Bites at Animal Planet

Nature

2 Oct

RED ALERT! We've Lost HALF Our World's Wildlife in Last 40 Years, Study Says

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.

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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.

The Living Planet Index report is released every two years. See a (shocking!) infographic of our Human Impact >>

 

What Can You Do? ... R.O.A.R.!

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:

* DONATE: If you make a donation to one of our partner non-profits by Oct. 7, you will help that organization compete for a series of $10,000 bonuses!  Get all the details about the Matching Campaign here >>

* SHARE: Who are we working with? Read all about our partners and see the latest leaderboard numbers here >>  And, click on "Share This Project" and help spread their message and cause via your Social networks!

* VOTE: Cast your vote>> in the live poll to help determine who will win the Fan Favorite bonus of $10,000.

HURRY! The campaign ends this Tuesday, Oct. 7! Act now and help spread the message!!

Continue reading >

30 Sep

Meet the Carnivorous Kangaroo

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.

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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.

Check it out:

No one really knows what might cause this unusual feeding behavior. It turns out that many herbivores have been documented feeding on meat, from cows to deer to elephants. 

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. 

Nature never ceases to amaze!

Protect Wildlife with the National Wildlife Federation.  

30 Sep

Ten Reasons to Love Opossums

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. 

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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.

 

Protect Wildlife with the National Wildlife Federation.  

23 Sep

5 Facts You Otter Know About Sea Otters

Happy Sea Otter Awareness Week
Photo Credit: Rolf Hicker/Getty Images

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.

 

sea otter pup
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.

 

Continue reading >

9 Sep

Copperhead Gives Birth

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:

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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.

Continue reading >

6 Sep

Poop-Eating Pika Makes History

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. 

  

Pika Poop
Photo by Beth Pratt-Bergstrom.

 

From Beth:

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!

Continue reading >

27 Aug

Giant Grouper Takes Down Shark With One Bite

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That's one for the grouper!

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

23 Aug

Plant Milkweed for Monarchs!

Monarch butterflies are in serious trouble. Their populations have crashed and are at an all time low, and experts fear that this iconic black and orange butterfly species could disappear altogether if action isn't taken. 

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Monarch butterfly on milkweed. Photo by Rick&Brenda Beerhoorst via Flickr Creative Commons.

Monarchs, like all butterfly species, require host plants where they lay their eggs and where their caterpillars feed. Through the process of co-evolution, over hundreds of thousands of years each butterfly species has evolved immunity to the chemical defenses of just a limited number of plants. These are that species' host plants.

In the case of monarchs, milkweed (Asclepias spp.) is their only host plant, and unfortunately, we have done a bang-up job at a massive elimination of milkweed from coast to coast. Like many native plants that support wildlife, milkweed has gotten a bad reputation as a "weed." The default position of both conventional commercial agriculture as well as conventional home gardening is to eliminate it.

Continue reading >

9 Aug

RARE Wild Animals - Part 2

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Here is part two of my highlight on some of the rare wild animals the conservation organization Rare works to protect.  (See part one here.)

Yellow Eared Parrot
The population of the yellow-eared parrot is only about 1,000 since its rediscovery in 1998 near Roncesvalles, Colombia.  It is bright green with yellow ear patches and a dark, heavy bill. Considered critically endangered, it nests and lives among wax palms in a few areas of Colombia where it nests in the hollow trunks of the palm trees in cloud forests about 1800 – 3000 meters above sea level.  Its main food is fruit of the wax palm, which is itself an endangered species.  The yellow-eared parrot has declined dramatically in the face of hunting for food and habitat destruction for farming and cattle.

Here's more on this rare parrot species:

 

The bird’s habitat and survival are now better protected because of a Rare Pride campaign.  Water agreements have been forged between the government of Roncesvalles and the utility company, for watersheds supplying the town and several downstream locations. Water users pay a voluntary fee in their water bill that goes toward a water fund that provides an incentive for long-term owners to conserve the wilderness, forests and endangered yellow-eared parrot found in the area.   

Harlequin Frog
Colorful harlequin frogs are found in neotropics from Costa Rica to Bolivia. They belong to the genus Atelopus and include about 80 species.  Most live in forested mountains where rainfall is abundant, and most have only a small range or area where they live. Night-owls as well as daytimers, they are active 24/7.  Harlequin frogs are small-to-medium size amphibians (20-60 mm from the tip of the nose to the vent) with females always larger than males. Rising temperatures, habitat destruction, and the spread of the deadly chytrid fungus have wiped out dozens of species of harlequin frogs in recent years. Further, most of the harlequin frog species are listed as critically endangered.  

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Harlequin frog Photo by Brian Gratwicke via Flickr Creative Commons. 

For several years Rare worked to protect water sources in the city of Cuenca, Ecuador, which feed the urban and rural systems of water from different parts of the city of Cuenca and provide habitat for endangered species such as the frog Atelopus Nanay, commonly known as the harlequin frog Jambatu Black Boxes.  Nanay means sadness in Quechua, deriving from the extinction of many species of frogs in this region. 

The local utility started a small water fee to support conservation projects upstream.  The Pride campaign aimed to show creating such water agreements are a “win-win" for people and conservation.  Some of the Andes’ most valuable ecological indicators and most threatened inhabitants are myriad frog species whose populations are so imperiled that numbers do not even exist in science.  Rare developed strong relationships with the Cajas National Park to work together in the reproduction of the species of harlequin frog Jambatu the Black Boxes, including a plan for reintroduction in riparian forest areas once they achieve an appropriate degree of recovery.

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Harleguin frog photo by Brian Gratwicke via Flickr Creative Commons.

Pride campaigns use proven marketing techniques to move the hearts and minds of local communities, accelerating the adoption and increasing the sustainability of the solutions. Rare has conducted over 250 Pride campaigns in more than 50 countries, empowering local communities across geographies and cultures to shift from resource users to become natural asset managers.

To see Rare’s work all over the world, click here.

 

5 Aug

RARE Wild Animals

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Long time readers know that I'm a naturalist National Wildlife Federation, one of Animal Planet's R.O.A.R. partners, and I sometimes highlight NWF's work in my Animal Oddities posts. In this post I want to give a shout out to a fellow conservation organizations, Rare.  Rare looks for proven conservation solutions and trains local leaders to inspire communities to adopt them and make them their own through its signature Pride campaigns. They are pretty awesome. 

And it just so happens that a lot of the species Rare works to protect through these campaigns are pretty odd. Here are two of the most unusual species they work with:

Leaf Cutter Ant
The Leaf Cutter ant is considered a delicacy in parts of South America.  During its reproductive season the Leaf Cutter ant’s abdomen swells and it flies around in a sexual flurry only to be caught and grilled by the local people.  An average nest of leafcutter ants contains over 5 million ants.  They are also known as 'parasol' ants because of the way they carry leaves above their heads.  The ants can carry over 50 times their own body weight.

Here's Jeff Corwin exploring these awesome ants.

Continue reading >

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