The Real Ninja Turtles
Are land turtles really ninjas with shields attached to their backs? Actually the shells are their backbone, a total of 60 bones all put together to form a hard surface. This surface includes the ribs and its skin which means the turtle cannot climb out of its shell! All the bones are attached to the turtle creating what appears to be a separate shell. But it is attached!
Shape of the “Shield”
The land turtles have large, round shells, which help protect them from predators. The predators are the other animals that would want to eat the turtles. Other smaller land turtles need smaller, cross shaped shells. The shell is really heavy. With a heavy shell the turtle needs ways to be able to walk better. The small, but still strong shells help with walking. With the shells being so heavy and strong, they do act as shields! Protecting the turtles from the bad guys.
Skin and Bones
What exactly are all those bones, ribs and skin doing on the shell? Well, the 60 bones are many ribs and backbones all put together to help the turtle survive. The upper part of the shell is called the carapace. The lower part of the shell is called the plastron. These parts come together to form a bridge. That’s right the turtle’s shells have bridges on them! The outer shell also has scales on it. The scales have a lot of protein, which helps the turtle live its life. The skin on the shell can come off during different times of the year. Like lizards! The skin then grows back.
Turtles are not able to breathe like we humans do. Humans just breathe in air from our mouth and nose. With the shell on their back the turtles are able to breathe in a different way. There are two ways the turtles can breathe. One way is to pull air into their mouth. Once the air is in they then swirl it with the bottom of their mouth and then push it down into their lungs. The second way is to contract their stomach. Pushing their stomach in and out the air comes into their lungs. Land turtles breathing in two different ways are pretty cool!
The land turtle’s shells come in many different colors. Some turtles have brown, black or grey shells. But the coolest looking shells can have dots that are orange, red or yellow. Along with the colors there are also cool lines and shapes on the shells. These differences vary between the turtles. You never know when you will find a turtle with red all over it! Those turtles know how to put on a show.
Are they the real ninja turtles?
Of course turtles are! Even though the shell does not come off, the shell is still their shield. Using their shell to protect themselves is how they survive. Even though the shell is their backbone it is still pretty tough. How cool would it be to have your backbone and ribs shaped like a shield? Definitely cool!
By, Liz Fonseca
Margay: Master of the Trees
Small paws step softly on the tree branch. It’s dark outside but that’s not a problem. A tree frog sounds off in the near distance. Getting closer now, strong legs prepare to pounce. Then BAM! The tree frog is now being eaten. By what you may ask? An amazing one-of-a-kind wild cat.
There are 36 species of wild cats in the world. The popular tigers, lions, cheetahs, leopards, cougars, bobcats, and lynxes are only a small part of that group. So what are the other 29? They are all smaller cats that few know about. One of these mysterious animals is the Margay (Leopardus weidi). It is probably one of the most beautiful of the rarer species. But like its larger relatives, it’s slowly disappearing. And no one knows it!
Home Sweet Home
Margays live in Central and South America, anywhere between Mexico and Peru, and between Paraguay and Argentina. Their natural habitat is forest areas where they can be in the trees all the time. In these places, it is hotter than where you live. This is because the sun is heating the center of the earth more than the North and South parts of the globe. Now can you imagine living in a place like this with a fur coat?
Margays look a lot like its cousins the leopards and the ocelots. The splotchy dots on their coats are called rosettes. They have a lot of them to help them with camouflaging, which means blending in with their surroundings. The rosettes cover their whole body from their long, thick, fluffy tail to their long legs and small body. The only part not covered in these dot shapes is their head which has small, thin black lines that line the cheeks and forehead. The color under the dark spots is a tawny brown. The end look is a masterpiece, with every individual cat having their own design.
Margays in Trouble
Because Margays coats are really pretty, a lot of people sadly kill them. The coats would be turned into clothing for people. Since this is happening, more and more margays are disappearing and the numbers of cats are dropping to really low numbers. This makes them an endangered species that needs protecting.
Male and female Margays rarely spend any time together except when they want to make a family. When they do, they have one baby at a time. Sometimes they can have twins, but that does not happen a lot. This happens between March and June. After two weeks the kittens can open their eyes. Then they learn to hunt from their mother shortly after when they are around two months old. In no time they can be a great hunter and survivor like their parents.
When nighttime comes, these cats do not go to sleep. They go hunting for food. This is called being nocturnal. What do they eat? Birds, small monkeys, small mammals, lizards, tree frogs and insects! Gross, huh? Well to the Margay it’s tasty and it can all be found in the trees where they live. How can they see at night? They have large eyes that make it easier to see things. Sometimes they come down to the ground to hunt animals there or to get fruit to eat, but mostly “dinner” is in the tropical evergreen forests of home.
