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African Elephant

Photo Credit: Gary M. Stolz Although the African elephant is the largest and most powerful of all living land mammals, it is also amo...

Friday, April 29, 2016

Greater Flamingo

Photo Credit: Yathin sk
Wading along the edges of shallow, salty lakes, the greater flaming ducks its head as it fishes for tiny invertebrates with its boomerang-shaped beak.

The graceful, pink flamingos fly in loose flocks, in long, single lines or in V-formation. Their pink color comes from chemicals called carotenoids, which are contained in the algae they eat.

The greater flamingo is particular about its choice of habitat. It needs shallow, very salty lagoons and lakes in which to feed and breed successfully.

The flamingo dislikes disturbance, particularly at breeding times, and will often seek larger expanses of water for solitude.

The flamingo filters food from the water in much the same way as the blue whale. It uses its specially adapted bill to capture and filter its food, a combination of protozoa and algae, as well as crustaceans, mollusks, and insects.

Did you know? 
  • What appears to be the flamingo's knees are actually its ankles, which bend backward when the bird sits down. 
  • In ancient Rome, flamingo tongues were considered a delicacy. As recently as 30 years ago, flamingos and their eggs were eaten by people in parts of southern Europe and the Caribbean.
  • Flamingos are a type of wading bird that live in areas of large shallow lakes, lagoons, mangrove swamps, tidal flats, and sandy islands.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Emperor Newt

 Photo Credit: Erin Packard
The emperor newt is a highly toxic newt native to China. They are found in forests in mountain areas.

The emperor newt, also known as the Mandarin newt or Mandarin salamander, can grow up to 8 inches (20 cm) long. It has a ridged orange head from which a single orange ridge runs along its back. This ridge is lined with two parallel rows of orange bumps on a black background. The tail and legs are entirely orange. The shade of the orange can be variable.

The emperor newt usually eats small invertebrates in its environment, such as crickets and worms. Emperor newts in captivity are typically given wax worms, crickets, and earth worms.

While the background color of the emperor newt is a dark brownish-black, this species is easily identified by its bright yellow or orange markings, notably on its head, on the ridge along its spine ridge, and on the warts along its sides. Its tail and limbs are also a yellow-orange colour, and the markings are the same in both sexes.

In the wild they typically breed May through August. They deposit eggs singly or in clumps on rocks and plants in standing water bodies. In captivity, breeding may be initiated in many ways. One way is to maintain the animal at ambient temperatures in the lower 60s and on a fairly dry substrate during the winter. Then during summer, the ambient temperature is raised to the upper 70's and the humidity increased. If breeding is to occur, they must have enough water for courtship and for depositing eggs, as well as a nice-sized land area.

Did you know? 
  • Thick bones (particularly in the skull) serve as defense for the emperor newt. 
  • Those orange nodes on the newt's back are venom glands, which produce toxin that is highly lethal to small animals. 
  • These newts prey on worms and insects such as crickets. Some animals prey on emperor newts, though poisonous glands dissuade most potential predators.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Garden Snail

Photo Credit: Überraschungsbilder
Recognized by its slug-like body and the spiral-patterned shell that it carries on its back, the edible garden snail is considered a delicacy by many people.

Not confined solely to gardens, snails are found in a variety of habitats, from coastal cliffs and dunes, to hedges, woods, and parks. Like most land snails, they prefer damp places with plenty of shade.

Snails spend the day with-drawn inside their shell, hidden among crevices or under decaying plant matter. At night, they come out of their hiding place to feed.

Snails in temperate climates hibernates in the winter. During the long, hot, dry spells in the summer, they are in a state of aestivation (inactive state). In both instances, the garden snail withdraws into the security of its moist inner shell. It then further fortifies itself by secreting one or more layers of mucus, which hardens over the hole of the shell to form a protective seal.

Most snails eat leaves of plants such as primrose, nasturtium, and particularly lettuce. Still, snails usually do less damage to gardens than slugs. After foraging for food, their strong homing instinct will lead them back to their roosts.

Did you know?
  • The snail's shell is made up of a lime-rich substance. For this reason, large numbers of snails are found on alkaline soils, which have high lime content. 
  • Garden snails are mainly active during nights or early mornings when the sun is not shinning, however they can be active during cloudy or rainy days. 
  • Garden snails are herbivorous and feed on several kinds of fruit trees, garden plants, crop vegetables and some cereals.

Friday, April 22, 2016

African Elephant

Photo Credit: Gary M. Stolz
Although the African elephant is the largest and most powerful of all living land mammals, it is also among the most gentile, living in peaceful family units.

Essentially an animal of open grasslands, the African elephant is adaptable enough to live happily in a variety of habitats within it sub-Saharan African homeland. But wherever it lives, the elephant never strays far from a supply of drinking and bathing water.

Elephants are social animals with strong family ties. So close are the relationships that they even bury their dead with twigs and leaves. They also grieve over their loss, staying the the "grave" for many hours.

Cows (females) and their calves live in family units under the leadership of a mature female, to whom every other member of the group is related.

Young bulls (males) are driven from the family when they reach puberty to live in separate bachelor herds. Adult bulls live alone and join a family unit only briefly when a female is ready to mate.

Elephants are entirely vegetarian. They eat a wide variety of grasses, foliage, fruit, and small branches and twigs. They gather food with the aid of their trunk and then place it into their mouths.

Elephants have gigantic appetites. Night, early morning, and evening are their favorite eating and drinking times, but they also eat all day on the move.

Did you know? 
  • Elephants will eat up to 500 pounds of vegetation a day and drink up to 40 gallons of water at a time. 
  • When water is scarce during the dry season, elephants will dig for water in the sandy bed of a river that has stopped flowing. 
  • The largest tusk ever recorded was 10 feet long and weight nearly 230 pounds.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Wolf Spider

Photo Credit: Michael Palmer
The wolf spider gets its name for the stealthy, cunning way in which it hunts it prey, much in the same manner as the wolf.

Most spiders catch their prey by ambushing it in the silken webs they spin on plants, trees, walls, and fences. Wolf spiders, instead, hunt down and catch their prey with the help of their acute eyesight.

Wolf spiders live successfully in a wide variety of habitats, where they are often the most dominant of the small predators. Their habitats include deserts, temperate and tropical forests, swamps, and mountain at lower elevations. Still, the habitat in which they are most commonly found is grassland, and they are especially abundant on the prairies of North America.

The wolf spider lies in wait for small insects and other spiders and pounces on its prey when it comes within reach. Holding its victim in its strong legs and grasping it between powerful jaws, the spider crushes the animal and feeds on it juices. Wo

lf spiders generally hunt in the daytime. At night, they hide in shallow burrows, where they are safe from predators. Some species spin silk to line their burrows, but unlike web-spinning (orb) spiders, the wolf spider does not use its silk to trap prey.

Did you know?
  • The hunting wasp stings and paralyzes the wolf spider in it burrow, and leaves its own larvae behind to feed on the dying spider's body. 
  • Young wolf spiders cling to their mother's back but they never cover her eyes, which she uses to spot her prey. 
  • The true tarantula is actually a European wolf spider. It is not the large, bird-eating spider that is often referred to as a tarantula.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Tiger Shark

Photo Credit: Albert Kok
The tiger shark is a deadly predator. It is a solitary hunter that will eat anything it can get down its throat, including other sharks.

The tiger shark gets its name because of the dark stripes across its back. It is an efficient killer, armed with an extraordinary sense of smell and serrated teeth that can slice through flesh and bone. A proven man-eater, it is one of the most feared sharks in the world.

The large, powerful, solitary tiger shark cruises the coastal and offshore waters of tropical seas. It will travel up to fifty miles a day, rarely stopping except to eat.

In summer, the tiger shark may follow warm water currents as far south as New Zealand, or north to Japan or the northern United States. In winter, it stays closer to the equator near the coral reefs of the Caribbean and the Pacific and Indian Oceans where it is the largest and most dominant of all of the reef predators, eating anything it can find.

The tiger shark is an indiscriminate feeder; it will eat anything. In addition to its main diet of fish, squid, sea turtles, seals, and smaller sharks, items such as car license plates and gasoline cans have been found in its stomach.

Did you know?
  • Tiger sharks are named that way because of their tiger-like, black stripes that cover the body of young animals. As animals become older, these stripes fade away, becoming almost invisible in adult animals. 
  • Tiger sharks have excellent sense of smell which is used for detection of the prey. 
  • Tiger sharks can survive up to 50 years in the wild.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Emperor Penguin

Photo Credit: Ehquionest
The emperor penguin is not only the largest seabird, it is also the hardiest. Living on the Antarctic ice pack, it endures sub-zero temperatures and hurricane-force winds.

The sight of emperor penguins waddling over the ice, flapping their specially adapted wings, is quite comical. These birds have exchanged a mastery of land and air for grace and agility in the water, together with an ability to survive in Antarctica, one of the word's harshest and most demanding environment.

The emperor penguin is found only on the Antarctic ice packs and in the surrounding oceans. Although the emperor penguin is a marine bird and feeds exclusively at sea, its breeding sites, called rookeries, are usually situated on the solid ice under the shelter of an ice cliff, often many miles inland.

Emperor penguins prey on fish, squid, and shrimp. Although they are not fast swimmers, reaching only 3 to 5 miles per hour, penguins are agile and quite adept at catching their prey.

Did you know? 
  • The emperor penguin can dive to a depth of 870 feet and can stay underwater for 18 minutes. 
  • During the breeding season, males may not feed from March until July, a total of 110-115 days without food. 
  • Unlike flying birds, the emperor penguin does not have light, air-filled bones, its heavier bones cause it to be less buoyant in the water, which allows it to dive below the surface with ease.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Black Mamba

Photo Credit: TimVickers
The black mamba is the fastest snake in the world, able to reach speeds of almost 15 miles per hour. Its deadly venom makes it feared by both humans and animals in its African homeland.

The black mamba is a long and dangerous snake from eastern and southern Africa. It can move faster than any other snake through thick undergrowth or over open ground. It also takes readily to trees. This snake strikes its prey quickly and accurately, even when it is moving fast.

The black mamba spends it day basking in the sun or hunting. When hunting, the snake travels quickly over the ground or along tree branches. Strong and muscular, it can hold its head 20 inches off the ground even when moving.

At night, the black mamba returns to a discarded burrow in the ground or to a deep hiding place among rocks or fallen trees. When frightened, it rushes to this hole, attacking whatever blocks its path.

The black mamba feeds frequently. It hunts rodents, bats, other small mammals, birds, and lizards. Using its fangs, it strikes accurately and with lightning speed. It has excellent eyesight and can lift its head and front over three feet off the ground when striking.

Did you know? 
  • The black mamba can digest an animal the size of a large rat within nine hours. 
  • The black mamba is dark-skinned to absorb the sun's heat. Desert-dwelling snakes are paler to reflect heat and prevent overheating. 
  • The venom of both the black mamba and the green mamba is "milked" from their fangs and used in medical research.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Brittle Stars

Photo Credit: Fish and Karate
Brittle stars are echinoderms. They crawl across the sea floor using their flexible arms for locomotion. Brittle stars generally have five long, slender, whip-like arms which may reach up to 24 inches in length on the largest specimens. They are also known as serpent stars; the New Latin class name Ophiuroidea is derived from the Ancient Greek ὄφις, meaning "serpent".

Many of the brittle stars are rarely encountered in the relatively shallow depths normally visited by humans, but they are a diverse group. Over 2,000 species of brittle stars live today. More than 1200 of these species are found in deep waters, greater than 200 m deep.

The mouth is rimmed with five jaws, and serves as an anus (egestion), as well as a mouth (ingestion). Behind the jaws is a short esophagus and a large, blind stomach cavity which occupies much of the dorsal half of the disk. Brittle stars have neither a head nor an anus. Digestion occurs within 10 pouches or infolds of the stomach, which are essentially ceca, but unlike in sea stars, almost never extend into the arms.The stomach wall contains glandular hepatic cells.

Brittle stars can readily regenerate lost arms or arm segments unless all arms are lost. Ophiuroids use this ability to escape predators, in a way similar to lizards which deliberately shed (autotomy) the distal part of their tails to confuse pursuers. Moreover, the Amphiuridae can regenerate gut and gonad fragments lost along with the arms. Discarded arms have not been shown to have the ability to regenerate.

Did you know?
  • Brittle stars live in areas from the low-tide level downwards. 
  • Brittle stars use their arms for locomotion. They do not, like sea stars, depend on tube feet, which are mere sensory tentacles without suction. 
  • Brittle stars can live up to 5 years.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Aardvark

Photo Credit: Leptictidium 
The aardvark is widespread in many parts of Africa. It uses its keen senses of smell and hearing to seek out ants and termites to eat, often returning to feed at the same nesting night after night.

The aardvark has a muscular body like a pig's, but its short, powerful limbs are equipped with sharp claws. It elongated head has large ears that fold down during burrowing. Yellowish gray in color, its almost hairless skin is often darkly stained from digging for food.

Not much is known about the aardvark. Active by night, aardvark journeys of close to 20 miles in one night have been tracked by radio.

Solitary by nature, except for females rearing young, the aardvark lives in a 10 to 13 foot burrow with a large sleeping chamber at the end. It makes separate shallow holes for droppings, which covers the earth. It burrows quickly and easily with its well adapted front legs and claws.

Did you know? 
  • The aardvark's powerful claws can break through termite nest walls too hard for a human to penetrate with a pick ax. 
  • The aardvark's name comes from the Afrikaans word for "earth pig." 
  • If disturbed, the aardvark sits up on its hindquarters to listen for danger, supported by its tail, like a kangaroo.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Stinkbug

Photo Credit: Zeimusu
Known as a stinkbug because of its ability to spray an unpleasant odor if it is disturbed, this insect numbers over five thousand species and is specially adapted to its environment.

Although the word "bug" is often used to describe small insects in general, it actually refers to insects in the order Hemiptera. Stinkbugs, of which there are thousands of species, are among the most interesting.

The many species of stinkbug have adapted to a wide variety of habitats. they inhabit areas ranging from deserts to tropical mangrove swamps. Stinkbugs in the tropics are among the largest and most spectacularly colored.

About 300 species of stinkbug can be found in the United States. Most are plain, but one exception is the brightly colored harlequin bug, Murgantia histrionica.

Stinkbugs eat a wide variety of food, which differs according to species. Many stinkbugs suck the sap from plants, Herbivorous species have special bacteria in their digestive tract which breaks down the plant matter.

Many stinkbugs prey on any insect that is small enough to be overpowered, like the beetle. Soft-bodied insects such as the caterpillars are their usual prey, but some species of stinkbug can be cannibalistic and will sometimes eat other stinkbugs.

Did you know?
  • A single species of stinkbug manages to survive in the Arctic. 
  • The female stinkbug shows great care for her eggs and young, more so than any other group of insects with the exception of bees, wasps, ants, and termites. 
  • Females of the European species, Elasmucha grisea, stay with their offspring for several weeks after they hatch, then die.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Mudskipper

Photo credit: Uspn 
There are several different species of mudskipper, all belonging to the family of fish known as gobies. Mudskippers are unusual in that they spend most of their time on land, using their large, muscular pectoral fins like a pair of legs to skip over the mud and sand of their habitat.

Mud-skippers are most commonly found in mangrove swamps, where they live in burrows among tree stems and roots. Although some may climb up the trunks and branches of the trees, they dart back down and into their burrows at the first sign of danger.

The trees provide shelter and cover from predators such as gulls and terns.

Some types of mudskippers feed on diatoms (microscopic algae) that live in the mud. To catch them, mudskippers scrape off a thin layer of mud by skimming their heads across its surface.

Other species of mudskippers feed on larger prey, including shrimp, worms, and insects. They also eat crabs, despite the thick shells. But sometimes the mudskippers fall prey themselves to larger crabs.

Did you know? 
  • Mudskippers dig burrows that are 20 inces or deeper by spitting large mouthfuls of mud away from the burrow's entrance. 
  • The mudskipper's eyes are adapted for both above and below water. They can also be moved separately. 
  • Mudskippers do not move with the tide. Instead, they spend most of their time out of water. But at high tide, they can remain completely submerged in their burrows for up to two hours.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Common Bee-eater

Photo credit: shyamal
The common bee-eater has a voracious appetite for flying insects. It breeds in southern Europe in summer and migrates in September to spend the winter in Africa.

The common bee-eater eats honeybees as well as other insects. The bird has long been regarded as a pest by beekeepers, but it actually kills and eats many predators of the honeybee, including hornets and bee wolves.

The common bee-eater is a sociable bird that nests in large colonies containing hundreds, sometimes thousands of birds. Within these colonies, the birds form family groups that include one or more young, non-breeding birds called helpers. The group remains together during nest building, incubation, and hatching and often migrates together.

The common bee-eater feeds on flying insects such as bees, wasps, dragonflies, beetles, and butterflies. Still, the bee-eater prefers to eat honeybees when they are available.

Did you know? 
  • The common bee-eater is also known as the European bee-eater. 
  • A single common bee-eater must catch the equivalent of 225 bee-sized insects every day to feed itself and its young. 
  • Tropical species of bee-eater, such as the white-fronted and red-throated bee-eaters of Africa, have some of the most complex bird societies known to man.
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