Reindeer Games

Contrary to popular belief, reindeer cannot fly. I know, I know! I’m destroying Christmas here. The truth, however, is even more interesting. Reindeer may not be able to fly, but they sure know how to get high. More on that later.

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The reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), also known as the caribou, is a small member of the deer family found throughout the Arctic and Subarctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Reindeer travel in large herds and are well known for their extreme migrations. Some subspecies have been found to move as far as 3,100 miles in a single year. To do this, they obviously need to be able to cover huge amounts of land in a relatively short period of time. Running seems the best way to accomplish this and they do in fact excel at it. These animals can reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour when they are at a full sprint and can easily swim at 4 mph if it is necessary to cross water.

reindeer-females-and-calf-running
In the summer when reindeer move to the tundra to feed and give birth, they are plagued by swarms of bloodsucking black flies and mosquitoes. This can sometimes drive them crazy, causing members of the herd to bolt and run wildly to escape the onslaught. The stress from these biting insects is so intense that it can sometimes even inhibit their feeding and ability to give birth normally. In extreme cases black flies can drain enough blood from the animals to fatally weaken them. However, biting insects are not the only predators of reindeer; they also face larger predators. Calves are often taken by golden eagles and wolverines while gray wolves take care of the adults. Wolves are the most important reindeer predator and have an enormous impact on populations throughout their range. They keep numbers in check and rid the herds of sick and weak animals, helping a healthy and genetically diverse population continue.

Not only do predators rely on reindeer, humans have used them for hundreds of years as well for transport, meat, hide, milk, and antlers. Many nomadic people would travel with their semi-domesticated herds along their annual migration routes and tend to them along the way. In Siberia, reindeer are ridden and used to pull sleds. Their hides and meat were also sold as a source of income and many reindeer breeders still use the animals as an important economic commodity.

archangel_reindeer3
Now we get to the flying. How did that come about? There are lots of theories about how that myth started, and none of them are confirmed. The one that seems most likely and makes the most sense, however, is one related to a small, red and white psychedelic mushroom. Many of us know it from Super Mario Brothers, though there are countless other depictions of it. Reindeer are familiar with it too, as it grows all over the Northern Hemisphere within their range.

2006-10-25_amanita_muscaria_crop

The Amanita muscaria, or fly agaric, is toxic and can be fatal in high doses such as 15 caps, but reindeer are still known to eat them occasionally and the results are hysterical. Due to the psychoactive toxins, specifically muscimol, reindeer that consume these mushrooms tend to leap and prance about like drunken idiots for a while until the effects wear off. People also eat A. muscaria for recreation, though it is generally not considered the safest or most desirable psychedelic mushroom to use. It is easy to see how some Siberian reindeer herders could have been out with their herd one day and saw some of their animals eating these mushrooms and tripping. They might have thought Hey! Those guys look like they’re feeling really good. I should try some of that. So they did and then they were just sitting together watching the reindeer flip out and one of them was like “Dude. Hey, dude. Are you seeing this? Those reindeer are totally flying!” and the other replied “Yeah, man! That’s so trippy! We should tie a sled to them and then we can fly too.”
Again, there is no confirmation that these are the circumstances that led to the idea of flying reindeer, but it is true that these animals do eat mushrooms like this and behave in the ways described. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine a herder observing these behaviors, eating a mushroom, and then hallucinating while watching his herd.

Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and all that stuff.

Please enjoy these hilarious animations of incredibly derpy (maybe ‘shroom high?) reindeer by Mel Roach:

References:
1. “Rangifer Tarandus.” Red List. IUCN Red List, n.d. Web. 25 June 2015. <http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/29742/0&gt;.

2. Hagemoen, Rolf Iver M., and Eigil Reimers. “Reindeer summer activity pattern in relation to weather and insect harassment.” Journal of Animal Ecology 71.5 (2002): 883-892.

3. Walker, Matt. “Eagles Filmed Hunting Reindeer.” BBC News. BBC, 20 Oct. 2009. Web. 25 June 2015. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8314000/8314558.stm&gt;.

4. “Evenki Reindeer Herding: A History.” Cultural Survival. Culturalsurvival.org, n.d. Web. 25 June 2015. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.culturalsurvival.org%2Fpublications%2Fcultural-survival-quarterly%2Frussia%2Fevenki-reindeer-herding-history>.

5. Wasson, R. Gordon. Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971. 240. Print.

Photo and Video Links:
1. https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/0f/c2/e4/0fc2e48c97327d4e423d33f65bc4ded3.jpg

2. http://cdn1.arkive.org/media/68/6874E640-1239-4EB8-87A5-9BE8895D4A8E/Presentation.Large/Reindeer-females-and-calf-running.jpg

3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awvl0dvfTy8

4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0E6geAq1k8

5. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c7/Archangel_reindeer3.jpg

6. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/02/2006-10-25_Amanita_muscaria_crop.jpg

7. http://melaphantastic.tumblr.com/post/14299262543/reindeer-photoset-as-promised-youll-need-to

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The Origin of the Super Mario Bros. Tanooki Suit

It’s a raccoon! It’s a dog! No, it’s a raccoon dog!
The raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), also called tanuki, is a very strange little canine that sports a black bandit mask, a wonderfully fluffy coat, and short, stubby legs. It’s also freaking adorable! These pups are small members of the family Canidae that share many morphological features with foxes, as they are closely related. They get the name raccoon dog from the black, mask like markings, bushy tails, and brownish gray coat that looks a lot like raccoon fur. Their resemblance to raccoons is also reflected in their species name, procyonoides, which means raccoon-like. Raccoons belong to Procyonidae – a family including coatis, ringtails, kinkajous, and olingos, among others.

The raccoon dog is historically native to East Asia, but was introduced from the late 1920s into the ‘50s over much of Europe and European Russia for fur trapping. There are now established populations in more than 20 countries outside its endemic range. Though most of these populations are stable, the animals are widely killed for the fur trade and eaten in some countries such as Japan. Despite this, the IUCN lists them as “Least Concern”, as there is no major threat to the species’ survival as a whole.

Raccoon Dog Pelts:


Being the dogs that they are, tanukis are omnivorous and will eat anything they can find, much like domestic dogs. In many areas of their range, they come into contact with humans and dwell near urban areas. This gives them access to unlimited buffets of delicious garbage, just like a real raccoon! Though they can tolerate living in close proximity to humans, raccoon dogs prefer the wilderness. They can be found in forests with dense vegetation, mountainous regions, and even along the coast.

In day to day life, raccoon dogs tend to stay together and travel in pairs or small family groups. In the wild, tanukis are generally monogamous when it comes breeding time. Males and females will form a pair bond and stay together to raise their 5-7 puppies until they are ready to become independent. Raccoon dogs are altricial, meaning they are helpless when they are born. At birth, they have downy black fur and their eyes are closed. By 9 or 10 days, their eyes open and teeth can be seen on average at about 14 days. These dogs grow quickly and will reach sexual maturity by 10 months.

Like all dogs, raccoon dogs have an exceptional sense of smell. This super sense is used as a primary means of communication amongst a family or strangers. Groups of these animals will share communal “latrines” (because they are fancy) where they urinate and defecate. The scents associated with the leavings can reveal a lot about an individual dog, and this information is “read” by others like a Facebook status.
Vocal communication is also used, but, funnily enough, these dogs are the only member of their family that do not bark. Vocalizations consist of whines, mews, whimpers, and growls, which correspond to friendly, submissive, or aggressive behaviors.
So now that we’ve established how cute and awesome these creatures are, what does any of this have to do with Shigeru Miyamoto’s Super Mario Bros. franchise? I’ll tell you. The raccoon dog is actually the inspiration for the very useful Tanooki Suit that occurs in many Mario games. Although this suit is based on the Japanese mythology behind the small canid, it is often mistaken by people or mistranslated as a raccoon suit. This is not helped by the fact that the suit has a striped raccoon tail that is not shared by raccoon dogs. Japanese myths surrounding these dogs include their ability to use leaves to shapeshift and cause mischief. This is paralleled in the way that Mario can become Tanooki Mario by obtaining a Super Leaf, resulting in the ability to fly and transform into a statue to avoid or attack enemies.

Unfortunately, or fortunately (depends on how you look at it), real tanukis can’t fly or use leaves to transform themselves. Despite that, though, they’re pretty special pups that deserved to be acknowledged, if only for their cute little raccoon masks. It’s no wonder they’ve become such an icon in Japanese culture. Animals that have such striking visual resemblance to completely unrelated species always offer something to talk about.

References:
1. Carr, Kelly and Shefferly, Nandy, ed. “Nyctereutes procyonoides”. Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, 2004 Web. 3 September 2015. < http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Nyctereutes_procyonoides/>

2. Kauhala, K and Saeki, M. “Nyctereutes procyonoides (Raccoon Dog).” Red List. International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 2008. Web. 3 September 2015. <http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/14925/0&gt;.

3. “Raccoon Dog, Tanuki.” WAZA. World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, n.d. Web. 03 Sept. 2015. <http://www.waza.org/en/zoo/visit-the-zoo/dogs-and-hyenas/nyctereutes-procyonoides&gt;.

4. “Raccoon Dog – Nyctereutes Procyonoides (Eurasia’s Carnivores).” Large Herbivore Network. European Centre for Nature Conservation, n.d. Web. 3 Sept. 2015. <http://www.lhnet.org/raccoon-dog/&gt;.

5. “Tanooki Suit.” Super Mario Wiki, the Mario Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2015. <http://www.mariowiki.com/Tanooki_Suit&gt;.

Photo Links:
1. http://www.factzoo.com/sites/all/img/mammals/raccoon-dog.jpg

2. http://cdn1.arkive.org/media/1E/1E4C38B9-6157-4C69-A3C4-96319A82F37C/Presentation.Large/Raccoon-dog-showing-tail.jpg

3. http://image.ec21.com/image/clearfur/OF0002203462_1/Sell_Raccoon_Skin.jpg

4. http://www.weitewelt.eu/sites/default/files/styles/large/public/images/2015-05/tiere/1501-s04-07cf1onlineimagebroker-03737865kopie.jpg

5. http://cdn2.arkive.org/media/D1/D1ECD615-D732-41D2-8B86-626983F24083/Presentation.Large/Young-raccoon-dog.jpg

6. http://retrieverman.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/raccoon-dogs1.jpg

7. http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/mario/images/a/a1/Tanuki-Mario_SM3DW.png/revision/latest?cb=20140727114941&path-prefix=de

Little Kitty – Kodkod

If you have never loved and been loved in return by a cat or other pet, I would argue that you have never really lived. The love you feel for a cat and the love that a cat gives to you is among the truest and purest form that love can take. When you experience that love, you become a better person with a greater capacity to share that love with others in your life.
I have very recently lost the light of my life, Elly, the cat that has been with me for 18 years. She went on her own time out in the garden where she loved to be and had loving support all the way. I have never missed anyone so much and the pain of her death is still raw. But that pain comes from my love for her. I am so thankful for the time I was given with her and will always love her infinitely. She was the most special friend that anyone could ever have and I am glad that she went peacefully and didn’t have to suffer.
This is for Elly. I will love you forever, little girl!

The kodkod (Leopardus guigna) is the smallest wild cat in the Americas, and rivals several other species for the title of smallest cat in the world. This tiny cat barely reaches 6 pounds (smaller than the average house cat) and lives in the montane areas of Chile and a small portion of Argentina. It prefers dense undergrowth in its moist, temperate evergreen forest habitat, and can be found up to the tree line at around 6,300 feet. Although this cat is usually brownish yellow with black spots, melanism is common. The paws are large with black pads and its ears are rounded with a white spot on the back of each one. The kodkod’s short, bushy tail, small frame, and petite facial features give it the appearance of a kitten, even when it is a full grow adult.

