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Meet the Sloths

Sunday, 26 June 2011


Lucy Cooke filmed this at the Aviaros del Caribe sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica - the world's only sloth orphanage.

Baby two and three toed sloths, whose mother's have either been run over or zapped by power lines are brought to the sanctuary and looked after by legendary sloth whisperer Judy Arroyo.

Rattlesnake Wrestling - The Ophidian Combat Dance

Saturday, 25 June 2011

It looks as if these snakes are dancing with each other, perhaps in courtship but this graceful exhibition is anything but friendly. Most frequently witnessed in the diamondback species this is ruthless combat: both rattlers are male and they are engaging each other for the right to mate.

Adult males will, in their twice yearly breeding season have only one thing on their mind – to pass on their genetic material to a new generation. When they encounter other males the result is often combat, albeit rarely mortal. They raise the forward portion of their body off the ground and engage each other – the aim is to force the opponent to the ground, either through fluid movements designed to make the other fall or by sheer brute force.

It can end in several ways. If the size difference is great then the larger rattlesnake will invariably win. If the opponents are equal in size and strength then this display can last for a long time. Sometimes, however, if the snakes realise that there will be no immediate winner they slope off on their separate ways fairly quickly.
Yet the fight has a real prize.

There are normally females around and the winner gets the right to breed. The loser doesn’t just give up on one particular female. Such is the psychological stress of being beaten that he will lose interest in breeding for the season.

This behavior is only ever seen in the breeding seasons. Snakes do not have territories, just a range in which they live. They do not defend any territory against members of their own species. Breeding itself is rather gentler – the male will rest his head on the female and rub his chin on her. If the female is receptive to breeding it will go ahead then – there is no violence involved at all!

The Sand Cat – Desert Cat Extraordinaire

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Don’t be fooled by the off the scale cuteness quotient. This is the Sand Cat – or Felis margarita, a little known species of desert cat. In the wild it lives in areas that are too hot and dry for any other cat- the deserts of Africa and Asia, including the Sahara. It is the only desert species of cat known to us. As such, this cat is one tough cookie.

It also lives in the Arabian desert and those of Iran and Pakistan, yet despite being so widespread it was not described by a European until 1858. That happened to be one Victor Loche, a French soldier and naturalist who explored the Northern Sahara and found the sand cat waiting patiently there for his descriptive skills.

He named it Felis margarita after Jean August Margueritte. Although this made the species sound half cat half cocktail, Margueritte had led the expedition during which Loche had ‘discovered’ the cat and went on to be a distinguished army general who served in Algeria. He died after sustaining a mortal wound during the great cavalry charge at the battle of Sedan during the Franco-Prussian war. Loche sought to preserve his name for prosperity by naming his ferocious feline find after him.

To an extent the sand cat could be mistaken for a domestic cat but there are differences, noticeably the very broad head. Additionally the ears are much wider apart than they are in the domestic cat – a feature which means that the sand cat can flatten them horizontally when hunting. They are a little larger, growing up to ten centimeters longer in length than the domestic cat, with a span of up to sixty centimeters.

Likewise with their height – they usually grow to about six centimeters taller than the domestic cat. Their sandy yellow fur sets them further apart, as do the pale bars which can be found on their legs and backs. Perhaps what adds to their attractiveness is the white chin and underside and the pale red stripes which run over the cheeks from the eyes.

One difference from the cats that we know which is difficult to see in these pictures is the fur that the cats have between their toes. You might think that the last thing a desert living cat might need is more fur but this helps to insulate them against the piping hot sand over which they must stalk their prey. They also have fur on their footpads which makes it very difficult to hunt as the fur misshapes their tracks.

The hollow structure that encloses part of their middle and inner ear, their auditory bullae, are also larger than those of the domestic cat. This helps to enhance their hearing and with it they can pick up vibrations in the sand. Finally their mucosa (the membrane around their eyelids) is a conspicuous black which gives them a certain eyeliner look.

So desolate is their natural habitat that sometimes the sand cat can go for months without a drink of water. Instead, they survive off the water in their food;, which is mostly rodents but they will also eat birds, lizards and insects. They will not eat a human diet like Medifast; or use Medifast coupons. They will not live in sand dunes themselves but prefer flat or rolling terrains, retreating to their burrows when it becomes too hot even for them.

As they mostly eat rodents, they do a lot of digging. Skulking close to the ground they use their extremely sensitive hearing to detect the sound of burrowing underneath them. When they hear something which corresponds to a meal they dig down to catch their prey.

Despite the fact they are not terribly social and only really get together for mating they do not defend territory. They have even been observed taking turns sharing burrows. One cat will leave and hunt while another stays behind and rests. When the first returns, the other will leave.

As well as their obvious enemy (us!) the sand cat is not at the top of its own particular food chain. It is predated by wolves and even occasionally by snakes and large birds of prey. Yet they are fearless creatures – and are obliviously unafraid of humans when they come in to contact with us.

Hunting the sand cat is prohibited only in half the countries in its range, though it is hoped that this law will soon extend throughout its territories. It has even recently been reintroduced in to the wild in Israel where it had been previously extirpated. It remains one of the least known but beautiful cat species on the planet.

The Green Lantern of the Animal Kingdom – The Paradise Tanager

Friday, 17 June 2011

It is said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery.  So, perhaps when a certain Alan Scott came in to possession of a magic lantern after a rail crash in 1940, which bestowed upon him certain powers, he was at a loss about how he should dress when in action. 

Perhaps he remembered a stunning, exotic bird he had seen in books in his youth.  

When he became the Green Lantern could it be he had the Paradise Tanager in mind?

Very probably not, but it must be said that the mask worn by the brilliantly colored Paradise Tanger is more than a little reminiscent of the entire Green Lantern Corps.  This medium sized songbird is more than just a mask, however.  It has sky blue underparts and its upper body is a glossy black.  As for the tail – it can be either yellow and red or all red, depending on the species.

The bird is found in the Amazon Basin in South America, in over half a dozen countries there.  Such is the brilliance of the bird’s plumage that it is known locally as siete colores, which means seven colors.  There is no sexual dimorphism which means that the female, so often a dowdy color in other species, has the same magnificent plumage as the male.

As such it can be quite difficult to tell the genders apart.  The only thing which differentiates is that the male calls out more often than the female (whether or not you agree that that is extended to other species is entirely a matter of opinion).  Fortunately, the future of this species seems, for the moment, secure.  Although their exact number is not known, they are described as common throughout their extensive range.

The Paradise Tanager is a clean freak.  Each morning when the mist descends they awake before many other species of bird and ruffle and preen their feathers in order to keep them in tip top condition. Once a male has found a mate the pair elopes to the canopy of the rainforest.  This is because the higher they nest it becomes less likely that their eggs will be eaten by predators.  They chose a nesting spot and then the majority of each day is spent searching for nesting material, finding fruit to eat and hunting insects on the wing.

The species rarely lays more than two eggs at a time and another reason they nest in the canopy is because it puts them at a height where the humidity is just right for the eggs to develop.  After about two weeks the eggs will hatch.

A startlingly beautiful species, the Green Lantern may not, after all, have used them as an inspiration for his mask.  The Paradise Tanager is, however, a super bird in its own right.

Elvis Presley and His Animals

Monday, 13 June 2011

Did you know that Elvis Presley was inordinately fond of animals? Apart from one bizarre onstage incident in 1957 he was renowned for his love of our four legged friends. Neatorama has an interesting article by Eddie Deezen which chronicles the menagerie acquired by Elvis both before and after he bought Graceland.

My own personal favorite is the chimpanzee called Scatter. I don’t know how he got that name but judging from his behaviour it was because when the chimp entered a room people would literally scatter (if they had any sense and especially if they were female!). Michael Jackson may well have made Bubbles famous but Scatter, oh boy. They probably had to keep some of his antics very quiet.

For more Elvis and his animals fun, head over to Neatorama!

Planet Lemur: 10 Beautiful Little-Known Species

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Most people have heard of the Ring-tailed Lemur (above) and could suppose that it is the only species. However, there are many varieties of Lemur, a lot of which are beautiful and incredibly rare. Take a look in to the planet of the lemurs and discover for yourself the wonderful diversity of this lesser known family of animals.

The Red-ruffed Lemur
This exquisitely colored species is critically endangered and part of its habitat in Madagascar has recently been made in to a National Park. This may at least ensure the survival of some of the species but as it is unable to tell where it is safe for itself, many of the animals live outside the park’s boundaries and are still prey to humans as ‘bush food’. Who could possibly bring themselves to eat this delightful animal in the full knowledge that it is nearing extinction?


The Blue-Eyed Black Lemur
Does what it says on the label! Its name gives the game away but this unusual lemur has blue eyes, which gives it a distinctly spaced-out look. Due to deforestation on its home island of Madagascar it is thought that there are less than one hundred of these startlingly beautiful creatures left in the wild. As a number of plant species evolved specifically to be spread by this species, a whole eco-system is at the point of collapse.


The Black and White Ruffed Lemur
This wonderful beast is not too good as a next door neighbor. Apart from the Howler Monkey it is thought that the Black and White Ruffed Lemur has the loudest call of all primates. It is the only lemur that has litters – all the other species produce a single young, one at a time. It is also notable for having a muzzle like a dog!


The Mongoose Lemur
This shy creature lives in the deciduous forests of Madagascar but also spread to the Comoros islands. It is thought that man is responsible for the spread but the reason for its introduction to the Comoros is unknown. It lives in small family groups and despite its adorable appearance gets nasty when it is discovered by other Mongoose Lemurs that are not part of its small family unit.


The Red Fronted Brown Lemur
The Red-Fronted Brown Lemur lives in two parts of Madagascar, the western coast and the east of the island. The behavior of the species in the two areas is slightly different. In the east a single male will dominate a group and no other lemur will mate with the females. In the east there seems to be much more of a share and share alike attitude adopted towards sex and who is allowed to reproduce!


The Red-bellied Lemur
This is one of the more tourist friendly varieties of lemurs and actually displays curiosity about their human visitors when the two species converge in Madagascar. They will even pose for photographs! It is classified as cathemeral, which means it is active during both the day and night ad as such is one of the few lemur species to do so.


The Crowned Lemur
The Crowned Lemur has a lovely strip of red across its forehead, hence its name and does have the look of a small girl going to a party dressed as a princess! It lives mostly on the Ankarana Plateau of Madagascar and at the very most there are only ten thousand of them on the island. This is the lemur most likely to give birth to twins and it lives for around twenty years.


The Lac Alaotra Gentle Lemur
This beautiful beast is a bamboo lemur, even though it doesn’t actually eat bamboo. It is the one and only primate that has adapted to living off papyrus reeds and it chomps it way through tem alongside Lake Alaotra. As such there are very few of these lovely and engaging creatures, although the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust does have a protection program underway in order to ensure the continuance of this (possibly sub) species of lemur.


The Golden Bamboo Lemur
The Golden Bamboo Lemur does, however, actually eat bamboo. Shamefully, it too is on the list of critically endangered species and it is thought that there are less than a thousand of them alive in the wild. It eats more than enough cyanide each day to kill an average human but how it detoxifies itself against the poison is not known or understood at all.

The Northern Sportive Lemur
The sportive lemurs are a whole different branch of the lemur family tree. They are strictly nocturnal and live in the trees most of the time. When on the ground they hop along in a way reminiscent of kangaroos. Sportive lemurs are solitary and although they look cute they will protect their territory with violence when they come across same sex interlopers. Like most of the species here they are endangered due to deforestation and man’s blind and wilful intrusion in to their only habitat.


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