Barnacles are one of the oldest surviving creatures in the world, dating back millions of years. They have changed very little over that time. Barnacles are marine animals that live in or close to sea water. Over 1,000 species of barnacles inhabit shallow and tidal waters around the planet. Barnacles are crustaceans, closely related to lobsters and crabs.
Barnacles cannot move on their own. They are permanently attached to what they live on. As babies, barnacles are free-floating, floating around with plankton. They attach themselves to shells, rocks, animals or other objects when they are in their larvae stage. Once attached, baby barnacles develop a thin layer of flesh and an outer shell, protecting them from the elements and predators.
Barnacles often live on whales, crabs, rocks, boats and sea turtles. While a few species of barnacle are parasitic, most barnacle species are harmless to other animals. They filter feed food particles out of the water and do not harm the animal they live on.
Barnacle shells are composed of calcite. A number of plates with feathery leg-like appendages draw water into the shell to feed.
Many species of barnacle are small, but some can grow quite large.
Most barnacles are hermaphroditic, having both male and female reproductive organs. They are capable of self-fertilizing their eggs, but usually the eggs are produced by one barnacle and fertilized by another barnacle. Barnacle babies, or larvae, develop into adult barnacles in about 6 months.
Barnacles live about 5 to 10 years. Larger species may live much longer.
THREATS TO BARNACLES
Some barnacle species are threatened or endangered, or "nationally endangered".
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.
Deer, ruminant mammal of the family Cervidae, are found in most parts of the world except Australia. Antlers, solid bony outgrowths of the skull, develop in the males of most species and are shed and renewed annually. They are at first covered by "velvet," a soft, hairy skin permeated by blood vessels. The stem of the antler is called the beam, and the branches are the tines. Antlers are used as weapons during breeding season combats between bucks. In deer that lack antlers (the musk deer and Chinese river deer), long upper canines serve as weapons.
Deer are polygamous. They eat a variety of herbaceous plants, lichens, mosses, and tree leaves and bark.
Many species of deer are threatened with extinction. The white-tailed deer that live in woodlands throughout the United States and in Central America and South America was a source of food, buckskin, and other necessities for Native Americans and white settlers. Slaughter through the years nearly exterminated the whitetail, but it is now restored in large numbers in the Eastern United States, and to a lesser extent in the West. In summer its upper parts are reddish brown; in winter grayish. The mule deer exists in reduced numbers from the Plains region westward, and the closely related black-tailed deer is a Pacific coast form.
Old World deer include the red deer, closely related to the North American wapiti, the fallow deer, and the axis deer. The only deer in Africa are small numbers of red deer found in the north in a forested area. The barking deer, or muntjac, is a small deer of South Asia. A muntjac discovered in North Myanmar (formerly Burma) in 1997 is believed to be the smallest deer in the world. Called the leaf deer, Muntiacus putaoensis, it stands about 20 inches at the shoulder. The misleadingly named mouse deer, or chevrotain, is not a deer, but belongs to a related family (Tragulidae).
Deer are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Artiodactyla, family Cervidae.
Deer live in a variety of biomes ranging from tundra to the tropical rainforest. While often associated with forests, many deer are ecotone species that live in transitional areas between forests and thickets (for cover) and prairie and savanna (open space). The majority of large deer species inhabit temperate mixed deciduous forest, mountain mixed coniferous forest, tropical seasonal/dry forest, and savanna habitats around the world. Clearing open areas within forests to some extent may actually benefit deer populations by exposing the understory and allowing the types of grasses, weeds, and herbs to grow that deer like to eat. Additionally, access to adjacent croplands may also benefit deer. However, adequate forest or brush cover must still be provided for populations to grow and thrive.
Nearly all cervids are so-called uniparental species: the fawns are cared for by the mother only. A doe generally has one or two fawns at a time (triplets, while not unknown, are uncommon). The gestation period is anywhere up to ten months for the European Roe Deer. Most fawns are born with their fur covered with white spots, though in many species they lose these spots by the end of their first winter. In the first twenty minutes of a fawn's life, the fawn begins to take its first steps. Its mother licks it clean until it is almost free of scent, so predators will not find it. Its mother leaves often, and the fawn does not like to be left behind. Sometimes its mother must gently push it down with her foot. The fawn stays hidden in the grass for one week until it is strong enough to walk with its mother. The fawn and its mother stay together for about one year. A male usually never sees his mother again, but females sometimes come back with their own fawns and form small herds.
Deer are selective feeders. They are usually browsers, and primarily feed on leaves. They have small, unspecialized stomachs by ruminant standards, and high nutrition requirements. Rather than attempt to digest vast quantities of low-grade, fibrous food as, for example, sheep and cattle do, deer select easily digestible shoots, young leaves, fresh grasses, soft twigs, fruit, fungi, and lichens.
With the exception of the musk deer and Chinese river deer, which have tusks, all male deer have antlers. Sometimes a female will have a small stub. The only female deer with antlers are Reindeer (Caribou). Antlers grow as highly vascular spongy tissue covered in a skin called velvet. Before the beginning of a species' mating season, the antlers calcify under the velvet and become hard bone. The velvet is then rubbed off leaving dead bone which forms the hard antlers. After the mating season, the pedicle and the antler base are separated by a layer of softer tissue, and the antler falls off.
During the mating season, bucks use their antlers to fight one another for the opportunity to attract mates in a given herd. The two bucks circle each other, bend back their legs, lower their heads, and charge.
Each species has its own characteristic antler structure - for example white-tailed deer antlers include a series of tines sprouting upward from a forward-curving main beam, while Fallow Deer and Moose antlers are palmate, with a broad central portion. Mule deer (and Black-tailed Deer), species within the same genus as the white-tailed deer, instead have bifurcated (or branched) antlers - that is, the main beam splits into two, each of which may split into two more. Young males of many deer, and the adults of some species, such as brocket deer and pudus, have antlers which are single spikes.
A rub is used to deposit scent from glands near the eye and forehead and physically mark territory.
THREATS TO DEER
Deer are threatened with habit loss from urban sprawl and commercial construction, trophy hunting and poaching, disease and government mismanagement. Wildlife management agencies, rather than working to preserve ecosystems, often manage wildlife purely for human recreation. Deer are viewed as a "resource" to be conserved simply for recreational purposes. As a result, "deer management" usually keeps deer populations high, resulting in many human-deer conflicts. Exterminators are hired by neighborhood associations and municipalities to slaughter "nuisance deer". Left unaltered, the delicate balance of ecosystems is maintained by nature with predators reducing the sickest and weakest individuals.
Ibis are a species of wading birds found throughout the world, especially in the more temperate regions of the southern hemisphere. Ibis are well known for their long beaks and necks used for getting food from the water. There are 30 different known species of ibis varying in color and size, from the tiny dwarf olive ibis to the giant ibis.
The ibis has a long neck with a large, down-curved, pointed bill, round body, long legs and partially webbed feet. Ibis can be white, black, pink, brown, gray or orange-red, depending on the species, diet and habitat. Some parts of the ibis body (often the face and throat) are featherless. Patches of bare skin are deep red during the breeding season.
Ibises inhabit areas where there are large amounts of water. The ibis feeds on aquatic animals found in swamps, wetlands and marshes. The ibis is an omnivorous bird, eating both plants and animals. When aquatic animal are abundant, ibises eat a more carnivorous diet. Ibises hunt fish, reptiles, insects, amphibians, small mammals and crustaceans, picking their food from the mud with their long, pointed beaks. Ibises can breathe while their bills are submerged in water because their nostrils are located at the base of their bills.
Ibises are sociable birds that gather in large flocks. Colonies can be composed of thousands of ibis, offering better protection against predators.
The ibis is active during the day and sleeps at night (diurnal). Despite their large size, ibises often rest in trees rather than on the ground. Ibises are not very vocal, with the exception of breeding season when they make squeaking and wheezing noises.
Female ibises build nests of sticks and reeds in trees, bushes or on cliffs during mating season. Ibises usually choose to nest near large amounts of water, such as lakes and rivers, with other species of water-birds. The female ibis lays up to the 3 eggs. Both parents participate in incubation. Eggs hatch following an incubation period of a few weeks. Ibis babies are dependent on their parents. They quickly develop and leave the nest in about 6 weeks. They stay with their parents until they learn to be independent.
Ibis live up to 15 years in the wild.
Ibis are relatively large birds and have few natural predators. Large birds of prey attempt to steal their eggs and chicks. Snakes, wild cats and foxes are known to hunt ibis.
THREATS TO IBISES
Ibises are threatened with pollution and pesticides, hunting and habitat destruction. Some species, including the crested ibis and northern bald ibis, are endangered or critically endangered.
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.
A camel is either of the two species of large even-toed ungulate in the genus Camelus. The Dromedary is a single hump camel, and the Bactrian Camel is a double hump camel. Both are native to the dry and desert areas of Asia and northern Africa. The average life expectancy of a camel is 30 to 50 years. Humans first domesticated camels approximately 5,000 years ago.
Although there are almost 13 million Dromedaries alive today, the species is extinct in the wild. There is, however, a substantial feral population in central parts of Australia, descended from individuals that escaped from captivity in the late 19th century. The Australian government has culled more than 100,000 of the animals, claiming the camels use too much of the limited resources needed by sheep farmers.
The Bactrian Camel once had an enormous range, but is now reduced to an estimated 1.4 million animals, mostly domesticated. It is thought that there are about 1,000 wild Bactrian Camels in the Gobi Desert, and small numbers in Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey and Russia.
A small population of introduced camels, Dromedaries and Bactrians, survived in the Southwest United States until the 1900s. These animals, imported from Turkey, were part of the US Camel Corps experiment, used as draft animals in mines, and escaped or were released after the project fell through.
Bactrian camel have two humps and are rugged cold-climate camels, while Dromedaries have one hump and are desert dwellers. Dromedary hybrids are called Bukhts. The females can be mated back to a Bactrian to produce ¾-bred "riding camels". These hybrids are found in Kazakhstan. The Cama is a camel/llama hybrid bred by scientists with short ears and the long tail of a camel, no hump and Llama-like cloven hooves rather than the Dromedary-like pads.
Camels are well known for their humps. They do not, however, literally store water in them as is commonly believed; though they do serve this purpose through roundabout means. Their humps are a reservoir of fatty tissue, while water is stored in their blood. However, when this tissue is metabolized, it is not only a source of energy, but yields water through reaction with oxygen from the air. This allows them to survive without water for about two weeks, and without food for up to a month.
A camel's red blood cells have an oval shape, unlike those of other mammals, which are circular. This is to facilitate their flow in a dehydrated state. These cells are also more stable so they do not rupture when drinking large amounts of water.
Camels are able to withstand changes in body temperature and water content that would kill most other animals. Their temperature ranges from 93 degrees F at night, up to 106 degrees F at day; only above this threshold they start to sweat. This allows them to preserve about five liters of water a day. However, they can withstand at least 25% weight loss due to sweating.
The camel's thick coat reflects sunlight. A shaved camel has to sweat 50% more to avoid overheating. Their coat also insulates them from the intense heat that radiates from hot desert sand. Their long legs also help by keeping them further away from the sand.
The camel's mouth is very sturdy, able to eat thorny desert plants. Long eyelashes and ear hairs, together with sealable nostrils, prevent sand from entering. Their pace (always moving both legs of one side at the same time), and their widened feet, help them move without sinking in.
THREATS TO CAMELS
Many desert based countries have a tourist industry offering camel back rides and treks. Hotels and travel agents also offer these unethical excursions. They force camels to carry tourists in extreme conditions all in the name of profit. The camels are often poorly treated and housed in unacceptable conditions. Sick, old, injured and physically exhausted camels are forced to work. Humans are often far too heavy for the camels, but income is valued over the welfare of the animal.
Camels are also sold for slaughter, inhumanely fattened before sale. They are beaten with wooden sticks, ill-cared for and their skin is scarred from repeated beating. One of their legs is kept tied up to prevent them from escaping.
Camel wrestling is a cruel "sport" where two male camels are forced to wrestle, typically in response to a female in heat being led before them. Most common in the Aegean region of Turkey, camel wrestling also takes place in other parts of the Middle East and South Asia. The government of Turkey began discouraging the practice in the 1920s, but began promoting the inhumane practice again in the 1980s as part of Turkey's "historic culture."
Circus camels are doomed to a life of misery, spending most of their lives in tiny enclosures. Their natural needs are never met and they live in constant stress. Camels are also forced to provide rides at fairs and festivals, tethered tightly to turnstiles and made to plod in endless circles. They suffer from numerous ailments and emotional issues.
Even under the best of circumstances, captivity is cruel for camels. Confined to tiny areas and gawked at by crowds, animals in exhibits and acts endure constant stress. They may suffer from temperature extremes and irregular feeding and watering. Without exercise, they become listless, their immune systems are weakened, and they become prone to sickness; many resort to self-mutilation in reaction to stress or boredom. Mental illness is rampant among confined animals. Torn from their families and deprived of all dignity, every part of their lives is controlled by their captors.
While zoos may appear to be educational and conservation-oriented, most are designed with the needs and desires of the visitors in mind, not the needs of the animals. Many animals in zoos exhibit abnormal behavior as a result of being deprived of their natural environments and social structures. When the facility breeds too many animals they become "surplus" and often are sold to laboratories, traveling shows, shooting ranches, or to private individuals who may be unqualified to care for them.
Displays featuring camels also put people at risk. Humans can contract brucellosis, ringworm, and tuberculosis from close interaction with camels.
Besides being some of the most enthralling avians that exist on earth today, hummingbirds are also tiny powerhouses of motion and energy. Belonging to the family Trochikilidae, these minute birds are found exclusively throughout the Americas and the Caribbean, and they vary richly in appearance. Between 325 and 340 unique species of hummingbirds have been observed to date, with nine major branches described that separate species depending on size and coloration. South America (the Andes Mountains in particular) boasts the most diverse population of hummingbirds in the world, since environmental conditions are particularly favorable for hummingbirds on that continent, sometimes allowing for up to 25 different species to successfully co-exist in the same region. There are also around 12 species that summer in North America, but migrate to more tropical regions across the Gulf of Mexico in cold weather.
Their name, of course, originates in the humming sound created by the beating of their wings, which can flap at rates that average an astounding 50 times per second – so fast that the human eye can’t even hope to clearly observe their wings while flying, never mind discern individual wing beats.
These feathered little fliers can typically range in size from 7.5–13 cm (3–5 in), though the smallest species, the bee hummingbird, weighs in at less than 2.5g. Hummingbirds are no slouches when it comes to speed, either, in spite of their diminutive size. With lightweight, hollow bones, a heart that beats well over 1000 beats per minute and tremendous wing power, they can hover in mid-air, or fly forwards and backwards at speeds faster than 54 km/h (34 mph), which is faster than a pro cyclist. In fact, a hummingbird’s consumption of oxygen per gram of muscle is around 10 times higher than a professional human athlete.
In addition to the fact that these little birds never seem to take a break, they’re also beautiful to watch. Many species also have extraordinary iridescent and multi-hued plumage, making them seem like small airborne jewels as they zip back and forth through the air. Although some may live to 10 years and beyond, outside of captivity the average lifespan is approximately 3-5 years for the most studied species.
Hummingbirds must rely on flower nectar to fuel their immense energy needs, as they have one of the highest known metabolisms among all animals, with the exception of some insects. They can feed from a variety of different flowers. Some species, like the sword-billed and sicklebill hummingbirds, have co-evolved with specific flower types, developing specialized anatomy to more efficiently extract nectar from those particular flowers. Their tremendous metabolism requires them to visit hundreds of flowers every day just to survive, and they need to consume more than their own weight in nectar each day to simply live through each night without starving to death. Without a ready food source (such as during the night), a hummingbird enters a hibernation-like state called torpor, slowing its metabolism to keep their energy reserves from becoming dangerously low. Their heart rate, breathing rate and body temperature slow down dramatically at this time.
The process of actually obtaining nectar (which is a mixture of glucose, fructose and sucrose) requires some specialized anatomy on the hummingbird’s part. Different species may have long, short, or even curved bills as an adaptation to allow them to extract nectar from differently shaped flowers. The two halves of the bill overlap, opening slightly to allow the tongue to extend into a flower’s interior in order to collect nectar.
A hummingbird will drink by rapidly lapping up the nectar, trapping it in small tubes that run down the side of the tongue. Although this liquid gold is a phenomenal source of easily accessible energy for these pint-sized avians, it doesn’t contain many other nutrients, so hummingbirds will supplement their liquid diet with in-between meals of spiders and other insects. In spite of their reputation for constant movement, hummingbirds actually spend the majority of time between meals perching or resting to conserve energy as much as possible.
Hummingbirds reach reproductive maturity anywhere between 2 months and 1 year. While some species may be fairly territorial, chasing off interlopers near a preferred food source, some hummingbird males are protective of potential mates as well. In some species, the males use feather sonation (a vibration of the feathers) to produce a high-pitched sound that catches the attention of interested female hummingbirds.
Like other birds, they lay and incubate eggs tin nests, which are typically attached to leaves or branches. It’s not unusual for them to use spider silk or lichen to help build the nest (which is typically tiny and cup-shaped) and bind the structure together, and the silk allows the nest to expand as the chicks grow. Most clutches are no more than 1-2 eggs in number, and incubation can last anywhere from 14-24 days, depending on the species, temperature, and amount of care the female provides for the eggs. The nestlings are fed exclusively by the female hummingbird, who catches small insects and spiders and regurgitates them, along with nectar, into the crop of her chicks. Male don’t generally participate in nest construction or care of the nestlings.
THREATS TO HUMMINGBIRDS
In the past, the hummingbird’s bright plumage often made it a target for those looking to sell feathers as decoration, but these days, increased agricultural practices and habitat destruction are the biggest threats on the horizon for these little birds, particularly since many species are specifically adapted to their own unique region.
Climate change is a big issue for hummingbirds as well, since changing weather conditions affect the migration patterns of many species. This can cause them to travel outside their normal habitat range, where it can be tremendously difficult for them to find enough food. There are several species of hummingbird noted as vulnerable or endangered on the IUCN Red List.
There are nearly 100 species of lemurs. All are endangered. Hunting and habitat destruction threaten their future.
Lemurs share many common primate traits, such as divergent digits on their hands and feet, and nails instead of claws (in most species). Their brain-to-body size ratio is smaller than that of anthropoid primates, and they have a "wet nose". They range in size from 1.1 oz to 20 lb and can reach 30 years old or more.
Lemurs are found naturally only on the island of Madagascar and some smaller surrounding islands, including the Comoros (where it is likely they were introduced by humans). Fossil evidence indicates that they made their way across the ocean after Madagascar broke away from the continent of Africa. While their ancestors were displaced in the rest of the world by monkeys, apes, and other primates, the lemurs were safe from competition on Madagascar and differentiated into a number of species. The larger species have all become extinct since humans settled on Madagascar. Until shortly after humans arrived on the island around 2,000 years ago, there were lemurs as large as a male gorilla. Typically, the smaller lemurs are active at night (nocturnal), while the larger ones are active during the day (diurnal).
The small cheirogaleoids are generally omnivores, eating a variety of fruits, flowers and leaves (and sometimes nectar) as well as insects, spiders and small vertebrates. The remainder of the lemurs, the lemuroids, are primarily herbivores, although some species supplement their diet with insects. They inhabit highland country and thinly wooded forests.
Lemurs are social and live in groups that usually include less than 15 individuals. Nocturnal lemurs are mostly solitary but social, foraging alone at night but often nesting in groups during the day. In many nocturnal species, the females, along with their young, will share nests with other females and possibly one male, whose larger home range happens to overlap one or more female nesting groups. In sportive lemurs and fork-marked lemurs, one or two females may share a home range, possibly with a male. In addition to sharing nests, they will also interact vocally or physically with their range and mate. Diurnal lemurs live in relatively permanent and cohesive social groups. Multi-male groups are the most common. True lemurs utilize this social system, often living in groups of ten or less. Dwarf lemurs are solitary but social, foraging alone but often sleeping in groups. Some lemurs exhibit female philopatry, where females stay within their natal range and the males migrate upon reaching maturity, and in other species both sexes will migrate. The presence of female social dominance sets lemurs apart from most other primates and mammals; in most primate societies, males are dominant unless females band together to form coalitions that displace them.
Lemur communication can be transmitted through sound, sight and smell (olfaction), using complex behaviors such as scent-marking and vocalizations. Lemurs have demonstrated distinct facial expressions including a threat stare, pulled back lips for submission, and pulled back ears along with flared nostrils during scent-marking. They have also been observed using yawns as threats. Their tails communicate distance, warn off neighboring troops and help locate troop members. Olfaction can communicate information about age, sex, reproductive status, as well as demarcate the boundaries of a territory. Small, nocturnal lemurs mark their territories with urine, while the larger, diurnal species use scent glands located on various parts of their anatomy. The ring-tailed lemur engages in "stink fights" by rubbing its tail across scent glands on its wrists, and then flicking its tail at other male opponents. Some lemurs defecate in specific areas, otherwise known as latrine behavior. Although many animals exhibit this behavior, it is a rare trait among primates. Latrine behavior can represent territorial marking and aid in interspecies signaling. Some of the most common calls among lemurs are predator alarm calls.
Lemurs not only respond to alarm calls of their own species, but also alarm calls of other species and those of non-predatory birds. The ring-tailed lemur and a few other species have different calls and reactions to specific types of predators. Lemur calls can also be very loud and carry long distances. Both ruffed lemurs and the indri exhibit contagious calling, where one individual or group starts a loud call and others within the area join in. The song of the indri can last 45 seconds to more than 3 minutes and tends to coordinate to form a stable duet. Tactile communication (touch) is mostly used by lemurs in the form of grooming, although the ring-tailed lemur also clumps together to sleep (in an order determined by rank), reaches out and touches adjacent members, and cuffs other members. Reaching out and touching another individual in this species has been shown to be a submissive behavior, done by younger or submissive animals towards older and more dominant members of the troop. Unlike anthropoid primates, lemur grooming seems to be more intimate and mutual, often directly reciprocated.
THREATS TO LEMURS
The habitat of lemurs is disappearing because of fires, overgrazing of domestic livestock and logging. Lemurs are also threatened by hunting. All lemurs are endangered species, due mainly to habitat destruction (deforestation) and hunting. Although conservation efforts are under way, options are limited because of the lemurs' limited range and because Madagascar is desperately poor. In some remote areas of Madagascar, the cultural motivation behind posting lemur hunting traps is that of indigenous superstition that lemurs are omens and harbingers of bad fortune.
The lemur pet trade is threatening the survival of many lemur species. Despite being illegal, thousands of lemurs are stolen from the wild in Madagascar. Lemur breeders peddle the animals through the internet to unqualified individuals who fail to realize that baby lemurs grow into sexually mature and aggressive adults. These animals are denied their wild nature, strong family bonds and social interaction with their own kind. They are destined to live a sad and lonely life in a cage.
Lemurs are also put on display by many zoos. Like "pet" lemurs, they are confined to tiny spaces and denied a natural life for the sake of human entertainment. Captive lemurs often become obese resulting in coronary heart disease and diabetes. They become inactive and lethargic, further threatening their health. Like all zoo animals, they face constant stress and boredom, often resulting in mental illness.
The salamander is an amphibian animal that has four legs, a slender and long body and a long tail. A salamander's rear legs develop more gradually than its front legs. (Toads and frogs are the opposite: their rear legs develop more rapidly than their front legs.) The four legs on a salamander are short to the point that its belly drags on ground. In spite of their lizard-like nature, salamanders are closely related to the smaller amphibians called newts.
Salamanders are found everywhere throughout the world, mostly in more temperate areas. One-third of the known salamander species are found in North America. The highest concentration of these is found in the Appalachian Mountains region. All the species of salamander are aquatic and semi-aquatic because of their permeable skin and amphibious nature.
There are more than 700 species of recognized salamanders all over the world, from the smaller species to the Chinese giant salamander. All the species of salamander look very much alike in appearance, however as with lizards, diverse species of salamander can possesses less limbs than normal, possessing a more eel-like appearance.
Like lizards and newts, salamanders are able to regenerate or regrow lost limbs and other parts of the body. This gives salamanders leeway while being chased by predators, as the salamander has the ability drop parts of its body to escape.
Some salamander species utilize tail autotomy to escape their predators. The tail drops off and also wriggles around for some time after an attack. The salamander either stays still or runs away while the predator is diverted. The tail regrows within time, and salamanders routinely regrow other complex tissues, including the retina or lens of their eyes. In just a couple of weeks of losing a part of a limb, a salamander reforms the missing parts.
The majority of salamander species are brightly colored, especially the male salamanders amid the breeding period when their colors get to be brighter and more intense to attract the female salamanders. Species of salamanders that live underground are mostly white or pink in color because their skin is never exposed to the sun.
The skin of salamanders secretes bodily fluid, which helps keep salamanders moist when on dry land and keeps up their salt balance while in water. It also provides a lubricant during swimming. Salamanders additionally secrete a poisonous substance from the glands in their skin, and some also possess skin glands for secreting courtship pheromones.
Respiration varies among the distinctive species and can include lungs, skin, gills, and the membranes of the throat and mouth. Larval salamanders breathe essentially by mean of gills that are mostly feathery and external in appearance. Water is drawn in via the mouth and flows out via the gill slits. Some neotenic species like the mudpuppy maintain their gills for the duration of their lives, however, most species lose them during metamorphosis.
Salamanders are opportunistic predators. They are generally not restricted to specific foods, but feed on almost any organism. Large species such as the Japanese giant salamander eat crabs, fish, small mammals, amphibians, and aquatic insects. Smaller salamanders may eat earthworms, flies, beetles, beetle larvae, leafhoppers, springtails, moths, spiders, grasshoppers, and mites.
A terrestrial salamander catches its prey by flicking out its sticky tongue in an action that takes less than half a second. An aquatic salamander lacks muscles in the tongue, and captures its prey in an entirely different manner. It grabs the food item, grasps it with its teeth, and adopts a kind of inertial feeding. This involves tossing its head about, drawing water sharply in and out of its mouth, and snapping its jaws which tears and macerates the prey before being swallowed.
Salamanders are not vocal and in most species the sexes look alike, so they use olfactory and tactile cues to identify potential mates. Pheromones play an important part in the process. In about 90% of all species, fertilization is internal. The male typically deposits a spermatophore on the ground or in the water according to species, and the female picks this up with her vent. Often an elaborate courtship behavior is involved in its deposition and collection. In the most primitive salamanders such as the Asiatic salamanders and the giant salamanders, external fertilization occurs, instead. In these species, the male releases sperm onto the egg mass in a reproductive process similar to that of typical frogs.
In temperate regions, reproduction is usually seasonal and salamanders may migrate to breeding grounds. Males usually arrive first and in some instances set up territories. Typically, a larval stage follows in which the babies are fully aquatic. The tadpoles are carnivorous and the larval stage may last from days to years, depending on species. Sometimes this stage is completely bypassed, and the eggs of most lungless salamanders develop directly into miniature versions of the adult without an intervening larval stage.
THREATS TO SALAMANDERS
A general decline in amphibian species has been linked with the fungal disease chytridiomycosis. A higher proportion of salamander species than of frogs or caecilians are in one of the at-risk categories established by the IUCN. Salamanders showed a significant diminution in numbers in the last few decades of the 20th century, although no direct link between the fungus and the population decline has yet been found. Deforestation, resulting in fragmentation of suitable habitats, and changes in climate are possible contributory factors.
The Chinese giant salamander, at 6 feet the largest amphibian in the world, is critically endangered, as it is collected for food and for use in traditional Chinese medicine. The hellbender is another large, long-lived species with dwindling numbers and fewer juveniles reaching maturity than previously. Habitat loss, silting of streams, pollution and disease have all been implicated in the decline.
Of the 20 species of minute salamanders in Mexico, half are believed to have become extinct and most of the others are critically endangered. Specific reasons for the decline may include climate change, chytridiomycosis, or volcanic activity, but the main threat is habitat destruction as logging, agricultural activities, and human settlement reduce their often tiny, fragmented ranges.
Butterflies are part of the class of insects in the order Lepidoptera. Adult butterflies have large, often brightly colored wings, and conspicuous, fluttering flight. The group comprises the true butterflies (superfamily Papilionoidea), the skippers (superfamily Hesperioidea) and the moth-butterflies (superfamily Hedyloidea). Butterflies are the second largest group of pollinators, following bees. There are about 17,500 species of butterflies spread throughout the world.
These beautiful animals undergo a fascinating metamorphosis which takes place in four stages: egg, caterpillar, pupa and adult.
Mother butterflies attach their eggs with a special glue to caterpillar food, or “host” plant. As the glue hardens it contracts, deforming the shape of the egg. Each species of butterfly has its own host plant range, and while some species of butterfly are restricted to just one species of plant, others use a range of plant species.
Butterfly eggs are protected by a hard shell lined with a thin coating of wax which prevents the egg from drying out. Each egg contains a number of tiny funnel-shaped openings at one end that allow sperm to enter and fertilize the egg. Butterfly and moth eggs vary greatly in size between species.
The egg stage lasts a few weeks in most butterflies. Eggs laid close to winter, especially in temperate regions, go through a resting stage and the hatching may take place only in spring. Other butterflies may lay their eggs in the spring and have them hatch in the summer. These butterflies are usually northern species.
When the caterpillar is born, it eats its egg, then begins eating the host plant. Host plants often have toxic substances in them and caterpillars are able to retain them. This makes them unpalatable to birds, insects and other predators. Such unpalatibility is advertised using bright red, orange, black or white warning colors.
Caterpillars spend practically all of their time in search of food. Some caterpillars form mutual associations with ants. They communicate with the ants using vibrations and chemical signals. The ants provide some degree of protection to these caterpillars, and they in turn gather honeydew secretions. Others caterpillars communicate with ants to form a parasitic relationship.
Some caterpillars have the ability to inflate parts of their head to appear snake-like. Many have false eye-spots to enhance this effect. Some caterpillars produce foul-smelling chemicals used in defense.
When the caterpillar's insides grow too big for its outside, its covering splits and is shed. A new exoskeleton lies underneath. The caterpillar continues to shed numerous times, then becomes a pupa. It then seeks a sheltered spot, suspends itself by silken threads and sheds one more time forming a hard casing around its body. Inside this chrysalis, the pupa is growing six legs, a proboscis, antennae and wings. Within days, months or years, depending on the species, the chrysalis breaks open and a butterfly emerges.
Butterflies can live in the adult stage from a week to a year, depending on the species. They have four wings, usually brightly colored with unique patterns made up of tiny scales. They remember things they learned as caterpillars. They can fly up to 30 mph and up to 50 miles in a day. They learn home ranges and memorize locations of nectar and pollen sources, host plants and communal roosting sites. They are able to plan the most efficient routes by using calculations that mathematicians call the "traveling salesman algorithm".
Butterflies feed primarily on nectar from flowers. They are important as pollinators for some species of plants and are capable of moving pollen over greater distances than bees. Adult butterflies consume only liquids, ingested through the proboscis. They sip water from damp patches for hydration. They feed on nectar to obtain sugars for energy, and sodium and other minerals vital for reproduction. Several species of butterflies need more sodium than that provided by nectar and are attracted by sodium in salt; they sometimes land on people, attracted by the salt in human sweat. Some butterflies also visit dung, rotting fruit or carcasses to obtain minerals and nutrients. In many species, this mud-puddling behavior is restricted to the males, and the nutrients collected may be provided as a gift during mating.
Butterflies use their antennae to sense the air for wind and scents. The antennae are richly covered with sensory organs. Butterflies "taste" with their feet through tiny receptors. Their sense of taste is 200 times stronger than humans.
Butterflies have excellent vision and most species are sensitive to the ultraviolet spectrum. Some butterflies have organs of hearing and some species are also known to make stridulatory and clicking sounds.
Many butterflies are migratory and capable of long distance flights, using the sun to orient themselves. They migrate during the day and use the sun to orient themselves. They also perceive polarized light and use it for orientation when the sun is hidden.
Many species of butterfly maintain territories and actively chase other species or individuals that may stray into them. Some species will bask or perch on chosen perches. Basking is an activity which is more common in the cooler hours of the morning. Many species will orient themselves to gather heat from the sun. Some species have evolved dark wing-bases to help in gathering more heat. The flight styles of butterflies are often characteristic and some species have courtship flight displays.
THREATS TO BUTTERFLIES
The greatest threats to butterflies are habitat change and loss due to residential, commercial and agricultural development. Many butterfly species are either under the threat of extinction, or have died out completely due to the rise of intensive farming and the loss of habitats.
Butterflies have suffered from the loss of grasslands rich in wild flowers and the decline of woodlands.
Mainly known for their pointy snouts and exceptional digging abilities, moles are small mammals that have adapted to living in self-dug tunnels underground. Belonging to the family Talpidae and native to many areas around the world including Europe, Asia, and North America, there are around 20 ‘true mole’ species of these small creatures. These persistent burrowers are found mainly in either grassland or woodland habitats, though some species are aquatic or semi-aquatic, choosing to construct burrows in the soft banks of ponds or streams instead. Regardless of habitat, most moles are also good swimmers too.
Although some literature presents moles as being approximately cat-sized, in reality, most species are actually much smaller. Most are typically around 15cm (6 inches) in length, though some species can be as short as 5cm (like the American Shrew mole) or as long as 20cm. A mole’s weight range, depending on species, can be anywhere from 10g to around 500g, which is still no more than 1.5lb at the very most. The average lifespan of a mole tends to be around 4 years of age, while some species have been noted to live up to age 6 or 7.
They may not be the fastest creatures overland, but the mole anatomy has truly evolved to marvelously suit their purpose; digging. Their spade-shaped, cylindrical bodies, short powerful front limbs and sharp claws are highly adapted for burrowing into soil and tunneling through it. An extra thumb on each forepaw (a trait that’s specific just to moles, and not their close relatives, shrews) also assists in pushing aside dirt and debris as the mole digs. Some moles can dig burrows up to 20 meters long in a single day. In addition to a highly efficient body structure, moles can also tolerate higher than normal levels of environmental carbon dioxide, so they’re able to survive easily in lower-oxygen environments like underground tunnels.
Moles also have soft, dense pelts, typically colored taupe or black, which allow them to move both backwards and forwards through snug underground holes. Mole eyes tend to be very small, and are sometimes covered by fur or skin, rendering them essentially blind. While this means that their visual perception is mainly limited to light and dark, they do have highly developed senses of hearing and smell. They also have sensitive Eimer’s organs at the end of their protruding snouts that are extremely receptive to touch and vibration.
While a mole’s omnivorous diet may not sound appealing to most humans, an earthworm is truly a mole’s favorite snack. They’ll also feast on other small insects and a variety of nuts, and some aquatic moles will also eat amphibians. A mole’s tunnels serve as their own personal food trap and banquet hall; moles can sense when a worm falls into the tunnel and will hurry to catch them. Interestingly, the star-nosed mole is so fast at catching and eating food that the process is impossible to follow with the human eye. They can make a meal disappear in under a second. While moles often eat right away, they’ll sometimes store earthworms for later consumption. Since their saliva contains a paralytic toxin, moles are able to stockpile still-living insects underground in self-constructed ‘larders’. Some mole hoards have been found to contain thousands of earthworms.
Most species of moles prefer a solitary existence aside from mating season, although the largest mole species, the desman, will often live in small groups of up to five animals. Males (called boars) are particularly territorial, and can fight fiercely if they encounter an intruding mole in their territory. These busy diggers generally mate in the spring sometime between February and May, with males searching for females (called sows) by tunnelling and loud squealing vocalizations to alert potential mates of their presence. After a gestation period lasting just over 1 month, the mole pups are born underground with litters ranging in size from 2 to 6 pups. It doesn’t take long before these young ones are ready to head out on their own. Mole pups leave their nest and their mother around 30 to 45 days after they’re born to find living space on their own.
As moles have poor vision and few defenses, they can be vulnerable to many kinds of predators. Foxes and coyotes are adept at detecting and digging moles out of their subterranean hiding places, and birds of prey such as vultures, hawks and owls find moles to be easy pickings when they’re above ground. A mole’s safest refuge is underground.
THREATS TO MOLES
Since moles tend to burrow through lawns and fields, causing damage to grass and crop roots, many species are considered to be annoying agricultural nuisances in many countries, and trapping or control measures are used to deter moles from inhabiting these areas. Moles have also been historically hunted for their soft, pliable pelts, although the widespread population of most mole species means that this industry doesn’t pose a significant threat to moles at this time. A few mole species - the Canadian population of the Townsend’s mole and the Senkaku mole in Japan are two examples - are endangered, however, mostly due to the threat of human encroachment on their habitat and pest control measures taken against other species.
Wallabies are small to medium sized marsupials naturally inhabiting the Australian continent and surrounding islands. Wallabies have been introduced to other areas around the world by humans. The wallaby is closely related to the kangaroo. Wallabies are usually smaller than kangaroos.
There are about 30 different species of wallaby inhabiting a variety of habitats so diverse that they are often named after their habitat, including the brush wallaby, rock wallaby, and shrub wallaby. Some wallaby species are named after their size and appearance, such as the hare wallaby. Unlike their kangaroo cousins, wallabies usually prefer wooded or rugged habits instead of open arid plains.
Wallabies have elongated faces and large flat teeth. They have large pointed ears that can swivel independently.
The wallaby has powerful hind legs used to hop about. They can jump great distances. When fighting, males use their strong back legs to deliver powerful kicks. The forearms of the wallaby are significantly smaller than their back legs and are mainly used for feeding and balance.
The wallaby tail is commonly as long as the wallaby's body and is used for balance, self defense, springing up from a sitting position, and to prop themselves up. Wallaby tails also store fat for use in times of food shortages.
Wallabies keep cool by licking their arms, covering them with saliva. Wallabies are also able to swim by kicking their legs independently in a ‘doggy’ style paddle. They usually swim at dusk.
Wallabies are herbivores, feeding mainly on plants and grasses. The wallaby forages for grass, fallen fruits and seeds, and leaves from low trees and bushes. Wallabies have chambered stomachs similar to horses that help them digest fibrous plant materials. Wallabies regurgitate food, chewing it again and swallowing it. Wallabies can survive for months without drinking. Most of their water comes from their food.
Wallabies can be solitary or very social. Smaller species of wallaby are often solitary. Larger species of wallaby are often social, living and feeding in groups of up to 50 wallabies called a mob. Some species of wallaby are territorial, living alone and defending their territory. Smaller species of wallaby are usually nocturnal, active at night. Larger species of wallaby are usually diurnal, active during the day.
Wallabies have very small vocal chords. Wallabies communicate a warning to other wallabies by freezing in place and thumping once or twice on the ground with their feet. Some species also hiss and snort. Mother wallabies communicate with their offspring through clicking noises.
Breeding season for most wallaby species is from January through February. Male wallabies will sometimes fight for females, but these fights are more ritualistic than aggressive. It is very rare for wallabies to hurt each other during fights. Female wallabies use a pouch on their abdomens to raise their young. Following a gestation period of only a month, mother wallabies give birth to a single baby wallaby, or sometimes twins, known as joeys. Newborn joeys are blind and hairless and only about the size of a jellybean. Joeys crawl up into their mother's pouch and attach to a teat to suckle where they remain for at least 2 months and develop over the next 7 months. They are cared for and nurtured until fully developed. Even after leaving their mothers pouch, baby wallabies will retreat to the pouch when they feel threatened.
If a mother wallaby becomes pregnant while a joey is still in her pouch, the development of the embryo will be paused until the joey leaves the pouch. Mother wallabies can produce two kinds of milk, one suited for a developing joey and one for a larger joey that has left the pouch. The older and younger joeys suckle on different teats to receive their specialized milk.
Due to their size, adult wallabies have few natural predators. Dingos, foxes, Tasmanian devils, crocodiles, dogs, cats, eagles and snakes prey on young wallabies. Dingoes, Tasmanian devils and foxes also sometimes prey on adult wallabies. Wallabies defend themselves against predators by hitting them with their powerful tails.
Wallabies live about 9 years in the wild.
THREATS TO WALLABIES
Wallabies are threatened by habit loss, vehicle collisions, culling and animal agriculture. Many wallaby species are endangered. Some wallaby species are considered vulnerable to extinction in the wild. Four species of wallaby have already gone extinct.
An alligator is a crocodilian in the genus Alligator of the family Alligatoridae. There are two living alligator species: the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and the Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis). They are closely related to crocodiles.
Alligators are characterized by a broader snout and eyes more dorsally located than their crocodile cousins. Both living species also tend to be darker in color, often nearly black (although the Chinese alligator has some light patterning.) Also, in alligators only the upper teeth can be seen with the jaws closed (in contrast to true crocodiles, in which upper and lower teeth can be seen), though many individuals bear jaw deformities which complicate this means of identification.
There are only two countries on earth that have alligators: the United States and China. The Chinese alligator is endangered and lives only in the Yangtze River valley. The American alligator is found in the United States from the Carolinas to Florida and along the Gulf Coast. The majority of American alligators inhabit Florida and Louisiana. In Florida alone there are an estimated more than 1 million alligators. The United States is the only nation on earth to have both alligators and crocodiles. American alligators live in freshwater environments, such as ponds, marshes, wetlands, rivers, and swamps. In China, they live only along the fresh water of the Yangtze River.
Alligators are solitary, territorial animals. The largest of the species (both males and females) will defend prime territory; smaller alligators have a higher tolerance of other alligators within a similar size class. Although alligators have heavy bodies and slow metabolisms, they are capable of short bursts of speed that can exceed 30 miles per hour. Alligators' main prey are smaller animals that they can kill and eat with a single bite. Alligators may kill larger prey by grabbing it and dragging it in the water to drown. Alligators consume food that cannot be eaten in one bite by allowing it to rot or by biting and then spinning or convulsing wildly until bite size pieces are torn off. This is referred to as the "death roll."
Alligators are opportunistic feeders, eating almost anything they can catch. When they are young they eat fish, insects, snails and crustaceans. As they grow they take progressively larger prey items, including: larger fish such as gar, turtles, various mammals, birds, and other reptiles, including smaller alligators. They will even consume carrion if they are sufficiently hungry. As humans encroach onto to their habitat, attacks on humans are not unknown, but are few and far between.
The American alligator, Alligator mississipiensis, is found in swamps and sluggish streams from North Carolina to Florida and along the Gulf Coast. When young, it is dark brown or black with yellow transverse bands. The bands fade as the animal grows, and the adult is black. Males commonly reach a length of 9 feet and a weight of 250 lbs; females are smaller. Males 18 feet long were once fairly common, but intensive hunting for alligator leather eliminated larger individuals and threatened the species as a whole. The wild American alligator is now protected by law, but it is also inhumanely raised on farms for commercial uses.
The Chinese alligator, A. sinensis, which grows to about 6 feet long, is found in the Chang (Yangtze) River valley near Shanghai. This species is nearly extinct.
Alligators spend the day floating just below the surface of the water or resting on the bank, lying in holes in hot weather. They hunt by night, in the water and on the bank. Alligators hibernate from October to March. In summer the female builds a nest of rotting vegetation on the bank and deposits in it 20 to 70 eggs. The mother will defend the nest from predators and will assist the babies to water once they hatch. She will provide protection to the young for about a year if they remain in the area.
Caimans are similar to alligators, but distinct members of the Alligatoridae family found in Central and South America. There are several species, classified in three genera. The largest grow up to 15 feet long. Unlike alligators, caimans have bony overlapping scales on their bellies. Baby caimans are often sold in the United States as baby alligators. Caimans and alligators are wild animals and should not be kept as pets for human amusement.
Alligators and caimans are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Reptilia, order Crocodilia, family Alligatoridae.
THREATS TO ALLIGATORS
American alligator populations were decimated by decades of hunting and habitat loss. In 1967 the animal was added to the federal endangered species list. The alligator recovered dramatically and was removed from the endangered species list in 1987. Alligators still face threats today, primarily from loss and fragmentation of natural habitats and encounters with people.
The Chinese alligator's population reduction has been mostly due to conversion of its habitat to agricultural use. A majority of their usual wetland habitats has been turned into rice paddies. Poisoning of rats, which the alligators then eat, has also been blamed for their decline. It was also not uncommon for people to kill the alligators, because they believed they were pests, out of fear, or for their meat. In the past decade, very few wild nests have been found, and even fewer produced viable offspring.
Collection for the exotic pet trade affects alligators. Every year, a variety of sources provides millions of animals to the exotic pet trade. Animals are captured from their native habitat and transported to various countries to be sold as “pets”. Others are surplus animals from zoos or their offspring. Backyard breeders also supply exotic animals. The sellers of these animals often disregard state or local laws regulating private possession of exotics, and the dangers, difficulties, physical and physiological needs of the animals they peddle. The suffering of the animals in the hands of unqualified and hapless buyers appears to be of no concern in the lucrative exotic pet trade. Reptiles pose safety risks to humans. Many incidents have been reported of escapes, strangulations, and bites from pet reptiles across the country.
Alligators are also victims of the animal entertainment industry. The use of wild animals as “entertainers” removes animals from their natural habitat; depriving them of the ability to freely engage in instinctual behaviors. Both children and adults are desensitized to animal mistreatment by the animal entertainment industry. Even under the best of circumstances, captivity is cruel for wild animals. Confined to tiny areas and gawked at by crowds, animals in exhibits and acts endure constant stress. They may suffer from temperature extremes and irregular feeding and watering. Without exercise, they become listless, their immune systems are weakened, and they become prone to sickness; many resort to self-mutilation in reaction to stress or boredom. Mental illness is rampant among confined animals. Torn from their families and deprived of all dignity, every part of their lives is controlled by their captors. While zoos may appear to be educational and conservation-oriented, most are designed with the needs and desires of the visitors in mind, not the needs of the animals.
Alligators also are inhumanely farmed commercially. Their hide is tanned and used to make leather goods such as shoes and handbags, while alligator meat is also considered a delicacy in many parts of the world.
Owls include about 200 species of mostly solitary and nocturnal birds of prey. They have an upright stance, a large, broad head, binocular vision and binaural hearing, and feathers adapted for silent flight. Owls hunt mostly small mammals, insects, and other birds, although a few species specialize in hunting fish. They are found in all regions of the earth except Antarctica and some remote islands. Owls are divided into two families: the true owls, Strigidae; and the barn-owls, Tytonidae.
Owls have large forward-facing eyes and ear-holes, a hawk-like beak, a flat face, and a circle of feathers around each eye. The feathers make up a disc that can be adjusted to sharply focus sounds that come from varying distances onto the owls' ears. Caught prey can be felt by owls with the use of filoplumes - feathers on the beak and feet that act as "feelers".
Most birds of prey have eyes on the sides of their heads, but the owl's forward-facing eyes permits a greater sense of depth perception necessary for low-light hunting. Although owls have binocular vision, their large eyes are fixed in their sockets - as are those of other birds - so they must turn their entire head to change views. Owls can rotate their heads and necks as much as 270 degrees, having fourteen neck vertebrae as compared to seven in humans. As owls are farsighted, they are unable to see clearly close up, but their far vision (particularly in low light) is exceptionally good. Owl eyes can move independently of each other.
The smallest owl - weighing as little as 1 oz and measuring 5 inches, is the elf owl. The largest owl by length is the great grey owl which measures around 28 inches on average and can attain a length of 33 inches. However, the heaviest (and largest winged) owls are two similarly-sized eagle owls; the Eurasian eagle-owl and Blakiston's fish owl. These two species can have a wingspan of 6.6 feet and a weight of 10 lb.
Different species of owls make different sounds; this wide range of calls aids owls in finding mates or announcing their presence to potential competitors.
Many species of owls have facial and head markings, including face masks, ear tufts and brightly colored irises. These markings are generally more common in species inhabiting open habitats, and are thought to be used in signaling with other owls in low light conditions.
Owl eggs usually have a white color and an almost spherical shape, and range in number from a few to a dozen, depending on species and the particular season. For most, three or four is the more common number. Eggs are laid at intervals of 1 to 3 days and do not hatch at the same time.
Most owls are nocturnal, actively hunting their prey only in darkness. Several types of owl, however, are crepuscular - active during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk. A few owls are active during the day.
All owls are carnivorous birds of prey and live mainly on a diet of insects and small rodents such as mice, rats and hares. Some owls are also specifically adapted to hunt fish. Much of the owls' hunting strategy depends on stealth and surprise. The dull coloration of their feathers can render them almost invisible under certain conditions. Their flight is practically silent. An owl's sharp beak and powerful talons allow it to kill its prey before swallowing it whole. They regurgitate the indigestible parts of their prey (such as bones, scales, and fur) in the form of pellets.
Owls can have either internal or external ears, both of which are asymmetrical. With ears set at different places on its skull, an owl is able to determine the direction from which the sound is coming by the minute difference in time that it takes for the sound waves to penetrate the left and right ears. The owl turns its head until the sound reaches both ears at the same time, at which point it is directly facing the source of the sound.
While the auditory and visual capabilities of the owl allow it to locate and pursue its prey, the talons and beak of the owl do the final work. The owl kills its prey by using the talons to crush the skull and knead the body. The beak of the owl is short, curved and downward-facing, and typically hooked at the tip for gripping and tearing.
The coloration of the owl’s plumage plays a key role in its ability to sit still and blend into the environment, making it nearly invisible to prey. Owls tend to mimic the coloration, and sometimes even the texture patterns, of their surroundings. Usually, the only tell-tale sign of a perched owl will be its vocalizations or its vividly colored eyes.
THREATS TO OWLS
All owls are listed in Appendix II of the international CITES treaty (the Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Although owls have long been hunted, owl poaching may be on the rise. Owls are threatened by poisons and herbicides accumulated in rodents, vehicle collisions, entrapment in fences and wires, habitat loss, nesting site loss, disturbance by birders, and harassment by humans due to superstitions.
Owls are also victims of the animal entertainment industry. Keeping owls in captivity in tiny enclosures causes them emotional and psychological stress as a result of confinement and boredom. Even under the best of circumstances, captivity is cruel for wild animals. Confined to tiny areas and gawked at by crowds, animals in exhibits and acts endure constant stress. Without exercise, they become listless, their immune systems are weakened, and they become prone to sickness; many resort to self-mutilation in reaction to stress or boredom. Mental illness is rampant among confined animals. Torn from their families and deprived of all dignity, every part of their lives is controlled by their captors.
A large, distinctive, and predatory sea creature, the swordfish is an ocean dweller of impressive size and appearance. Their scientific name, Xiphias gladius, comes from the words for ‘sword’ in Greek and Latin, which describes them perfectly as these fish have a long, flat bill that looks very much like a long blade. They are also known as broadbills in some countries, and though they look similar to other fish like the marlin, with a comparable sleek and rounded body type, they’re actually the only members of the Xiphiidae family.
Swordfish generally inhabit temperate and tropical parts of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, since they prefer water temperatures between 18 and 22 degrees Celsius. But they can tolerate more extreme conditions as well, having been found in water as warm as 27 degrees and as cold as 5 degrees Celsius. They are one of the migratory fish species (although not schooling fish), following prey to colder waters in the summertime.
Swordfish can grow to be quite sizable. The largest recorded measurements are 14.9 feet in length and 1,430 lb in weight, while generally they tend to be around almost 10 feet on average. Interestingly, female swordfish tend to be larger than the males, although they have the same appearance otherwise. Pacific swordfish reach a greater size, on average, than their relatives living in the northwest Atlantic or Mediterranean.
Swordfish will swim close to the surface at times, but can also be found swimming as deep as 1800 feet deep underwater. As for their lifespan, the maximum average age is believed to be at least 9 years, but the process of aging swordfish can be difficult.
Like most fish, swordfish are ectothermic (cold-blooded), but, like a rare few other species of fish (tuna and some sharks, for instance) they have organs next to their eyes that actually heat their eyes and brains, improving their vision and therefore their ability to catch prey.
There are some other distinguishing characteristics that are unique to swordfish as well. Unlike other sea creatures, these fish actually lose all of their teeth and scales by the time they’re adults, and they’ve been seen to bask at the surface of the water, sometimes even jumping out of the water entirely – a behavior called breaching. They have a large primary dorsal fin, and a smaller secondary dorsal fin close to their tail.
Swordfish have been found to host over 50 different types of parasites – in fact, some parasitic larvae may even be able to be identified genetically and used as a ‘marker’ to determine where a swordfish originated from.
Mostly seeking prey at night, swordfish tend to be speedy, agile and efficient hunters that aren’t particularly picky when it comes to what they eat. Mackerel, hake, rockfish, herring, squid and even crustaceans have all been included on swordfish menus. These fantastic fish don’t actually use their bill to ‘spear’ their food, like many people believe. Instead, they slash at larger prey with their bill to stun and dismember it, while smaller food tends to be swallowed whole.
As larger predators, swordfish don’t have very many enemies of their own, although killer whales and mako sharks have been known to take on a risky swordfish meal from time to time.
Spring and summer are prime breeding seasons in the North Pacific for these fish; though November to February is the spawning season for South Atlantic swordfish and breeding takes place year-round for swordfish living near the equator. Some of the most well-known spawning grounds for swordfish are in the Mediterranean, however, just south of Italy and Sicily large numbers of eggs and young swordfish have been recorded. Warmer temperatures are preferred for spawning, so seasons usually correspond with water temperatures that remain at 20 degrees Celsius or above.
To reproduce, females release a huge number of buoyant eggs (anywhere from 1 to 29 million) into the water, where they are fertilized by clouds of sperm from the male swordfish. For such a large fish, the newly hatched larvae are tiny, measuring only 4mm long. They’re also born with a short snout, which only starts to lengthen into the beginnings of a future sword-like bill as they approach 1cm in length. In the first year swordfish can grow so quickly that they can reach a length of up to 90cm (almost 1m).
THREATS TO SWORDFISH
Humans and human activity are currently the biggest threats to swordfish populations. The size and speed of these large fish make them a challenging and popular target for sport fishermen, although they’re also caught for commercial consumption. Swordfish is a popular menu item at restaurants worldwide because of its firm, white, meat, but tends to contain high levels of mercury.
Although Atlantic populations have been protected by regulations and efforts have been successful to restore swordfish numbers there, Mediterranean swordfish are at higher risk because of illegal driftnet fisheries which kill a large number of marine life species. Greenpeace International has also added the swordfish to its seafood ‘red list’.
Sparrows are small birds found around the globe. Originating from Europe, Northern Africa and Asia, human travelers introduced sparrows to almost every continent. Sparrows prefer to live close to human settlements, including rural and urban areas. There are around 140 species of sparrow.
Sparrows are very small and have stout bodies covered with black, brown and white feathers. Their wings are rounded. Sparrows have smooth, rounded heads. Male sparrows have reddish backs and black bibs. Female sparrows have brown backs with stripes.
Sparrows can fly fast and can swim quickly to escape predators. They can even swim under water. Sparrows often hop around instead of walking. They bathe in dust.
Sparrows are omnivores, feeding on seeds, fruit and insects. They are known for adjusting their eating habits based on food sources provided by humans. They are frequent visitors to bird feeders. Sparrows usually forage for food on the ground.
Sparrows are very social birds. They live in colonies, called flocks, and fly together. While not usually territorial birds, sparrows will aggressively protect their nests from other sparrows and other animals.
Sparrows are usually non-migratory, but urban flocks may move to the countryside in the late summer to feed on grains.
Sparrows are extremely vocal birds that chirp all the time. Sparrows use song to attract mates and announce their territory. Female sparrows are attracted not just to the male sparrow's song, but also to how well it reflects his ability to learn. Males that utilize more learned components in their songs, and that better match the adult bird they learned their songs from, are preferred by the females. Sparrows also use a set of postures and behaviors to communicate with other.
Sparrow mating season occurs in the spring. Sparrows were once thought to be monogamous, but most sparrows have sex with multiple partners. Sparrows construct nests in trees, shrubs and man-made structures. Male sparrows often build the nest while attempting to attract females. Interested females then help in the construction. Sometimes sparrows take over nests of other bird species. Female sparrows lay 4 to 5 eggs per clutch, having several broods each year. Mother sparrows incubate the eggs for a couple of weeks. Both the female and the male may take care of the babies until they are strong enough to leave the nest, usually in about 15 days.
Being small birds, sparrows have numerous predators including dogs, cats, foxes, snakes and birds of prey.
Sparrows live up to 13 years in the wild.
THREATS TO SPARROWS
Sparrow populations have decreased dramatically due to irresponsible human activities. Some sparrows are now listed as threatened, nearly endangered. Sparrows are threatened by modern agricultural practices, pollution, pesticides, predators and a reduced amount of gardens. Some sparrows are losing their main food sources and are struggling to survive winters.
Zebras have black and white stripes all over their bodies except their stomachs, which are white. They have four one-toed hoofs. Their slender, pointed ears reach up to eight inches in length. Zebras have manes of short hair that stick straight up from their necks. The stripes on their bodies continue to the mane. They also have a tuft of hair at the end of their tails. The Grevy's Zebra differs from all other zebras in its primitive characteristics and different behavior.
Zebras reach six to eight-and-a-half feet in length. Their tails are an additional one-and-a-half feet long. Zebras weigh between 530 and 820 pounds. They are four to five feet tall at the shoulder. Equus zebra is generally larger than Equus zebra hartmannae.
Members of the genus Equus (horses, donkeys and zebras) can live 25 to 45 years.
The Plains Zebra (Equus quagga, formerly Equus burchelli) is the most common, and has or had about five subspecies distributed across much of southern and eastern Africa. It, or particular subspecies of it, have also been known as the Common Zebra, the Dauw, Burchell's Zebra (actually the extinct subspecies, Equus quagga burchelli), and the Quagga (another extinct subspecies, Equus quagga quagga).
The Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra) of southwest Africa tends to have a sleek coat with a white belly and narrower stripes than the Plains Zebra. It has two subspecies and is classified as endangered.
Grevy's Zebra (Equus grevyi) is the largest type, with an erect mane, and a long, narrow head making it appear rather mule like. It is a creature of the semi arid grasslands of Ethiopia, Somalia, and northern Kenya. It is endangered too. There are two subspecies of mountain zebra. Equus zebra is endangered and Equus zebra hartmannae is threatened.
Zebras occur in southwestern Africa. Equus zebra inhabits South Africa and Equus zebra hartmannae inhabits Namibia and Angola. The primary habitats of zebras are the slopes and plateaus of mountainous regions. Zebras inhabit elevations of up to 6,500 feet. Plains Zebras are much less numerous than they once were, because of human activities such as hunting them for their meat and hides, as well as encroachment on much of their former habitat, but they remain common in game reserves. The Grevy's Zebra (Equus grevyi), sometimes known as the Imperial Zebra, is the largest species of zebra. It is found in the wild in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, and is considered endangered, partly due to hunting for its skin which fetches a high price on the world market. Compared to other zebras, it is tall, has large ears, and its stripes are narrower.
Zebras feed on a variety of grasses. They are most active in the early morning and late afternoon. They spend up to half of the daylight hours feeding. A zebra's top speed is slower than a horse, however they have much greater stamina. Zebras are highly social and usually form small family groups consisting of a single stallion, one, two, or several mares, and their recent offspring. Groups are permanent, and group size tends to vary with habitat: in poor country the groups are small. From time to time, Plains Zebra families group together into large herds, both with one another and with other grazing species, notably Blue Wildebeests.
Unlike many of the large ungulates of Africa, Plains Zebras prefer, but do not require, short grass to graze on. In consequence, they range more widely than many other species, even into woodland, and they are often the first grazing species to appear in a well vegetated area. Only after zebras have cropped and trampled the long grasses do wildebeests and gazelles move in. Nevertheless, for protection from predators, Plains Zebras retreat into open areas with good visibility at night time, and take turns standing watch.
Grevy's Zebra has a social system characterized by small groups of adults associated for short time periods of a few months. Territories are marked by dung piles and females within the territory mate solely with the resident male. Small bachelor herds are known. This social structure is well adapted for the dry and arid scrubland and plains that Grevy's Zebra primarily inhabits, less for the more lush habitats used by the other zebras. Like all zebras, Grevy's Zebra males fight amongst themselves over territory and females. The Grevy's is vocal during fights, braying loudly. The Grevy's communicates over long distances.
Foals (baby zebras) weigh 55 pounds at birth. Mares normally give birth to their first foal when they are between three and six years of age. Normally they then give birth to one foal every one to three years until they are 24.
THREATS TO ZEBRAS
The spread of agriculture is one of the main threats to zebra. Their habitat is destroyed to make room for new farmland, and they are hunted and killed so that domestic livestock can graze on the land. Zebras are also hunted for their skins.
Zebras are common victims of the animal entertainment industry. They are often found on display at zoos, roadside zoos and "wildlife safaris." Denied their wild nature, strong family bonds and natural social interactions, they face the constant stresses of life in captivity.
Kangaroos have powerful hind legs and short, thumbless forelimbs. Kangaroos can travel at speeds up to 30 miles per hour and can leap some 30 feet. Kangaroos use their long tails for balancing. Their bodies are covered in thick, coarse, wooly hair that can be shades of gray, brown or red. Kangaroos are marsupials, which means that females carry newborns, or "joeys," in a pouch on the front of their abdomens.
Kangaroos have developed a number of adaptations to a dry, infertile continent and a highly variable climate. As with all marsupials, the young are born at a very early stage of development after a gestation of 31 to 36 days. At this stage, only the forelimbs are somewhat developed, to allow the newborn to climb to the pouch and attach to a teat. In comparison, a human embryo at a similar stage of development would be about 7 weeks old, and premature babies born at less than 23 weeks are usually not mature enough to survive.
Red and gray kangaroos stand between five and six feet tall. Most weigh between 50 and 120 pounds, though some can reach 200 pounds. Female kangaroos are generally smaller than males of the same species. On average, kangaroos live in the wild for six to eight years. Kangaroos are found in Australia and Tasmania, as well as on surrounding islands. They live in varied habitats, from forests and woodland areas to grassy plains and savannas. They are grazing herbivores, which means their diet consists mainly of grasses. They can survive long periods without water.
Kangaroos live and travel in organized groups or "mobs," dominated by the largest male. A mob may have ten or more males and females. The dominant male (called a boomer) is based on his size and age. A boomer has temporary exclusive access to females in a mob for mating. A boomer may find himself wandering in and out of a mob checking out the females and intimidating the other males who try to mate with the females within the mob. Courtship behavior in most species of kangaroos includes the male "checking" the female's cloaca. The males are often rejected by the females for their smaller size, but in the case of a larger kangaroo, the female may instead simply move away.
Often, when the female is being checked, it urinates. The male kangaroo will then make a practice of sniffing the urine multiple times until it is satisfied, then proceed to the mating cycle. Studies of Kangaroo reproduction conclude that this ritual is typical for a male kangaroo to check if the female kangaroo is receptive to the male. The sexually aroused male follows the responsive female (she raises her tail). Tail scratching (a form of foreplay) can occur between the male and female. The arched tail is indicative that either one or both kangaroos are ready to mate. The male kangaroo may sometimes be found giving the female kangaroo a back rub before mating.
Kangaroos are shy and retiring by nature, and in normal circumstances present no threat to humans. Male kangaroos often "box" amongst each other, playfully, for dominance, or in competition for mates. The dexterity of their forepaws is utilized in both punching and grappling with the foe, but the real danger lies in a serious kick with the hindleg. The sharpened toenails can disembowel an opponent, and this is the fate of many dogs that wrestle with a boomer.
Usually, female kangaroos give birth to one joey at a time. Newborns weigh as little as 0.03 ounces at birth. After birth, the joey crawls into its mother’s pouch, where it will nurse and continue to grow and develop. Red kangaroo joeys do not leave the pouch for good until they are more than eight months old. Gray kangaroo joeys wait until they are almost a year old. A female kangaroo has the ability to freeze the development of an embryo until the previous joey is able to leave the pouch. The composition of the milk produced by the mother varies according to the needs of the joey. In addition, she is able to simultaneously produce two different kinds of milk for the newborn and the older joey who still lives in the pouch.
THREATS TO KANGAROOS
Threats to kangaroos include humans hunting them for meat and hides. Also, the introduction of domestic herbivores, such as sheep, cattle and rabbits, increases competition for many plants and may cause food scarcity in times of drought.
Millions of kangaroos are killed each year for the meat and leather industries. Kangaroos also suffer in the inhumane animal entertainment industry. Some are used for cruel "kangaroo boxing" acts, dragged around the country and forced to participate in boxing matches against people. These animals often suffer from poor diets, inadequate veterinary care and stress-induced disease. Some have even died while touring.
Others are kept on display, living a life in captivity. Even under the best of circumstances, captivity is cruel for kangaroos. Confined to tiny areas and gawked at by crowds, animals in exhibits and acts endure constant stress. They may suffer from temperature extremes and irregular feeding and watering. Without exercise, they become listless, their immune systems are weakened, and they become prone to sickness; many resort to self-mutilation in reaction to stress or boredom. Mental illness is rampant among confined animals. Torn from their families and deprived of all dignity, every part of their lives is controlled by their captors.
While zoos may appear to be educational and conservation-oriented, most are designed with the needs and desires of the visitors in mind, not the needs of the animals. Many animals in zoos exhibit abnormal behavior as a result of being deprived of their natural environments and social structures. When the facility breeds too many animals they become "surplus" and often are sold to laboratories, traveling shows, shooting ranches, or to private individuals who may be unqualified to care for them.
Blue jays are large songbirds belonging to the crow family. Known for their blue plumage, perky crest and noisy calls, they are intelligent and complex and help spread oak trees. Blue jays inhabit North America in deciduous, coniferous and mixed forests, as well as parks and residential areas. They are frequent visitors of backyard bird feeders.
There are four subspecies of blue jay. The northern blue jay inhabits the northern U.S. and Canada and has dull plumage with pale blue coloration. The Florida blue jay is the smallest blue jay and is similar in color to the northern blue jay. The interior blue jay inhabits the Midwest U.S. The coastal blue jay inhabits the southern coasts of the eastern U.S. and is a vivid blue color.
While blue jays appear blue in color, their feathers actually have brown pigment. Special cells distort light creating the impression of a blue color. Blue jays have white faces, bellies and throats. Their wings and tails have white, blue and black plumage. Male blue jays are slightly larger than female blue jays.
Blue jays have a crest on the top of their heads. Blue jay crests stand erect when they are being aggressive, and stand brush-like when they are afraid. When they are relaxed, their crests are flattened. They easily recognize each other by the varying black bridles across their faces, napes and throats.
Blue jays are able to fly up to 25 miles per hour. They are diurnal, active during the day.
Blue jay are omnivores, feeding on seeds, nuts, fruit, insects, young birds and eggs. They have very strong bills capable of cracking nuts. Blue jays will often chase smaller birds away from food sources, but will wait their turn when larger birds are feeding. They store acorns in the ground and sometimes forget to retrieve them, helping in the spread of forests. Blue jays carry their food in their throats, beaks and the upper esophagus.
Blue jays are incredibly intelligent birds. They communicate with body language and high-pitched calls and loud screams. They have a very large vocabulary. Their characteristic jay call warns other birds of nearby predators. They are able to imitate the sounds of other animals, including humans. Blue jays imitate hawks to determine if any hawks are in the area and to distract other birds from a potential food source. Blue jays are very curious birds, and young blue jays often play with human-made objects.
Blue jays usually live in small family groups. When alone, blue jays are subject to predation, but when in groups they work together to fight off predators.
Some blue jays migrate. They may migrate every year, every other year, or only when winter food sources are scarce or weather conditions are extreme. Younger blue jays migrate more often than adult blue jays. When blue jays migrate, they gather in large flocks to begin their journey together.
Blue jays are preyed upon by owls, hawks and cats. Snakes, opossums, raccoons, crows and squirrels prey on baby blue jays and blue jay eggs.
Blue jay mating season takes place mid-March through July. Blue jay couples usually mate for life. Male blue jays collect twigs, roots, moss and bark to construct nests. Female blue jays build the cup-shaped nests in trees and lay 2 to 7 brownish or bluish eggs. Blue jays are very protective of their nesting sites. Following an incubation period of 16 to 18 days, hatchlings emerge from the eggs. Newborn blue jays are blind, naked and helpless. The father blue jay provides food for the mother blue jay while she nurtures the chicks. Young blue jays leave the nest after 17 to 21 days. They stay with their parents for one to two months. Blue jays reach sexual maturity at about one year old.
Blue jays can live up to 26 years in the wild.
THREATS TO BLUE JAYS
Blue jays are threatened by collisions with man-made structures, predation, pollution, pesticides and diseases. While considered a common bird, even common bird populations are alarmingly declining due to irresponsible human activities. Loss of habitat, animal agriculture, pesticides and forestry are the largest threats to bird populations. Collisions with power lines, buildings and vehicles kills 900 million birds each year in the United States and Canada alone.
Magpies are small to medium sized birds found throughout the globe. There are about 20 species of magpie spread across Asia, Europe, Africa, North America and parts of Australia. Magpie inhabit grasslands, open woodlands, farmlands, hedgerows, gardens and parks.
Magpies are closely related to crows, but the magpie has very distinguishable black and white feathers. The size of the magpie varies depending on species. Magpies looks much larger than they really are; their tails make up half their length. The average weight of a magpie is only half that of a pigeon.
The upper part of a magpie body and wings are black-colored with an iridescent green, blue and purple sheen. Their bellies, parts of their wings, flanks and ramps are covered with white plumage. Magpies have long, pointed beaks. Their wings are short and rounded. Their tails are long and wedge-shaped. Female magpies and male magpies look alike.
Magpies are known for being incredibly intelligent birds, and their ability to mimic the sounds of other birds. They are self-aware and are able to recognize their own reflections in mirrors. Magpies communicate via loud rattling calls.
Magpies are dominant and curious birds. They are very social and gregarious. Magpies have a confident demeanor and are often seen strutting about. They recognize and scold humans who they perceive to be threats to their nests.
Despite possessing large wings, magpies do not usually take long flights. They prefer to stay close to cover. When in flight, their long tails make it easy to maneuver through the air and rapidly change direction. Magpies will hide in bushes and trees to catch prey and hide from predators. They are able to sense approaching danger very quickly.
Magpies are omnivorous birds, feeding on a variety of seeds, nuts, fruits, insects, eggs, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Magpies take advantage of new food sources created by humans.
Magpies have a reputation for collecting shiny objects to decorate their nests, but research shows that objects that are shiny actually repel magpies.
Magpie couples typically remain in their territories, but non-breeding magpies wander widely in bands or gangs. Magpies live in loose flocks during the summer months, and in large communities of about 200 birds during the winter months.
Magpies mate for life. Magpie mating season takes place in spring when the weather begins to warm. They usually build huge nests in the trees. If there are no suitable trees, magpies will build nests on the ground. A magpie nest has a roof, and often two entrances. Some magpies build open nests. Nests can take 50 days to construct. Old nests are often repaired and reused, or a new nest is built on top on the old nest. Female magpies lay up to 8 small eggs. Magpie babies hatch after an incubation period of about 3 weeks. Female magpies incubate the eggs; male magpies provide food for the mother. Both magpie parents take care of their babies. Magpie chicks are able to fly in about 3 to 4 weeks. They remain with their parents for about 2 months, then fly off to join other juvenile magpies.
Natural predators to magpies include dogs, foxes, cats and other birds.
Magpies live about 6 years in the wild.
THREATS TO MAGPIES
In some parts of the world magpie populations are in decline due to habitat loss, animal agriculture, pollution, pesticides and changes in climate.
Magpies are often considered pests, but they are an important part of the ecosystem. Magpies help control insect populations, clean up dead animals and garbage, and their nests are used by many other animals. Although magpies prey on songbirds, they do not have a significant impact on songbird populations. The real reason for the decline in small bird populations is habitat destruction. The misconception that magpies are pests results in thousands being caught and killed every year.
One of 30 cougar subspecies, the Florida panther is an endangered species. Panthers are tawny brown on the back and pale gray underneath, with white flecks on the head, neck and shoulder. Males weigh up to 130 pounds; females 70 pounds. Panthers live in cypress swamps and pine and hardwood hammock forests.
Originally from western Texas and found throughout the southeastern states; they are now only in Florida. Panthers feed mostly on white-tailed deer, wild hogs, rabbits, raccoons, armadillos and birds. They are solitary, territorial and often travel at night. Males have a home range of up to 400 square miles and females about 50 to 100 square miles.
Panthers reach sexual maturity at about 3 years. Mating season is December through February. Gestation lasts about 90 days and females bear 2-6 kittens. Young stay with the mother for about two years. Females do not mate again until the young have left.
THREATS TO PANTHERS
Threats to panthers include habitat loss because of human development, collision with vehicles, parasites, feline distemper, feline calicivirus (an upper respiratory infection) and other diseases. The biggest threat to their survival is human encroachment. Historical persecution reduced this wide-ranging, large carnivore to a small area of south Florida. This created a tiny isolated population that became inbred.
Reduced speeding zones, construction of panther underpasses, public education, captive breeding programs and research are efforts being taken to save the Florida panther from extinction.
The black panther is the common name for a black specimen (a genetic variant) of several species of cats. Zoologically, a panther is the same as a leopard, while the term Panthera describes the whole family of big cats. But, in North America, the term panther is also used for puma. In South America it could also mean a jaguar. Elsewhere in the world it refers to leopard.
It does not exist as a separate species. The genetic variant is most common in jaguars (Panthera onca) where it is due to a dominant gene mutation, and leopards (Panthera pardus) where it is due to a recessive gene mutation. Close examination of one of these black cats will show that the typical markings are still there, and are simply hidden by the surplus of the black pigment melanin. Cats with melanism can coexist with litter mates that do not have this condition. In cats that hunt mainly at night, the condition is not detrimental. White panthers also exist, these being albino or leucistic individuals of the same three species.
It is probable that melanism is a favorable evolutionary mutation with a selective advantage under certain conditions for its possessor, since it is more commonly found in regions of dense forest, where light levels are lower. Melanism can also be linked to beneficial mutations in the immune system.
In jaguars, the mutation is dominant hence black jaguars can produce both black and spotted cubs, but spotted jaguars only produce spotted cubs when bred together. In leopards, the mutation is recessive and some spotted leopards can produce black cubs (if both parents carry the gene in hidden form) while black leopards always breed true when mated together. The black jaguar was considered a separate species by indigenous peoples.
Black leopards are the most common form of black panther in captivity and have been selectively bred for decades as exhibits or exotic pets. This inhumane inbreeding for the sake of appearance has adversely affected temperament. They are smaller and more lightly built than jaguars. The spotted pattern is still visible on black leopards.
It is a myth that their mothers often reject them at a young age because of their color. In actuality, they are more temperamental because they have been inbred (e.g. brother/sister, father/daughter, mother/son matings) to preserve the coloration. The poor temperament has been bred into the strain as a side effect of inbreeding. It is this poor temperament that leads to problems of maternal care in captivity as the proximity of humans stresses the mother.
Black leopards are reported from moist densely forested areas in south western China, Burma, Assam and Nepal; from Travancore and other parts of southern India and are said to be common in Java and the southern part of the Malay Peninsula where they may be more numerous than spotted leopards. They are less common in tropical Africa, but have been reported from Ethiopia (formerly Abyssinia), the forests of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares. One was recorded in the equatorial forest of Cameroon.