Friday, April 29, 2011

Xinjiang Ground Jay and Yellowish Imperial-pigeon

I'm not going to lie, I've tried to avoid birds as much as possible through this blogfest. (Except the kind that try to mate forcibly with the heads of naturalists.)

Not like I don't appreciates birds. Birds are modern-day dinosaurs, and are considered the newest entire class of organisms. Yeah, they're 150 years old, but taxonomic classes are huge. Think "mammals," "reptiles," "amphibians"... and those are just the chordates.

I've avoided birds, for the most part, out of spite. In my search for exotic endangered species, I've come across some beautiful, unique organisms, which equally unique names. But I found that, 90% of the time, that an exotic-sounding name usually belongs to a bird. Thrush, pranticole, greywader, oystercatcher, murrelet, and hundreds more of neat-sounding names all belong to birds.

So I picked two of the most unremarkable birds to feature today, of course fitting within the letter criteria-- a jay and a pigeon. Both the Xinjiang Ground Jay (China) and Yellowish Pigeon (New Guinea) are endangered/threatened by habitat loss. Kind of a trend, no?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Variegated Spider Monkey and Wild Yak

Playing catch-up... yes, yes, I'll finish (even though I left out L and M).

Spider Monkeys look like Silent Hill monsters. Okay, I use that comparison a lot, and I know it doesn't mean anything to the majority of people since the majority does not play Silent Hill to understand exactly what I mean.

A quick lesson in identifying a monkey versus an ape: if it has a tail, it's a monkey.

A quick lesson in identifying an Old World monkey (Africa/Asia) versus a New World monkey (South America): if it hangs from a tree by its tail, it's a New World monkey. Even as a kid it bothered me to no end that in The Lion King video game for Sega Genesis, the monkeys hung by their tails!

This prehensile tail of the New World monkeys (prehensile means the tail can wrap around things and grip them) acts as a fifth limb. Because of the way New World monkeys, like spider monkeys, maneuver through the forest, a gripping tail is essential. Old World monkeys don't need that extra appendage.

All right, I feel like I cheated with this one and should have waited until "Y" to do yaks, but it is specifically the Wild Yak that is endangered. For all the typical reasons -- over hunting for their meat and their pelt.

The yak is an integral part of the Tibetan yak herder's diet. So much so that I've heard figures of their diet comprised of 40% of the yak's fatty milk. Yak milk is turned into yak butter, which in turn is turned into bocha, Tibetan butter tea. Before I became vegan, bocha was my favorite comfort drink. The salty, savory drink goes down like a rich broth. Though I'm sure the kind I had was made with standard cow milk butter.

If I could do my life over again, I would be a domestic yak herder. Actually I said this to my partner this morning, and he said, "Well, why can't you do it in this lifetime?" So in a few years when he and I move to Colorado, I might just have a small yak pack.

And I LOVE baby yaks.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

U is for Unexpected Cotton Rat/Unfinished Blogfest

Well, it was fun while it lasted, but like most things in my life -- novels, laundry, the dishes -- I just can't seem to keep myself committed to finishing this blogfest.

U was to be the Unexpected Cotton Rat, but I couldn't find any pictures of it. And I was reeeally set on that one, too.

Oh well.

I promise, I actually DID have a pretty awesome animal for X!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

T is for Tardigrade

Before you freak out at the picture, let me make this statement first: the Tardigrade is the most incredible animal in the entire world.

If you can't get past the creepy sucker-like face, the tardigrade is also called a water bear. Because it kind of looks like a gummy bear? I don't know. But the tardigrade is closely related to arthropods, including bumble bees and lobsters.

Why is it awesome? The tardigrade is an extremophile. Extremophiles, as the name suggests, live in extreme environments in terms of temperature, pressure, toxicity and radiation. And the tardigrade is the extremest of the extremophiles.

It can survive:
- temperatures as low as −273 °C (−459 °F, close to the lowest temperature possible when all atomic activity stops), or temperatures as high as 151 °C (304 °F)
- 1000 times more radiation than ANY other animal. In their dehydrated state, up to 6,000 Gy (Grays) of gamma ray radiation. For references, 5-10 Gy are lethal to humans.
- up to 10 years without water
- being almost completely dehydrated. The tardigrade is composed of 85% water, more proportionally than humans are, but it can survive being dehydrated. Then rehydrated. And go along its merry way.
- toxins
- the vacuum of space. If you were to step outside a spaceship in orbit, your lungs would expand in a matter of seconds, and you would explode. (Remember that scene in Event Horizon?)

