Monday, April 15, 2013

23-Fact Tuesday: Strange Evolution of the Wild Pacific

So the other day, I enjoyed a Discovery/BBC program entitled "Wild Pacific," all about animals and humans in the Pacific.  This episode was entitled "Strange Evolution," and boy, were some of these guys strange!  Let's take a 23-Fact Tuesday look at some of these bizarre creatures!  Allons-y!

1.  The dingiso, a bear-faced, dog-sized tree kangaroo native to the rainforests of New Guinea, only became known to science in 1994, showing that there are still many, many fascinating natural phenomenon that have yet to be discovered by humans!

2.  Prior to the arrival of humans on Hawaii, it has been estimated that only one new species of animal or plant washed up on the shores every 35,000 years!

3.  With few terrestrial predators on the islands of New Zealand, the Fiordland crested penguin has moved from nesting along the shore to nesting within forests, moving along freshwater streams to reach their nests!

4.   The young of the Fiordland crested penguin are, of course, born in the forests.  They don't actually see the ocean (although the nests are usually close enough to hear and smell it) until they are about three months old, at which time they embark on their very first fishing trip: alone!

5.  On the island of Santa Catalina in the South Pacific, local fisherman fish in a simply fascinating fashion: they actually use spider webs from the golden orb spider that are reportedly as strong as kevlar to capture fish whose mouths are too narrow for conventional fishhooks!  Click on the link HERE to watch a short and fascinating video about this!

6.  Prior to human colonization of New Zealand, the only mammals that made it to its shores were bats and marine mammals.

7.  With so few terrestrial predators, one bat, the short-tailed bat, actually spends much of its time on the ground, foraging through the leaf litter, searching for the flightless weta, a relative of the locust.  In order to prevent damage to their delicate wing membranes, the short-tailed bat has developed special sheaths on its wings.  Interestingly, this terrestrial foraging behavior is probably very similar to how the bat's mouse-like ancestors behaved.

8.  The flightless kakapo is the world's largest parrot, and has developed sensitive whiskers on its face in order to help it navigate its way through the dark.  It's nocturnal behavior, as well as its size I would assume, has earned it the nickname "the owl parrot."

9.  The favorite food of the kakapo are the tiny seeds of the rimu tree and, since the bird is flightless, it has developed strong claws to help it climb up into the trees to reach the seeds.  Interestingly, the kakapo only breeds when the trees produce a "bumper crop," which is only about once every four years or so.

10.  Due to this odd cycle of breeding of the kakapo, the bird reproduces less often than almost any other bird.  By contrast, however, it lives longer than most others, sometimes up to 60 years!

11.  During breeding season, the male kakapo makes a "booming" sound to attract a female.  The male booms nonstop each night for 8 hours a night for up to three nights, resulting in thousands of booms.  The wind can carry the booms for up to three miles!  The female, of course, only responds to the males booms if the rimu seeds are plentiful.  Click HERE to check out some footage of the kakapo booming.

12.  LAST KAKAPO FACT, I PROMISE!!  The kakapo was almost hunted to extinction by humans for food and feathers, but they are making a human-assisted comeback now, climbing from only 51 individuals in 1995 to 91 individuals today!  (Possibly more, as I believe the television program is a year or two old or so.)

13.  The Australian brushtail possum was imported by colonists for fur to New Zealand over two centuries ago.  With no natural predators, however, it has spread like a plague, stripping trees of their vegetation.  About 70 million of them are estimated to inhabit the forests now.  That's like 350,000 a year, not including the ones that died.  Holy.  Cow.

14.  Introduced species can cause terrible problems to insular (island) ecosystems.  One of the most extreme examples is thought to be Easter Island, where it has been hypothesized that rats were what did in the colony.

15. For nearly 100 million years, the tuatara and its ancestors have remained almost entirely the same.  During the time of the dinosaurs, the tuatara's ancestors were very numerous, but following their extinction 65.5 MYA, they just couldn't compete, and were slowly extirpated across the globe.  Except in New Zealand, where they still reside today!  Incredibly, the tuatara sometimes can go an entire hour with only one breath!

16.  60 MYA, what is now the island of New Caledonia broke off from Australia, and is now 800 miles from the mainland.  This has allowed its native fauna to evolve in new and fantastic ways: such as the flightless, chicken-sized kagu, the only extant member of an ancient lineage.  HERE we have a fantastic video of this ridiculous bird!

17.  The monkey-tailed skink is the largest skink in the world, and is native to the Solomon Islands, an archipelago of nearly 1,000 tropical islands).  The monkey-tailed skink grows to around 3 ft. in length and weighs around 2 lbs., which is about 1,000 times heavier than the world's smallest skink.

18.  The monkey-tailed skink is an oddity amongst skinks.  Not only is it the largest skink in the world (as we mentioned above), it is also the only skink in the world to have a prehensile tail, which it uses to grasp branches while climbing in trees, assisted by its thick, sharp claws.   This is also an oddity, as most skins are terrestrial (meaning they live on the ground), as opposed to arboreal (which means that they live in the trees).  Furthermore, most skinks are insectivores, while the monkey-tailed skink is mostly vegetarian, consuming the leaves in the trees.

19.  The New Zealand kea, named for its call and native to the southern Alps, is considered to be one of the most intelligent and playful birds in the world.  As a matter of fact, some keas will damage cars out of curiosity!

20.  Up to thirty non-native species arrive on Hawaii every year due to humans, such as the Jackson's chameleon, native to east Africa, which was imported in the 1970s to Hawaii as an exotic pet.

21.  Another biological organism introduced by humans to Hawaii was sugarcane.  Like most places that humans visited, however, they also accidentally introduced rats.  And the rats ate the sugarcane.  Well, the humans who were trying to make a profit off of the sugarcane didn't like that, not one bit.  So, in the hopes of extirpating the rat population, the humans introduced the Indian mongoose.  However, what the humans failed to take into account was the fact that the Indian mongoose is diurnal, or lives during the day....while the rats are nocturnal, and move around at night.  So instead of eating the rats, the Indian mongoose eats the native birds.  Hawaii: 0.  Human Stupidity: A whole lot more than it should be.

22.  The ancestors of the I'iwi, a long billed honeycreeper endemic to Hawaii, were blown to Hawaii about 4 MYA, and looked very different from what they looked like today.  It is thought that they looked something like the Palila, a short billed finch that uses its tough beak to tear open tough seed pods.

23.  The last fact isn't from the program.  It's from "The Song of the Dodo" by David Quammen, one of my favorite books of all time.  It's a quote: "Islands are where species go to die."  He means that islands can be very dangerous places for animals to live.  But now with all the messes humans have introduced, that effect has been exasperated.  Just something to think about.

1 comment:

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