The Orangutan is found on the isolated chain of islands that comprise Indonesia and part of Malaysia. They are primarily found on the two islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Each island has its own subspecies of Orangutan that spend most of their lives high up in the canopy of the rainforests where food can easily be found.

Their diet primarily consists of fruits and vegetation, including Jackfruit, Durian, Lychees, Figs, Mangoes, young leaves, shoots and over 400 species of other plants. They also aren’t afraid to eat bugs, eggs and smaller invertebrates if the opportunity arises.

Flanged Orangutan, Photocredit: David Arvidson

Flanged Orangutan, Photocredit: David Arvidson

Their arm-span can be 7 feet long, meaning they have the long arms adapted to life in the treetops. On the ground they travel on their knuckles, and are clumsy on the ground. Thus, when they come down from the trees, are much more susceptible to predators such as tigers and leopards.

Since tigers are very few in number themselves, the leopard is their main predator and the young are the most likely to be their victims. Yet, Orangutans can spend half of their daytime foraging on the ground for food and this leaves adults exposed to danger as well.

However, they tend to be safer far up in the trees, where they play an imperative role in the restoration of the forest. Orangutans eat and disperse the seeds of the fruits that they consume, and therefore spread them around as they travel around their territories. These fallen seeds can be the beginning of new sprouts if sufficient light and nutrients are readily available.

The fallen seeds and discarded fruit also become food for the Bearded Pig, a suid who is known to follow primates for their leftovers. As a result, the Orangutan’s eating behaviors influences the growth of the flora and fauna, as well as the lives of other species dwelling in the rainforest. Hence they earn their namesake Orangutan, which means “man of the forest” in the native Malay language.

Baby Orangutan, Photocredit: Schristia

Baby Orangutan, Photocredit: Schristia

Orangutans tend to live out solitary lives with both genders living within their own territories. Male orangutans will ensure that their territory, however, will overlap with several females for breeding. Female orangutans will have the company of their infant for many years, who are weaned when they are 3-4 years old but can remain with her until independence at 5-7 years of age.

Since the young orangutans remain with their mothers for an extended period of time, there can be as much as an 8-10 year period between the first and second birth. Orangutans typically give birth to only a single infant after bearing them for eight months. Their singular births and long birthing interval means that the Orangutan has a very slow reproductive rate. This also means that the population is also equally as slow to recover or rebound from threats to their species.

Male orangutans actually come in two variations: un-flanged and flanged. Un-flanged males look very similar to adult females, while flanged males have large facial disc and a bulbous throat sack for warning calls. These calls are intended to threaten other males to stay out of their territory, or to prepare for a fight. These differences in male physicality is unknown, but even stranger still is that males that were originally un-flanged can become flanged later in life.

Clyde the Orangutan @ San Diego Zoo

Clyde the Orangutan @ San Diego Zoo

There are two subspecies of Orangutan: the Sumatran Orangutan and the Bornean Orangutan, who have been separated on their individual respective islands for over a million years. Sumatran Orangutans are identifiable by lengthier facial hair and their tendency to gather together at abundant fruiting sites. They also tend to be a bit more social and the adults will interact with younger, inexperienced Orangutans. Sumatran Orangutans are much more reluctant to descend the ground in comparison to Bornean Orangutans.

Bornean Orangutans, particularly males, are much more likely to be found foraging on the ground. They don’t socialize or gather in temporary groups as nearly as often as Sumatran Orangutans, and the Bornean Orangutans are known to breed faster. This helps in growing the Bornean Orangutan population, which is much larger than the Sumatran.

Both Orangutan species are unfortunately threatened by increased logging and the conversion of rainforest into palm tree oil fields. Bornean Orangutans have been listed as an Endangered species since 1986, their population ranging between 45,000 to 69,000. Sumatran Orangutans are listed as Critically Endangered since the year 2000, their population is estimated to be a mere 7,300.

These species have continued to decline, and are projected to do so due to continual threats to their habitat. These threats, combined with their slow reproductive rate, means that the Orangutan is believed to eventually go extinct by 2050 as their habitat is continued to be destroyed.

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The Siamese cat is one of the oldest domestic felines along with the Egyptian Mau. The breed originated in Thailand which was formerly known as Siam-hence the “Siamese” name in English. The breed was only allowed to be exclusively owned by the Emperor and the monks living in the monasteries.

Essentially the Siamese was the original “aristocat”, a sacred feline limited to the aristocracy of Thailand, called Wichienmaat or Maew Kaew. When a member of the royal family passed away, it was believed that their Siamese cat carried their master’s soul within them. The Siamese cat was then brought to the monastery to live out the rest of its life in the lap of luxury.

Siamese Cat, Unknown Photographer

Siamese Cat, Unknown Photographer

Ancient writings and artwork from as far back as 1350 depicted the Siamese cat, around the time the Tamra Maew, or the Cat-Book of poems, was written. These are the oldest historical records of the existence of the breed, one of the poems precisely described the distinctive characteristics of the Siamese breed. Images coincided with the poetry depicting a feline that looks like the Siamese cat.

In 1884 King Rama V of Siam gave a British Consul named Edward Blencowe Gould a pair of breeding cats named Pho and Mia. Previously, the cats were not allowed to leave the country and those who were caught exporting or stealing the cat breed were put to death. This is the first time that the cats were exported from the country, and left with the consul to faraway Britain.

The consul gave the pair of Siamese cats to his sister, Lilian Jane Gould. The cats were placed on display the following year at the Crystal Palace Cat Show in London. They were not received well at the cat show, and the public rejected the breed. However, many aristocratic nobles in Britain were still won over by the cats and they quickly gained popularity, finally allowing the breed to win ribbons in 1884. The breed was known in Britain as the “Royal Cat of Siam”.

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Siamese Cat, Photo Credit: Martin Bahmann

In 1878, a Siamese cat affectionately named “Siam” arrived in America as a gift to President Rutherford B. Hayes from the American Consul in Bangkok. Siam was the first Siamese cat to land on American soil, and soon after the breed spread and could be found in American cat shows by the early twentieth century. The Cat Fancier’s Association officially recognized the Siamese as a breed in 1906.

The Siamese cats are born white and partially albino, so they do not develop their darker markings until they grow older. Their unique coat pattern is caused by heat-sensitive enzymes, and thus warmer areas of the body are white and colder areas are darker in color. It is common for the extremities such as the feet, tail, and ears to be colder than their core temperature, thus resulting in the dark colorations of those regions. The gradation of color in these areas are known as “colorpoints”, which are caused by their partial albinism.

Basically the enzyme in their bodies known as tyrosinase is defective, due to the albino mutation and does not function properly at normal bodily temperature. Tyrosinase is responsible for controlling the amount of melanin, or pigment, in the skin. This is what causes the colorpoint coloration, where temperature affects color in Siamese Cats. This trait is not only reflected in their coat, but in their particularly intense blue eyes since the presence of melanin is altered.

Siamese from Safari Ltd. ® Domestic Cats TOOB ®

Siamese from Safari Ltd. ® Domestic Cats TOOB ®

This partial albinism can cause the cats to give a difficult time seeing. In addition to this defect, there is a tendency for cats to be born cross-eyed, although breeding efforts have almost entirely eradicated this trait in the bloodline. . The Siamese was used to help create other breeds of cats including the Balinese, Oriental, a variation of the Persian, the Tokinese and the Hanava Brow, Ocicat, Burmese, Snowshoe, etc. They are the 9th most popular cat according to the Cat Fancier’s association for 2013.

 

Manatees, also known as Sea Cows, are marine mammals that can be found in the Amazon, West Africa, and along the North American coast from Florida down to Brazil. The North American manatee is called the Western Indian Manatee or the American Manatee, and will be the primary focus of this article.

A fully grown manatee can weigh over a ton and be over 10 feet long, with rounded flippers to glide through the water. A manatee cruising in the water may not look very fast, swimming only around 5 miles per hour; however, they can swim up to 15 miles per hour in short bursts if they need to. The manatee can commonly be seen skimming the bottom of the water, using their flippers to crawl along the sea floor to graze upon sea grasses and algae.

Photocredit: Ramos Keith, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Photocredit: Ramos Keith, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Since manatees are mammals they have to come up for air every 15 minutes or less to breathe. About 2/3 of the length of their body is taken up by lung so that they can dive for a longer period of time, as they need extra oxygen to move all that weight. In addition to their weight, the manatee can ingest massive amounts of vegetation which adds about another 100 pounds or so.

Due to the fact that manatees require so much food, they migrate annually since cold weather inhibits the growth of plant life underwater. In addition to this, the species is not well adapted to cold climates. Therefore many manatees around Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in particular will show seasonal movement to warmer waters to avoid the cold. As a result, they will move farther south during the winter season where food would be more plentiful.

