the water in pursuit of insects, amphibians and crayfish. Her tail is long and muscular, laterally flattened, to propel her through the water. Like the mole, she is functionally blind, using the touch-sensitive tip of her nose (called Eimer's organ) for most of her sensory input. Her thick, waterproof fur had found her favour with fur traders, and lead to her decline. Now fully protected, she still suffers from habitat loss, pollution, predation by invasive species and illegal fishing nets.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Animal Magnetism - A Commisison In Progress

Just to prove I am not just drawing animal ATCs, this is a larger commission of a Shaman and her animal "friends". More progress images to come.

Creature Feature #155: Degu

The Degu is a small rodent who makes her home in the semi-arid regions of Chile. She is related to the Chinchilla and the Cavy (guinea pig). A very social creature, living in a communually dug system of burrows. She is even known to share her nest and babies with other females. Much of her day is spent on the surface, where she scrambles amongst the rocks in search of tasty plant matter. The colony keep in contact with one another using an array of vocal signals. Due to her inability to process free sugars, the Degu has been used in studies of diabetes. She has also been used to study the effects of separation anxiety (Degu pups separated too long from their mother develop something akin to ADHD) and Alzheimers.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Creature Feature #154: Deer

The Deer are a large Family of ruminants, ranging in size from the diminutive pudu to the impressive moose. This is a Red Deer stag, a species widespread across Europe and introduced to New Zealand. Male deer, stags, grow antlers. These are originally covered in a spongy tissue known as velvet, but before the rutting season the bone beneath hardens and he will scrape the velvet clean. With these antlers he jousts with other males, attempting to secure as many hinds (female deer) as he can. This rutting process begins in late autumn and continues into early winter. The antlers are shed at the end of winter, so that a fresh pair can grow.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Creature Feature #153: Death's-Head Hawkmoth

The Death’s-Head Hawkmoth is characterised by the white marking on the back of his thorax that sometimes resembles a stylised human skull. There are three different species, this is the Asian one. The colouration is designed for camouflage. To deter predators, he can emit a loud squeak by expelling air from his pharynx and will also flap his wings, flashing his yellow abdomen. He also has a taste for honey, and will raid beehives. To enter unmolested, he accurately mimics the scent of the bee. Eggs are laid on the underside of the host plants, and the relatively sedantary caterpillars will bite if disturbed. They burrow into underground chambers to pupate.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Creature Feature #152: Dart Frog

The Dart Frog gets his name from the poison he secretes, which was once used by the indigeneous people of the Amazon to tip their darts. Only four species are actually used for this purpose, and the toxicity of the frogs ranges from fairly minimal (as in this Imitating Dart Frog) to lethal (the Golden Poison Frog, possibly the most toxic living animal). This poison is secreted though the skin and protects the frog against predation. To further advertise this poison, the Dart Frog is brightly coloured. These toxins may be related to their diet of various poisonous arthropods: such as ants, centipedes and mites, in which the various toxins are not synthesized but instead become concentrated. Like all of the world's frogs, the Dart Frogs are under threat from chytrid fungus, a widespread and lethal disease that could see frogs vanishing forever.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Creature Feature #151: Daphnia

The Daphnia is a tiny crustacean, measuring no more than 5mm in length; she is a component of plankton. Various species populate different habitats - from freshwater to marine, including acidic swamps. Sometimes referred to as "water fleas" her motion through the water somewhat resembles that of a flea. Many species are translucent, which makes her popular with scientists as one can study her entire system, including her beating heart - which leads to studying the effects of caffeine and nicotine on heart rate. Reproduction is both asexual and sexual . Eggs are released regularly with each moult, but towards the end of the growing season she produces a few male offspring which fertilise the last, hardier eggs so that they will withstand harsher conditions.
(I'm confused too, crustaceans are weird)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Creature Feature #150: Darter

