Nature Watch: The wacky world of wildlife

flock of flamingo

By Cheryl Conley, Lake Creek Preserve Board of Directors

It’s hard to imagine a world without wild animals, but their populations are declining at rates unprecedented in human history. The World Resource Institute, along with the United Nations Environment Programme, estimates that between 150 and 200 wild species disappear every day. We rarely hear about these disappearances because most of them aren’t publicized. Thankfully, there are hundreds of national and international organizations and governments working to save wild animals and habitats.

With over 1.5 million species of animals on earth, including insects, one could spend a lifetime studying the uniqueness of each species and never come close to learning all there is to know. Here are a few interesting facts about animals:

  • Eagles have a grip 10 times more powerful than ours. They certainly wouldn’t have a wimpy handshake.
  • Vultures can smell a dead animal from more than a mile away. Sometimes I think I can, too.
  • Raccoons don’t wash their food. When the animals’ paws are wet, their tactile sensory perception is dramatically increased and they are better able to identify the food. Compared to other animals, raccoons have 4 to 5 times more sensory cells in their paws.
  • The reason a flamingo has pink feathers is due to their diet of brine shrimp and blue-green algae. These foods contain a natural pink dye called canthaxanthin that cause the feathers to be pink. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could change our hair color just by eating certain foods?
  • Apparently, dolphins like to get “high.” They deliberately handle pufferfish which causes the fish to release toxins as a defense mechanism. In high doses, these toxins can be deadly but in the right amounts, they act as a hallucinogenic. It seems the dolphins enjoy the experience.
  • What animal do you think is the deadliest in the world? If you said the bear, tiger or shark, you’d be wrong. It’s the mosquito. The World Health Organization reports 725,000 people are killed every year by mosquito-born illnesses like malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever.

  • Goats have accents. Scientists used to believe that the calls of goats were determined by genetics. According to a United Kingdom study, animals with highly developed vocal abilities are able to alter their calls to adapt to individuals and groups. Whales, dolphins and bats have this ability also.
  • Cows are smarter than we think and emotionally they are very sensitive. Their intelligence is equal to that of dogs. A study from the University of Cambridge has shown that cows like to learn and show enjoyment by wagging their tails, running and jumping. In a test done by the University of Sydney, cows were trained to solve mazes. The tests revealed their decision-making and executive function abilities.
  • What color are your chickens’ ear lobes? White lobes produce white eggs; brown lobes produce brown eggs.
  • Baby elephants may suck on their trunks for comfort just as human babies suck on their thumbs.
  • Worms have five hearts.
  • Leeches have 32 brains, 10 stomachs, 9 pairs of testicles, two hearts, 300 teeth grouped in three jaws, and more than two pairs of eyes.
  • Herring fish fart! Yes, you heard me right. This is how they communicate with each other.
  • The Texas horned lizard shoots foul-tasting blood out of its eyeballs when threatened.
  • Horses can’t breathe out of the mouth. They can only breathe through their nostrils. They can’t throw up either.
  • We’ve all heard houseflies buzz, right? Did you know that they are buzzing in the key of F?
  • Otters have up to 1 million hairs per square inch. Good thing they don’t have to try to get a brush through it! There are two layers of fur with a layer of air between the two to keep the skin dry.
  • Koalas’ fingerprints are virtually indistinguishable from humans. Could they contaminate a crime scene? Yes, indeed! 
  • In Guinea, West Africa, the residents tap raffia palms and collect the sap. Why? The sap  has an alcohol content between 3.1% and 6.9% by volume. Locals love to drink the sap and so do chimpanzees! There’s nothing worse than a tipsy chimp!
  • Doctors tell us that naps are good for us. Apparently fire ants know this as well. Researchers have discovered that they take up to 250 naps per day!

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