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.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Wonderful Dart Frogs of Suriname, Peru, Columbia, and Costa Rica


When you can look this flamboyant, camouflage is unnecessary.

Charming as their colours are vivid, the poison dart frogs of South America have proved to be some of the most beautiful and iconic symbols of the South American rain forests. These dazzling little amphibians sport such colour as a warning signal to predators. In the wild, bright colour often means "Put me in your mouth and you die". On top of that, they have earned the "dart" part of their name from the way some species have been used by some of the native people. Dipping the head of an arrow into the lifeless body of a frog, and using the toxin for hunting (brutal, I know) was a common practice. But what makes the frogs so unique is their incredible regional diversity. In this post, we'll cover some of the most renown species (and a few of the author's personal favorites, I should mention).

Also, you're reading the first post by one of the new writers named Brenden. If I don't get enough views for this post, Connor and Ray get to take turns beating me with a morning star.

We'll begin with the charismatic Dendrobates tinctorius:

The tinctorius darts, or "tincs" as they've been dubbed in the hobby, are one of the larger species of darts and perhaps the most recognizable. These guys range throughout areas of Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname, and Brazil. They're easily characterized by a generally bulky body, "hunched" back, and large toe pads (primarily on the males). But what makes the tincs really special is how varied they are between location. One of the most notable examples is the formerly-named Dendrobates "azureus".

The blue ones, yes.
Now, the Azureus have an interesting backstory. Back when they were first discovered in the 1960's, they were classified as their own species. Later, they turned out to be nothing more than a blue morph of the more-common D.tinctorius. They however are exclusive to scattered parts of the Suriname savannas. In recent year's, they have also become some of the staples of the captive frog-keeping community. That neon-blue visage has brought a large number of people into the hobby (fun fact; the author of this post has actually owned a pair of them).

Moving on, we have the Phyllobates terribilis:

The Phyllobates genus contains some of the largest species of dart frog, the largest being P.terribilis. These hopping vats of toxin hail from the Pacific coast of Columbia. The Terribilis is sometimes called the Golden Dart Frog (not to be confused with the critically-endangered Panamanian Golden Frog), although this species has a few different colour morphs from different localities. 

The Mint Green is the most common found in captivity, holding a solid milky-green hue. 

The Orange is less common than the Mint, and slightly smaller.

While many members of the Phyllobates genus vary in wild toxicity, P.terribilis has been called the absolute most toxic. A single frog is capable of killing roughly 10 adult men with just one milligram of it's skin toxin. The skin of the frog produces an alkaloid, a fatally-powerful batrachotoxin which shuts down nerves and leaves muscles limp and dead. Because of this less-than-desirable taste, they have very few natural predators. Anything that chows down on this frog is as good as dead (excluding the Liophis epinephelus, which usually only takes on smaller frogs).
Please keep these frogs away from small children that like to stick things in their mouths.

Next in line is the Dendrobates auratus:

D.auratus is a generally Central American species, ranging from Nicaragua and Costa Rica to as far as northern Colombia. However in 1932, the species was introduced in Hawaii. The population ended up gaining their own colour morph, and took fairly well in their island home. Auratus are mostly characterized by having a black or deep bronze tone with asymetrical bright metallic green bands. However this species possesses a great deal of regional diversity in comparison with other dart frogs (if I were to chronicle each different subspecies for each different locality, this post would be very long). Some of the Panamanian species range from vibrant blues to reticulated brown patterns. Auratus are also of the least-concern for protection, being as distributed as they are.

One of several blue subspecies. 
Now that I've saved the best for last (in the most non-biased way possible), the Ranitomeya:

Shield your eyes, there's too much pretty-ness.
The frogs of the Ranitomeya genus are smaller, lighter-built, and hold incredibly high-contrasting colours. Personally, I think they kind of look like paintballs with legs. Or a frog that's been crudely painted by a two-year old. Species of Ranitomeya are greatly distributed around the lowland areas of the Amazon basin, around the northern parts of Peru, and even as far as French Guiana. They're characterized by having a second finger much longer than the first. That and having several different near-metallic colours, many with chain-like patterns across their legs. Ranitomeya darts are often called the "thumbnail" frogs, being that they don't grow to be much larger than half an inch.
Here are a few species that, personally, I think are just downright gorgeous:

Ranitomeya imitator

Imitators have, in the past ten years, become increasingly sought after in the reptile-keeping community. For good reason, too. The frogs have bright, almost electric-looking  reticulated patterns across their legs. They've been given the name "imitator" for the fact that they've evolved to mimic other species of thumbnail frogs in appearance (hence the common name, 'the mimic dart frog'). Imitators come in several different patterns from their own localities, most having these reticulated legs patterns. Imitators are found abundantly in northern Peru.

