Monday, November 25, 2013

The Brown Recluse - A Tiny Spider With A Nasty Bite

The infamous brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa) is probably one of the most recognized venomous spiders in North America. Even though they are only the size of a penny, these tiny monsters are capable of inflicting a necrotic wound since they produce a hemotoxic venom. Brown recluses are commonly found throughout the mid-western and south western United States.


Brown recluse spiders are recognizable by their unique dark brown violin shaped mark on their cephalothorax (the portion of the body which their legs are attached to) that points backwards towards the abdomen, which is why they are sometimes called "The Violin Spider" or "Fiddler Spider." They also have 3 pairs of eyes, unlike most spiders which have 8 eyes in rows of four. Their abdomen can vary from cream to dark brown in color and it will never have two colors of pigment at the same time. They are about 3/8 of an inch long and have fine hairs on their legs.

Brown Recluse's Violin Mark


The brown recluse is nocturnal and solitary in nature (hence its name) and they often seek shelter in dark, secluded places such as basements, garages, vents, storage shelters, and closets. It is common for them to be found in bathtubs and showers, and even in shoes and clothes. Outdoors they can be found under rocks and stones, and inside hollow trunks and barns  Their loosely constructed webs serve as a retreat for the spider and not to catch prey since brown recluses hunt for their prey. Their webs are usually found in undisturbed locations such as shadowy corners.

Life Cycle 

Mating usually occurs during summer months and females will produce up to 5 sacs containing around 50 eggs which hatch after a 30 day incubation period. It takes about one year for the spiderlings to reach adulthood. Brown recluses have an average lifespan of 2 years although there have been reports of the spider living up to 4 years old. They also can go for months without food or water.

Female Brown Recluse With Egg Sac


Brown recluses are not typically aggressive and do not bite unless provoked. The bite is usually painless and the symptoms of the bite do not appear for days later and most are mild red marks that heal quickly. However in extreme cases, the bite site can develop a volcanic lesion which can leave a large open wound that can become gangrenous. Only 49% of brown recluse bites do not result in necrosis. Some victims may experience fevers, restlessness, chills, and nausea after the bite. There have been no reported fatalities from a brown recluse spider bite however the bites are more dangerous to young children and the elderly. Medical attention should be sought immediately after a brown recluse bite to prevent further infection. Treatment for brown recluse bites usually involve antibiotics, skin grafts to replace the dead tissue and antihistamines to relieve pain and itching. Sometimes it can take up to eight weeks for a severe bite wound to heal.

A volcanic leisure after brown recluse bite

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Liger - A Fascinating Progeny

Let's take a look at something that is not found in the wild and is quite a rarity. The liger is the offspring of a male lion and a female tiger and it is the largest known cat in the world, growing up to 10 feet long and weighing 900 pounds. They are born in captivity and there have been no reported cases of a liger being born in the wild, since lions and tigers live in different parts of the world. As of today there are an estimated 100 ligers in the world. The history of the liger is quite unknown however there has been evidence of their existence in the 19th century. The first liger cubs were reported to be born in 1824 in Windsor, United Kingdom.


Ligers vary in appearance. Some male ligers have manes yet others do not. They have dark brown stripes unlike tigers, which have black stripes. The stripes fade away as the liger ages. Female ligers resemble lionesses and have little or no stripes. The tail of a liger is similar to that of a tiger.

Male and Female Liger

Ligers are believed to have a short lifespan because of their large size however a female liger named Shasta lived to the age of 24 before dying in 1972. In 2007, a male liger named Nook died at 21 years old. Another male liger, Hobbs, lived to the age of 15 years old before dying of liver failure.


Male ligers are sterile however females are capable of producing cubs. The first known offspring of a female liger and male lion was born in a Russian zoo in September 2012 and is called a liliger. In May 2013, the same couple produced three more liligers.

Kiara, a liliger

Ligers Today

The most well known liger today is Hercules, a 922 pound male who lives at the Myrtle Beach Safari wildlife preserve in South Carolina. He has been featured on many shows and has even been entered into the 2014 edition of the "Guinness World Records" book as the largest cat in the world. Hercules has three brothers; Zeus, Sinbad, and Vulcan, who have also been featured on shows. 

On October 29th, 2008, a liger named Rocky attacked a volunteer at the Wagoner County wildlife sanctuary in Oklahoma during feeding. The 32 year old victim, Peter Getz, died a day later in the hospital from a puncture wound in the neck. This is the first known liger attack. It is reported that Getz ignored the warning signs of not going in Rocky's cage (due to the animal's unpredictable behavior) and went ahead to feed the liger. Rocky was not euthanized after the incident.

Did you know?  The uncommon counterpart of a liger is a tigon, a hybrid which has a tiger father and a lion mother.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Tenacious Honey Badger

 Perhaps the honey badger (Mellivora capensis) gained fame from a viral video on YouTube titled "The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger" which has over 60 million views! The honey badger is also as fearless and aggressive as it is portrayed to be; they will even kill and eat large pythons and various snakes (no matter how venomous) and it was named "the most fearless animal in the world" in 2002's edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. Also known as the ratel, the honey badger is native to Africa, Southwest Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. They are part of the mustelidae family which also includes weasels, otters, martens, and wolverines and they are the largest mustelid in Africa. They can grow up to 30 inches in length and weigh an average of 11-35 pounds. The females are smaller than males. Their long claws allow them to dig deep holes where they live, however they will constantly move to a new area. Due to their fierce and predatory nature along with their incredibly tough, impenetrable skin, honey badgers have few predators, however the young and weak will sometimes fall prey to leopards or other honey badgers. They will also release a strong odor to repel predators. In a National Geographic documentary, it took a full grown leopard one hour to subdue a feeble honey badger!

Honey badgers are solitary animals and the female will raise her cubs alone. They have no particular breeding season and females will usually give birth to 1-2 cubs after a two month gestation period. The cubs will stay with the mother until they are 14 months old and reach their adult size at 8 months old. In captivity, honey badgers have been recorded to live up to 24 years of age however in the wild they live an average of 8 years.

Honey Badger Eating a Cobra
The honey badger is a voracious carnivore with a wide diet. Armed with a mouthful of sharp teeth and powerful jaws, their prey includes rodents, snakes, turtles, insects, and other small mammals. They will eat every part of their prey including the bones and they also don't mind scavenging prey from other animals such as lions. They are skilled climbers that will climb to the uppermost parts of trees to pursue their prey. They will also invade bee hives to collect and eat honeycombs, hence the badger's name. Honey badgers are able to ingest cobra venom without it affecting them due to a mutation in their nervous system that avoids paralysis. A honey badger is even able to resist the venom of a puff adder; it was reported that a honey badger that consumed the venom of a puff adder merely passed out for three hours then later awoke to resume eating the rest of the snake!

Honey Badger Don't Care!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Great Grey Owl - The Phantom of the North

The northern boreal forests of North America, Europe, and Asia are home to an extraordinary owl - the Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa). It has a wingspan of 5 feet and can stand as tall as 2 feet in height. Its wingspan is the largest of any owl and its the largest owl in North America. The females are larger than the males. These owls do not make their own nests but rather occupy abandoned nests left behind by other birds of prey. They can lay a clutch of 5 eggs which hatch after a 29 day incubation period, and the chicks become independent around five months old. During the incubation period the male will bring food to the female and when food is scarce the female Great Grey Owl will often starve herself in order to feed her chicks. They become aggressive during nesting and will attack anything that comes near their nest. They have an average lifespan of 7 years in the wild, however in captivity they have been reported to live up to 40 years.

Great Grey Owl's Nest

Strix nebulosa
Strix nebulosa
Their diet mainly consists of small rodents such as voles, pocket gophers, and mice but they also hunt other small mammals such as squirrels, young rabbits, weasels and even small birds, ducks, and grouse. They usually spot their prey from atop a perch. The owl's keen hearing enables it to pinpoint its prey even when its prey is beneath the snow. The owl will capture its prey by swooping down and pouncing into the snow with its feet, grabbing its prey and swallowing it whole. They usually hunt at dawn and dusk, however they are most active at night.


Though not endangered in most places, Great Grey Owls are prone to habitat loss due to deforestation. In 1980, the species was placed on California's endangered species list after a decline in population.

Great Grey Owl in Yosemite National Park

 Did you know? Great Grey Owls only migrate when food is scarce.