Featured Creature: Mudskipper

Photo from fishes-world.blogspot.com

What sort of creature lives in the mud, digs holes with its mouth, spits out mudpies, climbs trees and will jump for attention? The mudskipper, of course (or periophthalmus)! Tell me about this strange creature, then… There are 32 living species of mudskippers, an amphibious goby-like fish that can live both in and out of water. They are usually…

Featured Creature: Ginkgo Biloba

Photo by Zhu Bing

What beautiful but smelly tree has outlived its relatives and become an iconic species beloved across the world?  The Ginkgo biloba, also known as the “maidenhair tree.”  As the nickname suggests, the ginkgo is known for its beauty and unique leaf shape, which may look like a mane of unfurling golden hair when the tree makes…

Featured Creature: Star-nosed Mole

Photo from The Daily Mail

What sort of voracious creature cannot see or smell well, feels its way around, and looks like someone’s nightmare enlarged? The star-nosed mole, of course, or condylura cristata! So what is a star-nosed mole and what is that horrible thing on its nose? The star-nosed mole is a very distinctive mammal, covered in dark brown, water-repellent fur, and wide…

Featured Creature: Narwhal

Photo from World Wildlife Fund Canada

Which creature stays in the cold Arctic waters year-round, is nicknamed after a mythological creature, and has a distinct feature with an unknown purpose? Narwhals! I have been fascinated by the Arctic ever since I was a young girl. Being from California, I don’t generally thrive in cold weather, but the creatures of Arctic lands…

Featured Creature: Hoopoe

Photo from birdsanimals17.blogspot.com

What brightly-colored bird has a punk orange hairdo, doesn’t clean its dirty nest, and is a flying version of a skunk? The hoopoe bird, of course, or upupa epops (which is a great name in itself)! Three species: There are three species of hoopoe birds, identified by location, native to Africa, Eurasia and Madagascar.  These three species show…

Featured Creature: Clamworm

Photo from fineartamerica.com

What sort of worm is festooned with sensitive tentacles all the way down its sides and – though it can’t bark – has a nasty bite? That would be the “clam worm” or alitta succinea, a denizen of estuarial waters. Alternative names I’ve always called them “seaworms” but they are normally known as “clam worms,” “ragworms,”…

Featured Creature: Pangolin

Photo by David Brossard

What creature is one of Earth’s natural pest controllers, yet one of the most trafficked mammals in the entire world? The Pangolin! Let’s roll together! Pangolins are a unique scaly-skinned mammal living in Africa and Asia. They have scales all over their body to protect themselves, no teeth but mobile long tongues to prey on…

Featured Creature: Ladyslipper

Photo from the Bell Museum at the University of Minnesota

What creature is a forest and swamp dweller, rarely seen in the wild, and treasured for its consummate beauty? The lady slipper, of course, or cypripedium reginae! The lady slipper is so named for its distinctive shape – its flowers have white upper petals and a little pouch, or labellum, of about 1-2” in length…

Featured Creature: Donkey

Photo by Steve Perry

What creatures with iconic ears have allowed humans to expand their horizons, yet are often misunderstood and underappreciated? Donkeys! Misunderstood Donkeys are often expected to act like their larger equid cousins, horses, but donkeys have their own abilities and attributes. Unlike horses, donkeys have evolved to live in desert environments. Their secret lies in their…

Featured Creature: Echidna

Photo from kids.sandiegozoo.org

What small, spiky creature restores landscapes through ecosystem engineering? The Echidna! Nature’s Excavators Echidnas are native to Australia, a nation with plenty of semi-arid landscapes due to centuries of extractive and destructive agricultural practices. Thankfully, Australians have a soil superhero in their midst that can turn this legacy around. Echidnas love to dig (and dig…

Featured Creature: Whooper Swan

"Cygnus cygnus" by Juratone

What creature can live for over two decades, was revered by Baltic-Finnish pagan tribes, and is Finland’s national bird?  The Whooper Swan!  There are many creatures on Earth that are very much entwined with human culture, and this week’s Featured Creature is an excellent representation of this. The Whooper Swan has been a part of…

Featured Creature: Leopard Seal

Photo by Aurora Expeditions

What creature is the second largest of its kind, a ruler of the sub-Antarctic, and is named after a feline lookalike? The leopard seal! Massive and Mighty The leopard seal is the second largest seal in the world, right after the elephant seal. Leopard seals primarily live along the icy shelves of Antarctica and nearby…

Featured Creature: Ladybug

Photo by Robert Navarro

What tiny creature brings luck to farmers and other folks all over the globe? The ladybug!  One Lucky Lady Ladybugs, or beetles of the family Coccinellidae, are small, often colorful rounded insects beloved by children’s rhymes and gardeners alike.  Ladybugs are thought to be a sign of luck in many cultures and urban myths. Whether it’s…

Featured Creature: Veery

Veery On A Log Photo by Steve Jones via Flickr

What species has a diet that includes small wasps, may be helping to spread an invasive species, and can predict hurricane season intensity?  The veery!  Living The Dream If you live in North or South America, particularly in the Northern United States, chances are you’ve seen a veery before! This creature is a member of…

Featured Creature: Atlas Moth

Photo of Atlas Moth on top of cocoon (from Twitter user @mrstrangefact)

What creature has no mouth, is known for colorful patterns, and is famous for mimicking a deadly predator? The Atlas Moth! The insect with a reputation Atlas moths live throughout India, China, Indonesia and Malaysia. This wide distribution covers secondary forests, shrublands, tropical areas, and rainforests.  The name “Atlas” likely came from the moth’s vibrant,…

Featured Creature: Axolotl

Photo from National Geographic

What creature can regenerate limbs, is sought for research, and has the largest animal genome known? The axolotl, or mbystoma mexicanum, of course! What is so unusual about the axolotl, beyond its funny name? Axolotls, known as “Mexican walking fish”, are not a fish at all, but a type of amphibious salamander. There are lots of…

Featured Creature: Maned Wolf

Photo by Zdenek Machacek

What South American creature has super long legs, urine that smells like a skunk, and is a faithful mate for life? The Maned Wolf!  I first learned about the maned wolf when I stumbled upon its species profile on the Smithsonian website. When I saw the first picture on the page, I was immediately reminded…

Featured Creature: Stonefly

Golden Stonefly Larva (Nymphal Stage); Photo: Allegheny College Creek Connections

What is one of our oldest creatures – dating back to the Dinosaurs – that tolerates no pollution, lives underwater for up to 4 years and then takes flight for a few weeks to mate, and is beloved by trout and mimicked by anglers? This would be the stonefly, called Plecoptera, which means “braided wings”! So…

Featured Creature: Monarch Butterfly

Photo by Bill Barlow

What iconic creature thinks beyond its lifespan, navigates new terrain with grace, and stuns North America with its migrations? The monarch butterfly!  Living life in cycles The monarch butterfly is famous for its beauty and for its unique patterns of breeding, migrating, and hibernating. There are two main populations of monarch butterflies in North America:…

Featured Creature: Periodical Cicada

Photo from Pixabay

What noisy creature consumes only liquids, lives by safety in numbers, and can enhance CO2 production in streams? The periodical cicada!  The Periodical Cicadas’ 15 Minutes of Fame You may have noticed that the news cycle has recently been dominated by stories about cicadas as some regions in North America excitedly await the arrival of the…

Featured Creature: Starling

Photo: Menno Schaefer from shutterstock

What creature flocks together to produce a living Aurora?  The Starling! What is a starling, and how does it model good group behavior? The Starling is a moderate-sized bird about 8 inches long at maturity with a shiny, sometimes iridescent, dark coat and a raucous repertoire of chirps and cackles. It’s distributed across Europe, West…

Featured Creature: Coral

Photo from xprize.org

Which creature comes in a variety of fluorescent colors, provides habitat for thousands of other species, and is essential to keeping our blue planet blue? The polyp! An animal inside a colony inside an ecosystem Polyps are the animals that make up corals. A variety of corals, each with its own name, color, texture, etc.…

Featured Creature: Marine Iguana

Photo by Fine Art America

What creature is the only known lizard to go foraging in the ocean, resides off the coast of South America, and is changing the definition of adaptation? The Marine Iguana! One of a Kind Marine iguanas are the only lizards that live partly in the ocean. They are endemic (meaning they only exist in one…

Featured Creature: Orangutan Mother

Photo by Dimitry B. from Unsplash

Which creature is the largest known tree dwelling mammal, has a mother-child relationship like no other, and can memorize pathways through an entire forest? Orangutans! Ape-like but Not Quite Although orangutans are considered one of the four great apes, alongside gorillas, bonobos, and chimpanzees, they have characteristics that set them apart from these other species.…

Featured Creature: Mummichog

What tiny fish is resistant to toxins, can breathe air when necessary, has more names than is easy to count, and was the first piscine space explorer? The mummichog, of course! We had the chance to interview a few of these amazing creatures; we found them to be unassuming, humble, and tough as nails when…

Featured Creature: Immortal Jellyfish

Photo from scienceabc.com

What creature has no heart and no brain, and is the only known immortal animal? Turritopsis dohrnii! Otherwise known as the immortal jellyfish. Working As a Team All jellyfish lack hearts and brains. Despite this, these creatures have adapted to a variety of environments. They live in saltwater and freshwater, near the surface and throughout…

Featured Creature: Tardigrade

Photo: Shuttershock

What creature can survive outer space, extreme temperatures, water scarcity, and even mass extinctions?  Tardigrades! These ancient beings, which have existed on earth for over 500 million years, are hardier than even the infamously indestructible cockroach.  Known as “water bears” or “moss piglets,” these microscopic creatures can be quite cute. Tardigrades actually make up their…

Featured Creature: Hammerhead Shark

Photo by Amanda Cotton/Coral Reef Image Bank

Which fish is named after a tool, can scan the sea floor like a metal detector, and is harmless to humans? The Hammerhead Shark! Hammering the Name Down As you might imagine, the Hammerhead Shark was named after the shape of their heads. All sharks have electroreceptors which can detect signals that living organisms radiate.…

Featured Creature: Dragonfly

Photo by Vansh Sharma

Which creature existed before the dinosaurs, is an aerial genius, and can detect things we can only witness through slow-motion cameras? The dragonfly! Predecessors to the Dinosaurs Dragonflies were some of the first winged insects to evolve, about 300 million years ago. When they first evolved, their wingspans measured up to two feet! In contrast,…

Featured Creature: Slime Mold

Photo Credit: Yamaoyaji/Shutterstock

What brainless creature can learn, problem solve, and even hold down a job?  The slime mold! What is a slime mold, and how does it learn?  Slime molds are eukaryotic organisms (a type of organism with membrane bound organelles, like nuclei) that can live either as single-celled individuals or clumped together in large aggregates, called…

Featured Creature: Komodo Dragon

What creature is named after a fictional animal, has venomous properties, and is the ruler of five islands? The Komodo Dragon! The Top Lizard Komodo Dragons are actually lizards (despite their dragon-like features). But not just any lizard- the biggest lizard on Earth! They can reach the size of a small car, and their average…

Featured Creature: Electric Eel

Which creature looks like a snake, is actually a fish, and has shocking abilities? The Electric Eel! Misnamed Electric eels are not actually eels. They are a type of (scaleless) freshwater fish found mostly in the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers of South America. They live along coastal plains and swamps, in very muddy water. Add…

Featured Creature: Kiwi

Photo: The Pricer

Which creature shares the name of a fruit and the term locals from a certain island nation call themselves? A Kiwi! Meet the Cousins The kiwi, a relatively small bird, is related to some of the largest birds that grace our planet, including: Emus and Australia’s Cassowaries How’s that for getting the short-end of the…

Featured Creature: Octopus

The Blue Ringed Octopus (Photo from Pixabay)

What invertebrate has blue blood and multiple brains? An octopus! What does it mean for an octopus to have multiple brains? Octopuses have a distributed nervous system, with nerve bundles in each arm in addition to a central brain in the head, for a total of nine brains. Up to two thirds of all of their nerves…

Featured Creature: Platypus

Platypus eating a worm underwater (Photo: britannica.com)

What would you get if you crossed a duck, a chipmunk, and a dolphin? A platypus! The duck-billed platypus Platypuses spend most of the day sporting webbed feet while they hunt for food in fresh waterways. After a long day of swimming, they climb onto land, where they retract their webbed feet to show off…