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Do hippopotamus have horns?

 

“Do hippopotamus have horns?”

 

Occasionally I like to check the keywords used on search engines that lead to our blog. This task of mine has lead me to realise that this is something that many people ask but we hadn’t covered it.

In order to answer the question “Do hippopotamus have horns?” we must first answer the following question:

 

“What is the difference between hippopotamus and rhinoceros?”

 

So why would I assume that the problem here is that you might be confusing hippos and rhinos?
The answer is quite simple. In terms of appearance, habitat and even (some) behaviour, both species can be quite similar, therefore many people sometimes get them mixed up.

So first of all let’s check out the similarities between species:

 

Both Rhinoceros and Hippopotamus are:

  • Big, heavy animals (both males and females weighing over a tonne),
  • Greyish in colour with a thick skin,
  • Mammals (babies drink milk from the mother),
  • Located in the African continent,
  • Very dangerous to humans,
  • Herbivorous (only eat plant matter),
  • Territorial (males),
  • Faster than any human on Earth (yes, even Usain Bolt),
  • Can’t swim.
White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)

White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)
Photo Credit

Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)

Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)
Photo Credit

 

 

Now what about the differences between these two species?

Rhinoceros:

  • Second largest land mammal,
  • There are 5 different species of rhinos: white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum), black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus), indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) and the sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis).
  • Located in Africa and Asia,
  • Spend their day on land,
  • Have been around for about 11 million to 15 million years,
  • Don’t have any sharp teeth,
  • Are odd toed ungulates (with three toes on each foot).
  • Very threatened by illegal poaching,
  • Are one of the Big 5 species,
  • Have horn(s). The Javan and Indian species have only one horn while the black, white and sumatran species have two horns on their face.
White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) mother with baby

White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) with baby
Photo Credit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hippopotamus:

  • They are the third largest land mammal,
  • There are only 2 species of hippopotamus: the “normal” hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) and the pygmy hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis),
  • Only located in Africa,
  • Spend most of their day inside the water (but can’t swim!),
  • Share a common ancestor with whales,
  • Have been around for 8 million to 16 million years,
  • Have very big, sharp canines and incisors (tusks), used for fighting,
  • Are even toed ungulates (with four toes on each foot),
  • Not as threatened by illegal poaching as the rhino,
  • Don’t have horns!
Mother Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) with baby

Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) with baby
Photo Credit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So to conclude:

Hippopotamus do not have horns but they do have big tusks that they use to defend against predators or fight each other.

Rhinoceros use their horns to defend against predators and fight each other since they don’t have tusks.

 

Angry hipppopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)

Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)
Photo Credit

White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)

White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum)
Photo Credit


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Até à próxima!
~Sofia.

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A Giant in the Sky: The Largest Bird to Ever Fly

In 1983, in South Carolina, U.S.A., work was under way to expand Charleston International Airport by adding a new terminal. In order for construction to go ahead, a large earth moving operation was required, but upon digging into the rock, a wealth of ancient fossils were discovered. Albert Sanders was curator at the Charleston Museum at the time and led the excavation at the dig site in order to collect and study the prehistoric remains.

25-28 million years ago the world was a different place; the Earth was much warmer and there was less ice at the poles meaning that sea levels were significantly higher. The area where Charleston airport is now situated was once underwater, and the rock that was dug into for the excavation was once the seabed. The fossilised seabed held many interesting remains, including whales and fish, but one volunteer at the site, James Malcom, discovered something that stood out; some assorted bones, including a skull, of what appeared to be a large bird. Sanders, the dig leader, was a whale expert, not a bird expert, so the remains were archived in a drawer at the museum to be analysed later.

Decades later and the airport is busy and thriving, but the prehistoric bird bones lay untouched in a museum archive, that is until Daniel Ksepka, curator of science at the Bruce Museum in Greewich, Connecticut, was invited to analyse the finds. Ksepka is a palaeontologist and expert in ancient bird remains who ended up discovering something rather interesting.

Ksepka used computer simulations to try to piece together the size and shape of the bird and try to model its flight patterns. The bird was always known to be a member of the pelagornithid family (a group of huge sea birds that are characterised by the presence of tooth-like spikes in their beaks) but it was soon realised that this individual was a whole new species and not only was this a new species but it seemed to be the largest bird that ever took to the skies!

Artist's depiction of Pelagornis sandersi in flight

An artist’s depiction of Pelagornis sandersi in flight over an ancient ocean. By Liz Bradford.

The bird was named Pelagornis sandersi (named after Sanders, the original excavator); it was a huge animal, boasting a wingspan of up to 7m and it perhaps could have been wider when flight feathers are factored in. Like other birds in the pelagornithid family, it lived most of its time out at sea, catching soft-fleshed marine creatures like fish and invertebrates; we know this because of its ‘teeth’ which are unusual as far as bird beaks are concerned. It had short, stumpy legs meaning that it was awkward on land, but more streamlined when in flight. Ksepka’s computer modelling demonstrated that sandersi’s size and shape made it an extremely effective glider that would have required very few wing beats in order to travel huge distances, instead, it soared through the air riding air currents and thermal up-draughts. Sandersi was also an extremely light bird, given it’s size; based on its bone density, it’s calculated that an individual might have only weighed between 20kg to 40kg (compare that to a modern-day ostrich (Struthio camelus) which weighs in at 100kg), this would have assisted in keeping it aloft.

The largest bird capable of flight that currently exists is the wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) which boasts a measly wingspan of 3.5m. Although sandersi and the albatross are very different birds in many ways, they share many similarities, most notably their lifestyle; spending almost their entire lives out at sea, soaring above the waves, swooping down to catch fish and other prey and rarely coming to land, except for mating and replacing flight feathers. The albatross is also notable for its struggle to get airborne, a struggle shared by its ancient cousin. Sandersi was so perfectly adapted to its aerial lifestyle that it would have been positively useless on the ground, struggling to move around and protect itself and struggling to take off again. It’s quite possible that sandersi would have been completely incapable of taking flight unless it ran downhill into a good wind, or even leapt from a cliff in favourable conditions.

A Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans)

The Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) is the largest flying bird currently in existence, but larger birds existed in the past. Photo Credits.

Sandersi was the largest bird to ever fly, but other types of animal have also taken to the sky in the past. Bats and insects still live around us, but between 228-66 million years ago, there lived a group of animals called pterosaurs; large flying reptiles that soared in the skies over the dinosaur world. One of these animals, named Quetzalcoatlus, was the largest flying animal to ever live with a mighty wingspan of 15m and when it landed, it stood as tall as a giraffe! Pterosaurs ruled the skies for a very long time before birds evolved and eventually dethroned them, and it was a very long time still before sandersi arrived to take the title of largest flying bird.

Artist's depiction of Quetzalcoatlus

Quetzalcoatlus was a gigantic flying reptile that holds the record as the largest animal to ever take flight. Photo Credits.

Before the discovery of sandersi, the record holder was Argentavis magnificens (another seabird which lived around 6 million years ago, much later) but Ksepka reckons that there may be other specimens out there that will break the record. He believes that it’s possible that we may find birds with 10m wingspans, but any more than that is quite unlikely due the physics involved in flight.

Life on Earth has had 3.5 billion years to experiment with many different forms. The animal kingdom is richly varied and full of remarkable and fascinating creatures but some of the most amazing are no longer with us. Over 99% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct, among them are astonishing animals that are almost unimaginable. Who knows what wonderful and bizarre creatures are still waiting to be discovered deep in the ground!

Much love,

     -Nick

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Collecting Urine For Conservation

They may not be the most famous or iconic African animals (they’re not one of the ‘Big 5′, for example) but they have a place in the heart of many safari-goers; the African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus), or ‘painted dog‘, is a fascinating, beautiful and (sadly) endangered animal.

African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus)

The African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus) is a beautiful and unique animal, but it is becoming increasingly endangered. Photo Credits.

Wild dog numbers are dwindling in the wild for a number of complex reasons, but work is under way to help conserve the remaining population and hopefully help them prosper for future generations: recent research efforts have shown that the secret to their salvation may be found in their urine! But why are wild dogs in so much trouble? The reason, almost invariably, is because of conflict with humans. Human farmers do not enjoy sharing land with dogs that hunt and kill their livestock.

African wild dogs are exceptional hunters, perhaps some of the most successful hunters in the animal kingdom. Packs of wild dogs cooperate extremely effectively to coordinate bringing down prey that is often much larger and stronger than themselves and their hunts end in a successful kill 80% of the time. Most predators are very lucky if they can succeed in a hunt half of the time. The effective team-working approach to hunting means that individual wild dogs do not have to be strong and powerful which means that if they come into conflict with a competing predator, such as a lion or spotted hyena, they are unable to put up a fight. Indeed, in the wild, lions and hyenas will drive wild dogs off of their kills and steal it for themselves. Wild dogs are also not particularly fearsome creatures; their peculiar social system is based on submission and non-aggression (for example, in the pack, individuals will never fight over food, but rather compete with begging).

In order to ensure that they don’t end up on the wrong end of a lion, wild dogs hunt over huge areas of land, which helps lower the chances that they’ll run into any competition. Unfortunately, huge, open, wild spaces are becoming more and more rare in Africa and wild dogs are feeling the squeeze, in fact, almost all the nature reserves in Africa are too small to sustain a decently sized pack of wild dogs. One quirk that wild dogs possess is that fences cannot contain them; they are notoriously clever in finding a weakness in a fence and getting through it, and they certainly have reason to.

Wild Dog Pack with a Wildebeest

Wild Dogs are extraordinarily effective hunters, able to bring down prey much larger than themselves, however, they are very social and do not show aggression to each other (most of the time). Photo Credits.

The problem arises when wild dogs break free of their wildlife reserves and go out hunting in the human world beyond, often killing farmers’ livestock. Local farmers have resorted to extreme measures in protecting their livelihoods, often resorting to extermination, including poisoning whole packs of wild dog. Diseases spreading from domestic dogs into the wild has also resulted in wild dog deaths and this, combined with severe habitat loss, is threatening the very existence of the animal. Last century there could have been as many as 500,000 individuals throughout Africa, but now their numbers are down to around 5000; only 1% of the former population. In a previous post, we saw how there are only a handful of individuals remaining in South Africa.

Thankfully, work is under way to save the wild dog. Craig Jackson, a wild dog researcher, has recently completed a thesis on wild dog territorial behaviour for the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and it seems he might have discovered a key for the conservation of wild dogs. Packs of wild dog hunt in clearly defined territories (that ignore human fences) and these territories are marked by the spraying of urine. The dogs are very respectful of these territorial borders and will rarely cross over into a neighbour’s turf. Jackson found that by collecting the sand onto which they sprayed urine, he could relocate it and create ‘fake’ borders and the dogs were fooled; they respected the transplanted urine trails as if another pack had sprayed them.

Urine collection might seem like an unlikely form of conservation, but strategically placing urine trails around wild dog packs will be much more effective than erecting fences and it will keep wild dogs out of danger from rival predators and disgruntled farmers. Unfortunately, the process of following dogs around and collecting their urine is very time consuming and labour intensive, so the challenge is set to try and synthesis a chemical that replicates wild dog urine and mass produce it. Pioneering wild dog researcher and conservationist John ‘Tico’ McNutt is on the case and is currently experimenting with a range of options.

Hopefully, if this new idea can be implemented, we might see a decline in unnecessary wild dog deaths and we might be able to save the species from extinction. It would be a tragedy to see such a peculiar and fascinating animal disappear, but, with the right science it might not be the case.

Much love,

-Nick

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