VIDEO: Fire Ant Towers

Did you know that fire ants have the ability to pile up on one another to form impressively high towers if they ever need to escape a container? David Hu, a professor of biology and mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, has been studying how fire ants create their tall swirling ant structures.

Watch a video about Hu’s fire ant tower research from the New York Times:

You can also listen to an interview with Hu on PRI’s “Science Friday” hosted by Ira Flatow:

Read more about fire ant towers on PRI.org.

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Saving Baby Raccoons

One of the baby raccoons.

The Oakland Zoo and WildCare, a wildlife hospital and environmental education center, teamed up to save the lives of five baby raccoons. The raccoons had accidentally been transported from Florida to San Fransisco in the back of a moving truck. Wildcare took in the babies and nursed them back to health. Normally, Wilcare releases all rehabbed animals back to the wild, but that was not an option for these raccoons, who were so far from home.

The Oakland Zoo stepped in to take care of the animals until a permanent home can be found.

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Taronga Western Plains Zoo Welcomes Cheetah Cubs

Three cheetah cubs were born to their mother, Kyan late last year at the Taronga Western Plains zoo in Australia.  They are currently out of the view of the public and spending time with their mother. The zoo plans to unveil them to the public in March of this year.

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Giraffes Now Vulnerable of Extinction

Giraffe

Film still from “Last of the Longnecks.” Courtesy of Iniosante Studios.

The IUCN has recently reclassified giraffes from a species of least concern to one vulnerable of extinction. Giraffe populations in Africa have declined 40% since 1985. All nine subspecies of giraffe are officially in trouble.

Iniosante Studios has spent the last three years documenting the situation in their film, “Last of the Longnecks,” which has helped bring global awareness to the plight of giraffes and instigated a reclassification by the IUCN. To obtain accurate figures for the IUCN, more than a dozen researchers combed the savannas in trucks, wandered trails on foot, flown in aircraft, and studied remote cameras.

“We’ve been working alongside the researchers in our film for the past three years to sound the alarm,” said Ashley Scott Davison, the film’s director. “Until recently, few people were even aware of the situation facing giraffes. This reclassification by the IUCN is pivotal to get the public to take action for our planet’s tallest animal.”

Watch a trailer of “Last of the Longnecks” below:

To learn more, see the website for “Last of the Longnecks.”

To learn more about giraffes, read our giraffe facts article.

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Bison Officially Named America’s National Mammal

American bison

President Obama signed a law on Monday declaring the bison as America’s national mammal. For those bald eagle fans, don’t worry! The bald eagle remains the national animal (and national bird) of the United States.

Bison-National-Mammal-SealThe new law, called the National Bison Legacy Act, creates an additional designation for a special native mammal in America. Animals are classified as mammals when:

  • they are warm blooded vertebrates
  • they possess hair or fur, and
  • they nourish their young with milk produced by mammary glands

The bison is an excellent choice for the honor of national mammal. Bison once numbered in the millions in the United States. Their range stretched from Canada to Mexico.

Many Native American tribes relied heavily on bison as a source of food and clothing, and they considered it of great spiritual significance. When white settlers spread into the Great Plains, they decimated the bison population, and the bison nearly went extinct.

Due to conservationist efforts starting in the early 20th century, the bison was saved from extinction. But they are still classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN. You can help in their preservation by adopting a bison via the Defenders of Wildlife or donating toward the purchase of prairie land for reserves at the American Prairie Foundation.

To learn more about bison, see our American bison facts article.

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The Great Octopus Escape: Inky Breaks out of New Zealand Aquarium

Inky the octopus

Inky the octopus at National Aquarium of New Zealand in Napier. Photo by National Aquarium of New Zealand.

Inky, an octopus at the National Aquarium of New Zealand, made a spectacular nighttime escape. The contortionist octopus squeezed through a tiny gap at the top of his enclosure, then scuttled 8 feet across the floor to a drain pipe. After sliding 164 feet down the pipe, he dropped down to freedom (or specifically, Hawke’s Bay which opens out into the Pacific Ocean).

According to the aquarium’s manager, Rob Yarrall, “He managed to make his way to one of the drain holes that go back to the ocean, and off he went. Didn’t even leave us a message.”

Blotchy the octopus (Inky’s aquarium mate) decided against adventure and remained at the aquarium.

For more about Inky, see the New York Times.

For more great escapes, see our archive of animal escapes.

Learn more amazing facts about octopuses at our Common Octopus article.

 

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Chilean Flamingo Chicks Thrive at Chicago Zoo

Chilean Flamingo chickThe animal care staff at Lincoln Park Zoo successfully hand-reared 5 Chilean flamingo chicks that had hatched between September 11-28, 2015.

Now on view at the zoo’s Waterfowl Lagoon, the grey and fuzzy chicks weigh around 2-3 kg, roughly 30 times their weight since hatch.

“These chicks are a true testament to the dedicated animal care staff here at Lincoln Park Zoo,” said Hope B. McCormick Curator of Birds. “We’re excited to share the chicks with our visitors and to learn from these chicks to further our knowledge of the species.”

When the flamingos hatched, animal care staff collected shell fragments for DNA testing. This is a non-invasive way to determine the sex of the birds. The tests revealed that two of the chicks are male and three are female.

In the wild, Chilean flamingos live in large flocks in Peru, Brazil and Argentina. Like all flamingos, the Chilean species has pink plumage – or feathers – but are born with white-grey plumage and show the full iconic coloration at around 2-years-old. Chilean flamingos have the ability to tolerate extreme conditions, which makes them well suited for Chicago’s harsh winters.

Learn more at the Lincoln Park Zoo website.

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33 Rescued Circus Lions Prepare for African Voyage

Lion

Coco the former circus lion was microchipped by ADI in preparation for his trip to his African forever home. Photo by Animal Defenders International.

In December, twenty-four African lions rescued from circuses in Peru and nine lions from a Colombian circus will board the biggest airlift of its kind, heading to a forever home in Africa. Rescued by Animal Defenders International (ADI), these former circus lions will live at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo province, South Africa.

To prepare for the journey, all the lions were microchipped at ADI’s rescue center near Lima, Peru. Two of the lions were given dental surgery.

Lion receiving dental surgery.

An ADI vet performs dental surgery. Photo by Animal Defenders International.

Animal Defenders International President Jan Creamer said, “The lions don’t know that their lives are going to change forever – from years of suffering in circuses, they will live in natural bush enclosures under the African sun. This is like a person applying for a visa for the trip of a lifetime.”

“It is a long and complicated process to move large numbers of wild animals across international borders, especially in an operation involving three countries. We are grateful for the collaboration of officials in Peru, Colombia and South Africa to make this happen for these lions. It can only lead to stronger animal protection law enforcement in future.”

If you would like to help ADI fund Operation Spirit of Freedom, visit their website.

Learn more African lion facts at our lion article.

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Scientists Finally Discover What Sound the Giraffe Makes

GiraffeCow goes moo. Frog goes croak. Giraffe goes…. hmm?

Zookeepers have always assumed giraffes were fairly silent creatures, with the occasional snort thrown in. The assumption was that their long necks restricted their ability to make sounds, and also that being noisy would attract predators.

But researchers from the University of Vienna challenged this assumption. After recording and studying 938 hours of giraffe sounds over an eight year period, the scientists have discovered that in fact giraffes do make sounds. They make low-pitched humming sounds at night.

Listen here:

Learn more about giraffe sounds and the new research at Wired.com.

Discover more giraffe facts at our giraffe article.

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VIDEO: Pink Dolphin in Louisiana

A rare pink bottlenose dolphin was recently captured on video by charter boat captain Erik Rue. Pinky was first spotted by Rue in 2007. To everyone’s delight, Pinky made another appearance eight years later, and she might be pregnant!

Pinky the dolphin

Image by Erik Rue.

According to scientist Greg Barsh, Pinky is most likely an albino. The pink hue comes from the blood vessels showing through her pale skin, which has no color. Albinism happens when there is a genetic mutation. The cells that make melanin, which produces the color in hair and skin, fail to make enough pigment, if any at all. People who have albinism have very pale skin, eyes, and hair.

Albinos can suffer from skin and vision issues as a result of their lack of melanin. Animals with albinism may be easily spotted by predators because they lack the appropriate camouflage. Therefore, albino animals, such as Pinky, are very rare in the wild.

Learn more about Pinky at National Geographic.

Discover more interesting facts about dolphins at our bottlenose dolphin facts page.

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