These archetypal creatures of the night feed on blood. To find prey in the dark, they listen out for the characteristic breathing of a sleeping animal. They then use unusual heat sensors on their nose to find prime flesh into which to sink their fangs. These thin, pointy incisors lend the bats their name, and are so sharp that the victim seldom notices the bite.
The North American Cottontail Rabbits (genus Sylvilagus)
We have seven species; the most widespread are the Eastern Cottontail (S. floridanus) in the east, and the Desert Cottontail (S. audubonii; shown here) in the west.
Most cottontails have the fluffy white underside to their short tail that gives the group its name; this is flashed as the rabbit flees danger, much as a White-tailed Deer does. Cottontails are primarily active in the early morning and evening hours - the gaps in the day when neither of their aerial predators, hawks and owls, are at peak activity.
Most rabbits are coprophagic, meaning they eat their own feces. The cell walls of plants are tough and are broken down by specialized bacteria in a pouch called the cecum; because the cecum is at the end of the small intestine, halfway through the digestive tract, re-ingesting feces allows the rabbits to gain those nutrients that were protected by the cell walls the first time through. (Partially-digested and fully-digested food produces different types of pellets, so the rabbits know which still have nutritive value.)
(Nature category) - Forced to find new river crossing points in the Serengeti-Mara region of Eastern Africa, the wildebeest descend into individual despair and collective chaos. Fast currents and steep banks all but deny escape onto the tree-covered banks. New arrivals try unsuccessfully to scramble over the lead group that cannot climb quickly enough onto the available dry ground. Such scenes may become more common as the Great Migration faces more variable climate and narrower corridors from changing land-use.
Humans may have domesticated dogs from a possibly extinct population of gray wolves in Europe some 18,000 years ago. But how did they do it?
A new study in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that part of the answer lies in wolves’ innate social skills. To find out if wolves, like dogs, can learn by watching humans, the scientists tested 11 hand-raised North American gray wolf pups and 14 mixed breed dog puppies between the ages of 5 and 7 months old. All the animals were born in captivity and hand-raised in packs at the Wolf Science Center in Game Park Ernstbrunn, Austria.
Like the dog pups, the young wolves were most likely to find a hidden treat in a meadow if they first watched a human or specially trained dog hide it. Indeed, they were paying such close attention that they rarely bothered to search for the food if the person only pretended to hide it. Intriguingly, the wolves were less likely to search for food left by the dog demonstrators — but not because they weren’t watching…
This “cascade red fox" (Vulpes v. cascadensis) was spotted over the weekend at Mount Rainier National Park, in Washington state, USA, sporting a unique coat. The mixed charcoal and reddish coloration is typical of the red fox population in the park.
This rare antelope (Nyala angasii) has a highly restricted global range, being found only in the high mountain forested grasslands of Ethiopia at 2000-4000m. They were the last of the great antelope species to be described new to science in 1910, and the global population (listed as endangered by IUCN) is probably fewer than 2500 mature individuals. They spent a lot of time shading under trees in the heat of the day, but are more active mornings and evenings. They were also incredibly variable in colouration and pattern. I thought that this was a particularly beautifully marked individual.
I <3 you, Macrauchenia, you weird proboscis-llama*, you.
(*It’s not actually a llama; llamas are artiodactyls (were, now extinct) and are related to camels, whereas Macrauchenia was a Litoptern, its own weird Tertiary-Quaternary South American order of ungulates.)
On March 20, 1927 Wilfred H. Osgood discovered an unusual rodent in a trap he had set in a clear mountain stream near the source of the Little Abbai River in north western Ethiopia. It showed several morphological adaptations for aquatic life which were reminiscent of water rats known from South America, but nothing like this had ever been reported from Africa.
If that little rat had not found its way into Osgood’s trap on that particular day, we probably would have never known that the Ethiopian Amphibious Rat, Nilopegamys plumbeus, existed. Although people have been looking for it, it has never been seen again. The little stream where it was first collected is now surrounded by pure pastureland, and it is feared that this species may be extinct.