Tanuki | Black-breasted Leaf Turtle | Giant Panda

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black-breasted Leaf Turtle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giant Panda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Moray Eels | Man O’ War | Great White Shark

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

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

Moray Eels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portuguese Man O’ War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White Shark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Binturong | Wreathed Hornbills | Orangutan

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wreathed Hornbills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Blobfish | Star-nosed Mole | Axolotl

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star-nosed Mole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Scarlet Macaw | Peccaries | Black Caiman

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

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

Scarlet Macaw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Caiman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Sea Otters | Garibaldi | Sea Lions

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

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

Sea Otters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sea Lions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Sea Turtles | Vaquita | Killer Whale

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

1. Sea Turtles
2. Vaquita
3. Killer Whale
Credits and Links

Sea Turtles

Sea turtles live in almost every ocean throughout the world. Some species migrate long distances to feed, often crossing entire oceans. They nest on tropical and subtropical beaches.

With their streamlined shells and long limbs and flippers, these reptiles are well-suited for swimming.

While some species may briefly rest on remote island shores and all adult females come ashore to lay eggs, usually several times per season every 2 to 5 years, many sea turtle species spend their entire lives at sea.

A sea turtle’s shell – or carapace – ranges in shape from oval to heart-shaped, depending on the species, and each is uniquely covered in an arrangement of bony plates known as scutes. The bottom side of the turtle shell is called the plastron.

A sea turtle cannot retract its limbs, head or neck under its shell like a land turtle. Their hind flippers serve as rudders, helping to stabilize and direct the animal as it swims.

Sea turtles have large upper eyelids that protect their eyes, they do not have an external ear opening and like other turtles, sea turtles lack teeth.

Both male and female sea turtles are equal in size while the male’s tail may extend beyond the hind flippers.

There are 7 Sea Turtles species found across the planet. They each have their own characteristics, appearance and size, preferred habitat range and diets.

Each species relies on a different preferred foods: Green Turtles eat sea grasses, Leatherbacks feed primarily on jellyfish, Loggerheads eat shelled animals such as crabs and clams, Hawksbills feed on sponges and other invertebrates; and the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle seems to prefer crabs.


Flatback sea turtles are named after its flat shell, which is unlike the curved shell of other sea turtle species.

They are pale grayish-green in color, grow up to 3 feet long and the can weigh 200 pounds.

They have the smallest distribution of all sea turtle species. Flatbacks breed and nest only in Australia.

The Flatbacks main predator is the Salt Water Crocodile, the largest reptile on the planet.

Their habitat range is generally the coastal waters of Northern Australia and parts of Indonesia. They do not undertake long, open ocean migrations like many other sea turtle species, and Flatbacks are usually found in waters less than 200 feet in depth.

They are omnivores, feeding on a variety of prey including sea cucumbers, jellies, soft corals, shrimp, crabs, mollusks, fish, and seaweed.


The Green turtle is one of the largest hard-shelled sea turtles. A typical adult is 3 to 4 feet long and weighs 300 to 350 pounds. They have dark brown or black shells and a much lighter, yellow underside. Their shells have five scutes running down the middle and four scutes on each side.

Another distinct characteristic of the green turtle is their two large scales located between the eyes.

They are unique among sea turtles in that they are herbivores, eating mostly seagrasses and algae. This plant-based diet is what gives both their cartilage and fat a greenish color, which is where their name comes from.

They can stay under water for as long as five hours. Their heart rate slows to conserve oxygen, often as slow as 1 heartbeat every nine minutes.

Green turtles live all over the world, nest in over 80 countries, and live in the coastal areas of more than 140 countries.

Adult and juvenile Green turtles are generally found nearshore as well as in bays and lagoons, on reefs, and areas with seagrass beds.

Adults will migrate from foraging areas to nesting beaches and may travel hundreds miles each way. After emerging from the nest, hatchlings swim to offshore areas, where they live for several years. Once the juveniles reach a certain age or size range, they will leave the open ocean habitat and travel to nearshore foraging grounds.

Green Turtles can be found along all coastal shores of the United States but are mostly concentrated in the warmer waters.

The majority of adult green turtles that feed throughout the main Hawaiian Islands migrate to French Frigate Shoals in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands to nest. Green Turtles in the Hawaiian Islands are natively known as “Honu” and have been a part of ancient Polynesian history and lore for centuries.


Hawksbill turtles are found throughout the tropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Their diet consists mainly of sponges that live on coral reefs.

Hawksbills get their name from their unique beak-like mouths. With a head that comes to a point, and a V-shaped lower jaw, they are said to have a hawk-like appearance.

They are small to medium-sized sea turtles – growing up to 3 feet in length. They possess amber-colored and patterned shells with overlapping scutes. The scutes are usually golden brown with streaks of orange, red, and black. The bottom of the shell is a light yellow.

Unique to hawksbill sea turtles is a pair of claws on each flipper. Hawksbills also have four scales between their eyes compared to green turtles with two scales.

Hawksbill turtles are often found near coral reefs which are home to their preferred food—sea sponges. However, in the Eastern Pacific, they are found in mangrove estuaries.

They are omnivorous and even opportunistic feeders who will eat mollusks, marine algae, crustaceans, sea urchins, small fish, and jellyfish.

The shape of their mouth and their sharp beaks enable them to reach into small holes and crevices in coral reefs to find food.

Hawskbills are found in the circumtropical regions of the worlds oceans and they are not found in the Mediterranean Sea.

Hawksbill turtles are endangered because of highly prized and decorative shell. They were hunted for hundreds of years in huge numbers for the “tortoise shell” that was used in many types of jewelry, combs, brushes and trinkets. Harvesting hawksbill turtles for their shell nearly drove the population to extinction.


The Kemp’s Ridley turtle is the smallest marine turtle in the world, measuring only 2 feet long and weighing up to 100 pounds. They are generally grayish-green in color on top with a pale yellowish bottom shell.

They are found primarily in the Gulf of Mexico, but they have also been in the Atlantic Ocean as far north as Nova Scotia.

Kemp’s Ridley turtles are named after Richard M. Kemp, a fisherman from Key West, Florida, who first submitted the species for identification in 1906.

They possess a triangular shaped heads with hooked beaks and strong jaws. They inhabit nearshore habitats where they forage for their favorite prey, crabs.

Kemp’s Ridley turtles are the only marine species that nests primarily during the day. They also nest together in groups similar to their relative the Olive Ridley turtles.


The leatherback is the largest turtle in the world. They may grow close to 6 feet long and weight nearly 2,000 pounds.

They have a rubbery, primarily black skin with pinkish-white coloring on its underside. Hatchlings possess white dotting marks along the ridges of their backs and flippers.

Their front flippers lack claws and scales and are proportionally longer than in other sea turtles. Their back flippers are paddle-shaped.

They are the most widely distributed sea turtle species and they are highly migratory, some swim over 10,000 miles a year between nesting and foraging sites.

A leatherback turtle is covered with leathery skin, not the plates found on other sea turtles. It is the only sea turtle whose backbone is not attached to the inside of its shell.

It’s tear-drop shaped shell is composed mostly of cartilage raised into seven prominent ridges. A layer of thousands of small dermal bones lies just below the leathery skin. This flexible outer covering helps the leatherback move more effectively in water and they are excellent divers.

With a recorded dive of nearly 4,000 feet – they often dive deeper into the ocean depths than many marine mammals.

Leatherbacks are capable of withstanding the coldest water temperatures often below 40˚F and are found as far south as Chile and as far north as Alaska.

Leatherbacks can consume twice their own body weight in food each day, their diet is primarily jellyfish and other soft-bodied invertebrates. Their mouth and throat have backward-pointing spines that help retain their gelatinous prey.


Loggerheads reach lengths of 3 to 3 1/2 feet long and weigh up to 400 pounds.

Loggerheads are named for their relatively large head, which support powerful jaws which enables them to feed on hard-shelled prey such as conchs. Loggerheads are carnivores and rarely consume plant material – they eat mostly bottom dwelling invertebrates such as mollusks, horseshoe crabs, and sea urchins.

They can be found in waters throughout the world, second only to the Leatherback in sea turtle distribution.

The loggerhead is the most common sea turtle in the southeastern U.S. They nest primarily along the Atlantic coast of Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina and along the Florida and Alabama coasts in the Gulf of Mexico.

They are the most common species in the Mediterranean, nesting on beaches in Greece, Turkey, and Israel.

Some loggerhead populations nest in Japan and migrate to the coast of the Baja peninsular in Mexico to forage before returning home again.


Olive Ridley sea turtles are the second smallest sea turtles. Their shells grow up to 30 inches and they weigh up to 110 pounds.

The Olive Ridley gets its name from the olive green color of its heart-shaped carapace.

Found primarily in the tropical regions of the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans, the Olive Ridley is considered the most abundant sea turtle in the world.

Their shell size, shape and color may also vary among different populations in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The largest Olive Ridleys are usually found in West Africa.

They are mostly a pelagic species, and are known to dive up to 500 feet to feed on bottom dwelling invertebrates.

Like their relative, the Kemp’s Ridley, Olive Ridleys engage in a behavior known as arribada. Large groups of females gather offshore then come on shore together to nest all at once. This behavior is thought to provide a defense against natural predators.

Though they are the most abundant sea turtle on the planet, the IUCN Red List has noted a reduction in global population up to 50 percent.

An adult female Sea Turtle will typically return to the beach area from which she was originally hatched to lay ping pong ball size eggs in a pit she digs with her hind flippers. She can lay thousands of eggs over her lifetime.

After about sixty days, baby sea turtles (known as “hatchlings”) emerge from their sandy nests and make their way to the ocean. Like most reptiles, the incubating temperature of the eggs determines the sex of the hatchling.

Young sea turtles have many natural predators including birds, crabs, and fish. It is estimated that only one out of 1,000 hatchlings survives to be an adult. The juvenile turtles spend their first few years in the open oceans, eventually moving to protected bays, estuaries, and other nearshore waters as adults.

Tiger Sharks are known for eating sea turtles and some Killer Whales have been known to prey on leatherback turtles but typically they have few natural predators as adults and can live for a several decades.

However, Sea Turtles face many man-made dangers as they travel the seas, including entanglement in fishing gear, the loss of nesting and feeding sites due to over-development of many coastal areas, poaching for the illegal sale of turtle shell products, and ocean pollution including extensive plastic products such as bags which may appear as jellyfish or other edible material to the animals.

Six of the seven species of sea turtles are threatened or endangered. Two are critically endangered, the Hawksbill and Kemp’s Ridley and while not formally listed Internationally yet, the Flatback sea turtle is listed as endangered in Australia.

While it is illegal to trade, purchase or possess sea turtle products, unfortunately a black market still thrives in many places around the world.

The future of the beloved sea creatures does not rest on the work of a select few organizations and and accredited facilities – the future of Sea Turtles and all animal life relies on the efforts of everyone around the globe.


Across the globe there are 90 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, known collectively as “cetaceans.”

Historically, the name porpoise has been used interchangeably with that of dolphins – most notably the familiar bottle-nosed dolphin – however porpoise and dolphins are two different families and among the 10 families that comprise toothed whales suborder – Odontoceti.

Common distinctions that help mark porpoises include a more rounded head as opposed to the beak-like rostrum of most dolphins, porpoises also possess flat, spatula–like or spade shaped teeth whereas dolphins, including the largest – the killer whale, all possess more pointed, conically shaped teeth.

Typically porpoises are smaller and more stout than their dolphin cousins. Among all of the toothed whale species, one porpoise ranks among the smallest of all, the porpoise known by its Spanish common name – the Vaquita.

The Vaquita, which translates to “little cow” is only found in a very small range of the northern Gulf of California, situated between the Baja peninsula and the mainland of Mexico.

Reaching a length of only 5 feet and weighing between 65 to 120 pounds, Vaquitas have small, strong bodies, they have black patches around their eyes and lips that have lead some to describe them as appearing to wear lipstick and eye-shadow.

Vaquitas also have triangle-shaped dorsal fins in the middle of their backs, which are taller and wider than in other porpoises.

Vaquitas are the only porpoise species adapted to living in warm water. Most porpoises inhabit water that is cooler than 68F but Vaquitas are able to tolerate water that fluctuates from 57 degrees in the winter to 97 degrees in the summer. The larger size of the Vaquita’s dorsal fin is believed to allow the animal’s extra body heat to dissipate.

Though the Vaquita is found in the northern hemisphere, like the harbour porpoise and the Dall’s porpoise, genetic studies have shown that they are more closely related to the spectacled and Burmeister’s porpoises, which both inhabit southern hemisphere regions.

Females are larger than males in total length but adult males have proportionally higher dorsal fins and wider flukes. Mature males may be more agile and swim quicker than females, which some researchers believe may be an advantage during breeding.

Vaquita backs are dark gray, while their bellies are a lighter gray – this dark and light countershading characteristic is found in many dolphin and porpoise species.

Their diet consists of fish, squid and some crustaceans. They spend most of their time under the water and so are not often seen by humans.

Vaquitas often appear alone or in very small groups of 1-3 individuals – usually just a mother and calf. They are rather shy and usually avoid most boats. They go typically unnoticed at the surface as they rarely splash, jump or leap like many of their porpoise and dolphin relatives. This behavior, coupled with their small body size, can make them difficult to observe and study.

Perhaps due to their small size and very limited habitat range, they were not known to the scientific community until 1950 and it the Vaquita wasn’t actually described as a new and rare species of porpoise until 1958.

Vaquitas can live at least 20 years or more. They begin breeding when they are 3 to 6 years old and their gestation lasts about 10 to 11 months. Females are believed to give birth every other year to a single calf that measures about 2.5 feet long and weighs only 16 pounds. Vaquitas usually give birth between February and April.

LIke all whales, dolphins and porpoise, the Vaquita is of course a marine mammal. Unfortunately, the vaquita is also the world’s most endangered marine mammal. Currently, they are listed as “critically endangered” on the IUCN Red List.

Vaquitas have the smallest geographical range of any marine mammal. Nearly the entire population lives within a area less than 1/4 the size of metropolitan Los Angeles.

The Vaquita’s small and exclusive range overlaps with an endangered fish species that is slightly larger than the Vaquita itself. The fish known as the Totoaba – a large sea bass species. At 6 feet long and weighing 200 pounds, the Totoaba possesses a rather large swim bladder which makes them highly sought after in the Chinese black market trade.

The fish’s bladder is used in Chinese traditional medicine with the belief that it helps with human fertility – a claim that remains an unproven concept. Though the Totoaba is an endangered and protected species internationally, the fish are still illegally caught in large gillnets which also trap the small Vaquita as well.

Due to the ongoing illegal fishing in these Mexican waters, the Vaquita population is critically low. Today fewer than 25 Vaquita survive in the wild, the latest report from the the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita indicate the total may even be fewer than 20 animals.

Though potential predators of Vaquita could include large sharks and killer whales, and they have some of the lowest levels of pollutants in their native habitat, researchers have determined that gillnets are the only true threat to Vaquitas.

To save the Vaquita, scientists and officials agree that the only solution is to totally eliminate fishing with gillnets within Vaquita habitat and by stopping the illegal fishing and wildlife trade of its neighboring endangered species, Totoaba. Without more drastic measures the world’s most endangered marine mammal species, the Vaquita, may soon become extinct in our lifetime.

Killer Whale

The world’s oceans cover 70 percent of the planet. Full of an abundance of life – from the tiniest plankton to the largest animal on Earth. Among the world’s vast diversity of life is a delicate balance of predator and prey in all shapes and sizes. In this undersea kingdom – one animal rules them all.

Swift and clever, visually stunning and physically powerful – it can kill anything that swims. It’s scientific name is Orcinus orca – but all over the world the top predator of the sea is known as the Killer Whale.

One of the most recognizable marine mammals, with their distinctive black and white bodies and signature dorsal fins, these apex predators are found in every ocean in the world, they are the most widely distributed of all cetaceans.

Despite their common name, Killer whales are the largest member of the dolphin family, Delphinidae. This group includes other large marine mammals such as Pilot Whales and Pseudorcas – sometimes known as False Killer Whales.

The common name Killer Whale came from ancient sailors who would witness them attacking other often larger whales. Historically they were first referred to as Whale Killers but the name was swapped over time and today they are an icon of the sea.

Different populations of killer whales around the world differ in size but males average between 20 and 30 feet in length, females are typically up to 18 feet long.

Easily recognized by their large size and striking appearance, the Killer Whales’ countershading coloration of dark black on top and bright white on the underside helps them blend in to their surroundings. When viewed from above, they seem to disappear into the dark depths below, yet when seen from below their bright bellies help mask them against the strong backlighting of the sun.

In addition to their coloring, the Killer Whales’ markings acts as a type of camouflage known as disruptive coloration – the large eyespots, the curving white on their sides and the marking known as the saddlepatch – a grey stripe or swirl behind their dorsal fin all help break up the killer whales body shape and even blend into the shadows and filtered sunlight of the ocean.

Another prominent characteristic is the tall dorsal fin on their back. Killer Whales have the largest dorsal fin of any marine mammal. Male’s dorsal fins may reach up to 6 feet tall.

Killer whales are found in a wide range of habitats, both open seas and coastal waters. While they are most abundant in colder waters like Antarctica, Norway, and Alaska, they are also found in tropical and subtropical waters.

Ongoing scientific studies have revealed many different populations that differ genetically, as well as in appearance, behavior, social structure, dietary preferences and feeding strategies as well as distinct vocalizations. These ecotypes of Killer Whales may even represent different species or subspecies of the Orcinus orca.

In the temperate coastal North Pacific, there are three different ‘ecotypes’ of killer whales. Identified as Resident, Transient (or Bigg’s) and Offshore Killer Whales.

The Resident Killer Whales are comprised of 3 distinct populations known as the Alaska, Northern and Southern Resident Killers Whales. These groups are fish eaters, notably chinook salmon.

The Southern Resident Killer Whale – is listed as endangered even though most killer whales worldwide are abundant. Found in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, along the coasts of British Columbia and sometimes Alaska and most famously in the Puget Sound of Washington. The current population of this group is the lowest it has been in 34 years.

A group of “Offshore” killer whales are found from California to Alaska, mostly along the continental slope, and sometimes even farther out to sea. Due to their habitat range, little is known about the Offshore killer whales but they are known feed on schooling fishes and sharks.

The ecotype known as Transient or Bigg’s Killer Whales are specialized hunters who frequently feed on other marine mammals such as sea lions and whales and are sometimes considered the “wolves of the sea.” These skilled hunters are found all along the North American coast. The Bigg’s Killers Whales are named after Dr. Michael A. Bigg – a Canadian marine biologist who is recognized as the founder of modern research on Killer Whales.

Other ecotypes around the world include the Antarctic Type A, B, C & D. Some of the Type B population known as Gerlache Killer Whales feed on penguins while Type A Killer Whales typically stay away from the ice and feed on Minke Whales. The Type A Antarctic Killer Whales are the largest known ecotypes, males may reach over 30 feet in length. The Type C Antarctic Killer Whales are the smallest with males only averaging 18 feet in length the size of most females in other ecotypes.

In the North Atlantic two groups are identified as Type 1 Eastern North Atlantic which prefer herring and mackerel while the Type 2 Eastern North Atlantic are similar to the Bigg’s Killer Whales and prefer marine mammals, mostly other whales and dolphins.

In waters off New Zealand, some killer whales are known to hunt and eat stingrays and sharks.

Killer Whales possess many incredible traits and abilities that make them such proficient hunters from camouflaged coloring, to strength and speed, the clever use of echolocation and their social skills of cooperation. A pod of Killer Whales on the hunt is considered by many to be one of the most impressive sights in the natural world.

Killer whales are among the fastest swimming marine mammals. They can swim as fast up to 30 mph but they usually travel at speeds of 2 to 6 mph. The main source of their propulsion is their large tail flukes. Comprised of tough, dense, fibrous connective tissue there are no bones or cartilage in a Killer Whale’s tail. The large muscular area between the dorsal fin and the tail flukes – known as the peduncle – is used to move the flukes up and down and give the Killer Whale their incredible bursts of speed – capable of propelling them high out of the water.

A primary trait of the killer whale is their vocalization ability. Killer whales produce sounds for communicating and they use echolocation for navigation.They produce a variety of sounds including whistles, echolocation clicks, pulsed calls, low-frequency pops, and jaw claps. A killer whale makes sounds by moving air between nasal sacs in the blowhole region.

Pulsed calls are the most common vocalization of killer whales. Experts believe these calls function in group recognition and coordination of behavior.

Echolocation is an ability used by toothed whales, some other marine mammals and bats. This advanced ability allos the Killer Whale to locate and even identify objects by emitting high-frequency sounds and clicks and listening for echoes. These sounds are at frequencies far beyond human hearing and each click lasts for less than one millisecond.

The sounds travel through the melon – the rounded region of a killer whale’s forehead – which consists of fatty tissue. The major areas of sound reception are the fat-filled cavities of the lower jaw bones. The sounds are then conducted through the lower jaw into the ear and auditory nerves.

The use of echolocation and calls may vary greatly between fish-eating and mammal-eating populations of Killer Whales. Those who primarily eat fish have been found to be more vocal while those who feed on other marine mammals have learned to use less sounds, since many of their prey species, which have more acute hearing could detect the Killer Whales presence. Another sign of the Killer Whales intelligent ability to problem solve.

Killer Whales are not only fast and powerful but they are also highly intelligent and social animals. A dominant female whale usually leads most social groups while males generally remain on the outside of the group, coming together to breed.

Killer Whales are famous for working together when hunting, whether corralling a school of fish or isolating a larger whale calf from its mother, they effectively communicate through vocalizations and body posturing to successfully capture their prey. Some Killer Whales have been observed swimming onto a beach to grab unsuspecting seals and many specialized hunting techniques are passed on to younger members of a pod.

A female Killer Whale may give birth every 3 to 10 years, gestation averages 17 months. While different populations of whales differ, most calves are typically around 8 – 9 feet long and estimated to weight between 250 and 350 pounds. The calf may nurse for a year or longer.

Killer whales have long fascinated people both in their ability to hunt and their curious nature and intelligent ability to problem solve. Most of what has been learned about killer whales has come from studying the Resident Killer Whales of the North Pacific Ocean though studies indicate that there is still much to learn about the many varied populations around the world.

Throughout the world’s oceans, a vast and diverse kingdom of animal life thrives in a delicate balance of predator and prey – but one animal reigns supreme – the Killer Whale.


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

Aquarium Of The Pacific
NOAA Fisheries – Vaquita
NOAA Fisheries – Sea Turtles
Sea World’s Animal Guide

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Mako Shark | Cheetah | Peregrine Falcon

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

1. Mako Shark
2. Cheetah
3. Peregrine Falcon
Credits and Links

Mako Sharks

With a well-defined pointed snout, triangular dorsal fin, a signature crescent-shaped tail fin and their fearsome teeth protruding from their mouth…the mako shark is an icon among the world’s oceans.

Today, there are 2 living species of makos sharks, both the Atlantic and Pacific Shortfin mako and the lesser known, Longfin Mako.

This classic looking, torpedo-shaped shark is classified in the mackerel shark family, a group that includes the porbeagle, or salmon shark and the well-known White Shark.

Known for a dark metallic blue appearance on top and silvery white below, Makos are well adapted for the open ocean waters where they are found.

Shortfin makos are true pelagic species found in open waters throughout the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans at depths more than 1500 feet. They may also be found near the surface and coastal areas where the continental shelf is short.

The mako shark is a very hydrodynamically efficient swimmer. The shortfin mako is considered the fastest shark in the world, able to reach burst swimming speeds of up to 43 mph, one of the fastest animals in the ocean.

Their tall tail fin is able to produce maximum thrust with minimum drag and provides almost all of the mako’s amazing propulsion.

In addition to their great swimming speeds, shortfin makos are also known for their incredible ability to leap out of the air, several feet above the surface of the water. A very quick and active species, they are often observed breaching the surface when feeding.

Shortfin mako sharks grow rather slowly, they can live to be over 30 years old and reach a length of 13 feet. However, males are not able to reproduce until about 8 years old, while females mature at an even slower rate, they do not reach reproductive age until they are around 19 years old.

Female shortfin makos have a 3-year reproductive cycle and a gestation period of approximately 18 months. Mating occurs from summer to fall. The eggs are fertilized internally and develop inside the mother. Though they give live birth, these sharks do not connect to their young through a placenta. Instead, during the gestation period, the mother provides her young with unfertilized eggs that they eat for nourishment, this practice is found in some shark species (like the sand tiger shark) and is known as oophagy (oh-OFF-ə-jee).

Females bear live pups, which are approximately 2 feet long when born. This large size at birth helps reduce the number of potential predators and helps to increase their chances of survival. Scientists have only examined a handful of litters but typical litter sizes are around 12, though up to 30 pups have been reported.

Shortfin mako sharks are aggressive predators that feed on large fish such as bluefish, swordfish, tuna, other sharks as well as sea turtles and some marine mammals. They have few natural predators, which are typically larger sharks that may prey on smaller makos.

The shortfin mako shark is one of the very few shark species known to have attacked and killed people, those these events are extremely rare.

The longfin mako shark is a large, predatory shark that lives worldwide and reaches a maximum length of 14 feet. Longfin makos are often confused for shortfin, but the Longfin variety has a more slender body, much longer pectoral fins -often larger than their head, and the Longfin makos also have larger eyes and the area on their snout is darker.

While Longfin Makos can be spotted near the surface, their diet of schooling fish and deep-water squids suggests that they are more deep-dwelling than the shortfin species. Very little is known about the biology of longfin mako sharks due to their more elusive nature.

It is also believed that Longfin Mako sharks are endothermic (or warm-blooded) and can maintain a body temperature higher than the surrounding water, some researchers think this could also attribute to the mako’s ability to be capable of such high bursts of speed.

Found in oceans around the world, this high speed predator is also highly migratory – one mako was tracked having traveled from the waters off the Yucatan Peninsula to the northern waters of Nova Scotia. In just under 300 days, this animal traveled nearly 9800 miles.

Researchers with the Guy Harvey Research Institute have now learned through satellite tracking of tagged makos, that the sharks will often travel to the same locations, great distances apart – rather than roaming randomly, the makos appear to exhibit a finely tuned sense of place.

Both Longfin Makos and the Atlantic Shortfin Mako are listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List and both species have been identified by NOAA Fisheries as over-fished populations. Due to their strong and athletic abilities, Mako Sharks are often highly sought after as game fish.

While permits are required in U.S. waters to fish for highly migratory species like the mako shark, management is complicated because the species migrate thousands of miles across international boundaries and are fished by many nations. Unfortunately today, this iconic predator is highly vulnerable to extinction.


Among the grasslands and savannas of the African plains is a finely tuned hunter. A creature capable of exceptional speed and agility. Standing 2 to 3 feet at the shoulder, a body length of 4 to 5 feet, and weighing up to 150 pounds. This animal is one of the most recognizable and beloved cats in the world – the Cheetah.

The Cheetah’s fur is golden tan or pale yellow covered with the familiar solid black spots. These black spots form a pattern that is unique to each individual. The name Cheetah comes from a Hindu word meaning “spotted one.”

The Cheetah’s head is relatively small. They have large eyes set high on the head which are positioned for binocular vision, giving them excellent eyesight at long distances

Compared to other cats, a cheetah’s canine teeth have small roots, this allows for larger nasal passages, which aids in a greater flow of oxygen to the body.

Cheetahs are renowned for their speed. Their average speed during a chase is around 40 mph. Though they can reach an impressive top speed of 60-70 mph. The cheetahs acceleration is unmatched and they can reach those speeds in just three seconds.

Cheetahs have many special physical characteristics that provide enhanced benefits to provide for their quick and agile motion.

They possess enlarged hearts, lungs, adrenal glands, nasal passages and thigh muscles. In addition several other features all lend to making them the fastest land-based animal on the planet.

Their long, flexible spine acts like a spring to aid in giving them an impressive stride. Cheetahs have a stride of around 20-25 feet – same as that of a thoroughbred racehorse. While running, cheetahs can achieve four strides per second and they are airborne 50% of the time.

Their 30 inch flattened tail acts as a counterbalance and a rudder to help make quick turns.

Their shoulders are unattached to their collarbone and their hips pivot to to allow the rear legs to stretch far apart. These features give the Cheetah a greater range of motion.

Their paws are narrow and resemble those of dogs more than they do of other cats. Their blunt, semi-retractable claws act like the cleats of a running shoe. Their paw pads are rough and act like tire tread. These two characteristics aid in traction while running.

“Fast twitch” muscle fibers are what provide quick power such as when sprinting. Cheetahs have up to a 20% higher concentration of these specialized fibers compared to other fast moving animals like greyhounds and horses. “Fast twitch” muscle fibers are only efficient for quick bursts and cheetahs can only maintain maximum speed for about 30 seconds.

Cheetahs are considered diurnal and, unlike other cats, hunt during daylight, but will usually rest in the heat of the day. They rely on sight to hunt. Black stripes that run underneath of their eyes down to their upper lip are known as tear marks. These are believed to help reduce glare from the sun. They will often find a high vantage point, like a termite mound or fallen tree, to scan for prey.

Their diet is mainly made up of small to medium ungulates such as gazelles and impala. They may also take warthogs, hares, rodents, as well as the calves of larger ungulates.

Before the chase begins, they will often stalk the potential prey in a semi-crouched position and get as close as possible before charging. Their hunting behavior intensifies once the prey animal begins running. Upon catching their prey, Cheetahs suffocate the animal with a bite to the throat. Only about half of a cheetah’s hunts are successful.

Unfortunately, even if a cheetah is successful in catching prey, it still runs the risk of loosing its meal. Other African carnivores such as lions, hyenas and even vultures may drive a cheetah away from its food, so cheetah often must eat quickly. Food may also be stolen by jackals and even baboons.

Unlike many other large wild cats – such as lions, leopards, jaguars and tigers – cheetahs don’t roar. They growl when facing danger, and they vocalize with sounds more equivalent to a high-pitched chirp or bubble. Cheetahs bark when communicating with each other. The cheetah is also unique among big cats in that it can also purr while both inhaling and exhaling.

While adult female Cheetahs lead solitary lives, Males will form life-long social groups known as a coalition. Animals making up these groups are usually brothers from the same litter, though on a occasion, unrelated males may also form coalitions. These groups increase hunting success and act as a defense against other predators.

A variation of the cheetah’s famed spotted coat is sometimes seen on certain individuals known as the “King” Cheetah. These unique Cheetahs have stripes which run along their back in place of spots. This coloration is simply a genetic trait found in some cheetah’s located in and around the country of Zimbabwe.

Cheetahs were once found throughout most of Africa in a variety of habitats including some desert regions. A sub-species of Asiatic cheetah was also native to parts of the Middle East and into India.

In the last 100 years, the world has lost 90% of the wild cheetah population. Most wild cheetahs today exist in fragmented populations in pockets of Africa, occupying just 9 percent of their historic range. While fewer than 50 Asiatic cheetahs remain alive today, found exclusively in the country of Iran.

Currently, cheetahs are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. In Namibia, they are a protected species. Under the Endangered Species Act in the United States, they are considered Endangered.

One of the greatest threats to the cheetah in the wild is human-wildlife conflict. Over 90 percent of cheetahs live outside protected management areas, near farming communities raising cows, sheep, and goats. Farmers see cheetahs as pests and threats to their livestock and often kill them.

The Cheetah Conservation Fund – an international organization dedicated to saving the cheetah in the wild – works to educate these local residents on the importance of cheetahs in the African ecosystem and promote the use of the CCF’s Livestock Guarding Dog Program, which utilizes specially trained dogs that bond with the herd and use their imposing presence and loud bark to scare away potential predators and reducing the number of cheetah encounters and deaths.

Managed breeding populations in accredited zoos are also helping to protect the future of this amazing animal. On February 19, 2020 – history was made at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium when two cheetah cubs were born through in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer into a surrogate mother. This first of it’s kind birth was mad possible through a partnership between the Columbus Zoo, the National Zoo and the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute. This groundbreaking scientific breakthrough offers another ray of hope to Africa’s most endangered cat.

Peregrine Falcons

Powerful and fast-flying…Skilled at catching a variety of prey – from small songbirds to large ducks…Dropping down on them from high above in a spectacular stoop. These raptors were once considered the birds of royalty.

Among the most impressive birds to watch, they are known for their high speeds, impressive aerial manuevers, and unmistakable hunting skills. Capable of reaching speeds up to 240 mph, they are the planet’s fastest animal…the Peregrine Falcon.

The word “peregrine” means “wanderer” or “pilgrim,” and Peregrine Falcons live and breed on every continent in the world except Antarctica. Their versatility allows them to live in almost any type of climate and habitat. They can be found nesting at elevations up to about 12,000 feet, as well as along rivers and coastlines. Deserts, seashores, wetlands, tundra and even atop skyscrapers in major cities are all places these birds of prey call home.

Peregrine Falcons have long, pointed wings and a long tail. Adults are blue-gray above with barred underparts and a dark head with thick sideburns. They possess yellow circles around their eyes, a yellow stripe over their nose, behind their sharp, curved beak and distinct yellow feet.

The falcon’s feet are long and narrow, which allows them to reach through the long feathers of other birds and helps them grab the body of their prey when attacking.

Peregrine falcons also have small bumps just inside their nostrils, scientists believe this may help slow the air as it enters the bird’s nose when traveling at high speeds, allowing them to maintain their breathing.

As with most raptor species, female Peregrines are larger than males.

Regarded by falconers and biologists alike as one of the noblest and most spectacular of all birds of prey, a Peregrine Falcon uses many strategies for hunting but they typically catch their prey in the air with fast pursuits, rapid dives, and other impressive aerial maneuvers for which these falcons are known and admired.

Perhaps its most famous hunting technique is the dive – known as a stoop. This involves the bird flying high into the sky, then using its keen eyesight to locate birds flying below. When it spots its prey, the falcon folds its wings and falls into a nose dive gaining speeds of over 200 mph. Just before impact, the falcon closes its feet, and uses them to stun or even knock the prey out of the sky. They then catch the bird and bite through the neck to kill it.

When not stooping after its prey, Peregrine Falcons will pursue their prey in a swift aerial chase. Though it cannot move as fast as when in a nose dive, a Peregrine Falcon, in horizontal flight, can still rival a cheetah for speed! Typical hunting speeds are between 60 and 100 miles per hour.

Peregrine Falcons also may hunt from the vantage point of an exposed perch such as a cliff-side or the ledge of a city skyscraper where they often hunt pigeons. At sea, Peregrine Falcons use ships, which provide high perches, to hunt for seabirds.

Peregrine Falcons will sometimes dismember their prey and eat it in flight, or they will land with their prey in a safe spot, pluck the feathers, and eat. Pairs have been observed hunting cooperatively; to flush, chase, and catch their prey.

They are mainly bird hunters, 450 North American species have been documented as prey, and the number worldwide may be as many as 2,000 species, including starlings, pigeons, blackbirds, jays, shorebirds, and waterfowl, including ducks larger than the falcon themselves. They also occasionally hunt land mammals, reptiles, and insects. There have also been reports of some Peregrine Falcons specializing in eating bats.

Peregrine Falcons not only fly fast, some populations fly incredibly long distances, too. In the northern part of their range, Peregrine Falcons are migratory, and some birds travel from the Arctic tundra nearly to Antarctica, making a yearly round trip journey of more than 20,000 miles.

An elite predator, the falcons do have their own natural predators, including Gyrfalcons, eagles, Great Horned owls, and even other Peregrines.

Peregrine Falcons typically nest on cliffs from about 25–1,300 feet high. In places without cliffs, Peregrines may use abandoned Raven, Bald Eagle, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, or cormorant nests. Other nest sites may include silos, skyscrapers, bridges and tall phone and power towers.

Males typically select a few possible nest ledges at the beginning of each season and the female chooses from these. The female lays three to five eggs, which are incubated for about 34 days. Though the male does help incubate, the female does the majority of the incubating. She relies on the male to bring her food. After the chicks hatch and as they are growing, both the male and female provide food for the young. To feed their chicks, the adults use their beak to rip up small pieces of meat and gently pass them to the nestlings.

When they hatch, the chicks are covered with fluffy white down and have very large feet in proportion to their bodies. The young falcons grow up quickly and in just 5-6 weeks, the falcons are fully feathered and ready to fly. They still stay with their parents for a few months, learning to hunt, before leaving the adults’ territory. Falcons reach sexual maturity in 1 to 3 years.

Peregrine Falcons have had cultural significance for humans throughout history and they remain one of the most popular birds in the sport of falconry. Peregrine Falcons that are trained as falconry birds are sometimes flown by their trainers at airports to scare off ducks and other birds that could collide with a plane and cause accidents.

The Peregrine Falcon currently appears on US currency – featured on the Idaho state quarter. The state of Idaho is home to the Peregrine Fund, a non-profit organization founded in 1970 to save the Peregrine Falcon.

Due to the effects of the pesticide – DDT – the Peregrine Falcon was declared an endangered species as populations in the eastern United States became extinct by 1969 with very few birds remaining elsewhere in the country.

Though many people didn’t think it could be done, The Peregrine Fund and other organizations worked together to raise thousands of Peregrine Falcons in captivity by pioneering many techniques for successfully breeding the birds in captivity and releasing them into the wild.

Through captive breeding and release, these falcons were restored to their historic range throughout the United States. More than 4,000 young birds have been released and in 1999, the Peregrine Falcon was removed from the U.S. Endangered Species List. Today, it is still one of the most successfully recovered endangered species ever.


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

Audubon Center for Birds Of Prey
Cheetah Conservation Fund
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Florida Museum
Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation
Guy Harvey Research Institute
NOAA Fisheries
The Peregrine Fund
San Diego Zoo Global
SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Animal Guide
Toronto Zoo

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Giant Oarfish | Mola Mola | Whale Shark

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

1. Giant Oarfish
2. Mola Mola
3. Whale Shark
Credits and Links

Giant Oarfish

Throughout history, stories of giant sea creatures rising from the great depths of the open ocean have haunted sailors and other would-be travelers. Incredible species both in size and unique appearance.

Myths of large, snake like, sea serpents appearing at the surface have given rise to many fictional accounts – however one particular deep sea creature may be the source of many of these tales.

Found throughout the tropic and subtropic regions of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, these strange deep water inhabitants possess a reflective silver, extremely long ribbon-like body with red dorsal fins running the length of its tapering tail. This bizarre animal is commonly known as the Giant Oarfish.

Giant oarfish are generally 10 to 15 feet in length when discovered however some have been reported with a length of more than 30 feet – making them the longest bony fish in the world.

The Giant Oarfish is a open ocean deep water species commonly found more than 600 feet beneath the surface, though they have been known to swim as deep as 3200 feet.

Oarfish have a long tapering body with a blunt, slightly concave head and a small protrusible mouth containing no visible teeth. They are a scaleless fish species. The dorsal fin starts just above their eyes, running the entire length of the fish. It is distinctly colored, ranging from pinkish to dark red. Consisting of approximately 400 dorsal fin rays, the first 10-12 are elongated forming a hair-like looking crest with reddish spots and flaps of skin on the tip of each ray.

Another visible characteristic that gives the species its common name is the long, red pelvic fins that hang below the Giant Oarfish’s body ending in small paddle shapes. It was onces believed that this peculiar animal, since it lacks a swim bladder, moved through the water by “rowing” itself with these oar like appendages.

The giant oarfish, however, swims by undulating its long dorsal fin while its body remains straight – this type of movement is known as amiiform swimming. It has also been observed swimming in a vertical position with its head facing up toward the surface. Researchers believe this swimming position is the method that the oarfish uses to searches for prey.

Giant oarfish have no visible teeth but instead have internal gill rakes that they use to feed on plankton, crustaceans, krill and squid by straining them from the water.

Most of the animals internal organs are located in the front quarter of its thin, long body. This may help the oarfish avoid some fatal wounds when predators strike the longer back portions of their tail – many giant oarfish that have been studied show scars and wounds in this region of their body. Sharks are considered to be their primary natural predators.

Giant Oarfish are believed to live solitary lives with the exception of spawning activities.

Little is known about oarfish reproduction, spawning has been observed off of Mexico between July and December. After spawning is complete, the fertilized eggs drift, remaining at the surface of the ocean until hatching. It is believed that the eggs take up to three weeks to incubate. Upon hatching, the larvae appear similar to adults but in miniature and feed primarily on plankton.

Despite its tendency to live in deep water, oarfish have sometimes been caught by fishing vessels. Giant Oarfish is not of commercial value due to the poor quality of meat which is gelatinous in nature and generally considered inedible.

Sometimes known in history as ribbon-fish, streamer fish, king of the herring and even sea serpents – the Giant Oarfish was first described in 1772.

This species is rarely observed by humans and even when it is swimming at the surface, encounters with live oarfish are very rare. Giant oarfish have been found cast upon beaches after storms or near the surface when injured or dying, but it wasn’t until 2001 that a live giant oarfish was captured on film by the US Navy.

While tales of sea serpents have long been a part of human history, the amazing giant oarfish continues to be a signature species of the many unique animals found in the mysterious depths of the world’s oceans.

Mola Mola (Ocean Sunfish)

Found in temperate and tropical waters all around the world, is a large behemoth. A fish with a rather odd bullet-like shape, very short tail fin and a relatively smaller round mouth.

With a flat, silvery gray body, these animals can grow to be 14 feet tall and over 10 feet long – they are the heaviest bony fish in the world – sometimes weighing as much as 5000 pounds. They are the Mola Mola.

One of 3 known species of Mola, the Mola Mola are open ocean – or pelagic – animals and they are the largest of their species. Mola Mola are also known as Ocean Sunfish.

The Mola Mola’s primary diet consists of various gelatinous organisms like the many jellyfish species, including the Portugese Man-O-War – but they will also feed on squid, fish and crab.

Inside a mola’s tiny mouth are two pairs of hard teeth plates shaped with a slightly curved ridge that look kind of like a bird’s beak. Mola Mola don’t actually chew their food but instead suck their prey in and out of their mouth until it is ground into almost jelly like chunks.

A mucuslike lining in the digestive tract is believed to help keep the Mola Mola from getting stung by the jellies it consumes.

Usually spotted at the surface during feeding times, Mola Mola will also dive into deeper, colder waters to feed and will even sometimes feed at the ocean floor – scooping up fish and invertebrates found there.

It is believed that the Mola Mola will return to the surface following these deeper dives and in an effort to warm they bodies they will often lay on their sides like a sunbather – this is where their common name Ocean Sunfish comes from.

Mola Mola have smaller rear fins, known as the clavus – this fin acts more like a rudder while it uses its dorsal and anal fins for propulsion and movement – this type of swimming is also seen among triggerfish, boxfish and their closest relatives – the pufferfish.

While it is often believed that Mola Mola are rather slow and clumsy swimmers, they are actually quite strong and capable of fast speeds, using their pectoral flippers for steering they are also rather nimble and the Mola Mola will sometimes even leap out of the water – jumping as high as 10 feet above the surface.

Mola Mola have also been observed schooling together at times, though many sightings are of a single fish moving slowly at the surface.

The biggest predators of the Mola Mola include the Killer Whale, White Sharks and California Sea Lions.

The Mola is related to pufferfish, and a just-hatched mola is puffy, round and covered with spines like its relatives. Despite the eventual size of the Mola Mola – newly hatched fry are only about 2 millimeters in diamter but grown extremely fast -increasing it’s weight 60 million times. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, this growth would be equivalent to a 1-gram tadpole growing into a 60 ton frog!

Mola Mola may have up to 40 different types parasites living on, inside or beneath their skin. While at the surface, birds and cleaner fish species may approach the giant Ocean Sunfish as it lays on its side – the animals come to feed on these parasites which otherwise may compromise the Mola’s health. This essential cleaning may be another reason researchers believe they lay on their sides at the surface.

Many other species of fish and aquatic animals are also seen drifting along with them as they travel – making the open water Mola Mola its own habitat.

Though it’s closest relative species – the Pufferfish – are extremely poisonous in specific parts of their bodies, scientific studies have found no trace of the toxin in the mola mola.

Due to their slow moving, surface feeding behaviors, mola mola are vulnerable to fishing boats that use drift gill nets. Gill nets usually don’t kill molas immediately, but they cut into their skin and scrape off their protective mucus leading to infection and eventually death.

Also, like sea turtles who also feed on jellyfish at the surface, mola mola are in danger of consuming plastic bags floating on the water’s surface. Often mistaken as jellyfish – the bags can choke the fish as it sucks it in or it can cause a blockage in the animal’s stomach causing it to slowly starve to death.

Today, the Mola Mola is listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a leading accredited facility in Ocean Sunfish research and conservation – smaller adolescent Mola Mola can often be seen on exhibit (as well as their live webcam feeds) while the larger fish are released into the open ocean equipped with tracking tags to help scientist learn more about these strange giants of the sea.

Whale Shark

Often traveling great distances across the worlds oceans is a large and impressive animal.With a a unique “checkerboard” color pattern of light spots and stripes on a dark background, its streamlined body is gray, brown or bluish in color with a wide mouth placed at the tip of its snout.

It may average between 18 and 32 feet long while the largest on record was nearly 62 feet long. It may alarm some to know this huge animal is a shark. It is not only the largest shark but is the largest known fish to have lived on the planet.

This giant of the deep is the Whale Shark!

Whale sharks are found worldwide in the tropical Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.

Like all sharks and rays, the whale shark’s skeleton is made of cartilage. The have 3 very noticeable prominent ridge that run along the sides of their body, and 2 dorsal fins – the first fin is much larger than the second.

Whale sharks have a two-tone coloration with the darker shades on top and a lighter, white underside. Each whale shark has its own individual spot pattern on its skin. Like human fingerprints, no two are exactly alike.

The skin of an adult whale shark can be as thick as 4 inches and has the consistency of strong rubber, which may help protect it from possible predators like killer whales and large toothed shark species.

Whale sharks have uniquely shaped dermal denticles (tooth like scales found on sharks) – some researchers believe these may provide some hydrodynamic properties to aid them in their deep water, open ocean habitats.

Whale sharks swim at an average speed between 2 and 3 mph, when alarmed they are able to make short burst of speed – up to a full body length per second – but they cannot maintain this speed for long.

Despite their enormous size, a broad 4 foot wide mouth, and a jaw lined with up to 300 rows of tiny teeth, whale sharks are filter-feeders. They possess 20 filter pads inside the back their mouth.

Their diet consists primarily of zooplankton, specifically krill, shrimps, fish eggs as well as jellies, coral spawn, and small fishes like sardines and anchovies. Whale sharks can only swallow small prey because its throat is very narrow, about the size of a quarter.

Unlike most plankton feeders, Whale sharks do not depend on slow forward motion to filter, rather, they use a versatile suction filter-feeding method, which enables them to draw water into the mouth at higher velocities than other filter-feeders.

After drawing water into its mouth, the shark then filters food from the water by a process known as “cross-flow filtration,” which means the particles do not catch on the filter. Instead, water is directed away through the gills while food and other particles carry on towards the back of the mouth. As feeding continues, a spinning ball of food grows in diameter at the back of the throat until it triggers a swallowing reflex.

Whale sharks possess specialized flaps inside their mouth that stop the backflow of water as it closes its mouth, preventing the loss of food.

Though they are related to nurse sharks and other carpet shark species who often spend most of their time on the bottom. Whale sharks are considered a pelagic species typically found offshore in deep, open water. They are known to come close to shore, sometimes entering lagoons or coral atolls and even shallow water areas near bays during seasonal plankton blooms.

Whale sharks will often return to the same feeding site but are also highly migratory. Different geographic locations appear to be preferred at various times of the year and they may undertake large-scale migrations across the oceans. The coastal feeding sites consist of mainly juvenile male sharks, with the largest congregation containing hundreds to thousands of individual sharks. Each March and April, whale sharks are known aggregate on the continental shelf of the central western coast of Australia.

Very little is known about whale shark mating behavior as it has been rarely observed in its natural habitat.

As opposed to the other large sharks, which give birth to a small number of very large babies, whale sharks give live birth to hundreds of very small babies. After mating, the female whale shark produces hard, reinforced egg cases that remain inside her abdomen until they hatch, at which point she gives live birth.

The only litter size that has ever been documented was more than 300 pups. Newborns measure 21 to 25 inches long.

The average lifespan of the whale shark is estimated around 60 years though researchers do not know this for certain.

Whale sharks are considered harmless to humans and divers often encounter them in the wild. The Georgia Aquarium is currently home to 4 whale sharks which can also often be seen on the aquarium’s live webcam feeds – a unique opportunity to witness the largest fish in the world.


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

Florida Museum
Georgia Aquarium
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Georgia Aquarium webcam
Monterey Bay Aquarium live feed cams

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Ring-Tailed Lemur | Fossa | Aye-Aye

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

1. Ring-Tailed Lemur
2. Fossa
3. Aye-Aye
Credits and Links

Ring-Tailed Lemur

In the western Indian Ocean, just 250 miles from the east coast of Africa lies the fourth largest island in the world – Madagascar.

Like many of the islands to the east of the Indian Ocean, Madagascar is also home to it’s own unique members of the animal kingdom – animals found nowhere else. The most common and perhaps most famous exclusive residents of this island nation are the Lemurs.

Lemurs are part of the primate family known as prosimians. Prosimians are distinquished from other primates suchs as apes and monkeys and include lemurs, lorises, and bushbabies.

Lemurs are the most endangered primates in the world. In fact, they are the most threatened group of mammals on the planet. Currently 95% of lemur species are at risk of extinction.

There are more than 100 species of lemurs, including the red-ruffed lemur, the mongoose lemur, the mouse lemur (which is the smallest primate in the world), the indri, the sifaka and the aye aye. However the most recognizable and well-known of the species is the Ring-Tailed Lemur.

Ring tailed Lemurs are typically gray in body fur with white bellies. They have a dark gray head, a white face with dark triangular eye patches and a moist black nose and of course the recognizable ringed-tail. Males weigh up to 6 pounds while females are slightly smaller.

Ring-tailed lemurs live in southwestern Madagascar and while they are widely distributed across the arid, open areas and forests – some of the hottest and least hospitable forests in the country – Ring-tailed lemurs are found in only a few protected areas.

Lemurs are highly social animals, living in large groups. These social groups are led by a single alpha female who dominates all the other males and females – sometimes totalling as many as 30 individuals.

Female lemurs will live in the same family group their entire lives while mature males will migrate from group to group. The hierarchy among ring-tailed lemur females is not always consistent through birth however and daughters of the alpha female do not always assume the rank of their mothers. A group of lemurs is sometimes called a conspiracy, a troop or a mob.

Though all lemurs spend much of their lives in the treetops – where they move quite easily, often jumping from branch to branch, they also venture down to the ground to collect food.

Due to the harsh climate they live in – ring tailed lemurs feed on a variety of vegetation, including fruit, leaves, flowers, bark, and sap. They will also eat the occasional invertebrate they may uncover while foraging.

The ring-tailed lemur spends more time on the ground than any other species – up to 50% of their day they may be found on the forest floor where they walk on all fours – using both their hands and feet.

The most distinguishing feature of the ring-tailed lemurs is of course their 2 foot long tail that is marked with 13 distinct alternating white and black bands. While traveling, ring-tailed lemurs will keep their tails raised in the air – acting like flags to help keep group members together.

Ring-tailed lemurs also have scent glands on their wrists and chests that they use to mark their foraging routes. Males even have a horny spur on each wrist gland that they use to pierce tree branches before scent marking them.

During the breeding season, males compete for females by rubbing their tail with their wrist scent gland, and then wafting their tail towards their competitor. The winner of this “stink fight” is then able to mate with females.

Females usually give birth to only one young ring-tailed lemur at a time. The baby will initially cling to the mothers belly after birth, then at about two weeks old will transition and ride on her back.

Ring-tailed lemurs are very vocal animals – researchers have identified at least 28 different calls and alarms, making them one of the most vocal of all primate species.

In addition to their vocalizations, ring-tails will also utilize facial expressions to communicate with one another.

With the exception of the aye-aye, all lemurs’ bottom teeth form a special “toothcomb” structure, which they use for grooming. Ring-tails can often be found combing each others’ fur. This instinctive behavior that is not just hygienic, but also strengthens the social bonds within the group and is known as social grooming.

Another familiar sight involving the ring-tailed lemurs is a behavior called “sun worshipping.” The group will gather in open areas of the forest to sunbathe. They sit in what some call a “yoga position” with their bellies toward the sun and their arms and legs stretched out to the sides. This position allows them to absorb the warmth of the sun through their less dense belly fur.

In addition to their time in trees and foraging the ground for food, researchers have now discovered that some ring-tailed lemur groups will often spend each night inside of limestone caves. Over a six year study, the same group returned each night to the same location. This unique behavior likely provides some safety from potential predators, it is also believed that it provides the lemurs with access to water and nutrients and help to regulate their body temperatures during cold or hot weather.

While lemurs populate much of the island of Madagascar and have few natural predators – such as the fossa – they face many threats to their survival. Logging and charcoal production has destroyed much of their native habitats. All lemurs also face the human threat of the illegal pet trade.

Pet lemurs are actually illegal in Madagascar and anyone caught removing lemurs from the forest, selling them, or keeping them without a government permit can be fined and sentenced to time in jail. But the laws are difficult to enforce, especially in remote villages, where rural poverty is common and law enforcement personnel may be few.

Many pet lemurs are captured as babies, separated from their mothers and sold to local hotels and restaurants to lure tourists, who pay to touch the animals and have their photo taken with them. A practice that many people participate in, while unknowingly leading the ring-tailed and other lemur species into extinction.

To help preserve the world’s lemur population and raise awareness of these endangered animals – many accredited zoos such as the Akron Zoo and the Naples Zoo plus conservation organizations including the Duke Lemur Center, Lemur Love and the AZA certified Lemur Conservation Foundation all partner to form the Lemur Conservation Network and on the last Friday of October each year celebrate World Lemur Day.


Both on the ground and in the trees, few animals can keep up with the speed and agility of Madagascar’s famous resident primates. Unfortunately for the lemurs – their primary predator has no such difficulty.

Said to resemble a small puma both in color and appearance, measuring up to 6 feet long including their 30 inch tail and weighing nearly 20 pounds this animal is Madagascar’s largest native carnivorous mammal – it is not a cat, it is not a mongoose – it is the Fossa!

Legends of fossa have long been a part of the Malagasy culture. Myths once claimed that the fossa would creep into homes and steals babies from their cribs, another tale said that the mere scent of a fossa would kill poultry.

With a slender, long and muscular torso – the Fossa can move swiftly across the ground. With bare foot pads and 5 semi-retractable claws on each foot – aided by their long tail for balance they move just as quick among the trees.

The fossa (foos-uh), also sometimes pronounced as the “fah-sah” or “foosh”, is a unique animal found today mostly in the interior forest regions of Madagascar. Though they do live in a variety of forest types: from rain forest, humid and mountainous ranges and even spiny desert forests.

These various habitats provide plenty of options for their diet. Fossa primarily feed upon the many lemur species on the island as well as rodents, reptiles, and insects. They are known to consume not just the meat but also the internal organs of their prey.

Unfortunately, in areas near human settlements, fossa also feed on domestic livestock such as chickens. This has resulted in them being hunted, not only for bush meat but as a nuisance animal – where they are often killed indiscriminately.

Currently fossa are listed as vulnerable – but their numbers are decreasing, as few as 2,500 may remain in the wild.

Fossa are active both day and night – though they are less active around midday. In some areas closer to human residences – fossa tend to be mostly nocturnal.

Thought to be a distant relative of the mongoose, the possess a similar shaped head and eyes that appear as orange circles with a vertical slit. Their teeth resemble those of many cats and their long whiskers (or vibrissae) are similar to those of an otter.

Fossa are very nimble and move almost effortlessly among treetops. They can even move while suspended underneath a tree branch. The possess “reversible” ankles on each hindfoot, which allows them to move both up and down the tree trunks head first, giving them an advantage when they are on the prowl. On the ground, they walk flatfooted on the soles of its feet like a bear. Fossa are capable of covering great distances in their regions, sometimes traveling as much as 16 miles in a day.

Males and females will occupy territories defined by scent marking. Male fossa’s will often overlap in their home ranges and even sometimes live in small groups and hunt cooperatively for larger prey such as sifaka. Several females will often inhabit the same area as a male though females remain solitary in their range, except when caring for young.

During breeding season from September to November, a single female will occupy a tree, and males will congregate below. Though normally silent, during this time females will mew to attract males, and the males will howl and yowl while competing for the female. Over a one-week period, the female will mate with up to six different males. Once this is done, a new female will arrive, replacing the first female to mate with the gathered males.

Fossa typically give birth to 2 – 4 babies inside a den – which is often a hollowed out tree or empty termite mound. The newborns are born toothless and their eyes remain closed for up to 15 days. The mother is the exclusive caregiver for her offspring who may remain with her up to 20 months.

Fossa have no natural predators – but the human conflict and deforestation
which continues to destroy their native habitats pose the greatest threat to their survival.

It is unknown how long the fossa may live in the wild, but many have lived up to 20 years in managed care where accredited zoological facilities continue to ensure that the fossa continue to thrive for generations to come.


Madagascar is known for its population of lemurs – found no where else in the world. While lemurs range in size from 3 inches tall to 3 feet tall – most lemurs are similar in appearance. However, one species is rather unique. Traditional legends among local villagers claimed the glance or point of this creature meant bad luck resulting in your ultimate and soon demise.

One of the strangest primates on the planet – it is the mischievous Aye-Aye.

The aye-aye has a bizarre appearance compared to most lemurs. With large eyes, bat-like ears, rodent-like teeth, wirey long guard hairs and fur, and a long, thin middle finger on each hand that resembles a that of a skeleton.

Despite weighing around five pounds and measuring up to 16 inches long, the aye-aye is the largest nocturnal primate in the world.

Males and females look relatively identical other than size, males being slightly larger. When threatened or excited, aye-ayes will raise their long, white guard hairs that cover their body, making them look twice as big – and even more haunting.

The aye-aye’s tail has the longest hairs of any prosimian at over 9 inches, and like many lemur species is typically longer than their body.

Fast and stealthy – these black-furred animals roam the forest at night searching for food. Like other lemurs, they are agile in the trees and quick on the ground.

Aye-ayes are well equipped to hunt one of their preferred prey – insect grub.

The ears of the aye-aye are extremely large and moveable, to assist in locating larvae in wood cavities through a hunting technique known as percussive foraging.

Using their elongated, clawed fingers and tapping on the branches and logs,
aye-ayes utilize their excellent hearing to locate insects living within the wood. Some researchers believe however, percussive foraging may in fact rely more on touch than sounds.

The aye-aye possesses large, front teeth that continue to grow throughout their lifetime – a unique ability not seen in other primates. These strong front teeth allow them to puncture small holes in the wood, then using their very long and thin middle fingers – which are capable of indepedent movement from their other fingers – they are able to extract their prey from inside.

Aye-ayes also eat seeds, fruits and nuts. Using their rodent-like teeth they will gnaw at nuts and some hard-shelled fruits and use their fingers to scoop the flesh out of coconuts and other fruits.

Their specialized middle fingers have a ball and socket joint located at the first knuckle that allows it to move almost 360 degrees. In addtion to hunting and grooming, these special digits are also often used when drinking.

By quickly moving the finger back and forth between their mouth and the liquid, they can acquire liquids not normally accessible by their tongue alone. Aye-ayes have been recorded moving their third finger from a food source to their mouth as quick as 3 strokes per second.

The Aye-Aye is very adaptive despite its specialized food and feeding techniques. This flexibility is why its distribution in Madagascar is larger than any other lemur species.

Once thought to be rather rare, recent studies have shown however that they are located in a number of different regions and habitats across the island – though the total population numbers are smaller than many other lemur species.

Aye-ayes are found primarily along the east coast and the northern forest. Unlike most lemur species, aye-ayes are not very social and only come together during courtship or when a mother is raising her young. During these interactions, females are considered to be dominant over males.

Males are known to claim a very large home range, sometimes with overlap with other males that may lead to hostile encounters. Females maintain their own non-overlapping home ranges though it is usually shared is that of at least one male. Aye-ayes sleep in elaborate tree nests during the day, with different animals possibly using the same nest on different days.

With their taste for fruits – they have been known to raid coconut plantations and they have been observed eating other plantation crops such as mangoes.

This activity has created some human conflict – and despite the former myths of being an omen of death – today they are often killed as an agricultural pest. Still, like all lemurs on the island of Madagascar – the greatest threat is loss of habitat due to deforestation.

Few accredited facilities around the world are home to the aye-aye. Today these include the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, the Denver Zoo, Omaha’s Henrly Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, and the Philadelpha Zoo.

The leading center for aye-ayes is the Duke Lemur Center, the only aye-aye in human care first arrived there in 1987. The first birth of an aye-aye in human care occured at the Duke Lemur Center in 1992 – this historic aye-aye was named – the Blue Devil. Today, most of the aye-ayes found in zoos around the world are offspring from the original eight animals that call Duke Lemur Center home.


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

Zoo Atlanta
Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens
Duke Lemur Center
Lemur Conservation Foundation
National Primate Research Center
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
San Diego Zoo Global Library
Smithsonian’s National Zoo

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Manatees | Great Barracuda | Sawfish

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

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 Manatee.org
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: