Monday, January 28, 2013

Characteristic Chameleons

Chameleons are a type of lizard that are recognized by their specialized feet (some have four toes, some have five, but all have opposing toes - two or three facing forward, two or three facing back depending on the species) used for grasping tree branches, separately focusing and rotating eyes (all the better to find you, my dear), and their incredibly long, projectile-like tongues, some of which are more than twice their body length.  Chameleons also have a distinct swaying motion as they move.  Many species have prehensile tails, and some have crests or horns on their heads.

And, of course, their most distinctive feature, they are able to change colors, although despite all the hype, not all 160 species have this ability.  Colors can range from black to every color of the rainbow (the range and pattern is species specific) and the change can happen for various reasons, including change in mood, presence of other chameleons or predators, sex, and camouflage - darker colors for anger, fear and intimidation, lighter and multi colors for courting females.  They also change color to help regulate their body temperature - darker colors to absorb heat from the sun, lighter colors to reflect it.  And females already carrying eggs can let a male know through her color, as well as attitude, that she is 'not interested'.  The skin of a chameleon is actually transparent and there are three layers of cells beneath it; cells that contain pigment in their cytoplasm. Each layer can turn different colors - the top layer has red and yellow pigment, the center layer blue and white, the third layer contains melanin - the same pigment found in human skin.

Chameleons are usually found in warm climates, but in diverse ecosystems from rain forests to deserts in Africa, southern Europe, southeast Asia and have been introduced to California, Hawaii and Florida.  However, almost half of the known species are endemic to Madagascar.  Their main diet is insects, but larger chameleons also eat young birds, lizards, geckos, smaller chameleons, and some eat plant material such as leaves (some species use leaves as a source of moisture), shoots, berries and other fruit.  Chameleons range in size from a half inch to over two feet long.  Females lay anywhere from 2 to 100 eggs (smaller species lay fewer eggs) in a hole in the ground, and, depending on the species, the eggs take anywhere from 4 months to possibly two years to hatch.  However,  a few species of chameleons give birth to live babies rather than laying eggs.  Most chameleons are arboreal, but some of the smaller species are terrestrial.

Here are some photos showing the diversity of this incredible animal.  The smallest known chameleon is from Madagascar and is from a genus known as the leaf chameleons.  And yes, it is sitting on the head of a match!

Brookesia micra   Source:  Wikipedia

The giant Malagasy chameleon, one of the largest if not THE largest species, is also found in Madagascar.

Source:  Wikipedia

The veiled chameleon is from the Middle East.  Males have a spur on their back feet, while females do not.

Male  Source:  Wikipedia

.Jackson's chameleon or three-horned chameleon is from Africa.

Source:  Wikipedia

The very colorful panther chameleon is also from Madagascar.  With these two pictures, you can see the color variation in this species.

Source:  Wikipedia

Source:  Wikipedia

The black-headed dwarf chameleons are found only in South Africa.  It's not much bigger than the grasshopper it is catching.

Source:  Wikipedia

Also found in Madagascar, the Parson's chameleon vies for the title of largest chameleon with the giant Malagasy chameleon shown above.

Source:  Wikipedia

One of the desert dwellers, the Namaqua chameleon has several special adaptations - it excretes salt from nasal glands, and digs holes for thermoregulation.  Its diet also includes small snakes and even scorpions.

Source:  Wikipedia

The jeweled chameleon lives in mountainous forests of central Madagascar at 6,000 to 7,500 feet in altitude and is said to hibernate in the leaf litter during winter months.

Source:  Wikipedia

The Labord's chameleon only lives 4 or 5 months, the shortest lifespan of any four-legged mammal.  Eggs hatch with the first rains of November, by February or March the females have laid their eggs and then the entire population dies off until the eggs hatch the next year.

Source:  Wikipedia

The dwarf Fisher's chameleon is taking a snooze.  This little guy is from Africa.

Source:  Wikipedia

And, last but not least, the Meller's chameleon, or giant one-horned chameleon, is the largest chameleon from the African mainland.  This species lifespan is up to 12 years in captivity.  Lifespans of many chameleons in the wild are not really known.

Source:  Wikipedia

Even though they are all called chameleons, there is a large variation from species to species. To see a video and learn more about chameleons, click here and here.  To see the chameleon's long tongue and how it catches insects, click here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Toasty Tootsies

When I got up this morning, it was about 12 degrees with bitter wind gusts.  And we're supposed to have highs only in the 20s for the next few days.  Of course it's not that cold inside, but the kitties still seek out the sun, especially on days like today.  My air vents are in the floor and, especially in my bedroom where there is only one vent, I would find Violet lying right on top of the vent.  She was nice and warm and the rest of us would be freezing.  So I had to put deflectors on all the air vents to keep the cats from hogging the heat.  Even with the deflector Violet likes to lie right next to the vent. She still gets a blast of heat and keeps her tootsies warm!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Happy Spiders

Known as the Happy Face Spider, the Theridion grallator supposedly wears a face on its body to discourage birds from eating it.  I'm not sure I know any birds that have coulrophobia (fear of clowns) but there's just something about this spider that might make a bird stop in mid-peck long enough for the spider to get away.

Photo by: Darlyne Murawski   Source:  National Geographic

While the above picture makes this spider appear fairly large, it is actually not even an inch long.  So how can a bird see the design, if the spider is so small?  The grallator part of its name means 'stilt walker' and for the size of its body, it does have pretty long legs.

This species is only found in Hawaii.  The spiders on different islands have different designs on their bodies (and some have none at all) and the design can change depending what the spider last ate for dinner.

Source:  Daily Mail

Don't know if the happy face spider makes you smile or just creeps you out.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Creepy Caterpillars

We all know that caterpillars are actually the larval stage of butterflies and moths.  But caterpillars themselves are pretty cool and come in many colors and use different techniques to survive long enough so they CAN become a butterfly (or moth).  The larval stage only lasts a few weeks in most cases and during that time they can consume 27,000 times their weight in food and increase their body mass by 1,000 times or more which is why they are also considered pests to the agricultural community and many gardeners.  All that food is needed for the energy it takes to spin the silk for their cocoon and transform themselves into a new and different form.  Caterpillars can have up 4,000 muscles - 70 muscles to control each body segment and over 200 muscles just in their head. 

Many caterpillars look cute and fuzzy, but many can be toxic and with bright colors they advertise that - I'm nasty, don't eat me.  They use the toxins in the food they eat to their own advantage.  Take a look at the saddleback caterpillar.

Source:  Wikipedia

Those 'horns' on either end of the body contain urticating hairs that secrete a stinging venom that can be very painful.  If stung, people can suffer from swelling, nausea, and a rash that can last for days.

The Stinging Rose caterpillar uses the same strategy.

Source:  Wikipedia

The caterpillar is unusual and so is the moth that it turns into.

Source:  Wikipedia

Many times the caterpillar and the butterfly look totally different - not just because they are in two different forms, but because you would never guess they are related.  Some very exotic caterpillars turn into very plain looking adults.  While other plain looking caterpillars turn into very exotic looking adults.

The Cecropia caterpillar looks rather bland considering the moth that IT turns into.

Source:  Wikipedia

Cecropia moth

 The big beautiful giant swallowtail butterfly...

Source:  Wikipedia

has developed a totally different strategy as a caterpillar - camouflage.  Its larvae actually resembles bird poo!!

Source:  Wikipedia

Not something a predator would take a second glance at unless it moved and it certainly doesn't (at least to our human eyes) look very appetizing.

The Great Orange Tip butterfly's larvae...

Source:  Wikipedia

uses both camouflage and mimicry to avoid predators looking both like a leaf and the common green vine snake.

Source:  Wikipedia

The pasture day caterpillar and moth DO look similar, even though the caterpillar is covered with white spines.

Source:  Wikipedia

Source:  Wikipedia

Inchworms are also actually caterpillars.  These inchworms...

Source:  Wikipedia

turn into the Geometer moth.

Source:  Wikipedia

Love these interesting little guys.  Just be careful which ones you pick up!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Memorable Magpies

When I lived in Colorado, magpies were a familiar sight.  The species I saw in Colorado is actually the black-billed magpie and a member of the crow family.  Its coloring is not all that spectacular with its black and white 'tuxedo' look, although it does have some iridescence on its wings.  Magpies are known as one of the most intelligent birds in the world and the only known species of bird that recognizes itself in the mirror (for more on that click here).  It is one of only four birds found in North America whose tail makes up half or more of its body length.  It is an opportunistic feeder and eats just about anything including insects, rodents, fruit, eggs, nuts, and carrion.  And like starlings and jays it will also take advantage of any pet food left outside.

Black-billed magpie   Source:  Wikipedia

We don't have magpies in the east.  They only live in the western U.S., but much further east the magpie is much more exotic looking.  Like in Taiwan!  The Taiwan Blue Magpie is also known as the Formosan Blue Magpie and as its name implies, it is a gorgeous shade of blue and a tail even longer than the black-billed.

Source:  Wikipedia

The Sri Lanka magpie is even more colorful.

Source:  Wikipedia

Not a fan of blue?  Magpies also come in a lovely shade of green - as in the Common Green Magpie found in Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo and the lower Himalayas.

Source:  Wikipedia

Magpies also come in a smaller version, like the Indochinese Green or Yellow-Breasted Magpie.  This name confuses me because it doesn't look like it has a yellow breast and looks more blue than green.  Even though magpies are in the crow family, they are also related to jays which definitely shows in this species (as well as in the striped tail under feathers of the Common Green above).

Source:  Wikipedia

Even though these other magpies are more colorful, I still have fond memories of the more staid  magpies in Colorado.  They are more sedate and formal. 

Yet another species of magpie is the Javan green or short-tailed magpie from Borneo and Java.  To see a video, click here.  Magpies can also learn to talk like parrots.  To see 'Rooney', click here.  For more on bird intelligence in general, you can visit my 'Birdbrain?  Balderdash' post.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Dinner Drolleries

A friend of mine said, 'I just have one cat and I know what it's like here at dinnertime, I can't imagine what it's like at your house with seven cats,'  So this post is for you, Jean!

Actually feeding time at my house is a pretty tame affair, albeit a lengthy one.  I feed a total of 11 sometimes 12 cats, four or five strays along with my own seven.  Since feeding the outside cats usually takes less time than feeding my own, they usually get fed first, to the total disgruntlement of my crew.  The dry food and water gets taken outside first and then I take out one or two platefuls of canned food (equaling one can) depending on how many 'guests' I have.  The cats I call Romeo and Van Gogh are my regulars, and Tabby, Spot, and sometimes Tang join them.  They all get along and easily share the two dishes which are actually Pyrex pie plates so there is plenty of room for eating.

Romeo, Van Gogh and Tang sharing a bite

Then I come inside to feed my guys.  Actually girls, since I only have one male cat, Pugsley.  The seven cats also share one can of food which I add water to in order to stretch it out so that each cat gets a spoonful. You might think that's not enough, but they rarely eat it all initially.   (They also have dry food down all the time so they can eat that whenever they want.)  Along with adding the water, I grind up some Lysine and add that to the mix.  Then I put the dishes out - I have such little counter space, several bowls end up on the stove - in order to dish it all up. 

The kitties are not allowed on the counter so there is no 'early eating' or distractions that way.  Believe it or not, Tippi is the only one who occasionally disobeys the rules, but never during feeding time.  The cats don't usually start gathering around until they hear me putting out the bowls.  Pugsley is usually the only one urging me to hurry, and sometimes Yoda adds her voice.  The most patient one is Violet and she just sits waiting patiently, knowing that she will get fed eventually.  Sprite, Pugsley, and Tawnya like to eat in the corner by the stove...

Dolly and Yoda like eating by the kitchen table, Yoda's favorite spot is near or under the chair....

Violet is usually by the cabinet (these pictures were taken at two different photo sessions and one was on a very cloudy day and had to use the flash which is why the above photo is so 'bright')...

and Tippi sometimes goes as far as the living room.  Although Tippi also is known to enjoy 'breakfast in bed'.

She knows that wherever she is, I'll find her.  While they are eating, I'm in the second bedroom cleaning the litter boxes.  This is our routine for both morning and evening (actually late afternoon) meals.  When I finish with the litter boxes, they are pretty much finished as well, and I come back into the kitchen and move all the dishes along the wall so I'm not tripping over them.

I go outside and get the dishes for the outside cats, and then I can have MY breakfast!  Or dinner.  At some point the food all gets scraped into one dish and I wash the other six, along with the dishes for the outside cats.  Then they are all clean and ready to start the procedure all over again.

So you see feeding the kitties is really very civilized!