Manatees | Great Barracuda | Sawfish

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1. Manatees
2. Great Barracuda
3. Sawfish
Credits and Links


Throughout history, sailors have made claims to spotting half-woman, half-fish creatures known as mermaids. Ancient mythology tells of sea nymphs who would lure sailors into shipwrecks with mesmerizing songs – they were known as sirens. Today that name is given to a group of gentle, aquatic mammals that may very well have inspired both stories.

Sirenians are an order of the animal kingdom that comprise the only completely aquatic mammals that are herbivores. Because of their specific plant-based diet, all sirenians are found throughout the tropic and subtropic regions in relatively shallow waters where sunlight can penetrate and stimulate plant growth. They feed primarily on sea grass and other aquatic vegetation. Commonly these creatures are known as manatees.

There are 4 species of sirenians found today. These include the Amazonian manatee, the West African Manatee, the West Indian Manatee and the Dugong.

The dugong is a unique species of sirenian, unlike their manatee cousins that possess rather large, round paddle-shaped tails, the dugong has a notched tail fluke – similar to that of a dolphin. Dugongs are also only found in the shallow, salt waters of the West Indo-Pacific regions – most notably off the northern coast of Australia.

The remaining manatee species all share a similar build – with a large round torso tapering to their familiar paddle-shaped tail. The have no external discernible neck and like tree sloths the only possess 6 vertebrae. They may weigh up to 1,200 pounds and average around 10 feet long.

The Amazonian species is the smallest of the manatees growing up to 9 feet in length. Several characteristics distinguish it from the other two species. It usually has whitish patches on its underside and is only found in freshwater rivers and lakes of South America.

The West African manatee is very similar in size and appearance to the West Indian manatee and lives in similar habitat. Both species inhabit rivers, bays, canals, estuaries, and coastal areas rich in sea grass and other vegetation.

Both species can live in fresh, salt, and brackish waters. They are able to maintain the correct balance in their bodies through an internal regulation system that works with the kidney to make sure salt concentrations never get too high.

It is believed that West Indian manatees require some access to freshwater in order to stay hydrated, but they are able to move freely between extremes in their habitats.

The West Indian Manatees are comprised of two subspecies: the Florida Manatee and the Antillean Manatee.

Antillean manatees are found in shallow coastal waters throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, their most important habitat is found along the coast of Belize, where they dwell in rivers, lakes, lagoons, and coastal marine environments. The Dallas World Aquarium is home to one of these endangered creatures.

The Florida Manatee is perhaps the most familiar species. They are a migratory species the may travel up the eastern US coast as far north as Rhode Island and along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico as far away as Texas. Most will migrate into Florida waters in large groups – known as an aggregation – during the winter months. There they are known to remain close to natural spring sources or outlets from coastal power plants – where the waters remain warm year round.

They may be found in any waterway over 3 feet deep and connected to the coast. They prefer waters with temperatures above 70°F. Florida manatees rarely venture into deep ocean waters. However, they have been spotted as far offshore as the Dry Tortugas Islands, approximately 50 miles west of Key West.

One manatee known as “Chessie” traveled 2,000 miles from Florida to Rhode Island, and back in 1996. Chessie migrated further north and covered a greater distance than any manatee ever documented.

The manatees small, flexible pectoral flippers are used for steering, touching, scratching, and even embracing. The West Indian and West African species have 3 or 4 fingernails – similar to the toe-nails on an elephants feet – on their flippers. Amazonian manatees and dugong, however, lack these nails. Internally, the bone structure of a manatee’s flipper is similar to toothed whales and seals – each has five digits covered by thick skin.

Manatees are quite agile and maneuver well under water. Often considered to be slowing moving animals, Florida manatees have been observed swimming at speeds up to 15 mph for short bursts, but usually cruise about around 2 – 6 mph or less.

Manatees are quite buoyant and use their horizontally placed diaphragm and breathing to control their buoyancy, their solid rib bones also help them to remain on the bottom to graze. They usually surface every 2-3 minutes to breathe though they can remain submerged up to 20 minutes. Studies show that manatees renew about 90% of the air in their lungs in a single breath (humans renew only about 17%).

The closest living relatives to the manatee and dugong is considered to be the elephant. Like their elephant relatives, manatee continuously replace their teeth throughout their lives with the older teeth at the front falling out and new teeth growing in at the back of their mouth. Manatee also have ridged pads at the front of the upper and lower jaws which aid in crushing plant materials.

Female manatees usually have one calf every two to five years and the calf then stays and nurses for two years. Calves nurse from their mother’s teats, which are found right where the forward limbs meet the body. The calves also can start nibbling on plants at only a few weeks old.

Manatees have no true natural predators but they are at risk from both natural and man-made causes of injury and mortality. Exposure to red tide, cold stress, and disease can all affect manatees. Man-made threats to manatees include boat strikes, crushing by flood gates or locks, and entanglement in or ingestion of fishing gear.

In addition to Manatees and Dugongs, another member of the order Sirenia is the large ocean dwelling mammal known as the Steller’s Sea Cow. This creature once inhabited the cold waters of the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia.

This impressive animal was only described in 1741 – having a large torso, a whale like tail and a small, disproportionate head it was the largest sirenian on record. The Steller’s Sea Cow grew up to 30 feet in length and weighed up to 8,800 pounds. Unfortunately it was hunted to extinction within 27 years of its discovery.

To protect and ensure the ongoing survival of the Florida manatee, the US Fish and Wildlife Service established the Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release Program. The program’s goal is to rescue and treat sick or injured manatees and then release them back into the wild.

Rescued animals needing additional medical treament are taken to one of the federally permitted manatee critical care facilities: the Jacksonville Zoo, the Miami Seaquarium, SeaWorld Florida and Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park.

Following treatment, these manatees are transferred to other Program partner facilities for additional rehabilitation while awaiting release. These include the EPCOT’s The Seas at Walt Disney World Resort, the South Florida Museum, and the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park plus two zoological facilities in Ohio – the Cincinnati Zoo and the Columbus Zoo – the only facilities outside the state of Florida to participate in the rehabilitation program.

Great Barracuda

Among the tropical waters of the western Atlantic and Carribbean seas lives a slender, streamlined hunter. Known for its quick speeds and intimidating appearance, this daytime hunter is often feared. Capable of growing up to 6 feet long and weighing up to 100 pounds, this top predator is the Great Barracuda.

The Great Barracuda is easily recognized by its long, tubular shape with shiny blue-gray coloration above, fading to silver and white below, dark bars on its upper side and usually with dark spots on its lower sides. It is the dark spots that often help distinguish the Great Barracuda from other barracuda species.

Very muscular and built for speed, it is one of the fastest fish in the sea. Due to its size and speed – which few animals can match – adult Great Barracudas have no natural predators, though juveniles will sometimes be preyed upon by sharks, tuna and grouper.

Barracudas have a large mouth containing two sets of teeth. The outer row of small, razor-sharp teeth are for tearing, and the inner set of larger teeth for piercing. The long needle-like teeth fit into holes in the opposing jaw, which allows the barracuda to fully close its mouth.

Barracudas have a large gape, paired with their deadly bite they are able to feed on large fishes by chopping them in half. Some of the teeth of the great barracuda point backwards to prevent slippery fish from escaping once they are seized. An opportunistic predator, great barracuda are generally a diurnal fish, that locate their prey largely by sight.

Great barracuda are the largest of the 20 barracuda species found among coral reefs worldwide. They may also reside in the open ocean, usually at or near the surface, although they are at times found at depths to 300 feet. While some species of barracuda are schooling fish, the Great Barracuda tends to be solitary and territorial but juveniles are often found in small aggregations among mangroves and shallow seagrass beds, habitats that offer some protection from predators.

Great barracuda are common sights to many divers and snorkelers. The fish is naturally inquisitive and is often attracted to shiny objects and reflections – which may resemble the flashing sides of possible prey. There is a belief that barracuda may attack a person who has some type of silver, shiny object – however Great Barracuda are not typically known to attack unprovoked, and in most cases, the keep their distance.

While the threat of an attack is real, the greatest danger they pose to humans is when they are eaten. Great Barracuda are not a commercial fish but many anglers consider them a great sport fish. Due to the reef fish they feed upon and the high content of algae in the diet of their common prey, barracuda meat can contain a toxin that is harmful to humans.

The timing and location of barracuda spawning has not been well documented. It is believed that spawning takes place in deeper, offshore waters. During the spawning, eggs are released and fertilized in open waters and dispersed by the ocean currents. Some studies indicate that barracuda may be seasonal spawners and in the Florida Keys they are believed to breed in the spring.

As with many apex predators, the Great Barracuda fills an important role in its native habitats. Helping keep the population of other species in check and maintaining the overall balance in many of the world’s reef ecosystems.


The sawfish is a group of 5 species that belongs to a group of fishes called elasmobranchs that includes other rays and sharks. They are named after their most distinguishing feature – their extended, thin, narrow snout, or rostrum, which is lined with many short teeth giving the appearance of a saw, sawfishes are sometimes known as carpenter sharks.

While sawfish have a general appearance and swimming movements like sharks, they are actually a type of ray. Their mouth and 10 gill slits are located on the underside of their head. They breath by intaking water through spiracles on the top of their head which then pushed through the gills for respiration – this allows the sawfish to often lie rather motionless on the sea floor, much like a stingray.

Their signature physical characteristic is an extended snout which can make up as much as 1/3 of the animals length. It is constructed by calcified cartilage and contains a large concentration of Ampullae of Lorenzini – the electroreceptive sensory organs that sharks and rays use to detect prey. Each of the 5 species of sawfish have slightly different rostrums – varying in size, shape and the number and spacing of saw teeth that project from each side.

The saw teeth are actually not teeth at all, but modified scales known as dermal denticles. Unlike the teeth in the mouth, a saw tooth that is completely lost is not replaced; however, if a tooth is only chipped and the base is still intact, it will continue to grow as the animal grows.

The sawfish’s actual teeth, located inside their mouth are small and rounded – said to be similar in appearance to a cobble stoned road.

The sawfish is a nocturnal hunter, often resting on the bottom during the day. They feed on crustaceans, mollusks and other bottom-dwellers as well as schools of fish, such as herring and mullet. They will use their rostrum first to detect prey by their electric signals and then by thrashing it side to side to stun or impale the fish. They may also use their saw as defense against predators, which are usually large shark species.

The five species of sawfish include the Dwarf, the Green, the Knifetooth, the Largetooth and the Smalltooth sawfish. Each species has slight differences in size, tail fin shape and habitat regions – though several are found in the Indian and West Pacific regions of Indonesia..

Dwarf sawfish is one of the smallest species of sawfish growing to a length of 13 feet. They have evenly distributed saw teeth, as many as 27 per side. They are found in the river mouths and estuaries on the coast of northern Australia and parts of Indonesia.

The Green sawfish, also known as the Combtooth, has an uneven distribution of teeth along the rostrum and lacks any type of forked tail fin. They are found in near coastal sand and mud flats as well as deeper waters in the Indonesian region.

Knifetooth, or Narrow sawfish is found in the Indian and West Pacific oceans from the Red Sea to Australia and as far north as South Korea. It is one of the most recognizable of the species since it lacks any saw teeth on the lower half of the snout and it possesses a distinctly forked tail fin.

Largetooth sawfish are sometimes known as Freshwater sawfish but they do inhabit salt water habitats as well as the freshwater shoreline rivers of Australia. This species is sometimes found on display in accredited aquarium facilities such as the Dallas World Aquarium, the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach California and the Georgia Aquarium.

Smalltooth sawfish are olive gray to brown on top and have a white underside. Smalltooth sawfish have 22 to 29 teeth on each side of their snout. The smalltooth species is not as common but can also be seen in some public aquarium exhibits.

Smalltooth sawfish look very similar to largetooth sawfish and it can be hard to tell the two species apart. The smalltooth has a long but narrow rostrum with smaller teeth toward the tip and larger sized teeth closer to their head. The largetooth sawfish has a slightly broader rostrum with teeth that are typically of the same size and spaced evenly apart except at the very tip.

Both species live in coastal waters and brackish estuaries – semi-enclosed areas where rivers meet the sea. These shallow estuaries serve as important nurseries for newborn and juvenile sawfish.

While both the largetooth and smalltooth varieties once inhabited larger coastal regions of their habitats – today the largest viable population of largetooths are found primarily near Australia and the smalltooth variety is found in the Southwestern coast of Florida and parts of the Bahamas.

Smalltooth sawfish are generally regarded as gentle and harmless to humans, but they have been known to cause serious injuries if trapped by fishing hooks or nets.

Sawfish reproduce by internal fertilization and females give birth to live young. Smalltooth sawfish embryos grow inside the mother during the gestation period which is believed to be one year. Female smalltooth sawfish can give birth to 7–14 young pups measuring 2 to 2 and half feet long.

The pups are born with fully developed saws. To prevent injury to the mother and siblings, the saw teeth of the young fish are covered by a thick gelatinous tissue which completely disappears about two weeks after birth. The newborn sawfish typically double in size during their first year and reach sexual maturity at around 7 years and when they’ve grown to about 11 feet long.

Sawfish are sometimes confused with another species found in the world’s oceans – the saw shark, which is actually – a shark. Unlike the sawfish the saw shark has a long narrow snout that also features long, finger-like barbels hang from their rostrums and their gills (like other sharks) are located on the sides of the animals head. Saw sharks inhabit the western Pacific and Indian oceans – they are often found in the coastal waters of Japan.

Sawfish are culturally important to many native societies around the world. They are considered symbols of strength, spirituality, and even creation.

Certain Aboriginal clans from Northern Terriorty of Australia believed that some ancestors came in the form of sawfish and used its saw-like rostrum to carve out rivers and landscape.

The Kuna, native to the Caribbean coast, believe that sawfish protect mankind, and will help them fight off dangerous sea creatures.

Other societies have viewed sawfish as supernatural beings that bring prosperity and good luck to their communities.

Today, sawfish populations worldwide are in danger of extinction and are considered critically endangered. The population of smalltooth sawfish in the United States has severely declined over the last century and in 2003 became the first marine fish to receive federal protection as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.


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

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
Dallas World Aquarium
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Florida Museum
Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation
NOAA Fisheries
Save The
Sawfish Conservation Society
SeaWorld’s Animal Guide
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Okapi | Ostrich | Nile Crocodile

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2. Ostrich
3. Nile Crocodile
Credits and Links


Africa – a place of wonder and mystery to the world explorers of the 1800s. By the end of that century, rumors of never before seen animals were reported from the very heart of the continent. Strange descriptions of a horse-like creature with horns that would often vanish as quickly as it appeared. Was this the legendary, magical unicorn? Sir Henry Morgan Stanley, famed explorer of the Congo recorded in 1890, that the indigenous Bambuti people knew of a unique, striped donkey referred to as “atti.” Other reports and alleged sightings of some strange, yet unidentified creature, persisted for some time.

A few years later, Sir Harry Johnston – after speaking with Stanley on the possible existence of this mysterious animal – failed in his first efforts to find this elusive beast. Finally, in 1901, a complete animal skin and 2 skulls came into his possession and history now credits him with the modern discovery of the animal considered to be the only living relative of the giraffe – known today as the okapi.

Located along the Congo River is the dense, tropical lands of the Ituri Forest. It is here, in this remote region of Africa, that the okapi lives. Still rarely seen by humans, it is a shy and elusive animal with a beautiful reddish-brown to black velvet-like fur with zebra-like stripings along the rump and hind legs.

This unique color pattern serves as camouflage that allows the okapi to disappear into the dark background of the thick foliage. From the back, the white stripes against the brown fur help the okapi blend into the filtered light and shadows of the rain forest. These markings may also help young okapi follow their mother through the dense vegetation. The slick fur has an oily coating that helps repel rain and moisture and gives their coat a distinctive sheen in appearance.

Okapi are about the size of a large horse, standing between 4 and 6 feet at the shoulders and they may weighing 700 or more pounds – females are typically larger than males.

Like its relative, the giraffe, male okapi possess ossicones – small, hair covered horns on the top of their heads, these are usually formed between 1 and 3 years of age. Females typically lack the horns but may have small bumps instead.

Other similarities to giraffe include their stride – okapi move by simultaneously stepping with the front and hind leg on the same side of the body rather than moving alternate legs on either side like most other hoofed animals. They also splay their legs out to reach the ground while drinking. Okapi are ruminants – similar to bovine species they have a multi-chambered stomach and chew the cud.

Okapi have 14-18 inch long prehensile tongues which they use to reach and strip leaves from branches and vines while foraging. These long, flexible tongues – which are proportionally longer than the giraffes – allow them to lick their eyelids and clean out their own ears and nostrils.

Okapi have rather large ears that they are able to rotate independently – giving them an added ability to detect possible predators from both in front and behind. Leopard are the primary predator of okapi.

While okapi have a great sense of smell, their hearing is their greatest attribute. One of the reasons they are often hard to find and observe in the wild, they can easily detect people approaching at a great distance and will often disappear into the thick and dark forest.

Their sense of hearing also allows them to communicate through a series of low frequency sounds – these sounds are often too low for humans and even many predators to hear. A study done by researchers at the San Diego zoo discovered this “hidden” language of the okapi after analyzing observational recordings.

Okapi are typically solitary animals who will roam up to half a mile a day, foraging along well worn trails and creating a natural, pruning line of vegetation. They are most active during the afternoon and early evening and will eat as much as 65 pounds of plants and fruits each day.

Male okapi tend to be territorial but allow females to pass through their home regions. Okapi have a scent gland on each foot leaves behind a sticky, tar-like substance wherever they have walked, marking their territory.

Okapi reproduction is slow, the gestation period last 14 to 16 months and they give birth to a single calf which can stand within 30 minutes of birth.

Today it is estimated that fewer than 15,000 okapi remain in the wild. Due to hunting for bushmeat, habitat destruction and civil unrest surround their native habitat – okapi are listed as endangered.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums has established a Species Survival Plan for the okapi and for over 50 years the Dallas Zoo has led the way in preserving this fascinating creature. Nearly 75% of all okapi currently in managed care are related to Dallas Zoo offspring.

While most people living in Africa have never seen an okapi, due to the efforts of accredited facilities – today it is possible for people around the world witness this mysterious and amazing animal.


The Serengeti plains of Africa. This large, flat grassland habitat is home to huge herds of grazing animals, such as zebra, impala, rhinos and even the impressive African elephants. There, living among these land-based mammals, is the world’s largest bird – the Ostrich.

This well known flightless bird is an icon of the African savanna. Standing up to 9 feet tall with long shaggy-looking feathers and bare, long legs – the ostrich is also the fastest two-legged animal on earth.

Though they cannot fly, ostriches are very quick and powerful runners. They can sprint up to 43 miles an hour and run over distance at over 30 miles an hour. They may use their wings as “rudders” to help them change direction while running. An ostrich’s powerful, long legs can cover 10 to 16 feet in a single stride. Even young ostriches are fast, at only a month old, they can run nearly 30 mph.

In addition to making them swift speedsters on the savanna, the ostriches legs and feet also provide defense. While most birds have either 3 or 4 toes on their feet, the ostrich is the only bird to possess two toes on each foot. Each foot is equipped with a dangerous, 4 inch long, sharp claw. A kick from an ostrich can kill a human and even a potential natural predator like a lion.

The rather odd characteristics of the ostrich, with its long neck, large eyes and peculiar walk, once gave it the name – “camel bird.” Also like camels, ostriches can withstand high temperatures and go without water for extended periods of time.

As the world’s largest and heaviest bird, males may weigh over 300 pounds. The second heaviest bird, Australia’s cassowary, weighs nearly 200 pounds less.

Ostriches also have the largest eyes of any land animal, despite their relatively small head – their eyes are nearly 2 and half inches in diameter, surrounded by long black eye lashes.

They are also known for their incredibly large eggs – usually 6 inches long, they can weigh in at more than 3 pounds, and are the largest eggs found on our planet today. One ostrich egg is equal in volume to 24 chicken eggs and would take an hour and a half to hard boil. Oddly however, when the egg size is compared relative to bird’s body size, the ostrich may actually lay the smallest bird egg in the animal kingdom.

In addition to being larger, a male ostrich can be identified by their distinct black and white plumage on their tails and wings, with a bald crown and a beak that is yellow on top and pink on the bottom. Females are grayish-brown with light colored feather edges. Ostriches found in the more northern ranges of Africa have more pinkish necks and legs while birds further south are grayish in color.

Before the start of the African rainy season, male ostriches will gather several females to form a harem. The male puts on an elaborate, sometimes strange-looking courtship display that includes bowing and waving his feathers toward the female. Once the harem is established, the dominant male mates with all the female members of his harem but forms a pair bond only with the dominant female. Each hen lays two to eleven eggs in a shallow nest dug out by the male.

The dominant male and female incubate the eggs. The dominant female makes sure that her eggs are always in the center of the nest to make sure that they survive. The two parents take turns incubating the nest—the female during the day and the male at night. The female’s dull plumage helps her to blend in as she sits on the nest during daylight hours. Likewise, the black feathers of the male blend in with the darkness of the night.

When nesting or when they feel threatened the ostrich will often lay its head and neck flat on the ground. The bird may often appear as a rock or shrub to an approaching predator, the behavior also gave rise to the myth that the ostrich will bury its head in the sand – this of course is not true but from a distance can give that appearance.

Ostriches are omnivores, eating both plants and small animals such as insects and reptiles. They are often found living among herds of zebra, antelopes and other grazing animals. This association benefits both species, as the large grazing mammals often kick up insects and small rodents that the ostrich will feed upon, while the ostriches act as a type of alarm system – with their excellent hearing, tall, long necks paired with excellent eyesight – the ostrich can often spot predators in the distance.

Ostriches have long been a part of human cultures, ancient Egyptian, Roman and Babylonian civilizations often farmed and traded ostrich plumes. Ostrich feathers were often worn by royalty.

Ostriches were nearly wiped out in the 18th century due to the demand for feathers. Today they are commercially farmed for their meat, their skin (which makes good leather) and their soft and attractive feathers, which are often used as feather dusters as well as remaining a prized feature in fashion. In the wild, ostriches are neither threatened nor endangered but efforts must remain to protect these peculiar birds from disappearing in the future.

Nile Crocodile

Wild Africa has long been considered a place of danger. Even large animals that live there are often weary of the threats that exists seemingly everywhere. Watering holes and riverbanks are often sought as a place of rest and refreshing – but even there, danger lurks beneath the surface.

Known for its indiscriminate appetite and a reputation as a man-eater – Africa’s largest crocodilian species is the Nile crocodile. This powerful predator has been revered since the times of the Egyptian pharaohs – mummified crocodiles and their eggs have been discovered in royal tombs.

The Nile crocodile is found widespread across the African continent south of the Sahara desert – living in freshwater lakes, rivers and streams and in brackish coastal swamps. The crocodiles are also native to island of Madagascar where they are famous for residing in the Ankarana caves on the northern tip of the island. The crocodiles there are threatened and this strange location seems to offer them some refuge, though it is not exactly known how much time they spend inside these pitch black caves or what they feed upon.

Nile crocodiles were once found as far north as Israel, but were eliminated there by the early 1900s and the species at large was nearly hunted to extinction in the 1940s through the 60s. A ban on trade of products from the wild was enacted in 1975 and helped the restoration of native populations though human conflict, invasive plant species that affect reproduction and pollution remain a threat to their ongoing survival.

Nile crocodiles are large and strong hunters. They average 16 feet long and weigh around 500 pounds, however they can reach lengths up to 20 feet and weigh over 1600 pounds. Their long, muscular tail allows them to travel swiftly in the water and offers balance when traveling on land.

Ambush predators, their short but strong legs allow them to take down even large animals such as wildebeest, young hippos, zebras and even people. It is estimated that around 200 people may die each year in Africa from Nile crocodile attacks. Though nearly 70% of their diet consists of fish.

When fish are migrating, Nile crocodiles may hunt cooperatively by forming a semi-circle across the river and herding the fish. Eating the fish closest to them.

The Nile crocodile may remain underwater for up to two hours when not moving, this extended dormant period is possible because the crocodiles are adapted to high levels of lactic acid in their blood. These high levels of lactic acid buildup would often kill other vertebrate species.

They are most active at night where they spend most of their time in the water, during the hot part of the day they may come on land to bask or rest in the shade.

Like komodo dragons, Nile crocodiles will also scavenge carrion, and can eat up to half its body weight at a feeding. Despite their large size, however, the crocodile’s metabolism is very efficient and can allow them to go long intervals without feeding if necessary.

A distinguishing feature of the Nile crocodile that is rather unique among reptiles is their parenting preferences. While most reptiles lay eggs that are usually abandoned before or shortly after hatching, both male and female Nile crocodiles will viciously defend the nest and show some parental traits even after the young are hatched.

Though the males will take several partners they have been observed forming short term bonds during the incubation of the eggs. A typical clutch size is between 40 and 60 eggs and take up to 90 days to hatch.

Both parents will often roll eggs in their mouths, helping to crack the egg and assist the young while hatching. Just prior to hatching, the young Nile crocodiles begin vocalizing with a unique sound. Studies have indicated that this behavior triggers other young to respond and begin hatching themeselves – researchers believe this may help synchronize the hatching among most of the eggs in the clutch. The sounds also seem to attract the mother back to the nest, even if she is not present when the initial hatching begins.

Once the young are hatched, the adult female often pick up the young crocodiles and flip them into her mouth or throat pouch for protection – often entering the water with them. The young reach maturity when they are between 8 and 9 feet in length, this may occur as early as 12 years old. Known for their longevity, Nile crocodiles may live more than 50 years in the wild.


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

Dallas Zoo
Denver Zoo
Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens
National Geographic/ostrich
National Geographic/nile crocodile
San Diego Zoo Global
SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Animal Guide
Utah’s Hogle Zoo

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Kiwi | Kea |Tuatara

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1. Kiwi
2. Kea
3. Tuatara
Credits and Links


In the south Pacific Ocean lies the beautiful island nation of New Zealand. Comprised of two main islands and hundreds of smaller surrounding islands it was said this land was pulled from the sea by the Polynesian demi-god Maui.

The earliest human inhabitants of these islands were the Maori. Many animals found on this island nation bear the traditional name given by these indigenous people – one animal – a small, flightless, nocturnal bird has become the national symbol of New Zealand – the kiwi.

Despite being a member of the bird family that includes large birds such as ostrich, emu and cassowary, the kiwi is about the size of a chicken with 1 inch wings that are hidden behind shaggy, almost hair-like feathers. Unlike most birds, kiwi do not have a tail but they possess strong muscular legs that allow them to run faster than a human.

A distinguishing feature of kiwi is their extremely long beak. Protruding from their face around the base of their beak are cat like whiskers and at the the very tip of their beak – their nostrils. In fact, kiwi are the only birds with their nostrils located at the end of their beak.

This special trait, along with their heightened sense of smell, and special sensory pits at the tip of their beak allow them to detect vibrations from prey moving underground. Their long beak allows them to probe the soil and feast on a variety of foods such as worms, grubs, crickets and spiders. There have even been kiwi observed feeding in small streams on crayfish and eels.

Kiwi are strange birds, to say the least. They live in burrows and sleep standing up. They have unusually large ears and despite being nocturnal they have small eyes – kiwi may have the poorest eyesight of any bird.

They have a small cat-like claw on the tip of their tiny wings and four toes rather than the two or three that most other flightless birds have.

A kiwi’s bones are not hollow like many birds, but are filled with marrow and make up a third of their body weight. The kiwi also has the lowest body temperature of any bird – often as low as 98 degrees Fahrenheit.

With so many characteristics that are less like a bird and more like a mammal they have often been referred to as New Zealand’s “honorary mammal.”

There are 5 species of kiwi found in various regions across New Zealand.

Though perhaps once common, the little spotted kiwi is the only species to become extinct on the mainland. Today the nearly 2,000 remaining birds are found on neighboring island sanctuaries including Kapiti Island.

The brown kiwi is the most common species found today. It is the species that lives closest to human habitation, and the main species on display at zoological facilities around the world. The brown kiwi is faster at breeding than other kiwi, producing up to two eggs a clutch, and one to two clutches a year, as opposed to the more usual one egg per year in other kiwi species. Today, four geographically and genetically distinct forms of brown kiwi have been identified.

The largest kiwi species, the great spotted kiwi – also known as roroa – live in the top half of the South Island and usually at higher altitudes in some national parks.

The tokoeka and the rowi are the two rarest kiwi species. Both of these species live in managed and protected sanctuaries. The tokoeka are found in the steep and cold regions of the South Westland. The rowi are located exclusively in the nearby Okarito forest.

Unlike other birds, female kiwi have two ovaries (another trait they share with mammals). A kiwi egg is enormous compared to the bird and can take up to 20% of the mother’s body. A kiwi egg is 65% yolk which produces a fully feathered, independent chick that can provide for itself within the first week – kiwi rarely have to feed their chicks. A female kiwi can lay up to 100 eggs in her lifetime.

Despite being the national symbol of New Zealand and a treasure to the Maori people – over 80 percent of the kiwi’s habitat has been destroyed and kiwi are often killed by many of the introduced predatory animals on the island such as stoats, dogs, possums and ferrets.

In 2019, it was estimated there were 68,000 kiwi left, and the population is still steadily falling – though efforts from the New Zealand Department of Conservation, the Kiwis for Kiwi organization and cooperation among leading zoological facilities not only in New Zealand but in several countries around the world are leading the way in preserving this amazing animal.


Native to the mountains of New Zealand’s South Island is a fascinating bird. Considered one of the most intelligent birds on the planet it is also the only cold-weather parrot species.

Sometimes known as the New Zealand Mountain Parrot it is most commonly known by its original Maori name: the Kea. The Kea is the world’s only Alpine parrot, found primarily in mountainous ranges up to 6500 feet above sea level though during winter the Keas tend to spend most of their time at the lower altitudes where food is more plentiful.

Kea grow up to a foot and half long and are olive green in color with a yellow crown and blue webbing between their flight feathers. The underside of their wings are orange-red with yellow banding. Their tail feathers are blue green with a stunning yellow-orange underside. Females are slightly smaller, lighter in color and have a shorter bill.

Kea are opportunistic omnivores who will feed on a great number of plants and animals. Common foods include grasshoppers, beetles and larvae as well as more than 200 different native plant species found across their habitat. Kea have also been known to feed larger animal species such as birds and even small mammal carcasses such as stoats and possums. Most famously though, some kea have been observed attacking sheep.

Using their long, narrow and curved beak and powerful claws, they will tear through the wool and eat fat from a sheep’s back or side. Once considered a folk tale which unfortunately led to mass shootings of the birds by farmers, video footage in the 1990s actually captured this behavior. Researchers believe the birds may seek the fatty content to aid in surviving the colder climates. The attacks of course are not fatal, though sheep could become susceptible to infection from the wounds.

In addition to hunting, kea will often use their beaks for picking things apart. Kea have been known to pick and remove rubber stripping and wiper blades from cars.

They are a highly social species, communication between kea is achieved through a combination of diverse vocalizations and postures and displays. Unlike some parrot species, kea are not known to mimic human voices.

They are very intelligent birds who will often work together using items as tools to locate food. They are also excellent problem solvers and are well known for their explorative nature – even finding their ways into buildings. Kea are unusual in that they actively seek out and interact with people and their property. Famous for their antics, a flock of kea are known as a “circus of kea” or a “curiosity of kea.”

Despite being known as strong flyers and residents of high altitudes, keas nest on the ground. Breeding occurs as early as July an up until January. The female cares for the eggs and nestlings, whilst the male forages for the whole family. A kea nest takes four months to raise from eggs to free-flying fledglings.

The ancient people of New Zealand considered the kea to be guardians of the mountains. Today it is estimated there are fewer than 5,000 kea in the wild and they are classified as Nationally Endangered.


New Zealand is home to many unique and fascinating animal species. One native creature is so unique that it is the only surviving reptile species of its kind. With an ancestry dating back to the age of dinosaurs, this lizard-like animal is often referred to as a “living fossil.” Its name: the tuatara.

Despite its lizard-like appearance, tuataras are not lizarads but they are the only beak-headed reptile left in the world. Unlike lizards, tuatara have no external ears, they enjoy cooler weather, and they are nocturnal.

This amazing animal is New Zealand’s largest reptile – males are typically 1 and a half feet long and weigh just over 3 pounds. The name tuatara means ‘peaks on the back’ in the Māori language, referring to the distinctive ridge of spines down their backs. Males will even fan out this crest as a display to females or rival males.

Tuatara a generally an olive green or brown color to an orange-red shade as they gradually change color while they age. They have one of the slowest growth rates of any reptile – slowly but continuously growing in size for up to 35 years. Their typical lifespan may be between 50 and 60 years but it is believed they may live to be up to 100 years old. Like many reptiles, they shed their skin – but only once a year.

The tuatara possess two rows of teeth on the upper jaw and one row on the lower jaw that fits between the upper rows of teeth when the mouth is closed. This arrangement of the teeth helps them tear apart hard insects.

As a nocturnal predator, they feed primarily on insects such as beetles but the have been known to eat lizards, birds and bird eggs. Younger tuataras will hunt during the day, to prevent being eaten by larger adult tuataras.

In addition to their many unique features the make them different than lizards they also possess a trait shared by some other reptilians: a third eye. The “eye” has a retina, lens, and nerve endings, but it is not used for seeing. and is covered with scales a few months after hatching. This third eye is sensitive to light and it is believed it may help the tuatara judge the time of day or season.

Tuatara males can breed once a year while most females are able to reproduce every 3 to 4 years. Oddly, males have no reproductive organ, so reproduction occurs by a breeding pair rubbing their cloacas together. The female can store sperm for 10 to 12 months before laying up to 19 soft-shelled eggs in nesting burrows.

The eggs incubate in the covered burrow for 12 to 15 months before hatching, possibly the longest incubation period of any reptile. The temperature the eggs incubate at determines the sex of the hatchlings – this trait is similar to other reptile species such as sea turtles and alligators.

Tuatara once lived throughout the mainland of New Zealand but today they are only found in the wild on several protected offshore islands. These islands are free of rodents and other predators that were once introduced into New Zealand.

The tuatara was one of New Zealand’s first native species to be fully protected by law in 1895. Before then, hundreds of a were shipped overseas for museums and private collections. The New Zealand Department of Conservation launched a recovery program for tuataras in 1988. Hatchlings are raised by biologists until they are large enough to survive in the wild, a process called “headstarting.” They are then released onto designated predator-free islands.

Today, special permits from the New Zealand government are required for any facility to house tuatara outside of the country and very few accredited zoos in the U.S. have been granted this privilege – including the Dallas Zoo, San Diego Zoo and the Toledo Zoo. These facilities participate in managed care programs essential to ensuring this “living fossil” does not become extinct.


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

New Zealand Department of Conservation
Kea Conservation Trust
Kiwis For Kiwi
Auckland Zoo
Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden
Dallas Zoo
Franklin Park Zoo
San Diego Zoo
Toledo Zoo and Aquarium

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Hawaiian Monk Seal | Nene Goose | Humuhumu

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1. Hawaiian Monk Seal
2. Nene Goose
3. Humuhumunukunukuapua’a
Credits and Links

Hawaiian Monk Seal

Spanning 1,200 nautical miles across the world’s largest ocean, the Pacific – are the rarely visited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Located hundreds of miles from the main Hawaiian Islands of Kauai and Nihau, this Hawaiian Archipelogo is comprised of dozens of volcanic remnant islands, atolls and shoals. It may be the last large-scale, predator-dominated and least disturbed coral reef ecosystem on the planet.

Here among these small and isolated land masses is where the Hawaiian Monk Seal lives. Only found in the Hawaiian Archipelgo – Hawaiian monk seals are among the most endangered marine mammals in the world and the rarest pinniped in US waters.

The Hawaiian monk seal is the state mammal of Hawai’i and one of only two mammals endemic to the “Aloha State” (the other being the endangered Hawaiian hoary bat).

With a traditional Hawaiian name meaning “dog who runs in rough water.” Hawaiian monk seals weigh around 375-450 lbs and measure up to 7.5 feet. Females are typically larger than males. They are silvery-gray in color with a lighter, cream colored underside and have large black eyes.

Hawaiian monk seals spend two-thirds of their time out at sea. They prey upon creatures that live along the sea floor including a variety of fish, crustaceans and cephalopods. They seem to prefer creatures that hide under rocks or the sand.

While they typically hunt close to the shoreline, they have been known to dive more than 1,500 feet below the surface and can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes.

When they do come ashore it’s usually to rest or give birth. Once a year, they molt, or shed their upper layer of skin and fur, on sand, corals or volcanic shorelines.

Hawaiian monk seals are mostly solitary, coming together during breeding season. The main breeding populations are found at the northern-most coral atoll in the world – the Kure Atoll, as well as the Midway Islands, Pearl and Hermes Reef, and the French Frigate Shoals, a location also used as a nesting site by the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles.

Mating occurs underwater. Gestation lasts up to 11 months and females give birth to a single pup. Pups are born with a fine coat of black hair known as “lanugo”, which they will molt around the time they are weaned.

They nurse for about 39 days, during this time the mother stays ashore and goes without eating. Some females monk seals have even been known to foster other pups.

When the pup is weaned, the mother will return to the sea and the young seal will be left to learn how to hunt on its own. Typically theycan live 25-30 years, although few make it that long…

The Hawaiian monk seals is one of three monk seals species, along with the Mediterranean and Caribbean monk seal. Sadly, the Caribbean monk seal was believed to have gone extinct in the 1970’s. It is estimated there may be fewer than 1,000 Hawaiian monk seals remaining.

While the Hawaiian monk seal’s main natural predator is the tiger shark, these seals face many more dangers. Pup mortality, predation, disease, aggressive male seals, habitat loss, interactions with human activities and entanglement are all threats to their survival.

Hawaiian monk seals, especially young ones, become entangled more than any other pinniped species.

Although commercial fishing fleets are prohibited from operating in Hawaiian monk seal habitat, the ocean is still haunted by discarded fishing gear. “Ghost nets” drift in from faraway places, trapping marine life like fish, turtles and seals as they go.

While humans may be the monk seals greatest threat, we can also be their greatest hope.

In September of 2014, the Marine Mammal Center (based in California) opened a new hospital for Hawaiian monk seals in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. The facility is called Ke Kai Ola, meaning “the healing sea.”

Currently, the Minnesota Zoo is the only place outside of Hawai’i where you can say “aloha” to Hawaiian monk seals in person. The seals were rescued and deemed non-releasable then given a new home at the zoo where they help educate the public about the plight of these endangered Hawaiian natives in the wild.

Nene (Hawaiian Goose)

Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, lies the island state of Hawai’i. Comprised of eight main islands and dozens of atolls and shoals – these remote volcanic land masses are home to some of the world’s rarest and unique animal species.

Due to the isolated habitats and human encroachment, many of the endemic animals are now endangered. More than 25% of the endangered species found in the United States are native to the Hawaiian Archipelago.

Birds make up the largest portion of these protected animals and one species is designated as the Hawaiian State bird – the Nene – or Hawaiian Goose.

The local name, Nene, is derived from the sounds they make. Nene were once widely distributed among the main Hawaiian islands; although they are capable of flight, their wings are reduced in size, and they do not migrate or even travel between islands.

Hawaiian geese have a black face and crown and cream-colored cheeks. The neck is pale grayish streaked with black and has a narrow dark ring at the base. The body plumage and folded wings are gray-brown. The bill, legs and feet are black. Both sexes are similar in appearance, but males typically are larger.

Unlike all other geese, the Nene’s feet are not completely webbed. The longer toes and extra padding helps them move around on the rugged, rocky terrain of Hawaii’s lava fields where they are often found.

Though classified as waterfowl, the Hawaiian Goose is not dependent n freshwater or open bodies of water and they rarely swim. They are herbivores – browsing and grazing on leaves and seeds of grasses and sedges, flowers, and various fruits. They get most of their hydration from the fruits and berries they consume but they will drink water when available.

The breeding season of wild Nene in Hawaii generally begins in October and ends in February. This tends to corresponds more or less with the wet winter season in Hawaii, when most plant growth occurs.

Mates are together for life. Nests are built on the ground using variety of habitat types and elevations often on the sides of volcanoes. Nests are bowl-shaped lined with vegetation and down, usually hidden under shrubs. Females lay 2-5 eggs per nest.

Goslings are raised by both parents. Fledging occurs at 10-12 weeks after hatching. Adults molt following the breeding season when they are flightless for 4-6 weeks, generally gaining flight feathers at same time as their offspring.

The Hawaiian goose is among the most isolated, sedentary and threatened of all waterfowl. It is the sixth most endangered waterfowl species worldwide. Hunting, egg collecting and predation by introduced mongooses, cats, pigs, dogs and rats contributed to the historic decline of this species.

The Nene is the only surviving goose of the nine that were originally native to the islands. The other eight and a total of 32 bird species have gone extinct since the late 1700s.

Today, the nene is the world’s rarest goose. Its total population was estimated at around 25,000 birds before Captain James Cook “discovered” Hawaii in the 1770s. But by the 1950s only about 30 were left, all of which were on the “Big Island” of Hawaii.

The Hawaiian goose was declared endangered in 1967, captive breeding programs in both Hawaii and England allowed the release of over 2000 birds back into their native habitat. However, due to the earlier introduction of domestic animals plus an invasive mongoose population this first reintroduction program was not very successful. Fortunately due to perseverance, education and ongoing conservation efforts, the reintroduction of the Nene across 5 of the main Hawiian Islands, including Oahu, has finally taken hold and the Hawaiian Goose native population is on the rise. The Nene remain protected today.


One of the most widely recognized and beloved fish found on the Hawaiian reef is the small, angular triggerfish known traditionally as the humuhumunukunukuapua’a (who-moo-who-moo-noo-koo-noo-koo-ah-pooah-ah). Often referred to as humuhumu or simply humu for short.

Also known as the Hawaiian or reef triggerfish, they reach lengths up to 10 inches and are recognizable by their blue markings over their pointed, narrow mouth, a black band on their side and two distinct yellow triangle markings toward their tail fin. – The are one of nearly 40 triggerfish species found in the world’s oceans. The local name humuhumu is often used as a general name for both the reef triggerfish and the less common relative, the lagoon or Picasso triggerfish.

Like all triggerfish, humus can move each eye independently, which may help them keep a watch on approaching predators. They can also control the pigment of their scales to adjust their colors from a plain, drab look when threatened (which may help them blend into the sandy bottom) to bright and vibrant colors for which they are known.

When threatened, the humu may dive into a crevice in the reef, then wedge itself in by erecting the large dorsal spine on its head. The spine is locked into place by a second, smaller spine behind it that can only be unlocked by the fish itself. Another spine on the fish’s belly also extends to help wedge the fish securely into its shelter.

Triggerfish also use this wedging behavior at night while resting, often using the same spot each evening. Humuhumus may also be seen resting on their side.

The Humuhumu’s other defense mechanism is to make grunting noises that sound like a pig when fleeing from predators, which is believed to possibly be a warning call for other nearby humus as well.

The unique shape of the snout and the closeness of the fish’s teeth make the grunting sound possible. The mouth is very wide and the space inside is full of air, allowing it to produce the sound.

In addition, the air is used to blow jets of water from its mouth. These jets uncover organisms in the sand that may be eaten. Triggerfish are often seen spitting sand out of their mouths with the intention of sifting through the material in search these edible organisms. Humus feeds on algae and reef invertebrates, including snails, worms, brittlestars, sea urchins, and small crustaceans.

This behavior of rooting through the sand or rocks for food and making grunting noises when alarmed represented pig-like habits to early Hawaiians and is what gave the fish its local name: humuhumunukunukuapua’a. Roughly translated it means “the fish with the pig like snout” or “fish that snorts like a pig.”

Humuhumus are very territorial and are usually found alone rather than in schools like many reef fish species. In fact they can be quite aggressive toward their own species and even other fish of similar size. Humus have even been known to nip at swimmers who get too close.

The humuhumu is not highly valued as food, although it is edible and was recognized as such by early Hawaiians. The humus were also dried and used a cooking fuel. More importantly, both triggerfish species know as humuhumunukunukuāpua‘a were used as substitutes for pigs in some religious ceremonies.

The humuhumu is the official state fish of Hawai’i – a title given permanently in 2006. Despite this designation, humuhumus are not endangered like the state mammal – the Hawaiian Monk Seal or the Nene Goose, the state bird. In fact the humu is not found exclusively in Hawaiian waters but is also distributed across much of the south Pacific as well as the Indian Ocean to the coast of Africa and even into the Red Sea.

However, for the people of Hawai’i, the adored humuhumu has been featured in both art and music as it seems to capture the spirit of Hawaii—fiercely independent, stunningly beautiful, and unique.


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

Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Haleakalā National Park
Marine Mammal Center
Minnesota Zoo
NOAA Fisheries
Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument
University of Hawai’i / Waikiki Aquarium
University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Tree Kangaroos | Komodo Dragon | Wobbegongs

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1.Tree Kangaroos
2. Komodo Dragon
3. Wobbegong
Credits and Links

Tree Kangaroos

The island nation of Papua New Guinea is home to a unique group of kangaroos. Not like the large ground hopping animals found across the Australian outback – these animals are found in the mountain forests. With long tails, a bear-like face and an appearance that is often said to resemble a cross between lemurs and their cousins, the wallaby – they are the tree kangaroos.

A member of the macropod family which includes the wallabies and ground-dwelling kangaroos of Australia – the tree kangaroo spends most of it’s life in high tree tops – often up to 100 feet above the forest floor.

There are believed to be fourteen species of tree kangaroos that inhabit the forests of Papua New Guinea, parts of Indonesia and northeastern Queensland, Australia. Many species are exclusive to their habitat regions.

Some of the known species include the Goodfellows’, the white throated, and Doria’s tree kangaroo. While many species have shades of brown fur, the Lumholtz’s tree kangaroo’s fur is a speckled gray with blackish tips and the underbelly is creamy or sometimes orange in color. A new species known as the golden mantle tree kangaroo was recently discovered in 1990.

The Tenkiles, or Scott’s, tree kangaroos are diurnal and mainly terrestrial, though they can climb to escape predators and danger.

The Matchie’s tree kangaroos are the most commonly found species in zoological facilities and provide much of the information about these endangered animals at large. The Matchie’s species is found natively only on the Huon peninsula of Papua New Guinea and is sometimes referred to as the Huon tree kangaroo.

A second species – the Buergers’ tree kangaroo is also kept in few accredited facilities around the world. The Buergers’ tree kangaroo has a banded and splotchy colored tail, short wooly chestnut brown back fur and yellow undersides. These animals are actually a subspecies of the Goodfellows’ tree kangaroo are are typically considered more difficult to maintain than Matschie’s tree kangaroo, though some have been bred in managed care.

Some tree kangaroos can weigh up to 32 pounds with a head and body length of over 30 inches plus a tail that can double their length. These long, non-prehensile tails help serve as counter-balance as they move among the tree where the spend most of the day. Many species will come down to the forest floor at night to forage, but they never stray far from the trees where they will return and seek refuge from possible danger.

Tree kangaroos differ in several ways from other kangaroos and wallabies, due to adaptations to life in trees. They possess shorter hindlegs and sturdier forelegs than ground-dwelling kangaroos – the tree kangaroo’s front legs are approximately the same length as its hind legs.

They have long, sharp claws on both front and hind feet that help them climb trees with ease, their front claws may be curved which aids in climbing. Patches of roughened skin also help with gripping. Tree kangaroos are able to independently move each toe or finger – a trait that is rare among non-primate mammals.

They also have a modified ankle bone that allows them to rotate their hind feet to turn soles of their feet inwards, tree kangaroos are only existing kangaroos with this ability.

The Matchie’s tree kangaroo is considered to be the best vertical climber of the species, they may leap up to 30 feet between trees and may even jump up to 60 feet to the ground below – without suffering injury.

Though tree kangaroos are quick and agile climbers, they spend much of their life resting in trees between meals. They feed on an assortment of plants, tree bark and leaves – many of which contain tannin which gives some species their rust or golden brown color.

They are generally a solitary species of animal, often ignoring others in the same tree, though males are known to fight over potential mates. Tree kangaroos are usually silent but may produce a tongue-clicking sound to signal agitation or during courtship. They have also been observed swishing their tail side-to-side as a warning signal. Scent marking is also a common activity.

Like many other unique mammals found throughout Australia and nearby regions, tree kangaroos are marsupials. The Matchie’s species have the longest gestation of any known marsupial – and after 40 to 45 days the undeveloped joey is born and must climb up the mother’s belly and into her pouch, where it will latch onto a teat for nursing.

The baby tree kangaroo, also known as a joey, will live up to 10 months in the pouch and even then may return from time to time for the next couple of months to continue nursing while feeding more regularly on solid foods.

Despite many species of tree kangaroo being found in Papua New Guinea and a few smaller surrounding islands, the Bennett’s tree kangaroo is found exclusively in a small range of northern Queensland Australia – the Bennett’s tree kangaroo is the largest tree-dwelling mammal in Australia. Another species, the Lumholtz’s tree kangaroo is found in a nearby region.

Tree kangaroos are very quick moving animals that are often hard to spot in the thick forest regions, this makes identifying and studying them in the wild quite difficult. The typical lifespan of tree kangaroos in the wild is believed to be 10 to 15 years though animals in managed care may live beyond this, according to Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo the oldest known tree kangaroo is 27 years old.

Woodland Park Zoo developed the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program to promote and sustain tree kangaroo populations and support local community livelihoods across Papua New Guinea. This accredited zoo is also a leader in the AZA’s Species Survival Plan of Matchie’s tree kangaroo breeding. This ongoing managed program was developed to increase the number and genetic diversity of tree kangaroos in managed care.

Komodo Dragon

Located north of western Australia in one of the most volcanic regions on Earth are 3 Indonesian islands that are home to one of the world’s most powerful reptilian predators. They are the islands of Flores, Rinca and the land that gives name to the world’s largest lizard – Komodo.

There in the rocky valleys and flat savannas of these tropical islands is where the Komodo dragon can be found. Sometimes known natively as “land crocodiles”, these lizards are part of the Varanid family of monitors which are found throughout Africa, southeast Asia, Australia and of course – Indonesia.

These giants may reach a length of 10 feet and with head raised may stand over a foot and half off the ground. Male komodo dragons may weigh up to 200 pounds. – though after a large meal they may weigh much more.

Their skin is covered in osteoderms and said to be like chain-mail. This hardened scale covering has no sweat glands, excess sodium is removed through special glands in their nasal capsules.

Adult komodo dragons are uniformly gray or clay-colored but until the age of four they have much brighter, speckled skin. Their tongue is a light yellow color.

Young komodo dragons typically live in trees where they feed on insects, small lizards, birds and eggs. As the size of the animal increases, so does it’s prey. Large Komodo dragons feed on carrion or hunt animals such as wild boar, sunda deer, water buffalo, large snakes, and occasionally smaller Komodos.

As the top predator of their habitat range, they are opportunistic carnivores that often kill one large prey per month. Komodos are not always successful in taking down prey on the first attempt but venom injected during an attack will often lead to the preys demise – sometimes up to four days later. Multiple komodos will often feast on large kills. Between these big kills they will supplement their diet with smaller prey – like birds and small mammals as well as feed on animal carcasses they may find. They are resistant to harmful bacteria found in the rotting animal flesh.

Komodo dragons rely on their sense of smell to locate carrion and can detect scents up to 3 miles away. Like snakes, komodo dragons possess a Jacobson’s organs in the roof of the mouth – their forked tongue (which lacks tastebuds) collects scent particles in the air then retracts into the mouth where these sense organs stimulate the brain.

They are regular diggers, often carving out resting places or seeking out food such as eggs, snakes, rodents and other lizards buried beneath the ground.

Komodo dragons are one of few venomous lizard species. It was once believed that high levels of bacteria in their saliva was used as an aid in killing prey – however researchers have now learned, that like several monitor lizard species, komodo dragons produce venom toxins in venom glands.

They also have serrated, backward curving teeth which aid in holding onto their victim. Their prey is held (sometimes thrashed) until all movement ceases. Small prey is swallowed whole, usually head first while large prey is sliced in pieces and devoured.

A komodo dragon’s stomach is able to expand large enough to enable them to consume a meal up to 80 percent of their own body weight. When threatened in this gourged state, they may throw up the contents of their stomachs to lessen their weight in order to flee.

Komodo dragons, like other monitor lizards, have a more complex heart structure and blood chemistry than other lizards, this allows them to achieve intense activity – such as attacking large prey – without becoming exhausted.

Large Komodos will often hunt and feed on younger ones. As a defense, the young komodos will often roll in fecal material, thereby acquiring a scent that the large dragons tend to avoid.

Adult males will compete with one another during breeding season. This combat involves using their tails for support as they wrestle in upright positions, grabbing each other with their forelegs and attempting to throw the opponent to the ground. Often time wounds are inflicted and blood is drawn – though they appear to be immune to venom that may be injected from other komodo dragon attacks.

As cold-blooded animals, komodo dragons spend the great part of the day basking – they are most active at morning and dusk. Young animals will often climb trees to rest while large adults remain on the ground and when necessary seek shelter in burrows or under hanging vegetation.

Though these large lizards inhabit the entire island of Komodo (and two other nearby islands) less than 380 square miles is officially protected and designated as Komodo National Park – which was established in 1980. Threats facing the survival of the world’s largest lizard include deforestation due to logging, forest fires created by poachers to drive prey and loss of vegetation (a food source for much of the komodo dragon’s prey).

The first komodo dragon to be placed on public exhibit in the United States occurred in 1934 at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Several accredited zoological facilities, such as the Cincinnati Zoo and Zoo Miami and have had successful breeding programs and today many zoos now showcase this powerful and amazing animal.


Wobbegongs are bottom-dwelling sharks found in coastal waters of the Indo-Pacific region, ranging from temperate to tropical. Many species are located along the eastern and southern Australia coast while some distinct wobbegong species are found in the northern waters of the great barrier reef and into the waters of Indonesia.

The wobbegong is one of 7 families of sharks in the order known as carpet sharks. The carpet shark group includes 40 species such as nurse sharks, bamboo sharks, zebra sharks and even the largest fish in the world – the whale shark.

The word wobbegong is believed to be Australian Aboriginal in origin, meaning “shaggy beard” – a reference to the growths around the sharks mouth.

The wobbegong has a flat head and stocky body with a stout tail. It has nasal barbels and dermal lobes forming fringe appendages along the front of its face. The signature facial barbels are often multi-branching and range in numbers from 6-8 on the ornate wobbegong to as many as 30 or more on the tassled wobbegong.

The wobbegong’s distinctive symmetrical and colored patterns on its skin make it one of the most visually stunning of the carpet sharks. Similar in behavior to its relatives the nurse sharks and bamboo sharks, wobbegongs spend much of their time resting on the sea bed. They possess spiracles which allow them to breathe without much movement as they remain rather motionless for extended periods of time.

Each species possess distinctive markings that allow them to blend in with various surroundings from rocky reefs to sea grass beds and sandy bottoms.

The spotted wobbegong has a golden sandy to light green color with a dark saddle across its body and a white irregular ring pattern. Spotted wobbegongs may grow up to 10 feet long, though most average 5 to 6 feet in length.

The ornate wobbegong is typically golden-brown in color, with conspicuous dark rectangular saddles. The lighter spaces between these saddles have dark, light-centered spots. They grow up to 4 feet long.

The tasselled wobbegong has a reticulated pattern of narrow dark lines over a lighter background with large dark spots located at the junction of the lines. In addition, this species is flattened and broad with a head that is slightly wider than its length from the tip of the snout to the fifth gill openings. They are found in Pacific coral reefs around the coasts of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and northern Australia. Like the ornate wobbegongs, they are believed to reach up to 4 feet long.

Wobbegongs are carnivorous and as bottom-dwellers they feed primarily on bottom dwelling invertebrates including crabs, lobsters, and octopus. Some wobbegong are even found inside lobster traps by fishermen. Most wobbegongs appear to be nocturnal in nature, resting most of the day and hunting for food at night. The sharks are typically ambush predators, waiting for prey to approach – which are sometimes lured in by their facial appendages.

Wobbegongs strike with lightning speed—extending their jaws, sucking in prey and gulping it down whole. It is believed that the short broad mouth and large broad pharynx aids in sucking in prey. They are more specialized for jaw protrusion than are most other shark species and combined with quick strikes, the enhanced suction force and multiple rows of enlarged fang-like teeth – the wobbegong can deliver a powerful attack on its prey.

Wobbegong have been known to attack humans who may unknowingly approach and startle the camouflaged predator. Often once it bites, the shark tends to hold on which results is serious, though usually not fatal – wounds.

Like some other species of sharks, Wobbegong sharks, are ovoviviparous, meaning the eggs develop and hatch within the females body. Pups are un-nourished while developing inside the mother and often eat unfertilized eggs as well as other pups. As many as 20 or more pups are “live-born” from each litter. Each species varying in length from 6 to 9 inches long at birth.

Currently wobbegong may face many challenges to their future survival – including the external pressures of pollution, a decrease in available prey due to over-fishing and over-hunting for the shark’s meat and its tough skin which is often used to make very durable, decorative leather due to the unique patterning.

Little is known about the lifespan of the wobbegong. However, based on information about sharks in general, it is presumed that in a normal and balanced ecosystem they are relatively long lived animals.


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

Florida Museum of Natural History
National Aquarium
San Diego Zoo Global
Smithsonian’s National Zoo
Woodland Park Zoo
University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Electric Eel | Harpy Eagle | Tapirs

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1. Electric Eel
2. Harpy Eagle
3. Tapirs
Credits and Links

Electric Eel

The rivers of South America provide life to one of the planet’s richest population of plants and animals. Long and winding through the tropical rain forests these rivers create a multitude of flooded forests and diverse aquatic ecosystems.

Within these murky habitats exists an animal sometimes feared for it’s peculiar and shocking behavior. Found in the muddy, slow-moving streams, lakes and tributaries of the Orinoco and Amazon rivers is the sometimes deadly creature named the Electric Eel.

This long, slender animal has a snake-like body and flattened head – all covered in dark gray or brown scaleless skin with an orange and yellow tinted underside. It can reach lengths up to 9 feet long and weigh nearly 45 pounds. It has poor eyesight, so it must rely on other means to seek out and capture it’s prey. It’s secret: electricity.

The Electric Eel possesses 3 distinct organs that make up 80 percent of the fish’s body and allow the generation of various electrical charges. These organs, identified as the main electrical organ, the Hunter’s organ and the Sachs’ organ are made up of thousands of electrical generating cells called electrocytes. They can produce both very strong and weak electric charges, which are utilized for defense, hunting, navigation and even communication.

Through the use of a lateral-line system of motion-sensitive hairs along it’s body – the electric eel can detect slight pressure change in the surrounding water. When it searching for prey that may be nearby, it emits two rapid electric pulses.

These quick burst of electricity causes the prey to twitch involuntarily and alert the electric eel to its presence. With a series of high-voltage pulses (as many as 400 per second), it then paralyzes and consumes its prey. This entire process happens so quickly that it can be difficult to see in real-time. Even very young eels possess these important hunting skills.

Electric eels communicate using low electric organ discharges. The frequency at which weaker electric pulses are produced varies between males and females. The fish can detect these signals and interpret information about other individuals in the water.

Despite the name, the Electric Eel is not actually classified as an eel at all. It is considered a knifefish – a species of freshwater fish that lack pelvic fins and are related to catfish and carp. These fish also lack a dorsal fin but instead have an elongated anal fin that helps them maneuver through the water – moving forward, backward and even hovering in place.

There are more than 200 knifefish species found in South America, each one makes use of electrical signals for communication and prey detection. The Electric Eel, however, packs the greatest punch – capable of generating electric shock pulses up to 850 volts, though most discharges are around 10 volts. They are also known to leap out of the water to deliver a much more powerful and direct charge – often this is used as a defense behavior. These amazing predators can stun a large horse and kill a full grown man with a full direct hit.

Electric Eels are found widely distributed across much of northern South America. Though fish, they actually breath air from the surface, a trait that allows them to survive in otherwise poorly oxygenated and muddy streams.

The mouth of an electric eel is very sensitive due to the abundance of blood vessels present for oxygen absorption. Shocking prey is believed to protect the mouth by reducing the amount of thrashing by captured prey.

The eels feed on a variety of prey including fish, crustaceans, insects, reptiles, amphibians and even small mammals.

During the dry seasons, males will build a nest made from saliva to house more than than 1,000 eggs laid by the female. Males will defend the nest and the newly hatched fry.

The typical lifespan of electric eels in their native habitat is unknown but animals thriving in managed care can live up to 15 years, females will often live longer – sometimes up to 20 years.

Harpy Eagle

The canopy of the Amazon rainforest often extends more than 100 feet into the sky. Even there, however, sloths and the many primates that reside there are not safe. In these high reaching tree tops is a deadly predator.

One of the largest raptors on the planet – with a wingspan of 6 feet and talons up to 5 inches long – the Harpy Eagle is the most powerful and largest eagle in the “New World.”

Named for the Greek mythological creature that was said to be half-woman, half-bird – the Harpy Eagle is bold, striking and dangerous.

Despite living at the top of the forest, the Harpy Eagle rarely flies above the tree cover – instead these agile flyers will soar beneath the canopy and snatch monkeys and sloths from the branches. With talons larger than the claws of a grizzly bear, the Harpy Eagles can carry off large prey weighing more than 15 pounds.

Often the birds will sit patiently in nearby trees and wait (often for hours) for their prey to arrive. Harpy Eagles are capable of turning their head upside down and can fly straight up as well – allowing them to often strike from below as well as above.

Though they prefer to hunt high up in the trees, they will hunt ground dwelling animals, including javelina, armadillos, agoutis and even baby deer. The Harpy Eagles are apex predators in their habitat and have no natural predators – they have even been noted for not being afraid of people.

Harpy eagles are marked by their dark grey feathers over their wings and back with lighter grey and white feather’s on the edge of it’s wings, body and around the face. Some smaller gray feathers create a facial disk that give them an appearance similar to some owls – it is thought that this shaped may focus sound waves to improve the bird’s hearing.

The feathers on the top back of their head can be fanned and stick up especially when the Harpy Eagle may feel threatened or aggressive.

Like many other eagles, Harpy eagles are monogamous and may mate for life. Females are often twice as large as their male counterparts – weighing up to 20 pounds. As parents, they fiercely defend their eggs and young. The mother lays one or two eggs in a clutch, and she only reproduces every two to three years. Both parents incubate eggs, with the female taking most of the responsibility. Newly hatched chicks are all white and can fit in the palm of a person’s hand.

Typically the mother will remain with the young while the father will seek out food and bring it to the nest – however it is the female that feeds the chick by tearing off small pieces of meat and delicately feeding it with her bill.

Young Harpy Eagles grow quickly and reach adult size in 5 to 6 months. They remain with their parents up to two years and reach adulthood by 5 years of age.

Despite being a top predator of their ecosystem – Harpy Eagles face challenges to their ongoing survival. They are non-migratory birds who need large, undisturbed forest regions to thrive. Habitat destruction, logging and poaching have led to the decline of these impressive creatures as well as many other species within their forest home.

Though the Harpy Eagle is the national bird of Panama, this important species is critically endangered throughout most of Central America.

Zoo Miami, the San Diego Zoo and The Peregrine Fund all participate in active breeding programs as well as programs designed to reintroduce many Harpy Eagles back into the wild.


Leaving a recognizable trail through the heavy vegetation of the rainforest floor is a heavy, solitary creature. Featuring a teardrop shaped body – a wide rounded rear and small tail tapering to a more narrow head and snout – the Tapir is the largest land mammal in both Central and South America.

Sometimes mistaken as a large pig – tapirs are actually more closely related to horses and rhinos – a group of hoofed mammals known as ungulates. Tapirs are herbivores, most active at dawn and dusk, they spend most of their time both browsing and grazing for vegetation that includes grass, shrubs, twigs and fruit. As they forage they often move in a zig-zag motion with their short, stocky legs which helps them pass easily through the dense forest growth. Other animals, and even people, will often use the cleared paths created by tapirs.

The tapir’s most distinguished feature is their flexible proboscis-like snout, formed from tissues of their upper lip and nose. They have the ability to manipulate their snout in complex movements with some limited extension as well, similar to an elephant. They can often explore a circular area of ground up to a foot across without having to move their head

Excellent swimmers, tapirs will often flee to the water to avoid predators – something their keen sense of smell can help them detect. They will completely submerge themselves underwater with only their snout, which acts as a snorkel, protruding from the water. Tapirs also rely on water for feeding, cooling off and defecating. Tapirs are also quite swift on land and are even able to traverse mountainous regions.

There are three species of tapir that can be found in various regions from Mexico to to southern Brazil and the Amazon.

The Baird’s tapir is dark brown with a distinctive cream-colored marking on its face and throat and a dark spot on each cheek, behind and below the eye. It is the largest of the three American species with a shoulder height of 4 feet and weighing up to 770 lbs.

Also known as the Central American tapir, the Baird’s tapir was named for American naturalist Spencer Fullerton Baird, who observed the animals in Mexico in 1843. Baird’s tapir are the national animal of Belize and nicknamed the “mountain cow.”

The Brazilian tapir is the most widespread of all tapir species. The Brazilian tapir is dark brown, paler in the face, and has a low, erect crest of fur running from the crown of the head down the back of the neck. Some animals will feature a crest that is a darker brown or black, while on others it is lighter in color. The round, dark ears have distinctive white edges.

The Brazilian tapir is also known as the Lowland tapir and it prefers living where it’s warm, rainy, and humid. Crocodilians (like black caiman and Orinoco crocodiles), jaguars and even green anacondas are its natural predators.

The Mountain tapir is the smallest of the existing tapir species. Found in the cloud forests of the Andes Mountains in northern South America, it has a longer, thick coat and undercoat than other species, to keep warm in this colder climate. They possess a dark reddish-brown coat with lips outlined in white. The Mountain tapir is one of the most endangered mammals in the world.

Currently only two zoological facilities in North America are home to the Mountain Tapir – California’s Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado. Both zoos support the ongoing efforts to preserve this important and very rare species which is often threatened by over-hunting.

A fourth species of South American tapir was thought to be discovered in 2013 in isolated regions of the northwestern Amazon. However, follow up studies have concluded this type of tapir is not genetically or physically distinct from the Brazilian tapir.

A fourth Tapir species does exist though – found in the southern and central parts of Indonesia, and on the Asian mainland of Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar. It is the largest of all tapirs and the only existing species in the “Old World” – the distinctly marked Malayan tapir.

Malayan tapirs have a striking black and white coloration which may act as a form of camouflage in the tropical forests in which it lives. These large animals may grow up to 10 feet in length, and stand over 4 feet tall. They typically weigh between 600 and 900 pounds and the females are usually larger than the males.

Juvenile tapirs are born with white markings that include stripes and spots – some say they resemble a fuzzy, walking watermelon. They are able to swim when they are only a few days old. Though mostly solitary creatures, young tapir will often remain with their mothers up to two years. Tapirs may live up to 20 years in their native habitats.

Tapirs are key umbrella species in maintaining the biological diversity of tropical forests where they live. They form an important part of the ecosystem as major seed dispersers – which benefits the ongoing native plant life and helps provide future food sources for themselves and other species as well.

All tapirs are endangered species. Taking steps to help save tapirs – like the AZA’s Species Survival Plan and educating people on the importance of these often overlooked animals, will not only protect future generations of tapir but can helps save other species of plants and animals and ultimately help preserve the world’s rainforest.


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

Akron Zoo
New England’s Franklin Park Zoo
The Peregrine Fund
Reid Park Zoo
San Diego Zoo
Smithsonian’s National Zoo
Tennessee Aquarium
World Tapir
Zoo Miami

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Emperor Penguin | Reindeer | Beluga Whale

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | iHeartRadio | Podbean | RadioPublic | more

1. Emperor Penguin
2. Reindeer
3. Beluga Whale
Credits and Links

Emperor Penguin

At the bottom of the world lies the coldest, driest and windiest continent on Earth. It is the only continent without a native human population – the frozen and barren land known as Antarctica.

Antarctica is actually considered a desert due to the little amount of rain or snow that falls there.

In the Antarctic winter there is very little or no light, the air temperature may be -75° F and wind speeds may reach 125 mph. In summer, the sun shines 24 hours a day, the warmest it gets is 50° F on the coast but it is usually much colder, especially inland, where it gets around -20° F.

Despite being too harsh for humans to live there permanently, some of the animal kingdom’s most beloved creatures thrive there – penguins!

There are 18 species of these charismatic seabirds, all found in the Southern Hemisphere. While many species of penguins are found on sub-Antarctic Islands, only four live on the continent of Antarctica. One of those is the emperor penguin.

Emperor penguins are the largest and perhaps the most well known of all penguins. They can measure nearly 4 feet tall and weigh up to 90 pounds.

Males and females look alike. Adults have a black head and beak, soft pale yellow color on the chest that blends into a white or cream belly, an orange or pink stripe on its beak and yellow patches on its cheeks that fade into the dark grey to black body.

Emperor penguins are rather awkward on land. They waddle slowly, with a maximum walking speed of less than 2 mph. Emperor penguins are known to slide across the ice on their bellies by propelling themselves forward with their feet – a behavior known as “tobogganing.”

While penguins may be flightless and unable to soar through the air, they can truly “fly” through the water! Soaring under the water’s surface up to 9 mph, they swim by flapping flippers which are modified wings. Emperor penguins and are the deepest diving bird in the world.

Emperor penguins eat a variety of fish as well as krill and squid by performing deep dives into the cold waters that surround Antarctica. Most Emperor penguin dives are around 300-600 feet below the surface, but the deepest dive on record was 1,800 feet deep. Dives usually last 3-6 minutes, but some have lasted for more than 20 minutes.

Due to a special gland under the eye that rids the body of excess salt, penguins can actually drink seawater.

Like other penguins, emperors are very social. However, unlike other penguins, emperors are not territorial. In order to stay warm they will huddle close together. Huddling may decrease heat loss by 50% and the temperature inside the huddle may be 75° F. The birds often rotate positions from standing on the colder outer edge to the warmer interior.

Emperor penguins may have an inch thick layer of fat at times and overlapping almost scale-like feathers that is nearly impenetrable to wind and water to help keep warm.

Emperor penguins breed during the winter, possibly so chicks become mature when conditions are better during the summer. They migrate to breeding grounds to find a mate. Female Emperor penguins will sometimes contend with one another over a desirable mate. The breeding pairs are monogamous couples each breeding season; they may pair up with the same individual each season, however, this doesn’t always happen.

Females will lay one egg that is placed on the male’s feet and under a fold of skin called the “brood patch.” Eggs measure up to 5 inches long and weigh up to 18 ounces. The single egg is incubated by the male for 60 – 65 days, during this time the female goes out to sea to find food.

The male goes without eating from the time he arrives at the breeding grounds until the chick hatches and may lose up to 45% of his body weight. The female usually returns just before the egg hatches so she can regurgitate some of the fish she has caught to feed the chick.

If the chick hatches before the female returns, the male, despite his fasting, can produce a curd-like substance from his esophagus to feed the hatchling for up to 10 days.

Chicks are covered in fuzzy down feathers. Their body is light grey, their head and beak is black and have white patches around the cheeks and eyes.

Once the chick has hatched and the female returns, parents take turns brooding and foraging. Young emperor penguins are often gathered into large groups of chicks, known as a creches, for protection from possible predators and the harsh but they each continue to be fed by their own parents.

Chicks may be preyed upon by predatory seabirds like skuas (skyoo-uhz) and petrels. Adults penguins are hunted by leopard seals and killer whales which are common in the Southern Ocean waters surrounding Antarctica.

Once juveniles have replaced their down feathers with waterproof adult feathers at about 5 months old, their parents abandon them. They become independent and go out to sea to forage for their own food.

Emperor penguins don’t become sexually mature until they are 5-6 years old. They usually live around 20-25 years.

Emperor penguins are currently listed as near threatened.

In 1980, SeaWorld San Diego made zoological history when the first emperor penguin chick outside of Antarctica was successfully hatched and raised by its parents.

Today, the AZA-acredited SeaWorld San Diego is one of only places outside of Antarctica and the only facility in the Western Hemisphere where you can see emperor penguins in person.


Reindeer are medium-sized deer species that stand 3 to 5 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh up to 600 pounds. These strong and sturdy animals can run up to 50 miles per hour and travel across the frozen ice of the Arctic Ocean. As powerful in the water as on land, reindeer can move across wide, quick-moving rivers and swim at speeds up to 6mph.

Reindeer are also known as caribou. In Europe, they are called reindeer – which was derived from an old Norse word meaning “dear”. In North America, the name reindeer is used when referring to Eurasian populations and the name caribou to refer to local wild populations. The name caribou originated with Mi’kmag indigenous tribes of North America from their word meaning “snow shoveler.” The name reindeer is also used to refer to domesticated individuals, even those in North America.

A highly nomadic species, reindeer are always on the move. Often herds will travel up to 30 miles a day and North American caribou may travel 3,000 miles in a year, the longest documented movements of any land mammal on earth.

Very social animals, reindeer usually travel in large herds and they roam their habitat in search of food – their main diet includes mosses, herbs, ferns, grasses, and the shoots and leaves of shrubs and trees. In the spring time, multiple herds will often come together and join into super-herds of over 100,000 animals.

Antlers are the reindeer’s most memorable characteristic. In comparison to body size, reindeer have the largest and heaviest antlers of all living deer species. Both the males and females grow antlers which is unique among the many deer species. Male reindeer antlers may weigh over 30 pounds, they will shed their antlers during the winter and females shed their smaller, less ornate antlers in the summer.

Reindeer have a two-layer coat to keep them warm in the bitter cold winter – a guard coat made of straight, hollow tubular hairs (similar to that of a Polar Bear) and a wooly undercoat. This specialized coat helps trap warmth to their body and allow them to float in the water.

Reindeer colors vary from brown in the winter to a grayish coat in the summer, northernmost species are much lighter in color than species found further south in their habitat range.

Reindeer hooves expand in summer when the ground is soft and shrink in winter when the ground is hard. When walking, a tendon in the foot slips over a bone producing a clicking sound. This sound may help members of a herd locate and stay with each other even in blinding blizzard conditions. A long dewclaw on each leg serves as an extra hoof to help the animal climb on rugged terrain.

Reindeer have an excellent sense of smell, allowing them to find food, such as grass, lichens and twigs hidden under snow. Reindeer mainly travel into the wind to pick up scents (including those of possible predators) and they are the only deer species to have hair completely covering their nose.

They originally inhabited the tundra and forests of Scandinavia and northern Russia and North America. Though usually thought of as a tundra species, a form of caribou lived in southern Idaho until the 19th century – seen so rarely these southern-most animals are sometimes called the “grey ghosts.”

Unlike many deer species, reindeer calves are born without spots. Born for speed, a reindeer calf can follow its mother within one hour of birth, and can outrun a human after only one day.

In addition to the rich milk provided by its mother, a reindeer calf begins to eat solid food at only a week old and will double its birth weight in the first two week of life.

Predators of reindeer include wolves, bears, mountain lions though healthy adults are usually safe, especially when they remain in large herds – however small calves are often preyed upon by large golden eagles.

Reindeer have been domesticated and herded for centuries by several Arctic and Subarctic people and still remain the only deer species to be widely domesticated. Powerful animals, domestic reindeer can pull a load of up to 300 pounds at an average of eight miles per hour and are used as beasts of burden as well as being farmed for milk, meat, and their hides.

Beluga Whale

In the Arctic Ocean, hidden among the ice packs and just below the surface – lives the white whale. Not the famed monstrous creature of literature but a smaller, gentle and highly vocal animal found throughout the waters at the top of the world.

With their distinct color and shape – including it’s bulging melon at the top of it’s head and the absence of a dorsal fin – they are considered to be one of the most easily distinguishable of all whale species: it is the Beluga Whale.

These small, stocky toothed whales average between 10 and 15 feet long and weigh up to 1500 pounds. Beluga Whales are classified with their Arctic cousins, the Narwhal, in the Monodontidae family of cetaceans. Both Narwhals and Belugas lack true dorsal fins – which may aid in reducing heat loss. In place of this top central fin, Belugas have a bumpy structure beneath their skin known as a dorsal ridge.

This physical characteristic allow them to more easily swim just below ice sheets to locate breathing holes Their white or light grey coloration helps them blend in at the surface among the snow covered ice packs.

Belugas have one of the thickest skins of any toothed whale with blubber that is ten times thicker than a dolphin and 100 times thicker than any land mammal. Beluga skin is the only cetacean skin thick enough to be used as leather – this was once referred to as “porpoise leather.”

The Beluga Whale’s blubber makes up 40 percent of its body weight. This large and thick fat layer aids in keeping the animal warm in the freezing waters of its habitat. With thick folds of blubber especially along the bottom, or ventral, side of their body the Beluga can often seem to be wrinkly in appearance.

A baby beluga, called a calf, has thicker skin at birth to compensate for the lack of a blubber layer. As the calf develops this thick insulating layer, the skin is shed. Belugas, like many cetaceans, experience an annual molt – often rubbing on rocks to help slough off the shedding skin.

The melon is the rounded structure on the top of the Beluga’s head, just in front of the blowhole. Comprised of fatty lipids, the melon can be contracted and made to change shape when the whales produce sound. This may serve a function in creating certain sounds and is key to their ability to echolocate – using sounds and the resulting echos to locate prey.

Belugas have long been known for being extremely vocal, from high pitched chirps to clicks and moans, many of these sounds can be heard above water and through the hull of ships. At least 11 different beluga vocals have been documented. The wide range of sounds they can produce have earned Belugas the nickname – “Canaries of the sea.”

The Beluga – often seen in groups, called pods – can be found in both the deep waters of the Arctic and shallow bays and estuaries where the water may barely cover their body. Despite being a marine mammal, Belugas are also known to swim into freshwater rivers that empty into the ocean. They have been found as far as 1200 miles up the Amur River in Russia and as far inland as 600 miles up North America’s Yukon River in Canada.

Belugas are opportunistic feeders who feed on over 100 species of marine and freshwater fish, mollusks, and crustaceans – the most diverse of any of the smaller whale species. They do not chew their food but rather swallow it whole, their tongue forms a tight seal around fish which allows the beluga to swallow prey without ingesting water.

Belugas are generally slow swimmers, moving between 2 and 6 mph when traveling, however they are one of the few whales that have the ability to swim backwards. Belugas are also unique because they are the only whale with a flexible neck – the seven neck vertebrae are not fused as in most species.

The only natural predators of Beluga are the Killer Whale and Polar Bears. While Killer Whales may hunt the Beluga in the open waters the Polar Bear may catch Beluga that have become trapped in the ever-shifting ice flows of the Arctic region.

Human impact and environmental hazards are the greatest threat to most beluga whale populations including the endangered Alaskan Cook Inlet population which has declined by nearly 75 percent since 1979.

The name Beluga comes from a Russian word meaning “white”, however it is not to be confused with the actual Russian word “beluga” which identifies a type of sturgeon fish species from which caviar is made.

The study of Beluga Whales in accredited zoological parks and aquariums, such as SeaWorld, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, the Georgia Aquarium and the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, have all helped increase researchers understanding of factors threatening the sustainability of the species in the wild, so that steps can be taken to conserve and protect these stunning and amazing marine mammals.


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

Australia’s Department of Environment and Energy | Australian Antarctic Division
Georgia Aquarium
Mystic Aquarium
San Diego Zoo
SeaWorld’s Animal Guide
Shedd Aquarium
Stone Zoo
University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Arctic Fox | Puffins | Polar Bear

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | iHeartRadio | Podbean | RadioPublic | more

1. Arctic Fox
2. Puffins
3. Polar Bear
Credits and Links

Arctic Fox

The Arctic Circle – the top of the world. One of the coldest, most desolate and harshest environments on the planet, yet some animals can thrive among this frozen habitat.

One such animal is one of the smallest members of the canine family. Measuring only 2 and half to 3 feet long including it’s 12 inch tail and weighing 10 to 20 pounds – the Arctic Fox is a cold weather survivor. Found throughout the circumpolar Arctic and sub-Arctic range they are also the only land mammal native to Iceland.

Famous for it’s bright white fur the Arctic Fox actually displays a gray or bluish-brown coat in the short summer months. This change in color allows them to blend in with the various surroundings as they hunt for food.

The Arctic Fox primarily feeds on lemmings – small rodent creatures found in the Arctic Tundra. In fact, the number of foxes in a region is relative to the size of a local lemming population. Using their excellent senses of hearing and smell, the foxes can locate their prey beneath the snow. They will also bury food underground or beneath stones to store during the winter months, since the foxes do not hibernate.

In addition to lemmings, Arctic Foxes will also feed on birds, invertebrates and occasionally fish. In the winter, when prey is scarce, arctic foxes will often scavenge from polar bear kills. In fact, Arctic Foxes are the only land mammal to venture as far north as the polar bear, often following them onto ice flows.

Arctic foxes are well adapted to extreme cold, some have even been spotted within 300 miles of the North Pole. Their winter coat is the densest and warmest of any land mammal and covers every part of their bodies, including the soles of their feet. This helps them to retain body heat, as do stubby legs, small ears and a small snout.

The fur on the bottom of their feet not only helps in keeping them warm but aids in traction while moving across wet and slippery surfaces such as the ice flows and snowy ground.

They use their bushy tails as muffs. During a blizzard, an Arctic fox can curl up in a tight ball, wrap its tail around itself, and be blanketed by snow. The snow actually acts as an insulator and the fur traps body heat even in the coldest temperatures – sometimes as cold as 50 degrees below Fahrenheit.

Arctic foxes are widespread throughout Arctic and sub-Arctic regions, where many different predators roam. Natural predators include red foxes, wolves, wolverines, and polar bears. Fox pups may be taken by birds of prey including snowy owls, and large hawks. The native people of the Far North also trap Arctic fox for their fur.

During the brief Arctic spring and summer, Arctic foxes move inland to mate and occupy extensive, communal summer dens. Generations of the same family of foxes often return to the same den each year. These large subterranean burrows will often contain up to 100 entrances and a complex tunnel system.

The foxes breeding season is February to May – they form monogamous pairs who may mate for life – the females will often give birth to up to 10 pups – more at times when food sources are plentiful. The foxes become mature within 10 months.

Small but swift, smart and resourceful – the Arctic Fox continues to thrive among one of the most difficult ecosystems on the planet.


Penguins have long been considered an iconic bird of the snowy ice caps of the world – but these small, flightless birds are only found in the Southern Hemisphere – never in the Arctic north.

There is, however, a small, black and white seabird with a similar build that can be found across the North Atlantic from Canada to Norway and south to Spain. They are the Atlantic Puffins. They stand nearly 10 inches tall and only weigh as much as a can of soda.

Like penguins, Puffins are capable swimmers. But unlike their southern counterparts, Puffins can fly, in fact puffins are capable of flight speeds up to 55mph with their wings flapping as much as 400 times a minute. Atlantic Puffins spend up to eight months on the open ocean, coming ashore only to breed from late April through August.

On land they waddle from side to side but underwater and they are quick and agile swimmers, using their wings for propulsion and their feet as a rudder.

Puffins feed on a variety of small fish including capelin, herring and cod. They often capture several fish during one dive, holding them crosswise in their bill. Backward-pointed spines on the roof of their mouth and tongue help keep the fish in place. Typically they may catch up to 10 fish on a single trip but one bird in Britain was observed with 62 fish in its beak.

While somewhat similar to penguins in appearance, puffins are actually part of the Alcid family which includes other flighted seabirds like murres. Unlike most birds, a puffins bones are not hollow so they are heavier than other birds allowing them to dive down to depths of 200 feet.

In addition to their stark black and white markings, the puffin’s have a light grey face with a multicolored grey, red and yellow bill. This stunning appearance lends them the nickname “sea parrot” by some, but their penguin-like waddle on land, stout bodies and brightly colored facial markings have also earned them the title “clowns of the sea.” The puffin bill will actually glow under UV light.

While much of their lives are spend out a sea, during the summer Atlantic Puffins nest in colonies on small islands covered in short vegetation, typically in the turf soil at the tops of steep, rocky cliffs. Some nests are placed in crevices or beneath boulders.

Breeding pairs – who usually mate for life – share the task of creating and maintaining their nest and they tend to reuse the burrow each year. With large populations of the seabirds coming together to form large nesting colonies. Nonbreeding birds at the colony often form flocks and spend hours flying in wide circular or figure-8 paths over the colony cliffs, a behavior called wheeling flight.

The greatest concentration of puffins in the world is found on the island nation of Iceland. With more than 8 million puffins inhabiting the island during the summer months, Iceland is home to more than of 60% the world’s entire Atlantic puffin population.

The Atlantic puffin is one of 4 puffin species. The others are found in the Northern Pacific ocean from the northern coast of Asia to California.

The Horned Puffin looks similar to the Atlantic Puffin though its bill is mostly yellow with and an orange tip and it lacks the grey coloration. The Horned Puffin receives its name from the horny projections that extend above its eyes.

The Tufted Puffin is the largest puffin and is characterized by long, straw-colored feathers that extend back from its crown during the mating season.

The rhinoceros auklet differs in outward appearance from the other three species of puffin but this brown feathered seabird is anatomically still a puffin. During the breeding season a pale knob projects from its upper beak giving a Rhinoceros horn-like appearance, its purpose is unknown.

Atlantic Puffins are silent at sea but on land males often give a pig-like grunt while flicking their head back to attract a female. In their breeding burrows they make a growling call.

Baby puffins are known as “pufflings.” While the chicks grow rapidly, after about six weeks it is fully developed and capable of caring for itself, they do not breed until they are 3 to 6 years old.

The Atlantic puffin is the official bird of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. The puffin is also the inspiration for the fictional Star Wars creature “the Porgs.”

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: puffin populations still number in the millions across the north Atlantic region but numbers in North America declined drastically in the 1800s and early 1900s. Due to heavy exploitation for eggs, meat, and feathers puffins disappeared entirely from the United States during this time. Thanks to the creation of protected areas and work to relocate young to former nesting islands by Steve Kress of the National Audubon Society, more than 2,000 puffins now breed again in the state of Maine.

Polar Bear

In the long, dark and freezing winters of the Arctic, one nomad may be seen roaming vast distances across the floating sea ice of the Arctic Ocean. This massive creature may travel more than 15 miles in a day in search of prey. Feared and respected by northern cultures for ages – the lord of the Arctic is the Polar Bear.

It’s scientific name, Ursus maritimus – means sea bear, sometimes called the great white bear and to the indigenous Inuit tribes it is Nanuq (na-nook).

The Polar Bear can be found throughout the circumpolar arctic region crossing the boundaries of 5 countries: the United States, Russia, Greenland/Denmark, Norway and Canada (where more than 60% of the world’s polar bear population is found).

The polar bear is the largest land carnivore in the world – males may weigh up to 1300 pounds and when standing on their hind legs they may reach a height of over 10 feet. They are the most carnivorous of all bear species – feeding primarily on seals.

Ringed seals (the most abundant of seals in the Arctic Ocean) and the larger bearded seals are a necessary part of the polar bears diet – providing the bears with the necessary blubber to maintain their own 4 and half inch fat layer – essential for insulation and flotation.

Polar bears rely on sea ice to reach and hunt the aquatic mammals. The bears excellent sense of smell may help them detect seals gathering at ice holes several miles away. The bears will often lay in wait for several hours, even days until a seal emerges for air or to rest on the ice flow – then the bear will use its explosively quick attack to grab its prey.

When ice flows and seals are scarce, polar bears can swim long distances (sometimes as far as 60 miles) to other ice packs or land. They will also feed on other prey such as whale carcass found on shorelines, walrus as well as beluga and narwhal which may become trapped in ice packs – making for an easy hunt. They will also feed on birds, eggs and even vegetation – though none of these other dietary options are available consistently and do not provide the much needed fatty content of the seals.

When hunting is good and a polar bear’s body is in good condition, the bear may eat only the seal’s blubber and skin – leaving the remaining carcass for other animals such as the scavenging arctic fox.

Due to the extreme reliance on the ocean and the ice flows for travel and food the Polar Bear is classified as a marine mammal.

Made for life in the cold, harsh environment of the north – Polar bears have 2 thick layers of waterproof fur – a coarse top layer of long guard hairs and a softer undercoat – which covers their dark black skin. Polar bear fur is actually hollow and transparent – it is the reflection of sunlight through these air-filled hairs that give them the white appearance. The fur prevents almost all heat loss—in fact, adult males can quickly overheat when they run.

Their large paws may be up to 12 inches across, with 2 inch claws that aid not only in hunting but gripping, digging and swimming. The bottoms of their feet have fur to aid in insulation from the cold ice and their paw pads are covered in small bumps (called papillae) that help with traction on smooth, wet surfaces.

Unlike some bear species – Polar Bears do not hibernate – though they will make use of dens during harsh weather and for females preparing for birth. As winter approaches, pregnant females will begin building a maternity den where she will remain until the following spring. Cubs are born typically in December, they remain in the den for nearly five months and live with their mother for up to 3 years. During her entire time in the den—four to eight months—the mother doesn’t eat or drink, she simply provides for her cubs through nursing and grooming. The polar bear has the richest milk of any bear species, it contains 35 percent fat.

As part of international cooperation between governments, researchers and scientists – 19 regional populations of polar bears have been identified and designated. Several of those populations in the more southern areas of the Arctic are currently declining and at risk with the ongoing reduction of sea ice available for the bears, which are vital to the future of their balanced and delicate ecosystem.

Zoological facilities continue to play a very important role in the conservation of one of the planet’s most important and beloved species. They often provide homes for orphaned cubs and by taking part in key research studies that would otherwise be impossible to conduct with wild animals. Through modern, naturalistic habitat designs – polar bears are able to thrive in managed care and serve as ambassadors to educate a future generation of the importance of environmental responsibility.


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

Audobon Society’s Project Puffin
Buffalo Zoo
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Detroit Zoo
Maryland Zoo
Polar Bears
Potter Park Zoo
San Diego Zoo
Stone Zoo

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Hellbender | Beaver | California Condor

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1. Hellbender
2. Beaver
3. California Condor
Credits and Links


The cool, clear, fast-flowing rivers and streams of the Eastern United States are home to a unique species. It is the third largest salamander in the world and it lives almost exclusively in the water – it is known most commonly as the Hellbender.

The hellbender’s flattened body shape and head plus its slimy skin help it move through the fast flowing waters that it needs to survive. Though it possesses lungs, hellbenders take in up to 95% of their oxygen through capillaries in their skin. Hellbenders skin has many folds and wrinkles along the surface, most notably along the sides of the body. These wrinkles create more surface area for the intake of oxygen. Their lungs are used primarily for buoyancy.

The have a strong, thick tail that aids in swimming and propulsion through the water though often they will walk on the river bottom. Their short limbs and webbed feet each have toe pads that help them maintain traction and grip on the slippery surfaces below.

A hellbender spends most of the daytime hours lying concealed beneath large smooth river rocks – it emerges at night to hunt. Exclusively a carnivore, it’s favorite food is crayfish. Hellbenders uses a suction feeding behavior to help uproot crayfish from the muddy river bottom. In addition to crayfish, they are also known to eat insects, small fish and even other, smaller hellbenders.

First discovered in the Allegheny Mountain portion of the Appalachian chain of the eastern United States, hellbenders are sometimes known as the the Allegheny Alligator. Other regional names include “devil dogs”, “lasagna lizards” and “snot otters.” There are two subspecies of the salamander, the Eastern Hellbender and the Ozark Hellbender which is found only in parts of Arkansas and Missouri.

Growing up to 30 inches long and weighing up to 5 pounds, the hellbender is North America’s largest salamander species – only the Japanese and Chinese salamanders are larger: each able to grow to nearly 6 feet long. Typically hellbenders are reach a length between 12 and 15 inches long.

Their skin is usually a yellowish to olive brown color, though sometimes they may be grey or even black. It is covered in a mucus layer that may aid in avoiding or detering prey.

Like snakes, hellbenders possess the Jacobson’s organ in the roof of their mouth that aids in chemical detection and smell. They can detect certain native fish species – both prey and predator.

Like sharks, hellbenders also utilize a lateral line system of sensors along it’s body to detect vibrations from movement in the water around them as well as light detection, and water pressure. They have lidless eyes but relatively poor vision, relying more on smells and movement detection to hunt and evade prey such as small-mouth bass and trout.

Hellbenders live solitary, territorial lives only coming together for breeding season between September and November. Males will select a hollowed out area beneath river rocks for the female to lay up to 500 eggs. Males will guard the nest until the larva hatch. Like many other amphibians, the larva are fully independent upon hatching.

Hellbenders reach maturity between 5 and 8 years old and can live up to 15 years in a healthy, native habitat – some hellbenders in managed care have lived twice as long.

As a primary consumer of crayfish and as a food source for larger fish, the hellbender is vital to a balanced ecosystem among the many streams and rivers of the eastern United States. Their dependence on clean, clear and heavily oxygenated flowing water also make them a key indicator species for the habitats where they exists.

Unfortunately due to pollution and toxins entering many waterways, as well as man-made dams interfering with steady water flow and limiting the animals abilities to reach one another during mating season – the hellbenders numbers are on the decline.

Accredited zoological facilities such as the Buffalo Zoo, Bronx Zoo and the Cincinnati Zoo currently participate in conservation programs to oversee breeding and reintroduction of hellbenders back into their native, fresh water habitats.


Found throughout most of North America except the desert regions of the Southwest – Beavers inhabit ponds, lakes, rivers and streams, marshes and adjacent wetland areas.

North American beavers have stocky bodies with shades of brown to almost black coat of fur and a broad, flat, scaly tail. The stocky body build enables the beaver to conserve heat.

A signature mark of the beaver is its prominent front teeth. These long, visible incisors grow continuously throughout its life and are worn down through daily use. These teeth are self-sharpening and can cut through a branch the size of a person’s finger in a single bite. Without the self-sharpening properties and constant work the incisors can become too long, which can prevent the beaver’s mouth from closing enough for its grinding molars to meet, which could lead to starvation. A beaver’s teeth are orange in color due to the high levels of iron in their enamel. The iron provides for much stronger teeth that are also more resistant to acids and tooth decay.

Beavers are herbivores, eating leaves, woody stems and aquatic plants. Their chief building materials are also their preferred foods: poplar, aspen, willow, birch and maple. Beavers are mainly nocturnal creatures – though with very little light inside their dens, their activities are not always synchronized with normal day and night cycles.

Beavers regularly move between land and water environments. Their small front feet are well adapted to working on land. They walk on five digits, grasp sticks with their front paws and have well-developed digging claws. Their larger hind feet are webbed for swimming and lack fur except on the top surface.

The hind feet also have a preening toe, the second from the inside, with a unique double toenail. Beavers are meticulous groomers. They use the preening toe as a comb to prevent their fine, soft fur from matting to maintain its waterproofing and insulating properties. These flexible toes also remove burrs and parasites.

On land, a beaver’s movements can be rather awkward and slow, making them vulnerable to predators. In the water, however, beavers can swim up to 6 mph. Their large lungs allow them to stay submerged for up to 15 minutes while traveling over half a mile.

Whiskers help detect objects around a beaver’s face and head, which is especially helpful in narrow passageways and dark water. The beaver’s eyes have a thin, transparent membrane, called a nictitating membrane, which aids in visibility and protection underwater – though a beaver’s sight is good only for short distances and at close range. Beavers have external, small and rounded ears with valves that close while submerged – they have a well developed sense of hearing which aids in detecting possible predators such as coyotes, wolverines and bears.

The shape of the beaver’s tail is unique to an individual but similar among related animals – varying from short and broad to long and narrow. It is hairless and covered with black scales. There is a distinct line between the fur covered body and tail with the fur remaining at full length and density right up to this line.

The tail is used as a rudder in swimming, as a balance prop while working on land. The beaver’s tail is also used for communication – they will often slap their tail on the water’s surface to signal danger when threatened. Beavers will also store fat in their tails, eating more in the fall so they can survive off the fat stored in their tails through winter if food is not available.

Beavers are one of the few animals that modify the habitat where they live. Known for building watertight dams of comprised of sticks woven with reeds, branches and saplings, which are then caulked with mud.

These dams reduce stream erosion by forming slow-moving ponds which serve as habitats for a wide range of small aquatic life and also provide water and food for much larger animals. By building dams, beavers create new habitats that can support an incredibly diverse biological community.

Beavers also build dome-like lodges that can rise 6 feet or more and can reach widths more than 35 feet across. Each beaver lodge can have one or more underwater entrances and living quarters are located in the top of the lodge above the water line.

Often built away from the shore, these lodges form islands that can only be entered from underwater. The lodge chamber is insulated by walls sometimes more than a foot thick and ventilated by a small air hole in the roof called a “chimney.” Typically, the floor is covered in wood shavings to absorb excess moisture and provide bedding. Beavers spend the summer and fall building dams and gathering and storing food for the winter.

Beavers are the largest rodents in North America and the second largest in the world (South America’s capybaras being the heaviest). Beavers are 3 to 4 feet in length and weigh between 35 and 65 pounds. According to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo the heaviest beaver on record weighed 110 pounds.

Newborn beavers – called kits – weigh about 1 pound. They take to the water inside the lodge within a half hour after birth. They are skillful swimmers within a week but are too buoyant to dive at this age. They typically stay close to their mother in the lodge for the first few weeks. Often a female beaver will sit upright to nurse.

On land, mothers often carry kits on their broad tails, sometimes even walking erect and holding them in their paws. In the water, kits may rest upon their mother’s back. The young remain with their parents for two years, helping with lodge maintenance and raising the next generation of kits until they are, usually, driven away just before the birth of a new litter.

Beavers form strong family bonds. They are social animals, and each group is made up of one breeding pair – believed to mate for life, the newest born kits and the surviving offspring from the previous year, called yearlings. There may also may be one or more sub-adults, 2 years or older, of either sex from previous breeding seasons. These sub-adults generally do not breed.

In winter, these family groups live together in their lodge and share food from the common supply. Their family life is based on a hierarchy in which adults dominate yearlings and yearlings dominate kits.

North American beavers typically live 10 to 12 years. The oldest on record lived 30 years in human care.

California Condor

Some call it the thunderbird. Seen as a symbol of power by Native American tribes, the greatly respected creature was believed to bring thunder with the beating of it massive wings: the California condor.

Once known as California turkey vultures, California condors are a huge species of vulture with a wingspan of up to nearly 10 feet and weigh around 18 pounds, males are typically larger than females. They are the largest flying land bird in North America and only one of two condor species in the world – the Andean condor of South America being the other.

Adults are mostly black with white, triangular patches on the underside of their wings. Their head is bald and pink or orange in color. Juveniles are brown, the triangle markings on their wings have dark patches and their head is black.

Their wings are designed for soaring rather than flapping flight. By riding air currents they can soar for hours without even beating their wings. They have been observed flying at altitudes of 15,000 feet and at speeds of up to 55 mph! Though they spend more time roosting than flying.

All vultures play a vital role in their ecosystem by eating carrion – the remains of deceased animals – this helps reduce the spread of disease among other animals and people. Like other vultures, California condors are scavengers; they don’t hunt other animals. They’ll eat anything from dead rodents and deer to stranded marine mammals. They’ll will often gorge themselves on 2-3 pounds of food at a time and can even go several days without eating. The condor seems to prefer fresh carcasses.

California condors don’t have a good sense of smell like turkey vultures do, instead they use their excellent eyesight to find a meal.

They have a hooked beak that’s used for tearing meat. While they possess long talons, they have relatively weak feet. Due to their beak shape and talons they were once classified as falcons.

Their featherless head helps prevent the rotting food from sticking to them. After they eat, they’ll rub their head on grass or rocks or bathe in water to clean themselves.

Their bald head may also aid in regulating their body temperature and vultures are known to urinate on their legs to cool down – a process called “urohydrosis”.

These birds don’t have a voice box or vocal cords and can only grunt and hiss.

They may gather in large groups around roosts, feeding and bathing sites.

They are generally monogamous, and may mate for life. However if one mate dies the other will typically find a new mate in a year or two. They start breeding at 6 years of age.

California condor females only lay one egg at a time, but may lay a second as a replacement if the first is lost. The exhibit a very slow reproductive cylce as pairs only average one chick every 2 years. Both parents incubate the egg and take care of the chick.

Incubation lasts nearly two months. The chick will use the sharp point on its beak, called the egg tooth, to pip open the egg shell, but it can take hours or several days to completely hatch. Chicks may fledge as early a 5 months old.

California condors can live up to 60 years. They can live in a wide range of habitats, such as mountainous areas, forests, oak savannas, grasslands and seashores.

The California condor once lived along the pacific coast of North America, from British Colombia to Baja California, though fossils suggest they once lived as far as what is now Florida and New York.

Habitat loss, poaching and lead poisoning are some of the things that lead to the drastic decline of these incredible birds.

California condors nearly went extinct in the 1980’s. Only 22 individuals remained – 20 in the wild and 2 in captivity. Wild eggs were collected and artificially incubated and in 1983, the San Diego Zoo became the first facility in the world to hatch a California Condor in managed care.

In 1987 the last bird was brought into human care. A captive breeding program was started in order to hopefully save the species from extinction.

Some chicks have been hand raised by animal care specialists using a puppet that resembles an adult condor. This minimizes the chance of the chick imprinting on humans.

By the 1992 captive-bred condors were being released into wild. The birds have also been trained to avoid power lines and people. More than 40 wild condors have produced viable offspring.

Though it has been banned, DDT still posses a threat as condors may eat the remains of contaminated marine mammals. And they still face threats like habitat loss, lead poisoning and micro-trash. Lead poisoning is a big problem for condors. Carcasses of animals that have been shot with lead bullets and left behind can be a tempting meal for these scavengers.

The condors may also mistake pieces of plastic, glass or metal as bone fragments which they often gather for their chicks.

Due to the ongoing and exhaustive work of several zoological and avian care facilities, there are now more than 460 California condors in the world with more than half living out in the wild in Southern California, Arizona, Utah and Baja California, Mexico and their numbers are increasing. Key facilities at the forefront of the California condor conservation include the Los Angeles Zoo, Oregon Zoo, Idaho’s Peregrine Fund and the San Diego Zoo.

The thunderbird is once again soaring high over North America as another success story – highlighting the importance of supporting your local zoo and their research and conservation programs.


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

Buffalo Zoo
Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden
Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium
Oregon Zoo
The Peregrine Fund
San Diego Zoo & Safari Park
Smithsonian’s National Zoo

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

American Bison | Pronghorn | Black-footed Ferret

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1. American Bison
2. Pronghorn
3. Black-footed Ferret
Credits and Links

American Bison

Great herds of bison once roamed the the North American plains between the Appalachian Mountains on the east and the Rockies on the west. It is estimated that around 30 million of the continent’s largest land animal roamed the region when European settlers first arrived. Herds of bison so large that it appeared there were endless resources of these huge, grazing creatures.

In the 1800’s, the Westward Expansion began across America permanently changing the North American plains. With settlers moving west came farming and plowing, domesticated cattle, the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad and guns.

By the late 1800’s, the American bison had nearly gone extinct. A purposeful effort to clear the land of these giants had begun – for their hides which Germany had perfected the process of turning into fine leather, the skulls were used for fertilizer across the ever-growing number of farms, to make way for domesticated cattle grazing, and because the local Native American tribes relied heavily on the bison for their livelihood – it was a way to drive out and conquer these indigenous people by denying them of this vital resource.

It was estimated fewer than 1,000 bison remained on the American plains by the end of the 1800’s. But the story of the bison did not end there. Due to the efforts of a few conservationists like William Temple Hornaday of the Smithsonian Institute, zoos such a New York’s Bronx Zoo, and the establishment of wildlife preserves – including the first national preserve for bison founded in Oklahoma in 1907 – bison were saved from extinction.

