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5 Reindeer Facts to Share This Winter

5 Reindeer Facts to Share This Winter 0

Beyond their sled-pulling capabilities and discrimination towards those with red noses, what do you really know about reindeer?

  1. Reindeer and caribou are the same thing.

Historically, the European/Asian reindeer and American Caribou were considered to be different species, but they are actually one and the same. There are two major groups of reindeer, the tundra and the woodland, which are divided according to the type of region the animal lives in, not their global location. The animals are further divided into subspecies, ranging from nine to thirteen depending on who is doing the classification. At least one subspecies, the Arctic Reindeer, is already extinct. (The reindeer/caribou thing could technically get more complicated in the future—check out this Discovery News article for more details.)

  1. They go by many names, all of which seem appropriate.

Reindeer comes from the Old Norse word “hreinin,” which means “horned animal.” Caribou is based on the French word for “snow shoveler,” in reference to the animal’s habit of digging through the snow for food. In many Eastern European languages, the root word for the creature is “po?aw,” which comes from an Iranian word meaning “cattle.” This makes sense given that the animals were semi-domesticated in these areas and used for meat, fur, milk and transportation.

  1. Santa’s reindeer are most likely the R.t. platyrhynchus subspecies from the Svalbard islands off of Norway.

We know that because Clement C. Moore’s poem, "A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” which first introduced the world to Santa’s reindeer, describes them as tiny. The only reindeer that could really be considered tiny are the Svalbard subspecies (above), which weigh about half as much as the average reindeer species and are at least a foot shorter in length—that definitely proves useful when landing on roofs.

Strangely, you’ll almost never see these guys in depictions of Santa, as live-action films usually use full-sized reindeer and animations usually draw the creatures as a cross between a regular deer and a reindeer.

  1. It’s not always easy to tell the sex of a reindeer.

In most deer species, only the male grows antlers, but that’s not true for most reindeer. Although the females in certain populations do not have antlers, many do. During certain times of year, you can still tell the sex of a reindeer by checking for antlers. That’s because males lose their antlers in winter or spring, but females shed theirs in the summer. The females are significantly smaller than the males, but you may get thrown if you come across a particularly large female or a small male.

 Santa’s reindeer may or may not be female.

Since reindeer shed their antlers at different points of the year based on their sex and age, we know that Santa’s reindeer probably aren't older males, because older male reindeer lose their antlers in December and Christmas reindeer are always depicted with their antlers. That means Santa’s sled either has to be pulled by young reindeer, constantly replaced as they start to age, or Santa’s reindeer are female. Do you want to imagine a rotating crop of sleigh pullers or an all-female lineup? It’s up to you.

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Animals in the Story of Christmas

Animals in the Story of Christmas 0

Animals play a prominent role a Christmas, regardless of whether or not religious beliefs are behind it. The story of Rudolph is but one example of an animal that has become an icon of the season.

The truth is that there are many animals are central to the story of Christmas and reindeer especially are the consummate Christmas animal.

As with all things Christmas we turn back to ancient history to find out why this is so.

According to Viking lore, the northern Germans and Scandinavians celebrated Yule, a pagan religious festival heralding the arrival of the winter solstice from mid-December to early January. During this time, many believed that Odin, disguised in a long blue-hooded cloak, would travel to earth on his eight-legged horse, to observe homesteaders gathered around the campfires to see how content the people were and for those in need of food, he left his gifts of bread and disappeared.

As traditions grew over time, the children of these lands would anticipate the arrival of gift-bearing Odin and would fill their boots with straw, carrots or sugar and place them near the fireplace so that the horse could come down to eat during his midnight rides. Odin would then reward these kind children by replacing the food with gifts and candy treats inside the boots.

The connection of animals to Christmas have long focused on children. In fact, animals have been used in teaching the story of Christ’s birth to children for nearly 1000 years.

This comes from the legendary tales of St. Francis of Assissi, who obtained permission from Pope Honorious III to set up a manager with hay and two live animals in a cave in a village in Italy. From that stage he preached to the villagers about the Babe of Bethlehem, engaging adult and children alike with his visual sermon.

The idea of telling the Christmas story in this fashion married well with a popular practice of the time known as mystery or miracle plays. Since the Bible was largely available only in Latin at the time, priests had to do more to get the stories of the Bible out there in the common language of the people. So the little nativity scene St. Francis put together caught on as a trend and for the centuries since the Nativity has been depicted in scenes large and small ever since, in places all over the world.

Animals have always had a central part in telling that story.

Brian Stokes Mitchell singing and portraying the Friendly Beasts of the nativity highlights precisely how animals have long been associated with the Christmas story. He sings of the donkey, the cow, the sheep and the dove in telling the story.

Interestingly, the story in scripture mentions none of these. Other elements of a traditional nativity scene are also absent from scripture. The New Testament gives a brief accounting of the Magi but if you read closely you know that the Magi were not present at the birth of Christ, but came much much later when the Christchild was more than two years old. And whether or not they came by camel is another fact more born of folklore than of scripture.

Folklore also gives the animals a part to play each Christmas, with the tale in some ancient European traditions that animals are blessed with the gift of speech every Christmas eve, able in their own way to articulate praise to God and the Baby of Bethlehem.

There are other animals associated with Christmas. Famously, Clement Clark Moore’s poem A Visit from St. Nicholas talks of eight tiny reindeer and that “not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse”, a phrase that would launch a million Christmas ornament designs more than 100 years later.

The Christmas Spider, a bona fide insect of Christmas, is a celebrated tradition in Germany. The folk tale is told of a family working together in their small home to clean for Christmas Eve day and they cleaned it from top to bottom. All the spiders living in the house ventured to the attic to escape the broom and later that evening after all had gone to bed the spiders rejoiced that they had one ideal spot where they could spin their webs left in the house – the Christmas tree.

This they did and with abandon they spun webs all over the tree, so much so that when Santa came he was presented with a dilemma – did he remove the webs from the tree for the family or did he save the webs and Christmas for the spiders in the process? Santa fixed everything by turning the spider webs into shimmering silver strands that brilliantly decorated the tree, thrilling the family and saving the spiders.

It is from this Germanic folk tale that the tradition of tinsel is explained.

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12 Shocking Shark Facts

12 Shocking Shark Facts 0

12 Shocking Shark Facts

Sharks are friends, not violent killers.

  1. In its lifetime, a shark can have up to 30,000 teeth. They are continuously being replaced and shifted within the mouth.
  2. Whale sharks can live to be 100 years old.
  3. Sharks are colorblind.
  4. Sharks have been in existence for over 400 million years.
  5. Sharks have no bones in their bodies. They are made of a rubbery tissue called cartilage.
  6. There are 440 different species of sharks.
  7. Sharks have a sense called electrosense, which is the ability to sense electric signals. This gives them an advantage when searching for prey.
  8. Sharks are hypersensitive to pressure changes in the water. They can notice the slightest changes via specialized cells with tiny hairs in them.
  9. Great white sharks can weigh up to 5,000 pounds.
  10. Whale sharks are approximately the size of a school bus.
  11. Tiger sharks, aka the "garbage cans" of the sea, will literally eat anything, which makes them particularly dangerous to humans.
  12. Sharks can store food in their stomachs for months.

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13 Facts About Animals' Brains That Will Make You Say,

13 Facts About Animals' Brains That Will Make You Say, "IDK How To Feel About This" 0

13 Facts About Animals' Brains That Will Make You Say, "IDK How To Feel About This"

  1. Squids have doughnut-shaped brains.

(Note: this photo is not of a giant squid. Pictures of giant squids in their natural habitat are hard to come by! Please accept this cute photo of a regular squid instead.)Soo giant squids have brains the shape of doughnuts. Not only that, but their esophagus runs directly through the hole in their brain. Because of this, squids have to bite their food into small pieces so the meal can fit through the esophagus. If the food is too big, it can scrape against their brain and cause damage. :(

Soo giant squids have brains the shape of doughnuts. Not only that, but their esophagus runs directly through the hole in their brain. Because of this, squids have to bite their food into small pieces so the meal can fit through the esophagus. If the food is too big, it can scrape against their brain and cause damage. :(

  1. Leeches have 32 brains.

A leech's internal structure is divided into 32 separate segments, and each of these segments has its own brain. In addition to that, every leech has nine pairs of testes — but that's another post for another day.

A leech's internal structure is divided into 32 separate segments, and each of these segments has its own brain. In addition to that, every leech has nine pairs of testes — but that's another post for another day.

  1. Sea squirts (I know — just, why?) eat their own brains.

The life of a sea squirt is as follows: it comes into this world as an egg that quickly turns into a tadpole-looking thing. It has one eye, a spinal cord, a tail, and a primitive brain that helps it move around. Once it finds its forever home (ocean floor, rock, boat), it attaches itself to said home. It then proceeds to eat its own brain, absorbing its tadpole-like body, and eventually turning into this creature.

The life of a sea squirt is as follows: it comes into this world as an egg that quickly turns into a tadpole-looking thing. It has one eye, a spinal cord, a tail, and a primitive brain that helps it move around. Once it finds its forever home (ocean floor, rock, boat), it attaches itself to said home. It then proceeds to eat its own brain, absorbing its tadpole-like body, and eventually turning into this creature.

  1. An ostrich's brain is smaller than its eyeball.

So, one ostrich eyeball is the size of a billiard ball (around two inches in diameter). Now imagine two of those in an ostrich's head. Its eyeballs are so large that there is only a little room for its brain. So because science is science and evolution is weird, an ostrich's brain is smaller than its eyes — which makes sense considering it runs in circles to "escape" from predators.

So, one ostrich eyeball is the size of a billiard ball (around two inches in diameter). Now imagine two of those in an ostrich's head. Its eyeballs are so large that there is only a little room for its brain. So because science is science and evolution is weird, an ostrich's brain is smaller than its eyes — which makes sense considering it runs in circles to "escape" from predators.

  1. Starfish don't have a centralized brain.

The starfish's anatomy is super fascinating. Starfish use sea water (instead of blood) to pump nutrients throughout their bodies. And its central nervous system is distributed throughout its legs (or arms, who am I to say?), so it technically doesn't have a localized brain.

The starfish's anatomy is super fascinating. Starfish use sea water (instead of blood) to pump nutrients throughout their bodies. And its central nervous system is distributed throughout its legs (or arms, who am I to say?), so it technically doesn't have a localized brain.

  1. Male and female stickleback fish have different size brains.

Male stickleback fish have bigger brains than their female counterparts. WOMP. Scientists don't know exactly why this is, one theory is that because the male is responsible for impressing the lady fish, building the nest, and taking care of the eggs, they have developed bigger brains. (The female is only responsible for laying eggs and inspecting the male's nest. Listen, I don't know. I'm not a scientist so don't come at me with this.)

Male stickleback fish have bigger brains than their female counterparts. WOMP. Scientists don't know exactly why this is, one theory is that because the male is responsible for impressing the lady fish, building the nest, and taking care of the eggs, they have developed bigger brains. (The female is only responsible for laying eggs and inspecting the male's nest. Listen, I don't know. I'm not a scientist so don't come at me with this.)

  1. A sperm whale has the biggest brain of any mammal — but compared to its body size, its brain is actually teeny tiny.

Even though a sperm whale has the biggest brain of any animal, its brain is not exceptionally big compared to its massive body size. An average sperm whale's brain weighs 17 pounds. For comparison, a human's brain weighs around three pounds, or about two percent of its body weight. A sperm whale can reach up to 45 tons (90,000 pounds!) so their brain only accounts for 0.00019 percent of their body weight.

Even though a sperm whale has the biggest brain of any animal, its brain is not exceptionally big compared to its massive body size. An average sperm whale's brain weighs 17 pounds. For comparison, a human's brain weighs around three pounds, or about two percent of its body weight. A sperm whale can reach up to 45 tons (90,000 pounds!) so their brain only accounts for 0.00019 percent of their body weight.

  1. A spider's brain is so big that it spills into its legs.

A spider's brain is so gigantic that its head doesn't have room for it. All of that extra brain actually spills over into the spider's legs…as if spiders weren't terrifying enough. Scientists believe that this might explain arachnids’ amazing ability to spin webs.P.S. If you want an actual picture of a spider, you creep, Google it. I wanted to spare everyone the sight of an actual spider.

A spider's brain is so gigantic that its head doesn't have room for it. All of that extra brain actually spills over into the spider's legs…as if spiders weren't terrifying enough. Scientists believe that this might explain arachnids’ amazing ability to spin webs.

P.S. If you want an actual picture of a spider, you creep, Google it. I wanted to spare everyone the sight of an actual spider.

  1. A killer whale shuts down half of its brain when sleeping.

Whales use half of their brains for sleeping and the other half for breathing. The part of the brain that controls breathing stays awake while the other half catches some z's. Not only that, but the whale keeps one eye open (on the side of the brain that's awake) and the other closed while sleeping. It's called unihemispheric sleep, and dolphins, beluga whales, and sea lions do it, too!

Whales use half of their brains for sleeping and the other half for breathing. The part of the brain that controls breathing stays awake while the other half catches some z's. Not only that, but the whale keeps one eye open (on the side of the brain that's awake) and the other closed while sleeping. It's called unihemispheric sleep, and dolphins, beluga whales, and sea lions do it, too!

  1. Woodpeckers have a super-strength skull to prevent brain injuries.

Just take a moment to picture a woodpecker slamming its face into a tree over and over and over. Well, because it does this as a way of life, it has a unique spongey skull and neck muscles that protect the brain from the repetitive impact. In addition to that, a woodpecker has a third eyelid to ensure its eyeballs literally don't pop out of its head.

Just take a moment to picture a woodpecker slamming its face into a tree over and over and over. Well, because it does this as a way of life, it has a unique spongey skull and neck muscles that protect the brain from the repetitive impact. In addition to that, a woodpecker has a third eyelid to ensure its eyeballs literally don't pop out of its head.

Little Critterz is all about the love of animals and spreading that love. We are passionate about the creatures we share this wonderful world with and we know you are too. That is why we’ve created this fine selection of quality figurines to educate, delight and inspire! We are telling the story of the Earth’s wildlife through vibrant & diverse pieces of art. So be wild and join the Little Critterz Family!

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31 Surprising Facts About Cats

31 Surprising Facts About Cats 0

1. Cats spend 70% of the day sleeping.

Fatesun / Getty Images

2. Exotics are the most popular breed in the US.

Getty Images

3. For 20 years, the mayor of Talkeetna, a small town in Alaska , was a cat.

4. In 2013, a cat ran for a mayor in Mexico.

5. The longest cat in the world is over 42 inches long.

6. Cats can't taste sweet things.

7. Cats can, however, distinguish flavors in water.

Phant / Getty Images

8. The longest living cat ever died at the age of 38.

9. The richest cat in the world inherited $12.5 million when its owner passed away.

10. Purring actually improves bone density and promotes healing within a cat.

Vladans / Getty Images

11. But cats don't just purr when they're content, they also purr when they're under duress, or when they're injured.

Peeterv / Getty Images

12. Many female cats are right-handed (right-pawed?) while many male cats favor their left paw.

13. A cat can jump about six times its own height.

Erlobrown / Getty Images

14. Structurally, a cat's brain is about 90% similar to a human's brain. They're intelligent, but most of the time, they can't be bothered to express their emotions.

15. Of all its senses, a cat's strongest is its hearing. They hear about four times as well as a human.

Instants / Getty Images

16. Cats are better at problem solving than dogs.

17. And they have a better capacity for visual learning than dogs as well.

18. Cats can change their meow depending on the situation, such as when they're demanding to be fed.

Vladans / Getty Images

19. If they exerted themselves, cats could run faster than Usain Bolt, the fastest living human.

20. Cats cover their waste in sand or litter as a sign of subservience to humans. If they don't cover up their waste, it's like they're saying, "I'm not afraid of you, human."

W-ings / Getty Images

21. Cats use their whiskers to determine if they can fit in a certain space.

Steevy84 / Getty Images

22. Cats can rotate their ears 180 degrees.

23. They can also move each ear independently.

24. Cats sweat through their paws.

Nitikornistock / Getty Images

25. Cats have a distinct pattern on their nose, like a human fingerprint.

Bastetamn / Getty Images

26. According to one study, cats prefer to be petted on their face, especially around their mouths. They actually dislike being stroked around their tails.

Sjallenphotography / Getty Images

27. When a cat rubs its cheeks or whiskers on you, they're marking you with their scent. It's a sign of affection, and your cat is essentially claiming you as its own.

Fdevalera / Getty Images

28. The largest recorded litter of cats ever birthed was 19 kittens. Most litters are just four to six kittens.

Meadowsun / Getty Images

29. Black cats may be a bad omen in the US, but in other countries, such as England and Japan, they're a sign of good luck.

Awaylgl / Getty Images

30. The oldest breed of cat is the Egyptian Mau. "Mau" actually just means "cat" in Egypt.

Bigandt_photography / Getty Images

31. Cats are cute.

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Sumatran tigers on path to recovery in 'in danger' UNESCO World Heritage site

Sumatran tigers on path to recovery in 'in danger' UNESCO World Heritage site 0

A new study says Sumatran tigers are increasing in Indonesia's Bukit Barisan NP despite the continued threat of living in an 'In Danger' World Heritage Site.

A new scientific publication from WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park Authority looks at the effectiveness of the park's protection zone and finds that the density of Sumatran tigers has increased despite the continued threat of living in an 'In Danger' World Heritage Site.

Living only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the Critically Endangered Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) is the only extant sub-species of 'Island tigers', which includes the now-extinct Javan and Bali tiger. This sub-species is genetically distinct from the other six sub-species of continental tigers.

Sumatran tigers face many challenges to their continued existence in the wild, where they require a home range of 25,000 hectares. These include being poached for their skin, bones and other body parts, involvement in conflict with people, a depleted prey base, and habitat loss.

The study set 123 PantheraCam camera traps over a 1,000 km2 forest block located in a protection zone specially designated by the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park Authority to improve park protection and aid in the recovery of flagship species.

Results of the camera-trap study showed a Sumatran tiger population density increase to 2.8 tigers/100 km2 (2015) from 1.6 tigers/100 km2 (2002). Furthermore, the proportion of male and female tigers recently recorded was 1: 3. "This ratio indicates that the tiger population in the National Park is in a healthy condition and breeding opportunity exists for many females within the areas we surveyed," said lead author, Wulan Pusparini, WCS Species Conservation Specialist. "Our study not only looks at population condition, but also used the photographs to assess the threat of people illegally entering the park."

Timbul Batubara, one of the co-authors and the then head of the Bukit Barisan National Park stated, "The tiger population increase can't be separated from our efforts to maintain this area through ranger patrols. With support from WCS and other partners, we conducted patrols in and around the park to remove tiger and prey snare traps and prevent habitat encroachment."

WCS-Indonesia Country Director and co-author of the paper Dr Noviar Andayani added, "This increasing population trend in Sumatran tigers is a dream come true for all conservationists in Indonesia. I appreciate the work of the park authority and our field team for their efforts in not only protecting tigers and their habitat, but also collecting robust research data to demonstrate this trend and ensure that in the coming years, the UNESCO Tropical Heritage of Sumatra can be removed from the 'in danger list'."

This work was supported by Panthera and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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