Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Crocodile Lizard, and more...

Chinese crocodile lizard
Shinisaurus crocodilurus (Ahl, 1930)
Shinisauridae; Squamata; Sauropsida; Chordata
Artis Zoo, Amsterdam
March 2011

So, yes, that hyper-macro shot in the previous post was of the Chinese crocodile lizard. It's rare in zoos and almost as rare in the wild. The derivation of its name is obvious; it's from China and looks like a crocodile. As such, it's in its own family within the lizard and snake order Squamata, and its closest relatives within that group aren't known.

Here follow some other interesting and rarely seen mammals and reptiles, all photographed at Artis Zoo.

False gavial (or gharial)
Tomistoma schlegelii Muller, 1838
Gavialidae; Crocodilia; Sauropsida; Chordata

There were two false gavials in their indoor enclosure, one relatively small and slender, and the other, pictured above, who was huge. Never underestimate the apparent sluggishness of a crocodilian at rest; they can leap up without warning, as I discovered that day. If I hadn't been behind the extra barrier, which I wanted to jump over to get better photos, I might have been a goner. I can truly appreciate the terror that such a dangerous animal makes people feel.

White-bellied lizard (female)
Darevskia unisexualis (Darevsky, 1966)
Lacertidae; Squamata; Sauropsida; Chordata

I know this critter is a female not because of any distinctive markings, or a size difference, or obvious genitalia, but because there are no males. Not all animals have to mate to produce offspring. There are a few lizard species that are able to reproduce asexually, with the resultant offspring being exact genetic clones of their mother. As such, they are all female, all each other's sisters and their own mothers... I'm confused too. Anyhow, parthenogenesis (from the Ancient Greek, meaning 'virgin birth') is now being found in many species of reptile, and may be a viable form of reproduction when no males are present.

Spectacled bear
Tremarctos ornatus (Cuvier, 1825)
Ursidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; Chordata

The spectacled bear is the only surviving member of the short-faced bear lineage (Tremarctinae), which were found in North and South America. The short-faced bear itself, Arctodus simus, was a huge, long-legged beast capable of running after its prey. The closest thing we have to it today is the spectacled bear, a mostly herbivorous mammal from the cloud forests of South America. I'd been waiting to see this species for years, and have finally seen all the world's eight living bear species in zoos.

Round-eared elephant shrew (or sengi)
Macroscelides proboscideus (Shaw, 1800)
Macroscelididae; Macroscelidea; Mammalia; Chordata

Elephant shrews, or sengis, are an exclusively African group of mammals in the group Afrotheria, which also contains the outwardly dissimilar aardvark, tenrecs, golden moles, manatees, hyraxes, and elephants. The round-eared elephant shrew from South Africa is one of the smaller members of the group, being similar in size to a small mouse.

Yellow-throated marten
Martes flavigula (Boddaert, 1785)
Mustelidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; Chordata

This beautiful creature comes from Asia, from the cold forests of southern Russia and the Himalayas to the tropical rainforests of Malaysia and Borneo. It is vividly coloured in shades of brown from near black through to yellow and white. It is the largest of the eight marten species distributed throughout the northern Hemisphere, with the pine marten (M. martes) being the most well known in the UK, and the fisher (M. pennanti) and American marten (M. americana) being the two New World species.

Rock cavy, or moco
Kerodon rupestris Wied-Neuwied, 1820
Caviidae; Rodentia; Mammalia; Chordata

Cavies are also known as guinea pigs, the species Cavia porcellus being the one kept as pets and laboratory subjects the world over. There are a number of other species, the largest being the Patagonian mara (Dolichotis patagonum). The rock cavy, however, is rarely seen in captivity. It's found only in Brazil, and are adept climbers, scaling near vertical walls like the ecologically similar rock hyrax (Procavia capensis). According to Wikipedia, they have been recorded displaying homosexual behaviour. 

Common gundi
Ctenodactylus gundi (Rothmann, 1776)
Ctenodactylidae; Rodentia; Mammalia; Chordata

Another rodent oddity, the gundis are a North African family from the dunes and mountains of the Sahara Desert. They have unusual external ears, having almost no pinna (flap). The generic name Ctenodactylus means 'comb finger', as the gundi has comb-like claws which it uses for grooming.

Coypu (or nutria)
Myocastor coypus (Molina, 1782)
Myocastoridae; Rodentia; Mammalia; Chordata

Despite looking somewhat like a beaver, the coypu (called the nutria in North America, from the Spanish word for otter) is more closely related to cavies and chinchillas, and is thus placed in the Caviomorpha with them. It differs externally from the beaver by having a slender, unflattened tail, and thick orange enamel on the front teeth. Originally from South America, they have been reared in captivity for their cheap yet luxuriant fur, and have escaped numerous times, forming feral populations in East Anglia (now presumed extinct), other parts of Europe, in swampy parts of North America, as well as parts of east Africa. Like a giant rat, they are considered pests, as they destroy crops, but are relatively free from disease.

1 comment:

Albertonykus said...

Cool animals! Haven't seen most of them.

At the Vancouver Aquarium there's a double barrier at the caiman exhibit, too, with a warning that crocodilians are good jumpers.