The Darter, or Anhinga, is a member of the Shag Family. His feet are located quite far back on his body and fully webbed, giving him an awkward gait on land and focring him to walk with his wings open for balance. A colony nester, males can be quite aggressive and will stab out at neighbours with their long, sharp bills. These bills are adept at snatching fish from the water, and like all shags the Darter has no oil in his plumage. This has the advantage of decreased buoyancy - meaning he can make deeper dives after fish, but does mean he becomes waterlogged fairly easily. To dry off, he must perch with his wings outspread in the sunlight.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Creature Feature #149: Damselfish

The Damselfish are a Family of fish closely related to Anemonefish. She generally favours tropical reefs although a few species have been found in stretches of freshwater. During the daylight hours she feeds on small crustaceans - like copepods. To attract her attention, male Damselfish  rise upward in a water column, then swim swiftly downward; the females favour the males who display the greatest vigour, which they measure by the sound of the pulse that is created through the water. Eggs are adhesive, and adhere to a substrate which is fiercely guarded by the male. This specimen is an Azure Damselfish and she is popular with aquarists as she is hardy and less aggressive than other Damselfish species.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Creature Feature #148: Dabchick

The Dachick is a small grebe now found only in the North Island of New Zealand, having become extirpated on the South Island at some point in the past. He spends most of his life on the water and rarely, if ever, will come ashore.  Inept on land, he is expert on water and will make dives of up to 30 seconds to forage on the lake bed for aquatic invertebrates. Most are consumed underwater, with only the larger morsels being brought to the surface. Courtship is an elaborate ritual of preening, diving and head shaking with nests being constructed from aquatic vegetation. These are anchored to emergent vegetation, or occasionally hidden under boat shelters or in partly submerged caves. The striped chicks leave the nest soon after hatching and will ride on their parents' backs when tired.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Creature Feature #147: Cuttlefish

It is the moment you have all been waiting for - with bated breath - it is finally time to conclude the Cs. You thought this day would never come (I confess, I did!) and yet here he finally is:

The Cuddlefish Cuttlefish!

The Cuttlefish is a cephalopod, related to squid and octopi. He is named for his unique internal shell - the cuttle. This provides buoyancy by regulating his gas-to-air ratios. It is also used by jewellers for mould casting, and aviaculturalists - where it is given to parrots to gnaw on as a source of calcium. He can also change colour to blend in with his surroundings although he, himself, is actually colour-blind. Despite this, his vision is very good, and his eyes are fully developed whilst he is still in the egg sac. Male cuttlefish occasionally employ sneaky tactics to mate with the females. The female is guarded by a big, strong male and the smaller male will swim past him, pretending to be a female: he changes his colour, hides his extra pair of legs and even will pretend to be carrying an egg sac. He then mates with the female. The females tend to favour the sperm of these devious, intelligent males.

Other awesome facts about the Cuttlefish:
- He produces ink like a squid - this ink was once used to make the colour known as "sepia".
- When hunting on the ocean bed for his favourite prey of crabs and fish, he squirts water blasts at the sand to expose his intended dinner, then snatches them up with his feeding tentacles.
- Some species produce a toxin that is as powerful as that of the blue-ringed octopus.
- His blood is a greeny-blue colour.
- He has three hearts (like an octopus).
- No body quite knows how a colour-blind creature living in the dark oceanic depths can change his colour to so perfectly match his surroundings.

Cuttlefish are awesome! I will never eat them or feed their internal structures to my parakeets again (don't worry, I don't actually own any birds, or intend to ever again).

And tomorrow, let the Ds begin!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Creature feature #146: Cuscus

This cuddly-looking Common Spotted Cuscus is a marsupial closely related to the possum. She can be found in Papua New Guinea and at the very top of Queensland. Her tail is prehensile and aids her in climbing - the upper half is furred, and the inner coated in rough scales for added grip. She is shy and nocturnal, scrambling through the trees in search of fruits and berries, flowers, small animals and eggs. During the day she curls up on a sleeping platform that she constructs up in the branches. Solitary by nature, she comes together with the male only for mating and will give birth to up to three joeys, although only two will usually survive to maturity.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Creature Feature #145: Currasow

The Currasow are large semi-terrestrial birds of South America, where they fill a similar niche to the chickens and pheasants of the Old World. There are a number of species, and they are related to the chachalaca and guan. This fellow is a Great Currasow, his mate being of smaller stature and chesnut in plumage. He can be found in rainforest from Mexico through Central America and is gregarious in nature. Flocks of up to a drozen will forage on the forest floor for insects, figs and fallen fruits. The nest building is collaborative, although sometimes the male will build it alone, up within the relative safety of the tree. He defends his nest and territory ferociously, and will leap at potential (including humans), flapping and clawing at their eyes.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Creature Feture #144: CuckooRoller

The Cuckoo Roller, or Courol, is a medium-large bird found in Madagascar and the Coromo Islands. Bright, brash and bold, he inhabits any forested zones, from rainforest to plantations. His main diet consists of insects, locusts, lizards and chameleons. When foraging he sits quiet and still, eyes ever watchful and awaiting any sight of potential prey. He then pounches, snatching it up in his broad bill and beating all resistance out of it before gobbling it down. Usually seen in pairs with the more dully coloured female. Nests are constructed from tree hollows, with no lining and only the female incubates whilst the male brings her food. Chicks hatch fluffy and fledge after 30 days.

We met our one and only Cuckoo Roller in Perinet (Andasibe), when he followed us for some time and then, when our chameleon-loving companion remarked "we haven't seen any chameleons today" decided to perch beside us with a tiny one in his beak, pose with it and stare at us for a good 30 seconds, then gobble it down.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Creature Feature #143: Cuckoo

The Cuckoo is a migratory bird with a very clever breeding system: she allows other birds, of unrelated species, to hatch and raise her young. This earns her the name of "brood parasite". During the winter months, she leaves the breeding grounds in search of warmer climes, returning in spring to lay her eggs. Her chosen hosts are small passerines, such as warblers, robins and dunnocks. These birds are fast breeders - usually laying 2-3 clutches per season - and her arrival coincides with their second clutch, giving the host species a chance to raise their own young first, unhindered. When the host leaves her nest for a short period of time, our cuckoo swoops in, laying her egg amongst the others. Different birds favour different hosts, as their eggs mimic the host's in appearance. Her chick hatches fast and large, demanding the parents' attentions and monopolising the food, so that his rivals either starve or are forcibly evicted.

Not all cuckoos are brood parasites - their relatives include the ani (who nest share), the coua (who raise their own chicks) and the guira cuckoo (who also nest share - someetimes with Ani). Other cuckoo cousins I may draw at a later date include the koel, the roadrunner, the turaco, and the malkoa. I have skipped the coucal, however.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Creature Feature #142: Crowned Sifaka

The Crowned Sifaka inhabits small patches of dry forest towards the western edge of Madagascar, where his range somewhat overlaps with the Decken's Sifaka. His colour varies greatly, but he gains his name from his black hood, or "crown" about his head. His home is in the upper canopy, where he lives in small groups of 2-8 individuals, foraging for buds, unripe fruit and mature leaves. His hind legs are very strong, and can propel him great distances between trees. He does not come down to the ground to drink, gaining all the moisture he needs from his diet, although he occasionally will eat soil, for the nutrients it contains. His home range is fiercely defended against other troops, and at night the group retire to the same tree - usually near a river - to sleep.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Creature Feature #141: Crowned Lemur

Okay, I realise that somewhere along the way I appear to have forgotten the alphabet...

The Crowned Lemur is a relatively small member of the Eulemur ("true lemur") Genus. He has vivid orange colouration around his head and shoulders, whereas his mate is a more demure grey. both sport the V-shaped coronet upon their forehead that gives them their name. Crowned Lemurs have a very limited range, with the majority of their population occupying the Ankarana massif at the northern-most tip of Madagascar. They are the only lemurs in the region known to brave the razor-edged limestone tsingy, leaping nimbly across the pinacles as they travel from canyon forest to canyon forest in search of leaves, flowers and fruit.

For those of you that have read my Fellowship of the Ringtails book, this is what Sneak will grow up to look like.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Creature Feature #140: Crowned Pigeon

With her regal appearance and proud crest of feathers, the Crowned Pigeon is a handsome bird. There are three species, all of whom are found in the Papua New Guinea region. She is the largest extant pigeon and is believed to be related to the dodo. Whilst quite capable of flight, she leads a terrestrial existence, foraging on the forest floor for fallen fruits, seeds and snails. She is sociable, and will hang out in small flocks. If disturbed, she takes flight directly up, into the trees, where she remains until the danger has passed, motionless except for the occasional flick of her tail or low, cooing call to her fellows.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Creature Feature #139: Crowned Crane

The elegant Crowned Crane makes his home in the wetlands and open areas of southern Africa, where he spends most of his day looking for food. Omnivorous in diet, he dines upon plants, seeds, grains, lizards and frogs, as well as stamping his feet to flush out insects, which are quickly caught and gobbled up. Sometimes he will hang around with herds of grazing animals, benefiting from the insects disturbed in their foraging. Although he mostly leads a terrestrial existence, he is one of the few crane species that is capable of roosting in trees - due to his long hind claw. When courting, both male and female dance together: bowing and jumping, and emitting booming calls. After mating, they construct a large and clumsy nest, in which 2-5 eggs are laid. Chicks are precocial, and can run soon after they hatch.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Creature Feature #138: Crocodile

The Crocodile is a large, aquatic reptile who makes her home in the tropics. She is a strict carnifore, feasting on fish, birds and mammals. The Saltwater Crocodile is the largest living reptile and also the most aggressive. She can be found in SouthEast Asia and Northern Australia. Found in both saltwater and brackish estuaries she is an apex predator and will eat almost any creature that comes into reach of her powerful jaws.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Creature Feature #137: Cricket

The Cricket is a nocturnal insect noted for his strident, chirping call. A long toothed vein runs along the bottom of each wing, and he runs the top of his wing across it. The wings themselves act to amplify the sound. This song serves multiple purposes - attracting a mate; warning off rival males - he even performs after a successful mating. He has powerful jaws and feeds on a diet of dead organic matter, fungi and plants. He, in turn, becomes part of the food chain, being eaten by lizards, birds, small mammals and even humans.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Creature Feature #136: Crawdad/Crayfish

Crayfish, or Crawdad, is the name commonly given to freshwater lobsters. These crustaceans make their home in bodies of water that do not freeze to the floor, with a preference for running water and lots of crevices to hide in. An omnivore, she feeds predominently on dead plant and animal matter, along with anything living she can locate as she scuttles across her aquatic habitat. She is vulnerable to pollution, and also features on menus across the world.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Creature Feature #135: Crake

The Crake are a small, innocuous addition to the Rail Family. These secretive birds live deep in marsh habitats, where he rarely flies, prefering to stalk through the reeds. His main diet consists of invertebrates - sandworms, crabs and snails. Other species inhabit dense rainforest - anywhere where they can hide. Whilst capable of flight, they are not skilled fliers and several species have fallen prey to introduced mammals such as rats and cats. This Black Crake lives in sub-Saharan Africa. He is an aggressive bird and will attack - and even kill - larger rail invaders on his territory. Whilst many Crake are crepuscular, his species are diurnal and more confident, and are often seen feeding out in the open.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Creature Feature #134: Crab Spider

Crab Spider is a fanciful name commonly given to members of the Thomisidae Family, for their crab-like appearance or tendency to sit with their front legs slightly raised. Predominently, she is an ambush hunter, hiding amongst flowers and waiting for insects to drop by. Some species are even known to change colour, camouflaging with their flower haunts, whereas others resemble bird roppings. Her flattened body allows her to crawl into narrow crevices and hide in small cracks. Her front legs are very strong, and when she locates her prey she snatches it close, incapcitating it with a venomous bite. Although they do not build webs, Crab Spiders use their silk as drop lines, lowering themselves into new hunting environments.