An animal a day...

A little profile of an awesome animal every day.

Mimic Octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus)

The Mimic Octopus is a small octopus species that is native to the shallow seas around Indonesia and Malaysia, and have even been spotted in the Great Barrier Reef. They feed on small crustaceans and fish mainly, foraging by reaching their arms into holes in the coral to find prey hiding within.

These animals show some of the most impressive mimicry behaviour in the world. Most animals that utilize mimicry for defense will only mimic one particular species, while these octopuses have been observed mimicking up to 15 different species. When they are immobile and trying to hide, they will sometimes adopt the form of sea sponges or tubeworms. If they are attacked, the octopus will change its shape, color, and movement to look like the venomous lionfish or banded sea krait for example. They have also been observed mimicking jellyfish, flatfish, flounder and other species.

Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)

The Virginia Opossum is a marsupial species native to North and Central America. They are common across their range and can be found in suitable habitats such as woodlands, riparian areas, and increasingly in suburban or urban areas. They are adaptable and will feed off carrion, fruit, insects, snakes and small mammals. Their populations are not currently under threat, as they are quite widespread and common across their range.

Opossums are known for their predator defense technique of “playing possum.” In some cases when threatened, opossums will keel over and play dead, not moving for up to four hours if necessary. They will even secrete a foul smelling substance to convince their predators that they are dead and not worth eating. Sometimes, however, opossums will simply defend themselves with their sharp claws and teeth.

Cape Gannet (Morus capensis)

The Cape Gannet is a species of seabird found along the southern and western coast of Africa, but only breeds on six islands. They are classed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, as food has become scarcer with the collapse of the Namibian sardine fishery. Other threats to the species include increased human disturbance, pelican predation, and pollution in general. Gannet pairs will stay together for multiple breeding seasons, and the pairs will greet each other with amazing rituals when they return from hunting at sea.

Gannets have an unbelievable hunting strategy, which involved them dive-bombing into the sea at speeds of up to 90mph. The impact is immense, and it sometimes enough to stun their prey in the water. Gannets survive this impact by having extremely hard skulls, as well as inflatable air pockets in their throats and shoulders to absorb the force.

Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus)

The Ringneck Snake is a small species that is native to North America. They generally inhabit areas of woodland or riparian habitats, depending on the surrounding habitat, and can grow up to around 10-15in in length. They feed on other small animals like slugs, salamanders, lizards and worms. They subdue their prey through both constriction and doses of their venom.

Despite having venom, ringneck snakes rarely try to bite humans, or other larger animals. Instead, they usually curl up and show off their brightly colored undersides, which indicates that their venom is mostly just for feeding rather than for defense. The color of the bright yellow, orange or red bellies will vary with the subspecies, of which there are 14.

Today is the last day of World Animal Week so I have a special post about our closest companions.

Domestic Dog (Canis familiaris)

The domestic dog is one of the most familiar animals in the world, with around 70-80 million dogs owned in the United States alone. Domestic dogs come in a myriad of shapes and sizes, all descended from wild ancestors. The exact timing and other details of the domestication continue to be disputed by scientists, but the mechanism is generally agreed to be a slow and gradual domestication, with both humans and early dog ancestors benefiting from their symbiosis.

Despite humans having an exceptionally close relationship with domestic dogs, they are still abused and abandoned in staggering numbers. The ASPCA estimates that 3.9 million dogs enter shelters every year, and that 1.2 million of those are euthanized. Much of this overflow is due to overpopulation from owners not neutering or spaying their dogs. For the most up to date tips on responsible pet ownership visit websites like the ASPCA, RSPCA or ISPCA for more information (links below).

https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care

http://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/dogs

http://www.ispca.ie/pet_care_advice/

Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus)

The Little Brown Bat is native to the forests and swamplands of North America. They are insectivores and feed on everything from moths and mosquitos to beetles and wasps. They are active and feed at night, like most bats, using echolocation to find and catch their prey. During the day they roost in trees or buildings, or sometimes in caves. They are said to hibernate in the winter, but actually go into a state of extended torpor in their hibernation roosts.

Once one of the most common bats in North America, populations of Little Brown Bats have been decimated by a fungal infection called white nose syndrome. This disease has been responsible for the deaths of 5.7-6.7 million bats in North America, and there is still no known way to treat or even contain the spread of the disease. The disease is named for the characteristic white fungus that grows around the muzzle and wings of infected individuals. The effects of the epidemic have been compared to colony collapse disorder in bees, and experts worry that it will result in the extinction of at least one species of bat.

For more information on WNS visit www.whitenosesyndrome.org

Mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus)

Mandarinfish are an extremely brightly colored species of reef fish. They feed mainly on copepods, polychaete worms, fish eggs, and other tiny live prey they can find on the reefs. They belong to a group of fish called dragonets, which include other benthic fish from the Indo-Pacific. Mandarinfish are found from Southern Japan to Australia. They secrete a toxic mucus through their skin that protects them from both parasites and predators.

Due to their extraordinary appearance, these fish are a popular aquarium species. However, they are notoriously difficult to keep in aquariums because of their picky eating habits. Some fish will simply refuse to eat anything other than live amphipods and copepods, while others may eventually feed on aquarium food. Their blue color is also very interesting, as it is produced by a cellular pigment that only exists in one other species, the related psychedelic mandarin.

Tayra (Eira Barbara)

The Tayra is a small omnivorous mammal in the weasel family. It is native to the forests of Central and South America and can both climb trees and scamper around on the forest floor. They will feed on small mammals, lizards, fruits, and carrion, as well as take advantage of available treats like honey and eggs. They have been known to take unripe fruits and cache them, returning to eat when the fruits have ripened. Some indigenous people will take Tayras in as pets to assist with pest control, as they will feed on rats and mice.

While Tayras are able to live near human settlements, they are experiencing severe habitat loss in some portions of their range, namely in Mexico, due to deforestation of their natural habitat and reclamation of agricultural land. They are listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, but thought to be locally threatened in some areas for the reasons above.

Panamanian Golden Frog (Atelopus zeteki)

The Panamanian Golden Frog is a small, brightly colored frog species found in the cloud forests of Panama. These frogs are classed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN and there may be no individuals left in the wild at all. The last known wild individuals were taken into protective captivity in 2007, and captive breeding programs continue in both Panama and North America. The frogs were almost wiped out entirely by a fungal infection, chytridiomycosis, and were also threatened by development of their native regions, pollution and poaching for the pet trade.

These frogs are seen as a symbol of good luck in Panama, and they even have their own national day and are depicted on the state lottery tickets. They also can secrete a neurotoxin through their skin, which was historically used by native tribes to tip their arrows, and naturally protects them from predators.

Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans)

The Wandering Albatross has the largest wingspan of any bird in the world, with an average span of over 10 feet. They spend most of their lives in flight, and have been recorded flying 6000km in only 12 days. They land on small islands in the southern oceans to breed and feed, living on a diet of crustaceans, small fish and cephalopods. They have been known to follow large ships to feed off of their discarded waste. Wandering albatross mate for life, and pairs will generally mate every two years, beginning at as young as 7 or 8 years old. These albatross can live for over 50 years.

Wandering albatross are classed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, with its population in continuing decline. One population from the South Georgia Islands has declined by 50% in the last 40 years. It is thought that the main threat to the populations is fishing bycatch. Conservation efforts are centered on reducing this risk, while also attempting to control the numbers of cats and rats on their breeding islands.