Bites at Animal Planet


21 Jan

Meet Mini-Moby the White Porpoise

Mini Moby 2

Meet Mini-Moby the white harbor porpoise. Named after Moby Dick, the famous fictional white whale from the Herman Melvin book of the same name, Mini-Moby is an exceptional animal in more ways than one.

First, the condition that causes his white coloration is very rare. Mini-Moby is leucistic. Leucism is a genetic condition that causes an animal to lack pigmentation and appear white or mostly white (albinism is similar, but causes a total lack of pigmentation). Mini-Moby is mostly white with some darker coloration on his fins. Harbor porpoises are normally a gray color.

Second, harbor porpoises are special because they have made a remarkable comeback in the last few years in the San Francisco Bay, where they were absent for decades.  The return of the species is a notable wildlife recovery success story in these times where the news about wildlife populations is usually bad. Here's a great video about the recovery.

Here's an excerpt about the work biologists are doing to study these harbor porpoises, Mini-Moby in particular, from an upcoming book by my National Wildlife Federation colleague Beth Pratt-Bergstrom, NWF's California Director. NWF is partnering with and supporting Golden Gate Cetacean Research's work on harbor porpoises.  

Mini Moby 1“If it seems like making these connections from pattern identification would be an extremely time-consuming endeavor, then you are understanding the process. It requires an insane level of attention to detail. Sometime nature cuts the researchers a break with a very distinct looking animal. Take for instance, Mini-Moby. It’s a cetacean anyone can be trained to recognize. Mini-Moby is an albino porpoise first spotted in the Bay in 2011. He’s pretty hard to miss,” observes Bill, “he’s definitely the most recognizable porpoise in the Bay Area, if not the entire coast of California.” Almost entirely white, black accents decorate his dorsal fin and blowhole as if he donned the porpoise version of a tuxedo.

In the past 100 years, only a small number white porpoises have been documented worldwide, ranging in causes from true albinism to leucistic (reduced pigmentation) to hybridization with another animal. A GGCR paper, “First Record of Anomalously White Harbor Porpoises from the Pacific Ocean” characterized Mini-Moby’s condition as leucistic and also noted these animals appear to have a normal life span and despite their unique color don’t appear to be ostracized by their peers. Since Mini-Moby has proved social with other porpoises, he’s also employed as a natural marker for their research to track movements of his porpoise companions over time.

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10 Jan

Wasp vs Tarantula - Who Will Win?


My pal Bryan Hughes from Rattlesnake Solutions LLC was recently out in the desert looking for rattlesnakes and came across this epic battle between a large wasp and a tarantula.

The common name for this wasp species is tarantula hawk. As you can see in the video above, it is well-named.

Tarantula hawks specialize in preying on the large spiders that give them their common name. Well, the females do at least. Male and female tarantula hawks actually feed on flower nectar. The female hunts tarantulas so that she can provision her young with a living host upon which to feed.

Photo by Ken Bosma via Flickr.

When she finds a suitable victim, a battle like the one in the video ensues. If she's lucky, the female wasp lands a sting to the spider, which doesn't kill it but rather paralyzes it. She then hauls it off to a nest burrow where she lays an egg on it. 

When the wasp larva hatches, it burrows into the still living spider and feeds on the arachnid from the inside out until it pupates and eventually emerges as an adult wasp.

Gruesome, yes, and pretty horrible for the spider, but still it's an evolutionarily genius way to provide an ample food source for your offspring without having to dedicate time and energy to directly feed them while they grow to adulthood.

Protect Wildlife with the National Wildlife Federation.


16 Dec

Endangered Northern White Rhino Dies, Only FIVE Left on the Planet

Remember how there were only SIX northern white rhinos left in October, per our report here?? Well, now there are only five. SIGH. Read the full report from The Dodo and find out about our latest loss.


Photo: Wikimedia via The Dodo


By Stephen Messenger

One of the last remaining survivors of one of the world’s rarest animals has died, inching yet another species closer to extinction. Angalifu, a 44-year-old male northern white rhino kept at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, passed away on Sunday, zoo officials say — leaving only five members of the species.

“Angalifu’s death is a tremendous loss to all of us,” Rancy Reiches, curator of mammals at the zoo’s Safari Park, told the Los Angeles Times.


Continue to the Full Report at The Dodo >>


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10 Dec

Seven Sperm Whales Found Dead Off Australian Coast

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 10.50.49 AM
People marvel at the beached whales in Australia. (Photo Credit: BBC News)

Beachgoers were in for a shock when they found a pod of dead sperm whales off the coast of southern Australia.

Six whales were discovered together Monday near Androssan, while a seventh was located a few kilometers away, according to the Huffington Post. An eighth whale was also seen in shallow waters, before a team of marine officials ushered it back into the ocean.

How did seven sperm whales end up like this? We’ll likely never know. DNews reports that one Department of Environment official told local news that one of the whales may have fallen ill and signaled the rest of the pod toward the shore.

Curious to learn more about this large and majestic whale species? Read more about sperm whales on

9 Dec

Sea Turtle Evades Shark

Photo by Teddy Fotiou via Flickr Creative Commons.

You might think that once they reach their adult size sea turtles are safe from predators. What could bite through those thick shells?

Turns out that even adult sea turtles are still on the menu for certain shark species, namely tiger sharks. Large, blunt headed tiger sharks are immensely powerful, and they love to dine on sea turtles. Often, they grab on to a flipper and tear it off, and indeed, sea turtles with missing limbs are not an uncommon sight. Tiger shark jaws are even powerful enough to crush through the shell of a sea turtle.

But don't feel too bad for the sea turtles. The video above shows just how smart these marine reptiles really are, and how well adapted they are to evade tiger sharks. The turtle anticipates the shark's attack and twists its body in the water. This does two things. First, it protects the turtle's vulnerable head and limbs from the shark's mouth. Even more fascinating, it puts its shell at just the right angle so that flat top is facing the shark. If the shark could grab the turtle shell from the side, it could shake the turtle to death and crush through the shell.  But not even a tiger shark can open its mouth wide enough to engulf the entire shell.

Amazing stuff! 

Protect Sea Turtles with the National Wildlife Federation.  


5 Dec

Have You Ever Seen an Owl Swim?

This great horned owl was attacked by a pair of peregrine falcons. Though much larger than the falcons, the owl knew better than to fight back against the smaller birds, which kill other birds by dive-bombing into them at speeds of over 200 mph.

Instead, it plunged in to waters of Lake Michigan to escape. Owls and other large birds don't enter the water willingly, but their light bodies float and they can use their wings to do a breaststroke and swim, as this owl shows.

Fortunately for the owl, it survived the attack and flew away after it reached the shore.

Protect wildlife with the National Wildlife Federation. 

Photo by Chris via Flickr Creative Commons.


1 Dec

How Bears Use Obesity to Survive

Science write Jason Goldman hosts a great wildlife podcast called The Wild Life. The latest episode focuses on bears. Based on this teaser, sounds like a fascinating episode:

"Bears have figured out how to become obese without becoming diabetic. Then they hibernate for 4-5 months without becoming weak. How can hibernating bears help us understand human health and disease? And did you know that some bears have learned to use tools?!" 

Listen to the episode by clicking on the orange arrow above. 

Bear fish
Black bear. Photo by CA Department of Fish and Wildlife via Flickr Creative Commons.

Protect Wildlife with the National Wildlife Federation. 

25 Nov

First Footage of a Monster from the Deep

What's believed to be first ever footage of a live, female anglerfish swimming at extreme depths has been recorded by researchers with the Monterey Bay Research Institute.  

AnglerfishThis species of anglersfish is known as the black seadevil. These terrifying-looking fish live in the deep ocean where no light reaches. The females have an appendage on their head with a bioluminescent tip. The glowing tip lures in potential prey just like lure on the end of a fishing pole, hence the name "anglerfish."

No one knows why so many creatures from the deep look like horror movie monsters. Perhaps our image of monsters is influenced by the human species' deep instinctual fear of the dark, cold depths of the ocean where we could never survive. Luckily, anglerfish are harmless to people. 

Regardless of human impressions of them, anglerfish are a fascintating species, as this video proves.

Protect wildlife with the National Wildlife Federation.  

21 Nov

Over 22,000 Species Are Now Facing Extinction, Conservationists Say

Over 22,000 plants and animals are facing extinction — 33 species have been declared extinct just in the past year. Read the full report from The Dodo and find out which surprising animals are topping the list.


Photo: Danilo Cedrone/FAO via The Dodo


By Melissa Cronin

Conservationists named 22,413 out of 76,199 species of plants and animals surveyed as at risk for extinction, according to the annual update to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, released this week. In the past year alone, 33 species have been declared extinct. The update points to pressures from activities like fishing, logging, mining and agriculture as the main drivers for species loss.

Continue to the Full Report at The Dodo >>



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20 Nov

Watch a Lion "Sleep Roar"

You've heard of sleep walking, but what about sleep roaring?

If you have a pet dog, you know that canines dream. You've probably seen your dog flipping his or her paws, breathing heavily and maybe even barking--all while sound asleep.

This video is the cat version of that:

The lion's name is Hercules and he lives in Colorado at a facility called Wild Animal Sanctuary which specializes in rescuing large carnivores. Large carnivores such as big cats, bears and wolves face euthanization more than any other group of captive wild animal due to the high cost of feeding them and the extreme danger associated with caring for them.  

(Sidenote: please don't try to get a big cat, bear, wolf--or any other kind of wild animal--as a pet. It's not cool and usually end badly for the animal. Getting to live in a wildlife sactuary like Hercules did is the rare exception.)

They had this to say about the video:

"...he sometimes dreams of roaring while he is sleeping. Much like dogs do (where they dream of barking or running in their sleep), lions also have vivid dreams, and Hercules is having one heck of a wild dream!"

What do you think lions dream about?

Lion sleeproar

Protect wildlife with the National Wildlife Federation. 

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