Sunday 30 November 2008

Testudines (Photo special)

Testudines, or Chelonia, is the name given to the order of reptiles which contains the shelled reptiles, that is, tortoises, turtles and terrapins. Over the last few months I have seen quite a few of the Testudines, and as they are not exactly fast movers, I have managed to get good photographs of them.

Balkan stripe-necked terrapin
Mauremys rivulata (Valenciennes, 1843)
Geoemydidae; Testudines; Sauropsida; Chordata
Famagusta, North Cyprus
October 2008

The small, freshwater chelonians are generally known as terrapins. Not always, though. The Balkan stripe-necked terrapin is one of a few related stripe-necked terrapins from parts of Europe and Asia, with M. rivulata being the one found wild in Cyprus and parts of eastern Europe. This specimen was not wild, however. We were sitting in a cafe in Famagusta which had a small aviary containing doves, cockatiels, budgerigars and canaries, and a large indoor fountain with two terrapins: one of which was this one; the other was a red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans), the terrapin commonly sold as a household pet. It was difficult to tell that were real, as they weren’t moving, until I got close to the stripe-necked terrapin, and it retracted its head like it was wearing a pullover and its ears were cold. The white eye is distinctive.

African spurred tortoise
Geochelone sulcata (Miller, 1779)
Testudinidae; Testudines; Sauropsida; Chordata
Van Hage Animal Garden, Ware, Hertfordshire
November 2008

Before I talk about the tortoise, I have to mention the place where it was photographed. The Van Hage garden centre is near Ware in Hertfordshire, and is a short walk from the train station, which is set in the wonderful surrounds of a canal and a nearby wetland, and there is an excellent pub nearby, the John Gilpin. The garden centre is fairly standard, with the usual things you find in one, but it is unique in having a small “animal garden” at the back. It is a fully licensed zoo, except it is free to get into! They have the usual pets and farm animals, including ferrets, finches, turkeys, chickens, rabbits and pygmy goats, as well as the less every-day striped skunk, ring-tailed coatis, meerkats, Edward’s pheasants and barn owls. I recommend a visit if you’re in the area.

The last time I visited, it was raining, but I was surprised to see a new addition to their collection, the African spurred tortoise. It was sitting in its indoor enclosure (it had the choice of an outdoor run, but it was November and of not good weather), under a heat lamp, with vegetables to munch on. I hadn’t seen this species before, which gets its name from the sharply keeled scales on the legs.

Aldabra giant tortoise
Dipsochelys dussumieri (Gray, 1831)
Testudinidae; Testudines; Sauropsida; Chordata
London Zoo
November 2008

When most people think of giant tortoises, their thoughts often go to the Galapagos Islands, the archipelago made famous by Charles Darwin, or the one from the title sequence of One Foot in the Grave. There are other species of giant tortoises, however, and the one photographed here is from the island of Aldabra in the Seychelles. They are now believed to belong to a different genus though; both were included in Geochelone for a long time, but the Aldabra species is now in Dipsochelys with its close relatives, and the Galapagos one is in Chelonoidis with some other, much smaller, South American tortoises.

The specimen I saw at London Zoo was probably not fully grown, as it wasn’t very giant. It was sharing its enclosure with another reptile, not a chelonian, but a Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), quite an unlikely bedfellow.

Radiated tortoises
Astrochelys radiata (Shaw, 1802)
Testudinidae; Testudines; Sauropsida; Chordata
London Zoo
November 2008

Found only in Madagascar and the nearby islands of Reunion and Mauritius, the radiated tortoise (named after its “rays” on its shell) is considered Critically Endangered, as it is threatened by habitat loss (as usual), hunting for food and the pet trade. There is a captive breeding programme, however, and London Zoo is taking part in this, although their latest inventory states they have four individuals of “unknown sex”, which would not be helpful in breeding!

Pancake tortoise
Malacochersus tornieri (Siebenrock, 1903)
Testudinidae; Testudines; Sauropsida; Chordata
London Zoo
November 2008

Most tortoises have rounded or peaked shells, but the pancake tortoise does not. As its name suggests, it has a flat shell, which helps it to hide in crevices that other tortoises could not.

Spur-thighed tortoise
Testudo graeca Linnaeus, 1758
Testudinidae; Testudines; Sauropsida; Chordata
Shepreth Wildlife Park, Cambridgeshire
September 2008

I caught these two spur-thighed tortoises in the process of making more spur-thighed tortoises. The male, as is common in tortoises, makes odd noises during copulation, which never fails to entertain. The prelude (foreplay?) to this act was the male headbutting the female’s shell, quite hard, might I add. I thought at first it was aggression, but no, soon after, he mounted her and began procreating.

Saturday 29 November 2008

Arctic Wildfowl (Photo special)

The London Wetland Centre is an excellent place for wildfowl conservation. From anywhere in the city you can hop on a tube train, then a bus, and you are at an oasis for ducks, geese, swans, waders, birds of prey, and a whole host of other birds, not to mention other wildlife too. For me, the part where the Centre really shines is its World Wetlands collection. There are 14 sections in which one or more species of wildfowl (the term includes all ducks, geese, swans, whistling-ducks and the magpie goose) are kept according to their habitat and distribution. In the Australian section, for example, are black swans (Cygnus atratus), maned ducks (Chenonetta jubata), hardheads (Aythya australis) and magpie geese (Anseranas semipalmata).

The three birds I have chosen to profile here are kept in two different sections, but are all naturally found in Europe, especially the northern parts, hence the name for this post, "Arctic Wildfowl".

Bewick's swan
Cygnus bewickii (Yarrell, 1830)
Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata
London Wetland Centre
October 2008

The Bewick's swan is one of three species of swan to be found in Britain: the ubiquitous mute swan (Cygnus olor) is resident year-round, but the whooper swan (C. cygnus) and the Bewick's swan are winter visitors only, breeding in the high Arctic. The Bewick's swan is the smallest of the three; it is sometimes referred to as a subspecies of the more widespread tundra swan (C. columbianus).

Above three photos:
Common eider
Somateria mollissima (Linnaeus, 1758)
Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata
London Wetland Centre
January/October 2008

Top photo: adult male
Middle photo: subadult male
Bottom photo: adult female

Most people have heard of the eider in the context of its feathers; it is the soft down feathers that the female eider uses to protect her eggs that are harvested for use in pillows. Eiders are found year-round in the UK but is more numerous in winter when arctic birds migrate south, congregating especially around the coasts. Eiders make the most unusual sound for a duck, reminiscent of old ladies going "oooh" at something.

Above two photos:
Common goldeneye
Bucephala clangula (Linnaeus, 1758)
Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata
London Wetland Centre
October 2008

Top photo: adult male not yet in breeding plumage
Bottom photo: adult female

With a name reminiscent of a 90s Bond film and the theme tume from it, the goldeneye is a species of duck from across the northern hemisphere, especially in areas of boreal forest (evergreen conifers). In Scotland it is present year-round, breeding in Scots pines and other such trees, while it is a winter visitor to reservoirs and large lakes in the rest of the UK. Males have the distinctive golden eye, with a glossy green head and black and white body plumage, while the females have a more subdued dark brown head and a white eye.

Friday 28 November 2008

Photo of the Day #20: Burrowing owl

Burrowing owl
Speotyto cunicularia (Molina, 1782)
Strigidae; Strigiformes; Aves; Chordata
London Zoo
November 2008

The burrowing owl is a widespread species of owl found throughout South America, north to the southern half of North America. It is well known for being the only owl species, indeed, one of the only birds, to nest underground; it does so to avoid predation from larger animals, as it lives mostly on treeless plains.

In the above photograph, you may notice one pupil looks larger than the other; I think this is to do with the owl's left eye being in shade and its right eye in the sun, hence the difference in size in the pupils.

R.I.P. Cornf

I came home from work today and found my black ghost knifefish (Apteronotus albifrons), called Cornf, dead and sticking out of Pyrite's, my ornate bagrid catfish (Chrysichthys ornatus), mouth. I don't know how it died, only that I think it was already dead before Pyrite attempted to swallow it. I managed to salvage the body and have preserved it along with George the axolotl, Kitchener the xenopus toad, and the baby newts I hatched, in a jar of alcohol. R.I.P. Cornf.

Thursday 27 November 2008

Rogue Taxidermy

I mentioned in the previous post that Guzelyurt Museum of Nature and Archaeology is my least favourite museum of all that I have been to. I admire the fact that northern Cyprus has a museum dedicated to its natural and historical treasures, but I can’t help but feel a little disheartened by the way the specimens look, and the fact that many are misidentified.

Take the following pair of photographs for example: both are of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), the well known fox from most of the Northern Hemisphere and Australia as well.

