The fastest land animal in the world, the cheetah is a marvel of evolution. Capable of running up to 70 miles per hour, the cheetah’s slender, long-legged body is built for speed. Its spotted coat, small head and ears, and distinctive "tear stripes" from the corner of the eyes down the sides of the nose make the cheetah highly recognizable among the large cats of Africa.
The cheetah is smaller than other big cats, measuring 44 to 53 inches long with a tail length of 26 to 33 inches. Cheetahs usually weigh 110 to 140 pounds. An estimated 9,000 to 12,000 cheetahs remain in the wild. They live an average of 10 to 12 years. Once found throughout Africa and Asia, cheetahs are now confined to parts of eastern and southwestern Africa.
Cheetahs thrive in areas with vast expanses of land where prey is abundant. In Namibia cheetahs have been found in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, savannahs, dense vegetation, and mountainous terrain. Ninety five percent live on commercial farms. Cheetahs are found in the wild primarily in Africa, but in the past their range extended into northern and southern India. Conservationists using camera traps have recently discovered surviving populations in Iran and are taking steps to protect them. In much of their former range they were domesticated by aristocrats and used to hunt antelopes in much the same way as is still done with members of the greyhound group of dogs. Aside from an estimated 200 cheetahs living in Iran (Khorasan Province), the distribution of cheetahs is now limited to Africa. There are 5 subspecies of cheetah in the genus Acinonyx: four in Africa and one in Iran. The endangered subspecies Acinonyx jubatus venaticus lives in Asia (Iran). In 1990, there were reports in the Times of India of a cheetah sighting in eastern India. There is a chance some cheetahs remain in India, though it is doubtful. There have also been reports of Asiatic cheetahs in the Balochistan Province of Pakistan, though these continue to be unverified. The cheetah prefers to live in an open biotope, such as semi desert, prairie, and thick brush.
Cheetahs rely on a burst of speed to catch such swift prey as gazelles, wildebeest calves, impalas and smaller hoofed animals, knocking their prey to the ground and delivering a suffocating bite to the neck. They must eat quickly to avoid losing their kill to other carnivores.
Cheetahs are typically solitary creatures. Females raise their cubs for about a year. Males sometimes live with a small group of brothers from the same litter. Cheetahs hunt in late mornings and early evenings. Chases last from 20 to 60 seconds. Only half are successful. Cheetahs reach sexual maturity in 20 to 24 months. Mating season is throughout the year. The cheetah can live over twenty years, but their life is often short, for they lose their speed with old age. Unlike other felines, the adult females do not have true territories and seem to avoid each other, though some mother/daughter pairs have been known to continue for small periods of time. Cheetahs have a unique, well structured social order. Females live alone except when they are raising cubs. The females raise the cubs on their own. The first 18 months of a cub's life are important; cubs learn many lessons because survival depends on knowing how to hunt wild prey species and avoid other predators such as leopards, lions, hyenas, and baboons. At 18 months, the mother leaves the cubs, which then form a sibling group, that will stay together for another 6 months. At about 2 years, the female siblings leave the group, and the young males remain together for life. Males live alone or in coalitions made up of brothers from the same litter. Some coalitions maintain territories in order to find females with which they will mate. Territories are often located in areas where there is a rich supply of wild game and/or water. Fierce fights between male coalitions, resulting in serious injury or death, can occur when defending territories. Coalitions of many male cheetahs are much more successful at winning and keeping territories than the ones who live alone. Life span is up to 12 years in wild.
Two to four cubs are born to a litter. Cubs are smoky grey in color with long wooly hair, called a mantle, running along their backs. This mantle is thought to help camouflage cubs in grass, concealing them from predators. Mothers move cubs to new hiding places every few days. At five to six weeks, cubs follow the mother and begin eating from her kills. Cubs stay with their mother for about a year.
THREATS TO CHEETAHS
The future of the cheetah is doubtful because of increasing loss of habitat, declines in prey, high cub mortality rates and conflict with ranchers. Cheetah fur was formerly regarded as a status symbol.
Today, cheetahs have a growing economic importance for ecotourism and they are also found in zoos, denied their wild nature, strong family bonds and natural social interactions. Like all captive wildlife, they face constant stress and are denied their wild nature and social structures. The needs and desires of humans comes before the needs of the animals in the animal entertainment industry.
Because cheetahs are far less aggressive than other big cats, kittens are sometimes sold as pets. This is an illegal trade, because international conventions forbid private ownership of wild animals or species threatened with extinction. Their complex physical, psychological and social needs can never be met when they are kept as pets.
Cheetahs were formerly, and are sometimes still, hunted because many farmers believe that they eat livestock. When the species came under threat, numerous campaigns were launched to try to educate farmers and encourage them to conserve cheetahs. Recent evidence has shown that if cheetahs can avoid it they will not attack and eat livestock, preferring their wild prey. However, they have no problem with including farmland as part of their territory, leading to conflict.
Cheetah cubs have a high mortality rate due to genetic factors and predation by carnivores in competition with the cheetah, such as the lion and hyena. Some biologists now believe that they are too inbred to flourish as a species.
Whales range in size from the blue whale, the largest animal known to have ever existed, to pygmy species such as the pygmy sperm whale. Whales inhabit all the world's oceans and number in the millions. They are long-lived; humpback whales living for up to 95 years, while bowhead whales may live for more than a century. Human hunting of whales from the seventeenth century until 1986 radically reduced the populations of some whale species.
Blue whales are found throughout the world's oceans. The blue whale is the largest animal ever to inhabit the earth. This gentle giant has grayish-blue skin with light spots. It has about 300 to 400 baleen plates instead of teeth which it uses to strain food from the ocean water. Measuring 70 to 80 feet in length (the longest recorded length was 106 feet), blue whales can weigh as much as 90 to 150 tons. The female is larger than the male. The population of blue whales is dangerously low. They are endangered.
The lifespan of a blue whale is estimated to be 80 years. A blue whale can eat up to 7,715 pounds of krill (small shrimp-like organisms) per day. They swim 14 miles per hour (with bursts as fast as 30 mph) and feed at depths of less than 330 feet (but can dive as deep as 1,640 feet). Dives last from 10 to 20 minutes. Usually they travel alone or in small groups of two to four, although off the coast of California some groups as large as 60 have been seen.
Sexual maturity is reached between 5 to 10 years. Females give birth every two to three years to one calf. Gestation is 10 to 12 months; average calf is 23 feet long and weighs 4,440 pounds. A calf is fed by its mother for seven to eight months.
Blue whales once were considered too difficult to hunt because of their speed and size. With the introduction of factory ships and the harpoon gun in the 1920s, blue whales were hunted intensively. By the 1960s they were nearly extinct. Blue whales face threats from entanglement in fishing nets, pollution, and illegal whaling.
The gray whale ranges from slate gray to black with many white spots (usually patches of barnacles) and skin blotches (usually "whale lice" which are yellowish-white crustaceans). A baleen (toothless) whale, it has a long rigid snout and a double blow-hole. The gray whale does not have a dorsal fin but does have a low hump on its back and a series of small knobs or "knuckles" running down to the flukes. A female gray whale may reach a length of 40 to 50 feet and weigh up to 16 tons. Males are slightly smaller.
After years of intensive whaling, the gray whale population numbered only a few hundred, but today their population has bounced back. The western Pacific population of gray whales, however, is listed as threatened.
Gray whales migrate along the coast of North America from California to the Arctic or from coastal Korea to Siberia to spend the summer in arctic regions. For the winter, they return to warmer waters. This 4,000 mile annual migration is the longest made by any mammal. Gray whales prefer shallow waters and are often within a mile and a half of shore in coastal waters and breeding lagoons.
Gray whales feed on bottom-dwelling organisms such as amphipods (small crustaceans), mollusks and worms. They dive to the bottom, turn on their sides, and swim along the ocean floor scooping up sand and food, then strain the sand and water (through baleen filters), leaving the food inside.
Gray whales often play in the surf and shallow waters and surf the waves occasionally. They also sometimes leap completely out of the water, or spyhop, lifting their heads vertically out of the water to observe their surroundings.
Females bear one calf every two years after a gestation period of 13 months. Calves nurse for seven months.
Pollution and the disturbance of calving lagoons by humans are the main threats to the gray whale.
The humpback whale is black or gray with a white, grooved underbelly. Megaptera means 'giant wings' and refers to the their large front flippers, which are up to 15 feet. Humpback whales measure 35 to 48 feet long and weigh up to 65 tons. The female is larger than the male. In the 1870s humpback whales numbered around 125,000, but early in the 20th century whaling drastically reduced the population. Humpbacks now number around 5,000 to 7,500.
The humpback whale is capable of living up to 95 years. They are found in all the world's oceans. Humpback whales migrate annually from the tropics to polar regions.
Humpbacks sometimes engage in social hunting in which several whales encircle a school (group) of fish and blow bubbles that form a 'net' around the fish, then move in with their mouths open to devour their prey. Their favorite foods include krill and small schooling fish such as herring and mackerel, consuming between 2,000 and 9,000 pounds a day.
The 'songs' of humpback whales are complex vocalizations made only by the males. Humpbacks are well known for hurling their massive bodies out of the water in magnificent displays called breaching. Scientists are unsure why humpbacks breach, but believe it may be related to courtship or play activity.
Humpback whales mate during winter migration to warmer waters. Eleven to 12 months later the female gives birth to a single calf, weighing about two tons and measuring up to 13 feet long.
Whales suffer from illegal whaling, entanglement in fishing nets and death from pollution.
Endangered sperm whales ae the largest toothed mammal in the world. Males are significantly larger. They are dark blue-gray to black in color. Males pale as they age. Sperm whales have a gigantic, square-shaped head with a slender lower jaw. Their head makes up one-third of their length. They do not have a dorsal fin. The head houses a large spermaceti organ filled with spermaceti oil that turns from liquid to solid as the water turns colder. Because a solid is generally heavier than a liquid, this "weight" in the whale's head allows it to dive deep to find food, up to 4,000 feet.
Males can reach 66 feet in length, though most are about 50 feet in length. Females are rarely longer than 40 feet in length. Male sperm whales weigh between 77,000 and 110,000 pounds; females weigh only one-third as much as males. Sperm whales can live up to 77 years.
They are found in all the oceans of the world, but concentrated in areas of plentiful food such as the coast of South America, the coast of Africa, the north Atlantic sea, the Arabian sea, the western north Pacific and near the equator. They feed on giant squid, schooling fish, seals and sharks. Sperm whales consume approximately one ton of food each day.
Sperm whales are found in mixed groups of 20 to 40 individuals including adult females, calves and juveniles. After weaned from their mother, juveniles leave their group to form juvenile schools. Females will return to a mixed group before reaching maturity while males form bachelor groups or become solitary. Sperm whales do not migrate over large distances as some other whale species do.
Sperm whales mate in the spring and have calves in the fall. A single calf is born after a 14 to 19 month gestation. Newborn calves weigh about 2,000 pounds and are about 13 feet in length.
In the past, sperm whales were hunted for their ambergris, a waxy oil substance. This oil was used for lighting fuel. Spermaceti oil was also used to make candles and lubricant.
THREATS TO WHALES
Due to the danger of extinction facing many whale species, the IWC voted to suspend all commercial whale hunting beginning in 1986. Despite this international agreement to stop killing whales for their parts, several countries continued to kill whales and sell their meat and parts, including Norway, Iceland and Japan.
A loophole in the ban on commercial whaling allowed for the killing of large and medium whales for "scientific purposes." The ban also doesn't cover smaller whales like pilot whales, dolphins and porpoises. Iceland and Norway take whales within their own waters, otherwise known as exclusive economic zones. Japan conducts whaling in international waters, including in a whale sanctuary in the ocean off the Antarctic coast, despite the ban.
Whales are most often killed using a primitive weapon called a harpoon. The harpoon has a grenade attached that explodes when the harpoon enters the body of the whale. It can take a very long time for some whales to die which causes additional suffering and fear in these gentle animals. There is no humane way to kill a whale.
Despite international pressure and the best efforts of grassroots movements to ‘save the whales’ around the world, whaling continues to be a danger facing whales and their future here on earth.
Clams are invertebrates. Invertebrates are animals that do not have a backbone. Clams belong to a group of invertebrates called mollusks. There are over 100,000 kinds of animals or species in the Mollusca phylum or category. Clams are also known as shellfish. The term shellfish includes members of the mollusk phylum and the crustacean subphylum. Crustaceans include lobsters, crabs and shrimp. Crustaceans are really more related to insects than to clams.
Some shellfish or mollusks only have one shell, such as snails. Clams have two shells so they are known as bivalve mollusks. The shells are held together with a hinge. Other bivalves are oysters, cockles, mussels, scallops.
Most bivalves bury themselves in sediment, where they are relatively safe from predation. A sandy sea beach may appear to be devoid of life, but there is often a very large number of bivalves and other invertebrates living beneath the surface of the sand. Others lie on the sea floor or attach themselves to rocks or other hard surfaces. A few bore into wood, clay or stone and live inside these substances. Some bivalves, such as the scallops, can swim.
Clams live in both freshwater and marine habitats, and range in adult size from nearly microscopic to the giant clam, which can weigh 440 lb. Some clams live only one year, while others live to be over 500 years old. Clams lack heads, but most can react to changes in light and some have eyes. All clams have two shells joined near a hinge structure with a flexible ligament, and all are filter feeders. Clams also have kidneys, a heart, a mouth, a stomach, a nervous system and an anus. Many have a siphon.
There are over 12,000 clam species found throughout the world in many different habitats. Most bivalves adopt a sedentary lifestyle, often spending their whole lives in the area in which they first settled as juveniles. The majority of bivalves are infaunal, living under the seabed, buried in sand, silt, mud, gravel or coral fragments. When buried in the sediment, they are protected from the pounding of waves, desiccation and overheating during low tide, and variations in salinity caused by rainwater. They are also out of the reach of many predators. Their general strategy is to extend their siphons to the surface for feeding and respiration during high tide, but to descend to greater depths or keep their shell tightly shut when the tide goes out. They use their muscular foot to dig into the substrate.
Some bivalves, such as mussels, attach themselves to hard surfaces. They are more exposed to attack by predators than the burrowing bivalves. Others, including the true oysters, the jewel boxes, the jingle shells, the thorny oysters and the kitten's paws, cement themselves to stones, rock or larger dead shells.
Bivalves filter large amounts of water to feed and breathe but they are not permanently open. They regularly shut their valves to enter a resting state, even when they are permanently submerged.
The thick shell and rounded shape of bivalves make them awkward for potential predators to tackle. Razor shells can dig themselves into the sand with great speed to escape predation. Scallops and file clams can swim by opening and closing their valves rapidly; water is ejected on either side of the hinge area and they move with the flapping valves in front. Scallops have simple eyes around the margin of the mantle and can clap their valves shut to move sharply, hinge first, to escape from danger. Cockles can use their foot to move across the seabed or leap away from threats. The foot is first extended before being contracted suddenly when it acts like a spring, projecting the animal forwards. In many bivalves that have siphons, they can be retracted back into the safety of the shell. If the siphons inadvertently get attacked by a predator, they snap off. The animal can regenerate them later. File shells can produce a noxious secretion when stressed.
The giant clam is the largest immobile mollusc in the world, reaching up to 6 feet in length. It is not uncommon for these giant molluscs to live for more than 100 years.
Mother-of-pearl, or nacre, is a blend of minerals that are secreted by oysters and other mollusks and deposited inside their shells, coating and protecting them from parasites and foreign objects. Nacre is the same substance that is deposited around an object that becomes lodged in the mollusk to become a pearl. Most bivalves can create pearls. Pearls are formed inside the shell of certain mollusks as a defense mechanism against a potentially threatening irritant such as a parasite inside the shell, or an attack from outside that injures the mantle tissue. The mollusk creates a pearl sac to seal off the irritation. Pearls are commonly viewed by scientists as a by-product of an adaptive immune system-like function.
Clams are important biologically; they work as marine filters as they take in harmful waste nutrients like ammonia and nitrate and expel clean water to the environment. The symbiotic zoothanthellae found within its mantel tissue produces oxygen during photosynthesis.
THREATS TO CLAMS
Clams are threatened by unsustainable collection for seafood restaurants and the ornamental fish trade. Shells are sold as decorative souvenirs. Ocean acidification may also be threatening clams.
Despite all eight species of giant clams in the world being listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which prohibits unrestricted trade between countries, giant clams are constantly found in seafood stores and prized in the ornamental fish trade. Giant clams are also listed as ‘Vulnerable’ in the IUCN Red List of Endangered Animals. These listings reflect the global concern regarding the possible extinction of giant clams as a whole.
Many-tentacled creatures that belong to the order Teuthida, squid are fascinating ocean dwellers, even achieving mythical status in our minds when we think of certain species like the giant squid. This order of molluscs, which is made up of approximately 300 recorded species so far, is similar to octopi and cuttlefish in that they have a distinct head, a symmetrical body structure, a mantle, eight arms, and phenomenal swimming abilities.
Squid are different from their ancestors and many other molluscs, however. In squid, the typical mollusc ‘foot’ structure has evolved. Squid usually have 8 paired smaller arms and two longer tentacles, and highly developed sensory organs. They also have a soft mantle enclosing their organ structure instead of a shell, although they do have a vestigial horny plate (called a gladius) still present that supports the mantle and acts as a site for muscle attachment.
Squid live across an enormous variety of aquatic habitats; an important food source for many other aquatic creatures. They can be found in both freshwater and saltwater environments, deep water and shallow water, and in many different temperature ranges. Most squid species tend to be no larger than about 24 inches long, but the giant squid may be as long as 43 feet in length. That’s almost the size of a school bus.
The squid’s appearance itself is certainly unique. Their skin is covered in chromatophores, which are special cells that allow the squid to change color in order to blend in with its surroundings, much like an octopus does. The mantle cavity contains the squid’s gills, organ systems, and siphon apparatus.
Although squid do have swimming fins, most squid species actually propel themselves mainly by jet propulsion by sucking water into the mantle cavity and pushing it forcefully out through the siphon.
Because they’re the ideal food for a number of predators ranging from sharks, fish, birds and whales, squid have evolved to be quick escape artists. If a squid is threatened, they can quickly expel ink from a small sac near their rectum, temporarily confusing their potential predator and providing cover for a quick escape. Some squid species will even propel themselves right out of the water to escape predators like schools of tuna, gliding through the air for short periods of time.
When they’re not being chased as a potential food source, squid are fairly effective hunters themselves, with fairly complex digestive systems. More intelligent than many of us would expect, some squid even hunt together cooperatively. A squid can propel itself with speedy precision towards its prey, first using a sharp, horny beak to kill prey and tear it into pieces, then pushing food from its muscular stomach into an organ called the caecum for digestion. Food then passes to the liver for nutrients to be absorbed before the squid expels the remaining waste.
Another anatomical feature characteristic to squid is the fact that they have three hearts; two to feed the gills, and a larger, systemic heart to pump blood around the squid’s body. Squid also have the largest eyes in the animal kingdom, relatively speaking. Positioned on either side of their head, a squid’s eyes focus by changing the position of the hard lens inside the eye, much how the lens of a camera moves back and forth.
Reproduction in squid takes place though the fertilization of the female’s eggs by the male. A male squid will often display unique color patterns to attract a female’s attention. Then he mates with her by inserting a copulatory pad (found on the modified end of one of his tentacles) into the female’s mantle and depositing spermatophores (sperm cells) that fertilize the eggs. The female will then place hundreds of eggs into a capsule, anchoring the capsule to sandy ocean bottoms. The time between laying and hatching of the eggs can be vary, since eggs laid in warmer water temperatures tend to hatch more quickly. Some squid egg beds can even cover acres of sand bed.
After the squid larvae hatch, they begin to feed on copepods and other plankton until they’re mature enough to hunt, though many are eaten by predators. Neither squid parent tends to the eggs or young, and it’s been noted that many adult squid species die shortly after reproducing, as an adult squid’s digestive organs diminish as they mature, making more room for reproductive organs. Most species haven’t been found to live longer than one or two years.
THREATS TO SQUID
The fact that squid reproduce rapidly and in large numbers is to their advantage. Squid can quickly replenish their population numbers, which is important to other species that rely on them as a food source.
Although there are no significantly endangered squid species at this point, the largest threat to squid populations worldwide is commercial overfishing by humans. Not only are they often used as bait to catch larger fish, but calamari (fried squid) is a popular dish in many places.
Water pollution, overharvesting and interference with egg capsules can also pose a potential threat to these animals as well.
Spiders are invertebrates but are not considered insects because they only have two main body parts instead of three, eight legs instead of six and no antennae. Most spiders also have eight simple eyes, while insects have large, compound eyes. Some have no eyes and others have as many as 12. Spiders, along with ticks, mites, harvestmen and scorpions, are called arachnida. They are also classified into a special group called araneae because they have very slender waists compared to other arachnida.
Spiders are found worldwide on every continent except for Antarctica, and have become established in nearly every habitat. Over 43,000 spider species have been recorded.
Most spiders are carnivorous, usually feeding on insects. Some are big enough to prey on larger animals such as mice or small birds. Without spiders, insect numbers would skyrocket and bugs would devour our crops. Most spiders eat about 2,000 insects a year.
Some spiders live in silk-lined burrows and leap out to capture prey. Some lie in ambush. Some go hunting in search of prey and others spin webs to entrap them. Some spiders capture prey with silk-made nets, and others use spider silk as "fishing lines". Spider silk is also used to protect their babies, to create shelters and to assist them as they move and reproduce. Some spiders even build "submarines" that hold air so they can stay under water. Most live on land, but a few live in and on water and can run across water.
Spider webs are made of continuous strands of spider silk produced from glands under their bellies. Most take about 60 minutes to construct. The webs have three parts: the frame, built first and attached to plants or other objects; the radii, which radiate out from the center like spokes of a bicycle and transmit vibrations from prey; and the catching spiral, the sticky threads that stretch without breaking making it difficult for insects to escape.
Small and young spiders can travel for miles on air breezes, a travel method called ballooning. To lure other spiders from their webs, the jumping spider plucks rhythms at the corner of a web to mimic a trapped insect.
