In the animal kingdom, one group dominates. With more than 350,000 species identified, these insects can be found throughout the world’s forests, deserts and backyard gardens. These six legged, winged species exist in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes – they are, the beetles.
With a body of three main segments: the head, thorax, and abdomen. The beetles form a classic insect group.
The head is where the eyes, mouth, brain, and antennae are found. The beetle’s six legs and its wings are attached to the thorax. While the abdomen contains the organs for digestion and reproduction.
One distinguishing feature of a beetle is the thick hardened front wings known as the elytra (ell-uh-truh). This shell-like cover helps protect most most of the beetle’s body and its back wings. The elytra are not used for flying.
One of the largest and strongest beetles on the planet is known as the Hercules Beetle.
Males are typically 2 to 3 inches but can reach a length of up to 7 inches and they are capable of lifting more than 800 times their own weight.
Hercules Beetles are members of the Rhinoceros beetle family, a type of horned Scarab Beetle.
There are seven variations of Hercules Beetles. The Eastern Hercules Beetle is found in forest regions of the Eastern and Southern United States. Likewise, the Western variety is mostly found in the arid lands of the Southwestern US. Other species can be found in ranges from southern Mexico through Peru, Colombia, and Bolivia.
The males body is black in colour, while the elytra varies in color depending on the humidity of the atmosphere. In a dry conditions, the elytra are yellow to olive green with dark spots. It wetter climates, the elytra become completely black.
Male Hercules Beetles possess a set of horn-like pincers. The upper horn curves forward from the thorax, while the lower horn emerges from the front of the head itself. Researchers have stated that the horn size is related to how much nutrition the the larvae received while it was growing, though the upper horn is generally longer than the lower one.
The Males often use their horns to fight one another over terrritorial feed sites and during breeding season. During these battles, each competitor attempts to use it’s horns to grab and lift it’s opponent into the air and throw them down. The contest continues until one male is injured or retreats. The winner earns the right to breed with available females in the area.
After mating, females burrow into the ground to lay eggs during the warm months.
Hercules Beetles spend the first year and half to two years of their life as larvae, known as grubs. The grubs of Hercules beetles are often eaten by wildlife species such as skunks, racoons, birds, spiders, centipedes and even other beetles.
Feeding on dead plant matter they will molt twice until they finally take their adult form. As adults they tend to remain underground until Spring. Adult Hercules Beetles are herbivorous, feeding on tree sap, rotting fruits, and nectar.
Once adult females emerge to the surface, they begin emitting a hormone that attracts male beetles and the cycle repeats for future generations.
The adult Hercules beetle emits a foul odor, possible to discourage predators from eating it. As a defense warning, they may produce a hissing sound when disturbed, which is created by rubbing their abdomen against hardened wings. Capable of flight, they will utilize this ability to flee from possible predators.
The total lifespan of the insect is often said to be somewhere between two and three years.
Like most insects, all beetles can serve as food source for other animal species. Species such as the Hercules Beetles are natural decomposers and help maintain a healthy soil for plant growth by eating rotten vegetation and animal feces. Many predatory beetles, such as the ladybug, help maintain other insect populations by feeding on potential pests such as caterpillars and aphids. Beetles are a beneficial and vital part of the world’s ecosystems.
Giant Pacific Octopus
Hidden among the rocks and reefs on the ocean floor lies a hunter – stealthy and smart.
Growing to a average weight of 90 pounds and 16 feet in length, the giant Pacific octopus is the largest of their species, some may weigh as much as 150 pounds and their arm span can reach up 20 feet across.
The octopus is a mollusk, a boneless invertebrate in the same group as snails, clams and oysters. Like squid, chambered nautilus and cuttlefish, the giant Pacific octopus is a cephalapod. A word meaning “head foot” and there is a good reason for this odd description.
The large sac-like top of an octopus is not it’s head, but is called the mantle, the mantle cavity houses the gills, stomach and other organs.
The head is actually located in the area around it’s two bulging eyes, this is where the central brain is located. Immediately beneath the head are the eight famous appendages, properly referred to as arms.