One is a specimen from Manchester Museum, and the other from Guzelyurt Museum. The former is a beautifully presented, almost life-like, image of the fox in a relaxed posture with pristine coat and healthy look. The latter, well, what can I say? My mum was giggling when she saw the poor thing in the museum, and my sister Mini commented on the photo on Facebook, saying the thing would give her nightmares. If the specimen was meant to give the visitor an idea of what a living fox looks like, I think Guzelyurt’s atrocities (there were more than one!) would not get that point across.

Many of the scientific names were incorrect: the names for the lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) and the green sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) were swapped around, for example, two species of very similar eagle were swapped round, and the name on the white pelican’s tag was not Pelecanus onocrotalus, the species native to Europe, but P. erythrorhynchus, the American white pelican. The curator must have fancifully thought the white goose in their collection was a rare snow goose (Anser caerulescens), and not the more bog-standard, every-day domestic goose (A. anser). These mistakes may seem trivial, but for those who don’t know what they are looking at, it can mean being led to believe something which is wrong. I don’t know whether the names on many of the stuffed fishes were correct, as I am not skilled in identifying Mediterranean marine fishes, so I put my faith in the Museum’s label for them, as well as the numerous butterflies and other insects pinned in frames.

I do wonder whether I ought to point these errors out to the Museum, or whether they wouldn’t take any notice, and retort that they don’t get many visitors anyway, and those that do walk round in 20 seconds and go upstairs to the much better presented and more complete archaeology section. My parents are going back to Cyprus in a few days, what do you think readers, should I give them a letter to hand to the curator? They don’t appear to have a website and I don’t have their address either.

Something else to give you nightmares:

The best specimens in Guzelyurt Museum were the two-headed and two-bodied lamb, the latter of which I nicknamed "Spider lamb", as it does have eight legs. I don't know how common these deformities are in Cyprus, but if they are rare, surely the Museum should advertise and publicise more.

By the way, the title for this post, “Rogue Taxidermy” comes from the term applied to the taxidermy of mythical creatures or made up animals, such as sewing bits of eagles and lions together to create a griffin! I used the term to refer to Guzelyurt’s practice of the art.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

My Favourite Museum

My favourite museum is undoubtedly the Natural History Museum, London. Of course I love almost every museum I have been to (the exception being Guzelyurt Museum of Nature and Archaeology; more on that in a future post!), but the NHM stands out for me, as it has been the most prominent institution in my life so far.

It all started for me almost twenty years ago when I was a wee lad of five or six and went to the Museum on a school trip. I don’t remember much of that excursion; however, one event sticks in my mind. A life-size animatronic roaring Tyrannosaurus rex (probably a relative of Traumador’s) shouted at me, and I ran and hid behind the teacher. This picture of me at the Museum with various felids on a subsequent visit is a vision of things to come!

I would visit the Museum every few years or so throughout my childhood and even through my teens. I started to use the General/Zoology library for casual carnivore research when I was about 15 years old, and kept returning until the present.

My affiliation with the Museum became stronger when I started the Masters course there last year. I was given the run of the place, and soon became a volunteer in the Palaeontology department, sorting fossil fish. I am now working in the greatest library in the world as a shelving assistant.

My past has always been associated with the NHM, and I hope my future will be too. The Museum has imparted chunks of wisdom to me and I endeavour to pass on this knowledge to others in years to come.

I hope you enjoyed this post; I was inspired to write it for the Boneyard XXVI, hosted by Traumador the Tyrannosaur at The Tyrannosaur Chronicles this month. If you didn’t arrive here via that blog, go read about the tales of a lovelorn living fossil!

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Thylacoleo and Thylacosmilus

“Thylacoleo and Thylacosmilus”
Graphite pencil illustration, November 2008

Thylacoleo carnifex Owen, 1859
Thylacoleonidae; Diprotodontia; Mammalia; Chordata
Pleistocene Australia

Thylacosmilus atrox Riggs, 1933
Thylacosmilidae; Sparassodonta; Mammalia; Chordata
Miocene to Pleistocene South America

Thylacoleo carnifex means “executioner pouched lion”. The “pouched” part of its name refers to the fact that it is a marsupial, just like the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisi) and Tasmanian wolf (Thylacinus cynocephalus), also known as the Tasmanian tiger or thylacine (the last name itself deriving for the Greek for “pouched dog”). But unlike those famous marsupial carnivores, it belongs to the same marsupial order as the koala, kangaroos, wombats and their kin (an exclusively Australasian group), the Diprotodontia, while the devil and wolf belong to the Dasyuromorphia, a group of mostly carnivorous and insectivorous marsupials from Australia and New Guinea. There were also carnivorous kangaroos in times gone.

Thylacosmilus atrox means “fierce pouched sabre”. Again a marsupial, but also in a different order containing uniquely South American beasts, which were able to become the dominant mammalian carnivores there because at the time (mid-Tertiary to early Quaternary), South America was an island continent, not connected to North America by the Central American land-bridge. The large carnivores of today’s South America, the jaguar, puma, maned wolf and zorros, had not yet reached the continent, so the niche for large carnivore was available to the sparassodontans.

The name Thylacosmilus also alludes to its similarity to northern hemisphere true sabre-toothed cats of the subfamily Machairodontinae (family Felidae), which are completely unrelated to the marsupials (as distant as you and I are to the kangaroo). In fact, enlarged canine teeth have evolved separately in at least 6 different mammalian lineages: the sparassodontans (like Thylacosmilus), the creodonts (like Machaeroides), the machairodontines (like Smilodon, the sabre-toothed “tiger”), the barbourofelids (family Barbourofelidae, order Carnivora; close relatives of the cats), the nimravids (family Nimravidae, order Carnivora; distant relatives of the cats), and also the walrus (Odobenus rosmarus). Also, it has been noted that the clouded leopards (genus Neofelis) have enlarged canines, and may either be close relatives of the true sabre-teeth, or they represent another convergence of this trend.

I'm going out for a while...

“I’m going out for a while,
So I can get high with my friends, I will;
I’m going out for a while,
Don’t wait up ‘cause I won’t be home today.”

Lyrics from High by Feeder, from the album Polythene (1997).

Me with Grant Nicholas, guitarist, vocalist and song-writer with Feeder, in January 2003.

One of my favourite bands, as all who know me know, is Feeder. I have loved them since 2001 and have seen them 8 times (I think!). The last two times were this week: here is the set list for their show on Monday 17th November 2008 at Brixton Academy, London:

Intro (“We are one”)
We are the people
Feeling a moment
Come back around
Who’s the enemy?
We can’t rewind
Pushing the senses
Just the way I’m feeling
Tracing lines
Buck Rogers
Comfort in sound
Lost & found2

Silent cry3
Tumble & fall
Seven days in the sun
Just a day

1: Dedicated to their road crew whose tour bus was involved in an accident; the crew lost all their equipment, but luckily no-one was hurt, and more importantly, the band’s instruments were OK.

2: With an interlude of Foo Fighter’s All my life started by the band but sung mostly by the audience.

3: Played on acoustic guitar accompanied only by electric guitar.

The set for last night’s performance at the soon-to-be-destroyed Astoria in Tottenham Ct. Road was very similar but I left before the very end so I don’t know if the encore was different. I went to the Brixton show with my mum who has liked Feeder, casually, for as long as I have, and particularly likes High, the chorus of which is quoted above. She thoroughly enjoyed her first modern rock concert (she had been to see the Beatles at the Astoria 40 odd years ago) and was singing along to her favourites.

Monday 17 November 2008

Magellanic & Humboldt Penguins

The final penguins in the series in today’s post are the Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) and the Humboldt penguin (S. humboldti). Both are from South America and are superficially very similar to the Jackass penguin (S. demersus).

Magellanic penguin
Spheniscus magellanicus (Forster, 1781)

Adult Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus)

Distribution: breeds on Atlantic and Pacific coasts of southern South America from Cape Horn to 42oS on the Atlantic side, and Tierra del Fuego to 29oS on the Pacific side, and the Falkland Islands; non-breeding range extends to southern Brazil and southern Peru; vagrant to Australia, New Zealand, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula.

Size: 70 cm (27½"); males weigh a maximum of 7.8 kg (17 lb) but more usually weigh c.5 kg (about 11 lb); females weigh a maximum of 6.5 kg (14 lb) but 4.5 kg (10 lb) is more usual.

Habitat: bare, grassy, bushy or forested islands and coasts, cliffs and flatter areas.

Diet: mainly small fish, cephalopods (squid) and crustaceans (such as the squat lobster).

Etymology: Spheniscus = “little wedge” in Greek; magellanicus = of the Straits of Magellan, those being named for Ferdinand Magellan the explorer.

Immature Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus)

Humboldt penguin
Spheniscus humboldti Meyen, 1834

Adult Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti)

Distribution: mainland Pacific coastal South America from 5oS (Peru) to 33oS (C Chile), also breeding at 42oS in Southern Chile.

Size: 65 cm (25½"); males 4.1-5.7 kg (9-12½ lb), females 3.6-5.8 kg (8-13 lb).

Habitat: breeds on rocky coasts, sea caves or boulders; their range is heavily influenced by the Humboldt Current.

Diet: anchovy and sardine.

Etymology: Spheniscus = see S. magellanicus; humboldti = of the Humboldt Current, itself named for Alexander von Humboldt the explorer and naturalist.

Humboldt penguin chicks (Spheniscus humboldti) of different ages

Sunday 16 November 2008

Jackass & Galapagos Penguins

Here are the penultimate penguins: Jackass penguin (Spheniscus demersus) and Galapagos penguin (S. mendiculus). The Jackass penguin is also known as the black-footed penguin, or the African penguin. Penguins, in Africa? Are you bonkers? What’s next, polar bears in the Sahara? No, don’t be silly. There is a cold-water current responsible for this bird’s distribution, the Benguela Current, bringing nutrient-rich cold water from the Southern Ocean to the south-west Atlantic via South Africa and Namibia.

The Galapagos penguin is the most northerly species of penguin, it is even found at the Equator! This is even more crazy than the idea of an African penguin. Why would a classically cold-climate bird be found in the Tropics? The answer also lies in the ocean currents: cold waters from the Antarctic flow up the Pacific coast of South America towards the Galapagos Islands, bringing nutrients. This current, the so-called Humboldt Current, also gives its name to another species of penguin from the coast of South America, covered in the next post. As a result of warmer air temperatures, the penguins of Galapagos, south Africa and other places are smaller. Other than the little blue penguin of Australia and New Zealand, the four penguins of the genus Spheniscus are the smallest.

Jackass penguin
Spheniscus demersus (Linnaeus, 1758)

Adult Jackass penguin (Spheniscus demersus)

Distribution: southern Africa from 24o38’S to 33o50’S; vagrant to other parts of Africa.

Size: 70 cm (27½”); males and females weigh 2.4-4.2 kg (5 lb 5 oz – 9 lb 9 oz), with males larger than females.

Habitat: breeds on Benguela Current influenced coasts, in burrows with suitable substrate or using bushes and boulders as shelter.

Diet: small fish, cephalopods (such as squid), crustaceans and polychaete worms.

Etymology: Spheniscus = “little wedge” in Greek; demersus = “diving” in Latin.

Immature Jackass penguin (Spheniscus demersus)

Galapagos penguin
Spheniscus mendiculus Sundevall, 1871

Adult Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus)

Distribution: restricted to the Galapagos Islands; breeds on Fernandina and Isabela, and maybe on Bartholomew and Santiago Islands; non-breeding range extends to other islands of the archipelago.

Size: 53 cm (21”); the smallest Spheniscus penguin; males weigh 1.7-2.6 kg (3 lb 11 oz – 5 lb 11 oz); females weigh 1.7-2.5 kg (3 lb 11 oz – 5½ lb).

Habitat: low-lying volcanic coastal desert.

Diet: fish (such as mullet and sardine) and crustaceans (such as krill).

Etymology: Spheniscus = as S. demersus; mendiculus = “little beggar” in Latin.

Immature Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus)

Oh, and while we're on the topic of Galapagos... if you're in London for the next few months, make sure you visit the new exhibition at the Natural History Museum, Darwin: The Big Idea. There is a stuffed Galapagos penguin there, as well as numerous other animals and plants from the archipelago, and two live animals: Charlie the green iguana (Iguana iguana) and Sumo the Argentine horned frog (Ceratophrys ornata). Not to mention a lot of original material from Charles Robert Darwin's epic voyage that first sparked his theory of evolution by natural selection.

Saturday 15 November 2008

Snares crested & Little blue penguins

The last of the Eudyptes penguins, the Snares crested penguin (Eudyptes robustus), appears here today, as well as the smallest of the spheniscids, the little blue penguin (Eudyptula minor).

Snares crested penguin
Eudyptes robustus Oliver, 1953

Adult Snares crested penguin (Eudyptes robustus)

Distribution: breeds only on Snares Island (48oS 166oE) in New Zealand; non-breeding range to South Island, Chatham, Stewart, Solander and Antipodes Islands.

Size: 51-61 cm (20-24”); males up to 4.3 kg (9½ lb); females to 3.4 kg (7½ lb).

Habitat: waters around Snares Island; breeds on flat, muddy areas or gentle rock slopes, up to 600 m (1/3 mile) inland and 70 m (230’) above sea level.

Diet: mainly krill, cephalopods (squid) and fish.

Etymology: Eudyptes = “good diver” in Greek; robustus = “strong” or “robust” in Latin, probably referring to its build or bill.

Immature Snares crested penguin (Eudyptes robustus)

Little blue penguin
Eudyptula minor (Forster, 1781)

Also known as the fairy penguin, due to its small size.

Adult little blue penguins (Eudyptula minor) of two races; E. m. albosignata (above) from New Zealand; and E. m. novaehollandiae (below) from southern Australia

Distribution: coastal Australia and New Zealand from 32-47oS.

Size: 40-45 cm (16½-17”); the smallest of all penguins; subspecies differ in size with E. m. iredalei being the smallest and E. m. albosignata being the largest; weight is up to 1.4 kg (3 lb 5 oz) in males and up to 1.3 kg (2 lb 14 oz) in females.

Habitat: temperate seas; breeds in sandy areas for burrowing, and caves.

Diet: mostly fish and small cephalopods (squid), but also crustaceans such as krill.

Etymology: Eudyptula = “small Eudyptes” in Latinised Greek; minor = “lesser”.

Subspecies: E. m. minor = Southland, Stewart Island and Westland (New Zealand); E. m. novaehollandiae = southern Australia; E. m. iredalei = north of North Island to East Cape; E. m. variabilis = North Island to Montunau Island; E. m. albosignata = Banks Peninsula and Montunau Island; E. m. chathamensis = Chatham Island.

All subspecies are very similar except E. m. albosignata (white-flippered penguin), which has more white on its flippers than the other races.

Little blue penguin chick (Eudyptula minor)

Friday 14 November 2008

Art #12: Velociraptor mongoliensis

"Velociraptor mongoliensis"
Coloured pencil illustration, November 2008
Velociraptor mongoliensis Osborn, 1924
Dromaeosauridae; Saurischia; Sauropsida; Chordata
From Late Cretaceous Mongolia

Velociraptor mongoliensis almost needs no introduction. There is one thing I'd like to mention though: the recently late Michael Crichton included this species in Jurassic Park by accident really, as the animals in the book and movie are clearly human-sized, whereas Velociraptor is only 50 cm high (less than 2 feet). Also, those dinosaurs are "naked", without feathers, which is common knowledge even to lay people nowadays. I chose a rather monochrome colour scheme for my interpretation of this quasi-famous animal; I like the idea of a dark Velociraptor more than a gaudy one.

I accept there are one or two faults to this drawing, but I thought it was close enough to how I pictured it in my mind to put on this blog. For one, the legs don't look right (they never do in a theropod dinosaur drawing I ever do!) and the head is too big. I ran out of room on the A4 paper to finish the tail, regrettably. I clearly need to work on my proportions!

Thursday 13 November 2008

Macaroni & Royal Penguins

“Yankee Doodle went to town,
A-riding on a pony;
Stuck a feather in his cap;
And called it macaroni.”

The “macaroni” referred to here is nothing to do with pasta; it was an 18th Century term for a fashionable man dressed outlandishly. Having a feather in your cap apparently qualified for “outlandishly”. The two penguins featured here both have excessive plumes on their crown, which must have reminded the folk at the time of a macaroni Englishman; hence the name “macaroni penguin” (Eudyptes chrysolophus). The name of the royal penguin (E. schlegeli), however, conjures up less foppish connotations.

Macaroni penguin
Eudyptes chrysolophus (Brandt, 1837)

Adult macaroni penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus)

Distribution: circumpolar; close to Antarctic Convergence; sub-Antarctic islands of south Atlantic and south Indian oceans (46-65oS); most southerly-breeding Eudyptes penguin; non-breeding range unknown, but probably in surrounding areas; vagrant to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Size: 71 cm (28"); males up to 6.6 kg (14½ lb); females up to 6.3 kg (14 lb).

Habitat: sub-Antarctic and Antarctic waters north of pack-ice; breeds on steep slopes, headlands and level ground; usually no vegetation or some tussock grass.

