Thursday, May 30, 2013

Microscopic Animals

When we talk about microscopic animals, we usually mean 'unicellular' animals, a life form of minuscule size which consist of a single cell containing lots of tiny specialized organs known to biologists as 'organelles'...  These organelles, analogous to the internal organs of higher animals, are responsible for the vital functions of the cell.  Many people often call these things microbes, microorganisms or microscopic organisms...

If one looks closely at the many species of single-celled organisms, collectively known as Protista, one sees that they can be divided into one of the two categories, Protozoa (primitive animals) or Protophyta (primitive plants), according to their mode of nutrition.  Protophytes synthesize the substances necessary for their existence by means of assimilatory pigments which act in the same way that chlorophyll does in plants, but Protozoons capture and digest their food (tiny organic particles) in the same way that animals do.  Several species of Protista are capable of feeding themselves by both ways - which is why they cannot properly be classified as protozoons or protophytes.

The function of these microscopic animals are perfected to an incredible degree.  Whereas in the higher animal cells are differentiated to form various types of tissue and tend to be less rather than more complex because of their specialization - the single cell of a protozoon has to be completely self-sufficient.  It has to perform all the function necessary for survival - it has to feed itself, it has to remove organic waste, respond in various ways to environmental stimuli, possibly manufacture a protective shell or some form of ciliary apparatus for moving about and, of course, reproduce.

Protozoons occur absolutely everywhere.  Their smallness equips them for colonizing every sort of environment, including the bodies of every single animal, which gives one some idea of just how important a role they play in ecology.  There are various other animals, such as rotifers, which come into the microscopic class.  Rotifers abound in pond water, soil and damp moss.  Many of them are only a few hundredths of a millimeter long - the same order of magnitude as most protozoons.  Studying rotifers under the microscope is a fascinating experience; they come in every possible shape, as weird and fantastic as anything in science fiction.  The tardigrades is another strange group of microscopic animals.

In March of 2013, researchers reported data that suggested microbial life forms thrive in the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot on the Earth.  Other researchers reported related studies that microbes thrive inside rocks up to 1900 feet (580 meters) below the sea floor under 8500 feet (2590 meters) of ocean off the coast of the northwestern United States.  According to one of the researchers, "You can find microbes everywhere - they're extremely adaptable to conditions, and survive wherever they are.


---End of Post "Microscopic Animals"

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Reptiles - Turtles, Crocodiles, Lizards, Snakes...

The class of Reptilia is nothing but a pale reflection of the many species that inhabited the Earth during the Mesozoic era, which was supposedly 65 to 230 million years ago via the scientists' calculations albeit I've never really put too much faith into carbon dating - especially when covering such a broad scale of time.  To me, there are too many factors and variables that could effect the results of such tests, but to save all the poppycock, we'll just say the Mesozoic era was a very long freakin' time ago, to say the least; ha!
Anyway, the study of fossils has allowed a subdivision of reptiles into about twenty orders, in place of the four orders still existent.

Reptiles, such as crocodiles, turtles, snakes, lizards and many more, are distributed throughout the entire world, with the exception of the cold polar regions and high mountainous areas.  Most species are terrestrial, but there are a good number living at least partly in an aquatic environment.  There are also tree-dwelling reptiles, and others that burrow and remain hidden in the earth.  The body is covered by scales or scutes - patches of horny, sometimes bony, skin.  Limbs are usually short or absent; feet show many variations in form, in response to different lifestyles.

Most reptiles are oviparous; the eggs, rich in nutritionally valuable yolk, are covered with a strong shell.  Incubation is ensured by the warmth of the earth on which they are laid, or in which they are buried.  Some species of lizards and snakes are what is termed ovoviviparous - eggs are retained in the mother's body until they hatch, whereupon the young emerge under their own steam.  There is no larval stage, as the young are mini replicas of their parents.

When it comes to how many species of reptiles there are in the world, I can't give you a solid answer.  More and more are being discovered and added to the list all the time.  I have read that there or 5 or 6,ooo different species all the way up to 9,000, so who knows, really...  A lot of the data is according to whether the "experts" regard some forms as separate species or subspecies within one species.
There are four orders:  Chelonia (turtles and tortoises), Crocodilia (alligators, caymans, crocodiles, and gavial), Rhynchocephalia (sphenodon or tuatara), and Squamata which is divided into two suborders, Sauria (lizards) and Serpentes or Ophidia (snakes).

Chelonia - Tortoises & Turtles - which have aptly been described as "living fossils," are identifiable by their characteristic bony carapace which is covered with big horny scutes; this protective shell consists of two main parts: the top or dorsal carapace, and the plastron which protects the underside of the body.

Crocodilia - alligators, crocodiles, etc. - are relics of prehistoric times and are the biggest of reptiles.  They have thick scales, reinforced on the back by bony plates that stand out from the skin; their jaws are edged with a large number of conical teeth.  They live in marshland, by running water, in estuaries within warm regions, and some can travel far out to sea.

Rhynchocephalia - is another "living fossil" and sole representative of an order which flourished during the Mesozoic era.  It's not large, but its body is thick and its head is enormous (Hmm, I've seen humans like that; ha!).  Its metabolism is slow...  Its eggs stay in the earth for 12 to 15 months before hatching, and the young cannot procreate for another 20 years!

Sauria - lizards - There are many various forms, often adorned in brilliant colors, with crests, spiky ruffs, etc.  Many species are almost or entirely limbless and look like worms or snakes.  The Komodo dragon is the biggest while the smallest is the Antillan gecko.

Ophidia - snakes - A snake's spinal column can consist of up to 400 vertebrae or more.  Some species, the Boas for example, have vestiges of limbs.  The scaly skin is often decorated with magnificent patterns.  Like Sauria, Ophidia have to molt as they get bigger; the old skin, which has become too small, splits and the animal extracts itself from it, dressed in its new clothes, so to speak...

[Image Credit/Source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reptile ]

Additional Link:  "Big Green Reptilian Aliens and their Physical Characteristics"

---End of Post "Reptiles - Turtles, Crocodiles, Lizards, Snakes..."

Monday, May 13, 2013

Bushpigs - Red Pigs from Africa

This nocturnal pig often knocks down small trees for their fruit...

Bushpigs are close relatives of the European wild boar, to which they bear a general resemblance.  Their hide, when clean, is quite a vivid red color - especially the male.  A white median line runs along the backbone from the head to the base of the tail.  The snout and face are light grey, almost white, and the top of the head and the ears, which end in long tufts of white hair, are black.

Bushpigs are quite common in Africa (the natives call 'em Red Pigs) and are found in wooded savanna country and forests.  It would be pointless looking for a bushpig at any respectable distance from water, since their lifestyle almost totally depends on the presence of lakes and rivers.  Bushpigs lead an amphibious sort of life among the wide expanses of reeds and rushes which grow on marshy ground - sort of like the hippopotamus.

Bushpigs, African Red Pigs or whatever you want to call them, are nocturnal creatures, for the most part, which is why they are rarely seen during the daytime.  They pass the daylight hours well camouflaged in their swampy hide-outs, and will lie in the mud for hours on end, as the mud acts as a good protection from the heat and the insects.   They live in small herds, usually consisting of one adult male, several females and a number of young.  The herd's social organization is identical to that of a wild boar herd.
The male regularly rubs himself against trees to mark his territory.  The female gives birth to her litter in a specially made snuggery of leaves in some well-hidden place.

Bushpigs are vegetarians for the most part, as roots and fruit form a large part of their diet in the wild albeit they have been known to ravage crops like potatoes, corn, tomatoes, etc., which is why some farmers consider them to be a pest.  These Red Pigs from Africa are also partial to eggs and meat - when the opportunity presents itself, which is why they are often labeled as omnivorous creatures. They are a significant nuisance in the agricultural regions of South Africa, and are hunted fairly extensively. However, the population of bushpigs in the farming areas continues to grow despite the hunting efforts, due to the largely inaccessible terrain, abundance of food, lack of predators, and their rapid ability to adapt to hunting methods.


Image Credit: http://www.olsvik.info/Diverse/Reiser/After_dark.htm [link is no longer valid]

Interesting link I found while searching for images of this nocturnal pig:
"Mysterious 'Dog-Headed Pig Monster' Terrorizes Africa" [link is no longer active]

---End of Post "Bushpigs - Red Pigs from Africa"

Sunday, May 12, 2013

African 'Black-Footed' Penguin

The only penguin on the African continent......

The various species of penguins are usually confined and restricted to the latitudes of the Antarctic.  Some, however, have spread further north and are to be found on the numerous small islands which are known as sub-Antarctic.  One penguin lives in the cold waters of the Humboldt current, which flows along the Peruvian coast, and there is also the tiny Galapagos penguin which lives in the islands of that archipelago - which straddles the Equator.

The black-footed penguin is the only representative of its family on the African continent.
This particular penguin does not migrate over long distances like its cousins; it is quite content to reach the open sea when it has successfully brought up its young, in order to gorge on fish and accumulate reserves of fat, in the cool waters between Africa and the Antarctic ocean. [Scroll down to the bottom of this post for an additional blog link about the mystery from the center of Antarctica.]

