Pictures from Petsitting and the Delaware Water Gap

28 08 2007

These are a bit long in coming, but here are some photos taken while petsitting a few weeks ago and during the trip to the NJ side of the Delaware Water Gap. Unfortunately I’m not too familiar with fungi so I can’t say I know what many of the species pictured are, but many of them were impressive all the same.


This spider was busy building a web outside the house I was staying at a few weeks ago. I’ve never seen an abdomen on a spider like this one has.

Blue Jay

I usually only see Blue Jays during the winter (or at least only remember seeing them during winter), but this one stopped by the bird feeder.


A Cardinal pair also came by, although they were more skiddish and difficult to photograph.



Eastern Goldfinch and Cedar Waxwing were the most common visitors to the feeder, however.

Turkey Vulture

A Turkey Vulture also circled overhead for a while, although it didn’t find anything interesting in the yard.


White-Tailed Deer also came by many times during the day, although the amount of brush and shrubs made them a little hard to photograph.




The second round of summer fawns also came by in the mornings and evenings, usually.


A very large Katydid with a color pattern I hadn’t seen before also paid us a visit, albeid inside the house.

Now on to the photos from the hike along the Appalachian Trail to Sunfish Pond;


Early on we came across these two fighting harvestmen (“daddy long legs”).








Being that the ground was relatively damp, there was fascinating fungi everywhere. The last two shots are among my favorites, and could the “S” on that last one be intelligently designed? (If you are new here, sprinkle the last bit of that sentence liberally with sarcasm)



Once we got up to Sunfish Pond, we were greeted by scores of Bullfrog and Leopard Frog young, which hopped, almost in unison, back into the shallows.


Toads were also present over the entirety of the hike. We counted at least 20 over the 10 miles.

Three Lined

Three Lined

We also saw two Five-Lined Skink (thanks for the correction, Lars) on a log and tree near the pond, the one on the tree have a brilliant blue tail.




Corn Snake

The area that we sat down to lunch at was absolutely full of life as well, from fish and frogs to a small snake that was getting ready to shed.

In all, I’ve been able to get more photographs of NJ wildlife this summer than I have in previous years, and I hope that next year I’ll be able to get some better pictures overall.

Monday Morning Catching Up

13 08 2007

First of all, a big “Thank you!” to everyone who read, linked to, and commented on my post about the evolution of thought surrounding human evolution. I didn’t expect such an overwhelmingly positive reaction at all, and following Julia’s suggestion, I think I may try to add to it/polish it up a bit and submit it to a review journal like Historical Biology or Biological Reviews. I don’t know where else I would send it in, but I’d just be happy to be published, and even if I don’t, it’s good practice.

Although Saturday was mostly devoted to writing, I also stopped by my old house to see my family and my mom gave me one of the best gifts I can ask for; a Barnes & Noble gift card. I prefer to buy my books used (they’re cheaper and you’re helping small businesses, and many books I want are rare and not to be find in the big stores), but I have to admit it was nice to get my hands on something new. In fact, my wife and I were able to take advantage of a buy 2 get 1 free deal; She got Stardust (which we also saw Friday; she liked it, I didn’t), and I got Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee, our “joint choice” being Simon Singh’s The Big Bang.

I also started reading Chris Beard’s Hunt for the Dawn Monkey again on Saturday, as I didn’t finish it when I last picked it up last year. It really is a great book, and I can’t recommend it enough. Books that I previously had ordered also showed up on Saturday, and I was able to read Don Stap’s Birdsong: A Natural History from cover-to-cover yesterday (it’s only 244 pages long). Stap’s book is absolutely wonderful, and while it might disappoint some in not being an overview of all birdsong, it’s a great introduction not only to how and why birds sing, but to how science works as well. Stap follows a few scientists in the book, but most of the attention is devoted to the research of Donald Kroodsma, from his studies of chickadees on Martha’s Vineyard to his trials and tribulations in academia to his quest to show that the Three-Wattled Bellbird, contrary to popular opinion, is actually learning it’s distinctive song.

Outside of being very well-written and engaging, the book make some very important points. Although lab work gets a lot of prestige and is attributed much importance, when you’re working with animals (and especially their behavior) there is no substitute for observation in the wild. Ecology might be frowned upon or deemed unnecessary because it doesn’t directly contribute as much as lab-based sciences, but if you really want to understand nature you need to get out in it, not bring it home to a lab. This isn’t to say that nothing can be gleaned from lab work, but what happens in a lab setting should be compared to what the animals are actually doing in the wild to see what matches at what doesn’t. Case in point, lab studies suggested that songbirds learned their songs from their fathers, and this was the song that they kept for the rest of their lives. If kept alone or with only other growing birds, the birds still sang, but their songs were not as refined as those who had heard adult birds singing. The idea that birds learned their songs from their fathers stuck, at least until it was shown that in the wild, songbirds pick up local dialects. While they do learn songs from their fathers, young songbirds pick up whatever variations of a song exist in the area they settle in. If there is a song they haven’t heard before from another bird, they’ll use their father’s song, but otherwise the birds try to blend in with the locals.

Also of interest is the study of the three-wattled bellbird in the book. This bird is suboscince (or belonging to the Suborder Tyranni), a group of birds that sing, but are generally believed not to learn their songs from other birds. The problem is, however, that not many suboscinces have been studied, perhaps partly out of bias and partly because they are birds of the neotropics, and so very difficult to study. Still, we follow the author and Kroodsma as he tries to gather evidence for the hypothesis that the bellbirds are learning their songs, through the damp and difficult fieldwork to the rejection of the idea by others in the field. A cursory search on Google Scholar doesn’t turn up any papers from Kroodsma on the research he did, and the end of the book suggests that he is content to let others try to unravel the mystery of the South American bellbirds.

In any event, Birdsong is a wonderful book that looks at the way scientific studies are carried out, not just the end results. The only negative thing I have to say about it is that the author defers to Alan Feduccia when it comes to bird evolution, the dinosaur/bird link never mentioned in the book (we are presented with Archaeopteryx and the fact that “birds evolved from reptiles,” but the relationship with dinosaurs is not mentioned). Perhaps the author merely wanted to avoid controversy as ornithologists seem more apt to reject dinosaurs as ancestors to birds for some reason that I have been unable to understand. Still, the author doesn’t take sides on the issue, and this minor complaint is hardly central to the book at all.

So now I’m on to read Michael Novacek’s Time Traveler which I should be able to get through in an evening or two. After that I may try to finish up Hunt for the Dawn Monkey before moving on to The Third Chimpanzee and The Big Bang, but more books are due to arrive (like Last Chance to See) any time now, so I’m sure the end of this summer will be packed with reading. Just before school begins I’ll do an overview of what I’ve learned this summer, and take a picture of the looming stack of books I’ve read over the past few months.

At last, dinosaur sex

25 07 2007

While the new Science paper on Triassic dinosauromorphs was definitely the “big news” of last week (and the new PLoS paper on skimming pterosaurs [or not] seems to be this week’s), another interesting paper on dinosaurs came out in Biology Letters that didn’t receive quite as much attention. The research, “Growth patterns in brooding dinosaurs reveals the timing of sexual maturity in non-avian dinosaurs and genesis of the avian condition,” non-avian dinosaur nesting sites provide some rather interesting insights into how dinosaurs grew and (perhaps) mated.

