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How bats use echolocation?

Picture of a flying bat.

Bats employ the sense of hearing in quite an extraordinary way.

They are equipped for echolocation.

These animals emit high-frequency sounds and are guided, by listening and responding to rapidly returning echoes as the sounds are reflected by objects.

If you were to release a bat in a completely dark room, it could-fly about without hitting the walls or other objects.

This is because the animals emit sound pulses of high frequency; as the sounds strike obstacles, they listen for the echoes.

Why, they sometimes send out over 200 pulses a second!

By interpreting the messages resulting from these echoes, the creature-charts a safe course.

The bat also uses its astounding guidance system to locate the insects on which it dines.

But just how it tells the difference between echoes reflected by obstacles and those returning from potential meals remains a mystery to humans.

For that matter, certain bats catch their prey right on the obstacle, a leaf.

Another remarkable factor is that the bat does not hear the sounds it emits.

Every time one is sent out, ear-muscle contractions ‘turn off the sound’ so that only the echo is heard.

Furthermore, each bat may possess and follow its own pattern of sound because there is not mass confusion when hundreds of these birds flock together.

It has been said:

"Scientists estimate that, ounce for ounce and watt for watt, the bat’s sonar is a billion times more sensitive and efficient than any radar or sonar device contrived by man.”—James Poling, in Marvels & Mysteries of Our Animal World.

Puma-The elusive wild cat

Head shot of a puma.

The sky over South America’s rain forest was turning that hard-to-describe color it gets right before the tropical night erases the color.

Then, suddenly and silently, there the puma was!

It had warily stepped into a forest clearing and stopped in its tracks.

For a moment the big cat stood motionless, except for the tip of its tail, which kept moving like a low-speed windshield wiper.

Then, when it noticed that it was being watched, the puma leapt across the clearing and dashed into the forest.

You can see why racy sports shoes, fast automobiles, and even fighter jets have borne its name.

Clearly, the puma, or cougar, America’s second-largest cat, is designed for speed.

Bundle of muscles

A majestic puma.

Because of its plain, tawny color, the puma may remind you of a lioness.

The facial part of its head, though, is not as rectangular as that of its African cousin.

Rather, the puma’s head is round and small and is topped by equally round and small ears.

From the side, its head looks like a bullet—streamlined and long.

It gazes at you with large green eyes.

A patch of white fur around its mouth gives the impression that it submerged its snout in a bowl of milk and forgot to wipe its mouth.

Its body, lithe and lean, may measure five feet [1.5 m] or more, not counting the thick, dark-tipped tail.

Long and sturdy hind legs cause its rump to be higher than its shoulders.

Those powerful legs give this 130-pound [60 kg] bundle of muscles the booster power to blast off the ground like a rocket.

Pumas have been seen to leap vertically to a height of 18 feet [5 m] in one big jump.

That’s like pole-vaulting without bothering to use a pole!

When jumping down, the puma is equally impressive.

It has been known to make flying jumps to the ground from a height of 60 feet [18 m].

This is nearly twice the height of platforms used by Olympic platform divers, but the puma doesn’t have the benefit of a filled swimming pool below.

Even so, the cat hits the ground ready to bound away as if it had landed on a trampoline.

“This is a powerful, formidable animal,” says wildlife biologist Kenneth Logan.

 “Once you learn how these cats make their living, they command a lot of respect.”

Remarkably, they seem to be practically everywhere—but nowhere.

Almost Everywhere, yet Invisible

When the first colonists settled in the New World, the puma’s range spanned the entire continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

It made a living in mountains, swamps, prairies, and jungles alike.

 Though hunters and farmers have now eliminated the puma from many parts of North America, it remains the all-American cat, still wandering from Canada to the tip of South America.

If you measure the success of an animal by the extent of its geographic distribution and the diversity of its habitat, then the puma must be the most successful native American mammal today.

The secret of its success?

The puma is well equipped for survival.

It has a sturdy stomach and uses varied hunting methods.

It can adjust to almost any kind of local food.

“It is able to kill and drag an animal five times its size, but it also eats grasshoppers if nothing else is around,” says a veterinarian who has examined the stomach contents of several pumas killed in Brazil.

“When it comes to food, the puma is more versatile than any other species of cats.”

Diverse food also calls for diverse hunting skills.

Grabbing, let’s say, a bird requires a different tactic from pouncing on a deer.

How does the puma do it?

In Brazil’s Atlantic forest, it attracts the tinamou by imitating the bird’s call.

“A perfect imitation,” says one observer.

“The tinamou calls only a few times, but the puma whistles on—10 or 20 times.” Nevertheless, it works.

The tinamou thinks a noisy male bird has invaded his territory and decides to step forward and confront his rival—a fatal move.

Whether you search for the puma in North, Central, or South America, it manages, for the most part, to stay out of sight—like the air, omnipresent but invisible.

The adjectives most often used by researchers studying the puma are “secretive, elusive and wary.”

After killing about 70 pumas, one hunter admitted that “he had never seen one of his victims before the dogs had driven it up a tree.”

No wonder frustrated researchers have called the cat “maddeningly elusive”!

A cat of many names

Picture of a puma.

The all-American cat, though, is not only hard to spot but hard to define as well.

The puma, states The Guinness Book of Animal Records, “has more names than any other mammal in the world.”

Besides the 40-odd names known in English, “it also has at least 18 native South American names and a further 25 native North American names.”

Puma, the name most used by zoologists, comes from the Quechua language of Peru.

Mountain lion, catamount, panther, painter, red tiger, and deer tiger are a few of the other names given to this cat.

Dr. Faiçal Simon, curator of the São Paulo Zoo and an expert on pumas, observed:

“The puma’s behavior and physical capabilities have little in common with the other big cats.” 

This is truly a different kind of cat and one that varies in size and color.

Up to 30 subspecies of the puma are recognized throughout the Americas, 6 of them in Brazil.

Why is a puma endangered?

Picture of a cautious puma.

To many cattle ranchers in Brazil and elsewhere, the puma is vermin and ought to be shot at first sight.

But does the puma really deserve the reputation of a serial cattle killer?

“If wild animals are available, the puma rarely kills cattle,” Dr. Simon explains.

“The few times it happens surely don’t justify a systematic destruction of this animal. Actually, by shooting pumas, ranchers are hurting themselves.”

In what way?

For example, in Brazil’s Pantanal, a swampland larger than South Korea, where countless cattle roam freely, ranchers kill pumas.

As a result, relates Dr. Simon, the armadillo population—the puma’s preferred food in that region—is growing rapidly.

Armadillos are armor-encased mammals that are the size of rabbits and that burrow holes.

With no pumas around, the armadillos are turning Pantanal’s pastures into killing fields.

How so?

Well, cattle step in the holes, break their legs, and die.

“Those ranchers are now losing more cattle than before because they’ve killed the pumas,” says Dr. Simon.

“It’s just one more example of what happens when man interferes with nature.”

A growing number of people in the Americas want to preserve the puma.

Thus, authorities in some parts of North America have passed puma-friendly laws that regulate hunting and maintain the cat’s habitat.

As a result, in the western United States, the puma is making a comeback, repopulating former habitats.

Granted, not everyone welcomes this, but many do. Smithsonian magazine notes that the puma “has made a beautiful . . . transition in a relatively short period, from vermin to a very desired animal.”

The puma is desired by nature lovers and by hunters.

For the former, the cat is a majestic symbol of the wilderness, but for the latter, he remains a trophy.

The question is, For how long can the puma be both?

An amazing trip to the Ngorongoro Crater

Picture of a lion approaching a car.

We gazed from our lodge on the rim of Tanzania’s volcanic Ngorongoro Crater, at 7,600 feet above sea level.

Our vision ended abruptly in a wall of mist.

Our disappointment at the thought of having made a journey to this extraordinary crater to be faced with a fog was soon dispelled by our guide, Joseph.

He assured us that the scene would be different when we ‘dropped down.’

To ‘drop down’ was Joseph’s way of describing a 2,000-foot descent to the volcanic crater floor.

Watching the Ngorongoro crater from above.

As we descended in a Land-Rover, a four-wheel-drive vehicle, the blanket of mist cleared.

On our way some funny baboons seemed to be basking on the road but we managed to get through.

Picture of funny baboons on the road.

The sun-bathed crater lay like a huge bowl with a diameter ranging between ten and twelve miles.

We were now in the midst of herds of frolicsome zebras and cavorting wildebeests.

Picture of a mother and cub of a wildebeest.

“A small herd of about 400 wildebeests,” explained Joseph.

Picture of wildebeests.

Although this was a wonder to our eyes, it was really only a small representation of the 10,000 head of wildebeests estimated to teem on the crater floor.

Grazing with the zebras and wildebeests in almost equally vast numbers were the Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles.

Picture of a gazelle with it's young born cub.

‘Tommies,’ as the former are affectionately called, are about the size of a goat.

They have strongly marked black lateral side stripes, with tails that never seem still.

Both types of gazelles provide the greater part of the meat diet of predators such as lion, leopard and cheetah, as well as of hyena, jackal and wild dog.

Picture of hyenas fighting for food

But observing them in such profusion, one is not given the idea that they live in constant fear of the predators.

In fact, we soon observed a lioness intently selecting her next meal from among a nearby herd of gazelles.

The ‘tommies’ were aware of her presence, Joseph told us, as could be seen from their unusual alertness while grazing.

Yet there was no sign of panic in their midst.

Related to gazelles another interesting animal we found  is the Topi.

Picture of a Topi antelope.

As we roamed the crater floor we came upon several families of hyenas.

Picture of a hyena family.

They were not dragging bones and bits of carcasses around, but were just basking in the sun in small family groups.

Hippos, buffalo, lions, elephants

We swung down toward Lake Makat, a lake that had been adopted as the new home of a herd of fifteen hippos.

When strangers approach, hippos seem to feel more comfortable in water.

Picture of hippos in the water.

We were able to observe the antics of one new member of the hippo only a few months old
together with it's protective parents

Picture of a hippo family.

Later, we meet a herd of buffalo's, I can still feel the steely stare of the buffalo when I think of our visit to this crater.

Picture of a buffalo.

Large herds roam the crater floor, and a visitor may come close to them.

The approach of our Land-Rover attracted their attention, and we were conscious of icy stares as they remained apparently motionless until we moved on.

Weighing up to 1,500 pounds, each with massive horns, they look formidable indeed, appearing to have nothing to fear.

However, four buffalo were recently reported killed by lions.

Usually when lions are bold enough to approach a herd, the bulls form a ring with the cows and calves in the center and drive the king of beasts away.

Our visit to the crater would not have been complete had we not seen the king of beasts in his natural habitat.

We were not disappointed.

We saw lions aplenty, but they appeared to be the epitome of laziness.

They seldom even roll over at the approach of a vehicle.

Picture of a pride of lions near our land Rover car.

The lions in the crater are of the black-maned variety.

They are sleek and beautifully conditioned.

As they hunt mostly at night and make a kill only every third day or so, the casual visitor to the crater rarely observes the lion in action.

We soon approached Lerai forest, the haunt of over two hundred elephants.

In many ways the African bull elephant seems to be more deserving of the title king of beasts than the lion, from whom the healthy elephant has little to fear.

Picture of an African elephant.

However as we observed the tiny calves striding along under the lumbering body of the female, it could be appreciated that the little fellows would not survive long were it not for the aggressive adult female guardian.

Interestingly, we also observed a warthog eating eat.

Picture of a warthog eating grass.

Birds and people

The bird life of this crater is no less spectacular than its mammal life.

In fact, few places in East Africa display such diversity and abundance of birds.

Picture on bird diversity.

Around the lake and the marshes the visitor is gratified by the sign of pelicans, ibis, egrets, herons, storks, spoonbills, bustards, secretary birds and crested cranes.

Picture of a Yellow Billed Stork.

Picture of Great White Pelican.
Picture of a an ostrich.
Picture of a heron.
Picture of crested crane.

We were most interested in observing the flamingos, which obligingly take to the wing with a flamboyant display of bright pink and white feathers in response to a clap of the hands.

Picture of flamingo's and wildebeests.

Wild creatures do not have the area entirely to themselves, as there are many families of the Masai tribe living in and around the crater.

The Masai are pastoralists, having made the rearing and caring of their cattle their whole way of life.

They seldom, if ever, hunt the game of the crater, except perhaps to protect their herds from predators.

But young Masai warriors who want to marry have been known to impress their girl friends by hunting lions with only spears.

Picture of a Masai warrior.

In reply to my wife’s comment about the dangers of living and raising cattle in an area so heavily populated by lions, Joseph said:

“The Masai do not fear the lions; the lions fear the Masai and run away at the sight of Masai warriors armed only with spears.”

A day in Ngorongoro Crater is indeed a rewarding experience, if only to enjoy the fleeting pleasure of closeness in peaceful surroundings with these magnificent animal specimens

Can you recognize that bird song?

Picture of a mocking bird singing.

Recognize what song?

Some popular song from the past?

Yes, songs from the very distant past, possibly the oldest songs ever heard on earth.

What are they?

Bird songs.

Many people identify birds by their colors, their design, their flight pattern, and their nesting habits.

But have you ever listened carefully in order to identify birds by their songs?

With some birds this is quite easy, since they do not have much variety in their calls.

Take the mischievous crow, for example.

Although one of the most intelligent of birds, its raucous “caw, caw” identifies it immediately.

Picture of a noisy crow. 

Rooks are also noted for their noisy cawing presence.

Picture of a rook bird.

Another bird, whose woeful call can drive you crazy at night, is the whippoorwill.

Picture of a whippoorwill bird.

Its name echoes its call, which seems to go on endlessly, especially when you want to sleep.

In contrast, “marsh wrens often have repertoires of more than 100 songs; mockingbirds, 100 to 200.

Picture of a marsh wren bird.

A brown thrasher displayed more than 2,000 songs”!.

It is usually the males that sing, to mark out a territory and attract females.

However, at times, some females join the avian chorus.

This is true of Baltimore orioles, cardinals in North America, and rose-breasted

Picture of a oriole bird.

Picture of a female cardinal bird sing.

 Picture of a rose breasted grosbeak.

Do you know the birds in your part of the world?

In many countries, recordings of birdsongs are available that could help you to recognize birds by their calls.

You can even buy clocks that mark each hour with the song of a different bird.

At least you would learn 12 calls pretty quickly!

Meeting the birds of lake Bogoria

Flamingo at lake Bogoria.

Nestled in a narrow basin, Lake Bogoria is dominated by towering cliffs.

Some call it the most beautiful lake in all of Kenya, and as the three of us descend upon it in our pickup truck, we can easily see why.

It has a shimmering, pea-green color, the result of a rich supply of algae.

These tiny plants thrive because of abundant sunlight and the warmth of the multitudinous hot springs that feed into the lake.

Lake Bogoria is thus a popular feeding ground for the dozens of pink, algae-eating flamingos that adorn it.

Picture of flamingos at lake Bogoria.

But flamingos are just the first of many feathered wonders that Paul, his wife Paula, and I will observe on this camping trip.

We drive slowly along the rocky, arid western shore.

Steam jets shoot their white plumes skyward.

Just beyond, perched on a rock jutting up from the water near the shore, sits still another feathered benefactor of the rich algae supply: the African fish eagle.

“There are no fish in this alkaline lake,” explains Paul. “So why do you think the eagles are here?” he asks.

The answer comes flying over—another fish eagle carrying a flamingo clutched in its sharp talons!

Now I understand why these pink beauties keep a safe distance from those perched predators!

The fish eagle is easily identifiable from a distance.

Its pure white head, back, chest, and tail contrast sharply with its chestnut abdomen and brownish-black wings.

When found at alkaline lakes where there are no fish, the eagle feeds almost exclusively on flamingos, a pair of eagles killing one every two or three days.

In freshwater lakes, however, the fish eagle truly is a fish-eater.

Picture of a fish eagle.

Imagine, though, walking along the shore of an African freshwater lake and having a fish dinner drop from the sky in front of you!


Not at all.

This white-headed fisherman has slippery talons and is known for dropping its fish catch—to the delight of local residents!

Nevertheless, the fish eagle is a distinguished flier, putting on stunning displays of aerial acrobatics.

A pair may soar at 200 feet [60 m] and then abruptly clutch each other’s talons.

With wings held out stiffly, they will go into an exciting spin, which ends only 30 feet [9 m] above the water!

Pulling out of the spin, they resume soaring, catching the rising thermals.

Winged Dancers

The dusty, rocky road around the southern edge of the lake becomes increasingly hilly and difficult to navigate.

As we climb the final stretch, we pass a pair of crowned cranes quietly picking insects off blades of grass.

Picture of a pair of African grey crowned crane.

It is now late afternoon, and with a sigh of relief, we reach our destination—Fig Tree Camp.

Situated on the extreme southeastern edge of the lake, it is a welcome oasis for tired travelers.

After a night’s rest, we sit around a morning fire, sipping hot coffee.

Then, suddenly, there it is!

Just a few feet [a meter or so] overhead, the male paradise flycatcher is hovering, busily building his nest in a tree only a few feet [barely a meter] from our campsite.

Picture of a paradise flycatcher.

“What a beautiful, long white tail!” exclaims Paula.

Long indeed.

The length of the male without tail feathers is only seven to seven and a half inches [18 to 19 cm].

But its two tail feathers may reach an astounding 16 inches [40 cm] in length.

Though relatively small, the paradise flycatcher is quite a fighter.

Even when much larger birds of prey venture too close to the family nest, the male does not hesitate to attack!

“It’s going to be difficult to get a good shot of this one,” says Paul as he sets up his camera.

Not sitting for long in one place, the busy nest-builder makes frequent trips to an abandoned leaf-clogged cobweb high in a tree.

His purpose?

To collect the sticky substances that he uses in building his nest.

Anxiously searching for the best parts of the web, he hovers first here, then there, executing rapid sideways body motions that send that spectacular tail whipping about furiously.

We enjoy his showy dance!

Finding his choice pieces, he returns to the nesting site, his graceful tail flowing behind him like a wave.

Later that morning we spot another pair of crowned cranes.

 Picture of pair of crowned cranes.

They have decided to feed in the grassy meadow in front of our camp, between the lake and the fig-tree forest.

One of the tallest East African birds, the crowned crane stands over three feet [almost a meter] on stilt-like black legs.

Its plumage is a beautiful blend of white, maroon, black, and gray.

But the remarkable features are seen above the neck.

The velvety black forehead is bordered by white and scarlet face wattles—large fleshy lobes.

And the crown?

A regal tuft of straw-colored, bristle-like feathers.

No wonder it was chosen as the national bird of neighboring Uganda!

“Have you ever seen a crowned crane dance?”

Paul calls out to me from a distance. I immediately head in his direction.

 “What do you think of that?” he whispers as we approach them.

The cranes face each other, those elegant heads bobbing and bowing as if participating in some bizarre royal ceremony.

With both wings open and raised high above the back, a span of some four feet [over a meter], they dance and pirouette in a solemn fashion for several minutes.

 “Is this the mating dance?” I whisper.

“No, they do this anytime,” he replies.

“In western Kenya I’ve seen a flock of a hundred or more dancing.”

During the mating season, the male really puts on a show.

(How could he ever hope to impress her with just his everyday dance?)

Standing hunched up and stooped over, with only one wing raised, he proudly throws his head back and, with bill pointing skyward, utters the booming bass mating call.

Impressive indeed!

Our trip has been far too short to see all there is to see in this area.

However, it has stimulated our appreciation for this animals and makes us eagerly look forward to the time when all earth’s animals will live together peaceably in perfect ecological balance earth.

Amazing animals found in the Amazon jungle

Picture of a blue yellow macaw.

The Amazon jungle is known as the richest plant area on earth.

Tens of thousands of varieties have been identified.

On just about every square mile (2.6 square kilometers), well over a hundred different kinds of trees flourish.

Depending on geographical differences in altitude, there may be dense thickets of mangrove trees, ebonies, fine mahoganies, cedars and aromatic rosewoods, chestnuts, tall brazil-nut trees, various types of willows and the handsome rubber trees.

Interspersed among all of these are numerous varieties of palms and tropical fruit trees. Branches drip heavily with vines and creepers.

So thick is the greenery that treetops struggle toward a barely visible sky.

What about animal life?

Animal life in the amazon jungle

Fat-bellied Tangarana ants swarm over the Palo de Santo tree.

In return for a permanent dwelling, these ants protect the tree from the slightest touch of any invader.

Down on the jungle floor, leaf-cutting ants march in single file, each carrying a sizable piece of leaf.

Picture of a leaf cutting ant.

Countless beetles dart here and there or quickly take to flight.

Especially noticeable is the largest of all beetles, titanus giganteus, measuring about six inches (15 centimeters) in length.

Picture of titanus giganteus beetle.

Occasionally one may catch the flash of a firefly, visible in the permanent dusk of the dense underbrush.

Picture of a firefly.

Brilliant butterflies and huge, strange-looking moths take wing.

Nearby, frogs are croaking.

Picture of a frog.

Underfoot, curious green and gray lizards dart away, while little salamanders scamper up trees.

Picture of a lizard.

Somewhere out there are giant anacondas—with measurements of up to forty feet (12 meters) in length and two and a half feet (.8 meter) in diameter being claimed for some of the largest of these snakes.

Picture of an anaconda basking on a rock.

Of the 250 kinds of reptiles said to dwell in the Amazon jungle, few are actually poisonous.

Unless surprised or molested, the predatory varieties kill only for food, and humans are not a part of their diet.

Contrary to popular opinion, the jungle is not entirely populated by large and dangerous animals. In the South American jungle, the largest animal is the hog-sized tapir, with pumas and jaguars as runners-up.

Catlike tigrillos, long-snouted anteaters, armadillos and ocelots share the underbrush.

Picture of two armadillos.

Foxes, raccoons, little deer and many types of rodents find their niche on the jungle floor.

Picture of a raccoon.

Under ordinary conditions none of these are known to be a threat to humans.

Of the 14,712 varieties of animals reportedly inhabiting the Amazon area, over 8,000 are said to be unique.

Animals life in the trees

By far the greatest concentration of fauna lives in the trees.

Screams and raucous screeches identify worlds of parrots, macaws, toucans and multitudinous other known and little-known kinds of birds.

Picture of two macaws flying.

Add to this the chattering of  raccoons, the coos and warbles of doves, whippoorwills and the like, as well as the rat-tat-tat din of the woodpecker, and you begin to sense the busy world above you.

Picture of a woodpecker.

Several kinds of quaint-faced, loose-membered monkeys swing nimbly from limb to limb, chattering and scolding.

Picture of a monkey climbing a tree.

Circling high above the treetops, alert vultures await a meal.

Picture of a vulture on a tree.

Their voracious appetites keep the area clean of decaying flesh.

Here and there are pools with giant lily pads hiding bright, tropical fish.

Everywhere there are little streams of brownish, leaf-dyed water.

Eventually everything flows to the Amazon, the highway of the jungle.

Life in the waters

In the waters of the Amazon jungle, there are stingrays, electric eels, caimans, turtles and the sharp-toothed piranhas that may strip an animal of its flesh in just a few minutes of seething activity.

Picture of a piranhas underwater.

One has to check with the local natives before swimming in any of these waters.

Jungle waters are not necessarily good swimming pools!

Nevertheless, you will see little groups of native children splashing in some of the sluggish jungle rivers.

This brings us to the people of the “Great River” area, an interesting contribution to the temperament of the jungle.

Its People

Amazon native tribe people.

Three or four centuries ago there may have been at least 230 different tribes of Indians inhabiting the region.

They lived in small isolated communities, generally confining themselves to certain geographical areas.

Among the domains of tribes still recognized today are those of the Jivaros, Aucas, Campas, Chamas, Machiguengas and Shipibos.

Perhaps only twenty or so well-defined tribes remain.

Their needs are few—perhaps a log home, a hammock or two, a blow gun and a spear.

Their diet consists mainly of yucca, bananas, turtle and fish.

The Amazon jungle is indeed a fascinating area—a tranquil place.

The still, humid atmosphere is occasionally disturbed by tropical thunderstorms.

These and the exotic sounds from a great variety of animals, however, do not really ruffle the immense, placid jungle.

Although many kinds of animals make the jungle their home, it is not an environment fraught with tremendous perils for those who respect the “Do Not Disturb” signs.