Male spiders identify themselves by a variety of complex courtship rituals to avoid being eaten by the females. In web-weaving species precise patterns of vibrations in the web are a major part of the rituals. Patterns of touches on the female's body are important in spiders that hunt actively, and may "hypnotize" the female. Gestures and dances by the male are important for jumping spiders, which have excellent eyesight. Males of most species survive a few matings, limited mainly by their short life spans.
Females weave silk egg-cases, each of which may contain hundreds of eggs. Baby spiders pass all their larval stages inside the egg and hatch as spiderlings, very small and sexually immature but similar in shape to adults.
Females of many species care for their young, for example by carrying them around or by sharing food with them. Some spider mothers respond to the "begging" behavior of their young by giving them their prey, provided it is no longer struggling, or even regurgitate food. Like other arthropods, spiders have to molt to grow as their skin cannot stretch.
Some spider species are social, building communal webs that may house anywhere from a few to 50,000 individuals. Social behavior ranges from precarious toleration to co-operative hunting and food-sharing. Social predatory spiders need to defend their prey against thieves, and larger colonies are more successful in this. The herbivorous spider Bagheera kiplingi lives in small colonies which help to protect eggs and spiderlings. Even widow spiders, which are notoriously cannibalistic, have been known to form small colonies, sharing webs and feeding together.
Although spiders are generally regarded as predatory, some feed on plants and nectar. Various species are known to feed on dead arthropods (scavenging), web silk, and their own shed exoskeletons. Pollen caught in webs may also be eaten.
The best-known method of prey capture is by means of sticky webs. Varying placement of webs allows different species of spider to trap different insects in the same area. For example, flat horizontal webs trap insects that fly up from vegetation underneath while flat vertical webs trap insects in horizontal flight. Web-building spiders have poor vision, but are extremely sensitive to vibrations.
Some water spiders build underwater "diving bell" webs which they fill with air and use for digesting prey, molting, mating and raising offspring. They live almost entirely within the bells, darting out to catch prey animals that touch the bell or the threads that anchor it. A few spiders use the surfaces of lakes and ponds as "webs", detecting trapped insects by the vibrations that these cause while struggling.
Net-casting spiders weave only small webs but then manipulate them to trap prey. Some stretch their webs and then release them when prey strike them, but do not actively move their webs. Others weave smaller webs, hold them outstretched between their first two pairs of legs, and lunge and push the webs to trap prey. Some spiders emit chemicals that resemble the pheromones of other animals to attract prey.
Trapdoor spiders and many tarantulas are ambush predators that lurk in burrows, often closed by trapdoors and often surrounded by networks of silk threads that alert these spiders to the presence of prey. Other ambush predators do without such aids, including many crab spiders. A few species that prey on bees, who see ultraviolet, can adjust their ultraviolet reflectance to match the flowers in which they are lurking. Wolf spiders, jumping spiders, fishing spiders and some crab spiders capture prey by chasing it, and rely mainly on vision to locate prey. Some spider species mimic different ant species. They look like ants and modify their behavior to resemble that of the target species of ant.
Although most spiders live for, at most, two years, tarantulas and other mygalomorph spiders can live up to 25 years.
THREATS TO SPIDERS
Like most animals, the primary threat to spiders 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).
Spiders are also victims the pet trade, sold for a short life in captivity for human amusement. Captivity is cruel for wild animals. The physical and physiological needs of animals can never be met in captivity.
A symbol of the wild west, the American bison is the heaviest land mammal in North America. Also called the American buffalo, the bison has a large head with relatively small, curving horns. It has a shaggy coat of brown hair on its shoulders and legs, while its body has shorter, finer hair. Bison are 5 to 6½ feet long and weigh 900 to 2,200 pounds. Males are larger than females on average.
Historically, bison numbered an estimated 20 million to 30 million. Today, approximately 250,000 remain in the United States. Of those, only 16,000 roam in the wild. Yellowstone National Park has the only population of free-roaming bison.
Bison typically live between 12 to 15 years and inhabit the Great Plains, prairies and forests. Bison eat grasses and sedges, moving continuously as they eat so that they rarely overgraze an area.
Bison live in herds of 20 to 50 animals. The females, or cows, lead family groups. Bulls (males) remain either solitary or in small groups for most of the year. Bison travel as a group and roam great distances in the wild. They can reach speeds of up to 30 mph.
Females produce one calf after a gestation period of nine and a half months. Calves are born in late April to mid-May. The cow protects the young. The offspring may remain with the mother for as long as three years after birth.
THREATS TO BISON
Shooting bison for their hides was a favorite frontier sport in the 19th century. Hunters practically eliminated the bison by 1890. In 1893, the first efforts were made to protect the animals. Today, the bison of Yellowstone National Park face the threat of slaughter when they exit the park and enter the state of Montana.
Along with the bald eagle, the bison perhaps best symbolizes the spirit of American wilderness. While many people are aware that both animals teetered on the brink of extinction in the past due to human encroachment, few realize that wild bison continue to be the victims of a calculated, annual slaughter in the Greater Yellowstone Area.
During the mid to late 1800s, government agents orchestrated one of the most aggressive and wanton animal massacres in history, killing bison indiscriminately in an attempt to subjugate Native Americans. With the addition of market hunters and settlers killing bison for profit and for fun, America's wild bison herds were reduced from an estimated 60 million to perhaps as few as 100. With the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872 and the National Park Service in 1916, the 25 bison remaining in the Park finally were afforded some protection. Initially, management policies allowed for the active manipulation of populations by culling what was perceived as "surplus" animals. But eventually, the management strategy evolved to an approach which permitted natural regulation to occur, for the most part letting nature take its course rather than relying on human intervention.
This was good news for the bison, but sadly their fortune was short lived. Since the mid 1980s, more than 3,000 bison have been massacred under the supervision of government officials bowing to the pressures of the livestock industry and its cohorts. The livestock industry and federal and state livestock agencies contend that bison can transmit the Brucella abortus bacteria to cattle under natural conditions. In reality, there has never been a documented case of this occurring. Despite this fact, they continue to wage a war against Yellowstone bison.
In 1917, officials discovered that some Yellowstone bison were infected with Brucella abortus, the bacteria which causes the disease brucellosis in domestic cattle. In cattle, the disease produces spontaneous abortions, but bison do not appear to be similarly affected. In fact, over the past 80 years in the entire Greater Yellowstone Area, there have been only four documented bison abortions, which may or may not have been caused by the bacteria.
Over the past decade, bison have been emigrating from the Park over its northern and western boundaries into the state of Montana during winter months. Because of several mild winters, and the National Park Service's continued grooming of snowmobile trails which makes it easier for bison to exit the Park, more and more bison have been stepping hoof over Park boundaries.
The U.S. Forest Service issues grazing permits on lands adjoining Yellowstone National Park, generally for the months of June through October. Cattle grazing is even allowed in Grand Teton National Park. The interests of wildlife, and not cattle, should take precedence on public lands. The grazing allotments should be either closed or modified to minimize any contact between bison and cattle. Also, mandatory vaccination of domestic calves against brucellosis within the counties surrounding the Park could further reduce the risk, if any risk exits at all, of infection. Currently, vaccinations are not mandatory in Montana or Wyoming.
In addition to bison, elk can also be infected with the bacteria and can carry the disease. With more than 90,000 elk in the Greater Yellowstone Area, the likelihood of eliminating the bacteria using available technologies is virtually nonexistent. Moreover, if all infected bison were destroyed, exposure to elk would result in reinfection in the remainder.
This is particularly a problem in Wyoming where over 23,000 elk congregate on artificial feedgrounds, creating prime conditions for bacteria transmission. In fact, bison from Grand Teton National Park, just south of Yellowstone, have discovered the "free meals" being provided on the National Elk Refuge each winter in the Jackson Hole area. It is speculated that this herd of bison contracted the bacteria from elk on the feedground.
State officials rarely admit that elk may also carry the disease. Elk, of course, are a prime money maker for Montana and Wyoming state officials, who encourage propagation of elk herds so they can profit from the sale of sport hunting licenses.
Ironically, bison are being targeted allegedly to protect the livestock industry, but the general consensus among scientists is that cattle probably introduced the bacteria into the Yellowstone bison herd shortly before 1917.
Armadillos are barrel-shaped animals covered with natural armor. They are the only mammals with shells. Armadillos are native to the Americas, with over 20 species of armadillo inhabiting the American continent. One species of armadillo inhabits the United States, while nine-banded armadillos are the only armadillo species outside of the South American tropics.
Most armadillos prefer wetlands with thick shade and sandy soil that is easy to dig. Some armadillos live in grasslands, woodlands or thorn scrubs. Armadillos burrow underground, in grass, and into hollow logs. Armadillos have a low metabolic rate, meaning they have naturally low body temperatures.
Armadillos vary greatly in size. The smallest armadillo is the tiny, pink fairy armadillo. The giant armadillo is the largest species. Armadillos can be gray, pink, red, yellow or black.
Armadillos have strong legs and long claws for hunting underground insects and digging. They have small eyes and poor vision so rely heavily on their highly developed sense of smell. They also use the wiry hairs along their sides and bellies to feel their way around. Armadillos have pointy snouts and long, sticky tongues, much like anteaters – their close cousins.
The armadillo's protective shell is constructed of plates of bone covered with small, overlapping scales called scutes. One species can curl into a ball when threatened by predators. Their undersides, soft skin and fur are protected when they curl up. Other species of armadillo run, dig, or press their bodies down in the ground to keep from getting flipped over by a predator. Armadillos can outrun most predators. They run amazingly fast. Some armadillos can also jump quite high into the air when startled. The screaming hairy armadillo emits an extremely loud, alarm-like vocalization when frightened.
Armadillos are insectivores, feeding mostly on insects. They use their long, sticky tongues to extract ants and termites from their tunnels. Armadillos may also eat worms, spiders, snakes and frogs. An armadillo's diet varies based on their habitat.
Armadillos are good swimmers. They can fill their stomachs and intestines with air to float. Armadillos can hold their breath for 6 minutes, and even walk along the bottoms of ponds, lakes and rivers.
Most armadillos are solitary animals, coming together only to mate or to keep warm during colder temperatures. They cuddle up with leaves and grass. Armadillos spend much of their time sleeping, up to 16 hours a day. Armadillos usually forage for food in the mornings and evenings. In hotter months, armadillos may be nocturnal, active at night. One species of armadillo hibernates in the winter.
Breeding season for armadillos varies by species. An armadillo can have up to 56 babies during their lifetime – from one to 12 babies at a time. Mother armadillos give birth following an up to five month gestation period. Baby armadillos have soft shells when first born, which harden quickly. They live with their mother for a few months, feeding only on her milk. Father armadillos do not assist with raising the young. Their mother teaches her baby armadillos how to forage. Baby armadillos are independent in six months to one year.
Armadillos are preyed upon by several predators, including bears, wolves, wildcats, birds of prey, dogs and cougars.
Armadillos can live up to 30 years in the wild.
