Saturday, May 31, 2014

Creature Feature #224: Fanaloka

The Fanaloka is a Malagasy civet, making her home in the eastern rainforests of Madagascar. She leads a solitary lifestyle, although will occasionally live in pairs. During the day she sleeps in a tree hollow or a den beneath rocks. At night she comes out to feed on small vertebrates, pursuing them up into the trees. She mates prior to the wet season, giving birth to a single youngster three months later. The kit is born fully furred, with open eyes, and is weaned at 10 weeks of age. Not a great deal is known about this creature, once considered to be a Viverid, but now found in her own Family, the Euplerids, along with the Fossa, the ringtailed mongoose and other Malagasy carnivores.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Creature Feature #223: Falcon

Falcon is the name for smaller raptors with tapered wings, which offer them quick manoeuvrability. The most well known and widespread species is the Peregrine Falcon, depicted here. She is the fastest moving creature on earth, capable of reaching speeds of up to 320 km/hr when diving. Her main prey is other birds, often up to the size of a duck or gull. She descends sharply, striking her prey with a clenched foot, the impact stunning or killing it. Smaller prey is then caught in mid-air and carried away, larger prey is consumed on the ground. She will pluck out the feathers before consumption.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Creature Feature #222: Fairywren

There are 13 species of Fairywren in Australia and its surrounding islands. This diminutive passerine is closely related to emu-wrens but not related to the northern hemisphere wrens. During the breeding months, the male puts on a fine coloured plumage - in the case of this Splendid fairywren, a vivid blue and purple - and courts his hen. He will pluck her a pink or purple flower petal and present it to her as part of this display. Although they form lifelong monogamous bonds, both male and female seek out additional partners and the male may aid in raising his illegitimate offspring.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Creature Feature #221: Fairy Shrimp

The tiny Fairy Shrimp are an Order of crustacean. She can be found in ephemereal, or "vernal", pools in habitats as diverse as desert pools and mountain tarns. Fairy Shrimp lack a carapace. She feeds swimming upside-down, filtering organic particles from the water, or will graze upon algae. Her role in the food chain is an important one, and she is preyed upon by many fish and bird species.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Creature Feature #220: Fairy- Bluebird

The Fairy-Bluebird is a social Passerine of Asia. The male is the colourful one, with females being of a duller shade. This colour is provided by specialised naked fether barbs, which renders them a bright blue in sunlight, but renders them almost invisible within the shade of the forest.  His main diet is fruit, specifically figs, and he will eat smaller fruit whole and crush larger fruits into edible chunks. Berries and nectar are also consumed.

More facts to come later - too cold to type right now!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Creature Feature #219: Eyelash Viper

The Eyelash Viper is a venomous pit viper. She comes in an array of colours, from vibrant yellow to brown, green, red and even pink as well as combinations of these colours. Her characteristic feature is her "eyelashes", spiky protrusions that frame her eyes and nostrils. These are thought to break up her outline, providing her with camouflage as she lies in wait for small mammals, frogs, lizards or birds to venture near her. She has been known to wiggle the tip of her tail, luring prey into striking distance. Nocturnal in nature, she inhabits the treetops of tropical forests in Central and South America.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Creature Feature #218: Euphonia

The bright and colourful Euphonia are a Genus of Neotropical Finches. There are 27 species,  this fellow is an Elegant Euphonia. He can be found in the moist and humid montane forests of Central America. Large flocks gather to feed on fruit, such as that of mistletoe, which comprises the majority of his diet. Whilst foraging, they constantly trill to one another. Only the male is so vibrantly coloured, whilst females retain the bright turquoise crown, her colouration is a more cryptic green, allowing for better camouflage as she sits on the nest.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Creature Feature #217: Ermine

Ermine is the name given to a Stoat in his winter fur. He is naturally found in the tundra and taiga of North America, Canada and Eurasia. Much of the year he wears a brownish coat, but as autumn comes he sheds this brown fur for a new coat of white; the only part that does not change is the black tip of his tail. This winter pelt is thick and dense, providing both warmth and excellent camouflage against the snow and as such he was once rather desirable to trappers. He is an opportunistic predator, with prey ranging in size from tiny voles to adult rabbits. Specimens were released in New Zealand in the 1800s in an effort to combat the rabbit populations and they flourished, pillaging the native fauna and pushing many flightless birds to the brink of extinction - and beyond. He now ranks among the Top#100 invasive pests.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Creature Feature #216: Enamelled Spider

The Enamelled Spider is a large Orb-Web Spider, found in the eastern and southern states of Australia. The body length of the females can measure up 18mm, with the legs making her appear rather larger. Webs are elaborate and beautiful, as is the spider herself, her abdomen shimmering in shades of green and brown. Colouration can vary by geographical location. She is primarily nocturnal, lurking in vegetation during the day and coming out at night to dine on flying insects trapped in her web.  Her web is built approximately 1 metre from the ground and at a slight angle to better catch her prey.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Creature Feature #215: Emu-Wren

The Emu-Wren is named for his tail feathers, which resemble the feathers of an Emu. There are three species, all endemic to Australia and this fellow, the Rufous-crowned Emu Wren is the most colourful. His mate sports a more dowdy plumage, lacking the blue and with her rufous crown being rather more subdued. He is the smallest Australian bird, weighing in at a mere 5 grams. Shy and secretive, he inhabits spinifex shrubland, scuttling through low shrub cover in pursuit of insects and sometimes being mistaken for a mouse.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Creature Feature #214: Emu

The Emu is a large flightless Ratite, found in the open woodland and savannah of Australia. She predominently lives in pairs. Her diet is omnivorous, she dines on seeds, fruit and grasses as well as invertebrates, and play an important role in seed dispersal. It is the female that courts the male, becoming physically more attractive as the breeding season nears. She parades around the male drawing her neck back, puffing out her feathers and calling to him, encouraging him to mate with her. Aggressive behaviour will be directed at rival females, usually beginning with a staring match but occasionally turning to kicking and chasing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Creature Feature #213: Emperor Tamarin

The Emperor Tamarin owes his common name to German Emperor, Wilhelm II, due to his rather proud moustache. He is found in montane forests, high in the treetops, feeding on fruit and flowers, as well as sap and the occasional small animal, such as an insect or frog. His extended family group is called a "troop" and is lead by the breeding female and a dominant male (not necessarily the father of her offspring). Only one female breeds, and she will mate with multiple males, who all assist in raising the infants.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Creature Feature #212: Emperor Shrimp

Emperor Shrimp are a tiny - less than 2cm long - crustacean widely distributed across the Indo-Pacific. He forms a commensal relationship with a host, such as a nudibranch or sea cucumber. Scurrying along this larger creature, he feeds on its waste products whilst also keeping it clean of parasites. He is an omnivore and a detrivore. If danger threatens, he will scurry beneath his larger host, or bury himself in the substrate. Emperor Shrimps have found their way into marine aquariums, but very little seems to be known about them and they are very reliant on the presence of a potential host species.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Creature Feature #211: Emperor Scorpion

The Emperor Scorpion is one of the largest scorpions in the world, growing to an average of 20cm long (EEK!). He can be found in the rainforests and savannah of West Africa. Thankfully, his sting is merely painful, not fatal. He buries himself in the ground during the day, hunting for termites and other insects at night. To feed, he grasps the prey in his pincers, injecting it with poison that liquifies the internal structure within the victim's exoskeleton. Cannibalism is not uncommon, females will eat their mate or their own offspring, and males will sometimes kill each other. Popular in the pet trade, the Emperor Scorpion has been pillaged from the wild and is now considered endangered.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Creature Feature #210: Emperor Penguin

The Emperor Penguin is the tallest and heaviest member of the Penguin Family. He lives in the Antarctic, spending much of his life out at sea, hunting for fish and squid. During the Antarctic winter, both males and females come ashore and make the long trek to their breeding grounds. Here thousands of individuals will gather, find a mate and lay a single egg. Due to the harsh cold of their environment, these birds cannot build nests, and the egg is incubated by the father, balanced on his feet and kept warm with his feathers. Large colonies enable the birds to withstand the harsh cold, and the female forages at sea while the male hatches the egg.The pair then take turns with one caring for the chick while the other feeds, the long trek getting shorter as the winter reaches its end.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Creature Feature #209: Emperor Gum Moth

The Emperor Gum Moth is a large, hairy species of moth found naturally in Australia, favouring the warmer climes. She has also been introduced to New Zealand--probably accidentally--where she has become a  pest. This is because of the diet of her caterpillars, eucalyptus trees, and her eating habits; caterpillars will  defoliate the host trees. Luckily, eucalyptus trees are not widespread in New Zealand and thusher range is limited. Caterpillars hatch yellow, turning green as they mature and will generally remain in their pupael state over the winter, to emerge as adult moths in spring. Females can span 130mm, with males being slightly smaller. The adults do not feed, existing solely to mate, lay eggs and then die.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Creature Feature #208: Emerald Dove

The Emerald Dove is a widespread forest pigeon, found in India, parts of Southeast Asia and Australia. He is a terrestrial bird, spending muc of his time on the ground foraging for seeds and fallen fruit. When disturbed, he will often walk in preference to flying. At night he ascends into the trees, to perch amongst the branches. If forced into flight, he will manouvere low and quick, zipping among the trees. He is not an especially social bird, and can be found singly or in pairs. If several are drawn to a particularly rich feeding area, they will maintain their own personal territories.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Creature Feature #207: Emerald Fruit Chafer

This is apparently an Emerald Fruit Chafer (Dicronorrhina derbyana), although he is also known as Derby's Flower Beetle, and may have to be moved into my F book under "Flower Chafer". Oh well, that will give me an excuse to draw an Elephant Bird. This just goes to show that common names are not necessarily reliable when it comes to insects and not to rely on Google Image search.

