Thursday, January 19, 2006

34 Biodiversity Hotspots

Conservation International has an interesting website devoted to the world's 34 biodiversity hotspots. A hotspot is a place with a large number of endemic species (found nowhere else). CI has identified 34 of these areas whose remaining habitat represent less than 3% of the world's land area, yet are home to 50% of the world's plant species and over 40% of terrestrial vertebrates. All of these hotspots are under heavy pressure having lost at least 70% of their original area to development or mismanagement.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

We are from France - Coneheads in America

I would have guessed the record for the loudest insect in the United States would go to one of the cicadas, however the record goes to the Robust Conehead Katydid which has a incredibly loud buzzing song that can be heard at 500 meters. I'm pretty sure I tried to sleep in a field at Fort Dix, New Jersey with a few of these and other types of Katydids making an incredible racket around me.

An interesting website I found is called the Singing Insects of North America. Its a collection of files, including audio on the major groups of singing insects, the grasshoppers, Katydids and Crickets and the Cicadas.

I also learned about some critters I never knew about, large western ground crickets called Grigs. They remind me a bit of the gigantic New Zealand crickets called Wetas. A female Wetapunga has the record for the world's heaviest insect. She weighed 71 grams and was 85mm long without the ovipositor. That's about the weight of 3 mice.

A new book is out on the Field Guide to the Grasshoppers, Katydids and Crickets of the United States. It should spark more interest in these noisy little beasts.

For the definitive Orthoptera site see the Orthoptera Species File Online.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Moths of La Selva, Cost Rica

There are an estimated 200-300,000 species of moths on earth. Some are among the most spectacular creatures you could ever imagine with electric colors that don't seem like they could be natural. The times I have spent in the collections of Harvard University and the American Museum of Natural History have been times of wonderful discovery. Each new specimen drawer yielding something new and exciting to me. I worked in the lab of Dr. David Wagner at the University of CT and assisted in several biological inventories of rare habitats with him. There is nothing like a humid night in the summer running the Mercury Vapor Lamps with hundreds of insects clinging to the white sheet. In the tropics the sheet might have so many insects that you can't see the sheet anymore.

Dave Wagner has done some fieldwork in Costa Rica at La Selva Biological Research Station studying the Lepidoptera. He has an online checklist of some of the species that he's come across during his trips there. The database section has a pulldown menu to select families of moths. Start with the Arctiidae (Tiger Moths) and the Saturniidae (Giant Silk Moths) and then explore some of the other families. I hope you are struck with the incredible diversity. Dave thinks the final list may include up to 7000 species from La Selva alone.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Hunting Long-Horned Beetles in Iran

I love to read about natural history expeditions no matter what type of animal or plant they are looking for, whether tigers in India, new birds in Peru, or insects in New England. Invariably many interesting things are seen and new things are learned about the areas biota. Often it satisfies some of our curiosity about an exotic location. This website describes a recent expedition to collect Cerambicids (Long-horned Beetles) from Iran by a group from the Czech Republic. Along with fantastic pictures of the country and wildlife, the text is great reading for those with an interest in Natural History.

I think what I like best is when the participants passion for their subject shines through. Think about some of the TV naturalists like Sir David Attenborough or Jeff Corwin. It makes it so much better and their exitement is infectious.


Friday, January 06, 2006

African Birding - Democratic Republic of the Congo

This country has had a sad recent history starting with problems of the Belgian colony followed by the kleptocracy of Mobutu Sese-Seko when it was called Zaire and the most recent wars starting in1998. The International Rescue Committee has named the conflict the worst humanitarian disaster since World War II and claim that over 4 million people have died.

Despite its overwhelming human problems it is a country rich in natural wonders and cultural heritage from the volcanic Virunga Mountains to the Pygmy Hunters of the Ituri Forest to the great Congo Forests. Hopefully the people of the DRC will emerge from their struggles to once again enjoy life in their rich and beautiful nation.

In the mid 1990's Tommy Pedersen, a Norwegian pilot and birder flew airliners around Zaire. He now flies for Emirates Air. His website documents some of the 1140 species of birds found in the DRC including the endemic Congo Peacock (Afropavo) and the Congo Bay Owl.

The most famous mammals of the DRC have to be the Gorilla, both Lowland and Mountain subspecies. Also the fascinating Okapi, the Giraffe's only living relative and one of the last large mammals discovered in Africa.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

An Animal You Should Know: The Aardvark

One of the purposes of this blog is to introduce readers animals that they otherwise might know nothing about. The Aardvark, AKA Earthpig or Antbear is one cool beast that you should get to know. The only Aardvark I've seen was in the Philadelphia zoo. Recent molecular studies have placed them as a sort of proto-ungulate closer to pigs and cattle than to the anteaters and pangolins which were previously thought to be its closest relatives.

Looking like a cross between a rabbit and a pig these ant and termite eating critters live throughout Africa. They use their powerful claws to break into termite mounds and can dig faster than several men with shovels in soft dirt.

The link below gives some additional info from The Ultimate Ungulate Page - an internet guide to the world's hoofed mammals. It's a very interesting site worth exploring. You will definitely find some large mammals that you never knew existed like the Vietnamese Saola, only discovered in 1992.


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The world of naked animals

This was new to me. I've heard of hairless rats and mice and even some breeds of dogs and cats and my favorite the naked chicken but hairless guineapigs and hamsters!

I found a site devoted to two strains of hairless or nearly hairless guinea pigs called the Nearly Hairless Cavies Club. Through some links I also found out about the "Alien Hamster" - a nearly hairless beast that deserves the "cutest of naked small mammals" award. Ugliest goes to the naked mole rat.

Alliance for Zero Extinction

This organization seeks to limit global extinctions, both plant and animal, by bringing together international biodiversity groups to identify the most vulnerable areas. There is a lot of interesting information on their website.

The interactive map is an interesting place to explore with clickable sites. I clicked on a site in Bermuda and found that there are no endemic mammals or amphibians. The one reptile, the Bermuda skink is the only native land vertebrate other than birds. The two endemic birds are the Cahow or Bermuda petrel and a race of the white-eyed vireo. The forests of Bermuda are filled with endemic trees including the Bermuda Cedar (Juniperus bermudiana).

Monday, January 02, 2006

Snow Bugs

Most people think that all the insects and other invertebrates are hibernating during the New England winter, actually there are a few species that can be regularly seen in the winter.

Yesterday I took a short walk down to the creek that runs along our property with my kids. We had about 4 inches of new snow.

Under a board I found a very sluggish woodlouse. I reminded my son how he had eaten a handful of them when he was 3. I had been keeping two species found around our house in a styrofoam cup with some potato peels to eat. One species was gray a flattened, the others we called pillbugs could roll themselves up into a little ball. The seemed happy and had many baby woodlice. My son got the cup and sat under the dining room table popping the pillbugs in his mouth. I'm not sure how many he ate, but he put a dent in the population.

On our walk yesterday we also found quite a few snow fleas, a small black springtail that can be found on the surface of the snow on mild days. We also found a spider walking around. The best find for me was a female snow scorpionfly, a flightless insect that feeds on mosses and is active as an adult during the winter. This was only the second time I've ever seen one.

In the spring around March we tend to get good numbers of winter stoneflies crawling around on the snow. Here's a group that monitors winter stonefly hatches as an indicator of water quality.