Ranitomeya fantastica

Named like that for good reason.

Good lord that's a flamboyant frog. Fantastica occur throughout the lowlands and highlands of north and central Peru. They're ranked as "near threatened", not 'quite' a threatened species but at risk of soon becoming one. This frog tends to spend more time in leaves and bushes than other Ranitomeya species, having a more arboreal behavior. In captivity they're known to be fairly shy, even once well established. Never the less do they make a "fantastic" (yuk it up) vivarium addition for an experienced hobbyist. You might also have noticed that the frog pictured above looks very similar to the R.imitator. That is because the imitator has evolved a nasty habit of playing "copy-cat."

Ranitomeya benedicta

Make a spiderman reference, and you WILL BE trampled by an angry hippopotamus.

It's like someone cracked open a blue and a red glowstick and dripped it over this frog. The Benedicta darts come from the lowland regions of Peru, in an area between the Rio Huallaga and Rio Ucayali rivers known as the Pampas del Sacramento Plain. While they spend most of their lives being arboreal, Benedicta will come to the ground to reproduce. They lay their clutches of eggs in the leaf litter, which are then transported to bromeliad plants (common behavior in most dart frogs) once they hatch into tadpoles. Unfortunately, they have been ranked as a 'vulnerable' species. Meaning they are at a serious risk of becoming endangered. This is mostly caused by deforestation (go figure), and illegal importing.

With each different species and locality having their own unique colours and behaviors, these pretty little critters have sparked a great deal of study in the past few years. As a former dart-frog owner, I will say that they also make for an incredibly rewarding vivarium addition. It's like having a sliver of rainforest in a glass tank, with these charming little gem-like frogs hopping about. The analogy has been made a thousand times over, but dart frogs truly are a living gemstone of the forest. 
Next time, we discuss Paleofest 2013.

D.tinctorius cobalt - brianstropicals.com
Azureus - Luis Louro
P.terribilis "gold" - Jorn Kohler
P.terribilis "orange" - John P. Clare
D.auratus - Thomas Ostrowski
"Ranitomeya Poster" - Jason Brown and the Swedish Dendrobatid Society
R.imitator - John P. Clare
R.fantastica - Understoryenterprises.com
R.benedicta - Frank Steinmann
D.tinctorius (last picture) - Patrick O'Brien

No pictures belong to the author. Try your best to ignore the annoying white highlighting.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Media Review #2: Jurassic Park 4 and Feathers

March 24, 2013, 

Yes, this isn't a legitimate review. I plan to do one in #3, however everyone who has their own blog and a keyboard has been posting their responses to the tweet by newly christened Jurassic Park 4 Director Colin Trevvorow stating that Jurassic Park 4 will not go out of it's way to add feathers onto the dinosaurs in order to make them more scientifically accurate.

I really don't mind though. 

Let me finish first, Internet.
First off, I should explain, Recently Mr. Trevvorow Tweeted that the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park 4 would not be feathered. This rubbed a few paleontologists such as Thomas Holtz and Dino fans the like the wrong way. In response, Dr. Holtz wasn't totally happy about the news, stating on Facebook that "Jurassic Park has become a faded, irrelevant franchise. Let it go. You can do NEW stories with proper dinosaurs". Now before I continue I have to make clear I have huge amounts of respect for Dr Holtz; I was very disappointed that I couldn't get to meet him this year in Rockford, IL for Paleofest and get that signature in his book I've been wanting however I can't say I agree with his statement or a lot of other peoples assessments to be honest. Theres reasons for this though and not just blind "fanboyism".

Why can't they just change them to be feathered?!

Lets remember back to that last sequel Jurassic Park had. Jurassic Park 3 had around 12 extinct Archosaurs in the movie. Most of those that had appeared in the first 2 (T-rex, Pteranodon, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Compsognathus, Velociraptor and Parasaurolophus), save for the Stegos and Compies which had basically cameos, were drastically different than previous incarnations. They changed the designs as if they were rebooting but made the movie like a normal sequel. This was agitating to say the least because there was no explanation whatsoever as to why they were different. They don't make up any nice plot twist to tell you why; they're just like that. This is some really lazy movie making right here however this is basically what is expected of JP4 in regards to feathers. It needs an explanation otherwise we start traveling down the road JP3 took. Which leads to the next question. 

The other thing is, Trevvorow is about as hardcore of a fan of the original as possible. Universal picked him for that utmost of all. I can only assume, but what I can gather is that he wants to make something just like the movie he loved as a kid. It's what Universal and Spielberg thought was good enough to give him the job. Would I enjoy Jurassic Park with dinosaurs sporting intimidating plumage? Yes of course, however that's not very easy with Jurassic Park given the avenues they can venture down, and really I can live with the dinosaurs we have now. Especially because they're mutants; "Theme park monsters" as Alan Grant put it. They aren't the real animals. They're animals tailored in a laboratory by Wu and Hammond to cater to the perception of what people thought dinosaurs looked like during the 90s.

Hope is not lost though. While JP4 may not have attractive looking filaments fluttering through the frame there is the Walking with Dinosaurs 3D movie slated for December which has more chance and reason to use feathers.

The Giraffe-Rhino-Musk Deer-Hippo Things

Trivia question: what combines the characteristics of a giraffe, a musk deer, a rhino, and a hippo? Give up? It's the dinoceratans.

The order Dinocerata includes only one family (similar to Tubulidenta aka the aardvark) known as the uintatheriids, the namebearer for said family shown in the first picture of this post. We'll review Uintatherium and its relatives below.

-Basal Uintatheriines:
  • Prodinoceras, upper left, is the earliest known and basalmost of the known uintatheriid dinoceratans. It contains one known species, P. martyr, from the Late Paleocene of Mongolia and China. At approx. 9.5ft long, it was a rather large animal, and had the characteristic fangs that other members of the subfamily would share.
  • Probathyopsis, below Prodinoceras is another basal uintathere and the latter's sister genus. It too is from the Late Paleocene, but is located in Wyoming and Colorado, containing P. harrisorum, P. praecursor, and P. lysitensis. Several have considered separating this and its sister genus into a new family within Dinocerata, which would be known as Prodinoceratidae.
-Advanced Uintatheriines:
  • Tetheopsis, top middle, is one of the three "classic" uintatheres, with six ossicones (which I've alluded to in a giraffe post) and large fangs, which our two basal uintatheriines had as well. Its two species are T. speirianus (formerly in invalid genus Loxolophodon) and T. ingens, named by famous rivals Cope and Marsh, respectively. 
  • Bathyopsis is one of the earlier of the advanced uintatheriines, which only had a pair of small ossicones on the snout. Like almost all dinoceratans, it is known from the US, specifically Colorado and Wyoming, containing B. fissidens.
  • Eobasileus is another of the classic uintatheres, and possessed the biggest ossicones and canines. At 13ft long and 8000lbs in weight, it is also the biggest uintathere. At least three genera are synonymous with this one, including the aforementioned Loxolophodon. It contains only one species, E. cornutus, found in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. Obviously they were very boring in real estate choices.
  • Uintatherium, the classic uintathere and the one that gives the entire family its name. Dinosaurs are the infamous factour in the equally infamous Bone Wars, but in fact, uintatheres, especially Uintatherium, played a major focal point as well, with the genus being described my big-bearded Marsh himself. There is only one genus, U. anceps, which was more widespread, located in California, Utah, Texas, and Wyoming, existing alongside Eobasileus in two states. Its canines were 12in long, aka pants-crappingly big.
And then things really get wacky...

Enter Gobiatherium, the advanced uintatheriid from Mongolia and China. Notice how instead of ossicones, it has a globular snout (how much it slopes and its exact appearance up to debate), how narrow and long its skull is, and how, surprise, there are no fangs. What in heck is it? For now we consider it a gobiatheriine uintatheriid. But many consider it to be its own family, Gobiatheriidae (remember the "a" after "Gobi"). For now in technical terms it "heck if we know".

The small-brained dinoceratans lasted until the Mid Eocene, where they promptly died off. Their weak teeth, adapted to a diet of leaves, couldn't save them and were eventually replaced by the previously covered brontotheres. But there's so much more we don't know. Where did they come from? What specifically are they related to? Why are they so ugly? Only time can tell.

Seriously, look at that.


Uintatherium - Dmitry Bogdanov
Dinoceratan Diversity - Yours truly, aka Connor Ross
Gobiatherium - Tim Morris (you might be reading this from the FB page, so hi, Tim)
Uintatherium...again - Nobu Tamura

The Dinosaur Heresies, by Robert Bakker
National Geographic Prehistoric Mammals, by Alan Turner
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Creatures - Mammals, by R. J. G. Savage

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Media Review #1: Jurassic Park 3: Insert Subtitle

March 16th, 2013

Congratulations. You're reading the first Media Review for C-rex.  Put in layman's terms, these are basically articles for me to whine and complain about negative contributions media has and will put forth while blowing the victory bugle for all the good things I like so long as I can somehow relate it to Dinosaurs/Froggies/Biological science. Hopefully I can make one of these every weekend. Depends on my motivation. Otherwise Connor puts me back into that hole in the wall.

It actually has two bathrooms and a home entertainment center

Jurassic Park 3: Insert Subtitle

So lets start things off with a negative one and by negative I mean "lets just go ahead and cut out the middle man as we slam our heads against a wall for 92 minutes" one.

Jurassic Park 3 starts off 4 years after the San Diego incident from The Lost World: Jurassic Park. We start with Eric Kirby and his mother's boyfriend on a para-sailing tour of Isla Sorna, because nothing is more testament to good parenting then letting your 12 year old son go to a deserted dinosaur island in the open ocean with nobody but mommy's boyfriend and a pair of shady Costa Ricans to para-sail over an Island marred with stories of death. The scene gets all whimsical for all of about 20 seconds before the boat zooms into some scary fog and suddenly everyone on the boat just dies. No dinosaurs, mosasaurs, wizards or anything. Just gone. Nothing bot a spit of blood and a torn sail. Mommy's boyfriend detaches them from the boat as it thuds against some rocks as they glide into Isla Sorna.

Casey Anthony was a close 2nd.

We cut to 8 weeks later I suppose as Alan Grant is teaching Ellie's oldest son the proper way of how to plan out action scenes for dinosaur movies. Ellie comes out and makes Jack Horner Reference #1 in the movie about how her editor wants to get rid of the Jack Horner quote and how he thinks he's a paleontologist. Later, after being snubbed by Ellie's Macaw, over coffee Alan tells Ellie all about the discoveries made with Raptors, telling her that raptors were smarter then they had thought back on Isla Nublar (the first island). That they had sophisticated language for hunting in packs. After strolling down memory lane we see Ellie give Grant a nice farewell into the next scene where Dr. Grant is performing Jack Horner reference #2.
"I'm not saying your name until you admit Triceratops and Torosaurus are separate taxa."

While at a lecture hall where he's basically saying that "we're only able to make an educated guess right now but I'm positive that Raptors could talk to each other and coordinate their pack hunting; meaning if they weren't wiped out they would have become the dominant species on earth". (Not) Surprisingly people start walking out on his lecture, which is a painfully obvious reference to Jack Horner and how people treat the theories he tends to take part in (Horned Pachycephalosaurs, Scavenger Rex, Toroceratops, etc). So after the moderator has to prod the audience awake, everyone wants to ask him about Jurassic Park and the San Diego incident. He turns them down and only one person has a question he wants to answer; dismissing the animals on the island as theme park monsters, which I coincidentally agree with though I blame people other then Hammond. Finally when a 20 something asks him if he wouldn't go to Isla Sorna if he had the chance (Make note of this statement he makes for later) He says "No force on heaven or earth will get me on that island".

We cut away to see the hardcore bad ass mercenaries Nash, Cooper, and Udesky, who kill a broken down Cessna. Don't get used to them actively blowing things up. This is the only time you actually see them do anything whatsoever that isn't them dieing or them running away. Afterwards we cut away to Montana to meet the adult Timmy Billy Brennan, hitting on a no name. Grant is taken by Timmy Billy to a tent where he shows him a Veloci-whistle that has a super important use in the end (I'm a sarcastic jerk).

Mr Kirby approaches them in the tent and offers to take them out for a drink and to listen to his business offer with his wife who are TOTALLY rich. This is where the quote from earlier comes into play. Remember when Grant says "No force on heaven or earth will get me on that island"? Well I guess that is meant to be literal. No force can get him on the island but a blank check will get him 200 feet over it. So Alan gets that money signs look in his eyes like he did in the first one, because that adventure worked out so well the last time a rich man approached him with the promise of funding a dig for his joining him on an island full of dinosaurs.
Pictured above: Wall Street Pox
They fly to Sorna, Timmy Billy and Alan have some witty banter before Alan decides to take a nap, in which he has a nap-mare of a Velociraptor (That which's design he's never seen before) talks to him. Saying "Alan" which would scare any man. Actually however it's Timmy Billy. Billy is waking him up for one of the few other whimsy moments in the movie. They fly over some dinosaurs and Alan for a fleeting minute thinks this scene is supposed to be fun. When in actually they try to land on a runway to which Alan protests. Before getting knocked out by Cooper. He wakes up on the floor of the plane to the sound of World's Best mother screaming into the forest like a lunatic. The movie then decides not to waste any time and has the Spinosaurus not only kill Cooper but disable the plane with it's being there and causing it to crash. Resulting in it destroyer it.

From here on the story degrades into just action scene after action scene. I'll go ahead and condense the plot while still not missing anything important: 
They run away from the wreckage after it kills Nash and into the path of a T-rex who chases them back the way they cam towards the Spino who kills the rex before they dig through the wreckage and enjoy human filler until they reach the cloning station where they see how the dinosaurs were made and are attacked by Raptors in an ok scene. They run away outside and the Raptors chase them through a herd and forest, resulting in Udesky being killed by the Raptors. Alan is cornered all scary like before Eric pulls some immense deus ex machina and saves Alan. The separated characters have a sleep over in their hiding spots before setting out the next morning to the coast. More and more conversation until Eric hears the satellite phone ringing and starts screaming, to which the parents hear. Turns out the phone is somehow audible to people outside the spinosaurus. The spino finds them and chases them before smashing through the enormous metal fence, only to be stopped by a thatched roof. They climb down the stairs after Alan berates Timmy Billy for doing something bad. They walk along a cat walk and realize it's a Pteranodon cage as they're attacked. Resulting in Timmy Billy Dieing. They hop on a boat, see some herbivores being all pretty for 15 seconds before rummaging through mounds of Spinosaurus shit, finding the phone just in time for a random Ceratosaurus to make a cameo appearance and then disappear; never to be mentioned or seen again. The spinosaurus attacks the boat as Alan calls Ellie who gets her husband to send the military. They scare off the Spinosaurus with fire. They're near the beach when the Raptors surround them, recover their eggs and just leave. Then the military arrives and saves them with Timmy Billy actually alive the whole time sitting in a helicopter somehow. The end.

That's the entire plot. I'm positive you could fit it on a stack of napkins from McDonalds.
The script wasn't finished when filming started. This is likely accurate..
Don't get me wrong, I wish JPIII was a good movie as it had makings to be one given the premise. The problem was that this movie wasn't executed properly and it underperformed; it was a disappointment. I won't go as far as to call TLW a master piece; but it was loads better then Jurassic Park III. JP3 just didn't deliver in a lot of categories. The Jungle set they filmed in always had just a dark overcast going the entire time, the jungle was incredibly fake looking (Considering it was in fact fake), The film has this haze over the frame as if they smeared a little Vaseline on the lens before filming, Theres a few minutes of set up at the beginning which is to just get them to the island so that dinosaurs can destroy all the set pieces. There was no poetic justice, nor any attempt at having actually interesting plot development. Just chase scene after chase scene after chase scene. 

I can only hope Jurassic Park 4 can do a better job. I'm cautiously optimistic about it considering they have the writer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Stan Winston Studios is likely to make the puppetry assets again and a new Director, Colin Trevorrow, has been hired to helm the new movie. (Usually when Spielberg picks a greenhorn he has good reason). We can only hope and see that the movie isn't as much of a disappointment.

(This was abnormally long for what will be normal. I just had a lot to say about JP3.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

TPP Part Dos: You Meddling Coatimundis

Procyon has been struck down so now we move on to the crackoons, the snookum bears, the gatosolos, the loveable, adorable, inquisitive coatimundis. 

What, me worry?

They're some of the most curious of the family, and the most curious-looking. Also curious is their taxonomy, as the term "coatimundi" or "coati" applies to two genera, Nasua (top middle in family ensemble), and Nasuella (directly below). According to genetics, the latter should be lumped with the former, but for the purpose of this post, we'll stay with the traditional pair of genera. 


Let's start off with the classic coatis: the ring-tailed coati on the left and the white-nosed coati on the right. They're pretty easy to recognize and share all coatimundi traits: long, skinny, banded tail, long snout, small ears, brownish fur, etc.

RING-TAILED COATI (Nasua nasua):

Also known as the South American coati (generally the most common name, but the author learned of it as the ring-tailed coati), this procyonid is one of the most famous of the genera, despite the fact many people have never heard of them. Also they have a particularly impressive yawn and have been called the Brazilian aardvarks. 

If you keeping making that face, it'll freeze like that.

Female ring-tailed coatimundis are probably the most social of all procyonids, forming large bands numbering up to 30 individuals. Males are generally solitary, and were actually considered a different species, called the coatimundi. Oh science, you were so silly back in the day. Like all coatis and generally procyonids, they are semi-arboreal, almost like giant squirrels, being able to reverse their ankles and descends trees headfirst. Unlike raccoons, they are completely diurnal.

WHITE-NOSED COATI (Nasua narica):

Known by such names as the tejon, pizote, and antoon, the white-nosed coatimundi is about as famous as its South American counterpart. It is identified by its largely white snout, which luckily the ring-tailed coati lacks or otherwise this subfamily would be an entire screwup of names.

"I have a ringed tail too. Checkmate atheists."

Most of their range covers Mexico and Central America, but they are also naturally found in Arizona, New Mexico, and extreme northern Colombia. They can also be seen in Florida, where a breeding population seems to have descended from escaped captives. There is also a noticeable subspecies on Cozumel Island, where we met a yellow-tailed raccoon in the last post. It has been noted as a separate species in the past and some think it to have been introduced by the Mayans.

First the end of the world and then introduced coatis. What will the Mayans think of next?

They are slightly less social than the South American coatimundi, living in female groups up to 20 in number. Like raccoons, they regularly raid campsites and trashcans where humans have encroached on their living area. As I've mentioned before, this is due to their inquisitiveness: coatis are all curiousity.


While members of Nasua look like adorable raccoons with aardvark noses, the members of Nasuella look like some unholy combination of a shrew, rat, and dachshund. They're rarely seen and not much info can be given. We do know that they are smaller than regular coatis, the eastern mountain coati (right) was thought to be a subspecies of the western until 2009, and that true to their common names, they live in the mountains of South America, primarily the Andes. 

*checks notes*

Yup, that's it. Next time, we move to another ringtail of the US.


Alred E. Neuman coati - Proper credit cannot be given because of a loophole with that picture linking back to me but it is not the author's
Cozumel coati - Fickr user wynjym
"Ensemble" pictures - pictures used do not belong to author

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Animals of the World by Tom Jackson
Wild Animals of the World by William Bridges
Book of the Animal Kingdom by Arnoldo Mondadori
Encyclopedia of Mammals by Dr. David MacDonald

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Prosperous Procyonids, Part Uno

What do the six animals above have in common? Besides suffering from a crippling case of the adorables. Hint: they're all procyonids. Raccoons are perhaps the most famous of the family (kinkajous come in at second) and therefore are the ones we'll cover first. But in a flashback to yesterday's post, what is a procyonid?

This is not a procyonid. It's a raccoon dog.

Procyonids are carnivorans (like Darren Naish, a share a longing for people to refer to them as "carnivorans" instead of "carnivores") that are closest to weasels, skunks, and red pandas in relationship. All are united with bears, seals and dogs in Caniformia, the "dog-like" carnivorans. Most are nocturnal, and most have banded tails. They are native to the New World and have been since they evolved 20 million years ago. There are six genera, though one is tentative and might be a species of another. Let's chronicle the genera now.


Procyon is the most famous and widespread of the procyonid genera, with three generally accepted species, though it has been considered that seven actually exist. Of these, only P. lotor and P. cancrivorus are widespread and "non-insular", if you will. They can be distinguished by their highly manipulative hands, "bandit mask" facial markings and banded tails.

COMMON RACCOON (Procyon lotor):

As one can well imagine by its name, the common raccoon is the most famous of all raccoons (and was also once lumped into Ursus by Linnaeus), and is probably the one you'll always see on a cartoon or any show to be exact. It is also the one associated with washing food. Interestingly enough, this behaviour has never been recorded in the wild, only taking apart their food but never dousing it; proving that they are not nature's neat freaks. 

"No one understands me."

 Found in every contiguous state of the US, all but four of the Canadian provinces, several islands, Mexico, and Central America, the common raccoon is the most abundant of the genus and all procyonids. They have also been introduced to several European countries, Japan, and the Near East. There are nineteen subspecies, but luckily we'll only feature a few. These are the four sometimes considered to be separate species.
  • The Guadeloupe raccoon, shown at right, is known as Procyon lotor minor. It shows insular dwarfism, much smaller than the mainland raccoon subspecies. It is found on the Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre Islands and is endangered.
  • The Tres Marias raccoon, Procyon lotor insularis, is found on the two main of islands of Islas Marias. The average length is 33in, slightly larger than mainland raccoons. It is distinguished by its pale coat and angular skull.
  • The Bahamian raccoon, Procyon lotor maynardi is another endangered raccoon subspecies, endemic to the New Providence Island. It is most similar to the Guadeloupe and Florida Keys subspecies, perhaps providing evidence for the idea that these are just introduced mainland raccoons.
  • The Barbados raccoon, Procyon lotor gloveralleni was an extinct subspecies found only in the Barbados, of course. It too was smaller than most mainland raccoons and bore resemblance to the Guadeloupe raccoon.
CRAB-EATING RACCOON (Procyon cancrivorus):

The crab-eating raccoon, also known as the mapache, is just one of the many animals that shares the "crab-eating" adjective in his name (including the frog, the fox, the mongoose, the macaque, and the rat), and like all of them, it invariably eats more than crabs, also dining on fish, worms, frogs, turtle eggs, seeds, and fruits. It is much more lithe and ultimately rangier looker than its northern cousin and is found in every country in South America, including Trinidad and Tobago. It was once in its own genus Euprocyon. The crab-eating raccoon is one of nature's troopers, being able to survive riverine forests, rainforests, and even scrubland. Unlike its northern cousin, it is only nocturnal (common raccoons are diurnal to a degree); in parts of Costa Rica its range overlaps with the common raccoon and it also shares ranges with the Guadaloupe raccoon, having been introduced to the island.

COZUMEL RACCOON (Procyon pygmaeus):
The Cozumel raccoon, also known as the dwarf raccoon or pygmy raccoon is the smallest of all raccoons and one of the smallest procyonids, clocking in only at 9lbs at the most (45% lighter than the closest average mainland raccoon subspecies). Perhaps the title of "crab-eating raccoon" would better belong to them, as approximately 50% of their diet consists of the amiable crustaceans. Like all procyonids, it is omnivorous, dining on seeds, fruits, reptiles, insects, and other meaty tidbits. Unlike the common raccoon and more similar to the crab-eating raccoon, its tail is a buff yellowish in colour, with darker brown bands. Endemic to Cozumel Island, they are critically endangered.

Well that's it for now. I leave you with the raccoon shuffle. 


Guadeloupe raccoons - Wikipedia user Line1
Crab-eating raccoon - Steven G. Johnson
"Raccoon shuffle" - Bergamo Cattaneo

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Animals of the World by Tom Jackson
Wild Animals of the World by William Bridges
Book of the Animal Kingdom by Arnoldo Mondadori
Encyclopedia of Mammals by Dr. David MacDonald

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Jaguarundis: Pygmy Pumas of Avatar

The resemblance is shocking.

The jaguarundi, seen above to the right, is a case of a show coincidentally landing something right without knowledge. In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "Tales of Ba Sing Se" (yes, the episode that induced everyone's feels), Momo is chased by a group of pygmy pumas, which bare a shocking resemblance to the jaguarundi, though based on mountain lions (the pygmies do have a more compact body similar to the latter). So what exactly is a jaguarundi?

No, it's not allergic to sunlight.

At first glance, these mammals resemble a large mustelid, something similar to the tayra of South America. Though as I've spoiled and you've probably guessed by now, jaguarundis are cats. Specifically, they're pumas. Well technically, they're close relatives. Both belong to the genus Puma, with the jaguarundi representing Puma yagouaroundi. The resemblance is mostly best seen from an upfront view, like the one in the comparison photo. These cats, similar to their cousins, have also had a complicated taxonomic history, being called Felis yagouaroundi, F. unicolor (gray phase), F. eyra (red phase), F. cacomitli, F. apache, F. fossata, F. panamensis and Herpailurus yagouraoundi.

So, info on jaguarundis. These "little cats" (scientifically known as felines, though this also causes confusion since many people refer to all cats as felines) are slightly larger than the common housecat, from to 36-54in long, though the tail constitutes a good majority of that length. They're one of the several felids to be found in both South America and North America.

Just like their more distant ocelot and jaguar relatives, the jaguarundi has been found in both the US and Mexico but sadly might be extinct in its US range, similar to the Texas ocelot and the Arizona jaguar, who might have faced similar fates. The picture below shows the jaguarundi's possible existing range in Texas, so even if it does still exist in said state, it would be rare to say the least. They also might have been introduced to Florida.

To add on to their bizarre appearance, jaguarundis are also bizarre in habits. They are rather gregarious yet solitary (an oxymoron), and produce a wide range of vocalisations unlike any other cat, including whistles, purrs, yaps, and bird-like chirping. They can hunt comfortably on land and readily scale trees, similar to the larger cougars, and reports of them swimming well exist too. They feast on rodents, reptiles, birds, rabbits, opossums, and fish. Taking on comparatively large prey, climbing trees, swimming, vocalising in strange rhythms; they're as if someone combined a puma and a jaguar into a weasel's body. Of course, convergent evolution shows us that several other cats have adopted similar forms.

Jaguarundis: they've had a complicated history, they've been split due to colour, they climb trees, swim, and make strange sounds, they're the most famous of the weasel-like cats (as I call them), and it turns out they're almost the exact same as the pygmy puma on Avatar. They're so strange and so underrated at the same time. Now go out and tell everyone you know about them.

Or else they'll kill your lemur or something.


First jaguarundi photo - Alena Houskova
Jaguarundi in tree - Bruno Damiani
Jaguarundi eating agouti - Nick Gordon

news.mongabay.com (photos)

It's a Deer! It's a Rhino! No, it's a Brontothere!

Explosions, running... By golly, it's a Michael Bay movie!

They aren't rhinoceroses. They aren't freak deer on steroids. They're not a pronghorn or one of the synthetoceratids. No, they're brontotheres. They were what happened when the Eocene said, "You want your ceratopsians back? Well here they are!", followed by a cackling laugh. And in the geologically short 22 million year timeframe they inhabited, they proved to be one of the most fruitful families to have existed, with more than 40 genera currently described.

Brontotheres, once called titanotheres, got off to a humble start with the little guy at left. Eotitanops, standing only 18in, looks like something that'd be adored by girls worldwide due to how odd and "derpy" looking it is if was alive today. This isn't even fair how ridiculous it is. It's like someone crossed a donkey and a tapir. Anyways on to the real info. Eotitanops lived from the Early-Mid Eocene in North America and Asia, the Asian forms surviving the latest. This stocky little creature was a small browsing creature, rather similar to contemporary Hyracotherium. Also similar to its contemporary, it had four toes on the front feet and three toes on the hind feet. These feet would remain the staple of all brontotheres to come, no matter how big they got. And big they did get. But more on that later.

Sphenocoelus, shown at right under a synonymous name, represents a good specimen of the intermediate form between Eotitanops and later brontotheres. At 4ft tall at the withers, it was more than twice as tall as its ancestor above, weighing in the area of 234lbs. It almost resembled a small hornless rhinoceros, suited for cropping leaves as the rest of its family would until their extinction. Restricted to Wyoming and Utah, it didn't enjoy a huge range like its ancestor did. Also similar in appearance was Palaeosyops, a much larger beast the size of a cow. It too was found primarily in Wyoming, as many brontotheres seem to be.

Here there be monsters. Megacerops is the big daddy of brontotheres, the epitome, the zenith of the family. Recently, six genera have been sunk into Megacerops, and different species show different horn structure. M. coloradensis, shown at left had the classic Y-shaped horn. Or maybe it's a boomerang. Or a slingshot. Another species, formerly known as Brontops, had the splitting horn that quickly ended in two ball-shaped knobs. At 8.5ft tall at the shoulder, 4 tons, 16ft long, and with a 3ft skull, it was the largest of the family; a giant as big as an Asian elephant. 

Another of the giant brontotheres to have occurred near the end of their reign was the Asian Embolotherium, only slightly smaller than its North American relative above. It seems to have been the only brontothere to have appeared in a documentary, shown in Walking with Beasts, also covered in Primeval when a herd escaped into modern times. Unlike many other species, there is no clear known sexual dimorphism in both species of Embolotherium (E. andrewsi, shown at right is distinguished by the heart-shaped end of the horn, E. grangeri had a more spoon-like end), contrary to the individuals presented in WWB. Due to the extremely large nasal cavities, some have suggested that the horn actually supported a nasal sac used for communication. Now that'd be something to see.

From small humble Eotitanops to giant Megacerops, brontotheres enjoyed a rich culmination in the Eocene. Alas their dentition was poor, constricting them to feed on leaves. When the grasslands of the Oligocene began replacing the forests of the Eocene, the brontotheres were surely doomed. They have been cursed throughout history was being dumb, clumsy, and slow-witted when in reality they would have been majestic beautiful creatures to observe in the wild. They've only been immortalized in media several times, a real shame. Here's to hoping some will remember the brontotheres in a brighter light.


Megacerops fleeing from volcano - Rod Ruth
Eotitanops - Dmitry Bodganov
Sphenocoelus - Roman Yevseyev
Megacerops pair - Dmitry Bodganov
Embolotherium - Steve Kirk
Family ensemble - Frederik Spindler

Funk & Wagnalls World of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals
Prehistoric Times Issue 98
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs & Prehistoric Creatures
National Geographic Prehistoric Animals