Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Okapi - The Giraffe's Cousin

With its striking stripes, the okapi may seem to resemble a type of zebra. However, this African mammal is actually a member of the giraffe family, and is the giraffe’s closest living relative.
Okapis are native to the rainforests of Central Africa near the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Despite their small range, okapis are not considered endangered and have an estimated worldwide population of 10,000-20,000.

Okapis have a similar body shape to giraffes but have a much shorter neck. They have zebra-like stripes on their legs and lower body, and reddish-black fur on their backs. Due to their rainforest habitat, this fur is oily to repel water. Okapis usually measure six to eight feet long and weigh between 440 and 660lb.

Like giraffes, okapis have long and sticky tongues to help strip the leaves and buds they eat from trees, as well as wash their eyes and ears. Keeping eyes and ears clean is important to the okapi, as it must always listen and watch for its main natural predator, the leopard.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Backyard Nature - The Bluebird

One of the most welcome sights for any gardener in North America is the presence of a bluebird. Bluebirds are very effective pest controllers due to their voracious appetite for insects, and thus many homeowners build specialized nest boxes to attract them.
Eastern bluebird
Bluebirds are members of the thrush family, and all three species are native only to North America. The most common species is the eastern bluebird, which can be found throughout the United States and much of Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. The western bluebird is primarily found west of the Rockies in a range that stretches from Canada to Mexico. The third species, the mountain bluebird, usually lives at elevations above 5000 feet throughout the entire western half of the continent. In areas where species overlap, the mountain bluebird usually dominates the territory.

Though all species are named for their blue plumage, there are coloration differences that make the different species easy to identify. Eastern bluebirds have orange throats, whereas western bluebirds have either blue or grey throats for males and females respectively. Male mountain bluebirds are a darker shade of blue than other species and lack orange coloring anywhere on their bodies.
Mountain bluebird
All species of bluebirds are usually migratory; however some remain as year-round residents in more temperate climates. Bluebirds prefer to live in semi-open country such as meadows or woodlands with clearings nearby. The need for nearby open ground is due to their hunting habits, as they prefer to hover above the ground or swoop down from perches to catch insects. Bluebirds will often supplement their diets with fruits and berries as well.

Natural bluebird nesting habitats are cavities in trees. However, by the mid-twentieth century bluebird populations had sharply declined due to competition from introduced nonnative birds such as house sparrows and common starlings. House sparrows in particular are known to invade bluebird nests frequently, with the bluebirds and their nestlings often driven away or killed. Luckily, volunteer groups have worked hard over the last 30 years to build specialized nest boxes to help the population of these beneficial native birds recover.

If you’re a fan of our feathered friends, The Jungle Store carries a huge variety of bird gifts and plush toys!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

That Stings!

No one likes the idea of being stung by a bee, wasp, hornet, or any other insect for that matter, but in reality the thought of getting stung is usually worse than the pain. Unless you’re the type who gets allergic reactions, stings from sweat bees or even yellowjackets aren’t that terribly bad.

However, there are a few insects you really do want to steer clear of, and some live closer than you think. Entomologist Justin O. Schmidt published a paper in 1990 known as the Schmidt Sting Pain Index that rates the stings of 78 species of insects on a scale of 0-4, 0 being completely ineffective against humans and 4 describing excruciating, debilitating pain. He also describes in vivid detail the experience of being stung by these insects. So if you’re wondering what bugs to really avoid this spring and summer, here are the top 3 most painful stings you can get.

3. The Paper Wasp
Photo: Joaquim Alves Gaspar
These common wasps rate a 3.0 on the Schmidt Index. He describes their sting as being “Caustic and burning….Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.” Ouch! There are over 300 species of paper wasps worldwide, with 22 species in North America alone. These wasps can be identified by their grey or brown honeycomb nests, which appear paper-like. Unlike yellowjackets and hornets, paper wasps are not known to be aggressive and will only attack if they feel threatened. Due to the potency of their sting, this is a very good thing!

2. The Tarantula Hawk
With a two inch-long body and 1/3 inch stinger, this giant wasp certainly lives up to its ominous-sounding name. Tarantula hawks are distributed worldwide and are common in the southwestern United States. As you can probably guess, they are named as such because they hunt the massive, hairy spiders we know as tarantulas; and their bite is as bad as their bark. Rating a 4.0 on the Schmidt Index, their sting is said to be “Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped in your bubble bath.” Luckily, the pain is said to only last about three minutes, and stings are rare unless provoked.

1. The Bullet Ant
Photo: Hans Hillewaert
The insect that tops the pain scale isn’t large, doesn’t fly, and looks relatively harmless; it isn’t. Also known as conga ants, bullet ants have the most painful sting of any insect on the planet, rating a 4+ on the Schmidt Index and described as “…waves of burning, throbbing, all-consuming pain that continues unabated for up to 24 hours…Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel.” The bullet ant is distributed throughout forests of Central and South America. Its wrath can luckily be easily avoided simply by not attempting to handle it!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Colorful Royal Flycatchers

With Mardi Gras Season in full swing, there are plenty of parades and celebrations going on throughout the world. One group of birds that would fit right in are known as royal flycatchers.
Royal flycatchers are a group of four species of birds native to Central and South America. They can be easily recognized by the large, colorful crests on their heads. Usually these crests lay flat, but they are quite spectacular when displayed.

As the name suggests, royal flycatchers are insectivores that eat a wide variety of dragonflies and other flying insects. Most are currently threatened or endangered due to habitat loss. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Colugos - Flying Lemurs

Commonly referred to as flying lemurs, colugos are gliding mammals found in Southeast Asia. They are not actually true lemurs, and unlike bats cannot truly fly. However, colugos are the most skilled fliers of all gliding mammals, capable of controlled flights of over 300 feet with little loss of altitude. In other words, they could leap from goalpost to goalpost on a football field!

Like flying squirrels, colugos rely on the large membranes of skin that extend between their limbs to provide lift. While this makes these 4lb mammals capable gliders, they are relatively helpless on the ground, cannot stand upright, and do not have strong limbs for walking. Therefore, colugos spend their days resting in trees, only gliding through the forest canopy at night in search of leaves to snack on.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Legless Lizards

One look at the California legless lizard and it would be easy to believe you’re looking at a snake. However, there are several key differences that make this lizard decidedly un-snakelike.

For one, the legless lizard has movable eyelids, a trait snakes do not possess. Also, unlike snakes the California legless lizard is unable to open its jaws extremely wide to swallow large prey items and is therefore restricted to eating small insects and spiders.

There are eight families of lizards with members possessing either small legs, or no legs at all living throughout the world. So the next time you think you see a snake, look again!

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Smallest Reptiles Ever?

Scientists have recently discovered four new chameleon species around Madagascar that may prove to be some of the smallest reptiles in the world.
At only about one inch long, these chameleons may represent a severe case of island dwarfism, a condition in which a species grows smaller over time to adapt to conditions. It’s no surprise that these reptiles were just now discovered; they wouldn’t exactly be easy to spot in the wild!
Via Discovery News.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Long-Crested Eagle

Visually the complete opposite of the bald eagle, the long-crested eagle has perhaps the most striking hairdo of any bird of prey.
Photo: D. Gordon E. Robertson
Long-crested eagles inhabit all types of woodland areas throughout parts of Senegal, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Namibia. At less than two feet long they are quite small for eagles, and thus feed primarily on small rodents and lizards. Long-crested eagles aren’t currently considered threatened, but any loss of woodland habitat can have a negative effect on their population.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Elephant Seal

Elephant seals are very large seals named for the trunk-like proboscis possessed by adult males. This appendage allows them to make loud roars during the mating season, and also reabsorbs moisture when they exhale. This second attribute is very important as during mating season the usually aquatic bulls will not leave the beach and must conserve as much body moisture as possible. 
There are two species of elephant seals; the northern elephant seal, which occupies the Pacific coast of Mexico, the United States and Canada, and the southern elephant seal, native to the southern hemisphere. Southern elephant seals are the larger of the two, with males reaching lengths of sixteen feet and weights of 6,600lbs. Females of both species are significantly smaller.

Elephant seals hold the distinction of being able to hold their breath longer than any other non-cetacean (non-whale) mammal, up to two hours! They are able to dive to depths of over 2,000 feet to hunt for a variety of prey such as sharks, rays, squid and penguins.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

8 Common Animal Misconceptions

We do our best here on the Jungle Store Blog to bring you daily interesting animal facts, but we have no problem deferring to someone else from time to time! Youtube user GCPGrey makes all sorts of interesting videos that bust common misconceptions about a variety of topics, and his most recent is about animals! From bats to frogs, here are 8 common misconceptions about animals…

Of course, our regular readers already know the origin of the myth behind lemmings, which we covered in this post. And do people really think the daddy long legs is a spider?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Jumping Baby Trout

You would have to be quite a photographer, with impeccable timing and have just the right equipment to capture an image of a jumping trout like this.

And while wildlife photographer Kim Taylor is indeed talented, he didn’t capture these images in the wild. Instead, these stunning pictures were taken in a tank at Taylor’s own studio. He trained the 3-4 inch long trout to leap from the water by dangling bait above them, and then used a high-speed camera to capture the results. The images were then combined with the backdrop of a local stream to illustrate a scene that happens often, but is rarely seen.

Story and photos via The Daily Mail.

Friday, February 10, 2012

What Type Of Animal Is A Kinkajou?

As with many small mammals in South America, kinkajous live in trees, hang by their tails and love to eat fruit and honey. However, they are not primates. Actually more closely-related to raccoons, kinkajous are one of only two members of the Carnivora order with prehensile tails, the other being the binturong. Blog | A Kinkajou is more closely related to racoons than monkeys

Fully-grown kinkajous weigh 3-10lbs and have a total body length of 16-24 inches. In addition, their powerful tails may equal or exceed their bodies in length. Kinkajous have five toes on each foot and possess the ability to turn their back feet backwards. This allows them to descend trees headfirst.

Despite being considered carnivores, most of the kinkajou’s diet is made up of ripe fruit such as figs as well as honey. Small mammals, insects, and eggs are also eaten as well as flowers and nectar. The kinkajou’s particular feeding habits make it an important plant pollinator in the rainforest ecosystem.

Kinkajous live in the rainforest canopy ranging from southern Mexico to much of South America. They are nocturnal animals that usually forage alone in the dark of night, returning to sleep in tree holes with a family unit during daylight hours. Kinkajous can live for well over twenty years.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Happy Groundhog Day!

Every February 2nd in cities all across the U.S. and Canada, attendees of Groundhog Day festivals look to these famous rodents to predict whether Old Man Winter is on his way out or planning to stick around for another six weeks.
Photo: Aaron Silvers 
This tradition can be linked to ancient European lore, where bears and badgers were used for the same purpose. Groundhog Day in the United States can be traced back to the mid-1800’s in Pennsylvania, a region where festivals for the holiday are still very popular.

There are several reasons the groundhog, also known as the woodchuck, became the focus of this holiday in North America. First of all, they are quite widely distributed, with stable populations across nearly the entire eastern half of the U.S. and coast to coast in southern Canada. Also, groundhogs are some of the few animals that truly hibernate, sometimes for as long as seven months per year!
Unfortunately, groundhogs only successfully predict the end of winter about 40% of the time, so they’re not the best weather forecasters. However, there’s also a chance that they just want to go back to sleep!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Massive-Looking Muskox

Muskoxen are wild arctic mammals indigenous to northern Canada and Greenland, with introduced populations living in Alaska and Siberia. Despite their common name and appearance, muskoxen are more closely-related to sheep and goats than to cattle, and are the only members of the Ovibos genus.

On average, muskoxen measure five to eight feet in length and weigh 400-900lbs; however, their thick, double-layer coats can make them appear to be much larger animals. This coat is necessary for surviving arctic temperatures and may nearly reach the ground on some animals. Muskoxen also have large heads in proportion to their bodies and feature large, curved horns on both sexes.

Muskoxen are herd animals that live within a hierarchy. Bulls will often challenge one another for dominance, especially during mating season, by charging or intimidating one another. In some cases the losers of these contests will leave the herd to live with other bachelors or on their own. However, if threatened by a predator they are usually allowed to return for safety. Muskoxen must contend with predation by grizzly bears, polar bears, and arctic wolves. If the heard is threatened they will take up a defensive posture with the strongest members forming a ring around the herd’s calves.

The muskox has long been a food source for native peoples living in its range. However, increased colonization in these areas often resulted in overhunting, wiping out muskox populations in many areas by the early twentieth century. Since then, muskoxen have been reintroduced to many areas such as Alaska and Siberia, and are protected in most others. The estimated current muskox population has climbed to 80,000-125,000, with nearly half living on Canada’s Banks Island.