Sunday, August 2, 2015

The pink grasshopper

Mostly in the last couple of years, pink meadow grasshoppers (Chorthippus parallelus) have been sighted by adventurous children in the Belfast hills and JapanNational Geographic's headline was "No, it's not a cocktail" apparently to provide clarification for all those who go on the National Geographic website looking for vintage cocktail recipes. Other headlines were like "No, it's not spraypaint" and "They were tickled pink." Please take a minute to compliment me on my non-sensationalist headline.
If you have red hair and freckles, you know what it's like to be considered a freak of nature. But did you know that the phenomenon that causes red hair in people is thought to be a variation of that which causes funky coloring in other animals? It's called erythrism — an unusual reddish discoloration of anything from hair to skin to feathers. It can sometimes be caused by diet (as in the case of bees feeding on the colorful corn syrup in jars of maraschino cherries and then turning into little pink chubbers). But it's usually caused by a genetic mutation to favor recessive genes, which is the case with this fancy grasshopper:

pink grasshopper
Meadow grasshoppers aren't native to the United States, and are mostly found in the non-arid grasslands of Europe and nearby parts of Asia. They pretty much just run free across the moors and can't be tamed — like the Brönte sisters of bugs.
But it's not easy being pink — these grasshoppers rarely survive to adulthood because they're so visible to predators. Some scientists also suspect that the grasshoppers tend to lose their pink shade as they get older, which would further explain why almost all of the pink grasshopper sightings so far have been of nymphs.

The coolest thing about meadow grasshoppers is that they are a really important model organism for understanding the processes by which species disperse across geographic areas. This is called phylogeography — by looking at where individuals with different genetic variations live now, you can usually figure out what big events happened to their ancestors. In the case of the grasshoppers, we know their wings are totally useless, making geographic dispersal slow and incredibly deliberate.  This limitation explains why the population never moved northward past mountain ranges, and implies that it moved into certain parts of Europe only after glaciers had receded.
Just kidding, the coolest thing about meadow grasshoppers is that when they get scared, they can dive into a pond and cling to the bottom of an underwater plant for several minutes until they're convinced that the danger has passed. The coolest thing about pink meadow grasshoppers is that they've found a really showy way to differentiate themselves from these guys:

a bugs life
Which is a good call, because Hopper is probably the scariest Disney animated villain of all time. Not only is he the Balon Greyjoy of the buggy ecosystem, he's also voiced by Kevin Spacey, which is honestly too much horror for a child to handle. Just ask me, a person who has repressed the entirety of the A Bug's Life experience, with the exception of the short where the old guy plays chess against himself.

Hopper's body creaks when he moves, which is in keeping with the actual sounds made by grasshoppers — a rapid succession of about 35 high-pitched notes which are made by rubbing their hind femur against the edges of their wings like a violin bow. Which is cool, and many have applauded Pixar for the scientific accuracy it strives for in its films, but in this situation I think it's safe to say that a four year-old would rather have a slightly inaccurate portrayal of a bug than they would a villain whose demon body literally creaks like the beams of a haunted house every time he leans forward to menace someone.
Might I remind you: 
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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Stone Sheep

The coat of the stone sheep is black or gray with a large, distinct rump patch. Males have large, curved spiral horns. Habitat : Mountain slopes with few trees, rugged terrain, meadows. A male's rank within the herd is determined by the size of his horns. These sheep are very wary and will flee at the hint of danger.

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The chuckwalla eats fruit, leaves, buds and flowers. When the chuckwalla senses danger, it scurries between rocks and lodges itself tightly in crevices by inflating itself. male coloration may include black head, forelegs and upper trunk, and reddish-yellow toward the rear or a showy bright red body. Females are usually a much less showy gray or brown with little pattern. The young, however, are usually quite striking with a dark background color and yellow bands around the body and down onto the tail. READ MORE HERE!

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Weeper Capuchin

The weeper capuchin has a coarse brown coat, tufts of hair on its head, and white markings throughout. The mating system for weeper capuchins is polygamous, with several males mating with several females. Females give birth to just one offspring.

Diet : Omnivore : fruit, insects, seeds, small vertebrates, buds, shoots, roots

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Blue Waxbill

The Blue Waxbill is a small, slender powder-blue bird, smaller than a sparrow. The bill is short and conical and pinkish-grey in colour. The crown, back of the head and back are light brown. The rump is light blue and the face and upper breast are light blue. In the male the underparts, save for the belly centre and under-tail coverts are bright sky blue. In the female, the blue extends only onto the breast and flanks, and the belly is off-white. READ MORE HERE!

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Yellow-billed Hornbill

The yellow-billed hornbill has a yellow bill with red tip and cutting edges. The bare skin on the face and throat is red. The plumage is gray-black on the forehead to nape. It has a black mantle with a white center line. The wings and tail are black and white, and the eyes are a yellowish white. The yellow-billed hornbill can become tame very easily and is often found near human dwellings. READ MORE

Diet: Carnivore: insects and small animals

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The Woylie is a small macropod with light brown hair and a black crest on its tail, which is 29–36 cm long. It has strong, clawed front feet which are used for digging for food and nest making. While they forage slowly, Woylies are capable of rapid movement if startled and can spring away at surprising speed.

Diet: Woylies are herbivores. They mostly feed on underground fungi but also tubers, bulbs and seeds. They can store food in their cheek pouches which contributes to the dispersal of fungal spores and seeds.

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Fossa Classification and Evolution
The Fossa is a medium-sized carnivore that is found exclusively on the island of Madagascar. The Fossa belongs to the Malagasy Carnivores group which are thought to have descended from Mongoose-like ancestors that arrived on Madagascar from Africa up to 24 million years ago. The Fossa is not only one of the most ancient of the eight species found on the island but it is also the largest, meaning that the Fossa is Madagascar's largest mammalian predator. However, due to the cat-like appearance of the Fossa it was believed to be a primitive species of feline until recently. Sadly like a number of the unique animal species found in Madagascar today though, the Fossa is incredibly rare and is now considered to be endangered in it's natural habitat primarily due to habitat loss.
Fossa Anatomy and Appearance
The Fossa is the largest land predator on the island of Madagascar with some individuals growing to nearly two meters in length from their snout to the tip of their long and slender tail. The tail of the Fossa is around the same length as it's body and plays a crucial role in helping the animal to balance whilst it is leaping through the trees. The Fossa has short but dense red to dark brown fur and a small cat-like head and a dog-like snout, with large forward facing eyes and small, rounded ears. Despite being related to Mongooses, the Fossa remarkably has a number of feline features including curved, retractable claws and slightly webbed feet which both help the Fossa when it is moving about amongst the branches.
Fossa Distribution and Habitat
Like the majority of the animal and plant species that are found on the island of Madagascar, the Fossa is found nowhere else on Earth. They rely on dense, forested areas where there is not only an ample food source but also plenty of space where the Fossa can establish it's large territory. Historically, Fossas would have been found in the forest and woodland areas across the island from coastal lowlands to mountainous regions, but are today restricted to a tiny portion of their once vast natural range due to extensive deforestation throughout Madagascar. Growing Human settlements have also severely affected Madagascar's Fossa populations as they are often hunted by farmers who fear for their livestock.
Fossa Behaviour and Lifestyle
The Fossa is a solitary and nocturnal mammal that patrols territories as large as four square kilometres and marks their presence with scent released from their large anal gland. The Fossa spends the vast majority of it's life high in the trees but is known to both move about and hunt on the ground as well. They are incredibly agile at both climbing and leaping, which is greatly helped by their long and slender tail and the fact that they move about on the flat soles of their feet means that they have more balance and stability when landing precariously on branches. Although the Fossa is largely nocturnal, they are known to also hunt during the day particularly when there is a lack of food but generally spend the daylight hours resting in a hollow tree, cave or an abandoned termite mound.
Fossa Reproduction and Life Cycles
Like many solitary carnivores, Fossas only come together to mate during the breeding season in September and October. After a gestation period that lasts for around three months, the female Fossa gives birth to usually two cubs that are very underdeveloped at birth and do not open their eyes until they are between two and three weeks old. The young are cared for by their mother and begin to eat solid foods by the time they are 12 weeks old, although they are not weaned for another month. Young Fossas take almost two years to grow to their adult size and then another two until they are able to reproduce themselves. They can live for up to 17 years although many reach much younger ages.

Fossa Diet and Prey
The Fossa is the largest carnivorous mammal on Madagascar and therefore survives by only eating other animals in the surrounding forest. The Fossa has evolved perfectly to the hunting and consumption of Lemurs and in fact, more than half of the Fossa's diet is comprised of them. They will also eat Lizards, Frogs, Rodents, Birds and Reptiles to supplement their diet along with small domestic animal such as pigs and poultry. Hunting under the cover of night means that the dark coat of the Fossa is perfectly camouflaged into the dense surrounding forest so they are able to stalk their prey silently in the trees before leaping powerfully to capture it. The retractable claws of the Fossa means that they are always at their sharpest for catching prey as they are not blunted by being constantly walked on.

Fossa Predators and Threats
Due to the fact that the Fossa is the largest natural predator in Madagascar, it has no predators itself (with the rare exception of being snapped up by a stray Crocodile). Humans pose the biggest threat to the Fossa as they have not only hunted them in fear of their livestock but have also completely decimated 90% of the Fossa's once vast natural range. Deforestation for both the logging of the rare tropical timber and also to clear land for agriculture has led to enormous declines in the wild population numbers. Due to the fact that Fossas not only require large solitary home ranges but they are also relatively slow at developing it is thought that numbers will continue to fall.

Fossa Interesting Facts and Features
The Fossa tends to measure around a metre long with the same length tail on top of that but, in recent years fossils of the now extinct Giant Fossa has been uncovered in the jungles of Madagascar, with the biggest Giant Fossa fossil measured nearly six meters in length and was thought to have weighed around 17 kg! The Fossa is well known for its fierce and dominant approach to hunting as it is extremely rare that it's intended prey will successfully escape. The Fossa can run unbelievably quickly and added to it's incredible agility in the tree tops, once a meal has been spotted the Fossa is very adept at then catching it.

Fossa Relationship with Humans
When early explorers first arrived on Madagascar there would have been the most incredible array of unique fauna and flora, much of which is now extinct today. Since their arrival Humans have exploited one of the world's largest islands leaving just 10% of the tropical forest cover that would have historically stretched across the country. Land clearance for agriculture such as palm oil plantations and deforestation of the unique tropical trees has led to drastic declines in the population numbers of numerous species, including the elusive Fossa. They are also hunted by farmers who want to protect their livestock and also by some who (unfairly) believe that they are of danger to people.

Fossa Conservation Status and Life Today
Today, the Fossa is listed by the IUCN as being an Endangered animal species and therefore one that is at risk of becoming extinct in it's natural environment in the near future. Although national parks and reserves do exist on the island, none are large enough to ensure that a decent sized Fossa population can survive as each individual requires a relatively large territory and there is simply too much competition. There are thought to be less than 2,500 Fossa individuals left in the wild of Madagascar.

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Boxer Dog

Boxers are a bright, energetic and playful breed and tend to be very good with children. They are active dogs and require adequate exercise to prevent boredom-associated behaviors such as chewing or digging.
Boxer Dog
Boxers have earned a slight reputation of being headstrong, which can be related to inappropriate obedience training. Owing to their intelligence and working breed characteristics, training based on corrections often has limited usefulness.
Boxer Dog
Boxers, like other animals, respond much better to positive reinforcement techniques such as clicker training, which affords the dog an opportunity to think independently and to problem-solve.

Boxers were originally a docked and cropped breed, and this tradition is still maintained in some countries. However, due to pressure from veterinary associations, animal rights groups and the general public, both cropping of the ears and docking of the tail have been prohibited in many countries around the world.

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Saturday, July 25, 2015


Zorilla, small, carnivorous, nocturnal mammal, Ictonyx striatus, of the weasel family, found in dry regions of Africa. It is also called striped weasel and striped polecat. Although it strongly resembles the North American skunk, a member of the same family, it is more closely related to the true polecat of Eurasia. The zorilla has thick fur with black and white markings, and a long, bushy tail. Its anal glands secrete a pungent fluid that can be ejected as a defense against predators. It is avoided by other animals. It lives in rocky crevices and hunts by night, feeding on small reptiles and rodents.

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