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At first glance, the whales in the latest issue of Zootles seem very different from people. For starters, they live in the ocean while we live on land! However, whales are more closely related to humans than you might think. Even though they live underwater and have fins, whales are not fish— they’re mammals just like us. They also breathe air just like we do, though they do things a little differently. While we have nostrils to breathe through, whales have blowholes that they fill with fresh air to breathe when they come up to the water’s surface.
Like humans, whales are social animals that live in groups and work and play together. Some whales, like orcas, hunt in packs to catch their food. Other whales communicate with each other by singing songs. You can even buy recordings of humpback whale songs. Scientists are always discovering new and exciting things about whales, and as we learn more about these amazing animals, we might find that we have even more in common with them!
Mother’s Day is coming up soon, but human parents aren’t the only ones who deserve a little extra love. Peggy, a type of little cat called a caracal, was named “Mom of the Year” at the Oregon Zoo, where she raised her three kittens Mzuke, Binti, and Aziza. Even though it was her first litter, Peggy was an attentive and loving mother.
Her kittens, which you can see here, looked very different as babies than they do now as adults. Grown-up caracals have very large tufted ears which they use to hear their prey when they’re hunting. When the kittens were very small, their ears were small and flat against their heads, but they perked up in no time. The games that the kittens played helped them learn the skills they would use as hunters when they grew up. Adult caracals can jump ten feet in the air and catch prey two to three times their size!
Mzuke, Binti, and Aziza grew up quickly, but who knows? Pretty soon, Mzuke, Binti, and Aziza might be starting families of their own!
When you think of little cats, you probably picture the small domestic cats that people have as pets. However, there are dozens of kinds of little cats that live in the wild. These little cats vary widely in size, appearance, and behavior. The biggest of the little cats is the puma, which at 9 feet long (tail included) is anything but little. It can leap 30 feet in a single bound and can even jump 18 feet straight up in the air! Meanwhile, the smallest of the little cats, the rusty-spotted cat, is only two feet long and weighs just three pounds- only a quarter the weight of a housecat.
All wild cats are distantly related to the domestic cats we know and love today, but housecats probably descended from the African wildcat. These friendly animals were domesticated 12,000 years ago. The next time you see a pet cat, stop and think about its wild relatives and look for the traits it has in common with the little cats you read about in Zoobooks!
What’s the biggest rabbit you’ve ever seen? If you’re just thinking of the rabbits that you’ve seen in your backyard, they’re all probably pretty small. However, there are many different breeds of domesticated rabbits, just like there are different breeds of dogs. Just like a Chihuahua is a lot smaller than a Great Dane, domesticated rabbits come in all different shapes and sizes. The British Giant is one of the biggest rabbit breeds, weighing in at around twenty pounds. Other kinds of rabbits are very small, like the two pound Netherland Dwarf.
Size isn’t the only thing that makes different rabbit breeds look distinctive. Some have unusual coloring, like the New Zealand White, which is pure white with pink eyes. Others stand out because of their fur. Angora rabbits have long, fluffy coats that people use in making yarn for clothing, just like we use sheep wool. Siamese Lionhead rabbits have fluffy fur too, especially around their faces. This “mane” of fur is a little like a lion’s, giving this breed its name. To learn more about different kinds of rabbits, both wild and tame, check out this month’s issue of Zootles. Which kind of rabbit is your favorite?
When you go outside this spring, you might see birds gathering bits of twigs and grass to build their nests. As you can probably imagine, there are as many different kinds of nests as there are different kinds of birds. Tiny birds, like the ruby-throated hummingbird, make very small nests. On the other end of the scale, the bald eagles featured in this month’s issue of Zoobooks make enormous nests called eyries that can be as big as a small truck! Pairs of bald eagles work together to build these nests at the tops of tall trees and on rocky cliffs.
To learn more about the different nests that different birds build, you can check out this activity on the National Zoo’s website. In this interactive game, you can look at pictures of unusual nests and use the information provided to match each bird to its home. The activity has different levels of difficulty, so everyone in the family can join in the fun. Maybe you’ll be inspired to head outside and do some bird-watching of your own!
Eagles are awe-inspiring creatures known for majestically soaring across the sky. To do so, they must have bodies that can be both very light and very strong. For example, the average bald eagle weighs only 9 pounds, but is extremely powerful and capable of lifting heavy prey into the air during flight. This is partially because the largest part of any eagle is typically their feather-covered wings. These wing feathers can be very study while still weighing next to nothing. While a bald eagle has wings that are almost 8 feet long, its wings still weigh less than 2 pounds.
An eagle’s feathers are held together by hundreds of thousands of microscopic hooks that allow it to flap its wings hard enough for flight without being too heavy. Having feathers that can stick together also help eagles control their flight speed. When an eagle wants to fly quickly, it will turn the front edges of its wing into the wind so they cut through the air and meet less resistance. If an eagle is trying to slow down in order to land, it will “drag” the widest parts of its wings into the wind for greater resistance.
From seal pups and kangaroo joeys to zebra foals and baby lemurs, all animals were once animal babies that ate, played and slept in different ways. Sometimes animal babies look very different from their adult parents. For example, fawns, or baby deer, have small white spots on their back. Most animal babies are also much smaller than their parents. A kangaroo joey is even small enough for its mother to carry it in her front pouch, though it will come out to eat and play.
Animal babies love to play. Some, like chimpanzees, have even been known to make silly faces at one another. A fun way to play and laugh with your child is to hold up a mirror so you can easily see both your faces. Then make all kinds of silly expressions by wiggling your eyebrows, pursing your lips, or sticking out your tongue. Soon you both will be giggling at each other’s funny faces.
Rabbits were domesticated by humans long ago and have since been breed to exhibit many unique qualities. While wild rabbits are still common, they are very different from pet rabbits. They always live outside, as they are scared of being handled by humans and know how to take care of themselves. Living in the wild also means wild rabbits usually have short brown fur to help them hide in their environment. Their ears stand straight up from their head so they can best use their amazing sense of hearing. If they hear any predators, they will loudly thump one of their back feet to alert other rabbits of the danger.
Unlike wild rabbits, pet rabbits enjoy human company and need people to take care of them. While all wild rabbits are all similar in size and color, pet rabbits are much more diverse. They can have long or short fur in many different colors like black, white, brown, and gray and may even have spots or stripes. Because pet rabbits don’t have to listen for predators, some of them have smaller ears, or long droopy ears that they can’t move on their own.
Despite their simple name, African wild dogs are fascinating animals, and the Bronx Zoo knows all about these endangered canines. Even though they are only distantly related, African wild dogs have similar characteristics to domestic dogs and wolves, such as their social nature and pack mentality. They often interact with one another through elaborate “greeting ceremonies,” which include face licking, tail wagging, squealing, and roughhousing. They are also known as “painted dogs” because of their brown, black, and white-dappled fur. No two African wild dogs have the same color pattern on their fur, which makes it easy to identify individuals.
African wild dogs can give birth to litters of 6 to 12 pups, but may have as many as 18. The entire pack helps take care of the pups, which are born between March and June, and do not open their eyes until nearly two weeks after birth. By the time they are a year old, the pups are able to hunt and run 48 mph for over an hour at a time.
There are many kinds of wild dogs in the world. They include wolves, coyotes, jackals, and foxes. While foxes mainly live and hunt alone, wolves, coyotes, jackals, and other wild dogs are well known for their group coordination. These well organized groups are known as packs. Within each pack of wild dogs is a specific canine leader who makes decisions and settles arguments between members of the group. Packs of wild dogs raise their young together, with every adult raising and caring for the pups. Wolf packs, for example, often leave an older female wolf behind to babysit when the rest must go out and hunt.
While wolves and other wild dogs are perfectly able to hunt small prey alone, hunting bigger animals such as caribou, zebras, and other large prey may take the whole pack. For example, the short African wild dog sometimes forms packs of up to 60 or more in order to hunt zebra. Packs often use special strategies for separating weak or young individuals away from the herd. During a hunt, each pack member has a specific job, either chasing, startling, or stealthily trapping large prey.