Five Fascinating Facts About Seahorses

1. A Group of Seahorses Is Called A Herd

According to National Geographic, there are about 36 known seahorse species found in a variety of ocean habitats all over the world. They generally prefer warmer, tropical environments and live together in small social groups called herds. Seahorses are monogamous during a breeding season and even “hold hands” with their mate by grasping each other’s tails! Unfortunately, seahorses are vulnerable to extinction due to human activities. Read on to learn more about these unique creatures!

 

2. Seahorses are the slowest swimming fish, but are very effective predators

Seahorses use the small fin on their back to propel themselves. Since this is their only method of locomotion, it does not make them very effective swimmers. In fact, many seahorses die of exhaustion when they are forced to swim for longer periods of time, such as getting caught in a strong current or being displaced by a storm. They would much rather prefer to use their prehensile tails to grip onto plants or coral and stay in place.

However, just because seahorses are not strong swimmers, does not mean they are unable to hunt effectively. A seahorse diet consists of plant-matter, small crustaceans like shrimp, as well as plankton and newborn fish. They eat by sucking food through their long snouts! Seahorses are also great at camouflage (see fact #5!) and often take their prey by surprise as they swim by. Their unique eyes are helpful for catching prey, as they are able to move them independently from one another.

3. Male Seahorses Give Birth and Care for the Young

Well, technically they don’t “give birth.” The female lays her eggs into the male seahorse’s pouch. A male pouch can carry upwards of 1,500 eggs! These eggs then develop for about 6 1/2 weeks and when it is time for them to be born, they pop out of the male pouch and are usually swept away in the ocean current. Infant seahorses have no parental care and generally begin feeding on plant-life as soon as they are hatched. Unfortunately, there is a high mortality rate among young seahorses with less than 1% surviving to adulthood. Because young seahorses do not need parental care, many males can immediately be impregnated again within a matter of hours after hatching a brood of young.

4. Seahorses eat (almost) non-stop

Seahorses do not have stomachs. They need to eat constantly in order to maintain nutrients in their bodies, as food passes through so quickly. An adult seahorse eats about 30 to 50 times per day; which is equivalent to about 3,000 brine shrimp in a day!

 

5. Seahorses Are Incredible at Camouflaging Themselves

Seahorses tend to stay stationary, so they have developed excellent camouflage in order to protect themselves from predators. Even though the seahorse does not have many predators due to a hard-to-penetrate exoskeleton, some type of fish and crabs still find them to be tasty snacks! Seahorses have the ability to change color in order to blend in with plants and coral which allows them to remain safely hidden. This ability is not only done for safety, but both sexes will change their color during courtship as well.

Image Credit: Dennis Polack, FishWise Professional. CC BY-NC-SA.

Five Fascinating Facts About Sea Stars

1.Sea Stars Are Echinoderms, Not Fish

Despite commonly being called starfish, sea stars are not a fish species. They do not have gills, scales, or tails like fish. They also do not have a backbone, so they are considered an invertebrate species. More specifically, they belong to a family called Echinoderms. Being an Echinoderm means that members of these species have five-point radial symmetry (even though some sea stars have different numbers of arms! See fact number 2) Some other species in the Echinoderm family include, sand dollars, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers.  Another interesting characteristic that makes sea stars unique is how they move through the water. They have small tube feet under their body that helps to propel them through the water. These feet also have suction cups which allows the sea star to attach to rocks and prey. There are approximately 2,000 sea star species, all of which exist in ocean habitats.

2.Some Species of Sea Stars Have Different Numbers of Arms  

Although we generally think of a sea star with five pointy arms, this isn’t always the case. In fact, some species of sea star can have anywhere from 10, 20, or even 40 arms, such as the sun star species. On the other end, a species called cushion sea stars appear to look like a blob with no arms. Sea stars have the amazing ability to grow new arms if one is injured. Some can even regenerate an entirely new sea star from a damaged limb. This process of regeneration takes about a year.

Common Sunstar

 Cushion Star. Photo by Joi Ito

3.Sea Stars Do Not Have Blood

Instead of blood, sea stars have a special circulatory system, called a water vascular system, that pumps sea water through their bodies. The sea water delivers nutrients to the sea star, as blood would in mammals.

 

4.Sea Stars Turn Their Stomach(s) Inside-Out to Eat

A sea star’s mouth is located on their underside. They also have two stomachs!  Their prey generally consists of  mussels, clams, snails, and other bivalves. When they find their prey, they wrap their legs around their shell and open it enough to push its first stomach through its mouth and into the opening. Then, they slide their stomach back into their body and the food drops to their second stomach where it is digested. This unique way of eating allows the sea star to eat prey that it would not otherwise be able to fit into its small mouth.

Sea Star Eating. Photo Courtesy of Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory, via Invertebrates of the Salish Sea, CC-BY-NC-SA

5.Some Sea Stars Can Switch Their Gender

Sea stars are gonochorous, which means they are born either male or female. Although many species retain their birth gender their entire lives, many species have the ability to switch their gender. For example, all cushion sea stars are born male and later switch to female for reproductive purposes. All sea star species can reproduce sexually or asexually by regeneration.

The Red-Bellied Lemur

***Please note that this article was originally written by Lauren Bucciero as a volunteer writer for the New England Primate Conservancy. The images in this article are slightly different from the original due to licensing agreements. A link to this article’s original publication on the NEPC’s webpage is available here.***

 

Geographic Distribution and Habitat
The red-bellied lemur is one of the rarest species of lemurs in its genus, Eulemur. This lemur is native to the tropical forests of Madagascar, a large island off the coast of Africa that is home to many unique species of animals. Madagascar is the only place in the world where all species of lemurs are naturally found. Red-bellied lemurs move quadrupedally throughout the trees at the middle to high levels of the eastern rainforest on the island. Their home range is relatively small compared to other similar species, at about 25-50 acres (10-20 hectares).

Photo Credit: IUCN Redlist

Size, Weight, and Lifespan
The red-bellied lemur averages 14-16 in (35-40 cm) in length and weighs approximately 4-6 lb (2-3 kg). Their tail is longer than their bodies, averaging 20 in (50 cm) in length and, although it is not prehensile, it is very important for balance. The lifespan of a red-bellied lemur is approximately 20-25 years, both in the wild and in captivity.
​​

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

Anogenital:
Relating to the anus and genital region.Gut Microbes:
Bacteria that live in the intestinal tract.Incisors:
Narrow-edged teeth at the front of the mouth, adapted for cutting.Monogamous:
Having only one sexual partner. ​

Palmar:
Pertaining to the palm.

Prehensile:
Able to grasp or hold objects.

Quadrupedal:
Using four limbs/legs to locomote. This word comes from the Latin meaning ‘four feet.’

Appearance
Red-bellied lemurs are dichromatic, a form of sexual dimorphism in which males and females of the same species differ in color. Males have reddish-brown fur with white, teardrop patches around their eyes. These white patches are not white fur, but rather bald spots. Males have a scent gland on the top of their head. Female red-bellied lemurs have similar reddish-brown coloring, but have white bellies. They have no, or barely visible, white patches around their eyes. Both sexes have black tails.
                                                    Female              
                                                      Male              
                      Photo Credit: ©noisytoy.net
Diet
Red-bellied lemurs are almost exclusively herbivores, but they also eat small amounts of invertebrates like insects. Their diet typically consists of flowers, leaves, and large amounts of fruit. The red-bellied lemur has been documented eating from over 67 different types of plants species.
​​
Behavior and Lifestyle
Red-bellied lemurs are social animals. They live in small groups of 2 to 6 individuals, usually consisting of a mated pair and their offspring.These lemurs are cathemeral, meaning they can be active during both the day and night, depending on the season and food availability. However, they are usually most active during the day. ​Daily Life and Group Dynamics
Female red-bellied lemurs are dominant over males in a group. Females usually take the lead on foraging expeditions. During feeding, the group employs a sentinel to warn other members of potential danger, such as the presence of a predator. Red-bellied lemurs’ biggest predators are birds of prey, like raptors, and the fossa, a cat-like carnivore native to Madagascar. If danger is sensed, the sentinel gives off an alarm call that causes the other group members to freeze (sometimes for up to 15 minutes) or flee to find safety if necessary.

The group bonds through grooming activates. The lower incisors of the red-bellied lemur are designed like a comb for this purpose. Studies have also shown that the red-bellied lemur’s highly social behavior and close physical contact is linked to the group’s health and responsible for maintaining a healthy gut microbes among group members. Individuals’ gut microbes were analyzed​ and determined to closely resemble those of the other group members. Researchers suggest that having similar gut microbes within the group synchronizes the immune defenses of each member and likely prevents individuals from contracting dangerous infections that would put the entire group at risk.

FUN FACTS

The red-bellied lemur’s bottom incisors are designed like a comb for social grooming.

Their tail is longer than their bodies.

Red-bellied lemurs drool on toxic millipedes to neutralize the toxins and make them safe to eat.

Communication

Due to their small home range, vocal communication is not as important as other forms of communication for red-bellied lemurs. For example, although males are the only gender with a scent gland located on their heads, anogenital and palmar scent marking is common in both males and females to establish territory. Touch, body postures, and facial expressions send many different signals including, play, mating, and aggression.

Although vocal communication is less common, it is used under certain circumstances. As mentioned earlier, the sentinel that serves as a look-out during feeding will give an alarm call if potential danger is perceived. This vocal warning consists of a series of low grunting sounds. The red-bellied lemur’s normal vocalizations are said to sound like the grunting of a pig; however, they have also make a sound similar to a cat’s meow.

Reproduction and Family
Sexual maturity is reached around 2 years of age for both male and female red-bellied lemurs. At that time, they find a mate and form a monogamous bond.A female’s estrus cycle lasts one month, during which time she has a high fertility window of 1 to 2 days. If she is impregnated during that time, the gestation for the pregnancy is approximately 120 days. She gives birth between September and October, usually to one offspring. Twins are rare.The birth weight of a red-bellied lemur is a mere 2-2.5 oz (60-70 grams). All red-bellied lemur infants have female coloring until about 6-7 months of age, at which time the males begin to develop their white eye patches. Infant mortality rate is unfortunately very high. About 50% of all red-bellied lemur births result in death of the newborn. If the offspring survives, the infant is fully dependent on the mother for the first two weeks of its life and is carried on the mother’s belly during that time. After that period, the infant is then carried on the back of both the mother and father for another month, until the mother rejects the infant at 5 weeks. At that time, the father takes over carrying the offspring until he or she is fully weaned and independent at about 3 to 5 months. The offspring remains within the group for a period of 2 to 3 years until they leave to find their own mate. One generation of red-bellied lemurs is 8 years.
Ecological Role
Because red-bellied lemurs eat a diet that is rich in fruits and other plants, their ecological role consists of being an important seed dispenser. Many plant species require their seeds to pass through a digestive tract in order to properly germinate and grow. The red-bellied lemur is responsible for this process, as well as adequately spreading the seeds to different locations.
Conservation Status and Threats
Unfortunately, all lemur species face the highest threat of extinction among primates. As for the red-bellied lemur, the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists this species as Vulnerable (IUCN, 2008). The greatest threat the red-bellied lemur faces is rainforest destruction due to slash and burn practices for agriculture, as well as logging and mining. Other threats include being hunted for food and skins, as well as being captured for the live animal trade.The estimated wild population of red-bellied lemurs is thought to be 10,000 to 100,000 individuals; however, the population is unfortunately declining at this time. One issue that is thought to contribute to the decline in population is that when food supplies are low, many lemur species do not engage in breeding. With the rapid destruction of their habitat, more and more lemurs are not producing offspring and the red-bellied lemur’s population numbers continue to drop.

Conservation Efforts
Fortunately, there have been many regulations put in place to protect this species. Right now, wild populations of red-bellied lemurs can be found in five different national parks, two strict nature reserves, and six special reserves throughout Madagascar. As of 2009, there were a reported 165 individuals throughout the world in captivity in zoological collections. There are laws in place to protect this rare species from being hunted or captured for trade. The red-bellied lemur is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). CITES is an international agreement between governments that put regulations in place to ensure the trade of wildlife and plant species does not put the survival of that species at risk. Under Appendix I, movement of the red-bellied lemur is controlled and trade is only permitted under specialize circumstances.There is hope for survival for the red-bellied lemur. Continuing to spread awareness about the issues of rainforest destruction, supporting companies that are ecofriendly, donating to causes that promote conservation of primates and their habitats, promoting ecotourism, and encouraging others to take part in these efforts are all wonderful ways to help the red-bellied lemur increase their population and thrive.

What Exactly is a Veterinary Technician ?

When I was a teenager, I decided I wanted to become a vet tech. I always loved animals and I was interested in medical care. However, I didn’t want to go to eight years of school and I knew that vet techs only required an associates degree. Even though I had decided on this career, I didn’t quite know what a veterinary technician even did. Once I did my research, spoke to people in the field, shadowed a tech, and looked into degree programs, I became an expert on what a vet tech is. Although I eventually learned, many people today still don’t even know we exist, and if they do, they don’t understand what a vet tech is, what our job entails, or how much work we do to care for their animals. If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me if I was a veterinarian when I told them what I do… So I decided that I would take it upon myself to further educate those who aren’t quite sure what a vet tech is, and hopefully help people gain a whole new respect for those in this field.

Schooling is generally where most vet techs begin. The field of veterinary technology has grown tremendously, and is predicted to grow even more in the future. With the growing field and higher standards of pet care, most veterinary technicians are required to have at least an associates degree, if not be certified. However, the veterinary field is slightly behind the human medical field, so many techs that have been working for years have learned everything through on the job training. Today, if you want to work as a vet tech, you usually need a degree.

I decided to attend Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Not only was it reasonably priced, but it was the only American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) accredited program in the state at the time. After two years, I graduated with an associates degree in science in veterinary technology.

So, what exactly does a vet tech do?

I like to describe a veterinary technician as a nurse multiplied by ten. Think about when a person goes to a hospital. There’s one nurse that gives medication, one that will monitor a patient under anesthesia, a lab tech will draw blood, a radiology tech takes x-rays, a different nurse assists the doctor during the exam. Well, vet techs do all of that and then some. Not only are there just a few people to do all these jobs, but our patients can’t verbalize what is wrong with them and we can’t explain why we need to do certain things that might be uncomfortable. This is why one of the most important things a vet tech can know is how to properly restrain. This is the first thing taught in school, not only to keep the staff safe, but the animal as well. I was once told on an internship that if all you know is proper restraint, you are beneficial in a veterinary hospital. Other tasks vet techs complete in a day is surgery preparation, anesthesia monitoring, administering medication, giving vaccinations, calculating drug dosages, assisting the veterinarian during exams, entering medical information into the computer, educating clients, ordering supplies, trimming nails, cleaning ears, running blood tests, running fecal tests, running urinalyses, fixing broken machines, spending time on the phone with Idex, cleaning up messes, and updating the doctor on relevant medical information.

Veterinarians have so much on their plate, often times they rely on us to be aware of every detail of each patient. I hear veterinarians all the time ask questions like so what’s the deal with this cat’s eye again? Which dog has the heart murmur? Did he get his meds yet? Was her owner the one I needed to call? Most of the veterinarians I know have so much to deal with, they are often focused on the big picture, and they rely on technicians to intimately know every aspect of a patient, their owner, and the particular case. This is not to say veterinarians don’t know their patients, but when they get swamped, it’s almost impossible to keep track of every small thing. That’s why we are there to help them, even though at the end of the day the veterinarian ends up with all the credit because so much of our work is done behind the scenes.

 

The Downside

There are some downsides to being a vet tech. Out of all the work vet techs do, they are incredibly under-appreciated and ridiculously under-paid. Veterinary technicians are paid an average of approximately $32,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. People always assume veterinary practices are “money-grubbing” and vets are “only in it for the money.” When in fact, veterinarians only make about $88,000 per year, and that is usually the top earnings. I knew a technicians who’s husband made less money than the hospital manager when he was right out of veterinary school. Plus, if the veterinarian owns the practice, a lot of their money goes back into the clinic. Veterinary staff work so hard, putting in so many extra hours away from their families in order to make sure each patient gets the best care possible. I’ve seen so many veterinary professionals skip lunch and hold their bladders because they are trying to get everything done, and it often seems impossible. Everyone I know in the veterinary community puts in so much blood, sweat, and tears and they do it because it’s a calling and they love animals, even on the days it gets hard.

An important fact to mention is that veterinary professionals also have one of the highest rates of suicide in comparison to other professions. This job can take a huge toll on mental health. It’s important to recieve proper help and talk to people when this job gets overwhelming.

Dealing with clients isn’t easy either, because they don’t always want to do what is best for their pet. Seeing animals in prolonged pain because people don’t want to let go, or good people making bad decisions that result in their pet suffering, or putting a perfectly healthy animal down because the owner was moving (I’ve seen that happen), having the doctor yell at you for making a mistake, because it falls on their shoulders, or dealing with an angry client. It sucks! Some days are hard, but I think there are so many rewards that it outweigh the bad. When the doctor tells you that you made a good call, or a client says thank you, or a dog wags his tail and looks up at you when you walk by, only hours after he just had major surgery. Those are the rewards that make it all worth while.

Because we all too often see a lot of unpleasant, sad, disgusting, upsetting, and horrible things in this profession, you have to have a sense of humor. I’ve spent many days dying of laughter in the veterinary hospital. You wouldn’t be able to get by seeing a cat who had it’s tail broken by the owner’s angry ex-boyfriend (seen it), or a cat with maggots crawling out of it’s anus (seen it), or see an owner abandon an animal at your hospital because they couldn’t afford the surgery it needed (also seen it), or having a chicken have projectile diarrhea all over the front of your scrubs (lived it), without also being able to laugh.

Although I love working as a vet tech, I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do forever. Which is why I decided to venture out and head back to school to study animal behavior, because my ultimate career goal is to work in wildlife conservation and the vet tech program was always a stepping stone in my plan to get there.

Currently, I am working as a veterinary technician at the New Hampshire SPCA  for the summer. They needed extra help on surgery days, which happens to be the area I am most experienced with (and my favorite!) I really love working at a shelter and I am hoping to pick up a part-time tech  job near UNE for the school year.

Even though I decided to take a different path with a career, I truly feel that once you’re a vet tech, you’re always a vet tech. Working or not, you carry everything you have experienced and learned with you, and you will always be a veterinary technician at heart.

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Prehensile Tail Porcupine

My Run-ins with the Prehensile Tail Porcupine

I first learned about prehensile tail porcupines when I was sixteen. I was on a class trip to Busch Garden’s where my classmates and I got to spend three days working behind the scenes in Tampa, Florida with the zookeepers. The keepers had this critter perched on a wooden platform where people could come up and pet it. I was reluctant, thinking the quills would be painful to touch, but they actually weren’t that bad! The featured photo on this post is from that experience (please excuse me while I cringe over that picture!) I later worked with these guys again at my internship at Wildlife World Zoo where I managed to snag a few of the quills they shed for a scrapbook.

 

Overview of the Species

Prehensile tail porcupines are very unique looking. They almost remind me of a cartoon character. Their bodies are covered in short black and white quills that defends against predators. They also have a velvety soft nose and a prehensile tail for which they were named. This tail is made up entirely of muscle and is used as a fifth limb to assist in navigating their habitat as arboreal animals (tree-dwelling) in South America.

The prehensile tail porcupine is classified in the rodent order by scientific taxonomy, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. They traditionally weigh about four to eleven pounds and are approximately twelve to twenty-four inches in length. This species of porcupine is nocturnal and an herbivore, consuming any vegetation easily found in treetops. Females reach sexual maturity around nineteen months and can continue reproducing until about twelve years of age. Babies are born with soft quills in order to prevent injury to the mother, these quills harden within an hour after birth.  The baby prehensile tail porcupine also has the ability to climb immediately after being born.  The average lifespan of a prehensile tail porcupine is twelve to seventeen years.

Any Threats?

Fortunately, the prehensile tail porcupine is well adapted to fend off potential threats from predators! They stiffen their quills when threatened, but no species of porcupine can shoot their quills out of their body which is a common misconception. However, porcupines do shake their quills in order to intimidate potential predators which is most likely where the misconception originated. This porcupine does have some natural predators, such as large birds or big cats native to South America. Sometimes the porcupines forage for food on farms and are potentially hunted and killed by humans. As of right now, the prehensile tail porcupine is listed as least concern according to the Cincinnati Zoo. 

 

 

To learn more about the prehensile tail porcupine, please check out the video below from Discovery!

 

 

 

 

Pronghorn

What is a pronghorn?

That is a great question! Although the pronghorn is similar to deer or antelopes, they belong to a family all their own. They live across North America, spanning from southern Canada to Mexico, according to the National Wildlife Federation. They prefer to dwell in open fields, plains, grassy areas, and desert type environments. According to National Geographic, pronghorns are the second fastest mammal in the world only second to the cheetah. Clocking speeds of up to sixty miles per hour! Pronghorns are also known for having one of the longest land migration of any animal in the United States! Trekking in large herds about one-hundred and fifty miles one way between the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park. Because of their speed, they are able to to easily outrun predators such as coyotes or bobcats, but also can run great distances at half of their maximum speed.

Physical Characteristics and Behavior

The pronghorn’s coloring is a reddish brown with distinct white patches on their stomach and throat. Some subspecies can have patches or stripes of black as well. They also have a unique white warning patch on their rear end that  can be seen for miles and is raised when startled. Both sexes have large, black horns that split off into forward pointing prongs, which is where their name originates. Defenders of Wildlife says that pronghorns are commonly referred to as “Ghosts of the Prairie” due to their elusive behavior.

I had the opportunity to interact with a Sonoran pronghorn named Mario (pictured above) during my internship at Wildlife World Zoo. I reached out to his former zookeeper, Ashley Korenblitt, who I have remained in contact with in order to get some fun facts about this unique species. Ashley told me about the warning patch and how they fluff up their tail when on alert, which she says she finds cute. They actually show off this white patch in order to warn other pronghorns about potential danger.  They have strong vision which is relied upon to avoid predators. Ashley also told me about their intelligence, and how they have the ability to recognize barriers and avoid them.

Pronghorns are herbivores and eat various grasses and shrubs found in their natural habitat. They migrate during the winter in order to have access to better feeding grounds. They reproduce in the late summer or early fall and the females have one or two offspring. The average lifespan of a pronghorn is about ten years.

Conservation Status

According to arkive.org,  before the European settlers came to North America, pronghorn numbers were in the millions. By the 1920s, the population had crashed to a mere 20,000 individuals. The Conservation Planning Specialist Group says that the pronghorn was one of the first species declared endangered in the United States. However, thanks to the tireless efforts of conservationists, we have managed to bring the numbers of pronghorns back up to about 700,000 across North America. They are currently listed as least concern by the World Wildlife Federation. Although their populations are thriving, they do face some threats. Urbanization, new fences, roads, cars, shopping malls, and people all threaten the safe migration of the pronghorn. These animals take the same routes during migration as their ancestors, but with habitat destruction for the benefit of humans, the pronghorn has to face change in migration route and separation of herds. There are currently efforts by various organizations, including WWF, that are advocating for keeping migration routes clear to keep the pronghorns safe.

Subspecies of Pronghorn that are Endangered

The Sonoran pronghorn, which is the subspecies pictured above, is listed as endangered. In 2002, this species was almost completely wiped out by drought. Climate change, habitat loss, and human activities are listed among the many threats that have caused this species to become endangered. The good news however, is that the Sonoran is on the road to recovery thanks to conservation plans put in place by the United States and Mexican governments in the 1980s and 90s.

Addax Antelope

A Dying Breed

The addax antelope is one of the most critically endangered species of antelope. No one is certain of the exact amount of addax left in the wild with numbers ranging from only three to fewer than one hundred individuals.  One thing however is certain, this species is critically endangered and extremely close to extinction in its natural habitat. Although on the verge of being wiped out in its native habitat in northern Africa, the species is fortunately thriving in captivity with approximately two thousand individuals in zoos and sanctuaries worldwide. I was fortunate enough to get to experience the addax antelope up close and personal during my internship at Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium, and Safari Park in the summer of 2016. As you can see from the featured photo, quite a few babies were born to the addax that summer.

Overview of Addax Characteristics

Both the male and female addax have long, spiraled horns and a bright white coat. The coat color actually reflects light keeping them cool in their desert habitat. Arkive.org describes the addax as also having a have brown coloration and tufts of brown fur (that in my opinion resemble a toupee) around their forehead. The males are generally ten to twenty percent larger than the females, weighing up to three hundred pounds and standing up to forty-five inches tall measuring to the shoulder. The addax is very adapted to the extreme heat with specially adapted splayed hooves to help them through the sand. Addax antelopes are herbivores and actually receive most of their water through the plants in their diet.  They produce highly concentrated urine to help conserve water and excrete dry feces, says livescience.com. They actually absorb and use every drop of water they consume! When addax populations were abundant, females generally produced one offspring a year which were born a light beige color for camouflage with their sandy environment.

Endangerment and Conservation

At one point in history, the addax roamed the entire northern region of Africa but now the minuscule number of individuals left only exist in the Termit & Tin Toumma National Nature Reserve in Niger, Africa (IUCN). A social creature, addax naturally form herds with about twenty individuals with a strong male taking the role of leader.  Before the significant decline of the addax, the antelopes would migrate each season between the Sahara and the Sahel with groups seen in the thousands.

What happened?

The main reason for the rapid decline in addax population is overhunting. The meat and leather produced from the animal is valuable to the indigenous people. The addax is also slow-moving making it easy prey and no match for the modern weapons used for hunting today. Some other reasons for the near-extinction of the species is drought, desertification (the process of fertile land becoming inhabitable due to a variety of factors), as well as habitat destruction for agricultural use and expansion.

Is there hope?

The short answer? Yes! Fortunately, the species is highly protected due to its critically endangered status. International trade is prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) agreement and the individuals left in the wild are located in a protected nature reserve through the Sahara Conservation Fund. The other upside to the tragic circumstances of the addax is that they are thriving in captivity. Many activists criticize keeping animals in zoos or sanctuaries but this is one of the many cases in which captivity has saved a species from extinction. Many organizations that keep some of the two thousand individuals in captivity are working on reintroduction programs in order to build up the wild populations.

 

Marabou Stork: The Undertaker Bird

Unlike its counterpart the white stork, associated with the mythology of bringing babies, the marabou stork’s unruly appearance and unsettling scavenging behaviors make this bird the center of death folklore.

Appearance and Physical Characteristics

The marabou stork is a unique species of bird. Known for its large stature, its long, hollow legs, large beak, and a droopy, pink wattle, the purpose of which is strictly for show, many would consider the marabou stork an unappealing animal. In spite of not having any feathers on their spotted head or legs, their bodies are covered in dark grey feathers. Unlike the traditional stork mythology, the marabou stork is associated with death rather than the bringer of babies. Sometimes called the undertaker bird, African folklore says this awkward looking stork was created by God out of remaining bird pieces when he ran out of animal parts; this is why its appearance is so unpleasant. Although unique looking, these birds have many fascinating characteristics.

Habitat and Feeding Behaviors

Native to the sub-Saharan region in Africa, the marabou stork is very similar to a vulture. Often found scavenging near lion feeding grounds and waste sites, this bird feeds on almost anything it can find. The marabou stork is often found near grass fires due to a unique feeding behavior. The stork will advance towards the fire in attempts to catch any animals that are fleeing.

Social and Breeding Behavior

Marabou storks are very social creatures and can often form flocks of up to a thousand individuals. Sexual reproduction is reached at approximately four years of age. Mating pairs are generally monogamous, and they build large nests on treetops. Two to three eggs are laid during the breeding season and both the male and female incubate the eggs and feed the young. The chicks begin to leave the nest around four months of age. Marabou Storks generally live to about twenty-five years of age in the wild.

Conservation Status

Because the marabou stork is a large predatory bird, they luckily don’t have many threats! The populations are actually increasing due to their ability to thrive near urbanization. Although sometimes traded at Nigerian markets, as of right now, the marabou stork is listed as least concern.

I was fortunate enough to work with a marabou stork during my time at Wildlife World Zoo. I always enjoyed watching our stork, Fred, gracefully wade in the tall grass or his impressive ability to accurately catch meat that was tossed to him from several feet away. It is my hope that these gangly creatures stick around for a long time!

 

**To read more about my internship and the other amazing animals I worked with, please check out my series of posts titled “A Zoo’pendous Summer” linked below!**

Part One: https://mildnwild.com/2017/03/15/its-a-zoo-part-one-preparing-for-my-internship/

Part Two: https://mildnwild.com/2017/06/01/a-zoopendous-summer-part-2-small-mammal-department/

 

African Spurred Tortoise

We Meet Again

If you happened to see my most recent post about the three-banded armadillo, you would know that I recently attended a local event that had a New Hampshire based organization called Wildlife Encounters present. This organization provides education and outreach through live animal interactions. This program actually came to the University of New England during finals week and I had the chance to bond with an african spurred tortoise, also known as a sulcata tortoise, named Rex. I once again came across Rex at this particular event, clearly having a good time munching on some grass, so I decided to ask the wildlife educators some questions so I could tell everyone here about the african spurred tortoise!

Basic Information on the African Spurred Tortoise

Known as the largest species of tortoise in the African mainland, it is only outsized by the species of island dweller tortoises in the Aldabra and the Galapagos. The african spurred tortoise can easily reach one hundred pounds and is an average of thirty inches in length. A tortoise differs from a turtle in that they are generally land-dwellers, whereas turtles are more aquatic creatures. There are other small differences between the two species, such as tortoises having differently shaped feet that are better for digging rather than swimming. Both turtles and tortoises are classified as reptiles.

The african spurred tortoise, named for the spikes on their hind legs, inhabit the southern edge of the Sahara desert, making them well adapted to the extreme heat. Because temperatures in the Sahara can reach up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, these tortoises are known for digging dens up to ten feet deep in the sand to escape the heat of the day. They warm themselves in the sun during the morning hours to raise their body temperature from the night before when it is cooler. Their diet consists of grasses, leaves, flowers, and even cacti. The african spurred tortoise is most active during the rain season which spans from July to October and breeding season takes place between June and the following March. The average lifespan can range from eighty to one-hundred years!

Conservation

The african spurred tortoise is listed as vulnerable with habitat loss being one of the major reasons. Populations have declined due to the urbanization and overgrazing by domestic livestock. The species is also eaten by native tribes and also used to make certain medicinal potions in Japan. Because they don’t reach sexual maturity until fifteen years of age, they have a hard time keeping up with reproducing enough offspring to survive, which means they could face extinction in the near future. Another big reason the african spurred tortoise is at risk is due to the fact that they are commonly captured and sold as pets in Europe and North America. Commonly bought as babies, the species quickly gets too large to manage and the pet owner is often found not being able to care for the tortoise anymore. This is what happened to Rex before he was rescued by Wildlife Encounters.

What can you do?

Simple conservation efforts to prevent habitat loss are important. However, one of the most important things we can do is to take a stand against the pet industry and say no more to the capture and trade of the african spurred tortoise! Educating breeders, pet stores, and owners about the risk such as, endangerment, their large size, and the long lifespan will help cut down on the demand for these guys as pets and therefore help to conserve the species.

 

**A special thanks to Wildlife Encounters, their staff member Jenica, and of course Rex!**

 

Sources:

http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/african-spurred-tortoise

http://www.arkive.org/african-spurred-tortoise/centrochelys-sulcata/image-G137772.html

http://www.potterparkzoo.org/our-animals/reptiles-amphibians/african-spurred-tortoise

https://animalcorner.co.uk/animals/african-spurred-tortoise/

 

Three-Banded Armadillo

Wildlife Encounters

Recently I attended an event put on by a local farm in Kingston, New Hampshire. While there, I came across an organization called Wildlife Encounters. This New Hampshire-based program provides education and outreach through live animal interactions. As I observed the various animals, one interesting little critter caught my eye. Quickly running back and forth within an enclosed area, was a small armadillo about the size of a softball. There are over twenty species of armadillos, all of which, aside from one, live in Latin America. These omnivores can vary in size and characteristics, but have one very distinct feature in common. They are the only mammal covered with a shell. This unique adaptation which provides protection from predators, is where they get their name. Armadillo translates to “little armored one” in Spanish. This armor is made up of boney plates that cover most of their body including the back, head, legs, and tail. The armadillo on display through Wildlife Encounters was a three-banded armadillo named Athena, after the greek goddess of war who is often depicted in armor, of course!

Three-Banded Armadillo

The three-banded armadillo is native to the South American rainforest, particularly Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay. They are approximately nine inches long, weigh about three pounds, and consists of a light brown color. This type of armadillo is unique in that it is the only species that can curl itself into a complete ball. The armadillo will often leave a small opening when curled up and will sharply close around any predator claw or snout that attempts to explore the opening, making this a powerful defense mechanism. They also have the ability to run very quickly to escape predation. This armadillo differs from the other species in that they don’t dig their own burrows, but rather find a home in abandoned ones. Although they prefer a solitary, there have been groups of up to twelve individuals sharing a burrow in the winter. They can live up to fifteen years in the wild and twenty years in captivity.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I think these guys are just the cutest! Athena reminded me of a small bug, not only in appearance but in the way she quickly scurried around her enclosure as well. I also observed her nuzzle her long snout into the blankets in her pen in what appeared to be an attempt to get comfortable, very adorable! Her handler Meghan, demonstrated the ability to close into a ball and it was fascinating to be able to see how nature has a way of working so perfectly. Her head and tail closed together like pieces of a puzzle. Athena is only about three, so hopefully she will be educating and entertaining people around New England for years to come!

Conservation Status

The three-banded armadillo is listed as near-threatened due to habitat loss and overhunting for use of food. As of right now, the populations are declining and there are no significant endeavors to preserve this species, although many organizations are making efforts. The three-banded armadillo gained significant attention from conservationists in 2014 during the FIFA world cup. The species is commonly seen as a mascot for soccer in Brazil which was where the world cup was held that year. Many organizations urged FIFA to partake in conservation efforts.

What can you do to help?

So you’ve been inspired to save the armadillos! The biggest thing that can be done for the three-banded armadillo is to work on rainforest conservation efforts. Their biggest threat is habitat loss so getting connected with organizations dedicated to preserving the rain forests of South America is a great start!

 

Please check out Wildlife Encounters linked below for more information and a special thanks to their staff Jenica and Meghan for taking the time to talk to me about the organization and this amazing species!

http://www.wildlifeencountersnh.com 

 

Sources