Ring-tailed Lemur (Lemur catta)

I’m not a huge fan of primates, so I tend to avoid writing about them. That being said, the less human-like a primate is, the more I like it. So lemurs are right up there as some of my favourite primate species, as they don’t look anything like people, and don’t even look that much like classic monkeys.

Lemurs are a family of primates found only on Madagascar, an island known for having strange and wondrous wildlife. There are almost 100 species of lemur, ranging in size, colour, and habitat. For simplicity’s sake I’m going to focus on the most well-known lemur, the ring-tailed lemur.

Ring-tailed lemurs live in the south and southwestern parts of Madagascar. Their favoured habitat is in gallery forests — forests located on the edge of riverbanks. They will live in other types of forest, however, including deciduous forest, dry scrub, and montane forests. Though they live in forested areas, ring-tailed lemurs are not strictly arboreal. In fact, of all the lemurs, ring-tailed lemurs are the most terrestrial, and can spend up to a third of their time on the ground.

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A map of the distribution of ring-tailed lemurs in Madagascar. Image source: Wikipedia

The bodies of ring-tailed lemurs only get to be 39 to 46 cm in length, but their tails add a whole lot more to their overall length. Their tails can reach lengths of 56 to 63 cm, and are covered in distinctive black and white rings. The rest of the lemurs’ bodies is covered in grey or brown fur, which gets lighter on the neck and belly. Ring-tailed lemurs have a black ‘mask’ on their faces, where the fur is less dense and their black skin can show through.

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It’s incredible how long their tails are. And a bit silly, really. Image credit: Alex Dunkel via Wikipedia

You might be thinking that the large, extravagant tails of ring-tailed lemurs must make excellent climbing tools. After all, what better to wrap around tree branches than a super long tail? Unfortunately, that doesn’t work so well for these lemurs, as their tails are not prehensile. Instead, ring-tailed lemurs use their beautiful tails for balance, communication, and social cohesion.

Ring-tailed lemurs live in groups called troops, which range in size from six to over thirty individuals, though the average troop size is between thirteen and fifteen lemurs. Within troops, there is a strict dominance hierarchy, which is separate for males and females. Female lemurs dominate males, and often establish dominance by biting, cuffing, grabbing, and lunging at conspecifics. Lemurs will also defend their territory from other troops, using scent to mark their territories.

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Ring-tailed lemurs like to sunbathe in the mornings to warm up, and assume these wonderfully attractive sitting positions. Image credit: Keven Law via Wikipedia

Competition gets really heated during the breeding season, when males fight for the right to breed with females. Breeding season is from April to May, and females stagger their estrus so each is receptive to mating on a different day, reducing competition. Clever girls. After a 135 day gestation, female lemurs give birth to one baby, or rarely twins.

Baby lemurs are carried on their mothers’ chests for the first two weeks of their lives, and then get to piggy back on moms’ backs for the next few months. They start to eat solid food after two months, and are fully weaned at five months of age. All members of the troop can assist with rearing and protecting the young, though survival of infants can be as low as 50%. Ring-tailed lemurs reach sexual maturity at around 2.5 to 3 years.

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My attempt at drawing lemur eyes… just to creep you out! 

Unfortunately for ring-tailed lemurs, human activity has made them an endangered species. Destruction of forests for agriculture, lumber and fuel have had a serious impact on lemur populations. Lemurs are also hunted for food and as pets. Madagascar is known to have periodic droughts, which can severely impact the survival rate of young lemurs. All these factors have led to a decline in lemur populations. There are a number of reserves currently on Madagascar, where lemur populations are protected, so hopefully they can bounce back.

Cover image source: Mattis2412 via Wikipedia

Red-eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas)

I picked today’s animal mostly based on its looks — colourful animals are just really fun to draw. Apparently my past self felt the same way as well, because I have a painting of a red-eyed tree frog I did six or seven years ago on my bedroom wall. We’ll have to compare the one I’ve done for today to that one and see if I’ve improved at all!

Red-eyed tree frogs are native to Central America, from southern Mexico in the north to Panama and a tiny bit of Colombia in the south. They live in rainforest habitats, particularly in places near rivers. If you haven’t figured it out from their name, I’ll tell you just to be super clear: red-eyed tree frogs like trees. They spend almost all their time in trees, and are primarily nocturnal.

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A map of the distribution of red-eyed tree frogs. Image source: Wikipedia

The stunning red eyes of this frog aren’t the only colourful part of its body. Their backs are mostly bright green, and they have yellow and blue vertical stripes on their sides. The upper part of their legs are a pretty, rich blue, while their feet are a startlingly brilliant orange or red. Altogether, red-eyed tree frogs are a wonderful melange of colours that makes them a joy to look at (and to draw!).

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My drawing of a red-eyed tree frog, contrasted with the painting I did in 2011. I think I’ve gotten a bit better! 

Tree frogs don’t get to be super large, reaching between about 3.5 and 7 centimetres in length. Female frogs are typically larger than males. Their long back legs make red-eyed tree frogs excellent jumpers, and suction cup-like structures on their toes means tree frogs can stick to pretty much any surface. That’s a pretty useful skill when you spend your life in trees.

A lot of brightly coloured animals are poisonous, their striking colours a warning to any predator that might think about eating them. This is not the case with the red-eyed tree frog. Their bright green colouring actually helps them camouflage against tree leaves. During the day red-eyed tree frogs sit on leaves with their eyes closed and their blue spots covered by their hind legs, praying no hungry animal notices them.

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A red-eyed tree frog trying to camouflage itself against a leaf. I don’t know why this one is so pale… maybe it’s the lighting? Image credit: John J. Mosesso via Wikipedia

If a predator does happen by, the frogs open their eyes suddenly, staring right at the predator. Bright red eyes coming from a green lump may startle the predator just long enough to allow the frog to leap away. I’m not quite sure how effective this defensive strategy is, but red-eyed tree frogs seem to be doing pretty well.

Reproduction in red-eyed tree frogs begins with males advertising their presence to any females in the area. They do this by calling loudly, and quivering on leaves to establish territory. Once a female shows up, all the males in the area jump on her back, vying of the best position. Occasionally multiple males will cling to a female’s back while she is trying to find a good spot to lay her eggs, and she may have to carry them around for hours, sometimes even days.

Females lay clutches of around 40 eggs, on leaves that hang over puddles or ponds. Males stay on the females’ backs while they lay their eggs, fertilizing them as they are laid. The eggs develop into tadpoles quite quickly, and the tadpoles swim around inside the eggs until they rupture. Once the eggs have ruptured, the tadpoles are washed down into the pond waiting below, where they can complete their metamorphosis and become adults.

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Coincidentally, I also had this souvenir shot glass in my office (I use it for painting), so apparently I have a thing about red-eyed tree frogs… 

Thanks to their beautiful colouring, red-eyed tree frogs are popular in the pet trade. Thankfully, they are not yet threatened, though their population has been declining. Pollution, habitat destruction and deforestation are all significant threats to red-eyed tree frogs, so we ned to keep an eye on these guys to ensure they stick around!

Cover image credit: Carey James Balboa via Wikipedia

Green Tree Python (Morelia viridis)

I definitely chose today’s animal for its looks. I was out of the country for the past two weeks for work, and couldn’t bring much with me. So I grabbed my smallest sketchbook and brought only one pen — one of those clicky ones that has multiple colours. All I had to work with was red, green, blue and black. And so I picked a snake that was mostly green, hoping I could make some kind of passable art with the supplies I had brought.

The snake I chose to draw was the green tree python, a snake that is found in Australia, Indonesia, and New Guinea. These snakes are aptly named, as they are green and like to live in trees. They are found in tropical rainforests, generally staying at elevations between sea level and 2000m. Younger snakes tend to stay around the edges of the forest or in canopy gaps, while adults are perfectly comfortable in closed-canopy forests.

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My drawing of a green tree python’s eye. I think it turned out pretty well!

Green tree pythons can get pretty big, with the average length being 1.5 meters, though snakes of up to 2.2 meters have been recorded. They are long and thin, with a well-defined head. Green tree pythons are really beautiful snakes: they are bright green with white scales forming a patterned line down their backs. Juvenile snakes are easily distinguished from adults, as they are either bright yellow or red.

As I mentioned, green tree pythons are quite fond of trees. In fact, they are the most arboreal python in the world. Their long tails are prehensile, which helps them climb and navigate their forested habitat. Tree pythons have a very distinct resting posture, where they throw a few coils over a branch and then sit in a saddle position with their heads resting in the middle.

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A green tree python resting in a typical ‘saddle’ position. Image credit: Micha L. Rieser via Wikipedia

This is quite distinct from the pythons’ hunting posture. When green tree pythons are looking for prey, they extend the front part of the their bodies, ready to strike at any prey that wanders by. Snakes change between resting and hunting postures at dawn or dusk, to stay camouflaged.

Green tree snakes are carnivorous, feeding on small reptiles, amphibians and mammals. They kill their prey by constriction, and do not have any venom. Adults are nocturnal, feeding on the larger animals that emerge at night. Juvenile snakes come out during the day, and feed mainly on small reptiles. As ambush predators, green tree snakes do not actively search for prey, and don’t move very much. They are so lazy they will use the same ambush site for up to two weeks.

This strategy is quite useful for green tree snakes, as it helps them hide from predators. As adults, their green colouration and lack of movement makes them blend in to the leafy trees. Juveniles are also well camouflaged — yellow snakes camouflage well in forest edges, while brick-red juveniles blend in with tree trunks and other non-leafy backgrounds.

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A juvenile of the brick-red variety. Image credit: Johnkentucky via Wikipedia

We don’t know a whole lot about green tree python reproduction in the wild, as breeding has never been recorded in their natural habitat. What we do know we have learned from captive populations. Females lay 1 to 25 eggs, which she broods and protects for almost two months. The eggs hatch at the start of the wet season, in November. The hatchlings are about 30 cm long, and reach sexual maturity between two and four years of age.

Green tree pythons are popular snakes in captivity, and tend to do quite well once their needs are met. Because of their popularity, their population is under pressure from hunting for the pet trade. There are captive breeding programs however, so if you want to get a green tree python, just make sure you source it from a captive breeder!

Cover image credit: Mattstone911 via Wikipedia

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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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/

Tarsier (family Tarsiidae)

In general, the bigger an animal’s eyes are, the cuter they are. Just think of kittens, who have huge eyes and are freaking adorable. But there are certainly exceptions to this rule, and tarsiers are one of them. Their eyes are so big that these guys just look creepy.

Tarsiers are primates, and make up the family Tarsiidae. The exact number of tarsier species is up for debate, as well as what genera they are placed in. All extant species can be found in southeast Asia, in places such as Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi and the Philippines, though tarsier fossil records have been found in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

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A Philippine tarsier. Image credit: Jasper Greek Golangco via Wikipedia 

Tarsiers are built for living in trees, and all species are arboreal. They like very dense, tropical forests, though different species can be found at different altitudes. Tarsiers roost in hollow trees or clusters of vines, so availability of roost sites is important for tarsier habitats.

Tarsiers are very small primates, with their bodies only being ten to fifteen centimetres long. Tarsiers have soft, floofy fur, which is dark brown or greyish, to blend in with dead leaves or bark. They have very long hind legs, which can be twice as long as the body. These are specialized for clinging and leaping among the trees.

The length of tarsiers’ hind legs is due to the elongation of the tarsal bones in their feet, hence the name ‘tarsier’. In most animals with long hind legs, this lengthening is due to an elongation of the metatarsals, not the tarsals. Tarsiers are unique in this respect, and the elongation of the tarsals means that they can have long limbs without losing any dexterity in their toes.

Of course, the most notable feature of tarsiers is their absolutely ridiculously huge eyes. They are each about 16 mm in diameter, and each weighs almost as much as a tarsiers brain. These giant eyes help tarsiers track their prey at night, though they also have extremely acute hearing which helps them detect any tasty meals that flutter by.

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Look how freaking creepy their eyes are! Image credit: mtoz via Wikipeida

You see, tarsiers have a very odd diet — in fact, they are the only truly carnivorous primates. They feed mainly on insects, including moths, butterflies, ants and beetles. Tarsiers will also feed on larger prey, such as birds, snakes and lizards.

Tarsiers give birth to one offspring, after a gestation of around six months. The young are large, weighing 25 to 30% of their mothers’ body weights – the largest birth weight relative to maternal mass of any mammal. They can climb the day they are born, and reach sexual maturity within two years. Though some tarsier species are solitary, others live and roost in family groups.

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Okay, baby tarsiers are kind of cute. Image source

Tarsiers rely very heavily on the habitats that house them; as such they are very vulnerable to habitat destruction. The key to protecting this very unique family of animals is to protect the forests they live in. Hopefully we can preserve the forests and preserve these super cool (if very ugly) primates!