Archive for the 'Mammals' Category

Jan 29 2017

Monkeys And Macaws

White-headed capuchin monkey, Costa Rica (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

White-headed capuchin monkey, Costa Rica (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On a birding trip in Costa Rica:

Today we’ll be birding at Carara National Park on the Pacific Coast where I expect to see monkeys and the park’s most famous bird, the scarlet macaw.

Encountering monkeys in the wild is a new experience for me.  Because we humans are the only primates who live outside subtropical zones most of us only see primates in captivity.

At Carara we’re likely to see white-headed capuchins (Cebus capucinus), shown above. These diurnal monkeys are highly intelligent and very social, living in troops of about 16 individuals that are mostly female kin because the males move around.  White-headed capuchins love to use tools and are so smart that they can be trained in captivity to assist paraplegics.

If we hear an otherworldly roar like a dinosaur, it’ll be a mantled howler monkey (Alouatta palliata).  The howlers roar both day and night but can be hard to find.

Mantled howler monkey, howling in Costa Rica (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Mantled howler monkey, howling in Costa Rica (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Click here to hear the howl while a woman searches for the source. Perhaps they “sound like dinosaurs” because the foley editors used howler voices in Jurassic Park.

 

Today’s highlight, though, will be the beautiful wild scarlet macaws (Ara macao).

Scarlet macaw in Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Scarlet macaw in Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

These huge members of the parrot family have a wide range — from Central to South America — but they need a lot of territory that’s remote from humans in order to survive.  Carara provides that space.

I hope to see scarlet macaws flying, as in the photo below.  I’ve seen green-winged macaws (Ara chloropterus) in free flight at the National Aviary but seeing scarlets — and in the wild — will be a real treat.

Scarlet macaws in flight, Costa Rica (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Scarlet macaws in flight, Costa Rica (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

And for those of you who love reptiles, there’s a bonus.  Carara National Park has American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus).  No, they are not alligators. Click here to see.

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)

Day 3: Carara National Park

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Jan 23 2017

Converged With The Anteater

Published by under Mammals,Musings & News

Indian pangolin, manis crassicaudata (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Indian pangolin, Manis crassicaudata (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Last month I randomly opened an encyclopedia for the letter P and found an animal I’d never seen before.  Though he looks like an anteater he’s not related to them.

Pangolins are mammals with long thin snouts and long tails that eat ants and termites.  Instead of having fur they’re the only mammal on earth with scales.  The scales, made of keratin like our fingernails, provide protection.  When a pangolin is attacked it rolls into a ball in the same defensive posture as a porcupine.

Pangolin in defensive posture, Manis temminckii in South Africa (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Pangolin in defensive posture, Manis temminckii in South Africa (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Eight pangolin species range from Africa to Asia and Indonesia.  All are in severe decline, listed as vulnerable to critically endangered, because their meat is a Chinese delicacy and folk medicine. Even African pangolins are poached for this illegal trade.

Range map of pangolin species (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Range map of pangolin species (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Anteaters can’t help them. They’re not related.

 

Anteaters are furry mammals with long thin snouts and long tails, native to Central and South America.

Giant anteater at the Pantanel, Brazil (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Giant anteater at the Pantanel, Brazil (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

They, too, eat ants and termites.

Giant anteater with his snout in an ant hole (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Giant anteater eating insects (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Anteaters and pangolins resemble each other because they need the same tools to gather food. Similar appearance in unrelated species, called convergent evolution, is true of my favorite bird, too.

Peregrine falcons resemble hawks because they both hunt for meat, but peregrines are more closely related to parrots than to hawks and eagles.  They converged in appearance to get the job done.

 

(photos and maps from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)

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Jan 09 2017

More To A Giraffe Than Meets The Eye

Published by under Mammals

Giraffe in Namibia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Giraffe in Namibia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Any way you look at it, giraffes are amazing animals. At 15 to 20 feet high they’re the tallest mammals on earth … and that’s not all:

  • Just like us giraffes have only seven bones in their necks but the bones are so big that males have necks six feet long (1.8m). Females are a bit shorter.
  • Giraffes get by on very little sleep. They need only 10 to 120 minutes per day.
  • Like zebras’ stripes, tundra swan beaks, and human fingerprints, the spots on giraffes are unique to the individual.
  • Giraffes can go without water longer than camels.
  • Female giraffes give birth standing up.  Their babies fall five feet to the ground yet within an hour can stand and run.
  • The giraffe’s height lets him eat leaves on tall trees …
Giraffes eating among the leaves (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Giraffes eating among the leaves (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

