Seals are carnivorous aquatic mammals with front and hind feet modified as flippers, or fin-feet. The name seal is sometimes applied broadly to any of the fin-footed mammals, or pinnipeds, including the walrus, the eared seals (sea lion and fur seal), and the true seals, also called earless seals, hair seals, or phocid seals. More narrowly the term is applied only to true seals.
Pinnipeds have streamlined bodies, rounded in the middle and tapered at the ends, with a thick layer of fat beneath the skin. Their limbs are short and their feet are long and webbed, forming flippers. Sea lions, fur seals and the walrus are able to turn their hind flippers forward for walking on land; they swim chiefly by a rowing action of the long front flippers. True seals are unable to rotate the hind flippers. They progress on land by wriggling on their bellies, pulling themselves with the short front flippers. In the water they are propelled by a side-to-side sweeping action of the hind flippers.
True seals are called earless seals because they lack external ears, though they have functional inner ears. They have short, coarse hair, usually with a close, dense undercoat. Their color and pattern vary with the species. Many are spotted. The pups of most species have fluffy coats of a light color. True seals are generally polygamous and gregarious, but most do not form harems at breeding time, as do the eared seals. Some species have definite migrations, but in most the seals spread out after breeding, singly or in groups, over a wide area of ocean. Some polar species migrate in winter to avoid the advancing ice; members of other species winter under the ice, surfacing through holes to breathe. Most true seal species fall into one of three geographical groups: northern, antarctic and warm-water species.
Nearly all pinnipeds are marine, and most inhabit cold or temperate regions. They have an amphibious lifestyle, spending most of their lives in the water but hauling out to mate, raise young, molt, rest, thermoregulate or escape from aquatic predators. Some spend most of the year in the open ocean, while others inhabit coastal waters and spend varying amounts of time on shores, islands or ice floes. Occasionally they ascend rivers.
All pinnipeds leave the water at least once a year, at breeding time. In nearly all species the females give birth a year after mating, so that the births take place on land, just before breeding begins. The pups are nursed on land.
Some species spend most of the year far from their breeding grounds. Several species are known to migrate vast distances. The northern fur seals make particularly lengthy migrations each year. Traveling seals may use various features of their environment to reach their destination including geomagnetic fields, water and wind currents, the position of the sun and moon and the taste and temperature of the water.
Pinnipeds have lifespans averaging 25–30 years. Females usually live longer, as males tend to fight and often die before reaching maturity. The longest recorded lifespans include 43 years for a wild female ringed seal and 46 years for a wild female grey seal. The age at which a pinniped sexually matures can vary from 2–12 years depending on the species. Females typically mature earlier than males.
All pinnipeds are carnivorous and predatory. Most have diets of fish and shellfish; many are bottom feeders, with physiological adaptations for deep diving. They have acute hearing and some, if not all, make use of echolocation (sonar) for underwater navigation. Pinnipeds may hunt solitarily or cooperatively. Though they can drink seawater, they get most of their fluid intake from the food they eat.
Pinnipeds themselves are subject to predation. Most species are preyed on by orcas. They are also targeted by terrestrial predators, including polar bears, bears, cougars, hyenas and various species of canids. Pinnipeds lessen the chance of predation by gathering in groups.
The mating system of pinnipeds varies from extreme polygyny to serial monogamy. Of the 33 species, 20 breed on land, and the remaining 13 breed on ice. Species that breed on land are usually polygynous, as females gather in large aggregations and males are able to mate with them as well as defend them from rivals. Land-breeding pinnipeds tend to mate on islands where there are fewer terrestrial predators. Few islands are favorable for breeding, and those that are tend to be crowded. Since the land they breed on is fixed, females return to the same sites for many years. The males arrive earlier in the season and wait for them. The males stay on land and try to mate with as many females as they can; some of them will even fast. If a male leaves the beach to feed, he will likely lose mating opportunities and his dominance. Since ice is less stable then solid land, pinnipeds that breed on ice change location each year.
All species go through delayed implantation, where the embryo remains in suspended development for weeks or months before it is implanted in the uterus. Delayed implantation postpones the birth of young until the female hauls-out on land or until conditions for birthing are favorable. Gestation in seals (including delayed implantation) typically lasts a year. For most species, birthing takes place in the spring and summer months. Typically, single pups are born; twins are uncommon and have high mortality rates.
Mother pinnipeds have different strategies for maternal care and lactation. Some seals remain on land or ice and fast during their relatively short lactation period–four days for the hooded seal and five weeks for elephant seals. The milk of these species consist of up to 60% fat, allowing the young to grow fairly quickly. Some, like the harbor seal, fast and nurse their pups for a few days at a time. In between nursing bouts, the females leave their young onshore to forage at sea. These foraging trips may last anywhere from a day to two weeks, depending on the abundance of food and the distance of foraging sites. While their mothers are away, the pups will fast.
Pinnipeds communicate with a number of vocalizations such as barks, grunts, rasps, rattles, growls, creaks, warbles, trills, chirps, chugs, clicks and whistles. Vocals are produced both in air and underwater. Vocalizations are particularly important during the breeding seasons. Dominant male elephant seals advertise their status and threaten rivals with "clap-threats" and loud drum-like calls. In some pinniped species, there appear to be geographic differences in vocalizations, known as dialects.
Seals are able to demonstrate an understanding of symmetry, transitivity and equivalence. They demonstrate the ability to understand syntax and musical rhythms. Some have been trained to imitate human words, phrases and laughter.
THREATS TO SEALS
Each year thousands of seals are killed in Canada. Seal-clubbing is justified by the Canadian government because its victims are adversely affecting the profits of the Newfoundland fishing industry.
A harp seal can be legally killed as soon as it has begun to moult its white hair, around 2 weeks after birth. Adult seals are also killed. The seal hunt is one of the very few hunts that occurs in the spring when young are being born. As a result, roughly 80% of the seals killed in the commercial hunt are 'young of the year' - between approximately 12 days and 1 year old.
Six species of seals - including the harp, hooded, grey, ringed, bearded and harbour - are found off the Atlantic coast of Canada. Harp and hooded seals are the two most common species hunted commercially. In recent years small numbers of grey seals have been hunted for commercial use. The majority of seal pelts are still exported to Norway for processing. The seal pelts are either used for furs or leather.
Seal hunting is inhumane. Groups have campaigned on the issue for years and their evidence shows all the horror of the hunt. Many people remember the worldwide protest that arose in the 1970s over Canada’s killing of whitecoat seal pups (under two weeks old). The massive protest, with international campaigning against the Canadian seal hunt during the 70s & 80s, led to the European Union ban on the importation of whitecoat pelts in 1983, and eventually to the Canadian government banning large-vessel commercial whitecoat hunting in 1987.
Canada's cod fishery collapsed in the early 90s, and some in Canada blamed the seals, despite the fact that the greatest cause was clearly decades of over-fishing by humans. The collapse of fisheries around Newfoundland, due to mismanagement, is a major driver in the expansion of the seal hunt.
Although the Canadian seal hunt is the largest in the world and has the highest profile internationally, sealing is also carried out in a number of other countries across the world including Greenland, Namibia, Russia, Norway and Sweden.
Seals are also common victims of the animal entertainment industry. Aquariums and marine mammal theme parks are part of a billion-dollar industry built on the suffering of intelligent, social beings who are denied everything that is natural and important to them. Animals are taken from the wild; their families torn apart.
Marine parks have shown no more interest in conserving marine mammals' natural habitats than they have in educating audiences. Cetaceans do not belong in captivity where they are forced to perform meaningless tricks. They are often separated from family members when they’re shuffled between parks. Most die far short of their natural life spans.
The living conditions at these attractions are often dismal, with animals confined to tiny, filthy, barren enclosures, but even the best artificial environments can’t come close to matching the space, diversity, and freedom that cetaceans have in their natural habitats.
Tapirs are large mammals with a pig-like appearance, an elephant-like snout and a tail like a rhinoceros. They are the most primitive large mammals on the planet, having been around for 20 million years – changing very little. They are most closely related to rhinos and horses. The tapir inhabits swamps, grasslands, forests and mountains in temperate regions of the Southern Hemisphere.
There are four recognized species of tapirs: Baird's tapir, Mountain tapir, Malayan tapir and Brazilian tapir. The Malayan tapir is the largest tapir, and the Mountain tapir is the smallest species. All recognized tapirs are endangered.
Baird's tapirs inhabit northern parts of South America and Central America. Baird's tapirs have unique, cream colored markings on their faces.
The Mountain tapir is the smallest tapir species and lives in mountainous regions. Mountain tapirs inhabit the high forests of the Andes mountains in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador.
The Malayan tapir, or Asian tapir, features a distinctive white band across their bodies. Malayan tapirs once inhabited tropical forests across South East Asia, but now have a much smaller range as a result of habitat loss.
The Brazilian tapir, or South American tapir, is an exceptional swimmer inhabiting the Amazon Rainforest.
In 2013 it was announced that a new species of tapir had been discovered in Columbia and Brazil. Named the Kabomani tapir, it was declared the largest mammal to be discovered in 100 years. The discovery proved to be controversial, with some experts stating the Kabomani tapir was actually a young Brazilian tapir.
Tapirs have long, flexible snouts like small elephant trunks. Tapirs use their prehensile noses to grab branches and leaves from trees and bushes. Tapirs have stocky bodies, small eyes and ears, and stubby tails. They are about the size of a donkey. They have 4 toes on their front feet and 3 toes on their back feet. They are able to swim and tend to stay close to water to cool down and remove parasites. Tapirs dive into shallow waters to feed on aquatic plants. They use their snouts as snorkels if they need to hide under water from predators.
Tapirs are herbivores, feeding on twigs, leaves, branches, shoots, buds, fruits and aquatic plants. To locate watering holes and vegetation, they follow paths made by many tapirs that have traveled the same trails. Tapirs are very ecologically important as they disperse seeds through their feces as they move about.
Tapirs are either solitary or social. They graze together in groups called candles, and come together during mating season. Tapirs communicate verbally with high pitched sounds. They also communicate non-verbally with urine droppings. Urine marks communicate if there are other tapirs in the area.
Tapir mating season takes place in April and May. Following a gestation period of over a year, mother tapirs give birth to only one tapir baby. When first born, baby tapirs have yellow and white stripes and spots on reddish-brown fur which provides camouflage. After a few months, they lose the marks. Baby tapirs stay with their mothers until they are 2 to 3 years old.
Being large animals, tapirs have few natural predators. They are preyed upon by jaguars, tigers, cougars, crocodiles and large snakes.
Tapirs live up to 30 years in the wild.
THREATS TO TAPIRS
All four recognized tapir species are endangered due to habitat loss, deforestation, animal agriculture and hunting. Tapirs are hunted for their meat and skin. They increasingly must compete with livestock.
The IUCN's Tapir Specialist Group has not declared the proposed Kabomani tapir species a "unit of conservation importance," and it has not received a categorization on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The arctic fox is the smallest member of canine family. There are 5 subspecies of arctic fox. Arctic foxes inhabit the tundra throughout the Arctic Circle. Arctic foxes can be found in Iceland, Greenland, Northern Europe, Russia, Canada and Alaska.
Arctic foxes have thick white fur during the winter and grey-brownish fur during the summer; offering seasonal camouflage. Arctic foxes have small ears, round bodies and short legs - which helps prevent loss of body heat in their cold ecosystems. The Arctic fox also curls its bushy tail around its body to keep warm. The paws of the arctic fox have thick fur to help in moving across snow and ice.
Arctic foxes live in underground burrows with as many as 100 entrances. These arctic fox burrows can be hundreds of years old and are passed on through the generations of arctic foxes. Arctic fox territories are about 9.6 square miles, but they look for food in a much larger range.
Arctic foxes feed on lemmings, fish, voles, sea birds and their eggs, and seal pups. They also take advantage of leftovers from polar bears. The number of arctic foxes in the wild often depends on the number of lemmings. A lot of lemmings means a lot of arctic foxes.
A fox is a member of any of 27 species of small omnivorous canids. The animal most commonly called a fox in the Western world is the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), although different species of foxes can be found on almost every continent. With most species roughly the size of a domestic cat, foxes are smaller than other members of the family Canidae, such as wolves, jackals, and domestic dogs.
Recognizable characteristics also include pointed muzzles and bushy tails. Other physical characteristics vary according to their habitat. For example, the Desert Fox has large ears and short fur, whereas the Arctic Fox has small ears and thick, insulating fur. Unlike many canids, foxes are not pack animals.
Foxes are solitary, opportunistic feeders that hunt live prey (especially rodents). Using a pouncing technique practiced from an early age, they are usually able to kill their prey quickly. Foxes also gather a wide variety of other foods ranging from grasshoppers to fruit and berries. Foxes are nearly always extremely wary of humans, and are not kept as pets. However, foxes are to be readily found in cities and domestic gardens.
Foxes do not come together in chorus like wolves or coyotes do. Fox families, however, keep in contact with a wide array of different sounds. These sounds grade into one another and span five octaves; each fox has its own characteristically individual voice. Fox noises can be divided, with a few exceptions, into two different groups: contact sounds and interaction sounds. The former is used by foxes communicating over long distances, the latter in close quarters.
"Wow-wow-wow": The most well-known vulpine noise is a sort of barking that spans three to five syllables. Conversations made up of these noises often occur between widely spaced foxes. As their distance decreases, the sound becomes quieter. A cub is greeted with the quietest version of this sound.
The alarm bark: This monosyllabic sound is made by an adult to warn cubs of danger. From far away it sounds like a sharp bark, but at closer range it resembles a muffled cough, like a football rattle or a stick along a picket fence.
Gekkering: This is a stuttering, throaty noise made at aggressive encounters. It is most frequently heard in the courting season, or when kits are at play.
The vixen's wail: This is a long, drawn-out, monosyllabic, and rather eerie wail most commonly made during the breeding season; it is widely thought that it is made by a vixen in heat summoning dog-foxes. Contrary to common belief, however, it is also made by the males, evidently serving some other purpose as well. This noise fits into neither the contact nor the interaction group.
THREATS TO ARCTIC FOXES
Foxes are at risk from habitat loss, inhumane trapping, hunting and vehicle deaths. Fox penning is an indefensible and barbaric blood sport in which dozens of dogs compete in a fenced-in area to chase - and sometimes rip apart - foxes and coyotes taken from the wild.
Foxes are senselessly tortured and killed to satisfy the dictates of fashion. Wild-caught fox fur is obtained by setting traps or snares. Once an animal is caught, it may remain in the trap or snare for several days starving or slowly strangling. Farm-raised fox fur comes from animals kept in tiny, filthy cages, deprived of adequate protection from the elements. As a result, animals develop stereotypical behavior, including pacing, head bobbing and self-mutilation. On fur farms, foxes are electrocuted by placing a metal clamp on the snout and forcing a rod into the anus, and then connecting the metal to a power source. Some animals are forced into bags or boxes and gassed with carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide.
Coati are medium-sized mammals found only on the American continent. The coati is widely distributed in a variety of different habitats across North, Central and South America.
Coati primarily live in dense forests and wet jungles. Most coati spend the majority of their time in the safety of the trees. Some coati populations do inhabit mountains, grasslands and even deserts.
There are four different species of coati. Two species of coati, the Mountain coati and the Ring-tailed coati, live in South America. The Cozumel Island coati lives in Mexico. The White-nosed coati lives in Central America and North America.
The Mountain coati inhabits areas of South America in the Andes Mountain range. The Mountain coati is sometimes called the Dwarf Coati as it is the smallest species of coati.
The Ring-tailed coati lives in tress and on the ground in jungles and rainforests of South America. The Ring-tailed coati has thick, tan colored fur with black bands running along the tail.
The Cozumel Island coati inhabits only the Mexican island of Cozumel. It is believed they were taken there by the Mayans. The Cozumel Island coati and the White-nosed coati are very similar but are considered separate species.
The White-nosed coati inhabits parts of Central America, including Mexico, and North America. The White-nosed coati is the largest species of coati.
Male coati are solitary animals and only come together with other coati during mating. Female coatis live in tribes, called bands, of 10 to 30 animals.
Coati are nocturnal animals, active during the night. They are omnivorous, feeding on both plants and animals. The coati eats a variety of seeds, nuts, fruits, insects, birds eggs, reptiles and rodents.
Coati breeds at the beginning of rainy seasons occurring at different times throughout the year depending on the region. This time of year provides an abundance of food. Female coati leave their band and construct nests in trees or on rocky ledges. Mother coatis give birth to 2 to 7 coati babies following a 3 month gestation period. Baby coatis join their mother's band when they are about 6 weeks old.
Coatis are small and therefor easy prey for a variety of predators including pumas, jaguars, wildcats, snakes, crocodiles and birds of prey.
THREATS TO COATIS
Coati are threatened by habitat loss and hunting. Coati are hunted throughout their range for skin and food. In the United States coati are often caught in traps set for other species, killed by hunters ostensibly looking for other species, or fall victim to 'predator' control campaigns. They disappeared from the Burro Mountains in New Mexico following a Coyote Canis latrans poisoning campaign.
In addition, the coati population in the United States is suspected to be losing genetic contact with populations further south, potentially leading to coati extirpation in the United States.
Hyena are dog-like mammals native to parts of Asia and Africa. Once ranging across Africa, Asia and Europe, hyenas are mostly limited to the African Savannah today, with the exception of the striped hyena inhabiting the jungles of India and western Asia. Hyenas live in savannas, grasslands, forests and sub-deserts. They are one of the most abundant large carnivores in Africa.
There are four known species of hyena: the striped hyena, the spotted hyena, the brown hyena and the aardwolf. All four hyena species have a bear-like stance. Their front legs are longer than their back legs. The brown hyena, the striped hyena and the aardwolf have striped manes on top of their neck that stand erect when the hyena is frightened. The spotted hyena's mane is much shorter than the other hyena species and stands erect most of the time.
Male and female hyenas appear very similar and have similar genitals, but they are not hermaphrodites (animals that are both male and female). Only female hyenas give birth.
The largest hyena is the spotted hyena. The smallest hyena is the aardwolf.
Most hyenas are carnivorous, often eating another animal's kill rather than catching their own prey. Hyenas also hunt in packs. Hyenas will fight with each other over food sources. Hyenas will hide extra food in watering holes. They eat every part of the animal, including hooves and bones. Aardwolves are insectivores, feeding only on termites.
Hyenas are incredibly intelligent animals. They are nocturnal, active at night.
Hyenas communicate with various postures, sounds and signals. They are well known for their cackling laugh-like screams. It is believed hyenas use this laughter to alert other hyenas of food sources. Hyenas can hear this call up to three miles away. The pitch and tone of a hyena’s laugh can indicate its social status and age.
The hyena has exceptionally strong jaws in relation to its body size. The female spotted hyena is more dominant and larger than the male hyena. Female spotted hyenas always rank higher than males in the clan. Brown hyenas, striped hyenas and aardwolves have male-dominated clans.
Most hyenas form packs, communities of up to 80 members. The hyena den is the center of their pack territory. Hyena packs hunt for food as a group. Aardwolves, however, are solitary hyenas and usually only gather during the mating season.
Mothers in a clan share the responsibility of nursing each others' babies. Clan members bring food to the den for the cubs. Gestation lasts for 90 to 110 days, with 2 to 4 cubs being born. The mother raises her babies in a natal den, a special place reserved only for mothers and babies. Cubs battle to establish dominance and to win over the best feeding positions because female hyenas have only two nipples. Fights between cubs can sometimes be fatal. Weaker and smaller cubs can die of starvation. Mother hyenas milk their cubs for 12 to 18 months. Cubs begin to also eat meat in about 5 months.
Hyenas have no natural predators. They live up to 21 years in the wild.
THREATS TO HYENAS
Hyenas are threatened by habit loss caused by animal agriculture. They are often killed by ranchers. Populations of hyenas are declining due to poaching, loss of habitat and food sources and persecution by humans. Hyenas have also been hunted for traditional medicine ingredients. The brown hyena is in danger of extinction. The striped hyena is threatened.
The polar bear rivals the Kodiak bear as the largest four-footed carnivore on earth and can live up to 25 years. Although the polar bear’s coat appears white, each individual hair is actually a clear hollow tube that channels the sun’s energy directly to the bear’s skin and helps it stay warm. The polar bear’s entire body is furred, even the bottom of its paws. That helps prevent bears from slipping on the ice. The polar bear is classified as a marine mammal. Its feet are partially webbed for swimming, and its fur is water-repellent. A formidable predator, it has extremely sharp claws.
Males are 8 to 11 feet long and weigh 500 to 1,100 pounds but can reach as much as 1,500 pounds. Females are smaller, measuring 6 to 8 feet long, and weigh from 350 to 600 pounds, occasionally reaching 700 pounds.
Worldwide there are thought to be 22,000-27,000 polar bears in 19 separate populations. They can be found in the United States, Canada, Russia, Greenland and on the Arctic islands of Norway. There are estimated to be about 3,000 to 5,000 polar bears in Alaska.
Polar bears are found throughout the Arctic and are the most nomadic of all bear species. They travel an average of 5,500 miles a year or 15 miles a day. In the United States, polar bears are located in two Alaskan populations: the Chukchi/Bering Seas of western Alaska and the Beaufort Sea off northern Alaska. The entire circumpolar Arctic region is polar bear habitat. They are equally comfortable in the water and on land. Polar bears can be found on pack ice, coastal islands, coastlines and even out in Arctic waters. They are exceptional swimmers and have been observed in the sea more than 100 miles from the nearest land or pack ice.
Polar bears are strictly carnivores and feed or scavenge only meat. Their primary prey is the ringed seal though they also take bearded, harp and hooded seals and the occasional walrus youngster. They will also scavenge walrus and whale carcasses. That sometimes results in temporary aggregations of polar bears at such sites. Other species, such as the Arctic fox, rely entirely upon "polar bear left-overs" after the bears have eaten their fill of seal skin and blubber, leaving the remaining meat for such scavengers.
The two main focuses of this solitary creature's life are to conserve energy and to hunt. Only pregnant females dig dens and hibernate in the traditional sense for extended periods. The other bears may enter into what is referred to as "walking hibernation" where they remain active and continue to hunt and feed, even though some of their metabolic processes may slow (decreased heart rates, respiration, lowered temperatures, etc.). Polar bears depend mostly on their sense of smell to determine the location of prey. Their white coats make great camouflage for hunting seals, and they will wait patiently for hours next to a seal’s air hole waiting for the seal to take a breath. Once the seal arrives, the polar bear will use its immense strength and sharp claws to clutch the seal and drag it through the small blowhole.
Females are able to breed at the age of five years. They dig dens either on the coastal mainland or out on the drifting pack ice in late October or early November, and then remain denned until the next spring. An average of two cubs are born, each weighing about 1 pound at birth and growing to about 15 pounds by the time they emerge in the spring. The cubs have much to learn and usually remain with their mothers for more than two years.
Polar bear populations must have pack ice to survive and can travel thousands of miles over the course of a year, following the advance and retreat of sea ice. Seal populations are abundant on pack ice, where currents and wind interact with the ice, continually melting and refreezing the edges, making it accessible to both predator and prey.
Older, stable pack ice is essential to the polar bear’s continued existence. It is where polar bears hunt, mate and den. Pregnant females make dens in the soft deep snows of the ice. They will give birth in these dens and the snow will insulate both mother and cubs over the harsh Arctic winter. Without a stable ice pack to accumulate sufficient snow, there can be no dens. The ice is also the seal’s habitat. Polar bears are strong swimmers, but they are not adept at catching seals in open water. The ice is necessary for successful hunts, where the bears stalk the seals using their breathing holes. Changes in the conditions of the ice have forced seals to move and give birth in different areas, making it more difficult for the polar bears to find and feed on them. Without ready and plentiful food, pregnant female polar bears cannot build the fat reserves they need to survive a denning period.
THREATS TO POLAR BEARS
With shrinking ice and inaccessibility to prey, polar bears could be extinct by 2050. Their habitat is melting away. When animals lose their natural habitat they will seek other means to secure food. Just as black bears will come into towns and communities in search of food, polar bears, attracted by garbage or animal carcasses, will enter areas of human population. When they do so, they can be killed. Although it is illegal to kill a polar bear, human caused mortality still remains a factor in the decline of this endangered animal.
To help save the polar bear, we must support strengthening of the Endangered Species Act and include the polar bears’ prey base, suspend new Arctic gas and oil development until the bear population and their sea-ice habitat are fully protected and eliminate all trophy hunting throughout the Arctic. Laws against poaching must be strictly enforced and programs implemented that offer rewards for information leading to their conviction.
Seahorses are marine fish belonging to the genus Hippocampus of the family Syngnathidae. They are found in temperate and tropical waters all over the world.
Seahorses range in size from 16 mm to 35 cm. They are notable for being the only species where the males get pregnant.
The seahorse is a true fish, with a dorsal fin located on the lower body and pectoral fins located on the head near their gills. Some species of seahorse are partly transparent.
Sea dragons are close relatives of seahorses but have bigger bodies and leaf-like appendages which enable them to hide among floating seaweed or kelp beds. Sea dragons feed on larval fishes and amphipods, such as small shrimp-like crustaceans called mysids (sea lice), sucking up their prey with their small mouths. Many of these amphipods feed on red algae that thrives in the shade of the kelp forests where the sea dragons live.
Seahorses reproduce in an unusual way: the male becomes pregnant. Most seahorse species pregnancies last approximately two to three weeks.
The male seahorse has a brood pouch where he carries eggs deposited by the female. The mating pair entwines their tails and the female aligns a long tube, called ovipositor, with the male's pouch. The eggs move through the tube into the male's pouch where he then fertilizes them. The embryos will develop between ten days and six weeks, depending on species and water conditions. When the male gives birth, he pumps his tail until the baby seahorses emerge.
The males pouch regulates salinity for the eggs, slowly increasing in the pouch to match the water outside as the eggs mature. Once the offspring hatch, the male releases them and is done caring for them.
Once released, the offspring are independent of their parents. Some spend time among the ocean plankton developing before settling down and hitching as their parents do. Other species (H. zosterae) hitch immediately and begin life in the benthos.
Seahorses are frequently monogamous, though several species (H. zosterae and H. abdominalis) are highly gregarious. In monogamous pairs, the male and female will greet one another with courtship displays in the morning, and in the evening to reinforce their pair bond. They spend the rest of the day separate from each other hunting for food.
THREATS TO SEAHORSES
Seahorse populations have been endangered in recent years by overfishing. The seahorse is used in traditional Chinese herbology, and as many as 20 million seahorses may be caught each year and sold for this purpose.
Import and export of seahorses is controlled under CITES since May 15, 2004.
Bats are often unappreciated but are actually beneficial by providing controls of insects that may spread diseases or are annoying and harmful to our outdoor activities. They are vitally important in agricultural settings as well by controlling potential insect crop pests and the spread of plant diseases.
Bats are the only mammals capable of true flight. The bat's wing anatomically resembles the human hand, with extremely elongated fingers and a wing membrane stretched between. Over 1,000 bat species can be found worldwide. In fact, bats make up a quarter of all mammal species on earth. Thirteen species of bat are listed as endangered.
Because their wings are much thinner than those of birds, bats can maneuver more quickly and more precisely than birds. The surface of their wings are also equipped with touch sensitive receptors on small bumbs called "Merkel cells", which is found in most mammals, including humans. But these sensitive areas are different in bats as there are tiny hairs in the center, making it even more sensitive and they detect and collect information about the air flowing over the wings. Another kind of receptor cells are found in the wing membrane in species who are using their wings to catch prey, and is sensitive to the stretching of the membrane. These cells are concentrated in the areas of the membrane where insects hit the wings when the bats capture them.
Bats are divided into two suborders: Megachiroptera, meaning large bat, and Microchiroptera, meaning small bat. The largest bats have a 6 foot wing span. The bodies of the smallest bats are no more than an inch long. While some bat populations number in the millions, others are dangerously low or in decline. Most bats live longer than most mammals of their size. The longest known lifespan of a bat in the wild is 30 years for a little brown bat. Bats can be found almost anywhere in the world except the polar regions and extreme deserts. They find shelter in caves, crevices, tree cavities, and buildings.
Bats specialize in different foods. Seventy percent of all bats consume insects. There are also fruit-eating bats; nectar-eating bats; carnivorous bats that prey on small mammals, birds, lizards, and frogs; fish-eating bats; and the blood-eating vampire bats of South America. Some of the smaller bat species are important pollinators of some tropical flowers. Indeed, many tropical plants are now found to be totally dependent on them, not just for pollination, but for spreading their seeds by eating the resulting fruits.
Some bats have evolved a highly sophisticated sense of hearing. They emit sounds that bounce off of objects in their path, sending echoes back to the bats. From these echoes, the bats can determine the size of objects, how far away they are, how fast they are traveling, and even their texture — all in a split second.
Bats vary in social structure, with some bats leading a solitary life and others living in caves colonized by more than a million bats. The fission fusion social structure is seen among several species of bats. The fusion part is all the individuals in a roosting area. The fission part is the breaking apart and mixing of subgroups by switching roosts with bats, ending up with bats in different trees and often with different roostmates. Studies also show that bats make all kinds of sounds to communicate with each other. Scientists in the field have listened to bats and have been able to identify some sounds with some behavior bats will make right after the sounds are made.
For their size, bats are the slowest reproducing mammals on earth. The vast majority of bats bear only one offspring a year. A baby bat at birth weighs up to 25 percent of its mother's body weight, which is like a human mother giving birth to a 31-pound baby. Offspring typically are cared for in maternity colonies, where females congregate to bear and raise their young. A baby bat is referred to as a pup. Pups are usually left in the roost when they are not nursing. However, a newborn bat can cling to the fur of the mother like a pouch and be transported, although they soon grow too large for this. It would be difficult for an adult bat to carry more than one young, but normally only one young is born. Bats often form nursery roosts, with many females giving birth in the same area, be it a cave, a tree hole, or a cavity in a building. Mother bats are able to find their young in huge colonies of millions of other pups. Pups have even been seen to feed on other mothers' milk if their mother is dry. Only the mother cares for the young, and there is no continuous partnership with male bats. The ability to fly is congenital, but after birth the wings are too small to fly. Young microbats become independent at the age of 6 to 8 weeks, megabats not until they are four months old. At the age of two years bats are sexually mature.
Most bats hibernate from November through March because their food source (insects) is relatively scarce during the winter months.
THREATS TO BATS
The greatest threat to bats is people. Habitat destruction and fear are a lethal combination for bats. In some areas, people have even been known to set fires in caves, destroying thousands of roosting bats.
Bat populations are declining worldwide, some due to habitat loss, but mainly due to a relatively new disease called White-Nose Syndrome (WNS). This disease kills many hibernating bats annually by sapping their energy reserves that have been stored up to survive the long winter months. WNS causes the bats to awaken, possibly several times during the winter, which further drains the bat’s energy reserves. The disease may also damage their air passages and wings.
Protecting areas where bats hibernate (hibernacula) and staying out of caves in the winter months helps to avoid the potential spread of WNS. Creating habitat by retaining shaggy bark trees like white oak and shagbark hickory provides roosting sites during summer months for many bats. Restoring or creating areas like ephemeral pools and wetlands also create potential food sources in the summer.
Majestic sea dwellers, superb hunters and socially complex beings, orcas (also known as killer whales or blackfish) are the largest members of the oceanic family Delphinidae, which includes dolphins, pilot whales, melon-headed whales and false killer whales. They’re found in every ocean in the world and most seas as well, including the Arctic and Antarctic regions and the warmer seas of the Mediterranean and Arabian, but have been counted in highest densities in the North Atlantic and Pacific oceans, in the Gulf of Alaska and Southern Ocean. Although they can have an enormous range, they typically tend to prefer to stay closer to coastal areas versus swimming in deeper ocean waters.
Their striking coloration is what makes the orca most recognizable; they have a black back with a white chest and sides, and a distinctive white area above and behind their eye. Large, paddle-like pectoral fins assist in fine manoeuvring , while sharp teeth and strong jaws allow them to firmly hang on to thrashing prey. With a robust skeletal frame, an orca’s body is much heavier and larger than a dolphin’s, and they have an erect dorsal fin that can stand as tall as 2 meters in height for some males, over 6 feet. Males are generally larger, and can range from 7 to 9 meters long (20 to 30 feet) and may weigh as much as 6 tons. Female orcas are smaller in size, around 6 to 8 meters (20 to 26 feet) in length and weighing between 3 and 4 tons, with a shorter, more triangular dorsal fin. Their size and strength make them capable of swimming at some of the fastest speeds among all marine mammals; some whales can actually reach swimming speeds of over 55 km/hour.
Unlike some other oceanic residents, orcas have excellent eyesight both above and below water, as well as well developed senses of hearing and touch. In addition, they use echolocation (a series of audible clicks) to locate their prey and navigate around obstacles in the water. Orcas are also adaptable to a variety of water temperatures. Although they have an average body temperature between 36 to 38 °C (97 to 100 °F), they also have a thick layer of blubber that acts as insulation between them and the elements. Orcas swimming close to the surface have a faster average heartbeat than when submerged – 60 beats per minute versus 20 beats per minute. Their lifespan in the wild depends on a number of factors, but females tend to live an average of 50 years, and males around 29 years.
Interestingly, there are three to five different subgroups (perhaps even subspecies) of orcas themselves, with variances in appearance, prey preference and hunting behavior that make each subgroup unique. Resident orca populations tend to have rounded dorsal fin tips ending in a sharp corner, eat mainly fish and squid, live in strongly bonded family groups (pods), and visit the same areas on a consistent basis. Transient orcas, on the other hand, are far more migratory and travel in smaller groups. They tend to have less complex dialects of vocalizations, too. In appearance, they have a distinctive solid grey area around their dorsal fins, which are more triangular and pointed than resident orcas’. Finally, offshore orca populations travel further from shore, feeding mainly on schooling fish, but also hunting other mammals and sharks. They tend to gather in much larger groups ranging from 20 to 75 in number, and they tend to be smaller in size than both resident and transient orca populations. The lifestyle of these different populations seems to be closely linked with their diet preference – for example, fish-eating whales in northern waters have close social structures, while orcas in Argentina that prefer to eat mammals behave more like transient whales.
While orcas may appear to look similar, their prey preference can be tremendously varied, though often specific to a certain population. Fish, squid, mammals, sea birds, sea turtles, rays, and even larger whales and sharks may be on the orca prey menu. Unfortunately for their chosen food, they’re also skilled and cooperative hunters that travel in packs to capture their prey. Different types of orcas also use different and specialized hunting techniques; Norwegian killer whales use a method called carousel feeding, for example, where they herd herring into a ball with nets of bubbles, then slap the fish with their tails to stun or kill them. Whale and shark hunting orcas will stalk their prey as a group, separating them and forcing them into immobility (in the case of sharks) or not allowing them to surface, causing them to drown. Finally, mammal-feeding orcas (who feed on seals, penguins, sea lions and sea otters) disable their prey by throwing it, slapping it with their tails, ramming it or breaching and landing on it.
More than their unique hunting techniques, however, the rich and complex social structure of orcas is what fascinates most scientists and enthusiasts. In resident orca populations, pods typically consist of one to four related matriarchs and their descendants. Offspring live with their mothers for their entire lives, and as many as four generations may migrate and hunt together, using the same dialect to communicate with each other. Several pods may come together to form clans, which are groups that share similar dialects (languages) of vocalizations. Transient orca societies tend to be smaller, however; usually made up of a single female and one or two of her offspring, though males tend to stay with their mothers for a longer period of time.
Orcas usually only leave their societal groups for short periods of time, either to hunt, or to mate. Female orcas reach sexual maturity at around age 10, and gestation of orca calves lasts anywhere from 15 to 18 months long, with a single offspring birthed around once every five years for a fertile female. The first seven or eight months are critical for calves; 37% to 50% of all orca calves die before they reach their first birthday. Females begin weaning their calves at around 12 months, and most calves are completely weaned by age two. All the members in a pod (both male and female) help to care for the young orcas, playing with them, teaching them hunting skills, and using particular family calls to help familiarize new calves with the pod dialect. The females tend to reach the end of their breeding years around age 40, but many go through menopause and continue to thrive for decades after they’re no longer fertile.
THREATS TO ORCAS
Recent studies have found that orcas are among the most contaminated marine mammals in the world. Pollution and chemical contamination make orcas more susceptible to disease and likely cause reproductive difficulties.
Human activity is the largest threat to populations of orcas, although the IUCN has lately recognized that they need more data on individual orca types, as they may actually be separate (and potentially endangered) species. Human fishing practices have resulted in the reduction of available prey for many orca populations, while pollution, oil spills, and noisy habitat disturbances (like military sonar use, shipping and drilling) are significant concerns for orcas all over the world. The southern resident community, made up of three pods that live in the Georgia and Haro Straits and Puget Sound, has been listed as an endangered population under the EDA in the last decade, while The Alaska and Prince William Sound resident orca pods were so devastated by the Exxon Valdez spill that the entire population in that region is expected to eventually die out.
Hundreds of orcas, dolphins and other members of the dolphin family are held in captivity in the United States. While the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), passed in 1972, makes it more difficult to capture marine mammals from the wild, aquariums can still apply for permits or import animals caught in other countries. Whether wild caught or captive born, orcas and dolphins in captivity are sentenced to a life of confinement deprived of normal social and environmental interaction. Captured orcas and dolphins are confined to tanks as small as 24 feet by 24 feet wide and 6 feet deep. In tanks, the reverberations from their own sonar bouncing off walls drives some orcas and dolphins insane. Tanks are kept clean with chlorine, copper sulfate, and other harsh chemicals that irritate animals' eyes, causing many to swim with their eyes closed. Captured dolphins and orcas are often forced to learn tricks through food deprivation. Marine parks may withhold up to 60 percent of food before shows so that the animals will be "sharp" for performances. The stress of captivity is so great that some commit suicide.
The most common snake of the Anaconda genus is the green anaconda. These snakes are found in the tropical forests of South America and have the scientific name, Eunectes murinus. All members of the Eunectes genus are aquatic and found in South America; namely Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia Venezuela and Trinidad & Tobago.
The green anaconda is considered the largest snake in the world. Its cousin, the reticulated python, rivals the anaconda in length, but the anaconda’s girth makes it nearly twice as heavy. The green anaconda can grow to be 29 feet in length and 12 inches in girth. It is not uncommon for them to weigh in at 550 pounds. Females tend to be significantly larger than males. The yellow, dark spotted and Bolivian anaconda species are all a good deal smaller than the green anaconda.
Being aquatic, anacondas prefer to live in the swamps, marshes and slow moving rivers of the Amazon and Orinoco basins. On land in the tropical rainforests, anacondas are slow and clumsy, but in the water they are deadly. With their eyes and nasal slits located directly on top of their heads, anacondas can lay in wait for prey while almost completely submerged and hidden from sight. Their dark green color and body pattern affords them effective camouflage.
The green anaconda preys upon deer, birds, fish, turtles, capybara, caimans and the occasional jaguar. They can go weeks or even months without eating after a particularly large meal. Anacondas are nonvenemous and dispatch their prey by wrapping their thick, muscular body around it and constricting until the animal asphyxiates. Since the majority of their hunting is done in water, the anaconda’s prey is as likely to die from drowning as from constriction. Their jaws are attached by stretchy ligaments which allow them to swallow their kill whole. They are able to consume prey up to 50% of their own body size. A myth about anacondas is that they “unhinge” their jaws in order to swallow large prey. In reality, their jaws are not hinged like those of humans at all.
Anacondas sense nearby prey through a series of vibrations. They also detect chemical cues in the air with their forked tongues and Jacobson’s organs. Males of the species use these mechanisms to sense female pheromones during breeding season. Anacondas also have pit organs along their upper lip that allow them to detect heat signatures given off by potential prey. Their visual and auditory senses are poorly developed in comparison, but likely play a small role in hunting for prey.
Predation upon the anaconda is dependent upon the age and health of the individual snake. Young anacondas experience a high mortality rate, and are therefore very aggressive. Jaguars and caiman prey upon young snakes. Snakes in dryer areas experience higher levels of predation than those living in river basins. Large anacondas experience far fewer instances of predation, especially females who sometimes kill and eat males during mating season. When under attack, green anacondas burrow into the mud or flee into the water where they are much faster and more agile. If unable to escape an attack, they will coil into a ball to protect their head and emit an odor from their cloacal glands.
A group of anacondas is referred to as a bed or knot. During mating season, a knot of competing males will surround a female forming a breeding ball that can last up to four weeks. The males coil around the female and fight to gain access to her cloaca. The female may breed with several of these males during this period, and sometimes will eat the males after mating. It is not uncommon for a pregnant female to feed on nothing else until after birth, so this behavior ensures her survival. Competing males rarely fight with one another over a mate, and after breeding migrate back to their home territory or continue on in search of other females.
Unlike other snake species, the female anaconda retains her eggs until the time of birth. She delivers two to four dozen live young at the end of her seven month gestation period. Females mate during the dry season, usually March – May, then remain mostly inactive for the following seven months. They give birth in shallow water in the late afternoon or evening during the wet season. The group of live young is referred to as a clutch. Scientists have found that clutch size is proportional to the size of the snake, with larger females having larger clutches. This may be due to larger females having greater fat reserves than smaller females. Breeding usually occurs every other year allowing the females to recuperate from the trying tasks of breeding, pregnancy and birth. The average lifespan of the anaconda is approximately ten years in the wild and up to thirty years in captivity.
Anacondas are extremely adaptable to their environment, aiding in their survival in harsh tropical environments. During the dry period, the anaconda must either migrate in search of water or burrow into the mud for survival. Those that burrow underground enter a state of dormancy for the duration of the dry period. Anacondas living in direct proximity to river basins are usually spared this survival technique.
Anacondas are most active in the early evening when the oppressive tropical heat is less intense. They are able to cover long distances in short periods of time, especially when searching for water in the dry season, or when males are seeking females for breeding. Anacondas are poikilotherms, meaning they cannot regulate their own body temperature. They strategically position their bodies into the path of the sun for heat regulation.
THREATS TO ANACONDAS
Anacondas have little impact on the indigenous people of South America. They are one of the only snakes capable of killing and consuming a human, but since humans do not typically live in areas where anacondas thrive, these deaths are rare. Some Brazilians and Peruvians believe that the anaconda possesses magical and spiritual powers. They kill snakes and sell their body parts for use in rituals.
Monkeys are a large and varied group of mammals of the primate order. They live in trees, grasslands, forests, mountains and plains. They are seriously threatened by habitat loss.
The term monkey includes all primates that do not belong to the categories human, ape, or prosimian; however, monkeys do have certain common features. All are excellent climbers, and most are primarily arboreal. Nearly all live in tropical or sub-tropical climates. Unlike most of the prosimians, or lower primates, they are almost all day-active animals. Their faces are usually flat and rather human in appearance, their eyes point forward, and they have stereoscopic color vision. Their hands and feet are highly developed for grasping; the big toes and, where present, the thumbs are opposable. Nearly all have flat nails. Monkeys habitually sit in an erect posture.
Monkeys are most easily distinguished from apes by their tails. Apes have no tails. Apes swing arm-to-arm in trees, but most monkeys don’t. Instead, they run across branches. Their skeletal structure is similar to that of other four-footed animals.
Monkeys live in troops of up to several hundred individuals and travel about in search of food, having no permanent shelter. As in apes and humans, the female has a monthly reproductive cycle, and mating may occur at any time, but in some species mating is seasonal. Usually only one infant is born at a time; it is cared for by the mother for a long period.
Monkeys have their own complex language, using different sounds to identify different types of predators. They have been witnessed banging stones together to warn each other of nearby predators. They also use facial expressions and body movements to communicate with each other. Grinning, yawning, head bobbing, jerking the head and shoulders forward or pulling the lip is usually a sign of aggression. Affection is expressed by grooming.
Some monkeys are monogamous, mating for life. They become distressed when separated. They express affection by holding hands, nuzzling, cuddling, grooming each other, intertwining their tails and lip smacking.
The pygmy marmoset is the smallest monkey in the world measuring less than six inches and weighing only three to five ounces. The male mandrill is the world's largest monkey at just over 3 feet long and weighing over 70 pounds.
Most monkeys eat both plants and animals. Some also eat dirt. Monkeys peel their bananas like humans and do not eat the skins.
Monkeys can grasp with both their fingers and toes. Many monkeys are skilled tool users. They use branches to capture food, use leaves as gloves, smash nuts with rocks, remove spines and hairs from caterpillars by rubbing them against branches and use large branches to club snakes.
There are two large groups, or superfamilies, of monkeys: Old World monkeys (Cercopithecoidea) and New World monkeys (Ceboidea).
OLD WORLD MONKEYS
The Old World monkeys are found in South Asia, with a few species as far North as Japan and North China, and in all of Africa except the deserts. Most are arboreal, but a few, such as baboons and some macaque species, are ground dwellers. Some Old World monkeys lack tails; when a tail is present it may be long or short but is never prehensile (grasping). The nostrils are close together and tend to point downward. Many species have cheek pouches for holding food, and many have thick pads (called ischial callosities), on the buttocks. Their gestation period is five to nine months. Adult Old World monkeys have 32 teeth. The Old World monkeys, sometimes called true monkeys, are more closely related to the apes and humans than they are to the New World monkeys; the two monkey groups probably evolved separately from ancestral primates.
The Old World monkeys include the many species of macaque, widely distributed throughout Africa and Asia. The rhesus monkey is an Asian macaque. Related to the macaques are the baboons of Africa and South West Asia, as well as the mandrill and mangabey of Africa. The guerezas, or colobus monkeys (genus Colobus), are very large, long-tailed, leaf-eating African monkeys. Their Asian relatives, the langurs and leaf monkeys, include the sacred monkeys of India. The snub-nosed monkey of China and the proboscis monkey of Borneo are langurlike monkeys with peculiar snouts. The guenons (Cercopithecus) are a large group of long-legged, long-tailed, omnivorous monkeys found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. One very widespread guenon species is the green monkey, or vervet, with olive-brown fur.
NEW WORLD MONKEYS
The New World monkeys are found from South Mexico to central South America, except in the high mountains, and are classified into two families (Callatrichids and Cebids). The Callatrichids are very small, while the Cebids are similar in size to the Old World monkeys. They are all thoroughly arboreal and most have long, prehensile tails with which they can manipulate objects and hang from branches. In most the thumb is lacking. They have widely separated nostrils that tend to point outward; they lack cheek pouches and ischial callosities (a thickened piece of skin found on the buttocks). Their gestation period is four to five months. Adults of most New World species have 36 teeth. The New World monkeys include the marmosets and tamarins, small monkeys with claws that are classified in a family of their own, the Callithricidae. The rest of the New World monkeys are classified in the family Cebidae. They include the capuchin (genus Cebus), commonly seen in captivity, which has a partially prehensile tail. Prehensile tails are found in the spider monkey and woolly monkey as well as in the howler monkey, the largest member of the family, which has a voice that carries several miles. Smaller forms with nonprehensile tails are the squirrel monkey and titi, the nocturnal douroucouli, or owl monkey, the saki, and the ouakari.
Thousands of primates are peddled as "pets" each year, including monkeys, apes and lemurs. Highly intelligent and social animals, they suffer terribly in the inhumane pet trade.
These wild animals are bred in captivity and taken from their mothers within hours or days of birth, or stolen from their mother in the wild who is often killed in the process. Sold like toys by unethical businesses and backyard breeders, profit is put above the welfare of the animals. Unprepared guardians purchase the animals, often with little knowledge on primate care. Adorable baby monkeys quickly grow into aggressive and territorial adults. Guardians often resort to drastic measures to control the animals, such as inhumane tooth removal. Eventually they are abandoned, given to roadside zoos or sold to another unprepared family where the cycle begins again. They end up living their lives in tiny cages, isolated, lonely, deprived of their wild nature and social interaction with their own kind.
The complex physical, psychological and social needs of primates can never be met when they are kept as pets. Living in constant frustration, these wild animals can inflict serious and catastrophic injuries. They can also spread diseases that are deadly to humans, including viral, bacterial, fungal and parasitic infections. It is common for monkeys to carry tuberculosis, hepatitis and simian herpes B.
Even the smallest of monkeys are incredibly strong and become unpredictable when they reach sexual maturity. Hundreds of people have been injured by attacks from primates, sometimes causing permanent disability and disfigurement. MONKEYS USED IN RESEARCH
Every year thousands of monkeys are imprisoned in laboratories, where they are abused, neglected and killed in invasive and painful experiments. They are either bred in government or commercial facilities or laboratories, or captured from the wild. Those born in laboratories are torn from their mothers usually within three days of birth. Those from the wild are often taken from their mothers, who are sometimes killed. They are crammed into tiny crates with little to no food or water and taken to filthy holding centers, followed by long and terrifying trips in the cargo holds of passenger airlines. Following the traumatic separation from their families and/or homes, monkeys in laboratories are usually confined to small, barren cages. They barely have enough room to sit, stand, lie down or turn around.
90 percent of primates in laboratories exhibit abnormal behaviors caused by the physical abuse, psychological stress, social isolation and barren confinement that they are forced to endure. Many go insane, rocking back and forth, pacing endlessly in the cages, and engaging in repetitive motions and acts of self-mutilation.
Their fundamental needs and desires are disregarded and they are subjected to painful and traumatic procedures. Most animal experiments are not relevant to human health and do not contribute meaningfully to medical advances. Human clinical and epidemiological studies, human tissue and cell-based research methods, cadavers, sophisticated high-fidelity human patient simulators and computational models are more reliable, more precise, less expensive and more humane than animal experiments.
MONKEYS IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY
The use of monkeys as “entertainers” removes animals from their natural habitat; depriving them of the ability to freely engage in instinctual behaviors. Both children and adults are desensitized to animal mistreatment by the animal entertainment industry. Whether they're at a zoo, on a film set, or under a circus tent, monkeys used as entertainment are forced to perform unnatural and painful tasks through abusive training methods.
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.
Circus animals are forced to travel in box cars or trucks for months at a time with no regard for temperature, exercise or normal interaction with their own kind. These animals do not willingly stand on their heads, jump through rings of fire, or ride bicycles. They don’t perform these tricks because they want to and they don’t do any of these meaningless acts in their natural habitat. They do not perform because they are positively reinforced. Instead, they are trained with varying levels of punishment, neglect and deprivation.
Even under the best of circumstances, captivity is cruel for wild animals. Confined to tiny areas and gawked at by crowds, animals in exhibits and acts endure constant stress. They may suffer from temperature extremes and irregular feeding and watering. Without exercise, they become listless, their immune systems are weakened, and they become prone to sickness; many resort to self-mutilation in reaction to stress or boredom. Mental illness is rampant among confined animals. Torn from their families and deprived of all dignity, every part of their lives is controlled by their captors.
While zoos may appear to be educational and conservation-oriented, most are designed with the needs and desires of the visitors in mind, not the needs of the animals. Many animals in zoos exhibit abnormal behavior as a result of being deprived of their natural environments and social structures. When the facility breeds too many animals they become "surplus" and often are sold to laboratories, traveling shows, shooting ranches, or to private individuals who may be unqualified to care for them.
The cougar (Puma concolor), also commonly known as the mountain lion, puma, or catamount, is a large felid of the subfamily Felinae native to the Americas. Its range, from the Canadian Yukon to the southern Andes of South America, is the greatest of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere. An adaptable, generalist species, the cougar is found in most American habitat types. It is the second heaviest cat in the New World, after the jaguar. The cougar is more closely related to smaller felines, including the domestic cat, than to any subspecies of lion, of which only the jaguar is native to the Western Hemisphere.
The cougar is an ambush predator and pursues a wide variety of prey. Primary food sources are ungulates, which include deer, such as mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, and moose. Other ungulates it preys on are bighorn sheep, as well as domestic cattle, horses and sheep, particularly in the northern part of its range. Cougars will also hunt species as small as insects and rodents.
This cat prefers habitats with dense underbrush and rocky areas for stalking, but can also live in open areas. The cougar is territorial and survives at low population densities. Individual territory sizes depend on terrain, vegetation, and abundance of prey. While large, it is not always the apex predator in its range, yielding to the jaguar, gray wolf, American black bear, and grizzly bear. It is reclusive and mostly avoids people.
Female cougars reach sexual maturity between one-and-a-half to three years of age. They typically average one litter every two to three years throughout their reproductive lives, though the period can be as short as one year. Females are in estrus for about 8 days of a 23-day cycle; the gestation period is approximately 91 days. Females are sometimes reported as monogamous. Copulation is brief but frequent.
Only females are involved in parenting. Female cougars are fiercely protective of their cubs, and have been seen to successfully fight off animals as large as American black bears in their defense. Litter size is between one and six cubs; typically two. Caves and other alcoves that offer protection are used as litter dens. Born blind, cubs are completely dependent on their mother at first, and begin to be weaned at around three months of age. As they grow, they begin to go out on forays with their mother, first visiting kill sites, and after six months beginning to hunt small prey on their own. When cougars are born they have spots, but they lose them by the age of 2 1/2 years.
Young adults leave their mother to attempt to establish their own territory at around two years of age and sometimes earlier; males tend to leave sooner. Life expectancy is reported at eight to 13 years, though they have been known to live as long as 30 years. Causes of death in the wild include disability and disease, competition with other cougars, starvation, accidents, and, where allowed, human hunting. Feline immunodeficiency virus, an endemic HIV-like virus in cats, is well-adapted to the cougar.
Like almost all cats, the cougar is a solitary animal. Only mothers and kittens live in groups, with adults meeting only to mate. They are secretive and crepuscular, being most active around dawn and dusk. Estimates of territory sizes vary greatly, from 10 to 386 square miles, with female ranges half the size of males. Male ranges may include or overlap with those of females but, at least where studied, not with those of other males, which serves to reduce conflict between cougars. Ranges of females may overlap slightly with each other. Scrape marks, urine, and feces are used to mark territory and attract mates. Males may scrape together a small pile of leaves and grasses and then urinate on it as a way of marking territory. Home range sizes and overall cougar abundance depend on terrain, vegetation, and prey abundance.
Because males disperse farther than females and compete more directly for mates and territory, they are most likely to be involved in conflict. Where a subadult fails to leave his maternal range, for example, he may be killed by his father. When males encounter each other, they hiss, spit, and may engage in violent conflict if neither backs down.
THREATS TO COUGARS
Conservation threats to the species include persecution as a pest animal, environmental degradation and habitat fragmentation, and depletion of their prey base. Wildlife corridors and sufficient range areas are critical to the sustainability of cougar populations.
The cougar's total breeding population is estimated at less than 50,000 by the IUCN, with a declining trend. Prolific hunting following European colonization of the Americas and the ongoing human development of cougar habitat has caused populations to drop in most parts of its historical range. In particular, the cougar was extirpated in eastern North America in the beginning of the 20th century, except for an isolated Florida panther subpopulation. However, in recent decades, breeding populations have moved east into the far western parts of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Transient males have been verified in Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and Illinois. They have been observed as far east as coastal Connecticut. Eastern cougars (Puma concolor cougar) are commonly sighted, despite being declared extirpated in 2011.
Cougar hunting is prohibited in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, French Guiana, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and Uruguay. The cat has no reported legal protection in Ecuador, El Salvador, and Guyana. Regulated cougar hunting is still common in the United States and Canada, although they are protected from all hunting in the Yukon; it is permitted in every U.S. state from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Mountain lions may be killed in California if “a depredation permit is issued to take a specific lion killing livestock or pets; to preserve public safety; or to protect listed bighorn sheep.” Texas is the only state in the United States with a viable population of cougars that does not protect that population in some way. In Texas, cougars are listed as “nuisance wildlife” and any person holding a hunting or a trapping permit can kill a cougar regardless of the season, number killed, sex or age of the animal.
Moose, the largest member of the deer family, are found in the northern parts of Eurasia and North America. The Eurasian species, A. alces, is known in Europe as the elk, a name which in North America is applied to another large deer, the wapiti. The Eurasian and the American moose are quite similar, but the American moose is somewhat larger and is considered by some to be a separate species, A. americana. It inhabits the coniferous forests of Canada and the northern United States. The Eurasian moose is found from Scandinavia to E Siberia.
Moose have a heavy brown body with humped shoulders, and long, lighter-colored legs; the front pair longer than the hind legs. They have a thick, overhanging, almost trunk like muzzle and a short neck. A flap of skin covered with long hair, the bell, hangs from their throats. Males have broad, extremely flattened antlers, with a spread of up to 6 feet. The largest variety is the Alaska moose; the adult male weighs from 1,000 to 1,800 pounds and stands as much as 71⁄2 feet high at the shoulder.
Browsers rather than grazers, moose eat leaves, twigs, buds, and the bark of some woody plants, as well as lichens, aquatic plants, and some of the taller herbaceous land plants. Moose live in small groups during the summer, sometimes forming large herds in the winter. They are polygamous, the males becoming aggressive during the mating season. They are strong swimmers, reportedly crossing lakes many miles wide.
Although moose are generally timid, the males become very bold during the autumn breeding season; it is not uncommon for them to charge at moving trains. The females utter a loud call, similar to the lowing of cattle. During breeding (the rut), males will compete for females by fighting with their antlers and hoofs and by fierce clashing of antlers. As well as bellowing, the female moose emits a strong, odoriferous pheromone in order to attract a mate.
Females may begin to breed at 2, but more usually, 3 years of age. The mother gives birth to one, or occasionally two, calves in spring. The gestation period for a moose is about 216 to 240 days. Moose calves grow very quickly, nourished by their mother's milk, which is very high in fat and other nutrients. Females can be extremely protective of their young.
In North America, during the winter, moose may form loose aggregations in fairly dense conifer forests, which they keep open by trampling the snow. In the spring, moose can often be seen in drainage ditches at the side of roads, taking advantage of road salt which has run off the road. These minerals replace electrolytes missing from their winter diet.
The lifespan of a moose in the wild is roughly 15 to 25 years.
THREATS TO MOOSE
In North America, changes in land use patterns, mainly the clearing of northern forests for settlement and agriculture, have led to the range of the white tailed deer expanding northward. Where their ranges overlap, moose may become infected by parasites carried by the deer such as brain worm, Parelaphostrongylus tenuis and winter ticks, Dermacentor albipictus, which, though fairly harmless to deer, can be fatal to moose.
Ticks are threatening moose populations. Thousands of ticks can infest a single moose, causing anemia and death. In an attempt to rid themselves of ticks, moose rub off patches of their fur, leaving them more vulnerable to cold winter temperatures. Changes in climate may also threaten moose.
Protection in national parks and reserves in Canada and the United States has saved the moose from extermination. However, hunting and habitat degradation remain major threats to moose. Moose once lived throughout most of the United States and Canada, but the species population dwindled from hunting and land development. Moose are known to visit residential areas in search of food, and motorists occasionally collide with them. Hundreds of moose calves are orphaned every year due to the death of their mothers.
Government mismanagement is another threat to moose. Wildlife management agencies, rather than working to preserve ecosystems, often manage wildlife purely for human recreation. Moose are viewed as a "resource" to be conserved simply for recreational purposes. Left unaltered, the delicate balance of ecosystems is maintained by nature with predators reducing the sickest and weakest individuals.
The Lampyridae are a family of insects in the beetle order Coleoptera. They are winged beetles, and commonly called fireflies or lightning bugs for their use of bioluminescence to attract mates or prey. Fireflies produce a "cold light", with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies. This chemically produced light from the lower abdomen may be yellow, green, or pale red.
About 2,000 species of fireflies are found in temperate and tropical environments. Many are in marshes or in wet, wooded areas where firefly babies have abundant sources of food. These larvae emit light and often are called "glowworms". In many species, both male and female fireflies have the ability to fly, but in some species, the females are flightless.
Fireflies tend to be brown and soft-bodied, often with front wings more leathery than those of other beetles. Although the females of some species are similar in appearance to males, larviform females (adult females resemble the larvae) are found in many other firefly species. These females can often be distinguished from the larvae only because they have compound eyes. The most commonly known fireflies are nocturnal, although there are numerous species that are diurnal (active during the day). Most diurnal species are not luminescent; however, some species that remain in shadowy areas may produce light.
A few days after mating, a female lays her fertilized eggs on or just below the surface of the ground. The eggs hatch three to four weeks later, and baby fireflies feed until the end of the summer. Fireflies hibernate over winter during the larval stage, some species for several years. Some do this by burrowing underground, while others find places on or under the bark of trees. They emerge in the spring. After several weeks of feeding, they pupate for 1 to 2.5 weeks and emerge as adults. The larvae of most species are specialized predators and feed on other larvae, terrestrial snails, and slugs. Adult diet varies: some are predatory, while others feed on plant pollen or nectar. Some, like the European Glow-worm beetle, have no mouth.
Light production in fireflies is due to a type of chemical reaction called bioluminescence. This process occurs in specialized light-emitting organs, usually on a firefly's lower abdomen. All fireflies glow as larvae. Bioluminescence serves a different function in larvae than it does in adults. It appears to be a warning signal to predators, since many firefly larvae contain chemicals that are distasteful or toxic. Most fireflies are quite distasteful to eat and sometimes poisonous to vertebrate predators. Light in adult beetles was originally thought to be used for similar warning purposes, but now its primary purpose is thought to be used in mate selection. Fireflies are a classic example of an animal that uses bioluminescence for sexual selection. They have a variety of ways to communicate with mates in courtships: steady glows, flashing, and the use of chemical signals unrelated to photic systems. Some species are distinguished by the unique courtship flash patterns emitted by flying males in search of females. In general, females do not fly, but do give a flash response to males of their own species.
Tropical fireflies, in particular, in Southeast Asia, routinely synchronize their flashes among large groups. At night along river banks in the Malaysian jungles, fireflies synchronize their light emissions precisely. Current hypotheses about the causes of this behavior involve diet, social interaction, and altitude. In the Philippines, thousands of fireflies can be seen all year-round in the town of Donsol. In the United States, one of the most famous sightings of fireflies blinking in unison occurs annually near Elkmont, Tennessee, in the Great Smoky Mountains during the first weeks of June. Congaree National Park in South Carolina is another host to this phenomenon.
Female Photuris fireflies are known for mimicking the mating flashes of other lightning bugs for the sole purpose of predation. Target males are attracted to what appears to be a suitable mate, and are then eaten. For this reason, sometimes, Photuris species are referred to as "femme fatale fireflies."
Many fireflies do not produce light. Usually these species are diurnal, or day-flying. A few diurnal fireflies that inhabit primarily shadowy places, such as beneath tall plants or trees, are luminescent. These fireflies use pheromones to signal mates, while their flashing lights are used for warning signals.
THREATS TO FIREFLIES
Fireflies are disappearing all over the world. The clearing of forests, the destruction of wetlands, the use of toxic chemicals in agriculture and on residential lawns and gardens are all to blame. But the firefly may suffer from something we might not think about - light pollution. It is likely that light from development and traffic may contribute to the firefly’s decline. Ambient light may be responsible for reducing firefly numbers by disrupting their mating signals.
You can support firefly populations by following these simple steps. If you make your property or garden a firefly haven, the beauty of their light will more than repay you for your time and effort:
Don’t catch the fireflies. Adult fireflies live only long enough to mate and lay eggs. Catching fireflies in glass jars is a nostalgic pastime for children on a summer’s evening, but it results in a firefly’s brief time trapped in a glass prison. Let them find their mates and complete their life cycle without disturbance.
Keep your backyard in the dark. Turn off exterior lights and even remove solar garden lights. If you have bright interior lighting, draw your curtains and lower your blinds at night.
Leave rotting logs and leaves on the ground. Provide firefly larvae the conditions they need to grow to the adult, breeding stage. Allow some of the branches and leaf litter that fall naturally from the trees on your property to remain under the trees. Or tuck the logs into your garden. Use bark mulch, preferably large nuggets, around your plantings to create a thick layer of organic, moisture retaining material.
Choose plants that conserve moisture. Solomon’s Seal, iris and hydrangea are a few of the plants that shade the ground beneath them. To create even more shade, plant low growing plants like wild ginger under the taller plants. Beds thickly planted in this way are like mini jungles, perfect for not only fireflies, but also toads and other moisture loving animals.
Create a water garden. Any source of water will bring fireflies to congregate. A water garden will attract them, and if you plant the edges of your pond with bog plants and keep it moist, the fireflies will stay and hopefully breed there. Chemically treated ponds and pools are not a natural environment for anything. A balanced water garden does not need chemicals.
Do not use pesticides. Pesticides and weed killers have had their effect on firefly populations.
Use natural fertilizers. Artificial chemicals rarely mix with nature and many of the harmful chemicals found in pesticides are also found in fertilizers. It is very possible that chemical fertilizers harm firefly populations and the populations of other beneficial insects. Your garden can flourish beautifully with natural fertilizers. And fertilizing your lawn just makes more work for you and costs you more in gasoline.
Don’t over-mow your lawn. Fireflies mostly stay on the ground during the day and fly at night. Frequent mowing disturbs them. Fireflies prefer to live in long grasses. So mowing less often and leaving some areas of long grass may increase their numbers in your yard.
Plant trees. A firefly habitat needs trees to create shade. Shade means a low light area that can give the fireflies more time to find a mate. Fast-growing shade trees include Red Maple, River Birch, Tulip and most pine trees. Also, if left to accumulate, leaf litter and the fallen needles of pines will provide a habitat for the worms and slugs that firefly larvae eat.
A dragonfly is an insect belonging to the suborder Anisoptera. Dragonflies have large multifaceted eyes, two pairs of strong transparent wings, sometimes with colored patches, and an elongated body. Many dragonflies have brilliant iridescent or metallic colors produced by structural coloration, making them conspicuous in flight.
There are about 3000 species of dragonflies in the world today. Most are tropical, with a few species in temperate regions.
Dragonflies can be mistaken for the related group, damselflies (Zygoptera), which are similar but usually lighter in build. The wings of most dragonflies are held flat and away from the body when at rest, while damselflies hold the wings folded, along or above the abdomen. Dragonflies are agile fliers while damselflies have a weaker, fluttery flight.
Dragonflies are predators, both during the aquatic larval stage, when they are known as nymphs, and as adults. Up to several years of the insect's life is spent as a nymph living in freshwater; the adults may be on the wing for just a few days or weeks. They are fast agile fliers, sometimes migrating across oceans, and are often but not always found near water.
Many dragonflies, particularly males, are territorial. Some defend a territory against others of their own species, some against other species of dragonfly and a few against insects in unrelated groups. Defending a breeding territory is fairly common among male dragonflies, especially among species that congregate around ponds in large numbers. The territory will contain desirable features such as a sunlit stretch of shallow water, a special plant species or a particular substrate that is necessary for egg-laying. The territory may be small or large, depending on its quality, the time of day and the number of competitors, and may be held for a few minutes or several hours. Some dragonflies signal ownership with striking colors on their face, abdomen, legs or wings. Other dragonflies engage in aerial dogfights or high speed chases. Any female will need to mate with the territory holder before laying her eggs.
Dragonflies have a uniquely complex method of reproduction. During mating, the male grasps the female at the back of the head or on the prothorax, and the female curls her abdomen under her body to pick up sperm from the male's secondary genitalia at the front of his abdomen, forming the "heart" or "wheel" posture.
Egg-laying involves the female darting over floating or waterside vegetation to deposit eggs, with the male hovering above her or continuing to clasp her and flying in tandem. The male attempts to prevent rivals from removing his sperm and inserting their own. When the female submerges to deposit eggs, the male may help to pull her out of the water.
A clutch of eggs may number as many as 1,500, and they take about a week to hatch. Most of a dragonfly's life is spent as a nymph, beneath the water's surface. The nymph feeds on animals such as mosquito larvae, tadpoles and small fish. They breathe through gills in their rectum, and can rapidly propel themselves by suddenly expelling water through the anus.
The larval stage of large dragonflies lasts up to five years in large species, and between two months and three years in smaller species. When ready to metamorphose into an adult, dragonfly babies stop feeding and go to the surface, generally at night. They remain stationary with heads out of the water while their respiration system adapts to breathing air. They then climbs up a plant, and moult. The adult dragonfly crawls out of its larval skin.
Dragonflies are powerful and agile fliers, capable of migrating across oceans, moving in any direction and changing direction suddenly. In flight, the adult dragonfly can propel itself in six directions: upward, downward, forward, back, to left and to right.
Being cold-blooded, dragonflies raise their temperature by basking in the sun. Early in the morning they may choose to perch in a vertical position with the wings outstretched. In the middle of the day, a horizontal stance may be chosen. Another method of warming up used by some larger dragonflies is wing-whirring, a rapid vibration of the wings that causes heat to be generated in the flight muscles. Becoming too hot is another hazard, prompting a dragonfly to find shady area for perching.
Adult dragonflies hunt on the wing using their exceptionally acute eyesight and strong agile flight. They are almost exclusively carnivorous, eating a wide variety of insects ranging from small midges and mosquitoes to butterflies, moths, damselflies and smaller dragonflies.
Although dragonflies are swift and agile fliers, there are predators fast enough to catch them. These include falcons such as the American kestrel, the merlin and the hobby. Nighthawks, swifts, flycatchers and swallows also take some adults, as well as some species of wasp. In the water, various species of duck and heron eat dragonfly larvae and they are also preyed on by newts, frogs, fish and water spiders.
THREATS TO DRAGONFLIES
Loss of wetland habitat threatens dragonfly populations around the world. With the destruction of rainforest habitats, many species are in danger of becoming extinct before they have even been named. The greatest cause of decline is forest clearance with the consequent drying up of streams and pools which become clogged with silt. The damming of rivers for hydro-electric plants and the drainage of low-lying land has reduced suitable habitat, as has pollution and the introduction of alien species.
Habitat degradation has reduced dragonfly populations across the world, for example in Japan. Over 60% of Japan's wetlands were lost in the twentieth century, so its dragonflies now depend largely on rice fields, ponds and creeks. Dragonflies feed on pest insects in rice, acting as a natural pest control. Dragonflies are steadily declining in Africa, and represent a conservation priority.
The dragonfly's long lifespan and low population density makes them vulnerable to disturbance, such as from collisions with vehicles on roads built near wetlands. Species that fly low and slow may be most at risk. Dragonflies are used in traditional medicine in Japan and China, and caught for food in Indonesia.
Jackals are medium sized members of the canine family. There are four main species of jackal: the side-striped jackal, the golden jackal, the black-backed jackal and the Ethiopian wolf jackal.
Jackals vary in color and size. They have golden, rust or silver-colored black fur and bushy tails. Jackals inhabit deserts, grasslands, savannas, marshes, mountains, bush-lands and woodlands. The golden jackal inhabits open deserts, savannas and arid grasslands. The side-striped jackal lives in moist savannas, marshes, mountains and bushlands. The black-backed jackal, or sliver-backed jackal, is found primarily in woodlands and savannas.
Jackals are opportunistic omnivores. They eat mostly a carnivorous diet and have adapted to hunting small mammals, reptiles and birds. Being opportunistic feeders, they eat whatever is available. Some species of jackal eat poisonous snakes. Jackals also scavenge the remains of carcasses killed by other larger predators. Many jackals, especially those in the tropics of Southeast Asia, also eat plants.
Jackals are usually nocturnal mammals, active at night. Some jackals in remote areas are more diurnal, active during the cooler times of the day. Jackals sleep in crevices in rocks and dens made by other animals. Jackals are fast running predators and can run for long periods.
Jackals live singly or in pairs, or in tribes called packs. 10 to 30 jackals can reside in a pack. Jackal community members work together to protect each other. Jackals who live in packs often hunt alone or with only one other jackal. Fewer jackals hunting together increases the chance of ambushing prey as they can be more stealthy and silent.
Jackals are territorial and defend their marked territories. Using a wide range of vocal sounds specific to each jackal family, they successfully keep other jackals away from their community. It is uncommon for jackals of other tribes to enter the territory. Verbal communication among jackals includes yips, howls, growls and owl-like hoots. Yipping calls are made when the family gathers. A siren-like howl is used to announce a food source has been found. Only family members respond to their own family's calls – ignoring the calls of other jackals.
Jackal mating season varies based on their location. African jackal mating season occurs in October. Southeast Europe jackal mating season takes place in December. Jackals in India mate throughout the year. Jackals are monogamous, mating for life. The gestation period lasts about 2 months. Typically 2 to 4 babies are born, but litters can be up to 9 cubs. Jackal babies are kept in underground dens, caves or rock crevices. Jackal mothers move the location of the den about every two weeks to prevent predators from finding the babies. Jackal babies are blind the first 10 days. They feed on their mother's milk and regurgitated meat provided by family members for the first couple of months. By the age of 6 months, young jackals are taught to hunt. Older pups help to take care of younger jackal babies.
Jackals are preyed upon by leopards, hyenas and eagles. Jackal babies are an easy target of eagles.
Jackals live up to 9 years in the wild.
THREATS TO JACKALS
Some jackals are endangered due to habitat loss, animal agriculture and hunting. As jackal habitats are lost, jackals increasingly infringe on human settlements where they can be viewed as a threat to livestock and poultry and are killed as pests.
Although ‘melonhead’ and ‘sea canary’ may be some common nicknames for this unique ocean dweller, the beluga is most commonly referred to as the white whale. Belonging to the family Monodontidae, the beluga’s only other family member is the narwhal, and their appearance and physiology is a result of being adapted to life in the cold waters of the Arctic. Beluga populations are also found in the seas and coastal areas around Russia, Greenland and North America, though many do migrate from the Arctic ice cap to warmer estuaries and coastal waters during the summer.
Belugas are some of the most easily recognized ocean mammals; they’re entirely white and have a distinctive bulge at the front of their heads called a melon. Unlike dolphins, belugas don’t possess a dorsal fin. Reaching maturity at around 10 years of age, male belugas can reach 18 feet long and weigh up to 3,500 lb, while females are generally smaller, growing up to 13.5 feet in length and weighing as much as 2,600 lbs. Between 40% and 50% of their body weight is actually blubber (fat), providing excellent insulation from frigid Arctic water; in fact, they have the highest blubber percentage of any whale. Their body shape is stocky and rounded, with broad, short flippers and a curved tailfin.
The beluga’s coloration is actually a camouflage technique, allowing them to blend in with the ice to escape detection by their predators, which are mainly polar bears and orcas. Calves are born dark grey, and progressively lighten over the next 7 years as they mature.
Belugas are also the only marine mammal that shed their skin; during the winter, their outer epidermal (skin) layer becomes thicker and more yellowish, but during the summer, they rub themselves on riverbed gravel to remove the extra layer.
The anatomy of a beluga’s head is distinctive among other ocean dwelling mammals. The neck vertebrae are not fused, allowing them to move their head from side to side without needing to rotate their entire body; this helps when hunting prey and gives them better maneuverability in deeper water. Their beak (called a rostrum) has around 40 small, blunt teeth that are used to catch prey, and they have a single blowhole on the top of their head.
A beluga’s melon is extremely essential to its ability to accurately move through its ocean home and hunt. Their melon is a prominent bulge at the front of their head that contains an organ used for echolocation and communication. A beluga can actually focus the sounds they emit by changing the shape of its head. Belugas also use their head, along with their dorsal ridge, to help open up small holes in the ice through which they can breathe.
Belugas are the lazy divers of the whale world, typically not diving any deeper than about 20 m (66 feet), and they usually prefer to swim only at a depth that covers their bodies. They can stay underwater for 10-15 minutes, though a usual dive is usually much shorter than that, lasting around 3-5 minutes, and their heartbeat slows to between 12 and 20 beats per minute during a dive. They don’t jump out of the water like dolphins or killer whale relatives, and are slower swimmers too, being rather less aerodynamic marine mammals.
These beautiful whales have a very developed sense of hearing, which is also necessary for echolocation. They receive sound waves through their lower jaw, which are then transmitted towards their middle ear, and they can hear sounds within the range of 1.2 kHz to 120 kHz; to compare, we humans only have an average hearing range between 0.02 to 20 kHz. Their vision isn’t quite as spectacular, though they are able to see in and outside of water, and it’s likely that they can see some colors, since their retinas (surface covering the back of their eyes) contains cones. These ocean dwellers have no sense of smell, however.
Like other whales, belugas are very sociable and form small family groups called pods that can number anywhere from 2 to 25 members. They communicate with each other using whistles, trills and squawks, and their sounds are sometimes of such high frequency that they sound like birdsong. A pod is usually led by one male, but it’s not unusual for individual members to move from pod to pod.
Belugas seek out frequent physical contact with each other, they hunt in coordinated groups together, and they play chase and stage mock fights. They tend to be curious and investigative as well, often approaching humans in wild settings, swimming along boats, and playing with objects that they find in the water.
The type of diet that a beluga eats depends on the region in which they live and the season of the year. A typical diet is made up mainly of fish like cod, halibut, and Pacific salmon, as well as invertebrates like shrimp, squid, octopus, clams and sea snails. They search for food on the ocean floor or join with a group of other belugas to herd fish onto more shallow shoals.
Belugas reach breeding maturity by about four years of age, and females tend to birth one calf every three years or so. It’s not known if belugas can delay implantation of a fertilized egg, but gestation times can vary so greatly (anywhere from 12 to 15. 8 months after mating). Calves are born in warmer waters around bays or estuaries, and can swim by their mother’s side from birth, nursing every hour and staying dependent on her for the first year.
THREATS TO BELUGAS
Although polar bears and killer whales are the beluga’s only natural threats, these whales are also affected by water pollution and hunt-to-capture expeditions which provide whales for marine exhibits worldwide.
Whaling by European and American whalers in the 18th and 19th centuries severely affected beluga populations, as they were hunted for meat, blubber, and oil from their melons. Belugas make easy prey because of a predictable migration pattern. Indigenous populations in the Canadian, Alaskan and Russian Arctic regions still hunt belugas for food and skin.
Belugas are listed as ‘near threatened’ by the IUCN, and are protected under the Marine Mammal Act in the USA.
Spring rains and warmer temperatures bring out the spotted salamander. These amphibians are purple, with yellow spots, and grow up to 8 inches long.
The spotted salamander is normally secretive, living beneath rocks or under logs. They spend only two weeks or so above ground every year, feeding at night on worms, slugs, spiders and millipedes. They can secrete a noxious milky toxin from glands in their backs and tails to discourage would-be predators.
The spotted salamander offers a unique lesson in procreation. When mating, males circle a female, often so many that they form a grapefruit-size ball of animals in the water. Males drop sperm packets that the female will then choose from. When she has made her choice, she will bring the sperm into her body to fertilize her eggs. Breeding finished, the salamanders move back into the woods and hide themselves again.
Spotted salamanders are among those amphibians, programmed through evolution, to return to the water where they were born to breed. They breed in “vernal pools”, a temporary gathering of water that is too shallow to support fish that would eat the salamander’s eggs. When conditions are right, you might see hundreds of them making their way, up to a half-mile, through the woods to reach their birth pool. Vernal pools derive their name from the Latin “vernus”, meaning “belonging to spring”. Every spring, these small wetlands fill with water and blossom into life, only to dry up and disappear into the forest floor by autumn.
The multifarious organisms that inhabit a vernal pool race against time and compete with each other to flourish in a fragile environment, where rain one day too late can mean the end of their genetic survival. Each pool is a self-contained microcosm. With a single dip of the net, a student of nature can find an incredible wealth of life forms and adaptations. It is a world full of beauty and drama, close to our homes, yet one that most of us have never seen. Sadly, as development destroys our green spaces and woodlands, these pools are becoming one of nature’s most rapidly disappearing natural gems.
THREATS TO SALAMANDERS
A general decline in amphibian species has been linked with the fungal disease chytridiomycosis. A higher proportion of salamander species than of frogs or caecilians are in one of the at-risk categories established by the IUCN. Salamanders showed a significant diminution in numbers in the last few decades of the 20th century, although no direct link between the fungus and the population decline has yet been found. Deforestation, resulting in fragmentation of suitable habitats, and changes in climate are possible contributory factors.
The Chinese giant salamander, at 6 feet the largest amphibian in the world, is critically endangered, as it is collected for food and for use in traditional Chinese medicine. The hellbender is another large, long-lived species with dwindling numbers and fewer juveniles reaching maturity than previously. Habitat loss, silting of streams, pollution and disease have all been implicated in the decline.
Of the 20 species of minute salamanders in Mexico, half are believed to have become extinct and most of the others are critically endangered. Specific reasons for the decline may include climate change, chytridiomycosis, or volcanic activity, but the main threat is habitat destruction as logging, agricultural activities, and human settlement reduce their often tiny, fragmented ranges.
The fastest land animal in the world, the cheetah is a marvel of evolution. Capable of running up to 70 miles per hour, the cheetah’s slender, long-legged body is built for speed. Its spotted coat, small head and ears, and distinctive "tear stripes" from the corner of the eyes down the sides of the nose make the cheetah highly recognizable among the large cats of Africa.
The cheetah is smaller than other big cats, measuring 44 to 53 inches long with a tail length of 26 to 33 inches. Cheetahs usually weigh 110 to 140 pounds. An estimated 9,000 to 12,000 cheetahs remain in the wild. They live an average of 10 to 12 years. Once found throughout Africa and Asia, cheetahs are now confined to parts of eastern and southwestern Africa.
Cheetahs thrive in areas with vast expanses of land where prey is abundant. In Namibia cheetahs have been found in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, savannahs, dense vegetation, and mountainous terrain. Ninety five percent live on commercial farms. Cheetahs are found in the wild primarily in Africa, but in the past their range extended into northern and southern India. Conservationists using camera traps have recently discovered surviving populations in Iran and are taking steps to protect them. In much of their former range they were domesticated by aristocrats and used to hunt antelopes in much the same way as is still done with members of the greyhound group of dogs. Aside from an estimated 200 cheetahs living in Iran (Khorasan Province), the distribution of cheetahs is now limited to Africa. There are 5 subspecies of cheetah in the genus Acinonyx: four in Africa and one in Iran. The endangered subspecies Acinonyx jubatus venaticus lives in Asia (Iran). In 1990, there were reports in the Times of India of a cheetah sighting in eastern India. There is a chance some cheetahs remain in India, though it is doubtful. There have also been reports of Asiatic cheetahs in the Balochistan Province of Pakistan, though these continue to be unverified. The cheetah prefers to live in an open biotope, such as semi desert, prairie, and thick brush.
Cheetahs rely on a burst of speed to catch such swift prey as gazelles, wildebeest calves, impalas and smaller hoofed animals, knocking their prey to the ground and delivering a suffocating bite to the neck. They must eat quickly to avoid losing their kill to other carnivores.
Cheetahs are typically solitary creatures. Females raise their cubs for about a year. Males sometimes live with a small group of brothers from the same litter. Cheetahs hunt in late mornings and early evenings. Chases last from 20 to 60 seconds. Only half are successful. Cheetahs reach sexual maturity in 20 to 24 months. Mating season is throughout the year. The cheetah can live over twenty years, but their life is often short, for they lose their speed with old age. Unlike other felines, the adult females do not have true territories and seem to avoid each other, though some mother/daughter pairs have been known to continue for small periods of time. Cheetahs have a unique, well structured social order. Females live alone except when they are raising cubs. The females raise the cubs on their own. The first 18 months of a cub's life are important; cubs learn many lessons because survival depends on knowing how to hunt wild prey species and avoid other predators such as leopards, lions, hyenas, and baboons. At 18 months, the mother leaves the cubs, which then form a sibling group, that will stay together for another 6 months. At about 2 years, the female siblings leave the group, and the young males remain together for life. Males live alone or in coalitions made up of brothers from the same litter. Some coalitions maintain territories in order to find females with which they will mate. Territories are often located in areas where there is a rich supply of wild game and/or water. Fierce fights between male coalitions, resulting in serious injury or death, can occur when defending territories. Coalitions of many male cheetahs are much more successful at winning and keeping territories than the ones who live alone. Life span is up to 12 years in wild.
Two to four cubs are born to a litter. Cubs are smoky grey in color with long wooly hair, called a mantle, running along their backs. This mantle is thought to help camouflage cubs in grass, concealing them from predators. Mothers move cubs to new hiding places every few days. At five to six weeks, cubs follow the mother and begin eating from her kills. Cubs stay with their mother for about a year.
THREATS TO CHEETAHS
The future of the cheetah is doubtful because of increasing loss of habitat, declines in prey, high cub mortality rates and conflict with ranchers. Cheetah fur was formerly regarded as a status symbol.
Today, cheetahs have a growing economic importance for ecotourism and they are also found in zoos, 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.
Because cheetahs are far less aggressive than other big cats, kittens are sometimes sold as pets. This is an illegal trade, because international conventions forbid private ownership of wild animals or species threatened with extinction. Their complex physical, psychological and social needs can never be met when they are kept as pets.
Cheetahs were formerly, and are sometimes still, hunted because many farmers believe that they eat livestock. When the species came under threat, numerous campaigns were launched to try to educate farmers and encourage them to conserve cheetahs. Recent evidence has shown that if cheetahs can avoid it they will not attack and eat livestock, preferring their wild prey. However, they have no problem with including farmland as part of their territory, leading to conflict.
Cheetah cubs have a high mortality rate due to genetic factors and predation by carnivores in competition with the cheetah, such as the lion and hyena. Some biologists now believe that they are too inbred to flourish as a species.
Many-tentacled creatures that belong to the order Teuthida, squid are fascinating ocean dwellers, even achieving mythical status in our minds when we think of certain species like the giant squid. This order of molluscs, which is made up of approximately 300 recorded species so far, is similar to octopi and cuttlefish in that they have a distinct head, a symmetrical body structure, a mantle, eight arms, and phenomenal swimming abilities.
Squid are different from their ancestors and many other molluscs, however. In squid, the typical mollusc ‘foot’ structure has evolved. Squid usually have 8 paired smaller arms and two longer tentacles, and highly developed sensory organs. They also have a soft mantle enclosing their organ structure instead of a shell, although they do have a vestigial horny plate (called a gladius) still present that supports the mantle and acts as a site for muscle attachment.
Squid live across an enormous variety of aquatic habitats; an important food source for many other aquatic creatures. They can be found in both freshwater and saltwater environments, deep water and shallow water, and in many different temperature ranges. Most squid species tend to be no larger than about 24 inches long, but the giant squid may be as long as 43 feet in length. That’s almost the size of a school bus.
The squid’s appearance itself is certainly unique. Their skin is covered in chromatophores, which are special cells that allow the squid to change color in order to blend in with its surroundings, much like an octopus does. The mantle cavity contains the squid’s gills, organ systems, and siphon apparatus.
Although squid do have swimming fins, most squid species actually propel themselves mainly by jet propulsion by sucking water into the mantle cavity and pushing it forcefully out through the siphon.
Because they’re the ideal food for a number of predators ranging from sharks, fish, birds and whales, squid have evolved to be quick escape artists. If a squid is threatened, they can quickly expel ink from a small sac near their rectum, temporarily confusing their potential predator and providing cover for a quick escape. Some squid species will even propel themselves right out of the water to escape predators like schools of tuna, gliding through the air for short periods of time.
When they’re not being chased as a potential food source, squid are fairly effective hunters themselves, with fairly complex digestive systems. More intelligent than many of us would expect, some squid even hunt together cooperatively. A squid can propel itself with speedy precision towards its prey, first using a sharp, horny beak to kill prey and tear it into pieces, then pushing food from its muscular stomach into an organ called the caecum for digestion. Food then passes to the liver for nutrients to be absorbed before the squid expels the remaining waste.
Another anatomical feature characteristic to squid is the fact that they have three hearts; two to feed the gills, and a larger, systemic heart to pump blood around the squid’s body. Squid also have the largest eyes in the animal kingdom, relatively speaking. Positioned on either side of their head, a squid’s eyes focus by changing the position of the hard lens inside the eye, much how the lens of a camera moves back and forth.
Reproduction in squid takes place though the fertilization of the female’s eggs by the male. A male squid will often display unique color patterns to attract a female’s attention. Then he mates with her by inserting a copulatory pad (found on the modified end of one of his tentacles) into the female’s mantle and depositing spermatophores (sperm cells) that fertilize the eggs. The female will then place hundreds of eggs into a capsule, anchoring the capsule to sandy ocean bottoms. The time between laying and hatching of the eggs can be vary, since eggs laid in warmer water temperatures tend to hatch more quickly. Some squid egg beds can even cover acres of sand bed.
After the squid larvae hatch, they begin to feed on copepods and other plankton until they’re mature enough to hunt, though many are eaten by predators. Neither squid parent tends to the eggs or young, and it’s been noted that many adult squid species die shortly after reproducing, as an adult squid’s digestive organs diminish as they mature, making more room for reproductive organs. Most species haven’t been found to live longer than one or two years.
THREATS TO SQUID
The fact that squid reproduce rapidly and in large numbers is to their advantage. Squid can quickly replenish their population numbers, which is important to other species that rely on them as a food source.
Although there are no significantly endangered squid species at this point, the largest threat to squid populations worldwide is commercial overfishing by humans. Not only are they often used as bait to catch larger fish, but calamari (fried squid) is a popular dish in many places.
Water pollution, overharvesting and interference with egg capsules can also pose a potential threat to these animals as well.