Monday, June 8, 2015

Bronx Zoo Part IV: Madagascar, Mouse House, and Congo Gorilla Forest

Alternative title: Everywhere Else I Went to But Did Not Take Enough Pictures Of.

The Madagascar exhibit at the Bronx Zoo is one of the best I have visited, even though my pictures may not demonstrate that adequately. Most of the enclosures were spacious and it did a good job of showcasing the varied environments that can be found on the island. (It is not just one big jungle!)

Here is a Coquerel's sifaka, well known for its distinctive leaping gait on the ground and hosting an educational children's show about animals.

A collared brown lemur.

A ring-tailed vontsira, one of the few live specimens you can see in North America! Once thought to be mongooses, vontsiras are now known to be part of a distinct Malagasy radiation of feliform carnivorans, the euplerids.

I passed by an Aldabra tortoise pen while walking to my next stop, but perhaps even more interesting than the inhabitants (to a paleontology enthusiast) was this sign with a sculpture of the Triassic stem-turtle Odontochelys.

My next stop was the Mouse House. The name of this building is not only a nominal shorthand for "small mammal", as it really does focus on rodents, and especially rats and mice. I appreciated that, for they are commonly neglected by many zoos (but not the Ueno Zoo, another similarity between these two geographically disparate institutions). This is despite rodents representing most of extant mammal species and frequently being very active and adorable (i.e.: potentially appealing to visitors). That is not to say the Mouse House only houses rodents; a memorable resident I saw was a very energetic spotted skunk. I was far less pleased to see a number of inconsiderate assholes shining their cellphones into the nocturnal exhibits.

Regrettably, fast-moving critters and dimly-lit habitats were not a good combination for my aging camera, so the only satisfactory picture I got out of the Mouse House was of this green acouchi. But should you ever find yourself visiting, remember to check out the Northern Luzon giant cloud rat!

My final stop was at the Congo Gorilla Forest, a series of quite impressive displays of African rainforest animals, culminating in (naturally) gorillas. This is another part of the zoo that requires you to pay extra and it was evidently a major attraction, because it was incredibly crowded when I visited. Due to this last factor in particular, I am once more unable to provide a representative sample of photos.

An okapi, the short-necked forest cousin of the giraffe.

A Nile monitor lizard.

An African lungfish.

A long-tailed hornbill.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Bronx Zoo Part III: Aquatic Birds and Birds of Prey

The Sea Bird Aviary at the Bronx Zoo is home to many species, but the most numerous are Magellanic penguins and these Inca terns, which have been given artificial cliffs for roosting and nesting on.

Nearby is the Aquatic Bird House. Despite its name, not all the birds exhibited here are waterbirds, but most of them are. This laughing kookaburra is one of the exceptions: although a kingfisher, it preys mainly on terrestrial animals.

A brown kiwi. This is a major milestone in my zoogoing experiences, as after multiple failures at the San Diego Zoo and National Zoo, I saw a kiwi at last!

Some tufted puffins.

A black oystercatcher and some common and/or Forster's terns (both species were present in the exhibit and I cannot tell from my picture which ones I have photographed).

A lot of little penguins.

A crested coua floofs. My pictures do not quite show the strikingly colored bare skin around the eyes.

A Storm's stork.

Outside were a series of fairly standard (design-wise) bird of prey enclosures. This is a cinereous vulture on its nest. Additional barriers had been put up in front of this exhibit, preventing visitors from getting too close and disturbing the nesting birds.

A golden eagle, one of the most badass extant theropods.

A king vulture feeding on what appears to be a chicken carcass.

Bronx Zoo Part II: World of Birds

I was impressed by the bird collection at the Ueno Zoo, which I visited last year, but, to my delight, the one at the Bronx Zoo is at least as good on the whole, if not better. In fact, it had many of the same rare species I saw at the Ueno Zoo. I focused on taking pictures of species that I hadn't already seen, but rest assured that the selection is vastly greater than what I present here. Another interesting similarity with the Ueno Zoo was the style of exhibition in the bird house (known as World of Birds): many of the enclosures contain a large number of species and can be viewed from two different altitudes.

A blue dacnis, a slender-billed tanager.

A tawny frogmouth, a well-camouflaged nocturnal predatory bird from Australia.

A crimson-rumped toucanet.

A western capercaille, a large, impressive-looking grouse.

Some subpar shots of a common hoopoe.

Another rarely-seen Andean toucan, the plate-billed mountain toucan.

A white-tailed trogon (foreground) and Venezuelan troupial (background).

Some blue-headed macaws and a hyacinth macaw.

A calfbird, a strange-looking cotinga.

World of Birds on its own likely would have satisfied me with the Bronx's avian collection, but it was far from the only bird-heavy area of the zoo. Coming up next...

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Bronx Zoo Part I: JungleWorld

A notable feature of the Bronx Zoo is that it charges extra for several of its exhibits. As a result, getting its full experience entails some significant spending, which makes me ever more thankful that the National Zoo is free to visit. Regardless, the Bronx Zoo is widely considered to be one of the top zoos of the country, so there is some justification for the steep admission.

One of exhibits here that requires additional spending is JungleWorld, an immersive indoor display simulating a tropical rainforest environment. Many of the animals here, mainly belonging to species native to Southeast Asia, are separated from each other and the visitors by "naturalistic" barriers such as steep surfaces and moats, though the numerous flying species have more freedom to roam than the others.

Thanks to a combination of factors, I used my camera sparingly on this trip. My camera battery has been getting loose, rendering it unreliable, and, with the knowledge that the zoo was a large one, I was also consciously trying to conserve the battery. Readers who are interested in getting a more comprehensive idea of what the zoo looks like are encouraged to plan their own trips or to check out the abundant photographs taken by others available elsewhere online.

A Matschie's tree kangaroo. An endemic of New Guina, this species would be part of a very distinct fauna in the wild from the rest of the inhabitants here, despite being geographically close.

A few animals at JungleWorld do live behind traditional glass windows, such as this Indonesian sailfin lizard. Like the New World basilisk lizards, sailfin lizards are capable of running on the surface of water for short distances, but do not get as much airtime in nature documentaries.

Falcated ducks (left pair) and Philippine ducks (right pair).

A pair of Malayan tapirs.

A frilled lizard, rendered in terribly altered colors by my camera.

A colony of fruit bats and a painted stork.

Some stretches of the Bronx Zoo involve a lot of walking without seeing any exhibits along the way. Auspiciously, the zoo is well planted and the paths are thus well shaded from the heat of summer. Upon leaving JungleWorld, the next exhibit I came across was home to a number of African species, including these African crowned cranes.

Other inhabitants included a marabou stork and some nyala. The lion enclosure is visible at the far back of this display (but not in my photos), providing the illusion that the lions are kept in the same space as their potential prey.

A wild eastern chipmunk foraging on the side of the path.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A sneak peek at what I've been up to

In between writing scripts for TetZoo Time, grading weekly quizzes, and wondering why there aren't more phylogenetic analyses of xenarthrans with more than craniodental characters, I've been busy. Most importantly, I have been busy co-authoring a revolutionary new paper... or what would be a revolutionary new paper if, in acts of blatant scientific censorship, all the legitimate scientific journals we submitted to had not rejected the manuscript.

Thus, for the time being, I have chosen to reveal some of the most important results of our study on my blog. This is at the tremendous risk of having this information scooped by other researchers, but I believe it is more important to publicize it as soon as possible, in hopes of misleading illuminating passing readers.

Results of phylogenetic analysis of Volantia, with identified synapomorphies labeled.

It's another phylogenetic analysis of Volantia, but in addition to being the largest analysis of this group to date, we also used this opportunity to test dogmatically popular hypotheses such as the theropod origin of birds. We were able to falsify these hypotheses by a priori reasoning, a truly devastating blow to textbook wisdom. However, mainstream science is loath to update textbooks, a primarily motivator behind the organized movement to bar our study from publication. The joke's on you, ivory tower suckers! Ha ha!

We also discovered that it's easy to recover the clades you want if you count a single character as 23 out of a total of 131. Likely this has been the case for analyses purporting to support birds as theropods, but almost no one else has ever caught this because phylogenetic matrices are well designed to blur the vision of anyone trying to evaluate what data was input into them.

Emily, Scott Reid, and Adam Schmoetzer provided helpful discussion that greatly improved this manuscript, though evidently not enough to get it published in a high-profile journal.

Monday, February 2, 2015

New poll for last year's maniraptors up

From the limited number of votes, it would look like Skull is the current fan favorite! Was it because of the stunts he pulled in Turn to Stone? His quest for popularity may not be so hopeless after all.

At the other end of the scale, poor Savape, not that she would care. I recognize that she has probably some of the least character depth even by this comic's standards as of yet. An implicit goal of mine with the use of the Tumblr askblog and the longer form stories is to occasionally showcase other facets of the characters beyond their base concepts, which were frankly very one-note. We'll see what the future holds for Savape and the others.

For the rest of the year, it's back to our regularly scheduled "favorite newly-named maniraptor" poll. I suspect that first place will not be much of a contest considering the buildup and hype we had for Anzu, which, in addition to that, is a charismatically-sized animal. Second place, however, may be up for grabs.