Arctic Fox | Puffins | Polar Bear

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

Arctic Fox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polar Bear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Hellbender | Beaver | California Condor

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California Condor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

American Bison | Pronghorn | Black-footed Ferret

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

American Bison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black-footed Ferret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Spiders| Bats | Snow Leopard

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snow Leopard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Bonobo | Sandhill Crane | Right Whale

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sand Hill Crane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right Whale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Anteaters | Aardvark | Pangolins

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1. Anteaters
2. Aardvark
3. Pangolins
Credits and Links


Central and South America are the exclusive home to several species of mammals with a huge appetite for ants and termites known collectively as the “true” anteaters.

Found in tropical savannas and forest ranging from Southern Mexico into the Amazon basin of central South America, these toothless animals all possess a flexible snout, a sticky saliva covered narrow tongue and a long tail. Most have relatively poor eyesight but an incredible sense of smell that helps them seek out ant colonies even those buried underground.

The anteaters come in a variety of sizes, from as small as a squirrel to the size of a golden retriever and each has a name to match.

Silky Anteater

The smallest species of anteater is the Silky Anteater, also sometimes known as the pygmy or dwarf anteater. They rarely weigh more than 10 ounces and usually grow between 15 and 20 inches long.

In addition to being the smallest, they are also the least-known of all the anteaters, mainly because they’re so hard to find. Found throughout Central and South America, silky anteaters are arboreal, spending their lives hidden in the tree canopy.

They also inhabit the island of Trinidad where the local residents may call them “poor-me-one.” It was once thought the animals were responsible for a lonely-sounding almost human like cry – this sound, however, turned out to belong to a native bird species. Most anteater species rarely vocalize except when very young.

The Silky Anteater’s more common name comes from its golden yellow color fur which has a soft, shiny texture. This fur covering helps it hide among the silk cotton trees where they often live. They may sometimes be found among mangrove trees in their habitats as well.

Silky Anteaters have a prehensile tail that aids in moving and balancing among the tree limbs.

They are nocturnal creatures that spend the day conserving energy curled in a ball, high in the trees – though it has been noted they rarely spend more than 2 days in a row in the same tree.

Unlike most other anteater species whose diet includes termites and some other insects, the Silky Anteater feeds almost exclusively on ants.

In addition, when caring for young, the female will also leave her young alone while foraging for food at night – while the young of other anteater species will almost always remain on the back of their mother for up to a year. A silky anteater is considered mature at 12 months old.

The silky anteater has traditionally been considered a single species of their kind but recent studies involving modern anatomical evaluations and DNA analysis of many Silky Anteaters in their various native ranges have led researchers to conclude there are as many as 7 distinct species of the world’s smallest anteaters.


A somwhat larger species at 2 to 3 feet in length and weighing up to 10 pounds the Tamandua is also called the Lesser Anteater. There are two species, the Northern and the Southern – or Collared – Tamandua. They have short, dense fur that helps prevent ants from reaching their skin. They may also have a dark v-shape mark down their back. Northern tamanduas are typically brownish in color while the Southern species may have a more yellow or golden tint and some may not display the distinctive v-shape marking.

The underside of their tails is fur-less, this allows them to grip tree branches more securely as they move through the trees. Unlike it’s smaller relative however, tamanduas will also spend some of their time on the ground.

They are found throughout much of South America and they can adapt to a number of different habitats but are often found near streams and rivers. In addition to ants and termites, tamanduas have been known to break open bee hives to feed on honey.

They are most active at night, often nesting during the day in hollow tree trunks. It has small eyes and poor vision but can hear and smell quite well.

Tamanduas may use their forearms and sharp front claws for defense against predators but more commonly they will emit a strong musty odor – said to be 4 times stronger than a skunk. Often this smell will deter a would-be attacker.

Despite their odor, tamanduas are sometimes used by people living in the Amazon to rid their home of ants and termites.

Giant Anteater

The largest of the anteater species is the appropriately named Giant anteater. Weighing up to 100 pounds and measuring up to 7 feet long they are native to the forest and grasslands of Honduras, Brazil and northern Argentina.

Giant anteaters have short, bristly hairs in shades of brown on their shoulders with wide, black stripes that run from their upper front legs toward the middle of their back. Their front legs are covered in longer white hairs and they have a bushy tail which resembles the texture of a horse’s mane.

Typically they are slower moving animals as the forage for the ants and termites they feed on but when necessary can travel up to 30 miles per hour. Giant anteaters can also climb and are good swimmers, using their snout as a snorkel.

Inside the long flexible muzzle is a 2 foot long tongue. Their narrow noodle-like tongue is covered in short backwards facing barbs and a sticky saliva secretion that aids in pulling ants into their toothless mouth and eventually ground up inside their stomach. Anchored to their sternum, giant anteaters are able to flick their tongue in and out of their mouth up to 150 times a minute.

Giant anteaters possess three curved, very sharp claws on their front legs. Using their powerful forearms and claws they are able to dig into buried ant nests and even break open rock hard termite mounds.

Giant anteaters protect their sharp front claws by tucking them into their palms effectively walking on their fists. Their back feet and claws are more similar to bears and though they are not related giant anteaters are sometimes called antbears.

Their claws also serve as a defensive weapon against predators including jaguars. Often when threatened they will rise up on their back legs, using their tail as a tripod to steady themselves and swipe – sometimes injuring or even killing a would be attacker.

Anteaters usually feed in short sessions at each colony of insects they find. By not depleting the area, there is a constant source of food within their habitat. These short feeding sessions also limit the amount of contact and possible stings they may endure from their prey.

In addition to the “true” anteaters the term “anteater” is often applied, in name only, to other ant-eating mammals around the world.

In Australia, the numbat, a small marsupial, is often called the banded anteater while the short-beaked echidna – one of the rare egg-laying mammals, is also known as the spiny anteater.

Asia and Africa are home to several species of plate covered creatures called pangolins. These animals are sometimes named the scaly anteater.

Another notable ant eating mammal often mistakenly referred to as an anteater is the aardvark. This powerful digging animal is exclusive to the continent of Africa. While all of these species share a common dietary preference they are not related to the South American anteaters at all.


Across the African savanna grasslands is a familiar sight. Large, towering structures often over 6 feet tall and hard as concrete. They are termite mounds. Created by secretions of the insects inside they are often used as lookout perches by some animals and scratching posts for others, such as elephants, but to one species – the termite mound is a buffet.

The aardvark, with it’s stocky build, powerful legs and sharp nails – is able to break open these rock hard structures and feast on the termites living within.

The aardvark is a nocturnal animal designed for burrowing. It is sometimes described as having a thick kangaroo-like tail, tall rabbit-like ears and it’s most striking feature: an extended pig-like snout.

They are about two feet tall at the shoulder and can be over six feet long from nose to tail. They can weigh up to 150 pounds.

The aardvark’s name comes from an Afrikaan word translated “earth pig.” Yet despite its pig like skin and snout it is not related to them.

Aardvarks have a great sense of smell and hearing that allows them to find both ant and termite colonies even in less obvious locations.

Their snout is long and flexible and they have a 12 inch coiled and tapered tongue that they use to lap up insects.

Unlike anteaters and pangolins which have similar diets but no teeth, aardvarks have about 20 teeth that they use to crush the insects that they consume. Their teeth have no enamel coating and continue to grow throughout the animals life.

With powerful front legs and sharp thick nails, they are excellent at digging – they may even dig a 2 foot hole in 15 seconds. When threatened by a predator they will often dig down into hole to escape. Their tall ears are able to fold back which protects them from debris while they are burrowing.

They create new complex burrows almost every day as they spend the hot African days sleeping inside. They rarely use the same burrows again but other animals may make use of abandoned aardvark holes for their home.

There is no dedicated breeding season for the aardvark who otherwise leads a mostly solitaire life. A single baby is born after a gestation of 7 months. Weighing only 5 pounds, pink and hairless- the young remain deep underground for about 2 weeks before it begins to emerge and follow its mother while foraging. Young aardvarks are able to dig their own burrows at 6 months of age and reach sexual maturity at 2 years old.

Whether serving as a natural pest control or indirectly providing shelter for other animals across the savanna, the aardvark is a vital member of their ecosystem.


Among the many unique species of ant-eating animals perhaps the most peculiar and unfamiliar is the pangolin. A solitary and elusive creature that is often difficult to study in the wild.

Though they share many characteristics with the anteaters of the Western Hemisphere, the pangolin – surprisingly – is actually more closely related to the order of Carnivora which includes cats, dogs and bears.

Pangolin species vary in size from about 3.5 lbs to a maximum of about 73 pounds. They vary in color from light to yellowish brown through olive to dark brown.

Once thought of as a reptile, they are actually the world’s only scale-covered mammals and are sometimes called scaly anteaters.

The overlapping scales that cover most of their body are formed by keratin, the same protein found in hair, fingernails and rhinoceros horns. These scales continue to grow throughput the animals life.

The belly of the pangolin does not contain scales but instead is covered in a small amount of fur. Pangolin limbs are short and thick, well adapted for digging. Each paw has five toes, and their forefeet have three long, curved, sharp claws.

Pangolin scales provide good defense against predators. When threatened, they can quickly curl into a ball, protecting their defenseless undersides. The word pangolin comes from a Malay word meaning “roller” in reference to this behavior. They also deter predators by hissing and puffing, and lashing their sharp edged tails.

Pangolins possess long, muscular, sticky tongues that allow them to reach ants and termites in deep cavities. The tongue is attached near its pelvis and last pair of ribs, and when fully extended is longer than the animal’s head and body. At rest, a pangolin’s tongue retracts into a sheath in its chest cavity.

Pangolin’s do not have teeth but their stomach contains keratinous spines projecting into its interior, along with small stones and sand they ingest which grind and mash their food.

Pangolins are found in both Africa and Asia. There are a total of 8 different species with 4 identified on each continent.

The Giant Pangolin is the largest living pangolin species. It is a ground dwelling animal found in mostly in central Africa often in moist habitats and near water sources. They may weigh more than 70 pounds.

The Temminck’s ground pangolin is the only species found in southern Africa. Unlike the Giant pangolin, it prefers a dry and arid savanna habitats and will often use abandon aardvark burrows.

The White Bellied and Black Bellied species are both arboreal. Different from the ground dwelling pangolins they are smaller in size, have larger eyes, an irregular scale pattern, a prehinsile tail that has bare tail pads used for climbing, and hair on the lower sections of the front legs. Both possess long tails but black-bellied pangolin’s tail can be twice the length of its body, the white bellied’s tail is noticeably shorter. The White-bellied pangolin is the most frequently encountered species in Africa.

The Sunda pangolin is the most widely distributed species of pangolin in Southeast Asia. It is primarily a tree dwelling species whose range overlaps with the ground dwelling Chinese pangolin. The Chinese species has a blunter tail and a scale pattern that gives the appearance of wearing a helmet.

The Philippine, or Palawan pangolin was only recently described as a species distinct from the Sunda pangolin. It has the greatest number of scale rows across its back of all Asian species and is only found on four islands within the Phillippines.

The Indian pangolin has the largest scales of the Asian species and while shy they have been known to dig through concrete and into houses.

The pangolin is considered the most heavily trafficked mammal in the world. They are caught and slaughtered for their scales which are highly sought after for illegal use in Asian traditional and folk medicines, as well as in the black-market jewelry trade.

Pangolins are often difficult to keep in managed care due to their highly specialized diet (often only eating certain species of ants found in their native range). Few accredited zoos have successfully housed and exhibited pangolins in North America.

Currently the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago and the Memphis Zoo – both members of the Pangolin Consortium – are two facilities that currently exhibit this amazing animal that may be on the brink of extinction.


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

Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo
IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group
Lincoln Park Zoo
Memphis Zoo
Nashville Zoo
Philadelphia Zoo
San Diego Zoo
Smithsonian’s National Zoo
The University Of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit: