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Albatross (Diomedeidae)

Albatross (Diomedeidae)

Wide-winged and long-lived, albatrosses are rarely seen on land, preferring to stay out on the ocean except to mate and raise their young.

Fast Facts

Type                       : Bird

Diet                        : Carnivore

Average life span in the wild:Up to 50 years

Size                        : Wingspan, 6.5 to 11 ft (2 to 3.4 m)

Weight                   : Up to 22 lbs (10 kg)

Group name         : Flock

Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:

An albatross aloft can be a spectacular site. These feathered giants have the longest wingspan of any bird—up to 11 feet (3.4 meters)! The wandering albatross is the biggest of some two dozen different species. Albatrosses use their formidable wingspans to ride the ocean winds and sometimes to glide for hours without rest or even a flap of their wings. They also float on the sea’s surface, though the position makes them vulnerable to aquatic predators. Albatrosses drink salt water, as do some other sea birds.

These long-lived birds have reached a documented 50 years of age. They are rarely seen on land and gather only to breed, at which time they form large colonies on remote islands. Mating pairs produce a single egg and take turns caring for it. Young albatrosses may fly within three to ten months, depending on the species, but then leave the land behind for some five to ten years until they themselves reach sexual maturity. Some species appear to mate for life.

Albatrosses feed primarily on squid or schooling fish, but are familiar to mariners because they sometimes follow ships in hopes of dining on handouts or garbage. Albatrosses have a special place in maritime lore and superstition, most memorably evoked in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Some albatross species were heavily hunted for feathers that were used as down and in the manufacture of women’s hats. The Laysan albatross was important to the indigenous hunters of the northern seas. Excavations of Aleut and Eskimo settlements reveal many albatross bones and suggest that the birds were an important part of human diet in the region.

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Posted by on July 8, 2011 in Birds

 

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Adélie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae)

Adélie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae)

 

Wings spread, this Adélie penguin waddles through an Antarctic colony. Its black tail gives it a tuxedo-like appearance.

 

Fast Facts

Type                                          : Bird

Diet                                            : Carnivore

Average life span in the wild     : Up to 20 years

Siz                                             : 27.5 in (70 cm)

Weight                               : 8.5 to 12 lbs (4 to 5.5 kg)

Group name                      : Colony

Did you know?

Adult Adélie penguins have been observed stealing rocks from their neighbors’ nests.

Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man

Adélie penguins live on the Antarctic continent and on many small, surrounding coastal islands. They spend the winter offshore in the seas surrounding the Antarctic pack ice.

Adélies feed on tiny aquatic creatures, such as shrimp-like krill, but also eat fish and squid. They have been known to dive as deep as 575 feet (175 meters) in search of such quarry, though they usually hunt in far shallower waters less than half that depth.

Like other penguins, Adélies are sleek and efficient swimmers. They may travel 185 miles round-trip (about 300 kilometers) to procure a meal.

During the spring breeding season (in October), they take to the rocky Antarctic coastline where they live in large communities called colonies. These groups can include thousands of birds.

Once on land, Adélies build nests and line them with small stones. Though they move with the famed “penguin waddle” they are capable walkers who can cover long overland distances. In early spring, before the vast sheets of ice break up, they may have to walk 31 miles (50 kilometers) from their onshore nests to reach open water.

Male Adélie penguins help their mates rear the young and, without close inspection, the two sexes are nearly indistinguishable. They take turns sitting on a pair of eggs to keep them warm and safe from predators. When food is short, only one of the two chicks may survive. After about three weeks, parents are able to leave the chicks alone, though the offspring gather in groups for safety. Young penguins begin to swim on their own in about nine weeks.


 
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Posted by on July 8, 2011 in Birds

 

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Warty Newt (Triturus cristatus)

Warty Newt (Triturus cristatus)

The warty is also called the great crested newt for the dramatic, jagged crest that males develop along their backs during the spring breeding season.

Fast Facts

Type                                                       : Amphibian

Diet                                                        : Carnivore

Average life span in the wild           : Up to 25 years

Size                                                        : 7 in (18 cm)

Weight                                                   : 0.22 to 0.37 oz (6.3 to 10.6 g)

Did you know?

