Sea Turtles | Vaquita | Killer Whale

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

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

Sea Turtles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Killer Whale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Mako Shark | Cheetah | Peregrine Falcon

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

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

Mako Sharks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peregrine Falcons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Giant Oarfish | Mola Mola | Whale Shark

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

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

Giant Oarfish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mola Mola (Ocean Sunfish)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whale Shark

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

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

This giant of the deep is the Whale Shark!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Ring-Tailed Lemur | Fossa | Aye-Aye

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

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

Ring-Tailed Lemur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Manatees | Great Barracuda | Sawfish

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Barracuda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Okapi | Ostrich | Nile Crocodile

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

2. Ostrich
3. Nile Crocodile
Credits and Links


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nile Crocodile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Kiwi | Kea | Tuatara

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Hawaiian Monk Seal | Nene Goose | Humuhumu

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

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

Hawaiian Monk Seal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nene (Hawaiian Goose)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Tree Kangaroos | Komodo Dragon | Wobbegongs

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

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

Tree Kangaroos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Komodo Dragon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Electric Eel | Harpy Eagle | Tapirs

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

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

Electric Eel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harpy Eagle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Emperor Penguin | Reindeer | Beluga Whale

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

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

Emperor Penguin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emperor penguins are currently listed as near threatened.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beluga Whale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit:

Arctic Fox | Puffins | Polar Bear

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

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

Arctic Fox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polar Bear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

For original wildlife artwork and more amazing animal facts visit: