The pygmy marmoset or dwarf monkey is a New World monkey native to the rainforest canopies of western Brazil, southeastern Colombia, eastern Ecuador, eastern Peru, and northern Bolivia. It is one of the smallest primates, and the smallest true monkey, with its body length ranging from 14 to 16 centimetres (5.5 to 6.3 in) (excluding the 15-to-20-centimetre (5.9 to 7.9 in) tail). Males weigh around 140 grams (4.9 oz), and females only 120 grams (4.2 oz). Despite its name, the pygmy marmoset is somewhat different from the typical marmosets, most of which are classified in the genera Callithrix and Mico; as such, it is accorded its own genus, Cebuella.
Some locusts are solitary insects, while some congregate into thick, ravenous swarms.
Average life span in the wild: Several months
Size: 0.5 to 3 in (1.2 to 7.5 cm)
Weight: 0.07 oz (2 g)
Group name: Swarm
A plague of locusts is a devastating natural disaster. These infestations have been feared and revered throughout history. Unfortunately, they still wreak havoc today.
Locusts are related to grasshoppers and the two insects look similar. However, locust behavior can be something else entirely. Locusts are sometimes solitary insects with lifestyles much like grasshoppers. But locusts have another behavioral phase called the gregarious phase. When environmental conditions produce many green plants and promote breeding, locusts can congregate into thick, mobile, ravenous swarms.
Locust swarms devastate crops and cause major agricultural damage and attendant human misery—famine and starvation. They occur in many parts of the world, but today locusts are most destructive in sustenance farming regions of Africa.
The desert locust is notorious. Found in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, they inhabit some 60 countries and can cover one-fifth of Earth's land surface. Desert locust plagues may threaten the economic livelihood of one-tenth of the world's humans.
A desert locust swarm can be 460 square miles (1,200 square kilometers) in size and pack between 40 and 80 million locusts into less than half a square mile (one square kilometer).
Each locust can eat its weight in plants each day, so a swarm of such size would eat 423 million pounds (192 million kilograms) of plants every day.
Like the individual animals within them, locust swarms are typically in motion and can cover vast distances. In 1954, a swarm flew from northwest Africa to Great Britain. In 1988, another made the lengthy trek from West Africa to the Caribbean.
Closely related to crabs and shrimp, this ten-legged crustacean has become a delicacy over time as overfishing of commercially important lobster species chips away at the global population.
Average life span in the wild: 50 years
Size: Up to 3.25 ft (1 m) long
Did you know? The largest lobster recorded was caught off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada, and weighed 44.4 lbs (20.14 kg); it was between 3 and 4 ft (0.9 to 1.2 m) long. Scientists think it was at least 100 years old.
To many, it may seem that the lobster’s most natural habitat is on a large, oval plate between a cup of drawn butter and a lemon wedge.
In fact, only a few of the hundreds of types of lobster are caught commercially. But those few species are some of the most heavily harvested creatures in the sea, and generate a multi-billion-dollar industry, with more than 200,000 tons (181,436 metric tons) of annual global catch.
The lobsters that most people know from their dinner plates are the American and European clawed lobsters Homarus americanus and Homarus gammarus. These are cold water species that live on either sides of the northern Atlantic Ocean. There are also tropical lobsters that are widely consumed, but these are generally clawless varieties called spiny and slipper lobsters.
Lobsters are ten-legged crustaceans closely related to shrimp and crabs. These benthic, or bottom-dwelling, creatures are found in all of the world’s oceans, as well as brackish environments and even freshwater. They have poor eyesight but highly developed senses of taste and smell. They feed primarily on fish and mollusks, but will consume algae and other plant life and even other lobsters.
Female lobsters carry their eggs under their abdomens for up to a year before releasing them as larvae into the water. The larvae go through several stages in the water column before settling on the bottom, where they spend the rest of their lives. They generally prefer to live in self-dug burrows, in rocky crevices, or hidden among sea grasses. Lobsters must shed their shells in order to grow, and some species can live to be 50 years old or more, growing continually throughout their lives.
