7 Things You Might Not Know About Impalas

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Impalas have been the inspiration for cars and musicians, but the animal itself has never received much attention in popular culture—at least not in the way some like hedgehogs, raccoons, or otters have. Read on to learn seven facts about some of the most jumpy creatures on the African savanna (in more ways than one).

1. THEY CAN LEAP MORE THAN THREE TIMES THEIR HEIGHT.

image of an adult male impala leaping across some water
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According to National Geographic, impalas can leap up to 10 feet in the air and travel as far as 33 feet in a single bound—which, for an animal with an average height of 3 feet and length of around 4 feet, is a considerable distance. This agility makes it easy for impalas to maneuver over and around obstacles, which comes in handy when they need to escape predators.

2. THEY'RE KNOWN TO CRY WOLF.

image of a herd of impalas running alongside some zebras
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Three of the main prey animals on the southern African savanna (impalas, zebras, and wildebeests) can recognize one another's warning cries, according to researchers from the University of Minnesota. That works to everyone's advantage if a predator is close. If a zebra, for instance, sounds a warning call, then any nearby zebras, wildebeests, or impalas know to flee.

However, the study found that zebras were more likely to ignore warning calls from impalas, Popular Science reported. That makes sense, as zebras can weigh six times as much as impalas and make for hardier prey. Oddly, wildebeests were more likely to flee the area after hearing a cry from an impala than from another wildebeest. Researchers felt that could be because wildebeests often judged it was safer to move quickly and return in case of a false alarm than stay and risk attack. Impalas themselves, however, were skeptical of calls made by their own kind. According to researcher Meredith Palmer, it's because impalas are naturally anxious and tend to sound false alarms.

"If you're an impala and you know that other impala are probably responding to a predator but there's also a 25 percent chance that they are alarm calling at some waving grass, maybe you would give more weight to an alarm call from something like a zebra which perhaps is a little more discriminatory," Palmer told Popular Science.

3. THERE'S A LONGSTANDING—BUT UNSUBSTANTIATED—THEORY THAT THEY CAN DELAY GIVING BIRTH FOR UP TO A MONTH.

image of two adult female impalas looking after several impala calves
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Impalas in southern Africa are synchronous breeders, meaning they tend to mate and give birth around the same time each year. Impala breeding usually corresponds with the wet season—they usually mate in May, at the end of the wet season, and give birth in November, at the start of it. That predictable breeding schedule usually gives impala calves their best shot at survival. Impalas and other prey face more risk in the dry season, when dwindling food and water supplies force predators and prey toward the same geographic locations.

Rumor has it pregnant impalas can delay giving birth for up to a month if the wet season is late. That belief is probably a fallacy, said Shaun D'Araujo, a writer for Londolozi, a South African hospitality group.

According to D'Araujo, it's possible just as many impala calves are born before the start of the wet season as after it. But it's survival of the fittest on the savanna—calves born just a little too early may die before humans ever know they were there. And on top of that, natural birth for an impala born a month late would be impossible because the offspring would be too large, author Trevor Carnaby points out.

4. THEY'RE THE ONLY MEMBER OF THEIR GENUS.

image of impalas in a striking African sunset
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Impalas are one of a kind. They're the only member of the genus Aepyceros, which is included under the Bovidae family (along with buffalo, sheep, goats, and cows, to name a few). Within the impala species, scientifically known as Aepyceros melampus, there are two subspecies of impalas: the common impala, or Aepyceros melampus melampus, and the black-faced impala, or Aepyceros melampus petersi. These black-faced impalas are considerably rarer and are only found in a small subsection of southern Africa (specifically in Namibia and Angola).

5. THEY'RE A COMMON INGREDIENT IN SOUTH AFRICAN JERKY.

image of slices of South African biltong
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South African biltong is a dried and cured meat often compared to jerky. It's usually made from beef, but some purveyors still produce biltong made from game meats. Potential animals on the biltong menu include impalas, ostriches, and wildebeests.

6. THEY'RE MORE LIKELY TO ESCAPE PREDATORS IF THEY SLOW DOWN, BOB, AND WEAVE.

image of an impala running from a cheetah
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Running as fast as possible isn't the best move for impalas hoping to evade a predator, according to a study published in Nature in February 2018. Cheetahs, for example, have 20 percent more muscle power than impalas, and they can accelerate 37 percent faster. And with a top speed around 60 miles per hour (which is considerably faster than an impala's top speed), a cheetah can easily outstrip an impala in a straightforward race.

The best tactic, researchers say, is to move unpredictably. Animals moving at high speeds are less maneuverable, so impalas can shake off a predator if they change directions rapidly. According to Seeker, lower-speed chases almost always favor prey survival.

7. THEY FORM THEIR OWN CLIQUES.

image of a herd of impalas
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Although impalas tend to be fairly social for most of the year, they break off into subgroups during the rut, or mating season (generally from January to May, depending on the location). Impalas typically form three types of herds: all-female herds (often led by a territorial male who may be replaced multiple times), bachelor herds, and mixed-sex family herds led by territorial males.

All- or mostly-female herds are generally uniform and cohesive. Parent-child bonds dissolve after calves are weaned, so female herds often consist of many unrelated impalas. Female herds can be quite large, consisting of as many as 50 to 100 impalas. In Rwanda's Akagera National Park, the average female herd had 36 impalas.

Male impalas who fail to mate successfully form bachelor herds of five to 30 individuals. Bachelor herds are smaller than both family and female herds, and they tend to consist of what ecologist Deon Furstenburg described as "sexually mature, but socially immature rams."

Male impalas typically only become territorial for about four months of the year, during which time they'll jealously protect their harems of female impalas and calves. If one male impala loses a fight to another, they'll often be forced to surrender their herd and join a bachelor herd instead.

20 Black-and-White Facts About Penguins

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iStock/fieldwork

Happy Penguin Awareness Day! To celebrated, here are a few fun facts about these adorable tuxedoed birds.

1. All 17 species of penguins are found exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere.

A group of penguins on an iceberg.
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2. Emperor Penguins are the tallest species, standing nearly 4 feet tall. The smallest is the Little Blue Penguin, which is only about 16 inches.

Three emperor penguins
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3. The fastest species is the Gentoo Penguin, which can reach swimming speeds up to 22 mph.

A gentoo penguin swimming underwater
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4. A penguin's striking coloring is a matter of camouflage; from above, its black back blends into the murky depths of the ocean. From below, its white belly is hidden against the bright surface.

Penguins swimming in the ocean
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5. Fossils place the earliest penguin relative at some 60 million years ago, meaning an ancestor of the birds we see today survived the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.

Emperor penguins with chicks
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6. Penguins ingest a lot of seawater while hunting for fish, but a special gland behind their eyes—the supraorbital gland—filters out the saltwater from their blood stream. Penguins excrete it through their beaks, or by sneezing.

Penguin swimming in the ocean
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7. Unlike most birds—which lose and replace a few feathers at a time—penguins molt all at once, spending two or three weeks land-bound as they undergo what is called the catastrophic molt.

Gentoo penguin chick molting
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8. All but two species of penguins breed in large colonies of up to a thousand birds.

A colony of king penguins
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9. It varies by species, but many penguins will mate with the same member of the opposite sex season after season.

Two chinstrap penguins
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10. Similarly, most species are also loyal to their exact nesting site, often returning to the same rookery in which they were born.

Magellanic penguin nesting in the ground
iStock/JeremyRichards

11. Some species create nests for their eggs out of pebbles and loose feathers. Emperor Penguins are an exception: They incubate a single egg each breeding season on the top of their feet. Under a loose fold of skin is a featherless area with a concentration of blood vessels that keeps the egg warm.

Penguin eggs
iStock/Buenaventuramariano

12. In some species, it is the male penguin which incubates the eggs while females leave to hunt for weeks at a time. Because of this, pudgy males—with enough fat storage to survive weeks without eating—are most desirable.

A group of emperor penguins and chick
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13. Penguin parents—both male and female—care for their young for several months until the chicks are strong enough to hunt for food on their own.

Penguin chick and parent on a nest
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14. If a female Emperor Penguin's baby dies, she will often "kidnap" an unrelated chick.

Three emperor penguin chicks
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15. Despite their lack of visible ears, penguins have excellent hearing and rely on distinct calls to identify their mates when returning to the crowded breeding grounds.

Gentoo penguins
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16. The first published account of penguins comes from Antonio Pigafetta, who was aboard Ferdinand Magellan's first circumnavigation of the globe in 1520. They spotted the animals near what was probably Punta Tombo in Argentina. (He called them "strange geese.")

A group of magellanic penguins on the seacoast
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17. An earlier, anonymous diary entry from Vasco da Gama's 1497 voyage around the Cape of Good Hope makes mention of flightless birds as large as ducks.

A cape penguin in South Africa
iStock/ziggy_mars

18. Because they aren't used to danger from animals on solid ground, wild penguins exhibit no particular fear of human tourists.

Man videotaping a penguin in Antarctica
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19. Unlike most sea mammals—which rely on blubber to stay warm—penguins survive because their feathers trap a layer of warm air next to the skin that serves as insulation, especially when they start generating muscular heat by swimming around.

Penguin swimming in the ocean
iStock/Musat

20. In the 16th century, the word penguin actually referred to great auks (scientific name: Pinguinus impennis), a now-extinct species that inhabited the seas around eastern Canada. When explorers traveled to the Southern Hemisphere, they saw black and white birds that resembled auks, and called them penguins. 

13 Fascinating Facts About Pallas’s Cats

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iStock.com/NEALITPMCCLIMON

Far across the world, an elusive—and adorable—wildcat called the Pallas’s cat (also known as the manul) roams the grasslands and steppes of Central Asia and Eurasia. Get to know the flat-faced, furry kitty, which has been featured in memes and viral videos and recently received its own wildlife preserve in Asia’s Altai Mountains.

1. It's named after naturalist Peter Pallas.

German naturalist Peter Pallas first described the furry wildcat in 1776. He named the kitty Felis manul, and theorized that it was an ancestor of the Persian cat, due to its round face, luxurious coat, and stocky body. (He was wrong.)

2. Its scientific name means "ugly-eared."

Later on, the cat's scientific name was changed from Felis manul to Otocolobus manul—not exactly the most flattering moniker, since Otocolobus is Greek for “ugly-eared.”

3. Its unusual ears come in handy.

Some may consider the Pallas’s cat’s ears to be ugly, while others might think they’re adorable. Arguments aside, the cat’s round ears—which sit flat on the sides of its head—are one of the feline's most distinguishing features. As Crystal DiMiceli, a former wild animal keeper at Brooklyn's Prospect Park Zoo, explains in the above video, having low-positioned ears helps the cat conceal itself—they don’t poke up to reveal the animal's position while it's hiding or hunting.

4. It has a dense, plush coat.

The coat of the Pallas's cat is its true crowning glory. It’s longer and denser than any other coat belonging to a member of the Felid species (growing in even heavier in the winter), and the undercoat on its belly is twice as long as the fur covering the rest of its body. The shade ranges from silvery grey during the winter to a darker, red-toned hue during warmer months. (Some cats are also red, particularly in Central Asia.) Its broad head is streaked and speckled with dark markings, and its bushy tail is banded with stripes and a dark tip. These markings tend to appear darker during the summer.

5. Its fur blends with its habitat, which conceals it from predators.

Pallas's cats live in areas ranging from Pakistan and northern India to central China, Mongolia, and southern Russia. According to Wild Cats of the World, by Luke Hunter, its body isn’t adapted for snow, so it sticks to cold, arid habitats—particularly grassy or rocky areas, which help conceal it from predators—at elevations of around 1500 to nearly 17,000 feet. The stocky cat isn’t a fast runner, so when it senses danger, it freezes and crouches flat and motionless on the ground, and its fur helps it blend in with its surroundings.

