Zebra Mussels

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Russia. The land of Sputnik, Dostoevsky, vodka, and….zebra mussels.

Zebra mussels are fingernail-sized, freshwater mussels, native to the lakes in southern Russia. They are named for the striped patterns typically, though not universally, seen on their shells, and are, unfortunately, almost always seen as a menace.

People who have actually heard of zebra mussels typically live near a lake that has been invaded by them. Thus, these people tend to view them very nagatively. To be fair, it is perhaps because the infestation blocked off the pipes to the town’s water tower, or perhaps because someone was enjoying a nice dip in the lake and sliced her foot open on one of the mussel’s sharp-edged shells. They have certainly caused some major problems for the water supply and swimming beaches of Council Grove and Camp White, the stars of my last post.

Basically, I have never heard anyone speak positively of zebra mussels, so my goal today is to change that.

Zebra mussels made it to the US in 1988 when they were brought into the Great Lakes. They travel by attaching to boats, anchors, and chains, or by slipping into a boat’s ballast water. Then they just go where the boat goes, and drop off wherever they choose. Zebra mussels have an incredible ability to survive out of water for days at a time as long as the temperature in low and the humidity is high.

Once zebra mussels find a nice, new home, they start doing as animals do, and begin reproducing – very rapidly. Adult females can produce over 1,000 eggs in each reproductive cycle. That’s over 1 million eggs in a single year. They start these cycles less than two months after they settle into a location. This means that once people realize that there is an infestation, it is already way too late.

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That’s right – they live and breed on their biggest North American predator. Look out, Honey Badger – zebra mussels don’t care either.

Aiding in their survival rate is the fact that zebra mussels have very few predators. In fact, many of the animals (mostly birds) who like to snack on zebra mussels are native to Europe and do not live in North America. Crayfish can eat a substantial number of zebra mussels – about 105 in a single day – but with the reproductive rate being so high, it is hard for any single crayfish to make a significant dent in the mussel population.

Looking at zebra mussels in a purely objective manner, they are super cool creatures. They stowaway on boats, sneak into other countries – continents, even – and then start having babies in the thousands like it’s nobody’s business, because they have virtually no predators. Once they land, they prevent entire populations of people from getting fresh water, and they slice up anyone who tries to touch them. They also reproduce quickly enough to smother other mussel species and prevent them from moving and reproducing, until they eventually die off, leaving zebra mussels to rule all. Remember, these guys are generally no bigger than a dime.

That is amazing. See, the story of the zebra mussel and any opinion of them are all about perspective.

Before closing, I want also to talk about the good things zebra mussels do, not just the awesomely tyrannical things.

musselsZebra mussels are filter feeders. A single tiny mussel can filter up to a gallon of water every day. Get thousands of these guys filtering, and you have a great way to clean up a lake. After zebra mussels invaded Lake Erie in the 1980s, the water clarity went from 6-10 feet to 10-17 feet.

As the mussels filter the water, sunlight reaches greater depths, allowing different types of algae to grow, which provides new food for the lake inhabitants. In Lake Ontario, the clearer water is preventing bottom shrimp from hiding in the murkiness. The shrimp’s main predator, a type of fish called the alewife, benefits from this, leading to happy salmon who hunt the fattened alewife, which then leads to an exceptionally healthier salmon population. This could potentially lead to a food chain collapse, but right now, Lake Ontario is a great place to be for everyone (except the shrimp…).

It is fascinating to see how different populations react and adapt to one another, how populations shift and move, and how just as one animal joins the food chain, another is bumped off.

So what do you think? I think it’s totally possible to see zebra mussels in a positive light — or at least as super stowaway killers, which is maybe more fun, anyway.

What *does* the fox say?

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I don’t know about you all, but, lately, my newsfeed has been filled with people sharing the video called “The Fox” by Norwegian group, Ylvis. The main premise: what does the fox say?

I love learning about how different animals communicate, so of course, instead of just laughing along with this video, I really started to wonder, what does the fox say?

Ylvis makes a good point: we all know what the dog, cat, cow, and even the fish (“glub,” if you were curious), say, but no one really talks about the sounds foxes make. So, I decided to figure it out.Image

Red foxes, Vulpes vulpes, are small canines that generally weigh no more than 25 pounds. An adult measures 18 inches from nose to rear, and the tail adds another 12 inches to that length. Their tails are used for balance, just like a cat’s tail, and also as a warm blanket when it’s cold.

Weird fact: foxes have whiskers on their faces, and on their legs, which they use to help them navigate unknown areas quickly and stealthily.

Red foxes can be found all over the world, and have no problem adapting to urban environments. In May 2013, a small family of foxes took up residence on my college campus. They were incredible to watch! Quiet students with good timing often caught the babies, also known as pups or kits, play fighting near their den. Kits are born with brown or gray fur, which they usually shed and replace with a pretty red coat by the time they are one month old.

Okay, now let’s get back to the real question.

Ylvis offers us many different vocalizations that the elusive fox may make:

  • “Gering-ding-ding-ding-ringerdingering”
  • “Wa-po-po-po-po-po-pow”
  • “Hatee-hatee-hatee-ho”
  • “Joff-tchoff-tchoffo-tchoffo-tchoff”
  • “Chacha-chacha-chacha-chow”
  • “Fraka-kaka-kaka-kaka-kow”
  • “A-hee-ahee ha-hee”
  • “A-oo-oo-oo-ooo”

Surprisingly, some of these aren’t that far off.

Just like dogs, foxes are capable of making a range of different noises: barks, yelps, whines, coughs, or – my favorite – gekkering, which is an aggressive “guttural chattering.

Red foxes also make – to be blunt – a terrifying scream that, if heard out-of-nowhere in the dark, would probably make you faint. Most sources describe it as “awful” or akin to a “person being strangled.” Very unflattering descriptions from humans, but apparently, the foxes just love it. This horrifying scream is what lures all of the gentleman foxes over to the ladies, or vixens, for mating season.

 

It is really hard to attribute this very scary shriek to the foxes’ very cute faces, so it is no wonder no one really knows what sound the fox makes!

Here, at Macaulay Library, you can listen to a few different recordings of the red fox (as well as over 9,000 other species of animals).

Listen for yourself and tell me if you think Ylvis represented the sounds of the fox accurately!

World Lion Day

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Hi, everyone! Are you having a good weekend? I hope you are all taking time to relax, because Saturdays are for just “lion” around…

All bad puns aside, today is World Lion Day! And what better way to celebrate the “the fiercest and most magnanimous of the four footed beasts (Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, 1755) than by learning some of their most interesting facts?

There are only two subspecies of the lion – the African and the Asiatic – and there is only a 1.1% genetic difference between the two. Just like house cats, lions use their tails to communicate anything from intimidation to flirtation. A mother lion first teaches her cubs how to hunt by having the babies chase her tail along the ground. Also like your little kitty at home, lions may spend up to 21 hours a day sleeping, often on their backs with their paws in the air, or draped over a shady tree branch.

Lion claws are made in layered sheaths that retract when not needed, and that eventually shed to reveal new claws. Their claws may be up to 1½ inches in length, to any antelope’s dismay. When lions do capture some prey (they will eat nearly any meat, even other lions who have died from old age or disease), they use their back teeth, called carnassals, to cut the meat into chunks that they then swallow without chewing.

They are very adept predators, but can you guess who their main nemesis is?

It’s the porcupine! Even though porcupines are small in comparison to the king of the big cats, a lion who has gotten too close a porcupine will often have to bear the sharp quills in his mouth or jaw for the rest of his life. I hear it is very embarrassing.

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Ant Bears

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Yahoo! Images

Giant anteaters are also known as “ant bears.” I am sure this is due to their massive size and for the way they defend themselves by standing on their hind legs and swiping with their front claws, but it is extra amusing since their front legs resemble panda bears!

These pretty guys can get up to 7 feet long and can weigh up to 140 pounds. Lady anteaters have only one baby per year (called a “pup”), who you can often see riding on his/her mother’s back for up to one year after birth. Besides moms and their pups, anteaters are solitary creatures.

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When anteaters sniff out their dinner (they have very poor eyesight), they will use their claws to tear open the anthill, and then will use their tongues to quickly lick up as many ants as possible. They can flick their tongues up to 160 times per minute, which is good for them, because as soon as the ants realize their buddies are getting slurped up, they start attacking. Basically, anteaters are the definition of “dine-n-dash.” They may eat up to 36,000 ants per day, and they are smart not to destroy the anthills entirely, so that they can return to feast again later.

What do you think? Do they live up to the “bear” name?

Feeling Squirrely

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This adorable little creature is the Siberian Flying Squirrel (SFS). My campus is rampant with squirrels, but none of them look like this! (Maybe that’s because I’m in the middle of the US, not western Europe.)

There is not a whole lot of information out there about these squirrels besides the basics. They are nocturnal herbivores, spend most of their time gathering food and mating, and they typically have one or two litters a year with each consisting of 1-6 babies.

Fun fact about squirrels in general: babies are called “infants,” “pups,” “kits,” or “kittens.” Strange combination when you think about what we usually hear those terms refer to!

A unique fact about the Siberian Flying Squirrel is that when they glide from tree to tree, they keep their hind legs close together, so when that stretch out their patagium, their body makes a triangle shape. If you remember my post, “Sugar, Sugar,” you may be able to recall the picture of the Sugar Glider mid-“flight.” Usually, flying squirrels and the like make more of a rectangle shape when they glide. Not the SFS!

So, even though not much has been written about these particular squirrels, they are still unique! Have you ever heard of these cuties before?

(Images from BuzzFeed)

Newfs

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They look like bears. Sometimes people mistake them for “those black St. Bernards,” but neither of those assumptions is right. Tonight, we’re talking about Newfoundlands! The shaggy, drool-y dogs that are as gigantic as they are sweet.

I had the immense pleasure of wrestling and snuggling this beautiful dog, Belle. She is a total sweetheart and inspired me to find out more information about her breed.

Belle was rescued from the side of the road when she was a tiny puppy. She has one white spot on her front leg, which was broken when she was found and taken to the vet. The vet thinks that it was because of this “imperfection” that she was abandoned. I happen to be quite close to Belle’s new family, and even though she had a rough start to life, I don’t think she could have found a better home than the one she is in now.

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Belle, today. Have you ever seen a friendlier face?

Newfoundlands, fondly called “Newfs” or “Newfies,” originated in – you guessed it – Newfoundland (now part of Canada), and were commonly used on fishing boats. Newfs have webbed toes and are incredibly strong, so they were able to haul heavy fishing nets out to sea. There is no way I would be able to do that! Newfs do not do the “doggy paddle” like other dogs. Instead, they move their legs in a down-and-out motion, which would kind of be like a dog-modified breast stroke. This makes them extra powerful.

They were also very skilled at saving crewmembers (or others) who had fallen into the freezing waters. Stories of rescues led by Newfoundlands go all the way back to 1815 when Napoleon Bonaparte was kept afloat in the ocean until he could reach safety by a Newfoundland. The dog had jumped off of a fishing boat to rescue Mr. Bonaparte during his escape from exile on the island of Elba.  This is just one example. Google “Newfoundland dog rescues…” and you will find countless stories of these courageous “gentle giants.” You can also find statues of them! Explorer Meriwether Lewis had a Newf companion named “Seaman.” There is a statue of them on Quality Hill in Kansas City, MO.

Loyal and intelligent, Newfs are great family dogs who can tolerate kids, other pets, and family visitors. On average, they grow up to be 150 pounds, but even with all that mass, they remain very gentle. The largest Newf on record weighed 260 pounds and was over six feet long from nose to tail. Whoah.

A lot of people are afraid of big dogs, but if put in charge of a baby, Newfs are natural nannies (Nana from Peter Pan, anyone?) and I have heard that they will not sleep until they are relieved of duty. They are some of the most docile and loving creatures you will ever meet.

Have you ever met a Newfoundland? I think they have an amazing history, and I love how their bodies have evolved to make them swimming machines. What kind of dog(s) do you have?