THREATS TO ARMADILLOS
Armadillos are threatened by habitat loss, hunting for their meat and shells, pollution, pesticides, vehicle collisions and animal agriculture. They are often viewed as pests and exterminated. Most armadillo species are quickly decreasing in population. Armadillos are also inhumanely captured to sell in the illegal exotic pet trade. Most captive armadillos die quickly after being caged and transported.
Crabs are decapod crustaceans of the infraorder Brachyura, which typically have a very short projecting "tail" (abdomen), usually entirely hidden under the thorax. They live in all the world's oceans, in fresh water, and on land. They are generally covered with a thick exoskeleton and have a single pair of claws. Many other animals with similar names – such as hermit crabs, king crabs, porcelain crabs, horseshoe crabs and crab lice – are not true crabs.
Crabs vary in size from the pea crab, a few millimeters wide, to the Japanese spider crab, with a leg span of up to 13 feet. Males often have larger claws. In most male crabs, the abdomen is narrow and triangular in form, while females have a broader, rounded abdomen. This is due to the fact that female crabs brood fertilized eggs on their legs.
Crabs attract a mate through chemical (pheromones), visual, acoustic or vibratory means. Pheromones are used by most fully aquatic crabs, while terrestrial and semi-terrestrial crabs often use visual signals, such as fiddler crab males waving their large claw to attract females. Many crabs have internal fertilization and mate belly-to-belly. For aquatic species, mating usually takes place just after the female has moulted and is still soft. Females can store the sperm for a long time before using it to fertilize their eggs. When fertilization has taken place, the eggs are released onto the female's abdomen, below the tail flap, secured with a sticky material. In this location they are protected during embryonic development. Females carrying eggs are called "berried" since the eggs resemble round berries.
When development is complete, the female releases the newly hatched larvae into the water, where they are part of the plankton. The release is often timed with the tides. The free-swimming tiny zoea larvae can float and take advantage of water currents.
Each species has a particular number of stages, separated by moults, before they change into a megalopa stage, which resembles an adult crab, except for having the abdomen (tail) sticking out behind. After one more moult, the crab is a juvenile, living on the bottom rather than floating in the water. This last moult must take place in a habitat that is suitable for the juvenile to survive.
Most species of terrestrial crabs must migrate down to the ocean to release their larvae; in some cases this entails very extensive migrations. After living for a short time as larvae in the ocean, the juveniles must do this migration in reverse.
Once crabs have become juveniles they still have to keep moulting many more times to become adults. They are covered with a hard shell, which would otherwise prevent growth. The moult cycle is coordinated by hormones. When preparing for moult, the old shell is softened and partly eroded away, while the beginnings of a new shell form under it. At the time of moulting, the crab takes in a lot of water to expand and crack open the old shell. The crab must then extract itself from the old shell. This is a difficult process that takes many hours, and if a crab gets stuck it will die. After freeing itself from the old shell the crab is extremely soft and hides until its new shell has hardened. While the new shell is still soft, the crab can expand it to make room for future growth.
Crabs typically walk sideways. However, some crabs walk forwards or backwards. Some crabs are also capable of swimming.
Crabs are active, complex animals. They can communicate by drumming or waving their pincers. Crabs tend to be aggressive towards one another and males often fight to gain access to females. On rocky seashores, where nearly all caves and crevices are occupied, crabs may also fight over hiding holes. Fiddler crabs dig burrows in sand or mud, which they use for resting, hiding, mating and to defend against intruders.
Crabs are omnivores, feeding primarily on algae, and taking any other food, including molluscs, worms, other crustaceans, fungi, bacteria and detritus, depending on their availability and the crab species. For many crabs, a mixed diet of plant and animal matter results in the fastest growth and greatest fitness. However, some species are more specialized in their diets. Some eat plankton, some eat primarily shellfish like clams, and some even catch fish.
Crabs are known to work together to provide food and protection for their family, and during mating season to find a comfortable spot for the female to release her eggs. They will help other crabs fight off intruders. Neighboring crabs never fight with each other.
Many mother crabs provide loving care for their babies. Mothers continue to feed and tend to their babies for several months after they are born. They work hard to keep their homes clean and comfortable for their young.
Crabs are intelligent animals, capable of learning from their mistakes and retaining that information so they don’t make the same mistakes again. They adapt to changing cues in their environment.
THREATS TO CRABS
Crabs are threatened with declining habitats, pollution, overfishing and the declining abundance of coral reefs. Crabs make up 20% of all marine crustaceans caught, farmed, and consumed worldwide, amounting to 1½ million tons annually. In some species, crab meat is harvested by manually twisting and pulling off one or both claws and returning the live crab to the water in the belief the crab will survive and regenerate the claws thereby making it a sustainable industry. Crabs are often inhumanely boiled alive. Crustaceans are able to feel and remember pain. They fight so hard against a clearly painful death that their claws often break off in their struggle to escape. Some crabs used for food are electrocuted, some are chopped up, and others are microwaved—all while they are still conscious.
Hammerhead sharks, which belong to the family Sphyrnidae, are some of the most unique looking creatures in the ocean. There are ten distinct species of these sharks, which most people recognize by their distinctive head shape; a flattened, extended structure that’s called a cephalofoil. (A related and slightly different hammerhead species, the winghead shark, is classified under the family name Eusphyra instead.)
Hammerhead sharks tend to prefer warm water living, so they’re usually found in ocean habitats that are close to coastlines and continental shelves – they’ve been found in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Californian coast, as well as in Colombian, Costa Rican, Hawaiian, Australian, and southern and eastern African coastal waters. Depending on the year and weather phenomena such as El Niño conditions, some hammerheads may migrate seasonally, swimming towards warmer waters closer to the equator in the winter and northward towards the poles in the summer.
These large sharks can grow to quite a significant size, depending on their age and sex. The largest species, the great hammerhead, can range from 3 feet to over 19 feet in length, and may weigh from 6.6 to as much as 1,278 pounds. Other species of hammerheads are usually much smaller, however, and all species of hammerheads have an average lifespan of 25 to 35 years.
They’re light in color with a tall, straight dorsal fin, and their slight green skin tint and white underbelly allows them to blend well into the ocean and sneak up on prey below.
A hammerhead’s head shape, of course, is the most interesting part of their anatomy; their heads have flat projections that extend out on either side, with their eyes actually placed on either side of the hammer shape at the outer edges allowing them a 360 degree view of what’s above and below them at all times.
All sharks have special sensory pores that detect the tiny electrical fields made by other animals (called ampullae of Lorenzini), but on a hammerhead shark, these pores are spread out over a wider area giving them a larger advantage when sweeping for their next meal to eat.
Typically, hammerheads have a smaller mouth than other sharks, hunting mainly close to the bottom of the ocean. Some species (like the scalloped and smooth hammerhead) travel in schools with other hammerheads during the day, though they separate themselves to hunt alone at night.
Hammerheads are efficient and carnivorous ocean hunters that eat a range of different prey, including fish, squid, octopus, crustaceans, and sometimes other sharks. Their favorite food, however, is stingrays, which they stalk and pin down with their mallet-shaped head. Great hammerhead sharks are more likely to occasionally eat other hammerheads, including their own young on occasion.
Reproduction can also be a rather dangerous business for hammerhead females. Usually happening only once a year, a female shark is persuaded to mate with a male hammerhead by violent episodes of biting until she agrees to the coupling. After sperm is transferred to the female, eggs are fertilized inside her and embryos begin to develop, at first being nourished only by a yolk sac. After the yolk is gone, however, the sac then transforms into a structure that resembles a mammal’s placenta, allowing the young sharks to be sustained by the mother’s body until they’re developed enough to be born. At this point, the mother can give birth to a litter of 12 to 15 live shark pups (great hammerheads can birth up to 40 pups), which tend to be born in the spring or summer months, and stay together for protection and safety as they swim for warmer, shallower waters. Neither of the shark parents provides any further care to the pups after birth.
As for their threat to people, most hammerheads are harmless, and only three hammerhead species have been noted as being dangerous at all. Scalloped, great, and smooth hammerheads have been known to attack humans, but there are no listed deaths on record for a hammerhead attack against a person.
THREATS TO HAMMERHEADS
Unfortunately for these fascinating fish, we humans are their largest threat. Overfishing and the shark fin trade (where a shark’s fins are harvested as a delicacy, but the remainder of the shark is thrown back into the ocean) have put some hammerhead species at risk of extinction.
Two species, the great and scalloped hammerhead, are listed by the World Conservation Union as endangered, and the smalleye hammerhead has a ‘vulnerable’ status.
Interestingly, Hawaii may be one of the safest places for hammerhead sharks to exist at the moment. Native Hawaiian culture reveres sharks, believing some species to be reincarnated family members or the chosen ‘birth animals’ for some children, and the hammerhead shark in particular is seen as a highly respected animal and a good omen.
The fennec fox is a small fox found in the Sahara Desert of North Africa (excluding the coast) which has distinctive oversized ears. The fennec is the smallest canid. The animals are often a sandy color and blend in with their desert surroundings. Their ears, which are the largest in the canid family, serve to help dissipate heat. Their coat can repel sunlight during the day and conserve heat at night. The soles of of a fennec's feet are protected from the hot sand by thick fur.
The fennec fox is nocturnal. During the night, they will hunt for rodents, insects (such as locusts), lizards, birds and eggs. Fennec foxes gets most of their water from food, but will sometimes eat berries and leaves as an additional source of water.
Fennecs live in large dens, often with several foxes. The basic social unit is thought to be a mated pair and their offspring, and the young of the previous year are believed to remain in the family even after a new litter is born. Playing behavior is common, including among adults of the species.
Fennecs engage in highly social behavior, typically resting while in contact with each other. They mate for life, with each pair or family controlling their own territory. Sexual maturity is reached at around nine months old. The species usually breeds only once each year. The copulation tie has been recorded as lasting up to two hours and 45 minutes. Following mating, the male becomes very aggressive and protective of the female, providing her with food during her pregnancy and lactation periods. Gestation is usually between 50 to 52 days. The typical litter is between one and four kits, with weaning taking place at around 61 to 70 days. When born, the kit's ears are folded over and their eyes are closed, with the eyes opening at around ten days and the ears lifting soon afterwards. The life span of a fennec fox has been recorded as up to 12 years in captivity, and up to 10 years in the wild.
THREATS TO FENNECS
The fennec is rare and is not often seen. They are often hunted by humans, even though the fox does not cause any harm to human interests.
Fennecs are common victims of the animal entertainment industry. They are often found on display at zoos, roadside zoos and "wildlife safaris". Like all captive wildlife, they face constant stress and are denied their wild nature, strong family bonds and natural social interactions. The needs and desires of humans comes before the needs of the animals in the animal entertainment industry.
Highly intelligent and social animals, they also suffer terribly in the inhumane pet trade. 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 their care. Their complex physical, psychological and social needs can never be met when they are kept as pets.
Sharks are members of a group of almost exclusively marine and predaceous fishes. There are about 250 species of sharks, ranging from the 2 feet pygmy shark to 50 feet giants. They are found in all seas, but are most abundant in warm waters. Some may enter large rivers, and one ferocious freshwater species lives in Lake Nicaragua. Most are predatory, but the largest species, the whale shark and the basking shark, are harmless plankton eaters. Dogfish is the name for members of several families of small sharks; these should not be confused with the bony dogfishes of the mud minnow and bowfin families.
