Motmot (family Momotidae)

I think motmot is a great name for an animal. I love the name, but I think these birds are a misnamed – to me it sounds like motmots should be cute, fluffy little things, but this isn’t the case. No, these birds are quite stunning animals, with bright colouration and big tails. Motmots deserve a grander name than what they’ve got. Still, they aren’t the worst named species on this blog.

Motmots make up the family Momotidae, which contains fourteen species in six genera. They are spread through the tropical regions of Central and South America, with the greatest number of species found in Central America. They prefer wooded areas, and nest in tunnels in river banks.


A motmot showing off its tail feathers. Image source: Wikipedia

Motmots are very colourful birds, with different species having varying amounts of blues, greens, reds and yellows. Their bills are fairly large, though not nearly as big as those of their relatives, the kingfishers. One of the most striking features of motmots is their long tails, which in most species have paddle-like tips. This tail shape is not entirely natural — in several species the feathers on the shaft of the tail are quite weak, and so fall off during preening, creating this distinctive shape.

These tails are used for a bit of a strange purpose; a motmot will wag its tail back and forth when a predator is nearby. This lets the predator know that the motmot is aware of the threat, saving both the predator and motmot time and energy, since the predator will likely not chase the motmot, and thus the bird will not have to flee.


A tody motmot, one of the only species that does not have a large flashy tail. Image source: Wikipedia

A second purpose of motmots’ fancy tails is thought to be for attracting mates, as males have slightly larger tails than females. Pair bonds in motmots can last several years, so those tails must look good. As I mentioned earlier, motmots nest in river banks, digging burrows that can be up to 2.4 meters long. Some species will nest in colonies, with up to 40 pairs nesting in the same area. Females lay around four eggs, which hatch in 20 days. Both parents care for the young, who leave the nest a month after hatching.

While motmots might not be the furballs I pictured them as, they are still pretty wonderful birds. They are most certainly prettier than what I imagined!


Artist’s rendering of what a motmot should look like.

Cover image credit: Dominic Sherony via Wikipedia

Bagheera Kiplingi (Bagheera kiplingi)

As much as spiders terrify me, they are fascinating creatures. I can’t help blogging about such diverse and amazing creatures, even though looking at pictures of them makes me squirm with anxiety. Today’s spider, Bagheera kiplingi, is perhaps not quite as scary as most, thanks to its diet.

Bagheera kiplingi are a species of jumping spider, and are named after Bagheera the panther from The Jungle Book, and the author, Rudyard Kipling. They are mainly found where their food is found, in Central America. They are present in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Guatemala.

Like most jumping spiders, kiplingi are quite small, only reaching sizes of five to six millimetres. Males and females are different in appearance, with the cephalothorax in males being green and red; and red and black-brown in females. The two genders can be further told apart by the shape and size of their abdomens: they are thin and small in males and wide and large in females.


A male kiplingi spider. Image credit: Maximillian Paradiz via Wikipedia

Kiplingi spiders are known for having an ethically acceptable diet, as they are almost completely vegetarian. This is very unusual for a spider, and Bagheera kiplingi is the most herbivorous species of spider in the world. They feed on what are known as Beltian bodies, which are protein, lipid, and sugar rich nubs that grow on the leaves of acacia trees and related plants. When Beltian bodies are scarce, the spiders will also feed on nectar, ant larvae, and other kiplingi spiders. So they aren’t entirely vegetarian, but they do their best in a tough world.

Acacia trees have a lovely symbiotic relationship with certain species of ants. The ants feed on the nutrient rich Beltian bodies on the trees, and guard these food sources vigilantly. For their efforts, the trees get a well equipped army to protect them from nasty herbivores. Of course, this doesn’t work too well when kiplingi spiders are around.


kiplingi spider munching on a Beltian body. Image source

While most jumping spiders use their agility and speed to catch prey, kiplingi are experts at avoiding ants. They will jump from leaf to leaf to avoid ant patrols, and stay away from any buds that are too well protected.  To ensure they aren’t ambushed in their sleep, kiplingi build their nests on old dead leaves, where there are no ants.

I usually have a favourite animal in every group — for example, my favourite fox is the fennec fox, and my favourite large cat is the cheetah. Until now, I have not had favourite species of spider. They have been sorted into Terrifying and Slightly Less Terrifying. But I think I can say that Bagheera kiplingi is probably my favourite spider species. After all, there isn’t much to fear from a vegetarian spider, is there?

Tent-making Bat (Uroderma bilobatum)

Doesn’t the idea of tent-making bats sound fun? I feel like they’d be excellent camping partners, because if you were ever stuck without shelter they could just whip up a tent for everyone to sleep in. Actual tent-making bats really do make tents, but they certainly aren’t large enough for people to stay in. Still, it’s a pretty cool way to build a roost.

Tent-making bats are found in Central and South America, from Mexico to Peru and Brazil. They live in forests, usually at elevations below 600 m. These bats mainly eat fruit, so they need to live in places where there are enough fruits to sustain them.

Tent-making bats are kind of cute, in a batty kind of way. They are not very large, growing to lengths of 5.9-6.9 cm. Their faces are decorated with a modest noseleaf, as well as four distinct white stripes. Each bat also has a white stripe that runs along the back to the base of the tail. The rest of their fur is grey-brown.


See they’re pretty cute! Image source

These bats are known for their roosting behaviour, which of course involves constructing tents. They do this by chewing at special spots along the middle of large leaves, so that they fold and create a tent-like structure. Tent-making bats usually choose banana or palm leaves for their roosts, and pick trees that are tall, but not overly so. It’s thought that this is because tall trees are better protected against predators, but that very tall trees are more exposed to weather.


Some tent-making bats in a nice cosy roost. Image credit: Charlesjsharp via Wikipedia

The downside about this tent-making process is that it takes a few nights, and the bats have to build a new one every couple of months, as the leaves dry out and fall off. Luckily the bats have friends to share in the work, as up to 59 bats will share a single roost.

Tent-making bats breed twice a year, in February and June. This is when plants are fruiting and flowering, which provides food for the pregnant bats and their young. The bats give birth to only one pup after four to five months. The babies are kept in communal roosts, and are independent a month after birth.

Although leaf homes might not seem like the greatest of shelters, this system seems to work pretty well for the tent-making bats. They are currently doing very well in their range, and hopefully will continue to do so.

Cover image source

Mexican Burrowing Toad (Rhinophrynus dorsalis)

I was first drawn to this species when I saw a picture of it. The image of a fat, globulous toad with bright orange markings was too amusing to ignore. Blogging about funny-looking species is always a blast because I get to pepper the post with lots of fun pictures.

Mexican burrowing toads are fairly unique animals — they are the only extant members of their family, Rhinophrynidae. In fact, these guys are thought to be the most evolutionarily unique amphibian in the world. That’s a pretty cool title to have.


See how silly they look? Image source

Despite its name, the Mexican burrowing toad doesn’t just live in Mexico. They venture into southern Texas, and are also found in other Central American countries, such as Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. So if I were naming this species, I’d call it the Central American toad, but I’m sure that would be too accurate for taxonomists.

As I mentioned earlier, burrowing toads are nice plump animals. They aren’t overly large, only reaching lengths of eight centimetres. The toads have bright red-orange spots on their bodies, as well as a red stripe down their backs. Since these guys are burrowers, they require some way of digging. To this end, they have hardened, shovel-like additions to their feet, as well as stocky, muscular legs.

Burrowing is very important to Mexican burrowing toads. They spend the majority of their lives underground, only emerging to breed. Breeding season for these toads can occur at any time of the year, as there is only one required condition: rain. After heavy rains, the toads emerge from their underground lairs and go in search of breeding pools. Males call for females, using a creepy low-pitched call that kind of sounds like the word ‘whoa’. You can listen to it here.


A juvenile burrowing toad, who hasn’t quite developed the pretty orange spots yet. Image source: Wikipedia

Once the rains dry up, the adult toads head back to the safety of the underground, leaving their young to mature on their own. It only takes the eggs a few days to hatch, and they change into adults in one to three months.

For toads that spend almost their entire lives underground, where they can’t be found, these guys sure have interesting looks. I guess if you only have a few days to attract a mate, you’d better look pretty unique.

Cover image source

Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla)

I’ve written about a lot of strange and hilarious animals on this blog, but sadly I’ve neglected one of the silliest animals around: the giant anteater. Don’t get me wrong, anything that big that survives by eating ants is a pretty amazing creature, but they do look quite funny. Something about that long snout and the way they lumber around is definitely chuckle-worthy.

Giant anteaters live in South and Central America, primarily in Brazil. Within their range, they are found in a wide variety of habitats, such as forests, swamps, and grasslands, in both urban and rural areas.  Unlike other anteaters and sloths (their close relatives), the giant anteater spends most of its time on the ground instead of in trees. It’s pretty hard to picture something as big as a giant anteater climbing, though apparently they are good at climbing out of captive enclosures.


A giant anteater. Can you spot the giant panda in the picture? Image credit: Maylene Thyssen via Wikipedia

The word giant probably tips you off that this anteater is fairly large, but how big is giant? Pretty massive, I’d say. Their head and body can reach lengths of 1.2 m, with an additional 90 cm of tail. They can weigh over 40 kg. Anteaters have long, coarse fur that is brown and black with various white stripes.

Giant anteaters have massive claws on their forefeet, which they use to dig up their favourite food: ants (surprise!) and termites. They have no teeth, but have a snaky tongue that can be 61 cm in length, and is covered in spines. The tongue is coated in sticky saliva and makes the perfect tool for scooping up copious amounts of insects. Anteaters can eat thousands of bugs in just a few minutes. They find their prey using their acute sense of smell, which is 40 times that of humans.


An anteater sleeping under its tail and showing off its great big claws. Image credit: Mateus Hidalgo via Wikipedia

Anteaters are usually solitary, only coming together to mate. If they do happen to pass each other in the wild, they will often simply ignore one another, only occasionally bothering to fight. Giant anteaters don’t really look like they’re built to fight, but when they rear up on their hind legs and use those long claws to swipe at their enemies, I imagine they’d be pretty formidable.

Reproduction in giant anteaters can occur at any time of the year. Males and females spend a few days together, feeding at the same locations and mating a few times. The female anteater gives birth to a single baby after 190 days. The baby anteater, which weighs just over a kilogram, immediately climbs onto its mother’s back, where she will carry it until it is ix to nine months old. Young giant anteaters reach sexual maturity between two and four years of age.

It’s pretty impressive for something so large to subsist solely on insects, which makes me appreciate giant anteaters. I’m also a fan of their awkwardness, so that’s two points for these guys. Anteaters are awesome.

Cover image source:

Four-eyed Fish (genus Anableps)

Yes, you read that right. Today’s animal is the family of fishes known as the four-eyed fish. I know this conjures images of fish wearing glasses (which is a hilarious thought), but these guys don’t wear glasses. Instead, they just have some very strange eye biology. Very strange.

There are only three species of four-eyed fish, the large-scale foureyes, the Pacific four-eyed fish, and the simply named foureyes. All species occur in a range spanning southern Mexico through Central America to the northern part of South America. The fish are found in brackish waters, usually in mangrove forests.

Four-eyed fish can grow to a maximum length of 32 cm, though they are usually smaller than that. They are pretty boring looking fish, being brown with a pale stripe running down each side of its body. But you didn’t click on this blog to read about what colour four-eyed fish are. You came here to find out about their eyes.

See how strange its eyes are? Image source: Wikipedia

See how strange its eyes are?
Image source: Wikipedia

So let’s get to it. Four-eyed fish don’t actually have four eyes, but what they do have is a pair of eyes that is split in two. Each eye has an above-water portion, and a below-water portion, with each having its own pupil. The top half of the eye is designed for seeing above water, while the lower half is best at seeing under water, with a thicker lens on the bottom to adjust for the different refractive index under water. Four-eyed fish sit just at the surface of the water, the top half of their eyes sticking into the air.

Another strange attribute of four-eyed fish is their reproductive behaviour. Both males and females have a ‘handedness’, a side on which they will mate. A right-handed male will only mate with a left-handed female, and vice versa. Four-eyed fish give birth to live young, keeping the eggs inside of them until they hatch.

An even weirder view of a four-eyed fish. Image source:

An even weirder view of a four-eyed fish.
Image source:

So although they don’t actually have four eyes, I think the four-eyed fishes definitely are right up there as some of the coolest fish around. After all, how many animals actually have split eyes?

Cover image source: