Archive for the ‘animals’ tag
June 6th, 2012 at 7:35 am
Kids seem to be obsessed with animals of all sizes and stripes, so I thought it would be fun to devote my first post of each month to a different animal. And because I am a writer and the daughter of a librarian, I decided to do my exploration in alphabetical order. This week, A is for armadillo.
No one can accuse the armadillo of being the cutest animal on the block, but they are curious looking with their bony rings and plates. They’re the armored tank of the animal world. Armadillos are mammals and their closest living relatives are anteaters and sloths. There are 20 known species of armadillos. Only one species, the three-banded armadillo, is able to roll itself into a ball.
The nine-banded (or long-nosed) armadillo is the only species native to the United States, and is primarily found in the central southern and south western parts of the country. It can be also found in Granada, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay. This armadillo is often considered a pest because it can cause crop damage, as well as make a mess of lawns, golf courses, and gardens. Though the nine-banded armadillo is plentiful, many of the other armadillo species are endangered.
Armadillos are covered in bone, and have short, strong legs and sharp claws for digging. Here are a few more facts:
- Length: 3-40 inches
- Diet: insects and small animals, plants, meat from the carcasses of larger dead animals
- Have long sticky tongues for catching insects
- Have an excellent sense of smell, but poor eyesight
- Use their strong legs and claws to dig an extensive network of burrows
- When startled, armadillos jump straight up into the air
- Smallest armadillo — Pink Fairy Armadillo (3-5 inches) from Argentina
- Largest armadillo — Giant Armadillo (30-40 inches) from Eastern South America
Armadillos are some of the oldest living species of mammals, and scientists have found armadillo fossils dating back more than 60 million years ago. They have very slow metabolisms. The outer bones protect a very soft underbelly. They are good diggers, climbers, and swimmers.
Baby armadillos are born in burrows and nurse for a few months, when they begin to forage for food with their mothers. They are born with softer shells, similar to fingernails, that harden over time. They strike out on their own at between 6-12 months old. A female armadillo produces 1-4 babies a year, and can have more than 50 babies during her lifetime. The nine-banded armadillo always delivers identical quadruplets. Females can delay implantation for up to two years. Neat trick, eh?
If your little critter is particularly interested in armadillos, check out these picture books:
March 28th, 2012 at 5:00 am
Cute as the Garanimals animals are (and they are very cute), they also represent real animals in the real world, so I thought it would be fun to find a few interesting facts about the Garanimals’ counterparts in the wild. Here they are (in alphabetical order):
- All bears are omnivores, they eat both meat and plants.
- Bears are good climbers and swimmers.
- The teddy bear toy was named for President Theodore Roosevelt.
- Elephants are the largest land mammals.
- Female elephants are pregnant for 22 months before giving birth, and babies can weigh up to 260 pounds.
- An elephant’s trunk has more than 40,000 muscles.
- The giraffe is the tallest animal in the world.
- Giraffes have the longest tail of all land mammals, up to 8 feet.
- Giraffes only have seven vertebrae in their long necks (same as people).
- The name hippopotamus comes from a Greek word that means water or river horse.
- A male hippo’s head can weigh up to 1,000 pounds.
- Hippos secrete a pinkish liquid that acts like a sunscreen on their skin.
- Koalas are not members of the bear family; they are marsupials (animals with pouches).
- Koala is an Aboriginal name that means “no drink”, because koalas get 80% of their water from the eucalyptus leaves they eat.
- Baby koalas live in their mother’s pouch for about a year.
- Some leopards live without drinking water, getting all their moisture from the food they eat.
- Leopards can hear five times better than humans.
- Baby leopards practice hunting skills playing chasing and pouncing games.
- Monkeys and apes are different; monkeys have long tails; apes do not have tails.
- “Old world’ monkeys are found in Africa and Asia; “new world” monkeys are found in Mexico, Central and South America.
- The largest monkey is the Mandrill (about 75 pounds full grown); the smallest money is the Pygmy marmoset (about five ounces full grown).
- Pandas are the rarest species of bear and considered the most endangered, with only 1,000-2,500 left in the mountains of China.
- Newborn pandas weight only ¼ pound and pandas have a high rate of infant mortality.
- The panda bear is the worldwide symbol of conservation.
- The word rhinoceros comes from two Greek words: rhino means nose and ceros means horn.
- African rhinos have two horns; Asian rhinos have only one.
- Rhinos like to wallow in mud to keep cool and protect themselves biting insects.
- A tiger’s stripes provide good camouflage in the tall grasses where they stalk their prey.
- Tiger cubs depend on their mothers for two years as they learn to hunt on their own.
- Unlike the common house cat, these giant felines like the water
- Wolves live in family groups called packs.
- Only the alpha male and alpha female of a pack breed and have pups.
- Baby wolves are born with blue eyes that turn yellow gold between 8 and 16 weeks.
- Like a human’s fingerprint or the stripes of a tiger, each zebra’s pattern is unique.
- Baby zebras can walk only 20 minutes after birth, and are running within an hour.
- Baby zebras are born brown and cream colored; their stripes turn black and white between 9 and 18 months.
January 4th, 2012 at 10:44 am
After the holidays, I kind of wish I was one of those animals that went into hibernation for the rest of the winter. Sadly, I think my family would protest, but the idea did pique my interest about those lucky creatures who do get to sleep the winter away. Here’s what I found.
Hibernation, a special adaption for surviving cold winters, is a kind of deep sleep, where the animal’s body temperature drops, its metabolism, heartbeat, breathing and brain activity slow, and it burns very few calories. Some animals are true hibernators, dropping their body temperature to match the surrounding air, and lowering their heart rates to just a few beats a minute. Other animals take long naps, lowering their body temp a few degrees, but waking briefly to eat food that they have stored in their burrows or caves.
Some warm-blooded hibernators include: badgers, bats, (some) bears (kind of), chipmunks, dormice, groundhogs, ground squirrels, hamsters, hedgehogs, marmots, prairie dogs, raccoons, skunks, swifts, and woodchucks.
But wait a minute, I can hear you say that your hamster doesn’t hibernate. That’s probably true. Conditions have to be just right for hibernation. A significant drop in temperature is one of the requirements. If you lower the temperature in your home below 65°, pets that are natural hibernators can begin to hibernate, which is not good for them in captivity. Be sure to discuss how to maintain the proper temperature for your pet with your veterinarian or local pet expert.
Animals that hibernate begin preparing by putting on layers of fat during the summer and fall. In seasons where food is scarce, hibernating animals may not store enough fat to survive the winter.
Cold-blooded animals (such as bees, earthworms, frogs and toads, lizards, snails, and snakes) go into a deep sleep-like state both when it is too cold (hibernation) and when it is too hot (estivation). I’m beginning to think my oldest son might be cold blooded, because he has similar sleep habits.
Even if you and your cubs can’t hibernate all winter long, there will be plenty of days when you can snuggle together under the covers and read a book or two. Here are a couple of books that will help you explore the winter habits of animals with your little ones.
Picture Book Recommendations
October 19th, 2011 at 12:37 am
The zoo is often a young family’s first “field trip.” I know it’s fall, but many zoos are open year around. Buying a year-long pass is often a great investment for families with young children, since attention spans can be short at this age and repetition is a good learning tool.
I interviewed Rebecca Bearman, Lead Keeper of Program Animals at Zoo Atlanta (and our older girl) to see if she had any good tips about visiting the zoo with young kids.
“My best advice is to start with your local zoo’s education department,” said Becky. “Most zoos have one and they often have programs specially designed for young visitors. For example, here at Zoo Atlanta, we have a program called “Mommy & Me” for children ages 2-3. This gives you and your children a chance to learn from an educator who knows how to teach to that age group.”
Typically, participants in the Zoo Atlanta Mommy & Me Program sign up for a three-week session, one hour each week (although single-week options are available). The program includes:
- a guided walk through part of the zoo to see animals.
- an up-close encounter with an education animal.
- discovery stations featuring crafts, play time, and other great activities.
“We also offer a program for even younger children called ‘Stroller Cubs‘ for ages 0-2,” said Becky. “This is designed as learning experience for our youngest visitors to the zoo. Each zoo is different, but most special zoo programs require reservations and additional fees, so be sure to call the education department or check the zoo’s website for more detailed information.”
Make plans to visit a zoo near you soon with your little ones. If you do have a season pass, you may be able to use it at other zoos when you travel, since many offer free admission and/or discounts to other zoo members. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums keeps a list of participating zoos.
Next week, will see look at some Halloween animals. Then, on November 2, we’ll get some more great tips from our favorite zoo keeper about what to see and do with your young family at the zoo.
August 17th, 2011 at 5:00 am
Have I mentioned how much I love digital photography? When my stepkids and twins were little, I was still dealing with film and developing and lots of terrible pictures. I used to take the bad ones, paste them on cardboard and cut them up into puzzles, just so I wouldn’t waste them.
Digital cameras changed all that for me and my two youngest kids. Now I can take thousands of pictures and do all kinds of fun things. We just got back from a three-week road trip that included visiting my stepdaughter, who is a keeper at Zoo Atlanta. We got to visit up close behind the scenes, so I took tons of photos.
Here are a couple of fun, easy ideas I came up with that will let you use your favorite images in creative ways that your kids will love.
Homemade Jigsaw Puzzle
I did this in photo shop with a great set of brushes available for free from Obsidian Dawn. I just downloaded the brushes, added them to my photoshop brush folder and used the full jigsaw template to literally stamp the puzzle on top of my photo. Print it onto some card stock, cut it out and you have an instant puzzle of your child’s favorite animal.
Not that comfortable with Photoshop? Just print this blank jigsaw template onto a piece of card stock, then put it back into your printer and print your photo on top. Same results.
Animal Match Game
Mix and match is a great teaching game. Here’s my version. Print several pictures of animals. Then zoom in and crop a particular part of each animal and print those photos as well. In this case, I chose feet, but you could use ears, tails, eyes, noses or even skin patterns. Again, this works better when you print on card stock. Spread your cards around and have your child match the feet with the animal. For a bigger challenge, turn the pieces face down.
This was always a family favorite. My kids loved the goofiness of seeing their sibling with rabbit ears or a zebra tail. Print several photos on card stock, including one of your child(ren). This works best if the images are the same size and roughly the same proportion. Cut each image into thirds and then let your child create all kinds of imaginary beings.
These games are inexpensive and easy to make. You can repri
nt them when become tattered and, best of all, they’re portable. Put the pieces in a zip-lock baggie, stick them in your purse and you’ll have easy fun on the go. Having a well-stocked bag of tricks was always key to keeping my kids quietly busy in waiting rooms, cars and even restaurants. With more and more businesses banning young children, this kind of quiet entertainment may be one way you can keep your kids, business owners and other patrons all happy. Have fun.
June 1st, 2011 at 5:00 am
I am the unquestioned sovereign of our household — the queen, the goddess, the Mama with a capital “M”. At least that’s what I thought … until I was overthrown. That’s right, I’ve been dethroned by a kitten.
It all happened last Tuesday. My youngest son was home from school with a bad headache, but he was fast on the mend. The girl is home from college for the summer, which I thought was a great boon, since she drives and cooks. There I was, minding my own business when my husband called in the middle of the afternoon. The girl picked up the phone with a bright: “Hi, Daddy!”
After few ums and uh-huhs, she said: “Shouldn’t we ask Mama first?”
Apparently, the answer was no, since she grabbed the car keys and her little brother and said: “We’ll be back.”
About an hour later they returned and came crawling sheepishly into my office. I was on the phone with a client and motioned for them to get out. I should have known something was up by the way they high-tailed it out of there. When I tracked them down after my call, they were crouched on the floor of the girl’s room, staring intently under the bed.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Pekoe got freaked out by the dog and won’t come out,” said my youngest, who had held the position of most favorite child for almost three weeks in a row, due to some stellar school performances and at-home cooperation.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, although I didn’t really want to know.
“This is Pekoe,” said my daughter, extracting a half-white, half-black feline from amongst the dust bunnies under her bed. “Our new kitten.”
I still have no idea what happened. One minute we didn’t have a kitten, the next minute we did. Now my husband, daughter and youngest boy are all in the doghouse, and I’m litter training our new kitty.
This is what comes from being married to a pet store owner — the gifts he brings home all need to be housebroken. In my next life, I’m going to marry a jeweler.
May 18th, 2011 at 9:27 am
I’m a writer, a wordsmith, a born logophile. I relish in choosing just the right word, but I have to say the latest form of political correctness is making me twitch. The word now most in danger of being ousted from our familiar lexicon? Pets.
That’s right, the editors of The Journal of Animal Ethics think the word “pet” is derogatory. They want us to use “animal companion” instead. And “pet” is not the only term that has these word hounds howling. They would also like us to change “pet owner” to “human carer”, and “wild animals” to “free-living or free-ranging animals”. Furthermore, they would like us to eliminate the words “pests” and “vermin” entirely.
Seriously, I’m all for animal rights. I know for a fact that most people consider their pets to be more than just companion animals — they are literally a part of the family. So when did the “P” word become dirty? According to my dictionary, when used as an adjective the word “pet” means “liked more than anything else.” Think of your pet project, or that pet name for your sweetheart, or even your pet peeve (the thing you like to complain about most).
For most of us, our pets are the most beloved animals on the planet. I’m not sure what they want us to call vermin. Perhaps “disease-challenged, eradication job creators.”
Now if you really want to get picky about animal-related words, maybe we should turn our attention to names we have saddled them with. For example, this year’s Kentucky Derby featured both “Stay Thirsty” and “Pants on Fire”. My dad once suggested we call our puppy “For Sale”, but we decided that might cause her to suffer undue low self esteem, and you know how expensive pet therapy can be.
Scruffy, a perennial favorite, means messy or dirty. And how about that old standby, Bandit? Are we condemning animal companions with this moniker to a life a crime?
If you ask me, these people have gone barking mad. Instead of worrying so much whether we call the animals in our homes “pets” or “companions”, we should be more concerned about teaching “animal carers” about responsible guardianship, such as the importance of spaying and neutering.
Besides, if these guidelines are adopted, it’s going to cost my husband, the “Animal Companion Retail Proprietor” a fortune to change all his signs.
April 27th, 2011 at 5:00 am
We’re preparing for a big family event next weekend, so I sent my son out to sweep off the front porch and pick up the winter debris from around the yard. About an hour later, I looked out and the whole porch was covered in grass and something like hay. When I sent my son back outside to finish his job, he muttered that he had already swept the porch. “Do it right this time,” I said. He finished again, I checked his work and sent him on his way. Two hours later, the porch looked like a horse barn.
We finally figured out that a bird was building a nest in the eaves and dragging up all that hay and grass, making a real mess of things. I decided to let the bird finish its job and worry about sweeping right before the guests get here on Friday.
But this little episode reminded me of one of our favorite family games: name the baby animal. It’s a great game for car trips, walks in the park or passing the time in waiting rooms. The rules are simple: you name an animal and your child(ren) guesses the baby name (or vice versa). First one to guess gets a point. Here’s a list to get you going (NOTE: if you have a kid who is a real stickler for details, like my middle guy, you might want to do a little more research; some animal babies have more than one name):
baby/infant — ape, human, gorilla, monkey, orangutan
calf — antelope, bison, buffalo, camel, cattle, dolphin, elephant, elk, giraffe, gnu, hippootamus, moose, reindeer, rhinoceros, whale
chick — most birds
cub — bear, cheetah, hyena, leopard, lion, panda, raccoon, tiger, walrus
cygnet — swan
duckling — duckling
eaglet — eagle
fawn — deer
foal — donkey, horse, mule, zebra
hatchling — alligator, bird, dinosaur, snake, turtle
joey — kangaroo, koala, opossum, wallaby, wombat
kid — goat
kit/kitten — badger, cat, ferret, fox, rabbit, skunk, weasel
lamb — sheep
larva — bee, butterfly, clam, eel, gnat, hornet, sand dollar, star fish, sea urchin, wasp
nymph — grasshopper
pinkie — mouse, rat
pup — armadillo, bat, dog, gerbil, guinea pig, hamster, mole, prairie dog, seal, squirrel, shark
owlet — owl
tadpole — frog, toad
whelp — coyote, otter
My children always loved that some baby animals were called babies or kids. Once you’ve conquered baby names, you can move on to the names of females and males, and then to names of groups of animals. There is no limit to how many different ways I will try to keep my kids from arguing in the car. Good luck.
March 15th, 2011 at 11:56 pm
True confession: I am a reluctant pet-store owner. I like animals just fine — over there, or at your house, or the zoo, or in nature, where they belong. But I’ve never been much of a pet person.
So imagine my surprise when my husband, who had recently been laid off, announced 19 years ago that he was buying a pet shop. Oh, and did I mention we had just had very premature twins? And that he had two older children living nearby with their mom?
Along the way, we had two more babies and I worked hard to convince all six children, whenever they asked for a pet (i.e., every three minutes), that they had hundreds of animals they could visit with daddy at the store. Didn’t fly.
If you’re a mom and already love animals, great. You’ll probably have no problem integrating pets into your family (or vice versa). If you’re like me — a little hesitant in the pet department — my best suggestion is to get over it. You see, children and animals go together like cotton candy and sticky fingers.
But fear not. Even a pet-phobe like me figured out that animals bring lots of good things to a family. There are teachable moments about unconditional love, respecting life, conservation, responsibility, and the joys and sorrows of the lifecycle. Of course, as the mom, you’re the one who will learn most of those lessons, but we can dream that our children will pick some of it up along the way.
In case you haven’t guessed, I eventually caved. So far we have had (not at the same time): a beautiful 115-gallon marine aquarium (my favorite pet by far); one Pacific parrotlet (the world’s smallest parrot); one cockatiel; two hermit crabs; and two Wheaton terriers — first Roscoe and now Hazel.
So now I find myself steeped in animalia, because in addition to our personal pets and the store, my stepdaughter is a keeper at Zoo Atlanta. It must be in the genes.
Before I go, I have one more confession, but don’t tell anyone: I kind of like all this animal stuff. I find myself making fishy birthday cakes, collecting pet jokes, and tracking beastly happenings around the country. Come along for the ride and discover with me that families and animals really do go together — reluctantly or not.