Archive for March, 2009

What is a leech?

Leech

Some swamps and ponds contain leeches, worms that can cling to fishes, animals and ever to persons.  Leeches may grow from ½-inch to 4 or more inches long.

Like many worms, they have soft, flat bodies divided into segments.  On the leech’s head is a sucker like mouth equipped with three saw-shaped teeth.  A second sucker is located at the hind end of the leech.

The leech attaches itself to the host by means of its suckers.  Then, with the mouth sucker, it sucks up the blood through three little holes which it makes in the skin with its sharp teeth.

In a single meal a leech may eat three times its own weight in blood.  One meal may fast several months.

Not all leeches suck blood.  Some feed instead on worms and other small animals that live in the water.  During medieval times bloodsucking leeches were used by physicians to draw blood from patients in attempts to cure them. – Dick Rogers

What are condors and where do they live?

Condor

Condors are large, dark vultures that can be found living high up in the remote parts of the California Mountains of North America, and in the higher mountains of South America.

A condor may grow to be over 4 feet long and have a wingspread of nearly 11 feet.  It is one of the largest flying birds in the world.  The condor is useful to man as an animal garbage collector.

It helps keep the ground clean by feeding on dead animals which otherwise might present a health danger.

Like all vultures, condors have small, naked heads and hooked beaks.  They have no voice, but hiss like a snake when disturbed.  Though ugly to look at, condors are powerful and graceful in flight.

They spend much of their time wheeling and circling high overhead searching for food.  Their remarkable eyesight can spy out the smallest dead animal from great heights.

Because their wings are so large and heavy, baby condors are nearly a year old before they have the strength to soar. – Dick Rogers

What is a quetzal?

Quetzal

The quetzal is a brilliantly plumed bird of Mexico and Central America, and sacred bird of the Aztec.  The quetzal is pronounced ket SAHL.

The male, hardly larger than a dove, has glittering, emerald green-and-crimson feathers, with graceful tail streamers over three feet long.

This inactive bird sits quietly for long periods on a perch in the dense forest, darling off only to capture insects.  The ancient Mayas and Aztecs found the quetzal so impressive that no one was allowed to harm it.

They used the long tail feathers (plucked without harm to the living bird) as symbol of authority and religion.  Only chiefs and priests were allowed to wear them.

Today the quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala, where it appears on postage stamps, coins and on the state seal.  Guatemala is sometimes called the “Land of the Quetzal.”  – Dick Rogers

What are musk oxen?

Musk Oxen

Musk oxen are shaggy-haired mammals which resemble a small buffalo.  They line in the arctic barrens of north America.

The musk ox, is an odd-looking animal that resembles a small, shaggy-haired buffalo.  A fully grown musk ox may be little over four feet high at the shoulders and weight 700 pounds.

The musk ox is not really an ox.  It is a relatives of goats and antelopes.

The first part of the animal’s name is also inaccurate – it has no musky odor, as was once believed.  In the wild, must oxen are found on the treeless tundra and snowfields of Canada and Greenland.

They travel in small herds.  When threatened by wolves that, prey upon them, the herd forms a protective circle around the young.  No wise wolf would attack such a fortress of tossing honors!

Once united almost to extinction, the now-protected musk oxen are being raised much like sheep for the silky wool, called “quiviut” that grows underneath their shaggy coats.  Garments made of quiviut are very warm and tight in weight. – Dick Rogers

What was a saber-toothed tiger?

Sabre-tooth-tiger

In the old Stone Age, there lived a bit cat, more ferocious in appearance than any known today.  This was the saber-toothed tiger.  It was not really a tiger.

But it resembled a tiger and had two long teeth curved like swords called sabers—which accounts for its name of “saber-toothed tiger.”

Sometimes its teeth were as long as 8 inches and could easily slash the thick skins of the large mammoths upon which it preyed.  Perhaps where you live today, saber-toothed tigers stalked their prey long ago.

They prowled most parts of the world and found plenty to eat in North America.  The last of them died out thousands of years ago.

Some people think they became extinct because their teeth grew so long that they could no longer open their mouths wide enough to eat.  But it is more likely that they died out when the big animals upon which they depended for food became scarce. – Dick Rogers

 

 

 

What is a Yak?

 

Yak

The yak is the shaggy-coated wild ox of Asia.  There are not many places that are less pleasant to live in than the high, windswept plateaus of Tibet. The winters are bitterly cold and food is scarce.

Yet this bleak land, in which few other animals can endure, is the home of the yak.  The wild yak may stand over 6 feet high at the shoulders and weigh more than 1,000 pounds.

Its thick, woolly hair may grown so long that it may even drag on the ground.  Its heavy coat is good protection against the cold.

Despite its large size, the yak is as sure-footed as a goat on the sleep mountain-sides.  Some yaks have been tamed.

Tibetan people depend on the yak for their meal, drink their pink milk, weave their long hair into ropes and cloth and use yaks for pack animals. Tamed yaks are sometimes called “grunting oxen” because they grunt when overloaded. – Dick Rogers

How does a slug move?

Slug

A slug is a cautious creature something like a snail, but without a shell.  Slugs are famous for the “sluggish” pace  at which they travel.  You’ve probably seen a slug creeping along on a part of its body that seems to be its stomach.

Actually the bottom part of the slug’s body is really its “foot”.  The muscles in the slug’s foot move in a wavelike motion that causes the slug to glide slowly along.  It leaves a glistening train of slim behind it as it crawls.

This serves as a slippery path to help the slug slide along more easily.  The goo also protects the slug’s body as it crawls over sharp rocks and twigs.

Slugs live in moist places.  They are often found under logs and stones.  Slugs are often garden pests because they eat plants.  To help them eat, the tongue of a slug has hundreds of tiny “teeth”  with which if files away bits of food. – Dick Rogers

 

 

 

How did the secretary bird get its name?

Secretary Bird

The odd-looking secretary bird is a South African bird of prey.  The reason for this bird’s name is easy to guess because of the tuft of long, stiff feathers that stick out from the back of its head.

The tuffs resemble the quill pens that old-time secretaries and clerks once carried behind their ears.  The secretary bird has a long neck and very long legs.  It is about four-feet tall and its plumage is gray and black.

It usually prefers to run instead of fly and is the only bird of prey that hunts on foot.

An inhabitant of Africa’s grassy plains, the secretary bird feeds chiefly on snakes, which it kills by stamping on the snake with its strong  feet and biting it with its hooked bill.

In their native home, farmers often tame secretary birds and keep them to kill rats and mice.  Another name for the secretary bird is “serpent eagle.” – Dick Rogers

What bird is the greatest traveler?

Greatest Traveler

The arctic tern is the greatest bird traveler.  It migrates farther than any other bird.  The arctic tern is a graceful black and white sea bird with a forked tail and long wings.

During the summer the arctic tern nests in the arctic.  In the fall it begins a long journey to the most southern parts of the world, the Antarctic! And arctic tern’s roundtrip journey may e as long as 22,000 miles.

Birds that travel are called “migrants”, and their journeys are called “migrations.”  Scientists learn how far birds travel when they migrate through bird banding.

The birds are captured in a trap and aluminum bands are fastened around their legs.  Then they are released unharmed.

When caught again at a different place, code numbers on the bands show how far they have traveled from the place where they were banded. In this way the route of the arctic tern was discovered. – Dick Rogers