Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Creature Feature #346: Ivory-billed Woodpecker

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker was one of the largest woodpeckers in the world. He lived in hardwood swamps and pine forests and was once widespread across the virgin forests of the southeastern United States. Deforestation by the timber industry destroyed his habitat and reduced his numbers dramatically. He used his sturdy bill to hammer, wedge and peel the bark off decaying trees, seeking the wood-boring beetle larvae and insects within. A single pair needed a territory of approximately 25 square kms in which to feed their young and themselves. Various expeditions and anecdotal sightings have occured, with video footage recorded in 2004 confirming that there may still be a few of these impressive birds in existence.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Creature Feature #345: Island Fox

The Island Fox is closely related to the gray fox. Due to isolation, he has evolved into a new species - and several subspecies - on the Californian Channel islands. Smaller in size than his mainland counterpart, he is also more vulnerable to diseases, parasites and predation. The six subspecies all evolved independently of one another, but can interbreed. It is thought that the ancestors "rafted" across from the mainland 10,000 to 16,000 years ago. Island Foxes follow an omnivorous diet of rodents, fruits, insects, birds and eggs. Due to the small nature of their habitat and the limited resources, no population numbers greater than 1000.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Creature Feature #344: Irrawaddy Dolphin

The Irrawaddy Dolphin inhabits coastlines and estuaries around Southeast Asia. Despite her diminutive stature, she is closely related to the orca.  She lives in small pods, hunting for bony fish, cephalopods and crustaceans, using suction to consume it. Occasionally she will spit streams of water - possibly to herd fish - while "spy hopping". She is a slow swimmer and capable of deep dives lasting up to 12 minutes. Fishers in India once used to call out to the Irrawaddy dolphins, encouraging them to drive fish towards their boats and rewarding them with the bycatch. Now she falls prey to gillnets and dragnets, along with being captured and trained for the amusement of a human audience.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Creature Feature #343: Iora

The Iora are four species of passerine found in India and southeast Asia. They forage in small groups, preying on insects gleaned them from among the branches. The males are more brightly coloured and he develops the black cap in breeding season. To court the females he performs an acrobatic aerial display, darting up into the air, fluffing his feathers and spiralling back down to his perch. Eggs are laid in a cup-shaped nest and both parents take turns incubating the eggs.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Creature Feature #342: Indigobird

The Indigobirds are a number of finch-like passerine bird species, related to whydahs. They occur across Africa, inhabiting grassland and open woodland. They are named for the male's breeding plumage, which in all species is various shades of indigo, blue and black. Outside of breeding season, he appears more like the females - dowdy shades of brown, grey and cream. They are brood parasites, using firefinches as their parental hosts. Unlike cuckoos, Indigobird chicks do not destroy the host's eggs. As the chick grows, he learns the song of his host species. Females favour a mate that sings the same tune as her foster parents. His diet consists of seeds and grains

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Creature Feature #341: Inca Tern

The Inca Tern is a characterised by his fine moustache (also sported by the females). His range extends along the Humboldt current, on the western side of South America. Here he soars on air currents, scanning the waters for small fish - such as anchovies - on which to feed. Once sighted, he will drop into a dive, striking the water and seizing the prey in his sharp beak. Nests are built on steep cliffs, in burrows and fissures, including the abandoned nests of Humboldt penguins.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Creature Feature #340: Inanga

Inanga are are common species of Galaxias fish, widespread across the southern hemisphere. She can be found in freshwater streams and lakes, favouring still or slow-moving bodies of water. During the high spring tides, she lays her eggs on vegetation. There they remain, exposed to the air, until th enext spring tide. At which point they hatch, and the larvae are swept out to sea. For 5-6 months the larvae live at sea, developing into juvenile fish. These "whitebait" then swim upriver to find suitable habitat, feeding on crustaceans and molluscs until they attain adulthood, spawn and, shortly after, die. Whitebait are often netted and are a considered a delicacy in New Zealand (although I am not sure why - the big black eyes peering out from the fritters ruin my appetite) and the adult Inanga is also threatened by introduced species such as trout.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Creature Feature #339: Imperial Moth

The Imperial Moth is a Nearctic moth, whose range extends from Mexico to Canada. The female is larger than the male, and her wings tend to be more yellow. Much of her life is spent as a caterpillar, feeding on coniferous and deciduous plants. She undergoes four moults, with her first within only a few days of hatching. After attaining her fifth instar, she leaves her tree and burrows underground to pupate. At about mid-summer, the fully-formed moth digs her way out before sunrise and begins her search for a mate. She will mate after midnight, and lay her eggs by dusk the next day. As an adult, she does not feed, and will die shortly after.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Creature Feature #338: Impala

