All of Us!

All of Us!
Finally! All together with enough time to spare (??) to capture a picture of all six of us in the same spot, same time. Now this is a precious photo! I tried to get one last year for our Christmas card and didn't succeed. So when I had the chance I threw out the lasso and rounded everyone up (at my niece's graduation party) to grab a couple snapshots. My oldest son, Casey, and his girlfriend Nika are on the left; and my youngest son, Brady, and his girlfriend Jenne on the right; that leaves Bob and I in the center. (Bob is the one who doesn't look very happy about having his picture taken!!)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Big Apple: Day 4, Part 4, 2nd Portion of AMNH -- Ackley Hall of South African Mammals

We have left the reptile hall (not that I did or wanted to spend much time in there -- my least favorite creatures!) and are heading back to the Ackley Hall of South African Mammals.  While we are visiting this Hall, I thought it might be fun to give you some fun facts about some of the animals, not all, but a few. 

Large Elephant Display
One of the displays that I truly loved the most had to be this first set of pictures -- the elephants.  It was so neat how they had them displayed.  So proudly walking in line as if they were doing a migration journey.  As you walked around this huge display, you see the care and detail with which they took to capture the large mammals in action.  And so cute was the way the little one had his trunk wrapped around the larger's (I assume Momma) trunk.

Elephant Display
Since I loved this display so much, I thought I would share some fun facts about elephants.  As they are the largest living land animals on Earth, their gestation period is 22 months which is longest of any land animal. They typically live for 50-70 years.  A calf typically weighs 230 lbs. at birth. An adult normally weighs around 230 lbs; the largest male (every recorded) weighed in at 24,000 lbs. They are considered a symbol of wisdom in Asian cultures.  Elephants are famous for their memory and intelligence.

Their trunks are used for drinking as they suck water up into the trunk (approximately 15 quarts) and then blow it into their mouths.  They also use their trunks for social interactions such as greeting each other by entwining their trunks, like a handshake, caressing during courting and mom/child interactions, or in play-wrestling.  They will also use their trunks to defend themselves.  It is also relied upon for its highly developed sense of smell.  An elephants skin is inordinately thick (1 inch).  They can swim well, cannot trot, jump or gallop but have two gaits – a walk and a swifter walk comparable to running, of which is normally about 8 mph but have been reported to reach up to 25 mph. 
More Elephants

Living in a very structured social order, the males and females' social lives are different.  Females spend their time in family groups consisting of mothers, daughters, aunts and sisters, led by the eldest female, while males live a solitary life.  While the females interact with other families or clans, they remain enormously aware of which localized herds are related and which are not. 

Next up, the famously-decked-out-in-stripes zebra.  

Zebras are part of the African equids (horse family) species. Their stripes come in different patterns unique to each individual. They are generally social animals that live in small harems to large herds. The common plains zebra is about 50–52 inches at the shoulder with a body ranging from 6–8.5 feet long with a foot-and-a-half long tail.  With males slightly bigger than females, a zebra can weigh up to 770 pounds.

Zebras have excellent eyesight. It is believed that they can see in color. Along with an acute sense of smell and taste, they have excellent hearing, and can turn their ears in almost any direction. Like horses, they sleep standing up, and only sleep when neighbors are around to warn them of predators.

Zebras communicate with each other with high pitched barks and whinnying. Grevy's zebras make mule-like brays. A zebra's ears signify its mood. When a zebra is in a calm, tense or friendly mood, its ears stand erect. When it is frightened, its ears are pushed forward. When angry, the ears are pulled backward. When surveying an area for predators, zebras will stand in an alert posture; with ears erect, head held high, and staring. When tense they will also snort. When a predator is spotted or sensed, a zebra will bark (or bray) loudly.

Have you ever heard of a koodoo?  The kudus, or koodoo, are two species of antelope: Lesser Koodoo and Greater Koodoo.  Here are some interesting facts about koodoos.  Male koodoos live a solitary life and can be found in bachelor groups, leaving only to mate.  As is always the case with males (haha!), dominance plays also plays a part in the lives.  It is not long-standing, but to display his sway, he will make himself look big by making his hair stand on end.  Also intriguing about the males is when they have a face-off, they will lock their horns in a competition to determine the stronger puller but sadly sometimes two competing males are unable to unlock their horns and, if unable to disengage, will die of starvation or dehydration. 

Pregnant females will leave the herd to give birth to a single offspring which she will leave lying hidden for four to five, coming back only to nurse. The calf will then start  having intermediate meetings with its mamma and at 3-4 months of age will be with its mother constantly. 

And the last little tidbit about koodoos; the koodoo horn, a musical instrument made from the horn of the kudoo antelope, is sometimes used as a shofar in Jewish ceremonies, mainly at Rosh HaShanah, to announce the beginning of holidays; or in Biblical times to signify the start of war.

Who can't be amused by these next amazing creatures! The giraffe, noted for its extremely long neck and legs stands at 16-20 feet tall with an average weight of 3,500 lbs. for males and 1,800 lbs. for females.  The males in this mammal species establish their social rankings through "necking", which are combat bouts where the neck is used as a weapon.  The dominant male is the one who gains mating access to females.

With its front legs slightly longer than its hind legs, a giraffe has only two gaits: walking and galloping.  While galloping, it can reach a speed up to 37 mph.  The long neck results from a disproportionate lengthening of the cervical vertebrae, not from the addition of more vertebrae which largely takes place after birth, as mom giraffes would have a taxing time giving birth to babies with the same neck proportions as adults.

Now, the okapi, bears striped markings impressionistic of zebras, instead of its cousin, the giraffe.  Their striking horizontal white stripes on the front and back legs, are thought to possibly help young follow their mothers through the dense rain forest and may also serve as camouflage.  With their body shape similar to the giraffe, without the extremely long neck, okapis have very long (approximately 14 inches), flexible, blue tongues that they use to strip leaves from trees and with which it can also wash its eyelids and clean its ears (inside and out).  I guess they certainly don't need a Q-tip!  

Like the koodoo, the okapi males are also solitary animals coming together only to breed.  Not social animals, they prefer to live in large, secluded areas. To mark their territory, besides urine marking, the okapi has scent glands on each foot that produce a tar-like substance which allow them to communicate to others "no trespassing."

Gorilla time: Gorillas are considered to be the closest relative to humans besides chimpanzees.  On average, human genes differ only 1.6% from their corresponding gorilla genes.   Silverbacks (adult males) range in height from 5'5"– 5'9" and weigh in at approximately 310–440 lbs.  Females, on the other hand, are about half the size of a silverback averaging about 4'7" tall and 220 lbs.  Largely a herbivore, it is known that gorillas rarely drink water because they consume succulent, or water-retaining, plants, especially those with the morning dew on them.


Impala (below):  The impala, a medium-sized antelope, is thought to be plentiful with numbers of up to two million in Africa.  They are on average around 3 feet tall weighing about 88-188 lbs with females slightly smaller at around 66-110 lbs.  What I find unique about the impala is that while they stay near water in the dry season, they can go weeks without drinking if there is enough green coarse vegetation.  Leopards, cheetahs, lions and wild dogs prey on impala. 

Females and their young will form herds with numbers up to 200 individuals.  Similar to what I have seen on TV documentaries about lion prides, adult males will establish territories and while females will seek out territories with the best food resources, territorial males will round up any female herds that enter and chase away any bachelor males that are following; even sometimes chasing away recently weaned males.  Very domineering, a male impala will try to prevent any female from leaving his territory. However, if food resources are low, as during the dry season, territories will be abandoned as herds have to travel farther in search of food. 

Leopards, cheetahs, lions and wild dogs prey on the impala.  However, the impala has an incomparable defense technique wherein if they are frightened, the whole herd will start to leap about to confuse their predators.  To escape these predators, they can reach running speeds of up to 56 mph, can jump spans of more than 33 feet and 9 feet in height.  When escaping and to keep their herd together they perform a high kick of their hind legs, in which they release a scent from the glands in their heels.  What marvelous little idiosyncrasies Mother Nature has bestowed on some of her creative works!

Let's now travel from a smaller creature to a couple of more magnificent girth.
White Rhinoceros

The rhinoceros:  Did you know that there was such a thing as a white rhino and a black rhino?  Well, there is, so let's explore some of the differences; or are there any? The black rhino is smaller than the white rhino and has a pointed and prehensile upper lip, which it uses to grasp leaves and twigs when feeding, rightly adapted for browsing. The white rhinoceros has square lips used for eating grass, conversely adapted for grazing. The black rhinoceros can also be distinguished from the white rhinoceros by its size, smaller skull, and ears; and by the position of the head, which is held higher than the white rhinoceros, since the black rhinoceros is a browser and not a grazer.

