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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.

Animal Poems

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Look! I see a shape of tawny,

Its eyes may be kind, but it's fierce and brawny,
On the savanna it blends in so it can hide away,
Never is it seen in the grasses scorched by hot day.


Great and tall, yet in the plains this animal abides,
In the low grasses it can find no place to hide,
Reaching up to 20 feet off the ground,
Automatically no cover is to be found.
For their safety they have to have spots and to run,
Few are caught by predators  -- almost none!
Evidently they're doing alright, for they are still within our sight!

The jungle cat I speak of is striped of orange and black,
In hunting and in swimming it does have a knack.
Gazelles it can easily overpower once it is fully grown,
Each and every cat a stripe pattern has its own,
Roaming in the jungle lightly, never leaving a track!


That there is a green reptile

Under the sea, there's no denial.
Red or brown (green, most often of all)
These creatures swim beautifully, but awkwardly crawl,
Land is where it lays its eggs, but at no other time
Ever does this animal above the tide-line climb.


Carrying a pack through the desert dusty gold,
As it has all its days and shall until it's old.
Meandering ever through the dunes of sand,
Ending never, always forward caravanned,
Lumbering always in the desert dunes and folds.

Crocodile Crossword

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If you need help figuring out the clues, you can try consulting any of these websites:

American Crocodile Facts, Defenders of Wildlife
American Crocodiles, National Geographic
American Crocodile, Wikipedia
Crocodile, Wikipedia
Saurian (definition),

After you finish solving the puzzle, check your answers below (no peeking!):


Tuataras: The Endangered "Living Fossil"

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ttara.jpgThe tuatara is the last member of an order of reptiles that lived, along with the dinosaurs, 225 million years ago. The order is rhynchocephalia, which comes from Greek and means "beak head." The tuatara is called a "living fossil," but in some ways this is the wrong name for it. Although in some respects it seems a little more primitive than some of the more modern reptiles, scientific experiments have proven that its rate of molecular evolution* is quicker than that of any animal yet tested.

The Maori word "tuatara" has been translated in many different ways, but the most common meaning is that tua means 'back,' and tara, 'spine.' Both the males and the females have spines (actually just flaps of skin), but the males' are larger and can be stiffened in order to attract a mate or fight another male.

There are two types of tuataras. For a long time, the Cook Strait tuatara (also called the common tuatara) was the only kind known to exist. Then, a second one, the far rarer and slightly smaller Brothers Island tuatara, was discovered. Today, the classification of tuataras is controversial, with some people arguing that there are two species, while others hold that it's one species, just slightly adapted to its environment. One way to distinguish the two types is that the Brothers Island species is olive-green with yellow speckles, while the Cook Strait tuatara, which is usually mottled and always has white spots, varies from green to grey, dark pink, or brick red. It can also change color throughout its lifetime. Additionally, when caught by a predator, a tuatara can drop its tail which continues to wriggle, allowing time for escape. Their tails do grow back, but they are often a different color plus shorter. They also can lose spines and regrow them and will shed their skin annually.

The adult tuataras are nocturnal and as a result eat mainly insects that are active at night. Beetles are their favorite food, but they sometimes eat lizards, birds, and bird eggs. They do not have real teeth as humans do. Instead, their teeth are sharp protrusions of their jaw bones. Tuataras have two rows on their upper jaws and one row on bottom. The lower teeth fit between the top teeth when the tuatara's mouth is closed and are useful for eating hard insects. Tuataras are the only animal with this kind of dental arrangement. Unfortunately, having built-in teeth means that they can't replace them as they wear down. Older tuataras have to switch to soft food, like larvae, slugs, and earthworms, and eventually make do with smooth jaw bones.

Adult tuataras can go for an hour without breathing if they need to -- even if they don't need to, a resting adult may take only one breath an hour. Although they are cold-blooded, tuataras prefer cool weather to hot. They stay active in 50° weather, while many lizards don't. Like many other reptiles, tuatara eggs are very sensitive to temperature. If the eggs are incubated at 70° F, they have an equal chance of being male or female. At 64°, they are guaranteed to be female and above 72°, they are almost always be male. One threat from global warming is that the weather will be too hot for female eggs to incubate and the remaining males will not be able to find mates. Even if the eggs are laid, that's no guarantee that they're going to hatch because many predators enjoy eating them. If a theoretical tuatara had just laid a fresh clutch of eggs today, and no one was going to eat them, it would still take more than a year for them to hatch (incubation takes 13 to 16 months because they stop developing when they get too cold).

At 13 to 20, they reach maturity, but they don't stop growing until they're thirty. That is a long childhood, but it is not exactly an ideal one. Tuatara moms are not very attentive. They lay their eggs once every four years and then leave. The hatchlings must hunt in the day to avoid being eaten by adult tuataras at night. Then, they have to dig their burrow for protection. Burrowing is much easier for an adult tuatara, because they do not mind staying in 'hotels.' Whenever they sense danger, they dart into the nearest burrow, which is often inhabited by nesting seabirds. The birds go fishing during the day, and the tuatara goes hunting at night. The birds do not seem to mind this arrangement -- except in the occasional case where a tuatara eats one of their chicks.

One feature visible in tuatara hatchlings is their "third eye," also called a "parietal eye." This comes with its own lens, cornea, retina, and non-functional connection to the brain, which makes scientists think that it evolved from a real eye. This can be seen through the skin on top of the tuatara's head until it is a few months old, when scales and pigment will have covered it. One possible use is to tell the time of day or the season. Interestingly, tuataras also have three eyelids. The first closes from the top, the second from the bottom, and the third horizontally. This last is a clear one, called a nictitating membrane, which protects and moistens the eye while still allowing the tuatara to see. Their eyes also focus independently.

The chief reason tuataras are endangered is that introduced species, such as the rats and dogs first brought by the early Polynesian settlers, prey on tuatara eggs and hatchlings. The Europeans brought more of these pests, as well as cats and ferrets. In 1895, New Zealand's government fully protected the tuataras, but their population continued to plummet as rats reached one island after another. Even as late as 1984, they killed all of the tuataras on a 25-acre island. For a long time, tuataras lived only on 32 remote islands. On the mainland, where captive release programs have been operating, one nest and one hatchling have been discovered in the wild. Many fenced preserves also keep tuataras, which also benefits other endangered species, such as kiwis, other birds, lizards, and the giant weta, a flightless insect. More than 60,000 tuataras are estimated to live worldwide, which means that this remarkable reptile can resurge in the wild.

Kiwi Conservation Club
San Diego Zoo

*Molecular evolution means that the DNA is changing over time, which is, simplified, the same thing as evolution, only on a tiny scale.

kemp's ridley sea turtleThe BP oil spill threatens hundreds of different species, from crabs to dolphins to pelicans. However, the five species of sea turtles living in the Gulf of Mexico -- leatherback, hawksbill, green, loggerhead and Kemp's Ridley -- all of which were endangered or threatened before the BP oil spill, may be hit the worst. 200 dead turtles have been found along the Mississippi coast alone. The Kemp's Ridley sea turtle, which was critically endangered and the rarest sea turtle before this disaster, may have the hardest time surviving. As well as being hunted (in parts of Mexico, they are eaten and used for leather in making boots), they are susceptible to becoming entangled in shrimp-catching nets. But the oil spill has introduced many more threats that the turtles do not know exist and will have an even harder time avoiding.

Right now, the adult turtles are coming ashore to lay their eggs. The beaches on which they lay their eggs are now covered in oil, which is not good for the hatchlings. If the eggshells, which are soft and about the size of ping-pong balls, make contact with the oil, they weaken and there is less of a chance that the turtles will hatch. Even if they do, the hatchlings may be deformed. Those that live will have to cross the polluted beaches to get to the sea and then swim through the oil in the gulf waters. The Kemp's Ridley hatchlings are leaving their nesting grounds in Mexico to swim into the most contaminated part of the gulf, where their instinct to hide and eat amongst clumps of floating vegetation is leading them to clots of oil and polluted seaweed. Their instincts, which come from living in the ocean for over 100 million years, have taught them how to avoid predators like sharks but have not taught them how to cope with exploding oil wells.

No matter how old they are (many sea turtles live for 30 years), if a turtle is exposed to the oil for 4 days, their skin will peel off in sheets, a condition which lasts even after they have been cleaned and treated. The toxic chemicals cause diseases and damage to their livers, kidneys, and brains that might lead to the deaths of many of these animals. The oil also damages their chemoreceptors, which control their senses, making them unable to find prey, to know where their habitat is, or to understand movement. Because they moved farther inshore in their attempts to avoid the oil, they were eating fishing bait and consuming hooks. In June, 583 sea turtles were found in the contaminated area. 447 of these were already dead or died soon after they were discovered, and only 136 were taken to rescue centers. Worst of all, when BP tried setting some of the oil on fire, hundreds or possibly thousands of sea turtles were burnt and killed.

At least some efforts are being made to save the sea turtles. A qualified biologist will be aboard every boat involved in burning the oil to remove the turtles from the area. And 70,000 eggs from the different species of sea turtles are being carefully dug up from their burrows in the sand, because it is difficult to move or disturb the eggs without harming the embryos, and taken to a climate-controlled hangar at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After they hatch -- if the oil doesn't flow around Florida to ruin the plan -- the turtles will be released in the clean waters of the Atlantic.

For thirty years before the spill, scientists, environmentalists, and volunteers have been trying to save sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. Their programs were working. For my sixth birthday, we drove to a Kemp's Ridley sea turtle hatchery in Galveston, Texas, the only one in the United States. Inside a rather small shack, we saw hatchlings, one-year-olds, two-year-olds, and huge three-year-olds in tubs being fed. It was not very impressive, but they were saving the turtles. We learned about the dangers faced by Kemp's Ridley and Leatherback sea turtles back then and today. People dumping garbage into the oceans is not a new issue, as is the fact that turtles choke on plastic squids used by fishermen to attract animals. If these turtles were in such danger before, now conservation is even more vital in these animals' survival.

Hopefully the conservation efforts will work and the turtles will continue to live healthily in clean water, but all of the other animals that live in the gulf face similar problems. This still leaking spill, which is even worse than the Exxon spill, is just another reminder that we need to work on green energy. We cannot continue to drill for oil and risk losing millions of animals as well as our own safety and the state of our world. The stories of these turtles and of all of the other, less well-known animals that are in danger need to prompt immediate action that will save our planet before it is too late.

Baby Animal Names Match-up

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Every kind of baby animal has a particular name. Some of them make sense -- a baby goose is called a gosling -- and some don't -- since when was calling a baby kangaroo a joey logical? See if you can pair each species of animal to its particular name!

HINT: Many species of baby animals are referred to as the same thing: for instance, a baby cow and a baby rhinoceros are both called calves. So while some of the following animals can be called the same thing, no two animals can be connected to the same name.

Answers.jpgNOTE: This image may be printed for educational purposes, but cannot be sold or printed for commercial reasons. © Mikaela Sarkar 2010

Gesundteit to A Cat?

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iguanasneeze.jpgDo fish cough?                                          
Do dogs and cats sneeze?
Do lizards sneeze?
Do mice sneeze?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Iguanas sneeze to rid their bodies of excess salt (sodium chloride). Dogs sneeze if they sniff something offensive. Mice sneeze with a tiny, dainty cough.
Fish only cough, as they have gills.

Below is a funny animal video of a baby panda and its mother-the baby panda sneezes.


Confessions Of A Bloggerhead Turtle

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trts-t-plstc.jpgTurtles are greatly endangered due to both light and plastic. Both seem harmless. But they are greatly damaging the population of sea turtles.

It is not uncommon to build hotels or other accommodations on the seashore. But it is harmful. Turtles are naturally guided by the moon to the sea once they hatch from their eggs on the beach. But the lights now guide the turtles away from the beach. They soon die.

Then there's plastic. They mistake it for jellyfish (one of their favorite foods) and die because they cannot digest it. Their life expectancy is 80 years in the wild, but now these dangers threaten their lifespans. And, to add to the cumulative effect of this misery for the graceful creatures, only 1 out of every 100 eggs laid will survive to adulthood. The turtles' chances of survival naturally are not great, and that is why we need to be more aware of their peril to this day.

    Every species of sea turtle is endangered. That means that one of these species could go extinct if we all keep going with these wasteful ways. We have to try and stop it when these things happen to the fragile world around us.  

    What We Can Do:

•    Use less plastic
•    Try not to stay in hotels on the seashore or
•    Encourage your hotel to use light dimmer than the moon
•    Buy reusable cloth bags at your local store
•    "Adopt" a turtle at a wildlife conserving website like WWF or Defenders of Wildlife
•    Cut up any 6-pack plastic rings or balloons or
•    Don't buy any flimsy plastic items

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