Great apes—chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans—are humanity’s closest relatives. (Technically, we’re great apes too.) We have a lot in common. In general, great apes are highly social and intelligent. They often live in family groups, raise young together, and rely on each other.
Apes are capable of recognizing themselves in a mirror (a common test of animal intelligence), and they even use tools. For instance, bonobos use sticks to “fish” termites out of their mounds. Chimpanzees have even been observed sharpening sticks to use as spears for hunting!
Photo by Mike Richey
Orangutans are one-of-a-kind. They’re the world’s largest tree-dwelling mammals, and the only great apes native to Asia. Found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, these shaggy red spend most of their lives in the treetops and eat a hundred different kinds of fruit. But they’re in trouble– the trees they depend on are being cut down to make palm oil plantations, and orangutans are now seriously endangered.
The San Diego Zoo is working to save the orangutans by providing funding to conservation projects and by contributing to scientific knowledge about these animals. By studying the DNA of the orangutans at the San Diego Zoo, scientists are able uncover the apes’ genetic past and learn how to better build conservation plans to protect them.
Science is always changing and evolving as we make new discoveries. One good example of this can be found in the history of our understanding of one of the most famous dinosaurs.
When Stegosaurus was first discovered in 1877, scientists thought that the plates on its back laid flat and overlapped like the shingles on a house’s roof. That’s how it got the name Stegosaurus—“roofed lizard.” Its discoverer also initially thought that it walked on two legs and was an aquatic, turtle-like animal. As the years went on, scientists learned that Stegosaurus lived on land and walked on all fours, and that the plates on its back stood up.
Scientists still aren’t sure what those plates were for. At first, scientists thought its plates were armor, but the plates were probably too fragile to be used for defense. Recent discoveries suggest that the plates contained blood vessels and might have been used to regulate the animals’ body heat or to blush to attract mates or scare off predators.
Photo by Charles Gilmore
When you visit the zoo in the winter, some of the animals might look out of place in the cold weather, or might need to move indoors when it’s chilly out. For snow leopards, though, it’s the perfect time of year!
Snow leopards are found in the wild in the mountains of central and southern Asia. They’re slightly smaller than the other big cats—small females are only around 55 pounds, about the size of a collie dog. They do have big paws, though– fluffy pawpads keep their feet warm and help them walk on snow!
Photo by Eric Kilby
With Halloween just around the corner, the colors black and orange are everywhere. But depending on where you live, you might have recently seen a whole lot of black and orange in nature—migrating Monarch butterflies. These amazing insects travel thousands of miles to escape cold weather and spend their winters in warmer climates in Mexico.
And monarchs aren’t the only butterflies with Halloween colors. Since the milkweed that Monarch catterpillars eat makes them poisonous, predators have learned to avoid them. Their bright orange coloring acts as a warning sign. Other butterfly species, like Viceroys, have evolved to mimic Monarchs’ coloring, which means that predators avoid them too, even though Viceroys aren’t poisonous. You can tell the species apart by the black line that cuts through the bottom portion of their wings—Viceroys, like the one in this picture, have it, but Monarchs don’t!
Photo by Benny Mazur
For thousands of years, humans have been wondering if fearsome, long-necked, flesh-eating monsters lurked in deep, dark water. But while all the stories of Nessie, Champ the Lake Champlain Monster, and sea serpents have gone unproved, in the time of the dinosaurs, animals that looked like Nessie were very real. These creatures were called plesiosaurs.
Plesiosaurs weren’t dinosaurs. Instead, they were swimming reptiles. The smallest ones were around the size of a person, while the biggest ones were the size of a bus. Elasmosaurus was 40 feet long and had a long, skinny neck, while Kronosaurus had a short neck and big, crushing jaws it used to eat its prey– including other plesiosaurs!
If you loved the wild horses in the latest issue of Zoobooks, it’s worth seeing if a zoo near you has any to see in real life! If you live in Missouri, you’re in luck– the St. Louis Zoo, one of the nation’s best, has a number of Somali wild asses. These wild horses, which are found in Africa, are endangered due to the destruction of their habitat. However, zoo breeding programs like the one in St. Louis are helping to preserve the species. In recent years, several foals have been born at the zoo. Some of them even have Swahili names to reflect their African heritage!
You can also learn all about these animals on the zoo’s website. For instance, wild asses look a little like the burros that live in the Southwestern United States. That’s because the Spanish brought domesticated wild asses to North America centuries ago– today’s burros are their distant relatives!
Dozens of species go extinct every day. Our efforts to stop these extinctions can sometimes feel hopeless, but there are success stories that prove why we should keep trying. Take Przewalski’s wild horse (it’s pronounced “She-vall-skee’s”). These wild horses live in central Asia, and habitat loss and poaching led to them going extinct throughout much of their natural habitat. However, small numbers of these horses lived in zoos around the world. Scientists worked to establish a breeding program so that new, healthy horses could be born. Some of the horses born in zoos were then reintroduced into the wild. Today, Przewalski’s horses are still endangered, but they’re making a comeback, thanks to the hard work of scientists, zookeepers, and people who care about animals!
Image by Claudia Feh
Giraffes are some of the world’s most recognizable and beloved animals– with their long necks and flashy spots, it’d be hard to mistake them for anything else! However, their scientific name reflects the confusion their strange appearance caused.
All plants and animals known to science have an official scientific name, in Latin– we’re Homo sapiens, dogs are Canis familiaris, cats are Felis catus. These names help scientists keep track of different living things and tell how they’re related to each other. However, these names sometimes show how science has progressed– the old scientific names reveal mistakes made by scientists. Giraffes are a good example of this. The ancient Greeks and Romans, when they first saw giraffes, thought they might be a combination of camels and leopards. So, they gave them the name cameleopardalis. Even though giraffes aren’t closely related to leopards at all, and only distantly related to camels, the name stuck and is still there in giraffes’ official scientific name: Giraffa camelopardalis.
Photo by Sarah Ferguson
The ceratopsian dinosaurs include some of the best-known dinos, like sturdy, rhino-like Triceratops. But not all ceratopsians were built like tanks—some were downright tiny! In recent years, scientists have discovered early ceratopsian dinosaurs in what’s now China, and while these dinosaurs do have a hint of the beaks and frills that make Triceratops so recognizable, they’re missing other features, like big horns. While Triceratops lived near the end of the age of dinosaurs, 68 million years ago, its relatives Yinlong downsi and Liaoceratops (pictured below) lived far earlier—Liaoceratops lived 130 million years ago, and Yinlong lived around 160 years ago. That means that there’s less time separating Triceratops and us than there is separating Triceratops from some of its early relatives.
Yinlong was small, maybe four feet long and 33 pounds, but Liaoceratops was tiny—it probably weighed only seven pounds, about the size of a Yorkshire terrier!
Illustration by Nobu Tamura
There are some names for baby animals that get used a whole lot. A calf can be a baby manatee, cow, moose, aardvark, camel, and many other animals. A cub could be a baby bear, wolf, lion, bobcat, raccoon, walrus, or woodcuck—the list goes on and on. There are some animal baby names that are a little more unusual, though. Can you guess which animal on the left matches with which name on the right?
|2. Hawk||B. Leptocephalus|
|3. Platypus||C. Kit|
|4. Porcupine||D. Squab|
|5. Fox||E. Shoat|
|6. Eel||F. Stot|
|7. Goat||G. Kid|
|8. Hog||H. Porcupette|
|9. Pigeon||I. Eyas|
Answers: 1-F, 2-I, 3-A, 4-H, 5-C, 6-B, 7-G, 8-E, 9-D
If your kids are getting stir-crazy this summer, check out the fun crafts on the San Diego Zoo’s website! A lot of them tie in nicely with the animal facts in our magazines and books. For example, if your kids are fans of this summer’s Animal Babies issue of Zoobooks, you’ve got to try the “Mommy and Me Maze” craft. In this craft, kids can make a maze leading a mother animal to her babies. Give it a try, and be sure to send us pictures of your kids’ creations!
Giraffes look a little ungainly. Their long legs and even longer necks make them some of the lankiest creatures on earth, and they probably look most graceful when they’re standing still. However, these animals need to be able to escape from predators, so when giraffes need to, they can sprint at speeds of up to 37 miles per hour! They can’t keep up that speed for long, though.
With your child, take a look at the animals you see at the zoo and in your neighborhood. What different kinds of ways of getting around do you see? Can you try running like a giraffe, a penguin, or a squirrel the next time you play make-believe?
Photo by Matt P. Barry