Episode 155 – White Rhino: Crash and the Birds

“…And today we’re talking about Marco Polo’s thick unicorn! But more on that later.”

Grazing along the African savannah, the white rhino keeps his ears peeled for the danger bird – despite not having many predators to worry about. When opportunity squawks, the rhino definitely listens. But the classic symbiotic relationship between the rhino the oxpecker may benefit the bird more than the mammal. But animals take what they can and give nothin’ back here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the White Rhino

  • White rhinos are large organic tanks with keratin horns coming out of their faces.
  • White rhinos have two horns with a larger horn in the front of the face and a smaller one directly behind it.
  • They have a hump on the backs of their necks and trunk like legs and feet. 
  • Unlike an elephant their feet flair out at the bottom like a bell, with three toes.
  • They have mouths that form a vague square shape.
  • They’re skin is leathery and think, contributing to it’s armored appearance. 
  • White rhinos can range in color from a yellowish brown to a dark grey.
  • They are said to have the widest set nostrils of any land animal. Olfactory systems in their brain are larger than the rest of their brain put together. 

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a new Measure Up intro so that means we get to hear from an animal and Carlos has to guess what it is.

  1. American Bison
  2. Wildebeest 
  3. Guar
  4. Nilgai

Length

  • 3.7 to 4 m (12.1 to 13.1 ft)
  • How many 1964 Hess Tanker Trailer replicas go into the length of a male rhino?
  • Hint: Hess started to sell replicas of their trucks in gas stations in 1964 as a thank you to their customers. The 1964 Hess Tanker Trailer was their first, modeled after the company’s first B61 Mack truck. Only 150,000 were made and if you have one in excellent condition today, it could go for $2,000.
  • 13.1 trucks. The trucks are 12 inches.

Weight

  • 2,300 kg (5,070 lb)
  • How many Rhinos go into a Mack Granite heavy duty truck’s maximum loaded weight?
  • Hint: Loaded weight refers to the weight that is transferred to the road from a fully-loaded vehicle’s axle. The federal limit of gross weight on a federal road is 80,000 lbs.
  • 18 Rhinos. The mack granite’s max load is 92,000 pounds (42,000 kg).

Fast Facts about the White Rhino

The white rhino is a herbivore graser, which means it has a lifestyle kind of like a cow, looking for tasty grass and plants to eat. They spend about half the day eating and a third of it resting, leaving four hours for fun stuff like mating, rolling in mud holes, and video games.

Grown males prefer the company of their own thoughts and spend most of their time alone, pondering the universe. Adolescents will hang out with one another and with adult females. These groups can be as large as 14 members.

Rhinos have good hearing and even better smell but they don’t have great eyesight. Something moving silently from downwind could sneak up on a rhino. An activity I wouldn’t recommend. But to prevent this, rhinos allow Oxpecker birds to sit on their backs, eating flies and parasites that may bother the rhino. They also act as an alarm system when danger approaches. 

Females reach maturity around age 6 but they can only date older boys, because it takes males between 10 and 12 years to reach maturity. Little unborn rhinos take about 16 months to gestate. Newborn calves can weigh up to 140 pounds.

Major Fact: Scaredy Crash

Rhinos are big, fierce, and heavily armored. They’re the second-largest land animals on the planet. They have huge, sharp horn-like appendages coming out of their faces. And they have 2-inch thick armored skin. They have no natural predators, which is surprising because even elephants have to deal with lions. But I imagine the baby rhinos get gobbles. So you’d think that these guys would be able to saunter across the savannah with confidence right? The reality is that they’re pretty easily spooked.

Rhinos have really good hearing. Their ears can almost turn the full 360 degrees around their heads. 

But they have pretty poor eyesight. If they’re startled, they’ll either run away or just charge the thing they think is after them–even if it’s just a bush or a tree.

They also make use of that rare jewel in the animal kingdom: cooperation! (interspecies cooperation, that is) symbiosis. There’s a bird they befriend called an oxpecker. They perch on the backs of rhinos as they graze. The oxpeckers get a free meal of ticks and other parasites that can latch onto the rhino. Also, there aren’t any animals that would try and nab a bird sitting on a rhino’s back.

The rhino gets a nice skin cleaning, but what it really wants is the bird’s natural alarm system. If the oxpecker spots danger, it will tweet. Then the rhino just wildly mauls the bush or runs away. The oxpecker is called “askari wa kifaru” in Swahili which means “the rhino’s guard.” But you probably already knew that.

But this famous symbiotic relationship may be more parasitic than you thought. Ticks suck…literally. All of them do – but the oxpecker actually likes to eat rhino blood, so it only eats the fat ones.

It’s selective and self-serving. In fact, it’s main food source is rhino blood. The bird will also find infected or infested wounds on the rhino and eat any larvae or parasites living there. But it will also eat the scabs and open the wound even more.

Ending: So armor up, sharpen your horn-like appendages, and keep helpful birds on your shoulder like the white rhino here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 151 – Platypus: Defying its Stars

“…and today we’re talking about a creature that looks like it specced into every skill tree. But more on that later.”

In the land down under, there’s dwelleth a strange mammal that looks like an otter that glued a bunch of other animal parts onto its body. The platypus is famous not only for its odd look, but also for its odd behavior. But bills and tails aren’t the only trick the platypus has picked up. It also has some offensive and defensive traits that make it the most interesting animal in the world. But that’s just how you survive in Australia here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description

A platypus has one of the most infamous looks in the animal kingdom. These duck-billed beavers look like a hybrid animal from the world of Avatar the Last Airbender. It is so weird, when Europeans first saw drawings of it in the 18th century, they thought it was a hoax.

  • The platypus has a river mammal’s body like a beaver or otter with thick, dense fur to wick off moisture and glide through the water.
  • Also, like a beaver, they have broad flat tails that aid in swimming.
  • All four of their paws are broad and webbed like a beaver’s back paws.
  • The strangest part may be their bills, which are broad and help them root around on river beds for food.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We have a new measure up intro this week from Honey Badger, and this time he brought a buddy.

Length

  • Males average 50 cm (20 in)
  • How many Platypuses go into the height of the Parliament House in Canberra, Australia?
  • Hint: The current parliament house has been in use since 1988. Before that the Australian government had decided to build a temporary house to be used for 50 years. It ended up being used for 61 years. 
  • 210.6. The Parliament House is 107 metres (351 feet) tall.

Weight

  • 0.7 to 2.4 kg (1 lb 9 oz to 5 lb 5 oz)
  • How many kiwi eggs go into the weight of a platypus? 
  • Hint: Kiwi eggs are the largest proportional to body size for any bird. The egg takes up a huge amount of space in the tiny bird’s body cavity and comes out much larger than a chicken egg.
  • 8 eggs. Kiwi eggs are 300 grams.

Fast Facts about the Platypus

Platypus live in eastern Australia and in Tasmania. They prefer lands with waterways like streams and rivers that support their semi aquatic lifestyle. 

The look of a platypus isn’t where it stops being a strange collection of animal traits. It’s also one of only  four living monotremes, or mammals that lay eggs. Platypuses lay two or three already fertilized eggs at a time. Though they have a bill like a duck, their eggs are soft leathery like a reptile. They incubate inside their mother for 28 days and only incubate outside for about 10. 

When hunting they close their eyes and rely on other senses to locate their target like a jedi. Their broad bill snouts actually have soft sensitive skin on the end that can feel for subtle signs of prey. They eat worms, larvae, shrimp, and crayfish.

Major Fact: Spurred to Action

As we’ve mentioned, and as you probably already know, the platypus, is a weird animal. Despite laying eggs, having a duck bill, webbed feet, mole fur, and a beaver tail, there are a few other tricks it has up its sleeve. 

The first comes down to the infamous cowboy basketball team – the spurs. Male platypuses have little spikes on their hind duck feet that inject a protein-based venom into would-be attackers (most likely rival males). This venom is unique to platypuses and is strong enough to kill small to medium-sized animals. It will also cause excruciating pain in humans–enough to incapacitate. It causes fluid retention in and near the wound and can cause you to become extra sensitive to pain for months afterward.

The second trick Perry has is electrolocation – the ability to use electricity to locate prey. Sharks are famous for having electrolocation, as they can sense the electrical fields generated when a muscle contracts. So flailing or struggling fish pop up on their radar.

The platypus actually has these electroreceptors in their duck bill, and it uses that bill to dig around at the bottom of lakes and streams. It actually closes its eyes, ears, and nose, whenever it’s underwater so it completely relies on electricity to eat – like me since I’m a microwave dinner kinda guy.

On a final note, the platypus will also glow if you shine a blacklight on it, as though it weren’t weird enough.

Ending: So close your eyes, take a dive, and become the greatest-hits album of the animal kingdom like Joe, Steve, Katy, Matthew Perry the Platypus here in LDT.

Thanks

Thank you to Casy for creating our theme song. To hear more of Casy’s music search Casy Michelle on Youtube


Thank you to Brian for creating the episode art. See more of Brian’s art at xNamaru on Instagram or Twitter.

Episode 149 – Bottlenose Dolphin: Thanks for all the Fish

“…and today we’re talking about one of the most famous sea animals of all time. The white hat to the black hat of the great white shark. Though, PR can be deceiving. But more on that later…”

When life kicks mud in your face, most of us, and most animals, would give up or bemoan our misfortune. But the bottlenose dolphin is smarter than that. It takes that mud and makes some lemonade, which isn’t a great material to make lemonade out of. But it gets the job done when it comes to tricking a bunch of fish to jump directly into your open jaws. But that’s just how the bottlenose snatches up its supper here in LDT

Description of the Bottlenose Dolphin

This is the dolphin. The one you know. The grey smiling torpedo of the lagoon. We’re talking the cylindrical nose that widens to a submarine-shaped head, adorned with two gentle monocular eyeballs.

These greybies have two pectoral flippers and a dorsal fin that’s located toward the middle of their backs. Their bodies tapper to a horizontal tail. Their blow holes are located on top of their heads for easy breathing access.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. 

Length

  • 4 meters (13 feet)
  • How many of the largest bottles of wine go into the length of a bottlenose dolphin?
  • Hint: The largest bottle of wine is a german bottle that holds an Austrian “100 Days Zweigelt” red wine. The bottle was presented at a Chinese restaurant in Austria in 2017, where it was meant to age for several more years before being auctioned off. However, temperature problems caused the wine to expand, spilling 230 liters onto the floor.
  • 1.3 bottles. The bottle was 9.8 feet high.

Weight

  • 300 kg (660 pounds)
  • How many Atlantic herring would a dolphin have to eat to eat it’s weight in herring?
  • Hint: Atlantic herring are bigger than both Pacific and Baltic herring. And if you’re wondering, “Herring?! I thought they ate fish!” I’d say to you, “Fievel. Herring are fish!” 
  • 440 herring. Atlantic herring are 700 g (1.5 lb).

Fast Facts about the Bottlenose Dolphin

Bottlenose dolphins are found in temperate to tropical waters all over the world, but they generally stay out of the arctic and antarctic zones. There are both inshore and offshore populations with some subtle physical variations between them. 

These happy go lucky sea bros like to eat eels, squid, shrimp, and all manner of fish. Despite their formidable set of teeth, they prefer to swallow prey whole. They locate prey with echolocation, which is similar to SONAR. High pitched sounds are emitted that bounce off prey and tell dolphins where they are. 

They can also use sounds for communication as well as body language, like slapping the water or breaching. 

Dolphins breed in the spring mostly. Males form roving bands of lady seekers to find suitable mates. When located, they separate her from her home rains. Females can bear caves every three to six years, ensuring they never have the dreaded two under two. 

In the wild, dolphins live for about 17 years, but they can live up to 51 years in captivity. 

Sharks avoid dolphins because they bully them. Pods attack and kill sharks when they find them. Their group tactics and superior maneuverability make them formidable to a single shark. They use up and down tactics which their horizontal tail fins allow them to dominate shark mobility. They’ll ram shark bellies and gills until they die or flee.

Because of their relative intelligence, dolphins display some human-esque tendencies including sophisticated social structures and large brain to body ratio. Intelligence tests found they are not only capable of solving complex novel tasks, they were able to complete novel tasks that required cooperation. They can also associate visual symbols with an action they already know. Like assigning a written word to an object. Self-recognition in mirrors is inconclusive, so they may or may not be self-aware.

Though bottlenose dolphins are listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, they can be threatened by things like marine pollution and tuna fishing. 

Major Fact: So Long and Thanks for all the Fish

So it’s no secret that dolphins are unusually intelligent animals. They have complex social relationships and even a language. But some of the best examples of their smarts comes from their problem-solving. Not just solving problems… improving on solutions

Bottlenose dolphins in the brackish estuaries of Florida have developed a unique way of catching fish.

The estuaries are usually shallow and filled with silt, which kicks up as the dolphins swim.

Other dolphins would see this lack of visibility as a hindrance, but the bottlenose uses it to 10x his lead gen efforts.

What is Mud-Ringing?

A group of bottlenoses will use a technique known as mud-ringing to have the fish literally jumping into their mouth – like when Jesus showed Peter a thing or two about fishing.

So when a small team of dolphins finds a school of fish to munch on, one dolphin will swim in a circle around the school, brushing its fluke along the silt-covered floor to create an actual ring of mud. The circle is almost perfect every time too.

When the circle is done, the fish will swim away from the dolphin that made the ring, but once the fish encounter the mud wall, rather than just swim through it, they’ll try to jump over it–directly into the open mouths of the team waiting just on the outside of the ring.

This is unique because other dolphins and even bottlenoses that don’t live in estuaries don’t use this technique – I mean, why would they?

So that means that they learned this technique. In fact, there are videos of mothers teaching their calves how to make mud rings. 

The Disney Nature documentary shows them enjoying the shower of fish in slow motion and it reminded me of the opening scene from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Ending: So get together with your friends, find a sizable school of delicious mackerel, and if you like it, put a mud ring on it like the bottlenose dolphin here in LDT.

Thanks

Thank you to Casy for creating our theme song. To hear more of Casy’s music search Casy Michelle on Youtube

Thank you to Brian for creating the episode art. See more of Brian’s art at xNamaru on Instagram or Twitter.

Episode 148 – Coyote: An Unlikely Friendship

“…And today we’re talking about a legendary animal friendship. But more on that later.”

The American coyote is a famous animal in folklore and fables. The cunning animal is a mainstay in Native American folk tales and culture. Coyotes have long exhibited a behavior that was thought to only be true in stories. In fact, this odd partnership would fit right into a fantastic fable. But as it turns out the stories are true and the coyote found a friend in an unlikely ally. But even solitary animals sometimes turn to cooperation in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 146 – Black Footed Cat: A Prolific Predator

“… and today we’re talking about a predator so adorable, it rivals the pika-killing stoat in deadly cuteness.”

Predators come in all shapes and sizes, but a small size doesn’t necessarily mean an animal is a less effective hunter. And if you’re a rodent in the semi-desert plains of southern Africa, it’s a lesson you need to learn quickly, lest you be lunch for a tiny feline. The black-footed cat is smaller than a typical tabby, but it’s anything but tame. But hiding fierceness behind a pair of finely tuned night-vision goggles is one key to success in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.