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 centre's mission is to conserve rare, vulnerable or endangered animals. A big part of their work is captive breeding of endangered species. While they specialize in cheetahs, the Centre cares for many other species as well, including Gertjie the orphaned white rhinoceros.
Gertjie--nicknamed "Little G"--has a sad story that is all too common. He was found next to the body of his dead mother, who was killed and mutilated by poachers. They hacked off her horn for the lucrative traditional Chinese medicine black market.
Practiced throughout Asia, traditional Chinese medicaine holds that rhino horn is used to treat a variety illnesses--despite the fact that science has shown that it actually has no medicinal value and despite the fact that killing rhinos for their horns is illegal. Rhinos are rapidly declining and some species are close to extinction. Yet such is the power of tradition and faith.
Southern white rhinoceros calf.
Luckily for Little G, he was rescued and brought to the Centre. White rhinos are the most social of the five rhino species, and even after Little G recovered from the trauma of losing his mother, it was evident that he needed companionship. So the folks at the Centre introduced Little G to a pair of goats, and a fast friendship was born.
Here is Little G frolicking with Lammie the goat. The joy the two animals are experiencing in this video is evident and infectious. Whenever I get down about the horrible things people do to animals, videos like this one and the story of Little G's rescue help remind me that there are still good people and good things happening in the world.
Here's an adorable video of one tuckered out pup! He MUST be in a deep, deep sleep, dreaming of squirrels, fetching things and delicious, meaty treats ... It may be an oldie from last year but it's still CUTE AS EVER:
Not to mention, he totally looks like my Dad napping on the couch on a lazy weekend. I LOVE YOU, DOG!!!
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.
Sheep don't have a reputation for being the most intelligent animals out there. Generally, there might even be some truth behind that stereotype.
Every once in a while, howver, a sheep with more smarts than most catches our attention. Such is the case with this lovely lady, who figured out how to navigate over a series of grates installed in the ground spefically to deter hooved livestock such as cattle--and yes, sheep--from leaving the pasture.
Move over with the buns, huns — these boaters spotted one monster of an anaconda in a river in Brazil The woman in the boat is understandably FREAKING OUT while the men want to pursue the beast — WHY?? I'm on your side, lady:
WHY, sirs, would you even touch that?! Don't mess with Mama Nature, friends:
In one of the greatest internet moments known to mankind, a teeny, tiny hamster challenges the world-renowned competitive eating champion — master of all things hot and dog across all of Coney Island and the U.S. of A. — Takeru Kobayashi!
Can this hairball in miniature take down one of the greatest eaters the world has ever seen?! He may be petite but his appetite is not one to underestimate! Watch the unforgettable face-off:
Thank you, Internet. We <3 you, hamster ... and Kobayashi! WELL DONE.
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