Sunday, August 31, 2014

Creature Feature #316: Hoopoe

Sorry about all the birds recently.
Okay, so I'm not really sorry. I love drawing birds. But do not fear - we'll be up to "Horse" soon, followed by a very strange arthropod.

The Hoopoe is a colourful bird, found across Eurasia and Africa. His name comes from his call of "ooop-ooop-ooop". He is an insectivore, and solitary forager. During breeding season, he forms a monogamous bond and fiercely defends his territory from rivals. Ensuring fights can be brutal, with the males stabbing one another with their bills. This occasionally results in a blinding. Eggs are laid in a crevice. The female's uropygial glandstarts producing a foul-smelling liquid, which she rubs into her plumage. This makes her reek of rotting meat and acts as a deterrent to predators. If that fails, nestlings can direct streams of faeces at intruders, or stab them with their bills.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Creature Feature #315: Honeyeater

The Honeyeaters are a diverse Family of birds, spread throughout Australia, New Guinea and the islands of the South Pacific. Here they play an important role in polination, rather like the honeycreepers and sunbirds. This fellow is a New Holland Honeyeater and he was one of the first birds to be scientifically described in Australia. He is widespread across the southern coastal regions of the continent, with five distinct subspecies. Much of his food is obtained from nectar; he uses his beck to probe into the flower, then licks it up with his long tongue. He will also eat insects and spiders for protein.

These guys were pretty common around Sydney, where I nicknamed them the "scolding bird" because of the indignant call they made.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Creature Feature #314: Honeycreeper

The Honeycreepers are several species of small bird related to the tanagers. Flocks forage in the canopy of tropical forests from Mexico to Brazil, including around plantations. As his name suggests, he is a nectar drinker, using his long bill to sip from flowers. Fruit and insects are also eaten. Outside of breeding season, the male sheds his vibrant blue plumage in exchange for a more dowdy and camouflaged olive green, better matching the females. The female builds a small, cup-shaped nest in which she lays two eggs. These hatch within 14 days, and the chicks fledge two weeks later.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Creature Feature #313: Honeybee

The Honeybee is a social insect with a cosmopolitan range. Hives are divided up into three types of bee. The most common is the worker bee - females that are not sexually developed - who play a role in foraging and collecting food and maintaining living conditions within the hive. The male bee is known as a drone, and he only remains with the hive during the spring and summer, during winter he is pushed out as the swarm go into survival mode. There is also one female bee that is sexually developed, known as the queen bee. She spends her entire life laying eggs and when she dies, a worker bee will be fed on "royal jelly" which will stimulate her maturity. The queen also produces chemicals that directly influence the behaviour of the other bees.

Bees play a very important role in pollination, as the workers fly from flower to flower, collecting nectar to carry back to their hive. It is of considerate concern that bee numbers are in the decline, possibly due to the widespread use of pesticides. It has been predicted that if the Honeybee  were to go extinct, then many of our crops would no longer become viable as a food source.

There is so much that can be said about the humble honeybee. She truly is a remarkable creature.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Creature Feature #312: Hoatzin

The Hoatzin is one of the most unusual birds in the world. She is a medium-sized bird, making her home near water in the forests of Brazil. Her diet is herbivorous, consisting largely of leaves and fruit. To aid digestion, she has an enlarged crop in which the pulp can ferment, in a manner similar to mammalian ruminants. This may also give rise to her distinctive, manure-like smell which has earned her the nickname of "stinkbird". She is gregarious and a colony nester, laying 2-3 eggs in a rudimentary stick nest, usually above water. Chicks are equipped with two claw-hooks on each wing, which they use to clamber through the branches. If danger threatens they will drop into the river, swim a short distance and climb up into the trees again.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Creature Feature #311: Hippopotamus

The Hippopotamus is a large ungulate who leads a semi-aquatic lifestyle. Although his diet is predominantly herbivorous, he is aggressive and unpredictable and as such ranks among Africa's most dangerous creatures. Territorial bulls will hold a section of river, leading a herd (called a "bloat") of up to thirty females and calves. His daily life is spent keeping cool in the water and the herd only emerges at dusk to graze. Individuals will travel up to 10km from water to graze, and do so in solitude. Despite his short legs, Hippo are capable of running at speeds of up to 30 km/hr. All other behaviour - mating, birthing of young, fighting - takes place in the water.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Creature Feature #310: Heron

The Herons are a Family of water birds characterised by their long neck, long legs and long bill. Close relatives are the bitterns and the egrets. This proud fellow is a Great Blue Heron from North America. He is one of the largest Herons in the world. His main diet is fish, although he will prey on a wide range of other animals species including small birds, rodents and other mammals, frogs and invertebrates. He hunts visually, sighting his prey then snapping it up in his bill, swallowing it whole. Herons have been known to choke on prey that is too large.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Creature Feature #309: Hercules Beetle

The Hercules Beetle is a rhinocerous beetle, characterised by the long horns of the male - these the female lacks entirely. They are used in fights with rival males. His Hercules tag is well deserved - he can lift up to 850 times his body weight. Some males can measure up to 17cm in length. He is found in Central and South America, foraging across the forest floor in search of decaying fruit upon which to dine. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Creature Feature #308: Hellbender

The Hellbender is a giant salamander from North America, where he inhabits fast flowing streams. The swiftly flowing water is essential for oxygenation. Although he retains gill slits and has lungs, he also obtains oxygen through capillaries in his side frills. He is solitary in nature, and relative sedantary. His main diet consists of small fish and crustaceans and his flattened shape allows him to crawl beneath rocks and protect himself from predators.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Creature Feature #307: Hedgehog

The Hedgehog is a small and prickly mammal. There are seventeen species, occuring naturally throughout Asia, Europe and Africa. The European Hedgehog was introduced to New Zealand by the British Acclimatisation Society and has now become an invasive species. The spines are hollow hairs, made stiff with keratin. These act as a deterrent to any predator, as the Hedgehog will curl up into a ball. He is nocturnal in nature, spending his days curled up in a den and venturing out at night to forage on a variety of foodstuffs, including earthworms and fruit. He is a vocal creature, grunting and snuffling, even chirping when distressed. Hedgehogs that live in colder climates, or where food may be scarce, will hibernate.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Creature Feature #306: Hawksbill Turtle

The Hawksbill Turtle is a critically endangered reptile. She favours tropical coral reefs. Her main diet consists of sea sponges, although she also eats jellyfish, algae and sea anemones.  Every two years, she comes ashore in secluded lagoons to mate. After mating, she hauls herself ashore under cover of darkness, digs a nesting hole with her rear flippers and lays her eggs. This can take many hours, during which she buries them again and returns to the sea. The baby turtles hatch two months later, during the night, and begin the perilous journey to the sea. Any that remain out during daylight are preyed upon by birds and other predators. It takes decades for these youngsters to attain maturity.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Creature Feature #305: Harrier-Hawk

The African Harrier-Hawk is a medium sized raptor. She makes her home in woodlands, tree plantations and urban areas. Her diet is omnivorous and includes the fruit of the oil palm, as well as small vertebrates. She is a skilled climber, using her wings as well as her feet and beak. Her knees are double jointed, which allow her to reach into these otherwise inaccesible holes and crevices. In this manner, she raids the nests of cavity-breeding birds. Her own nest is a large structure of sticks, built in a tree or on a cliff ledge. She broods up to three eggs but, like most raptors, siblicide is common and often only one chick will survive to fledging.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Creature Feature #304: Hartebeast

The Hartebeast is a species of antelope who makes her home in the African grasslands. She is social in nature and can live in herds numbering into the hundreds. Within the herds, separate groups form with males being separate from females, and with a frequently contested social hierarchy. Whilst the herd grazes, several individuals keep an eye out for danger. Hartebeast will only migrate in times of great need - such as after a natural calamity or during a drought. She consumes less water than her relatives, and has a lower metabolic rate. Reproduction is year-round, although most prevalent when food is available in sufficient quantity.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Creature Feature #303: Harpy Eagle

The mighy Harpy Eagle makes her home in the lowland rainforests of Central and South America. She is among the largest of eagle species, with some females weighing up to 10kg. Her wings are relatively short, allowing her greater manoeuvrability through the trees. She hunts the upper canopy, preying on monkeys and sloths. These she snatches up with her wicked talons - larger than those of any other extant eagle species - which are capable of exerting enormous pressure. Harpy Eagles are monogamous and form life-long partnerships, raising one chick every few years. Although she is found over a wide range, her habitat is fast disappearing and the species has become extirpated in some regions and is threatened in others.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Creature Feature #302: Hare

Hares are swift, long legged leporids, capable of dashes up to 56 km/hr. Unlike his rabbit relatives, he leads a mostly solitary existence. Most of the year he is relatively shy and nocturnal, but in breeding season, he becomes somewhat rowdy and active during the day. This may explain the idion, "Mad as a March hare." Does are receptive for only a few hours a day, and competition is fierce. Males chase one another in order to assert their dominance and boxing matches are common, as does attempt to fend off unwanted advances or to determine the fittest male. Youngsters are birthed in a shallow scrape known as a "form". These leverets are precocial - born fully furred with their eyes open.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Creature Feature #301: Happy Face Spider

The tiny Happy Face Spider lives only on the Hawaiian islands. She is named for her characteristic abdomen which, in some individuals, resembles a happy face. In others it can be frowning, or somewhat more abstract. This patterning varies across the islands. Measuring a mere 5 mm, her life is mostly spend beneath the foliage in the rainforests. Here she builds a somewhat reduced web than other spiders, feeding on small insects. Unlike most spider species, she exhibits strong maternal care. Not only does she guard her egg sac, but when the spiderlings hatch she will catch insects for them to feed upon.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Creature Feature #300: Hamster

The Hamsters are a group of small rodents characterised by their short tails and elongated cheek pouches. Their behaviour is crepuscular - they remain underground during the day and venture out in the evenings and mornings to forage for seeds, fruit, vegetation and insects. Food is stored in their cheek pouches, which can double, or triple, in size and hoarded in underground food chambers. Hamsters lead a solitary lifestyle, although some species will live in pairs. Hamsters, particularly the Syrian Hamster, have become popular in the pet industry, and have been bred with unusual colourations and longer fur. They do not tolerate colony living and are most active at night.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Creature Feature #299: Hammerhead

The Hammerhead is characterised by his oddly shaped head, which somewhat resembles a hammer. The purpose for this may be related to improved sensory functions, as it allows the shark 360 degrees of vision. It may also help him keep stable while making sharp turns, although his vertebrae is also specially developed to aid in this. During the day he gathers in schools, but in the evening he becomes a solitary hunter.  His mouth is very small, and he feeds mostly along the ocean bed, dining on squid, stingrays and other fish. He will use his head to pin the prey, before killing and eating it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Creature Feature #298: Hamerkop

The Hamerkop is unmistakable, with his oddly crested head and long, stout bill. He resides in Africa and Madagascar, making wetlands his home - estuaries, ponds and even cultivated wetlands such as rice paddies or canals. Hamerkop are relatively sedentary and usually live in pairs. Their nest is a huge, extravagant domed affair - sometimes more than 1.5 m across. It is built in the fork of a tree, often over water and decorated with brightly coloured objects. A tunnel leads to a large nesting chamber in which the female lays up to seven eggs.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Creature Feature #297: Halibut

The Halibut is the largest flatfish species, with some individuals weighing over 200 kg. He begins life pale coloured, with eyes on both sides of his body and swims like a salmon. As he matures, his left eye eye begins to migrate over to the right side of his body, which also begins to grow darker in colouration. This allows him camouflage from above where he blends in with the ocean floor, and from below when he becomes less visible against the light. This trait is found in many fish species. He commonly rests on the ocean bed and forages for other fish, crustaceans and anything he can fit in his mouth.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Creature Feaure #296: Hairy-eared Dwarf Lemur

The tiny Hairy-eared Dwarf Lemur is one of the rarest primates in the world. As such, very little is known about her. Never common, she is found only in the  forested regions of northeast Madagascar. Until her re-discovery in 1989, she was considered extinct, only known from five museum specimens. Now the population is considered to be no more than 1,000 and possibly as few as 100 individuals. Like most Dwarf Lemurs she is nocturnal. Her diet consists of fruit, tree sap, leaves and insects. She appears to forage in small groups of two to six individuals. During the cooler seasons she becomes lethargic in her movements and will spend much of her time curled up in her nest of fresh leaves, built within tree holes.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Creature Feature #295: Hagfish

The Hagfish is a primitive fish and a living fossil. She has a skull, but no vertebral column, she also lacks a jaw. Her teeth are keratin and situated in rows on her tongue, which she uses to rip pieces of rotting flesh from her carrion diet. This may include crawling inside the decaying corpse. She has the ability to digest organic matter with her skin. Her skin also contains numerous glands, from which she can exude copious amounts of mucus. This thickens upon contact with the water, becoming quite a deterrent to any predator that might wish to eat her. Research into this is also leading to a renewable alternative to petroleum.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Creature Feature #294: Golden Snub-nose Monkey

The Golden Snub-nose Monkey makes her home in the temperate forests of central and southwest China. She can withstand temperatures colder than most non-human primates. Her diet is primarily vegetative, with lichen being her favoured food. Since lichen commonly grows on dead trees, and dead trees are frequently logged, she is under heavy threat from deforestation. She will also eat leaves, buds, flowers and fruit. Golden Snub-nose Monkeys band together in troops. Females are more sociable than males, and will often assist one another with their infants. At night, they huddle together to share warmth.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Creature Feature #293: Guppy

