Today, September 6, 2014, is International Vulture Awareness Day. I’ve covered this topic before which you can read HERE where I tell you a few interesting vulture facts and also a few unfortunate reasons vultures are in decline. I wish I could say things have changed but I’m afraid they haven’t. Vulture populations continue to take a hit, and for the same reasons. It’s important to share knowledge about these and other creatures in order to combat the negative stereotypes and falsehoods that result in deaths. In this case, vultures are highly susceptible to poisoning, intentionally and not, and it is a main issue effecting their survival. In fact, Birdlife International has announced that vultures have become one of the most threatened bird families. While there have been some successes, such as Cape Town launching their first vulture breeding program, it’s not enough.
Sorry it’s been so quiet over here. I wish I could say I was off in the wilderness helping wildlife and learning more cool tips to share with you all, but the truth is its just every day, boring stuff going on that’s been keeping me busy. Poo.
But, I did learn that yesterday, July 31st, is World Ranger Day, and I think it’s super important for us to recognize the men and women with boots on the ground protecting our environment and sometimes facing real danger to do so. That is their real every day, and while some days I’m sure it’s boring in terms of sitting outside, taking patrols, etc., it also means fighting against poachers and sometimes finding and dealing with the aftermath of poaching, injured animals, etc. Rangers are real heroes and it’s their jobs. Credit where credit is due!
Check out the International Ranger Federation for more information.
I want to share with you all this awesome creature. Some of you might have seen it before as it’s been in several articles on bizarre or crazy looking species. It’s definitely unique. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see it floating around in an Avatar movie, but no, it’s here on our own Earth where we can find the beautiful blue sea slug (Glaucus atlanticus), often otherwise known as the sea swallow, blue angel, blue glaucus, blue dragon, and blue ocean slug. There is another species that looks very similar called Glaucus marginatus, though it is darker and has a different arrangement of “teeth” on the skin. The whole Glaucidae family has some pretty interesting members, actually.
Back to our buddy the blue dragon, as it’s common name states, this is a slug. Certainly not what I think of when I think ‘slug’, but here it is! It’s also an ocean variety. These creatures are one of the smallest of their biological family, reaching only 3 centimeters (1.2 in) in length.
There are two things about this blue angel that I find quite interesting. The first is that it floats upside down on the surface of the water. This is due to a gas filled sac located in the stomach that keeps the animal afloat. This is why their coloration is reverse what you’d often find in the oceans. Take the great white shark; darker on top and lighter on the bottom. Many animal species are like this. It’s a form of protective camouflage as, if you were looking down into the water at the animal, its upper dark skin would blend in with the darker ocean, but if you were looking up, its lighter belly skin would blend in with the lighter water and sky. The blue sea slug, then, has a dark belly and a light back.
The other interesting thing about these creatures is what they eat; things like Portuguese Man o’ Wars (Physalia physalis), which are known for being highly venomous and very dangerous to humans, along with some less dangerous by-the-wind-sailor (Velella velella), blue button (Porpita porpita), violet snails (Janthina janthina), and sometimes even each other. These little blue slugs can not only consumer a Man o’ War due to their immunity but they then are able to select and store the most potent of the venomous nematocysts in specialized sacs at the end of the slug’s fingers, or cerata, for their own use. In this form it can be highly concentrated and very dangerous!
While these animals can be found all over the world, from the waters off Hawaii to Africa to Europe, they are often not seen despite being on the surface due to not usually coming near shore, in combination with their small size and colorization. However, apparently some people have decided that they make cool pets.
Blue sea slugs, the tiny ocean dragons, are pretty awesome looking. I have one as my computer’s wallpaper right this very minute! Avatar’s Pandora might seem like a pretty awesome place filled with vibrant, strange animals, but we really need go no further than our own natural environments to find some pretty fascinating creatures of our own.
It has come to my attention that this week is Sloth Week over at the Discovery Network. I love sloths! I’ve put up several posts in the past talking about the various species as well as pointing out when International Sloth Day is, October 20! In each I posted a link to an absolutely adorable baby sloth video, so run right over there and check them out!
I won’t repeat everything I’ve said before, but I will encourage you all to check out the Discovery Network’s Sloth Week link which features a bunch of cool videos, articles, and information, including some about ancient sloths, which were huge!
This will hold me over for a little while on my to way figure out how to devote some great volunteer time to these cute and important animals.
Turtles! Yes, it’s World Turtle Day! During my herpetofaunal survey I had been lucky enough to find a spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) right under foot. In New York, these are a species of special concern. I’ve spotted painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) in my yard and quite frequently while they were sunning themselves along rivers. I even came across a common musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) during my last kayaking trip. These quiet animals are more common than you might think, if you take a moment to look around.
What the word “turtle” represents actually depends on who you’re talking to and where. In North America “turtle” typically any reptile with a bony or cartilaginous shell that is developed from their ribs. It doesn’t matter if these animals are on land or in fresh or salt water. In Great Britain, though, a “turtle” is one of the water-dwelling species. A tortoise is a land-dwelling turtle and terrapin is sometimes used to describe small species found in brackish water. This is just English, mind you, so it can get pretty confusing! Many scientists refer to the group as chelonian, given that the scientific superorder is Chelonia, just to avoid confusion. For this post I’ll just stick to “turtle”.
