Being a placental mammal, I personally find the notion of giving birth to an undeveloped young that then climbs into a pouch of the mother for a certain time after its “birth” rather incredible and completely wacky! Such is the most notable feature of marsupials, which includes famous critters such as koalas, possums, opossums, wombats, the Tasmanian devil, and the poster-child- the kangaroo. But is that the ending highlight to marsupials? Absolutely not! (more…)
Wacky Wednesday: The Capybara February 22, 2012
Once called called “water pigs” or “Orinoco hogs” by the first European naturalists visiting South America, the capybara is neither a pig nor a fully aquatic animal. But this wacky Wednesday special is, indeed, LARGEST LIVING RODENT (110 lb or 50 kg). They are hydrochoerids with its nearest living relative being the cavies. All other hydrochoerids are extinct, but all of them were significantly larger than the capybara with the largest one weighing more than the largest North American grizzly bear (over 800 lb)! But what successful features of the capybara allowed it to survive? Could it be sexual or it’s “smaller” size?
Wacky Wednesday: The Phalangerids January 18, 2012
Phalangerids are a family of marsupials from Australia & New Guinea and include species such as brushtail possums and cuscuses. Supposedly 26 phalangerid species exist, but most of them remain very elusive due to their clandestine behavior hidden in dense rain forests. The most common phalangerid is the common brushtail possum, and thus it is the one we know most about. Scarily, though, we know very little about the more threatened cuscus. (more…)
Wacky Wednesday: The Amur Leopard January 4, 2012
Happy New Year and Happy Wacky Wednesday!
This Wacky Wednesday special features the Amur leopard, of which ONLY between 35-50 are estimated to remain in the wild. That’s it. This critically endangered animal is our featured January creature in my campaign “12 in 12 for 12″. Althea Harper, incredible fashion designer debuting when she was Project Runway’s Season 6 Finalist, designed and created the dress to represent the Amur leopard.
Enjoy this 2 minute video, and spread the word for its plight!
PS If you liked the video, please “like” it on YouTube and share it with all of your animal-loving friends!
Wacky Wednesday: The Echidna November 16, 2011
There are mainly 2 genera of this most unusual creature with spines protruding from its body and fur mixed in between: the short-beaked echidna and the long-beaked echidna. Of the three species of long-beaked echidnas, it is the Western long-beaked echidna, Eastern long-beaked echidna, and the Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna that have many worried about their survival in the near future. These generally solitary critters are located in Australia, Kangaroo Island Tasmania, and New Guinea, but the rarer long-beaked echidnas are restricted to mainly the mountainous regions of New Guinea. But what really is an echidna?
Wacky Wednesday: The Armadillo October 19, 2011
Due to their protective carapace, the armadillo once was thought to be part of the group of vertebrates associated with turtles! But in fact, these extremely ancient creatures are within one of the four basic groups of placental animals, Xenarthra, which diverged from other mammals 103 million years ago. Armadillos split within Xenarthra ~55-75 million years ago and are now classified under the order Cingulata. But what’s so special about these little insect-eating “knights in shining armor” other than its old history? (more…)
Wacky Wednesday: The Aardvark August 17, 2011
The “earthpig”, which is the Afrikaans translation for “aardvark”, is the last extant member of the order Tubulidentata. These nocturnal and solitary African creatures are thought to be most closely related to sengis, golden moles, and tenrecs- three of which are now extinct. So how did the aardvark do it? Why is it the last of its Linnaean order? (more…)
Wacky Wednesday: The Platypus June 22, 2011
I consider this Wacky Wednesday “special” to be the original hodgepodge critter of the animal kingdom. It looks as though someone took some furry, fat otter’s body, glued a modified duck’s bill to it, attached a beaver-like tail to the back, and sewed on some black goose feet in the front and mole feet in the back. In fact, when the platypus was brought back from the Australian colonies to England in 1798, it was thought to be a fake that taxidermists messily stitched together. It’s reproductive tract is like that of a bird or reptile (lays eggs), yet it possessed mammary glands. Hence the platypus was placed in the class Mammalia. (more…)
Wacky Wednesday: Aye-aye June 15, 2011
If you think you have problemmes, then you need to walk a day in the bizarre skin of the aye-aye. Firstly, it is the last living member of its Linnaean family. Secondly, due to being the only one of its kind and being so absolutely strange-looking, the nocturnal aye-aye was mistaken first as a rodent. Thirdly, it was long considered a bad omen by the natives of Madagascar, the only place on earth where it exists in the wild and were thus outright slaughtered if they were ever seen. Lastly, they are critically endangered. This is a step above “mere” endangerment. In order to be qualified as “critically endangered”, a species must decrease in size by 80% within three generations. By stating a species is critically endangered, one is implying a fast pace towards extinction. (more…)
Wacky Wednesday: The Naked Mole Rat June 1, 2011
Two species of mole rat (the naked and the Damara) are the insects of the mammal class. Its their social colony structure that makes them “insectlike”. To delve a little bit more into the characters of the mole rat colony:
1) Out of a colony that can reach over 300 individuals, only 1 female (the “queen”) breeds with 1-3 males per litter to create all the progeny of the colony.
- Although the remaining males and females are not infertile, they become nonreproductive. Very little sperm is present in males and estrual cycles are turned off in females. The queen is distinctly larger, with her vertebrae lengthened, than the others of her colony in order to bear the large litter. While she suckles them after birth, the workers care for them. After they are weaned they will join the “workforce” (like us all).
- Some of the young will also join the “workforce” as builders/diggers to expand the colony while others will become soldiers/defenders. These “defenders” are noticeably larger than their construction worker relatives.
- Also, how does one become a queen? It appears that this dominant creature of the colony is chosen through her “stress-related” behaviours she displays such as violent shoving.
2) The progeny is composed of many closely related litters. In fact, incest is common, as most members of the colony will never breed. But why don’t they breed? Like insects, it is thought to serve as a way to maintain their social structure so that all mole rats remain closely related (maintaining similar genetic similarity). By remaining genetically similar, the nonbreeding individuals are guaranteed that their genetic features are passed down.
- This system is highly effective in very dry, arid regions. During times of drought, mole rats are unable to burrow, which is needed for colony expansion and food-seeking, but once rain finally starts to arrive, the colony makes use of their creeds of teamwork: some go off to forage for food (some of which is saved for the next dry season), others remain as soldiers, and the queen with a select few males bear the next litters.
A major way in which they are not like insects in this social behaviour is that they do not seem to communicate with pheromones, chemical hormones that are released to the environment. The entire colony revolves around the reproductive state of the breeding female.
There are suspicions that the reproductive state of the queen is controlled by pheromone release. Just before the queen gives birth, all members of the colony- yes, males AND females- develop teats. In fact, some females become close to reproductive capability. Thus it is believed that there may be a chemical released by the female during this time that primes this behaviour. The cause for this remains unknown.
Ever wonder how these mole rats survive in their underground burrows for so long- especially if they are not the soldiers or food foragers? Namely, where is the water? The high moisture in the food and the humid microclimate of the burrow allows them to get all the water they need. Due to these microclimates, of which the temperature of the burrow remains between 82-86 degrees F (28-30 degrees C), naked mole rats actually appear to have lost the ability to thermoregulate, or modulate their own body temperature. This is particularly important being that the naked mole rat is, well, naked (i.e. hairless).
Wacky naked creatures, right?
FYI News update from Gabby Wild: I, Gabby Wild, am officially a veterinary student! I graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Bachelor of Science (double major in Biology and Animal Science). In August I’ll begin the dream: Cornell University Veterinary School!