Monthly Archives: October 2016

The Symbol Of The Sun

iPhoneOgraphy – 31 Oct 2016 (Day 305/366)

The sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is a nearly perfect sphere of hot plasma, with internal convective motion that generates a magnetic field via a dynamo process. It is by far the most important source of energy for life on Earth. Its diameter is about 109 times that of Earth, and its mass is about 330,000 times that of Earth, accounting for about 99.86% of the total mass of the Solar System. About three quarters of the Sun’s mass consists of hydrogen (~73%); the rest is mostly helium (~25%), with much smaller quantities of heavier elements, including oxygen, carbon, neon, and iron.

The Sun is a G-type main-sequence star (G2V) based on its spectral class, and is informally referred to as a yellow dwarf. It formed approximately 4.6 billion years ago from the gravitational collapse of matter within a region of a large molecular cloud. Most of this matter gathered in the center, whereas the rest flattened into an orbiting disk that became the Solar System. The central mass became so hot and dense that it eventually initiated nuclear fusion in its core. It is thought that almost all stars form by this process.

The Sun is roughly middle-aged: it has not changed dramatically for more than four billion years, and will remain fairly stable for more than another five billion years. After hydrogen fusion in its core has stopped, the Sun will undergo severe changes and become a red giant. It is calculated that the Sun will become sufficiently large to engulf the current orbits of Mercury, Venus, and possibly Earth.

The enormous effect of the Sun on Earth has been recognized since prehistoric times, and the Sun has been regarded by some cultures as a deity. The synodic rotation of Earth and its orbit around the Sun are the basis of the solar calendar, which is the predominant calendar in use today.

The English proper name Sun developed from Old English sunne and may be related to south. Cognates to English sun appear in other Germanic languages, including Old Frisian sunne, sonne, Old Saxon sunna, Middle Dutch sonne, modern Durch zon, Old High German sunna, modern German Sonne, Old Norse sunna, and Gothic sunnō. All Germanic terms for the Sun stem from Proto-Germanic *sunnōn.

The English weekday name Sunday stems from Old English (Sunnandæg; “Sun’s day”, from before 700) and is ultimately a result of a Germanic interpretation of Latin dies solis, itself a translation of the Greek ἡμέρα ἡλίου (hēméra hēlíou). The Latin name for the Sun, Sol, is not common in general English language use; the adjectival form is the related word solar. The term sol is also used by planetary astronomers to refer to the duration of a solar day on another planet, such as Mars. A mean Earth solar day is approximately 24 hours, whereas a mean Martian ‘sol’ is 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35.244 seconds.

Solar deities and Sun worship can be found throughout most of recorded history in various forms, including the Egyptian Ra, the Hindu Surya, the Japanese Amaterasu, the Germanic Sól, and the Aztec Tonatiuh, among others.

From at least the 4th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt, the Sun was worshipped as the god Ra, portrayed as a falcon-headed divinity surmounted by the solar disk, and surrounded by a serpent. In the New Empire period, the Sun became identified with the dung beetle, whose spherical ball of dung was identified with the Sun. In the form of the Sun disc Aten, the Sun had a brief resurgence during the Amarna Period when it again became the preeminent, if not only, divinity for the Pharaoh Akhenaton.

The Sun is viewed as a goddess in Germanic paganism, Sól/Sunna. Scholars theorize that the Sun, as a Germanic goddess, may represent an extension of an earlier Proto-Indo-European Sun deity because of Indo-European linguistic connections between Old Norse Sól, Sanskrit Surya, Gaulish Sulis, Lithuanian Saulė, and Slavic Solntse.

In ancient Roman culture, Sunday was the day of the Sun god. It was adopted as the Sabbath day by Christians who did not have a Jewish background. The symbol of light was a pagan device adopted by Christians, and perhaps the most important one that did not come from Jewish traditions. In paganism, the Sun was a source of life, giving warmth and illumination to mankind. It was the center of a popular cult among Romans, who would stand at dawn to catch the first rays of sunshine as they prayed. The celebration of the winter solstice (which influenced Christmas) was part of the Roman cult of the unconquered Sun (Sol Invictus). Christian churches were built with an orientation so that the congregation faced toward the sunrise in the East.

Shot & Edited using iPhone 6+


The “Read Bridge” Story

iPhoneOgraphy – 30 Oct 2016 (Day 304/366)

Read Bridge (Chinese: 李德桥) is a beam-structured bridge located at Clarke Quay within the Singapore River Planning Area in Singapore. The bridge crosses the Singapore River linking Clarke Quay to Swissôtel Merchant Court. The bridge was built in 1881 and completed in 1889. The bridge is opened to pedestrians and bicycles, and has been modified several times.

Read Bridge was named after William Henry Macleod Read, who was a prominent resident in Singapore between 1841 and 1887 and Consul for the Netherlands between 1857 and 1885. The bridge’s construction took place in 1881 and was completed in 1889. The bridge was opened by then governor Clementi Smith in 1889, Read laid the first cylinder in 1887, before he left the colony. The locals called the bridge Malacca Bridge, given its proximity to Kampong Malacca at Merchant Road. The Hokkiens refer the bridge as kam kong ma lah kah kio (Kampong Malacca Bridge). It was also known as Green Bridge because of the colour of the bridge during the period of time. Among students in Singapore this bridge is commonly known as “The Bridge”, as it is a popular meeting and drinking spot during the night. In the past, labourers and tongkang rowers gathered there to listen to Teochew storytellers. The southern side of the bridge was called colloquially cha chun tau, a reference to the boats that carried firewood from Indonesia to the shops that sold them there. Piles of firewood lined the streets in the area. Near the cha chun tau area were two Teochew opera theaters, Ee Hng and Diat Hng. Part of the area around the bridge was locally known as cha chun tau, a jetty for boats carrying firewood. Tongkangs carried firewood will unload their cargo at the bridge.

On 3 November 2008, the bridge was selected for conservation as part of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s expanded conservation programme.

Shot & Edited using iPhone 6+

The Maldives Sea Water

iPhoneOgraphy – 29 Oct 2016 (Day 303/366)

A sea is a large body of salt water that is surrounded in whole or in part by land. More broadly, “the sea” is the interconnected system of Earth’s salty, oceanic waters – considered as one global ocean or as several principal oceanic divisions. The sea moderates Earth’s climate and has important roles in the water cycle, carbon cycle, and nitrogen cycle. Although the sea has been travelled and exploredsince prehistory, the modern scientific study of the sea – oceanography – dates broadly to the British Challenger expedition of the 1870s. The sea is conventionally divided into up to five large oceanic sections – including the International Hydrographic Organization’s four named oceans (the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic) and the Southern Ocean; smaller, second-order sections, such as the Mediterranean, are known as seas.

Owing to the present state of continental drift, the Northern Hemisphere is now fairly equally divided between land and sea (a ratio of about 2:3) but the South is overwhelmingly oceanic (1:4.7). Salinity in the open ocean is generally in a narrow band around 3.5% by mass, although this can vary in more landlocked waters, near the mouths of large rivers, or at great depths. About 85% of the solids in the open sea are sodium chloride. Deep – sea currents are produced by differences in salinity and temperature. Surface currents are formed by the friction of waves produced by the wind and by tides, the changes in local sea level produced by the gravity of the Moon and Sun. The direction of all of these is governed by surface and submarine land masses and by the rotation of the Earth (the Coriolis effect).

Former changes in sea levels have left continental shelves, shallow areas in the sea close to land. These nutrient-rich waters teem with life, which provide humans with substantial supplies of food – mainly fish, but also shellfish, mammals, and seaweed – which are both harvested in the wild and farmed. The most diverse areas surround great tropical coral reefs. Whaling in the deep sea was once common but whales’ dwindling numbers prompted international conservation efforts and finally a moratorium on most commercial hunting. Oceanography has established that not all life is restricted to the sunlit surface waters: even under enormous depths and pressures, nutrients streaming from hydrothermal vents support their own unique ecosystem. Life may have started there and aquatic microbial mats are generally credited with the oxygenation of Earth’s atmosphere; both plants and animals first evolved in the sea.

The sea is an essential aspect of human trade, travel, mineral extraction, and power generation. This has also made it essential to warfare and left major cities exposed to earthquakes and volcanoes from nearby faults; powerful tsunami waves; and hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones produced in the tropics. This importance and duality has affected human culture, from early sea gods to the epic poetry of Homer to the changes induced by the Columbian Exchange, from burial at sea to Basho’s haikus to hyperrealist marine art, and inspiring music ranging from the shanties in The Complaynt of Scotland to Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship” to A-Mei’s “Listen of the Sea”. It is the scene of leisure activities including swimming, diving, surfing, and sailing. However, population growth, industrialization, and intensive farming have all contributed to present-day marine pollution. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is being absorbed in increasing amounts, lowering its pH in a process known as ocean acidification. The shared nature of the sea has made overfishing an increasing problem.

Both senses of sea date to Old English; the larger sense has required a definite article since Early Middle English. As the term has been applied over time, there are no sharp distinctions between seas and oceans, although seas are smaller and are – with the notable exception of the Sargasso Sea created by the North Atlantic Gyre – usually bounded by land on a smaller scale than multiple continents. Seas are generally larger than lakes and contain salt water, but the Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake. There is no accepted technical definition of “sea” among oceanographers. In international law, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea states that all the ocean is “the sea”.

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Something To Be Wear On Head

iPhoneOgraphy – 28 Oct 2016 (Day 302/366)

A tiara (from Latin: tiara, from Ancient Greek: τιάρα) is a jeweled, ornamental crown worn by women. It is worn during formal occasions, particularly if the dress code is white tie.

Today, the word “tiara” is often used interchangeably with the word “diadem”, and tiara is often translated to a word similar to diadem in other languages. Both words come from head ornaments worn by ancient men and women to denote high status. As Geoffrey Munn notes, “The word ‘tiara’ is actually Persian in origin — the name first denoted the high-peaked head-dresses of Persian kings, which were encircled by ‘diadems’ (bands of purple and white decoration). Now, it is used to describe almost every form of decorative head ornament.” Ancient Greeks and Romans used gold to make wreath-shaped head ornaments, while the Scythians’ resembled a stiff halo that would serve as the inspiration for later Russian kokoshniks. The use of tiaras and diadems declined along with the decline of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity.

In the late 18th century, Neoclassicism gave rise to a revival of tiaras, but this time it was a solely female adornment. Jewelers taking inspiration from Ancient Greece and Rome created new wreaths made from precious gemstones. Napoleon and his wife Joséphine de Beauharnais are credited with popularizing tiaras along with the new Empire style. Napoleon wanted the French court to be the grandest in Europe and had given his wife many fabulous Parures which included tiaras.

Queen Elizabeth II is said to have the largest and most valuable collection of tiaras in the world, many of which are heirlooms of the British Royal Family. She is often seen wearing them on state occasions. Her personal collection of tiaras is considered to be priceless. The Queen received many of them through inheritance, especially from Queen Alexandra. Queen Mary, consort of King George V, purchased the Grand Duchess Vladimir tiara in the 1920s. It consists of numerous interlocking diamond circles. Pearl drops can be attached inside the circles or emeralds. Queen Mary had a tiara made for the Delhi Durbar held in 1911 in India. It is now on loan for wearing by the Duchess of Cornwall, wife of Charles, Prince of Wales. Queen Elizabeth II commissioned a ruby and diamond tiara. A gift of aquamarines she received as a present from the people of Brazil were added to diamonds to make a new tiara.

Other queens, empresses, and princesses regularly wear tiaras at formal evening occasions. The Swedish Royal Family have a magnificent collection as do the Danish, the Dutch, and Spanish monarchies. Many of the Danish Royal jewels originally came into the collection when Princess Louise of Sweden married the future King Frederick VIII of Denmark. The Romanov dynasty had a superb collection up until the revolution of 1917. The Iranian royal family also had a large collection of tiaras. Since the Iranian Revolution, they are housed at the National Jewelry Museum in Tehran.

Although usually associated with women of reigning and noble families, tiaras have been worn by commoners as well, especially rich American socialites like Barbara Hutton. Tiaras are generally a semi-circular or circular band, usually of precious metal, decorated with jewels and are worn as a form of adornment. (On rare occasions, usually when the actual tiara is exceptionally old and valuable due to its history, gemstones and previous ownership, realistic copies may be made and worn in place of the original due to insurance considerations.) Tiaras are worn by women around their head or on the forehead as a circlet on very formal or high social occasions. Tiaras are frequently used to “crown” the winners of beauty pageants.

Shot & Edited using iPhone 6+

Coin / Card Operate Phone

iPhoneOgraphy – 27 Oct 2016 (Day 301/366)

A payphone (alternative spelling: pay phone) is typically a coin-operated public telephone, often located in a telephone booth or a privacy hood, with pre-payment by inserting money (usually coins) or by billing a credit or debit card, or a telephone card. Prepaid calling cards also facilitate establishing a call by first calling the provided toll-free telephone number, entering the card account number and PIN, then the desired connection telephone number. An equipment usage fee may be charged as additional units, minutes or tariff fee to the collect/third-party, debit, credit, telephone or prepaid calling card when used at payphones.

Pay Phones are often found in public places. By agreement with the landlord, either the phone company pays rent for the location and keeps the revenue, or the landlord pays rent for the phone and shares the revenue.

Pay Phones in countries with unstable currencies have used token coins, available for sale at a local retailer, to activate pay phones instead of legal tender coins. In some cases these have been upgraded to use magnetic cards or credit card readers.

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Let Have Some Dim Sum

iPhoneOgraphy – 26 Oct 2016 (Day 300/366)

Dim sum (simplified Chinese: 点心; traditional Chinese: 點心; pinyin: Diǎnxīn; Sidney Lau: dim2sam1) is a style of Chinese cuisine (particularly Cantonese but also other varieties) prepared as small bite-sized portions of food served in small steamer baskets or on small plates. Dim sum (a transliteration of the Cantonese) dishes are famous for the unique way they are served traditionally whereby fully cooked, ready-to-serve dishes are pushed on carts around the restaurant for diners to select without leaving their seats.

Dim sum is usually linked with the older tradition from yum cha (drinking tea), which has its roots in travelers on the ancient Silk Road needing a place to rest. Thus, teahouses were established along the roadside. An imperial physician in the third century wrote that combining tea with food would lead to excessive weight gain. People later discovered that tea can aid in digestion, so teahouse owners began adding various snacks.

The unique culinary art dim sum originated with the Cantonese in southern China, who over the centuries transformed yum cha from a relaxing respite to a loud and happy dining experience. In Hong Kong, and in most cities and towns in Guangdong province, many restaurants start serving dim sum as early as five in the morning. It is a tradition for the elderly to gather to eat dim sum after morning exercises. For many in southern China, yum cha is treated as a weekend family day. More traditional dim sum restaurants typically serve dim sum until mid-afternoon. However, in modern society, it has become commonplace for restaurants to serve dim sum at dinner time; various dim sum items are even sold as take-out for students and office workers on the go.

A traditional dim sum brunch includes various types of steamed buns such as cha siu bao (a steamed bun filled with barbecue pork), dumplings and rice noodle rolls (cheong fun), which contain a range of ingredients, including beef, chicken, pork, prawns, and vegetarian options. Many dim sum restaurants also offer plates of steamed green vegetables, roasted meats, congee and other soups. Dessert dim sum is also available and many places offer the customary egg tart. Dim sum is usually eaten as breakfast.

Dim sum can be cooked by steaming and frying, among other methods. The serving sizes are usually small and normally served as three or four pieces in one dish. It is customary to order family style, sharing dishes among all members of the dining party. Because of the small portions, people can try a wide variety of food.

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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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