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Hummingbirds are the world’s smallest birds—the littlest one, the bee hummingbird from Cuba, weighs less than two grams (for comparison, a penny weighs 2.5 grams). Ruby-throated hummingbirds hatch out of eggs the size of peas. But while these animals are tiny, they play a crucial role in the ecosystems they live in, pollinating flowers by going from bloom to bloom drinking nectar.

The Smithsonian National Zoo’s website includes tons of fun facts about these amazing animals, along with tips for making your backyard a hummingbird hotspot. They provide advice about what kinds of food to put out (sugar water) and what flowers to plant (bee balm, coral honeysuckle, columbine, cardinal flower, and trumpet creeper).

The Zoo also offers tips for keeping hummingbirds safe. More than half the world’s hummingbird species live in the tropics, and even if you live far from there, little decisions that you make every day can help protect them. For example, they offer tips on finding coffee that’s grown on plantations that also support the flowers that hummingbirds need for food. When it comes to conservation and animal protection, every little bit helps!

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Photo by Rhoude7695

There are 12,000 ant species in the world. They live on every continent except Antarctica, and these smart, social insects come in all shapes and sizes, depending on what’s best suited to their environment. Some of their adaptations are unusual-looking to say the least. Take trap-jaw ants, for example.

See that part of this ant’s face that looks almost like a big black mustache? Those are the ant’s jaws! Trap-jaw ants have giant jaws that they hold open and then spring shut. They use their jaws to catch smaller insect prey and even to jump by snapping their jaws against the ground and launching themselves into the air! Being able to jump like that can help these ants escape from predators.

Trap-jaw ants live in South America, but wherever you live, there are probably amazing ants too. When you start seeing them this spring, take a minute to stop and watch them—you might be surprised by what you see!

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Photo by Katja Schultz

If you and your Zoobooks fans are hungry for more bear facts, check out the Woodland Park Zoo’s website! You can watch their grizzly bears on a live webcam. The bears live in a recreated habitate space that includes a stream and pond with live trout. If you’re lucky, you might catch the bears fishing!

The bears are less active during the winter months, but with spring right around the corner, keep an eye on the bear cam and watch them enjoying the warmer weather!

By this time in the winter, a lot of people wish they could just take a nap and wake up in the springtime! How do bears do it?

Well, for starters, not all bears do hibernate. Polar bears remain active all year, as do some bears in warmer climates, like pandas and sun bears. But others, like grizzlies and American black bears, are able to slow down their bodies in the winter months and sleep through until the spring. Grizzlies’ body temperatures drop, but not black bears’– in fact, for a long time, scientists didn’t consider black bears to be true hibernators because their bodies were too warm. But they fit the bill for other important hibernation criteria– they remained inactive and went months without food, water, or going to the bathroom (or the bear equivalent, since most bears don’t have bathrooms). A hibernating bear’s heartbeat slows down, and it gets all the nutrition it needs from its fat stores that it built up in the months before the winter. Bears can hibernate for up to eight months, depending on the region they live in.

But why would an animal need to hibernate in the first place? It has to do with energy conservation. Keeping your body alive and healthy takes more energy when you’re awake than when you’re asleep, and in the winter months when nutritious food is scarce, it makes more sense for bears to hunker down and sleep through the hard times and then come out again in the spring!

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Photo by Ltshears

 

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?compsognathus_bw.jpg

Image by Nobu Tamura

 

Check out the amazing work by this month’s Zooworks winners!

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!800px-gorillas_in_uganda-3_by_fiver_locker

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!

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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!Polar_Bear_-_Alaska.jpgPhoto by Alan Wilson

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