lizbrownlee – poet

Poems, animal info and Lola the labradoodle!

V is for Viper

Geoff Gallice

Eyelash pit viper image by Geoff Gallice on Flikr.

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Eyelash Pit Viper

Eyelash pit vipers are beautiful snakes that come in a variety of colours. They live in tropical rainforest, montane forest and cloud forest in Central and northern South America.

They are arboreal, and ambush prey – they wait hidden under leaves, and sometimes use the end of their tail as a wormlike lure for birds and other invertebrate predators.

They have pit organs between each eye and nostril and these can sense the direction and body heat of their prey.

As you can see from the lovely image, eyelash vipers are so called because they have scales that look like eyelashes. These are thought to offer some camouflage in among the leaves, breaking up the outline of their head, and also some protection from branches – they are quite rough in texture.

These vipers are extremely venomous, with large, hypodermic, fang teeth that fold back when not in use – being storable like this means they can be longer to directly inject their prey deeply with poison.

They have been shipped all over the world in consignments of bananas – be careful if you open a box from America!

They are not listed as endangered and have not been assessed by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but like all rainforest creatures they are at risk of deforestation for timber, agriculture and urbanisation.

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Image © as above.

Poem © Liz Brownlee.

Facts: Wikipedia.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

U is for Uhler’s Sundragon

Uhler's Matt Tillett sundragon

Photo by Matt Tillett on Flikr.

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Uhler’s sundragon is a rare dragonfly that lives in the eastern U.S and Canada.

Not much is known about its lifecycle, but it is seen most often flying very quickly along the banks of fast-moving streams.

Dragonflies have incredible abilities to fly up, down, backwards and forwards and can stop and hover – they have full control over each of their 4 wings and use and can control unstable aerodynamics.

Their eyes are enormous for their size, and they can see where they are going and where they have been – so it is very hard for a predator to surprise them.

They have 5 cones in their eyes and can see in full colour and in ultraviolet and also polarised light. The detail with which they can see is excellent – they can even focus on and keep attention on different places, so that fixing on more than one target in a swarm of flies is easy.

Scientists used to think that they followed their prey and tracked it to catch it, but in fact they can predict the flight pattern of their prey and intercept it. They are voracious, efficient predators that rarely miss their mark.

The females are caught by the male and held while mating – then they have to evade their predators to lay their eggs in the water to hatch into nymphs – this water stage of their lives can take up to two years.

Dragonflies were around at the time of the dinosaurs, and reached huge sizes  – they would have been a scary opponent.

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Photo © as above.

Poem © Liz Brownlee.

Info: Odonatacentral.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

T is for Turtle

Logger head turtle

Image © US Fisheries and Wildlife, Becky Skiba on Flikr.

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There are loggerhead turtles swimming in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans and in the Mediterranean Sea. They spend most of their time in the water – only the females come to land just for the short time it takes to dig a hole and lay their eggs on the beach from where they hatched many years before.

Females only lay eggs every 3 years or so, so they don’t produce many offspring. When the little turtles hatch, it is up to them to make their way to the sea – orientated by the brightest horizon using reflections and the moon and the stars.

They have to negotiate many predators on their way to the sea, and in the shallows, before they make their way to deeper waters to hide in weeds until they are bigger.

In the deep waters they are prey to sharks and bigger fish – many die from ingesting and getting caught in plastic and other rubbish found in the seas. If you leave anything on a beach, it ends up in the sea – plastic bags and other rubbish gets blown and taken into waterways by rain and the wind, and then it also ends up in the sea. It is very important to dispose of all rubbish carefully.

Read about ‘Peanut’ the turtle who was caught as a youngster inside a plastic ring pack here: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/adoptriver/peanut.html

Only about 1 in 1,000 turtles makes it to adulthood.

Loggerhead turtles are classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

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Photo © as above.

Poem © Liz Brownlee.

Information Wikipedia.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

S is for Sloth

What's The Rush?

Two-toed sloth by Marie and Alistair Knock on Flikr.

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There are six species of sloth, some two-toed and some three-toed, and they are all very endearing creatures, with their perpetually smiling mouths.

Sloths of course are well known for spending large amounts of time asleep, and for moving very slowly, and there are reasons for this.

They eat a small amount of twigs and fruit, but mainly leaves, which require a long time and a lot of energy to digest. As a way of conserving energy they have a slow metabolism, and also a low body temperature.

They only urinate and defecate once a week, climbing down their tree to the ground to do so – this puts them at great risk, as all their limbs end in sharp, curved claws so they cannot walk or move nimbly.

They spend long periods completely still in the trees, and their fur is home to algae that turns them green – this helps camouflage them. Because they cannot move quickly it is imperative that they should be disguised to predators. And deep in their algae coated fur, they are also home to a special species of moth.

Scientists have long been studying just why sloths only go to the loo once a week, and climb down their tree at great risk to do so, and why they have moths in their fur.

Scientist Jonathan Pauli, Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin, thinks he has the answer. He has postulated that it is because the moth helps the algae to grow in the sloth’s fur, as its droppings provide nutrition and fertiliser. The algae protects the sloth from predators – and so the sloth goes down to the bottom of the tree to defecate and the moths use the dung to lay their eggs on.

So the moths lay eggs in the dung which fly up and populate the sloth’s fur.

The fur is then a good substrate for algae that turn the fur green in the sun and camouflage the sloths.

Thus everyone is happy!

Four of the six living species of sloth are not endangered, but the maned three-toed sloth from Brazil’s Atlantic Forest is classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and the pygmy three-toed sloth, from a small island off the coast of Panama, is classified as Critically Endangered.

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Photograph © as above.

Poem © Liz Brownlee

Information Wikipedia and The Independent science news.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

R is for Rhinoceros

International Rhino Foundation

Image © International Rhino Foundation on Flikr.

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All five rhino species still around (Black, White, Indian, Sumatran, Javan) are in extreme peril – from poaching, habitat loss and from humans encroaching on their habitat with settlements. There are only 35 Javan rhino left.

What prompted me to write the poem above was seeing a terrible picture of a rhino, still standing, still alive, but with his horn and part of his face completely hacked off.

Rhino horn has been traditionally used in Asia for centuries in medicine and for carving into various artifacts – the horn changes colour with age and glows.

It is still used in Chinese medicine for many reasons. It is also used in Taiwan for instance as a hangover cure for young (very rich) executives, who believe it will revive them after various types of drug use so they can perform perfectly well the next day at work.

Rhino horn has been shown scientifically to be of no use whatsoever as a medicine or hangover cure. It is made of keratin, calcium and melanin. You might as well, it is said, bite your own fingernails.

There is still a huge amount of illegal trading in rhino horn. In some places the horns of some remaining rhino have been cut off by vets to deter the poachers – but poachers then kill the rhino anyway so that they don’t waste time hunting worthless rhino.

What is the answer? The World Wildlife Fund is one of the few organisations attempting to tackle all threats to rhinos – strengthening protected areas in Africa and Asia, lobbying to halt logging from the illegal timber trade that threatens rhino habitat, and stamping out the trade in illegal rhino horn.

In the meantime, 5 species of rhino may soon dwindle to 4 or fewer.

I decided not to post the picture of the bleeding rhino.

If you wish to help rhinos, there is information here: WWF.

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Image © as above.

Poem © Liz Brownlee

Information, WWF.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

Q is for Quokka

david burton

Quokka by David Burton on Flikr.

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I do love all animals, but there is something about this little marsupial that makes me smile and want to scoop it up and cuddle it silly.

It is a small macropod, the same family as kangaroos and wallabies, and it jumps.

It is about the size of a domestic cat and it is nocturnal and herbivorous – quokkas have no fear of tourists and approach them to exploit the easy food that comes with them. Which is not doing it any good. Fines have been set in place to stop tourists handling and feeding them.

Quokkas eat grasses, seeds and roots and they swallow them like a ruminant and regurgitate to chew the cud later – so the sorts of food given by humans will upset their highly specialised digestion.

For instance, quokkas can survive without water – if it is there they drink it, but can go months without a drink by reusing some of their waste products.

Another unusual thing about them is that they can climb trees up to 1.5 m.

Black tulip

Hard to resist. Photo by Blacktulip on Flikr.

Introduced species such as cats, dogs and foxes, and dingoes have decimated the quokka on the mainland, and they now live mostly on two offshore islands that are free of predators.

They are classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

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Images © photographers as specified above.

Poem © Liz Brownlee

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

P is for Pelican

Richard Taylor

Pelican photo by Richard Taylor on Flikr.

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The name pelican derives from an Ancient Greek word, which itself came from a word meaning ‘axe’.

Despite having the biggest beak, up to 1.6 feet, and being the heaviest birds to fly, pelicans are remarkably graceful in the air.

They have air bubbles in their bones which keeps their weight down and give them extra buoyancy, and also air sacs beneath the skin in their throat, chest and beneath their wings which also help with the latter.

During courtship the pelicans’ bills in all species change to vivid, beautiful colours.

Sometimes pelicans hunt in groups, beating the water surface with their wings to herd fish into the shallows. Then they scoop them up, their beaks expanding like a concertina, drain up to 3 gallons of water away, and gulp the fish down.

Pelicans are remarkably endearing looking birds, and are related to Shoebill storks.

They are not endangered generally, but are losing habitat and have been affected by pesticides.

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Photo © Richard Taylor as above.

Poem © Liz Brownlee.

Information from Wikipedia.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

O is for Orangutan

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Pregnant orangutan clinging to the last tree in rainforest felled for palm oil    Caters News Agency.

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80% of the rainforest in Sumatra and Borneo, where orangutans live, has been cut down in the last twenty years. In only ten years time, there will be no orangutans left unless something is done very quickly to save where they live – and the answer lies in YOUR hands.

Most of the rainforest is being replanted for palm oil. Palm oil is easy to grow and cheap to produce. It is now in 8 out of every 10 products in the supermarket at which you buy your food.

It is used as a cheap bulking agent and it stays stable so is used for biscuits and processed foods.

Practically everything you buy has it in – even soap powder for washing clothes.

Are you buying Easter eggs for this weekend? Lindt, Guylian and Thorntons are the biggest users of palm oil in their chocolate. Only Divine and Booja Booja Easter Eggs do not contain palm oil, if that horrifies you.

A lot of the rainforest is just burnt, and as orangutans are slow movers, they burn with the forest.

Sometimes the forest is logged, and they are shot instead. Occasionally rescue groups are called, and as in the case of the orangutan above, in the last tree, they are darted and rescued – usually starving, as they have been coraled in smaller and smaller pieces of forest as the trees are chopped down. The orangutans in the group above had been eating bark.

Sadly it is almost impossible to avoid palm oil altogether.

If you notice a food you use has ‘palm oil’, ‘palm fat’, or the term ‘vegetable oil’ written on the label (without saying which vegetable oil, this is a way to disguise it) you can write an email to the manufacturer, or a letter, or phone their customer services up and ask them to stop using it. They do take notice of their customers. They do not take notice of orangutans.

Please do think about emailing, it takes seconds.

Bjorn Smestad

Orangutan photo by Bjørn Smestad on Flikr.

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Photo at top © Caters News Agency

Poem © Liz Brownlee

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

N is for Night Heron

Paruula

Night Heron photo by Paruula on Flikr.

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Black-crowned night herons do not look quite like other herons, they have the typical hunched posture, but with shorter necks and legs, which makes their body look stockier.  However when they hunt they extend their neck and look more heron-like.

They have a black shadow on their heads and neck, with two or three white plumes extending down their backs that can be erected in greeting and courtship, white chests and underparts, and grey wings.

Their piercing crimson eyes give them excellent night vision, enabling them to see fish moving under the surface even in the dark.

I agree with the photographer who took this great image – it has a rather chilling glare!

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Photo © Paruula on Flikr.

Poem © Liz Brownlee.

Facts from Wikipedia.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

M is for Moth – Moon Moth

John Saxon

Photo by © John Saxon on Flikr.

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The luna moth lives in North America. It is a beautiful, huge, pale-green moth, 4.2 inches across, but is seldom seen as it only flies at night.

Caterpillars feed on a variety of plants including walnut, birch, alder and, rather appropriately, Moonflower leaves.

The moth makes and hatches from a very thin, one layer of silk cocoon – it is quite active in this cocoon, and can wriggle and make a noise to deter predators.

It hatches in the morning and waits all day for its wings to dry, and at nightfall flies off to find a mate.

Luna moths do not eat during this phase of their lives, and have no mouth. They only live a few days.

The females release a chemical pheromone into the air – the males can smell this over great distances and are very single-minded about following the scent back to the female – she mates with the first one who reaches her.

Soon after mating or laying eggs the moths die.

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Photo © John Saxon.

Poem © Liz Brownlee.

Information from Wiki.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

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