Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday My Town Shoot Out: Creepy Crawlies

Let's begin with something almost everybody likes. A butterfly.
I love insects, invertebrates in general, I wrote about why in some length here. Let's just say that I find their diversity fascinating, they come up with such outrageous looks and strategies for survival.
Here's one with a particularly weird look:
That's a Wandering Violin Mantis (Gongylus gongylodes), who looks like a shrivelled leaf. Unlike most other mantis species, they are not aggressive towards each other and if kept as pets, can be kept in groups.

And here's one with a particularly weird strategy for breeding: a Jewel Wasp, Ampulex compressa. They supply their larvae with roaches to feed on when they hatch, but the wasp is less than an inch long and not strong enough to carry a dead or immobile roach. So they sting their prey, first to paralyse the front legs of the roach. The second sting is delivered with precision into a certain area of the roach's head and it modifies the roach's escape behaviour. The wasp can then just grab the roach's antenna and lead it, like on a leash, to a burrow where it will lay an egg and then wall up the burrow with small pebbles.
The larva will feed on the live roach and it will eat the internal organs in an order that keeps the roach alive as long as possible. It sounds gruesome, but it's absolutely amazing to me how complex all this is.
There are many examples of similar behaviour, parasites are a fascinating lot. Here's one that has a life cycle that involves going from a bird to a snail back to a bird and another who manipulates caterpillars into becoming protective of their eggs. There's even one who first feeds on a fish's tongue and then replaces the tongue with its own body. The fish can live with the parasite as a tongue perfectly well.

And now that I have probably grossed most of you out, on to some more soothing and beautiful butterflies.

And more creepy crawlies at My Town Shoot Out

All photos were taken at Wilhelma in Stuttgart, where I spent last week.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Nature Notes: Frost

I spent the last week in Stuttgart in southern Germany and the nights are getting cold down there.

It takes a while for everything to thaw out, giving me the chance to shoot frozen roses in sunlight.

Nature Notes is hosted by Michelle at Rambling Woods

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

ABC Wednesday: O is for Okapi


A pair of Okapis (Okapia johnstoni) at London Zoo. The male has horns, the female doesn't. Looking like a cross between a giraffe, an antelope and a zebra, okapis have lived in secret (as far as Europe and science was concerned) until 1887 - although it probably was known in Ancient Egypt. Here's a beautiful drawing British explorer Henry Johnston after whom the species is named made of a pair.

They are related to giraffes and share several characteristics with them: the long, purple tongue, the horns of the males (called ossicones) and the long neck, at least in comparison to their overall size. Okapis are the size of a horse, about 150-170cm shoulder height. The stripes camouflage them in the dark rainforests of the Congo where they feed on leaves.

Usually, they are solitary, but they will live together as pairs for a short time when the female is in heat. Males have a territory they will defend but will allow females to pass through it freely. If need be, they will tolerate other males - for example when there just isn't room for the males to have the space they would normally occupy. Habitat destruction is a great problem for okapis, even more so since they didn't have a wide range to begin with.

Not much is known about okapis in the wild. There are only 154 individuals in captivity (as of 2011 and no more than 30,000 in the wild. Captive breeding has been successful and the mother will care for her calf for more than half a year. Scientist believe that they communicate using infrasound - sounds too low-pitched for humans to hear (elephants do that as well). With their big ears, okapis certainly hear very well. Along with giraffes, they are the only two surviving species of the once huge Giraffidae family.

See what else O stands for with ABC Wednesday

Sources and further reading:
Brookfield Zoo
Okapi Conservation Project

World Bird Wednesday: Barbet

A Red and Yellow Barbet (Trachyphonus erytrocephalus), a species found in Eastern Africa.
They are omnivores and will feed on all kinds of berries, fruit, seeds and insects/invertebrates. Sometimes, eggs and chicks of other birds are taken. Usually, they forage on the ground and in groups.
They are very vocal birds and will mob predators such as mongoose or snakes. If not hunted, they are not shy at all and will even enter houses in search of food. Here's a video of a calling bird and a recording of a duet.
Red and Yellow Barbets nest in tunnels, with a up to 40cm long tunnel leading up to the nesting cave. The tunnel is dug into riverbanks, but the birds will also nest in termite hills. Only the parents brood the eggs, but all members of the group will care for the chicks. The males take over the bigger part of brooding and food gathering for the chicks.

a Black-spotted barbet (Captio niger), a similar bird from the Capitonidae family, the American barbets

More birds at World Bird Wednesday

Sources and further reading:
Internet Bird Collection
Wikipedia, German and English
Photos were taken at Burgers Zoo and Hagenbecks Tierpark

Friday, October 21, 2011

My Town Shoot Out: Scavenger Hunt

A neat new meme for me, via Scriptorsenex:
Friday My Town Shoot Out. This time with a scavenger hunt: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

Something old:
the Christianskirche in Altona, built in 1738 and there has been a church there since 1548

Something new:
office building around the corner from where I live

something borrowed:
statue of Otto von Bismarck, slowly sinking into the ground and living on borrowed time

something blue:
the Köhlbrandbrücke, illuminated during the Hamburg Cruise Days

Visit other towns at My Town Shoot Out

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Nature Notes: Galloping Giraffe

Somali or Reticulated Giraffes (Giraffa cameleopardalis reticulata) engaging in a small fight. It's called necking and looks very graceful, like pretty much everything giraffes do. Males do it to establish dominance and injuries are very rare - but even though it looks slow and almost like ballet, a well-aimed blow can absolutely knock down the weaker giraffe. The horns (called ossicones, they're not real horns) help with that and are aimed at the neck and rump during a fight.

The calf of the group went for a run around the enclosure, bucking and throwing its legs like a horse - I have never seen a giraffe do that and it was an impressive sight. A running giraffe looks deceptively slow, probably because the legs don't have to move all that fast to cover the distance, but they can reach speeds of up to 60km/h (37mph).

Nature Notes is hosted by Michelle at Rambling Woods

Photos were taken at Wilhelma in Stuttgart.
Sources and further reading:
Animal Diversity Web
Wikipedia Somali Giraffe
Wikipedia Giraffe

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

ABC Wednesday: N is for Nutria

Three nutrias (Myocaster coipus) also known as coypu or river rat is a large semiaquatic rodent. They were native to South America, but have been introduced all over the world and have become an invasive species.

They live near rivers and lakes and will spend the majority of their time in the water. With webbed feet, they are excellent swimmer and can also dive. Once out of the water, nutrias spend a lot of time grooming their fur to keep it dry and watertight. They look like muskrats (who don't have webbed hindfeet and a tail that#s not as round) and beavers (who have a completely flat tail).

Here you can see the rounded tail. Nutrias are herbivores and will eat almost anything, from grasses to crops to leaves. They have huge front teeth that, typically for rodents, continue to grow all their life. Allow me to demonstrate:

They live in groups of about 15 animals, usually a pair and their offspring, although bigger colonies with several adult pairs are possible. A litter has a size of 6-8 babies and a female can give birth two or three times a year, the babies are able to see and have fur when they are born. The group lives in a big nest either constructed from plants or dug into the earth. The entrance is always above water, another thing to tell them apart from muskrats and beavers.

I took all photos at Wildpark Schwarze Berge, where a big colony of nutrias is kept. At least one of the adults carries a gene that causes leucism, the nutria on the right is leucistic for example, it even has blueish eyes.

See what else N stands for with ABC Wednesday

Sources and further reading:
Nutria Fact Sheet
Georgia Wildlife Web
Animal Diversity Web

World Bird Wednesday: Pesquet's Parrot

A Pesquet's Parrot (Psittrichas fulgidus) at the Wilhelma- that's a species I hadn't heard of before. It's not often shown in zoos because it's so highly specialised, it feeds only on a small number of fig species.

This one is a male, he has a small patch of red feathers behind his eye which females don't have. The naked face makes this parrot look a bit like a vulture, it's sometimes called Vulturine Parrot. The species is native to New Guinea and is hunted for both meat and feathers and also for the pet trade. All this has caused the population to decline rapidly.

They are large birds, much bigger than an African Grey Parrot for example, more than 40cm long. This guy here was very interested in the movement of my camera lens and eventually flew in for a closer look. I would have loved to pet him, but that impressive beak made me think twice about that.

I took a ton of bird photos at the Wilhelma, but two birds I cannot identify. Maybe you can help me. The first is some kind of shore bird. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you where it is supposed to live, since shorebirds from all over the world where group together in this exhibit:
John identified this bird for me, a Blacksmith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus).

and here's one that is native to Africa (I know, not that much help) - from its overall shape, I would think it's some kind of thrush. The breast is coloured light grey. I looked through the thrush section of the Bird Photos website but didn't find it (it's a great resource nevertheless).

Sources and further reading on Pesquet's Parrot:

More birds at World Bird Wednesday

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Nature Notes: Jenischpark

A Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa), somewhere between 100 and 200 years old. The Jenischpark was originally the private park of the Jenisch family, designed as an Ferme ornée and there are many gorgeous old trees.

I believe those are snail eggs.
Edit: As John points out, it's probably a slime mold, maybe Tubifera spec.


two eyes and it's a Muppet

hawthorn (Crataegus spec.)

the dew hadn't yet evaporated

meadow saffron (Colchicum autumnale)

apples ripe for the picking - the trees are on public land and anyone can harvest there. There are also quince trees, but those were already all gone.

Nature Notes is hosted by Michelle at Rambling Woods