Bees are flying insects closely related to wasps and ants, and are known for their role in pollination and for producing honey and beeswax. There are nearly 20,000 known species of bees in seven to nine recognized families. They are found on every continent except Antarctica, and in every habitat on the planet that contains insect-pollinated flowering plants.
Bees are adapted for feeding on nectar as an energy source and pollen for protein and other nutrients. Most pollen is used as food for larvae.
Bees have a long tongue that enables them to obtain the nectar from flowers. They have antennae and two pairs of wings, the hind pair being the smaller of the two.
The best-known bee species is the European honey bee, which, as its name suggests, produces honey, as do a few other types of bee. Sweat bees are the most common type of bee in the Northern Hemisphere, though they are small and often mistaken for wasps or flies.
Bees may be solitary or may live in various types of communities. 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.
Bees 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.
Solitary bees create nests in hollow reeds or twigs, holes in wood, or, most commonly, in tunnels in the ground. The female typically creates a compartment (a "cell") with an egg and some provisions for the resulting larva, then seals it off. A nest may consist of numerous cells. While solitary females each make individual nests, some prefer to make nests near others of the same species. In some species, multiple females share a common nest, but each makes and provisions her own cells independently. Solitary bees are either stingless or very unlikely to sting (only in self-defense, if ever).
Bees are the favorite meal of the bee-eater bird. Other common predators are kingbirds, mockingbirds, beewolves, and dragonflies.
THREATS TO BEES
Bees and other insect pollinators are threatened by environmental challenges including habitat loss, degradation, fragmentation, non-native species, diseases, pollution and pesticides. Wild bees have been dying off in large numbers, as well as domestic bees. Some species are now listed as endangered.
Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is a phenomenon in which worker bees from a European honey bee colony abruptly disappear. The reasons for its increasing prevalence remain unclear, but many possible causes have been proposed: pesticides, primarily neonicotinoids; infections with Varroa and Acarapis mites; malnutrition; various pathogens; genetic factors; immunodeficiencies; loss of habitat; changing beekeeping practices; or a combination of factors.
Varroa destructor has been called a modern honeybee plague. Varroa are microscopic vampire bugs that attach themselves to baby bees, sucking out the bees’ blood with a sharp, two-pronged tongue. The varroa directly weaken the bees they infest, but the bugs can also introduce bacteria and other viruses which in turn makes the bees that much more vulnerable to any other kind of shock.
Honeybees are starving as open land, with the flowers and plants that provide food for the bees, is now planted with monocultures of corn and soybeans that offer little nutrition. A number of other diseases are afflicting honeybees, including the tobacco ringspot virus, a plant disease that has been implicated by researchers. Commercial honeybee colonies may be trucked thousands of miles for work, including the massive and lucrative spring almond pollination in California, which requires billions of bees. The stress of travel kills many of them.
Neonicotinoid pesticides are injected directly into the seed of a future plant. That means traces of the insecticide may always be part of the plant tissue. A growing body of research has implicated neonicotinoid in the death of honeybees. There is particular concern that neonicotinoids might have sub-lethal effects on bees, not killing them outright, but causing enough damage to make them vulnerable to an assortment of other ills.
Majestic, beautiful and graceful, swans are large aquatic birds closely related to geese and ducks. Swans inhabit both sides of the Equator across the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. There are several species of swan, differing in size, color and behavior: the Black swan, Mute swan, Black-necked swan, Trumpeter swan, Tundra swan (which includes the Bewick’s swan and Whistling swan), and the Whooper swan.
Northern swans are white with orange beaks. Southern swans are white and black with orange, red or black beaks. The legs of swans are usually a dark blackish gray color, except for two South American species that have pink legs. Black swans are known for swimming with one leg – tucking the other above their tails to change direction more smoothly and quickly when they spot predators or prey.
Swans have streamlined bodies, long necks and webbed feet. Their wings are very strong, making them able to fly short distances despite being such heavy birds. Their incredibly strong wings can cause fatal injuries to other animals.
A male swan is called a cob, a female swan is a pen, and a baby swan is a cygnet.
Swans are omnivores, but eat a mostly vegetarian diet. Swans eat aquatic plants, seeds, insects and sometimes small fish. Swans do not have teeth, but their beaks have serrated edges that look like teeth and aid in catching and eating food. When threatened, swans engage in busking - rearing up with flared wings and hissing, snorting, grunting and flapping.
Some species of swan are migratory, either wholly or partly.
Swan couples establish strong bonds. Some mate for life. Swans often touch beaks to kiss. When they kiss, their necks form a heart.
Swans can sleep on land or in the water. When sleeping on land they stand on one leg.
Swans molt each summer. When molting they are unable to fly for about 6 weeks. Breeding couples do not molt at the same time as they, and their babies, would be too vulnerable to predators.
During mating season, courtship dances are accompanied by a variety of hissing and grunting sounds. Some swans sing and honk during mating, and engage in synchronized swimming and head bobbing.
Swan couples build their nests on land with twigs and leaves. Unlike most ducks and geese, male swans help with nest construction and egg incubation. Female swans lay 3 to 9 eggs. Baby swans hatch following an incubation period of a little over a month. Baby swans are usually swimming in the water with their mother in a couple of days. They stay close to their mother for warmth and protection. Swans are known to aggressively protect their nests and babies.
Due to their large size, swans have few natural predators. Natural predators include wolves, foxes and raccoons that prey on swans and their eggs.
Swans can live 30 years in the wild.
THREATS TO SWANS
Swans are a threatened species due to hunting, habitat loss and pollution. Some species are endangered. Swan populations are declining.
Swans are also victims of the animal entertainment and pet industries – used as decorations in ponds and lakes.
While sponges may look plant-like, they are multi-cellular animals that have bodies full of pores and channels allowing water to circulate through them. Sponges are bottom-dwelling sea creatures. They do not have nervous, digestive or circulatory systems. Instead, they obtain nourishment and oxygen from water constantly flowing through them. The flowing water also carries out waste products.
There are many different types of sponges in the world's oceans. Sponges come in two basic types: encrusting or free-standing. Encrusting sponges typically cover the surface of a rock in the same manner that moss covers a rock on land. Free-standing sponges have more inner volume compared with their outside surface area and sometimes grow into strange shapes, often reaching gigantic proportions.
All sponges are sessile (they are not able to move about) and aquatic animals. Although there are freshwater species, the great majority are marine (salt water) species, ranging from tidal zones to depths exceeding 5.5 miles. Most sponges live their lives attached to a reef.
Sponges are similar to other animals in some ways, but unlike most animals they lack true tissues and organs and have no body symmetry. The scientific term for sponges is Porifera which literally means "pore-bearing." They are covered with tiny pores which lead to a system of canals and out to one or more larger holes. Within the canals of the sponge, chambers are lined with specialized cells that have a sticky, funnel shaped collar and a hairlike whip. The collar cells force water through the sponge. The water brings in nutrients and oxygen, while it carries out waste and carbon dioxide. The sticky collars of the collar cells also pick up tiny bits of food brought in with the water. Another type of cell takes the food to other cells within the sponge.
Sponges are very effective filter feeders, since they are able to capture and eat particles as small as bacteria as well as much larger particles. The "skeleton" of the sponge is composed of tiny needle-like splinters called spicules, a mesh of protein called spongin, or a combination of both.
Most sponges are hermaphroditic (both male and female), but play either the male or female role during reproduction. Sperm is released into the water by "male" sponges and travels to "female" sponges, where fertilization occurs internally. Baby sponges are released from the female sponge and float around in the water column as plankton for a few days. They then settle down and start growing. The next time the sponges reproduce, they may change sexual roles.
Sponges are also known for regenerating from fragments that are broken off, although this only works if the fragments include the right types of cells. A few species reproduce by budding. Budding is a form of asexual reproduction in which a new organism develops from an outgrowth, or bud, due to cell division at one particular site. Since the reproduction is asexual, the newly created organism is a clone and is genetically identical to the parent organism. Some species of sponge produce "survival pods" that remain dormant until conditions are right, and then either form completely new sponges or recolonize the skeletons of their parents.
While most of the approximately 5,000–10,000 known species feed on bacteria and other food particles in the water, some host micro-organisms as endosymbionts (organisms that live within the body or cells of another organism). These alliances often produce more food and oxygen than they consume. A few species of sponge that live in food-poor environments have become carnivores that prey mainly on small crustaceans.
THREATS TO SPONGES
Sponges are susceptible to damage by fishing, especially bottom trawling and dredging. In typical trawling, a large net is dragged across the ocean floor, its mouth held open by two 2-ton doors called otterboards. The siliceous skeleton of the sponges is fragile, and these organisms are easily broken by physical impact. Sponges in the vicinity of trawl tracks are shattered or completely removed.
While less harmful, hook and line fishing, as well as crustacean trapping, may also damage sponges. When the fishing gear is hauled to the surface, the lines and traps drag along the ocean floor and have the potential to break corals and sponges. Breakage of reef sponges may have dire consequences for the recruitment of new sponges, as sponge larvae require the siliceous skeletons of past generations as a substrate. Without a hard substrate, new sponges cannot settle and regrow broken parts of the reef. It has been estimated that broken sponge reefs may take up to 200 years to recover.
In addition, offshore oil and gas exploration threatens sponge reefs. Even if exploratory drilling is not done on or immediately adjacent to the reefs, it may still have a negative impact by increasing the amount of sediment in the seawater, or through hydrocarbon pollution.
Ants are insects of the family Formicidae and, along with the related wasps and bees, belong to the order Hymenoptera. There is an estimated 22,000 species of ants.
Ants have colonized almost every landmass on Earth. The only places lacking indigenous ants are Antarctica and a few remote or inhospitable islands. Ants thrive in most ecosystems and may form 15–25% of the terrestrial animal biomass. Their success in so many environments has been attributed to their social organization and their ability to modify habitats, tap resources, and defend themselves.
Ants occupy a wide range of ecological niches, and are able to exploit a wide range of food resources either as direct or indirect herbivores, predators, and scavengers. Most species are omnivorous generalists, but a few are specialist feeders.
The animal with the largest brain in proportion to its size is the ant. Ants 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.
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 have two stomachs, one to hold food for themselves, and one for others. Ants "hear" by feeling vibrations in the ground with special 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.
Most ant species have a system in which only the queen and breeding females have the ability to mate. Contrary to popular belief, some ant nests have multiple queens, while others may exist without queens. The winged male ants, called drones, emerge from pupae along with the breeding females (although some species, such as army ants, have wingless queens), and do nothing in life except eat and mate.
Most ants are univoltine, producing a new generation each year. During the breeding period, females and winged males leave the colony in what is called a nuptial flight. Typically, the males take flight before the females. Males then use visual cues to find a common mating ground, for example, a landmark such as a pine tree to which other males in the area converge. Males secrete a mating pheromone that females follow.
Females of some species mate with just one male, but in others they may mate with as many as ten or more different males. Mated females then seek a suitable place to begin a colony. There, they break off their wings and begin to lay and care for eggs. The females store the sperm they obtain during their nuptial flight to selectively fertilize future eggs. The first workers to hatch are weak and smaller than later workers, but they begin to serve the colony immediately. They enlarge the nest, forage for food, and care for the other eggs. Species that have multiple queens may have a queen leaving the nest along with some workers to found a colony at a new site, a process akin to swarming in honeybees.
If the egg is fertilized, the baby will be female; if not, it will be male. Ants develop by complete metamorphosis, including a larva stage and pupal stage before emerging as an adult. The larva is largely immobile and is fed and cared for by workers.
The larvae grow through a series of four or five moults and enter the pupal stage. The pupa has the appendages free and not fused to the body as in a butterfly pupa. Larvae and pupae need to be kept at fairly constant temperatures to ensure proper development, and are often moved around among the various brood chambers within the colony.
A new worker spends the first few days of its adult life caring for the queen and young. She then graduates to digging and other nest work, and later to defending the nest and foraging.
Ant colonies can be long-lived. The queens can live for up to 30 years, and workers live from 1 to 3 years. Males, however, are short-lived and survive for only a few weeks.
Ants are active all year long in the tropics, but, in cooler regions, they survive the winter in a state of dormancy or inactivity. The forms of inactivity are varied and some temperate species have larvae going into the inactive state, (diapause), while in others, the adults alone pass the winter in a state of reduced activity.
Ants communicate with each other using pheromones, sounds, and touch. Like other insects, ants perceive smells with their long, thin, and mobile antennae. The paired antennae provide information about the direction and intensity of scents. Since most ants live on the ground, they use the soil surface to leave pheromone trails that may be followed by other ants. In species that forage in groups, a forager that finds food marks a trail on the way back to the colony. This trail is followed by other ants, and these ants then reinforce the trail when they head back with food to the colony. When the food source is exhausted, no new trails are marked by returning ants and the scent slowly dissipates.
Ants use pheromones for more than just making trails. A crushed ant emits an alarm pheromone that sends nearby ants into an attack frenzy and attracts more ants from farther away. Several ant species even use "propaganda pheromones" to confuse enemy ants and make them fight among themselves. Pheromones also are exchanged, mixed with food, and passed on to transfer information within the colony. This allows other ants to detect what task group (e.g., foraging or nest maintenance) other colony members belong to. In ant species with queen castes, when the dominant queen stops producing a specific pheromone, workers begin to raise new queens in the colony. Some ants produce sounds by stridulation. Sounds may be used to communicate with colony members or with other species.
THREATS TO ANTS
Like most animals, the primary threat to ants is the destruction of their habitat. Human development has taken an alarming toll on the environment. Impact from land use practices such as agricultural conversion, deforestation, and urban sprawl continue to degrade and fragment remaining pockets of habitat and accelerate biodiversity loss. Pesticides and other forms of pollution are also of serious concern, as well as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Ants are also victims the pet trade, sold for a short life in captivity in “ant farms” for human amusement. Research has proven that insects are complex, emotional and intelligent beings. Captivity is cruel for wild animals. The physical and physiological needs of animals can never be met in captivity.
True old world lizards with evolutionary roots that date back as far as 61 million years ago; chameleons are some of the most unique reptiles on earth. There are around 180 different species of chameleon belonging to the family Chamaeleonidae, which can come in a myriad and dazzling range of colors and sizes. Many species have the astounding ability to change colors in order to blend into their environment.
Naturally preferring warm climates, chameleons live in habitats that range from rainforest to dry desert, and chameleons have been found to occur, depending on species, in Africa, Madagascar, Europe, and southern Asia (as far as Sri Lanka). The word chameleon derives from Latin and Greek languages, roughly meaning ‘lion of the ground.’
It’s difficult to even begin to describe a chameleon’s curious appearance. They can range from 0.6 inches up to 27.5 inches in length, and their size and body structure can be very different from species to species. Some have unique decorative features, such as horn-like nasal protrusions or crests on top of their heads, while others have crests of small spikes along their spine that help break up the outline of the chameleon so it blends into its surroundings. The males of many chameleon species tend to be more decorative than the females.
Since most chameleons are tree dwellers, they have developed prehensile (grasping) tails and a highly functional foot structure, often referred to as a zygodactyl foot. On each of their feet, the toes are grouped into either two or three separate, flattened bundles, which give the feet the appearance of tongs. These specialized feet allow chameleons to grip tightly onto narrow branches, and the sharp claws at the end of each toe help these little lizards to readily climb rough surfaces like bark. Even those species that have moved to more terrestrial movement have kept the same toe structure as their tree-top dwelling counterparts.
Continuing to break the mold when it comes to unusual animals, chameleons also have the most distinctive eyes of any reptile. Their upper and lower eyelids don’t move separately, but are completely joined together, leaving only a pinhole opening large enough for the pupil to see through. A chameleon can keep just one eye on you while watching a tasty bug at the same time. Each eye can move, pivot and focus in complete independence, giving them a 360 degree field of vision. In addition, their actual eyesight is excellent in comparison to other reptiles, allowing them to see their prey from as far as 5 to 10 meters away. Their eyes can also detect both visible and ultraviolet light – in fact, ultraviolet exposure plays an important role in regulating a chameleon’s social, feeding, and reproductive activities.
The most renowned characteristic belonging to many species of chameleon is their ability to change their skin color and pattern, usually in combinations of pink, blue, red, orange, black, brown, light blue, yellow, turquoise or purple. Chameleons have two layers within their skin structure, placed on top of one another, that control color change by using a lattice of a substance called guanine nanocrystals. When the chameleon’s body ‘excites’ the lattice, the distance between the nanocrystals increases, changing which wavelengths of light are reflected and absorbed by their skin (therefore changing their color and pattern).
Chameleons will change color not only to camouflage, but also to communicate with others in social situations like courting before mating, or conflict. One species, the Namaqua chameleon, changes color in order to help regulate its body temperature too, turning black in cooler weather to absorb heat, and then lighter grey to reflect light in warmer daytime temperatures. In general, a chameleon will usually show darker colors if they’re angry or trying to scare off other chameleons or animals, but shows lighter and more multicolored patterns when they’re courting to mate.
In order to fuel all of this brilliant body structure, chameleons need to be fairly efficient hunters. They eat mainly insects, though some larger species will also hunt other lizards and sometimes even small birds, catching them by rapidly projecting their long, sticky tongue to capture their prey from afar and bring it into their mouth to eat. Some chameleons can actually project their tongues more than twice the distance of their own body length, and can capture prey in as fast as 0.07 seconds. Many chameleon species will also munch on tender leaves, plant shoots and berries as well to supplement their diet.
Chameleons are mainly external egg-layers (oviparous), though some species retain eggs inside their body until they are ready to hatch (oviviparous). Chameleons who lay eggs will do so three to six weeks after mating, digging a hole in the ground to lay anywhere from two to two hundred eggs, depending on the particular sizes and species. Although eggs of these chameleons generally hatch after 4 to 12 months, the eggs of one species, the Parson’s chameleon, are believed to have an extremely long gestation period of over 24 months.
Oviviparous species, on the other hand, have a gestation period of five to seven months, after which the mother chameleon presses each sticky-surfaced egg onto a branch. The egg membrane then bursts, freeing the new young chameleon to move away, hunt, and hide from predators. An oviviparous female can have up to 30 live young from one gestation period. THREATS TO CHAMELEONS
There are several species of chameleons that are inhumanely kept in captivity. 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.
Many species of chameleons are threatened with extinction in their natural habitats because of human pollution and deforestation.
These small lizards can also be host to a number of different parasites as well; nematode worms and protozoan parasites like Plasmodium (the parasite that causes malaria) and coccidia have all been noted to be carried by various chameleon species.
Quails are small birds inhabiting woodlands and forests around the globe. There are many species of quail, varying slightly in appearance and size. They are closely related to the larger pheasants. Quails inhabit Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia and the Americas. There are three subfamilies in the quail family: Old World quails and partridges; New World quails; and true pheasants and seafowls.
Quails can be covered in brown, black, gray, white and blue feathers with a scale-like pattern on some parts of their bodies. Some species of quail have plumes, or topknots, shaped like a teardrop on top of their heads that bob when the quail is walking.
Quails can fly short distances, but spend the majority of their time on ground level. Most quails do not migrate, living their lives in one area. They usually settle to the ground by gliding. They can be diurnal, active during the day, or nocturnal, active at night, depending on the species of quail.
Some quails are solitary birds or live in pairs. Other quail species are very social. Some live in small flocks known as coveys.
Quails are omnivores, but prefer a mostly vegetarian diet. They feed on seeds, flowers, barley, wheat and fruits. They occasionally eat insects.
Quails communicate with high pitched sounds, grunts and cackles. They bath in dust to eliminate pests and to clean their plumage.
Quails will run when they are in danger. Some species are able to fly away quickly. Other quail species become motionless when threatened. Some quails have heeled spurs, bony structures used to fight off predators.
During the mating season large flocks of quails gather together. Quails are ready to mate at 2 months old. They usually breed in open areas such as farmland. Males will compete for females. Female quail lay one to 20 eggs in nests, depending on the species of quail. Nests are typically constructed on the ground below a shrub or other covering plant. Baby quails hatch in less than a month. They are ready to leave the nest and follow their parents shortly after birth. Both the mother and the father quail usually care for the chicks.
Being small birds, quails have many natural predators. Raccoons, foxes, snakes, coyotes, squirrels, bobcats, dogs, skunks, cats, owls, hawks, rats and weasels hunt quails and their eggs.
Quails live up to 5 years in the wild.
THREATS TO QUAILS
Quails are victims of hunting for meat, feathers and sport on game farms or in the wild. Habitat destruction and hunting have negatively affected quail populations around the world. Some species of quails are endangered. Quail are also used in inhumane animal research experiments.
Species of quail have declined by over 90 percent due to hunting. In some countries, baby quails are fired from a cannon and then shot down.
Quail are farmed for their eggs and meat. Factory farmed quails suffer from intense confinement, overcrowding, stress, de-beaking, diseases, ammonia fumes and rough handling.
One of the main threats to quails is the reduction of food and cover from overgrazing by the animal agriculture industry. Pesticides from animal agriculture also threatens quails.
Quails are also victims of the pet trade. Quails are timid and easily startled by sudden noises in captivity. In cages they are easily injured, or even killed, when they attempt to fly.
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.
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.
Crocodiles are large, carnivorous reptiles of the order Crocodilia, found in tropical and subtropical regions. Crocodiles live in swamps or on river banks and catch their prey in the water. They have flattened bodies and tails, short legs, and powerful jaws. The eyes, ears, and nostrils are located near the top of the head and are exposed when the crocodile floats on the surface of the water. The ears and nostrils have valves that close when the animal is submerged.
Most crocodiles are more aggressive than the related alligators. The two forms are distinguished by the long lower fourth tooth: in crocodiles, but not in alligators, this tooth protrudes on the side of the head when the mouth is closed. Also, the snouts of most crocodiles are narrower than those of alligators.
The larger species of crocodiles can be very dangerous to humans. The saltwater and Nile crocodiles are the most dangerous, killing hundreds of people each year in parts of South East Asia and Africa. American alligators, and possibly the endangered black caiman, can also be dangerous to humans.
Crocodiles tend to congregate in slow moving rivers and lakes, and feed on a wide variety of living and dead mammals and fish. Some species, notably the saltwater crocodile of Australia and the Pacific islands, have been known to venture far out to sea. They are an ancient lineage, and are believed to have changed little since the time of the dinosaurs.
Small crocodiles feed on fish and small aquatic animals; larger crocodiles also catch land mammals and birds that approach the water. Members of some large species sometimes attack and eat humans.
Crocodiles are very fast over short distances, even out of water. They have extremely powerful jaws and sharp teeth for tearing flesh. All large crocodiles also have sharp welters and powerful claws. They have limited lateral movement in their neck, so on land one can find protection by getting even a small tree between the crocodile's jaws and oneself.
Crocodiles are ambush hunters, waiting for fish or land animals to come close, then rushing out to attack. As cold blooded predators, they can survive long periods without food, and rarely need to actively go hunting.
The crocodile's bite strength is up to 3000 pounds per square inch, comparing to just 100 psi for a large dog. Despite their slow appearance, crocodiles are the top predators in their environment, and various species have been observed attacking and killing lions, large ungulates and even sharks. A famous exception is the Egyptian plover which is said to enjoy a symbiotic relationship with the crocodile. The plover feeds on parasites that infest the crocodile's mouth and the reptile will open its jaws and allow the bird to enter to clean out the mouth.
Crocodiles are more closely related to birds and dinosaurs than to most animals classified as reptiles (though all of these are thought to probably be more closely related to each other than to Testudines - turtles and tortoises - and have correspondingly unusual features for reptiles, such as a four chambered heart).
The female crocodile deposits her eggs, usually about 20 in number, in a nest of rotting vegetation or in a shallow pit on the river bank, and digs them up when she hears them hatching.
In most species the average adult length is between 6 and 10 feet. The largest crocodile (the saltwater crocodile) is often 14 feet long and may exceed 20 feet in length. The Nile, American, and Orinoco crocodiles are commonly 12 feet long, and specimens up to 23 feet long have been reported for the last two species. The extinct Sarcosuchus imperator, which lived during the Cretaceous period, may have approached 40 feet in length. The smallest crocodile (the Congo dwarf crocodile) averages 31/2 feet long.
With the exception of the two African dwarf crocodiles (Osteolaemus) and the so-called false gavial (Tomistoma) of Asia, crocodiles are classified in the genus Crocodylus, with about a dozen species. The Nile crocodile (C. niloticus) is found in fresh and saltwater throughout South and Central Africa. In early historic times it ranged north to the Nile delta and the Mediterranean coast. It sometimes attacks humans, as does the saltwater crocodile (C. porosus), found on islands and in straits from South East Asia to Australia and Melanesia.
The marsh crocodile, or mugger (C. palustris), is a freshwater species of India and Sir Lanka, regarded as sacred in some regions. The American crocodile (C. acutus) is found in fresh and saltwater in South Florida, the West Indies, Central America, and North West South America. It does not attack humans without provocation.
The Orinoco crocodile (C. intermedius) is a freshwater species of the Orinoco basin of Colombia and Venezuela. Two smaller species are found in limited areas of Central America and Cuba.
THREATS TO CROCODILES
Many species of crocodiles are at the risk of extinction, some being classified as critically endangered. The most critical threat facing crocodiles is the loss and fragmentation of natural habitats. Humans have exploited crocodiles to the point of population crashes. Hunting remains a serious threat to crocodiles, as well as pollution.
Collection for the exotic pet trade has also reduced population densities of crocodiles. 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.
Crocodiles 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.
Wild crocodiles are protected in many parts of the world, but they also are inhumanely farmed commercially. Their hide is tanned and used to make leather goods such as shoes and handbags, while crocodile meat is also considered a delicacy in many parts of the world. The most commonly farmed species are the saltwater and Nile crocodiles, while a hybrid of the saltwater and the rare Siamese crocodile is also bred in Asian farms.
Water-dwelling members of the family Salamandridae, newts are some of the most fascinating types of amphibians. Their name is derived from variations of the Old English word efte, evolving to newt (to refer to the adult animal) during the time of Shakespeare. These unique salamanders can be found in water-rich regions throughout Europe, Southeast Asia, Japan, and both east and west of the Rocky Mountain range in North America. Some species live out their entire life cycle in the water, while others dwell on land as adults, returning to water in order to breed. Depending on the species of newt, they can have a lifespan that ranges from 2 to 15 years of age, and may range from 5-10 cm in length, and 10-50g in weight.
Much like other kinds of salamanders, newts have a lizard-like appearance, with four limbs, a distinct tail and skin that tends to be more pebble-textured in appearance in comparison to the smooth, wet skin of other salamanders. Their sensitive skin is semi-permeable, which allows them to absorb oxygen and other necessary substances, but this also means that that they’re extremely sensitive to water pollutants and changes in the water pH where they dwell. (Newt populations may be assessed as part of natural water quality assessments - serving as biological indicators of environmental health.)
Newt larvae possess gills, as well as teeth on both their upper and lower jaws. The most amazing characteristic of these small amphibians is that they have phenomenal regenerative abilities – cells at the location of an injury can transform into non-distinct cells, multiply rapidly, and then differentiate themselves again in order to regenerate a new organ or limb. Newts can actually regenerate their eyes, limbs, spinal cords, hearts, intestines, and jaws multiple times!
Many newt species are also able to produce toxic skin secretions as a method of defense against predators that see them as an easy meal. The rough-skinned newt, Taricha granulosa, lives in the Pacific Northwest and is capable of producing a secretion that's toxic enough to kill an adult human. Newt toxins are only dangerous if they’re ingested, however, and species of newts that produce dangerous secretions tend to be more brightly colored, serving as a warning system of their poisonous nature to hungry predators.
They can be fierce hunters themselves. Omnivorous by nature, adult newts will travel up to one kilometer in order to find worms, beetles and snails. In the case of larger newts, sometimes other smaller amphibians serve as a meal. Newt larvae survive on algae, small insects or other tadpoles. Natural predators to newts and newt larvae include fish, snakes, foxes and herons.
June and July tend to be the most common breeding months for newts in the Northern Hemisphere, with some species performing complex courtship displays. A male Great Crested Newt will actually develop a wavy crest down his back during the mating season, and will stand on his front legs and wave his tail around to attract the attention of a female. The male then mates with an accepting female by transferring a capsule of sperm, fertilizing the eggs. The eggs are laid by the female newt one by one, usually on the leaves of aquatic plants, which she then folds over to hide and protect them until hatching. The newly hatched young appear in around three weeks, and slowly change over the next few months, growing legs and developing air-breathing lungs. Once their metamorphosis is complete, the young newts, called efts at this stage in their development, leave the water and live on land. Only when they’ve grown into fully mature adults do newts return to the water to live and breed.
Interestingly, North American species typically tend to spend their adult lives almost exclusively in the water, rarely venturing out of it after they reach maturity, while European species remain on land as adults, only returning to water during the mating season. In colder weather, newts generally tend to hibernate, finding hidden spots under logs, rocks, or at the bottom of ponds like other amphibians.
THREATS TO NEWTS
Many populations of newt species have been threatened by human activity. The draining of wetlands, waterfront development, and deforestation in particular are all dangerous for newt populations. For instance, exposing more ground area to direct sunlight can dry up small ponds and pools of water that are vital sites for newt breeding and spawning. Fragmentation of their habitat because of human development is also an issue for many species; if newts can’t safely travel to mate, the gene pool in a specific region can become more narrow, making the newts there more vulnerable to the side effects of inbreeding. Newts that make the attempt to move across fragmented territories may also fall victim to collisions with moving vehicles.
Water contamination is another enormous problem for newt populations. Since newts are highly sensitive to pollutants in water, temperature changes, and increased sediment in the water from runoff, species in areas where water degradation happens are at serious risk.
Finally, the capture of newts for the pet trade poses a third hazard for newts, as millions of these little amphibians are taken from the wild for commercial sale, even being sold as part of cruel living ‘keychain’ ornaments.
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.
Barnacles are one of the oldest surviving creatures in the world, dating back millions of years. They have changed very little over that time. Barnacles are marine animals that live in or close to sea water. Over 1,000 species of barnacles inhabit shallow and tidal waters around the planet. Barnacles are crustaceans, closely related to lobsters and crabs.
Barnacles cannot move on their own. They are permanently attached to what they live on. As babies, barnacles are free-floating, floating around with plankton. They attach themselves to shells, rocks, animals or other objects when they are in their larvae stage. Once attached, baby barnacles develop a thin layer of flesh and an outer shell, protecting them from the elements and predators.
Barnacles often live on whales, crabs, rocks, boats and sea turtles. While a few species of barnacle are parasitic, most barnacle species are harmless to other animals. They filter feed food particles out of the water and do not harm the animal they live on.
Barnacle shells are composed of calcite. A number of plates with feathery leg-like appendages draw water into the shell to feed.
Many species of barnacle are small, but some can grow quite large.
Most barnacles are hermaphroditic, having both male and female reproductive organs. They are capable of self-fertilizing their eggs, but usually the eggs are produced by one barnacle and fertilized by another barnacle. Barnacle babies, or larvae, develop into adult barnacles in about 6 months.
Barnacles live about 5 to 10 years. Larger species may live much longer.
THREATS TO BARNACLES
Some barnacle species are threatened or endangered, or "nationally endangered".
All ocean animals are threatened by pollution, the fishing industry and changes in climate. Global fish populations are collapsing, affecting all marine life. Plastics and toxic waste are destroying aquatic ecosystems. Almost half of all ocean pollution is from irresponsible human activities that take place on land, including animal agriculture, sewage, chemical spills, industrial runoff and garbage dumping.
Marine habitats are being destroyed by coastal pollution. The clearing of mangrove forests and scraping of underwater mountain ranges through deep-sea trawling are also having detrimental affects on marine ecosystems.
The reindeer, also known as the caribou in North America, is a deer from the Arctic and Subarctic, including both resident and migratory populations. While overall widespread and numerous, some of its subspecies are rare and one has already gone extinct.
Reindeer vary considerably in color and size. Both sexes grow antlers, though they are typically larger in males. There are a few populations where females lack antlers completely.
Even far outside its range, the reindeer is well known due to the myth, probably originating in early 19th century America, in which Santa Claus's sleigh is pulled by flying reindeer, a popular secular element of Christmas.
The reindeer is a widespread and numerous species in the north. In North America, they were once found in Canada, Alaska and the northern conterminous USA from Washington to Maine. Wild reindeer have disappeared from many areas. Large populations of wild reindeer are still found in Norway, Finland, Siberia, Greenland, Alaska and Canada.
Female reindeer usually measure 64–81 inches in length and weigh 170–260 lb. The males (or "bulls") are typically larger (although the extent to which varies in the different subspecies), measuring 71–84 inches in length and usually weighing 200–460 lb, though exceptionally large males have weighed as much as 700 lb. Shoulder height typically measure from 33 to 59 inches, and the tail is 5.5 to 7.9 inches long. The subspecies R. t. platyrhynchus from Svalbard Island is very small compared to other subspecies.
In most populations both sexes grow antlers, which (in the Scandinavian variety) for old males fall off in December, for young males in the early spring, and for females in the summer. The antlers typically have two separate groups of points, a lower and upper. There is considerable variation in the size of the antlers (e.g., rather small and spindly in the northernmost subspecies), but in some subspecies the bull reindeer's antlers are the second largest of any extant deer, after the moose, and can range up to 39 inches in width and 53 inches in beam length. They have the largest antlers relative to body size among deer.
Reindeer have specialized noses featuring bones that dramatically increase the surface area within the nostrils. Incoming cold air is warmed by the animal's body heat before entering the lungs, and water is condensed from the expired air and captured before the deer's breath is exhaled, used to moisten dry incoming air and possibly absorbed into the blood through the mucous membranes.
Reindeer hooves adapt to the season: in the summer, when the tundra is soft and wet, the footpads become sponge-like and provide extra traction. In the winter, the pads shrink and tighten, exposing the rim of the hoof, which cuts into the ice and crusted snow to keep it from slipping. This also enables them to dig down (an activity known as "cratering") through the snow to their favorite food, a lichen known as reindeer moss. The knees of many species of reindeer are adapted to produce a clicking sound as they walk.
Reindeer are believed to be the only mammals that can see ultraviolet light. It is thought that this ability helps them to survive in the Arctic, because many objects that blend into the landscape in normally visible light, such as urine and fur, produce sharp contrasts in ultraviolet.
Reindeer are ruminants, having a four-chambered stomach. They mainly eat lichens in winter, especially reindeer moss. However, they also eat the leaves of willows and birches, as well as sedges and grasses. There is some evidence to suggest that on occasion they will also feed on lemmings, arctic char and bird eggs.
Mating occurs from late September to early November. Males battle for access to females. Two males will lock each other's antlers together and try to push each other away. The most dominant males can collect as many as 15-20 females to mate with. A male will stop eating during this time and lose much of its body reserves. Calves may be born the following May or June. After 45 days, the calves are able to graze and forage but continue suckling until the following autumn and become independent from their mothers.