The name Emerald Fruit Chafer is generally used to refer to Rhabdotis aulica whose colours are not quite as striking.

Anyway, let us tell you a bit about Chafer beetles, specifically the fellow I have actually drawn. They are a member of the Scarab family, making them related to Dung Beetles. Their diet, however, consists more of vegetation. Adults feed primarily on tree sap and fruits. He is found in sub-Saharan Africa and grows no more than about 50mm in length. Only the males sport the T-shaped "horn". This horn is used to dig into the fruit, splitting the outer skin. Males can also be quite aggressive. Females will lay up to 200 eggs and the young larvae feed on decaying vegetable matter. It takes the larvae 8-9 months to reach maturity, and then they will survive for 3-4 months as an adult.

The other Emerald Fruit Chafer if also a member of the Scarab family and lives in Africa. She lays her eggs in animal manure and the hatching larvae are protected by a clay case. Her diet consists mainly of flowers and fruits and adults only grow to about 25mm long. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Creature Feature #206: Elysia

Elysia are a Genus of sea slugs that graze on algae. Some species hijack the chloroplast from the plant matter, using it to coat the inside of their digestive tract and allowing them to survive on photosynthesis. This chlorophyll affects their colour, making them the vibrant green. Elysia are hermaphrodites, and are able to self-fertilise, but do so very rarely, preferring to mate with another individual. Eggs are laid in a long string, and these hatch into a shelled larva.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Creature Feature #205: Elongated Tortoise

The Elongated Tortoise is named for his shell, which is twice as long as it is deep. He occurs naturally in Southeast and South Asia where he lives in humid teak forests, but has also found his way into the pet industry. He does not thrive in cold climates, and tortoises transported into Europe and North America will often die unless provided with special indoor care. His diet is predominently vegetarian, although he also eats snails, meat and eggs. In the wild he is endangered, with thousands of tortoises being shipped into Chinese food markets and others being smuggled out and into the pet trade. There is also constant pressure and habitat destruction as humans encroach on his range.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Creature Feature #204: Elk

The Elk, also known as the Wapiti, is among the largest of the deer species. He is naturally occuring in North America and eastern Asia and has also found a foothold in Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. Only the male bears antlers, which he grows in spring and are shed in winter. In spring, displaying his proud rack, he bugles loudly to attract females and alert rival males of his presence. If challenged, the two stags will face off against one another, starting with posturing and moving into sparring with their antlers. Serious injuries can be sustained. Once the stag has collected a number of hinds, he protects them from rivals, often going for lengthy periods of time without feeding. A stag must be in peak condition to both mate with many hinds and then survive the oncoming winter.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Creature Feature #203: Elf Owl

The American Elf Owl is the world's lightest owl. He makes his home in the arid Southwest of America, and into Mexico. His main diet is insects and other arthropods, caught on the wing or plucked from the ground or branches. During breeding season, he sings to attract a mate, and together they find a natural cavity or woodpecker hole to nest in, either in a tree or a cactus. The pair will often call to each other as they flit about their relatively small territory. Clutches usually consist of three white eggs, and the chicks grow fast, fledging about a month after hatching. To encourage their youngsters to leave the nest, the parent birds may refuse to bring them food, although they continue to feed them outside the nest, until they have learned to hunt for themselves.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Creature Feature #202: Elephant Shrew

Neither an elephant, nor a shrew, the Elephant Shrew is now more appropriately known as a Sengi. She is a diminutive insectivorous mammal widespread, but nowhere common, across Africa. There are 17 species of Elephant Shrew, with most being tiny and others - like this black and rufous "giant" elephant shrew - measuring up to 25 cm long. The smaller species maintain their territory with a series of runs, which they can navigate with remarkable speed and skill, and which are essential to their survival. Often a male and female will share territory and Elephant Shrew are noted for being monogamous, however outside of mating she seems to prefer her own company. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Creature Feature #201: Elephant Seal

There are two species of Elephant Seal. The Southern Elephant Seal bull is larger even than a polar bear, weighing up to 4,000 kg. The bull is characterised by his fleshy proboscis.  Every breeding season he comes ashore to establish a patch of beach for their harem. This territory is fiercely defended and he will not abandon it, even to feed, surviving instead on his blubber reserves. Clashes involve a great deal of posturing and roaring, occasionally coming to blows. In fighting, bulls use their weight and canine teeth against one another but, despite looking brutal, the loser often departs with nothing more than a few new cuts and scars. Meanwhile, the females arrive to give birth to the pups conceived in the previous year and will be mated again shortly after. In the flurry of activity, pups can easily be crushed and killed.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Creature Feature #200: Elephant

It is time for the BIG #200!

