Saturday, September 6, 2014

Gaboon Viper

The gaboon viper (Bitis gabonica) is a species of viper found in Africa.  It is renowned for its long fangs.  It is quite common in its range.

Physical Features
The gaboon viper is the world's largest viperid, weighing about 8 kilograms.  It has the longest fangs of any snake, which can measure up to 5 cm.  It is the longest African viper, ranging from lengths of 1 to 2 meters(3 to 6.6 feet).  The gaboon viper has a flat, triangular head with two small, hornlike structures on its snout.  It has a stout body with distinguishing geometric shapes like triangles, diamonds and rectangles.  It has brownish skin with buffs of purple and pink.  Its head is thick due to the large venom glands present behind its eyes.  Its coloration allows it to blend with dried leaves which helps it ambush its prey.

The diet of a gaboon viper mainly consists of small mammals and birds.  It can even consume full grown rabbits, porcupines and monkeys.  There are even reports of it eating royal antelopes. 

Habitat and Distribution
The gaboon viper lives in tropical forests and open woodlands.  It lives on the forest floor where it camouflages among the leaf litters.  The gaboon viper is only present in Africa.  It is mainly in central, eastern and south eastern Africa with few isolated population in western Africa.  Some countries in its range are Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo, Guinea, Mozambique, Ghana and Zimbabwe.

Behavior and Venom
The fangs of a gaboon viper.
Gaboon vipers are considered to be very sluggish and slow moving but they strike with alarming speed.  It ambushes its prey by camouflaging with the surrounding.  It is a very tolerant snake and only bites when severely provoked.  When threatened, it gives a low, deep hiss.  Their venom is not very toxic but it is delivered in large amounts; the most by any snake.  It stores large amounts of venom in glands behind its eyes.  Gaboon vipers rarely display anger even when handled.  They are nocturnal and live on forest floors.

Life Cycle
Gaboon vipers are ovoviviparous (when the embryo develops in an egg and hatches inside the female itself) and give birth to litters of 60 young every 2 to 3 years.  They have gestation periods of 3 to 4 months.

Conservation Status
Gaboon vipers are very common in their range.   

Source of pic 1, pic 2       

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


The koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is perhaps one of the most popular of the marsupials other than the kangaroo.  It is endemic to Australia.  It is rated as 'Near Threatened' by the IUCN and was previously hunted in large numbers for its fur.

Physical Features
The koala is a small marsupial that measures about 2 to 3 feet in length.  They have a very small tail that measures about 2 cm.  Males are larger than females.  Their weight ranges from 5 kg to 15 kg.  The koala is stockily built with teddy bear like features with woolly grayish brown fur and fluffy ears.  The fur on the ventral side is paler.  Koalas have one of the most insulating fur (dorsal side) of any marsupial while the ventral fur reflects solar radiation.  Males have more curved noses than females.  Koalas have short, powerful limbs with sharp claws that enable it to climb and cling on to eucalyptus trees on which it spends most of its life.  Koalas in the southern regions are found to be 50% larger than those in the north.  Koalas have the smallest brain in proportion to body weight of any animal.
A koala feeding.

Koalas are herbivorous.  The main constituent of their diet is eucalyptus leaves.  They may be found eating leaves from Acacia and Leptospermum.  They eat for about 4 hours in the night eating and may eat about 500 grams of leaves.  They eat leaves from about 30 species of eucalyptus trees out of the 600 species present.  They show more preference toward eucalyptus leaves with higher protein and lignin (polymer that is present in cell walls of plant cells).  They may descend to the ground for eating soil and gravel that helps in digestion.  The droppings of the mother is one of the first solid food eaten by young koalas as it carries disease fighting microbes.

Distribution and Habitat
Koalas are found in eastern Australia and inhabit eucalyptus forests.  They spend most of their time on eucalyptus trees.

A koala sleeping
After a gestation period of 25 to 35 days, a single young is born during summer.  Twins are occasionally born.  They are suckled for 6 months in the mother's pouch.  After that period, they cling onto the mother's back.  

Koalas are considered as one of the most laziest animals.  They are nocturnal and spend 4 hours in the night for feeding.  For the remaining 20 hours, they sleep.  They are arboreal and occasionally come to the ground either for eating soil or for crossing open spaces.  They normally lead a solitary life.

Conservation Status
The koalas are rated as 'Near Threatened' by the IUCN.  Koalas have few natural predators other than large birds of prey.  Sometimes, while crossing land, feral dogs attack and kill it.  A bacteria known as Chlamydia has caused a disease that affects koalas.  In the early 20th century, koalas were extensively killed for their fur.  Koalas are also affected by habitat destruction.  Now their numbers are slowly increasing due to the efforts of conservationists.  

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Transparent Animals

It is a little hard to believe that their are some animals in this world which are transparent. This transparency is caused either by the lack of pigmentation in a particular part of the body.  Here is a list of some of them:

Barreleye Fish

The barreleye fish (Macropinna microstoma) is a fish from the barreleye family.  Found at depths of about 700 meters, it is known for its transparent head.  It was first found in 1939 but the transparent head was not known as when it comes out of water, the head loses its transparency.  Its head is filled with a transparent liquid.  The two dots above the nose is often mistaken for eyes.  It is actually its nose.  The two spherical structures in the head is the eyes. The eyes are capable of rotating 360˚. It was first photographed with the transparent head in 2004.

Glass Frog

Glass frogs form the family Centrolenidae.  They are found in the Amazon rainforests.  Most of their body is green, except for the ventral part which is translucent, allowing you the see the heart, liver and the gastrointestinal tract.  They can reach lengths of 7 cm and are known to eat their own young.  Some species of frogs from this family have such a delicate skin that they can get killed even if a raindrop fall on their body from the sky.

Crocodile Icefish

Crocodile icefish (also known as white blooded fish) form the family of Channichthyidae, a family of perciform fish.  They are found in the Antarctic ocean.  They are transparent due to their blood which lacks the red pigment known as hemoglobin.  Hemoglobin is used to transport oxygen through the blood.  It is one of the only known vertebrates which lack hemoglobin.  It lives in waters which are about -1.9°C, which is the freezing point of seawater.  Due to the higher concentration of oxygen in such cold waters, it is able to survive.

Golden Tortoise Beetle

The golden tortoise beetle (Charidotella sexpunctata) is a species of beetle.  Its color ranges from gold to orange, earning it a name of 'goldbug'.  Its external margins are transparent due to the lack of pigmentation.  It changes color seasonally and also changes color when threatened.

Blue-bellied night wanderer

The blue bellied night wanderer (Cyanogaster noctivaga) is a species of fish found in the Amazon river.  It is known for its bright blue belly.  Most of its body is transparent, revealing its vertebral column.  It was discovered in 2011.  It immediately dies and loses its color after being removed from the water, making it difficult to examine.  It is mostly active in the night.

Glass Squid

The glass squids form the family Cranchiidae.  Their bodies are transparent.  Juveniles live in shallow waters as their transparency camouflages them when light passes through.  Adults descend to deeper waters and can be found at depths of 2 km below sea level.

Many jellyfish are also transparent like the moon jelly.

Source of pic 1, pic 2, pic 3, pic 5, pic 6.
Picture 4 was taken by Nita, a follower of this blog.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Common Hippopotamus

The common hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibus) is a species of even toed hoofed mammals endemic to Africa.  Though it is classified as a even toed hoofed mammal, it is thought to be more closely related to whales.  They are rated as 'Vulnerable' by the IUCN.

Physical Features
The hippopotamus is the third largest land animal by weight.  Males can weigh anywhere between 1.4 to 3 tonnes with females being smaller.  The largest hippopotamus was a male that weighed 4500 kilograms(4.5 tonnes).  Their bone density is slightly greater than that of water.  This allows it to gently sink in water.  However, if it inflates its lungs while on the surface of the water, it can remain afloat without much effort.  Hippopotamuses can grow about 9 to 15 feet long and have tails that can grow up to 1.5 feet.  Despite being so bulky, they can swim and walk underwater.  They can reach speeds of about 30 km/hr on land using their short, insubstantial looking legs.  Hippopotamuses feature very large jaws and can open their mouths at angle of 150 degrees.  Their body varies from a gray to blue-black upper body.  The lower part of their body has a slight pinkish tinge.  They have an expanded muzzle with the nose
The large canines and incisors of a hippopotamus
covered with sensitive bristles.  The hippopotamus has two layers of skin.  The first layer, known as the epidermis, is very sensitive and dries out fast.  The inner layer is extremely thick (about 3.5 cm thick).  Their eyes, ears and nostrils are all located on the top of the head as that is the part that mostly remains above water during their swim.  Other adaptations include webbed toes and nostrils with the ability to close.  Hippos can remain submerged underwater for over 5 minutes. Hippopotamuses are also known for their wide mouth.  They have incisors that can reach lengths of a foot and canines that can reach length of 1.5 feet.

The hippopotamus is mainly herbivorous, though some have been observed eating small animals.  The main constituent of its diet is savanna grass.  They generally graze at nights and are led to their food by a dung trail left by them.  They also eat commercial crops like rice present in agricultural regions.  A hippopotamus may eat about 40 kilograms of grass every day.  

Distribution and Habitat 
The hippopotamus is found in western, central, southern and eastern parts of Africa.  They generally inhabit short grasslands, muddy wallows, rivers and lakes.

The hippopotamus is mainly nocturnal.  It rests in water during day time and grazes during nights.  They make noises like squeals, bellows and rumbles.  They sometimes make noises characterized with a loud 'ho-ho-ho'.

Life Cycle
Females generally give birth to one calf in water after a gestation period of about 240 days. Females mature between the ages of seven and fifteen while males mature at the ages of six to 13.  Hippopotamuses can live for about 48 years in captivity.  In wild, they can live for about 45 years.  

Source of pic 1 and pic 2

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Recently Discovered Animals

The world is always happening.  As we speak, unknown species may become extinct or discovered.  Here is a list of recently discovered animals.

The Olinguito

The olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina) is a species of carnivore discovered on 15th August,2013. It is the first carnivore in the western hemisphere to have been discovered in the last three decades. It was found in the mountane forests of the Andes of western Columbia and Ecuador. The olinguito was discovered Kristofer Helgen. The olinguito resembles a teddy bear. They weigh only about 0.5 to 1 kilograms, making them the smallest member of the raccoon family. Though they feed primarily on fruits and plants, they are part of the taxonomic order Carnivora. They are mainly nocturnal, making it difficult to spot and they have brown-orange fur.

The Yeti Crab

The yeti crab is placed under its own family known as Kiwa. There are two species that have been described: Kiwa Hirsuta and Kiwa Puravida. These species were discovered in 2005 and 2006 respectively. Kiwa Hirsuta was discovered along the Pacific-Antarctic Ridge about 1500 kilometers south of Easter Islands by a group set up by Robert Vrijenhoek. Kiwa Puravida was discovered in 2006 and described in 2011. It was found in a deep sea bottom off the coast of Costa Rica by Andrew Thurber, Kareen Schnabel and William J. Jones. For more details about this animal click here. This contains information about Kiwa Hirsuta.

The Boki Mekot Rat
An illustration of the new spiny rat species. Illustration courtesy Jon Fjeldsaa

The Boki Mekot rat (Halmaheramys bokimekot) is a species of rat that was discovered in the mountain forests of Halmahera, Indonesia. It is the newest member of the rodent family and was discovered by a group of researchers lead by Pierre-Henri Fabre. This rat has spiny brown fur and a stubby, white tipped tail. It was discovered in 2013 and also involved Kristofer Helgen, who had discovered the olinguito.

The Cambodian Tailor Bird

The Cambodian tailorbird (Orthotomus chaktomuk) is a species of bird first discovered in the busy city of Phnom Pehn, Cambodia. Despite living among the 1.5 million residents of this city, it was discovered only on 25th June, 2013. This bird has a black feathered throat and gray or olive colored wings. It has an unmistakable red or orange cap. It is found in the lowland scrubs of the city and is abundant in construction sites. It was not thought to be a new species until scientific analysis proved it to be distinct.

A. stebbinsi

A.stebbinsi is a species of legless lizard that was discovered at the end of the airport runway of the Los Angeles International Airport. They were named after the famous herpetologist Robert C.Stebbins. They are yellow bellied legless lizards. They are found towards the west of the aiport. They were discovered in the year 2013.

Louisiana Pancake Batfish

The Louisiana Pancake batfish (Halieutichthys intermedius) is a species of fish discovered in the year 2010 under the Deepwater Horizon oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico. This fish is disc shaped and has fin like structures which helps it 'walk' along the ocean floor. This 'walking' resembles the walk of a bat and hence is known as a batfish. The population of this fish is not known.

The Goliath Birdeater

The goliath birdeater (Theraphosa blondi) is a species of tarantula discovered in 2006 in Guyana. It is the largest spider by mass and the second largest by leg span. They eat invertebrates and are also known to eat rodents, lizards and venomous snakes. A Victorian researcher has claimed to see this spider consuming a hummingbird. These spiders are harmless to human and their venom only causes mild swelling. 

Source of pic 1, pic 2, pic 3, pic 4, pic 5, pic 6, pic 7

Komodo Dragon

The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is a species of lizard found on few Indonesian islands.  They are rated as 'Vulnerable' by the IUCN.

Physical Features
The komodo dragon is known for being the largest lizard alive.  They weigh an average of 70 kilograms.  Females are smaller and weigh about 65-75 kilograms while males can weigh anywhere between 80 kilograms to 100 kilograms.  The largest specimen was about 10.3 feet and weighed a massive 166 kilograms(including undigested food).  The komodo dragon has very sharp teeth.  Their tails are very strong and they have sharp claws which they use for digging.  They are stockily built. The color of their body can be brown to grayish-red.  Juveniles are green with black and yellow bands.  These colors fade away as they mature.  They have thick skin with rough scales.  Ear openings are visible.  Its skin has small bones known as osteoderms.  Their saliva is ideal for the development of bacteria, making it infectious.  They have a good sense of smell, detecting decaying remains of an animal about 5 miles away. They have a bad sense of hearing and can see within ranges of 980 feet.

Komodo dragons are diurnal (active during the day) due to their poor night vision although there are few cases of them being nocturnal.  Juveniles spend most of their time on trees.  They spend most of their time foraging for food.  They build burrows to retreat during nights or hot weathers.  Juveniles use their sharp claws and strong limbs to climb trees.  Komodo dragons are generally solitary except during breeding.  These lizards are quite aggressive.  They are good swimmers and can run at speeds of 18 km/hr.  Komodo dragons are mainly ambush predators.  Even if the prey escapes the lizard, it dies within sometime due to its infectious bite. Once it is dead, the komodo dragon picks up its scent and starts eating the animal.  It even consumes the bones of the animal. 

Komodo dragons are carnivores.  Adult komodo dragons eat large animals like water buffaloes, deer, wild pigs, goats and other reptiles.  Juveniles eat smaller animals like snakes, other lizards, insects and rodents.  There are chances of cannibalism.  This is why juveniles spend most of their time on trees.  Komodo dragons use their sharp claws as a weapon for killing prey.  In one meal, they consume half of their own body weight. Though they have teeth, they do not chew the food.  They tear off pieces of the meat and swallow them.

Distribution and Habitat
The range of the komodo dragon is restricted to the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Padar and Western Flores.  They prefer dry areas like savannas, arid forests, dry riverbeds and scrubby areas.

Life Cycle
The komodo dragon matures at an age of 5 years.  Males among each other for mates, using their tails as props.  After mating, females dig burrows and lay about 25-30 eggs (depending upon the size of the female).  The eggs hatch after 8-9 months.  The young can be a subject to cannibalism.  The maximum lifespan of these lizards are 40 years.

Conservation Status
The komodo dragon are rated as 'Vulnerable' by the IUCN.  The estimated population ranges from 3000 to 5000 individuals.  The main reasons for the decline of their population are volcanic activity, tourism, loss of prey due to poaching, loss of habitat, earthquakes and illegal hunting.  Now, they are a popular tourist attraction which is the main incentive for the increasing conservation of these animals.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

Most Endangered Animals

Many animals are endangered today but there are a few animals that are on the brink of extinction and without our awareness, will be wiped off the face of this planet.
Few such animals are:

                                                      The Ivory Billed Woodpecker
Artists depiction of an ivory billed woodpecker
The ivory billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) is one of the largest species of woodpecker. This is also considered to be one of the most rare bird. It is thought to be extinct though some people claim to have sighted it but there is no evidence. This bird inhabited most parts of North America. They prefer thick hardwood swamps and pine forests which were abundant before the American Civil War. Due to heavy poaching and logging, these birds were almost driven to extinction. They were thought to be extinct for a long time. In 2006, a group of researchers claim to have spotted 14 individuals in the Florida panhandle. But this information was not conclusive enough to declare that this species is still surviving.

The South China Tiger

The South China Tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) is a subspecies of tiger that is found only in China. They are thought to be extinct in the wild but they exist in captivity. In the early 1950's, these animals were officially hunted as a pest. That time, their estimated population was 4000. In the next 30 years, about 3000 individuals were killed leaving only about 80-100 individuals in the wild. In 1979, the hunting of this animal was banned. In 1995, they considered the survival of this tiger a conservation priority. In 2002, they started a rewilding project. They started breeding them in South Africa as South Africa had the expertise, land and game to look after these tigers. This project was very successful as 14 cubs were born out of which 11 survived. They learnt how to hunt and live independently. The researchers are hoping that the second generation of tigers will be able to live without their interference. If this happens, they can be released back into the wild.

The Northern White Rhinoceros

The northern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) is a subspecies of the white rhinoceros. This rhino is critically endangered or possibly extinct in the wild. This rhinoceros was once abundant throughout the eastern and central parts of Africa. In 1960, the population was estimated to be more than 2000 individuals. In 1984, the population was affected due to poaching and the population declined to 15 individuals. All the 15 individuals were present in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 1993, the population rose to 30 individuals. Now only four of these rhinos are found in wild (Garamba National Park). These four individuals have not been spotted in recent years and may have been killed. If so, these animals would be extinct in wild apart from the efforts of Ol Pejeta Conservancy to introduce these animals back to the wild. In 2009, two Russian pilots claim that they spotted a few northern white rhinos in southern Sudan. A few individuals are present in zoos and sanctuaries around the world.

The Northern Sportive Lemur

The northern sportive lemur (Lepilemur septentrionalis) is one of the most rarest species of primate. This small lemur, the smallest of its family (lepilemur) is restricted to the northern tip of the island Madagascar. The estimated number is said to be below 100 individuals with none in wild. These lemurs are nocturnal. They are affected by deforestation due to charcoal production and hunting. The northern sportive lemurs inhabit dry, deciduous forests. In the early 21st century, there were a few thousands of these individuals and was rated as Vulnerable by the IUCN. Now, they are rated as 'Critically Endangered' by the IUCN.

Source of pic 1, pic 2, pic 3, pic 4