The Impala is a medium-sized antelope found in the open savannah of eastern Africa, generally not far from water. His diet consists of a variety of plant matter, either browsing or grazing depending on conditions. Impala are an important prey animal, and feature on the menus of lions and other big cats, hyenas and wild dogs. To survive, he must always be alert and wary of danger. If alarmed, he can jump to heights of 3m, bounding over bushes and even other Impala, covering distances of up to 10m in a single leap. During the dry season, he will often intermix with others of his species, but with the wet season and the start of breeding, he may begin defending a territory. Younger males form bachelor herds. Territorial males will attempt to control any female herds that wander through his territory, whilst sending any potential rivals swiftly on their way.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Creature Feature #337: I'iwi

The beautiful little red I'iwi is another of Hawaii's unique honeycreepers. He is one of the most plentiful of this Family, but numbers are in decline. Vulnerable to bird malaria, I'iwi survive mainly at higher levels, where it is too cold for mosquitoes. They are able to migrate between the islands, but have become extirpated on Lānaʻi. With his long, slender bill he probes into flowers and laps up nectar. The curve allowed him to fed predominantly on the Hawaiian lobelioid, but as populations of this flower have decreased, he now feeds on the blossoms of ʻōhiʻa lehua trees. It is when these flowers are in bloom that breeding begins. Nests are cup-shaped and lined with tree fibers, petals and feathers. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Creature Feature #336: Iguana

The Iguana is a large lizard, inhabiting the forests of Central and South America. He leads an arboreal lifestyle, usually living near water. His diet is predominantly herbivorous, favouring fruit, foliage and flowers. One of his characteristic features is the highly-developed dewlap. This is used to help him regulate his body temperature, and plays a role in courtship and territorial displays. He is also equipped with a white photosensory organ - a parietal eye - on his forehead. This is sensitive to changes in light and dark, and could be used to help locate predators lurking above him. If he senses a threat he will flee, or dive into the water. However, the scream of a raptor will cause him to freeze, relying on his camouflage for protection.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Creature Feature #335: Ifrita

The small, insectivorous Ifrita in widespread across the rainforests of New Guinea. He is one of the few birds known to be poisonous, contact with his feathers and skin causes numbness and tingling and acts as a deterrent against predators such as snakes. This toxin is a batrachotoxin acquired through his diet of melyrid beetles. He forages for these beetles, and other insect prey, by scurrying up and down the trunks and branches of trees and probing in crevices with his bill.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Creature Feature #334: Ichneumon Wasp

The Ichneumon are a Superfamily of wasps, containing over 80,000 species. These insects are solitary and quite large. Many are parasitic. Females are characterised by their extremely long ovipositors. When she is ready to lay her eggs, she will seek out the larvae of a different species: caterpillars, beetle larvae, maggots. This ovipositor is then used to deliver her eggs either directly into the host or near the intended host. When her larvae hatch, they consume the host from the inside. Some Ichneumon prey on ants, entering the nest and depositing her eggs by releasing a chemical that confuses the ants and causes them to fight amongst themselves, rather than target her. Many also infect the host with a virus that suppresses its immune system.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Creature Feature #333: Icefish

The Icefish are a Suborder of fish that occur in the coldest regions of the Earth - the cold continental shelf surrounding Antarctica. There are currently 122 species known to wikipedia science. To enable survival in such harsh conditions, the Icefish must have special adaptations. Her blood and body fluids contain an antifreeze glycoprotein. She is also the only vertebrate to be completely lacking red blood cells - she has no hemoglobin -  which makes her blood thinner and allows it to circulate more easily about her body. This also means that her blood is colourless. Her heart is very large in proportion to her body size, and consumes 22% of her body's available energy (comapred to the 5% of temperate fish species).

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Creature Feature #332: Ibisbill

The Ibisbill is a wading bird closely related to the avocet. He generally leads a solitary life across southern Central Asia, living near slow-moving rivers. Here he uses his slender bill to probe amongst rocks and shingle in search of insects and their larvae. During the breeding season he forms a monogamous partnership and eggs are laid in a shallow scrape, sometimes lined with pebbles. Both parents share incubation duties and it has been reported that offspring from previous years may assist in the task. Ibisbill prefer to swim across rivers rather than flying.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Creature Feature #331: Ibex

