Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays

Rocky Mountain National Park
Happy Holidays! A break for this week, but I'll be posting again next year!

Friday, December 21, 2012


♀ Mistletoebird, Dicaeum hirundinaceum
Named for its food preference, the Mistletoebird can be found throughout mainland Australia and parts of Papua New Guinea and eastern Indonesia. This bird is the only member of the Dicaeidae family, the flowerpeckers, found in Australia and may therefore be also referred to as the Australian Flowerpecker. The digestive system of the Mistletoebird is simple allowing berries to pass through quickly. The sticky seed is then excreted onto branches allowing the parasitic plant to spread and grow.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Cedar Waxwing

Flock of Cedar Waxwings, Bombycilla cedrorum
Cedar Waxwings are found throughout most of North America especially during the winter months. During this time, they will feast on cedar berries, mistletoe, honeysuckle, and mountain ash berries to name a few. The vast amount of fruit these birds eat can cause problems of intoxication. During the non-breeding season, the flock numbers can vary from only a handful to close to fifty individuals. These flocks communicate by means of a "flock call" and keep a compact formation when flying, perching, bathing, or feeding. The social behavior is exhibited early in life as fledglings tend to form flocks with the other young of neighboring nests.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Winter Roosting

Flock of various Grackles,  Quiscalus

The approach of cold weather results in a number of bird species to gather together in large communal flocks. Some of the more common species include the Common Grackle, American Robin, Dark-eyed Junco, Snow Goose, and sometimes even Blue Jays to name but a few. This flocking behavior is not sudden, but rather the gradual congregation of smaller groups into larger ones. This begins early fall and reaches a peak during mid-winter. There are two main explanations for flocking together: enhanced foraging success and reduced predation. With less time spent finding food and avoiding predators, foraging success can vastly increase. When in large flocks predator detection is higher, chance of death lower, and "strength in numbers" may deter predation. The behavorial dynamics of a winter flock are influenced by food availability, familiarity, and overall composition as not all flocks are composed of a single species.

Friday, December 14, 2012


Bearded Dragon, Pogona vitticeps
Another major form of dormancy, estivation is similar to the metabolic and temporal reduction of hibernation, but used by species found in dry, hot environments. It is a state of aerobic hypometabolism where those species retreat to estivate in sheltered sites. They are active for a set period of time during the year, sometimes only a few weeks, to feed and breed. One characteristic factor of estivation is the methods of water retention both physically and metabolically. Balancing water retention could be a change of concentration in the urine, it could be the burrow construction, or it could be taking advantage of the environment to prevent dehydration.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Yellow-bellied Marmot(s), Marmota flaviventris
Common throughout the class Mammalia, hibernation involves a profound change in behavior, morphology, and physiology as they undergo a remarkable phenotypic switch. Hibernation is one of the major forms of dormancy in mammals.  It is characterized by a prolonged winter reduction of metabolic rate and body temperature near ambient temperature. Another definition of hibernation is extended bouts of torpor where minimal body temperature can fall as low as -2.9°C. The factors that induce hibernation are still under discussion, but blood distribution is argued as one of the most important. Limited resources in terms of food, composition of food, cold, and the absence of external stimuli contribute to inducing hibernation. The external cues of seasonal influence, darkness, and CO2 concentration are not essential.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Selasphorus platycerus
Torpor, hibernation, and estivation are three major forms of dormancy that have been classified in mammals. The first, torpor, can be exhibited in a number of small mammals and birds, especially during cold nights or cold winter months. It may either be seasonal, or non-seasonal. The depth and duration of torpor vastly affects energy savings. While torpor can be defined as a substantial reduction in metabolic rate, body temperature, and other functions, the basics of torpor in mammals and birds has evolved separately. There is also variation between masses on whether the metabolic reduction is a temperature effect or a physiological inhibition.

The use of torpor also varies per species, and can rely on a number of factors. The migratory hummingbird retains the ability to enter nocturnal torpor all year round, but there is a strong seasonal component. For certain seasons, the use of torpor is for "energy emergencies" while at other times torpor may be used to minimize time needed for premigratory fattening.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Eastern Bluebird

♂ Eastern Bluebird, Sialia sialis
The Eastern Bluebird can be spotted throughout the eastern half of the United States, into the southern portions of Canada, and down through parts of Central America. They are often seen perched on wires, posts, or clear branches where they sit searching for prey. As mainly insectivores, this species plays an important role influencing insect community composition. A significant population decline during the 1930s was partially attributed to pesticide use, but also climate change, competition with non-native species, and habitat loss. Populations have since increased with help from nest boxes and better land management. The sky blue feathers of the male Eastern Bluebird have established this species as a good omen by groups such as the Navajo Indians.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tarantula Webs

Web of the Texas Brown TarantulaAphonopelma sp.
The construction and use of webs by spiders is unique per species and provides a way to help identify the spider. Some families of spiders use the web not to catch prey, but to create a dry attachment system while others get their common name from the webs they create. The tarantula, as a burrowing spider, uses its web in a variety of ways including as a tripwire and for lining the burrow walls. With captive tarantulas, the wall web lining of the burrow is replaced with what is called a molting mat, a bowl shaped web to aid with the process of molting.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Strangler Fig

Strangler Fig, Ficus
Many species of tropical strangler vines are of the fig family and thus are referred to as strangler figs. The common names comes from the pattern of growth of these vines upon a host tree which eventually leads to the death of the tree. As strangler figs may live for hundreds of years, the host death is not always a result of the vine, but rather age of the host. By this time, the strangler has establish itself enough that it still flourishes and lives without its host. These strangler figs are commonly covered with other vines that may not be strangers, and is often a source of food and shelter for epiphytic plants, and animals including various birds, mammals, reptiles, and bats.