Manta Rays | Sperm Whale | Giant Squid

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1. Manta Rays
2. Sperm Whale
3. Giant Squid
Credits and Links

Manta Rays

Closely related to sharks is a group of fish with a skeleton made of cartilage and pectoral fins that are fused to the head region into a disc. In many species, the head is raised above the disc. Most species have a long, whip-like tail and many possess at least 1 venomous spine located along the tail. These fish are known collectively as rays.

The largest species of ray in the world – and one of the ocean’s largest fish – is the Manta Ray. These massive and mysterious fish bear a name meaning “blanket” or “cloak” in Spanish. At one point Manta Rays were sometimes called Blanket Fish.

Manta Rays are easily recognized by their diamond shape with large, triangular pectoral fins and a small dorsal fin near the base of the slender, whip-like tail. The gill slits are located on the ventral – or underside – a characteristic of rays and their relatives, the skates.

Generally, the topside of a Manta Ray is black with lighter “shoulder” patches and the underside is white with dark freckle-like spot patterns. These patterns are unique to each Manta, that can be used to identify an individual.

A signature feature of Manta Rays are two appendages on the front of their head which are rolled and projected forward while not feeding. Known as cephalic lobes, these lobes may look like horns in the animals silhouette are the reason Manta Rays are sometimes called the “devil ray.“

There are two recognized species of Manta Ray – the Reef Manta Ray and the Giant – or Oceanic – Manta Ray.

The Giant Oceanic Manta Ray is the largest of the species with a “wingspan” (also called the disk width) of up to nearly 30 feet across but most measure around 20 feet or less. The Reef Manta is smaller with an average wingspan of 10 to 15 feet.

Reef mantas are primarily found in tropical and subtropical waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, but may be found worldwide. They can be found in bays or reefs and seem to avoid deep, open waters.

Giant Mantas can be found in temperate, tropical and subtropical waters worldwide. They may be found offshore or out in open waters.

Each of the two species have slightly different coloration. The shoulder patches on the Giant Manta usually have a more triangular or chevron shape and the gap between them forms a “T” shape. The Reef Manta’s shoulder patches are usually more curved and the gap between may form a “Y” shape or the two patches may touch.

The area around the mouth on the Giant Manta is typically darker than the Reef Manta. The spot patterns on the Giant Manta usually clusters around the abdominal region, while the reef manta’s extend from the abdominal region and pectoral fins to between the gill slits.

The lower region of the underside of the Giant Manta’s pectoral fins is typically darker than those on the Reef Manta and the Giant Manta has remnants of a stinging spine, while this spine seems to be completely absent on the Reef Manta.

There are two known color morphs of Manta Rays: melanistic (which has an almost all black appearance) and leucistic (which appears white).

Recently the genus Manta has been has been combined with the genus Mobula – which includes their relatives the Lesser Devil Rays. Appearing much like a miniature or baby Manta Ray – the Lesser Devil Ray only reaches a wingspan of about 4 feet.

While most ray species have a mouth located on the bottom – known as an inferior mouth, Manta Rays have a mouth located on the front of their heads – this is known as a terminal mouth.

Even though they are some of the largest fish in the sea, Manta Rays feed upon some of the tiniest—zooplankton. Zooplankton consists of tiny or microscopic animals such as krill, the early life stages of larger animals like fish or weak swimmers like sea jellies—all drifting along ocean currents and tides.

Manta rays are filter feeders. The cephalic lobes unfurl to help funnel water into the manta’s mouth while it feeds. Water flows from the mouth through the gill rakers, filtering out food that is then swallowed whole. Mantas often perform graceful backflips or somersaults while feeding to pass through clusters of plankton multiple times or possibly to corral prey.

Mantas (and their relatives the Lesser Devil and Eagle Rays) have often been observed leaping clear out of the water. The full reason behind this incredible behavior is unknown. There could be multiple reasons such as it being some form of communication, to impress mates or they may perform this behavior to dislodge parasites as they are known to visit “cleaning stations” where fish such as wrasses pick off dead skin and parasites off the manta’s body. Mantas may even leap out of the water as a form of play.

Manta rays have the biggest brain-to-body ratio of any fish. Studies have suggested that mantas may be able to recognize themselves in a mirror and create “mental maps” of their environment—indicating a highly developed long-term memory.

Mantas are ovoviviparous, meaning an egg develops and hatches inside the mother. After a gestation period of about a year, the female gives birth to one or two live pups that resemble miniature adults measuring around 3 feet across. The pups are born ready to freely swim and fend for themselves since, like other rays, they receive no parental care. The estimated lifespan for manta rays is around 20, but possibly even up to 40 years.

A Manta Ray’s natural predators are large sharks and possibly Killer Whales. These gentle giants are listed as vulnerable with populations decreasing. While they can be found in warm waters worldwide, populations are sparsely distributed and highly fragmented.

Threatened by accidental by-catch, Manta Rays are also targeted for their meat, which is considered a delicacy in some countries, and for their gill rakers – which are used in traditional Asian medicine.

Several countries where Manta Rays are found have placed a fishing ban on these animals. Ecotourism, excursions to see and even swim with these gentle giants in their natural habitat, can be a great source of revenue for local economies – making Manta Rays more valuable alive than dead. Though it has been noted that Mantas that are frequently touched by swimmers may develop skin lesions due to the removal of the protective mucous layer.

Today, the AZA accredited Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is the only aquarium in the U.S where these majestic ocean giants can be seen in person. While there is still work to be done to protect Mantas, there are rays of hope that these massive and amazing animals survive for generations to come.

Sperm Whale

Historically feared and revered in cultures around the world – the Sperm Whale is the largest toothed whale species. Easily recognized by their massive heads – the largest on the planet – and their prominent foreheads, Sperm Whales have a rectangular, box-shaped body that tapers to triangular shaped flukes that may grow approximately 16 feet from tip to tip. Male Sperm Whales may grow up to 60 feet long and weigh up to 45 tons.

Though not the largest species of whale, they possess the largest brain of any animal on Earth and they can dive deeper than almost any other marine mammal. Powerful swimmers, they are capable of cruising speeds of around 23 miles per hour.

Sperm Whales are mostly dark grey, though some have white patches on the belly – the famous 19th century novel, Moby Dick, featured an all white, mythical Sperm Whale.

While most whale’s blowholes are situated back near their eyes, the Sperm Whale’s blowhole is located toward the forward tip of their head, uniquely positioned on the left side – they are the only living cetaceans to have this particular trait.

Their heads are extremely large, accounting for about one-third of total body length. The skin just behind the head is often wrinkled. Their lower jaw is narrow and the portion of the jaw closest to the teeth is white. The interior of the mouth is often bright white as well. There are between 20 and 26 large teeth in each side of the lower jaw. The teeth in the upper jaw rarely break through the gums.

Compared to their body size, they have rather small, paddle-shaped pectoral flippers and a small, usually rounded and thick dorsal fins. They also have several small bumpy ridges that line the edge of their back from the dorsal back to to tail flukes.

In addition to their large brain, the Sperm Whale’s head also holds a large quantity of a substance called spermaceti. Scientists still do not understand the function of spermaceti – an oily fluid – one common theory is that the fluid—which hardens to wax when cold—helps the whale alter its buoyancy so it can dive deep and rise again. Spermaceti was used in oil lamps, lubricants, and candles and in addition to whale blubber, was the main reason Sperm Whales were a prime target of the commercial whaling industry from 1800 through 1987.

Their bodies are uniquely adapted for deep diving, with features such as high concentrations of the oxygen-carrying protein, myoglobin, in their muscles, and a collapsible rib cage that allows their lungs to be compressed during deep dives.

Sperm whales hunt for food during these extended dives that routinely reach depths of 2,000 feet and can last for 45 minutes. They are known to dive over 3200 feet and are capable of diving to depths of over 10,000 feet holding their breathes for over 90 minutes. After long, deep dives, individuals come to the surface to breathe and recover for approximately nine minutes.

Because sperm whales spend most of their time in deep waters, their diet consists of many larger species that also occupy the deep waters. They eat thousands of pounds of fish and squid—about one ton per day – are 3 to 3.5 percent of their body weight per day.

Female Sperm Whales almost exclusively eat squid while males may also consume other deep water and bottom dwelling creatures such as sharks, rays and fish such as cod.

But the most preferred item in the diet of any Sperm Whale is the enormous, deep sea creatures known as the Giant Squid. In what is one of nature’s largest battles between behemoths, Sperm Whales are well known for their attacks on the Giant Squid.

While the squid is able to defend itself with incredibly long arms and two tentacles and many Sperm Whales do bear scars and marks from these encounters, the whale does usually win and many large, sharp Giant Squid beaks are found in the stomachs of Sperm Whales.

Ambergris, a substance that forms around squid beaks in a whale’s stomach has historically been valued as a substance used in perfumes.

Sperm whales are often spotted in groups of 15 to 20 animals. These groups, known as pods, include females and their young, while males typically roam solo or move from group to group. Females and calves remain in tropical or subtropical waters all year long.

Sperm Whales also practice communal childcare where several females look after and take care of multiple calves – and like humans, Elephants and Killer Whales, they are one of the few mammals where females retain a matriarchal role in their society beyond their child-rearing years. Male Sperm Whales tend to migrate to higher latitudes and head back towards the equator to breed.

Calves are born after a 14-16 month gestation period, and stay with their mothers for many years. A calf will start to eat solid foods by the age of 1 year, but may continue suckling for several more years until the next calf is born. Young males will leave their female family unit at ages ranging from 4 to nearly 20 years old. These young males will often join a ‘bachelor herd’ with other males of approximately the same age and size.

Despite their size and role as a top predator themselves, Sperm Whales do have natural enemies. Killer whales have been observed attacking sperm whale pods.

Sperm whales in some parts of the world have a unique response to attacks, gathering into a formation similar to a wagon wheel – in which all members of the group position themselves with their heads in the center and their tails facing outward like the spokes of a wheel. They then fend off attack by slashing their tails back and forth. Often a vulnerable calf or injured whale is positioned at the center of this formation for added protection.

Two related species of toothed whales, the Pygmy and Dwarf Sperm Whales possess an ability similar to squids – they are able to produce a dark, ink-like liquid that helps them escape from predators. Little is known about either of these smaller Sperm Whales – both are very similar in appearance and were once considered the same species. Pygmy Sperm Whales may reach a length just over 11 feet while Dwarf Sperm Whales grow up to 9 feet long.

Despite large population drops due to whaling, sperm whales are still fairly numerous and have one of the widest global distributions of any marine mammal species. They are found in all deep oceans, from the equator to the edge of the pack ice in the Arctic and Antarctic.

Sperm whales are found in deep open waters, or around islands and coastal areas with deep canyons or very narrow continental shelves such as off the South Island of New Zealand.

Though international whaling is no longer a major threat and its population is still recovering. The sperm whale is listed as endangered under the United States Endangered Species Act.

Giant Squid

It is said that there are few monsters left in the world. As the age of discovery began to reveal even the most remote parts of the earth, many of history’s legends and myths were exposed as previously undiscovered animals or simple exaggerations.

However one of the most undiscovered and unknown regions of the planet – the deepest parts of the world’s ocean remains a home to many creatures shrouded in mystery. One such creature has been immortalized by ancient, classic and even modern literary works.

Thought to be the source of the legendary sea monster myth – the Kraken – it is one of the largest invertebrates to ever live. The creature known as the Giant Squid.

The ocean holds an estimated 500 species of squid. Some are surprisingly tiny, only 1 inch in length but the Giant Squid may grow more than 40 feet long.

Squids are mollusks, closely related to snails, clams, slugs and of course – octopus. Squids, octopus, nautilus and cuttlefish are known as cephalopods.

Like octopus, squid have eight arms, but squids are also equipped with two long feeding tentacles that can be shot out to grasp prey. Giant squid can snatch prey up to 33 feet away by shooting out their two feeding tentacles, which are tipped with hundreds of powerful sharp-toothed suckers. These feeding tentacles are very long, often just as long as the length of the Giant Squid’s body – known as the mantle.

On the underside of the squid’s body is the funnel, a unique multipurpose tool. By pumping water and other fluids through the funnel, the squid uses it to exhale, expel waste, lay eggs, squirt ink, and move through the water by jet-propulsion. At the opposite end of the mantle are the triangular, arrowhead shaped stabilizing fins.

The mantle itself encloses the Giant Squid’s internal organs. Inside this squishy, conical shaped part of the body and different than the bulbous shape of the octopus, the squid has a tough internal shell called a “pen”. The animal’s powerful muscles attach to the pen.

Giant squid breathe using 2 large gills that rest inside their mantle cavity.

Set in the middle of the squid’s sucker-tipped arms is a sharp, stiff beak that is used to slice prey. Beyond the deadly beak is yet another appendage – a tongue-like organ known as the radula that is covered with rows of teeth that grinds the remaining bits of food.

The esophagus of the Giant Squid actually passes through the center of the animal’s brain. Oddly, the brain of a Giant Squid is shaped like a donut. Like octopus and cuttlefish, Giant Squids have very complex brains which indicate a very intelligent creature capable of problem solving and outsmarting their prey and predators.

The eyes of a Giant Squid are the largest eyes of any member of the animal kingdom. At 1 foot in diameter, these huge eyes are often described as the size of a beach ball or large dinner plate in diameter. The animals large eyes absorb more light than those found on other animals, allowing the Giant Squid to spot bioluminescent prey – or even possible predators lurking – in the dark.

Though their very name implies their large size, reports of a Giant Squid’s size are often exaggerated since finding a live giant squid is an extremely rare event. Almost everything people know about these aquatic behemoths comes from specimens washed up on beaches. Sometimes their tentacles or arms have fallen off, or have been eaten by other animals while afloat in the ocean.

Scientists often use mantle length as the best measure of a squid’s actual size. The longest mantle length on record is 7.4 feet and the longest total length (including tentacles) of a squid on record is 43 feet.

A new method for figuring out how big a squid can get includes using beak size to estimate total body length, a helpful tool considering the hard beaks are often found in the stomachs of Sperm Whales – the creature’s number one predator.

Based on this new method, scientists believe the Giant Squid could reach lengths up to 66 feet long. Giant Squids of this size would make them larger than the Colossal Squid – another enormous squid that possesses a more rounded mantle and is heavier in size but not generally as long as the Giant Squid and its two tentacles.

It is believed that Giant Squid only live about five years and, in that time, reproduce only once. Females release millions of tiny, transparent fertilized eggs into the water in a jellied clump called an egg mass. Most are quickly snatched up as food by other marine animals. But a few survive and within a few short years, grow into massive marine predators.

Based on remains found in the stomach of washed ashore Giant Squids, it is believed they mostly eat deep water fishes and other squids—including other Giant Squids.

Giant Squid are thought to swim in the ocean worldwide, based on the beaches they’ve washed upon. This distribution suggests that they prefer continental and island slopes, according to Dr. Clyde Roper – a recognized authority on the Giant Squid species.

Some researchers think there are as many as 8 species of Giant Squid but others think there is just one, with perhaps 3 subspecies.

Recent DNA studies of specimens found throughout the world and even as apart as those in Japanese and Florida waters seem to support the idea of a single Giant Squid species.

Giant Squid like creatures have long been featured on ancient maps as sea creatures and may also have been the inspiration for the legendary ship-destroying Kraken. Their encounters with Sperm Whales – the primary predator of the Giant Squid – are one of nature’s most epic confrontations. The animal’s appearance in Jules Verne’s novel “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea” have also given Giant Squids a reputation as a real-life sea monster.

Despite the Giant Squid’s legend through history, it was only in 2005 when the first underwater photographs of a live Giant Squid in its natural habitat were presented by two Japanese marine biologists. A year later video footage was acquired by the National Science Museum of Japan of a female that was lured to the surface.

Beginning in 2012, utilizing a newly developed deep water camera system and specialized lure, that minimizes disturbances to the light-sensitive creatures that live there, one of two videos captured lived Giant Squids actively hunting in water more than 2,400 feet below the surface. One video was taken in waters off of Japan, the second and most recent video from 2019 was in the Gulf Of Mexico just 100 miles southeast of New Orleans, Louisiana.

The two videos have provided great insight into the hunting tactics of these mysterious behemoths. They show that Giant Squids are active creatures and can be seen actually tracking the special lure. It was once believed that Giant Squids would simply float or hover in the water column and passively wait for food to drift by.

But the images acquired show the squid aggressively attack the baited line, revealing that though Giant Squids are not man-eating ship sinkers, these amazing animals of myth and lore are indeed quick and agile predators of its deep sea domain.


Special thanks to the following organizations for their education, research and conservation programs that provided information for this episode:

Florida Museum
Georgia Aquarium
Manta Matcher
Marine Bio
Museum Of New Zealand
National Geographic
NOAA Fisheries
Smithsonian Magazine
Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal website

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Babirusas | Takins | Amur Leopard

Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | iHeartRadio | Podbean | Stitcher | more

1. Babirusas
2. Takins
3. Amur Leopard
Credits and Links


Wild pig species, or swine, have long been native to the Old World. Many species are found across Europe, Africa and Asia including the common Warthog, the Bearded Pig, the Red River hog and the Warty pigs. More than a dozen of these mammals are resident to a variety of natural habitats throughout the world, but perhaps the pig with the most striking appearance is the animal known as the Babirusa.

The Babirusa is found on the small tropical Indonesian island of Sulawesi and a few nearby surrounding islands of the archipelago.

Typically dull grey in color with very little hair, adult males stand 2 to 3 feet tall and can weigh up to 220 pounds. With a barrel-shaped body and thin long legs, this species of wild pig is best known for its bizarre looking face that includes 4 visible tusks including two that grow out of the top of their mouth penetrating the skin.

These tusks are actually canine teeth which begin growing down but when the male Babirusa is around 6 months old, the teeth rotate 180 and eventually pierce the skin just below their eyes. These specialized teeth continue to grow and curve back toward the animal’s head and often resemble antlers more than they do tusks, giving the animal its native name Babirura – which translates to “pig-deer.”

The Babirusa is the only mammal with vertically growing upper canine teeth. The true purpose of these curving tusks is unknown to researchers. Found only on the males, the tusks have inspired many legends and beliefs over time including the idea they were used to hang silently from trees until a female passed by. It was thought they are used to clear brush for females and young – who lack the upper protruding tusks – however females often live in groups and travel without males – who remain primarily solitary – this function seems unlikely.

Some people believed the tusks were used in battles between males, however when male Babirusa do fight over territory or when competing for a mate – they actually don’t utilize their tusks normally but similar to a kangaroo, the male Babirusa will stand upright on their hind legs and “box” with their front hooves and shove each other with their shoulders. The protruding tusks, however, may offer some protection for the animal’s eyes.

Like most pigs, the Babirusa’s canines will continue to grow their entire lives. Usually the teeth are worn down through natural behaviors such as eating, fighting, and each pair of lower and bottom teeth wearing on each other. In the case of the Babirusa however, they must wear down the lower teeth and even sharpen them on by rubbing against tree trunks and rocks. The upper tusks continue to grow and curve back toward the skull. Though they can often be fragile and easily broken, in some instances the upper tusks may eventually penetrate the skull and killing the animal.

Babirusa spend the majority of the day roaming and foraging throughout the forest. Little is known about this shy, forest-dwelling pig’s habits in the wild. Based on studies of animals in managed care, Babirusa appear to be mostly diurnal—active during the day and sleeping at night. When not foraging, they may wallow in the mud or just lie down and rest during the heat of the day.

Babirusas are considered a social species and groups of more than 10 have been observed in their native rainforest habitats, especially around water, communal wallowing areas and salt licks. They are good swimmers and have been observed to cover long distances in the water including wide rivers and parts of the Indonesian ocean waters to reach other nearby islands.

Like other swine species, Babirusa possess that signature pig snout. Though they are excellent at detecting smells and scents, the long slender snout of the Babirusa does not appear to be as specialized as other pig species. Babirusa do not appear to use its snout to root for food. Though they are omnivores, they tend to be more specialized feeders, primarily eating foliage, fallen fruit, fungi and insect larvae. They will sometimes stand on their hind legs to feed on higher leaves on bushes and trees.

Babirusa also possess a complex, two-chambered stomachs, resembling the digestive systems of sheep and other ruminants rather than those found in other swine.

Unlike other wild pigs, they also give birth to rather small litters, usually 1 or 2 piglets are born at a time. These young are not marked with stripes like many other swine species and they may begin to leave the ‘nest’ and to sample solid food as early as 10 days of age. Babirusa may live up to 24 years in human care, but the age in the wild they live to be about 10 years old.

Though the appearance of the Babirusa is unique, there are actually three subspecies. These subspecies have different hair covering, hair color, tusk and body sizes. In addition to many of their non-traditional pig-like characteristics, some fossil studies have now led scientists to believe that the Babirusa may be more closely related to hippopotamuses than pigs.


Often described as a creature composed by assembling parts of at least 6 other animals, the mountainous regions of India, Bhutan and China are home to a rather interesting member of the bovid family.

Sometimes known as a goat antelope, gnu goat, a goat ox, and even antelope cow. This stocky, large-bodied, cow-like ungulate may resemble a less-shaggy musk ox but is more closely related to wild sheep and is most commonly known as the Takin.

With eyes positioned high on its large head, Takins have strong and stout limbs with shoulders sitting higher than its hips. Though males are usually larger, both sexes have crescent-shaped horns. Males may grow up to 7 feet long and the largest animals may weigh close to 800 pounds.

They possess a long and often shaggy coat with a mane-like fringe on the side of their body and under the throat. A distinguishing feature is their long looking face with a broad and bare nasal area, sometimes compared to that of a moose.

Takin coloration varies by habitat and subspecies from light yellow to reddish brown. There are four subspecies of Takin. The Bhutan, Mishmi, the Sichuan (or Tibetan) and the Shaanxi Takin also known as the Golden Takin, The Golden Takins have a yellowish colored coat with a black muzzle. This species of Takin is often cited as a possible source of the famed Golden Fleece referenced in Greek mythology.

The Takin’s horns, hooves and nostrils are described as shiny black. Like goats, the Takin’s hooves make them excellent climbers and they are able to move nimbly among rocky and steep terrain. They may jump up to 6 feet from a standing position. When sleeping or sitting, Takin often position themselves with their front feet extended and their head resting atop their body similar to a dog.

Like the Giant Panda, the Sichuan Takin inhabits the steep, rocky mountain forests of Tibet, northern Myanmar, and central China. Sichuan Takins are considered a national treasure in China, where they have the highest legal protection status. Takin are also the national animal of the Kingdom of Bhutan.

They feed on a variety of grasses, forbs and leaves of shrubs and trees. More than 100 different plant varieties make up some Takin’s diets. Takins have the unique ability to stand upright on their hind legs, so they can easily reach the leaves of taller trees. They have also been known to use their powerful bodies to push over small trees.

Takin forage in early morning and late afternoon, and regularly visit salt-licks – which is believed to help neutralize some plant toxins the animals may consume. Though the Sichuan Takin occupy habitat regions where bamboo is readily available they appear to consume very little.

Takin live in small herds made up of females, younger males, and offspring. Older males are often solitary. Takins seasonally migrate to preferred habitats. During spring and early summer months, they begin to gather in large herds of up to 100 animals at the highest altitudes of the tree line. Takin can survive at altitudes up to 12,000 feet above sea level.

Takins possess enlarged sinus cavities in side their large noses. This allows the frigid mountain air to warm before it reaches the lungs. Without this adaptation, takins would lose a large amount of body heat just by breathing.

Although Takins have no skin glands, their skin secretes an oily, bitter-tasting substance that acts as a natural raincoat in storms and fog. Streaks of this oily stuff can be seen where Takins rub. They are also known to spray themselves with urine. Pheromones in the urine may possibly help with identification and sexual status.

Due to their large, powerful bodies and impressive horns, Takins have few natural enemies other than bears, wolves, leopards, and dholes. Human hunters cause most Takin deaths. They are generally slow moving but can react quickly if angered or frightened. When disturbed, individuals will give a ‘cough’ alarm call and the herd will retreat into thick bamboo thickets and lie on the ground for camouflage.

The San Diego Zoo was the first to exhibit Sichuan takins in North America. Two females were given to the accredited facility as a gift from China in 1987. A male arrived the following year. The first Sichuan takin born outside of China was born at the San Diego Zoo in 1989.

In addition to Sichuan takins, the San Diego Zoo also had a breeding herd of Mishmi takins for many years, and the first Mishmi Takin born in the New World occured in 1993. Most Takins now living at other zoos in North America came from San Diego herds.

Currently listed as an IUCN Vulnerable Species, Takins are a featured animal in the Species Survival Plan through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. They can be seen at a few accredited North American facilities including an active breeding herd that resides at The Wilds facility in central Ohio.

Amur Leopards

Silent, sleek and strong. Leopards are one of nature’s largest and most powerful hunters. Normally associated with grasslands of Africa and Asia, one species is known as a deadly hunter of the deep forest found along one of the world’s longest rivers.

The Amur River region is found along the Northern China and Far East Russian border but unfortunately very few of these impressive predators remain.

Amur Leopards are one of the most endangered cats in the world. Classified as Critically Endangered, fewer than 100 Amur Leopards exists in the wild – some estimates state even fewer than 30 may actually still remain in their native habitats.

The Amur Leopard is in the genus Panthera with the other big cats like Jaguars, Tigers and Lions. There are seven recognized subspecies of Leopard: The African, Anatolian, Barbary, Javan, Arabian, Zanzibar and the Amur. There is a debate as to how many subspecies of leopard exists, more than 20 are listed, but the Amur Leopard has been found to be genetically distinct from all other leopards.

Adapted to cold climates, Amur Leopards have long, powerful legs, which are a bit longer than other leopard species, help them move through the snow as well as maneuver through the trees of the forest. Their long, thick fur – distinctive of this species as well – is generally light in the winter and reddish-yellow in the summer.

Large, dark spots form rosettes on their shoulders, legs, back, sides, and haunches, while their head, throat, and chest have small black spots. The Amur Leopard, sometimes known as the Russian or Manchurian Leopard, have more widely spaced spots with thick rosettes on their coats than most Leopard species.

Similar to other leopards, the Amur leopard can run at speeds of up to 37 miles per hour. This amazing animal has been reported to leap more than 19 feet horizontally and up to 10 feet vertically. Experts say that pound for pound, leopards are the strongest of all cats. An Amur leopard can lift a 150-pound deer in its jaws to a branch 15 feet in the air.

Males may weigh between 70 and 100 pounds, though some larger Amur leopards may weigh as much as 150 pounds. They may stand more than 2 feet tall at the shoulders.

With their camouflaged coat and padded paws, leopards are ambush predators – able to sneak up on their prey. The leopard’s tongue has tiny hooks, called denticles, which are used to scrape the meat off of the bones of their prey. Amur Leopards feed primarily on small deer species as well as wild boar, raccoon dogs, birds and invertebrates. They often carry their kills high into a tree to avoid competing predators in their habitats. Leopards will often eat up to 25 percent of their body weight at a time, one animal carcass may feed an adult leopard nearly a week.

Amur Leopards prefer to live and hunt alone. They may maintain and defend a territory of up to 60 square miles. Several males may follow and fight over females in their home range. In some cases, it has been reported that Amur Leopard males with stay with a female after mating and may even help with rearing the young.

Females first breed at an age of 3-4 years. After a gestation period of around 12 weeks, cubs are born in litters of 1-4 individuals, with an average litter size of just over 2. The cubs stay with their mother for up to two years before becoming fully independent. The average lifespan for the Amur Leopard in the wild is 10 to 15 years, in managed care they may live up to 20 years.

Amur Leopards are teetering on the brink of extinction. Unfortunately, more than 80% of the leopards habitat disappeared in a 13 year period between 1970 and 1983 due to logging, forest fires and land conversion for farming.

The Amur Leopard is poached for its highly prized beautiful fur and a reduction in prey in their homelands have also led to their population decline. This reduction in numbers has also increased the amount of inbreeding that has occured in the species leading to lower reproductive rates.

In 2012, the government of Russia declared a new protected area called the Land of the Leopard National Park. Extending nearly 650,000 acres it includes all of the Amur leopard’s breeding areas and about 60 percent of the animals remaining habitat. The park is also home to 10 endangered Amur tigers.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan hopes to help with the Amur Leopard’s critically endangered status as well. Many of the AZA’s accredited facilities, such as Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo, have been able to successfully breed these incredible cats and through proper management also help ensure a genetically diverse line of Amur Leopards for the future.


Special thanks to the following organizations for their education, research and conservation programs that provided information for this episode:

Brookfield Zoo
Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens
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Bald Eagle | Eastern Indigo Snake | Puma

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1. Bald Eagle
2. Eastern Indigo Snake
3. Puma
Credits and Links

Bald Eagle

Often described as majestic in appearance – the Bald Eagle has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782. A resident of the North American – this large bird of prey with long, broad wings has been a spiritual symbol of the indigenous tribes of the continent for centuries.

One of the largest birds of prey – their skeleton is comprised of hollow bones that weigh about half a pound while their feathers may weigh twice as much. Possessing dark brown body feathers and white tail feathers with bright yellow legs and bill, it is the bright white feathers on its head that gave this raptor its common name – the Bald Eagle.

Their eyes are nearly as large as a human’s though their vision is more than four times as sharp. Their talons are 2 inches long and capable of exerting a force of 1,000 pounds of pressure per square inch.

Despite their stiking appearance as adults – Bald Eagles don’t achieve their signature look until they are about 5 years of age. As juveniles they have mostly dark heads and tails and often look resemble other Eagle species, especially Golden Eagles. Due to this similiarity, Golden Eagles and Bald Eagles are both protected under federal law.

The Bald Eagle is an opportunistic feeder that frequently acts as scavenger as often as it is an active predator. Bald Eagles are primarily found in areas near water such as lakes, rivers, marshes and even coastal regions.

The Bald Eagle’s main diet is fish such as salmon, herring and even catfish when available but they also feed on other birds and small mammals. Bald Eagles are also known to feed on carrion – often dead fish found on the shoreline as well as the carcasses of other dead animals.

Bald Eagles typically nest in forested areas adjacent to large bodies of water. Though they tend to avoid heavily developed areas, they do tend to be tolerant of human activity when feeding. Bald Eagles may congregate around fish processing plants, dumps, and below dams where fish concentrate.

Bald Eagles will sometimes gorge when feeding – ingesting a large amount of food and digesting it over several days. They can also survive fasting for many days, even weeks.

Bald Eagles are capable of floating and they may use their wings to effectively “row” over water that is too deep for the bird to wade in while in pursuit of prey. On the ground, Bald Eagles walk in a rather odd-looking, rocking gait.

Bald Eagles are excellent hunters – usually watching from high points then swooping down to catch prey in its powerful talons. Bald Eagles are also known to simply snatch prey from other birds, most notably Osprey who often frequent the same aquatic habitats as the eagles.

The bird’s common trait of stealing food or scavenging for carrion is what Ben Franklin referred to when he declared the Bald Eagle as “a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly…” Mr. Franklin also called the the eagle as “rank coward” since Bald Eagles are often harrassed by much smaller birds such as sparrows. Ben Franklin opposed the choice of Bald Eagle as the national bird of the United States and preferred the Wild Turkey as a symbol of the newly formed country.

Bald Eagles are powerful fliers, known for soaring, gliding, and flapping over long distances. During courtship, Bald Eagles put on some amazing flight displays by flying high into the sky, locking each other’s talons in mid-air, and cartwheel downward together, twirling at full speed toward the ground, separating at the last minute. It is believed that most Bald Eagle pairs mate for life.

Bald Eagles build some of the largest of all bird nests—typically 5 to 6 feet in diameter and 2 to 4 feet tall. While both the male and female gather the necessary materials to construct these enormous nests, but it is the female bird that does most of the placement.

The female lays between 1 and 3 eggs, though 2 eggs are typical of the species. After 35 to 60 days of incubation, the young eagles hatch. Around 10-12 weeks later, these young eagles are ready for flight. Like most birds of prey, the young first practice while still inside the nest by flapping their wings and lifting themselves up a few inches.

Though they are generally solitary animals – except for breeding pairs – in the some parts of their range, particularly during fall and winter months, large numbers of Bald Eagles will roost together in large trees. This behavior is called communal roosting and the birds may number in the hundreds.

The largest population of Bald Eagles in North America is found in Alaska, with an estimated 30,000 birds. In the lower 48 states, Minnesota and Florida have the largest population of these iconic birds.

While the Bald Eagle is among one of the largest birds of prey and they are known for their impressive flights and hunting tactics – many people are surprised by the sounds they make. Often misrepresented in movies with a recording that is actually the call of a Red Tailed Hawk, the Bald Eagle’s vocalizations are high-pitched chirps that sound like they would come from a much smaller bird.

Despite being the national emblem, the Bald Eagle once faced near extinction. During the mid 1900s, their populations fell sharply across much of North America. In 1973, the bird was place on the Engangered Species List.

Following the ban of the pesticide DDT as well as other conservation efforts to protect the eagle and its natural habitats – the Bald Eagle was removed from the Endangered Species list in 2007 – though it is still highly protected by U.S. law. Bald Eagles may live more than 30 years in their natural habitat.

Eastern Indigo Snake

The Eastern Indigo Snake is a large, non-venomous snake that can reach lengths of eight feet. It is a shiny bluish-black in color, including the belly. The chin and sides of the head are usually colored reddish or orange-brown. While most Indigo Snakes have smooth scales, adults do have ridges on the front of some of their scales.

This magnificent species is America’s longest snake and is now only found in southern Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and throughout much of Florida, though it is rare in the panhandle.

The closely-related Texas Indigo Snake is found in southern Texas and other Indigo subspecies, such as the Unicolor Cribo, are found in Central and South America. Until relatively recently, all indigo snakes in the U.S. were considered to be the same species.

Eastern Indigo Snakes inhabit pine flat woods, hardwood forests, moist hammocks, and areas that surround cypress swamps. The Eastern Indigo Snake uses gopher tortoise burrows as shelter during the winter, and during the warmer months, for nesting and refuge from intense summer heat. Because of this, in some parts of Florida, the Eastern Indigo Snake is sometimes called the Gopher Snake.

During the active season Indigo Snakes may move long distances and often forage along wetland regions. With one of the largest home ranges of any snake – up to 200 acres, the Eastern Indigo Snake is often called the “Emperor of the Forest.” The Eastern Indigo Snake is not a constrictor therefore it overpowers its prey with its strong, muscular jaws, and consumes its prey head-first.

Eastern Indigos feed on small mammals, birds, toads and frogs, turtles and their eggs, lizards and other snakes, including venomous species like Cottonmouths and North America’s largest venomouse snake – the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. It is believed that the Eastern Indigo Snake is mostly immune to rattlesnake venom.

Despite their predatory nature and ability to prey upon other large snakes, Eastern Indigo Snakes generally show no aggression when approached. However if frightened; they may flatten their heads, hiss, and vibrate their tails – which produces a rattling sound. Despite these intimidating acts, the Indigo Snake rarely bites.

Indigo Snakes begin breeding between the months of November and April and nest between the months of May and August. Females lay 4 to 12 eggs with the eggs hatching 90 days after being laid. Newly hatched Indigo Snakes are large, measuring almost 16 inches long and weighing 1 and half ounces.

Juvenile Indigo Snakes look very similar to adults but have much more red on their heads. Males grow larger than females. Females Indigo Snakes may have the ability to hold sperm, which would allow them to defer fertilization of an egg. Eastern Indigo Snakes are also believed to be capable of Parthenogenesis (a form of asexual reproduction). Some female snakes that have otherwise had no breeding interaction with any males have been seen laying eggs.

The Eastern Indigo Snake is a top predator within its habitat range and is an important part of a balanced ecosystem, however for over 40 years the Eastern Indigo Snake has been listed as a federal threatened species.

Increasing pressures on Indigo populations include habitat loss, the decline of Gopher Tortoise communities, the reduction of prey animals and an increase in predators such as feral hogs, coyote, raccoons and even fire ants which may destroy the snake eggs. All of this factors impact the survival of the Eastern Indigo Snake.

Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation

The Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation is the premier and only captive breeding facility for the Eastern Indigo Snake. The mission of the OCIC is to re-establish this threatened species into its former range. Originally created and established by The Orianne Society for the purpose of breeding Eastern Indigo Snakes for reintroduction programs, the OCIC is now operated by the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens.

Opened in 2012 and located on 25 acres in the center of historic Indigo range, currently a colony of over 100 Eastern Indigo Snakes is managed for genetic and demographic diversity. A unique feature of the facility is the sophisticated outdoor snake enclosures which offer exposure to all the natural conditions and seasonal cycles found in the wild.

Snakes produced at the OCIC are available for use as reintroduction stock in regions where historic populations have disappeared. The Orianne Center for Ingigo Conservation staff also manages the Species Survival Plan for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. This zoo population serves as education ambassadors for Indigo Snakes and other species of their ecosystem.

Visit for more information and ways you can support the OCIC’s conservation efforts through the “Adopt an Indigo” program or by making a tax-deductible donation.


Recognized by its large size, uniform tan color, and long tail – the largest of the small cat species was once found across North America. It now ranges from the Yukon, throughout the western U.S, and into South America. Besides humans, it has the largest distribution of any terrestrial mammal. Due to its presence across many regions, this cat has is known by many names.

Early Spanish explorers of North and South America called it leon (lion) and gato monte (the cat of the mountain). This impressive cat is also known as the Cougar, Catamount, Panther and the Mountain Lion. Its scientific name is derived from the Incan name – the Puma.

The Puma is a highly adaptable animal that can be found in a multitude of differing climates and ecosystems. From high altitude mountain ranges such as the Rocky and Andes Mountains, to lowland forested regions throughout the western half of North and South America. The Puma is also found in the deserts of the Southwest United States and even in wetlands and swamps of the Florida Everglades.

Pumas are slender cats, generally a solid tan in color, with slightly darker hair on the back and a whitish underside. Those living in warm, humid areas tend to be a darker, reddish brown color, and mountain lions found in colder climates have thicker, longer hair that is almost silver-gray in color.

They have a pinkish nose with a black border that extends to the lips. The muzzle stripes, the area behind ears, and the tip of tail are black. The Puma’s tail is long, cylindrical, and about one-third of the animal’s total length. Their limbs are short and muscular and their feet are broad, with four digits on hind feet and five on forefeet.

Males are larger than females. The head and body length of males may reach up to 5 feet long with a 3 foot long tail. Despite their size, however, Pumas are more closely related to smaller felines like domestic cats than the larger members of the cat family such as Lions and Tigers.

Primarily active in the evening and nighttime hours, the Puma is considered nocturnal or crepuscular though daytime sightings do occur. These powerful carnivores hunt using a stalk and ambush technique, which means that they require dense cover to hide from their prey while they are hunting. When a prey item is close enough, the cat will pounce, usually clutching the jugular in their powerful jaws or a vicious bite to the base of the skull.

The Pumas main prey source are ungulates, or hoofed animals, such as deer and elk but they will also prey on many other mammals found in their home ranges. Other prey items may include pigs, capybaras, peccaries, raccoons, and hares. They typically do not consume their prey all at once, and are known to cache, or store, their prey by covering it with leaves or grass to cover it and return to it at a later time.

Pumas are primarily solitary animals and males establish their own home ranges that vary in size from 30 to 125 square miles, they will usually overlap with at least 2 females within this region.

Courtship and mating occurs throughout the year, but is concentrated from December to March in northern latitudes. A female Puma can come into estrus any time of the year and lasts about nine days. Females usually give birth every other year.

Female Pumas care for and nurse their young until they are about a year old. The young are born helpless and are protected by the mother in a sheltered area until they are big enough to roam when they begin to learn and practice hunting skills. The newborn Pumas have spots, which may help them blend in with grass, brush, and dappled sunlight. These spots begin to find around 6 months of age.

The Puma’s hind legs are larger and more muscular than their front legs to give them great jumping power. They are powerful cats with the ability to leap up to 18 feet from the ground into a tree. They are also good swimmers though they are not commonly associated with water.

Pumas are considered the largest of the small cat species. Big cats include African Lions, Tigers, Leopards and the America’s largest cat – the Jaguar.

While the big cats are known for their roars and other strong vocalizations – Pumas usually make softer calls such as whistles, purrs, growls and hisses – similar to those sounds made by domestic cats, though they are known for their screams.

In North America, Pumas are considered very wary of people. Since 1890 there have been less than 100 attacks on humans and encountering these rather elusive animals in their native habitat is considered very rare.

Pumas are sometimes known as Panthers – a term typically used to refer to cats that have solid-colored coats.

The animal often referred to as a Black Panther is not a Puma (or Panther) at all. Black Panthers are actually Jaguars or sometimes Leopards with an all black coat, in addtion to their black spots.

The Florida Panther is one of 30 subspecies of the Puma and the only known breeding population of Puma in the eastern United States. In 1967, the Department of the Interior listed the Florida Panther as an endangered subspecies.

Historically, this subspecies occurred throughout the southeastern United States from Arkansas and Louisiana eastward. Today, the Florida Panther is found in a single breeding population in southern Florida near the Big Cypress National Preserve. As few as 200 of these isolated animals may remain in South Florida.

Conservation efforts for the Florida Panther included the introduction of Texas mountain lions to southern Florida in the late 1990s, in an effort to combat inbreeding in the Florida panther population. In general, the effort was considered a success, as the Texas-Florida crosses introduced new genetic material and increased the average survival of the endangered Panther population.


Special thanks to the following organizations for their education, research and conservation programs that provided information for this episode:

Audubon Society
Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation
Peregrine Fund
San Diego Zoo
University of Georgia’s Savanna River Ecology Laboratory
University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Bull Shark | Remoras | Sea Dragons

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1. Bull Shark
2. Remoras
3. Sea Dragons
Credits and Links

Bull Shark

Sharks can be found throughout the world. From the giants like the Whale Shark, the Basking Shark, and the infamous White Shark to the smallest like the Dwarf Lantern Shark and the Dogfish are certainly recognized and often feared in oceans around the globe.

But at least one species of shark is not limited to marine habitats. Often found in freshwater estuaries, rivers and even lakes – the Bull Shark is rather unique among the planets top predatory fish.

A stocky heavy-bodied gray shark with a short bluntly-rounded snout. Female Bull Sharks may reach lengths of up to 11 feet long. Sexually dimorphic – females may weigh up to 700 pounds and grow much larger than male Bull Sharks, which grow to weigh just over 200 pounds and measure 7 and half feet long.

Juvenile Bull Sharks are usually brownish-gray in color but develop a more gray topside and lighter belly as the mature. This counter-shading coloration is common among many aquatic predators.

Bull sharks upper teeth are broad, jagged and triangular while the lower teeth are slender, pointed and edged with fine serrations. Bull Sharks may have up to 350 teeth in their mouth at one time, comprised of 50 rows of teeth with 7 teeth in each row.

Bull sharks are typically solitary animals, only coming together to mate. Offspring are usually born in the spring or summer, except in warm climates where young may be born year-round. Bull sharks become mature between 14 and 18 years of age. They are believed to live up to 30 years in the wild.

Bull Sharks are classified among the requiem sharks, which includes other species like Lemon Sharks, Blue Sharks and the Tiger Shark.

Bull Sharks, unlike nearly all other shark species have the ability to live and thrive in freshwater. The may even give birth in freshwater habitats. While Bull Sharks are generally found along coastal waters, it is not uncommon for them to venture up freshwater rivers.

Bull Sharks have been found as far north up the Mississippi River as the state of Illinois and more than 2000 miles up the Amazon River in South America.

Bull Sharks are also found in freshwater lakes and rivers in Africa where they are known as Zambezi Sharks – where they have even been known to attack hippos. Bull Sharks also inhabit Lake Nicarauga in Central America, known there as Lake Nicaragua Sharks – once believed to be a separate species of shark.

Perhaps one of the most unique freshwater populations of Bull Sharks can be found in the 52 acre lake on the Carbrook Golf Club in Queensland Australia – originally 6 sharks entered the lake during extreme flooding in 1996 – it is believed there may be as many as 12 present today.

Freshwater is typically considered toxic to most sharks since they require salt in their body to survive. Bull Sharks possess the ability to live in this rather abnormal habitat due to their kidney’s unique ability to recycle the salt within their bodies and special glands, located near their tails, also aid in salt retention. Bull Sharks can also survive in water with higher levels of salinity than normal ocean water as well.

They feed primarily on bony fish such as mullet, tarpon, gar, mackerel and smaller sharks. They are also known to feed on stingrays, sea turtles and sometimes dolphins.

Bull Sharks, like their relative the Tiger Shark are considered highly aggressive animals. Due to their tendency to live in shallow coastal waters, as well as many freshwater lakes and rivers, they often come in contact with people.

This frequent interaction with people in their native habitats, along with their aggressive nature, have led many to often describe the Bull Shark as the most dangerous shark in the world. Many documented shark attacks around the world are often attributed to the Bull Shark.

In the early 1900s off the coast of New Jersay a series of 5 shark attacks occured over 12 days – 4 of these attacks resulted in fatalities. Several attacks happened in shallow water and tidal rivers and over 15 miles from open ocean. This incident inspired the Peter Benchley novel “Jaws” which brought great attention and fear to the White Shark.

Despite a White Shark being caught shortly after the New Jersey attacks of 1916 – a 9 foot Bull Shark was also caught. Many factors and some evidence have led many to claim that these attacks were probably made by the aggressive and powerful Bull Sharks and not the jaws of the infamous White Shark.


Widely known as the “sharksucker” or “sucker fish” – the Remora is a rather odd looking marine fish known for attaching to other larger marine animals such as whales, manta rays, sea turtles and of course sharks.

Remoras are thin, elongated, rather dark fishes growing from 1 to 3 feet long, usually 11 or 12 times as long as it is wide. The lower jaw projects forward beyond the upper jaw. The Remora is most often found in the warmer parts of all oceans.

Remoras have no swim bladder but they require a swift passage of water over the gills and cannot survive in still waters. Therefore they most commonly attach to another ocean going animal as a means of easy transportation and meals. Remoras feed on food scraps as well as small parasites on the host animal’s skins, and in the case of sharks – sometimes their gills and mouths.

Remoras adhere by means of a flat, oval sucking disk on top of the head. This appendage contains a variable number of paired, sharp bony plates.

Many scientists have suggested the sucker disk was derived from the dorsal fin but in recent years a study conducted by David Johnson of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and Ralf Britz of the Natural History Museum, London, have actually shown that the Remora’s sucker disc is in fact the Remora’s dorsal fin. By studying the development of the fish from the earliest larval stages to adulthood they discovered sucker disc in in fact the Remora’s modified dorsal fin.

Despite their normal mode of transportation, hitching a ride on other animals, the Remora is not considered to be a parasite. Instead they are considered to have a commensal relationship with their host, since they do not hurt the host. It has been suggested that the relationship is symbiotic since the Remora can obtain its food acting as a cleaner fish and removing parasites from the host, thus benefiting both. Some small Remora specimens have even been found clinging to the roof on the inside of a sharks mouths.

It is not known whether the sharks tolerate the Remora’s presence or simple have no means to remove them but some aquarists who have worked with sharks and remoras in managed care have mentioned that some Remoras due seem to be a considered a nuisance by some sharks. However, Remoras have no known natural predators and very few have ever been discovered in the stomach of a shark.

Spawning occurs during the spring and summer months throughout most of its range and during the autumn months in the Mediterranean Sea. When the embryos hatch, the young fish have a large yolk sac, non-pigmented eyes, and an incompletely developed body. During development of the newly hatched fish, the sucking disc begins to form.

Juvenile Remora sometimes act as cleaning fish, setting up cleaning stations where they clean parasites off parrotfishes. Remoras live freely for about one year until reaching 1 to 2 inches in length at which time they attach to a host animal.

Although considered harmless to humans, there have been some reports on Remoras following divers and attaching to divers’ legs. This can be extremely painful as the sucking disc is lined with numerous sharp ridges.

In ancient Greece, sailors feared that Remoras had mysterious magical powers and could slow down or stop their ships. In fact, the scientific name for the species means “to hold a ship.”

There are eight species of Remora found worldwide. The common Remora also known as the “sharksucker” but some remora species appear to specialize in specific hosts. The white suckerfish seems to prefers manta rays, the spearfish remora is often found on swordfishes and other billfishes and the marlin sucker is most common on marlin.

The species – Remora australis – is often known as the “Whalesucker” because it almost exclusively attaches to whales, dolphins and porpoises. Despite these apparent preferences, Remoras will attach to nearly any host when the need or opportunity arises.

Sea Dragons

While they measure only a few inches to a foot long, the Sea Dragon may be just as fascinating and mysterious as the dragons of legend and myth. But unlike the sea dragons of maritime folklore, these unique bony fish are rather peaceful, quite delicate and pose no threat to humans.

Closely related to Sea Horses and Pipefish, there are just three known species of marine fish known as Sea Dragons. The Leafy Sea Dragon, the Weedy, or Common, Sea Dragon, and the newly discovered Ruby Sea Dragon.

All three species are found exclusively off the coast of Southern Australia. They are typically found in shallow coastal waters, where they seem to prefer sea grasses, rocky kelp forests, and seaweed beds. Despite being found in common waters, Leafy and Weedy Sea Dragons are rarely found together.

Leafy Sea Dragons resemble floating pieces of seaweed with leaf-like appendages flowing along the length of their body. This appearance making them difficult to spot in their natural habitat. They are relatively large compared to other seahorse species, reaching lengths of up to one foot long. Leafy Sea Dragons are generally orange to yellow in body color with olive-tinted appendages.

Weedy Sea Dragons have long, slender reddish-brown bodies comprised of bony plates with yellow and purple accents, and several weed-like appendages used for camouflage. Small pectoral fins on their neck are used for body positioning, while long, shallow dorsal fins are their sole means of propulsion. Males are narrower and darker than females, and both have several short spines used for protection. Their snouts are elongated, and resemble other seahorses. Unlike other seahorses though, their tails are not prehensile.

The Ruby Sea Dragon was first described in 2015. Genetic studies from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have shown this to be a distinct species with a bright shade of red colored skin – distinctly different from the orange tint in Leafy Sea Dragons and the yellow and purple hues of Common Sea Dragons. Despite only being recently recognized as a unique Sea Dragon – a previous specimen had existed in the Western Australian Museum, unidentified for nearly 100 years.

Researchers believe the animal’s coloring suggests it inhabits deeper waters than the Leafy and Common Sea Dragons, as the red shading would be absorbed at depth and effectively serve as camouflage.

Sea Dragons breed once a year in the early Summer months. Like seahorses, Male Sea Dragons care for the fertilized eggs. However, they do not have a specialized pouch like male seahorses. Instead, the female deposits the eggs in the skin of the male, who will carry the eggs under the tail on a brood patch. The skin is soft at the time the eggs are first embedded but becomes hardened to form a cup around each of the 250 to 300 eggs. Each egg receives oxygen from the cup’s blood-red tissue.

At first the eggs are bright pink and darken in color as they develop. It may take several hours, even days for all of the eggs to hatch. Newly hatched Sea Dragons receive no further parental care. They reach sexual maturity in approximately two years.

Sea Dragons do not have teeth or stomachs. Due to the lack of a stomach, the feed almost continuously. Their primary food consists of shrimp, plankton and other small crustaceans. They use their long, thin, tubular snout to create a strong suction to rapidly suck in the food item. Special muscles in the snout can widen to accommodate different size prey.

Although they have no specific natural predators, Sea Dragons are under increasing pressure from human-related causes. They are taken as incidental by-catch by fisheries. One of their biggest threats is pollution—their sea grass homes are threatened by runoff of fertilizer and waste water. They have been collected for the pet trade and Chinese traditional medicine.

Sea Dragons are fully protected under Australia’s local, state and federal legislation. Special licenses are required to collect or export them. Very few facilities have bred Sea Dragons in managed care – the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California was the first accredited facility in the world to successfully breed Weedy Sea Dragons. Researchers have learned that individual Sea Dragons can be identified by facial patterns.

With ongoing studies in the wild, cooperation among facilities to better understand the reproduction and care of these creatures and by protecting their natural habitats it may be possible to prevent these real-life dragons from becoming nothing more than a myth.


Special thanks to the following organizations for their education, research and conservation programs that provided information for this episode:

Animal Diversity Web – University of Michigan
Birch Aquarium
Dallas World Aquarium
Florida Museum
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Some musical selections for this episode provided by:
Jason Shaw on

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Kookaburras | Dingoes | Red Kangaroo

Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | iHeartRadio | Podbean | Stitcher | more

1. Kookaburras
2. Dingoes
3. Red Kangaroo
Credits and Links


With a distinct call – often described like a series of chuckles, cackles and laughs – the Laughing Kookaburra produces one of the most recognized sounds in nature.

The so-called “laugh” of the Laughing Kookaburra is sometimes mistaken for the sound of other animals, such as monkeys.

Recordings of the Laughing Kookaburra call have long been used for South American or African jungle scenes in movies and television shows; however, these birds live far from these tropical locations. Kookaburras are native to Australia and are often found in open woodlands and eucalyptus forests.

A member of the Kingfisher family, there are four species of Kookaburras. The Blue Winged, the Spangled, the Rufous-bellied and the Laughing Kookaburra.

The Blue-winged Kookaburra has blue and brown wings and a white head and chest. Males of this species have blue tail feathers, while females‘ tail feathers are rusty brown with black bands. They are native to northern Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

The Spangled Kookaburra have a buff or pale orange chest; black and white spotted head; black or dark brown and blue wings; blue rump and tail feathers. They are native to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

The Rufous-bellied Kookaburra has a black cap and back, white bill, blue wings, and a rusty, or rufous, belly. Males have blue tail feathers, females have rufous colored ones. They are native to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

The laughing kookaburra has a white colored head and chest; brown wings, crown and eye band; rusty brown tail feathers with black bands; and may have blue spots on their wings. They are native to eastern Australia, but have been introduced to southwestern Australia, Tasmanian and even part of New Zealand.

At around 17 inches from bill to tail and weighing around 11 ounces, the Laughing Kookaburra is the largest of species of Kingfisher birds.

The Laughing Kookaburras use their song as a way of establishing their territory. A chorus of laughs is often started by adults and followed by family members. Since they often vocalize at dawn or dusk, they are sometimes called the “bushman’s alarm clock”.

While Kookaburras are often found in eucalyptus—or gum—trees, they likely won’t be eating any “gum drops”—despite what is sung in a famous song. Kookaburras are carnivores that feed mainly on insects, small mammals, worms, frogs and reptiles such as snakes. Although they are considered Kingfishers, Kookaburras do not commonly eat fish.

Kookaburras locate prey by using their excellent vision. They will swoop down, seize prey with their bill and carry it to their perch where they will often beat it against a branch or the ground to immobilize it and tenderize it by breaking up the bones and making it easier to swallow whole. These birds rarely drink water since they receive the water they need from food.

Kookaburras are monogamous and pair up for life. They nest in holes in trees and termite mounds where the female lays two or three round, white eggs that hatch after about 20-25 days. Chicks, often when they hatch around the same time, will fight for dominance—sometimes leading to one being killed. This behavior is seen in other bird species as well.

The pair is assisted by helper-birds, which are often the pair’s older offspring who have fledged. They incubate the eggs, feed the chicks and keep them warm as well as helping defend the pair’s territory. After they are about four years old, the chicks will leave their parents and find their own territories.

Kookaburras live around 10-15 years in the wild, but may live up to 20 years in managed care.

Large birds of prey, such as owls and eagles, may hunt kookaburras; eggs are sometimes taken by possums; chicks can be prey for quolls, snakes and lizards.

While the Laughing Kookaburra’s conservation status is “least concern“ and their populations seem to be stable, this doesn’t mean they’re free of danger. Deforestation threatens these iconic creature’s native woodland habitats.

While they seem to have adapted well to the presence of human, this has lead to many problems for the Kookaburras. The birds are often hit by cars and introduced and invasive predators such as foxes and cats often prey upon many native bird species including the Kookaburras.

Kookaburras may steal food from or even take handouts from people. This type of interaction can lead to the birds becoming too dependent on humans for food or even cause them to become overweight through improper diet — making it difficult, or even impossible, for the birds to fly and escape predators.

Though there are more than 100 species of Kingfisher birds found in the world – with it’s distinct voice – the Laughing Kookaburra is certainly the most well-known.


The Dingo is a canine species similar in appearance to domestic dogs but characterized by short coats, erect ears, characteristic skull shape and teeth.

While the Dingoes of Australia have long been considered to be a descendant of Asian wild dogs and most closely related to Asian Grey Wolves – the Dingo is neither a wolf or a dog – though they often interbreed with feral and domestic dog species.

Australia’s only native canid, Dingos are 4 to 5 feet long and weigh up to 45 pounds. They most commonly have a tan colored coat – however they may be light, dark, even black or white in color. Some dingoes have a sable coloration typical of German Shepherd dogs.

Dingoes inhabit the mainland of Australia and some parts of southeast Asia. They are believed to have been introduced to Australia by Indonesian and Asian travelers or by migrating across now submerged land masses that once connected parts of the island continent with Asia.

Dingoes are considered wild animals and can be very shy and timid by nature. They are very intelligent with excellent problem solving abilities. While dingoes have the potential to be dangerous to humans, in reality the incidence of attacks on humans is relatively rare. The risk is increased where the animals have become used to humans through feeding and other interactions – activities that are highly discouraged with any wild species.

These unique canine species are very resourceful and can adapt to a variety of environments. They can be found in coastal terrain, alpine ranges and even desert regions of the Australian Outback.

Animals found in different habitats often have different colored fur coats – Desert Dingoes tend to be more reddish or golden-yellow while Alpine Dingoes have a light cream colored coat.

Dingoes are carnivores and in fact are Australia’s apex land-based predator. They hunt mainly at night. They prey upon small to medium sized mammals like rabbits, rodents and various Macropod species as well as birds and reptiles but they are known to hunt larger animals as well.

Unlike wild dogs, Dingoes generally lead solitary lives but they may be part of a pack the comes together every few days or weeks. They are solitary hunters when small prey is abundant but hunt in packs when larger animals are available.- Dingoes will work together to take down large prey such as Red Kangaroos.

Dingoes are very agile animals, capable of leaping 6 feet in the air from a standing position due to flexible bone formations in their feet. They are also quite lean in build and their skull – which is 30% larger than that of a domestic dog – is the widest part of their body – this trait allows them to determine quickly if they can fit through tight or confining spaces without becoming stuck.

Dingoes breed only once a year in autumn or early winter. After the pups are born in late winter or spring, mothers will feed their young milk as well as chewed meat. Both parents look after the pups for at least a year until they can survive on their own.

Like wolves but different from most dogs – Dingoes don’t bark but will howl to vocalize. These sounds are often described as eerie or haunting – especially when heard in the darkness of night.

Dingoes also lack the distinctive body odor of domestic dogs – an important trait as a wild, natural predator.

Dingoes are currently a protected and managed species in Australia but over the years they have often been considered a threat to domestic livestock. As a result, in the early 1900s – a large fence, now measuring more than 3800 miles long was erected to keep Dingoes from agricultural areas of South Australia. Known as the Dingo Fence and still maintained it is currently considered the longest fence in the world.

The effects of Dingoes in native Australia have been many. The animals have played an important role in the culture of Australia’s First Nations people for generations and they have proven to be effective at maintaining populations of introduced predators such as feral cats and foxes. These invasive predators have had a negative effect on many of Australia’s native and endangered marsupials and reptiles.

Dingoes have also been noted for keeping kangaroo populations in check and stable – in places inside the Dingo Fence region, kangaroo populations have soared leading to overgrazing of landscape and damaging critical vegetation.

The classification of Dingoes has often been debated and even controversial. Originally considered descendants of wolves or other dog species, and due to their common breeding with feral animals leading to hybrid dingo-dogs they have been listed as a vulnerable species.

A recent committee from the Canid Specialist Group even suggested that Dingoes were merely a feral domestic dog – leading to their removal from the IUCN Red List.

However another study from the University of New South Wales Sydney – including DNA analysis and studies of skull specimens dating prior to 1900 have suggested that Dingoes are in fact a unique and separate canine species. It has now been suggested that Desert and Alpine Dingoes may be discrete subspecies and inter-breeding between these animals should be prevent to maintain the genetically diversity of these animals.

Today it is estimated that only a few hundred pure Dingoes remain in the wild in Australia – most notably on Fraser Island off the coast of Queensland.

Some Dingo populations are also managed by zoological facilities. The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in Indiana, the Brevard Zoo in Florida and the Prospect Park Zoo in New York are some accredited facilities that are home to pure Dingoes – a managed population that is genetically important to the future of the species.

Red Kangaroo

Australia – the land Down Under. This island continent is home to some of the world’s most unique and often beloved animals. It also also home to the expansive habitat range known as the Outback.

The Outback comprises 81 percent of the island continent and is home to the largest marsupial in the world – the Australian icon – the Red Kangaroo.

The largest of the 6 kangaroo species, Red Kangaroos have a body length of up to 5 feet long and a tail nearly 3 feet long. Male Red Kangaroos can stand upright at 6 feet tall. Males may weigh around 200 pounds – while females are smaller, often weighing less than 100 pounds with a body length of 3 to 4 feet. They have a narrow head, long nose and tall pointed ears that they are able to rotate 180 degrees.

Kangaroos a classified as Macropods. The term means “big feet” and includes other animals like wallabies, wallaroos, tree kangaroos and quokkas. Macropods are a group of species whose hind legs and feet are typically much larger and more powerful than the forelimbs. They possess long, muscular tails that help them balance and turn while hopping – their primary form of moving. One exception to this is the tree-dwelling Tree Kangaroos, who climb rather than hop.

Red Kangaroos cannot walk forward or backward. Instead, like most Macropod species, they move in a unique way unique – called saltation. As they hop, both feet push off the ground together.

While moving Kangaroos expend very little energy. In addition to powerful leg muscles, Kangaroos have a huge set of tendons in their tail that attach to the hipbones. The combination of these muscles and tendons working together helps kangaroos move efficiently.

In fact, kangaroos actually burn less energy the faster they hop, their typical cruising speed is around 20 miles per hour. The largest male Red Kangaroos are able to cover a distance of nearly 29 feet in a single leap, often traveling close to 40 miles per hour.

Red kangaroos are found in arid regions of mainland Australia, most commonly in open savanna woodland of the Outback. They are perfectly equipped for harsh conditions, needing very few natural water sources as they receive all the water and minerals they need from grasses, shrubs and foliage they feed on.

Red Kangaroos are exclusively plant eaters. A tube-shaped fore stomach helps digest fibrous vegetation, including types considered unpalatable even to goats. This ability to utilize high fiber diets is common among animals like horses – a kangaroo’s stomach is said to be much like the colon of a horse.

Red Kangaroos are typically inactive during the hottest parts of the day, usually resting under shade trees. They are most active grazing at dawn and dusk.

They sweat while moving and pant when they stop making use of their large nasal passages. In addition they have a dense network of blood vessels near the surface of the skin on their forearms. They lick their forearms, coating them with a special saliva – which is different from digestive saliva. This kangaroo spit helps cool the blood through water evaporation helping to pull heat away from the warm blood near the surface.

Red Kangaroos can survive in a wide range of temperatures – from freezing temperatures to well over 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

Red Kangaroos can be easily distinguished from other species by the black and white patches on their cheeks and white tail tip. They often have a white stripe that extends from the corner of the mouth to the ear.

Unlike other kangaroos, male and female Red Kangaroo a colored differently. Males – have the red and orange coloration while females are typically grey-blue in color – giving them the nickname “blue-flyers.” In some regions, certain populations of Red Kangaroo feature females that also share in the red and orange coloring of the males.

Male Red Kangaroos are often called “boomers” – they will often spar or fight with rival males in a behavior known as “boxing.” Both males will use their strong tail for balance, sit back and use their forelimbs to jab and hit each, They will also hold each other’s shoulders while kicking with their hind legs as well in an attempt to establish dominance and gain the right to breed with nearby females.

Kangaroos are marsupials – a group of mammals, including koalas, who give live birth, but they do not have long gestation times like placental mammals. Instead, they give birth very early and the young animal, essentially a helpless embryo, climbs from the mother’s birth canal to the pouch where it latches onto a nipple a remains there while it continues to develop.

A newborn Red Kangaroo looks nothing a a kangaroo at all. Similar in size to a jellybean, it weighs less than a gram. It must climb from the birth canal and into the mother’s pouch – a trip which takes about 3 minutes. This is done without any assistant from the mother kangaroo at all.

The baby kangaroo – called a “joey” stays permanently attached to the nipple for about 70 days suckling and continuing to develop. Females nurse their young for about a year, carrying them in the pouch for the first eight months. Females may have one joey in the pouch and an older joey outside the pouch but still nursing.

The Red Kangaroo breeds all year round, however spring and summer tend to be times when most young are born. The females have the unique ability to delay birth of their baby until their previous Joey has left the pouch. This is called embryonic diapause. This allows a viable embryo to be carried in the uterus for many months until the previous joey leaves the pouch.

The young Joey will permanently leave the pouch at around 235 days old, but will continue to suckle on the original teat until it reaches 12 months of age. During this time, the female is able to produce two different types of milk, one for the joey outside the pouch and one for another newborn embryo that will often be developing on another teat in the pouch simultaneously.

The female consumes feces and urine of joey in her pouch, thus recycling 1/3 of water used to produce milk.

It is illegal to kill, buy, sell or possess a kangaroo in Australia however certain permitted hunts have been established to help manage the population in some areas. 60-70% of kangaroos harvested are for pet meat.

They can live more than 20 years in the wild and while Red Kangaroos can survive on little water, extended droughts in the desert regions can affect their health and lifespan. Another threat includes their primary predator – the dingo.

As Australia’s largest land mammal, the Red Kangaroo is one of the most recognizable and beloved creatures of the animal kingdom.


Special thanks to the following organizations for their education, research and conservation programs that provided information for this episode:

Australia Zoo
Australian Museum
Brevard Zoo
Central Florida Zoo
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Denver Zoo
Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo
Perth Zoo
Queensland Government Department of Environment and Science
San Diego Zoo Global Library
Sea World’s Animal Guide
Taronga Zoo
Woodland Park Zoo

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Meerkats | African Painted Dogs | Giraffes

Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | iHeartRadio | Podbean | Stitcher | more

2. African Painted Dogs
3. Giraffes
Credits and Links


Meerkats – one of Africa’s most well-known small mammals. Found in the Kalahari Desert of Botswana, Namibia’s Namib Desert and in arid savannas across parts of South Africa – the meerkat is a specialized member of the mongoose family that thrives in these harsh desert environments.

The original name meerkat – originated from the Dutch term meaning “lake cat” though they are not cats at all, today the local Afrikaan term “meirkat” has come to mean “termite mongoose” – a much more fitting nickname for these highly active desert predators.

With a body that is long and slender, not bushy like many mongoose species, meerkats have thin tails that taper to a dark colored tip. A meerkat’s body measures 10 to 14 inches and their tails are almost as long as their body giving them a total length of around 19 to 20 inches.

They possess gray and brown colored coats of fur with only small amounts of hair on their undersides. They have dark horizontal bands across their backs and their faces are marked with dark patches around their eyes, which help protect their eyes from the glare of the sun.

When meerkats are born they have a pink nose and as they age it will turn darker brown or black – but a female meerkat’s nose will always retain a touch of the pink color.

Unlike most mongoose species that have more pointed ears – meerkats have round ears that they are able to close shut when digging and burrowing to help keep dirt and dust out.

Meerkats are active carnivores, with a pointed snout and sharp claws that helps them to seek and catch prey from narrow trenches. With an excellent sense of smell, meerkats can locate much of their diet hiding underground. Primarily insectivors, their preferred food consists of small eat insects, such as grubs and termites, but they will also eat other animals like scorpions, spiders, lizards, birds, eggs and some fruit and other plant matter.

It is often thought that meerkats are immune to scorpion venom, however this is a bit misleading. While they do possess some immunity to the venom – if stung by certain deadly species – like a cape scorpion the meerkat may still die. However, meerkats have developed a technique for handling scorpions they commonly eat.

When a meerkat stalks a scorpion, it moves in quickly for the kill. First, the meerkat grabs the tail, biting off the scorpion’s stinger and discarding it. Without its tail, the scorpion is unable to inject the venom. Even with its stinger removed however, there may still be venom on its exoskeleton.

To combat this, meerkats have learned to brush off any remaining traces in the sand after removing the stinger. Meerkats are known to use this technique of dusting off the venom with the giant millipede as well.

Observation of meerkats has shown that adults teach pups this important hunting technique, often in various stages as they grow to adulthood.

Meerkats recieve much of their hydration from the animals they eat but meerkats are known to dig up plant roots for water in their otherwise hot and dry desert habitats.

To escape the heat of the desert, meerkats live in burrows. Though they are excellent diggers, they often take over burrows dug by other animals such as ground squirrels and even abandoned termite mounds. These meerkat homes may have more than 15 entrance and exits holes with tunnels and chambers as deep as 6 and half feet. These subterranean living quarters provide consistent and comfortable temperature – year round, day or night.

Meerkats are active during the daylight hours – most of their time is spent foraging, basking in the sun and grooming. Their daily activities are usually triggered by the amount of sunlight available which warms the top of the burrow and acts as a type of alarm clock. On certain overcast days, meerkats may spend the majority of the day underground.

Meerkats are highly social animals and one of the most cooperative mammal species. A group of meerkats is known as a mob, clan or gang. As many as 50 animals may make up a meerkat mob who will often inhabit as many as 5 different burrows at one time. Typical mob sizes range from 15 to 30 individuals who are led by breeding pair and most notably a dominant female. During the day other meerkats take turns watching after meerkat pups in the burrow while the parents seek food outside the home.

While the rest of the mob forages for food, at least one of the meerkats – called a sentry will find a high point, like a termite mound, and perch on its back legs. From here it keeps a look out for possible predators. If this lookout sentry senses danger it will let out an alarm call, sending the mob scrambling for cover.

Researchers have discovered that the type of sound given depends on circumstances, and even if the possible predator is aerial, such as an eagle they can spot up to …. or a ground based threat like a snake or jackal. Meerkats make between 9 and 14 different vocalizations for ommunication and a 2011 study showed that meerkats can distinguish between the calls of different members of their mob.

Like other mongoose species, meerkats have been known to kill venomous snakes. Working as a group, they will simultaneously attack and bite the snake – this cooperation among the mobs allow them to chase off many solitary predators much larger than the meerkat.

Meerkats are highly territorial among their family groups. They have scent pouches below their tails and rub these pouches on rocks and plants to mark their territory. The territories of different mobs often overlap, resulting in conflicts that can turn violent.

As a defense, often these conflicts begin with aggressive posturing and bluffing as each group tries to intimidate the other by lining up across a field and, at the right moment, charge forward with leaps and bounds, holding their tail rigid and straight up in the air. They will arch their back and thrust their rear legs backward. In many cases one group may win the stand off simply from displays and little physical contact however, meerkats are known as vicious fighters and they will often kill each other in these skirmishes.

However despite the dangers of predators and even attacks with other meerkats, their system of sentry lookouts, the immunity to some snake and scorpion venom and their incredible cooperative ability to hunt and defend themselves, meerkats will live up to 10 years in their native habitats while many in managed care at accredited zoological facilities can live nearly twice as long.

African Painted Dogs

Native to Africa and not found in the wild anywhere else on the planet, the beautiful and uniquely marked African Painted Dog is one of the world’s most endangered mammals.

The largest populations remain in southern Africa and the southern part of East Africa in Zimbabwe, Tanzania and northern Mozambique. It is estimated that fewer than 7,000 of these fascinating canines exists in the wild today.

African Painted Dogs are also known as African Wild Dogs and Cape Hunting Dogs – its scientific name means “painted wolf” – a reference to the irregular colored coat that features patches of red, black, brown, white and yellow fur. Each individual possesses a unique pattern.

With their distincive coats, Painted Dogs are sometimes confused with Hyenas. While the Hyena is a species of its own, most closely related to cats – the African Painted Dog is indeed a canine, related to other species such as jackals, wolves, coyotes and even domestic dogs.

Unlike most dogs however, African Painted Dogs only have four toes on each foot – dogs typically have five toes on their forefeet.

These long-legged animals are capable of incredible speeds and high stamina. African Painted Dogs can sprint more than 44 miles per hour. This speed is neccessary when hunting their primary prey on the African plains – gazelles and impala.

They are incredibly social animals with a focus on the family group. These wild dogs gather in packs of around ten individuals, but some packs number more than 40. Each pack is ruled by an ‘alpha’ breeding pair, with the female considered the dominant animal. This alpha female chooses where her pack will build their den.

With a gestation of about 70 days, usually only the alpha female carries a litter producing 10-11 pups. The females will often give birth in underground dens abandoned by aardvarks.

The pups are weaned around five weeks of age and become fully-fledged pack hunters by the time they are 1 year old. Same-sex siblings from one pack will eventually leave to join up with the opposite same-sex siblings of another pack to form a new family group of their own.

With very strong family bonds, African Painted Dogs spend most of their time together. As a group, they collectively take care of the pups with subordinate female dogs acting as pup-sitters for the alpha female mother within the pack.

If a member of the pack becomes ill or injured, the dogs will care and tend to them and they have even been observed mourning lost family members.

Though related to domestic dogs, African Painted Dogs are certainly wild animals and are considered very dangerous predators. They make excellent use of their cooperative hunting skills.

They tend to prey upon medium sized antelope species such as kudu, impala and various gazelles but they have been seen taking on buffalo, wildebeest and even giraffe – though kills of these larger animals are rare. The success rate of the African Painted Dog hunts are said to be between 70 and 90% – one of the continents most successful hunters.

A hunt typically begins at sunrise or sunset when the dogs first perform an elaborate greeting ceremony, sniffing and licking each other, wagging their tails and twittering aloud. During the hunt itself, however, the dogs are silent.

The whole pack shares in the feast, maturing pups who are present at the kill are often allowed to feed first but those animals not present are not left out. The dogs returning from the hunt will regurgitate bits of meat for the pups and the nursing mother who may have stayed behind in the den. African Painted Dogs hunt every day as they require more food, relative to their size than a lion. An average adult Painted Dog consumes about 9 pounds of animal carcass per day.

African Painted Dogs don’t stick to one territory when hunting either, their range may be between 80 and 800 square miles. They have been known to travel more than 30 miles a day for food, hunting mostly at dawn and dusk to avoid lions and other predators.

African Painted Dogs may live to be about 10 years old but as one of the world’s most endangered mammals, they face the very real threat of extinction. Their numbers continue to decline because of viral diseases like rabies and distemper, along with competition with large predators like lions, conflicts with humans, and habitat fragmentation.

Currently the African Painted Dog is one of the species currently part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan – a program focused on the sustainable ongoing population of many of the world’s most endangered or threatened species.


Towering above all the amazing wildlife in Africa is the tallest animal on Earth. This long-necked and popular creature of the animal world needs no introduction. It has captured the human imagination through the ages. The national animal of Tanzania and considered to be protected royalty in the country of Botswana – this icon of the animal kingdom is of course, the Giraffe.

Reaching average heights of more than 17 feet and weighing up to 2600 pounds, the uniquely patterned Giraffe is not only the tallest animal in the world but it is also the largest ruminant – that is, an animal that partly digests its food, then regurgitates it to chew the ‘cud.’ Giraffe are even-toed ungulates (or hoofed animals) like Hippos, Buffalos, Cattle and its closest relative – the Okapi. A Giraffe’s foot may grow up to 12 inches in diamater and the underside of the its belly may be 6 feet off the ground when standing.

Some of the largest male Giraffes ever recorded – both in the wild and in managed care have stood over 19 feet tall.

Giraffes are herbivores – predominantly browsers eating mainly leaves and buds on trees and shrubs.

Due to the length of their neck – which actually doesn’t allow them to reach the ground – they eat very little grass and in order to drink they must first splay their front legs out to the side.

Despite their size, however, Giraffes do not require large amounts of drinking water since they absorb much of their moisture from the plants they consume – primarily the Acacia leaves. They can eat between 70 and 80 pounds of food a day.

Many of the plants that Giraffes eat, including the Acacia, are covered in thorns. While Giraffes have no teeth in the top of their jaw, they do possess a bluish-purple or black tinted tongue that measures over a foot and a half long. This long, prehensile tongue allows them to wrap around branches and pull of the nutritious leaves.

Their highly flexible tongue is thickly covered to help protect it from the thorns and a thick saliva is believed to also aid in protecting both their tongue and throat.

The dark coloring of their tongue may also aid in preventing sunburn, since Giraffe feed much of the daytime hours with their tongue exposed.

Giraffes are typically awake for more than 20 hours a day, traveling and feeding. When resting – Giraffes may actually only enter a deep sleep for less than 20 minutes at a time. This period is usually seen when they may sit or lie down with their legs under their body and their head resting back on their rump. This is a vulnerable position for the Giraffe and they only remain in the position for very short periods of time – often no more than 5 minutes.

A giraffe’s heart, which can weigh over 24 pounds – the largest of any land mammal. This huge organ is needed to generate almost double the normal blood pressure of other mammals in order to maintain blood flow to the brain against gravity up the animal’s long neck.

In the Giraffe’s upper neck, they possess a complex pressure-regulation system of valves that prevent excess blood flow to the brain, when the giraffe lowers its head to drink. Conversely, the blood vessels in the lower legs are under great pressure (because of the weight of fluid pressing down on them) but a Giraffe’s legs have a very tight sheath of thick skin which maintains high extra-vascular pressure. Interestingly, NASA has done research on the blood vessels in giraffe legs to get inspiration for human space suits.

Giraffes walk similar to a camel by alternating the two right side legs, then the two left side legs, but when galloping they shift to alternating the front pair and the hind pair. Giraffes are also capable of running up to 30 miles per hour for sustained periods. In fact, the word ‘giraffe’ is believed to come from the Arab word ‘zarafa’, which means ‘fast walker’.

A Giraffe’s legs also serve as a form of defense, they can pack a powerful kick. A giraffe can kill a lion with a blow to the head or by breaking their back with a kick from their long, powerful legs.

Located on the top of the Giraffe’s head between the ears are what many call horns. However, they are actually known as ossicones and are found on both males and females. Ossicones are formed from ossified cartliage and are covered in skin. Giraffes are born with ossicones, but they lie flat and are not attached to the skull, helping to avoid injury during birth. As the animal ages, the ossicones will fuse with the skull over time.

Ossicones on males are generally bald in part due to the behavior known as necking. Necking is a fighting behavior that helps most males, known as bulls, establish dominance. The bulls will repeatedly swing their necks to deliver powerful head-butts to the each other’s body and underbelly. Injuries can occur during these sparring matches and in rare instances one animal may be knocked unconscious or even die.

Traditionally Giraffe have been considered a single species with 9 subspecies – and currently the IUCN Red List still tracks the species in this general classification.

However, a study conducted in partnership with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation that completed the first-ever comprehensive DNA sampling and analysis of all major natural populations of Giraffe throughout their range in Africa has revealed that there are 4 distinct species of Giraffe and 5 subspecies.

The 4 distinct species are the Masai, the Northern, the Reticulated and the Southern Giraffe.

The Rothschild Giraffe is genetically identical to the Nubian Giraffe which is one of the Northern Giraffe subspecies.

The other subspecies include the Northern West African, as well as the Angolan and South African Giraffes which are both Southern subspecies.

A common way to identify the various species of Giraffe is by their colored skin patterns. While each individual has its own unique design, each species possesses similar traits in shape, edging, and coloration.

West African and Kordofan Giraffes have light or pale patterns while the Nubian patches are large and chestnut-brown. Each of these Northern Giraffe subspecies have no markings on their lower legs.

The South African giraffe has star-shaped patches in various shades of brown, surrounded by a light tan colour. Their lower legs are randomly speckled with uneven spots.

The Angolan Giraffe is light in color and in some areas of Namibia, this species can be found almost colorless.

The Reticulated Giraffe may be the pattern most people think of with it’s rich orange brown patches that are clearly defined by striking white lines. This pattern continues the entire length of their legs.

The Masai giraffe is often noticeably darker than other species. Its patches are large, dark brown and distinctively vine leaf-shaped with jagged edges. The patches are surrounded by a creamy-brown color that continues down their legs.

Currently all Giraffes are classified as threatened but the Reticulated Giraffe is listed as Endangered while the Northern Subspecies Nubian and Kordofan are Criticially Endangered.

In some populations, over 50% of all Giraffe calves do not survive their first year and currently Giraffe are already extinct in at least seven countries in Africa.


Special thanks to the following organizations for their education, research and conservation programs that provided information for this episode:

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
Giraffe Conservation Foundation
National Geographic
Oregon Zoo
Painted Dog Conservation
San Diego Zoo
Smithsonian’s National Zoo

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Tanuki | Black-breasted Leaf Turtle | Giant Panda

Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | iHeartRadio | Podbean | Stitcher | more

1. Tanuki
2. Black-breasted Leaf Turtle
3. Giant Panda
Credits and Links


Native to East Asia is a member of the canine family with a distinct appearance like that of a raccoon and so these animals are often called Asian Raccoon Dogs.

A subspecies of Asian Raccoon Dogs found in Japan bear the local name of a creature that has long been a part of Japanese folklore – the shape-shifting trickster known as the Tanuki.

Despite their similar facial features to that of a raccoon – especially the characteristic black mask around the eyes, Tanuki – or Japanese Raccoon Dogs, are not raccoons or dogs -but they are more closely related to foxes.

With a length of 2 feet, mature Tanuki may weigh from 5 to 20 pounds. Tanuki fur ranges in color from yellow-grey to reddish-brown. The fur coat grows thicker in autumn and winter seasons. The shoulders, tip of the tail, and the legs of the Tanuki are black.

They tend to be most active at dawn and dusk however it is not uncommon for them to forage during daytime hours. Similar to foxes, Tanuki tend to avoid people in most areas and so this lack of daytime activity has caused them to sometimes to be considered nocturnal.

Raccoon Dogs are highly adaptable to a wide range of habitats including forests, farmland, coastal regions and urban areas. Tanuki are often found near water in many of their ranges.

As opportunistic omnivores, they are known to eat just about anything from frogs and lizards to birds and rodents as well as crabs, fish, human garbage and carrion – including roadkill.

Though efforts have been made to remove populations from urban locations in Japan, Tanuki will often return.

From the 1920s throught the 1950s – the Soviet Union purposefully introduced Asian Raccoon Dogs to parts of eastern Europe for the fur trade. The animals were released into the wild and the Raccoon Dog’s range now includes parts of Finland near the Arctic Circle – a testament to their ability to adapt to extreme conditions.

Tanuki are considered the only member of the canine family to hibernate – this behavior is actually known as torpor. Torpor is simply a state of lethargy but unlike hibernation, Tanuki will often emerge on warmer winter days to forage.

Tanuki are known to be good climbers, with their sharp claws they have the ability to climb trees – similar to some fox species. They can also swim and even dive underwater to catch prey like crabs.

Raccoon dogs do not bark, but they will growl or hiss when threatened. Their vocalizations are higher in pitch than a dog’s and are said to sound more like a cats or other animals.

Tanuki form monogamous, permanent pairs that share a home range and forage together. Tanuki will often make their breeding nests in tree hollows. The average Raccoon Dog litter size is six and both parents participate in their care. Often the males will provide food for a female and her pups.

Like most canines, Tanuki make excellent use of their sense of smell. Scents are also used as a means of communication – especially the use of latrines, which are often just piles of feces left in the middle of a clearing or open area.

As a rather shy animal, Tanuki tend to flee from confrontation but will sometimes appear to “play dead” to avoid predators.

Due to their wide range of distribution, especially as invasive species – currently Raccoon Dogs are considered as species of least concern. However, they are sometimes farmed for their fur – known as murmansky – which has been falsely labeled as faux fur, when in fact it is real animal fur.

Another threat that Tanuki face today in Japan is – oddly enough – invasive raccoons which share similar habitats and diet – especially near areas of human populations.

Often portrayed as comical and mischievous shape-shifting fantasy creatures whodec ieve humans in Japanese folklore – the Tanuki has also been featured in more recent popular culture including the inspiration of the Tanuki suit in the Super Mario 3 game and as the main character Tom Nook in the popular video game series Animal Crossings.

Today, Tanuki are rarely seen in most zoos throughout the world and only 2 accredited zoos in the United States are currently home to these special members of the canine family. Zoo Atlanta is home to Loki and Thor – who are often featured on the zoo’s social media pages. The Oklahoma City Zoo is now home to four Japanese Raccoon Dogs including Una – a rare white, leucistic Tanuki.

Black-breasted Leaf Turtle

Easily recognized by its brown to orange shell and large, almost owl-looking eyes – the Black-breasted Leaf Turtle may actually be hard to spot. Measuring less than 5 inches long, the Black-breasted Leaf Turtle is one of the world’s smallest turtle species.

Native only in mountainous forest regions of southern China and northern Vietnam, the Black-breasted Leaf Turtle, sometimes known as the Vietnamese Leaf Turtle, is almost completely terrestrial, spending most of its time hiding among the leaf litter on the forest floor, often near streams.

This species gets its name from both the dark underside and shape of its shell. The hard top portion of the shell, known as the carapace, is brown or orange in color with serrated edges that almost resemble teeth along the back scutes. The underside of the shell, called the plastron – is black in the center with a yellow border. The top of the carapace has three distinct ridges that also give the appearance of a leaf – serving as perfect camouflage for this tiny turtle among its preferred habitat.

The head is olive to dark brown in color with faint yellow markings – females tend to have a more striped pattern. Black-breasted Leaf Turtles also possess a strongly pronounced beak.

Perhaps the most notable feature of this species are their large, bulging eyes with a stark light colored iris – giving them an wide-eyed or alert expression. Females have a tan colored iris surround the black pupil while males have a bright white color – adding to this almost inquisitive, owl-like expression.

Black-breasted Leaf Turtles will often sit still for long periods of time, perhaps hours, with their neck fully extended and their large eyes wide open, watching for potential prey – or possible predators. Like a chameleon – they have the ability to move each eye independently as they survey their surroundings.

Black-breasted Leaf Turtles, like many turtles or omnivorous. they will eat insects, earthworms, snails and slugs as well as various fruits.

Research has found that once a prey item is spotted nearby, they will fix both eyes on it’s target and keep both eyes there even when the vision of one eye is obstructed. To aid in seeing in the low light of the forest floor among the loose vegetation and leaves, the pupil responds quickly to changes in ambient light intensity. They also appear to be easily distracted by motion and they may even abandon prey in their jaws if startled.

Due to their small size and unique appearance Black-breasted Leaf Turtles are sometimes sold as pets – often referred to by another name – the Spengler’s Turtle. Unfortunately their presence in the pet trade is one of the main reasons they are currently classified as endangered. The unsustainable collection from the wild for both the pet trade (illegal in some areas, including Vietnam) and for use in Chinese traditional medicine practices has led to their greatly declining numbers in their native habitats.

Many wild Black-breasted Leaf Turtles intended for the pet trade are confiscated each year by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, often these animals are then managed by rescue organizations like the Turtle Conservancy or accredited zoological facilities. Unfortunately many more are not rescued and in time this endangered and unique species may become extinct.

Giant Panda

One of the most recognizable creatures on the planet and a symbol of conservation.

While their scientific name means “black and white cat-footed animal” and
a common Chinese name translates to “large-bear cat.” This distinctly colored resident of China is well known around the world as the Giant Panda.

The Giant Panda – sometimes called Panda Bear or simply Pandas are classified in the family Ursidae as one of the world’s eight species of bears along with the polar, brown, American black, asiatic black/moon, sun, sloth and Andean/spectacled bears).

However, Giant Pandas were once placed in the same family as raccoons and their relatives – this classification was originally due to some similarities with another animal incorrectly place in this animal group – the red panda. The red panda was first described in publication 48 years before the discovery of the animal that would become known as Giant Panda due to size comparisons – the red panda however is technically the only panda since they remain a distinct animal species while the Giant Pandas are in fact – bears.

Despite the name “giant” Panda, they are one of the smaller bear species. Adult Giant Pandas stand about 2-3 feet tall at the shoulder. Females usually weigh about 220 lbs, while males may weigh around 275 lbs.

Giant pandas have a body typical of bears – stocky and barrel shaped. Their legs are shorter than most bears and their forequarters are larger than their hindquarters. They are covered in a short, thick, wooly fur to protect them in the cold and snow.

They are best recognized by their striking markings: white overall with black patches around their eyes, on their ears, limbs and on their chest around to their shoulders. The exact purpose for these unique markings is still unknown. It is believed the black and white markings could provide camouflage, blending in with the patches of light and dark among the dense bamboo forests or snow.

Giant Pandas are restricted to six south central Chinese mountainous regions. Inhabiting elevations between 5,000 and 10,000 feet where a dense understory of bamboo is present, the climate in these temperate forested mountains is usually cool and damp, the landscape often shrouded in clouds and fog. Snow may be common in winter.

Despite their roley-poly appearance, Giant Pandas are excellent tree climbers and they have extremely powerful jaws. A very pronounced sagittal crest, robust jaw muscles and large strong molars give the Panda an incredibly powerful bite. Forepaws have five digits and a “pseudo-thumb.” The pseudo-thumb is an enlarged wrist bone with attached muscles and aids in grasping and manipulating bamboo stems.

They feed almost exclusively on bamboo; nearly 99% of their diet consists of bamboo. They consume the leaves, shoots and roots. They have been found to prefer to live in regions around more than one species of bamboo, requiring at least 2 species of the plant to avoid starvation, since all plants of a single bamboo species flower, die and regenerate at the same time. The Giant Panda bears are known to eat more than 25 different species of bamboo. Usually while sitting down on the forest floor.

Bamboo does not have a very high nutritional value and since the pandas digestive system is surprisingly inefficient much of what is eaten is passed as waste. To make up for this, they will spend 10-16 hours a day eating around 20-40 lbs, or even up to 80 lbs, of bamboo, the rest of the time is usually spent resting and sleeping.

The remaining 1% of their diet is made up of other plants or fruit and occasionally eggs, small animals and carrion. Giant pandas have been known to forage in farmlands for pumpkins, kidney beans, wheat and even pig food.

Their guts are much shorter than would be expected for a plant eating animal. Total length of gut is only 4 times the length of the body, for comparison, other exclusive plant eaters such as deer have guts 10-22 times the length of their entire body. They have a very simple stomach with no foregut or hindgut fermentation like other herbivores would.

Giant panda genome sequencing detects no digestive enzymes specifically for plant cellulose, yet it also detects that giant pandas may have lost the ability to taste protein.

Adult giant pandas are solitary, coming together only to breed. They will often vocalize during social interactions. They may chirp, honk, bark, chomp and bleat. Much of their communication is done through scent. Under their short, 5-inch long tail lies their scent gland.

Females are only fertile for 2 to 3 days and may only have cubs every 2 to 3 years. The female gives birth to usually one or two cubs in a den or tree hollow after a gestation period of 80-180 days. In the wild, only one cub usually survives since it extremely difficult for the mother to care for two cubs. Cubs are born completely helpless. They are pink with a sparse covering of white hairs and their eyes are closed. They weigh only 3-5 ounces when first born – only about 1/900th the size of the mother.

Adult giant pandas have no known natural predators. Cubs, however, are far more vulnerable. Yellow-throated martens, golden cats, Asian dogs known as dholes and leopards may prey upon a young panda.

Giant Pandas have been downgraded from endangered to vulnerable but they still face threats. Deforestation threatens their forest homes. Many other species share habitat with giant pandas such as, takins, golden monkeys and pheasants. Giant Pandas are considered an “umbrella species” – by protecting the Panda and its habitats, we are also helping save other species.

Less than 2,000 Giant Pandas remain in the wild and an additional 600 in zoos and breeding centers around the world. Currently, only three U.S. zoos house giant pandas: Smithsonian’s National Zoo, Memphis Zoo and Zoo Atlanta. The giant pandas are on loan from China and have been a part of breeding and research programs to help preserve and learn more about these iconic creatures.

The beloved and iconic Giant Panda has long been, and will continue to be, a symbol of conservation – an ambassador that shows the power of working together to make a difference and save a species.


Special thanks to the following organizations for their education, research and conservation programs that provided information for this episode:

Zoo Atlanta
Central Florida Zoo
Cincinnati Zoo
Memphis Zoo
Smithsonian’s National Zoo
Oklahoma City Zoo
Red Panda Network
San Diego Zoo Global
The Turtle Conservancy
The Turtle Room
World Wildlife Fund

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Moray Eels | Man O’ War | Great White Shark

Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | iHeartRadio | Podbean | Stitcher | more

1. Moray Eels
2. Portuguese Man O’ War
3. White Shark
Credits and Links

Moray Eels

With scaleless skin that is covered in a slime coat and common behavior of lying inside rock crevices with their gaping mouth exposing razor sharp teeth it is no wonder that eels have long held a reputation as a sea creature to be feared.

Though these aquatic animals are sometimes mistaken as sea serpents, they are actually a type of bony fish. The most recognizable of these long, slender bodied fish with a menacing look are known as Moray Eels.

There are over 200 species of Moray Eels. They range in size from just 6 inches to over 10 feet depending on species – some like the Giant Moray, may even weigh more than 60 pounds.

Moray Eels are found in warm or temperate waters around the world and come in an amazing assortment of appearances. Various species have skin patterns that are often described as speckled, striped, freckled or tattooed, as well as a number of colors including brown, green, off white, yellow, black and blue.

This diverse coloration often lends to the name of many species including the Zebra, the Snowflake, the Honeycomb and the White Eyed Moray Eel.

A particular species of Moray is the Ribbon Eel, these unique species of Moray undergo an major transformation within their lifetime. At birth, they begin life as males and as they mature toward the end of their lifespan they make the switch and become females. With this change also comes different appearances. As juveniles they are all black, adult males are blue with a yellow coloration around their mouth and yellow dorsal fin while the maturing stage females will change to almost completely yellow.

Unlike most Moray Eels, that have sharp, pointed teeth that face backwards to grip slippery prey, the Zebra Moray has flat, plate-like teeth design for crushing crabs and other hard-shelled creatures.

One of the most familiar and feared of Moray species is known as the Green Moray Eel. Sometimes described as a beautiful green flowing ribbon when swimming out in the open waters beyond the reef, Green Moray Eels are sometimes known as Painted Eels.

Suprisingly, the Green Moray’s skin is actually blue, grey or brown but they are covered in a yellow-colored protective slime layer which when blended with their skin and filtered light give them a green appearance.

This slime coating, a common characteristics of all eels, helps protect the moray as it travels the jagged, rocky crevices where they’re often found during the day. Moray eels are primarily nocturnal, resting during the day and coming out to hunt at night.

Moray eels have a low dorsal fin that runs along the length of the body and lack pectoral and anal fins. Because of this, morays don’t have great lateral stability, so it isn’t unusual to see them resting on their sides.

Moray eels don’t have very good vision, but they do have a good sense of smell which they use to seek out prey. Depending on the species, common food items include fish, crustaceans and various cephalopods.

While many larger fish feed by opening their mouth wide which helps to create a suction that allows them to suck in and swallow many prey items, the Moray Eels take on a different, almost alien approach to feeding.

They are the only known creature to use pharyngeal jaws to grab and hold prey. In their throat lies a second set of jaws and teeth. When the front jaws bite prey, the pharyngeal jaws spring forward from the back of their throat to grab and pull their prey item down their throat. The biting attack of a Moray Eel is lightning fast as they strike from an almost motionless state to grab unsuspecting passerbys.

A common behavior seen in morays the often give them their menacing look is opening and closing their mouth as they lie resting among the rocks. While this display exposes their teeth and may seem threatening, this is simply how they breathe. Most fish breathe by opening and closing their gill covers to force water over their gills. Moray eels, however, lack gill covers and must open and close their mouth to force water over their gills.

Moray Eels have a reputation of being aggressive and dangerous towards humans. And while they are potentially dangerous, most Moray Eels are actually rather shy and tend to avoid humans. They usually only “attack” people when they feel threatened, such as when a diver mistakenly places their hands in a rock crevice or hole that is often home to these misunderstood and elusive sea creatures.

Portuguese Man O’ War

The Portuguese Man O’ War. The name alone demands attention. The sight of this aquatic lifeform floating in coastal waters or washed ashore on sandy beaches is cause for concern.

A relative of sea anemones and often mistaken by many to be a jellyfish – another relative species – this amazing specimen is actually classified as a siphonophore.

A siphonophore is comprised of a colony of specialized, genetically identical individuals called zooids, each unable to live on its own. These four specialized parts, or polyps, each part performing exclusive functions, such as capturing prey, reproduction, feeding and digestion and floating. And so, the Man O’ War is actually a group of several animals living together as one.

The most recognizable part of the Portuguese Man O’ War is the gas filled sac, or pneumatophore, which sits above the water and somewhat resembles an 18th century warship at full sail. A ridge along the top of the sac acts like a sail, its shape is said to resemble the helmets worn by Portuguese soldiers and so this dangerous and bizarre creature got it’s name.

This floating sac may rise as high as 6 inches and is what aids the Man O’ War in its travels across the oceans. Unlike jellyfish, which have the ability to contract and expand their bell and propel themselves through the water, the Man O’ War has no ability to propel or move itself and is totally dependent on ocean waves, wind and currents for movement. Sometimes as many as 1,000 or more may be carried along together by certain currents out at sea. Though incapable of propulsion, the creature can control the amount of gas within the sac, allowing it to submerge below the surface for periods of time – perhaps to avoid surface predators.

Below the floating sac and beneath the waters surface are the three remaining zooids that comprise the Man O’ War. The most prominent are the cluster of long, trailing tentacles that are used for capturing prey and defense. Averaging a length of 30 feet, these tentacles can grow more than 150 long. The tentacles are armed with stinging cells that contain nematocysts. Nematocysts inject a barbed thread and paralyzing toxin to capture and subdue prey like small fish, plankton and invertebrates.

The tentacle transfers prey to the mouths of vase-shaped individuals (gastrozooids) that perform digestion. Nutrients are shared through a common gut system that connects all members of the colony. Communication between individuals is maintained through a network of nerve fibers.

The final organism is the gonozooids which contain the reproductive organs. Each Man O’ War is either a male or female colony and they reproduce by a method known as broadcast spawning. Once fertilized, the egg develops by “budding” into the distinct structures and organisms that make up each Man O’ War.

Found in tropical and subtropical waters across all of the worlds oceans, the Portuguese Man O’ War is sometimes known as the Atlantic Portuguese Man O’ War. Another species – found exclusively in Indian and Pacific waters is sometime called a Bluebottle. It’s smaller than the Atlantic species and hunts with a single, elongated tentacle.

Though the Man O’ War slowly drifts along the surface of the ocean, its transparent float that is tinted blue, pink or violet helps it blend in with the waters reflective surface allowing it to go unnoticed by some predators. However the main predators of the Portuguese Man O’ War include the Loggerhead Sea Turtle and the Mola Mola – or Ocean Sunfish. Another predator includes the unassuming Sea Slug known as the Blue Dragon. The Blue Dragon has the ability to absorb the neurotoxins of the Man O’ War – storing it in its own skin – making it Man O’ War useful not only as a meal but also as a predator deterrent for the sea slug itself.

The stinging cells of the Man O’ War are capable of producing very painful injections of toxing into humans. Though the stings are rarely fatal, some deaths have been reported. Large welts on the skin as well as allergic type reactions such as elevated heart rate, muscle cramps and vomitiing.

The nematocysts have the ability to inject toxins even when separated from the rest of the organism and are still dangerous to touch for several days even if the Man O’ War is found dead on a beach.

A recent study has found that former supposed remedies for Man O’ War stings such as flushing the skin with sea water or urine, can actually cause additional venom to be released and spread across a larger affected region. It has been discovered that treatment with vinegar then soaking the affected area in hot water of 113 degrees Fahrenheit or more for 45 minutes may neutralize the toxins. But the best advice to avoid contact with the Portuguese Man O’ War is to stay away from them.

White Shark

In the animal kingdom, few species are as infamous and feared as the shark. Most sharks species are considered the top predator in their respective ocean habitats. But one shark species is perhaps the most feared off all oceanic animals.

Its scientific name is Carcharodon carcharias and it is the largest predatory fish in the world. Throughout the ages, this large and dangerous creature has been commonly known as the great – white – shark.

The White Shark, as it is commonly referred to in the scientific community – is a large, bulky fish with a body shaped like a blunt torpedo. Though no maximum length has been confirmed many females may grow longer than 16 feet with some White Sharks reported to be nearly 20 feet long. They may weigh over 4,000 pounds with some reports of some reaching nearly 6,000 pounds.

The White Shark is classified as a mackerel sharks, a group that includes the Mako and Salmon sharks.

They have a sharply pointed conical snout, large pectoral and dorsal fins, and a powerful crescent-shaped tail. They are capable of swimming speeds of over 15 mph and burst speeds of up to 35 mph.

Despite its name, only the underside of the White Shark is white, with a contrast of grey or brown on the top and sides. This counter shading helps the White Shark blend in to its surroundings. When viewed from below the white belly blends with the back light of the sun and sky, and when seen from above the shark’s darker colored back allow it to disappear into the murky depths below.

Equipped with powerful muscles, good eyesight, and excellent sense of smell aided by the classic lateral line of that allows the animal to detect faint electrical fields from the bodies of potential prey – the White Shark is an efficient, aggressive and effective predator.

Perhaps one of the most stunning images in all of nature is the sight of the White Shark launching its entire body from the water in pursuit of its primary prey – seals and sea lions. White sharks are also known to feed on large fish, smaller sharks including other White sharks, and wounded dolphins and whale carcasses.

The most notable feature of these powerful hunters is their large and impressive jaws. Lined with several rows of nearly 300 large, sharply pointed, coarsely serrated teeth. Each tooth is designed to cut flesh and can easily puncture and shatter bone.

The White Shark has the ability to over extend its jaws beyond its mouth enabling them to take very large and deadly bites. A common tactic while feeding is to first bump the potential prey, then take a bite. To protect their eyes while feeding, they will roll their pupils back in their heads while they bite since White Sharks lack the protective membrane found in some shark species.

Unlike most fish – White Sharks, similar to the Mako Sharks, are considered warm-blooded. An adult White Shark can maintain a body temperature up to 27 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the surrounding water. This is due to its large mass and a highly developed heat exchange function in their circulatory system that prevents heat from escaping as blood circulates through its gills and near the body surface.

Although capable of swimming across ocean basins, White Sharks, like salmon, return to their native waters to give live birth. Where some of these birthing areas exists across the globe remains a mystery.

Though White Sharks are typically solitary hunters they are also a highly migratory animal who often come together in large groups, sometimes for feeding and often for breeding.

In the eastern Pacific Ocean, they regularly migrate to a location between Mexico and Hawaii. This vast and somewhat empty ocean expanse located halfway between California and Hawaii is known to researchers as “the White Shark Cafe.”

Sharks normally found off the western North American coast may take nearly a month to swim to this location where they appear to remain for a couple of months before returning – studies are ongoing to learn more about this behavior and why the sharks return here each year.

In other parts of the world, White Sharks may migrate even longer distances. Some South African White Sharks have been tracked to southern Australia and back.

Modern tracking equipment and research from organizations like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Ocearch and the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation have allowed scientists to study these migration patterns in various locations more accurately but there is still much that is unknown about the amazing White Shark.

One thing has been discovered, many White Sharks frequent coastal waters and beaches (especially in the Southern US waters) for more often and much closer to shore than was once known.

Another means of identifying White Sharks is by photographing their iconic dorsal fin – each shark has a uniquely shaped fin that can aid researchers in observing the repeated habits of these incredible animals.

Though attacks on humans are not common and are rarely fatal, depictions of the White Shark in books, movies, and sensationalized news accounts have given the species a terrifying reputation. Up close studies with these animals in their native habitats however, have revealed they are not the indiscriminate man-eaters they were once believed to be.

While White Sharks are one of the top predators of their domain, there is an animal they seem to fear. The apex predator of the ocean – the Killer Whale. In a feeding ground off the Farallon Islands, near San Francisco – where White Sharks are known to gather to feed on elephant seals, researchers have noted that with the arrival of Killer Whales in the same waters, the White Sharks will flee and not return for several months.

There are also documented populations of some Killer Whales who are known to hunt and feed on White Sharks, though oddly they only consume the shark’s liver, leaving the rest of the carcass behind for other sharks and aquatic animals to feed on.

White Shark are currently listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. In the past century, White Shark populations worldwide have sharply declined. Despite their reputation as infamous killers, the White Shark plays a vital role in the ocean to help maintain a balanced and healthy ecosystem. Their removal from the top of the food chain can have long lasting adverse effects on the world’s oceans.


Special thanks to the following organizations for their education, research and conservation programs that provided information for this episode:

Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation
Monterey Bay Aquarium
National Geographic
National Ocean Service
National Aquarium
NOAA Ocean Explorer
Sea World’s Animal Guide
Waikiki Aquarium

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Binturong | Wreathed Hornbills | Orangutan

Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | iHeartRadio | Podbean | Stitcher | more

1. Binturong
2. Wreathed Hornbills
3. Orangutan
Credits and Links


Though rarely seen, in the dense forest of Southeast Asia lives a tree-dwelling mammal with distinctive characteristics and an important role as a keystone species among the regions rain forests.

Described as having a cat like face, a bear like walk and furry coat – it is even sometimes known as a “bearcat.” However, this creature is not a bear or a cat and despite being classified as a carnivore it’s primary diet is fruit, most notably figs.

With coarse and wiry black fur, long, white whiskers, a body 2 – 3 feet in length with a tail of nearly equal length. It is the largest member of the Viverridae family and it is known for boasting a rather familiar odor. It is the animal known as the Binturong.

Rare over its entire Asian range, the Binturong is most common in Malaysian Borneo, parts of Northeast India and Bangladesh. Binturongs have also been less frequently spotted in parts of Nepal, South China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.

The meaning of the word “binturong” is unknown because the local language that created the word is now extinct.

Binturong fur ranges in color from mostly black to brown with lighter white or silver tips. With long ear tufts and reddish-brown eyes, Binturongs are often thought to be either cute or menacing in appearance.

Binturongs are mostly solitary and normally avoid each other, but they are not strictly territorial. They are typically slow-moving and spend most of their time in trees. Padded paws and long claws help them grasp branches and they are able to rotate their ankles backwards which allow them to climb head first down a tree.

They spend the majority of their time climbing, but also have a high level of ground activity as they are too large to jump from tree to tree. Binturongs have also been seen swimming and diving in order to obtain food.

To aid in movement among the tree tops, Binturong are only one of two carnivores to possess a prehensile tail – the other is the small mammal, Kinkajou. The Binturong’s long flexible tail aids in balance as it climbs and a leathery patch at the tip of the tail helps them grip branches.

Even when sleeping they may be observed with the tail wrapped around a branch. Some young Binturongs have been seen hanging from branches using only their tails, adults are too big and must use also use their paws tosupport their weight.

With a weight of nearly 50 pounds, female Binturongs are about 20% larger than males and are the dominant sex in among the species. Both sexes possess scent glands at the base of their tail which are used to mark territory and for identification. The smell produced by Binturongs is often described as similar to buttered popcorn or corn chips.

Binturongs have no specific mating season and they are one of the few mammals that experience delayed implantation, meaning that the fertilized egg only partially develops after fertilization. This allows the female to give birth during ideal times of the year throughout their native range.

They are often considered nocturnal, but Binturongs have good vision both day and night and can be found active at any time of the day.

Though Binturongs are classified as carnivores and they will sometimes eat small animals such as insects, birds, fish, rodents and eggs, they are primarily frugivores, with fruits making up most of their diet. In fact, Binturong’s serve a very important role in their native habitat as a major consumer of the strangler fig.

The tree of the strangler fig make up a critical portion of the rainforest canopy in many parts of Southeast Asia. Many plants and animals rely on these large trees. However, the seed of the strangler fig has a thick coating. While other animals eat around the seed, some destroy the seed by fully consuming it, and some pass the seed through their systems with the thick coating unscathed.

However, the binturong is able to eat nutritious fruit, and the seed’s protective coating is removed by the binturong’s digestive tract as the seed passes through its system allowing the deposited seed to germinate. This method of seed dispersal is critical to helping maintain the rainforest ecosystem.

A smaller subspecies, known as the Palawan Binturong is found on the Palawan Island in the Philipines. This slightly smaller Binturong only grows to about 40 pounds and both species are currently listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

The only zoo with a breeding pair of Palawan Binturongs is the Nashville Zoo. As an accredited members of the Associaton of Zoos and Aquariums and a participant in the Binturong Species Survival Program, the Nashville Zoo became home to the first two Palawan Binturongs in the United States in 2015. To date, 19 Palawan binturongs have been born at Nashville Zoo.

Wreathed Hornbills

An unique Old World family of birds found in tropical and subtropical Africa, Asia and Melanesia are known as Hornbills.

A distinctive feature of the Hornbill family is the casque that appears on the upper mandible. This exact purpose of this hollow structure is unkown but most researchers believe it is used as a resonating chamber to amplify calls or, in the case of some hornbill species, as a battering ram in aerial jousts with other males.

Their scientific name of classification “Bucerotidae” – refers to that distinctive bill; buceros is Greek for “cow horn”.

The first two vertebrae of Hornbills are fused to support the weight of the large, heavy bill and casque.

Hornbills are well known as one of the signature bird groups in Asian tropical forests. Amont the many species found in Southern Asia and parts of Indonesia is the Wreathed Hornbill.

Wreathed Hornbills are large birds with a height of 30 to 36 inches, males being even larger than females. The birds are black with a long, white tail often stained yellow with preen gland oil. The females have a black head and males have a rufous crown and nape, with a white face and neck. The casque is common to both males and females of this large Asian species. They also appear to have eyelashes, which are modified feathers found growing just above the bare skin found around their eyes.

Wreathed Hornbills get their name from the wreaths, or ridges, found around the base of their bill. The Javanese name for the species means ‘year bird’, because of the ridges on the beak, however the hornbill does not form a new ridge every year. In fact, more than one ridge may form in a year and some of the front ridges may even drop off. Up to nine ridges have been counted, but the birds may live twenty years or more.

Wreathed hornbills also have a conspicuous inflatable pouch on the throat with a dark band or stripe, due to this marking they are sometimes known as Bar-pouched Hornbills. All Wreathed Hornbills are born with a blue colored pouch but as the mature, the male Wreathed Hornbill’s pouch turns a bright yellow color. This same yellow coloration is also found on males of another closely related species – the Plain-Pouched Hornbill – which looks very similar to the Wreathed species though it lacks the dark banding on the throat pouch.

Although hornbills are omnivorous, their main diet is fruits – so they are often considered frugivores. Research has found that fruits are an important source of all nutrients, especially fat, in the bird’s diet.

Hornbills are able to store many fruits per feeding in the esophagus and stomach, and then regurgitate their seeds as they move, making hornbills significant seed dispersers in their native habitats. The birds also consume animals such as insects, amphibians, and small mammals.

Wreathed hornbills don’t typically drink water from a ground source as they are very arboreal and are rarely seen going to the ground. They get their water from either their food, like the figs they eat in the wild, or from the leaves when it rains.

Wreathed Hornbill has long, broad wings that make a loud ‘whooshing’ sound when flying. They often travel in flocks of up to 20 individuals. Feeding, roosting, and bathing sites are communal, and roosting sites may have up to 400 individuals.

Hornbills are known for their peculiar nesting behavior. Like many birds, Wreathed Hornbills will pair-bond for life. The breeding season is variable across their range but generally being spring and summer.

About a week before egg-laying, the pair will find a tree cavity, preferably high on the trunk of an emergent tree, and the female will walled inside by the male using sticks and mud. An opening is left so that the male can deliver food to the female and later the chick as well. Nest cavities may be reused year after year. During incubation, the female will completely molt and regrow her feathers, and is dependent upon the male for food.

Up to 3 eggs are laid in the nest cavity, hatching about a week after the female enters the nest. The male will continue to provide food to the female and chicks up to 4 months. When chicks are ready to fledge, the female breaks out of the cavity. Usually only one chick survives.

Though dependent on these tree cavities, Hornbills are unable to excavate their own nest cavities, as do woodpeckers. But wood-decaying fungi play key roles in development of cavities in trees which are used by the Wreathed Hornbills for their nests.

The current population of Wreathed Hornbills is considered in decline. Pressures from habitat loss and fragmentation through illegal logging and hunting are the biggest threats to all hornbill species. The species has been hunted for its meat, the feathers for ceremonial purposes, and the casque on top of their bill. Recently, the Wreathed Hornbill native population has been listed as Vulnerable.


The world’s largest tree-dwelling mammal is a popular and well-recognized primate – the Great Ape known as the Orangutan.

Females stand up to 3 and a half feet tall and weigh near 100 pounds, while Male Orangutans stand up to 5 feet tall and weigh nearly 200 pounds.

Their skin is dark gray but they are covered in long, thin reddish-orange hair. Both male and females have bare faces, but they often exhibit a beard or mustache.

Orangutans have very long arms, usually twice as long as their body while their legs are shorter, usually half as long as their arms. They use their long and powerful arms to move quickly among the tree tops of their native rain forest habitats. Orangutan feet are adapted for climbing trees and grasping objects, giving them extra support that allows them to hang upside down with ease.

The hips of orangutans are highly mobile. They have full rotation of their joints, allowing their legs to move at almost any angle. This agility allows them to even place a foot in their mouth while hanging from a branch.

Orangutans were historically found across mainland Asia from northern India, to southern China, Vietnam, the Malay peninsula, and Java. They are the only great apes currently found natively outside the continent of Africa. Today, Orangutan are found exclusively in Sumatra and Borneo. They are usually found in forests, swamps and mountain foothills that are close to water sources like streams and rivers.

Most orangutan taxonomists now view Bornean and Sumatran orangutans as two distinct species, while the Bornean Orangutans are futher divided into 3 distinct subspecies.

Marked by the signature facial flanges – or cheek pads – found on male Orangutans – Bornean male facial flanges curve forward, while the cheek pads on the Sumatran species lie flat. The throat sac of Borneans are larger and they tend to have a darker coloration in both the face and their hair. Bornean orangutans have tend to have shorter, less dense hair while Sumatran orangutans have a longer, more wooly coat.

A recent study indicates there is a third species of orangutan, the Tapanuli Orangutan, which is genetically isolated from Sumatran and Bornean species and morphologically distinct. Discovered in 1997 but only recognized as a distinct species since 2017, this species is considered to be the rarest great ape on Earth. As few as 800 exists today.

Orangutans spend most of their day foraging and eating. Orangutans have powerful jaws capable of cracking, crushing, and chewing fibrous foods such as fruit with spiny coverings, nuts, and tree bark – though the Sumatran species tend to eat less tree bark than their Bornean cousins.

Orangutans will also eat insects and honey and sometimes they are observed eating soil in wild habitats. These great apes are sometimes known as “gardeners of the forest” as seed dispersers.

In addition to eating, Orangutans will carry large objects in their mouths while keeping their hands and feet free for traveling through the tree tops. They will often remain high in the trees for weeks without coming to the ground.

While foraging and eating during the day, Orangutans sleep at night in nests that they construct high in the trees, often more than 60 feet in the air. They will usually move to a new spot every night.

Once believed to be solitary animals, it is now believed that larger breeding males remain mostly solitary while females and young are more social. Orangutan populations in managed care are usually seen to be more social than those observed in the wild – this is believed to be due to the limited resources found in the native habitats.

Where resources are more plentiful, wild orangutans often congregate in groups to forage – though males a typically more intolerant of one another. Confrontations often result in displays such as staring, inflating their throat pouches, shaking tree branches and by producing long call vocalizations. These low, rumbling calls of male orangutans can travel more than a mile away in the forest.

Orangutans are highly intelligent creatures who are often observed using tools for gathering food, using leaves like sponges to gather water or remove things from their hair. They may use large leaves for shelter from rain or sun and some have even been known to make gloves from leaves to protect their hands when handling thorny plants and fruits. An orangutan named Fu Manchu – who once lived at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium even fashioned a lock pick from some wire to exit his night enclosure and gain access to one of his favorite trees.

While most great apes are classified in the Hominidae family which also includes humans, some researchers believe that the Orangutan is too different morphologically and behaviorally from humans to include it in Hominidae family, and instead use Pongidae – the term once used for all great apes.

Orangutans may live more than 40 years. Aside from human activity, young orangutans are preyed on by clouded leopards, crocodiles, and pythons. Currently Orangutans are listed as a Critically Endangered species. Because orangutans live in only a few places, and they are so dependent upon trees, they are particularly susceptible to logging and deforestation.

One of the main causes of habitat loss and fragmentation in the orangutan’s native ranges is the conversion of rainforest habitats to palm oil plantations. Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil that is commonly found in many consumer products – in fact, it is estimated to be found in one in ten products available in supermarkets today.

Consumers can make orangutan friendly choices when shopping by making use of the popular sustainable palm oil mobile shopping guide app produced by the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. The app allows you to to check if the product you are about to purchase is “orangutan friendly” and RSPO certified simply by scanning the barcode, you can select alternative products, and even contact companies to thank them for their commitment to certified sustainable palm oil. Just one important step to help keep the Orangutan from extinction.


Special thanks to the following organizations for their education, research and conservation programs that provided information for this episode:

Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo & App
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Nashville Zoo
Oakland Zoo
San Diego Zoo Global
SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Animal Guide
Zoo Atlanta

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Blobfish | Star-nosed Mole | Axolotl

Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | iHeartRadio | Podbean | Stitcher | more

2. Star-nosed Mole
3. Axolotl
Credits and Links


Rarely seen alive in their native habitat – one species of deep, ocean dwelling fish gained great notoriety from a famous internet photo. The animal in question was nicknamed “Mr. Blobby.”

“Mr. Blobby” was found during a research expedition in 2003 off the waters of New Zealand. With a strange, jelly like appearance, large, slightly indented dark eyes and a prominent, bulbous nose-like flab sagging below the upper jaw of its face – his image became well known across the world. The specimen was identified as a Fathead Sculpin – sometimes known as a blobfish. There are more than 10 species of blobfish in the family Psychrolutidae.

Fish in this family are found in marine waters of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans usually at depths between 2,000 and 4,000 feet.

The strange-looking fish thrives in underwater regions where the pressure can be up 120 times greater than at sea level.

The common name ‘fathead sculpin’ refers to the large, globular head and ‘floppy’ skin. The popular name, blobfish, comes from the fishes appearance especially when exposed to the air pressure at the surface. In their normal, deep ocean habitats – blobfish resemble most other fish species.

They are typically a foot long, have large black eyes, a large, wide mouth and a head that makes up most of its body mass.

Depsite a general fish-like appearance, Blobfish do have different anatomy compared to other fish.

Blobfish do not have a swim bladder, they possess soft bones, relatively few muscles, and they lack scales. Blobfish rely on external water pressure to help maintain their shape.

The gelatinous body is less dense than the surround water which allows them to hover, nearly motionless above the sea floor bed with little effort.

Like other lie-and-wait predators, Blobfish use as little energy as possible by remaining stationary and waiting for anything edible to float into their open jaws, when they suck their prey in.

Since Blobfish are rarely seen alive – most specimens are discovered as by-catch from deep sea fishing vessels – not much is known about their biology or reproductive activity.

Though the precise life expectancy of Blobfish is unknown, deep-water fish generally tend to live longer than their shallow-water counterparts. Some species are believed to live up to 100 years due to slow growth rates in the cold waters and a lack of common predators found throughout the upper levels of the ocean.

Today, the most famous Blobfish, “Mr. Blobby” is preserved in the collection at the Australian Museum – though his appearance has change dramatically over the years and he no longer resembles his original photo that once earned the Blobfish the unfortunate distinction as the world’s ugliest animal.

Star-nosed Mole

Often considered one of the world’s weirdest-looking animals is the small subterranean mammal known as the the Star-nosed Mole.

The Star-nosed Mole is a native of eastern North America (northeastern United States and southeastern Canada). They may be found from the Atlantic coast lands as far west as North Dakota and as far south as Georgia.

Star-nosed moles are found in a range of habitats that have moist soil. They prefer areas with poor drainage, such as forests, wet meadows, and marshes. They will also inhabit stream banks, lakes and ponds. Unlike all other mole species – the Star-nosed mole can swim – remaining underwater up to 30 seconds at a time.

The Star-nosed mole is a very distinctive mammal measuring about six inches long with black fur, and wide forefeet tipped with talons that are designed for digging. They possess a scaly, fleshy tail that is covered in concentric rings and short, coarse hairs. The tail is nearly as long as the combined length of the head and body.

Like other moles, it digs with the broad front feet while the hind feet push against the sides, stopping periodically to shove the loose soil to the surface where it creates a mound. They can move up to 5 mph. Star-nosed moles tunnel from just below the surface up to 2 feet below and may be up to 100 feet long. Those living in wet soils and near bodies of water will burrow above and below the water table and usually have tunnels that open at or even below the water’s surface. Other animals, such as shrews, may even use the moles tunnel system to move around underground.

Star-nosed moles feed on beetle larvae, earthworms, aquatic insects and even small fish and amphibians.

Though they have relatively poor eyesight, as a semi-aquatic mammal, Star-nosed Moles can forage underwater by probing bottom sediments with their fleshy tentacles which are equipped with touch receptors.

Their signature feature is the rose-colored ring of 22 fleshy, retractable tentacle-like appendages, called rays, surrounding its snout in a symmetrical pattern, with 11 projections on each side.

The distinctive star organ on the mole’s snout contains more than 100,000 nerve fibers – all located within an area the size of a human fingertip. These specialized sensory receptors are known as Eimer’s organs and are the most sensitive touch organs found in the animal kingdom.

Using video recordings of the animals, researchers have learned that by using their rays, the moles can touch as many as 10 different objects in a single second. These amazing animals can identify individual prey in less than two-tenths of a second and then determine in just 8 milliseconds whether or not it is edible. Star-nose Moles are considered to eat faster than any other mammal on Earth.

In addition to their lightning fast ability to find, detect and consume their prey – the Star-nose Mole possesses yet another unique ability.

When diving underwater in search of prey, star-nosed moles exhale air bubbles through their nostrils – as many as 10 bubbles per second. These bubbles spread over objects they are exploring, allowing them to collect odorants. Using this strategy a mole can even follow an underwater scent trail.

The Star-nosed mole has an important role in many wetland ecosystems. In addition to being a food source for some carnivores and consuming many aquatic invertebrates, the Star-nosed mole’s tunneling through the moist ground, helps provides aeration for the roots of plants.

Star-nosed moles are not uncommon, just rarely seen due to their subterranean and aquatic lifestyle – when they do come above ground searching for food, it is usually at night.


A creature that has long been a part of Mexican history and culture is the Axolotl. With a broad, flat body and lizard like limbs and tail – wild Axolotls are dark-colored with greenish mottling.

Axolotls are found exclusively in two spring-fed, freshwater lakes in the middle of Mexico City. The word “axolotl” comes from Aztec language and it means “water dog.”

It has also been called the Mexican walking fish (though it is not a fish at all – axolotls are actually salamanders. One of the species of mole salamanders, their closest relative is the tiger salamander.

The axolotl is a type of salamander that essentially remains a juvenile its entire life.

Unlike most salamanders, Axolotls do not undergo metamorphosis from larva to adult form where breathing changes from gills to lungs. Instead, they remain aquatic their entire life.

Though it develops functional lungs, axolotls still uses specialized, external gills – feathery like appendages that are visible extending out from the sides of the back of it’s head.

Axolotls possess one distinguishing feature that has made them a popular topic of research study. These amazing amphibians have the ability to regenerate tissue. From damaged, or missing limbs to their heart, spine and even parts of their brain – they are capable of regrowing body parts (both internal and external) perfectly without even producing scar tissue. They are able to regenerate tissues and organs countless times and are known to be highly resistant to cancer.

Like all amphibians, Axolotls have delicate, soft bodies with permeable skin. In fact, most of the Axolotls body is made of cartilage rather than bone.

With webbed feet and a long tail, Axolotls grow on average up to 9 inches long but they can reach lengths nearly double that.

Axolotls can detect electrical fields and also use their vision and chemical cues to discover prey. They are opportunistic carnivores who will feed on just about any prey they can catch. Using a powerful suction force, they essentially inhale their prey which may include mollusks, insects and fish. Axolotls are even known to eat each other.

During the day, they often burrow into the aquatic vegetation and mud to avoid being eaten, while they become most active at night. While they use their gills to breathe underwater, they may swim to the surface for air on occasion.

Males Axolotls can be identified by their enlarged cloaca while females have a smaller cloaca and a more round, plump body.

During breeding – which occurs between March and June – Axolotl pairs will engage in a dance – sometimes described as a type of “waltz” with both animals moving in a circle. The male will then move away while undulating the posterior part of his body and tail, and the female follows.

The male will deposit a a cone-shaped jelly mass known as a spermatophore by vigorously shaking his tail for about half a minute. He will then move forward one body length and the female then moves over the spermatophore, also shaking her tail, and picks it up with her cloaca.

The female will lay 100 to 300 eggs which are deposited in the water and attached to substrates. Eggs hatch at 10 to 14 days and the young are immediately independent. Axolotls become sexually mature in about a year. Most live about 6 years.

Tilapia and carp were introduced to their native habitat in the 1970’s and 1980’s – these invasive fish species now pose a major threat to the wild population of axolotls, whose native lakes and wetlands were also drained significantly to prevent flooding and allow urban expansion.

Despite their place in Aztec and Mexican culture, little is known about wild populations of these fascinating animals. Many of the axolotls in captivity today are descendants the first laboratory animals brought to Paris for study in 1860. Most information about these unique members of the animal kingdom has been gained from captive bred individuals. Today, the wild population of Axolotl remain Critically Endangered.


Special thanks to the following organizations for their education, research and conservation programs that provided information for this episode:

Australia Museum
National Wildlife Federation
San Diego Zoo
Sea Life Aquarium
University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web
Vanderbilt University

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Scarlet Macaw | Peccaries | Black Caiman

Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | iHeartRadio | Podbean | Stitcher | more

1.Scarlet Macaw
2. Peccaries
3. Black Caiman
Credits and Links

Scarlet Macaw

It is said that few birds are as breathtaking as a Scarlet Macaw in flight. Stunning in appearance with their brilliantly red body and vibrant blue-and-yellow wings – sometime observed in large flocks, these impressive parrots often fly up to 35 mph soaring high over the treetops of Central and South America.

Scarlet Macaws are one of the largest of the 17 macaw species, averaging nearly 3 feet in length – with half their length being their tail. Males and females have similar plumage, their bodies are mostly covered in large red feathers, with yellow and blue feathers on their wings. They have large curved bills and a featherless area around their face, their eyes are light yellow as adults, as a juvenile they have grey eyes.

Scarlet Macaws have zygodactyl feet – meaning they have two toes facing forward and two toes facing backwards on each foot. This gives them the ability to move up and down trees and branches easily as well as grab and hold onto items. Scarlet Macaws tend to be “left-handed.” They typically use their left foot to pick up objects.

Highly social animals, Scarlet Macaws are rarely alone in the wild. They live in family groups or in pairs, and they form lifelong monogamous bonds with their mates. While many parrots remain with their mate only during the breeding season, Scarlet Macaw pairs stay together year-round.

Both parents teach and care for their chicks. They typically nest in natural or previously excavated cavities in trees, where the female will incubate a clutch of 1-4 eggs for an average of 28 days.

Even after they are able to care for themselves, juvenile Scarlet Macaws will stay with their parents for up to two years. With a high capacity for learning, the young macaws learn from the parents how to navigate the forest and handle tough foods. The parents won’t breed again until their previous offspring are totally independent, making it common for a breeding pair of Scarlet Macaws to only breed every-other-year.

Parrots have more movement in their beaks than do other birds, which allows for a more powerful bill. Scarlet Macaws primarily eat fruit and nuts, and will occasionally supplement their diet with nectar and flowers.

Individuals are known to consume fruits before they are ripe. Premature fruits have a tougher skin and pulp that is difficult to access but the Scarlet Macaws large and flexible beaks allow them to access unripened fruits and tough nuts that are not possible for most other birds to eat.

Scarlet Macaws possess special structures on the inside of their beaks that allow them to press the hard seed between their tongue and palate and grind the seed so that it can be digested. As consumers of large amounts of fruits, Scarlet Macaws serve as important seed dispersers throughout their forest range.

Scarlet Macaws live much of their lives high in the rainforest canopies of South America in tall woodland forests usually near rivers. They often roost overnight in flocks of up to 50 unrelated individuals. They are also often seen in the company of other parrots, with a peculiar habit – eating clay from riverbank cliffs.

While many scientists aren’t totally sure of the reason behind this behavior, many believe the clay aids in digestion by absorbing and neutralizing the harsh chemicals such as tannins that are ingested when eating premature fruit and other potentially toxic plants.

Scarlet macaws, like many parrots, are highly vocal and their vocalizations can be heard several miles away. Most adult birds, due to their size and capable flight, have few predators such as large cats like jaguars and birds of prey such as eagles and hawks.

Two subspecies of Scarlet Macaws are recognized: those that live in parts of Mexico and northern Central America make up one group, and the second subspecies can be found from central Nicaragua to Brazil.

With only a few thousand individuals left, the northern subspecies is endangered in Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama, and Honduras and this subspecies has disappeared entirely from El Salvador. The southern subspecies remains common in South America, although some populations are declining.

Scarlet Macaws are naturally, long-lived birds able to live up to 50 years in the wild and birds in human care may live up to 75 years.

While Scarlet Macaws are iconic animals in the tropical forests of Mexico, Central America, and South America, a key threat to the species at large is habitat loss. In recent decades, the Scarlet Macaws have also been captured and removed from the wild in large numbers to supply the pet trade, despite numerous national and international laws making it illegal to sell wild-caught scarlet macaws.


Found in a range from the southwestern United States, south to central Argentina are unique pig-like animals known as Peccaries. Their head and body length ranges between 2.5 to 4.5 feet. Some species may weigh nearly 90 pounds.

Peccaries are covered with coarse, wire-like gray or brown fur, and all species have contrasting areas of white or yellowish fur on their chests, backs, or faces. There are three species of peccaries: the White-lipped peccary, the Collared Peccary, and the rarest species the Chacoan peccary.

Like pigs, peccary are considered omnivores though they primarily consume plant matter, especially cactus. Peccaries can swim and are also known for wallowing in the mud – much like their swine relatives.

Peccaries have a large head on a short, thick neck and a very characteristic flexible snout made of cartilage that ends in a flat disk.

Peccaries are well known for having big canine teeth and they differ from pigs in that both the upper and lower canines are used in biting. While a pig’s canine teeth grow out and backward into large, curved tusks, a peccary’s canines grow in a more vertical orientation: upper canines grow downward, and lower canines grow upward.

In addition, a peccary’s lower canine lack enamel on the rear surfaces and these teeth are constantly sharpened as they move against the enameled front faces of the upper canines. A peccary’s upper and lower tusks interlock, which stabilizes their jaws and strengthens their biting force though they a basically incapable of moving their lower jaw from side-to-side when their jaws are closed.

Collared Peccaries are the smallest peccary species and are often confused with pigs due to their appearance. Their coat is a grizzled grayish black throughout, except for a yellowish tinge on the cheeks and a whitish to yellowish collar extending the mane, over the shoulders, and to the throat. While males and females are very similar in size and color, young are a yellowish brown color, with a black stripe down the back.

In South and Central America, the Collared Peccary inhabits tropical rain forests. In the southern United States they may appear in parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. There they prefer mesquite habitats with an abundance of prickly pear cacti. Collared Peccaries have also become common in residential areas, where they may rely on human handouts for food.

Collared peccaries are also commonly known as Javelina. Javelinas have a distinct dorsal gland on the rump that they use for marking territory and other social behaviors such as identification. Often when meeting, they will rub each other head to rump.

Javelina have very close social relationships. They live in herds of 5 to 15. Members eat, sleep, and forage together. The herds hierarchy, includes a dominant male and the remainder of the order is largely determined by size. Adult females can give birth any time during the year, young javelinas are often called “reds” due to the red color of their hair.

Collared Peccaries are primarily herbivorous, and have complex stomachs for digesting coarsely-chewed food. In its southern range, this species eats a variety of foods, including roots, bulbs, fungi, and nuts, in addition to fruits and occasional eggs, carrion, snakes, fish, and frogs.

In the northern range, Collared Peccaries eats more herbivorous foods, such as roots, bulbs, beans, nuts, berries, grass. However, their main diet consists of agaves and prickly pears. The prickly pear is ideal in the Javelina’s arid range due to its high water content.

Javelina, or Collared Peccaries, have long been a source of economic income due to their skins and as hunting trophies. They are considered an important big game species in Arizona and several thousand are killed each year in Texas. The young are often captured and serve as domestic farm animals.

White-lipped peccaries are distributed from southern Mexico south to Ecuador, and from the Entre Rios in Argentina to the Pacific coast of South America.

Whie-lipped peccaries live in a variety of habitats, including desert scrub, arid woodland, and rain forest. Thickets, caves, and even large boulders often serve as shelters. White-lipped Peccaries tend to live close to the place of their birth, and they rarely travel far from a water source.

The largest and rarest peccary is the Chacoan Peccary. Once thought to be extinct they were made known to western science in 1972 by Dr. Ralph Wetzel.

The Chacoan Peccary is endemic to the South American countries of Paraguay, Bolivia, and Southern Brazil where they live in uninhabited, harsh, hot and dry area known as the Gran Chaco. This region was often considered impenetrable and generally untouched by humans for years.

The Gran Chaco region contains few scattered giant trees but the majority of the vegetation is thorny scrub vegetation. Chacoan Peccaries have developed adaptations like well-developed sinuses to combat dry, dusty conditions and they possess small feet which allows maneuverability among spiny plants.

Chacoan Peccaries differ from other peccary species by having longer ears, snout, and tail as well as thinner skin. They also possesses a third hind toe, while other peccaries only have two.

Chacoan Peccaries feed primarily on various species of cacti. They use their tough snout to roll the cacti on the ground, rubbing the spines off before eating the plant. They will also seek out salt licks formed from ant mounds as a source of calcium, magnesium and chlorine for their diet.

Though Chacoan Peccaries live in a once isolated region of South America, human activity and encroachment is the greatest threat to their ongoing survival. Although they are a protected species, there is not much enforcement of these laws, and hunting even occurs in national parks. It is estimated there are only about 3,000 of these largest of the peccary species remaining in the wild.

Black Caiman

The many waterways of South America are home to several crocodilian species. However only two true crocodiles can be found there – the Orinoco and the American crocodiles. The remaining species are more closely related to the American Alligator and they are collectively known by the name of Spanish origin – the Caimans.

Similar in appearance and closely related, Caimans do differ slightly from Alligators. Alligators have conical teeth while Caimans have sharper, more jagged ones and Caimans tends to have orange-tinted gums while Alligators have tan or beige-looking gums.

There are 6 species of caimans found throughout the South American continent – most prominently through the Amazon basin. These animals include the Smooth Fronted, the Broad Snouted, the Spectacled, the Yacare and the smallest of all crocodilians – the Dwarf Caiman.

But the largest caiman is the Black Caiman. Reaching a length of over 14 feet and averaging close to 800 pounds or more, the Black Caiman is the largest predator in the Amazon ecosystem. Though both the American Alligator and the Black Caimans are similar in size – the Black Caiman on average grows larger at maturity than the American Alligator making it one of the largest crocodilians in the world.

Found in lakes, slow moving rivers, black water swamps and the seasonally flooded areas of the Amazon throughout northern and central South America, the Black Caiman gets its name from its dark coloration as an adult. Adults have a grey or brown branding on the lower jaw, with white or yellowish bands on the sides of the body. As they age, the light colors darken and they may become a solid black.

Utilizing its keen sense of sight and hearing to locate food, the Black Caiman is a nocturnal hunter. With its dark black scales, hiding in dark, murky water at night allow them to make very successful, surprise attacks on their prey.

Black Caimans do most of their hunting in water where they feed primarily on fish such as piranhas and catfish though they also may emerge to hunt on land as well where they also prey on some terrestrial and aquatic vertebrates and mammals such as monkeys, capybara. Black Caimans have even been known to attack Amazon River Dolphins. Black Caimans are known to hunt nearly any animal they can catch.

An apex predator of their domain, adult Black Caimans have no known predator – though some smaller caiman species are preyed upon by jaguars – these large cats typically avoid waters where Black Caimans are common.

Female Black Caimans breed only once every 2 – 3 years – laying an average of 30 – 60 eggs at a time. During the dry season from September through December, the female builds a nest mound and digs out an egg chamber. After laying the eggs, the female usually remains close to the nest site though not all actively defend the nest.

Hatchlings tend to congregate together in groups called pods and these pods may include hatchlings from more than one nest. Black Caiman hatchlings are preyed upon by birds, rodents and other small mammals such as Coatimundis, very few Black Caiman hatchling reach adulthood.

For decades from the 1940s through the 1970s, the Black Caiman was hunted extensively for its valuable skin that was used to produce shiny black leather. It is estimated that the Black Caimain population was reduced by nearly 99% during the 20th century. By the 1990s a shift to hunting Black Caimans for their meat rather than their skins continued to deplete their numbers in the wild.

Today, due to legislation that restricts hunting, the Black Caiman population has seen a substantial recovery and is currently listed as a Conservation Dependent species on the IUCN Red List but illegal hunting remains a threat to many local populations and the Black Caiman it is still listed as Vulnerable in the country of Ecuador. These impressive and powerful hunters today have virtually disappeared from Colombia and the Amazon River itself.


Special thanks to the following organizations for their education, research and conservation programs that provided information for this episode:

Animal Diversity Web
Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens
National Aviary
St. Augustine Alligator Farm
San Diego Zoo
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Wildlife Conservation Society

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Sea Otters | Garibaldi | Sea Lions

Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | iHeartRadio | Podbean | Stitcher | more

1. Sea Otters
2. Garibaldi
3. Sea Lions
Credits and Links

Sea Otters

Sea otters are found in the cold waters of the North Pacific Ocean along the western North American coastline. There are generally two populations considered geographically separate subspecies, the Alaskan and California Sea Otters. Sea otters are also found along the coastlines of eastern Asia and Russia.

Sea Otters can live their entire lives at sea, though they are rarely found more than a half mile off shore. They will sometimes rest on rocky shores though the Alaskan otters tend to come on land more frequently than the California populations.

Sea otters can grow up to 4 1/2 feet long, males tend to be large than females and may weigh up to 85 pounds. Alaskan sea otters are slightly larger than California sea otters.

Juvenile sea otters have uniform dark-cinnamon brown color, while adults develop lighter gray or buff coloration on their heads.

Sea Otters have larger rib cages and blunter muzzles than many other species of otters. The sea otter’s flat tail is used as a rudder and to provide extra propulsion in the water, but the tail is shorter in comparison to those of other otters.

They possess broad, webbed hind feet – often considered flipper-like – that aid in swimming. Their front paws are smaller, with retractable claws that are used for eating, grooming their fur, and holding on to items, like rocks.

Sea otters use rocks like a tool to crack open hard-shelled prey – like abalone, that they bring to the surface, either setting a rock on their stomachs while floating on their backs or holding rocks between their fore paws to pound their prey. They will often store a favorite rock tool in the folds of skin located under their front arm pit like a pocket.

California sea otters eat a variety of marine invertebrates including shellfish, sea urchins, sea stars, squid and snails. Sea otters consume up to 30 percent of their body weight in food per day.

Researchers at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium have learned that many individual otters specialize in only two to four of the more than 30 food animals available to them – these preferences in certain foods may also be passed on from mothers to their pups.

Sea otters have the world’s densest fur – up to a million hairs per square inch in some places. Unlike other marine mammals, sea otters lack an insulating layer of blubber. They rely on their thick fur to maintain their nearly 100 degree (F) body temperature while inhabiting ocean waters that can be as cold as 35 degrees (F).

Natural oils in a sea otter’s fur repel water and trap tiny air bubbles to further insulate it from the cold water and to provide additional buoyancy.

This dense fur must be constantly groomed to maintain its insulating properties and cleanliness – it is believed a sea otter may spend as much as 48% of the daylight hours grooming their fur.

Sea Otters off the coast of California are often seen living among the kelp beds growing in the cold Pacific waters. These huge underwater forests offer both protection and food.

Sea otters can dive up to 300 feet in search of food. They usually remain underwater for about 50 to 90 seconds, but the longest dive recorded was over four minutes long.

Sea otters are not very social animals, unlike many other otter species. However, they do sometimes occurs in small groups where food sources are plentiful. Sea otters will often rest together in a group called a “raft.”

Some otters have been observed wrapping themselves with kelp strands while sleeping at the surface. This may help prevent the resting animal from drifting away.

Sea otters once occupied a range from northern Japan, across the North Pacific, and reaching down to Baja California, Mexico. Fur traders seeking their thick, full pelts hunted the nearly 300,000 animals to the brink of extinction in the 18th and 19th centuries. Since the 1980s the Alaskan Sea otter population has seen a decline of nearly 70 percent – some of that may be due to increased hunting by killer whales who have switched to feeding on otters when other prey species have declined.

Today sea otters are listed as “endangered” but conservation measures as well as rescue and rehabilitation programs conducted by accredited facilities and organizations have allowed some populations to recover.


Found among the rather drab and dark reefs and kelp forests of the Pacific coastal waters of California is a stunning and brightly colored fish.

This highly territorial predator measures 12 to 14 inches long. A beautiful, bright orange and aggressive fish is known as the Garibaldi.

The largest of the damsel fish species, the Garibaldi is found in an exclusive range of North American coastal Pacific waters – from Monterey Bay in the north to Guadalupe, Mexico in the south. While most damsel fish species are found in tropical waters and brightly colored reefs, the Garibaldi inhabit rocky reefs and kelp beds along the coast and shallow bays.

Though they may be found in deeper waters, they are also found in water less than 15 feet deep, especially in their most predominant habitat around the Channel Islands area, near Santa Monica, California.

Garibaldi have a plump, oval-shaped body covered with large orange scales and yellow eyes. The caudal fin is deeply notched and the upper and lower lobes are large and rounded – giving the Garibaldi a heart-shaped looking tail. They have a small mouth, large lips, and a steeply sloping head.

They are one of the brightest colored fish found in the southern California coastal waters – this coloration is thought to serve as a warning to other fish or even predators since male Garibaldi will aggressively defend their nesting sites year round.

Garibaldi are solitary fish. Adult males will select a home range that includes a feeding area, usually a protective hole where they can hide from predators such as larger fish, sharks and sea lions and a potential nesting site. The male Garibaldi will maintain this home range for the remainder of his life.

The male Garibaldi will carefully construct a circular nest site about one foot in diameter in shallow reef habitats. Each Spring, he works tirelessly to prepare its nest by removing any debris or foreign matter, including sea stars and urchins. They will eliminate all the plant growth except for a few species of red algae which are kept trimmed to about an inch long. It is among this algae growth that the female will deposit eggs. This preparation period may last up to a month.

From Spring until Fall, the males attempt to entice females to their nests, any potential mates that approach may be greeted by the male swimming in loops in an effort to attract her attention.

However, many female Garibaldi tend to ignore empty nests and seem attracted to nest with newly deposited eggs from other females – this is indicated by the eggs yellowish color. The eggs turn darker and even grey in color just before hatching.

Once a female has chosen a nest, she will lay between 15,000 and 80,000 eggs which are fertilized and tended to by the male Garibaldi. He will immediately drive the female from the nest to prevent her from eating the eggs.

The male will care for the eggs during the 2 to 3 week incubation period by grooming and fanning the eggs while continuing to attract other females to his nest. Often, the male Garibaldi will even eat a few of the older, darker colored eggs to attract more egg laying females during this time.

They will attack and drive off any intruders including other fish species, other male Garibaldi and even human scuba divers who may venture too close.

The eggs hatch at night, usually in the first two hours after sunset. As they grow, juvenile Garibaldis develop a deep orange color with bright blue spots and blue-trimmed fins. Garibaldi become sexually mature at five to six years of age.

Garibaldi are carnivores who primarily eats sponges and algae that grow throughout their habitat, but they will also eat small fish and animals such as tubeworms and nudibranchs. Their diet of sponges is believed to be a potential source of their bright coloration.

This striking damsel fish gets its common name, Garibaldi, from the 19th century Italian leader by the same name whose famous army wore flashy red/orange colors into battle.

Found in a limited and exclusive area of the Pacific Ocean, along with its bright colors, size and shape make the Garibaldi a popular aquarium fish. Due to their territorial nature, they are also easy prey for fishermen or divers using spears. However it is illegal in California to collect or keep a Garibaldi without a permit, or to fish Garibaldis for food. The Garibaldi is the state marine fish of California.

Sea Lions

Often seen resting along the rocky shores of the North American Pacific coast are a popular group of very vocal marine mammals known as sea lions.

Sea Lions, along with seals and walruses comprise the animal group known as the Pinnipeds. While the large tusks and body size of a walrus make them easily recognizable – seals and sea lions are often mistakenly considered to be the same. However, they are distinct animals species.

Sea Lions, along with fur seals make up a group of Pinnipeds known as “eared seals.” These highly vocal animals are well-known for their dog-like barking sounds but another prominent characteristic that distinguishes them from seals is a visible, external, folded ear flap located on the sides of their head.

Sea Lions also possess long front flippers, which they use to propel themselves through the water, while seals use their hind flippers. A sea lion can rotate their rear flippers forward and they can support their body with all flippers allowing them to move upright on land – seals typically wiggle their bodies or slide to move when out of the water.

Sleek and streamlined, sea lions are powerful animals in the water. Using their front flippers like wings, in an up and down motion they are capable of high speeds and are able to make quick and abrupt turns underwater.

In addition to movement, a sea lions flippers also help regulate their body temperature. In cold conditions, blood vessels in their thin skinned flippers constrict to help prevent heat loss and duing hot weather, blood flow is increased to the surface area to be cooled more quickly.

Similar to sea otters, sea lion fur is waterproofed by a thin film of oil secreted by glands under the skin. Sea lions molt – or shed their hair – once each year, gradually shedding and replacing most of the guard hairs and under hairs. This molt usually occurs after the breeding season.

With a body perfect for diving, sea lions can often reach depths of 600 feet in search of a huge variety of fish species, crabs, clams and cephalopods such as squids and octopus. Though they have sharp teeth, sea lions will often swallow their prey whole – many times tossing their food into the air to catch it head first and swallow.

A sea lion’s nostrils will automatically seal tight when they dive and the animals may remain underwater for 10 to 20 minutes at a time.

Like all other pinniped species – sea lions possess highly sensitive whiskers – known as vibrissae – which can be rotated around and allow the animal to sense any food swimming nearby, even in the darker conditions of deep water.

Sea lions also have excellent underwater vision – some believe they may see better in the water than on land though they can see quite well in either location. Unfortunately, older sea lions are sometimes known to develop cataracts.

Though they are marine mammals who feed at sea, they depend on the land as much as the ocean. Sea lions are highly social and they frequently gather in large groups on shore to rest or warm up during the day – often piled on top of one another. Some gatherings of sea lions may number more than a thousand. Sea lions are very dependent on land during breeding season.

Male sea lions, called bulls – will establish breeding boundaries in the spring. Highly territorial, the bulls may even fast for several weeks in order to defend their chosen sites where they attempt to gather a harem of many females. Conflicts with other bulls can result in fights which include intense barking calls, chest to chest pushing and biting – that may result in injuries and scars – but these encounters are rarely fatal.

These territorial actions seem to occur only during breeding season when females are present. Females move freely between these established boundaries and are rarely prevented from leaving by the males. Sea lion pups are born on land but are able to swim at birth they will take to the water within a few weeks where they learn to hunt with their mother.

There are currently 6 species of sea lions – a seventh species, the Japanese Sea Lion is believed to have become extinct in the 1970s.

Steller’s sea lions are the largest of the species. Males average 9 to 10 feet in length and may weigh up to 2,500 pounds. Steller sea lions are light tan to reddish brown in color. They are describes as having a blunt face and a boxy, bear-like head. Male steller sea lions have a bulky build and a very thick neck with longer fur that resembles a lion’s mane. Found along the coast lines of the Pacific Rim from northern Japan to California and through the Bering Strait – the greatest population of Steller sea lions is found in Alaska.

South America is home to two species, the Southern or South American sea lion and the Galapagos sea lion. The Southern sea lion possesses a shorter and wider muzzle than other sea lions. They are dark brown with a pale gold belly and are found along the western and lower eastern coasts of the continent and the Falkland Islands.

The Galapagos sea lion are found not only in the Galapagos Islands, where they are the most abundant marine mammal, but they are also found along the coast of Ecuador.

Found along the western and southern coast of Australia is the Australian sea lion with it’s unique white to yellowish mane and very dark brown body. They may grow to be 6 to 8 feet in length.

The Hooker’s or New Zealand sea lion has the smallest range of any sea lion species and is slightly smaller than the Australian neighbor. New Zealand sea lions are listed as endangered.

Perhaps the most popular and well-known sea lion is the California sea lion. Famous for their playful antics, loud barks and common appearances on California boat docks and marinas – these animals have also been found in Japan and Korea – though some researchers believe those may now be extinct.

Highly intelligent and excellent swimmers, California sea lions are considered the fastest sea lion species and are known to “porpoise” – or jump out of the water as they swim. They have been observed “surfing” breaking waves and they can reach burst speeds of up to 25 mph. Males are often twice as large as females – growing up to 8 feet long and weighing more than 800 pounds. They also have a pronounced forehead bump .

Sea lions were once hunted for their meat, skin, and oil. Although once depleted, California sea lion populations have rebounded due to the protections of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. While many of the sea lion species are endangered, threatened or in decline – today, the California sea lion is the only species whose population is expanding.


Special thanks to the following organizations for their education, research and conservation programs that provided information for this episode:

Aquarium of the Pacific
Georgia Aquarium
Marine Mammal Center
Monterey Bay Aquarium
San Diego Zoo
Sea World Animal Guide
U.S. National Park Service

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