Climbing Like a Pro
One of the crazy things about Margays is that they can climb down a tree head first like a squirrel! How can they do this? They have back legs that can rotate 180 degrees. But climbing down is not their only ability in the trees. Most of their time is spent there so their ability to walk up and across branches is really good. They have special claws that help with climbing and gripping. With these claws and their special legs, Margays can move as easily as a monkey does. They can even hang onto a branch by one paw! And it is these qualities that make Margays the best climbers out of all the cats.
By Sarah McCoy
Sea Otters: Unique Hunters
Sea otters are marine mammals that are part of the weasel family and well-known for their cute face, furry plush coat, and efficient hunting ability. Climate change may have harmed many species worldwide, but no species has fought back like the otter. These mammals are ultimate climate change reducers.
Yes, that’s right. Sea otters reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by eating sea urchins. Sea urchins eat kelp and kelp help reduce carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by it through photosynthesis. An average adult male sea otter can eat up to a staggering fifty sea urchins a day! For a one hundred and fifty pound person, that is the same as eating one hundred and sixty quarter pound hamburgers. That is a lot of carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere. So, while we may be adding to the problem of climate change, sea otters are helping to reduce climate change. How do they achieve this? What are their feeding behaviors?
During a sunny, summer day a female sea otter rests on an isolated island of rocks in the middle of the ocean. It is feeding time and the otter is becoming more hungry and impatient, so it takes a leaping dive into the water in hopes of finding a potential meal. Otters spend a lot of time diving for food because it is essential for their survival. They can dive to hundreds of feet for several minutes in search for food. However, they prefer to stay in shallower waters and make quicker dives instead. They will swim for hours searching for as much food they can find, especially their favorite, sea urchins.
Once under water the otter uses its whiskers and nose to find food by detecting vibrations under the water. Suddenly, she spots her favorite prey, a sea urchin attached to a rock beside a kelp forest. The otter becomes excited and quickly snatches any rock it can find and uses it to detach the urchin from the rock. A few quick powerful hits and the sea urchin is knocked off the rock. She does not want to risk losing her prize, so she uses the loose fold of skin under her armpit like a shopping bag to tuck the urchin away.
After catching its prey the otter swims like a torpedo up to the water’s surface. She attempts to pry open the sea urchin with her forelegs and paws but nothing works. She is frustrated and disappointed but is not ready to give up, so it goes on the search for a rock to break it open. The otter takes the rock and repeatedly smashes its prey vigorously. The otter succeeded in cracking open the urchin and now all that hard work is rewarded with a meal. The otter lies on its back and keeps itself afloat. It places the urchin on its stomach and uses its paws to hold it and with its sharp teeth the otter rips easily into the sea urchins insides.
Otters are one of the few animals who use tools to open up their food. Like having their favorite toy, some otters even save their favorite rock tool in their armpit for further use. They use a variety of methods to break their prey open with rocks. Some otters will place a rock on their chest and smash their prey on it until it breaks open. Others will place their prey on their chest and use the rock as a hammer. Some otters will use several quick strikes or a few strong hits. For large shellfish this tool is useful for knocking prey off rocks, but for small shellfish their strong arms are powerful enough to pry their prey off. Food that is underground, such as clams, can be found by digging. Otters dig with their forepaws, like dogs, to get their prey and sometimes they will use rocks to dig.
Individual otters have distinct food preferences. Some may eat only sea urchins, while others might eat only crabs and abalone. Some prey may be hard to find because they hide from predators like otters, but they are intelligent hunters and can easily find them. Like people they always clean up after themselves when feasting on a meal. They will roll over in the water to remove any scraps of food off their chest.
Once the otter grows up to become an adult female otter it is an appropriate time in her life to have babies. Now it is her mission and obligation to teach them everything she knows about hunting for food so they can start hunting for sea urchins by themselves. When the otter is two and a half months old it dives with its mother in search for food. Once food is caught the mother shows her baby how to use rocks to break open prey. Otters are intelligent mammals, so it does not take long for them to learn these techniques.
To maintain a normal body temperature, adult otters eat about twenty-five percent of their body weight per day and eat every three hours. Otters eat over a hundred and sixty types of different food. Among them include clams, snails, abalone, crabs, starfish, mussels, scallops, squid, chitons, small octopuses, sea urchins, prawns, sea cucumbers, limpets, marine worms, several types of fish, and a variety of other things. Sea otters are diurnal, which means they hunt mainly during the day. They are in search for food several hours in the morning, typically starting just before sunrise. They are on a food hunt again in the afternoon, which usually lasts for several hours until sunset. They groom each other and rest after each of those feedings. Then they are on a food search again around midnight. Now, that is a lot of grub!
Sea otters are efficient hunters because they have such unique feeding habits and behaviors. It’s their intelligence and will that makes them unique hunters. Their unique hunting techniques are beneficial for hunting sea urchins, which is why they are able to get so many of them. This makes them excellent climate change reducers.
By: Amanda Boudreau