  • … but makes it awkward to reach the ground. Here’s what giraffes have to do to drink!
Giraffes drinking, Namibia, Etosha (photo by GIRAUD Patrick via Wikimedia Commons)

Giraffes drinking, Namibia, Etosha (photo by Giraud Patrick via Wikimedia Commons)

  • Female giraffes prefer to mate with the tallest males.
  • Male giraffes fight for access to the females by swinging their necks and whacking each other with their heads and horns.  Long necks are an advantage.   Watch a fight below.

  • And finally, giraffes have big hearts. Literally. Their hearts are two feet long and weight 25 pounds.

 

p.s. Oh no!  On December 9, 2016, the giraffe was placed on the Endangered Species List by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the group that administers the list. Giraffes are now in the Vulnerable category. Read more in Smithsonian magazine.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons. click on the images to see the originals. video from shashaenright on YouTube)

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Dec 12 2016

Fewer Deer, Less Garlic Mustard

Published by under Mammals,Plants

Deer and garlic mustard (deer photo from Wikimedia Commons, garlic mustard photo by Kate St.John)

Deer and garlic mustard (deer photo from Wikimedia Commons, garlic mustard photo by Kate St.John)

 

If you like native plants you’re probably dismayed by the increase of invasive garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) in Pennsylvania’s woods.

Garlic mustard has become more abundant at the same time that Pennsylvania’s deer population has exploded.  Since deer don’t eat garlic mustard, observers assumed the plant’s increase was directly tied to the fact that deer eat natives and not this invasive alien.

But the relationship is more complicated than that.

At October’s meeting of the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania, Dr. J. Mason Heberling presented conclusions he’s drawn after studying the interaction of garlic mustard, native plants, and deer from a 13 year experiment at Fox Chapel’s Trillium Trail.

It turns out that garlic mustard likes more sun than it normally gets in Pennsylvania’s summer woods so when deer over browse native plants their shade goes away and garlic mustard thrives.

When deer are excluded native plants grow again, they shade the garlic mustard and it decreases.

Fewer deer?  Less garlic mustard!

Everything is connected, often in amazing ways.

 

For more information, read the study abstract here at Interactions of White-tailed Deer and Invasive Plants in Forests of Eastern North America presented at the Botany 2016 Conference.

(photo of garlic mustard by Kate St. John. photo of deer by josephamaker2018 via Wikimedia Commons; click on the original)

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Dec 04 2016

Funny Face is Flehmen Response

Published by under Mammals

If you have a cat, I’m sure you’ve seen it sniff something and then raise its head with its mouth open as shown in the video above.

This gesture is called the flehmen response or flehmening and it’s how cats inhale and analyze pheromones.

Many mammals flehmen in response to pheromone laden scents. They bare their teeth, close their nostrils and breathe through their mouths to direct the scent into the vomeronasal organ (VNO) located above the roof of the mouth.  In felines, there’s a duct just behind their front teeth that leads to the VNO.

Horses flehmen, too.  When I was a kid there was a TV show called Mister Ed, the Talking Horse, whose face looked like this when he “talked.”

Flehmen response of a horse (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Flehmen response of a horse (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Now that I’ve seen this photo, I’ll bet the trainers put an interesting smell under Mister Ed’s nose to provoke the flehmen response.  And they said he was “talking.”

 

(video by Kyle Hayes on YouTube. photo of horse flehmen response from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

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Nov 27 2016

Cars And Deer

Published by under Mammals,Schenley Park

Deer spooked near the road (photo by Mike Tewkesbury, Creative Commons license via Flickr)

Deer spooked near the road (photo by Mike Tewkesbury, Creative Commons license via Flickr)

It’s that time of year again when cars and deer come into conflict.

From October through December white-tailed deer hormones surge for the mating season.  Males become aggressive, spar with their rivals, and challenge anything they see as a threat.  Both sexes roam in search of mates and barely pay attention to their surroundings.  Cars are the last thing on their minds.

Last year, Pennsylvania won the “prize” for the most deer-vehicle collisions in the U.S.   According to a September 2015 article by Ad Crable at Lancaster Online, we hit 127,275 deer with our cars — and those were only the collisions reported to insurance.   When compared to hunting season, which took more than 353,000 deer that year, we’re making a sizable dent with our vehicles.

A case in point is in Schenley Park where hunting is prohibited, as in all Pittsburgh City Parks.  Deer used to be rare but they moved in about 10 years ago (perhaps longer) and their population has exploded in the past five years.  I knew we’d reached a milestone when I saw a first ever road-killed deer in the Park along the Boulevard of the Allies, hit on November 5 or 6.

I’m sure the person who hit that 6-point buck was very, very surprised.  So are those whose dogs are challenged by aggressive deer.  Every year since 2015, a buck has killed a dog in the City’s east end parks.

So be careful out there, especially at dusk and dawn when deer are most active.  Use your brightest headlights and slow down.  Don’t become a statistic.

 

Reminder: Deer (rifle) season begins tomorrow, Monday November 28, in Pennsylvania. Wear blaze orange when you’re outside the city.

(photo by Mike Tewkesbury, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Click on the image to see the original.)

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Nov 16 2016

Putting On His Winter Coat

Published by under Mammals

Long-tailed weasel, Calgary, Alberta, 30 Oct 2016 (photo by Dan Arndt)

Long-tailed weasel, Calgary, Alberta, 30 Oct 2016 (photo by Dan Arndt)

Oh my!  It’s a white weasel in a brown background.

Long-tailed weasels (Mustela frenata), native from Canada to South America, molt twice a year in October-to-mid-November and March-to-April.  Those who live in the north turn white, the rest of them stay brown.  Here’s what they look like in summer.

On October 30 in Calgary, Alberta, Dan Arndt easily found this long-tailed weasel checking out the scenery near Fish Creek Provincial Park.  The weasel had turned mostly white though his back was still pale brown (see below).

Long-tailed weasel, Calgary, Alberta, 30 Oct 2016 (photo by Dan Arndt)

Long-tailed weasel, Calgary, Alberta, 30 Oct 2016 (photo by Dan Arndt)

Long-tailed weasels are fearless and aggressive, able to kill animals larger than they are, but they’re small enough to fall prey to large mammals, hawks and owls(*).  Camouflage is important.  Their fur is meant to hide them as they hunt and are hunted.

This weasel turned white right on time but there’s no snow to hide him.  The first frost usually occurs in Calgary on September 16 and it snows 3.9″ (10cm) in October, but not this year.  The high was 54oF (12.2oC) on the day these pictures were taken.

Long-tailed weasel, Calgary, Alberta, 30 Oct 2016 (photo by Dan Arndt)

Long-tailed weasel, Calgary, Alberta, 30 Oct 2016 (photo by Dan Arndt)

 

It’s likely that climate change will change northern long-tailed weasels.  They’ll probably still molt in October-to-mid-November but without snow to hide them the whitest ones won’t survive.  I expect the population will be browner in Canada a century from now.

Long-tailed weasel, Calgary, Alberta, 30 Oct 2016 (photo by Dan Arndt)

Who are you looking at? (photo by Dan Arndt)

In the meantime, this one looks annoyed that he’s attracted attention now that he’s put on his winter coat.

 

(photos by Dan Arndt)

(*) Long-tailed weasels are 12-14″ long but their tails make up 40-70% of their length.  Thus their bodies are only 4-8″ long.

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Oct 25 2016

It’s Bat Week!

Published by under Mammals

In case you haven’t heard it’s international Bat Week.

This week, October 24-31, we celebrate furry flying mammals, learn about their benefits to mankind, and help them survive in our ever changing world.

Did you know these cool facts about bats?

  • There are more than 1,300 species of bats on earth, 40 in the U.S.
  • Bat wings are webs of skin between their fingers (forelimbs).  Bats have more bones in their wings than birds do.
  • Bats have “thumbs” on the leading end of their wings that help them grasp and climb. The tropical Spix’s Disk-winged Bat roosts on leaves so he has suction cups where his thumbs would be.  Click here to see.
  • According to batcon.org, some male bats sing like songbirds to defend territory and attract mates.
  • Most bats reproduce very slowly, only one pup per year.
  • An amazing number of bat species are threatened with extinction — even some that live in Pennsylvania.

