Sunday, January 28, 2007

Davey and Goliath

A while ago, I mentioned that frogs tend to be too cute to be mentioned here. I was mostly driven to this comment by the existence of the Golden Mantella, a tiny, big-eyed yellow frog, which happens to be critically endangered. My parents suggested that there might be, in fact, an ugly frog out there. I looked on the U.S. Endangered List and found something called a Goliath frog.

Goliath frog and watch--Image from Enyclopaedia Britannica
Image from Enyclopaedia Britannica

At 13 inches and 7 pounds, Conraua goliath lives up to its name. It is found in Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon. They tend to eat arthropods and fish, though they will eat anything smaller than their head that can be easily caught. ARKive has a picture of a Goliath frog eating... a Goliath frog. I didn’t find any indication of the frequency of cannibalism, though this article mentions it. It also talks about a 10-foot leap, but “it can only make three or four such bounds before giving in to exhaustion.” That is to say, they’ll be 30 feet away from you before they get tired.

The Goliath frogs, despite their large size, are difficult to find. The Cameroon Government allows the export of 300 individuals, though good hunters can find only a few dozen a year1. This does hint at the first cause of their endangerment: there’s a lot of meat on a 7 pound frog; they have been hunted for bush meat. They are exported for pet trade as well, but since they breed poorly in captivity, this collection does not help their numbers.

Scientists are trying to find more about their habits, and there was an extensive PIT-tagging project in 2004. However, legal aspects will have to come into play, since the Goliath frog is still unprotected.

1Though, for proper multiplication, it would be nice to have the number of good hunters around Cameroon.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

AYE Aye aye aye! (begin Crazy Train)

I’ve been mulling over this Endangered Ugly Thing since the inception of this blog. Is it cute or hideous1? Well, it was originally classified as a rodent, and the native Malagasy consider it a portent of death, so we welcome the world’s largest nocturnal lemur to Endangered Ugly Things.

Image from BBC

The aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) has massive eyes and ears for better managing its nightlife. Like all lemurs2, they live in the dense jungles of Madagascar. Unlike the rest of the lemurs, their hands are long and spindly, with a skinny, elongated middle finger (I can’t find the average length, though). Aye-ayes tap the wood with this finger and listen for the correct echo with their huge ears, and gnaw a hole in the wood with their rat-like teeth before they begin rummaging for the grubs with their twiggy middle finger, filling much the same role as our woodpeckers. They will also eat fruit or vegetable material (or eggs), extracting the pulp using this finger3.

These raccoon-sized lemurs are usually solitary, moving along the treetops. Males’ home ranges are large (100-200 hectares) and encompass many females’ ranges. They tend to be curious and unafraid of people. Territories are marked by scents. When breeding season comes around, the females scream out to advertise their availability. The babies are weaned for about 7 months, and the females mate every three years.

Habitat destruction is the major threat to the aye-ayes, along with just about everything living in Madagascar. When agriculture invades their usual haunts, they will feed on the fruits, such as coconuts, becoming pests. Also, as mentioned in the beginning of the post, many Malagasy natives believe them to be omens of death, or other like portent, so they get killed on sight.

Many of the places aye-ayes live are protected, helping to save their habitat, and they are being introduced into other areas. There is a law against killing them, but it is not well enforced. Breeding programs exist at various zoos and the Duke University Lemur Center. But be warned, the little aye-ayes are even uglier.

1I get the feeling that the guys at Ugly Overload get this issue all the time.
2Which, appropriately enough, comes from the Latin “spirits of the night,” at least according to Wikipedia.
3ARKive has tons of wonderful pictures and videos, and it looks so much creepier when it’s moving.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Condor of Happiness

The following post was written by my girlfriend. She volunteered to write an ugly bird post, and I was more than glad to let her.

For the most part, birds are not considered to be terribly ugly. After all, they tend to be the object of many an extended metaphor involving ethereal instances such as flight and dazzling color elements. However, these correlations only extend to the surface of the animal. Humans mostly attracted to avian organisms with distinctions such as “songbird”, birds noted for their song or “parrots/parakeets,” which are noted for their plumage and ability to cross the border of “human speech.”

Never mind the sanitation officers of the avian world.

Image from National Zoo
Image from National Zoo

Condors serve the biological niche required of them by being scavengers. The Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus1) is perhaps the most perfect example because they are known for being traditional scavengers. Their feet have blunt claws, unlike their cousin, the California condor (which has sharper claws and is known to hunt). In fact, the only time they hunt is in extreme cases, where they stalk, at a minimum, newborn or sickly creatures. On the menu for the average condor are assorted ungulates, sea bird eggs, and various rodents.

With a hideous head-crest and a fleshy comb on the males that rivals the common rooster, they can be considered rather “ugly.” However, these magnificent birds have the unique distinction of being one of the largest flying birds with an 11-foot wingspan and a body length of 43-51 inches. It is the only New World vulture/condor that is sexually dimorphic; the female is smaller at 17-24 pounds, sport garnet colored eyes, and lack a comb, while the male is 24-33 pounds with brown eyes. Both birds have rather “boring” plumage—black with white patches on the wings and neck.

They mate for life (huzzah) and lay a single egg per term directly on rock ledges or the cave. The incubation period lasts 54-58 days and the chick is raised for 1 ½ to 2 years. Due to the fact that they are sexually viable at six years, breeding and repopulation efforts face the issue of time.

Andean Condors inhabit South America (the Andes Mountains of South America from Venezuela to the islands of Tierra del Fuego in the Strait of Magellan), and due to hunting and poisoning, less than 3,000 exist in the wild. They used to frequent the northern portion, but there are as few as 75 birds in the area. Condors are not evasive and do not threaten farms—although it is due to misconceptions that these birds were killed to the point of being threatened. Conservation efforts do exist, however. Most zoos have breeding programs and raise condor chicks using a “puppet method” with the purpose of releasing them into the wild for repopulation. Personally, I would recommend viewing the webpage of the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo; they offer clear information and are very accessible to those of the younger age (side note: the younger one is aware, the more likely one will develop empathy for all living things).

1Being an English major, I had to include this bit of language eye candy: “The scientific name comes from the Latin words vultur and vello, meaning to pluck or tear and refers to its feeding habits and gryphus means a griffon and refers to the hooked bill. The common name refers to the bird’s range in the Andes Mountains.”

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Your Cheatin' Heart

The first EUT of the New Year I found… well, while randomly searching The List for ugly things. I recently discovered that Massachusetts has both an endangered leech and an endangered planarian, and I had hoped to write about those, but I could not find enough information on either (or both) for a decent post. It does mean that Massachusetts is ahead of the game when it comes to Endangered Uglies. This week’s EUT is a threatened gastropod that hails from West Virginia.

Image from Man and Mollusc
Image from Man and Mollusc

This is the Flat-Spired Three-Toothed Snail (Triodopsis platysayoides), also known as the Cheat three-toothed snail. No, not that The Cheat. This is the Cheat River1, which flows through West Virginia, and the three-tooth makes its home in Cheat Canyon, formed by this river. Actually, “three-tooth” is a misnomer. Many of its genus have three denticles in the opening to its shell, but the Cheat three-tooth2 only has one. Think of “three-tooth” as a grouping, instead of a description3. Its spire, where many snails have a point to their shell, is flat; that part of its name holds true.

The Cheat three-tooth lives on the rocks in damp, shaded areas within the Cheat canyon, such as cave mouths and near the river. I can’t seem to find any information about its food source, but most snails scrape vegetable off surfaces using their radula.

The three-tooth snail was added early to the Endangered Species List; five years after the Endangered Species Act came into play in 1973. Back then, it was listed as threatened due to rock scrambling and other visitor disturbances to Cheat Canyon, but those activities have been moved away from the snails’ habitat. Unregulated timber practices, such as logging trails that divert water flow and cause erosion, may be causes to the continued listing as threatened, as well as deer overbrowsing.

Alright, so I complain a lot about EUTs not getting any media attention, but the three-toothed snail has been used by preservation groups to limit logging within Cheat Canyon, even (briefly) showing up in the Charlton Gazette.

1There’s probably a very interesting story behind the name of the Cheat River. I can’t find it.
2Alright, so they’re not really teeth. In the snails mouths, no teeth either, but a horny tongue, called a radula, used to scrape food.
3Like Grey Squirrels. There are black Grey Squirrels, as well as grey Grey Squirrels.