Results tagged “animals” from PlanetGreen.org

Animal Groups Word Search

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agwsprev.jpg    If you just can't figure out what a lavish group of tacky pink birds is called,or a pious crowd of crocodilians, then check out this list of Animal Groups (or, if you want the full-size, printer-friendly version, click here). Another game, by both me and my sister, is available at New Moon Magazine. (No peeking beyond this point, as the answers are beneath).

AGansw.jpgNote: The text and images on this post are copyright of Katrianna Elizabeth, 2012, and cannot be used for anything except educational purposes.

Does Shelling Harm Wildlife?

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Shell.jpgRecently, we were walking on the beach just after low tide. Rims of seashells marked where the waves had come. Many of these were fragmented, and the majority had been bleached by the sun. There were some pretty scallops and cockles, and several still-connected bivalve shells. Then, Mom found a beautiful conch. The shell was mottled with shades of brown, edged in red. The spiked tips were pointed and distinct, unlike some of the worn ones we had collected earlier.

conch shell.jpgMom picked it up and held it up to the light. It was inhabited, and we could see the conch's claw. We put it back where an occasional wave would wash over it. The prettiest shells we found had creatures in them. Many were conches, but some of the shells had been claimed by hermit crabs. We didn't take any of the ones that were alive, but we saw other people carelessly collecting them. One lady had two grocery bags filled with large, colorful shells. Although the signs along the boardwalk read "No Live Shelling," several people were ignoring that rule.

hermit crab.jpgOn many beaches, collecting live animals is illegal. For instance, Washington State has banned the taking of any invertebrate, and in most national parks it is illegal to take anything. In addition to wanting the shells, people get them for food and bait, or as pets for their home aquariums. However, even in places where there are no laws preventing this collection, it is a bad idea. Not only does it harm the individual animal, but overharvesting of a species can lead to a decline in its population, making it endangered or even extinct. When this happens, the natural balance is also upset, because the creatures that relied on the animal for food or used the shells as shelter are no longer able to find them.

Buying shells commercially is not environmentally-friendly. Many companies catch live shellfish, which are killed for their meat, their shells, or both. Live sand dollars and sea stars are also captured and sold. Because they are caught in such huge numbers, many rare species are threatened by this practice.

One example is the Queen Conch. Its shells are used as jewelery or decorations and its meat is eaten or used as bait. They were captured so extensively that their numbers declined. Although they are not officially endangered, many Caribbean countries are trying to conserve the conches living near their shores and have agreed not to export them until the populations have stabilized.

The critically endangered Black Abalone is another animal which has been depleted by the meat and shell industry. They were once plentiful along the Pacific coast, from California to Mexico. Its meat was more popular than its small, smooth shell. At the time they were being harvested, there were no rules about protecting an individual species. After the California fishery had run out of one species of abalone, they would switch to another. Withering syndrome, a disease, also decreased the numbers. Today, hunting these mollusks is illegal, although some poaching occurs.

Collecting empty shells at the beach is harmless, except in parks where removing anything is illegal. Just make sure they are empty before you take them!

Pennies For The Planet: Giant Pandas Face Extinction

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pndabmboo.JPGIn only two or three generations, pandas could go extinct. Because of recent development in what used to be the pandas' habitats, the bears don't have enough room. While enough land was set aside for 1,000 pandas 30 years ago, the area is not sufficient for the 1,600 pandas now living in the wild. In addition to this, the pandas are being fenced off by water projects and roads. They cannot find enough food or a mate. Pandas travel long distances to find mates because if the genes are too similar the babies will be very susceptible to diseases. But now the pandas are unable to do that. If this continues, the pandas will only be seen in zoos and other places where captive animals are kept. And it will happen in the next sixty years (one panda's lifespan is twenty years), if the building on the pandas' land is not stopped.

When I was five, I became a big-time environmentalist. I raised a hundred dollars (mostly through presents, but I did ask for them instead of other things...) to give to Jane Goodall. And I collected 1,690 pennies for Pennies for the Planet, a program by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) which raises money for different projects (although I thought that I was helping to save pandas due to the logo, my donation went to a program for the conservation of black rhinos).

It was Halloween night. Katrianna and I dressed up in our matching lion costumes, and I carried a sour cream jar that had been covered in yellow paper and decorated. That would hold my pennies. Mom took Katrianna and I outside and we began trick-or-treating. My campaign was a huge success. Nearly all of my pennies came from that expedition. Later, Mom and I drove to the nearest coin machine and donated all of my pennies to the WWF.

Today, there are whole kits made for Pennies for the Planet trick or treating. They didn't exist when I did it within the first couple years of the twenty-first century. Now there are environmental coin jars in most elementary classrooms. Mom told me that when I did it a neighbor, also a teacher, whom I had asked for pennies on Halloween night, added Pennies for the Planet to her curriculum. This program sponsors new projects each year and is a reputable environmental charity, although it might have to change its logo in the next sixty years if the panda population continues to dwindle.

California Condors: 9-foot Thunderbirds

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cndr.jpgCalifornia condors are remarkable birds. They have a nine-foot wingspan, the largest of any North American bird! They are so large that they are more often mistaken for airplanes than other birds. Due to their size, Native Americans called them "thunderbirds," because the sound of their wings flapping purportedly made thunder. They are mostly black, with white patches under the wings. Another myth, from the Chumash tribe, tells that condors once had white feathers, but were burned when they got too close to a fire.

The critically endangered condors are in the same family as vultures, and many vultures are scavengers, meaning that they eat the remnants of dead animals. Unlike some vultures, however, condors do not have a particularly good sense of smell, instead using their sharp eyes to find food. They do not have talons and cannot carry prey, so they eat 2-3 pounds of food at a sitting and then sit for a day to recover! They are so big that they intimidate most would-be competitors for food. Even bears ignore them, and golden eagles are the only species that will fight them. Dominant, older birds eat before the younger ones.

Condors mate for life. When a male spots a potential mate, his head turns bright red and he walks towards her with his wings spread. If she lowers her head, it means she accepts. Although no actual nest is built, they lay their eggs in hard-to-access caves in rocky cliffs. Incubation takes two months, with the parents taking turns sitting on the egg.

At one point, there were thousands of condors in the wild. Ten thousand years ago, they lived on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, from British Columbia to Baja California and from New York to Florida. However, they were endangered by many factors. They were hunted (particularly for museums) and poisoned by DDT. They got lead poisoning by scavenging dead animals killed by hunters who used lead bullets. Their habitat was also destroyed, and, as more people moved in, condor collisions with power lines increased. Additionally, people collected the condors' eggs. In the Gold Rush, condors were even turned into pets. The entire California condor population was reduced to 22 birds.

condorbaby3.jpgCaptive breeding programs saved the condors. In the wild, condors are slow breeders, but they "double-clutch," or lay a second egg if the first one is lost or taken. So scientists took the condors' first eggs, allowing the pairs to raise the second eggs. The first eggs were put in an incubator until they hatched, when the chicks were fed with condor puppets and recordings of condor sounds were played to them. In twenty years, the population grew to 200 birds.

Today there are 369 condors in the world, and 190 of these are wild. However, they are not safe. Some of them have been killed by coyotes or eagles. Some still flew into power lines, but now before new birds are released they "undergo a power pole aversion training program which uses mock power poles that deliver a small electric shock to the birds when they try to land on them," according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. This has effectively stopped the collisions. They are also accidentally hunted, or are poisoned by chemicals. Lead poisoning from scavenged meat is still one of the biggest threats. Since reintroduction, 15 condors have died from lead poisoning. (Nine of the cases were proven, and six were recorded as very likely.) Recently, lead ammunition has been banned within the condors' range. Although some people refuse to comply with this law, it has reduced the risk. They have been reintroduced to parts of California, Arizona, and Utah. They are still very rare, but their populations are increasing. Captive breeding and careful conservation seem to have saved this magnificent raptor.

Fascinating Facts About Red Pandas

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red panda.jpgWhen most people see the word "panda," they think of the big, furry, black-and-white Giant Panda. But the lesser-known Red Panda, three times smaller, is also in danger. Today classified as vulnerable, its status could quickly change to endangered.
 
The red panda is a living fossil. It has no close surviving relatives, and most resembles raccoons and skunks, not giant pandas. Living in temperate (neither tropical nor arctic) mountain forests from Nepal to China, they spend most of their time in trees. They are both nocturnal and crepuscular, meaning that they come out in the early morning and evening. The red panda is also called the cat-bear, lesser panda, and fire fox. The browser "Mozilla Firefox" was named after them.

Their diet is two-thirds bamboo, but they also eat acorns, flowers, berries, lichen, mushrooms, roots and grasses and occasionally insects, fish, eggs, and chicks. Like giant pandas, they have a bone that acts like a thumb, helping them hold the bamboo. However, because bamboo is low in calories, they spend most of their time eating and sleeping. They drink by dipping one paw into water and then licking it!

The red panda is threatened due to many factors. Deforestation reduces their habitat and grazing livestock can trample their bamboo. In China, they are poached for their fur, which is considered good luck by newlyweds and used in traditional ceremonies. Although the practice of capturing red pandas for zoos has ended, they are sometimes sold to private collectors and are occasionally kept as pets in Nepal and India. Even without interference in the wild, the red panda has a low birth rate and high death rate.

However, red pandas are officially protected throughout their range and hunting them is illegal. Parks protect them in every country they live in and some villages are involved in conservation, as well. Although some originally trapped wild red pandas, many zoos have developed successful captive breeding programs. If we protect them now, the red panda will flourish in the wild.

Do You Know What Veal Is?

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A few days ago, we were in a health food store. In the frozen section, they were selling eggplant cutlets. Not only did this seem a little far-fetched as a substitute for what might normally be veal cutlets, it also brought up the question: What exactly is veal?

calf002.jpgVeal comes from male calves, as the cattle industry has little use for them (they are not raised for meat as commonly as females are). These calves are penned separately from the other cows so that their mothers cannot feed them. Often they are given only a milk-based formula. Many farms keep the calves in small, solitary "veal crates" where they cannot move around so that their muscles do not develop properly. Finally, some slaughterhouses bleed the calves to death to drain the meat of color. When an animal is given food, its meat is darker and tougher. But veal is supposed to be light-colored and tender, a result achieved by this starving, confining and bleeding.

There are, of course, problems with free-range meat. But at least the animals are allowed to move and eat while they are alive. Even people who do eat meat can stop supporting the production of veal. If there is no demand for it because people refuse to eat it, the farmers will have no reason to continue these practices.

But back to the eggplant cutlets... Being a vegetarian or a vegan means that a person cares about animals and does not want to hurt them. Why would these people intentionally imitate such an industry -- especially if they have to eat eggplant to do it?

Tool Use in Animals: From Otters to Octopuses

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Everyone’s heard of chimpanzees using relatively sophisticated tools to perform everyday tasks, like to eat their food or to hunt. But other animals, like elephants, octopuses, and even some species of fish also use tools to perform common actions. Here are twenty such silly animal anecdotes.

In Depth Measure
Gorillas and orangutans have been observed using sticks to measure the depth of bodies of water. And when an orangutan saw local humans spear fishing, he was spotted using a stick to catch fish from a net.

“Checkmate!”
Rooks are more than just a chess piece. They are large, raven like birds which, as in Aesop’s fable, can drop stones into a narrow glass of water to reach the worm floating inside.

Good Neighbors
According to the elephants, Robert Frost was wrong when he asserted that fences make good neighbors. They have been known to take huge stones, carry them to an electrical fence, and drop it down! That either breaks the fence or cuts off the electricity. Elephants also use branches as fly-swatters or back-scratchers.

Can Openers
Sea otters have been observed using stones to dislodge their prey. Once they have caught it and are again floating on the surface they also use stones to crack the shells of their dinner.

Stepstools Honey badgers, which live in Africa and parts of Asia, can use logs as tools. One was seen rolling a log through an underground cave. It then climbed on top of the log to reach a kingfisher fledgling trapped in the roots coming through the cave’s ceiling.

Modified Toy Common bottlenose dolphins blow bubbles, which they form into rings and play with, using their noses and bodies to keep the ring from floating to the surface. That’s a fun kind of tool to use!

Betty In an experiment with “Betty,” a laboratory crow, scientists laid an assortment of wires, some straight and some with hooked ends, in her cage. Then, they put a basket-shaped metal piece in a narrow glass for Betty to pull up. The scientists did not expect what the crow did: she picked a straight wire, bent it into a hook, and used it to hoist the basket out of the glass.

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Handmade Pocketknives Captive capuchin monkeys were given a flint stone and a closed box containing fruits. The capuchins broke the rock into sharp shards which they used to cut into the box.

Built-in Water Guns Archer fish live in freshwater ponds, where they can surprise unsuspecting insects by squirting jets of water at crickets and other small insects sitting on leaves above the water. Their lower jaws have evolved to become larger to help them do this impressive feat.

Getting Into A Scrape
Do you remember how much it hurts when you fall on concrete and graze your knee? When I learned to inline skate, I had to wear elbow and knee pads. Similarly, when dolphins forage for food on the ocean floor, they wear nose pads! They tear off pieces of sponge which they wrap around their noses to prevent getting scraped.

Ostrich Eggs Egyptian vultures use small rocks to crack the thick shells of ostrich eggs. Vultures that have never seen other birds using that technique are still able to manipulate the stone to get inside the egg, proving that it is a genetic trait and not learned.

Fishing for Insects
A common practice in the animal world, using a stick to draw hard-to-reach insects from their homes, is not only for chimpanzees. Although the primates have perfected the art of termite-fishing, chewing the stick’s end so that it splits into paintbrush-like bristles, Green jays and brown-headed nuthatches also probe into tree bark to extract the insects lurking within. Woodpecker finches, which live on the Galapagos Islands, have short tongues. They make up for the lack by using sticks, twigs, or even cactus spines in the same manner.

Coconut Housing Veined octopuses have been seen picking up empty coconut shells, carrying them around, and then hiding inside. Although there is debate about whether this really qualifies as tool use, it is advanced cephalopod behavior.


Monkey Missile White-headed capuchins use tools to defend themselves. They can use sticks to hit snakes either in self-defense or to reclaim their stolen baby. But a human observer got the most absurd treatment. The capuchin picked up a much smaller squirrel monkey and hurled it at the human!

Cracking Up Waiting at a traffic light on a Japanese university campus, carrion crows watched cars run over their freshly-picked walnuts. A tragedy? No. The lights changed and the cars halted. The crows walked across the road, eating the exposed meat of the nuts. The cars were cracking the nuts! Similar behavior has been observed in American crows. (To find out more, see PBS’ article.)

Oyster Drive Like the crows with their walnut-dropping habits, seagulls drop live, unshelled oysters onto roads so that passing cars will crack them open. They drop so many that driving along waterway roads is sometimes hazardous!

Underwater Discovery
In a recent experiment, captive stingrays were found using water as a tool in a manner similar to that of the archerfish. Scientists gave the stingray a tube, which was sealed on one end, containing some food. The stingray used jets of water to move the food through the tube towards them.

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Well Diggers Despite their not having hands, elephants use their trunks as a tool. Elephants dig holes to drink water, but after they’re done they don’t leave the hole to evaporate. Instead, they use a special technique to keep it from drying out! They rip bark from a tree, chew it into a ball, drop the ball into the hole and cover the hole with sand. The elephants remember where their well is so that they can go get free refills whenever they like.

A Heron’s Bait Green herons, which live throughout North and Central America, drop insects, food, or other small things into the water to attract fish. Hooded crows behave similarly.

Stopping the Hole
American badgers are carnivores who eat prairie dogs, some kinds of ground squirrel and other burrowing creatures, which live in underground tunnels. The badgers have developed a technique to catch them: they use stones and other objects as corks to stop the burrows’ exits. The hunted animal will have no emergency escape route, enabling the badger to catch it.

Pangolins: A Species on the Brink of Extinction

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Pangolins are scaly animals similar to anteaters and armadillos that are found in Southeast Asia and Africa... but not for long. Two of the eight species of pangolins are endangered, but all of them are declining due to habitat loss and hunting. The Chinese use them as medicine: pangolins were once thought a remedy for skin disease and today they are used as a cancer cure. Not only are they used as medicine, they are also eaten as food and turned into jewelry and leather. Their future does not look very favorable.

Ninety-eight pangolins and almost seven pounds of pangolin scales were discovered in the home of a Malaysian poacher and taken away by officials. The guilty poacher could have up to twenty-three years in jail and have to pay a fine. But the pangolins' plight continues.

An Indian pangolin, a third species that will soon be endangered at the current rate, was found in a garden in a city that was expanding rapidly last August. The pangolin was taken to an animal rescue center and later released in a nearby national park. That was the first pangolin to be found in someone's home, but many more will follow into the city built on land that was once the wilderness they roamed.

Although these creatures are in serious danger, they are also interesting and so odd that they're cute. Their scales never stop growing, eventually making up twenty percent of their weight. Pangolins have a sticky tongue that is sixteen inches longer than they are (they range from six to three feet). It is the longest tongue of any mammal (in proportion to size) and is used for their exclusive diet of ants and termites (one pangolin eats up to seventy million insects per year). They compensate for not having teeth by eating stones, which, like birds' stone-filled gizzards, grind their food. So that the ants don't bite them, pangolins have ear and nose covers and thick eyelids. Baby pangolins ride on their mom's tail, hanging on as their pangolin parent wobbles along. These harmless, shy animals will either survive or go extinct depending on what happens. Today they aren't faring very well, and it's up to you to change that. There is even a site dedicated to saving them, with information about this interesting and endangered species.


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