Scientists at zoos work to protect all kinds of animals, from ones found on the other side of the world to ones right in our backyards. At the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, scientists study wild Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes to help conserve the species. These snakes live in wetlands and grasslands around the central United States, and every spring, Lincoln Park Zoo scientists head a few hours out of the city to count the rattlesnakes. The scientists place harmless tracking devices in the snakes, similar to microchips for dogs and cats, and measure the snakes to get a better sense of what makes for a healthy snake habitat. In a recent trip, they found fifty snakes in just a single day!
Most snakes are relatively small, but there are a few species out there that are enormous. The biggest snake in the world is the reticulated python. Reticulated pythons, which are found in Asia, can reach lengths of close to thirty feet, and can weigh up to 350 pounds. Even newly hatched reticulated pythons are two feet long. These snakes are not venomous, but instead kill their prey by squeezing it to death, a process known as constriction.
It is very rare for these reticulated pythons to pose a danger to humans, though. Meanwhile, the most venomous snake in the world, the inland taipan, is far smaller—around 6 feet—but has enough venom in one bite to kill a hundred people. Inland taipans are shy, though, and rarely come into contact with people.
Photo by Bernard Dupont
Dolphins are some of the world’s most beloved animals– these intelligent, social sea mammals are popular in zoos and aquariums. Most of the dolphins in zoos are sleek, gray bottlenose dolphins, the most common members of the dolphin family. But there are dozens of species of dolphins– they come in all shapes and sizes. The world’s smallest dolphins are Maui dolphins, also known as popoto, which only reach five and half feet long and a 120 pounds. The world’s biggest dolphins are killer whales, which can reach over thirty feet in length. (Fun fact: all dolphins are technically whales.)
Dolphins don’t just come in gray, too. Dolphins can have a wide range of black and white markings, and some dolphins, like the ones in the Amazon River, are pink!
Photo by Jorge Andrade
If asked to explain what a snake is, a lot of people would probably say, “a reptile with no legs.” But that’s not quite right—while all snakes are legless reptiles, not all legless reptiles are snakes. Meet the legless lizards.
Legless lizards look a lot like snakes—many of them have scaly, snakelike skin, and they don’t have legs, so they move by slithering or burrowing in the earth. But there are some key differences that have shown scientists that legless lizards aren’t snakes—they’re part of the reptile family that includes four-legged lizards like geckos, but over time, they “lost” their legs to better suit their lifestyles. Their skeletons still show traces of these lost limbs—it’s a little like how human ancestors lost their tails, but we still have tailbones at the bottom of our spines. Some legless lizards have tiny little nubs where their ancestors had legs.
Some of the strangest legless lizards don’t even look that much like snakes—they look more like worms! Their scales are small and smooth, and they live underground, where they eat insects and larvae. But despite their appearance, these animals are still lizards!
Photo by Richard Avery
King cobras are some of the most well-known snakes in the world. They’re the longest venomous snakes in the world– adults are often up to 13 feet long, and the largest one on record was over 19 feet! Their venom is strong, but they are afraid of people and hunt rodents, lizards, and other snakes.
In addition to their venomous bite, king cobras are known for the beautiful appearance– they have “hoods” on their heads and sometimes have bright yellow chevron stripes. You can see one here at the Philadelphia Zoo— a female born in the wild in Indonesia in 2003. See how she’s flicking out her tongue? Snakes do that to “taste” tiny scent particles in the air to get a better sense of the world around them!
One of these things is not like the others. At first glance, this looks like a group of dinosaurs. There’s a massive Tyrannosaurus rex on the left and a three-horned Triceratops on the right—some of the most well-known dinos. However, towering at the back of this group is a creature that lived among the dinosaurs, but wasn’t one: Quetzalcoatlus.
Quetzalcoatlus was a pterosaur, a flying reptile that lived millions of years ago. (You might hear this group called “pterodactyls,” but that’s an outdated term.) Pterosaurs aren’t dinosaurs—they were distant relatives. Why aren’t pterosaurs considered dinosaurs? The distinctions might seem small to non-paleontologists—little features on pterosaurs’ thighbones, shoulder blades, hips, and backbones set them apart from dinos!
Illustration by Durbed
Circus acts have made white tigers famous—these striking felines’ black stripes stand out against their white coats, and they have dazzling blue eyes. But while white tigers are beautiful to look at, they’re a sign of poor breeding practices that are bad for the animals.
White fur in tigers is the result of a rare genetic mutation. In the wild, white tigers are rare, because the odds are slim that two unrelated tiger parents would carry the mutated gene that results in a white cub. However, some people have bred closely related tigers or even purposely bred white tigers to produce white offspring. This isn’t good for the tigers; the genes that cause white fur are related to medical problems.
Good zoos that are committed to protecting animals don’t purposely breed white tigers. Instead, they work to build a diverse gene pool that produces healthy offspring for generations to come. Besides—healthy, orange tigers are beautiful too!
Photo by Tony Hisgett
Malayan tigers are critically endangered– there are only 250 of them left in the wild. Protecting these tigers’ habitats is an important way to help them– scientists and governments around the world work together to find ways to preserve the land the tigers live on and to protect these environments from changing climates that make it harder for animals and plants to live there.
Another important way that scientists are helping to save Malayan tigers is through breeding programs at zoos. They’re able to bring together tigers from different gene pools to keep the species healthy, and by studying the tigers in zoos, scientists learn more about what tigers in the wild need to thrive. There are two Malayan tiger cubs at the Bronx Zoo– you can watch a video of them on the zoo’s website!
Penguins are some of the world’s most popular birds: their stout bodies, striking coloring, and endearing waddling gaits make them easy to love. But they’re not just cute to look at—they’re incredibly well-adapted to life in icy water.
Penguins might look awkward on land, but their fat helps keep them warm, and their streamlined bodies allow them to cut through water with surprising speed and grace. Penguins can reach speeds of up to 25 miles per hour swimming.
Even penguins’ coloring helps them survive in the water. They’re counter-shaded, meaning that their backs are black and their bellies are white. On land, that makes them stand out, but when they’re swimming underwater, it helps them blend in. From underneath, a swimming penguin’s white belly blends in with the light streaming from the sky. From above, a penguin’s dark back camouflages with the dark ocean below!
Photo by Ken Funakoshi
Tigers are the largest cat species in the world– a male can be over eleven feet long from his nose to the tip of his tail and can weigh up to 675 pounds– and are well-known for their orange coats with black stripes. They also have white spots on the backs of their ears. Scientists think that tigers use these spots, called ocelli, to communicate with each other. Tigers are also one of the only cat species that is comfortable in water; they can swim across rivers 4.3 miles wide and can swim up to 18 miles in a day.
Tigers are endangered animals, with just a few hundred indivduals left of some subspecies. A hundred years ago, there were about 100,000 tigers in the wild, but today, scientists estimate that there are somewhere between 1,500 and 4,000 wild tigers left. Protecting the environment and supporting good zoos with scientifically-led conservation programs can help!
The National Wildlife Federation will continue Zoobooks’ legacy of bringing fun and engaging learning opportunities to children of all ages as part of its iconic Ranger Rick® publications. The first Ranger Rick branded Zoobooks launched with the February 2018 issue.
Being part of the National Wildife Federation family will now give us a bigger and better opportunity to help our titles connect kids with wildlife, and complement the National Wildlife Federation’s efforts to reach more kids and families with wildlife learning fun.
The Zoobooks acquisition adds 130 award-winning titles to the Ranger Rick library, new families to the Ranger Rick community and new outreach opportunities to inspire kids and families to love, protect and save wildlife. Ranger Rick and Zoobooks reach family audiences with different wildlife learning experiences. Ranger Rick magazines engage kids with information, stories and activities on a range of animals and conservation issues, while Zoobooks titles focus on different aspects of one animal or group of animals covering topics from anatomy to socialization.
Developing a love for animals in our children is crucial to saving wildlife for the next generation—but we also need your help to protect […]
Turtles come in all shapes and sizes. They’re ancient animals– the oldest known sea turtles lived 120 million years ago, during the time of the dinosaurs. Today, they’re found all over the world, on the land and in the sea.
There are 356 species of turtles alive today. They range from tiny speckled tortoises from southern Africa, at just three inches long, to massive ocean-dwelling leatherbacks that weigh over 1,500 pounds. Visit a zoo or nature center by your home to find out what kinds of turtles live near you!