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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.

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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:

sarcastic_fringehead_m-_kjaergaard
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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Featured

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

Featured

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”

Featured

Animal Spotlight: Red Junglefowl

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Photo By: David Blank

Taxonomy:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Galliformes
  • Family: Phasianidae
  • Genus: Gallas
  • Species: gallas
  • Average Male Length: 2.1-2.5 ft (65-75 cm)
  • Average Female Length: 1.4-1.5 ft (42-46 cm)
  • Average Male Weight: 1.5-3.2 lbs (0.7-1.45 kg)
  • Average Female Weight: 1.1-2.3 lbs (0.5-1.05 kg)
  • Expected Lifespan: 10 years

The red junglefowl is a tropical member of the Pheasant family and is the direct ancestor of all domestic poultry. It is believed that they were first domesticated at least 5,000 years ago in India. Since then, the domesticated form has been taken all around the world as a very productive food source for both meat and eggs, which some breeds have been specifically developed to produce more.

This species is native to Southern Asia, particularly the Indian jungles. Its range stretches from northeast India, where the pure species has been diluted with back-crosses from domestic breeds, eastwards across southern China and down into Malaysia and Indonesia. Throughout its extensive range, the red junglefowl occupies most tropical and subtropical habitats, including mangroves, scrubland, and plantations. Although, it seems that it prefers flat or gently sloping terrain, forest edges, and secondary forest. It has also been recorded being found in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Red Junglefowl”

Featured

Animal Spotlight: Ring-Tailed Cat

ringtailbassariscusastutus

Taxonomy:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Procyonidae
  • Genus: Bassariscus
  • Species: astusus
  • Average Body Length: 24.4-32 in (62-81 cm)
  • Average Tail Length: 12.2-13.4 cm (31-44 cm)
  • Average Shoulder Height: 6.3 in (16 cm)
  • Average Weight: 1.8-2.9 lbs (0.8-1.3 kg)
  • Average Lifespan: 7 years

Also known as the ring-tailed cat, the ringtail is not a part of the feline family. Although they are not related to cats, people have referred to this mammal as “miner’s cat” because of its role as companions and mousers to early American settlers and in prospectors’ camps. Other nicknames include civet cat because of its pungent secretion from anal glands and cacomistle, an Axtec Nahuatl term meaning half mountain lion. The ringtail, whose name comes from the seven to eight black rings on the animal’s tail, is actually a member of the Procyonidae (raccoon) family.

This species is common and widespread across most of Mexico and southern North America from California to Texas. It is known to occur from Oaxaca in southern Mexico to the desert region of Baja California, as well as on the three islands of Tiburón, San José and Espíritu Santo in the Gulf of California. There are outlier populations in northern California, Nebraska, Missouri, and southwest Wyoming.

They occur in a variety of habitats, including semi-arid oak forest, pinyon pine or juniper forest, montane conifer forest, chaparral, desert, rocky areas, and canyons. It also adapts well to disturbed areas and is frequently found inside buildings.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Ring-Tailed Cat”

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Animal Spotlight: Blue Whale

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Taxonomy:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Artiodactyla
  • Family: Balaenopteridae
  • Genus: Balaenoptera
  • Species: musculus
  • Average Length: 82-105 ft (25-32 m)
  • Average Weight: 200 tons (180,000 kg)
  • Estimated Average Lifespan: 80-90 years

Blue whales are the largest animals ever known to have lived on Earth. These magnificent marine mammals can live in all oceans of the world, feeding in high latitudes and later migrating to the tropics to breed and give birth. The only one it does not is the Arctic, with a range that extends from the periphery of drift-ice in polar seas to the tropics. It is also absent in some seas such as the Mediterranean, Okhotsk, and Bering. Most individuals will follow a seasonal migration pattern between summering and wintering areas. However, some individuals may remain in certain areas year-round.

