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Animal Spotlight: Sarcastic Fringehead

Taxonomy:

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Ken Bondy via Flickr
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Perciformes
  • Family: Chaenopsidae
  • Genuss: Neoclinus
  • Species: blanchardi
  • Average Body Length: 3-8 in (7.6-29 cm)
  • Lifespan: 6 years

Although usually less than 10 inches long, sarcastic fringeheads are fearless and extremely aggressive, charging at anything that approaches their burrows. The sarcastic part of their common name is attributed to their temperament and the fringehead to the distinctive appendages over their eyes.

They can be found along the Pacific coast from San Francisco Bay to central Baja California, Mexico on sand or hard mud bottoms and depths of 10 to 240 ft (3 to 73 m). It will use anything it can fit in for shelter such as empty clam, snail shells, abandoned burrows, and cracks in clay or rock outcropping. Whatever the shelter used, a sarcastic fringehead claims it as its home territory, fiercely defending it against intruders. The larger the container, the larger the fringehead occupying it.

Physical Appearance:

Sarcastic fringeheads is elongate, slender, and moderately compressed. The long dorsal fin extends from the rear of the head almost to the rounded caudal fin, a characteristic of the clinid family. Their color is typically brown to gray, often with a red tinge and green or pale blotches.

17mxqvh34zgu7jpgFringeheads are specifically known for their extremely large mouths. This is due, in part, to their characteristically long maxillary that extends nearly to the back edge of the gill cover.

Heads are very large, with bluntly rounded snouts and prominent lips. The huge jaw extends back well past the eye and is larger in males than females. These fish have numerous needle-like teeth and wavy, fringe-like appendages called cirri, probably used to help it ensnare slippery, moving prey.

Males can be almost black with the rear of their giant jaw a bright yellow. Usually there are pale spots or patches on the cheeks.

The dorsal spines possess two ocelli (eye-like spots), one between the first and second spines, and the other between the fifth and ninth spines. These ocelli are generally a metallic blue and outlined by a yellow golden ring

Diet:

Fringeheads are ambush predators, jumping out from their shelter to surprise prey swimming. However, what they eat in the wild is not well known. Closely related fish to the sarcastic fringehead such as pike-blennies, tubeblennies, and flagblennies are known to feed primarily on crustaceans and very small planktonic prey.

It is likely that sarcastic fringeheads eat a variety of prey. During squid spawning season, sarcastic fringeheads can be observed eating large numbers of squid eggs, a valuable food source for many species. But scientists expect that the grossly oversized mouths of the males may negatively affect their ability to feed.  

Behavior:

Sarcastic fringeheads are extremely temperamental. They are fiercely territorial creatures that aggressively protect their homes from all intruders, regardless of size. The majority of the time, sarcastic fringeheads rest in their homes with only their heads protruding. However, upon the first sign of danger, they will employ their enormous mouths and needlelike teeth for defense. Initially, they emit only a warning accomplished by the flexing and snapping of their jaws. If the intruder ignores the warning, they will use their ferocious teeth to attack.

giphy

Despite their small size, their swimming movements are rather complex. Many combinations of fin manipulations are used in their frequently erratic movements. Their dorsal and anal fins are long and unbroken and are used together with their pectoral and caudal fins for swimming. Most swimming consists of short, rapid, darting movements, frequently involving quick changes in direction. Long periods of sustained swimming are not part of this species usual movement pattern.

Spawning usually occurs from January to August. A female will deposit about 3,000 eggs in a male’s shelter and swim awhile while the male guards the eggs from potential predators and other threats until this hatch. Upon hatching, larvae are about 3.0 mm or 0.12 inches long.

This sexual selection by females drives a system of intense male competition and territoriality.  Male sarcastic fringeheads display to each other by opening their very large mouths in the direction of their rivals.  The mouth’s intimidating coloration, combined with the extreme nature of it size (which may be as much as four times its closed size) allow the larger male to establish dominance over the smaller.  Oftentimes, the rivals’ mouths are thrust very near to each other, sometimes touching.  The smaller individual typically surrenders and leaves the area, without the pair actually fighting.

Conservation and Threats:

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Fringehead in a plastic tube

There are no known major threats to this species as it is unlikely that anyone intentionally fishes for this tiny, pugnacious fish. Sometimes accidentally caught, sport and commercial fishers are usually not comfortable handling the fish because there is a good chance of being bitten by the needle-sharp teeth of an angry fringehead unwilling to let go. Divers have reported damage to their wet suits by these grumpy little fish.

