Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Top Jungle Store Christmas Gifts for 2011

Once again that time of year is upon us to make sure we get all the right gifts for everyone on our Christmas lists. Our friends at the Jungle Store have put together a list of some of the hottest animal-themed Christmas gifts for 2011 so you're sure to bring plenty of cheer this holiday season!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wild Turkey Facts

The turkey has been an important part of Thanksgiving dinner in the United States and other holiday meals throughout much of the world for centuries. However, every bird that makes its way to the table this week is actually a descendant of one of the six subspecies of wild turkey; native only to North America. Here are a few facts about this uniquely American bird.

  • Wild turkeys are significantly smaller and lighter than domesticated turkeys. Males usually weigh under 24 pounds and females less than     12 pounds.  
  • Wild turkeys have between 5,000 and 6,000 feathers. 
  • Unlike their domestic cousins who can't leave the ground, wild turkeys are very capable and agile fliers.
  • By the early 20th century, wild turkeys were nearly wiped out due to hunting and habitat loss. Conservation efforts begun in the 1940s have proved so successful that the species now exists in areas where it did not originally naturally occur.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Venomous Stingray

Stingrays are a group of eight families of rays with flattened, disc-like bodies and the appearance of having “wings” in some species. Most stingrays also have long tails tipped with venomous stingers. However, the largest member of the suborder, the manta ray, does not have a stinger on its tail and is harmless. Manta rays can grow up to 25 feet across and weigh nearly 3,000lbs.
Cowtail Stingray
Stingrays can be found in oceans throughout the world, with most members preferring warm tropical and subtropical waters. Stingrays primarily feed upon invertebrates such as mollusks and crustaceans, though some larger rays do feed on fish. Most members of the stingray suborder do not have teeth and can only use their mouths to suck prey in, though some do have plates in their jaws which can be used to crush shells when feeding.
The flattened bodies of stingrays allow them to easily hide on the ocean floor and some are able to alter their colors to match their surroundings. When feeding or inactive most rays will burrow themselves into the sand on the sea floor leaving only their barbed tails and eyes exposed.
Manta Ray
The stinger on a ray’s tail is only used for defensive purposes. Stingrays are docile creatures by nature and prefer to hide or flee from danger if at all possible. Stings usually only occur if the ray is stepped on or feels cornered. Although they are venomous, stingray stings are usually not life-threatening but can be quite painful and occasionally require surgery if the stinger barb remains embedded in the wound. However, rare instances of rays stinging humans near their vital organs have resulted in fatalities, with the death of famous wildlife proponent Steve Irwin being most notable.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Canada Lynx

The Canada lynx is a member of the feline family native to Canada, Alaska, and northern parts of the continental United States, where it is now considered a threatened species. It has recently been reintroduced to Colorado, and radio-collared lynxes have now been found as far away as Iowa.
Photo: Keith Williams
Canada Lynxes are somewhat larger than bobcats, but smaller than the Eurasian lynx with which they are most closely related. Canada lynxes are 31-41 inches in length, 19-22 inches tall at the shoulder, and weigh 18-24lbs, making them about twice the size of a housecat. The Canada lynx has a very dense coat that is silvery-brown with black markings, with coat changing to more of a reddish-brown color in the summer. It has a ruff with two black points, resembling a beard, and long tufts on its ears.

A very solitary animal, the Canada lynx is most active at night and spends most of its time in or near very dense forests. It feeds almost exclusively on snowshoe hares, so much so that Canada lynx populations often rise and fall directly in conjunction with snowshoe hare populations. However, it will also hunt rodents, birds, and even larger prey such as deer when necessary, or scavenge if carrion is available. Canada lynxes are opportunistic hunters, and will kill and cache multiple animals for later consumption if a large prey population is available.
Photo: Michael Zahra
The Canada lynx breeds only in May. The females will attract mates by urinating in the same spot where a male has marked his territory and calling to him. While females only mate once, males may mate with several females each season. Litter size ranges from 1-8 cubs depending on food supply. Cubs are ready to leave the den at five weeks and spend the next 8 months learning to hunt with their mother before striking out on their own. Canada lynxes have been known to live over 26 years in captivity, but usually survive for less than 14 years in the wild.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Hard Working Mule

Mules, the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, are purely domestic animals that are primarily bred for labor and show. Their popularity as working animals comes from the opinion of many who claim that they are more capable than similarly-sized horses and more intelligent and good-natured than donkeys. Also commonly referred to as mules are the offspring of male horses and female donkeys, which are called hinnies; however, they are much less common. Almost all mules are infertile and therefore incapable of reproducing.
Photo: Joe Schneid
Most mules weigh between 800 and 1000lbs and can carry 20% of their body weight in cargo. While this does not exceed the carrying capability of a horse, mules usually have greater endurance and require less food than a horse of similar size. The appearances of mules can vary greatly in how horse-like or donkey-like they look. Generally, the mule has the short head, long ears and thin limbs of a donkey, but shares the height and body shape of a horse. Mule coats can come in almost as many colors as horse coats. However, in comparison to a horse the mule will have harder skin and is better adapted to harsh desert environments.

Most consider mules to be more intelligent than either their donkey or horse parents. They are patient and even-tempered, and unlike some domestic animals will not allow a human to put them in harm’s way. Because of their nature they were considered to be superior plow animals before the advent of mechanized farming.

The need for mules dropped sharply in the mid-20th century in industrialized nations. However, they still see wide use in less developed nations as well as in the recreation industry for wilderness treks. Mules have also long been a component to the U.S. Military and are still used by American troops to transport supplies in rough and remote areas.
These extremely resilient animals are as long-lived as they are intelligent, and may reach the age of 50.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Whip-Poor-Will

Often heard but rarely seen, the whip-poor-will’s familiar call, which sounds just like its name, is a common part of summer evenings and mornings in much of the United States. Known as a type of nightjar bird, the whip-poor-will is 9-10 inches in length with an 18-19 inch wingspan and weighs about two ounces. Very well camouflaged, the whip-poor-will’s feathers are a mix of brown, black and grey that makes the bird seem to disappear into the forest when it sits still.
Besides its camouflage, another reason the whip-poor-will is rarely seen is because it is nocturnal. Primarily active at dawn and dusk, the whip-poor-will feeds by catching flying insects in mid-air. These birds migrate to the woods of Central America each winter and return to relatively open forests in the United States each spring to breed. During the day, they sleep motionless on the forest floor.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Backyard Nature - The Porcupine

The porcupine is the second largest rodent in North America behind the beaver. Its spiny quills, used for defense, make it a very recognizable creature and one not to be tormented. There are about 30 different species of porcupine throughout the world, with the common North American porcupine arriving around 3 million years ago.
North American porcupines primarily live in the coniferous forests located in the Northwest part of the continent. At up to 35lbs in weight they are quite large for a rodent and their eyesight is poor. They usually den in a rocky area or a hole in a tree, and in summer months they will often sleep in trees.
Porcupines have thousands of quills, which are spiny hairs that lay down most of the time but can be raised to protect the animal if it feels threatened. If struck, the quills easily detach from the porcupine’s body and can become lodged in the attacker. It has been documented that predatory animals such as wolves and fishers have actually died due to wounds from porcupine quills, most likely due to infection.
Porcupine quills

With such an effective defense system the porcupine has no need for the safety of a herd and can thus live a very solitary life. Primarily nocturnal, porcupines spend most nights eating twigs, roots, stems and vegetation in the summer months or pine needles and tree bark in the winter. Far from graceful, porcupines frequently fall out of trees. Being fairly heavy and tempted by vegetation on small branches, it is not uncommon for a porcupine to take a tumble. Luckily, the porcupine has antibiotics in its own skin to prevent infection if it’s stuck with one of its quills.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Flying Rhinos

Even in their native South Africa, one thing you certainly don’t ever expect to see is a flying rhinoceros.
These pictures show a sedated black rhinoceros being transported via helicopter as part of the WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project. Black rhinos are frequent victims of poaching, and the WWF has been working with South African landowners to provide new habitat for them.
Previously, rhinos had to be loaded onto trucks or transported in airlift nets to be extricated from areas with rough terrain. Veterinarians working on the project agree that suspending rhinos by the ankles is the quickest and least stressful transport method for the animals. These helicopter trips usually last less than ten minutes and do not hurt the rhinos. To date, the WWF has relocated over 120 black rhinos.

Story and photos via.

Monday, November 14, 2011

As Big As a Moose

The moose is the largest member of the deer family and one of the largest land animals in North America. Also native to northern Europe and Asia, the moose is referred to as an elk outside of North America, though it is a distinctly different animal than an American elk.
Standing up to seven feet tall at the shoulders and weighing 600-1600+lbs, moose are second in size only to bison among North American land animals. As with other types of deer, moose eat a large variety of terrestrial and aquatic plant life. The average adult moose needs over 9000 calories of food each day, requiring daily consumption of over 70lbs of plant life to survive.
Unlike other types of deer that live in herds, moose are extremely solitary animals that do not interact outside of mating season. During this time, bull moose may engage in battles with one another for mating rights, using their five foot-wide antlers as offensive weapons. After mating season has concluded, the males will shed their antlers to conserve energy throughout the winter, growing a new set within 4-5 months.
Full-grown moose are too large to have many natural enemies. In Asia, Siberian tigers have been known to hunt them, as well as brown bears. Packs of wolves or coyotes may hunt calves or winter-weakened individuals with some success as well.

Though the moose population has been reduced significantly over the last 200 years, particularly in North America, moose numbers are on the rise due to successful conservation efforts. The current worldwide moose population stands at several million, and they are considered to be an animal of least concern.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bailey the Pet Buffalo

Just like your family dog, Bailey Jr. loves to go on car rides. However, the fact that he is a six foot tall, eight foot long bison makes taking those trips a little more complicated!
Owner Jim Sautner of Alberta, Canada had to seriously modify his Pontiac Bonneville so Bailey Jr. could fit; not to mention beefing up the car to handle his 1,820lb weight! The three and a half year old steer even gets his own bucket of oats to munch on during the drive.
Being as the car isn’t exactly road legal with Bailey Jr. in the passenger’s seat, Jim has to restrict his travels to parades and private roads.

Bailey Jr. isn’t Jim’s first buffalo. After the passing of their previous bison, Bailey Sr. in 2008 the Sautners decided they missed having a bison as part of the family, and adopted young Bailey Jr. from a friend.
Far from just a farm animal, Bailey Jr. is like a shadow to Jim, who believes Bailey thinks of him as his mother. Bailey Jr. loves being chased around by Jim on his four wheeler, or just relaxing in the living room. He may very well be the world’s largest “puppy dog”!


Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Peculiar Purple Frog

Only discovered in 2003, the purple frog, also known as the pignose frog, is a living fossil and the only member of the Nasikabatrachus genus.
The purple frog was discovered by researchers in the Western Ghats region of southern India. Its distinctive appearance includes a bloated body, short legs and an extremely small head. The frog lives almost all of its life underground, using its pointed snout to easily access termite tunnels. The purple frog only comes above ground for a few weeks each year to find a mate. It also has a quite interesting call that sounds more like a chicken than a frog.
As purple frogs have only been found in small numbers in India they are considered endangered. Researchers propose that the purple frog’s only living relatives are on the Seychelles Islands, which were once joined with India millions of years ago.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What is a Quoll?

Quolls are carnivorous marsupials native to Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania. There are six species of quolls, the largest of which are considered apex predators; however they do face predation from nonnative foxes as well as feral dogs and cats.
Depending on species, quolls measure 10 to 30 inches in length and come in a variety of colors and patterns. They are primarily nocturnal and spend their days sleeping in dens consisting of hollowed out logs or rocky overhangs. They are solitary animals that rarely interact except for mating purposes or when using communal latrine areas in overlapping territories.

Quolls hunt a wide variety of small and medium sized mammals, birds, frogs, lizards and insects, as well as taking advantage of carrion whenever it is available. Common prey usually consists of possums, rabbits and hares. Quolls can extract all of the water they need from the food they eat, allowing them to survive long periods of drought.
The quoll’s biggest animal enemy is not a predator, but actually a prey animal. In the 1930’s Australia introduced a population of over 60,000 nonnative cane toads to help reduce destructive beetle populations. The cane toads make easy prey for quolls, but are toxic to them and cause almost instant death when consumed, reducing the quoll population significantly in recent decades. The Australian government is currently working to eradicate cane toads and come up with methods to persuade quolls not to eat them.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Humpback Whale Gives Surfer a Scare

A video of a humpback whale that appears to nearly swallow a surfer has become a huge hit on Youtube in recent days. It depicts the surfer and a pair of kayakers near the coast of Santa Cruz, California in calm waters when suddenly, a pair of giant humpback whales surface, mouths agape, missing the surfer by just a few feet.
Although the encounter surely gave the surfer a scare, these giant whales, which can grow to over 60 feet long, weren’t interested in having her for a meal. As with most large whales, humpbacks feed primarily on small sea life such as krill and schooling fish like herring and mackerel. Instead of teeth, humpbacks have rows of baleen plates used to trap their prey by the thousands when they open their mouths. Once the prey is caught, they simply drain the water and swallow their catch.

Whereas some baleen whales are relatively passive feeders, humpbacks are active hunters. When hunting schooling fish such as in the video, the whales will slap their fins against the water and use their blowholes to create a “bubble net”, working in teams to force the fish into tighter groups. Once the fish have been bunched together, the whales will lunge towards the surface, mouths agape, for an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Harbor Seal

Also known as the common seal, the harbor seal is described as a “true seal” because it has small flippers and can only move on land by flopping its body. Harbor seals live along the coastlines of most every continent in the Northern Hemisphere and have been spotted from Florida to the Arctic Circle. The most widely distributed of all seals, there is an estimated population of 500,000 harbor seals worldwide.
The harbor seal received its name because it usually does not venture very far away from the coast. Although they are capable of diving to over 1,500 feet and being underwater for up to 40 minutes, harbor seals prefer to stick to shallower waters and can even be found upstream in large rivers occasionally. They spend about half their time in the water and spend the remainder of the day “hauled-out”, which is another term for resting on shore. They usually choose a rocky coastline, sandy beach or ice-pack for their haul-out site depending on geographical location. Harbor seals are social animals and usually rest in groups, but they do not congregate in groups as large as some other types of seals.

The harbor seal is a carnivore and feeds on a variety of fish, octopus, squid, shrimp, crabs and mollusks and seabirds, all depending on the prey native to its environment. Although carnivorous and quite large, Harbor seals pose no threat to humans. While very capable swimmers, when hauled-out on land Harbor seals are very vulnerable and will often rush back into the water if approached. 
Once heavily hunted by people, the harbor seal is a protected animal in almost every nation now and its population is on the rebound. However, urbanization of coastal areas remains a threat to these animals. In order to rest and molt, harbor seals need to spend a lot of time out of the water, and if a human presence is detected they will often not haul out. If construction occurs at or near a usual haul-out spot, the seals will sometimes abandon it permanently, which could threaten their population.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Water Droplet Animal Sculptures

I decided to take a break from sharing animal facts today in order to show you some amazing pictures I ran across; droplets of colored water that (abstractly) resemble animals!

Although it may look like these photos are altered, German artist and photographer Markus Reugels actually spent thousands of hours snapping shots of the water droplets to get just the right shapes. Some of them are easily recognizable and others not so much. However, they’re all pretty fascinating to look at!

Photos via.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Jaguarundi - Tiny Cougar

The jaguarundi is a wild cat native to South America, coastal Mexico and south Texas. Though closely related to the cougar, the small size and distinct proportions of the jaguarundi have led some to refer to it as the “otter-cat”.
Slightly larger than domestic cats, jaguarundis are 3 to 4 ½ feet long (including tail) and weigh 8-20lbs. They have long, slender bodies with proportionally short legs and small, rounded ears. Unlike most New World cats, jaguarundis do not have spots, but do come in several color morphs ranging from red to grey across their eight subspecies.

Jaguarundis can usually be found in lowland brush areas close to a source of running water. Though they are agile climbers, they are more terrestrial than most cats and spend much of their time on the ground. Both shy and reclusive, jaguarundis can only occasionally be spotted during daylight hours.
Typical of a cat of its size, the jaguarundi’s diet consists primarily of small rodents and reptiles, with larger prey such as rabbits, marmosets and opossums taken when available. Despite their short legs, jaguarundis have been known to jump nearly six feet into the air to swat small birds out of the sky as well!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Greater Bilby

With its oversized ears and elongated snout, the greater bilby looks like a very peculiar species of mouse. In reality, it is a marsupial closely related to the bandicoot, but is larger and has a more carnivorous diet. Bilbies can only be found in arid regions of central Australia, where their population is in decline. The greater bilby’s closest relative, the lesser bilby, went extinct sometime in the 1950s-1960s.
Bilbies are usually 11-22 inches long and weigh 2-6lbs. They have large, hairless ears and an elongated snout. Their large rear legs somewhat resemble those of a kangaroo, and their tails are nearly equal to their body length. Strong forelimbs and thick claws allow the greater bilby to efficiently dig burrows and forage for food.

Bilbies make their homes in spiraling burrows that are very difficult for predators to access. They may keep several burrows spread out around their range, using some for sleeping and others for quick escape if necessary. Bilbies are known to use existing burrows time and again; some existing burrows are thought to be over 100 years old.

The greater bilby is an omnivore and eats a range of items including grasshoppers, spiders, termites, seeds and fungi. They are purely nocturnal and do not forage for food until well after dark. Bilbies live either alone or in mating pairs. Females have an amazingly short gestation period of just 12-14 days and can thus bear young up to eight times per year.

Habitat loss and predation by feral cats have led to the greater bilby being classified as nearly endangered. There is currently an aggressive conservation effort going on in Australia including predator-free sanctuaries and captive breeding programs to hopefully restore this unique species.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

African Wild Dogs

Also commonly known as painted dogs, painted wolves or cape hunting dogs, African wild dogs are canids native to southern and central Africa. They are currently listed as endangered due to habitat loss and overhunting.
Each African wild dog has its own distinct pattern of coloration. It is for this reason that the animal’s Latin name literally means “painted wolf”. Adults usually weigh between 40 and 80lbs and stand about 30 inches high at the shoulders. Besides its coloration, the African wild dog’s most distinctive features are its large round ears and the fact that it is the only canid species to lack dewclaws on its forelimbs.

As with many canids, African wild dogs are extremely social animals and live in packs. Packs can vary in size from 2 to 27 individuals and usually consist of a dominant male and female and their subordinates. Within a pack, dogs of the same sex are usually closely related to each other but not to any dogs of the opposite sex.
In most packs only the dominant male and female are allowed to mate, and after a 70 day gestation will give birth to a litter of 2-20 pups, the largest average litter of any canid. Raising the pups is largely a community affair, with all pack members taking turns guarding, caring for and regurgitating food from hunts to feed the pups. The pups will reach sexual maturity after about a year, at which point the females from the litter will leave the pack to find one in which they are unrelated to sexually mature males; the males from the litter will likely stay with their original pack for life.

As they are pack hunters, African wild dogs usually work together to take prey much larger than they. Ungulates such as impala, gazelle, kudu and wildebeest make up the majority of the wild dog’s diet, though prey can vary wildly based upon availability and competition from larger predators such as lions and hyenas. African wild dog packs have also been known to occasionally target livestock animals, leading ranchers to regard them as pests and often kill them without cause.
African wild dogs require extremely large home ranges to thrive. The fragmentation of their natural Serengeti habitat has caused populations to drop from half a million to just 5,500 animals remaining; there are few nature preserves in the world large enough to fully contain wild dog packs.