Featured Creature: Bluefin Tuna

What magnificent warm-blooded creature moves as fast as a freight train, feeds voraciously in large groups, and is often enjoyed at the beach? This would have to be the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, thunnus thynnus, or “tunny” for short! Incredible Adaptation  The body of the Atlantic bluefin tuna is football-shaped and strong, with a conical head and large mouth. The placement of…

Featured Creature: Opossum

What creature is the only marsupial in North America, plays dead when threatened, and has a whopping 50 teeth?  The Opossum!  I am currently in my senior year studying at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA). Last semester here began with a bit of a rocky start. Within the first two weeks of school, there…

Featured Creature: Polar Bear

Which creature is the largest terrestrial predator on the planet, has the most adorable cubs, and makes its own fresh water? Polar Bears!  Wintry Beauties Polar bears, also known as Ursus maritimus, or “sea bears,” live in the Arctic Circle and on nearby land masses and sea ice in the U.S. (Alaska), Canada, Russia, Greenland, and Norway. These mammals are…

Featured Creature: Hippopotamus

Photo by Cassandre Crawford

Which creature is a land animal closely related to marine mammals, has a portable pharmacy, and recently celebrated a holiday? Hippopotamuses!  River Horse Hippos are often described as large water pigs or cows, due to their appearance and water-loving nature. But their namesake, hippopotamus, comes from the Ancient Greek term for ‘river horse.’ Despite all these links…

Featured Creature: Bonobos

Photo from Friends of Bonobos

What long misnamed creature develops complex social structures and offers many lessons for the human species?  The Bonobo! The bonobo, or Pan paniscus, is a small primate native to the Congo. For a long time, it was known as the “pygmy Chimpanzee” and thought simply to be a smaller type of chimp. However, bonobos comprise their own species, and possess…

Featured Creature: Scallops

Photo by David Moynahan

Which creature lives across the globe, has a unique escape mechanism, and a muscle like no other? Scallops! Worldwide Scallops live in every ocean and amount to over 300 living species! They live in between and on top of rocks, coral, rubble, sea grass, kelp, sand, and mud. They are one of the largest families of…

Featured Creature: Painted Lady Butterfly

Photo by Tania Roa

Which creature is the most widespread of its kind, tries to stay in warmer climates, and has a name perfect for an artistic masterpiece? Painted Lady Butterflies! The cosmopolitan butterfly Painted ladies are the most widespread butterfly species. Their range covers every continent except Antarctica and Australia. Painted Ladies tend to stay in warmer climates, although they may also migrate to colder…

Featured Creature: Sweet Gum

Photo from Edge of the Woods Native Plant Nursery

What woody creature lives for hundreds of years, is known for its fall colors, and produces a fragrant substance to protect and care for itself? The sweet gum tree! The spiky balls they shed were a staple sight throughout my childhood in New York City, but sweet gum, like many other trees, really caught my eye this past year as…

Featured Creature: Rattlesnake

Photo by Rick Fridell

What creature has incredible flexibility, prevents the spread of diseases, and is not as dangerous as often portrayed? Rattlesnakes! I’m a firm believer in perfect timing. I don’t believe in coincidences. Instead, I believe that things happen when they’re meant to be, and that’s exactly how it felt when I encountered a rattlesnake.  Once I started getting…

Featured Creature: Judean Date Palm

Photo by Elaine Solowey via Timeline

What miraculous plant, revered by ancient Israelites and once thought to be extinct, sprouted from 2,000 year old seeds in 2005?  The Judean Date Palm!  For as long as I can remember, I have been enthralled by ancient history and cultures. Even as early as elementary school, I would sit on the floor of my local public library…

Featured Creature: Reindeer

Photo by Natalia Kollegova

What iconic creature can pull sleighs, see with superhero talent, and shape whole ecosystems? The reindeer! A very special deer The majestic reindeer is a member of the deer family found in Arctic forests and tundra. Native to Scandinavia and Northern Russia, they were later introduced to Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Iceland. Their species, Rangifer tarandus, includes both reindeer and caribou,…

Featured Creature: Oregon Giant Earthworm

Photo Credit: Chris Baugher CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What creature smells like lilies, is particular about the type of soil it resides in, and is the largest of its kind in North America? The Oregon Giant Earthworm! A fews days after moving into college this past August, I took a long walk in search of solitude and refuge from the chaos of move-in week. I found…

Featured Creature: California Poppy

Photo by Tania Roa

What creature is a state flower, is celebrated throughout the months of March to May, and is famous in the West Coast for picture-perfect annual blooms? California poppies! I didn’t know the California poppy was my home state’s flower until I was about 12 years old. A rumor started going around school that picking a California poppy was illegal, and you can…

Featured Creature: Horseshoe Crab

Photo from National Wildlife Federation

What creature far older than dinosaurs has survived on earth for 480 million years, loves going to the beach, has enough vision for a Nobel Prize, is very much ‘for the birds’ and deeply treasured for its blue-blooded ‘aristocratic’ character? The horseshoe crab, or limulus polyphemus, of course! So how old are these creatures? Horseshoe crabs are “living fossils” dating…

Featured Creature: Pocket Gopher

Photo by Greg Schechter

Which creature promotes healthy soil, is often seen as a pest, and has cheeks perfect for storing leftovers? Pocket gophers! On my weekend hikes, I stay alert for any tiny movement. Rustling noises often lead me to discover an interesting creature, but only if I pay close attention. One animal I would often hear, but rarely…

Featured Creature: Brook Trout

Photo from On The Water

What might well be considered the most beautiful freshwater fish, beloved by anglers and everyone else, especially when dressed up in its fall spawning colors? The ‘brook trout,’ of course, or salvelinus fontinalis, which is actually a char!   Where do we find this beauteous creature? Brook trout, otherwise known as brookies, eastern brook trout, speckled trout, brook char, squaretail, or even mud trout (though I’ve never heard them…

Featured Creature: Black-crowned Night Heron

Photo by Tania Roa

What dapper creature enjoys formal wear, is most active in the evenings, and is an indicator for wetland ecosystem health? Black-crowned Night Herons! During quarantine, I decided to take up photography as a new hobby. I wanted to know more about the creatures I encountered on my hikes and snorkel sessions. Photography allows me to…

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)! Photo from fishes-world.blogspot.com Photo from badmanstropicalfish.com 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…

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: Giant Barrel Sponge

Photo from American Oceans

What creature grows tall and sturdy, cleans up its neighborhood, and defends itself from predators – all without moving a muscle? The Giant Barrel Sponge, or Xestospongia muta! A Giant Barrel by any other name…  Giant barrel sponges are aptly named for their shape and great size. They grow over 1 m tall, but only grow…

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: Golden-Capped Fruit Bat

Photo by Batworlds

What creature recently took social media by storm (allegedly), enjoys feasting at night, and is an under-appreciated pollinator? The Golden-Capped Fruit Bat! Also known as the giant golden-crowned flying fox (read on to find out why). The Megabat, and Fox? The golden-capped fruit bat is one of 150 species of megabats. Megabats live throughout Australia,…

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: Rockhopper Penguin

Photo by Martin Zwick

What creature is named after a unique talent, is famous for a cool ‘hairdo,’ and stands out from the rest of the relatives? The Rockhopper Penguin! Not all penguins live on ice Scientists are still debating how many species of Rockhopper penguins exist, but generally there are three: Southern, Northern, and Eastern. Despite the lack…

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: Poison Dart Frog

Photo from Pixabay

What creature the size of a paperclip is lethal enough to kill ten grown men? The poison dart frog! What makes the poison dart frog so powerful? Poison dart frogs – so named because the Indigenous Emberá people of Colombia traditionally used the venom in blow darts – are some of the most toxic creatures…

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 (Pacific Salmon)

Spawning Sockeye Salmon (Photo: Earthjustice)

Welcome back to our Featured Creature series, where we share a creature whose evolutionary traits, special role within its ecosystem, or fun facts have captured our attention.  This week we ask, What creatures navigate oceans, climb mountains, feed forests, and motivate us to destroy renewable energy infrastructure? Pacific Salmon, of course! How do salmon find…

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…