Sharks are heavy fishes, possessing neither lungs nor swim bladders. Their skeletons are made of cartilage rather than bone, and this, along with large deposits of fat, partially solves their weight problem. Nevertheless, most sharks must keep moving in order to breathe and to stay afloat. They are good swimmers; the wide spread of the pectoral fins and the upward curve of the tail fin provide lift, and the sweeping movements of the tail provide drive. Their tough hides are studded with minute, toothlike structures called denticles. Sharks have pointed snouts. Their crescent-shaped mouths are set on the underside of the body and contain several rows of sharp, triangular teeth. They have respiratory organs called gills, usually five on each side, with individual gill slits opening on the body surface. These slits form a conspicuous row and lack the covering found over the gills of bony fishes.
Like most fishes, sharks breathe by taking water in through the mouth and passing it out over the gills. Usually there are two additional respiratory openings on the head, called spiracles. A shark's intestine has a unique spiral valve, which increases the area of absorption. Fertilization is internal in sharks; the male has paired organs called claspers for introducing sperm into the cloaca of the female. Members of most species bear live young, but a few of the smaller sharks lay eggs containing much yolk and enclosed in horny shells. Compared to bony fishes, sharks tend to mature later and reproduce slowly.
Only a small number of the predatory species are definitely known to occasionally engage in unprovoked attacks on humans. The largest and most feared of these is the great white shark, which may reach 20 feet in length and is probably responsible for more such attacks than any other species. Other sharks reputed to be slightly dangerous are the tiger and blue sharks and the mako. Sharks are extremely sensitive to motion and to the scent of blood. Swimmers in areas where dangerous varieties occur should leave the water quietly if they are cut. In some places bathing areas are guarded by nets. A number of substances have been used as shark repellents, but their effectiveness is variable. Sharks usually circle their prey before attacking. Since they seldom swim near the surface, an exposed dorsal fin is more likely to be that of a swordfish or ray than that of a shark.
Sharks can range from being just inches in length (like the tiny cookie cutter shark) to being larger than a school bus (like the giant plankton-eating whale shark). Though sharks perform the same role in the ocean ecosystem that is performed by well-known predators such as lions, tigers, and cheetahs on land, the fact that they live in such an alien world makes it hard for us to know about their lives. What we do know is pretty fascinating.
Sharks shed their teeth. A single shark may lose thousands of teeth over its life and this accounts for the many shark teeth found by beach combers throughout the world. Their teeth are connected to a membrane in their mouth that is constantly being pushed forward as new teeth form. New teeth are generally slightly larger than the ones before. This allows the size of the shark's teeth to keep pace with the growth of the rest of the body.
Sharks are picky eaters. Some sharks eat only plankton, others eat small fish or squid, and still others eat large fish and marine mammals. The type of teeth a shark has will show you what it eats. Great white sharks have teeth with serrated edges for slicing off pieces from larger prey, the teeth of mako sharks are thin and pointed for grabbing onto slippery fish. Nurse sharks and other bottom dwellers tend to have thicker teeth for crushing shellfish. No matter the tooth shape, sharks never chew their food.
You're more likely to die as a result of being electrocuted by holiday lighting than being attacked by a shark. More deadly than shark attacks each year are crocodile attacks, hippo attacks, and even attacks by pigs.
Many sharks are warm blooded. Unlike the rest of the fishy world, many large sharks can maintain their body temperature higher than the ocean temperature around them. We don't know whether sharks sleep. Sometimes they seem to rest, but their eyes don't close and if they sleep, they certainly don't sleep the way that mammals can.
THREATS TO SHARKS
Don't be afraid OF sharks; be afraid FOR them. There are more misunderstandings and untruths about sharks than almost any other group of animals on the planet. While many people fear sharks, it is the sharks who should be fearing us.
According to the shark attack file, maintained by the Florida Museum of Natural History, on average 5 people die worldwide from shark attacks. Up to 70 million sharks are killed by humans each year, mostly for their fins. This is a devastating death toll for a long-living species that is as slow to reproduce as sharks.
Sharks have roamed the oceans far longer than most land animals have been here. They were here before many of the dinosaurs and have outlasted them. But an international assessment of sharks undertaken by the World Conservation Union reveals that their future is in doubt. Of 546 shark species assessed, 111 species were at significant risk of global extinction. Twenty species are listed as critically endangered and 25 as endangered. Some shark species have lost 80% of their populations just in the past 40 years including hammerhead sharks, thresher sharks, and porbeagle sharks. While hammerhead shark is a name familiar to most, most people have never heard of porbeagle sharks; some of the lesser known sharks are in even greater danger.
There is a lot we don't know about sharks, but we DO know that if we don't act soon to stop overfishing, some of the most ancient and magnificent animals on the planet may soon disappear.
Members of one of the most diverse groups of lizards, skinks are reptiles with cylindrical, streamlined bodies, functioning eyelids and tight, smooth, scaly skin. They belong to the family Scincidae, and their name comes from the Greek word skinkos, which was a name that was used to refer to lizards in a specific region of the country. Over 1500 distinct species of skinks have been described, living in a wide range of habitats worldwide, from dry deserts, to mountains, grasslands and forests.
Although skinks are close in appearance to ‘true lizards’ (such as wall lizards, for example), they don’t have a distinct neck, and their legs tend to be smaller. Interestingly, some species of skink actually have reduced limbs or even no limbs at all, making their movement appear far more like a snake than a lizard - which is what many people may mistake them for. A few certain skink species, like the blue-tongued skink, also tend to be more broad-headed and wider-bodied than their relatives.
The particular living environment of a skink can often be determined merely by its toe length – generally, the longer a skink’s digits (toes), the more likely it is to spend most of its time climbing in trees.
These unusual reptiles tend to be small to medium sized, on average, depending on the species. They can range from specimens as tiny as the little brown skink at 3 inches, to as large as the Solomon Islands skink at 14 inches, though their tails usually make up more than half of that length.
Many skink species are escape artists. They can shed their tails when necessary if predators grab them, and can re-grow the lost part. The shed tail will actually wiggle for a short period of time after being lost, which serves to distract any potential predators while the skink makes its escape. Skinks may also return to the lost tail and ingest it in order to regain lost nutrient value.
Active, quick, and agile little lizards, skinks can dart rapidly from place to place when they’re not found basking on warm rocks or logs. Offspring-bearing females or mating pairs tend to be slower, however. Some species of these lizards are tree-climbing, but for the most part, most tend to live in ground habitats (so they’re terrestrial, in other words), or prefer to burrow through sand. They’re most active in the daytime.
Skinks like to stay safe and out of the reach of predators or bad weather, and make their nests in secure, hidden areas. For some, this can mean a nest in the dirt or under heavy brush cover. For other skinks (especially those in and around urban areas) rotting boards, garages or spaces under structures like sheds can be suitable nesting areas. Some nests can contain anywhere from 10 to 30 skinks at a time, and it’s not unusual for skinks to actually ‘guard’ their territory. A small number of skink species are also water-dwelling, but these tend to be the exception.
Skinks are fairly predictable eaters. Being carnivorous lizards, their menu choices tend to run to insects like flies, beetles and caterpillars, but some may even eat snails or small rodents. They sniff out prey using their tongue, and then chase it down, corner it, and usually swallow it whole.
The method of producing young can be different from species to species of skink. Male skinks will sometimes fight each other for the privilege of mating with a certain female by biting each other on the head, neck or tail. Male-female pairs in some species will form monogamous relationships from year to year. Just under half of all skink species birth live young, nourishing their offspring though a placenta-like organ. Other species hatch their eggs internally instead, and then give birth to young after that. Still others lay eggs which hatch outside their body.
Females tend to be protective of their eggs, coiling around them and guarding against predators, and will often stay to protect their new offspring for the first few days until they leave the nest. Skinks can have significant gestation times, typically several months and as long as one year in some species. They have been noted to have as few as 1 or as many as 67 young born at one time.
THREATS TO SKINKS
Although many skinks are highly adaptable when it comes to their nesting situation, they also have a large number of natural predators. Raccoons, snakes, crows, herons, hawks and other lizards may see skinks as a tasty meal.
Because the skink’s long gestation period means that they can’t replenish their population numbers as quickly as other animals, overhunting by larger invasive predators like the mongoose has caused skink species in some areas to approach extinction. The Anguilla Bank skink in the Caribbean is one example.
Birds are warm-blooded, covered in feathers and lay eggs. All birds have wings, a beak and stand on two legs. Most birds fly, but some cannot. Some species, particularly penguins and members of the Anatidae family, are adapted to swim. Some birds eat only seeds and berries. Some also eat insects. Birds of prey eat small animals. Male birds are usually more brightly colored than females, while females have better camouflage which helps to protect their nests.
Birds are incredibly intelligent animals. They make and use tools and culturally transmit knowledge across generations. They are social, communicating with visual signals, calls and songs, and participate in such social behaviors such as cooperative breeding and hunting, flocking and mobbing of predators. The vast majority of bird species are monogamous, for one breeding season or for years. Eggs are usually laid in a nest and incubated by the parents. Most birds have an extended period of parental care after hatching. In some species, both parents care for the babies, or close relatives will help with the raising of the young.
Bird Extinction Crisis
Birds are present in almost all habitats on earth and are usually the most familiar and visible wildlife to people all over the world. Because of this, they may act as a significant indicator for monitoring how the biosphere changes. Diminishing bird populations in the majority of habitats are the sad confirmation that major changes are taking place on Earth because of our activities. More than 12% of currently known species of birds are at the threshold of extinction. The biggest impact on bird population has been caused by degradation and loss of habitat, with collectors’ activities and invasive species following closely.
FASCINATING BIRD FACTS
The tallest bird is the ostrich at around 9 feet tall. The ostrich is also the heaviest bird, at about 345 pounds. The heaviest flying bird is the mute swan at about 40 pounds. The largest wingspan of all birds belongs to the wandering albatross at 11 feet 10 inches.
The smallest bird is the bee hummingbird measuring in at only 2.2 inches from beak to tail.
The fastest bird is the spine-tailed swift, traveling at speeds of over 106 mph.
THE LONGEST LIVED
The longest living bird is thought to be the sulfur-crested cockatoo, able to live well into their 80's.
SMARTER THAN KIDS
Crows’ intelligence rivals human children. They use tools to get food, have exceptional memories and anticipate future events to help them solve problems. They have learned to use bread crumbs as fish bait. They can count, distinguish complex shapes and perform observational learning tasks. Crows are extremely social creatures. They have been observed creating knives from leaves and stalks of grass and using advanced plucking, smoothing and bending to fashion twigs and grass into a variety of substances. Caledonian crows remember specific people, cars and urban situations. They also develop grudges against specific people and cars that last for years.
