Pandas are famous for their black and white markings. The legs, shoulders, ears and oval patches around the eyes are black, and the rest of the coat is white. Good tree climbers, pandas can also swim to escape predators. Pandas use an enlarged wrist bone that looks like a thumb to grasp objects like bamboo. They weigh an average of 200 to 300 pounds and reach six feet in length.
The shrinking range of the panda is limited to parts of Szechuan, Shensi and Kansu provinces in central and western China. Only around 1,000 pandas exist in the wild, and about 60 in zoos. The panda’s lifespan in the wild is unknown but in captivity averages more than 20 years.
The panda lives in thick bamboo and coniferous forests (evergreens with seed cones) at 8,500 to 11,500 feet elevation. The panda’s digestive system does not absorb the fiber, so it must eat a lot. Despite being taxonomically a carnivore, the panda has a diet that is overwhelmingly herbivorous. The giant panda eats shoots and leaves, living almost entirely on bamboo. Pandas are also known to eat eggs, the occasional fish, and some insects along with their bamboo diet. These are necessary sources of protein.
These solitary animals spend most of their days feeding. Although they live in cold forests, pandas do not hibernate. They move to lower elevations during winter to keep warm and to higher elevations in summer to stay cool. They do not have permanent homes but sleep at the bottom of trees and under stumps and rock ledges.
After a gestation period of 125 to 150 days, a mother panda gives birth to one or two young, but only one survives. Eyes open at six to eight weeks, and the cub starts to move around at three months. Weaned at six months, the cub becomes independent after a year.
For many decades the precise taxonomic classification of the panda was under debate as both the giant panda and the distantly related red panda share characteristics of both bears and raccoons. However, genetic testing seems to have revealed that giant pandas are true bears and part of the Ursidae family. Its closest bear relative is the Spectacled Bear of South America.
The giant panda has long been a favorite of the public, at least partly on account of the fact that the species has an appealing baby like cuteness that makes it seem to resemble a living teddy bear. The fact that it is usually depicted reclining peacefully eating bamboo, as opposed to hunting, also adds to its image of innocence. Though the giant panda is often assumed docile because of their cuteness, they have been known to attack humans, usually assumed to be out of irritation rather than predatory behavior.
THREATS TO PANDAS
The future of pandas is threatened due to habitat loss from increasing human populations; poaching; and periodic bamboo die-offs. Giant pandas are an endangered species. Their main threat is habitat destruction. As the population of China continues to grow, panda habitat, and the bamboo they feed on, is lost to development. Mining and agriculture also threaten panda habitat, as well as tourists.
Since pandas reproduce so infrequently, it is difficult for their population to recover. Wildlife reserves in parts of China seek to maintain habit for pandas, though China has been criticized for showing little interest in true conservation. The Chinese government rents pandas to zoos around the world.
Few pandas have been born in zoos, and only a handful of those have been released into the wild; the majority of which did not survive. The enormous amount of money spent on panda breeding programs has been criticized, as the money could be used much more effectively by saving wild habitats.
Zoo pandas suffer the same stresses all wild animals face in captivity. They are moved from zoo to zoo, usually more for political and economic reasons rather than genetic management. Their natural habitat can never be truly simulated, leading to changes in behavior, prolonged inactivity, health problems, stereotypical behavior and lower levels of immunity creating higher susceptibility to illness and disease. Putting pandas' welfare above propaganda and profits, pandas should be put in refuges out of the public eye to eliminate the stress they endure due to such exposure.
Hippopotamus is an herbivorous, river-living mammal of tropical Africa. The large hippopotamus, hippopotamus amphibius, has a short-legged, broad body with a tough gray or brown hide. Males stand about 5 feet high at the shoulder and weigh about 5 tons; females are slightly smaller. Their mouths are wide, and the incisors and lower canines are large ivory tusks that grow throughout life. Their eyes are near the top of their heads, so they can see when nearly submerged.
The large hippopotamus outweighs all the many fresh water semi-aquatic mammals that inhabit our rivers, lakes and streams. The pygmy hippopotamus, though, are only 30 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh about 400 pounds. They tend to be solitary and spend much of their time on the shore, sleeping by day in thickets.
Recent DNA studies indicate that whales are most closely related to hippopotamuses. Hippopotamuses are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Artiodactyla, family Hippopotamidae.
Hippopotamuses usually live in herds of about 15 animals. Much of their time is spent standing or swimming underwater, where they feed on aquatic plants; they must rise to breathe every 5 minutes or so. At night, groups of animals feed on the shore.
The ancient Egyptians both feared and revered the hippopotamus. The word hippopotamus comes from the Greek for “river horse” and the hippo, once indigenous to Egypt, flourished there. They grazed along the fertile banks of the Nile River and swimming in its muddy waters. Hippos may seem slow and lumbering, but they can be ferocious, deadly killers. These prolific animals multiplied until the river was thick with them. They destroyed crops, up ended fishing boats and killed the men as they fell into the river. The ancient kings found sport in great hippopotamus hunts that would thin out the herds. Hunts became bloody battles between man and beast. The hippo is no longer found in Egypt. They were wiped out of that country in modern times because of the crop damage they caused, but the hippo still thrives in other parts of Africa.
