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The Virginia Opossum is One of the Coolest Critters

Stan shares with us his knowledge and fascination for the Virginia Opossum. Stan thinks it is one of the coolest critters ever. What do you think? One of the coolest critters around is perhaps one of the least understood and, therefore, one of the least liked animals. To add insult to injury, some even say it’s ugly. Of course, I don’t agree. I think it’s amazing and beautiful. What critter am I talking about? It’s the Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana). The Virginia Opossum is North America’s only marsupial. So what the heck is a marsupial? The difference between marsupials and other mammals is how they reproduce. Female marsupials have two uteri and no placenta, unlike other mammal mothers that have one uterus and a corresponding placenta. Developing baby marsupials don’t attach to the mother’s uteri. [caption id="attachment_51474" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Virginia Opossum, taken in southern Minnesota in the wild[/caption] Young marsupials are born at less...

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Things that Bite: About Spiders

Tom Anderson, author of Things that Bite: The Truth About Critters that Scare People shares with us truth and myth about spiders. In E. B. White’s classic tale Charlotte’s Web, we are introduced to a sweet spider heroine, Charlotte. Even her charming manner and good web penmanship could not lift spiders out of their reputation of permanent Halloween status. Humans have maligned these amazing architects for eons. Take a close look at a spider and it will mesmerize you with the engineering of its beautiful webs, its patience, stealth, and sheer beauty. Who could resist the loving stare of eight eyes? There are currently more than 35,000 known species of spiders with thousands of additional species waiting to be classified. The U.S. is home to roughly 3,500 spider species, and approximately 1,000 reside in the Great Lakes region. Spiders, like insects, are invertebrates (without a backbone). Unlike insects, they have eight legs and two primary body parts: the cephalothorax (front body section)...

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Stan Tekiela Photographs Bighorns in Wyoming

Every December near the holidays, naturalist and wildlife photographer Stan Tekiela takes a trip to Wyoming to film and study bighorns (Ovis Canadensis). It’s always a fun adventure, and this year was no different. Bighorns are a member of the mountain sheep group consisting of three species, the Bighorn sheep, Dall sheep, and Stone sheep. There is one other member of this group, the Siberian Snow sheep, but it’s not found in North America. Wild sheep crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Siberia into Alaska about 1 million years ago. They have spread throughout the western half of the country, ranging as far south as the Baja of California. These ancient wild sheep diverged into the modern-day Dall sheep and Stone sheep that live in Alaska and northwestern Canada, as well as the Bighorn, which thrives in the Rocky Mountains all the way to Mexico. I’m always amazed by the size of...

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Paleoart is Where Imagination Meets Science

James Kuether, author of The Amazing World of Dinosaurs: An Illustrated Journey Through the Mesozoic Era, has created paleoart that is at home in galleries and private collections around the globe. Here is his take on how we picture dinosaurs. The Dinosaurs, or as they are more formally known, The Dinosauria, have filled us with wonder, amazement, and excitement for thousands of years. Ever since the first monstrous bones were pulled from the earth, we’ve constructed myths and legends and stories to explain them. Once science got involved in the early nineteenth century, the struggle was to explain these creatures with modern analogies. They were first dubbed “terrible lizards,” and the idea soon caught the public’s imagination. In 1852, life-size re-creations of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures were installed in London’s Crystal Palace Park. This was the first large-scale dinosaur art ever produced and represented the cutting edge of scientific thinking. In the Crystal Palace sculptures, dinosaurs...

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Stan Tekiela Shares His Love for Moose

Naturalist and wildlife photographer Stan Tiekela shares with us his love for moose. Moose are magical—it’s just as simple as that! Their massive size and gentle nature endear them to those of us who seek them out and others who stop to admire them during a chance sighting. I have been studying and photographing moose for three decades and am constantly in awe of this amazing animal. With each encounter, I’m reminded that even though they are huge, they move with the grace and silence of a light breeze. It seems that everyone loves moose, and watching one during a vacation is often the highlight of the trip! Along with many people across the United States and Canada, I personally have great respect and admiration for this symbol of grandeur. When you see one, you just can’t help but stop to admire it. The largest and most magnificent member of the deer family, moose are closely related to caribou, deer,...

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The Pleiades and Hyades in the Winter Night Sky

Jonathan Poppele, author of Night Sky: A Field Guide to the Constellations, tells us how to locate the Pleiades and Hyades in the winter night sky. Winter is setting in here in the Northern Hemisphere. Early sunsets give us many hours of darkness before bedtime, making this a great season to get out and look at the stars. The early winter sky is home to the brightest star clusters in the heavens, and the cool, crisp air seems to make these gems shine even more brilliantly. So bundle up, pack a thermos of hot cocoa, maybe grab a lawn chair and a pair of binoculars, and head out to see some of the most beautiful sights in the night sky. To get the most out of your time out under the stars, find a good place to observe them. The ideal spot will have good views of the southern and eastern horizons—and...

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About Deer, Wildlife, and Piebaldism

In today’s post, naturalist and wildlife photographer Stan Tekiela tells us about a young white-tailed deer with piebaldism. Every now and then nature comes up with a rare or unusual condition. I ran across one of these recently when I had a chance to spend some time photographing a young white-tailed deer with a condition called piebald. Piebaldism is a rare genetic abnormality that can express itself in a wide variety of deformities. The most common of these deformities is a white coat or, more specifically, patches of white on what would normally be a brown deer. A severe case of piebaldism can also involve a shortening and bowing of the legs. In addition, the hooves are often deformed and the spine can be severely arched. Many of the most severe cases don’t survive very long after birth. Individuals who have a moderate condition can live several years. Those with just the...

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Loons, Heroes of Myths and Folklore

Loons have fascinated people for thousands of years. The striking black-and-white breeding plumage and deep red eyes of the Common Loon befit its elegance and grace. Loons are physically amazing, with large, powerful feet that propel the bird underwater at speeds fast enough to overtake fish. They have wings capable of carrying them thousands of miles to wintering grounds and back again with the changes of the seasons. Several native cultures tell stories of how the loon was created. According to one, the loon and the crow were once men. They were good friends and did everything together. One day they decided to go fishing. One of the men caught lots of fish. The other man caught none. The man who had no fish became so upset that he hit his friend, cut out his tongue and threw him overboard. The Great Spirit felt sorry for the beaten man and turned him into a beautiful loon, while his friend was turned into a crow. A story...

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