So, the tardigrade can survive almost any environment, from the hottest of the hot to literally coldest of the cold. But this is where it lives:

Yep. Eating moss.

Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for Sand Cat

I don't have much to say about this one but, "OH MY GOSH it's so cute!"

But it is endangered.

But adorable!

First image courtesy of Tim Vickers

Here's another one. I couldn't help it. It's so cute!

Be prepared for tomorrow. Tomorrow's animal is the whole reason I chose animals to participate in this blogfest!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

R is for Ribbon-Tailed Astrapia

Did you ever see the Planet Earth series? If you didn't, you really should. And if you don't have the patience to sit through the whole series, the abbreviated children's version, Earth, is nice, too.

When I used to teach, the Jungles episode of Planet Earth was my favorite to show. The biodiversity of the rainforest was a perfect example to complement almost any subject we covered in biology.

A big feature in the Jungles episode, which the students and I loved, was the segment on the birds of paradise. For the first time in their lives, students were seeing these remarkable creatures, and how they had adapted to avoiding competition and attracting mates. The trend seemed to be, the crazier the bird looked, the more elaborate its dance, the more likely it would be that a female would choose a male to mate with.

This bird of paradise is considered medium-sized. Its body length can grow up to 32 cm, not including its impressive ribbon-like tail, which can extend up to 3 meters. (That's over 3 feet, Americans!)

The Ribbon-Tailed Astrapia is not endangered, but it is threatened. Habitat loss and hunting for the male's beautiful feathers have resulted in population decline.

Photo courtesy of Tim Lamon

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q is for Quokka

Everybody say awww!

The quokka is a marsupial in the same family as kangaroos and wallabies. Both ridiculously adorable and prone to standing on their back legs whilst rubbing their forelimbs together in contemplative scheming. (See photo for reference.)

The quokka is almost endangered, being on the "vulnerable" edge of the spectrum.

Native to Australia, the quokka has no fear of humans and has been known to waltz right up to them out of curiosity. To bring harm to a quokka results in serious fines, so pet him nicely! Actually, don't pet them at all, because you can be fined for that as well.

Photo courtesy of Sean "SeanMack" McClean

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

P is for Pangolin

I don't really know what to say about this guy. My first reaction to the photo was some odd combination of "Aww" and "Huh?"

Is it an armadillo?

Is it an aardvark?

Is it some kind of anteater-porcupine hybrid?

Well, it is a kind of anteater. The pangolin has no teeth, but does have the signature anteater tongue that shoots out some 16 inches (longer than the animal's body!) to suck up little bugs and swallows them whole.

No one can really say for sure if the pangolin, that is, any of the 8 species of pangolin, is endangered. Because the animal is so secretive in its lifestyle, an accurate population count is nearly impossible to gauge. All that can really be said is that the pangolin's numbers are declining in China. Why are they declining?

Well, apparently they're a delicacy.

And poachers like their scales. In Vietnam, a pangolin can fetch up to $100 (that's USD) per kilogram, leading to upwards of $700 per animal killed. The animal is then fermented in rice wine and its scales are consumed because it is falsely believed that they have anti-inflammatory properties and improve circulation. This has been disproved by science.

When researching this adorable creature I came across some very unsavory images of descaled pangolins. It tears at my little vegan soul so much to write about animals that are in decline due to human encroachment/over-hunting, and to SEE the results of it is utterly heart-wrenching.

Photos uncredited at Bush Warriors

Monday, April 18, 2011

O is for One-Toed Aphiuma

Nope, this guy is not a snake. He is, actually, an amphibian. A salamander, not unlike this little cutie.

So where's this one toe?

Well, it's a little difficult to see.

