Saturday, May 19, 2012

Creature Feature: Black Skimmer.

With all of the 'weird' animals in Africa, Asia, and Australia, it's easy to take far more local birds for granted. After all, everything in nature has to be unique. Here's a weird one that can be found right in the U.S. of A.:

Those slick-looking birds are black skimmers (Rynchops niger). Skimmers are a small family of birds native to North America, South America, South Asia, and Africa. The family has been considered both a sister group to terns (who are actually pretty awesome in their own right) and gulls. They are total piscivores, possessing one very specific tool for eating fish in a unique way.

Two words: That beak. Keen observers will notice that the black skimmer's beak is just slightly longer on the bottom than on the top. This is so that they can skim fish quickly from the surface of the water. Skimmers are the only birds with this weird little under bite, so they really stand out even among other fishing birds. That's just scratching the visual surface.

Most birds are diurnal, and seabirds are no exception. The black skimmer is one of the few crepuscular fishing birds - that is, it hunts mostly at dawn and dusk. Since skimmers hunt mostly by touch, they can hunt in low light as well. This way of feeding has been called "unworldly" by one R.C. Murphy, who further compared them to aerial beagles hunting aerial rabbits. What an interesting, uncanny image!

Weirder still, black skimmers are the only known species of bird to have slit-shaped pupils like cats, lizards, and snakes. This, again, ties with being able to function in low light. Just a little more tweaking and this bird could be quite the monster. Get on it, creature designers; we could use things that aren't dragons around.

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