Watch the video above to see Rodrigues fruit bats (they’re Critically Endangered) then stop by the National Aviary in Pittsburgh to see the Megabats shown below — Malayan Flying Foxes.

Malayan Flying Fox fruit bat being fed (photo by Denmarsh Photogtaphy courtesy the National Aviary)

Malayan Flying Fox fruit bat being fed (photo by Denmarsh Photography courtesy the National Aviary)

 

Happy Bat Week!

Malayan Flying Fox fruit bat, resting upside down (photo by Denmarsh Photogaphy courtesy of the National Aviary)

Malayan Flying Fox fruit bats at the National Aviary (photo by Denmarsh Photography)

 

Learn more about bats at Bat Conservation International.

(video from the San Diego Zoo, photos by Denmarsh Photography courtesy of the National Aviary)

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Oct 20 2016

Anniversary of The Fox

Published by under Mammals

Red fox crossing a street in Portugal (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Red fox in Denver neighborhood (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In autumn young animals leave their birthplace to find a home of their own.  Sometimes they wander into dangerous places — roads, for instance — and sometimes they surprise us.

Seven years ago this month a red fox wandered into my Pittsburgh city neighborhood and spent a couple of weeks in the block near my house.  Our first hint of her presence was the sound of her voice.

On this Anniversary of The Fox, read more about her visit at:

Mystery Solved

 

p.s. I’m only guessing she was female.  There’s no way to know.

(photo of a fox crossing a street in Denver, Colorado from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

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Oct 19 2016

Prevent Lyme Disease In Your Own Backyard

White-footed mouse raiding the peanut feeder at night (photo by Rob Ireton, Creative Commons license on Flickr)

White-footed mouse raiding a backyard peanut feeder at night (photo by Rob Ireton, Creative Commons license on Flickr)

If you live in a Lyme disease area and feed the birds, you might get Lyme disease in your own backyard.  Here’s what makes that possible and how you can make your yard safe.

When you provide food for birds, a lot of other animals eat that food as well.  Squirrels and chipmunks eat during the day.  The mice come at night, especially white-footed mice pictured above at a peanut feeder.

Animals live close to their food sources so they live in your backyard or even your house. Here’s a favorite mouse and chipmunk home — the nooks and crannies of stone walls.

Stone wall (located in Vermont, photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Stone wall (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

The abundance of birds and rodents in your yard attracts predators: hawks, owls, cats and even ticks. You’ll see the big predators but you might not notice the tiny ones.  Adult black-footed ticks are very hungry in October and November so watch out.

Chart of black-legged tick life stages (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Birdseed –> mice –> ticks –>  Here’s the Lyme disease connection:  White-footed mice are reservoirs for Lyme disease so the black-footed ticks that feed on your backyard mice may be infected.

What to do?

It’s impossible to get rid of all the mice — even if you stop feeding the birds — but you can get rid of ticks, and that’s what counts in this battle against Lyme disease.

The mice will help you do it.  Mice like soft fluffy bedding in their nests and will carry it into their secret hiding places.  If you give them anti-tick bedding it kills the ticks on them and in their nests.

This ingenious defense is described here at TickEncounter.org.  In their photo below, a mouse is gathering anti-tick bedding — permethrin-sprayed cottonballs — from the blue-green tube.

White-footed mouse with anti-tick tube and cottonball bedding (photo from tickencounter.org)

White-footed mouse with anti-tick tube and cottonball bedding (photo from tickencounter.org)

You can make your own tubes (cottonballs, paper tubes, Permethrin) or buy them complete with instructions at ticktubes.com.  Be sure to read about this technique at Tick Encounter before you begin.  And then …

No more ticks!

 

p.s. You’ll see at Tick Encounter that July and August are the optimal time for setting out Tick Tubes.  Sorry my timing is off.

p.s. Be sure to read the comments about Permethrin hazards. It is very bad for pets!

(photo credits: Click on the images to see the originals in context
White-footed mouse at night by Rob Ireton, Creative Commons license on Flickr,
Stone wall photo from Wikimedia Commons,
Chart of black-legged tick life stages from Wikimedia Commons,
White-footed mouse with anti-tick tube and cottonball bedding from tickencounter.org
)

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