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Hornbill-A bird that chooses to be put in prison



(A great male hornbill feeding a female with it's chicks who is walled up in the hollow of a tree. The brown substance is a mixture of clay, dung and food particles put at the entrance to cover the hole.)

The Hornbill self-imposed imprisonment


Tropical and subtropical areas in Asia and Africa are the home of the hornbill.

This dark-colored bird looks as though it is greatly handicapped by its huge beak.

And when the female is walled up in the hollow of a tree, with only a hole large enough for her to project the tip of her bill, a person may well conclude that something definitely has gone wrong.

Appearances, though, can be deceptive.

Filled with many air chambers, the awkward-looking beak is comparatively light and just right for hornbills.

Perched on a branch that is strong enough to support the weight of its body, the hornbill makes good use of the long beak to reach fruit.

For quite a few weeks the females of most varieties live in confinement and are fed regurgitated food by the males.

Females of at least one variety, using a mixture of clay, dung and food particles, hammer the wall into place, and males obligingly bring the needed clay.

The confined female is undisturbed as she incubates her eggs.

While walled up, she loses her tail feathers and wing feathers, making it impossible for her to fly until they are replaced.

So her self-imposed imprisonment serves as a protection.

The male is kept very busy in caring for his mate and offspring.

During the course of an hour he may visit the nest 20 times to supply food.

Once the hatched birds have an appetite that is too much for him to handle, the fully feathered mother breaks free and begins helping her mate to feed their offspring.

The youngsters proceed to close up the enlarged opening through which their mother exited.

But as time passes, a conflict of interests may arise.

Some of the birds may be ready to leave the nest, while others may not be.

So while one youngster begins breaking down the wall, another one is right on the job doing the repair work.

Truly, careful observation and research time and again reveal that seemingly strange features and habits of animals serve a good purpose.

Hornbills, with their long beaks and extraordinary nesting procedures, are not an exception.

The amazing pottery skills of a wasp


Picture of a mud wasp pot nest.


Mud wasp nest


A potter wasp makes clay jars and stocked them well for her offspring.

A lot of work was involved.

Just to get and transport the clay, she can fly between 100 and 200 miles (160 and 320 km).

If the clay is too dry, she wets it by regurgitating water.

She forms the clay into pellets and uses them to make a disk that becames the base for a pot.

As the work progressed, the other pellets are drawn into strips and used to build a hollow globe.

Turning the inside of the completed sphere out at the top, she creates an open neck for her vessel.

The outside surface of her pot is rough, but the inside is smooth.

Next, a food supply is needed.

To stock the vessel, she paralyzes small caterpillars with her sting and pokes these into the jar.

Since the caterpillars are not dead, this assures a fresh food supply for the wasp larva that will hatch from the only egg in each vessel.

The egg hangs on a fine thread from the top of the pot.

How does the egg come to be in this position?

In the process of laying it, the wasp touches the inside of the vessel with the tip of her abdomen and secretes a liquid.

As the abdomen is pulled away, a thread forms and immediately hardens.

So, when the egg comes out, it is attached to the thread.

For females, the number of caterpillars is greater than for males—the female larval stage is one or two days longer.

Just how the wasp knows that a particular egg will be a female larva and needs more food is a mystery.

With a clay pellet, the wasp closes the jar containing the egg and the stock of caterpillars and smoothed down the neck of the vessel.

When the last pot is sealed the wasp’s work was done.

How emperor penguin fathers manifest their unselfish fatherly love?


Emperor penguin fathers love.


Father love


Mother love has been well publicized.

When the spotlight is turned on the emperor penguin, it’s father’s turn.

This biggest of the penguins stands nearly four feet tall.

About April—late fall in their homeland Antarctica—they all assemble in an agreed-upon place.

There they court ashore for about two months.

They live on love, you might say, since they do no eating during this time.

Then the female lays an egg and leaves.

The male rolls the egg onto his feet, covers it over with a slab of his fat, and stands there for two months.

By then, hopefully, Mamma is back from her two-month eating binge with stored-up food for the newly hatched chick.

If she doesn’t show up, Daddy has to cough up the lining of his throat and feed it to his new offspring.

By now he has fasted four months and is 40 percent lighter.

But look at that beautiful baby—it makes it all worthwhile!

Why collecting elephant dung may be a lucrative job in future?



Why would anyone in their right mind think of collecting elephant dung?


When neighbors observed Mike Bugara boiling pots of elephant dung in his yard, understandably they were quite worried.

Some thought he was practicing witchcraft, but, in reality, he was making paper.

Mr. Bugara first made paper from banana, maize, and eucalyptus leaves.

But plentiful supplies of high-fiber dung from Kenya’s elephant population got the ardent conservationist wondering about using it to make paper.

He decided that it would be a good way to raise “people’s awareness about the value of keeping the species alive,” reports New Scientist magazine.

Now his elephant-dung paper is being used for invitation cards.

So lets keep this species alive, who knows they might be our only source of affordable paper when our trees become to few to meet our production needs.

Fugu-A poisonous fish that is prepared only by a fugu licensed chef


A diver hold two types of fugu fish.
A diver holding two types of fugu fish. The one on the left is the poisonous one, that is why he is holding it with glove.

There are 100 kinds of fugus around the world, all of them employ the puffing tactic.

Inhaling water into a special sac located in the esophagus, this homely looking fish expands into a formidable globe, covered with sharp spines that discourage any predator thinking of swallowing it.

Its changed appearance may startle an enemy, or it may exhale the water in order to force an elusive “meal” out of hiding in the sandy seabed.

Hence, very appropriate its English names: puffer, globefish, and blowfish.

In modern times, the fugu has claimed some lives each year.

Fugu preparers point out, however, that most of the cases involved amateurs who attempted to prepare the fish themselves.

Fugu got international attention when the Japanese tried to introduce the delicacy into the United States.

Permission to import was denied, and the news media labeled it “killer fish,” claiming that eating fugu is “death-defying dining.”

Was the claim valid?


The most poisonous fish you can eat


Picture of a prepared fugu dish.

In Japan fugu is a local delicacy.

Connoisseurs pay anywhere from $50 to $160 per person for a full-course fugu meal.

However, fugus contain a poison called tetrodotoxin, concentrated in the liver, ovaries, kidneys, and sometimes the skin of the fish.

Ten thousand mouse units, perhaps as much as could fit on the head of a pin, will kill an average-size person.

“It is perfectly safe to eat fugu,” says Shinichiro Nagashima, a third-generation fugu chef.

“We know which parts of the fish are poisonous, and they are disposed of by the proper authorities.

In over 30 years of fugu preparation in the Tokyo area, no one has ever died of fugu poisoning from fish prepared at a licensed shop.”

“Laws are strict,” continues Shinichiro.

“For example, if the organs are not disposed of in the proper way, the shop may be penalized by being closed down for a month. Or if a shop, even on demand, serves an illegal portion that causes a death, it will be forced to shut its doors for good. The rules governing fugu preparation and testing and licensing of the cooks in this area were initially developed by my grandfather. He pioneered fugu cuisine in the Greater Tokyo area during the 1950’s when it was already popular in western Japan.”

Shinichiro’s father, Yutaka, serves as a judge of aspiring fugu chefs.

He looks right at home as he talks in his shop, amid dried fugu lanterns dangling from the rafters.

“Training to be a fugu chef means getting a thorough knowledge of fugu anatomy and passing a stringent test that includes cleaning a fugu and identifying all of its parts in just 20 minutes.”

As Shinichiro takes up his knife to demonstrate how to clean a fugu, he suddenly turns into the very image of a man concentrating on his task at hand.

His father looks on and explains the parts of the fish.

Two stainless pans stand at the side of the cutting board.

Into one pan go the liver, kidneys, and other poisonous portions.

Into the other pan go the edible parts of the fish.

In a matter of minutes, thin white fillets are carved still thinner and arranged like transparent petals of a flower.

Grated radish with red pepper add to the color.

The elegant dish pleases both the eye and the palate.

The elder Mr. Nagashima smiles as he reminisces about the days when fugu was plentiful.

When I was a boy, fugu was not nearly as expensive as it is today. Since my father was a fugu chef, I carried it to school in my lunch box. Other children were eager to trade for my delicious lunch.”

Finally, fugu prepared by licensed chefs has been accepted as safe for consumption.

Fugu preparation, however, is definitely not do-it-yourself cuisine for a vacation fisherman.

If fugu puffs its way into your menu, it should be prepared by a licensed chef.

That is the only safe way to enjoy this small fish with the inflated reputation.

Amazing facts about feathers—Bird's designer wardrobe


Peacock with it's tail feathers fanned out.

A peacock struts with its magnificent spread of tail feathers fanned out in a dazzling display of color.

In your garden, a ruby-throated hummingbird hovers in all its iridescent glory to draw the nectar out of a lovely flower.

The splendor of these birds, of course, is due to their clothing of feathers.

For the human wardrobe, the tailor, seamstress and milliner select fabrics of many kinds and colors.

What an interesting variety of clothes they produce from their bolts of wool, cotton, silks and synthetics!

However, the clothing of birds is made from just one material—keratin.

This hardy, corneous protein is the substance of your fingernails as well as the hooves and claws of animals.

With it, the bird wardrobes has far surpassed in beauty, variety and utility the imagination of human fashion designers.


Delicate yet strong


Picture of peacock tail feathers.

Just as hollow tubing is known to have advantages over a solid rod, so the hollow basal quill is bone-like for strength, but only a fraction of solid bone weight.

The portion of a feather that is thickest is the quill, the part that anchors the feather in a follicle of the skin of a bird.

Farther along, the quill becomes the shaft, from which parallel barbs branch out on either side.

At right angles to each barb are small projections called barbules on which tiny hooks act much like zippers between adjoining barbs, creating a strong fabric, yet supple enough to bend freely or repeatedly without breaking.

If, by chance, the bird’s feathers become unlocked, he simply preens them until all the barbs are properly zipped together again.

Then, with all his ruffled feathers properly in place, he is thoroughly insulated against the cold, besides having a waterproof headdress and raincoat.

On ducks and other waterfowl it has been observed that their feathers have even deflected bird shot!



How feathers are formed?


Picture of a Easter baby chick.

The feather bud forms in a small follicle in the bird’s skin.

As it develops, marvelous, complicated changes take place.

Within a sheath, unique feather segments, wound snugly around a shaft, develop.

It is so exquisitely packaged that when you see the full-grown feather you might well ask:

How did all that fit into such a restricted space?

With development completed, blood vessels that fed the growth cells dry up, the sheath bursts, the bird speedily removes waste material and preens his new feather into its full shape.

The feather now is essentially dead tissue that no longer needs nourishment from the bird’s bloodstream—a real advantage in economy for the bird’s circulatory system.


Types of bird feathers


Picture of a bawn owl in flight.

Feathers come in a multitude of shapes, sizes, colors and varieties.

Most serve some functional purpose, while others appear to be simply for show.

Birds are provided with feathers, each one in proportion to its needs, larger birds having no surplus, while the midgets of birddom have no shortage.

By actual count, one of the largest birds, the whistling swan, was found to wear 25,216 feathers, whereas the tiny ruby-throated hummingbird, decked out in all its finery, had 940!

Among the functional ones are the fluffy down feathers, delicately designed to provide “thermal” undergarments for our bird friends.

Under a magnifying glass one can see long, finely formed and very flexible barbs and barbules but no hooks.

The very light, formless mass of soft feather branches insulate the bird’s body, keeping it warm in cold weather and cool in summer.

Some birds have more down feathers than others.

The eider duck is one of these.

In fact, it uses the silky-soft surplus as insulation to line a nest with “baby blankets” par excellence for its pampered ducklings!

The Antarctic emperor penguin also wears a downy garment under its waterproof and windproof contour feathers.

This enables it to stand immobile, without food, for about three months, while incubating an egg on its feet, at the same time contending with 80 km/h (50 mph) winds and -50° C (-58° F) temperatures!

Speaking of contour feathers, these are designed to streamline the bird for flight, being arranged in a certain pattern according to the species.

Their centrally located shaft is slightly curved to fit body surfaces, always pointing backward from the beak and toward the tail.

At its base, a downy portion contributes to the “underwear” next to the bird’s skin, being modestly covered by the next row of feathers.

Have you watched a mother hen fluffing out her feathers to cover her eggs or newly hatched chicks?

Contour feathers are attached to muscles and fibers in the skin that can lift them in this way.

This also allows the bird to dry-clean or rearrange its plumage as necessary, or trap more air for insulating or air-conditioning purposes.

Perhaps even more fascinating are flight feathers, the “propellers” that provide lift and movement of the bird through the air.

A single one of these may have up to a million ingeniously designed and fitted parts.

At the extremity of each wing are the 10 or more primary feathers, really the main propulsion unit of the entire wing.

Next are 17 secondary feathers, which, like the primaries, have an exceedingly strong quill and offset shaft attached to the bone structure.

All are able to turn on their axis, enabling them to overlap tightly on the downbeat and open like a venetian blind on the upstroke.

Incredibly light tertiary feathers smoothly cover the rest of the wing structure, making an airfoil of unequaled excellence.

Other flight feathers belong to the tail, where strong muscles allow these to be depressed, fanned out, folded or tilted at will.

Thus, these 10 or more feathers serve the same purpose as an airplane’s rudder, stabilizers, flaps and ailerons during takeoff and flight and as an air brake when coming in for a landing.


Coloring 


Picture of a colorful parrot.

Eye-catching, to say the least, is the display of color marking the beauty of birddom.

Blue, green, yellow and red look well together on the painted bunting, while the male cardinal dares to appear in public with a vivid red coat from the top of his crest to the tip of his tail, with only his black face giving contrast.

Many bird feathers vary in their coloring according to habitat.

The well-dressed ptarmigan changes from shades of brown in summer to an almost pure white in winter—a perfect camouflage for Arctic regions.

Among the luxuriant greenery of jungles, vivid greens are in vogue.

In desert regions birds become quite inconspicuous to predators by the sandy hues they wear.

Color in feathers comes about by a combination of structure, pigmentation and reflected rays.

White feathers have a microscopic structure that totally reflects white light.

To produce blue tones, minute particles in the makeup of the barbules bend, scatter and reflect only blue rays of light.

Green hues result from a combination of a blue structure with yellow pigment, while red-pigmented feathers absorb the blue-green part of white light, so reflecting only red wave lengths.

It is this marvelous design in feather structures that makes it possible for our eyes to be delighted by all the varicolored plumes of birddom.


Iridescence


Picture of a colorful parrot.

An English naturalist described a hummingbird in these words:

“One moment it resembles a ruby, the next, a topaz, then an emerald, and then again gleaming gold.”

The famous American naturalist/artist Audubon spoke of these feathered beauties as “lovely fragments of the rainbow.”

Why?

Because of the iridescent quality of their feathers.

What causes this iridescent coloring?

Tiny and precise mirror-like structures produce a complex optical action called interference.

They eliminate some components of light rays and reinforce others by reflection.

The result—a momentary blaze of pure color on the feather’s surface that changes as light rays strike from different angles. Then, just as quickly, the brilliance may fade.

An outstanding example of iridescence is the “eye” of a feather in the peacock’s train.

For its varicolored design, each barb passing through the “eye” can have three or four color zones.

This requires thousands of light-reflecting structures precisely arranged in each eighth of an inch (3 mm) of the barb.

Hence, billions of these molecules must be replaced year by year without the slightest modification as the bird molts and then gets its new feathers.

The colors would be erased if there were even one twenty-five-thousandth of an inch (0.001 mm) of alteration!


Specialties


Picture of a woodpecker climbing a tree.

In the world of feathers there are many oddities.

Stiffened tail feathers on a woodpecker can, like the climbing spikes on a telephone linesman, support him as he walks up a tree!

The ptarmigan grows quite long, protruding feathers on his feet that serve as “snowshoes” in winter.

Babies of the African sandgrouse receive their daily drink of water carried in the absorbent breast feathers of the male bird.

Some snipe and grouse force air through special “musical” feathers in their wings to make a singing sound.

Geese use their powerful wing feathers as weapons of war.

Not to be forgotten are the courtly gentlemen of the bird world who woo their ladies with special plumes.

Among these are the crowned crane, the heron with its aigrettes, the unforgettable birds of paradise, and the Australian lyrebird.

Truly, feathers are a marvel of design.

Intriguing wonders, indeed, are these masterpieces of engineering!

Why farmers fear the raid of marauding troops of green monkeys?


Picture of a western green monkey.

One farmer stood viewing the remains of half an acre of uprooted potatoes, representing months of labor.

Like many farmers, he had become the victim of a green monkey ambush.

Having surprised a troop of 50 or 60 screeching monkeys in his garden that morning, he had pursued them into the forest to locate their den.

Upon returning a short time later, he had discovered that another raiding band had invaded his garden from the opposite side of the field.

Such incidents highlight the centuries-old clash between frustrated farmers and marauding troops of Western green monkeys.

Large quantities of cane, cucumbers, carrots and other produce are destroyed annually as these raiders.

The forays date back to the mid-17th century.

By that time they had become so destructive that legislation had been passed declaring them vermin and giving bounties for each monkey destroyed.

The problem is similar to what has taken place in many parts of the earth as spreading humanity forces wildlife into areas that do not offer an adequate food supply for them.

The angry farmers fight back.

Elaborate scarecrows, concealed snares, watchdogs, crop guards, bounty hunters—these are but a few of the devices employed to curb the monkey invasions.

But alas! they are not very successful.

Scarecrows left in the field to ward off the invaders are cautiously approached.

For several days the monkeys throw stones at the scarecrows, gradually coming closer.

Finally, they close in and rip them to pieces.

One bounty hunter wrapped himself in green branches, but to his disgust the monkeys penetrated his disguise long before he came within range of them.

One farmer tied his dog in the garden, trusting that its barking would keep the monkeys at bay.

When he returned he was dismayed to find that the monkeys had devoured all his young corn and the dog was peacefully snoozing nearby!

The monkeys employ several clever strategies.

Before approaching a prospective garden, they deploy a lone monkey to reconnoiter.

This lookout climbs a tall tree. As he makes the all-clear call, the males approach the site, followed by the females.

All then rip and tear and uproot the crop until stuffed.

After the troop has gorged itself, the watchman is taken his share of food.

However, if this lookout has failed to give adequate warning upon the approach of the farmer, the males of the troop will kill him.

When feeding in a garden, mother monkey does not bring her infant into the feeding area.

She leaves it concealed in the tall grass alongside her escape route.

At a danger signal from the lookout, she scampers from the field giving an alarm call to her baby.

As she races toward the little fellow, it leaps onto her side, clinging there desperately.

Sometimes the baby in the confusion misses, or leaps to the wrong mother, and is left behind.

When this happens the farmer will often take the baby as a pet for his children.

Sometimes, when cornered, a mother monkey has been known to plead for mercy.

She will hold up her baby as a reason for showing compassion for the helpless.

Or, if pregnant, mothers have been known to pat their stomachs to call attention to their pregnancy.

When born, baby monkey resembles a small rat without hair.

Its skin color is a lovely light-bluish green (observable for one or two years), and is apparently the reason for its designation “green monkey.”

In adult stages it is grayish yellow, with chest and parts of legs and arms white.

When fully grown, adults weigh 15 pounds (6.8 kg).

Who is ahead in the running conflict between monkey and farmer?

It is not easy to determine.

How the killer whale's killing instincts was used in Japanese war superstitions?


Picture of a killer whale swimming on the ocean.


Killer whale's killing instincts


On the whole, members of the whale family are harmless and playful.

They are often observed sporting on the surface in schools, leapfrogging or doing somersaults. 


When wounded and desperately threshing around in the water, on the other hand, a huge whale can endanger even a heavy ship.

The killer whale is an exception: 

He is not satisfied with plankton and other small fry of the ocean. 

He prefers to get teeth into dolphins, porpoises, seals, penguins and sharks, and will not hesitate to take a chunk out of another large whale, even ripping out its tongue. 

They hunt in packs. 

They have been known to smash ice floes in order to get at men or seals.

The Japanese call him shachi, using Chinese ideograph that appropriately combines the characters for “fish” and “tiger.” 

He has a special place in their superstitions. 

From a distance looking like the squarish head of a cow with short horns protruding, models of a male and female shachi with their flukes in the air face each other across the ridge of the highest roof of the Japanese castle. 

The most famous of these charms tops the castle in Nagoya. 

They were made in 1959 to replace those destroyed with the castle during the second world war. 

They are made of copper, overlaid with 560 scales of 18-karat gold, at a cost of $78,000.

Some idea of the enormous appetite of the killer whale may be had from the fact that fourteen seals and thirteen porpoises were found in the stomach of one twenty-one-foot specimen. 

It is the only one of the cetaceans that will feed on its own kind or on other warm-blooded mammals.

Why does a hawk or eagle always look so fierce or bold?


Picture of a bold hawk.


What is the angry-looking eye of a hawk or eagle all about ?

Actually, the raised “eyebrow,” which we interpret as a sign of boldness, is a bony protrusion above the eye socket that serves as a protection for the eye.

It has nothing to do with attitude, and the eagle cannot change its looks even if it wants to.

Most birds close their upper and lower lids only to sleep.

Blinking is done by sweeping the eye with a semitransparent membrane (its third eyelid)—so it won’t lose sight of its prey in the process.

Why a camel is like a ship and farm land to desert tribes?


Two Bedouin men riding their camels.

Ships of the desert


The camel is vital in desert transport.

You may have heard him called the “ship of the desert.”

Since camels are natural pacers, that is, they move their great legs in lateral pairs, they do produce the rocking motion of a small boat wallowing in the troughs of the waves, and that may be why they were dubbed “ships of the desert.”

At any rate, what magnificent ships they are!

Their dusty walk across a sandy desert manifests the highest order of endurance that would wilt any other beast.

T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) owned a great camel named Ghazala that, as he reports:

“averaged fifty miles a day; eighty was good; in an emergency we might do 110 miles in twenty-four hours; twice the Ghazala, our greatest camel, did 143 miles alone with me."

Of course, these camels like Ghazala are the prize camels, always mares, whose ride is so smooth that Arabs call it “swimming.”

A book can be comfortably read astride them.

On the other hand, the lowly untrained camels hardly ever do more than two and a half miles an hour, but then no one is in a particular hurry in the desert, especially not the Bedouin ( nomadic Arabs).

The Bedouin could tell you best about the camel.

They call the camel “God’s gift,” and, after all, the collapse of this great beast could mean their death.

They really love their “gift,” and therefore the poor social grace and complaining nature of the camel is understandably seldom seen.

For example, the Bedouin will fondle and kiss the big animal, all the while murmuring endearments.

And at intervals throughout the night it has been observed that the camel will come over, moaning softly, to sniff at his owner where he lies before going back to graze.


Camel like a farm land


Bedouin child riding their camels.

The camel is like a farm to the Bedouin, even like the tractor that goes with a farm, since the camel provides a mount and does often pull a plow.

She furnishes milk at the rate of four or five quarts a day, also wool, leather, flesh for meat; even camel dung is used for cooking.

To the dismay of westerners when they encounter the strangest use of a camel’s product.

And that is the use to which its urine is put.

Mothers tenderly bathe newborn babies in camel urine, Bedouins use it as a cure for acne, and drink it as a specific against fever.

They also use it as a mouth rinse purgative and even as a petit coup - which means a small drink before breakfast.

As naturally as girls in other lands use patent preparations, Bedouin damsels may use camel urine to wash their hair and as a henna rinse.

Do you admire that alluring red tinge to the young Bedouin’s beard?

Can you guess where it came from?

Camel urine is used to kill parasites of the head, too, and as a face wash.

It is also said to bring color to the cheeks or warm the hands during chilly weather.

Nor is all this necessarily an offensive thing.

One authority described the precious liquid, saying:

“It smells sweetly of herbs and aromatic plants.” 

If the camel is like a farm, what an enduring farm indeed!

Fascinating facts about a fur seal


Picture of a mother and baby antarctic fur seal.


Fascinating characteristics


Fur seals like to play.

They will slide along the crest of waves surfboard fashion.

Or they will float with heads submerged and tail high in the air as if walking on their hands.

Also, they will chase each other in games of tag.

On land, the young males try to imitate fights they have witnessed among older bulls.

Or they will gallop at a good speed and slide down slippery surfaces toboggan style, using their front flippers like oars to propel and guide themselves.

How fascinating they are to watch!

Fur seals also make a lot of noise.

A continual uproar is heard, consisting of growls, grunts, bellows, moans, howls, wails, barking, snorting, roaring and crying, which can be heard over a half mile away.

Seals are specially equipped to go “shopping for groceries” in the ocean depths.

They possess a contact-lens type of clear protective skin over their eyes, which allows them comfortably to see beneath water.

Some species are equipped with special circulatory systems to supply oxygenated blood for deep-sea diving and feeding. Two Weddell seals dived to 1,000 feet and swam under a 19-mile ice pack.

Others have been known to go as far as 2,000 feet deep.


Staking out territorial claims


Picture of an aggressive fur seal.

Fur seal bulls begin to arrive at the rockery from the open sea in November to begin staking out their territorial claims.

They station themselves near the water where each one selects his own private property.

And woe be to anyone that trespasses!

Interestingly, there are certain “streets" or “highways” that do not belong to anyone, and on these well-worn paths all seals may travel between sea and dry land without danger of intruding on private property.

Staking out a claim involves many a fierce and savage battle.

The seals often are seen with open bleeding wounds on their flippers, and gashes up to twelve inches on the back, neck and head.

It is also common to see pieces of fur and flesh ripped out, an eye missing, or other serious battle injury.

Fighting consists of alternate aggressive and defensive rapid movements, and slashes with tusk-like teeth into the forepart of the opponent’s body.

During the battle, neighbors frequently become curious spectators.

The single males congregate in the “bachelors' quarters" at a respectable distance.

The “bachelors” include older battle-scarred males who have lost out as “family men,” and also the young “ineligible” males.

The male fur seal is about nine years old when he begins to take mates, and he lives to about 22 to 24.

The female begins to produce young at about three years of age, and lives to about 19 or 20.

With territorial boundaries established by the end or November, the females begin to arrive.

As they do each male begins to seize female seals for his harem, sometimes as many as five, usually two or three, sometimes only one.

The largest, fattest bulls with thick necks generally get the largest harems, since they are better equipped to fight off competitors.

In the northern hemisphere harems are much larger.

The Alaskan seal averages about 40 females and has been known to have up to 120 in his harem.


A new generation


A fur seal pup and her mother.

Since it is now near the time for giving birth, the females rest for a few days.

Only one baby is born each year, and delivery requires about a half hour.

Like most newborn babies the pup begins to cry.

Sometimes a sea gull acts as obstetrician or midwife, clipping the umbilical cord with its beak.

If not, it soon dries up and falls off.

Mama seal nurses her baby like other mammals, producing a thick yellowish milk.

Within a few days Mrs. Seal is again in the mood to conceive.

After being fertilized by her polygamous mate, next year’s baby begins forming within her body.

Female seals are unusual among the mammals in that they have two wombs, using them alternately, since gestation requires over eleven and a half months.

Soon after birth, mother takes baby in her teeth by the nape of the neck and carries him to shallow water, where she gives him his first swimming lesson.

After a while she takes him back to the nursery to rest, then repeats the process later.

As he progresses, mother takes him into deeper water.

Finally he graduates to the open sea.

When returning to land in a rough sea, mother takes baby in her teeth and tenderly carries him in to prevent the turbulent waves from dashing him against the rocks.

But there is a greater danger to watch for-sharks, which place baby seals high on their menu of preferred delicacies!

Soon after mother has conceived her next offspring, papa seal releases her from harem restrictions, and she is free to go and come as she pleases.

By January the harem becomes a giant nursery.

While Mrs. Seal goes to sea to feed, her mate fulfills the role of baby-sitter.

As many as fifty or more babies flock together while their fathers keep watch.

When any female returns, all the youngsters set up a howl and follow her to try to snatch a snack, but she instinctively knows her own baby and chases the others away.

It is a happy time when mother returns home with a meal for youngster!

However, it is sad when a mother fails to come back from the feeding grounds, for it means death by starvation for her young one.

After a while the family breaks up.

Mr. Seal goes back to the sea, and Mrs. Seal takes baby with her for months of training in how to get along in the world.

Amazing facts about a honey bee's life


A honey bee collecting nectar from a flower.

Although chemists worked unsuccessfully for centuries to convert common metals into gold, the tiny honey bee for thousands of years has been effecting a far more remarkable transformation.

You have undoubtedly seen bees in the process of working this miracle.

From flower to flower they hurry, sucking up the sweet liquid called nectar.

Even on their flight home the amazing transformation begins within their bodies, but it cannot be completed without the help of fellow workers back at the hive.

There, in a matter of hours, industrious bees cooperate together to convert the nectar into one of the tastiest and most nutritious of foods - Honey!

But honeybees excel in other things besides the production of honey.

They are marvelously equipped for pollinating plants.

They maintain an immaculately clean, air-conditioned hive.

They are remarkable engineers, and can communicate involved instructions that other bees are able to follow.

Little wonder that the honeybee has been called the most important insect in the world.


The bee family facts


A swarm of bees.

Honeybees live in large families or colonies that may number 75,000 bees or more.

More than 99 percent of these family members are unfertile females known as worker bees.

The colony also has one queen bee, the, mother of the entire family, and, in the summer, several hundred male drones.

Since the males apparently serve no useful purpose in the winter, they are all killed before winter sets in.

Therefore, when the weather warms in the spring, preparations are made to produce more males.

The drone brood cells are cleaned, and the queen bee deposits an unfertilized egg in each of them.

In about twenty-four days the drones mature to nearly full size and cut their way out of their cells, just as a chicken leaves its shell.

They possess no stinger, have no glands for producing wax or royal jelly, nor are they equipped for gathering nectar or pollen from flowers.

But they do the all-important work of fertilizing the queen bee.

Remarkably, males are produced from unfertilized eggs, but themselves fertilize the queen so that she can produce worker bees.

The passing of winter leaves the worker bee population greatly diminished.

So the surviving workers swing into action.

They feed their queen huge quantities of food.

By varying the amount of food she is fed, the bees control the number of eggs the queen lays, and thus control the population.

Now. they may increase her production to the astounding rate of some 2,000 eggs a day-totaling four times her own body, weight!

The queen fertilizes each of these eggs with sperm that she received from a drone bee.

In twenty-one days the young bees begin popping out of their cells-almost full grown and ready for work.

Should the queen bee lose her productivity because of age (she usually lives several years), or should the colony decide to divide because of overcrowding, another queen is produced.

To make a queen, several regular cells are enlarged and the larvae are fed abundant supplies of royal jelly.

This special milky substance is secreted from modified salivary glands of young workers.

By feeding it to the larvae throughout the entire period of their development, instead of just the first two or three days, the larvae develop into queens, rather than ordinary worker bees.

So, in a very literal sense, queens are made, not born.

When the colony decides to divide, the old queen takes off with part of the colony to find a new home.

This is called swarming.

Back in the original hive, the first queen to emerge from her cell seeks out and stings to death the other developing queens.

If two emerge at the same time, they battle to the death so that only one queen remains in the family.

After a few days the virgin queen leaves the hive and takes off on her mating flight.

All the drones follow in hot pursuit.

Up, up they soar.

Finally, all but one pursuer is left behind.

There, in midair, the two unite, but the, drone is mortally wounded when the queen wrenches free, ripping out his generative organs.

The mated queen then returns to her colony, impregnated with enough sperm to fertilize hundreds of thousands of eggs.


Communal life facts


Honey bees making honey.

Honeybees, like humans, are social animals, and even though they do not have the intelligence of men, their hives are a model of orderliness.

From their first day of life worker bees always seem to know just what to do and how to do it, even without being told.

They handle the problems of communal living with such efficiency that men are forced to sit up and take notice.

For example, any city must be kept clean, otherwise the inhabitants run the risk of disease and epidemic.

So in the hive sanitation squads are constantly on the job.

Soon after emerging from their cells, young bees busy themselves with disposing of every scrap of foreign material.

Without being urged or nagged by their elders, they lick the thousands of cells thoroughly clean, preparing them again to receive the queen’s eggs.

The result of this constant vigil is a hive that is spotlessly clean.

After a few days the milk glands of the young bees mature, and they assume the duty of caring for the young larvae.

Any mother will acknowledge that there is a lot of work to raising young ones.

But the attention children demand can never compare with the care baby larvae must receive.

After the egg hatches, the nurse bees must make some 10,000 feeding visits to each cell a visit about every minute!

Think of it, 10,000 feedings to raise just one bee!

And yet there may be thousands of larvae developing at the same time, all of whom need this same precision feeding.

What a relief to be able to cap the cell after about six days of feeding and let the larva develop into a full-grown bee!

Bees also have the problem, long faced by humans, of heating and cooling their city.

It is vital to the life of the young larvae that the temperature in the brood area should not fall below 90° or exceed 97° F.

So the bees react immediately when the temperature changes.

Should the temperature rise, as it often does in summer, the older foraging bees bring in supplies of water.

These are strategically placed in the hive, and the bees station themselves around and fan vigorously.

This evaporates the water and the hive is cooled.

But in addition to using air conditioning long before man developed it, bees are also experts at warming their city.


Should the temperature of the hive fall, the bees stoke their bodies with honey, which, due to their body’s high metabolism, is quickly converted to heat.

Thus, the temperature of the hive is raised.

In the brood area, bees maintain a temperature that is constant within one and a half degrees, even though the outside temperature may vary thirty to forty degrees.

A more serious problem arises in the winter.

How do bees survive when the temperature falls many degrees below zero?

They are unable to hibernate or migrate, so ingeniously they stoke up a furnace by which to keep warm.

But such a furnace you have never seen before!

Many bees form a closely packed shell to confine the heat within.

Bees at the center of this insulating shell keep in constant motion, generating heat.

When the temperature falls, the insulating shell shrinks and the dancers within move faster; but when the temperature rises, the shell of bees expands and the movements of those at the center slows down.

By this means the temperature is regulated.

But how do those bees clinging on the outside avoid succumbing to the cold?

Careful observation reveals the answer.

Those bees composing the insulating shell are noted to be continually changing places with the dancers on the inside.

There is a persistent flow from the center to the outer edges and back again.

In this way the bees alternately become heated by activity, and cooled during rest periods.

Honey, of course, is the fuel that runs this amazing furnace.

Yes, the foresighted bees have stocked up sufficient supplies to last the winter.


Engineering wonders facts


A honey bee's hexagonal honeycombs.

Humans take pride in their engineering feats, and, indeed, some of them are wonderful, but even in this field humans have learned from the lowly bee.

Although possessing no college degree in structural engineering, two-week-old worker bees construct honeycombs that are masterpieces of structural design.

For centuries humans have been intrigued by them, but it is only in recent years that close scientific observation has shown how truly marvelous they are.

The construction material is of the bees own making.

Young workers gorge themselves on honey, and, after several hours, wax begins to appear as thin flakes on their abdomen.

Transferring it to the mouth, the bees chew the wax thoroughly, mixing it with a frothy liquid and microscopic bubbles of air.

Then a miracle of engineering takes place.

The bees, working in cooperation with one another, shape this plastic material into perfect six-sided honeycomb cells.

Amazingly, the. cells are formed with such unvarying accuracy that at one time French scientist Rene de Réaumur proposed making them a standard of measure.

Equally amazing, however, is the choice of the six-sided design.

It provides the maximum strength, the greatest storage space and, at the same time, fits the shape of the bee.

It is the one and only ideal shape for the honeycomb!

In order to obtain maximum strength for the least weight men have also employed this hexagonal design in their engineering projects.


Bee field work facts


A honey bee out in the field collecting nectar.

After about three weeks of inside chores the worker bees graduate to gathering pollen and nectar from the fields.

Although they literally work themselves to death in about a month, this industriousness during the summer assures survival of the bee colony in the winter.

When it is considered that they will fly some 50,000 miles. the equivalent of two circuits of the globe, to gather nectar, sufficient for just one pound of honey, one begins to appreciate how busy bees really are.

Yet to accomplish this amazing work bees are wonderfully equipped.

Their long tongues and mouth parts are perfectly designed for extracting the sweet nectar from the inward parts of flowers, and their hind legs have baskets that can be stuffed, with large masses of pollen.

On arriving home, young workers receive and store away this pollen, which, combined with honey, forms the diet of the young larvae.

The nectar is transferred to the crops of other workers, who force it in and out of their bodies several times before depositing it into open cells.

After being fanned to evaporate excess moisture, the honey is soon ready to eat.

However, if it were not for the bees’ highly developed communication system, this entire production program would be slowed to a snail’s pace.

Yes, fantastic as it seems, bees actually tell one another when they locate a rich nectar supply.

A scout bee will reveal the quality of her find by passing out minute samples.

Then, by means of a dance upon the vertical honeycomb and by sounds, she communicates the direction and distance to the food source.

When the scout bee dances straight up on the comb, she means that the food can be found by flying directly toward the sun straight down means it is directly away from the sun.

By varying the angle of the dance, the scout can indicate a food source in any direction.

The distance to the food, it is currently believed, is indicated by the length of the train of sound emitted by the dancing scout.

Although bees need the plants in order to live, the reverse is equally true.

It is estimated that if it were not for the bees, 100,000 species of plants, including many upon which mankind directly depends, would disappear from the earth.

Why so?

Because plants need to be fertilized to produce seed, and the bodies of bees, with hair all over them, are especially designed for doing this.

As they travel from flower to flower bees fertilize the plants by transferring pollen from one blossom to the stigma of another.

However, the effectiveness of this transfer is dependent upon a unique behavior pattern of the bee.

This pattern is called flower constancy.

It is vital that pollen from one species of plant be transferred to the stigma of a plant of the same kind.

This is because pollen varies from plant to plant.

Pollen from a poppy, for example, would be of no value to a rose.

But, remarkably, bees take this into consideration.

When they start working a particular flower they remain faithful to just that one kind, even though there may be other kinds of blossoms all around.