Friday, December 28, 2007

Swamp Rattler

There’s an EUT that I’ve known about for a long time that even I’m surprised I missed. In the second post, more than a year ago, I wrote about one of the endangered snakes I found in the road mortality survey in high school. Well, there was another endangered snake, and somehow, it has slipped through a year of blogging.

Image by me

This rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus) goes by a number of names, such as Swamp Rattler, Black Rattler, but I’ve always called it a Massasauga, which apparently means “Great River Mouth” in Chippewa. By those names, it should come as no surprise that these snakes are typically found in wetland areas, as well as near rivers and streams. They are typically ambush hunters, lying in wait for small rodents to wander within range. Since rattlesnakes are a group within pit vipers, they have heat-sensing organs to find their prey.

Unlike most rattlesnakes, Massasaugas hibernate alone, finding crayfish burrows in which to spend the winter, below the frost line. I don’t know how many of those crayfish are… uh… forcefully evicted from their burrows, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was how most Massasaugas found their over-wintering hole. Females mate in the spring, yearly or every other year, depending how healthy she is. Birthing (remember, rattlesnakes have live young) happens in the late summer, with a litter of five to nineteen bouncing… uh, slithering babies.

While their range stretches from New York to Minnesota and from Missouri to Ontario, they are endangered within each state or province in their range. So, despite the fact that the Massasauga’s range takes up most of the Northeastern United States, it really only exists in small isolated populations. One of those happens to be the Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, where I spent each fall in high school peeling dead snakes off the road. I suppose I can’t really let this post go by without a personal anecdote, so here goes. Freshman year, when we were still trying to figure out what we were doing, and I couldn’t yet drive, Dad and I came across a live Massasauga near the edge of the road. It wasn’t atypically big, probably two feet long. I had been given a two-foot long snake hook, but I hadn’t brought it with me, because I would pick up any non-venomous snake with my hands, and two feet wouldn’t be near long enough for any venomous snake. After collecting the data, we realized that we were supposed to take the snake off the road, so it wouldn’t get run over, which was achieved by stomping, yelling, and throwing roadside litter near it1.

So that was a little off topic. They are not particularly endangered due to road mortality (I only found four of them in four years of study), but for two other major reasons. The first reason is that people don’t like snakes, especially venomous ones. There are kind, little old ladies with wonderful stories about how they chopped a Swamp Rattler’s head off with a shovel. Reported cases of deaths due to Massasauga bites are few and far between, mostly due to the fact that the people did not get proper treatment in time. The second reason is simply habitat loss, just like for the Alligator Snapping Turtle, as wetlands continue to be developed.

Despite the fact that the Massasauga is state listed throughout its range, it is only listed federally as a species of concern. Most conservation programs focus on the education of the public in an attempt to let them see this snake as a part of the ecosystem, instead of a potential threat. Habitat conservation is also a big part of saving this snake, and there are a few captive breeding programs in Canada working to release more of these beauties into the wild.

1This was before we started taking photographs of each one. Otherwise, the picture would be much better than the above, or even my other option, this one.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Delhi Sands of Time

I think I may have found the most controversial EUT to date. Many websites still call this animal “the only fly presently on the Endangered Species List,” which was correct, until last year. I seem to have a thing for writing a fly post in December, but you’ll have to check back next year to see if the trend still holds.
Image from University of California Riverside

The Delhi Sands Flower-Loving Fly (Rhaphiomidas terminatus abdominalis) is endemic to the fine sand (also known as Delhi sand) dunes of southern California. The second part of its name comes from the fact that the adults feed on nectar from flowers in a manner reminiscent of hummingbirds, or, probably more accurately, hawk moths.

Parts of the lifestyle of this insect are still unknown. They are typically only seen as adults. There is a single mating season each year, from August to September, where the female will lay about 50 eggs into the sand. At that point, who knows? The larvae stay underground for probably two years, and may be predatory. I would be willing to guess that those suppositions come from studies of other Flower-Loving Flies (family Apioceridae).

The Delhi Sands area covers about 40 square miles, and it is thought that the Flower-Loving Fly occupied most of it. Now, with habitat degradation and loss, it now lives in 2.5 percent of that entire area. The conservation efforts for this animal, begun in 1993, has stirred tempers, and even gotten a (very brief) mention on NPR. To protect the habitat, the Fish and Wildlife Service set aside areas for the fly to thrive. The problem: some of that land is private property. Needless to say, landowners and developers got angry, which, of course, got conservationists angry. To this day, no one has stopped shouting.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Catfish are Jumpin'

I know I’ve been way behind on my posts. My college has a schedule where the semesters are split into a twelve-week section, typically with three classes, and a three-week section, where one takes a single class and stuffs twelve weeks’ worth of information into it. So, the number of posts has suffered—in November due to finals, and in December due to heavy work load1. So, to make up for it, I’m going to see if I can put out two posts a week during Winter Break. First up, I present more evidence as to why Ugly Overload has an “Oversized Uglies” category.

Image from Fishbase
Image from Fishbase

This is the Mekong Giant Catfish (Pangasianodon gigas), whose upper size limit is nine feet and 660 pounds, making it the world’s largest freshwater fish. They inhabit the Mekong River, the eleventh longest river in the world, which stretches through China, Thailand, Laos, Burma, Cambodia, and Vietnam. While the young have the whiskers that give catfish their name, those are lost as they age. I can’t seem to find a maximum age for these, but they can get quite old, considering the generation time is listed as 14 years.

The Giant Catfish is a grazer, eating the aquatic vegetation growing on the bottom of the river, though this source states that they’ll take “other food [read: meat] in captivity.” During the course of their lives, these massive fish will migrate up and down the river, from upstream breeding sites to downstream feeding sites.

As there is a lot of meat on a 600-pound catfish, it came to no surprise to me that one of the major causes of their decline is overfishing; even though that has mostly stopped, they’re still getting over it. Despite this, the Mekong Giant Catfish was moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered in 2003. The IUCN cites habitat loss and degradation—that is, damming and pollution—as the major causes.

Not all hope is lost. In an interview with National Geographic, one of the researchers says that there’s still a chance that these giants can make a comeback. They’ve been working on artificial spawning since 1985, and captive breeding since 2001. These, along with better pollution regulations, could bring the Mekong Giant Catfish back from the brink.

1I just wrote a ten-page paper on genitalia evolution. Look up the Argentine Lake Duck (Oxyura vittata), if you dare. Or, for that matter, Echidna reproduction.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Up to My Neck in Trouble

I have found that I can no longer visit zoos without specifically looking for EUTs. I suppose this isn’t a bad thing, as it’s always useful to expand my repertoire. On the other hand, it makes the experience slightly insufferable for people who come with me. Sorry. This time, it was again my home zoo, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. There were a few good turtles, but I had to choose one over the other. One had to fall by the wayside, because a) it is slightly cute (as evidenced by my girlfriend going “aww” upon seeing it), and b) the picture didn’t turn out nearly as well1.

Image by Me
Image by me

The Roti Island Snake-Necked Turtle (Chelodina mccordi) is fairly aptly named. It is found on Roti Island, which is a 460 square mile Indonesian island, and it does, in fact, have a snake-like neck. There is even a video of this turtle on YouTube, taken at the Columbus Zoo. Like a number of EUTs before it, it’s creepier when it’s moving.

For some reason, I am having problems finding specific answers to why it has such an elongate neck. It is an opportunistic carnivore, and having a neck it can whip around is probably helpful in catching the quicker things, like small fish and tadpoles. Much like the Map Turtles and Red-Eared Sliders I’m used to, the Snake-Necked Turtle is semi-aquatic, so it typically spends most of its time in lakes, swamps, and rice paddies.

There are two major threats to the Snake-Neck’s survival. The first one is simply the fact that it has a small natural range, so there were fewer of them to begin with. The big issue, however, is the pet trade. Its sister species, the Eastern Snake-Necked Turtle (Chelodina longicollis) is one of the most frequently-kept turtle species in Australia, and the Roti Island Snake-Neck is paying for it. As demand increases, the most economic thing to do is to increase supply, and up the price. Roti Island Snake-Necked Turtles can fetch anywhere from $300 to $500 on the black market.

This is exactly the sort of thing that CITES was created for. Now, any international trade of this turtle requires the right permits. It’s also been upgraded (downgraded?) to Critically Endangered on the IUCN red list. Other conservation programs have taken an interest, and there are breeding programs set up, though some confusions with similar species2 has slowed down the process some.

1For those who are curious, it was the Fly River Turtle (Carettochelys insculpta), which is neat because it’s a freshwater turtle that looks like a sea turtle.
2As infallible as we’d like to think we are, biologists don’t always get it right.

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.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Image from FWS
Image from FWS
In April, I mentioned an Ohio endangered species that got some cable airtime, and rightfully so. Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs1 traveled to Ohio’s north coast (that is, Lake Erie) to spend some quality time with someone I am proud to say that I (very briefly) worked with.

The Lake Erie Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon insularum) is, like most water snakes, very angry. They’re not venomous or dangerous in any way, just large and inclined to bite and musk. How large, you ask? They can get up to 3.5 feet. This “musking” is a defensive mechanism in which they spray the smelly contents of their cloaca3 all over whomever has grabbed them. It’s not pleasant.

They make their home on Kelley’s Island, a small (8 square miles) island just 3 miles off the coast of “Mainland” Ohio. I suppose that’s inaccurate, as that may be their geographic location, but they really make their homes squeezed among boulders of the rocky coast. From there, it is a short slither into the lake for some fishing. Water Snakes live up to their name well, as they are agile hunters in the water, and eat their share of small fish, frogs, and other similarly sized aquatic wildlife. They may be the same species as the common Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon), but as a separate population, they are entitled to their own protection.

As Kelly’s Island is a popular resort town, the snakes were not exactly the most welcomed of natives. For years, they were tormented by locals and visitors until, in 1999, there were less than 2,000 left. In May 2000, they were added to the Ohio and Federal Endangered Species Lists, and signs declaring “Save Our Snakes” were distributed through the island. Kristen Stanford, in an effort to change public thought surrounding these snakes, has become the Island Snake Lady, and the Lake Erie Water Snake population is now up to a minimum estimate of 6,500 individuals—not bad for seven years. The way she reaches the public is by reaching the children. At one herpetological meeting, she talked about a grandmother who wouldn’t harm the snakes any more because little Jimmy (name changed to protect the innocent) had talked with the Snake Lady, and the Snake Lady said the snakes were good.

Anybody who lives around the Great Lakes knows that the invasive Zebra Mussels have become an ecological nightmare. Well, not long after they were introduced, a natural predator of theirs, the Round Goby, was also (accidentally) brought into the lakes. This didn’t particularly lower Zebra Mussel populations, and Round Gobies boomed. However, the Lake Erie Water Snake seems to feed increasingly on these alien invaders. If the Gobies eat the Mussels, and the Water Snakes eat the Gobies, we might be one step closer to solving that problem.

1One of my dreams is to have a research job so disgusting that it can be featured on a show like that2.
2Another is to host a show like that.
3Latin for “sewer”. You can probably guess what it is.

Monday, October 15, 2007


As an adult, this week’s EUT is a dazzling green aerobat, a thing to behold as it zips through the air, decreasing the mosquito population. As a youngster, it is a brown, hairy spider-like thing that lurks at the bottom of wetlands. It uses a projectile jaw to snatch at unsuspecting prey that swims by, as if something from Alien. It is still ultimately helping with the mosquito population.
Image from University of Michigan
Image from University of Michigan

The Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly (Somatochlora hineana), like all dragonflies (and damselflies, for that matter), are always found near water habitats. Not only are these prime habitats for the flying insects that make up their prey, they provide a good place to raise the kids, who are entirely aquatic. The Hine’s Dragonfly website2 mentions that mosquitoes and deerflies3 make up a large amount of the adult’s diet. Since the larvae of both of those are aquatic, you can believe that the Dragonfly larvae eat them. Once they get big enough, the Dragonfly larvae might even go for some small fish. The projectile jaw can be seen in action in this short video, though I can tell you it’s not a Hine’s Emerald. The jaw works the same, though.

The reason that I have no issue posting about these flitting jewels is that, for all intents and purposes, the adults aren’t in danger. The larvae, however, have problems as the wetlands are continually polluted by runoff and pesticides, filled in, and drained. They used to be found in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin and Missouri. They haven’t been seen in Ohio and Indiana since 1961.

The recovery plan for the Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly mostly involves protecting the wetlands in which they’re already found. Many places are more and more worried about the states of their wetlands, since they’re discovering the ecological role that these habitats play. I know Ohio has its Rapid Assessment Methods for wetlands to designate and classify the state of wetlands. In the “Why Wetlands Are Important” Section of this site, it says that: “They are often referred to as ‘nature’s kidneys’…” This is an accurate, if slightly disgusting metaphor, since they filter out all the disgusting chemicals that flow through “nature’s veins.” Just remember, if you throw too much crap into the kidneys, they die, taking the rest of the body with them. “Nature’s dialysis machine” would not look pretty.

Edit: This is completely off topic, but I just found the blog of the people searching for the Attenborough's Echidna, which I wrote about a few months ago. It looks like they're getting close to finding it, too!

1There are about 12 songs called "Dragonfly." Pick one to use for this title.
2To quote directly: “The ugly larvae have been called little "dirt balls" since dirt clings to the hairs that cover their bodies.”
3Let me tell you, when, while doing stream studies, the desire to do terrible things to deerfly larvae is overwhelming.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Snap Yo' Fingers

This month, I intend to keep with a theme: Local Water Habitats in Danger1. I could, if I felt so inclined, spend a good long time on aquatic larval insects. However, I would rather keep from stagnating on a specific taxon, so here’s an angry turtle.

Image from National Geographic

The Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macroclemys temmincki) is the largest turtle in North America, and the largest freshwater turtle in the world; it can reach weights of more than 100 pounds. They inhabit any freshwater area large enough to house them: rivers, ponds, swamps, and similar. Their range covers much of the Southeastern United States, and up the Mississippi River to northern Illinois. Alas, this majestic animal does not make it into Ohio.

They’re called Snapping Turtles for a reason. They will sit at the bottom of the pool blending completely with the rocks. Their tongue has a wiggling wormlike projection that acts as a lure for any unsuspecting fish or frogs. Any animal that looks too closely… WAPOW! The sharp beak instantly grabs on. I wish I could find better videos of this, but a search on YouTube brings forth a good number low quality videos of Alligator Snappers doing just that2.

The biggest threat to this animal is hunting, primarily for food. There’s a lot of meat on a 100-pound turtle, if you can keep all your fingers3. Since it takes about 12 years to reach sexual maturity, these slow-growing animals need some time to recover. This, along with the issues of pollution and runoff, are why it is listed in three states, and on the IUCN list. Many states now prohibit Snapping Turtle collection, though it is allowed in others with a permit. The EPA has wetland assessment methods in place to limit the impacts pollution will have on those fragile habitats, keeping the Alligator Snapper and its cohorts safer.

1There is a reason for this. My senior biology project concerns information that never gets from the scientists to the public, such as, say endangered species that people don’t hear about. I want to involve my summer experience of working with the Ohio EPA’s water control methods. Hence, Endangered Ugly Things: Midwest Water Edition!
2Many of them are pets. I don’t like that. A) They’re CITES protected, which, alas, doesn’t stop domestic trade. B) I’m against keeping any animal with the ability to bite your hand off in less than a second.
3Arguably, there’s more meat if you can’t keep all your fingers, but I’m not going to think about that.

Monday, October 01, 2007

She's a Rock.....House!

This is going to be another post where I’m going to try to whip up enough paragraphs with minimal information. I know enough about their order, but little about the species themselves. As adults, they look like small, oddly shaped moths.
Image from University of Michigan
Image from University of Michigan

On the other hand, as larvae, they are strangely shaped, grub-like, and quite ugly. On the Ohio Endangered Species list, there are three Caddisflies (Order Trichoptera, the species are Chimarra socia, Oecetis eddlestoni, and Brachycentrus numerosus). “Trichoptera” means “Hairy Wing,” not to be confused with their sister order, the Lepidoptera (“scaly wing”).

As larvae, Caddisflies inhabit streams and rivers all over the world, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the listed species had a much-reduced habitat range. Most of the life cycle is spent as a larva, usually at least a year. Many species attach bits of detritus to their bodies, such as in the picture, to act as a protective shell. The shape and material of the shell can even be used to classify the animals. To grow into big, strong adults, young Caddisflies will eat most anything they can catch. In fact, some even secrete a silky thread, like their caterpillar cousins. However, the Caddisflies use it to form a net and catch yummy detritus flowing by their home.

Most of that was off the top of my head, after spending the summer studying the small streams (technically known as Primary Headwaters) in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I know much less about them as adults. In fact, before doing some late night collecting for my Invertebrate Zoology course this fall, I couldn’t have told you what the adults even looked like. Of course, now I know they look like small, unexciting moths that hold their wings so they form a peak over their body1. Their mouthparts aren’t as exciting as butterflies’ or moths’, and about all they can do is suck up liquids. This doesn’t matter terribly much, because they have at most a month to have sex, lay eggs, and die.

Now, why are these three endangered, as opposed to the approximately 250 other species of Caddisflies found in Ohio? I’m not terribly sure. I’ve got guesses though. These might only be found in a few counties in Ohio2. They may also be endangered because the small stream habitats in which they are found are at risk from development, pollution, or the like.

That’s where Ohio is ahead of the game… to an extent. Because the Cuyahoga River burned in 1969, just in the midst of an environmental awakening3, state and federal Environmental Protection Agencies came into existence. Ohio developed some pretty good river assessment protocols. However, in 1999, they realized that small streams leading into the larger streams need to get cleaned as well. Therefore, they set up Primary Headwater Habitat conservation efforts that look at the quality of small streams, which are similar to the ones that our squirmy friends spend their childhood.

Oh, by the way, I noticed that I haven’t gotten a single comment in five weeks. If you feel like you have anything to say at all, good, bad or indifferent, please comment. Especially if I’ve gotten something wrong. I’d really like this blog to be as accurate as possible.

1I’m sure I’ve seen tons of them before that, I just couldn’t have told you it was a caddisfly.
2Phantom Midge, I don’t know how you found that out for Rheopelopia acra, but that was impressive.
3That wasn’t the first time it caught fire. It was just the one that got noticed.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Hunchback of Colorado

It’s been a while since wrote about a fish, and I figured out I could search IUCN for all the Actinopterygii, that is, the ray-finned fish. Then found I could order the search by their category. While I found the pretty cool Shovelnose Sturgeon, there wasn’t enough information for me to write about1. The IUCN has recently highlighted the Humphead Parrotfish, which is ugly enough, but since they just highlighted it, I’ll let them talk about it.
Image by John Rinne via FishIndex
The Razorback Sucker (Xyrauchen texanus) is not too distantly related to the Blue Sucker that I wrote about a while ago. While it has a similar habit of eating organic detritus from the bottom of rivers, this one is lives in the Colorado River basin. It’s also larger, reaching lengths up to three feet, making it one of the biggest Suckers in North America. It has a big, sharp hump that gives it its name, which helps it navigate the fast moving rivers it calls home.

These Suckers are comparatively long lived, beginning to spawn at about 4 years old, and can live up to 40. However, despite their longevity, most of the young are dying early. This is mainly attributed to the large number of invasive predator fish that have been introduced into the Colorado River. Fragmented habitat and dams have also negatively affected their numbers. After all this, scientists estimate there are only about 500 adults left in the wild.

There are conservation efforts in place, many of which revolve around hatcheries in Utah and Colorado. The numbers are beginning to increase, and they’re certainly working on removing the invasive fish from the river.

1I’m getting pretty good at determining if I’ve got enough information fairly quickly anymore. A lot of that has to do with the number of photos Google has.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a Gliding Mammal!

Image from
Image from
I don’t have any good quips for an introduction this week, but I’d like to let you know that this genus is much creepier in motion. Start this video at 5:31 to see it1.

The Philippine Colugo (Cynocephalus volans) is also known as the Philippine Flying Lemur. I won’t use that term again in this post for two major reasons: a) it doesn’t fly2, and b) it’s not a lemur. It is from the Philippines, so I can keep with that. They fit into the many, many gliding animals that are given the name “flying ___”3. There are only two species of Colugo, both in the genus Cynocephalus, which means “dog-headed,” which seems to be an accurate description. The Order, which is not too distantly related to the primates, is Dermoptera, which means “Skin Wing.” They’re not actually wings, but membranes that extend from the tips of their fingers to the ends of their toes.

Colugos spend their days in tree hollows. In the evenings, they dine on young leaves, which aren’t terribly nutritious (but more so than the older leaves), and run out on an individual tree fairly quickly. This is all right because, since they live in the Philippine jungles, fresh, new leaves are just a short glide (or not, they can glide for about 100 meters) away. Their hands and feet end in sharp claws for grasping onto trees, which is helpful if you never touch the ground in your life.

Young Colugos are born early and undeveloped, much like a marsupial. However, the mother lacks a pouch, so, instead, she folds up her tail and carries the young there until it can fend for itself. This means a mother can only have one, or at most, two, every few years.

Of course, a low birth rate means slow recovery from any threats that these animals face. The biggest threat, no surprise, is habitat loss. They don’t have a very large range, and the area is being developed fairly rapidly. Since they are wild herbivores, and like a good rubber tree leaf as much as anyone (probably more), plantation owners frequently regard them as pests, and deal with them accordingly. Habitat fragmentation is also causing a problem, as individual populations get cut off from one another, leading to less genetic diversity.

1If you’re interested in African Hunting Dogs, Indian Tigers, or the Amur Leopard, feel free to watch the rest of it.
2The difference between flying and gliding is simply the fact that fliers are able to increase velocity in midair, while gliders just fall really slowly.
3 Squirrels, snakes, “dragons”, squids, frogs, fish, and geckos, to name a few.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Calling On - Weta

I was going to write about the Hairy Marron, the fuzzy crayfish from Australia, but I couldn’t find enough information about it, least of all why it’s hairy. So, this week’s post is about the other arthropod I mentioned in the footnote of the Hunter Slug post.

Image by Gerald Cubitt via ARKive

Wetas are cricket-like insects native to New Zealand and frequent (possibly even preferred) prey of Tuataras. The Poor Knights Weta (Deinacrida fallai) belonging to the genus of Giant Wetas1, is amongst the largest insects in the world. They approach 8 inches in size when mature. As they are flightless, being light is not a concern, and thus, when laden with eggs, they can be heavier than sparrows.

The Poor Knights Islands are two small, uninhabited islands off the coast of New Zealand, apparently named for their resemblance to French Toast. Personally, I don’t see it. The islands are a nature reserve, and the 800 meters around the islands are protected as a marine reserve, and apparently a great diving spot2. The trees on these islands are where these Weta live, moving to the ground to lay eggs. They may also live on another nearby island, as a Giant Weta fecal pellet was found there. Please, don’t ask me how they determined that it was from Giant Weta.

Poor Knights Wetas are nocturnal and herbivorous, and their main defenses lie in being gigantic and spiky. An adult female can lay 200 to 300 eggs per clutch, which appears to be a one-time deal in a two-year lifespan. They’re listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, even though they don’t seem to be declining. What they’re really worried about is the small size of their distribution, contained to small islands. They're also worried about the risk of a simple introduction of a non-native predator and its effects. The Wellington Zoo in New Zealand has a breeding program, both as a safeguard against extinction, and for public education.

1The genus name, according to Wikipedia, means “Terrible Grasshopper”.
2At least, according to the Tourism Department

Sunday, September 02, 2007

And the Vultures Circle

Well, it’s high time for another bird post, and I have just the animal for it. It was mentioned in the Waldrapp Ibis post as another bird seen at the Cleveland Zoo, and I even linked to a picture of it. This picture, in fact:

Image by Me
Image by me

The Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) is also known as the Monk Vulture or Eurasian Black Vulture. They’re found in mountainous areas all the way from Spain to the Himalayas. Due to their high lifestyle, they’ve developed a special hemoglobin molecule to help take in oxygen at altitudes where we would be sucking on air tanks. This vulture has even been spotted 23,000 feet up Mount Everest; that’s about 80 percent up to the summit. The tree line would have been about 8,600 feet down.

With an 8-foot wingspan, the Cinereous Vulture is the world’s largest “falconiforme,” the group that contains the true birds of prey. Finding this led to an interesting discovery: Old World vultures are unrelated to the New World vultures; all similarities between the two are a result of convergent evolution. While the Old World vultures evolved from hawk- and eagle-like birds, New World vultures—such as our beloved turkey vulture, or the largest flying bird, the Andean Condor—evolved into a similar niche from storks. This confusion on relationships even led to the common name I’ve been calling Aegypius monachus. It needed to be distinguishable from the American Black Vulture, now considered unrelated, so it was given a name meaning “ashy colored,” thus, “Cinereous.”

While the Cinereous Vulture is only listed as Near Threatened according to the IUCN, Europe1 classifies it as Vulnerable. The population decline is frequently attributed to poisoned meat set out to kill potential livestock predators, and a general lack of carcasses lying around due to quicker removal of dead cows, which were a historical food source.

Thankfully, European conservationalists have kicked into gear, so the Cinereous Vulture may never have to see the Threatened category on the IUCN list. Breeding programs have been set up in France, Spain, and heck, there’s even a breeding program at the Cleveland Zoo. Due to good management practices, their numbers are increasing rapidly in Greece. Actual direct hunting of the Cinereous Vulture has pretty much stopped because of outreach programs to the public.

1I didn’t even realize there was a list for all of Europe! Though, I can’t seem to find the list itself.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Crocodile Rock

Well, I was searching around IUCN’s redlist for a reptile to write about when I came across the legless skink (Barkudia insularis) which lives on an Indian island. Then, I find out that it had been recently rediscovered after not being seen for 86 years. It’s category on the redlist, however, is “Data Deficient.” While I know that these things need to be seen1, they don’t make for very long posts, and I’m getting tired of writing about things with limited information. Therefore, I hit the redlist again, searching for this beauty.
Image from The Guardian
Image from The Guardian

The Gharial, or Gavial2 (Gavialis gangeticus) is amongst the largest crocodilians in the world, rivaled only by the Saltwater Crocodiles of Northern Australia. Gharials can reach up to about 21 feet and weigh approximately one ton. They inhabit fast moving rivers in the Indian subcontinent, where the purpose of the long, thin snout becomes apparent. While many crocodilians are ambush predators (think of the Animal Planet footage of one leaping out of the water for a wildebeest), Gharials rely mainly on fish for their diet. A thick snout like an alligators would produce large amounts of drag, but a long, thin snout can snap sideways, grabbing unsuspecting catfish.

Not that they eat only catfish, but birds, crabs, and small mammals are eaten if they can be caught. This website mentions that the people buried by Hindu funeral tradition in the Ganges river frequently end up in Gharial’s stomachs. By my thinking, this is a good thing, reminding us that, as much as we try to deny it, we’re still part of the food chain.

Gharials have a bit of their own success story, but not quite to the point of the Lake Sturgeon or the Bald Eagle. At one point, in the 1970s, there were about 70 of them left, due to poaching3, and habitat destruction as the population of India increases. Now, after lots of captive breeding and introduction, there are about 2,500 of them in the wild. This still isn’t a big population, but it’s certainly a start.

1Which is why I mentioned it here, even though it’s not what the post is about.
2I’ve always called them Gharials, so I have no clue why I searched for “Gavial”.
3Their snout is long, with a bulb on the end. Of course people thought it was an aphrodisiac.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Long and Winding Road

As of today, I have been writing this blog for an entire year. In the first post, I alluded heavily to the essay I wrote four years ago to apply to college. I decided to post the entire thing here, without changes, as much as that pains me.
Save the midges! Collect the whole set! Yes, there is an endangered species of midge, at least in Ohio. There are also five endangered snakes, four endangered amphibians, three endangered lampreys, forty-three other endangered insects, and twenty-four endangered mollusks in this state alone, all of which get slim to nil media attention. The black bear, newly reintroduced, has made local TV often, but what about the Indiana bat? Or the Allegheny woodrat?

Therein lies my goal: inform the public of species on the brink of extinction that people either do not know about or do not care about. People care about animals to which they can attach certain traits. The bald eagle is majestic, the panda is cute, the black bear is powerful. However, these traits have nothing to do with the species’ importance in nature. The midge, which is most easily equated with annoyance, is a vital food source to many larger animals.

The only way to accurately determine the necessity of a certain species is through ecological surveys, which, as a wildlife ecologist, I hope to conduct. We can only mess up nature so much and get away with it. Maybe we have already crossed that line. The only way we can know is by these environmental studies. The disappearance of a species of freshwater clam could affect nature just as much as the disappearance of a species of falcon.

To achieve this lofty goal, I plan on attending college and majoring in biology, to get a well rounded view of the field. After obtaining my bachelor’s, it is off to graduate school, where I can focus in on my desired field of study.

I have, in fact, already begun the journey toward research ecology. Throughout my high school career, I have been advocating for animals that people have problems finding cute even when they are alive. For the past four years, I have been conducting a road mortality survey of snakes in the Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area. This study involves driving all the roads in the wildlife area, which is about thirty-three miles, and recording each snake found, of which, about eighty percent are dead.

Along with the cute and cuddly species, the ugly ones, the annoying ones, and the gross ones have to be saved just as well. We cannot ignore killing things, saying, “It’s just one species of insect,” when it causes a species of fish to die, which is, “just one species of fish.” We must remember we are just one species of ape.

Looking back at it, it seems a little cheesy, especially the ending. Well, let’s look at my track record. I’ve written about two of the snakes, one of those amphibians, one of the lampreys1, and one of the insects. Remember, that’s just on the Ohio Endangered Species List2. In the first post, I talked about American Burying Beetle news posts, Ohio Lamprey plush toys, and Save the Wartyback Mussel t-shirts. Well, I only managed one of those, but if I knew how to do the other two, I would be on them before you could say Nicrophorus americanus.

One common thread you will see between the essay and the first post is the midge on the Ohio list. Its name is Rheopelopia acra, and now you know as much about it as I do. At one point, I asked Beetle Lady if she could find anything about it. She couldn’t. I asked Bug Girl if she could find anything about it. She couldn’t. There has to be something that differentiates this midge from all the rest of Diptera, since none of them are listed. On a high note, when I searched Google for the scientific name, I came up as the fifth hit, simply from a footnote on my post on the Puritan Tiger Beetle.

I’ve become more attached to this project than even I expected, and I will keep at it as long as I can keep finding ugly things that need my help3.

1The other two were non-parasitic. That’s no fun.
2From which I’ve also taken two other fish.
3“Whenever a beetle cries out from habitat loss… I will be there.
“Wherever a salamander finds a dam… you will find me.
“When a fungus finds it can go no further… there I shall be.
“For I… am a blogger!”

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pretty Fly for a Cayman Guy

A while ago, a friend of mine suggested that I get in contact with the Blue Iguana Recovery Program to study those intriguing animals. A few days ago, he sent a request for me to write about another animal from his home island1. And since I’m always ready to take suggestions, here’s a disgusting, semi-parasitic fruit fly from the Cayman Islands.

Image from Carson (1974)
Image by Hampton Carson. Please note the white, seed-looking things around the crab's eye--those are the eggs.

Drosophila endobranchia has no common name, though if it did, it would probably be something such as the “Cayman Islands Land Crab Fly.” It is, from birth, completely attached to the land crabs found there. The eggs are laid around the eye of the crab. Once hatched, the larvae make their way to the gills, where they have a veritable feast on the microorganisms living there. Afterwards, they wander to the mouth, where they will grab whatever bits of food they can from the crab. When they’ve had their fill, they fall to the ground and pupate. Don’t think they’ve left the crabs alone, though, because, after pupating, they hitch rides on the crab’s backs until they lay the eggs.

What makes them interesting (or, at least, what this article found interesting, I think it’s pretty neat too), is that there are three separate species of Drosophila in three different locations that have given up the usual fruit fly method of eating bacteria off rotten fruit, and have taken to stealing from land crabs. The strangest part about this is they evolved these methods completely separately from each other. One is from an island in the Indian Ocean, while the others (including D. endobranchia) live in the Caribbean, and each of their life histories are different enough to show that they evolved independently.

I can’t find them on any endangered species list, but with the small size of their habitat, which is frequently being taken over by resorts, I wouldn’t be surprised if their numbers were dwindling. Also, my friend is working with a man who likely knows more about Cayman Island ecology than anyone. If he thinks they’re endangered, I’d take his word for it.

1The entire message was:
Re: Your endangered species blog.
Drosophila endobranchia
Whaddya say?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Gut Feeling

Well, this week I had intended to write about the African Wart Frog, which is both incredibly cute and unbelievably ugly at the same time. Alas, I couldn’t find enough information about it, so I had to find another amphibian to take its place1. This one seemed to fit due to the fact that the WWF catalog that I mentioned in the last post was about “Wildlife Families.”
Image by Ella Tyler via EDGE

This is an image of the Southern Gastric-Brooding Frog (Rheobatrachus silus). In 2002, they were moved from their status as endangered to extinct2. They looked like the typical grey and semi-aquatic frog, but their name gives away everything they were as parents. After mating, the female eats the eggs. Literally—there is no special mouth-pouch or anything like that; the eggs go straight into the stomach. This isn’t too much of a problem, since the female shuts down her digestive tract and does not eat anything from six to seven weeks. By this time, the frogs turn into froglets, and are ready to hop out of her mouth.

Living in Southern Australia, they were never found more than 12 feet from water. When they weren’t raising the kids, they’d eat all the insects they could catch. Their extinction is a mystery. The feral pigs that reside in the same habitat and the disruption of the water flow obviously couldn’t help, not to mention the problems that global climate change is causing all amphibians, what with more drought and higher UV levels. I suppose this makes the real mystery which one caused the most damage. If anyone was wondering why we care about the extinction of the Gastric-Brooding Frog, medical science will never know how the females turned off their stomach acid. Looks like I’ll have to stick with Nexium. Scientists have been on the lookout for them, but alas, none have been seen since 1981.

1All right, it didn’t have to be an amphibian, but I really do try to be all-inclusive when it comes to the major taxa. Since it’s been about two months since the last amphibian, I thought it was time for another one.
2I was really trying to avoid using the past tense to make this a blow at the end, but the thought of writing three paragraphs without any forms of “be” seemed too difficult.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Some Crazy Bastard

I’m sorry that I’ve been slacking; I’ve got no real excuse, but I am having problems finding EUTs with enough information for a blog post. It’s exactly the problem I mentioned in the Hunter Slug post: the species that really need our help are the ones that we don’t know anything about. On a different note, the WWF has once again given reason to explain the existence of this blog. My grandparents just got their 2008 calendar last week. Out of 13 pictures, one is an amphibian1, two are birds, and the rest, of course, are fuzzy, fuzzy mammals (well, I suppose the hippo and the whale aren’t really fuzzy, but you get the idea).
Image from IUCN
Image from IUCN

On yet another note, I believe this plant’s name ranks among the worst possible for a plant. It is the Bastard Quiver Tree (Aloe pillansii). Again, no explanation is given for the name, but it may be a, ahem, bastardization of the local term “Basterkokerboom2”. If you know your houseplants (or skin products) well enough, you probably recognize the genus Aloe. Yes, this thirty-foot tall tree from the deserts of Africa is a close relative to Aloe vera (which is found growing, among other places, rampantly in pots at my parents’ house).

I suppose saying it lives in the African desert is being unspecific. It inhabits the semiarid Karoo3 region of southern Africa, specifically on the north end of South Africa and south end of Namibia. Being one of the very few plants over about a foot tall gives it some important roles in the ecosystem, such as bird roost and food, and moisture provider through its thick leaves. It more than likely is pollinated by birds.

With fewer than 200 plants, it easily qualifies for IUCN’s critically endangered category. Why it’s endangered is a harder question, with answers ranging from grazing baboons to overgrazing to mining--or, of course, all of the above. At least some people are worried about it: International trade of the plant has been banned by CITES, so it struck me as odd that many of the informative sites about the plant were by horticulturalists. Local South African schools received puzzles, information packs, and worksheets about saving the Basterkokerboom.

1The Red-eyed Tree Frog, only the most photographed frog in the world.
2This is complete speculation through minimal evidence. Don’t cite me as a source for this.
3Off topic: Microsoft Word’s spellchecker doesn’t know the words “monotreme,” “echolocating,” or even “blog,” but it takes “Karoo” without a second thought.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Echidna's Arf

Six months ago, Greg suggested a few animals which I could write about, all listed at the EDGE website. I’ve already written about two of them and I recently saw some news about the third one that suggests I should write about it. I wouldn’t call it ugly, but obviously someone would, since it’s named after the Mother of All Monsters in Greek mythology.

Image from BBC News
Image from BBC News

This is the Attenborough Long-beaked Echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi). I suppose I should clarify that Sir David Attenborough is a famous TV naturalist and a co-founder of ARKive, not the Mother of All Monsters. That distinction belongs to Echidna. Actually, this is the only Attenborough Long-Beaked Echidna photograph. More on that later.

Long-Beaked Echidnas are insectivorous monotremes found on the island of Papua New Guinea. I’m not sure how much my readership knows about echidnas1, so I’ll give a basic description. Imagine a hedgehog with a long beak to help search for invertebrates, with a tongue like an anteater. Also, they lay eggs, which may seem strange. The term “monotreme” means “one hole,” which refers to their cloaca, as opposed to our… uh… two holes. There are three Long-Beaked species and one Short-Beaked Echidna.

While their smaller short-beaked cousins hunt for ants and termites, the Zaglossus2 forage for earthworms in the leaf litter. Echidnas are creatures of the night, and use their strong front claws to dig the burrows in which they sleep. Like the marsupials, they have a pouch, into which echidnas lay one egg. After hatching, the puggle3 laps milk which flows from patches, as monotremes have no teats. The young echidna is kicked out of the pouch, understandably, soon after the spines begin to develop.

The Long-Beaked Echidnas are endangered due to habitat loss and hunting for food. The reason the Attenborough Long-Beaked Echidna doesn’t look healthy in the photo is that it is the only specimen of the species, which was collected by a Dutch Botanist in 1961, and currently spends its time in a drawer in a museum in the Netherlands. Understandably, people thought it might be extinct. The good news is, new evidence suggests it might not be. In the area where they are found, the Cyclops4 Mountains, scientists have found “nose pokes,” which are holes made by the echidnas as they forage in the mud. Also, the locals say that they’ve been seeing them for about two years. The plan is to mount a full-scale expedition next year to find and photograph a live Attenborough Long-Beaked Echidna. If I’m still blogging by then, I’ll be sure to give you an update.

1I’m guessing quite a lot, but that doesn’t seem to stop me from explaining.
2Something to do with their tongues, right, Mike?
3Yes, this is the proper term for an infant monotreme.
4Alas, the Cyclopes are not among the monsters birthed by Echidna.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hunter S. Slug

Much the same way I found the Astingy Leaf Chameleon, I was searching ARKive for some good invertebrates. I could probably spend a good month on animals picked solely from that section, but the two that stuck out the most were the Pondoland Cannibal Snail and the Snake Skin Hunter Slug1. Since I was having problems deciding which one to write about, I asked a friend who randomly picked the slug. Don’t worry, I’m sure the Cannibal Snail will show up soon.

Image by Dai Herbert via ARKive

The Snake Skin Hunter Slug (Chlamydephorus dimidius) is everything its name suggests2: dark grooves on the skin give it a scaly appearance; it is a vicious predator, eating snails and millipedes, and possibly earthworms. How it hunts, I can’t find, but I’m sure any videos of the kill would be ripe material for Animal Planet. This hints at a serious problem with the Hunter Slug. There’s a lot unknown about it. So, we know it lives in the forests of the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, and it’s carnivorous. Other than that… there’s not a whole lot. How and when they reproduce, who knows? What are its major predators? No idea. The Hunter Slug’s only protection come from the fact that they live in a few protected areas.

I know this is a short post, but this lack of information is a big issue for literally thousands of species like the Snake Skin Hunter Slug. Scientists simply don’t know enough about the organism to properly protect it. The only way to help these species is to learn more about them. This is my form of activism. If I can teach people about things that need their help that would otherwise go unnoticed, I feel that I have done my job.

1Others include the Hairy Marron, which is a fuzzy crayfish, and the Poor Knight’s Weta, which is a giant cricket-like thing.
2Unlike some, such as the Puritan Tiger Beetle, the Hermit Ibis, or the Three-toothed Snail.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Paddlin' Madeline Home

Phantom Midge1 gave me a few good suggestions recently, but alas, neither the Yeti Crab nor the Zombie Worm are listed, whether or not they are actually in danger of becoming extinct. There are gobs of disgusting-looking deep-sea critters, but since so little is known about their populations and habits, there is not enough information for them to be placed on an endangered species list. There is, however, an aquatic animal that I had known about for a while, but about which I have neglected to write.
Image from Texas Parks and Wildlife
Image from Texas Parks and Wildlife
This is the American Paddlefish (Polyodon spathula), which I have seen for years at the Columbus Zoo, and was sure it was on the Ohio Endangered Species List. It wasn’t which slightly upset me, since I was planning on writing about it for most of the week. Turns out it’s listed as vulnerable on the IUCN redlist, so I get to write about it anyway. It lives in large rivers of the Mississippi River basin, growing up to a size of seven feet, and living up to about twenty or thirty years.

The protruding…thingy (actually called a rostrum) from which the Paddlefish gets its name is covered with electroreceptors to help it find groups of zooplankton on which it feeds. The minute prey are swept unceremoniously from the water by the gaping maw of the Paddlefish, and then filtered from the water by raking protrusions on the gills. The fish’s mouth is specifically designed to open to an immense size to filter the largest amount of water possible. Wikipedia suggests that the rostrum also acts as a hydrofoil to help keep the head level in the water as filter feeding occurs, but I don’t really like to cite them as a source.

The American Paddlefish live in rivers, so of course dams affect their populations by impeding their moving patterns. Much like the sturgeon, they have been harvested for meat, and their eggs have been harvested for caviar. Agricultural runoff causes the streams to silt up, making filter feeding a difficult prospect. To help relieve some of these threats, farm-raised Paddlefish are released into the wild. Stricter regulations on Paddlefish harvesting have also been put into effect.

1Still no blog, so here’s her sister’s link again.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Karma Chameleon

All right, so this’ll be the second EUT in a row from Madagascar (and third total), but I saw this animal on ARKive1, and it was so cutely hideous (or hideously cute, I’m not sure), that it needed to be written about.

Image from Animal Diversity Web
Image from Animal Diversity Web

This is the Astingy Leaf Chameleon (Brookesia perarmata2). The Brookesia genus contains the smallest chameleons, and in fact, some of the worlds smallest reptiles. One picture on this website shows one sitting comfortably on a gum wrapper with lots of room to spare. The Astingy Chameleon, also known as the Armored Chameleon, isn’t quite that small, growing to a whopping five inches.

Astingy Chameleons aren’t quite your typical chameleon. Sure, they’ve got the zygodactyly, the projectile tongue, and independent eye movement, but no color change, and no prehensile tail. Actually, most of the Brookesia genus is collectively known as the stump-tailed chameleons. As a forest floor-dwelling species, prehensile tails are pointless, and, when the idea is to look like a dead leaf, and one is this good at it, why bother to change colors? They enhance the leaf-mimicry by rocking in the wind, and, when frightened, falling to the ground, motionless.

Astingy Leaf Chameleons are named after their home, the Astingy region of Madagascar. Since Madagascar is hot and muggy all year round, there is no real mating season, though it is thought that it tends to occur in the rainier times of the year. Eggs are laid under the leaf litter, where the constant background level of decomposition nicely regulates the heat and moisture content of the nest.

When you first saw the picture, I’m sure you either thought it was hideous or you wanted to take it home. I’ll admit, I was one of the latter--that’s the problem. The pet trade3 has affected chameleon populations worldwide. Granted, the Armored Chameleon has this problem less than the more colorful ones, but it’s still enough that CITES has put it on their list. Deforestation, as the human impact on Madagascar rises, causes habitat to be lost for our spiky friend here.

1I’ve got to get around to e-mailing them to see if they’ll let me use their pictures here instead of just linking to them. They’ve got the strangest species, all on the IUCN redlist, which is exactly what I need.
2Mike, I’m liking the scientific name translations. Keep it up.
3Hm… this is the first EUT to have a problem with the pet trade. Does that make it cute? Nah.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Secret Agent Bat

It’s been a bit since I’ve written about a mammal (actually, a month to the day) so I decided to raid the EDGE1 website, which deals with exceedingly endangered mammals, many of which are, unsurprisingly, small-rodent looking things, simply due to the large percentage of small-rodent looking mammals2 (those may come later). In this post, however, I’ll to tell you about a bat with the coolest adaptation ever: suction cups.

Image from EDGE
Image from EDGE

Yes, the Old World Sucker-Footed Bat (Myzopoda aurita) has, as its name suggests, suction cups on its wrists and ankles. Because of this adaptation, it can attach itself in cheesy-‘60s-spy-film style to the sides of broad leaves and smooth stems, hence the title of the post. Otherwise, it looks much like any other microchiropteran (echolocating bat, as opposed to the fruit bats), with ears bigger than its head and small, beady eyes. As my grandmother put it, it looks like a bulldog with fins.

There is little known about this bat’s specific habits. It is a moth-eater (mostly) and may require specific broad-leaved palms to roost upon. Researchers believe the glands in the suction cups might produce a glue-like substance (since we all know how long those plastic suction cups stick normally). While most bats are observed by mist netting, the Sucker-Footed Bat (such a cool name!) maneuvers well enough to avoid them, leading to even less certainty about this animal’s lifestyle.

They’re found only on the eastern edge of Madagascar, though evidence suggests it once (in the Pleistocene) inhabited most of eastern Africa. Loss of habitat has certainly negatively affected the bat’s populations, and sadly, there aren't many conservation efforts in place (although just telling you about it has helped the situation just a little bit). Scientists have recently found another species in the same genus, making it possibly a little less Evolutionarily Distinct.

Oh, by the way, the last suggestion I got was that post last month that I talked about. I’m kind of hard up for new ideas. Pleeeeaaase?

1That stands for Evolutionarily Distinct Globally Endangered, meaning that once these animals are extinct, nothing like them will exist in the world. Kinda chilling, isn’t it?
2Just because I’m describing them all as “small-rodent looking mammals” does not mean they’re all the same. Small-rodent looking mammals are exceedingly diverse.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Birdhouse in your Waldrapp

I had hoped that a trip to the Cleveland Zoo this last weekend with Miladyofthelake1 would prove fruitful, and, in fact, it did. Along with the Cinereous Vulture (near threatened—does that count?) and the Lappet-Faced Vulture (vulnerable), I found the Waldrapp Ibis (Geronticus eremita), which I think looks far more sinister than either of those adorably fuzzy carrion-eaters2.

Image from Me
Image by me

Yes, I said ibis, which most of you will associate with the American White Ibis or the Scarlet Ibis, which are much too bright and pretty. The Waldrapp Ibis (or Northern Bald Ibis, or Hermit Ibis) is oil-sheen black with a featherless head and a scraggly mane of black feathers that give it a buzzard look that no respectable shorebird should ever hope for. Not that the Waldrapp Ibis is really a shorebird, aside from being so phylogenetically. It lives in the grassy steppes of Morocco, Syria, and Turkey, as opposed to the marshes that its cousins inhabit. It still exhibits the same eating habits of other ibises by probing the mud (or dirt) for insects and lizards, and when the opportunity arises, small mammals. Completely shunning the aquatic lifestyle, they nest on cliff faces.

So why is it that these poor birds are critically endangered, and confined to three small areas, when it once roamed through all of Northern Africa, Central Europe, and the Middle East? It could be hunting, or nest site disturbances, or habitat loss. The insecticide DDT used in Turkey in the 1950s certainly didn’t help3, but they might be dying out due to natural causes. And these are suggestions from just one source. In other words, people do not know the exact reason why the Waldrapp Ibis is endangered.

Not that that’s stopping them from trying to help them out. Most zoos that house these ibises (and there are more of them in zoos than in the wild) are part of a Species Survival Plan, whose goal it is to breed animals in captivity to be released into the wild. Once there, the Waldrapp Ibis is protected by programs that are growing around them to see that they are undisturbed and happy.

1I have to thank her for editing most of the posts so graciously since, oh, about the lamprey post in late September. If you can read this without asking yourself, “What is he talking about?” thank her.
2I also found the Sturgeon Catfish, which is ugly enough to cause me to chastise myself for being disappointed that it’s not endangered. I have to keep reminding myself that I should not wish those sorts of things on an animal just so I can write about it.
3It has a tendency to wander up the food chain and kill whatever’s at top, cf. bald eagles in the United States.