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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...

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Grasshopper

Photo Credit: Fir0002
The grasshopper is often hard to see because it blends in with its surroundings. Some are striped or spotted, and tropical species are often bright colored.

There are 10,000 different species of grasshopper throughout the world. Often confused with their close relatives, the crickets, grasshoppers can be identified by their thick antennae which are always shorter than their bodies.

Grasshoppers are found throughout the vegetated areas of the world. But they are not restricted to grasslands as their name would suggest. Some grasshopper species live in desert habitats, but the most attractive and brightly colored species are found in tropical rainforests.

Grasshoppers feed on the leaves and flowers of plants. They chew them with their powerful jaws, called mandibles, which move side-to-side. A relatively few species feed mainly or solely on grass, but most grasshoppers feed on an enormous variety of herbs, shrubs, and trees. Some even feed on dung.

Did you know?
  • The song of every species of grasshopper is different, and females can recognize the sound of males of their own species. It is also possible for people to identify different species in this way. 
  • Some species of grasshopper can cover up to twenty times their body length in a single leap. 
  • Grasshoppers are commonly eaten in African, Central and South American countries, the insect is a very good source of protein.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Lionfish


Photo Credit: Alex Vasenin
With its vivid coloration and poisonous spines, this scorpionfish species effectively deters predators and, consequently, can swim freely without fear of attack.

Its beautiful fins conceal an array of poisonous spines capable of inflicting severe pain. Like many scorpionfish, it does not have many predators, since few animals will dare to attack it.

The lionfish lives in shallow water among the rocks and coral reefs of warm and temperate seas.

Its feather-like fins and bristling spines are not merely decorative but, rather, serve as camouflage that helps protect the fish among the seaweed and coral on the seabed. The lionfish spends most of its time lurking or resting among the rocks on the bottom of the seabed. It is rarely detected unless it moves. This behavior is typical of most scorpionfish.

The lionfish eats any fish and crustaceans it can catch.

Did you know?
  • Lionfish are found in the South Pacific Ocean. 
  • Lionfish have been known to be aggressive toward humans. 
  • Female lionfish lay several thousand eggs. The eggs hatch in a few days and the babies, called fry, live near the surface until they are big enough to swim down to the reef area.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Barn Owl

Photo Credit: Magnus Manske
The barn owl is a silent nocturnal hunter. It has such an acute sense of hearing that it can pinpoint the exact location of its prey even on the darkest night.

A change of climate in the northern regions of the barn Owl's habitat is causing snow to last for longer periods in winter. Bad weather plays a significant part in reducing the numbers of this attractive nocturnal bird.

Barn owls prefer a warm climate with mild winters. They don't, like many other birds, store extra fat in their tissues to help them survive harsh winter weather, so many die during freezing weather or are too exhausted in the spring to breed.

Although barn owls mate for life, they hunt alone. The barn owl's eyes are specially adapted to detect movement in grassland; they have extra light-sensitive rods and cones in the retinas, and their cylindrical shape produces accurate telescopic vision. In the dark the barn owl relies almost totally on its acute hearing.

Mice, voles, and shrews are the owl's staples, but it will also catch other small rodents, sparrows, and bats. When other food is scarce, barn owls will eat frogs and large insects.

Did you know?
  • Barn owls don't "hoot" like other owls. They make a hoarse "khurrew" noise. 
  • In Malaysia, where barn owls were introduced to control plagues of rats, each barn owl family killed about 1,300 rats a year. 
  • Adult owls swallow prey whole and head first. To feed their young, they grip the prey with their feed and tear it into small pieces that the owlets can swallow.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Red and Blue Poison Arrow Frog

Photo Credit: National Geographic Kids
The red and blue poison arrow frog's jewel-like color stands out from the rich rainforest vegetation as a warning that it is one of the most poisonous animals on earth.

For centuries, the poison arrow frog has provided South American Indians with poison for the tips of arrows and blowpipe darts. For predators, swallowing a frog means certain death, and even licking one can prove fatal.

Like all amphibians, poison arrow freogs must stay moist to survive. The red and blue species lives in Costa Rican rainforest. The constantly steamy, wet environment reduces the frog's need for streams and pools.

Some frogs protect themselves from larger predators such as snakes and hawks by secreting mild poisons from the skin to make themselves taste foul.

Did you know?
  • Only one natural predator may hunt the poison arrow frog; the snake Leimadophis espinephelus seems to be immune to the toxins. 
  • This family includes some of the smallest frogs in the world: Dendrobates minutus grows to only a half inch. 
  • Scientists discover new species of poison arrow continually in their tropical forest explorations. Still, their habitat may be destroyed before scientists can account for them.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Oyster

Photo Credit: NIWA
The oyster is a remarkable animal. It changes its sex each year, can spawn in its male and female form, and is able to release up to one million eggs at a time.

Oyster larvae will settle on any solid object beneath the water's surface and cement themselves in place. They then start growing, adding layer upon layer to their shells to accommodate the expanding body inside.

The oyster feeds by filtering tiny food particles from the water. By beating the tiny hairs, or cilia, of its gills, it forces water through its partly opened shell at the rate of 2 to 4 gallons an hour. Any food particles sucked in stick to mucous strings that are attached to the cilia. The food is then forced into its mouth. Inside its stomach, the oyster has a rod-shaped mass of digestive enzymes, rotated by the current of water, which pulls in the food.

Did you know?
  • During the 18th and 19th centuries, oysters were so plentiful and inexpensive that they were considered a poor man's food. 
  • It takes from five months to seven years for an oyster to produce a cultured pearl. 
  • Oysters are invertebrate sea creatures, which means they don't have a backbone.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Greater Indian Rhinoceros

Photo Credit: Yathin sk
The greater Indian rhinoceros is a descendant of an old species of rhinoceros. Despite its fearsome appearance, it is a generally peaceful animal.

Measuring more than 12 feet long, and weighing up to 2 tons, the greater Indian rhinoceros is bigger and heavier than a car. It may appear to be ponderous and slow, but it can suddenly charge at frightening speed to drive off rivals or enemies who stray too close.

The greater Indian rhinoceros lives in dense growths of tall elephant grass in swampy areas near rivers. Her it wallows in the shallow water and mud to keep cool during the day. It may also head for higher ground to search for food.

The greater Indian rhino is principally a grazing animal. It moves around constantly to take advantage of fresh plant growth. Adaptable in its feeding methods, the rhino a a widely varied diet. It eats new plant growth as well as bamboo shoots, water hyacinths, and a variety of crops, which can make the rhino a nuisance to farmers.

Did you know?
  • Greater Indian rhinoceroses are vulnerable to sunburn. By wallowing in the mud, they protect their skin from the sun. 
  • In the first weeks of giving birth, mother rhinos produce 5 to 7 gallons of milk a day. 
  •  Relative to their large body size, rhinoceros have small brains.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Black Widow Spider

Photo Credit: Bloomingdedalus
The black widow spider is not as dangerous as its reputation implies. It has caused only 55 human deaths during a 217-year period.

Black widow spiders are found throughout the warm parts of the world. The most familiar species are in North America. They are known for their powerful venom, which is deadly to prey but rarely fatal to humans. In other countries, black widows may be known by different names, such as hourglass, redback, jockey, or button spider.

The black widow spider lives in various types of wild habitat and cultivated farmland, but it is best known for populating human residencies. It likes dark, secluded places, such as cellars, sheds, and underneath houses. this spider spins its messy web beneath floorboards or in piles of rubbish and wood.

The black widow spider eats flies, moths, and other flying insects, as well as ants and even some spiders. It spins a tangled, three-dimensional webs. The male black widow's webs is much small than the female's.

Did you know? 
  • The myth that the female black widow always eats the male after mating is untrue. Only when the male becomes weak and near death after several matings does the female eat him. 
  • The male black widow is much smaller than the female. Because it produces only a tiny amount of venom and has fangs too small to penetrate skin, the male black widow is harmless to humans. 
  • Young, growing spiders are capable of regenerating missing legs.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Stingray

Photo Credit: LinĂ©1
Varying in shape from almost rectangular to circular, with spotted or mottled markings, stingrays are found in all of the world's tropical and temperate seas.

There are more than 100 species of stingray, ranging in size from 1 to 15 feet across and weighing between 1 and 750 pounds. All are able to inflict a severe wound with their long tails and poisonous, sword-like spines.

Stingrays prefer to live in shallow water and like to spend their time buried in soft sand or mud. They are strong, active swimmers, moving rapidly through the water with their large, wing-like finds.

Some scientist believe that, with the onset of winter, stingrays make long migrations to warmer waters. Others believe, however, that the fish dig themselves into the soft seabed and spend the winter in hibernation. Nevertheless, stingrays are usually found in colder waters only during the summer months.

Stingrays feed mainly on worms, mollusks, and crustaceans that they dig out of the seabed. Larger stingrays may also eat dead fish and squid.

Did you know?
  • Stingray spines have been used to make spear tips, daggers, needles, and awls. 
  • When stingrays are caught in commercial fishing nets, the fishermen often cut off their spines before throwing them back in the sea. 
  • In Mexican waters, hundreds of stingrays gather into seabed depressions known as ray pits.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Atlantic Puffin

Photo Credit: Richard Bartz
Looking like a relative of a penguin, or a marine version of the parrot, the squat Atlantic puffin is, in fact, related to neither family, it is a species of auk.

The puffin's best-known feature, it's colorful beak, is used to attract mates. After breeding season ends, it changes to a dull gray color and becomes smaller in size. The puffin is also known as the sea parrot, and, although it looks awkward on land, it is perfectly adapted to its environment.

Atlantic puffins live in the cold waters of the Arctic, often hundreds of miles from land. They are most often seen singly or in pairs.

In spring, they come ashore and gather in huge groups to breed. Although they prefer to dig their burrows in steep, grassy slopes, they may tunnel under boulder debris at the foot of steep cliffs.

During the summer, there is a constant stream of puffins flying back and forth between their burrows on the cliffs and their fishing grounds. Breeding success may depend on how far the puffins have to fly to find food for themselves and their hungry chicks.

The puffin's favorite food is the sand eel, which it catches by diving down into the water at great speeds. Its wings enable the puffin to swim to great depths.

Did you know?
  • The puffin can swim and fly very quickly, but because its legs are positioned so far back on its body, it often crashes while landing in strong winds. 
  • At it preens, the puffin take oil from a gland near its tail and applies it to its feathers to keep them waterproof. 
  • The puffin makes soft growling or purring noises.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Gecko

Photo Credit: Thierry Caro
The gecko family of lizards include hundreds of species found in rainforests, mountains, and even deserts. Many have unusual markings, and some give distinctive calls.

Geckos have small, plump bodies with large heads and eyes. Many species are vividly colored, and some even change color. Because of geckos' unusual appearance, some people think they are dangerous. But these reptiles do not hurt humans.

Geckos live in a wide range of habitats including tropical rainforests, parched deserts, and icy mountain peaks. They are not afraid of humans, and some species have expanded their range by stowing away on ships. For example, the common gecko originated in north Africa and was carried unknowingly by humans to southern France, the Canary Islands, and even islands in the South Pacific.

Most geckos hunt at night. The common gecko eats beetles, butterflies, millipedes, crickets, and cockroaches. Many larger species, such as the Caledonian gecko, pursue young lizards, mice, and small birds. They track their prey before pouncing. Then they take it in their mouth and strike it against the ground.

Did you know?
  • The gecko is only one and a half inches long. It is the world's smallest reptile. 
  • The tokay gecko gets its name from one of its calls: "to-kay, to-kay." 
  • Sometimes a gecko's tail heals instead of breaking off completely. A new one also grows in, leaving the animal with two or even three tails.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Armored Millipede

Photo Credit: scitechdaily
Armored millipedes vary in size, with some species reaching almost a foot in length. Despite their shell-like armor, many rely on poison glands to deter enemies from attacking.

Armored millipedes rest during the day. At night, they forage for rotting vegetation among the dead leaves on the tropical forest floor. The wave-like pulse of their short legs gives them considerable power when burrowing.

Armored millipedes push their way through soil and decaying vegetation with ease. Under piles of leaf mold or in damp crevices, millipedes can be found resting by day or feeding at night. There are also some species that climb tress to feed on vegetable matter caught in the branches.

Unlike centipedes, with which they are often confused, armored millipedes do not hunt living creatures. Instead, they eat the leaves and other matter that fall from trees and decay on the ground in their tropical forest habitat.

Did you know?
  • The name millipede means "1,000 legs." But millipedes rarely have more than 200 or 300 legs. 
  • One species of millipede was once ground up and used to poison arrow tips. 
  • Some millipedes spit a fluid that can cause blindness in humans.

Friday, June 3, 2016

American Bison

Photo Credit: High Contrast
The American bison is usually referred to by its more common name, buffalo. It is not only found on the open prairies, there is also a subspecies, the wood bison, which lives in the woods and mountains of North America.

Bison live in small herds of approximately 50 animals. The herd provides defense against predators, such as wolves and coyotes. Although the bison's senses of smell and hearing are sharp, its vision is poor. Since bison often do not recognize danger until it is too late to flee, the females will surround their young and the bulls will in turn surround females, shielding them from their attackers.

Bison spend most of the day grazing in small groups. But where the grazing is particularly good, and during the two annual migrations, hundreds of bison may gather together to feed. They also take frequent mud or dust baths to keep clean.

The bison feeds mainly on grass and other succulent vegetation. Methodical grazers, a herd can cover up to two miles a day in search of fresh grass. Food is chewed and swallowed, then regurgitated and chewed again. This method of digestion is known as rumination, but it is commonly known as chewing cud.

Did you know?
  • Some North American Indian tribes relied almost entirely on bison for their food and clothing. 
  • In the United States, the bison is more often called the buffalo, although it is not closely related to the true buffalo of Africa. Zoologists prefer the term bison. 
  • The only place in the United States where the bison has never been driven out of its range is Yellowstone National Park.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Mosquito

Photo Credit: Alvesgaspar
The mosquito is known all over the world for its bloodsucking bite. But is is only the female that feeds on blood, the male drinks plant juices and is quite harmless.

The mosquito is probably one of the most unpopular creatures in the world. For centuries people have swatted at or poisoned it, but it continues to flourish, feasting on the blood of humans and animals. With global warming, some species that are disease carriers may even spread.

The mosquito is a small, two-winged fly, a slender relative of the house fly and blow fly. It has four wings arranged in two pairs and, like most flies, uses its short, club-shaped hind wings for balance. Known as halteres, these wings vibrate with the front wings and sense changes in direction, helping the mosquito fly in a straight line.

The male mosquito drinks nectar, only the female drinks blood, which provides nourishment for her eggs. She usually seeks out a victim just before laying, although she can lay her eggs without feeding on blood.

Did you know?
  • Roughly half the world's population is at risk from the diseases carried by some mosquito species. 
  • The female's wings beat 500 times per second. The male's vibrate even faster and whine at a higher pitch. When a male emerges from the pupa, his wings beat at the same rate as a female's, confusing other males. 
  • Mosquitoes lay eggs in unlikely places such as birdbaths. Most die if a pool dries up, but the eggs of some desert species survive years of drought.
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