Friday, January 24, 2014

Ant

Ant


Formicidae
Photo: A leaf-cutter ant carrying leaf
One of 10,000 species of ants, this leaf-cutter ant hauls a leaf more than three times its size back to the nest.
Photograph by Roy Toft
Ants are common insects, but they have some unique capabilities. More than 10,000 known ant species occur around the world. They are especially prevalent in tropical forests, where they may be up to half of all the insects living in some locations.
Ants look much like termites, and the two are often confused—especially by nervous homeowners. However, ants have a narrow "waist" between the abdomen and thorax, which termites do not. Ants also have large heads, elbowed antennae, and powerful jaws. These insects belong to the order Hymenoptera, which includes wasps and bees.
Enthusiastically social insects, ants typically live in structured nest communities that may be located underground, in ground-level mounds, or in trees. Carpenter ants nest in wood and can be destructive to buildings. Some species, such as army ants, defy the norm and do not have permanent homes, instead seeking out food for their enormous colonies during periods of migration.
Ant communities are headed by a queen or queens, whose function in life is to lay thousands of eggs that will ensure the survival of the colony. Workers (the ants typically seen by humans) are wingless females that never reproduce, but instead forage for food, care for the queen's offspring, work on the nest, protect the community, and perform many other duties.
Male ants often have only one role—mating with the queen. After they have performed this function, they may die.
Ants communicate and cooperate by using chemicals that can alert others to danger or lead them to a promising food source. They typically eat nectar, seeds, fungus, or insects. However, some species have diets that are more unusual. Army ants may prey on reptiles, birds, or even small mammals.
One Amazon species (Allomerus decemarticulatus) cooperatively builds extensive traps from plant fiber. These traps have many holes and, when an insect steps on one, hundreds of ants inside use the openings to seize it with their jaws.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Pelican

Pelican


Pelecanus
Photo: A brown pelican
A brown pelican
Photograph courtesy Gary M. Stolz/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
There are more than half a dozen species of pelicans, but all of them have the famous throat pouch for which the birds are best known. These large birds use their elastic pouches to catch fish—though different species use it in different ways.
Many pelicans fish by swimming in cooperative groups. They may form a line or a "U" shape and drive fish into shallow water by beating their wings on the surface. When fish congregate in the shallows, the pelicans simply scoop them up. The brown pelican, on the other hand, dives on fish (usually a type of herring called menhaden) from above and snares them in its bill. Pelicans do not store fish in their pouch, but simply use it to catch them and then tip it back to drain out water and swallow the fish immediately. The American white pelican can hold some 3 gallons (11 1/2 liters) of water in its bill. Young pelicans feed by sticking their bills into their parents' throats to retrieve food.
Pelicans are found on many of the world's coastlines and also along lakes and rivers. They are social birds and typically travel in flocks, often strung out in a line. They also breed in groups called colonies, which typically gather on islands.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Cuban Screech Owl

Cuban Screech Owl


Gymnoglaux lawrencii
Photo: Cuban screech owl standing against a rock
The Cuban screech owl is endemic to Cuba, where it is found in wooded areas, often nesting in abandoned woodpecker holes.
Photograph by Steve Winter
The goggle-eyed Cuban screech owl gets its other common name, bare-legged owl, from its featherless lower appendages. While most of the world’s more than 200 owl species wear feathers down to their toes, the Cuban screech owl’s warm tropical habitat appears to have encouraged it to evolve permanent Bermuda shorts.
These nocturnal birds of prey are endemic only to Cuba, and their substantial range covers nearly the entire island. They prefer forest and wooded areas with palm trees, which they bore roosting holes into. They will also frequently occupy abandoned woodpecker holes.
Their feathers are dark brown with white spots on top, and their bellies and bottom wing feathers are grayish-white. They have large brown eyes outlined with dramatic white feathers. The Cuban screech owl is not well studied, and information about its diet is scarce, but, like most owl species, it likely feeds on small mammals, other birds, frogs, and insects.
The bare-legged owl became the Cuban screech owl in 1998, when the American Ornithologists’ Union reclassified it in the genus Otus, which includes scops and screech owls. However, in 2003, the union, citing differences in morphology and vocal patterns, reversed itself, placing the owl in its own genus,Gymnoglaux, and restoring its former name.
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