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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Top 10 Smartest Animals

No. 10 - Rat
No. 10 in our countdown of smartest animals is the rat, a highly intelligent yet much-maligned animal in Western cultures. Widely used in research, the lab rat has been known to find shortcuts, loopholes and escape routes in the laboratory experiments designed by the top scientific minds of our time. In Chinese culture, the rat is revered for its cunning and resourcefulness. And for good reason - the rat has successfully colonized every continent on Earth except for Antarctica. And if history is any indication, they'll be there too soon enough.

No. 9 - Octopus
Kudos should go to the invertebrate with the strength and skill to screw a lid off a jar! No. 9 in our list is the octopus, one of the smartest creatures in the sea. This animal is still poorly understood, but scientists are constantly discovering new and impressive octopus abilities. They play, solve problems, navigate through mazes and have a respectable short-term memory. But how is an animal that belongs to the same class as the snail capable of such clever feats? It may be that the combination of strength, agility, curiosity and a lot of brainpower sets the octopus apart from its soft-bodied brethren.

No. 8 - Pigeon
Pigeons are abundant in most major cities of North America, but most people think of them as mere pests. However, this ubiquitous bird is actually quite smart. Because pigeons have been the subjects of countless scientific experiments, there is a wealth of knowledge about their intellectual abilities. For example, pigeons can recognize hundreds of images even after several years have passed. They can also identify themselves in a mirror, be taught to perform a sequence of movements and to discriminate subtle differences between two objects - pretty impressive for a mere pest.

No. 7 - Squirrel
This animal's dogged persistence and impeccable memory have made it the nemesis of gardeners throughout its vast range. Most squirrels display an impressive array of tricks and strategies that help them survive. For starters, these clever creatures are essentially woodland animals that have adapted to living alongside humans, eating out of bird-feeders, flower gardens and whatever food might be lying around. They are also able to store and cache food for leaner times, and then find their hidden morsels many months later. They may also pretend to hide food in order to confuse potential thieves, which researchers believe shows an advanced level of cunning and intellect.

No. 6 - Pig
Despite a reputation for gluttony and poor hygiene, pigs are actually highly intelligent animals. Both domestic and wild species are known for their ability to adapt to a variety of different ecological conditions. They seem to be at least as trainable as cats and dogs, and certain domestic pigs have become a favorite pet in the U.S. Pigs are also extremely flexible. Unlike most other ungulates, which are strictly herbivorous, pigs and their relatives are omnivores with a diet that sometimes includes worms and small vertebrates. Where they have been introduced around the world, pigs tend to out-compete the native species. Though devastating to the native species, this trend is yet another strong indication of pig cleverness.

No. 5 - Crow
Crossing the street against traffic may be called "jay-walking," but jays and other members of the crow family understand better than some humans the importance of waiting for the light to change. Crows living in urban areas are known to gather nuts from trees and then place them in the street for passing cars to crack open the shells. Then, after waiting patiently for the light to change, they return to the street to retrieve their nutty snack - an impressive example of animal innovation. Crows also communicate in elaborate population-specific dialects and play games and tricks on one another. Some scientists even believe that crows are more intelligent than primates.

No. 4 - Elephant
Contrary to popular perception, elephants are more than just lumbering giants with big ears and a good memory. In fact, elephants are quite elegant, cultured and curious. They have been known to clean their food and use tools in various ways in the wild, and they can also follow human commands in captivity. Elephants are also extremely caring and empathetic to other members of their group and to other species, which is considered a highly advanced form of intelligence.

No. 3 - Orangutan
The great apes are considered the smartest creatures after humans. Of course, humans are biased in this regard, but the intellectual capacity of the great apes is difficult to deny. Among them, orangutans stand out as being especially gifted in the brains department. They have a strong culture and system of communication, and many have been observed to use tools in the wild. Orangutans live in widely scattered communities and form strong social bonds, which may be the key to their advanced cognitive skills. Females remain with their young for many years, teaching them all they need to survive in the forest.

No. 2 - Dolphin
Have you ever wondered why dolphins and other cetaceans are the star attraction at most aquariums? It's because they're smarter than almost any other creature on the planet. Dolphins are extremely social animals. Schools of dolphins can be observed in the world's oceans surfing, racing, leaping, spinning, whistling and otherwise enjoying themselves. They also have a sophisticated "language," though humans have only begun to unravel it. Dolphins use tools in their natural environment and can learn an impressive array of behavioral commands by human trainers. Like many of the most intelligent animals on Earth, dolphin females remain with their young for several years, teaching them all the tricks of the dolphin trade.

No. 1 - Chimpanzee
Topping our list of smartest animals is another great ape, the chimpanzee. The impressive intellectual abilities of this animal have long fascinated humans. They can make and use tools, hunt collectively, and are capable of advanced problem-solving. They are also able to learn sign language to communicate with humans and can remember the name sign for individuals they have not seen for several years. But perhaps the most amazing feature of the chimpanzee is its ability to use symbols for objects and combine the symbols in a sequence to convey a complex idea. Such intellectual gifts are probably central to maintaining this animal's complex social groups, where they form strong bonds and observe elaborate hierarchical structure.

Top 10 Animal Skills

No. 10 - Walking on Water, the Plumed Basilisk
Coming in at No. 10 in our countdown of animal skills is a Central American lizard with an unusual habit. The plumed basilisk spends much of its time in streamside trees or shrubs waiting for an insect or small vertebrate to pass close enough so it can pounce and devour it. But when the lizard is threatened, it drops down into the stream and escapes by walking across the water on its hind feet, using its tail for added support. Aptly nicknames the "Jesus Christ lizard," this beautiful turquoise-green reptile is also known for its running speed on land – up to 7 miles per hour – and for its ability to remain submerged underwater for up to 30 minutes.

No. 9 - Olfaction, the Bloodhound
Under the sleepy eyes of the bloodhound is sits the nose of a super-detective, with a sense of smell up to a million times more sensitive than that of humans. Because of the bloodhound's fine-tuned olfactory system, it is commonly used by police officers to track down the scents of missing or fugitive people. Its nose has more than 200 million olfactory cells, which can lock onto an odor and follow it for several days, despite the presence of other scents along the way. This keen sense of smell, along with the bloodhound's tenacity, makes it the ideal tracking dog.

No. 8 - Eyesight, the Eagle
All birds of prey have very keen eyesight, which they rely on in order to find prey, but eagles are especially gifted in the visual department. By some estimates, eagles can see at least four times as much detail as humans. This is due to a few essential anatomical adaptations: large pupils that minimize diffraction, a ridge over each eye that shields sunlight and a higher concentration of cone cells in the eye. The result is incredible accuracy in locating prey, often at a distance of hundreds of yards. Hence we have the term "eagle eye" for people who display sharp vision.

No. 7 - Moonlight Navigation, the Dung Beetle
Dung beetles are already world-renowned for their ability to roll a ball of excrement across great distances, but recent evidence suggests that a certain species of dung beetle (African Scarabaeus zambesianus) may be capable of another impressive skill: navigation using polarized light from the moon. These insects are often observed to travel in a straight line with their dung balls, despite whatever obstacles they may encounter. It seems that these insects rely on the patterns created when moonlight interacts with particles in the atmosphere (polarization) to navigate in a straight line. When no moonlight is available, the dung beetles tend to veer, curve or otherwise meander, making safe delivery of those poop packages much more difficult.

No. 6 - Jumping, the Puma
Possessing incredible strength and speed, the puma is one of the most formidable predators on the planet. But it's the puma's skill at jumping that gives it the No. 6 spot on our countdown. Also known as a mountain lion, cougar or panther, this animal has muscular hind legs and large paws designed for powerful leaping. From a standing position, the puma has been known to jump 15 feet vertically. With a running start, the animal can easily clear 40 feet horizontally. Pumas use this incredible skill to hunt, quietly sneaking up on prey until they are within pouncing distance and then delivering a swift and fatal bite to the neck.

No. 5 - Echolocation, Bats
Bats have a lot of unique and interesting adaptations. For example, most bats spend the majority of their time upside down and some feed on the blood of other animals. They are also the only mammals that can fly. But perhaps the most impressive feature of bats is their ability to hunt using echolocation. With echolocation, bats send out high-frequency clicks as they fly. Then, they listen for the variations in the echoes that come back, which indicate the location of nearby insects. Using this system, they are able to feed on about 1,000 bugs per night, all caught on the wing.

No. 4 - Electroreception, Sharks
Sharks are among the most evolutionarily successful animals on the planet, due in large part to a variety of adaptations that give them a competitive edge in the wild. One of those adaptations is electroreception, which is a keen sensitivity to electrical impulses. Here's how it works: as fish swim around, their movement sends tiny electrical signals through the water. Sharks pick up on those signals as the water passes over a series of jelly-filled pores on their head. The pores, called ampullae de Lorenzini, are an extension of the lateral line system in sharks, which is a sensory organ that stretches down the sides of their bodies. Combined with the lateral line, electroreception allows sharks to snag prey with deadly accuracy, even in murky water.

No. 3 - Jet Propulsion, Cephalopods
Cephalopods, a group of animals that includes squids and octopuses, are the fastest invertebrates in the sea, in part because of their unusual ability to use jet propulsion. When water flows into the animal's mantle cavity, it is held under pressure as long as its orifices are closed, except for an opening called the funnel. When the muscles of the mantle wall contract and squeeze the pressurized water back through the funnel, the animal is propelled through the water at a rate of up to 25 miles per hour. Cephalopods are also able to control the direction and speed of their movements, allowing them to move away from a threat or toward a prey animal as needed

No. 2 - Aerial Acrobatics, Hummingbirds
Not only are hummingbirds among the most beautiful birds on the planet, they are also the most impressive flyers. Within their wings the joint between the upper and lower arm is positioned very close to the body, giving them incredible leverage and flexibility in the air. They also beat their wings extremely fast – some species at 80 times per second, and do so in a figure eight pattern, which adds to their maneuverability. Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards and upside down. They are also the only bird with the ability to hover in the air, which is both captivating to look at and extremely advantageous for feeding on plant nectar.

No. 1 - Running, the Cheetah
Reaching speeds of up to 68 miles per hour, the cheetah is the world's fastest terrestrial animal. With its long legs, small head and slender body, this animal is literally built for speed. When the cheetah runs, its backbone coils and uncoils with every stride, which helps to propel the animal forward during a chase. By some estimates, this feature may increase the cheetah's speed by up to 20 miles per hour. However, the cheetah's impressive speed comes at a high price: the animal is unable to run for longer than 10 to 20 seconds before it overheats. Because it makes its home in the savannah and other open areas where there is little opportunity to hide, the cheetah must rely on its speed to capture prey and time its kills precisely in order to bring down prey swiftly.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Top 10 Animal Performers

No. 10 - King Bird of Paradise, Mating Display

Tiptoeing through the islands of New Guinea one might stumble upon this colorful male bird dancing and singing his way into the hearts of whatever females happen to be nearby. If the colorful plumage and emerald-tipped wire feathers of this animal aren't enough to seduce the lady birds, then his performance just might. He begins by bouncing eagerly on a tree branch and then starts swoosh his tail. Next, he puffs up his abdominal feathers to the point that he becomes a near-perfect sphere, and then draws up on his long tail wires to flash his green racket feathers above his head. But wait, there's more. Finally, he swings his body around the tree branch in one of the most impressive displays of arboreal acrobatics known to man or beast.

No. 9 - Spinner Dolphin, Aquatic Acrobat

It's not uncommon to see schools of dolphins swimming in formation throughout the world's oceans, but the spinner dolphin makes our countdown for his amazing ability to put on a synchronized acrobatic show. With schools numbering in the hundreds or thousands, spinner dolphins can often be seen leaping out of the water and spinning in the air several times before diving triumphantly back into the water. Sometimes, they repeat these aerial maneuvers many times in a row, seemingly inexhaustible. The reasons for the leaps and spins are unclear, but they may be a way to attract mates, demonstrate fitness or simply have some fun.

No. 8 - Red-Tailed Hawk, Romance on the Wing

Red-tailed hawks are loyal lovers, mating with one individual for many years. There are a variety of ecological pressures for this, but monogamy may also result from the fact that the choreography involved with mating is too complex to rehearse with more than one individual. First, the pair soars high in the sky to form large circles in formation with one another. Then, the male makes a steep dive downward, only to fly straight up again toward his mate. He repeats this stunt several times, presumably to put his lover in the mood, and then descends on the female from above, locking talons with her as they twirl majestically toward the ground to begin the act of copulation.

No. 7 - Katydid Chorus

A close relative of the cricket, the North American katydid gets its name from the rhythms of its nightly chorus, which sound like "Katie did" or Kate-she-did." The scientific name for this chorus is stridulation, which means producing a sound by rubbing two body parts together. In the case of the katydid, stridulation occurs when the animal rubs a file-shaped appendage against a scraper-like area of its front wings. But the katydid chorus is about more than just scrapers and files. It is the katydids' language of love.

No. 6 - Sperm Whale, Deep-Sea Diver

For diving abilities, no other mammal comes close to the sperm whale, which can descend at a rate of 10 feet per second. It can also reach a depth of about 4,000 feet and remain submerged for up to two hours. So, how does an animal so big plunge so deep with such ease? The secret may lie in the animal's distinctive spermaceti organ, which is a wax-filled cavity in its big box-like head. The spermaceti organ makes up about a third of the animal's overall length, and evidence suggests that it may serve as a buoyancy aid that adjusts with changes in pressure, making rapid descent possible.

No. 5 - Mockingbird, the Vocalist

One of the most gifted vocalists in the animal kingdom is the mockingbird, a New World bird known as much for its powerful pipes as for its ability to mimic the vocalizations of other bird species. There are several species of mockingbird, but the most well-known in the U.S. is the Northern Mockingbird, a long-tailed passerine that is famous for serenading lovers on warm summer nights, especially during a full moon. It sings long and loud. It also easily incorporates the voices of other birds and even insects into its evening song. And perhaps, most impressively, the mockingbird continues to expand its repertoire of music throughout its entire life.

No. 4 - Honeybee, the Dancer

One of the most altruistic acts in the animal kingdom is the waggle dance, performed upon a honeybee's return to the hive for the purpose of letting others know the location of food and water. It starts with an in-flight formation of a figure eight, and then progresses to a series of waggles. The dance tells a lot about the food or water source; the length of the waggle portion of the performance conveys the food's distance from the hive, while the enthusiasm with which the bee waggles gives a sense of the food's value. It is an artful labor of honeybee love.

No. 3 - Flamingo Dance Party

A flamingo dance party is a spectacular sight to behold. It starts with a group of males and females clustered together with their heads held high. Suddenly, the birds begin an energetic jig in perfect formation with each other, all the while turning their heads from side to side in rhythmic unison. This unusual mating ritual also includes a complex series of dance steps, in which all members change direction at the same time, as well as preening and loud honking. Equally impressive is the size of these flocks, ranging from thousands to tens of thousands.

No. 2 - Peacock Courtship Display

There may be nothing more beautiful than the courtship display of the peacock, the commonly used name for the male peafowl. With its blue-green plumage, this animal is a beautiful bird even when not in display mode, but becomes a work of art as it presents itself to a peahen. Its tail feathers open up to form a long spectacular train spread out like a fan that touches the ground on either side and makes up about 60 percent of the bird's total body length. The train is not actually the true tail, but is made up of tail coverts adorned with a colorful "eye" at the tip. Peacocks gather in groups called "parties," and females seem to choose mates based on their appearance as well as their strutting and vocal abilities.

No. 1 - Red-Crowned Crane, the Dance of Love

Is there anything more beautiful than a pair of red-crowned cranes in love? Perhaps, but when these birds come together, they put on a performance more spectacular than anything you'll see on Broadway. Also known as the Japanese and the Manchurian crane, these animals form lifelong romantic partnerships that begin with a courtship consisting of bowing, posing, bobbing, pirouetting and leaping excitedly in the air. When they really get worked up, they can be seen tossing sticks, leaves and grass high into the air and pecking at the debris as it falls to the ground. Taking the top spot in our countdown, this bird is an elegant performer and a symbol of good luck and happiness throughout its range.


Mom is often the first to get props when it comes to raising the kids, but let's not forget to give Dad credit where credit is due. The best dads in the animal kingdom will go to great lengths when it comes to parenting, whether it's turning a blind eye while their lady is sleeping around or sacrificing their very lives for their children. Check out 10 dedicated dads from around the globe that have earned their Father's Day tie and then some.

10. LION
Our first dad just barely makes the cut. While the lion earns points for being fiercely protective of his family, unfortunately he's also a real snoozer, more often than not sleeping when he should be keeping a closer eye on his kids. But beware, because when this dad IS awake, you don't want to mess with him. A lion's eyesight is five times better than a human's, and the king of the jungle can hear prey across the savanna up to 2 miles away! Also, this is one dad that could use a minivan — actually, make that a bus. Lions head up large family units called prides that can include up to seven lionesses and 20 cubs!

This marsupial mouse from Australia makes the list due to his sheer tenacity when it comes to making love. While most guys would die to get a little action, this guy actually dies WHEN he gets a little action. Well not a little, more like a LOT. The antechinus can spend up to 12 hours having sex! In fact, this super-mouse gets so distracted he forgets to eat, drink and sleep. Between that and the steroids that build up in his blood, he doesn't stand a chance. His mate makes the most of it, filling herself up with sperm until the end of the breeding season. But don't feel too sad about the passing of dear old Dad. With him out of the picture, there's more food for those left behind — plus he likely died a very happy mouse!

A native of India, the golden jackal is a real stand-up kind of dad. Hunting three times more effectively when working in pairs, these skillful scavengers remain remarkably loyal partners; unlike so many other animals, jackals mate for life. On top of earning gold stars for being the poster dad for monogamy, the golden jackal also knows a thing or two about keeping the grocery bills down — this dad feeds his kids with regurgitated food. Hm. On second thought, that may be taking the "hand me down" concept a little too far.

The giant waterbug of Japan is a surprisingly strong and fierce hunter, paralyzing prey such as frogs by injecting them with toxins. Pregnancy is also a real team effort with these creatures — Mom cements her eggs to Daddy waterbug's back; he then carries them around for a week until they hatch. And we're not talking just one egg — this dad ends up giving piggyback rides to up to 150 kids!

At first glance it might seem like these South American flightless birds have a rather unusual mating arrangement. A polygamous species, the male runs around with a harem of anywhere between two and 12 females. But before you raise an eyebrow, take note: these dads carry their weight and then some when it comes to child rearing. Females leave their eggs with Dad, running off to get some action from other males. Meanwhile, Dad looks after the kids, not only incubating up to 60 eggs for over two months with just two weeks of food to sustain him, but also raising the newborn chicks as a single parent for nearly two years. And this dad is not afraid to charge at anyone — be it other female rheas or even humans! — who make the mistake of trying to get near his brood.

This scrappy little fish has a real game plan when it comes to attracting females: a secret, sticky weapon called "stickleback glue" (which is not something you'll likely find in the school-supplies aisle anytime soon). The male uses this secretion, which is produced by his kidneys, to create a "love nest." Once built, it's just a matter of time before the females come a-knocking, but they shouldn't get too attached. Once he knocks up a female and she lays her eggs, the stickleback kicks her to curb and starts looking for new booty. But this is no deadbeat dad: he keeps the eggs oxygen-rich and waste-free by fanning them at 400 beats per minute for more than half the day — now that's quite a workout!

The jacana is also known as the "lily trotter," thanks to its ability to "walk on water" by balancing on lily pads, but this Dad could use a little more balance in his personal life. This determined bird will go to extremes to become a dad. After building his nest, he finds his mate and they do the deed. But after the female has laid her eggs, she abandons the poor sap to run off with other guys. Meanwhile, Dad remains on the nest, watching over the eggs to protect them — sometimes from their own mother! Female jacanas often return and smash their own eggs; however, this is a surprisingly forgiving dad. Instead of pressing charges, he just jumps back in the sack and gives it another go, regardless of the fact that his lady has so many partners and he never really knows if he's raising his own. Quick, someone page Maury Povich and get these guys a paternity test!

The giant African bullfrog is a dad with a very special talent — he can eat anything that he can fit into his mouth. Not sure how much that helps in terms of child rearing, but with over 6,000 little ones to raise it's got to come in handy sometimes. The South American Darwin frog is also a remarkable dad, thanks to his unique method for protecting his eggs: he swallows them, keeping them tucked inside his vocal sacs for six weeks. When they're ready to hatch, it's like morning sickness gone wrong — very wrong. This dedicated father essentially "vomits" up his children. Ew. Anyone got some mouthwash?

This dad earns his spot for his incredible endurance. The emperor penguin breeds in Antarctica, the coldest place on Earth. We're talking 72 degrees below Fahrenheit — brr! After Mom lays her egg, it's Dad's job to keep it warm. Meanwhile, the female takes a two-month feeding sabbatical while the male balances the egg on his feet in subzero weather, often forced to huddle together with other dads for warmth until their chicks hatch. Despite not having eaten for months, it's Dad who provides the baby's first meal — a milky-type substance to sustain them until Mom can return with a belly full of fish and switch the chick from "breast milk" to solids. It's role reversal at its finest!

The male seahorse tops our list and here's why: not only is he monogamous, but this creature is actually the one who gets pregnant, carrying up to 1,000 babies at a time! The mating process begins with a dancing courtship ritual of sorts with the female eventually laying hundreds of eggs inside the male, which he then helps fertilize himself during the process. This papa-to-be also loves to show off his rounded belly, proudly displaying the brood pouch he uses for carrying his young. However, before anyone nominates the male seahorse for Father of the Year, you might want to hold your horses (pun intended) — this dad has been known to eat a few of his offspring as well. Hey, nobody's perfect!

The Top 10 Most Endangered Species

According to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) the top 10 most endangered species are:

1.Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis) The Black Rhino is native to southern and east Africa. Since 1970, the Black Rhino population has declined by 90% to less than 3,000. They are killed primarily for their horns. Trade of Black Rhinos has been banned for more than twenty years. Although having banned trading of the species, there still continues to be a great demand for Rhino parts.

2.Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) The Giant Panda is native to China. Fewer than 1,000 remain in their native habitat of China. The main reason for their decline is due to loss of natural habitat and poaching.

3.Tiger (Panthera tigris) Tigers are native to tropical zones in Southeast Asia and temperate regions like the Russian Far East. Less than 6,000 tigers remain in the wild. The most urgent threat to tigers is poaching for body parts and bones used in traditional Asian medicines.

4.Beluga Sturgeon (Huso huso) Beluga sturgeons are ancient living fish fossils are found in the Caspian Sea. They are valued throughout the world by connoisseurs for their superior quality caviar. Poaching is out of control due to excessive demand and high prices paid for the Sturgeons' "pearl-like" caviar.

5.Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) Goldenseal is a herb is favored by naturopathists for its perceived ability to heal numerous ailments from hemorrhoids to allergies. Goldenseal is native to the hardwood forests of North America. The demand for Goldenseal has recently leaped more than 30%.

6.Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macroclemys temminckii) The alligator snapping turtle is prized by turtle trappers and dealers for its rare meat. It is the largest freshwater turtle in North America. Alligator snapping turtles are quickly being depleted due to increased shipments to many international world markets including Asia.

7.Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) the Hawksbill turtle is found mainly around tropical reefs. The three foot length Hawksbill Turtle species, named for its distinctive snout, is becoming extremely vulnerable due to their slow reproduction rates and high volume of illegal trade for the prized jewel-like "tortoise shell."

8.Big Leaf Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla King) Demand for the red colored wood goes unabated because of worldwide consumer demand for quality mahogany hardwood furniture. Mahogany trees are widely distributed in tropical forests from Mexico to the Amazon Basin. However, the species grows naturally only as individual trees rather than in groups of large forest stands. Wholesale stripping of Amazon forests has resulted in perhaps 70 per cent of the world's supply being depleted.

9.Green-Cheeked Parrot (Amazona viridigenalis) The Green-cheeked parrot is native to Mexico. It has the ability to mimic the human voice. The Green-cheeked parrot has been significantly reduced in numbers due to a huge demand for these lovely pet birds, especially from the United States. Even after prohibiting the sale of these green-cheeked birds, droves of the species are still being illegally traded across the Mexico/US border.

10.Mako Shark (Isurus spp.) The Mako Shark is highly sought for its tender meat, and especially in Asian markets, for their shark fins which have even greater value for medicinal purposes. Some of the species are merely stripped of their prized fins by the international fishing fleets and then are thrown back into the depths, left to die.