An octopus has eight arms, not tentacles. Researchers now believe that two of the arms act more like legs in helping the octopus move along the sea floor or push off to aid in swimming. Each of the eight arm’s underside is covered in two rows of suction cups. These suction cups allow the octopus to not only grasp and hold items, such as prey, but to also taste and smell through chemoreceptors located in each one. The giant pacific octopus may have more than 2,000 suckers.
In addition to the central brain, two-thirds of an octopus’ neurons reside in its arms which effectively gives it nine brains and allows each arm act and operate independently.
An octopus also has a pair of organs called statocysts located near the brain. These are balance organs which help the octopus orient itself in the water.
The tube-like attachment alongside it’s head at the base of the mantle is the siphon, sometimes called a funnel. The octopus can use the siphon to swim by filling the mantle cavity with water and forcing it back out to propel itself. Octopuses can also use the siphon to shoot out a black ink to stun and confuse a predator.
The ink does more than hide the octopus while it makes a getaway, it also contains chemicals that can cause a blinding irritation. The ink is so potent that an octopus that does not escape it’s own ink cloud may actually die.
An octopus has three hearts. Two of them pump blood to the gills, while the third one circulates blood to the rest of the body. An octopus’ blood is copper-based which gives it a blue color unlike the iron-based red blood of most animals. The copper-based blood is more efficient at absorbing oxygen in the colder water temperatures the giant pacific octopus lives in.
Found in the waters of the Northern Pacific Ocean from California to Alaska and Japan the giant Pacific octupus can thrive in shallow coastal waters to the deeper waters of the open ocean more than 4,000 feet below the surface.
The giant Pacific octopus feeds mostly on shellfish like crabs, clams, and lobsters but they also can catch and eat fish, sometimes even sharks. Possessing a sharp parrot-like beak and using it’s tongue, called a radula, the octopus can pry open and drill into the shells of prey. To catch it’s food it relies on a sophisticated camouflage coloring.
Though they are typically a reddish-brown or pink in color, the giant Pacific octopus can change it’s appearance at will. By squeezing and opening millions of pigment cells under it’s skin the giant Pacific octopus can change color in 1/10th of a second.
It is capable of mimicking even the most elaborate color patterns found among rocks and corals where it tends to hide in crevices and holes. Giant Pacific octopuses can even resemble their surroundings by using knobs of muscle to mimic the texture of nearby rocks.
In addition to being the largest octopus, the giant Pacific octopus is also considered the longest living of the 300 known species. They live to be about 3 or 4 years old, maturing by 2 years of age. Once an octopus finds a mate and breeds they do not live much longer.
After mating, the female lays eggs, typically in a cave-like den. As many as 70,000 eggs may be deposited on long strands, each egg is only about the size of a grain of rice. During this brooding time, the female octopus remains in the den protecting the eggs and she does not eat. Shortly after the young have hatched she will die.
Giant Pacific octopus are highly intelligent creatures that are known to solve puzzles, open the lid of a jar to retrieve food, and with acute vision – they may even be able to identify people by their face. When kept in zoological aquarium facilities, special care must be taken to secure the habitat – octopuses are excellent escape artists.
Giant Pacific octopuses can be fascinating to watch. They can be seen at many aquariums around North America, including the Seattle Aquarium, which conducts the annual octopus survey each fall. They enlist the help of local divers to monitor and record octopus in nearby Puget Sound.
Native to the rivers and lakes of sub-Saharan Africa, the common hippopotamus is considered to be one of the most dangerous animals on the continent.
Also known as the Nile or River Hippopotamus, hippos are some of the largest animals on land, along with the elephants and rhinoceroses.
They measure around 5 feet at the shoulder. Males can weigh more than 7,000 pounds while females are quite a bit smaller – averaging 3,000 pounds.
The name “Hippopotamus” means “river horse” in Ancient Greek. But scientists consider them to be closer related to pigs or most recently even whales than they are to horses.
Hippos are actually considered nocturnal. They spend the daytime hours in rivers, lakes and mudholes. At night, they split off from their groups, travel onto land and graze on patches of short grasses known as “hippo lawns.”
A hippo generally eats on average about 90 pounds of food a day – only about 1.5 percent of their body weight. They have a slow metabolism and can go many weeks without food if they need to.
A hippo’s mouth is 2 feet wide and can open three times as wide as human’s – a gaping 150 degrees! A hippo can easily crush a watermelon with its massive jaws.
Hippos have ivory tusks on their lower jaw that grow through out their lives and can measure nearly 20 inches. The tusks are kept sharp by rubbing against the shorter upper canines. The tusks are not used for eating, but are strictly for fighting and defense.
Hippos spend much of their time in the water, but they can’t actually swim. Instead, they walk along the river bed and can hold hold their breath for five minutes. They can propel themselves to the surface by pushing themselves off the bottom in a behavior called “porpoising”.
Hippos even sleep underwater. They have special reflex that allows them to bob up to the surface, take a breath and then sink back down, without even waking up.
A hippo’s eyes, ears and nostrils are located high on its head so they can see, hear and smell while the rest of their bodies are underwater. They can close their nostrils and ears underwater. If any water does get into their ears, once they surface, they may wiggle their ears to get any water out. They have four partially webbed toes on each foot and a clear membrane covering their eyes that acts like built in goggle.
Hippos were once thought to sweat blood! But this “blood sweat” is neither blood or sweat. It’s a thick, red, oily substance that produce a mucous layer to keep the skin moist and acts as a natural sunscreen. The red color comes from a pigment called “hipposudoric acid” that also contains antibacterial properties. Even large wounds don’t seem to get infected in the often filthy water they live in.
The blood sweat’s mucous layer makes the hippo’s bumpy skin feel like a slobbery basketball or slimy avocado!
Hippos are social but can also be very aggressive and territorial. They live in groups – called pods or bloats – of 10 to more than 100. They vocalize above and below the water making bellows, grunts, wheezes, honking and other noises. Some hippo sounds have been recorded at 115 decibels, as loud as a rock concert.
Many males will live in bachelor groups, but territorial bulls will defend their turf ferociously. A bull will even spin his paddle shaped tail while marking his territory with dung.
When rival males meet, they come nose to nose and open their mouths as wide as they can, called “gaping”, to size each other up. If they decide to fight, they swing their huge heads around slashing their opponent with their sharp tusks and bellow loudly. Opponents can be seriously injured or even killed.
The dominant bull gets breeding rights to all the females in his domain. Breeding usually occurs in the dry season so calves are born in the wet season. After a gestation of about 8 months, calves are often born in the water weighing between 55-150 pounds.
The mother and calf will spend up to two weeks away from the herd so they can bond. After it’s weaned, the calf will stay with its mother until it’s fully grown – about 4-8 years.
While crocodiles and lions may take calves and lions have been known to take down adults, a full-grown hippo doesn’t have to worry much about predators. In the wild hippos live 25-30 years in the wild but can live into their 50s in human care.
Hippos are very important to the ecosystem. They make well-worn paths that other animals can use and they defecate in water using their tail to spread the dung. The dung fertilizes the land and provides food for fish and invertebrates.
Though not endangered, hippos are still considered vulnerable and their populations have declined in some places over the years. They face threats like loss of habitat, an increase of droughts and illegal and unregulated hunting. As protection for the elephant increases, poachers may target hippos for their ivory tusks.
One of the most famous animals in the world is Fiona the hippo. The smallest hippo on record to have ever been born and survive. She was born 6 weeks premature on January 24th, 2017 at the Cincinnatti Zoo and Botanical Garden. Weighing only 29 pounds at birth and despite a rather grim outlook, this baby hippo received 24 hour care from a very dedicated team of keepers. The ongoing story was fully documented publicly by the zoo. Today Fiona enjoys celebrity status and is doing well alongside her mother, Bibi, at the Cincinnati Zoo where she serves as a remarkable testimony to outstanding animal care in the zoological world.
Special thanks to the following organizations for their research, education and conservation programs that provided information for this episode:
Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden
The Entomology Department at the University of Kentucky
Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Monterrey Bay Aquarium
Saint Louis Zoo
The University of Florida’s Entomology Department
For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit: