Some wild dogs are relatively cousins of our domestic dogs, like dingoes. Others are more distant relatives. One of the most unusual is the raccoon dog. Raccoon dogs are native to East Asia and are cousins of foxes. Despite their fluffy fur and dark eye masks, they’re not closely related to raccoons.
Raccoon dogs eat nuts, fruits, and vegetables, as well as hunting prey including fish, tortoises, hedgehogs. They mate for life and give birth to litters of six to eight pups on average. And unlike dogs, they don’t bark—instead, they growl and whine!
Photo by Bernd Schwabe in Hannover
African painted dogs, when they’re grown, are graceful, formidable hunters. When they’re pups, though, they’re better at catching zzz’s than antelope. Enjoy this Oregon Zoo video about newborn pups, and good luck trying to count to see how many are in this litter!
The pups also look different from their parents- when the pups are born, their fur is dark with just a few spots, but by the time they’re adults, their coats lighten to an almost leopard-like pattern. But they’re highly social animals their whole lives. From a very early age, African painted dogs “whoo” call to each other to make sure they all stay in touch!
Possibly the largest was Patagotitan mayorum, a titanosaur that lived 100 million years ago in what is now Argentina. Patagotitan was a part of the sauropod group called “titanosaurs” which includes other giants like Argentinosaurus and Puertasaurus. It reached over 120 feet long and weighed more than 150,000 pounds– as much as 43 mid-size cars! Patagotitan is the largest known animal to live on land. It’s still not the biggest animal ever, though– that honor goes to the blue whale, which weighs almost twice as much as Patagotitan!
Photo by Zissoudisctrucker
Despite their name, African wild dogs are more distantly related to domestic dogs than wolves are. Dogs and wolves, along with jackals, are all members of a group called Canis, but African wild dogs are part of a group called Lycaon. They’re set apart by their diets—African wild dogs eat a more meat-heavy diet than dogs and wolves—and by their feet. While wolves and most dogs have dew claws, small claws on their forelimbs (sort of their equivalent of a thumb), African wild dogs don’t.
Even though African wild dogs are more distant relatives of dogs than wolves are, it’s easy to see the family resemblance. African wild dogs are extremely social animals, living in packs of up to 27 individuals. They communicate with each other in many ways, including by sneezing—scientists think that the dogs “vote” on whether or not to go out hunting by sneezing to say, “Yes, let’s go!”
Photo by Bart Swanson
The Denver Zoo is home to some of the most beautiful members of the dog family: African wild dogs. Their mottled, leopard-like fur has earned them the nickname “painted dogs.” They hunt in packs and are highly efficient hunters—they bring down prey 70-90% of the time. They’re also very fast—they can keep up a speed of 37 miles per hour for three miles.
African wild dogs are highly social and communicate with each other with wailing hoot-like sounds. Their tightly knit packs work together to raise young. An average litter has ten pups, but big litters can have up to twenty!
Zebras are beloved for their stunning black and white stripes, but scientists are still trying to figure out the reason behind these amazing coats. There are lots of different ideas, from camouflage to insect repellent!
Some scientists think that zebras’ stripes create an optical illusion making it harder for lions to see where the individuals in a herd are. Even the military has used this sort of optical illusion, called dazzle camouflage—they used to paint ships with black and white stripes to make it harder to see the vessels’ outlines. Another idea is that the stripes help keep the zebras cool—air might travel at different speeds over black fur and white fur, causing convection currents that act like a fan. Other scientists have found that biting flies are less likely to bite animals with stripes like a zebra—they found this out by putting zebra-striped coats on horses and keeping track of how many bugs tried to bite them!
Photo by Bernd Falkenberg
Quick, what do you call those flying reptile animals that lived during the time of the dinosaurs? If your answer was “pterodactyl,” you’re not alone. However, scientists call that group of animals pterosaurs. “Pterodactyl” is the name of just one kind of pterosaur (or, more officially, Pterodacylus. There are over a hundred different kinds of pterosaurs in total.
So why did “pterodactyl” win out as the more commonly known name? Because it was one of the first kinds of pterosaur discovered. Cosimo Alessandro Collini wrote about his discovery of it in 1784. It wasn’t until 1824 that a scientist wrote up a discovery of dinosaur fossils and described them as a new kind of animal. Earlier scientists found dinosaur bones too, but they thought they belonged to giant humans!
Photo by Steven U. Vidovic, David M. Martill, and Matthew Martyniuk
Humans are primates—we’re part of the same family as gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees. A little more distantly related are monkeys, and even further removed is one of our strangest cousins: the aye-aye. Aye-ayes are a kind of lemur. Like all lemurs, they’re found on Madagascar.
They might be strange-looking, but their features are specially adapted to their lifestyle. Their big eyes help them to see in the dark, since they’re nocturnal. Their strange teeth and hands are useful too. The aye-aye taps on trees to find grubs, and then it chews a hole in the bark with its rodent-like teeth. Then, it inserts its extra-long middle finger into the hole so that it can pull out its dinner!
Photo by James Joel
For the month when we’re celebrating Animal Wonders, we couldn’t think of a better featured creature than the naked mole rats at the National Zoo! Naked mole rats are some of the strangest animals on Earth. They look kind of like a thumb with teeth, and they live in colonies of up to 80 individuals in underground burrows in Eastern Africa.
Scientists are especially interested in naked mole rats because they’re such unusual animals. They live in groups with a queen, like bees or ants, and their bodies work very differently from many other mammals. They can survive with far less oxygen than most other mammals, they don’t process pain the same way that most mammals do, they’re highly resistant to cancers.
If you’re intrigued by these critters, you can keep an eye on them through the National Zoo’s live webcam!
Pterosaurs aren’t dinosaurs—they’re flying reptiles. However, they do have some traits in common with dinosaurs, including some incredible head gear. Just like dinosaurs like Cryolophosaurus (aka “Elvisaurus,” for its ducktail-shaped crest) and Triceratops, there are some pterosaurs with impressive structures on their skulls. One of the strangest examples is Nyctosaurus.
Nyctosaurus lived in what’s now the western United States about 85 million years ago, when the area was covered by a shallow sea. Some adult specimens had crests like the one in this drawing—the crests could be nearly two feet long! It’s not clear exactly what this showy crest was used for, but often when an animal has a weird feature, it’s either meant to frighten away rivals or attract mates.
Illustration by Dmitry Bogdanov and FunkMonk
Nature is beautiful, inspring, majestic– and, sometimes, super weird. In our latest issue of Zoobooks, Animal Wonders, you can learn all about the oddballs of the animal kingdom. There are all kinds of strange features and behaviors that enable animals to better survive. Ant lions are insects that catch their dinners by building funnels of sand that ants fall into. Mudskippers are fish that can breathe out of water and have flexible fins to help them climb trees. And they’re not the only sea creatures you can find in trees– coconut crabs can climb 50 feet up palm trees and cut off the coconuts with their giant pincers. Nature is full of surprises!
Photo by Sundar.
If you head down to New Orleans today, you’ll probably see some folks with colorful masks celebrating Mardi Gras. But wherever you are, you can make your own beautiful animal mask with help from the Franklin Park Zoo and Stone Zoo in New England! They have patterns on their website for masks that’ll transform you into everything from a leopard to a sloth, but our favorite might be this awesome blue peacock!