Friday, October 31, 2014

Creature Feature #377: Killifish

There are over 1,200 species of Killifish, occupying waterways across the world, from Argentina to Ontario, Canada and across Eurasia and Africa. Most species occur in permanent streams, with a few species occupying ephemereal pools. These "annuals" have a lifespan no longer than nine months and have been used in studies on aging. Other species live between two-three years. The diet of most species consists of aquatic arthropods and they are good for controlling mosquito populations. Due to their colourful nature, Killifish have become popular in the pet industry. Their eggs can survive periods of partial dessication, and thus can be transported via the postal services.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Creature Feature #376: Killdeer

The Killdeer is a species of plover widespread across the Western Hemisphere, migrating to the northern reaches in summer and spending his winters in Central America. Although technically a shorebird, he can live far inland (we saw one in Yellowstone, on the Mammoth hot springs). He forages on mudflats and fields, feeding on worms and other invertebrates. Chicks are precocial and resemble their parents in colouration. If danger threatens, the adult birds will feign injury: dragging their wing, flapping and peeping in distress as they attempt to draw the predator away. As soon as the predator is safely away from the chicks, the bird will make a sudden recovery.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Creature Feature #375: Kiang

The Kiang is the largest wild ass. She resides in the montane and alpine grasslands of the Tibetan Plateau. Herds can number up to several hundred individuals, but are not permanent groupings and are generally gatherings of young males, females and their foals. Older males lead a solitary existence, defending a territory. During breeding season he rounds up the females in his territory. Kiang are hunted by humans, and also by wolves. Members of the herd will form a defensive circle and kick and bite at any approaching canine predators. As such, wolves generally target lone animals.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Creature Feature #374: Kestrel

Kestrel are several species of falcon, spread across four lineages. Only one species, the American Kestrel, is found in the Americans. All species are characterised by their tendency to hover, facing into a headwind. From this height, she scans the open countryside below for prey - generally a rodent or a reptile, before dropping into a killing dive. Like all raptors, the female is larger than the male. She does not build her own nest, using one abandoned by another species (such as a crow) or locating a natural crevice. She hatches the eggs, whilst the male provides food. She has adapted well to human encroachment on her habitat, and has even been known to nest around buildings.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Creature Feature #373: Kelpfish

There are several species of Kelpfish, a term generally given to members of the Chironemus Genus and found in Australia and New Zealand. There is also a not-particularly-closely related species from America, known as the Giant Kelpfish. This is the species I have inadvariantly drawn here, showing I should really check my facts before I get started. Anyway, the Giant Kelpfish is a clinid. He stays close to the coasts, inhabiting kelp beds, from California down to southern Baja California. His diet consists mainly of invertebrates such as crustaceans and molluscs, as well as other fish. He can grow up to 61 cm in length.

I guess I need to either draw a different fish (perhaps this out of focus NZ species - or find another critter that starts with K. Or maybe not, since about the only information I can find about them is that they are fish.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Creature Feature #372: Kea

Another New Zealand parrot, the Kea is also something of an oddity. He is the only parrot to live in an alpine environment. This harsh environment has led to some rather interesting adaptions - the Kea is one of the most intelligent birds in the world. He is intensely curious, using his long beak to rip aside anything in search of food - or for fun. Kea were once maligned for the rather unfortunate behaviour of tearing flesh from sheep, seeking the protein it provided, and large numbers were shot. In more recent times this curiosity and powerful bill has led to them stripping rubber from cars, and also to chewing on nails. Lead poisoning from these nails is a big problem, combined with being killed by cars or attacked on the nest by stoats. This charming alpine clown is now considered vulnerable to extinction.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Creature Feature #371: Kabutomushi

The Kabutomushi is a Japanese rhinocerous beetle. It is readily available in the pet trade - there are even entire stores dedicated to them and other large beetles. The large male using his distinctive horn to fight with other males, and this trait has been exploited in gambling dens. Two males are placed on a log, and the first to push the other off is deemed the winner. For all his popularity, these beetles are short-lived, spending the majority of their life in larval form and only surviving in their adult stage for around four months. His diet is vegetarian, particularly fruit, and he is capable of flight.

Kabuto translates as "helmet" and Mushi as "bug".

Friday, October 24, 2014

Creature Feature #370: Katydid

Katydids belong to the same Order as crickets, weta and grasshoppers, characterised by their extremely long antennae. There are thousands of species spread across the world, in every continent except Antarctica, although they favour the tropical regions. They are generally nocturnal in nature, camouflaging amongst the leaves during the day. Some species are vegetarian in diet, whilst others are predators, feeding on other insects and even the occasional small vertebrate. This unusual Superb Katydid, of central Australia, is thought to feed exclusively on flowers.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Creature Feature #369: Katipo

The Katipo is endemic to New Zealand. She is the only poisonous spider to occur here naturally. Her closest relatives are the Australian redback and the American black widow spiders. She spins her rather haphazard web near the sea shore, among the sand dunes. Her venom induces severe pain, hypertension, seizure and even coma. An antivenom exists and there have been no recorded deaths from Katipo bite since the 19th century. The male is considerably smaller - about 1/5th her size - with a white abdomen and brown carapace.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Creature Feature #368: Kakarratul

The Kakarratul is one of two species of marsupial mole, the other almost identical in appearance. Blind and with a torpedo-shaped body, she is designed for a subterranean lifestyle. She swims through the sand, using her large, flat claws to burrow ahead. Her smaller hindfeet push the soil back, closing the tunnel behind her. Her pouch faces backwards, which prevents it from filling with sand. She has two teats, and can bear up to two offspring at a time. Very little is known about this secretive creature, as she only occasionally comes to the surface, usually after rain, in pursuit of her invertebrate prey.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Creature Feature #367: Kangaroo Rat

The Kangaroo Rat of North America is named for his method of locomotion. His long legs resemble those of a kangaroo, and help to propel him through his desert home. He is capable of leaps of over 2 metres, quickly changing direction between jumps. He is primarily a seed eater, caching the excess for leaner times. During the day he resides in his burrow, even plugging the entrance with dirt against the heat and to maintain humidity.   These burrows are complex, with chambers for sleeping, living and food storage. He lives alone, coming into contact with others for feeding and breeding.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Creature Feature #366: Kangaroo

Kangaroo are various marsupials from the Macropod (meaning "big foot") Family. They are the only large animal to use leaping as a means of locomotion. This is enabled by the large, elastic tendons in their hind-legs, in which they store energy. Due to their dry environment, Kangaroo must be capable of traveling great distances to forage. Like all marsupials, the newborn joey is born tiny and underdeveloped, yet it crawls across the mother's belly to her pouch. Here it will remain for around 235 days, leaving the pouch for the first time at 190 days, but returning regularly.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Creature Feature #365: Kakapo

The Kakapo is a flightless parrot, found only in New Zealand. He is classified as Critically Endangered with a population of less than 130 and a dedicated consevation program in place. Kakapo are long-lived and slow-breedings, only reproducing when the rimu trees mast-seed, about every 3-5 years. The male digs himself a shallow bowl and crouches in it, inflating himself up like a balloon and emitting a low booming call, that can be heard up to 5 kms away. Once mated, the female lays her eggs in a burrow - which makes her vulnerable to predators such as stoats and feral cats. It takes 9-10 years for these chicks to reach sexual maturity. Once Kakapo were common throughout the country, but a combination of this slow breeding system, habitat destruction and hunting by humans and introduced mammal led to its very-near extinction, with only 51 birds left in 1995.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Creature Feature #364: Kagu

The Kagu is an odd bird, found only in New Caledonia. He is considered to be most closely related to the sunbittern of South America. Almost flightless, his days are spent roaming the forest floor hunting for insects and other invertebrate prey. His wings are used for territorial displays and balance as he runs through the forest, but lack the musculature for flight, rendering him only capable of short, downward glides.  He and his mate form a long-term monogamous bond, raising a single chick each year. Older offspring may remain in their territory, helping protect it from rivals. Being flightless and a ground nester, the Kagu has suffered at the teeth and claws of introduced predators such as rats, cats and pigs.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Creature Feature #363: Junglefowl

There are four species of Junglefowl, characterised by the male's wattles, his bright feathery cape and arching tail feathers. The females are considerably duller in colouration and smaller in size, which helps them remain camouflaged while incubating their eggs. The Red Junglefowl, is considered the ancestor of the domestic chicken. Wild species are found through the southern reaches of Asia, with feral populations occuring in Hawaii. Outside of breeding season, mixed-gender flocks are formed with a distinct pecking order. As spring approaches, the stronger males split off, maintaining territory with a harem of 3-5 hens. Fights between rival roosters are vicious, using the sharp spurs on their lower legs to wound his opponent.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Creature Feature #362: Jungle Cat

Today is the ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY of my "Animal-a-Day" project.
As you can see, the numbers do not *quite* add up, we should be on 365, but due to my April Fool's 'Dropbear' card, plus a two-day hiatus between Christmas and New Year, it has been an entire year of drawing and presenting an Animal-a-Day practically every day. And what a journey it has been - some days I have been organised in advance, but on at least one occasion I was racing to get the picture finished and uploaded before midnight!

