Friday, 19 December 2014

Parrot Grooms and Plays with Cat (Videos)

I am sure this video will make your day:

The caption reads: My cat Marley and his best pal, Tiko the cockatiel!

And here's another one:

Caption: Tiko harassing my cat Marley, again.

And another one!

Caption: Grumpy cockatiel protecting his friend

a cat and a parrot playing together

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Draco volans: Real Life Dragon

Draco volans looks like a tiny dragon
Now it just needs to breathe fire!
Credit: Reddit user Biophilia_curiosus
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Iguania
Family: Agamidae
Subfamily: Agaminae
Genus: Draco
Species: Draco volans
Common Name(s): Flying dragon, Flying Lizards

No, its not a baby dragon! Meet Draco volans, an arboreal lizard found in Indonesia. Unlike mythical dragons, it lacks the ability to sustain powered flight, and is capable only of gliding. Still, it looks very cool!

Distrution & Habitat
The flying dragon occurs in southern India and Southeast Asia. This includes the Philippine Islands and Borneo. The species prefers rain forests and tropical areas that can provide adequate number of trees that the lizard can use for jumping and gliding.

The most distinctive trait of the flying dragon is the relatively large set of "wings" along the sides of the body. These wings are incapable of flight and are used for gliding. They are supported by elongated ribs that superficially look like veins:

A flying dragon (draco volans) with the wings expanded
The "veins" are actually ribs

Flying lizards also have a gular flap called a dewlap, under the head. This tissue is used in courtship displays.

The body is depressed and elongated. Males have an average length of about 19,5 cm while females are slightly larger, with an average length of about 21,2 cm. This includes the tail which on average is 11 cm long on males and 13,2 cm long for females. Male flying dragons have a long pointed dewlap, which is bright yellow. They also have bluish color on the ventral side of the wings, and brown on the dorsal side. Females have a smaller and bluish gray dewlap. Furthermore, the ventral side of the wings is yellow.

D. volans is not the only flying lizard, it's just the most popular. The Draco genus contains more than 40 species, all with wings and the ability to glide. D. Volans is distinguished from other flying lizards by the rows of rectangular brown spots on the top of the wing membranes, and black spots on the bottom of the wings.

Draco taeniopterus is one of the more than 40 flying dragons
Draco taeniopterus
By Psumuseum (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons

To move fast from one place to another (e.g. when escaping a predator), flying dragons will spread the skin flaps along their abdomens and glide out of trees or from other high areas. They never glide when it is raining or when it is windy. When the Flying Dragon is about to take off, it will point its head toward the ground. They can glide for 8 meters on average which is pretty amazing considering their small size.

Here's a video from National Geographic showing an individual in action:

The flying dragon is an insectivore, usually feeding on small ants and termites. It appears to be a "sit and wait feeder", meaning that it sits next to a tree trunk waiting for prey to come by. When ants or termites are close enough, the lizard picks them up with its sticky tongue, without shifting the body and then chews them.

Flying dragons tend to be very territorial. Usually, males mark two or three trees as their own, with one to three female lizards living in each tree. When a male meets another animal, it may extend the dewlap partially or fully, extend his wings partially or fully, perform a combination of dewlap or wing extension, or bob his body up and down. Extending the wings and dewlap makes the flying lizard appear larger, and both sexes may exhibit such behavior if threatened.

If a male meets a female, he may circle her.

Close ups of a female flying dragon

The exact mating season is not known, but assumed to be somewhere between December and January.

Males show several displays like the spreading of the wings and a bobbing motion of the entire body when the two are in close proximity to each other. The male will also spread his dewlap to a fully erect position and then circle the female three times before copulation. Females only show display patterns to stop or prevent copulation

The soon-to-be mother builds a nest for the eggs by creating a small hole on the soil using her head. Then she will lay five eggs into the nest and cover them with dirt, packing the soil on top of them with a patting motion of her head. She will stay with them for approximately 24 hours, and during this period she will guard the eggs fiercely. However, after about one day she will leave the nest. Incubation take approximately 32 days.

The flying dragon Flying Dragon is a gliding agamid that lives in the rainforests of Asia and the East Indies.
Draco Volans
Photo By Alfeus Liman (en:User:Firereptiles) [Public domain]

Conservation Status
Although not official assessed, the species appears to be quite common and is not believed to be threatened.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Humpback Whales Sing Tick-Tock Songs For Supper

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are known to employ group foraging techniques, however details on how individuals coordinate with each other still remain a mystery.

A new study by Susan Parks, assistant professor of biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, in collaboration with a consortium of other researchers examined the importance of specific auditory cues that these whales emit as they search the deep ocean for prey.

"Humpback whales are known to cooperate with others to corral prey near the surface. Recent studies suggest they may cooperate [with each other], when feeding on bottom prey, as well." said Parks, who studies marine science and acoustic communication.

Parks was part of a collaborative multi-institutional consortium that has spent a decade monitoring humpback feeding behaviors in the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of Massachusetts.

Humpback whale breaching
Humpback Whale
Whales were tagged with special underwater recording devices so Parks could determine how specific acoustic sounds correlated with successful seafloor feeding.

The researchers discovered that whales make "tick-tock" sounds when hunting together at night in deep, pitch-black water, but stay silent when hunting alone.

What was on menu? Mainly sand lance (Family: Ammodytidae), eel-like fish known to bury themselves in the sand of the ocean floor. Parks suggests that whales' vocal sounds may help flush the sand lance out of hiding to where they're scooped up and eaten.

Pacific sand lance (Ammodytes hexapterus) burrowing into the sand, only head visible
Pacific sand lance (Ammodytes hexapterus) burrowing into the sand
The clock-like sounds created by whales may also serve as a dinner bell of sorts for other nearby whales during late-night feedings.
"Hints of behavior suggest that other whales who overhear the sounds are attracted to them and may eavesdrop on other whales hunting for food." Parks added.

Susan parks, biology professor
Susan Park

Parks SE, Cusano DA, Stimpert AK, Weinrich MT, Friedlaender AS, & Wiley DN (2014). Evidence for acoustic communication among bottom foraging humpback whales. Scientific reports, 4 PMID: 25512188

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Cute Tiny Baby Bats Rolled Into Bat-Burritos

Cute Bat babies wrapped in bat-burritos

It's true that most people don't like bats. They regard them as disgusting flying creatures. May be you are one of those people. If you are, then I guarantee you that the video you are about to see will change your mind. Bats are super cute, especially baby bat-rritos:

The video was shot by Adam Cox, of the Wakaleo Animal Channel at the Australian Bat Clinic & Wildlife Trauma Centre in Advancetown, Australia. The centre took in these babies when their mothers were killed after an extreme heat wave. Swaddling the bats in fabric helps to nurture the infants until they are healthy enough to be released and survice into the wilderness. 

super cute baby bats drink milk from bottles

Want more baby-bat cuteness? Here's another video by Adam Cox:

And here's a video from what I think is Youtube's cutest baby bat:

The Australian Bat Clinic and Wildlife Trauma Centre is a nonprofit organization, and is supported entirely by donations. So if you want to help them to save even more helpless creatures please consider donating by clicking here!

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Monday, 15 December 2014

The Paradoxical Shrinking Frog

Pseudis paradoxa in a pond
Credit: Mauricio Rivera Correa
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Amphibia
Order: Anura
Family: Hylidae
Genus: Pseudis
Species: Pseudis paradoxa
Common Name(s): Paradoxical frog or Shrinking frog
Conservation Status: Least Concern (Not Threatened)

Looks like a pretty much regular frog, doesn't it? Well.. it's not! Meet P. paradoxa, a frog that grows down instead of growing up!

Confused? So were the scientists when they first discovered it. The species begins its life like most frogs do, as a tadpole. A big tadpole that is, up to 25 cm long. But then something weird happens. It morphs into an actual frog that is only about a quarter of its former length! Not surprisingly, the species became known as the shrinking frog.

Distribution & Habitat
The paradoxical frog is an aquatic species that inhabits ponds, lakes and lagoons from northern Argentina, through the Pantanal, Amazon and the Guianas, to Venezuela and Trinidad, with a disjunct distribution in the Magdalena River watershed in Colombia and adjacent far westfern Venezuela.

Sexually matured adults are usually 4,5 to 6,5 cm long, but can reach sizes of up to 7,5 cm. The head is relatively small compared to the body, with a short and round snout. The iris is yellow with a transverse brown bar. The body is primarily green with dark green to olive green stripes and the skin is slippery.

As aforementioned, P. paradoxa is unique in that the tadpole stage is 3 to 4 times larger than the adult form, reaching sizes of up to 22 cm. . Sexual dimorphism in the tadpole and adult stage is apparent, with females being larger than males.

In captivity they have been reported to live for 11 years.

Comparison between adult and tadpole stage
Credit: By Chipmunkdavis, via Wikimedia Commons

The species is nocturnal and spends its life almost exclusively in the water, usually hidden below the surface near floating plants.

Diet & Predators
Paradoxical frogs feed on insects like dragonflies and other smaller sized frogs and amphibians.

Paradoxical Frog Quacking

The mating season is probably the only time these weird animals become active during the day. During this period, the males start calling for the females and then mount them.

The females then lay their eggs among water plants; the eggs later develop into giant tadpoles. The hatchlings grow to become greenish tadpoles.

Paradoxical frogs breeding
Sexy Time!
By Felipe Gomes, via Wikimedia Commons

Conservation Status
The paradoxical frog has a widespread distribution and a seemingly high tolerance for a broad range of habitats. Adding to this a presumably large population and no major threats, it has been classified by the IUCN as Least Concern.

Some minor threats for the species include habitat loss due to agricultural activities and human settlement.

Other Interesting Facts about the Paradoxical Frog
- In March 2008, researchers working at the Universities of Ulster and United Arab Emirates released findings of a study where the synthesized version of the compound pseudin-2 [naturally occuring in the skin of the paradoxical frog] was able to stimulate the secretion of insulin in pancreatic cells under laboratory conditions, without toxicity to the cells. This synthetic medicine has possible applications in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes. Pseudin compounds are believed to have antimicrobial functions in the paradoxical frog.

More Strange Frogs

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Sunday's Nudibranch: Hypselodoris bullockii

Purple Hypselodoris bullockii with some blue and white areas
Hypselodoris bullockii
By Samuel Chow from Boston,
via Wikimedia Commons
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Gastropoda
Superfamily: Doridoidea
Family: Chromodorididae
Genus: Hypselodoris
Species: Hypselodoris bullockii

Today's nudibranch is Hypselodoris bullockii, a very variable in color sea slug, ranging from a pure white to a deep purplish background.

Most individuals have a thin opaque white line at the mantle border, although some have a reddish purple border.

The species was first described in 1881 from a specimen in the South China Sea. Since then, it has been found to occur in the western Pacific as far south as southern Queensland. It is also found off north western Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, in the tropical western Pacific and the central to eastern Indian Ocean.

Like most Doridoidea snails, they are carnivorous, feeding on on bryozoans (moss animals) and sponges.

Video of two adults mating

Hypselodoris apolegma, is a very similar-looking species that was previously assumed to be a different colored variation of H. bullockii. However, recent phylogenetic data confirmed the distinction of the two species, suggesting a sister species relationship between them. H. apolegma can be distinguished by a reticulate pattern gradually merging in to the pinkish purple.

More Images And Videos of Hypselodoris bullockii

two very pale Hypselodoris bullockii specimens
Two very pale individuals
By Richard Ling (Flickr), via Wikimedia Commons

The blue form of Hypselodoris bullockii
Blue specimen
By Jens Petersen, via Wikimedia Commons
Hypselodoris bullockii, pale purple specimen
Pale purple form
By Steve Childs from Lancaster, UK (Flickr), via Wikimedia Commons
slight purple form of Hypselodoris bullockii
Pale purple specimen
By Steve Childs from Lancaster, UK (Flickr), via Wikimedia Commons

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Thursday, 11 December 2014

Researchers Discover Well-Endowed Bone Eating Worm

A Male of the recently discovered Osedax priapus
Male Osedax priapus
The entire body of males has
evolved  as a tool for mating
Osedax is a genus of weird, deep-sea polychaetes worms, commonly known as boneworms, zombie worms, or bone-eating worms.

The story of these creatures began twelve years ago, when researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) first discovered them, using the submarine ROV Tiburon in Monterey Bay, California, in February 2002.

The worms were found living on the bones of a decaying gray whale, thus the name "bone-eating", which alludes to how the worms bore into the bones of whale carcasses to reach enclosed lipids, on which they rely for sustenance. Since then, researchers have described more than 15 bone-eating species of Osedax.

What is so interesting about these animals is the extreme sexual size dimorphism they exhibit. Male Osedax are microscopic dwarfs that live as "harems" inside the lumen of the gelatinous tube that surrounds each female. An individual female can house hundreds or even thousands of these males in her tube.

Now, a new study that appeared yesterday on the Current Biology, gives an interesting weird twist to the Osedax story. Marine biologist Greg Rouse at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and his colleagues have discovered an "evolutionary oddity unlike any other in the animal kingdom".

Examining specimens collected at 700 meters (~2,300 ft) with the help of a MBARI remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Rouse, observed a surprising new type of Osedax species, Osedax priapus.

Although females of the species are roughly the same size as their previously studied relatives, males are tens of thousands of times larger than those of other Osedax worms, and have roughly the same size as females. But why is this so strange? The authors explain:

"This discovery was very unexpected. It's the first known example of such a dramatic evolutionary reversal from dwarf males."  said Rouse.
"Evolutionary reversals to ancestral states are very rare in the animal kingdom. This case is exceptional because the genes for producing full-sized adult males should have deteriorated over time due to disuse. But apparently the genes are still there." added co-author of the study,  Robert Vrijenhoek

Another surprising find was the discovery that males of the new species consume bone on their own, something their dwarf relatives never do.

Adding even more peculiarity to the discovery is the mating process of Osedax priapus. Previously studied Osedax male dwarfs are permanently attached to their female hosts, and therefore do not need mobility to mate, so the researchers wondered how the males of the new species seek out for a mate, given their independence.

"The evolutionary solution (the new species) found was to actually make the male's body very extendable so he can reach far out to find females to mate with -- he can extend his body ten-times its contracted state." said Rouse.

In essence, Rouse said, the entire worm's body has evolved as a tool for mating, adding that this is  "why we named it Osedax 'priapus,' the mythological god of fertility,".
Rouse and his team speculate that less competition for space on certain animal bones allowed the evolutionary introduction of Osedax primps.
"This worm was weird enough as it was and now it's even weirder. This shows us that there continue to be mysteries in the sea and there is still so much more to discover, especially since we only found these creatures 12 years ago." said Rouse.

- Funding support was provided by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation via MBARI, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, National Science Foundation, and the Faculty of Science at the University of Copenhagen.

The closely related Osedax frankpressi
By Robert C. Vrijenhoek, Shannon B. Johnson & Greg W. Rouse
via Wikimedia Commons