Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Daunting Dromedaries


What a face!  A perfect photo to show the camel's long eyelashes that help protect its eyes from the sand.  It can also close its nostrils to keep out the sand and trap moisture when it exhales and return it to the body's fluids.

The dromedary, also known as the Arabian camel, has one hump and is found in the dry and desert areas of western Asia and northern Africa.  It was domesticated thousands of years ago, possibly as early as 4000 BC.  There are over 12 million domesticated dromedaries in the world today from western India to Egypt, Somalia and Algeria.   It is used for transportation and as a pack animal, a source of meat and milk, and its hair can be spun and woven into tents and garments.  It can run up to 40 miles an hour for short distances and can sustain 25 miles an hour over longer periods.

Source:  Wikipedia

Dromedaries are unsurpassed for surviving in the desert.  It derives water from the plants it eats, does not sweat until its body temperature reaches 107 F, and can keep going even after losing up to 40 percent of its body weight in water. Even though it is called a one hump camel, it actually has a secondary hump on its shoulders.  Camels store fat in their humps which can be broken down into energy and water.  When they do drink water, they can down 30 gallons at a time.

Photo by Brooks Walker   Source:  National Geographic

Dromedaries were introduced to the southwestern United States in the 19th century to be used for transportation and meat, but once the railroads were built they weren't needed.  Some camels were turned loose and a feral population survived until the early 1900s.

Camels are not known for their sweet dispositions, but then if you'd gone a couple of weeks without any water, withstood sandstorms and 120+ degree heat, you might be a little grumpy too.  They do have a sort of regal appearance about them.  Or maybe they just know how superior they are to us frail humans when it comes to surviving in the desert.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Postscript Posts

Forgive this short post - you can blame it on the holidays.

I found a great website that has all kinds of short nature videos.  All of the following are found on  Remember my dung beetle post?  To see a video of dung beetles, click here.

For more information and videos of meerkats, click here.

For more information on whale sharks, click here.

For more information and videos about camouflage, click here.  Check out a video of the raggy scorpionfish, here.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Captivating Camouflage

Another evolutionary adaptation for survival is camouflage.  My Mimicry Masters post showed how some animals mimic other animals to avoid predators.  With camouflage some animals 'mimic' leaves, branches, or other natural elements in their environment so they blend in with the scenery.  Do you see the brown-leaf chameleon in this picture?

It's the biggest 'leaf' in the picture.  Do you see the leaf katydid in this picture?


It's the 'dying' leaf in the center of the photo.

Do you see the walking stick in this photo?

It's resting parallel to the largest branch that goes through the photo.

There are almost 2,000 species of praying mantis.  Here's a more unusual one.  It's called an orchid mantis.  Do you see it?

Source:  Science Ray

Its head is in the upper right corner of the photo.  This is what the Indonesian mimic octopus normally looks like.

Can you find it now?

Source:  Web Ecoist

The mimic octopus is capable of turning into any color or any pattern in order to blend in with its surroundings.

These wonderful adaptations allow many creatures to hide in plain sight.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Charismatic Cardinals

I love the beautiful cardinals that come to my bird feeder.  There is one male cardinal in particular that's such a brilliant red he really stands out.  Of course, I have no idea if it's the same one I see all the time, but it seems like it.  There's another male cardinal that has some brown on it.  And I love the female cardinal's bright red beak.  I hadn't seen the cardinals much since the two trees were cut down (see my Tree Tragedy post) and was afraid they had moved to a different territory, but now that winter's here they are back.  They don't seem to come as often as they did before, but I still see them once in a while.

These are all photos I've taken without the benefit of a telephoto lens.

The cardinal belongs to the family of birds that includes grosbeaks, tanagers and buntings.  It also includes saltators.  I'd never heard of a saltator, which is Latin for 'leaper' or 'dancer'.  They were given that name for the way they hop around on the ground.  Most saltators are found in Central and South America.

This past summer I noticed a male feeding a female and assumed it was daddy feeding a baby even though the baby was as big as he was.  (I have since learned that sometimes the adult male feeds the adult female as part of the mating ritual.)  The female kept up a constant 'feed me, feed me, feed me' the entire time so I still think it was a youngster.  And there was a second female around which I thought was the mama of the other female.  In any event, I don't think the 'feed me, feed me' was proper courting behavior.

I was also afraid that maybe one of the outside cats had gotten my favorite male cardinal.  One of the last times I saw it in the fall it was foraging on the ground.  I'm so glad that was not the case and that my cardinals are back!  Just as I was finishing this post I was visited by THREE pairs of cardinals.  I'm thrilled.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mimicry Masters

An evolutionary adaptation for survival of some animals is to look similar to another member of your family that is poisonous or tastes very nasty so that predators will steer clear of you.  Here is one of the most common examples.  Do you know which snake is the poisonous coral snake and which are the harmless scarlet king snake and milk snake?

Source:  CDC

The bottom picture is the coral snake (the top picture is the king snake and the middle photo is the milk snake).  Without being able to compare them, would you know the difference?  The saying, 'red to yellow, kill a fellow; red to black, venom lack' can help, if you can remember it.  However, this only applies to North American coral snakes.  If it reassures you at all, coral snakes are not aggressive and coral snake bites only account for less than one percent of all snake bites in the U.S.  'If in doubt, leave it out' might be a better saying to remember.

Another common example of mimicry is the monarch butterfly and the viceroy.  Do you know which is which?


Source: Clemson

The monarch is in the top photo.  Having time to look at them both in a photo, you can see an obvious difference between the two.  If the butterflies were flitting about, it might not be so easy.

Then there are those creatures that mimic another type of animal altogether.  In the next photo can you tell which one is a toxic sea slug and which is a simple flatworm?

Source:  Sea Slug Forum

The sea slug is on the left.  Did you get it?  Now guess which is the spider and which is an ant.

Photo by J. J. Ward F.E.S.   Source:

The spider is on the left.  What are supposed to mimic the ant's feelers are another pair of legs.

Hope you had fun. Mimicry gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, 'you can't judge a book by its cover'!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Nutty Numbats

Maybe not a good title for this post since numbats don't eat nuts.  So sue me!  You've probably heard of a wombat; how about a numbat?  The numbat is another species that's only found in Australia and is also known as the banded anteater.  To me it looks more like a squirrel than an anteater, except for its long skinny tongue.


And, strangely enough, even though it's called an anteater, it feeds exclusively on termites - up to 20,000 a day.  Even though it eats only termites, it doesn't have the strong claws that the larger anteaters have that are used to rip open termite mounds so it relies on making shallower excavations and finding the termites in unfortified runways leading up to the nest, as well as in logs and branches.

The numbat is also a marsupial but does not have a pouch for its young.  They cling to mom until they develop fur and then she leaves them in an underground nest lined with grass or leaves until they are able to feed independently.

The numbat was quite prevalent in most of southern Australia, but is now only found in a small southwestern corner.  One of its main predators is the European red fox introduced to Australia in the 19th century.  It is considered very endangered and is now a protected species.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Quirky Quolls

When you think about Australia's indigenous species, the koala, wombat, and kangaroo immediately come to mind.  But have you heard about quolls?  Don't feel bad - I hadn't either. 

There are four species of quolls in Australia.  Quolls are marsupials like kangaroos and look like a cross between a cat and an opossum.  They eat small mammals, birds, insects, lizards and fruit and nuts when available.  They are called native cats, but are related to Tasmanian devils, and are nocturnal.  Quolls used to roam all of Australia but are now relegated to small pockets mostly around the coast. 

The northern quoll is the smallest of the group and only weighs two pounds at most.

Source:  Wikipedia

The Western quoll, also known as a chudditch, is medium sized and only found in a small portion of southwestern Australia.

The tiger quoll is the largest and also known as the spotted quoll or the spot-tailed quoll.  It seems a bit misnamed since tigers have stripes and the tiger quoll does indeed have spots, even on its tail.  It is mostly found in southeastern Australia.

Photo by Sean McClean   Source:  Oz Animals

The Eastern quoll is now considered extinct on the Australian mainland, but can still be found in Tasmania.

Source:  Wikipedia

All the quolls are endangered or threatened.  One of the main reasons is that these unusual animals are being poisoned by cane toads they hunt and eat.  Cane toads are not native to Australia and were introduced as a natural pest control.  However, the cane toads are now an invasive pest and a serious threat to many of Australia's native species.

Stayed tuned for more animals from Australia that you've probably never heard of!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Hawaii's Humuhumunukunukuapua'a

Humahuma what?  The Humuhumunukunukuapua'a is Hawaii's state fish (although there is some debate from different sources about whether it's official or not) and to non-Hawaiians it is known as the reef triggerfish.  If you're wondering how to pronounce the Hawaiian version it's HOOmoo HOOmoo NOOkoo NOOkoo ah poo AH ah.  Got it?  Its name is a series of Polynesian words strung together and means:

humuhumu:  small triggerfish

nukunuku:  with snout like

pua'a:  pig

To save space (!) I'll just call it a triggerfish.  The reef triggerfish is a native Hawaiian species and is identified by the black bands on its side and the black triangle at the base of its tail.

Reef triggerfish   Source:  Maui Madness

What an unusual looking fish!  This triggerfish has powerful jaws and its sharp teeth are perfectly designed to eat hard-shelled creatures such as mollusks, crabs, sea urchins and sponges.  It is also known for making grunting noises that are believed to warn others that predators are near.  This may also be why it is compared to a pig.

There are 30 or 40 species of triggerfish.  The anterior dorsal fin of a triggerfish has been reduced to three spines which the fish can 'trigger' or raise and lock into place in defense against predators.  It can also puff itself up slightly and wedge itself between two rocks or coral.  If the triggerfish does both, chances are a predator looking for a quick meal will go away hungry.

The Picasso or lagoon triggerfish has sort of similar markings and is also known as the Humuhumunukunukuapua'a.  Confused?  Trust me - you're not the only one!  This guy looks like it's wearing makeup.

Picasso or lagoon triggerfish   Source: Wikipedia

Triggerfish are known as bait stealers and will nibble at bait rather than going for the whole thing.  They are NOT known for pleasant dispositions and can get pretty nasty, especially when defender their eggs.  That's the main reason it is not considered a good aquarium fish.

I guess I now have two MORE reasons for waiting to visit Hawaii!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Liminal Ligers

Ligers are a hybrid cross between a male lion and a tigress and are the largest cats in the world due to 'hybrid vigor' because they gain the strengths of both species.  Lions and tigers don't meet in the wild, so ligers are accidents of captivity.  Ligers have the blond coloring of the lion with the muted stripes of the tiger.  A liger named Hercules is in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the largest cat in the world, weighing in at 904 pounds.


Ligers have a tiger's love of the water, but the sociability of a lion, unlike a tiger's normally solitary existence.  In a lion pride, the cubs eat last, while tigers save the best bits for their babies.  Ligers also let their cubs eat first.  Because of hybrid vigor ligers also have an excellent resistance to illness and disease.

While ligers are not considered 'zoologically significant' they might provide a window into possible evolutionary processes.  Ligers are not found in the wild, but there have been documented cases of other hybrids in the wild - a pizzly (grizzly bear father and polar bear mother) and blynxes (a bobcat/lynx hybrid), among others.

Hercules winters at Jungle Island in Miami and spends the rest of time touring and making appearances in various venues helping to bring attention to conservation issues.  He has three liger brothers - Vulcan, Zeus and Sinbad who live at Jungle Island and in South Carolina.  To learn more about them, click here.

Below are more pictures of the brothers - all courtesy of  Enjoy!




Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Silly Shenanigans 2

Thought it was time for a few more of my favorite pictures and captions from lol dogs and lol cats website.  Enjoy!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Proboscis Monkeys

Another unusual member of the primate family is the proboscis monkey, mainly because the male looks amazingly like Jimmy Durante.

Source: Trip Advisor

Anybody who doesn't believe in evolution - well, need I say more?

The female is somewhat smaller than the male, and blessed with a demure and perkier nose.

Proboscis monkeys are only found in Borneo and live in the mangrove forests and swamps and are actually a pretty good swimmers.  Because of their diet, which is mostly leaves, they have a stomach somewhat like a cow's in that it is compartmentalized.  It also contains bacteria that neutralizes toxins that are present in some of the leaves and helps with digestion.  They live in small family groups of 10 to 30 members.

Unfortunately these guys are endangered due to swamp drainage, hunting and agriculture among other things.   To see a video and learn more, click here.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Purely Pugsley

Last, but certainly not least, of the threesome is Pugsley.  He's the only male cat I have.  He can't really take advantage of his harem because he's neutered (and all the females are spayed).  But, you should excuse the expression, he's a real pussy cat!  He was named Pugsley because he's always been a little on the chunky side, even when he was a kitten, and for some reason he reminded me of the chubby little boy from the Adams Family TV show.

He does have his mischievous side, especially when it comes to harassing his sister Sprite.  There's a real sibling rivalry going on there.  All families have their squabbles and if I hear any hissing or yeowling going on, it just might be the two of them.  But soon all is forgiven and just a little while later I'll see them sleeping next to each other.

Like Sprite, Pugsley has gotten darker and changed color a lot since he was little.  (I still haven't figured out where he and Sprite got their Siamese coloring - I never saw a Siamese cat wandering around the apartment complex.)  This is one of my favorite pictures of Pugsley as a kitten.  He had just been playing with my shoes and fell asleep right where he was playing.

Pugsley is not the smartest cat I have, but he is pretty sweet like his sister.  He's the one cat that will sit in my lap and want to be petted and have the top of his head and ears rubbed and all the while his paw is on my arm.  He's pretty much a pushover for the rest of the cats - Tanya will come along while he's eating and just push him aside.  He'll protest, but move out of the way.  With his Siamese-like coloring, he does have a mouth like a Siamese!  If you have one, you know what I'm talking about.  Pugsley's nickname is Mr. Bugs because he loves to chase flies!

All in all, Pugsley is just a little spoiled because he's definitely a darling of the family.