Monday, March 31, 2008

Meet the Staff

Even though you don't have to own a pet to work at The Jungle Store, all of us do. We thought it might be fun for you to meet us by meeting the animals we share our lives with.

Spatch is a Liver-spotted Dalmatian. He lives with our Purchasing Manager. Spatch got his name because he's not just spotted but patchy as well. Spatch is something of an acrobat. Not only does he fancy a bounce on the trampoline, the more children that join him the better, but he climbs fences. Really. Spatch specializes in chain link. He puts his paws into the metal rungs and uses the fence itself as a ladder. A clever trick unless you want him to stay in the yard.

You could see how Spatch's skill with ladders (even improvised ones) may be a help to firefighters, but that isn't what made the breed a firehouse fixture. Dalmatians were originally used as carriage dogs because they have a natural affinity for horses. Horses were less skittish in new surroundings if they had their Dalmatian with them. This came in especially handy when dealing with the noise and tumult of a fire scene. As an added bonus, the Dalmatian's white coat made them easier to see at night or in smoke-filled conditions.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Generalists

How many of you have met a skunk? I'm happy to say that I have and that we parted ways amiably, no sharing of odors. Skunks are an increasing fixture in urban environments. Even if you haven't seen them (they are quiet, nocturnal and shy), you've surely smelled them. Even with all the hype, a skunk will only spray if it feels threatened or cornered. If you stay still and quiet, the skunk will too.

Skunks are like raccoons and foxes, happy to snack on your compost and garbage and then head for a nap in your shed. They are nomadic and will probably not stay in your yard for long, which is a shame as they are very beneficial. Skunks eat small rodents and insects and include scorpions and spiders on their menu. They are not as easily startled from a meal as opossums may be and they certainly don't mind sharing their dinner. There are reports of skunks entering homes through the pet doors. They share a nice meal with the family cat, and, when finished, they sleep it off in a nearby closet. Skunks are also carrion eaters and will handle a road kill faster than animal control.

I remember opening my mother's garage one night in early spring to find a skunk dozing peacefully behind her stowed lawn mower. We simply walked away, leaving the door open—wide open. When we went back a few hours later, he was gone. Skunks are clean, gentle animals that never seem to be in a hurry. The hurrying seems to come from the animals around them.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Generalists

Last night, as I contemplated which generalist's story I would tell next, I heard a low-pitched, haunting sound coming through the sparse trees across the street. We have a train crossing a few miles from us, and I love the occasional whistle, especially on a chill and starry night. But this noise was not a train.

In my very suburban neighborhood, there are at least two Owls and they call to each other in the night. I'm pretty sure they are Barred Owls, although I haven't gotten a good look at them. Text books say that Barred Owls can only survive in "old-growth forests," but in the last few years, these owls have rewritten those text books. The largest population of Barred Owls currently inhabits the city of Charlotte, North Carolina. Scientists have tried to determine why and found a rather obvious answer, one the owls hit on years ago. A Barred Owl's preference for old-growth forests is two-fold. First the trees are mature enough to offer holes to nest in. Second, the dense upper canopy keeps the under canopy bare and stunted. Barred owls hunt by sight. They sit in a tree branch and wait for something to move under them. Little or no undergrowth helps in the owl's success, so an old-growth forest makes sense.

Now think of your well-established suburban/urban neighborhood. For our pleasure we line our streets with oaks and elms, watering and nurturing them for size and breadth of branches. Underneath these stately trees, we weekly mow our lawns, providing broad swaths of close-clipped sod. We also provide bird feeders full of seed, and well-mulched flower beds—enticements to small birds and rodents. You've got to think that when the Barred Owls were driven from the old-growth forests and winged their way into our cities, they must have been well pleased. I love having these owls as my neighbors. I'm sure they are helping to curb the rabbit and mice populations and they seem contented as I've heard them, off and on, over the last three years. What I love most about having them nearby, is that they add mystery to an otherwise very middleclass world.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Generalists

Our next urban dweller and generalist is the Fox. Although England has a higher population of urban foxes than we do in the States, it is probably because England has no raccoons for the fox to compete with. That doesn't mean the foxes aren't out there, prowling our cities and backyards. You could easily be blaming other animals—raccoons, coyotes, cats—for the mischief or mayhem that is actually being caused by the fox.

Foxes are as opportunistic as raccoons, helping themselves to shelter in our sheds and abandoned barns or grabbing a quick snack from our garbage cans and compost heaps. They just tend to be more secretive about it. Foxes canvas a wide territory, or range, and move their dens frequently. They tend to be more strictly nocturnal, although finding a fox basking on your trampoline in the afternoon sunshine is not cause for alarm. Foxes are unconcerned with the presence of your dog or cat (unless a large dog) and will tend to ignore them, or even play with them for a bit, before securing their snack and moving on. Foxes are not strictly carnivorous and include insects, vegetables and fruit in their diet. Unlike raccoons, foxes will not stay on your back porch to consume their meal, but instead cache it. This means a fox retreats with its food and finds a "safe" place to bury it. The food will be retrieved and eaten later, even much later. Foxes have an amazing sense of smell and have no problem finding their buried meals. So, the next time you blame your dog for digging up the kids pet rabbit, you might want to look for the sharp face and bushy tail of a fox.

This Youtube video is a little long (2 minutes), but the fox is having such fun, I couldn't resist.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Generalists

Raccoons have benefited greatly from the presence of humans, something not many animals can claim. Their intelligence, omnivorous diet and amazing adaptability have caused raccoon populations to increase, even quadruple, in urban environments. As far as raccoons are concerned, humans host the perfect "bed and breakfast." With backyard gardens, compost heaps, and brimming garbage cans, we set a bountiful buffet. Our abandoned cars, sheds, decks and attics provide warm, safe dens. Our mere presence protects raccoons from predators. Coyotes, wolves, foxes and mountain lions will hesitate to invade our property for the sake of a raccoon. And we think raccoons are non-threatening and cute, something that definitely works in the raccoon's favor.

It is best to remember, raccoons are wild animals, even if they've become close neighbors. It is safer for you, your family, your pets and the raccoon to discourage interaction. Raccoons can carry rabies and parasites and will kill your pets to gain ownership of the outdoor food bowl. Simple precautions—weighting your trashcans, keeping them tightly sealed, feeding your pets indoors, closing crawl spaces or decking—will make your yard less attractive.

To learn more about raccoons and how interesting they are, visit our Animal Facts Pages.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Generalists

Did you guess? Do you remember the question? I'd asked which animal relies on huge urban pigeon populations to help it survive in the city.

The answer is the Peregrine Falcon. Now I know you might be saying "Hold on there, Jungle Jane. I remember in the 1970s the Peregrine Falcon was critically endangered and extinct on the East Coast of the United States. True generalists don't get critically endangered, they thrive!"
And I would say, "You're right, unless the animal in question was driven to near extinction by humans." Now that the U.S. and other countries have banned the use of the pesticide DDT, the Peregrine Falcon is making an amazing comeback. And one of the places they are coming back to is the city.

Since humans were responsible for the Peregrine's decline, humans took responsibility for their resurgence. Captive breeding programs were started and achieved success. However, when it came time to release the fledglings, there was another problem. Natural habitats for falcons are mountain ranges, river valleys and coastlines. But the falcon's natural enemies, foxes, owls, and raccoons, also inhabit these areas. Where would the fledglings have the high, cliff-like habitat they preferred, but without the threat of predation? Cities became the answer. Falcons could perch and nest on skyscrapers and cathedrals. And since a peregrine's preferred food is medium-sized birds it can catch on the wing, the hope that they would become a natural deterrent to the overwhelming pigeon population was a bonus. Currently, successful nesting pairs of Peregrine Falcons can be found in cities across the United States, Canada and Europe. Wild falcons are also enjoying the abundance of an urban habitat, and in 1999 the Peregrine Falcon was officially removed from the Endangered Species list. The Peregrine's population has continued to grow and among city dwellers, it has become a mark of distinction to live, work or worship in a building that is graced by the presence of a Falcon.

Photo courtesy of Philip MacKenzie

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Pigeons: The Generalists

When I was a student in Boston, I wondered why I'd never seen a baby pigeon. I'd see other baby birds and nests, but I'd never see anything to suggest the origins of the pigeon. They seemed to spring, fully formed, from the concrete of the city. Where did they come from? And why were they everywhere?
Pigeons have been bred and raised by humans for hundreds of years. We've used them for food, to carry our messages and to provide racing sport. The pigeons in our U.S cities were called "rock doves" and were brought here by early settlers. They are clean, intelligent, hardy and adaptable.
The reason you don't see pigeon nests, or baby pigeons, is because pigeons are doting and protective parents. Pigeons mate for life and both take part in building the nest. Once a safe and secretive place is chosen, the male will bring one twig at a time to the female. She will decide if and how to use it in the nest. The female lays two eggs and both male and female will incubate them. When the young hatch, both parents will feed them. If the first nest is successful, a second nest will be built and a second pair of eggs laid, even before the first pair of hatchlings are fledged. Pigeons will mate all year long and can produce 5 to 6 broods a year. They are cooperative among their kind and will feed chicks who aren't their own.
You've actually got to hand it to the pigeon. Not only can they tolerate the conditions of a city, but they can thrive there. There are 1,000s of ledges and overpasses on and under which to build their nests. Humans provide more than enough food, consciously or, through garbage, unconsciously. The dense population of people discourages predators. It's a fact; pigeons have found an ecological niche few other animals can fit into.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Generalists

It seems a couple of coyotes are killing small dogs and cats in my neighborhood. You can't blame the coyotes; they're simply doing what coyotes do—trying to find a meal. Of course I understand the sadness of the pet owners too. You would think letting your pet out into the backyard would be a safe thing. After all, we don't live in a wild or remote place even though we do have a park and an area of reserved open space adjoining the neighborhood. More often you hear of wild animals adapting to, even thriving with, a nearby human presence. These animals are usually generalists. That means they have an extensive and varied diet, adaptability to habitat and a clever, resourceful mind. In other words, they have all the qualities that have made us humans so successful.

Coyotes tend to hunt in pairs although small fluid packs of 5 – 6 related adults may join forces for a time. When hunting as a larger group, they will hunt larger prey and do so with coordinated effort, much like a wolf pack. Usually, coyotes prefer smaller game and so have been less of a threat to livestock, and less noticed by humans. Coyotes are opportunistic. As wolf packs are driven out of habitat, or killed off, the coyote has slipped in to fill the predatory niche. Although once a diurnal animal, continued contact with human populations has made them nocturnal. Coyotes can survive on almost anything and include rodents, rabbits, carrion, fruit, insects, vegetables and human garbage in their diet. There's been at least one coyote caught in New York City's Central Park, and a den of coyotes live in Washington D.C.'s Rock Creek Park, keeping down the vermin population and eating nearby road kill. A recent census discovered that close to 2,000 coyotes live in and around the city of Chicago. Although most humans don't realize it, it is generally coyotes that keep neighborhood rabbit populations under control. I know last year our block was, literally, hopping with rabbits. Maybe that's what brought the coyotes. Unfortunately they've turned to easier prey and the rising outrage may prove their undoing. I truly hope that doesn't happen.

Photo courtesy of Justin Johnsen.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Why Are Lambs A Symbol Of Easter?

Do you know how lambs came to be associated with Easter?

In the book of Exodus the Israelites were told to sprinkle their doorframes with the blood of a lamb, thereby telling the Angel of Death to "Pass Over" their homes during the killing of the first born. This Passover Lamb became an important factor in Jewish life. Subsequently, when Jesus Christ came, he was called "the Lamb of God," and the sprinkling of His blood would take away the sins of the world. For Christians, the lamb symbolizes Christ, and there is no more important animal associated with the celebration of Easter.

Sheep were domesticated over 12,000 years ago. Some of the most ancient written recipes include lamb as an ingredient. Sheep have been prized as a productive commodity. We use their wool for clothing, their milk for cheese and butter, their skin for parchment, their lanolin for weather-proofing, and their lambs for food. They do not require as much pasturage as cattle and are easier to maintain. Cortez and his Spanish soldiers first brought sheep to the New World in 1519. In the 1800s, range wars between cattlemen and shepherds led to bloody conflicts in the American west. Although Americans don't eat much lamb, to the rest of the world, it is a dietary staple. Lambs and sheep are truly a significant part of our cultural history.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Why Are Chicks An Easter Symbol?

Eggs, and thereby chicks, have been a symbol of Spring for thousands of years. The egg represents fertility, the chick represents new life. Christians adopted the egg into their Easter celebrations, using it to symbolize the rebirth one can find in Christ.

For a while, papal edicts banned the eating of eggs during the 40-day period of Lent that leads up to Easter. Of course no one told the hens, so there were plenty of eggs to use when the Lenten fast was over. Hard-boiling the eggs helped them last longer. How people came to color eggs is not known, but the tradition is very old. Ukrainians use a form of batiking called Pysanka to produce the colorful, intricate designs found on their Easter eggs.

Picture of Pysanka Eggs supplied by Luba Petrusha

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Tale Of Easter Rabbits

Rabbits are not so much a Christian symbol of Easter as they are a harbinger of Spring. Pagan festivals of spring, or Eastre, were all about the growing fertility of the earth. Nothing spoke stronger to that than the prolific reproduction of the rabbit and hare. Did you know female rabbits can conceive a second litter while still pregnant with the first? Uffdah!

The Easter Bunny was brought to America by German settlers. They told their children the story of the "Oschter Haws," a magical rabbit who would hop by in the night and leave beautifully painted eggs. Children were encouraged to decorate their hats or bonnets like nests and leave them in sheltered places in the house or barn for the rabbit to fill. Americans were thrilled to adopt this tradition and, as we do, have expanded on it.

To see our great selection of Easter rabbits and other animals, click here!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Roosters And Easter

Easter is almost here. There are many symbols and traditions that surround this most holy of Christian holidays. Now until Sunday, we'll be looking at the significance of Animals in the holiday.

The Rooster is placed on the steeple of churches in The Netherlands instead of a cross. Peter denied Christ three times before the rooster crowed. Therefore the rooster is used to remind Christians not to deny Christ.

Roosters are smart, strong and aggressive birds. They truly will "rule" a barnyard, perching in a central, elevated place to keep careful watch over their hens and nests. If danger is sighted, the rooster will sound a loud alarm and then confront the interloper, prepared to fight. Fights to the death among roosters are not uncommon. Why do roosters crow at dawn? The same reason they crow at other times of the day or night. They are letting all other roosters know that this is their territory and it is best to keep away!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Animal Phrases

America has always been known as a country that roots for the Underdog. Probably due to our Nation's own beginnings. Ever wonder where the term came from? It may quite literally come from the reprehensible practice of dog fighting, where the dog on the bottom is getting the worst of the encounter. I'd like to hope it comes from somewhere else.

Before powered sawmills, logs used to be cut into planks by hand. The trimmed tree would enter the mill and be placed on two stands that straddled a pit in the floor. In our modern times, we call these stands "saw horses," but they used to be called "dogs." Two men, one on top of the log, one underneath in the pit, would use a long saw to cut the tree lengthwise. The man with seniority and more experience was the man on top. He would guide the process, getting the most planks from the tree. He was known as the "overdog," since he worked above the stands. The man in the pit was little more than brute muscle. He had the hottest work and was constantly choked by sawdust. He stayed below the stands, and I'm sure you've concluded what he was called. Let's hear it for the Underdog.

Animal Phrases

Our association with animals is so immediate and constant, it only makes sense our language would include numerous references to animals or their behavior. Just last week I wrote about the phrase "Mad as a March Hare" (blog entry 3/13). That got me thinking about other odd phrases involving animals and I was curious as to why those phrases got started.

Ever hear the term "Mare's Nest?" I've always known it to mean "a tangled mess, a muddle." If I came downstairs in the morning, without brushing my hair, I was told that my head looked like a mare's nest. Odd. I mean female horses don't lay eggs and they most certainly don't build nests. Could this have been a reference to Greek Mythology and the flying horses known as Pegasi? Were they the elusive equine nest builders? But if so, why were their nests so untidy?

Research into origins led to the phrase's first definition. A Mare's Nest was a hoax or a fraud. This seems to make more sense. If you'd found a mare's nest, you certainly had found something wonderful that simply did not exist. How we moved from the term meaning a sham to the term meaning a shambles is not easily found out. At least it wasn't found out by me. I can only put it down to the extraordinary adaptability of the human being.

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

True, the Jungle Store Blog devotes itself to animal facts and information, and a Leprechaun isn't an animal. But it isn't human either, so let's have some fun.

Leprechauns inhabit an eldritch realm. They have been linked to Irish Folk culture for centuries and are a traditional symbol of St. Patrick's day. This Irish Fairy resembles an old man who stands no more than 2 feet tall. He is frequently seen dressed as a cobbler with a cocked hat and leather apron. Leprechauns are solitary, cantankerous and reserved. They spend their days making shoes. If someone wishes to find a leprechaun, he must follow the sound of the leprechaun's hammer. You may wonder why anyone would wish to find a leprechaun, seeing as how they are so unpleasant. Leprechauns are known to horde pots of gold and they hide them away in secret places. If you catch a leprechaun, he must reveal his treasure to you, but only if you maintain eye contact with him. If, for a moment, you lose attention and look away, (and the leprechaun will work very hard to make sure this happens), this Irish fairy will disappear like a morning mist.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Big 12 Tournament

I usually write to you a lot sooner than this on a Sunday, but why discuss the possible outcome of the Big 12 Tournament when we can discuss the outcome.

The University of Kansas Jayhawks beat the University of Texas at Austin Longhorns 84 – 74. It was hard fought game and the lead changed multiple times, keeping the contest much closer than the final score implies. Yesterday, I told you about Jayhawks and what feisty, aggressive birds they would be, if they were real. When you learn about the Texas Longhorn, you’ll know why the Big 12 Tournament Championship was such a wonderful game.

The Texas Longhorn is a self-sufficient, hardy, intelligent breed of cattle. They can thrive where other cattle breeds fail. Needing little water, the Texas Longhorn will find forage in near desert conditions and can survive under extremely harsh weather conditions. Longhorn calves are tough and the entire breed is resistant to parasites and disease. Despite their easy management and unparalleled hardiness, their leaner beef quality was seen as a drawback and by 1924, the Texas Longhorn was almost extinct. The United States Forestry service collected a small herd and built the breed back up, keeping them in Texas State Parks. Their novelty, variance of color and incredible horns soon drew the attention of other cattle enthusiasts. The Texas Longhorn is continuing to increase in numbers as beef preferences have changed. What once was a deficit is now an asset and the Longhorn’s lean, low cholesterol, low calorie meat is highly prized.

Let’s hope for a rematch of Kansas and Texas in the National Basketball Championship. It’ll be a great game to watch.

Image:Texas Longhorn logo.svg

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Big 12 Tournament

The Jayhawks of Kansas University beat the Cornhuskers of Nebraska yesterday. The score was 64 to 54. We can all figure out what a cornhusker is – a farmer who picks and shucks corn. Question is, what do you know about Jayhawks?

Jayhawks are not real birds. The name is an amalgam, a joining of a Blue Jay and Sparrow Hawk. A Blue Jay is a noisy, aggressive bird with an extensive diet. They have been known to steal and eat eggs and hatchlings from other birds’ nests. A Sparrow Hawk is a quick and stealthy hunter that preys on other birds. The Sparrow Hawk is so quick it can snatch a bird in mid-flight. The imagined offspring of a Blue Jay and a Sparrow Hawk would be a formidable bird indeed.

In the late 1840’s the term “jayhawk” was used to describe the lawless factions causing chaos in the territory of Kansas. The clash was over whether Kansas should become a Free State or a Slave State. Both sides tried to intimidate the other by looting, rustling cattle, arson and straight out murder. The name Jayhawk eventually stuck to the Free State advocates. The town of Lawrence, where Kansas University was founded, was a Free State advocate stronghold and so the University took the Jayhawk as its mascot.

When you think about the Jayhawks of history, I don’t think the Cornhuskers ever had a chance.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Big 12 Tournament

There was an upset in the Big 12 Basketball Tournament yesterday. The Baylor Bears (ranked #4) were beaten by the Colorado Buffalos (ranked #12). But could a buffalo really beat a bear?

The animal we call a "buffalo" is actually an American Bison and is distinctively different from the true buffalos of Africa and Asia. American Bison once roamed the Great Plains in vast herds that could stretch for miles. Bison society has a very rigid "pecking" order which is enforced with horn and hoof. They may look cumbersome, but easily reach speeds of 35 mph. Bison have excellent eyesight and hearing as well as an ability to remember experiences, whether good or bad. They have massive strength and size and are not easily frightened. In fact, bison are rather inquisitive. With all these positive attributes, it is no wonder they flourished in such huge numbers. Besides humans, the bison's only true predators are Wolf packs and Grizzly bears which only attempt to prey on the young or very old and infirm.

Research into Baylor University's mascot shows the Bears has been represented by a Black Bear since the 1920s. Black bears are the smallest of the three bear species found in North America. Their range is extensive, but restricted to forested areas, not the plains. Their diet is omnivorous but they mainly eat vegetation. The stocky body that gives them strength makes them a poor predator. Black bears can overheat during prolonged chases and do not have the agility of potential prey. When a black bear does get meat, it is generally salmon, carrion or a young deer or moose calf.

Now that we've weighed the facts, The Jungle Store concludes no one should have been surprised the Buffalos beat the Bears.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"March"-ing Animals

In Lewis Carroll's classic book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a currently small Alice is directed to the March Hare's house by the Cheshire Cat. While contemplating the visit, Alice says:

`the March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps as this is May it won't be raving mad--at least not so mad as it was in March.'

During a hare's breeding season, which starts in late February, hares are known for their odd and erratic behavior. They race about, jump and "box." Overeager males are deterred by females who are not yet ready to breed. The females will shove, kick and leap away from them. The behavior was thought so strange, observers reasoned the hares must be "mad." The phrase "as mad as a March hare" has been around for a long time and is still used today. So well known was it, that John Heywood included the phrase in his collection, Proverbs of the English Tongue, in 1546. The hare's spring behavior is also responsible for the phrase "harebrained."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"March"-ing Animals

Ants march. Perhaps the most well-known marching ants are Army Ants or Eciton burchellii as scientists call them.

Army ants form huge colonies (300,000 – 700,000) and they need to "march" or migrate to find food. Most ant colonies send out "scouts" or individual ants that seek food and bring it back to the nest. Army ants don't work that way. Every few weeks, army ants enter a "nomadic phase" and leave the nest they've created. The entire colony sets out, en masse, to find a new area flush with food resources and a suitable nesting site. They march at night and camp during the day. When they have found an area where food is plentiful, they will begin their "stationary phase" and make a new, temporary nest.

Nest established, the colony sends out a swarm raid – a group of 200,000 or more ants – that take up an attack position resembling an open fan. This swarm position can extend over 15 yards. Army ants are blind, but by marching together, their numbers easily overwhelm any creature that may fall into their path. The swarm is seeking spiders, scorpions, insects and other ant colonies to kill and bring back for food. Regardless, if lizards, frogs, mice, or other creatures fail to get out of their way, the army ants will kill them as well, they just might not eat them. Army ants generally kill tens of thousands of animals a day!

Interesting Fact: Sometimes army ants will raid other colonies for slaves.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"March"-ing Animals

Ever heard of the "March of the Spiny Lobster?" I hadn't either until I started researching The Jungle Store's animal fact page for Lobsters. That is when I stumbled across the term. Having grown-up near the coast of Maine, Spiny Lobsters were the "less desired" species and I'd never learned much about them. Now, they seem quite fascinating.

The "March" happens in late October, early November, off the shores of the Bahamas. Autumnal storms roll in, rapidly dropping temperatures and agitating the waters. When the storms end, the generally solitary Spiny Lobsters gather by the hundreds, even the thousands, and form long, single-file columns, marching side-by-side. With each troop numbering as many as 60 lobsters, they form a living chain with the lobster behind in constant physical contact with the lobster in front. The leader of each column changes often, but there is no pattern to which lobster will lead next. Their marching formation seems to be a defensive imperative, providing protection in numbers as they cross the open sandy bottom to reach deeper water. Whether fearless or highly motivated, the lobster columns let nothing deter them. They will crawl over divers who lie down in front of them, and even march over "leaders" who slow down or falter.

Scientists are not sure why the Spiny Lobsters march. There seems to be no connection to mating, food resources or maturation process (i.e., juveniles changing habitats once they become adults). The most favored hypothesis attributes the exodus to lobsters simply seeking warmer, less turbulent waters.

Monday, March 10, 2008

"March"-ing Animals

Penguins are the only birds that migrate by swimming. But not all penguins swim during their migration. The Emperor Penguin does not stray far from the permanent Antarctic ice and when breeding season arrives they come ashore and begin their long "march" to one of 35 known rookeries. Passing in single file, the adult Emperor Penguins will travel anywhere from 30 to 100 miles - on foot! - before arriving at their breeding grounds. During the months required to lay and incubate the egg and raise the chick, the male and female adult penguins undertake this "March" numerous times.

There is a wonderful film that chronicles this amazing migration. It is called, "March of the Penguins."

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Animals in Literature

We're going to end our celebration of Read Across America Week with another classic by Dr. Seuss.

The Cat in the Hat is perhaps the most read book Dr. Seuss ever created. The character of "The Cat" went on to appear in six other Seuss books and as a logo on many more. But it is the story behind the book that is even more interesting.

In 1954, a Life article discussed the problem of literacy in elementary schools. It seems 6 and 7 year olds found the Dick and Jane primer extremely boring. Dr. Seuss saw the need to entice children to read as a challenge. He managed to obtain an elementary school sight vocabulary list of 223 words (the words the children would be learning) and built his story around those words. Dr. Seuss planned for his book to be the nations new First Grade Primer. He wanted his book to rhyme; he felt the cadence would make the task of reading a little easier. The first two acceptable rhyming words he found were cat and hat. A masterpiece was born.

The Cat in the Hat uses 236 different words. 221 of them are monosyllabic. Only one word, "another," has three syllables. The most difficult word in the story is "playthings." The majority of words (54) appear only once. 33 words appear twice. The Cat in the Hat took Dr. Seuss 1 ½ years to write because of the careful restrictions he placed on himself for its creation.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Animals in Literature

It is true that Roald Dahl's book, The Twits, is about the horrid and rotten Mr. and Mrs. Twit. But, if it weren't for some truly wise animals, those Twits would never receive their proper come-uppance.

Life would have probably remained okay if Mr. & Mrs. Twit had kept their nasty tricks and general unpleasantness to themselves. Pretending worms are Mr. Twit's spaghetti and giving Mrs. Twit "the shrinks" kept it all in the family. But the Twits fancy themselves Monkey Trainers and enjoy feasting on Bird Pie. Once the HugTight sticky glue comes out, Muggle-Wump, the monkey, his wife and two small children, know they have to do something. They enlist the help of the Roly Poly bird from Africa, and play a trick worthy of the Twits.

This is a fun, fast-paced story. Just make sure you've eaten before you read it!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Animals In Literature

Rudyard Kipling wasn't just the author of The Jungle Book. He also penned the delightful Just So Stories. In these tales, Kipling explained to his readers how animals became the way they are today. He talked to us as his own children, frequently calling us "Best Beloved," and used rhyme and repetition to entertain.

Perhaps the most famous of these stories is The Elephants Child. In the tale, elephants only have funny, stubby noses. It takes an elephant, a new elephant, an elephant's child "full of 'satiable curtiosity" who travels to the "great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees" and returns with a glorious trunk. But to find out how he got it, and what he did with it, you'll have to read the book.

Kipling also told us How the Leopard got its Spots, How the Whale got its Throat, and How the Rhino got its Skin. In The Crab who Played with the Sea, we find the reason for tides and in The Butterfly that Stamped we learn the benefits of being humble. He introduced us to exotic places and intriguing animals. I didn't even know there was such a creature as a mongoose until I read Kipling's story of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.

I have always loved Kipling's animal stories. Not because he takes his characters and imbues them with human traits, but because he imbues them with more than human traits. His animals are wiser, more tolerant, more just and far nobler than we humans could hope to be.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Animals in Literature

Could The Jungle Store blog not mention
Rudyard Kipling's classic, The Jungle Book? I say, nay nay.

I'm not talking about the Walt Disney movie. That movie is fine, if you're four. But think of how the movie ends – the storm, the fire, the fleeing tiger. In the book, this pivotal battle between the boy, Mowgli and the lame tiger, Shere Khan takes place at the end of Chapter One. If you've only seen the movie, think how much of the story you're actually missing. And it's a wonderful story.

We learn the secretive past of Bagheera the black panther. We watch Kaa, the python rock snake (who is always a friend, never a toadie of Shere Khan) do a "dance of hunger" thereby saving Mowgli's life. We learn the "strangers hunting call" and feel the fierce joy of running with the wolf pack. During a terrible night of darkness we hear Mowgli command Hathi, the elephant, and his sons to "let in the jungle" on an Indian village that has betrayed him. There is mystery and passion in The Jungle Book that no animation can touch. Instead, this novel requires the unrestricted imagination of a child or the willingness of an adult to loose himself in a good book.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Animals in Literature

Mice and rats. Rats and mice. Whether pets or pests, they have been linked with humans, our culture and civilization, since the beginning of time. Wherever we have settled, mice and rats have soon settled with us. They've raided our larders, invaded our homes and been responsible for the largest mass death of humans in history by spreading the Black Plague. And yet many of us find rats, and especially mice, cute, clever and interesting.

In Robert C. O'Brien's book, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, mice and rats work together to save their homes and lives from humans. The rats are escaped lab animals whose time in captivity has given them wisdom and longevity. Mrs. Frisby is a simple country mouse, living in the field of a farmer. The novel explores the dual-edged reality of rats and mice co-existing with humans. Food and supplies can be plentiful, but so can cats, traps and poisons.

In Daniel Schwabauer's novel, Runt the Brave, humans are not a factor, just a blueprint. Mr. Schwabauer's memorable characters have been wonderfully anthropomorphized (given human traits and characteristics) into generals, royalty, villains and one very small hero. Battle tactics, betrayal and bravery factor in as the mice of Tira Nor try desperately to defend themselves and their way of life from invading rat forces.

If you're a fan of mice and rats (or even if you're not), you'll want to give both these books a read.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Animals in Literature

In Charlotte's Web the intelligence and love of a spider saves the life of a pig.

We don't know much about the type of pig Wilbur is. The farm girl, Fern, admires his pinkish color and erect ears. This gives us the hint that Wilbur is more than likely an American Yorkshire pig, one of the most popular breeds of domestic pig in the United States. Pigs are highly intelligent, smarter than dogs, and can live for 20 years or more. But Wilbur is destined to be dinner on Christmas day unless someone else's brains help him find a way to stay alive.

Charlotte is that someone and we learn a lot about Charlotte. She tells us herself she is a Barn Spider but it is E. B. White's story that tells us about her species. A Barn Spider prefers a habitat of wooden rafters and eaves. Charlotte makes her home in the doorway of Wilber's sty. Barn Spiders are insectivores and subsist entirely on bugs they catch in their webs. Wilber is horrified as he watches his new spider friend catch, wrap and prepare a juicy fly. It takes him a while to forgive her. Barn Spiders are orb weavers and nocturnal, they hide during the day and rebuild their wheel-shaped web every night. It is always while Wilber sleeps that Charlotte creates the web-messages that convince the farmer to spare him. A Barn Spider's lifespan is not long. Wilber and Charlotte meet in spring, and by fall, Charlotte has grown old and dies.

When we finish Charlotte's Web we'll know we've read a wonderful story about loyalty, compassion and the power of friendship. What we probably didn't know is that we got a great education about Barn Spiders as well.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Animals in Literature

It's Read Across America week! The NEA (National Education Association) celebrates Dr. Seuss's birthday by encouraging all of us, especially children, to open a book and have a good read. Here at The Jungle Store, we're going to celebrate by remembering some of our favorite children's books and the animal characters that made them so special.

Let's start with a Dr. Seuss classic - Horton Hears a Who.

Horton is an elephant who lives in the Jungle of Nool. The Whos are a race of people living on a dust speck. They ask Horton for his help and protection. Horton is the only one who hears them, and he does defend them, against a buzzard, some apes and a sour kangaroo.

Elephants are social and gregarious creatures. Although their sense of smell is keenest, they communicate with one another by sound. Elephants produce a number of sounds, but perhaps the most interesting is a low-frequency vocalization that lets herds and individual elephants keep in contact with each other. These sounds are loud and can be heard for 5 or 6 miles. But not by the human ear. To humans, the elephants aren't making any sounds at all.

So here's to elephants who listen so well they hear things we don't, perhaps even Whos. And here's to Horton who taught us, "a person's a person. No matter how small."

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Leaping Animals

Did you know there are competitive Rabbit Hopping Events?

The sport started in Sweden in the 1970s. Since then, it has been exported to Germany, France and the United Kingdom and now not a weekend goes by without an event happening somewhere in Europe. Active registered competitive rabbit hopping owners now number over 4,000.

The hopping events are broken into four areas. There are straight and curved hurdle courses, a long jump and a high jump. The current world record holder for long and high jump is a Danish rabbit. He leapt 3.4 feet high and then accomplished 9.8 feet in the long jump. The sport was brought to the United States in 2002 and is slowing spreading in popularity.

Check out a Danish Competitive Rabbit Hopping competition on the video below:

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Leaping Animals

Gazelles and Antelopes are beautiful and graceful leapers. Being able to jump is their best defense against cheetahs, lions and other African hunters.

Both gazelles and antelopes perform a leap called "Stotting." This is a stiff-legged gait that has the animal jumping vertically and landing in the same location. It looks like the antelope is on a pogo stick. Although the young perform this leap during play, most adults stott during the mating season or when being chased by a predator. This seems counter-productive in the case of predation because stotting actually slows the gazelle down, making it easier to catch. Scientists believe stotting is used as kind of a boast, to show prospective mates, as well as enemies just how fit the gazelle really is. Whatever the reason, it must work as cheetahs will break off a hunt when a gazelle stots.

To learn more about either of these lovely leapers, click on The Jungle Store animal facts pages listed below:
Gazelle Facts
Antelope Facts