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|Series:||Dr. Dino's Learnatorium Series|
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Do Turtles Really Breathe Out of Their Bums?
By Dr. Dino's Learnatorium
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2014 Noel Botham and Chris Mitchell
All rights reserved.
A Little Bit of History First
For years and years, and years and years, and then even more years, the Earth was just a rock floating around in space. Very slowly, over billions more years, life developed – from tiny single-celled organisms to slightly less tiny fish-like things living in the sea. Finally, about 450 million years ago, came an important moment in the history of our planet. A bold fish took a deep breath and flopped out of the sea, becoming the first animal to live permanently on land and beginning the next step along the evolutionary process. Life on Earth would never be the same again.
Now there are estimated to be at least 7.7 million different species of animals around us and this book is all about them (and us).CHAPTER 2
Kings of the Jungle
Lions are one of the most powerful animals on the planet, and are often called the kings of the animal world. But they can be cut down to size by a pretty small, but spiky, foe – a porcupine. When a lion bends in to take a sniff of this tasty morsel it normally ends up with a sharp reminder to stay away next time ... a quill stuck in the jaw. And what's worse, a lion's claws are great for mauling but not very good at gripping, so the wounded big cat will often be stuck with a thorn in its side, or jaw, for life.
Lions are even lazier than your average teenager. They laze around for about twenty hours every day and only hunt for a maximum of four hours, and normally not even that.
The roar of a lion can be heard up to five miles away. To give you an idea of how loud they are, they make more noise than a jackhammer digging up the pavement.
Lions might be the largest of the big cats but they're no match for a cheetah in a race. Cheetahs are the only big cats that don't have retractable claws (retractable claws are claws that can be drawn back into the paw when they aren't needed), which means they can't climb trees, but they can run at a nifty 75 miles per hour – almost three times quicker than Usain Bolt! This makes them the fastest animal on land.
One cat that can climb is the jaguar. In fact these muscular predators can carry twice their body weight up a tree with ease and when they've had their fill they will leave their prey up the nearest tree so that they can come back for seconds later.
If cheetahs would win the 100-metre sprint in the animalympics, then snow leopards would have a good chance at the long jump. Their hind legs are so strong that they can jump fifteen metres in one go.CHAPTER 3
When Cats Attack
Normally, humans aren't on any animals' food chain. That's probably because you aren't tasty enough – I know I prefer a good bit of steak (well, a whole cow if I'm honest) to a human. But sometimes, because of old age or starvation, cats will go after humans and become man-eaters ...
The Champawat tigress was the most prolific serial killer of all time ... in the animal world. One day, she was out hunting when another hunter, a human, went after her and shot her. She survived but was injured and couldn't hunt her normal prey, so she went after a much easier target ... humans. In all she killed 436 people, and the men of the local villages were too scared to go anywhere. The Nepalese government even sent in the army to deal with her, but she was too tricky and escaped. In the end, one brave hunter, a man called Jim Corbett, followed a trail of blood and guts to the wild animal's lair and managed to shoot her dead. Corbett became a hero and went on to have a successful career tracking down a large number of these man-eaters. He even killed the second most prolific animal serial killer – the Leopard of Panar.
You could be forgiven for thinking that big cats are only found in Africa, but in fact they exist all over the world – even in Britain. Although they aren't native animals, collectors bring them over and sometimes they escape. Nobody knows how many there are, but there are hundreds of sightings every year, normally from people who think they see pumas and lynxes. So next time you're out for a walk in the woods, keep an eye out!CHAPTER 4
Who Likes the Zoo?
The oldest zoo still around today is the Tiergarten zoo at Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna which had 13 animal enclosures when it was opened in 1752. However, there were actually plenty of zoos around before then ... they just weren't called zoos (that's the kind of boring word-trickery teachers love to catch you out on). They used to be called menageries and would normally be made up of animals collected by royalty.
The oldest known menagerie was put together around 5,500 years ago in Ancient Egypt. It probably included hippos, elephants and baboons for people to come and stare at.
The Tower of London is famous for holding some of the most important prisoners in Britain – but that wasn't all it had behind bars. For centuries, from about the year 1200, it held London's royal menagerie, and whenever foreign kings couldn't think of a good gift to give the King (or Queen) of England, they would check to see what they didn't have in the menagerie and give them that. The Tower held everything from lions and leopards to giraffes and monkeys. No wonder escaping was so hard for the prisoners there – even if you dodged the guards you had to get past the hungry lions too!
The Beijing Zoo is one of the biggest and best in the world, and is home to more than 14,500 animals, including its famous giant pandas. Not all zoos in China are quite as good though ... One in Henan Province was found to have fake animals on display, including a dog pretending to be a lion and rats posing as snakes!
