Types of Animals
The North American population's interest in its animals extends across most sectors of society.
Hardly a day goes by without a mention of a sport's team, and its animal mascot. Add in discussions of family pets and culinary discussions and it seems as if animals slip into discussions morning, noon and night.
Whether you call them bison or buffalo, the story of the American version (Bison bison) runs deep in the country's culture and history.
At one time, tens of millions of wild bison roamed American grasslands. Western expansion and the wholesale bison hunts that came with it, ultimately reduced the population counted in hundreds.
Many of the remaining bison were bred with cattle, leaving a small pure bred population to survive in Yellowstone National Park and a few other areas.
Today's bison population of roughly four hundred thousand animals consists primarily of mixed bred species which are raised for commercial purposes.
The Yellowstone bison population, first protected at the turn of the nineteenth century, now fluctuates from 2300 to 4500 animals.
Native Americans called them Wapiti, meaning elk (Cercus elaphus). Historically, six elk subspecies roamed the grasslands of North America.
Hunting and human settlement drove two subspecies, the Eastern elk (Cercus elaphus Canadensis) and the Merriam elk (Cevus elaphus marriami) to extinction.
Roosevelt elk (Cervus elaphus roosevelti), one of the remaining subspecies, live in the coast forests of the Pacific Northwest and California.
The species is known not only for its size, second only to moose in the deer family (Cervidae), but also for its white rump patch.
Males, like the one in the top picture, can weigh up to one thousand pounds. Their annual antler growth makes them a formidable foe against all natural predators in their territory, save humans.
In 1938 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation creating the Olympic National Park, on the coastal area of Washington State's Olympic Peninsula, intending it to be an elk sanctuary. Seventy years later, the park is home to a thriving elk herd.
Without a doubt, the White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) receives the title of the most wide spread of all North American ungulates.
They can be found inhabiting grasslands and woodlands from Canada, south through Mexico, and even into northern South America.
Their wide range translates into close to forty different documented subspecies, with most sharing some basuc physical traits.
Generally white-tailed deer are medium sized animals, about three and one-half feet tall, weighing about 250 pounds. Males grow antlers from March-August and shed them on an annual basis.
Other than breeding season, White-tailed deer often live in gender differentiated social groups.
The nine-banded armadillo (dasypus novemcinctus), a non-native species, once crossed the border into the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. In a short one hundred and fifty year period the Armadillo's range has extended north, east and west.
Walking was, and is, their preferred mode of transportation. When necessary, they climb. When all else failed, they also swim.
Interestingly enough, an armadillo possesses the ability to holds its breath and walk along the bottom of a shallow waterway, or it can swallow a substantial amount of air, inflate its stomach and float.
As a novelty animal, armadillos were exported to other states for exhibit. Additional releases and continued northern migration has resulted in their current range now extending from Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
The Long-tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata), ranks as both the largest and widest ranging of the three North American weasels.
Most open space with rocks or abandoned burrows that offer adequate food and water sources serve as suitable habitat.
Mature males grow up to two feet long, including the black tipped tail.
While often nocturnal, the picture shows they make the occasional day appearance to investigate visitors in their territory.
Cotton Tail Rabbit
The Leporidae family consists of approximately fifty different types of rabbit and hare species.
The cottontail rabbit, named for its small white tail, is one of many sub-species of regionally differentiated cottontails found around the United States.
Usually rabbits bear their young in underground burrows. Furless and blind at birth, they are totally dependent on their parents for the first three to four weeks of their lifetime.
Animal discussions often refer to members of the Class Mammalia, better known as mammals.
Scientists organize their thinking and research about mammals by further dividing them into orders, or groups, that share additional physical characteristics. Depending on the source used, anywhere from twenty six to twenty nine orders of mammals live on earth constituting approximately 5,500 species.
Some mammal orders are better known that others, and from a cultural perspective, some mammal orders are more revered than others.
With the exception of one or two families, most people, for example, easily recognized the carnivores, especially the larger ocean and land families such as bears, cats, seals and sealions.
Rodentia or rodents (approximately 2,200 species) and Chiorptera or bats (approximately 1,100 species) rank as the two largest mammal orders, constituting around sixty percent of all mammal species.
Proboscidea or elephants (3 species) and Sirenia or manatees (5 species) are the two smallest mammal orders.
Many of the larger animals of the world, bears, big cats, primates and elephants, for example, are endangered, with habitat loss commonly cited at the major stress factor.
Endangered species usually refers to animal and plant species that have a high risk of going extinct in the wild.
An increase in the global population, along with the habitat destruction, including a changing climate, that accompanies modern economic development, continues to stress world animal and plant life.
A variety of public and private organizations keep track on the status of potentially endangered and endangered species.
In the United States, for example, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) reports on the endangered and threatened status of animal and plant life arranged into four categories. Within those four categories the 2010 number of species considered endangered or threatened is as follows:
- Vertebrate Animals: 379 records of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes
- Invertebrate Animals: 198 records of clams, snails, insects, arachnids, crustaceans
- Flowering Plants: 718 records
Non-Flowering Plants: 31 records of conifers and cycads, ferns and allies, lichens
On a global scale, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) researches and collects statistics on bidiversity and population statistics for the natural world.
Their Red List of threatened species provides facts on the status of individual species, genera and families, organized in an easy to use data base.
According to the 2009 update, "17,291 species out of the 47,677 assessed species are threatened with extinction".
When the species are grouped into defined categories, IUCN scientists estimate that all of the endangered species break down into "21 percent of all known mammals, 30 percent of all known amphibians, 12 percent of all known birds, and 28 percent of reptiles, 37 percent of freshwater fishes, 70 percent of plants, 35 percent of invertebrates".
Dealing with endangered species on a global level presents coordination difficulties, often because of cultural, economic and insitutional differences among states.
© 2009-2014 Patricia A. Michaels