There are over 300 living species of turtles in 14 extant families. The oldest turtle fossil is dated to 220 million years ago and is one of the oldest reptiles.
Turtles, I think, are most well known for their shells, and these shells go back in time a long ways. They evolved from the ribs out into plates, and if you ever look inside the shell of a turtle, you can clearly see this. These shells aren’t always the hard scale covering you’re probably most familiar with though; there are at least 26 soft-shelled turtle species all over the world, in the Trionychidae family. Their hard shells are covered by leathery skin and the outer edges lack the boney shell underneath.
Turtles lay soft, leathery eggs which are laid in sand or mud, and then covered. When the eggs hatch the newborns are on their own; neither parent hangs around after the eggs are deposited. The eggs are susceptible to predation, as are the newly hatched turtles, and some people/organizations collect them for incubation and release, patrol the grounds, and/or protect the newborns as they make their way into the habitat, which is often the oceans, in this case.
While all juvenile turtles are carnivorous, adult turtle diets range depending on the species and habitat. Some eat vegetation, some, algae, while others eat jellyfish, shellfish, fish, invertebrates, and the occasional carcass.
Turtles have a wide ranging life span depending on species but even the ones with shorter life spans still live many years, which is an important consideration for anyone considering a turtle for a pet. Larger species can live more than 100 years. There is some debate as to the oldest recorded animal but Addyaita, male Aldabra giant tortoise, is considered one of the oldest, and he died around the age of 250.
The Speckled Cape tortoise (Homopus signatus) is the smallest turtle, averaging 6-8 cm. An African species, the females lay only a single egg each year. The largest species on record is the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), a marine species with an individual that measured almost 3m (9ft) in length and weighed 914 kilos (2,016 pounds). Unfortunately, the animal had drowned in a fisherman’s net..
Not only can marine animals drown in nets but human trash can cause serious problems, such as plastic bags looking like jellyfish and getting caught in a turtle’s throat, or other waste can get caught around their bodies. Wetland habitats such as swamps are commonly filled in for home and commercial “development,” river and lake-side properties are prime spots for homes, water is often contaminated with chemical pollutants, slow moving turtles get hit by cars, and eggs get preyed on by many animals, including invasive and non-native pets.
As today is World Turtle Day, it’s time to keep in mind that you can make a difference! Even something small and, I would hope, common sense, such as not running them over, saves a life!
Did everyone have a nice Mother’s Day weekend? I did. It was beautiful out and my mother and I decide do take a 3 mile walk around Beaver Lake at a park I hadn’t been to. We were not disappointed in our critter sightings!
First we stopped by at a little pond right at the start of the trails. Given the time of year, I immediately started looking for tadpoles, and there they were, good-sized and fat, with a few starting to have varying levels of rear legs. A park volunteer wandered by and informed us that they were American bullfrogs (Lithobates catesbeianus), but I was skeptical. I’ve seen bullfrog tadpoles and they’re usually quite a bit larger than that when reaching the leg bud phase. A little green head popped up, watching us, and then let out a call. Nope, definitely northern green frogs (Rana clamitans melanota). If there is one frog I definitely know, it’s the green frog! They took up half my herpetofaunal survey, after all! But, in her defense, these two species can be hard to tell apart if you don’t know what to look for.
More northern green frogs could be heard as we crossed over some wetlands, and a few splashes could be heard as they dove for cover. Some, though, continued their leisurely float, completely undisturbed by the two-legged animals that pointed at them.
I was enormously pleased to find a northern water snake next to the walkway and s/he didn’t seem to mine my slow approach for a photo.
The eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) and eastern chipmunks (Tamias striatus)where everywhere that day, darting up and down trees, popping in and out of holes, stuffing their faces with bedding and nuts and whatever else was useful or tasty. Two of the squirrels were juveniles, smaller than the adults, and didn’t mind my curiously gaze.
We came across an enormous beaver (Castor canadensis) dam that stretched across a half acre or so of wetlands. The pool of water held back was about a foot or so above the below pool and tiny waterfalls were everywhere. We didn’t get to see any of the beaver but I’d like to congratulate them on their handy (and taily, and toothy) work. Who knows how many generations have worked on that!
Of course, this whole time there were birds all over the place. I wasn’t able to get a good look at most of them, but I did see a male red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) singing for love and several grey catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) poking around in the bushes. We also saw a pair of mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos), but no ducklings yet.
Right before we left the woods, near the parking lot, my mother pointed out a red head and lo and behold, there was a male pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), the largest woodpecker in North America, hard at work on a fallen log. He started on one end and pecked all the way to the other side, no doubt looking for fat grubs, before flying off to another tree to continue his search.
All in all I had a great weekend spending time with my mother, and a great nature walk to boot! What did you do this weekend?
Today, April 25, is World Penguin Day! I’ve written about the different kind of penguins HERE, so go check it out. These flightless birds are cool (no pun intended) and can be found, not just in icy climates in the souther hemisphere, but as far north as the hot and humid equator. They are sensitive to ocean pollution, oil spills, and overfishing, so if you’re wondering about ocean health, take your cues from a penguin.