As the authors note in the abstract, the closest living relatives of dinosaurs can be found amongst crocodilians and birds (descendants of dinosaurs). While the growth rate of crocodiles slows down as they approach sexual maturity (crocodiles grow throughout their lives), birds grow to their adult size well before they start mating, giving the researchers some baselines to compare with dinosaurian growth rates. Using seven specimens (Oviraptor philoceratops; Oviraptor sp.; 2 X Citipati osmolskae, “one deinonychosaur (Troodontidae nov. sp.)” from China and Mongolia found in nesting positions, as well as Deinonychus antirrhopus and Troodon formosus found in association with eggs) the authors assumed that each of these dinosaurs was a parent (a point I’ll get back to later), although the sex of the dinosaurs could not be determined. The age of the dinosaurs, however, was determined by looking at annual growth lines in the bone as well as overall body size comparisons, allowing the researchers to get a fairly good idea as to the “stage of life” each of the dinosaurs may have been in.

After looking at the ages of the dinosaurs and determining their growth rates (as can be seen in a colorful graph in the paper, which is open access) the researchers found that the dinosaurs seemed to have distinctly non-avian growth rates and reproduction. Rather than quick growth leading to adult size, followed by reproductive maturity sometime afterwards, the dinosaurs studied seemed to show that they were brooding on nests (and therefore assumed to be mating) before they had reached full adult size. This trend is closer to that of crocodilians, where growth slows down at the time of reproductive maturity, but is not the “hurry up and wait” model that extant birds employ. Being that the dinosaurs studied are regarded to be among the closest to birds (although not ancestral to birds), it is a bit surprising to see this difference. The authors explain, however, that the difference in growth rates may not have been something inherited from dinosaurs, especially since some of the earliest known birds took at least a year to reach maturity while extant birds may do so in a matter of weeks (but this all depends on the size of the bird and other factors that it would be foolish to generalize).

I have to wonder, however, were all the dinosaurs on the nests actually parents? It would seem to be a relatively straightforward find being that the parents of potential offspring would sit on the nest, but the Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis) keeps pecking at my brain when I consider this topic. For those who have not heard the story, the Pied Kingfishers employ an interesting nest-care strategy; breeding pairs will sometimes accept the assistance of a “helper,” especially when resources like food are scarce. Helpers may be related (“primary helpers” that are always tolerated) or unrelated (“secondary helpers”) to the nesting pair (Reyer, 1984), although it appears that all the helpers are males. This means that secondary males, as in the Reyer study, may be accepted or rejected as they would otherwise be in competition with the breeding male, while relatives are more generously tolerated.

The main activity of the helpers, however, is catching food to bring to the nest, thus enhancing the breeding success of the parents. While there are many bird species that have “helpers” (over 150 according to Reyer, 1979), I don’t know of any that help the parents incubate the eggs or sit on the nest. In fact, I probably wouldn’t expect to see such a behavior being that eggs are the primary investment and I wouldn’t imagine a mother giving up her care of the eggs to a male relative (and especially not an unrelated male), but I am not going to say that such a system would be impossible given my ignorance on this topic. Still, I have to wonder if non-breeding dinosaurs assisted nesting parents in any way, either by gathering food or (like I said, highly improbable) related non-reproductively-mature young sitting on the nest. This is certainly not parsimonious and there is simply no way that I can think of to tell, but I guess I continued through this post (even though I’m fairly sure that I’m wrong) to illustrate my thought process. I saw a study, thought of a related piece of information, got an idea, and tried to follow through by looking up other papers to help determine whether there are modern analogs that might give me some hint as to whether I could be right. It appears that I’m not, but I’m definitely better for the time spent, and hopefully this definitely adds to my still in-progress post about the evolution of precocial vs altricial young.

[Anne-Marie also offers her thoughts on the dino-sex paper on her blog]

Skimming for supper, or not…

24 07 2007

One of the classic vignettes from “Deep Time” is that of a pterosaur gliding over the surface of a lake, river, or ocean, perhaps even swooping down to skim some fish from just underneath the surface. While I am not well-versed enough in the history of paleontological art to know when this trend started or why, this scene has a lot in common with the feeding habits of modern shorebirds called Skimmers (the Black Skimmer, Rynchops niger, being one of the species found along the New Jersey shore, although so far I have not seen one myself). The trouble is, however, that this feeding strategy probably didn’t actually work for many pterosaurs and their kin.

