What Does the Fox Really Say?

A few years ago, the Norwegian duo Ylvis used a combination of techno and electronic dance music to produce a viral video about what a fox sounds like. Now their hit was obviously written in jest, but what does a fox actually sound like? What about a moose? What bird is commonly used for jungle sounds in movies? What creature can mimic car alarms? This blog will examine some interesting sounds in nature, while providing some fascinating facts and stories along the way.

Red fox in snow, side profile  Red fox cubs at den entrance

You may be familiar with the fact that foxes are Canids and are related to dogs. For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to focus on the Red Fox, which is commonly found in North America, Eurasia, Australia, and even portions of northern Africa. Red Foxes are  not picky eaters, and will consume rabbits, hares, small mammals, birds, eggs, grubs, fruit, carrion, and even trash! They adapt fairly well to a variety of environments and utilize dens for sleeping and raising young. Their bushy tails are capable of sensing underground movements through specialized hair sensors located near the tip. Okay, I made that up. So what does the fox say? Red Foxes can make some high-pitched barking noises and squeals. During the mating season, a fox may produce some unearthly screams to communicate with a partner. Males are called dogs and females are called vixens. Check out the clip below to hear some fox sounds!

Red fox carrying brown trout prey

Foxes sometimes go fishing.

Most moose calls sound similar to cow calls, with some deep bellowing and grunting. Moose are often found in forests close to water and enjoy munching on plants and twigs. Moose are the largest living species of deer, with males capable of growing up close to 7 feet high (not counting the antlers) and weighing over 1400 pounds! Apparently moose are often called “elk” in parts of Europe and Asia, which makes me wonder what name people use for elk. Anyway, do you know what my favorite moose is? White Chocolate Moose.

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If you’ve ever watched a movie that was set in the jungle, you’ve probably heard the call of the Laughing Kookaburra. Kookaburra are members of the esteemed Kingfisher family and are native to Australia, living primarily in eucalyptus forests. They have a loud, powerful call that has been described as sounding like human laughter, hence their name. The calls are used for territorial purposes and are often used near dusk and dawn, earning kookaburras the nickname “Bushman’s Clock”. Unlike some of their relatives, kookaburras do not usually eat fish, preferring to feast on small birds, mice, reptiles, and invertebrates.

Laughing kookaburra with prey in beak

Laughing kookaburra family group

There is a lot of laughter when the family gets together.

Finally we come to the Superb Lyrebird. I’m not sure if this bird can mimic a lyre, but it is capable of some astonishing imitations, including chainsaws and car alarms! Native to eastern Australia, lyrebirds are quite large for songbirds, with males capable of growing to lengths of over 3 feet. Males have large tails with fancy feathers and plumes that are used in courtship displays. Superb Lyrebirds generally eat invertebrates and are often found in eucalyptus forests, much like kookaburras! Some researchers believe that the size of a male’s vocabulary may indicate fitness and impact his attractiveness to females. Check out the cool video below to watch and listen as a male lyrebird performs his imitations! You’ll also get to hear kookaburra calls!

This is just a small taste of the wonderful symphonies found in nature. Hopefully you’ve learned something and don’t have that catchy song about foxes stuck in your head. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to attract some attention by mimicking a chain saw.

Superb lyrebird

I Conquered My Nemesis

In a recent post, I wrote about my nemesis; a crafty bird with a dark mask that had eluded me at every turn for over 3 years. There had been a couple of occasions where I heard a Black-throated Blue Warbler singing, but I was unable to catch even a glimpse of him. There were whispers, legends really, that these warblers could be found at certain sites, but my pursuits proved unfruitful. Last week, I stumbled upon some recent records that indicated my nemesis was holed up with a number of his relatives along a trail in the Great Smoky Mountains. Along with my father, I set off in the morning to find my nemesis under the guise of a nice hike in the woods. 

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Shortly after we began hiking the trail, I heard was I was eagerly listening for; the buzzy “Beer beer bee!” of a Black-throated Blue. As to be expected with a clever nemesis, we were unable to get a bead on his location among the treetops. Confident that we would have ample opportunities, I moved on down the trail. A few minutes later, I heard another one singing and my razor-sharp eyes caught a quick flash of movement. Pulling my binoculars up to my eyes, I finally saw my nemesis for the first time. The moment felt so sweet, and I realized that the years of searching and disappointment had culminated in a great victory. I watched the warbler forage among the leaves and then continued hiking, stopping to see other birds and the creeks along the path. Sometime later, a Black-throated Blue Warbler actually came out around some bushes about 5 feet away and chopped down an insect while I watched. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take a picture with my phone in time, but it was still a cool experience. I ended up seeing 4 males and a female, and also heard about 9 other males! I also saw Winter Wrens for the first time, which was a nice bonus. As I was hiking back to my car, I heard the nasally call of a Red-breasted Nuthatch in the distance, but could not locate his position. Perhaps he will become my new nemesis, but for now, I’m going to revel in my victory.

Black-throated blue warbler Black-throated blue warbler male singing

Male Black-throated Blues are quite handsome.

Male red-breasted nuthatch

Is this my new nemesis?

An ice cream celebration is certainly in my future. If you have a nemesis, keep pursuing him/her and don’t give up. Be persistent, even when disappointment strikes and eventually your efforts will be rewarded. Unless you’re trying to catch a porcupine with your mouth. And if your nemesis continues to elude you, you can always say in a deep gravelly voice, “I’ll get you next time Gadget . . . next time.”

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My Nemesis is a Bird

My dream as a young boy was to be a superhero when I grew up. My efforts to become a superhero by the traditional methods (special serum, cosmic explosions, alien powers, super tech, billionaire playboy) have failed so far. I even tried to use radioactivity, though I know from Spiderman that 90% of people who receive powers from radioactive sources become supervillains. Even though I don’t have special powers, I can still have a nemesis. One of the defining characteristics of a superhero is that he/she has at least one nemesis. Batman has the Joker. Superman has Lex Luthor. Spiderman has Doctor Octopus. My nemesis often consumes my thoughts and has constantly eluded me over the last few years. I know what he looks like from pictures, but have never actually seen him. He wears a blue and white costume with a black mask and spends much of his time in the woods. He inspires many copycats who dress the same way. He talks in a buzzy voice. My nemesis is . . . a Black-throated Blue Warbler.

Black-throated blue warbler feeding chicks

My nemesis is deep and complex because he has a family that he cares for.

Black-throated Blue Warblers spend much of their time in the trees, foraging for insects among the leaves. Males are boldly-colored and represent their name quite well. Females are a drab olive-gray, with a white patch on their wings and a pale, white eyebrow. Black-throated Blues usually nest in the northeastern U.S. and winter in the Caribbean and Central America. There is a small population that nests in the Great Smoky Mountains, which is not far from where I live. I’m pretty sure that population is taunting me with their existence. Though I’m an active birder during migration (when Black-throated Blues pass through the southeast and midwest) I had never even heard one until two years ago in Kentucky. The song sounds like a buzzy “beer beer bee!”, with the last note ascending upward. Side note: other birds also seem to have a strange fascination with beer. Alder Flycatchers say a raspy “Free beer!” and Olive-sided Flycatchers sing “Quick, three beers!” Add to this the birds that are obsessed with tea (Eastern Towhees and Carolina Wrens), and you have a bunch of wildlife dealing with addictions. Anyway, when I heard one while walking along a forest trail, I immediately ran up the path with my binoculars in hand. As I got close to the sound, I could tell it was coming from group of large deciduous trees. Unfortunately, I could not see the bird. I was unsuccessful from all viewing angles and tried using a bird app to call the warbler out. He was unresponsive and then flew off over a ravine without me getting a glimpse. I could hear him briefly calling out, taunting me. Then he was gone and I didn’t hear another Black-throated Blue until the following year in the exact same spot on the exact same day. May 9th is a day that still lingers in my mind and haunts my dreams.  The same circumstances were repeated and I again left without having caught a real glimpse of my nemesis.

Black-throated blue warbler male feeding on berry Black-throated blue warbler female feeding on berry

Black-throated Blues eat berries and drink fine wine after eluding me.

Though my efforts to see a Black-throated Blue proved unsuccessful, my resolve has not changed and I’m more motivated than ever to find one. I’m actually glad that finding one has proven so difficult. This will make the time I finally catch my nemesis that much sweeter. On a final note, I’m planning on going to a birding park this week that has nice trails and cool birds . . . and also a recent recorded sighting of a Black-throated Blue Warbler. Maybe I will finally defeat my nemesis, though I’m not sure what to do if I finally catch him. I feel like my whole life is revolving around finding this bird. Wherever you are, I hope that you will meet your nemesis soon and defeat him/her. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sing buzzy songs about beer and allow some radioactive animals to bite me.

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I should have microwaved this alligator and let him bite me to gain superpowers.

Adorable Animals That Can Kill You

After spending time in a few blogs emphasizing how snakes are interesting creatures that should not be feared, I’m here to write about dangerous animals that can destroy you. Please note that all of these animals should be appreciated for their awesomeness and most of them will never attack you. Time to look at some cute animals that can be deadly!

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Poison Dart Frogs were the subject of one of my recent blogs.

Blue-ringed Octopuses . . . yes, ‘octopuses’ is preferred over ‘octopi’ . . . are small cephalopods that live around coral reefs in the Indian and Southern Pacific Oceans. They are commonly found near Australia and actually consist of several species. If these octopuses become agitated, the blue rings appear to glow due to the stimulation of chromatophores. Blue-ring Octopuses are about the size of a golf ball and may contain enough venom to kill over a dozen humans! That said, they rarely attack humans unless stepped on or handled. Blue-rings munch on crabs, shrimp, and occasionally small fish (think Goliath Grouper). They tend to hide among the sand, shells, and coral, preferring to ambush their prey. Their venom contains powerful neurotoxins which can cause respiratory problems, muscle weakness, and paralysis. Interestingly enough, these same toxins are found in a variety of other organisms, such as pufferfish, snails, and crabs. The key ingredient to producing the toxins appears to be the symbiotic bacteria associated with these creatures. This means if you want to become more deadly, you should develop a close relationship with toxin-producing bacteria.

Southern blue-ringed octopus swimming    Southern blue-ringed octopus, head detail

Next up is the Giant Anteater, which can grow to 7 feet long and weigh over 100 pounds! If you’re an ant, this could be the most terrifying creature you ever face! Even Antman would probably run for his life! Anteaters do not have teeth, but they do have a sticky tongue that may extend up to 2 feet and can rapidly lap up thousands of ants and termites.  They also have sharp claws for tearing into anthills and termite mounds. Though not naturally aggressive, Giant Anteaters are capable of fighting off large predators such as jaguars! They are extremely unlikely to attack humans, but if cornered, they could certainly maim a person! Giant Anteaters are primarily found in South America, but their range extends up to the southern portion of Mexico. As you might imagine, this species is important for controlling insect populations, especially considering some South American ants are quite dangerous in armies and can kill large animals and overrun villages! 

Giant anteater running  Giant anteater female and young

Now it’s time for an adorable creature that you will want to hug, but shouldn’t.

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Photo: Wikipedia user מינוזיג

What?! You don’t want to hug an adorable scorpion?! This is the Lifeignorer Scorpion. Just kidding. This is the Deathstalker Scorpion. Deathstalkers live in desert regions in Northern Africa and the Middle East. These scorpions have highly potent venom that can do a lot of damage. Interestingly enough, medical researchers have used toxins isolated from deathstalkers to develop methods of fighting cancer and regulating insulin! Check out a cool story about a venom-based paint that can identify brain tumors by clicking here!

I’ll finish off the blog with an array of cute but dangerous animals.

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These cubs might not seem so cute when the mother is around.

Juvenile chimpanzees hanging in branches

Chimpanzees in the wild have been known to kill monkeys by bashing their heads with rocks! Adults are quite strong and capable of crushing a human in a wrestling match.

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Slender Loris bites, though extremely rare, have been known to cause swelling, irritated skin, and even anaphylactic shock!

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Many blowfish/pufferfish contain neurotoxins which can prove harmful for potential predators. Nevertheless, fugu (prepared pufferfish) is considered a delicacy in Japan and other countries! Chefs must undergo rigorous training to be qualified to prepare this dish.

Hopefully you’re starting to realize that looks can be deceiving! These are really cool creatures that should be appreciated. Remember that most of these animals won’t attack humans unless threatened or cornered. Please do not attempt to take animal selfies with a bison, bear, or wildcat, no matter how cute they look. I recently read a story about a bear that broke into a car and destroyed a lot of things. Feel free to let a deathstroke scorpi . . . sorry about that Green Arrow, DEATHSTALKER scorpion crawl on your face, because it most likely won’t sting you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to grow some bacteria on blue ring pops, spread the mixture on my arms, and terrorize some crabs.

Snake Week

Every summer, one week is devoted to celebrating sharks. Shark Week is designed to teach the public about the interesting world of sharks and encourage people to see these predators in a new light. My question is, why stop with sharks? How about having a snake week? Wouldn’t you like to learn more about venomous snakes and the good that they do? Wouldn’t you like to start conquering your fear of snakes? Wouldn’t you like to read some really bad snake puns? Today you will learn that you can have your snake and eat it too – just start with an easy-snake oven.

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Did somebody say Snake Week?!

The Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) is endemic to the eastern U.S. and can grow to over 6 feet long. They occupy a wide range of habitats, including forests, mountainous, and riverine areas. When temperatures are cool, rattlesnakes may group together in a den or cave to hibernate.  Like many Americans, Timber Rattlesnakes love to catch some sun rays and will often remain motionless while basking in the heat of day. They primarily hunt small mammals, such as mice, rats, voles, squirrels, and rabbits. They aid in regulating mammal populations within an ecosystem and can help reduce pest populations in agricultural systems. Unfortunately, like sharks, rattlesnakes are often seen as scary and dangerous creatures. Some people shoot them with shotguns, smash them with shovels, or even purposely run over them while driving. The truth is, rattlesnake attacks are rare, as rattlers will usually rattle to send a warning and will only strike if threatened or cornered. Because many venomous snakes try to save their venom of prey, they are unlikely to bite except as a last resort.  Try to find a way to let the snakes alone and they will help control pesky rodents! If one has taken up residence in your house, then call a local wildlife officer to capture and release it elsewhere. Also, don’t run around sticking your hands in brush piles and rock crevices!

Timber rattlesnake, close-up rattlesnake

The picture on the right was of a rattler I encountered in Indiana. Why did the snake cross the road? Probably because the heat emanating from the asphalt felt good.

The Eastern Coral Snake (Micrurus fulvius) is beautiful creature that is generally found in scrubby woodlands and marshes in the southeastern U.S. Because they must chew on their victim to completely inject their venom, attacks on humans are rare. According to National Geographic, no human has died from an Eastern Coral Snake bite since the antivenin was developed in the 1967 (http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/eastern-coral-snake/). They spend much of their time underground and are not often seen, except during the breeding season. They can grow to lengths of 2-4 feet and will eat lizards and other snakes. Now for the interesting part. Other snakes, such as Scarlet Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis elapsoides) use mimicry to take advantage of the coral snake’s reputation! Let me explain. Predators, such as raptors and coyotes, learn to associate the color patterns of coral snakes with their dangerous venom and tend to avoid attacks. Kingsnakes have evolved to mimic the patterns of the coral snakes and so this means that predators will usually leave them alone! Now you might be wondering how you could tell the difference. The rule for distinguishing between these snakes (and I don’t know of any exceptions to this rule) is set to a rhyme. Red on black, friend of Jack. Red on yellow, dangerous fellow. In other words, look at the banding patterns. The coral snake has red touching yellow bands, while the kingsnake has red touching black bands.

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Left – venomous coral snake (photo: http://wildlifetrappersandrescue.com/nuisance-animals/snakes/snake-photos/easterncoral2/). Right – non-venomous scarlet kingsnake .

Got milksnake?

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Pick up a tasty milksnake at your local Steak and Snake. Note that this species has red on black, meaning it is not venomous.

Do you feel any tremors? Because here’s an earthsnake!

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Now it’s time to look at one of the deadliest snakes in the world, the Banded Sea Krait (Laticauda colubrina). These beautiful snakes are usually found in warm, tropical waters near coral reefs and mangrove swamps around Australia and southeast Asia. Though their neurotoxic venom is about 10 times more potent than rattlesnake venom, human bites are extremely rare due to the docile nature of BSKs. Many divers have swam with these snakes without fear of harm. BSKs are amphibious, and will spend a decent portion of their time on land, especially when breeding. They generally hunt in the water, preferring to prey on eels and small fish. Females are usually larger and may hunt larger-sized prey than males. Believe it or not, there is a Japanese soup made with smoked sea krait.

Banded sea krait swimming beneath large shoal of fish Banded sea krait underwater

Hopefully you’ve learned about some interesting venomous snakes and can appreciate their beauty. Some of these snakes play a vital role in controlling rodent populations. Remember that most snakes prefer to avoid conflict and will rarely bite humans. If you  enjoy the rush of feeling scard by snakes, then I encourage you to look up dangerous snakes in Australia. What’s a snake’s favorite dance? The Mamba. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to wear red on yellow and carry a baby rattle. FEAR ME!

Snake News

Did you know that snakes can be very colorful? Did you know that snakes are vital to controlling pests in many agricultural and woodland ecosystems? Though some people get nervous or anxious around snakes, most species are non-venomous and tend to shy away from confrontations . . . except for all of the vicious killer snakes in Australia. Time to face your fears and slither into the world of snakes!

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Indiana Jones is not happy with my blog topic.

First up is a species commonly found in gardens, yards, and woodlands. The Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) has several subspecies (with a variety of coloration!) that inhabit ranges throughout the United States. One of the characteristics of garter snakes is their longitudinal stripes. Garter snakes are not venomous and are usually docile, though some will act aggressively when threatened. They are decent swimmers and will sometimes hunt aquatic prey such as fish, amphibians, and crayfish. They also eat small mammals, earthworms, and occasionally birds. During the mating season, large numbers of garter snakes may converge into a giant breeding ball!

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Left – Eastern Garter Snake I found while looking for birds. Right – California Red-sided Garter.

Next up are the racers (Coluber constrictor). As with the garter snakes, there are a few subspecies in the U.S. When I worked as an avian field technician in southern Indiana, I saw some black racers and blue racers, but not black-and-blue racers. As their name suggests, they are quite quick and agile, often zooming away before you can get close. If the Flash was bitten by a radioactive racer, he would probably become unstoppable. Racers are often found in woodland edges and near disturbed habitats such as areas that have been clear-cut. They eat a variety of prey, including many rodents, and are most active during the heat of the day. As with many other snake species, racers will seek cover such as logs, brush, or boards when temperatures are cooler. 

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Blue Racer (http://radiostudio111.com/archives/blue-racer-snake).

The largest snake in the world is the Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus). Females are capable of growing close to 30 feet long and weighing over 550 pounds! These anacondas are primarily found in forests, swamps, and streams within the Amazon Rain Forest. As you might imagine, they move much slower than racers, and will often lay submerged in muddied water, waiting to ambush unsuspecting prey. Anacondas will eat wild pigs, capybaras, birds, small mammals, deer, turtles, and even caimans (small crocodilians) and jaguars! They are very loving, often cuddling their prey before crushing their bones. Though many species of snakes lay eggs, Green Anacondas are viviparous, meaning that they give birth to live young. The young are about 2 feet long and quickly become active after being born.

Green anaconda stifling white-tailed deer Green anaconda moving over sand

Yum, tasty deer steak.

Hmm . . . maybe showing pictures of giant anacondas that could crush you and eat you isn’t the best way to conquer your fear of snakes. How about some pictures of cute snakes to ease your mind?

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What?! You didn’t think those were cute?! Let me try again.

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Albino Ball Python

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Snakes will not usually attack humans unless provoked. Even the venomous ones will usually hiss, raise their head threateningly, or flee rather than bite. In my next blog, I’ll take a look at some of the venomous snakes, snakes that mimic venomous snakes, and provide a few ridiculous puns. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to race around the block, dive into some muddy water, and attack a helpless victim before heading to the nearest Steak and Snake. 

All Frogs go to Heaven

What frog acts like a paratrooper? What frog has see-through skin? What will some frogs do to protect their eggs? What is a pacman frog? In my last blog, I wrote about giant frogs and tiny colorful frogs that could kill you. Now I’m on to some other interesting amphibians! 

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Some Glass Frogs, which include species from the Centrolenidae family, have translucent skin, which allows one to see the interior organs! The eggs of pregnant females can also be seen as well!  Glass Frogs are quite small, with an average size of 1-3 inches. Members of the Centrolenidae family can be found near forested rivers and streams in Central and South America. They spend much of their time in the forest canopy, where they hunt for insects and other small arthropods. I’m thinking of writing a book on how to dissect these frogs and calling it “Through the Looking-Glass Frog”.

<i>Centrolene quindianum</i> on leaf see-through stomach

Whereas many species of frogs lay eggs directly into ponds, pools, or vegetation, frogs from the family Hemiphractidae have the ability to carry their eggs with them. Some of these species are equipped to transport eggs hidden in a dorsal pouch, which allows better protection of the eggs from predators and extreme conditions. Though many frog species have a larval stage (tadpoles), some species, such as the Horned Marsupial Frog (Gastrotheca cornuta), keep the eggs until they develop and hatch into live froglets!

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Left – Horned Marsupial Frog. Right -Flectonotus fitzgeraldi.

The Surinam Horned Frog (Ceratophrys cornuta) can grow to 8 inches long and weigh over a pound. Because they have large mouths and a voracious appetite, eating almost anything that comes near them, they are sometimes called “pac-man frogs”. These frogs generally ambush their prey, camouflaging themselves in mud or leaf litter, and quickly striking and swallowing prey whole! Horned frogs have been known to devour prey such as crickets, centipedes, small mice, fish, other frogs, dots, and blue ghosts. Sometimes they try to swallow prey that is too large and are found dead with the intended prey sticking out of their mouths! This happened recently when a horned frog was fed Donald Trump’s ego. The purpose of the horn-like projections is unclear, though they may serve to aid in camouflage.

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Finally we come to Wallace’s Flying Frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus). Though these frogs don’t technically fly, they can use their thickly-webbed feet and large toe pads to glide through the air for distances of over 15 meters! These frogs live an arboreal life in the tropical jungles of Borneo and Malaysia. They usually use their super gliding abilities when attempting to escape a predator or hunt prey. Flying frogs also have loose flaps of skin, which aids in their gliding. They often breed and lay their eggs in pools formed by rain or in pits made by wallowing animals such as rhinos. As their Latin name suggests, they have black coloring on their feet. Scientists are currently researching this species in an effort to apply the frog’s gliding capabilities to human soldiers and pizza deliveries.

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Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this little foray into the world of frogs! Frogs are pretty diverse and amazing creatures! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hide in a mud pit, cover myself with leaves, and snatch some unsuspecting prey.