Archive for the ‘Mammals’ Category

Holding a specimen of the now extinct Australian rodent species Leporillus apicalis, the lesser stick-nest rat, in my hands for the first time in the museum’s collection. It was pretty moving… As amazed and lucky as I feel to see it in the flesh, feel it’s claws, fur and whiskers, I feel incredibly sad. To have it that close and that real, and yet know it’s entire species has been removed from this world for ever is a tragedy!

However, I am looking forward to working on these guys, as well as many other currently extant and extinct species of Australian rodents in the future. Hopefully the new sequencing techniques I’ll be implementing in my PhD project will be able to sequence a large portion of even the oldest specimens of extinct species and we can still learn more about them. They may be gone, but they’re not forgotten.

Leporillus apicalis (EX), the Lesser stick-nest rat

Below’s a picture of Leoprillus conditor, the Greater stick-nest rat, which is a sister species to the Lesser stick-nest rat and is still very much alive today thankfully!

Leporillus conditor, the Greater stick-nest rat


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Dear readers, friends, ex-lovers and freethought badasses! I’m heading off to Sulawesi, Indonesia, tomorrow on a scientific research expedition into the jungle. I’ll predominantly be focusing on the capture of rodents, but there’ll be many other people along for the journey with us chasing all forms of creepy crawlies, lizards, frogs, mammals and birds.

For those of you who don’t know, Sulawesi is the K-shaped island located in the middle of Indonesia. It looks to be a pretty epic tropical island with beautiful beaches, dense jungles and incredibly high mountains.

I will undoubtedly be taking a shit load of photos, notes on my experience and hopefully coming home with a few new species in hand. Until my return, here are some photos from Google of Sulawesi’s tropical beaches, mountains and dense jungle.

I might also add, this is the animal I’m most excited to see besides all the awesome rodents I’ll hopefully be catch, the Sulawesi Palm CivetMacrogalidia musschenbroekii.

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I’ve been watching a heap of dissection documentaries recently for free on YouTube via a user named EvolutionDocumentary. They’re from the series with Richard Dawkins named Inside Nature’s Giants. It’s a paid account so all the documentaries are full length (no irritating 10 minute splits) and they have no ads either. WIN!

It’s incredibly interesting stuff so I definitely recommend having a look, and to make things easier I’ll relink them all here in sequential order.

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So I spotted this large skull in the museum’s mammal collection last week and had a closer look to see what it was. It belonged to a leopard seal, Hydrurga leptonyx (a pretty cool scientific name!). But that wasn’t the coolest bit. When I looked down to see by whom and where it had been collected I saw it was retrieved by Douglas Mawson and crew on his expedition to the Antarctic around 100 years ago (1911-1914)!

You would have probably seen documentaries on these guys around the Antarctic slaughtering penguins willy nilly. They’re pretty ferocious seals.

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Someone posted this on r/atheism today and I had to have a laugh. I love these guys! Ever since watching The Gods Must Be Crazy as a kid this animal has fascinated me.

This below video is the predominant reason I think honey badgers are the most bad-ass animals in the world. Honestly fearless!

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This is epic. I had little, well to be honest NO, idea has to how whales slept. I always assumed they were similar in physiological terms to dolphins, which I believe have half their brain (one hemisphere) sleep at a time whilst the other half is awake. However, this photo, and some articles and videos I just looked up, shows a pod of sperm whales in deep sleep whilst floating vertically just under the water surface.

A pod of sleeping sperm whales in the waters of Azores, Portugal.

It seems that scientists only first learned of this, and documented it, back in 2008 in the waters off of northern Chile.

For scientists have filmed whales drifting off to sleep for the first time. 

A pod of six sperm whales was captured on film floating motionlessly and upright just below the surface of the sea off the coast of northern Chile. 

The footage confirmed data evidence from 59 tagged sperm whales around the world that they snatch brief periods of sleep lasting about 12 minutes at a time during their ocean voyages. 

Here is the footage the scientists captured.

“Many mammals show species-typical sleeping behaviour, such as dogs circling before lying down, lending support to the idea that sperm whales sleep during these drift dives.

“One exciting aspect of this finding is that it suggests that they actually might sleep in a fashion that we recognise as similar to sleep in terrestrial mammals. The sperm whale behaviour we describe seems to allow normal-looking quiescent sleep, possibly including REM sleep which has never been clearly observed in any cetacean. “

It also raises the possibility that the sperm whale – the largest toothed whale which can be 60-feet in length and which has the largest brain of all whales – may also be capable of dreaming.

Dr Patrick Miller of the University of St Andrew’s School of Biology’s Sea Mammal Research Unit

This research shows that sperm whales may completely ‘switch off’ for short lengths of time in the wild, effectively having ‘cat naps’ whilst they perform slow rhythmic dives. The research team think this study shows that sperm whales could require less sleep than other wild mammals.

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Here I post for you 8 hours of wonderful evolutionary viewing pleasure! This is a brilliant documentary series called Evolve and comes at the subject of evolution from specific traits of animals, 11 episodes are devoted to a single trait such as the evolution of ‘eyes’. Enjoy!

1. Eyes – Seeing is believing … not to mention evading, eating and surviving! Learn how the eyeball evolved from ancestors of jellyfish who developed light-sensitive cells to the unique adaptations that allowed primates to better exploit their new habitat, while the ability to see colors helped them find food.

2. Sex – Sex is a necessity for most species to survive. As evolution continues, are we approaching a time when sex will no longer be a necessity? How is this possible?

3. Size – How do we measure up? Understand the amazing processes that gave us vertebrates smaller than a thumbnail (a Cuban frog) and longer than a diesel locomotive (a blue whale). But what are the mechanisms of these adaptations, the evolutionary pressures that effect size, and the physical limits life can attain?

4. Skin – Skin is absolutely amazing, far more complex and versatile than we ever give it credit for. It makes up 16% of your body weight, is the largest organ in the human body, allows birds to fly, mammals to nurse their young, and provides a lifelong defense against predators and parasites alike.

5. Flight – In this high-flying episode, unearth the secrets, and the continuing mysteries, of the very first vertebrate flyer, the pterosaur, which escaped its earthly bounds 220 million years ago. This creature eventually evolved into flying Goliaths the size of small planes!

6. Communications – Communication isn’t just the key to a good relationship; it also goes a long way toward ensuring the success of a species. While humans, comfortable at the top of the food chain, have made the most out of this particular evolutionary achievement, organisms everywhere – from dolphins to amoebae – can be found speaking to one another.

7. Guts – It doesn’t just take willpower to survive. It takes guts. Life needs energy to exist and almost all animals get their energy in the same way – with a built in power plant, a digestive system that turns food into fuel. Take a close look at the role guts have played in shaping some of Earth’s most successful animals: dinosaurs, snakes, cows, and us.

8. Venom – The deadliest natural weapon employed in the animal kingdom has independently evolved in creatures as diverse as jellyfish, insects, snakes, and even mammals. Scientists from around the globe show how evolution adapted venom to fit the needs of the animals who wield it.

9. Speed – The ability to react and move can often mean the difference between life and death in the animal kingdom. Some animals have evolved into championship fliers, swimmers, and runners. What are the forces that create this need for speed, and how do animal bodies adapt to go into overdrive?

10. Jaws – Get ready to pry open some of the deadliest jaws on the planet as we expose this fierce and ferocious anatomical weapon. Sharp, menacing and more than an eating apparatus, the jaws of many animals are key to their survival. Go back along the evolutionary line to discover how various jaws developed in the first place.

11. Shape – Every shape in nature, no matter how bizarre it may appear, evolved as a result of the struggle for survival. Today, animals are shaped in so many different ways and most of them have strange bodies, weird looking. But shape is still vital.

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