6. Pallas's cats aren't fat—they're just furry.

Pallas's cats typically weigh less than 12 pounds, and they’re usually only 2 feet or less in body length—meaning they’re not that much larger than an ordinary house cat. Yet their dense coat of fur makes them appear much larger.

7. Their pupils are round instead of vertical.

Pallas's cats do share one feature in common with larger wildcats, like lions and tigers: their eyes. Their pupils are round, whereas a house cat's pupils are vertical and slit-shaped. Wondering why some cats have round pupils while others have vertical ones? A 2015 study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that animals’ pupil shapes might indicate their role in the predator/prey food chain. They analyzed 214 species of land animals (including cats), and noted that species with vertical pupils tended to be ambush predators that were active during both day and night. In contrast, species with vertical pupils were often “active foragers,” meaning they chase their prey. Also, predators that are closer to the ground, like house cats, were prone to vertical pupils, whereas larger wildcats had round ones. Pallas’s cats are small, and they are primarily ambush hunters, so the jury’s still out on whether the study's findings hold true for all creatures.

8. They subsist mostly on pika.

A Pallas's cat sticks its tongue out
iStock.com/Nikolai Vakhrushev

Pallas's cats are ambush hunters and spend much of their time hunting pika, a small mammal, and other critters like gerbils, voles, hares, ground squirrels, birds, and young marmots. Pika typically make up more than 50 percent of the cat's diet. 

9. They may be distantly related to the leopard cat.

Peter Pallas thought the animal was related to the Persian cat. (We think it looks like a Maine Coon and a Scottish Fold had a baby and weaned it on steroid milk.) However, experts have uncovered evidence that the wildcat’s nearest—yet still pretty distant—relative might be the leopard cat.

10. They's not social animals.

The Pallas's cat is notoriously elusive and spends much of its time hiding in caves, crevices, or abandoned burrows.

11. They don't seem to like each other much.

A pair of Pallas's cats size each other up
iStock.com/eli77

Pallas's cats may be adorably fluffy, but they aren’t the world’s sweetest, most cuddly creatures. In fact, they’re very aggressive. Case in point: In The Wild Cat Book, authors Fiona and Mel Sunquist recount an anecdote provided by Bill Swanson, the Cincinnati Zoo’s director of animal research. Zookeepers thought that a litter of newborn Pallas's cats were having difficulty breathing, but “when they listened closely, they realized that the noise they were hearing was the kittens growling and hissing at each other—before they had even opened their eyes!"

12. Their mating period is brief.

Pallas’s cats mate between December and March; the females typically give birth between the end of March and May, after a gestation period of 66 to 75 days. Pallas’s cats usually give birth to three or four kittens, but litters can sometimes have as many as eight kittens. Kittens become independent by four to five months, and when they reach nine to 10 months, they’re mature enough to reproduce. 

13. They're classified as "near-threatened."

It's estimated that Pallas's cats can live up to six years in the wild, but because of predators and other dangers, their lifespan is likely to be half this length. In captivity, they’ve been known to survive for nearly 12 years.

In 2002, the International Union for Conservation of Nature classified the Pallas’s cat as “near-threatened,” and that status remains today. Many factors contribute to their low numbers, including farming, agricultural activities, mining, and poisoning campaigns aimed at reducing pika and marmot populations. They're also often killed in traps meant for wolves and foxes, or by domestic dogs. And despite international trading bans and legal protections in some countries, they're often hunted for their fur. (The cat's fat and organs are also used to make traditional medicines.) 

Scientists don't have enough data to estimate the Pallas’s cat's population size, but due to their scarcity and the many threats they face, experts believe that their numbers have dropped by 10 to 15 percent over the past decade or so. To better understand—and protect—the animal, an international team of conservationists recently secured a 12-mile swath of land in Sailyugemsky Nature Park, which lies in the Altai Mountains between Kazakhstan and Mongolia, as a sanctuary for the rare cat. There, they hope to monitor its population, study its habitat, and build a database of information detailing encounters with it. 

Additional Source:
Wild Cats of the World by Luke Hunter

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