January 31st – Down Under Authors Showcase Final Day
Today brings to a close the wonderful Down Under Authors Showcase at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words. My thanks to all the great authors who participated, sharing their thoughts, stories, and giving away their precious books as well. All the reviewers here at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words, including myself, have found new authors and books to love and we hope that you have done the same.
We’ve gone from the Northern Territory of Australia to the beaches of the South, from the shores and cities like Christchurch of New Zealand into the pastures and mountainsides of that uniquely gorgeous and largely uninhabited country. We’ve had amazing and fun facts about both countries and had to look for some Down Under words and phrases for the Down Under Scavenger Hunt. What fact stuck with you? Was it the one about wombat poop? Or the world’s largest insect? Who has the most Scottish piping bands? And have you learned a little Aussie or Kiwi words to mingle in with your every day vocabulary? Send us an email and let us know which authors are new discoveries for you, new books you put on your TBR pile and any other comments you want to share! We’re going to do this again next year, so all suggestions are helpful.
R. J. Jones has a wonderful bio and new books about to be released! Check out her author’s page to follow along with her bio, books, and interview. Oh, and of course, her giveaway! The authors showcased this week will have extra time added to their contests so more can enter.
Look for another post about the contests, notifications, and prizes on February 1st. My thanks also to the Embassy of Australia and the Embassy of New Zealand (in DC) for their contributions to our prize packages. Their media staff couldn’t have been lovelier. My thanks also to Bottom Drawer Publications and Wayward Ink Publications for their contests and giveaways as well. I’ve loved every bit of this month and hope you all have too!
Now onto our last Australia and New Zealand facts of the day, at least until next year!
Australia Facts of the Day – The Echidna and The Platypus
Some of Australia’s best-known animals are the kangaroo, koala, echidna, dingo, platypus, wallaby and wombat. We’ve shared facts about the dingo (see John Wiltshire’s page). We’ve talked about wombat poop! How about a little about the Platypus and Echidna, the world’s only egg-laying mammals?
Echidna’s lifespan is over 45 years, and grow up to 20″ in length
Their tongue is very long and sticky and is perfect for catching the hundreds of termites and ants that make up their staple diet.
An echidna can lift objects twice its weight, drink water and can swim.
Like the male Platypus, the male echidna has spurs, but has no venom glands attached to them
Echidna is slightly less intelligent than a cat
Mating takes place Belly-to-belly, which avoids the male spiking himself on the female’s spines-Echidna sex fact!
The echidna is best known not only as a mascot of Sydney Olympic Games 2000, but also for its amazing biology. Like the platypus, this unusual mammal lays eggs and suckles its young. The echidna and platypus are the only members of a primitive group of mammals known as monotremes.
Echidnas are widely distributed throughout Australia and Tasmania. Although not commonly seen, they are not considered threatened. They live in a wide variety of habitats, from cold mountainous peaks to deserts.
They usually found in places with a good supply of ants and termites, where it lies on an ant-mound, sticks out its tongue and lets ants walk onto it. Echidnas have no teeth. It crushes its insect food between horny plates on its tongue and the roof of its mouth.
The platypus is among nature’s most unlikely animals. In fact, the first scientists to examine a specimen believed they were the victims of a hoax. The animal is best described as a hodgepodge of more familiar species: the duck (bill and webbed feet), beaver (tail), and otter (body and fur). Males are also venomous. They have sharp stingers on the heels of their rear feet and can use them to deliver a strong toxic blow to any foe.
Platypuses hunt underwater, where they swim gracefully by paddling with their front webbed feet and steering with their hind feet and beaverlike tail. Folds of skin cover their eyes and ears to prevent water from entering, and the nostrils close with a watertight seal. In this posture, a platypus can remain submerged for a minute or two and employ its sensitive bill to find food.
These Australian mammals are bottom feeders. They scoop up insects and larvae, shellfish, and worms in their bill along with bits of gravel and mud from the bottom. All this material is stored in cheek pouches and, at the surface, mashed for consumption. Platypuses do not have teeth, so the bits of gravel help them to “chew” their meal.
On land, platypuses move a bit more awkwardly. However, the webbing on their feet retracts to expose individual nails and allow the creatures to run. Platypuses use their nails and feet to construct dirt burrows at the water’s edge.
Platypus reproduction is nearly unique. It is one of only two mammals (the echidna is the other) that lay eggs.
Females seal themselves inside one of the burrow’s chambers to lay their eggs. A mother typically produces one or two eggs and keeps them warm by holding them between her body and her tail. The eggs hatch in about ten days, but platypus infants are the size of lima beans and totally helpless. Females nurse their young for three to four months until the babies can swim on their own.
New Zealand Fact and Unique Animal of the Day – The Tuatara!
There are two living species of tuatara, Sphenodon punctatus and the much rarerSphenodon guntheri, or Brothers Island tuatara, which is found only on North Brother Island in Cook Strait.
Mature tuataras usually measure between 12 and 30 inches long and weigh between 0.5 and two and a half pounds. Their skin is greenish gray and is sometimes speckled. Tuataras make their homes in coastal forest and low scrub, preferring areas with crumbly soil in which they can burrow.
1. The tuatara may look like a lizard, but it’s unique. The tuatara is not a lizard; it is the only living member of the order Rhynchocephalia, which flourished around 200 million years ago. All other members of the order became extinct 60 million years ago, in the late Cretaceous period.
2. The name “tuatara” comes from the Maori for “peaks on the back.” Tuataras have spiny crests along their backs made from soft, triangular folds of skin. These spines are more prominent in males, who can raise them during territorial or courtship displays.
3. They are surprisingly long-lived. Tuataras mature slowly and don’t stop growing until they reach about 30 years old. It is thought they can live up to 100 years in the wild. Part of the reason for their longevity may be their slow metabolism. Tuataras can tolerate much lower temperatures than most reptiles and they hibernate during the winter. The body temperature of tuataras can range from 41-52 °F over the course of a day, whereas most reptiles have body temperatures around 68 °F. This low body temperature results in a slower metabolism.
4. They have a third eye. The tuatara has a third eye on the top of its head called the parietal eye. This eye has a retina, lens, cornea, and nerve endings, but it is not used for vision. The parietal eye is only visible in hatchlings, as it becomes covered in scales and pigments after four to six months. Its function is a subject of ongoing research, but it is believed to be useful in absorbing ultraviolet rays and in setting circadian and seasonal cycles.
5. They can regrow lost tails. The tuatara can break off its tail when caught by a predator and regenerate it later.
6. They have unusual teeth that can’t be replaced. Tuataras have a single row of teeth on the lower jaw and a double row of teeth on the upper jaw, with the bottom row fitting between the two upper rows when the mouth is closed. It’s a tooth arrangement not seen in any other reptile. And unlike all other living toothed reptiles, the tuatara’s teeth are not separate structures but sharp projections of the jaw bone. This means that worn down or broken teeth cannot be replaced. Older tuataras with worn-down teeth have to switch from eating hard insects to softer prey such as earthworms, larvae, and slugs.
7. Tuataras reproduce slowly. They take 10-20 years to reach sexual maturity. Males can mate every year, but females breed every two to five years. It takes the female between one and three years to provide eggs with yolk, and up to seven months to form the shell. Then it takes an additional 12 to 15 months from copulation to hatching, possibly the longest incubation rate of any reptile.
A male tuatara named Henry, living at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, became a first-time father at the age of 111. He fathered 11 babies with a female named Mildred, believed to be in her seventies.
8. They’re diurnal when young, nocturnal as adults. Hatchling tuataras are believed to be active during the day to avoid the cannibalistic adult tuataras that come at out night.
9. They cohabitate with birds. Tuataras can dig their own burrows, but also use the burrows of seabirds for shelter when available. The seabirds’ guano provides an attractive environment for the invertebrates that tuataras prey upon, such as beetles, crickets, and spiders. Tuataras will also sometimes eat the eggs and young of the seabirds.
10. Tuataras’ worst enemies are rats. Tuataras once inhabited the New Zealand mainland as well as offshore islands. But when the first humans arrived from Polynesia, they brought rats and other animals that devoured tuatara eggs and hatchlings. The situation was so dire that the New Zealand government fully protected tuataras in 1895. Despite the protection, tuataras were extinct on the mainland and confined to around 30 offshore islands until the first mainland release of tuataras into a sanctuary in 2005. Three years later, a tuatara nest was uncovered, thought to be the first case of a tuatara successfully breeding on the New Zealand mainland in over 200 years. Along with captive breeding and release programs, attempts to eradicate rats from offshore islands have also met with success and allowed tuatara populations to rebound.
Now onto R. J. Jones and the rest of our Down Under Author Showcase! G’day!