YOUR WEEKLY DOSE OF WOWZERS AND WONDER FROM THE NATURAL WORLD
This week’s slippery subject has lived on planet Earth for an estimated 340 million years!
Their unique body and interesting eating habits make them very different from what you might typically think of when you hear the word fish.
Prepare to get prehistoric as we explore the world of lampreys!
At a glance, you might think that lampreys are a type of eel or a huge leech.
But they’re actually neither!
Their long, tubular bodies hold everything a fish needs to be… well… a fish!
They’re more similar to sharks than eels, thanks to their cartilage-based skeleton, which is different from the more rigid bones found in a typical fish.
Lampreys have large eyes, dorsal fins, anda set of gills on each side of their body. These gills allow them tofilter oxygen as they glide through the waterwhile attached to their prey.
While large eyes and dorsal fins may sound like typical characteristics of a fish, the moment you get a look at their mouth, things get a lot less familiar.
Lampreys are jawless fish.
Instead of having a mouth that hinges open and closed to clamp down on or chew food, they have a folding, circular mouth that opens up to look like a suction cup!
But unlike a soft and squishy suction cup, their mouths are filled with row after row of sharp hooked teeth.
Instead of taking bites of their food, lampreys simply attach to a fish using their teeth, then suck their tasty insides out while hitching a ride.
While this might sound like a strange pattern of eating, it’s very effective.
A single lamprey can kill up to of 240 pounds of fish in its 6-year life span!
Because of their fish-consuming proficiency, lampreys are considered to be an active threat to a range of freshwater and saltwater environments.
While there are many native lamprey species throughout the world, invasive species can quickly upset an aquatic ecosystem.
Lampreys will only spawn once in their entire lifetime, but they certainly make it count!
A single nest of lamprey eggs can easily reach more than 80,000 individual eggs.
If even a small fraction of those eggs reach maturity, that’s a whole lot of lampreys!
When lamprey eggs first hatch, they enter a larval stage.
The tiny larva will filter feed during this time, eatingtiny microbes and bacteria in the sand surrounding their nests.
Soon, they’ll undergo metamorphosis and reach the parasitic stage of their life.
It’s during this time that they pose the greatest threat.
The size of lampreys varies drastically, depending on the species.
Most freshwater species are smaller, with some only reaching around5 inchesand weighing less than 100 grams.
However, larger varieties—including sea lampreys—can reach lengths of 40 inches long and weigh as much as 5 pounds!
Lampreys die after mating, so their population cycles tend to ebb and flow.
Still, the sheer number of eggs they lay can make them a formidable pest if they reach areas with ample food and few predators.
This can make them a troublesome critter forwildlife conservation groups as they strive tokeep them out of lakes and streams where they don’t belong.
Lamprey meat is a delicacy in some countries, including France, Spain,and Portugal. They are often served pickled or in soups and pies.
Lampreys are anadromous fish. This means that their kidneys have adaptations which allow them to live in either fresh or saltwater, depending on which stage of life they are in.
If you can’t wait to grow up, be glad you’re not a lamprey. Their stages of life can be somewhat inconsistent,sometimes spending as much as four years of their expected six-year lifespan in larval form!
Despite having eyes, lampreys most often use their sense of smell to navigate! They also communicate using pheromones, a fact some researchers have used to help trap or divert invasive lamprey populations.
See a range of lamprey big and small and check out their toothy grin in this video from Animalogic.
YOUR WEEKLY DOSE OF WOWZERS AND WONDER FROM THE NATURAL WORLD
We’re willing to wager that there’s a good chance you’ve seen a squirrel before.
But we bet you haven’t seen a squirrel like this!
This week, we’re headed to India to look at the biggest squirrel you’ve ever seen.
Let’s head to the treetops to meet the Malabar Giant Squirrel!
Native to the peninsular regions of India, the Malabar Squirrel—also known as the Indian Giant Squirrel—spends its life in the treetopsof India’s humid, tropical forests.
They can behard to miss as they leap more than 20 feet from tree to tree in search of food.
One of the first things you’re likely to notice is their size.
As their name suggests, these squirrels aren’t like the ones you’ve likely seen in your backyard or at the park.
Malabar squirrels can weigh as much as 2kg and reach lengths of 45cm or more.
And that doesn’t include their big bushy tails which can be up to two feet long all on their own!
If the size of this squirrel didn’t immediately grab your attention, its colouring likely will.
Instead of the red, brown, grey, or black you might find in North America or Europe, these humongous squirrels are a rainbow of all of these colours.
Their underbelly and face are often a lighter colour (such as tan or white) while their back, legs, ears, and tail are a mix of reds, browns, blacks, and—in the right lighting—even purple!
Indian giant squirrels are typicallydiurnal—meaning they forage for food in the early morning and evening, and lounge around the treetops during the hottest parts of the day.
Their favourite foods include fruits, flowers, nuts, bark, bird eggs, and bugs!
By nightfall, they tuck themselves intotheir nests and sleep for the night.
Their nests areelaborately constructed, globe-like structures made of twigs and leaves, making them just as unique as the squirrels themselves!
Each squirrel will build and maintain multiple nests (sometimes as many as 5) to give them easy access to shelter when travelling across their large territories.
However, only one of these nests will be used to raise their young.
Confusingly, baby Malabar squirrels can be called pups, kits, or kittens.
They’re typically born in groups—called a dray or scurry—of 1 to 3 kittens.
Within six months,the young will be mostly independent and start to establish their own territories.
They’re not particularly social, so once they’re grown, they’ll spend most of their time alone.
Their populations are healthy, and they are widespread throughout their homeland forests. However, they’re pretty shy, so catching a peek of one in person could be tricky!
Because of their size and love of eating fruits and plants, Malabar squirrels are essential to spreading seeds throughout India’s tropical forests.
Indian giant squirrels have an amusing defence mechanism. Instead of running or jumping away, they’ll flatten themselves against a branch and lie still until the danger passes.
Despite their size, these squirrels can reach speeds of 20mph as they bound through the treetops using the strength of their rear legs to propel themselvesand their long, bushy tail to maintain balance.
Indian giant squirrels who live near cities and villages are known to make friends with locals, and will return daily if they are treated to seeds, fruits, and other snacks!
Witness the Indian Giant Squirrel in the wild in this short documentary by Ajith Padiyar.
YOUR WEEKLY DOSE OF WOWZERS AND WONDER FROM THE NATURAL WORLD
If you’re superstitious, a black cat might make you nervous.
But these black cats are intimidating for a whole different set of reasons.
Hunting by the dark of night and capable of climbing trees, they stealthily slip through the shadows, mainly doing as they please.
This week, we’re talking about the lithe and lethal black leopard!
Black leopards are found mainly in Southwestern China, Burma, Nepal, Southern India, Indonesia, and the southern part of Malaysia.
However, they’re popular animals in zoos and big cat exhibits.
So you might find them available to view near you!
Black leopards aren’t a distinct species. Instead, they’re a melanistic (or darker coloured) version of the more common light-coloured leopards.
The black colour isn’t actually pure black.
Their spotted pattern appears underneath and can be seen in the right light.
While they’re one of the smaller big cats, they are quite long, reaching between 37 and 65 inches and standing up to 31 inches tall at the shoulder.
Males are much bigger than females, and can weigh up to 200 pounds.
Unlike many animals with distinct mating seasons, mama leopards have cubs year-round—typically in twos or threes.
These cubs will spend the first week of their life with their eyes closed.
They’ll hang around mom for up to two years, until she’s entirely sure they’re ready to fend for themselves.
If they survive the first year, these majestic cats will typically live between 12 and 15 years in the wild.
Leopards have been known to live more than 20 years in zoos or cat centres!
While all black leopards are carnivorous and capable hunters, the times they prefer to hunt depends on their location.
West African leopards who live in the rainforest are most active during the day.
Most other black leopards are nocturnal, using the cover of night and their dark fur to sneak up on unsuspecting prey.
Capable of taking down animals that weigh up to 10 times more than themselves, they’ll snack on everything from tiny mice to large antelope!
Even more impressive, their strong muscles allow them to climb trees with their kill, keeping their meals safe from other big cats or scavengers such as hyenas.
Manywill spend their downtime loungingcomfortably in the treetops even when they’re not eating.
As solitary animals, the only time you’ll see them hunt in packs is when a mother is training her young.
Otherwise, they are quite territorial and don’t like to share their hunting areas with other black leopards.
They will, however, often share territorywith tigers or lions as these other big cats aren’t able toclimb trees and steal their food.
Leopards—black or otherwise—are endangered or threatened in most of their natural habitats due to fur trading and the loss of their preferred trees.
However, conservation efforts are going well to help protect these big, beautiful cats.
Black leopards are sometimes called black panthers. However, this is just a name—there is no single species of cat known as a panther.
Instead, the name scientifically refers to both black leopards and jaguars and is often used more casually to refer to any wildcat with a dark coat.
Don’t let their size fool you. Black leopards are very agile and can run at speeds of more than 58 kph (36 mph) and leap more than 20 feet horizontally when ambushing their prey.
As covered by Smithsonian Magazine, researchers have discovered that black leopards’ dark colouring is part of why they’re so anti-social. A lack of markings makes it much harder for these cats to communicate with others, unlike their siblings with lighter coats.
Despite their large size, leopards can purr just like our smaller household cats! They’re also known to growl, roar, and use a range of coughing noises to announce their presence to other leopards and ward off territorial intruders.
Meet Kahn, one of the black leopards at the Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary near Johannesburg, South Africa.
They tend to scurry about the ground, searching out snacks while trying to avoid larger predators, which happen to be plentiful, given their size.
They have ridged footpads which allow them to grip vertical surfaces and climb trees and other objects when they need to reach a particularly tasty snack or are looking for alternative hideouts to escape predators.
Some of their biggest threats include foxes, crocodiles, cane toads, snakes, and Tasmanian devils.
As nocturnal animals, they’re typically found prowling about at night.
During the day, they’ll slumber in fallen hollow logs, nestled between rocks,or in small burrows they’ve dug with their clawed paws.
Quolls are solitary animals, avoiding groups unless they’re looking for a mate.
They’ll live between two to five years in the wild, with captive quolls living even longer.
Baby quolls, known as pups, only develop inside their mothers for 21 days and are considered adults at just one year old.
That’s one fast childhood!
They’re fairly common in the areas they inhabit, often sneaking intosuburban areas or scavenging roadkill for easy snacks.
As such, there is a good chance you could see one in person if you’re ever visiting Australia, New Guinea, or Tasmania.
All six species are considered near threatened due to predation from invasive species and urban development.
Conservationists are considering encouraging owning quolls as pets to help stabilize the population and encourage quoll breeding before numbers get too low.
Until then, captive breeding programs are showing great success in supporting quoll numbers and helping to reintroduce them in areas throughout the country.
If you’re located anywhere outside of Australia, New Guinea, or Tasmania, there’s a good chance your only chance of seeing these cute little critters is on the Internet or TV.
But you can always check with your local zoo as quolls are very comfortable in captivity.
A quoll’s spots act like its fingerprint.Each pattern is unique, allowing them to recognize each other. This also helps conservationists track quoll populations.
Quolls have the second-strongest bite relative to their body size of any mammal on the planet.
While quolls tend to live alone, they go to the bathroom in communal areas. These places help to keep scents away from their dens while also serving as a sort of social directory for other quolls in the area.
Quoll litters can include up to 30 pups! That’s a lot of brothers and sisters!
Get up close and personal with a range of quolls in this guide to these mighty marsupials.