A couple of weeks back, I received a text message containing a screenshot of a Facebook post out of Austin, Texas asking:
That adorable creature is none other than a Ringtail, Bassariscus astutus. No, not like a lemur—though the resemblance is uncanny.
But despite their appearance, the Ringtail is neither lemur nor cat, but in fact are members of the raccoon family.
The little critter hiding under this Austin, Texas is known by many names: Ringtail, Ring-tailed Cat, Bassarisk, Miner’s Cat, Ringtail Cat, Civet (a carnivorous, cat-like creature living nowhere near North America), and yes, adorable. Their scientific name, Bassariscus astutus, roughly translates to sly fox (Bassaris in Greek means fox [Bassariscus meaning fox-like] and astutus being Latin for sly or clever).
We took a trip to Mille-Lacs Kathio State Park for Mother’s Day, and while walking along the Kathio Landmark Trail, we spotted this little white flower. I’ll admit, it doesn’t exactly look like anything special—just your standard white flower with a yellow center and green leaves— but its generic appearance hides a spectacular truth.
This flower is called a Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis. Why? Well, here’s why:
Bloodroot is a perennial native to North America and blooms between March and May. It’s called Bloodroot because if you were to break open the stem or roots, it bleeds. If you’ve ever done so, congratulations, you are a murderer—just kidding. The “blood” is a sap and is a deep, rich, reddish-orange.
If you want to read more about their range or how to identify this plant, you can do that here. My focus today is on two peculiar traits of this flowers ecology: its toxicity and dependence on ants. I will, however, share one tantalizing taxonomic anecdote. The genus name for this flower is Sanguinaria. In its latin roots, the first part of that name comes from the word sanguis, meaning blood. You’ll see this pop up in other places like some bat scientific names, or the word sanguivore which means blood-eating, or even in Skyrim where the disease causing vampirism is called Sanguinare vampiris. Read More
Devon and Richard venture into the Twilight Zone, by going on a walk at Twilight, the time between light and dark, to explore what life is like and what has pressured so many animals to take advantage of this peculiar time of day—er, night—the in-between?
Check back soon for a series of blog posts diving deeper into some of the topics covered in the episode!
And be sure to submit your guesses for this weeks Animal Sound of the Week (listen below) by sending us a message on our Facebook
As always, if you have any questions you’d like us to answer, ask them here
This #SundayFishSketch comes from Ichthyologist, Rene Martin. Visit her shop on InPrint to see more of her artwork or to order prints!
The Deep-Sea Dragonfish, a scaleless eel-like fish about 6 inches in length that lives (you guessed it) in the deep sea, specifically the bathyal zone of the Atlantic Ocean beyond where any light can reach.
As you get deeper in the ocean, the pressure builds tremendously as the amount of water above you increases. Dragonfish spend their time between 5000 feet and 15000 feet below the surface, though some will venture as deep as 16500 feet below—over 3 miles. The conditions at these depths are virtually unimaginable to us on the surface, with pressures reaching up to around 600 atm, or 600 times the amount of pressure at sea level.
Dragonfish have unique adaptations to deal with that craziness. Their skeleton is a minimalist dream, except for the jaw which remains somewhat complex. They have proportionally large, curved teeth, sometimes hinged, allowing their teeth to fold in when feeding. They also have a second set of jaws within what is basically the beginning of their throat, called the branchial basket.
But perhaps the most interesting characteristic of the dragonfish is their ability to produce light, both blue and red. They possess specialized organs called photophores which line their body as well as on their barbell, a fleshy extension like a fishing rod (think angler fish on Finding Nemo). This is a trait called bio-luminescence.
It uses its light spectacle to attract prey, usually other deep sea fish and invertebrates, luring them in before snapping their horrifying mouths around their bodies.
Last weekend, my family and I were getting our hike on at Banning State Park in Sandstone, Minnesota. As we were trekking along listening to the nearby opera or western chorus frogs, spring peepers, and wood frogs, we heard a new sound. This one was much more rhythmic, or percussionary— a rolling pattern of dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum nearly 7 drums every second, pausing only briefly before picking up again. It was a young Hairy Woodpecker on a treeside above. So, it seemed the perfect opportunity to do a #RandomActOfNaturalism.
I only briefly mentioned some recent research relating to woodpeckers and CTE, the degenerative brain disease resulting from repeated brain trauma and frequently seen in former NFL players, so I’ll elaborate here:
Woodpeckers are a peculiar bird, and using their head to solve tricky situations like getting food from hard to reach places is quite literal for them. For a long time, scientists have believed that somehow, woodpeckers are immune to the effects of banging their faces into a tree at 15 miles per hour—repeatedly—-day-after-day, year-after-year for 20 to 30 years.
Yet a new report may suggest otherwise, to an extent. Woopeckers by all appearances don’t seem to experience behavioral changes which may be associated with a degenerative disease such as CTE, but they do build up accumulations of the same protein that athletes do. Read More