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7 Questions Kids Always Ask About Animals

Friday 22 May 2020

Kids and animals – they go together so well!  However, kids are curious about all sorts of concepts and animals are no exception! Children will never stop bothering us with their thought-provoking and annoying questions up to and including "write a paper for me." Here are eight of them about animals, and how to answer them - starting with two of the more frequently asked and then some of the lesser (but still amusing) answers. Oh and don't worry about the little girl above - she does not have cruel and irresponsible parents. It's a statue.

Why do giraffes have long necks?
Image Credit Flickr User Abulic Monkey
This is because many years ago a giraffe got his head stuck in a hole in the ground.  He pulled and pulled and eventually managed to pop his head back out.  Unfortunately, all that pulling had lengthened his neck – something that he passed on to all his children.  Honestly?  You  might need to order an essay if you believed that! Is it because it helps them reach the long leaves at the top of the trees on which they graze? That is probably wrong as well.  Giraffes mostly feed below their head line and in dry seasons they feed amongst the undergrowth.Yet with that long neck and legs that seem to go on forever, it's always surprising we don't see this more often...

This poor guy looks like he's in need of a college homework service while he recovers! So why the big long neck?  Is it to see lions at a distance?  Unlikely!  The biggest theory here is that it boils down to the one thing to which so much boils down: sex.  Male giraffes use their necks when they go in to combat against each other in the mating season.  Before a scrap they point upwards with their noses, as if to show that they are taller than the opponent. If this doesn’t work then it’s war! When they actually fight they use their neck like a hammer, slamming it down on their foe.  The one with the longer, heavier neck wins – and gets the girl. So the trait is passed on to the next generation.

Why do elephants have big ears?
No, it’s not “because Noddy won’t pay the ransom” (which is a joke you will not get unless you are British anyway).  There are two main reasons why their ears are so large and the first is around, you guessed it, hearing.  Elephants can often be a long way from each other in the wild and they, like some other mammals that could be mentioned, like to know what is going on around them. When they want to tune in to something that is happening a distance away they turn towards the sound.  Then, they open their ears wide and this helps “catch” the sound.

Another reason is to cool itself down.  The ears naturally have a very large surface area - and they don't always have a swimming pool nearby. When an elephant feels itself getting too hot it pumps blood in to its ears.  There are lots of vessels in the ears, because of their size and so a lot of blood can be pumped in to them at once.  Then the elephant waggles its ears and the blood cools down.  Result, we have an elephant that isn’t going to get overheated.

Now, this next photo may make you squirm, but it leads in to the next question - in a way.

Is wombat poo really square?
Yes, strange – even peculiar – but true!Wombats have two sets of muscles in their anal sphincter.  These muscles are parallel to each other so the resulting waste is square, or rather cuboid in shape.  It could just be an accident of nature but this squareness could also have a use.  Wombats use their feces to mark their territory and often deposit them on ‘wobbly’ terrain such as logs or stones.

The shape may help the marker stay there for longer.  Incidentally, wombats have even been known to put their ‘marker’ on top of mushrooms! It would be great if we could have shown you a picture of that but…

Is there an animal with only one eye?
Yes – there is one group of animals that have only one eye.  They are from a family of creatures called copepods and they are crustaceans.  The name of the crustacean is “Cyclops” after the mythical Greek race of men who had only one eye.  They are very small – you will never see one that is more than two centimeters in length.  The eye – known as a median eye – is situated near the top of the head, between the antennae.  Male and female can be told apart only when the female is carrying eggs, which accompany her around in two sacks at her base.  Altogether, a wee creature to avoid!  Don’t have nightmares!

Why do zebras have stripes?
Zebras were once completely black but one day a zebra stood next to a white picket fence that was being painted and the result is history.  Okay, maybe not.  It is for camouflage purposes.  The stripes help the zebra hide against the long grass.

It is irrelevant that the zebra’s stripes are not green or orange, like the grass, because the zebra’s main predator is the lion.  The lion is color blind and so will not be able to see the difference between the different colors.  Another reason is so that zebras all look the same.  A lion will try and pick off a weak animal, but when the zebras run as the lion attacks, they all look identical to the lion – or at least that is the plan!  It is also thought that the stripes make it difficult for the lion to guess which way a zebra is moving. Of course, when the lion is your main predator, it's no laughing matter,

Do spiders have a heart?
Haven’t you read “Charlotte’s Web”?  Of course a spider has a heart!  They look after piglets and ensure that they become “some pig”!  Biologically, a spider does have a heart but not really as we know it!  The spider heart is much simpler than the human one.  It is a tube that is positioned at the back of the abdomen.  There it is, below.

Openings on either side of the heart, called ostia, allow blood in to the heart and pump it back out.  The spider has a valve system and that means it can take up any position it wants without the blood going the wrong way!  It can go upside down, sideways – any way it wants without the ‘red stuff’ gushing out!

Do fish have eyelids?
The simple answer is no!  That’s why you will never get a nod and a wink from a fish.  They have a thin transparent layer that covers the eye, similar to our cornea, to protect it from nasty particles.  A lot of people think that fish have poor eyesight.

In fact, it’s wonderful and they can see some of the color spectrum that we can’t.  Their eyesight is important to them because they rely on it to recognize other members of their own species.  Which raises another question – fish don’t have mirrors, so how do they know which fish is a fish like them?  All in the genes, the recognition factor is not learned behavior; it is something with which they are all born. No surprises there, then.

Why can't hens fly?
The truth is they can, but really, really badly.  Thousands of years ago, their ancestors would have had the power of full flight – and then we came along.  We know they used to be able to fly because of the lightness of their bones and the numerous air pockets in them.  Plus they have in common with all other flying birds the air sacks around the lungs that they need to make their breathing more efficient. Although it proved impossible to source an copyright free image of a hen actually flying, below is Daphne, with her first experience of snow. She almost flies back in to her coop after deciding it really isn't for her!

....and don't tell us this hen got up there with the help of the sheep.
Chicken remains have been found in human settlements from five thousand years ago, so they have been domesticated animals for a long time.  When people first came on to the scene they would have caught the chickens least able to fly off.  They would have then bred these chickens, meaning that the successive generations would also be poor, then poorer, fliers.  The result is the modern chicken that can flutter rather than fly! So, that's it. Yet let's just end this with one more picture - for no other reason than it's the cutest picture on the internet. The next in the series shows a bloodbath, but that's nature - tooth and claw.

First image Credit Flickr User Peasap

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