Ravens push rocks on people to keep them from their nests, steal fish by pulling a fishermen’s line out of water and play dead beside an animal carcass to scare other ravens away from the food. Ravens are known to steal food from other birds and mammals. They can act in pairs: one individual captures an animal's attention, while the other steals its food. They pretend to hide food in one place while really hiding it somewhere else to fool other animals. Ravens can learn to talk better than many parrots and mimic other noises. They imitate wolves or foxes to attract them to carcasses that the raven cannot break open. They roll around in anthills so the ants swarm on them, or they chew the ants up to rub their guts on their feathers as an insecticide and fungicide or to soothe molting skin. Ravens point with their beaks to indicate an object to another bird and hold up objects to get the attention of other birds. They will console other birds and remember friends and family for years. They live complex social lives and express happiness, tenderness, surprise, emotion and rage through their own language. Ravens are very playful and play with other ravens, other animal species and humans. They mate for life and live in pairs. When children reach adolescence, they join gangs until they mate and pair off.
Many birds have been known to play. Ravens and crows love to play and have been observed sliding down snow banks on their backs, cavorting in updrafts and sliding repeatedly down sloping church windows.
Jay birds have been observed grieving, including an entire group of birds sitting for 48 hours near a dead brethren.
Swans are highly intelligent and social animals. They remember who have been kind to them, and who have not. They usually only show aggression to those who have upset them, and will remember them. They have sharp vision and hearing and use a remarkable assortment of sounds to convey a broad range of emotions. Swans usually mate for life, with occasional “divorces” occurring. Male swans will occasionally baby sit an egg so the expecting mother can take a break.
Pigeons are actually domesticated rock doves who were set free. They are marvelous parents: the father builds the nest, and both parents take turns incubating the eggs and even making milk in their crops for the young. Pigeons remember dozen of routes to find their way to familiar places, and can recognize their faces in mirrors. They can remember hundreds of photographs and images, are able to differentiate between photographs, and even differentiate between different human beings in a photograph. They have been known to be able to distinguish between Van Gogh and Chagall paintings. They can count, order items in ascending order and understand math rules. They have an amazing ability to remember people and places throughout the course of their life. Pigeon can recognize all 26 letters of the English language, be taught complex actions and response sequences, and can make responses in different sequences.
BIRDS HAVE NAMES
It has been discovered that birds name their offspring. They use smell memories to travel thousands of miles. They show advanced planning and art. They have been proven to perform arithmetic, invent words and express love through language.
MASTERS OF LANGUAGE
Parrots not only mimic the words of humans, they also understand the meanings of the words. Studies show that they remember 90% of what they are told, including full sentences and even parts of songs. They are capable of performing math, identifying colors and communicating to humans what they want. Parrots cannot bear to be alone. While most mate for life, all live in large social groups, sometimes with multiple species of birds.
Ostrich mothers lay their eggs in a communal nest, allowing the eggs and young to all be cared for by one bonded pair; up to 380 chicks have been seen being escorted by loving parents.
Finches learn by listening to others and follow rules of syntax. Bengal finches use strict rules of syntax. If a zebra finch is sick, it will fake being healthy in front of other zebra finches, especially if there’s a chance to mate.
Watching the many species of birds that inhabit your ecosystem is a fun and fascinating pastime the whole family can enjoy together. Winter is the best time to feed birds as they need the food more than at any other time of year and you will typically see a greater number and variety of birds at bird feeders. Many interesting birds from the north fly south in winter, and in spring many species return home from lands in the south, providing a great variety of species to see.
You don’t need to spend money on food or feeders to attract birds to your yard. If you can leave a small area of your yard un-mowed, you can attract a lot of birds. They eat the seeds from the grasses and weeds and use the area for cover as well.
Employing a feeder grants the ability for close study of birds. While all feeders draw birds, those that keep the bird feed dry and free of mold are best. Moldy seeds are bad for bird health. Place feeders either near a window or fairly far away to help prevent birds from colliding with windows when startled. The most common feeder is a hopper or house feeder, usually made of windows of clear plastic that feed seed to a perching surface. These feeders attract cardinals, nuthatches, chickadees, grosbeaks, buntings and titmice. One without a lot of perching surface minimizes use by house sparrows or starlings. The most important thing is to keep feeders clean by washing with bleach water every few weeks. Washing with bleach water prevents the spread of disease.
Although slightly more expensive, bird food with black oil sunflower seeds attract a wide variety of desirable birds. A suet feeder attracts woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and bluejays. Some birders push suet or peanut butter into crevices in bark or in the cracks of old stumps to attract birds. Witnessing a northern flicker or red-bellied woodpecker feeding at close range sears a delightful memory into the mind of a youngster. Woodpeckers love dead branches on trees. Leave a dead branch on a tree to attract woodpeckers if it is safe to do so.
It is important to provide water for birds in winter too. Place the water in a spot in the yard that receives sun as its rays will melt some water for birds on even the coldest days.
A good guide book is essential for identifying birds. Looking up unfamiliar birds and learning about their distinguishing characteristics is part of the fun of birding. Modestly priced binoculars now have coated lenses and other features that make them acceptable choices for bird watching. Don’t get zoom binoculars for birding. You tend to lose clarity at high magnification. A wide angle pair lets in more light and makes it easier to find birds.
Bird watching is a good way to introduce kids into the outdoors and spark awareness of our natural world. Backyard birding is a family-friendly way to enjoy wildlife viewing. Plus, it is just plain fun.
Known for their highly effective and tremendously pungent defensive tactics, skunks are some of the most infamous animals around. Members of the family Mephitidae, the name of these distinctive little mammals likely originated from 1600’s Algonquian language. Although they can vary in appearance, almost all species of skunks are found in the Americas (ranging from Canada to central South America), with the exception of Asian stink badgers, which are generally found in Indonesia and the Philippines.
Differing in size and weight depending on species, these odiferous creatures can range from around 15 to 37 inches in length and weigh from around 1lb up to around 18 lb in weight – on average, around the size of a typical housecat. Although they’ve been known to live as long as 10 years in captivity, most skunks in the wild don’t live past the age of one or two, since many fall victim to pest control campaigns or collisions with vehicles because of their poor vision. They’re generally thickly furred and short-limbed with fairly compact bodies, including well-muscled forelegs and sharp claws that are well suited to digging for food or building burrows in the earth. Although skunk coat patterning and coloration is unique to specific species, every skunk is striped from birth, acting as a built in visual warning for predators who might consider the skunk an easy meal. Most skunk species are typically black and white, but coat colors for certain species might include brown, grey, or even cream colored. Some even have a series of spots and stripes combined, or stripes on their legs as well.
The scent of a skunk is its most renowned characteristic, as well as being one of the most effective existing defensive tactics within the animal kingdom. Skunks produce a very obnoxiously scented mixture of chemical oils within two small organs known as anal glands, found on either side of their anus. Strong muscles beside these glands allow a skunk to accurately spray their target as far as 10 feet away. As well as being extremely repulsive; skunk spray is extremely irritating and can even cause temporary blindness in some cases. Because these glands only produce a limited amount of spray, skunks are usually reluctant to use their spray as an initial protection, so they’ll go through a warning routine of foot-stamping, hissing and tail flagging postures before resorting to spraying as a last resort defence. The pungency of skunk spray is so strong that skunks are often able to deter bears and other predators from attacking them, and most people can smell a skunk from as far as ½ a mile away.
Because of their tenacious nature when survival is on the line, it’s not surprising that many skunks have learned to live and thrive in urban environments. Besides being omnivorous, these unique animals are opportunistic foragers and occasional scavengers, changing their diet with the availability of their food. They’ll use their sharp claws to dig holes in search of food, and a meal for a skunk might range from berries, leaves and grasses to insects, bees, worms or grubs. Some skunks may also eat lizards, frogs, snakes, moles, birds and bird eggs, as well as pet food and human refuse if available.
Not usually seen during daylight hours, skunks are most active at dawn and dusk, usually preferring to forage alone assisted by their highly developed senses of smell and hearing. Daylight means rest time for these small creatures, and they tend to shelter in self-made burrows until the sun sets. In colder weather, they’ll stay in their dens for increased periods of time, and groups of female skunks usually like to winter together to stay warm. They aren’t true hibernators, as they will emerge from their den during winter, but they do enter a more dormant phase feeding only occasionally and staying fairly inactive.
Like many other mammals with less active winter cycles, these small creatures mate in early spring and typically give birth to litters of four to seven kits around two months later. Males generally mate with more than one female to ensure successful genetic distribution. Skunk kits are born helpless, blind and deaf, and stay in the den for the first several weeks as they nurse from their dam. Male skunks don’t play any part in the raising or care of their kits. Around the age of three weeks, their eyes open, and around the age of two months, they become weaned and leave the den, though they tend to stay with the female until they’re sexually mature which happens around one year of age. Skunk mothers are particularly protective, too; a female who senses any threat to her kits won’t hesitate to spray potential predators.
Despite their smelly defences, there are still one or two predators who dare to hunt these small striped opponents. Domestic dogs tend to be the most numerous predators, with some even hunting skunks repeatedly despite retaliation. Wolves and other wild canids rarely hunt skunks themselves unless they’re desperate for food. The great horned owl is a skunk’s only consistent predator, swiftly killing them from the air and bringing them back to their nests to feed.
THREATS TO SKUNKS
Although most skunk species are fairly populous, there are a variety of hazards that pose a danger to them. One species in particular, the Eastern Spotted skunk, is currently listed as endangered is some states because of population decline due to farming practices that eliminate ground cover. Some species have traditionally been hunted to harvest their pelts, while pesticide use in many areas has decreased the food supply that’s available for skunks. As a skunk’s foraging nature often leads it to roam across roads in search of food, collision with moving vehicles is a common occurrence for almost all skunk species.
The wolverine, also referred to as glutton, carcajou, skunk bear, or quickhatch, is the largest land-dwelling species of the family Mustelidae (weasels). It is a stocky and muscular carnivore, more closely resembling a small bear than other mustelids. The wolverine, a solitary animal, has a reputation for ferocity and strength out of proportion to its size, with the ability to kill prey many times larger than itself.
The wolverine can be found primarily in remote reaches of the Northern boreal forests and subarctic and alpine tundra of the Northern Hemisphere, with the greatest numbers in northern Canada, the U.S. state of Alaska, the Nordic countries of Europe, and throughout western Russia and Siberia. Their populations have experienced a steady decline since the 19th century in the face of trapping, range reduction and habitat fragmentation, such that they are essentially absent in the southern end of their European range.
The wolverine is a stocky and muscular animal with short legs, broad and rounded head, small eyes and short rounded ears. The adult wolverine is about the size of a medium dog. The males are as much as 30% larger than the females and can be twice the females' weight. Wolverines have thick, dark, oily fur, making them resistant to frost. A light-silvery facial mask is distinct in some individuals, and a pale buff stripe runs laterally from the shoulders along the side and crossing the rump just above a bushy tail. Some individuals display prominent white hair patches on their throats or chests.
Like many other mustelids, it has potent anal scent glands used for marking territory and sexual signaling. The pungent odor has given rise to the nicknames "skunk bear" and "nasty cat." Wolverines, like other mustelids, possess a special upper molar in the back of the mouth that is rotated 90 degrees, towards the inside of the mouth. This special characteristic allows wolverines to tear off meat from prey or carrion that has been frozen solid.
The wolverine is a powerful and versatile predator and scavenger. Prey mainly consists of small to medium-sized mammals, but the wolverine has been recorded killing prey such as adult deer that are many times larger than itself. Prey species include porcupines, squirrels, beavers, marmots, rabbits, voles, mice, shrews, lemmings, caribou, roe deer, white-tailed deer, mule deer, sheep, moose, and elk. Smaller predators are occasionally preyed on, including martens, mink, foxes, Eurasian lynx, weasels, and coyote and wolf pups. Wolverines often pursue live prey that are relatively easy to obtain, including animals caught in traps, newborn mammals, and deer (including adult moose and elk) when they are weakened by winter or immobilized by heavy snow. Their diets are sometimes supplemented by birds' eggs, birds (especially geese), roots, seeds, insect larvae, and berries. A majority of the wolverine's sustenance is derived from carrion, on which they depend almost exclusively in winter and early spring. Wolverines may find carrion themselves, feed on it after the predator is done feeding (especially wolf packs) or simply take it from another predator. Whether eating live prey or carrion, the wolverine's feeding style appears voracious, leading to the nickname of "glutton". However, this feeding style is believed to be an adaptation to food scarcity, especially in winter.
Armed with powerful jaws, sharp claws, and a thick hide, wolverines, like most mustelids, are remarkably strong for their size. They may defend kills against larger or more numerous predators such as wolves or bears. Wolverines are known to follow wolf and lynx trails with the intent of scavenging the remains of their kills. Wolves are thought to be their most important natural predator, with the arrival of wolves to a wolverine's territory leading them to abandon the area.
Wolverines inhabiting the Old World hunt more actively than their North American relatives. This may be because competing predator populations in Eurasia are not as dense, making it more practical for the wolverine to hunt for itself than to wait for another animal to make a kill and then try to snatch it.
Successful males form lifetime relationships with two or three females, which they will visit occasionally, while other males are left without a mate. Mating season is in the summer, but the actual implantation of the embryo in the uterus is stayed until early winter, delaying the development of the fetus. Females will often not produce young if food is scarce. The gestation period is 30–50 days, and litters of typically two or three young ("kits") are born in the spring. Kits develop rapidly, reaching adult size within the first year of a lifespan that may reach anywhere from five to 13 years. Fathers make visits to their offspring until they are weaned at 10 weeks of age; also, once the young are about six months old, some reconnect with their fathers and travel together for a time.
The world's total wolverine population is not known. The animal exhibits a low population density and requires a very large home range. The range of a male wolverine can be more than 240 square miles, encompassing the ranges of several females which have smaller home ranges of roughly 50 to 100 square miles. Adult wolverines try for the most part to keep non-overlapping ranges with adults of the same sex.
THREATS TO WOLVERINES
Female wolverines burrow into snow in February to create a den, which is used until weaning in mid-May. Areas inhabited non-seasonally by wolverines are thus restricted to zones with late-spring snowmelts. This fact has led to concern that changes in climate will shrink the ranges of wolverine populations.
Their requirement for large territories brings wolverines into conflict with human development, and hunting and trapping further reduce their numbers, causing them to disappear from large parts of their former range. Attempts to have them declared an endangered species have met with little success.
Barracudas are a large species of fish that live in the warmer, coastal regions of the planet's oceans. They are known for their aggressive and dominant predator behavior. There are over 20 species of barracuda in the world.
While barracudas are widely spread across the seas, they are more commonly found in tropical areas where there is an abundance of food sources. Although barracudas also live in the deep ocean, they prefer the coastal areas along continental shelves and near coral reefs. Barracudas are nocturnal animals, active during the night.
All species of barracuda have an elongated shape and a pointed head with powerful jaws housing sharp, fang-like teeth. Different species of barracudas vary in sizes and colors. Barracudas can grow to be very large. The upper part of a barracuda body is covered with scales that can be black, gray, brown or blue. A barracuda's belly is always white. Irregular dark spots are located on both sides of the barracuda's body.
Barracudas are carnivores. The barracuda feeds mainly on smaller species of fish, crustaceans, invertebrates and squid. They are opportunistic predators, feeding on other animals in the surrounding area. They use a surprise tactic to capture their prey, ambushing with tremendous power. They can swim very quickly in short bursts to overtake their prey.
Barracudas prefer a solitary life, but sometimes gather in groups called schools. Schools provide safety and cooperative hunting opportunities.
Barracudas have few natural predators. Sharks and killer whales prey on barracudas.
Mother barracudas spawn during the spring. The female barracuda releases her eggs into the ocean which are then fertilized externally by the male barracuda. Baby barracudas have little interaction with their parents.
Barracudas can live over 15 years in the wild.
THREATS TO BARRACUDAS
The biggest threats to barracudas are recreational fishing and the barracuda meat trade.
All ocean animals are threatened by pollution, the fishing industry and changes in climate. Global fish populations are collapsing, affecting all marine life. Plastics and toxic waste are destroying aquatic ecosystems. Almost half of all ocean pollution is from irresponsible human activities that take place on land, including animal agriculture, sewage, chemical spills, industrial runoff and garbage dumping.
Marine habitats are being destroyed by coastal pollution. The clearing of mangrove forests and scraping of underwater mountain ranges through deep-sea trawling are also having detrimental affects on marine ecosystems.
Reptiles are cold blooded animals, covered with scales, and mostly lay eggs. Some reptiles eat plants, some eat animals and some eat both.
Reptiles are tetrapod vertebrates, meaning they have four limbs or, like snakes, they descended from four limbed ancestors. They usually have limited means of maintaining a constant body temperature and rely on external sources of heat. Being cold blooded requires far less fuel to function. A crocodile needs a fraction of the food a lion of the same weight needs, and can live half a year without eating. Due to their slow metabolism, reptiles can do well in areas where food sources are too low for most mammals and birds to live.
Four major groups of reptiles include crocodilians, snakes, turtles, lizards and ttuatara – a lizard-like reptile that is the only surviving member of an order which flourished around 200 million years ago. The study of reptiles, historically combined with that of amphibians, is called herpetology.
Reptiles lay eggs on land, and the eggs musts stay dry. Many reptiles bury the eggs. Mother pythons, mud snakes and some skinks wrap their bodies around their eggs to protect them. Alligator mothers carry newly hatched babies in their mouths. Some reptiles abandon their eggs and do not care for the babies. About a fifth of snake species give birth to live young. Warmer egg temperatures produce females for some turtles, cooler temperatures result in males, and temperatures in the middle will produce a combination of genders. With crocodiles, the results are reversed – with males usually born at higher temperatures. The sex of snakes is determined by chromosomes, as it is with mammals and birds. Once hatched, most reptiles are independent and able to care for themselves. Babies look like miniature adults, though their colors may be different.
Reptile Extinction Crisis
More than one fifth of all known reptile species are considered endangered or close to becoming extinct. This has been particularly pronounced for island reptile species, counting at least 28 island reptiles having disappeared so far. This pattern of extinction, commonly seen in the islands, is finding its way toward the mainland as well. This crisis is mainly due to human intervention causing fragmentation in the continental habitats, which results in island-like territories, isolating species among each other. Reptiles are especially threatened by non-native species that compete for resources or feed on them, and habitat loss.
FASCINATING REPTILE FACTS
The longest reptile is the reticulated python, measuring over 32 feet. The heaviest is the leatherback sea turtle, weighing over 1,900 pounds.
Leaf chameleons of Madagascar measure only an inch from nose to tail.
Green sea turtles are the fastest reptiles, reaching speeds of 22 mph.
THE LONGEST LIVED
The Aldabra tortoise lives the longest, to over 150 years.
SMARTER THAN YOU THINK
Reptiles are capable of solving complex problems and remembering what they have learned. They share the same level of intelligence as birds and mammals. They change techniques when presented with new challenges and learn from other reptiles. They possess advanced social skills and flexible behavior – behavior that can be adapted to meet a particular situation. In captivity, they learn how to open hinged doors, open jar lids, have the ability to interpret and anticipate common activities such as feeding time and cage-cleaning time, and can even navigate mazes. In the wild they exhibit advanced social behavior including recognition of their family, pair bonding and loving care of their children. They exhibit social learning, play behavior and cooperation. Studies show they are capable of counting, advanced learning and problem solving. They are able to reverse course in addressing problems, unlearning incorrect approaches almost instantly. They have individual personalities.
Shingleback skinks are often monogamous. They court for months with the male strutting, licking and nudging the female affectionately before mating. The reptilian couple will mate every breeding season for as long as 20 years. When one dies, its surviving partner will stay beside the body for days, tenderly touching it.
Australian monitors plan ahead and arrange ambushes when pursuing fast-moving prey. Monitor lizards have been shown to count snails at feeding time and learn to use their forearms to help extract insects from logs.
SINGING & DANCING
Alligators gather together in large groups during the spring, usually one to three hours after sunrise, to sing and engage in “alligator dances” for courtship. Mothers defend their nests from predators. Shortly before hatching, baby alligators call their mother to the nest and begin vocalizing to synchronize the hatching of their siblings. Mother alligators gently assist with opening the eggs and carry the babies to a special pool called a nursery. Young alligators will stay close to their mother and form social groups. They follow her wherever she goes, hop on her head to bask and follow her around on land like little ducklings. When in distress they call out for her, bringing her to their aid. They stay with their protective mother for up to 2 years after being born.
Crocodiles are behaviorally complex creatures that live and work as members of a group. They can be incredibly tender and affectionate. They play together, exhibit complex social interactions and gaze recognition, use tools, pair-bond, practice monogamy, hunt together and have good memories. Expecting mothers guard their nests and protect their young until they are old enough to survive on their own, up to 3 years old. Babies are carried around in their mouths to protect them. Crocodiles have community nurseries where one mother watches over the hatchlings of many. Crocodiles have excellent communication skills, using body language and sounds, and even vibrate to make water ‘dance’, producing sounds that humans cannot hear.
SENSE OF DIRECTION
Wild turtles who are caught and later released will head in the direction of the nearest water source. Captive turtles recognize the sight of their food container and sound of food rattling in it.
Green iguanas share nesting areas with as many as hundreds of other iguanas and construct complex burrow systems that are continuously improved upon. Babies hatching from eggs look around and duck back into the egg while observing other babies to determine if it is safe to emerge. They get excited and jump up and down when they see other babies emerging. Siblings will stay together for months, rubbing against each other frequently and wagging their tails like dogs. They sleep together and groom each other and walk in a line with a chosen leader. They rub each others' heads before returning to their family's territory, watching for predators together and protecting each other.
The Coccinellidae are a family of small beetles, commonly known as ladybugs in North America and ladybirds in Britain, Ireland, the Commonwealth and some parts of the southern United States. Entomologists in the United States prefer the names ladybird beetles or lady beetles, as these insects are not true bugs.
Coccinellids are found worldwide, with over 5,000 known species. They are often yellow, orange, or scarlet with small black spots on their wing covers, with black legs, heads and antennae. Color patterns vary greatly, however. Depending on the species, they can have spots, stripes, or no markings at all. Many species are mostly, or entirely, black, dark gray, gray, or brown. Seven-spotted coccinellids are red or orange with three spots on each side and one in the middle; they have a black head with white patches on each side. Most coccinellids have oval, dome-shaped bodies with six short legs.
The four most common types of ladybugs are:
The round-shaped ladybugs, Seven-spotted ladybug, originally from Europe. They are round and have a dome-shape, and are bright red with seven spots of black on the back of their bright red wings.
The oval-shaped ladybug, Convergent ladybug, which is orange with different spot patterns of black. They are common in the pacific coastal states.
The Multicolored Asian ladybeetle, a larger ladybug with five black spots and curved lines in the shape of the letter M. These ladybugs are originally from Asia and are now plentiful in the United States.
The C-Mac ladybug, an oblong pink and black spotted ladybug.
Ladybugs are generally considered useful insects, because many species feed on aphids or scale insects which are pests in gardens, agricultural fields, orchards and similar places. Within the colonies of such plant-eating pests, they will lay hundreds of eggs. When these hatch the larvae will commence feeding immediately. However, some species do have unwelcome effects; among these the most prominent are the subfamily Epilachninae, which are plant eaters. Usually, Epilachninae are only mild agricultural pests, eating the leaves of grain, potatoes, beans, and various other crops. But their numbers can increase explosively in years when their natural enemies, such as parasitoid wasps that attack their eggs, are few. In such situations, they can do major crop damage. They occur in practically all the major crop-producing regions of temperate and tropical countries.
Coccinellids are best known as predators of aphids and scale insects, but the range of prey species that various ladybugs attack is much wider. Some specialize in mites, some attack caterpillars and other beetle larvae. Others feed on various insects or their eggs. Larvae and eggs of ladybirds, either their own or of other species, can also be important food resources when alternative prey are scarce. Certain species of coccinellids are thought to lay extra infertile eggs with the fertile eggs, apparently to provide a backup food source for the larvae when they hatch. The ratio of infertile to fertile eggs increases with scarcity of food at the time of egg laying. Ladybugs are also now known to be far more omnivorous than previously thought. Their diets often include honeydew, pollen, plant sap, nectar, and various fungi. Some species are strictly herbivores.
The main predators of ladybugs are usually birds, but they are also the prey of frogs, wasps, spiders, and dragonflies. The bright colors of many ladybugs discourage some potential predators from making a meal of them. Their coloring is a reminder to any animals that have tried to eat their kind before that they taste awful. The blood of a ladybug is yellow and has a very strong smell that also acts as a repellent to predators. Ladybugs also play dead until predators pass.
Ladybugs in temperate regions enter diapause (a period of suspended development) during the winter, so they often are among the first insects to appear in the spring. Some species gather into groups and move to higher elevations, such as a mountain, to enter diapause. Most coccinellids overwinter as adults, aggregating on the south sides of large objects such as trees or houses during the winter months, dispersing in response to increasing day length in the spring.
Ladybugs go through a complete metamorphosis with egg, larval, pupal, and adult stages. Ladybug eggs look like small clusters of orange footballs. Female ladybugs can lay more than 2,000 eggs in one year. The eggs hatch in only a few days. Eggs are usually laid on leaves near an area where the larvae have easy access to food sources.
Baby ladybugs, larvae, look nothing like adults. They are long in shape and are generally one color, resembling small alligators. They are fast moving and they have big appetites. The larvae will eat aphids and other bugs for about 2 to 3 weeks. After they have grown to full size, they attach themselves to a plant leaf or a stem by their tail and begin a metamorphosis. Their skin splits down its back and exposes the pupa, which is about the same size and color as adults but with a protective layer until they develop wings. They pupate and turn into an adult ladybug within 7 to 10 days.
Ladybugs usually do most of their flying in the warmest part of the afternoon. They beat their wings 85 times per second. Their wings are made from chitlin, the same material human fingernails are made from.
As ladybugs grow older, their spots fade. Most ladybugs live for about a year, but some species can live up to three years. In a year they eat over 5,000 bugs, playing a vital role in the management of pests.
THREATS TO LADYBUGS
Due to habitat loss and changes in climate, ladybugs are threatened with extinction. Ladybugs are particularly sensitive to temperature changes, and will die from dehydration if they become overheated. Like most animals, the primary threat to ladybugs 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).
Although eels look like snakes, they are fish and belong to the order Anguilliformes, of which there are about 800 species. The term "eel" is also used for some other similarly shaped fish, such as electric eels and spiny eels, but these are not members of the Anguilliformes order.
The main species of true eels include American eels, European eels, moray eels and conger eels. Most eels are predators and feed on fish, snails, frogs, octopuses, crabs, lobsters and mussels. Eels feed during the night and rest during the day. These aquatic creatures rely on their excellent sense of smell to hunt for prey.
Eels are elongated fish, ranging in length from 2 inches in the one-jawed eel, to 13 feet in the slender giant moray. Adults range in weight from 1.1 oz to well over 55 lb. The heaviest true eel is the European conger. The maximum size of this species has been reported as reaching a length of 10 feet and a weight of 240 lb. Other eels are longer, but do not weigh as much.
Eels possess no pelvic fins, and many species also lack pectoral fins. The dorsal and anal fins are fused with the caudal fin, forming a single ribbon running along much of the length of the animal. Many eels have scales beneath their thick skin.
Most eels live in the shallow waters of the ocean and burrow into sand, mud, or amongst rocks. A majority of eel species are nocturnal, thus are rarely seen. Sometimes they are seen living together in holes, or "eel pits". Some species of eels also live in deeper water on the continental shelves and over the slopes as deep as 13,000 feet. Only members of the Anguilla regularly inhabit fresh water, but they, too, return to the sea to breed.
Some eel species travel up to 4,000 miles to breed. The journey can take over seven months to complete, during which time the eels do not eat. During mating, eels open their mouths wide and wrap their bodies around each other for hours. They separate only after the female has laid her eggs, which are then fertilized by the male. After the eels breed, they die. It takes three years for an eel to become an adult.
Baby eels begin life as flat and transparent larvae, or leptocephali. Eel larvae drift in the surface waters of the sea, feeding on marine snow, small particles that float in the water. Eel larvae then metamorphose into glass eels and then become elvers before finally seeking out their juvenile and adult habitats. Freshwater elvers travel upstream and are forced to climb up obstructions, such as weirs, dam walls, and natural waterfalls.
Eels can reverse metamorphosis. As temperatures cool and eels make their way downriver in their migration to spawn in the ocean, they undergo physical changes to prepare their bodies for spawning and for the transition from freshwater to the marine environment. One of these changes is gut degeneration as the eels cease feeding and rely on fat stores to make the lengthy journey back to the sea where they spawn and die. Eels that are delayed, for example due to barriers or rises in temperature, and are unable to complete their downriver migration can actually reverse that physical change and regenerate their guts.
Eels move through water with an undulating motion. Eels can swim backwards and forwards, and can travel on land for short distances.
THREATS TO EELS
Pollution, changes in the environment, over-fishing, drainage and hydro development are the main threats to eels. Eels lose habitat and migration corridors when waters are obstructed by dams and other mechanisms. Because many eels are catadromous (living in fresh water but spawning in the sea), dams and other river obstructions can block their ability to reach inland feeding grounds. Since the 1970s, an increasing number of eel ladders have been constructed in North America and Europe to help the fish bypass obstructions.
Localized population declines are also attributed to mortality in hydropower plant turbines, degradation of current habitat, and overharvest. Freshwater eels and marine eels are threatened by the seafood industry, with some eel populations decreased as much as 99%.
European eel populations are threatened by a foreign parasite from East Asia which appeared in European eels in the early 1980s. Since 1995, it also appeared in the United States (Texas and South Carolina), most likely due to uncontrolled aquaculture eel shipments. In Europe, eel populations are already from 30% to 100% infected with the nematode. The parasite inhibits the function of the swimbladder as a hydrostatic organ. As an open ocean voyager, eels need the carrying capacity of the swimbladder (which makes up 3–6% of the eel's bodyweight) to cross the ocean on stored energy alone.
Eels, particularly the moray eel, are also victims of the pet trade and animal entertainment industry. Captured from their native habitat and transported to various countries to be sold as aquarium "ornamentals", the dangers, difficulties, physical and physiological needs of the animals appears to be of no concern in the lucrative pet trade and animal entertainment industry. Removed from their natural habitat they are deprived of the ability to freely engage in instinctual behaviors. Even under the best of circumstances, captivity is cruel for fish. Confined to tiny tanks, captive fish endure constant stress and boredom. With little room to exercise, they become listless, their immune systems are weakened, and they become prone to sickness; many resort to self-mutilation in reaction to stress or boredom. Mental illness is rampant among confined animals.
Centipedes are arthropods belonging to the class Chilopoda of the subphylum Myriapoda. They are elongated creatures with series of body segments, with one pair of legs per body segment.
Despite the name, centipedes can have a varying number of legs from under 20 to over 300. Centipedes have an odd number of pairs of legs, therefore there is no centipede with exactly 100 legs. They have a pair of venom claws and are a predominantly carnivorous.
Centipedes normally have a drab coloration combining shades of brown and red. Cave-dwelling and subterranean species may lack pigmentation and many tropical species have bright colors. Size can range from a few millimeters to about 12 inches.
Worldwide, there are estimated to be 8,000 species of centipede. Centipedes have a wide geographical range, reaching beyond the Arctic Circle. Centipedes are found in an array of terrestrial habitats from tropical rainforests to deserts. Within these habitats, centipedes require a moist micro-habitat because they lose water rapidly through their skin. Accordingly, they are found in soil and leaf litter, under stones and dead wood, and inside logs. Centipedes are among the largest terrestrial invertebrate predators.
Centipede reproduction does not involve copulation. Males deposit a sperm capsule for the female to take up. In some species, the male undertakes a courtship dance to encourage the female to engulf his sperm. In other cases, the males just leave them for the females to find. In temperate areas egg laying occurs in spring and summer but in subtropical and tropical areas there appears to be little seasonality to centipede breeding.
Some centipedes lay their eggs singly in holes in the soil; the female fills the holes with soil and leaves them. The number of eggs laid ranges from about 10 to 50. Time of development of the embryo to hatching is highly variable and may take from one to a few months. Development to adulthood is also highly variable within and among species. For example, it can take 3 years for S. coleoptera to achieve adulthood, whereas under the right conditions Lithiobiomorph species may reach a reproductive period in 1 year. In addition, centipedes are relatively long-lived when compared to their insect cousins – some living up to 6 years.
Some centipedes provide parental care to their babies. The mother stays with the eggs, guarding and licking them to protect them from fungi. Some mothers stay with their young after they have hatched, guarding them until they are ready to leave. If disturbed, the female will either abandon the eggs or eat them; abandoned eggs tend to fall prey to fungi rapidly. Some species are matriphagic, meaning that the offspring eat their mother.
Centipedes are predominantly predatory animals. They are generalist predators, which means that they have adapted to eat a variety of different available prey. Centipedes are mostly nocturnal. What centipedes actually eat is not well known because of their cryptic lifestyle and thorough mastication of food. Centipedes are eaten by a great many vertebrates and invertebrates, such as mongooses, mice, salamanders, beetles and snakes. They form an important item of diet for many species. Centipede defenses include their speed and venomous forcipules, as well as the secretion of defensive chemicals.
THREATS TO CENTIPEDES
Like most animals, the primary threat to centipedes 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).