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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.

 

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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13 Jul

Massive School of Anchovy Swarm Southern California Coast

A massive school of anchovy swarmed the waters of the Pacific Ocean near Scripps Pier at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego in La Jolla, Calif., last week on July 8. The incredible event was witnessed by many marine enthusiasts and beach goers — many of whom took to the waters.

Watch the video below and see the amazing lava-lamp-like ebb and flow of the school of fish as curious swimmers approach and as they ride the current:

Researchers haven't seen an event like this in over 30 years and have no explanation for its occurrence.  The school consisted of millions — possibly even over a billion — of the fish, called the Northern anchovy.

The anchovy returned the next day, Wednesday, and many swimmers, snorkelers and surfers hit the waters to take full advantage of the rare opportunity to swim with the phenomenon.  See the Scripps YouTube playlist for more footage of the amazing event >>

Anchovy-school-california
Photo: YouTube image 

The Northern anchovy is harvested off the West coast.  It is mostly used as bait by commercial fishermen.

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30 Jun

10 Things You Should Know about the Elephant Crisis

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R.I.P. mighty Satao. One of the largest and, arguably, most-loved elephants on the planet was recently killed for his massive tusks. According to The Tsavo Trust, 45 year-old Satao was shot dead by poisoned arrows May 30. His legendary tusks, which nearly touched the ground, were hacked off by poachers to feed what seems to be an insatiable demand for ivory across the globe.

For nearly five decades the iconic Satao thrilled tourists and evaded poachers in Tsavo East National Park. During that time he fathered many offspring. Some are still out there trying to avoid his fate. Whether or not they survive . . . is up to us. Here are 10 things to know about the elephant crisis.

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10 Things to Know

1. One elephant is killed every 15 minutes. 

2. Over 20,000 elephants were poached in 2013.

3. At the current rate they’ll be extinct in 20 years.

4. Violent conflict and ivory poaching are interconnected. Heavily armed crime cartels and militias use ivory funds to finance terrorism and wars in Africa.

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19 Jun

President To Expand Pacific Ocean Sanctuary, Here's Some of the Marine Life He Will Help Protect

President Obama announced a proposal earlier this week to expand marine sanctuaries of the Pacific Ocean, doubling the size of the currently protected oceans.

The plan would expand the protected region around the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, increasing the sanctuary from 87,000 to 782,000 square miles — an area twice the size of the state of Texas. The protection would limit fishing, drilling and other resource extraction or destruction, waste dumping and other commercial activities specifically directed at energy development.  The move would also require federal agencies to make moves toward combatting over-fishing, pollution and acidification of ocean waters.

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Photo: The island country of Kiribati is on average only seven feet above sea level. They are directly combatting the effects of climate change that may literally drown their nation in the coming decades. See the WashingtonPost.com Report >>

 

President George W. Bush established the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument as protected oceans on January 6, 2009. It includes a number of islands which you can find here >>

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