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.

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.

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.


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.

The Leftvent - Linophryne lucifer

Leftvents are deep-sea anglerfish, who have the symbiotic bacteria and obligate parasitic males common to many of the other anglerfish.

The genus name Linophryne is Greek, and means “toad that fishes with a net”, and lucifer means, well, “Lucifer”. It’s a devil-toad-fish with a net. The whole genus is sometimes called “netdevils”. They’re uncommon enough thatbasically the entire genus is known by that common name.

Proceedings of the General Meetings for Scientific Business of the Zoological Society of London. 1886.

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.

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.