Out in the wild it's a dog-eat-dog, bird-eat-worm, lion-eat-gazelle, dinosaur-eat-everything-else world. But when animals who would normally be enemies grow up together, it can have unusual results. A bear called Baloo, a lion called Leo and a tiger called Shere Khan were rescued together from a home when they were cubs and became best friends. They all live together in Georgia, USA and play, sleep and eat together without any problems at all!CHAPTER 5
Deserts are the driest places on Earth – some areas haven't seen rain for more than 500 years, but that doesn't stop some pretty hardy animals from surviving where humans wouldn't be able to last a day.
If you want to impress your friends then you should know that an animal that lives in the desert is called a xerocole. Generally they prefer to only come out at night when it's cooler and many of them are able to estivate – that's the opposite of hibernate by the way – shutting down their bodies for large periods of time over the summer.
The next time you complain about your vegetables tasting gross remember that it could be worse. One of the most disgusting animals around is the dung beetle – and you can guess what they eat. These tiny beetles absolutely love poo and they roll around in it all day. If they find a good bit they roll it back to their tunnels and bury it for later. If they find a great bit, they sometimes carve out a tunnel for themselves inside of it and make a new home right there. Now that's gross!
Jerboas are funny little creatures that look a bit like mini-kangaroos (very mini; their bodies are only about three inches long) with huge ears almost as big as the entire rest of their body. Their ears help them hear exceptionally well, but that isn't what makes them so special – they are unique because they never need to drink. They absorb all the moisture they need from the bits of food that they nibble on, meaning they can survive even the worst droughts without any trouble.
It's a good thing naked mole rats live in the dark because if they could see each other they wouldn't like what they saw. With their bald, wrinkly skin, long whiskers, protruding teeth and prominent snout, they have to be contenders for the ugliest animal on Earth. Fortunately, they live underground in dark burrows in the desert, and only occasionally come up to search for extra food. Like ants, they live in colonies, and we could learn a thing or two from them. They hold the record for the longest-lived rodent, able to survive for about 31 years, and are immune to many diseases, including cancer.
One of the cleverest desert-dwelling animals is the trapdoor spider. These critters build a hole in the sand and hide themselves away in it with a little roof over the top. They wait and wait until they hear something walking over the top of them and then, with a swift tug, they swing the door open and grab whatever was unlucky enough to be on the surface, which normally makes a pretty tasty treat for them.CHAPTER 6
Although there are still millions of different animals all over the world, 99.9% of all of the different species that have ever existed are now extinct. From dinosaurs, like me, to ancient fish with armour for scales, to giant 10-foot long rodents, the Earth has been home to a huge variety of different animals that you will never get the opportunity to see. Here's a list of my 10 favourites for you:
10. Passenger pigeon: The passenger pigeon was one of the most common birds in the world during the 19th century and it travelled around in ginormous flocks containing literally billions of the pigeons. In around 1850 people started getting worried that the birds were being hunted too widely but an American committee who looked into it wisely said that 'the passenger pigeon needs no protection'. And yet less than 60 years later, in 1914, the last pigeon died in captivity, completing one of the most dramatic extinctions in human history.
9. Quagga: A quagga was an African animal that was half-zebra in the front, half-horse in the back. It looked a bit like two people had turned up to a pantomime without discussing what they were going to dress up as first. However, their ridiculous looks were no laughing matter because it made them very easy to hunt and kill, and the last wild quagga died in 1878.
8. Steller's sea cow: Georg Steller first described this massive animal in 1741 and was lucky enough to have it named after him. The sea cow wasn't so fortunate though, because by 1768 this massive animal (about 30 feet long and 10 tons in weight – only whales were bigger than the sea cow) was extinct. Unable to submerge under the water, and completely tame, this friendly sea giant made easy pickings for hungry sailors on long voyages.
7. Dinosaurs: Aaargh! My poor fellow dinosaurs! It's a lonely business being the last surviving dinosaur, which is why I keep mainly to my learnatorium and don't let people see me. After ruling the world for more than 160 million years (a lot longer than you humans have, I'd like to point out!), we dinosaurs suddenly went extinct about 65 million years ago. Human scientists aren't too sure why this was, although they suspect it was because of a giant meteor that struck the Earth. I could tell them, but it's too painful to talk about!
6. Sabre-tooth tiger: Now, these weren't actually tigers at all, they were really sabre-tooth cats, but that doesn't have quite the same ring to it ... These large cats were bigger than ours are today, and had one pretty scary feature – their teeth. They were about one foot long and, even though they broke quite easily, they made a very fearsome sight to anything unlucky enough to get in the way. Sable-tooth tigers became extinct about 10,000 years ago, probably because the slow-moving prey that they hunted – such as giant sloths – all died off themselves.
5. The terror bird: The terror bird was a flightless South American bird that did exactly that – it terrorised its prey. It could grow to a maximum height of three metres tall and run at speeds of about 30 miles per hour. And it had a vicious, curved beak about half a metre long! This fleet-footed predator would chase down its prey and grab them with that beak, throwing them up in the air before slamming them down on the ground to kill them. To give you an idea of how big it was, a terror bird's favourite meal was ... a horse! Fortunately for humans, these non-flying terrors died off about the same time as the first people arrived in North America.
4. Megatherium: The sloths of today are cute little animals that seem sleepy at the best of times and live life at a pretty slow pace. The megatherium was an ancestor of them and was a little bit larger ... six metres larger to be exact. This giant sloth wandered the Americas as recently as 8,000 years ago and, incredibly for a creature that size, it was mainly vegetarian. The human hunters that lived around them, however, were not, and the chances are this giant-sized mammal was hunted to death.
3. Woolly mammoth: In fact, woolly mammoths were only one of a number of different types of mammoths and, weighing in at 'only' five tons, they weren't even the biggest – the Songhua River mammoths could grow to three times that size. However, they did have enormous tusks that could be 15-feet long and, as the name suggests, they were covered from head to toe in shaggy fur. Sadly, the last of these magnificent creatures died out around 4,000 years ago, killed off in part by human hunting, but mainly by climate change. One reason we know so much about them is that quite a few have been found frozen completely intact in ice, exactly as they were when they died. None have woken up when they've been thawed out ... yet.
2. Megalodon: Most humans are (rightly) afraid of sharks – they can eat you alive without a second thought. But compared to the magnificent megalodon even great white sharks are truly puny. Fortunately, they went extinct about 1.5 million years ago, but these massive sharks could grow to a size of about 20 metres long, more than three times the size of the biggest sharks around today. The megalodon had seven-inch fangs and munched on giant whales, with a bite about 20 times more powerful than a lion's, making them the most powerful chomper ever to have lived on our planet. The chances are it went extinct because there simply wasn't enough food in the ocean to keep it satisfied, and it's a good thing too, or else humans may never have dared to take to the sea.
1. Dodo: Dodos have become the most famous of the extinct animals, leading to the obvious phrase 'dead as a dodo'. They lived for thousands of years quite happily on the island of Mauritius until about the year 1598, when Dutch sailors came to the island. Within a century the bird was extinct! To be fair, it didn't help that the birds were flightless, fearless of humans, had no defences and were, by all accounts, pretty dumb. Oh yes, that as well as being big enough at around one metre high to provide a pretty large and tasty meal! (I prefer my food to be a bit bigger, but then you humans have such tiny appetites.) Still, this was the first time in the history of humankind that people started talking about the effect that they were having on the environment and the animals around them, so the dodo didn't die in vain, and now you humans are very concerned about conserving endangered animals, which is a very important job, and one that will only get harder in the future.CHAPTER 7
Dr Dino's Weirdest Animals # 1
Matamata turtles are so camouflaged that you'd do well to spot them. To most people they just look like a floating log. They are masters at the art of waiting, and they can sit at the bottom of a pool for hours on end with only their reed-like nose sticking out in the air to act as a snorkel. The strangest thing about them though is the way they eat. Rather than catching and munching on fish like other turtles they simply wait for an unlucky fish to swim by, open their mouths and suck. The fish pops right in and the turtle can swallow it whole.
The olm is a worm-like amphibian that lives its life entirely in the dark and underwater in caves around Europe. And what a long life it leads! It can live to be up to 100 years old, but things must get quite dull: when food is scarce it can shut down its body and go up to 10 years without eating anything at all. I can normally only go a couple of hours before I start to feel peckish for a nice, big, juicy cow.CHAPTER 8
There is only one winner in a foot (or paw, or claw, or hoof, or any other type of foot you can imagine) race on land, and that is the cheetah, which can run at a top speed of 75 miles per hour in very short bursts. However, this is nowhere near the fastest animal in the world. You have to look up to see them ...
1. The peregrine falcon has clocked speeds faster than any other animal, with a maximum of 242 miles per hour. It does this by climbing to an obscene height, once it spots its prey, then setting off into a dive-bomb that is very hard to escape from.
Excerpted from Do Turtles Really Breathe Out of Their Bums? by Dr. Dino's Learnatorium. Copyright © 2014 Noel Botham and Chris Mitchell. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Little Bit of History First,
Kings of the Jungle,
When Cats Attack,
Who Likes the Zoo?,
Dr Dino's Weirdest Animals # 1,
Dr Dino's Weirdest Animals # 2,
Dr Dino's Five Most Poisonous Animals,
Dr Dino's Weirdest Animals # 3,
The Sensational Seas,
Dr Dino's Weirdest Animals # 4,
Dr Dino's Weirdest Animals # 5,
Dr Dino's Weirdest Animals # 6,
Arctic (and Antarctic) Animals,