Happy Valentine’s Day! Zoobooks is a member of the National Wildlife Federation, and this Valentine’s Day, we’re teaming up with them to help save the monarch butterfly. Here’s a message from the NWF:
If there’s any wildlife species that needs lots of love this Valentine’s Day, it’s the monarch butterfly!
Monarch populations plummeted almost 90% in 20 years due to habitat loss. These magnificent butterflies have lost MILLIONS of acres of prairie grassland habitat—where milkweed host plants that monarch caterpillars feed on and nectar-providing wildflowers grow. But the newly introduced Recovering America’s Wildlife Act can provide the help needed for monarchs to recover and thrive.
On February 14th, we’ll deliver a “Be Mine” Valentine’s message attached to a monarch butterfly plushie to every member of Congress. Please add your name to the card. Urge YOUR representative to be a Valentine for monarchs by supporting the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.
One of the important roles of zoos in wildlife conservation is to help endangered species. Scientists are able to study the animals in zoos to get more information about how to protect their wild counterparts, and they’re able to manage breeding programs to help keep the gene pool healthy and diverse. Plus, zoos give people an opportunity to learn and care about these endangered animals, so that they can work to protect endangered species too.
The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens are home to dozens of endangered animals, including some species that are on the verge of extinction. These species include Sclater’s blue-eyed lemur (one of the only primates with blue eyes), western lowland gorillas, Sumatran tigers, and Mexican salamanders. The zoo’s programs and research help give these animals a fighting chance.
Photo by Tambako the Jaguar
If asked to name a reptile that has a shell on its back, you’d probably say, “a turtle.” But that description fits tortoises too. What’s the difference between turtles and tortoises, anyway?
Tortoises live on land, in dry environments. Some of them, like Galapagos giant tortoises, are huge and weigh over 900 pounds—more than a small horse. Others, like the speckled tortoise, are tiny and weigh just a few ounces.
All tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises. Tortoises live only on dry land, but many turtles live in the water. Some, like loggerhead turtles, live in the ocean, while others, like painted turtles, live in ponds. Some turtles live almost their entire lives in water, but some switch between land and water.
If you’re a reptile fan, you might have heard the word “terrapin” used to describe some of these creatures. What’s a terrapin? It’s not a hard and fast scientific descriptor—it’s a word commonly used for some small freshwater turtles. For instance, the turtle in this picture, a red-eared slider, is also known as the red-eared terrapin. Red-eared terrapins are common throughout the US!
Photo by Greg Hume
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
Lots of zoo animals have to get used to a different climate than the one they’d live in in the wild. But Siberian tigers, which come from the cold, mountainous regions of Russia and China, are no strangers to snow. They fit right in at the Minnesota Zoo, where the keepers find ways to entertain the tigers and keep them physically and mentally fit. In the winter, the keepers build snowmen for the tigers to play with—they sometimes drizzle the snowmen with blood to attract the tigers’ attention.
You can learn all about a day in the life of a Minnesota Zoo zookeeper here on their website!
Kentrosaurus is one of the most eye-catching members of the Stegosaur family. Instead of just having a few spikes at the tip of its tail like Stegosaurus, Kentrosaurus had long spikes along much of its body, as well as two long spikes on its shoulders. These spikes were probably used as defense, or maybe to attract mates.
Stegosaurus is found in the western US and Peru, but Kentrosaurus lived pretty far away—its fossils have been found in Tanzania, in Africa. The largest Stegosaurus fossils come from animals that were 29.5 feet long, while the biggest Kentrosauruses were more like 15 feet. But in spite of these differences, both animals had beaks for snagging plants to eat, small heads, and big, dangerous-looking tails!
Here are some of the Zooworks winners this month for Whales. It looks like our readers had a whale of a time making these drawings!
Blue whales get a lot of love– they’re not just the biggest whales, they’re the biggest animals ever discovered. But the second-biggest whales in the world, fin whales, are worth remembering. They’ve been described as the “greyhounds of the sea”– they’re long and sleek, reaching lengths of over 80 feet. But while they’re within ten feet in length of blue whales, finwhales are much skinnier– while blue whales weigh up to 200 short tons, fin whales are only 126 short tons. Their sleek shape means that they can move quickly through the water, hitting speeds of up to 29 miles per hour.
Fin whales are more social than most of their closest relatives, living in pods of six to ten individuals. And they don’t just live together– they communicate with each other through low-pitched sounds. For animals that look nothing like humans, they’re really not so different from us!
If after reading Zoobooks Whales your kids are all excited about ceteceans, be sure to visit the Georgia Aquarium’s website. The Aquarium is home to some of the most beloved whales in the world, belugas. These animals’ name is derived from the Russian word for “white,” and their pale skin helps them to camoflage in their arctic home. Belugas are also known as the canaries of the sea because they communicate in chirps and whistles.
You can watch the Georgia Aquarium’s beluga family from their live webcam!