Diet: mainly krill, but also cephalopods (squid), fish (like icefish), amphipods and other crustaceans.

Etymology: Eudyptes = “good diver” in Greek; chrysolophus = “golden crest” in Greek.

Macaroni penguin chicks (Eudyptes chrysolophus) of different ages

Although the Royal penguin is here considered a species in its own right, it is often thought of as merely a subspecies of Macaroni penguin.

Royal penguin
Eudyptes schlegeli Finsch, 1876

Adult royal penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli)

Distribution: breeds only on Macquarie Island south of New Zealand, but belonging to Australia, and surrounding small islets; in winter it lives around the islands in sub-Antarctic waters; vagrant to New Zealand, Australia and Antarctica.

Size: 65-75 cm (25½-29½"); largest Eudyptes species; males and females up to 8.1 kg (18 lb), but more usually up to 7 kg (15½ lb) for a male and 6.3 kg (14 lb) for a female.

Habitat: sub-Antarctic waters around Macquarie Island; breeds along the coast, scree slopes and hills up to 1.6 km (1 mile) inland and 150 m (490') above sea level; nests on open, level, sandy or rocky ground without vegetation.

Diet: krill, amphipods, fish and cephalopods (squid).

Etymology: Eudyptes = see E. chrysolophus; schlegeli = after Hermann Schlegel.

Immature royal penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli)

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Erect-crested & Fiordland Crested Penguins

Two more Eudyptes penguins today, much less well known than the rockhoppers, the erect-crested penguin (E. sclateri) and the fiordland crested penguin (E. pachyrhynchus).

Erect-crested penguin
Eudyptes sclateri Buller, 1888

Adult erect-crested penguin (Eudyptes sclateri)

Distribution: endemic to New Zealand; breeds mainly on Antipodes (49oS) and Bounty (47oS) Islands and also on Auckland Island; winters around eastern South Island and in seas around its breeding range; vagrant to Macquarie, Chatham and southern Australia.

Size: 67cm (26”); males up to 6.4 kg (14 lb); females up to 5.6 kg (12 lb).

Habitat: cool temperate waters around New Zealand; breeds on rocky terrain, boulder beaches or rocky slopes without vegetation or soil; altitude range from 0 to 70 m above sea level.

Diet: reportedly crustaceans (such as krill) and cephalopods (squid).

Etymology: Eudyptes = “good diver” in Greek; sclateri = after Philip Lutley Sclater.

Erect-crested penguin chicks (Eudyptes sclateri) of different ages

Fiordland crested penguin
Eudyptes pachyrhynchus Gray, 1845

Adult fiordland crested penguin (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus)

Distribution: endemic to New Zealand; breeds on South Island, Stewart and Solander Islands; non-breeding around New Zealand, also possibly Tasmania and southern Australia.

Size: 55 cm (21½”); males weight up to 5.1 kg (11 lb); females up to 4.8 kg (10½ lb).

Habitat: cool temperate waters around New Zealand; breeds in temperate rainforest, shores, fiords, headlands, caves, rocky coasts, usually with ground cover of ferns and mosses.

Diet: probably cephalopods, crustaceans and fish.

Etymology: Eudyptes = as E. sclateri; pachyrhynchus = “thick beak” in Greek.

Fiordland crested penguin chicks (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus) of different ages

Saturday 8 November 2008

Vote now!

There are a lot of science bloggers about these days, and most of them are already “established” scientists, either fully qualified and working on their chosen studies and blogging by the side, or advanced research students in their doctorate or post-doctoral studies. However, undergrad students blog too, and the best science blog out there in that category is undoubtedly Laelaps. The writer, Brian Switek, has been nominated for a Blogging Scholarship prize, and needs help with votes. If you haven’t already been brought here by that blog, then click here to vote and help Brian get a scholarship worth US$10,000! 

Northern & Southern Rockhopper Penguins

The largest genus of penguins is Eudyptes, and among the more well known are the rockhoppers. Until recently, there was thought to be a single species of rockhopper (Eudyptes chrysocome) widely distributed in the southern oceans, but populations from certain northern islands were separated; these northern rockhoppers became known as Eudyptes moseleyi. This status is still disputed, however, but I maintain the northern and southern rockhoppers as different species here.

