6 Dec, 2023
Zebras have black and white stripes all over their bodies except their stomachs, which are white. They have four one-toed hoofs. Their slender, pointed ears reach up to eight inches in length. Zebras have manes of short hair that stick straight up from their necks. The stripes on their bodies continue to the mane. They also have a tuft of hair at the end of their tails. The Grevy's Zebra differs from all other zebras in its primitive characteristics and different behavior.
Zebras reach six to eight-and-a-half feet in length. Their tails are an additional one-and-a-half feet long. Zebras weigh between 530 and 820 pounds. They are four to five feet tall at the shoulder. Equus zebra is generally larger than Equus zebra hartmannae.
Members of the genus Equus (horses, donkeys and zebras) can live 25 to 45 years.
The Plains Zebra (Equus quagga, formerly Equus burchelli) is the most common, and has or had about five subspecies distributed across much of southern and eastern Africa. It, or particular subspecies of it, have also been known as the Common Zebra, the Dauw, Burchell's Zebra (actually the extinct subspecies, Equus quagga burchelli), and the Quagga (another extinct subspecies, Equus quagga quagga).
The Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra) of southwest Africa tends to have a sleek coat with a white belly and narrower stripes than the Plains Zebra. It has two subspecies and is classified as endangered.
Grevy's Zebra (Equus grevyi) is the largest type, with an erect mane, and a long, narrow head making it appear rather mule like. It is a creature of the semi arid grasslands of Ethiopia, Somalia, and northern Kenya. It is endangered too. There are two subspecies of mountain zebra. Equus zebra is endangered and Equus zebra hartmannae is threatened.
Zebras occur in southwestern Africa. Equus zebra inhabits South Africa and Equus zebra hartmannae inhabits Namibia and Angola. The primary habitats of zebras are the slopes and plateaus of mountainous regions. Zebras inhabit elevations of up to 6,500 feet. Plains Zebras are much less numerous than they once were, because of human activities such as hunting them for their meat and hides, as well as encroachment on much of their former habitat, but they remain common in game reserves. The Grevy's Zebra (Equus grevyi), sometimes known as the Imperial Zebra, is the largest species of zebra. It is found in the wild in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, and is considered endangered, partly due to hunting for its skin which fetches a high price on the world market. Compared to other zebras, it is tall, has large ears, and its stripes are narrower.
Zebras feed on a variety of grasses. They are most active in the early morning and late afternoon. They spend up to half of the daylight hours feeding. A zebra's top speed is slower than a horse, however they have much greater stamina. Zebras are highly social and usually form small family groups consisting of a single stallion, one, two, or several mares, and their recent offspring. Groups are permanent, and group size tends to vary with habitat: in poor country the groups are small. From time to time, Plains Zebra families group together into large herds, both with one another and with other grazing species, notably Blue Wildebeests.
Unlike many of the large ungulates of Africa, Plains Zebras prefer, but do not require, short grass to graze on. In consequence, they range more widely than many other species, even into woodland, and they are often the first grazing species to appear in a well vegetated area. Only after zebras have cropped and trampled the long grasses do wildebeests and gazelles move in. Nevertheless, for protection from predators, Plains Zebras retreat into open areas with good visibility at night time, and take turns standing watch.
Grevy's Zebra has a social system characterized by small groups of adults associated for short time periods of a few months. Territories are marked by dung piles and females within the territory mate solely with the resident male. Small bachelor herds are known. This social structure is well adapted for the dry and arid scrubland and plains that Grevy's Zebra primarily inhabits, less for the more lush habitats used by the other zebras. Like all zebras, Grevy's Zebra males fight amongst themselves over territory and females. The Grevy's is vocal during fights, braying loudly. The Grevy's communicates over long distances.
Foals (baby zebras) weigh 55 pounds at birth. Mares normally give birth to their first foal when they are between three and six years of age. Normally they then give birth to one foal every one to three years until they are 24.
THREATS TO ZEBRAS
The spread of agriculture is one of the main threats to zebra. Their habitat is destroyed to make room for new farmland, and they are hunted and killed so that domestic livestock can graze on the land. Zebras are also hunted for their skins.
Zebras are common victims of the animal entertainment industry. They are often found on display at zoos, roadside zoos and "wildlife safaris." Denied their wild nature, strong family bonds and natural social interactions, they face the constant stresses of life in captivity.
6 Dec, 2023
Butterflies are part of the class of insects in the order Lepidoptera. Adult butterflies have large, often brightly colored wings, and conspicuous, fluttering flight. The group comprises the true butterflies (superfamily Papilionoidea), the skippers (superfamily Hesperioidea) and the moth-butterflies (superfamily Hedyloidea). Butterflies are the second largest group of pollinators, following bees. There are about 17,500 species of butterflies spread throughout the world.
These beautiful animals undergo a fascinating metamorphosis which takes place in four stages: egg, caterpillar, pupa and adult.
Mother butterflies attach their eggs with a special glue to caterpillar food, or “host” plant. As the glue hardens it contracts, deforming the shape of the egg. Each species of butterfly has its own host plant range, and while some species of butterfly are restricted to just one species of plant, others use a range of plant species.
Butterfly eggs are protected by a hard shell lined with a thin coating of wax which prevents the egg from drying out. Each egg contains a number of tiny funnel-shaped openings at one end that allow sperm to enter and fertilize the egg. Butterfly and moth eggs vary greatly in size between species.
The egg stage lasts a few weeks in most butterflies. Eggs laid close to winter, especially in temperate regions, go through a resting stage and the hatching may take place only in spring. Other butterflies may lay their eggs in the spring and have them hatch in the summer. These butterflies are usually northern species.
When the caterpillar is born, it eats its egg, then begins eating the host plant. Host plants often have toxic substances in them and caterpillars are able to retain them. This makes them unpalatable to birds, insects and other predators. Such unpalatibility is advertised using bright red, orange, black or white warning colors.
Caterpillars spend practically all of their time in search of food. Some caterpillars form mutual associations with ants. They communicate with the ants using vibrations and chemical signals. The ants provide some degree of protection to these caterpillars, and they in turn gather honeydew secretions. Others caterpillars communicate with ants to form a parasitic relationship.
Some caterpillars have the ability to inflate parts of their head to appear snake-like. Many have false eye-spots to enhance this effect. Some caterpillars produce foul-smelling chemicals used in defense.
When the caterpillar's insides grow too big for its outside, its covering splits and is shed. A new exoskeleton lies underneath. The caterpillar continues to shed numerous times, then becomes a pupa. It then seeks a sheltered spot, suspends itself by silken threads and sheds one more time forming a hard casing around its body. Inside this chrysalis, the pupa is growing six legs, a proboscis, antennae and wings. Within days, months or years, depending on the species, the chrysalis breaks open and a butterfly emerges.
Butterflies can live in the adult stage from a week to a year, depending on the species. They have four wings, usually brightly colored with unique patterns made up of tiny scales. They remember things they learned as caterpillars. They can fly up to 30 mph and up to 50 miles in a day. They learn home ranges and memorize locations of nectar and pollen sources, host plants and communal roosting sites. They are able to plan the most efficient routes by using calculations that mathematicians call the "traveling salesman algorithm".
Butterflies feed primarily on nectar from flowers. They are important as pollinators for some species of plants and are capable of moving pollen over greater distances than bees. Adult butterflies consume only liquids, ingested through the proboscis. They sip water from damp patches for hydration. They feed on nectar to obtain sugars for energy, and sodium and other minerals vital for reproduction. Several species of butterflies need more sodium than that provided by nectar and are attracted by sodium in salt; they sometimes land on people, attracted by the salt in human sweat. Some butterflies also visit dung, rotting fruit or carcasses to obtain minerals and nutrients. In many species, this mud-puddling behavior is restricted to the males, and the nutrients collected may be provided as a gift during mating.
Butterflies use their antennae to sense the air for wind and scents. The antennae are richly covered with sensory organs. Butterflies "taste" with their feet through tiny receptors. Their sense of taste is 200 times stronger than humans.
Butterflies have excellent vision and most species are sensitive to the ultraviolet spectrum. Some butterflies have organs of hearing and some species are also known to make stridulatory and clicking sounds.
Many butterflies are migratory and capable of long distance flights, using the sun to orient themselves. They migrate during the day and use the sun to orient themselves. They also perceive polarized light and use it for orientation when the sun is hidden.
Many species of butterfly maintain territories and actively chase other species or individuals that may stray into them. Some species will bask or perch on chosen perches. Basking is an activity which is more common in the cooler hours of the morning. Many species will orient themselves to gather heat from the sun. Some species have evolved dark wing-bases to help in gathering more heat. The flight styles of butterflies are often characteristic and some species have courtship flight displays.
THREATS TO BUTTERFLIES
The greatest threats to butterflies are habitat change and loss due to residential, commercial and agricultural development. Many butterfly species are either under the threat of extinction, or have died out completely due to the rise of intensive farming and the loss of habitats.
Butterflies have suffered from the loss of grasslands rich in wild flowers and the decline of woodlands.
Pesticides also threaten butterflies.
5 Dec, 2023
Flamingos are gregarious wading birds, usually 3–5 feet in height living in large flocks around aquatic areas. The bird is found in both the Western and Eastern Hemispheres and is more numerous in the latter. There are four species in the Americas, while two exist in the Old World.
Flamingos filter-feed on shellfish and algae. Their oddly-shaped beaks are specially adapted to separate mud and silt from the food they consume, and are uniquely used upside-down. The filtering of food items is assisted by hairy structures called lamellae which line the mandibles, and the large rough-surfaced tongue. Flamingos are also noted for balancing themselves on one leg while standing and feeding. Flamingos also stand on one leg when sleeping.
The young hatch with white plumage, but the feathers of a flamingo in adulthood range from light pink to bright red, due to carotenoids obtained from their food supply. A flamingo that is well fed and healthy is vibrantly colored. The pinker a flamingo is, the more desirable it is as a mate. A white or pale flamingo, however, is usually unhealthy or suffering from a lack of food. All flamingos have 12 black flight feathers in each wing.
Flamingos produce a “milk” like pigeon milk due to the action of a hormone called prolactin. It contains more fat and less protein than the latter does, and it is produced in glands lining the whole of the upper digestive tract, not just the crop. Both parents nurse their chick, and young flamingos feed on this milk, which also contains red and white blood cells, for about two months until their bills are developed enough to filter feed.
Flamingos are known to stand on one leg while sleeping. This is done in order to minimize body heat escaping into the water in which their feet are submerged.
Flamingos were native to Australia 20 million years ago.
The Chilean flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis) is a large species closely related to Caribbean flamingo and greater flamingo. It occurs in temperate South America. Like all flamingos, it lays a single chalky white egg on a mud mound. The plumage is pinker than the slightly larger greater flamingo, but less so than Caribbean flamingo. It can be differentiated from these species by its grayish legs with pink "knees", and also by the larger amount of black on the bill (more than half).
The lesser flamingo (Phoenicopterus minor) is a species in the flamingo family of birds which occurs in Africa (principally in the Great Rift Valley), across to northwest India. It is the smallest and most numerous flamingo, probably numbering up to a million individual birds. Like all flamingos, it lays a single chalky white egg on a mud mound. Most of the plumage is pinkish white. Its clearest difference from greater flamingo, the only other Old World species, is the much more extensive black on the bill. Size is less helpful unless the species are together, since the sexes of each species are also different in height. This species feeds exclusively on the alga spirulina plantensis, which occurs only in very alkaline lakes. Their deep bill is specialized for tiny food items. The population in the two key east African lakes, Nakuru and Bogoria, have been adversely affected in recent years by suspected heavy metal poisoning.
The James's flamingo (Phoenicopterus jamesi), also known as the Puna flamingo, is a South American flamingo. It breeds on the high Andean plateaus of Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. It is related to the Chilean flamingo and the Andean flamingo. It is a small and delicate flamingo, approximately 3 feet in height. Its plumage is pale pink, with bright carmine streaks around the neck and on the back. When perched, a small amount of black can be seen in the wings. There is bright red skin around the eye. The legs are brick-red and the bill is bright yellow with a black tip. Immature birds are grayish. James's flamingo is similar to other South American flamingoes, but the Chilean flamingo is pinker, with a paler and longer bill, and the Andean flamingo is larger with more black in the wings and bill, and yellow legs.
The Andean flamingo (Phoenicopterus andinus) is a bird species in the Flamingo family restricted to the Chilean Andes. It is closely related to James's flamingo. Like all flamingos it lays a single chalky white egg on a mud mound. Its population in Northern Chile was badly hit by drought, which cause the breeding lagoon areas to dry up, either preventing nest building, or allowing predation especially from the Culpeo Fox. Andean flamingos, like all the group, feed by filtering small items from water with their specialized bills. They have a deep, narrow lower mandible, which allows them to eat small foods such as diatoms, in contrast to the wider bill of larger species, which take bigger prey items. Most of the plumage is pinkish white. The Andean flamingo is the only species that has yellow legs and feet.
The Greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) is the most widespread species of the Flamingo family. It is found in parts of Africa, southwest Asia (including Turkey), southern Asia (coastal regions of India) and southern Europe (including Spain, Portugal, and the Camargue region of France). Some populations are short distance migrants. This is a large species and is closely related to the Caribbean flamingo and Chilean flamingo. Like all flamingos, this species lays a single chalky-white egg on a mud mound. Most of the plumage is pinkish-white, but the wing coverts are red and the primary and secondary flight feathers are black. The bill is pink with a restricted black tip, and the legs are entirely pink. The call is a goose-like honking.
The Caribbean flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) is a large species of flamingo closely related to the greater flamingo and Chilean flamingo. It breeds in the Galapagos Islands, coastal Colombia and Venezuela and nearby islands, the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, and in the northern Caribbean in the Bahamas, Hispaniola, Cuba and Turks and Caicos. Most sightings in southern Florida are usually considered to be escapees, although at least one bird banded as a chick in the Yucatán Peninsula has been sighted in Everglades National Park, and others may be genuine wanderers from Cuba. The habitat is similar to that of its relatives, including saline lagoons, mudflats and shallow brackish coastal or inland lakes. Like all flamingos, it lays a single chalky white egg on a mud mound. Most of the plumage is pink, giving rise to its earlier name of rosy flamingo and differentiating adults from the much paler European species. The wing coverts are red, and the primary and secondary flight feathers are black. It is the only flamingo which naturally occurs in North America. The bill is pink with a restricted black tip, and the legs are entirely pink. The call is a goose-like honking.
THREATS TO FLAMINGOS
The primary threats to flamingos are habitat loss, bacterias, toxins and pollution from manufacturing companies. Spread of diseases is a major threat due to flamingos living in such large colonies. Changes in climate can affect the natural habitats of flamingos, as droughts dry up their habitats. Their desire to mate is lessened by temperature extremes. Poaching is also a threat to flamingos, as the birds are killed for their decorative feathers and eggs. Their tongues are harvested for meat.
Flamingos are also common victims of the animal entertainment industry. Removed from their natural habitat, denied the ability to engage in their instinctual behaviors, flamingos are placed on display at zoos, hotels and other businesses for the amusement of humans. Even under the best of circumstances, captivity is cruel for wild animals. Confined to tiny areas and gawked at by crowds, animals in exhibits and acts endure constant stress. They may suffer from temperature extremes and irregular feeding and watering. Without exercise, they become listless, their immune systems are weakened, and they become prone to sickness; many resort to self-mutilation in reaction to stress or boredom. Mental illness is rampant among confined animals. Torn from their families and deprived of all dignity, every part of their lives is controlled by their captors.
4 Dec, 2023
Wombats are medium sized marsupials that look like a cross between a pig, a bear and a gopher. Wombats inhabit only Australia and the surrounding islands. Wombats are burrowing mammals who prefer to live in mountains, forests and grasslands.
There are three species of wombat. The common wombat is the most widespread and has a bare nose. The northern hairy-nosed wombats and southern hairy-nosed wombats have hairy noses, larger ears and softer fur.
Wombats have tough barrel-like bodies, short legs, compact heads and short broad feet. Wombats are about the size of a medium-size dog. They range in colors from sandy hues to darker browns and blacks. While wombats typically walk with an awkward waddle, they can run at high speeds when threatened.
Wombats have long claws used to dig burrows. Wombat burrows are often extensive networks of underground tunnels and small chambers. A wombat can have up to twelve burrows. Many wombats live solitary lives, but some wombats form underground colonies with other wombats.
Wombats mark their territories by defecating poop that doesn't roll away because it is square shaped. Special backside bones allow wombats to squeeze their feces into cubes. They put their poop cubes in mushrooms, on fallen trees and on rocks to announce their territories. Their feces helps them to navigate their areas at night. Wombats also mark their home range by rubbing their scent on trees and grunting at intruders.
Wombats are herbivores, feeding on grasses, bark and shoots. Wombats have rodent like incisors that never stop growing and must be gnawed down by chewing on vegetation. They receive the majority of their water from vegetation and can go years without drinking water. Special enzymes in their stomachs allow wombats to digest tough roughage. It takes about 14 days for wombats to digest their food.
Wombats are nocturnal. They spend most of the day under ground, coming out at night to eat. Although their closest relatives are koalas, wombats do not climb trees – but they are good swimmers.
Wombat mating usually takes place when food is abundant. Male wombats will fight over female wombats. Some wombats will chase a female in circles until she gives into mating. Female wombats make coughing noises when being chased.
Being marsupials, female wombats have a pouch on their bellies where wombat babies are nurtured. But unlike other marsupials, wombat pouches are backwards, opening toward the rear rather than the head to allow mothers to dig without getting dirt in the pouch.
Newborn wombats are very small and undeveloped, about the size of a jellybean. They crawl into their mother's pouch and stay there until they are about 5 months old. After leaving the pouch, baby wombats will often crawl back into the pouch to nurse or escape danger. They are able to care for themselves when they are around 7 months old.
Wombats are preyed upon by foxes, dingos and Tasmanian devils. Large birds hunt wombat babies. Wombats are well protected in their underground burrows as most predators cannot fit into the narrow tunnels. They also have toughened backsides, made mostly of cartilage. Threatened wombats dive into their tunnels headfirst, blocking the entrance with their sturdy rumps.
Wombats can live up to 29 years in the wild.
THREATS TO WOMBATS
Some wombats are endangered species. Their populations have been decreasing rapidly as a result of habitat loss, invasive species, animal agriculture and hunting. Urban sprawl, forestry practices and road accidents are also taking their tole on wombats.
30 Nov, 2023
A camel is either of the two species of large even-toed ungulate in the genus Camelus. The Dromedary is a single hump camel, and the Bactrian Camel is a double hump camel. Both are native to the dry and desert areas of Asia and northern Africa. The average life expectancy of a camel is 30 to 50 years. Humans first domesticated camels approximately 5,000 years ago.
Although there are almost 13 million Dromedaries alive today, the species is extinct in the wild. There is, however, a substantial feral population in central parts of Australia, descended from individuals that escaped from captivity in the late 19th century. The Australian government has culled more than 100,000 of the animals, claiming the camels use too much of the limited resources needed by sheep farmers.
The Bactrian Camel once had an enormous range, but is now reduced to an estimated 1.4 million animals, mostly domesticated. It is thought that there are about 1,000 wild Bactrian Camels in the Gobi Desert, and small numbers in Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey and Russia.
A small population of introduced camels, Dromedaries and Bactrians, survived in the Southwest United States until the 1900s. These animals, imported from Turkey, were part of the US Camel Corps experiment, used as draft animals in mines, and escaped or were released after the project fell through.
Bactrian camel have two humps and are rugged cold-climate camels, while Dromedaries have one hump and are desert dwellers. Dromedary hybrids are called Bukhts. The females can be mated back to a Bactrian to produce ¾-bred "riding camels". These hybrids are found in Kazakhstan. The Cama is a camel/llama hybrid bred by scientists with short ears and the long tail of a camel, no hump and Llama-like cloven hooves rather than the Dromedary-like pads.
Camels are well known for their humps. They do not, however, literally store water in them as is commonly believed; though they do serve this purpose through roundabout means. Their humps are a reservoir of fatty tissue, while water is stored in their blood. However, when this tissue is metabolized, it is not only a source of energy, but yields water through reaction with oxygen from the air. This allows them to survive without water for about two weeks, and without food for up to a month.
A camel's red blood cells have an oval shape, unlike those of other mammals, which are circular. This is to facilitate their flow in a dehydrated state. These cells are also more stable so they do not rupture when drinking large amounts of water.
Camels are able to withstand changes in body temperature and water content that would kill most other animals. Their temperature ranges from 93 degrees F at night, up to 106 degrees F at day; only above this threshold they start to sweat. This allows them to preserve about five liters of water a day. However, they can withstand at least 25% weight loss due to sweating.
The camel's thick coat reflects sunlight. A shaved camel has to sweat 50% more to avoid overheating. Their coat also insulates them from the intense heat that radiates from hot desert sand. Their long legs also help by keeping them further away from the sand.
The camel's mouth is very sturdy, able to eat thorny desert plants. Long eyelashes and ear hairs, together with sealable nostrils, prevent sand from entering. Their pace (always moving both legs of one side at the same time), and their widened feet, help them move without sinking in.
THREATS TO CAMELS
Many desert based countries have a tourist industry offering camel back rides and treks. Hotels and travel agents also offer these unethical excursions. They force camels to carry tourists in extreme conditions all in the name of profit. The camels are often poorly treated and housed in unacceptable conditions. Sick, old, injured and physically exhausted camels are forced to work. Humans are often far too heavy for the camels, but income is valued over the welfare of the animal.
Camels are also sold for slaughter, inhumanely fattened before sale. They are beaten with wooden sticks, ill-cared for and their skin is scarred from repeated beating. One of their legs is kept tied up to prevent them from escaping.
Camel wrestling is a cruel "sport" where two male camels are forced to wrestle, typically in response to a female in heat being led before them. Most common in the Aegean region of Turkey, camel wrestling also takes place in other parts of the Middle East and South Asia. The government of Turkey began discouraging the practice in the 1920s, but began promoting the inhumane practice again in the 1980s as part of Turkey's "historic culture."
Circus camels are doomed to a life of misery, spending most of their lives in tiny enclosures. Their natural needs are never met and they live in constant stress. Camels are also forced to provide rides at fairs and festivals, tethered tightly to turnstiles and made to plod in endless circles. They suffer from numerous ailments and emotional issues.