Some populations of the North American caribou migrate the furthest of any terrestrial mammal, traveling up to 3,100 miles a year, and covering 390,000 square miles. Other populations (e.g., in Europe) have a shorter migration, and some, for example the subspecies R. t. pearsoni and R. t. platyrhynchus (both restricted to islands), are residents that only make local movements.
Normally traveling about 12–34 miles a day while migrating, the caribou can run at speeds of 37–50 mph. During the spring migration smaller herds will group together to form larger herds of 50,000 to 500,000 animals, but during autumn migrations the groups become smaller, and the reindeer begin to mate.
During the winter, reindeer travel to forested areas to forage under the snow. By spring, groups leave their winter grounds to go to the calving grounds. A reindeer can swim easily and quickly, and migrating herds will not hesitate to swim across a large lake or broad river.
A variety of predators prey heavily on reindeer. Golden eagles prey on calves and are the most prolific hunter on calving grounds. Wolverines will take newborn calves or birthing cows, as well as (less commonly) infirm adults. Brown bears and polar bears prey on reindeer of all ages, but like the wolverines they are most likely to attack weaker animals, such as calves and sick deer. The gray wolf is the most effective natural predator of adult reindeer, especially during the winter. As carrion, caribou are fed on by foxes, ravens and hawks. Blood-sucking insects, such as black flies and mosquitoes, are a plague to reindeer during the summer and can cause enough stress to inhibit feeding and calving behaviors.
THREATS TO REINDEER
Reindeer populations and distribution have been greatly reduced by changes in habitat from commercial operations and increased human presence, leaving reindeer populations small and separated. Poaching is a major threat to reindeer. Although listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, reindeer populations must be monitored and protected to prevent future declines. Conservation efforts have been undertaken by the Canadian government. In Europe, reindeer are protected under the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats.
Reindeer are often victims of the animal entertainment industry, especially due to their association with the Christmas holiday. Their welfare is severely compromised when kept in captivity, often resulting in illness and death due to poor management, dietary and environmental requirements. Using live animals as living props sends a disturbing message to children that animals are nothing more than objects to be used for human entertainment.
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. 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.
Lobsters are found in all oceans and found on land. They live on rocky, sandy, or muddy bottoms from the shoreline to beyond the edge of the continental shelf. They generally live singly in crevices or in burrows under rocks. Like most arthropods, lobsters must moult in order to grow, which leaves them vulnerable. During the moulting process, several species change color.
Lobsters are invertebrates with a hard protective exoskeleton. In general, lobsters are 10 to 20 inches long. Lobsters have 10 walking legs; the front three pairs bear claws, the first of which are larger than the others. The lobster's head has antennae. Because lobsters live in a murky environment at the bottom of the ocean, they use their antennae as sensors. Lobsters “smell” chemicals in the water with their antennae, and they “taste” with sensory hairs along their legs. They have no vocal chords and possess two stomachs.
Lobsters move by slowly walking on the sea floor. However, when they flee, they swim backward quickly by curling and uncurling their abdomen. A speed of 11 mph has been recorded.
Lobsters, like snails and spiders, have blue blood due to the presence of hemocyanin which contains copper. In contrast, vertebrates and many other animals have red blood from iron-rich hemoglobin.
Lobsters urinate from openings located at the base of their second antennae, and also excrete from other places on their bodies including their gills and digestive glands.
Lobsters carry their young for nine months and can live to be more than 100 years old. Research suggests that lobsters may not slow down, weaken, or lose fertility with age, and that older lobsters may be more fertile than younger lobsters. Lobsters, like many other decapod crustaceans, grow throughout life, and are able to add new muscle cells at each molt. Lobster longevity allows them to reach impressive sizes. The largest known lobster weighed 44.4 lb.
Female lobsters lay thousands of eggs, each about the size of a raspberry segment. Mother lobsters carry their eggs under their abdomens. Baby lobsters can be from multiple fathers. Lobsters are serial monogamists, having one exclusive, but very short-term, relationship after another.
Lobsters are omnivores and typically eat live prey such as fish, mollusks, other crustaceans, worms, and some plant life. They scavenge if necessary and eat their shed skin after moulting. Their teeth are in their stomachs, located a very short distance from the mouth. They chew their food in their stomach between three grinding surfaces that look like molar surfaces called the “gastric mill.”
Lobsters use complicated signals to explore their surroundings and establish social relationships. They take long-distance seasonal journeys and can cover 100 miles or more each year. They can regenerate lost claws, walking legs, and antennae, though it can take several years.
Symbions are tiny aquatic animals, less than ½ mm wide, that live on the bodies of cold-water lobsters.
THREATS TO LOBSTERS
Lobsters are threatened by overfishing. They are commonly harvested for human consumption. More than 20 million are consumed each year in the United States alone. They are among the most heavily harvested creatures in the sea.
Lobsters can feel pain. The most common way of killing a lobster is by inhumanely placing it live in boiling water. They are sometimes also placed in a freezer for a period of time before being boiled alive. Another method is to split the lobster or sever the body in half lengthwise. Lobsters may also be killed or rendered insensate immediately before boiling by a stab into the brain (pithing), in the belief that this will stop suffering. However, a lobster's brain operates from not one but several ganglia, and disabling only the frontal ganglion does not usually result in death or unconsciousness. When kept in tanks, lobsters suffer from stress associated with confinement, low oxygen levels, and crowding. There is no humane way to kill a lobster.
Pollution is causing shell rot and other illnesses in normally disease-resistant species of lobster.
The iconic toucan is known the world over for its large, colorful bill. Found only in the tropical forests of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, there are more than 40 species of toucans alive today. The most common and recognizable species of toucan bears the scientific name, Ramphastos toco. All species of toucans are of the Order Piciformes, to which woodpeckers also belong.
Toucans acquired their name from the sound that they make. Their song often resembles frogs croaking. Other species of toucan have a variety of chirps, barks, growls, croaks, and even donkey-like braying as part of their songs. Toucans combine their vocal range with different taps and clicks from their bills. The females of the species tend to have higher vocal ranges than males.
In comparison to North American birds, toucans grow to be quite large. They average just over two feet in height and 20 ounces in weight. The smallest toucan species, the tawny-tufted toucanet, is only about 12.5 inches in height at maturity. Toucans are most recognized for their oversized bill. A full grown toucan, male or female, has a colorful bill seven and a half inches in length, nearly half the size of the bird.
The toucan’s bill serves many functions. Because of its colorful appearance, it was first believed that male toucans used their bills during breeding competition. However, since females possess the same dramatic trait, it is not likely that males are chosen for mating based on their bills. Toucans do use their bills in a particularly fascinating mating ritual in which they toss fruit back and forth to one another.
Although the large, colorful bill may be daunting in size and appearance to rivals, it does not provide much in the way of weaponry. The structure of the bill actually resembles a honeycomb of bone-like material called Keratin. Keratin is what makes up the hair and nails of humans. Much of the structure is made up of air, making it a useless defense mechanism against potential prey. The inside edges of the bill are serrated to aid in catching, grasping and tearing food.
The bill of the toucan may be an ineffectual weapon, but it certainly serves many other important functions. They use it for picking fruit from branches too small to support their considerable weight, and as a tool for stripping away the outer rind of their findings.
Toucans are omnivorous and eat a combination of fruit, vegetation, nuts, seeds and insects. They may even eat small lizards, frogs, birds or the eggs of other birds from time to time if available. Toucans have a long, narrow, feather-like tongue with bristles along the sides. This helps them catch and taste their food before moving it down their throats.
The brightly colored aspect of the birds may be seen as a potential weakness for defense against predators, but because toucans reside in the colorful tropical forests of South America, their coloring actually affords them adequate camouflage. Toucans are mainly black and white, but have variations of yellow, orange and green depending on the species. Toucans are known as particularly vocal birds suggesting that they are not too concerned about predators finding them.
Toucans have a relatively small wingspan, about the length of their own bodies. They are capable of flight, but only for small distances. This is not an obstacle or a risk to the toucan’s safety, as they spend nearly all their lives high in the forest canopy. They seldom make trips to the forest floor.
Toucans navigate the canopy by hopping from branch to branch, gripping with their long, curved toes and sharp claws. Toucans are actually Zygodactyls, meaning they have two toes pointing forwards, and two toes pointing backwards. This foot design aids the toucan in maneuvering up and down tree trunks and in and out of tree cavities.
Toucans reside in flocks of about six birds, although they often forage for food alone. They nest in hollowed out tree cavities, which may seem like a strange choice for birds with such large bills. However, the toucan has an interesting method of getting comfortable in its narrow, enclosed nest. Toucans sleep with their heads against their backs, tucked under one wing. The bird then flips its tail up over its head and settles in for the night.
The toucan is known as a social, playful bird. They travel in search of food in loose groups of up to 22 birds. Preferring fruit over all other food sources, toucans usually begin their day by visiting the fruit trees in their home territory. From there, they may make longer treks in search of new fruit trees. As toucans are digesting they enjoy playful sparring with one another before returning home to roost for the night.
Toucans have approximately two to four eggs each year that both parents care for. Eggs are incubated for about 15 – 18 days before hatching. Young toucans are not born with the signature large bill. It develops as they grow, reaching full size after several months. The birds are considered mature at three to four years of age. The lifespan of the toucan is not known in the wild, but birds in captivity can live to be up to 18 years old.
THREATS TO TOUCANS
Large birds of prey and wildcats native to the tropical forests of the toucan’s habitat also prey upon them. Smaller mammals are likely deterred by the deceptively menacing appearance of the toucan’s bill. Snakes, rats and weasels seek out toucan eggs, but are not known as predatory threats to the birds.
The major threat to the toucan is humans. Aside from hunting the birds, humans also capture the toucan and sell them as pets. Captivity is cruel for wild animals. Animals are captured from their native habitat and transported to various countries to be sold as “pets”. Backyard breeders also supply exotic animals. The sellers of these animals often disregard 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.
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.
Mammals are animals that have warm-blood, fur or hair and usually have live babies. A few mammals lay eggs rather than giving birth to live babies, including the platypus and the spiny anteater. All mammals have some type of body hair or fur, though marine mammals, like dolphins and whales, are almost hairless. Over 5,500 species of mammals have been recorded to date, compared to more than 28,000 species of fish and over 1,000,000 species of insects.
Many mammal babies are helpless when first born, but a few species, including zebras and moose, can walk from the day they are born. Marsupial babies, like kangaroos and opossum, are born as small as a pinkie nail and move to their mother's pouch to mature. All mammal babies drink milk from their mothers.
Mammals maintain their body temperatures to just about the same temperature all the time, despite the temperature outside their bodies. Warm blood allows mammals to be very active and live in a wide variety of environments. Fur and fat help protect mammals in the cold, while sweating or panting releases extra heat for mammals in hot conditions.
Mammal Extinction Crisis
Probably the most characteristic element of the current extinction crisis is that most of our primate relatives are in serious danger. Almost 90% of the primate population lives in the tropical forest, which are disappearing fast due to animal agriculture, deforestation and development. About half of all the primate species on Earth are at the brink of extinction. 50 percent of all known mammals see rapidly decreasing populations, and almost 20 percent are close to extinction. Marine mammals – including dolphins, whales, and porpoises – are particularly close to becoming extinct.
FASCINATING MAMMAL FACTS
The blue whale, measuring up to 110 feet long and weighing up to 419,000 pounds, is the largest mammal living today. It is also the largest mammal to have ever lived....larger than even the biggest dinosaur. The largest land animal today is the African elephant, standing up to 13 feet tall and weighing over 15,000 pounds. The extinct Paraceratherium, a hornless rhinoceros which stood around 17 feet at the shoulder and weighed about 33,000 pounds, is thought to have been the largest land mammal to have ever roamed the earth. The tallest mammals are giraffes, towering up to 20 feet tall.
The smallest mammals are tinier than many insects. The bumblebee bat is only about 1.14 inches long and weighs a mere 0.07oz or less, while the white-toothed pygmy shrew, the smallest land mammal, is only .09oz or less.
The fastest land animal is the cheetah, reaching speeds of 70 mph. The fasted flying mammal is the big brown bat, flying at speeds of 15.5 mph. The fastest mammal in water is the orca, swimming up to 34 mph.
THE LONGEST LIVED
Human beings can live longer than any other mammal, while whales can live up to 100 years.
Desert rats do not sweat or pant. They bury seeds until they’ve dried, then use them as sponges to gather humidity from the air.
TOOLS & WEAPONS
Bears use tools, play with objects and have been known to use weapons against other animals. Bears enjoy staring at scenic vistas such as sunsets, lakes and mountains. They grieve when a family member dies, moaning and crying for weeks.
RANDOM ACCESS MEMORY
Like computers, rats have short-term, random-access memories that store information used in ongoing processes. They are empathetic to each other, help other rats in distress and share food. They respond with their whiskers to vibrations. Rats take care of injured and sick rats and without companionship they become lonely and depressed. Rats laugh when they play and chatter or grind their teeth when happy. They groom themselves and their friends and family members for several hour each day. Rats can go longer than a camel without water. Their tails help them to balance, communicate and regulate their body temperature.
Squirrels have been observed hiding their odors from snakes by chewing on the outer layer of snakeskin and smearing it all over their fur. They also pretend to bury food in one spot, then store the food elsewhere, to fake out potential thieves. Mother squirrels are so protective of their babies that they kick the fathers out of the nests for the spring and summer, but may allow them back to bunk with the family during winter.
THEIR OWN LANGUAGE
Prairie dogs speak to one another in a language which includes nouns and verbs and has different dialects depending on where they’re from. Wolves cry out from distress when they miss an absent member of their pack. They communicate not only by sound, but also by body language. They use social cooperation and generalized rules to conduct and plan coordinated attacks.
Much of elephants’ complex language is based on infrasound – below the level of human hearing – and enables separated family members to communicate with each other over vast distances. They can also imitate human speech, despite having a trunk instead of lips. When an elephant is stressed, other elephants offer physical and vocal comfort, including hugs, kisses and soothing sounds. They mourn the deaths of their loved ones and perform rituals, holding vigils over the body for days and covering the deceased with leaves and branches. They react the same way when mourning humans. Elephants have been known to die of broken hearts after the death of a family member, friend or mate. They have the ability to use different objects in creative ways without being taught. They have been known to clean their food and use tools in various ways in the wild. Elephants self-medicate, play with a sense of humor, perform artistic activities, use tools and display compassion and self-awareness.
Apes and other primates use a special sign language to communicate with each other, and are also able to use standard sign language to communicate with humans. They have been taught to be fluent in English, some understanding over 2,000 words and able to sign over 1,000 words. They understand the meaning of the signs and use them in creative ways. They can comment on abstract ideas, express self-awareness, intelligence and emotions. Apes remember people, names, places, tasks and puzzles. They make and use tools, including spears for hunting, and have impressive problem-solving skills. They cooperate on projects like seeking food and making shelter, live in highly organized societies, can appreciate a beautiful sunset and mourn the death of loved ones. They have even been known to keep "pets".
Orangutans recognize themselves in mirrors. They make and use a variety of tools for foraging, honey collection and protection against insects. They drape large leaves over themselves like a poncho and use sticks to “fish” for branches or fruit that are out of reach and to extract seeds from fruit. They use leaves as napkins and gloves and fashion seat cushions from natural materials. Males plan their travel route in advance and communicate it to other orangutans. Cultural traditions are learned and passed down. They are capable of whistling music, opening locks, communicating with humans through sign language, using fork and spoons, blowing out candles, washing clothes, rowing boats, cooking and using Ipads.
Chimps have traditions that are often specific to only one group. They communicate with body language, exhibit self-awareness and express emotions, including laughing when they play and crying when they grieve. They outperform humans on numerous short-term memory tests. Orphans are adopted by their aunts, older siblings, or other members of their tribe who teach them how to find natural antibiotics, avoid poisonous plants and build tree nests.
Marine mammals include cetaceans and pinnipeds. Dolphins, whales and porpoises are "cetaceans." Walruses, sea lions and seals are "pinnipeds". While they must breathe air like all mammals, marine mammals can stay underwater for up to two hours before surfacing for air. Dolphins and whales breath air through blowholes, while walruses, seals and sea lions breath through their nose and mouth.
Seals have scored better than adult humans at logical reasoning tests. Ringed seals build snow caves above their breathing holes in the ice to protect their young from predators.
Orcas brains are more emotionally developed than those of humans. The limbic system — the layers of interconnecting tissue that processes emotions — have grown elaborately compared to those in the human brain. They have a level of social culture that rivals humans.
Dolphin brains are larger and, in some ways, more complex than human brains. Dolphins have been taught to speak human words. Their own language allows them to trace other dolphins up to six miles away. They even have names for one another. They have such significant brain power it stops them from sleeping. They use tools and pass their knowledge through a family line. They reason, problem-solve and comprehend ideas. They use nonlinear math formulas when catching prey. They blow bubbles that vary in exact amplitudes to detect fish, then subtract values found with their echolocation to confirm the target. They follow ships to collect fish churned up their wake, and ride bow-waves like human surfers. They play catch, tag and other games with each other, and also enjoy playing with other animals. Dolphins swim onto the nose of humpback whales, who then raise themselves out of the water so the dolphins slide down their heads - both animals enjoy the game. Dolphins form complex social groups. They plan ahead. They crave physical attention and stroke each other with their flippers.
