In the thick woodlands of Asia as the sun begins to set, one of the world’s largest felines is on the move. This cultural icon is one of the most recognized members of the animal kingdom. It’s scientific name: Panthera tigris tigris.
Also known as the Indian Tiger, the royal Bengal Tiger is the most common of all tigers and the national animal of India and Bangladesh.
Highly adaptable, their habitats include tropical rainforests, temperate forests of the Himalayas, and tall grasslands.
In south Bangladesh, they can be seen living in the Sundarbans mangrove forest where they are known to swim between islands of the delta region. Bengal tigers are the only tigers known to thrive in a mangrove habitat.
Powerful hunters, bengals are most active at dusk and dawn, when they use tall grass and trees as cover to stalk prey and then swiftly and silently attack. Superb athletes, that are excellent swimmers and jumpers – capable of leaping up to 30 feet.
Possessing the largest canines of all big cat species, up to 3 inches in length, the tiger’s canines have pressure-sensing nerves that enable the tiger to identify the location needed to sever the neck of its prey.
Their back teeth are called carnassials which enables the tiger to shear meat from their prey like knife blades.
The gap between the canines and these carnassials allow the tiger to hold its prey tightly. They swallow large torn pieces of meat whole.
The smaller front teeth, the incisors, enable the tiger to pick off meat and feathers from their catch.
Common Bengal Tiger prey includes water buffalo, many deer species, and wild boar. They have also been known to target nearby predators such as leopards and wolves when prey is scarce. They are capable of eating over 80 pounds in one sitting.
One of the largest cats in the world, male Bengals can weigh up to 500 pounds – only the Amur (or Siberian) tiger is bigger.
Bengals can grow up to 13 feet in length, including a 3 foot tail that aids in balance and making sharp turns. Researchers believe the tail may also may be used in their visual communication with other tigers.
A tiger’s roar can be heard almost 2 miles away, in addition they may also moan and chuff – which is a friendly greeting sound shared between two tigers.
The most striking characteristic of a Bengal Tiger is perhaps it’s stripes. Tigers are the only large cat species to have distinctive striping located on both the hair and skin.
Each tiger possesses a unique stripe pattern and coloration, much like a human fingerprint. These stripes act as camouflage enabling them to hide among shadows, trees and tall grasses during their hunts.
Some Bengal tigers are marked with a unique genetic color variation – the famed white tigers. Not albino, these white Bengals have dark stripes and stunning blue eyes. For unknown reasons, researchers have noted that the white tigers seem to grow larger and faster than their orange counterparts.
Many tigers are hunted for their skins and bones, their prey are killed by hunters for the exotic bushmeat market and much of their habitats are being converted to human uses. The top predator of most of Asia’s tropical and temperate forests, all tiger species today face similar challenges to their survival.
Western Lowland Gorilla
The great apes, the largest and most powerful primates on Earth. Africa is home to several species: the chimpanzee, the bonobo and the king of the apes – the gorilla. There are two species of gorillas – identified as the eastern and western gorillas.
Found in the tropical rain forests of the Congo River basin is the most common and widespread subspecies, the Western Lowland gorilla. Scientific name: Gorilla gorilla gorilla. They are distinguished by their brownish-gray fur and auburn colored crests that covers their jet black skin. Other subspecies are primarily more black in fur color.
Slightly smaller than their Eastern gorilla cousins, the Western Lowland males can stand between 5 and 6 feet tall and may weigh as much as 450 pounds with an arm span of nearly 8 feet across.
Males also have a more pointed head due to the sagittal (sa-juh-tl) crest that forms on of the top of the head. This ridge along the top and back of the skull serves as the attachment point of large jaw muscles.
Gorillas have the same number and arrangement of teeth as humans, 32. Their large canines and those strong impressive jaw muscles give them a powerful bite. A bite that is useful for defense and tearing through tough vegetation.
Gorillas primarily eat plant leaves, shoots, bulbs, fruits and other vegetation and seeds. Gorillas consumption of seeds is beneficial to the ecosystem as they help spread plant life throughout the region. They are omnivores and are also known to eat snails, termites and ants.
Gorillas live in a family group known as a troop. A typical troop size averages around 10 animals but can be as large as 30. Each troop is comprised of a dominant male, the silver back, and several females and their offspring.
The silver back begins to acquire his familiar silvery-white saddle along the back, rump and thigh as he enters adulthood around 15 years of age.
Young males will leave the troop as they mature if they are unable to challenge and displace the silver back. These males will often form a social group of bachelors until they establish their own troops with maturing females.
Females reach maturity when they are about 10 years old and typically give birth every four to six years. Baby gorillas are weaned from their mother between 2 and 3 years of age.
Gorillas communicate with one another through glances, gestures and even sounds and vocalizations. Researchers have identified more than 20 unique vocalizations including huffing, belches, grunts, barks and hooting – which can be heard up to a mile in the forest. Screams are often given as alarm calls and baby gorillas cry, much like a human baby, that will usually get an immediate response from its mother.
When an adult gorilla stands up and beats its chest with cupped hands, it may be a sign of curiosity, to show off, or serve as a warning to intruders. When a youngster does it, he wants to play.
The wrinkles on a gorilla’s nose, known as a nose print, are like human fingerprints, and every individual’s nose print is unique. Researchers use these nose prints as identification markers in their studies, both in zoological settings and in the wild.
The largest and perhaps most intimidating of the great apes, gorillas are typically shy and peace loving animals. They are not aggressive to other creatures, including man, unless threatened. When threatened the gorilla, one of nature’s strongest animals, can be very dangerous.
Gorillas forage for food during the early morning hours and typically bed down in the late afternoon, females and young often sleep in tree nests while males sleep nearby in tall grass, under-growth, or bushes.
Leopards may prey on younger gorillas but man is their greatest predatory threat. Gorillas are often hunted for bush meat, as game trophies or young are often taken by poachers and sold as pets on the black market. Currently gorillas are listed as Critically Endangered.
Western Lowland gorillas can be observed in person at many local zoos around the world. One of North America’s largest population of gorillas can be seen at ZooAtlanta in Georgia – including Ozzie – the oldest known male gorilla in the world.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio is also home to an amazing family of Western Lowland gorillas and is distinguished as the birthplace of Colo, who was the first zoo born gorilla in the world in 1956. As the face of her species during a time when little was known about gorillas, Colo lived more than 20 years beyond her life expectancy and even became a great-great grandmother during her life. An excellent ambassador for her species.
Found burrowing in the riverbanks of eastern Australia and Tasmania, these strange-looking mammals emerge at dusk to feed. Sweeping its signature duck-like bill from side to side while using thousands of specialized nerves to detect small aquatic animals; the platypus patrols the waterways for prey like crustaceans, insect larvae, worms and small amphibians.
The duck-billed platypus is perhaps the most recognizable and unique animal in the world. Exclusive to Australia, it is so elusive that many Australians themselves have never seen one in the wild.
With a paddle-shaped tail like an otter, a sleek body covered in dense, chestnut-colored fur like a mole, a black wide, flat duck-like bill attached in front of its little round eyes, and big webbed feet like a pelican this amazing creature seems to defy classification.
In 1799 when European naturalists first presented a pelt of these unique creatures to the public, many believed that various animal parts had simply been sown together as a hoax. A scientific debate over the animal persisted for several years, even the name platypus (which means “flat-foot” in Greek) was already assigned to a genus of beetles, eventually the name persisted and was accepted as a common name. Among the indigenous aboriginal tribes of Australia this fascinating animal was historically called the “water mole.”
Male platypuses are one of the few mammals that are venomous. A spur located on the hind legs are connected to venom-secreting glands. This venom is strong enough to kill dogs and produce a very painful sting to humans. Female platypus also possess the spur but shed them when only several months old. Researchers believe the primary function of the spurs appears to be to compete with rival male platypuses during the breeding season.
Though it is a mammal, the platypus has several distinct features not common among other mammals: they lack a discernible neck, its legs are splayed out to the sides of the body (much like many reptiles) and possess a lower average body temperature than most other warm-blooded animals.
A bit awkward on land, Platypus move underwater rather quick and graceful. Using their front feet to paddle their tails and back feet to steer, they are like aquatic missiles. With their eyes and ears closed, the platypus targets its prey using highly sensitive electro receptor nerves located inside their bill.
Most dives last about 1 or 2 minutes but they have been observed holding their breath for nearly 10 minutes if not exerting too much energy. The dives are quick and silent movements but if alarmed they appear to intentionally splash – perhaps to warn other nearby platypus of possible danger.
Lacking teeth, the platypus scoops up its food inside cheek pouches then returns to the surface using its mouth pads to grind its food. These keratin formed grinders are replaced continuously throughout its lifetime.
Similar to an otter, platypus fur is waterproof and traps an insulating layer of air to keep its body temperature stable, even in cold water. Long guard hairs protect the dense fur underneath, which stays dry even after the animal has been in the water for extended periods of time.
Though they are unique to a select region of the world, they are able to thrive in a diverse range of climate zones from warm rain forest to the cooler mountainous areas of the Australian Alps. While they have been seen in brackish estuaries they prefer fresh water habitats.
Most notably, platypuses are one of only 5 species of mammals that lay eggs, the others being different subspecies of echidna. This small group of egg-laying mammals is collectively known as monotremes.
Typically a female will lay 2 eggs each season. After a 10 day incubation the eggs hatch, the newborns are about the size of a lima bean and are completely helpless. Like the echidna, female platypuses feed their young by secreting milk through their skin. A baby platypus remains in the nesting burrow up to 4 months after birth. They reach adult size in an additional 12 to 18 months.
Made for life in the water, they also spend half of their day on land inside burrows. Sleeping for 10 to 12 hours then emerging at dusk for foraging through the overnight hours, where they eat up to 30% of their body weight daily. A female nursing young may consume more than 100% of her weight in a day in order to maintain milk production.
The average life span of a platypus in the wild is 7 to 14 years. Tasmanian devils and various birds of prey such as owls and hawks are among the documented predators, in some regions crocodiles may also be a threat.
As with most wildlife today, habitat destruction due to over development in addition to polluted water sources are the primary threats to their future existence.
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