Welcome to a blog now shared by one, two, um... four people. Wipe your shoes off on the mat and delve into the posts featuring rants, museum pictures, and some cool facts. Nerds of all kinds welcome.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Toadhead Agamas; The Boundary of Bizarre


The family of reptiles creates a balance of colour, diversity, and oddity with every species. For many of them, beauty and weirdness go hand and hand, and you get animals like the Panther Chameleon- with their vibrant neon colours and bizarre bodily adaptations. But for a few reptiles, nature ran clean out of ideas and resorted to scrapping up some old ideas for a Sci-Fy story that were abandoned because they were far too absurd. Thus, the Toadhead Agamas were brought out into existence.

They got the "Try to make yourself look like a caricature of a regular lizard"
aspect of life down.

With their rounded snouts, freaky alien eyes, and stocky builds, there is no being in the known universe that would label these lizards as ordinary. Toadhead agamas belong to the genus Phrynocephalus, which contains over 40 different species all belonging to the Agamid family. They range across the Middle East with many species scattered across Afghanistan. Being a fairly understudied, not much is known about their ecology.

Toadheads dwell mostly on rocks and sandy outcrops. They possess large scales across along their giant alien eyeballs that prevent sand from getting in. Their body scales vary in colour, usually in the range of a light beige to a mottled red. They are however able to change the body colour to match their surroundings (almost entirely unlike the Chameleon which primarily changes it's colour according to it's mood). Toadheads also have no external ear openings on their head and broad connected teeth inside their mouth. Golly, how could the wacky little toadhead agamas get any weirder? If only they had spiky pink somethings that shot out from the sides of their mouth.

*womanly shriek of terror*

As it seems, they do indeed have spiky pink somethings that shoot out from the sides of their mouths. These spiky pink somethings are called labial flaps - flaps of skin that extent out from the upper jaw and overlap the lower. When threatened, the lizard will blare open its mouth to display the labial flaps and hiss. The positive upshot of this is that their entire head looks like a petunia that grew an angry face. Only one species of toadhead possesses this trait, and it known as the Secret Toadhead Agama (Phrynocephalus mystaceus). The flaps are most often used against rival lizards and also as a defense mechanism. Useful this is, because generally the last thing any predator expects from a small lizard is for it's face to quite suddenly explode into a flurry of pink.

Oh knock it off you little freak.

Another slightly less exiting and much less pink behavior of the toadheads is their ability to curve their tails in different directions. They do this to make themselves look bigger and somehow more frightening, but also just to get around faster. In times when there is too much heat radiating off the sand for them to feel comfortable, the toadhead will use it's tail as a prop and balance high on their legs. The tip of a toadhead tail is rounded and looks like it's been dipped in black ink. When the tail is curved, a bold stripe pattern is sometimes displayed going from their tails up to their torso. One of the other less-than-ordinary behaviors of the toadheads is their tendency to vibrate their body fast enough that they bury themselves in the sand, in a similar way that stingrays do. Except it involves 99.9% less water and 100% less sharks.

Toadhead agamas are known for having some of the most comical and ridiculous behaviors of any reptile. For a lizard that sees turning it's face into a flower as a terrifying threat display, it comes as no surprise that they are so pugnacious. You could learn a thing or two from these guys as well. If ever you feel stressed or threatened by an adversary, just expand your spiky pink labial flaps and hiss your brains out. Try curling your tail in weird swirly directions too. And if all else fails, wiggle around in a side-to-side motion until you've submerged yourself into the earth. You might just disturb them into submission.

The amount of smugness in that face is beyond measure. Photo by Damien Egan.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Those Prosperous Procyonids Part Tre: The Confusing Bassarisks

You can call it a cacomistle and you'd be right but call it a ringtail and you're wrong. You get a vice versa situation here too.

What a looker. © Robert Body

The first sentence of this post is quite the confusing conundrum, and as such, you can even find books today that show a "ring-tailed cat" (we'll call it the bassarisk to avoid confusion and so we sound smarter than our friends) such as the one above and declare it synonymous with the cacomistle. And as such, you'll find a picture of a cacomistle declaring it synonymous with the bassarisk.

And this is the cacomistle (Bassariscus sumichrasti). Public domain image.

So what's the difference? Well for the most part it falls within their range.
The cacomistle's range is shown here at the right. In case you don't know your countries, if you're in southern Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, or the northern tip of Panama, then you've seen a cacomistle. If you find yourself handling one (probably not a good idea if you're in the wild), you'll notice that cacomistles lack retractable claws. Its ears also come to a point and it has a relatively faded tail compared to its northern cousin the bassarisk (I'd like to note here that bassarisk is technically meant to give a common name to both cacomistle and "ring-tailed cat" as the genus they belong to is Bassariscus, but it makes our purpose here easier to explain).

Progressive Commercial Guy says "Gimme one".

And now we come to the range of the ringtai- I mean bassarisk (Bassariscus astutus). The bassarisk is smaller than its southern cousin, obtaining lengths of 33in (tail included) compared to a cacomistle's 39in (this is an American blog and if you want cm then you gotta find an online calculator like I had to to get these lengths). They only overlap in parts of Southern Mexico. Otherwise the bassarisk is found in the rest of the country as well as invading into the US and being found in Texas, Louisiana, Kansas, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. An impressive list of states for an animal coming from the South, mayhaps being beaten only by nine-banded armadillos in a range for a mammal (no racist jokes here).

The bassarisks won't stand for racism.

Now we've come to the part of the post where you get the lucky chance to learn some pretty neat facts. If you don't think the following are neat, then get off this blog. 

Fact one: bassarisks are 85% cookie dough, allowing them to squeeze into tight spaces. This also gives them their cuteness.

The bassarisk is one of the most agile mammals on Earth, with an ankle joint that can rotate over 180 degrees (up there with margays hanging by their paws and tarsiers turning their head in a half circle) and an (obvious) extremely long tail that provides good balance. Like something straight out of The Matrix, they can ricochet off walls to get to a higher point, and they can perform cartwheels and climb up cracks using stemming.

Both cacomistles and "ring-tailed cats" (they're also called ringtails, but there's also a majority of animals called that, if you don't believe me do a cursory search on Wikipedia for "ringtail") can and have been kept as pets, and the latter were used to keep mice away from miners' cabins back during the Gold Rush days. Up with genets and fennec foxes, I think a bassarisk is on my hopeful list for pets. Cacomistles and bassarisks often inhabit old buildings and deserted Native American ruins, probably using them for shelter as our common household cat does with boxes. That's all I got. Next we leave the banded tailed procyonids behind and we cover some South Americans.

If he could wave, this baby cacomistle would be waving bye.  ©TheFireTigress on DeviantART.