ANIMAL FACTS


AMPHIBIANS

Photo: A tiger salamander

Resembling its feline namesake, the tiger salamander has stripes over its gray or black body.

Map

Map: Tiger salamander rangeTiger Salamander Range

Fast Facts

Type:
Amphibian
Diet:
Carnivore
Average life span in the wild:
12 to 15 years
Size:
7 to 14 in (18 to 35 cm)
Weight:
4.4 oz (126 g)
Did you know?
During courtship, a male tiger salamander sometimes impersonates a female in order to sneak in and deposit his spermatophore on top of a rival male’s.
Size relative to a tea cup:
Illustration: Tiger salamander compared with tea cup

Tiger salamanders’ markings are variable throughout their extensive range, but the most common marking resembles the vertically striped pattern of their mammalian namesake.

They are usually brown in color with brilliant yellow stripes or blotches over the length of their bodies. Their base color, however, can also be greenish or gray and their markings can be yellow dots or brown splotches. Some have no markings at all.

Thick-bodied amphibians with short snouts, sturdy legs, and long tails, tigers are the largest land-dwelling salamander on Earth. They can grow to 14 inches (35 centimeters) in length, but the average size is more like 6 to 8 inches (15.2 to 20.3 centimeters).

They are also the most wide-ranging salamander species in North America, living throughout most of the United States, southern Canada, and eastern Mexico. They live in deep burrows, up to two feet (60 centimeters) below the surface, near ponds, lakes, or slow-moving streams and are one of few salamanders able to survive in the arid climate of the North America interior.

Highly voracious predators, they emerge from their burrows at night to feed on worms, insects, frogs, and even other salamanders.

Their population is healthy throughout their range, but deforestation, pollution, and rising acidity levels in their breeding pools is affecting their distribution. Many are even killed by cars as they cross roads in the spring en route to or from their breeding sites.

Tiger salamanders are long-lived, averaging 10 to 16 years in the wild.

 

BIRD

Photo: Great blue heron wading on long, thin legs

Wading on its long, thin legs, a great blue heron scouts for prey.

Map

Map: Great blue heron rangeGreat Blue Heron Range

Fast Facts

Type:
Bird
Diet:
Carnivore
Average life span in the wild:
15 years
Size:
Body, 3.2 to 4.5 ft (1 to 1.4 m); Wingspan, 5.5 to 6.6 ft (1.7 to 2 m)
Weight:
4.6 to 7.3 lbs (2.1 to 2.5 kg)
Group name:
Colony
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Great blue heron compared with adult man

The tall, long-legged great blue heron is the most common and largest of North American herons.

Great blue herons are waders, typically seen along coastlines, in marshes, or near the shores of ponds or streams. They are expert fishers. Herons snare their aquatic prey by walking slowly, or standing still for long periods of time and waiting for fish to come within range of their long necks and blade-like bills. The deathblow is delivered with a quick thrust of the sharp bill, and the prey is swallowed whole. Great blue herons have been known to choke to death by attempting to swallow fish too large for their long, S-shaped necks. Though they are best known as fishers, mice constitute a large part of their diet, and they also eat insects and other small creatures.

Great blue herons’ size (3.2 to 4.5 feet/1 to 1.4 meters) and wide wingspan (5.5 to 6.6 feet/1.7 to 2 meters) make them a joy to see in flight. They can cruise at some 20 to 30 miles (32 to 48 kilometers) an hour.

Though great blue herons hunt alone, they typically nest in colonies. They prefer tall trees, but sometimes nest in low shrubs. Females produce two to seven eggs, which both parents protect and incubate. Chicks can survive on their own by about two months of age.

The all-white color morph found in the Caribbean and southern Florida is often called the great white heron, but it is in fact the same species.

 

BUGS

Photo: A camel spider

Despite some media reports, these arachnids are not half the size of a full-grown man. They are big though, reaching about 6 six inches (15 centimeters) in length.

Map

Map: Egyptian giant solpugid rangeEgyptian Giant Solpugid (Camel Spider) Range

Fast Facts

Type:
Bug
Diet:
Carnivore
Average life span in the wild:
Less than one year
Size:
6 in (15 cm)
Weight:
2 oz (56 g)
Size relative to a tea cup:
Illustration: Egyptian giant solpugid compared with tea cup.

Camel spiders became an Internet sensation during the Iraq war of 2003, when rumors of their bloodthirsty nature began to circulate online. Many tales were accompanied with photos purporting to show spiders half the size of a human.

For many years, Middle Eastern rumors have painted camel spiders as large, venomous predators, as fast as a running human, with a voracious appetite for large mammals. The myths are untrue. These creatures do not actually eat camels’ stomachs or sleeping soldiers, and they are not so large—but the real camel spider is still an amazing predator.

The camel spider’s history of misinformation begins with a misidentification. Camel spiders are not even spiders. Like spiders, they are members of the class Arachnida, but they are actually solpugids.

Camel spiders, also called wind scorpions and Egyptian giant solpugids (SAHL-pyoo-jids), are only about 6 inches (15 centimeters) long. Photos that purport to show creatures six times that size have misleading perspective—the spider is invariably placed in the foreground where the lens makes it appear much bigger than its actual size. True, they are fast, but only compared to other arachnids. Their top speed is estimated at 10 miles (16 kilometers) per hour.

Camel spiders are not deadly to humans (though their bite is painful), but they are vicious predators that can visit death upon insects, rodents, lizards, and small birds. These hardy desert dwellers boast large, powerful jaws, which can be up to one-third of their body length. They use them to seize their victims and turn them to pulp with a chopping or sawing motion. Camel spiders are not venomous, but they do utilize digestive fluids to liquefy their victims’ flesh, making it easy to suck the remains into their stomachs.

 

FISH

Photo: Pufferfish

Pufferfish are poor swimmers, but can quickly ingest huge amounts of water to turn themselves into a virtually inedible ball several times their normal size.

Map

Map: Pufferfish rangePufferfish Range

Fast Facts

Type:
Fish
Diet:
Carnivore
Size:
Up to 3 ft (1 m)
Group name:
School
Did you know?
Some predators, such as tiger sharks and sea snakes, are unbothered by the pufferfish’s natural toxins.
Size relative to a tea cup:
Illustration: Pufferfish compared with tea cup

Biologists think pufferfish, also known as blowfish, developed their famous “inflatability” because their slow, somewhat clumsy swimming style makes them vulnerable to predators. In lieu of escape, pufferfish use their highly elastic stomachs and the ability to quickly ingest huge amounts of water (and even air when necessary) to turn themselves into a virtually inedible ball several times their normal size. Some species also have spines on their skin to make them even less palatable.

A predator that manages to snag a puffer before it inflates won’t feel lucky for long. Almost all pufferfish contain tetrodotoxin, a substance that makes them foul tasting and often lethal to fish. To humans, tetrodotoxin is deadly, up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. There is enough toxin in one pufferfish to kill 30 adult humans, and there is no known antidote.

Amazingly, the meat of some pufferfish is considered a delicacy. Called fugu in Japan, it is extremely expensive and only prepared by trained, licensed chefs who know that one bad cut means almost certain death for a customer. In fact, many such deaths occur annually.

There are more than 120 species of pufferfish worldwide. Most are found in tropical and subtropical ocean waters, but some species live in brackish and even fresh water. They have long, tapered bodies with bulbous heads. Some wear wild markings and colors to advertise their toxicity, while others have more muted or cryptic coloring to blend in with their environment.

They range in size from the 1-inch-long (2.5-centimeter-long) dwarf or pygmy puffer to the freshwater giant puffer, which can grow to more than 2 feet (61 centimeters) in length. They are scaleless fish and usually have rough to spiky skin. All have four teeth that are fused together into a beak-like form.

The diet of the pufferfish includes mostly invertebrates and algae. Large specimens will even crack open and eat clams, mussels, and shellfish with their hard beaks. Poisonous puffers are believed to synthesize their deadly toxin from the bacteria in the animals they eat.

Some species of pufferfish are considered vulnerable due to pollution, habitat loss, and overfishing, but most populations are considered stable.

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