There are at least three distinct subspecies: B. m. musculus of the North Atlantic and North Pacific, B. m. intermedia of the Southern Ocean, and B. m. brevicauda (also known as the pygmy blue whale) found in the Indian and South Pacific Ocean. It is possible that B. m. indica, also found in the Indian Ocean, may be another subspecies.

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Animal Spotlight: Perentie Monitor

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Via Australia Zoo

Taxonomy:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Squamata
  • Family: Varanidae
  • Genus: Varanus
  • Species: giganteus
  • Average Length: 5.8 – 6.6 ft (1.8 – 2 m)
  • Average Weight: 33 lbs (15 kg)
  • Oldest Known: 19.7 years

Perentie monitors only occur in the Australian deserts: from the central coast of Western Australia to arid western Queensland and into northern half of Southern Australia. Preferring arid habitats, the perentie digs its burrows in sandy ground and are most abundant around rocky outcrops as well as gorges and ranges. It also inhabits rocky ranges, flat-topped elevated land, semi-arid savanna, caves, sand ridges, and rock crevices. The monitor is also common on Barrow Island, off the coast of Western Australia, where it is an ecologically significant top predator.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Perentie Monitor”

Featured

Animal Spotlight: Snow Leopard

Taxonomy:8fb0209ce531d37e68511f5d09ee98ed

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Felidae
  • Genus: Panthera
  • Species: uncia
  • Average Height: 1.8-2.2 ft (55-65 cm)
  • Average Body Length: 3-4 ft (0.9-1.2 m)
  • Average Tail Length: 2.5-3.4 ft (0.8-1 m)
  • Average Weight: 66-110 lbs (30-50 kg)
  • Average Lifespan: 10-20 years

These rare, beautiful gray leopards live in the mountains of Central Asia. The populations are extremely fragmented throughout the harsh, remote, mountainous regions, with the majority of snow leopards located in the Tibetan region of China. Generally found at elevations between 1,000 to 1,500 feet (3,000 to 4,500 meters), snow leopards thrive in the alpine and subalpine ecological zones where it frequents the steep terrain broken by cliffs, ridges, gullies, and rocky outcrops.

However, in some parts of Mongolia and on the Tibetan Plateau, they occur in relatively less precipitous landscape, especially if there are suitable travel routes along ridges and where sufficient cover is found. In the mountains of Russia and parts of Tian Shan, the snow leopard occurs in open coniferous forests, generally avoiding dense forests.

A snow leopard’s’ range accompanies 12 countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Snow Leopard”

Featured

Animal Spotlight: Nurse Shark

Taxonomy:

animals-nurseshark-slide1-web
Credit: George Grall, National Aquarium
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Chondrichthyes
  • Order: Orectolobiformes
  • Family: Ginglymostomatidae
  • Genus: Ginglymostoma
  • Species: cirratum
  • Average length: 12 ft (3.7 m)
  • Average Weight: 200-330 lbs (90-150 kg)
  • Average Lifespan: 25-35 years

Nurse sharks are slow-moving bottom-dwellers with small mouths. For the most part, they are harmless to humans. Because of their small mouths, they are unable to consume large fish. Instead, they will catch their prey on the seafloor, mostly by sucking their prey into their mouths. While doing this, the shark will make an unmistakable “slurping” or sucking sound, which is completely unique to this species.

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Animal Spotlight: Uguisu

Taxonomy:images

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Cettiidae
  • Genus: Cettia
  • Species: diphone
  • Also known as: Japanese Bush Warbler
  • Average Weight: 15g – 22g (0.5oz – 0.7oz)
  • Average Length: 14cm – 16.5cm (5.5in – 6.5in)
  • Average Wingspan 20cm – 22cm (7.9in – 9in)
  • Lifespan: 2-5 years

Known for its beautiful song, the Uguisu, also known as the Japanese bush warbler, is distributed throughout the Far East. While it is most common in regions throughout Japan where it is found all year round, populations exist in northeastern China, southern Russia, Korean peninsula, Taiwan, and northern Philippines.

Continue reading “Animal Spotlight: Uguisu”