After elephants and the white rhinoceros, the hippopotamus is the third largest land mammal on earth. On land, the enormous weight of a hippo is distributed evenly and is adequately supported by the four webbed toes on each of their feet. These animals are grayish in color with thick skin that is virtually hairless. The hippo has no sweat or sebaceous glands and must rely on the water to keep cool. A hippo’s skin has the unusual property of secreting a red fluid that protects them from the sun. This specialized excretion may also be a healing agent.
Female hippopotamus bear a single young and will give birth either on land or in shallow water. The mother helps the newborn to the surface of the water. In time, she will teach her baby to swim. Newborns can be seen in the river, resting on their mothers' backs. At birth, a baby hippo will weigh from 55 to 120 pounds. The mother must protect the baby from crocodiles in the water and lions on land. She must also ward off male hippos. Strangely, males do not bother baby hippos when on land, but they will attack them in the water.
Adult hippos can stay under water for up to six minutes. A young hippo can only stay submerged for about half a minute. In order to suckle under water, the baby must take a deep breath, close its nostrils and ears and then wrap its tongue tightly around the teat to suck. This instinctive behavior is the same when the baby suckles on land. Baby hippos start to eat grass at 3 weeks, but will continue to nurse until they are about one year old.
Hippos are usually found in groups of just over a dozen, presided over by a territorial bull. They have flexible social systems defined by food and water conditions and hierarchy. Periods of drought will force them to congregate in large numbers around a limited water supply. This overcrowding disrupts the system, and under these conditions there will be higher levels of aggression. Fights for dominance will be brutal with loud and frequent vocalization. Hippos can bear the scars of old, deep wounds sustained in such battles. A hippo establishes status and marks territory by spreading its excrement with its flat, paddle-like tail.
Hippos move surprisingly well, climbing adeptly up steep riverbanks to grazing areas. They spend the heat of the day in the water, leaving it to graze at night. Apparently creatures of habit, they enter and exit the water at the same spot. They will graze four to five hours, usually covering one or two miles. The amount of grass consumed is relatively modest for animals their size. A hippo’s appetite is in proportion to its sedentary life.
THREATS TO HIPPOS
The hippopotamus is hunted for meat, and Africans have used the hide for shields and whips. Once widespread in Africa, the animal is now rare except in unsettled areas and reserves.
Despite the fact that ditches and low fences can easily deter them from encroaching on cultivated areas, hippopotamus are slaughtered by the hundreds each year. These “controlled management” schemes are put forth less for crop protection than for the meat they yield. The fat and ivory tusks of the hippo are also of value to humans, as is the hippo’s grazing land. The hippos’ range was once from the Nile delta to the Cape, but the mighty river horse is now mostly confined to protected areas.
Tigers (Panthera tigris) are mammals of the Felidae family and one of four "big cats" in the panthera genus. They are predatory carnivores and the largest and most powerful of all living cat species. The Indian subcontinent is home to more than 80% of the wild tigers in the world. Tigers breed well in captivity, and the captive population in the United States may rival the wild population of the world.
Most tigers live in forests or grasslands, for which their camouflage is ideally suited, and where it is easy to hunt prey that is faster or more agile. Among the big cats, only the tiger and jaguar are strong swimmers; tigers are often found bathing in ponds, lakes, and rivers.
Although different subspecies of tiger have different characteristics, in general male tigers weigh between 400 and 715 pounds and females between 264 and 400 pounds. The males are between 5 feet 10 inches to 9 feet 1 inch in length, and the females are between 7 feet 6 inches and 9 feet in length. Of the living subspecies, Sumatran tigers are the smallest, and Amur or Siberian Tigers are the largest.
The stripes of most tigers vary from brown or hay to pure black. White tigers have far fewer apparent stripes. The form and density of stripes differs between subspecies, but most tigers have in excess of 100 stripes. The now extinct Javan tiger may have had far more than this. The pattern of stripes is unique to each animal, and thus could potentially be used to identify individuals, much in the same way as fingerprints are used to identify people. This is not, however, a preferred method of identification, due to the difficulty of recording the stripe pattern of a wild tiger.
It seems likely that the function of stripes is camouflage, serving to hide these animals from their prey. Few large animals have color vision as capable as that of humans, so the color is not as great of a problem as one might suppose. Tigers have red color vision. The stripe pattern is found on a tiger's skin, and if you shaved one, you would find that its distinctive camouflage pattern would be preserved.
Tigers have the longest and biggest canine teeth of all the wild cats. A tiger's canines are larger and longer than those of a similar-sized lion. The reason for this is likely due to the habit of preying on large herbivores in its habitat whose bones are thick and large; the tiger's canines have to be strong enough to break the bones of their prey. Moreover, as tigers hunt alone to bring down their prey, they have to work harder than lions, which hunt in groups.
Tigers often ambush their prey as other cats (including the domestic cat) do, overpowering their prey from any angle, using their body size and strength to knock prey off balance. Once prone, the tiger bites the back of the neck. For large prey, a bite to the throat is preferred. After biting, the tiger then uses its muscled forelimbs to hold onto the prey, bringing it to the ground. The tiger remains latched onto the neck until its prey dies. Powerful swimmers, tigers are known to kill prey while swimming. Some tigers have even ambushed boats for the fishermen on board or their catch of fish.
In the wild, tigers are one of the highest-jumping mammals, perhaps second only to the puma. Their forelimbs, massive and heavily muscled, are used to hold tightly onto the prey and to avoid being dislodged, especially by large prey such as gaurs. A single tremendous blow of the paw can kill a full-grown wolf.
Adult tigers are mostly solitary. They do not maintain strict territories, but their home ranges are often maintained unless threatened by other tigers. They follow specific trails within their ranges. Male home ranges may overlap those of many females, but males are intolerant of other males within their territory. Because of their aggressive nature, territorial disputes are violent and often end in the death of one of the males. To identify his territory, the male marks trees by spraying urine and anal gland secretions on trees as well as by marking trails with scat.
Males show a behavior called flehmen, a grimacing face, when identifying the condition of a female's reproductive condition by sniffing their urine markings. A female is only receptive for a few days and mating is frequent during that time period. A pair will copulate frequently and noisily, like other cats. The gestation period is 103 days and 3-4 cubs are born. The females rear them alone. Wandering male tigers may kill cubs to make the female receptive. At 8 weeks, the cubs are ready to follow their mother out of the den. The cubs become independent around 18 months of age, but it is not until they are around 2-2 1/2 years old that they leave their mother. The cubs reach sexual maturity by 3-4 years of age. The female tigers generally own territory near their mother, while males tend to wander in search of territory, which they acquire by fighting and eliminating a territorial male.
In the wild, tigers mostly feed on deer, wild boar, and wild cattle, including gaur and water buffaloes, young rhinos and elephants, and sometimes leopards and bears. Siberian tigers and brown bears are a serious threat to each other and both tend to avoid each other. Of all the land carnivores, the tiger is the only species that has been known to charge and take down a full-grown male elephant, one-on-one. However, due to the depletion of both species, these extraordinary confrontations become exceedingly rare and are hardly ever witnessed by humans in the wild.
THREATS TO TIGERS
Humans are the tiger's only serious predator, who often kill tigers illegally for their fur. Also, their bones and nearly all body parts are used in Chinese medicine for a range of purported uses including pain killers and aphrodisiacs. Poaching for fur and destruction of habitat have greatly reduced tiger populations in the wild, and it has been placed on the endangered species list.
The biggest threats to the tiger's survival are poaching, loss of habitat and the black market. In an effort to protect tigers from poachers and the rapidly increasing loss of land, wildlife reserves have been established. Most reserves, however, are isolated islands of habitat giving tigers little chance of survival due to disease, difficulty in acquiring mates and in-breeding. These “protected areas” are also difficult to defend from poachers. Habitat protection, combined with the promotion of alternatives to traditional Chinese remedies and stricter law enforcement, is vital to saving tigers.
Tigers have long been victims of the animal entertainment industry; forced to perform in circus acts or sentenced to a life in captivity for human entertainment. Animals used in the circus spend the majority of the year imprisoned in small cages or on chains, traveling from show to show. The training endured by circus animals is almost always based on intimidation; trainers must break the spirit of the animals in order to control them. Zoos are designed with the needs and desires of the visitors in mind, not the needs of the animals. Many animals in zoos exhibit abnormal behavior as a result of being deprived of their natural environments and social structures. Most animals in zoos were either captured from the wild or bred in captivity for the purpose of public display, not species protection. Captive bred zoo animals are rarely placed in the wild.
Of the three subspecies of gorilla, the mountain gorilla is the largest and rarest. Remarkably strong, the mountain gorilla has a short trunk and a broad chest and shoulders. Males develop a streak of silver hair on their backs when they mature and are called "silverbacks."
Male mountain gorillas reach an average of 6 feet tall (when standing upright) and weigh 400 to 500 pounds, making them the largest of the great apes (chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas). Females are smaller, standing an average of 4 to 5 feet tall and weighing 150 to 200 pounds.
The dense, forest ecosystems of the mountains of East Africa are the last remaining habitat of the mountain gorilla. Fewer than 650 mountain gorillas survive today in two geographically isolated populations. Approximately 320 gorillas inhabit the Virunga volcanoes region of Rwanda, Zaire, and Uganda, while the remaining number inhabits Uganda's Bwindi National Park. Gorillas live up to 53 years.
