Our Favorite Animals
Welcome to the Prefects' monthly blog post about fun things! This month, we decided to feature some of the Prefects' favorite animals and some information on endangered species and what you can do to help! Read below to learn about the different animals each Prefect loves.
*It should also be noted the admins were extremely excited about this blog post*
beaver otter duck thing
Location: east coast of Australia (plus Tasmania)
The platypus is truly the epitome of Australia: it's so ridiculous looking that when specimens were taken back to Europe they were believed to be a hoax; and it is one of the few species of venomous mammals. What more could you want out of an animal? As well as having a duck-like bill, a beaver-like tail and otter-like feet, it's also a monotreme, which means it's a mammal that lays eggs and then once those eggs hatch, they carry their young around in a pouch! The only existing monotremes are platypus and three species of echidna, which are all native to Papua New Guinea and Australia.
Platypus can range from 0.7-2.4 kg and males can reach 50cm in length. To Americans, that means: no, think smaller than that, when I saw a taxidermied beaver for the first time I nearly died because I had been imagining them as platypus-sized this whole time. They're semi-aquatic and use their front legs for propulsion and their back legs and tail for steering.
Platypus, echidna and dolphins are the only mammals known to have the ability to electrolocate their prey -- they can identify the electric fields created by muscle contractions to see where their prey is in space. This is especially important for platypus because they close their eyes, ears and nose when they dive, locating prey only with these electroreceptors on their bills!
The good news is that unlike so many native species, platypus are not endangered -- though you're not likely to see one in the wild, either, because they're just so difficult to spot!
sources (all links : AA - 15+)
unicorn of the sea
Location: Cold Arctic Coastal Regions
With the body of a porpoise and the magical, spiral tusk of that would suit a particular magical creature, the Narwhal is certainly a breathtakingly unique creature of the seas. This horn is actually an ivory tusk, growing through the Narwhal's upper lip and can reach up to 8.8 feet (about 2.7 meters) long. This tusk is found primarily on males, though females also can grow a smaller, less prominent version of their own once they've reached an appropriate age for reproduction. In fact, male Narwhals are actually born with two of these tusks but one generally becomes much more distinguishable over the other.
The purpose of these tusks eluded scientists for years, though they are now beginning to figure out more. A Narwhal's tusk contains millions of sensitive nerve endings and has a hard, dense center. There are many theories surrounding the tusks now, including hunting purposes like sensing chemical concentrations in the water and stunning their prey), sensory purposes (such as detecting water temperatures and salinity), mating, self-protection, dominance establishment, and more. Most likely, it serves a combination of purposes but it's most important to note that these tusks are important to the Narwhal's survival.
Overhunting of these creatures to obtain their tusks has posed issues to their population numbers over the years, as does overhunting with any animal. It is important to note that this overhunting is problematic on a commercial level. While there is hunting done by certain peoples, such as Inuits, generally they are using the animal for survival purposes (such as consuming the top layer of blubber for their source of Vitamin C, which is an extremely important element in the Arctic regions). Illegal poaching or even legal trade (in some countries) of the Narwhal ivory poses the real threat to populations when we start to look at things on a commercial scale.
Environmental changes and being unable to truly track their populations work in tandem with this overhunting to pose a rather uncertain future for these cool creatures.
sources (links to specific articles, all links AA-15+):
Location: Sub Saharan Africa and Asia.
The largest land mammals on earth may have more beneath their thick hide than you realize. They are highly intelligent, with Asian elephants being domesticated for logging and other industrial uses. They display complex emotions such as jealousy and grief. Recently it has been established that elephants use subsonic communication through the ground, which they pick up with their feet and trunks. This most likely is in order to make up for incredibly poor eyesight. The trunk is an elongated upper lip and nose serving many functions, the most notable of which is its ability to grasp fine objects such as leaves and sticks (useful when you’re an herbivore). Some elephants have even been trained to paint! Elephants also use their tusks (if they have them) for scraping bark off of trees, moving obstacles, and for protection. Usually they will favor one tusk or the other much like humans are left or right handed. The side they prefer will often be shorter than its counterpart as the ivory is worn down. Even so, elephants are often hunted for their tusks, which are essentially large teeth coated in ivory.
Elephants are matriarchal, so the alpha in a herd is usually the oldest female of the family. Elephants have the longest gestation of any mammal, land or otherwise, remaining pregnant for a whopping 22 months! It’s no wonder these giants are so protective of their children. When danger is present the heard will gather all calves (baby elephants) in the center in order to deter any would be attackers. If a member of the herd is lost, elephants have been observed going back to the place where they died. Touching nearby objects and spending a few moments before getting back on the trail, wherever it may go.
As they say, an elephant never forgets.
SARAH (@adorably cute)
long neck, long legs, long everything
Location: savannahs and woodlands in Africa
The world’s tallest mammal, giraffes use their unique height advantage and 18inch tongues to eat from some of the trees and plants that are out of reach to other animals. One of their favorite foods is the leaves from the acacia tree. Their food also provides them with enough water to not have to drink too often. A good thing, since their tall stature puts them in a vulnerable position to predators when they bend down to drink.
Giraffes have bulging eyes that allow for good vision and they can see colors! The giraffe’s long neck can be 6-7ft (1.8-2.1m) in length and contains only seven vertebrae, the exact same number as a human neck. Fully grown giraffes can stand 14-18ft (4.3-5.7m) tall. Their spotted coats are used to camouflage into the savannah and each giraffe has a unique coat.
Until 2016, it was thought that there was one species of giraffe, with multiple subspecies. Some scientists have claimed that there are enough genetic differences between populations to distinguish between four different species. Population is currently decreasing, due to hunting, habitat loss, expanding agricultural activities, and ongoing civil unrest in some African nations. As such, giraffes are currently listed as a vulnerable species.
sources (all links AA-15+)
ALEXIS (@Alexis Black)
Sly. Cunning. Elusive woodland creatures.
Location: Northern Hemisphere
Most often when one thinks of foxes, the image that comes to mind is of the red fox, and for good reason. Other than human beings, the red fox has the largest natural distribution of any land mammal. They’re even in Australia (despite those weird blue bees).
Technically, foxes are a member of the Canidae family, which means they are related to dogs and wolves. Yet they have much in common to cats. For instance, they have vertical pupils instead of the rounded pupils that other dogs have. Another similarity is the retractable claws. Those claws allow the Grey foxes in North America to climb trees. Some even sleep on the branches.
Female foxes are ‘vixens’ while males are referred to as ‘tods’ or ‘dog foxes, and baby foxes are ‘pups’ or ‘kits’. They live in small families units in underground burrows while raising their young until they’re about seven months of age. But for all that they make great parents, foxes are not pack animals. On the contrary, they are solitary creatures. So you’ll only see a ‘skulk of foxes’ if there are little ones around. Just don’t be surprised if you find anything small missing from your backyard - they’re playful thieves and known to even steal golf balls from golf courses. Tiger Woods has nothing on these guys.
If all this makes you want to own your own fox, you can. All you need to do is cough up about $9,000. They’re sweet-tempered and bred to docile towards people from birth. Keep in mind some like digging in the garden while others enjoy marshmallows treats. What you might not be prepared for is the sound they make. No, we’re not talking What Does the Fox Say? Their mating call is more like a haunting screech. It’s particularly memorable if you’re walking around at night.
Lastly, in honor of Alopex here’s a tidbit regarding the Alopex Lagopus or Arctic Fox: they don’t shiver until the temperature drops to -70C/-94F. Brrrr! Talk about cold!
Norwegian Forest Cats
loves climbing and the cold
Location: Norway, Sweden, Iceland, France
The Norwegian Forest Cat is a domestic breed of cat originating in Northern Europe, and is currently very popular in Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and France. This breed is adapted to a very cold climate with a top coat of glossy, long, water-shedding hairs and a woolly undercoat for insulation. It is a big, strong cat, similar to the Maine Coon breed, with long legs, a bushy tail and a sturdy body. The breed is very good at climbing, since they have strong clawsThey are known as the Skogkatt in their native Norway, which directly translates to "forest cat", and are very intelligent, curious cats that do well in both homes and outdoors. This breed was almost lost until after World War II when breeders wanted to make sure it stayed on, and was officially named the official cat of Norway by the late King Olaf. They didn't leave Norway until the 1970s, and are only a very recently recognized international breed because of this late exportation.
Norse mythology says that these cats were the favorite of Freya, goddess of love, fertility, and the heart. Vikings often took the ancestors of these cats with them on their ships to keep them clear of rodents and because of their ability to easily adapt to life on the water and easy coat maintenance. Freya also symbolized domesticity and was often portrayed with Norwegian Forest cats playing around her feet. Lovers wanting to marry asked the blessing of Freya and her cats. Because of this custom, many superstitions about weddings and cats began. Some of these superstitions included: girls who value cats will definitely marry; giving newlyweds a black cat as a gift symbolized good luck; Scandinavians believed that feeding a cat well would guarantee sunshine on the day of a wedding.
Called Norsk Skogkatts or Skaukatts in their native Norway, these cats were originally thought of as fairy cats. A naturally large breed, Forest cats were said to be so huge that not even the gods could lift them. One tale relates how Thor, the strongest of the gods, lost a contest of strength to Jormungand, who was disguised as a Forest cat. Some of this mythology lingers even today, which is pretty cool! These are some regal looking cats with their thick, long fur, and they know their place is at the top of every household, as it rightfully should be.
take things slow, eat a few leaves
Location: Central and South America
Sloths are tropical mammals that live in Central and South America. Their claws are 3 to 4 inches long and are used to hang onto trees and grab leaves that other animals cannot reach. Their claws make walking around hard, so they spend most of their lives hanging in trees. This and their slow moving helps them avoid predators who may otherwise find them delicious.
There are six species of sloths, either having two-to-three toes. Three toed sloths are about the size of a medium-sized dog, with lengths of about 23 - 27 inches (58 to 68 cm). The two-toed variety however the larger of the two, though they aren't the largest! Back in the good 'ol days there were giant ground sloths that grew to about the size of elephant. Though unfortunately they are now extinct. In the wild sloths can live on average 20 to 30 years, but can live a bit longer in captivity. One such sloth lived all the way up to the age of 43!
Sloths are very solitary in behavior. Captive sloths sleep from 15 to 20 hours a day, while wild sloths only get an average of 10. While when thinking of sloths, a lot of people associate with them sleeping while hanging (which they do sometimes), sloths prefer to sleep in a ball in the fork of tropical trees. They typically only leave their tree homes for three reasons: to use the bathroom, establish new territory, and to find a mate. Due to sloths diet and slow metabolism, they only leave their trees once a week to poop in which they use their tails as a spade to dig a whole. Mating is initiated by the females giving a monotone mating scream, and attracted males will go to her. If more than one male appears though, the two males will hang from their feet and have a go with their sharp claws.
While most sloths aren't endangered, they are at risk due to deforestation like many other tropical wildlife.
creature of the night
Location: Most places save polar regions and extreme desert
Ranging from small to large the bat is the only Mammal who can achieve true flight rather than just gliding like other mammals. Their wings are comprised of elongated fingers with a membrane stretched between them. A bat's hand actually resembles a human one. These creatures of the night play a vital part in our environmental and economic services. Most species of bat eat insects, and a few eat fruit. The blood-sucking variety that bats are generally known for is only three particular species found in Latin America, they typically drink from cattle and occasionally humans. They only drink for about 30 minutes and not enough to cause harm to the creature they drink from, the bite itself is the most harmful as it can become infected and diseased.
Unfortunately, because of these three species, bats are thought to be vampires and are hunted in Latin America due to fear of the creature. Many times those that hunt these bats actually bring harm to productive and helpful bats who do not consume blood. While there are over 1300 species of bat comprising one-quarter of all mammal species, there are twenty-three of these species that are considered critically endangered and another fifty-three that are categorized as endangered. There are several more species that we do not have data to determine if they are threatened or endangered. Of the species we have studied over one-third of the species are at least considered threatened. It is not just the bats in Latin America who are struggling. Bushmeat hunters, guano (bat poop) minters, careless disturbances of bat habitats and a disease known as White-nose Syndrome are contributing to their extinction.
Bats face a very daunting life in all corners of the earth, but they are not a threat, or a problem like many people think them to be. Please be mindful of bats and know they server more good than ill. Leave then undisturbed if you can, particularly in the winter months as a disturbance during hibernation can mean their death. If you wish to do more for the dwindling population of bats, you may want to consider donating to Bat Conservation International.
sources (all links : AA - 15+)
Supporting Bees Outside of the US
One important consideration when you're thinking about the bees is that a lot of guides have US-specific advice, and much of it may be useless or even actively harmful for your native bees/ecosystem! The information below is for Australian bees specifically, but be sure to seek out information relevant to your country's bees.
Also, if you're afraid of bees, know that plenty of native bees are stingless, my favourite kind of bee. And some of them are +blue! [warning for pic of bee] The world is full of so many good things.
- Bee hotels: many native bees are solitary, so they don't have hives like bees in cartoons (and, I guess, real life). You can buy a bee hotel or make one yourself -- it provides holes for solitary bees to nest in, protection from the rain and also helps bees who have had their native habitat destroyed. (Leaf cutter bees stuff their holes with leaves and it's super cute!!!)
- Water: we are eternally in drought (blows a kiss to the sky for the farmers) and bees need to drink! However, open water can be a drowning risk, so make a bee bath -- +here are some suggestions for how.
- Flowers: both exotic and native flowers will help attract bees. +Here's a great list of some native and exotic flowers to plant, including bottlebrush, flowering gum, grevillia and lavender.
- For more Australian bee tips, the internet has a wealth of information! I'd recommend +this list as a starting point.
Supporting Bees Inside the US:
America’s honeybees are dying off for many reasons, but there are some ways that you can help!
- Buy honey and donate to local organizations supporting beekeepers: when colonies die, beekeepers are forced to charger farmers more to pollinate their crops.
- Plant pollinator-friendly flowers: planting a bee-friendly garden can make it easier for bees to forage through to transfer pollen. It’s recommended to use plants that are native to your area, which can be found +here
- Set out water: set out a plate of water for a bee bath or a rock with a with spots where rain can gather.
- Watch the chemicals: try to apply chemicals and pesticides in the yard early in the morning when bees and other pollinators aren’t around
What's happening, and what you can do about it
As many of you probably know, scientists have been claiming we're on the brink of the next mass extinction event. An extinction event is a widespread and rapid decrease in the biodiversity on Earth. Such an event is identified by a sharp change in the diversity and abundance of multicellular organisms. It occurs when the rate of extinction increases with respect to the rate of speciation.What does it mean to be an "endangered" species? Well, it depends on what species you're talking about. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) maintains a Red List+ of all the animal species that are currently of "least concern" to "critically endangered". The categories are as follows from least to most concern:
- Least Concern: no immediate threat to species' survival
- Near-Threatened: may be considered threatened in the near future
- Vulnerable: faces a high risk of endangerment in the medium term
- Endangered: faces a high risk of extinction in the near future
- Critically Endangered: faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future
- Extinct in the Wild: captive individuals survive, but there is no free-living, natural population.
- Extinct: no remaining individuals of the species
The most widespread awareness for species conservation for some species that are critically endangered or endangered are those such as the Asiatic Lion, Northern White Rhinoceros, California Condor, Asian Elephant, Bengal Tiger, Bluefin Tuna, and Green Sea Turtles. These are well-known causes, but there are hundreds of plant and insect species also on the verge of extinction! The United States enacted the Endangered Species Act of 1973+ to promote conservation within the United States, and many other countries have similar provisions. Some things you can do are to donate to conservation agencies like the IUCN and talk to your representatives about ending trophy hunting, illegal whaling, and overfishing the oceans. The increasing speed at which the world is losing bees is also quite alarming, as they cross pollinate at least 30% of crops and 90% of wild plants survive. Biodiversity across all species is very important to maintain, and the impact of human life on natural life is profound. Lobbying for conservation efforts wherever you live is a great way of contributing to ensuring that future generations can still see a lion or a tiger or sea turtles in the wild.
Please feel free to discuss your favorite animals in the comments and also your insights on species conservation around the world! Animals are a huge part of our lives and we'd love to know what in particular you all enjoy about them, whether it be your family cat or dog, or you work with animals in your job, or you plain just love 'em all!
contributions: emma, rumpels, alexis, carrie, madi, chelts, kyle, sarah
bees: emma, sarah
endangered species: madi