Like all arthropods, the tarantula is an invertebrate that relies on an exoskeleton for muscular support. Like other Arachnida a tarantula’s body comprises two main parts, the prosoma (or cephalothorax) and the opisthosoma (or abdomen).
Spiders are invertebrates but are not considered insects because they only have two main body parts instead of three, eight legs instead of six and no antennae. Most spiders also have eight simple eyes, while insects have large, compound eyes. Some have no eyes and others have as many as 12. Spiders, along with ticks, mites, harvestmen and scorpions, are called arachnida.
Tarantulas of various species occur in the southern and western parts of the United States, in Central America, and throughout South America. Other species occur variously throughout Africa, much of Asia and all of Australia. In Europe, some species occur in Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Italy, and Cyprus. Their natural habitats include savanna, grasslands such as the pampas, rainforests, deserts, scrubland, mountains, and cloud forests.
Tarantulas sizes range from as small as a fingernail to as large as a dinner plate when the legs are fully extended. Most species of North American tarantulas are brown. Elsewhere species are cobalt blue, black with white stripes and greenbottle blue. Some have yellow leg markings or metallic blue legs with vibrant orange abdomens.
A tarantula has four pairs of legs and two additional pairs of appendages. Two or three retractable claws are at the end of each leg. These claws are used to grip surfaces for climbing. Also on the end of each leg, surrounding the claws, is a group of hairs. These hairs help the tarantula to grip better when climbing certain surfaces.
The tarantula's mouth is a short straw-shaped opening that can only suck, meaning that anything taken into it must be in liquid form. Prey with large amounts of solid parts, such as mice, must be crushed and ground up or predigested, which is accomplished by coating the prey with digestive juices.
A tarantula perceives its surroundings primarily via sensory organs called setae (hairs or spines). Although a tarantula has eyes, touch is its keenest sense, and in hunting it primarily depends on vibrations given off by the movements of its prey. A tarantula's setae are very sensitive organs and are used to sense chemical signatures, vibrations, wind direction, and possibly even sound. Tarantulas are also very responsive to the presence of certain chemicals such as pheromones. Most tarantulas are not able to see much more than light, darkness, and motion. Arboreal tarantulas generally have better vision compared with terrestrial tarantulas.
Tarantulas have also evolved specialized hairs to defend themselves against predators. Besides the normal "hairs" covering the body, some tarantulas also have a dense covering of irritating hairs called urticating hairs, that they may use as protection against enemies. These hairs are present on New World species but not on tarantulas from the Old World. Urticating hairs are usually kicked off the abdomen by the tarantula, or rubbed against the target. These fine hairs are barbed and serve to irritate. They can be lethal to small animals such as rodents. Tarantulas also use these hairs for other purposes such as to mark territory, to line their shelters, and to discourage flies from feeding on the spiderlings. Urticating hairs do not grow back, but are replaced with each moult.
All tarantulas are venomous. Before biting, tarantulas may signal their intention to attack by rearing up into a "threat posture". They may then slap down on the intruder with their raised front legs. If that response fails to deter the attacker, the tarantulas of the Americas flick urticating bristles toward the pursuing predator, and then retreat. If there is no line of retreat, their final response may also be to whirl suddenly and bite. Some tarantulas are well known to give dry bites; not pumping venom into the wound. Old-world tarantulas (from Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia) have no urticating bristles and are more likely to attack when disturbed. Old-world tarantulas often have more potent venom.
Once a male spider reaches maturity and becomes motivated to mate, it will weave a web mat on a flat surface. The spider will then rub its abdomen on the surface of this mat and in so doing release a quantity of semen. It may then insert its pedipalps (short leg-like appendages) into the pool of semen. The pedipalps absorb the semen and keep it viable until a mate can be found. When a male spider detects the presence of a female, the two exchange signals to establish that they are of the same species. These signals may also lull the female into a receptive state. If the female is receptive then the male approaches her and inserts his pedipalps into an opening in the lower surface of her abdomen. After the semen has been transferred, the male will swiftly leave the scene.
Females deposit 50 to 2,000 eggs, depending on the species, in a silken egg sac and guard it for 6 to 8 weeks. During this time, the female will stay very close to the egg sac and become more aggressive. Within most species, the female turns the egg sac often, which is called brooding. This keeps the eggs from deforming due to sitting too long. The young spiderlings remain in the nest for some time after hatching where they live off the remains of their yolk sac before dispersing.
Like other spiders, tarantulas have to shed their exoskeleton periodically in order to grow, a process called molting. A young tarantula may do this several times a year, while full grown tarantulas will only molt once a year or less, or sooner in order to replace lost limbs or lost urticating hairs.
Tarantulas may live for many years. Most species take two to five years to reach adulthood, but some species may take up to ten years to reach full maturity. Upon reaching adulthood, males typically have less than 2 years left to live and will immediately go in search of a female with which to mate. Male tarantulas rarely molt again once they reach adulthood. Females will continue to molt after reaching maturity. Females have been known to reach 30 to 40 years of age, and have survived on water alone for up to 2 years.
Some tarantulas hunt prey primarily in trees; others hunt on or near the ground. All tarantulas can produce silk – while arboreal species will typically reside in a silken "tube tent", terrestrial species will line their burrows with silk to stabilize the burrow wall and facilitate climbing up and down. Tarantulas mainly eat insects and other arthropods, using ambush as their primary method of prey capture. The biggest tarantulas can kill animals as large as lizards, mice, birds and small snakes.
Regardless of their fearsome reputation, tarantulas are themselves an object of predation. The most specialized of these predators are large members of the wasp family Pompilidae. In the Americas, these insects are termed "tarantula hawks". The largest tarantula hawks will track, attack and kill large tarantulas. Humans can also be considered predators of tarantulas, as tarantulas are considered a delicacy in certain cultures. Some other arthropods, such as giant centipedes, are also known to prey on tarantulas.
THREATS TO TARANTULAS
Like most animals, the primary threat to tarantulas is the destruction of their habitat. Human development has taken an alarming toll on the environment. Impact from land use practices such as agricultural conversion, deforestation, and urban sprawl continue to degrade and fragment remaining pockets of habitat and accelerate biodiversity loss. Pesticides and other forms of pollution are also of serious concern, as well as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Tarantulas are also threatened by the pet trade. Regulations are in place to prevent importation of tarantulas into the U.S., but there are few measures to prohibit the overcollection of tarantulas. Captivity is cruel for wild animals. Animals are captured from their native habitat and transported to various countries to be sold as “pets”. Backyard breeders also supply exotic animals. The sellers of these animals often disregard the dangers, difficulties, physical and physiological needs of the animals they peddle. The suffering of the animals in the hands of unqualified and hapless buyers appears to be of no concern in the lucrative exotic pet trade.
Rattlesnakes are a group of venomous (poisonous) snakes that live in a wide range of habitats, and have the scientific name Crotalus cerastes. There are 32 known species of rattlesnakes, and they can be found all over the Americas, ranging from Alberta and British Columbia, Canada, to as far south as Argentina.
These fascinating snakes get their name from the rattle at the end of their tails – when the snake shakes the rattle, it makes a loud noise that helps to defend the snake by warning off predators or passing larger animals. It’s basically the snake’s way of saying ‘watch your step!’
The living environment that rattlesnakes prefer can be different from species to species, though many types of rattlesnakes live near open, rocky areas that can give them protective cover from predators that might eat them. Rocks are also a great place for rattlesnakes to warm themselves by basking, and also for them to find the types of prey that they need to eat. Rattlesnakes can also be found in many other types of habitats as well, however, including prairie, marsh, and forest homes. They tend to prefer to live in temperatures between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but they’re also fairly hardy, tolerating short periods when temperatures go below freezing, and they’re even able to survive for days at a time when the temperature is as cold as 37 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rattlesnakes are predators, meaning that they hunt and eat small animals like birds, mice, rats and lizards. They lie in wait for their prey, and sense small animals using heat-sensing ‘pits’ on their faces. They kill prey by quickly striking and biting it, injecting a large amount of venom through their fangs into the animal, which causes rapid internal damage and bleeding. Some types of rattlesnakes, like the tiger rattlesnake and the Mojave rattlesnake, can actually paralyze using their venom, too.
As well as using their eyes to find their bitten prey as it runs away, rattlesnakes find and follow an animal’s scent. They then check for signs of life using their odor-sensing tongue and touch before eating their meal headfirst. It might surprise you to learn that a rattlesnake’s gastric juices are powerful enough to digest even the bones of their prey! If the snake has found a large enough meal, they’ll usually find a warm, hidden place to curl up in for a rest while they digest.
Although rattlesnakes get most of their needed moisture from the animals that they eat, they do need to drink some water as well to stay hydrated. They have a few different ways of drinking that probably look quite strange to us. In bigger bodies of water, like creeks or ponds, they put their entire head under the surface and open and close their jaws to suck in water. With small puddles or dewdrops, though, they ‘sip’ the water, or flatten their lower jaw and allow the water to run into their mouth.
These snakes have many other distinctive features as well. Their skin is made up of overlapping scales that protect their body from head to tail, and unlike their flashier relatives, rattlesnakes tend to be intricately patterned in earth tones to provide the best camouflage from their predators.
A rattlesnake can feel changes in air temperature though its skin, which is important for helping it to find warm locations or protective shelters. Rattlesnakes are ectotherms, meaning that they can’t keep themselves warm – instead, they have to exchange heat with their environment to change their body temperature, basking on rocks and warm earth to absorb heat.
The sound of these snakes is unmistakable. A rattlesnake’s rattle is actually composed of scales that are made of keratin, creating several hollow, interlocked tail segments at the end of the snake’s body. The snake ‘rattles’ by squeezing and relaxing special muscles in their tail, making the segments vibrate together to make a loud noise. A rattlesnake can contract these muscles up to fifty times per second, for as long as three hours! Rattlesnakes travel with their rattles in the air to protect them, and a new tail segment is added each time the snake sheds its skin.
Interestingly, rattlesnakes also have a very good sense of smell, and use their tongues to carry smells into their mouths to their Jacobson’s organs – special organs that detect chemicals called pheromones. Although they tend to rely more on scent than sight, rattlers also have enough sight ability to spot movement during both the day and night, and they even possess some amount of color vision, too.
As adults, male rattlesnakes tend to have longer, thicker tails than females, and most rattlesnake species mate either in the summer or fall.
Female rattlesnakes, who tend to mate every three years, secrete a pheromone trail that allows males to follow them using their tongues and Jacobson’s organs, and once a male actually finds a female, he follows her around for days before mating. The males of some rattler species, like the timber rattlesnake, fight with each other to compete for a certain female during mating season too. Rattlesnakes are one of the snake species that give birth to live young snakes after carrying the eggs inside them, and female rattlesnakes actually stay in the nest with their young for weeks, some even sharing mothering duties with other female rattlers as well. Who knew snakes were such good parents?
As rattlesnakes usually take several years to reach adulthood, while still young they’re vulnerable to danger from predators like ravens, raccoons, skunks and weasels, as well as king snakes, a predator that’s immune to rattler venom. Occasionally, even ants will prey on very young snakes.
