Friday, May 29, 2009

Temminck's Tragopan.


I saw this video a few minutes ago, and think it's the greatest thing in the world.
I couldn't wait until monday to share. (shhh don't tell anyone at work). They're in SE Asia / China. And the DC Zoo. And they're conservation status? Least Concern. Perfect.

Basically, this bird is in the pheasant family, which are known to have impressive courtship display. This one is no exception. Not even close. Best thing ever.

Here's Video #1 (Watch from :48 seconds in):

And for Video #2, this is, well, just too entertaining to pass up:

Bumble Bees.

Bumble Bees are not, in fact, one species, but rather a genus. With over 250 species falling under it. Behaviorally, it's pretty much what you'd expect: They live in colonies, they live in nests, etc. They rely heavily on flowers for food, which brings me to why I'm really posting this animal.

I'm going to do something a bit unusual today on the blog. Rather than focus on a specific animal, I'm going to tell you about a relationship between a specific animal and a specific plant. Risque, I know.

The animal: Bumble bees (Bombus spp.)
The Plant: Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera)

The orchid, located along the southern rim of the Mediterranean (bottom picture), has evolved to look like a bee. Now, orchid flowers generally take on unique shapes that often pair with other animals, but this one stands out. In this case, bees confuse the petal for a female bee, attracting the male to mate. While the bee is struggling to mate, the motion allows the orchid to drop pollen all over the bee's body, sending the bee away with a little present for the next orchid it is tricked into mating with.

Evolution has selected for petals most resembling bees over time, because obviously the closer the match, the more likely it is to land on it. Sounds simple so far, but remember, these plants are competing with real bees. So beyond just the shape, colors and texture matching with that of bumblebees, they even emit pheromones that female bumble bees emit to attract mates. Crazy, no?

While many orchids have shapes similar to beak shapes, few seem to be as specific to an animal beyond shape. So why bumble bees? Why is competition to win them over advantageous? One word: hair. Unlike beetles, flies, and even other types of bees, bumble bees are fuzzy by all insect standards. That means it can carry more pollen on its hairs and the pollen stays on these bees better than almost any other animal that might visit an orchid.

Finally, here's a video to help you visualize this. It might seem cruel for the bee, but don't worry, they'll live:

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Black and Rufous Elephant Shrew.

These elephant shrews are neither elephants nor shrews. And they don't seem to be related either. But their long noses reminded people of elephants, and they look a lot like shrews. Makes sense. They pretty much only live in Kenya and Tanzania -- and a few zoos (including the National Zoo).

Oddly, it seems that some of the closest living relatives to these are elephants, hyrax, manatees and the Dugong. Though they might look like rodents, they aren't.

In any case, they're fun to watch because their nose just seems like another entity. It has crazy muscle control and doesn't really need to move it's neck around much because its nose does all the traveling and bending. Here's a telling video:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mottled Harlequin Frog.

This frog, discovered in late 2008 in Colombian forests was a hopeful find. It was found alongside several other new species of frogs and salamanders. Though I'm sure not all of you are in love with amphibians, what's cool is that since they are sensitive to temperatures and climates, their existence is a sign of stability in the environment. It is also a reminder of how much we have yet to learn about our surroundings -- its hard to think such a distinct frog has never been seen before.

They belong to the Atelopus genus (do not have a species name yet)... the same as poison dart frogs. An earlier post, the blue poison dart frog, also belongs to this genus.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


The Dugong lives in S. Pacific and Indian Ocean waters. Feeding on seagrass beds, they live close to shores, of course making it more vulnerable to fishing and boating accidents as a leading cause of death.

You might think 'those are just manatees!' You'd be wrong. They are very closely related (same order), however there are 3 species of manatee and 1 species of dugong in that order. Like manatees, they are often called 'sea cows' as well as 'sea pigs' and 'sea camels.' The word "Dugong," however, comes from the Malay word "Duyong" meaning "lady of the sea." Interesting, considering manatees were thought to be mermaids. Seems like people all over the world think animals in this order are first beautiful and feminine, then under closer inspection, find them ugly. They're gentle giants and would do you no harm. Unless you are a bed of seagrass.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Kakapo! Kakapo! These parrots of New Zealand are unique as one of the few nocturnal parrots in the world and is the only flightless parrots in the world, they are are fascinating, indeed. Today I'll share a couple interesting facts about them...

First, they're evolutionary history. They supposedly spit from other parrot species when Gondwanaland broke from Pangea (supposedly Pangea spit into and land mass called Laurasia composed of what is now N. America / Europe / Asia in the North, and everything else fell into Gondwanaland). Anyway. In the break, ancestors of the Kakapo inhabited islands that were free of mammals and other potential predators. This led to their loss of flight -- they lost their need to escape quickly from most situations.

The second notable thing of them is a bit of bad news -- their status in the world. There are only 125 known living Kakapo; so few that most even have individual names so it's easy for scientists to reference. On top of that, they have been moved to new islands to protect them from predators; something controversial yet seems to be one of the few remaining options. This is especially unfortunate as it is clear they are important to the Maori people, as it's often a legendary bird in traditional storytelling.

From the pictures, you can see that their feathers are pretty wonderful, and their babies look like they could be muppets.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Kirk's Dik-Dik.

Not mine, not yours, but Kirk's. I guess we'll have to deal with that. Anyway, Dik-diks are truly appreciated in person as they are the smallest antelopes in the world. They are about 16 inches at most off the ground and way up to 6 kg. Think the size of a small dog. They are generally found in E. Africa.

Being so tiny, they are, for better or worse, prey of all sorts of animals; wild cats, snakes, eagles, hyenas, monitor lizards, you name it. Which means they have to hide really well. They are, for obvious reasons, skiddish and are difficult to see in a close range.

The fascinating part for me is their social behavior. Before I tell that to you, I'll share a story of my experience with them and then tell you. As a warning, it's a sad story.

I was driving through the bush in Kenya trying to get to a location, when I thought I hit a rock. Turned out it was a dik-dik. The first and only animal I've ever hit with a car. A little shaken, I stop, get out, check to see what's going on, and move on. Then, a local in the car with me proceeds to tell me about their social behavior: they live in monogamous pairs for life and live in small territories. Since land and partners is so competitive, if one of the partners die, it is generally too late for the remaining dik-dik to find a new partner or find a new territory, so it lives alone. To deal with this, they often jump in harm's way to committ suicide. This is sometimes in the form of jumping from high things onto rocks but more frequently occurs by offering itself to other animals by not running away when near a predator. I'm HOPING that the one I hit was one that was putting itself in harm's way. Otherwise, I may have killed a dik-dik and led another to suicide. FML.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Spanish Shawl.

Yep, another nudi. This nudibranch or "sea slug", Flabellina iodinea, is from off the coast of southern California. It is also one of the few nudibranchs that has a common name; most are just known by their scientific name. It is very similar in behavior to the Nembrotha kubaryana, a nudibranch I posted last month. The rhinophores (highlighted in the last picture) are used to detect odors. This particular species has red coloration in them from the pigment of their prey -- much like how flamingos are pink because of the krill they eat.

The tentacles on their body help them camouflage into coral and anemone but also help them sense their surroundings and trick predators into thinking their are poisonous.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pygmy Falcon.

The African Pygmy Falcon may look friendly, but trust me, they're not! They'll eat small insects (as opposed to large ones?), small reptiles and sometimes even small mammals. At only 20 cm long, that's a pretty impressive catch. Sometimes when desperate, they'll eat the chicks of other birds and when even more desperate, they'll go for adult sociable weavers (a bird about the same size).

They are often polyandrous (several males, 1 female). This is to keep warmth and sometimes a way for the females to ensure plenty of resources for the chicks -- if each copulated with the female, each might stay with the female and bring food to the chicks with the chance that the chicks are theirs -- no falcon paternity tests available for them!

Also, they don't build their own nests. They typically take over buffalo weaver nests -- the white-headed species in E. Africa and the red-headed species in S. Africa. In S. Africa you can also find them in sociable weaver nests -- which live in a large nest colony. So sometimes they will take over a chamber and live amongst other sociable weavers. Remember: They sometimes eat sociable weavers. As long as the weavers live in a place with a lot of food, they are safe. If not; doomsday pending.

Although, no matter how tough they are relative to their size, I can't really get over how cute they are. Sometimes they puff out their wings to look intimidating -- but compared to other birds of prey, it just looks like its trying to hard.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lar Gibbon.

The lar gibbon, also known as the white-handed gibbon, is a part of the lesser apes group (The great apes being chimps, bonobos, gorillas, orangutan and humans). Though they are apes, they have more similarities to monkeys than other apes, and are significantly smaller in size than the great apes.

They live in SE Asia (China, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia) and are in decreasing numbers. Reason: Deforestation. They are almost entirely arboreal and its preferred mode of travel is swinging from trees. As you can guess, losing these trees would make it tricky for these primates to swing around.

There are two things in particular that I really like about them.
1. When they walk, they use their extremely long arms as a balance bar. They walk on branches very high off the ground, so it's certainly useful. The last picture is one walking -- I couldn't find a good one of it walking high off the ground.

2. They duet with their mating partners. Gibbons are known to sing and sometimes do it solo to protect territory - their call can be heard up to a full kilometer away from the point of origin. When with their partner, it is used as a courtship display to attract the mate but also ward off any potential competition. The duets are often complex with specific parts the males sing that the females counteract with -- it's pretty fascinating.

I will post a video of the duet later this evening -- I don't want to turn up my volume at work so I want to make sure that if I post it, the duet is clear. In the meantime, if you search for gibbon duets, you will surely find something.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Small Leaf Katydid.

Katydids are all over the world. Sometimes they look like grasshoppers, sometimes they look like ants, and sometimes they look like bees. This one looks like a leaf! Mimicry is their thing.
As you can see, this species not only looks like a decaying leaf, but it can have different shapes of leaves for its body, too! As I'm sure you can guess, they hide well in..... water! (kidding.)

I'm sure I'll post more of these in the future -- some of them are crazy.

Flying Fox.

Flying foxes are a genus with several species -- all in the bat family. You might know them better as fruit bats. I have been asked before "do fruit bats ever bite people?" Yes and no. They probably could. They do have mouth and teeth. But their diet is pretty strictly pollen, fruit, nectar... that sort of thing. So you're safe. Unless you're filled with nectar.

So while people are frightened by bats, these bats aren't so bad. They're just tryin' to get by just like you and me.

Also, unlike other types of bats, these bats do not use echolocation. They have good visual and aural sensing abilities and can rely on that. Since the things they eat aren't found in caves, there is significantly more light in these bats environments. You can find them in the tropics and sub-tropics in places like India, Australia, China, Indonesia and some islands in the Pacific.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dumbo Octopus.

Yes, this is named after Dumbo the Elephant. It's got 2 big fins that look like elephant ears to help it move through the water -- making it look like it's flapping its wings like Dumbo to fly!

They are deep ocean octopuses and are found at depths of over a 1 mile. Which is why, unlike other octopus species, they lack color most of the time. No need for it when nothing can see you anyway.

Here's an HD video of one swimming around. And somebody thought it'd be cool to pretend like it's a ballet, so please excuse that tackiness.

Satanic Leaf-Tailed Gecko.

I'll admit, this one's a little freaky. Still, very cool. They are endemic to Madagascar and are sometimes called the "fantastic leaf-tailed gecko" or the "eyelash leaf-tailed gecko."

As you can see from the 2nd picture - they come in a variety of shades and have incredible camouflage. To the point that sometimes even the leaf-shaped tail has veins to look even more like a decaying leaf. It's surprisingly also one of the most threatened illegally traded animals in the world. So, don't buy one if you see it. You'll know it might be one because you'll have to buy them in a black market. At which point you might figure most purchases might not be legal and sketchy at best.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Also known as the Tazmanian Tiger, the thylacine is now extinct. Until several thousands of years ago, they were also on Australia, but died out and could only be found in Tazmania until recently.

Though it has the name "tiger" it is not actually related. It's a marsupial -- more closely related to tazmanian devils and numbats (I'll post about these soon). It happens to have developed the tiger stripes independent of the cat family. Coincidentally, thylacines also played a lot of the same ecological roles as the cats (for example, being an apex predator). Also as a result of convergent evolution, it has many similarities to species in the canine family.

They ate wallabies, kangaroos, wombats, and the now extinct, Tazmanian emu.

The last known ones were in captivity in the 1930s -- and many believe there might still be a couple out there somewhere. So though it would be illegal to capture one even if you could find one (trapping laws), you can apparently get up to $3 million in rewards. So, next time you're in Tazmania, be sure to bring your thylacine trap if you're strapped for cash. But be careful, since it's illegal, you might have to go to jail. You win some, you lose some.

They are also on the Tazmanian coat of arms.

Here's a video of the last known thylacine:


The Hoatzin of Northern S. America is a fun one for scientists.
People aren't really sure what these are related to, but they seem archaic in morphology which, if true, is a good glimpse of the evolution of some other living birds.

As both large and distinguished birds, its a surprise they are not threatened (good!) nor does it seem likely that they will be. Though many in the area eat larger birds or use feathers for various purposes, the Hoatzin is not ideal for it. Why? They smell terrible and apparently their eggs are revolting. So people only eat it when ABSOLUTELY necessary. Also, they live in mangrove and riparian forest systems -- significantly less threatened than other types of forests in Brazil.

Something interesting about them is they are born with a claw at the end of their wings. They are known to be clumsy, and these claws come in handy when young. Growing up in mangroves is not a safe environment -- all sorts of things wanting to eat chicks might show up, so to counteract bad balance, they can use their claws to climb onto branches or hang on for dear life.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Red Panda.

So red pandas (or if you prefer: poonya, firefox, wah, lesser panda, Himalayan raccoon, etc.) are not actually related to giant pandas. Well, I guess they're both mammals. But they were actually named first -- in their native, their name meas 'bear cat' because of its simalarities to bears and cats. "Panda" itself actually comes from "poonya" meaning bamboo eater. Which is why giant pandas are also called pandas. They eat bamboo.

These guys, as you might guess are related to raccoons, foxes, that sort of thing.

These pictures were taken here in DC so if you want to see them, they're right by the main entrance. I encourage you to go see them. Otherwise, you find them in China.

Their best feature: Their paws are pointing inwards (think: pigeon-footed). It's pretty cute.

Oh and just to put it over the top, watch this (I watched this without sound so I apologize if there's annoying sound or whatever -- I didn't screen for that):

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Glass Sponge.

Though seemingly ordinary, we have found great use of these animals (yes, sponges are animals). Glass sponges are a family of sponges with incredible structure. As you can see, they look no different than complex crystals. But they're ALIVE. The last two pictures are to show you more details of the structure, but the really cool thing about these things are that they teach us about fiber optics. They are fantastic at sending fast electrical impulses from one end to the other (spreading information) and there are plenty of scientists trying to learn how exactly they do this so we can incorporate it into our own technology arsenal of information sharing.

Oh, and they can live up to 15,000 years (the longest of any living creature).

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mola mola.

Or more commonly known as the Ocean Sunfish. Pictures can barely capture the size of these fish giants. Average adults weigh in at 2,200 lbs. They are the largest bony fish in the world (some have cartilage).

The top picture is one from 1910 and weighs in at 3,500 lbs.
They have few known predators; sharks, orcas and sea lions. And people (let's just assume that's a predator for any animal I post, unless otherwise noted?). Their diet is pretty much strictly jellyfish, for some reason. And they live in the tropics. Since today is a busy day at work, that's all the info I'm putting up for today.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Secretary Bird.

The Secretary Bird of Eastern and Southern Africa is often seen wandering through grasslands. This is a picture from my first encounter with one and it was described to me by someone else of having the name "secretary bird" for its "black business pants and secretary hair-do." Another hypothesis of the origins of the name: The name derived from the Arabic saqr-et-tair meaning "Hunter Bird." I'm gonna go with the former explanation.

Another cool thing -- for a long time people thought they were related to eagles because of its head shape, but the crane-like legs through people off. It's related to kites and vultures.

Other cool facts: They stand about 4 feet tall and roost in acacia trees overnight.

They are also on the Coat of Arms for Sudan and S. Africa.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Luna Moth.

Though not terribly common, these moths can be found all along Eastern United States. at 5 " wide, they might be easy to spot when around, but they live for about a week before they die. If you aren't already aware, the winged form is just the mating stage for these animals. To the point that moths don't actually have mouths. No need for eating when you just mate and die!