Thursday, December 13, 2012

Do Flashy Monogamists Exist?

Taking from last weeks post I'm going to mix in a little more of my real life along with your animal facts. Lately I have gone on a quest to bring out a little more of my inner femininity. Growing up I was always more of a tomboy, I loved sports (still do), had an easy time hanging with the boys, I still dislike drama filled girls, all this lead to me suppressing my inner girl. Anyone who knows me realize how laughable this ultimately is. I'm blessed with a natural Scarlett Johansen, Kim Kardashian body. I'm pretty sure my skeleton has some hips on it and lets just say I definitely won't be needing implants anytime soon. No matter how much I have tried to discourage my inner girl, every time I stared in the mirror I would get a constant reminder of looking as feminine as one can be. Instead of fighting it, I have decided to embrace it and discovered I love being a girl. It is really nice to have a drink bought for you, dress up in high heels, do crazy things with my hair, being a girl is basically free license to experiment with whatever look I want. Being a scientist means experimentation and new discoveries is pretty much my drug of choice.

My aptitude towards tomboy tendencies isn't very uncommon in the animal kingdom. The males of most species are typically the bright and colorful ones. They need bright and colorful plumage to attract the opposite sex during mating season. The females need dull muted coloring to blend in with their environment, staying hidden to protect their young. Take peacocks for example, the males have giant feathers in a rainbow of colors, where their peahen counter parts are left with muddy brown minuscule feathers. There are some examples of colorful female animals, but they appear in polyandrous species (where the female mates with multiple males) seen in: parrots, hummingbirds, angelfish and butterfly fish. Often in these cases the males are plainer in coloring and left with doing the child rearing. It makes morphological sense for the females to be brightly colored so they can attract multiple mates.

Monogamy in the animal kingdom is actually quite rare, this excuse has been a favorite of playboys like Hugh Hefner as a reason to have a plethora of girlfriends. When I picture my ideal reality I'm not with multiple partners but one special one. But are there are monogamous brightly colored female animals? Is it even remotely in my DNA to be monogamous? The answer came in one of my favorite animals,  the mimic poison frog, R. imitator. The current belief of monogamy started by Devra Kleiman is that it evolved as a life history strategy when biparental care becomes critical to offspring survival. In this situation, both parents may experience higher reproductive success by investing in their mutual offspring instead of seeking extra pair reproductive opportunities [DOI: 10.1086/409721]. The female will lay her eggs in water, then the male will transport them to trophic level plants with pools of water in them away from hungry predators. The female will then lay non-fertile eggs in the small pools to feed the growing tadpoles. Other poison dart frog species are not monogamous and their offspring have lower survival rates.

Rainbow Bright for Halloween
 So channel your inner mimic poison frog, be colorful, flashy, and different, all the while searching for that perfect partner to raise your tadpoles with.

Happy hunting,

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hearts of an Earthworm

Got to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince
 I know I haven't written awhile yet again, lots of changes going on in my life. Again I've been struggling with inspiration, unfortunately I received inspiration in a difficult way this month. My heart has experienced some big challenges. A good friend choose to take her own life. That alone was a lot, especially because she was very close with of one of my best friends, and watching her struggle with continuing on with her own life without our friend just plain hurts. I have had my own experience with death, and it doesn't bother me as much as others.  I've seen the other side and I know my friend is completely at peace learning lessons on the other side and sharing her experiences from her time on earth. That said, it doesn't take away the pain and hurt from the people she left on earth.

I've also been struggling with finding a relationship that was a good fit for myself and in the process got my heart ssquished yet again. Finding dates has never been the issue. I'm outgoing I like to chat with all sorts of people, I like to think I'm cute, I have curves that are kicking like J-Lo and Beyonce. My problem is that transition from friendship and casual dating to monogamous relationship. Recently I've spent two months with a guy and so many things clicked. The main issue was general consideration, as in not flaking on me or just realizing hey maybe Cass would like to join my friends and I out. I talked it out with him and he told me something was missing, I was smart, funny, beautiful, but something he couldn't explain wasn't there. In that sentence my little heart broke. I said I respected that and you don't want to force things, I wished him well, I did the adult thing.

what my inner Earthworm looks like
 I've had my heart broken before. I can only say I've ever followed my heart 100% once. I was 22 and in the midst of my first love, God I thought he was amazing and just so in shock he loved me back as much as I loved him. We took trips together, rode our horses, loved each others friends, it seemed so fairytale. We moved in after a few months, but I realized that in my head over heels love phase I ignored some giant red flags. It became a daily struggle, my heart and my brain battling on what to do... Eventually my brain won out, I moved out and experienced my first giant heartbreak. So here I find myself with a much smaller heartbreak, it didn't shatter my heart like my first love, but it definitely feels as though someone kicked me in the chest (and you all know I know what a swift kick feels like). So I ask myself what do I do? Keep on trying and look for love again, even better I'm going to channel my inner earthworm.

You knew eventually I would get around to the animal facts. But I'm sure you're asking, what in the world do Earthworms have to do with heartache? Well Earthworms happen to have five hearts, and what better time than a break-up to swap out that broken heart for a brand new one! Earthworms have five pairs of simple hearts that pump blood throughout the body. They have no lungs. That feeling you get post break-up where you cant breath? No problem! Instead the blood flowing close to the worm's surface absorbs oxygen and releases carbon dioxide directly through the moist skin (called the cuticle). The uncontrollable crying you do, again no problem! Instead of a nose, ears, and eyes, Earthworms have a nervous system throughout their bodies that controls actions in response to environmental stimuli, such as vibrations, heat, cold, moisture, light, and the presence of other worms. When you can't get your brain to shut off and stop thinking about your ex? Earthworms have no brain!

In my eyes, kinda what this blog is about, the Earthworm is the perfect break-up animal to channel. Once your broken heart has recovered allow it to join up with your others and you can let your inner Earthworm lie dormant for awhile. It does get better everyone, and life does go on. I like to remind myself that there are lessons learned from every event in life, the heartbreaks really do just plain suck. Without the rain we would never truly appreciate the sun... Now onto my next goal find a guy I like half as much as my horse! Side note if you are available gentlemen who reads this blog and have several qualities as my adorable horse, hit me up!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Leaping Lemurs

I was having some difficulty coming up with this weeks post... I'm going to attribute it to fun overload from actually having some free tiem in my life and taking full advantage of it. I started thinking what unusual animal to write about when Lemurs popped into my head. Specifically the one Ring Tail Lemur from Madagascar who is absolutely hilarious. So, in honor of King Julian, here is the Lemur post.

Lemurs only inhabit Madagascar, a small island off the coast of Africa. It is believed they arrived to Madagascar 65 million years ago on rafts of floating vegetables. Madagascar was formed during the break-up of Gondwanaland, 135 million years ago. 90% of the species found on Madagascar are endemic, meaning they can only be found on the island. As of 2012, 103 species of Lemur have been identified. 

Lemurs are Strepsirrhini primates, this is not to be confused with chimps, monkeys, and humans which are all Anthriod primates. Strepsirrhini primates share many of the same morphological traits as Anthriod, including divergent digits and nails instead of claws.  One main difference is their brain to body ratio is significantly smaller. All Strepsirrhini primates also have a rhinarium (wet nose), a pheromone detecting vomeronasal organ, lack of thin bone behind the eye (post orbital closure), orbits that do not fully face forward, and un-fused lower jaw bones. It is likely the original Lemur ancestor was a Loris another Strepsirrhi primate.

Lemurs vary greatly in size, the smallest is the Mouse Lemur at 1.1 oz, and the largest at 20 lb for the Indri. Recently extinct species of Lemur could get to the size of a male gorilla. Lemurs do not have prehensile tails, that is a trait only found in new world monkeys. Each subspecies of Lemur has evolved specific traits to help give it a competitive edge. Most Lemurs have specialized teeth, the Aye-Aye has incisors that continuously grow to allow it to gnaw on seeds and wood. Other Lemurs have a tooth comb that is used for grooming purposes. Lemurs have extremely fast tooth development, often far faster than the rest of their body.

Lately lemurs of all kinds have been threatened due to the encroachment of humans on Madagascar. Animals that are isolated on islands have a history of doing poorly and often wiped out to extinction when a new predator (especially humans) is introduced. New Zealand's Elephant Bird was wiped out to extinction by humans, and now its much smaller relative the Kiwi is in danger from similar problems. Lemurs face the large human created issue of habitat destruction. The wide variety of Lemurs is do to extreme specialization. Each Lemur species is highly adapted to a very specific ecological niche, with some that are tree dwelling, some only live in water reeds, in places that one would never expect. Even a small portion of habitat being eliminated can cause a Lemur's entire ecological system to be extinguished. Humans also hunt Lemurs sometimes for food but more often as totems or even to ward off villagers from different tribes. Lemurs are a great example of an animal that is extremely sensitive and unable to adapt to habitat destruction even in the smallest of forms.

That's it for now,

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Holy Mola Mola

Size Comparison
 I often take requests on which animals people want me to write about.  Recently my friend Bernie asked me to write about the Mola Mola.  Interestingly enough this fish happens to be a great part of one of my favorite topics, how animals deal with environmental changes. It is a rare week where you don't hear someone talking about global warming and climate change. I'm not going to discuss whether i believe it is human caused or part of a natural earthly rhythm, well I won't discuss it today. But the truth of the matter is the worlds oceans are showing some of the effects from our changing climate. First some facts about the Mola Mola. In Latin, Mola means millstone which the fish resembles due to its flat shape and grey color. Where its English name Sunfish refers to its basking behavior.
Exhibiting Basking Behavior

The Ocean Sunfish otherwise known as the Mola Mola is the largest bony fish in the world. Fish come in several types but the main two are bony and cartilage. Cartilage fish include sharks. Mola Mola's can weigh up to 2,000 lbs while being as tall as it is wide. They are rather flat in width and exhibit a very unusual basking or sunning behavior.  They will go to the surface of the water and swim on their side. It is believed they swim along the surface on to prep for going into colder deeper water. The Mola Mola is truly a sun-loving fish and enjoys warmer water, mainly tropical and temperate waters. The Mola Mola is able to reach such a large size due to some odd features. Its spinal column contains fewer vertebrae and is shorter in relation than any other fish. The skeleton also contains vast amounts of cartilaginous tissue. Cartilage is lighter than bone and can allow for the fish to grow to sizes larger than any other bony fish. 
I happen to live in the beautiful city of San Diego, and recently there was a sighting of one of this fish nearby. This is highly unusual because we have rather cold water.  It could be an indicator of our ever warming oceans. Jellyfish have blossomed to larger numbers than ever. Jellyfish thrive in warmer water. This has encouraged animals who prey on jellyfish to travel with them. Some of the main predators of jellyfish are sea turtles and the Mola Mola. Warming waters can be beneficial to some creatures but extremely harmful to others. Many fish can migrate and adjust their patterns to a more ideal water temperature.  But what happens to coral reefs or kelp beds?  Both highly specialized environments that don't have the option to pack up and leave. I love to point out animals that are bioindicators.  One of my first posts in this blog was about frogs as bioindicators. I wouldn't consider the Mola Mola a bioindicator (there's just too few of them in the world), but their main food source jellyfish are.

Mola Mola's must consume vast quantities of jellyfish to maintain their considerable bulk.  A jelly fish has very low nutritional value. This also may be one of the reasons the Mola Mola are so temperature sensitive, to maintain such great size on food of poor nutrition is very difficult. Animals trade off abilities in many ways, the Mola Mola has opted for large size, but they have poor temperature regulation. Aquariums have had a hard time keeping these giant fish in captivity. They require large space and often injure themselves bumping into sides of tanks. These fish haven't been studied as indepthly as others. I hope that fish as unique as the Mola Mola have a future ion our oceans. Their future is an uncertain one, but there's always hope.

That's it for now,

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Popcorn the Super Skink

Damn he's a sexy lizard
 So recently the urge to add a new addition to my herd overwhelmed me.  For those who know me I already have 3 horses, a cat, giant bunny, toad, fish, and now (drum roll please) a Skink!  His name is Popcorn and he is a Berber (not like Justin Bieber) or Schneider's Skink.  As you can see he is absolutely adorable and very friendly (please take a moment to adore his cute face). 

Skinks are lizards and not the missing link between snakes and lizards. The do look very snake-like with their long body and short legs. Skinks can range in size from 3 in to 32 inches, though the Berber Skink (Popcorn) will be about 15 inches including tail. Skinks live in a variety of habitats, to determine where your skink lives simply look at its toes. The longer the digits, the more arboreal (tree dwelling) the species is likely to be. This is reffered to as the Scincidae Ecological Niche Index, a ratio based on anterior foot length at the junction of the ulna/radius-carpal bones to the longest digit divided by the snout to vent length (nose to butt).  Popcorn happens to have medium digits, Berber skinks are largely terrestial. Berber Skinks are originally from North Africa and West Asia.  They come in a variety of colors including gray, red, brwon, sand, and even in Popcorn's color, bright yellow with orange spots.

Popcorn's favorite perch
Skinks enjoy a wide variety in their diet, some are vegetarian, most are insectivores, and a few eat meat.  Berber Skinks happen to be mostly insectivores, Popcorn's favorite food is a fat juicy cricket.  Eventually if he grows large enough he could a eat pinky mouse (though I tend to not like feeding or watching mammals die so he will have to stick to fat crickets).  Skinks are generally mellow and tame, as my friends have discovered Popcorn is very cuddly. He loves to hang out on your shoulder and crawl up to your head and scope things out. As far as defenses, well Skinks don't have many. Teeth are non-existent, and they're not very aggressive, instead they take the duck and cover approach burrowing under sand to hide. 

Hope you enjoy the pictures of Popcorn, what are some of the members of your herd?
Thanks for reading,

Thug life

Thursday, August 9, 2012

If I Were an Alligator

Today's post is going to edge along the humorous side more than informational . . . As little kids, we're often asked "If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you what to be?  For years I thought of myself as all these exotic animals like tiger or okapi, but the truth is I'm a total alligator.

Lets start with the physical similarities:

The American Alligator has a thick body and a broad, powerful tail.  Their tail is used to propel them quickly through the water, and also as a defensive weapon. I happen to be gifted with a larger, um . . . Well, I have a big butt. This gives me a great center of gravity, and if a person happens to disturb me I have a broad, powerful booty bump that has been known to send people flying. Alligators also have extremely strong jaws which works like a vice. The biting force of the alligator is enormous, packing enough power to smash a turtle's shell or through bone ; it's designed to grip rather than chew, and thanks to an accident in 2010 I happen to have titanium jaws. Similarly I have a much easier time biting into food than chewing it. 

Onto the Aligators behaviors! Alligator's are one of the few reptiles who are maternal and watch after their young. They guard their nests and will carry the baby alligators around in their mouth. While I do not have any human young, I am the proud parent of many furry babies. Everyone knows I love my horses, cat, lizard, toad, bunny, etc., more than anything. I have a protective nature in general towards my friends in family.

Alligators live in swampy marshes and prey on a variety of aquatic foods. Younger Alligators eat mostly fish, while mature alligators will occasionally go onto land for food, but still maintain a mainly aquatic diet. The nutria (a large aquatic rodent) is an invasive species which has become a new prey source for large alligators.  My favorite food is sushi and sashimi, I love the taste of raw fish.  I also live in San Diego and love the water. Alligators will often bask in the sun to regulate their body temperature. I have also been caught sun bathing on more than one occasion.

About to prey on some lobster...
Once an Alligator has captured prey, if not already in the water they will drag it in, then proceed to "death roll." They spin at high speeds under water while holding onto the prey, effectively breaking it's neck or drowning it. I have my own version of the death roll. As I have been told by numerous ex-boyfriends, while sleeping I will grab the sheet or blanket then proceed to roll, wrapping it around myself and stealing it from my unsuspecting victim. If one tries to steal my blanket back I become highly aggressive, refuse to relinquish my prize. And I wonder why I'm single . . .

The similarities between alligators and myself can go on and on. We all have the animals we would like to be, but at the end of the day, I'm just an alligator. That's it for now,


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Holy Horny Toad

Lately I have run into another period of writers block.  Finally I decided I would just pick another of my favorite animals and go from there, so today I give you the The Horny Toad!  The Horny Toad is actually not a toad but a lizard.  It does have a rounded body and stubby tail giving it a toad-like appearance.  The spines along the Horned Lizards back and sides are modified scales, but the horns on its head are true horns.  Horns have a bony core, where as scales are just modified epithelial cells.  Their color varies from red-brown to grey depending on their habitat. 

They have several defenses against predators.  They blend in extremely well with the scrubby brush they inhabit.  Their first defense is to stand very still.  If detected they will puff up to prevent smaller prey, like birds from swallowing them.  They can raise the scales around their head and neck to make picking them up by their neck more difficult.  Their last line of defense is their most unique, they can squirt blood out of the corner of their eyes.  They do this by restricting blood flow leaving their large head.  This ruptures the small blood vessels in the corner of their eye squirting a stream of blood.  The blood also tastes foul to canine and feline predators. 

A Horned Lizard's diet consists mainly of harvester ants but they are not opposed to eating other insects like grasshoppers and spiders.  The biggest threat to Horned Lizards is destruction of habitat and eradication of ants (their main food source).  Pesticides have become so common that it is wiping out entire species of insects.  It is very sad that destruction of habitat and food source is the prevalent theme for more species disappearing. 

That's it for now,

Thursday, May 24, 2012

More Than a Leaf

Many new and exciting things have been happening in my life, currently the very best one is I have been given an opportunity to study and learn from an amazing person all about plants!  I have only been up to the ranch twice but I have learned so much and feel truly inspired.  So in honor of the wonderful world of plants I want to write about a subject I taught about in my good friend Gilly's 4th grade class, leaves!
I went to Gilly's class to discuss biomimicry and more importantly taking a closer look at the world.  I finished my talk by giving every student in the class a piece of wheat grass and asking why they thought it was designed the way it was.  They had some great and inventive answers, just a small reinder about how we loose the power of imagination and thinking outside the box as we age.  But back to my topic, leaves are a great example of how form follows function.

A plants leaves serve the very important task of food production. They contain chloroplasts which use the power of sunlight to turn water H2O into oxygen O2 via photosynthesis.  This process can get infinitely more complicated depending on the type of plant, but for today we will keep it simple and just do the process and structure of an average leafy plant.  The leaves also transpire i.e. let gases and even water escape via leaves. 

Now this diagram shows the structure for an average leaf, but each of the above sections can be expanded or condensed based on the plants environment.  Cacti have modified leaves in the form of spines, I assure you these really are their form of leaves.  They have condensed the leaf volume down drastically because they live in an volatile sun and heat environment.  They also have developed a very thick waxy cuticle to literally seal in water and prevent transpiration. 

So compare the succulents with their complete opposite, plants on the jungle floor, like the Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa).  This is a plant with giant dark green leaves.  So why have huge wide leaves?  Well this plant normally lives on the jungle floor where only traces on sunlight sneak through the dense canopy.  The most efficient way to get enough sunlight is to cover as much area as possible.  Jungles are also subject to high rain volume and humidity, so large leaves allow excessive water to transpire, but humidity doesn't allow the plant to become dehydrated.

For the last plant today, lets look at one of the worlds most popular plants, a rose.  Roses typically like moderate sun and light watering.  They are notoriously hardy and easy to maintain.  Their leaves are smaller and moderate in amount.  This makes sense, have leaves that are a conservative size because they happily exist in open sun areas.  They do not need to be ultraconservative to survive extreme temperatures so the conventional leaf shape is still acceptable.  They have a drier leaf because they do live in direct sunlight and lower humidity areas.  they can't afford to let too much water transpire.

I hope taking a look at three types of leaves inspires you to take a closer look at plants and life on this planet in general.  Nature designed everything with a purpose.  Use your inquisitive brain and take a deeper look and ask why.

That's it for now,

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Last Unicorn

Trying to get back into my science mind set lately, really looking forward to some great opportunities I have coming up in my life.  My goal has been and continues to be conservation of our planet and the plants and animals that inhabit it.  My mind often wanders on how best to accomplish my mission, thus far my best answer has been to continue on my path.  So enough with the life goal talk, lets get to the animals! 

I often joke how cool it would be to have a unicorn or Pegasus but few people realize that there are animals that have been suspected of being mythical in earlier times.  The Oryx has been accused of being a unicorn by several civilizations and high authority figures.  Aristotle and Pliny the Elder both thought the Oryx was the unicorn prototype.   The unicorn belief was likely perpetuated because a Oryx's horn is made of bone, therefore when a Oryx looses one via injury it will not grow back.  Their profile also hides one horn behind the other.  This would likely lead to several unicorn "sightings". 

The Oryx resembles an antelope or large deer.  It is very large (400 lbs), white with dark markings around eyes and on shoulders, and their most prominent feature are their two long horns.  There are a few types including the Arabian Oryx and Scimitar Oryx.  They prefer grassy steppes or semi-desserts.  They used to roam over Eastern Africa, and North American, they are considered extinct in the wild.  Zoos across the country have untied to get a large breeding program together and they are making a comeback. 

The Oryx is extremely good at adapting their body for hot temperatures.  They can reduce the rate of evaporation from their body to conserve water.  They can modify their body to 46.5 degrees Celsius before perspiration, while also being able to lower their temperature to 36 degrees Celsius at night.  They have a network of very fine blood vessels that travel from heart to the brain that pass through the nasal passages.  This allows blood to cooled before it hits the brain.  Due to their special kidneys which can stop urination, an Oryx can survive 9-20 months without water.  They can get their water requirement met by eating water rich plants. 

Hope you enjoyed learning a little more about a real life unicorn, the Oryx. 
That's it for now,

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Nudibranch (Nothing to do with Naked Chicks....)

I want to keep the unusual animal streak going, but change it up by going to the ocean for our next creature.  The Nudibranch resembles a neon colored slug and can either be smooth or have lots of equally colorful tentacles.  Nudibranch's have undergone detorsion, where their mouth and anus for a long continuous tube.  Torsion is the process that shelled gastropods go through to rotate their mantle and shell 180 degrees to bring it directly above their head.  Due to going through detorsion, Nudibranch's are bilaterally symmetrical.  They have very simple eyes which are typically limited to sensing light and dark.  They breathe through a naked grill that forms branchial plumes in a rosette in their back, where the name Nudibranch likely originated from. 

They are hermaphoditic (containing both sexes) but cannot fertilize themselves.  Hermophoditicism is a common trait in sea animals to increase likely hood of finding a mate.  Think to a Nudibranch every other Nudibranch you meet is a potential partner, instead of being limited to one sex or the other. 

So the big question remains, why did Nudibranch's develop such bright colors?  well it seems Nudibranch's took two alternative approaches, one was to blend in the other to stand out.  Some Nudibranch developed colors and appendages to mimic plants around them, an extreme camouflage.  While other Nudibranch took the opposite approach and developed bright colors to stand out and warn predators that they are poisonous or distasteful.  Some Nudibranch feed on hydroids then store the hydroids' nematocysts (stinging cells), they can travel down their body with out harming the Nudibranch.  They likely do this with a large vacuole surrounding the nematocyst.  There are some Nudibranch's that can produce toxins on their own without dietary aid, there is even a type of Nudibranch that can excrete acid out their skin. 

To sum up, the Nudibranch is more than a colorful sea slug, it is a highly specialized creature showing every color of the rainbow.  That's it for now,

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ta-Da! The Tarsier...

Tarsier's are small primates with gigantic eyes.  I find them absolutely adorable, but I'm a sucker for big pretty eyes and soft critters.  They resemble a pygmy marmoset crossed with a bat and have some truly ginormous eyes.  They currently live in Southeast Asia but were once far more widespread.  Tarsier's are the only carnivorous primate.  They like to prey on insects,lizards, and especially birds.  They are mainly nocturnal but you can find some awake in the day but acting far more lethargic.

Might as well start with the Tarsier's most defining feature their eyes.  Each eyeball can stretch 16 mm in diameter, considering this animal is barely larger than your hand and with a head 20 cm long, eyes that large is quite a feat. Their eyes are actually larger than their brain, they also lack the ability to reflect light.Their eyes and how they connect to their brain gives good reasoning that tarsier is actually an older species of primate.  Our thalamus receives visual information and is connected to our eyes directly, a tarsier has a very different arrangement than all other primates.

Tarsier's got their name because they have very elongated tarsus bones in their feet.  Their fingers are also elongated and have nails.  The third digit on their hands is almost as long as their entire forearm and contains a single long claw.  Their strange limbs make them adept for tree living.  Tarsiers are known to leap and catch birds mind flight and jump to another tree.

Tarsiers have never been able to sustain a population in captivity.  Their is only a few sanctuaries that have been established successfully.  This is a great example of an animal who has been greatly affected by habitat loss.  The only way for this unusual creature to survive is by having large sections of forest to roam and re-populate.

That's it for now,

PS you have to admit they have cute moments....

Friday, March 16, 2012

What in the World? A Pangolin...

So continuing with my month of exotic animal posts, today is all about the only scaled mammal, the Pangolin.  Many people are confused by this animal because it looks like a reptile crossed with a weasel and a dash of armadillo thrown in.  Pangolin's live mainly in Africa and some parts of India and Southern Asia.  It is a mammal the only kind with keratin scales covering its body.  When pangolin's are born the scales are soft and harden.  Keratin is the same material in our hair, nails, and even in rhino horns. 

Pangolin's has long claws and either live in trees or large underground boroughs.  Their front claws are so long they cannot walk flat footed and instead walk with their front feet curled under.  Pangolin's have no teeth instead they tear apart trees or termite mounds and use their long tongue to slurp out insects and grubs.  The tongues of Pangolin's are extra long and appear longer because they are unattached to their hyroid bone.  So their tongues extend all the way into their abdominal cavity.  When pangolin's are sleeping or scared they can curl into a ball like an armadillo.  They are nocturnal animals so they are most active at night.  The pangolin has a prehensile tail and can hang from it, often to get tasty insects.

Scientists have a hard time classifying exactly which animals are related to Pangolin's, currently they are listed in the order Pholidata with lots of now extinct animals.  There is a lot of debate if they actually belong there, a large number of scientists believe they should be grouped sloths and anteaters in the Xenarthra order.  The debate on where the Pangolin's should be classified tells me they are a very unique creature who has convergently evolved similar characteristics as several other species.  I think all can agree this is a special creature with lots of special attributes.

That's all for now,

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Animal That Smells Like a Movie Theater....

I've mostly written about animals that are fairly common and well known, but I think it is time to branch out into some more exotic and unknown animals.  So today kicks off a month of unusual animals posts.  First off is an animal that I first saw at the San Diego Zoo.  My dad was an analytical chemist for CREST, the science portion of the zoo.  It was his job to pick me up from school every Monday when my mom was too busy.  This gave me the luxury of going back to work with him at the zoo every Monday.  As you can imagine I got lots of behind the scenes tours and saw far more of the zoo than the average person.  One of my favorite animals that wasn't a main attraction was the Binturong. 

When you hear the name Binturong, the thought springs to mind is likely what the heck kind of animal is that?  It is a medium sized brown critter that looks like a fox, raccoon, cat, and maybe a little dog all mixed together  It is actually part of the Viverridae family which includes civets and genets, which resemble cats crossed with weasels.  The most striking feature of this animal has nothing to do with it's looks but actually it's smell.  A Binturong smells like fresh buttered popcorn!  Binturongs use their scent markings to signal when they are ready to mate.  Since they live solitarily, scent markings are needed to bring animals together for those romantic times of year.

Binturongs are one of the few animals that can use delayed implantation or embryonic diapause.  This is when a female can mate and delay the embryo from implanting until conditions are better.  They cannot delay implantation for long term, but a few weeks can mean the difference between starving and surviving to a Binturong.

Binturongs live in the trees and have hands evolved to live in a tree lifestyle.  Their paws have claws that are perfect grapsers on tree limbs.
Hope you enjoyed being introduced to a fun creature, next weeks post will be about another unusual animal.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Puppy For Valentine's Day?

As much as I would love a puppy for Valentine's Day, my living situation doesn't allow for that right now.  So I'm going to do the next best thing, discuss their relatives.  Today we will get back to regular biomimicry posts with Wolves.  Wolf packs consist of an alpha mated pair, their offspring, and some occasional stray juveniles.  In low population areas the mated pair can be monogamous for life.  making it one of the few animal species that exhibit monogamy.

Wolves have five toes on front paws and four toes on rear paws.  Their legs are built with elbows pointed in and feet pointed out.  This is for optimal running and gripping on difficult terrain, while also allowing them to leap and grasp prey.  In cold climates wolves can the flow of blood close to their skin to conserve body heat.  This keeps warm blood close to internal organs and away form outside of their body where heat is loss.  Keeping warm is one of the body's most difficult tasks and burns lots of calories.  By cutting down on heat loss the wolf doesn't need to eat massive amounts of food.  It is the same reason why people in freezing temperatures have to eat more calories per day to maintain body weight. Their foot pads are regulated independently from the rest of their body.  their temperature is kept right about tissue freezing point.

Wolves howl to assemble the pack, alert the pack of danger, or locate each other during storms.  Wolves have superior hearing being able to hear up to 26kHz which is superior to all other members of the canine family.  Their sense of smell is considerably less powerful that many domestic dogs.  Their eyesight is also less powerful than many domestic dog breeds but they have better night vision.  Wolves will set up ambushes, with a single decoy wolf running ahead while the rest of the pack attacks from behind.  Wolves will eat the internal organs first, followed by the muscles second.  Wolves prefer larger prey but will eat fowls during mating season and even snakes and lizards if made available. 

Hope everybody has a Valentines  Day is filled with love and if you don't have that special someone kiss your puppy or cat, I know I have many years and never came away disappointed.

That's it for now,