Some species of rattlesnakes will gather together in large groups to hibernate in cooler weather, (though they’ll usually stay dormant during drought and extreme heat) and rattlesnake dens have been counted to hold well over 1,000 snakes at a time! They often return to the same den each year.
THREATS TO RATTLESNAKES
Rattlesnakes are threatened by a variety of human activities. Some areas host mass exterminations like rattlesnake roundups, and car accidents and destruction of rattlesnake habitats due to human development have caused some species, like the Timber, Massasauga and Canebrake rattlesnake, to become threatened or endangered in some areas.
Ibis are a species of wading birds found throughout the world, especially in the more temperate regions of the southern hemisphere. Ibis are well known for their long beaks and necks used for getting food from the water. There are 30 different known species of ibis varying in color and size, from the tiny dwarf olive ibis to the giant ibis.
The ibis has a long neck with a large, down-curved, pointed bill, round body, long legs and partially webbed feet. Ibis can be white, black, pink, brown, gray or orange-red, depending on the species, diet and habitat. Some parts of the ibis body (often the face and throat) are featherless. Patches of bare skin are deep red during the breeding season.
Ibises inhabit areas where there are large amounts of water. The ibis feeds on aquatic animals found in swamps, wetlands and marshes. The ibis is an omnivorous bird, eating both plants and animals. When aquatic animal are abundant, ibises eat a more carnivorous diet. Ibises hunt fish, reptiles, insects, amphibians, small mammals and crustaceans, picking their food from the mud with their long, pointed beaks. Ibises can breathe while their bills are submerged in water because their nostrils are located at the base of their bills.
Ibises are sociable birds that gather in large flocks. Colonies can be composed of thousands of ibis, offering better protection against predators.
The ibis is active during the day and sleeps at night (diurnal). Despite their large size, ibises often rest in trees rather than on the ground. Ibises are not very vocal, with the exception of breeding season when they make squeaking and wheezing noises.
Female ibises build nests of sticks and reeds in trees, bushes or on cliffs during mating season. Ibises usually choose to nest near large amounts of water, such as lakes and rivers, with other species of water-birds. The female ibis lays up to the 3 eggs. Both parents participate in incubation. Eggs hatch following an incubation period of a few weeks. Ibis babies are dependent on their parents. They quickly develop and leave the nest in about 6 weeks. They stay with their parents until they learn to be independent.
Ibis live up to 15 years in the wild.
Ibis are relatively large birds and have few natural predators. Large birds of prey attempt to steal their eggs and chicks. Snakes, wild cats and foxes are known to hunt ibis.
THREATS TO IBISES
Ibises are threatened with pollution and pesticides, hunting and habitat destruction. Some species, including the crested ibis and northern bald ibis, are endangered or critically endangered.
Mainly known for their pointy snouts and exceptional digging abilities, moles are small mammals that have adapted to living in self-dug tunnels underground. Belonging to the family Talpidae and native to many areas around the world including Europe, Asia, and North America, there are around 20 ‘true mole’ species of these small creatures. These persistent burrowers are found mainly in either grassland or woodland habitats, though some species are aquatic or semi-aquatic, choosing to construct burrows in the soft banks of ponds or streams instead. Regardless of habitat, most moles are also good swimmers too.
Although some literature presents moles as being approximately cat-sized, in reality, most species are actually much smaller. Most are typically around 15cm (6 inches) in length, though some species can be as short as 5cm (like the American Shrew mole) or as long as 20cm. A mole’s weight range, depending on species, can be anywhere from 10g to around 500g, which is still no more than 1.5lb at the very most. The average lifespan of a mole tends to be around 4 years of age, while some species have been noted to live up to age 6 or 7.
They may not be the fastest creatures overland, but the mole anatomy has truly evolved to marvelously suit their purpose; digging. Their spade-shaped, cylindrical bodies, short powerful front limbs and sharp claws are highly adapted for burrowing into soil and tunneling through it. An extra thumb on each forepaw (a trait that’s specific just to moles, and not their close relatives, shrews) also assists in pushing aside dirt and debris as the mole digs. Some moles can dig burrows up to 20 meters long in a single day. In addition to a highly efficient body structure, moles can also tolerate higher than normal levels of environmental carbon dioxide, so they’re able to survive easily in lower-oxygen environments like underground tunnels.
Moles also have soft, dense pelts, typically colored taupe or black, which allow them to move both backwards and forwards through snug underground holes. Mole eyes tend to be very small, and are sometimes covered by fur or skin, rendering them essentially blind. While this means that their visual perception is mainly limited to light and dark, they do have highly developed senses of hearing and smell. They also have sensitive Eimer’s organs at the end of their protruding snouts that are extremely receptive to touch and vibration.
While a mole’s omnivorous diet may not sound appealing to most humans, an earthworm is truly a mole’s favorite snack. They’ll also feast on other small insects and a variety of nuts, and some aquatic moles will also eat amphibians. A mole’s tunnels serve as their own personal food trap and banquet hall; moles can sense when a worm falls into the tunnel and will hurry to catch them. Interestingly, the star-nosed mole is so fast at catching and eating food that the process is impossible to follow with the human eye. They can make a meal disappear in under a second. While moles often eat right away, they’ll sometimes store earthworms for later consumption. Since their saliva contains a paralytic toxin, moles are able to stockpile still-living insects underground in self-constructed ‘larders’. Some mole hoards have been found to contain thousands of earthworms.
Most species of moles prefer a solitary existence aside from mating season, although the largest mole species, the desman, will often live in small groups of up to five animals. Males (called boars) are particularly territorial, and can fight fiercely if they encounter an intruding mole in their territory. These busy diggers generally mate in the spring sometime between February and May, with males searching for females (called sows) by tunnelling and loud squealing vocalizations to alert potential mates of their presence. After a gestation period lasting just over 1 month, the mole pups are born underground with litters ranging in size from 2 to 6 pups. It doesn’t take long before these young ones are ready to head out on their own. Mole pups leave their nest and their mother around 30 to 45 days after they’re born to find living space on their own.
As moles have poor vision and few defenses, they can be vulnerable to many kinds of predators. Foxes and coyotes are adept at detecting and digging moles out of their subterranean hiding places, and birds of prey such as vultures, hawks and owls find moles to be easy pickings when they’re above ground. A mole’s safest refuge is underground.
THREATS TO MOLES
Since moles tend to burrow through lawns and fields, causing damage to grass and crop roots, many species are considered to be annoying agricultural nuisances in many countries, and trapping or control measures are used to deter moles from inhabiting these areas. Moles have also been historically hunted for their soft, pliable pelts, although the widespread population of most mole species means that this industry doesn’t pose a significant threat to moles at this time. A few mole species - the Canadian population of the Townsend’s mole and the Senkaku mole in Japan are two examples - are endangered, however, mostly due to the threat of human encroachment on their habitat and pest control measures taken against other species.
A camel is either of the two species of large even-toed ungulate in the genus Camelus. The Dromedary is a single hump camel, and the Bactrian Camel is a double hump camel. Both are native to the dry and desert areas of Asia and northern Africa. The average life expectancy of a camel is 30 to 50 years. Humans first domesticated camels approximately 5,000 years ago.
Although there are almost 13 million Dromedaries alive today, the species is extinct in the wild. There is, however, a substantial feral population in central parts of Australia, descended from individuals that escaped from captivity in the late 19th century. The Australian government has culled more than 100,000 of the animals, claiming the camels use too much of the limited resources needed by sheep farmers.
The Bactrian Camel once had an enormous range, but is now reduced to an estimated 1.4 million animals, mostly domesticated. It is thought that there are about 1,000 wild Bactrian Camels in the Gobi Desert, and small numbers in Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey and Russia.
A small population of introduced camels, Dromedaries and Bactrians, survived in the Southwest United States until the 1900s. These animals, imported from Turkey, were part of the US Camel Corps experiment, used as draft animals in mines, and escaped or were released after the project fell through.
Bactrian camel have two humps and are rugged cold-climate camels, while Dromedaries have one hump and are desert dwellers. Dromedary hybrids are called Bukhts. The females can be mated back to a Bactrian to produce ¾-bred "riding camels". These hybrids are found in Kazakhstan. The Cama is a camel/llama hybrid bred by scientists with short ears and the long tail of a camel, no hump and Llama-like cloven hooves rather than the Dromedary-like pads.
Camels are well known for their humps. They do not, however, literally store water in them as is commonly believed; though they do serve this purpose through roundabout means. Their humps are a reservoir of fatty tissue, while water is stored in their blood. However, when this tissue is metabolized, it is not only a source of energy, but yields water through reaction with oxygen from the air. This allows them to survive without water for about two weeks, and without food for up to a month.
A camel's red blood cells have an oval shape, unlike those of other mammals, which are circular. This is to facilitate their flow in a dehydrated state. These cells are also more stable so they do not rupture when drinking large amounts of water.
Camels are able to withstand changes in body temperature and water content that would kill most other animals. Their temperature ranges from 93 degrees F at night, up to 106 degrees F at day; only above this threshold they start to sweat. This allows them to preserve about five liters of water a day. However, they can withstand at least 25% weight loss due to sweating.
The camel's thick coat reflects sunlight. A shaved camel has to sweat 50% more to avoid overheating. Their coat also insulates them from the intense heat that radiates from hot desert sand. Their long legs also help by keeping them further away from the sand.
The camel's mouth is very sturdy, able to eat thorny desert plants. Long eyelashes and ear hairs, together with sealable nostrils, prevent sand from entering. Their pace (always moving both legs of one side at the same time), and their widened feet, help them move without sinking in.
THREATS TO CAMELS
Many desert based countries have a tourist industry offering camel back rides and treks. Hotels and travel agents also offer these unethical excursions. They force camels to carry tourists in extreme conditions all in the name of profit. The camels are often poorly treated and housed in unacceptable conditions. Sick, old, injured and physically exhausted camels are forced to work. Humans are often far too heavy for the camels, but income is valued over the welfare of the animal.
Camels are also sold for slaughter, inhumanely fattened before sale. They are beaten with wooden sticks, ill-cared for and their skin is scarred from repeated beating. One of their legs is kept tied up to prevent them from escaping.
Camel wrestling is a cruel "sport" where two male camels are forced to wrestle, typically in response to a female in heat being led before them. Most common in the Aegean region of Turkey, camel wrestling also takes place in other parts of the Middle East and South Asia. The government of Turkey began discouraging the practice in the 1920s, but began promoting the inhumane practice again in the 1980s as part of Turkey's "historic culture."
Circus camels are doomed to a life of misery, spending most of their lives in tiny enclosures. Their natural needs are never met and they live in constant stress. Camels are also forced to provide rides at fairs and festivals, tethered tightly to turnstiles and made to plod in endless circles. They suffer from numerous ailments and emotional issues.
