Wednesday, August 28, 2013

And Then There Are Sharks

There are over 400 species of sharks, the majority of which do NOT have the reputation of the great white. Sharks come in all sizes, the smallest only about 6 inches long, and the largest, the whale shark, over 40 feet long.  The whale shark is a member of a family of sharks known as carpet sharks, so named because of their distinctive markings similar to intricate carpet patterns, but the name applies to some members of this group more than others.  Many of the species are small nocturnal bottom-dwellers and are the more benign members of this intimidating group of fish. However, any animal may act unexpectedly if it is feeling threatened or protecting young. Members of the Orectolobiformes family include blind sharks...

Blind shark    Source:  Wikipedia

of which there are only two species and aren't actually blind, but are called that because of their habit of closing their eyes when taken out of the water.  They are only about two feet long and can be found around Australia.  Their claim to fame, besides the reason for their name, is that they sometimes get caught in tide pools and can survive out of the water for up to 18 hours, time enough for the tide to come back in.

Nurse sharks are also in this family and are generally slow-moving, quiet bottom dwellers.  There are three species in this group the largest, simply known as the nurse shark, is about 14 feet long and the smallest, the short-tail nurse shark is only about 2 feet long,  Nurse sharks are also nocturnal, hiding in crevices and under ledges during the day and hunting at night. The tawny nurse shark is about 10 feet long and the favored item on the menu is octopus which is extracted from crevices with a distinct suction motion due to its large throat cavity.

Tawny nurse shark     Source:  Wikipedia

Bamboo sharks are also known as long-tailed carpet sharks aptly named because their tails exceed the length of the rest of their body.  The largest species only reaches about four feet long and prefer feeding on small fish, clams and crabs,  There are two genus of bamboo sharks with 8 species each including the brown-banded bamboo shark...

Source:  Wikipedia

and the epaulette shark.

Source:  Wikipedia

The most interesting group of this family of sharks are the wobbegongs; there are 12 species and the best representatives of the name 'carpet' shark because of their markings which act as camouflage, along with their weed-like whisker lobes which resemble shag carpet!  They are also bottom dwellers and prefer shallow waters. Reaching up to almost 6 feet in length, the tasselled wobbegong is a perfect example of this unique shark that doesn't look at all like a shark.

Source:  Wikipedia

The spotted wobbegong is the largest of this group and can reach up to 10 feet long. Even though it doesn't have the sleek shape of a great white, its size alone is pretty impressive.

Source:  Wikipedia

Looking at this ornate wobbegong juvenile you might think this species would be some kind of weird catfish instead of a shark.  This species reaches only about 4 feet long.

Source:  Wikipedia

There are 8 species of collared carpet sharks, such as this saddle carpet shark.  One of the smaller sharks, it grows to only about 20 inches long.

Source:  Wikipedia

And last, but not least, is the zebra shark.  This guy which can reach up to 8 feet long and looks like it should be called leopard shark instead of zebra shark...

Source:  Wikipedia

until you see the youngsters who make a little more sense of their name.

Source:  Wikipedia

Just as you can't always tell a book by its cover, you can't always tell a fish by its name.

Here's a video of a wobbegong.

Friday, August 23, 2013

More from New Jersey

As I mentioned in my previous post, I went to New Jersey last weekend visiting friends. One new addition to their house since the last time I was there was not a human remodeling job, but a natural one - two hornets nests on the eaves in the front of their house.

The construction of the nest is really amazing, especially up close and personal.  (No, I wasn't that close, but borrowed a zoom lens from my friend, Lynne.)  Look at the color variations.  It almost looks like a layered upside-down pottery vase of some kind.

Do you notice anything different about these hornets?  Lynne identified them as white-tailed hornets, also known as bald-faced or white-faced hornets.

They belong to a genus of yellowjackets, but obviously, they are not yellow!  They build one of the largest wasp nests that can be up to 14 inches in diameter and almost 2 feet long.  Naturally, I didn't get close enough to measure this one, but I think it's pretty darn close to those measurements.  The queen starts the process by beginning the nest and laying the first eggs that become the workers.  The workers are all infertile females who expand the nest by chewing up wood which mixes with a starch in their saliva turning it in a malleable substance that can be spread with their legs and mandibles.  They also guard the nest, with multiple stings, and care for the young.  They feed on nectar, tree sap, and fruit pulp, along with other insects such as flies, caterpillars and spiders. The drones are males born from unfertilized eggs and have no stingers.  As far as I can tell their only job is to fertilize the eggs of new queens which are the last eggs to be laid.  The new queens hibernate for the winter and start the process all over again in the spring.

Source:  Wikipedia

The rest of the hornets die with the coming of winter, the nests are abandoned and are not used again.  Very interesting species!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Skylands Botanical Gardens

On Friday I went down to New Jersey to visit my friends Rick and Lynne.  Lynne is a great photographer and she and I went to Skylands Botantical Gardens in Ringwood to take some photos. There were plenty of flowers in bloom and I specifically went to see if we could see some butterflies other than the normal ones that show up on my butterfly bushes.  I was not disappointed.  Here are some of the photos I took of the gardens and two new species of butterflies I hadn't seen before.

I just love this little 'English cottage' type building that is at the entrance to the gardens.

Love this charming little statue of Pan.


Some of the bumble bees were so big and heavy they would actually fall off the flowers.

There were a couple of pools of water lilies.

You can't have a water lily pond without koi!

I wasn't able to get very good photos of this new butterfly, but it was really gorgeous and I THINK it's a Great Spangled Fritillary (and, of course, it was on a butterfly bush that pretty much looks just like mine!)...

and I think this little gem is a Silvery Checkerspot.

It was a great trip to one of our favorite spots.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Shameless Shoebill

A strange-looking bird that is a member of the same family as the pelican and spoonbill, but may not be as familiar, is the Shoebill, so named because of his large bill that looks like a shoe.  None that I would wear. Certainly not the type of shoe you would see on the red carpet.  More like a clunky orthopedic shoe or a Dutch wooden shoe.  Sort of.

Source:  Wikipedia

Found in the freshwater swamps and marshes of central Africa, this species, also known as the shoe-billed stork, is a tall wading bird whose diet consists mainly of fish, but also includes frogs, snakes and baby crocodiles.

Source:  Wikipedia

Shoebills prefer to breed in solitary pairs rather than nesting in colonies and builds a nest that can be over 5 feet wide.  Its wingspan can be up to 100 inches wide.  Besides its strange appearance, it also makes strange sounds - for a bird.  It claps its bill together to communicate and has also been heard making a sound like a cow mooing and/or a dog whining, as well as croaks like a frog.  Not your typical melodious bird songs.  As the video says, a bird made of spare parts!

Monday, August 5, 2013

More Mesmerizing Moths

The hawk moth family includes hawk moths and sphinx moths and number over 1400 species.  Besides the Snowberry Clearwing, Hummingbird Clearwing, and Hummingbird Hawk Moth (see previous post), other members of the hawk moth family include the Gardenia Bee Hawk moth.  And yes, its coloring makes it look like a bumble bee and can be found in Australia.

Cephonodes kingii   Source:  Wikipedia

If you are noticing variations on a theme, be patient.  There are more exotic and different-looking moths also in this family.  Like this gorgeous little beauty found in Europe, North Africa and Asia.  I'm not sure if you have to drink a lot in order to see it, but the pink Small Elephant Hawk-Moth is usually seen May through July.

Deilephila porcellus   Source:  Wikipedia

Found in India, Asia, and Australia, the Yam Hawk Moth has a wingspan of up to a little over 5 inches.

Theretra nessus   Source:  Wikipedia

Almost as big but found here in the United States, the Pandora Sphinx moth females are usually larger than the males.  Mainly seen at dusk, this moth has geometric darker patches with pink 'trim'.

  Eumorpha pandorus   Source:  Wikipedia

An even more dramatically decorated moth is the Oleander Hawk Moth.  Its camouflage resembles a face with eyes, nose, lips and mustache markings.

Daphnis nerii   Source:  Wikipedia

Like monarchs, these moths migrate spending the summer in Europe, and the winter in Asia and Africa.

Another pinkish moth, the Lime Hawk Moth lives throughout Europe and Asia, even as far north as Siberia.

Mimas tillae   Source:  Wikipedia

Noted for their size and sustained flying ability, the hawk moths are an interesting group.