Our readers have written some amazing poems about hummingbirds– check them out!
Spring is in the air, and that means you’ll probably start seeing some new feathered friends back for the warmer weather! More than half of the bird species in North America are migratory, from big birds like geese and cranes to tiny hummingbirds.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are some of the most commonly seen hummingbirds in the US, and these tiny birds make a huge journey. They spend their winters in Mexico, and then come spring, they fly north as far as Canada! They’re solitary birds, so they don’t migrate in big flocks like geese– instead, they make the journey solo.
There are over a dozen species of hummingbirds in the US that migrate– visit your local nature center or zoo to learn more about the ones that live near you!
Photo by Matt Tillett
It’s in their very name– hummingbirds make a humming sound! In addition to making high-pitched, chirpy tweets, these birds beat their wings so rapidly that it produces a buzzing noise that almost sounds like a bumblebee. On the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum’s website, you can listen to the sounds of the metallic green Anna’s Hummingbird. These little creatures are only four inches long and weigh as little as a tenth of an ounce, but they still play an important role in their ecosystem– the Anna’s Hummingbird eats more insects than any other North American hummingbird!
The pterosaurs in the latest issue of Zoodinos can be a little alarming at first glance—some of them have forty-foot wingspans! Quetzalcoatlus is one the biggest pterosaurs yet discovered, and it’s huge. When it was first discovered, scientists thought that it used its long neck and spear-like beak to hunt fish, kind of like a stork does today. But lately, scientists have proposed that Quetzalcoatlus was a scavenger that fed on dinosaur carcasses. And while it could fly, it could likely walk around on land too, using its giant wings as forelimbs.
But while some of these flying reptiles might have been scary, others were downright cute. Take Bellubrunnus, for example. The first known fossil of this itsy-bitsy pterosaur’s had a wingspan of just one foot, and its skull was less than an inch long. It was a juvenile, and while scientists don’t know how big a fully-grown one would be, it would likely have a wingspan of around three feet—a far cry from the giant Quetzalcoatlus with its forty-foot wingspan.
Images by Mark Witton and Darren Naish and Matt Van Rooijen
Our readers drew some gorgeous hummingbirds for us this month! Do you have a favorite?
We always talk about how hummingbirds are the smallest birds in the world, but what about the giant hummingbird? These birds are about as big, length-wise, as cardinals, though they’re a lot lighter! Their slender builds mean that these birds weigh less than an ounce, while cardinals can weigh up to 2.29 ounces. Giant hummingbirds still weigh ten times more than the tiniest hummingbirds, though.
Giant hummingbirds are found throughout the length of the Andes Mountains in South America, where they feed on flower nectar. It takes an incredible amount of energy to keep these “heavy” hummingbirds in the air, so they need to eat a lot!
Photo by Arturo Nahum
Hummingbirds are the world’s smallest birds—the littlest one, the bee hummingbird from Cuba, weighs less than two grams (for comparison, a penny weighs 2.5 grams). Ruby-throated hummingbirds hatch out of eggs the size of peas. But while these animals are tiny, they play a crucial role in the ecosystems they live in, pollinating flowers by going from bloom to bloom drinking nectar.
The Smithsonian National Zoo’s website includes tons of fun facts about these amazing animals, along with tips for making your backyard a hummingbird hotspot. They provide advice about what kinds of food to put out (sugar water) and what flowers to plant (bee balm, coral honeysuckle, columbine, cardinal flower, and trumpet creeper).
The Zoo also offers tips for keeping hummingbirds safe. More than half the world’s hummingbird species live in the tropics, and even if you live far from there, little decisions that you make every day can help protect them. For example, they offer tips on finding coffee that’s grown on plantations that also support the flowers that hummingbirds need for food. When it comes to conservation and animal protection, every little bit helps!
Photo by Rhoude7695
There are 12,000 ant species in the world. They live on every continent except Antarctica, and these smart, social insects come in all shapes and sizes, depending on what’s best suited to their environment. Some of their adaptations are unusual-looking to say the least. Take trap-jaw ants, for example.
See that part of this ant’s face that looks almost like a big black mustache? Those are the ant’s jaws! Trap-jaw ants have giant jaws that they hold open and then spring shut. They use their jaws to catch smaller insect prey and even to jump by snapping their jaws against the ground and launching themselves into the air! Being able to jump like that can help these ants escape from predators.
Trap-jaw ants live in South America, but wherever you live, there are probably amazing ants too. When you start seeing them this spring, take a minute to stop and watch them—you might be surprised by what you see!
Photo by Katja Schultz
If you and your Zoobooks fans are hungry for more bear facts, check out the Woodland Park Zoo’s website! You can watch their grizzly bears on a live webcam. The bears live in a recreated habitate space that includes a stream and pond with live trout. If you’re lucky, you might catch the bears fishing!
The bears are less active during the winter months, but with spring right around the corner, keep an eye on the bear cam and watch them enjoying the warmer weather!
By this time in the winter, a lot of people wish they could just take a nap and wake up in the springtime! How do bears do it?
Well, for starters, not all bears do hibernate. Polar bears remain active all year, as do some bears in warmer climates, like pandas and sun bears. But others, like grizzlies and American black bears, are able to slow down their bodies in the winter months and sleep through until the spring. Grizzlies’ body temperatures drop, but not black bears’– in fact, for a long time, scientists didn’t consider black bears to be true hibernators because their bodies were too warm. But they fit the bill for other important hibernation criteria– they remained inactive and went months without food, water, or going to the bathroom (or the bear equivalent, since most bears don’t have bathrooms). A hibernating bear’s heartbeat slows down, and it gets all the nutrition it needs from its fat stores that it built up in the months before the winter. Bears can hibernate for up to eight months, depending on the region they live in.
But why would an animal need to hibernate in the first place? It has to do with energy conservation. Keeping your body alive and healthy takes more energy when you’re awake than when you’re asleep, and in the winter months when nutritious food is scarce, it makes more sense for bears to hunker down and sleep through the hard times and then come out again in the spring!
Photo by Ltshears
We often think of dinosaurs as massive creatures, the biggest animals to ever live on land. And while that’s true of some of them, other dinosaurs were downright tiny. Take Compsognathus for instance. These little dinos were only about three feet long, including a long tail, and they probably weighed as little as 1.8 pounds. Even though these dinosaurs were little, they were still predators, as evidenced by their tiny sharp teeth on their long, thin jaws. In fact, the name Compsognathus means “elegant jaw.” They probably hunted smaller vertebrate animals, and maybe even insects. Can you imagine seeing one of these tiny dinosaurs on the prowl, hunting bugs?
Image by Nobu Tamura
Gorillas are some of our closest relatives—only the bonobo and the chimpanzee are more closely related to humans. Between 95 and 99 percent of their DNA is the same as ours, and there are lots of aspects of gorillas’ lives that are like humans’. Gorillas live in family groups called troops, and gorilla mothers take very good care of their babies.
Gorillas are extremely intelligent animals. They communicate with each other through vocalizations like grunts and barks, and some gorillas in captivity have been taught some sign language. Gorillas also use tools to find food and build their nests. Not so different from us!
Photo by Five Locker
The western lowland gorilla is critically endangered, but the Franklin Park Zoo is working hard to protect these animals. By helping your kids get excited about animals like gorillas, you can help a new generation get motivated to work for conservation. The Franklin Park Zoo’s website is a great place to start—they have all kinds of crafts, quizzes, photos, and facts to encourage any young nature lover’s passion for the world around us. They even have a page dedicated to real-life ways that your family can help the fight for the animals we share our planet with, like creating butterfly gardens and compost piles. Little things like that add up to big change, including the kind of change that can help the great apes!
We talk about “panda bears” and “koala bears,” but for a long time, neither was actually considered a bear species! Koalas are definitely not bears—they’re marsupials, distant cousins of kangaroos and wombats. However, their short faces and rounded ears make them look a little bear-like, hence the nickname.
Pandas are another story. Physically, they have a lot in common with bears, but there are also lots of differences. They eat almost nothing but bamboo, and they have an enlarged bone on their hands that looks like a thumb—characteristics that seem to make them more like red pandas, which are part of the raccoon family. Recent DNA studies, though, have shown that pandas are indeed part of the bear family—they’re just not as closely related to polar bears, grizzlies, and the others as they are to each other!
Photos via Wikimedia Commons