The sea cow does not have a highly complex social structure, and show intimacy only between mother and calf. After breeding, the gestation period for a manatee is an entire year. When a calf is born, the mother has to nudge her newborn toward the surface so it can breathe, as for the first couple hours or so it is getting acclimated to swimming in its new environment. When born, the baby manatee can be up to 4 feet long and weigh a whopping 70 pounds. The calf will nurse and remain with its mother for one to two years.

U.S. Geological Survey

U.S. Geological Survey

Manatees do not have a set mating season, but it can take them between 5-6 years to reach reproductive maturity and they may not have another calf for 2-5 years after their last birth. This low, slow reproductive rate makes it difficult for the manatee population to rebound from losses to their species and contributes to the decline in their population.

Manatees have a tendency to frequent shallow waters or float near the surface of the ocean, which causes both positive and negative effects for the sea mammal. For one, the manatee tends to grow algae on its skin that provides a symbiotic relationship with the sea cow. In return for optimal growing conditions in sunlight and warm waters, the algae covering the manatee protects it from harsh UV rays as it swims slowly along the surface.

However the negative impact on the manatees for this behavior is that they are susceptible to getting hit by boats. This results in the manatee being hurt, severely maimed or even killed as a result. Also, frequenting the surface of the water makes them easy prey for hunters who seek the manatee for its hide, bones and natural bodily oils.

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As of January 2014 there are only 4,831 manatees living in the wild along the North American coast, marking them as a Vulnerable species as far back as 1982. Despite the enactment of federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act in 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972 the Manatee has continued to decline due to collisions with watercrafts, getting tangled in fishing nets, and illegal hunting.

Also the shape of the water systems have been shaped by added infrastructure of power plants, dams, and other structures that inhibit the manatee from entering an area or results in the destruction of habitat. Over the next two generations the manatee population is believed to continue to decline due to the abnormal warming of oceanic waters and increased traffic of boats on the water. These threats, coupled with their slow reproductive rate makes the future rather grim for the gentle manatee.

Meandering across the islands of Indonesia and Southeast Asia, the Bearded Pig (also known as the Borneo Bearded Pig) is one the only species of the suid (pig) family to migrate. Their migratory journey takes them hundreds of miles across Asia to find new areas that are plentiful with food between spring and summer.

Typically, the bearded pigs travel in family groups of females and piglets, with matriarch leading the way across the landscape. Males only join the group for the purpose of breeding and this coincides with the spring when flowers and fruits are plentiful so that the females have plenty of nutrition to carry piglets. These family groups can have many members depending upon the time of year, some supposedly have between 100-200 individuals, and when the annual migrations occurs this means that thousands of pigs will travel together along the same pathways every year to greener pastures.

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The Bearded Pig gets its name from the large bushy beard that is present on both genders of the species. The males, of course, have notably bushier and longer beards which cover a pair of warts that are hidden beneath all of the hair. The females do not have these warts on their faces.

Both genders also have sharp tusks which are actually elongated bottom canine teeth. These, along with their snout, allows the Bearded Pig to dig up seeds, roots, fruits, and shoots of various plant life in the mangrove and rainforests where they are typically found.

As omnivores, it is also not uncommon to see the Bearded Pigs wandering along the beaches in areas such as Malaysia eating fish washed up upon the shore. In the rainforest, the suids will follow grounds of primates such as gibbons, macaques and orangutans to eat the discarded fruit that they toss on the ground from the fruit trees above. Other foods that the Bearded Pig will eat includes carrion, earthworms, turtle eggs, and even some smaller vertebrate animals.

Photocredit: Coke & Som Smith @PBase

Photocredit: Coke & Som Smith @PBase

During the breeding season in the warmer months of the year, the male Bearded Pigs will approach the female family groups to mate. These suids do not reach reproductive age until they are about 18 months old, but the males will not breed until they grow to their largest size at four years old. Males can be up to 5 feet long and almost 3 feet high, while females are smaller. The females are more interested in the larger males, and thus ignore the smaller males who may wish to mate.

Male suids engage in an act called “Champing” to notify the female his interest in her. The male will gnash his teeth and generate a pheromone-ridden thick saliva that has a musky odor. The pheromones hold social significance among animals, and in this case it lets the female know via scent his interest in her. The male Bearded Pig will also nudge the female with his snout and communicate his interest in a snorting fashion, in an attempt to woo the bearded lady.

Photocredit: Kelley Dunning

Photocredit: Kelley Dunning

If successful, the female will disband from the group and construct a den or nest out of vegetation to shelter her piglets when she gives birth. These nests are massive, they can be several feet wide and as tall as the sow to house her and her coming piglets.

When she is ready, the female Bearded Pig will give birth to 2-5 piglets who remain in the nest with her for almost two weeks. The young piglets do not have the characteristic beard of the species, but instead are brown and striped. Eventually the piglets are weaned and they will remain with her for a year until they are ready for the annual migration the following year.

The Bearded Pig has a few natural predators in the wild, particularly the clouded leopard, tigers, and native humans living in the area. They are categorized as “Vulnerable” on the conservation list because of a decline in their population due to the de-forestation and destruction of their habitat.

The origins of Halloween coincides with the autumn harvests and the coming of winter, as bringing the foods in from the fields was nearly complete and stockpiling for winter was crucial for survival until spring. Livestock were brought closer to the homestead and penned in barns or enclosed pastures. Crops were stored in cold cellars, preserved through pickling, grains were kept dry in clay vessels, as well as fermenting them into beer, wine, and cider.

This time of the year coincided with the Celtic festivals of Samhain, when the world of the living and the dead coincided. Samhain (pronounced Sah-WAN) occurred on November 1st, but on the eve of Samhain the Celtics believed that the dead returned to the world as ghosts.

The people would leave food and wine upon their doorsteps to keep the spirits out of their houses. Also, if they had to go out into the night that evening, the people wore masks so that the ghosts would believe that they were one of them. It was also believed that demons, fairies, and witches wandered the night with the ghosts so people were wary.

Engravings by Gustave Dore

Engravings by Gustave Dore

When Christianity spread, Samhain became All-Saints day, then eventually All-Hallows day. The night before on the 31st was known as All Hallows’ eve. Later, the name would be shortened to Halloween. The word “Hallowed” meant pure or holy, and the church attempted to incorporate the Celtics into their religion by integrating and changing their holiday. As suggested by the name “All-Saints Day” the holiday celebrated the lives of martyrs and saints rather than Samhain’s celebration of seasonal change and the dead.

There were other festivities that occurred during this time in medieval Britain included All-Souls Day on November 2nd, when the peasantry would beg for “soul cakes” and in return would pray for the deceased on behalf of the person who gave them the cake. This practice is known as “Souling” and coincided with the belief that the world of the dead was closer to the world of the living. People also left soul cakes out for the wandering souls of the deceased.

Engraving by Gustave Dore

Engraving by Gustave Dore

Guising is similar to our modern-day practice of giving treats to children. In this case however, the children dressed up in costume to perform for other people in return for food, wine, and money. The children would sing, tell jokes or stories in order to obtain these offerings.

Pumpkin carving dates back to Samhain, when the Celtics would carve fruit for decorations in celebration of the holidays. Apple bobbing was another activity that was done during Samhain that coincided with the apple harvest. Halloween blossomed in America after immigrants brought the celebration from overseas, but it became a time for pranks and tricks. Around the 1950’s, the holiday became much more oriented to family activity.

Engraving by Gustave Dore

Engraving by Gustave Dore

All over the world, the celebration of autumn change was once nearly universal and some other cultures also celebrate it as a day of the dead. Quite literally, Mexico’s Day of the Dead is a celebration of their ancestors by inviting the dead into the home with offerings, altars for the spirits, and intricately decorated sugar skulls that bear the name of the person who had passed. Families will visit cemeteries and hold feasts at the gravesite. Flowers are also a commonly used decoration to symbolize the briefness of the human lifespan and to appreciate life’s beauty.

The transition between the concluding days of October to the beginning of November holds a universal celebration of change. From life to death, the fading color of the trees, the lingering remnants of harvested crops, the changing hours of daylight, there are a series of changes that occur during this time of the year. Although Halloween has lost its original meaning in today’s candied and costumed variation, there is a definite alteration in nature and that is not so easily changed.

Paul Gustave Louis Christophe Doré was a French artist who lived from 1832-1883 who created engravings, drawings, plates, and paintings for many different books. This included biblical imagery, children’s book, and the most famous is the the artwork he created for Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy” also known as “Dante’s Inferno”.

Scorpion, Unknown Photographer

Scorpions are often associated with an image of hot golden deserts, rolling tumbleweeds, and tall spiny cacti casting hard shadows across the sand. Perhaps, the said critter is posed regally upon a rock, pincers and tail poised for a deadly strike. Most people believe that scorpions are only found in deserts-which simply isn’t true. In fact they can be found in nearly any terrain, on all continents except Antarctica, capable of surviving in different climate/geographic biomes.

Along with spiders and mites, the scorpion is categorized in Class Arachnida since they all have eight multiple jointed legs, lack wings and antennae, and use pedipalps for eating. Pedipalps are specialized appendages that are used to crush or handle food into the mouth of the arachnid. In scorpions, their monstrous pincers are actually pedipalps. These characteristics distinguish scorpions from insects, which have only six legs and are capable of flight.

Scorpion by Safari Ltd.®

Scorpion by Safari Ltd.®

When hunting, the scorpion bears a wide arsenal of natural tools and clever tricks to find their food. Their pincers are fast enough to snatch insects flying in the air, easily spotted by multiple pairs of eyes that are particularly good at detecting movement and light.

The scorpion can also hide itself in a burrow, and feel the oncoming vibrations of prey through the fine hairs on its legs. A quick ambush, with a venomous strike of the tail, and firm grip of the pincer means that even larger prey such as lizards and mice can be brought down. Scorpions also can build pitfall traps to capture small bugs.

The venom of the scorpion’s stinger is composed of several different kinds of toxins, most are only highly effective on smaller creatures. However, of the 2,000 different species of scorpions about 25 are capable of delivering a fatal strike to humans. Almost all 25 (except for one) belong to Buthidae, which contains the greatest number of scorpions. Their venom contains toxins that can cause paralysis, convulsions and cardiac arrest. Typically, however, scorpions are not venomous enough to cause severe damage-though they can be painful and treated with anti-venom.

Scorpions prefer to hunt nocturnally, and hide in cracks, under rocks, or take shelter in the ground out of the sun’s heat. If the weather turns cold, the scorpion can enter a torpid state similar to hibernation to conserve their resources and survive the cold. In fact, they are capable of surviving an entire year without food because they can effectively reduce their metabolic rates to about 1/3 of their normally functioning capacity.

Scorpion by Safari Ltd. ®

Scorpion by Safari Ltd. ®

Normally, a good meal can last a scorpion one to three weeks until they need to feed again. They are able to consume about 1/3 of their body weight in food and their organs effectively manage their energy resources. As a result, most scorpions only eat between 5 and 50 times a year depending upon the species.

When scorpions are mature for mating, which can vary from species to species, the male scorpion will seek out a female by scent. Females purposefully sends out a perfume to let males know that she is ready to mate. In addition to the scent, she will also send vibrations to the ground which the male senses from the hair on his legs. The ladies tend to be heavier and more aggressive with the males, so he has to be wary when approaching her. Sometimes the females decide to eat them prior or post mating, but luckily for the males their lighter bodies allow them to run away faster.

In scorpion courtship, the scorpions will latch onto each other’s pincers and engage in a peculiar ritual which includes dancing. Once latched, they will pull and drag each other around, and club each other with their tails without using their stinger. The purpose of this is to drag the female across the spermatophore that the male had implanted on the ground. A spermatophore is a protein capsule that holds the genetic material for the male scorpion during reproduction.

When the male successfully drags her across the spermatophore, she will give birth to her young up to a maximum of 18 months later depending upon the species. The female scorpion doesn’t lay eggs, but gives birth to live young that break free of their birthing membranes and climb upon her back.

After their first molt, the baby scorpions disperse and strike out on their own. Over time, they will continue to molt until they reach their adult size. The scorpions will carve out and defend their territories until they are ready to mate. The life span of the scorpion can vary from species to species, but a typical scorpion can live until its eight years old.

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Little Brown Bat, Unknown Photographer

Little Brown Bat, Unknown Photographer

The Little Brown Bat can be found in almost all states across North America, in caves, hollows and urban areas where they find warm humid areas to roost. These little bats at only 4 inches or less in length and with an 8-10 inch wingspan can zip across the sky at over 21 miles per hour. They move their wings at 15 beats per second and bats are the only mammals that can truly fly.

As nocturnal hunters, the Little Brown Bat can be found making swoops and dives over bodies of water where they find their primary prey-water bugs. Midges, mayflies, gnats, mosquitos and other insects are targeted using echolocation. The bat sends out high frequency sound waves that bounce off objects and travel back to their ears. This allows the little brown bat to easily and quickly locate where the insects are in midair.

Then, the little brown bat will dive into swarms of bugs hovering over the water and use either its tail or wing membranes to bounce the insect into their mouths. They will continue to do this for up to 4 hours, taking rests in between and eating hundreds of insects. The little brown bat, weighing at a mere half-ounce has to eat up to 50% of their body weight each night to get the nutrition they need. This is essential especially as winter approaches and the bats will need to build up fat reserves.

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In the autumn months, the bats will colonize together in select hibernating sites known as hibernacula that are particularly warm, highly humid, away from predators, and have some food resources available. At the mouth of the cave, the little brown bats will breed in a frenzied swarm before they retire to the cave. The bats will roost together in the depths of the cave and enter a state called torpor.

Torpor is similar to hibernation but they are distinctly are caused by different factors. Hibernation is triggered by the slow reduction in the amount of daylight hours and changes that occur hormonally. This occurs for an extended period of time, usually for the entire winter season. Torpor is caused by the reduction of temperature and food supply availability.

They both, however, cause the same reactions which includes a reduction of body temperature, heart rate, oxygen use, breathing, and blood flow. These slowed metabolic rates allows the creature to maintain their energy reserves by using the minimum amount of energy to continue their existence. During this time, without food, the fatty reserves that they built up are used. Torpor does not last nearly as long as hibernation does, and when temperatures rise once more the bats will wake up.

Torpor can be easily interrupted however which can have a devastating effect on the bats. If the bats are awakened prematurely, by human activity in the cave or otherwise, the bats can expend necessary energy to flee the cave. Also, exposure to such cold temperatures can cause the bats to quickly die or not survive the remains of winter.

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When the bats awaken a month or two later, the young bat pups are ready to be born. Females will leave the hibernating colony to create their own nursery colony somewhere else where it is as warm as possible. Heat allows the pups to grow up quickly, and are susceptible to cold temperatures since they are born without a coat. The female bats give birth to a single pup, and does not hang upside down during labor. Instead she hangs horizontally and uses a wing to support the newborn until it grabs onto her or her teats.

The young bats will remain with and nurse from their mother until they develop their wings about two months later. At this point the young bats strike out on their own as adult little brown bats. The females are capable of breeding at around 6-9 months, but males take longer and cannot breed until a year later. When autumn approaches, the female nursing colonies and the male bachelor colonies come together once more to breed and prepare for winter.

Conservation-wise the Little Brown Bat is labeled as a creature of Least Concern since they eat a wide variety of insects and are resourceful in finding new roosts. They also typically live between 7-8 years, but can live as long as 30 years. Their lives are usually cut short by birds of prey who hunt them.

An issue of increasing concern among all bats is the increasing prevalence of a disease known as White Nose Syndrome. This is a fungal disease in which a white fungus known as Pseudogymnoascus destructans infects the nasal and ear passages as well as the wings of the bat. This causes erratic behavior and has nearly wiped out entire species, and an overall 80% decline

As bats travel and roost, and humans unintentionally carry it from one cave to another, the disease has spread to several states. This has a devastating effect on the overall ecosystem since bats cull the populations of insects in agricultural areas. This means an increased amount of disease-carrying bugs like mosquitos, and crop-destroying insects. Despite their current health in numbers, the Little Brown Bat can potentially be affected by this rising issue.

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Black Widow Spider,  Photocredit: theloushe @Flicker

Black Widow Spider, Photocredit: theloushe @Flicker

 

Found in undisturbed areas of a cluttered home, or outside in temperate regions of the western hemisphere, the Black Widow Spider female is known to have quite a reputation for devouring her mate and having a fatally painful bite. However, you’ll find that this is more fiction than fact, for the Widow’s reputation is not nearly as foul -but make no doubt she is still a huntress to be reckoned with!

The venom of the Black Widow spider is a neurotoxin-meaning that it directly effects the nervous system. Neurotoxic venom injected by a spider bite blocks nervous impulses to the muscles of the human body. This causes severe cramping and an over production of neurotransmitters that paralyze the nervous system-especially the diaphragm that helps us breathe.

This is intensely painful, and the pain slowly spreads as the neurotoxin flows through the bloodstream within hours. The bitten person can feel the spider’s venomous effects for days, but despite how painful it sounds the bite is rarely fatal.

In fact, fewer than 5% of the bitten victims die and most of these are likely to be the young, elderly, or infirm since they are more vulnerable to a bite. However, nowadays hospitals have effective anti-venom available to counteract the effects of a bite. Also, the Black Widow only bites if highly agitated, threatened, or pressed against the skin.

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For an insect, however, caught in the tangled web of a Black Widow Spider, the deadliness of a bite is much more potent. She constructs a funnel-like web constructed of various trip lines and snares. These allow vibrations to travel along the web to alert the Black Widow Spider of ensnared prey, the sensitive hairs along her legs means that she doesn’t require the use of her eight eyes to locate her victim.

With a bite to paralyze the captured arthropod, the Black Widow quickly weaves silk over the insect so that it doesn’t injure her during its struggle. When fully paralyzed, the Widow will inject digestive enzymes to liquefy her meal and drink it. The web doubles as a preservative so she can eat her food at a later time.

Many believe that the male Black Widow Spider is always eaten after the pair copulates in the spring. This is easily understood since the female dwarfs the male at one and a half inches in length. The male is half her size, and is especially wary of her. So much so, he gently taps the strings of her web to let her know that he is of her species.

Any other spider that dares to enter her web will be considered a threat and dealt with accordingly, she displays her telltale hour glass marking on her abdomen to warn them of her venomous attributes by hanging upside down on her web.

Male spiders will gingerly approach her, pausing to tap the web until he finally comes within reach and climbs upon her back. One of his palps, an organ next to his mouth that looks like a leg, is used to reproduce and usually torn off of his body. This will allow the female to lay several sacs of fertilized eggs that can number in the hundreds. She will wrap the sacs in layers of silk to protect them from being damaged.

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After copulation, the female may or may not devour the male. Sometimes he escapes to breed with her again in the future. Sometimes he isn’t so lucky. Her namesake as “Widow” is earned from her cannibalistic tendencies when she eats her mate after breeding. This penchant for eating her own kind is not limited to an adult female, but her offspring too.

A month after breeding, the egg sacs will open and hundreds of newborn spiders called nymphs will crawl out. In the crazy frenzy of squirming bodies escaping their eggs, it is very common for the nymphs to devour their brothers and sisters. This provides energy and strength to the surviving newborns so that they are much more likely to succeed. They will release a small thread and leave their mother’s web. From then on, the nymphs are on their own.

When the nymphs are born they are white in color, and after a series of molts the spiders will slowly turn color. In intermediate stages they are brown with black and white streaks, and eventually turn much darker in their adult stages. Both sexes reach reproductive maturity in three months, and they can live up to 3 years in the wild-although the males tend to live shorter lifespans, of course.

Despite their scary reputation, Black Widow Spiders are important not only to the overall ecosystem, but to humans as well. These spiders typically eat disease-carrying mosquitos, bugs that eat crops such as locusts, and keeps populations of other spiders in check as well. Conservation-wise, the Black Widow Spider is a fairy common species and does not require additional protection.

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Photocredit: Kevin Schaefer

Photocredit: Kevin Schaefer

Swimming in the rivers of the Amazon, Orinoco, and Madeira river systems is an unusual water mammal known as the Amazon River Dolphin, or the boto. The Amazon River Dolphin is pale pink in color, and can survive successfully in fresh water. They swim throughout several countries in the South American continent, including Brazil, Peru, Columbia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Guayana.

There are distinct differences between the marine and freshwater cetaceans, which is why they are categorized scientifically in different families. Marine dolphins belong to family Delphinidae, and freshwater dolphins belong to family Platanistoidea.

Unlike their marine cousins, this fresh water cetacean has a neck which allows it to turn its head independently from its body. Using sonar clicks and sounds, the dolphin is capable of searching for food in the water successfully despite having poor eyesight and tiny eyes using echolocation. There are sensitive hairs at the end of their snout that they use to detect movement in the water-a useful trait in muddy areas.

Unknown Photographer

Unknown Photographer

They use their long snout and flexible neck to swim along the river bottom to capture turtles, crabs and hidden catfish. Also, their spinal cord is free-floating, meaning that they are not fused together like a human’s spinal column.

As a result, the Amazon River dolphin can swim well in shallow waters and make hairpin turns. Their flippers are larger in proportion to their bodies so that they can maneuver the shallows effectively, and have a hump rather than an arcing dorsal fin like their sea cousins. Of the five species of river dolphins, the Pink Amazon River dolphin is the largest; growing up 6 to 9 feet in length and weighing 300 pounds.

Typically they travel through lakes, estuaries, and seasonally flooded forests in small groups, though they can also be seen traveling alone or in pairs. These groups cooperatively hunt for schools of fish, surrounding the school so that it is confined to one spot, and snatching up the trapped fish.

Amazon River Dolphins come in three different colors: gray, brown, and pink. Scientists theorize that these colors may be adaptations for their environment, and as they grow older the “pinker” they get. They believe that the pink coloration is due to blood capillaries close to the surface of the skin. The river dolphins also turn pink when they are excited about something, and blush.

Photo Credit: Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia

Photo Credit: Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia

Amazon River Dolphins reach reproductive maturity after they reach their full size. A male and female will go belly to belly for breeding. After they mate, the female river dolphin is pregnant for about 9 to 12 months, thus giving birth sometime the following year. Newborn river dolphins tend to be born in the hot months of summer, when the water level is high from seasonal rain. At birth, they weigh about 15 pounds are almost 3 feet long.

In South America, the Amazon River Dolphin was once believe to be a divine being that brought good luck by the local native people. However, as fishing stocks have been reduced, local fishermen consider them to be pests and will kill, maim, or drive off the dolphins feeding nearby. In addition to this threat, increased Mercury present in the catfish and other cat species that the river dolphin prefers to eat is causing health issues in the dolphin.

As a result of these combined issues, the Amazon River Dolphin is was categorized as Vulnerable or Endangered, but now is labeled as “Data Deficient”. This means that more information is required to assess the present threats and population size of the species.

Anklyosaurus  Featured Image copy

The name “Ankylosaurus” means “fused lizard” or “stiffened lizard” in Greek; and was named by a man named Barnum Brown in 1908. Barnum Brown was a paleontologist who worked as a curator for the American Museum of Natural History, and was infamous for sending tons of fossil specimens to the museum, including nearly-intact skeletons of the Tyrannosaurus Rex in 1902.

Barnum Brown discovered two Ankylosaurus fossils-the first to ever be discovered; the first in 1906 in Hell Creek, Montana and the second in 1910 within the Canadian province of Alberta. The fossils he found included armor, tail clubs, and various skeletal portions, but not a complete skeleton. Future discoveries of partial skeletons by Charles M. Sternberg, and other discoveries in South America helped paint a picture of the herbivore that lived millions of years ago.

At one point it was believed that the Ankylosaurus had long protruding spikes, much like Sauropelta, but the three Ankylosaurus fossils that were found did not give any indication that the armored species had spikes. Also many renderings, artistically or otherwise, have displayed the armored plating of the Ankylosaurus as conical bumps, but the dinosaur’s plating is actually flat along its body.

Ankylosaurus by Safari Ltd.

Ankylosaurus by Safari Ltd.

The impregnable armor of the Ankylosaurus doubles as effective weaponry against the large carnivorous predators that walked the Late Cretaceous Period in North America about 60-75 million years ago. Bony plating along its back, meant that the only soft spot of the Ankylosaurus is its underbelly which lacks the protection of toughened hide. This means that predators would have a difficult time tearing into the squat armored dinosaur.

In comparison to other armored dinosaurs, the Ankylosaurus had smaller plates and two pairs of horns fused to its skull. Their horns are believed to wrestle with others of its kind for breeding or territory. The plates of the Ankylosaurus are actually pieces of embedded bone, known as osteoderms. These bones are tough, and the Tyrannosaurus Rex that roamed the same time period would have a difficult time not only because of their armor, but also because of the Ankylosaur’s sheer size and weight. The armored dinosaur is believed to have been 35 feet long, 6 feet wide, and weighed 5-6 tons.

Another defining characteristic of the Ankylosaurus is that they have clubs on the end of their tails comprised of fused bony plates that the dinosaur can swing into the bodies of potential foes. It was believed that larger Ankylosaurs with larger clubs would have enough of a powerful strike to break the bones of the large carnivore.

Ankylosaurus by Safari Ltd.

Ankylosaurus by Safari Ltd.

Despite its formidable appearance, Ankylosaurus was an herbivore that dined on the North American forests ranging from the western United States up into the Canadian province of Alberta. The small teeth of the armored dinosaur, and its squat stature, indicated that its menu was limited to low-lying vegetation. Its wide, beaked mouth, allowed it to tear and shred bushy plants to a smaller size. This alone is an impressive feat, because the massive size of the Ankylosaurus was capable of being sustained on a plant diet alone which requires a vast amount of vegetation.

The Ankylosaurus is theorized to be one of the last dinosaur species to go extinct, managing to survive until the Cretaceous-Tertiary, or Cretaceous-Paleogene, extinction event. This event wiped out 75% of Earth’s plant and animals, including many dinosaurs. The current standing theory is that the extinction event was caused by an impact by a comet or asteroid onto Earth’s surface. Thus, the Cenozoic era began 65 million years ago, a time period which we still live in today.

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