In Europe, a special license is required to handle warty newts.

 

The warty or great crested newt lives only in Europe. Females, which are larger than males, can reach 7 inches (18 centimeters) in length, making these stout-bodied amphibians the continent’s largest newts.

True to its name, the warty newt has skin that is covered in small bumps. The skin contains glands that secrete a milky, acrid-smelling substance to dissuade predators. Its other common name derives from the dramatic, jagged crest that males develop along their backs during the spring breeding season.

These newts are generally dark colored on top and orange or yellow with black spots underneath. They also have white speckles on their flanks and a large, vertically flattened tail that bears a white streak down the side.

Warty newts are nocturnal and are voracious eaters, feeding on worms, slugs, and insects on land, and tadpoles and mollusks in water. They are more terrestrial than most newts, but must remain near bodies of fresh water to keep their skin moist.

These newts spend a significant portion of their lives in hibernation, usually from around October to March of each year. On a rainy night in March, they awaken and trek back to the pond where they hatched to mate.

Females lay from 200 to 300 eggs, but only about half develop into tadpoles. Tadpoles emerge from their eggs in about 21 days and feed on small insects like water fleas and tiny worms. Warty newts are extremely long-lived, with some exceeding 16 years of age. Like all newts, they can regrow body parts if necessary, but that ability diminishes as they age.

Warty newt populations are in decline throughout their range, and they are considered an endangered species. They and their habitats are protected under European law.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2011 in Amphibians

 

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Wallace’s Flying Frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus)

Wallace’s Flying Frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus)

Flying through the air with a semblance of ease, the Wallace’s flying frog is one of few aerial amphibians.

Fast Facts

Type                       : Amphibian

Diet                        : Carnivore

Size                        : 4 in (10 cm)

Group name         : Army

Did you know?

The Wallace’s flying frog is named for the 19th-century British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who first described the species in 1869.

 

The overachieving Wallace’s flying frog wasn’t content to just hop and swim. Thousands of years of watching birds navigate the rain forest and avoid predators by taking to the sky appears to have convinced this unique amphibian that air travel is the way to go.

Also known as parachute frogs, Wallace’s flying frogs inhabit the dense tropical jungles of Malaysia and Borneo. They live almost exclusively in the trees, descending only to mate and lay eggs.

When threatened or in search of prey, they will leap from a branch and splay their four webbed feet. The membranes between their toes and loose skin flaps on their sides catch the air as they fall, helping them to glide, sometimes 50 feet (15 meters) or more, to a neighboring tree branch or even all the way to the ground. They also have oversized toe pads to help them land softly and stick to tree trunks.

Wallace’s flying frogs are not the only frogs who have developed this ability, but they are among the largest. The black color of their foot webbing helps distinguish them from their similarly aerial cousins.

They are generally bright green with yellow sides and grow to about 4 inches (10 centimeters). They survive mainly on insects.

The Wallace’s flying frog population is considered stable, and they have special status only in certain localities. However, they are partial to breeding and laying eggs in the fetid wallowing holes of the nearly extinct Asian rhinoceros, and further decreases in rhino populations may negatively affect the species.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2011 in Amphibians

 

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Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum)

Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum)

Resembling its feline namesake, the tiger salamander has stripes over its gray or black body.

Fast Facts

Type                                                       : Amphibian

Diet                                                        : Carnivore

Average life span in the wild           : 12 to 15 years

Size                                                        : 7 to 14 in (18 to 35 cm)

Weight                                                   : 4.4 oz (126 g)

Did you know?

During courtship, a male tiger salamander sometimes impersonates a female in order to sneak in and deposit his spermatophore on top of a rival male’s.

 

Tiger salamanders’ markings are variable throughout their extensive range, but the most common marking resembles the vertically striped pattern of their mammalian namesake.

They are usually brown in color with brilliant yellow stripes or blotches over the length of their bodies. Their base color, however, can also be greenish or gray and their markings can be yellow dots or brown splotches. Some have no markings at all.

Thick-bodied amphibians with short snouts, sturdy legs, and long tails, tigers are the largest land-dwelling salamander on Earth. They can grow to 14 inches (35 centimeters) in length, but the average size is more like 6 to 8 inches (15.2 to 20.3 centimeters).

They are also the most wide-ranging salamander species in North America, living throughout most of the United States, southern Canada, and eastern Mexico. They live in deep burrows, up to two feet (60 centimeters) below the surface, near ponds, lakes, or slow-moving streams and are one of few salamanders able to survive in the arid climate of the North America interior.

Highly voracious predators, they emerge from their burrows at night to feed on worms, insects, frogs, and even other salamanders.

Their population is healthy throughout their range, but deforestation, pollution, and rising acidity levels in their breeding pools is affecting their distribution. Many are even killed by cars as they cross roads in the spring en route to or from their breeding sites.

Tiger salamanders are long-lived, averaging 10 to 16 years in the wild.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2011 in Amphibians

 

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Spring Peeper Pseudacris crucifer (Hyla crucifer)

Spring Peeper Pseudacris crucifer (Hyla crucifer)

Harbinger of spring, calls of male spring peepers fill the evening air to entice females.

Fast Facts

Type                                                       : Amphibian

Diet                                                        : Carnivore

Average life span in the wild           : 3 years (estimated)

Size                                                        : 1 in (2.5 cm)

Weight                                                   : 0.11 to 0.18 oz (3 to 5 g)

Group name                                         : Army

Did you know?

Spring peepers can allow most of their bodies to freeze during winter hibernation and still survive.

 

Spring peepers are to the amphibian world what American robins are to the bird world. As their name implies, they begin emitting their familiar sleigh-bell-like chorus right around the beginning of spring.

Found in wooded areas and grassy lowlands near ponds and swamps in the central and eastern parts of Canada and the United States, these tiny, well-camouflaged amphibians are rarely seen. But the mid-March crescendo of nighttime whistles from amorous males is for many a sign that winter is over.

Spring peepers are tan or brown in color with dark lines that form a telltale X on their backs. They grow to about 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) in length, and have large toe pads for climbing, although they are more at home amid the loose debris of the forest floor.

They are nocturnal creatures, hiding from their many predators during the day and emerging at night to feed on such delicacies as beetles, ants, flies, and spiders.

They mate and lay their eggs in water and spend the rest of the year in the forest. In the winter, they hibernate under logs or behind loose bark on trees, waiting for the spring thaw and their chance to sing.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2011 in Amphibians

 

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Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)

Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)

Bright yellow spots distinguish this secretive amphibian. Spotted salamanders spend most of their lives hidden in dark, damp places.

Fast Facts

Type                                                   : Amphibian

Diet                                                     : Carnivore

Average life span in the wild            : Up to 20 years

Size                                                     : 7 in (18 cm)

Did you know?

Spotted salamanders return to the same mating pool via the same route every year.

Despite being fairly large and having an extremely broad range, the spotted salamander is actually pretty hard to, well, spot.

They can reach 9 inches (23 centimeters) in length and are prevalent in mature deciduous forests from eastern Canada throughout the eastern and midwestern United States. But these secretive salamanders spend almost their entire lives hidden under rocks or logs or in the burrows of other forest animals.

They will populate upland forests and mountainous regions, but are most common in moist, low-lying forests near floodplains.

They emerge from their subterranean hiding spots only at night to feed and during spring mating. They will actually travel long distances over land after a heavy rain to mate and lay their eggs in vernal pools and ponds.

Visually striking, these stout salamanders are bluish-black with two irregular rows of yellow or orange spots extending from head to tail. Like many other salamanders, they secrete a noxious, milky toxin from glands on their backs and tails to dissuade predators. Their diet includes insects, worms, slugs, spiders, and millipedes.

Spotted salamanders’ numbers are generally stable throughout their range, but they are very sensitive to changes in their ecology, and rising water acidity in certain habitats is negatively affecting their population. The pet trade and habitat loss also take a toll.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2011 in Amphibians

 

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