Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Ermine

The ermine is an arctic animal much like a weasel. It populates the tundra climates of Canada, the USA, and Eurasia, and mostly hunts for its food underground (yes, this cute furry animal is a carnivore.) It has adapted very well to the unbearably cold tundra climates, often making its habitats in tree roots off of the tundra and hunting in burrows under the snow. The creature is thin and long, allowing it to burrow through the tunnels of the animals it preys on, most often favoring the lemming. Lemmings are cute and delicious furry rodents resembling domesticated hamsters and gerbils. They are herbivores and are commonly associated with "lemming suicide", a phenomenon that has been around for centuries, stating that the lemming migrations are really mass suicides in which the lemmings drown themselves or jump off of cliffs. This theory holds no truth, but shows up in a lot of media, especially from the earlier 1900s. Anyway, enough about lemmings-- the ermine has a magical coat that transforms from a summer and fall brown to a brilliant winter white to blend in better with its climate. The only part of the body that isn't white is the tip of the ermine's tail, which stays a jet black.

This nasty carnivore has a set of 34 sharp teeth, which helps it to trap and kill prey larger than itself. Ermines are, fortunately, neither threatened nor endangered. This arctic weasel is even more unique because of its extremely flexible spine, which allows it to engage in a "marten run", in which the hind feet are tucked by the front feet. The animal reaches maturity very early, which helps maintain its population in such a hostile climate.

Sorry, I had to.

How can this cute fluffy animal be a nasty and scary carnivore, preying on the innocent lemmings? I mean, apparently they also enjoy their whole grains....

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Aye-Aye

This animal's name is only the first highly peculiar thing about it.  It's a type of lemur that originates in Madagascar, and uses its long middle finger to pull grubs out of small holes in trees to forage for its food.  This middle finger is similar to the usage of a woodpecker beak, and it was adapted to give the animal an advantage in finding food for survival.  Now let's take a look at this quite peculiar creature:

Scary.  This animal sort of looks like it crawled out of my nightmares.  It's skinny, scraggly, long-nailed, long-eared, and googly-eyed.  It resembles a rabid squirrel- certainly not cute, but certainly peculiar and intriguing.

You're not the only one that might be creeped out by this nocturnal animal.  It is often killed in Madagascar because of rampant superstitions there, which has resulted in its decreased numbers in the past few decades  (What do you know- another peculiar animal that's endangered).  Because the aye-aye displays an unusual degree of fearlessness around humans, people are more scared of it.  A native group called the Sakalava believe that the animal enters houses through the roofs at night and murders its sleeping members by using its elongated skeleton-like middle finger to cut the aortic vein.  Another superstition is that the aye-aye appears right before a villager dies, and the only way to stop the death of the villager is to kill the aye-aye.  Those native villagers have a valid reason to be suspicious and afraid of the aye-aye- I would probably view it as an omen, too.

Here's a short video that shows an up-close image of the creepy skeleton finger and documents the aye-aye's process for finding food. Grubs- tasty, and nutritious!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Alligator Gar

Though it features "alligator" in its name, this animal is not nearly as scary as the real alligator. However, it is the largest gar species alive today and is only found in the Americas. It is prehistoric-- it lived with the dinosaurs! The alligator gar is only aggressive when provoked. If you try to catch it, it will put up a fight. Alligator gar fishing is a sport of choice in many leisure fishing circles. It may look quite scary with its double row of upper sharp teeth, capability to grow up to 10 feet long, and its recorded weights of over 300 pounds. The scariest part? This fish is a brackish and saltwater fish. Imagine water skiing in the middle of a lake and upon a fall, having your leg brushed by none other than the Alligator Gar. I'd be a little scared, to say the least. You can see where this fish gets its name. It looks like an alligator in size and shape, and it also features sharp teeth and sometimes aggressive behavior.

The middle picture features a recently caught gar caught in an Oklahoma lake, supposed to weigh 327 pounds and measure to be 8 feet 10 inches tall. There are debates about whether or not this information is accurate, but nonetheless, the immensity of the fish is unbelievable. Although bigger numbers have been reported such as the ones above, the "world record" Alligator Gar was caught in 1951 in Rio Grande, Mexico, weighing 279 pounds. No one has beaten this world record since because of strict regulations on fishing, differing standards of weighing scales, and other similar factors. However, a 302 pound gar was also reported in the same area at the same time period.

Although you probably haven't awed at the cuteness factor of this slimy brethren, you've at least learned something interesting about a prehistoric creature and its current popularity with the competitive fishing crowds!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Pine Marten

First of all, what is a Marten? It's a weasel-like animal that resembles the domesticated ferret, with a longer tail. These fuzzy creatures are certainly adorable-- I was introduced to them while watching a segment of Planet Earth in my Intro to Geography class. The narrator explained that the Pine Marten, only found in taiga climates (for those less seasoned geographers, these are cold forest climates that have cool springs and summers), was hunting for some spring food while it climbed a nearby tree. I expected a screenshot of the Marten cracking open a pinecone and eating some seeds. Instead, it entered a hole in a tree and came out with a dead, limp squirrel. A carnivore? I was very surprised. Although the Marten can survive on plants, it is a hunter, and so prefers to hunt squirrels and small rodents.
The Pine Marten prefers to live in very old forests, because dead trees make great homes for them, and the forest provides plenty of food for the Martens to hunt. They are expert tree climbers, and their sharp teeth make them great hunters. The martens don't hibernate, they are active all year long, and they prefer to live by themselves. They are extremely territorial wild animals. The species is hunted and coveted for its very soft fur, but it is only endangered in some areas. In more rural areas, the Marten thrives in deciduous forests within the taiga climate. This website encourages viewers to donate to the Endangered Resources Fund in Wisconsin to help save the Pine Martens and other endangered species threatened by humans:

Logging is also a danger to the Martens since they thrive only in old forests. They need this habitat to continue to thrive as a species. I tried to find a video of the cute Marten taking advantage of an innocent squirrel, but I couldn't find any hunting videos-- the cute pictures above will have to suffice, although they might leave you with a different visual impression than the one that I initially had.

Needless to say, this ferret-like animal definitely deserves the title of unique because of its adaptations to cold climates and its hunting abilities. Not many species can be found in the taiga climate, especially species that roam year-round.