Wednesday, February 10, 2016

THE QUOLL OF OZ
 This week, let’s take a trip down under and visit the Quoll.


There are four species of Quoll in Australia, and according to the IUCN*, all of them are threatened. The Northern Quoll, pictured above, is the smallest of all the Quolls. It is ‘endangered.’ The Eastern Quoll, the Western Quoll, and the Spotted-Tailed Quoll, also known as the Tiger Quoll, are all ‘near threatened.’

They are very interesting looking creatures. You might say they are a cross between a rat and a cat.

CUTE...


NOT SO CUTE…


The Quoll is actually considered one of the most ferocious critters in Australia and the largest carnivorous marsupial. These small mammals are capable of tearing flesh from its prey and crushing invertebrates.

Although quolls can climb trees, they prefer to stay on the ground.



Light brown with white spots that travel down their backs and tails, the quoll can occasionally be found basking in the sun after a cold spell. Although this solitary animal is considered a carnivore, it will eat fruit and grass. They hunt at night for small mammals and reptiles, as well as tasty insects.  Their pink nose and rounded ears soften their appearance, but don’t be fooled—it's a top predator.

Tiger Quoll (Spotted quoll) photographed in Caversham Wildlife Park, north of Perth, WA

As we’ve said, the Northern Quoll is the smallest of all the quoll species and it is also the most aggressive. It is endangered and the Australians have initiated a program which they feel will help to insure the survival of this species, and save it from local extinction. Threatened by the Cane Toad, which is an introduced species, the Northern Quoll is now being removed from its range. Australian researchers are moving the Northern Quoll from its current environment and placing the species on an island. There it will live without the threat of the poisonous toad. (Next week we’ll discuss introduced species, in particular, the Cane Toad, and its effect on the Australian environment.)

Tiger Quoll


This video will give you more information on those researchers who are working to save the Northern Quoll.



This video discusses the tiger quoll.


Habitat loss and predation by introduced species are major threats to quolls. Hopefully, the programs that have been put in place by the Australians will ensure the survival of this unusual marsupial.

The Quoll happens to be one of my favorite Australian animals. They feature prominently in my books, not just because of their unusual appearance, but it gives me the ability to introduce this unusual mammal to my readers. We can do something to save many endangered animals, but we must have the information and education in order to do so. Reading a great story can be educational as well as entertaining. 

*IUCN: International Union for Conservation of Nature

For more information about quolls, visit the following sites:





Thank you for stopping by. I do hope you have learned something new and that you will be inspired to learn more.

Enjoy!

Jeanne E. Rogers, Award Winning Author
The Sword of Demelza and The Gift of Sunderland
Middle-Grade Fantasy Where Endangered Animal Heroes Roam the Pages!









Wednesday, February 3, 2016

JUMPING JEHOSAPHAT! IT’S A RAT!

We can all relax. I’ve been told that it can only jump about three feet in the air. Wait a minute—any rat that’s jumping three feet up is a bit creepy, don’t you think? And if that’s not enough, he’s considered a giant rat. Our guest this week is confined to the island of Madagascar, so I don’t think we have a lot to worry about.


Meet the Malagasy Giant Jumping rat.


I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it looks like a rabbit, and you’re right. This unusual rodent also has powerful hind legs like a rabbit, which allow it to jump.  Its back feet are larger than its front, similar to a kangaroo. Thankfully, it rarely uses its ability to jump except in cases where it is escaping a predator.

The Malagasy Giant Jumping Rat is the largest rodent on the island of Madagascar. It has short brown fur and its feet and underside are white. Its long tail is covered with dark stiff hair, and the tail helps the rat to balance, much in the same way that a kangaroo uses its tail.

Photo credit: tumblr.com

The Malagasy Giant Jumping Rat is primarily herbivorous. It goes out at dusk to feed on fallen fruit, seeds and leaves. It also digs for roots and tubers. During the day, the rat remains in its burrow. The entrance to the burrow is covered with debris to protect the rats from predators.

