Tuesday, August 31, 2010

ABC Wednesday: J is for Jerboas

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Jerboas are rodents, also sometimes called dipodids, after the name of the family they belong to, the Dipodidae. The two here are Greater Egyptian Jerboas (Jaculus orientalis).
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This is a Lesser Egyptian Jerboa (Jaculus jaculus), they are only half the size of the Greater Egyptian Jerboa. Both species run or hop on their hind legs and balance with their tails. They can jump 3 yards from a standing start and run very fast.
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The Jaculus species live in shrublands and deserts, feeding on small seeds in Northern Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
Some people keep jerboas as pets, the ones shown here are pets rescued from unsuitable conditions or given up by people who just didn't know what they got themselves into. Jerboas need a lot of room to be active and keeping them in a cage or tank just isn't enough. Sometimes, jeboas will even jump in panic and break their neck on the glass wall of a tank.
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I took the pictures at a friends' house, she lets her jerboas roam free, which is about the only thing to do with jerboas to keep them happy. During the day they sleep in a hiding place and will come out at night. They will beg for treats and pester anyone in the room for attention. hey are very intelligent - they actually worked out how a door handle works just from watching and tried to open the door by themselves, jumping up and trying to grip the handle. They are just too light to open the door, though.
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Jerboas are among the most absurd animals I know, with the long, spindly legs, the piggy nose and the T-Rex arms. Unfortunately, I don't have any films of them because in movement they look really surreal.
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See what else J stands for at ABC Wednesday

ABC Wednesday: I is for Ibis

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This is a Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber), I think that along with the Sacred Ibis it's the best known Ibis species. Their chicks are grey (like this) and like with flamingoes, the red colour is prodiced from crustaceans, a big part of their diet. The beak of an ibis is used to probe for worms and crabs in the mud, soil or in rock crevices, depending on where the bird lives.
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Ibises were sacred in Egypt and mummies have been found. The god Toth is shown with an Ibis head and the hieroglyph for Toth was an ibis and a scribe - Toth was the one who wrote down if a person's soul was light enough to pass into the afterlife. You can see a picture of the ceremony here

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a Hadada Ibis (Bostrychia hagedash), a South African species that is fairly common and often found in gardens and parks searching for earthworms and snails, probing for their prey in soil and leaflitter with their long beaks

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Here's yet another Ibis species, the northern Bald Ibis or Waldrapp (Geronticus eremita). They are very rare and the only ibis species not to live near water. There are about 500 birds left in the wild and they are bred in zoos and reintroduced into their old habitats, for example in Spain and Austria. First described in 1557, they died out in most of Europe in the 1700s and for a long time, pictures of the Waldrapp were thought to be mythical birds. There are many places in Austria and Bavaria with names that show that Waldrapps were common there, like Rappenschlucht or Rappenklamm (both meaning Rapp Gorge).

There are many more Ibis species and they share a family with spoonbills like this Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaja ajaja). Ibises and Spoonbills will also often nest together. The bill of a spoonbill is used to search for prey in water.
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Photos taken at Hagenbecks Tierpark, London Zoo and Tierpark Berlin.
What else does I stand for? Find out with ABC Wednesday

Sunday, August 29, 2010

ABC Wednesday: H is for Hyena

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Things everybody knows about spotted Hyenas: they are scavengers who don't hunt for themselves, they are cowards and they laugh. One of those things is true.
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Spotted hyneas do make a weird laughing sound that is audible for miles, the other species don't. As for the rest of the things everybody knows: hyenas are good hunters and will even take on lions when it comes to a fight over food. They do take leftovers from other predators and they can crack and digest even big bones. They will also spot vultures landing somewhere and follow them.
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Spotted hyenas live in huge groups of up to 80 individuals that are led by females. They are very social and know each other well, they also work together to solve problems and will teach others how to do it.
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This is a Brown Hyena, the rarest of all Hyena species. They mostly are scavengers and are aggressive enough to challenge leopards for their kill. In German, they are sometimes called Strandwolf, beach wolf, because they live in costal areas and will prey on seal cubs there.
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Their clans are much smaller than those of the spotted Hyena, usually two adult with their offspring. If there are more than one litter in the group, every member will take food back to the young. Here's a photo of a puppy - absolutely adorable.

All pictures were taken at Tierpark Berlin, one of the very few zoos to keep both species.

Find out what else H stands for with ABC Wednesday

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

ABC Wednesday: G is for Gundi

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This is a Common Gundi (Ctenodactylus gundi), a species of rodents living in North Africa. They are about the size of a guines pig and feed on all kinds of plants, getting all their moisture from their food.
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Gundis hide in rock crevices at night and during the hottest part of the day. They live in family groups of up to a hundred individuals.
Pictures taken at the Tierpark Berlin.
See what else G stands for with ABC Wednesday

ABC Wednesday: F ist for Fruit Bat

or for Flying Fox or Flughund (which means Flying Dog), but the name for the whole family is Megabat. Most of them are pretty big, but some species are just 6 cm long.
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Unlike microbats (the small ones you probably have seen flitting around in the dark, depending on where you live) fruitbats don't use echolocation. they rely on their sense of smell and can see very well. They feed on fruits and flowers and in some regions, they are important for pollination and to spread seeds.
The fruit bat in the photo above is a straw coloured fruit bat (Eidolon helvum), they can reach a wingspan of up to 30 inches. They live in colonies of several 10.000 individuals, sometimes even up to one million and can carry pieces of fruit in their cheek pouches.
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These guys are Gambian Epauletted Fruit Bat (Epomophorus gambianus) - the males have white tufts of hair on their shoulders, hence the name. They live in big colonies, too, and the colonies are organized into smaller family groups and groups of juveniles and adults without a mate.
Fotos taken at the Tierpark Berlin.
A great picture book about fruit bats is Stellaluna by Jannell Cannon, which I really recommend if you have kids who like animals.

Find out what else F stands for with ABC Wednesday

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

E is for Elephant Shrew

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This is a Short-eared Elephant Shrew (Macroscelides proboscideus). They are not related to shrews, elephant shrews belong to a completely different order.

They all have those long noses that gave them their name, but other elephant shrews may look very differently when it comes to size and colour, the biggest can reach a height of 30 cms and weigh up to 500 gramms. These big elephant shrews are called Rüsselhündchen in German (trunk doggies) and the Golden-rumped Elephant Shrew is called Goldrücken-Rüsselhündchen (gold-backd trunk doggie). Which is one of my favourite German animal names ever.

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Short-eared Elephant Shrews are about the size of a gerbil, with very soft fur and spindly legs and a nose that can smell around the corner. They eat all kinds of thing: plants, berries, insects.
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Field studies suggest that they are monogamous, one of only very few animal species who are. The male will guard the female and chase away any other males.
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Some stretching just after a huge yawn...look at those legs, its hard to believe that they can run so quickly on them. Some elephant shrew species have tracks in the underbrush that they use to get around and that are kept clean and free of any twigs or other obstacles.
The photos were taken in the Tierpark Berlin.
See what else E stands for over at ABC Wednesday

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

ABC Wednesday: D is for Dhole

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Dholes are often called Red Dogs or Red Wolves, but they actually have a genus of their own and are not that closely related to dogs and wolves, just like African Wild Dogs (also a single-species genus).
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They are very social and live in family clans, usually of 5-10 animals, but they can have much more members. Dholes are native to India and the rest of Southeast Asia and prey on all kinds of animals: rats, deer, cattle, even water buffalos. Apart from a complex body language, they also communicate with a variety of sounds, including a whistle that gave them yet another name: Whistling Dog.

What else does D stand for? Find out with ABC Wednesday

Sunday, August 1, 2010

ABC Wednesday: C is for Chulengo

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Guanaco foals are called chulengos. Guanacos are closely related to llamas, but they are much more fragile and always the same colour. Llamas and guanacos belong to the lama genus and are are in turn closely related to vicunas and its domesticated form, the alpaka, of the Vicugna genus.
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It's all a bit complicated and has been subject to change over the years because all species are so closely related. Guanacos and vicunjas are the two wild camelids living in south America and were treasured by the Incas.
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Since they live at such high altitudes, Guanacos have four times the amount of red blood cells of a human to ensure that they always have enough oxygen. Their wool is extremely fine and soft, only the vicunja's wool is more expensive.

I took these photos in the Tierpark Berlin, where you can see all four species.
What else does C stand for? Find out with ABC Wednesday

MyWorld Tuesday: Technikmuseum

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I spent a week in Berlin recently - it's not a city I would want to live in (too big, not enough green) but if you are into museums and art, Berlin rocks.
The Technikmuseum is huge and I visited only the two floors dedicated to aviation. That alone took me four hours and there are 13 more exhibitions...
The balloon is a model made after an etching by Balthasar Antoine Dunker, who made fun of the big plans people had for airtravel. But wouldn't it be awesome to ravel in a balloon like this? My favourite part is the streetlight and the steamtrain travelling around the balloon :)

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a repplica of an aircraft built by Otto Lilienthal. It was supposed to have an engine that flapped the wings, but the motor never worked and so the aircraft never flew.

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a Jeannin Stahltaube, an aircraft used by the German military prior to WWI. Most of the flying aces in WWI learned to fly in a Stahltaube, but it was too slow and given up for faster models. This one is the only remaining exemplar of a Jeannin Stahltaube. Look at the wheels - can you imagine flying in this?

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the remains of a Ju 87, a Stuka (Sturzkampfbomber), it was recovered in Russia.

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the steel skeleton of a Gotha Go 242, a transport glider used during WWII, to transport troops and machinery without alerting anyone by the sound of engines. This one was recovered in 1994 in the former GDR, like a few other exhibits in the museum. I'm amazed by this because Germany isn't that big, so it's hard for something as big as a plane to stay undiscovered for so long, and over 40 years after the war no-one had ever thought of scrapping them or putting them in a museum or whatever?

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a Ju 52, known as the Tante Ju - it was used as a transport aircraft both by the military and in a civilian role. It's a reliable aircraft and many airlines used it for many decades, for example Lufthansa and SwissAir. These days, you can fly in a Tante Ju over various German cities.
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a Rumpler Tropfenwagen - built in 1921. It was the first streamlined car ever, but only about one hundred were produced. You may have seen one before if you have ever watched Fritz Lang's Metropolis. This is one of two remaining Tropfenwagen.

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The museum is easy to recognize because it has a Rosinenbomber installed on its roof. During the blockade of Berlin, the Western Allies supplied the citizens with food ect. by aircraft and one of the pilots started to drop sweets and (probably) raisins tied to little parachutes for the children from his plane. That's how the aircrafts got the name Rosinenbomber, which means Raisin Bombers, in Berlin. You can read more about this here

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