Thursday, September 29, 2011

Unusual Uakaris

The Amazon Basin is a whole world of unusual and little known species.  We haven't even begun to learn all there is to know about this treasure trove of incredible diversity.  But one of the most unusual primates that we do know about that only lives in the Amazon River Basin is the Bald Uakari, also known as the Red Uakari.  Its most striking feature?  Its red bald face.


Combine that with its longer than normal orangutan-like fur and fat stubby tail, and you have one strange looking primate.

Source:  Brazilian Fauna

There is also a white bald uakari which is a sub-species.  It could be debated which version is the most startling.

Photo by Luiz Claudio Marigo  Source:  Primate Net

There are four species of uakaris.  Besides the bald uakari (of which there are four subspecies), there are also the black-headed uakaris.  Even though it's not bald, its two- or three-toned coat still gives it an unusual appearance.

Photo by Luiz Claudio Marigo   Source:  Primate Net

Uakaris are found in only a small area of South America.  They can congregate in groups of up to 100 individuals, but forage for food in much smaller troops of around ten or twelve.  Their main diet is fruit but also eat nuts, buds and leaves, seeds and insects.

The Araca uakari was just discovered in 2008, but its conservation status is already considered as vulnerable.  Uakaris are hunted as food and are threatened through habitat loss.

The bald uakari is certainly notable - once you've seen a picture its not something you can easily forget!  For videos, click here and here.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Little Miss Muffett

I was in my backyard back by the tree where the raccoons live and happened to notice a big spider on a web by my neighbor's shed.  There was a yellow jacket caught in the web.  I went to get my camera and in that short time, when I came back with my camera the spider had the yellow jacket all wrapped up in a neat little package.  A rather grisly present wrapped in silken strands - an unwanted gift to all except maybe another spider.

Here's a little bit tighter shot.  The wrapped yellow jacket is at the bottom of the spider.

Then a day or two after that I was washing dishes and glanced up to look out the window and saw a spider dangling in front of me.  I had to look twice to figure out whether it was inside or outside.  It was outside!

It's an interesting spider - orange with black and white stripes.  Here's a closer look.

Go back to the first two pictures and check out the web.  Look familiar?  Both spiders are orb weavers - so named because they are the most common group of spiders that make those intricate spiral wheel-shaped webs.  The webs are common in gardens and fields and are known for their strength.  Don't ask me which orb weaver this is because there are over 3,000 different species!

We've had rain the last few days.  I just went back to check out the spider by the shed.  No spider and the web was partly destroyed.  But then some orb weavers build a new web every day, consuming the old web each evening.  Even though the spider in my window looks smaller than the one by the shed, it might be a little smarter because he's under the cover of my awning and not effected too much by the weather.  Either that or it IS the same spider and just wanted its picture taken again - this time from the front!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Clement Clouds

The other day we had a gorgeous blue sky and a fabulous mix of all different kinds of clouds - big fluffy ones, light wispy ones - so I took some photos.

Names of clouds describe how high they are in the sky and what they look like. Cumulus clouds are individual billowy clouds and usually signal fair weather; stratus clouds are layered and cover the sky - the type you see on a rainy day.  Terms are combined for a more precise description.  Clouds that are high in the atmosphere are 'cirro', middle atmospheric clouds are referred to as 'alto'.  So high, thin layers of clouds are cirrostratus clouds, but middle atmosphere fluffy clouds are altocumulus.  Clouds that produce rain or snow have nimbus or nimbo in their name; cumulonimbus clouds are also sometimes called thunderheads.  Layers of puffy clouds that are broken and rolling are stratocumulus - ones my mother used to call buttermilk clouds.

Take a look at these pictures (all taken on the same day about the same time) and see if you can identify what kind of clouds they are.  Or just enjoy the view!

Forget what kind of clouds these are.  Do you see a fish??

I thought this looked like a Rorschach test.

These few wispy clouds were surrounded by other bigger clouds, but kindly left one clear spot for this sea horse to swim around in.

What do you see in these clouds?

Hope you enjoyed your tour of a September Rhode Island sky.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Preternatural Praying Mantis

I saw a new visitor to the butterfly bush on Friday - a praying mantis.  I was getting in the car to go to the grocery store and noticed it.  I quickly ran for my camera to get a shot.  They are called a praying mantis because sitting on a twig they look like they are praying.

Did you know there are over 2000 species of praying mantis?  There are only 20 species native to North America and only six in the U.S.  However, some species, such as Chinese mantids, have been introduced here as pest control and are now common.  Just about any type of bug is on the praying mantis' dinner menu.  But there are other things as well.  Would you believe birds?  Here's a photo by Richard Walkup from West Chester, PA who took this photo of a praying mantis catching a hummingbird!  (Click on the Bird Watcher's Digest link below for more pictures and full story.)

The praying mantis is also known to catch frogs, lizards, snakes, and rodents.  A voracious predator, the praying mantis could just as easily be called the preying mantis.

The praying mantis catches its prey with spiked forelegs for a good grip; it usually bites the head off first.  Scientists watching two mantids mating saw the female bite off the head of the male!  It was believed this was normal practice until two mantes left alone with just a video camera performed an elaborate courtship ritual and this time it did NOT end with the female biting the male's head.  Whether this behavior is normal in the wild is still under debate.  It may depend upon the species or simply whether the female is hungry or not.  In the photo below, the male is much smaller than the female.  Maybe it's understandable if the female thinks he's prey.

Source:  Wikipedia

The praying mantis has a short life - only about a year  (Even shorter if the male is unlucky.)  It begins as an egg, and hatches into a nymph which is pretty much just a smaller version of the adult.  The nymph molts many times as it grows and after the last molt most species have wings.  If not enough food is available, non-mating mantids may also eat each other, particularly nymphs.

Mantids are ambush predators and sit in wait of prey.  Most have good camouflage imitating ants, flowers, tree bark and/or leaves.

They will sometimes move back and forth in a swaying motion mimicking leaves blowing in the breeze.  The praying mantis on my butterfly bush doesn't seem all THAT well camouflaged, although if you were walking by and gave it a quick glance you might not notice it.  The camouflage also aids the mantis in avoiding predators.  Some species in Africa are even able to turn black after a wildfire in order to blend in with its surroundings.

I have seen praying mantes on the skirting of my neighbor's house near the creeping phlox where a ton of crickets live.  It's logical it would also be on my butterfly bush because a lot of insects hang out there.  Autumn is when the females lay egg cases on the underside of leaves or twigs.  I didn't notice any egg cases, but maybe that's what the praying mantis was doing.  It was 42 degrees (Fahrenheit) when I got up Saturday morning.  Generally, mantids do die when winter comes along.  I don't know what temperatures it can withstand, but hopefully my seeing it on the butterfly bush for the first time wasn't also its swan song.  For a video and more information, click here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Gathering Geese

Hard to believe it's mid September already.  It was 85 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday, but a cool front is coming in.  Today rain and a high of 76 and starting Friday high temperatures only in the high 60s and low 70s for the next 10 days.  I'm also reminded that fall is coming and almost here by the increase of Canadian geese I've been seeing and hearing.  The sound of their honking as they fly overhead is unmistakable.

Source:  Wikipedia

Even though they are called Canadian geese, they live throughout Canada, the U.S. and even parts of northern Mexico.  They've even started making their way to parts of northern Europe.  Most geese migrate, but some stay put all year around if food sources are available.  The geese eat mostly grasses, grains and aquatic plants, although they have also been seen eating insects and an occasional fish.  Geese are monogamous and mate for life.

Geese are so prolific in some places they're considered pests.  It was a flock of geese that brought down the famous plane that had to make a landing in the Hudson River after taking off from LaGuardia.  When I was working at Simmons College, geese had invaded the campus.  One of the development people finally brought in her border collie to help discourage their presence.  He was taken outside several times a day to chase them away. There are airports that have dogs to help keep geese and other birds away from runway areas.  Some areas even cull flocks of geese by gassing they've become such a nuisance.

Source:  Wikipedia

If I was inundated with geese I might feel differently, but I don't think I will ever tire of the sight of geese flying in their V formation and the sound of their honking as they go by.  For a video with more information, click here.  To see them flying in formation and honking, click here (in this video they're actually flying in a check mark formation!).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Skirting Skunks

The other night I heard a high-pitched squeak and squeal from outside and went to see what was going on.  It was too high-pitched for a woodchuck and didn't sound like a cat, and it wasn't either one.  It was a beautiful little skunk.  You might think that's a strange thing to say, but they do have luxurious fur like an Abyssinian cat.  You might even mistake a skunk for a cat if it's dark enough.  I missed seeing what it was upset about, but very grateful it only squealed and didn't use its ultimate weapon while it was on my patio.  This was the first skunk I'd actually seen all summer.  Look at the gorgeous fur and tail on this guy.

Striped skunk    Source:  Wikipedia

I've had a several encounters with skunks - two in particular that come to mind and both occurred while I was living in Colorado.  One was when I was in an apartment complex in Loveland.  The apartment building was almost like a motel with outside entrances to each apartment.  I lived on the second floor and there was a balcony that looked down on the first floor.  I heard a noise one night and looked out to see a skunk getting into a paper bag of food trash that somebody had left on the balcony.  Its head was inside a mini potato chip bag and was so totally engrossed in licking the salt out of the bag it went right over the balcony!  It scared itself silly and the smell of the spray immediately hit the air.  I ran down the stairs to see if it was hurt, but didn't ever see it.  It must have been okay and run off as soon as it hit bottom, thoroughly embarrassed I'm sure.

Source:  Wikipedia

Another encounter was a little more involved and occurred after I had moved from Loveland to Aurora, CO, a suburb of Denver.  This apartment complex was very nicely landscaped with lots of trees and rocks - the perfect place for a skunk burrow.  There were people in the complex that had dogs and they complained about the skunks so a company was brought in to capture them.  I came out of my apartment one morning to see a skunk caught in a live trap.  I seriously thought about trying to release it from the trap, but was dressed ready to go to work and didn't want to get sprayed.  We were told they were going to relocate them.  ALL LIES!!  I learned later that once they caught them they had to euthanize them.  When I found that out, I could have kicked myself for not at least trying to set it free.  Especially since the next day a neighbor and I were sitting on the rock the trap had been sitting next to and suddenly we heard little squeaking noises coming from under the rock.  There were babies!  My neighbor helped get two babies out and I kept them in a shoebox on top of a water bottle overnight until I could get them to a wildlife rehabilitator.  (Trust me when I tell you that even baby skunks stink - and I'm not talking about their spray.)  The only problem was the next day, we heard more noises and found two more babies!  Those also went the way of the first.  Unfortunately, only three of the babies survived, but at least we saved those.

Source:  Wikipedia

I was informed much later that they were named Fred, Ethel, and Lucy and once they were big enough they would be allowed to roam free in the woods behind the rehaber's house.

Skunks eat insects, including grasshoppers and crickets, snails, mice, bird eggs, lizards, salamanders, fruit, grains, nuts and leaves depending on the season and what food is available. 

Of course, the most familiar skunk is the striped skunk found in the U.S., southern Canada and northern Mexico.  But there are twelve species of skunks including spotted skunks and hog-nosed skunks.  Most are found in the Americas, but two species known as stink badgers (how appropriate!) are found in Indonesia and the Phillipines. 

Western Spotted Skunk    Source:  Wikipedia

I was curious about the skunk I saw Friday night so I followed it a little way to my neighbor's house.  It was hunting in the grass next to the curb - probably hunting for crickets.  I was very happy to see one rather than smell one.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Stalwart Sand Cats

I know - another cat post.  But this cat is a very unusual one.  It looks very much like a domestic cat, but it's actually a Sand Cat that lives only in arid desert habitats.  Specifically, the deserts of northern Africa and the Middle East, including the Sahara.

Source:  Wikipedia

Like leopards and cheetahs, they are solitary in nature with males and females only getting together for mating.  They are especially adapted for desert living.  Although they do most of their hunting at night, they have hair between their toes which cushion their pads from the hot sand, as well as giving them better traction.  They are also able to survive for months without water - using only the moisture from their food for liquid.  In fact they tend to stay away from watering holes where predators lie in wait.

Source:  Wikipedia

They can survive in temperatures up to 126 degrees Fahrenheit, but head for a burrow during the hot daytime hours.  They eat lizards, insects, birds, and, of course, rodents, sometimes enlarging and using the burrows of its dinner.

Any kitten is adorable and sand cat babies are no exception.  The average sand cat litter is three.

Source:  Wikipedia

There are six or seven subspecies of sand cat (although one is generally considered a separate species) pretty much defined by the areas in which the cats are found.  This intrepid little cat, one of the smallest wild cats, is one tough customer.

Source:  Wikipedia

Here are some videos:  click here to see sand cat kittens at the Cincinnati Zoo; click here to see a couple of videos of a sand cat in the wild.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ring-tailed Look-alikes

There are several ring-tailed mammals besides our North American raccoon.  Do you know what they are?  Several are also in the raccoon family - like the ring-tailed cat.  Even thought it's called a cat, it isn't one.

Source:  Wikipedia

It's found in the southwestern U.S. and Mexico.  Like the raccoon it eats fruit, insects, rodents and birds.  Unlike raccoons which prefer a forest habitat, the ringtail lives in rocky desert areas.  It's sometimes called a miner's cat (because they were kept by miner's to help control the mice) or cacothistle.  But cacothistle more often refers to this guy who looks very similar, but is found in southern Mexico and Central America.

Source:  Wikipedia

However, the cacothistle's preferred habitat is wet, tropical woodlands or mountain forests instead of deserts.  It also has a longer tail and is slightly different in color.  Its food preferences are similar and includes frogs, lizards and eggs.

Another member of the raccoon family is the coati.  The ring-tailed coati or South American coati is, obviously, found in South America, but unlike the cacothistle and ring-tailed cat which are nocturnal, the coati is diurnal.  It uses its long nose to sniff out small mammals and its climbing ability to find fruit high in the trees.  It lives both in the trees and on the ground.

Source:  Wikipedia

While other members of the raccoon family are fairly solitary, coati females live in bands of 15 to 30 individuals.

Two other ring-tailed critters live in Madagascar and are not related to raccoons.  The ring-tailed mongoose is also active during the day and uses its tree-climbing ability in its forest habitat to find invertebrates and reptiles.

Source:  Wikipedia

The red color of this guy makes it a little more distinctive.  It's also smaller in size than the raccoon family relatives.

The other Madagascar dweller is the ring-tailed lemur from the primate family.

Source:  Wikimedia

Like the coati, it also lives in groups.  It primarily eats leaves and fruit, and the tamarind tree is its favorite source.

So why the ringed tail?  Perhaps like the stripes on a zebra it can confuse predators.  It can also be used for communication, although that would be more important for the group living species and maybe not so much for the solitary ones.  I'm not sure what the advantage of a ringed tail is, but it seems to work for this group.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Evening Visitors

Friday night I had a visit from one of the raccoon babies ALL grown up.  The raccoons visit almost every night, but it's a rare visit when It's still light enough to get pictures!  (To see this one as a youngster, check out my 'Success!!' post.)

This guy had discovered the cat food put out by my neighbor for their cat, Tigger.  Most of his attention though was kept on the feral cats who were on my patio and had just finished eating THEIR dinner.

Since the cats had just eaten, they weren't interested in the raccoon's 'dinner', but the raccoon wasn't taking any chances.

After having a snack (the raccoon didn't even eat all the food that was in the dish), the raccoon started to come over to check out what food was left on my patio.  But seeing it was outnumbered by the cats must have changed its mind.

The raccoon retired to the tree in my back yard.  Can you see its face peeking out between the leaves in the center of the picture?

Just after the raccoon left, one of my favorite little woodchucks showed up.  This one is lighter in color than the others and seems to get picked on all the time.  Sometimes if I see it's eating, I'll run interference for it.  The other woodchucks will almost always take off when I open the door and step outside.  This one sticks around and will let me get pretty close to it.  It may not realize my good intentions, but probably notices the others take off when I'm around.

Referring to the way all the critters seem to get along, my next-door neighbor commented the other day that it's like a Disney movie around here.  I wouldn't have it any other way!  And this raccoon is ready for his close-up!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Bleeping Blackberry Vine

In my mobile home park, they put the mobile homes right on the lot lines so that if you need to go out your back door, you end up in your next door neighbor's yard.  My next door neighbor needed access out his back door because in the winter there were times when the snow was piled up on his deck so high that he couldn't open his front door.  I told him it was fine with me if he put steps out his back door even though they would actually be in my yard.  Unfortunately, right where the steps were going to end there was a big patch of out-of-control blackberry vine.  It wasn't anything I had planted, it just started growing; obviously it had to go.

There are four species of blackberry vine that are considered weeds.  I think mine was what they call Himalaya blackberry, a nonnative species, which has clusters of three leaves.  (The others are cutleaf blackberry, also a nonnative, and two native species, California blackberry, and thimbleberry.)

Do you see the thorns??

I had gloves on, but forgot to wear long sleeves.  My left arm got scratched up pretty good.  There's a reason wild blackberry species are also known as brambles!

I pulled everything out by the roots, but probably didn't get it all.  Reading various articles it sounds like weed killer is about the only thing that can get rid of it completely.  I think we're good for this year, but next year I may have bring out the big guns!  I'll be keeping a close eye on it this fall.

The new stairs are almost finished and Van Gogh, one of the feral cats, wasted no time in checking them out and showing his approval.