Dolphins and whales communicate with a variety of low sounds that humans cannot hear. They also use echolocation – sending sounds through water to bounce off objects to determine their shape, size and distance.
The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) is a small carnivorous North American mammal closely related to the steppe polecat of Russia, and a member of the diverse family Mustelidae which also includes weasels, mink, polecats, martens, otters, and badgers. It should not be confused with the domesticated ferret.
The black-footed ferret is the most endangered mammal in North America. They became extinct in the wild in Canada in 1937, and were classified as endangered in the U.S. in 1967. The last known wild population was taken into captivity in the mid-1980s, a few years after its accidental discovery in Wyoming.
Black-footed ferrets are about 18 inches long, with a furry 6 inch tail, and they weigh roughly 2 pounds. Like most members of the family, they are very low to the ground with an elongated body and very short legs. Their fur is white at the base but darkens at the tips, making them appear yellowish-brown overall, with black feet and tail-tip, and a distinctive black face mask. These blend in well with the prairie ecosystem in which they live. They do not change their habitat over the seasons.
Even before their numbers declined, black-footed ferrets were rarely seen: they weren't officially recognized as a species by scientists until 1851, following publication of a book by naturalist John James Audubon and Rev. John Bachman. Even then, their existence was questioned since no other black-footed ferrets were reported for over twenty years.
They are nocturnal hunters that are almost entirely dependent on a plentiful supply of prairie dogs to prey on, and shelter in a prairie dog burrow during the day. A single family of four black-footed ferrets eats about 250 prairie dogs each year and cannot survive without access to large colonies of them.
Historical habitats of the black-footed ferret included shortgrass prairie, mixed-grass prairie, desert grassland, shrub steppe, sagebrush steppe, mountain grassland and semi-arid grassland. Black-footed ferrets use prairie dog burrows for raising young, avoiding predators and thermal cover. High densities of prairie dog burrows provide the greatest amount of cover for black-footed ferrets.
Black-footed ferrets are believed to be polygynous. Mating occurs in February and March. When a male and female in estrus encounter each other, the male sniffs the genital region of the female, but does not mount her until after a few hours have elapsed. During copulation, the male grasps the female by the nape of the neck, with the copulatory tie lasting from 1 1/2 to 3 hours. Unlike other mustelids, the black-footed ferret has low reproductive rates. Gestation of black-footed ferrets lasts 42–45 days. Litter size ranges from 1–5 kits. Kits are born in May and June in prairie dog burrows. Kits are raised by their mother for several months after birth. They first emerge above ground in July, at 6 weeks old. They are then separated into individual prairie dog burrows around their mother's burrow. Kits reach adult weight and become independent several months following birth, from late August to October. Sexual maturity occurs at one year of age.
The black-footed ferret is solitary, except when breeding or raising litters. They primarily hunt for sleeping prairie dogs in their burrows. They are most active above ground from dusk to midnight and 4 am to mid-morning. Above ground activity is greatest during late summer and early autumn when juveniles become independent. They are inactive inside burrows for up to 6 days at a time during winter.
Female black-footed ferrets have smaller home ranges than males. Home ranges of males may sometimes include the home ranges of several females. Adult females usually occupy the same territory every year. Black-footed ferrets may travel up to 11 miles to seek prey.
The loss of their prairie grassland habitat, hunting, the drastic reduction of prairie dog numbers through both habitat loss and poisoning, canine distemper and sylvatic plague all contributed to the near-extinction of the species during the 19th and 20th centuries.
For a time, the black-footed ferret was harvested for the fur trade. The large drop in black-footed ferret numbers began during the 1800s, lasting through the 1900s, as prairie dog numbers declined because of "control programs" and the conversion of prairies to croplands. Sylvatic plague, a disease introduced into North America, also contributed to the prairie dog die-off. Inbreeding may have also contributed, as studies on black-footed ferrets revealed low levels of genetic variation. Canine distemper devastated the Meeteetse ferret population in 1985. A live virus vaccine originally made for domestic ferrets killed large numbers of black-footed ferrets, thus indicating that the species is especially susceptible to distemper.
In 1981, a very small population of about 130 animals was discovered near Meeteetse, Wyoming. Soon after discovery, the population began a rapid decline due to disease. By 1986, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department led a cooperative program to capture the 18 remaining animals and begin an intensive captive breeding program. At that time, the entire world population amounted to about 50 individuals in captivity.
U.S. federal and state agencies, in cooperation with private landowners, conservation groups, Native Americans, and North American zoos, have been actively reintroducing ferrets back into the wild since 1991. Beginning in Wyoming, reintroduction efforts have since expanded to sites in Montana, South Dakota, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and Chihuahua, Mexico. Proposed reintroduction sites have been identified in Canada.
Currently, about 1,200 ferrets are thought to live in the wild.
Conservation efforts have been opposed by stock growers and ranchers, who have traditionally fought prairie dogs. In 2005, the U.S. Forest Service began poisoning prairie dogs in private land buffer zones of the Conata Basin of Buffalo Gap National Grassland, South Dakota. When a few ranchers complained the measure was inadequate, the forest service expanded its "prairie-dog management" in September 2006 to all of South Dakota's Buffalo Gap and the Fort Pierre National Grassland, and also to the Oglala National Grassland in Nebraska, against opinions of biologists in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Following exposure by conservation groups and national media, public outcry and a lawsuit mobilized federal officials and the poisoning plan was revoked.
THREATS TO BLACK-FOOTED FERRETS
Despite significant recovery successes, the black-footed ferret remains one of the most endangered animals in the world. The primary reasons the species remains at risk are the same that nearly caused the animal’s extinction. Conversion of native grasslands to agricultural land, widespread prairie dog eradication programs, and fatal, non-native diseases have reduced ferret habitat to less than two percent of its original range. The remaining habitat is now fragmented, with prairie dog towns separated by expanses of agricultural land and other human developments.
Poisoning and shooting of prairie dogs continues, threatening both prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets. There are no known black-footed ferret populations that were not reintroduced. All those populations remain small and fragmented. They have lost about 90 percent of their genetic diversity, which can lead to inbreeding, health issues and reduced reproduction. Without the protection of prairie dogs, black-footed population could dwindle again and be lost forever.
Like all arthropods, the tarantula is an invertebrate that relies on an exoskeleton for muscular support. Like other Arachnida a tarantula’s body comprises two main parts, the prosoma (or cephalothorax) and the opisthosoma (or abdomen).
Spiders are invertebrates but are not considered insects because they only have two main body parts instead of three, eight legs instead of six and no antennae. Most spiders also have eight simple eyes, while insects have large, compound eyes. Some have no eyes and others have as many as 12. Spiders, along with ticks, mites, harvestmen and scorpions, are called arachnida.
Tarantulas of various species occur in the southern and western parts of the United States, in Central America, and throughout South America. Other species occur variously throughout Africa, much of Asia and all of Australia. In Europe, some species occur in Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Italy, and Cyprus. Their natural habitats include savanna, grasslands such as the pampas, rainforests, deserts, scrubland, mountains, and cloud forests.
Tarantulas sizes range from as small as a fingernail to as large as a dinner plate when the legs are fully extended. Most species of North American tarantulas are brown. Elsewhere species are cobalt blue, black with white stripes and greenbottle blue. Some have yellow leg markings or metallic blue legs with vibrant orange abdomens.
A tarantula has four pairs of legs and two additional pairs of appendages. Two or three retractable claws are at the end of each leg. These claws are used to grip surfaces for climbing. Also on the end of each leg, surrounding the claws, is a group of hairs. These hairs help the tarantula to grip better when climbing certain surfaces.
The tarantula's mouth is a short straw-shaped opening that can only suck, meaning that anything taken into it must be in liquid form. Prey with large amounts of solid parts, such as mice, must be crushed and ground up or predigested, which is accomplished by coating the prey with digestive juices.
A tarantula perceives its surroundings primarily via sensory organs called setae (hairs or spines). Although a tarantula has eyes, touch is its keenest sense, and in hunting it primarily depends on vibrations given off by the movements of its prey. A tarantula's setae are very sensitive organs and are used to sense chemical signatures, vibrations, wind direction, and possibly even sound. Tarantulas are also very responsive to the presence of certain chemicals such as pheromones. Most tarantulas are not able to see much more than light, darkness, and motion. Arboreal tarantulas generally have better vision compared with terrestrial tarantulas.
Tarantulas have also evolved specialized hairs to defend themselves against predators. Besides the normal "hairs" covering the body, some tarantulas also have a dense covering of irritating hairs called urticating hairs, that they may use as protection against enemies. These hairs are present on New World species but not on tarantulas from the Old World. Urticating hairs are usually kicked off the abdomen by the tarantula, or rubbed against the target. These fine hairs are barbed and serve to irritate. They can be lethal to small animals such as rodents. Tarantulas also use these hairs for other purposes such as to mark territory, to line their shelters, and to discourage flies from feeding on the spiderlings. Urticating hairs do not grow back, but are replaced with each moult.