The case for skimming pterosaurs gained a fair amount of support and attention in February of 2002, with the discovery of Thalassodromeus sethi seeming to provide some evidence in terms of morphological convergence to suggest that it caught its food the same way that modern Black Skimmers do. Thalassodromeus is much larger than Black Skimmer’s however, and it’s unlikely that it would be able to dip any more than the distal third of its jaws into the water without experiencing so much drag that it may not have been able to keep flying (or, I would imagine it would topple end over end if it were going fast enough). This limitation is clearly makes the pterosaur different from the Black Skimmer in that the birds can stick their entire lower bill into the water, being specially adapted to have narrow enough jaws that they are not slowed down or stopped by drag.

Enter a new study by Humphries, et al entitled “Did Pterosaurs Feed by Skimming? Physical Modelling and Anatomical Evaluation of an Unusual Feeding Method” (available for FREE via PLoS Biology). Using models, the researchers were able to determine drag forces on the jaws of a subspecies of Black Skimmer and the pterosaurs Tupuxuara (the outgroup) and Thalassodromeus sethi, the results showing that the pterosaurs seemed to be ill-adapted and the energetic costs of skimming for food is actually much higher than previously thought. Turned to morphology, regarding the head and neck as a whole, the researchers also found little convergence between modern Skimmers and the pterosaurs outside of a superficial resemblance. They write;

Almost without exception, pterosaur anatomy appears poorly adapted for skim-feeding. Comparisons between pterosaurs and Rynchops reveal little of the convergence expected between animals postulated to have such similar, specialist lifestyles, with the relatively wide mandibular symphyses, apparent absences of elongate, abradable mandibular sheaths (at least observable in Rhamphorhynchus), and lack of a suitably reinforced jaw joint particularly pertinent arguments against pterosaur skimming.

Does this mean that no pterosaur ever skimmed for food? Of course not; the authors note that small pterosaurs (2 kg or less), maybe even Rhamphorhynchus, could have skimmed for food, but the large size and energy costs of the larger pterosaurs (not to mention lack of adaptation) probably precluded them from using skimming as a way to acquire food. Likewise, this study does not shut the door to pterosaurs feeding on fish either; they could have acquired fish some other way, and there are plenty of ways to do it. During my recent trip to Cape May, I noticed several strategies being used other than the skimming method mentioned here. Terns seem to fly about 8-15 feet above the water, looking for fish. When they spotted one, they drew their bodies upright (perpendicular to the water’s surface), hovered while flapping their wings for a moment, and dove down to catch the fish. An osprey took a somewhat different approach, flying higher and then folding in its wings in a sort of slow-motion freefall to catch the fish with its beak. Other “fish eagles” have been known to employ similar techniques, but using their talons instead. Seagulls, on the other hand, seemed to primarily sit on the surface and go after whatever came up, although there are birds that dive down to catch fish. While unlikely analogies to ancient pterosaurs because of the differences in body shape, herons and egrets wading in a salt marsh and stabbed into the water after fish. There are plenty of ways to catch fish at sea or in clamer marshes and lagoons, and its probable that some pterosaurs may have developed a method of acquiring fish that we do not have a modern analogy for. For the moment, however, we can at least be fairly confident that any but the smallest of pterosaurs probably did not skim for food, especially not on a regular basis, and we will have to look elsewhere if we’re to determine their habits.

Photos from Cape May, NJ

15 07 2007


Yesterday, my wife and I left at 3 AM to arrive at the most southern point/beach in New Jersey, arriving just after the sun began to rise.


