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14

9 Animals You Never Knew Existed

The precise number of animal species that exists on Earth, both past and present, is unknown. Following this logic, there’s a plethora of animals they didn’t teach you about in school. Sure, lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!) are cool, but if you’re looking to expand your knowledge of the Animal Kingdom or just want to stock up on fun #animalfacts, check out these nine exceptional creatures.

Bonobo

Before you mistakenly categorize this primate as a chimp, take a closer look. The bonobo is one of the most rare and intelligent primates in the world; they’re only found in a small part of the Democratic Republic of Congo and, among other things, their social structure is unique, complex, and largely peaceful.

Agouti

The agouti (ah GOO tee) is a rain forest-dwelling rodent from Central and South America. Given its diet of fallen fruit and nuts, it’s no secret that the agouti loves forest leftovers, but its sharp incisors also play a vital role in the survival of Brazil nut trees (one of the largest in the Amazon). This rodent species is the only mammal that can crack open the indestructible outer shell of a Brazil nut, which is extremely valuable for the country’s remote people.

Fossa

Madagascar is home to some incredible species, and the fossa is the “king” of them. Even though resembling a morphed cat-like dog, a fossa’s closest relative is the mongoose, but the misunderstandings don’t end there. Legends of fossas stealing babies from cribs, licking humans into a deep trance, and making their own pupils disappear are endless, but let’s be honest, we prefer facts over a lengthy list of myths.

Binturong

Imagine a buttery box of theater-style popcorn, and you can almost smell this next exceptional species. Yes, the smell that usually signifies box-office entertainment is the same smell you’ll find emanating from a binturong, aka bear cat. However, that moniker is a bit misleading since binturongs aren’t related to bears or cats but instead have closer ties to fossas mentioned above.

Echidna

There are only two types of egg-laying mammals in the world, and the echidna is one of them. If that’s not enough to spark your interest, this spiny anteater is also one of Earth’s oldest surviving species. While other animals have been busy evolving and adapting to fluctuating environments, the echidna has remained unchanged since prehistoric times.

Tamadua

Speaking of anteaters, the tamandua (aka lesser anteater) is another mammal you probably didn’t know existed. Its relative, the giant anteater, gets most of the attention, but the tamandua has its own way of making its presence known; it can spray a rotten-smelling secretion that’s said to be significantly more powerful than a skunk. Thus, its unforgettable nickname, “stinker of the forest,” is properly attributed.

Tree pangolin

The tree pangolin is a scaly anteater that looks like a pinecone with legs and a long tail. Its scales are made of keratin, like our hair and fingernails, which protect this “pinecone” from predators.

Tuatara

Sure, the tuatara appears to be an average lizard, but this reptile is truly unique. The tuatara is specific to New Zealand and its closest relatives are an extinct group of reptiles that lived during the time of the dinosaurs. It’s no wonder the tuatara is referred to as a “living fossil.”

Caecilian

Caecilians (pronounced seh-SILL-yens) live a mysterious life in a network of underground tunnels. There are over 120 species of caecilians on at least 4 continents, but almost nothing is known of this amphibian’s habits or lifestyle.

Can you think of any uncommon animals to add to this list? Share yours in the comments below.

*Jenn Beening is the social media specialist for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Ken and Dixie’s Bite Club.

5

7 Animal Life-Hacks That Will Make You Jealous

Sure, our species has achieved some pretty amazing things, but some animals can do things that we could never dream of doing. Behold 7 animal life-hacks that will make you extremely jealous.

Seeing in the dark

Many animals can see way better in the dark than we can, but owls take the cake. Owls have the best night vision of any animal and can see up to 100 times better at night than we can. Talk about a sweet life-hack.

Built-in snorkel

Yep, you guessed it, elephants have us beat in the snorkeling department. They don’t need fancy, modern contraptions to breath underwater; all they need is their specially adapted nose. Fun fact: An elephant’s trunk has over 40,000 muscles in it and is nimble enough to pick up a leaf and strong enough to knock down a tree.

Freakish super-strength

Watch out Superman, the rhinoceros beetle might have you beat. Rhinoceros beetles can lift over 800 times their body weight. That’s equivalent to a human lifting a 65-ton M1 Abrams tank. Whoa.

Running as fast as a car

It’s well-known that cheetahs can run up to 70 miles per hour, but did you know that they can go from 0 to 60 MPH in just 3 seconds? That would leave most cars in the dust. I want that.

Living forever

Okay, well, not “forever,” but Galápagos tortoises live a loooooong time. It’s estimated by some scientists that Galápagos tortoises can live over 200 years. More than double our average lifespan? Yes, please.

Changing color

While most people think chameleons change color for camouflage, they actually do so based on mood, health, temperature, and light conditions–but that would still be a pretty sweet life-hack. Imagine everyone knowing not to talk to you because you’re that one color you turn when you’re just not in the mood. Awesome.

Flying

This is one thing we’ll never forgive nature for not giving us the ability to do. Humans have looked to birds with envy since the dawn of time for their ability to leap into the sky and soar, and we probably always will. Sure, we have airplanes, but it’s just not the same. :/

Can you think of any other awesome animal life-hacks? Let us know in the comments.

 

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post 7 Animal Myths You Probably Believed.

Animals that are active at night usually have large eyes that let them make use of any available light. With owls, the eyes are so big in comparison to the head that there is little room for eye muscles, meaning owls can’t move their eyes. Instead, owls must move their entire head to follow the movement of prey. However, having fixed eyes gives owls better focus, with both eyes looking in the same direction. And even though it seems that owls can twist their head completely around, most owls turn their head no more than 270 degrees in either direction. – See more at: http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/owl#sthash.yTtEd37V.dpuf
4

Birds of the Past Reveal Genetic Secrets

Paquita examines samples of archived bird specimens.

Paquita examines samples of archived bird specimens.

The smell in the collections room immediately brings back very good memories. When I first visited the California Academy of Sciences in 2007, their collection was temporarily housed in a different facility. Now I am standing in a room of a spectacular modern building in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. The location may be different, but the smell hasn’t changed. Ten thousands of bird and mammal specimens from all over the world are stored here.

My mission is also almost the same. I am here for the Galápagos mockingbirds, the birds that have been the center of my scientific interest for many years now. Moe Flannery, the collections manager, guides us through the narrow hallway lined with massive cabinets. I am accompanied by my friend and colleague Tandora Grant. We need to find a very specific drawer, one that carries the tag ‘Mimus parvulus’ and contains the specimens of the two Galápagos mockingbird subspecies ‘wenmani’ and ‘hulli’. Moe successfully locates a few ‘Mimus parvulus’ drawers, but as we look through the nametags of the specimens inside, we read ‘personatus’, ‘barringtoni’, ‘bauri’… Not the right ones. I am still delighted by their sight; it feels a little bit like seeing old friends.

When I came here in 2007 as a Ph.D. student, I spent a few days with these birds, working on 349 of them. Some of them look different from each other. Millennia of living on isolated islands have shaped these birds into different species and subspecies – like the Darwin’s finches that have become a textbook example in evolutionary biology. But it was actually the mockingbirds’ distinct look on different islands that gave Charles Darwin his first vital clue for his theory of speciation under natural selection.

Tandora helps sleuth out  genetic mysteries of the birds of the Galapagos.

Tandora helps sleuth out genetic mysteries of the birds of the Galapagos.

The birds we are looking at, lined up side-by-side, belly-up and legs crossed, are all well over 100 years old. The nametag on their legs specifies their origin and species’ name. Because the taxonomic knowledge has changed since their collection, many actually carry two or three tags with updated information. We can’t see ‘hulli’ or ‘wenmani’ anywhere. “Every once in a while we get unlucky,” Moe says before she takes off to get a tall ladder on wheels that resembles a portable staircase. She climbs to the very top and pulls out the top drawer. Back down on safe ground she asks, “Is Culpepper what you’re looking for?” I feel immediately embarrassed—I’ve forgotten the islands’ old names! Like the birds, the islands were renamed several times over the last century. Tandora grabs her iPhone and Google’s Culpepper. Yes, it is Darwin Island, and birds from Wenman, now called Wolf Island, lie in the same drawer. We found what we came for!

Darwin and Wolf islands are the most remote of the Galápagos Islands, separated from the rest of the archipelago by a stretch of almost 100 miles of open ocean. For a somewhat flight-lazy bird, like the mockingbirds, such vast open water with no other islands in sight is probably quite an effective deterrent to emigration. That’s at least my hypothesis and the reason why these specimens, now neatly placed in front of us, are of so much interest to me.

Galapagos mockingbird species from 100 years ago awaiting sampling.

Galapagos mockingbird species from 100 years ago awaiting sampling.

I’ve studied these birds for many years now. I spent many months in the Galápagos and visited almost all islands to collect blood samples from the different mockingbird species and populations. A little drop of blood from a couple of dozen birds from each island was all I needed to let them tell me about their interisland traveling habits. The birds’ genetic information gave me insights into their population sizes and their relationship between different islands. The analysis of the historic specimens that I sampled at the Academy in 2007 added an interesting timely perspective; it revealed which island populations have changed the most over the last century.

I take out my sample collection material. These specimens from Darwin and Wolf escaped my scalpel blade last time. At the time, it was uncertain whether I would be able to obtain contemporary samples of their subspecies. Now their time has come. I pick up the first specimen and cut a tiny piece of tissue sample from one of the toe pads. One specimen down! The spot on the foot where the sample was taken is barely visible. Minimal damage to the specimen, but lots of new information to be gained.

The historic samples we’ve just collected are the first step in the discovery of the genetic secrets of these two remote populations. Together with collaborators, I am planning to climb onto Darwin and Wolf islands early next year to collect blood samples from living birds. The islands are infamous for their inaccessibility, but we’ll have an excellent team at hand. Let the adventure begin!

By Paquita Hoeck, Ph.D., San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

13

Choose Your Favorite Butterfly GIF

Butterfly Jungle is in full swing at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. You have until April 7 to bask in the fluttery glory, but in the meantime, check out these gifs of butterflies in the exhibit and let us know which one is your favorite. You can tell us in the comments below or tweet it to us at www.twitter.com/sdzsafaripark. Enjoy!

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4.4

 

5. 5

165

Panda Cam Brings Healing

Our animal cams aren’t just for fleeting entertainment. As a wildlife conservation organization, our mission is to connect people to wildlife and conservation, and our live cams are incredibly powerful tools that allow us to connect people to wildlife worldwide in real time. With the birth of our sixth panda, Xiao Liwu, Panda Cam has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. We get comments from people all over the world about Panda Cam, but one in particular touched us, and we wanted to share it with you. Enjoy.

“My sister and I began watching these bears when our little gift was born. Then I took them to the hospital where I work and began sharing. For all of my patients and our nursing staff from Sutter Cancer Center in Northern CA, I say THANK YOU to all at SDZ. Your Panda cams and blogs have made a difference in how our very ill patients cope and get through their medical processes.

I am an Integrated Therapist & Medical Aromatherapist. The first thing I do for a new patient who will be staying for awhile is show them how to log on to the Panda Cam. We have all watched our “little gift” be born and grow & now make his debut. He is a wonderful deterrent to pain, depression, loneliness and hopelessness. We all thank you so much for providing this wonderful gift for us and our patients. It speaks to the Quality of their Life as they go through treatments.

This is something that should be put in all hospital long-term care and critical-care units. In the love of this little fuzz ball, my patients need less medication for coping and sleeping. I have been known to turn off their computer as they fall asleep with Xiao Liwu sleeping quietly on the screen in their lap. [All hospitals] should consider using this in their critical care and long-term care facilities.

We all love you Bai Yun and our little healing bear, “little Wu.” Happy anniversary to Gao Gao! Forever fans, Robin Gayle & Dixie Lee.”

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global.

276

Starting the New Year Healthy: 20th Exam

Giant panda cub Xiao Liwu was a very busy boy during his weekly exam at the San Diego Zoo. When brought from his den, the rambunctious cub went straight to his toys, climbing headfirst into a doughnut-shaped plastic ring, playing with a ball, and frolicking in a tub while chewing bamboo. He quickly indicated, by running off and squirming from his keepers, that he wanted to play versus being weighed and measured.

The cub’s 20th exam showed the five-month-old panda is healthy and developing well. He is stronger, more agile, and continues to erupt baby teeth and is mouthing, chewing, and teething a bit. The young cub weighed in at 16 pounds (7.3 kilograms) and measured just over 30 inches (76.5 centimeters) in length from nose to tail tip.

 

 

“Xiao Liwu was very active, very strong, and very exploratory during his exam this morning,” said PK Robbins, senior veterinarian at the San Diego Zoo. “He is moving about very quickly and exhibiting great confidence in his strength and climbing abilities. At this rate, I think we will see him venturing into more areas of the giant panda habitat very soon.”
Click on chart to enlarge.

Click on chart to enlarge.

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global.
473

My Moment With Our Black and White Celebrity!

It finally happened, I was able to help with a cub exam! I have been waiting for this moment since my first look at the cub during my night watch shift. As we began setting up for the exam, my excitement quickly turned to nervousness, and my mind raced. There were cameras, researchers, veterinarians, nutritionists, fellow keepers and supervisors, and it was up to me to keep our celebrity calm!  

Then it was time: Bai Yun shifted out to her breakfast, and she was calm. Now was my chance to pick up the cub, weigh him, and bring him out for his exam. I picked him up and placed him on his blanket, along with several bamboo leaves that I had to clean off of him so he would be camera ready. I gently placed him on the scale; he weighed 7.26 pounds (3.29 kilograms)! Now out to the cameras, the veterinarian, and the nutritionist for his exam. He did so well! He made a few vocalizations here and there, and he is getting much more mobile–he even crawled–but the veterinarian and nutritionist were able to conduct a thorough exam. Success!

Jennifer Chapman is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Night Watch: Mission Accepted.

6

New Additions: Monkeys, Otters, Pigs

Spot-nosed guenon Indi hanging out on the swing in the lower exhibit

I just wanted to update everyone on some of the changes that are happening in Lost Forest at the San Diego Zoo. If you remember reading my older posts, Monkeys, Otters, and More and More about Monkeys and Otters, some of the same animals are still monkeying around in their current exhibits.

In the lower mixed-species exhibit, we still have our Allen’s swamp monkeys: Kinah, Deriai, Layla, Shaba and Nub. Our little juveniles are growing up so fast and still love to hang out with our spotted-necked otters from time to time. The spotted-necked otters currently in the lower exhibit are Mzee and Lila; however, you are not going to see them together. Mzee is Lila’s father, and we keep them separate so they don’t breed. Consequently, we rotate the two otters on exhibit, so one day you will see Mzee going down the water slides and Lila wrestling with the swamp monkeys the next. The otters don’t seem to mind at all!

You might also see some new faces in the lower exhibit, ones with blue faces, white cheeks, and white spots on their noses. These are our three, new spot-nosed guenon siblings: Indi, Chi-Chi, and Tiko. The first few weeks on exhibit, they were inseparable. They were like three monkeys in one. Wherever one went, the other two followed. You will see this close-knit behavior on exhibit. Indi and Chi-Chi are the two females. Indi has a little more meat on her bones. You will most likely see her try to take over any food situation. Chi-Chi, the smaller female, lets Indi eat her portions to keep their hierarchy balanced. But don’t worry, everyone gets enough food on and off exhibit. Tiko is the larger male spot-nosed guenon and loves to be groomed by the females. You will see him stretched out on one of the platforms with his legs and arms hanging down in such bliss. Every once in a while they interact with the swamp monkeys, but they definitely like to stay close to one another.

Spot-nosed guenons Indi, Chi Chi, and Tiko

In the upper exhibit, our adorable Allen’s swamp monkey pair, Jaribu and Ota, are doing great. Patty and Abu, the spot-nosed guenons who were in the lower exhibit last year, are now in the upper exhibit to accommodate our new arrivals. You’ll see Patty and Abu way up top in the trees where they like to hang out. Haraka and Spike, the spot-nosed guenons who used to be in this area, are now in the mixed-species area of Lost Forest with the mandrills and Angolan colobus.

And do you remember our charismatic Congo buffalo, Helen? She is still striding around the exhibit checking on what everyone else is doing or just relaxing in the back catching some Zs. Some of you might recall our spot-necked otter Khalil. He was paired with a female to start his own family and now resides at a different zoo. His mother, Pori, now inhabits the upper exhibit side. Mother otters in most cases isolate out the older daughter, and fathers isolate their sons after maturity due to competition for breeding. This is why Pori is housed alone as of now. If we get a breeding recommendation to breed Pori, then she may be paired with a male. For now, we wait and enjoy her company with the rest of the animals in the upper exhibit.

African spot-necked otter Pori grabs a fish in the deep pool while Jaribu watches.

Last but not least are our red river hogs! Helen’s red river hog friend from last year, Oboi, was transferred to breed with females at another zoo. Now Helen has some new friends to snuggle with. Our new additions include Hamela and Amy. A little shy at first, they warmed up to our older red river hog residents of a couple of months, Tarzan and CT. Talk about an inseparable foursome! You will love seeing this cuddle fest in the back of the exhibit. All four pigs and Helen took to each other rather quickly. Even behind the scenes, Helen and the pigs share the same beds, making it a cute group of “red” sleeping together. Helen is such a mom figure to these piggies!

(Clockwise) Helen the Congo buffalo, red river hogs CT, Hamela, Amy, and Tarzan

Well, hopefully you can come down and enjoy the new company of animals as much as I do. I randomly toss treats to the critters in the late morning/early afternoon, so come by and say hi!

Jasmine Almonte is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

81

Pandas, Bears, and Pregnancy

Bai Yun’s ultrasounds have revealed a leg, spine, and heartbeat.

The giant panda diverged from the rest of the bear lineage some 20 million years ago, and they have developed some really unique traits not shared by other bears as a result. Dependence on bamboo for sustenance and the development of the pseudothumb to aid in bamboo acquisition are two examples of differences between pandas and other bears. However, when female pandas are pregnant (or pseudopregnant) they remind of us of just how bear-like they are. Although pandas do not experience the hibernation-like state of cold-weather bears most of the time, the females still couple hibernation-like behaviors with the changes in their pregnancy-related hormones.

Cold weather bears like polars, black and brown bears give birth while denned up in the winter. The females rear their young for the first few months in the quiet warmth of their den, before emerging in the spring. During the denning period, females generally forego food and are largely inactive, producing milk to sustain their young while they themselves conserve energy by resting. Winter is a good time for females to slow down and fast, because they wouldn’t find much food anyway during the frozen months of that season. Springtime is a good time to emerge hungry from the den because food abundance is on the uptick at that time of year, and the mothers leave the den with a long season of good eating ahead of them.

Panda mothers experience the same sluggishness and fasting behaviors, but their window for such behavior isn’t coupled with winter. This is probably because bamboo is not a seasonally available food source; it’s around them all year long.  Pandas tend to den up in the summer months instead. Those are some of the warmest months in the mountain ranges in China, and caring for tiny, fragile neonates during warm months affords the mother the opportunity to keep her cub sufficiently warm even when she needs to leave the den to feed a few weeks after birth, as panda mothers do.

Bai Yun’s hormones are in full pregnancy mode, declining from a peak a few weeks ago towards a presumptive birth window. To that end, we have kept monitoring her hormones, behavior, thermo imaging and ultrasound. What do our results show thus far?

Her behavior is interesting, showing a slight increase in denning activity over a week ago. She is building her nest. She is sluggish and still declining her bamboo, but has also become very finicky with respect to non-bamboo too. She has begun insisting that keepers peel her apple slices during husbandry sessions; no skins for Bai Yun! Her hormones continue to drop toward baseline. And her ultrasounds have revealed: a fetal heartbeat!

Yes, we are very excited to think Bai Yun is carrying what we hope will be her 6th cub. We are patiently waiting and crossing our fingers that she will carry this cub to term. I know you will be crossing your fingers with us!

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician with the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous update, Panda Update: Seeking Seclusion.

5

The Secret Life of Eiders: Part 1

Mike releases a king eider back into the wild after it was rehabilitated in Alaska.

Most people have never heard of an eider before (pronounced EYE-der). This is a shame, as eiders are the most colorful and playful ducks I’ve ever worked with. Eiders are large sea ducks that are found along the coastline of Alaska, northern Canada, and even down into New England. The common eider Somateria mollissima, king eider Somateria spectabilis, and spectacled eider Somateria fischeri are all closely related and of the same genus. The Steller’s eider Polysticta stelleri is more distantly related and has a genus all its own. The following anecdotes are a collection of stories from my work in Alaska before I came to the San Diego Zoo.

The wonderful king eider is truly a regal bird. The breeding male has a beautiful red bill, a bright orange-yellow cere (the top of the base of its bill), greenish cheeks, and a subtle purple/gray crown and nape (the back of its neck). This is coupled with a cream chest and a black back with little feathers that stick up and look like sails. Sounds amazing? Believe me, my description doesn’t do them justice. The female is, of course, quite drab by comparison. However, the female demonstrates her royalty by her devotion to her eggs. When the king eider female finishes laying her eggs, she stays on the nest for up to a week at a time without a break! While most duck moms take a daily “break” to eat, defecate, and stretch, the female king keeps her nest as secret as possible by remaining on her throne.

The common eider is bigger than life. Almost. Many years ago I had the privilege of working with this species, and what struck me the most about them was that they also believed that I was privileged to work with them!  Usually when a keeper enters a bird exhibit, one of two things happen: the bird flies or walks closer looking for a treat, or the bird flies or walks away seeking distance from potential danger. Well, the commons did neither; they stayed right where they were. Many times I had to carefully weave my way around the feathered “mines.” Oh, but I was surely in for a bite on my leg if I passed by without giving them a piece of krill, clam, or squid. Privileged, remember?

Next comes my favorite eider species, the spectacled eider. They are not massive like the commons. They aren’t flashy like the Steller’s. They aren’t regal like the kings. They are the clowns. There were days when I believed that they were sent to keep the humans entertained as we worked with the “real” eider species. Cleaning pools was always a chore with the Steller’s eiders. They were so skittish that we had to move slowly or else they could spook and fall into the empty pool. We had the opposite problem with the spectacled eiders. The specs would wait until our back was turned and would line up at the edge of the empty pool. They would then start their own version of American Gladiators and try to knock each other off the ledge. Many keepers turned just in time to see one duck get pinched in the rump by its buddy and sent over the edge (a short, harmless fall). As the rest of the flock fluttered about joyously at the misfortune of their friend, we would walk over, pick up the fallen bird, and place it in one of the full pools so the whole episode could start all over. It was impossible to be bored when there were specs around!

Check back soon for The Secret Life of Eiders: Part II, where we will learn about the gorgeous, but aloof, Steller’s eider.

Mike Grue is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Dabbling vs Diving Ducks.