Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Fossorial Blue Beauty
Look at this picture. Bask in the glowing beauty of the rich, fertile rainforest of Thailand.

But know that the true beauty in this picture lies beneath the surface.

She is a fossorial creature, meaning she is built for a life in the earth. Living in a complex system of well built tunnels, this wonderful beast only ventures forth into open air when the night is dark and the rumblings in her empty stomach override her deep need for the security of tight spaces.

Then she emerges, and the whole forest pauses in silent appreciation.
Haplopelma lividum, the tarantula so blue it hurts the eyes. Reaching a legspan of nearly seven inches, this massive hunter is not a creature to be messed with.

It makes you wonder, really, why such a savage creature would spend so much of it's time hiding away in the dark.

It is almost as if she knows, deep down, how beautiful she is and withholds that beauty from the world.

So, please, go out into the forests of Southeast Asia. Find a hole and wait.

She is a shy beauty, but I guarantee you that the sight of her rising from her deep sanctuary like some night blooming blue earth flower will make all the hours spent waiting in that damp jungle feel like time well spent.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Largest Eagle To Ever Fall From The Sky
Bare bones. A pale collection of skeletal matter and a host of aboriginal legends are all that remain of this mighty beast that once fell from the skies of South Island, New Zealand with the striking force of a cinder block falling from an eight story building.

Harpagornis moorei, Haast's eagle, was the largest eagle to ever take flight. Weighing more than thirty pounds, a big female would have a body nearly five feet long and a wingspan close to ten feet. Keep in mind, that's a ten foot wingspan on a bird of prey with rather short wings and a long tail in relation to body size.
The reason this beast of a bird was able to survive in it's dense forest home was it's chief prey item.

The moa, a giant flightless bird that had no chance against the tyranny from above that this mighty eagle delivered.

Unfortunately, there is another creature even more terrible and destructive; a creature neither the moa nor the Haast's eagle were prepared for.


Around 1400 CE, man delivered the killing blows to both of these wonderful creatures.
First, they mercilessly hunted the moa to extinction. Then they cleared the dense forests that the eagle called home.

With the loss of it's main prey item and the destruction of it's habitat, the majestic Haast's eagle faded into extinction.

Now all that remains are bones. Bare lifeless bones and a few images created by artist's who dream of a time when death fell hard from the heavens.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Jaragua Sphaero, Smallest Reptile On The Planet
This is the Jaragua Sphaero, Sphaerodactylus ariasae, and it is the smallest reptile living on the earth.

At barely 16 millimeters in length, this diminutive gecko is small enough to fit comfortably on the face of a US quarter. 

This little guy makes his home in only two remote locations. The Jaragua National Park in the southwest of the Dominican Republic, and a nearby forested island. That is really all the information on this remarkable creature I can provide, because little is known of it's life in the wild.

The most amazing thing about this species, in my opinion, is the fact that it was only discovered in 2001. How wonderful it is that there are still secrets hiding in the forests and caves of this planet, even in this new millenium.

This is no special case either. Poecilotheria pederseni, the beautiful arboreal tarantula I share my home with and mentioned in my last post, was also discovered in that same year.

This just demonstrates what I already believe. The world is full of wonders, and all it takes is for someone to go and seek them out. I promise you, if you do you will not be dissappointed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Beauty On Eight Legs
Behold, Poecilotheria metallica, the spider that causes arachnophobes to fall to their knees and marvel.

Well, maybe not, but it is certainly the most beautiful spider I have ever seen.

Like all memebers of the genus Poecilotheria, this tarantula displays a stunning fractal pattern and wonderful combination of colors. Unlike it's sister species, however, P. metallica also shines a rich metallic blue that puts all the rest to shame.

Dwelling in crevices high in the trees of southeastern India and Sri Lanka, this arboreal tarantula hunts it's prey from the shelter of an assymetric funnel web.

It was first discovered in the Indian town of Gooty, thus earning it the name Gooty Sapphire Ornamental Tree Spider. That's quite a mouthful, but this is one creature that deserves such a majestic title.

Perhaps the most wonderful thing about this spider, in my opinion, is the fact that if you're willing to shell out a few hundred dollars you can actually bring a captive bred  P. metallica into your home.

Sounds scary, I know, but I can assure you it is a wonderful thing to share your home with a poecilotheria. Sure, they have a nasty bite, but the Poecilotheria pederseni I share my home with is by far the coolest and most stunning animal companion I have ever had.

I usually don't bring my personal life into this blog, valuing raw information over amusing anecdotes, but in this case I will make an exception and end with a picture of a Poecilotheria pederseni. I will also say that if you want an animal companion that is both visually appealing and behaviorally complex, you could do no better than a poecilotheria.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Brighamia, A Genus On The Brink
The Hawaiian island chain is truly a remarkable place. Due to it's geographic isolation, pretty much every  species native to the region is descended from a random traveler that just happened to wash up on shore or make an incredible flight.

Because of this bottlenecking effect, Hawaii hosts a rare and wonderful collection of endemic species.

90 percent of Hawaii's flowering plants exist only on Hawaii, the highest percentage of any flowering region on the earth. Most are restricted to a few locations.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. Brighamia, a genus of flowering plant represented by only two species. Both are in Hawaii, and both are on the verge of disappearing forever.
Brighamia rockii used to live on several islands, but now only survives on the small island Moloka'i.

Five distinct populations are all that remain, consisting of fewer than two hundred individuals.

Invasive plants, goats, deer, and the loss of native pollinators all are contributing to the vanishing of this wonderful example of genetic drift and the wonders of island speciation.

Sadly, this plant is doing great when compared to it's sister species.
Brighamia insignis is in dire straits. Native to Kaua'i and Ni'ihau, fewer than 65 individuals are left.

The main reason for this plant's decline is the fact that it only had one pollinator, a hawk moth that is now extinct. Human "pollinators" are the only hope this flowering rarity has of not following it's companion moth down into extinction.

So there you have it. Two rare relatives, both on the verge of vanishing forever.

This is no isolated case either. All across Hawaii, and on many other archipelagos as well, native species that have flowered in isolation face the burning fires of change as new forms are introduced by human hands.

All hope is not lost, however. As I've said before; what we have damaged, we have the power to heal. As human hands pollinate Brighamia insignis, so can human hands bring relief to all those wonderful species we have driven to the edge of extinction.

Or at least that is my sincere hope.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Highest Living Thing
High above the world, on the frigid slopes of Mount Everest, there lives a singularly spectacular organism.

Individuals have been spotted at elevations in excess of 20,000 feet, making this creature the highest living permanent resident on the face of the earth.

The most amazing thing about this animal, in my opinion, is that it's not even warm blooded. No furry mammals or majestic birds can survive on those freezing slopes.

Instead, it is a lowly jumping spider that claims the title.
Euophrys omnisuperstes, whose name means "standing above all."

This tough little arthropod hunts crevices amongst the rocks, eagerly feeding on tiny animals that feed in turn on plant debris blown up from lower altitudes.

Jumping spiders (Salticidae) have always impressed me, and this marvelous little guy is no exception. Truly, we live in a world that is full to overflowing with wonders.