Thursday, 30 June 2011
Thursday, 23 June 2011
These little cute bug eaters are a request by a good friend…What eats bugs, drinks sap, looks like a squirrel with big eyes and can glide? The sugar gliders! They get their name for their love of tree sap. There are a few unique things about these little critters, which I will share with you.
Sugar gliders are actually gliding possums (it is a good thing they do not look like a possum), they are mostly a greyish colour on their backs and sides with black stripes in various places. There is usually a black line that goes from between their eyes to their lower back. The tail fades from grey to black as you get closer to the tip. Sugar gliders bellies, chest and neck are a cream colour, they have big black eyes and they are (as a lot of people would say when they see a picture of them) CUTE! Sugar gliders will have all people around the world go "aaaawwwwwwww". Sugar gliders have a prehensile tail which means that can grip and hold things with their tails and they have pouches, as they are marsupials.
Sugar gliders eat bugs, some plants, fruit and tree sap so they have plenty of food sources. When their food source is scarce they can actually slow down their metabolism, lower their body temperature and use less energy so they need less food, this is a form of hibernation called torpor but they do not good to sleep; they mostly just slow down and not move much.
What makes sugar gliders able to glide are the patagium on each side, this is a thin membrane that extends from the fifth finger to the first toe. They can change direction and speed by adjusting the curvature of the membrane and they can do this by moving their legs and arms. Sugar gliders also have a few scent glands which they use for marking but the males have a scent gland on their forehead that can be seen easily because it is a bald spot, kind of like that balding uncle everyone has.
The females have a pouch, which they will raise their joeys in and they will have one to two joeys at one time. Sugar gliders can raise young rather well in captivity like zoos and wildlife reserves but they do not raise young well when kept as ‘exotic pets’ as they needs lots of room to glide from tree top to tree top. Keeping the sugar glider as a pet is appealing because they are so cute but it is not fair to the sugar glider, it would be like keeping a lion as a house pet, they need more room.
So, if you want to see a super cute creature gliding through the skies that has the ability to slow its metabolism down in times of trouble, look no further than the sugar glider!
Thursday, 16 June 2011
The narwhal is quite a mythical looking creature; if a unicorn mated with a whale you would most likely get this! It has a long tusk sticking out of its forehead, people once though that it was put on their head by unicorns since unicorns were thought to be magic. Vikings sold narwhal tusks to Europeans claiming them to be unicorn horns, selling them for the weight of the horn in gold. No need to worry about those tusk attacking your boat, as narwhals will not strike with them, the tusks serve a purely social purpose.
Narwhals can weight up to 1600Kg (3500lb) and can be up to 8m (26ft) long. The tusk can be up to 3m (10ft) long and the body up to 5m (16ft) long. The narwhal has light black skin with white spots or patterns on it; they are the darkest black when born and get lighter in colour as they age. Narwhals generally live in the northern Atlantic and Russian waters rarely going below 65 degrees north. Narwhals are a migratory species, in the summer they migrate closer to the shores and in the winter move away from the shores swimming under pack ice, coming up for air in the gaps. Narwhals live and migrate in pods (a group of whales, narwhals or dolphins are called a pod) of 10 to 100.
The tusk that grows out of the narwhal’s head is actually a tooth and is very similar to the tusk of an elephant. As the tusk grows it twists and can end up with a straight twist or a wavy twist like a corkscrew. The average male and female have one tusk but 1 in 500 males develop two tusks and in even rarer odds for a female to develop two tusks. The tusk is used like the mane of a lion or the feathers of a peacock, to impress the ladies! The male with the largest and longest tusk gets all the ladies, of course. The tusks are also used to show dominance in social standings, narwhals will rub their tusks together with other narwhals to prove dominance and that is called tusking.
Narwhals live off a specialized diet of deep-sea animals that live on the ocean floor, mostly Greenland halibut, polar and Arctic cod, shrimp and gonatus squid, sometimes scientist find wolfish, capelin, skate eggs and rocks (believed to accidently eat them while feeding near the ocean floor) in their stomachs. It is rare for a creature to survive as well as Narwhals do on such a specialized diet although narwhals are at risk with ice caps melting because it will greatly affect their food source.
Narwhals are well known in scientific community for their deep diving abilities, diving up 1500 meters (4921ft), lasting as long as 25 minutes and doing that as many as 15 times a day. The tallest building the world is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and that is 828m (2717ft) – ergo, a narwhal will dive almost as deep as two Burj Khalifas standing on top of each other, now that is an epic dive! The deepest a submarine has ever dived successfully is 1300ft. If a human were to dive that deep our bodies would be crushed under all that pressure, but that is an average afternoon for the narwhal.
Just goes to show that sometimes what people thought to be make believe is an actual creature, a whale with a ‘unicorn horn’. Maybe unicorns are real and we just have not found them yet. Just keep searching and nature will always show up with something amazingly epic!
Wednesday, 8 June 2011
The echidna is a small animal covered in fur and spines and has a unique snout. A lot more people know a reference to the echidna then they realize…Remember the Knuckles, the red spikey guy from Sonic the Hedgehog? As a kid growing up I didn’t realize that Knuckles is actually an echidna until a friend told me. There are four different types of echidnas in the world; Short-Beaked, Western Long-Beaked, Sir David's Long-Beaked (named after Sir David Attenborough…remember him from the Titan Amur post?) and the Eastern Long-Beaked Echidna. The Echidna is part of the mammal group called monotremes which have a very unique attribute amongst mammals, which I will explain later in this post.
When you first see an echidna you might think that it is either a hedgehog or a small porcupine until you see its face and notice the beak like snout. The average Short-Beaked Echidna is about 45cm (18in) long, has a 75mm (3in) snout and weighs around 2 to 5 kilogram (4.4lb to 11lb). They appear to have no neck but it is actually very short, almost as if the head and body is merged together, earholes on each side of the head but no earlobes (or pinnae), small beady eyes, the nose and mouth are on the end of its snout. The mouth cannot open wider than 5mm (0.2in), which is just fine because they use their long sticky tongue to grab ants and termites to eat. The tongue can reach up to 180mm (7in) – almost half the length of the body!
The echidna is covered on their back with fur and cream coloured spines that are up 50mm (2in) long, mostly made of Keratin (compressed hair). The spines are not hook shaped or shaped in any way that make them stick into you. They do not shed the spines, but they have been known to fall off when ill or too stressed. The echidna has a defensive posture where they roll themselves into a ball; this protects their underside and head from danger while leaving spines sticking out in all directions.
The echidna has long curved claws on their hind feet, this is helpful to groom between the spines on their back. The echidnas are very prolific diggers and can dig very fast with their powerful front legs. It was once reported by a scientist that an echidna was moving a fridge around in the lab with strength similar to the Hercules beetle. Echidna’s corneas are harder than most mammals and this is to protect again chemicals secreted by insects. Echidnas can live in areas that have high carbon dioxide levels, they slow down their heart rate to conserve oxygen, and this helps them to survive forest fires and living deep in the ground. To further ensure survival, echidnas are good swimmers so a flood does not bother them much. Echidnas have a keen sense of smell, and can sense electricity with their snouts; they also have sensitive optic nerves that has been shown to have visual discrimination and special memory like a rat. The echidna has the largest prefrontal cortex relative to its body size, taking up to 50% of the brain when humans are only 29%, this is part of the brain that controls reasoning and strategy so they have good problem solving skills, like getting through mazes and opening trap doors to get to food. All in all they are quite adapted to survive just about everything, which is good because they do not have a large population.
The echidna is a shy solitary animal expect for mating and raising young. Multiple males will court one female and if she rejects them she will curl into a ball, seems to be their answer to everything they don't like. The male has a two-headed penis with two tips on each side; this increases the likelihood of pregnancy. Once pregnant the female gestation period is 21 to 28 days, which she makes a nursery burrow to rest and raise the puggle (baby) in. After gestation she produces a single rubbery egg around 15mm (0.5in) long into a small pouch under her abdomen. The puggle grows a tooth in the egg that is designed just for cracking the egg and looses it not long after its birth. The egg hatches in about ten days and then since the mother does not have nipples the puggle drinks milk from about 100 to 150 pores on her abdomen. The echidna has been recorded to live as long as 49 years in a zoo and we are not sure how long in the wild. Echidna only live in Australia and New Guinea and is an introduced species to New Zealand; they are not endangered but there are not a lot of them so they can easily become endangered.
If you have not noticed what the very unique attribute is that is ok because they have so many of them. The very unique attribute is that the monotremes are the only mammal to lay eggs, there are only two living mammals that do this and they are the echidna and the duck-billed platypus.
With the spines, claws, unique snout, strength, intelligence, egg laying and many adaptations there are more than enough reasons to call the short-beaked echidna (or any echidna) EPIC!
Thursday, 2 June 2011
The Lyre bird is the Little Richard of the animal kingdom! They can mimic any sound they hear, from other birdcalls and camera shutters to chainsaws or car alarms or even people talking. It has quite an epic vocal cord that impersonators would kill for.
The Lyre bird is a ground dwelling Australian bird (they also live in New Zealand) with a unique plumage of coloured tail feathers. There are two species of lyre birds - the Superb lyre bird that can be up to 98cm long and Albert's lyre bird that can be up to 90cm long. They are brown, black or grey with brown or black striped tail feathers.
Male lyre birds call mostly during winter; they make a cleared area to maintain an open arena-mound in dense bush where they will sing and dance to court the females. Once the courting is successful the female will make an untidy nest, lay one egg and be the only one to lay on it for 50 days until it hatches. The female is also the only caretaker for the chick as well.
Lyre birds will eat insects, spiders, earthworms and sometimes seeds which they find by scratching through the loose leaves on the forest floor. Lyre birds are not big on confrontation, when threatened they will run away and hide rather than flight; they would rather run away than fly because they are awkward fliers. Firefighters have reported them hiding in mine shafts during bushfires so as stated before, they would rather run and hide.
The mimicry contains a big mixture of other sounds to impress the ladies, sort of like making a mix tape to impress your crush. Lyre birds have the most complexly muscled syrinx (vocal cord) of the Passerines (songbirds). Lyre birds can amazingly mimic the calls of other birds/animals and the sounds of other things. Lyre birds have been known to mimic the sounds of chainsaws, car engines, car alarms, fire alarms, rifle shots, camera shutters, dogs barking, crying babies, human voices and multiple bird calls and sounds at the same time. Females have the same amazing mimicry that the males do but they very rarely use it, I guess they are more modest. In 1969 a park ranger recorded a lyre bird song, which resembled a flute sound; it turned out that a flutist near by liked to practice and the lyre bird would mimic him songs.
In the early 1930s a male lyrebird named James formed a close bond with a lady named Mrs. Wilkinson. After a while of feeding James, Mrs. Wilkinson taught him to stand on a particular mound and perform a mating call and courtship dance for her, she even got him to perform for a crowd but he would only do it if she were in the crowd. James was known to perform for 43 minutes which included copying (perfectly) the calls of Australian Magpie, a young Magpie being fed by an adult, an Eastern Whipbird, a Bellbird, a complete laughing song of the Kookaburra, two Kookaburras laughing in unison, a Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoo, a Gang-gang Cockatoo, an Eastern Rosella, a Pied Butcherbird, a Wattle-bird, a Grey Shrike-thrush, a Thornbill, a White-browed Scrubwren, a Striated Pardalote, a Starling, a Yellow Robin, a Golden Whistler, a flock of parrots, a Crimson Rosella, the song of Honey-eaters (tiny birds with you can barely hear), a few other birds that were not recognize by the crowd, sounds made by rock crushers at work, a hydraulic ram and the tooting of motor-horns. I think every DJ should have a lyre bird.