Madagascar is home to an abundance of beautiful and unusual animals many of whom are unique to Madagascar because of its relative isolation. This is not just any isolation, Madagascar was once a part of the supercontinent Pangea but between 160–117 million years ago, it began separating, rifting southward over 1000 km away from the Africa plate. The Middle Jurassic is one of the key periods in the evolution of life on earth. Many groups, including dinosaurs and mammals, diversified during this time. The Opluridae, or Madagascan iguanas, are a family of moderately sized lizards native to Madagascar and Grande Comore islands. There are eight species in two genera, with most of the species being in Oplurus. The family includes species that live amongst rocks, some that live in trees, and two that prefer sandy habitats. All of the species lay eggs, and have teeth that resemble those of the true iguanas. A study of mitochondrial DNA sequences has dated the split between Opluridae and the New World Iguanidae (within which Opluridae are sometimes classified as the subfamily Oplurinae) at about 165 million years ago, during the Middle Jurassic.
Last year I visited Madagascar and got to see some amazing chameleons. In the reptile world, there are some bizarre shapes and colors, but some of the most striking variations are found in the chameleons. These colorful lizards are known for their ability to change their color; their long, sticky tongue; and their eyes, which can be moved independently of each other. How chameleons change color is a fascinating and complicated process. First of all, they don’t really change color to match their surroundings, and they cannot change to any and all colors. For example, if a chameleon is sitting on a red-and-white polka dot tablecloth, it will not turn red and develop round, white spots. Chameleons don’t look at what they’re sitting on and deliberately decide to match it. Instead, each chameleon species has a group of patterns and colors that it is able to display. Blending seamlessly into one’s surroundings is known as being “chameleon-like” for a good reason, chameleons shift the colors and patterns of their skin to hide from predators in plain sight, or to communicate during social interactions with other chameleons. But there’s a secret, illuminated layer to chameleons’ colorful signaling: Scientists recently discovered that the lizards’ bones, particularly on their heads and faces, fluoresce through their skin, creating glow-in-the-dark patterns.
In the great river civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley and China, pastoralists preceded the true neolithic settlers. The initial domesticated animals included cattle from wild Auroch, sheep and goats from their wild equivalents. Pigs and Fowl followed later and have an intertwined history. As time progressed, irrigation along rivers allowed large scale farming and the establishment of permanent communities. With the advent of these communities came inevitable population increases and increased pressures concerning the utilization of available resources. Fortunately, at first there was plenty for all but climate changes around 2500 BCE contracted the availability of arable land and led to conflict. This whole narrative is nicely summarized in the “Tragedy of the Commons”, an economic theory proposed by William Forster Lloyd in 1833 that is still relevant today. I suggest you read it but for now let us continue with the history of the chicken, a mobile source of protein more suited to mixed farming, unmatched in both the ancient and modern world.
Observing Monkeys with their young is a fascinating experience. We get to see how similar many of their ways with the young are compared to those of humans. They bond with their young and keep them very close. They nurture them and care for them. Monkeys are primates with many emotions too. They are able to show grief, anger, happiness, and more. That could all be part of the evolution process that all primates have gone through. Humans and monkeys are both primates. But humans are not descended from monkeys or any other primate living today. We do share a common ape ancestor with chimpanzees. It lived between 8 and 6 million years ago. But humans and chimpanzees evolved differently from that same ancestor. All apes and monkeys share a more distant relative, which lived about 25 million years ago.
Since I had a fair amount of time on my hands when I was in Africa, I came to sort of an informal classification of the antelope based on their appearance and behavior, with no scientific basis whatsoever, and since this is my post, I thought I would share. The Impala are the beautiful children of the savanna, they leap, they congregate and they run. The tiny Steenbuck with their giant eyes are, of course, the infants. The elegant Kudu are the parents, bigger, slower but also responsible and watchful. The Lechwe and Tsessebe are the rumpled uncles and aunts, not seen as often but also watchful. In particular the Tsessebe are like the clueless uncle everyone seems to have had. The Wildebeests are the rumpled grandparents, they always look like they are having a bad day. All of these are “ungulates”, plant eating animals with hooves. Ungulates are members of a diverse group of large mammals that includes odd-toed ungulates such as horses and rhinoceroses, and even-toed ungulates such as cattle, pigs, giraffes, camels, deer, and antelope. Most ungulates walk on the tips of their toes, actually their toenails or hooves.
I got a new Sony camera about a month ago and decided to visit Sierra Vista Arizona to try it out on the beautiful birds that I have heard about. Southeastern Arizona is an eco-crossroad with five life zones within five miles. Habitats and species from the Sierra Madres of Mexico, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sonora and Chihuahuan deserts can all be found in these “Sky Islands.” The bird watching and wildlife viewing areas are world-renowned. The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area has nearly 40 miles of riparian/riverbank vegetation and this 56,000-acre area is teeming with plant and animal life. The San Pedro River’s cottonwood-shaded corridor provides critical stopover habitat for millions of migrating birds each year. It is one of only two major rivers that flow north out of Mexico into the United States and is one of the last large undammed rivers in the Southwest. The San Pedro River basin is home to 84 species of mammals, 14 species of fish and 41 species of reptiles and amphibians. It has been said that over half of all the breeding species of birds can be seen in this area.
I have decided to share some of the technical details of my photography hobby in the hope that they will be helpful to others as similar posts have been helpful to me. My standard disclaimer applies, I have no affiliation with any company or product, these are simply my thoughts and solutions. Since I have a travel website the majority of my photography occurs while traveling. This means that I need a reliable way to back up my photos and to cull and tag these same photos. Since size and weight are paramount issues and because I am committed to the Apple platform with iPhone, iPad and iMac, I began by trying to accomplish my goal with the iPad. This was mostly a failure since direct imports overwhelmed the iPad memory and external hard drives with or without a built-in card readers were finicky and did not solve the problem of duplicate images. Additionally tagging, culling and renaming the images was virtually impossible, not to mention the problems at home importing the images into my Lightroom catalog. Thus when Apple introduced the updated MacBook last year I took the plunge and bought one.
Madagascar is home to huge variety of insects, the majority of which are endemic (found only in Madagascar) and unique given the island’s remote location. Thousands of species are present in some groups such as the beetles and moths. There are approximately 100,000 species of insects and counting in Madagascar. Famous and bizarre at the same time is the giraffe necked weevil.The males of this species have red wings and have a long, giraffe-like, black neck. The females’ neck is shorter, but still extraordinary long. If you take a closer look, you can discover perfectly camouflaged stick insects in bushes and branches, who mimic thin branches with their bodies. Some species like the pink winged Sipyloidea sipylus spray a harmless defensive secretion if touched. You can also find different species of praying mantis, which capture skilfully smaller insects with their arms, everywhere in Madagascar.
I thought I would write a little about the smaller animals in Botswana who are often overlooked with regards to the more popular lions, elephants and giraffes. As gardeners, we tend to think of squirrels as pests. They dig up freshly planted seeds, dig holes in lawns, drop the scales of pine cones everywhere, and they often get to green tomatoes and fruit before it is picked. Yet squirrels are important to the well being of forests. The caching behaviour of seeds by squirrels is very important for the renewal of many tree species, particularly plants that produce heavy seeds that have few chances to sprout when they fall near the parent plant. Conservationists have long regarded mongooses as an enemy to native wildlife and ecosystems when introduced to islands without natural predators. In its natural habitat, southern Eurasia and mainland Africa, they are a natural part of the food chain, eaten by jackals, wild dogs and hawks. The mongoose is carnivorous, consuming mostly insects, but also other small mammals, lizards, snakes and eggs of all kinds. Also, like squirrels, they will supplement occasionally with berries and seeds.