Even under the best of circumstances, captivity is cruel for camels. Confined to tiny areas and gawked at by crowds, animals in exhibits and acts endure constant stress. They may suffer from temperature extremes and irregular feeding and watering. Without exercise, they become listless, their immune systems are weakened, and they become prone to sickness; many resort to self-mutilation in reaction to stress or boredom. Mental illness is rampant among confined animals. Torn from their families and deprived of all dignity, every part of their lives is controlled by their captors.
While zoos may appear to be educational and conservation-oriented, most are designed with the needs and desires of the visitors in mind, not the needs of the animals. Many animals in zoos exhibit abnormal behavior as a result of being deprived of their natural environments and social structures. When the facility breeds too many animals they become "surplus" and often are sold to laboratories, traveling shows, shooting ranches, or to private individuals who may be unqualified to care for them.
Displays featuring camels also put people at risk. Humans can contract brucellosis, ringworm, and tuberculosis from close interaction with camels.
29 Nov, 2023
The salamander is an amphibian animal that has four legs, a slender and long body and a long tail. A salamander's rear legs develop more gradually than its front legs. (Toads and frogs are the opposite: their rear legs develop more rapidly than their front legs.) The four legs on a salamander are short to the point that its belly drags on ground. In spite of their lizard-like nature, salamanders are closely related to the smaller amphibians called newts.
Salamanders are found everywhere throughout the world, mostly in more temperate areas. One-third of the known salamander species are found in North America. The highest concentration of these is found in the Appalachian Mountains region. All the species of salamander are aquatic and semi-aquatic because of their permeable skin and amphibious nature.
There are more than 700 species of recognized salamanders all over the world, from the smaller species to the Chinese giant salamander. All the species of salamander look very much alike in appearance, however as with lizards, diverse species of salamander can possesses less limbs than normal, possessing a more eel-like appearance.
Like lizards and newts, salamanders are able to regenerate or regrow lost limbs and other parts of the body. This gives salamanders leeway while being chased by predators, as the salamander has the ability drop parts of its body to escape.
Some salamander species utilize tail autotomy to escape their predators. The tail drops off and also wriggles around for some time after an attack. The salamander either stays still or runs away while the predator is diverted. The tail regrows within time, and salamanders routinely regrow other complex tissues, including the retina or lens of their eyes. In just a couple of weeks of losing a part of a limb, a salamander reforms the missing parts.
The majority of salamander species are brightly colored, especially the male salamanders amid the breeding period when their colors get to be brighter and more intense to attract the female salamanders. Species of salamanders that live underground are mostly white or pink in color because their skin is never exposed to the sun.
The skin of salamanders secretes bodily fluid, which helps keep salamanders moist when on dry land and keeps up their salt balance while in water. It also provides a lubricant during swimming. Salamanders additionally secrete a poisonous substance from the glands in their skin, and some also possess skin glands for secreting courtship pheromones.
Respiration varies among the distinctive species and can include lungs, skin, gills, and the membranes of the throat and mouth. Larval salamanders breathe essentially by mean of gills that are mostly feathery and external in appearance. Water is drawn in via the mouth and flows out via the gill slits. Some neotenic species like the mudpuppy maintain their gills for the duration of their lives, however, most species lose them during metamorphosis.
Salamanders are opportunistic predators. They are generally not restricted to specific foods, but feed on almost any organism. Large species such as the Japanese giant salamander eat crabs, fish, small mammals, amphibians, and aquatic insects. Smaller salamanders may eat earthworms, flies, beetles, beetle larvae, leafhoppers, springtails, moths, spiders, grasshoppers, and mites.
A terrestrial salamander catches its prey by flicking out its sticky tongue in an action that takes less than half a second. An aquatic salamander lacks muscles in the tongue, and captures its prey in an entirely different manner. It grabs the food item, grasps it with its teeth, and adopts a kind of inertial feeding. This involves tossing its head about, drawing water sharply in and out of its mouth, and snapping its jaws which tears and macerates the prey before being swallowed.
Salamanders are not vocal and in most species the sexes look alike, so they use olfactory and tactile cues to identify potential mates. Pheromones play an important part in the process. In about 90% of all species, fertilization is internal. The male typically deposits a spermatophore on the ground or in the water according to species, and the female picks this up with her vent. Often an elaborate courtship behavior is involved in its deposition and collection. In the most primitive salamanders such as the Asiatic salamanders and the giant salamanders, external fertilization occurs, instead. In these species, the male releases sperm onto the egg mass in a reproductive process similar to that of typical frogs.
In temperate regions, reproduction is usually seasonal and salamanders may migrate to breeding grounds. Males usually arrive first and in some instances set up territories. Typically, a larval stage follows in which the babies are fully aquatic. The tadpoles are carnivorous and the larval stage may last from days to years, depending on species. Sometimes this stage is completely bypassed, and the eggs of most lungless salamanders develop directly into miniature versions of the adult without an intervening larval stage.
THREATS TO SALAMANDERS
A general decline in amphibian species has been linked with the fungal disease chytridiomycosis. A higher proportion of salamander species than of frogs or caecilians are in one of the at-risk categories established by the IUCN. Salamanders showed a significant diminution in numbers in the last few decades of the 20th century, although no direct link between the fungus and the population decline has yet been found. Deforestation, resulting in fragmentation of suitable habitats, and changes in climate are possible contributory factors.
The Chinese giant salamander, at 6 feet the largest amphibian in the world, is critically endangered, as it is collected for food and for use in traditional Chinese medicine. The hellbender is another large, long-lived species with dwindling numbers and fewer juveniles reaching maturity than previously. Habitat loss, silting of streams, pollution and disease have all been implicated in the decline.
Of the 20 species of minute salamanders in Mexico, half are believed to have become extinct and most of the others are critically endangered. Specific reasons for the decline may include climate change, chytridiomycosis, or volcanic activity, but the main threat is habitat destruction as logging, agricultural activities, and human settlement reduce their often tiny, fragmented ranges.
28 Nov, 2023
Kingfishers are small to medium sized birds inhabiting wetlands and woodlands throughout the world. They are well known for their brightly colored feathers, ranging in color from red to green to black. Some kingfishers have tufts of feathers on their heads which stick upwards. Other kingfisher species have flat, smooth feathers covering their bodies. Female kingfishers are more colorful than males.
There are about 100 species of kingfisher. The three main types of kingfisher are tree kingfishers, river kingfishers and water kingfishers. All kingfishers have large heads, long and sharp pointed bills, stubby tails and short legs. The smallest species of kingfisher is the African Dwarf kingfisher. The largest species of kingfisher is the Giant kingfisher. The Australian kingfisher, also known as the Laughing Kookaburra, is the heaviest kingfisher species.
Kingfishers living near water bodies feed on fish, insects, amphibians and crustaceans. They have a hard beak like a dagger for spearing fish. Kingfishers who live in woodlands feed on reptiles, birds and small mammals.
Kingfishers fly fast and direct, and can hover above water to search for, and collect, food. Kingfishers have excellent eyesight for detection of prey. They can see into the water, adjusting for refraction which makes fish look closer to the surface than they really are. When diving into water to catch fish, kingfishers often submerge completely, folding their wings backward to create a V shape. Kingfishers can even dive through thin layers of ice.
Some kingfisher species are migratory, traveling great distances to their wintering grounds.
Kingfishers do not sing. They use a variety of calls to announce their territory, warn off other birds, and communicate with their mates and chicks. The kingfisher vocabulary includes screams, shrieks, whistles, clicks, chuckles, chirps and rattles.
Kingfishers nest in hollows in trees and holes dug into the ground near river banks or lakes. Kingfisher couples are usually monogamous. They work together to dig tunnels, positioning the nests at the end. Female kingfishers lay up to 10 eggs. Both male and female kingfishers incubate the eggs, which hatch in 3 to 4 weeks. Kingfishers produce 2 to 3 broods each year, building a new tunnel and nest each time. Baby kingfishers are dependent on their kingfisher parents until they are 3 to 4 months old.
Most kingfishers are solitary, aggressive and territorial outside of the breeding season.
Being small birds, kingfishers have numerous predators. The main natural predators of kingfishers are foxes, raccoons, snakes and cats. Kingfisher eggs are also preyed upon by predators.
Kingfishers live up to 14 years in the wild.
THREATS TO KINGFISHERS
Many kingfisher species are threatened as their populations have been in decline due to habitat loss and invasive species. Woodland kingfishers are especially threatened as their habitat is being destroyed due to deforestation and animal agriculture.
27 Nov, 2023
Wallabies are small to medium sized marsupials naturally inhabiting the Australian continent and surrounding islands. Wallabies have been introduced to other areas around the world by humans. The wallaby is closely related to the kangaroo. Wallabies are usually smaller than kangaroos.
There are about 30 different species of wallaby inhabiting a variety of habitats so diverse that they are often named after their habitat, including the brush wallaby, rock wallaby, and shrub wallaby. Some wallaby species are named after their size and appearance, such as the hare wallaby. Unlike their kangaroo cousins, wallabies usually prefer wooded or rugged habits instead of open arid plains.
Wallabies have elongated faces and large flat teeth. They have large pointed ears that can swivel independently.
The wallaby has powerful hind legs used to hop about. They can jump great distances. When fighting, males use their strong back legs to deliver powerful kicks. The forearms of the wallaby are significantly smaller than their back legs and are mainly used for feeding and balance.
The wallaby tail is commonly as long as the wallaby's body and is used for balance, self defense, springing up from a sitting position, and to prop themselves up. Wallaby tails also store fat for use in times of food shortages.
Wallabies keep cool by licking their arms, covering them with saliva. Wallabies are also able to swim by kicking their legs independently in a ‘doggy’ style paddle. They usually swim at dusk.
Wallabies are herbivores, feeding mainly on plants and grasses. The wallaby forages for grass, fallen fruits and seeds, and leaves from low trees and bushes. Wallabies have chambered stomachs similar to horses that help them digest fibrous plant materials. Wallabies regurgitate food, chewing it again and swallowing it. Wallabies can survive for months without drinking. Most of their water comes from their food.
Wallabies can be solitary or very social. Smaller species of wallaby are often solitary. Larger species of wallaby are often social, living and feeding in groups of up to 50 wallabies called a mob. Some species of wallaby are territorial, living alone and defending their territory. Smaller species of wallaby are usually nocturnal, active at night. Larger species of wallaby are usually diurnal, active during the day.
Wallabies have very small vocal chords. Wallabies communicate a warning to other wallabies by freezing in place and thumping once or twice on the ground with their feet. Some species also hiss and snort. Mother wallabies communicate with their offspring through clicking noises.
Breeding season for most wallaby species is from January through February. Male wallabies will sometimes fight for females, but these fights are more ritualistic than aggressive. It is very rare for wallabies to hurt each other during fights. Female wallabies use a pouch on their abdomens to raise their young. Following a gestation period of only a month, mother wallabies give birth to a single baby wallaby, or sometimes twins, known as joeys. Newborn joeys are blind and hairless and only about the size of a jellybean. Joeys crawl up into their mother's pouch and attach to a teat to suckle where they remain for at least 2 months and develop over the next 7 months. They are cared for and nurtured until fully developed. Even after leaving their mothers pouch, baby wallabies will retreat to the pouch when they feel threatened.
