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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 ¾ 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.

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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.

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Mammalian Woodpeckers

Did you know that there are not one, but two mammalian woodpeckers? Well, they fill the same ecological niche as woodpeckers, at least!

The striped possum (Dactylopsila trivirgata) is a close relative of the Sugar Glider and lives throughout New Guinea, while the Aye-Aye is a proto-lemur (Daubentonia madagascariensis) that lives on the island of Madagascar.

Both of these creatures are percussive hunters. That is, they use parts of their body to tap on a surface (in this case, tree trunks) in order to locate their prey, which they then dig into the surface of the tree to extract.

While the woodpecker uses its beak to percuss, the aye-aye and striped lemur use their fingers, and the aye-aye is especially adapted for the job! Their long, thin middle fingers are full of far more nerves than other fingers, and they can often feel a grub’s vibrations before they hear it. The extensive network of nerve endings means that the middle fingers require a large bloodflow to be effective, and as such, they’re not “warmed up” until the aye-aye decides that it’s time to hunt.

While the stripped possum is less adapted than the aye-aye to its particular niche (supplementing its diet with many free-wandering bugs and having good eyesight), its small ears betray its extremely sensitive hearing, and its prehensile tail allow it to reach where other vertebrates of the area cannot.

Images:

Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. Illustrations by Joseph Wolf in 1908 and 1863.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Northern Rockhopper Penguin (Eudiptes moseleyi)

I have been informed that I did not give enough penguin love during Penguin Appreciation Day. Alas, as I have prior obligations, I will be lacking in Squirrel Appreciation, as well.

One of my favorite penguins is a crested penguin (Genus Eudyptes) known as the Northern Rockhopper.

Originally grouped as one species, the Rockhoppers are now known to be at least two (and may be three) distinct species. Unlike the Southern Rockhoppers, the Northerns have much more fringe on their crests, and breed almost exclusively on Gough Island, Tristan, and the aptly named Inaccessible Island, both in basically the middle of nowhere (right in the center between the southernmost points of Africa and South America).

All rockhoppers are adept at fish catching and rounding up small krill, but the northern rockhopper is especially keen on squid and octopus. The intelligence, camouflage, and speed of the cephalopod species in their range makes this a curious phenomena - there are several species of fish that would probably be easier to catch - but the predilection towards cephalopod meat is especially strong in this species.

Rockhoppers have much less trouble navigating overland than their Antarctic counterparts. Instead of belly-sliding and waddling, they are adept at jumping on and around rocky ledges, though ice can still prove a challenge for them.

Traviés dans le dictionnaire universel d'histoire naturelle. Charles d'Orbigny, 1867.

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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.

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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 asked:

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.