The Jungle Cat is something of a misnomer for this fine feline, for she does not live in the jungle. Instead she makes her home in savannah, open dry forest and marsh lands, which leads to her other name the "swamp lynx". She is the largest of the living Felis species, standing about 36 cm tall. Her range covers southern Asia, from Egypt to Vietnam. She is solitary in nature, preying mainly on small rodents and birds. These she captures by making high leaps from the reeds and snatching them from the air. This species has been successfully crossed with domestic cats, producing the "chausie" breed. However, she is very much a wild cat and even if captured young, Jungle Cats are very difficult to tame.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Creature Feature #361: Jumping Spider

The Jumping Spider Family, Salticidae, contains more than 5,000 species. These eight-legged hunters have excellent vision, with four pairs of eyes, including her large anterior eyes. This vision assists her in hunting, courtship and navigation. She is a diurnal hunter, preying on small insects. She makes her leaps by altering the pressure of fluid within them, allowing her to jump several times the length of her body. She does not build webs, using her silk as a safety rope, but occasionally will create a small silken shelter to protect her - and her eggs. Certain species of Jumping Spider have been shown to be capable of learning, recognising and remembering colours, and changing her behaviour accordingly.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Creature Feature #360: Jumping Rat

The Jumping Rat is more commonly known as the Malagasy Giant Rat. She is a large rodent, growing to around 33 cm in length, not including her tail. With her long, muscular back legs she is capable of making leaps almost 1m high. She is completely nocturnal, spending her days within a burrow she shares with her life-long mate. This can have as many as 6 entrances, allowing her ample choice of escape route. At night she ventures out to feast on fallen fruits, nuts and invertebrates which she digs for.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Creature Feature #359: Jewel Caterpillar

Jewel Caterpillars are the larval stage of several species of Dalceridae moth, found in the rainforests of Central and South America. Sometimes known as "slug caterpillars", their gelatinous translucent coating gives them the appearance of a discarded jewel. But touching them is not advised - this coating is sticky and unpleasant, acting as a deterrent to predators. The spines break off easily, allowing the caterpillar to wiggle away from attack. They do not appear to be poisonous.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Creature Feature #358: Jewel Beetle

The Jewel Beetles are a Family of irridescent beetles, with over 15,000 different species. Their primary diet is wood, with the larvae chewing through the roots, leaves and logs of a variety of flora. Whilst they favour old and decaying wood, some species do significant damage to growing trees and are regarded an invasive pest. The adults of some species will drink nectar. The colour is attained not from pigmentation but from the reflective nature of the insect's exoskeleton. They are prized amongst insect collectors, with their elytra - the hardened forewings - being used in jewellery and decoration. This fellow is Temognatha alternata from Queensland, Australia.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Creature Feature 357: Jerboa

The diminutive Jerboa makes her home in the arid deserts of Northern Africa and Asia. Here she leads a nocturnal lifestyle, venturing out from her burrow at night to forage. She follows a vegetarian diet, but will partake of the occasional insect. Her large ears serve several purposes: they help to shed excess heat and  allow superb hearing. If danger threatens she will run, taking long leaps with her kangaroo-like hind legs. She can reach speeds up to 25 km/h. Her tail acts as a stabiliser, balancing her as she runs, and also props her upright when she is at rest.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Creature Feature #356: Jellyfish

Jellyfish are free-swimming marine animals, characterised by their gelatinous dome with trailing curtain of tentacles. They swim by sending pulses through the dome, propelling them forward. Jellyfish are ancient and primitive creatures, lacking in a respirative system. Their body is thin enough to oxygenate via diffusion - allowing them to absorb oxygen directly from the water. The tentacles are equipped with stingers to help them catch and stun prey. If food is adequate, they will spawn daily, with individuals simultaneously releasing their eggs or sperm into the water. They can also reproduce asexually by budding.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Creature Feature #355: Jay