All tarantulas are venomous. Before biting, tarantulas may signal their intention to attack by rearing up into a "threat posture". They may then slap down on the intruder with their raised front legs. If that response fails to deter the attacker, the tarantulas of the Americas flick urticating bristles toward the pursuing predator, and then retreat. If there is no line of retreat, their final response may also be to whirl suddenly and bite. Some tarantulas are well known to give dry bites; not pumping venom into the wound. Old-world tarantulas (from Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia) have no urticating bristles and are more likely to attack when disturbed. Old-world tarantulas often have more potent venom.
Once a male spider reaches maturity and becomes motivated to mate, it will weave a web mat on a flat surface. The spider will then rub its abdomen on the surface of this mat and in so doing release a quantity of semen. It may then insert its pedipalps (short leg-like appendages) into the pool of semen. The pedipalps absorb the semen and keep it viable until a mate can be found. When a male spider detects the presence of a female, the two exchange signals to establish that they are of the same species. These signals may also lull the female into a receptive state. If the female is receptive then the male approaches her and inserts his pedipalps into an opening in the lower surface of her abdomen. After the semen has been transferred, the male will swiftly leave the scene.
Females deposit 50 to 2,000 eggs, depending on the species, in a silken egg sac and guard it for 6 to 8 weeks. During this time, the female will stay very close to the egg sac and become more aggressive. Within most species, the female turns the egg sac often, which is called brooding. This keeps the eggs from deforming due to sitting too long. The young spiderlings remain in the nest for some time after hatching where they live off the remains of their yolk sac before dispersing.
Like other spiders, tarantulas have to shed their exoskeleton periodically in order to grow, a process called molting. A young tarantula may do this several times a year, while full grown tarantulas will only molt once a year or less, or sooner in order to replace lost limbs or lost urticating hairs.
Tarantulas may live for many years. Most species take two to five years to reach adulthood, but some species may take up to ten years to reach full maturity. Upon reaching adulthood, males typically have less than 2 years left to live and will immediately go in search of a female with which to mate. Male tarantulas rarely molt again once they reach adulthood. Females will continue to molt after reaching maturity. Females have been known to reach 30 to 40 years of age, and have survived on water alone for up to 2 years.
Some tarantulas hunt prey primarily in trees; others hunt on or near the ground. All tarantulas can produce silk – while arboreal species will typically reside in a silken "tube tent", terrestrial species will line their burrows with silk to stabilize the burrow wall and facilitate climbing up and down. Tarantulas mainly eat insects and other arthropods, using ambush as their primary method of prey capture. The biggest tarantulas can kill animals as large as lizards, mice, birds and small snakes.
Regardless of their fearsome reputation, tarantulas are themselves an object of predation. The most specialized of these predators are large members of the wasp family Pompilidae. In the Americas, these insects are termed "tarantula hawks". The largest tarantula hawks will track, attack and kill large tarantulas. Humans can also be considered predators of tarantulas, as tarantulas are considered a delicacy in certain cultures. Some other arthropods, such as giant centipedes, are also known to prey on tarantulas.
THREATS TO TARANTULAS
Like most animals, the primary threat to tarantulas is the destruction of their habitat. Human development has taken an alarming toll on the environment. Impact from land use practices such as agricultural conversion, deforestation, and urban sprawl continue to degrade and fragment remaining pockets of habitat and accelerate biodiversity loss. Pesticides and other forms of pollution are also of serious concern, as well as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Tarantulas are also threatened by the pet trade. Regulations are in place to prevent importation of tarantulas into the U.S., but there are few measures to prohibit the overcollection of tarantulas. Captivity is cruel for wild animals. Animals are captured from their native habitat and transported to various countries to be sold as “pets”. Backyard breeders also supply exotic animals. The sellers of these animals often disregard 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.
Rattlesnakes are a group of venomous (poisonous) snakes that live in a wide range of habitats, and have the scientific name Crotalus cerastes. There are 32 known species of rattlesnakes, and they can be found all over the Americas, ranging from Alberta and British Columbia, Canada, to as far south as Argentina.
These fascinating snakes get their name from the rattle at the end of their tails – when the snake shakes the rattle, it makes a loud noise that helps to defend the snake by warning off predators or passing larger animals. It’s basically the snake’s way of saying ‘watch your step!’
The living environment that rattlesnakes prefer can be different from species to species, though many types of rattlesnakes live near open, rocky areas that can give them protective cover from predators that might eat them. Rocks are also a great place for rattlesnakes to warm themselves by basking, and also for them to find the types of prey that they need to eat. Rattlesnakes can also be found in many other types of habitats as well, however, including prairie, marsh, and forest homes. They tend to prefer to live in temperatures between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but they’re also fairly hardy, tolerating short periods when temperatures go below freezing, and they’re even able to survive for days at a time when the temperature is as cold as 37 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rattlesnakes are predators, meaning that they hunt and eat small animals like birds, mice, rats and lizards. They lie in wait for their prey, and sense small animals using heat-sensing ‘pits’ on their faces. They kill prey by quickly striking and biting it, injecting a large amount of venom through their fangs into the animal, which causes rapid internal damage and bleeding. Some types of rattlesnakes, like the tiger rattlesnake and the Mojave rattlesnake, can actually paralyze using their venom, too.
As well as using their eyes to find their bitten prey as it runs away, rattlesnakes find and follow an animal’s scent. They then check for signs of life using their odor-sensing tongue and touch before eating their meal headfirst. It might surprise you to learn that a rattlesnake’s gastric juices are powerful enough to digest even the bones of their prey! If the snake has found a large enough meal, they’ll usually find a warm, hidden place to curl up in for a rest while they digest.
Although rattlesnakes get most of their needed moisture from the animals that they eat, they do need to drink some water as well to stay hydrated. They have a few different ways of drinking that probably look quite strange to us. In bigger bodies of water, like creeks or ponds, they put their entire head under the surface and open and close their jaws to suck in water. With small puddles or dewdrops, though, they ‘sip’ the water, or flatten their lower jaw and allow the water to run into their mouth.
These snakes have many other distinctive features as well. Their skin is made up of overlapping scales that protect their body from head to tail, and unlike their flashier relatives, rattlesnakes tend to be intricately patterned in earth tones to provide the best camouflage from their predators.
A rattlesnake can feel changes in air temperature though its skin, which is important for helping it to find warm locations or protective shelters. Rattlesnakes are ectotherms, meaning that they can’t keep themselves warm – instead, they have to exchange heat with their environment to change their body temperature, basking on rocks and warm earth to absorb heat.
The sound of these snakes is unmistakable. A rattlesnake’s rattle is actually composed of scales that are made of keratin, creating several hollow, interlocked tail segments at the end of the snake’s body. The snake ‘rattles’ by squeezing and relaxing special muscles in their tail, making the segments vibrate together to make a loud noise. A rattlesnake can contract these muscles up to fifty times per second, for as long as three hours! Rattlesnakes travel with their rattles in the air to protect them, and a new tail segment is added each time the snake sheds its skin.
Interestingly, rattlesnakes also have a very good sense of smell, and use their tongues to carry smells into their mouths to their Jacobson’s organs – special organs that detect chemicals called pheromones. Although they tend to rely more on scent than sight, rattlers also have enough sight ability to spot movement during both the day and night, and they even possess some amount of color vision, too.
As adults, male rattlesnakes tend to have longer, thicker tails than females, and most rattlesnake species mate either in the summer or fall.
Female rattlesnakes, who tend to mate every three years, secrete a pheromone trail that allows males to follow them using their tongues and Jacobson’s organs, and once a male actually finds a female, he follows her around for days before mating. The males of some rattler species, like the timber rattlesnake, fight with each other to compete for a certain female during mating season too. Rattlesnakes are one of the snake species that give birth to live young snakes after carrying the eggs inside them, and female rattlesnakes actually stay in the nest with their young for weeks, some even sharing mothering duties with other female rattlers as well. Who knew snakes were such good parents?
As rattlesnakes usually take several years to reach adulthood, while still young they’re vulnerable to danger from predators like ravens, raccoons, skunks and weasels, as well as king snakes, a predator that’s immune to rattler venom. Occasionally, even ants will prey on very young snakes.
Some species of rattlesnakes will gather together in large groups to hibernate in cooler weather, (though they’ll usually stay dormant during drought and extreme heat) and rattlesnake dens have been counted to hold well over 1,000 snakes at a time! They often return to the same den each year.
THREATS TO RATTLESNAKES
Rattlesnakes are threatened by a variety of human activities. Some areas host mass exterminations like rattlesnake roundups, and car accidents and destruction of rattlesnake habitats due to human development have caused some species, like the Timber, Massasauga and Canebrake rattlesnake, to become threatened or endangered in some areas.