Northern rockhopper penguin
Eudyptes moseleyi Mathews & Iredale, 1921

Adult northern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes moseleyi)

Distribution: restricted to Tristan da Cunha (South Atlantic), Gough (South Atlantic), Amsterdam Island (South Indian) and St. Paul Island (South Indian).

Size: in the range of 45-58 cm (17½-23”); exact measurements unknown.

Habitat: rugged terrain, talus slopes and tussocks.

Diet: unknown, but probably the same as E. chrysocome.

Etymology: Eudyptes = “good diver” in Greek; moseleyi = named in honour of Henry Nottidge Moseley

Notes: Recently separated from other rockhopper penguins as a species in its own right – has a longer and more luxuriant crest than Eudyptes chrysocome; it is becoming rare on Tristan da Cunha due to incidental mortality from drift-net fishing.

Southern rockhopper penguin
Eudyptes chrysocome (Forster, 1781)

Adult southern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes chrysocome); E. c. filholi above and E. c. chrysocome below.

Distribution: circumpolar; breeds on sub-Antarctic and south temperate islands to Heard Island (53oS); winter range unknown.

Size: 45-58 cm (17½-23”); smallest Eudyptes penguin; males up to 4.3 kg (9½lb), females up to 3.6 kg (8 lb).

Habitat: waters of sub-Antarctic north of limit of pack-ice; breeds in rugged terrain, level or gently sloping, talus slopes or steep slopes with tussock; sometimes far from the sea (i.e. on Campbell Island), and up to 60 m above sea level on Marion Island.

Diet: krill, small fish and cephalopods (squid) as well as amphipods and hippolytid crustaceans (shrimp).

Etymology: Eudyptes = as E. moseleyi; chrysocome = “golden hair” in Greek.

Subspecies: E. c. chrysocome = Falkland Islands and islands off Cape Horn; superciliary stripe broad; E. c. filholi = Marion, Crozet, Kerguelen, Heard, Macquarie, Campbell, Auckland and Antipodes; has pink margins to bill.

Notes: Eudyptes chrysocome has been reported to hybridise with the macaroni penguin (E. chrysolophus), erect-crested penguin (E. sclateri) and royal penguin (E. schlegeli).

Southern rockhopper penguin chicks (Eudyptes chrysocome) of different ages

Friday 7 November 2008

Gentoo & Yellow-eyed Penguins

Penguins five and six are the gentoo (Pygoscelis papua) and the yellow-eyed (Megadyptes antipodes).

Gentoo penguin
Pygoscelis papua (Forster, 1781)

Adult gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua)

Distribution: circumpolar, breeding on sub-Antarctic islands & Antarctic Peninsula (46-65oS); non-breeding range poorly known but they are mostly sedentary; vagrant to 43oS Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.

Size: 75-90 cm (29½-35½”); largest penguin in the genus Pygoscelis; males weigh up to 8.5 kg (18½ lb); females up to 8.2 kg (18 lb).

Habitat: breeds on ice-free ground, sometimes considerably inland, but at other times coastal; also beaches, headlands, valleys and hillocks.

Diet: krill and fish as well as amphipods and cephalopods (squid).

Etymology: Pygoscelis = "rump leg" in Greek; papua = from Papua New Guinea (obviously a misnomer).

Subspecies: Pygoscelis papua papua = Falklands, South Georgia, Kerguelen, Heard, Macquarie & Staten; P. p. ellsworthi = Antarctic Peninsula, South Shetlands, South Orkneys – smaller than P. p. papua but with no plumage differences.

Gentoo penguin chicks (Pygoscelis papua) of different ages

Yellow-eyed penguin
Megadyptes antipodes (Hombron & Jacquinot, 1841)

Adult yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes)

Distribution: endemic to New Zealand – confined to SE South Island from 45o45’S to Stewart, Auckland and Campbell Islands; non-breeding range poorly known but could extend to Cook Strait.

Size: 56-78 cm (22-31”); males larger and heavier than females; males up to 8.9 kg (19½ lb); females up to 8.4 kg (18½ lb).

Habitat: cool temperate waters around breeding area; usually breeds in coastal/podocarp forests, open forest, pasture and cliffs as well as bays, headlands, slopes and gullies.

Diet: pelagic and demersal fish (such as blue cod) and cephalopods (squid).

Etymology: Megadyptes = “great diver” in Greek; antipodes = from the other side of the world (Southern Hemisphere), literally “opposite feet” in Greek.

Yellow-eyed penguin chicks (Megadyptes antipodes) of different ages