Lobsters have not always been considered chic eats. In 17th- and 18th-century America, they were so abundant in the northeast that they were often used as fertilizer. Laws were even passed forbidding people to feed servants lobster more than twice a week. However, improvements in U.S. transportation infrastructure in the 19th and 20th century brought fresh lobster to distant urban areas, and its reputation as a delicacy grew.
Populations of commercially important lobster species are thought to be declining, and overfishing, particularly of clawed lobsters in Europe, is taking a toll. Additionally, pollution is causing shell rot and other illnesses in normally disease-resistant species.
A llama looks out over the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru.
Size: Height at the shoulder, 47 in (120 cm)
Weight: 250 lbs (113 kg)
The llama is a South American relative of the camel, though the llama does not have a hump. These sturdy creatures are domestic animals used by the peoples of the Andes Mountains. (Their wild relatives are guanacos and vicuñas). Native peoples have used llamas as pack animals for centuries. Typically, they are saddled with loads of 50 to 75 pounds (23 to 34 kilograms). Under such weight they can cover up to 20 miles (32 kilometers) in a single day. Pack trains of llamas, which can include several hundred animals, move large amounts of goods over even the very rough terrain of the Andes.
Llamas are willing pack animals but only to a point. An overloaded llama will simply refuse to move. These animals often lie down on the ground and they may spit, hiss, or even kick at their owners until their burden is lessened.
Llamas graze on grass and, like cows, regurgitate their food and chew it as cud. They chomp on such wads for some time before swallowing them for complete digestion. Llamas can survive by eating many different kinds of plants, and they need little water. These attributes make them durable and dependable even in sparse mountainous terrain.
Llamas contribute much more than transportation to the human communities in which they live. Leather is made from their hides, and their wool is crafted into ropes, rugs, and fabrics. Llama excrement is dried and burned for fuel. Even in death, llamas can serve their human owners—some people slaughter them and eat their meat.
In daytime, little red flying foxes can be seen roosting in giant camps that may include as many as a million individuals.
Size: Wingspan 3 ft (1 m)
Group name: Camp
Protection status: None
Did you know? A little red flying fox may fly more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) in a single night to feed.
Little red flying foxes are tree-dwelling bats. In daytime they can be seen roosting in giant camps that may include as many as a million individuals. The bats are indeed efficient fliers, as their name suggests, but time in the trees has also made them excellent climbers. Little red flying foxes use their feet and jointed thumbs to move nimbly about treetop branches. Despite the old “blind as a bat” axiom these and other flying foxes have excellent senses of both sight and smell, which enable them to find plenty of their favored foods.
Little red flying foxes are pollinators, like bees, and thus critical to the health and reproduction of flowering tree species. They are known to haunt many different habitats, including swamps, mangroves, and bamboo stands. Eucalyptus trees seem to be their favorite—they follow the trees’ flowering over great distances and farther into the Australian interior than any other bat species.
In fact, these flying foxes are rather nomadic as a rule. They migrate seasonally from rain forests to arid or coastal areas—roosting wherever their favored flowers and fruits are in season at any given time.
The main threat to these bats is the loss of trees and thus the flowers and fruits on which they depend. Little red flying foxes remain relatively common, however, and are actually regarded as pests by some farmers because they will feed in orchards when other food sources run short.
If attacked, a lionfish delivers a potent venom via its needle-like dorsal fins. Its sting is extremely painful to humans and can cause nausea and breathing difficulties, but is rarely fatal.
Average life span in the wild: Up to 15 years
Size: 11.8 to 15 in (30 to 38 cm)
Weight: Up to 2.6 lbs (1.2 kg)
Group name: School
Did you know? A lionfish will often spread its feathery pectoral fins and herd small fish into a confined space where it can more easily swallow them.
Pretty much everything about the venomous lionfish—its red-and-white zebra stripes, long, showy pectoral fins, and generally cantankerous demeanor—says, "Don't touch!"
The venom of the lionfish, delivered via an array of up to 18 needle-like dorsal fins, is purely defensive. It relies on camouflage and lightning-fast reflexes to capture prey, mainly fish and shrimp. A sting from a lionfish is extremely painful to humans and can cause nausea and breathing difficulties, but is rarely fatal.
Lionfish, also called turkey fish, dragon fish and scorpion fish, are native to the reefs and rocky crevices of the Indo-Pacific, although they've found their way to warm ocean habitats worldwide.
The largest of lionfish can grow to about 15 inches (0.4 meters) in length, but the average is closer to 1 foot (0.3 meters).
Lionfish are popular in some parts of the world as food, but are far more prized in the aquarium trade. Their population numbers are healthy and their distribution is growing, causing some concerned in the United States, where some feel the success of this non-indigenous species presents human and environmental dangers.
Lesothosaurus first evolved in what is now southern Africa in the early Jurassic period, just over 200 million years ago. They get their name from the African country of Lesotho, where the first fossils of these early herbivores were uncovered in 1978.
Size: 3.3 ft (1 m) long
Protection status: Extinct
Did you know? Lesothosaurus gets its name from the African country of Lesotho.
Lesothosaurus diagnosticus was one of the most primitive and earliest ornithischians, or "bird-hipped" dinosaurs. Ornithischians were one of the two major groups of dinosaurs and included such familiar species as the armor-plated Stegosaurus and Ankylosaurus and the three-horned Triceratops.
Lesothosaurus was small, agile, and bipedal, bearing seemingly little resemblance to the gigantic, quadrupedal ornithischians that came later. But physical features, such as hip structure and jaws and teeth designed to chew plants, link Lesothosaurus to the later ornithischians.
Lesothosaurus evolved in what is now southern Africa in the early Jurassic period, just over 200 million years ago. It gets its name from the African country of Lesotho, where early fossils were uncovered.
The lifestyle of Lesothosaurus has been compared with that of modern-day gazelles, which browse on low-growing vegetation and nervously scan their surroundings for danger, fleeing when a predator approaches too near.
Lesothosaurus had a small head with very large eyes, short front legs with grasping hands, and an elongated body and tail about three feet (one meter) long. Its jaws were lined with small, serrated teeth for shredding plants and, like most ornithischians, its mouth was tipped with a pointed beak. Long, muscular legs, hollow bones, and clawed feet would have allowed this lightweight dinosaur to outsprint or outmaneuver most of its predators.
Lesothosaurus likely died out by the mid-Jurassic, but later ornithischians thrived for some 150 million years until the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
Leptoceratops gracilis likely survived for about 50 million years before going extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period.
Size: 6 to 9 ft (2 to 2.7 m) long
Protection status: Extinct
Did you know? Leptoceratops means "slim horned face."
Size: relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Though Leptoceratops was 6 to 9 feet (2 to 2.7 meters) long, it was only 2 to 3 feet (0.6 to 0.9 meters) high at its hips. This long, slender, low-slung animal browsed on ground cover and other low plants—but it may have been able to extend its reach.
Leptoceratops's front legs were shorter than its hind legs, leading to reasoning that it might have been able to stand or even walk on its hind legs.
Leptoceratops had a very large head for its body size, and this skull often survives as a fossil. Leptoceratops also had a beaklike snout and a smallish neck frill. It did not sport the dramatic horns and large neck frills that are common in its more advanced and better-known relatives, such as Triceratops.
As an individual, Leptoceratops, a smallish herbivore, may have been quite vulnerable to the formidable predators of the Cretaceous period. Leptoceratops roamed western North America between 67 million and 65 million years ago.
Leopard seals, named for their spotted coats, are one of the primary predators of Antarctica.
Average life span in the wild: 12 to 15 years
Size: 10 to 11.5 ft (3 to 3.5 m)
Weight: Up to 840 lbs (380 kg)
The leopard seal is named for its black-spotted coat. The pattern is similar to that of the famous big cat, though the seal's coat is gray rather than golden in color. This seal is sometimes called the sea leopard, and the resemblance is more than skin deep. Like their feline namesakes, leopard seals are fierce predators. They are the most formidable hunters of all the seals and the only ones that feed on warm-blooded prey, such as other seals. Leopard seals use their powerful jaws and long teeth to kill smaller seals, fish, and squid.
These effective predators live in frigid Antarctic and sub-Antarctic waters, where they also eat penguins. They often wait underwater near an ice shelf and snare the birds just as they enter the water after jumping off the ice. They may also come up beneath seabirds resting on the water surface and snatch them in their jaws.
Shellfish are a far less dramatic prey but still an important part of the leopard seal's diet.
Leopard seals are earless seals. They have long bodies (10 to 11.5 feet/3 to 3.5 meters) and elongated heads. Like most other seals, leopard seals are insulated from frigid waters by a thick layer of fat known as blubber.
Though the leopard seal is known for its coat, it has not been commercially hunted for its skin like its fur seal relatives.
Adept climbers, leopards will often drag their food into trees to protect it from scavengers.
Size: Head and body, 4.25 to 6.25 ft (1.3 to 1.9 m); tail, 3.5 to 4.5 ft (1.1 to 1.4 m)
Weight: 66 to 176 lbs (30 to 80 kg)
Protection status: Near Threatened
Leopards are graceful and powerful big cats closely related to lions, tigers, and jaguars. They live in sub-Saharan Africa, northeast Africa, Central Asia, India, and China. However, many of their populations are endangered, especially outside of Africa.
The leopard is so strong and comfortable in trees that it often hauls its kills into the branches. By dragging the bodies of large animals aloft it hopes to keep them safe from scavengers such as hyenas. Leopards can also hunt from trees, where their spotted coats allow them to blend with the leaves until they spring with a deadly pounce. These nocturnal predators also stalk antelope, deer, and pigs by stealthy movements in the tall grass. When human settlements are present, leopards often attack dogs and, occasionally, people.
Leopards are strong swimmers and very much at home in the water, where they sometimes eat fish or crabs.
Female leopards can give birth at any time of the year. They usually have two grayish cubs with barely visible spots. The mother hides her cubs and moves them from one safe location to the next until they are old enough to begin playing and learning to hunt. Cubs live with their mothers for about two years—otherwise, leopards are solitary animals.
Most leopards are light colored with distinctive dark spots that are called rosettes, because they resemble the shape of a rose. Black leopards, which appear to be almost solid in color because their spots are hard to distinguish, are commonly called black panthers.
A female leatherback sea turtle heaves herself from the surf at night to nest. Females often return to the same nesting areas where they were born to produce their own offspring.
Average life span in the wild: 45 years (est.)
Size: Up to 7 ft (2 m)
Weight: Up to 2,000 lbs (900 kg)
Protection status: Endangered
Did you know? The largest leatherback ever found was an 8.5-ft-long (2.6-m-long) male weighing 2,020 lbs (916 kg) that washed up on the west coast of Wales in 1988.
Leatherbacks are the largest turtles on Earth, growing up to seven feet (two meters) long and exceeding 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms). These reptilian relics are the only remaining representatives of a family of turtles that traces its evolutionary roots back more than 100 million years. Once prevalent in every ocean except the Arctic and Antarctic, the leatherback population is rapidly declining in many parts of the world.
While all other sea turtles have hard, bony shells, the inky-blue carapace of the leatherback is somewhat flexible and almost rubbery to the touch. Ridges along the carapace help give it a more hydrodynamic structure. Leatherbacks can dive to depths of 4,200 feet (1,280 meters)—deeper than any other turtle—and can stay down for up to 85 minutes.
Leatherbacks have the widest global distribution of all reptile species, and possibly of any vertebrate. They can be found in the tropic and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. Adult leatherbacks also traverse as far north as Canada and Norway and as far south as New Zealand and South America. Unlike their reptilian relatives, leatherbacks are able to maintain warm body temperatures in cold water by using a unique set of adaptations that allows them to both generate and retain body heat. These adaptations include large body size, changes in swimming activity and blood flow, and a thick layer of fat.
Leatherbacks undertake the longest migrations between breeding and feeding areas of any sea turtle, averaging 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers) each way. After mating at sea, females come ashore during the breeding season to nest. The nighttime ritual involves excavating a hole in the sand, depositing around 80 eggs, filling the nest, leaving a large, disturbed area of sand that makes detection by predators difficult, and finally returning to the sea.
The temperature inside the nest determines the sex of the hatchlings. A mix of male and female hatchlings occurs when the nest temperature is approximately 85.1 degrees Fahrenheit (29.5 degrees Celsius), while higher temperatures produce females and cooler temperatures produce males. Female hatchlings that make it to sea will roam the oceans until they reach sexual maturity, when they return to the same nesting areas to produce their own offspring. Males spend the rest of their lives at sea.
Their lifespan is unknown but many leatherbacks meet an early end due to human activity. It is estimated that only about one in a thousand leatherback hatchlings survive to adulthood. Eggs are often taken by humans from nests to be consumed for subsistence or as aphrodisiacs. Many leatherbacks fall victim to fishing lines and nets, or are struck by boats. Leatherbacks also can die if they ingest floating plastic debris mistaken for their favorite food: jellyfish. Some individuals have been found to have almost 11 pounds (5 kilograms) of plastic in their stomachs.
Leatherbacks are currently designated as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The number of leatherbacks in the Atlantic appears to be stable or increasing, but the Pacific population is declining at an alarming rate due to egg harvest, fishery bycatch, coastal development, and highly variable food availability. Some Pacific populations have disappeared entirely from certain areas, such as Malaysia.
Scientists around the world are tracking and studying leatherbacks to learn more about these reptilian giants and how they can be saved.
Leafy sea dragons are brown to yellow in body color and are more ornately adorned than the reddish colored weedies.
Size: Leafy, up to 13.8 in (35 cm), Weedy, up to 18 in (46 cm)
Did you know? The tail of a male leafy sea dragon will turn bright yellow when he is ready to mate.
Sea dragons are some of the most ornately camouflaged creatures on the planet. Adorned with gossamer, leaf-shaped appendages over their entire bodies, they are perfectly outfitted to blend in with the seaweed and kelp formations they live amongst.
Endemic to the waters off south and east Australia, leafy and weedy sea dragons are closely related to seahorses and pipefish. Leafies are generally brown to yellow in body color with spectacular olive-tinted appendages. Weedies have less flamboyant projections and are usually reddish in color with yellow spots.
Sea dragons have very long, thin snouts; slender trunks covered in bony rings; and thin tails which, unlike their seahorse cousins, cannot be used for gripping. They have small, transparent dorsal and pectoral fins that propel and steer them awkwardly through the water, but they seem quite content to tumble and drift in the current like seaweed. Leafies grow to a length of about 14 inches (35 centimeters), while the slightly larger weedies can grow up to 18 inches (46 centimeters) long.
As with sea horses, sea dragon males are responsible for childbearing. But instead of a pouch, like sea horses have, male sea dragons have a spongy brood patch on the underside of the tail where females deposit their bright-pink eggs during mating. The eggs are fertilized during the transfer from the female to the male. The males incubate the eggs and carry them to term, releasing miniature sea dragons into the water after about four to six weeks.
Sea dragons survive on tiny crustaceans such as mysids, or sea lice. It is not known if they are preyed upon by other animals. They are, however, frequently taken by divers seeking to keep them as pets. In fact, such takings shrank their numbers so critically by the early 1990s that the Australian government placed a complete protection on both species. Pollution and habitat loss have also hurt their numbers, and they are currently listed as near threatened.
Ladybugs, ladybirds, or lady beetles—whatever one calls them—are favored by farmers as voracious pest-eaters.
Average life span in the wild: 2 to 3 years
Size: 0.3 to 0.4 in (8 to 10 mm)
Many people are fond of ladybugs because of their colorful, spotted appearance. But farmers love them for their appetite. Most ladybugs voraciously consume plant-eating insects, such as aphids, and in doing so they help to protect crops. Ladybugs lay hundreds of eggs in the colonies of aphids and other plant-eating pests. When they hatch, the ladybug larvae immediately begin to feed. By the end of its three-to-six-week life, a ladybug may eat some 5,000 aphids.
Ladybugs are also called lady beetles or, in Europe, ladybird beetles. There are about 5,000 different species of these insects, and not all of them have the same appetites. A few ladybugs prey not on plant-eaters but on plants. The Mexican bean beetle and the squash beetle are destructive pests that prey upon the crops mentioned in their names.
Ladybugs appear as half-spheres, tiny, spotted, round or oval-shaped domes. They have short legs and antennae.
Their distinctive spots and attractive colors are meant to make them unappealing to predators. Ladybugs can secrete a fluid from joints in their legs which gives them a foul taste. Their coloring is likely a reminder to any animals that have tried to eat their kind before: "I taste awful." A threatened ladybug may both play dead and secrete the unappetizing substance to protect itself.
With its sheer strength and deadly, bacteria-ridden saliva, the Komodo dragon is the top predator in its range.
Average life span in the wild: 30 years+
Size: 10 ft (3 m)
Weight: 330 lbs (150 kg)
Protection status: Endangered
Did you know? Komodo dragons can run up to 11 mph (18 kph) in short bursts.
Komodo dragons have thrived in the harsh climate of Indonesia's Lesser Sunda Islands for millions of years, although amazingly, their existence was unknown to humans until about 100 years ago.
Reaching 10 feet (3 meters) in length and more than 300 pounds (136 kilograms), Komodo dragons are the heaviest lizards on Earth. They have long, flat heads with rounded snouts, scaly skin, bowed legs, and huge, muscular tails.
As the dominant predators on the handful of islands they inhabit, they will eat almost anything, including carrion, deer, pigs, smaller dragons, and even large water buffalo and humans. When hunting, Komodo dragons rely on camouflage and patience, lying in wait for passing prey. When a victim ambles by, the dragon springs, using its powerful legs, sharp claws and serrated, shark-like teeth to eviscerate its prey.
Animals that escape the jaws of a Komodo will only feel lucky briefly. Dragon saliva teems with over 50 strains of bacteria, and within 24 hours, the stricken creature usually dies of blood poisoning. Dragons calmly follow an escapee for miles as the bacteria takes effect, using their keen sense of smell to hone in on the corpse. A dragon can eat a whopping 80 percent of its body weight in a single feeding.
There is a stable population of about 3,000 to 5,000 Komodo dragons on the islands of Komodo, Gila Motang, Rinca, and Flores. However, a dearth of egg-laying females, poaching, human encroachment, and natural disasters has driven the species to endangered status.
Like other marsupials, a koala mother carries her baby in a pouch until it is large enough to ride on her back or belly.
Average life span in the wild: 20 years
Size: 23.5 to 33.5 in (60 to 85 cm)
Weight: 20 lbs (9 kg)
Protection status: Threatened
Though often called the koala "bear," this cuddly animal is not a bear at all; it is a marsupial, or pouched mammal. After giving birth, a female koala carries her baby in her pouch for about six months. When the infant emerges, it rides on its mother's back or clings to her belly, accompanying her everywhere until it is about a year old.
Koalas live in eastern Australia, where the eucalyptus trees they love are most plentiful. In fact, they rarely leave these trees, and their sharp claws and opposable digits easily keep them aloft. During the day they doze, tucked into forks or nooks in the trees, sleeping for up to 18 hours.
When not asleep a koala feeds on eucalyptus leaves, especially at night. Koalas do not drink much water and they get most of their moisture from these leaves. Each animal eats a tremendous amount for its size—about two and a half pounds (one kilogram) of leaves a day. Koalas even store snacks of leaves in pouches in their cheeks.
A special digestive system—a long gut—allows koalas to break down the tough eucalyptus leaves and remain unharmed by their poison. Koalas eat so many of these leaves that they take on a distinctive odor from their oil, reminiscent of cough drops.
These plump, fuzzy mammals were widely hunted during the 1920s and 1930s, and their populations plunged. Helped by reintroduction, they have reappeared over much of their former range, but their populations are smaller and scattered. Koalas need a lot of space—about a hundred trees per animal—a pressing problem as Australia's woodlands continue to shrink.
Resembling a small primate but actually related to the raccoon, the Central and South American kinkajou uses its long tongue to remove honey from beehives and nectar from flowers.
Size: Head and body, 17 to 22 in (43 to 56 cm); Tail, 16 to 22 in (41 to 56 cm)
Weight: 3 to 7 lbs (1 to 3 kg)
Group name: Troop
Kinkajous live in the tropical forests of Central and South America, where they spend most of their time in the trees. They are able to turn their feet backwards to run easily in either direction along branches or up and down trunks. The kinkajou also has a prehensile (gripping) tail that it uses much like another arm. Kinkajous often hang from this incredible tail, which also aids their balance and serves as a cozy blanket while the animal sleeps high in the canopy.
Though many of its features and traits sound like those of a primate, the kinkajou is actually related to the raccoon.
Kinkajous are sometimes called honey bears because they raid bees' nests. They use their long, skinny tongues to slurp honey from a hive, and also to remove insects like termites from their nests. Kinkajous also eat fruit and small mammals, which they snare with their nimble front paws and sharp claws. They roam and eat at night, and return each morning to sleep in previously used tree holes.
Kinkajous form treetop groups and share social interactions such as reciprocal grooming. They are vocal animals—though seldom seen, they are often heard screeching and barking in the tropical forest canopy.
Female kinkajous give birth to one offspring in spring or summer. The baby is born with its eyes shut and cannot see for a month. It develops quickly, however, and by the end of the second month, it is already able to hang upside down from its tail.
King cobras rarely attack humans, but one bite contains enough venom to bring down an elephant.
Average life span in the wild: 20 years
Size: 13 ft (4 m)
Weight: Up to 20 lbs (9 kg)
Group name: Quiver
Did you know? Synthetic cobra venom is used in pain relievers and arthritis medication.
It seems unfairly menacing that a snake that can literally "stand up" and look a full-grown person in the eye would also be among the most venomous on the planet, but that describes the famous king cobra.
King cobras can reach 18 feet (5.5 meters) in length, making them the longest of all venomous snakes. When confronted, they can raise up to one-third of their bodies straight off the ground and still move forward to attack. They will also flare out their iconic hoods and emit a bone-chilling hiss that sounds almost like a growling dog.
Their venom is not the most potent among venomous snakes, but the amount of neurotoxin they can deliver in a single bite—up to two-tenths of a fluid ounce (seven milliliters)—is enough to kill 20 people, or even an elephant. Fortunately, king cobras are shy and will avoid humans whenever possible, but they are fiercely aggressive when cornered.
King cobras live mainly in the rain forests and plains of India, southern China, and Southeast Asia, and their coloring can vary greatly from region to region. They are comfortable in the trees, on land, and in water, feeding mainly on other snakes, venomous and nonvenomous. They will also eat lizards, eggs, and small mammals.
They are the only snakes in the world that build nests for their eggs, which they guard ferociously until the hatchlings emerge.
King cobras may be best known as the species of choice for the snake charmers of South Asia. Although cobras can hear, they are actually deaf to ambient noises, sensing ground vibrations instead. The charmer's flute entices the cobra by its shape and movement, not by the music it emits.
Largest of the dolphins, the killer whale, or orca, is a highly successful predator, feeding on fish, seals, and sometimes whales.
Average life span in the wild: 50 to 80 years
Size: 23 to 32 ft (7 to 9.7 m)
Weight: Up to 6 tons (5,443 kg)
Group name: Pod
Orcas, or killer whales, are the largest of the dolphins and one of the world's most powerful predators. They feast on marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, and even whales, employing teeth that can be four inches (ten centimeters) long. They are known to grab seals right off the ice. They also eat fish, squid, and seabirds.
Though they often frequent cold, coastal waters, orcas can be found from the polar regions to the Equator.
Killer whales hunt in deadly pods, family groups of up to 40 individuals. There appear to be both resident and transient pod populations of killer whales. These different groups may prey on different animals and use different techniques to catch them. Resident pods tend to prefer fish, while transient pods target marine mammals. All pods use effective, cooperative hunting techniques that some liken to the behavior of wolf packs.
Whales make a wide variety of communicative sounds, and each pod has distinctive noises that its members will recognize even at a distance. They use echolocation to communicate and hunt, making sounds that travel underwater until they encounter objects, then bounce back, revealing their location, size, and shape.
Killer whales are protective of their young, and other adolescent females often assist the mother in caring for them. Mothers give birth every three to ten years, after a 17-month pregnancy.
Orcas are immediately recognizable by their distinctive black-and-white coloring and are the intelligent, trainable stars of many aquarium shows. Killer whales have never been extensively hunted by humans.
Unlike other sea turtles, female Kemp's ridley turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in the daylight hours.
Average life span in the wild: About 50 years
Size: 2 ft (65 cm)
Weight: 100 lbs (45 kg)
Protection status: Endangered
Did you know? A 1947 amateur film showed some 40,000 female Kemp's ridley turtles nesting in Mexico in a single day. Today, it is estimated that only about 1,000 breeding females exist worldwide.
The Kemp’s ridley turtle is the world’s most endangered sea turtle, and with a worldwide female nesting population roughly estimated at just 1,000 individuals, its survival truly hangs in the balance. Their perilous situation is attributed primarily to the over-harvesting of their eggs during the last century. And though their nesting grounds are protected and many commercial fishing fleets now use turtle excluder devices in their nets, these turtles have not been able to rebound.
For this reason, their nesting processions, called arribadas, make for especially high drama. During an arribada, females take over entire portions of beaches, lugging their big bodies through the sand with their flippers until they find a satisfying spot to lay their eggs. Even more riveting is the later struggle to the ocean of each tiny, vulnerable hatchling. Beset by predators, hatchlings make this journey at night, breaking out of their shells using their caruncle, a single temporary tooth grown just for this purpose.
Found primarily in the Gulf of Mexico, but also as far north as Nova Scotia, Kemp’s ridleys are among the smallest sea turtles, reaching only about 2 feet (65 centimeters) in shell length and weighing up to 100 pounds (45 kilograms). Their upper shell, or carapace, is a greenish-grey color, and their bellies are off-white to yellowish.
They prefer shallow waters, where they dive to the bottom to feed on crabs, which are their favorite food, and other shellfish. They also eat jellyfish, and occasionally munch on seaweed and sargassum. They may live to be 50 years old.
Females aren’t sexually mature until about ten to twelve years of age. They nest every one to three years and may lay several clutches of eggs each season. Highly migratory animals, they often travel hundreds of miles (kilometers) to reach their nesting beach, usually the same beach they hatched from.