Laughing Owl – It Was Very Good

Laughing Owl
Male laughing owl mount from the collection of Naturalis Biodiversity Centre

Laughing Owl (Sceloglaux albifacies)

The Laughing Owl, known to the Maori as the Whekau, was a flying bird endemic to the islands of New Zealand (two subspecies, one on the North and one on the South Island.)

The Whekau’s plumage was yellowish-brown striped with dark brown. White straps were across the tops of the shoulders/wings and occasionally the back of the neck. The wings and tail had light-brown bars. The feathers down the legs were yellowish to reddish-buff feathers. The face was white behind and below the eyes, fading to grey with brown stripes towards the center. Males were thought to be more often richly colored, and smaller than females. Average body size ranged from 14-16 inches with wing lengths around 10 inches. The birds were believed to live in open country and rocky outcrops.

Laughing Owl
Laughing Owl, Wellington region, NZ, Henry Charles Clarke Wright, 1989-1910

Laughing Owls might have been in decline before Europeans came to New Zealand. It is believed, land use, collection of specimens, and the introduction of cats and stoats accelerated their extinction. The last recorded specimen was found dead at Bluecliffs Station in Canterbury, New Zealand on July 5, 1914.

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Japanese Sea Lion – It Was Very Good

Japanese Sea Lion – Taxidermied specimen, Tennōji Zoo, Osaka, Japan

Japanese Sea Lion (Zalophus japonicus)

The Japanese Sea Lion was an aquatic mammal endemic to the Sea of Japan, along the coasts of Japan, Korea and even to the Kamchatka Peninsula. Originally believed to have been a subspecies of the California Sea Lion the animal was reclassified as its own species in 2007.

The Japanese Sea Lion was mostly grey furred with males weighing between 900 and 1,200 pounds and having a length of 7 1/2 to 8 feet, larger than male California Sea Lions. Cows were considerably smaller and lighter colored.

Japanese Sea Lion, Kawahara Keiga – Naturalis Biodiversity Center 1823

The animal was driven to extinction in the 20th century, with the last credible sighting being the 1950s. The animal was harvested prior to the 20th century mostly for oil. The sea lions organs were sought after for use in traditional medicine and its whiskers and leather were used as pipe cleaners and leather goods.

There have been talks between the governments of Japan, Korea, and Russia of introducing California Sea Lions into this species’ former habitats but nothing yet has come of these actions.

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Huia – It Was Very Good

Illustration of female and male Huia on a tree branch
Huia, J. G. Keulemans, 1888

Huia (Heteralocha acutirostris)

The Huia was the largest New Zealand wattlebird species. It was a striking large songbird, similar in size to the magpie, mainly black with white-tipped tail feathers. The species was sexually dimorphic, the sexes had dramatically different bill sizes and shapes (as seen in the illustration above.) A fleshy orange wattle hung at the base of each side of the bill.

Pre-human bone remains indicate the birds were common throughout the North Island of New Zealand but absent from South Island. The birds lived in forests and it is believed that they moved seasonally, living at a higher elevation in summer and descending to a lower elevation in winter. Huia were omnivorous and ate adult insects, grubs and spiders, as well as the fruits of some native plants.

The species was regarded by Māori as sacred, and the wearing of its skin or feathers was reserved for people of high status. The birds are also prominent in Māori culture and oral tradition

Mounted Huia, Collection of Museum of New Zealand, purchased 1916

Habitat loss, competition from and predation by introduced species, hunting, and disease have all been implicated in the extinction of the Huia.

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Hemigrapsus estellinensis – It Was Very Good

Yellow Shore Crab (Hemigrapsus oregonensis) on Orcas Island Washington, 2008

Hemigrapsus estellinensis

The Hemigrapsus estellinensis was first described in a paper published in 1964 by Gordon Creel who “discovered” the species in February of 1962. In the same article, Creel shared his belief that the species was already extinct.

Estellinensis’ was found in the Estelline Salt Springs in the panhandle of Texas, 500 miles from any ocean. The species nearest relative, the yellow shore crab (pictured above,) is endemic to the northwest coast of North America.

The small crab was nearly square it’s body dimensions being less than an inch on each side. The crab’s limbs and claws were noted for being smaller than its oceanic relatives’. The small crab was a greyish-green color and noted for the three white spots it had on its back.

H. estellinensis, The Southwestern Naturalist Vol. 8, No. 4 (Feb. 5, 1964), pp. 236-241

Creel returned to the springs in December of 1962 and despite eight days of extensive searching was unable to find a single specimen. In fact, most of the life in the springs was gone, including an unidentified barnacle that Creel had made note of on his February trip. The extinction of the crab and the other life in the springs is believed to have been caused by the containment of the springs by the Army Corp of Engineers .

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