Bison can stand up to 6 feet tall from hoof to shoulder and weigh up to 2000 pounds – they are the largest native terrestrial animal in the Western Hemisphere. They have dark brown shaggy hair with a coarse water-resistant guard hair overcoat and a thick under fur so effective at insulating the animal that snow often won’t melt on their backs. The front of their head is covered in a shaggy mane and beard, even on females.

American bison are ungulates means “being hoofed” or “hoofed mammal.” Other wildlife ungulates include zebra, gazelle, and giraffe. Bison are grazers, they feed primarily on grasses and possess a ruminant digestive system with a four-chambered stomach. Like cows, they eat grass, regurgitate it then re-chew it (known as “chewing the cud.”) Adult bison consume more than 30 pounds of grass in a day.

They are true nomads, roaming an average of 2 miles daily while grazing. Bison once traveled as far as 200 miles in a season. Female bison and calves roam together in larger herds while bulls tend to roam either alone or with just a few other males. Herds interact by grunting and a bull’s bellow can be heard up to 3 miles away.

Despite their large size, bison are quite agile. They can run a speed of up to 35 mph, leap vertically up to 6 feet and they are powerful swimmers – able to cross rivers at least half a mile wide.

When fighting, males will run towards each other and clash heads. Strong head-to-head impacts are made less damaging to the brain by a system of bone struts which divide the inner and outer walls of the skull as well as thick matting of hair that acts as a cushion.

Their notable shoulder hump is primarily muscle, which allows them to use their heads to plow through snow during winter seasons.

Bison often display a behavior called “wallowing” where they will roll on the ground, usually in dry, dusty grassy areas. They wallow as a way to dust themselves in order to keep insects away. It also assists in removing old fur during the spring molt. Urinating in wallows is used by bulls for scent-marking. The depressions left in the soil often collect rainwater and serve as watering holes for smaller animals.

During the summer mating season, known as rut – bulls reunite with herds of cows. Multiple herds will often come together forming large, impressive gatherings. After mating, gestation lasts 285 days and calves will nurse 7 to 9 months, becoming independent at around 1 year of age. Both sexes become sexually mature between 2 and 4 years of age. Physical maturity is reached at 3 years old for females and 6 years old for males.

The are two species of bison, the European and American bison. Both are very similar genetically as well as appearance and size. The American bison contains two subspecies – the Wood bison of the northern range and the Plains bison in the south.

Bison are often mistakenly been referred to as buffalo. However, buffalo are bovines native to Africa and Southeast Asia. Bison possess their signature hump, large head and smaller horns. Buffalo resemble domestic cattle in build, have longer more curved horns and lack the thick fur and beard of a bison.

The American bison was declared the national mammal of the United States in 2016 (the state of Oklahoma named bison the state mammal in 1972) – the first Saturday in November is designated as National Bison Day.

Due to the efforts of many zoological facilities, national parks, preserves and private ranches, bison has returned from the edge of extinction. American Indian nations also have a leading role in the recovery of American bison. Some tribes own land on which bison are protected, and members of those nations help to manage the herds. Through these collaborative efforts, bison herds are once again becoming a fixture on the American landscape.


The second fastest land animal in the world is found exclusively in North America. This deer-like animal has a tan body with a white belly, throat and rump patches. Standing 3 feet at the shoulder and weighing up to 150 pounds, the pronghorn is an American original.

Pronghorn are sometimes referred to as American Antelope however despite their similar appearance – the pronghorn are not related to the antelope common to Africa but comprise their own species and genus classification. There are 5 subspecies of pronghorn, but typically three are recognized as unique.

Their common name is derived from the front facing prongs found on their horns. These “horns” of the pronghorn help make it unique: they are a cross between horns and antlers, with qualities of both.

True antlers are made of bone and shed each year while true horns are made of keratin that grows from a bony core and are never shed. The horns adorning the pronghorn are neither true horns nor true antlers. Instead, the sheath is made of keratin but the horns shed yearly.

Pronghorn are the only animals in the world that have forked horns that shed each year. Both male and females possess horns, males may grow up to 20 inches long while the females are typically much smaller and sometimes underdeveloped.

Pronghorn are found in open prairie and desert habitats in western North America. They spend most of their time eating and resting with their herd. As ruminants with a four-chambered stomach they chew their cud while at rest. Easily startled or distracted, pronghorn rarely sleep for more than 10 minutes at a time.

Pronghorn have large eyes, which give them the ability to see long distances. They also possess enlarged hearts and lungs which give them the ability to process large amounts of oxygen, this ability aids them in generating the energy needed to reach their high running speeds.

The second fastest land animal in the world, the pronghorn can reach speeds up to 60 mph (nearly as fast as the cheetah) and in fact the pronghorn can maintain very high speeds for extended periods of time. They have been known to maintain speeds near 35 mph for several miles. Despite their quick speeds, pronghorns do not have the ability to jump thought they have been known to crawl under barriers such as fences.

The pronghorn’s body hairs are hollow and lie flat to help insulate against the cold winter weather or can be lifted to let air circulate and help cool them during the hotter summer months on the open plains – pronghorns typically avoid areas with trees.

Their diet consists mainly of non-woody flowering plants, known as forbs as well as grasses, cacti and brush. Pronghorn are one of the few large herbivores that can eat sagebrush. They will drink water when available but can go several weeks without a steady water source, acquiring most of their moisture from the plants they consume.

Though found in smaller groups during the summer, pronghorn are usually found in large herds of up to 1,000 animals in the winter months. During the breeding season in September and October a single male will gather several females into a harem. Rival males will often fight using their large horns and the more dominant males will have the better territories for food which may entice other females to join him.

It is common for females to give birth to twins in the spring after an 8 months gestation period. Newborn pronghorn are able to outrun humans at 4 days old and within a week can outrun a horse. Typically the mother keeps the young hidden from predators among the taller prairie grass.

Early pioneers of the the American West claimed that pronghorn were seen as far as the eye could see, with numbers rivaling – perhaps exceeding – that of the much larger American Bison.

They provided food and hides for Native Americans for many years and as settlers moved across America the pronghorns (like the bison) were over-hunted for meat. In addition, they lost their habitat and food sources to the encroaching human population and by the early 1920’s there were reported to be as few as 13,000 animals left.

Today many pronghorn populations have recovered due to efforts of conservationists, zoological facilities and federal laws that protect them. However one subspecies – known as the peninsular pronghorn is at critical risk. Only 150 peninsular pronghorn remain in Baja California, Mexico. Illegal hunting, cattle ranching (along with livestock fences) and habitat loss have led to the rapid decline of this subspecies.

Currently the Los Angeles Zoo is home to an assurance herd of pronghorn. These animals are maintained and bred in case a natural disaster or disease wipes out the herds in the wild.

Black-footed Ferret

Though they were once found in the thousands across the western plains of the United States, today the black-footed ferret is one of North America’s most endangered species. In fact, North America’s only native ferret species was believed to be extinct until a very small population was discovered in 1981.

The remaining 18 animals were captured in the mid-80s to establish a breeding center in Wyoming. In 1988, the National Zoo in Washington D.C. was the first to receive offspring from those 18 and breed black-footed ferrets outside of Wyoming – thus began another comeback story from the American West.

Black-footed ferrets will eat squirrels, mice, and other rodents, however prairie dogs are essential to their survival, making up the majority of their diet. The ferrets will hunt the prairie dogs in their own burrows, and take shelter in abandoned prairie dog dwellings.

As pioneers began to settle the American plains during the Westward expansion, prairie dog populations underwent a huge decline. Farmers and ranchers (with government assistance) eliminated many prairie dogs because their underground complexes were destructive to fields and sometimes dangerous to cattle. In the process, the black-footed ferret was nearly wiped out.

Not the be mistaken with the domestic ferrets commonly seen in pet stores which are descendants of the European polecat, North America’s exclusive black-footed ferret is slightly smaller with yellowish brown or buff colored fur, lighter underparts and black markings on it’s legs, tail tip and mask-like markings around the eyes. They weigh between 1 and half to 2 and half pounds and measure up to 2 feet long.

Ferrets are members of Mustelidae – the largest family in the order Carnivora. This family also includes animals like weasels, minks, martens, otters, badgers and wolverines.

Black-footed ferrets are nocturnal and are solitary except during breeding. They usually only spend a few minutes each day above ground to move to new burrows, hunt or find a mate. But most of their time is spent in prairie dog burrows. They sleep, hunt, eat, give birth and escape from predators or harsh weather conditions in burrows. Young ferrets are quite playful, and can sometimes be seen “dancing” above ground.

Black-footed ferrets, like other mustelids, have a high metabolism and require a relatively large amount of food. A ferret may eat one prairie dog every three days and may eat up to 100 prairie dogs a year. They’ll also eat other rodents, rabbits as well as birds, reptiles and insects.

In the 1970’s, an effort to conserve the ferrets ended in heartbreak as captive breeding efforts were unsuccessful and the black-footed ferret was feared to be lost.

Remarkably, in 1981 in Meeteetse (ma-teet-see) Wyoming, a ranch dog named Shep brought home a small animal that was identified as a black-footed ferret. Biologist discovered small colonies of black-footed ferrets after surveying the area. By observing and studying the ferrets, they gained vital information for the management and husbandry of these highly endangered mammals.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service in partnership with several AZA-accredited facilities including the Smithsonian’s National Zoo Conservation Biology Institute works to reintroduce the ferrets into their native habitats. This involves a process called “preconditioning” which helps familiarize the animals with underground tunnels and hunting techniques to increase the chance that they will survive in the wild.

The biggest threat to black-footed ferrets is lack of suitable habitat and the continued decline of the prairie dog, their main prey. Diseases such as canine distemper and sylvatic plaque (which is spread by fleas) also pose major threats to their ongoing survival.

Dan Ashe, President and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums says “The black-footed ferret is an iconic conservation story, used to train and inspire the next generation of wildlife biologists [and] there is always cause for hope, even in the face of the daunting challenges that our planet faces.”


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

Black-footed Ferret Connection
Bronx Zoo
Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
Elmwood Park Zoo
Minnesota Zoo
National Park Services – Yellowstone
National Park Services – Bison Bellows blog series
The Nature Conservancy
Oklahoma City Zoo
Phoenix Zoo
San Diego Zoo
Smithsonian’s National Zoo

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Spiders| Bats | Snow Leopard

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | iHeartRadio | Podbean | RadioPublic | more

1. Spiders
2. Bats
3. Snow Leopard
Credits and Links


Lurking in the dark crevices of trees, rocks and even your own home. With over 43,000 known species you’re never far from a spider.

One of the world’s most feared, misunderstood and maligned creatures, these eight-legged invertebrates are not insects. Spiders are arachnids, a class of arthropods that also includes scorpions, mites, and ticks. Spiders are found in habitats all over the world, including some found north of the Arctic circle.

Many spiders have eight eyes, though some have only six. Despite these extra eyes however, they are considered to have relatively poor eyesight.

Many hunting spiders possess dense hair tufts called scopulae under the claws of their feet. Each individual scopula hair splits into thousands of tiny extensions known as end feet. These end feet increase the number of contact points with the surface, creating great adhesion and allow the spiders to walk on smooth vertical surfaces, across ceilings and even window panes. .

Most species are carnivorous, feeding mostly on insects that they catch in their webs, or simply by hunting them down. In order to consume their prey, spiders inject their prey with digestive fluids and then suck out the liquefied remains.

Though not all spiders build webs, every species produces silk. They use the strong, flexible protein fiber for many different purposes: climbing, hanging or tethering themselves, to create egg sacs, to wrap up prey, and to make nests. Spider silk is the strongest known natural fiber and for its size is often considered stronger than steel.

Though all spiders have venom which they use to paralyze their prey, typically small insects – only a handful are dangerous to humans. The recluse and widow spider species are some of the most common types that people may encounter whose bite can result in serious, painful symptoms.

The black widow spider is a small black creature with a distinguishing red hour-glass mark on it’s abdomen. Black widows are comb-footed spiders, which means they have bristles on their hind legs that they use to cover their prey with silk once it has been trapped. It is often believed that females will kill and eat their male counterparts after mating – a behavior that gave them their common name, however studies have shown that this is not a common behavior. Bites from black widows are rarely fatal to humans but can be extra dangerous to children and the elderly,

The brown recluse spider is about the size of a quarter and is well known for its “secretive” (or reclusive) behaviors, as it prefers to live in warm, dry and dark environments, such as woodpiles, basements and closets. Bites are usually a defense when they are startled or feel trapped. The brown recluse hunts at night and does not employ a web to capture food.

The funnel-web spiders of Australia are among the most venomous species in the world. These glossy black spiders have backward facing fangs that can penetrate through a fingernail. Their venom is capable of killing a human though due to the availability of antivenom, no deaths have been reported since 1981. Cats and dogs have the ability to neutralize the venom in their body within an hour and chickens are often used to control web spider populations.

Other deadly species include the Brazilian wandering spider, but encounters with people are rare as this species is only found deep in the rain forest. Other spiders from Mexico and Central America resemble the wandering spider and are often found in banana shipments, though most of the look-a-likes are harmless to humans.

Many spiders are known for their web spinning abilities such as the orb weavers. Their large, intricate spiraling webs are often seen in gardens and fields and can reach a diameter of three feet. Bites from most orb weavers are considered similar to a bee sting.

Jumping spiders are able to jump up to 50 times their own length. It is thought that increased blood pressure in the hind legs allows for this super leaping ability. Though most spiders have poor vision, jumping spiders have very good eyesight and are believed to see in numerous spectrum of light including ultraviolet.

The golden silk spider is often considered to have one of the strongest webs of any species. In the South Pacific, fishermen have been known to combine several webs of certain silk spider species to make fishing nets.

Rather than relying on a web, wolf spiders are skilled hunters, chasing and pouncing on their insect prey. the Carolina wolf spider is the largest of the wolf spiders in North America with a length of nearly an inch and half.

Tarantulas are one of the largest and most recognizable species of spiders. The enormous Goliath bird-eating tarantula is considered to be the largest tarantula species with a leg-span up to a foot across. It produces a hissing sound by rubbing bristles on its legs, a sound that can be heard up to 15 feet away. Despite their name, they do not commonly eat birds but they will prey on small rodents.

The large and colorful Chilean rose hair tarantula is popular with pet owners. It is among the most commonly imported type of tarantula today. Some Chilean rose hair tarantulas have red hairs all over their body, while others have a tan body with pink “hairs.” Like all New World tarantula species, these spiders can flick their hairs off their abdomens, causing an irritating reaction in an attacker.

A fear of spiders, known as arachnophobia, is one of the most common fears in the world. However, spiders provide a huge benefit to humans. Researchers are studying various species’ venom for possible medical uses and spiders play an important role in their ecosystem by providing pest control that could otherwise be devastating to our food supply.


As night begins to settle in, hundreds or even thousands of dark flying creatures emerge from caves, trees and even from the eaves of neighborhood homes. Their quick-flapping wings create a familiar profile against the late evening sky. They are not birds, they are bats.

There are more than 1,300 known species of bats. They make up 20 percent of the world’s known mammals, are found on every continent except Antarctica and are the only mammals that can fly.

Although they are in their own order and often thought of as flying rodents, bats are actually more closely related to antelopes, rhinos, and pangolins.

Bats are in the mammal order Chiroptera (Kai-ROP-ter-uh) which is Latin for ‘hand wing’. Their specialized wings give bats an acrobatic flight capacity. They are comprised of four fingers covered with an elastic skin membrane stretched between each one.

Just like all mammals, bats are warm-blooded, have fur, give birth to live young and nurse their babies (also known as pups).

Bats play an important role in many environments around the world. Some plants depend partly or wholly on bats to pollinate their flowers or spread their seeds, while other bats also help control pests by eating insects. Bats are also key indicators of the health of the environment. They have very few natural enemies and a decline in their population may indicate problems and in-balance in the ecosystem.

Over 500 plant species rely on bats to pollinate their flowers, including species of mango, banana, guava and agave.

Plants pollinated by bats often have pale nocturnal flowers – in contrast, bees are mostly attracted to bright, daytime flowers. These flowers are often large and bell shaped, and many bats, such as the banana bat of Mexico have very long tongues that allow them to reach the nectar. Found in Ecuador, the tube-lipped nectar bat’s tongue is more than one and a half times the length of it’s body.

The baobab tree, sometimes called the “African Tree of Life” is considered critical to the survival of many wild species that inhabit the African savanna. Yet this giant tree is almost completely dependent on bats for pollination.

Like birds, some bats play a critical role in spreading the seeds of trees and other plants. Some tropical fruit bats carry seeds inside them as they digest the fruit, then excrete the seeds far away from the original tree. These seeds drop to the ground in their own ready-made highly effective fertilizer, which helps them germinate and grow. Bat excrement is often called guano.

The majority of the world’s bats eat insects. These bats are helpful in keeping bugs away from crops, this can also reduce the need for pesticide sprays. The Brazilian free-tailed bat has been recognized as an important “pest management service” in cotton farming. Many bats will also consume large amounts of mosquitoes each night – a benefit to people and other animals.

While a bat’s eyesight is similar to that of most other mammals, it doesn’t help much when hunting small insects in the dark of night. Instead, bats use sound waves beyond the range of human hearing to find their prey – a process called echolocation.

Echolocation helps them avoid collisions and locate their targets by emitting a click sound that will bounce off an object and return to the bat’s ears. The flaps and folds near their ears and face may help the bat tell the return echo from the original sound.

The closer the object, the faster the click echoes back. As an insect is detected, the clicking rate will reach speeds of up to 200 clicks-per-second. Upon contact, bats will either snatch the insect with their feet or gulp it directly down its mouth.

There are three vampire bat species that feed on blood – only one targets mammals such as cattle. All vampire bats species are found exclusively in Latin America. The vampire bats will make a small bite, usually while its animal prey is sleeping and then lap it up a small portion of the free flowing blood, many times the victim never knows. A powerful anticoagulant found in vampire saliva, which the bats use to keep blood from clotting, has been developed into a medication called Draculin – that can help prevent strokes in humans.

The largest bat is the Malayan Flying Fox with a wingspan of 6 feet and a weight of 5 pounds.

The smallest bat is known as the Bumblebee Bat. Found only in parts of Burma and Thailand, this tiny creature has a wingspan of 2.5 inches, weighs less than a penny and can sit on a person’s finger.

The Spectacled Flying Fox lives in rain forests, mangroves and swamps of Australia, Papa New Guinea and Indonesia. They have the greatest tolerance to temperature variance in any mammal ranging from 32 to 104°F
with almost no changes in metabolic rate.

While most bats are nocturnal – the Samoan flying fox is one of the only bat species known to forage almost exclusively during the day.

Bull dog bats are one of only a few bat species that are piscivorous, or fish-eating.

The Brazilian free-tailed bat can reach a horizontal flying speed of up to 100 mph, making them the fastest mammal on earth and even faster than most birds.

Bats live in a variety of habitats including trees, leaves, caves, mines, bat houses, man-made structures, and even termite nests. They are a communal species who will often share space with others, even different bat species – a group of bats is called a colony.

The largest known bat colony in the world is located at Bracken Cave Preserve outside of San Antonio, Texas and the largest urban bat colony can be found at the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas.

Many people have often feared bats even believing that all bats carry and spread rabies. However this is not true. Like other mammals, bats can become infected but will usually die in a few days. However, a bat that can be easily approached by humans is likely to be sick and may bite if handled. You should never attempt to pick up or handle a bat.

Bats are essential to the world’s many ecosystems. Considered a “keystone species” in many places around the world, the often misunderstood, and sometimes feared, bat is vital not only to plants but even other wildlife species.

Snow Leopard

Prowling the snow covered mountains of Central Asia is a seldom seen creature, said to be a ghost of the mountain. This solitary animal is extremely elusive and rarely spotted in their native habitat.

With grey-white fur and its blurred dark spots and rosettes – the snow leopard is perfectly camouflaged in the barren, rocky mountains where it hunts. Equipped with large paws that acts as huge snow-shoes the ghost cat treks through the frozen ground in search of prey.

Snow leopards are typically nomadic, and constantly move throughout their home ranges. These cats are not as aggressively territorial as other species, but males still tend to have exclusive home ranges while overlapping with females in the same region.

Standing at 2 feet tall and over 4 feet long, the snow leopard is a powerful cat that lives at high elevations and often travel along ridge lines and cliff bases. With short front limbs and larger rear legs they can leap up to 30 feet from one cliff side to another. With a tail nearly as long as their body, it aids in balance as they move across the rocky terrain and they can leap vertically up to 20 feet in a single bound.

Made for life in a cold, often hostile environment – the snow leopard’s five-inch thick coat affords great protection from the cold. while their long bushy tail is often wrapped over the face when resting – acting like a scarf.

Mating season for snow leopards is between January and mid-March. During this time, a male and a female will travel together for a few days. The female is typically pregnant for about 100 days before giving birth in June or July.

Cubs are small and helpless when they are born, and do not open their eyes until they are about 7 days old. They can eat solids foods around 2 months old and at 3 months of age, they begin following their mother and start to learn important behavior like hunting.

Young snow leopards become independent and leave their mothers around two years old. Females are believed to be sexually mature by 3 years old, males reach maturity round 4 years of age. In the wild, snow leopards are believed to live up to 14 years.

A top predator in their habitat, snow leopards feed primarily on blue sheep and ibex as well as other hoofed mammals, hares, rodents and birds. They often eat slowly, remaining near the kill site for several days consuming their prey while defending it against scavengers.

In some regions, snow leopards will hunt domestic livestock causing conflict with humans. In addition, poaching for their valuable fur is another threat to their survival in the wild. Currently the snow leopard is listed as endangered.

Several North American accredited zoos participate in the AZA’s Species Survival Plan to maintain a genetically diverse population of leopards in managed care. These facilities include the Tulsa Zoo, the Cincinnati Zoo and the Oklahoma City Zoo.

It has been said that you can actually stare right at the snow leopard and not even see it as it effectively disappears into its surroundings. With it’s elusive nature and excellent camouflage earning it the perfect title: the ghost cat.


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

Bat Conservation International
Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Lubee Bat Conservancy
Memphis Zoo
National Geographic
Oklahoma City Zoo
Saint Louis Zoo
San Diego Zoo
Tulsa Zoo

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Bonobo | Sandhill Crane | Right Whale

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | iHeartRadio | Podbean | RadioPublic | more

1. Bonobo
2. Sand Hill Crane
3. Right Whale
Credits and Links


Along the western equatorial region of Africa is one of the most diverse and important wilderness areas left in the world. Larger than the state of Alaska, the 500 million acres of the Congo River Basin is home to more than 10,000 species of tropical plants, 1000 species of birds, 700 species of fish and 400 species of mammals.

Primates make up many of the native animals, the largest of these are the great apes, including the gorillas and chimpanzees which can also be found among several other regions of the continent. But one species can be found in one specific region of one country in the Congo.

They have the smallest habitat distribution of all the great apes, they are called – the bonobos. Bonobos live south of the Congo River and are found only within the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In 1929, bonobos became the last of the great ape species to be discovered. Originally they were considered a subspecies of chimpanzee but later were reclassified as a separate species. Modern research has even proposed that bonobos and chimpanzees should each be classified in a separate genus.

They are often called “pygmy chimpanzees,” but this name is not truly accurate since bonobos are roughly the same size as chimpanzee but only differ slightly in some proportions. The name bonobo may be a mispronunciation of Bolobo, a local town near the region where they were first discovered.

Compared to chimpanzees, bonobos have shorter upper limbs and longer lower limbs which allows them to walk with a more upright posture. When moving on the ground bonobos may move on all fours in a position called knuckle-walking.

Other physical characteristics bonobos possess that are different from chimpanzees include a more rounded head with less jaw protusion, a more slender build and narrower chest and slightly smaller ears that are often covered in cheek whiskers. A chimpanzee’s ears are usually more pronounced and stick out from the side of the head.

A bonobo’s face is darker black with lips that are lighter in color, often seen as red or pink compared to the brown lips of the chimpanzee whose face also lightens with age. The nostrils of the bonobo are said to be “thick-walled” and more gorilla-like in shape.

The black body hair of the bonobo is long and fine, the hair on top of the head is parted down the middle and their side-whiskers are long and thick.
Many adult bonobos retain the white rump tuft of hair that is common to infants.

Bonobos eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, leaves, and seeds. They have also been observed hunting and eating meat, including infant duikers – a small antelope – and flying squirrels. They will also spend much of their time in the tree canopy of the forest. Unlike many other primates, bonobos will often wade into shallow streams while traveling and gather algae and aquatic vegetation for food.

The social behavior of the bonobos is quite distinct from chimpanzees. Although they will kill and eat small animals, they do not wage war on neighboring groups or kill the young of rival troops like chimpanzees.

Hand and foot gestures appear to play major role in bonobo communication. Some gestures are tactile in nature – involving gentle touching and patting – and is more commonly seen among bonobos than chimpanzees.

Uncommon among many primates, the bonobo social structure is female dominated. Most females can dominate males even though they are physically smaller. Adolescent females will leave their maternal group to find or form a new group, while males stay with their mothers – a rare behavior in the animal kingdom. Male social status is tied to their mother’s rank and they will typically remain with them through their life.

Bonobos are extremely playful. Adult females often engage in social play, which is unusual for primates. Adult bonobos also seem to have no age preference in this playful activity while with other primates adults generally only engage playfully with juveniles. Some researchers believe adult play may have a role in reducing tensions between individuals or in social assessment.

Bonobos are the most vocal of the great apes, making up to 14 types of vocalizations. They are also known to make laughing sounds during play activity.

Wild bonobo populations are listed as endangered and are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss, the bushmeat trade, and the pet trade. Years of civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the only country that bonobos are native to, have made it impossible to thoroughly study the bonobos in their native habitat. There may be less than 5,000 bonobos remaining in the wild.

Located in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the only bonobo sanctuary in the world – the Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary, founded by Claudine Andre in 2002.

The Milwaukee County Zoo is currently home to the largest group of bonobos in North America.. They may also be seen at accredited facilities in Cincinnati, Columbus, Ft. Worth, Jacksonville, Memphis, and San Diego.

The bonobo population in zoological facilities is managed internationally and every few years bonobo experts from around the world meet to discuss bonobo transfers, breeding, husbandry, and conservation. International cooperation on the managed care of bonobos is important for maintaining genetic diversity and the continued survival of these gentle, peaceful apes of the Congo.

Sand Hill Crane

With a unique, loud trumpeting call that can be heard from miles away, the slender and tall Sandhill crane is sometimes found in huge numbers filling the skies overhead.

Found in several scattered areas of North America, Sandhill Cranes gather among the Sandhills on the Platte River in Nebraska in early spring. The migration along the Great Plains is said to be among the greatest wildlife spectacles on the North American continent, with over a quarter of a million birds present within a 75 mile stretch of land at one time.

Sandhill cranes are large birds that live in open habitats such as small bogs, marshes, and prairies across northern North America and the southeastern United States.

About the size of a heron, the cranes are nearly 4 feet in length. They are slate gray in color with rust-colored patches along their backs. The possess a long slender neck and a distinguishing red patch of skin on the crown of their head.

Sitting upon long black legs, their bulky body ends with drooping feathers that cover their short tail in a form known as a “bustle.”

When in flight, Sandhill cranes extend their long necks straight out – different from the tucked in style of herons. Their broad wingspan of six feet creates a stunning profile as they soar, often high in the sky.

Sandhill Cranes breed and forage in open prairies, grasslands, and wetlands. Outside of the breeding season, they are often found in deeper water where they are typically safe from predators, though foraging birds in the southeast United States are sometimes preyed upon by large alligators.

They will defend themselves against predators such as wolves and coyotes by spreading their wings, hissing and if necessary kick at the attacker.

The cranes are omnivorous, though their diet varies widely with location and season. They primarily feed on insects and the roots of aquatic plants. They may also eat small reptiles and cultivated grains where available.

Although some start breeding at two years of age, Sandhill Cranes may reach the age of seven before breeding.

Sandhill Cranes mate for life. Part of their mating rituals include elaborate dancing displays during which they choose their partners. Displaying birds stretch their wings, pump their heads, bow, and leap into the air. During mating, pairs vocalize in a behavior known as “unison calling.”

The breeding pair both work to build a nest made of plant material often in shallow water or on dry ground close to the water’s edge. The incubation of the eggs lasts about 30 days and young are hatched fully developed with open eyes.

Although each female usually lays two eggs, only one of the nestlings typically survives to fledging. The chicks can leave the nest within 8 hours of hatching. Young Sandhill cranes have the ability to swim from birth and will follow parents into the wetlands. Both parents feed the young at first, but young gradually learn to feed themselves.

The juveniles are able to fly between 60 and 70 days of age but will remain with parents for 9-10 months, accompanying them in migration.

Known for the large flocks and sometimes long distances they travel during migration across North America, some populations do not migrate at all including those in Cuba, Mississippi and Florida.

The “Florida” cranes can often be seen along highways or foraging the front lawns of many neighborhoods in the early morning hours.

Sandhill cranes are numerous and their populations have been seen to increase over recent years according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. They are the most abundant crane worldwide, however, some populations across the U.S., including the Mississippi Sandhill Crane is endangered, largely from conversion of their wet pine savanna habitat into pine plantations.

The oldest Sandhill Crane on record was at least 36 years old. Originally banded in Wyoming in 1973, it was found in New Mexico in 2010.

Right Whale

One of the world’s most endangered large whale species is the Northern Right Whale. About 400 North Atlantic right whales remain and fewer than 100 North Pacific right whales are known to exist. A third species – the Southern Right Whale – is found throughout parts of the Southern Ocean.

Due to the popular and lucrative whaling industries of the 1700 and 1800s, by the early 1890s, commercial whalers had hunted right whales in the Atlantic to the brink of extinction.

The giant animals received their common name from whalers, which considered them the “right” whale to hunt because they would often swim rather close to shore, produce a large amount of oil when harvested and due to their thick blubber, the whale’s carcass would float when killed, making it much easier process out at sea.

Adult right whales typically grow up to 50 feet in length and can weigh up to 70 tons. They have an extremely large head that is about 1/4 of their body length. A right whale’s lower jaw is strongly curved in order to house their long baleen which may grow up to 8 ft in length.

North Atlantic right whales have a stocky black body, with no dorsal fin. Their tail is black, broad, and deeply notched. The underside may be all black or have irregular-shaped white patches on the skin. Their pectoral flippers are relatively short and paddle-shaped.

Right whales are baleen whales, so they filter their food by straining huge volumes of ocean water through their baleen plates, trapping zooplankton, shrimp-like krill and small fish. Unlike some other baleen whales, right whales are skimmer-feeders. They feed while moving with their mouth open through patches of zooplankton.

Their most recognizable feature is the raised patches of rough skin, called callosities (kuh-LAH-suh-tees), located on their heads. These large callosities often appear white due to huge numbers of whale lice that are attracted to the algae that grows on the whales skin. Despite the name, whale lice are not actually lice, but are small skeleton shrimp crustaceans that cause very little damage to the whales skin.

Each right whale has a unique pattern of callosities. Scientists are able to use these patterns to identify individual whales, a photo-identification database is maintained by the New England Aquarium. This record of photos acquired over many years serves as a valuable tool in tracking and recording the yearly populations of the North Atlantic Right Whales.

Another feature of the right whale species is the blow hole. The exterior of the blow hole has a well-pronounced division, resulting in a distinguishing V-shaped exhaust of condensation and water vapor.

North Atlantic right whales primarily live in coastal waters or close to the continental shelf, although they may swim out to deep waters on occasion.

The North Atlantic right whales spend most of the summer off the coast of New England and Canada while each Fall, they may travel more than 1,000 miles from their feeding grounds to the warm coastal waters of South Carolina, Georgia, and northeastern Florida. These shallow, southern coastal waters are the only known calving grounds of the Northern Atlantic Right Whales.

Females do not become sexually mature until they are around 10 years old. They give birth to a single calf after a year-long pregnancy. Females give birth around every three to five years though some have now been recorded taking as long as nine years between calves. Calves are usually weaned toward the end of their first year.

Migration patterns of the North Pacific right whale are unknown, although it is thought the whales spend the summer in far northern feeding grounds of the Bering Sea and migrate south to warmer waters, such as southern California, during the winter. Calving grounds have not been found in the eastern North Pacific waters.

Southern right whales found in the Southern Ocean are classified as “endangered” under U.S. law, but are considered a species of “least concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species while North Atlantic and North Pacific right whales are both listed as “endangered”.

Right whales produce a variety of low frequency sounds, and the sounds between the three species are considered to be similar. One typical right whale vocalization used to communicate with other right whales is known as the “up call”. They appear to function as signals that bring whales together.

Right whales also use a variety of calls when socializing in a group at the surface. The most common call recorded is the “scream call.” This call is believed to be produced by the dominant female in the group. Male North Atlantic right whales produce brief, intense, gunshot-like sounds.

It has generally been believed that Right Whales do not “sing” like the humpback and other whale species – but a recent study published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America has noted that the extremely rare North Pacific right whale appears to use its gunshot calls in a repeating pattern.

A research team with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration analyzed 17-years’-worth of data and documented four distinct right whale song types at five different locations.

Right whales are believed live at least 70 years, but there is little data available on their average lifespan. Ear wax can be used to estimate age in right whales after they have died. There are indications that some species closely related to right whales may live more than 100 years.

All species of right whales have enjoyed complete international protection since 1949 though Russia and some other Asian countries were still illegally hunting them even into the 1990s.

Whaling is no longer a threat, but human interactions still present the greatest danger to this species. The biggest known causes of death for North Atlantic right whales are entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes.

Entanglement in fishing lines attached to gill nets and traps on the ocean floor as well as floating lines between traps are particularly dangerous, since they can form loops that a whale can be caught in. Becoming entangled in fishing gear can severely stress and injure a whale, and lead to a painful death. Reports suggest that over 85 percent of right whales have entanglement scars.

Vessel strikes are a major threat to North Atlantic right whales. Their habitat and migration routes are close to major ports along the Atlantic seaboard and often overlap with shipping lanes, making the whales vulnerable to collisions with ships.

Underwater noise pollution is another threat to their well-being. It is believed to interrupt the normal behavior of right whales by interfering with their communication.

Once considered the “right” whale to hunt – a name based on their value as a dead animal than a living species, with fewer than 500 believed to be in Atlantic waters and perhaps fewer than 100 in the Pacific, today may be the “right” time to prevent the Right Whale’s extinction.


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

National Audubon Society
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
Milwaukee County Zoo
New England Aquarium
NOAA Fisheries
San Diego Zoo Global
Smithsonian Ocean Portal

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit: