The Red River Hog, Potamochoerus porcus, lives in the rainforests of western Africa below the Sahara desert. It has a bit of a crazy appearance, with its bright red fur, tufted ears, and scalloped skull complete with knobby tusks on the larger males. It even has a white stripe down its back and extra long fur on its flanks. Males have whiskers. Unlike domestic pigs, this cousin is covered in fur with no areas of visible skin. However, like most pig species, red river hogs are omnivorous, eating just about anything they can find while rooting around in the soil and leaf litter with their sensitive snouts.
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The Australian Brush-Turkey is one of only three megapodes still living wild in Australia today. It has black plumage, a bald red head and yellow wattles, and a tail that fans out vertically like a fish tail, so that it looks rather crazy from any angle! 🙂
The banded linsang, Prionodon linsang, is so elusive that most clear pictures of it feature a stuffed specimen, like the one below. Pictures of live linsangs tend to be either blurry or partially blocked by vegetation – however there are a few decent pics in the links below. Banded linsangs are the rarest species of civet and are sometimes called the tiger-civet due to its stripes or “bands”. These bands break up into spots along the sides, but are still distinct on the long tail. There are two species of linsang — one living on the mainland of southeast Asia, and this one living further south at the edge of the mainland and onto the islands of Indonesia and Malaysia. This species has a body about 15 inches long with a tail about 13 inches. Not much is known about its reproductive habits except that male offspring wander off away from mom soon after weaning, while females tend to hang around a bit longer. Linsangs are mostly carnivorous, eating birds, lizards, squirrels, and rats.
The colorful and unique Christmas Tree Worm, Spirobranchus giganteus, adds to the excitement of diving in tropical coral reefs all around the world. Their colorful plumes, always appearing as an identical pair, are used for both breathing and feeding. The plumes are covered with tiny hairs that trap food in the water and sweep it towards the animal’s mouth.
Dik-diks are not quite the smallest hoofed critters on the planet, but they are pretty close! The Kirk’s Dik-dik, Madoqua kirkii, lives as pairs of mates with their children, in the savannahs of eastern and southwestern Africa. There are three other dik-dik species, all in Africa. These tiny little horned antelope stand right around one foot (12 to 14 inches) at the shoulder — smaller than most dogs and lighter than many cats! Female dik-diks are larger, but males have horns, often showing distinct rings. Dik-diks are herbivores but do not eat grass, preferring other green plants, plant shoots (new growth), berries, and other fruits.
Virunga National Park lies on DR Congo’s eastern border with Uganda, in eastern Africa. This is home to the famed Mountain Gorillas but also features hippos, lions, forest elephants, the golden cat, and the okapi. This was Africa’s first national park, originally named Albert NP after King Albert I of Belgium in 1925 before the time of independence. Since then, the park has suffered greatly from unstable politics and threats of oil exploitation. However, dedicated naturalists and park rangers have brought the park back from the edge of destruction and made it a thriving tourist attraction and safe home for wildlife.
Kenilworth Ivy or Ivy-Leaved Toadflax, Cymbalaria muralis, was originally native to Mediterranean Europe but has been naturalized to the UK and parts of the USA for hundreds of years. It is widely planted in rock gardens and along garden pathways. This hardy snapdragon-like plant is an edible and a Stepable Plant that matures to just a few inches tall, but is often found creeping along or cascading over a stone wall or ledge, the whole plant being several feet long. The purple toadflax-like flowers have two lips with bright yellow spots on the lower one. Flowers draw back into the soil or rock crevice once fertilized.
Native Americans used the peeling bark of the paper birch, Betula papyrifera, as a waterproof covering or even container (such as a drinking cup or ladle). This hardy tree forms beautiful stands of white-bark trees from the southeast United States, across to Alaska. It is absent from the southwest, but extends far north into Canada. The serrated edge leaves appear alternate on the branches — or in groups of 2 or 3. In the spring, the dangling male catkins are about 3 inches long, female about half that length. The tree produces winged fruits in late summer or early autumn.
The American Goldfinch, Spinus tristis, is one of North America’s last birds to get started building a family. In July, when other bird families include fledglings aplenty, the thistles are just starting to bloom. This signals the conspicuous bright yellow male goldfinch and his olive colored mate to start building a nest, constructed mostly of thistle down. When the eggs finally hatch, the thistles have gone to seed — the perfect time to start feeding chicks! Parent goldfinches serve their nestlings a milky cereal-like substance made of thistle seed — the bird world’s closest thing to mammal milk!
The stickpins or stubble lichens are 30 species in the genus Calicium, which often grow on live branches of trees such as giant redwoods. Below is a closeup of the fruiting body of Calicium adaequatum, sometimes called the “tiny daisy” lichen. Click the links below the pic to see just how minute these bodies really are…! Our Creator sure likes to put a lot of detail into tiny structures! 😀
This uniquely patterned flower goes by several names including Checkered Lily, Snake’s Head Fritillary, and Guinea Hen Flower. It is Fritillaria meleagris, the genus name meaning (basically) checkered and the species name referring to guinea fowl. This plant is native to Eurasia from the UK across into western Russia. It is also widely grown as a spring bulb in gardens all across the USA. Certainly planting a few of these bulbs would provide a new conversation starter for any garden!
The tufted capuchin, Sapajus apella, is a social little monkey living in the dry canyons of the Amazon river basin, in South America. This little primate is somewhat famous for its use of stones to break open hard nuts. It also eats a variety of fruits and small animals such as insects and even rats! You can watch a family of tufted capuchins survive and thrive throughout one whole year in the BBC Earth movie, Wild Brazil. Highly recommended viewing!
The Crucifix Toad, also called the Holy Cross Frog, Notaden bennettii, lives in the dry outback of eastern Australia. When it gets too dry, this little guy burrows deep underground and goes into a semi-hibernating state, like many of his neighbors. However, it is the substance secreted by this little amphibian that makes it special. When disturbed by insects or other threats, the Crucifix Toad secretes a sticky substance known to be one of the strongest natural adhesives in the world. It will even stick metal to metal! Even more valuable, it is being used inside human bodies for medical purposes, far exceeding the usefulness of limited protein-based and synthetic bonding agents currently being used. Check out the links below for more interesting tidbits!
Kaziranga National Park lies in the far northeastern portion of India, just south of the Himalayan Mountains. It is home to two-thirds of the world’s population of endangered one-horned rhinoceroses and has the highest density of tigers of all protected areas in the world. This area also protects Asian elephants, water buffaloes and swamp deer, along with thousands of birds. Check out the links below to learn more about this ecological hot spot!
The fishing cat, Prionailurus viverrinus, lives in the wetlands of India and southeast Asia, where its natural habitat is being replaced with homes and farmland. This endangered species of wild cat is about twice the size of most domestic house cats, about 10 to 12 inches at the shoulder and very stocky. Just like its name implies, this feline is an avid swimmer and hunts fish and other aquatic animals in rivers, streams, and swampy areas.
I just love this name: the Spiny Cream Spider Flower! This shrub grows up to about 6 feet tall, in the outback of Western Australia. It usually flowers twice per year and its leaves are slightly prickly and finely divided. Straight white hairs line the branches and the fruit looks like wrinkly green bean seeds.
The Pyrenean Desman, Galemys pyrenaicus, is one of only two species of desmans in the world. This small aquatic insectivore lives in Spain and northern Portugal, near the Pyrenees mountains. They use their long, sensitive, flexible snout to search for underwater prey — tiny invertebrates such as insects, snails, and small shrimp. Desmans are related to moles and share several characteristics with them, including poor eyesight. Desmans, however, have more powerful hindquarters for propelling them through water.
The Natural Wall is a rock formation in northern Michigan which appears man-made due to its brick-like structure. Lying along the Keweenaw Fault in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where the land juts out into Lake Superior just south of Canada, this is a very rare near-vertical slope of natural sandstone. Visitors can trek along the riverbank to access the site, but are advised that the trip may entail traversing mud and large water puddles, along with some rocky terrain. Visit the sites below for more pics and directions to the site — but be aware that the area is private rather than public land.
Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) is a flowering shrub or small tree native to China and Korea and cultivated widely in the southeastern United States, Australia, and elsewhere. It has one of the longest flowering seasons, up to 4 months of brilliant summer flowers. There are several varieties of this plant, many which are named after Native American tribes. The flowers can be white, purple, red, or a wide variety of pinkish colors.
This unique Superfamily of insects, the Cercopoidea, has nymphs that encase themselves in what looks like spit (= spittlebugs) in order to protect them from heat and cold as well as from predators and parasites. The young insects use plant juices to make their own acrid concoctions. As adults, these insects can hop many times their length, thus gaining them the alternative name, Froghoppers. Click the links below the pic for more pics and info on these resourceful bugs!