Even under the best of circumstances, captivity is cruel for camels. Confined to tiny areas and gawked at by crowds, animals in exhibits and acts endure constant stress. They may suffer from temperature extremes and irregular feeding and watering. Without exercise, they become listless, their immune systems are weakened, and they become prone to sickness; many resort to self-mutilation in reaction to stress or boredom. Mental illness is rampant among confined animals. Torn from their families and deprived of all dignity, every part of their lives is controlled by their captors.
While zoos may appear to be educational and conservation-oriented, most are designed with the needs and desires of the visitors in mind, not the needs of the animals. Many animals in zoos exhibit abnormal behavior as a result of being deprived of their natural environments and social structures. When the facility breeds too many animals they become "surplus" and often are sold to laboratories, traveling shows, shooting ranches, or to private individuals who may be unqualified to care for them.
Displays featuring camels also put people at risk. Humans can contract brucellosis, ringworm, and tuberculosis from close interaction with camels.
Scorpions are predatory arthropod animals of the order Scorpiones within the class Arachnida. They have eight legs and are easily recognized by a pair of grasping pincers (claws) and the narrow, segmented tail, often carried in a characteristic forward curve over the back, ending with a venomous stinger. They have adapted to a wide range of environmental conditions and can now be found on all continents except Antarctica. Scorpions did not occur naturally in Great Britain, New Zealand and some of the islands in Oceania, but now have been accidentally introduced in some of these places by human trade and commerce.
Scorpions are invertebrates but are not considered insects. Scorpions, along with ticks, mites, harvestmen and spiders, are called arachnida.
Scorpions number about 1,750 described species. Only about 25 of these species are known to have venom capable of killing a human being.
Scorpions prefer areas where the temperatures range from 68 to 99 °F, but may survive temperatures ranging from well below freezing to desert heat. They are nocturnal and fossorial (adapted to digging and life underground), finding shelter during the day in the relative cool of underground holes or undersides of rocks, and emerging at night to hunt and feed. Scorpions exhibit photophobic behavior (they prefer to stay out of the light), primarily to evade detection by predators such as birds, centipedes, lizards, mice, possums and rats.
Scorpions are opportunistic predators of small arthropods, although the larger kinds have been known to kill small lizards and mice. The large pincers are studded with highly sensitive tactile hairs, and the moment an insect touches these, they use their pincers to catch the prey. Depending on the toxicity of their venom and size of their claws, they will then either crush the prey or inject it with neurotoxic venom. This will kill or paralyze the prey so the scorpion can eat it. Scorpions have an unusual style of eating using chelicerae, small claw-like structures that protrude from the mouth. The chelicerae, which are very sharp, are used to pull small amounts of food off the prey. Scorpions can ingest food only in a liquid form; they have external digestion. Digestive juices from the gut are excreted onto the food to liquify it.
Scorpions can consume huge amounts of food at one sitting. They have a very efficient food storage organ and a very low metabolic rate combined with a relatively inactive lifestyle. This enables scorpions to survive long periods when deprived of food; some are able to survive 6 to 12 months of starvation. Scorpions excrete very little waste.
Most scorpions reproduce sexually, and most species have male and female individuals. However, some species reproduce through parthenogenesis, a process in which unfertilized eggs develop into living embryos.
Scorpions possess a complex courtship and mating ritual. Mating starts with the male and female locating and identifying each other using a mixture of pheromones and vibrational communication. Once they have satisfied the other that they are of opposite sex and of the correct species, mating can commence. The courtship starts with the male grasping the female; the pair then perform a dance called the "promenade à deux". In this dance, the male leads the female around searching for a suitable place to deposit his sperm capsule. When the male has identified a suitable location, he deposits the capsule and then guides the female over it. This allows the capsule to enter her, which triggers release of the sperm, thus fertilizing the female. The mating process can take from 1 to over 25 hours. Once the mating is complete, the male and female will separate. The male will generally retreat.
Baby scorpions are carried about on their mother's back until they have undergone at least one moult. Before the first moult, scorplings cannot survive naturally without the mother, since they depend on her for protection and to regulate their moisture levels. Mothering can continue for an extended period of time. The size of the litter depends on the species and environmental factors, and can range from two to over a hundred scorplings. The average litter, however, consists of around 8 scorplings.
Baby scorpions generally resemble their parents. Growth is accomplished by periodic shedding of the exoskeleton. Scorpions typically require between five and seven moults to reach maturity. Moulting commences with a split in the old exoskeleton. The scorpion then emerges from this split. When it emerges, the scorpion's new exoskeleton is soft, making the scorpion highly vulnerable to attack. The scorpion must constantly stretch while the new exoskeleton hardens to ensure that it can move when the hardening is complete.
All known scorpion species possess venom and use it primarily to kill or paralyze their prey so that it can be eaten. In general, it is fast-acting, allowing for effective prey capture. However, as a general rule they will kill their prey with brute force if they can, as opposed to using venom. Venom is also used as a defense against predators.
THREATS TO SCORPIONS
Like most animals, the primary threat to scorpions is the destruction of their habitat. Human development has taken an alarming toll on the environment. Impact from land use practices such as agricultural conversion, deforestation, and urban sprawl continue to degrade and fragment remaining pockets of habitat and accelerate biodiversity loss. Pesticides and other forms of pollution are also of serious concern, as well as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Scorpions are also threatened by the pet trade. Captivity is cruel for wild animals. Animals are captured from their native habitat and transported to various countries to be sold as “pets”. Backyard breeders also supply exotic animals. The sellers of these animals often disregard the dangers, difficulties, physical and physiological needs of the animals they peddle. The suffering of the animals in the hands of unqualified and hapless buyers appears to be of no concern in the lucrative exotic pet trade.
Squirrel monkeys are New World monkeys of the genus Saimiri. They are the only genus in the subfamily Saimirinae.
Squirrel monkeys live in the tropical forests of Central and South America. Their range extends from Costa Rica through central Brazil and Bolivia.
Squirrel monkey fur is short and close, colored olive at the back and yellowish orange on their bellies and extremities. Their throats and ears are white and their mouths are black. The upper part of their heads are hairy. This black and white face gives them their German name, "death's head monkeys".
Squirrel monkeys are small in size. Males are bigger than females. On average, they can reach 9.8 to 14 inches in height and 1.7 to 2.4 pounds in weight. Remarkably, the brain mass to body mass ratio for squirrel monkeys is 1:17, which gives them the largest brain, proportionately, of all the primates. Humans have a 1:35 ratio. Squirrel monkeys have excellent eyesight and are able to distinguish colors, allowing quick identification of fruit among dense vegetation.
Like most of their New World monkey relatives, squirrel monkeys are diurnal and arboreal. Unlike the other New World monkeys, their tail is not used for climbing, but as a kind of "balancing pole" and also as a tool. Their movements in the branches are extremely speedy. They live together in multi-male/multi-female groups with up to 500 members. These large groups can, however, occasionally break into smaller troops.
Squirrel monkeys have a number of vocal calls, including warning sounds to protect themselves from large falcons, which are a natural threat to them. Their small body size also makes them susceptible to predators such as snakes and felids. Squirrel monkeys are omnivores, eating primarily fruits and insects. Occasionally they also eat nuts, buds, eggs and small vertebrates.
For marking territory, squirrel monkeys rub their tail and their skin with their own urine. They spread urine on their hands and feet to mark their path when they are moving through the treetops. By following the scent, members of a group can locate each other.
The mating of squirrel monkeys is subject to seasonal influences, usually mating from January to March. Babies are born during the rainfall season when food supplies are the most abundant. Males fight with each other to gain the opportunity to mate. Females give birth to young during the rainy season, after a 150 to 170 day gestation. The mothers exclusively care for the young. Babies spend the first couple of weeks on the mother's backs. At the age of 10 months, they become independent and able to fend for themselves. Saimiri oerstedti are weaned by 4 months of age, while S. boliviensis are not fully weaned until 18 months old. Female squirrel monkeys reach sexual maturity at age 3 years, while males take until age 5. They live to about 15 years old in the wild, about 20 years in captivity.
Three squirrel monkey species are in danger of extinction. S. o. oerstedti is listed as "endangered," S. o. citrinellus is listed as "critically endangered" and S. vanzolinii is listed as "vulnerable." Population numbers of all five species are threatened by habitat loss, with their large troops being pushed into smaller and smaller areas of their natural habitat. Squirrel monkeys face the threats deforestation for logging, land clearance for agriculture and tourism development. Insecticide spraying, the pet trade and electrocution from electric power lines have also adversely affected the squirrel monkey.
Due to their small size and highly intelligent nature, squirrel monkeys are victims of the pet industry. They are captured from the wild, or bred from captive animals. Being stolen from the wild has had an effect on wild populations.
SQUIRREL MONKEYS AS PETS
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.
SQUIRREL 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.
A toad is an amphibian of the order Anura (frogs) which are categorized by leathery, dry skin, snout-like parotoid glands and short legs. Their back legs are intended for meandering and short hops, and they have no teeth.
A popular distinction is often made between frogs and toads on the basis of their appearance, but this has no taxonomic basis. From a taxonomic perspective, all members of the order Anura are frogs, but only members of the family Bufonidae are considered "true toads". The use of the term "frog" in common names usually refers to species that are aquatic or semi-aquatic with smooth and/or moist skins, and the term "toad" generally refers to species that tend to be terrestrial with dry, warty skin. An exception is the fire-bellied toad (Bombina bombina): while its skin is slightly warty, it prefers a watery habitat.
Toads are found everywhere throughout the world except the polar environments and in Australia. Regardless of where they live, they search for moist, open habitats of fields and grasslands.
Toads are of various sizes; the smallest only reach a length of 1.3 inches and the biggest can grow up to 9 inches in length. Female toads are bigger than males. A toad's lifespan and diet can vary as much as their size. One species of toad, the common toad, can live up to 40 years. Most species live 5 to 10 years.
Toads are amphibian animals which spend their early lives under water, i.e. as eggs and tadpoles, and the rest of their lives on the land. Amphibians have warts, dry skin and crests behind their eyes. They also have parotoid glands. A noxious secretion is produced in the parotoid glands known as Bufotoxin. This bufotoxin can bring about death in smaller animals and may also trigger an unfavorably susceptible reaction in humans and other animals. Amphibians secrete bufotoxin to protect themselves against predators.
The major function of the bumps on their skins is believed to help them blend more effectively into their environment. Normally, the largest bumps on toads are those that cover the parotoid glands. Those bumps are normally referred to as warts, however they are not really warts. They are present on healthy specimens, being fixed in size, and are not an outcome of injury or infection.
Like most amphibians, toads must lay their eggs in water. Toads return to their natal ponds to breed where they are likely to encounter siblings as potential mates. Although incest is possible, siblings rarely mate. Toads recognize and actively avoid mating with close kin. Vocalizations given by males appear to serve as cues by which females recognize kin. Male toads use their call to draw in appropriate female toads for mating. After mating, the female toad lays fertilized eggs which will eventually hatch into tadpoles. Unlike their parents, the tadpoles can breathe under water via specialized gills. They also have tails to swim with, rather than legs. As they develop, they lose their tail, and they grow lungs for breathing air.
Toads eat insects and some other small animals, catching them with their sticky, long tongue. These nocturnal amphibians hunt at night while spending their day sheltered in a cool area. Some toads feast on reptiles, small amphibians and small mammals.
During the winter season, a few species of toad hibernate. This is done by borrowing deeper into the soil, below the frost line. At the point when the weather warms, they re-emerge to resume their activities.
THREATS TO TOADS
Consisting of more than 5,000 species, frogs and toads are among the most diverse groups of vertebrates. However, populations of certain species have been declining dramatically since the 1950s. More than one third of species are believed to be threatened with extinction and more than 120 species are suspected to be extinct since the 1980s. Habitat loss is a significant cause of population decline, as are pollutants, the introduction of non-indigenous predators/competitors, and emerging infectious diseases. Habitat conversion poses the most serious threat to toads. Many populations have been eliminated by urban development. Converting woodlands to pastures or plowed fields destroys toad habitat. Clearcutting forests is also harmful to toad habitat.
Many toads are killed each year by automobiles. Roadway mortality will increase as human populations continue to increase within the species’ habitat and as the habitat continues to be dissected by more roads. Road construction further isolates populations and disrupts or prevents the movement of individual toads between populations. This movement of toads is necessary to maintain gene flow, and thus genetic diversity, and to supplement small or declining local populations.
Other threats that often appear in conjunction with the factors outlined above include drought and the presence of fire ants, an unwelcome species from Brazil. Fire ants have been observed preying on toadlets as they leave their breeding pond. Fire ants thrive in open, sunny areas where the soil has been disturbed and woody vegetation uprooted, as in agricultural fields and urban areas. Protecting large forested areas is one of the most effective deterrents to fire ants.
Toads are also threatened by the inhumane pet trade. Every year, a variety of sources provides millions of animals to the wild and exotic pet trade. Animals are captured from their native habitat and transported to various countries to be sold as “pets”. Others are surplus animals from zoos or their offspring. Backyard breeders also supply exotic animals. The sellers of these animals often disregard state or local laws regulating private possession of exotics, and the dangers, difficulties, physical and physiological needs of the animals they peddle. The suffering of the animals in the hands of unqualified and hapless buyers appears to be of no concern in the lucrative exotic pet trade. The animals also pose safety risks to humans.
Toads are also victims of the animal entertainment industry, placed on display in zoos, aquariums, businesses and nature centers. They are removed from their natural habitat; depriving them of the ability to freely engage in instinctual behaviors.
A large, distinctive, and predatory sea creature, the swordfish is an ocean dweller of impressive size and appearance. Their scientific name, Xiphias gladius, comes from the words for ‘sword’ in Greek and Latin, which describes them perfectly as these fish have a long, flat bill that looks very much like a long blade. They are also known as broadbills in some countries, and though they look similar to other fish like the marlin, with a comparable sleek and rounded body type, they’re actually the only members of the Xiphiidae family.
Swordfish generally inhabit temperate and tropical parts of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, since they prefer water temperatures between 18 and 22 degrees Celsius. But they can tolerate more extreme conditions as well, having been found in water as warm as 27 degrees and as cold as 5 degrees Celsius. They are one of the migratory fish species (although not schooling fish), following prey to colder waters in the summertime.
Swordfish can grow to be quite sizable. The largest recorded measurements are 14.9 feet in length and 1,430 lb in weight, while generally they tend to be around almost 10 feet on average. Interestingly, female swordfish tend to be larger than the males, although they have the same appearance otherwise. Pacific swordfish reach a greater size, on average, than their relatives living in the northwest Atlantic or Mediterranean.
Swordfish will swim close to the surface at times, but can also be found swimming as deep as 1800 feet deep underwater. As for their lifespan, the maximum average age is believed to be at least 9 years, but the process of aging swordfish can be difficult.
Like most fish, swordfish are ectothermic (cold-blooded), but, like a rare few other species of fish (tuna and some sharks, for instance) they have organs next to their eyes that actually heat their eyes and brains, improving their vision and therefore their ability to catch prey.
There are some other distinguishing characteristics that are unique to swordfish as well. Unlike other sea creatures, these fish actually lose all of their teeth and scales by the time they’re adults, and they’ve been seen to bask at the surface of the water, sometimes even jumping out of the water entirely – a behavior called breaching. They have a large primary dorsal fin, and a smaller secondary dorsal fin close to their tail.
Swordfish have been found to host over 50 different types of parasites – in fact, some parasitic larvae may even be able to be identified genetically and used as a ‘marker’ to determine where a swordfish originated from.
Mostly seeking prey at night, swordfish tend to be speedy, agile and efficient hunters that aren’t particularly picky when it comes to what they eat. Mackerel, hake, rockfish, herring, squid and even crustaceans have all been included on swordfish menus. These fantastic fish don’t actually use their bill to ‘spear’ their food, like many people believe. Instead, they slash at larger prey with their bill to stun and dismember it, while smaller food tends to be swallowed whole.
As larger predators, swordfish don’t have very many enemies of their own, although killer whales and mako sharks have been known to take on a risky swordfish meal from time to time.
Spring and summer are prime breeding seasons in the North Pacific for these fish; though November to February is the spawning season for South Atlantic swordfish and breeding takes place year-round for swordfish living near the equator. Some of the most well-known spawning grounds for swordfish are in the Mediterranean, however, just south of Italy and Sicily large numbers of eggs and young swordfish have been recorded. Warmer temperatures are preferred for spawning, so seasons usually correspond with water temperatures that remain at 20 degrees Celsius or above.
To reproduce, females release a huge number of buoyant eggs (anywhere from 1 to 29 million) into the water, where they are fertilized by clouds of sperm from the male swordfish. For such a large fish, the newly hatched larvae are tiny, measuring only 4mm long. They’re also born with a short snout, which only starts to lengthen into the beginnings of a future sword-like bill as they approach 1cm in length. In the first year swordfish can grow so quickly that they can reach a length of up to 90cm (almost 1m).
THREATS TO SWORDFISH
Humans and human activity are currently the biggest threats to swordfish populations. The size and speed of these large fish make them a challenging and popular target for sport fishermen, although they’re also caught for commercial consumption. Swordfish is a popular menu item at restaurants worldwide because of its firm, white, meat, but tends to contain high levels of mercury.
Although Atlantic populations have been protected by regulations and efforts have been successful to restore swordfish numbers there, Mediterranean swordfish are at higher risk because of illegal driftnet fisheries which kill a large number of marine life species. Greenpeace International has also added the swordfish to its seafood ‘red list’.
Besides being some of the most enthralling avians that exist on earth today, hummingbirds are also tiny powerhouses of motion and energy. Belonging to the family Trochikilidae, these minute birds are found exclusively throughout the Americas and the Caribbean, and they vary richly in appearance. Between 325 and 340 unique species of hummingbirds have been observed to date, with nine major branches described that separate species depending on size and coloration. South America (the Andes Mountains in particular) boasts the most diverse population of hummingbirds in the world, since environmental conditions are particularly favorable for hummingbirds on that continent, sometimes allowing for up to 25 different species to successfully co-exist in the same region. There are also around 12 species that summer in North America, but migrate to more tropical regions across the Gulf of Mexico in cold weather.
Their name, of course, originates in the humming sound created by the beating of their wings, which can flap at rates that average an astounding 50 times per second – so fast that the human eye can’t even hope to clearly observe their wings while flying, never mind discern individual wing beats.
These feathered little fliers can typically range in size from 7.5–13 cm (3–5 in), though the smallest species, the bee hummingbird, weighs in at less than 2.5g. Hummingbirds are no slouches when it comes to speed, either, in spite of their diminutive size. With lightweight, hollow bones, a heart that beats well over 1000 beats per minute and tremendous wing power, they can hover in mid-air, or fly forwards and backwards at speeds faster than 54 km/h (34 mph), which is faster than a pro cyclist. In fact, a hummingbird’s consumption of oxygen per gram of muscle is around 10 times higher than a professional human athlete.
In addition to the fact that these little birds never seem to take a break, they’re also beautiful to watch. Many species also have extraordinary iridescent and multi-hued plumage, making them seem like small airborne jewels as they zip back and forth through the air. Although some may live to 10 years and beyond, outside of captivity the average lifespan is approximately 3-5 years for the most studied species.
Hummingbirds must rely on flower nectar to fuel their immense energy needs, as they have one of the highest known metabolisms among all animals, with the exception of some insects. They can feed from a variety of different flowers. Some species, like the sword-billed and sicklebill hummingbirds, have co-evolved with specific flower types, developing specialized anatomy to more efficiently extract nectar from those particular flowers. Their tremendous metabolism requires them to visit hundreds of flowers every day just to survive, and they need to consume more than their own weight in nectar each day to simply live through each night without starving to death. Without a ready food source (such as during the night), a hummingbird enters a hibernation-like state called torpor, slowing its metabolism to keep their energy reserves from becoming dangerously low. Their heart rate, breathing rate and body temperature slow down dramatically at this time.
The process of actually obtaining nectar (which is a mixture of glucose, fructose and sucrose) requires some specialized anatomy on the hummingbird’s part. Different species may have long, short, or even curved bills as an adaptation to allow them to extract nectar from differently shaped flowers. The two halves of the bill overlap, opening slightly to allow the tongue to extend into a flower’s interior in order to collect nectar.
A hummingbird will drink by rapidly lapping up the nectar, trapping it in small tubes that run down the side of the tongue. Although this liquid gold is a phenomenal source of easily accessible energy for these pint-sized avians, it doesn’t contain many other nutrients, so hummingbirds will supplement their liquid diet with in-between meals of spiders and other insects. In spite of their reputation for constant movement, hummingbirds actually spend the majority of time between meals perching or resting to conserve energy as much as possible.
Hummingbirds reach reproductive maturity anywhere between 2 months and 1 year. While some species may be fairly territorial, chasing off interlopers near a preferred food source, some hummingbird males are protective of potential mates as well. In some species, the males use feather sonation (a vibration of the feathers) to produce a high-pitched sound that catches the attention of interested female hummingbirds.
Like other birds, they lay and incubate eggs tin nests, which are typically attached to leaves or branches. It’s not unusual for them to use spider silk or lichen to help build the nest (which is typically tiny and cup-shaped) and bind the structure together, and the silk allows the nest to expand as the chicks grow. Most clutches are no more than 1-2 eggs in number, and incubation can last anywhere from 14-24 days, depending on the species, temperature, and amount of care the female provides for the eggs. The nestlings are fed exclusively by the female hummingbird, who catches small insects and spiders and regurgitates them, along with nectar, into the crop of her chicks. Male don’t generally participate in nest construction or care of the nestlings.
THREATS TO HUMMINGBIRDS
In the past, the hummingbird’s bright plumage often made it a target for those looking to sell feathers as decoration, but these days, increased agricultural practices and habitat destruction are the biggest threats on the horizon for these little birds, particularly since many species are specifically adapted to their own unique region.
Climate change is a big issue for hummingbirds as well, since changing weather conditions affect the migration patterns of many species. This can cause them to travel outside their normal habitat range, where it can be tremendously difficult for them to find enough food. There are several species of hummingbird noted as vulnerable or endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Deer, ruminant mammal of the family Cervidae, are found in most parts of the world except Australia. Antlers, solid bony outgrowths of the skull, develop in the males of most species and are shed and renewed annually. They are at first covered by "velvet," a soft, hairy skin permeated by blood vessels. The stem of the antler is called the beam, and the branches are the tines. Antlers are used as weapons during breeding season combats between bucks. In deer that lack antlers (the musk deer and Chinese river deer), long upper canines serve as weapons.
Deer are polygamous. They eat a variety of herbaceous plants, lichens, mosses, and tree leaves and bark.
Many species of deer are threatened with extinction. The white-tailed deer that live in woodlands throughout the United States and in Central America and South America was a source of food, buckskin, and other necessities for Native Americans and white settlers. Slaughter through the years nearly exterminated the whitetail, but it is now restored in large numbers in the Eastern United States, and to a lesser extent in the West. In summer its upper parts are reddish brown; in winter grayish. The mule deer exists in reduced numbers from the Plains region westward, and the closely related black-tailed deer is a Pacific coast form.
Old World deer include the red deer, closely related to the North American wapiti, the fallow deer, and the axis deer. The only deer in Africa are small numbers of red deer found in the north in a forested area. The barking deer, or muntjac, is a small deer of South Asia. A muntjac discovered in North Myanmar (formerly Burma) in 1997 is believed to be the smallest deer in the world. Called the leaf deer, Muntiacus putaoensis, it stands about 20 inches at the shoulder. The misleadingly named mouse deer, or chevrotain, is not a deer, but belongs to a related family (Tragulidae).
Deer are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Artiodactyla, family Cervidae.
Deer live in a variety of biomes ranging from tundra to the tropical rainforest. While often associated with forests, many deer are ecotone species that live in transitional areas between forests and thickets (for cover) and prairie and savanna (open space). The majority of large deer species inhabit temperate mixed deciduous forest, mountain mixed coniferous forest, tropical seasonal/dry forest, and savanna habitats around the world. Clearing open areas within forests to some extent may actually benefit deer populations by exposing the understory and allowing the types of grasses, weeds, and herbs to grow that deer like to eat. Additionally, access to adjacent croplands may also benefit deer. However, adequate forest or brush cover must still be provided for populations to grow and thrive.
Nearly all cervids are so-called uniparental species: the fawns are cared for by the mother only. A doe generally has one or two fawns at a time (triplets, while not unknown, are uncommon). The gestation period is anywhere up to ten months for the European Roe Deer. Most fawns are born with their fur covered with white spots, though in many species they lose these spots by the end of their first winter. In the first twenty minutes of a fawn's life, the fawn begins to take its first steps. Its mother licks it clean until it is almost free of scent, so predators will not find it. Its mother leaves often, and the fawn does not like to be left behind. Sometimes its mother must gently push it down with her foot. The fawn stays hidden in the grass for one week until it is strong enough to walk with its mother. The fawn and its mother stay together for about one year. A male usually never sees his mother again, but females sometimes come back with their own fawns and form small herds.
Deer are selective feeders. They are usually browsers, and primarily feed on leaves. They have small, unspecialized stomachs by ruminant standards, and high nutrition requirements. Rather than attempt to digest vast quantities of low-grade, fibrous food as, for example, sheep and cattle do, deer select easily digestible shoots, young leaves, fresh grasses, soft twigs, fruit, fungi, and lichens.
With the exception of the musk deer and Chinese river deer, which have tusks, all male deer have antlers. Sometimes a female will have a small stub. The only female deer with antlers are Reindeer (Caribou). Antlers grow as highly vascular spongy tissue covered in a skin called velvet. Before the beginning of a species' mating season, the antlers calcify under the velvet and become hard bone. The velvet is then rubbed off leaving dead bone which forms the hard antlers. After the mating season, the pedicle and the antler base are separated by a layer of softer tissue, and the antler falls off.
During the mating season, bucks use their antlers to fight one another for the opportunity to attract mates in a given herd. The two bucks circle each other, bend back their legs, lower their heads, and charge.
Each species has its own characteristic antler structure - for example white-tailed deer antlers include a series of tines sprouting upward from a forward-curving main beam, while Fallow Deer and Moose antlers are palmate, with a broad central portion. Mule deer (and Black-tailed Deer), species within the same genus as the white-tailed deer, instead have bifurcated (or branched) antlers - that is, the main beam splits into two, each of which may split into two more. Young males of many deer, and the adults of some species, such as brocket deer and pudus, have antlers which are single spikes.
A rub is used to deposit scent from glands near the eye and forehead and physically mark territory.
THREATS TO DEER
Deer are threatened with habit loss from urban sprawl and commercial construction, trophy hunting and poaching, disease and government mismanagement. Wildlife management agencies, rather than working to preserve ecosystems, often manage wildlife purely for human recreation. Deer are viewed as a "resource" to be conserved simply for recreational purposes. As a result, "deer management" usually keeps deer populations high, resulting in many human-deer conflicts. Exterminators are hired by neighborhood associations and municipalities to slaughter "nuisance deer". Left unaltered, the delicate balance of ecosystems is maintained by nature with predators reducing the sickest and weakest individuals.
Sparrows are small birds found around the globe. Originating from Europe, Northern Africa and Asia, human travelers introduced sparrows to almost every continent. Sparrows prefer to live close to human settlements, including rural and urban areas. There are around 140 species of sparrow.
Sparrows are very small and have stout bodies covered with black, brown and white feathers. Their wings are rounded. Sparrows have smooth, rounded heads. Male sparrows have reddish backs and black bibs. Female sparrows have brown backs with stripes.
Sparrows can fly fast and can swim quickly to escape predators. They can even swim under water. Sparrows often hop around instead of walking. They bathe in dust.
Sparrows are omnivores, feeding on seeds, fruit and insects. They are known for adjusting their eating habits based on food sources provided by humans. They are frequent visitors to bird feeders. Sparrows usually forage for food on the ground.
Sparrows are very social birds. They live in colonies, called flocks, and fly together. While not usually territorial birds, sparrows will aggressively protect their nests from other sparrows and other animals.
Sparrows are usually non-migratory, but urban flocks may move to the countryside in the late summer to feed on grains.
Sparrows are extremely vocal birds that chirp all the time. Sparrows use song to attract mates and announce their territory. Female sparrows are attracted not just to the male sparrow's song, but also to how well it reflects his ability to learn. Males that utilize more learned components in their songs, and that better match the adult bird they learned their songs from, are preferred by the females. Sparrows also use a set of postures and behaviors to communicate with other.
Sparrow mating season occurs in the spring. Sparrows were once thought to be monogamous, but most sparrows have sex with multiple partners. Sparrows construct nests in trees, shrubs and man-made structures. Male sparrows often build the nest while attempting to attract females. Interested females then help in the construction. Sometimes sparrows take over nests of other bird species. Female sparrows lay 4 to 5 eggs per clutch, having several broods each year. Mother sparrows incubate the eggs for a couple of weeks. Both the female and the male may take care of the babies until they are strong enough to leave the nest, usually in about 15 days.
Being small birds, sparrows have numerous predators including dogs, cats, foxes, snakes and birds of prey.
Sparrows live up to 13 years in the wild.
THREATS TO SPARROWS
Sparrow populations have decreased dramatically due to irresponsible human activities. Some sparrows are now listed as threatened, nearly endangered. Sparrows are threatened by modern agricultural practices, pollution, pesticides, predators and a reduced amount of gardens. Some sparrows are losing their main food sources and are struggling to survive winters.
An alligator is a crocodilian in the genus Alligator of the family Alligatoridae. There are two living alligator species: the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and the Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis). They are closely related to crocodiles.
Alligators are characterized by a broader snout and eyes more dorsally located than their crocodile cousins. Both living species also tend to be darker in color, often nearly black (although the Chinese alligator has some light patterning.) Also, in alligators only the upper teeth can be seen with the jaws closed (in contrast to true crocodiles, in which upper and lower teeth can be seen), though many individuals bear jaw deformities which complicate this means of identification.
There are only two countries on earth that have alligators: the United States and China. The Chinese alligator is endangered and lives only in the Yangtze River valley. The American alligator is found in the United States from the Carolinas to Florida and along the Gulf Coast. The majority of American alligators inhabit Florida and Louisiana. In Florida alone there are an estimated more than 1 million alligators. The United States is the only nation on earth to have both alligators and crocodiles. American alligators live in freshwater environments, such as ponds, marshes, wetlands, rivers, and swamps. In China, they live only along the fresh water of the Yangtze River.
Alligators are solitary, territorial animals. The largest of the species (both males and females) will defend prime territory; smaller alligators have a higher tolerance of other alligators within a similar size class. Although alligators have heavy bodies and slow metabolisms, they are capable of short bursts of speed that can exceed 30 miles per hour. Alligators' main prey are smaller animals that they can kill and eat with a single bite. Alligators may kill larger prey by grabbing it and dragging it in the water to drown. Alligators consume food that cannot be eaten in one bite by allowing it to rot or by biting and then spinning or convulsing wildly until bite size pieces are torn off. This is referred to as the "death roll."
Alligators are opportunistic feeders, eating almost anything they can catch. When they are young they eat fish, insects, snails and crustaceans. As they grow they take progressively larger prey items, including: larger fish such as gar, turtles, various mammals, birds, and other reptiles, including smaller alligators. They will even consume carrion if they are sufficiently hungry. As humans encroach onto to their habitat, attacks on humans are not unknown, but are few and far between.
The American alligator, Alligator mississipiensis, is found in swamps and sluggish streams from North Carolina to Florida and along the Gulf Coast. When young, it is dark brown or black with yellow transverse bands. The bands fade as the animal grows, and the adult is black. Males commonly reach a length of 9 feet and a weight of 250 lbs; females are smaller. Males 18 feet long were once fairly common, but intensive hunting for alligator leather eliminated larger individuals and threatened the species as a whole. The wild American alligator is now protected by law, but it is also inhumanely raised on farms for commercial uses.
The Chinese alligator, A. sinensis, which grows to about 6 feet long, is found in the Chang (Yangtze) River valley near Shanghai. This species is nearly extinct.
Alligators spend the day floating just below the surface of the water or resting on the bank, lying in holes in hot weather. They hunt by night, in the water and on the bank. Alligators hibernate from October to March. In summer the female builds a nest of rotting vegetation on the bank and deposits in it 20 to 70 eggs. The mother will defend the nest from predators and will assist the babies to water once they hatch. She will provide protection to the young for about a year if they remain in the area.
Caimans are similar to alligators, but distinct members of the Alligatoridae family found in Central and South America. There are several species, classified in three genera. The largest grow up to 15 feet long. Unlike alligators, caimans have bony overlapping scales on their bellies. Baby caimans are often sold in the United States as baby alligators. Caimans and alligators are wild animals and should not be kept as pets for human amusement.
Alligators and caimans are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Reptilia, order Crocodilia, family Alligatoridae.
THREATS TO ALLIGATORS
American alligator populations were decimated by decades of hunting and habitat loss. In 1967 the animal was added to the federal endangered species list. The alligator recovered dramatically and was removed from the endangered species list in 1987. Alligators still face threats today, primarily from loss and fragmentation of natural habitats and encounters with people.
The Chinese alligator's population reduction has been mostly due to conversion of its habitat to agricultural use. A majority of their usual wetland habitats has been turned into rice paddies. Poisoning of rats, which the alligators then eat, has also been blamed for their decline. It was also not uncommon for people to kill the alligators, because they believed they were pests, out of fear, or for their meat. In the past decade, very few wild nests have been found, and even fewer produced viable offspring.
Collection for the exotic pet trade affects alligators. Every year, a variety of sources provides millions of animals to the exotic pet trade. Animals are captured from their native habitat and transported to various countries to be sold as “pets”. Others are surplus animals from zoos or their offspring. Backyard breeders also supply exotic animals. The sellers of these animals often disregard state or local laws regulating private possession of exotics, and the dangers, difficulties, physical and physiological needs of the animals they peddle. The suffering of the animals in the hands of unqualified and hapless buyers appears to be of no concern in the lucrative exotic pet trade. Reptiles pose safety risks to humans. Many incidents have been reported of escapes, strangulations, and bites from pet reptiles across the country.
Alligators are also victims of the animal entertainment industry. The use of wild animals as “entertainers” removes animals from their natural habitat; depriving them of the ability to freely engage in instinctual behaviors. Both children and adults are desensitized to animal mistreatment by the animal entertainment industry. Even under the best of circumstances, captivity is cruel for wild animals. Confined to tiny areas and gawked at by crowds, animals in exhibits and acts endure constant stress. They may suffer from temperature extremes and irregular feeding and watering. Without exercise, they become listless, their immune systems are weakened, and they become prone to sickness; many resort to self-mutilation in reaction to stress or boredom. Mental illness is rampant among confined animals. Torn from their families and deprived of all dignity, every part of their lives is controlled by their captors. While zoos may appear to be educational and conservation-oriented, most are designed with the needs and desires of the visitors in mind, not the needs of the animals.
Alligators also are inhumanely farmed commercially. Their hide is tanned and used to make leather goods such as shoes and handbags, while alligator meat is also considered a delicacy in many parts of the world.
One of 30 cougar subspecies, the Florida panther is an endangered species. Panthers are tawny brown on the back and pale gray underneath, with white flecks on the head, neck and shoulder. Males weigh up to 130 pounds; females 70 pounds. Panthers live in cypress swamps and pine and hardwood hammock forests.
Originally from western Texas and found throughout the southeastern states; they are now only in Florida. Panthers feed mostly on white-tailed deer, wild hogs, rabbits, raccoons, armadillos and birds. They are solitary, territorial and often travel at night. Males have a home range of up to 400 square miles and females about 50 to 100 square miles.
Panthers reach sexual maturity at about 3 years. Mating season is December through February. Gestation lasts about 90 days and females bear 2-6 kittens. Young stay with the mother for about two years. Females do not mate again until the young have left.
THREATS TO PANTHERS
Threats to panthers include habitat loss because of human development, collision with vehicles, parasites, feline distemper, feline calicivirus (an upper respiratory infection) and other diseases. The biggest threat to their survival is human encroachment. Historical persecution reduced this wide-ranging, large carnivore to a small area of south Florida. This created a tiny isolated population that became inbred.
Reduced speeding zones, construction of panther underpasses, public education, captive breeding programs and research are efforts being taken to save the Florida panther from extinction.
The black panther is the common name for a black specimen (a genetic variant) of several species of cats. Zoologically, a panther is the same as a leopard, while the term Panthera describes the whole family of big cats. But, in North America, the term panther is also used for puma. In South America it could also mean a jaguar. Elsewhere in the world it refers to leopard.
It does not exist as a separate species. The genetic variant is most common in jaguars (Panthera onca) where it is due to a dominant gene mutation, and leopards (Panthera pardus) where it is due to a recessive gene mutation. Close examination of one of these black cats will show that the typical markings are still there, and are simply hidden by the surplus of the black pigment melanin. Cats with melanism can coexist with litter mates that do not have this condition. In cats that hunt mainly at night, the condition is not detrimental. White panthers also exist, these being albino or leucistic individuals of the same three species.
It is probable that melanism is a favorable evolutionary mutation with a selective advantage under certain conditions for its possessor, since it is more commonly found in regions of dense forest, where light levels are lower. Melanism can also be linked to beneficial mutations in the immune system.
In jaguars, the mutation is dominant hence black jaguars can produce both black and spotted cubs, but spotted jaguars only produce spotted cubs when bred together. In leopards, the mutation is recessive and some spotted leopards can produce black cubs (if both parents carry the gene in hidden form) while black leopards always breed true when mated together. The black jaguar was considered a separate species by indigenous peoples.
Black leopards are the most common form of black panther in captivity and have been selectively bred for decades as exhibits or exotic pets. This inhumane inbreeding for the sake of appearance has adversely affected temperament. They are smaller and more lightly built than jaguars. The spotted pattern is still visible on black leopards.
It is a myth that their mothers often reject them at a young age because of their color. In actuality, they are more temperamental because they have been inbred (e.g. brother/sister, father/daughter, mother/son matings) to preserve the coloration. The poor temperament has been bred into the strain as a side effect of inbreeding. It is this poor temperament that leads to problems of maternal care in captivity as the proximity of humans stresses the mother.
Black leopards are reported from moist densely forested areas in south western China, Burma, Assam and Nepal; from Travancore and other parts of southern India and are said to be common in Java and the southern part of the Malay Peninsula where they may be more numerous than spotted leopards. They are less common in tropical Africa, but have been reported from Ethiopia (formerly Abyssinia), the forests of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares. One was recorded in the equatorial forest of Cameroon.
Eagle, common name for large predatory birds of the family Falconidae (hawk family), are found in all parts of the world. Eagles are similar to the buteos, or buzzard hawks, but are larger both in length and in wingspread (up to 7 1⁄2 feet) and have beaks nearly as long as their heads.
Birds of prey are birds that hunt for food primarily on the wing, using their keen senses, especially vision. They are defined as birds that primarily hunt vertebrates, including other birds. Their talons and beaks tend to be relatively large, powerful and adapted for tearing and/or piercing flesh. In most cases, the females are considerably larger than the males. Because of their predatory lifestyle, often at the top of the food chain, they face distinct conservation concerns.
Eagles differ from many other birds of prey mainly by their larger size, more powerful build, and heavier head and beak. Even the smallest eagles, like the booted eagle, have relatively longer and more evenly broad wings, and more direct, faster flight. Most eagles are larger than any other raptors apart from the vultures. Species named as eagles range in size from the South Nicobar serpent eagle, at 1.1 lb and 16 inches, to the 14.7 lb Steller's sea eagle and the 39 inch Philippine eagle. Like all birds of prey, eagles have very large hooked beaks for tearing flesh from their prey, strong muscular legs, and powerful talons. They also have extremely keen eyesight which enables them to spot potential prey from a very long distance. This keen eyesight is primarily contributed by their extremely large pupils which ensure minimal diffraction (scattering) of the incoming light.
Eagles build their nests, called eyries, in tall trees or on high cliffs. Many species lay two eggs, but the older, larger chick frequently kills its younger sibling once it has hatched. The dominant chick tends to be the female, as they are bigger than the male. The parents take no action to stop the killing.
Eagles are solitary birds that mate for life. The nest of twigs and sticks is built at a vantage point high in a tree or on a cliff in a permanent feeding territory and is added to year after year; the refuse of the previous nests decomposing beneath the new additions. Nests can become enormous, measuring up to ten feet across and weighing well over 1,000 pounds. The eaglets do not develop adult markings until their third year, when they leave parental protection and seek their own mates and territories.
The American bald, or white-headed, eagle (Haliaetus leucocephalus) is found in all parts of North America near water and feeds chiefly on dead fish (sometimes robbing the osprey's catch) and rodents. It is dark brown with white head, neck and tail plumage. The northern species (found chiefly in Canada) is slightly larger than the southern, which ranges throughout the United States. With only 417 known breeding pairs in the 48 contiguous states in 1963, the bald eagle population was dwindling alarmingly; a decade later they were placed on the endangered species list. In one of the greatest success stories in species recovery, conservation methods such as the banning of DDT and the prohibition against eagle hunting had by the beginning of the 21st century increased the breeding population in the lower 48 states to some 5,000 pairs. The bald eagle was removed from endangered status in 1995 and is now classified as threatened.
The golden, or mountain, eagle is widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, in the United States found mostly in the West. Unlike the bald eagle, it is an aggressive predator. In Asia it is trained to hunt small game. The adult is sooty brown with tawny head and neck feathers; unlike those of the bald eagle, its legs are feathered to the toes.
The gray and Steller's sea eagles are native to colder areas of the Northern Hemisphere; the king or imperial eagle to South Europe and Asia; and the rare monkey-eating eagle to the Philippines.
The harpy, or harpy eagle, of Central and South America, the largest of the hawks, eats macaws and sloths. It was named for the winged monsters of Greek myth and was called "winged wolf" by the Aztecs.
Eagles - impressive both in size and for their fearsome beauty - have long been symbols of royal power and have appeared on coins, seals, flags, and standards since ancient times. The eagle was the emblem of one of the Ptolemies of Egypt and was worn on the standards of the Roman armies and of Napoleon's troops. The American bald eagle became the national emblem of the United States by act of Congress in 1782. In folklore the eagle's ability to carry off prey, including children, has been exaggerated; even the powerful golden eagle can lift no more than 8 lb.
Eagles are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Falconiformes, family Accipitridae.
THREATS TO EAGLES
Eagles are threatened by habitat loss, pesticides, hunting, poisoning from carcasses of other animals poisoned by humans, wind farms, electrocution from power lines, and lead poisoning from eating ducks that have consumed lead shot.
Blue jays are large songbirds belonging to the crow family. Known for their blue plumage, perky crest and noisy calls, they are intelligent and complex and help spread oak trees. Blue jays inhabit North America in deciduous, coniferous and mixed forests, as well as parks and residential areas. They are frequent visitors of backyard bird feeders.
There are four subspecies of blue jay. The northern blue jay inhabits the northern U.S. and Canada and has dull plumage with pale blue coloration. The Florida blue jay is the smallest blue jay and is similar in color to the northern blue jay. The interior blue jay inhabits the Midwest U.S. The coastal blue jay inhabits the southern coasts of the eastern U.S. and is a vivid blue color.
While blue jays appear blue in color, their feathers actually have brown pigment. Special cells distort light creating the impression of a blue color. Blue jays have white faces, bellies and throats. Their wings and tails have white, blue and black plumage. Male blue jays are slightly larger than female blue jays.
Blue jays have a crest on the top of their heads. Blue jay crests stand erect when they are being aggressive, and stand brush-like when they are afraid. When they are relaxed, their crests are flattened. They easily recognize each other by the varying black bridles across their faces, napes and throats.
Blue jays are able to fly up to 25 miles per hour. They are diurnal, active during the day.
Blue jay are omnivores, feeding on seeds, nuts, fruit, insects, young birds and eggs. They have very strong bills capable of cracking nuts. Blue jays will often chase smaller birds away from food sources, but will wait their turn when larger birds are feeding. They store acorns in the ground and sometimes forget to retrieve them, helping in the spread of forests. Blue jays carry their food in their throats, beaks and the upper esophagus.
Blue jays are incredibly intelligent birds. They communicate with body language and high-pitched calls and loud screams. They have a very large vocabulary. Their characteristic jay call warns other birds of nearby predators. They are able to imitate the sounds of other animals, including humans. Blue jays imitate hawks to determine if any hawks are in the area and to distract other birds from a potential food source. Blue jays are very curious birds, and young blue jays often play with human-made objects.
Blue jays usually live in small family groups. When alone, blue jays are subject to predation, but when in groups they work together to fight off predators.
Some blue jays migrate. They may migrate every year, every other year, or only when winter food sources are scarce or weather conditions are extreme. Younger blue jays migrate more often than adult blue jays. When blue jays migrate, they gather in large flocks to begin their journey together.
Blue jays are preyed upon by owls, hawks and cats. Snakes, opossums, raccoons, crows and squirrels prey on baby blue jays and blue jay eggs.
Blue jay mating season takes place mid-March through July. Blue jay couples usually mate for life. Male blue jays collect twigs, roots, moss and bark to construct nests. Female blue jays build the cup-shaped nests in trees and lay 2 to 7 brownish or bluish eggs. Blue jays are very protective of their nesting sites. Following an incubation period of 16 to 18 days, hatchlings emerge from the eggs. Newborn blue jays are blind, naked and helpless. The father blue jay provides food for the mother blue jay while she nurtures the chicks. Young blue jays leave the nest after 17 to 21 days. They stay with their parents for one to two months. Blue jays reach sexual maturity at about one year old.
Blue jays can live up to 26 years in the wild.
THREATS TO BLUE JAYS
Blue jays are threatened by collisions with man-made structures, predation, pollution, pesticides and diseases. While considered a common bird, even common bird populations are alarmingly declining due to irresponsible human activities. Loss of habitat, animal agriculture, pesticides and forestry are the largest threats to bird populations. Collisions with power lines, buildings and vehicles kills 900 million birds each year in the United States and Canada alone.
The American black bear (Ursus americanus), also known as the cinnamon bear, is the most common bear species native to North America. The black bear occurs throughout much of the continent, from northern Canada and Alaska south into Mexico, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This includes 39 of the 50 U.S. states and all Canadian provinces. Populations in east-central and the southern United States remain in the protected mountains and woodlands of parks and preserves, though bears will occasionally wander outside the parks' boundaries and have setup new territories in recent years in this manner.
While there were probably once as many as two million black bears in North America, the population declined to a low of 200,000 before rebounding in recent decades, partly due to conservation measures. By current estimates, more than 600,000 are living today.
The black bear is about 5 feet long. Females weigh between 90 and 400 pounds, while males weigh between 110 and 880 pounds. Cubs usually weigh between seven ounces and one pound at birth. The adult black bear has small eyes, rounded ears, a long snout, a large body, and a short tail. They have an excellent sense of smell. Though these bears indeed generally have shaggy black hair, the coat can vary in color depending on the subspecies: from white through chocolate brown, cinnamon brown, and blonde, found mostly west of the Mississippi River, to black in the east (the same is generally true in Canada with the border being between Manitoba and Ontario). Further adding to the confusion, black bears occasionally sport a slight white chest blaze on either side of the river.
While black bears are able to stand and walk on their hind legs, they usually stand or walk on all four legs. When they do stand it usually is to get a better look at something. The black bear's characteristic shuffle results from walking flat-footed, with the hind legs slightly longer than the front legs. Each paw has five strong claws used for tearing, digging and climbing. One blow from a powerful front paw is enough to kill an adult elk.
Black bears prefer forested and shrubby areas but use wet meadows, high tidelands, ridgetops, burned areas, riparian areas and avalanche chutes. They also frequent swampy hardwood and conifer forests. After emerging from their winter dens in spring, they seek southerly slopes at lower elevations for forage and move to northerly and easterly slopes at higher elevations as summer progresses. Black bears use dense cover for hiding and thermal protection, as well as for bedding. They climb trees to escape danger and use forested areas as travel corridors. Black bears hibernate during winter and may build dens in tree cavities, under logs, rocks, in banks, caves, or culverts, and in shallow depressions.
Black bears reach breeding maturity at about 4 or 5 years of age, and breed every 2 to 3 years. Black bears breed in the spring, usually in May and June, but the embryos do not begin to develop until the mother dens in the fall to hibernate through the winter months (delayed implantation.) However, if food was scarce and the mother has not gained enough fat to sustain herself during hibernation as well as produce cubs, the embryos do not implant (develop). Black bear cubs are generally born in January or February. They are blind when born, and twins are most common, though up to four cubs is not unheard of and first-time mothers typically have only a single cub. By spring thaw, when the bears start leaving their dens, the cubs are fur-balls of energy, inquisitive and playful.
When their mother senses danger she grunts to the cubs to climb high up a tree. They are weaned between July and September of their first year, and stay with the mother through the first winter. They are usually independent by the second winter. Cub survival is totally dependent on the skill of the mother in teaching her cubs what to eat, where and how to forage (find food), where to den, and when and where to seek shelter from heat or danger.
Black bears are omnivores. They eat a wide variety of foods, relying most heavily on grasses, herbs, fruits and mast. They also feed on carrion and insects such as carpenter ants, yellow jackets, bees and termites. Black bears sometimes kill and eat small rodents and ungulate fawns. Unlike the brown bear, black bears like to attack and eat dead creatures, which makes humans feigning death at bear attacks ineffective. Like many animals, black bears seldom attack unless cornered or threatened. They are less likely to attack man than grizzly bears and typically run for cover before one catches sight of them. Black bear predation on man is extremely rare. It is estimated that there have been only 56 documented killings of humans by black bears in North America in the past 100 years. Black bear predators include other black bears, man, and the grizzly. Coyotes and mountain lions may prey on cubs.
Because their behavior has been little understood until recently, black bears have been feared and hated. Before the 20th century these bears were shot intermittently as vermin, food, and trophies being seen as either a vicious beast or an endless commodity. In many areas bounties were paid, until recently, for black bears. Paradoxically, black bears have also been portrayed as harmless and cuddly. For example, the "teddy bear" owes its existence to a young black bear cub Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot.
Their tendencies to follow their stomachs and habitat encroachment by man have created human-bear conflicts. This is true especially in areas where they may have been uncommon or absent for a long time, as in many parts of the eastern United States.
THREATS TO BLACK BEARS
Today, a major threat to the American black bear is poaching, or illegal killing, to supply Asian markets with bear galls and paws, considered to have medicinal value in China, Japan, and Korea. The demand for these parts also affects grizzly and polar bears. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty among more than 120 nations, provides measures to curb illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products across international boundaries, helping to protect the black bear from poaching.
Black bears are abundant in much of the West, in portions of the Midwest and in most of Canada. Conversely, Iowa, where land is heavily used for agriculture, has virtually none. Most eastern populations in the United States are seeing a marked, steady increase in population with bears moving back into places where they may not have been present for over a century as suitable habitat has come back. Two populations, however, are at critically low levels. Two subspecies, the Louisiana black bear and the Florida black bear, still face decline mainly due to habitat loss and degradation. In Mexico, the indigenous black bear population is listed as endangered and is mostly limited to increasingly fragmented habitat in the northern parts of the country.
In 1992, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Louisiana black bear subspecies as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, meaning it could be in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range in the near future. The American black bear also is protected by legislation in the affected states (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas) due to its close resemblance to this subspecies. The Florida black bear is a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Butterflies are part of the class of insects in the order Lepidoptera. Adult butterflies have large, often brightly colored wings, and conspicuous, fluttering flight. The group comprises the true butterflies (superfamily Papilionoidea), the skippers (superfamily Hesperioidea) and the moth-butterflies (superfamily Hedyloidea). Butterflies are the second largest group of pollinators, following bees. There are about 17,500 species of butterflies spread throughout the world.
These beautiful animals undergo a fascinating metamorphosis which takes place in four stages: egg, caterpillar, pupa and adult.
Mother butterflies attach their eggs with a special glue to caterpillar food, or “host” plant. As the glue hardens it contracts, deforming the shape of the egg. Each species of butterfly has its own host plant range, and while some species of butterfly are restricted to just one species of plant, others use a range of plant species.
Butterfly eggs are protected by a hard shell lined with a thin coating of wax which prevents the egg from drying out. Each egg contains a number of tiny funnel-shaped openings at one end that allow sperm to enter and fertilize the egg. Butterfly and moth eggs vary greatly in size between species.
The egg stage lasts a few weeks in most butterflies. Eggs laid close to winter, especially in temperate regions, go through a resting stage and the hatching may take place only in spring. Other butterflies may lay their eggs in the spring and have them hatch in the summer. These butterflies are usually northern species.
When the caterpillar is born, it eats its egg, then begins eating the host plant. Host plants often have toxic substances in them and caterpillars are able to retain them. This makes them unpalatable to birds, insects and other predators. Such unpalatibility is advertised using bright red, orange, black or white warning colors.
Caterpillars spend practically all of their time in search of food. Some caterpillars form mutual associations with ants. They communicate with the ants using vibrations and chemical signals. The ants provide some degree of protection to these caterpillars, and they in turn gather honeydew secretions. Others caterpillars communicate with ants to form a parasitic relationship.
Some caterpillars have the ability to inflate parts of their head to appear snake-like. Many have false eye-spots to enhance this effect. Some caterpillars produce foul-smelling chemicals used in defense.
When the caterpillar's insides grow too big for its outside, its covering splits and is shed. A new exoskeleton lies underneath. The caterpillar continues to shed numerous times, then becomes a pupa. It then seeks a sheltered spot, suspends itself by silken threads and sheds one more time forming a hard casing around its body. Inside this chrysalis, the pupa is growing six legs, a proboscis, antennae and wings. Within days, months or years, depending on the species, the chrysalis breaks open and a butterfly emerges.
Butterflies can live in the adult stage from a week to a year, depending on the species. They have four wings, usually brightly colored with unique patterns made up of tiny scales. They remember things they learned as caterpillars. They can fly up to 30 mph and up to 50 miles in a day. They learn home ranges and memorize locations of nectar and pollen sources, host plants and communal roosting sites. They are able to plan the most efficient routes by using calculations that mathematicians call the "traveling salesman algorithm".
Butterflies feed primarily on nectar from flowers. They are important as pollinators for some species of plants and are capable of moving pollen over greater distances than bees. Adult butterflies consume only liquids, ingested through the proboscis. They sip water from damp patches for hydration. They feed on nectar to obtain sugars for energy, and sodium and other minerals vital for reproduction. Several species of butterflies need more sodium than that provided by nectar and are attracted by sodium in salt; they sometimes land on people, attracted by the salt in human sweat. Some butterflies also visit dung, rotting fruit or carcasses to obtain minerals and nutrients. In many species, this mud-puddling behavior is restricted to the males, and the nutrients collected may be provided as a gift during mating.
Butterflies use their antennae to sense the air for wind and scents. The antennae are richly covered with sensory organs. Butterflies "taste" with their feet through tiny receptors. Their sense of taste is 200 times stronger than humans.
Butterflies have excellent vision and most species are sensitive to the ultraviolet spectrum. Some butterflies have organs of hearing and some species are also known to make stridulatory and clicking sounds.
Many butterflies are migratory and capable of long distance flights, using the sun to orient themselves. They migrate during the day and use the sun to orient themselves. They also perceive polarized light and use it for orientation when the sun is hidden.
Many species of butterfly maintain territories and actively chase other species or individuals that may stray into them. Some species will bask or perch on chosen perches. Basking is an activity which is more common in the cooler hours of the morning. Many species will orient themselves to gather heat from the sun. Some species have evolved dark wing-bases to help in gathering more heat. The flight styles of butterflies are often characteristic and some species have courtship flight displays.
THREATS TO BUTTERFLIES
The greatest threats to butterflies are habitat change and loss due to residential, commercial and agricultural development. Many butterfly species are either under the threat of extinction, or have died out completely due to the rise of intensive farming and the loss of habitats.
Butterflies have suffered from the loss of grasslands rich in wild flowers and the decline of woodlands.
Owls include about 200 species of mostly solitary and nocturnal birds of prey. They have an upright stance, a large, broad head, binocular vision and binaural hearing, and feathers adapted for silent flight. Owls hunt mostly small mammals, insects, and other birds, although a few species specialize in hunting fish. They are found in all regions of the earth except Antarctica and some remote islands. Owls are divided into two families: the true owls, Strigidae; and the barn-owls, Tytonidae.
Owls have large forward-facing eyes and ear-holes, a hawk-like beak, a flat face, and a circle of feathers around each eye. The feathers make up a disc that can be adjusted to sharply focus sounds that come from varying distances onto the owls' ears. Caught prey can be felt by owls with the use of filoplumes - feathers on the beak and feet that act as "feelers".
Most birds of prey have eyes on the sides of their heads, but the owl's forward-facing eyes permits a greater sense of depth perception necessary for low-light hunting. Although owls have binocular vision, their large eyes are fixed in their sockets - as are those of other birds - so they must turn their entire head to change views. Owls can rotate their heads and necks as much as 270 degrees, having fourteen neck vertebrae as compared to seven in humans. As owls are farsighted, they are unable to see clearly close up, but their far vision (particularly in low light) is exceptionally good. Owl eyes can move independently of each other.
The smallest owl - weighing as little as 1 oz and measuring 5 inches, is the elf owl. The largest owl by length is the great grey owl which measures around 28 inches on average and can attain a length of 33 inches. However, the heaviest (and largest winged) owls are two similarly-sized eagle owls; the Eurasian eagle-owl and Blakiston's fish owl. These two species can have a wingspan of 6.6 feet and a weight of 10 lb.
Different species of owls make different sounds; this wide range of calls aids owls in finding mates or announcing their presence to potential competitors.
Many species of owls have facial and head markings, including face masks, ear tufts and brightly colored irises. These markings are generally more common in species inhabiting open habitats, and are thought to be used in signaling with other owls in low light conditions.
Owl eggs usually have a white color and an almost spherical shape, and range in number from a few to a dozen, depending on species and the particular season. For most, three or four is the more common number. Eggs are laid at intervals of 1 to 3 days and do not hatch at the same time.
Most owls are nocturnal, actively hunting their prey only in darkness. Several types of owl, however, are crepuscular - active during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk. A few owls are active during the day.
All owls are carnivorous birds of prey and live mainly on a diet of insects and small rodents such as mice, rats and hares. Some owls are also specifically adapted to hunt fish. Much of the owls' hunting strategy depends on stealth and surprise. The dull coloration of their feathers can render them almost invisible under certain conditions. Their flight is practically silent. An owl's sharp beak and powerful talons allow it to kill its prey before swallowing it whole. They regurgitate the indigestible parts of their prey (such as bones, scales, and fur) in the form of pellets.
Owls can have either internal or external ears, both of which are asymmetrical. With ears set at different places on its skull, an owl is able to determine the direction from which the sound is coming by the minute difference in time that it takes for the sound waves to penetrate the left and right ears. The owl turns its head until the sound reaches both ears at the same time, at which point it is directly facing the source of the sound.
While the auditory and visual capabilities of the owl allow it to locate and pursue its prey, the talons and beak of the owl do the final work. The owl kills its prey by using the talons to crush the skull and knead the body. The beak of the owl is short, curved and downward-facing, and typically hooked at the tip for gripping and tearing.
The coloration of the owl’s plumage plays a key role in its ability to sit still and blend into the environment, making it nearly invisible to prey. Owls tend to mimic the coloration, and sometimes even the texture patterns, of their surroundings. Usually, the only tell-tale sign of a perched owl will be its vocalizations or its vividly colored eyes.
THREATS TO OWLS
All owls are listed in Appendix II of the international CITES treaty (the Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Although owls have long been hunted, owl poaching may be on the rise. Owls are threatened by poisons and herbicides accumulated in rodents, vehicle collisions, entrapment in fences and wires, habitat loss, nesting site loss, disturbance by birders, and harassment by humans due to superstitions.
Owls are also victims of the animal entertainment industry. Keeping owls in captivity in tiny enclosures causes them emotional and psychological stress as a result of confinement and boredom. 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. 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.
The salamander is an amphibian animal that has four legs, a slender and long body and a long tail. A salamander's rear legs develop more gradually than its front legs. (Toads and frogs are the opposite: their rear legs develop more rapidly than their front legs.) The four legs on a salamander are short to the point that its belly drags on ground. In spite of their lizard-like nature, salamanders are closely related to the smaller amphibians called newts.
Salamanders are found everywhere throughout the world, mostly in more temperate areas. One-third of the known salamander species are found in North America. The highest concentration of these is found in the Appalachian Mountains region. All the species of salamander are aquatic and semi-aquatic because of their permeable skin and amphibious nature.
There are more than 700 species of recognized salamanders all over the world, from the smaller species to the Chinese giant salamander. All the species of salamander look very much alike in appearance, however as with lizards, diverse species of salamander can possesses less limbs than normal, possessing a more eel-like appearance.
Like lizards and newts, salamanders are able to regenerate or regrow lost limbs and other parts of the body. This gives salamanders leeway while being chased by predators, as the salamander has the ability drop parts of its body to escape.
Some salamander species utilize tail autotomy to escape their predators. The tail drops off and also wriggles around for some time after an attack. The salamander either stays still or runs away while the predator is diverted. The tail regrows within time, and salamanders routinely regrow other complex tissues, including the retina or lens of their eyes. In just a couple of weeks of losing a part of a limb, a salamander reforms the missing parts.
The majority of salamander species are brightly colored, especially the male salamanders amid the breeding period when their colors get to be brighter and more intense to attract the female salamanders. Species of salamanders that live underground are mostly white or pink in color because their skin is never exposed to the sun.
The skin of salamanders secretes bodily fluid, which helps keep salamanders moist when on dry land and keeps up their salt balance while in water. It also provides a lubricant during swimming. Salamanders additionally secrete a poisonous substance from the glands in their skin, and some also possess skin glands for secreting courtship pheromones.
Respiration varies among the distinctive species and can include lungs, skin, gills, and the membranes of the throat and mouth. Larval salamanders breathe essentially by mean of gills that are mostly feathery and external in appearance. Water is drawn in via the mouth and flows out via the gill slits. Some neotenic species like the mudpuppy maintain their gills for the duration of their lives, however, most species lose them during metamorphosis.
Salamanders are opportunistic predators. They are generally not restricted to specific foods, but feed on almost any organism. Large species such as the Japanese giant salamander eat crabs, fish, small mammals, amphibians, and aquatic insects. Smaller salamanders may eat earthworms, flies, beetles, beetle larvae, leafhoppers, springtails, moths, spiders, grasshoppers, and mites.
A terrestrial salamander catches its prey by flicking out its sticky tongue in an action that takes less than half a second. An aquatic salamander lacks muscles in the tongue, and captures its prey in an entirely different manner. It grabs the food item, grasps it with its teeth, and adopts a kind of inertial feeding. This involves tossing its head about, drawing water sharply in and out of its mouth, and snapping its jaws which tears and macerates the prey before being swallowed.
Salamanders are not vocal and in most species the sexes look alike, so they use olfactory and tactile cues to identify potential mates. Pheromones play an important part in the process. In about 90% of all species, fertilization is internal. The male typically deposits a spermatophore on the ground or in the water according to species, and the female picks this up with her vent. Often an elaborate courtship behavior is involved in its deposition and collection. In the most primitive salamanders such as the Asiatic salamanders and the giant salamanders, external fertilization occurs, instead. In these species, the male releases sperm onto the egg mass in a reproductive process similar to that of typical frogs.
In temperate regions, reproduction is usually seasonal and salamanders may migrate to breeding grounds. Males usually arrive first and in some instances set up territories. Typically, a larval stage follows in which the babies are fully aquatic. The tadpoles are carnivorous and the larval stage may last from days to years, depending on species. Sometimes this stage is completely bypassed, and the eggs of most lungless salamanders develop directly into miniature versions of the adult without an intervening larval stage.
THREATS TO SALAMANDERS
A general decline in amphibian species has been linked with the fungal disease chytridiomycosis. A higher proportion of salamander species than of frogs or caecilians are in one of the at-risk categories established by the IUCN. Salamanders showed a significant diminution in numbers in the last few decades of the 20th century, although no direct link between the fungus and the population decline has yet been found. Deforestation, resulting in fragmentation of suitable habitats, and changes in climate are possible contributory factors.
The Chinese giant salamander, at 6 feet the largest amphibian in the world, is critically endangered, as it is collected for food and for use in traditional Chinese medicine. The hellbender is another large, long-lived species with dwindling numbers and fewer juveniles reaching maturity than previously. Habitat loss, silting of streams, pollution and disease have all been implicated in the decline.
Of the 20 species of minute salamanders in Mexico, half are believed to have become extinct and most of the others are critically endangered. Specific reasons for the decline may include climate change, chytridiomycosis, or volcanic activity, but the main threat is habitat destruction as logging, agricultural activities, and human settlement reduce their often tiny, fragmented ranges.