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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 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.

The Sloth Life, It Can Changes

Saturday, 11 June 2011

When I first saw the title of this (very funny) animated short I thought that perhaps it was a typo made by someone who does not speak English very well. After all, The Sloth Life, It Can Changes is poor English, innit?

I wasn’t far wrong but the words are from the mouth of the hero of this piece, a slow moving (and perhaps even more slow witted) sloth. Perhaps the age of the lolsloth is upon us?

Or perhaps not. This animation allows you to get to know the sloth and get to like him a lot too – and then drops one almighty bomb on you. Perhaps one of the silliest starts to an animation I have ever seen leads to something quite jaw-droppingly sad – and an important environmental message is imparted too. Great work from all involved at Slothvision.

Meet the Black Squirrel

Thursday, 9 June 2011

You have probably seen the grey. You may even have encountered or at least heard of the red. However, have you ever seen a black squirrel? Take a look at this small but dark beasty of the forest.

This is the black squirrel. Out of the squirrel population of the United States and Canada perhaps only one in ten thousand is black. However, this is not a separate species in itself. It is in fact a sub-group of the grey squirrel and, little by little their numbers are growing. In fact in some areas they outnumber the greys. However, this black coloring is not a recent trend among the squirrel community – research indicates that in the days before the European settlement of the America the black squirrel was probably much more numerous than the grey.

Instead of being a separate species, the black squirrel is in fact what is known as a melanistic subgroup. Midwestern North America is their stomping ground although there are groups to be found in the UK (more of which later). Melanism is caused by an increased level of black pigmentation, a compound which determines color called melanin. This subgroup of the Eastern Grey has stacks of melanin and these melanistic traits are the opposite of albinism which occurs when flora or fauna have a lack of the compound.

It’s all about natural selection, so it seems. The Black Squirrels (I am inclined to shorten this to BS but it has rather unfortunate implications) can be found wherever the greys live. It is quite common for two greys to mate and to produce a mixture of black and grey offspring. It seems that the blacks were more common than the greys before European settlement because their darker color enabled them to hide in the dark forests which covered the continent at that time.

Then came the white man! Deforestation happened quickly and the lighter color of the grey squirrel became the one with the most advantage in the remaining space. The blacks do however remain abundant in the northern part of the range of the grey. It is thought that the black is common in the northern areas because it has a higher resistance to cold. Because of their darker color they are able to take in more solar radiation – in other words they stay warmer than the greys. So, they do not need as much food as the greys in order to keep their metabolism ticking over nicely. Furthermore their ancient advantage remains in the denser forests of the north. The darker they are the less easy they are to spot, effectively.

If you want to see a Black Squirrel you would have to travel to Ontario if you are in Canada. Staying on the other side of the border, then you would head for Ohio, Wisconsin or Michigan. With less chance of spotting one, you might get lucky in Illinois, Connecticut or even New Jersey as there are small populations to be found there too. If you are elsewhere in the world you may find some, but they are not native to the places and have been introduced there by the hand of man.

Even in Ohio, they were introduced rather than native to the area. In the early nineteen sixties ten were imported (legally) from Canada. When released they quickly outdid the original Grey Squirrel residents and now predominate. Although they have driven the greys away they do seem to leave other rodent species to their own devices. Some British readers will express satisfaction at the routing of the greys in Ohio – after all, the grey has essentially done for the prettier, smaller red in the United Kingdom so this is a taste of its own medicine, perhaps.

In Illinois you can find the Black Squirrel in Rock Island city. The story foes that they were first introduced on the island of Rock Island Arsenal. Unable to spread far, the water surrounding the island was a natural barrier. However, one cold winter was all that was needed and they were able to hop, skip and jump over the ice covering the frozen Mississippi River.

Michigan has its own legend too. The great early purveyor and all round strange body, Will Keith Kellogg introduced them at Battle Creek as he had a hatred for the local population of Red Squirrels. What they had ever done to him is anyone’s guess.

Kansas even has a population, again with an interesting legend attached. Local historians claim that they escaped from a travelling circus (with Dumbo, perhaps?).

In the United Kingdom, the Grey Squirrel was introduced towards the end of the nineteenth century. The Black Squirrel has, too, made an appearance there but debate rages around why and how. Some research has been done and it has been suggested that the Black Squirrels in the UK escaped from captivity and were not deliberately introduced. In the town of Hitchin the blacks are now as abundant as the greys. The escape trickster of the rodent world had struck again.

Do you have good quality pictures of black squirrels? Please send them in and we will happily publish them and give you credit.

Pictures sent in by readers

This one of a black squirrel and his wooden friend was sent in by Peter Rogers, Redwood City, CA. Many thanks Peter!

If you have pictures of black squirrels, please send them in - you can email us at

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