From the University of Georgia's website:

Amphiumids are commonly known as "congo eels," a complete misnomer if there ever was one. First of all, amphiumids are amphibians, rather than fish (which eels are). Furthermore, the congo eel, which is probably the basis for this common name, is a marine fish... It is easy to overlook the diminutive legs, and the lack of any external gills... adds to the similarity between the amphiumas and eels. Amphiumas have two pairs of legs, and the three species, all of which occur in the southeastern United States, differ in regard to the number of toes at the ends of these limbs. There are three species: one species has one toe, one has two, and the third has three toes per limb. The one-toed amphiuma has a restricted range that is mostly in Florida and only barely extending into southern Georgia. It is a protected species in Georgia.

I'm sure we protect it here in Florida as well, because even here it's considered rare.

I couldn't find a good picture of the one toe of the one-toed aphiuma. Blogfest picture fail. However, below is an image of the three-toed aphiuma, whose tiny wittle legs are a bit easier to see. Can you count three toes?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

N is for Not Being A Good Blogfest Participant

I've been lax in my blogfest duties. What are my excuses?

- I've had to interview for a job over the summer, as my current employment goes into downtime when the semester is over. Good news? I got said job. Great news? It's EXACTLY the career path I want to take. Even better news? It's seasonal, so it will end around the time that my full-time employment picks back up. Bad news? It doesn't pay as well. Even worse news? I'm afraid I might love it so much that I won't want to go back to work in September.

- My partner is a PhD student and is nearing the end of the semester. He needs the computer more than I do. Yeah, it's my Mac, but it's the only working computer in the house, and I don't want to be the reason he doesn't do well this semester.

- I work nights. It sucks. I'm a morning person, and I get home around 9-10 at night now. Riding my bike home about 5 miles over elevation changes of over 100 feet into work in the morning, and back home in the dark in the evening. I haven't been able to exercise because I go to bed when I get home, and I'm physically exhausted in the morning. My circadian rhythm dictates I wake up at 5 a.m. (since that was my routine for four years), so in general, I'm a wreck.

- I entered the Harlequin Nocturne Editor's Pitch Challenge. Bad news? I hadn't actually finished the Cravings piece I submitted the pitch for. So I spent the last few days FINISHING the piece.

By the way. This is the FIRST manuscript I have EVER EVER finished. I nearly cried when I wrote the words The End, and felt I actually had a satisfying ending. (If you can't tell from my blog posts, I struggle with endings and just kind of let my posts trail off into oblivion....)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

K is for Kakapo

You might remember the star of this viral video that surfaced a couple of years ago about a rare bird in New Zealand. You know, the one where the well-intentioned naturalist gets attacked by a rare, sex-deprived tropical bird for the enjoyment of armchair animal enthusiasts.

This bird, the Kakapo, is a rare, nocturnal ground parrot.

The wings of the Kakapo are pretty much useless. (Except to beat against the head of scientists trying to photograph it, but that's it.) The Kakapo is a ground-dwelling bird, likely because it existed in the absence of mammalian predators that it lost the ability to fly. Why waste energy on something you don't need?

Anyway, you really should check out that video above if you haven't already. It will make your day.

J is for Juliana's Golden Mole

No, I'm not cheating here. I don't have a friend Juliana, and this isn't her mole.

Holy hell, that beast looks like a Silent Hill monster.

I'll let Wikipedia describe what nightmares looks like: "[The Golden Moles] have shiny coats of dense fur and a streamlined, formless appearance. They have no visible eyes or ears; in fact, they are blind - the small eyes are covered with hairy skin. The ears are small and are hidden in the animal's fur."

Formless, no visible eyes or ears, hairy skin, WHAT IN GOD'S NAME ARE IT'S FEET MADE OUT OF, describes, to me, something that only H.P. Lovecraft could dream up.

All right, I'm being a little melodramatic. It's not nearly as frightening as what you might find in the deep ocean. Or rummaging through your garbage can. But still, this critically endangered mole is it's own kind of creepy.

Like many endangered species, Juliana's Golden Mole, native to southern Africa, is the victim of displacement. It has a very specialized habitat which is being encroached upon by humans, and they have been unable to adapt to habitat loss.

Photo (C) Craig Jackson

I is for Indus River Dolphin

Okay, I'm a little late with "I." But in my defense, I'm now only three thousand words away from finishing my novella in time for the Nocturne Cravings pitch. Yay for having GOOD excuses!

The dolphin has always been my favorite animal, but as a kid, I was terrified by the thought of having dolphins in rivers. Dolphins are meant to be in the ocean, viewed from afar, not swimming underneath fishing boats! (Did I ever think I'd move to a state where manatees and alligators would swim right up to a kayak? No, I really didn't.)

Even as a kid, though, seeing dolphins in aquariums depressed me terribly. Such large, beautiful creatures meant to swim freely confined to a glorified bathtub.

Vegan bleeding-heart rant over.

The Indus River Dolphin is one of the rarest mammals on earth, and is the second most endangered fresh water dolphin. Like most river dolphins, this guy has to swim on his side, because he can maneuver through water less than one foot deep! Imagine being 1.5-2.5 meters long and having to swim through water up to a sixth of your length deep to hunt for fish. Easy? I think not. I'm hypothesizing here, but I can see river irrigation being a major cause of habitat destruction for this guy, not to mention hunting.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

H is for Hawaiian Crow

Sorry for the late post today, but Saturday is my day of rest, and I forgot the blogfest rules.

I know what you're thinking, right?

"Renee, it's a crow. That's not interesting. Way to procrastinate and then fudge this letter up by showing us a freakin' crow."

First of all, if you think crows are just your average bird, then you clearly haven't read this article about why you should never, ever mess with crows.

Second, this is not just any old crow. It's a Hawaiian Crow. And it has the lamentable status of being one of the few extant species that is entirely extinct in the wild.

The Hawaiian Crow was isolated to two small parts of mainland Hawaii. The crow likely went extinct due to diseases introduced by nonnative species, but no one really knows what caused their population to decline. The two last known crows in the wild disappeared in 2002, and currently fewer than 80 are kept in zoos worldwide. Attempts to reintroduce them to the wild have been slowed because of concerns regarding their predator, a form of hawk.

Photo courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife

Friday, April 8, 2011

G is for Ghost Bat

Look out, vampire bat, there's a new paranormal bat in town.

The ghost bat!

No, this is not a photo of cotton balls. I swear, the ghost bat is a fearsome creature. (Stop being so adorable!)

The ghost bat is so named because its wings are translucent, giving it a frightening appearance when it is flying. Really, it is terrifying! Don't be fooled by the fuzziness!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

F is for Fanfin Seadevil

"Devil" is in the name of this evil looking fish, another one of those deep-sea creatures that, until recently, was unknown.

The Fanfin Seadevil is a species of anglerfish. If you're not familiar with the family, that strange protrusion from the front of this guy's head is actually a lure. The anglerfish uses this lure to, well, lure little fishes right into his mouth.

Unlike other anglerfish, the fanfin lacks the bioluminescent bulb on his lure.

To us, the seadevil looks quite red. And he is red. You would think that would make him a poor hunter, since the fishes that would see the lure would clearly pick out the monstrosity at the end of the line. However, at the depths of the ocean that we find Mister Devil, the wavelength for the color red is very poorly reflected. Therefore, he is essentially invisible.

If it were me, I'd rather not know what my impending death looked like, anyway.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for Elephant Shrew

So, it's really easy to find creepy, strange organisms in the bathypelagic region of the ocean, and I feel like I've been cheating so far with this blogfest.

Today, I bring for your "aww"ing pleasure, the weirdly adorable elephant shrew.

Which is neither an elephant, nor a shrew. Silly English-speakers.

The elephant shrew is native to the southern region of Africa, and consists of many different species, none of which are very common to any particular area. Much like shrews, the elephant shrew is insectivorous, and much like elephants, they leave behind a wake of destruction wherever they go.

Well, a mini-wake. They are, in fact, more closely related to African elephants than they are to shrews.

Several species of elephant shrews will create paths and tunnels through the underbrush, and will spend the day trolling back and forth through these shrew-sized walkways, hunting for insects. When threatened, they will also use these routes as an obstacle-free escape route.

But don't underestimate the awesomeness of the plain old shrew just because they didn't make the cut yet; some of them are so venomous--yes, like a snake-- that a drop of their venom can kill up to 200 mice!

Photo courtesy of J. Makalintal

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D is for Dumbo Octopus

Isn't he adorable?

The dumbo octopus, so named for his odd nose-like projection and unusually large "ear" flaps, is a deep sea critter, hovering around 3000-4000 meters below sea level. While they are predominantly pelagic, meaning they bob about smack in the middle of the water --away from shore and away from the sea bottom--they will approach the sea floor to hunt crustaceans and other small fish. Unlike other octopi, the dumbo octopus will consume its prey whole.

The genus of dumbo octopi (Grimpoteuthis) can grow up to 6 feet long and weigh in at a massive...13 pounds. But typically they are much smaller than that. Grimpoteuthis is among the rarest of the octopi, and is losing species left and right... mostly to other genera, as we learn more about them.

Photo from “The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss” by Claire Nouvian/Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Monday, April 4, 2011

C is for Coconut Crab

No, folks. This is not Photoshopped. That is a giant crab stealing your garbage. But don't worry, this beast is native to islands in the Indo-Pacific region.

The coconut crab, so named because it can crush a coconut with its bare claws, can grow up to three feet wide, including leg span. It is the largest land arthropod, and according to Wikipedia, given today's atmospheric conditions is likely at the size limit for how large an arthropod living on land can grow.

Small comforts, right?

Well, if it makes you feel any better, the coconut crab is predominantly frugivorous, meaning that it isn't just cracking those coconuts to intimidate the humans so keen on driving the poor bugger into extinction. Fleshy fruits are his choice diet, however they will also scavenge on dead animals and pick off slow and weak baby tortoises. They are also keen on stealing shiny objects from people's tents. I haven't found a good reason as to why.

Coconut crabs are nocturnal, living in self-made burrows during the day to protect them from predators (ha!), and lurking the beaches and streets by night.

Well, it turns out these guys are in danger of becoming endangered. Their meat is considered a delicacy, much like lobster is. But who really wants to chase one of these buggers down?

Somehow, this beast is closely related to the hermit crab. You know, that little thing you keep in way-too-small enclosures with sponges, some colored rocks and assorted shells for him to grow into? Baby coconut crabs, with soft shells, will climb into shells of other organisms, and adolescents will use coconut shells to protect their soft abdomens. Adults, when they molt, will stay hidden for up to a month while their exoskeleton hardens.

Coconut crabs have caught on in Japan as popular pets, and guides for their care include how to open their strong pincers if you get pinched (just tickle them and they'll release you, but otherwise they will hold on forever).

Heel, Fido! Get off the neighbor's palm tree!

Images courtesy of

Saturday, April 2, 2011

B is for Blobfish

I don't know any animal whose name describes them so perfectly.

It's a fish.

And it looks like a blob.

And it is really, really ugly.

Why so serious? Oh, right. You're endangered.

But you have to feel a little sorry for this miserable-looking creature who, unlike the axolotl, has no reason to smile. The blobfish, which has spent the majority of its time on earth minding its own business, floating at depths in the ocean deep enough that your own sea-level adapted head would implode, is facing extinction. Deep-sea fishing is the culprit behind this evolutionary disaster's impending doom.

The blobfish, which lives off the coast of south-eastern Australia at depths up to 800 meters (that's about half a mile), trolls around with crabs and lobsters, content with the fact that, being as ugly as it is, no one would want to eat it.

Well, that part is true. But a destructive fishing method, called trawling, indiscriminately pulls up blobfish and arthropods alike. While many species have the advantage of spreading their populations far and wide, that is not the case for this sad creature. Since the blobfish is isolated to this one tiny area of the world, it is unlikely that migration will aid their dwindling populations.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A is for Animal

For this challenge, I bring you creatures. The scary, the smelly, the slimy and the sweet.

Today's critter is a little bit slimy, and a little bit sweet.

The axolotl is a species of salamander. Unlike other salamanders, the axolotl is the epitome of neoteny. Meaning it never undergoes metamorphosis. Metamorphosis allows the waterborn salamanders to adapt to life on the land, in which they'll lose their gills and become more.. well, lizard-like, only returning to the water to lay their eggs. The axolotl, however, never goes through this process. It retains its adorable baby-axolotl features, including gills, which sentences it to a life underwater while all its salamander cousins scurry about freely in the Overworld.

One thing it has over its salamander bretheren...

The axolotl can smile.
And a salamander will never make as cute an amigurumi. (A is for Axolotl Amiguri)

courtesy of