This unusual rat is monogamous, and since it only produces one or two offspring in a year, the rate at which the population increases is slow. It is vulnerable to habitat loss, and predation by dogs, which were introduced to the island. This rat is therefore considered endangered by the IUCN*.




There are two communities of rats, which have been separated by a village. As a result, the northern population has suffered and is in swift decline. The southern population is somewhat protected within the confines of the Kirindy Forest. However, according to edgeofexistence.org, those ‘populations are expected to continue to decline over the next 100 years even if further habitat decline and mortality by roaming dogs can be stopped.’

As with many other species we have discussed, this rodent is part of a bigger ecosystem. The Malagasy Giant Jumping Rat is an important food source for the Fossa, which is indigenous to Madagascar. The Fossa is the largest carnivore on Madagascar and its existence is vulnerable. The decline or extinction of one animal has a profound effect on the entire system. The Fossa is a keystone species, and therefore plays an important role in the ecosystem on Madagascar. Everything’s connected. We’ve said this many times before, but it doesn’t hurt to keep saying it, and to recognize how we are effecting our environment and therefore ourselves.

The Fossa - largest carnivore on Madagascar

Overpopulation of humans and deforestation and destruction of habitats are still the major cause of population decline for many animals. The Malagasy Giant Jumping Rat is one more animal that is threatened by human encroachment.

My thanks to ARKive for some of the pictures and information used in this post.

If you would like to learn more about the Malagasy Giant Jumping Rat, visit the following sites:






Stop by again next week for a look at another unusual animal.

Enjoy!

Jeanne E. Rogers, Award Winning Author
The Sword of Demelza and The Gift of Sunderland
Middle-Grade Fantasy Where Endangered Animal Heroes Roam the Pages!











Wednesday, January 27, 2016

TO HELL AND BACK – IN A SLIMY SORT OF WAY

This week we leave the world of mammals, birds and other cute and cuddly creatures, and enter the creepy and somewhat slippery world of amphibians. We will also stay close to home (Northeastern U.S.), with an amphibian that has an unusual name and is considered endangered by the U.S. Government. It wasn’t until 2005, that a decline in the populations of this extraordinary amphibian was noticed. 


Meet the Hellbender!


There are two varieties of Hellbender, the Eastern Hellbender and the Ozark Hellbender. The Ozark variety has been labeled as endangered and the Eastern Hellbender is considered a species of concern. Hellbenders range from New York State into Arkansas. They live in clear and cold, swiftly running streams, and are judged to be a barometer for the health of a stream’s ecosystem.


They can grow to a length of twenty-four inches long and are the largest salamander in North America. The largest salamander in the world is the Chinese salamander, which is critically endangered (see below image).

When I was younger, I loved walking through the woods, turning over rocks alongside a stream looking for salamanders. The ones I saw were never more than a couple of inches long. I’m sure I would have been shocked if I found this creature. My search would have stopped then and there. The Hellbender looks similar to a rock and has ‘fins’ running along its sides. Those fins increase its body surface. The increased body surface is the Hellbender’s way of drawing in oxygen. That’s really important because the Hellbender breathes through its skin.




The tiger salamander, pictured on the extreme left in the below image, is a sample of the type of salamander that I used to pick up on my way home from school. It was a far cry from the appearance and size of the Hellbender, which is pictured in the middle.

Image credit: National Geographic

Salamanders, generally speaking, are very dependent on a clean ecosystem. This is why they are in danger. The polluting of habitats in which the Hellbender can survive is a cause for concern not just for the salamanders, but also for humans. Again, we find that we have created a problem, not just for life around us, but also for ourselves. Pollution is everyone’s problem, especially polluted water systems.  

“’Imagine if you're in a river, and you're dragging your lungs around behind you—things are not going to go well if that river is polluted or muddy or murky,’ said Kim a conservation biologist with the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., who studies hellbender immune systems.”(National Geographic)

Photo credit: Rebecca Jacobson

Continued surveys and monitoring of existing populations will be necessary to ensure the survival of this species of salamander. Education is important as well. Fishermen need to understand that this amphibian in no threat to other fish, and are not poisonous as some may have thought them to be.


To learn more about the Hellbender, visit any one or all of the following sites:






Also, the following two videos, produced by Virginia Tech, show the Hellbender in its own environment and contain a great deal of interesting information.




The Hellbender thanks you for stopping by. Do stop by again next week for a look at another very unusual animal.
Enjoy!

Jeanne E. Rogers
Award Winning Middle-Grade Fantasy
Where Endangered Animal Heroes Roam the Pages!





Tuesday, January 19, 2016

LIFE'S A BEACH


When we’re on a beach we don’t think about much except lounging in the sun, listening to the waves crashing against the shore, or perhaps the drink with the little umbrella that we're holding in our hand. The importance of the ecosystem surrounding you may not be on your mind, but this week we’re going to talk about the importance of a little creature that is a part of a beach ecosystem. Ecosystems are everywhere, including the beach.

Before I introduce this week’s special guest, let’s just go over what an ecosystem is. An ecosystem is a biological community of organisms that interact with each other and the environment in which they live. These organisms are important to human life as well. Any particular system may provide people with clean water, air, food, and fuel. Disturbing an ecosystem, or a keystone species occupying an ecosystem, can be disastrous for all life forms within and around the system. 



We have defined keystone species in previous blog posts, but let’s recap. A keystone species is a species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend. If a keystone species is removed from an ecosystem, the system would drastically change.

Although this week’s guest is not considered a keystone species of its ecosystem, it is nevertheless important within its ecosystem as a food source for owls and snakes. Also, the mouse is an integral part of a thriving dune ecosystem. The mice collect and distribute seeds that help to maintain the dune system. The plants from those seeds grow and are important in stabilizing the dunes. 

So now let's meet the adorable St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse. 



Photo credit: Joel Sartore

The St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse is one of seven subspecies of mice, which make their home along the beaches in Florida and Alabama (Alabama Beach Mouse). Our friend the St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse lives on a twenty-mile stretch of beach on the Florida panhandle. It can grow to a length of 5.5 inches, with a tail of approximately 2 inches. 

Photo credit: USFWS (http://www.fws.gov/southeast/news/2011/11-001.html)

The coloring of beach mice will match the color of their surroundings. These nocturnal mice have large ears and eyes. They live in the dunes along the beach, and are always very busy digging burrows, and eating seeds, and insects. Unlike their cousins, the field mice, they do not seek out human buildings to dwell in. They prefer surf and sand. 

Unfortunately, both the St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse, and the Alabama Beach Mouse are considered endangered. 

Photo credit: USFWS (http://www.fws.gov/southeast/news/2011/11-001.html)

The St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse was declared endangered in 1998 under the U.S. Federal Endangered Species act of 1973. The main threat is both human encroachment and natural occurrences. Continued human coastal development for residential and commercial purposes is taking its toll. However, erosion from natural disasters, such as hurricanes, is also adding to the problem. 


Photo credit: Florida State Park Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has a recovery plan in place for the St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse. The plan includes the following; “restoring dune systems on public lands, investigating and possibly controlling non-native predators, and working with partners to evaluate dune crossovers” (U.S. Fish and Wildlife). To read the plan, click here: http://ecos.fws.gov/docs/recovery_plan/20110104_SABM_recov_plan_FINAL.pdf

Dune Crossover

Let’s hope that the recovery plan will work and that this little U.S. native mouse will continue to inhabit the dunes along the Gulf Coast.

To read more about the St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse, or The Alabama Beach Mouse, visit any or all of the following sites:




To read more about the importance of keystone species, visit the following web page:

Thank you for taking the time to visit, and read this week’s blog. I hope you will return next week.

Enjoy!
Jeanne E. Rogers, Award Winning Author
The Sword of Demelza and The Gift of Sunderland
Middle-Grade Fantasy Where Endangered Animal Heroes Roam the Pages!