by Elizabeth Trickey

Vulture eating roadkill, photo by DFW Urban Wildlife

So many animals, so little time to get to know them all…. Those who study and work with wildlife learn all about where and how they live, get to know their habits, and are sometimes quite amazed at what they find out. So let’s look at some interesting facts that zoologists have learned.

Have you ever seen a vulture picking away at a dead animal at the side of the road and thought “that carcass has been baking in the sun all day – that bird is going to get sick”! Well, no it’s not! Vultures are nature’s clean up crew and nothing will make them sick. These scavengers can eat roadkill with rabies, botulism, ebola, or even anthrax and not get sick. And when they’ve finished consuming a delicious, messy meal, they have a nice long talon to pick bits of food from their noses! On the hot days of summer, vultures cool down by peeing on their own legs and feet. This cooling process, called “urohydrosis”, also helps kill bacteria picked up from walking through their food. So a win-win situation!

Photo from Australian Wildlife Protection Council

Now frogs are fascinating creatures. Their bulging eyes are positioned at the top of their heads so they can see in many directions at once. And these eyes stay open almost all the time, even when they sleep! The one time their eyes do close is when they swallow. The eyeballs push down in the sockets to the roof of the mouth which helps to push the food down its throat.

One species of Alaskan tree frog actually freezes for 7 months through the winter! Their hearts stop beating and their blood doesn’t flow, but their bodies contain a high amount of glucose that prevents their organs from turning to ice. Come springtime, the frogsicles thaw out and hop away!

The most amazing frog, recently extinct, gave birth not by laying eggs in the water, but instead by eating them! Called “gastric breeding”, momma would swallow the eggs, and they would mature in her stomach. And when they were ready to be born, she barfed them up! Now if that’s not neat, I don’t know what is!

Bird stealing fur from raccoon, photo from Gizmodo

Many of us are familiar with the term “kleptomaniac”, a word to describe someone who regularly steals from others. Just last year, a new scientific term was invented – “kleptotrichy”. Seems there are species of birds that pluck hairs from unsuspecting animals in order to make nests! Snoozing raccoons, foxes, dogs and cats have all been robbed of fur. I’m thinking of renting one of those thieving birds to get rid of all the cat hair in my house!

Quick fact: coyotes cannot go extinct since pregnancy rates increase and litter size doubles when there are fewer coyotes in the area. Attempts to cull numbers have always backfired, leading to more pups born than adults killed.

This squirrel getting more lift using a trampoline!

Our industrious little squirrels that we love to watch in our yards are active all year round. In the winter, food is harder to find, so throughout the better weather, they “scatter-hoard” – hiding nuts in a variety of places so if some of the bounty is stolen, there was still more elsewhere.

Apparently, they can remember where they’ve hidden up to 9000 items! How is that possible? In the autumn, a squirrel’s brain grows! Then, in the spring, it shrinks down to its regular size. Wow, nature is so amazing!

Grey squirrels are one of the smartest species of squirrel, being able to problem solve during research activities. As well, have you ever seen how far they can jump? If we could jump as far as they can, we would be able to clear 2 bus lengths from a standstill. Incredible!

When female ferrets are ready to mate, they will die if they cannot find a partner. When in heat, their bodies produce a continuous amount of estrogen until they have mated. High quantities of estrogen for a prolonged period of time will lead to damage in bone marrow and blood cells, which eventually causes death.

Random facts:

  • Photo by Micah Rea.

    rabbits can’t barf, so can die from a fur ball

  • snails can sleep for three years at a time
  • ungulates (hoofed animals such as deer, buffalo, moose) are colour blind
  • animals with smaller bodies and faster metabolism see in slow motion
  • otter pairs hold each other’s paws as they sleep in the water so they won’t drift apart
  • elephants gestate for 22 months while opossums gestate for 12 days
  • raccoons have fallen up to 120 feet without serious injury.  See video by Micah Rea – on Fox News. In the video, the raccoon turns around and actually jumps and then runs off.
Bat choosing dinner from the buffet, photo from

The bat is the only mammal that can fly, and its leg bones are so thin that it can’t walk. One bat species, the Bumblebee Bat, lays claim to being the smallest mammal in the world, weighing just 2 grams – that’s like a dime! Vampire bats need to consume blood at least every 2 days to survive, and are happy to share their bounty with other bat friends. Other species of bat will eat 6000-8000 insects in just one night! Not sure where the saying “blind as a bat” came from because bats aren’t blind. They do use echolocation at times for navigation and hunting, but that’s like humans using a GPS. It’s an option, and not needed or even preferred.

In the winter, turtles breathe out of their butts. You will read more about that in next month’s article on reptiles. Stay tuned!

Furry feet of the rabbit, photo from Rabbit Welfare Association

Jackrabbits can make vertical leaps up to 21 feet high. They would make great basketball players! Many rabbits will make vertical jumps, called “binkies”, twisting in the air when they are happy! Rabbits are a bit like hobbits, in that they have furry feet! They are the only land mammal that do not have paw pads. Rabbits rely on the thick fur to provide cushioning when they run.

The scent of a skunk is so powerful that it can be smelled miles away, depending on the wind. These little stinkers have a terrific aim and can hit a target from 10 feet away. So, pay heed when they look at you and start stamping their feet. That’s the only warning you will get!

Another quick fact:

The Pipefish, a skinny, colourful, marine animal is quite a particular little fish. Although the females prepare the eggs, it is the males that get pregnant and bring them to term. However, the male might abort the embryos of unattractive females. Really!

Oddly enough, polar bears have black skin which helps them to absorb heat. Their fur appears white but is actually colourless and hollow. The sun makes the fur appear white which gives them some camouflage in their snowy habitat.

Mosquito biting the skin of the second worst killer in the world. Image courtesy FotoshopTofs

The world’s most deadly animal isn’t a shark, snake, bear or tiger, but something quite common and tiny – a mosquito. We see them as pesky insects when we are camping or sitting out on our decks at the cottage. They are actually mini killers – 725,000 people every year! The second most deadly animal is a human, with 437 000 murders annually. We are, in fact, the most deadly mammal on Earth. Dogs come in 4th with 35 000 deaths. Sharks are 15th with a measly 6 deaths. Perspective….

More weird animal facts:

  • wombats poo in the shape of cubes – 80 cubes per night!
  • hedgehogs are lactose intolerant
  • there are 1 million ants for every human on Earth (what are you doing with yours?)
  • rats have been trained to drive cars and find bombs
  • a housefly hums in the key of F
  • the only mammals to have tooth cavities are humans, bears, and pets
  • cows poo about 15 times a day (that’s 115 pounds a day!)
  • the brain of a cockroach is in its body, not head
Which one would you choose for the blue ribbon? Photo from OpIndia

I know we don’t have camels in Ontario, but this is just too funny not to mention. Did you know that Saudi Arabia has beauty contests for camels? I kid you not! And it is serious stuff with monetary prizes totalling $66 million. I remember being in Australia where camels run wild and being told that Arabs pay big bucks to fly over the deserts of Australia to find the most attractive camel. Last year 27 camels were disqualified from the contest for using botox injections and collagen fillers, as well as other cosmetic procedures. Oh my….

Wildlife is incredibly fascinating. The more we learn about each species, the more we realize what they do for us and how much we need them. To show your appreciation to the critters in our communities, how about making a donation to Procyon? We rescue over a thousand animals every year, many in need of serious medical care. Right now, we are in need of an X-ray machine. Your donation could go towards that, or to purchase medical supplies such as syringes, wound dressings, or medication. Let’s save all the critters – we do need them in our world!

Did You Know….
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