Cardinalis cardinalis

cardinalucardinalusYou probably know what a cardinal is. You’ve probably seen them a lot and heard them a lot. They are pretty, noisy, territorial, non-migrating, songbirds with thick seed-crackin beaks and bold crests. They look great in the snow in front of a spruce or something.

They live in woodlands, swamps, and yards in the eastern US and down through Mexico. There are four subspecies in the US, one of which, found in the eastern part of the cardinal’s range, is Cardinalis cardinalis cardinalis (!). They are monogamous with both males and females singing and sticking together year round.1

POWERFACT!: Folks have recorded sightings of rare half-male half-female cardinals (gynandromorphs). They look really cool.

References: National Geographic

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Iguana iguana

iguanaiguanaGreen iguanas (Iguana iguana) are large lizards native to southern Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.  You can also find them in some other places like Hawaii, southern Texas, and southern Florida where pets went rogue and now have the title of largest lizards living within the US.1

Iguanas look a bit like horizontal Godzillas and can grow up to 6 1/2 feet in length from tip to tail.  They are mostly green and have long, powerful tails, spiny dorsal crests running the length of their backs, and saggy dewlaps beneath their jaws that they use for temperature control and extend during territorial and courtship displays.  They live most of their lives in the canopy eating leaves and fruit, coming down to the ground to mate and lay eggs.  Sometimes they fall out of trees but it’s usually ok because they can fall about 40 feet and land no problem.2

POWERFACTS!: Unlike most of their fellow lizards who lost it long ago, iguanas have a third eye on top of their heads. This eye can’t make an image but is sensitive to light and can detect movement, a helpful skill for evading raptor predators.1 Also, I’m sure its gotta be a portal into some other dimension or all seeing or something.

Also, if you ever need to, you can turn a feisty iguana immobile for a few minutes just by gently pressing its regular old eyes through its eyelids for 10 seconds.3

In January 2010 a cold front swept through southern Florida resulting in an event that seems super Florida to me.  The cold nights caused the iguanas to go into mini hibernation mode, relaxing their tight little grips on the tree limbs and raining down onto streets and yards and mall parking lots I imagine.  Then day came and they warmed up and could go about their business again.4 This guy from Miami Metrozoo, Ron Magill, said at the time, “I knew of a gentleman who was collecting them off the street and throwing them in the back of his station wagon, and all of a sudden these things are coming alive, crawling on his back and almost caused a wreck.”5  I can respect an animal that can be sort of ridiculous and helpless and terrifying all at the same time.

References: 1. AWD 2. National Geographic 3. iguana hypnosis (Straight dope) 4.Wikepedia 5. iguana freeze (

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Vulpes vulpes

vulpesvulpesPOWERFACT! The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) has the widest geographic distribution of any carnivore.1

The fox is the sort of animal that you start off talking about with a powerfact.

Red foxes are highly adaptable critters.  They live all across the northern hemisphere except in harsh deserts and upper Arctic regions (see close relatives the Kit fox and Arctic fox for Vulpes coverage in those zones).1  Part of their success lies in their ability to be opportunistic regarding behavior and food. Got lots of room in a barren environment? They can be solitary critters occupying large home ranges. Got a lot of resources clumped together? They can hang out in family groups with older offspring sticking around to help raise young.2  Gotta deal with urban dangers and human-imposed challenges? They are the cunning-est.

So when hunters introduced them to Australia in the late 1800s, the foxes were all, yeah, this’ll do, and basically took over, eating native fauna (real bad) and fellow invasive mammal, the rabbit (not so bad) 2.  While trying to get foxes off of farmland is a common farmer move in Australia, if they are successful, it could cost them a lot in crop loss due to the damage that the bunnies would inflict.2  That’s some classic Australia stuff right there.

On top of being generally boss at surviving (except in say Vulpes vulpes vs. Puma concolor) they are the largest of the true foxes and extremely handsome, embodying an almost mystical vibe.1  Japanese culture considers the fox, or kitsune, a magical, shapeshifting animal that can take on human form, often a lovely lady form, with only its tail and maybe a fine layer of golden fur giving its true nature away.3  City dwelling foxes give urbanites a chance to glimpse this magical, steely-eyed predator in the flesh.  And for that we are grateful. If you get to see one some evening going hunting or early morning returning to its den and it makes eye contact with you, you’ll see what we mean.

References: 1.Red fox (Wiki) 2. Mammal Review (Saunders et al. 2010)  3.Kitsune (Wiki)


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Triple double: Coturnix coturnix coturnix and Coturnix coturnix japonica


coturnixcoturnix-1For our third post we thought we’d hit you with a triple.  Common quail (C. coturnix coturnix) and Japanese quail (C. coturnix japonica, sometimes C. japonica) are close relatives in the Pheasant family.  Both are migratory, secretive, cryptic, covy-rollin’, round little birds that live in grasslands. Common quail breed in Europe and Asia migrating to other parts of Asia and Africa for the winter.  Japanese quail breed in Siberia and parts of Asia, flying to southern Japan and China for the winter.

Japanese quail and Common quail seem to be pretty similar when it comes to looks and life histories. Where they overlap they can even interbreed. The fact is Common quail facts are pretty boring. Even Animal Diversity Web repeats its most interesting paragraph twice. And the first Common quail Youtube video we found was just a slideshow of pics with a creepy computer voice reading the Common quail Wikepedia entry straight.

Luckily because Japanese quail are a model system for studying a bunch of behavioral questions you can find some decent and weird powerfacts on them:

POWERFACT PUBLICATION TITLES! featuring Japanese quail:

  • Methamphetamine impairs sexual motivation but not sexual performance in male japanese quail. (Bolin and Akins, 2009)
  • Sexual fetishism in a quail (Coturnix japonica) model system: test of reproductive success. (Cetinkaya and Domjan 2006) 

Japanese quail are popular sex study subjects because they are down to get busy basically anytime.  All males need to start going for it is a taxidermy head of a female with a little bit of neck feathers and a couple of terrycloth covered blocks for a body. If you have a full lady quail body but put a hood on her head, no go. So there’s that.

BONUS POWERFACT! Japanese quail eggs have been hatched on the Mir space station and carried around in Russian and Soviet spacecrafts!

REFERENCES: Animal Diversity WebWikepedia and WikepediaJapanese quail and methJapanese quail and sexual fetishism

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Ajaja ajaja

ajajaajajaThe roseate spoonbill (Ajaja ajaja) is a sometimes tautonym (it goes by Platalea ajaja too).  As far as tautonyms go this is one of the very best.  It’s like they’re laughing en español.  Spoonbills are large colorful wading birds ranging from the coastal southern US to Argentina and into the West Indies. They look like weird flamingos with bald teal-ish heads and red beady eyes and yellow facial skin bordering their long paddle bills. They hang out in groups in marshy areas, heads down, sweeping their bills from side to side along the marsh floor in search of some nice crustaceans or small fish to eat.

They nest along with other wading birds in big colonies in mangroves.  Males and females both take care of the young and are preeeeetty monogamous across a season.  The babies start out fuzzy and whitish with floppy bills that look tough to hold up with their wiggly little necks.

POWERFACT! Spoonbills owe their good looks in part to algae.  They eat crustaceans, which eat algae, which make carotenoids, the compounds that give the spoonbills (and the flamingo) their pink hue.  People liked their feather color so much that they hunted them close to extinction in the late 1800s. Luckily they got protected in the 1940s and are now doing pretty ok. The biggest threat facing spoonbills and other marsh birds is habitat loss due to pollution and coastal development. So let’s keep it clean and cool it on the marsh development!

References: Smithsonian National ZooTexas Parks and WildlifeNational Audubon Society

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Bison bison, wherefore art thou bison?


Waaaay back when before the 19th century you could be hanging out on the wide open plains of North America and see herds of big, stocky, hunch-backed, wooly bison.  Imagine: herds of the largest land mammal in North America so big that you couldn’t see the start or end of ‘em. They’d be chewing on grasses and such, wallering in dirt to keep the pests off, and performing their mating rituals during the rut.  Even though they can weigh in at almost a ton (or 2000 lbs or a small car or two horses) and canreach up to 12 feet long and 6 feet across they are hecka fast reaching speeds of up to 40mph!

In a crummy turn of events in the 19th century settlers decimated the bison population for food and for fun and to destroy the economy of the Plains Indians (a move promoted by the US Government).  They took what was an estimated pre-Columbian population of 60 million bison and knocked it down to less than 1000 by the late 19th century.

Yellowstone NP is the only place in the US where bison have lived since prehistoric times. My personal goal is to find a white buffalo. A very rare and sacred animal.  Of every 10 million bison born about 1 is white (according to the National Bison Association). I need to find one and ask it some important questions.

Gus chasing the buffalo


Although they really aren’t true buffalo, I’ll put this in in honor of Bison bison ….

“Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.”

That right there is a good, solid sentence in good ol’ American English. You may have your complaints about the English language but this is likely not one of them.

References: bison, bison, bison, bison, bison, bison


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