A Baby Hooded Seal
Recently more Harp and Hooded seals than usual have been found stranded along the East Coast of the United States as far south as the Carolinas and the U.S. Virgin Islands. These stranded seals should have migrated much farther north by this time of year. A recent study indicates the problem is in part due to the decline in ice cover.
The Harp Seal Pagophilus groenlandicus, also known as the Saddleback Seal, lives in the north Atlantic Ocean and the Artic Ocean. Their scientific name translates to “ice-lover from Greenland,” and they really do love ice! Having a thick layer of blubber and efficient flippers which they can use as heat exchangers, they can efficiently regulate their temperature on ice and in extremely cold water. They have all-black eyes with grayish-silver bodies. Adult harp seals can weigh from 300-400 pounds.
The Hooded Seal Cystophora cristata is also found primarily in the North Atlantic Ocean. They are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. What stands out on these seals is a bulge on the males heads which develops around four years of age. This bulge is actually an inflated air sac or “hood” above their noses and is used in mating rituals. Adult males can weigh up to 900 pounds! That’s a big seal!
In general, these seals reproduce in the spring on huge masses of ice. As spring turns to summer the seals begin to migrate North. It is believed that a seals sight is very helpful in helping it navigate, making vision one of their most important senses.
Increasing numbers of Hooded Seals are being found dead or unhealthy on beaches further south than where they should be. Usually around 25 to 35 stranded seals are found on the Northeast Coast, however this year a total of 55 stranded seals have been found in both the Northeast and Southeast coasts combined. According to biologist Ulrika Malone, the seals are found dehydrated, sunburned, and suffering from heat exhaustion and hair loss. The ones that are alive are taken into rehabilitation centers by wildlife officials. The seals are nursed back to health and then released back into the wild.
A recent study published in the PLOS ONE journal confirms the theory that receding ice levels are at least partially to blame for more seals being found stranded. Most of the stranded seals are young, with 62% of them being male. It is thought that the majority are males because of their tendency to wander further away once they head off by themselves. Genetic issues, such as inbreeding, were mostly excluded as reasons. It was found that the stranded seals were just as genetically diverse as seals which were not stranded.
Sea ice is a prominent part of seal life and reproduction. Every spring (March-April) the seals reproduce on the ice drifts. The mothers nurse the young for a short time before they are left on their own to start their journey north. In the past 30 years ice cover in April has declined about 8%, which is significant. Researchers believe this affects the seals because there isn’t enough space on the ice for all the new young seals. Some of the babies may then be forced into the water prematurely and become confused as to which direction they should go. They may follow large groups of fish moving south instead of north and completely lose their way.
If the amount of sea ice continues to decline, it could cause serious problems for many types of seals, especially the ones who use the ice masses to reproduce. In fact, Ringed Seals and Bearded Seals are already listed as threatened species due to this decline in ice cover.
Should we be concerned with ice cover decline? What do you think?
The Jaguar Panthera onca
The jaguar gets its name from an old Latin American word ‘yaguar’ which means ‘he who kills with one leap’. This refers to the fact that they kill their prey quickly, sometimes instantaneously with only one bite. They are at the top of the food chain, and are vulnerable only to Anacondas or Caimans when young. Jaguars are very large exotic cats. In fact, they are the largest cats that inhabit North, South, and Central America! They are the third largest cat species in the world, being smaller only than tigers and lions.
It is believed that jaguars will become endangered if conservation efforts are not undertaken soon. Right now, they are listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) Red List.
The Jaguar Panthera onca is one of several large cats belonging to the Panthera genus. Other commonly known cats in this genus are lions, tigers, and leopards. The Jaguar and the Leopard look very similar and it can be hard to tell apart. The Jaguar is the only one living in the Western hemisphere however. So if you run into a large spotted cat in North America, you can be sure it is a jaguar and not a leopard!
Jaguars can reach 350 pounds, 6.5 feet in length (excluding their tail), and 2.5 feet in height. Being great swimmers and loving water, these cats usually prefer humid environments, such as rainforests and swamplands. However they can also be found on grasslands and in drier forests. An Interesting Fact: Jaguars have very strong jaws! Even for large cats, these guys have quite the bite. This enables them to easily and effectively kill their prey. These powerful jaws are also useful in piercing the shells of reptiles, such as tortoises and alligators. They are carnivores and their diet consists of just about any animal they can get their jaws on. Larger prey is usually preferred if available, however. Jaguars are solitary creatures as adults and spend most of their time in territory they have staked out for themselves.
Concern for Jaguars is steadily increasing. Three main problems are the cause of declining Jaguar populations.
1. Their natural habitats are shrinking. This is mostly due to fragmentation of their environments. As deforestation happens more and more to create room for agriculture and homes, and more major highways are constructed, the jaguars’ homes are compromised. They are no longer able to travel over large areas or breed as effectively because their access to other jaguars are restricted. This also leads to not as much diversification in the gene pool. In the United States, most Jaguars are already gone. However, there is believed to be a breeding population in Southern Arizona. In 1995, Jaguars became protected under the Endangered Species Act in order to stop people from shooting them for their pelts.
2. Their supply of natural prey is shrinking. People hunt many of their prey animals, such as deer and pigs, which reduces their availability to the cats. The prey animals are also losing their habitats, for much the same reasons as the jaguars are.
3. Jaguars are being killed by people. The reasons vary, from farmers/ranchers killing them for preying on their livestock, to Jaguars being deliberately poached to sell their pelts for profit. But these deliberate acts of killing jaguars are contributing to their decline.
Some organizations have recognized a need to project large cats everywhere and have taken steps to set up programs to do just that. One such organization, Panthera, has set up a program called the Jaguar Corridor Initiative. The primary purpose of this Initiative is to provide “corridors” or protected areas through human developments to connect one wild area to another. These corridors can be through a variety of different areas. Agriculture plantations, ranches, and people’s personal properties can all act as corridors. So far, this program seems to be producing positive results. Jaguars are able to safely pass through developed areas to hunt, breed, and live.
Panthera has another program, the Pantanal Jaguar Project. This one primarily focuses on educating local farmers and ranchers who reside in the Pantanal flood lands to help them reduce conflicts between the Jaguars and the cattle. This theoretically helps reduce the rates at which the cats are killed. Panthera is working with many of the South and Central American governments to monitor Jaguar populations and take motions to conserve them. The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve was opened in 1986 in Belize with the help of its government. This sanctuary helps protect around 200 Jaguars who live in the area.
Jaguars, like all large wild cats, are part of this world and help keep our ecosystems in check. There is great benefit in making sure they are protected and do not go extinct!
1. Kollus, Brad. “Corridor to the Future.” Cat Fancy March 2013: 28-29. Print.
A Beautiful Snow Leopard!
I came across this Snow Leopard Video not too long ago and I wanted to share it. I think it is neat and somewhat magical when we are given the chance to glimpse something in nature that is not part of our everyday norm. This snow leopard video was caught by Matse Rangja on one of his hidden cameras in China. Matse Rangja is a wildlife photographer who has been tracking Snow Leopards for over eight years. This one specifically comes from the Burhan Budai Mountains.
Snow Leopards are actually an endangered species and their populations continue to be on the decline. They are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered Status. There are only estimated to be around 6,000 of these leopards left in the wild. Reasons they are struggling to survive include changing habitats, less available prey, and poaching by humans. These large cats are native to Central Asia and live primarily in the high alpine and sub-alpine mountain areas. They will eat almost any type of animal they come across, however some of their more mainstay foods include bharal (blue sheep), mountain sheep, markhor (a wild goat species), and Himalayan Tahrs (related to wild goats). If they come across small animals or birds they will also eat those. Some people have a difficult time with them raiding their farms and eating their livestock.
Due to where they live, Snow Leopards have very thick fur coats to keep them warm from the cold. They also have large, wide feet which act similar to snow shoes, allowing them to cross deep snow rather easily. These leopards are considered large cats, but they are some of the smaller of the big cats. They only reach 60 to 120 pounds and about 2 feet in height. But they are still quite powerful and have no trouble taking down their prey! I don’t believe Snow Leopards are kept as pets other than in zoos or other wildlife sanctuaries, but there are some Exotic Cats which are. It takes a special type of person to want to keep an essentially large wild cat in their home!
Enjoy the video!
Animal-World’s Featured Animal for this week is:
The Eastern Brown Snake!
Would you like to know a little bit more about the second most deadly snake in the world? The Eastern Brown Snake is one of those awe-inspiring venomous snakes that really sends a chill down your spine when you imagine meeting with one. I have been wanting to write about this particular snake ever since I read about a little boy in Australia who stashed some eggs he found outside in a container in his closet. Apparently his mother opened the closet door and found the container squirming with a bunch of little snakes! After the boy and his mother took them to the local wildlife reserve, they discovered the babies were Eastern Brown Snakes. The boy was quite lucky not to have been bitten!
The Eastern Brown Snake Pseudonaja textilis is native to Australia and lives primarily on the eastern side. It can be found in almost all habitats, including the desert, grasslands, forest, and coastal areas. Adult Eastern Brown Snakes can reach 6 to 8 feet in length and have slender bodies. They can come in different variations of colors, from a light tan color to a very dark brown color. They can even come in gray colors. Rodents and other small animals are the bulk of their diet, although they will eat lizards, frogs, and birds if the opportunity arises. These snakes eating rodents is actually good for farmers because they act as a kind of pest control!
The Eastern Brown Snake is considered to be the second most deadly snake in the world, according to its SC LD50 value in mice. This number rates a snakes venom depending on how toxic it is. The most deadly snake in the world, according to this rating system, is the Inland Taipan Snake, also found in Australia. However, the Inland Taipan has not been the known cause of any known deaths. The Eastern Brown Snake on the other hand, has. In fact, the Eastern Brown Snake is the number one cause of snake bite deaths in Australia! The number of deaths has dropped dramatically in recent years due to the availability of anti-venom, but there are still one or two deaths per year.
The venom in these snakes is dangerous because it contains neurotoxins and procoagulants. The symptoms which arise from a bite include dizziness, diarrhea, paralysis, renal failure, and cardiac arrest. These snakes are considered aggressive in their natural territory, however they won’t usually bite something as a large as a human unless they feel threatened and/or unable to escape. If they feel they are defending themselves they will not always produce fatal bites. A “typical” bite from an Eastern Brown Snake yields about 2-4 mg of venom. The larger the snake, the more venom is produced. Without treatment the death rate is only about 10 or 20 percent. Considering there are snake species which have a 100% fatality rate if not treated (such as the Black Mamba and the Coastal Taipan), this death rate is actually not very high.
Reproduction time for the Eastern Brown Snake is in the spring. If there is more than one male in an area (which generally there is!), the males will engage in a “combat dance.” The winner of this dance is the lucky male who mates with any females in the area. The females will lay between 10 and 40 eggs apiece, with the average being 30 eggs. Once the eggs are laid, the mother leaves and has nothing to do with guarding the nest or rearing the babies. The babies also do not have a uniform color like the adults. They are banded with gray or black. These bands will disappear by the time they are three years old.
The Eastern Brown Snake is not a snake that would be kept as a pet! Some zoos or wildlife care places may keep them, and they are kept in anti-venom facilities to extract their venom. However, they are not kept as pets to handle and cuddle with! They are too dangerous and you would have to have a permit to keep one. There are many non-venomous Pet Snakes you can choose from if you want to keep one of your own, however!
I hope you enjoyed learning about the Eastern Brown Snake. I find them quite fascinating!
Jasmine is a team member at Animal-World and has contributed many articles and write-ups.
The Osprey Pandion haliaetus, is a large bird of prey found by bodies of fresh water all over the world. They are raptors and their diet consists mostly of fish. They can reach 24 inches inches in length and have a wingspan that can reach up to 71 inches! Other names they go by are the Sea Hawk, Fish Hawk, or Fish Eagle. The Osprey almost became non-existent in many areas of the United States due to use of the DDT pesticide after World War II. This pesticide interfered with calcium production during reproduction, resulting in thin-shelled eggs which were easily broken or infertile eggs. DDT was banned in 1972 and since then populations of Osprey have come back to many bodies of water.
Below is a live camera showing a nest of Osprey in Missoula, Montana. The camera was set here to aid in the Project Osprey which is studying these birds.
Project Osprey is a study going on at the University of Montana. It is investigating inorganic contaminants such as mercury in these birds and using the results to help determine environmental health in surrounding areas. These large raptors are useful in determining environmental conditions in local lakes and rivers because they are at the top of the food chain and eat primarily fish obtained from these bodies of water. Therefore what is contained in these birds is also contained in the fish they eat and in the environment the fish live in. The project has been ongoing for for six breeding seasons now and a study detailing the mercury and other contaminants found in Osprey in the Clark Fork River Basin has been published.
If you would like to see pictures of other wild birds, check out Animal-Image.
Earlier this week, it was reported that the last remaining giant Pinta Island Tortoise Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni, had died. His name was Lonesome George and he was around 100 years old, which isn’t particularly old for a tortoise. He was approximately 200 pounds and 5 feet long. This is indeed sad news for the world, as yet another endangered species is most probably extinct.
It is not sure why he died, however they believe he may have suffered a heart attack. His caretaker, Fausto Llerena, found him stretched out towards his watering hole. An autopsy is planned to determine the cause of death.
These tortoises are thought to have originated over 10 million years ago and Lonesome George is believed to have been the last of his particular subspecies. Their home and where they were discovered was the Galapagas Islands. However they (along with many of the other animals there) were almost hunted to extinction by seal hunters and whalers in the 19th century.
Lonesome George was discovered in 1972, at a time when his kind were already thought to be extinct. At that point they relocated him from his current home on Pinta Island, to Santa Cruz Island to live out his life with his caretaker. Attempts to breed him were made several times, however were never successful. Hence his name, Lonesome George!
The Galapagos National Park Service is planning an international workshop sometime in July to begin looking at strategies for increasing and restoring populations of tortoises over the next 10 years.
Animal-World’s Featured Animal for this week is:
The Saltwater Crocodile!
Photo Wiki Commons
Courtesy Molly Ebersold of the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.
Licensed under Public Domain.
The Saltwater Crocodile is the most dangerous and aggressive animal in northern Australia!
I know that normally I do my weekly featured pet on an actual pet, however this week I decided to switch it up a bit and do a post on an animal that is definitely not considered a pet – the saltwater crocodile! I find these creatures absolutely fascinating and they have recently grabbed hold of my interest. Did you know that they are the largest known reptile living today? And they are also considered extremely dangerous and aggressive, making them even more scary (to me) than sharks! Their scientific name is Crocodylus porosus, and they can be found in Australia, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Bangladesh, the Solomon Islands, and along the east coast of India.
They are called “saltwater” crocodiles because they don’t generally hang out in freshwater, although crocodile young are raised in freshwater and they can thrive in freshwater if need be. They like brackish water (meaning has some salt but not as much as seawater) best as adults and can usually be found in waters that are near rivers and coasts. Mangrove swamps are a huge habitat for saltwater crocodiles.
Male crocodiles can reach long lengths of 20 feet! Although there have been cases of some reaching up to 27 feet in length in the wild, this is rare, and females generally only grow up to 10 feet. This still makes for a very large reptile and the males can weigh up to 2,900 pounds.
Their nostrils, eyes, and ears are all located elevated along the top of their head, so they can breathe, see and hear all while staying practically completely submerged and out of sight. They spend little time on land, so this is perfect for their lifestyle.
Another interesting fact is how their eggs hatch. Forty to sixty eggs are laid in each nest (generally from November to March) and they hatch about 90 days later. The interesting part, is that the baby crocodiles become male or female depending on what temperature the eggs are kept at! If the eggs are above 32 degrees Celsius, the crocodiles will become male, and if they are below 30 degrees Celsius, they will become females! However, only 1% or less of the hatchlings will survive to maturity.
I think everyone is probably aware that they have a reputation for being “man-eaters.” Well, they don’t go out of their way to eat humans – but if humans are in their territory, they are considered fair game as far as food goes! They kill 1 to 2 people per year in Australia. Their food includes just about anything they can overpower, including other reptiles, birds, buffalo, wild boars, monkeys, cows, humans, etc. They hunt by using their famous “death roll,” which involves the crocodile grabbing its prey in its jaws (which are extremely powerful) and rolling over and over in the water. This both crushes its victims and can drown them.
One event that really caught my eye was the Battle of Ramree Island. Apparently in 1945 about 1,000 Japanese soldiers were surrounded by British soldiers and had nowhere to retreat other than into the inland swamps. They spent the night traversing the swamps to get to safety and about 400 of them were thought to have been killed by the native crocodiles. It is considered “The Greatest Disaster Suffered from Animals” in the Guinness World Records! It is pretty hard to fathom something like that happening.
So, as an end thought – if you are ever in areas where wild saltwater crocodiles are plentiful, be careful and follow local crocodile safety guidelines!
Though these large and dangerous animals are not pets, there are many types of lizards and other reptiles that are great to keep as pets. Check out Animal-World’s Reptiles, Amphibians, and Land Invertebrate page if you are interested in more information.
Jasmine is a team member at Animal-World and has contributed many articles and write-ups.
Cotton Top Tamarin
Have you heard?! Just recently, a group of scientists discovered a new species of monkey in the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. It was discovered when scientists went into an area of forest that is not well known and saw these new monkeys as well as several other endangered species living there.
The biologist that is credited with the discovery is Julio Dalponte. He went on a 590 mile expedition into a little-explored area that covered 590 miles between the Roosevelt River and the Guariba River. These apparently are the major and most important rivers in the area of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso.
The new monkey species discovered is a species of titi monkey with different colored markings displayed on its tail and head, with these new markings never before seen on monkeys from the same group. To learn more about this discovery, check out the World Wildlife Foundation story here: New Monkey Species Discovered in the Amazon
Ecologists, zoologists, and other animal scientists frequently enter the wilderness to study their main subject; animals. They patiently sit there and wait for animals to pass by so they can examine how they behave in their natural habitat, and they’ve been doing this for years.
However, observing animals in the wild doesn’t have to be so scientific. Every animal lover can do it. In fact, animal observation has become a popular camping activity, you actually don’t have to be an animal expert. But you should keep in mind the following:
1. Find a good spot.
A good spot is somewhere that not too many humans enter, but, for safety’s sake, isn’t too far away from your hiking or camping area. So how do you know you’re in a good spot? Head for the main trail and if you see more animal footprints than human tracks, then that’s probably good spot. It’s also a good practice to veer off from the main trail, but not stray too far away from it or you might find yourself wandering around, lost in the middle of nowhere. If you have chosen a specific animal to observe, however, conduct some research first to find out which areas it frequents.
2. Build a good blind.
A blind is anything you can use to hide yourself from the animals so you don’t disturb and scare them. It can range from a pile of undergrowth to something as complicated as a store-bought blind that you can assemble and camouflage with branches, twigs, leaves, and stones. If you’re not into hard-core scientific observation and are just into this for pleasure, you can simply tie a piece of sturdy rope across two neighboring trees and lean long branches against the rope.
3. Blend in and be patient.
Try waiting for a couple of days before you go back to your blind. This will allow the animals to get accustomed to it and not get too suspicious about the newly put up structure.
When you decide to return to your blind, be sure that you are not intrusive and that you completely blend in. Wear clothes the same color of nature and do not wear any cologne or perfume. Animals have a very sensitive sense of smell and they can sniff the presence of any intruder right away. It’s also important that you patiently and quietly sit inside your blind while you wait for an animal to come ambling by.
4. Document your observations.
If you are planning to do this again in the future, it’s a good practice to keep a record of what you have observed. Animals follow a fairly rigid schedule so it will be easier for you to catch one passing you by the next time you decide to observe animals in the wild again. Bring a notebook with you and take down notes of the times you saw animals of interest, how many were there and which direction they were heading.
You could also set up a motion-sensing camera that could record the movement of the animals when they pass by. I would personally go for the notebook though – there’s nothing like a high-tech gadget to take away the natural feel of it all!
On Earth Day, this Friday, April 22nd, 2011, the film “African Cats” by Disneynature is hitting theaters!
This is a great and fun way to help “Save the Savanna” in Africa!
The “See ‘African Cats,’ Save the Savanna” initiative is Disneynature’s pledge to donate a portion of the proceeds from ticket sales during opening week (April 22-28) to the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. This is to help ensure the future of lions, cheetahs, elephants, zebras, giraffes and a host of other animals in the vibrant African savanna. The AWF will be working to protect the Amboseli Wildlife Corridor, a passage between the Amboseli, Tsavo West and Chyulu Hills National Parks that is frequently used by a variety of wildlife.
Moviegoers have already bought $1.7 million in tickets to see the movie during its opening week (April 22-28) and save the African Savanna in the process.
The storyline features large cat species native to Africa, including lions and cheetahs. It follows the lion cub Mara who desires to grow up and be strong like her mother, the cheetah mother Sita as she raises her five babies, and Fang – the leader of the pride who must defend his family from rivals.
“See ‘African Cats,’ Save the Savanna” continues Disneynature’s conservation efforts, which began with its first release, “Earth” (2009), for which three million trees were planted in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. The program in support of “Oceans” (2010) helped establish 40,000 acres of marine protected areas in The Bahamas, which contain miles of vital coral reef.
The African Cats Video can be seen here at this Disney Site.
Hope you enjoy!