Arxiu d'etiquetes: claws

Meet present velociraptors

There are some stories about eagles who kidnap children, movies about murderer birds… But it really exist a bird which can kill a person? Are birds of prey the most dangerous birds? Keep reading to find out more.

THE CASSOWARY

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the most dangerous bird in the world is the cassowary. Cassowaries (family Casuariidae), like the emu (with whom it is related) and the ostrich, are flightless birds and good runners (up to 50 km/h). They are also good swimmers and can jump up to almost 2 meters. They live in New Guinea, north of Australia (Queensland) and neighboring islands (Ceram, Aru).

Casuario (casuarius unnapendiculatus). Foto de Quartl
Northern cassowary (Casuarius unnapendiculatus). Photo by Quartl

There are three species: the Southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius), the Dwarf cassowary (Casuarius bennetti) and the Northern cassowary (Casuarius unappendiculatus). The largest of all is the Sourthern cassowary, in which we will focus in this article. Its name comes from Papua and means “horned head”.

Besides the size (1.80 m tall and weighing 70 kg, females are larger than males), highlighting the Southern cassowary is their blue and red neck, plucked, with two hanging pieces of skin (wattles), along with a casque that crowns the head, which is higher in the female. This casque is made up of trabecular bone (spongy bone) covered with hard skin (keratinized), which helps make their way through the dense vegetation of the rainforest where they live or for sexual attraction. It can also be a sign of the age, health and status of the animal respect their peers. It is estimated that they can live up to 12 to 19 years in the wild.

Primer plano de un casuario. Foto de Nick Hobgood.
Foreground of a Southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius). Photo by Nick Hobgood.

The plumage is black, shiny and loose, giving it an aspect like hair. The tips are sharp and used as a defense. But the real danger of the cassowary falls upon its legs and feet, as one of its three fingers has a claw of about 10-12 cm long.

pies, peus, garra, uña, casuario, feet, foot, cassowary
Cassowary feet, in which can be seen its inner finger modified as a powerful claw. Photo by Christian Ziegler

DIET

The cassowary feeds mainly on fruits in the ground, which are swallowed whole. This makes them important seed dispersers, up to 70 different species. Their diet is completed with invertebrates such as insects, small vertebrates and fungi.

quandong, cassowary, eating, fruit
Cassowary eating quandongs, one of its favorite fruits. Photo by Christian Ziegler

REPRODUCTION

Cassowaries are birds of solitary habits, they meet only in breeding season (June to October). The female is dominant over the male and can mate with several males, putting different clutches on the floor.

cassowary, eggs, huevos, casuario, ous, casuari
Cassowary eggs are green coloured. Foto de Christian Ziegler

The males are responsible for incubating the eggs (4-8) for 50 days and take care of the chicks up to one year and four months. These have a plumage with brown, black and white stripes, they turn brown at 5 months of age. The final color and helmet appear when they are between 2 -4 years old.

casuario, pollitos, chicks, cassowary, casuari, pollets, iphone photo
Cassowary with its chicks. Photo by Kaisa Breeden

BEHAVIOUR

They are quiet and peaceful but highly territorial birds. When disturbed or threatened, they do not hesitate to violently attack with their powerful legs and beak. They attack like it is believed Velociraptors did: cassowaries make big jumps and kick their opponents eviscerating them with their powerful claw as if it were a dagger, and causing internal injuries because of blows. The cassowary has killed at least two people in Australia (2009 data) and probably some more that has not been documented in native populations. There have also been cases of bone fractures in people, such as ribs, legs …

In this video you can see how a cassowary attacks:

CONSERVATION AND THREATS

Although they are not dangerous to humans unless they are bothered, the main threat cassowaries suffer is the destruction of their habitat (replacement of the forest by cultivated fields) and forest fragmentation, which prevents access to food and other reproductive groups. There are also frequent car accidents in Australia and attacks of domestic dogs to cassowary chicks. Finally they are also victims of uncontrolled hunting in the area of New Guinea.

Australia, señal de tráfico, casuario, cape tribulation, cassowary, traffic signal
Traffic signal in Cape Tribulation, Australia, warning of the presence  of cassowaries. Photo by Mireia Querol

The Southern cassowary is classified as Vulnerable in the UICN Red List as well as the Northern cassowary. The dwarf cassowary is near threatened. Cassowaries in Australia live in protected areas, and there are also specific conservation plans by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. There are no reliable population data in New Guinea.

As we have seen, the cassowary is a spectacular bird that arouse great respect but is in danger. We encourage you to leave your comments and your experiences about it if you have traveled to their habitat and have been lucky enough to see one in the wild.

REFERENCES

 MIREIA QUEROL ALL YOU NEED IS BIOLOGY

Pangolin: poaching is condemning it to extinction

Neither the tiger or elephant or rhino: the most hunted mammals by humans are pangolins, to the point of critically threaten their survival as a species. Discover the only mammal with scales, its current condition and what can we do to prevent the extinction of all species of pangolin in the world.

WHAT IS A PANGOLIN?

manis tricuspis, pangolin, árbol, tree, trepando
Tree pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis). (Photo by Bart Wursten).

The name pangolin (also known as scaly anteater or trenggiling) includes 8 different species distributed by a variety of habitats (tropical rainforests, dry forests, savanna areas, cultivated fields…) in Africa and Asia. They measure between 90 cm and 1.65 m. They are the only family in the order Pholidota: although physically similar, armadillos, sloths and anteaters are not its relatives (order Xenarthra). Most are nocturnal, solitary and shy, so there are still many questions about their biology and behavior in the wild (they don’t usually survive captivity).

MORPHOLOGY

Pangolins are the only mammals with scales: they are made of keratin (like our nails) and give them a look like a pineapple or artichoke. Scales are very sharp and they can move them voluntarily. If pangolins feel threatened hiss and puff, curl into a ball leaving the scales exposed and secrete pestilential acids to ward off predators (tigers, lions, panthers and humans).

leon, leona, pangolin, bola, lion, defensa
An impenetrable defense even to a lioness. (Photo by Holly Cheese)

The claws allow them both climb as digging: terrestrial pangolins hide and breed in underground galleries and arboreal pangolins do the same in hollows on trees. The tail of the tree pangolin is prehensile to attach to the branches. In addition, pangolins are excellent swimmers.
They are mainly bipedal animals: forepaws are so large that force them to walk on its hind legs, with a maximum speed of 5 km/h. Watch a pangolin walking and feeding:

NUTRITION

Pangolin has no teeth and is unable to chew. It feeds on ants and termites, which locates with its powerful sense of smell (the view is underdeveloped) and catch them with its sticky and long tongue (may be longer than the body itself, up to 40 cm). The stones swallowed involuntarily and corneal structures of their stomach help them to crush the exoskeletons of insects. With its powerful claws destroy their nests to access them and avoid their attack plugging his ears and nostrils, besides having an armored eyelid. It is estimated that a pangolin can consume about 70 million insects per year, which makes them important regulators of the population of ants and termites.

lengua, pangolin, tongue
The tongue of the pangolin. (Photo by Wim Vorster).

REPRODUCTION

Pangolins can reproduce at any time of the year. After pregnancy (two to five months, depending on species) only one young is born (African species) or up to three (Asian species).

pangolin, hembra, female, mamas, breast, pecho, tetas
Female pangolin. (Photo by Scott Hurd)

The pangolin is born with soft scales, which begin to harden after two days. When after a month come out of the burrow, they travel on the tail of her mother and become independent at 3-4 months. Their lifespan is unknown, although in captivity an individual lived until 20 years old.

pangolin, baby, cría, zoo bali
Female with her baby in the tail. Bali zoo. (Photo by Firdia Lisnawati)

THREATS AND CONSERVATION

In addition to habitat destruction, the main threat that pangolins face is direct hunting for human consumption. Although there are international laws to protect them, it is estimated that about 100 000 pangolins are hunted annuallyGiven the defense strategy of this animal, poachers only have to catch them of the ground. Like other species, like sharks, the food market and traditional medicine are the main causes of directing the pangolin towards extinction.

pangolin, jaulas, tráfico ilega, illegal trade, bushmeat
Illegal trade in pangolin. (Photo by Soggydan Benenovitch).

WHY PANGOLINS ARE POACHED?

  • Bushmeat is considered a delicacy and an indicator of high social status in Vietnam and China. The pangolin fetus soup is sold as an elixir to increase virility and improve breast milk production. The price of bushmeat on the black market can reach $ 300 per kilo. The price of an individual can reach $ 1,000.

sopa, feto, soup, pangolin, feto, fetus
Pangolin fetus soup. (Photo by TRAFFIC).

  • Blood is sold as a tonic to improve health and as an aphrodisiac.
  • Scales can reach $ 3000 per kilo and are used for almost anything: to cure from acne to cancer. This belief is curious, considering that the scales have the same structure as our fingernails.

pangolín, china, medicina, medicine, tradicional, cura para el cáncer
Products of traditional Chinese medicine made of pangolin. (Photo by TRAFFIC).

All these purported medicinal and magical effects have no scientific basis, making yet more nonsense pangolin smuggling.

CONSERVATION

The population trend of all species of pangolin is declining in some cases to an alarming extent. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species classifies them as it follows:

RED LIS CATEGORIES IUCN
IUCN Red List categories. (Image from iucn.org)

Because of their status, IUCN restored in 2012 a group of specialists within the Species Survival Commission (SSC) dedicated to pangolins (Pangolin Specialist Group -PangolinSG-). Its main objective are do research to increase knowledge of pangolins, the threats they face and how they can be mitigated to facilitate preservation.

The conservation projects that are being carried out include campaigns to reduce the demand of bushmeat and pangolin scales and the tightening of laws. Still, the total ignorance of populations’ state and low survival in captivity for breeding makes it difficult to design strategies for their conservation.

WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR PANGOLIN?

  • Reject any product derived from this animal, either bushmeat, scales or “miracle” products for the cure of diseases. Read the labels of any traditional remedies, especially if they are from the Asian market, and recall that its hypothetical benefits have no scientific basis, so that you can rethink their use.
  • Share information. If you own new data on pangolins, photos or videos contact with PangolinSG to cooperate with the investigation. Talk about them in your immediate environment to raise awareness and publicize this fantastic single animal.
  • Do a PhD about pangolins. Lot of research on these species is still needed, so if you are a student and you are planning to do a PhD, you can collaborate with PangolinSG with your future research.
  • Become a PangolinSG volunteer. Get involved in the development and implementation of projects and conservation programs.
  • Make a financial donation so PangolinSG can continue its work.

In conclusion, more scientific research, a change of mind and protection policies are needed to prevent the pangolin become an example of extinct species at the hands of ours, as it is about to happen to white rhino.

REFERENCES

MIREIA QUEROL ALL YOU NEED IS BIOLOGY

Nocturnal birds of prey: the barn owl, legends and myths

Nocturnal birds of prey have suffered since a long time ago an unfair bad reputation that has led them in some cases to be persecuted and hated. What are these superstitions? Which is their conservation state? What can you do for them? In this article you will discover owls and the barn owl, Tyto albaand the legends associated with them.

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF NOCTURNAL BIRDS OF PREY

As its name suggests, most nocturnal birds of prey (owls, owls, tawny owls) have nocturnal or crepuscular habits. They are carnivorous, with beaks and claws (two toes forward and two backward) adapted to tear flesh from their prey (small mammals, birds, reptiles, large insects ).

HEARING

Owls usually have a rounded shape and apparent large head, with the face feathers forming the so-called facial disk. The facial disc serves as a dish heading sounds towards the ears. The opening of the ear is large, with a fold of skin (preaural halda), which functions as a pinna and is movable as in some mammals.

Oído de lechuza norteña (Aegolius acadicus). (Foto tomada de Jim McCormac).
Norther saw whet owl ear (Aegolius acadicus). (Photo by Jim McCormac).

The position of each ear is asymmetric in some species (one is higher than the other), so some of them -like the barn owl- can locate prey in complete darkness: an ear perceives sound before the other, so their  brain can calculate the exact place where prey is (directional hearing).

Boreal owl skull, cráneo de mochuelo boreal
Boreal owl skull (Aegolius funereus) where can be seen the asymmetric hearing openings and sclerotic eye rings. (Photo taken of Jim Williams)

EYESIGHT

Owl’s vision is highly developed. Eyes, unlike most birds, are in front position, which allows a perfect estimation of depth and three-dimensional vision. On the other hand, eyes are tubular (not spherical like ours) due to the large size of the cornea and lens, which prevents owls from moving them within their sockets. Also they have a protective bone plate around the eyes (sclerotic rings) that also impede movement. To solve this problem, they are able to turn his head 270 degrees. It can be considered that they see in black and white (they best perceive changes in light rather than colors), the pupil dilates a lot in bad light conditions (iris is hidden by dilated pupil) and they are the only birds in which the eyelid closes up to below. They also have a transparent lid” that moistens and protects the eye, called the nictitating membrane.

Visión lechuza, binocular, vista, búho, razces nocturnas
Binocular vison of a nocturnal bird of prey. Humans have a field vision of 180 degrees, 140 of them binocular). (Image by The Owl Pages)

PLUMAGE

Owls, unlike diurnal birds of prey, have a special flight feathers structure, fringed at the top surface and contours. The friction between them and the air is damped, achieving a spectacular silent flight undetectable by preys.

Pluma de lechuza común y autillo, donde se observan las barbicelas. (Foto tomada de Pedro Montoya).
Barn owl feather (Tyto alba) and european scops owl (Otus scops), (Image taken of Pedro Montoya).

THE BARN OWL

The barn owl (Tyto alba), is unmistakable: it has a very well defined and heart-shaped facial disk. The back is gray with golden spots and fine black and white dots.

DISTRIBUTION AND BEHAVIOUR

The barn owl lives all over the world (except Antarctica, north Europe and most Asia) and don’t build a nest, but lays eggs in tree holes, holes in the rock or human buildings (barns, attics, farmhouses, castles, churches ).

Why the barn owl has this negative reputation that caused their persecution in many parts of the world and in Spain? Causes are diverse, all fed by human fear:

  • They can nest in abandoned or sacred locations as churches (some with their own cemetery).
  • Nocturnal habits
  • They are sendentary, they can stay in the same hunting ground for years until food is scarce.
  • Ghostly appearance due to their colors and smooth and silent flight.
  • By their vocalizations (they have 17 different ones) like human screams and peculiar snorts. Listen to some owls making a defense vocalization in the following video:

THE BARN OWL IN THE POPULAR CULTURE. BELIEFS, SUPERSTITIONS, MYTHS AND LEGENDS

In the Iberian Peninsula was believed that owls drank the oil of the lamps in churches, leaving the Saints in the dark (when the real thieves were sacristans). By landing on lamps or touching them and pouring the oil, it was believed that owls hated light, like evil spirits. In spanish and catalan there are sayings that refer to this myth. They were hunted, killed and hanged above the doors of churches and barns to ward off fire and lightning.

The vocalizations of barn owls are also interpreted as announcements of death, and there is a belief (without basis) that if someone hear an owl for several nights (something not difficult given their sedentary habits) a person suddenly will lose life.

Tyto alba, lechuza común, lechuza de campanario
Barn owl (Tyto Alba). (Photo by Kerkuil André).

In other cultures there are also negative legends about owls: in Africa that are sent by sorcerers to kill people or evil demons announcing disasters, in the Argentine pampas that they are sisters of the devil; in Sicily, death or illness for all these reasons they have been killed and tortured.

However, they can also be a good sign (such as guardians of women who die in Australia), but the best known case is the representation of Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom. Currently still appears as a symbol of many institutions and in Greek euro coins.

Euro grecia, euro griego
Greek euro. (Resource: RTVE)

CURRENT STATUS AND THREATS

Nowadays the barn owl is in a state of decline and with an uncertain future due to changes introduced by humans in rural areas, such as changes in cultivation or use of pesticides and rodenticides, which kill their prey (mice) or indirectly birds themselves. The works and renovations of buildings where they used to nest also interfere with reproduction. They also suffer accidents due to the towers and power lines and are often hit by cars. Canary subspecies (Tyto alba gracilirostris) is disappearing due its habitat fragmentation and the low number of individuals in their populations.

Lechuza muerta
Barn owl in a barbed wire. (Photo by PacoT).

It is listed as Endangered in the Red Book of Birds of Spain and included in the National Catalogue of Endangered Species in the category “Special interest“.

WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR OWLS?

Try to find out about these magnificent birds and make them known to your immediate surrounding, banishing misconceptions, especially if you live near their nesting and feeding areas. If you own crops, try to minimize the use of pesticides: a pair of barn owls hunt in average about 2,000 mice a year, being therefore even beneficial to humans.

If you find an owl or wounded bird, you have to pick it carefully (using a towel or a jacket) to avoid hurt it or being hurt, and leave it in a dark, quiet place inside a box pierced so it can breathe. Do not feed it. Then contact a wildlife recovery centre.

REFERENCES

If you enjoyed this article, please share it on social networks to spread it. The aim of the blog, after all, is to spread science and reach as many people as possible. Feel free to share your experience with birds of prey in the comments below. ¿Do you know someone who still believe in this owl legends?

This publication is licensed under a Creative Commons:Llicència Creative Commons

Licencia Creative Commons Atribución-NoComercial-CompartirIgual 4.0 Internacional.

Who are the hominids?

Today’s article is dedicated to primates. We will talk about some of its key features, the classification of the living species and we will discover who the hominids and hominans are.

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF PRIMATES

Primates are an order of placental mammals that appeared about 65 million years ago in the tropical rainforest. There are currently over 400 living species, most of them arboreal. Since there are no single trait that defines them, they are difficult to classify; so we have to consider a set of features, which are:

  • Complex visual system: with frontally placed eyes, their vision is stereoscopic, allowing them to perceive the distance and depth with great accuracy. Most species can see in color.
  • High mobility of the shoulder: allows an easy arm movement in all directions. Hands and feet have five fingers and opposable thumb (at least in hands) allowing them to grasp and manipulate objects with precision. Although some have claws, most have flat nails and all (except some orangutans) have a flat nail on the big toe.
  • Torso and tail: several primates rest and move with an erect torso. Except apes, in some cases they have a prehensile tail, and can use it as a fifth limb.
  • Brain size: besides some species of toothed whales, some primates have, in relation to the body, the largest brain of all mammals.
  • Social organization: only orangutans, some lemurs and galagos are solitary, other primates are organized in complex social groups.

Gorila comiendo (Gorilla sp.) donde se aprecian algunas de las características descritas (Foto: pixabay.com)
Gorilla eating (Gorilla sp.) where whe can see some of the characteristics. Photo: pixabay.com

 

CLASSIFICATION

The relationships among the different groups of primates were not clearly understood until relatively recently, so the commonly used terms are somewhat confused (mokeys, apes…). Modern cladistic classifies primates in two suborders, Haplorrhini (“dry-nosed primates”) and Strepsirhini (“wet-nosed primates“). A possible classification would be:

Taxonomia primates english
Primates taxonomy. Clic to enlarge. Created by Mireia Querol based in an image taken of humanorigins.si.edu.

Traditionally primates are classified into three groups: prosimians, monkeys and apes.

PROSIMIANS

Prosimians are the oldest primate group. They are distributed throughout Southeast Asia and Africa marginal islands. Prosimians include lemurs, lorises, galagosindris, the aye-aye and tarsiers. They share the following characteristics:

  • Claws instead of nails (they have at least a fingernail)
  • Long snout with wet nose. They have the best sense of smell among primates
  • More lateral orientation of the eyes than other primates. These are big and have good nocturnal vision
  • Mobile pinna
  • Minor brain proportion than other primates

Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis). (Foto: Frans Lanting)
Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis). Photo: Frans Lanting

 

Tarser de Filipines (Foto: Kok Leng Yeo)
Philippines tarsier (Carlito syrichta). (Photo: Kok Leng Yeo)

OLD AND NEW WORLD MONKEYS

The New World monkeys are distributed throughout Central and South America. They have a long, often prehensile tail. The muzzle is flat and the nostrils are situated in the side. They are completely arboreal. The best known representatives are marmosets, spider monkeys, capuchins, and sakis.

Sakí cariblanco macho (Pithecia pithecia). (Foto: Charles Miller).
Male of White-faced saki (Pithecia pithecia). Photo: Charles Miller

 

The Old World monkeys are distributed throughout Africa and Asia. Usually they are bigger than New World monkeys. The nostrils are directed downward or forward. The Old World monkeys cover a wide range of species, such as macaques, baboons, mandrills, mangabeis, drills, colobus, proboscis monkeys, langurs

Langur dorado (Trachypithecus geei). (Foto: Wikimedia).
Gee’s golden langur (Trachypithecus geei). Photo: Wikimedia

 

APES

Apes are divided into two families: Hylobatidae (gibbons and siamangs) and Hominidae (orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and humans). They are distributed throughout West and Central Africa and South and Southeast Asia, except humans: we are distributed all over the planet and habitats. Apes have a flat face, with the nostrils downwards and an anatomy that facilitates upright posture and materials handling, including the creation and use of tools in some species.

Bonobo (Pan paniscus). (Foto: Pierre Fidenci)
Bonobo (Pan paniscus). Photo: Pierre Fidenci

In conclusion, hominids are human beings (Homo sapiens) together with orangutans (two species: Pongo pymaeus and Pongo abelii), chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), bonobos (Pan paniscusand gorillas (two species: Gorilla gorilla y Gorilla beringei), because we all belong to the family Hominidae. The term also refers to all fossil species of this family, and therefore our ancestors, that we will discuss in future articles on human evolution. However, to refer exclusively to our evolutionary branch (including H. sapiens) the used term is hominans or hominas, which refers to a tribe (Hominini) of the Hominidae family.

REFERENCES

If you enjoyed this article, please share it on social networks to spread it. The aim of the blog, after all, is to spread science and reach as many people as possible.

This publication is licensed under a Creative Commons:Llicència Creative Commons

Licencia Creative Commons Atribución-NoComercial-CompartirIgual 4.0 Internacional.