Mountain gorillas eat large amounts of vegetation and spend about 30 percent of each day foraging for food. They consume roots, leaves, stems of herbs, vines, bark from trees, shrub-sized plants, and bamboo shoots.
Mountain gorillas are shy, retiring animals. They live in social groups of 2 to 35 individuals. An adult male silverback is the leader and protector of his band, which consists of females and offspring. Silverbacks will charge anything that threatens them or their group and are known for their chest beating displays when in danger.
A silverback is an adult male gorilla, typically more than 12 years of age and named for the distinctive patch of silver hair on his back. A silverback gorilla has large canines that come with maturity. Blackbacks are sexually mature males of up to 11 years of age. Silverbacks are the strong, dominant troop leaders. Each typically leads a troop of 5 to 30 gorillas and is the center of the troop's attention, making all the decisions, mediating conflicts, determining the movements of the group, leading the others to feeding sites and taking responsibility for the safety and well being of the troop.
Males will slowly begin to leave their original troop when they are about 11 years old, traveling alone or with a group of other males for 2–5 years before being able to attract females to form a new group and start breeding. While infant gorillas normally stay with their mother for 3–4 years, silverbacks will care for weaned young orphans.
If challenged by a younger or even by an outsider male, a silverback will scream, beat his chest, break branches, bare his teeth, then charge forward. Sometimes a younger male in the group can take over leadership from an old male. If the leader is killed by disease, accident, fighting or poachers, the group will split up, as animals disperse to look for a new protective male. Very occasionally, a group might be taken over in its entirety by another male. There is a strong risk that the new male may kill the infants of the dead silverback.
Females reach breeding age at about 10 years old. They typically bear young every four to five years, giving birth after a gestation period of eight to nine months. Young gorillas cling to their mother's chests until they are old enough to ride on her back. A young gorilla remains with its mother until 5 years of age.
Gorillas are closely related to humans and are considered highly intelligent. A few individuals in captivity, such as Koko, have been taught a subset of sign language. Gorillas are known to use tools in the wild; as all of the great apes are now known to use tools.
THREATS TO GORILLAS
The eastern gorilla is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List, with the mountain gorilla listed as Critically Endangered. The western gorilla and its subspecies are also listed as Critically Endangered. Threats to gorilla survival include habitat destruction and poaching for the bushmeat trade. The Ebola virus also threatens gorillas.
Gorillas are often victims of captivity for human entertainment. Even under the best of circumstances, captivity is cruel for gorillas. Confined to tiny cages and gawked at by crowds, animals in exhibits and acts endure constant stress. They may suffer from temperature extremes and irregular feeding and watering. Without exercise, they become listless, their immune systems are weakened, and they become prone to sickness; many resort to self-mutilation in reaction to stress or boredom. Mental illness is rampant among confined animals. Torn from their families and deprived of all dignity, every part of their lives is controlled by their captors.
Animals used in film, television, advertising or as sports mascots are ripped away from their mothers as infants. They are forced to spend most of their lives in small cages. They often live alone, resulting in severe psychological anxiety. “Performing” is stressful, confusing and often torturous. Training methods may involve beating the animals, causing them to be constantly anxious and fearful. When the animals become too large to handle, they are often dumped at shoddy roadside zoos and other substandard facilities, where they spend the rest of their lives in small, barren cages—many in solitary confinement. “Retirement” from entertainment is a long life of misery for these highly intelligent and sensitive animals. The American Humane Association’s (AHA) “No Animals Were Harmed” seal of approval is extremely misleading. AHA does not monitor living conditions of animals off set, during pre-production training, or during the premature separation of infants from their mothers.
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.
Lumbering members of the family Rhinoerotidae, rhinoceroses (or rhinos) are some of the largest land animals on earth today, aside from elephants. These gigantic herbivores are spread over a mere five species and are native to only a few places in the world. Two species originate in Africa (the black and white rhinos), and three in Southern Asia (the Sumatran, Indian, and Javan rhinos). Although they all fall under the same family classification, the divergence that emerged in each rhino species actually occurred between 5-14 million years ago, shown by their very genetic makeup. In fact, the black rhino is the only one to have 84 chromosomes, while all other species have 82. Their preferred habitat depends on their species and diet – they can be found on open savannah, in scrub or bush land, wooded areas, and lowland rainforests.
