Turtle Frog

B. Maryan

Photo Credit: B. Maryan

The Turtle Frog is a unique amphibian that lives in the arid southwest of Australia. Immediately, the appearance of this small (approximately two inch long) frog sets it apart. The Turtle Frog’s head is distinct from the body, which is uncommon among frogs. The eyes are small, and the back is slightly domed. Rather than being under the body, the Turtle Frog’s legs extend out to the sides. All of these factors together give the Turtle Frog the appearance of, yes, a turtle!

However, there is much more to set the Turtle Frog apart than just an unusual appearance.

These desert amphibians use their powerful legs to burrow forward through sandy soil, unlike most other frogs that use strong back legs to burrow backward. These powerful limbs also allow the Turtle Frog to invade termite mounds, where it may eat as many as 400 termites at once.

The Turtle Frog spends most of its time beneath rocks, logs, or underground. After summer rains, the male frog emerges to find a mate. He will call to attract a female, and, once a mate is chosen, the pair will dig a burrow together, which may be up to four feet deep. Unusual in the solitary world of frogs, the pair will live together in this burrow for the next several months, after which time, mating occurs.

The female Turtle Frog will lay up to 50 of what are some of the largest eggs found among Australian frogs. These eggs, remarkably, do not require standing water to develop and hatch. In fact, when the eggs hatch, a fully formed, albeit miniature, Turtle Frog emerges, skipping the tadpole stage entirely.

Although undeniably specialized and unique, the Turtle Frog is not endangered, and the population remains at low risk. With a wide distribution over an area with little human habitation, the Turtle Frog should be around for a long time to come.


Photo Credit: American Bird Conservancy

Photo Credit: American Bird Conservancy

The I’iwi is a striking red and black bird of the Honeycreeper family, found only in Hawaii. Once widespread over all of the islands, this bird has been forced to retreat into the safe haven of high elevation wet forests, where disease-carrying mosquitoes, which decimated much of the population, cannot reach them.

It is only the adult I’iwi that displays the distinctive red and black plumage, juveniles of the species are a mottled green color. At one point, this difference in coloration led naturalists to believe that juvenile I’iwis were of a different species entirely. Coloration is not the only thing that develops with age; when an I’iwi hatches, his bill is short, straight and dull brown, rather than long, curved and salmon.

The beak of the I’iwi is a special adaptation which allows them to feed from the Hawaiian Lobeliod flowers. The perfect fit between beak and flower can be seen in this video. Because there has been a decline in lobeliods in Hawaii, the I’iwi now feeds primarily on O’hia, and it is believed that the large, down-curved beak, no longer useful in obtaining food, is experiencing an evolutionary change, and shrinking over generations. The I’iwi also has a long tongue with a brush-like tip, which assists in collecting nectar. Not confined to flowers alone, I’iwis supplement their diets with various insects.

Following the flowering of the O’hia, I’iwis will migrate long distances both within and between Hawaiian islands. They breed during the peak flowering season, and the female will incubate two to three eggs in a small cup shaped nest. After the young fledge, the family leaves their breeding territory, occasionally forming small flocks elsewhere, which may include other bird species.

The I’iwi can mimic other birds, but is best known for its short, shrill, “I’iwi” call. Their songs are unique, and have been described as the “rubbing of balloons together,” or the “squeaking of a rusty hinge.” When flying, their wings produce a whirring sound, and they are capable of hovering, similar to the familiar hummingbird.


Photo Credit: Foto Martien

Photo Credit: Foto Martien

The Binturong, or “Bearcat,” lives and sleeps in the jungle canopies of southeastern Asia. They can weigh anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds, the females being heavier than males, making them the largest member of the Viverridae family. They wear a thick coat of coarse fur, which can vary widely in color, but always displays characteristic light ticking. The Binturong’s heavily muscled tail is nearly equal to the length of the body, and their small round ears are decorated with bushy tufts.

The Binturong is known to be active both nocturnally and diurnally. Though they are classified as carnivores, their diet is widely varied, and they have been known to dine on many different fruits, as well as small rodents, eggs, insects, leaves, birds, carrion, and even fish, which the Binturong is capable of swimming and diving to catch. Strangler Figs, a large part of the Binturong diet, depend on these animals for their survival, the seeds can only germinate after they have passed through a Binturong digestive tract.

Though solitary, the Binturong is not particularly territorial, and their home ranges often overlap. On occasion, small family groups may form. Individuals communicate with one another through both vocalization and scent. Binturongs snarl, howl, hiss, grunt, snuffle, wail and chuckle. Females will let males know they are ready to mate with a purring sound. Though they have a large vocabulary, Binturongs communicate mainly through scent. As they travel through their territory, individuals will use scent glands on either side of their anus to mark tree branches. The smell from these glands is said to strongly resemble hot buttered popcorn! These scent marks allow other Binturongs to know who has been where and how they are doing.

Only one of two carnivores with a prehensile tail, the Binturong is adapted for an arboreal life, moving slowly and steadily through the canopy. Their hind legs can be rotated, allowing their claws to grip equally well whether they are headed up or down a tree. Because they are large and heavy, the Binturong is frequently sighted on the ground traveling from tree to tree, rather than making long leaps between branches. Despite what may be considered an ungainly appearance, the Binturong is quite graceful in its natural environment, and their surprising acrobatics can be seen in this video.

Lesser Mouse Deer

Photo Credit: DS World's Lands

Photo Credit: DS World’s Lands

The Lesser Mouse-Deer, also commonly referred to as the Kanchil, is the smallest hoofed mammal in the world, weighing in at just under 4.5 pounds, and standing 12 inches at the shoulders. Found throughout tropical forests in southeast Asia, the Lesser Mouse Deer is a shy and elusive animal, and little is known of its behavior.

The Lesser Mouse Deer is a ruminant, meaning that they have multiple stomachs and regurgitate their food, chew it, and then swallow it again as part of the digestive process. Other ruminants include cattle and the Whitetail Deer with which most of us are familiar. However, unlike most ruminants, which have four stomachs, the Lesser Mouse Deer only has three stomachs. This primitive trait, among others, has led scientists to believe that the Lesser Mouse Deer and their cousins are an evolutionary link between ruminants and non-ruminant species.

Neither the males nor the females grow antlers, though the males develop sharp, elongated canines that protrude from the mouth. These teeth are used in disputes over territory or mates.

The Lesser Mouse Deer is primarily an early morning and late evening forager that has also been observed to be active during the day. These animals are herbivores, eating plant materials, although Lesser Mouse Deer in captivity have been known to eat insects. The Lesser Mouse Deer typically travel in small family groups. These delicate animals balance on extremely slender legs, which end in a split hoof. When fearful or agitated, the Lesser Mouse Deer will rapidly beat their hooves on the ground, producing a drumming sound that alerts others to danger. The typically wary, observant nature of the Lesser Mouse Deer can be observed in this video.

Silky Anteater

Photo Credit: Dee Anderson

Photo Credit: Dee Anderson

The Silky Anteater, also commonly known as the Pygmy Anteater, is the smallest of the four anteater species at a maximum of 9 inches long and 17 ounces in weight. This diminutive anteater is found throughout Central and northern South America living in the lower canopy of tropical rain forests, rarely descending to the ground. In particular, the Silky Anteater is found in the Ceiba (Silk-Cotton) tree, where its cream-colored fur provides excellent camouflage against the clusters of silky fibers that this tree produces.

The Silky Anteater uses its prehensile tail and a specialized joint in the hind feet to move through the treetops with ease, foraging at night for ants and termites. A long tongue covered in spines and a special, sticky saliva, along with two long, curved front claws for ripping into nests, assist the anteater in consuming as many as 8,000 ants in a single night. If ants are unavailable, the Silky Anteater will eat other insects and, on occasion, fruit. Due to so little of their time being spent on the forest floor, the main source of water for the Silky Anteater is the dew or rain that they lick from leaves.

Both the mother and the father Silky Anteater assist in caring for a single offspring, feeding it regurgitated insects until it is able to forage on its own, and the father may occasionally carry the baby on his back. Outside of breeding season or rearing young, the Silky Anteater is typically solitary, sometimes living in mother-offspring pairs.

Highly adapted for a life in the trees, the Silky Anteater’s large front claws make walking on the ground difficult. If forced to make forays onto the forest floor, the Silky Anteater will turn its claws inward, walking on the sides of its front feet.

If it feels threatened, the Silky Anteater will grasp a branch with its tail and hind limbs, rise into a standing posture, and hold its front limbs before its face. From this position, the Silky Anteater will “box,” punching powerfully with its heavy claws. This defensive behavior can be observed in this video.

Maned Wolf

Photo Credit: Sean Crane Photography

Photo Credit: Sean Crane Photography

The Maned Wolf is very rare in the wild, found throughout central South America, where it frequents tall grasslands such as the Brazilian Savanna. The Maned Wolf is actually not a wolf at all, but the sole member of the genus Chrysocyon. Because it is so unlike other canines, many scientists believe that the Maned Wolf is the last surviving large South American canid after a late Pleistocene extinction.

This canine, the largest in South America, stands up to 2.5 feet at the shoulders. The long, stilt-like legs are believed to be an adaptation which helps them see over the tall grasses of their preferred habitat.

The “mane” in Maned Wolf comes from a strip of long, dark fur that runs from the back of the wolf’s head to end between the shoulders. This mane is raised if the animal is threatened or aggressive, much as the domestic dog will raise its hackles.

The Maned Wolf is omnivorous, eating small mammals and invertebrates, as well as plant matter. This animal frequently dines on the lobeira fruit, lobiera meaning “wolf’s plant” in Portuguese. This fruit can compose a significant portion of the wolf’s diet, and is believed to help protect them from the giant kidney worm.

The Maned Wolf is primarily nocturnal, hunting and foraging during the night, with peaks of activity in the dawn and dusk. Unlike many other canines, the Maned Wolf is primarily solitary. A single, monogamous mated pair will share a territory of 15 to 30 square miles, but only associate with one another during the breeding season.

The Maned Wolf has a unique vocalization called a “roar-bark,” which does indeed sound like something between a roar and a bark. This deep, guttural call helps the Maned Wolf communicate over long distances, and can be heard in this video.

Lowland Streaked Tenrec


Photo Credit: bugbog.com

The Lowland Streaked Tenrec lives only in eastern Madagascar, where it is found in the forest near bodies of water. This extraordinary little mammal is an insectivore, which means that it only eats insects, and this tenrec dines primarily on earthworms. Its body is covered with a mixture of fur and quills, some of which are barbed and detachable. When threatened, the tenrec will raise the quills around its neck and lunge toward a predator, causing the quills to lodge into flesh and detach. This small creature only weighs 7.5 ounces at most, and is approximately 6 inches long at adulthood, including the tail.

The Lowland Streaked Tenrec lives in underground burrows in family groups, which is a unique social behavior among tenrecs. Burrows may hold up to 20 individuals, and are disguised with detritus that the tenrecs use to cover burrow entrances and exits. A “toilet” site is located outside of the burrow. Family members forage together both during the day and night, searching the leaf litter for insects with their sensitive, pointed snouts.

The Streaked Tenrec has developed a novel method of communication which no other mammal uses; stridulation. Stridulation is the rubbing together of certain body parts to produce sound, and the Streaked Tenrec achieves this end with its quills. The tenrec vibrates specialized, permanent quills on its back to produce an insect-like chirping noise that is used to communicate with family members, primarily while foraging. These noises are undetectable to the human ear, but, using a device that converts bat ultrasounds into audible frequencies, BBC managed to capture and film the stridulation of the Streaked Tenrec. This video clip is the first and only recording of tenrecs communicating with their quills.