Newsletter February 2017

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 February 2017

Symbols of Pride: National Animals

Animals hold significance in many cultures around the world both today and in the past. They are often symbols of different virtues or characteristics, and can be extremely significant to societies due to their importance in food, agriculture and hunting. Therefore, it is unsurprising that many countries today have national animals, animals that represent and embody something significant about their country’s values and culture. How many of these national animals did you know? Test your knowledge below.

USA – The Bald Eagle and the American Bison

A national symbol of freedom, the bald eagle appears in many places throughout American culture including on the back of quarters. The bald eagle was chosen to be the national emblem of the United States on June 20, 1782 because of its long life, great strength, and majestic looks. Additionally, it was then believed to exist only in North America.

However, we bet you didn’t know that the American Bison also has a place of honor as the national mammal. The American Bison just recently became the national mammal in April of 2016 as part of an effort to prevent it from going extinct. It was named national mammal as part of the National Bison Legacy Act. The bison has a great ecological, cultural, historical, and economic significance in the United States and will serve alongside the Bald Eagle in symbolizing America’s values. 

UK – The Bulldog, the Mute Swan, the Red Kite, the Unicorn, and the Red Dragon

The United Kingdom has a variety of national animals representing the various countries within it. Britain’s national symbol is the British Bulldog, which is an adorable dog that has long represented both Britain and England. It has even been associated with Winston Churchill’s defiance of Nazi Germany. However, the Bulldog is also the official mascot of the United States Marine Corps and many American universities; everyone wants to claim the puppy as their own.

Different countries within the United Kingdom have their own national animals including the English Mute Swan and the Welsh Red Kite. However, the United Kingdom also has a collection of animals referred to as the Queen’s Beasts. These represent the genealogy of Queen Elizabeth II. Both the Scottish Unicorn and the Welsh Y Ddraig Goch (Red Dragon) are members of the Queen’s Beasts. Coincidently, they are also both mythical creatures, though not all of the Queen’s Beasts are. The Y Ddraig Goch, or Red Dragon, also appears on the national flag of Wales. 

Japan – The Carp 

Japan only has one national symbol: the Carp. The Carp is a freshwater fish native to Europe and Asia that is often used in aquariums and ponds because of its beauty. In fact, goldfish were originally domesticated from the Prussian carp. Carp were first bred for color in China over a thousand years ago. Later, the carp was introduced from China to Japan, where selective breeding resulted in the koi. In Japanese culture, koi are treated with affection and seen as good luck.

India – The Bengal Tiger, the Indian Peacock, and the Indian Elephant

India also has a large variety of national animals that each symbolize something significant about Indian values and culture. The Bengal Tiger symbolizes power, strength, elegance, alertness, intelligence, and endurance. It is found throughout India except in the northwestern region. The Indian Peacock is symbolic of beauty, grace, pride and mysticism. Many people believe that when a peacock extends its tail, it indicates rainfall. The Peacock’s dance movement has been incorporated in most Indian folklore. Lastly, the Indian Elephant, and all elephants, symbolize mental strength, earthiness and responsibility.

Canada – The Canadian Horse and the North American Beaver

The Canadian Horse is Canada’s national horse. Canadian Parliament declared it the national breed of the country in 1909. The horse had led a heroic and essential history in the country up until that point. By 2002, it was made an official animal symbol of Canada and in 2010, the provincial legislature of Quebec named it a heritage breed of the province.

The North American Beaver appeared as a national symbol of Canada as early as 1678, when it was on the national coat of arms. Since, then, it has had a long history as a national symbol. It is depicted on the Canadian five-cent piece and was on the first pictorial postage stamp in 1849. It was also chosen as the mascot of the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. 

The relationship between humans and animals is much more deep and complex than the relationships we make with individual species on a day-to-day basis. Animals and humans also have long, symbolic pasts, manifested in the use of animals as symbols of pride and strength in modern society.

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Carl Hagenbeck: A Revolution for Zookeeping

Before the 1800s, zoos were more like animal prisons: “beasts” would be on display behind bars in small enclosures that were unlikely to resemble the habitat that the animal needed. As you might imagine, these conditions were far from ideal for most animals kept in zoos. However, everything changed when one man, Carl Hagenbeck, created what was known as the Hagenbeck revolution and transformed zookeeping forever.

Carl Hagenbeck was born on June 10, 1844 in Hamburg, Germany. His father was a fishmonger who bought and sold exotic animals on the side. Hagenbeck immediately took a liking to his father’s animals, and became the proud owner of a seal and a polar bear when he was just 14. Since then, his collection of animals grew and grew until he needed a large building in which to keep them all. He soon began accompanying hunters and explorers on trips to the jungles and mountains in order to search for more animals. In fact, he gathered animals from almost every continent in the world.

As his career developed, Hagenbeck began to exhibit his animals in major cities in Europe and the United States. Everyone wanted to see his impressive collection and share his love of animals. As his success went on, he began training animals to perform in circuses including the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. His circus was one of the most popular attractions, as many of his animals were trained to do tricks. Some of them went on to perform at amusement parks in Coney Island. Hagenbeck emphasized to spectators his animals’ intelligence rather than their ferocity, paving the way for more sympathetic views of all animals.

Hagenbeck truly left his mark when he decided to open a permanent zoo in Hamburg called the Tierpark Hagenbeck, near his birthplace. Although there was already a zoo in Hamburg, Hagenbeck’s zoo was unique in that his animals lived in surroundings that resembled their natural homes. His animals were exhibited in open, barless pits that used panoramas to imitate their natural habitats. This was a huge advancement for zoos that significantly improved the lives of animals in captivity and caused his zoo to become Germany’s most successful privately owned zoo. Today, most large zoos follow Hagenbeck’s ideas.

Hagenbeck didn’t stop there, however. Around the same time that he opened his zoo, he captured a thousand camels for the German Empire. He described his adventures and methods of capturing and training animals in his book, Beasts and Men. It was also in this book that Hagenbeck became one of the first Europeans to describe a creature known as the Mokele-mbeme. Hagenbeck described it as a “huge monster, half elephant, half dragon.” He believed it was a dinosaur similar to the brontosaurus. His claim made headlines around the world and began the legend of Mokele Mbeme. 

Hagenbeck also worked on the humane treatment of animals at a time when they were not understood or treated as well as they are today. He aimed to shows that using beatings and hot irons in animal training was cruel and unnecessary. In 1889, he introduced a lion act in which three lions pulled him around the cage in a chariot. Throughout his career, he replaced harsher training methods used in circuses in Europe and North America. At a time when animals were scarcely understood or respected, Hagenbeck showed them kindness and paved the way for better treatment of animals for years to come.

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Creating Your Own Vivarium

Do you have a small reptile or amphibian as a pet? Why not create a vivarium for your animal companion to live in? A vivarium is like a terrarium or aquarium, but it involves incorporating part of a natural ecosystem. The literal meaning of the word vivarium is “place of life.” A vivarium creates an extremely authentic environment for your animal to inhabit and an immensely rewarding project for you to enjoy.

Creating a vivarium involves recreating a piece of nature in your own home. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, vivariums also require less upkeep than regular terrariums, and provide a better environment for the animals. In fact, upkeep in a vivarium should involve nothing more than cleaning the glass, misting the enclosure, and occasionally trimming plants.  

You’ll need to do some research on your own before getting started. How are you going to build the vivarium? What plants will you include? What materials will you use? Every vivarium generally has a drainage layer, a screen separator, a substrate layer, and a leaf litter. Each one is essential for the plants and animals in the vivarium to thrive. The drainage layer catches water that flows through the substrate layer and contributes to keeping the right humidity level in the vivarium. In place of a drainage layer, you can also use a false bottom. This is often made of egg crate wrapped in screen material. It can also be constructed using PVC piping, plastic ties, silicone and landscape fabric.

Above the drainage layer is the screen separator. This is a screen mesh that allows air and water to pass through. The screen separator keeps the substrate from reaching the drainage layer. Next is the substrate layer, which helps to sustain plant life, microfauna life, and most importantly, the life of the inhabitants. The industry standard vivarium substrate consists of two parts tree fern fiber, one part peat, one part charcoal, one part sphagnum, and two parts orchid bark. It is important to include a quality substrate in your vivarium. Coconut fiber alone is not an appropriate substrate, and neither are potting soil mixes, compost, or peat moss. Finally, the leaf litter is the last layer of a vivarium. This provides a realistic ground cover and hiding spots for the inhabitants.

Most vivariums have a background, although this is not necessary; it simply enhances the look of a vivarium and provides extra climbing room for the inhabitants. The next important choice you’ll make is choosing the plants for your vivarium. This will depend in part on what animal will inhabit the vivarium. However, it’s also important to consider the optimal conditions for the plant and whether they are compatible with the way you are constructing your vivarium. Choosing the correct plants can be challenging, and placement of each plant is critical. This process can be a work in progress, as you may need to remove or replace plants depending on whether they are working well.

While this is a start to some considerations for building a vivarium, there are other considerations such as misting system, humidity, and lighting. Be sure to research these factors in more detail on your own. (Here is a Vivarium Checklist and an in depth discussion of each step to get you started.)We hope to have given you an informative introduction to building vivariums that can be the catalyst to creating a beautiful piece of nature for you and your pets to enjoy.

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Creature Feature: Flying Snakes

Pigs will probably never fly, but snakes on the other hand seem to have mastered flying in addition to swimming, climbing, and traveling at extremely fast speeds all despite the fact that they have no legs or appendages of any kind. You may think we’re joking, but there is actually a species of snake called the flying snake that climbs to the jungle’s treetops and glides down like a flying squirrel, flaring its ribs to create a wing. If you’ve ever had nightmares about snakes falling from the sky, boy is this bad news for you.

To make matters worse, flying snakes are also venomous. But don’t worry; their venom is only deadly to their small prey. Flying snakes hunt during the day and prey upon small animals such as lizards, frogs, rodents and birds. Despite their flying abilities, these snakes live primarily in trees and rarely descend to the ground. Flying snakes can be anywhere between two and four feet long, but the larger they are, the worse their flying ability. They are generally found in Southeast Asia, China, India, and Sri Lanka.


You may be wondering, how does a snake climb a tree without arms or legs? The answer is that flying snakes use ridge scales on their bellies to push against the tree bark and move up the tree. This video shows a python climbing a tree. When a flying snake is ready to descend, it dangles off a tree branch, leans forward at the angle it wants to glide, and thrusts its body up and away from the tree, sucking in its abdomen and flaring out its ribs in order to create a wing. This video shows how snakes maneuver their bodies in order to fly and land safely. Snakes’ midsections actually resemble Frisbees during flight, which allows the concave part of their bodies to increase air pressure underneath them, causing them to fly. Snakes continually move in lateral undulation to create the same effect of increased air pressure. Because of this, flying snakes are actually able to glide better than flying squirrels and other gliding animals despite their lack of wings or wing-like appendages. They even have a small amount of control during flight by slithering in the air.

Scientists are unsure about why flying snakes fly. Some speculate that they use flight as an escape technique when predators are nearby. Others believe it is simply a convenient way to move from tree to tree without having to descend to the forest floor. It is also possible that flying snakes fly in order to hunt prey. As if those poor frogs weren’t scared enough!

There are five known types of flying snakes: the paradise tree snake, twin-barred snake, golden tree snake, Moluccan flying snake, and Sri Lanka flying snake. Each of them is similar, though they have individual characteristics independent from the others. For example, the golden tree snake is the largest flying snake species, and has other color variations despite its name. The twin-barred tree snake is the smallest, and one of the rarest species. The best flier has been known to land 65 feet away from the base of the tree it took off from.

These snakes’ ability to glide has piqued the interest of physicists at the United States Department of Defense due to their unique and innovative technique. Many studies have been conducted as to whether there are any other factors that contribute to the gliding ability. Recent research has shown that smaller snakes are able to glide longer than larger snakes. Some scientists hope to use the research to design robots that can glide in the air. Never thought you would learn physics from a snake, did you?

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