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Greater Grison (Galictis vittata) photo by Tony Hisgett

Last week, in a throwaway post about a bizarre weasel-related mishap at the world’s foremost scientific facility, I promised Ferrebeekeeper would feature more weird and magnificent mustelids.  Today we make good that promise.  This is the greater grison (Galictis vittata), a relative of weasels and badgers which lives in the great rainforests of Central America and South America (the northern part of the continent).  Adult greater grisons weigh in at 1.5 to 3.8 kilograms (3.3 to 8.5 lbs) and range from the Yucatan Peninsula down across the Amazon Basin to the Mato Grosso Plateau.  The southern reached of South America are home to a very similar but smaller grison—the lesser grison (Galictis cuja)—which only weighs 1.2 to 2.4 kg (2.6 to 5.3 lbs).

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Lesser Grison (Galictis cuja) photo by Edward Tchementchekov

Grisons are solitary hunters which live on a wide variety of small prey, particularly small vertebrates such as fish, amphibians, birds, and rodents (but also invertebrates and maybe some larger prey when the opportunity presents itself).  Their diet is not perfectly understood, but it seems to also contain a fair amount of fruits, berries, and vegetables as well. Not only are they omnivores but they can change their schedule. Though they are largely diurnal—they can operate at night when it suits them. Likewise they are predominantly terrestrial but they can swim and climb trees with great facility.   They are clever generalists capable of living in grasslands, forests, scrublands, pastures, croplands, and mountains. Grisons live in hollowed out logs or the abandoned dens of other animals.

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Grisons are sometimes tamed when young and they prove to be resourceful and adaptable domesticated animals capable of hunting chinchillas (back when there were sufficient chinchillas to hunt).  Perhaps it seems like we don’t know as much as we might about grisons in the wild…and it turns out that such is the case.  Grisons have wide necks which taper down to narrow heads—which means that behavioral zoologists have not had much luck putting radio collars on them.  Grisons are also clever and solitary, which means that their lives are not completely understood (an unusual feature in our media saturated world). Unfortunately they do have a terrible weakness:  almost all grisons that are seen, are spotted after they have been smashed by cars.  Like skunks, and armadillos, they are particularly susceptible to being killed by cruel and indifferent motorists who will never rest till every living thing not inside a protective steel box has been crushed dead.  However South America is a big place and roads don’t go everywhere yet, so grisons are still out there, biding their time.

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photo by criadourooncapintada.org

 

An Adult Male Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros)

An Adult Male Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros)

The greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) is a magnificent large antelope which ranges down the east coast of Africa from the Red Sea to South Africa; and west through southern Africa to the Atlantic coast. Kudus are both browsers and grazers—they eat grasses, shoots, and leaves; but also fruit, roots, and tubers. They live in woodlands and dense scrubland where they conceal themselves amidst the thick vegetation. These antelopes are large: males weigh from 200 to 270 kilograms (430–600 pounds) and can stand 1.6 meters (5.25 feet) tall at the shoulder (although females are substantially smaller). Males have shaggy neck manes and huge elaborate spiral horns upon their noble heads. They use these horns for fighting, sexual display, and (possibly) fending off predators. When “uncurled” greater kudu horns can measure up to 1.5 meters or more (this strange maximalist manner of measurement seems to have been invented by (male) big game hunters).

A herd of greater kudus (female)

A herd of greater kudus (female)

One would not necessarily imagine that a 600 pound animal with giant corkscrew swords on its head would need to hide, yet the greater kudus live in a horrifying world of lions, hyenas, leopards, African hunting dogs, and cheetahs (to say nothing of omnipresent human hunters armed with every manner of inventive weapons). Fortunately, the kudus’ mixed brown coats with beautiful white syrup stripes allow them to melt ghost-like into the dry scrub, small woods, and forests of their vast habitat. If there was an adult greater kudu skulking in your rose garden, you probably wouldn’t notice it.

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Female kudus and their calves form together in little herds of half a dozen to two dozen individuals. Bachelor males form even smaller herds and mature males are solitary. Mating season occurs just after the rainy season. Males fight each other for dominance and then dominant males trail after females making plaintive guttural moans. Eight months later, when the grass and vegetation is at its peak, females give birth to a solitary calf (or occasionally two). There are three (or possibly four) subspecies of these majestic animals occupying slightly different ranges (as seen in the map below). Although hunting (and poaching) and habitat loss have effected the greater kudu, the great antelope have also benefited from irrigation, wells, and reservoirs. They are not endangered—or even threatened—so the world should be able to benefit from these exquisite adaptable antelopes for a long time to come!

Range of Subspecies of Greater Kudus

Range of Subspecies of Greater Kudus

 

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