Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Marula fruit - African booze tree.

Watch the elephants knock the fruit out of the tree and all the animals eat it off the ground. This is a real video from a documentary about Africa. The video is funny. These are trees that grow in Africa which, once a year, produce very juicy fruit that contain a high percentage of alcohol. The tree is known as the "Elephant Tree," because elephants have a fondness for the fruit. As soon as the fruits are ripe, animals come there to help relieve themselves of the heat. You will easily know who had over-indulged.

The tree is the Marula tree. You can buy a great liqueur named "Amarula," which is made with the fruit and cream.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Rising Threat of Urban Black Bears

One of the many pleasures of visiting the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the sight of a black bear roaming free. Although they were hunted to near extinction, they have always been part of the Smoky Mountains experience. Today they are a healthy population size — some might say even a little too healthy.

Many bears are now leaving the park and wandering around where they are not welcome, and complaints against bears — as well as bear attacks on people — are on the rise.

Bears are wild, unpredictable, and dangerous. They are good at climbing trees, can swim, run at 30 miles per hour and may weigh as much as 600 pounds. They are, however, naturally shy and tend to stay away from humans. The danger comes when bears get hungry. Their diet generally consists of seeds, nuts and insects, but they will also eat small mammals and fish. Bears need to consume a staggering 20,000 calories a day before they hibernate if they're going to survive the winter. In dire circumstances, a person could easily be considered their next meal.

When they come out of hibernation in the spring, the bear's food sources are often lacking in their natural habitat. Backyards are a bonanza, and bears won't hesitate to grab a snack from bird feeders, garbage cans, grills and compost piles. If a bear has approached one house, it's likely it will approach another, and relocation is often unsuccessful as a bear will happily travel 300 miles for a reliable source of food. Once a bear learns to associate an area with an easy meal, it will often return.

Bears that begin finding food in back yards and garbage dumpsters (some even enjoy handouts from humans!) begin to encounter human-like problems too. Free from the stress and exercise of looking for food, bears become complacent. Bears that live around human habitats tend to weigh more, get pregnant at an earlier age, have larger litters, and often die violent deaths due to traffic collisions.

While complaints concerning bears stem from their being a nuisance, bears still attack people. Violent bear attacks are most likely due to people spending more time in the black bear’s native habitats. The common myth is that a mother will kill to protect her young, but the majority of bear attacks are by lone, predatory males. These are likely young males that have been driven away by their mother and are not yet ready to take on the older males bears.

If left unchecked, the bear population will become a real concern. As they reach carrying capacity (the maximum number of bears that can live on the finite resources in a given environment), their native habitats will no longer be able to support them. More bears will then move away from forests and woodland and make their homes in urban settings, increasing the likelihood of bears encountering people. Since non-lethal methods of control are often ineffective, more bears would then have to be destroyed.

Elephant Playing in the Waves

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Facts about the Praying Mantis

The praying mantis is one of nature’s most mysterious and captivating creations. Voracious yet often elusive by nature, and appearing in an enormous variety of sizes and colors, this star of the insect world garners a lot of attention – and rightly so! We thought it would worth trying to get to grips with this most intriguing of creatures. Here you’ll find more praying mantis facts, pictures of praying mantises and sundry praying mantis information than you can shake a stick insect at! Read on to be enlightened…The praying mantis is a fascinating insect that was bestowed with the evocative first part of its name due to its prominent front legs, which are typically positioned in a stance similar to that people adopt when they are praying. This insect is, however, sometimes mistakenly known as the ‘preying mantis’ – and yet the misnomer does fit, as this carnivorous creature is a highly skilled hunter, ambushing or stalking other insects and small animals with sublime patience and expertise. Praying mantises belong to the order Mantodea, and typically the family Mantidae. In total there are around 2,200 species of mantises, or ‘mantids’ (the two terms can be used more or less interchangeably, although there are 14 mantis families that are technically not mantids). Many mantises are distributed across Asia, Africa, and Central and South America, though species can be found in tropical and temperate climates worldwide, including parts of the United States, Australia and Europe.Praying mantises are sometimes grouped into a superorder with their close relatives, cockroaches and termites, but are not to be confused with stick insects or crickets and grasshoppers – rangy-looking insects which are nonetheless unrelated. Interestingly, the name ‘mantis’ is derived from the Greek for ‘prophet,’ while the scientific name for the European praying mantis is Mantis religiosa. The praying mantis seems to have been associated with things divine for quite some time – surely due to its distinctive stance.Praying mantises range in size from half-an-inch to a colossal 12 inches long. In the wild they can live for up to a year – taking into account their entire life cycle – though a lifespan of 6 months is typical for adults. How long they survive depends on how well they defend themselves – for the praying mantis is prey as well as predator. Insectivores such as scops owls, bullfrogs and chameleons will all gladly munch on a mantis given half a chance. Luckily for them, however, mantises have some excellent defense strategies at their disposal, and number one among these is camouflage.
Praying mantises are specialists when it comes to blending in with their environments; their green, brown or grayish hues masking them from the unwanted attention of aggressors. In fact, mantises have perfected the art of concealment to such a degree that as well as camouflaging themselves in foliage, they can also mimic their habitat, appearing as parts of trees like leaves and twigs; as grass, flowers – even as rocks. Extreme examples of this adaption come in the form of certain species in Africa and Australasia that have the ability to turn themselves black after fire, thus hiding themselves in their scorched surroundings. This phenomenon, known as fire melanism, shows just how advanced the survival mechanisms of the praying mantis are.
As well as concealment and camouflage, in defensive situations mantises also make use of their excellent eyesight. Their large compound eyes, made up of many dedicated zones called ommatidia, are said to have a range of more than 50 feet. They can also turn their heads 180 degrees, making them extremely difficult creatures to sneak up on. However, should an enemy come into its field of vision and threaten it directly, the praying mantis may be left with no other option than to stand its ground.
In the event that a mantis is directly threatened, many species will raise themselves up, fanning their wings and spreading their forelegs as they do so. If this does not repel the threat, the mantis will attempt to strike, pinching or biting at its attacker. As an extra warning display, some species can also make a hissing noise by releasing air from their abdomens.
While the praying mantis can be preyed upon, it is perhaps better known as a fearsome predator in its own right. So what does the praying mantis eat? What constitutes praying mantis food? Well, these rangy creatures are exclusively carnivorous, meaning the praying mantis diet is one of other insects such as moths, flies, grasshoppers, crickets and even locusts. It is, after all, a specialist bug tracker. Such insect prey aside, praying mantises have also been known to overpower and devour scorpions, snakes, frogs, fish and rodents! Hummingbirds have also fallen foul of the mantis’s voracious appetite, unfortunate victims of its lethal attacking strategy.
Praying mantises are masters of the art of ambush, closely studying their prey while lying in wait before they make their move. Using camouflage to blend in with its environment, the typically green or brown colored mantis can be a formidable predator, with the element of surprise often working in its favor. As soon as the prey strays too close, the praying mantis will strike with devastating speed too fast for the human eye to easily discern. Using its powerful, spiny front legs to snare and pin its target, the mantis does not let go easily. Once the praying mantis’s grip is applied, the victim has little hope; the mantis will not wait – eating its prey while it is still alive, struggling hopelessly in its death throes.
As well as eating insects and other small animals, the praying mantis is also famous (or should that be infamous!) for sexual cannibalism. This gruesome – and controversial – phenomenon is usually observed when mantises are kept in captivity, although it has been known to occur in the wild. When mantis mating takes place, the female has been observed biting off the head of the male. This cannibalistic decapitation can occur after but also during the act of copulation. As the male’s sexual movements are controlled by the abdomen rather than the head, early theorists of this mantis behavior proposed that it was a strategy on the part of the female aimed at gaining nutrition while boosting her chances of reproductive success. Yet, whether this grim performance takes place because it increases the chances of fertilization – for both sexes – or whether, as some have contended, it is actually the result of human observation, it remains the subject of much debate among experts.
Whether or not sexual cannibalism occurs, praying mantis mating typically involves the male jumping onto the female’s back and gripping her with his forelegs. Once the female has been successfully fertilized – which tends to occur in autumn in most temperate climes – she will lay between 10 and 400 eggs, depending on the species. The eggs are laid in a foamy mass, known as an ootheca, produced by the glands in the female’s abdomen. The ootheca is usually secured by the female to a branch or leaf and then left for the liquid to harden such that it forms a protective casing for the eggs over the winter months.
As the warmth of spring arrives, the hatching process begins and the baby mantises break out from the ootheca. Newly free, but small and wingless, mantis nymphs are especially vulnerable at this point of their development, with larger insects often taking the opportunity to prey upon the new arrivals. Those that do survive build up their strength by hunting small insects such as fruit flies. As the summer approaches, the nymphs steadily grow through their adolescent stage until they reach full size come the end of summer. Through the process of molting, the nymphs replace their exoskeletons with newly sturdy and flexible outer coverings, and will do so as many as ten times in total.
Amongst the most visually inspiring of all the praying mantis species are the various types of flower mantis. These phenomenal mimics take the art of camouflage that most mantises have in common to a whole new level. Becoming almost indistinguishable from the flower they have chosen to make their base, these incredible creatures have adapted to their environment to better enable them to hide from predators as well as surprise and hunt their own prey. One of the largest and most impressive of the flower mantises is the giant devil’s flower mantis (Idolomantis diabolica), sometimes known as the ‘king of all mantids’. Native to Tanzania and other nearby African countries, it likely gains its name from its striking antennae, which have the appearance of ‘devil’s horns’ to human eyes. This species is a great example of why so many people find mantises so captivating, for it is beautiful, strange and also a little frightening!
Is it surprising that praying mantises have become popular pet? Given their aloof and ruthless nature, maybe so, and yet considering how fascinating they are, perhaps we shouldn’t wonder. In any case, praying mantises are available for sale in pet stores that trade in these remarkable insects. They are relatively easy to keep: a small tank furnished with twigs and one or two inches of soil is all that is required. The correct temperature for the tank depends on the species and can vary considerably, but close attention should be paid to the specific needs of the species. The diet of any praying mantis pet should be kept similar to what it is in the wild – small flying insects such as moths and houseflies, for example. What’s more, given their occasional cannibalistic tendencies, they are best kept separately rather than in pairs.
Despite their popularity as pets, many true praying mantis connoisseurs prefer to see them in their natural habitat. This amazing insect has been referred to as a god in South African indigenous mythology, and the special allure that they hold for humankind shows no sign of waning. Whether employed as a pest controller – the Chinese and European mantises were introduced to the US for this express purpose – or simply viewed as an evolutionary marvel of nature, the exulted position of the order of Mantodea looks set to continue. Their grip on the human imagination reverberates in culture and art, with works from the likes of mathematical graphic artist M C Escher (in his work ‘Dream’) and even the Godzilla movies featuring the mysterious creatures.
The praying mantis has also influenced martial as well as visual artists. For hundreds of years, kung fu experts have studied the mantis’s ability to strike and incorporated it into their own techniques. The most famous style of praying mantis kung fu is that of the Southern Praying Mantis. This close-range combat discipline is native to the Hakka people of southern China and places an emphasis on ‘sticky hands,’ the heavy use of the forearms, claw-like fingers, and fast strikes reminiscent of the mantis’s behaviour when it is attacking its prey. Legend has it that the founders of the style created the technique after watching a praying mantis fight and overcome a bird. We can well believe it.
All of this goes to show that the praying mantis is a mesmerizing creature full of surprises. Its reputation as one of the most intriguing animals on Earth is unlikely to be diminished any time soon.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Elephants' Migration Trail

Elephants march through hotel lobby after it was built on their migration

The Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia happens to have been built next to a mango
grove that one family of elephants have always visited when the fruit
ripens. When they returned one year and found the luxury accommodation in the
way, they simply walked through the lobby to reach their beloved grove of
trees.The animals come in two-by-two. Hotel staff and visitors have gotten
used to the elephants' impromptu strolls through the lobby. Now the family
group, headed by matriarch Wonky Tusk, return every November and stay for
four to six weeks to gorge on mangos - up to four times a day. Andy Hogg,
44, the lodge director, has lived in South Luangwa National Park since
1982. But in all his years of dealing with wild animals he has never seen
such intimate interaction between humans and wild animals. "This is the
only place in the world where elephants freely get so close to humans," says
Andy. "The elephants start coming through base camp in late November each
year to eat the ripe mangos from our trees." Living in the 5,000 square mile national park, the ten-strong elephant
herd is led to the lodge each day by Wonky Tusk. The hotel was built
directly in the path of the elephants' route to one of their favorite foods ....
mangos."The most interesting thing about these wild animals," explains Andy, "is
that this is the only herd that comes through, and they come and go as
they please."

Mfuwe Lodge consists of seven camps and the base camp where the elephants
walk through. Employing 150 staff, the management of the lodge report that
there have been no incidents involving the wild elephants to date. "The
elephants get reasonably close to the staff, as you can see in the
pictures of the elephants near the reception area," Andy explains. "But we do not
allow the guests to get that close.""Guests can stand in the lounge but only as long as there is a barrier
between the elephants and the guests," he added.

"The elephants are not aggressive but you wouldn't want to tempt them. It
is the elephant's choice to be here and they have been coming here for
the last ten years. There are other wild mango trees around, but they prefer
ours. The lodge was unwittingly built upon their path," Andy says, "so we
had no idea they would do this. It wasn't a design error, we just didn't
know. The lodge was built and the elephants started walking through
afterward.""We keep people at a safe distance, but allow them close enough to see
what is going on. These are still wild and dangerous animals, so there
must be enough time for people to get away."

The hotel is set in an idyllic national parkland. Naturally, the lodge
becomes busier for both elephants and guests during November. "We find that
we get more people visiting us during the elephant migration because of
the unique experience of being so close to wild animals in an unusual
environment," says Andy. "But as I said this is a totally natural phenomenon,
as the elephants come here of their own accord. It is certainly a rare but
magnificent sight."

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Secret Life of Ants, Shot by Andrey Pavlov

Andrey Pavlov’s photography has been called many things, but whether it was “fake” or “photoshoped” they all pretty much suggested the same thing. And you can’t really blame people for thinking that while looking at his stunning photos. Let’s face it, it’s hard to believe anyone can train ants to pose for the camera like his subjects seem to do. But the truth is, the Russian photographer has indeed found a way to do just that. Although staged, believe it or not, Pavlov’s photography uses live characters! And here’s how he does it: as I mentioned above, he spent a lot of time studying ants, and he learned that they all follow a very specific path when they’re working. So all he has to do is find them, put the props right on their trail, set up some flash backgrouns and light reflectors, and just stand on the sidelines photographing the ants.But how does someone train ants to do stuff like what we see in Andrey’s photos? He says it’s a proven fact that ants are very fast learners. It’s enough to grab the attention of just one member of the community, convince it to perform a trick, and the others will soon follow suit. He uses all kinds of things to attract the insects, from shiny coins, to his own fingers. It took him about three years to understand and get in touch with the tiny creatures, but now he knows just how to deal with them. He builds all the props himself in the several months he dedicates to his hobby. That’s right, every year, from May to October, Andrey Pavlov moves to a cottage in the countryside, where he likes to photograph red forest ants.The photo series created by this talented Russian photographer is called “Ant Stories”. And what beautiful stories they are… Have you ever seen something this extraordinary?