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We often think of dinosaurs as massive creatures, the biggest animals to ever live on land. And while that’s true of some of them, other dinosaurs were downright tiny. Take Compsognathus for instance. These little dinos were only about three feet long, including a long tail, and they probably weighed as little as 1.8 pounds. Even though these dinosaurs were little, they were still predators, as evidenced by their tiny sharp teeth on their long, thin jaws. In fact, the name Compsognathus means “elegant jaw.” They probably hunted smaller vertebrate animals, and maybe even insects. Can you imagine seeing one of these tiny dinosaurs on the prowl, hunting bugs?
Image by Nobu Tamura
Gorillas are some of our closest relatives—only the bonobo and the chimpanzee are more closely related to humans. Between 95 and 99 percent of their DNA is the same as ours, and there are lots of aspects of gorillas’ lives that are like humans’. Gorillas live in family groups called troops, and gorilla mothers take very good care of their babies.
Gorillas are extremely intelligent animals. They communicate with each other through vocalizations like grunts and barks, and some gorillas in captivity have been taught some sign language. Gorillas also use tools to find food and build their nests. Not so different from us!
Photo by Five Locker
The western lowland gorilla is critically endangered, but the Franklin Park Zoo is working hard to protect these animals. By helping your kids get excited about animals like gorillas, you can help a new generation get motivated to work for conservation. The Franklin Park Zoo’s website is a great place to start—they have all kinds of crafts, quizzes, photos, and facts to encourage any young nature lover’s passion for the world around us. They even have a page dedicated to real-life ways that your family can help the fight for the animals we share our planet with, like creating butterfly gardens and compost piles. Little things like that add up to big change, including the kind of change that can help the great apes!
We talk about “panda bears” and “koala bears,” but for a long time, neither was actually considered a bear species! Koalas are definitely not bears—they’re marsupials, distant cousins of kangaroos and wombats. However, their short faces and rounded ears make them look a little bear-like, hence the nickname.
Pandas are another story. Physically, they have a lot in common with bears, but there are also lots of differences. They eat almost nothing but bamboo, and they have an enlarged bone on their hands that looks like a thumb—characteristics that seem to make them more like red pandas, which are part of the raccoon family. Recent DNA studies, though, have shown that pandas are indeed part of the bear family—they’re just not as closely related to polar bears, grizzlies, and the others as they are to each other!
Photos via Wikimedia Commons
Polar bears are the biggest bears in the world. The average male weighs close to a thousand pounds. That’s just an average, though– the largest one on record weighed over 2,000 pounds! These giant animals are the most carnivorous bears in the world– while black and brown bears rely on other food sources like fruit, polar bears eat meat almost exclusively. Their prey mostly consists of seals, and the bears catch seals when they’re out of the water, on ice drifts. But climate change is leading to less polar ice, which means fewer opportunities for polar bears to get their food. Polar bear populations are now decreasing, but people are working to help them. To find out what you can do, check out your local zoo’s website– most zoos have programs in place to help preserve wildlife like polar bears!Photo by Alan Wilson
The average temperature in Antarctica is around -70 degrees Fahrenheit, but that wasn’t always the case– tens of millions of years ago, it was a temperate area with lots of life– including dinosaurs. Expeditions to find their fossils are tough, because paleontologists have to brave frigid weather and find ways to remove the fossils from the frozen ground– often, they have to use rock saws to remove big sections of rock that contains the fossils and bring the whole thing back home with them. But the dinosaurs they find are amazing, like this predatory dinosaur called Cryolophosaurus. Its name means “frozen crested lizard!”
And if you’ve got a dinosaur fan in your family, be sure to check out our new Zoodinos series!
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Rhinos are at once some of the world’s most popular animals, and some of its most critically endangered. These massive animals require plenty of space, and destruction of their habitats has put them at great risk. On top of that, poachers hunt rhinos for their ivory horns, to the point that some species of rhino are on the brink of extinction. There are only three northern white rhinos remaining in the world, and only sixty or so Javanese rhinos.
However, all hope’s not lost—environmental scientists have been working to preserve these amazing animals, and have had some success. The southern white rhinoceros nearly went extinct, but there are now over 20,000 individuals, thanks to conservation efforts to protect them from poachers and reintroduce them to areas where they once lived. To help save the rhinoceros, check out the conservation programs sponsored by your local zoo!
Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Zigomar