There is still not much known about this small cat, and its populations are dwindling. An estimated 10,000 cats are left in the wild, no single population exceeding 2,000 individuals. Kodkods are sometimes killed for raiding chicken coops or accidentally caught in fox traps. The cats are also illegally trapped for their fur. Perhaps the biggest threat to the kodkod, though, is habitat loss and fragmentation. Kodkods don’t do well in deforested areas. They need at least a thick ground cover such as scrub to survive, and stick exclusively to the forested corridors around developed or farmed areas.

Kodkod held by a biologist:

In contrast to other cats, kodkods are equally active at night and during the day. Around humans, however, they are strictly nocturnal. They appear in areas where there are high numbers of small, mouse sized prey and not many larger predators. This relative lack of competition gives them the opportunity to flourish on the abundance of food and raise their one to three kittens.

There are many conservation laws and programs in place to protect this special little cat and its close relatives like the oncilla and Geoffroy’s cat. We treat our pets as family and give them all the love we have, doing whatever we can to support them. Why can’t we show wild cats this same love? They’re really not that different.

References:
1. “Kodkod.” Felidae Conservation Fund. Felidae Conservation Fund, 2013. Web. 22 July 2015. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.felidaefund.org%2F%3Fq%3Dspecies-kodkod>.

2. “Guigna Facts.” Big Cat Rescue. Bigcatrescue.org, 15 Mar. 2015. Web. 22 July 2015. <http%3A%2F%2Fbigcatrescue.org%2Fkodkod-guigna-facts%2F>.

3. “Kodkod.” International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) Canada. ISEC Canada, 2014. Web. 22 July 2015. <http://www.wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/south-america/kodkod/&gt;.

4. Napolitano, C., Gálvez, N., Bennett, M., Acosta-Jamett, G., and Sanderson, J. “Leopardus Guigna (Chilean Cat, Guiña, Kodkod).” Red List. International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 2015. Web. 22 July 2015. <http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15311/0&gt;.

Photo and Video Links:

1. http://img.gawkerassets.com/img/19f63e2x0w2a8jpg/original.jpg

2. http://cdn1.arkive.org/media/5A/5A8BB63F-15B3-4790-BD8C-648E9DEE9C98/Presentation.Large/Guigna-being-held-by-scientist.jpg

3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFA6hxfnVjM

4. http://d.ibtimes.co.uk/en/full/1360845/chile-cat.jpg

It Don’t Give a S**t! – Honey Badger

Yes, it’s finally time for one of the Internet’s most popular animals – the honey badger! Made famous by this video (warning, some language [also, the cobra in the video is not a king cobra]).

The honey badger (Mellivora capensis), also called the ratel, is a large Mustelid (member of the weasel family) that lives in sub-Saharan Africa. Males can reach 11 inches at the shoulder and a little over three feet in length, while females are slightly smaller. This animal has loose skin that allows it to twist out of an attacker’s grasp easily and without damage. The skin around its neck is thicker and has evolved as a defense during fights. Not only does the honey badger have good defenses, it also has good offense. These Mustelids possess long and very powerful claws as well as a strong jaw that can even break through a tortoise’s shell. The claws, however, are used primarily for excavation of burrows for shelter. Honey badger burrows are only a few meters in length and serve as a nesting chamber. If they can, they will sometimes use abandoned aardvark or warthog burrows instead of digging one for themselves. Not much is known about honey badger reproduction, but a female honey badger’s gestation period is suspected to be approximately six months and she usually gives birth to two cubs. These cubs remain blind for a little while after they are born and are dependent on the mother for some time.

Honey badgers, like wolverines and other large members of the weasel family, are very aggressive and will attack most other animals if they feel threatened. There are even incidents of honey badgers fighting against larger predators like lions or species of wild canine. Sometimes they will even steal kills from these predators. Not many other animals prey on honey badgers and they are generally left alone because they are such tireless fighters and wear opponents out easily.

