The River Horse

iPhoneOgraphy – 25 Oct 2016 (Day 299/366)

The common hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius), or hippo, is a large, mostly herbivorous mammal in sub-Saharan Africa, and one of only two extant species in the family Hippopotamidae, the other being the pygmy hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis or Hexaprotodon liberiensis). The name comes from the Ancient Greek for “river horse” (ἱπποπόταμος). After the elephant and rhinoceros, the common hippopotamus is the third-largest type of land mammal and the heaviest extant artiodactyl. Despite their physical resemblance to pigs and other terrestrial even-toed ungulates, the closest living relatives of the Hippopotamidae are cetaceans (whales, porpoises, etc.) from which they diverged about 55 million years ago. The common ancestor of whales and hippos split from other even-toed ungulates around 60 million years ago. The earliest known hippopotamus fossils, belonging to the genus Kenyapotamus in Africa, date to around 16 million years ago.

Common hippos are recognisable by their barrel-shaped torsos, wide-opening mouths revealing large canine tusks, nearly hairless bodies, columnar-like legs and large size; adults average 1,500 kg (3,300 lb) and 1,300 kg (2,900 lb) for males and females respectively, making them the largest species of land mammal after the three species of elephants and the white and Indian rhinoceros. Despite its stocky shape and short legs, it is capable of running 30 km/h (19 mph) over short distances. The hippopotamus is a highly aggressive and unpredictable animal and is ranked among the most dangerous animals in Africa. Nevertheless, they are still threatened by habitat loss and poaching for their meat and ivory canine teeth.

The common hippopotamus is semiaquatic, inhabiting rivers, lakes and mangrove swamps, where territorial bulls preside over a stretch of river and groups of five to thirty females and young. During the day, they remain cool by staying in the water or mud; reproduction and childbirth both occur in water. They emerge at dusk to graze on grasses. While hippopotamuses rest near each other in the water, grazing is a solitary activity and hippos are not territorial on land.

The word “hippopotamus” is derived from the Ancient Greek ἱπποπόταμος, hippopotamos, from ἵππος, hippos, “horse”, and ποταμός, potamos, “river”, meaning “horse of the river”. In English, the plural is hippopotamuses, but “hippopotami” is also used; “hippos” can be used as a short plural. Hippopotamuses are gregarious, living in groups of up to thirty animals. A group is called a pod, herd, dale, or bloat.

In Africa, the hippo is known by various names, including seekoei (Afrikaans), mvuvu (Venda), kubu (Lozi) and mvubu (Xhosa, Siswati and Zulu) in the south; kiboko (Swahili), ensherre (Nkore), tomondo (Turu), nvubu (Luganda), ifuru (Luhya), emiria (Ateso), magawit (Sebei), kibei (Kalenjin) and olmakau (Maasai) in the African Great Lakes region; and gumarre (Amharic) and jeer (Somali) in the Horn of Africa.

Hippopotamuses are among the largest living land mammals, being only smaller than elephants and some rhinoceroses. Mean adult weight is around 1,500 kg (3,300 lb) and 1,300 kg (2,900 lb) for males and females respectively, very large males can reach 2,000 kg (4,400 lb) and an exceptional male weighing almost 2,700 kg (6,000 lb) has been reported. Male hippos appear to continue growing throughout their lives while females reach maximum weight at around age 25.

Different from all other large land mammals, hippos are of semiaquatic habits, spending the day in lakes and rivers. The eyes, ears, and nostrils of hippos are placed high on the roof of their skulls. This allows these organs to remain above the surface while the rest of the body submerges. Their barrel-shaped bodies have graviportal skeletal structures, adapted to carrying their enormous weight, and their specific gravity allows them to sink and move along the bottom of a river. Hippopotamuses have small legs (relative to other megafauna) because the water in which they live reduces the weight burden. Though they are bulky animals, hippopotamuses can gallop at 30 km/h (19 mph) on land but normally trot. They are incapable of jumping but do climb up steep banks. Despite being semiaquatic and having webbed feet, an adult hippo is not a particularly good swimmer nor can it float. It is rarely found in deep water; when it is, the animal moves by porpoise-like leaps from the bottom. The testes of the males descend only partially and a scrotum is not present. In addition, the penis retracts into the body when not erect. The genitals of the female are unusual in that the vagina is ridged and two large diverticula protrude from the vulval vestibule. The function of these is unknown.

The hippo’s jaw is powered by a large masseter and a well-developed digastric; the latter loops up behind the former to the hyoid. The jaw hinge is located far back enough to allow the animal to open its mouth at almost 180°. A moderate folding of the orbicularis oris muscle allows the hippo to achieve such a gape without tearing any tissue. On the National Geographic Channel television program, “Dangerous Encounters with Brady Barr”, Dr. Brady Barr measured the bite force of an adult female hippo at 8,100 newtons (1,800 lbf); Barr also attempted to measure the bite pressure of an adult male hippo, but had to abandon the attempt due to the male’s aggressiveness. Hippopotamus teeth sharpen themselves as they grind together. The lower canines and lower incisors are enlarged, especially in males, and grow continuously. The incisors can reach 40 cm (1.3 ft), while the canines reach up to 50 cm (1.6 ft). The canines and incisors are used for combat and play no role in feeding. Hippos rely on their broad horny lips to grasp and pull grasses which are then ground by the molars. The hippo is considered to be a pseudo ruminant; it has a complex three-chambered stomach but does not “chew cud”.

Unlike most other semiaquatic animals, the hippopotamus has very little hair. The skin is 6 cm (2 in) thick, providing it great protection against conspecifics and predators. By contrast, its subcutaneous fat layer is thin. The animals’ upper parts are purplish-gray to blue-black, while the under parts and areas around the eyes and ears can be brownish-pink. Their skin secretes a natural sunscreen substance which is red-coloured. The secretion is sometimes referred to as “blood sweat”, but is neither blood nor sweat. This secretion is initially colourless and turns red-orange within minutes, eventually becoming brown. Two distinct pigments have been identified in the secretions, one red (hipposudoric acid) and one orange (norhipposudoric acid). The two pigments are highly acidic compounds. Both pigments inhibit the growth of disease-causing bacteria; as well, the light absorption of both pigments peaks in the ultraviolet range, creating a sunscreen effect. All hippos, even those with different diets, secrete the pigments, so it does not appear that food is the source of the pigments. Instead, the animals may synthesize the pigments from precursors such as the amino acid tyrosine. Nevertheless, this natural sunscreen cannot prevent the animal’s skin from cracking if it stays out of water too long.

A hippo’s lifespan is typically 40–50 years. Donna the Hippo was the oldest living hippo in captivity. She lived at the Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville, Indiana in the US until her death in 2012 at the age of 61. The oldest hippo ever recorded was called Tanga; she lived in Munich, Germany, and died in 1995 at the age of 61.

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The Gigantic Tortoise

iPhoneOgraphy – 24 Oct 2016 (Day 298/366)

Giant tortoises are characteristic reptiles that are found on two groups of tropical islands: the Aldabra Atoll in Seychelles and the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador (a population at the Mascarene Islands was exterminated by the 1900s) . These tortoises can weigh as much as 417 kg (919 lb) and can grow to be 1.3 m (4 ft 3 in) long. Giant tortoises originally made their way to islands from the mainland; for example, Aldabra Atoll and Mascarene giant tortoises are related to Madagascar tortoises while Galapagos giant tortoises are related to Ecuador mainland tortoises. This phenomenon of excessive growth is known as islands gigantism or insular gigantism. It occurs when the size of the animals that are isolated on an islands increases dramatically in comparison to their mainland relatives. This is due to several factors such as relaxed predation pressure, competitive release, or as an adaptation to increased environmental fluctuations on islands. These animals belong to an ancient group of reptiles, appearing about 250 million years ago. By the Upper Cretaceous, 70 or 80 million years ago, some had already become gigantic. About 1 million years ago tortoises reached the Galápagos Islands. Most of the gigantic species began to disappear about 100,000 years ago. Only 250 years ago there were at least 20 species and subspecies in islands of the Indian Ocean and 14 or 15 subspecies in the Galápagos Islands.

Although often considered examples of island gigantism, prior to the arrival of Homo sapiens giant tortoises also occurred in non-island locales, as well as on a number of other, more accessible islands. During the Pleistocene, and mostly during the last 50,000 years, tortoises of the mainland of southern Asia (Colossochevlys atlas), North and South America, Australia (Meiolania), Indonesia, Madagascar (Dipsochelys), and even the island of Malta became extinct. The giant tortoises formerly of Africa died out somewhat earlier, during the late Pliocene. While the timing of the disappearances of various extinct giant tortoise species seems to correlate with the arrival of humans, direct evidence for human involvement in these extinctions is usually lacking; however, such evidence has been obtained in the case of Meiolania damelipi in Vanuatu. One interesting relic is the shell of an extinct giant tortoise found in a submerged sinkhole in Florida with a wooden spear piercing it, carbon dated to 12,000 years ago. Today, only one of the species of the Indian Ocean survives in the wild, the Aldabra giant tortoise (two more are claimed to exist in captive or re-released populations, but some genetic studies have cast doubt on the validity of these as separate species) and 10 extant species in the Galápagos.

Giant tortoises are among the world’s longest-living animals, with an average lifespan of 100 years or more. The Madagascar radiated tortoise Tu’i Malila was 188 at death in Tonga in 1965. Harriet (initially thought to be one of the three Galápagos tortoises brought back to England from Charles Darwin’s Beagle voyage but later shown to be from an island not even visited by Darwin) was reported by the Australia Zoo to be 176 years old when she died in 2006. Also, on 23 March 2006, an Aldabra giant tortoise named Adwaita died at Alipore Zoological Gardens in Kolkata. He was brought to the zoo in the 1870s from the estate of Lord Clive and is thought to have been around 255 years old when he died. Around the time of its discovery, they were caught for food in such large quantities that they became virtually extinct by 1900. Giant tortoises are now under strict conservation laws and are categorised as threatened species.

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The Lazy Goliath Dragon

iPhoneOgraphy – 23 Oct 2016 (Day 297/366)

The rhinoceros iguana also known as “Goliath Dragons” (Cyclura cornuta) is a threatened species of lizard in the family Iguanidae that is primarily found on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, shared by the Republic of Haïti and the Dominican Republic. They vary in length from 60 to 136 centimetres (24 to 54 in) and skin colors range from a steely gray to a dark green and even brown. Their name derives from the bony-plated pseudo-horn or outgrowth which resembles the horn of a rhinoceros on the iguana’s snout.

The rhinoceros iguana is a species of lizard belonging to the genus Cyclura. The generic name (Cyclura) is derived from the Ancient Greek cyclos (κύκλος) meaning “circular” and ourá (οὐρά) meaning “tail”, after the thick-ringed tail characteristic of all Cyclura. The rhinoceros iguana’s specific name, cornuta, is the feminine form of the Latin adjective cornutus, meaning “horned” and refers to the horned projections on the snouts of males of the species. The species was first identified by Piere Joseph Bonnaterre in 1789.

In addition to the nominate race (Cyclura cornuta cornuta) found on Hispaniola, there are two other subspecies of Cyclura cornuta, the Mona ground iguana (Cyclura cornuta stejnegeri) and the Navassa Island iguana (Cyclura cornuta onchiopsis), although the latter subspecies is believed to be extinct in the wild.

The rhinoceros iguana, like other members of the genus Cyclura, is a large-bodied, heavy-headed lizard with strong legs and a vertically flattened tail. A crest of pointed horned scales extends from the nape of their neck to the tip of their tail. Their color is a uniform gray to brown drab. Most adults weigh 4.56 kilograms (10.1 lb) to 9 kilograms (20 lb).

These iguanas are characterized by the growth of bony prominent tubercles on their snouts which resemble horns. Dr. Thomas Wiewandt, who spent an extended period on Mona Island studying Cyclura cornuta stejnegeri, suggested that the horns, along with lateral spines and prominent parietal bulges, function as protective armor against sharp rocks or as defensive tools to facilitate the escape of males from the grasp of one another. Males possess an adipose pad in the form of a helmet on the occipital region of the head, and a large dewlap. This species, like other species of Cyclura, is sexually dimorphic; males are larger than females, and have more prominent dorsal crests and “horns” in addition to large femoral pores on their thighs, which are used to release pheromones.

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The Gila Monster

iPhoneOgraphy – 22 Oct 2016 (Day 296/366)

The Gila monster (Heloderma Suspectum) is a species of venomous lizard native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexican state of Sonora. A heavy, slow-moving lizard, up to 60 cm (2.0 ft) long, the Gila monster is the only venomous lizard native to the United States and one of only two known species of venomous lizards in North America, the other being its close relative, the Mexican beaded lizard (H. horridum). Though the Gila monster is venomous, its sluggish nature means it represents little threat to humans. However, it has earned a fearsome reputation and is sometimes killed despite being protected by state law in Arizona.

In this species, the largest extant lizard native to North America north of the Mexican border (non-natives like green iguanas are larger), snout-to-vent length is from 26 to 36 cm (10 to 14 in). The tail is about 20% of the body size and the largest specimens may reach 51 to 56 cm (20 to 22 in) in total length. Body mass is typically in the range of 350 to 700 g (0.77 to 1.54 lb), with 11 males having been found to average 468 g (1.032 lb). Reportedly, the very heaviest, largest specimens can weigh as much as 2,300 g (5.1 lb).

The Gila monster has one close living relative, the beaded lizard (H. horridum), as well as many extinct relatives in the Helodermatidae, the evolutionary history of which may be traced back to the Cretaceous period. The genus Heloderma has existed since the Miocene, when H. texana lived, and fragments of osteoderms from the Gila monster have been found in late Pleistocene (10,000–8,000 years ago) deposits near Las Vegas, Nevada. Because the helodermatids have remained relatively unchanged morphologically, they are occasionally regarded as living fossils. Although the Gila monster appears closely related to the monitor lizards (varanids) of Africa, Asia and Australia, their wide geographical separation and the unique features not found in the varanids indicate the Gila monster is better placed in a separate family.

The name “Gila” refers to the Gila River Basin in the U.S. states of New Mexico and Arizona, where the Gila monster was once plentiful. Heloderma means “studded skin”, from the Ancient Greek words helos (ἧλος), “the head of a nail or stud”, and derma (δέρμα), “skin”. Suspectum comes from the describer, paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope, who suspected the lizard might be venomous due to the grooves in the teeth.

The Gila monster is found in the Southwestern United States and Mexico, a range including Sonora, Arizona, parts of California, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico (potentially including Baja California). They inhabit scrubland, succulent desert, and oak woodland, seeking shelter in burrows, thickets, and under rocks in locations with ready access to moisture. In fact, Gila monsters seem to like water and can be observed immersing themselves in puddles of water after a summer rain. They avoid living in open areas such as flats and farmland.

The Gila monster emerges from hibernation in January or February and mates in May and June. The male initiates courtship by flicking his tongue to search for the female’s scent. If the female rejects his advances, she will bite him and crawl away. When successful, copulation has been observed to last from 15 minutes to as long as two and a half hours. The female lays eggs in July or August, burying them in sand 5 in (13 cm) below the surface. The clutch consists of two to 12 eggs: five is the average. The incubation lasts nine months, as the hatchlings emerge during April through June the following year. The hatchlings are about 16 cm (6.3 in) long and can bite and inject venom upon hatching. The juveniles typically have larger bands of pink scales than adults, although the banded Gila monster (H. s. cinctum) has a tendency to retain the band pattern. H. suspectum sexually matures at three to five years old. After egg-laying, adult Gila monsters gradually spend less time on the surface to avoid the hottest part of the summer (although they may be active in the evening), eventually starting their hibernation around November.

Little is known about the social behavior of H. suspectum, but they have been observed engaging in male-male combat, in which the dominant male lies on top of the subordinate one and pins it with its front and hind limbs. Both lizards arch their bodies, pushing against each other and twisting around in an effort to gain the dominant position. A wrestling match ends when the pressure exerted forces them to separate, although bouts may be repeated one after the other. These bouts are typically observed just before the mating season. Those with greater strength and endurance are thought to win more often and enjoy greater reproductive success. Although the Gila monster has a low metabolism and one of the lowest lizard sprint speeds, it has one of the highest aerobic scope values (the increase in oxygen consumption from rest to maximum metabolic exertion) among lizards, allowing them to engage in intense aerobic activity for a sustained period of time. Males have been observed to have higher aerobic scopes than females, presumably because of sexual selection for a trait advantageous in prolonged combat. The Gila monster may live up to 20 years in the wild, or 30 in captivity.

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Hide & Seek with Crotalus Atrox

iPhoneOgraphy – 21 Oct 2016 (Day 295/366)

Crotalus atrox, the western diamondback rattlesnake, is a venomous rattlesnake species found in the United States and Mexico. It is likely responsible for the majority of snakebite fatalities in northern Mexico and the second-greatest number in the U.S., after C. adamanteus. No subspecies is currently recognized.

Adults commonly grow to 120 cm (4 ft) in length. Specimens over 150 cm (5 ft) are infrequently encountered, while those over 180 cm (6 ft) are very rare. The maximum reported length considered to be reliable is 213 cm (7 ft). Males become much larger than females, although this difference in size does not occur until after they have reached sexual maturity. Rattlesnakes of this species considered medium-sized weighed 1.8 to 2.7 kg (4 to 6 lb), while very large specimens can reportedly weigh up to 6.7 kg (15 lb).

The color pattern generally consists of a dusty-looking gray-brown ground color, but it may also be pinkish-brown, brick red, yellowish, pinkish, or chalky white. This ground color is overlaid dorsally with a series of 24-25 dorsal body blotches that are dark gray-brown to brown in color. The first of these may be a pair of short stripes that extend backwards to eventually merge. Some of the first few blotches may be somewhat rectangular, but then become more hexagonal and eventually take on a distinctive diamond shape hence the name “Diamondback rattlesnake” . The tail has two to eight (usually four to six) black bands separated by ash white or pale gray interspaces; this led to the nickname of “coon tail”, though other species (e.g. Mojave rattlesnake) have similarly banded tails. Its postocular stripe is smoky gray or dark gray-brown and extends diagonally from the lower edge of the eye across the side of the head. This stripe is usually bordered below by a white stripe running from the upper preocular scale down to the supralabial scales just below and behind the eye. Its off-white belly is usually unmarked, its anal scale is undivided, and its dorsal scales are extremely keeled, often in rows of 25 to 27 near the midbody.

The wide range of this species overlaps, or is close to, that of many others. It may be confused with them, but differences exist. The Mohave rattlesnake, C. scutulatus, also has tail rings, but the black rings are narrow relative to the pale ones. The timber rattlesnake, C. horridus, has no tail rings. In the western rattlesnake, C. oreganus, the pale tail rings are the same color as the ground. The tail of the black-tailed rattlesnake, C. molossus, is a uniform black, or has indistinct tail rings. The Mexican west coast rattlesnake, C. basiliscus, also has a mostly dark tail with obscure or absent rings. The tiger rattlesnake, C. tigris, has a relatively small head and large rattle along with a dorsal pattern consisting more of crossbands. The Middle American rattlesnake, C. simus, has a generally uniform gray tail without any rings, as well as a pair of distinctive paravertebral stripes running down the neck. Members of the genus Sistrurus lack tail rings and have enlarged head plates.

C. atrox are solitary except during the mating season. Usually inactive between late October and early March, occasionally these ectotherms may be seen basking in the sun on warm winter days. In the winter, they hubernate or brumate in caves or burrows, sometimes with many other species of snakes. Life expectancy is more than 20 years.

They are poor climbers. Natural predators include raptors such as hawks, eagles, roadrunners, wild hogs, and other snakes. When threatened, they usually coil and rattle to warn aggressors. They are one of the more aggressive rattlesnakes in the US in the way that they stand their ground when confronted by a foe. If rattling does not work, then the snake will strike in defense.

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The Shy Morelia Spilota

iPhoneOgraphy – 20 Oct 2016 (Day 294/366)

Morelia spilota, commonly referred to as carpet python and diamond pythons, is a large snake of the family Pythonidae found in Australia, New Guinea (Indonesia and Papua New Guinea), Bismarck Archipelago, and the northern Solomon Islands.

Morelia spilota is a large species of python in the genus, reaching between 2 to 4 metres (6.6 to 13.1 ft) in length and weighing up to 15 kilograms (33 lb). M. s. mcdowelli is the largest subspecies, regularly attaining lengths of 2.7–3 m (8.9–9.8 ft). M. s. variegata is the smallest subspecies, averaging 120–180 cm (3.9–5.9 ft) in length. The average adult length is roughly 2 metres (6.6 ft). However, one 3-year-old captive male M. s. mcdowelli, measured in Ireland, was found to exceed 396 cm (12.99 ft). Males are typically smaller than females; in some regions females are up to four times heavier. The head is triangular with a conspicuous row of thermoreceptive labial pits.

The colouring of Morelia spilota is highly variable, ranging from olive to black with white or cream and gold markings. The patterning may be roughly diamond shaped or have intricate markings made up of light and dark bands on a background of gray or a version of brown.

Described as semi-arboreal, they are largely nocturnal, climbing trees and shrubs as well as crossing open areas such as rock faces, forest floors and even roads. However, basking behaviour is commonly observed.

Occurs in a wide variety of habitats, from the rainforests of northeastern Queensland (M. s. cheynei) through the River Red Gum/Riverbox woodlands of the Murray and Darling Rivers (M. s. metcalfei), to the arid, treeless islands of the Nuyts Archipelago off the South Australian west coast (M. s. imbricata). They are often found near human habitation where they perform a useful service by eating rats and other vermin. Morelia spilota is known to occur in areas that receive snowfall. Morelia spilota are (semi-arboreal) tree snakes; they do not completely rely on trees, however, and are capable of moving around elsewhere. Morelia spilota are also found in temperate grasslands with hot and dry weather.

The first description of Morelia spilota was by Lacépède (1804), who placed it in the genus Coluber as Coluber spilotus. The species has since been described by various authors as containing a number of subspecies and hybrids, these have also been known by various informal names. The attempted arrangement of taxa in this, and other, Australasian Pythonidae has produced numerous synonyms. The discrete and roaming habits of this species have produced a low number of recorded specimens, giving inadequate sample numbers to support descriptions of a taxon’s morphology. This is the case with proposed names which are sometimes cited, such as the Papuan Morelia spilota harrisoni (Hoser), despite being unaccepted or invalid. Common names are regional variants of carpet and diamond python or snake.

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The Powerful Pythonidae 

iPhoneOgraphy – 19 Oct 2016 (Day 293/366)

The Pythonidae, commonly known simply as pythons, from the Greek word python (πυθων), are a family of nonvenomous snakes found in Africa, Asia, and Australia. Among its members are some of the largest snakes in the world. Eight genera and 31 species are currently recognized.

Most members of this family are ambush predators, in that they typically remain motionless in a camouflaged position, and then strike suddenly at passing prey. They will generally not attack humans unless startled or provoked, although females protecting their eggs can be aggressive. Reports of attacks on human beings were once more common in South and Southeast Asia, but are now quite rare.

Pythons use their sharp, backward-curving teeth, four rows in the upper jaw, two in the lower, to grasp prey which is then killed by constriction; after an animal has been grasped to restrain it, the python quickly wraps a number of coils around it. Death occurs primarily by asphyxiation; some research has suggested that pressures produced during constriction may cause cardiac arrest by interfering with blood flow, but this hypothesis has not been confirmed.

Larger specimens usually eat animals about the size of a house cat, but larger food items are known; some large Asian species have been known to take down adult deer, and the African rock python, Python sebae, has been known to eat antelope. All prey is swallowed whole, and may take several days or even weeks to fully digest.

Contrary to popular belief, even the larger species, such as the reticulated python, P. reticulatus, do not crush their prey to death; in fact, prey is not even noticeably deformed before it is swallowed. The speed with which the coils are applied is impressive and the force they exert may be significant, but death is caused by suffocation, with the victim not being able to move its ribs to breathe while it is being constricted.

All snakes, including pythonids, are descended from a venomous ancestor. Although the mandibular and maxillary glands of pythonids are primarily mucus-secreting, they also produce small quantities of toxins that are also known from venomous lizards and caenophidian snakes, including three-finger toxins (3FTx), lectin toxins, and veficolin toxins. The presence of not only these, but also other toxins in the snake Cylinddophis ruffus, as well as iguanas and monitor lizards, indicates that the production of small amounts of toxins by pythonids is a relic of once better-developed venom system that pythonids and boids have down-regulated, presumably because they developed powerful constriction as an alternative means of killing their prey, leaving them with little need for a venom.

Females lay eggs (oviparous). This sets them apart from the family Boidae (boas), most of which bear live young (ovoviviparous). After they lay their eggs, females typically incubate them until they hatch. This is achieved by causing the muscles to “shiver”, which raises the temperature of the body to a certain degree, and thus that of the eggs. Keeping the eggs at a constant temperature is essential for healthy embryo development. During the incubation period, females will not eat and only leave to bask to raise their body temperature.

Pythons are more closely related to boas than to any other snake family. Boulenger (1890) considered this group to be a subfamily (Pythoninae) of the family Boidae (boas).

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Hello! Mr. Rhino

iPhoneOgraphy – 18 Oct 2016 (Day 292/366)

A rhinoceros (meaning “nose horn”), often abbreviated to rhino, is one of any five extant species of odd-toed ungulates in the family Rhinocerotidae, as well as any of the numerous extinct species. Two of these extant species are native to Africa and three to Southern Asia.

Members of the rhinoceros family are characterized by their large size (they are some of the largest remaining megafauna, with all of the species able to reach one tonne or more in weight); as well as by an herbivorous diet; a thick protective skin, 1.5–5 cm thick, formed from layers of collagen positioned in a lattice structure; relatively small brains for mammals this size (400–600 g); and a large horn. They generally eat leafy material, although their ability to ferment food in their hind gut allows them to subsist on more fibrous plant matter, if necessary. Unlike other perissodactyls, the two African species of rhinoceros lack teeth at the front of their mouths, relying instead on their lips to pluck food.

Rhinoceros are killed by humans for their horns, which are bought and sold on the black market, and which are used by some cultures for ornamental or traditional medicinal purposes. East Asia, specifically Vietnam, is the largest market for rhino horns. By weight, rhino horns cost as much as gold on the black market. People grind up the horns and then consume them believing the dust has therapeutic properties. The horns are made of keratin, the same type of protein that makes up hair and fingernails. Both African species and the Sumatran rhinoceros have two horns, while the Indian and Javan rhinoceros have a single horn.

The word rhinoceros is derived through Latin from the Ancient Greek: ῥῑνόκερως, which is composed of (rhino-, “nose”) and (keras, “horn”). The plural in English is rhinoceros or rhinoceroses. The collective noun for a group of rhinoceroses is crashor herd. The name has been in use since the 14th century.

The family Rhinocerotidae consists of only four extant genera: Ceratotherium (White rhinoceros), Dicerorhinus (Sumatran rhinoceros), Diceros (Black rhinoceros) and Rhinoceros (Indian and Javan rhinoceros). The living species fall into three categories. The two African species, the white rhinoceros and the black rhinoceros, belong to the tribe Dicerotini, which originated in the middle Miocene, about 14.2 million years ago. The species diverged during the early Pliocene (about 5 million years ago). The main difference between black and white rhinos is the shape of their mouths – white rhinos have broad flat lips for grazing, whereas black rhinos have long pointed lips for eating foliage. There are two living Rhinocerotini species, the Indian rhinoceros and the Javan rhinoceros, which diverged from one another about 10 million years ago. The Sumatran rhinoceros is the only surviving representative of the most primitive group, the Dicerorhinini, which emerged in the Miocene (about 20 million years ago).

A subspecific hybrid white rhino (Ceratotherium s. simum × C. s. cottoni) was bred at the Dvur Králové Zoo (Zoological Garden Dvur Kralove nad Labem) in the Czech Republic in 1977. Interspecific hybridization of black and white rhinoceros has also been confirmed.

While the black rhinoceros has 84 chromosomes (diploid number, 2N, per cell), all other rhinoceros species have 82 chromosomes. However, chromosomal polymorphism might lead to varying chromosome counts. For instance, in a study there were three northern white rhinoceroses with 81 chromosomes.

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Cute Cotton-Top Tamarin

iPhoneOgraphy – 17 Oct 2016 (Day 291/366)

The cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) is a small New World Monkey weighing less than 0.5 kg (1.1 lb). One of the smallest primates, the cotton-top tamarin is easily recognized by the long, white sagittal crest extending from its forehead to its shoulders. The species is found in tropical forest edges and secondary forests in northwestern Colombia, where it is arboreal and diurnal. Its diet includes insects and plant exudates, and it is an important seed dispenser in the tropical ecosystem.

The cotton-top tamarin displays a wide variety of social behaviors. In particular, groups form a clear dominance hierarchy where only dominant pairs breed. The female normally gives birth to twins and uses pheromones to prevent other females in the group from breeding. These tamarins have been extensively studied for their high level of cooperative care, as well as altruistic and spiteful behaviors. Communication between cotton-top tamarins is sophisticated and shows evidence of grammatical structure, a language feature that must be acquired.

Up to 40,000 cotton-top tamarins are thought to have been caught and exported for use in biomedical research before 1976, when CITES gave them the highest level of protection and all international trade was banned. Now, the species is at risk due to large-scale habitat destruction, as the lowland forest in northwestern Colombia where the cotton-top tamarin is found has been reduced to 5% of its previous area. It is currently classified as critically endangered and is one of the rarest primates in the world, with only 6,000 individuals left in the wild.

S. oedipus has the common names “cotton-top tamarin” and “cotton-headed tamarin” in English. Its name comes from the white hair that spans its head and flows down past the neck. In Spanish, it is commonly called bichichi, tití pielroja, “tití blanco, tití cabeza blanca, or tití leoncito. In German-speaking areas, the cotton-top tamarin is commonly known as Lisztaffe (literally “Liszt monkey”) most likely due to the resemblance of its hairstyle with that of Hungarian composer and piano virtuoso Franz Liszt.

The species was first described by Linnaeus in 1758 as Simia oedipus. Linnaeus chose the species name oedipus, which means swollen foot, but as the species does not have particularly large feet, it is unknown why he chose this name. (Linnaeus often selected names from mythology without any particular rationale, and he may have used the name of Oedipus, the mythical Greek king of Thebes, more or less arbitrarily.) In 1977, Philip Hershkovitz performed a taxonomic analysis of the species based on fur coloration patterns, cranial and mandibular morphology, and ear size. He classified Geoffroy’s tamarin S. geoffroyi as a subspecies of S. oedipus. Subsequent analyses by Hernández-Camacho and Cooper (1976), Mittermeier and Coimbra-Filho (1981), and later Grooves (2001) consider the S. oedipus and S. geoffroyi types to be separate species.

Some researchers, such as Thorington (1976), posit that S. oedipus is more closely related to the white-footed tamarin (S. leucopus) than to S. geoffroyi. This view is supported by Hanihara and Natoria’s analysis of tooth comb dental morphology (1987) and by Skinner (1991), who found similarities between S. oedipus and S. leucopus in 16 of 17 morphological traits considered.

This species of white-headed tamarin is thought to have diverged from the other Amazonian forms such as S. leucopus. This is supported by morphological considerations of the transition from juvenile to adulthood, during which the fur coloration patterns change significantly and are similar between the two species. Hershkovitz proposed that the separation of the two species happened in the Pleistocene at the height of the Atrato River, where it intersected the Cauca-Magdalena. At that time, the area was covered by a sea, which created a geographic barrier that caused the species to diverge through the process of allopatric speciation. Today, the two species are principally separated by the Atrato River.

Shot & Edited using iPhone 6+

The Pompadour Fish

iPhoneOgraphy – 16 Oct 2016 (Day 290/366)

Symphysodon, colloquially known as discus, is a genus of cichlids native to the Amazon river basin. Due to their distinctive shape and bright colors, discus are popular as freshwater aquarium fish, and their aquaculture in several countries in Asia is a major industry. They are sometimes referred to as pompadour fish.

Discus are fish from the genus Symphysodon, which currently includes the above species. However, another review of the genus published in August 2007 suggested that the genus held these three species: S. aequifasciatus (the green discus), S. haraldi (the blue/brown/common discus), and S. discus (the Heckel discus). Further arguments have been made that S. tarzoo was not described in accordance with ICZN rules and thus should be considered invalid and replaced with S. haraldi, currently considered a synonym of S. aequifasciatusby FishBase.

Other (sub) species have been proposed, but morphometric data (unlike in Pterophyllum, the freshwater angelfish) varies as much between individuals from one location as across the whole range of all discus fish species. S. tarzoo was described in 1959 and applies to the red-spotted western population. S. aequifasciatus and S. discus, meanwhile, seem to hybridise frequently in the wild or have diverged recently, as they lack mitochondrial DNA lineage sorting but differ in color pattern and have dissimilar chromosomal translocation patterns. S. discus occurs mainly in the Rio Negro. Whether S. haraldi is indeed distinct from S. aequifasciatusremains to be determined; if valid it is widespread but it might just be a color morph.

Like cichlids from the genus Pterophyllum, all Symphysodon species have a laterally compressed body shape. In contrast to Pterophyllum, however, extended finnage is absent giving Symphysodon a more rounded shape. It is this body shape from which their common name, “discus”, is derived. The sides of the fish are frequently patterned in shades of green, red, brown, and blue. The height and length of the grown fish are both about 20–25 cm (8–10 in).

Symphysodon species inhabit the margins of floodplain lakes and rivers in the Amazon Basin of lowland Amazonia, where it is part of the highly diverse Neotropical fish fauna.

The three species of Symphysodon have different geographic distributions. S. aequifasciatus occurs in the Rio Solimões, Rio Amazonas and the Río Putumayo-Içá in Brazil, Colombia and Peru. In contrast the distribution of S. discus appears to be limited to the lower reaches of the Abacaxis, Rio Negro and Trombetas rivers. S. tarzoo occurs upstream of Manaus in the western Amazon.

Shot & Edited using iPhone 6+

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