Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Anhinga: Snake Bird of the South

I saw my first Anhinga in July, 1993, on Hilton Head Island, and an anhigna was the first bird I saw when my plane landed at the Orlando Airport. This is a really weird creature. It looks almost like a Pterodactyl or some other prehistoric bird ancestor. It is truly unique in that it is the only member of its family, the Anhingidae, in North America.

Anhinga anhinga

I love it when an animal's common name is the same as its scientific name, and the anhinga is one of those. It belongs to the genus Anhinga, and it full name is Anhinga anhinga. Weird, huh? I can think of three other animals which share this quirk - the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), the American bison (Bison bison) and as a matter of fact, the Western Lowland Gorilla is even in the subspecies "gorilla" so its full name is Gorilla gorilla gorilla. But, I digress.

One of the neat things about the anhinga is how is swims - with its body completely submerged and only its neck sticking out above the surface. This appearance has led to one of its nicknames, "snake bird."

See how it got its nickname?

Like its close relatives, the cormorants, the anhigna dives under water to snare a fish, then surfaces to swallow its meal.

Sorry for the fuzzy photo -
I was trying to snap a picture of this successful fisher.

Also like the cormorants, anhingas lack the oil necessary to water-proof their feathers. This makes it easier to submerge to fish, but complicates flying, since it is hard to get airborne with waterlogged plumage. So, after feeding and bathing, anhingas must perch with their wings outspread to dry off in the sun. This is when I think they look their most primitive.

Did Archaeopteryx look like this?


Julie Zickefoose said...

Eee! Eeee! Eeee!

Sitta sitta (Eurasian nuthatch)

Nycticorax nycticorax (black-crowned night heron)

Eee! Eee! Eee!

KatDoc said...

Nice additions, Oh Greatest of Science Chimps, but you missed a detail - the COMMON name must also be the same. (Bison: Bison bison, etc.) The Sitta sitta goes by Eurasian nuthatch to his friends.

Thanks for contributing. I knew about BCNH, but not S. sitta.


Lisa said...

You are too picky.

Mary said...

Good photos, Kathi. I feel kind of bad for that bird as there are no fast getaways with soaked plumage...