The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is a slow-moving filter feeding shark and the largest known fish species. The whale shark holds many records for sheer size in the animal kingdom, most notably being by far the largest living nonmammalian vertebrate. The largest confirmed individual had a length of over 41 feet and a weight of more than 47,000 lb. Unconfirmed reports of considerably larger whale sharks exist.
The whale shark is the sole member of the genus Rhincodon, and the family Rhincodontidae. The species originated about 60 million years ago. Whale sharks are found in tropical and warm oceans and live in the open sea, with a lifespan of about 70 years. Whale sharks have very large mouths, and as filter feeders they feed mainly on plankton. The name "whale shark" comes from the fish's size, being as large as some species of whales and also a filter feeder like baleen whales.
Whale sharks primarily live in the open sea but not in the greater depths of the ocean. Seasonal feeding occurs at several coastal sites. Although typically seen offshore, they have been found closer to land entering lagoons or coral atolls, and near the mouths of estuaries and rivers. They are capable of diving to depths of at least 4,219 feet, and are migratory.
Whale sharks have a mouth that can be 4.9 feet wide, containing 300 to 350 rows of tiny teeth and 10 filter pads used to filter feed. Whale sharks have five large pairs of gills. Their heads are wide and flat with two small eyes at the front. Whale sharks are grey with a white belly. Their skin is marked with pale yellow spots and stripes which are unique to each individual. The whale shark has three prominent ridges along its sides. Their skin can be up to 3.9 inches thick. The shark has a pair of dorsal fins and pectoral fins. Juveniles' tails have a larger upper fin than lower fin.
The whale shark is one of only three known filter feeding shark species (along with the basking shark and the megamouth shark). They feed on macroalgae, plankton, krill, Christmas Island red crab larvae and small nektonic life, such as small squid or vertebrates. They also feed on small fish and the clouds of eggs and sperm during mass spawning of fish. The many rows of vestigial teeth play no role in feeding. Feeding occurs either by ram filtration, in which the animal opens its mouth and swims forward, pushing water and food into the mouth, or by active suction feeding, in which the animal opens and closes its mouth, sucking in volumes of water that are then expelled through the gills. In both cases, the filter pads serve to separate food from water. These unique, black sieve-like structures are presumed to be modified gill rakers. Food separation in whale sharks is by cross-flow filtration, in which the water travels nearly parallel to the filter pad surface, not perpendicularly through it, before passing to the outside. Denser food particles continue to the back of the throat. This is an extremely efficient filtration method that minimizes fouling of the filter pad surface. Whale sharks have been observed "coughing" to clear a build-up of particles from the filter pads. Whale sharks migrate to feed and possibly to breed.
Despite its size, the whale shark does not pose significant danger to humans. Whale sharks are docile fish and sometimes allow swimmers to catch a ride, although this practice is discouraged by shark scientists and conservationists because of the disturbance to the sharks. Younger whale sharks are gentle and often play with divers.
THREATS TO WHALE SHARKS
The whale shark is targeted by commercial fisheries in several areas where they seasonally aggregate. The population is unknown and the species is considered vulnerable by the IUCN. It is listed, along with six other species of sharks, under the CMS Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks. In 1998, the Philippines banned all fishing, selling, importing and exporting of whale sharks for commercial purposes, followed by India in May 2001, and Taiwan in May 2007. They are currently listed as a vulnerable species, but continue to be hunted in parts of Asia, such as Taiwan and the Philippines.
In 2010, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill resulted in 4,900,000 barrels of oil flowing into an area south of the Mississippi River Delta, where one-third of all whale shark sightings in the northern part of the gulf have occurred in recent years. Sightings confirmed that the whale sharks were unable to avoid the oil slick, which was situated on the surface of the sea where the whale sharks feed for several hours at a time. No dead whale sharks were found.
Whale sharks were also added to Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 2003 to regulate the international trade of live specimens and its parts.
Whale sharks are also victims of captivity for human entertainment. Even under the best of circumstances, captivity is cruel for wild animals. Confined to tiny enclosures and gawked at by crowds, animals in exhibits endure constant stress. They may suffer from temperature extremes and irregular feeding. With little room for 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 aquariums 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 aquariums exhibit abnormal behavior as a result of being deprived of their natural environments and social structures. Stereotypical behavior of these confined animals includes head bobbing, repeatedly swimming in circles and sticking their heads out of the water over and over again (surface break). If the animals attempt to hide to reduce their stress, which isn't easy when the displays are designed to meet the needs of the visitors, the aquarium staff take measures to keep the animals visible.
Shark-feeding shows reinforce the “threat” that sharks pose to humans, rather than the grave situation faced by shark species because of human activity. “Touching” displays allow kids and adults to grab and torment aquatic animals.
While the industry that displays marine animals claims it works to educate the public and conserve the animals, they deplete species from their natural habitats and do little to educate humans on animal issues. A substantial decline in aquarium-targeted species is taking place. Many animals in aquariums don't even have signs that identify the species.
Giraffes are one of the world's tallest mammals. They are well known for their long necks, long legs, and spotted patterns. Giraffes have small "horns" or knobs on top of their heads that grow to be about five inches long. These knobs are used to protect the head in fights.
Male giraffes are larger than females. Males weigh between 2,400 and 3,000 pounds and stand up to 19 feet tall. Female giraffes weigh between 1,600 and 2,600 pounds and grow to be 16 feet tall.
Giraffes can be found in central, eastern and southern Africa. They live in the savannas of Africa, where they roam freely among the tall trees, arid land, dense forests and open plains. Giraffe populations are relatively stable.
Their long necks help giraffes eat leaves from tall trees, typically acacia trees. If they need to, giraffes can go for several days without water. Instead of drinking, giraffes stay hydrated by the moisture from leaves.
Giraffes are non-territorial, social animals. They travel in large herds that are not organized in any way. Herds may consist of any combination of sexes or ages. Female giraffes typically give birth to one calf after a fifteen-month gestation period. During the first week of its life, the mother carefully guards her calf. Young giraffes are very vulnerable and cannot defend themselves. While mothers feed, the young are kept in small nursery groups.
Giraffes have spots covering their entire bodies, except their underbellies, with each giraffe having a unique pattern of spots. Giraffes have long necks, which they use to browse the leaves of trees. They also have slightly elongated forelegs, about 10% longer than their hind legs. Like nearly all mammals, a giraffe has seven neck vertebrae, which are extremely elongated. These bones produce bud like horns called ossicorns.
Modifications to the giraffe's structure have evolved, particularly to the circulatory system. A giraffe's heart, which can weigh up to 24 lb, has to generate around double the normal blood pressure for a large mammal in order to maintain blood flow to the brain against gravity. In the upper neck, a complex pressure regulation system called the rete mirabile prevents excess blood flow to the brain when the giraffe lowers its head to drink. Conversely, the blood vessels in the lower legs are under great pressure (because of the weight of fluid pressing down on them). In other animals such pressure would force the blood out through the capillary walls; giraffes, however, have a very tight sheath of thick skin over their lower limbs which maintains high extravascular pressure in exactly the same way as a pilot's suit.
Male giraffes determine female fertility by tasting the female's urine to detect estrus in a multi step process known as the Flehmen response. Giraffe gestation lasts between 14 and 15 months, after which a single calf is born. The mother gives birth standing up and the embryonic sack actually bursts when the baby falls to the ground. Within a few hours of being born, calves can run around and are indistinguishable from a week old calf; however, for the first two weeks, they spend most of their time lying down, guarded by the mother. While adult giraffes are too large to be attacked by most predators, the young can fall prey to lions, leopards, hyenas, and African Wild Dogs. It has been speculated that their characteristic spotted pattern provides a certain degree of camouflage. Only 25 to 50% of giraffe calves reach adulthood; the life expectancy is between 20 and 25 years in the wild and 28 years in captivity.
The giraffe browses on the twigs of trees, preferring plants of the Mimosa genus; but it appears that it can, without inconvenience, live on other vegetable food. A giraffe can eat 140 lb of leaves and twigs daily. The pace of the giraffe is an amble, though when pursued they can run extremely fast. They cannot sustain a lengthened chase. Their leg length compels an unusual gait with the left legs moving together followed by right (similar to pacing) at low speed, and the back legs crossing outside the front at high speed.
The giraffe defends itself against threats by kicking with great force. A single well placed kick of an adult giraffe can shatter a lion's skull or break its spine. The giraffe has one of the shortest sleep requirements of any mammal, which is between 20 minutes and two hours in a 24 hour period.
A giraffe will clean off any bugs that appear on their faces with an extremely long tongue (about 18 inches). The tongue is tough on account of the giraffe's diet, which includes thorns from the tree it is making a meal of. In Southern Africa, giraffes are partial to all acacias — especially Acacia erioloba — and possess a specially adapted tongue and lips that appear to be immune to the vicious thorns.
Giraffes are thought to be mute. However, recent research has shown evidence that the animal communicates at an infrasound level.
THREATS TO GIRAFFES
Giraffes are threatened by hunting for their meat, coat and tails. The tail is prized for good luck bracelets, fly whisks and string for sewing beads. The coat is used for shield coverings. Habitat destruction and fragmentation are also threats to giraffe populations.
Giraffes are also victims of captivity for human entertainment. Even under the best of circumstances, captivity is cruel for giraffes. Confined to tiny areas and gawked at by crowds, animals in exhibits 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 and aquariums 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 and aquariums 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.
The term hawk refers to birds of prey in any of three senses:
Strictly, to mean any of the species in the genera Accipiter, Micronisus, Melierax, Urotriorchis, and Megatriorchis. The widespread Accipiter genus includes goshawks, sparrowhawks, the sharp-shinned hawk and others. They are mainly woodland birds that hunt by sudden dashes from a concealed perch. They usually have long tails and high visual acuity.
More generally, to mean small to medium-sized birds that are members of the Accipitridae, the family which includes the true hawks (Accipiters) and also eagles, kites, harriers, buzzards and Old World vultures.
Loosely, to mean almost any bird of prey.
The common names of birds in various parts of the world often use hawk loosely. For example, in North America, the buzzards (Buteo) are often called "hawks".
The true hawks form the sub-family Accipitrinae and most are in the genus Accipiter.
Hawks are among the most intelligent birds. They are believed to have vision as well as 20/2, about eight times more acute than humans with good eyesight. This is because of many photoreceptors in the retina, very high number of nerves connecting the receptors to the brain, a second set of eye muscles not found in other animals, and an indented fovea which magnifies the central part of the visual field.
The goshawk is a medium large bird of prey in the family Accipitridae which also includes many other diurnal (active during the day) raptors such as eagles, buzzards and harriers. It is a widespread species throughout the temperate parts of the northern hemisphere. In North America it is named as the northern goshawk. It is mainly resident, but birds from colder regions of north Asia and Canada migrate south for the winter.
This species nests in trees, building a new nest each year. It hunts birds and mammals in woodland, relying on surprise as it flies from a perch or hedge-hops to catch its prey unaware. Animals as large as hares and pheasant are taken. Its call is a fierce screech.
This bird is a raptor with short broad wings and a long tail, both adaptations to maneuvering through trees. The male is blue-grey above and barred grey below, with a 37"-41" wingspan. The much larger female has a 42"-50" wingspan, slate grey above grey below. The juvenile is brown above and barred brown below. The flight is a characteristic "slow flap – slow flap – straight glide".
In Eurasia, the male is confusable with a female sparrowhawk, but is larger, much bulkier and has relatively longer wings. In spring, he has a spectacular roller-coaster display, and this is the best time to see this secretive forest bird.
The name "goshawk" is derived from "goose hawk" and may refer to this bird's barred plumage as well as its ability to take large prey.
The sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) is a small bird of prey in the family Accipitridae which also includes many other diurnal raptors such as eagles, buzzards and harriers. It is a widespread species throughout the temperate and subtropical parts of the Old World. It is mainly resident, but birds from colder regions of north Europe and Asia migrate south for the winter, as far as North Africa and India.
This species nests in trees, building a new nest each year. It hunts birds in woodland or cultivated areas, relying on surprise as it flies from a perch or hedge-hops to catch its prey unaware.
This bird is a small raptor with short broad wings and a long tail, both adaptations to maneuvering through trees. The male is slate-grey above and barred reddish below. The male was formerly called a musket, and the gun called a musket was named after the bird.
The female is much larger and is barred grey below, and can be confused with the similarly sized male goshawk - but lacks the bulk of that species. The juvenile is brown above and barred brown below. The flight is a characteristic "flap – flap – glide".
The New World species formerly known as the sparrow hawk (Falco sparverius) is now called the American kestrel. The new name is preferable, since this bird is not a hawk but a falcon.
The sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus) is a small hawk. Adults have short broad wings and a long square-ended tail with dark bands. They have a dark cap, blue-grey upperparts and white underparts with red bars. Mature birds have dark red eyes and yellow legs. Adult females are slightly larger. They are easily mistaken for the slightly larger and lankier Cooper's hawk.
Their breeding habitat is forested areas across most of North America and parts of Central America, although they are more common in the boreal forest. They build a stick nest in a large conifer or dense group of deciduous trees.
In some parts of the United States, they are permanent residents. Northern birds migrate to the southern U.S. and south to South America.
These birds surprise and capture small birds from cover or while flying quickly through dense vegetation. They often pluck the feathers off their prey on a post or other perch. They also eat rodents, lizards, frogs, snakes and large insects.
This bird declined in numbers in the 1960s and 1970s, probably as a result of the use of DDT and other pesticides. Their population rebounded since and might even exceed historical numbers today. This is probably due to the combination of the ban on DDT and the proliferation of backyard birdfeeders in North America which create unnaturally reliable and easy prey for Accipiters.
THREATS TO HAWKS
The greatest threats to hawks are habitat loss, hunting, collisions with automobiles, human interference with nesting activities, and poisoning from insecticides and industrial pollutants. Lead poisoning from eating food items that contain lead shot also kills a number of hawks each year.
Insects are cold blooded arthropods and represent 90% of all life forms on earth. They are among the most diverse groups of animals on the planet, with over 1 million different known species and as many as 9 million more yet to be discovered. Insects have three body parts: head, thorax and abdomen. They have three pairs of legs with six joints and they have two antennae. Bugs have external skeletons. These “exoskeletons” contain sense organs for sensing smell, sound, light, temperature, wind and pressure.
Most insects go through 4 life stages: egg, larvae or nymph, pups and adult. Bugs do not have lungs and most have compound eyes, meaning each eye has many lenses. Adult insects usually move about by walking or flying...and sometimes by swimming. They are the only animals without backbones that fly. As it allows for rapid yet stable movement, many walk with their legs touching the ground in alternating triangles.
Insect species are divided up into 32 orders. The largest group is beetles, with about 500,000 different species. One out of every four animals on the planet is a beetle.
Insects perform many ecological roles. They pollinate flowers and plants, produce silk, honey, wax and other products. Blow-flies consume carrion. Pollinators are essential to the life-cycle of many flowering plant species on which most organisms, including humans, are dependent. Many other insects are considered ecologically beneficial as predators.
These highly adaptable creatures have evolved to live successfully in most all environments, though only a small number of species live in the oceans which are dominated by their cousin arthropods, crustaceans. Many insects spend at least part of their lives under water, breathing through gills, and some adult insects are aquatic and can swim. Some species, such as water striders, are capable of walking on the surface of water. Many are solitary, while bees, ants and termites are very social and live in large, well-organized colonies.
Invertebrate Extinction Crisis
Invertebrates, from mollusks to butterflies to earthworms to corals, exhibit vast levels of diversion. Almost 97% of all animal species on earth are estimated to belong to this group. One-third of the known invertebrate species are now threatened with extinction. Water pollution, water projects, and groundwater withdrawal threaten freshwater invertebrates, while deforestation and animal agriculture is also a great factor of invertebrate endangerment or extinction. In addition, reef-building corals in the ocean are diminishing at an increasing rate.
FASCINATING INSECT FACTS
Although there are other giant insects that are longer or wider than the goliath beetle, they hold the record for weight and can grow up to 4.5 inches long and weigh up to 3.5 ounces.
Fairyflies are as tiny as only 0.0055 inches long.
Tiny mites, from the Anystidae family, are the fastest animals in the world when it comes to body size. They can run 20 times faster than a cheetah, the equivalent of a human running 1,300 mph.
THE LONGEST LIVED
The queen of termites have been known to live for 50 years, and may live for 100 years.
Many insects are devoted mothers, guarding and continuously cleaning their eggs and assisting the babies in hatching. Newborn babies live with their mother, nesting under her as she protects and feeds them. Parents and offspring communicate extensively and coordinate their daily routines. Some cockroaches carry their babies in little pouches like kangaroos and nourish them in the uterus with milk. Dung beetles tenderly care for their children by cleaning away toxic molds and fungi from the dung balls where the babies live. Wolf spiders carry their egg sacs with them and baby wolf spiders ride around on their mother’s abdomen. Some insect fathers are also devoted to helping with raising the young. Female giant water bugs have been known to attach eggs to the back of the father who carries them around until they hatch. Wood roaches are monogamous, raise one group of children, and live in one log for their entire life.
Insects can communicate with each other in a variety of ways. Male moths can sense the pheromones of female moths over great distances. Other species communicate with sounds: crickets stridulate, or rub their wings together, to attract a mate and repel other males. Some communicate with light. Insects have celestial navigation capabilities. Dung beetles use light from the moon to move across great distances in a straight line and also use the Milky Way to direct them.
LARGEST BRAINS IN THE WORLD
The animal with the largest brain in proportion to its size is the ant. They farm, gather, hunt, raise animals and engage in rituals. Ants are social insects and live in colonies of as many as 500,000 individuals. They divide jobs among each other. Queens lay eggs while all other females are workers who feed the babies, take out the trash, forage for food and supplies and defend the nest. Males only have to mate with the queen. Ants have two stomachs, one to hold food for themselves, and one for others. Some ants keep other ants, or other insects, as slaves forcing them to do chores.
Ants have been farming for 70 million years, using sophisticated horticultural techniques to grow crops. They even keep "cattle", aphids which they milk by tickling them with their antennae. They clip the wings of aphids that have them or produce chemicals from glands in their jaws to stop the development of their wings. They can also use chemicals to tranquilize aphids.
Ants "hear" by feeling vibrations in the ground with pecial sensors on their feet and knees. Their antennae and body hairs feel around while foraging for food. They communicate with a sophisticated language using chemicals known as “pheromones.”
One species, M. smithii, reproduces asexually, with all babies clones of the queen. There are no males.
Army ants do not build permanent nests. They travel around attacking other colonies and other insects and build temporary campsites at night.
The largest ant colony discovered to date was over 3,750 miles wide. Ants engage in war, including psychological warfare.
FARMING, MATH & LANGUAGE
Bees practice agriculture, warfare and symbolic language. They can calculate the most efficient route between two points faster than super computers. They are capable of performing higher-order cognition. Bees are democratic in their decision making process. They use dance as a form of voting. Worker bees select which fertilized eggs to brood in queen or worker cells, while the queen decides the sex of her young. Fertilized eggs will become females, while unfertilized eggs will become males.
Bees can learn from other species as well as communicate specific threats to predators from other species. They have different personalities and emotions. They can become pessimistic and suffer from depression.
They have careers: scout bees search for food sources, soldier bees work as security guards, undertakers remove dead bees from the hive. In addition to thousands of worker adults, a colony normally has a single queen and several hundred drones. The queen has all the babies, and also produces pheromones that serve as a social “glue” unifying and giving an individual identity to a bee colony. Drones are males who fertilize the queen during her mating flight, then die instantly after mating. Workers are females that care for the queen, build beeswax combs, clean and polish the cells, feed the bees, handle incoming nectar, remove trash, guard the entrance and even air-condition and ventilate the hives. As field bees they forage for pollen, nectar, water and plant sap. When older bees perform jobs usually carried out by younger members, their brains stop aging and begin to age in reverse.
Bees use the sun as a compass and navigate by polarized light when it's cloudy. Honeycombs are the most efficient structures in nature—the walls meet at a precise 120-degree angle, a perfect hexagon. To make one pound of honey, workers in a hive fly 55,000 miles and visit two million flowers. In just a single collecting trip, one bee will visit 50 to 100 flowers, returning to the hive carrying over half her weight in nectar and pollen. The energy in one ounce of honey could provide one bee with enough fuel to fly around the world.
Butterflies are the second largest group of pollinators, following bees. Without their assistance, humans likely would not survive. These beautiful animals undergo a fascinating metamorphosis which takes place in four stages: egg, caterpillar, pupa and adult. Mother butterflies attach their eggs with a special glue to caterpillar food, or “host” plant. When the caterpillar is born, it eats its egg, then begins eating the plant. When the caterpillar's insides grow too big for its outside, its covering splits and is shed. A new exoskeleton lies underneath. The caterpillar continues to shed numerous times, then becomes a pupa. It then seeks a sheltered spot, suspends itself by silken threads and sheds one more time forming a hard casing around its body. Inside this chrysalis, the pupa is growing six legs, a proboscis, antennae and wings. Within days, months or years, depending on the species, the chrysalis breaks open and a butterfly emerges. Butterflies can live in the adult stage from a week to a year, depending on the species. They have four wings, usually brightly colored with unique patterns made up of tiny scales.
They remember things they learned as caterpillars. They can fly up to 30 mph and up to 50 miles in a day. They learn home ranges and memorize locations of nectar and pollen sources, host plants and communal roosting sites. They are able to plan the most efficient routes by using calculations that mathematicians call the "traveling salesman algorithm". Many butterflies are migratory and capable of long distance flights, using the sun to orient themselves. They also perceive polarized light and use it for orientation when the sun is hidden. Butterflies "taste" with their feet through tiny receptors.
Insects brains pack neurons 10 times more densely than mammal brains. Their brains also use each cell more flexibly than mammals, boosting computing power without having to increase the number of cells. They prove that animals with bigger brains are not necessarily more intelligent. Honeybees can count, categorize similar objects like dogs or human faces, understand "same" and "different," and differentiate between shapes that are symmetrical and asymmetrical. Spiders’ brains are so large relative to the rest of their bodies, they extend out of their heads and all the way down into their legs. The minuscule brain of the C. elegans nematode worm has just 302 neurons, but is able to carry out the same functions as the nervous systems of higher organisms. Leeches have 32 brains (ganglia).
BUGS OF LIGHT
You know that summer has arrived when the first glowing firefly rises on a warm evening. Not long after, a fairy cotillion will be danced nightly. “Lightning bugs” or “fireflies” are actually beetles, nocturnal members of the aptly named Lampyridae family. Fireflies take in oxygen and, inside special cells, combine it with a substance called luciferin. This chemical process takes place in dedicated organs located under the insects’ abdomens and produces the light. Fireflies flash their light in patterns that are unique to each of the 2,000 species. They are communicating with their light and each blinking pattern is an optical signal to a potential mate.
Manatees range in color from gray to brown. They use their two small front flippers to crawl along ocean or river bottoms. Their flat, horizontal tails are pumped up and down to move them along. Despite their small eyes and lack of outer ears, manatees are thought to see and hear quite well.
One of the closest surviving relatives of the manatee is the elephant. Manatees have many anatomical parallels with elephants, including a long, flexible nose or trunk, whiskers, and toenails.
The average adult manatee weighs 1,500 to 1,800 pounds and measures ten to 12 feet in length. The largest population of manatees is found in Florida, where over 5,000 individuals now live. Manatees are thought to live 50 to 60 years in the wild.
Manatees take up residence primarily in Florida’s coastal waters during winter and migrate either as far north as the Carolinas or as far west as Louisiana during the summer months. Manatees inhabit the shallow, marshy coastal areas and rivers of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico (T. manatus, West Indian Manatee), the Amazon Basin (T. inunguis, Amazonian Manatee), and West Africa (T. senegalensis, West African Manatee). West Indian Manatees enjoy warmer waters and are known to congregate in shallow waters, and frequently migrate through brackish water estuaries to freshwater springs. Their natural source for warmth during winter is warm, spring fed rivers.
Manatees can be found in the warm waters of shallow rivers, bays, estuaries and coastal waters. Rarely do individuals venture into waters that are below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Manatees often congregate near power plants, which warm the waters. Some have become reliant on this source of unnatural heat and have ceased migrating to warmer waters. Manatees are herbivores and eat marine and freshwater plants.
Well known for their gentle, slow-moving nature, manatees have also been known to body surf or barrel roll when playing. Normally they rest and feed often. Manatees communicate by squealing under water to demonstrate fear, stress or excitement. They emit a wide range of sounds used in communication, especially between cows and their calves. Adults communicate to maintain contact and during sexual and play behaviors. Taste and smell, in addition to sight, sound, and touch, may also be forms of communication.
Manatees are capable of understanding discrimination tasks, and show signs of complex associated learning and advanced long term memory. They demonstrate complex discrimination and task-learning similar to dolphins and pinnipeds in acoustic and visual studies.
After a one-year gestation period, calves are born weighing between 60 and 70 pounds and measuring about three to four feet.
THREATS TO MANATEES
Most manatees have a pattern of scars on their backs or tails from collisions with boats. Scientists use these patterns to identify individuals. But these collisions can be fatal for the manatee. Besides boating accidents, manatees have been found crushed or drowned in flood control gates and also suffer from pollution and habitat loss.
All three species of manatee are listed by the IUCN as Vulnerable to extinction. Although it does not have any natural predators, human expansion has reduced its natural habitat in the coastal marsh areas and many manatees are injured or killed by collisions with powerboats.
Manatees occasionally ingest fishing gear (hooks, metal weights, etc.) during feeding. These foreign materials do not seem to harm manatees, except for monofilament line or string. This can get clogged in the animal's digestive system and slowly kill the animal. They can also be crushed in water control structures (navigation locks, flood gates, etc.), drown in pipes and culverts, and are occasionally killed from entanglement in fishing gear, primarily crab pot float lines.
Manatees are also victims of the animal entertainment industry. They are found on display at aquariums, denied their wild nature, strong family bonds and natural social interactions. Like all captive wildlife, they face constant stress and are denied their wild nature and social structures. The needs and desires of humans comes before the needs of the animals in the animal entertainment industry.
A pelican is any of several very large water birds with a distinctive pouch under the beak belonging to the bird family Pelecanidae. Along with the darters, cormorants, gannets, boobies, frigatebirds, and tropicbirds, they make up the order Pelecaniformes. Like other birds in that group, pelicans have all four toes webbed (they are totipalmate).
Pelicans use two different ways to feed. Group fishing is used by white pelicans all over the world. They will form a line to chase schools of small fish into shallow water, and then simply scoop them up. Large fish are caught with the bill-tip, and then tossed up in the air to be caught and slid into the gullet head first. Plunge-diving is used almost exclusively by the American brown pelican; only rarely by white pelicans like the Peruvian pelican of the western South American coast or the Australian pelican.
Pelicans males can be a little larger than females and have a longer bill. From the fossil record, it is known that pelicans have been around for over 40 million years. Modern pelicans are found on all continents except Antarctica; they are birds of inland and coastal waters and are absent from polar regions, the deep ocean, oceanic islands and inland South America. Pelicans are gregarious and nest colonially, the male bringing the material, the female heaping it up to form a simple structure. Pairs are monogamous for a single season but the pair bond extends only to the nesting area. Away from the nest mates are independent.
The brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is the smallest (42"-54") member of the seven species of the pelican family. It lives strictly on coasts from Washington and Cape Cod to the mouth of the Amazon River. Some immature birds may stray to inland freshwater lakes. After nesting, North American birds move further north along the coasts in flocks, returning to warmer waters for winter. This bird is distinguished from the American white pelican by its brown body and its habit of diving for fish from the air, as opposed to co-operative fishing from the surface. It dines mostly on herring-like fish. Groups of these birds often travel in single file, flying low over the water's surface. The nest location varies from a simple scrape on the ground on an island to a bulky stick nest in a low tree. These birds nest in colonies, usually on islands. Pesticides like DDT and dieldrin threatened its future in the southeast United States and California in the early 1970s. Pesticides also threatened the pelican population in Florida in this time period. DDT caused the pelican eggshells to be overly-thin and incapable of supporting the embryo to maturity. As a result, DDT usage was eliminated in Florida and the rest of the country.
The Peruvian pelican (Pelecanus thagus) lives on the west coast of South America, from Lobos de Tierra Island in Peru to Pupuya Islet in Chile. These birds are dark in color with a white stripe from the top of the bill, up to the crown and down the sides of the neck. They have long tufted feathers on the top of their heads. The main breeding season occurs from September to March. Clutch size is usually two or three eggs. Eggs are incubated for approximately 4 to 5 weeks, with the rearing period lasting about 3 months. This bird feeds on several fish species, showing a strong preference for Peruvian anchovies. It feeds by plunge-diving, like its close relative the brown pelican.
AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN
The American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is a very large (50"–70") white bird with black wing tips and an enormous orange bill. They are graceful in flight, moving their wings in slow powerful strokes. Unlike the brown pelican, the American white pelican does not dive for its food. Instead it practices cooperative fishing. Each bird eats more than 4 pounds of fish a day, mostly carp, chubs, shiners, yellow perch, catfish and jackfish. White pelicans nest in colonies of several hundred pairs on islands in remote brackish and freshwater lakes of inland North America. The female lays 2 or 3 eggs in a shallow depression on the ground. Both parents incubate. They winter in central California and along the Pacific coast of Guatemala; also along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Shooting by poachers is the largest known cause of mortality. Colonies are sensitive to disturbance and visits by humans can cause the pelicans to leave and abandon their nests. This species is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty of 1972.
The white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) breeds from southeastern Europe through Asia in swamps and shallow lakes. The tree nest is a crude heap of vegetation. This is a large pelican. It differs from the dalmatian pelican by its pure white, rather than greyish-white, plumage; a bare pink facial patch around the eye and pinkish legs. Immature birds are grey and have dark flight feathers. More than 50% of white pelicans breed in the Danube Delta. This pelican migrates short distances, wintering in northeast Africa. In flight, it is an elegant soaring bird, with the neck held back like a heron's. Pelicans catch fish in their huge bill pouches, most while swimming at the surface. Like the dalmatian pelican, this species has declined greatly through habitat loss and persecution.
The dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus) is a member of the pelican family. It breeds from southeastern Europe through Asia to China in swamps and shallow lakes. The nest is a crude heap of vegetation. This is a large pelican. It differs from the white pelican in that it has curly nape feathers, grey legs and greyish-white (rather than pure white plumage). It has a red lower mandible in the breeding season. Immatures are grey and lack the pink facial patch of immature white pelicans. The latter also has darker flight feathers. This pelican migrates short distances. In flight, it is an elegant soaring bird, with the flock moving in synchrony. The neck is held back like a heron's. Like the white pelican, this species has declined greatly through habitat loss and persecution.
The pink-backed pelican (Pelecanus rufescens) is a resident breeder in Africa, southern Arabia and Madagascar in swamps and shallow lakes. The nest is a large heap of sticks, into which 2-3 large white eggs are laid. The chicks feed by plunging their heads deep into the adult’s pouch and taking the partially digested, regurgitated fish. This is a small pelican. It is much smaller and duller than the great white pelican. The plumage is grey and white, with a pink back. The top of the bill is yellow and the pouch is usually greyish. Breeding adults have long feather plumes on the head. Food is usually fish and amphibians and is usually obtained by fishing in groups.
The spot-billed pelican (Pelecanus philippensis) breeds in southern Asia from India to Indonesia. It is a bird of large inland and coastal waters, especially shallow lakes. The nest is a heap of vegetation in a tree. 3-4 eggs is the usual clutch size. This is a small pelican. It is mainly white, with a grey crest, hind neck and tail. In breeding plumage, there is a pink tone to the rump and underwings. Non-breeders are off-white in these areas, and immature birds are more extensively brown. As the species' name implies, there are grey spots on the pink bill in the breeding season. Spot-billed pelican is a sedentary resident with local movements and is distributed more widely in the non-breeding season. Like most other pelicans, it catches fish in its huge bill pouch while swimming at the surface.
The Australian pelican or goolayyalibee (Pelecanus conspicillatus) is an unmistakable large water bird, widespread on the inland and coastal waters of Australia and New Guinea, also in Fiji, parts of Indonesia and as a vagrant to New Zealand. Australian pelicans are medium-sized by pelican standards. They are predominantly white, with black and white wings and a pale, pinkish bill. Australian pelicans prefer large expanses of open water without too much aquatic vegetation. The surrounding environment is unimportant: it can be forest, grassland, desert, estuarine mudflats, an ornamental city park, or industrial wasteland, provided only that there is open water able to support a sufficient supply of fish. Australian pelicans follow no particular schedule of regular movement, simply following the availability of food supplies. When the normally barren Lake Eyre filled during 1974 to '76, for example, only a handful of pelicans remained around the coastal cities: when the great inland lakes dried again, the population dispersed once more, flocks of thousands being seen on the northern coasts and some individuals reaching Christmas Island, Palau and New Zealand.
THREATS TO PELICANS
The greatest threats to pelicans are habitat loss, hunting, human interference with nesting activities, persecution, poisoning from insecticides and industrial pollutants, pollution, oil spills and fishing injuries.
Clownfish, or Anemonefish, are fishes from the subfamily Amphiprioninae in the family Pomacentridae. Thirty species are recognized. In the wild they are known for forming symbiotic relationships with sea anemones.
The most commonly known clownfish species is orange with white markings, but clownfish are found in many different colors and can also differ in shape. Depending on species, clownfish are overall yellow, orange, or a reddish or blackish color, and many show white bars or patches. The largest can reach a length of 7.1 inches, while the smallest barely reach 3.9 inches.
Clownfish are native to warmer waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans, including the Great Barrier Reef and the Red Sea. While most species have restricted distributions, others are distributed elsewhere. Clownfish live at the bottom of shallow seas in shallow reefs or lagoons. There are no clownfish in the Atlantic.
Clownfish are omnivorous and can feed on undigested food from their host anemones. The fecal matter from the clownfish provides nutrients to the sea anemone. Clownfish primarily feed on small zooplankton, with a small portion of their diet coming from algae.
Clownfish and sea anemones have a symbiotic, mutualistic relationship, each providing a number of benefits to the other. Sea anemones are a group of water-dwelling, predatory animals. A close relative of jellyfish and coral, they are stinging polyps that attach themselves with an adhesive foot to rocks on the sea bottom, or on coral reefs. They wait for fish to pass close enough to get ensnared in their venom-filled tentacles. Clownfish are immune to the anemone's sting, protected by a mucus layer.
The sea anemone protects the clownfish from predators, and provides food through scraps left from the anemone's meals and occasional dead anemone tentacles. In return, the clownfish defends the anemone from its predators and parasites. The anemone also picks up nutrients from the clownfish's excrement, and functions as a safe nest site. The nitrogen excreted from clownfish increases the amount of algae incorporated into the tissue of their hosts, which aids the anemone in tissue growth and regeneration. The clownfish may use their bright coloring to lure small fish to the anemone, and provides greater water circulation around the sea anemone. Clownfish are the best known example of a fish that are able to live among the venomous sea anemone tentacles.
In a group of clownfish, there is a strict dominance hierarchy. The largest and most aggressive female is found at the top. Only two clownfish in a group, a male and a female, reproduce through external fertilization. Clownfish are sequential hermaphrodites, meaning that they develop into males first, and when they mature they become females. If the female clownfish is removed from the group, such as by death, one of the largest and most dominant males will become a female. The remaining males will move up a rank in the hierarchy.
Clownfish lay eggs on any flat surface close to their host anemones. They spawn around the time of the full moon. Depending on the species, clownfish can lay hundreds or thousands of eggs. The male parent guards the eggs until they hatch. In contrast to most animal species, the female only occasionally takes responsibility for the eggs. Male clownfish care for their eggs by fanning and guarding them for 6 to 10 days until they hatch. Eggs develop more rapidly in a clutch when males fan properly, suggesting that males have the ability to control the success of hatching an egg clutch by investing different amounts of time and energy towards the eggs.
THREATS TO CLOWNFISH
The biggest threats to the survival of clownfish are pollution, the commercial fishing industry and destruction of their habitat.
Clownfish are also victims of the pet trade and animal entertainment industry, making up 43% of the global marine ornamental trade and 25% of the global trade from fish bred in captivity...accounting for decreased densities in exploited areas. Captured from their native habitat and transported to various countries to be sold as aquarium "ornamentals", the dangers, difficulties, physical and physiological needs of the animals appears to be of no concern in the lucrative pet trade and animal entertainment industry. Removed from their natural habitat they are deprived of the ability to freely engage in instinctual behaviors. Even under the best of circumstances, captivity is cruel for fish. Confined to tiny tanks, captive fish endure constant stress and boredom. With little room to 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. Members of some clownfish species become aggressive in captivity. Torn from their families and deprived of all dignity, every part of their lives is controlled by their captors. Clownfish in captivity live short lives, compared to clownfish in the wild.
Anemones are even more susceptible to overexploitation due to their long lifespans, slower relative growth rates, and lower reproductive rates than their resident fish. Aquarium fishing activities significantly impact the populations of anemones and anemonefish by drastically reducing the densities of each in exploited areas. They also negatively impact anemone shrimp, and any organisms associated with sea anemones.
When we think of antelopes, many of us picture four-legged, deer-like creatures bounding across a blazing savannah. What may be surprising, however, is that members of this sub-group within the family Bovidae live in a wide range of environments, including grassland, desert, rocky terrain, frigid steppes, forest, and swampland. The majority of the 91 antelope species are found in Africa and include gnus and gazelles, but some species also occur in India, Central Asia, Russia, and the Arabian Peninsula. No antelope species is native to the Americas or Australia, however populations exist on those continents because of importation for exotic game hunting.
Antelopes are distinct from other hoofed mammals like sheep, cattle and goats, although they are all classed under the same family. Their height and weight can also vary enormously depending on species. A common eland may measure around 70 inches tall with a weight of 2,090 lb, but its diminutive relative, the royal antelope, stands (on average) around 9.4 inches at the shoulder and weighs just over 3 lb – smaller than a housecat. The average adult lifespan of antelope is also hard to determine, since older or ill individuals tend to be slower, falling first to predators, but some species have lived beyond 20 years of age.
Many species of antelope are typically known for speed, with long, slender legs, enabling them to take long strides. Others are known for their powerful leaping abilities, like the springbok and klipspringer antelopes. They have dense coats of short fur, varying from some form of brown (typical in most species) to grey, silver, black and white patterning, or darker vertical striping along their backs, depending on the type of antelope. One of the most unusual-looking species (as well as one of the most endangered) is the saiga antelope, which has an oversized, snout-like nose structure that helps to filter and warm the air it breathes.
Like their related bovine cousins, antelope are plant-eating ruminants, meaning that they regurgitate a food ball (cud) from their stomach back into their mouths, using strong molar teeth to grind down the cud for further digestion. While some species browse mainly on grass stems and leaves, others eat fungi, fruit and leaves from the forest floor, and gerenuks and dibatags can stand erect on their hind legs in order to reach foliage above their heads. One or two species of duiker antelope have also been known to eat insects, birds, and occasionally small mammals as well. Some antelopes migrate to eat, following the rainy season, bird flocks and monkey troops, to browse on the leftover fruit they drop.
As herbivores, antelope are prey animals, and have evolved some very effective ways to defend themselves from predators. Besides being fast runners or jumpers, they also have extremely sensitive senses of smell and hearing, as well as eyes on each side of their head, giving them a wide range of vision to help them detect danger more easily. Larger antelopes travel in large herds for protection, while smaller species rely on their dull coloring and thick brush to help them avoid becoming dinner.
Antelope communicate with each other using ‘rump flashes’ (a danger signal), raised hair crests, and audible communications like whistles, barks, moos, and trumpets. Scent marking by rubbing their face on grass, trees, stones and logs is also used to claim territory and to lay a path for other members of the herd to follow.
An antelope’s horns are also used to help them defend themselves, though more against competitors of the same species than against the nearest cheetah. Both males and females of most species have horns (with some exceptions), though the horns of female antelopes tend to be differ in size, especially in many of the smaller members of this sub-family. Some antelopes have simple ‘spike’ type projections, while others have straight, twisted, spiral or long curved horns. Species of antelope where males fight to compete for mates tend to have more highly developed horn structures. Unlike other hoofed mammals such as deer and moose, antelope don’t typically shed their horns.
Mating behavior can vary quite significantly between different antelope species, though as mammals, all antelope give birth to and nurse live young. Smaller antelopes tend to remain with a single mate, since they often live in areas with lower resources and larger population distribution, making it difficult for males to maintain a larger herd. Larger forest species and grazing antelope form more numerous herds however, with many females to a single breeding male who drives away competitors by means of posturing and combat.
The age that an antelope reaches sexual maturity can range from 6 months to 4 years, with smaller species breeding earlier during their lifetime. Calf gestation ranges from 5 to 8 months. Antelope calves are usually born singly, and antelope females native to forested areas will usually hide their young, only coming to feed them, in order to avoid attracting predators. Grassland antelope young are born in the open instead, and must gain the ability to stand on their feet within around 15 minutes of birth. They then must keep up with the herd when they’re only a few days old.
THREATS TO ANTELOPES
Although there are still large native populations of some gazelles in Africa and Asia, there are also many species of antelope on the IUCN endangered list, including the dama gazelle, giant sable antelope, and nyala. Loss of habitat, game hunting, poaching, and loss of grazing land to cattle farmers are some of the biggest threats to antelope populations.
The Tibetan antelope, traditionally hunted for its pelt, and the saiga antelope, hunted for its horns (considered an aphrodisiac in Chinese culture) are two of the most threatened species, with the saiga listed as a Class I protected species in China and critically endangered elsewhere.
It’s no surprise that pre-Columbian South Americans once revered the jaguar as a potent symbol of power and strength – these enormous felines are some of the most impressive and beautiful members of all the large cat species, and the only Panthera species from the Felidae family that’s native to the Americas. These powerful predators are at the top of their food chain, and they have a current range that extends from the southwestern United States (though extremely rare in occurrence there) down to Mexico, Central America, and northern Argentina. While they do prefer rainforest habitat, they can also thrive across a range of forested habitats as well as more open living environments, especially those near water – jaguars happen to be talented swimmers.
Interestingly, research into the DNA of the jaguar shows that it shares a common ancestor with lions and tigers, but the jaguar is the most similar in appearance to the spotted leopard. Their body is compact, muscular and stocky, with shorter legs than other big cat species, allowing them to skillfully climb, crawl or leap after their prey. Their tawny coats blend in exceptionally well with the dappled lights of their forested habitats, usually ranging from tawny yellow to red-brown in color, with black rosettes or spots over the body, neck and tail. Their underside is typically white, however, similar to other large cats.
In some individuals, a color morph coat variation occurs, with the coat appearing almost black, but with spots still highly visible, while the completely melanistic coat variation (which is entirely black with extremely faint discernible spots) happens far more rarely. These jaguars are referred to as black panthers, though they’re still classified as the same species.
A jaguar’s blocky, muscular head also means that it has an extremely forceful bite, allowing it to crush the heavy bones of its prey and even pierce tough turtle shells. These big cats can vary in weight and height, depending on habitat (more southern dwelling jaguars tend to be bigger), ranging anywhere from 125-210 lb and 25 to 30 inches at the shoulder, with males typically reaching sizes 10 to 20 percent larger than females.
As the largest carnivores in Central and South America, jaguars are devastatingly effective hunters with a diet that includes over 80 species. Hunting mainly in the early evening and early morning, they prefer prey that’s as big or often even larger than they are, since they need to eat several pounds of food at a time to meet their energy requirements. They’ll even gorge on meat between hungry periods, and some jaguars have been seen to eat up to 50lb or more at one sitting. A jaguar’s diverse buffet includes caimans, deer, tapirs, dogs, anacondas, fish, sloth, monkeys, frogs, mice, and armadillos. Even sea turtles (which can reach an average weight of around 350lb) are on the menu.
Because the jaguar has a physiology that’s more effective for simply overpowering its prey, it tends to stalk and ambush rather than sprint to catch each meal, quickly immobilizing it by biting the animal’s skull or grasping their head between paws and mouth to dislocate their neck. Jaguars will even hunt their prey into the water, since they can easily drag large prey onto the bank and up a tree, or to a more secluded spot to eat. Although they’ll return to larger kills multiple times, they’ll usually consume the more nutrient-dense heart and lungs of their prey in the first meal.
Like many other large cat species, these fascinating hunters are solitary dwellers, with the exception of mothers and their cubs. Adults tend to secure sizable territories for themselves, marking them with urine, feces and scratch marks, but generally avoiding other jaguars outside of mating season. They will communicate to one another through various vocal antics. Roaring is used to warn competitors away, and grunts and mews are used during courtship and counter-calling. Any aggression or conflict that happens is usually between males when they intrude on each others territory.
While jaguars have no specific mating season, they don’t reach sexual maturity until at least two years of age (males take three or four years). Both male and female will extend their territories during the time when the female is in season, although after mating they separate and the female raises the cubs entirely on her own to prevent the male from killing them (similar to tiger behavior). Cubs, born 3 to 4 months after mating, are usually born small, weak and blind in litters of two to four, weaning after three months but staying almost exclusively in their birth den until around six months of age. At this point, they start travelling with their mother on hunts, and eventually leave her side at one to two years of age to eke out their own territories. In the wild, the average jaguar lifespan is thought to be around 12 to 15 years, although some can live well over 20 years of age in captivity.
THREATS TO JAGUARS
Because of its role as an apex predator (at the top of its food chain), the jaguar has no natural predators in the wild, though it plays an important role in controlling the population levels of other, smaller species. Threats from human activity are another story, however; the continued loss and fragmentation of jaguar habitat through deforestation is a major risk for most jaguar populations. Hunting is also another issue contributing to the decline in jaguar numbers; not only by poachers, but also by ranchers who shoot jaguars that prey on their livestock. Jaguars are currently listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN, is illegal to hunt in many countries, and trade in jaguars or their parts is prohibited internationally by CITES.
Jaguars are rarely used today in circus acts, but are often displayed for entertainment at zoos. Jaguars kept captive in zoos are known for pacing due to the stress and frustration of their inability to carry out their natural routines and behaviors. Their stressful pacing increases as the number of visitors and noise level increases. Zoo jaguars are deprived of their natural environments and social structures for profit and human amusement.
The bonobo is an endangered great ape and one of the two species making up the genus Pan; the other is Pan troglodytes, or the common chimpanzee. Along with the common chimpanzee, the bonobo is the closest living relative to humans. The bonobo is found in an area of the Congo Basin in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central Africa, and inhabits forests.
Adult female bonobos are somewhat smaller than adult males. Males range from 75 to 132 lb; females average 66 lb. The bonobo's head is relatively smaller than that of the common chimpanzee with less prominent brow ridges above the eyes. It has a black face with pink lips, small ears, wide nostrils, and long hair on its head that forms a part. The bonobo also has a slim upper body, narrow shoulders, thin neck, and long legs when compared to the common chimpanzee.
There are significant brain differences between bonobos and chimps. The brain anatomy of bonobos has more developed and larger regions assumed to be vital for feeling empathy, sensing distress in others and feeling anxiety, which makes them less aggressive and more empathic than their close relatives. They also have a thick connection between the amygdala, an important area that can spark aggression, and the ventral anterior cingulate cortex, which helps control impulses. This thicker connection may make them better in regulating their emotional impulses and behavior.
Bonobos are both terrestrial and arboreal. They travel on ground by quadrupedal knuckle walking, and occasional bipedal walking. Physical characteristics and posture give the bonobo an appearance more closely resembling that of humans than that of the common chimpanzee. The bonobo also has highly individuated facial features, as humans do, so that one individual may look significantly different from another, a characteristic adapted for visual facial recognition in social interaction.
The bonobo is an omnivorous frugivore; 57% of its diet is fruit, but this is supplemented this with leaves, honey, eggs, meat from small vertebrates, and invertebrates.
Bonobos are capable of altruism, compassion, empathy, kindness, patience, and sensitivity. Females have a higher social status in bonobo society. Females have strong social bonds amongst themselves, but they do not exclude males. Aggressive encounters between males and females are rare, and males are tolerant of infants and juveniles. A male derives his status from the status of his mother. The mother–son bond often stays strong and continues throughout life. While social hierarchies do exist, rank plays a less prominent role than in other primate societies.
Bonobo party size tends to vary. A community of approximately 100 will split into small groups during the day while looking for food, and then will come back together to sleep. They sleep in nests that they construct in trees. Bonobos have a male philopatric society; males remain with their birth group whereas females migrate to other groups during adolescence.
Daily activities of bonobos includes feeding in trees, travel, foraging, nest-building, rest, and group excitement. Bonobos travel 13% of the day, forage 20% of the day, feed 20% of the day, and rest about 43% of the day. The remaining time is spent doing other various activities. The average daily travel distance of a bonobo is 1.24 miles.
Sexual activity generally plays a major role in bonobo society, being used as a greeting, a means of forming social bonds, a means of conflict resolution, and postconflict reconciliation. Bonobos do not form permanent monogamous sexual relationships. They also do not seem to discriminate in their sexual behavior by sex or age, with the possible exception of abstaining from sexual activity between mothers and their adult sons. When bonobos come upon a new food source or feeding ground, the increased excitement will usually lead to communal sexual activity, presumably decreasing tension and encouraging peaceful feeding. Bonobos prefer sexual contact over violent confrontation with outsiders. They are known to be extraordinarily peaceful, and often resolve conflicts with sexual contact.
The gestation period of bonobos is on average 240 days. Female bonobos carry and nurse their young for four years and give birth on average every 4.6 years.
Bonobos communicate primarily through vocal means. They are the most vocal of the great apes, using complicated patterns of vocalizations to communicate detailed information. Humans are able to easily understand their facial expressions and some of their natural hand gestures, such as their invitation to play.
Bonobos are known for using tools, including using leaves as cover for rain and brandishing branches in social displays. They make a new nest for sleeping each night, and sometimes construct a nest during the day. Most nests are made in trees, but occasionally ground nests are constructed. As seed dispersers, bonobos play an important ecological role in forest regeneration.
Bonobos typically live 40 years in captivity; their lifespan in the wild is unknown.
THREATS TO BONOBOS
It is estimated there are between 29,500 and 50,000 bonobos. The species is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and is threatened by habitat destruction and human population growth and movement. The bonobo population is believed to have declined sharply in the last 30 years. Because bonobos only bear offspring every 4 to 5 years, the population is slow to regenerate.
Bushmeat hunting is the greatest threat to bonobos. 90% of humans in the region where bonobos live can only afford to eat one meal a day. They are increasingly turning to wild sources of meat for sustenance. They also hunt bonobos for profit in the commercial bushmeat trade.
The Congo is setting aside more than 11,000 square miles of rainforest to help protect the endangered bonobo, and U.S. agencies, conservation groups, and the Congolese government have come together to set aside 11,803 square miles of tropical rainforest. However, a reserve may need to be established in a more stable part of Africa, or on an island in a place such as Indonesia, to save bonobos.
Porcupines are rodents with a coat of sharp spines, or quills, that protect them against predators. The term covers two families of animals, the Old World porcupines and New World porcupines. Both families belong to the Hystricognathi branch of the vast order Rodentia, both display similar coats of quills, but they still are quite different and are not closely related.
Porcupines occupy a short range of habitats in tropical and temperate parts of Asia, Southern Europe, Africa, and North and South America. Porcupines live in forests, deserts, rocky outcrops and hillsides. Some New World porcupines live in trees, but Old World porcupines stay on the rocks. Porcupines can be found on rocky areas up to 12,100 feet high.
Porcupines are the third largest of the rodents, behind the capybara and the beaver. Most porcupines are about 25 to 36 inches long, with an 8 to 10 inch long tail. Weighing 12 to 35 lb, they are rounded, large and slow. Porcupines come in various shades of brown, gray, and the unusual white. Porcupines' spiny protection resembles that of the unrelated hedgehogs and Australian spiny anteaters.
Quills come in varying lengths and colors, depending on the animal's age and species. Porcupines' quills, or spines, take on various forms, but all are modified hairs coated with thick plates of keratin, and embedded in the skin musculature. Old World porcupines have quills embedded in clusters, whereas in New World porcupines, single quills are interspersed with bristles, underfur and hair. Quills are released by contact with them or may drop out when the porcupine shakes its body. New quills grow to replace lost ones.
Porcupines have a relatively high longevity and had held the record for being the longest-living rodent, until it was recently broken by the naked mole-rat.
The New World porcupines are indigenous to North America and northern South America. They live in wooded areas and can climb on trees, where some species spend their entire lives. They are less strictly nocturnal than their Old World relatives, and generally smaller. In taxonomic terms they form the family of the Erethizontidae.
The two subfamilies of New World porcupines are mostly smaller than Old World porcupines, have their quills attached singly rather than grouped in clusters, and are excellent climbers. The New World porcupines are more closely related to several other families of rodent than they are to the Old World porcupines.
New World porcupines are stout animals, with blunt, rounded heads, fleshy, mobile snouts, and coats of thick, cylindrical or flattened spines ("quills"). The spines are mixed with long, soft hairs. They vary in size from the relatively small prehensile-tailed porcupines, which are around 12 inches long, and weigh about 32 oz, to the much larger North American porcupine, which has a body length of 34 inches, and weighs up to 40 lb.
They are distinguished from the Old World porcupines in that they have rooted molars, complete collar bones, entire upper lips, no trace of first front toes, and four teats. Their long and powerful prehensile tails help them balance when they are in the tree tops. Their diets consist mainly of bark, leaves, and conifer needles, but can also include roots, stems, berries, fruits, seeds, nuts, grasses, and flowers. Some species also eat insects and small reptiles. Solitary offspring (or, rarely, twins) are born after a gestation period of up to 210 days, depending on the species. The young are born fully developed, with open eyes, and are able to climb trees within a few days of birth.
The Old World porcupines live in southern Europe, Asia, and most of Africa. They are large, terrestrial, and strictly nocturnal. In taxonomic terms they form the family of the Hystricidae. The eleven Old World porcupines tend to be fairly big, and have spikes that are grouped in clusters.
Old World porcupines are stout, heavily built animals, with blunt, rounded heads, fleshy, mobile snouts, and coats of thick cylindrical or flattened spines, which form the whole covering of their bodies and are not intermingled with ordinary hairs. The habits of most species are strictly terrestrial. They vary in size from the relatively small long–tailed porcupine with body lengths of 11 to 18.9 inches, and a weight of 3.3 to 5.1 lb, to the much larger crested porcupines, which are 24 to 33 inches long, discounting the tail, and weigh from 29 to 60 lb.
The various species are typically herbivorous, eating fruit, roots, and bulbs. Some species also gnaw on dry bones, perhaps as a source of calcium. Like other rodents, they have powerful gnawing incisors, and no canine teeth. One or two (or, rarely, three) young are born after a gestation period between 90 and 112 days, depending on the species. Females typically give birth only once a year, in a grass-lined underground chamber within a burrow system. The young are born more or less fully developed, and the spines, which are initially soft, harden within a few hours of birth. Although they begin to take solid food within two weeks, they are not fully weaned until 13 to 19 weeks after birth. The young remain with the colony until they reach sexual maturity at around two years of age, and share the burrow system with their parents and siblings from other litters. Males, in particular, help defend the colony from intruders, although both sexes are aggressive towards unrelated porcupines.
Old World porcupines are also characterized by imperfectly rooted cheek-teeth, imperfect collar-bones, cleft upper lips, rudimentary first front-toes, smooth soles, six teats arranged on the side of the body, and many cranial characters.
THREATS TO PORCUPINES
Porcupines are only occasionally eaten in western culture, but are very popular in Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam, where the prominent use of them as a food source has contributed to significant declines in their populations. Kenya porcupines are eaten as a delicacy. Overhunting has been cited as the porcupine's greatest threat. They are also commercially farmed.
Porcupine quills have long been harvested for clothing, musical instruments, containers and accessories. When porcupine populations are near cultivated areas, they can become viewed as “agricultural pests”. They are smoked out of their burrows and hunted with spears, nets, or dogs. These practices have eliminated them from densely settled areas.
Fish are cold blooded, live in water and are covered in scales. They breathe through gills located on the sides of their heads. Their gills take oxygen out of the water around them so they can breathe. Their limbs, if they have any, are in the shape of fins and do not have digits. They exhibit greater species diversity than any other group of vertebrates, with over 32,000 known species.
Fish live in oceans and freshwater ecosystems. Well adapted to their water world, fish secrete a special type of mucus from their skin. The slime coating helps them move through water faster, protects them against parasites and diseases and covers wounds to prevent infection.
Most fish have color vision that is at least as good as a human's. Many fish also have chemoreceptors that are responsible for extraordinary senses of taste and smell. Sensitive receptors allow fish to detect gentle currents and vibrations, and to sense the motion of nearby fish and prey. Some fish have organs that detect electric currents. Some can even produce electric currents, which they use in navigation and social communication.
Fish orient themselves using landmarks and mental maps based on multiple landmarks or symbols. They possess spatial memory and visual discrimination.
Over 97% of all known fish are oviparous, that is, the eggs develop outside the mother's body. Newly hatched babies are called larvae and do not look like their parents until they go through metamorphosis.
Jaws allow fish to eat a wide variety of food, including plants and other organisms. Many are specialists, eating very limited diets. Others will eat almost anything. Cleaner wrasses eat parasites off of other fish, setting up cleaning stations that predators visit who even allow the wrasse into their mouths to clean their teeth.
Fish Extinction Crisis
Fishing, rising water demand, river dams, water pollution and invasive species place aquatic ecosystems among the most endangered on Earth. Therefore, the fact that many species of fish – both marine, and freshwater – are currently endangered, does not come as a surprise. More than one fifth of all known fish species are now considered to be at imminent risk.
FASCINATING FISH FACTS
Fish range in size from the nearly microscopic to the gigantic. The longest fish is the whale shark at over 55 feet. The whale shark is also the heaviest, weighing 80,000 pounds.
The smallest fish is the tiny stout infantfish at only 0.3 in.
The fastest fish is the swordfish, swimming at seeds of 40 mph.
THE LONGEST LIVED
European eels live the longest, well over 80 years.
SMART & SOCIAL
Fish have been proven to be as intelligent as mammals. They can distinguish between larger and smaller quantities and can count. Fish clean and massage one another by rubbing up against each others’ pectoral fins. They have advanced nervous systems that allow them to feel pain. They have highly-developed hearing capabilities that allow them to detect electric currents in the water, and can create their own electric currents. Archerfish fire jets of water to knock insects off foliage and into the water, requiring complex calculus calculations.
TOGETHER FOR LIFE
French angelfish mate for life and spend most of their time swimming together in their coral reef homes. When couples reunite after being separated, they joyfully encircle each other round-and-round in a romantic dance called "carouseling."
Coral trout hunt in collaboration with moray eels. Cleaner wrasse perform rituals to coherce predators into letting them pick off parasites.
Some fish protect their babies by opening their mouths and letting the babies swim inside until the predator has passed by.
Squid are very curious, have the ability to learn complex skills and use tools to repress their boredom and protect them from harm. They can change their body color and texture to not only blend in with their surroundings, but to convey different messages on both sides of their bodies, such as projecting a mating color on one side and warning off a predator on the other.
FRIENDS & FAMILY
Fish live in groups with social hierarchies. They are able to recognize individual family members, form bonds with other fish, cooperate and even tell time.
LOVERS OF MUSIC
Goldfish not only enjoy listening to music, but they also can distinguish one composer from another and detect complex properties of sounds, such as pitch and timbre. Goldfish can tell different faces apart and are able to distinguish between different shapes, colors and sounds.
FISH FEEL PAIN
While fish may have different brain structures than mammals, they do have nervous systems that comprehend and respond to pain. Numerous studies have proven that fish feel and react to pain. Without the ability to feel pain, it would be impossible for fish to survive. Pain perception is essential to animal survival and has deep evolutionary origins across all vertebrate species. Billions of fish are killed yearly for food in the U.S. alone, with no federal laws to protect fish from pain on aquaculture factory farms, during fishing events or at slaughter.
Beavers are castorimorph rodents, a suborder of rodents who live in North America and Europe. There are two species of beaver, the European or Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) and the North American beaver (Castor canadensis). Beavers are the second largest rodent in the world after the capybara.
Beavers have webbed hind-feet, and broad, scaly tails. Beavers do not have good eyesight, but they posses good senses of smell, hearing, and touch. Their teeth grow continuously throughout their lives so as not to be worn down by chewing wood. Their powerful front teeth are used to cut trees and plants used by beavers for food and for constructing their homes. While slow on land, beavers are excellent swimmers and are able to stay under water for around 15 minutes.
Beavers are herbivores. They prefer the wood of birch, maple, cottonwood, willow, quaking aspen, alder and cherry trees. They also eat water lilies, sedges and pondweed.
Beavers are well known for building dams on rivers and streams, and for building "lodges" in the ponds created by their dams. They also construct canals used to float their building materials. Their incredible construction abilities makes beavers a keystone species as they create wetlands that are inhabited by many other species. No other animal, with the exception of humans, shapes their landscape as much as beavers. The ponds and the wetlands they create help to remove sediments and pollutants from waterways.
If a beaver's chosen home has no existing ponds, they must construct a dam along a river to create a pond before building their lodges. Sometimes they create a series of dams. The dams also provide protection against predators, such as bears, coyotes and wolves, and create easy access to food sources during the winter months.
To construct a dam, beavers erect vertical poles which are then filled with a crisscross of horizontal branches. The gaps between the branches are stuffed with weeds and mud. They always work at night. Beavers carry their building supplies with their fore-paws and their teeth.
Beaver lodges are constructed similarly to their dams. Lodges have underwater entrances, making it almost impossible for other types of animals to enter. Two den areas within the lodge allow a space for drying off, and another space designated as a living area.
Lodges house up to four adult beavers and up to eight children. Beavers spend the winter in their lodges with a winter stock of wood for eating. Throughout winter, they eat the underbark of sticks and logs they keep stored in their ponds. The top of the pile accumulates snow in the winter, insulating the water and providing an area where they can breathe when outside their lodge. When the ice breaks up in the spring, they leave their lodges to roam until fall.
Eurasian beavers don’t always build lodges—sometimes they dig burrows in stream banks. The entrance, however, is also underwater.
Beavers are known for their unique alarm signal. Frightened and startled beavers rapidly dive while slapping the water with their tails, making a loud sound that can be heard both above and below water. The warning signal alerts other nearby beavers to dive to safety.
Beaver families consist of a monogamous adult male and female couple and their kits and yearlings. While they mate for life; if their spouse dies they will partner with another beaver. Beaver families have up to ten members, in addition to the pair. The mother and father both take part in raising the children. They also both mark and defend their territory, and together they build and repair their dams and lodges.
Baby beavers spend their first month inside the lodge, being taken care of mostly by their mother while their father maintains the territory. They spend most of their time playing. As yearlings they learn to help their parents repair dams and lodges and collect food caches in the fall. Older offspring often continue to live with their families. They continue to help keep up repairs and build food caches, and also help with grooming, feeding, and guarding younger beavers. Older siblings will also take over the responsibility of parenting if the original parents die or are somehow separated from them.
When beavers do leave their childhood home, they usually do not move far away. They recognize their family members through smells created by anal gland secretions, creating more tolerant behavior among neighboring beavers.
Beavers continue to grow throughout their lives, with adults growing to over 55 lb. Females are as big as or larger than males. In the wild, beavers live up to 24 years.
THREATS TO BEAVERS
There were once over 60 million North American beaver, but as a result of hunting for its fur, its glands for medicine and because the beavers tree-felling and dams affect other land uses, the population has declined to around 12 million.
The principal threats to beaver populations are habitat destruction and degradation. Human population growth and increasing demands on water resources lead to water storage, diversion, and channelization projects that affect rivers, lakes, and wetlands. Water uses can cause short and long-term effects on beaver habitat by changing seasonal flow regimes and stream morphology, and by causing loss or degradation of riparian vegetation.
Intense grazing by wild and domestic ungulates in a riparian zone is also a primary cause of beaver habitat degradation. Although commercial trapping is no longer a threat to the species, depredation trapping to mitigate beaver damage, and illegal shooting and trapping are localized threats.
Otters – their irresistible appearances and humorous antics tend to endear them to animal lovers worldwide. These carnivorous little mammals belong to a branch of the weasel family Mustelidae, and they can be found in habitats on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
There are thirteen different species of otter, each species living in areas close to water, since they’re either semi-aquatic, aquatic, or marine living animals. Otters will hunt and swim in ocean waters, rivers, wetlands, marshes, streams and lakes, staying in shallower areas close to land in order to avoid predators in the water.
The otter is uniquely adapted to life spent mostly swimming, and the sea otter most of all. Their long, slim physique, short limbs, webbed paws and (in most species) muscular tails help to propel them effortlessly in an aquatic environment. An insulating undercoat is protected by a layer of longer guard hairs, helping to keep them warm underwater as well, particularly since some species live in cold water habitats. Otters spend a lot of time grooming their coats and will actually ‘blow’ air into their fur to ensure a good insulating layer exists between the undercoat and top coat of fur.
Adult otters can range from 2 to 5.9 feet in length and 2.2 to 99.2 lb in weight, with the Oriental small-clawed otter being the most diminutive otter species, and the giant otter and sea otter being the largest.
It’s not unusual for otters to hunt for as many as five hours each day. Nursing otter mothers often hunt as many as eight hours daily to fulfill their nutritional needs. The high metabolic rates of many otter species means that they need to eat a significant portion of their body weight each day to help them keep warm.
European otters need to eat about 15% of their weight daily, while sea otters may need to eat as much as 25% of their own body weight each day, depending on the temperature of the water in their unique habitat.
These furry carnivores are active and efficient hunters, eating mainly fish but often adding frogs, crayfish, crabs, sea urchins or shellfish to their daily menu. Some otters even feed on small mammals, turtles or birds when needed. Sea otters are known to use tools - this species will carry a rock in the pouch of skin under its arm, using it to smash open the shells of crustaceans like clams and abalone.
Although most otter species prefer to be in the water for a majority of the time (an exception is the river otter, which swims only to hunt or move from place to place), they build dens (called holts) on land from branches, twigs, sand, and occasionally abandoned beaver dens. These dry land territories are often generously marked by the otter with droppings to mark their habitat, leaving a distinctive smell around the area that’s been described as smelling like anything from fresh cut hay to rotting fish.
The otter social structure is also fascinating. While some species live alone, others may live in a large family group referred to as a bevy, lodge, romp, or raft of otters. Groups of males and groups of females with pups tend to stay separate, with males and females usually only interacting to mate. Otters are very playful, too. They can often be found playing chase with one another, wrestling, and sliding down hills or snow into the water, purely for the sheer fun of it.
These lively little mammals can become ready to mate anywhere from two to five years of age depending on species, and have a gestation period of 60 to 86 days before pups are born into the den. Sea otters only tend to give birth to one pup at a time, while other species may have up to five pups in one litter.
Newborn otter pups are cared for by the mother, and although they’re able to swim on their own after a few months, pups generally tend to stay with their family group for the first year of their lives. Sea otter pups in particular are cared for very closely, resting on their mother’s chest to sleep and feed, or, when the mother needs to hunt, left wrapped in a bed of sea kelp to float safely on the surface, since their extremely buoyant coat doesn’t allow them to dive until they’re older.
Although there are some differences from species to species, otters have an approximate lifespan of up to 16 years.
THREATS TO OTTERS
Because of their luxurious, dense coats, some otter species have historically been hunted for their pelts to near extinction status. Poaching, pesticide use and habitat loss also threaten otter populations around the world, and in areas like the Amazon River basin, toxic pollutants from mining affects natural waterways where otters live and hunt.
Some otter species have been extended environmental protection, particularly sea otters, and some populations are gradually increasing again from dangerously low numbers.
In Bangladesh, smooth-coated otters are still bred and used by fishermen to drive fish into their nets, although this practice is becoming far less popular with the introduction of technology that makes fishing more efficient.
Mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish and birds all have backbones. All these animals make up less than 4% of the total animals species. Over 96% of all the animal species on earth are invertebrates. Invertebrates are cold blooded animals that do not have backbones and do not have a skeleton of bone, either internal or external. Some have fluid-filled skeletons, while others have hard exoskeletons, or outer shells.
TYPES OF INVERTEBRATES
● Marine invertebrates are ocean animals without backbones, including starfish, sponges, jellyfish, corals and anemones.
● Mollusks have a soft body covered by an outer layer, a mantle. Many live inside a shell. Mollusks include slugs, snails, squid, octopuses and oysters.
● Crustaceans are a type of arthropod, meaning they have jointed legs. Their bones are on the outside of their bodies, like a shell. Crustaceans include shrimp, crabs, lobsters and barnacles.
● Worms are invertebrates that don't have legs. They live in soil, water, or inside other animals as parasites. Worms include earthworms, tapeworms and leeches.
● Spiders, centipedes and scorpions are part of the arthropod phylum, but they are arachnids, not insects, because they have eight legs. Centipedes and millipedes are myriapods and have lots of legs. The average home houses 30 spiders. You are always only three feet from a spider.
● Insects make up the largest group of animals in the world, the arthropods. There are over 1 million species of insects.
Invertebrate Extinction Crisis
Invertebrates, from mollusks to butterflies to earthworms to corals, exhibit vast levels of diversion. Almost 97% of all animal species on earth are estimated to belong to this group. One-third of the known invertebrate species are now threatened with extinction. Water pollution, water projects, and groundwater withdrawal threaten freshwater invertebrates, while deforestation and animal agriculture is also a great factor of invertebrate endangerment or extinction. In addition, reef-building corals in the ocean are diminishing at an increasing rate.
FASCINATING INVERTEBRATE FACTS
The giant cranch squid is the largest squid species in terms of mass. At over 40 feet long, it is the largest known invertebrate. The longest invertebrate is the ribbon worm which can grow to 180 feet long.
The smallest, the wheel animal, is too small to see with your eyes.
Tiny mites are the fastest animals in the world when it comes to body size.
THE LONGEST LIVED
Clams can live over 400 years. Some corals live even longer.
The octopus has a sophisticated navigation system in its brain that helps it navigate complex mazes, as well as stay one tentacle ahead of any opportunist predators. Octopi have been known to solve problems and play together, and have an impressive short-term memory. They have even been known to sneak aboard fishing boats and pry open holds to steal captured crabs, and can open jars. They use shells and other objects to build defense structures against predators. They are capable of foresight, planning and using their tentacles as tools. Octopuses collect bottle caps, attractive stones and other finds from the ocean floor and decorate their dens with them, repositioning an object if it doesn’t seem to suit the design.
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. They are also classified into a special group called araneae because they have very slender waists compared to other arachnida. Most spiders are carnivorous, usually feeding on insects. Some are big enough to prey on larger animals such as mice or small birds. Without spiders, insect numbers would skyrocket and bugs would devour our crops. Most spiders eat about 2,000 insects a year. Some spiders live in silk-lined burrows and leap out to capture prey. Some lie in ambush. Some go hunting in search of prey and others spin webs to entrap them. Some spiders capture prey with silk-made nets, and others use spider silk as "fishing lines". Spider silk is also used to protect their babies, to create shelters and to assist them as they move and reproduce. Some spiders even build "submarines" that hold air so they can stay under water. Most live on land, but a few live in and on water and can run across water. Spider webs are made of continuous strands of spider silk produced from glands under their bellies. Most take about 60 minutes to construct. The webs have three parts: the frame, built first and attached to plants or other objects; the radii, which radiate out from the center like spokes of a bicycle and transmit vibrations from prey; and the catching spiral, the sticky threads that stretch without breaking making it difficult for insects to escape. Small and young spiders can travel for miles on air breezes, a travel method called ballooning. To lure other spiders from their webs, the jumping spider plucks rhythms at the corner of a web to mimic a trapped insect. Some spiders live in complex communities housing thousands of individuals, building large communal webs, working together to trap prey and sharing the harvest.
Amphibians are cold blooded, breathe air through their skin and do not have hair or scales. Amphibians go through a metamorphosis; starting from an egg, morphing into larvae that is typically aquatic, breathing by gills, and growing into semi-terrestrial adults that breathe by lungs and through moist skin.
REPTILE OR AMPHIBIAN?
Amphibious means ‘belonging to both land and water’ - but not all amphibious creatures are amphibians. Marine iguanas, sea snakes, crocodiles and pond turtles are all amphibious but they are considered reptiles because they do not go through a metamorphosis. They also have scales; amphibians have no scales. While both amphibians and reptiles come from eggs, amphibian eggs need to stay moist or wet as they develop and are usually laid in water.
Amphibians include frogs, toads, newts, salamanders and caecilians – who resemble earthworms or snakes and hide in the ground, making them the least familiar of amphibians.. Most amphibians eat small animals like insects. Amphibians are divided into 3 major groups; salamanders, frogs and toads.
Amphibian Extinction Crisis
Amphibians have the sad privilege of being endangered more than any other animal group. At least 30 percent of all amphibian species are now threatened to disappear. Toads, frogs, and salamanders are vanishing due to animal agriculture, habitat loss, air and water pollution, global warming, UV light exposure, disease, and the introduction of exotic species. Because this group of animals is overly sensitive to environmental change, they should be regarded as the canary in the global coal mine. Amphibians alert us to minor but definite changes in the ecosystem that could lead to the extinction of many more species, not excluding humans.
FASCINATING AMPHIBIAN FACTS
The largest amphibian is the giant salamander at 4 feet 8 inches long. The giant salamander is also the heaviest, weighing in at a whopping 88 pounds.
The smallest amphibian in the world is a frog from New Guinea, Paedophryne amauensis, at only 0.30 inches.
The fastest amphibian is an Andean salamander, which can travel at speeds of 15 mph.
THE LONGEST LIVED
The giant salamander lives the longest, over 50 years.
Baby amphibians hatch from eggs in water, starting off as polliwogs or tadpoles with no limbs and breathing through gills like fish. Some amphibians care for their eggs and babies, while others abandon their eggs in water and offer no care. When amphibian eggs hatch, the babies do not look like their parents. They start off as a larva, then undergo metamorphosis to transform into an adult form. Some amphibians, like toads, the process of going from an egg to a toad may only takes a few weeks. For others, like bullfrogs, the process may take two years.
Giant South African bullfrogs are devoted fathers who have attacked lions and elephants while defending tadpoles. Some male frogs in the rainforest, who send messages by drumming with their feet, are the sole caretakers of their young. After the mother lays eggs, the father guards the nest and carries his children on his back.
Raccoons are medium-sized mammals native to North America. The raccoon is the largest of the procyonid family, having a body length of 16 to 28 inches and a body weight of 8 to 20 lb. Two of the raccoon's most distinctive features are its extremely dexterous front paws and its facial mask - the area of black fur around the eyes which contrasts sharply with the surrounding white face coloring. This is reminiscent of a "bandit's mask" and has thus enhanced the animal's reputation for mischief. Raccoons are noted for their intelligence.
The original habitats of the raccoon were deciduous and mixed forests, but due to their adaptability they have extended their range to mountainous areas, coastal marshes, and urban areas. As a result of escapes and deliberate introductions in the mid-20th century, raccoons also now live across the European mainland, the Caucasus region and Japan. Although they have thrived in sparsely wooded areas in the last decades, raccoons depend on vertical structures to climb when they feel threatened. Therefore, they avoid open terrain and areas with high concentrations of beech trees, as beech bark is too smooth to climb. Tree hollows in old oaks or other trees and rock crevices are preferred by raccoons as sleeping, winter and litter dens. If such dens are unavailable or accessing them is inconvenient, raccoons use burrows dug by other mammals, dense undergrowth or tree crotches. Since amphibians, crustaceans, and other animals found around the shore of lakes and rivers are an important part of the raccoon's diet, lowland deciduous or mixed forests abundant with water and marshes are the favorite homes of raccoons.
The shape and size of a raccoon's home range varies depending on age, sex, and habitat, with adults claiming areas more than twice as large as juveniles.
Home range sizes vary anywhere from 7 acres for females in cities to 20 square miles for males in prairies. Irrespective of whether the home ranges of adjacent groups overlap, they are most likely not actively defended outside the mating season if food supplies are sufficient. Odor marks on prominent spots establish home ranges and identify individuals.
The most important sense for the raccoon is its sense of touch. The "hyper sensitive" front paws are protected by a thin horny layer which becomes pliable when wet. The five digits of the paws have no webbing between them, but they lack an opposable thumb. Raccoons are thought to be color blind or at least poorly able to distinguish color, though their eyes are well-adapted for sensing green light.
Raccoons recognize the facial expression and posture of other members of their species more quickly because of the conspicuous facial coloration and the alternating light and dark rings on the tail. The dark mask may also reduce glare and thus enhance night vision. On other parts of the body, the long and stiff guard hairs, which shed moisture, are usually colored in shades of gray and, to a lesser extent, brown. The dense underfur, which accounts for almost 90% of the coat, keeps raccoons well insulated against cold weather.
Raccoons engage in gender-specific social behaviors and are not typically solitary, as was previously thought. Related females often live in a so-called "fission-fusion society", that is, they share a common area and occasionally meet at feeding or resting grounds. Unrelated males often form loose male social groups to maintain their position against foreign males during the mating season—or against other potential invaders. These groups usually consist of up to four individuals. Since some males show aggressive behavior towards unrelated kits, mothers will isolate themselves from other raccoons until their kits are big enough to defend themselves.
Though usually nocturnal, the raccoon is sometimes active in daylight to take advantage of available food sources. Its diet consists of about 40% invertebrates, 33% plant material and 27% vertebrates. While its diet in spring and early summer consists mostly of insects, worms, and other animals already available early in the year, it prefers fruits and nuts, such as acorns and walnuts, which emerge in late summer and autumn and represent a rich calorie source for building up fat needed for winter. Contrary to popular belief, raccoons eat active or large prey such as birds and mammals only occasionally. When food is plentiful, raccoons can develop strong individual preferences for specific foods.
Raccoons usually mate in a period triggered by increasing daylight between late January and mid-March. During the mating season, males restlessly roam their home ranges in search of females in an attempt to court them during the three to four day period when conception is possible. These encounters will often occur at central meeting places. Copulation, including foreplay, can last over an hour and is repeated over several nights. The weaker members of a male social group also get the opportunity to mate, since the stronger ones cannot mate with all available females. If a female does not become pregnant or if she loses her kits early, she will sometimes become fertile again 80 to 140 days later. After 63 to 70 days, a litter of typically two to five young is born. The average litter size varies widely with habitat, ranging from 2.5 in Alabama to 4.8 in North Dakota. Males have no part in raising young. The kits (also called "cubs") are blind and deaf at birth, but their mask is already visible against their light fur. After six to nine weeks, they begin to explore outside the den, consuming solid food for the first time. After this point, their mother suckles them with decreasing frequency. They are usually weaned by 16 weeks. In the fall, after their mother has shown them dens and feeding grounds, the juvenile group splits up. While many females will stay close to the home range of their mother, males can sometimes move more than 12 miles away. However, mother and offspring may share a den during the first winter in cold areas.
THREATS TO RACCOONS
Young raccoons are vulnerable to losing their mother and to starvation, particularly in long and cold winters. The most frequent natural cause of death in the North American raccoon population is distemper, which can reach epidemic proportions and kill most of a local raccoon population. In areas with heavy vehicular traffic and extensive hunting, these factors can account for up to 90% of all deaths of adult raccoons. The most important natural predators of the raccoon are bobcats, coyotes, and great horned owls, the latter mainly preying on young raccoons.
Raccoons’ lives are often cut short by the inhumane fur industry. Like foxes, raccoons are hunted by starved dogs and often suffer in steel-jaw traps, where they endure hours of agony before they are killed—or chew an arm or leg off in an effort to escape. Raccoons are also raised on “fur farms”, often in horrific conditions. Raccoons are sometimes kept as pets, which is inhumane because the raccoon is not a domesticated species. Raccoons may act unpredictably and aggressively from the extreme stress of captivity.
Natural avian drilling experts, woodpeckers are well-known in popular culture. These notorious members of the Picidae family are almost exclusively tree-dwellers, and are found in treed areas throughout most of the world, with the exception of Australia, New Zealand, Madagascar and the more extreme Polar Regions. There’s far greater species diversity present in rainforest habitats, but woodpeckers can be found in savannahs, scrublands and bamboo forests as well. A few species do inhabit grassland or desert, sometimes nesting in taller cacti plants instead of trees, or, like the enterprising ground woodpecker, in holes that they dig themselves. The presence of deadwood is important for breeding populations of forest woodpecker species.
Generally, woodpecker species have similar physiological characteristics. Depending on species, they can range in size from around 6” up to 21” in length, and up to just over 1lb in weight. The largest woodpecker species is thought to be the ivory-billed woodpecker, which had been listed as extinct for a large part of the 20th century but was rediscovered again in 2005.
A woodpecker’s strong bill and thickened skull are suitable for drilling on trees, and their brain is smaller in size and oriented differently from other avians to protect it from damage caused by repeated impacts. In fact, a woodpecker can repeatedly peck on a tree from around 8,000 to 12,000 times a day, at velocities of up to 10,000 m/s2. Their nostrils are slit-like and covered by protective feathers, while their eyes have a thick membrane that closes just before the bird makes contact, protecting them from flying pieces of wood or tree bark.
A woodpecker’s tail and feet are also uniquely functional; stiffened tail feathers actually help to act as a prop or support for them as they forage or rest in between bouts of drilling, and their feet, which have two toes facing forwards and two facing backwards, are adapted to assist them with grasping tree limbs and walking vertically up tree trunks as they forage. The males of many woodpecker species also tend to have distinctive red or yellow head markings.
Woodpeckers spend a large part of their day foraging for food. Their diet is mainly made up of insects like ants, termites, beetles, spiders and grubs from trees, though they’ll also feed on fruit, nuts and tree sap. They either collect food from the crevices in bark, or excavate holes in the wood to reach their prey, reaching in and capturing it with a long, barbed tongue. It’s a fact that many woodpecker species have a positive ecological impact on the trees they live in, since they help to control insect infestations that could damage forested areas.
When it comes to social behavior, each woodpecker species is different; some are extremely antisocial, aggressively driving away other woodpeckers, while others live in communal breeding groups, or join mixed-species flocks when they’re feeding. Staying within a larger group allows them to reduce their vigilance towards predators and increase their rate of successful foraging as well. They’re most active during the day, roosting at night inside holes (often tree cavities), which they’ll also use as nesting sites. Roosts are typically lined with the wood chips produced as a hole is made, and most woodpeckers will usually only build one nest each breeding season, though sometimes it takes them multiple tries before they find a location that’s just right. A breeding pair can take up to a month to finish excavating the perfect nest, and abandoned attempts are often used by other bird species and small mammals. They’ll often need to determinedly defend their nest once it becomes usable, since they face competition for nesting sites from other woodpeckers or different species of cavity nesting birds.
The majority of woodpecker species are monogamous, mating and raising offspring with the same partner, but some species will breed and raise chicks in cooperation with other birds or even practice polygamy. Tree drumming is often used as part of communication and courtship rituals between males and females. A mated pair jointly builds a nest, incubates the eggs, and raises young together. In most species the male tends to do most of the ‘heavy lifting’, since he performs the majority of the nest excavation and night time incubation duties. Egg clutches are usually 2-5 in number, and incubate for around 11-14 days before they hatch. The chicks are blind and featherless at first, and one parent remains in the nest at a time while the other forages and brings food back to feed them. Most woodpeckers are ready to leave the nest between 20 and 30 days of age, beginning their own one-bird drilling operations. Woodpeckers tend to live anywhere between 4-11 years of age.
THREATS TO WOODPECKERS
Like many other endangered avians, many species of woodpeckers are threatened by loss of their habitat through human activities like removal of deadwood, large scale clearing, and agricultural development. Pesticide use in many parts of the world also threatens woodpecker populations, and changes in climate are becoming a larger issue as well. Drought tends to increase the incidence of severe forest fires that destroy mature trees (which woodpeckers use for nesting), and outbreaks of parasitic insects like the pine beetle can affect large stands of forested habitat that woodpeckers use for nesting. Several species, including the Imperial, Ivory-billed and Okinawa woodpeckers are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Corals are marine invertebrates in the class Anthozoa of phylum Cnidaria. They typically live in compact colonies of many identical individual polyps. The group includes the important reef builders that inhabit tropical oceans and secrete calcium carbonate to form a hard skeleton.
Corals are sessile, which means that they permanently attach themselves to the ocean floor, essentially "taking root" like most plants do. We certainly cannot recognize them by their faces or other distinct body parts, as we can most other animals. So what exactly are corals? Corals actually comprise an ancient and unique partnership, called symbiosis, that benefits both animal and plant life in the ocean. Corals are animals, though, because they do not make their own food, as plants do. Corals have tiny, tentacle-like arms that they use to capture their food from the water and sweep into their inscrutable mouths.
Most structures that we call "coral" are, in fact, made up of hundreds to thousands of tiny coral creatures called polyps. Each soft-bodied polyp - most no thicker than a nickel - secretes a hard outer skeleton of limestone (calcium carbonate) that attaches either to rock or the dead skeletons of other polyps.
In the case of stony or hard corals, these polyp conglomerates grow, die, and endlessly repeat the cycle over time...slowly laying the limestone foundation for coral reefs and giving shape to the familiar corals that reside there. Because of this cycle of growth, death, and regeneration among individual polyps, many coral colonies can live for a very long time.
Most corals contain algae called zooxanthellae, which are plant-like organisms. Residing within the coral's tissues, the microscopic algae are well protected and make use of the coral's metabolic waste products for photosynthesis, the process by which plants make their own food. The corals benefit, in turn, as the algae produce oxygen, remove wastes, and supply the organic products of photosynthesis that corals need to grow, thrive, and build up the reef. More than merely a clever collaboration that has endured between some of the tiniest ocean animals and plants for some 25 million years, this mutual exchange is the reason why coral reefs are the largest structures of biological origin on earth, and rival old-growth forests in the longevity of their ecological communities.
Corals are a vital part of the marine world. There are around 70,000 different species of coral throughout the oceans of the world. They are most numerous in warm and tropical climates in the southern hemisphere.
Corals are divided into two subspecies based on how many tentacles they have. Corals with eight tentacles are known as Alcyonaria, which includes sea fans, soft coral and sea pens. Corals with more than eight tentacles are known as Zoantharia, which includes the coral species found in coral reefs.
Although some corals can catch small fish and plankton, using stinging cells on their tentacles, most corals obtain the majority of their energy and nutrients from algae that live within the coral's tissue. Corals require sunlight and grow in clear, shallow water, typically at depths shallower than 200 feet. Some species have adapted to living in deeper levels of the oceans.
Corals live from 3 months to 30 years, depending on the species. Coral species that make up the extensive coral reefs usually live much longer than species like the softer corals, which live on their own.
Coral reefs support more species than any other marine environment. Reefs rival rainforests in the amount of biodiversity they support. Thousands of creatures rely on coral reefs for their survival. They provide hiding places for marine animals to evade predators, and serve as a meeting and breeding ground.
Hidden beneath the ocean waters, reefs are also some of the oldest ecosystems on the planet, reflecting thousands of years of history. Although individual coral polyps are tiny, they create the largest living structures on earth - some reefs are visible from space.
THREATS TO CORAL
Coral reefs are under stress around the world. In particular, coral mining, agricultural and urban runoff, pollution (organic and inorganic), overfishing, blast fishing, disease, and the digging of canals and access into islands and bays are localized threats to coral ecosystems. Broader threats are sea temperature rise, sea level rise and pH changes from ocean acidification.
General estimates show approximately 10% of the world's coral reefs are dead. About 60% of the world's reefs are at risk due to human-related activities. The threat to reef health is particularly strong in Southeast Asia, where 80% of reefs are endangered. Over 50% of the world's coral reefs may be destroyed by 2030.
In the Caribbean and tropical Pacific, direct contact between common seaweeds and coral causes bleaching and death to the coral via transfer of lipid-soluble metabolites. Seaweed and algae proliferate given adequate nutrients and limited grazing by herbivores such as parrotfish.
Coral disease, tropical storms, tourism and recreation, vessel damage, marine debris and aquatic invasive species also threaten coral.
Many governments now prohibit removal of coral from reefs, and inform coastal residents about reef protection and ecology. While local action such as habitat restoration and herbivore protection can reduce local damage, the longer-term threats of acidification, temperature change and sea-level rise remain a challenge.
To eliminate destruction of corals in their indigenous regions, projects have been started to grow corals in non-tropical countries.
Colorful denizens of the trees, macaws are some of the most beautiful and charismatic birds on earth. Part of the parrot family Psittacidae, macaws in particular are New World creatures, native to South America, Central America and Mexico. There are 19 recorded species of macaw, including endangered or extinct ones; while most are found in rainforest habitats, where their bright plumage fits in with other colorful flowers, fruits and plants. Other species also exist in woodland or drier savannah-type regions.
The two main trademarks of a macaw, its large, curved beak and long tail, and a lighter colored facial patch (which varies in size between species), is what separates macaws from other types of parrots. Interestingly, each bird’s feather facial patterns are completely unique, much like fingerprints in humans. Most species are generally large birds, and they can range in size from 11.5 to 39.5 inches, and in weight from 4.5oz to 3.75 lb. The largest, the hyacinth macaw, has a wingspan of more than four feet! They’re also some of the most long-lived birds - many species of macaw can live from between 40-60 years of age in the wild, and larger macaws have survived up to age 75 in captivity.
In addition to their vibrant coloring, these birds have many other adaptations suited to tree dwelling. Strong feet with long, gripping toes that alternately face backward and forward (called zygodactyl) are used by the macaw to perch securely on branches, move from place to place, and grab and hold objects. Their powerful beaks allow them to easily crack open seeds and nuts, while their highly manoeuvrable, scaly tongue contains a bone that they use as a tool to manipulate food and tap into fruit.
As a rule, macaws are highly intelligent and social avians. They gather in canopy flocks that range from 10 to 30 birds, and their raucous voices - used in a language of squawks, screams and calls - are used to communicate with other birds, distinguish and identify each other, and mark territory. Macaws are also great mimics, and in captivity, some species easily learn how to imitate human speech and other sounds. Flocks sleep together in the trees overnight for security.
Like many other birds, omnivorous macaws will eat a wide variety of different foods that can include nuts, snails, fruit, seeds, leaves, palm fruit, flowers and stems. Some species travel long distances to forage, covering over 62 miles in some cases depending on the season and availability. They may even eat foods that contain toxic substances, which they seem to be able to digest. The practice of clay eating is also exclusive to macaw species in the Amazon Basin; with the exception of rainy days, these macaws visit exposed river banks daily to consume clay for its sodium content, since sodium is scarce in these species’ food sources. The clay is also thought to be a natural source of cobalamin (vitamin B12), and parent macaws in the western Amazon will feed their nestlings high amounts of clay after hatching.
Reproduction is a serious business for these birds. Reaching sexual maturity anywhere between 3 and 5 years, mated macaws are monogamous partners for life, raising their young together. Mated macaws will often lick and groom each other to display and enhance their bond together. Breeding typically happens every 1-2 years, and can happen in any season in the wild. Females lay between 1 to 4 eggs in the hollows of trees, usually located in the upper rainforest canopy, and do most of the work of incubation while the male brings them food in the nest. After hatching, the male also is the main provider for the nestlings, feeding them liquefied, regurgitated food until they’re able to eat on their own. Because they reach maturity far later than many other bird species, nestlings often stay with the parents for up to two years, and the male and female will not lay another set of eggs until the previous young are fully independent.
As adults, many macaws are able to escape predation by flying away and hiding in the canopy, but hatchlings, immature birds, and occasionally fully fledged macaws can be vulnerable to predators like snakes, monkeys, eagles, hawks and large cats. As bright as they are, adult macaws try to camouflage their nests as best as possible and are extremely vigilant when protecting their young.
THREATS TO MACAWS
Most species of macaws existing today are unfortunately endangered, some critically so. The two greatest threats to populations of macaws in the wild are the continuing deforestation of their natural habitats, which significantly reduces available nesting sites, and illegal capture of birds for the pet trade, in spite of regulated international trade laws. Some birds are also hunted locally for their meat and bright feathers, which are sold for decoration in handmade products or costuming. Blue and gold macaws tend to be the most numerous macaw species in captivity, with many hybrid variations of blue and gold and other macaw species becoming more popular in the commercial pet market. The destruction of their rainforest habitat is particularly concerning, in light of the fact that macaws don’t reproduce frequently or in large numbers, and it’s likely the largest reason why many species of these beautiful birds teeter on the brink of extinction in the wild.