Liguus Snail (genus Liguus)

Okay, I’ll admit it — I picked this week’s animal solely because it looked super fun to draw. When I think of brightly coloured, beautiful animals, snails don’t usually come to mind. But there’s a certain genus of snails, known as Liguus, that are well-known for their amazingly vivid shells.

There are currently five species of Liguus snail, though there are many subspecies classified under each species of Liguus. Originally some of the subspecies were thought to be completely different species because their shells were very different in colour, but it turns out these snails just have a lot of intraspecific variety in their shells. Liguus fasciatus alone is known to have more than 120 different colour varieties.

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Amazingly, all these shells are from the same species, Liguus fasciatus. Image credit: Henry A. Pilsbry via Wikipedia

Liguus snails are found in a relatively small range, with most species restricted to Cuba and Hispaniola. One species, Liguus fasciatus, is also found in southern Florida. Liguus snails are terrestrial, and spend most of their time in trees, and prefer trees that have smooth bark. I guess if you have to slime your way across a surface, you wouldn’t want it to be super rough.

Do you know what snails eat? I had never actually thought about it. Liguus snails feed on a tasty and nutritious diet of moss, fungi and algae. They forage for their meals on the trees they live on, scraping these lovely morsels off the bark. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it?

Liguus snails are fairly big for snails, with their average size being about four centimeters in length, though they can get up to six centimetres long. As I mentioned before, these snails are known for their magnificently coloured shells. One species, Liguus virgineus, is commonly known as the candy cane snail because its striped shell looks a lot like a a candy cane (in snail form). Though I’m not quite sure what flavour candy cane it would be…

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A candy cane snail, also known as Liguus virgineus. Image source

There is certainly a downside to having such colourful shells: people think they are pretty, so they collect them. Over-harvesting of Liguus snails have led to a decline in the species, and habitat destruction isn’t helping the problem. It is now illegal to collect Liguus shells, so hopefully that helps keep these guys around for a while.

And I must end on a bit of a shameful note: after picking these animals to write about so I could draw one, I have not been able to complete the piece in time for this post. Rather than put a substandard and rushed picture on here, I’ll leave you with this, and I promise to get the real picture up in the next few days!

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Update: Finished my art for the blog! I’m going to leave the Sorry Snail in there because he’s pretty cute, but here’s my finished candy cane snail:

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Bluespotted Fantail Ray (Taeniura lymma)

There’s something so graceful and beautiful about rays that I can’t help admiring them. I think it’s the way they move through the water, with their undulating ‘wings’ — they are such marvellous but strange creatures. I’ve written about a few rays before: the manta ray and the giant freshwater stingray, and today I’m going to talk about the bluespotted ribbontail, or fantail, ray.

Bluespotted ribbontail rays live in the Indian and western Pacific Oceans. They are found in shallow coastal waters, rarely venturing beyond 25 meters in depth. Bluespotted rays prefer to live in and around coral reefs and sandy flats, so they have places to hide during the day. The rays will also venture into intertidal zones and tidal pools.

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Aren’t these guys amazingly beautiful? Image credit: Jens Petersen via Wikipedia

These stingrays are easily recognized by the bright blue spots that cover their bodies, though they are not the only species of ray known as bluespotted stingrays. They are, however, quite distinctive, as they have more and brighter spots than other species, as well as having two bright blue stripes on their tails. Bluespotted fantail rays do not get overly large, reaching maximum widths of 35 cm. They are oval in shape, with a smooth, yellowish-green disc.

Bluespotted fantail rays are nocturnal, spending the day hidden in caves, shipwrecks, or coral reefs. At night, these guys emerge and head to the shallows, following the high tide into tidal flats in search of tasty meals. They feed on a wide variety of animals, including crabs, shrimp, fish, and sand worms. They detect their prey using electroreceptors, and trap them by pressing their discs into the ocean floor. Once the prey is caught, the rays move around until their meal is directed into their mouths, which are located on the underside of their bodies. Bluespotted rays have 15-24 rows of teeth arranged into plates, which can easily crush the shells of molluscs.

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A close up of a bluespotted ray’s eyes, which makes it look pretty creepy. Image credit: Nick Hobgood via Wikipedia

Bluespotted rays themselves are targeted as prey; both hammerhead sharks and bottlenose dolphins are known to feed on these rays. When threatened, bluespotted rays prefer to run away, swimming in zigzags to try and confuse predators. These rays have another method of defence, however — they have lovely venomous spines at the tips of their tails, which can deliver a nasty sting to anyone foolish enough to get close to them. Hammerhead sharks get around this by using their hammer-shaped heads to pin the stingrays down while they eat them.

Bluespotted rays mate in the spring and summer, when males start to follow females around. They eventually start nipping at the females’ discs, and then hold on while the pair copulate. The exact gestation period of bluespotted fantails is uncertain, but after four to twelve months females give birth to up to seven pups, which look like miniature versions of their parents.

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A quick sketch of a bluespotted fantail ray.

Bluespotted fantail rays are popular in home aquaria, in spite of their dangerous spines. They are also very difficult to keep in captivity, with many refusing to eat or dying for unknown reasons. But people still try and keep them for some reason, and the rays are also suffering from degradation of their natural habitat. They are still fairly abundant in the wild, but have been assessed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Hopefully these beautiful creatures can stick around for a while.

Cover image credit: Jon Hanson via Wikipedia

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

Is there a songbird in North America that is more recognizable than the American robin? Bluejays give them a good run for the title, but I still think robins are more well known. I may be slightly biased, though, because my mom’s name is Robin — but my point is robins are very common birds, and yet it’s taken me four years to write about them. Time to fix that!

American robins are well-known in North America because they are widespread across the continent. They can be found year-round in the southern parts of Canada, throughout the US and into Mexico. Robins travel as far south as southern Mexico during the winter, and head north to the Canadian Territories and Alaska in the summer. Robins are at home in a variety of habitats, though they like short grass and open ground, with trees or shrubs for perching and nesting. Many suburban and agricultural areas provide ideal habitats for robins, which is why they are so common in populated areas.

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A map of the range of the American robin. Yellow is the birds’ breeding range, green is where robins can be found year-round, while blue is the robins’ winter range. Image source: Wikipedia

Robins are not overly large birds, ranging from 23 to 28 cm in length, with wingspans of up to 41 cm. They have dark grey or black heads and wings, with white markings on their throats and around their eyes. Their bills are yellow, and they have brown legs and feet. Of course, you probably know that robins have red breasts, but just in case you didn’t, I drew this picture to emphasize it.

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Of course, the red on their breast stays inside the lines, but I took some artistic license with this picture

Robins are gregarious birds, roosting together in large flocks at nighttime. During the day, the flocks break up into smaller feeding groups. American robins feed on a wide variety of foods, including insects, fruits, and berries. They hunt insects using sight and sound, hopping around on the ground and then cocking their heads to listen fro their prey. Though insects make up a large portion of their diet, berries and fruits tend to be the staple of the robin’s diet. This is quite advantageous for the birds, as they can winter farther north than other similar species, thanks to their varied diet.

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A male American robin. Females look pretty similar, but are duller in colour. Image credit: Dakota Lynch via Wikipedia

After the birds finish their migrations in the spring, breeding starts. The breeding season starts in April and lasts into July. They lay their first clutch very early in the season, and often will have two or three broods each year. Robins build nests in bushes, trees or on manmade structures, usually five to fifteen feet off the ground. Nests are not reused; the robins must build a new nest for each brood they raise (apparently robins are not very efficient).

Clutch sizes vary from three to five eggs, which hatch after about two weeks. Female robins will continue to brood their young for a few days after hatching, and then will only brood during bad weather. Two weeks after they hatch, the young birds leave the nest, though they are still dependent on their parents for food and protection during this time. Robin chicks learn to fly quite quickly, and are able to sustain flight two weeks after fledging.

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Juvenile robins are spotted and funny looking, to help them stay camouflaged. Image credit: Laurent Bélanger via Wikipedia

Unfortunately for robins, they are susceptible to predation. Only 25% of American robins make it through their first year. Robin eggs and chicks are preyed upon by squirrels, snakes, and other birds, such as blue jays, grackles, and crows. Robin parents protect their eggs by mobbing predators, as well as making chirping warning calls. Adult robins are themselves the targets of predators, falling victim to hawks, cats, and snakes.

Despite high levels of predation, American robin numbers are still doing just fine. They are one of the most abundant land birds in North America, with an estimated population of 320 million. They used to be killed for their meat, but have since become protected by the Migratory Birds Act, so all is well in the world of robins. As a final note, I would like to point out that the genus name of the American name is Turdus. Maybe I’m being immature, but I think turdus is a pretty funny name…

Cover image credit: Arustleund via Wikipedia

Pangolin (family Manidae)

I find it quite shocking that I have not written about pangolins yet. These guys are some of my all-time favourite mammals, and yet I’ve ignored them for nearly four years of blogging and over four hundred posts. I know I’ve considered writing about them, but perhaps the time was never quite right. Well, today is the big day for pangolins, because these amazing animals are going to get their very own blog post!

There are eight species of pangolins, all of which belong to the family Manidae. Pangolins can be found in Africa, India and southeast Asia. All species live in tropical areas, though they differe in their lifestyle choices, with some being arboreal and some preferring to live on the ground. Most pangolins are nocturnal, with only one species, the long-tailed pangolin, being active during the daytime.

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A map showing the distribution of pangolins in Africa and Asia. Image credit: Craig Pemberton via Wikipedia

Pangolins vary in size depending on the species, ranging from 30 to 100 cm long. The most notable feature of pangolins is their overlapping scales that look extremely out of place on a mammal. These scales are made of keratin, and harden as the animal matures. They may look funny, but the scales provide pangolins with an excellent mode of defence. When a pangolin feels threatened, it curls up into a ball, tucking its head under its tail, leaving the predator with only a hard, spiky ball to look at.

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This pangolin seems to have stumped these lions with his ‘curl-in-a-ball’ defence. Image credit: Sandip Kumar via Wikipedia

Pangolins are at home in a number of different environments. They happily climb trees, with some species of arboreal pangolin having prehensile tails that they can use while climbing. Ground dwelling pangolins dig burrows, which can reach depths of three and a half meters. Some species of pangolins will walk with their front claws folded under their feet, and others will sometimes rear up and perform some behaviours bi-pedally, even walking on two legs for small periods. But climbing, digging and walking aren’t the only things pangolins can do; they can also swim quite well. That’s pretty impressive for such awkward looking animals.

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A Sunda pangolin showing off its climbing skills. Image credit: Piekfrosch via Wikipedia

So what do these strange and wonderful animals eat? Pangolins like to feast on tasty and nutritious insects. They use their strong claws to dig up bug nests in trees and on the ground, and then stick out their tongues to gobble them up. Pangolins have incredibly long tongues, which are coated in saliva from glands in the animals’ chests, making them extra sticky, and thus the perfect insect grabbers. Though insects are tasty, they are small, so pangolins have to eat a lot of them. They eat between 140 to 200 g of food a day, and are quite picky, generally eating only one or two species of insect.

Another weird thing about pangolins: they don’t have teeth. They get around this by having a very muscular chamber in their stomachs, complete with spikes that help grind up food. Pangolins will also swallow stones or pebbles that assist in grinding up any food they eat.

Pangolins live solitary lives, coming together only to reproduce. There is no set mating seasons, and pangolins usually mate once a year. Pangolins are a little backwards when it comes to mating — instead of males heading out to find mates, females are lured to spots marked by male pangolin urine or dung. There is some competition over females; when this occurs male pangolins establish dominance by swinging their tails at one another.

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A little baby pangolin riding on its mama’s tail. Image source

Gestation in pangolins ranges from 70 to 140 days. Litter size depends on the species, and can be one to three baby pangolins. When they are born, the scales of young pangolins are soft (imagine giving birth to a baby armoured with spiky scales!), and these harden after several days. While the scales are still soft, mother pangolins are very protective of their young, wrapping themselves around their babies if they feel threatened. After a few weeks the young pangolins ride around on their mother’s tails, and they are weaned at around three months of age. They become sexually mature at two years of age.

There is, of course, a sad side to the pangolin story. They are hunted for their meat and their scales, as pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in many areas, and their scales are thought to have medicinal qualities. Pangolins have the upsetting title of being the Most Illegally Trafficked Animal in the world. All pangolin species are currently threatened, and two are listed as critically endangered. Though they are protected species, illegal trafficking remains a serious threat to the pangolin population. On that sad note, I’ll leave you with a cute drawing of a baby pangolin.

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A quick little sketch I made of a pangolin. So many scales to draw! 

Cover image source

Madagascar Day Gecko (Phelsuma madagascariensis)

I saw this little guy on the cover of one of my favourite animal websites, and he was so bright and pretty that I was immediately interested in writing about him. I will admit that I was also influenced by the fact that I knew I had to draw him. I love using fun colours so that made the Madagascar day gecko a perfect blog candidate.

Madagascar day geckos belong to the family Phelsuma, which contains about seventy species and subspecies. These are commonly known as ‘day geckos,’ as these species are active in the daytime, unlike most other gecko species. The Madagascar day gecko lives in Madagascar (unsurprisingly), along the east coast of the island. There are also introduced populations in Florida. These lizards are arboreal, and are most at home in tropical rainforests.

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Aren’t they cute?

I called them little, but that isn’t very fair. Madagascar day geckos are actually one of the largest species of geckos, reaching lengths of up to 25 cm. As I mentioned, this species is brightly coloured, with the geckos being being bright green or bluish green in colour. They have a rusty-red stripe running from their nose to their eyes, and have various red or brown stripes and spots on their bodies.

Day geckos possess flat toe pads equipped with adhesive scales, which allow them to climb and stick to smooth surfaces. This is no doubt very helpful to a species that spends most of its time hanging around in trees. Day geckos like to relax in their tree perches, soaking up the sun when they’re not looking for food.

Madagascar geckos aren’t exceptionally picky eaters; they feed on a wide variety of invertebrates, as well as fruit and nectar. They get almost all their water from that which collects on leaves, meaning they don’t have to head to the ground to drink. So very convenient.

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My drawing of a day gecko – I had fun with this one though the scales were quite tedious. Still working on getting good scan quality for my pencil crayon drawings, so apologies for that! 

Mating in Madagascar day geckos takes place between November and April. Males attempt to court females by approaching them with their heads moving back and forth. If he is feeling good about his courtship, the male with then grasp the female’s neck with his teeth. After this, the male’s colour darkens, and rests his throat on her head while emitting a soft noise, presumably to comfort her after the trauma of having her head bitten.

Females lay clutches of two eggs, and can lay more than one clutch in a year. The eggs hatch after an incubation period of 47 to 82 days, at which point they are on their own. Like many reptiles, the gender of the young is influenced by temperature; eggs incubated at high temperatures produce males, while lower temperatures produce females. Young geckos are pretty much just tiny versions of the adults, though they are slightly different in colour. They become sexually mature after one or two years of age.

As is so often the case with brightly coloured lizards, Madagascar day geckos are popular as pets. You have to be careful with these guys though — they are very territorial and will act aggressively towards each other if kept in the same tank. Despite their popularity, day geckos are still doing just fine in the wild, which is great news.

Cover image source: Tambako the Jaguar via https://www.jigsawexplorer.com/puzzles/madagascar-day-gecko-jigsaw-puzzle/

Monarch Butterfly (genus Danaus)

Monarch butterflies have got to be some of the most well-known butterflies in the world. I remember in grade one our class raised monarchs from caterpillars to adult butterflies, to learn about metamorphosis. I also recall a play we had to do around the same time where I was a butterfly, and my mom made me these ridiculously awesome wings out of cardboard that were way more impressive than anyone else’s in the class (most of them had silly store-bought wings). The point is, that at least for me, monarch butterflies have been fluttering around in my consciousness for pretty much as long as I can remember. So it’s about time I blogged about  them.

There are three species of monarch butterfly, the North American monarch, the South American monarch, and the Jamaican monarch. they are found mainly in North and South America, though they also live in Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific islands. Sometimes these pretty travellers appear in the UK, though they usually are there by accident. Monarchs are well-known for their epic migrations, in which millions of butterflies travel south to avoid chilly winters.

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Aren’t they beautiful? Photo credit: William Warby via Wikipedia

Butterfly populations west of the Rockies head down to California for the winter, while those in the east overwinter in Mexico. Those that head to Mexico travel up to 7,778 km to get to their wintering sites — quite an accomplishment for tiny butterflies! This migration is dependent on their being available plants along the route to feed the butterflies, as well as a number of climatic factors, including favourable tailwinds, appropriate temperatures, and low precipitation. If there is an early frost, the butterflies will die.

To try and boost their survival rate, monarchs enter diapause upon commencing migration. This lets the butterflies store essential nutrients needed for the long journey, such as lipids, proteins and carbohydrates. Mating and egg development is also suppressed while the butterflies are in diapause, so they can save all their sexual energy for the spring.

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Overwintering sites for monarch butterflies. That’s a lot of little flutterbys! Image credit: bfpage via Wikipedia 

Once the butterflies get to their overwintering sites, things don’t necessarily get easier. If it’s too hot in their roosting areas, the monarch will use up their fat reserves and die before spring comes. Warm temperatures can also stimulate the butterflies to leave the wintering site too early, meaning they will die on the migration back.

This is actually true for all migratory monarch butterflies — none of them survive the migration home. But the successful ones manage to breed before dying, so their descendants can complete the trip home. In fact, it takes four generations of butterflies for the monarchs to get back north.

Monarch butterflies are pretty recognizable with their bright orange and black wings. These bright colours advertise the monarch’s poisonous nature to predators — the butterflies contain toxic cardenolide aglycones, which they get from their diet of milkweed plants. Another orange-and-black butterfly that can be easily confused with the monarch is the viceroy, which was thought to mimic the monarch’s colouring to pretend to be toxic as well. It’s now thought that both butterflies are unpalatable, and that each mimics the other. Nature is confusing…

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I’ve been wanting to get into digital painting for a while, but I’m not very good at it. Still, practice can only help, so I forced myself to do my drawing for the week digitally, and I’m pretty happy with the result!

Most monarchs have wingspans between 8.9 and 10.2 cm wide. Migrant populations have much larger wings than resident populations, as the bigger wings help the butterflies survive their long journeys. Monarchs with larger wings are much more successful during migration.

In recent years, the number of monarchs at overwintering sites has declined. This is likely due to habitat loss, herbicide use and infection by parasites. Though they are not listed as endangered, if this decline continues these beautiful butterflies could be in serious trouble.

Cover image source: Kenneth Dwain Harrelson