Monday, October 24, 2011

The Hairy-Nosed Wombat

Unfortunately, this marsupial does not come in three delicious varieties of chocolate, but it's still cool because it's one of the rarest mammals to still be walking the earth! That being said, and sorry to disappoint, the hairy-nosed wombat is highly endangered. It has two different species, the Northern and Southern, and the Northern species is far more endangered. The Southern hairy-nosed wombat is the state animal of South Australia. The species has been having trouble surviving the dry seasons there, because their young often can't survive so it's harder for the population to grow. This species, distinguished from regular wombats because of the fine soft hairs coating its nose, is nocturnal and spends its days in burrows. However, it is the most social of all the wombat species. In the wild, hairy-nosed wombats live for about five years and survive on vegetation for food. The hairs on their noses allow them to closely pick at plants- they have very low metabolisms, and so don't need a lot of water to survive.


Okay, so I obviously have a bit of a tendency to favor the cute baby animals.. but the baby hairy-nosed wombats are simply irresistible! I love their furry cuddle-ability combined with their repulsive yet adorable piggy snout. It truly is heartbreaking to me that so many of these unique animals are endangered mainly due to human influences. People are taking up their habitats, which were scarce in the first place. In the case of Australia, these animals have specifically adapted to life in the desert, and when people start to take away some of their habitats, they start to feel the impact almost immediately! I want to take action to save these Australian marsupials, the bilby included! The Northern hairy-nosed wombat is critically endangered due to human interference as well-- the animal's population is slowly shrinking. Maybe I should become a wildlife conservationist, or even better, a "save the marsupials" advocate! As a side note, how come people always immediately think of kangaroos when they hear the word marsupial? Kangaroos are so normal! How about bilbies or hairy-nosed wombats for a change?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Self-Cloning Lizard

Who needs men? Ladies don't...unless, that is, we plan on reproducing. This isn't the case for the newly discovered self-cloning lizard, who reproduces exact copies of itself as a species. The only diversity within the species takes place in the event of a mutation, which could be positive or negative. Self-reproducing lizards are not rare- many species only come in one gender and the females can ovulate and reproduce themselves. But this is the first self-cloning lizard that is sterile, kind of like the mule. There are arguments about whether or not this hybrid lizard will be advantaged or disadvantaged in the long run. So far, it hasn't seemed to have had any issues surviving as evidenced by its abundant populations in the Vietnamese forests. But sometimes, hybrid species are disadvantaged in the long run because their gene pools aren't as strong.

The discovery of this new lizard in November of 2010 is quite unscientific: scientists discovered the strange lizard being served in local Vietnamese restaurants, where it has been a specialty for many years. The lizards can be found abundantly in the local forests, so it's a wonder that they hadn't been discovered before then. Upon noticing that all of the lizards looked identical, the scientist thought it could be a type of self-reproducing lizard. Instead, he found a new species, a self-cloning lizard. How cool is that? Sounds like a phenomenon out of a science fiction movie, or even a horror movie: "The Attack of the Self-Cloning Lizards." Yes, they can take over the world! But they look pretty harmless to me...

Harmless? Yes. Tasty? Not so much. As I vowed as a child never to eat snails in France, I will also vow to never eat lizard. Or any reptile, for that matter.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Mandarin Duck

The Mandarin Duck is a relative of the Wood Duck, common in North America:

However, the Mandarin Duck is more endangered than our familiar American duck friend. They are not a species of endangered status, but are being watched. Fortunately, these ducks have a gross taste, so aren't hunted for food by humans. They have a few wild predators, but their endangerment results mostly from habitat loss.

These ducks are very unique as far as behavior. The male courts a female, and the pair tends to stay together from breeding season to breeding season, much like the patterns of the penguin. The Mandarin Duck males even keep watch over the babies. Because of this devotion, the Mandarin Duck is considered a symbol of love, happiness, and marital fidelity in China and Japan. And, of course, we can marvel at the beauty of the duck, especially the male, with its brilliant colors. I think it's more beautiful than our common wood duck. I wish we had wild ones here, but the closest ones are in parts of the UK.

Now, of course, what's cuter than the Mandarin Ducklings? It makes them even more precious knowing how much their parents care about them and how much effort they put into raising them. The ducklings are raised in a high tree hole to be safe from predators. But when it is time to head to the water, the ducklings have to jump out of the tree after their mom because they can't yet fly, and they land on the soft ground with a painless bounce. After that, they have a precarious mile long walk to the nearest water source. You will see why these ducklings are one of my favorite animals after watching this video, from Planet Earth (what else?):

Now you can see why these peculiar ducks are one of my favorite animals, and maybe one of yours too!