And here is my lovely wife in the early morning light;


We also encountered some local wildlife before even setting foot on the beach or pathways along the dunes. Many birds rested in their large birdhouses, and a small toad sat on the bench outside the restrooms;




Once we set foot on the beach, there were already plenty of Laughing Gulls skittering about on the sand and trying to snatch some bait from early-bird fishermen;

Laughing Gull

Tracey and I also noted a strange blob bobbing about in the surf. It turned out to be a dead jellyfish;


We saw many more of the decomposing cnidarians on the beach that morning;


After taking a little snooze on the beach, we took a short walk on a path behind the dunes, watching an immature Great Blue Heron and an egret try to catch their breakfast;



Small rabbits also abounded along the shore, and we saw many over the course of the day;


Being that it was too early to head over to the docks for our whale watching tour, we stopped by the Nature Conservancy migratory bird refuge. While most of the birds were too far away or simply not present during our visit, I did spot a number of Red-Winged Blackbirds, and this particular fellow was especially robust and colorful;


This bright flower also caught our eye;


By the time was had walked the trail it was time for our cruise, although nothing much happened for the first hour or so (outside of being followed by some laughing gulls);

Laughing Gull

The whole trip did not turn out to be a wash, however, as we came across a rather large pod of Bottlenose Dolphins (15-20 individuals) feeding close to shore, right in front of one of John Wyland’s famous “Whaling Walls” (depicting a Humpback Whale, amongst other marine life);



After the overall mediocre cruise and stopping for lunch, we headed to the Cape May Zoo, where I finally got to see some live Pronghorns (previously the only ones I had seen were the stuffed ones at the AMNH);



And, of course, no zoo trip would be complete without seeing a Muntjac;



While I had seen Capybara in zoos before, I at long last got to see one swimming, as well;



As would be expected, the American Alligators were also cooling off in the water, albeit in a more stagnant pool;


The weather was rather hot, so the big cats (lion, cheetah, tiger) mostly stayed out of the sun (and therefore impossible to photograph). I did manage to get a few shots of the leopard and ocelot, however;



The animals in the African plains enclosures were a bit more active, however, including the Reticulated Giraffes and Grey’s Zebra (previously I had only seen Grevy’s Zebras);



While not as exotic, the raccoons and swift fox the zoo kept provided me with some decent shots as well;


Swift Fox

Before leaving, we also stopped into the “World of Birds,” where I encountered this strange species with yellow waddles (and showed no fear or concern that I was photographing it from so close a range);



Not long afterwards, we ate our dinner and headed for home, overall being a good day in Cape May. I also wanted to include this picture of a deer I got a few weeks ago in Pennington, NJ, where I was petsitting;


Birds pick up a good smoking habit

6 07 2007

If you should ever find yourself at Exeter St David’s railway station in Devon, England, pay close attention to what happens when someone flicks away a burning cigarette. While it may very well get stepped on, kicked onto the tracks, or otherwise snuffed out, if you are at the station during a quiet period you may just see something phenomenal; birds that fumigate themselves with the used butts. In an article issued a few weeks ago in the Telegraph, Rooks (Corvus frugilegus) were observed picking up still-smoldering cigarettes, moving them to a more private location, and opening up their wings to collect the smoke. The intelligence of Corvid birds (crows and their relatives) is well-known, although this is perhaps the first time that these birds have been seen taking advantage of discarded suicide sticks to benefit themselves, probably in an attempt to kill parasites living on their wings.

When my friend Molly first sent me the article (hat-tip to Molly) a few weeks ago, the first thing that came to my mind was the behavior known as “anting.” Although I had never studied it in detail, I remembered that some birds pick up ants and rub them on their feathers, the formic acid the ants secrete in an attempt to defend themselves having a detrimental effect on the parasites living on the bird (as suggested by Kelso and Nice’s “A Russian Contribution to Anting and Feather Mites“). In fact, the first mental image was of a crow, holding a smoking cigarette in its beak, rubbing the ashes over its wings. As the article makes clear, however, this is not the case and it is not merely an example of the birds doing an old behavior with a new tool; they have done something that appears to be entirely new.

Still, I thought I would look into anting behavior a bit more; the benefits to birds that exhibit the behavior are clear, but stopping inquiry there would be rather adaptationist, claiming that birds do it because it benefits them, but why birds engage in this behavior at all might not be as straightforward as it seems. In a 2004 paper entitled “Bactericidal and Fungicidal Activity of Ant Chemicals on Feather Parasites: An Evaluation of Anting Behavior,” Revis and Waller found that the bacteria Bacillus licheniformis, Bacillus subtilis, and fungi Chaetomium globosum, Penicillium chrysogenum, and Trichoderma viride were not inhibited by the natural concentrations of chemicals excreted by several species of ants (although concentrated formic acid did work), suggesting that the ants selected simply did not contain concentrated-enough doses of formic acid to provide the birds protection against the bacterial and fungi tested in the study. This is surprising, especially since tests don’t seem to support the idea that anting inhibits arthropod parasites either, yet the birds keep on exhibiting the behavior. Why?

What is often left out when anting is discussed is that the birds often eat the ants, supposedly getting a “two-for-one” kind of benefit from picking up ants. This could give us a clue to the real motive behind anting, however, and although I do not have access to the article, Judson and Bennett (1992) hypothesized that anting may actually serve to remove toxic formic acid from ants prior to ingestion. From the abstract to their paper “‘Anting’ as food preparation: formic acid is worse on an empty stomach“;

Anting is a behavior common among passerine birds, yet its function is unknown. The behavior consists of a highly stereotyped set of movements which start when a bird picks up an ant, usually one which sprays formic acid as a defense, and sweeps it with frenzied motions through its feathers. The bird will often also eat the ant. As formic acid is toxic, we have tested the food-preparation hypothesis, that is, that the birds are anting to remove a distasteful or toxic substance from the ant before eating it. In a pair of experiments on starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, we have found evidence in support of this hypothesis.

[Again, I don’t have access, but for information on the toxicity of formic acid to birds see Bennett, Llloyd, and Cuthill’s 1996 paper “Ant-derived formic acid can be toxic for birds.” It should also be noted that it is sometimes difficult to tell whether some birds eat or discard ants after using them in anting behavior, as described in Osborn’s “Anting by an American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus)]

Indeed, anting behavior doesn’t always include ants, and the observations of birds “anting” with various other insects seems to support the notion that the birds are ridding their prey of noxious chemicals rather than trying to kill their parasites. One such example is described in Eisner, et. al’s “Pre-ingestive treatment of bombardier beetles by jays: food preparation by ‘anting’ and ‘sand-wiping’,” where Blue Jays subject bombardier beetles to anting prior to ingestion, making sure that they don’t get a stomach full of toxic chemicals. The study notes that the jays used in the tests did not always “ant” with the beetles, however; sometimes the beetles were repeatedly pecked, dropped, and picked up again before being consumed (“pre-milked” beetles were pecked and eaten quickly, so the “peck until the beetle is done discharging” seems like the primary way of handling the beetles). Snails, berries (VanderWerf, 2005), and caterpillars (Wenny, 1998) have also been observed being used during anting by birds, but in each of these three cases the prey was not eaten (or did not appear to be in the case of the caterpillar). These bouts of anting were followed by preening, suggesting that there perhaps there is some benefit to the chemicals present in all three organisms to the bird, although we cannot be sure of what. The incident that VanderWerf is even more interesting as the event was witnessed on one of the Hawaiian islands, where ants, the snail, and the berry are not native and the bird (the ‘Elepaio or Chasiempis sandwichensis) is non-migratory. This shows that even though ants are most commonly associated with anting, the behavior can incorporate a variety of different resources and is not restricted to species that come into contact with ants on a regular basis.

Animals other than birds exhibit anting behavior, however; just this year Verderane, et al. published “Anting in a Semifree-ranging Group of Cebus apella,” describing how one particular species of Capuchin monkey rubs ants all over its body, a behavior that correlates with the seasonal incidence of an ectoparasite. This, the researchers conclude, is true anting and actually does work on the pests in the primate’s fur, whereas the benefits of anting in birds (where it was first described) is still a bit of a mystery.

Part of the reason why anting is such a mystery is that it involves interactions between hundreds of species all over the world; I don’t know if it’s even possible (or wise) to impose an “always/never” rule on what benefits the birds may or may not be receiving from anting. While the evolution of the behavior likely started by trying to make prey insects expel their noxious chemicals prior to ingestion, it could very well have been co-opted to take advantage of naturally-occurring substances present on other organisms that may positively affect the health of the bird. Depending on where you are, the strength of chemicals in the available ant/organism, and the weaknesses of your particular parasites, anting behavior could be used primarily in terms of food prep or it could indeed have a medicinal purpose; the amount of research into all the existing combinations is staggering.

Anting aside, what the English rooks appear to be doing is something that seems to be more straightforward; I really do think that they are trying to kill the parasites on their wings, although they likely only recognize the unpleasant feeling of being inhabited by parasites and a cessation of that feeling when the smoke their own wings. What I would be interested to see (other than an actual test of this hypothesis) is the potential harm done to the birds respiratory system by the cigarettes they use. While it is true that they receive some health benefits from removing parasites from their wings, are their lungs adversely affected by the smoke in a way similar to ours? This could be a great opportunity for scientists interested in health, behavior, and toxicology to collaborate (it reminds me of one of a study I would like to do, checking the health/cholesterol of animals found in theme parks which sell fried foods vs. the health/cholesterol levels of other populations in cities, suburbs, parks, and forests). Hopefully some research will be forthcoming, but until then I hope keen folks continue to keep an eye out for amazing bird behaviors wherever they are.

Visit to the Animal Kingdom

1 07 2007

Saturday afternoon Tracey and I decided to visit the Animal Kingdom Zoo and Pet Store in Bordentown, New Jersey. It’s a small roadside zoo with lots of older-style cages and enclosures, featuring a rather surprising array of primates, and while I can’t say I’m exactly pleased with the way some of the animals are kept, the staff does seem like they’re trying to give the animals a decent existence (many of them seemed crippled or otherwise indicative of unwanted pets).

The zoo offered a few good photographic opportunities, although I’ll have to acquire (and master) photoshop to fix some of the pictures. One such shot was the following one of a wolf, as it was impossible for me to get closer to the cage to get the out-of-focus bars out of the shot;

The zoo also sported a pair of white-nosed coati in a shaded enclosure, one of which of the blonde variety;


We also happened into a newly-arrived baby camel soon after entering the zoo. This baby could not have been more than a few days old, as it still was a bit wobbly while walking and the remnants of the umbilical cord were still attached. Why it was serparated from its mother at such an early age, I don’t know;


A breeding pair of white peacocks were also roaming the grounds, the mother guarding a group of three white chicks;


Peacock Babies

Another peacock male was not so fortunate, however; for some reason he was missing all of his beautiful, sexually-selected tail feathers. That didn’t stop him from trying, though;


Some Helmeted Guineafowl were roaming the grounds as well (thanks for the help with the identification Julia!);


The Muntjacs I remembered from my last visit were still at the zoo, although they had gotten rather chubby. They didn’t seem to eat the various peanuts/fruit loops/etc. people threw into their enclosure, so I’m not sure exactly how they got to be so corpulent;





The lemurs didn’t seem to experience the same weight problems, although they seemed hopelessly addicted to Fruit Loops given out in the “Animal Feed.” They largely ignored peanuts and animal crackers, sticking their heads and arms out of their cage hoping for the cereal. While I’m dubious about the long-term health effects of this, there was no doubt that they were sugar-fiends;


There were a few canines in the zoo as well, including some sleepy fennec and silver foxes;


There was another canid at the zoo that was less-lively; a stuffed/skinned wolf hanging in the vestibule before the zoo entrance, along with a stuffed boar head, pronghorn head, various animal skins, and others. Where the zoo acquired these pieces, I don’t know, but they were sad to see. I remember visiting a place called Ray’s Sport Shop as a child, calling it “The Animal Store,” not realizing until later that all the antelope, moose, cats, etc. on the wall were the “prizes” from various hunting trips.