Because it occurs in deep water where threats are typically not severe, scientists believe that it not currently at risk of extinction. The species is listed as ‘of least concern’ by the IUCN Red List.

Interesting Facts:

  • The ocean bottom in Redondo Canyon in southern California is littered with discarded bottles, jars, cans, and similar containers. Divers have observed that many of these littering items house a sarcastic fringehead.
  • Sarcastic fringeheads are the largest of all fringeheads
  • They consume roughly 13.6 times their body weight per year
  • With the exception of attacking humans that intrude into their space, sarcastic fringeheads are considered harmless
  • Instead of entering a hole or burrow head-first; fringeheads frequently back into it, eliminating the need to turn around.

References + For More Reading:

Aquarium of the Pacific: Sarcastic Fringehead

Meet the Sarcastic Fringehead

Oceana: Sarcastic Fringehead

The Sarcastic Fringehead is One of the Ocean’s Strangest Fighters

Animal Diversity Web: Neoclinus blanchardi

Arkive: Sarcastic fringehead (Neoclinus blanchardi)

IUCN: Neoclinus blanchardi

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Conservation News: Animal Abuse Records, Ivory Ban, and Tiger Temple

USDA Brings Back Animal Abuse and APHIS Records, But Not All

Following the public outcry after animal abuse records were wiped, the U.S. government posted a fraction of the tens of thousands of animal welfare data that were removed earlier this month.

In this announcement, the agency says that it is “posting the first batch of annual reports of research institutions and inspection reports” resulting from a “comprehensive review” that began with the complete removal of previously public documents that are generated by the agency as it enforces the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and the Horse Protection Act.

However, those familiar with the records say that USDA has so far restored only a small number. Among the documents still unavailable are the vast majority of reports from regular inspections of animal-holding facilities that are monitored under AWA, including puppy mills, private research facilities, and zoos. A number of groups have sued USDA to pressure the agency to repost all the records once again.

Continue reading “Conservation News: Animal Abuse Records, Ivory Ban, and Tiger Temple”

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Animal Spotlight: Bateleur Eagle

Taxonomy:

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Via National Aviary
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Accipitriforme
  • Family: Accipitridae
  • Genus: Tetrathopius
  • Species: ecaudatus
  • Body Length: 21-28 inches (54-70 cm)
  • Wingspan: 5.5 – 6 ft (1.6 – 1.8 m)
  • Weight: 4 – 6.5 lbs (1.8-2.9 kg)
  • Lifespan: 25 years

Bateleur eagles are striking, medium-sized eagles with impressive flying displays and nicknamed as the African Snake Eagle. They can spotted in the air with their distinctive rocking flight and low, searching passses while hunting. They are related to other snake eagles like the Black-Chested Snake Eagle (Circaetus pectoralis) and Short-Toed Snake Eagle (Circaetus gallicus).

These eagles live across regions of sub-Saharan Africa and as north and east as the Arabian Peninsula, occupying open regions of open woodland, savanna, coastal plains, and semi-deserts. Countries they can be found in are southern Mauritania, Senegambia east to Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, south to Namibia, and South Africa. Sadly, they only inhabit in protected areas and have been eliminated from and/or abandoned 80% of their former range. It is estimated that there are only 10,000 to 100,000 individuals.

Physical Appearance:

Bateleurs are uncommon among raptors in that males and females are physically very different from each other. This characteristics is known as sexual dimorphism. Both sexes are mainly black with a rusty chestnut back and ashy grey wing coverts. Each have black eyes bordered with a red eye ring. Its bare face is bright red and its hooked bill is yellowish with a black tip. Stocky legs and short stubby toes are bright bred.

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Photo Credit: Jamie Pham

In adult males, it has a black head, neck, breast, greater wing coverts, belly and thighs. Shoulders are pale grey. Mantle, rump and tail are chestnut. Underwings are black and white with broad and thick black trailing edges.

In females only, bateleurs have greyer shoulders and grey secondary flight feathers with a trailing black edge. Females are also slightly larger. Underwings are black and white, with narrow black trailing edge. This makes it every easy to differentiate males from females, whether they are perching or in flight.

Juveniles, or immature Bateleur eagles, are a reddish brown, almost a chestnut color, on its head and underparts with dark primary feathers while its upperparts are darker brown. According to its sex, underwings show broad or narrow dark brown trailing. Its feet are pale pink. The face is bluish-gray, almost green, and the eyes are brown. As it matures, its face and legs will turn orange before it turns red like an adult.

Interesting, the bright skin on this raptor’s face and legs gives hints as to how the bird is feeling, much like a mood ring. When this eagle is relaxed, its skin is generally an orange-red color. When it gets excited, the bare skin can quickly turn bright red.

Diet:

The Bateleur mainly consumes small mammals and birds, but will also take reptiles and fish if available. Many small animals make up the bird’s diet, including rodents, birds (such as pigeons, doves, hornbills, and even other raptors), lizards, fish, insects, and frogs.  It is also a scavenger, feeding on carrion and roadkill.

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Via South Africa Explored

Based off of its nickname as the African Snake Eagle, it also commonly consumes venomous snakes. When it attacks a snake, it raises its crest feathers and spreads its wings. It has scaly legs to protect it against the venom. If a snake strikes it, any venom will pass into bird’s bloodstream.

Behavior:

The Bateleur spends most of time of the day on the wing, soaring effortless. It may takes off when the warmth starts, and it flies almost the entire day, until the cooler hours of the evening. It may fly over 320 km every day, during 8 to 9 hours. During the day, it sometimes perches in a tree, close to carrion, where it may try to pirate smaller raptors. When not in flight, the Bateleur perches or stands on the ground near water.

Bateleur adults are territorial and are often residents in most parts of the range. The juveniles may perform nomadic movements. Adults are monogamous, preferring to stick with a single mate.

Breeding season varies depending on where the eagle resides. In western Africa, mating season is from September to May. In eastern Africa, it is year-round and in southern Africa, they breed from December to August.

During the breeding season, the Bateleur’s wonderful flight displays are exhibited. It can execute 360 degrees rolls, displaying amazing turns and somersaults in the air. Male also performs steep dives to female. Then, she rolls on her back and presents her claws to the male, and they hurtle each other. When birds perform their “barrel-rolls”, this display is often accompanied by very loud slapping of the wings. This noise can be heard for great distance. Courtship flight displays are accompanied by loud crowing calls.

They will also perform a kind of mating dance on the ground, exposing its beautiful colored plumage.

bateleur-savanes-dance-compil

Just like they pair for life, they also prefer to reuse the same nest year after year. Both adults will help build the nest in an open fork in a high tree. Their preferred trees are thorny Acacia and Baobab. Nests are usually constructed with heavy sticks and are lined with green leaves.

Usually a single egg is laid and is incubated by both parents for 52 to 59 days. The parents also take turns caring for the offspring, defending them from potential predators. Fledgling will take 93 to 194 days but the young will continue to remain dependent for the next four months. It will not reach full maturity until after five to six years, typically around seven years.

Unpaired, immature Bateleurs will sometimes hang around a nest site if the breeding pair tolerates their presence. The bird may be from the previous clutch that has not yet left the nest yet. Typically they will help defend and guard the nest but it does not feed the young.

Conservation and Threats:

Currently, the Bateleur eagle is listed as ‘near threatened’ by both the IUCN and BirdLife International and is listed under Appendix II by CITES.

Although they have a wide range throughout Africa, their population and suitable habitat has been decreasing. They are now restricted to protected areas having been eliminated from farmland in South Africa. The primary causes of their decline is believed to be deliberate poisoning by large-scale commercial farms, pesticides, poisoned bait left for jackals and other predators, and trapping for international trade. Other threats include persecution, nest disturbances, and habitat loss.

Despite these threats, the eagle is not necessarily particularly imperiled. Nevertheless, in Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Zimbabwe, parts of Zambia, and possibly parts of Tanzania the Bateleur has undergone significant declines in population and range.

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Via South Africa Exposed

Currently, there is no conservation measures in place for the Bateleur but there are organizations working in many areas of Africa where birds of prey have shown declines. Their efforts are ensuring that adequate research is conducted in order to develop effective conservation strategies for these birds. Some actions include awareness campaigns to reduce the use of poison baits and continued monitoring throughout the Bateleur’s native ranges.

Recent studies suggest that as long as individual Bateleurs remain in protected areas, such as national parks, they will do okay. But, as soon as they leave the boundaries of the park, they become vulnerable to poisoning. In some countries, people are even trapping or poisoning these birds in order to collect their feathers and other body parts, which are sometimes used in superstitious rituals.

Interesting Facts:

  • Bateleurs are primarily silent, except when threatened or anxious.  When they do call out, typically when excited, their voices can be loud and carrying, uttering a short “kau-kau-kau” repeatedly followed by a two mostly long “koaagh.” While calling, it raises its half spread wings, giving the bird a threat posture, used in territorial displays.
  • The word “bateleur” is French for “street performer.”
  • Some African Tribes revere Bateleur, believing that they will win a battle if the eagle flies over the enemy.
  • Bateleur enjoy the sun, standing upright and holding wings straight out to the sides. The bird turns to follow the sun.
  • During the day, it may fly at speeds of up to 50 mph (80kmh).
  • This species is part of the national emblem of Zimbabwe.

References + For More Reading

National Aviary: Bateleur Eagle

Terathopius ecaudatus

Eagle Directory: Bateleur

Photo of the Month: Bateleur eagle

Arkive: Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus)

South Africa Explored: Bateleur

Peregrine fund: Bateleur eagle

Focusing on Wildlife: Bateleur eagle

IUCN: Terathopius ecaudatus (Bateleur)

Global Raptor: Bateleur Eagle

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Conservation News: Climate Change, Antelopes, and Abalone

Republicans Release a Plan to Fight Climate Change Just As Antarctica Takes A Hit

The latest daily figures have shown that Antarctica’s sea ice has hit a worrisome milestone, reaching its lowest recorded extent this week, according to data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center. This recent Tuesday had the all-time low since 1997: 2.22 million square kilometers (858,691 square miles).

Unlike the Arctic sea ice, which has shown a relatively steady decline over the past three decades as global temperatures rise, the Antarctic sea ice has yielded more erratic and controversial data since monitoring began the late 1970s.

In 2012, Antarctic sea ice actually hit a record monthly high, with scientists theorizing that melting ice shelves were contributing to the growth. Since then, further evidence of Southern Hemisphere ice melt has accumulated.

1027773_1_0215-arctic-sea-ice_standard
Via British Antarctic Survey/NASA

Melting ice is one of the biggest indicator of global warming and causes concern about the following sea-level rise and other climate impacts. Though the timing and the extent of those impacts have been highly debated, the trends are another set of data to pressure countries to curb greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to a warmer climate.

Continue reading “Conservation News: Climate Change, Antelopes, and Abalone”

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Feline Genetics: Types of Feline Coat Patterns and Colors (Part 2)

This is a continuation of the series about feline genetics. If you haven’t read part 1, click here! In this post, I will be covering the remaining coat patterns: tortoiseshell, calico, and color-point as well as some other miscellaneous facts!

Tortoiseshell

tortoiseshell-cat-4-640x477

Tortoiseshell cats, also affectionately named “torties”, have a consistent mix of orange/red and black, creating a unique coat unlike the ticked tabby pattern. The patches can range from being very mingled or they may be more distinct blocks of color. Other types of tortoiseshell cats include the “blue-cream” (also known as the blue tortie) is randomly patched all over with blue and cream. It is the dilute version of the more common red and black coat. Another is the “brown patched tabby” looks almost like autumn leaves, covered with patches of brown tabby and patches of red tabby. This color is often called the “torbie” because it is a tabby tortie.

Not only can the colors of the tortoiseshell cats vary between each individual cat, but the patterns of the colors can as well. In general, there are two main patterns: brindled and patched. Brindled patters give a more fluid appearance, as the colors are woven together. Patched patterns feature solid patches of the black or red hair.

Continue reading “Feline Genetics: Types of Feline Coat Patterns and Colors (Part 2)”

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Animal Spotlight: Fennec Fox

Taxonomy:

fennec_fox_0
Credit: San Diego Zoo
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Canidae
  • Genus: Vulpes
  • Species: zerda
  • Average Length: 9-16 in (29-41 cm)
  • Average Tail Length: 7-12 in (18-30 cm)
  • Average Weight: 3.5 lbs (1.6 kg)
  • Average Lifespan: 10 years

Smaller than the average domestic cat, the fennec fox is the world’s smallest fox, but it’s oversized and large ears, measuring up to 6 inches, appear to have been borrowed from a bigger relative. It inhabits sandy deserts and semi-deserts, preferring stable sand dunes in which it can burrow. It’s region spans the deserts of the Sahara and throughout North Africa to the Sinai Peninsula and Arabia. These are the following countries in which this species can be found: Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan, and Tunisia.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Fennec Fox”

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Conservation News: Animal Abuse Records, Coral Reefs, and Parasites

Lack of Transparency After USDA Animal Abuse Records Went Offline

Two weeks into the Trump Administration, thousands of documents detailing animal welfare violations nationwide have been removed from the website of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has been posting them publicly for decades. These include the inspection records and annual reports for every commercial animal facility in the U.S.—including zoos, breeders, factory farms, and laboratories.

They also reveal many cases of abuse and mistreatment of animals, documenting violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Incidents if the reports had not been publicly posted, would most likely to have remained hidden. This recent federal action plunges journalists, animal welfare organizations, and the public at large into the dark about animal welfare at facilities across the country.

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which has maintained the online database, cites privacy concerns as justification for the removal.

However, critics question that reasoning.

Continue reading “Conservation News: Animal Abuse Records, Coral Reefs, and Parasites”

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Animal Spotlight: Marbled Cat

marbledcat1
Via Big Cat Rescue

Taxonomy:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Felidae
  • Genus: Pardofelis
  • Species: marmorata
  • Average Weight: 4.5-11 lbs (2-5 kg)
  • Average Body Length: 18-25 in (45-62 cm)
  • Average Tail Length: 14-22 in (36-55 cm)
  • Longest Captivity: 12 years

A rare and little-known marbled cat possesses an unusual mixture of small and big cat characteristics. It is primarily thought to be an inhabitant of moist tropical forest but its specific habitat requirements are poorly known, with only anecdotal information available. It has been reported in mixed deciduous-evergreen forests and secondary forests as well as other habitats from sea level up to 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level.

Reports have shown that the marbled cat’s range can be from northern India and Nepal, through south-eastern Asia, to Borneo and Sumatra. This distribution includes areas of northern India, Nepal, Sikkim, Assam, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, and Borneo. In the Malay area they are rare and confined to the mainland.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Marbled Cat”

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Conservation News: Donkeys Aren’t Exempted from Eastern Medicine

In the Global Skin Trade, Chinese Medicine is Fueling Demand for Donkey

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Ejiao on sale in a factory shop in Dong’e. Photo: George Knowles

Ejiao, also known as donkey-hide gelatin, is, as the name suggests, gelatin obtained from the skin of the donkey by soaking and stewing. It is an ingredient frequently used in traditional Chinese medicine and an entire industry has emerged to meet its demand.

The emergence of the global trade in donkey hide is attributed to the rise of China’s affluent middle class and increased perception of the medicine’s efficacy. Ejiao can sell for up to $375 per kilo.

“It’s what we refer to as a blood tonic. It’s good for building up the body and helps with what is known in Chinese medicine as ‘blood deficiency’, for conditions such as anaemia and heavy periods, as well as irritating dry coughs,” says Emma Farrant, president of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine. “It usually comes in blocks of dried pieces which are melted down into a concoction of herbal mixture to drink.”

The rural backwater of Dong’e, in Shandong province where more than a 100 factories produce ejiao, is the epicenter of a multibillion-dollar industry that is having a devastating effect on donkey numbers worldwide. Four million young animals – 2.2 million of them outside China – are being killed every year for their skins, which are boiled, liquefied and turned into health snacks, powders and face creams that the Chinese believe are the key to long life and lasting beauty. This industry alone has halved China’s donkey population and is threatening to expand to other continents’ populations.

Continue reading “Conservation News: Donkeys Aren’t Exempted from Eastern Medicine”

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Feline Genetics: Types of Feline Coat Patterns and Colors (Part 1)

Felines come in many shapes and sizes. Well, maybe not as diverse as its fellow rival the dog, but cats do have an extensive range of colors and patterns. And it’s all thanks to genetics. This is the first installment of a three part series.

Coat Patterns

In general, there are six basic patterns, or combinations of colors in a specific layout: solid, tabby, bi-color, tortoiseshell, tricolor, and color-point. This post will cover the first three patterns.

Solid

The easiest one to recognize is the solid pattern, which is, for the most part, a single-colored coat that is evenly distributed all over the body. It is key that a solid-colored cat has no recognizable stripes, spots, ticking, patches, or shading. For example, a “solid-blue” cat or a “maltese” is blue-gray all over, whether it may be a dark slate gray, a medium gray, or a pale ash gray. Or, a “solid-black” cat is black all over and includes shades such as coal black, grayish black, or brownish black. (Fun Fact: Black cats can “rust” in the sunlight; the coat will turn into a lighter brownish shade.)

Continue reading “Feline Genetics: Types of Feline Coat Patterns and Colors (Part 1)”