Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Lion Tailed Macaque



The lion tailed macaque (Macaca silenus) is a species of monkey that is exclusively found in the southern region of India.  It is rated as 'Endangered' by the IUCN.

Physical Features
The lion tailed macaque is a medium sized monkey that ranges from lengths of 35 cm to 60 cm.  Males are slightly larger than females.  It has black hair throughout its body except the face region.  The face is black and hairless.  The unique and distinct feature of the lion tailed macaque is its mane.  Its silver white mane distinguishes it from the otherwise similar Nilgiri Langur.  

Distribution and Habitat
A lion tailed macaque
The lion tailed macaque is restricted to the evergreen forests of the Western Ghats range in southern India.  Majority of the population is present in Kerala, India.  Other populations are present in the Anamalai hills of Tamil Nadu and the Western Ghats section of Karnataka. The Silent Valley National Park is a famous stronghold of the lion tailed macaque.  Lion tailed macaques live in evergreen forests that can be 1700 m above mean sea level.  They require isolated environments which is one of the key reasons for a decline in their numbers. The estimated population is said to be about 4000 individuals.  Habitat encroachment and destruction is the main threat to the population.

Behaviour
The lion tailed macaque is a social animal and live in groups that may consist of 10 to 60 individuals.  Lesser the region is disturbed by humans, smaller the group size.  They are mainly arboreal and spend most of their time in the upper canopy of evergreen forests. Unlike other macaques like the rhesus macaque, the avoid humans.  Their cries have a uncanny resemblance to that of humans.  They may become aggressive in case of territorial disputes.

Diet
Lion tailed macaques mainly eat fruits, shoots, leaves, insects or even small vertebrates. They feed on the indigenous plants and trees of their area but may adapt in areas where logging is excessive.  Eggs of various birds also constitute their diet.

Conservation Status
The lion tailed macaque is rated as 'Endangered' by the IUCN.  Their population has faced considerable decline due to habitat destruction for agricultural purposes and habitat encroachment by humans.  Unlike other macaques, they avoid humans and hence do not reside in agricultural lands.  They were once rated as one of the most endangered primates in the world but now, thanks to severe measures taken by the Indian government to protect this species, they are off that list. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Gila Monster



The Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum) is a species of lizard found in North America.  It is one of the very few venomous lizards in the world.  

Physical Features
The Gila monster is a stout lizards and can reach lengths of 2 feet.  They have a rounded head and their body has patches of orange, yellow and black which helps it camouflage in the desert environment.  They have powerful limbs with long claws while their tail is fat and short.  They can weigh anywhere between 300 grams to 700 grams while the largest specimen reported was 2.3 kilograms.

Venom
The Gila Monster is one of the two venomous lizards of North America, the other one being the Beaded lizard.  The Gila monster's venom is a neurotoxin and is said to be as toxic as a coral snake's venom.  However a bite delivered from the Gila Monster to an adult, healthy human is not fatal as it produces the venom in very minute quantities.  There are no reported cases of human deaths from Gila monster bites.  The venom of a Gila monster is found to have proteins which are effective in the treatment of type-2 diabetes. 

Distribution and Habitat
The Gila Monster is confined to the south western parts of the United Sates of America and the north western parts of Mexico.  They inhabit dry grasslands, foothills of mountains and succulent desert. 

Diet
The Gila monster mainly feeds on the eggs of birds and reptiles.  They also feed on insects and small mammals.

Behavior
The Gila monster Changes its time of activity depending upon the season and temperatures.  It spends most of its time burrowing.  It is generally sluggish and shy which is why there are not many cases of Gila monster bites. 

Conservation Status
The Gila monster is rated as 'Near Threatened' by the IUCN.  It has suffered a population decline over the past couple of decades.  It faces threats from habitat destruction and illegal pet trading.  Large parts of their habitat has disappeared due to urbanization and agriculture.

Pic 1

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Malabar Giant Squirrel


The Malabar giant squirrel (Ratufa indica) is a large species of squirrel native to India.  It is one of the largest species of squirrels in the world.

Physical Features
The malabar giant squirrels have a black or maroon back with its ventral side, face and tail being cream or buff.  Its body length can be anywhere between 30cm-50cm while its tail is around 2 feet long.  

Behavior
The malabar giant squirrel is generally active in the evening as well as in the early hours of the morning.  They spend most of their time on trees and are seldom seen on the forest floor.  When threatened they freeze or lie flat against a tree.  They are very shy animals. They are generally solitary except during breeding season.

Diet
The malabar giant squirrel primarily feeds on fruits, making it a herbivore.

Distribution and Habitat
Malabar giant squirrels generally inhabit mixed deciduous forests and moist evergreen forests with high canopies.  A large portion of their population is present in the forests of Peninsular India, in the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and parts of Madhya Pradesh.

Conservation Status
The malabar giant squirrel is rated as 'Least Concern' by the IUCN.  However, its population is threatened by illegal pet trade, habitat destruction and hunting.  It is a protected species and is the state animal of the Indian state, Maharashtra.  

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Snow Leopard



The snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is a large cat species inhabiting the Himalayas.  It is rated as "Endangered" by the IUCN.

Taxonomy
For longtime, the classification of the snow leopard was a dispute.  In the past it was placed under its own genus Uncia.  Many scientists were against that and thought that it should be placed under the the genus of Panthera, which contained the big cats (tiger, lion, leopard and jaguar).  However, a scientist named Pocock (he described the genus Panthera) said that the snow leopard has certain morphological differences and hence cannot be placed in the genus of Panthera.  However, in 2008, through genotyping, it was proved that the snow leopard in fact does belong to the Panthera genus.  As a result, its scientific name was changed from Uncia uncia to Panthera uncia.

Physical Features
The snow leopard is relatively smaller when compared to other members of the Panthera genus.  Their body (including head) length can range from 80 cm to 130 cm.  Their tails can grow up to lengths of 100 cm.  Adult snow leopards generally weigh anywhere between 30 kg-55 kg.  However, there are records of males weighing 75 kg.  Snow leopards have a coat perfectly adapted for cold regions.  It has thick fur which can range from a smoky grey to a creamy white and has dark rosettes all over its body except for the ventral portion.  This combination allows it a perfect camouflage.  Each individual rosette differs from another.  The fur on the belly of the snow leopard can be about 10 cm long which helps keep itself warm and live in areas where the temperatures can sink below -40 degrees Celsius.  The snow leopard has an enlarged nasal cavity which warms the air it breaths and allows it to inhale the thin air of high altitudes.  It has relatively larger paws which allows it to easily walk on snow and its long, thick tail provides it balance in rocky terrain.  It also uses its tail as a blanket while sleeping.  Due to its imperfectly ossified hyoid bone, it cant roar like its Panthera counterparts but can growl and snarl.

Distribution and Habitat
Snow leopards live in mountainous terrains.  A large percent of the snow leopard population is confined to the Himalayan range.  They inhabit mountainside grasslands as well as lightly forested areas at altitudes between 2,300-6,000 meters high.  Their range includes the northern parts of India, Nepal, Himalayan border of China, Russia, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.

Diet 
Due to the harsh climatic conditions, snow leopards are forced to have a wide dietary range. The snow leopards feed on any mountains animals like goats, deer, pikas and marmots. Domestic animals also constitute their diet.  They also hunt down large prey such as Ibex.

Conservation Status
The snow leopard is rated as 'Endangered' by the IUCN.  It has been subjected to poaching, habitat loss and prey loss.  Most of the population has been wiped out from Russia due to poaching for their fur.  The current population is estimated to be about 6000 individuals.  It is a highly protected species and its hunting has been banned in most of the countries.  It is the national animal of Afghanistan and the National Heritage animal of Pakistan.

Pic 1

Friday, September 18, 2015

Russell's Viper




Russel's viper (Daboia russelli) is a large species of viper found throughout the Indian subcontinent and other parts of south-east Asia.  Most of the snakebites (about 50%) in the Indian subcontinent are caused by the Russell's viper.

Physical Features
The russell's viper is a large and bulky viper, normally growing about 1 to 1.2 meters long.  However, specimens over 1.5 m have been recorded.  The color of their dorsal side is generally brown of varying shades, tan or deep yellow.  Their are a series of dark ovals running along their back which are outlined successively by black and white.  Another series of similar ovals runs down each flank alternating with those on the back.  They have a triangular head with a blunt snout.  Their head is very distinct from the body and they have very short tails.  Their belly is white, yellowish or sometimes pinkish.  The coat of the russell's viper very closely resembles that of the rough scaled boa, a harmless snake.

Distribution and Habitat
The russell's viper is widespread in the Indian subcontinent and is also found in Thailand and the Indo-Australian archipelago.  It is most common in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Myanmar.  It inhabits plains, grasslands and plantations.  However, it has been recorded at heights of 2,100 m in south India and 2,000 m in the Himalayas.  It is common along the west coast of India.  It is abundant in Punjab but quite rare in the Ganga Valley.

Diet
Their diet mainly consists of rodents like mice, rats, squirrels, etc.  However, they will eat anything like lizards, frogs and small birds.  Juveniles are known to be cannibalistic.

Behavior
The russell's viper is largely nocturnal.  Adults are known to be sluggish while juveniles are more excited and alert.  When aggravated, they stand their ground and produce a loud hiss that is distinctly louder than other snakes.  They are slow movers.  However, when they strike, they hurtle themselves with such force that they may even leave the ground.  Adults normally just prefer to just hiss when disturbed while juveniles may be more aggressive and bite.

Reproduction Cycle
Russell's vipers are ovoviviparous.  This is a mode of reproduction where the embryo's develop inside eggs which remains in the mother's stomach till they are ready to hatch.  The embryo's are nourished by the egg yolk. After they hatch, the mother gives birth to them.  A russell's viper generally gives birth to litters of 20 to 40 young.  However they have been known to give birth to litters of 63 individual as well as to a single young.  The gestation period exceeds six months.  Gravid females have been recorded in all months of the year. Females give birth between the months of May and November.  They sexually mature at the age of 2-3 years. 

Venom
A dose of 50-70 mg is lethal to an adult human.  The bite results in immediate pain and swelling in that region.  Post 20 minutes, bleeding occurs in the gums, urine and sometimes sputum.  Necrosis (the premature death of cells due to injuries) is a common symptoms.  Heart rate falls and blood pressure drops.  The victim may die of kidney failure, septicemia or cardiac arrest.  Death from any of these may occur in a period of 1 to 10 days.  Russell's viper used to cause about 300,000 deaths per year in the Indian Subcontinent before the introduction of its antivenin.  This has reduced the deaths by russell's viper considerably. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cotton-top Tamarin


The cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) is a small species of primate found only in a small part of South America.  It is rated as "Critically Endangered" by the IUCN.  It is a popular exhibit in zoos all around the world.

Physical Features
The cotton-top tamarin is an unmistakable species.  It gets its name from the elegant, long, white flowing fur on its head.  They generally weigh only about 420-450 grams. Their body length can be about 20-25 cm long while their tail can be about 35-40 cm long. Their tail is not prehensile i.e. it has not adapted to hold or manipulate objects. Males and females are generally same in size.  Their face is generally black or gray in color with very fine white hair which is barely visible.  Their back (dorsal side) is covered with brown fur while their front (ventral side) is covered with white or yellowish white fur.  Their tail is also covered in brown fur.  Unlike other monkeys, the cotton-top tamarin's thumbs are not opposable.

Diet
Cotton top tamarin feeding on some dry fruits.
Cotton-top tamarins are omnivorous.  They equally depend on plant material and animal material.  They consume organisms that are smaller than them like small lizards, amphibians and insects. Insects are a main constituents of their diet.  Plant material consists of fruits, flowers, nectar, seeds and plant sap.  They require very nutritious and high energy foods due to their small size and high food intake.  

Distribution and Habitat
The range of cotton-top tamarins are limited to the north-western side of Colombia, between the rivers Atrato,  Cauca and Magdalena.  Even in this region, their habitat is fragmented. They live in both tropical humid forests as well as tropical deciduous forests, primary as well as secondary forests.  They prefer to live in the lower levels of forests but may descend to the ground in search of food or ascend tall trees for protection or food.  They sleep in foliage cover.

Behavior
Cotton-top tamarins are diurnal.  They either live in pairs but more often live in groups. They spend the days foraging and grooming.  They are very social animals and each group may consist 5-15 members.  They follow a matriarchal system i.e. the leader of a group is the eldest female.  Cotton-top tamarins groups follow a "helper" system where males and older siblings take care of the young and newly born for sometime.

Life Cycle and Breeding
Infants along with parent.
In a group of 10-15 individuals normally only one male-female pairs breed.  It is very often for twins to be born.  The breeding season is between the months of April and July.  A female cotton-top tamarin gives birth to a single offspring or twins after a gestation period of 4-5 months.  Males take care and groom the infants more than the female.  Cotton-top tamarins are known to live in captivity for 20 years while in wild, they often live for about 13 to 14 years.

Conservation Status   
The cotton-top tamarin is rated as "Critically Endangered" by the IUCN.  There are approximately 6,000 individuals remaining.  Illegal pet trade and habitat fragmentation is the main cause of population decline.  It is said that between the 1960's and 1970's about 30,000 individuals were exported to the United Sates for bio-medical research.  The population is decreasing.  It was one of the most endangered species of primate in the world between 2008-2011.  It is protected by the law.  The Paramillo National Park is one of the most important stretch of forest for this species and comprises of 1800 square miles.  There are enough number of individuals in captivity for the sustenance of this species.  It is said that their are more captive individuals than wild ones.

Source of pic 2, pic 3 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Bengal Monitor



The Bengal monitor (Varanus bengalensis) is a common, medium sized monitor lizard found in the Indian Subcontinent.  It is rated as " Least Concern" by the IUCN but its population is decreasing due to habitat fragmentation and hunting.

Physical Features
Brightly colored juvenile
The length of a bengal monitor can range from 1 meter to 1.8 meters. Males are larger than females. These monitors can weigh up to 7 kilograms.  Its head is relatively small as compared to the body but its snout is more rounded than the water monitor, which is a main distinction other than the size.  It has a thick and stocky head and short limbs. Adults' dorsal side can be olive, gray, black or brownish in color with sparse black spots. The ventral side is generally yellowish. Juveniles are brightly colored with series of dark bars on the neck and back which are sometimes accompanied by spots.  Bengal monitors have external nostril openings known as nares which they can close on will to prevent the entering of water or any other particulate matter.

Distribution and Habitat
The bengal monitor is the most common monitor in the Indian Subcontinent.   They are also found in Iran, Malysia, Java and Sumatra.  They are absent in the Andaman Islands. They can be found in rainforests, swamps and arid regions.  They are often found in agricultural and cultivated land.  They can be found in burrows, tree hollows and termite mounds.

Diet
They eat insects, small mammals, amphibians and other lizards.  It basically eats anything it can overpower.  They may even scale trees to stalk bats.  Juveniles are almost completely insectivorous.  It is a common sight to see them stealing eggs from nests, be it a bird's or crocodile's.  It senses its prey by both smell and sight.

Habits and Behavior
Bengal monitors are diurnal creatures.  They often dwell in trees or burrows.  Just like snakes, they flick their tongues out to "taste the air".  They can run at high speeds and are very able climbers.  They are also good swimmers.  They are generally very docile creatures.  When alarmed or threatened, it tries lies still to remain unseen or escape notice. When cornered, it may even stand on forelegs and lash its tail repeatedly on the ground. Bites from these monitors are quite painful and once the jaw is embedded into the flesh, it is difficult to remove due to its curved teeth.  They lead a solitary life and have a keen eyesight.

Life Cycle and Breeding
Bengal monitor in Bannerghatta National Park, Karnataka, India.
Bengal monitors are known to survive for 20 years in captivity, though it is generally lesser in the wild.  Males become territorial during the mating season (which they are generally not). Males battles each other for mates by standing up on their hindlegs. Sounds made during the mating season are generally restricted to hissing though bellowing has been recorded.  About 1 to 3 clutches of eggs are laid by the females with each containing about 20-30 eggs.  The female digs a pit to place the eggs and covers it with soil.  She may build a few false pits around it to mislead predators.  The eggs hatch after and incubation period of 6-9 months.

Conservation Status
The bengal monitor is rated as "Least Concern" by the IUCN.  It is the most widespread monitor in the Indian subcontinent, which consists of most of its range.  Its population is decreasing in certain parts of its range due to hunting for skin.  Illegal pet trade is also a contributing factor.  It is now a protected species by many governments. 

Source of pic 2