Canis Jubatus (now Chrysocyon brachyurus) - The Maned Wolf

[Another entry from bird and moon’s comic.]

While it might have a mane of sorts, the maned wolf is not a wolf. In fact, it’s not even a fox, even though it might look like a fox on stilts. Speaking of stilts, these guys are the tallest living canid, measuring up to 42 inches (106 cm) at the shoulder! Historically, the maned wolf was placed in the genera Canis and Vulpes (the wolves and foxes, respectively), because of superficial morphological similarities.

However, on further anatomical examination, and later, DNA analysis, the maned wolf was found to be unique in the genus Chrysocyon. There are no known extant or extinct species that come close to the maned wolf, though part of that is almost certainly due to a lack of fossilized remains - there may have been other members of the genus in the Pleistocene and Holocene that have not been found yet.

Currently, one of the most accepted theories on why the maned wolf is so unique is that it just happened to be the sole surviving species of its genus, during the Pleistocene (or Quaternary) extinction. That extinction event snuffed out all the large canids of South America, along with almost 3/4 of all the large mammals living at that time. 

The diet of this species may lend a clue as to how it survived the mass extinction: it’s extremely omnivorous. While they search out and eat birds, small mammals, and reptiles, they also eat  berries, leaves, fruits, and tubers, and spread the seeds of many plants. Their diet also lends the maned wolf its nickname - the Skunk Wolf. They produce pyrazines and other musky plant derivatives that they spray about to mark territory. In fact, the smell of the maned wolf enclosure at the Rotterdam Zoo set off a search for marijuana, before they discovered the true source!

Proceedings of the Scientific Meetings of the Zoologic Society of London. Part III (May-June), 1877.


Bolivian (Southern) Vizcacha - Lagidium viscacia

The vizcachas (viscachas) are the closest relatives of the Chinchillinae genus, and the five vizcacha species combined with the two chinchilla species form the Chinchillidae family.

All members of this family (aside from the Plains vizcacha) live in rocky, mountainous habitats, and are largely herbivorous. The mountains vizcachas (including the Bolivian vizcacha, also known as the “mountain chinchillas”) are able to subsist off of lichens and mosses, during months where other vegetation is sparse.

While vizcacha fur is almost as thick and soft as chinchilla fur, they’re larger animals, and live higher on mountains than chinchillas, and so have not been raised commercially until recently. Wild vizcachas are also hunted for their pelts, as well, but despite this, the genus Lagidum still seems to be doing fairly well for itself. None are anywhere near as endangered as chinchillas, and most are considered “Least Concern" by the IUCN.

Mountain vizcachas form the majority of the diet of the endangered Andean mountain cat (Leopardis jacobita), so despite their stable population, they are still monitored, as any dip for the species can result in serious consequences for the mountain cat.

Transactions of the Scientific Meetings of the Zoological Society of London, 1835.

Faces of Lorises

1. Nycticebus tardigradus malayanus (Nycticebus coucang spp.- Sunda slow loris. Note: possibly Nycticebus javanicus - the Javan slow loris)
2. Nycticebus tardigradus hilleri (Nycticebus coucang coucang - the Sunda slow loris, type species)
3. Loris gracilis typicus (Loris lydekkerianus lydekkerianus - Gray slender loris)
4. Loris gracilis zeylanicus (Loris tardigradus - Red slender loris)

All lorises are endangered or vulnerable due to the pet trade and their use in traditional “medicine”. While these small and nocturnal critters tend to be much more adaptable when humans encroach upon their habitat than other species of primate (making due in the trees humans transplant as opposed to their native foliage, and dealing with the human presence in stride, for example), they’re still all too often thought to “cure” various ailments with their body parts (especially the slow lorises), and traded as pets throughout their native habitat of Southeast Asia, and when they’re successfully smuggled to the rest of the world.

Seriously, people. Their cuteness is so much cuter in the wild. Lorises are freaking adorable, and the hunting strategies of the various species and subspecies are so varied and fascinating that they deserve to stay in a protected natural habitat. I mean, among other reasons to preserve them, obviously…they’re just such cool little omnivores!

Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1904.

Ornithorhynchus paradoxus [now Orthinorhynchus anatinus] - Postures assumed by duck-billed platypus

Top Left: "While feeding" (more likely while drinking, as over 90% of the platypus’ diet is at the bottom of rivers or under river sediment)
Top Right:
Bottom Right:
"Partially awakened" (Note the prominent spur of this adult male)
Bottom Left:
"Combing itself"

Transactions of the Zoological Society of London Vol. I. 1835.

Chelys fimbriata [now Chelus fimbriatus] - Mata mata

Some people say the Mata mata turtle looks like it’s smiling, because of its unusually-shaped mouth. The Indigenous South American nickname for the turtle, “matamata”, means “I kill”, according to Fritz Jurgen Obst. Whether that eponym meant that the turtle was good to kill and eat or the turtle killed a lot is unknown. The relatively large size and a meat quality similar to the Alligator Snapping Turtle makes the former meaning more probable.

In the wild, Chelus fimbriatus lives in stagnant waters, blackpools, and muddy streams around the Amazon rainforest. Its fringed neck and murky coloration, combined with algae that grows on its carapace, makes this turtle an excellent ambush hunter. When fish come near it, the mouth opens up, and the mata mata “vacuums” them in. This is in contrast to Alligator Snapping Turtles, which are similar ambush predators, but with a different strategy. The tongue of the snapping turtle acts as a lure, and unsuspecting fish swim right into its mouth.

Transactions of the Zoological Society of London, 1885.


Northern or Single-Wattled Cassowary - Casuarius unappendiculatus

Cassowaries are one of the ratites - large, (generally) flightless birds. They inhabit the dense rainforests of Papua New Guinea, surrounding islands, and a small area of old-growth rainforest in Australia.

Unlike most birds, cassowary females are far more territorial than the males. Females will viciously attack any female who attempts to encroach into her territory, which can span several “satellite” male territories. During mating season, females will mate with one male, lay her eggs in his nest, and leave for the next male in her territory. In addition to the high energy output of laying the eggs (third-largest of all the birds), this polyandrous behavior allows the female to continue to control her territory while still passing on her genes.

The male both incubates the eggs and cares for the chicks when they hatch, and is much more aggressive than normal when the chicks are young, having even been seen keeping the females away from the nest area.

Cassowaries are one of the few birds that has killed humans outright - though attacks are uncommon, due to their rather secluded habitat, a boy named Philip McClean was killed in 1928, when a cassowary kicked him after he tripped and fell, severing his carotid artery. The bird had been chasing him because he and his brother had decided to try and kill it with clubs after finding it on their property, and probably wouldn’t have touched them if they hadn’t been beating it over the head.

Transactions of the Scientific Meetings of the Zoological Society of London. 1901.

Okapia johnstoni - The Okapi

Though it has the same general body shape of the giraffe, okapis have much shorter necks, and their type body evolved long before the giraffes. However, their significantly striped necks and legs did not evolve to what we know today until the species split off into forest-dwelling and grassland types.

Like the giraffe, the okapi has a very long, blue, muscular tongue. It uses this part of its body to groom itself more thoroughly than would otherwise be possible, and to strip the leaves off of bush branches. It also has the cloven hooves and digestive tract of the giraffidae family.

Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. 1902.

Giant Golden Mole - Chrysochloris trevelyani [now Chrysospalax trevelyani]

If there were ever a mammal worthy of being given the common name of “Blorp”, this would be it. But no, they get to be called the “giant golden mole”, despite not being all that giant, or all that golden. I’m still calling them Blorps.

These pudgers are ancient, mostly-desert-dwelling Gondwanan creatures which are remarkably well adapted to climates with significant thermal shifts. During times of extreme heat or cold, their bodies can go into a state of torpor, almost stalling their basal metabolism rate, and completely turning off their internal thermoregulation until the temperature returns to a more amicable range.

The family of golden moles, Chrysochloridae, is not related to the “true moles” (Talpidae), but get their common name from their similar appearance, which developed through convergent evolution. Most scientists agree that the golden moles are more closely related to hedgehogs and shrews than to true moles, though some theories group them with the tenrecs. Until full genetic profiles are established for the Insectivoridae, we probably won’t have a definitive answer.

Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. 1875.


Long-tailed Chinchilla - Chinchilla lanigera

Chinchillas (“Little Chincha” - named after the Chincha people native to their habitat) are crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) rodents found in the mountainous regions of Chile, in South America. They live in cool, rocky areas, and get by with very little water. In fact, the adaptation to the cold, dry climate means that their thick, soft coats are very ill-equipped to deal with water. Chinchillas clean themselves by "bathing" in volcanic dust.

There are two species of chinchilla - the Long-Tailed (Chinchilla lanigera) and Short-Tailed (Chinchilla chinchilla), both of which are critically endangered in the wild. The largest wild chinchilla population lives around Las Chinchillas National Reserve, in central Chile.

Despite being critically endangered in the wild, domestic pet chinchillas (believed to have descended from the long-tailed chinchilla) are, for the first time, more common than “fur farm” chinchillas (their soft coats are coveted for fur jackets, despite their small size), at least in the United States and Europe.

These creatures require a fair amount of specialized care to keep their coats and teeth healthy, but are not considered difficult keepers, assuming the owner is willing to deal with very little daytime activity and will provide ample exercise and dust-bath time. Unlike many pet rodents, they do not easily adjust their sleep cycles, and will likely remain crepuscular for their entire lives - which, also unlike many pet rodents, can be between 12 to 20 years, barring infection or poor genetics.

Transactions of the Scientific Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1835.

Ornithorhynchus anatinus - Detail of Bill

The monotremes (egg-laying mammals) are the only mammalia with any sort of electroreception ability, and the platypus’ ability is far stronger than that of the echidna. They use neither sight nor smell while hunting for their food, which consists of small crustaceans and molluscs buried in lakes and slow-moving river bottoms. The platypus finds its food by sweeping its broad bill back and forth along the sediment, and the receptors that line the front and part of the sides of the bill pick up the electric field given off by its prey. It then uses its paws (with the flipper-ish part folded back) to dig out its snack.

Illustrations from the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, Vol. I: Mammalia. 1848-1860.

Graceful small-headed sea snake - Hydrophis gracilis [now Microcephalophis gracilis]

The graceful small-headed sea snake, or slender sea snake, is one of the members of the Hydrophiidae, a family of highly-venomous seafaring reptiles. Though they can function on land, many members of this species spend effectively their entire life at sea. Their habitat - the Indian Ocean, South China Sea, and Persian Gulf - has an average water temperature high enough to allow these snakes to not need any time “sunning” themselves.

Despite their highly venomous nature, most sea snakes (including this species) are very placid. They rarely bite, even when threatened - not that I’d advocate you approaching one! - but as they must hunt fish that are faster than them in the water, their venom is potent enough to immediately immobilize and kill even their largest prey.

Transactions of the scientific meetings of the Zoological Society of London. 1841.

Skull of Gorilla gorilla - The Western Gorilla. Front view.

Unlike many of the other Great Apes, gorillas rarely (if ever) consume non-insect meats, and even insects are a rarity in their diets. The majority of their required proteins are found in tiny quantities in their other foods, but given that an adult gorilla can consume up to 18 kg of food a day, it adds up quickly.

Though they tend to be innate conservationists in that they don’t consume enough to over-exploit an area before moving on (if they did that, it would not produce more food, and what’s the good in that?), the adult males have been observed many times completely tearing apart full-grown banana trees with their immense strength and vicious jaws, just to get at the juicy pith of the trunk. Juicy, juicy pith. Nom. 

Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. 1904.


Top: Dorsal view and pectoral limb of Manatus americanus (now Trichechus manatus)
Bottom: African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

These two creatures, though vastly different, are actually some of the most closely related extant sea and land mammalia.

Though the transition from land to sea occurred around the same time, the Sirenians (dugongs and manatees) are only distantly related to the Pinnipedia (seals and sea lions) and Cetacea (whales). The only living ocean-dwelling mammalian herbivores, Sirenians split off from a common ancestor with elephants around the middle of the Eocene epoch. This pig-like creature was very distinct from the small deer-like creatures that led to both the Cetaceans and modern horses.

The manatee’s land-dwelling origins can be seen in their pectoral limbs - there are “fingernails” at the end of each flipper, much more similar to the fingernails on an elephant’s foot than the claw-like nails you can see on the Pinnipedia.

Manatee: Transactions of the Zoological Society of London, Vol. VIII 1874.

Elephant: Wildlife of the World: A Descriptive Survey of the Geographical Distribution of Animals. Richard Lydekker, 1911.

Ornithoptera victoriae - Queen Victoria’s Birdwing - Adult, Caterpillar, and Egg

This butterfly is a close relative to the largest butterfly in the world, Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing. The birdwing genres are noted for their bird-like flight, angular wings, bright colors, and exceptional size.

Like many Lepidoptera (the order containing moths and butterflies), their caterpillars are toxic, owing to the plants they consume, and are not commonly  eaten in their natural habitat. The butterflies retain this toxicity through adulthood.

