Friday, September 28, 2012

Weird Wild Dogs

The African wild dog is also known as the painted dog, the painted wolf, and the spotted dog, among other names, and it is easy to see why.  Each animal has its own totally unique coat pattern.

Source:  Wikipedia

The African wild dog is the largest member of the canid family in Africa standing at around 30 inches at the shoulder and weighing about 80 pounds.  (Hyenas are much larger but are not canids.)  These wild dogs have an interesting social structure.  Packs consist of related males and half as many females, but only the dominant female will have pups - usually a litter of about 10 although they can number up to 20.

 Source:  Wikipedia

The entire pack helps care for the pups and if the mother joins the hunting group other adults are left to guard them.  Once the pups are around three months old, they can run with the pack but not help with the hunting duties.  Contrary to many social animals, pups eat before the adults.  Females leave the pack at between one and two years old and usually join another pack that has no sexually mature females.

Source:  Wikipedia

Prey includes gazelle, impala, springbok, and wildebeest calves, although much larger animals are also on the menu, especially sick and injured animals.  African wild dogs have a large variety of vocalizations and even though lions work together to bring down a meal, the African wild dog has a much greater success rate with their very coordinated hunting forays.  African wild dogs are endangered.

The Asian or Indian wild dog, called a dhole, live in large clans, sometimes as many as 40 individuals, but may split up into smaller groups to hunt.  Native to Southeast Asia, living in such large groups comes in handy if there are tigers or leopards in the area.

Source:  Wikipedia

While dholes with their red fur physically resemble a fox and sometimes vocalize with whistles like a fox, they are more closely related to jackals.  Though dholes are canids like wolves, they have a looser hierarchy within the clan, and are less territorial.  There may be more than one breeding female within the clan and pups have a faster growth rate than wolves. The hunting pack will bring back food to the nursing mom and will regurgitate food when the pups are weaned.

Source:  Wikipedia

Dholes are endangered but have a fairly large range even though they occur in fragmented groups and can still be found in India, Tibet, Malaysia, Bhutan, southern China, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Sumatra.  Smaller than the African wild dog, height is about 20 inches at the shoulder and weights are up to 55 pounds.

The South American wild dog, known as the bush dog, looks more like a cross between a pig and a bear, than like either the dhole or the painted dog.

Source:  Wikipedia

To make it even more confusing, Its more popular name in Spanish is perro vinagre or vinegar dog.  It is much smaller than either the dhole or African wild dog with an average height of just a foot at the shoulder and a weight of about 30 pounds.  Therefore, its typical prey are large rodents like capybara and agouti, although it can also bring down peccaries and tapir.  Found across northern South America it also travels in small packs even though it occasionally hunts alone. 

For a short video about African wild dog conservation, click here

Monday, September 24, 2012

Timid Tang

Tang is one of the feral cats that lives in our mobile home park.  He's so funny because he's very timid with people.  You even look at him too long and he runs away.  But when it comes to the other cats in the neighborhood, he's quite the social butterfly.

I put out a piece of old carpet for the kitties to lie on and it took several weeks for my two regulars, Van Gogh and Romeo, to finally curl up on it.  The first cat I noticed taking advantage of the cushy softness was Tang.

We have one cat that is the 'problem child' in the neighborhood named Sammy, and Tang even gets along with him.  My neighbors across the street have a porch with a cat door in it and there's a lovely big chair where Sammy and Tang snuggle together at night.  In the winter my neighbors hook up a heating pad so they can stay nice and cozy.

I caught Tang peeking into my next door neighbor's back door the other day, looking for their cat, Tigger.

 Can Tigger come out and play?

When Tigger does come out, they wrestle and play and hang out together.

Tigger is my buddy!

Here's Tang sharing a snack with Van Gogh.

Nothing like sharing dinner with a friend.

Ah ain't sceerd of no dragons.

Tang is quite the character.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Perfect Pandas

The National Zoo in Washington, DC has a new addition - a baby giant panda cub born on Sunday to mom Mei Xiang.  Male giant pandas can weigh up to 350 pounds, but baby pandas can fit in the palm of your hand and their weight is measured in ounces, not pounds.   With a baby so small it will be months before the as yet unnamed wee one will be seen by the public.

There are only four zoos in the United States with giant pandas - the National Zoo, Memphis Zoo, the San Diego Zoo, and Zoo Atlanta.  When I lived in Georgia, I had the privilege of being there when Zoo Atlanta received their two pandas on loan from China, Lun Lun and Yang Yang, and had to wait in line to see them when they were revealed to the public. They were such fun to watch as rambunctious youngsters of one and a half or two-year-olds.  I could have sworn I took pictures and certainly should have, but darned if I can find them if they indeed exist.  I certainly remember the visit - the two stars of the zoo were totally adorable and zoo reps had their work cut out for them to keep the line moving because people just didn't want to leave the exhibit.  Here is Yang Yang today; he's grown since I saw him!

Yang Yang, Zoo Atlanta   Source:  Wikipedia

I also visited the National Zoo back in the 70s when I was living in New York City and saw the original and first pandas in the country, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing.  I think this is Ling-Ling.

 I know - not a great picture but it IS almost 40 years old!

Lun Lun and Yang Yang have had three babies since I saw them.  Because they are on loan, all babies born in the states must eventually go back to China, so their first baby, Mei Lan, is at the Chengdu Research Base.

Source:  Zoo Atlanta

Xi Lan was born in 2008.  What a handsome boy!

Source:  Zoo Atlanta

And this is the latest cub, Po, born in 2010, with mom Lun Lun.

Source:  Zoo Atlanta

Pandas are endangered which is the reason for the Chengdu research center and it is estimated that only around 1500 individuals are left in the wild in their very limited range.  Pandas are specialists and in the wild over 90% of their diet is bamboo having lived in the bamboo forests of China for millions of years.  The panda's paw consists of five fingers and a 'thumb' which helps them hold the bamboo.  Cubs stay with their moms for at least two years so increasing the population is a slow process.

As adults or babies, these roly poly seemingly playful creatures have stolen many peoples' hearts.   For a video of panda cubs playing, click here.  For a short video about the Chengdu Research Center, click here.

Update:  Unfortunately little panda cubs are fragile and the cub just born last week at the National Zoo has died.  Very sad.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Delicate Balance

The word 'ecology' is defined in Webster's New World Dictionary as 'the complex of relations between a specific organism and its environment."  Because so many species are dependent on other species for their survival or cooperate with each other you never know what will happen when you remove one species from the equation. You can go to my 'Mutual Admiration Society' post for some examples of inter-species cooperation.  There has been a lot of discussion about whether wolves should be on the endangered list or not.  After they were introduced in a couple of areas research showed an interesting result - the relationship between wolves, pronghorns, and coyotes.

Wolf  Source:  Wikipedia

Pronghorn antelope  Source:  Wikipedia

Coyote  Source:  Wikipedia

As it turns out, coyotes are major predators of pronghorn fawns, but when wolves are present, more fawns survive!  Pronghorn fawns are just too small for the wolves to bother with, but coyotes avoid areas where there are wolves.  Since wolves have been introduced to both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, the number of pronghorns in the parks, which was on the decline and feared to become almost nonexistent, has nearly doubled.  This result is probably the opposite of what might be expected.  Even though they are cousins, the larger wolves help keep the number of coyotes in check.

Good news for the pronghorns in these areas!  Protecting wolves also helps protect the pronghorn.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Constricted Cormorants

One of the rarest birds in the world is the Flightless Cormorant, also known as the Galapagos Cormorant, because it is only found in the Galapagos Islands.  Like so many other species in the Galapagos, it has unique characteristics - in this case it has lost its ability to fly.  Its wings are about the third of the size needed to get this 35- to 40-inch bird off the ground.

Source:  Wikipedia

But like other cormorants it still has the webbed feet and strong legs needed to swim and dive for its dinner - mostly fish and eels.

Source:  Wikipedia

The female usually lays a clutch of three eggs, but it is not unusual for only one chick to survive.  Both the male and female take care of the chicks, but once the chicks reach a certain size if food is plentiful the female will leave 'dad' in charge and go off to find a new mate and lay more eggs.

Evolving to become flightless birds because of no real predators, since people have arrived on Galapagos bringing with them dogs and cats, the population has been as low as 400 individuals.  They are also vulnerable to getting caught in fishing nets.  The latest estimate is around 1600 birds, but there are still conservation efforts in place for this unique member of the bird family and most live within the Galapagos National Park and Marine Reserve.

Source:  Wikipedia

For a couple of videos, click here and here.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Slug Slime

So I was out feeding the slugs this morning...  Whaaat?  No, I don't normally feed the slugs, although sometimes I sprinkle a little cat food close to the edge of the patio in the evening so they eat those pieces and don't slime the cat food I actually put out for the cats.  Normally slugs are nocturnal, but this morning was humid and cloudy so when I went out to get the dish for the canned food I fed the stray cats I saw a big slug in the dry cat food dish.  I picked it up and put it closer to the garden and gave it a couple of pieces of dry food so it wouldn't end up in the dish again.

(I can attest that they really are slimy!  And you can't wash it off.  I kept trying to rinse the slime off my fingers and the water just kept it slimy.  I finally used a DRY paper towel and got it off that way.)  I happened to glance around and saw not one but three slugs braving the daylight.  The first slug ignored the dry cat food and started toward the garden.  I guess after being picked up and moved from the cat food dish it decided it was time to get the heck out of Dodge.  It actually played dead for the first few minutes after I moved it.  I gave it a small scrap of canned cat food that was still in the dish I had come out to get.  It picked it up and/or ate it and headed back to the garden.

It seemed a lot fatter and shorter when it was in the cat food dish, but stretched out at full length it was pretty impressive at about four inches.

Here's a picture of one of the other slugs with its slime trail.

I was worried about these guys because the sun was starting to come out so I broke another piece of dry cat food into several pieces to make it easier for them to eat.  They both went for the smaller piece and found their way back to the garden just in time.  You can clearly see its little antennae in this picture.

You can learn more about slugs in my 'Salute to Slugs' post.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What is it?

A few weeks ago I was in my backyard and noticed this.

It looks like part of a skull almost of something and it was just sitting on top of one of the railroad ties that are used to frame my garden.  There were no other bones around anywhere so I'm still wondering exactly what it is.  What do you think?