Friday, November 30, 2012

Cal Orck'o: Not A Place for the Acrophobic

In 1994, Klaus Schütt discovered an enormous slab of dinosaur tracks.  You're probably thinking enormous like Jabba the Hutt enormous or my cat enormous.  (She's a big kitty).  But no, I mean ENORMOUS enormous.  And by ENORMOUS enormous, I mean a mile wide and 500 feet tall.  Yeah, that big.  Another thing about Cal Orck'o: its on a 70 degree incline.

Real fast, let me include a brief disclaimer: I have looked at probably 25 different books and websites that mention this place, and half of them spell it "Cal Orco," and the other half spell it "Cal Orko," while a few even spell it "Cal Orcko."  The UNESCO website calls it "Cal Orck'o," so that's the one that I went with on the blog.  So yeah, I really don't know which way is which, but nevertheless, this place is quite an interesting fossil site!

It wasn't until 1998 that Christian Meyer, a Swiss paleontologist, lead a team of scientists to investigate the site, which is near a concrete factory in Sucre, Bolivia.  They found that the enormous trackway is from the Late Cretaceous Period, dated at around 68 million years ago (MYA).  They learned that, at the time that the rocks and footprints were formed, the area was a lakeside where animals from all over would come to drink.  They also determined that Cal Orck'o was the "largest site of dinosaur tracks found so far," possessing the largest number of dinosaur footprints of anywhere in the world.

Cal Orck'o has over 5,000 dinosaur tracks made by at least six identified dinosaurs in around 250 trackways, some of which extend for hundreds of feet in a single direction.

Due to the extremely steep face of the fossil site, erosion is a constant threat to the dinosaur footprints.  The Bolivian government combats this by spending a whopping $30 million every year.  Despite this, a large chunk broke off in February of 2010, destroying around 300 footprints.   

Information on Cal Orck'o is extremely spotty, and the website for the site doesn't seem to have an "English" option.  My Spanish skills are pretty rudimentary at best, but I think I was able to come up with a list of the dinosaurs whose tracks are preserved at Cal Orck'o.  Now, keep in mind, very rarely do you definitively know what animal made a fossilized footprint, and most of the time these are simply good guesses.  For the picture below, I used ones taken from the garden area thing at the Cal Orck'o museum.  So if you are going to blame someone for inaccurate data, make sure you blame them and not me!

An abelisaur, a type of carnivorous dinosaur like Abelisaurus or Carnotaurus.
An iguanodont, a type of herbivorous dinosaur like Iguanodon.
A ceratopsian, a type of dinosaur like Triceratops or Protoceratops.
An ankylosaur, a type of dinosaur like Ankylosaurus.
A titanosaur, a type of sauropod dinosaur like Saltasaurus.
A dromaeosaur, a type of carnivorous dinosaur like Velociraptor.
A ceratosaur, a type of carnivorous dinosaur like Ceratosaurus.
A hadrosaur, a type of herbivorous dinosaur like Parasaurolophus.
A tyrannosaur, a type of carnivorous dinosaur like Tyrannosaurus.
Again, keep in mind that I have next to no idea which of these, if any, were found at Cal Orck'o.  I plan on doing a little bit of digging within the next few weeks, so hopefully I will be able to get back to you sometime soon!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Upcoming Lecture: Animal Adventures With Zack Neher Part 1

Hey everyone!  So I just wanted to let you know that I am going to be having a trio of lectures next calendar year, and the first one is rapidly approaching!  It is on Thursday, January 10th from 4:00 PM to around 5:15 PM.  It will be held in the main auditorium at Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado, and the address is 1515 Greenbriar Boulevard.  Admission will be free, but 90% of the proceeds will be going towards the Morrison Natural History Museum where I volunteer, while the other 10% will be going towards funding the Fairview Knowledge Bowl Team.  HERE IS THE LINK TO THE ZACK NEHER'S LECTURES PAGE ON FACEBOOK, WHICH YOU ALL SHOULD LIKE!

What will be at the lecture?  Well, just like last time, we will have a fossil table down in front, with tons of fossils, ranging from whale and bison bones to spiders preserved in amber, red fox skulls to mosasaur jaws, and much, much more! 

And, most importantly, what will we be talking about at the lecture?  Well, I am just so glad you asked!  This lecture is going to be covering a very wide variety of seemingly-unrelated topics.  But never fear, for I have artfully woven them into an intricate tapestry of fun.  Here are some of the topics and animals that we will be learning about!

I guarantee that it will be a fun-filled and entertaining evening chock-full of awesome animals, amazing video, and more than a fair share of Psych references!  So please, join us if you can!  Hope to see you all there!

And please, if you like what you're reading, make sure you click the subscribe button off to the right!  

    Thursday, November 22, 2012

    The Animals of Estes and Rocky Mountain National Park

    As I mentioned earlier today, my family and I stayed at Estes Park a few nights ago.  During the day, we hit up the nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.  We saw a few different animals, a few of which I unfortunately was unable to get pictures of!  Here I will tell you all about the animals that we saw there!
    First off, we went over to Lake Estes.  Despite the cold and the wind, probably a hundred or so geese, ducks, crows, and ravens were all scavenging around in the shallow water and the muddy areas.  We also saw a bald eagle, but unfortunately it was too far away for us to get any pictures.  Right before that, though, we spotted a muskrat (a little, water-loving rodent) swimming through the water!  It was really super cool, as it was an incredibly powerful swimmer!  We were walking along next to it, taking a ton of pictures and videos, but the muskrat was easily keeping pace with us!  It was swimming against the current, as well as against the wind, but somehow this rat-sized creature was able to forge ahead!
    The muskrat swimming!
    This is how far the muskrat swam!  It was certainly more than 100 yards, all keeping up with us!  CRAZINESS!
    When I ran out in front of the muskrat to get pictures of it up close, it ducked into its burrow.  We were able to pinpoint the entrance because right out in front was a whole pile of what looked like chewed off crayfish pincers! 
    The pile of chewed crayfish parts outside of the muskrat burrow
    Some chewed parts on top of a rock

    Here is a video of the muskrat swimming:

    Muskrat Swimming Against The Current

    We also saw a lot of elk, as we have talked about before.  Here are some more pictures that my mother took in the morning, around the same time that my Primos Truth Cam was picking them up, too!
    The elk drinking on our first morning there!
    An elk drinking on the first morning
    When we first saw the elk right next to our cabin, a male mule deer walked right next to my mother and I, no more than ten feet from us while we were next to the river!  It was really cool, but a little sad to see how comfortable these animals are around humans.  Made for a good photo op, though!
    The mule deer
    That's our cabin, right there!
    A male elk on the first night there, around the time that we saw the mule deer from above.  It was eating from a bird feeder!
    While we were on our walk around Lake Estes, we passed by a male elk with a harem of four females on the golf course.  Here are some of those pictures!
    The harem of female elk off to the left, while the male is grazing on the right
    The male elk
    The female elk
    Another shot with the female elk off to the left and the male elk off to the right
    And finally, a herd of elk in Rocky Mountain National Park!
    Finally, although no one but my father saw it and we got no pictures of it, while we were driving in Rocky Mountain National Park at around 4:00 or so in the afternoon/evening, we almost ran over an ermine (also known as a stoat or a short-tailed weasel)!  Apparently it was adorned in its winter fur which, much like the arctic fox, changes with the seasons to blend in with its environment!  The ermine, along with otters, badgers, other weasels, and the wolverine, is a member of the family Mustelidae, colloquially referred to as the "mustelids."  The mustelids, in turn, are members of the superfamily Musteloidea, which we have discussed in the past.  It is within this superfamily that you will find coatis, raccoons, skunks, and red pandas

    Animal of the Day: Addax

    The Addax (Addax nasomaculatus) sometime called the screwhorn antelope, is a "Critically Endangered" member of the group of animals known collectively as the antelope.  The addax is found in the Sahara desert.  The Addax has been extirpated, or made regionally extinct, in the countries of Egypt, Algeria, Western Sahara, and Sudan.  Nowadays, the Addax can only be naturally found in the countries of Chad,  Niger, Mauritania, and has been reintroduced into Morocco and Tunisia.  The Addax has earned its "Critically Endangered" status due to the immense and very frequent hunting of its horns, and is still often hunted on game reserves in the United States.  The meat and leather obtained from the Addax are also highly prized.  Their diet consists of primarily grass, as well as the leaves of various shrubs.  Rarely drinking, they instead gain most of their moisture through the plants that they eat.  The Addax is a slow moving animal, leaving it vulnerable to attacks from cheetahs, leopards, lions, African wild dogs, and humans.  The calves can also be killed by servals, caracals and hyenas.

    There is also a Spanish motorsport team named the Barwa Addax Team, but I was unable to ascertain whether this team was named after the animal or not!

    Elk in Estes Park: Up Close and Personal With Primos!

    Recently, my family and I went up to Estes Park for the night.  I set up my Primos Truth Cam at our hotel, and didn't actually get any hits that night, but we got some most excellent pictures of elk, one of those members of the family Cervidae (like deer), from the very next morning!  Here are some of the best pictures from the Primos Truth Cam!
    Check out that massive rack of antlers!
    That was pretty exciting!  Those elk, or wapiti (the Native American term for elk, meaning "white rump") were no more than ten feet from us on our balcony!  I can upload more pictures later, but here is one final picture of the elk that we took at our cabin thingy!
    I also wanted to let ya'll know that some of our polls closed the other day!  We had four polls about different things that you all wanted to featured on the blog, and three of them closed!  Here are the three different polls, what all of the voting options were, and who won!

    Poll #1:  Animal You Would Most Like To See Featured

    Corythosaurus: 5 Votes
    Inkayacu: 6 Votes
    Pallas's Cat: 7 Votes
    Bear-Dog: 8 Votes

    For those of you who aren't entirely sure what these animals are, Corythosaurus is a Hadrosaur, a type of dinosaur, and Inkayacu is a fossil penguin found in South America.  The Pallas's cat is, of course, a cat.  And the bear-dog....well, we will learn more about this dude soon enough!

    Poll #2:  Baby Animal That You Would Like To Be Featured

    Sitatunga: 1 Vote
    Geoffroy's Cat: 3 Votes
    Aardvark: 4 Votes
    Gentoo Penguin: 4 Votes
    Tenrec: 4 Votes
    Sifaka: 4 Votes
    Stingray: 5 Votes
    AND OUR WINNER IS:  A THREE-WAY TIE.  We will have to have a post with three baby animals in it!
    Tasmanian Devil: 6 Votes
    Sand Cat: 6 Votes
    Aye-Aye: 6 Votes

    Breakdown of the animals whose names do not make it clear what they are: Sitatunga is an antelope, aardvark is an animal that is featured HERE, tenrec is a hedgehog-looking creature from Madagascar, and the Sifaka is a lemur from Madagascar.

    Poll #3:  Extinct Animal You Would Like To Hear More About

    Megalania: 3 Votes
    Opabinia: 4 Votes
    Dire Wolf: 4 Votes
    Dwarf Malagasy Hippo: 4 Votes
    Cotylorhynchus: 5 Votes
    Thylacine: 7 Votes

    Megalania is a gigantic relative of the Komodo dragon, Opabinia is a little creature that we will talk about later, the dire wolf was a larger relative of the gray wolf, the dwarf Malagasy hippo was just that: a dwarf hippo that lived on Madagascar, and Cotylorhynchus is also something that we will talk about later!

    I will get more polls up hopefully sometime today, but in the meantime, keep in mind that we have a fourth poll open: the "Important Scientist Whose Discoveries You Would Like To Hear More About" poll.  Choose either Robert T. Bakker, David Attenborough, Matthew Mossbrucker, or Thomas R. Holtz!  Make your voice heard!

    And since today is Thanksgiving, let's all take a moment to say what we are grateful for!  I'll start: I am thankful for raccoons.  Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

    Tuesday, November 20, 2012

    Animal of the Day: Beira Antelope

    The Beira Antelope (Dorcatragus megalotis) is a small, 1.5 to two foot tall (at the shoulder) antelope that is native to the arid and mountainous regions of Djibouti, Somalia, and eastern Ethiopia.  The males have straight, short horns, and they are currently listed as "Vulnerable" by the IUCN.  The captive breeding program in Qatar, at the Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation center, reached its height in 2005 when it had 58 Beira Antelope.  The center has around 2,000 animals, including gerenuk, Somali wildass, sand cats, and cheetahs.  According to their posters on their website, they also have other felines, including the African wildcat, the caracal, the jungle cat, and even a king cheetah, which is a melanistic form of the regular cheetah.  As well as having many different types of felines, they do have lots of ungulates, as well as many types of birds, and some reptiles to boot.

    HERE is the page on the Beira Antelope from the Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation center's website.

    Sunday, November 18, 2012

    Animal of the Day: The Axolotl

    The axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) is a fascinating little amphibian.  This salamander, closely related to the much more normal-looking tiger salamander, is unfortunately labeled as "Critically Endangered" by the IUCN, due to destruction of its native habitat.  The axolotl is endemic to two lakes in central Mexico, Lake Xochimilco (pronounced SHO-chan-ha-nay-shanay) and Lake Chalco.  Lake Chalco, however, is no more, as it was drained by humans to avoid flooding.  Lake Xochimilco, on the other hand, is still around, but merely a shadow of its past, now reduced to

    a number of canals.  They are further threatened by the growth of Mexico City.  The axolotl is able to regenerate its limbs, a fact which has not gone unnoticed to scientists, prompting many to employ their use as "lab axolotls," if you will. 

    Apparently, there are two Pokémon created as a tribute to the axolotl: wooper, and mudkip.  Wooper looks to me to be very similar to the axolotl, at least superficially, while mudkip I would now have guessed at, unless I had read it on the Pokémon wiki page.  Amusingly, the page is called "On the Origin of Species," presumably a reference to the book by the same title written by Charles Darwin.  The link is included below, just in case you want to learn more about either the Pokémon things, or even the axolotl.

    On The Origin of Species: Wooper

    Animal of the Day: Rusty-Spotted Cat

    The Rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus), found only in Sri Lanka and India, and is the smallest member of the cat family.  The IUCN has the Rusty-spotted cat listed as "Vulnerable" since 2002, and according to a study taken in 2007, it is suspected that fewer than 10,000 mature individuals remain in the wild.  These numbers are in continuous loss due to habitat loss and hunting for the cat's pelt.  However, they have been observed with increasing frequency, sometimes even appearing nearby and within villages, although in other parts of the cat's range it is glimpsed with increasing rarity.  They tend to occupy moist and dry deciduous forests as well as scrub and grassland, and do not appear in the evergreen forests of India.

    The Superorder Xenarthra: More Than Meets The Eye

    Here's a joke for you: what does the sloth, the armadillo, and the anteater have in common?  Unfortunately it's a pretty terrible joke and not very funny at all, so you might want to keep it to yourself next time you are at a party.  The answer is that they are all in the superorder Xenarthra.  See?  I told you it was bad.

    The Xenarthrans are a large group with the lowest metabolic rate of all of the therian mammals (essentially all mammals except for the egg-laying monotremes).  In our Animal Spotlight on the sloth, we discussed the Top 10 sleepiest animals: the sloth was number 2, and the armadillo was right behind it in third place!  But enough about sleep!  There are many very interesting types of Xenarthrans, both living and dead, so let's take a look, shall we?

    Before we look at any Xenarthrans in detail, let's just touch upon their spread across the world.  All of the Xenarthrans evolved in the millions of years of isolation experienced by South America prior to the fairly recent formation of the Isthmus of Panama around 3 MYA during the Pliocene Epoch.  During this event, known as the Great American Interchange, many Xenarthrans went north into Central and North America, while many other animals headed south.  We will look at some individual cases of this throughout the post! 

    First off, we have the order Cingulata, which includes the extant armadillos, as well as the extinct glyptodonts and pampatheres.  These guys all have something called "dermal armor," meaning "skin armor," which is composed of many epidermal (skin) scales that overlap.  These scales are typically referred to as "scutes," and are made up of bone, surrounded by a covering layer of horn.  Scutes have evolved in many different animals over the years, a fascinating example of convergent evolution.  Below are a few pictures of non-Xenarthran animals that have, or had, scutes!

    When an armadillo rolls into a ball, it is protected on all sides by its dermal armor!  Interestingly, the pangolin, a creature once thought to be a Xenarthran but now known not to be, does the same thing!  This is probably at least part of the reason why many people believed them to be related.

    Besides the armadillos, the order Cingulata includes the similarly-armored pampatheres, and the much more interesting glyptodonts, both extinct.  The glyptodonts look like a cross between an ankylosaur and an armadillo, and were pretty big, especially compared to the armadillos!  Some glyptodonts went north during the Great American Interchange but, unlike the armadillos, were not able to survive to the present day. 

    Next up, we have the family Folivora, or the family of sloths.  Now, we have ALREADY TALKED ABOUT THE EXTANT TREE SLOTHS IN ANOTHER EXCELLENT POST, so we won't really discuss them today.  We will, instead, take a brief look at the giant ground sloths!

    At least five ground sloths were successful in their transition from South to North America.  One interesting fact about the ground sloths is that many cryptid hunters (people who believe in Bigfoot, the Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, etc.) believe the mapinguari, a a mythological creature of Bolivia and Brazil, to be either a cultural memory of a ground sloth from thousands of years ago, or actually a surviving ground sloth or two that managed to survive until very recently, and perhaps is still alive today.  Many parts of the description of the animal match up to what we know, or think we know about these giant ground sloths, including size, the sloping back, long claws, and caiman-like skin.  For those of you who don't know, the caiman is a crocodilian, related to crocodiles and alligators.  This might look weird on a giant sloth creature, but preserved skin of a giant ground sloth shows a type of dermal armor similar to the armadillo and the crocs.  So who knows!

    Actually, there is one more sloth thing!  The other day, my friend Kristie Chua sent me something funny.  It read, "If you ever feel uncoordinated, just remember that sometimes a sloth will mistake its own arm for a tree branch, grab it, and fall to its death."  I'm not sure if it's true or not, but it most certainly seems plausible!  Either way, it definitely makes you feel better about yourself!

    Finally, we have the anteaters!  Below are a few pictures that I took at the Denver Zoo A FEW MONTHS AGO, and below that we have a picture of a giant anteater skull.  Notice how the lower and upper jaws have been fused together!  Then, below that, is a picture of the tongue of the giant anteater, which can actually be longer than the skull itself!  Enjoy!

    This birthday post goes out to Sam Lippincott, happy birthday Sam!  If you have a birthday coming up, just email me the date at with the date and your favorite animal, and I will do my best to get a post in!

    Thursday, November 15, 2012

    He Should Have Just Played Dead, Man

    For those of you who are acquainted with the top-notch television show "Psych," you might be familiar with the "High Top Fade Out" episode with Blackapella.  If you are not familiar then you are very confused and wondering what is going on.  Bear with me, bad pun intended.  At one point in the episode, Joon, played by Keenan Thompson, says of a recently murdered friend, "He should’ve just played dead, man. I always said that’s what I would do if somebody was trying to kill me. Just play dead. I mean, they’d be like, 'We’re gonna kill you!' And then I’d be like - dead - and then they’d be like, 'Oh he’s dead, let’s go kill somebody else.' And then they would leave."

    Despite the fact that this was a humorous scene in a humorous television show, Joon's logic is not terrible.  While it may not work all that well for a human, it does work quite well for a different animal: the Virginia opossum.

    Despite the fact that one typically thinks of Australia and New Guinea when one hears the word "marsupial," marsupials are actually found throughout South America, and even in North America as well!  The Virginia opossum is actually the only marsupial to be found in North America north of Mexico, and is around the size of a house cat, European wildcat, Geoffroy's cat, African wildcat, marbled cat, margay, leopard cat, pampas cat, sand cat, oncilla, kodkod, black-footed cat, flat-headed cat, or the rusty-spotted cat.  (And yes, I am setting up a cat feature for next week). 

    Originally native only to the east coast of the United States (i.e. Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, Massachusetts, etc.), it was introduced to the west coast around the time of the Great Depression, likely for use as food.  Below is a map of its range today.

    Anyways.  Have you ever heard someone use the expression "playing possum?"  This expression originates from an odd but effective behavior employed by the Virginia opossum: it feigns its own death!  Scientists believe that this is an involuntary reaction on the part of the opossum when it experiences fear.  The fear reportedly has to be intense, however, as if the opossum is only mildly afraid, then it will react fiercely, screeching, hissing, and just generally freaking out its antagonist.  Who wants to mess with an angry possum?

    If the opossum becomes stressed enough, though, it will collapse into a coma-like state, sometimes for as long as four hours.  While in this coma, the opossum will secrete a green fluid from its anus, a terrible smelling mixture, to make predators think that it is a gross and diseased carcass so they don't mess with it.

    Of course, if an opossum becomes super stressed because it sees a car screaming down towards it on a road, I'm guessing that playing dead will only be a temporary measure.  Cars don't appear to have made that big of a dent in the populations of these creatures, as they are labeled "Least Concern" by the IUCN

    One final thing about the Virginia opossum!  When we were on our California/Oregon driving trip in 2011, we found a hilarious poster like the one below in a shop window!  I laughed so hard!

    This birthday post goes out to Chris Koreerat, happy birthday Chris!  If you have a birthday coming up, just email me the date at with the date and your favorite animal, and I will do my best to get a post in!

    Wednesday, November 14, 2012

    Behind the Scenes at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo....AGAIN!

    On Monday, my father, sister and I again traveled to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo with my grandma and grandpa and got another behind the scenes experience from Kelley Parker!  Thanks again, Kelley!  No penguins this time, but we did get to feed the tigers and river otters, as well as see the grizzlies behind the scenes again!  Here are a few pictures and videos from the awesome trip!  I will add some more pictures and videos later on, as well as some pictures and video of other animals from the zoo from both this time and last time, as I forgot to upload any last time as well!  Enjoy!

    Feeding the Amur Tiger!

    Siberian Tiger Rolls Around

    Feeding the River Otters at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo!

    Myself feeding one of the tigers!

    The tiger playing with a pumpkin that we put into its enclosure for it....I will upload an awesome video of this later!

    One of the other tigers staring at us from its yard.  Isn't it beautiful!

    The third tiger staring up at us from below, in the enclosure that can be seen by the public.  Despite the fact that we were probably more than one hundred feet away and behind a wall with only a few tiny openings, it knew EXACTLY where we were!  How neat!

    A cute picture of one of the river otters eating a trout chunk!
    Another cute picture of one of the river otters eating a trout chunk!
    One of the two grizzly bears.  Right before I took this picture he made a loud noise and kind of jumped at me, it scared the living daylights out of me!
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