Dance of the Sugar Plum Armadillo

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Crazy Creatures

What armadillo? What is a sugarplum? What is this dance? Well, probably a tango since this crazy critter hails from Central Argentina. I am talking about the pink fairy armadillo. If you research faerie folklore throughout the continents and ages, you will find a number of stories. British faeries tangle the hair of sleeping victims, faeries of mainland Europe don’t exist, and Argentine faeries have armour and fur. How badass is that? Better, in my inexpert opinion, than their petal-wearing counterparts. So, now we must learn of their magical powers. Pay attention because this is pretty cool. You know when you are embarrassed, and you wish the ground could swallow you up? Well, the pink fairy armadillo can arrange it so that the ground literally does just that! I am playing fast and loose with the word ‘literally’ here because it is the fairy and not the ground that does most of the work. They can use their mad armadillo fairy skills to disappear underground in record time. Less than a whole second. Other magic powers include the ability to swim through solid earth as if it were water. Well, grainy and sandy earth, but as if it were water!

Pink fairy armadillo, via Hawaii McGraths flickr

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Please Look After This Bear

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Crazy Creatures

So you’ve probably been wondering desperately what Aunt Lucy and all her pals got up to whilst Paddington was whisked away to old Blighty. Be calm, friends, I am here to reveal all.

Paddington bear was a sweet young gentlebear that journeyed to England in the 1950s by stowing away on a ship from South America. He can mostly be described as polite, sociable, and hungry for marmalade. There is only one explanation. He must be an Andean spectacled bear. A silly conclusion to draw, you may say, since Paddington is not said to wear spectacles in the books, but actually they are called spectacled or goggled bears because of the distinctive pale markings around their eyes. This means they get all the edgy aesthetic benefits of glasses without having to get a prescription. They are just born looking super smart. In fact, they were responsible for starting that trend a few years back for wearing empty frames with perfect vision.

Paddington Bear via Wikipedia

Paddington Bear via Wikipedia

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Crazy Creatures: A tail of two monkeys

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Crazy Creatures

When my love stands next to your love it’s not love which is my tail which is on fire.

Now I’ve needlessly referenced popular culture, let me tell you a story.

It’s the usual story: you’re wandering through the Amazon and you see a monkey with its tail on fire. The poor thing! You must extinguish it post haste! The flames have spread to its sideburns, there may be no hope! So you get out your tiny pocket-sized monkey extinguisher and are about to heroically wipe out the flames when you notice something strange: the monkey is not distressed, the fire is not spreading, and all his little primate pals seem to have combusted in the same pattern – very mysterious.

Now I know the standard response would be to assume it is witchcraft and look up spontaneous monkey combustion, but back in 2011 animal discoverer extraordinaire and professional clever-person Julio Dalponte put his extinguisher away and looked a little closer. Julio and a team of experts managed to establish that they had discovered, not a mass case of monkey arson after all, but a new and exciting species. It was named Milton’s titi monkey after Milton Thiago de Mello, a well known primate enthusiast.

Red titi monkey (Photographer: Nicki; Flickr)

Red titi monkey (Photographer: Nicki; Flickr)

It turns out that this species was missed out of previous species-cataloguing expeditions to the Amazon. Perhaps because they only inhabit a small area between the Aripuana and Roosevelt rivers. You’d think that their firey tails would make them easy to spot but somehow they’ve been unnoticed until recent years. We have been aware of titi monkeys as a whole since around 1912,  but the diversity of species has only been noticed recently. Four new species of titi monkey have been discovered in the Amazon basin since the year 2000, including our fire-tailed friends. Now that they’re in the spotlight though, I can see this animal becoming a fast favourite, as they have several adorable habits as well as fantastic faces. Titi monkeys are among the few animals that mate for life. It is often the case that two monkeys will adapt to more closely mirror their partner’s habits and routine. They have even been known to hold hands and entwine their tails with their mate! When two titi monkeys get together, they form a family unit, staying together in a pack with their offspring until the offspring eventually leave to find a mate and make a monkey-team of their own.

Adorable though the tail twining is, my absolute favourite thing about them is their communication. Whilst they don’t have quite as extensive a vocabulary as humans, they have a great range of ways to express themselves. From ‘whistles’ to ‘chirps’, ‘bellows’ to ‘pants’, every sound right up to rhythmic tooth ‘gnashing’ seems to be represented in the communicative tactics of the titi monkey. Perhaps that is why they have such an amusingly alliterative name. The purpose of this exciting range of vocal talents can be as romantic as their tail twining. Sometimes a titi monkey will duet with a mate whilst at other times the vocal brilliance is simply to stake out territorial boundaries. Infant titi monkeys have been known to ‘purr’ in discomfort when being carried by a monkey that isn’t a parent.

With new varieties being discovered all the time, who knows what the future holds for the titi monkey – there could be hundreds of subspecies! Since they span a large part of South America (Columbia, Brazil, Peru, Paraguay) there are plenty of places for them to be spotted, and old fireburns himself, Milton’s titi, can be found in Brazil in the south of the Amazon, the home of two firey tails entwined.

Please note that the sound descriptions are all in quotation marks because they have been shamelessly pilfered from one of the following sources:

Moynihan M. 1966. Communication in the titi monkey, Callicebus. J Zool 150:77-127.

Robinson JG. 1979b. An analysis of the organization of vocal communication in the titi monkey Callicebus moloch. Z Tierpsychol 49:381-405.

Robinson JG. 1977. Vocal regulation of spacing in the titi monkey (Callicebus moloch). PhD dissertation, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. 187p.

Robinson JG. 1979a. Vocal regulation of use of space by groups of titi monkeys Callicebus moloch. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 5:1-15.


I hope one day to encounter the call of the titi first hand so as to use various noise descriptors without worrying about plagiarism.




Nausa Nausa, Cua-tim!

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Crazy Creatures

Ever heard of a coatimundi? I bet you have, you knowledgeable minx; those male coatis are such grumpy anti-social characters that they have probably fooled even you into thinking that they are a species. Never fear, mundi-enthusiasts, I am hear to clear the fog of gendered behaviour among the coati family and tell you that, in fact, a coati is just a coati and therefore a beltnose and that is that. Have I given you a clue?


A scavenging South American Coati (Wikipedia)

Yes, I am here to tell you all that you need to know about that wonderful species, the Nausa nausa. ‘Nausa’ is the Latin for nose and so the coati’s fancy Latin name came about on account of the fact that it has a nose and can therefore smell things. There are a few different subspecies of coati across South, Central, and North America and they are usually distinguishable by their markings. The South American coati — the subject of today’s exposition — tends to be red, brown and/or grey, with little bits of black and white and has a distinctively white-ringed tail.

So what’s a coatimundi then? Well, whilst on planet human it has long been thought that men and women are fundamentally different in all kinds of ridiculous ways (which they pretty much aren’t), and in the coati world this has been taken to some extremes. The female coatis tend to stick in big groups to forage together, collaborate on finding food and shelter, and tell each other if there’s something stuck in their teeth. Male coatis, however, tend to roam alone, giving rise to the myth that there is in fact a separate lonesome subspecies that has been known as ‘coatimundi’. The coatimundi males roam around alone until fruits are in season, when they’ll join a band of females for fruity fun and procreation, after which the whole lot of coatis will disband entirely to build tree nests and give birth.  When the babies are 5-6 weeks old, the lady coati will rejoin her friends for baby raising fun and free childcare, whilst the male coati continues to roam alone. Generally speaking, the males will roam around in the same general area whereas the females will run off in all directions seeking adventure and new coati friends.

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