The North Pacific giant Octopus, Enteroctopus dofleini (1910)
Phylum : MolluscaClass : CephalopodaOrder : OctopodaFamily : OctopodidaeGenus : EnteroctopusSpecies : E. dofleini
Least concern
4 m long and 15 kg (size)
Northern Pacific ocean (map)
The giant Pacific octopus is considered to be long-lived compared to other species, with lifespans that average 3–5 years in the wild. Many other octopus go through a lifespan in one year, from egg to end of life. To make up for its relatively short life span, the octopus is extremely prolific. It can lay 120,000 up to 400,000 eggs which are intensively cared for by the females. The female stops eating during this care and her life ends soon after the eggs hatch. Eggs are coated in chorion, and the female attaches the eggs to a hard surface. She continuously blows water over the eggs, and grooms them of algae and other growths. Eggs hatch in approximately 6 months. Hatchlings are about the size of a grain of rice, and very few survive to adulthood. Their growth rate is incredibly high. Starting from 3/100ths of a gram and growing to 20–40 kg at adulthood, is approximately 0.9% of growth a day. Because they are cool-blooded, they are able to convert most of consumed energy into body mass, respiration, activity and reproduction.


During reproduction, the male octopus deposits a spermatophore (or sperm packet) more than one meter long using his hectocotylus (specialized arm) in the female’s mantle. Large spermatophores are characteristic of octopuses in this genus.The female stores the spermatophore in her spermatheca until she is ready to fertilize her eggs. One female GPO at the Seattle Aquarium was observed to hold onto the spermatophore for seven months before laying fertilized eggs.

Giant Pacific octopuses are semelparous; they are characterized by a single reproductive episode before death. After reproduction they enter a stage called senescence. This involves obvious changes in behavior and appearance, including a reduced appetite, retraction of skin around the eyes giving them a more pronounced appearance, increased activity in uncoordinated patterns, and white lesions all over the body. While the duration of this stage is variable, it typically lasts about one to two months. Death is typically attributed to starvation as the females stop hunting and protect their eggs; males often spend more time in the open making them more likely to be preyed upon.
Octopuses are ranked as the most intelligent invertebrates. In the third century AD, Roman natural historian Claudius Aelianus wrote “Mischief and craft are plainly seen to be the characteristics of this creature.” Giant Pacific octopuses are commonly kept on display at aquariums due to their size and interesting physiology, and have demonstrated the ability to recognize humans that they frequently come in contact with. These responses include jetting water, changing body texture, and other behaviors that are consistently demonstrated to specific individuals. They have the ability to solve simple puzzles, open childproof bottles and use “tools”. The octopus brain has folded lobes (a distinct characteristic of complexity), visual and tactile memory centers. They have about 300 million neurons. They have been known to open tank valves, disassemble expensive equipment and generally wreak havoc in labs and aquariums. Some researchers even claim that they are capable of motor play and having personalities. Some claim that octopuses are psychic, as Paul was made famous by predicting all seven winning teams in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, although this is not scientifically supported.

The North Pacific giant Octopus, Enteroctopus dofleini (1910)

Phylum : Mollusca
Class : Cephalopoda
Order : Octopoda
Family : Octopodidae
Genus : Enteroctopus
Species : E. dofleini

  • Least concern
  • 4 m long and 15 kg (size)
  • Northern Pacific ocean (map)

The giant Pacific octopus is considered to be long-lived compared to other species, with lifespans that average 3–5 years in the wild. Many other octopus go through a lifespan in one year, from egg to end of life. To make up for its relatively short life span, the octopus is extremely prolific. It can lay 120,000 up to 400,000 eggs which are intensively cared for by the females. The female stops eating during this care and her life ends soon after the eggs hatch. Eggs are coated in chorion, and the female attaches the eggs to a hard surface. She continuously blows water over the eggs, and grooms them of algae and other growths. Eggs hatch in approximately 6 months. Hatchlings are about the size of a grain of rice, and very few survive to adulthood. Their growth rate is incredibly high. Starting from 3/100ths of a gram and growing to 20–40 kg at adulthood, is approximately 0.9% of growth a day. Because they are cool-blooded, they are able to convert most of consumed energy into body mass, respiration, activity and reproduction.

During reproduction, the male octopus deposits a spermatophore (or sperm packet) more than one meter long using his hectocotylus (specialized arm) in the female’s mantle. Large spermatophores are characteristic of octopuses in this genus.The female stores the spermatophore in her spermatheca until she is ready to fertilize her eggs. One female GPO at the Seattle Aquarium was observed to hold onto the spermatophore for seven months before laying fertilized eggs.

Giant Pacific octopuses are semelparous; they are characterized by a single reproductive episode before death. After reproduction they enter a stage called senescence. This involves obvious changes in behavior and appearance, including a reduced appetite, retraction of skin around the eyes giving them a more pronounced appearance, increased activity in uncoordinated patterns, and white lesions all over the body. While the duration of this stage is variable, it typically lasts about one to two months. Death is typically attributed to starvation as the females stop hunting and protect their eggs; males often spend more time in the open making them more likely to be preyed upon.

Octopuses are ranked as the most intelligent invertebrates. In the third century AD, Roman natural historian Claudius Aelianus wrote “Mischief and craft are plainly seen to be the characteristics of this creature.” Giant Pacific octopuses are commonly kept on display at aquariums due to their size and interesting physiology, and have demonstrated the ability to recognize humans that they frequently come in contact with. These responses include jetting water, changing body texture, and other behaviors that are consistently demonstrated to specific individuals. They have the ability to solve simple puzzles, open childproof bottles and use “tools”. The octopus brain has folded lobes (a distinct characteristic of complexity), visual and tactile memory centers. They have about 300 million neurons. They have been known to open tank valves, disassemble expensive equipment and generally wreak havoc in labs and aquariums. Some researchers even claim that they are capable of motor play and having personalities. Some claim that octopuses are psychic, as Paul was made famous by predicting all seven winning teams in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, although this is not scientifically supported.

The Xingu river Ray, Potamotrygon leopoldi (1970)
Phylum : ChordataClass : ChondrichthyesOrder : MyliobatiformesFamily : PotamotrygonidaeGenus : PotamotrygonSpecies : P. leopoldi
Least concern
20 cm long and 1 kg (size)
Xingu, Curuá and Iriri rivers, Brazil (map)
The Xingu River ray or white-blotched river stingray, is a species of fish in the Potamotrygonidae family endemic to Brazil. Its natural habitat is rivers. It is threatened by habitat loss.

The Xingu river Ray, Potamotrygon leopoldi (1970)

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Chondrichthyes
Order : Myliobatiformes
Family : Potamotrygonidae
Genus : Potamotrygon
Species : P. leopoldi

  • Least concern
  • 20 cm long and 1 kg (size)
  • Xingu, Curuá and Iriri rivers, Brazil (map)

The Xingu River ray or white-blotched river stingray, is a species of fish in the Potamotrygonidae family endemic to Brazil. Its natural habitat is rivers. It is threatened by habitat loss.

The Cuenca hunter, Concavenator (2010)
Phylum : ChordataClass : ReptiliaOrder : SaurischiaSuborder : TheropodaFamily : CarcharodontosauridaeGenus : ConcavenatorSpecies : C. corcovatus
Early Cretaceous (130 Ma)
6 m long and 2 500 kg (size)
Province of Cuenca, Spain (map)
Discovering a new genus of dinosaur is rare enough, but discovering a new genus of dinosaur possessing a never-before-seen anatomical feature is a once-in-a-lifetime event. So imagine the wonderment of the Spanish team of researchers that recently dug up Concavenator, a large theropod of early Cretaceous Europe that sported not one, but two, extremely odd adaptations: first, a triangular structure on its lower back, just above the hips, that may have supported a sail or fatty hump; and second, what appear to be “quill knobs” on its forearms, that is, bony structures that probably supported small arrays of feathers.
So what accounts for these strange features? Well, the 20-foot-long Concavenator was a close relative of Carcharodontosaurus, which was itself related to the huge, sail-backed Spinosaurus—so the hump/sail on this new dinosaur shouldn’t come as a surprise, even though it was situated much further down the spinal column than on other dinosaurs (another surprise: until recently, these types of theropods were thought to be restricted to South America and Africa). As for the quill knobs, those are more of a mystery: to date, only much smaller theropods than Concavenator, mostly “dino-birds” and raptors, have shown evidence of arm feathers. Clearly, the feathers on Concavenator’s forearms (and probably only on its forearms) were meant for display rather than insulation, which may provide clues about the subsequent evolution of feathered flight.

The Cuenca hunter, Concavenator (2010)

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Order : Saurischia
Suborder : Theropoda
Family : Carcharodontosauridae
Genus : Concavenator
Species : C. corcovatus

  • Early Cretaceous (130 Ma)
  • 6 m long and 2 500 kg (size)
  • Province of Cuenca, Spain (map)

Discovering a new genus of dinosaur is rare enough, but discovering a new genus of dinosaur possessing a never-before-seen anatomical feature is a once-in-a-lifetime event. So imagine the wonderment of the Spanish team of researchers that recently dug up Concavenator, a large theropod of early Cretaceous Europe that sported not one, but two, extremely odd adaptations: first, a triangular structure on its lower back, just above the hips, that may have supported a sail or fatty hump; and second, what appear to be “quill knobs” on its forearms, that is, bony structures that probably supported small arrays of feathers.

So what accounts for these strange features? Well, the 20-foot-long Concavenator was a close relative of Carcharodontosaurus, which was itself related to the huge, sail-backed Spinosaurus—so the hump/sail on this new dinosaur shouldn’t come as a surprise, even though it was situated much further down the spinal column than on other dinosaurs (another surprise: until recently, these types of theropods were thought to be restricted to South America and Africa). As for the quill knobs, those are more of a mystery: to date, only much smaller theropods than Concavenator, mostly “dino-birds” and raptors, have shown evidence of arm feathers. Clearly, the feathers on Concavenator’s forearms (and probably only on its forearms) were meant for display rather than insulation, which may provide clues about the subsequent evolution of feathered flight.

The first whale, Protocetus (1904)
Phylum : ChordataClass : MammaliaOrder : CetaceaSuborder : ArchaeocetiFamily : ProtocetidaeGenus : ProtocetusSpecies : P. atavus
Middle Eocene (42 - 38 Ma)
2,5 m long and 100 kg (size)
Mokattam formation, Egypt (map)
Despite its name, Protocetus wasn’t technically the “first whale;” as far as we know, that honor belongs to the four-legged, land-bound Pakicetus, which lived a few million years earlier. Whereas the dog-like Pakicetus ventured only occasionally into the water, Protocetus was much better adapted to an aquatic lifestyle, with a lithe, seal-like body and powerful front legs. Also, the nostrils of this prehistoric whale were located midway up its forehead, foreshadowing the blowholes of its modern descendants, and its ears were better adapted to hearing underwater.

The first whale, Protocetus (1904)

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Cetacea
Suborder : Archaeoceti
Family : Protocetidae
Genus : Protocetus
Species : P. atavus

  • Middle Eocene (42 - 38 Ma)
  • 2,5 m long and 100 kg (size)
  • Mokattam formation, Egypt (map)

Despite its name, Protocetus wasn’t technically the “first whale;” as far as we know, that honor belongs to the four-legged, land-bound Pakicetus, which lived a few million years earlier. Whereas the dog-like Pakicetus ventured only occasionally into the water, Protocetus was much better adapted to an aquatic lifestyle, with a lithe, seal-like body and powerful front legs. Also, the nostrils of this prehistoric whale were located midway up its forehead, foreshadowing the blowholes of its modern descendants, and its ears were better adapted to hearing underwater.

The Alligator snapping Turtle, Macroclemys temminckii (1835)
Phylum : ChordataClass : ReptiliaOrder : TestudinesFamily : ChelydridaeGenus : MacroclemysSpecies : M. temminckii
Vulnerable
80 cm long and 80 kg (size)
Southern North America (map)
The alligator snapping turtle is characterized by a large, heavy head, and a long, thick shell with three dorsal ridges of large scales (osteoderms), giving it a primitive appearance reminiscent of some of the plated dinosaurs. They can be immediately distinguished from the common snapping turtle by the three distinct rows of spikes and raised plates on the carapace, whereas the common snapping turtle has a smoother carapace. They are a solid gray, brown, black, or olive-green in color, and often covered with algae. They have radiating yellow patterns around their eyes, serving to break up the outline of the eyes to keep the turtle camouflaged. Their eyes are also surrounded by a star-shaped arrangement of fleshy, filamentous “eyelashes”.
The inside of the turtle’s mouth is camouflaged, and it possesses a vermiform (literally, “worm-shaped”) appendage on the tip of its tongue used to lure fish, a form of Peckhamian mimicry. The turtle hunts by lying motionless in the water with its mouth wide open. The vermiform tongue imitates the movements of a worm, luring prey to the turtle’s mouth. The mouth is then closed with tremendous speed and force, completing the ambush.
Contrary to claims that alligator snapping turtles possess one of the strongest bite force of any animal, it has been recorded at 158 ± 18 kgf , which is lower than several other species of turtles and at about the same level as humans, relative to the turtle’s body size. Still, these turtles must be handled with extreme care and considered potentially dangerous. This species can bite through the handle of a broom and rare cases have been reported where human fingers have been cleanly bitten off by the species. No human deaths have been reported to have been caused by alligator snapping turtles.

The Alligator snapping Turtle, Macroclemys temminckii (1835)

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Order : Testudines
Family : Chelydridae
Genus : Macroclemys
Species : M. temminckii

  • Vulnerable
  • 80 cm long and 80 kg (size)
  • Southern North America (map)

The alligator snapping turtle is characterized by a large, heavy head, and a long, thick shell with three dorsal ridges of large scales (osteoderms), giving it a primitive appearance reminiscent of some of the plated dinosaurs. They can be immediately distinguished from the common snapping turtle by the three distinct rows of spikes and raised plates on the carapace, whereas the common snapping turtle has a smoother carapace. They are a solid gray, brown, black, or olive-green in color, and often covered with algae. They have radiating yellow patterns around their eyes, serving to break up the outline of the eyes to keep the turtle camouflaged. Their eyes are also surrounded by a star-shaped arrangement of fleshy, filamentous “eyelashes”.

The inside of the turtle’s mouth is camouflaged, and it possesses a vermiform (literally, “worm-shaped”) appendage on the tip of its tongue used to lure fish, a form of Peckhamian mimicry. The turtle hunts by lying motionless in the water with its mouth wide open. The vermiform tongue imitates the movements of a worm, luring prey to the turtle’s mouth. The mouth is then closed with tremendous speed and force, completing the ambush.

Contrary to claims that alligator snapping turtles possess one of the strongest bite force of any animal, it has been recorded at 158 ± 18 kgf , which is lower than several other species of turtles and at about the same level as humans, relative to the turtle’s body size. Still, these turtles must be handled with extreme care and considered potentially dangerous. This species can bite through the handle of a broom and rare cases have been reported where human fingers have been cleanly bitten off by the species. No human deaths have been reported to have been caused by alligator snapping turtles.

The Capybara, Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris (1766)
Phylum : ChordataClass : MammaliaOrder : RodentiaSuborder : HystricomorphaFamily : CaviidaeSubfamily : HydrochoeridaeGenus : HydrochoerusSpecies : H. hydrochaeris
Least concern
1,3 m long and 60 kg (size)
South America (map)
Capybaras are semi-aquatic mammals found throughout almost all countries of South America. They live in densely forested areas near bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, swamps, ponds, and marshes as well as flooded savannah and along rivers in tropical forest. Capybara have flourished in cattle ranches. They roam in home ranges averaging 10 hectares in high-density populations.Many escapees from captivity can also be found in similar watery habitats around the world. Sightings are fairly common in Florida, although a breeding population has not yet been confirmed. In 2011, one was spotted in the central coast of California.
Capybaras are very gregarious. While they do sometimes live solitarily, they are more commonly found in groups that average 10–20 individuals, with two to four adult males, four to seven adult females and the rest juveniles. Capybara groups can consist of as many as 50 or 100 individuals during the dry season, when the animals gather around available water sources. Males are organized in stable, linear hierarchies. The dominant male in each group is significantly heavier than any of the subordinates, but among subordinates, status is not correlated with weight. The dominant male is positioned in the center of the group while subordinates are on the periphery. These hierarchies are established early in life among the young with play fights and mock copulations. The most dominant males have access to the best resources.
Capybaras are very vocal and, when in groups, chatter with each other to establish social bonds, dominance or general group census. They can make dog-like barks when threatened or when females are herding young.Capybaras have two different scent glands; a morillo, located on the snout, and an anal gland. Both sexes have these glands, but males have much larger morillos and their anal pockets can open more easily. The anal glands of males are also lined with detachable hairs. A crystalline form of scent secretion is coated on these hairs and are released when in contact with objects like plants. These hairs have a longer-lasting scent mark and are tasted by other capybaras. A capybara marks by rubbing its morillo on an object or by walking over a scrub and marking with its anal gland. A capybara can spread its scent further by urinating. However, females usually mark without urinating and mark less frequently than males overall. Females mark more often during the wet season when they are in estrus. In addition to objects, males will also mark females.

The Capybara, Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris (1766)

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Rodentia
Suborder : Hystricomorpha
Family : Caviidae
Subfamily : Hydrochoeridae
Genus : Hydrochoerus
Species : H. hydrochaeris

  • Least concern
  • 1,3 m long and 60 kg (size)
  • South America (map)

Capybaras are semi-aquatic mammals found throughout almost all countries of South America. They live in densely forested areas near bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, swamps, ponds, and marshes as well as flooded savannah and along rivers in tropical forest. Capybara have flourished in cattle ranches. They roam in home ranges averaging 10 hectares in high-density populations.
Many escapees from captivity can also be found in similar watery habitats around the world. Sightings are fairly common in Florida, although a breeding population has not yet been confirmed. In 2011, one was spotted in the central coast of California.

Capybaras are very gregarious. While they do sometimes live solitarily, they are more commonly found in groups that average 10–20 individuals, with two to four adult males, four to seven adult females and the rest juveniles. Capybara groups can consist of as many as 50 or 100 individuals during the dry season, when the animals gather around available water sources. Males are organized in stable, linear hierarchies. The dominant male in each group is significantly heavier than any of the subordinates, but among subordinates, status is not correlated with weight. The dominant male is positioned in the center of the group while subordinates are on the periphery. These hierarchies are established early in life among the young with play fights and mock copulations. The most dominant males have access to the best resources.

Capybaras are very vocal and, when in groups, chatter with each other to establish social bonds, dominance or general group census. They can make dog-like barks when threatened or when females are herding young.Capybaras have two different scent glands; a morillo, located on the snout, and an anal gland. Both sexes have these glands, but males have much larger morillos and their anal pockets can open more easily. The anal glands of males are also lined with detachable hairs. A crystalline form of scent secretion is coated on these hairs and are released when in contact with objects like plants. These hairs have a longer-lasting scent mark and are tasted by other capybaras. A capybara marks by rubbing its morillo on an object or by walking over a scrub and marking with its anal gland. A capybara can spread its scent further by urinating. However, females usually mark without urinating and mark less frequently than males overall. Females mark more often during the wet season when they are in estrus. In addition to objects, males will also mark females.

Near crested lizard, Parasaurolophus (1922)
Phylum : ChordataClass : ReptiliaOrder : OrnithischiaFamily : HadrosauridaeGenus : ParasaurolophusSpecies : P. walkeri, P. tubicen, P. cyrtocristatus
Late Cretaceous (76,5 - 73 Ma)
9 m long and 2 500 kg (size)
Utah, USA (map)
A close relative of its fellow hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur, Corythosaurus—with which it shared the same North American territory during the late Cretaceous period—Parasaurolophus was distinguished by the long, hollow crest of bone atop its head, which gave it a sleek, aerodynamic, sporty profile unmatched by most other dinosaurs of its era.
For a long time, the function of Parasaurolophus’ ornate head crest was a mystery—which was only settled when some enterprising paleontologists created a hollow reproduction of this crest and blasted air through it, producing piercing blasts of sound. Clearly, Parasaurolophus used its crest to communicate with others of its species (the crests of the males were longer than those of the females, meaning males probably bellowed loudest when they were eager to mate). This backward-curving crest may also have had other, secondary functions, such as dissipating heat or (when brightly colored) signaling other members of the herd.
By the way, Parasaurolophus was an entirely different dinosaur from two other, similarly named hadrosaurs: Saurolophus, a comparably sized duckbill that roamed both North America and Asia, and Prosaurolophus, which had only a minimal head crest. However, it’s possible to view the contemporary Asian Charonosaurus as an even bigger version of Parasaurolophus; this similar-looking but plus-sized hadrosaur was probably able to bellow for even greater distances.
The most distinctive feature of Parasaurolophus was its long, narrow, backward-curving head crest. Recently, a team of paleontologists computer-modeled this crest from various fossil specimens and fed it with a virtual blast of air. Lo and behold, the crest produced a deep, resonating sound—evidence that Parasaurolophus communicated this way with other members of the herd.Evolution rarely produces an anatomical structure for strictly one function. It’s very likely that the head crest of Parasaurolophus served double duty as a temperature-regulation device: that is, its large surface area allowed this presumably cold-blooded dinosaur to soak up heat during the day, and dissipate it slowly at night, allowing it to enjoy a “homeothermic” metabolism.When Parasaurolophus was first discovered, in 1920, speculation about its crest ran rampant. Some paleontologists thought this dinosaur spent most of its time underwater, using its crest like a snorkel, while others proposed that the crest functioned as a weapon during intra-species combat or even had specialized nerve endings that could “sniff out” nearby vegetation. Short answer: No!

Near crested lizard, Parasaurolophus (1922)

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Order : Ornithischia
Family : Hadrosauridae
Genus : Parasaurolophus
Species : P. walkeri, P. tubicen, P. cyrtocristatus

  • Late Cretaceous (76,5 - 73 Ma)
  • 9 m long and 2 500 kg (size)
  • Utah, USA (map)

A close relative of its fellow hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur, Corythosaurus—with which it shared the same North American territory during the late Cretaceous period—Parasaurolophus was distinguished by the long, hollow crest of bone atop its head, which gave it a sleek, aerodynamic, sporty profile unmatched by most other dinosaurs of its era.

For a long time, the function of Parasaurolophus’ ornate head crest was a mystery—which was only settled when some enterprising paleontologists created a hollow reproduction of this crest and blasted air through it, producing piercing blasts of sound. Clearly, Parasaurolophus used its crest to communicate with others of its species (the crests of the males were longer than those of the females, meaning males probably bellowed loudest when they were eager to mate). This backward-curving crest may also have had other, secondary functions, such as dissipating heat or (when brightly colored) signaling other members of the herd.

By the way, Parasaurolophus was an entirely different dinosaur from two other, similarly named hadrosaurs: Saurolophus, a comparably sized duckbill that roamed both North America and Asia, and Prosaurolophus, which had only a minimal head crest. However, it’s possible to view the contemporary Asian Charonosaurus as an even bigger version of Parasaurolophus; this similar-looking but plus-sized hadrosaur was probably able to bellow for even greater distances.

The most distinctive feature of Parasaurolophus was its long, narrow, backward-curving head crest. Recently, a team of paleontologists computer-modeled this crest from various fossil specimens and fed it with a virtual blast of air. Lo and behold, the crest produced a deep, resonating sound—evidence that Parasaurolophus communicated this way with other members of the herd.
Evolution rarely produces an anatomical structure for strictly one function. It’s very likely that the head crest of Parasaurolophus served double duty as a temperature-regulation device: that is, its large surface area allowed this presumably cold-blooded dinosaur to soak up heat during the day, and dissipate it slowly at night, allowing it to enjoy a “homeothermic” metabolism.
When Parasaurolophus was first discovered, in 1920, speculation about its crest ran rampant. Some paleontologists thought this dinosaur spent most of its time underwater, using its crest like a snorkel, while others proposed that the crest functioned as a weapon during intra-species combat or even had specialized nerve endings that could “sniff out” nearby vegetation. Short answer: No!

The russet Sparrow, Passer rutilans (1835)
Phylum : ChordataClass : AvesOrder : PasseriformesFamily : PasseridaeGenus : PasserSpecies : P. rutilans
Least concern
15 cm long and 22 grams (size)
Asia (map)
In many aspects of its behaviour, the Russet Sparrow is similar to the House and Eurasian Tree sparrows. Like them, it feeds on the ground, but spends most of its time perching on branches. Unlike those species, it prefers open, exposed branches for perching. The Russet Sparrow is described as shy and wary by some observers, but J. Denis Summers-Smith found it approachable in Indian hill stations. Flocking Russet Sparrows feed close to the ground, moving forward as birds from the rear of a flock move to the front, in what is called “roller feeding”. Outside its breeding season, the Russet Sparrow is gregarious and forms flocks to find food, though it infrequently associates with other birds. Wintering flocks tend to keep away from human habitation. The Russet Sparrow is also social at night during the winter, and it forms large communal roosts in trees and bushes. In the breeding season, the female roosts in the nests and the male nests in foliage nearby. The adult Russet Sparrow is mostly a seed-eater, eating the seeds of herbs and weeds as well as rice, barley, and other grains. Berries, such as those of the kingore, are also eaten when available. Nestlings are fed mostly on insects, especially caterpillars and larval beetles obtained on trees and flying insects caught by aerial pursuit. During the breeding season adults also consume insects. Mortality rates in the Russet Sparrow have not been studied, but it is known that many young birds die from Isospora infections, to which the bird has little resistance. Other recorded parasites of the Russet Sparrow include Protocalliphora blowflies, and Menacanthus chewing lice.

The c. 1830 woodblock “Hibiscus and Sparrow" by the Japanese artist Hokusai, which portrays the Russet Sparrow

In parts of the range, the Russet Sparrow inhabits towns, and in most of its range, it occurs near cultivation, and is a minor pest of agriculture. Though it damages crops, it also feeds its nestlings largely on insect pests. In China, the Russet Sparrow has been recorded as a captive bird, kept with the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. In Japan it was eaten in the 1870s and sold in the Yokohama game market. The Russet Sparrow is known well enough in the Himalayas that in most languages it has a different vernacular name from the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. Examples of these vernacular names include lal gouriya in Hindi and kang-che-go-ma in Tibetan. The Japanese artist Hokusai portrayed the Russet Sparrow, and due to this, it has appeared on postage stamps featuring Japanese art in Japan, The Gambia, and Guyana.

The russet Sparrow, Passer rutilans (1835)

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Passeriformes
Family : Passeridae
Genus : Passer
Species : P. rutilans

  • Least concern
  • 15 cm long and 22 grams (size)
  • Asia (map)

In many aspects of its behaviour, the Russet Sparrow is similar to the House and Eurasian Tree sparrows. Like them, it feeds on the ground, but spends most of its time perching on branches. Unlike those species, it prefers open, exposed branches for perching. The Russet Sparrow is described as shy and wary by some observers, but J. Denis Summers-Smith found it approachable in Indian hill stations. Flocking Russet Sparrows feed close to the ground, moving forward as birds from the rear of a flock move to the front, in what is called “roller feeding”. Outside its breeding season, the Russet Sparrow is gregarious and forms flocks to find food, though it infrequently associates with other birds. Wintering flocks tend to keep away from human habitation. The Russet Sparrow is also social at night during the winter, and it forms large communal roosts in trees and bushes. In the breeding season, the female roosts in the nests and the male nests in foliage nearby. The adult Russet Sparrow is mostly a seed-eater, eating the seeds of herbs and weeds as well as rice, barley, and other grains. Berries, such as those of the kingore, are also eaten when available. Nestlings are fed mostly on insects, especially caterpillars and larval beetles obtained on trees and flying insects caught by aerial pursuit. During the breeding season adults also consume insects. Mortality rates in the Russet Sparrow have not been studied, but it is known that many young birds die from Isospora infections, to which the bird has little resistance. Other recorded parasites of the Russet Sparrow include Protocalliphora blowflies, and Menacanthus chewing lice.

The c. 1830 woodblock “Hibiscus and Sparrow" by the Japanese artist Hokusai, which portrays the Russet Sparrow

In parts of the range, the Russet Sparrow inhabits towns, and in most of its range, it occurs near cultivation, and is a minor pest of agriculture. Though it damages crops, it also feeds its nestlings largely on insect pests. In China, the Russet Sparrow has been recorded as a captive bird, kept with the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. In Japan it was eaten in the 1870s and sold in the Yokohama game market. The Russet Sparrow is known well enough in the Himalayas that in most languages it has a different vernacular name from the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. Examples of these vernacular names include lal gouriya in Hindi and kang-che-go-ma in Tibetan. The Japanese artist Hokusai portrayed the Russet Sparrow, and due to this, it has appeared on postage stamps featuring Japanese art in Japan, The Gambia, and Guyana.

The flat Porcupine, Platyhystrix (1910)
Phylum : ChordataClass : AmphibiaOrder : TemnospondyliFamily : DissorophidaeGenus : PlatyhystrixSpecies : P.rugosus
Late carboniferous/Early permian (301 - 298 Ma)
1 m long and 4 kg (size)
Texas, USA (map)
Platyhystrix was a temnospondyl amphibian with a distinctive sail along its back, similar to the unrelated synapsids, Dimetrodon and Edaphosaurus. It lived during the latest Carboniferous and earliest Permian periods in Texas, about 300 million years ago.
Platyhystrix may have been preyed upon by larger temnospondyls such as Eryops, or by larger carnivorous reptiles, which were becoming more common and diverse in the drier climate of the Permian. The skull was large and strongly built, with a frog-like face. Platyhystrix had a compact body, reaching 1 metre long including the tail, and its short, sturdy legs indicate a mainly terrestrial life.

Platyhystrix appeared rather unusual: the dorsal vertebrae were extraordinarily lengthened, and in life they probably formed a skin-covered sail. This structure was possibly for thermal regulation, as in other animals of similar appearance, such as the pelycosaurs Dimetrodon and Edaphosaurus. The back of Platyhystrix was also covered with thick hard plates, similar to those of its near relative, Cacops.

The flat Porcupine, Platyhystrix (1910)

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Amphibia
Order : Temnospondyli
Family : Dissorophidae
Genus : Platyhystrix
Species : P.rugosus

  • Late carboniferous/Early permian (301 - 298 Ma)
  • 1 m long and 4 kg (size)
  • Texas, USA (map)

Platyhystrix was a temnospondyl amphibian with a distinctive sail along its back, similar to the unrelated synapsids, Dimetrodon and Edaphosaurus. It lived during the latest Carboniferous and earliest Permian periods in Texas, about 300 million years ago.

Platyhystrix may have been preyed upon by larger temnospondyls such as Eryops, or by larger carnivorous reptiles, which were becoming more common and diverse in the drier climate of the Permian. The skull was large and strongly built, with a frog-like face. Platyhystrix had a compact body, reaching 1 metre long including the tail, and its short, sturdy legs indicate a mainly terrestrial life.

Platyhystrix appeared rather unusual: the dorsal vertebrae were extraordinarily lengthened, and in life they probably formed a skin-covered sail. This structure was possibly for thermal regulation, as in other animals of similar appearance, such as the pelycosaurs Dimetrodon and Edaphosaurus. The back of Platyhystrix was also covered with thick hard plates, similar to those of its near relative, Cacops.

The Nomura’s Jellyfish, Stomolophus nomurai (1922)
Phylum : CnidariaClass : ScyphozoaOrder : RhizostomaeFamily : RhizostomatidaeGenus : StomolophusSpecies : S. nomurai
Status not evaluated
2 m long and 200 kg (size)
Eastern Pacific ocean (map)
The diameter when fully grown is slightly greater than the height of an average man. The species was named in tribute to Mr. Kan’ichi Nomura, Director General of the Fukui Prefectural Fisheries Experimental Station, who in early December 1921 sent a specimen in a 72-litre wooden tank to Professor Kishinouye, who found that it was unknown and spent some time at the station to study living specimens.

Growing up to 2 m in diameter and weighing up to 200 kg, Nomura’s Jellyfish reside primarily in the waters between China and Japan, primarily centralized in the Yellow Sea and East China Sea. Population blooms appear to be increasing with frequency in the past 20 years. Possible reasons for the population increase in Nomura’s Jellyfish include climate change, overfishing, and coastal modification adding substrate for asexually producing polyps.
In 2009, a 10-tonne fishing trawler, the Diasan Shinsho-maru, capsized off Chiba on Tokyo Bay as its three-man crew tried to haul in a net containing dozens of Nomura’s Jellyfish; the three were rescued by another trawler.

The Nomura’s Jellyfish, Stomolophus nomurai (1922)

Phylum : Cnidaria
Class : Scyphozoa
Order : Rhizostomae
Family : Rhizostomatidae
Genus : Stomolophus
Species : S. nomurai

  • Status not evaluated
  • 2 m long and 200 kg (size)
  • Eastern Pacific ocean (map)

The diameter when fully grown is slightly greater than the height of an average man. The species was named in tribute to Mr. Kan’ichi Nomura, Director General of the Fukui Prefectural Fisheries Experimental Station, who in early December 1921 sent a specimen in a 72-litre wooden tank to Professor Kishinouye, who found that it was unknown and spent some time at the station to study living specimens.

Growing up to 2 m in diameter and weighing up to 200 kg, Nomura’s Jellyfish reside primarily in the waters between China and Japan, primarily centralized in the Yellow Sea and East China Sea. Population blooms appear to be increasing with frequency in the past 20 years. Possible reasons for the population increase in Nomura’s Jellyfish include climate change, overfishing, and coastal modification adding substrate for asexually producing polyps.

In 2009, a 10-tonne fishing trawler, the Diasan Shinsho-maru, capsized off Chiba on Tokyo Bay as its three-man crew tried to haul in a net containing dozens of Nomura’s Jellyfish; the three were rescued by another trawler.

The western Gorilla, Gorilla gorilla (1847)
Phylum : ChordataClass : MammaliaOrder : PrimatesFamily : HominidaeGenus : GorillaSpecies : G. gorillaSubspecies : G.g. gorilla, G.g. diehli
Critically endangered
1,50 m in height and 150 kg (size)
Central Africa (map)

Nearly all of the individuals of this taxon belong to the western lowland gorilla subspecies (G. g. gorilla) whose population is approximately 95,000 individuals. Only 250 to 300 of the only other western gorilla subspecies, the Cross River gorilla (G. g. diehli) are thought to remain.

Western gorillas live in groups that vary in size between two and 20 individuals, composed of at least one male, several females and their offspring. A dominant male silverback heads the group, with younger males usually leaving the group when they reach maturity. Females transfer to another group before breeding, which begins at eight to 9 years old; they care for their young infant for the first three to four years of its life. The interval between births, therefore, is long, which partly explains the slow population growth rates that make the western gorilla so vulnerable to poaching. Due to the long gestation time, long period of parental care, and infant mortality, a female gorilla will only give birth to an offspring that survives to maturity every six to eight years. Gorillas are long-lived and may survive for as long as 40 years in the wild. A group’s home range may be as large as 30 square km, but is not actively defended. Wild western gorillas are known to use tools.

The western Gorilla, Gorilla gorilla (1847)

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Primates
Family : Hominidae
Genus : Gorilla
Species : G. gorilla
Subspecies : G.g. gorilla, G.g. diehli

  • Critically endangered
  • 1,50 m in height and 150 kg (size)
  • Central Africa (map)

Nearly all of the individuals of this taxon belong to the western lowland gorilla subspecies (G. g. gorilla) whose population is approximately 95,000 individuals. Only 250 to 300 of the only other western gorilla subspecies, the Cross River gorilla (G. g. diehli) are thought to remain.

Western gorillas live in groups that vary in size between two and 20 individuals, composed of at least one male, several females and their offspring. A dominant male silverback heads the group, with younger males usually leaving the group when they reach maturity. Females transfer to another group before breeding, which begins at eight to 9 years old; they care for their young infant for the first three to four years of its life. The interval between births, therefore, is long, which partly explains the slow population growth rates that make the western gorilla so vulnerable to poaching. Due to the long gestation time, long period of parental care, and infant mortality, a female gorilla will only give birth to an offspring that survives to maturity every six to eight years. Gorillas are long-lived and may survive for as long as 40 years in the wild. A group’s home range may be as large as 30 square km, but is not actively defended. Wild western gorillas are known to use tools.

The giant thief, Gigantoraptor (2007)
Phylum : ChordataClass : ReptiliaOrder : SaurischiaSuborder : TheropodaSuperfamily : CaenagnathoideaFamily : CaenagnathidaeGenus : GigantoraptorSpecies : G. erlianensis
Late Cretaceous (86,3 - 83,6 Ma)
8 m long and 1 400 kg (size)
Dabasu formation, Mongolia (map)
Despite its scary name, it’s important to realize that Gigantoraptor wasn’t technically a true raptor, like Deinonychus, Velociraptor or the equally huge Utahraptor. Rather, this large, feathered theropod was a close relative of Oviraptor, and the largest such “dino-bird” yet discovered. Gigantoraptor was “diagnosed” based on a single, incomplete skeleton found in Mongolia in 2005, so further discoveries may shed some much-needed light on its lifestyle.


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The giant thief, Gigantoraptor (2007)

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Order : Saurischia
Suborder : Theropoda
Superfamily : Caenagnathoidea
Family : Caenagnathidae
Genus : Gigantoraptor
Species : G. erlianensis

  • Late Cretaceous (86,3 - 83,6 Ma)
  • 8 m long and 1 400 kg (size)
  • Dabasu formation, Mongolia (map)

Despite its scary name, it’s important to realize that Gigantoraptor wasn’t technically a true raptor, like Deinonychus, Velociraptor or the equally huge Utahraptor. Rather, this large, feathered theropod was a close relative of Oviraptor, and the largest such “dino-bird” yet discovered. Gigantoraptor was “diagnosed” based on a single, incomplete skeleton found in Mongolia in 2005, so further discoveries may shed some much-needed light on its lifestyle.

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The Sword ray, Xiphactinus (1870)
Phylum : ChordataClass : ActinopterygiiSuperorder : OsteoglossomorphaOrder : IchthyodectiformesFamily : IchthyodectidaeSubfamily : IchthyodectinaeGenus : XiphactinusSpecies : X. audax, X. vetus
Late Cretaceous (93,9 - 66 Ma)
6 m long and 500 kg (size)
Oceans worldwide (map)
Xiphactinus was the largest bony fish of the Cretaceous period, but it was far from the top predator of its North American ecosystem—as we can tell from the fact that specimens of the prehistoric sharks Squalicorax and Cretoxyrhina have been found containing Xiphactinus remains. It’s a fish-eat-fish world, though, so you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that numerous Xiphactinus fossils have been discovered containing the remains of smaller fish.
One of the most famous Xiphactinus fossils contains the almost-intact remains of an obscure, 10-foot-long Cretaceous fish called Gillicus. Paleontologists speculate that the Xiphactinus died right after swallowing the fish, possibly because its still-living prey managed to puncture its stomach. If this is what happened, Xiphactinus would be the first fish proven to have died from acute indigestion.

The Sword ray, Xiphactinus (1870)

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Actinopterygii
Superorder : Osteoglossomorpha
Order : Ichthyodectiformes
Family : Ichthyodectidae
Subfamily : Ichthyodectinae
Genus : Xiphactinus
Species : X. audax, X. vetus

  • Late Cretaceous (93,9 - 66 Ma)
  • 6 m long and 500 kg (size)
  • Oceans worldwide (map)

Xiphactinus was the largest bony fish of the Cretaceous period, but it was far from the top predator of its North American ecosystem—as we can tell from the fact that specimens of the prehistoric sharks Squalicorax and Cretoxyrhina have been found containing Xiphactinus remains. It’s a fish-eat-fish world, though, so you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that numerous Xiphactinus fossils have been discovered containing the remains of smaller fish.

One of the most famous Xiphactinus fossils contains the almost-intact remains of an obscure, 10-foot-long Cretaceous fish called Gillicus. Paleontologists speculate that the Xiphactinus died right after swallowing the fish, possibly because its still-living prey managed to puncture its stomach. If this is what happened, Xiphactinus would be the first fish proven to have died from acute indigestion.

The Utatsu lizard, Utatsusaurus (1978)
Phylum : ChordataClass : ReptiliaSuperorder : IcthyopterygiaFamily : UtatsusauridaeGenus : UtatsusaurusSpecies : U. hataii
Early Triassic (245 - 250 Ma)
3 m long and 200 kg (size)
Miyagi prefecture, Japan (map)
Utatsusaurus is what paleontologists call a “basal” ichthyosaur : the earliest of its kind yet discovered, dating to the early Triassic period, it lacked later ichthyosaur features such as long flippers, a flexible tail, and a dorsal fin. This marine reptile also possessed an unusually flat skull with small teeth, which, combined with its small flippers, implies that it didn’t pose much of a threat to the larger fish or marine organisms of its day. (By the way, if the name Utatsusaurus sounds strange, that’s because this ichthyosaur was named after the region in Japan where one of its fossils was unearthed.)

The Utatsu lizard, Utatsusaurus (1978)

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Superorder : Icthyopterygia
Family : Utatsusauridae
Genus : Utatsusaurus
Species : U. hataii

  • Early Triassic (245 - 250 Ma)
  • 3 m long and 200 kg (size)
  • Miyagi prefecture, Japan (map)

Utatsusaurus is what paleontologists call a “basal” ichthyosaur : the earliest of its kind yet discovered, dating to the early Triassic period, it lacked later ichthyosaur features such as long flippers, a flexible tail, and a dorsal fin. This marine reptile also possessed an unusually flat skull with small teeth, which, combined with its small flippers, implies that it didn’t pose much of a threat to the larger fish or marine organisms of its day. (By the way, if the name Utatsusaurus sounds strange, that’s because this ichthyosaur was named after the region in Japan where one of its fossils was unearthed.)

The mediterranean Monk Seal, Monachus monachus (1779)
Phylum : ChordataClass : MammaliaOrder : CarnivoraSuborder : PinnipediaFamily : PhocidaeGenus : MonachusSpecies : M. monachus
Critically endangered
2,4 m long and 300 kg (size)
Mediterranean sea (map)

The monk seals’ pups are about a meter long and weigh around 15–18 kilograms, their skin being covered by 1–1.5 centimeter-long, dark brown to black hair. On their bellies, there is a white stripe, which differs in color between the two sexes. This hair is replaced after six to eight weeks by the usual short hair adults carry.

Pregnant Mediterranean monk seals typically use inaccessible undersea caves while giving birth, though historical descriptions show they used open beaches until the 18th century. There are eight pairs of teeth in both jaws.

Believed to have the shortest hair of any pinniped, the Mediterranean monk seal fur is black (males) or brown to dark grey (females), with a paler belly, which is close to white in males. The snout is short broad and flat, with very pronounced, long nostrils that face upward, unlike their Hawaiian relative, which tend to have more forward nostrils. The flippers are relatively short, with small slender claws. Monk seals have two pairs of retractable abdominal teats, unlike most other pinnipeds.
This earless seal’s former range extended throughout the Northwest Atlantic Africa, Mediterranean and Black Sea, coastlines, including all offshore islands of the Mediterranean, and into the Atlantic and its islands: Canary, Madeira, Ilhas Desertas, Porto Santo… as far west as the Azores. Vagrants could be found as far south as Gambia and the Cape Verde islands, and as far north as continental Portugal and Atlantic France.

Several causes have provoked a dramatic population decrease over time: on one hand, commercial hunting (especially during the Roman Empire and Middle Ages) and, during the 20th century, eradication by fishermen, who used to consider it a pest due to the damage the seal causes to fishing nets when it preys on fish caught in them; and, on the other hand, coastal urbanization and pollution.
The species has gone extinct in the Sea of Marmara due to pollution and heavy ship traffic from the Dardanelles and the Bosporus. In addition, the last report of a seal in the Black Sea dates to the late 1990s.

The mediterranean Monk Seal, Monachus monachus (1779)

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Carnivora
Suborder : Pinnipedia
Family : Phocidae
Genus : Monachus
Species : M. monachus

  • Critically endangered
  • 2,4 m long and 300 kg (size)
  • Mediterranean sea (map)

The monk seals’ pups are about a meter long and weigh around 15–18 kilograms, their skin being covered by 1–1.5 centimeter-long, dark brown to black hair. On their bellies, there is a white stripe, which differs in color between the two sexes. This hair is replaced after six to eight weeks by the usual short hair adults carry.

Pregnant Mediterranean monk seals typically use inaccessible undersea caves while giving birth, though historical descriptions show they used open beaches until the 18th century. There are eight pairs of teeth in both jaws.

Believed to have the shortest hair of any pinniped, the Mediterranean monk seal fur is black (males) or brown to dark grey (females), with a paler belly, which is close to white in males. The snout is short broad and flat, with very pronounced, long nostrils that face upward, unlike their Hawaiian relative, which tend to have more forward nostrils. The flippers are relatively short, with small slender claws. Monk seals have two pairs of retractable abdominal teats, unlike most other pinnipeds.

This earless seal’s former range extended throughout the Northwest Atlantic Africa, Mediterranean and Black Sea, coastlines, including all offshore islands of the Mediterranean, and into the Atlantic and its islands: Canary, Madeira, Ilhas Desertas, Porto Santo… as far west as the Azores. Vagrants could be found as far south as Gambia and the Cape Verde islands, and as far north as continental Portugal and Atlantic France.

Several causes have provoked a dramatic population decrease over time: on one hand, commercial hunting (especially during the Roman Empire and Middle Ages) and, during the 20th century, eradication by fishermen, who used to consider it a pest due to the damage the seal causes to fishing nets when it preys on fish caught in them; and, on the other hand, coastal urbanization and pollution.

The species has gone extinct in the Sea of Marmara due to pollution and heavy ship traffic from the Dardanelles and the Bosporus. In addition, the last report of a seal in the Black Sea dates to the late 1990s.