If a mother wallaby becomes pregnant while a joey is still in her pouch, the development of the embryo will be paused until the joey leaves the pouch. Mother wallabies can produce two kinds of milk, one suited for a developing joey and one for a larger joey that has left the pouch. The older and younger joeys suckle on different teats to receive their specialized milk.
Due to their size, adult wallabies have few natural predators. Dingos, foxes, Tasmanian devils, crocodiles, dogs, cats, eagles and snakes prey on young wallabies. Dingoes, Tasmanian devils and foxes also sometimes prey on adult wallabies. Wallabies defend themselves against predators by hitting them with their powerful tails.
Wallabies live about 9 years in the wild.
THREATS TO WALLABIES
Wallabies are threatened by habit loss, vehicle collisions, culling and animal agriculture. Many wallaby species are endangered. Some wallaby species are considered vulnerable to extinction in the wild. Four species of wallaby have already gone extinct.
25 Nov, 2023
A large, distinctive, and predatory sea creature, the swordfish is an ocean dweller of impressive size and appearance. Their scientific name, Xiphias gladius, comes from the words for ‘sword’ in Greek and Latin, which describes them perfectly as these fish have a long, flat bill that looks very much like a long blade. They are also known as broadbills in some countries, and though they look similar to other fish like the marlin, with a comparable sleek and rounded body type, they’re actually the only members of the Xiphiidae family.
Swordfish generally inhabit temperate and tropical parts of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, since they prefer water temperatures between 18 and 22 degrees Celsius. But they can tolerate more extreme conditions as well, having been found in water as warm as 27 degrees and as cold as 5 degrees Celsius. They are one of the migratory fish species (although not schooling fish), following prey to colder waters in the summertime.
Swordfish can grow to be quite sizable. The largest recorded measurements are 14.9 feet in length and 1,430 lb in weight, while generally they tend to be around almost 10 feet on average. Interestingly, female swordfish tend to be larger than the males, although they have the same appearance otherwise. Pacific swordfish reach a greater size, on average, than their relatives living in the northwest Atlantic or Mediterranean.
Swordfish will swim close to the surface at times, but can also be found swimming as deep as 1800 feet deep underwater. As for their lifespan, the maximum average age is believed to be at least 9 years, but the process of aging swordfish can be difficult.
Like most fish, swordfish are ectothermic (cold-blooded), but, like a rare few other species of fish (tuna and some sharks, for instance) they have organs next to their eyes that actually heat their eyes and brains, improving their vision and therefore their ability to catch prey.
There are some other distinguishing characteristics that are unique to swordfish as well. Unlike other sea creatures, these fish actually lose all of their teeth and scales by the time they’re adults, and they’ve been seen to bask at the surface of the water, sometimes even jumping out of the water entirely – a behavior called breaching. They have a large primary dorsal fin, and a smaller secondary dorsal fin close to their tail.
Swordfish have been found to host over 50 different types of parasites – in fact, some parasitic larvae may even be able to be identified genetically and used as a ‘marker’ to determine where a swordfish originated from.
Mostly seeking prey at night, swordfish tend to be speedy, agile and efficient hunters that aren’t particularly picky when it comes to what they eat. Mackerel, hake, rockfish, herring, squid and even crustaceans have all been included on swordfish menus. These fantastic fish don’t actually use their bill to ‘spear’ their food, like many people believe. Instead, they slash at larger prey with their bill to stun and dismember it, while smaller food tends to be swallowed whole.
As larger predators, swordfish don’t have very many enemies of their own, although killer whales and mako sharks have been known to take on a risky swordfish meal from time to time.
Spring and summer are prime breeding seasons in the North Pacific for these fish; though November to February is the spawning season for South Atlantic swordfish and breeding takes place year-round for swordfish living near the equator. Some of the most well-known spawning grounds for swordfish are in the Mediterranean, however, just south of Italy and Sicily large numbers of eggs and young swordfish have been recorded. Warmer temperatures are preferred for spawning, so seasons usually correspond with water temperatures that remain at 20 degrees Celsius or above.
To reproduce, females release a huge number of buoyant eggs (anywhere from 1 to 29 million) into the water, where they are fertilized by clouds of sperm from the male swordfish. For such a large fish, the newly hatched larvae are tiny, measuring only 4mm long. They’re also born with a short snout, which only starts to lengthen into the beginnings of a future sword-like bill as they approach 1cm in length. In the first year swordfish can grow so quickly that they can reach a length of up to 90cm (almost 1m).
THREATS TO SWORDFISH
Humans and human activity are currently the biggest threats to swordfish populations. The size and speed of these large fish make them a challenging and popular target for sport fishermen, although they’re also caught for commercial consumption. Swordfish is a popular menu item at restaurants worldwide because of its firm, white, meat, but tends to contain high levels of mercury.
Although Atlantic populations have been protected by regulations and efforts have been successful to restore swordfish numbers there, Mediterranean swordfish are at higher risk because of illegal driftnet fisheries which kill a large number of marine life species. Greenpeace International has also added the swordfish to its seafood ‘red list’.
25 Nov, 2023
Sparrows are small birds found around the globe. Originating from Europe, Northern Africa and Asia, human travelers introduced sparrows to almost every continent. Sparrows prefer to live close to human settlements, including rural and urban areas. There are around 140 species of sparrow.
Sparrows are very small and have stout bodies covered with black, brown and white feathers. Their wings are rounded. Sparrows have smooth, rounded heads. Male sparrows have reddish backs and black bibs. Female sparrows have brown backs with stripes.
Sparrows can fly fast and can swim quickly to escape predators. They can even swim under water. Sparrows often hop around instead of walking. They bathe in dust.
Sparrows are omnivores, feeding on seeds, fruit and insects. They are known for adjusting their eating habits based on food sources provided by humans. They are frequent visitors to bird feeders. Sparrows usually forage for food on the ground.
Sparrows are very social birds. They live in colonies, called flocks, and fly together. While not usually territorial birds, sparrows will aggressively protect their nests from other sparrows and other animals.
Sparrows are usually non-migratory, but urban flocks may move to the countryside in the late summer to feed on grains.
Sparrows are extremely vocal birds that chirp all the time. Sparrows use song to attract mates and announce their territory. Female sparrows are attracted not just to the male sparrow's song, but also to how well it reflects his ability to learn. Males that utilize more learned components in their songs, and that better match the adult bird they learned their songs from, are preferred by the females. Sparrows also use a set of postures and behaviors to communicate with other.
Sparrow mating season occurs in the spring. Sparrows were once thought to be monogamous, but most sparrows have sex with multiple partners. Sparrows construct nests in trees, shrubs and man-made structures. Male sparrows often build the nest while attempting to attract females. Interested females then help in the construction. Sometimes sparrows take over nests of other bird species. Female sparrows lay 4 to 5 eggs per clutch, having several broods each year. Mother sparrows incubate the eggs for a couple of weeks. Both the female and the male may take care of the babies until they are strong enough to leave the nest, usually in about 15 days.
Being small birds, sparrows have numerous predators including dogs, cats, foxes, snakes and birds of prey.
Sparrows live up to 13 years in the wild.
THREATS TO SPARROWS
Sparrow populations have decreased dramatically due to irresponsible human activities. Some sparrows are now listed as threatened, nearly endangered. Sparrows are threatened by modern agricultural practices, pollution, pesticides, predators and a reduced amount of gardens. Some sparrows are losing their main food sources and are struggling to survive winters.
25 Nov, 2023
An alligator is a crocodilian in the genus Alligator of the family Alligatoridae. There are two living alligator species: the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and the Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis). They are closely related to crocodiles.
Alligators are characterized by a broader snout and eyes more dorsally located than their crocodile cousins. Both living species also tend to be darker in color, often nearly black (although the Chinese alligator has some light patterning.) Also, in alligators only the upper teeth can be seen with the jaws closed (in contrast to true crocodiles, in which upper and lower teeth can be seen), though many individuals bear jaw deformities which complicate this means of identification.
There are only two countries on earth that have alligators: the United States and China. The Chinese alligator is endangered and lives only in the Yangtze River valley. The American alligator is found in the United States from the Carolinas to Florida and along the Gulf Coast. The majority of American alligators inhabit Florida and Louisiana. In Florida alone there are an estimated more than 1 million alligators. The United States is the only nation on earth to have both alligators and crocodiles. American alligators live in freshwater environments, such as ponds, marshes, wetlands, rivers, and swamps. In China, they live only along the fresh water of the Yangtze River.
Alligators are solitary, territorial animals. The largest of the species (both males and females) will defend prime territory; smaller alligators have a higher tolerance of other alligators within a similar size class. Although alligators have heavy bodies and slow metabolisms, they are capable of short bursts of speed that can exceed 30 miles per hour. Alligators' main prey are smaller animals that they can kill and eat with a single bite. Alligators may kill larger prey by grabbing it and dragging it in the water to drown. Alligators consume food that cannot be eaten in one bite by allowing it to rot or by biting and then spinning or convulsing wildly until bite size pieces are torn off. This is referred to as the "death roll."
Alligators are opportunistic feeders, eating almost anything they can catch. When they are young they eat fish, insects, snails and crustaceans. As they grow they take progressively larger prey items, including: larger fish such as gar, turtles, various mammals, birds, and other reptiles, including smaller alligators. They will even consume carrion if they are sufficiently hungry. As humans encroach onto to their habitat, attacks on humans are not unknown, but are few and far between.
The American alligator, Alligator mississipiensis, is found in swamps and sluggish streams from North Carolina to Florida and along the Gulf Coast. When young, it is dark brown or black with yellow transverse bands. The bands fade as the animal grows, and the adult is black. Males commonly reach a length of 9 feet and a weight of 250 lbs; females are smaller. Males 18 feet long were once fairly common, but intensive hunting for alligator leather eliminated larger individuals and threatened the species as a whole. The wild American alligator is now protected by law, but it is also inhumanely raised on farms for commercial uses.
The Chinese alligator, A. sinensis, which grows to about 6 feet long, is found in the Chang (Yangtze) River valley near Shanghai. This species is nearly extinct.
Alligators spend the day floating just below the surface of the water or resting on the bank, lying in holes in hot weather. They hunt by night, in the water and on the bank. Alligators hibernate from October to March. In summer the female builds a nest of rotting vegetation on the bank and deposits in it 20 to 70 eggs. The mother will defend the nest from predators and will assist the babies to water once they hatch. She will provide protection to the young for about a year if they remain in the area.
Caimans are similar to alligators, but distinct members of the Alligatoridae family found in Central and South America. There are several species, classified in three genera. The largest grow up to 15 feet long. Unlike alligators, caimans have bony overlapping scales on their bellies. Baby caimans are often sold in the United States as baby alligators. Caimans and alligators are wild animals and should not be kept as pets for human amusement.
Alligators and caimans are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Reptilia, order Crocodilia, family Alligatoridae.
THREATS TO ALLIGATORS
American alligator populations were decimated by decades of hunting and habitat loss. In 1967 the animal was added to the federal endangered species list. The alligator recovered dramatically and was removed from the endangered species list in 1987. Alligators still face threats today, primarily from loss and fragmentation of natural habitats and encounters with people.
The Chinese alligator's population reduction has been mostly due to conversion of its habitat to agricultural use. A majority of their usual wetland habitats has been turned into rice paddies. Poisoning of rats, which the alligators then eat, has also been blamed for their decline. It was also not uncommon for people to kill the alligators, because they believed they were pests, out of fear, or for their meat. In the past decade, very few wild nests have been found, and even fewer produced viable offspring.
Collection for the exotic pet trade affects alligators. Every year, a variety of sources provides millions of animals to the exotic pet trade. Animals are captured from their native habitat and transported to various countries to be sold as “pets”. Others are surplus animals from zoos or their offspring. Backyard breeders also supply exotic animals. The sellers of these animals often disregard state or local laws regulating private possession of exotics, and the dangers, difficulties, physical and physiological needs of the animals they peddle. The suffering of the animals in the hands of unqualified and hapless buyers appears to be of no concern in the lucrative exotic pet trade. Reptiles pose safety risks to humans. Many incidents have been reported of escapes, strangulations, and bites from pet reptiles across the country.
Alligators are also victims of the animal entertainment industry. The use of wild animals as “entertainers” removes animals from their natural habitat; depriving them of the ability to freely engage in instinctual behaviors. Both children and adults are desensitized to animal mistreatment by the animal entertainment industry. Even under the best of circumstances, captivity is cruel for wild animals. Confined to tiny areas and gawked at by crowds, animals in exhibits and acts endure constant stress. They may suffer from temperature extremes and irregular feeding and watering. Without exercise, they become listless, their immune systems are weakened, and they become prone to sickness; many resort to self-mutilation in reaction to stress or boredom. Mental illness is rampant among confined animals. Torn from their families and deprived of all dignity, every part of their lives is controlled by their captors. While zoos may appear to be educational and conservation-oriented, most are designed with the needs and desires of the visitors in mind, not the needs of the animals.
Alligators also are inhumanely farmed commercially. Their hide is tanned and used to make leather goods such as shoes and handbags, while alligator meat is also considered a delicacy in many parts of the world.
15 Nov, 2023
Mainly known for their pointy snouts and exceptional digging abilities, moles are small mammals that have adapted to living in self-dug tunnels underground. Belonging to the family Talpidae and native to many areas around the world including Europe, Asia, and North America, there are around 20 ‘true mole’ species of these small creatures. These persistent burrowers are found mainly in either grassland or woodland habitats, though some species are aquatic or semi-aquatic, choosing to construct burrows in the soft banks of ponds or streams instead. Regardless of habitat, most moles are also good swimmers too.
Although some literature presents moles as being approximately cat-sized, in reality, most species are actually much smaller. Most are typically around 15cm (6 inches) in length, though some species can be as short as 5cm (like the American Shrew mole) or as long as 20cm. A mole’s weight range, depending on species, can be anywhere from 10g to around 500g, which is still no more than 1.5lb at the very most. The average lifespan of a mole tends to be around 4 years of age, while some species have been noted to live up to age 6 or 7.
They may not be the fastest creatures overland, but the mole anatomy has truly evolved to marvelously suit their purpose; digging. Their spade-shaped, cylindrical bodies, short powerful front limbs and sharp claws are highly adapted for burrowing into soil and tunneling through it. An extra thumb on each forepaw (a trait that’s specific just to moles, and not their close relatives, shrews) also assists in pushing aside dirt and debris as the mole digs. Some moles can dig burrows up to 20 meters long in a single day. In addition to a highly efficient body structure, moles can also tolerate higher than normal levels of environmental carbon dioxide, so they’re able to survive easily in lower-oxygen environments like underground tunnels.
Moles also have soft, dense pelts, typically colored taupe or black, which allow them to move both backwards and forwards through snug underground holes. Mole eyes tend to be very small, and are sometimes covered by fur or skin, rendering them essentially blind. While this means that their visual perception is mainly limited to light and dark, they do have highly developed senses of hearing and smell. They also have sensitive Eimer’s organs at the end of their protruding snouts that are extremely receptive to touch and vibration.
While a mole’s omnivorous diet may not sound appealing to most humans, an earthworm is truly a mole’s favorite snack. They’ll also feast on other small insects and a variety of nuts, and some aquatic moles will also eat amphibians. A mole’s tunnels serve as their own personal food trap and banquet hall; moles can sense when a worm falls into the tunnel and will hurry to catch them. Interestingly, the star-nosed mole is so fast at catching and eating food that the process is impossible to follow with the human eye. They can make a meal disappear in under a second. While moles often eat right away, they’ll sometimes store earthworms for later consumption. Since their saliva contains a paralytic toxin, moles are able to stockpile still-living insects underground in self-constructed ‘larders’. Some mole hoards have been found to contain thousands of earthworms.
Most species of moles prefer a solitary existence aside from mating season, although the largest mole species, the desman, will often live in small groups of up to five animals. Males (called boars) are particularly territorial, and can fight fiercely if they encounter an intruding mole in their territory. These busy diggers generally mate in the spring sometime between February and May, with males searching for females (called sows) by tunnelling and loud squealing vocalizations to alert potential mates of their presence. After a gestation period lasting just over 1 month, the mole pups are born underground with litters ranging in size from 2 to 6 pups. It doesn’t take long before these young ones are ready to head out on their own. Mole pups leave their nest and their mother around 30 to 45 days after they’re born to find living space on their own.
As moles have poor vision and few defenses, they can be vulnerable to many kinds of predators. Foxes and coyotes are adept at detecting and digging moles out of their subterranean hiding places, and birds of prey such as vultures, hawks and owls find moles to be easy pickings when they’re above ground. A mole’s safest refuge is underground.
THREATS TO MOLES
Since moles tend to burrow through lawns and fields, causing damage to grass and crop roots, many species are considered to be annoying agricultural nuisances in many countries, and trapping or control measures are used to deter moles from inhabiting these areas. Moles have also been historically hunted for their soft, pliable pelts, although the widespread population of most mole species means that this industry doesn’t pose a significant threat to moles at this time. A few mole species - the Canadian population of the Townsend’s mole and the Senkaku mole in Japan are two examples - are endangered, however, mostly due to the threat of human encroachment on their habitat and pest control measures taken against other species.
15 Nov, 2023
Besides being some of the most enthralling avians that exist on earth today, hummingbirds are also tiny powerhouses of motion and energy. Belonging to the family Trochikilidae, these minute birds are found exclusively throughout the Americas and the Caribbean, and they vary richly in appearance. Between 325 and 340 unique species of hummingbirds have been observed to date, with nine major branches described that separate species depending on size and coloration. South America (the Andes Mountains in particular) boasts the most diverse population of hummingbirds in the world, since environmental conditions are particularly favorable for hummingbirds on that continent, sometimes allowing for up to 25 different species to successfully co-exist in the same region. There are also around 12 species that summer in North America, but migrate to more tropical regions across the Gulf of Mexico in cold weather.
Their name, of course, originates in the humming sound created by the beating of their wings, which can flap at rates that average an astounding 50 times per second – so fast that the human eye can’t even hope to clearly observe their wings while flying, never mind discern individual wing beats.
These feathered little fliers can typically range in size from 7.5–13 cm (3–5 in), though the smallest species, the bee hummingbird, weighs in at less than 2.5g. Hummingbirds are no slouches when it comes to speed, either, in spite of their diminutive size. With lightweight, hollow bones, a heart that beats well over 1000 beats per minute and tremendous wing power, they can hover in mid-air, or fly forwards and backwards at speeds faster than 54 km/h (34 mph), which is faster than a pro cyclist. In fact, a hummingbird’s consumption of oxygen per gram of muscle is around 10 times higher than a professional human athlete.
In addition to the fact that these little birds never seem to take a break, they’re also beautiful to watch. Many species also have extraordinary iridescent and multi-hued plumage, making them seem like small airborne jewels as they zip back and forth through the air. Although some may live to 10 years and beyond, outside of captivity the average lifespan is approximately 3-5 years for the most studied species.
Hummingbirds must rely on flower nectar to fuel their immense energy needs, as they have one of the highest known metabolisms among all animals, with the exception of some insects. They can feed from a variety of different flowers. Some species, like the sword-billed and sicklebill hummingbirds, have co-evolved with specific flower types, developing specialized anatomy to more efficiently extract nectar from those particular flowers. Their tremendous metabolism requires them to visit hundreds of flowers every day just to survive, and they need to consume more than their own weight in nectar each day to simply live through each night without starving to death. Without a ready food source (such as during the night), a hummingbird enters a hibernation-like state called torpor, slowing its metabolism to keep their energy reserves from becoming dangerously low. Their heart rate, breathing rate and body temperature slow down dramatically at this time.
The process of actually obtaining nectar (which is a mixture of glucose, fructose and sucrose) requires some specialized anatomy on the hummingbird’s part. Different species may have long, short, or even curved bills as an adaptation to allow them to extract nectar from differently shaped flowers. The two halves of the bill overlap, opening slightly to allow the tongue to extend into a flower’s interior in order to collect nectar.
A hummingbird will drink by rapidly lapping up the nectar, trapping it in small tubes that run down the side of the tongue. Although this liquid gold is a phenomenal source of easily accessible energy for these pint-sized avians, it doesn’t contain many other nutrients, so hummingbirds will supplement their liquid diet with in-between meals of spiders and other insects. In spite of their reputation for constant movement, hummingbirds actually spend the majority of time between meals perching or resting to conserve energy as much as possible.
Hummingbirds reach reproductive maturity anywhere between 2 months and 1 year. While some species may be fairly territorial, chasing off interlopers near a preferred food source, some hummingbird males are protective of potential mates as well. In some species, the males use feather sonation (a vibration of the feathers) to produce a high-pitched sound that catches the attention of interested female hummingbirds.
Like other birds, they lay and incubate eggs tin nests, which are typically attached to leaves or branches. It’s not unusual for them to use spider silk or lichen to help build the nest (which is typically tiny and cup-shaped) and bind the structure together, and the silk allows the nest to expand as the chicks grow. Most clutches are no more than 1-2 eggs in number, and incubation can last anywhere from 14-24 days, depending on the species, temperature, and amount of care the female provides for the eggs. The nestlings are fed exclusively by the female hummingbird, who catches small insects and spiders and regurgitates them, along with nectar, into the crop of her chicks. Male don’t generally participate in nest construction or care of the nestlings.
THREATS TO HUMMINGBIRDS
In the past, the hummingbird’s bright plumage often made it a target for those looking to sell feathers as decoration, but these days, increased agricultural practices and habitat destruction are the biggest threats on the horizon for these little birds, particularly since many species are specifically adapted to their own unique region.
Climate change is a big issue for hummingbirds as well, since changing weather conditions affect the migration patterns of many species. This can cause them to travel outside their normal habitat range, where it can be tremendously difficult for them to find enough food. There are several species of hummingbird noted as vulnerable or endangered on the IUCN Red List.
15 Nov, 2023
The American black bear (Ursus americanus), also known as the cinnamon bear, is the most common bear species native to North America. The black bear occurs throughout much of the continent, from northern Canada and Alaska south into Mexico, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This includes 39 of the 50 U.S. states and all Canadian provinces. Populations in east-central and the southern United States remain in the protected mountains and woodlands of parks and preserves, though bears will occasionally wander outside the parks' boundaries and have setup new territories in recent years in this manner.
While there were probably once as many as two million black bears in North America, the population declined to a low of 200,000 before rebounding in recent decades, partly due to conservation measures. By current estimates, more than 600,000 are living today.
The black bear is about 5 feet long. Females weigh between 90 and 400 pounds, while males weigh between 110 and 880 pounds. Cubs usually weigh between seven ounces and one pound at birth. The adult black bear has small eyes, rounded ears, a long snout, a large body, and a short tail. They have an excellent sense of smell. Though these bears indeed generally have shaggy black hair, the coat can vary in color depending on the subspecies: from white through chocolate brown, cinnamon brown, and blonde, found mostly west of the Mississippi River, to black in the east (the same is generally true in Canada with the border being between Manitoba and Ontario). Further adding to the confusion, black bears occasionally sport a slight white chest blaze on either side of the river.
While black bears are able to stand and walk on their hind legs, they usually stand or walk on all four legs. When they do stand it usually is to get a better look at something. The black bear's characteristic shuffle results from walking flat-footed, with the hind legs slightly longer than the front legs. Each paw has five strong claws used for tearing, digging and climbing. One blow from a powerful front paw is enough to kill an adult elk.
Black bears prefer forested and shrubby areas but use wet meadows, high tidelands, ridgetops, burned areas, riparian areas and avalanche chutes. They also frequent swampy hardwood and conifer forests. After emerging from their winter dens in spring, they seek southerly slopes at lower elevations for forage and move to northerly and easterly slopes at higher elevations as summer progresses. Black bears use dense cover for hiding and thermal protection, as well as for bedding. They climb trees to escape danger and use forested areas as travel corridors. Black bears hibernate during winter and may build dens in tree cavities, under logs, rocks, in banks, caves, or culverts, and in shallow depressions.
Black bears reach breeding maturity at about 4 or 5 years of age, and breed every 2 to 3 years. Black bears breed in the spring, usually in May and June, but the embryos do not begin to develop until the mother dens in the fall to hibernate through the winter months (delayed implantation.) However, if food was scarce and the mother has not gained enough fat to sustain herself during hibernation as well as produce cubs, the embryos do not implant (develop). Black bear cubs are generally born in January or February. They are blind when born, and twins are most common, though up to four cubs is not unheard of and first-time mothers typically have only a single cub. By spring thaw, when the bears start leaving their dens, the cubs are fur-balls of energy, inquisitive and playful.
When their mother senses danger she grunts to the cubs to climb high up a tree. They are weaned between July and September of their first year, and stay with the mother through the first winter. They are usually independent by the second winter. Cub survival is totally dependent on the skill of the mother in teaching her cubs what to eat, where and how to forage (find food), where to den, and when and where to seek shelter from heat or danger.
Black bears are omnivores. They eat a wide variety of foods, relying most heavily on grasses, herbs, fruits and mast. They also feed on carrion and insects such as carpenter ants, yellow jackets, bees and termites. Black bears sometimes kill and eat small rodents and ungulate fawns. Unlike the brown bear, black bears like to attack and eat dead creatures, which makes humans feigning death at bear attacks ineffective. Like many animals, black bears seldom attack unless cornered or threatened. They are less likely to attack man than grizzly bears and typically run for cover before one catches sight of them. Black bear predation on man is extremely rare. It is estimated that there have been only 56 documented killings of humans by black bears in North America in the past 100 years. Black bear predators include other black bears, man, and the grizzly. Coyotes and mountain lions may prey on cubs.
Because their behavior has been little understood until recently, black bears have been feared and hated. Before the 20th century these bears were shot intermittently as vermin, food, and trophies being seen as either a vicious beast or an endless commodity. In many areas bounties were paid, until recently, for black bears. Paradoxically, black bears have also been portrayed as harmless and cuddly. For example, the "teddy bear" owes its existence to a young black bear cub Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot.
Their tendencies to follow their stomachs and habitat encroachment by man have created human-bear conflicts. This is true especially in areas where they may have been uncommon or absent for a long time, as in many parts of the eastern United States.
THREATS TO BLACK BEARS
Today, a major threat to the American black bear is poaching, or illegal killing, to supply Asian markets with bear galls and paws, considered to have medicinal value in China, Japan, and Korea. The demand for these parts also affects grizzly and polar bears. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty among more than 120 nations, provides measures to curb illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products across international boundaries, helping to protect the black bear from poaching.
Black bears are abundant in much of the West, in portions of the Midwest and in most of Canada. Conversely, Iowa, where land is heavily used for agriculture, has virtually none. Most eastern populations in the United States are seeing a marked, steady increase in population with bears moving back into places where they may not have been present for over a century as suitable habitat has come back. Two populations, however, are at critically low levels. Two subspecies, the Louisiana black bear and the Florida black bear, still face decline mainly due to habitat loss and degradation. In Mexico, the indigenous black bear population is listed as endangered and is mostly limited to increasingly fragmented habitat in the northern parts of the country.
In 1992, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Louisiana black bear subspecies as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, meaning it could be in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range in the near future. The American black bear also is protected by legislation in the affected states (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas) due to its close resemblance to this subspecies. The Florida black bear is a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
30 Oct, 2023
Hippopotamus is an herbivorous, river-living mammal of tropical Africa. The large hippopotamus, hippopotamus amphibius, has a short-legged, broad body with a tough gray or brown hide. Males stand about 5 feet high at the shoulder and weigh about 5 tons; females are slightly smaller. Their mouths are wide, and the incisors and lower canines are large ivory tusks that grow throughout life. Their eyes are near the top of their heads, so they can see when nearly submerged.
The large hippopotamus outweighs all the many fresh water semi-aquatic mammals that inhabit our rivers, lakes and streams. The pygmy hippopotamus, though, are only 30 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh about 400 pounds. They tend to be solitary and spend much of their time on the shore, sleeping by day in thickets.
Recent DNA studies indicate that whales are most closely related to hippopotamuses. Hippopotamuses are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Artiodactyla, family Hippopotamidae.
Hippopotamuses usually live in herds of about 15 animals. Much of their time is spent standing or swimming underwater, where they feed on aquatic plants; they must rise to breathe every 5 minutes or so. At night, groups of animals feed on the shore.
The ancient Egyptians both feared and revered the hippopotamus. The word hippopotamus comes from the Greek for “river horse” and the hippo, once indigenous to Egypt, flourished there. They grazed along the fertile banks of the Nile River and swimming in its muddy waters. Hippos may seem slow and lumbering, but they can be ferocious, deadly killers. These prolific animals multiplied until the river was thick with them. They destroyed crops, up ended fishing boats and killed the men as they fell into the river. The ancient kings found sport in great hippopotamus hunts that would thin out the herds. Hunts became bloody battles between man and beast. The hippo is no longer found in Egypt. They were wiped out of that country in modern times because of the crop damage they caused, but the hippo still thrives in other parts of Africa.
After elephants and the white rhinoceros, the hippopotamus is the third largest land mammal on earth. On land, the enormous weight of a hippo is distributed evenly and is adequately supported by the four webbed toes on each of their feet. These animals are grayish in color with thick skin that is virtually hairless. The hippo has no sweat or sebaceous glands and must rely on the water to keep cool. A hippo’s skin has the unusual property of secreting a red fluid that protects them from the sun. This specialized excretion may also be a healing agent.
Female hippopotamus bear a single young and will give birth either on land or in shallow water. The mother helps the newborn to the surface of the water. In time, she will teach her baby to swim. Newborns can be seen in the river, resting on their mothers' backs. At birth, a baby hippo will weigh from 55 to 120 pounds. The mother must protect the baby from crocodiles in the water and lions on land. She must also ward off male hippos. Strangely, males do not bother baby hippos when on land, but they will attack them in the water.
Adult hippos can stay under water for up to six minutes. A young hippo can only stay submerged for about half a minute. In order to suckle under water, the baby must take a deep breath, close its nostrils and ears and then wrap its tongue tightly around the teat to suck. This instinctive behavior is the same when the baby suckles on land. Baby hippos start to eat grass at 3 weeks, but will continue to nurse until they are about one year old.
Hippos are usually found in groups of just over a dozen, presided over by a territorial bull. They have flexible social systems defined by food and water conditions and hierarchy. Periods of drought will force them to congregate in large numbers around a limited water supply. This overcrowding disrupts the system, and under these conditions there will be higher levels of aggression. Fights for dominance will be brutal with loud and frequent vocalization. Hippos can bear the scars of old, deep wounds sustained in such battles. A hippo establishes status and marks territory by spreading its excrement with its flat, paddle-like tail.
Hippos move surprisingly well, climbing adeptly up steep riverbanks to grazing areas. They spend the heat of the day in the water, leaving it to graze at night. Apparently creatures of habit, they enter and exit the water at the same spot. They will graze four to five hours, usually covering one or two miles. The amount of grass consumed is relatively modest for animals their size. A hippo’s appetite is in proportion to its sedentary life.
THREATS TO HIPPOS
The hippopotamus is hunted for meat, and Africans have used the hide for shields and whips. Once widespread in Africa, the animal is now rare except in unsettled areas and reserves.
Despite the fact that ditches and low fences can easily deter them from encroaching on cultivated areas, hippopotamus are slaughtered by the hundreds each year. These “controlled management” schemes are put forth less for crop protection than for the meat they yield. The fat and ivory tusks of the hippo are also of value to humans, as is the hippo’s grazing land. The hippos’ range was once from the Nile delta to the Cape, but the mighty river horse is now mostly confined to protected areas.
30 Oct, 2023
Woodchucks, groundhogs and whistlepigs – what do they all have in common? Although most people are familiar with the sight and sound of these rodents, few realize that the three names all refer to the same species. Belonging to the family Scuiridae, woodchucks are part of the group of larger ground squirrels referred to as marmots. Their habitat is broadly distributed across northeastern and central Canada and the USA, as far north as Alaska and as far south as Georgia.
Unlike their lighter tree squirrel relatives, ground squirrels typically remain on the ground, preferring to situate their burrows in open field or on the edge of woodland areas. They can readily climb trees though, and are also capable swimmers when they need to be. Woodchucks are the largest member of this family in North America, generally ranging from around 16 to 26 inches in length and 4 to 9lb in weight. In cases where predators are few and there’s a good food supply, woodchucks can even grow as large as 30 lbs in weight. Their plentiful numbers usually make them an ideal food source for foxes, coyotes, birds of prey, bears and wild dogs, meaning that the average lifespan for most groundhogs in the wild doesn’t exceed 5 or 6 years of age.
Like other burrowing rodents, woodchucks have characteristics that make for efficient soil removal; compact, cylindrical bodies with short, strong front legs and curved, thick claws. On average, a single woodchuck can move approximately 5500 lb of soil when digging a burrow. Their coat is double layered to provide insulation during colder weather, with a short, dense undercoat, and a longer topcoat of darker banded guard hairs. Their brush-like tail stands erect to provide a warning to other groundhogs when an individual is on the alert, and though they retreat to their burrows when they’re threatened, they can fight fiercely with their front incisors and claws if they’re cornered. Woodchucks also tend to be very vocal, communicating with others through a range of squeals, barks, whistles and tooth grinding noises.
As a defense against predators, groundhogs prefer to live in burrows. Although they’re often solitary, they may also live with several other individuals (particularly in the case of a mother with kits), and usually one or two members of a colony stand ‘guard duty’ at a time while others sleep or forage. These ground burrows are used for sleeping, hiding, raising offspring and hibernating, and typically have anywhere from two to five entrances to provide an easily accessible means of escaping predators. Despite the woodchuck’s size, their burrows are no small feat of excavation. The average burrow extends as much as 45 feet long and up to 5 feet underground – much like a small rodent city. Most groundhogs will also designate separate chambers in their burrows for sleeping, nesting, and depositing waste.
Woodchucks, like most other rodents, are mostly plant-eaters, preferring grasses, alfalfa, berries, tender bark and shoots from low tree branches, and planted crops when they’re available. They’ll also eat nuts, insects, grubs and snails, though not as often as other rodent relatives. They’re highly opportunistic and voracious foragers in warm weather, eating around 1/3 of their own body weight each day and building a thick layer of fat for survival over colder months when they enter their burrows to hibernate.
The groundhog’s hibernation cycle, and particularly the timing of its emergence from hibernation, is what makes the woodchuck so well known in popular culture. Many of us are familiar with the rituals of Groundhog Day. Woodchucks actually enter into a true hibernation, a behavior unique to only a few animal species, where the body’s processes slow down to conserve energy. These rodents build and enter their winter burrows (built in wooded areas below the frost line) when they’re at their maximum weight, and typically will hibernate from October to March, though this period is sometimes as short as three months in warmer climates. During this period, their body temperature drops drastically (to as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit), and their metabolism, breathing and heart rate slow dramatically as well to minimize energy loss. Woodchucks then emerge in the spring with some remaining reserve of body fat to sustain them until sufficient plant growth appears.
Groundhogs are generally mature enough to mate in their second year of life, with the breeding season happening shortly after they wake from hibernation and emerge from their burrows. Mated pairs stay together in the den for approximately a month until the kits are born, but the male leaves as soon as the female is ready to give birth. She raises the young entirely on her own after that point. Woodchuck kits are blind, hairless and depend completely on their dam’s care and protection when they’re born, but mature very quickly, weaning and leaving their den at around 5 weeks of age. Kits often stay with the female for up to two months as she introduces them to their surroundings and teaches them behaviors to copy in order to survive and find food.
THREATS TO WOODCHUCKS
In most areas, woodchucks are unfairly viewed as nuisances because of their tendency to eat crops and burrow, which can compromise building foundations, and they aren’t currently considered threatened or endangered in North America. In some areas, in fact, woodchucks are very populous, and are hunted regularly for food, or to harvest their fur. They also tend to frequently fall victim to moving vehicles, since many build their burrows near grassy areas adjacent to roads and highways.
29 Oct, 2023
Eagle, common name for large predatory birds of the family Falconidae (hawk family), are found in all parts of the world. Eagles are similar to the buteos, or buzzard hawks, but are larger both in length and in wingspread (up to 7 1⁄2 feet) and have beaks nearly as long as their heads.
Birds of prey are birds that hunt for food primarily on the wing, using their keen senses, especially vision. They are defined as birds that primarily hunt vertebrates, including other birds. Their talons and beaks tend to be relatively large, powerful and adapted for tearing and/or piercing flesh. In most cases, the females are considerably larger than the males. Because of their predatory lifestyle, often at the top of the food chain, they face distinct conservation concerns.
Eagles differ from many other birds of prey mainly by their larger size, more powerful build, and heavier head and beak. Even the smallest eagles, like the booted eagle, have relatively longer and more evenly broad wings, and more direct, faster flight. Most eagles are larger than any other raptors apart from the vultures. Species named as eagles range in size from the South Nicobar serpent eagle, at 1.1 lb and 16 inches, to the 14.7 lb Steller's sea eagle and the 39 inch Philippine eagle. Like all birds of prey, eagles have very large hooked beaks for tearing flesh from their prey, strong muscular legs, and powerful talons. They also have extremely keen eyesight which enables them to spot potential prey from a very long distance. This keen eyesight is primarily contributed by their extremely large pupils which ensure minimal diffraction (scattering) of the incoming light.
Eagles build their nests, called eyries, in tall trees or on high cliffs. Many species lay two eggs, but the older, larger chick frequently kills its younger sibling once it has hatched. The dominant chick tends to be the female, as they are bigger than the male. The parents take no action to stop the killing.
Eagles are solitary birds that mate for life. The nest of twigs and sticks is built at a vantage point high in a tree or on a cliff in a permanent feeding territory and is added to year after year; the refuse of the previous nests decomposing beneath the new additions. Nests can become enormous, measuring up to ten feet across and weighing well over 1,000 pounds. The eaglets do not develop adult markings until their third year, when they leave parental protection and seek their own mates and territories.
The American bald, or white-headed, eagle (Haliaetus leucocephalus) is found in all parts of North America near water and feeds chiefly on dead fish (sometimes robbing the osprey's catch) and rodents. It is dark brown with white head, neck and tail plumage. The northern species (found chiefly in Canada) is slightly larger than the southern, which ranges throughout the United States. With only 417 known breeding pairs in the 48 contiguous states in 1963, the bald eagle population was dwindling alarmingly; a decade later they were placed on the endangered species list. In one of the greatest success stories in species recovery, conservation methods such as the banning of DDT and the prohibition against eagle hunting had by the beginning of the 21st century increased the breeding population in the lower 48 states to some 5,000 pairs. The bald eagle was removed from endangered status in 1995 and is now classified as threatened.
The golden, or mountain, eagle is widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, in the United States found mostly in the West. Unlike the bald eagle, it is an aggressive predator. In Asia it is trained to hunt small game. The adult is sooty brown with tawny head and neck feathers; unlike those of the bald eagle, its legs are feathered to the toes.
The gray and Steller's sea eagles are native to colder areas of the Northern Hemisphere; the king or imperial eagle to South Europe and Asia; and the rare monkey-eating eagle to the Philippines.
The harpy, or harpy eagle, of Central and South America, the largest of the hawks, eats macaws and sloths. It was named for the winged monsters of Greek myth and was called "winged wolf" by the Aztecs.
Eagles - impressive both in size and for their fearsome beauty - have long been symbols of royal power and have appeared on coins, seals, flags, and standards since ancient times. The eagle was the emblem of one of the Ptolemies of Egypt and was worn on the standards of the Roman armies and of Napoleon's troops. The American bald eagle became the national emblem of the United States by act of Congress in 1782. In folklore the eagle's ability to carry off prey, including children, has been exaggerated; even the powerful golden eagle can lift no more than 8 lb.
Eagles are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Falconiformes, family Accipitridae.
THREATS TO EAGLES
Eagles are threatened by habitat loss, pesticides, hunting, poisoning from carcasses of other animals poisoned by humans, wind farms, electrocution from power lines, and lead poisoning from eating ducks that have consumed lead shot.
28 Oct, 2023
The quintessential early bird who catches the worm, robins are common birds around the world known for their orange breasts and cheery songs. They are one of the first birds to start the dawn chorus and one of the last to stop singing at night. Robins are a familiar site in towns and cities, as well as woodlands, forests, mountains and tundra.
European robins have bright orange/red chests and are the most distinctive robin family species. The New Zealand robin and the North American robin are brown in color. Australasian robins are small with stocky builds and rounded heads.
Robins are omnivorous animals who feed on both plants and animals. Robins eat mostly insects and worms by swooping down on them or by ground foraging. Robins may perch on tree branches and in hedgerows watching for prey. When ground foraging, robins will run a few steps, then stop abruptly. In long grass they may fly or hop just above the ground. Robins often spot their prey by staring, motionless, at the soil with their heads cocked to one side. Sometimes robins will fight over food sources. Robins also eat seeds and fruits when they are available. They become intoxicated when they eat honeysuckle berries.
Robins have a complex and almost continuous song, often described as a cheerily carol. Their songs vary regionally, and the styles vary throughout the day. Robins are usually the first songbirds singing as dawn rises, and the last songbirds singing as evening sets in. Robins also sing when storms approach and when storms have passed. Robins have numerous other calls used for communicating.
Although robins are considered harbingers of spring, most robins do not migrate. They spend much of the winter roosting in tress and are less often seen. Some robins in cold climates migrate south to warmer areas during the winter.
During the summer, female robins sleep at their nests while male robins gather at roosts. Robin roosts can include a quarter-million birds in the winter. In the fall and winter robins often roost in large flocks. In the spring, male robins attempt to attract females by singing, shaking their wings, raising and spreading their tails and inflating their throats. Male and female robins may approach one another with bills wide open, and then touch them.
Robins build nests in trees, hedgerows or man-made structures not far from the ground. They build their nests from the inside out, pressing collected materials into a cup shape using the wrist of one wing. Nests are reinforced with soft mud gathered from worm castings. Mother robins lay 4 or 5 eggs that hatch following an incubation of less than 2 weeks. While male robins do not assist in incubating the eggs, they do bring the female robins food. Once the babies hatch, mother robins help the father robins collect food. Baby robins are a brown color and do not develop bright orange chests until they are older. Both parents feed robin chicks for the first month. Sometimes robin families will move to a new nest in an area where food is more plentiful. When young robins become independent, males will join the males while females wait to go to the roosts only after they have finished nesting.
Being small birds, robins have numerous natural predators including foxes, cats, dogs, raccoons and larger birds. Other animals, such as rodents and snakes, eat robin eggs.
Robins can live over 14 years in the wild.
THREATS TO ROBINS
The biggest threat to robins and all birds is habit loss caused by human development, deforestation and animal agriculture. Habitat loss reduces bird populations by reducing the available resources, denying birds the chance to reproduce.
While cats are often used as the scapegoats for bird population declines, cats have been a part of the natural environment, living outdoors, for over 10,000 years. By far irresponsible human activities are the biggest cause of bird numbers plummeting.
Millions of birds collide each year with city skyscrapers, communications towers and glass windows of building and houses. Millions more collide with high tension lines. Thousands die each year from wind farms.
Since robins often forage on lawns, they are vulnerable to pesticides and chemical pollution. All birds are at risk by changes in climate.
27 Oct, 2023
The dingo is a medium-sized canine inhabiting the Australian continent and Southeast Asia. The dingo is believed to have been a domesticated dog that returned to the wild thousands of years ago.
The dingo lives in a variety of habitats on the Australian mainland and surrounding islands in forests, rainforests, shrublands and the outskirts of deserts. The dingo is also found throughout Southeast Asia in natural forests in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Papau New Guinea, Burma, Thailand and southern China.
The dingo is not a dog. Dingoes are semi-domesticated but are more wolf-like than dog-like. The dingo may have once been domesticated by humans, but was abandoned and reverted to a wild state. It is thought that travelers from Southeast Asia or Indonesia brought the dingo to Australia about 4000 years ago. Abandoned by humans, the dingo regained its wolfish instincts. Some dingoes interacted with Australian Aboriginal tribes, but they were not kept as pets.
Varied Australia climates helped to develop the dingo into different types. The Desert dingo has a compact body size and is a golden yellow, reddish or sand color. The Alpine dingo has a light cream coat is very rare in the wild. The Northern dingo does not have the double coat like the Desert dingo and Alpine dingo, and possess a finer stature.
The dingo is the largest predator on the Australian continent, an apex predator, playing a vital role in the varied ecosystems of Australia. The dingo is considered an important part of the native Australian fauna, as the dingo lived on the continent before the arrival of Europeans and a mutual adaptation of dingoes and the surrounding ecosystems occurred.
The dingo lives in a pack of about 10 dingo individuals. Some dingoes are nocturnal, active at night. Other dingoes are active during the daytime. Dingoes travel together and hunt together and are lead by a dominant female dingo and a dominant male dingo. Members of the pack care for the dominant female’s young.
The dingo has unique wrists, capable of rotation like human wrists. This amazing ability for a canine enables the dingo to use its paws like human hands. Dingoes have larger canine teeth than domestic dogs. They have permanently erect ears. Dingo limbs are double-jointed and their necks can turn 180 degrees. Dingoes are also exceptional runners, climbers and jumpers. The dingo does not bark, but howls like a wolf.
The dingo eats a mostly carnivorous diet. The dingo diet is similar to other pack-canines such as wolves. Dingoes hunt small reptiles, amphibians, birds, insects and mammals, including wallabys and kangaroos. They also eat fruit, grains and nuts.
Dingoes breed once a year, usually before August in the south of Australia and after August in the north of Australia. Following a gestation period of about 2 months, female dingoes give birth to a litter of 1 to 10 babies. The pups are blind when first born. Dingo pups leave their mother's den when they are about 8 weeks old. At 3 years old they find a mate and often mate for life.
Because dingoes are large animals and have a dominant nature, the dingo has no predators in its natural environment with the exceptions of humans and occasionally crocodiles.
THREATS TO DINGOES
Dingoes are threatened by persecution by humans, habitat loss and domestic dogs.
Despite being considered a native animal under Federal law, Individual State laws consider the dingo a pest to be controlled. Control methods of the dingo include shooting, poison baiting and trapping. While the dingo is often accused of preying on sheep, analysis of the stomach contents of dingoes has shown that sheep are not a significant part of the dingo diet.
Humans continue to move further into the dingo habitat, creating habitat loss and reducing the buffer zone between dingoes and domestic dogs. This increases the interactions between dingoes, established wild dogs and roaming domestic dogs. Dingoes breed with domestic dogs and produce hybrid animals. Their pure genetic strain is being compromised. Over a third of southeastern Australia's dingoes are now hybrids.
26 Oct, 2023
Insects are cold blooded arthropods and represent 90% of all life forms on earth. They are among the most diverse groups of animals on the planet, with over 1 million different known species and as many as 9 million more yet to be discovered. Insects have three body parts: head, thorax and abdomen. They have three pairs of legs with six joints and they have two antennae. Bugs have external skeletons. These “exoskeletons” contain sense organs for sensing smell, sound, light, temperature, wind and pressure.
Most insects go through 4 life stages: egg, larvae or nymph, pups and adult. Bugs do not have lungs and most have compound eyes, meaning each eye has many lenses. Adult insects usually move about by walking or flying...and sometimes by swimming. They are the only animals without backbones that fly. As it allows for rapid yet stable movement, many walk with their legs touching the ground in alternating triangles.
Insect species are divided up into 32 orders. The largest group is beetles, with about 500,000 different species. One out of every four animals on the planet is a beetle.
Insects perform many ecological roles. They pollinate flowers and plants, produce silk, honey, wax and other products. Blow-flies consume carrion. Pollinators are essential to the life-cycle of many flowering plant species on which most organisms, including humans, are dependent. Many other insects are considered ecologically beneficial as predators.
These highly adaptable creatures have evolved to live successfully in most all environments, though only a small number of species live in the oceans which are dominated by their cousin arthropods, crustaceans. Many insects spend at least part of their lives under water, breathing through gills, and some adult insects are aquatic and can swim. Some species, such as water striders, are capable of walking on the surface of water. Many are solitary, while bees, ants and termites are very social and live in large, well-organized colonies.
Invertebrate Extinction Crisis
Invertebrates, from mollusks to butterflies to earthworms to corals, exhibit vast levels of diversion. Almost 97% of all animal species on earth are estimated to belong to this group. One-third of the known invertebrate species are now threatened with extinction. Water pollution, water projects, and groundwater withdrawal threaten freshwater invertebrates, while deforestation and animal agriculture is also a great factor of invertebrate endangerment or extinction. In addition, reef-building corals in the ocean are diminishing at an increasing rate.
FASCINATING INSECT FACTS
Although there are other giant insects that are longer or wider than the goliath beetle, they hold the record for weight and can grow up to 4.5 inches long and weigh up to 3.5 ounces.
Fairyflies are as tiny as only 0.0055 inches long.
Tiny mites, from the Anystidae family, are the fastest animals in the world when it comes to body size. They can run 20 times faster than a cheetah, the equivalent of a human running 1,300 mph.
THE LONGEST LIVED
The queen of termites have been known to live for 50 years, and may live for 100 years.
Many insects are devoted mothers, guarding and continuously cleaning their eggs and assisting the babies in hatching. Newborn babies live with their mother, nesting under her as she protects and feeds them. Parents and offspring communicate extensively and coordinate their daily routines. Some cockroaches carry their babies in little pouches like kangaroos and nourish them in the uterus with milk. Dung beetles tenderly care for their children by cleaning away toxic molds and fungi from the dung balls where the babies live. Wolf spiders carry their egg sacs with them and baby wolf spiders ride around on their mother’s abdomen. Some insect fathers are also devoted to helping with raising the young. Female giant water bugs have been known to attach eggs to the back of the father who carries them around until they hatch. Wood roaches are monogamous, raise one group of children, and live in one log for their entire life.
Insects can communicate with each other in a variety of ways. Male moths can sense the pheromones of female moths over great distances. Other species communicate with sounds: crickets stridulate, or rub their wings together, to attract a mate and repel other males. Some communicate with light. Insects have celestial navigation capabilities. Dung beetles use light from the moon to move across great distances in a straight line and also use the Milky Way to direct them.
LARGEST BRAINS IN THE WORLD
The animal with the largest brain in proportion to its size is the ant. They farm, gather, hunt, raise animals and engage in rituals. Ants are social insects and live in colonies of as many as 500,000 individuals. They divide jobs among each other. Queens lay eggs while all other females are workers who feed the babies, take out the trash, forage for food and supplies and defend the nest. Males only have to mate with the queen. Ants have two stomachs, one to hold food for themselves, and one for others. Some ants keep other ants, or other insects, as slaves forcing them to do chores.
Ants have been farming for 70 million years, using sophisticated horticultural techniques to grow crops. They even keep "cattle", aphids which they milk by tickling them with their antennae. They clip the wings of aphids that have them or produce chemicals from glands in their jaws to stop the development of their wings. They can also use chemicals to tranquilize aphids.
Ants "hear" by feeling vibrations in the ground with pecial sensors on their feet and knees. Their antennae and body hairs feel around while foraging for food. They communicate with a sophisticated language using chemicals known as “pheromones.”
One species, M. smithii, reproduces asexually, with all babies clones of the queen. There are no males.
Army ants do not build permanent nests. They travel around attacking other colonies and other insects and build temporary campsites at night.
The largest ant colony discovered to date was over 3,750 miles wide. Ants engage in war, including psychological warfare.
FARMING, MATH & LANGUAGE
Bees practice agriculture, warfare and symbolic language. They can calculate the most efficient route between two points faster than super computers. They are capable of performing higher-order cognition. Bees are democratic in their decision making process. They use dance as a form of voting. Worker bees select which fertilized eggs to brood in queen or worker cells, while the queen decides the sex of her young. Fertilized eggs will become females, while unfertilized eggs will become males.
Bees can learn from other species as well as communicate specific threats to predators from other species. They have different personalities and emotions. They can become pessimistic and suffer from depression.
They have careers: scout bees search for food sources, soldier bees work as security guards, undertakers remove dead bees from the hive. In addition to thousands of worker adults, a colony normally has a single queen and several hundred drones. The queen has all the babies, and also produces pheromones that serve as a social “glue” unifying and giving an individual identity to a bee colony. Drones are males who fertilize the queen during her mating flight, then die instantly after mating. Workers are females that care for the queen, build beeswax combs, clean and polish the cells, feed the bees, handle incoming nectar, remove trash, guard the entrance and even air-condition and ventilate the hives. As field bees they forage for pollen, nectar, water and plant sap. When older bees perform jobs usually carried out by younger members, their brains stop aging and begin to age in reverse.
Bees use the sun as a compass and navigate by polarized light when it's cloudy. Honeycombs are the most efficient structures in nature—the walls meet at a precise 120-degree angle, a perfect hexagon. To make one pound of honey, workers in a hive fly 55,000 miles and visit two million flowers. In just a single collecting trip, one bee will visit 50 to 100 flowers, returning to the hive carrying over half her weight in nectar and pollen. The energy in one ounce of honey could provide one bee with enough fuel to fly around the world.
Butterflies are the second largest group of pollinators, following bees. Without their assistance, humans likely would not survive. These beautiful animals undergo a fascinating metamorphosis which takes place in four stages: egg, caterpillar, pupa and adult. Mother butterflies attach their eggs with a special glue to caterpillar food, or “host” plant. When the caterpillar is born, it eats its egg, then begins eating the plant. When the caterpillar's insides grow too big for its outside, its covering splits and is shed. A new exoskeleton lies underneath. The caterpillar continues to shed numerous times, then becomes a pupa. It then seeks a sheltered spot, suspends itself by silken threads and sheds one more time forming a hard casing around its body. Inside this chrysalis, the pupa is growing six legs, a proboscis, antennae and wings. Within days, months or years, depending on the species, the chrysalis breaks open and a butterfly emerges. Butterflies can live in the adult stage from a week to a year, depending on the species. They have four wings, usually brightly colored with unique patterns made up of tiny scales.
They remember things they learned as caterpillars. They can fly up to 30 mph and up to 50 miles in a day. They learn home ranges and memorize locations of nectar and pollen sources, host plants and communal roosting sites. They are able to plan the most efficient routes by using calculations that mathematicians call the "traveling salesman algorithm". Many butterflies are migratory and capable of long distance flights, using the sun to orient themselves. They also perceive polarized light and use it for orientation when the sun is hidden. Butterflies "taste" with their feet through tiny receptors.
Insects brains pack neurons 10 times more densely than mammal brains. Their brains also use each cell more flexibly than mammals, boosting computing power without having to increase the number of cells. They prove that animals with bigger brains are not necessarily more intelligent. Honeybees can count, categorize similar objects like dogs or human faces, understand "same" and "different," and differentiate between shapes that are symmetrical and asymmetrical. Spiders’ brains are so large relative to the rest of their bodies, they extend out of their heads and all the way down into their legs. The minuscule brain of the C. elegans nematode worm has just 302 neurons, but is able to carry out the same functions as the nervous systems of higher organisms. Leeches have 32 brains (ganglia).
BUGS OF LIGHT
You know that summer has arrived when the first glowing firefly rises on a warm evening. Not long after, a fairy cotillion will be danced nightly. “Lightning bugs” or “fireflies” are actually beetles, nocturnal members of the aptly named Lampyridae family. Fireflies take in oxygen and, inside special cells, combine it with a substance called luciferin. This chemical process takes place in dedicated organs located under the insects’ abdomens and produces the light. Fireflies flash their light in patterns that are unique to each of the 2,000 species. They are communicating with their light and each blinking pattern is an optical signal to a potential mate.