Not everything about the day was sad or disquieting, however. The giraffes were extremely friendly and interesting, and I got my fair share of giraffe saliva all over my hands feeding them some grass and a few peanuts. It was interesting to see all of their different personalities, some being rather timid to take the food from me, but aggressive when a more friendly giraffe would move in. Still, it was certainly the high point of the day;


All in all, it wasn’t a bad day, although I wish the zoo would stop allowing visitors to give the primates so much sugar (especially unsupervised; there was virtually no staff on the grounds). The zoo reminded me of the general problems of any zoo, trying to provide safety for the people and the animals, taking in some sick and unwanted animals, but lacking the funding to give them the absolute best care.

New Jersey Animals, wild and otherwise

1 07 2007

I’ve run into quite a bit of wildlife at relatively close range as of late, plenty of which I was able to catch on film. Given that these animals were not in cages or otherwise penned up, there was only so close I could get and most of these pictures are not very good (on some of them I just used the “easy fix” option on Kodak Gallery to brighten them, given that they were taken late in the day when there was almost no sunlight).

The first of my animal encounters occurred when petsitting in Monroe township for two poodles, one of which had cornered a groundhog (or woodchuck, if you prefer) behind a soccer net in the backyard. I was able to get pretty close before letting it out of there;

Paris and Hog


Later that afternoon I spotted a Turkey Vulture by the side of the road and pulled over to try and get a few shots. It flew on top of a telephone pole, too far away to get a decent shot. Given the amount of roadkill around here, however, I’ll probably have a few more opportunities this week;

T Vulture

Speaking of birds, today I went out for a mini-picnic and saw a mixed group of geese and ducks. Some were Canda Geese, others domestic varities, and one seemed like some sort of hybrid. They were in the shade and swam off (probably because of Panda, the dog I was watching, pictured below), so I wasn’t able to get much of a shot;



White-Tailed Deer are also ever-present in these parts, and this afternoon we got a visit from a doe and three fawns. I have seen does with as many as six fawns following, all in a group, so I wonder if white-tailed deer have their own equivalent of babysitters (they didn’t seem inclined to all stay together when I accidentally spooked them). And, if you haven’t read it already, see Friday’s post about how antlers and sexual selection figure into current deer evolution;




Doe and Fawn

Meanwhile, I still check in and take care of the cats whenever I can. Thankfully they have not gone feral in my absence from the apartment, but Charlotte and Beatrice (who still needs a home) were quite interested in Spider-Man for some reason;


My wha?

29 06 2007

Good news everyone! I got the wireless connection to work at the house I’ll be staying in for the next week (+), so you can expect plenty of new material as I try and dig myself out of the avalanche of books I’ve brought upon myself. Tonight, however, I’m going out to see Ratatouille; I can never say no to a Pixar feature.

Two Extinct Birds Seen Again

29 06 2007

Just in case you didn’t get your extinct bird fix from my giant-penguin post, there’s plenty more news to go around. Greg Laden tipped me off to a gorgeous photo of the Recurve-billed Bushbird (Clytoctantes alixii), a bird that was once thought to have gone extinct. According to the National Geographic article, this bird was thought to have died out in 1965, but reappeared in 2004, although it has been seen seldom since. I’ll have to consult my copy of Errol Fuller’s Extinct Birds for more when I get home.

Perhaps even more momentous is the recovery of Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) remains from a cave on Mauritius, perhaps good enough to yield some DNA for study. The skeleton was in relatively good condition, although it doesn’t appear that it will be mounted or put on display (the only known soft tissue remains were saved from destruction in one of the most famous tales of academic heroism, and now reside in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History). Unfortunately Yahoo!News is not well-known for its excellent reporters, so details are scant at best. It’s definitely be something to keep an eye on, though.