Mountain Goat

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The mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus) is not a member of the goat family caprus, despite its name. While they may look very similar to goats in some ways, they are actually belong to the same family as deer and cattle. Even their scientific name is a misnomer; a compound of the Greek "oreas" meaning "mountain" and "amnos" meening "lamb".

 

Mountain goats are herbivores. They feed primarily on thin, high-altitude vegetation like grasses, mosses, ferns, sedge, and lichen. In captivity they are sometimes fed grains, fruits, and vegetables, and they survive about 5 years longer too. In the wild, the average life expectancy is 12-15 years, while in captivity they may live to be 20 or more. This is primarily due to the wearing down of their teeth with age.

 

Mountain goats can typically weigh anywhere from 100 to over 300 lbs. They are a sure footed subalpine/alpine species common in North America. Their feet have evolved special padding to aid in climbing, allowing the mountain goat to scale slopes steeper than 60 degrees. Mountain goats also have thick wool coats with an outer layer of hollow hairs which help them survive in temperatures as low as -50 degrees (F), and they are perfectly adapted to life in cold mountainous regions where winds can reach over 100mph. They inhabit many of the mountain ranges in the north western United States, Canada, and Alaska.

 

Males (billies), and females (nannies) both have beards and horns, though the male's horns and beard are usually longer than that of the female. Mountain goat horns can grow to as big as a foot long, and they also contain yearly growth rings much like a tree. The horns are used in sparring matches for the right to breed, and also for defense when necessary.

Brown Bear

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Brown bear is a broad term that covers many different species of bear, large and small.  For clarification, this article will be primarily about the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos).

 

Grizzly bears get their name from the frosted or "grizzled" look of the tips of their hair, which loses color with age.  Their scientific name is derived from the Latin and Greek words meaning "bear"; "ursus" and "arctos", respectively.  The term "grizzly" applies to several species including the Kodiac, Penisular, and the extinct Californian, and Mexican brown bears.  Grizzlies can be found across much of north-eastern Eurasia and North America.  They are characterized by their massive heads, their overall size, and their aggressive nature.  The grizzly bear is the largest North American terrestrial (living on land) carnivore.

 

Grizzlies are typically solitary, nocturnal animals, but they will change their habits based on availability of food.  The bears are extremely dexterous, and are capable of successfully hunting almost any game in their habitat.  Even though the grizzly is so capable, it prefers easily obtained food sources and will get about 90% of its food in the form of vegetation.  Grizzlies will eat berries, nuts, acorns, pinecones, grasses, and even mushrooms.  Bears also have long blunt claws adapted for digging up roots and shoots.  Almost anything these bears come across is viewed as a potential food source.  The grizzly is known as having one of the most diverse diets of any bear species. 

 

Grizzlies are HUGE.  Coastal Alaskan grizzlies that feed on fatty food sources like salmon can grow to over 1500 lbs., and stand almost 10 feet tall!  Bears this size tend to have paws roughly 8-15 inches long, bearing 4 inch claws.  With an aggressive demeanor and such intimidating stature, it's no wonder the grizzly was once formally classified as "Ursus horribilis", or "terrifying bear". 

Stegosaurus

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Stegosaurus was a heavily built, bus-sized herbivore that stood on four legs and had a brain the size of a dog's.  The fossil record indicates that stegosaurus lived roughly 150 million years ago during the Jurassic period in what is now the western United States.  They were most likely a grazer and shrub eater, based on their head placement and lack of front teeth.  Instead, the stegosaurus had a turtle-like beak, and triangle shaped cheek teeth.

 

The plates of stegosaurus have been the topic of much debate in scientific communities.  For one, when the first recorded fossils of stegosaurus were found it was thought that the distinctive kite shaped armor plates laid flat against the back of the dinosaur.  It wasn't until more complete fossils were discovered that archaeologists realized the plates sat on their edge as we know today.  Because of this error, the dinosaur was dubbed stegosaurus which translates to "Roof Lizard".

 

Scientists still don't know exactly why stegosaurus even had back plates.  Some scientists theorize that the plates served as a type of temperature regulator, like giant radiator fins.  Others postulate that they were in fact used as protection, along with a menacing spiked tail.  Still other scientists think that the stegosaurus may have used them for attracting mates, flushing blood through them to make vibrant colors similar to mating displays of some animals living today.  Perhaps all of them are correct?

Elk

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The elk (Cervus canadensis), or wapiti is a large ruminating ungulate from the deer family.  The name "wapiti" is a shortening of the Cree and Shawnee word meaning "white rump".  While not quite as large as the moose (which is referred to as an elk in Europe), the elk is still one of the largest deer subspecies, and one of the largest land animals in North America.

 

Elk prefer forest fringe much like their cousin the whitetail.  Their habitat ranges from most of northern North America and north-eastern Asia, though they have been introduced with success to many places including Australia.  Elk browse for grasses, bark, and other soft plants, as is character for most deer species.  Elk fatten up over the summer by eating almost constantly.  During this time, they will eat up to 16 lbs of vegetation every day.  Elk are also quite susceptible to diseases that can spread to deer and livestock.  Vaccination efforts have been made, but have yielded little in the way of results globally. 

 

Elk also have rutting and estrous cycles much like whitetail. They can grow up to approximately 1300 lbs., and will use their massive 4 foot long antlers to fight for dominance and the right to mate.  The elk is seen as a spiritual animal in some cultures, and their antler velvet is even sought as a medicine in Asia.  Elk meat is also heavily sought for its high protein content.

Alligator

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The American alligator (A. mississippiensis) is one of two extant species of alligator left on the planet, the other being the Chinese alligator.  The name "alligator" is thought to be derived from the Spanish phrase el lagarto, which simply means "the lizard".  We know from fossil records that alligators first appeared roughly 37 million years ago, during a period of time known as the Oligocene epoch.  

 

American alligators can grow to over 14 feet long, and can weigh almost a half ton.  The largest alligator ever taken was almost 20 feet long, and was harvested in Louisiana.  Strangely, biologists have not recorded a definite average lifespan for alligators, though one alligator from Belgrade Zoo has been in captivity for over 76 years.  "Muja", is the alligator's name, and it is considered the oldest alligator in captivity.

 

All of the south-eastern United States is inhabited by alligators, and Florida is the only place in the U.S. where alligators and crocodiles inhabit the same area.  Alligators prefer marshy areas, but will sometimes venture into brackish water for prey.  Alligators are considered a very important part of their eco-system because they not only increase the diversity of plant life, but they also feed on nuisance rodents like the coypu.

 

Other cool facts?

Alligators have wider, U-shaped snouts than crocodiles, which have a v-shaped head.  The crocodile's teeth protrude when the mouth is shut, while the alligator's do not.

 

Alligators will eat any creature unfortunate enough to venture too close, including cows, birds, deer, and sometimes even people. 

 

Alligators cannot perform the well-known "death roll" without a fully functioning tail.

 

Alligators have a strong bite, but the muscle responsible for opening its jaws is so weak, an adult human can hold its mouth shut bare handed!