White rhinos -- The white rhinoceros is the largest of the five species of rhinoceros and the world's largest land mammal after the three species of elephant.  The largest white rhino ever recorded weighed in at 9,900 lbs.! The color of the body ranges from yellowish brown to slate grey. Its only hair is the ear fringes and tail bristles. Its ears can move independently to pick up sounds but it depends most of all on smell. The olfactory passages which are responsible for smell are larger than their entire brain. The white rhinoceros has the widest set nostrils of any land based animal. White rhinos are divided into two sub-species: northern and southern.  The northern white rhino is virtually extinct with, as of 2011, only five known living on this entire planet.  In 2008, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2008, the southern white, on the other hand, was estimated to have 17,480 living in the wild, making them the most abundant subspecies of rhino in the world.

Okay,  so here is an icebreaker line to use at parties.  What is a herd of rhinos called?  A crash! White rhinoceroses live in crashes of up to 14 animals (usually mostly female). While most adult males are solitary, lower ranking, or subordinate, adult males will congregate, often in partnership with an adult female. I've spoke in this post about other dominant males, marking their territory and mating of different animals.  Another new, or somewhat used system, dominant rhino bulls also mark their territory with excrement and urine, but with a little twist.  They will lay their feces, or dung, well defined piles, sometimes as many 20 to 30 of piles to notify passing rhinoceroses that this is his territory. Another manner of marking their territory they employ is before urine spraying, the adult male will wipe his horns on bushes or the ground and scrape with his feet. The kicker -- they do this around 10 times an hour while patrolling their territory. The same ritual as urine marking except without spraying is also commonly used. The territorial male will scrape-mark every 98 feet or so around its territory boundary. Lower ranking males do not mark territory.

Black Rhinoceros
And what about the Black Rhinoceros?  They are differentiated by their narrow pointed mouth (in contrast to the white's wide mouth). Although it is referred to as the black rhino, it is actually more of a grey/brown/white color in appearance. 

There are four recognized subspecies of the black rhinoceros: South-central, South-western, East African, and West African.  However, in November 2011, the IUCN declared the Western Black Rhinoceros extinct.  The entire black rhinos species have been pushed to the brink of extinction by illegal poaching for their horn, and to a lesser extent by loss of habitat. A major market for rhino horn has historically been in the Arab nations to make ornately carved handles for ceremonial daggers called jambiyas. The horn is also used in traditional Chinese medicine, and is said by herbalists to be able to revive comatose patients, cure fevers, and aid male sexual stamina and fertility.

Black-and-white colobuses: This herbivorous species of monkey eats leaves, fruit, flowers, and twigs. As for their habitat, they can be found more in higher density logged forests than in other primary forests.

Colobuses live in territorial groups of approximately nine individuals, based upon a single male with a number of females and their offspring. Newborn colobuses are completely white. And you have heard that it takes a village to raise a child?  Well, in the colobuses' neighborhood allomothering appears to be going on.  This means that members of the troop other than the infant's biological mother care for it.  It seems are races are a lot closer in things than we realize.  One other thing, colobuses are important for seed dispersal in the forests which they accomplish through their sloppy eating habits as well as through their digestive system.

A "trip" to South Africa wouldn't be complete if we didn't touch on one more animal - the ostrich

The Ostrich is one of two species of large flightless birds native to Africa.  It has a distinctive appearance with its long neck and legs, and with the fastest land speed of any bird, it can run at maximum speeds of 43 mph.  Other “records” the ostrich has set are that it is the largest living species of bird and lays the largest egg of any living bird.  Their eyes are also said to be the largest of any land vertebrate.
Baby Ostriches and Ostrich Eggs

Mating amongst ostriches is a death-defying act, literally! Territorial males fight for a harem of two to seven females, and these fights, which usually last only minutes, are usually a fight to the death match as they can easily cause death through slamming their heads into opposing males.  If threatened, an ostrich can be considered a flight or fight creature.  It will either hide itself by lying flat against the ground or run away, or if cornered it will kick with its powerful legs.  An average ostrich will weigh around 140-290 lbs.  The males are mostly black with white primary feathers and a white tail.  Females and young males, on the other hand, are greyish-brown and white.

At maturity, males can reach from 5'11" to 9'2" in height, while females range from 5'7" to 6'7" and can reach an age of 40-45 years.  One other fact, contrary to popular belief, ostriches do not bury their heads in sand.  

This will now conclude our tour of some of the South African animals found in the Ackley Hall of South African Mammals. I hope you enjoyed learning a little about some of these mammals along the way.  

Our next stop will be in the fourth-floor halls which include the Hall of Vertebrate Origins, Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs (recognized by their grasping hand, long mobile neck, and the downward/forward position of the pubis bone, they are forerunners of the modern bird), Hall of Ornithischian Dinosaurs (defined for a pubic bone that points toward the back), Hall of Primitive Mammals, and Hall of Advanced Mammals.  These you will find just as interesting, too.  So, if you are not yet bored, next up . . . dinosaurs. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Big Apple: Day 4, Part 3: AMNH -- Reptiles

Where to start, where to start? Oh, yes, continuing the tour, we are back in the Upper west side of Manhattan.  First, as you can see below, we got off the subway at the underground entrance into the American Museum of Natural History.  This is such a quick and easy way to enter. 

 Subway entrance

Even though when we came back on this fourth day of my great adventure, we started out in the South African animal section, I think we will start in the reptile section (get that over with !!) and then head to the African animals.

I will only show you a few of what we saw -- some of what I would declare to be the most interesting ones. 

Giant Salamander
The Alligator -- Frightening?  Heck yes! Even though it is dead and/or stuffed, I am glad it was in a glass case because with those jaws open, it is still very, very intimidating no matter what!

The Giant Tortoise:  Often reaching enormous size—they can weigh as much as 660 lbs. and can grow to be 4 feet long.  Giant tortoises are among the world's longest-living animals, with an average lifespan of 100 years or more.  A zoo Australia is reported to have a giant tortoise that passed away in 2006 at the ripe old age of 176 years.  But, not to be outdone, amazingly, a long-lived Aldabra giant tortoise named Adwaita died at Alipore Zoological Gardens in Kolkata, West Bengal, also in the year 2006. Brought to the zoo in the 1870's, it was thought to have been around 255 years old when he died. Because these tortoises were caught and killed for food in such large quantities, they became virtually extinct by 1900. Giant tortoises are now under strict conservation laws and are categorized as threatened species.

Komodo Dragon

Feeding time for the dragons
The Giant Salamander:  Not the prettiest looking creature, giant salamanders are large aquatic amphibians who can be found in brooks and ponds in China, Japan and even eastern United States. 
They have been known to reach a size as great as 6 - 1/2 feet in length.  Not getting into the age record books as much as the giant tortoise, Chinese Giant Salamanders have lived as long as a respectable 75 years in captivity. 

Komodo Dragon:  As long as we are on the subject of ugly, here is another unattractive creature -- the Komodo dragon.  A large species of lizard, Komodo dragons are found in the Indonesian islands.  Although captive specimens often weigh more, an adult Komodo dragon from the wild usually weighs around 150 lbs.  With a tail as long as its body, the largest known Komodo measured over 10 feet in length and weighed in at a whooping 370 lbs.

The feeding habits of Komodos are peculiar, to say the least.  Largely a carnivorous animal, it is shown at left feeding on a wild boar.  Carrion [carcass of dead animals] are the main diet of the Komodo, but since they tend to be the largest animal in the area, they feed on mostly anything.  They are said to be able to smell a dead or dying animal from as far away as 2.5 miles. With their loosely pivotal jaws, flexible skull, and expandable stomach, they are known to swallow whole its smaller prey, up to the size of a goat; but swallowing can still be a long process – 15 to 20 minutes to swallow a goat.  A Komodo dragon may attempt to expedite the process by slamming the carcass against a tree to force it down its throat, sometimes ramming so forcefully that the tree is knocked down.  While swallowing larger prey, to prevent suffocating while swallowing, it breathes using a small tube under the tongue that connects to the lungs. After sometimes eating up to 80 percent of its body weight in one meal, it will drag itself to a sunny location to speed digestion, since the food could rot and poison the dragon if left undigested for too long. Because of their slow metabolism, large dragons can survive on as little as 12 meals a year. 

Leatherback Sea Turtle
Leatherback Sea Turtle: Leatherbacks are the largest of all living sea turtles.  With a large pair of front flippers that power the turtles through the water (which are absent claws, by the way), their flattened fore limbs are adapted for swimming in the open ocean. The front flippers can grow up to less than nine feet in length.  Adult leatherbacks average 3-1/2 to 6 feet in carapace (shell) length, and 6 to over 7 feet in total length and can weigh 550 to 1,500 lbs.  The largest ever found was on a beach on the west coast of Wales and measured just about 10 feet from head to tail, including a carapace length of over 7 feet, and weighed 2,020 lbs.  (Yep, just a little guy!!!)

Surinam Toad
Surinam Toad:   Yes, I know -- he had you at ... hello!!  Eeeks!  I am sure you will see this in your dreams tonight.  [Onward ... just try not to think about it or look at it again -- hard, isn't it! And it didn't help that I made this picture extra large -- I'm bad!] 

Let's find out what these bad boys are all about! The Surinam Toad's natural habitats are subtropical /tropical moist lowland forests, subtropical / tropical swamps, swamps, and freshwater marshes so we won't find them in our back yards.  Yea, yea, yea, that is all fine and interesting but what I mostly wanted to bring to your attention about this unique species is its remarkable and, may I say, quirky reproductive habits. To attract the female, the male toads produce a sharp clicking sound by snapping a bone in their throat. Together the partners rise from the aquatic floor while in amplexus and flip through the water in arcs. [Amplexus is a form of acrobatic copulation wherein a male amphibian grasps a female with his front legs as part of the mating process and at the same time or with some time delay, he fertilizes the female eggs with fluid containing sperm.] Anyway, back to this dance ... during each arc, the female releases 3-10 eggs, which get embedded in the skin on her back by the male's movements. After implantation the eggs roll over the mother's back and sink into the skin and form pockets over a period of several days, eventually taking on a honeycomb-like appearance (which you see here in the picture above). The larvae develop through to the tadpole stage inside these pockets, eventually emerging from the mother's back as fully developed toads, though they are less than an inch long.  Kind of neat, huh? 

Skink: And, if that wasn't bad enough to rattle your dreams, next up we have the skink.  With about 1200 different species, the skink is one of the most diverse branch of the lizard family (gecko being the most diversified). From Australia, this skink at right (Tiliqua rugosa) is a ground-foraging omnivore, feeding on a wide variety of insects, flowers, fruits and berries.  It can store fat in its tail which, during dry periods when food is scarce, it will depend upon. 

Okay, as many may know, I am not very fond of creepy, crawly things nor am I welcome to entertaining the thought of even peeking at a slithering reptile.  But, feeling a little safe in the confines of the Museum and comforted by the fact that these are dead, stuffed exhibits, I felt somewhat superior in my depth of courage to be able to view, let alone take a picture of this next subject. 

Reticulated Python
The reticulated python (referring to its color) is a species of python found in Southeast Asia. Adults can grow to 23 feet in length but normally average only (!!only??) 10–20 feet. They are the world's longest snakes and longest reptile, and like all pythons, are non-venomous constrictors who are normally not considered dangerous to humans. But beware, in case you plan to be in Southeast Asia and go out in search of a playful snake, they are powerful enough to kill an adult human.  Although attacks are only occasionally reported, this species is among the few snakes that have been fairly reliably reported to eat people, although only a few cases where the snake actually ate (rather than just killed) a human appear to be authenticated. 

Courting Snakes
Snakes, of most any species, just like humans, have their unique and intricate ideas of courting.  As witnessed at right, these snakes form a dance, if you may, that brings thoughts to mind of music playing in the background that make the rumba courtship begin. 

Now just, when I gave you some soothing thoughts of snakes, here I have proved once more that I am as nasty as a snake since I may aid in evoking horrible, nightmarish dreams.
The Inside of a Pregnant Snake

This picture (at left), lucky for you, is not one of the worst pictures I took, but I thought I would share it.  It is a cut-open section of a snake "with children." Yes, those are tiny little snakes inside that momma snake -- all just waiting to crawl out.  Now, the thoughts of all this little snakes slithering out of momma and wriggling about . . . sends shivers up my spine -- ghoulish, simply ghoulish! 

I am stopping there for today.  In my next post, we will jump right into the African Animal exhibits.  After that, we will be off to the the fourth-floor halls which include the Hall of Vertebrate Origins, Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, Hall of Ornithischian Dinosaurs, Hall of Primitive Mammals, and Hall of Advanced Mammals.  

But, for now, let's part with your last sights being that of the inside of the pregnant snake up above.  Haha!

Yep, still as nasty as a snake, I am!