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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Butter Living: 10 Amazing Yellow Animals

Yellow: the color of sunshine, lemons, bananas, and a surprising variety of animals. Though you may call them Mellow Yellow (quite rightly), these warmly tinted creatures don’t take their hues lightly – and neither should you.

Yellow Bug

Bugs – and that includes beetles, butterflies, bees and more, are yellow for a number of reasons. In the case of the latter its to warn away potential predators by adopting nature’s version of road racing’s Caution flag. For others, matching the color of the plants you live on is a good way to avoid predators and/or deceive prey.

All is not green and purple at the Mandai Orchid Garden, as this small but noticeable bug makes abundantly clear. Yellow pigment suffuses this insect’s chitinous carapace and much of its exoskeleton, save for the lower legs and compound eyes.

Yellow Crab Spider

The Goldenrod Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) is commonly found on North American flowers such as daisies and – you guessed it – goldenrod. Close-up photos of Crab Spiders (not just the Goldenrod variety) are of interest chiefly due to the skull-like markings on the spiders’ abdomens.

There’s another reason as well: these voracious predators often ambush prey larger than themselves, a feat only possible due to their precise camouflage enabling a sense of surprise.

Goldenrod Crab Spiders are usually yellow but that’s not always the case, even among individual spiders. If one of these spiders should find itself on a white flower, it can change its color to match the new background. This is accomplished through the movement of liquid pigment the spiders produce and shuttle from lower to upper “skin” layers as needed. It takes one of these spiders about 6 days to change from yellow to white but as long as 30 days to accomplish the reverse color shift.

Yellow Butterfly

The roots of the butterfly’s name are shrouded in history but it’s not unreasonable to guess that many common European butterflies flitted about on buttery yellow wings. Today, butterflies around the world have evolved to be yellow, most likely to match the nectar-laden flowers upon which they must land to feed. At these times, butterflies are most vulnerable to bird and insect predators.

Caterpillars are often yellow as well, regardless of the color of the butterfly it will someday become. The snake-like larva above combines enlarged eyespots with bright yellow coloration in an effort to dissuade predators from considering it for their next meal.

The Clouded Sulphur is one of the most common butterflies and can often be seen in suburban settings from early spring through late fall. Though easy to see as it flies from flower to flower, the presence of small, contrasting eyespots on its wings may help this small butterfly escape becoming dinner when a “diner” gets too close.

Yellow Sea Anemone

Sea Anemones have very few, if any, natural predators and perhaps this is why they display an incredibly wide variety of colors, often quite intense in hue.

The stinging tentacles of Sea Anemones are avoided by most fish though famously, the Clownfish (think “Finding Nemo”) is immune to the nerve-paralyzing venom and often uses anemones for hiding places when bigger fish are in the area.

Sea anemones are not social creatures but are found in abundance in, on and around coral reefs, adding pleasant splashes of color to delight the eyes of admiring scuba divers.

Yellow Crab

Crabs are one of the most successful species of crustacean, filling a number of ecological niches in varied locations on land and in the sea. Unlike their cousins the Lobsters, for whom a yellow carapace is a 30 million to 1 occurrence, yellow crabs are common within their species and their shells add a bright tone to undersea vistas.

This Fiddler Crab is delicately tinged in mild yellow with only its creamy white claws and deep black stalked eyes differing from its overall lemony hue. Fiddler Crabs conduct elaborate courtship rituals in which they flex and wave their larger claw to impress the local females – and intimidate any rival males.

Yellow Fish

Yellow Tang, Yellowtail, Yellow-fin, the list of fish with “Yellow” in their name is a long one. Why is yellow so frequently seen among our finned friends? It may be that filtered through seawater, sunlight doesn’t “light up” an animal who appears brilliantly tinted when viewed in the open air.

Whatever the reason, yellow fish add depth and beauty to nature’s spectrum of the sea and also to countless home tropical fish aquariums.

The above photograph by Howard Ho captures the exquisite beauty of a bright yellow fish against a rich vermillion background. Brightly pigmented fish such as this one are typically found in shallow surface waters; deep sea fish are much more blandly colored but often use bioluminescence to draw attention (and prey) to themselves.

Yellow Frog

Not all bright yellow frogs are poisonous but a significant number are. Soft-bodied and small, these tropical frogs are preyed upon by a huge number of reptiles, birds and mammals. Being bright yellow warns potential predators to beware of the possibility of poisoning – a threat that works whether the yellow frog is poisonous or not.

In the amazing nature photo above, Stephen Desroches has managed to capture a tropical poison dart frog in a zoo’s carefully constructed approximation of its much more inaccessible natural setting.

While many so-called “bad zoos” get the lion’s share of publicity, the vast majority of zoos take great pains to ensure their “guests” enjoy a quality of life as good as, or sometimes even better, than one they’d experience in the dog-eat-dog wild world.

Yellow Snake

Yellow is not a common color for snakes, who rely heavily on ambush predation as a hunting technique. Most of the yellow snakes people are familiar with are actually albinos bred to satisfy demand from pet owners who appreciate the beauty of a yellow snake, patterned or otherwise.

Though referred to at the source page as a “Yellow Python”, the serpentine specimen above is more likely a Caramel Burmese Python. This albino variation of the normal Burmese Python bears yellow and orange patterning on a pale base and is distinguished by its eyes, said to resemble the color of milk chocolate.

Yellow Bird

From baby ducks and chicks to domestic canaries to the sweetly singing Yellow Warbler who visits America’s backyards during its long migrations, yellow birds seem to be everywhere – check your bathtub for a rubber ducky.

The only place yellow birds seem to be rare is on the pro baseball field: we’ve got Cardinals, Blue Jays and Orioles, so why no love for the noble Goldfinch?

The wide variety of wholly or partially yellow birds, combined with their naturally beautiful range of movement, makes them popular subjects for amateur and professional photographers alike. The above bird, a type of woodpecker known as the Yellow-Shafted Flicker, is caught here just as it leaves its nest somewhere deep in an American forest.

Yellow Mongoose

Relatively common and not considered threatened throughout its home range in southern Africa; in fact 12 subspecies of the raccoon-like burrowing mammal have been identified. The Yellow Mongoose has golden fur shading to a paler yellow tint on its underside, topped off with a white-tipped tail.

Judging from its fierce scowl and bared teeth, it’s hard to imagine this Yellow Mongoose being a close relative of the shy, cute Meerkats from the popular TV show Meerkat Manor. In fact, another name for the Yellow Mongoose is the Red Meerkat. The angry-looking fella above makes his (or her) home at the South Lakes Wild Animal Park in Cumbria, UK.

Yellow in color though not in temperament, these “Sunny Jims” of the animal kingdom add a dash of bright gold to an often earthy Earthly environment. Speaking of Jim, we’ll close with one particular human animal who has adopted brilliant yellow coloration as his way to stand out in a crowd. We think he’s very successful… who’d argue otherwise, especially to his bright yellow face?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


There's nothing quite like a mother's love, and moms from the animal kingdom are no exception. Check out the top 10 creatures that go all out for their kids, from putting "dinner" on the table every night to even sacrificing themselves. These offspring really need to make sure they mail their Mother's Day cards in time this year!

The first mom on our list earns her spot for giving birth to the biggest babies on Earth — we're talking an average of 200 pounds here! (Can you even imagine a diaper that large?) Female elephants also deserve a prize for enduring a 22-month pregnancy. The calves are initially born blind, forcing them to rely on their trunks for navigation and discovery, but fortunately, they live in a matriarchal society. Once the baby is born, the other "ladies" in the herd all lend a hand, including grandmothers, sisters, aunts and even cousins. These full-time baby-sitters are called "Allomothers," and they help in every aspect of rearing the young calves — so in this case, it really does take a village to raise an elephant!

Never agree to an eating competition with a female koala, as she only dines on one thing: highly poisonous eucalyptus leaves. Her digestive track can tolerate this otherwise deadly treat thanks to bowels that are packed with special bacteria that detoxify the leaves. Babies — or joeys — aren't born with these superpowers (not to mention a lack of ears, eyes and fur), but Momma Koala comes to the rescue and helps them build up their tolerance by feeding them her own feces. Eesh — guess this puts a whole new spin on threatening to wash someone's mouth out with soap. Once the joeys are born, they spend about six months inside their mother's pouch feeding on milk and forming their missing parts. But this is a mom who won't lose any sleep while nurturing: the female koala gets about 22 hours of shut-eye a day — that's nearly 90 percent of her life spent snoozing!

Al Gore would be so proud — the female alligator has got to have one of the "greenest" pregnancies this side of the ozone. Her nest is a heap of rotting vegetation (the ultimate compost pile!) that produces heat so she doesn't have to sit on her eggs. Scientists use special thermometers to monitor the two-month incubation period in these nests, and the heat does more than bring these babies to fruition. If the temperature is less than 88 degrees, break out the pink, but if it tops 91, it's a boy! Once the babies are born, the mothers carry them around in their jaw for protection, assisting them to the water, where they will spend their first years eating fish, insects, snails and crustaceans. Wonder if that comes puréed?

Male polar bears are the kings of one-night stands. These Casanovas give females the cold shoulder after mating, leaving the moms-to-be to put on around 400 pounds during their pregnancy! That's a lot of "baby weight," but in this case, late-night cravings are encouraged — in fact, if the female doesn't find enough food to double her weight, her body will actually reabsorb the fetus. Sound like something from a science fiction movie? It's all too true. After she packs on the pounds, the polar bear has one of the easiest labors on record. She digs a maternity den (usually in a snowdrift), where she goes into a hibernation-like state, doesn't eat for two months and also sleeps through the baby's birth. Can you imagine? "Push!" "Zzzzzz." "One more!" "Zzzzzz." Newborns are blind and toothless, but super cute, and they generally stay by their mom's side for just two years before being sent out on their own — sort of like condensing the toddler, tween and adolescence years. A todtweenscence, perhaps? Hmm.

Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to being a cheetah mom. At any given time, females usually have four to six cubs to care for, but these kids aren't born with survival instincts. It's up to mom to teach them how to hunt prey and avoid other predators, and this training can take nearly two years to sink in and stick. Once the cubs learn to fend for themselves, Mom moves on to start a new family, while her offspring left behind form a sibling or "sib" group. The boys will stay together for life, but the females will leave the group six months or so later, as they tend to be solitary and avoid each other. Ladies, ladies, ladies — can't we just all get along?

The highly intelligent orangutan is the ultimate do-it-yourself mom. She spends nearly all her life high up in the trees, where she builds a new nest every single night from branches and foliage, fashioning more than 30,000 homes in her lifetime! She also never puts her babies down, generally nursing offspring until they reach the age or 6 or 7 — that's the longest dependence of any animal on Earth. For the most part, males come around only to mate, and even the baby boys break away more quickly from their mothers than their female counterparts, who often stay longer to learn child-rearing skills. Orangutan Home Ec, anyone?

Red-knobbed hornbills live on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, where they utilize holes in trees as their nests. Their eggs are a favorite food of monitor lizards, so to combat these predators, the hornbills narrow the entryway to their nests with a very special sealant — their own feces. Now THAT should discourage any games of ding dong ditch! Momma Hornbill will stay in her hole for the entire two-month incubation period, ignoring any of her own hunger pains to her detriment (though one can imagine that the smell from her protection method would more or less kill anyone's appetite).

This a woman who is large and in charge, as the female elephant seal generally weighs in at up to 1,700 pounds! However, that's nothing compared to her male suitor, who is usually four times her size (and tends to get around town if you get the drift). Once pregnant, these moms-to-be immediately start to bulk up even more, putting on additional weight during every day of the 11-month gestation period. However, after giving birth, she'll drop about 600 pounds while nursing her cubs in less than a month — sort of like all those Hollywood celebrity moms who get their shape back in a ridiculously short period of time (though that might have something to do with personal trainers and regimented meals as well).

When it comes to having babies, the female octopus doesn't mess around — she lays over 50,000 eggs, and that's without any fertility drugs! It takes around 40 days for the eggs to develop before hatching, and the mom stays close to them the entire time, protecting them from predators while gently blowing currents of water over them to provide oxygen. But playing bodyguard to the eggs also prohibits her from hunting for herself, so what's a mom to do? Well let's see — with eight arms, surely that's more than any octopus really needs, so what's the harm in eating one? Pass the salt and pepper, please.

Sure, she may be just a small aquatic crustacean, but the female sea louse is No. 1 on our list and here's why. First, she's lured by the male into his bachelor burrow for mating where — surprise! — she discovers that she's actually in a harem with 25 other pregnant females! If that wasn't bad enough, once the babies are ready to be born, they make their way into the world by eating her from the inside out. Worst. Childbirth. Ever.

Top 10 Animal Treehuggers

No. 10 - Treehopper

Have you ever wondered what Darth Vader would look like as an insect? A treehopper is probably a pretty safe bet. The foremost part of the thorax in this group of tree-dwelling insects is a hard protuberance in the shape of a horn, spine, bulb or crescent. It gives them the appearance of wearing a helmet or suit of armor. It also gives them a great deal of protection in the forest - these structures are tough enough to puncture skin or penetrate a shoe. With mouthparts modified for sucking tree sap, these insects are perfectly arboreal, a term that means living in trees, and rarely descend to the forest floor. They are called treehoppers for their habit of hopping away when approached or threatened.

No. 9 - Green Tree Python

Like many members of the boa family the green tree python has one of the best adaptations for life in the trees: a strong prehensile tail. With it, the animal is able to remain firmly anchored to a branch while it lurks around for food on the forest floor. Its slender shape and bright green body also give it excellent coverage in the lush jungles where it makes its home in New Guinea, certain islands in Indonesia and northern Australia. If you find yourself in that area, keep a look out for the coils of the green tree python among the branches.

No. 8 - Spotted Owl

Spotted owls are formidable and stealthy predators. With their sharp eyesight and exceptional hearing, they are able to swoop down silently and under cover of darkness to grab prey with their talons. Coming in at No. 8 in our countdown, these animals are perfectly suited for living in the treetops. They prey on other arboreal species, such as squirrels and amphibians, and rather than bother to build a nest, they simply use a tree cavity or take over the abandoned nests of other birds. Like many owls, spotted owls are strictly nocturnal and are often heard but rarely seen.

No. 7 - Flying Lemur

The name "flying lemur" is misleading, since these animals are not lemurs and they are incapable of true flight. However, like most lemurs, they are very well-adapted to life in the tree canopy. They appear to have wings, but on closer inspection the "wing" is a membrane that extends outward from the body and allows them to glide for distances of up to 300 feet between trees. The amazing thing is that they lose very little altitude when they glide, making them the most capable of all gliding species. This is quite handy as they are lousy climbers, clumsily creeping along tree branches using their weak thumbless paws.

No. 6 - Spider Monkey

Spider monkeys are the aerial acrobats of the tree canopy, flying through the forest using their long arms and strong prehensile tails. These tails can hook around a tree branch and are strong enough to support a mother and her offspring. Most monkeys have no trouble dangling by their tails for long periods of time. Their bodies are also well-adapted as forest acrobats: spider monkeys are slim and their hands act as hooks that can pull a fruit-covered branch within biting distance. They occur in forests throughout South America and as far north as southern Mexico.

No. 5 - Woodpecker

Woodpeckers are the lumberjacks of the forest, diligently carving out holes in the trunks of large trees in order to reach the delicious ants or termites that may be hiding within. The largest and one of the most common in North America, the pileated woodpecker, has been known to topple large trees with its enormous excavations. Most woodpeckers have multiple adaptations to tree-top living, such as toes modified for climbing, a bill and neck strong enough for drilling into wood, and sharp spines in the tail feathers that stabilize the bird as it digs for food.

No. 4 - Tree Kangaroo

Most people don't think of kangaroos as arboreal, but the tree kangaroo is very much at home in the canopy, only occasionally venturing to the ground for food or to move to a new tree. Compared to ground-dwelling kangaroos, tree kangaroos are stout with strong claws to help them climb. Their long tails are not prehensile, but act as a counterbalance as they move along branches. Unlike other kangaroos, tree kangaroos can move each back leg independently, which gives them the agility they need to move from branch to branch.

No. 3 - Treefrog

Chances are you have seen a treefrog at some point in your life, since there are many different species and they occur in diverse habitats worldwide. With their strong limbs they are able to leap from branch to branch, while their toe discs give them the stickiness and support they need to climb vertical surfaces. Their appearance often matches their surroundings – tropical species tend to be brightly colored, while temperate species are drab – and many can change color in response to a change in their environment.

No. 2 - Koala

No. 2 in our countdown takes the prize for being the most cute and cuddly of all our tree-dwelling species, according to a small survey of preschoolers. The koala spends nearly its entire life in the stands of eucalyptus trees, where it makes its home. Each koala has its own trees and is only visited by others during mating season, though they may venture to the ground to access a new stand of trees. These animals have a highly specialized diet, eating only eucalyptus leaves, which makes them smell a bit like cough drops. Remarkably, they spend up to 18 hours of each day in an inactive state, either sleeping or resting.

No. 1 - Orangutan

As the largest and arguably most intelligent of all tree-dwelling animals, the orangutan is widely considered the king of the trees. Orangutans spend nearly all their time in the forest canopy where they feed, sleep, breed and raise their young. The females even give birth in a treetop nest, and their tiny infants cling to them as they swing through the trees in search of food. An orangutan's long arms can reach a length of 7 feet, and their powerful, hand-like feet allow them to grasp branches tightly as they swing their massive bodies from branch to branch. Their limbs are also extremely flexible and their wrist, hip and shoulder joints are capable of greater range of motion than other apes. This gives them a grace, agility and speed that are unmatched among tree-dwelling animals.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Cheater, cheater, belly eater! There have been plenty of people who've scammed their way to the top, and the same goes for the animal kingdom. Find out which creatures are bending the rules to stay ahead, or sometimes, just to survive. From using deceptive appearances to get what they want to taking advantage of circumstances beyond their control, our top 10 might make you believe that cheaters sometimes actually do win.

10. FOX

Perhaps the phrase "sly as a fox" owes its origin to the ultra-sneaky foxes in the mountains of South America. Quite frankly, the foxes need to be as cunning as possible, as birds in this region — such as the Rhea — tend to be quite large. And you know what they say about big birds ... BIG eggs. Foxes wait for the Rheas to make a move so they can sneak in and snatch the eggs, but because the eggs are often too large to grab in their mouths, the foxes will roll the eggs with their snouts to knock it against something, like a rock or a tree, in the hopes of breaking it down. So, does that qualify as over easy or sunny side up?


When it comes to food and money, rats are truly dirty rotten scoundrels. In the United States alone, they wreak havoc to the tune of creating over $19 billion in damages per YEAR. It's no wonder really, when you consider that there are an estimated 70 million rats just within New York City — that's of course not counting pickpockets, slight-of-hand street vendors or crooked politicians. To make matters worse, not only are rats some of the most expensive cheaters, they're also surprisingly fast, with their top speed clocking in at around six miles per hour. Let's just hope a New York City rat marathon never becomes a reality.


The word "chameleon" means "liar" in several languages, and like all good liars, you'll hardly believe what comes out of a chameleon's mouth — namely, its tongue. Step aside Gene Simmons, because a chameleon's tongue is usually twice as long as its body length, extends faster than the human eye can follow, and has a sticky tip on the end used to catch prey. Chameleons can also cheat by hiding their whereabouts with their ability to change color. But sometimes, a shift in appearance is actually trying to tell you something — for example, when they get angry, they turn red. Hey, at least the color coding makes sense.


A caterpillar tends to be more of a trickster, with all kinds of moves up its sleeve to stay alive. Some caterpillars mimic the look of their habitat — such as leaves and branches — to blend in. But there are also some that resemble other things found in nature, like bird droppings — ew! Other caterpillars are tricky thieves, stealing poisons from the plants they eat only to use them to arm their own spines with toxins. There's even a caterpillar that cheats death by becoming a killer. Look no further than Hawaii, which plays home to the only flesh-eating caterpillars in the world. Thank goodness tourists there are greeted with leis around their necks instead of a string of these nasty little suckers. Aloha!


An alligator snapping turtle can take your finger off with one chomp, but the cheat is in how they're able to lure their bait. The inside of the turtle's mouth is camouflaged, and on top of that their tongue features a worm-shaped appendage on its tip. Not only does this look like a fish's feast, but it actually mimics the movements of a worm as well. Can you really blame the fish for falling for it? All the turtle has to do is lie down, open up and say "ahhh" — once an unsuspecting fish moves in for a closer look, the tremendous speed and force of the turtle's mouth completes the ambush. It's an open and shut case.


Fireflies may conjure up happy memories of twinkling flashes in the summertime evening skies, but with over 2,000 varieties of this species flitting about, there's bound to be a few with more sinister intentions. Case in point: most fireflies use their flashing lights to attract mates, but one type of the species has learned how to mimic the luminescent signals of other species to lure them as potential meals as well.


The Hanuman monkey is a total cheat because it steals with impunity — thanks to the fact that its namesake is a Hindu monkey god worshipped by millions of people. Known for its strength and valor, this highly revered primate has a lifelong get-out-of-jail-free card. Nothing is off limits to the Hanuman monkey — food, drinks, clothes, your toupee. Some people will even put these creatures into training to steal on their behalf. If Clooney and Pitt want to save some dough on production costs on the next Ocean's 11 sequel, perhaps they might consider casting these sneaky fellas.


The Virginia opossum cheats death by reacting to threats with an unusual tactic — taking an immediate nap. More specifically, this is where the term "playing possum" stems from, which is often used to describe an attempt to pretend to be dead or injured with an intent to deceive. These slow-moving animals really take their performances seriously by actually going into a catatonic state to make it seem like they are really dead, even when poked. Of course, this defense mechanism doesn't work so well when there's a car involved — kinda hard for drivers to tell the difference between faux roadkill and the real thing. Oops.


Orangutans are remarkably bright. In fact, some experts say their smarts are second only to humans. And like humans, orangutans have used their intelligence to craft tools. That's where the cheater part comes in — these creatures often use their tools to pick the locks of their own cages. In fact, they are so cunning when it comes to breaking and entering (or exiting) that zookeepers have used orangutans to test the security of enclosures for other animals. Next up: safe cracking?


This is truly the mother of all cheaters — the female cuckoo bird will not only raid the nest of her warbler neighbor to steal eggs, she then leaves her own eggs behind to replace what she just ransacked. In a true testament of nature vs. nurture, despite being abandoned, the baby cuckoo bird is just as much of a con artist as its birth mother. Thanks to incubating an egg similar in appearance to the other warbler eggs, the baby cuckoo bird blends among the other chicks and is therefore treated and fed like one of the family. You'd think with the baby cuckoo bird's rapid growth (we're talking 10 times the size of its foster mother!) the warbler would finally take notice that something is amiss. But hey, a mother's love can really turn a blind eye.