Tag Archive | Lora Orme

Caracal

Today’s post is a guest post from Lora Orme, an undergraduate conducting directed research with us at the University of Minnesota.

Hailing from regions of Africa as well as India, the Middle East, and southwest Asia, the caracal prefers a dry habitat such as savanna or woodlands. This preference distinguishes the caracal from its feline cousin, the serval, which primarily lives in wetter climates. The difference encourages the caracal’s more open eating habits; the carnivorous caracal will hunt and consume almost any source of meat that is available, from rodents scurrying across the plains, to monkeys or birds overhead. In fact, the caracal is an expert bird hunter, using its powerful hind legs to leap up to ten feet in the air. That is twice as high as the height of the average human!

The caracal looks like a slightly overgrown housecat, around three feet long when full-grown. It has red-brown hair and very distinct facial markings. But the most distinguishing feature of the caracal is the ear tuft. These tassels of long black hair play an important role in pinpointing prey, working with 20 muscles within the ears themselves. The tufts may also act like little flags that help the caracal communicate with others of its kind. Visually, the tufts make a caracal resemble a lynx. For this and other similarities, the caracal has been nicknamed the “African lynx” or the “desert lynx.” It is important to discriminate, however, that the caracal has no spots or stripes, longer legs, and a slimmer body than the lynx. These characteristics allow the streamlined caracal to be among the fastest small cats.

Because of the caracal’s impressive agility, it was once bred in India as a status symbol and for the sport of bird hunting. Present day caracals are generally known to be elusive and secretive, camouflaging into tall grasses and quickly escaping from sight. However, if wild prey is scarce, caracals have been known to attack livestock and other domesticated animals. Due to the caracal’s natural tendency to hunt, they are sometimes considered pests and shot by ranchers.

Predatory instincts drive the caracal to live a solitary life when not mating. The majority of communication occurs in mews, hisses, and purrs with mates and kin. Even when a pair joins together to mate, the male does not stay to help raise the young. Thus, the female is left to watch over the litter of up to six kittens. She keeps them hidden in a burrow that has been borrowed from the den of an aardvark or porcupine. They stay hidden until they are one to two months of age and begin eating meat alongside their mother. Finally, when they reach about one year of age, they leave her side to begin lives and possibly families of their own.

Bat-eared Fox

Today’s post is a guest post from Lora Orme, an undergraduate conducting directed research with us at the University of Minnesota.

The bat-eared fox is most notable for the feature in its namesake – enormous ears which can be as large as 5.3 inches long! In human terms, this may not seem like much. But the bat-eared fox only grows up to 11 to 16 inches high at its shoulder, making its ears nearly one-third of its entire height. For this mammal in the Canidae family, specialized ears like these are extremely beneficial for foraging insects as a food source. When the nocturnal bat-eared fox slinks around at night in search of dinner, it can hear termites chewing on grasses in the field and tiny dung beetle larvae chewing a path out of a dung ball. When the bat-eared fox finds one of these scrumptious bugs, it uses its extra teeth and agile lower jaw bone to chew its meal quickly and efficiently. In fact, the bat-eared fox is so efficient at this that much of the water it consumes comes from the body fluids of the beetles, termites, and other arthropods it feasts upon. Bon appetite!

batearedfox

According to an animal rights seo consultant, to stay near its preferred diet, the bat-eared fox typically lives in short grass plains where its ashy yellow color blends into the landscape. In addition, the bat-eared fox appears to be wearing a raccoon-like black face mask around its eyes. Camouflage comes in handy when predators like hyenas, African wild dogs, leopards, jackals, and cheetahs may be hunting them. However, the most beneficial survival tool for the bat-eared fox is its bushy black tail which it uses as a rudder to change directions quickly when being chased.

Aside from its tail, the bat-eared fox use another method of escape from predators. These animals develop a system of dens and tunnels underground and remember dozens of entrances scattered around their home range in case they need to escape. One family will create multiple den systems for the best protection.

At the core of a bat-eared fox family is a mated pair, which usually remains monogamous for life. Sometimes two females will mate with one male and share a communal den. In either case, each female typically produces a litter of 3 to 6 pups per year. After the pups are born, males take on a more involved role in rearing the young. Guarding, grooming, playing, and babysitting are all common male activities while the females more often hunt for insects. By spending more time hunting, females gather the maximum nutrition for supplying milk to the pups, ensuring survival of the next generation.

Earth Wolf

### Today’s post is a guest post from Lora Orme, an undergraduate conducting directed research with us at the University of Minnesota. ###

Often mistaken for a hyena, the aardwolf (whose name means “earth wolf”) of southern and eastern Africa is actually smaller and more docile than its carnivorous cousin (which belongs to a different sub-family). Both the striped and spotted hyenas primarily call large mammals “dinner,” but the aardwolf is more interested in a tasty termite column than meat. Because of its food choice, the aardwolf’s jaw is much less powerful and smaller than a hyena’s jaw, but the aardwolf has a specialized tongue that is longer and sticky. It licks up various insects (with a preference for termites) off of the ground, rocks, and trees with only minor digging with its front claws. For an aardwolf, a fully belly can mean as many as 300,000 termites! The aardwolf will memorize the locations of termite mounds to save the time and effort of finding new snack spots, and will be careful to leave enough of the population alive so that its food source will be “re-stocked.” At the end of a long night of dining on insects, the aardwolf returns home to an under-ground burrow.

At one point, the aardwolf’s burrow most likely was stolen from another small mammal such as a hare, aardvark, or porcupine. Although able to create a new burrow, it takes much less energy for the aardwolf to use a pre-existing one. The burrow provides a safe-haven in the daylight hours when the nocturnal aardwolf normally sleeps or relaxes.

Aardwolves, while primarily solitary, will coexist in groups of six to a dozen neighbor burrows. They congregate for safety in numbers (and more rarely to help rear young), but more often to find a mate. Males will seek females within their own territories and in those of neighbors, sometimes leading to male-male conflicts which are solved with barks, blunt-teeth gnashing, and musky scent-release from glands (the smell of which has been compared to a skunk).

A mating pair will form during the breeding season (spring or fall) and gestation lasts around 100 days, ending in a litter of three to five cubs. Usually birth occurs during the rainiest months of the year when termites are most available, providing plenty of nutrients for the growing young. The males contribute to the partnership by guarding the nest while the females nurse. Both parents supervise the cubs in their first foraging adventures about 3 months after birth.

Because the aardwolf acts as a control on the termite population, it often lives and scavenges near or on farms. Most farmers detest the termites that may destroy crops or infest homes, so they welcome the service of the aardwolves. Unfortunately, aardwolves are preyed upon by some larger carnivorous mammals such as the jackal. Even humans represent a threat to the species because the aardwolf is hunted for its unique fur.

Upon a closer look, aardwolves have distinctive pointed ears for acute hearing; after all, their prey is very small! The aardwolf’s paw is also distinctive from a hyena because it has five toes instead of four. The aspect you might notice first, however, is the bushy pointed tail that looks as if it has been dipped in a can of black or dark brown paint. In a confrontation, an aardwolf’s furry mane will raise from head to tail making it appear larger in size to (hopefully) persuade the opposition to back down.

See if you can spot one of these night-walkers as they prowl for termites!