The Ibex is a species of wild goat, found in the European Alps. Both male and female bear curving, ridged horns, although the male's are considerably longer and he is larger in size. He is an excellent climber, ascending above the snowline during the summer to feed on the alpine meadows and descending during the winter months. He has even been observed standing on the sheer wall of dams, licking the stonework for the mineral salts. Social in nature, groups are frequently segregated by gender and age throughout the year, with mixed gender groups most frequent during the breeding season. Male Ibex compete with one another to secure mates, sometimes just strutting and posturing, other times head-butting or bucking one another.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Creature Feature #330: Hydra

Hydra are tiny freshwater predators of the Phylum Cnidaria. They can be found in unpolluted freshwater in temperate and tropical regions. Hydra appear to be biologically immortal, they do not age. They are also capable of asexual reproduction. If conditions are right, a bud grows in the body wall, developing into a miniature of the adult and eventually breaking away. Sexual reproduction via free-swimming gametes occurs when conditions are less ideal. The Hydra feeds on small aquatic invertebrates. First they extend their body, then the tentacles - which can stretch to 5 times the body length - and wait for prey to swim into their clutches. The prey is then stung, subdued and drawn back to the mouth aperture to be consumed.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Creature Feature #329: Hyrax

The little Hyrax is not a rodent, despite her general appearance, but is in fact more closely related to the elephant and the manatee. She is a relatively primative mammal, with poor internal thermoregulartion and thus keeps warm by basking in the sun and sharing body warmth with her family. She has four toes on her front feet and three on the back, each equipped with hoof-like nails. The pads of her feet are rubbery and equipped with sweat glands to help her scramble over the rocks on which she lives. She follows a herbivorous diet and has a multi-chambered, complex stomach that allows the food to be broken down by symbiotic bacteria - in a similar manner to the ungulates.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Creature Feature #328: Hyena

There are four species of Hyena, all of which will receive their own separate entries, so for this one I will be focuing on the archetypical Hyena - the Spotted Hyena. A pack of Hyena is known as a "clan" and can contain up to 80 individuals. They are one of the few mammal species in which the females are the dominant members of the hierarchy. She is primarily a hunter, but is also an opportunistic scavenger. Her jaws are very powerful, stronger than a leopard's and capable of crushing bone. She is very efficient at disposing of carcasses. Females are promiscuous and generally favour younger males or those more recent to the clan. Cubs are born fully furred with open eyes and equipped with canine teeth. From the moment they are born, they will try to kill their siblings. This adds an additional level of challenge to the mother's job.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Creature Feature #327: Hutia

The Hutia are large cavy-like rodents of South America. There have been 20 species identified, of which a full third are extinct and almost all the remaining species are endangered. The exception to this is Demarest's Hutia of Cuba. He is widespread throughout his range, and was once hunted for food and even raised as a stock animal. In some areas he is still abundant enough to be considered a pest and can cause damage to crops. His diet is omnivorous, consisting of bark, leaves and fruit with the occasional small vertebrate. Unlike many reodents he does not burrow, but spends the nights sleeping in tree hollows or rock crevices. You ng are born fully furred and with open eyes.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Creature Feature #326: Humuhumunukanukaapua'a

The "rainbow fish with the pig-nosed snout", also known as the reef triggerfish, the Humuhumunukunukuāpuaa is the state fish of Hawaii. He is distributed across the Indo-Pacific region, where he inhabits tropical reefs. He can wedge himself into quite small crevices, and will lock his spine to make it difficult to dislodge him. His main diet is invertebrates buried in the substrate, and to uncover these he blows jets of water from his mouth. He will also sift sand through his mouth. Aggressive in nature, he leads a relatively solitary existence. When healthy, his colouration is at its most intense, and if frightened or sleeping it fades, allowing him some measure of camouflage.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Creature Feature #325: Hummingbird Hawkmoth

America has the Hummingbird, Eurasia and Africa have the Hummingbird Hawkmoth. Due to his size, proboscis and the humming noise he makes in flight, he does bear quit a resemblance to his namesake. This is an example of convergent evolution - where two unrelated creatures develop similar traits to adapt to their environment. He is a diurnal moth, spending his days foraging on nectar-rich flowers. His visual abilities have been the product of much research and he has the ability to learn and recognise colours - useful when looking for flowering plants. During the summer he is widespread, but as the weather cools he migrates south to warmer climes.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Creature Feature #324: Hummingbird

There are numerous species of Hummingbird, spread throughout America. The smallest, the Bee Hummingbird, is the smallest bird in the world. They are named for the whirring, humming noise made by their wings in flight. Hummingbirds have an exceptionally fast metabolism, faster than and other vertebrate - their heart can beat 1,260 times per minute. This requires a large intake of high energy food to sustain it, and every day a Hummingbird will consume more than his own weight in nectar. At night, or when food is not available, he will slow his metabolism and enter a torpor state.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Creature Feature #323: Huia