The Guppy is a tropical freshwater fish that has found success in aquaculture. Naturally occuring in northeast South America, they have been introduced across the world in an effort to control mosquito larvae. Female guppies will mate with multiple males, favouring the more colourful ones. She will birth up to 200 live fry (although usually 30-60). These tiny fish are indepedent from birth and the female is ready to breed again soon after. Popular in the pet trade, Guppies have been bred for flamboyance, with fancy tails and exaggerated fins.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Creature Feature #292: Gull

The Gulls are a Family of medium-to-large seabirds widespread across the world. Highly social, gregarious and noisy, they are a common sight at beaches, rubbish dumps, and in the urban environment. Intelligent and opportunistic, she is partial to scavenging and follows an omnivorous diet. Whilst fish might be her traditional fare, she will eat almost anything. Often known as "seagulls", some species of Gull live quite a distance from the sea, although generally not too far from water. The Utah state bird is the Californian Gull, commemorated for its role in saving the crops of the early settlers from a locust plague. Gulls gather in great colonies to breed, and form monogamous pairs.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Creature Feature #291: Guineafowl

The Guineafowl are a Family of gamebirds native to Africa. The most well known is the Helmeted Guineafowl, who has been domesticated and as such introduced to other countries, including Australia, Brazil and France. Gregarious in nature, they gather in flocks outside the breeding season, roosting together. She lives terrestrially, devouring insects, seeds, fruit and even small mammals. Flocks can consume large numbers of ticks, which help to slow the spread of Lyme disease. During breeding season, monogamous pairs are formed and she will lay up to 12, thick-shelled eggs. The chicks are active within moments of hatching, and will be able to fly within two weeks.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Creature Feature #290: Guillemot

The Guillemot are members of the Auk family. This Black Guillemot is found on rocky cliffs and headlands around Iceland and the United Kingdom, as well as northern America. He dives into the water in pursuit of fish and crustaceans, favouring shallow inshore waters to the open ocean. His bright red legs and scarlet gape provide a striking contrast against his black plumage and play a role in his courtship displays. Outside of breeding season, his black plumage moults out, replaced with greyish-white, making him appear as if a different species.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Creature Feature #289: Guenon

The Guenon are a Genus of Old World monkey, comprised of around 26 species found across Africa. The name is French, and translates as "monkey". They are generally characterised by their long back legs, rounded heads and cheek pouches. Many species have additional facial adornments in the form of beards or moustaches and striking colouration. This fellow is a Red-tailed Guenon. Most species live in large groups, mainly comprised of females but with at least one resident male. Males form their own, smaller, groups. They forage through the treetops, following an omnivorous diet of leaves, fruit, invertebrates, seeds and even small vertebrates.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Creature Feature #288: Guanaco

The Guanaco is a South American camelid, widespread along the altiplano - the high, dry plateau across the Andes. She lives in herds consisting of several females and their young - called chulengos - and lead by a dominant male. Bachelor males form large herds, sometimes with up to 50 members. She makes her home at high altitudes, and has blood rich in red blood cells, approximately four times as many as a human. This helps her survive in a low oxygen environment. Her habitat is also very dry - in some parts it has not rained for 50 years - and she gains her moisture from fog caught in cacti and lichens. Despite this arid environment, she is apparently a capable swimmer.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Creature Feature #287: Guan

Like the chachalaca and currasow, the Guan are South American galliformes, of which there are a number of species spread over several Genera. This is a Crested Guan, and she is a social bird, living in pairs or a family flock. She strides along branches, dining on a variety of fruits and foliage. Her flight is a heavy flap-and-glide, often followed by a crash as she descends into the subcanopy. Her nest is a bulky construct of leaves and twigs, built high in the canopy. Both parents help to raise the brood.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Creature Feature #286: Grouse

Grouse are a Family of heavily built ground birds, often known as "game birds". They are browsers, nibbling on leaves, buds, twigs and catkins, although youngsters will dine on invertebrates. Males - like this Black Grouse - are larger and more dramatically coloured, as befits his polygamouse lifestyle. He puts on an elaborate courtship display during the breeding season, attempting to attract as many females as he can. This will also involve singing, and he has a fine call, loud and bubbling, somewhat resembling that of a dove. Grouse are frequently hunted for sport, with their plumes being used to decorate hats.

His mating display has been turned into a folk dance:

And here's a courtship display: