It would be a huge surprise to find a guinea pig with self-esteem. These unassuming little fluff balls are surely the most taken-for-granted creatures in the universe.
In countries where they're kept as companion animals they don't have the best life, usually regarded as simple animals to be purchased as gifts for small children to squeeze, cuddle, drag around and generally, if inadvertently, torment.
The poor guinea pig is also much maligned. They originated from South America where several different species can still be found. Before the Spanish conquest of South America in the 16th century, the Incas kept them for food. Sailors were probably the first people to keep them as companion animals and they brought them to Europe. It's thought they were sold for a guinea, which, along with their piggy noises, earned them their current nickname.
Their real name is the slightly more romantic Cavia porcellus.
In common with humans, they can't synthesize Vitamin C, so they need a good, fresh diet for optimum health. And in complete contrast to humans, the littlies are born with a full head of hair, they're up and running within an hour or two of birth and are on solids in a couple of days. Not as simple as we thought, then.
They live for between five and 10 years, depending on lifestyle, and an adult will measure 20 to 25cm from the tip of its nose to the end of its rump. Their hair comes in a wide range of colours and can be long, short, straight and curly. They can also be bald. Hairless guinea pigs were bred to be the poor victims of laboratory experiments, (now you know why anyone or anything trying something completely new is thus called), and were eventually introduced into the pet industry, named the Skinny Pig and the Baldwin Pig.
Guinea pigs are very sociable and vocalise with a variety of squeals, chirps, squeaks, and whistles. They're active from time to time during the day, and more so at night, but are not what you'd describe as a bundle of energy. They really prefer to lie in the sun - preferably in the wild where they belong, not consigned to a tiny cage as is the fate of so many. Sounds like the wild ones have got life sorted.
Photos thanks to RSPCA WOAW
GUINEA PIG FACTS
• Despite being keen sunbathers, guinea pigs are susceptible to sun stroke
• Female guinea pigs come into season every 16 days
• Peruvians still breed guinea pigs for their meat
• Queen Elizabeth had a companion cavy, which may have contributed to their popularity in the UK.
STAR NOSED MOLE
Scientific name: Condylura cristata
Average lifespan: 3-4 years
Native to Canada and the Northern United States, star nosed mole is a distinctive brown-furred mammal with nostrils surrounded by 22 finger like appendages used to detect food - a very useful adaptation as like most moles, the star nosed mole is virtually blind due to living most of its life in darkness.
The ‘fingers' at the end of their snouts are so sensitive they have more than 25 thousand sensory receptors in them, allowing the mole to find and identify insects and worms. According to research the star nosed mole also wins the accolade of ‘fastest eating mammal', taking as little as 120 milliseconds to identify and consume its prey.
The mole has large feet for digging a network of tunnels that can extend to 300 metres in the lowland wet areas where it lives. This amazing mammal is also a great swimmer and can smell their underwater prey (crustaceans and larvae) by breathing bubbles repeatedly in and out.
Moles pair up in winter and spring, having around four or five young per litter. At birth, each offspring is about five centimetres long, hairless, and weighs about two grams en dash about the size of a thumb! Their eyes, ears, and nose only open fourteen days after birth. They leave the nest at 30 days, and are fully mature after ten months.
The population of star nosed moles is currently stable, but it does face several threats, mainly from humans. The mole is predated upon by hawks, owls and cats - even large fish. It is also at risk of being caught in traps set for muskrats (a species hunted for their fur), and they are completely dependent on the wetland habitat they reside in, making them vulnerable to human destruction of these areas.
Did you know?
The special star nose is also used to keep soil and food from entering the mole's nostrils when it is burrowing.
The adults is about 20 centimetres long, weighs around 55 grams, and has 44 teeth.
In winter, the star nosed mole is known to tunnel through the snow and swim in icy streams.
Watch a video of the star nosed mole smelling underwater.Watch David Attenborough talk about the star nosed mole and their remarkable attributes.
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Scientific name: Psychrolutes marcidus
Average lifespan: Unknown
Status: Facing extinction
The poor blobfish is often referred to as ‘world's most miserable fish' or ‘stuff of nightmares' or even evil, but there's a lot more to these little guys than a sad blobby face!
The blobfish's habitat is the deep seas off the coasts of Tasmania and mainland Australia. Because they live at such extreme depths (between 600 -1200 metres down) they are rarely seen by humans.
The pressure at these depths is 80 times higher than that at sea levels, which is why the blobfish has such an odd appearance - they're actually perfectly adapted to their extreme habitat. Usually fish have swim bladders, an internal gas filled organ that helps a fish control its buoyancy, but the high pressure means fish with bladders would not do well, so instead the blobfish is primarily comprised of little muscle and gelatinous mass with a density a little higher than water, allowing the fish to hover above the sea floor.
Because they are not muscular they are quite weak and thus need to expend as little energy as possible, so instead of actively hunting for prey, they wait for edible organic matter such as sea urchins and mollusks to float in front of them and be swallowed up!
Female blobfish are great mothers. They lay thousands of eggs and unlike many fish, blobfish continue to take care of them, guarding them from predators. Sometimes groups of female blobfish nest together.
The blobfish is in danger of becoming extinct due to over-fishing. The New Zealand and Australian deep fishing fleets use bottom trawler nets which catch blobfish as a ‘by catch', throwing them back dead because they're inedible. Bottom trawling is one of the most destructive forms of fishing - it involves dragging huge, heavy nets along the sea floor with rubber wheels attached to the nets, crushing everything in their path. Deep water fish are very slow to recover from such damage, if they are able to at all.
Did you know?
• The blobfish is a scorpaeniform, a group which contains some of the most armoured scaly and spiny fish in the sea.
• The purpose of the blobfish's ‘nose' is unknown.
• They grow up to 30cm in length.
• The fish of the deep sea are among the strangest and least seen animals in the world and many have yet to be studied.
Read about blobfish facing extinction.
Find out more about bottom trawling, one of the most destructive fishing practices.
Watch David Attenborough on Strange Animals in the Deep Ocean.
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Scientific name: Morus serrator or Sula bassana
Average lifespan: 30 years
ike some Kiwis, Gannets go trans Tasman to Australia - flying nearly 3,000 kilometres to get there! But like all good Kiwis, they realise where it's best and find their way back. Find out more about the life of these extraordinary birds.
There are three species of gannets. In New Zealand, the Australasian gannet can be found in several colonies around the North Island, and at the top of the South Island. Gannets live with thousands of other birds with their chosen mate, who they stay with all their life. They are very affectionate to their partners, performing elaborate greeting rituals when they've been separated for a time, stretching their bills and necks up and tapping bills together.
In their colonies, pairs look after their one chick born every year, making a nest from dried seaweed and guano (droppings). Although the chick is born hairless and completely vulnerable, by aged four months they are ready to make an incredible journey when they leave their parents to make a pilgrimage to Australia - a whopping 3,000 kilometre journey! This is especially noteworthy because when they leave, they are yet to make their first flight, or even have their first meal. It takes around 14 days to reach their destination and many die on the dangerous quest. After three years, the surviving birds return to New Zealand as adults. Mostly they stay and breed in New Zealand and few decide to repeat the journey.
Adults have a two-metre wingspan and love to float around in the wind. They have a special plunge-dive to catch their favourite prey of squid, anchovies and pilchards, plunging head first into the sea, at up to 140 kilometres an hour! They are able to do this because they have no external nostrils and have air sacs under their skin in their face and chest which act like air bags, cushioning the impact with the water.
New Zealand is home to 87 per cent of adult gannets and the population is stable and healthy, although like many sea birds, they may fall victim to oil spills or fishing nets.
Did you know?
• Gannets eyes are positioned perfectly to give them binocular vision when hunting.
• The expression to ‘eat like a gannet’ comes from the gannets ability to eat large quantities of fish.
• Gannets are among New Zealand’s longest living birds – they can live for 30 years.
• Until the 50’s no one knew where the young gannets went when they left New Zealand.
Want to see gannets up close? Try visiting Muriwai beach near Auckland or Cape Kidnappers in Hawkes Bay.
Learn more about the gannet’s epic journey:
Check out the ‘underwater armageddon’ as gannets attack sardines.
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LEAFY SEA DRAGON
Scientific name: Leafy sea dragon Phycodurus eques
Average lifespan: 2-8 years
Status: Near threatened
Leafy sea dragons, along with weedy sea dragons, are found only along the western and southern coasts of Australia and nowhere else in the world. They like to hang out around seabeds, rocks and seaweed.
Their name comes from their dragon like appearance and the leaf like lobes sticking out of their bodies, which are not fins, but rather having the purpose of providing both a brilliant means of camouflage against predators and also a way for them to catch their own prey unawares by giving the appearance of swaying seaweed or kelp. They can also change colour in order to better blend in with their surroundings.
These long snouted little dragons (about 20-25 centimetres long) are from the same family as the seahorse that are both related to the pipefish. They enjoy munching on plankton, crustaceans, tiny fish and sea lice. Sea dragons can't move fast but will travel hundreds of miles in their range using their tiny transparent flippers to propel themselves along and will make their way back to their favoured spots using their strong sense of direction. They have very thin tails that they are not able to grip with, relying on their seaweed appendages to ensure they float around the right area, meaning they are vulnerable to be washed ashore after storms.
They are fascinating to watch and display lengthy and complex courtship and mating dances, with each dragon mimicking the moves of the other. Leafy sea dragons are fantastic dads - until they hatch that is! It's the job of male dragons to take care of the eggs, but they don't have brood pouches like seahorses, rather the hundreds of eggs are deposited straight onto the male's tail from the female during mating. After eight weeks the miniature sea dragons hatch and are on their own in the big wide ocean! Only about five per cent of them will make it to adulthood.
Leafy sea dragons are a protected species and listed as 'near threatened'. They have become threatened through habitat loss, pollution and collection by divers. Harvesting sea dragons became so popular that the practice was banned but still poaching occurs for chinese medicine or private collectors although most wild caught sea dragons soon die. They are extremely difficult to breed and only one aquarium in the world has managed to do so, proving the need for these beautiful dragons of the sea to remain wild and free, unharrassed for human whims.
Did you know?
• The tail of a male leafy sea dragon will turn bright yellow when he is ready to mate.
• The leafy sea dragon is the official marine emblem of South Australia.
• Sea dragons have eyes that can move independently of one another.
Check out the cute documentary "The Vanishing Dragon".Live in, or visiting Australia? Watch a Dragon work!
Find out what David Attenborough has to say about the Leafy Sea Dragon's fellow dragon, the Weedy.
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Scientific name: Mellisuga helenae
Average lifespan: Up to 8 years
Status: Near Threatened
Nature's own helicopters, hummingbirds are special and unique in the bird world. None more so than the tiny bee hummingbird - the size of a honey bee and weight of a paper clip!
Hummingbirds are found only in the Americas and Alaska and there are hundreds of different species. The smallest is the bee hummingbird, whose claim to fame is to be the smallest bird in the world, weighing a mere 1.7 grams! It is just larger than a bee and often mistaken for one, hence it's name. They are native to Cuba.
Hummingbirds are nectarivores, meaning their diet consists mainly of nectar from flowers. These clever little guys can tell which flowers have the highest sugar content and use their long tube-shaped tongues to extract the nectar. They may also occasionally eat small insects which provide the rest of their nutritional needs. They consume half their body weight and drink eight times their mass in water daily and their metabolism is so fast that at any time during the day, they are just a few hours away from starving to death. Fortunately at night they are given a rest from constant feeding as their metabolism slows.
They are able to hover in mid-air to get nectar, flapping their wings so fast that it is a blur - up to 90 times per second, reaching 200 times a minute during courtship. Due to their unique skeletal and flight muscle adaptations, they can fly any way they choose - be that sideways, backwards or upsidedown. They can reach flying speeds of up to 54 kilometres per hour and in one day they may visit up to 1,500 flowers each!
Bee hummingbirds are quite round in appearance with beautiful iridescent plumage of green, red, blue and grey. They are solitary birds, except during the breeding season. After mating, the female makes tiny nests from cobwebs and bark, attaching them to tree branches... and sometimes clothes lines! The eggs are very small, no bigger than a coffee bean each, with the female alone taking full responsibility for brooding and raising her young, but fortunately not for long as they leave the nest at between 18-38 days old.
Unlike other hummingbirds, they are non-migratory as they have no need to - the climate they live in provides everything they need.
However, the bee hummingbird has become quite rare in recent years, along with 28 other species (ten per cent) of hummingbird threatened with extinction worldwide. The main cause of their decline has been habitat loss in Cuba, where much of the natural forest has been converted to farming land. The bee hummingbird's survival is absolutely vital, not only for their own sake, but also for all the varied plant species who depend upon it for pollination.
Did you know?
•Apart from insects, hummingbirds have the highest metabolism of all animals.
• The heart rate of the bee hummingbird is the second fastest of all animals - beating up to 1,200 times per minute.
• The bee hummingbird has the fewest feathers of all birds.
• Bee hummingbirds can fly up to 20 hours nonstop.
• Hummingbirds are named for the low-pitched humming sound made in flight by their wings.
See hummingbirds in the nest - live! Watch David Attenborough check out the wonderful world of hummingbirds.
Visit the beautiful gallery of the majestic bee hummingbird.
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ASIATIC BLACK BEAR
Scientific name: Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus) or Moon bear
Average lifespan: 30 years in the wild, 10 in captivity
From some angles they look ever so slightly like a bodybuilder who has overdone their upper body exercise, but the beautiful Asiatic black bear is one of the most ancient and unique species of bear in the world.
Asiatic black bears are often referred to as moon bears because of the crescent moon-shaped cream patch of fur on their chests. They are distributed over Asia, from the southeast to China, Taiwan and Russia and prefer to live in forests or hilly/mountainous areas.
They are solitary expect for when they have young, having 1-4 cubs in a litter and roam an area of between 10-20 square kilometres. They have very strong upper bodies, ideal for climbing trees in search of food! They sleep in caves or on tree branches or hollows during the day, emerging at night to hunt for favourite fruits, berries, seeds, insects, nuts and vegetables and sometimes small animals like mice or birds. Like the bear stereotype, they also love honey and their strong sense of smell makes it easy to find, even from 5km away.
Like all bears, moon bears are inquisitive and flexible. As Yogi would say, they are also smarter than the average bear! Moon bears are highly intelligent, and have a large vocabulary of sounds from grunts, whines and roars to slurping sounds.
There are only around 25,000 moon bears left in the wild now, meaning they are vulnerable to extinction and in some countries like Iran, where they are hunted, the number if so low (approximately 30 individuals left) that they are never seen anymore. Other threats to moon bears are loss of habitat and horrific exploitation by humans - both illegal poaching and legal hunting for their body parts and extraction of body parts from living animals.
In parts of Asia, particularly China and Vietnam, thousands of moon bears endure their whole lives imprisoned in cages where they can barely move and are ‘milked' for their stomach bile daily - a traditional ingredient in Asian medicine. Caught from the wild, they have implanted tubes or metal catheters inserted into their gall bladders causing excruciating pain, as well as mental torture from the confinement. Bear bile is sold legally in China and commands a high price. The suffering for these poor bears is relentless torture, but organisations worldwide are working to set them free and lobbying governments to make bile farming illegal.
Did you know?
• Moon bears are medium sized, up to 1.6m tall and weighing up to 115kg.
• Asiatic black bears are mentioned in the famous book The Life of Pi, in which they are described as among the most dangerous animals.
• They hibernate from November to March or April in a den, cave, hollow log or tree cavity.
Watch a video about scientists helping moon bear cubs in Russia.
Learn about the fantastic work of Animals Asia. Learn about Oliver's journey from hell to freedom after 30 years of torture.
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Scientific name: Monodon monoceros (one-toothed unicorn)
Average lifespan: 30-40 years
The real life inspiration for many a legend and folk-lore, the fantastical, rarely seen Narwhal is more than a fable. Find out about these unique ‘unicorns of the sea' and their 10 foot unicorn tusk!
The Narwhal is a whale, closely related to porpoises, bottlenose dolphins and orcas. They are found primarily in the icy Arctic and occasionally rivers and other waterways. They grow up to 17 feet in length and can weigh up to 1,600 kilograms - although their young are slightly smaller, born at 100kg! Narwhals give birth to a single calf, nursing them until they are ready to eat fish.
Like most cetaceans, Narwhals are very intelligent and communicate with each other using a number of different clicks and whistles. They live in pods (groups) of around 20 individuals, but reports of hundreds or even thousands of narwhals have been known when separate pods merge together. Rival males sometimes rub their tusks against each other which is known as ‘tusking', thought to maintain pod hierarchies.
Some people believe that the narwhal horn is the source of the myth of the unicorn - tusks were sold as unicorn horns in Medieval Europe. However, the special ‘unicorn horn' of the narwhal isn't a horn at all - it's a tooth! When males reach the age of 12 months, one of their two teeth begins to grow (sometimes right through the jaw) outward into a spiral tusk. Tusks can grow up to 2.5 metres long and have a hollow interior. Some females grow tusks too, but theirs are considerably smaller. It is not known exactly why narwhals have developed such a prominent appendage as they have only been observed using their horns during tusking, but some theories suggest it is for display in courtship or possibly for amplifying sonar pulses.
Narwhals are specially adapted to life in the Arctic and have a thick layer of blubber, commonly diving to 1600 feet in search of food several times a day for 25 minutes on average, though they are capable of diving to over 3300 feet. They use echo-location like dolphins do, to help find their prey of fish, shrimp, crabs and squid, swallowing them whole.
Current population estimates for narwhal are around 50,000. They are hunted by Inuit people, who kill them by harpoon or net - over 1,000 narwhals each year, which is thought to be over a sustainable level. They are also preyed upon by orcas and polar bears, if given the opportunity, but one of the biggest dangers to narwhal numbers is climate and habitat change. Their environment is being mined and drilled, raising concerns that if we don't take care to minimise the damage we are doing, the narwhal will become in reality, what it once was in folklore - nothing but a legend.
Listen to the sound of narwhals.
Watch that magnificent tusk in action!
Watch an animated tribute to the wonders of narhwals.
Did you know?
• Occasionally narwhals will develop two tusks.
• The Old Norse translation of narwhal means ‘corpse-like', describing the whale's mottled grey and white skin.
• In the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth paid 10,000 pounds for one narwhal tooth, equivalent to the cost of a castle.
• The Inuit name for narwhals translates to ‘the one that points to the sky,' describing the narwhal's way of pointing the tusk straight out of the water.
• Inuit have their own legends about narwhals, believing that the narwhal tusk was created when a woman was dragged into the sea after harpooning a narwhal. She became a narwhal herself and her twisted hair became the characteristic spiral tusk!
• Narwhals do not have a dorsal (back) fin.
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Scientific name: Grey-headed Flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus)Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it's a flying fox! These cute critters with a canine-like face won't be sucking your blood anytime soon, but they may have a nibble on your fruit salad!
Average lifespan: Up to 12 years
Status: Some species endangered
Flying foxes, also referred to as fruit bats can be found in warm climates in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia and there are many different species worldwide. Some, such as the Large Flying Fox from Malaysia, the Giant Golden Crowned Flying Fox from the Philippines and the Grey-headed Flying Fox of Australia are endangered.
They live in a variety of habitats, including rainforests, woodlands and swamps. Very social animals, they roost together in tree tops (often referred to as a camp or colony) during the day, sleeping, grooming and cleaning themselves (by bathing in a urine shower!) and interacting with their young and colony mates - which may consist of a few hundred to tens of thousands of individuals. They have many different calls to communicate, such as chirps and squabbles, searching calls by mother flying-foxes seeking their young and a range of warning calls.
They give birth in the tree tops in their colonies and the babies are born with fur and their eyes open. The babies suckle milk from their mothers and stay with them at all times until they are about two-weeks-old, when the adults will leave the babies in the colony in order to find food.
Flying foxes are vegetarian, feasting on pollen, nectar and fruit. They have extremely good eyesight and sense of smell which enables them to find their favourite treats of ripe fruit easily at night, when they are active. Usually they will eat within a radius of 30km from home but when feeding on blossom, they may travel up to 100km in one night! They have a unique way of sourcing water too. They swoop down to belly-dip in rivers and dams; they then land on trees and lick the water from their belly fur. Although farmers may not be their biggest fans due to their occasional eating of cultivated fruit, they are extremely important to the environments they live in as they help to disperse seeds far and wide.
Although flying foxes throughout the world do have some natural predators, humans and our encroachment on their environment are mainly responsible for the reduction in their populations - deforestation, shooting for food or to protect crops and electrocution on power lines are the primary causes for the loss of these intelligent, unique animals. Around 22,000 Large Flying Foxes are killed every year in Malaysia for food, sport and traditional medicines, bringing experts to estimate they will be extinct in as little as six years.
Did you know?
• Black Flying Foxes beat their wings up to 120 times per minute.
• Flying Foxes have large claws which they use for fighting.
• Grey-headed Flying-Foxes fly about 25 -30km per hour.
• Although large colonies may give out a strong odour, flying foxes are very clean animals.
• The Large Flying Fox has a wingspan of two metres!
Check out some amazingly cute baby bat photos and the work of the Australian Bat Clinic during the recent Australian floods.
Read about humans devestating impact on the Large Flying Fox population.
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Scientific name: Rattus norvegicus (domestic rat)
Average lifespan: 1-3 years
"You dirty rat!" Skulking around sewers and rubbish bins does little for one's reputation. Rats are seen as aggressive and dirty animals by some but they're actually the opposite!
Rats are quite literally everywhere! Originating from Asia, brown rats rapidly colonised Europe in the early 18th century, and then spread worldwide as humans did too. There are three breeds of wild rat in New Zealand. The pacific rat (kiore), brown rat and common rat, with the brown rat being the largest - although it is very similar in appearance to the common rat. Kiore were introduced to New Zealand by Maori settlers and have spiritual value to some Maori.
Part of their successful colonisation stems from their quick breeding. Rats can breed as early as six weeks old and produce one litter of up to 20 young per month. They are scavengers and will eat most things given the opportunity. Although some people may see this as evidence of their dirtiness, it actually shows their resourcefulness and intelligence - why hunt for something when a leftover sandwich can be easily had? Wild rats also sometimes eat weta, snails, frogs and bird's eggs. Because of this they are regarded as a 'pest' in New Zealand.
Rats are not just slightly intelligent, they are extremely so. They pick up new behaviours and learn very quickly. People that have domesticated rats as companion animals find that they are clean, playful and affectionate - kind of like a miniature puppy but with cunning! In popular culture and history, rats have been portrayed as vicious, when in fact wild rats are very shy, gentle and inquisitive - which is also why they're successful animals since they know when it's time to hide away. Another fallacy is their squeaking. Rats almost never make noise - as a prey species their life depends on their silence. Physically, they are expert jumpers, climbers and swimmers and they are very social creatures, who have complex relationships with each other.
In Indian culture, rats are worshipped, seen as the Earth vehicle of Lord Ganesh. In Northwest India there is even a temple where wild rats run around free and are fed milk every day.
Humans use and hate rats in equal measures - we test drugs and products on them in painful and crude experiments, some cultures eat them, they are used as bait in blood sports and they have been taught to detect mines. As a 'pest' introduced species in New Zealand, we kill them in brutal and cruel ways such as 1080 poisoning.
Did you know?
The longest living domestic rat died at over the seven years of age.
A rat's teeth are always yellow upon maturity and never stop growing.
The rat is the first animal in the Chinese Zodiac.
Rats use their tail to control their body temperature because they cannot sweat.
The Bubonic Plague was actually caused by infected fleas that jumped onto humans, not by rats.
Read more about the temple in India where rats are worshipped!
Find out more about 1080 poisons click here.
Click here for extreme rat cuteness!
Check out the friendship between a cat and two rats.
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Scientific name: Thunnus thunnus (blue fin tuna)
Average lifespan: 15-30 years
Status: Endangered/critically endangered
It's a sad fact that we're more likely to be familiar with tuna in a can on a supermarket shelf than the actual animal. This highly migratory fish is truly magnificent - one of the largest and fastest fish in the world, swimming up to 70 kph and accelerating faster than a Porsche 911!
There are 48 species of tuna found in almost every ocean in the world. Some tuna, like the blackfin, are tiny in comparison to the incredible bluefin, which has been known to reach weights of up to 700kg (10 times the weight of the average human male!) and four metres in length.
The endangered bluefin tuna is found in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Female bluefin are thought to produce up to 30 million eggs, but once hatched, the larvae have only a one in forty million chance of reaching adulthood. Those that do can live for 15 years, and even as long as 30, although few make it that far due to over fishing.
These remarkable fish swim in giant schools (groups) of fish and cover huge distances, looking for their favourite foods of small fish, shrimp and squid. Tuna are fearsome predators, hunting by sight with their extremely sharp vision. Their streamlined, muscular bodies are built for speed, strength and endurance. They chase their prey to the water's surface, where they can often be seen leaping and racing around.
Some species travel from North American to European waters several times each year! They are able to do this because they can retain the heat generated by their muscles, enabling them to survive in many varied environments. Like sharks, bluefin tuna must keep swimming to stay alive, as they cannot pump water over their gills like other fish. Water is forced over the gills as they swim with their mouths open. If they stop swimming, they will suffocate.
Years ago, there was an outcry about dolphins being caught in nets set for tuna, but sadly we forgot about the tuna themselves. Extensive over-fishing has led to the problems we see today, with many species endangered or critically endangered. Bluefin in particular are heading for extinction - advances in technology mean that some countries can catch as much tuna in two days as others can in a whole year. Many believe tuna is now being frozen and stockpiled to sell at an inflated rate once they have become extinct.
And it's not just tuna that suffers for man's voracious appetite for them. Horrifically, 100 million sharks and thousands of turtles and other fish are killed every single year in the pursuit of tuna. The dead bodies of this unwanted 'bycatch' are simply thrown back into the sea. Drastic action is needed. We must stop treating the ocean like a larder to be raided. Campaign groups are now calling for marine reserves to protect the world's tuna, but it will also take action from individuals to stop an extinction which now, sadly, seems almost inevitable.
WATCH a short animation video about one of the most endangered species of our planet: the Bluefin tuna. This video gives you the whole story of the Bluefin, with lots of detailed information and some shocking facts.
Did you know?
• Bluefin tuna is sometimes referred to as the common tunny, especially in Australia and New Zealand.
• In 2011 a new world record of 32.49 million yen (half a million NZ dollars) was set for a price of a bluefin tuna weighing 342 kilograms.
• The word tuna comes from a Greek word meaning 'to rush'.
• Bluefin dive to depths of 1,000 metres (550 fathoms).
• Omega 3 can also be found in Flaxseed, a plant alternative to fish oils!
• Tuna eat up to ten percent of their body weight daily.
Find out more about the shocking destruction of the world's oceans by watching End of the Line:
What has car giant Mitsubishi got to do with tuna sales? Click here to find out. Make a stand against overfishing by trying these delicious fish-free fingers.
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Scientific name: Cephalorhynchus hectori maui
Average lifespan: 20 years
Conservation status: Critically endangered
These intelligent, playful and friendly animals hold a special place for many people and it was a sad day for New Zealander's when Moko the dolphin was found dead. Our own unique species, the rare Maui's dolphin faces extinction because of human activities.
There are nearly forty species of dolphin, with several found in the waters around New Zealand. The smallest in the world is the Maui's dolphin, with males only reaching four feet and 40kg!
Maui's dolphins are a sub species of the Hector's dolphin, unique to New Zealand waters and found only off the northwest coast of the North Island. They look physically different from other species of dolphin, with distinctive grey, white and black markings, a short snout and a round dorsal thin. Being so small, they are able to move around very quickly. Like other dolphins, they use echolocation to find their food (flounder, cod, crab and squid), sending out high frequency sounds that bounce off surrounding objects, providing a detailed picture of their surroundings.
Dolphins live in groups called pods, communicating via clicks and whistles. These social mammals form close communities, helping not only their fellow pod members but also other animals. Moko was observed guiding a sperm whale and her calf out of shallow water. Other dolphins have been seen protecting swimmers from sharks.
Dolphins love to play and Maui's are no exception! They are seen playing with seaweed, blowing bubbles, jumping and chasing each other.
Sadly, due to human activity, both Hector's and Maui's dolphins are endangered, Maui's critically so, with shockingly only 110 of them left - making them the rarest marine dolphins in the world. Threats come from fishing nets which they can get caught in and drown, boat strikes, tourism and pollution, such as chemicals from industrial waste and plastic shopping bags. They are at a high risk of becoming extinct in the near future and unless the government acts to increase protection and we all play our part in helping, these wonderful animals will be lost.
Read about what you can do to help maui's dolphins.
Listen to the sound of dolphins.
Read about Moko's whale rescue.
Did you know?
• Dolphins have excellent eyesight, both in and out of the water, and they can hear frequencies ten times the upper limit of adult human hearing.
• Dolphins can reach speeds of over 18 miles (30 kilometres) an hour.
• It is thought that Maui's dolphins stay within the same 60km of coastline all their lives.
• Maori know Hector's and Maui's dolphins by many names such as Tutumairekurai, Aihe, Papakanua, Upokohue and Tukuperu.
• New Zealand free-diver William Trubridge set a new world record by diving 101m to draw attention to the plight of Hector's dolphin.
• Millions of tonnes of plastic shopping bags end up in the sea and are mistaken for food and eaten by dolphins and turtles, killing them. You can help marine life by never using plastic bags.
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Scientific name: Orthodera novaezealandiae (New Zealand mantis)
Average lifespan: 10-12 months
If anything's likely to bring bug-a-phobes out in a cold sweat it's waking up to the sight of a praying mantis perched on the bedroom ceiling. These insects, surely the inspiration for many an alien film, may not be cute and cuddly but they certainly are interesting!
Most of the 2,000 species of mantises are found in Asia and are so called for their large front legs, bent and at an angle as though in prayer. New Zealand has it's own endemic mantis, imaginatively called the New Zealand Mantis! Since the 1970's our shores have also been home to the Spring Bok Mantis from South Africa, which was brought in accidentally.
The New Zealand mantis can be found in shrub land and back yards (and on curtains and ceilings). A gardener's friend, these formidable predators are entirely carnivorous feeding on flies, wasps, butterflies and moths. The praying mantis has excellent eyesight and can see up to 50 feet away. They use their colouring to blend into foliage, taking as little as one twentieth of a second to snare their prey. Luckily for the male of the species, the New Zealand mantis does not partake in the notorious mating behaviour of other species of mantis where the adult female sometimes eats her mate just after or even during mating. No one knows quite why they do this but it is thought that the protein helps in egg development.
Although the New Zealand mantis possesses wings, it rarely flies more than a short distance, preferring to run from danger or to catch prey. Over the summer months the young praying mantis will shed its skin around five times. The mating season takes place each March with the females laying hundreds of eggs in a small case. The male usually dies after mating one or several times and the female will die after laying eggs. Baby mantises or 'nymphs' hatch looking like miniature versions of their parents.
Maori legend says that if a mantis sits on a woman it is an indication she is pregnant. According to the species of mantis it would foretell whether the child would be male or female.
Predation of the mantis is by birds, lizards, cats and bats and they are vulnerable to the use of pesticides, both directly and through the effects on animals they prey upon.
Check out these amazing photos of praying mantises.
Watch a video of mantises catching their prey.
Did you know?
• One adult mantis can eat up to 25 flies per day.
• They can turn their heads 180 degrees to scan their surroundings with two large compound eyes and three other simple eyes.
• Mantises can hear the ultra sonic sounds of bats, which helps them to avoid becoming lunch!
• The word "mantis" comes from the Greek word meaning prophet.
• In Arab cultures, the praying mantis is considered to be pointing to Mecca.
• Praying mantis are used as a commodity by humans. Eggs are sold to farmers and gardeners to control other insects considered pests.
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