The Huia was a wattlebird, once found in the North Island of New Zealand. It was remarkable in that the bird's beaks showed sexual dimorphism - the male's was short and stout, the female's long and curved. The male used his adze-like beak to chip away at decaying wood to reveal the invertebrates hidden within, whereas the female used hers to probe into crevices. The two did not feed cooperatively, but this manner of foraging meant that neither were in direct competition with the other and could best exploit their available resources. Huia were prized for their tail feathers, which were treasured amongst the Maori. When the Europeans came, bringing with them rats and stoats, they also took to hunting this unique bird. Alas, the scarcer the Huia became, the greater the demand for their skin. The last confirmed sighting was in 1907, with several unconfirmed since.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Creature Feature #322: Howler Monkey

There are fifteen species of Howler Monkey, spread across the forests of Central and South America. They are most famed, and named, for their loud howling call, which can travel up to five kilometres, and is used to define the boundaries of their territory and communication. They are widely considered to be the loudest land animal. Troops consist of up to 15 individuals, with a few adult males and the rest comprised of females. Once they become self-sufficient, juveniles leave their natal troop to join another. His sense of smell is very keen, and he is capable of scenting fruit from up to 2 kilometres away. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Creature Feature #321: Horseshoe Crab

Despite its name, the Horseshoe Crab is not a crustacean but belongs to an ancient Class of arthropods known as Xiphosura, of which there are only two surviving species. They are, in fact, more closely related to spiders than crabs. These bizarre creatures spend most of their lives at sea, swimming upside down and foraging on the sea bed for worms and molluscs. Once a year, however, they come ashore in great numbers to breed. The male finds and mount a female, fertlizing her eggs as they are laid then buried in the sand. Females can lay 120,000 eggs in this one night - which is a good thing, because the next day the sea birds descend to feast. Horseshoe Crabs will occasionally by upended, and once on their back they rely on their long tail to help them back upright again. Those with broken tails are likely to become dessicated beneath the sun.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Creature Feature #320: Horse

The Horse was domesticated around 4,000-3,000 BC in central Asia. Now feral populations exist throughout the world. Although descended from domesticated animals, feral horses are wild-born and have (generally) never known human contact, meaning they revert to their ancestral behaviour. Feral horses form small bands lead by a dominant mare and containing other mares and their foals, along with a dominant stallion. These will sometimes share territory with other bands, and this behaviour is known as "herding".  One of the most well known populations of feral horses are the mustangs of America, although Australia actually has the largest populations of feral horses. There is also a population in New Zealand. Due to the damage they do to the ecosystem, there is a lot of conflict over these wild populations and

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Creature Feature #319: Horned Owl

The Horned Owls are the most widely distributed "true owls" in America. There are two species - the Greater and the Lesser - and numerous sub-species, occupying much of North and South America. Highly adaptable, she favours forested areas. She is one of the larger owls and her barred colouration offers her substantial camouflage, especially during the day as she sleeps. If crows can locate her daytime perches, they will mob her aggressively, endeavouring to chase her from their territory. At night, she calls several times before taking to the wing to hunt for small mammals such as cottontails and voles.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Creature Feature #318: Horned Lizard

The Horned Lizard is sometimes known as the "Horned Toad" due to his blunt snout and squat, toad-like body. He inhabits the dry desert areas of North America. His body is covered in an array of scales, modifed into spines, and he bears 'true' horns on his head. These, combined with his general camouflage, are the first step towards preventing predation. If these measures fail, he will puff up his body to make himself into an unwieldly mouthful. Some species are also capable of squirting blood from their eyeballs as a further deterrent. This not only confuses the predator, but tastes foul to mammals and most will go off in search of an easier mouthful.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Creature Feature #317: Hornbill

The Hornbill Family can be found in tropical and subtropical Africa, Asia and Melanesia.  They are characterised by their large, down-ward curving bill, which rather resembles the horn of a cow. The first and second neck vertebrae are fused, creating a stronger platform for supporting this unwieldly appendage. He follows an omnivorous diet, enjoying fruit and small animals. Most species form monogamous partnerships, and nest in natural cavities. The female decreases the size of the entrance hole with a wall of mud, droppings and fruit pulp, leaving just enough space for her to squeeze through. The male then seals her in so that only her beak can protrude. This is thought to be a means of preventing rival Hornbill pairs from stealing her nest and destroying her brood. When her chicks are old enough, she will break her way out.