Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ambling Anteaters

If you looked at the video of the maned wolf in the last post, then you also saw the Giant Anteater, one of the stranger looking animals on the planet and found in Central and South America.  There are four species of anteaters and the Giant Anteater is the largest.  No surprise there!

Photo by Malene Thyssen   Source:  Wikipedia

Even though it does eat ants, in Brazil's Cerrado (also mentioned in the last post), it lives mostly on termites because they are in such abundant supply.  In fact, the Cerrado is peppered with termite mounds and an entire ecosystem revolves around them.

The anteater is perfectly equipped for termite mounds.  Its large claws can create a hole with ease, but rather than destroying an entire mound the anteater only spends about three minutes at each mound eating as much as it can and then going on to another one.  The termites will defend their nest and their stinging bites are more annoying than hurtful because of the anteater's thick coat.  But this system allows the termites to quickly mend their nest and not be too effected by the anteater's forays, ensuring that a meal will be available to the anteater on another day.  The anteater also has a long sticky tongue - up to two feet - which is perfect for gathering termites, eggs and larvae inside the mound.

You might wonder how such a large animal can live on such little insects.  One answer is that it eats a LOT of termites - up to 30,000 a day!  But it also conserves energy by sleeping 14 hours out of 24 and has one of the lowest body temperatures for a land mammal - only 90 degrees F giving it a very low metabolism rate.

Photo by Nicole Duplaix  Source:  National Geographic

Because of its claws, the anteater is a knuckle-walker like a gorilla.  One other interesting fact - the anteater has no teeth!  Just hard growths on the inside of its mouth.

As I mentioned there are many species that depend on the termite mounds besides the anteater.  The Brazilian Three-Banded Armadillo and Six-Banded Armadillo also eat and depend on the termites for food.  Burrowing owls live under the mounds and campo flickers use the mounds for a nest.  The headlight beetle lives in the outer shell of the termite mounds and at night the larvae glow in the dark, looking like some of the night stars have somehow fallen from the sky.

The next post will be about one of the anteater's 'cousins'.  Stay tuned.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Mutual Admiration Society

Mutualism is a symbiotic relationship between two species where both species benefit from their mutual cooperation.  In my 'Birdbrain? Balderdash!' post I talk about the relationship between wolves and ravens.  Another example is the clownfish and the anemone.  The anemone's tentacles have a sting that paralyzes most other creatures, but the clownfish has learned to cover itself in mucus to protect itself from the anemone.  The clownfish lives among the anemones and receives protection from predators, while the clownfish protects the anemone from butterflyfish which eat the anemone.  And there is actually a third species that benefits from the relationship - algae lives within the anemone's tentacles and the algae needs the ammonia that comes from the fish poo.

Source:  Wikipedia

Another example is cleaner fish.  There are 'service stations' in the ocean where possible prey and predators declare a 'truce'.  The much larger fish, including sharks, allow the smaller fish to clean it without any dire consequences.  Cleaner fish include wrasse, cichlids, gobies, and there are even some shrimp that perform the same service.  The cleaner fish get a free meal and the larger fish gets rid of dead scales and parasites that could eventually impair its health.

Source:  Wikipedia

And there are some spas in Asia that use cleaner fish to rid PEOPLE with skin conditions of dead skin.  I probably wouldn't recommend it if you're really ticklish.

The maned wolf lives in South America and looks like a fox on stilts.

Source:  Wikipedia

Its long legs help it see over the tall grass that grows in areas like Brazil's Cerrado, an area similar to Africa's savannas.  Fifty percent of its diet is vegetable matter and fruit, and in particular, the fruit of the lobeira plant, also known as the wolf apple.  The 'apple' helps protect the wolf from giant kidney worms, a parasite that can be fatal to the wolf.  The seeds of the 'apple' can't germinate unless eaten by an animal and then 'released' by defecation.  And as in the clownfish/anemone relationship, a third species also benefits.  The wolf often 'does his duty' on the nests of leafcutter ants who use the dung to fertilize their fungus gardens.  They discard the apple seeds in their 'garbage dump' which greatly increases the chances that the seeds will germinate.

There are many, many examples of cooperation between species.  If just one species is eliminated, it can have an effect on others.  That's why it's so important to maintain balanced ecosystems.  We are truly all connected.

To see a video of cleaner fish, click here.  For a video of the maned wolf and other animals in Brazil's Cerrado, click here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Frolicking Ferrets

When I was living in Aurora, Colorado, I was out on my patio enjoying some sunshine and out of the corner of my eye I saw some movement in the bushes.  Curious, I walked a little closer and out of the leaves came a little ferret.  It had obviously gotten out of someone's apartment.  It was very tame and friendly and eventually I decided I needed to find out where it's real home was.  Luckily, I was able to find its owner and the story had a happy ending, but ever since then I've had a fondness for the little things.  How could you not love a face that looks like this.

Source:  Maniac World

Ferrets are domesticated mammals of the weasel family, most closely related to the polecat, except for black-footed ferrets which still live in the wild.  More on them a little later.  It is believed that ferrets have been domesticated for over 2,500 years, but how their domestication started is unclear.  Ferrets are somewhat like cats - they spend the majority of their time asleep!  The word ferret is derived from the Latin word furetus meaning 'little thief'.  If you happen to have a ferret, you may be able attest to the accuracy of their naming.  They are also very curious and playful which is why they are so popular as pets. However, in some countries it is illegal to have them as pets.   I absolutely love this photo.

Source:  lol cats

Unfortunately, ferrets share similarities to human physiology and are used in biomedical research.

The Black-Footed ferret is an endangered species and a small population found in Wyoming was put into a captive breeding program.  They are trying to make a comeback, and have been reintroduced in Wyoming, as well as Colorado, Utah, South Dakota and a few other states.  Ferrets are carnivores and with their slender bodies are very good at going into burrows and 'ferreting' out rodents, rabbits and moles.  They are nocturnal and their primary prey is prairie dogs.

Photo by Jeff Vanuga/Corbis  Source:  National Geographic

For a video of ferrets in action, click here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Darling Dolly

I decided it's time for another kitty post.  I've introduced you to five of my seven cats, so now meet Dolly.  Dolly also came from Georgia and when a small kitten she developed a respiratory infection.  I had seen her with her mom and one sibling, but one day I noticed that she was spending a lot of time alone on my patio.  She didn't look well at all and I was afraid that if I didn't intercede she wasn't going to live.  I took her to the vet, got some meds, and, like Yoda, thought I would keep her long enough to treat her and then put her back outside.  And, once again, she never left.  She and Pugsley became fast friends and once she was feeling better they spent a lot of time snuggling together.  I think this picture is so funny - Dolly is totally zonked out, her tail almost in Pugsley's face and one paw up in the air.

I don't remember now why I decided on the name Dolly except that she was so small when I found her and she had a rather 'doll-like' appearance, if that's possible for a cat.  Dolly's nickname is Scooby-Doo.  She's not real bright, but is sweet and funny.  I think her personality is just right for Pugsley because he's not exactly the brightest bulb in the box either.  And Dolly finds some strange places to sleep - like on top of my purse which I wouldn't think would be that comfortable with all the junk in it.  I took this picture - notice the CAT BED on the left!  (See, Lynne, Dolly likes it too.)

When I moved from Georgia to Rhode Island, I brought all seven cats in the car with me.  We had a whole routine when we stopped at night.  I would take the litter box, food, and suitcases into the motel before I took the cats in because I didn't want any accidents in the motel room or anybody escaping.  After the first or second stop in the morning I couldn't find Dolly.  I knew she couldn't have gotten outside because I hadn't opened the door since I had let them out of their carriers.  However, the night before I noticed that there was a small space between the bed and the wall and decided to block it off because I knew if one of the cats got in it I wouldn't be able to get them out.  Well, finally I took away the pillow and there was Dolly.  Too late - I had blocked it off when Dolly was already in it and she had spent the entire night there.  And she hadn't made a peep or let me know she couldn't get out.  I have a feeling it may have felt safe to her and she really didn't mind all that much.  At least that's what I told myself so I didn't feel so guilty about her 'incarceration'.

One of the more annoying things about Dolly is that she likes to chew on paper.  If you accidentally leave a kleenex or paper towel lying around, sooner or later you'll find it shredded.  That's the reason my toilet paper is kept in a canister in my bathroom instead of in a holder on the wall!  Dolly normally doesn't meow all that much, and if she does it's a more of a little peep.  But she has the most beautiful little trill that none of my other cats do.  I'm not sure what prompts it or what meaning it has in her normal cat life, but when she does it, it's music to my ears and always makes me smile.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Irrevocably Irish

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone.

I'm one-quarter Irish.  As the story goes, my grandfather, John Clarke, came over from Ireland when he was in his late teens or early twenties supposedly with an older brother.  The brother went back to Ireland, but my grandfather stayed.  It's never been clear whether he legally immigrated or not, but he married my grandmother Louise Truslow Cooper, and my father was born in August, 1907.  I never met either grandparent as my grandmother died when my father was only 5 or 6 years old, and my grandfather died when my father was 16.  But I was always made aware of my Irish roots, even though those roots were rather vague.

My sister and I have done some genealogical research and know a lot about my mother's side of the family, but have yet to find much about my father's side.  We have never found a birth certificate for my grandfather and don't know what part of Ireland he came from. One of my dad's best friends was Don Beggs, also with Irish connections.  Once my parents moved back to Colorado, the Beggses and the Clarkes were nearly always together on St. Patrick's Day.

I visited Ireland in the 70's and felt pretty much at home, especially in the countryside with its green rolling hills and seaside vistas.  How could you not?  Here are a few of my favorite pictures from that trip.  Since I didn't want to go by myself I joined a tour group and here we are in all our glory in Killarney.

We traveled by motor coach and our tour guide was also the bus driver.  In Killarney, we were treated to a tour by horse-drawn cart.

From Killarney we drove around the beautiful Ring of Kerry.

I don't remember now exactly where this was, but, of course, we had to see the peat bogs...

...where we met this charming fellow.

Okay, maybe he wasn't so charming - in fact he pretty much ignored us.  Then on to horse country in Kildare.

And somewhere along the way we spotted this thatch-roofed cottage completely covered with seashells.

Of course, you can't go to Ireland and not visit Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney stone.

You have to lie on your back and bend over backwards in order to do it!

Hope you enjoyed your very quick trip, but someday I do hope to get back there.  And so I leave you with an Irish blessing.

Walls for the wind
And a roof for the rain,
And drinks by the fire.
Laughter to cheer you
And those you love near you
And all that your heart may desire!

Ireland, it's the one place on earth that heaven has kissed
 with melody, mirth, and meadow and mist.

Erin go Bragh!

Monday, March 14, 2011

40 Karat Kakapos

I know - it's another bird post, but this bird is definitely not one that's in my backyard.  And I thought this very special bird deserves some attention.  The kakapo or owl parrot, only found in New Zealand, is an enigma when it comes to parrots.  It is the only flightless, nocturnal parrot.  It has whiskers that helps it feel its way in the dark, and even though it doesn't fly, its strong claws help it climb vines and trees.  It is also one of the rarest birds in the world - there are only about 120 individuals left.  But that's the good news because at one point there were only 50.

The fact that the kakapo is so tame and unafraid of predators is its downfall. That's because originally New Zealand had no mammals which is why the kakapo had no need for flight.  it was hunted almost to extinction for its meat mostly by humans, but also by introduced predators.  In 1977 sixty-one birds were airlifted to the island of Whenua Hou and two other small islands that were predator-free.  Since then researchers have kept a careful eye on these rare birds and and they are tracked by radio transmitters.

Source:  Terra Nature

The kakapo is also the heaviest parrot, and possibly the longest living bird in the world. The fact that it lives to be almost 100 years old or more may have been what saved it from extinction, as well as a dedicated group of people helping to make sure it survives.

For more information and video about the relocation process and kakapo behavior, click here.  For more information on the Kakapo Recovery Project, click here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Prickly Porcupines

On another occasion when I was visiting my parents, there was a slightly stickier situation than the sighting of the bobcat (see previous post).  When we were on a picnic in Rocky Mountain National Park, I happened to notice movement a few hundred yards away.  Some sort of animal was ambling slowly away from the area where our picnic table was, so, of course, I went to investigate.  It was a porcupine!  That was the first and only time I have seen a porcupine in the wild.  And I didn't have my camera with me!  I would have loved to get some photos.  The porcupine eyed me warily and stopped walking at one point, but didn't ever seem too concerned.

Porcupines are found in Africa, Asia, southern Europe and the Americas.  There are 29 species and can vary in size from a little over 2 lbs to 22 lbs.  It's diet consists mainly of leaves, plants, roots and berries, and it will eat twigs and bark, especially in the winter when greenery is not available.

Porcupines are covered in quills - modified hairs covered in keratin.  Contrary to urban myth, they cannot throw their quills.  If they feel threatened, they can roll up in a ball to protect their underside and may rattle their quills or swing their quilled tail at an attacker.  Their quills occasionally fall out, but new quills will grow to replace them.  Porcupine quills are used in jewelry, and as decorations and many together are actually quite striking.  Quills come in several different colors and lengths depending on the species and age of the porcupine.

Source:  Wikipedia

Porcupines spend a lot of time in the trees either sleeping or looking for tasty bits.  Because they like the tender shoots at the end of the branches, they are also known to fall out of trees on occasion.  The North American porcupine is the only native mammal with antibiotic in its skin in case it sticks itself with its own quills!

Source:  Wikipedia

While seeing the porcupine, was not quite as exciting as seeing the bobcat, I certainly enjoyed the experience.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bona Fide Bobcats

My parents lived for a time in Estes Park, Colorado.  Estes Park is a little town at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.  At the time I was also living in Colorado - Ft. Collins, Loveland, and later metro Denver - so I visited them on a regular basis and spent many weekends in the mountains with them.

There was a lot of wildlife in the area and seeing herds of deer and elk was a common occurrence.  I'll never forget one weekend though that I was in the guest room making the bed and happened to glance out the window.  There sitting on a rock right outside the window was a bobcat.  THAT was very unusual and the only time I ever saw one.  I quickly and quietly called mom and dad to come look, and we were all enthralled getting a glimpse at this gorgeous cat.  It sat there for quite a few minutes and then slowly started up the hill behind their house.  I noticed that there was a herd of deer also on the hill and that one was limping.  I'm sure the bobcat was following the deer and hoping for a venison dinner, no doubt with its eye on the injured one.

Source:  Knowledge Rush

The bobcat got its name from its bobbed tail and is a member of the lynx family with 12 recognized subspecies.  It prefers to eat rabbits and rodents, but will go after deer when other food is more scarce.  Birds, fish and insects are also on the menu.  It's very adaptable and lives in a variety of habitats from southern Canada to northern Mexico, and shares part of its range with its larger cousin, the Canadian Lynx.  It is territorial and pretty much a loner, except when mom is raising her cubs.

Source:  WallpaperWeb

Bobcats have tufted ears with black tips and a spotted coat that acts as camouflage.  They prefer to hunt at night, but is seen more during the day in fall and winter when preferred food is also more active.  They are opportunistic hunters and will vary their diet according to what's available.

Seeing this beauty up close and personal is something I'll never forget.  For a video of a bobcat, click here.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Skittering Skinks

My friends in New Jersey have skinks that hang out on their deck in the summer.  My family and I took a vacation in Florida many years back and I was fascinated by the skinks I saw there.  But in both cases they were the little 5 or 6-inch models - probably five-lined skinks in New Jersey.  That's why I was so interested to find out about the Solomon Islands Skink because I didn't know they got that big!

The Solomon Islands Skink, also known as the monkey-tailed skink or prehensile-tailed skink, is the largest known skink in the world and can be up to three feet long, including its tail.  It's also the only skink with a prehensile tail which it uses to grasp tree branches as it's climbing in the trees.  It has sharp, strong claws which also help it climb.  It is arboreal and spends almost all of its time in the trees and is one of the few skinks that is a vegetarian.  It's diet is mostly leaves, flowers and fruit.

This skink is also nocturnal and relies on its sense of smell for finding food.  It is one of the few reptiles that lives in a group, called a circulus.  The youngsters stay with the group for up to a year and then go off to form their own group.  They live in the high rainforest canopy, so extensive logging is reducing their habitat.  They are also popular as pets.

The scientific name is Corucia zebrata referring to the skink's striped markings and shimmering green scales.  This guy is definitely a unique species.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Silly Shenanigans 3

Was thinking it was time for some more of my favorites from the lol cats and lol dogs website.  Here they are.  This first picture could have been taken around here a few weeks ago!  Enjoy and have a great day!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Confessions of an Amateur Birder

I usually pride myself on my attention to detail at work, but evidently it hasn't transferred over to my attempts at identifying birds.  It turns out that at least one of my 'song sparrows' is actually a fox sparrow.  I mentioned in one of my posts that I loved the little dance the song sparrow did in the snow and it turns out the 'dance' is called a 'double scratch' and one of the identifying characteristics of the fox sparrow.  They both have a central breast spot which is what I was going by, but the double scratch is a dead giveaway, along with its rufous tail.  And yes, my 'song sparrow' has both!  The fox sparrow also has more gray on its head than the song sparrow.  Here is a picture.

Photo by Glen Tepke   Source:  Boreal Songbird Initiative

Funny how I also didn't notice how much bigger it is than the other sparrows.  It's supposed to travel in flocks according to my Audubon bird book, but it nearly always comes alone or shows up with the juncos.  I think I actually do have some song sparrows as well, but at least one is definitely not.

I also showed my 'harrier' photos to an experienced birder and he thinks it's actually a red-tailed hawk, which would explain why it doesn't act like a harrier!  Hello!  Hawks are among the most difficult birds to identify because their plumage changes with the seasons, which definitely doesn't help me at all since I can't even identify sparrows.

Red-tailed hawk   Source:  Cornell

So now I've confessed my mistakes, but I'll keep trying.