When it comes to diet, honey badgers are typically carnivorous. They will eat anything they find including eggs, lizards, birds, snakes, rodents, tortoises, frogs, insects, and even sometimes dead human bodies that they dig up. Roots, berries, and other vegetation is also part of their diet, as is honey. Honey is one of their favorite foods, as the name suggests, and they will go to great lengths to destroy beehives to get to it. Though it is disputed, there are undocumented accounts of greater honeyguides (Indicator indicator) leading honey badgers to hives. Bee stings have a minimal effect this animal because its skin is so tough and impervious. This lets the honey badger eat the honey and bee larvae that it exposes at its leisure. However, there are still occurrences of badgers dying while caught in traps due the large number of bee stings they have received. It also has a reversible anal pouch that produces an extremely strong smell which is thought to calm the bees and ward off predators.

In many areas where there are large human populations, honey badgers have adapted to raid livestock and poultry. These very determined animals will rip apart chicken coops to gain access to the birds and their eggs. If caught, a honey badger will aggressively defend itself and prove very hard to kill. Not only have honey badgers become a nuisance in farming areas, but they are an excellent reservoir for the rabies virus in Kenya as well. This poses a danger to both other wild animals in the area and humans and pets who are unlucky enough to encounter a rabid badger.
Overall, the honey badger is not an animal that should be treated with nonchalance. Although it might be kind of cute, it should be given plenty of space and respect.

References:
1. Begg, Keith, and Colleen Begg. “The Honey Badger – Mellivora Capensis.” The Honey Badger. Cocopine Web Solutions, 2014. Web. 25 June 2015. <http://www.honeybadger.com/index.html&gt;.

2. Stankowich, Theodore, Tim Caro, and Matthew Cox. “Bold coloration and the evolution of aposematism in terrestrial carnivores.” Evolution 65.11 (2011): 3090-3099.

3. Kruuk, H. “Transmitting Disease to People and Livestock.” Hunter and Hunted: Relationships between Carnivores and People. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2002. 94. Print.

4. Hamerton, Denise. “Mellivora Capensis (Honey Badger).” Biodiversity Explorer. Iziko: Museums of Cape Town, n.d. Web. 25 June 2015. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.biodiversityexplorer.org%2Fmammals%2Fcarnivora%2Fmellivora_capensis.htm>.

5. Sheidt, Mike. “Mellivora Capensis.” Adaptations. University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, 2007. Web. 25 June 2015. <https://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/s2014/scheidt_mich/adaptation.htm&gt;.

Photo and Video Links:
1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4r7wHMg5Yjg

2. http://cdn1.arkive.org/media/39/39F908C6-31A3-4057-A06A-F589EF60DDB2/Presentation.Large/Female-honey-badger-with-young.jpg

3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iksnk1YVkac

4. http://www.aeffonline.org/images/honeybadgerinhive.jpg

5. http://cdn1.arkive.org/media/27/27E4B029-1285-4464-BE48-73CC8E46F297/Presentation.Large/Adult-honey-badger-foraging.jpg

Tiny King of the Desert – Southern Grasshopper Mouse

True or False:
All mice only eat seeds and other plant based food.

If you chose true, you’re wrong!

There is actually such thing as a carnivorous mouse! It lives in the Sonoran Desert of the American Southwest and Northern Mexico and is the worst nightmare of many an arthropod. The Southern grasshopper mouse (Onychomys torridus) is a tiny and ridiculously vicious predator of anything from deadly Arizona bark scorpions (Centruroides sculpturatus), tarantulas, giant desert centipedes (Scolopendra heros), and lizards, to even other small mammals – its own species included. Larger prey items like lizards or rodents are killed with a bite through the spinal cord at the base of the skull. Other prey are ripped apart and eaten bit by bit.

Being mice, these animals are small, but they are able to take down prey much larger than themselves. They reach maturity at a young age, as do other mice, and are weaned of their mother’s milk and able to eat whatever is brought to them by 20 days. Litters consist of 1-5 mice and these babies become sexually mature by day 40. Females have their first litters between 4 and 5 months of age and raise them in a burrow stolen from another rodent (which may have been killed and eaten during the eviction process).

grasshopper_mouse_scorpion

One of the most impressive things about Southern grasshopper mice is that they are able to take on venomous scorpions like C. sculpturatus with no ill effects. How do they do this?

When it comes to scorpion stings, these mice just don’t care. They don’t just ignore the pain, they don’t even feel it. This is because they have special pain pathways that are affected very differently by scorpion venom than other mammals. Normally, painful sensations are sent to the central nervous system (CNS) via the tetrodotoxin-sensitive (TTX-S) Nav1.7 and tetrodotoxin-resistant (TTX-R) Nav1.8 voltage-gated sodium channels in the dorsal root ganglia (DRG). The Nav1.7 is activated while Nav1.8 is left alone, and a signal is sent to the CNS.
Ashlee Rowe and colleagues experimented in the lab to find out how the venom affects these sodium channels in the grasshopper mouse. They injected nonlethal doses of Centruroides venom into the paws of both grasshopper mice and house mice (Mus musculus), which served as the control species. In addition to venom, they also injected saline and formalin, another painful chemical. These served as negative and positive controls, respectively. The behavior of the mice and the responses of the DRG neurons were measured.
As expected, house mice spent a lot of time licking the paws injected with venom and with formalin, but showed little response to saline. In contrast, grasshopper mice with venom injections only licked their paw for a few seconds before returning to normal behavior. They actually showed more irritation in response to the saline than the venom. When treated with formalin, the grasshopper mice licked the injured paw significantly more than in response to venom, but still less than house mice did. This indicates that their resistance to pain is specific to scorpion venom, and does not spread to other pain inducing chemicals.

When sodium currents in the Nav1.8 DRG neurons were measured in grasshopper mice, it was found that the venom actually inhibited these currents on a dose dependent scale. House mouse neurons showed no alteration in current, as is typical for most mammals. For Nav1.7 action potentials to be sustained after initial propagation, the sodium currents in Nav1.8 are necessary. Under the influence of scorpion venom, the researchers predicted inhibition of Nav1.8 to decrease excitation of the membranes and firing of action potentials. This is exactly what they discovered. The venom significantly decreased the excitation and blocked firing in grasshopper mouse neurons. The opposite occurred in house mice, supporting the expected, standard mammal response.
In short, the grasshopper mouse feels no pain in response to Centruroides venom thanks to the signals never reaching the CNS. Understanding how this mouse’s nociceptors work differently could have implications in medical treatment for human pain.
Whew! That was a lot of complicated science! Let’s get back into something a little more fun and simple.
Can this little rodent get any more bad ass than it already is? The answer is yes, it can! Not only do grasshopper mice take down and devour some of the most fearsome creatures in the desert, they also advertise their reign as tiny kings with howling war cries. That’s right! These mice howl at the moon like miniature wolves. As a species, they are very territorial and will let others know who the top mouse is by rearing up on their hind legs, throwing back their heads, and emitting a high, carrying howl after they make a kill.

If you ever go camping in the Sonoran desert and you hear the strange, whistling cry of a grasshopper mouse, you can be pretty sure that there’s one less bark scorpion to come crawling into your tent at night.

References:
1. McCarty, Richard. “Onychomys torridus.” Mammalian Species (1975): 1-5.

2. Reardon, Sara. “Mouse Eats Scorpions and Howls at the Moon.” Zoologger. New Scientist, 11 Jan. 2013. Web. 14 July 2015. <https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23072-zoologger-mouse-eats-scorpions-and-howls-at-the-moon/&gt;.

3. Wade, Lizzie. “Mouse Impervious to Scorpion’s Sting.” Science Magazine. AAAS, 24 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 July 2015. <http%3A%2F%2Fnews.sciencemag.org%2Fbiology%2F2013%2F10%2Fmouse-impervious-scorpions-sting>.

4. Rowe, Ashlee H., et al. “Voltage-gated sodium channel in grasshopper mice defends against bark scorpion toxin.” Science 342.6157 (2013): 441-446.

Photo and Video Links:
1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcYW31N96b4

2. http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/files/2013/10/Grasshopper_mouse_scorpion.jpg

3. http://www.mammalogy.org/uploads/imagecache/library_image/library/1170.jpg

4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Xa-GSm1P0I

Foxy Faced – Mariana Fruit Bat

This leathery winged, furry bodied creature is not nearly as creepy as a good number of its relatives. In fact, depending on who you talk to (are they afraid of bats?), it’s downright adorable. The Mariana fruit bat (Pteropus mariannus), or Mariana flying fox, is a large, fuzzy, and endangered bat living primarily on Guam in the Pacific Islands. Although mostly nocturnal like the majority of bat species, these fruit bats will also use the day to breed, mark their territories with scent, or groom each other to form and strengthen social bonds. They live in large colonies together in tropical and subtropical forests with sparse undergrowth and relatively taller trees scattered throughout that reach above the main canopy. Roosting mainly takes place in different species of fig, pandanus, coconut, and hibiscus trees.

Mariana fruit bats are quite strikingly colored for a bat, and possess coats of blackish brown fur with silvery streaks and golden-brown or yellow necks and shoulders. Their faces have very canine features, hence the name “flying fox”, with their pointed snouts, slightly rounded ears, and large eyes. Their powerful wings are black and account for the majority of their total size. Wingspans can range from a little over 33 inches to almost 42 inches while the body is less than a foot long at just a bit over eight inches. It is not known for sure how long this particular species of bat lives, but similar species have been recorded to live for about 30 years in captivity.
When a bunch of Mariana fruit bats form colonies together, these colonies are usually made up of many breeding harems consisting of several females (2-15) and a male. Some other groups contain non-breeding bachelor males and there are also often a few lone, non-breeding males near the edges of the colony. There is no specific mating season for these bats and breeding takes place throughout the year. However, female bats will only produce one pup per year and take care of that pup until it can fend for itself. Babies cling their mothers and are carried around until they are too big. When roosting, a mother bat will envelop her baby in her wings to protect it.

Though they lead a relatively sedentary lifestyle and only stay in one specific spot, Mariana fruit bats are strong fliers and can travel long distances to find food. This food is (obviously) fruit, but flowers and leaves will occasionally be chosen as well. Many different fruits are eaten by these bats and preferred fruits include coconut, figs, papayas, cycad seeds, breadfruit, pandanus fruit, and umbrella tree fruit. Bats will normally fly six to seven miles to feeding sites, but will sometimes even go as far as 60 across to other islands. The phrase “blind as a bat” does not apply to these fruit bats, as they navigate and seek out fruit using their excellent vision and keen sense of smell.

Traditionally, and even still today, native Pacific Islanders would kill and eat these bats, considering their meat a delicacy. Thankfully, they are protected as an endangered species now and there are fines and the threat of imprisonment to discourage hunting or poaching of Mariana fruit bats. In addition to legal protection, it has also been found that these fruit bats are major bioaccumulators. They build up toxins in their bodies from the poisonous cycad seeds they eat and from pesticides such as DDT and other toxic chemicals. Eating the meat of the bats can lead to a neuropathological degenerative disease identified as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis-Parkinsonian dementia complex. The long and obnoxious-to-say name reflects the seriousness of a disease such as this. It keeps progressing until it eventually leads to death. This disease comes from the toxins accumulated from the cycad seeds that bats feed on. You’d think this would be enough of a deterrent to keep people from trying to eat the poor creatures, but humans seem to prove themselves over and over again as being notoriously stubborn and nonsensical. Maybe if this continues and more and more people get sick, they will finally stop and the Mariana fruit bats will be safer. You never know.

References:
1. Wilson, Don E., and DeeAnn M. Reeder. “Order Chiroptera.” Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2005. 340. Print.

2. Crichton, Elizabeth G., and Philip H. Krutzsch. “Year-round Harems with Less Stable Female Composition.” Reproductive Biology of Bats. San Diego, CA: Academic, 2000. 334. Print.

3. Pickrell13, John. “Bat-Eating Linked to Neurological Illness.” National Geographic News. National Geographic Society, 13 June 2003. Web. 23 June 2015. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/06/0613_030613_bateaters.html&gt;.

4. “Endangered Species in the Pacific Islands.” Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office. US Fish and Wildlife Service, 20 Sept. 2012. Web. 23 June 2015. <http://www.fws.gov/pacificislands/fauna/marianabat.html&gt;.

Photo Links:
1. http://animal.memozee.com/ArchOLD-4/1128059751.jpg

2. https://c2.staticflickr.com/6/5511/9159953896_b358c98425_b.jpg

3. http://www.fws.gov/home/feature/2013/Mariana_Fruit_bat.jpg

4. http://www.konicaminolta.com/kids/endangered_animals/library/sky/img/marianas-flying-fox_img01-l.jpg

American Marten

The American marten (Martes americana) is without a doubt one of the cutest North American mammals. Quick, agile, and active, it is an opportunistic predator that loves to eat small mammals like mice, voles, snowshoe hares, and squirrels. It will also take insects, birds, and a variety of fruit when it finds them. The marten is a mustelid, or member of the weasel family, and is found throughout Northern North America in mature coniferous and mixed hardwood forests. It has a very large territory for being such a small animal and this can be up to about six square miles. It is mostly solitary and male and female interaction doesn’t occur often at anytime other than during breeding season. Even then, there is no bond formed between pairs and a female will go into heat several times, taking a different male as her partner each time. After courtship and mating, the female goes off alone to raise her young, called kits. The kits are adult size and ready to go off on their own by three and a half months of age.

American martens are largely arboreal and spend a good amount of their time in the trees. They generally do their hunting on the ground, but will occasionally go on fast chases through the trees after squirrels, which are a particularly special treat. Living in cold, Northern climates, martens are very well adapted to the snow. In fact, you are more likely to find a marten where there is a thick covering of snow on the ground. These little mammals have a hard time retaining their own body heat because they have very limited fat reserves, so snow provides a safe place to hide and insulate their bodies while they enter a shallow torpor on colder days. A torpor is a thermoregulatory process that slows down an animal’s metabolism and reduces body heat. It is used to conserve energy when food supplies get low or when it is too cold for the animal to function normally. This saves energy that would have otherwise been used to maintain body heat. In some periods of the winter, American martens will go into a torpor almost daily. The rest of the time, they will thermoregulate themselves by changing their activity and behavior. Hunting and foraging is one way that they keep themselves warm. Another way is tunneling long distances under the surface of the snow. Some marten snow tunnels can reach up to almost 100 feet!

A common misnomer is to call these animals pine martens. True pine martens (Martes martes) occur in Europe, not North America. However, our martens are sometimes also called American pine martens, which could be considered more correct, as it designates their geographical origin. When unsure of an animal’s common name, it is always better to go by its scientific name, if known, to avoid error.

American martens measure from 1.8 to 2.2 feet long and weigh up to three pounds. They have sharp, semi-retractable claws like a cat as well as rounded, catlike ears. Their fur is very soft and silky which led to them being heavily trapped for their pelts during the early 1900s. This drastically reduced their populations, but now the species has recovered and American martens have been introduced in areas where they were once extinct. Today, there are still periodic pelt collections for the purpose of population control, but this doesn’t make a significant impact on overall marten numbers. I personally don’t think they should be trapped at all. American martens are important predators in their ecosystems and keep other small mammal populations in check through their predation. If there is a marten population boom, there will be less food available for each marten and the population control will occur naturally because of that prey scarceness. It shouldn’t be up to humans to decide when the population of an animal becomes too large. Especially with animals as adorable as the American marten. I’m sure their fur is lovely, but it looks much better on a live, frisky marten running through the snow and playing in the trees.

References:
1. Stone, Katharine. 2010. Martes americana. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ [2015, May 20].

2. “American Pine Marten.” The Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy, n.d. Web. 21 May 2015. <http://www.nature.org/newsfeatures/specialfeatures/animals/mammals/pine-marten.xml&gt;.

Photo Links:
1. http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ma7nv7qdtg1rzpxtno1_400.jpg

2. http://cdn1.arkive.org/media/09/097AFA59-671C-4700-802F-41B36D7C973D/Presentation.Large/American-marten-in-snowy-habitat.jpg

3. http://sites.naturalsciences.org/education/treks/yellowstone/2006/images/Pine%20marten%20on%20branch%20(side%20view).jpg

4. http://seancrane.com/blogphotos/pine_marten_4.jpg