Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fishy-looking fish

When someone says the word fish, a certain image comes to mind.  But there are quite a few fish out there whose image goes against the norm.  Not only goes against the norm, but are just downright weird looking.  Here are a few.

Lionfish  Source: Wayfaring Travel Guide

Puffer fish  Source:  Fun Gallery

Mushroom Scorpionfish  Source: Weird Sea Monsters

Stonefish   Source:  Wikipedia

Scorpionfish  Photo by Nick Hobgood  Source:  Wikipedia

What do all these fish have in common, besides being freaky?  They are all poisonous!  The stonefish is the most venomous fish in the world.

Just to end on a good note, here's one weird-looking fish that is NOT venomous.

Barreleye  Source:  National Geographic

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Masked Marauder

I had a guest at almost dusk tonight who very graciously allowed me to take his/her picture.  It didn't seem to be too concerned when I opened the door and stepped out on my steps.  It was too busy eating the cat food that was still out on my patio, gathering it quickly with its paws.  I was lucky it was still light enough to snap this critter because they are normally nocturnal.  Guess it was just getting a jump on its evening adventures.

Raccoons are native to North America although there are several subspecies found in Central America and the Caribbean, as well as subspecies found in various areas of the U.S.  It was introduced both accidentally and intentionally in several areas of Asia and Europe.  It is very adaptable and opportunistic like the possum and conflicts between this masked marauder and humans are common.  With very manipulative hands, raccoons can get into all kinds of trouble.

Raccoons will eat just about anything including insects, snails, fish, birds and bird eggs, nuts and fruit, and, obviously cat food!  Like woodchucks, raccoons only live a few years in the wild, but can live up to 20 years in captivity.  In previous years, I've enjoyed watching the antics of five raccoon youngsters and wonder if the one I saw tonight is one of those kids all grown up.  Sometimes even if I didn't see them I could hear them squabbling amongst themselves.

My neighbors have an enclosed porch with a cat door.  They also keep cat food on their porch for the feral kitties and have had raccoon visitors as well.  They had to replace their door because the raccoons could smell the food and tore a hole in their screen.

They can be troublesome, but how can you not love a face like this.

Source:  Wikipedia

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Petite Pudus

It seems as though I'm on a South American kick lately.  Here's another unusual species only found south of the border, more specifically in Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Chile and Argentina.

Pudus are the smallest deer in the world.  There are two species, the Northern Pudu and the Southern Pudu, the Southern Pudu being slightly larger.  But both are only 13 to 18 inches tall, smaller than a goat.  In fact, with antlers only a few inches long, you might mistake it for one.  Both pudu species are found in the Andes, but the Southern pudu is generally found at lower elevations.  And like regular deer, the fawns are born with spots.  This cutie was born at the Bristol Zoo in the UK.

Source:  Zoo Borns

Like most deer they are herbivores and their diet consists of just about any type of plant material and fallen fruit.  They will stand on their hind legs to reach higher foliage and are good climbers.  Unlike other deer, pudus are solitary animals and don't live in herds.  Being so small they are constantly on alert for predators and their first defense is to hide. Their physique is also unusual for a deer with a stockier body and short legs.  When being pursued, they run in a zigzag pattern.

To see a video of a one day old pudu born at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, click here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Humdinger Hummingbirds

My cousin (I won't identify which one) suggested I do a post on hummingbirds.  He said he had a couple of hummingbird feeders in his yard and offered to take some pictures and send them to me.  I told him a post on hummingbirds was a great idea, but that I had one particular one in mind and wouldn't be able to use his pictures.  He emailed me back and said 'a hummingbird is a hummingbird'.  Oh really?

There are over THREE HUNDRED species of hummingbirds - somewhere between 325 and 340 - and they are the only birds that can fly backwards.  Like bees they are pollination specialists, redistributing pollen as they go from flower to flower.  They also take time for an insect high protein snack, sometimes just snatching them out of the air as they fly, for an extra energy boost to keep their high metabolism going.

The one particular hummingbird I had in mind just jumps out and begs for notice - the Marvelous Spatuletail - found only in Peru, and could be considered the Liberace of hummingbirds!  And yes, those oval-shaped 'spatulas' are part of his tail.

Source:  Birding Blog

If you click on the Birding Blog link under the picture, there is a video of the Spatuletail mating display.  You really have to see it.

But since my cousin has thrown down the gauntlet, this post will now be about the incredible variety of hummingbirds.

If the Spatuletail is the Liberace of hummingbirds, the Red-tailed Comet is the Elton John of hummingbirds!

And there are other long-tailed hummingbirds, such as the Green-tailed Trainbearer...

Photo by Peter de Haas   Source: Birding Peru

and the Green and Black Streamertail...

and one of the larger hummingbirds, the Swallowtail.

Photo by Dario Sanchez  Source:  About.com

Hummingbirds range in size from the smallest, the bee hummingbird, which is about 2 inches and only found in Cuba..

Source:  Birdfinders

to the Giant Hummingbird measuring around 8 inches, almost as big as a robin.

And there are the hummingbirds with various types of bills, short, curved or extremely long, evolved and perfectly designed to extract nectar from specific flowers, like the Bronzy Hermit Hummingbird...

and the Purple-throated Carib...

Photo by Ethan Temeles  Source:  Smithsonian

or the Sword-billed hummingbird...

Photo by Michael Woodruff  Source:  Wikipedia

or the white-tipped sicklebill...

Photo by Jose Loiza  Source:  Wikipedia

or the Rainbow-bearded Thornbill.

Photo by Scott Olmstead  Source:  IBC

And, as you can see, there are hummingbirds of every color combination, some more flamboyant, others a bit more discreet.  Like the Gould's Jewelfront...

Source:  Amazonia Lodge

or the Lucifer Hummingbird...

Source:  Discover Life

or the Chestnut-breasted Coronet.

Source:  Amazonia Lodge

And a few with hardly any color at all, like the Gray-breasted Sabrewing.

Source:  Amazonia Lodge

There are even crested hummingbirds, like the Rufous-Crested Coquette.

Source:  Amazonia Lodge

How cute is he?  Don't you just love some of their names?  So, cousin, do you still think a hummingbird is a hummingbird?  Only a little over 300 more to go.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Welcome Woodchucks

As I mentioned in my last post, I have woodchucks that live under my shed.  Even though they dig holes and eat the flowers in my garden, I love them.  Also known as groundhogs - think Punxsutawny Phil - they belong to the marmot family.  Like many rodents, their average lifespan is only two to five years, but can live much longer in captivity.  One famous groundhog lived to the age of 22.

Woodchucks are true hibernators and can spend from October to March or April in an underground burrow snoozing the winter away.  That's why I was so happy to see my little woodchuck for the first time a few days ago.  I was hoping to get some new photos, and I had a chance yesterday when the woodchuck was finding some seeds that had fallen under my birdfeeder.  But when I moved closer to the door, I was spotted and Chuckie took off for his house under the shed.  Yes, not very original I know, but I call all my woodchucks Chuckie, even if it's really a Carlotta.  Anyway, these pictures from last year will have to do.  Here's Chuckie with one of the feral cats that also hang out in my yard.

The cat isn't paying hardly any attention to the woodchuck, but here's the next picture in the sequence.  Can you guess who blinked first?

Almost nose to nose, it was the cat that gave way, not the woodchuck!

My flowers and other greens are not the only things that woodchucks like to eat.  They also eat insects - grasshoppers and grubs - and snails.  And I know for a fact they like strawberries, blueberries, and peanuts.

I know that spring is definitely here, when the woodchucks are back on the scene!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Signs of Spring

Well, you've heard me kvetch all winter about the snow, but FINALLY signs of spring are definitely in the air (and on the ground).  We've had two days of 60 degree F temperatures and Saturday I saw my first robin!

I explored my back and side yard Sunday, and look what I discovered.  My periwinkle is in bloom.

And the grape hyacinths are about ready to pop.

The japonica is full of buds too.

The tree in my backyard is full of fuzzy buds.

The columbine are coming up, and so is the Jacob's Ladder.

I've already had to yank out some crab grass!!

And there is a dandelion I need to take care of too.  Maybe it really is time to put the snow shovel away!

And the final sign of spring - I saw the little woodchuck that lives under my shed.  More on him in the next post.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Slinking Sloths

And speaking of sloths (see previous post), if you like to hang out in trees, you'll probably love this guy (if you can find it).  The sloth spends almost its entire life in the trees and only comes down once a week to pee and poo!  Now that's a bladder you can admire!

Source:  Brazilian Fauna

There are six species of sloths which are found in Central and South America.  Their diet mainly consists of leaves and tree buds and their stomachs are as slow moving as they are.  They have symbiotic bacteria that helps digest their food, but that process can take up to a month!  Their fur grows opposite of most mammals because they spend most of their time upside down.  They even mate upside down.  Algae grows in their fur (along with several different types of insects) which gives it a lovely green tinge helping to camouflage them in the trees.  So if you insist on cleanliness maybe the sloth is NOT for you.

There are two-toed and three-toed sloths.  Wikipedia says that the two-toed sloths are generally faster than the three-toed variety.  Hmmm, guess that means they go 2 miles an hour instead of one.  Wiki also says that all sloths have three toes, but that the two-toed variety only has two 'fingers'.  What?  I'm not sure whether it is known why there are two-toed and three-toed species.  Maybe only the sloths know why.

Brown-throated three-toed sloth
Photo by Christian Mehlfuhrer  Source:  Wikipedia

Like the anteater, sloths spend a lot of time sleeping and conserving energy.  They are most vulnerable when they leave the trees which may be why they only do it once a week.  Their claws are their only means of defense, but because of those lethal looking claws they can't walk very well, so ground locomotion consists of lying on their belly and pulling themselves along.  When they are in the trees, they move slowly to escape notice from predators.  Guess I'd move slowly too if I looked like that.

The sloth is one of nature's truly unique creations.  Is that a face only a mother could love or what?

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Plated Pangolin

In my post about the Giant Anteater I promised a post on the anteater's 'cousin'.  Another strange looking creature that also likes ants and termites is the pangolin.  I'd say that strange looks run in the family (which also includes sloths and the somewhat look-alike armadillo), but recent DNA testing shows that the pangolin is actually more closely related to the cat family!  Does this look like a cat to you?

Sometimes called the scaly anteater, the armor that covers the pangolin is made of keratin, like your fingernails.  Thankfully for the mom, when young pangolins are born their scales are soft, but harden as they grow older.  Like the anteater, the pangolin has the equipment needed to open termite mounds and ant nests - sharp claws.  And they also have the requisite long, sticky tongue for scooping up ants and termites.  And also like the anteater a pangolin has no teeth.

In the face of danger, the pangolin can curl up in a ball to protect itself. Besides its armor, the pangolin has one more trick up its sleeve - it can spray a noxious acid like a skunk.

Source:  Bizarre Bites

There are eight species of pangolins and they are found in Asia and Africa.  The tree pangolin uses its tail to hang from branches and searches for bugs in the tree bark.  Unfortunately, pangolins are hunted and eaten; its meat is considered a delicacy in China.  And numbers are declining due to deforestation.  Luckily there are some people ready and willing to help.

Tree Pangolin  Photo by Valerius Tygart  Source:  Wikipedia