TWL Hiking Club| Ravens and Crows

As nature begins to expose its Spring twitterpation, we notice the appearance of an innumerable amount of birds who are coming back. They have the luxury of leaving the bitter cold to spend their Winters in the southern states while we work our jobs and live in our stationary way up north. There was, however, a type of bird (or should I say two) that stayed here and made themselves noticeable regularly. Am I saying that there are only two types of birds that stay north in the Winter? No! Obviously, this is not the case, but today we are focusing our efforts on learning about two of the most common and yet intelligent birds in nature. They are both black and giant in comparison to others. Today we are taking the time to appreciate the crow and the raven.

First, let’s talk about how to tell them apart. The most obvious way is by size. The common raven is much larger than the crow. It also has a much lower, croaky noise that it makes. It has even been known to say the words, “Nevermore,” in poetry, but has yet to accomplish this task in real life. Crows have a much more noticeable caaw.

Another way you can tell the beautiful birds apart is to look at who is near them. Often, ravens travel in pairs and have a longer middle feather in their tail. Crows are usually in larger groups (and are probably being loud about it or mobbing some poor soul that ventured onto their turf or gave them some side eye) with more of a fan shaped tail.

Corvus corax (Common Raven), Yosemite NP, CA, US - Diliff
Common Raven
Corvus brachyrhynchos -Seattle, Washington, USA-8
American Crow

Now that we can tell them apart, let’s talk about what makes these common birds more interesting than the rest. These birds are so smart that they are known to make decisions, recognize faces, and solve complex puzzles and problems. They’re even one of the few non-human animals documented to exhibit secondary tool use, meaning they will make a tool and use that object to help them solve an additional problem. You may have heard not to anger a corvid (the family these birds are in) because they will remember you. They have been documented to honestly hold grudges and distrust even humans who have wronged them in the past. When you are on hikes, remember to respect these birds (as well as all other wildlife).

With more interesting facts on these birds, here is Devon, the biggest bird nerd you and I know:

Ravens are one of my all-time favorite birds. They are incredibly intelligent, ranking up there with chimpanzees, dolphins, and even young humans. They can solve puzzle, hold grudges, play, cooperatively hunt with predators like wolves, mimic speech (sometimes better than parrots), show empathy, and even give gifts.

Crows are quite similar (I mean, obviously, yeah. But you get the point!). They are also incredibly intelligent creatures. In a UW study, crows were shown not just to recognize a face, but to hold a grudge and communicate with other crows to warn them of a masked individual. They also are incredibly adept at solving puzzles and have been documented to use cars stopped at stoplights to crack nuts open.

This is merely a sample of the wonders of Ravens and Crows.

We will continue to focus our Tuesdays on common wildlife that we take for granted. Remember to appreciate the small stuff. How on earth can you appreciate the other wildlife without it? The appreciation of common birds and more urban wildlife is more realistic to our current way of life. Recently, I was watching Adam Ruins Everything, and he actually addresses this notion that I am trying to push in TWL Hiking Club. I recommend the episode to all of us who regularly use nature or our enjoyment.

TWL Hiking Club|The Always Adorable, Sometimes Vicious, Shrew

It’s that time of week again to talk about animals that we often overlook but are seriously just as, if not more, awesome than other animals. This week, there are no wolves or bears involved, no! We are talking about the adorable little shrew.

elephant-shrews-1358758_1920

You have likely seen many shrews in your time on this planet. They look like mice who lie a lot because their noses are so long. These mammals are brownish-grey, and smaller than a deck of cards. When I see them, I am usually in a grassy, prairie location. That doesn’t mean they only live in these areas. They are found all over the place. There are also many different species of shrew.

shrew-2787021_1920.jpg

One thing that makes the shrew stand out is how frantic it is. You won’t see this tiny little mammal standing still for very long. They are incredibly quick, and I have even seen reports that say they have superquick heartbeats. You likely would not be able to catch one unless you really tried. In all honesty through, you don’t want to catch one anyways because they’re vicious little creatures. There are even a couple of species that have venomous bites. Y’all, these creatures can take down snakes! Even the ones that are not venomous, which is most of them, have vicious bites that have been known to cause harm. Don’t touch them.

elephant-shrews-784371_1920.jpg

On a more positive note, screws are a lot like bats in that they can’t really see, but they still need to find a way to find food and to find their way around. Some species of shrew actually use echolocation to find things but most of them just use their whiskers. Honestly, I don’t really know how whiskers work so here is Devon talking about why they are awesome:

Hey, everyone! Devon, here. So, whiskers, also called vibrissae, are tactile sensory organs that are embedded deeply in the skin of most mammals. The follicles of these extra thick hairs are rooted in an area dense with blood vessels and nerves. When the whisker is touched or vibrates, it vibrates down to the nerves which transmit information to the brain in much the same way as typical touch. The type of whiskers that grow from the face, like on cat or a shrew, are especially helpful for allowing an animal to better “see” in the dark. They also help to indicate how narrow a space may be, such as a tunnel or small opening an animal may be tempted to navigate. Okay, back to Chelsea.

shrew-1339117_1920.jpg

I would like to conclude with what the most bizarre or interesting aspect of the animals existence is. This week as I talk about the shrew, I want to end with the fact that some of them… Many of them… Are able to actually walk on water. There aren’t very many animals that can do that. So yes, let’s continue to obsess over the predators and raptors of the woods, but don’t forget about the little screws that are under our feet. You may not even realize they are there. But remember, although they are cute, they are vicious, and that’s what makes screws awesome.

#SundayFishSketch| Larval Fish and a Podcast

This #SundayFishSketch comes from Ichthyologist, Rene Martin. Visit her shop on InPrint to see more of her artwork or to order prints!


The theme for this week’s #SundayFishSketch was fish that don’t look like fish, which is most definitely the case with almost all larval marine fish. They almost never look like their adult selves and almost always look like beautiful, alien-esque, yet nightmarish imaginings of someone like Guillermo Del Toro.
There are a variety of reasons for this. One such is defense against predators. The jagged edges and protruding spikes of some larval fish act as a fish-y porcupine defense through direct erection and relaxation. Some of their shapes help to simply make them more difficult to swallow since most planktivorous fish are gape-limited.
All that aside, this week’s theme could not be more fitting for our latest podcast episode of The Wild Life, ‘Scattered’. In this episode, we look into the void to unveil the cause of the once mysterious Deep Scattering Layer, taking you on a journey involving covert military research in World War 2, the largest migration on earth, shimmering creatures of the deep (and their food), and an organic machine responsible for capturing carbon and sinking it into the depths of the ocean.
Hint, hint: larval fish, a large component of zooplankton, play a key role in this story.
Listen below to learn more or check us out on iTunes!

TWL Hiking Club| Mallards are Actually Really Awesome

Yes, you read the headline correctly! TWL Hiking Club Tuesdays are back! I have taken a break as the snow has taken over our lives in Minnesota. There are many people who embrace the snow here, but honestly, as of right now at least, neither Devon nor I are one of these people. As Spring is about a month away from beginning, we are excited to get back out on the trails and really appreciate what nature has to offer. This brings me to what our next several Tuesdays will be focused around: appreciating the nature. Of course I mean we can love and appreciate the raptors who swoop, the predators who stalk, and the more rare moose sighting. But! That is not what these will be about. So often, we ignore the more common wildlife sightings even though they are some of the coolest animals. I will be focusing on them and bringing the more urban of wildlife into focus.

Animal, Lake, Waterside, Bird, Waterfowl, Wild Birds

Today, we focus on the oh so common mallard. This is the duck that you and I know so well. The females are brown with the little streak of color, and the males have the iridescent green and deep navy blue. You know what I am talking about. They frequent local and distant ponds, lakes, and rivers. They are beautiful. If you live in America, I can guarantee you have seen a mallard. Many of us see them all the time and do not take the time to truly notice just how awesome they truly are.

Mallard, Anas Platyrhynchos, Drake, Green, Sparkle

What is cool is that almost all domestic ducks come from this species. If you eat duck, you can most likely thank the mallard. I know… I know… who could eat a cute creature like a mallard? Many people do, and it really is an animals whose species can take it. Additionally, they are a lot like humans in that they tend to be monogamous, but that isn’t always the case! Speaking of breeding, the males have an intense reproductive system that essentially works like a corkscrew. Talk about survival of the fittest!

Mallard, Ducklings, Duck, Chicks, Cute, Small, Little

When we think about animals, we often consider them with short life spans. Well, some mallards have been documented to live to their early twenties! They could live long enough to get college degrees, people! Tell me that isn’t awesome! How can one simply walk past a group of mallards without admiring them knowing this fact! I know I can’t!

PS–there bills look like tiny yellow dog masks.

 

mallard-3820927_1920.jpg

#SundayFishSketch| Tripodfish

This #SundayFishSketch comes from Ichthyologist, Rene Martin. Visit her shop on InPrint to see more of her artwork or to order prints!


Meet the Tripodfish

Bathypterois grallator

Also known as the tripod spiderfish and the stilt walker, Bathypterois grallator is a deep sea dweller (900 to 4700 meters or approximately 2900 feet to 15400 feet) which uses its bizarre, elongated tail fin rays and its two stilt-like pectoral fins to perch itself on the ooze—the thick pelagic sediment consisting of the ground up and weathered fallen remains of upper-sea dwellers and other alien deposits from above.

The body of this fish reaches nearly 2 feet in length, however its extended fins can reach lengths of just over 1 meter. While the fins appear quite rigid, they can be quite flexible when they need to make a quick getaway. It is hypothesized that they are able to pump their fins full of fluid (try saying that 3 times fast) in order to stiffen them. They position themselves face first in the current on their tripod and wait in the darkness for their next meal. They don’t have special visual adaptations, rather they use their overhead fins as tactile sensors which they use to practically smack food into their mouths as they feel it approaching from upstream.

Being so down in the dark deep, finding a mating partner can be difficult sometimes. The tripodfish has developed a fascinating ability to change sex, say if a female comes across a female and a male is more in need, or even lay eggs, change to a male, and fertilize those same eggs. Pretty neat, huh?