The Jay are colourful members of the Corvid Family, closely linked with magpies.  Three different systemic classifications are recognised: the Old World, the grey and the American. This fellow, a Blue Jay, falls into the American category. His main diet consists of seeds and nuts - which he cracks open with his strong bill - and the occasional invertebrate. He has been known to hide nuts for later consumption. Jays are in general aggressive, inquisitive and noisy. Youngsters will play with shiny of colourful items, such as bottle caps, carrying them around until they grow bored.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Creature Feature #354: Jawfish

The Jawfish are a Family of ray-finned fish, characterised by their large heads, eyes and mouth and the single dorsal fin running the length of their body. This fish favours warmer water and use his large mouth to dig out and remove sand. In this manner he creates himself a protective burrow. His main diet is plankton and other small organisms, and he always remains near his home. This Yellow-headed fellow can grow to lengths of 10cm, although the Giant Jawfish can measure up to 50cm. He is a mouthbrooder, and will carry the eggs until they hatch.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Creature Feature #353: Jaguarundi

The Jaguarundi is a small feline, making her home in the forests of Central and South America. She is active during the day, preying on small mammals and birds. With her stout legs and elongated body, she prefers to hunt on the ground. Although she prefers a solitary existence, in captivity she will tolerate companions. She is surprisingly vocal, purring, whistling, yap and even chirping.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Creature Feature #352: Jaguar

The Jaguar is the largest feline in the Western Hemisphere. She prowls the forests of Central and South America. She is solitary in nature, and both a skilled climber and swimmer. An apex predator, she has an extremely powerful bite and will bite prey directly through the skull, piercing the brain. These jaws are also efficient on armoured animals such as tortoises and armadillo. Jaguar favour larger prey, and will even hunt caiman. She uses a stalk and ambush technique, lying in wait for prey to wander near. Females come in contact with males only for mating, raising their cubs alone.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Creature Feature #351: Jackdaw

The Jackdaw is a European corvid, resident across Europe, western Asia and North Africa. She is noted for being a collector of shiny objects, which she hoards in her nest. Pairs are long-term and monogamous, with partners stay together within their flocks. Flocks have a strong hierarchy, and bonded pairs share the same rank, with females assuming their mates rank and unpaired females perching lowest in the pecking order. Paired birds also engage in mutual preening. Jackdaw will also share food, activally passing favoured titbits to other members of the flock, regardless of gender or familial bonds.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Creature Feature #350: Jackal

The Jackal is a small canine, an opportunistic carnivore found in Africa. She shares a territory with her mate, sometimes allowing their youngsters to remain with them, but chasing off any potential rivals. Her large feet and fused leg bones allow her to cover long distances in pursuit of prey and she is capable of long-distance running (16 km/hr). She is a skilled hunter, with the black-backed capturing prey several times her size, although carrion is often consumed.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Creature Feature #349: Jacana

The Jacana are a group of tropical waders, sometimes known as lily trotters or "Jesus birds". Their toes are extremely long and enable them to step neatly across floating vegetation, essentially giving the apperance of walking on water. Eight species currently exist and they are spread across the tropics. This fine individual is an African Jacana. Females are larger than males. She will mate with multiple partners, leaving them to hatch the eggs and raise the chicks, a highly unusual occurance. The father has develoepd the ability to pick up the and carry the chicks beneath his wings, allowing him to transport them across the pond.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Creature Feature #348: Jacamar

Jacamar are small, brightly coloured birds of South and Central America. His diet is insectivorous. He sits and waits, with beak raised, until a butterfly, dragonfly or moth flutters past, then he snatches it on the wing. It is then beaten against a branch before being eaten. There are eighteen species, spread across five genera. The Rufous-tailed is the most common. Two to four eggs are laid in a burrow or a termite mound. Jacamar are generally considered to be monogamous, and some may engage in co-operative breeding, with several adults sharing the duties. Chicks hatch covered in down.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Creature Feature #347: Jabiru

The Jabiru is a large American stork, ranging from Mexico to Argentina. Her name translates as "swollen neck". Male and female are similar in appearance, with the male being larger in size. They feed in flocks, wading through shallow water, holding their bills at a 45 degree angle to the water. Prey is located by tactile sensation and when captured, she closes her beak, draws it from the water and throws back her head to swallow. She is an opportunistic hunter, and will also eat rodents and carrion if the opportunity arises.