The Elephant is the largest land animal, with African Elephant bulls weighing in at 7,000 kg. Cows are somewhat smaller. She is characterised by her trunk, actually an extension of her nose and upper lip, a most versatile appendage indeed. It is used for breathing, scenting, to manipulate objects, to inhale water for drinking and showering and also in communication, both verbal and physical. Elephant cows are social creatures, living in herds led by the matriach, usually the oldest and wisest of the herd and accompanied by their calves. Due to the nature of their foraging, African Elephants must lead a nomadic existence, travelling across the savannah and through marshlands, open forest and even up into the mountains or towards the coast. With their size and social behaviour they have few natural predators, but have been hunted extensively by humans for their skin, meat and their ivory tusks.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Creature Feature #199: Elephantnose Fish

The Elephantnose Fish is a freshwater fish of Africa named for the long, sensitive extension of his mouth, which somewhat resembles an elephant's trunk. This organ is covered in electrosensors, which he uses to locate food as his eyesight is rather poor, although he can see resonably well in low light levels. He generates a weak electric field via muscle contractions to sense his surroundings. His brain is the largest in proportion to body weight of any vertebrate. Fairly common in the pet trade, he mixes well with other fish but can be territorial with others of his kind.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Creature Feature #198: 'Elepaio

This diminutive monarch flycatcher lives in Hawaii, with three different species on three different islands. He is one of the more adaptable of the Hawaiian natives, although like the others he has suffered from mammalian predation and bird malaria. His name is derived from his warbling song, and he is the first native bird to begin singing in the morning, and the last to stop singing at night. He is bold and curious. His insectivorous nature leads him to associate closely with humans who venture into his forest domain, snatching up the insects dislodged by their activities.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Creature Feature #197: Elegant Trogan

The Elegant Trogan makes his home in semi-arid woodlands, ranging from Arizona to Costa Rica. He is a handsome bird, with his mate being somewhat duller, although still sporting the red underbelly. His preferred diet is insects and fruit. He remains perched for long periods of time, is capable of turning his head almost all the way around, and can see in low light levels. Once a flying insect has been sighted, he will take flight, seizing it in his serrated bill. When breeding season comes around, he puffs up his chest feathers, flicks his long tail and coos to attract a female. The pair must then find an abandoned woodpecker nest cavity or other tree hollow to nest in. Competition for these is fierce, and conflicts with other trogan, woodpeckers, squirrels and even owls is common.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Creature Feature #196: Eland

The Eland is a sturdy Ungulate related to antelopes and cattle. He can be found in the savannah and open ares of East and Southern Africa. He leads a nomadic existence, gathering in herds of up to 500 individuals, with members leaving and joining on a whim. If the males spot danger they will bark and trot back and forth until the entire herd is alerted. Elands are one of the slowest moving of their kin, capable of reaching speeds of 40 kph for short bursts, but they can keep up a steady 22 kph trot indefinitely and leap 2.5 metres from a standing start. Both bulls and cows are equipped with the spiral horns. The bulls use these to fight one another, whereas the cows use them to protect their young.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Creature Feature #195: Eider Duck

The Eider is a large sea duck, of which there are three species. This fellow is the King Eider, named such for his bold colouration. In spring, flocks of these elegant birds migrate to the Arctic tundra to breed. Nests are a scrape in the ground, lined with down feathers plucked from the female's breast. These soft and warm feathers have long been harvested and used to stuff quilts and pillows, a practise that is fully sustainable as they are collected from the nesting grounds after the ducklings have left the nest. After breeding has concluded, Eiders return to the sea where they dive for benthic invertebrates: crustaceans, molluscs and polychaete worms. Winter flocks can number 10,000 birds.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Creature Feature #194: Egyptian Vulture

The Egyptian Vulture is a carrion feeder with an opportunistic streak and a taste for eggs. If she locates an unguarded ostrich or bustard egg she will pick up a large pebble in her beak and toss it at the egg, repeating the process until the shell cracks and she can lap up the yolk (or embryo) within. She has also been known to use a twig to collect wool, which she then carries back to line her nest. She forms a monogamous pair bond which can last more than one season, and recycles her old nest site, a large tree, cliff ledge or even a building, constructing an ungainly platform of twigs that is often lined with rags or wool.