Wednesday, August 5, 2009


The binturong, or Asian Bearcat, is neither bear nor cat, but shares ancestors with the cats. From Eastern Asia, these nocturnal tree-dwellers are at risk of poaching (for medicinal uses) and deforestation. So they're declining. You can find them in the rain forests of places like Laos, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, China, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

They are roughly 30 lbs., so think of a small wildcat, like a bobcat or lynx. And they eat eggs, shoots, that sort of thing.

Perhaps something relatively unique to them, they are one of about 100 mammals in the world that are capable of embryonic diapause, meaning that the egg doesn't develop right after fertilization. It enters a dormant state until the environmental conditions are good -- certainly an incredible survival technique.

Also, their tails are prehensile, meaning they use them like limbs and can hang from them or swing from them, which is obviously useful for living in trees.

Lastly, they are important for the strangler fig trees native to their regions. They are able to digest a tough outer layer of its seed, allowing it to grow after passing through a Binturong. Few other mammals perform this task for the fig, but certainly these are key players for these fig trees.

Whorl-Tooth Shark.

I'm making an exception, only because it's shark week.
This shark is actually extinct, so don't worry about crossing its path, unless you plan on getting in a time machine. I've debated whether or not to ever post extinct species, largely because of the forgotten diversity of things alive today, but I thought this would be a good one to post, if I ever broke that.

Very little is known about them -- they aren't really even sure what the shark looks like. Just know it is a shark and it has spiraled teeth. It may have looked nothing like a regular shark though, scientists are just guessing.
Their fossils are found in Utah, Idaho, and occasionally Wyoming and are about 280 million years old.

At first, scientists thought they were a tentacle of a sort for some strange animal, but then found several examples of this perfect form. Prompting them to believe it to be a structure. Under further investigation, turns out to be a row of shark teeth -- you might wonder, how are the inner teeth effective? They're just replacements. Only the top of the spiral is exposed, and when worn, the new teeth spiral in. Modern sharks have a similar mechanism, but rather than one spiral, the entire row of teeth swaps out (human teeth grow from under and push the others out, sharks rows of teeth rotate in).

What a bizarre shark.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hatchet fish.

yea, yea, yea, they're not the prettiest fish in the world. But I assure you, while they lack in looks, they are extremely impressive animals. Here's why:

Camoflauge. This deep sea fish has many predators, but only a few that can find it. Partly because its mostly dark, but largely because it has incredible mechanisms for blending in. It has 2 ways of doing this:

1. Reflecting light. As you can see from the last picture, it has shiny scales. When turned away from a predator, it mirrors whatever color is beside it, making it essentially disappear.

2. Photophores. They have bioluminescent spots (like glow in the dark, but made with light-emitting bacteria) that are on the bottom of the fish called photophores and work in a mechanism called 'counter-illumination'. These photophores not only produce light, but they match perfectly the color of water above them, making predators below them incapable of distinguishing them swimming above from the ocean.

Other information: They live about 3600 m. below the surface of the water, and have eyes permanently fixed looking upward, suggesting that they eat things based on the silhouettes they leave, since the little light that exists comes from above. And based on its life cycle, it seems that they don't live longer than a year, typically.

Watch them and their camouflaging genius (start at about 6 minutes):

Monday, August 3, 2009

Brazilian Tapir.

These mammals from S. America are related to horses and rhinos. They can actually get pretty large -- 6 to 8 feet and weigh up to 600 lbs. And as an herbivore, their biggest concern is blending in to avoid predators (anacondas / jaguars). Their nose is mobile, like an elephant shrew, and they tend to graze and swim quickly, despite its large size.

They don't attack people, with only a few exceptional cases. In those instances, they give pretty nasty bites, apparently.

Also, they're not social creatures -- makes it harder for them to hide. The only social interactions outside of breeding is when mother takes care of offspring.

If you're ever out in San Diego, they have some of these at their zoo.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Pillar Coral.

I sort of arbitrarily picked this species of coral, just because I've never posted a coral. And they are probably among the most magnificent animal types that exist. Also, one of the most important for ecosystem health. People often forget they are animals, because they don't 'move.' They actually do -- they spawn, and on some occasion will extend tissue and eat other coral. Typically they just take in debris. They also have a polyp stage in life, similar to jellyfish. They attach to a surface eventually, and grow from there.

This specific species grows up to 8 feet tall and lives along the Atlantic coasts.
Perhaps most interesting about these (and other) corals is that they can produce sexually as well as asexually. They are also hermaphroditic. So they have both sperm and egg, and can also reproduce by just budding and creating a new coral pillar. Which is why they tend to cluster in large groups.

Unlike most animals, since corals form a geographical structure, they serve a function similar to that of trees in a forest -- they provide nooks for animals and homes for teaming wildlife. They also affect the amount of oxygen and carbon in the water, which is obviously important to any living creature around. And like plants, there are plentiful examples of fish that associate with specific types of coral, both in coloration and in behavior (think: bees or flowers and orchids). They also provide color - a visual masterpiece that compels us to love the seas.

Here's a video to help you learn more about coral reproduction:

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dwarf Mongoose.

Typically between 18 and 25 cm long, these are Africa's smallest carnivores. They takeover large termite mounds and dig larger exit holes -- so you know when they're around. They live in groups of up to 30 individuals, and are headed by a dominant couple, and specifically, a dominant female. This female makes decisions of when to move, when to defend territory, and when to feed.

They have a mutualistic relationship with hornbills for hunting. They'll hunt at the same time -- though they might eat slightly different things, they each observe each other for signals of birds of prey (eagles, hawks, etc), since both must avoid them.

They're pretty common, and you'll likely see them scurry frantically if you ever are camping in sub-saharan Africa.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Emerald Tree Boa.

I've never posted about snakes, so I thought why not. This S. American boa is relatively common, but I think demonstrates the structure of a snake well. If you can get over your fear of them, it's a pretty elegant animal. They are distinctive for their positioning -- they rest on branches in the form seen in picture 2, and at night sit on low branches so it can attack small mammals by just reaching down and grabbing with its teeth. For a venomous snake, it has the largest proportioned teeth.

Depending on where in the continent they are, they have different features -- sometimes slightly different designs, different lengths (the longest are around 6 ft.) and slightly different colors. The last picture is actually of a juvenile -- they're born red and slowly turn green as it matures. Why? Perhaps because red is a color that predators avoid -- and as a baby, perhaps they are less coordinated and can be easily spotted, so this might keep others away. When older, it can move smoother and can easily blend in, thus having camouflage rather than warning signs. It's easier for hunting.

The juveniles eat glass frogs primarily, and for some reason change their diet to largely mammals later. Adults eat very rarely. Since their digestive system is so slow, it can be months between one meal and the next.

The last thing about that stands out is their reproductive system, which is actually similar to whale sharks. They are ovoviviparous, meaning the eggs are within the body and are hatched before leaving the mother's body, leaving as a live birth. This is unusual for a snake -- perhaps a development that came as the snake lived almost exclusively in trees -- the eggs are mobile this way and aren't easily crushed from a fall.