Proceedings of the General Meetings for Scientific Business of the Zoological Society of London. 1888.

Galago alleni -Bioko Allen’s Bushbaby

This lesser bushbaby is a member of the Galagidae family, and is closely related to the greater galagos and lorises. Unlike lorises, galagos are very nimble and quick, and hunt insects using speed, rather than stealth. Physiologically, however, they’ve very similar. One of the primary adaptations of the galagos is the flattened discs on the hands and feet, which allow for much easier grip of tree limbs.

The huge eyes facilitate nighttime foraging in deep forests, and the consumption of human souls.

Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. 1861.


Struthio camelus and Galbula fuscicapilla [now Galbula tombacea tombacea] - The Common Ostrich and White-Chinned Jacamar

The ostrich belongs to the paleognathae, while the jacamar belongs to the neognathae.

There are two superorders (a phylogenetic classification) of the the class Neornithes - the Paleognathae, or “old-jaws”, and the Neognathae, or “new-jaws”. The palates and beak structures of the paleognathae are much more closely related to reptilian jaws, and the superorder evolved significantly before the “new-jaws” came about. The flightless ratites (ostriches, kiwis, elephant birds, cassowaries, etc) and the flying tinamous of South America are all paleognathae.

All of the other extant birds (27 of the 29 orders) belong to the Neognathae. Everything from the birds of prey to the hummingbirds to the finches and sparrows falls under this classification. 

Transactions of the Scientific Meetings of the Zoological Society of London. 1858, 1854.

Mus macleari [now Rattus macleari]- Maclear’s Rat

This extinct indigenous rat of Christmas Island is thought to have been the primary population control for the local crab species, along with the also-extinct bulldog rat. Between those two rodents, and the local Christmas Island shrew (not sighted since 1908 and presumed extinct), the Christmas Island red crabs that provide a somewhat-unnerving migration spectacle, were kept at a level thought to be about one-half what they were at their height. These days, the aptly-named “yellow crazy ant” that was inadvertently introduced from Australia, has cut the red crab population by a third, but unlike Maclear’s and the bulldog rat, the yellow crazy ant has no population control of its own, and may one day entirely wipe out the red crabs.

The Maclear’s rat is thought to have gone extinct both due to humans killing them, and the introduction of black rats to the island, when the Challenger expedition landed there in 1876. The black rats carried a trypanosome which affected them to a mild degree, but would have wiped out any non-acclimated species that acquired it in large numbers.

Proceedings of the Scientific Meetings of the Zoological Society of London. 1887.

magnetrolia said:

Do you own a lot of books on the subjects you present, or do you do more of your reading online? And do you know of any particularly exceptional books on animal and anatomy, and plant biology, preferably with a lot of illustrations or photographs?

I don’t own almost any of the books that I present. I have about 6.7 gigs of medical history texts/images, 10.5 gigs of natural history, and a ton of online sources.

The page is a bit outdated (especially the tumblr list), but I still use a lot of those sources, especially OpenLibrary.org and the Science Museum of London site.

For animal anatomy, it depends what you’re looking for.

I have always been a fan of zoological monographs, like this one detailing monotreme anatomy, but the collections of the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London also have a lot of anatomical features.

For plants, Curtis’s Botanical probably has what you want.

Uromastix benti - Bent’s Mastigure

Spiny-tailed lizards are more often called “uromastix" in the pet trade, and the name uromastix comes from Greek - Uro- being the root meaning “tail”, and -mastigo being the root meaning “scourge”. Given that all members of this genus have a thick tail covered in sharp spines, the name is quite fitting.

Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. 1901.

Xiphochilus fasciatus [now Choerodon fasciatus] - The Harlequin Tusk Wrasse

More colloquially known as the “Harlequin Tusk” by wrasse fanciers, this fish is a difficult keeper in an aquarium, but a very flashy specimen. Illustrations can’t truly capture the low-level bioluminescence or UV reflection in the live animals.

The Harlequin Tusk’s long, sharp teeth would seem to imply a more hostile creature than other wrasse, they’re only semi-territorial, and will tolerate other semi-aggressive fish around (such as blenny and angelfish), so long as no other Harlequin Tusks are present. Their primary foodstuffs consist of small-to-medium sized crustaceans that live in reefs, so they’re not considered “reef-friendly”, though they don’t destroy coral itself.

Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. 1867.