Animal Fact File: Llamas

The llama has a scientific name ‘Lama Glama’ which is a South American camelid that has been domesticated for its good quality wool, meat (however people only eat llama meat in South America, but not in the UK or the USA) and it use as a transportation animal. An adult llama can reach up to 1.9 m in height and weigh over 170 kg. A young llama is known as a cria which weighs about 10 kg when it is born. An adult llama is capable of carrying loads of 30 kg (which is around 25% of their body weight) and can carry this weight for around 10 miles or more in very rough and mountainous environments in a single day.

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Other uses for llamas include:

1) Breeding

2) Livestock guarding (it is well known that llamas will protect other livestock from predators and they will do this to the best of their ability, which makes them very useful animals).

3) Companion animals

The ancestors of modern day llamas came from North America around 40 million years ago. However around 5 million years ago they started to move to South America. At the end of the last ice age (around 10,000 years ago) camelids died out in North America, however the camelids that have migrated to South America have not only survived but thrived as a result.

The other camelids that inhabit the South American continent alongside the llama are:

1) The alpaca

2) The guanaco

3) The Vicuna

The alpaca and the llama are domesticated while the guanaco and vicuna remain untameable. The guanaco is relatively common in South America, while the vicuna is in danger of dying out (they number only around 5000 and their numbers are still declining).

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Llamas are very adaptable and hardy animals and rarely suffer from disease. However they can be affected by the following diseases and problems:

1) Leptospirosis

2) Tetanus

3) Enterotoxaemia

4) Parasites (both internal and external)

Llamas can eat a wide variety of vegetation (they can either browse or graze) – an interesting fact is that llamas have not one but 3 stomachs and like cows they will regurgitate food from their stomach and chew their cud. Llamas also need much less water compared to most mammals.

Llamas are docile and gentle animals, but get easily upset. A llama will spit when annoyed and make put a stone in its mouth and use that to act as a missile. Llamas are highly intelligent and are able to perform certain tricks and tasks in a very short space of time, meanwhile their cousins the alpacas are not as intelligent and they are more limited in what they can do.

Thank you for reading.

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Animal Fact File: Golden Eagle

The scientific name for the golden eagle is ‘Aquila Chrysaetos’. The golden eagle is one of the most adaptable birds of prey in the world, they have lived on for millions on this planet and remain the most successful and widespread bird of prey in Northern Hemisphere. The golden eagle can be seen across much of Asia, small parts of Europe (with the most sightings in Spain), areas of Scotland, parts of North Africa and much of the North American continent.

The golden eagle can thrive in the following habitats:

1) Woodland

2) Grassland

3) Meadows

4) Mountainous Regions

5) Tundra

The golden eagle has many features which enable it to be a successful hunter, these adaptations include:

1) They are agile and swift flyers which mean they are capable of targeting fast prey and coping with sudden twists and turns.

2) Many golden eagles have a wingspan of around 1.9 m and long feathers on their wings; this allows the animal to stay airborne for extended periods of time while they search for prey.

3) Excellent eyesight – The golden eagle has binocular vision which enables them to detect prey from up to 3 miles away.

4) The golden eagle has sharp, non retractable claws which allow them to capture and kill their prey quickly and easily, this prevents the animal from suffering any injuries.

5) Large, Powerful wings – These enable the golden eagle to reach speeds of a staggering 110 mph when chasing prey.
The golden eagle has been persecuted for centuries across Europe particularly in the UK. In the past people thought that the golden eagle would often attack and kill poultry, game birds and even livestock. Due to the golden eagle’s large size and immense power it is more than capable of attacking and in rare occasions killing grey wolves, they have also been used in falconry.

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There are 6 known subspecies of golden eagle throughout its range; each varies slightly in colour and size. The subspecies that inhabits the British Isles is known as ‘Aquila Chrysaetos Chrysaetos’.

The golden eagle feed on a wide variety of prey (around 380 species have been known to fall prey) these include:

1) Rabbits

2) Brown Hares

3) Small mammals such as squirrels

4) Waterfowl

5) Young deer

6) Game birds (however they prefer to hunt grouse and pheasants)

7) On rare occasions they will attack livestock if food is scarce

8) They will even attack and kill foxes however they only compose of around 10% o their diet, however this varies depending on where they live.

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About 70% of the golden eagle’s diet consists of mammals. Golden eagles are ambush hunters and will often dive towards their prey in the hope it will catch its chosen target.

The golden eagle has declined from much of its original range in the UK and Europe, once they could found throughout these regions now only small, isolated populations remain and these are shrinking … fast! Golden eagles often find it challenging to adapt in a human environment, although some have managed to survive and even thrive in spite of it. There have been projects to reintroduce the golden eagle back into Scotland, there are now 800 individual golden eagles and the population is slowly increasing. The golden eagle has even begun to reclaim some of its lost territory in Europe.

Thank you for reading.

Animal Fact File: The Polar Bear

The scientific name for the polar bear is ‘Ursus Maritimus’. The polar bear inhabits much of the Arctic, Northern Canada and Northern Alaska. The polar bear is rare at the very north of the Arctic (commonly known as the Arctic basin) this is due to the fact that seal which are the primary food source for polar bears are only found in very low numbers. A male polar bear can weigh around 600 kg while females weigh 350 kg. Due to the hostile conditions that the polar bear inhabits human encroachment is less of an issue; this means the polar bear has been able to keep much of its range (over 85%) which is more than any other carnivore on the planet.

The polar bear has many adaptations these include:

1) Capable of eating large quantities of meat – A polar bear can eat 20% of its entire body weight in a single meal. This is a helpful adaptation because this helps the polar bear to cope for long periods of time without food. Also by eating vast amounts of meat it helps the animal to put on as much fat as possible as this helps to keep the polar bear warm during the bitterly cold winters of the Arctic.

2) Thick fur to protect against the cold – A polar bears coat is 3 cm thick, to keep the polar bear warm. The polar bear also has over 10 cm of fat (blubber).

3) Dark coloured skin – Although the polar bear may appear to be white its skin is actually black. The polar bear’s black skin is designed to absorb the sun’s rays to help to keep the animal warm, (especially during the winter months).

4) An excellent sense of smell – The polar bear has around 100 million sensory receptors in its nose, while a human has a mere 10 million. This means that the polar bear is more than capable of detecting the scent of its prey from up 2.5 miles away.

5) Short and curved claws – Polar bears have strong and curved claws which are used to grip into the ice to prevent them from slipping on the ice.

6) Very strong shoulders – When hunting seals that are under the ice the polar bear will often break the ice (which is often very thick about 1 – 2 meters) with an enormous amount of force using their front paws. The force that is used by the bear is more than enough to dislocate the shoulders of the average human.

7) White (hallow) fur – Polar bears have white fur to blend into their environment so, they can hunt more easily and to reflect any heat loss from the skin back into the body.

8) Small ears and tail – Polar bears have small ears and a small tails to minimize the concentration of heat loss.

9) Very large paws – The polar has very large paws in order to spread out its weight over the ice (this prevents the ice from breaking).

10) Capable of reducing its metabolism – The polar bear will often reduce its metabolic rate in the winter, this enables the animal to survive when food is in short supply.

11) Although the polar bear is the most carnivorous of all the bear species, it is capable of eating a wide variety of vegetation if there are not enough seals to find.

The reason why brown bears are closely related to polar bears is because the polar bear apparently evolved from brown bears. Around 6 million years a small population of brown bears visited the Arctic to hunt for seals. However the elements prevented them from leaving the Arctic. This population of ‘brown bears’ became smaller as they began to die out, but some were able to survive … and thrive. By 3.5 million years ago these ‘brown bears’ evolved into the modern day polar bear.

The polar bear is an excellent swimmer and can often be seen over 150 miles away from land or ice. The polar bear’s body fat helps keep it afloat and can swim at around 6 mph. On land the bear can cover vast distances in its search for seals. The polar bear can reach speeds of up to 30 mph and can maintain that for nearly 3.5 kilometres. The polar mainly eats seals (such as ringed and bearded seals) along with narwhals, beluga whales, reindeer, bird’s eggs and even walruses. Also the polar bear is the only predator that will kill humans for food.

Female polar bears that are due to have cubs will enter a semi-dormant state after entering their dens during October; the cubs are usually born in January. They emerge in early April with the female having eaten nothing for 6 months. The female waits until her cubs are able to walk for long distances, after which they walk to the sea hunt seals. The mother will care and protect them for 3 years until they leave. The polar bear is very adaptable and is the largest and most powerful predators in the world, wolves and brown bears will often avoid adult polar bears, but will kill young cubs. The polar bear has a life span of no more than 25 years. The polar bear is classified as an ‘Extremophile’ as it is capable of surviving in its hostile environment.

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Animal Fact File: The Camel

There are only 2 species of camel left the dromedary or one humped camel which has the scientific name Camelus dromedaries and the bacterian camel or two humped camel which has the scientific name Camelus bactrianus. Both of these species have been domesticated; however there are no wild populations of the dromedary camel left, the camels inhabiting much of Western Australia are not really wild, but feral or ‘bewildered’. A small wild population of the bacterian camel still exists in the Mongolian Desert (in central Asia) where they number only 700 individuals.

The camel has many adaptations these include:

1) Long eyelashes – This protects the camel’s eyes from the sun, sand and dust.

2) Thick leathery patches on the knees – This protects the camel’s knees from getting burned when it is kneeling on the hot desert sand.

3) Fat stored in the camel’s hump – The fat stored in the hump means that camels are able to go for long periods of time (about 2 months) without food and water.

4) Long, powerful legs – The camel is capable of walking long distances in the desert and can reach speeds of nearly 40 mph although they tire out quickly. However they can maintain speeds of around 25 mph. The legs also keep the camel’s body away from the hot ground and it can defend itself from predators by kicking. Another defence mechanism for the camel is they will often spit usually expelling some of the contents in their stomach or putting a rock in their mouth to act like a missile, this will often deter most predators.

5) Sharp teeth – These enable the camel to feed from tough desert plants.

6) The nostrils can be closed – This prevents sand from coming into the camel’s nose and causing problems such as suffocation.

7) Board, a flat leathery pad at the bottom of the camel’s feet – These pads prevent the camel’s feet from burning due to the hot ground. These also spread out the camel’s weight to prevent it from sinking into the sand.

8) The camel’s fur/hair – The camel’s fur is slightly thick on its back to protect it from the radiation from the sun whereas, the lower half of its body has very little fur or hair to prevent the camel from overheating.

9) Able to tolerate a high body temperature – The camel only begins to produce sweat only once its core body temperature has reached 41 degrees Celsius. The camel can manage losing up to 20% of their weight through sweating; however many other animals can lose no more than 13% of their weight through sweating otherwise cardiac failure will occur.

10) Capable of significantly reducing water loss – The camel will produce very little urine which will often have a very high concentration of urea. Also the waste products (dung) of the camel are so dry they can be used to fuel fires.

11) Able to take in large quantities of water – A camel weighing over half a tonne can drink around 200 litres of water within just 3 minutes. The camel can do this because its red blood cells are oval instead of circular like other mammals; this means these red blood cells do not rupture when large quantities of water is taken in.

12) The camel’s milk is low in fat and sugar, but high in protein and is around 3 times more nutritious than cow’s milk, which allows young camels to grow quickly and get the nutrients they need.

The camel is a very successful animal and can survive in some of the hostile places on earth making it known as an ‘Extremophile’. The dromedary camel can be commonly found throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The bacterian camel can be found in mainly Central Asia. The camel has a life span of about 45 years, but can live longer.

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Animal Fact File: Eurasian Sparrowhawk

The scientific name for the Eurasian Sparrowhawk is ‘Accipiter nisus’. The sparrow hawk gets its name not because it eats sparrows, but because a staggering 96% of its diet consists of other birds. The sparrow hawk is a highly successful bird of prey and can be seen throughout Europe (including Britain), many parts of Asia and small areas of North Africa.

The sparrow hawk is very adaptable and can be seen in many environments such as:

1) Farmland

2) Grassland

3) Urban areas

4) Woodland which have different tree species

5) Meadows

6) Parks

In this species the female is around 20% larger than the male. Due to this size difference the male sparrow hawk will often take smaller birds such as buntings, tits and finches. The female sparrow hawk preys on large birds such as blackbirds, doves and pigeons. However if there are not many birds around the sparrow hawk will target small mammals, amphibian, reptiles and even bats to supplement their diet.

Breeding occurs in February seen after nest building; the nest is usually 70 cm in diameter and is made of sticks and plant matter. Around 5 eggs are laid which are bluish in colour and have brown specks, these hatches within 32 days; the chicks are cared for by both parents however the male will provide most of the food for the female while she is incubating the eggs. The chicks will fledge after around 26 days. Less than 35% of fledged chicks will survive their first winter, while adults have a survival rate of 70% for each passing year.

Facts about sparrow hawks include:

1) Around 125 species of birds have known to be become prey for sparrow hawks from tits to pheasants.

2) Female sparrow hawks are often 45% heavier than males, this means that when the male tries to impress the female he is very wary as the female can injure if not kill him.

3) Sparrow hawk populations are maintained by the number of prey items that are available not the other way around.

4) In the 1960s a pesticide known as DDT was used which caused horrific declines for the species across the UK.

5) Many young sparrow hawks will often nest within 25km of where they hatched.

6) The female sparrow hawk can survive for around 7 days without food, while the smaller male can only survive a mere 3 days.

7) Female sparrow hawks have a longer life expectancy than males, they can live for 10 years, while the male can only live for 8 years.

8) Sparrow hawks became a protected species in the UK during the early 1960s.

9) The female is heavily dependent on the male to provide her with extra food so that she can produce eggs.

10) Sparrow hawks will often eat their prey while they are still alive.

There are around 6 different subspecies of sparrow hawks; the one that inhabits the UK is ‘Accipiter nisus nisus’. The sparrow hawk is a highly successful predator and can take one third of young great tit and less than 30% of adult blue tits. There are often false reports that sparrow hawks are causing the decline of Britain’s song bird, this is completely untrue, the lack of nesting sites and limited food resources play a major factor. However people will often go and illegally kill sparrow hawks for this rather poor reason.

The sparrow hawk continues to thrive throughout its range despite persecution from game keepers and farmers. The sparrow hawk is vitally important at maintaining the balance of the ecosystem as they prevent the numbers of their prey from growing too large.

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The Puma: Successful predator or on the brink of extinction?

The scientific name for the puma is ‘Felis Concolor’. The puma has more than 40 different names in the English language alone (more than any other mammal in the world).

These names include:

1) Catamount

2) Cougar

3) Mountain Lion

4) Panther

5) Red Tiger

6) Puma

Part of the reason why the puma has so many names is that it is widely distributed throughout the Americas; they are also the most widespread mammal in the whole of the Western hemisphere. Each name given to the puma is unique to the area where it was named. Due to this large distribution there are believed to be 7 different subspecies of puma, each with a slightly different colour and size.

The puma can survive in almost any habitat, these include:

1) Freezing coniferous forests in Southern Canada (where temperatures plummet to as low as -25 degrees Celsius.

2) Hot, dry deserts in Mexico and Southern USA.

3) Lush, green tropical rainforests in the Amazon.

4) To mountainous terrain in the tip of South America.

The puma has an excellent sense of hearing and eye sight meaning that it can detect prey from up to 2 miles away in total darkness. The puma has very large paws compared to its body size; this is an evolutionary adaptation which means the puma can cling onto the prey animal that it attacking. The puma is a very strong and powerful animal. An interesting fact is that 80% of the entire body mass of male pumas is pure muscle, while in females it is around 70%. The puma is a solitary hunter and is often found alone.

The puma weighs in at an average of around 110 kg and reach 9 feet in length. The puma can reach speeds of 50 mph and maintain that for at least 1.5 km. The puma can jump vertically up to 4 meters in the air and catapult themselves forward meaning they can cover up to 20 meters in a single bound. The puma is a very efficient predator and it has a hunting success rate of 83% its rival the wolf averages a mere 10%. The puma will always target the neck of the animal it is attacking by doing this it kill the prey item very quickly, because of this the puma can bring down animals that weigh 5 times more than themselves. All these characteristics have helped to assure that the puma is the most successful predator in the Western hemisphere.

Apart from humans the cougar has no natural predators. However it will often compete fiercely against its enemies. The puma is a superbly adaptable animal and this has proved to be a major advantage when tackling ‘human encroachment’. As humans reduce the amount of land available to the puma, they often have to retreat into difficult mountainous terrain; however its adaptability insures the survival of the species in the wild. In fact the puma can tolerate much higher levels of ‘human encroachment’ than its rivals meaning that it has a major advantage over its competitors.

The puma’s rivals are:

1) The American Brown Bear (also known as the grizzly bear).

2) The American Black Bear.

3) The American Gray Wolf.

In some cases the puma’s enemies will try to steal a kill; however they only usurping only 20% of the puma’s kills. The puma will often try to kill its rivals to eliminate the excess competition and to provide safer environments for their cubs. A single litter will have around 5 cubs which are born blind and completely helpless. Their eyes fully open at 3 weeks of age. They stay with their mothers for 1 – 2 years learning how to hunt.

Attacks on humans are rare, but still occur, however the majority were caused as these animals were provoked and some of these attack were … fatal. Despite the decline of the puma over the past century the animal is still thriving across the Americas. It is capable of surviving in some of the hostile regions on the planet making it the successful and numerous mammals in the western hemisphere.

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The Decline of the European Honey bee

The European honeybee has continued to suffer a very steep decline around the world (particularly in the USA as well as the UK).

The main causes for the decline of the European honeybee in the UK are:

1) Colony Collapse Disorder
2) Varroa Mite
3) European Foul Brood
4) American Foul Brood (also known to strike be in North America)
5) Farmers spraying insecticides (chemicals) on their crops

honey-bee_2507512b (The honey bee has suffered horrific declines in recent years around the world, the bees seem to have been struck down by the mysterious disease ‘colony collaspe disorder’. Some scientists even think that mobile phones have contributed to this decline as the electrical signals could interfer with the bee’s navigation system).

1) Colony collapse disorder is an ‘unknown’ disease, which means bees fail to store enough food for the winter or many worker bees fail to return to the hive which causes enormous problems because without the large number of worker bees in the hive means that the few bees in the hive are unable to feed the rest of the hive members and as a result they starve.

2) The varroa mite is a parasitic invertebrate that is native to Asia and the Middle East. The European honeybee originated from India and lived along side their Asian cousins (the Asiatic honeybee). However, 8500 years ago the European honeybee migrated to Europe due to climate change, availability of food and the predators that lived with them. The European honeybee has not only survived but thrived in Europe for thousands of years, until recently. In the 1950s beekeepers from Asia introduced the Asiatic honeybee (Apis Cerana) into Europe and Britain however they could survive the winters and were out-competed by the European cousins.

Unfortunately the varroa mite started to infest European hives which has caused substantial problems as the bees have no immunity to them. The varroa mite mainly targets young bees, but will sometimes feed from adult bees’ particularly in autumn and winter. When the varroa mite feeds on a host (the honeybee) it ‘sucks’ out body fluids and injects a deadly virus into the bee meaning that it quickly dies within days of being infected.

3) European and American foul brood are very similar; however American foul brood is causing serious problems. European and American foul brood is caused by a fungus that grows and feeds on the bee larvae, causing them to die and rot while still developing.

4) Spraying insecticides (chemicals) on agricultural crops might be good at keeping pests away from the crops, but what good is it when it kills off most if not all the useful pollinating insects that is helping us to make money. An interesting fact is that the services provided by pollinating insects (including honeybees) is valued at over £600 million of trade each year in the UK alone.
Even if the insecticide is weak, it will build up inside the body of the honeybee, which the concentration reaches so high that the bee dies as the insecticide poisons its blood.

Another weakness in the European honeybee is that Africanised honeybees do something that is rarely seen in the insect world, they trick the bees guarding the hive into thinking they are part of the hive, once inside they will kill the queen exchange it with their queen (this only happens in the USA).

There is yet another very serious threat to the European honeybee is the introduction of the Asian hornet (Vespa Velutina). Although the European honeybee can repel the attack of European hornets they are quite unable to defend the hive from an invasion of Asian hornets. (The Asian hornet does not currently inhabit the British Isles, however there are fears that the hornet will simply fly over the English Channel from France). The Asian hornet is a major predator of pollinating insects and it’s favourite food is the honeybee. If this hornet arrives to the UK it is very likely that it will cause the numbers of pollinating insects to drop dramatically over a short period of time which will affect food production adversely.

 (The Asian hornet orginates from Southern and Southeast Asia. It was accidently introduced into Europe by the importing of flower pots now it has adapted swiftly to the European climate and are spreading rapidly. They now inhabit much of France, Western Germany and parts of Northern Spain, where they wreck havoc by attacking the hives of honey bees. They is major concern that this species will be able to fly across the English Channel as they can now be found in the Northern coasts of France. This hornet could also arrive by importing plants and building materials).

The loss of honeybees is so vitally important because we heavily rely on bees to pollinate over 60% of our own food. We are very lucky that wildlife around the world (including honeybees) do many useful jobs for free because if we did everything artificially that wildlife does free we would not have a single penny to spend on anything else. Another interesting fact is that food (fruits and vegetables) that are pollinated by insects such as bees and butterflies are worth a staggering £50 billion of trade each and every single year, there is no way we can afford to lose this kind of trade.

Also if bees fail to pollinate fruit, vegetables and berries because of their dwindling numbers then many animal species will starve themselves into extinction. Many of Britain’s much loved birds are in a very serious decline partly due to limited food sources, these birds include: Siskins, bullfinches, song thrush and willow warblers are just a few of the species suffering from food shortages.

We can prevent the further decline of the honeybee in the following ways:

1) Farmers to reduced spraying their crops using insecticides (farm organically).

2) For beekeepers to breed hardy and disease resistant strains of the European honey bee.

3) For more people to start beekeeping.

Over recent years it seems that the decline of the honey bee along with other species of pollinating insects such as bumble bees and butterflies will continue. However honey bee numbers have recovered slightly. A third interesting fact is that there used to be 25 species of bumble bee in the UK, now 23 species remain, most of which are rare. Only 7 species out of the 23 are widespread. There has been a reintroduction of the short-haired bumble bee which was last seen in Britain in the 1980s, since the reintroduction it seems to be surviving well.

I hope you enjoyed reading this and please leave comments below if you wish.