Just in time for Halloween, I introduce you to the hellbender.
No, it's not one of Satan's minions or a CGI monster. It's a type of salamander native to the streams and rivers of eastern North America. Despite its demonic-sounding name, this spectacular amphibian is completely harmless to people. Yet the species is rapidly declining due to human activity such as deforestation, erosion and chemical runoff into our streams--which is the real horror story.
Watch this video put out by the Forest Service and partners about one of North America's most fascinating and little-known wild animals.
THE REAL APES OF THE PLANET premieres tonight at 8 p.m. E/P Only on Animal Planet
In Iowa, a 33-year-old male bonobo named Kanzi picks his own food for a picnic. He lights his own fire, toasts marshmallows — and, even extinguishes his campfire after he's done. WOW. See for yourself:
The large human brain gives us the evolutionary edge over other species, but studies show that almost everything we have learned has been handed down from our primal ancestors. In the new two-hour documentary, THE REAL APES OF THE PLANET, Animal Planet travels around the globe for an unprecedented look at some of the various 400 specimens that make up the primate family and the surprising way our behavior mirrors theirs.
THE REAL APES OF THE PLANET explores the surprising and mind-blowing similarities that humans share with our fascinating primate cousins. Passing on family traditions and grooming practices as well as ingenious survival tactics and the primates' ability to solve complex problems and form communities with a hierarchy system, the special highlights devoted parenting to fun-loving kids. Viewers also witness how, akin to humans, apes may demonstrate deceitful behavior to get what they want, overindulge in life's pleasures and not always get along.
Photo: Animal Planet/DCL video screengrab
In addition to Kanzi's story, chimpanzees, with their highly intelligent minds, in Uganda demonstrate their problem-solving skills and tool use when posed with a honey challenge. The long-tailed macaques in Thailand find a clever way to floss after a meal, and an orangutan in Borneo maintains her personal hygiene with a little soap and water. White-faced capuchins in the rain forest of Costa Rica uncover the secret that the sap of the Guyabano tree acts as a mosquito repellent if rubbed on their fur. THE REAL APES OF THE PLANET uncovers how these animals are individuals with their own personalities and why brainpower is essential to primate survival.
"Our St. Louis office got a call last week from a homeowner who had this pile of ringed salamanders trapped in an outside stairway. In autumn they travel by night to fishless woodland ponds where they may congregate by the hundreds for breeding. The salamanders were moved to a nearby fishless pond so they could continue.... If you see activity like this, let us know so we can help wildlife get back on the right road."
I'm most impressed with the homeowner, who did the right thing by contacting the Missouri Department of Conservation instead of a pest control company.
Amphibians like salamanders are on the decline globally. They are affected by habitat destruction, collection for the pet trade, climate change, pollution and disease. Their sensitive skin aborbs toxins from the air and water and as a result, amphibians are considered "canaries in the coal mine" because their presence is an indicator of the health of the greater environment. If you have them in your neighborhood, that's a great sign.
The World Wildlife Fund released an update of their Living Planet Index on Tuesday, revealing that HALF of our planet's wildlife population has vanished over the last 40 years.
HOW depressing and utterly horrifying is THAT?
Our earth lost about 52% of its biodiversity between 1970 and 2010. During this timespan, land creatures declined about 39%. Freshwater species declined about 76%. And, marine creatures also declined by 39%. The tropics have seen the greatest loss with a 63% decline -- Central and South America have been DECIMATED with a 83% loss.
Photo: There were 100,000 tigers on our planet in 1910. As of 2010, there are only 3,200 remaining, according to the study. You can learn about the tiger pictured in this screenshot from this video >>
According to the study, human consumption is unsustainable -- we overkill for food and destroy the natural habitats of wildlife. The human population requires the equivalent of 1 1/2 Earths of resources to support our current needs.
After the direct impact of human consumption, climate change is cited as the next biggest threat to the planet's wildlife.
It's now more important than ever that we are all doing what we can to help our planet and our fellow Animal Kingdom friends! There's no time to lose! We are all in this together!! DO IT FOR THE ANIMALS!!!
No, seriously -- it is SO important that we all take action now. And, as you may already know, Animal Planet's R.O.A.R. Matching Campaign is in full swing! So a few things you can do:
Kangaroos are herbivores. Native to Australia, they've evolved to be grazers and browsers, feeding on vegetation much like deer in other parts of the world.
Red Kangaroo. Photo by Mike Souza via Flickr Creative Commons.
When I stumbled on this footage of a young red kangaroo feeding on a seabird, I had to do a double-take. It sounds like something out of the plot of a bad horror movie, but apparently, there have been anecdotal reports of kangaroos eating meat. This seems to be the first time the behavior has been recorded.
It could be that this particular kangaroo was lacking some vital nutrient and developed a craving for meat that could supply it. It could be caused by some a mutation that drove this particular animal to go carnivorous. It's that kind of mutation that sometimes leads to entirely new species, if the mutation results in better survival and reproductive success for the animals that have it. I doubt it hunted the bird, but rather scavenged the carcass on the beach. Either way, it's pretty amazing to see this behavior captured on video.
Opossums are one of the most common mammals in our cities and towns. The are really cool and interesting animals, but most people find them gross and scary-looking. I'm here to throw a little love to these misunderstood creatures with my top ten reasons to love opossums.
10. Opossums are North America's Only Marsupial. Opossums are not rats or even closely related to rodents. They are marsupials. Most marsupial species live in Australia and like kangaroos or koalas, opossums have a very short pregnancy--just 12 days--and give birth to their young even before eyes or hind limbs have fully formed. With only front legs, the tiny babies must crawl into their mother's pouch, where they'll attach to a nipple and nurse while they continue developing.
9. Baby Opossums are Fluffy and Cute. When born, baby opossums are hairless and only the size of a bumble bee. But by the time they're ready to leave mom's pouch after about 11 weeks, baby opossums have turned into adorable little balls of flull.
8. Baby Opossums Ride on Mom's Back. Baby opossums get around by riding on their mothers' backs. Few things are cuter than seeing a dozen or so babies just hanging out on mom's back.
Mother opossum and young. Photo by Monica R. via Flickr Creative Commons.
7. They Break Records. Opossums have 50 teeth in their mouths, more than any other mammal.
6. Like Humans, They are Extremely Adaptable. Unlike more finicky species, opossums don't require special foods or places to live. They'll pretty much eat anything from fruit to mice to insects (and yes, sometimes our trash). They're just as happy to sleep in a tree cavity as they are in an abandoned car. They might not be the most elegant of animals, but you've got to respect an animal that can live anywhere and thrive.
5. They Eat Garden Pests. Opossums are great to have around the garden. They love eating slugs and other garden pests and can help keep populations of these critters down so your garden plants thrive.
4. They Utilize Trickery to Survive. Opossums really do play dead when they can't escape from a threat. They flop over, roll their eyes in the back of their head, stick their tongue out, and release a foul-smelling fluid from their anal glands. This behavior disarms the prey-drive of many predators that are triggered to attack prey that runs or fights back, and it can save an opossum's life. Check out this young 'one "playing 'possum."
3. They Are Immune to Rabies. Unlike most other mammmals, opossums don't contract or spread rabies. Their body temperature is slightly lower than that of other mammals, and the virus can't take hold.
2. Opossums Eat Venomous Snakes. Snakes don't stand a chance if there are opossums around. Opossums eat snakes, including venomous ones. In fact, they are generally immune to the effects of snake venom.
1. Opossums Destroy Ticks. Opossums are masters at destroying ticks. This is because they are very fastidious animals, constantly grooming themselves and removing (and eating) parasites like ticks. One opossum can take out around 5,000 ticks each year. That alone makes them worth having around!
Even though they are extremely adaptable and a successful species, they sometimes get themselves into trouble and need a helping hand. Here's a video of one young opossum in need of rescue.
It's Sea Otter Awareness Week, and we're otterly excited to put the spotlight on these amazingly cute and intelligent superstars of the marine world! On Animal Planet L!VE, we invite you to take a look into the natural habitat of California's southern sea otter on the LIVE Sea Otter Cam, powered by our partners at seaotters.com. While you watch wild sea otters swim, play and socialize on the cam, here are 5 exciting facts you otter know about sea otters!
1. Sea otters are social animals and a group of them is called a raft.
To humans, rafting is a sport or a leisurely weekend activity, but to otters rafting is a way of life! If you see one otter, there’s a good chance that many more are swimming nearby. Sea otters prefer to swim in same-sex groups called rafts. These groups can range from just ten otters to larger groups of hundreds or thousands. Something cute to note is that rafting sea otters can often be seen holding each others' paws to prevent themselves from floating apart while sleeping.
Photo Credit: Arthur Morris/Corbis
2. Baby sea otters are absolutely adorable, but it’s hard work being a sea otter mom.
Can you imagine being a new mother and having to swim through waves with an infant sleeping on your stomach? Sea otter moms do it all the time.
Born in the water with only the ability to float, sea otter pups cannot swim until they reach 2 months old and shed their newborn fur coat (lanugo). During this time frame, the female otter serves as her baby’s crib, ferry, groomer, and feeder
At 2 months old, an otter pup will learn to swim and dive on its own, but life doesn’t get any easier for mom until the pup is weaned after 6 months of age. This is due mainly to the fact that sea otters do not have blubber to keep them warm. In order to regulate temperature, an adult otter must eat approximately 25% of their body weight each day and that doesn't even include the additional amounts mothers need to eat to nurse their babies.
According to a June 2014 research study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, a female sea otter requires 14 hours of hunting per day to gain enough energy and nutrition to care for a 6 month old pup. Unfortunately, this means that otter mothers are more suceptible to health issues and mortality by the time the pup can be weaned. Some otters will abandon their babies to ensure their own survival, particularly when faced with food limitations within an area.
Since sea otters normally give birth to one pup every year, an otter mom's job really is never done!
3. Sea Otters are one of the few mammals on earth that use tools to hunt and eat.
Most of us will admire sea otters for their cute looks and silly antics, but they're also a smart species. They belong to a small club of mammals that use tools to hunt and eat. Since shellfish like clams and crab make up a large portion of their diet, sea otters have to find clever ways to crack their shells open. This is usually done by finding a rock, placing it on their stomach, and then hammering the shellfish into the rock until it yields the meat within.
Even cooler is the fact that sea otters have their own convenient hiding places for their favorite rocks. Each of their forelegs has a pocket of skin which can be used to safely store the otter's tool of choice and their freshly caught prey while diving to and from the surface.
Crocodiles, lizards, turtles and snakes are reptiles, and generally speaking, most reptiles lay eggs--but not all of them. Some snakes give birth to fully formed live young, just like mammals. Copperheads are one of them, and this time of year is birthing season for these beautifully camouflaged snakes.
At National Wildlife Federation, copperheads are causing quite a buzz. Our headquarters landscape is a Certified Wildlife Habitat, which means it is filled with native plants that provide food, cover and places to raise young for all sorts of wildlife. Several ponds offer a water source. The landscape is filled with songbirds, butterflies, frogs--and yes, snakes.
A few of my colleagues spotted a copperhead on their walk into the office earlier this week and sent an email out alerting others to the presence of the snake so folks could avoid the area. It was a great wildlife sighting and they snapped this picture of the gorgeous animal:
Photo by Greg Hudson.
But that's not all that was going on. The snake was a female and she was there giving birth! The next day, several small snake skins were found in the exact location. Shortly after coming into the world, the tiny newborn snakes shed their skin and let us know that mom had given birth to her babies.
My friend and National Wildlife Federation colleague Beth Pratt-Bergstrom is a self-avowed pika lover. Pikas are small mammals that live in high-elevation cool mountains west of the Rocky Mountains in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico. They are very, very cute.
Even though they look like it, pikas are not rodents. They belong to the taxonomic order called Lagomorpha and are closely related to rabbits and hares. They feed on on grasses and other vegetation, and spend much of their time gathering and hoarding plants in their rocky burrows, which they feed on during the long winter. You can often see them with their furry little faces stuffed with a huge amont of vegetation, scurrying through the rocks.
Apparently, that's not all they collect. Beth snapped this picture of a pika with what looks like a poop pellet in its mouth. She thought it was a funny and odd photo (right on both counts) but there's more the story than that.
Photo by Beth Pratt-Bergstrom.
Wow! Just heard from top pika researcher and my hero Eric Beever and he said I made a pika discovery! "I think this photo is the first photographic evidence of pikas moving / consuming fecal pellets of marmots." My contribution to science involves poop! How fitting.
Marmots are large members of the squirrel family that share the pika's habitat. Perhaps there's still available nutrients in the marmot droppings, and in nature such resources rarely go to waste. Lagomorphs are known for their coprophagia (poop-eating), and pikas are no exception, but usually it's their own droppings that they feed upon. More study is required to figure out what's going on with pikas in this regard. Science is cool!
Friends in Florida were in for a shock while fishing off the coast of Bonita Spring, FL this month. While reeling in a black tip shark, a goliath grouper jumped out of nowhere and took the predator in its mouth.
Don’t believe us? Take a look at the video posted to YouTube by user Gimbb14:
Some may find it surprising that a fish could attack a shark, but as we’ve seen on River Monsters, groupers aren’t ones to be messed with. According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, goliath grouper (like the one in the video) can grow beyond eight feet and weigh as much as 800 pounds. And while shark isn’t on its usual menu, crustaceans, stingrays, octopus and young sea turtles are, making the fish a revered predator in the water.
Interested in learning more about groupers? Take a look at some video from River Monsters.
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