Monday, August 27, 2012

Penguin Party: The Korora and the Magellanic

Today's post is devoted to two of the seventeen (debatably a lower number) of the extant penguin species, the Korora (commonly known as the little blue penguin, the blue penguin, the little penguin, or the fairy penguin), and the Magellanic penguin.  What's the connection with these two penguins?  Well, not really anything, except for the fact that we had just talked about the Korora in a post a few weeks ago, and I had found a few funny videos of both the Korora and the Magellanic! 

The Korora is actually believed to be fairly closely related to the Magellanic penguin, compared to most of the rest of the penguins.  Despite the differences in their genus (the Magellanic belongs to the genus "Spheniscus" and the Korora to the genus "Eudyptula,") most scientists believe that the Eudyptula penguins (only one extant, but likely extinct ones) were the last ones to diverge from the Spheniscus genus. 

As we talked about a few weeks back, the Korora is labeled as "Least Concern" by the IUCN, and inhaibts Australia and New Zealand, as well as a few other random islands in the vicinity.  Interestingly enough, the Korora has also been reported in Chile and South Africa, although the probability of these animals being vagrants (essentially, lost) is quite high.  However, most penguinologists are certain that many populations of penguins started out as vagrants, so who knows!  It is how they would get from one place to another. 

The Penguin Parade (see below) is a major tourist attraction.
The penguin parade.  Photo Credit Mark and Julie Neher
HERE is a link to a clip talking a bit about the Penguin Parade.  The clip talks a bit about the work done by the rangers and scientists regarding the Korora, including ranger Ashley Belsar.  For over thirty years, since 1968, this research team has been recording information about the penguins as they come ashore.  An interesting statistic that I learned from this video is that the average penguin spends about 80% of its life in the ocean!

And for those of you who want something a bit more"cutesie," HERE is a video of Cookie, the Korora, being tickled by humans at the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio!

Native to the South American countries of Chile, Argentina, and occasionally Brazil, the Magellanic penguin is one of four of the Spheniscus genus of penguins, including the African, Humboldt and Galápagos penguins.  Labeled as "Near Threatened" by the IUCN, somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000 of these penguins are killed each year by oil spills, which has resulted in their decreased IUCN status.

Next, we have two amusing Magellanic penguin videos.  The FIRST is of a Magellanic on a plane, and the SECOND is a trio of Magellanics who accidentally knock over the camera that is filming them.  Enjoy!

Now, we have a few really cute pictures of some of the Magellanic penguins from Sea World: Orlando in Florida!  The second two photos are from a publicity thing where some people from Sea World: Orlando brought some Magellanics to the Star newsroom!  How cute!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Birds of Prey on Marshall Road

Today, my friend Mona Kamath and I went out to find some birds of prey along a little side road off of Marshall Road between Boulder and Superior in Colorado.  We saw an abundance of them on this trip, perhaps more than on any other trip.  The only other trips that I can remember that could rival this one were one where I saw red-tailed hawks, kestrels, and turkey vultures, and another one where I saw red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, and a golden eagle.

Today, we were rewarded with not one, but two golden eagles!  Below are some pictures taken by both me and Mona.

We also saw a number of turkey vultures circling overhead, and a pair of them perched on a fence nearby.  However, by far the most exciting vulture spot of the day was when a juvenile turkey vulture landed right behind us!  I stopped the car and Mona was able to snap a few pics.  Not quite as exciting as the time a few weeks ago when I was on this road, and saw a pair of turkey vultures and a bunch of magpies fighting over the remains of a small carcasses, maybe thirty feet from my car!  Note how similar the juvenile turkey vulture looks compared to black vulture adults.
I also saw a bird of prey perched upon a lamp post in the middle of Superior.  I don't know what kind it is, so if anyone can help me out with that, that would be awesome!  Anyways, here are a few pics of it:
One of my most favorite bird of prey moments on this road was perhaps a month or two ago when I saw a pair of hawks flying along calmly next to each other, and then they suddenly locked talons.  I'm not positive, but I believe that it might have been a courtship display!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Sounds of Star Wars

The dog that was once owned by George Lucas has gone down in history in more ways than one.  One very famous example stems from the dogs name: Indiana.  This inspired the first name of the swashbuckling adventure hero "Indiana Jones" from the film franchise of the same name.  Another very important legacy of Indiana (the dog) stems more from appearance.  Apparently, the idea for Chewbacca, the lovable Wookiee from the Star Wars franchise, came to Lucas when he saw Indiana sitting up in the passenger seat of Lucas's own car!  In fact, the name "Chewbacca" apparently is derived from the Russian and Ukrainian word "собака," which means dog.

Ben Burtt, the sound editor for all six Star Wars movies, recorded a number of bear sounds for the purpose of creating Chewbacca's speech.  Along with bears, cats such as the lion and the mountain lion were also recorded.  Camels were used in addition to these fiercer companions.  These were by no means the only contributions by the animal world to the sounds of Star Wars, however!  For example, when it came to the patrons in the Mos Eisley Cantina in Episode IV: A New Hope, many different tactics were utilized.  Synthesized Latin and chopped-up Swahili served for two of the customers, but animals were used as well.  One patron's laughter stemmed from a hippopotamus, while anothers came from a spring peeper tree frog.

That's not all when it comes to the Cantina scene, however!  Ponda Baba was the Aqualish alien, below, who, along with his friend Dr. Evazan, picked a fight with Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi.  He was "voiced" by a walrus.  Meanwhile, besides "dogs growling and bats squeaking," the "laughter" of hyenas was also used for the laughter of some of the Cantina's other patrons. 

Here are some more sounds, and what kind of animals contributed to their creation:

Geonosians:  Here is what Matthew Wood, the actor who brought the voice of the famous and much-loved General Grievous to life, has to say regarding the sounds made by the Geonosians:

"I recorded the mating calls of penguins as they came back from the Antarctic to little Phillip Island in Melbourne.  Other sounds came from when I was up in the rain forest; I was in a flying fox area, and they let me get close to these two flying foxes.  One of them had a banana, but the other one wanted some of it, so they started fighting.  They were really mad, and I recorded that whole thing.  So, for the Geonosians, Ben [Burtt] combined mating penguins and fruit bats fighting over a banana."

The penguins that he is referring to are the korora, commonly called the little blue penguins, discussed in a recent post.  They would also not have been returning "from the Antarctic," as these birds, the smallest known penguin, past or present, are not cold-weather birds, and really stick pretty close to Australia.

Boga:  One of my absolute favorite characters (yes, I know, technically she is just an animal, but still) was voiced by a combination of one of my favorite REAL animals, the Tasmanian devil, along with a few yelps from dogs and coyotes.

Wampa scream: An elephant bellow, overlied by the squawk of a sea lion.

Mynocks:  The whinny of a horse played backwards at half the normal speed, beginning with the bark of a seal.

Ugnaughts:  The noises made by these pig-like aliens were primarily from the pups of an arctic fox, as well as the mother, but a bit of "raccoons in a bathtub" was mixed in.

Rancor Noises:  The dachshund owned by the neighbors of Ben Burtt, the Syllas, barking, growling, and hissing.

The Sando Aqua Monster:  The deep growls that this massive creature from Episode I: The Phantom Menace makes were actually from the throat of Burtt's then-three month old daughter, named Emma.  "At one point, she had a growl in her voice when she was crying.  I thought, I can use this!  So I recorded that and then lowered the pitch way down in the computer."

 Kaadu:  The snorts of the kaadu were recorded from the sounds a whale made out of its blowhole when surfacing at San Diego's Marine World.

Kaadu/Gamorrean Guard:  Both of these creatures (the grunts of the kaadu, and everything for the Gamorrean Guard) were recorded from pigs.  Unsurprising, at least for the Gamorrean, given his appearance!

Poggle the Lesser - The leader of the geonosians (that is, until Queen Karina the Great is revealed in season two of the Clone Wars) was voiced in a number of different ways, but partially through "Swahili-type vocal clicks."

Acklay:  This creatures noises and shrieks were created from reworked dolphin noises, as well as a few pig sounds.

Octuparra Droids:  The sounds from these massive droids from the Clone Wars were partially created by cows.

Gor:  Pet of the aforementioned General Grievous, Gor was voiced by a mixture of a lion and a vulture.

Gundark:  This creature, first mentioned in the original trilogy ("You look strong enough to pull the ears off a gundark," said Han Solo to Luke Skywalker after his traumatic ordeal at the hands [haha irony (because the wampa gets his hands cut off)] of the wampa) was created from a conglomerate of a horse and a shrieking parrot.

I have to say, I think one of the coolest places to visit would be Skywalker Sound, the place where all of the sound and stuff for the Star Wars movies and tons of other movies are made, organized, edited, and such.  If they gave tours, then I would totally make the trip out there!  To take a tour of Skywalker Ranch would be absolutely fantastic!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Perfume-Loving Lions and Record-Breaking Cheetahs

Two interesting pieces of feline-news for you today!  The first actually takes place at the Denver Zoo!

13 year old male lion named Krueger seems to really like "Obsession," by Calvin Klein!  Apparently, if the perfume (or is it cologne?  Man-fume?) is sprayed inside of his enclosure, he goes to the same spot and "rubs his cheek on it."  When you actually think about it, it totally makes sense.  Perfumes and colognes are supposed to attract people due to pheromones inside of them.  Animals also use pheromones, mostly to communicate.

Has a cat ever done this to you?  Scent glands in the cheeks of cats (as well as in their paws) contain pheromones, used in communication.  Each cat has a unique scent, and it rubs off when they rub into things like this.  So when your cat greets you, it is partly due to affection, and also partly due to the fact that they are really marking you as their territory.  At least they aren't peeing on you!  So this explains why Krueger would rub his cheeks against the spots of Obsession sprayed around his enclosure.

Interestingly, the lions seem to enjoy Obsession more than other perfumes, and not all of the lions were attracted to it: only half of them were, in fact!  Emily Insalaco, an employee at the Denver Zoo, thinks that the lions like this particular cologne more than others due to the presence of cinnamon, which the lions have seemed partial to in the past.  If you want to see a video containing more information, click below.

Next up is Sarah the cheetah, one speedy demon from the Cincinnati Zoo in Cincinnati, Ohio!  Multiple times has this amazing cat beaten the world record for the 100 meter dash, and once even twice in the same day!  The first link below is from Sarah's first world record break, where she broke the world record twice in one day in 2009.  The second clip below is from more recently, when Sarah yet again beat the record, in June of 2012.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fun Fact, A Look Ahead 8/18/2012

First off, I have to apologize for getting behind a bit, I have been a bit busy!  I have pushed back (or is it forward?) the promised posts from the last couple of days, so here is today's "A Look Ahead," with what I think is the most interesting "Fun Fact" yet!

Sunday:  Perfume-Loving Lions and Record-Breaking Cheetahs - Lions from the Denver Zoo fawn over the men's perfume "Obsession," while Sarah the cheetah become the world's fastest animal!

Monday:   The Sounds of Star Wars - Chewbacca may look like a bear, but was he voiced by one, too?

Tuesday:  The Salton Sea - Learn about how just a few people in southern California were able to severely alter their natural surroundings.

Wednesday: Learning Latin Roots - Common roots in scientific names in animals, as well as a few interesting and humorous ones!

Thursday:  Fossil Penguins:  Aptenodytes ridgeni and Pygoscelis tyreei - Finding out about more fossil penguins, these closely related to some alive today!

Friday: Animal Spotlight:  The Aye-aye - One of my favorite animals, the aye-aye, is featured in this "Animal Spotlight."

Saturday: The Loch Ness Monster....Fact or Fiction? - Spoiler Alert:  It's Fiction

Fun Fact:  If America didn't attack Japan with atomic bombs in World War II, the Japanese might have come under siege by bat.

Although I originally thought this to be a hoax, it certainly appears as if this is real.  I have found information on it on multiple sources.  And it is actually a brilliant plan too!  Here is what happened:
 On December 7th, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, bringing the United States into World War II.  When Pennsylvanian dentist Lytle S. Adams heard the news on the radio, he thought back to his trip to New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns, and their extensive bat population.  He then thought up his idea for the "bat bomb:" strapping small, incendiary devices to thousands, perhaps millions, of bats, and releasing them over a strategic city in Japan.  The bats, as they would anywhere else in the world, would try to find cover in buildings, trees, and whatever nooks and crannies they could find before daybreak.  Then they would ignite the incendiary devices.  "Think of thousands of fires breaking out simultaneously over a circle of forty miles in diameter for every bomb dropped," he said.  Luckily for Adams, he knew Eleanor Roosevelt, and contacted her with his idea.  The White House actually liked it.  Said a Presidential memorandum: "This man is not a nut. It sounds like a perfectly wild idea but is worth looking into."  
Now, animal rights activists, beware.  Obviously, this plan is not very kind to the animals, and involves all sorts of animal cruelty.  To get the bats shipped, they forced them into a hibernation by sticking them into ice cube trays.  Next, the bats would be loaded into what essentially looked like a bomb-shell, consisting of 26 trays, with each of the trays containing compartments that would hold 40 bats.  Dropped from 5,000 feet, parachutes would deploy at 1,000 feet, all while the bats were awakening from their hibernation.  They would then fly off and roost, and then set the city on fire when the time was right.
Bats were the ideal creatures for this project, too.  They are nocturnal, so the Japanese would be hard-pressed to figure out what was going on.  They occur in simply massive numbers, so obtaining a great deal of them would not be super problematic.  In many caves, bats occur in the millions.  Furthermore, when bats are hibernating, they require no food, and therefore need little care when it comes to cleaning up little messes.  And finally, and perhaps most importantly, bats can carry more than what they weigh in flight, making them the perfect candidates for carrying bombs.  
The plan was to send 10 B-24 bombers, each with around 100 shells chock-full of bats, would fly from Alaska, and release around 1,040,000 bats over the cities of Osaka Bay, such as Osaka, Amagasaki, Hannan, Kobe, Sakai, and Nishinomiya.  However, the weapon experienced a few changes of hand, most notably to the hands of the Navy in August 1943, following an incident near Carlsbad, New Mexico, where bats were accidentally released.  They roosted under a fuel tank, and set fire to Carlsbad Army Airfield Auxiliary Air Base.
The project was ultimately canned in 1944, when it was learned that the bat-bomb project would likely not be operational until about halfway through 1945.  It seems likely that the atomic bomb is what caused the projects termination, even after an estimated $2 million was spent on it.  But who knows?  Perhaps this is REALLY what is going on at Area 51.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Shrinky Dink: The Channel Island Fox and The Island Effect

If you (as a species) get trapped on an island, there is really one of three things that can happen.  The first thing, which seems to be like it would be the most common of the three things, is that you and your species would go extinct on the island.  Perhaps your species still survives on the mainland, but the island group has died off.  The second, and second most likely to happen (in my opinion) is you and your species, over many generations, shrink, to match the food supply.  If there is a limited supply of food, then the smallest of your species, not the largest, are much more likely to survive.  And the third happenstance is that you and your species grow in size over many generations.  Say you and your species are rats.  On the mainland, you are preyed upon by dogs, foxes, coyotes, cats, and the like.  When you and other of your rat buddies became trapped on the island, there was an abundnace of food there, but no predators to prevent you from growing bigger.  So grow you did.  We will talk about a very interesting occurrence of this later on. This shrinking and growing, called "Foster's Rule," is often simply known as "The Island Rule."

For now, however, we are going to focus on the more common of the two, and the more interesting (both in my opinion); island dwarfism.  This has occurred many, many times throughout history, and even to humans!  However, today we are going to look at one particular occurrence of this dwarfism.  The Channel Island fox of the Channel Islands off of the coast of California.

Scientists believed that the ancestors of these foxes "rafted" to the northernmost islands in the island chain sometime between 10,400 and 16,00 years ago.  These ancestors would have been the gray fox, very similar to the ones we see today.  The foxes rafted over during the last Ice Age.  This would have dramatically lowered the sea levels, and much of the water that is in today's oceans would be locked away in the ice caps at the poles, or in glaciers.

As you can see in the map below, the four islands of San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and Anacapa are all located with only shallow water separating them.  During the Ice Age, with the lower sea levels, these four islands were all one island, called Santa Rosae.  Also at this time, the distance from the mainland to the "mega-island" would be much smaller, making the crossing for these gray foxes much easier.  It has been theorized that Native Americans then brought the fox to the four southern islands, as hunting dogs, or perhaps even pets. 
The mainland gray fox.  Photo credit Zack Neher, taken at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina.
Today, the fox only lives on six of the eight islands, with distinct sub-species on each island.  The fox still inhabits the islands of San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, San Nicolas, San Clemente, and Santa Catalina (often simply called Catalina Island), and is absent from the islands of Anacapa and Santa Barbara.  While Santa Barbara is too small to support the food needs of the fox, Anacapa has no consistent source of fresh water.  The fox is the largest on Catalina, and the smallest on Santa Cruz.  The foxes on the southern three islands all have become separate at different dates, with the foxes of San Clemente estimated as being the oldest (becoming isolated between 3,400 and 4,300 years ago).  The San Nicolas fox is next, at around 2,200 years ago.  Finally, the foxes of Catalina Island, between 800 and 3,800 years ago.

Even smaller than the mainland kit and swift foxes, the Channel Island is the smallest of all of North America's foxes.  Like many island animals, the Channel Island fox is labeled as "Critically Endangered" by the IUCN, as they don't have much territory to spread into when humans influence them.  One influence was indirect, but still devastating for the foxes.  Prior to the 1990s, the golden eagle was a rare visitor to these islands.  The bald eagle, already well established in the area, was apparently a large deterrent for the golden eagle, preventing them from settling on the island.  DDT helped to eradicate the bald eagle on the Channel Islands, and with very few bald eagles in the area, the golden eagle moved into the gap: nature abhors a vacuum!

Anyways, the golden eagle, unlike the bald eagle (who is primarily piscivorous) would, and did, hunt the Channel Island foxes; at four times the foxes size, they were most definitely a force to be reckoned with.  That, coupled with diseases brought over from the mainland by domestic dogs, such as canine distemper, have also wreaked havoc upon the fox populations.  Conservationists are currently working on a solution, and tracking the foxes with radio collars seems to be helping them learn more about the foxes, in an attempt to prepare for the future. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Guards of the Fairy Penguin

In the summer of 2009, a number of brutal attacks in Sydney, Australia left nine victims dead.  According to BBC, “the mutilated bodies...were found in a national park near Sydney harbour.”  Autopsies performed on the bodies reveal that the murderers were most likely foxes, although dogs remain a definite suspect.
A picture of the red fox outside of the house in Breckenridge, Colorado, that our friends the Beckleys rented one summer.  It's an awesome place to stay, I tell you what!  Photo Credit: Julie Neher
There is more to this story than has been revealed thus far.  The nine victims were not humans; instead, they were korora, or little blue penguins, also often called fairy penguins. You would be excused for thinking that the victims were, in fact, humans, especially once you learned the whole story.

In an interview with BBC, Sally Barnes of the New South Wales Parks and Wildlife Service detailed what the group has been doing to protect the penguins from the dogs and foxes.  As well as raising public awareness, the NPWS has been baiting and trapping the predators, and “As a last resort, we’ve also had shooters out.” 

In this case, shooters means snipers.  That’s right; the Parks and Wildlife Service deployed two professional sharpshooters in order to ensure the safety of these penguins.  Armed with night-vision goggles, rifles, and orders to shoot to kill, these may be the most extreme methods used to protect penguins ever employed. 
The penguins are being further protected by vigilantes from the Manly Environment Centre, vowing that they will do “whatever it takes” to protect the penguins, and planning on assisting the snipers in keeping a sharp eye on the birds 24/7. 

Why is this colony such a big deal?  The kororaa is labeled as “Least Concern” by the IUCN.  Well that may be true for the total population of korora, but this colony is falling by the wayside.  As you can see in the map, the area where the colony is located is quite busy, and not ideal penguin habitat.  However, these penguins cannot be relocated; like many birds, they always return to where they themselves were raised to come ashore and raise their own chicks.  The people of Sydney also take pride in their colony of korora’s, as it is the sole population located in New South Wales.  The people at the Manly Environment Centre report that their efforts are, by and large, successful, and the korora’s numbers are on the rise.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Light Rail Coyote

There isn't much to this story, but it is quite amusing, as you can probably see in the picture below.

According to Blogger Andrew Smith, "This photo illustrates one danger of building light rail to the far-flung suburbs: unwanted riders."  What happened here?  Pretty much, in the winter of 2002,  a coyote boarded a Red Line Max train at the Portland International Airport in Portland, Oregon.  As it says in the caption in the picture below, the coyote was gypped of its ride, and was force to deboard by the wildlife specialists at the airport.

Brief tangent: why would an airport need a wildlife specialist, let alone specialists, plural?  "For situations like this" you say.  OK, but how often do these situations occur?  I don't really, know, as I am not expert, but still.  Seems a bit shady to me.

Never mind.  I just looked it up.  Here is why: BIRDSTRIKES.

Anyways, the incident also led to the band called "Sleater-Kinney" creating a song called (can you guess it?) "Light Rail Coyote."  An interesting little story, to be sure.

Simba, Pumbaa, and Other Swahili Names From "The Lion King"

Recently I decided to learn a bit of Swahili, and I have stumbled across a few things that I thought were quite interesting!  For instance, did you know that "Safari" meant "Trip" in Swahili?  I certainly didn't!  And the old movie entitled "Hatari!" actually means "Danger!" in Swahili!  Who knew! 

As I continued to learn more, I came across something else interesting.  As I was learning the animal names, I found that "Duma" meant "Cheetah," which excited me, as one of the main cheetah stars from BBC's "Big Cat Diary," one of the later seasons, is named Duma.  Next, I found out that "Chui" meant "Leopard...." and guess what?  There was a leopard named Chui, too!

Then, I found that "Simba" meant "Lion."  There was, of course, a lion that went by the name of Simba, in the first season of Big Cat Diary, I believe.  I had just assumed he was named after Simba from "The Lion King," which is still a possibility, but it could really go either way.

But I think it clear where the name of "Simba" came from for the Lion King.  As a matter of fact, many of the characters have names that mean something else in other languages.  For example, Ed, the hyena, is actually short for "Edward" in English.  Below is a list of others.

  1. Nala - Gift
  2. Pumbaa - Simpleton
  3. Rafiki - Friend
  4. Sarabi - Mirage
  5. Shenzi - Uncouth
  6. Sarafina - Bright Star
  7. Banzai - Skulk, or Lurk

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Look Ahead, Fun Fact 8/9/2012

First off, check out today's post about the coati, down below!

Here's this weeks "A Look Ahead:"

Friday:  Simba, Pumbaa, and Other Swahili Names From "The Lion King" - Learn what the names of some of your favorite characters mean!

Saturday:  The Light Rail Coyote - All about the coyote who hitched a ride on a train.

Sunday:  Guards of the Fairy Penguin - Guarding the world's smallest penguins with professional snipers! 

Monday:  Shrinky Dink: The Channel Island Fox and The Island Effect - How getting trapped on an island caused these foxes to shrink!

Tuesday:  Stupid People Stealing Turtles - What sounds better than stealing a bunch of turtles from a museum?

Wednesday:  The Sounds of Star Wars - Chewbacca may look like a bear, but was he voiced by one, too?

Thursday:  The Loch Ness Monster....Fact or Fiction? - Spoiler Alert:  It's Fiction
Friday:  Perfume-Loving Lions and Record-Breaking Cheetahs - Lions from the Denver Zoo fawn over the men's perfume "Obsession," while Sarah the cheetah become the world's fastest animal!

A "jackalope."  Photo Credit:  Mona Kamath
 "Scoff," most of you are probably saying.  "This guy is pathetic."  Pathetic I may be, but the jackalope is, in fact, real; just not necessarily in the way you might think.  

Although the first picture is a fake (photo credit: Mona Kamath), the one above, as well as down below, are both real.  Clearly these are not antlers, but what are they?  Well, these "antlers" are actually tumors, caused by the Cottontail Rabbit Papilloma Virus (CRPV).  Many rabbits get by just fine with these growths.  In 2003, a man named Grant VanGilder (a cool last name if there ever was one) took this picture in Mankato, Minnesota, an hour or so outside of Annandale, Minnesota.  According the Mr. VanGilder (awesome), “He is still alive and kicking and is the talk of the neighborhood.”  However, if the tumors grow to big, they could effect the animal in its ability to feed or flee, which would eventually lead to its downfall.  The picture above is of a mounted cottontail rabbit, caught near Topeka, Kansas.

When early settlers would see these animals, they would most likely assume that they were a crossbreed between a deer and a rabbit.  Although most people understand this now, at the time, people also thought that the jackalope was so rare because it would only mate during lightning storms with hail, tasted like lobster, and can mimic the voices of drunk people.

So presumably, settlers, cowboys, and the like would discover these cottontails, dead or alive, and talk about them, show them around.  From this, it has been speculated, and seems most likely, that the jackalope arose.  It seems as if rabbits in Germany get this cancer as well, explaining the origin of Germany's "Wolpertinger."

More recently, people such as Ronald Reagan have used the jackalope as a way to mess with people.  The story goes that during press tours of his house in the '80s, he would show the reporters a mounted jackalope head, and tell them he had caught it himself, when, in actuality, it had been a gift from James Abdnor, a senator for South Dakota.

So next time one of your friends says "There's no such thing as a jackalope!" make sure to set the record straight.  Tell them everything that you have just learned, and they will think you are really smart.  Because you ARE smart.

Animal Spotlight: The Coati

First of all, everybody should like us on Facebook!  Here is the link:

 And next, lets take a look at today's "Animal Spotlight:" The Coati!

The coati is a creature of many names.  Often called the Brazilian aardvark, they are also called crackoons (pronounced like "raccoon") and (my personal favorite) "snookum bears."  The coati shares much in common with the red panda, one of the Animal Spotlights from earlier in the week.  It, like the red panda, is not a bear, despite what its nicknames imply, and is also a part of the superfamily "Musteloidea." 

The coati has a plantigrade stance, much like humans, bears, and its relative, the raccoon.  Look at the picture below.  See how the squirrel has the whole portion of its foot on the ground, while the dog has only part of its foot on the ground?  If you were to walk on the balls of your feet, then you would essentially be walking with a digitigrade stance as well. 

There are four species of coati.  Two of them have been labeled as "Least Concern" by the IUCN, but two of them have not been studied enough to formulate a conclusion as to their status in the wild.  That doesn't bode well, however.  Together, they live in the North American countries of the United States (Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas), Mexico, throughout Central America, and in the South American countries of Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador, just to name a few. 

Finally, here is a link to an interesting and amusing news article talking about wild animals running around in the UK.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Top Ten: Extinct Sea Monsters (Part 5 of 5)

Our final edition of "Top Ten:  Extinct Sea Monsters!

9.  Tanystropheus - Living during the Middle Triassic Period, Tanystropheus is somewhat of a misfit amongst this group, as he is not really a sea-monster, and was, at most, a semi-aquatic animal (think otters).  Purportedly piscivorous, Tanystropheus fossils are usually found in semi-aquatic sites.  Its neck has been likened to that of the Plesiosaurs, like Elasmosaurus.  They would all use their necks to surprise a group of fish, long before the fish would be able to see the body of the reptile. Remains have been discovered throughout France, Germany, and Italy, amongst other places. 

10.  Tylosaurus - Interestingly enough, the closest living relative of the extinct mosasaurs, of which Tylosaurus is a member, are the monitor lizards, like the Komodo dragon.  Both the monitor lizards and the mosasaurs have a third eye on the top of their heads, although it just looks like a little white dot on the top of the head of the monitor lizard.  It doesn't work in the same fashion as their other eyes, however.  Look towards a light (not the sun, because apparently that can actually be harmful) and close your eyes.  You can still still some light, right?  Now, move your hand back and forth in front of your face, between your eyes and the light.  Can you see how the light changes?  You can't see anything more distinct than the fact that something moved between you and that light.  That is what the third eye of monitor lizards and mosasaurs would have been like.  Tylosaurus also inhabited the Western Interior Seaway during the Late Cretaceous.  Remains, amongst other places, have been discovered in Alabama and Kansas, amongst other places.

So that concludes our "Top Ten:  Extinct Sea Monsters" edition!  Unfortunate that we had to break it up into five parts, to be sure, but hey, that's life!

This post is part of the "Top Ten: Extinct Sea Monsters" series.  For the rest of the posts in this series, click HERE.  

Top Ten: Extinct Sea Monsters (Part 4 of 5)

7.  Archelon - Archelon is the largest sea turtle that has been discovered to date, the closest living relative that Archelon has is the "Critically Endangered" leatherback sea turtle, the largest sea turtle alive today.  Living in the Late Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway between 75-65 MYA, Archelon has been discovered in the states of South Dakota, Wyoming and Kansas. 

8.  Leedsichthys - Often cited as the largest fish known to humankind, the largest Leedsichthys had an estimated length of 72 feet, but some researchers believe that it could have grown to sizes that would rival those seen in the blue whale, the largest known animal ever to live on planet Earth.   Although Leedsichthys swam the seas only during the Jurassic Period, the group that it belonged to survived until the end of the Cretaceous Period.  Remains of this filter feeder have been uncovered in England, France, Germany, and Chile.  


9.  Tanystropheus
10. Tylosaurus

This post is part of the "Top Ten: Extinct Sea Monsters" series.  For the rest of the posts in this series, click HERE.  

Top Ten: Extinct Sea Monsters (Part 3 of 5)

 5.  Elasmosaurus - Next up on our trip across time is Elasmosaurus.  One of the largest of the Plesiosaurs ever discovered, Elasmosaurus grew up to 46 feet long, which was about half neck.  Equipped with a fairly small head, Elasmosaurus would have been incapable of going after large prey, so it would have mostly stuck with fish.  Elasmosaurus lived during the Late Cretaceous, a time when much of North America was "Beneath the Waves," under something that we call the "Western Interior Seaway."   Remains of this animal were first uncovered in Kansas, but it almost certainly swam all over the seaway, including in Colorado.

6.  Dunkleosteus - Dunkleosteus, a creature we talked about a few weeks ago in our post about the Coelacanth, is another fascinating animal.  Almost thirty-five feet in length, Dunkleosteus was a member of the Placoderms, a group of armored fish that were only around for about 50 MYA.  A long time, to be sure, but not very long compared to the 400 million year reign of the sharks.  While the Placoderms themselves lived during the Silurian and Devonian Periods, they went extinct during the transition to the Carboniferous Period, at the end of the Devonian.  Dunkleosteus fossils have been discovered in North America, Poland, Belgium, and Morocco.


7.  Archelon
8.  Leedsichthys
9.  Tanystropheus
10. Tylosaurus

This post is part of the "Top Ten: Extinct Sea Monsters" series.  For the rest of the posts in this series, click HERE.  

Top Ten: Extinct Sea Monsters (Part 2 of 5)

So why did I split this post up into five parts?  Well, originally it was all just one big post, but it was simply too big, like so often happens.  So I will just post the rest of the parts throughout the next few days.  So here is part number two!
3.  Liopleurodon - A member of the short-necked Plesiosaurs, or Pliosaurs, Liopleurodon was the top predator of the Middle and Late Jurassic shallow seas that covered Europe at that time.  Fossils of Liopleurodon have been found in England, France, Germany, and Russia. 

4.  Shonisaurus - Shonisaurus is a fascinating example of convergent evolution.  When similar environmental and ecological pressures went to work on the ancestors of Shonisaurus, and the rest of the ichthyosaurs, as well as the ancestors of the dolphins and porpoises, they produced very similar results in very different kind of animals.  Shonisaurus and the rest of the ichthyosaurs are marine reptiles, while the dolphins and porpoises are both mammals.  Shonisaurus lived during the Late Triassic Period, right around when the dinosaurs were first making their debut.  At least thirty-seven skeletons of this giant have been discovered in Nevada. In fact, Nevada is still a fantastic place to see some of these creatures, especially Berlin Ichthyosaur State Park in Berlin, a few hours outside of Reno (pictured below)!  This is where the first bones belonging to Shonisaurus were actually discovered!  Definitely high on the list of places that I want to go!

Coming Up:
5.  Elasmosaurus
6.  Dunkleosteus
7.  Archelon
8.  Leedsichthys
9.  Tanystropheus
10. Tylosaurus

This post is part of the "Top Ten: Extinct Sea Monsters" series.  For the rest of the posts in this series, click HERE.  

Top Ten: Extinct Sea Monsters (Part 1 of 5)

Since ya'll kinda get gypped on Wednesdays with the "What Is It?" challenge, I decided that, when I do do the challenge, I will also include a "Top Ten" list.  I mean, come on now, who doesn't like lists?  I know some of my friends would be absolutely and completely lost without them!  So for today's "Top Ten," we are going to take a look at some of the world's most amazing, extinct sea monsters.  This is also up for debate, so if you disagree, just give me a holler!  Also, they are not in any particular order, I just kind of threw them all in there!  So without further ado, here we go, with our "Top Ten:  Extinct Sea Monsters!"

1.  Megalodon - This gigantic relative of the extant great white shark was thought to be simply massive: perhaps even sixty feet in length!  Living the world over, Megalodon stalked the seas during the Miocene and Pliocene Epochs, and only died out during the current Pleistocene Epoch, around two million years ago.  It is thought that Megalodon evolved to such gigantic proportions in order to be able to attack the massive whales that had started to evolve in the cooler seas of the Miocene and Pliocene.  Remember now: if it's a shark, then it's a fish!
A tooth fragment from Megalodon at this excellent restaurant called The Crab Shack on Tybee Island off of the coast of Savannah, Georgia. 
2.  Basilosaurus - A massive, predatory whale (and, therefore, a mammal) that cruised the seas in the Late Eocene Epoch, 40 to 34 MYA, fossil discoveries of this massive animal were reportedly so common in the southern United States during the early 19th century, that bones of Basilosaurus would be used as furniture!  It was first discovered in Louisiana, and is the state fossil of both Mississippi and Alabama.  Basilosaurus has also been found in Egypt and Pakistan.  At around sixty feet in length, the same estimated length of Megalodon, Basilosaurus is thought to have been the biggest creature alive at the time.


3.  Liopleurodon
4.  Shonisaurus
5. Elasmosaurus
6.  Dunkleosteus
7.  Archelon
8.  Leedsichthys
9.  Tanystropheus
10. Tylosaurus

This post is part of the "Top Ten: Extinct Sea Monsters" series.  For the rest of the posts in this series, click HERE

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Animal Spotlight: The Red Panda

So for today's "Animal Spotlight," we are going to be taking a look at a very interesting creature: the red panda.  But how did I know this?  If you were an expert in logic and detective work, you might have already come to that conclusion, however, given the fact that not only did I post the title in the last "A Look Ahead," as well as by looking at the title of this post.  However, what you probably failed to take into account was that I, Zack Neher, and I alone, am the creator of this blog.  Therefore all executive decisions (i.e. what today's post is about) are made by me and my sole business partner, Chessney Von Pawncheck

OK, that is quite enough.  All long-winded explanations put aside, today's "Animal Spotlight" is, indeed the red panda.  The red panda is something of a misnomer.  Its scientific name, Ailurus fulgens, translates to "Shining Cat"; but the red panda is no cat.  Neither is the red panda a panda, as its name might imply.  Previously classified with the bears, and at another time with the raccoons (neither of which is the red panda), scientists now believe that the red panda deserves its own, special family, Ailuridae, within the superfamily of Musteloidea.  Within Musteloidea, besides the red panda, reside the weasels and kin, skunks and kin, and the raccoon, coati (the subject of this Friday's "Animal Spotlight") and kin.
A picture of the giant panda that my mother took at the San Diego Zoo
As you probably know, the Himalayas can get quite chilly at times.  To protect itself from the cold, the red panda has thick fur, as well as fur on the soles of its feet, which serves the double purpose of keeping its feet warm, but also helps to provide a bit of traction on ice.  When the snow melts, the hair-created traction also assists the red panda in obtaining a grip on the wet, slippery branches of its forest home. 

Although mostly a vegetarian, the red panda is certainly not above scavenging eggs from a birds nest.  They consume a great deal of bamboo, just as their namesake does. 

Listed as "Vulnerable" by the IUCN, the red panda lives in the Himalayan temperate forests of Nepal, China, Tibet, India, Bhutan, and Burma, as you can see in the map.
 But for those of you who want a bit more happiness when it comes to the red panda, simply click on the amusing video link below!

Red Panda Vs. Pumpkin

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Making of Planet Earth: The Snow Leopard

It was obviously not an easy feat for BBC to get all of the footage that they needed for their fantastic television series "Planet Earth," narrated by the equally fantastic David Attenborough.  Clearly, some segments would be easier to film than others.  One of the goals of "Planet Earth" was to get as much unique, never-before-filmed events and creatures, which would clearly make things a bit more difficult.  Below are listed some of the scenes that had apparently never been seen before on television.

  1. The oceanic whitetip shark.
  2. A piranha feeding frenzy, being filmed while the cameraman was actually in the water.
  3. Arctic wolf hunt filmed from a helicopter.
  4. Starving lions attacking and killing an elephant in the dead of night.
  5.  Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico, U.S.
  6. Amur leopard mother and cub in the Primorye region of Russia.
  7. Bactrian camels in the Gobi desert in Mongolia eating snow to keep from getting dehydrated.
  8. "The highest-ever aerial footage of Mount Everest and the Karakoram."
  9. African wild dog hunt filmed from a helicopter.
And, finally, the subject of today's post:

    10. A snow leopard hunting a markhor in Pakistan.

The snow leopards are another one of my favorite animals, but due to their elusive nature, they are very difficult to capture on film.  Much more difficult than they are for poachers to capture them, anyhow.  Hunting in large part for their fur has greatly reduced the wild population, forcing the IUCN to list them as "Endangered."

Due to their elusive nature, and their difficulty to film, the "Story of the Snow Leopard," if you will, proved to be a most excellent candidate for the "Planet Earth Diaries" (which I generally refer to on this blog as "The Making of Planet Earth."  For the DVD release, a ten minute or so long "making of" feature was included, highlighting the difficulties of each shoot.  Below is the list of the episodes of Planet Earth, and what their respective "Making Of" featurettes talk about.
The chart.  The Shallow Seas episode, with the
Planet Earth Diaries about the great white shark hunts, is filmed by Big Car Diary co-host Simon King.
When it came to filming the snow leopard, the makers of "Planet Earth" first turned to veteran cameraman Doug Allan, the same man who filmed the polar bears.  But after a few months of fruitless searching (in Nepal, I believe), all he had to show for his work were a few long distance shots, too far away to be of much use.  There were plenty of signs of the snow leopard being around, however.  One of my favorite things to hear from the entire "Planet Earth" series came from this predicament.  The film crew would track the snow leopard by following its footprints in the snow, in the hopes of getting close enough to learn more, or to even film it.  However, they would follow the tracks in a large circle, until they were seeing signs of human footprints too: their own.  The snow leopards were following them!

"Planet Earth" then decided to film along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border, but were not allowed to, as the search for Al-Qaeda was taking place there, and only news crews were allowed in.  One year later, however, the "Planet Earth" crew were granted access, in December of 2004.  Below is a link to part two of the "Planet Earth Diaries" about the snow leopard.  The first part was unfortunately taken off of youtube, but anyways, here is the second part.

Planet Earth Diaries: Snow Leopard Quest Part 2

Below is another fascinating video of the snow leopard: the first ever snow leopard/markhor hunt recorded on film.  SPOILER ALERT: and don't you worry you animal lovers out there; the video has a happy ending for the markhor, but not so for the snow leopard.

First Ever Snow Leopard/Markhor Hunt

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Animal Spotlight: The Okapi

For years, Europeans who traveled to Africa heard tell of a mysterious rainforest animal that they came to refer to as the "African Unicorn."  Apparently, Sir Harry Johnston, the British governor of Uganda, rescued a small group of the native inhabitants, often called the pygmies, from a foreign show person, who, sadly, was most likely going to use his abductees for a circus or freak show.  Upon their rescue at Johnston's hand, they repaid him by giving him information about the animal.

Now we know the animal as the okapi, or Okapia johnstoni, named in honor of Sir Harry Johnston.  Despite the zebra-like stripes on its tail, the okapi is not all that closely related to the zebra, and is actually a very close relative of the giraffe.  Although they may not look super similar, they both have ossicones on their head, similar to the base of DEER antlers.  Ossicones are not only possessed by both the okapi and the giraffe, but also by extinct relatives of both, such as Sivatherium and Climacoceras.

The okapi is listed as "NEAR THREATENED" by the IUCN.  Honestly, I was surprised that it wasn't at least listed as "VULNERABLE," and "ENDANGERED" or worse would not have surprised me at all, given its reclusive nature, its beautiful pelt, and the very fact that humans didn't have much proof of its existence until 1901, when Sir Henry Johnston sent back a carcass to England.  I suppose, however, that its reclusive nature likely helps it to evade human influences a great deal, coupled with the fact that the rainforest that it inhabits is not too heavily tread.  And I guess the fact that it was really made known to science only a little more than one hundred years ago couldn't have hurt either, as it would be soon entering into an age when nature was offered greater protection than in the 1800s. 

Like the COELACANTH and THE MOUNTAIN PYGMY POSSUM, the okapi is often referred to as a "LIVING FOSSIL."  Its habitat consists of montane rainforests in the Central African Republic (CAR) and the DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO (DRC).

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ginger Kathrens and the Morrison Museum

So last night my friend Masaki Kleinkopf and I were hoping to see Ginger Kathrens, a woman who is big on horses, and presented three fantastic episodes for the PBS show "Nature" about a specific horse named Cloud (as well as other wild horses in Montana), speak at the Colorado Horse Rescue.  However, despite the fact that we were told that it was going to be free, it was not.  There was a ten dollar entrance fee.  We decided not to go but, since, Ginger Kathrens lives and often works in Colorado, I will probably get another chance to meet her eventually. 

However, at my volunteer job thingy at the Morrison Natural History Museum, I got the opportunity to work with Dr. Robert Bakker again, as well as a few other really cool people, like Matt Mossbrucker, Guy, and John, as well as a few other volunteers.  I also had the pleasure of meeting a few really nice folks from Florida who come up to this area of Colorado for the summer.  All in all, it was a pretty fun day!

Both Bakker and the Florida Folks were able to confirm what I had as a porpoise rib.  I guess "confirm" is not really the right word, as I thought that it was a giant ground sloth tooth. 

OK, again, I would just like to point out how awesome it is that I get to work with Dr. Bakker.  Although by no means the only source, or the only place that would say this, but this list of the top ten most influential paleontologists lists Dr. Bakker as number two.  That's kind of a big deal!  Some very, very exciting stuff!
I am a little too tired to do an actual, legitimate post, but we will be back tomorrow with "ANIMAL SPOTLIGHT:  THE OKAPI."
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