Elephant 6

Fun animal facts I have learned being a zoo docent

1. There are several ways to classify the large cats, one of the more useful ones is into the roaring cats (tigers, lions) and the purring cats (bobcats, lynxes). The puma (also known as the mountain lion) is the largest cat that purrs. I’ve heard it up close, it’s amazing. A cheetah’s purr sounds like an idling motorcycle engine.

2. Kangaroos cannot move their legs independently of each other, they have to move them in sync - when they’re on land. When they’re swimming, they can move them separately. Hopping is their most efficient way to move - a walking kangaroo is super awkward. They swing both legs forward using their tail as a third leg to prop up while their legs swing.

3. People often think that flamingoes’ knees bend the wrong way. They don’t - the joint you’re seeing in the middle of their leg isn’t their knee, it’s their ankle. Their knee is up by their body, and it bends the same way ours does.

4. Giraffes only sleep 1-2 hours a day.

5. Bald eagles’ vocalizations are not what you expect. When you see a flying bald eagle in the movies and hear that majestic caw sound? That isn’t an eagle, it’s been dubbed over with another bird, usually a red-tailed hawk. Bald eagles actually sound…not majestic. Kind of like if a kitten could be a bird.

6. Elephants are one of only a handful of animals that can pass the mirror test - in other words, they can recognize their own reflection (and not think it’s another animal, as dogs and cats usually do). They tested this by placing a chalk mark on an elephant’s forehead and then showing it a mirror. The elephant investigated the mark on its own forehead, indicating it knew that it was looking at itself.  The only animals that pass this test are the higher primates, the higher cetaceans (orcas, dolphins), elephants, and corvids (ravens, magpies, etc).

7. One-fifth of all the known mammal species are bats. [Edit: I’ve now seen several versions of this proportion, ranging from a third to a fifth. Regardless, it’s a huge bat percentage]

8. A kangaroo mother can have three joeys simultaneously at different stages of development: an embryo in her womb (kangaroos can do what’s called embryonic diapause which means sort of putting the development on pause until she’s ready for it to develop further), a joey in her pouch attached to one nipple, and a joey out of the pouch on the ground who nurses from the other one. The amazing thing? Each of her nipples make different formulations of milk for each joey’s different nutritional needs.

9. Bonobos, our closest genetic relative, are almost entirely non-aggressive, matriarchal, and use sex to solve all their problems. They engage in both same and opposite sex interactions, non-penetrative sex (oral, rubbing, manual) and with any age. That can be a very interesting area to work in.

10. Tortoises have super loud sex. Like, really loud.

11. All grizzlies are brown bears, but not all brown bears are grizzlies (grizzlies are a sub-categorization of the brown bear).

12. Reindeer are the only deer species where both males and females grow antlers. The males shed theirs the beginning of December, the females shed theirs in the spring. So all of Santa’s reindeer are girls, heh. I love telling little kids that.

13. If a rhinoceros knocks off its horn, it grows back faster than you’d expect. One of ours has knocked hers off twice.

14. Gorillas get crushes on each other. Sometimes it’s like a soap opera up in there.

15. Langur monkeys are silvery-gray in color - their babies are bright orange. Like Cheeto orange, I do not exaggerate.

16. Polar bear fur is not white, it’s transparent, like fiber optics. Also, their skin is black.

12 Amazing Facts About Elephants

In honor of World Elephant Day, we present you with 12 little known facts about one of our favorite creatures…in GIFs, of course.

1. Elephants know every member of their herd and are able to recognize up to 30 companions by sight or smell. 

2. They can remember and distinguish particular cues that signal danger and can recall locations long after their last visit.

3. An elephant’s memory is not limited to its herd, nor is it limited to its species. In one instance, two circus elephants that performed together rejoiced when crossing paths 23 years later. Elephants have also recognized humans that they once bonded with after decades apart. 4. 

4. The elephant boasts the largest brain of any land mammal as well as an impressive encephalization quotient (the size of the animal’s brain relative to its body size). The elephant’s EQ is nearly as high as a chimpanzee’s.

5. The elephant brain is remarkably similar to the human brain, with as many neurons and synapses, as well as a highly developed hippocampus and cerebral cortex.

6. Elephants are one of the few non-human animals to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

7. Elephants are creative problem solvers. 

8. Don’t try to outsmart an elephant! They have an understanding of basic arithmetic and can even keep track of relative quantities.

9. Elephants communicate using everything from body signals to infrared rumbles that can be heard from kilometers away. Their understanding of syntax suggests that they have their own language and grammar. 

10. Elephants can recognize 12 distinct tones of music and recreate melodies.

11. Elephants are the only non-human animals to mourn their dead, performing burial rituals and returning to visit graves. 

12. Elephants are one of the few species who can recognize themselves in the mirror.

Given what we now know about elephants, and what they continue to teach us about animal intelligence, it is more important than ever to make sure that these magnificent creatures do not vanish.

Check out some more fun elephant facts here and be sure to watch the TED-Ed Lesson Why elephants never forget - Alex Gendler

Animation by the ever-talented Avi Ofer

i love teenage girls who love elephant 6. i love teenage girls who love built to spill, animal collective, pavement. i love teenage girls who love music in which the community is dominated by mid-30s men. i love how nonjudgemental they are when you’re new to the music, don’t know a song, don’t have every single  album on limited-press vinyl, aren’t good at remembering names, can’t play an instrument. i love teenage girls who experiment with music when there’s a world of criticism waiting out there for us. it makes me hopeful for the future of the music we love and makes me not want to give up on learning new things about music. we have so much power. i love us.