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.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Eye of the Tiger

I’ve been searching for more EUTs; rather, I’ve been searching for a new place to search for them. The Ohio list is all well and good, although a little small. I always worry that I won’t get enough information about the organism1. The IUCN Redlist has the opposite problem: it’s huge and I don’t know where to start looking. I’m starting to exhaust the U.S. list, as I cleared out the entire arachnid section in just three posts. This is why I keep begging my readers for suggestions. I don’t know how you guys find them, but when you do, it helps me out a ton.

Image from University of Connecticut
Image from University of Connecticut

The Puritan Tiger Beetle (Cicindela puritana) was found on the United States endangered species list, and I couldn’t find why it was so puritanical, though it may simply refer to its New England upbringing (just a guess). The “tiger beetle” part of the name is much easier to place, as it (and others of its family) is a ferocious predator, hunting smaller insects. By virtue of their good eyesight and bursts of speed, the beetles are frequently successful. They inhabit the beaches along the Connecticut River in Connecticut and Massachusetts2.

They, or at least the males, have an interesting mating strategy. While the actual copulation only lasts a few minutes, the males will mount the females for up to six hours at a time. This is to ensure that their sperm is the one that fertilizes the eggs3. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard of this strategy with other animals, but it’s certainly an interesting one. The only problem with that strategy is that it means that the beetle is occupied for about six hours. Beachgoers to the Connecticut River thus have a high likelihood of disrupting their… "relationships." The little larvae live for two years in holes in the sand, grabbing prey that wanders too close to the air hole. Other threats to this little predator include dams (of course), habitat loss, and people walking over the grubs’ burrows.

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection is working hard to make sure people know about the Puritan Tiger Beetle’s plight, putting up signs, sending out flyers, and generally trying to keep people from coleopteran coitus interruptus.

1I’m looking at you, Rheopelopia acra.
2Of course! The two states that I simply can’t spell!
3This voids some ideas as to why they’re called Puritan Tiger Beetles.