The black-footed penguin nests on the small islands around Africa where large colonies are established.  The African Penguin's nest is dug out of sandy soil, sometimes as a shallow depression, sometimes as a real trench in the bottom of which the birds will shelter from the heat of the sun.  The female lays two eggs and the pair take turns at covering them.   ...Later, the two parents share the responsibility for the feeding of their progeny.  It's not surprising that one would be amazed at how the young, along with their parents, can even recognize each other amid the vast array of other penguins that are all gathered around each other.  I have heard before, that they seem to recognize each other's voices and how finding their identity amongst the crowd is simply a matter of hearing.


Of the 1.5-million African Penguin population estimated in 1910, only some 10% remained at the end of the 20th-century. African 'Black-Footed' Penguin populations, which breed in Namibia and South Africa, have declined by 95 percent since pre-industrial times. Commercial fisheries have forced these penguins to search for prey farther off shore, as well as making them eat less nutritious prey, since their preferred prey has become scarce.  Global climate change is also affecting these penguins' prey abundance.

Additional Resources:
* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_Penguin
* http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/150690/

Random Blog Link:  "Lake Vostok - Mystery @ the Center of Antarctica"

---End of Post "African 'Black-Footed' Penguin

Monday, May 6, 2013

Pink Flamingo Party Pics

What a symbolic-looking bird, eh?  Well, cancel that last notion, as I'm not sure exactly what this unusual bird would symbolize, since perceptions vary from person to person.  I do know one thing is for sure, other than the fact that they are generally pink for the most part (except for the ones that are nearly white or the ones that are almost red) and like to hang out in large groups and have a big party, is that they have a really big beak for their microscopic prey, along with some really long legs.  Anyway...

The pink flamingo and its cousins constitute a remarkable family of birds (I'll provide some party pics, in a moment).  They are neither geese nor storks, despite their goose-like honking and the spindly appearance of their legs.
Their coloring varies from a pink to an almost red to a nearly white.  The coloring of the flamingo's plumage (feathers) depends mostly on its diet; the pink tinge of its plumage is the result of its consumption of the coloring matter in the tiny crustaceans on which it feeds, going by what I have read in the past.  For example, in captivity, it is essential to obtain shrimps for flamingos, otherwise their plumage becomes quite white. Or, as Wikipedia puts it: "Young flamingos hatch with greyish reddish plumage, but adults range from light pink to bright red due to aqueous bacteria and beta-Carotene obtained from their food supply. A well-fed, healthy flamingo is more vibrantly colored and thus a more desirable mate; a white or pale flamingo, however, is usually unhealthy or malnourished. Captive flamingos are a notable exception; many turn a pale pink as they are not fed carotene at levels comparable to the wild."  To read more traits and various aspects concerning this creature from Wikipedia, go here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_flamingo

Its odd-looking bill functions like a comb or filter, thanks to thousands of little teeth that allows the water to pass through while dredging out the tiny creatures that swim around in the pink flamingo's crop.
In order to feed, they shake their heads from side to side to sieve their food from the water.

Like I said before, they like to party...  Yeah, well, maybe not the kind of party that many humans refer to, but a 'party' as in a large group via social gathering, eh?  At any rate, the Pink Flamingo is a sociable bird and lives in colonies that can sometimes reach as many as tens of thousands of birds.

At breeding time, the flamingo builds a dome of mud, on the top of which the female lays a single egg that she then straddles and covers.  The young are grey and their legs develop slowly.

Look below, for some Pink Flamingo Party Pics:





---End of Post


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Freshwater Hydra - Capable of Endless Regeneration

The freshwater hydra is generally found attached to water plants in lakes, ponds, marshes, etc.  This tiny creature moves from plant to plant, especially during its early stages of development.  The freshwater hydra is an ideal subject of study for zoology students (not to be confused with cryptozoology; ha!), as it is possible to carry out a number of laboratory experiments with this unusual animal.
The hydra's tentacles are equipped with nematocysts and/or batteries of stinging capsules with stinging threads which the hydra swiftly shoots towards any prey swimming past it.  In order to move about on the object supporting it, such as a plant, it slowly glides along on its basal disc.  If it's in a rush, it quickly advances via a series of somersaults.  Dang, what is this, microscopic gymnastics?  Ha!
The hydra can also contract completely, into a perfect round ball, at times, then resume back to its extended shape.
What does it consume?  Its diet includes various insect grubs, planktonic microscopic organisms, water fleas, recently hatched tiny fry from small fishes, etc.
The victim is paralyzed by the poison from the nematocysts, allowing the hydra to push its prey into its mouth which is located at the center of its circlet tentacles.
Reproduction occurs sexually and by budding.
Hydras are well known for their ability to regenerate as they are capable of regeneration in an endless fashion, it seems.  Going by what I have read in the past, their powers of regeneration surpass those of any other member of the animal kingdom.  Hey, this reminds me of a blog post I wrote a while back, on another website, entitled "The Immortal Jellyfish – Turritopsis nutricula" - except I spoke about transdifferentiation there, instead of regeneration, but they are similar to each other, in their own special little unique way...

In 1740, the naturalist Trembley of Geneva demonstrated that a hydra cut into pieces produced as many new hydras as there were pieces; in other words, a single hydra cut into 30 fragments gave rise to 30 new hydras - all identical to the original specimen - wow!

Here's a couple images of this peculiar creature, below:


The first image above, source:  http://notes-from-dreamworlds.blogspot.com/2011/09/hydra-monstrous-freshwater-predator.html [link is no longer valid]


---End of Post "Freshwater Hydra - Capable of Endless Regeneration"

Galapagos 'Lava Lizards' Fighting

Well, I tried to find some good fighting videos of these Lava lizards from Galapagos, but only found a few lame videos on YouTube albeit I didn't spend a lot of time looking.  I read in the past how they "fight furiously" with their tail, although I didn't see anything furious about it, when searching for videos for this post, today.  Anyway, these small land iguanas are interesting, nonetheless.

 [Image Credit: http://www.geol.umd.edu/~jmerck/galsite/research/projects/metcalfe/lavalizards.html]

Microlophus is a genus of Tropidurid lizards. There are 22 recognized species in the genus, and 9 of these are restricted to the Gal├ípagos Islands, commonly known as lava lizards.

The male lava lizard is larger than the female and they look distinctly different. The overall color patterns are different, and females have bright red skin under their throats. The males are territorial and will protect their territories from other males.  Now here is something amusing that I recently read about them: "Galapagos Lava Lizards will threaten intruders by doing push-ups," in front of them, I suppose...  Ha-ha!  I actually found a video of this online, but it was only 3 seconds long, so I'm not going to bother posting it here. Anyway, the diet for these lizards is not very complex. Lava lizards are omnivores and eat grasshoppers, ants, moths, flies, beetles, spiders, and some plants. They are eaten by snakes, hawks, mockingbirds, centipedes, and herons.   They have the ability to loose their tail while being attacked, as to distract their predator with a detached wriggling tail as they flee in terror.  Of course, they also have the ability to camouflage their selves, which also helps them survive.

Well, like I said before, I was hoping to find some good fighting videos of these lava lizards, but my quick search only turned up the 3 short videos below:

[Videos are no longer available]

Oh, if you are more interested in watching a video about the Galapagos area, check out the vid below:
[Evidently, none of the freakin' videos on this post work; sorry...]

---End of Post "Galapagos 'Lava Lizards' Fighting

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Images of the freaky Lemur - Aye-Aye

The aye-aye is a freaky-looking lemur that combines rodent-like teeth and a special thin middle finger to fill the same ecological niche as a woodpecker. It is the world's largest nocturnal primate, and is characterized by its unusual method of finding food.
In the dark of the night, its long & slender, clawed fingers and plumed tail along with its hairless ears, cannot be seen.  Basically, if you were to run across one at night, all you'd see is two glowing eyes.  Personally, I'm totally fine with just seeing the images online; ha!

This strange, freaky animal dwells in the forests of Madagascar.  They are considered to be a threatened or at least near threatened species, going by numerous sources and reports, so they most likely need to be protected from going extinct, in the near future.

Anyway, this animal was long thought to be a squirrel because of its rodent-like incisors.  It lives alone or in pairs.  Aye-ayes make their home in underbrush or in a tree hollow, coming out to feed at night.  This strange-looking lemur eats fruit but mainly the larvae of insects that bore into tree trunks.  It finds the larvae by listening for them and when it has located some, it gnaws at the bark, puts its long center finger into the larva's tunnel and pulls it out with its claw-like nail.

---Per Wikipedia, "the aye-aye is a near threatened species not only because its habitat is being destroyed, but also due to native superstition.  Besides being a general nuisance in villages, ancient Malagasy legend said the Aye-aye was a symbol of death.   However, public contempt goes beyond this. The aye-aye is often viewed as a harbinger of evil and killed on sight. Others believe, if one points its narrowest finger at someone, they are marked for death. Some say the appearance of an aye-aye in a village predicts the death of a villager, and the only way to prevent this is to kill it."---
If you'd like to read more from Wikipedia, go here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aya_aye

Dang!  It sounds like local superstition and silly folklore is this creature's worst enemy!

I could list other legends, folklore and asinine beliefs about this animal, but since this isn't a blog about myths, legends, & folklore, I'll pass.

At any rate, I'll provide a few images of this critter, below:

 


---End of Post "Images of the freaky Lemur - Aye-Aye"

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Attack of the Antlion Larva

The Ant Lion and/or Antlion is neither an ant nor a lion, albeit this interesting insect gets its name because its larva is so freakin' fierce (like a lion attack) of an enemy towards other insects, and especially towards ants.  The larva, depicted below, has a thick, fleshy body.  Its large jaws are jointed like the arms of a pincer, and they have spines and stiff hairs on the sides.  The antlion catches its victims by trapping 'em.

By trapping its prey, I mean they dig a funnel-shaped hole in sandy soil about 2 inches deep by 3 inches across.  After the hole is made, the Ant Lion (antlion) buries itself in the sand, with only the tip of its jaws jutting out, then waits patiently...  When another insect falls into the trap, it is alarmed by the grains of sand rolling down the sides.  From there, it sticks out its head and while using its jaws, throws a stream of sand at its prey.  The poor victim falls to the bottom of the hole and the attack is on as it is then quickly destroyed and consumed by the antlion's strong jaws (well, strong for its size, of course.).

When it comes to habitat, the antlion lives in sandy coniferous forests and is prevalent throughout the United States and central Europe.

The adult Ant Lion has two pairs of wings, as shown below:

The adult antlion usually only flies at dusk or at night and while resting, it uses both pairs of wings sort of like a roof to cover the body.  Once they become an adult, they don't live very long, uh, somewhere around 6 months by what I have read in the past.

---End of Post "The Attack of the Antlion Larva"


Razorshells in the sand?

This interesting creature lives while being buried in the sand...
There are many species of razorshell comprising the Solenidae family.  This particular type of bivalve mollusk spends most of their life under the sand at low tide level.

The bivalves are a large class of mollusks that have a hard calcareous shell made of two parts or valves. The soft parts are inside the shell. The shell is usually bilaterally symmetrical.
Razorshells, also spelled Razor Shells, live on beaches and only eat during high tide.
If you're curious about the appearance of a Razor Shell, look below:

Now, lets briefly talk about how this critter consumes its food, shall we?
...They position themselves just under the surface of the sand with only their short siphon protruding.  This siphon is used like you would a drinking straw, to suck in nutrients/food particles, oxygen, sea water, etc.  Food particles stick to the mucus coating of the Razorshell's gills which consists of cilia and, from there, are transported to the palps on either side of the mouth groove.
Like I mentioned before, they only feed during high tide.  At low tide, Razor Shells usually go back into the sand, leaving their trademark funnel-shaped depression on the damp surface.  On occasions, tiny jets of water spurt out of the funnel (which is why some people call them "spitting shells").

Razorshells are very sensitive to the vibrations made by footsteps, which makes them harder to study, as they often retreat deeper into the sand with the least bit of disturbance.  The shape of their shell makes them very suitable for rapid burrowing, so go figure.  While being on top of the sand, however, they can move by jumping several inches at a time.  I've seen several images of this mollusk on the web, many of which look very similar to a razor blade, which is most likely were they get their name, eh?  Anyway, good look finding 'em at the beach and, uh, watch your step...

---End of Post "Razorshells in the sand?"

Introduction...

This blog will consist of random, exotic animals in addition to various types of interesting forms of life.  Hell, when you think about it, most types of life are at least semi-interesting, to say the least, so there shouldn't be very much limitations here.

What motivated me to start this blog, was the act of me digging through my closet while moving, yet again, to another residence.  However, I started to open some of those old boxes and noticed a lot of old books, info cards, etc., that related to the animal kingdom.  In a thumbnail, it reminded me of how at one point in time, mostly when I was younger, I used to be really close to nature and the outdoors.

From here, I'll try to start researching forms of life and anything that relates to wildlife, in hopes that it will motivate me to get back out there and start enjoy the simple life and all the great non-technical, non-robotic aspects of life.  Yeah, easier said than done, but I figure that by the time I finish this blog, I'll at the very least, go fishing; ha!


Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fishing_Lake_Ohrid.jpg
---End of Post "Introduction"