Among the features that generally distinguish mammals are hair, three middle ear bones, mammary glands in females, and a neocortex (a region of the brain). In the largest group of mammals, the placentals, the female generates a placenta from which her offspring feeds during pregnancy. The mammary glands of mammals produce milk for newborns as their primary source of nutrition. Except for the five species of monotremes (egg-laying mammals), all modern mammals give birth to live young. Like birds, mammals can forage or hunt in weather and climates too cold for nonavian reptiles or large insects. The mammal class includes some of the most intelligent animals on earth, such as elephants, rats, some cetaceans and certain primates (I think that must be the bonobos?). Mammals range in size from the 30–40 mm (1.2–1.6 in) bumblebee bat to the 33-meter (108 ft) blue whale.
The fennec fox is the smallest species of canid in the world. It weighs about 1.5–3.5 lbs (0.68–1.6 kg), with a body length of between 24–41cm (9–16 in) and a height of around 20.3 cm (8 in). Found in the Sahara desert of North Africa, its most distinctive feature is its unusually large ears. It mainly eats insects, small mammals, and birds, and its main predators are the African varieties of eagle owl.
Fennec foxes are social animals that mate for life, with each pair’s family controlling their own territory. The basic social unit is thought to be a mated pair and their offspring, and the young of the previous year are believed to remain in the family even after a new litter is born. Families of fennecs dig out dens in sand for habitation and protection, which can be as large as 120 m2 (1,292 sq ft) (?! I have lived in apartments a quarter of that size!) and adjoin the dens of other families. Playing behavior is common, including among adults of the species. Fennec foxes make a variety of sounds, including barking, a purring sound similar to a domestic cat’s, and a snarl if threatened. The fennec has a life span of up to 14 years in captivity, and is not presently endangered. Although it cannot technically be considered domesticated, if socialized with humans when it is young it can be kept as a pet in a domestic setting similar to dogs or cats.
A zonkey is a cross between a zebra and a donkey. “Zonkey” is not the technically correct name for such an animal; accepted terms include zebonkey, zebronkey, zebrinny, zebrula, zebrass, zebadonk, and zedonk (or zeedonk), all of which are fun to say. But it’s my zoo, and I like “zonkey” the best. (“Zebroid” is the generic name for zebra hybrids with any other member of the horse family; a zorse is the offspring of a male zebra and a female horse, and is sometimes called a zebrula, zebrule, zebra mule or golden zebra. The rarer reverse pairing is sometimes called a horbra, hebra, zebrinny or zebret. A zony is the offspring of a zebra stallion and a pony mare. All of these are also fun to say, but “zonkey” is still clearly superior.) Zonkeys are extremely rare in the wild, occurring only in South Africa where zebras and donkeys can be found in close proximity to each other. Most are deliberately bred by humans as riding and draft animals, curiosities for circuses and zoo specimens.
Like most other hybrid animals, zebroids are almost always sterile and cannot reproduce. A donkey has 62 chromosomes; a zebra has between 32 and 46 (depending on the species). The hybrid offspring will have a number of chromosomes somewhere in between. Zonkeys vary considerably depending on how the genes from each parent are expressed, and how they interact; although by no means universal, many zebroids develop some form of dwarfism.
Bats (order Chiroptera) are the only mammals naturally capable of true and sustained flight. Bats are found in almost every habitat on Earth, except for the Arctic, Antarctic and a few isolated islands. Predators of bats include bat hawks, bat falcons and even spiders. They are divided into two suborders: the largely fruit-eating megabats (“flying foxes”), and the echolocating microbats. About 70% of bats are insectivores; most of the rest are frugivores (fruit eaters). A few species, such as the fish-eating bat, feed on animals other than insects. And then there is the vampire bat, which is hematophagous — a bloodsucker. Bwahahahaha!
The social structure of bats varies, with some bats leading solitary lives and others living in caves colonized by more than a million bats. A single bat can live over 20 years, but bat population growth is limited by a slow birth rate.
Bat echolocation is a perceptual system whereby sounds are emitted specifically to produce echoes. By comparing the outgoing pulse with the returning echoes, the brain and auditory nervous system produce detailed “images” of the bat’s surroundings, much the same way human brains create images of our surroundings via visual input. Echolocation allows bats to detect, localize, and classify prey in complete darkness. At about 130 decibels, bat calls can be very loud. But fortunately for us, their calls are ultrasonic. Bats rarely fly in rain: it interferes with their echolocation and they are unable to locate their food.
Most microbats are nocturnal and are mainly active at twilight. Many species migrate great distances to winter hibernation dens; some pass into torpor in cold weather, only rousing and feeding once insects become active again in warmer weather. Others retreat to caves for winter to hibernate for six months.
People are beginning to understand the crucial role bats play in insect control and pollination. If bats were to become extinct, insect populations would explode to alarming levels. While conservation efforts are in place in many places to protect bats, many threats still remain.
These are baby fruit bat orphans. WANT.
Batzilla the Bat (Facebook page) chronicles the adventures at an Australian bat rescue organization, with pictures, videos and informative commentary.
RED-BEARDED TITI MONKEY (Callicebus caquetensis; Order: primate)
First described in 2010 (pdf), C. caquetensis is found only in the forests of the Caquetá region of Colombia’s Amazon basin. They are similar to other titi monkeys in many respects: for example, all 13 groups studied by the researchers consisted of a monogamous, bonded pair of adults and between one and four immature offspring (the pairs raise about one baby per year); after weaning, their diets consist primarily of fruit, with leaves the second most important food item and seeds only occasionally. Red-bearded titi monkeys are about the size of domesticated cats (Felis catus).
But their most unusual feature is also their most adorable. According to lead researcher and primatologist Thomas Defler, baby red-bearded titi monkeys purr like kitties:
“All of the babies purr like cats too,” Defler added. “When they feel very content they purr towards each other, and the ones we raised would purr to us.”
Defler says the monkeys also engage in “space saving” behaviors, wherein they encourage another monkey to get closer to them.
Baby pictures of Chloe:
C. caquetensis is critically endangered due to habitat destruction and fragmentation by the agricultural activity of a particularly invasive primate species (homo sapiens). Reaching new nearby forest fragments is extremely dangerous and next to impossible for the little monkeys, as they must cross open savanna—or barbed wire. Defler and the other researchers first describing C. caquetensis estimate the population size may be fewer than 250 adult animals, whereas a healthy population should number in the thousands. The species presently has a geographic range of about 100 square kilometers (39 sq mi) and actually occupies only about 10 square kilometers (3.9 sq mi) within that range.
Brown-throated three-toed sloth
Sloths are extremely slow-moving, arboreal (tree-dwelling), medium-sized mammals, native to the jungles of Central and South America. Their hands and feet have long, curved claws that allow them to hang upside down from branches without effort. While they sometimes sit up on top of branches, they usually eat, sleep, and even give birth hanging from tree limbs. Even after death, they sometimes remain hanging from branches.
The bulk of their diets consist of buds, tender shoots, and leaves, mainly of Cecropia trees. Sloths have made extraordinary adaptations to this arboreal browsing lifestyle. Leaves, their main food source, provide very little energy or nutrients, and do not digest easily. Sloths have evolved large, specialized, slow-acting stomachs with multiple compartments in which symbiotic bacteria break down the tough leaves. Since leaves provide so little energy, sloths have also evolved a range of measures to economize energy: they have very low metabolic rates (less than half of that expected for a mammal of their size), and maintain low body temperatures when active (30–34°C or 86–93°F), and even lower temperatures when resting. As much as two-thirds of a well-fed sloth’s body weight consists of the contents of its stomach, and the digestive process can take a month or more to complete. They love to eat hibiscus flowers like I love to eat chocolate. Sloths have about a quarter as much muscle tissue as other animals of similar weight, and sleep about 10 hours a day. (OMFG. I could totally be a sloth!)
Here is a baby sloth named Matty offering to share his hibiscus with you.
[h/t David Neale]
A sloth is also a remarkable ecosystem unto itself: a single sloth may be home to non-parasitic insects such as moths, beetles, and cockroaches as well as ciliates, fungi, algae and two species of symbiotic cyanobacteria, which provide the sloth camouflage. Sloths benefit from their relationship with moths, for example, because the moths fertilize the algae on the sloth, which in turn provides the sloth with nutrients.
Here are cute baby sloths getting a bath:
Within the tropical rainforests of South and Central America, sloths are outstandingly successful creatures. Four of the six living species, including the brown-throated three-toed sloth, are presently rated “least concern”; the maned three-toed sloth (Bradypus torquatus), which inhabits Brazil’s dwindling Atlantic Forest, is classified as “endangered”, while the island-dwelling pygmy three-toed sloth (B. pygmaeus) is critically endangered. The primary predators of sloths are the jaguar, the harpy eagle, and human poachers. Although all extant species are tree dwellers, extinct sloth species include many ground sloths, some of which attained the size of elephants.
In Costa Rica, the Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary cares for wounded and abandoned sloths. To date about 130 animals have been released back into the wild.
The conservative is a variety of the subspecies homo sapiens (order: primate). The two most common wild types are Democrat and Republican, although some Libertarian subspecies have also been identified. Their plumage is indistinct, bland and highly conformist. Conservatives display a marked propensity for flags, in the form of lapel pins and nest decor.
Conservative behavior is discernible in aggressive dominance displays to enforce strict socio-economic hierarchies—by violence if necessary—not unlike their close cousins the chimpanzees. The Palace houses the world’s preeminent institution for the study of conservatives; these particular specimens are presently on loan to the zoo from the lab.
WARNING: KEEP YOUR DISTANCE FROM THESE ANIMALS.
DO NOT ALLOW THEM ACCESS TO ANYTHING
THAT CAN BE USED AS A WEAPON.
They give the zoo staff enough trouble with the flying flag pins.