This month’s Zooworks winners have written some great poems about alligators and crocodiles- check them out!
Can’t get enough of the gators and crocs in the latest issue of Zoobooks? Then check out the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park’s website! Founded in 1893, they’re the only facility in the world where you can see living specimens of all 24 recognized species of crocodilian. The scientists who work there have a research blog detailing how they care for these amazing animals, along with sharing fun facts about crocodilians. You can learn about how crocodilians care for their young (an unusual trait in reptiles), or how the ancient Egyptians mummified crocs. You can even watch a video of a crocodile mother helping her babies hatch!
Both alligators and crocodiles are crocodilians, an ancient branch of reptiles that’s more closely related to birds and dinosaurs than to many modern lizards- in fact, they’re birds’ closest living relatives. But while it’s pretty easy to tell a bird from a croc (we hope), what’s the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?
There are a few rules of thumb you can use to tell these animals apart. Generally speaking, crocodiles have skinnier snouts than alligators, and they’re usually lighter in color. Crocodiles are typically bigger than alligators, too- on average, alligators are about 13 feet long, but saltwater crocodiles, at lengths of over 20.7 feet, are the largest land-dwelling predators in the world. It’s not a perfect way of telling them apart, though- the African dwarf crocodile is only about 4 feet long, far smaller than a gator. But there is one foolproof way of telling them apart- their teeth. Alligators’ upper jaws are wider than their lower jaws, so when their mouths are closed, you can’t see their bottom teeth. Crocs, on the other hand, have upper and lower jaws that are about the same width, so when their mouths are closed, you can see their lower teeth. But you probably wouldn’t want to be close enough to a croc or a gator to be able to tell details like that– they’re amazing animals, but they definitely need their space!
Photo by Leigh Bedford
Think of every animal you can. Tigers, goldfish, hummingbirds, elephants, dogs, humans—the list goes on and on. Now add in every extinct animal you can think of—T. rex, wooly mammoths, pterodactyls. The number of animals that have lived on earth over its long history is staggering—and the very biggest one known to science happens to be sharing the earth with us right now. Blue whales aren’t just the biggest animals in the ocean, or even the biggest animals alive today—they’re the biggest animals, living or extinct, that have ever been discovered. They’re around a hundred feet long and weigh in the neighborhood of 400,000 pounds. When you think about how old the earth is and how relatively recently humans are to the planet, it’s incredible that we get to share the world with the biggest animal that’s ever lived on it!
Photo courtesy of NOAA Photo Library.
Our readers made these fearsomely awesome drawings of alligators and crocodiles- check them out!
Can’t get enough of the gators from the latest issue of Zoobooks? The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo has lots of fun facts about these amazing animals on their website. For instance, did you know that while they can snap their jaws shut with incredible speed and force, they don’t have many muscles that let them open their mouths? That enables zoo vets to keep the gators’ mouths shut when giving them medical treatment. But the vets still need to steer clear of the gators’ muscular tails!
Even though alligators are big and strong, they’re still in danger of habitat loss. For a while, they were highly endangered, but new laws have made sure that they didn’t go extinct in the US. Zoos and other wildlife conservation organizations can help save endangered animals– you can even read about what else the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is doing to help!
You might have grown up reading about how thick-skulled Pachycephalosaurus rammed their heads into each other like bighorn sheep, fighting for social dominance or to impress mates. However, scientists have found that their skulls weren’t tough enough for that kind of action. When they studied the dinosaurs’ skulls, they found that the thick bone would have been too brittle to get smacked around without cracking. Instead, those unusual heads were likely used to attract mates.
There are always new, exciting discoveries being made in science, and the new Zoodinos series is full of brand-new dino facts—place your order today!
Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Ballista
We’re just getting to the time of year when you can see butterflies outside, but in the meantime, check out these awesome butterflies that our readers made!
We think of rabbits as tiny animals, but some of them are actually pretty big! The largest rabbits in the world can be up to four feet long and weigh up to 55 pounds. (Though, we should note, the one in this picture, while a huge rabbit, is next to a Shetland Sheepdog, which is much smaller than a full-sized Collie. Still—that’s a big bunny.)
These giant rabbits were selectively bred to be big—they were originally used by humans for fur and meat. The biggest rabbits in the wild are much smaller. One of the biggest species, the antelope jackrabbit, is “only” 24 inches long.
Photo by Stamatisclan
It’s easy to be impressed by the biggest animals at the zoo—tall, graceful giraffes, roaring lions, and gentle elephants are always crowd-pleasers. But the Minnesota Zoo is home to some tiny animals that are none the less amazing: butterflies. Their butterfly garden is home to beautiful insects from near and far, and their website is home to tons of fun facts about them. For example, did you know that some butterflies, like this mourning cloak butterfly, hibernate during the winter? Or that butterflies see all the colors that we do, but also ultraviolet colors whose wavelengths are too long for us to see? The more you learn about these incredible animals, the more you’ll realize that the biggest zoo animals aren’t the only ones that are cool!
Photo by SD Dirk
Butterflies and their cousins, moths, are the only insects with scales—their wings are covered with them. These scales are responsible for butterflies’ amazing colors, like the brilliant hue of the blue morpho. That dazzling blue isn’t the result of pigment—it’s all how the light hits their prismatic scales.
Butterflies’ color is even responsible for their name. A common European butterfly, the yellow brimstone, is a bright, sunny color. It’s believed that people once referred to it as a “butter-colored fly,” which got shortened to “butterfly.” This spring, see how many different colors of butterflies you can find!
Photo by Tony Higsett
One of our favorite things about hosting our regular Kids’ Zooworks contests is seeing young writers and poets stretch their wings. It’s truly wonderful to see our next generation of children work out the rhythm and cadence of good writing, and put their imaginations to paper. Here are some of our winners for Parrots…
It may surprise you to learn that the story “Almost Grown” in Zootles Tigers originally had a very different ending. The first idea presented was that the two little tiger cub sisters, Lila and Nell, were going to catch their prey rather than stumble into the river and let it get away. Reality, or course, is that tigers catch animals and eat them; but in this story we found a way to get this idea across without having to concern our youngest readers about the fate of the beautiful deer in the pictures.
Everything about a tiger demonstrates strength and power, and they are skilled hunters. Teeth and claws of course are essential, but there are more subtle advantages, too. Their coats hide them so they can sneak up close; their tails help them steer mid-leap; their eyesight in the dark is much better than ours. One day soon, Lila and Nell are going to accomplish their goal!
Pretty much everyone who’s ever been in a pet shop has seen a parrot, but we bet you’ve never seen anything like this one! This is a hawk-headed parrot, also known as the red fan parrot. It’s easy to see how it got that name– it raises up the bright scarlet feathers on the back of its head and neck when threatened. Looking bigger can help scare off intruders; it also sways back and forth and makes noises to scare them away.
When not fluffing up their colorful neck ruffs, hawk-headed parrots live in abandoned woodpecker nests, where they raise small broods of chicks. You can learn more about them and their parrot relatives on the St. Louis Zoo website (http://www.stlzoo.org/animals/abouttheanimals/birds/parrots) — which of their parrots is your favorite?