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 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.


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.

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.


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.


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

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.


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.


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.

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.

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.