Thursday, November 22, 2007

Here We Come a-Wattling

Well, I had hoped to get this (or something) up earlier, but finals and the end of the semester got in my way. Today, in honor of Thanksgiving1, I’m writing about an Endangered Ugly Galliform. For those who don’t know the orders within Class Aves off the top of their heads, Galliformes is the order that includes the chicken-esque birds, such as pheasants, grouse, quails, and, of course, turkey2. Granted, this week’s EUT is none of those, but it’s the taxon that counts.

Image from Birding Peru
Image from Birding Peru

The Wattled Curassow (Crax globulosa) is a seven-pound bird that inhabits the rain forests of western South America. They are fairly omnivorous, finding what fruits they can, but mostly eating invertebrates they find in the flooded forest and riverbanks. Despite spending all day foraging on the forest floor, they roost in trees, though specific information on their nesting habits seems a little thin.

Surprisingly enough, the Wattled Curassow has, in fact, a wattle. Around their beak is a set of conspicuous, fleshy protrusions. These turn bright red on the males during the mating season in June. Another visual oddity in these birds is their crest, which, to my eyes, looks exactly like meticulously gelled curly hair. Their white rumps are prominently displayed in the mating ritual, in which the males make high-pitched whistling noises, as opposed to most other curassows, which “boom.”

As I did introduce these as chicken-like, it should be little surprise that the largest threat to these birds is hunting. The addition of shotguns to the arsenal of people in those areas is cited as the cause of the huge population drop of the Wattled Curassow. Human population expansion is the easiest along rivers, and since this is the Curassow’s habitat, they are frequently picked off.

There are a number of people working on the conservation of this bird. A Bolivian Bird Conservation group has a Wattled Curassow Project in place, and they are trying to find suitable habitats. Ecotourism may be used to better protect their habitats, and many groups are trying to determine how these methods might be used for conservation.

Edit: I just found out that WWF has an Eastern Hellbender plushie. This makes me exceedingly happy, and leads me to believe that maybe I should let up on the WWF just a little.

1The American one. The Canadians actually hold Thanksgiving about the same time of year the Puritans had theirs.
2I just found out that the North American Wild Turkey is the largest galliform in the world. Neat.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Indiana Jones

There’s a species that I mentioned in the original essay that I haven’t written about yet. Its ugliness is questionable, but there are a lot of people who don’t like bats. I had hoped to get this up by Halloween, but various factors conspired against it.
Image from FWS
Image from FWS

This is the Indiana Bat (Myotis sodalis), which, as its name suggests, is found in Indiana. About half of the entire world population roost there, with the rest of them spread out among the nineteen surrounding states. Their genus, Myotis, means “mouse-eared”, and includes more common species such as the Little Brown Bat, and three others that are found in Ohio1. The species name, sodalis, is Latin for “companion,” which is an appropriate name for them, as they roost in groups of at least one hundred individuals.

As far as shape and nightly habits go, the Indiana Bat is like most other small (they weigh up to 7.5 grams), insectivorous bat—hunting by echolocation, swooping after moths and mosquitoes all night, and coming back to roost at dawn. They make their roosts under sloughing bark of dead trees, typically near streams. In the winter, they find caves in which to hibernate. Their exacting standards for these hibernacula (the technical term) are one of the reasons that they are endangered. The caves must be between freezing and 50°F, and maintain about 95% humidity.

The National Fish and Wildlife Service states that one of the major threats to the Indiana Bat is human disturbances of their hibernating caves, much like the Virginia Long Eared Bat. However, even gating erected to keep people out can disturb the environment of the cave, if done improperly. Many people are also worried about their summer roosts being disturbed, or cut down.

There certainly are conservation programs in place to try to help them out. They are listed as endangered, federally and internationally. The major goal of the conservation programs is to prevent the disturbance of the nesting sites. In the Wayne National Forest, there is a single hibernaculum, but hardly a tree can be cut down without at least a few nights of monitoring for these furry fliers.

1And likely in nearby states as well. What can I say; I’ve lived in this state too long to not be a little biased.