Tag Archives: mammals

The Creatures of Halloween…10 Things You Might Not Know

pump-8537So happy Halloween everyone! I hope you are having a wonderful day and doing something festive for the holiday. Maybe you carved a pumpkin or went to a parade or will give out some candy tonight. Whatever the case, Happy Day!

A Lyle's flying fox from Thailand--these have a 3 foot wingspan!

A Lyle’s flying fox from Thailand

You know the creatures of Halloween, right? Namely BATS, SPIDERS, RAVENS and CROWS. Can you think of any others that deserve being on this list?

Well let’s look at 10 things about these misunderstood critters that you may know know:

1.All BATS do not carry rabies! This is a myth. Less than one half of one percent contract rabies. The best thing you can do to protect yourself from bat rabies is to never touch a sick or injured bat and make sure your children or grandchildren are instructed to never touch ANY wild animal–be it a bat, squirrel, chipmunk, etc.

2.All BATS are not vampires and vampire BATS actually will share their meals with other bats! Of more than 1300 worldwide species of bats, only 3 feed on blood and those all live in Latin America. And they don’t suck it like the movies suggest, they lap it up like a kitten drinks milk. Two feed on the blood from birds and the other–a common vampire bat–usually feeds on livestock or birds. The animal seldom is even aware it has been visited and the bat drinks only about a tablespoon per visit. If a vampire bat can’t find a meal, another bat may share its meal (regurgitated blood) and then, if that bat is ever in need, the favor will be returned! And vampire bats participate in social grooming.

3. BATS are NOT blind! Bats have eyes but many rely on echolocation to “see” their surroundings, more than on their eyesight. Their sonar is so amazing they can detect an object in the air thinner than a human hair. Fruit bats have big eyes and a fabulous sense of smell to find their food–nectar and fruit.

Check out this slideshow of some of the world’s bat species–there are so many cute and amazing faces! And these pictures are truly amazing! All of these slides are courtesy of Merlin Tuttlefounder of my favorite organizationBat Conservation International. This organization works to change public perception of bats, educate decision-makers, and protect valuable bat habitat and the flying mammals these habitats serve.

Medagascan fruit batPainted bat in Thailand--Wow, this is beautiful!!Male Chapin's free-tailed bat during courtshipMinor epauletted fruit bat Africa-- (turned upside down!)Hoary bat of North AmericaEpauletted fruit bat in KenyaAustralian ghost batFish eating batFrog-eating or fringe-lipped bat in PanamaGrandidler's trident bat from MadagascarGreater Long-tongued Nectar bat, SE AsiaMacconnell's bat, Costa RicaOrange nectar bat in tropical forestsVeldkamp's dwarf epauletted fruit batBig Brown bat--one of our common NA batsFormosan golden bat, AsiaGreater Naked Bat, ThailandHairy-legged vampire bat--these feed on the blood of birdsHammer-headed bat, AfricaHonduran white batIndiana myotis--one of our endangered speciesThe world's smallest bat-Kitti's hog-nosed bat, Thailand.jpgLesser bulldog bats in ParaguayLesser short-nosed fruit bat, ThailandPallid bat with centipede--they are not affected by the stings!Rafinesque's big-eared batSpotted bat, UtahStraw-colored fruit batTownsend's big eared bat

Which one is your favorite? Are you surprised at the variety? I was! (If you want to learn more about bats I highly recommend Merlin Tuttle’s book called The Secret Lives of Bats. It is fascinating)

4.  Bats are not pests or flying rodents. Bats provide us with amazing services and are essential parts of ecosystems worldwide. An average-size bat can eat more than 1000 mosquito-sized insects (including mosquitoes) in ONE HOUR! A mother bat will eat her body weight in insects each night. Imagine how many insects an entire colony of thousands or even millions of bats consumes nightly! In addition,bats pollinate many plants, spread seeds, save farmers billions of dollars in pest control, maintain healthy forests, provide guano which is an important fertilizer in many parts of the world, and are important in medical research. Like cats, bats groom themselves regularly to keep clean and are more closely related to primates than rodents.

5.There are more than 50,000 species of SPIDERS in the world! And of those only 1/20th of 1%  have venom capable of causing illness in humans. And guess what? They are HARD to identify–usually requiring a microscope.

tar-0486.You know those TARANTULAS that scary movies always seem to feature? Well one of the reasons they use them is because they are so easy to handle and their venom has such a low toxicity to humans. None of the North American species pose a bite hazard to people–the worst you have to fear when handling one are the irritating hairs on their abdomen which can cause mild skin rashes or inflammation of the eyes and face. Tarantulas can live to be 30 years old!

7.SPIDERS are not “out to get you” despite what the scary Halloween movies may suggest. Spiders use their venom solely for subduing or killing their prey–usually insects or other invertebrates. Wasting it on you for no reason is not likely. Despite what popular media and medical professionals may suggest, spider bites are uncommon.

A crab spider with a beetle. These spiders do not build webs.

A crab spider with a beetle. These spiders do not build webs.

8.All SPIDERS do not build webs. Many hunt and stalk their prey or ambush unsuspecting insects. Those that don’t build webs use their silk for protecting their eggs and as a dragline when moving around.

9.RAVENS have been known to play–just for fun. Check out this video of ravens sledding down a metal roof!

Crows are very smart

Crows are very smart

10. Crows have the largest brain to body ratio of any bird. Like a chimpanzee, they are very smart. They have excellent memories and can find food, move it, stash it again and still find it many days later.

Did you learn anything? Once I got started, I discovered there was SO MUCH to talk about… but of course 10 things is 10 things! So I stopped there. If you want to read more about this you can check out these posts about BATS or SPIDERS.  Or if you want, you can try a Halloween quiz that I created last year. Test what you know! Also, don’t forget–if you are local to western North Carolina, you still have time to sign up for my bat class at the Blue Ridge Community College on November 7th from 1-3.

Happy Halloween!

Our dog Schroeder's Halloween costume!


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Weekly Puzzler #135: Bats and Rum?

Happy Saturday! Is fall in full swing yet where you live? Are you getting a chance to get out and enjoy it?

As you know Halloween is just around the corner so I thought I would do a puzzler featuring one of the “Creatures of Halloween”–a bat, and probably THE most famous of all the holiday’s creatures. Have you ever bought Bacardi Rum or seen the bottle on the shelf in a bar? Ever noticed the logo on the bottle? It is an attractive bat. This week’s puzzler is: Why does Bacardi feature a bat as part of their logo?

rum-9158 rum-9159

If you want to guess use the comment box below for your chance to be entered in the quarterly drawing. All correct answers will automatically be eligible to win the next prize, given on the first day of winter. Good luck… and really, you have nothing to lose for trying!

Have a great weekend!

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Weekly Puzzler Answer #133

On last week’s puzzler, you had a 50-50 chance. Which way did you go? With the dog or the bear? Who has the better nose?


The BEAR has the better nose!

If you said the bear you are correct! While it is true that dogs have an AMAZING sense of smell, the sense of smell in bears is even greater, which is hard to believe, but that’s what research says.

A black bear and a grizzly bear (also called a brown bear) has a smell that’s 7 times GREATER than a bloodhound! They have over a billion scent receptors in that giant nose of theirs and though their brain is just 1/3 the size of a human’s, the olfactory bulb region of the brain is 5 times larger. That’s because unlike people, bears rely on their fabulous sense of smell for survival. They find food, keep track of their cubs, find mates and “look out” for predators–all with their nose. Some estimates that I found online suggested that bears can smell a dead animal 18 miles away, but I can’t say with certainty that this is not an exaggeration. I can say however that their sense of smell is MUCH better than a dog’s–and that’s saying a lot!

Now on to the next puzzler!

And as always, have a fabulous weekend! See you again soon.

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Weekly Puzzler Answer #123

A handful of people knew that last week’s puzzler was the tail of a opossum–a Virginia opossum to be exact. (Didelphis virginians). Were you one of them?

op-1335The Virginia Opossum is an interesting animal, most notably because it is a marsupial, meaning a mammal that has a pouch in which they carry their young. Think kangaroo,wallobee, koala bear. These mammals do give live birth, it’s just that they have a super short gestation period. When the tiny babies are born, they make their way into their mother’s pouch and spend time growing there before they are ready to live independently.

There are a lot of myths about opossums… you’ve probably heard some of them. For instance, even though popular folklore will have you believe that they sleep hanging from their tails, this is not true. Nor is the fact that they they can pretend to play dead when danger threatens. “Playing possum” as it is sometimes called DOES happen, but not in the way that people think. To clarify, opossums’ first line of defense against a potential predator is to hiss and show their teeth, much like a house cat. If that fails, the creature may try to climb a tree or scurry away to safety. But sometimes, none of these tactics work. It is then that the opossum may fall over in a catatonic state, its eyes wide open and body limp, looking for all intents and purposes like it is dead. But this tactic is not a conscious choice the opossum makes–instead, it is a reflex action that happens in the circumstances. “Dead” opossums can stay that way for hours!

122-7828Did you ever wonder why an opossum’s tail is naked? There is a Cherokee story about this that I loved to tell to children’s groups when I was talking about opossums. It tells how in the old days the opossum had the most beautiful tail of all the animals… but then something happened and now it is no longer so.

The Virginia opossum is a fascinating animal! A while back I featured them in my Weekly Creature Feature and learned a lot of amazing thing about them…. like do you know how big they are when they are born? Or how many babies mama opossum has? Or how long the babies stay with Mom in the pouch? If you want to learn, check out my 10 Things You didn’t know about opossums post.

Or, if you want, check out this week’s puzzler–another one featuring an animal tail!

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Weekly Puzzler Answer #122

Did you recognize the tail in last week’s puzzler? It is from North America’s largest rodent–the Beaver! If you’ve ever spent any time around a lake or river “up north” you’ve probably seen the work of these amazing engineers. Or perhaps you’ve heard the slap of their tail just before they disappear under water. Do you know why they do that?

122-5017Or how they use their large, flat tails?

Actually, Beavers use their tails for a number of jobs, as they are much like a swiss army knife. When swimming, the tail is used as a rudder, to steer them through the water, or to propel them deeper. On land their tails act like a kick stand, giving them stability when chopping down a tree. Fat is stored in the tail to help them make it through the winter and of course they use them to slap the water to warn other beavers about potential predators. Contrary to popular belief, they do not use their tails to pack mud onto their lodge or dam!

Do you know how long beavers can stay underwater or how they survive winter? Do you know where they live or what they eat? Check out my past post about nature’s master engineer–10 Things you Might not know about Beavers. If you’ve never heard the slap of a beaver’s tail on water, here’s your chance!

Here’s the next puzzler–one last one on the subject of Animal Tails.

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Amazed By My Dog’s Ability to do This

schr-1063If you’ve been following along you might remember that I adopted a puppy in December, after fostering him and his two siblings for 5 weeks after their mother was killed by a car. Well Schroeder, the puppy, is now just about 7 months old. A lot has changed in that time, including that he no longer sleeps in his crate, an adjustment that has taken some time getting used to because he growls and then barks at every unfamiliar sound in the night–though this has gotten better as he is learning we are not fans of this.

…and you remember I said I lived in the woods, right? Well all kinds of animals are out and about when we are trying to sleep. There’s no telling how many raccoons, opossums, fox, coyotes, owls, bats, bears, deer, skunks, and other animals pass by the house in the dead of night.

Outside of our house... a deer in a sunbeam

Outside of our house… a deer in a sunbeam

Last night Schroeder woke us up at 3:30am, and it was pretty obvious from his loud and insistent bark that this was more than a mouse scurrying through the underbrush. We thanked him for alerting us, then hushed him and listened quietly, hearing an odd sound that was hard to identify.

Now fully awake, I got out of bed and tiptoed to the kitchen in the dark to turn on the spotlight. And waited a few minutes. At first there was nothing, but then, very quietly despite his GIANT size, a lone black bear came around the bend of the deck and strolled out into the backyard, schr-6063disappearing into the woods.

When I checked this morning, all 3 of our hanging hummingbird feeders were empty, though interestingly, still hanging perfectly. This bear has learned that 1. sugar water is good, 2.that we have sugar water and 3.that he can get it without  breaking or knocking the feeders to the ground. I imagine him standing on his hind legs, using his front feet to tip the feeder, drinking from the feeder like a person would drink a beer! (We will bring the hummingbird feeders in for a few nights after this in case he is still in the area and hoping for more sweetness)

We learned that our dog has AMAZING senses, as do all dogs. He can be asleep in his bed on the floor at the foot of our bed, the windows closed, and yet he is aware of a bear outside the house. His bark telling us a bear is present is much different than other animals that pass by. How does he do it?

From my research on the senses of dogs it seems the answer is SMELL.

Schroeder as a smaller puppy

Schroeder as a smaller puppy

Dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell, so much more acute than ours that it is hard for us to fathom. They have 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses–to our 6 million. According to a page about dogs on Nova’s website, “Dogs’ sense of smell overpowers our own by orders of magnitude—it’s 10,000 to 100,000 times as acute, scientists say. “Let’s suppose they’re just 10,000 times better,” says James Walker, former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University, who, with several colleagues, came up with that jaw-dropping estimate during a rigorously designed, oft-cited study. “If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well.”

Schroder a month ago

Schroder a month ago

…”Put another way, dogs can detect some odors in parts per trillion. What does that mean in terms we might understand? Well, in her book Inside of a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz, a dog-cognition researcher at Barnard College, writes that while we might notice if our coffee has had a teaspoon of sugar added to it, a dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water, or two Olympic-sized pools worth. Another dog scientist likened their ability to catching a whiff of one rotten apple in two million barrels.” (Click HERE to read more of that article from Nova or HERE to read 10 things you may not know about bears.)

Amazing right? If the senses of dogs is that amazing, imagine what it must be like in other animals–like fox, coyote, bears etc. Knowing that, it seems amazing that we ever get to see them in the wild! And fully illustrates why every time I get a glimpse, however brief, of a wild animal in its natural habitat, I feel lucky. Do you? What animal encounters have you had lately?

Posted in Animals, Encounters of the Furred Kind, Just for Fun, Mammals, Nature NOW | Also tagged , , , , , , 2 Comments