In spite of their differences, the basic structure a rhino is similar between species; all have large, heavy bodies, three toes, and an elongated skull that encases a relatively small brain. Rhinos can range significantly in weight and size (though all weigh well over 500kg), with the smallest (Sumatran) rhinos weighing around 700kg (1500lb) and standing around 1.3m (just over 4 ft) at the shoulder, and the largest (white) rhinos weighing in as heavy as 2400kg (5000lb) and standing from 1.8 to 2 meters (5.9 to 6.6 ft) in height – more than an average compact car. Their thick, tough, and textured skin tends to fall in folds over their body, making it seem as if they’re wearing armor, and usually ranges from yellowish to gray in color, with bristly hair on their tail and ears. Sumatran rhinos tend to be more reddish brown, however, and are often hairier than their African relatives. Most species usually live, on average, up to 40 years, though illegal poaching is an enormous danger for all wild rhino species.
The most well-known rhino feature is their horn, of course (though white, black, and Sumatran rhinos have two), which is made up of a durable substance called keratin – the same material that’s found in our fingernails. Males of each species have larger horns than the females. Sumatran females have only stubby horns or occasionally no horn at all. The two African rhino species look most alike. Despite their name, it’s not the appearance of black and white rhinos that offers a clue to their separate classification; the black rhino is much smaller than the white, and has a pointed, beak-shaped mouth that’s perfect for browsing on twigs and leaves, while white rhinos are almost exclusively grazers, using their square, wide lips to munch on grass.
Although their massive size might give the impression of sluggishness, rhinos are far from lazy. They can run at speeds reaching up to 55km an hour (34 mph) for short distances, charging with surprising agility if they feel threatened. And though they tend to have poor eyesight, their senses of smell and hearing are excellent. Rhinos also have a wide range of vocal sounds that they use for communication; pants, grunts and snorts are usually heard during courtship or mating, while shrieks, bellows and squeals are used for threat displays and territorial posturing. Male rhinos will often scrape their horn across the ground as well before charging.
These enormous plant eaters spend most of their day browsing for food to power their immense frames, though some species limit most of their feeding to the cooler hours of the early morning and evening. Grass, shoots, leafy plants, branches, aquatic plants, thorny bushes and fruit may make up a meal. Rhinos can be creative about how they access their food; the Indian rhino, for example, tramples grass and plants until they’re pushed down to mouth level, or use their lips to grab grass stems, bending them to bite the top off and eat the shoot. They’ll normally only drink once or twice a day for a few minutes at a time, but wallowing in mud holes, lakes or rivers to cool down is definitely a favorite occupation for all rhinos.
Although most rhino species tend to be solitary dwellers, usually only coming together to mate or gather at water holes, white rhinos tend to gather in larger herds called crashes. Both male and female rhinos use urine spraying and dung dropping to mark their territorial ranges, especially around popular browsing areas, water sources, and trails. While male rhinos are the most territorial, often battling other males who enter their range, all rhinos can be extremely fast to perceive threats and charge. Rhinos have even been known to attack cars, trees and termite mounds.
Because of the time they take to reach maturity and the length of gestation, rhinos are not prolific producers of offspring. Reaching maturity around age five, females are able to reproduce, but males of some species mature later, around seven years of age, and often can’t mate until they’re even older and larger and can achieve sexual dominance over other males in the region. After a short courtship, breeding pairs will stay together for days or even weeks, mating several times a day. Rhino calves are born around 15 to 16 months later, able to stand, walk and follow their dam after only a few days. Calves generally stay with the female until they’re around 2-3 years of age. Most rhinos have no specific seasonal pattern for mating season, though the majority of rhino calves in drier regions tend to be born near the end of a rainy season.
THREATS TO RHINOS
The daunting size, thick skin, and aggressive nature of the rhino means that it has very few natural predators, though big cats and hyenas will sometimes hunt young calves. Human activity is above and beyond the biggest threat to rhino populations everywhere. In spite of ever-increasing restrictions and protections for rhinos, illegal poaching for the purpose of harvesting their horns has decimated rhino populations, placing many subspecies on the list of critically endangered animals, and has even caused total extinction of some subspecies in certain areas (such as the disappearance of the Javan rhino in Vietnam). Movement of agricultural development onto rhino habitat, and the introduction of invasive plant species in other regions has also been a contributing factor in the decline of some rhino populations.
Some zoos attempt to breed rhinos in captivity, however reproductive rates are low due to medical problems likely caused by improper diet and unnatural living conditions. Like all captive wildlife, rhions 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. Captive bred zoo animals are rarely released in the wild.
Sloths are medium-sized South American mammals belonging to the families Megalonychidae and Bradypodidae, part of the order Pilosa. Most scientists call these two families the Folivora suborder, while some call it Phyllophaga. Sloths are herbivores, eating very little other than leaves.
Sloths have made extraordinary adaptations to an arboreal browsing lifestyle. Leaves, their main food source, provide very little energy or nutrition and do not digest easily. Sloths have very large, specialized, slow-acting stomachs with multiple compartments in which symbiotic bacteria break down the tough leaves. Sloths may also eat insects and small lizards and carrion. As much as two-thirds of a well-fed sloth's body-weight consists of the contents of its stomach, and the digestive process can take as long as a month or more to complete. Even so, leaves provide little energy, and sloths deal with this by a range of economy measures: they have very low metabolic rates (less than half of that expected for a creature of their size), and maintain low body temperatures when active, and still lower temperatures when resting.
Sloth fur also exhibits specialized functions. The outer hairs grow in the opposite direction to that of other mammals, pointing away from their extremities, and in moist conditions host two species of symbiotic cyanobacteria, which may provide camouflage. Their outer fur coat is usually a thick brown, but occasionally wild sloths appear to have a green tinge to their fur because of the presence of these bacteria. The bacteria provide nutrients to the sloth, and are licked.
Sloths have short, flat heads, big eyes, a short snout, long legs and tiny ears. Their claws serve as their only natural defense. A cornered sloth may swipe at its attackers in an effort to scare them away or wound them. Despite sloths' apparent defenselessness, predators do not pose special problems. In the trees sloths have good camouflage and, moving only slowly, do not attract attention. Only during their infrequent visits to ground level do they become vulnerable. The main predators of sloths are the jaguar, the harpy eagle and humans. The majority of sloth deaths in Costa Rica are from sloths getting into electrical lines and from poachers.
Despite their adaptation to living in trees, sloths make competent swimmers. Their claws also provide a further unexpected defense from human hunters - when hanging upside-down in a tree they are held in place by the claws themselves and do not fall down even if shot from below, thus making them not worth shooting in the first place.
Sloths move only when necessary and then very slowly. They have about half as much muscle tissue as other animals of similar weight. They can move at a marginally higher speed if they are in immediate danger from a predator, but they burn large amounts of energy doing so. Their specialized hands and feet have long, curved claws to allow them to hang upside-down from branches without effort. While they sometimes sit on top of branches, they usually eat, sleep, and even give birth hanging from limbs.
Sloths go to the ground to urinate and defecate about once a week, digging a hole and covering it afterward. They go to the same spot each time and are vulnerable to predation while doing so.
Infant sloths normally cling to their mothers' fur. Females normally bear one baby every year, but sometimes sloths' low level of movement actually keeps females from finding males for longer than one year.
THREATS TO SLOTHS
Sloths are common victims of the animal entertainment industry. Sloths forced to live their lives in zoos suffer numerous health problems. Captivity is cruel for these wild animals. Confined to tiny areas and gawked at by crowds, they endure constant stress. Their immune systems are weakened, and they become prone to sickness. 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.
Sloths are rising in popularity as "pets". Sold like toys by the unethical pet trade industry, they are forced to live their lives in tiny cages denied their natural instincts and social interaction with their own kind. There are very few legal breeding facilities for sloths; most are sold illegally. Sloths do very poorly in captivity.
The elephant is the largest land mammal on earth and perhaps one of the most intelligent. The trunk of the elephant has two finger-like structures at its tip that allow the animal to perform both delicate and powerful movements. Its remarkable tusks first appear when the animal is two years of age and continue to grow throughout life. Elephants use tusks for peeling bark off trees, digging for roots, herding young, “drilling” for water and sometimes as a weapon.
Male African elephants reach a length of 18 to 21 feet and weigh up to 13,200 pounds. Females are about two feet shorter and weigh half as much.
Asian elephants are usually smaller than African elephants and have the highest body point on the head. Their backs are convex or level, and their ears are small with dorsal borders folded laterally. Their feet have more nail-like structures than those of African elephants—five on each forefoot, and four on each hind foot.
Elephants can live 50 to 60 years. Elephants are capable of surviving in nearly any habitat that has adequate quantities of food and water. They spend about 16 hours a day eating. Their diet is varied and includes grass, leaves, twigs, bark and fruit.
Elephants form deep family bonds and live in tight social units. A family is led by an older matriarch and typically includes three or four of her offspring and their young. Males leave the family unit between the ages of 12 and 15 and may lead solitary adult lives. Elephants live in a very structured social order.
The social lives of male and female elephants are very different. The females spend their entire lives in tightly knit family groups made up of mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts. These groups are led by the eldest female, or matriarch. Adult males, on the other hand, live mostly solitary lives. The social circle of the female elephant does not end with the small family unit. In addition to encountering the local males that live on the fringes of one or more groups, the female's life also involves interaction with other families, clans, and subpopulations. Most immediate family groups range from five to fifteen adults, as well as a number of immature males and females. When a group gets too big, a few of the elder daughters will break off and form their own small group. They remain very aware of which local herds are relatives and which are not.
The life of the adult male is very different. As he gets older, he begins to spend more time at the edge of the herd, gradually going off on his own for hours or days at a time. Eventually, days become weeks, and somewhere around the age of fourteen, the mature male, or bull, sets out from his natal group for good. While males do live primarily solitary lives, they will occasionally form loose associations with other males. These groups are called bachelor herds. The males spend much more time than the females fighting for dominance with each other. Only the most dominant males will be permitted to breed with cycling females. The less dominant ones must wait their turn. It is usually the older bulls, forty to fifty years old, that do most of the breeding. The dominance battles between males can look very fierce, but typically they inflict very little injury. Most of the bouts are in the form of aggressive displays and bluffs. Ordinarily, the smaller, younger, and less confident animal will back off before any real damage can be done. However, during the breeding season, the battles can get extremely aggressive, and the occasional elephant is injured. During this season, known as musth, a bull will fight with almost any other male it encounters, and it will spend most of its time hovering around the female herds, trying to find a receptive mate.
Elephant social life, in many ways, revolves around breeding and raising of the calves. A female will usually be ready to breed around the age of thirteen, at which time she will seek out the most fit male to mate with. Females carry their young for almost two years. At birth, the calf weighs about 250 pounds. A cow may give birth every three to four years.
Elephants have a very long childhood. They are born with fewer survival instincts than many other animals. Instead, they must rely on their elders to teach them the things they need to know. The ability to pass on information and knowledge to their young has always been a major asset in the elephant's struggle to survive. Today, however, the pressures humans have put on the wild elephant populations, from poaching to habitat destruction, mean that the elderly often die at a younger age, leaving fewer teachers for the young.
All members of the tightly knit female group participate in the care and protection of the young. Since everyone in the herd is related, there is never a shortage of baby sitters. In fact, a new calf is usually the center of attention for all herd members. All the adults and most of the other young will gather around the newborn, touching and caressing it with their trunks. The baby is born nearly blind and at first relies, almost completely, on its trunk to discover the world around it. After the initial excitement dies down, the mother will usually select several full time baby sitters, or "allomothers", from her group. They walk with the young as the herd travels, helping the calves along if they fall or get stuck in the mud. The more allomothers a baby has, the more free time its mother has to feed herself.
THREATS TO ELEPHANTS
Habitat loss and the ivory trade are the greatest threats to the elephants’ future. The threat to the African elephant presented by the ivory trade is unique to the species. Another threat to elephant's survival in general is the ongoing cultivation of their habitats with increasing risk of conflicts of interest with human cohabitants.
Lacking the massive tusks of its African cousins, the Asian elephant's demise can be attributed mostly to loss of its habitat. Elephants need massive tracts of land because, much like the slash and burn farmers, they are used to crashing through the forest, tearing down trees and shrubs for food and then cycling back later on, when the area has regrown. As forests are reduced to small pockets, elephants become part of the problem, quickly destroying all the vegetation in an area, eliminating all their resources.
Larger, long lived, slow breeding animals, like the elephant, are more susceptible to overhunting than other animals. They cannot hide, and it takes many years for an elephant to grow and reproduce.
Elephants in captivity lead miserable lives. In stark contrast to their natural tendency to roam several miles each day, they are bound in shackles and chains and forced to perform tasks that are the antithesis of their innate instincts. For a short time, it was illegal to capture a wild elephant for use in a circus or zoo, but the CITES decision in 1997 changed all of that. The training endured by circus animals is almost always based on intimidation; trainers must break the spirit of the animals in order to control them. It is not uncommon for an elephant to be tied down and beaten for several days while being trained to perform.
While zoos may appear to be educational and conservation-oriented, most are designed with the needs and desires of the visitors in mind, not the needs of the animals. Many animals in zoos exhibit abnormal behavior as a result of being deprived of their natural environments and social structures. Most animals in zoos were either captured from the wild or bred in captivity for the purpose of public display, not species protection.
The meerkat, or suricate, is a small mammal and a member of the mongoose family. Meerkats live in southern parts of Africa which is dominated by the Kalahari desert. The Kalahari desert has little rainfall and an arid climate with open plains. It spreads across the Southern part of Africa covering over one million square miles and is 10 times the size of Great Britain. The land is covered by a porous or soft sand that in many places is bright orange color.
A group of meerkats is called a "mob" or "gang". Meerkats are small, day-active herpestids. Their tail, which is not bushy like all other mongoose species, is long and thin and tapers to a pointed tip which is black or reddish colored. Meerkats will use their tails to balance when standing vertical. Their faces taper, coming to a point at the nose which is brown. Meerkats' eyes always have black patches surrounding them. They have small, black, crescent-shaped ears that have the ability to close when digging to prevent sand entering.
Meerkats have strong, curved claws used for digging for prey and altering their underground burrows. They have four toes on each foot and long, slender limbs. The color of the coat is usually fawn peppered with gray, tan, or brown with a silver tint. They have short, parallel stripes across their backs; these extend from the base of the tail to the shoulders and are unique to each animal. The underside of the meerkat has no markings, but instead a patch on their belly which is only sparsely covered in hair and shows the black skin underneath. The meerkat uses this area on its belly to absorb heat when it stands on its rear legs, which is usually done first thing in the morning to warm up after cold desert nights.
Meerkats are burrowing animals, living in large underground networks with multiple entrances which they leave only during the day. They are very social, living in colonies of up to forty. Animals from within the same group will groom each other to strengthen social bonds. The alpha pair will often scent mark subordinates of the group to express their authority, and such actions are usually followed by the subordinates licking the faces of, and grooming, the alphas. These actions are also practiced when members of the group are reunited after a short period apart. Most meerkats within the same group are all siblings and offspring of the alpha pair.
Meerkats demonstrate altruistic behavior within their colonies. One or more meerkats will stand sentry (lookout) while other members are foraging or playing in order to warn them of approaching dangers. When a predator is spotted, the meerkat performing as sentry will give a warning bark, and all other members of the gang will run and hide in one of the many bolt holes the meerkats have spread across their territory. The sentry meerkat will be the first to reappear from the burrow and search for predators, constantly barking to keep the others underground. If there is no threat, the sentry meerkat will stop barking and the others know it is safe to emerge.
The meerkat's diet is mainly insectivorous, but they will also consume lizards, snakes, spiders, plants, eggs and small mammals. Like all mongoose species, the meerkat has developed an immunity to many venoms. This allows them to eat scorpions (including the stinger) and some snakes without fear of illness, poison or death. They have no fat stores, so if they don't forage for food every day they will die.
Meerkats become sexually mature at about one year of age and have, on average, three young per litter. The wild meerkat will have up to three litters a year. Meerkats can reproduce any time of the year, but most births occur in the warmer seasons. The male will fight with the female until she submits to him and copulation will begin. Gestation lasts approximately eleven weeks and the young are born within the underground burrow and are helpless at birth. The young's ears will open at about 10 days of age, and eyes at 10-14 days; they are weaned between 49 and 63 days. They will not come above ground until at least three weeks of age and will stay with babysitters near the burrow. It will be another week or so until they join the adults on a foraging party. Usually, the alpha pair reserve the right to mate and will normally kill any young not their own to ensure that their offspring has the best chance of survival. They may also exile or kill the mothers of the offending offspring.
Meerkats will babysit any young that may be in the group. Females that have never produced offspring of their own will lactate to feed the alpha pair's young while the dominant female is away with the rest of the group. They will also protect the young from any threat, often endangering their own lives to do so. On warning of a danger, the babysitter will either take the young underground to safety and be prepared to defend them if the danger is able to follow, or collect all young together and lie on top of them if retreating underground is not possible.
Meerkats are known to engage in social activities, including what appear to be wrestling matches and foot races. They have their own language, with specific calls alerting to the approach of snakes, birds of prey, or other predators. They engage in singing ceremonies similar to yodelling.
MEERKATS AS PETS
Meerkats make poor "pets". They are wild animals, not domesticated animals. Wild animals belong in the wild. Confining them to captivity is cruel. Most pet meerkats are taken from the wild illegally in a cruel manner, caught in traps that make movement limited or cause inescapable pain. Meerkats don't breed well in captivity. For every captive bred meerkat that survives, many die. Females often abort or eat their own babies.
Meerkats are immensely sociable with their own species, living in groups of over 12 animals, and do not fair well in solitary confinement. Living alone can cause severe stress, sometimes to the point of self-harm. Their digging instincts will lead to torn furniture, uprooted plants and ripped carpets. They scent-mark their property; smearing unpleasant smelling odors throughout the house. Being wild creatures, meerkats will unexpectedly bite or scratch, either out of fear, frustration, playfulness or simply boredom. They can carry rabies. They generally dislike being handled or pet, and are considered dangerous around curious young children.
Meerkats have a very varied diet consisting of insects, scorpions, spiders, millipedes, larvae, worms, rodents, eggs, small birds and small snakes. These dietary needs can never be met in captivity. They are territorial and stubborn. They will fiercely defend their patch against larger animals, which can lead to serious injuries to meerkats and other companion animals. They are vulnerable to disease, which they can catch from other companion animals.
MEERKATS AT ZOOS
Meerkats are one of the most popular zoo species because of their activity level. Some of the most irresponsible zoos even allow visitors to touch, hold and feed the animals. Confined to tiny spaces and denied a natural life for the sake of human entertainment, captivity is cruel for meerkats. Wild animals in exhibits and acts endure constant stress. Their immune systems are weakened and they become prone to sickness. Many resort to self-mutilation in reaction to stress or boredom. Mental illness is rampant among confined animals. Torn from their families and deprived of all dignity, every part of their lives is controlled by their captors.
While zoos may appear to be educational and conservation-oriented, most are designed with the needs and desires of the visitors in mind, not the needs of the animals. Many animals in zoos exhibit abnormal behavior as a result of being deprived of their natural environments and social structures. When the facility breeds too many animals they become "surplus" and often are sold to laboratories, traveling shows, shooting ranches, or to private individuals who may be unqualified to care for them.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.