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Posts Tagged ‘Taxonomy’


The tarsier is a small primate native to southeastern Asia.  This is one strange animal. 

  • The animal’s most noticeable feature is its large eyes.  Each eye is over 1.5 centimeters in diameter at full maturity, which is the same size as the creature’s brain.  This helps them with their nocturnal activities.  
  • If our eyes were as large as those of the tarsier, they would be the size of grapefruits.
  • Another anomalous feature on this creature is its strangely long back legs and feet.  Tarsiers received their name for their long tarsus bone. 
  • The tarsier’s first three fingers have fingernails, but the fourth and fifth have claws for grooming. 
  • Its neck can be rotated 180 degrees. 

 

Tarsier

Tarsier

They are mainly insectivorous, but will also hunt snakes, bats, and birds.  They move quickly by jumping from tree to tree.  They have the ability to climb and leap one day after they are born.  During the day tarsiers sleep in tree trunks and shrubs. 

The Cosmic Perspective

Although the tarsier is a primate, it is not a monkey.  However, the only other tree-dwelling mammals that have circular nostrils that project sideways like the tarsier, are monkeys.  To this day, scientists are trying to understand the exact taxonomy and connection between the two genuses.

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A Golden Ringed Tree Kangaroo

A Golden Ringed Tree Kangaroo

Tree kangaroos are macropods, and so do in fact belong in a family with kangaroos and wallabies.  They are indigenous to the rainforests of Papua New Guinea.  The macropod usually reaches around one meter in length (including the tail) and approximately 7 kilos.   They feed mainly on fruits and flowers found in the canopy. 

 Scientists believe that the ancestors of tree kangaroos could not find a niche on the ground, so adapted to move to life in the treetops.  They developed short, wide feet with rather large claws for better gripping.  The vertebrae near the tip of the tail became more numerous and shorter, making it more mobile.  The muscles on the bottom of the tail are also stronger than the dorsal (top) allowing the tree kangaroo to reach around and grasp the tree trunk with its appendage.

These wonderful creatures have the uncanny ability to jump from tree to tree, and down to the ground.  Falls, or jumps, depending on your point of view, of up to 60 feet have been observed, with no harm to the tree kangaroo. 

The Golden Mantled Tree Kangaroo is especially interesting as it is one of the most recently discovered large mammals (1993, officially).  It is also the most endangered of all tree kangaroos.  Unfortunately, the all species of tree kangaroo are considered endangered (as far as I know), mainly due to deforestation.

The Cosmic Perspective

Who said these things have to be serious?

The tree kangaroo is a relatively rare exception to an annoying trend I have seen in the taxonomic world.  Its name actually indicates to which family it belongs.  Case and point: the red panda.  The red panda is not a panda, and does not belong to Ursidae (bears) as does the Giant Panda.  It belongs to its own family: Ailuridae.  Or, Hippopotamus.  Besides being making the word annoying to spell, the Greek traveller who happened upon these beasts decided that they were some kind of riverhorse (hippo=horse, potamos=river).  Yes.  Because a hippos and horses look like twins.  Hopefully, when new species are discovered, somebody sensible names them.

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Old School: Aristotle and Archimedes

Archimedes

Archimedes

 

Aristotle

Aristotle

Aristotle is considered by many to be the first true scientist.  His primary interest was biology and wrote extensively about marine biology and taxonomy (animal classification).  He also proposed that celestial bodies moved in circles at constant velocities.  This, of course, was incorrect assumption, but a critical step in the history of astronomy.  Archimedes was a mathematician and inventor whose innovations included conic sections, the area of circles, the physics of levers, and displacement of floating bodies.  He was also the inventor of many devices including the Archimedes screw, a sun based heat ray (probably not a real invention, but it sounds cool (and hasn’t actually been completely disproved)) ,and a water based clock.

New School: James Watson and Francis Crick

Watson and Crick

Watson and Crick

Watson and Crick are best known for proposing the double helix model of DNA in 1953 by using x-ray crystallography.  They are also the pioneers of the Watson-Crick nucleotide pairing model.  This model describes how certain nucleotide sequences are paired with a specific nucleotide sequence.  They won the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries and their research created the revolutionary field of genetic biology.   

http://www.time.com/time/time100/scientist/profile/watsoncrick.html

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/528771/history-of-science/29322/Aristotle-and-Archimedes

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Antlions are insects in the order Neuroptera with the scientific name Myrmeleontidae.  Really, the title antlion only applies to the larval form of this insect family, but since it is simpler to type than Myrmeleontidae, I’ll continue to call it its unscientific name.  The antlion larva is also known as a doodlebug because of the spirals it creates in the sand when searching for an ideal place to build a sand pit. 

The Ferocious Antlion Larva

Antlions live mainly in sandy, warm, arid habitats.  They begin life as eggs, which turn into larvae.  These larvae dig pit traps in the sand.  They bury themselves just under the sand at the bottom of the pit.  When ants, or other arthropods, fall into the pit, they aggressively attack and drag them under the sand to eat them.  This scintillating way of hunting gives the larva the name antlion. 

The larva then go into the pupal stage, where the larva will cocoon themselves in mucus-like saliva and bury themselves.  During this dormant stage, they turn into their adult form.  They will shed their larval skin and grow into a much larger, thinner exoskeleton.  Their winged form is often called antlion lacewings.  In the pupal and adult stage, the antlion will not eat.  Thus, their adult stage is short.  It will only mate and then usually die.  Thus ends and restarts the short yet interesting life of the Myrmeleontidae.

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Once again, I delved into the Encyclopedia of Life to bring you an animal for this week.  It is the Pronghorn Antelope.

The Pronghorn Antelope in Motion

The pronghorn antelope is the only gazelle-like creature left on North America after the split of Pangea.  They live up to 10 years in the wild.  They stand around a meter and a half to the shoulder, but males are bigger than females.  Their wonderful horns are garnered on both genders, male and female.  Their sandy coats make it very difficult to see them in the American Western grasslands.  There, they feed easily on grass and other small bushes.

Pronghorns are naturally very curious animals.  As a result, they would inspect anything that moved, including predators.  Since they are extremely fast, the second fastest land animal after cheetahs, they could escape from most of their predators.  But, when humans began to hunt them, they could not outrun bullets.  Thus, their own curiosity, nearly caused their extinction.  Fortunately, conservation efforts have brought the populations up to a healthy level once more.  Now, however, their status is once again threatened because of the destruction of their habitat by increased urban sprawl. 

An interesting fact about Pronghorns is that Pronghorn fawns are actually safer living around wolves.  Why?  Because it seems wolves will kill coyotes, the main predators of Pronghorn fawns.  Thus, hunters who kill wolves for killing the Pronghorn are actually perpetuating the problem.

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