iStock
iStock

11 Wild Facts About Dingoes

iStock
iStock

When most people hear the word "dingo," they most likely think of the famous movie line "a dingo ate my baby." While inspired by true events, there's a lot more to learn about the creatures than their baby-snatching reputations would suggest.

1. THE DINGO IS NOT A DOG BREED.

Technically, dingoes are not a breed of dog. They're only semi-domesticated and are just as much wolf as they are dog. So far, it's unclear if Canis lupus dingo was ever fully domesticated. Some evidence suggests that they may once have been pets, but were abandoned and left to revert to their wild state. It's believed that travelers from Indonesia or Southeast Asia dropped the once-domesticated dogs in Australia roughly 4000 years ago. The dogs, left to their own devices, thrived by falling back on the wolfish instincts of their ancestors. While some dingoes would travel and eat with Aboriginal tribes on the Australian continent, they were wary companions and certainly not pets.

2. THEY'RE CONSIDERED PESTS.

Left to fend for themselves, dingoes became the largest predator in Australia and enjoyed a wide variety of prey to gobble down. It wasn't until the English came to the country with their sheep that the dingo ran into some trouble. Dingoes feasted on the newcomers' livestock until the farmers were at their wit's end. While most dogs are considered man's best friend, dingoes are decidedly an enemy of the Australian farmer. Some sheep owners today have resorted to "guard donkeys" to protect their stock. The hoofed animals are low maintenance and scare away dingoes and foxes with their powerful kicks.

3. THE LARGEST FENCE IN THE WORLD WAS BUILT TO KEEP OUT DINGOES.

Australians desperate to keep their flocks safe resorted to building a fence in southeastern Australia to keep the dingoes out. The impressive fence is one of the longest structures in the world and is generally considered the longest fence. The original incarnation was a collection of small fences built in the 1880s to prevent the spread of rabbit plague, but they quickly fell into disrepair. In the early 1900s, they were repaired and converted into dingo fences. The various structures were connected in the 1940s to create one giant, continuous fence. It once stretched 8614 kilometers (5352.5 miles) long, but has since been shortened to 5614 kilometers (3488.4 miles). It costs 10 million Australian dollars a year in upkeep, but is considered mostly a success at keeping the predators out.

4. THERE ARE DIFFERENT KINDS.

The range of climates across Australia likely led to the development of different types of dingo, which all reside in different areas of the continent. Desert dingoes are reddish, golden yellow, or sand colored with a compact body size. Alpine dingoes are the most rare in the wild and have a light cream coat. Finally, northern dingoes have a finer stature and lack the double coat the other two types have.

5. SOME PEOPLE KEEP THEM AS PETS...

Some people might frown upon keeping a semi-wild animal as a pet, but others find dingo ownership to be very rewarding. The dogs are very loving and emotionally in tune. The attractive canines are lot like other domesticated dog breeds and can be walked on a leash and brought to the dog park.

That said, the dogs are very high-maintenance. Since dingoes are closely related to wolves, they have deeply ingrained pack values. They don't like being left alone and greetings are a necessary 15-minute procedure filled with patting, talking, and kissing. Failure to properly pay attention to the dogs' needs and pack mentality will leave the dogs disappointed and upset. Owners of dingoes will not be able to move frequently because of the dogs' dislike of change. Having a dingo as a pet is a full time responsibility, as dingoes don't handle rejection well and will likely not emotionally recover from being placed in a new home.

6. ...BUT IT'S ILLEGAL TO KEEP THEM AS PETS IN SOME PLACES.

In places like New South Wales and Western Australia, it's legal to own a dingo without a permit. Victoria and the Northern Territory require a special permit, but in Tasmania, Queensland, and South Australia, the wild dogs are completely illegal to own.

7. SOME DOGS HAVE DINGO IN THEIR ANCESTRY

Despite being somewhat wild, dingoes are still dogs and have mixed with other canine natives of Australia. You can find dingo blood in Australian Kelpies and Australian cattle dogs. Breeders realized that the sturdy wild dogs were perfect to help bulk up working dogs.

8. DINGOES HAVE OWL-LIKE ABILITIES

Dingoes are well-equipped for the Australian Outback, and have an impressive sense of vision. They can even swivel their heads about 180 degrees. Comparatively, owls can turn their heads 270 degrees; humans can only turn theirs 45 to 70 degrees.

9. THEIR BENDY WRISTS ARE HELPFUL.

Just like humans, dingoes have rotating wrists. This allows them to use their paws like hands to catch prey. It also helps them better climb trees and even open doors. Their flexible wrists let them climb and enter places other dogs can't go, making them a formidable pest for farmers trying to keep them away from their livestock.

10. THEY DON'T REALLY BARK.

Unlike your standard dog, dingoes are much quieter. Instead of barking, the dogs have a yodel-like howl.

11. THEY LIVE A LONG TIME IN CAPTIVITY.

In the wild, dingoes live somewhere between five to 10 years, but in captivity, they can live upwards of 18 to 20 years. This number is pretty impressive, as most domesticated dogs don't boast such a long lifespan. Comparatively, the English springer spaniel, which is roughly the same size as the dingo, only lives 10 to 14 years.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
14 Bold Facts About Bald Eagles
iStock
iStock

Bald eagles are powerful symbols of America—but there’s a whole lot more to these quirky birds.

1. YOUNG BALD EAGLES AREN'T BALD.

A young bald eagle with a brown head on a beach.
iStock

So obviously adult bald eagles aren't really bald, either—their heads have bright white plumage that contrasts with their dark body feathers, giving them a "bald" look. But young bald eagles have mostly brown heads. In fact, for the first four or five years of their lives, they move through a complicated series of different plumage patterns; in their second year, for instance, they have white bellies.

2. BALD EAGLES SOUND SO SILLY THAT HOLLYWOOD DUBS OVER THEIR VOICES.

A red-tailed hawk.
A red-tailed hawk's screech is usually dubbed over the bald eagle's weaker scream.
iStock

It's a scene you’ve probably seen countless times in movies and on TV: an eagle flies overhead and emits a rough, piercing scream. It's a classic symbol of wilderness and adventure. The only problem? Bald eagles don't make that sound.

Instead, they emit a sort of high-pitched giggle or a weak scream. These noises are so unimpressive that Hollywood sound editors often dub over bald eagle calls with far more impressive sounds: the piercing, earthy screams of a smaller bird, the red-tailed hawk. If you were a fan of The Colbert Report, you might remember the show's iconic CGI eagle from the opener—it, too, is making that red-tailed hawk cry. Listen for yourself and decide who sounds more impressive.

3. THEY EAT TRASH AND STOLEN FOOD.

Two bald eagles guard their prey against two magpies on a snowy field.
iStock

Picture a majestic bald eagle swooping low over a lake and catching a fish in its powerful claws. Yes, bald eagles eat a lot of fish—but they don't always catch it themselves. They've perfected the art of stealing fish from other birds such as ospreys, chasing them down until they drop their prey.

Bald eagles will also snack on gulls, ducks, rabbits, crabs, amphibians, and more. They'll scavenge in dumpsters, feed on waste from fish processing plants, and even gorge on carrion (dead, decaying animals).

4. BALD EAGLES USUALLY MATE FOR LIFE.

Two bald eagles perched on a tree.
iStock

Trash and carrion aside, they're pretty romantic animals. Bald eagles tend to pair up for life, and they share parenting duties: the male and the female take turns incubating the eggs, and they both feed their young.

5. … AND THEY LIVE PRETTY LONG LIVES.

Two bald eagles sitting on a rock.
iStock

Those romantic partnerships are even more impressive because bald eagles can survive for decades. In 2015, a wild eagle in Henrietta, New York, died at the record age of 38. Considering that these birds pair up at 4 or 5 years of age, that's a lot of Valentine's Days.

6. THEY HOLD THE RECORD FOR THE LARGEST BIRD'S NEST.

Two bald eagles in their large nest.
iStock

Bald eagles build enormous nests high in the treetops. The male and female work on the nest together, and this quality time helps them cement their lifelong bond. Their cozy nurseries consist of a framework of sticks lined with softer stuff such as grass and feathers. If the nest serves them well during the breeding season, they'll keep using it year after year. And, like all homeowners, they can't resist the thought of renovating and adding to their abode. Every year, they'll spruce it up with a whopping foot or two of new material.

On average, bald eagle nests are 2-4 feet deep and 4-5 feet wide. But one pair of eagles near St. Petersburg, Florida, earned the Guinness World Record for largest bird’s nest: 20 feet deep and 9.5 feet wide. The nest weighed over two tons.

7. FEMALES ARE LARGER THAN MALES.

Two bald eagles in their large nest.
iStock

In many animal species, males are (on average) larger than females. Male gorillas, for example, dwarf their female counterparts. But for most birds of prey, it's the opposite. Male bald eagles weight about 25 percent less than females.

Scientists aren't sure why there's such a size difference. One reason might be the way they divide up their nesting duties. Females take the lead in arranging the nesting material, so being bigger might help them take charge. Also, they spend longer incubating the eggs than males, so their size could intimidate would-be egg thieves.

If you're trying to tell male and female eagles apart, this size difference may help you—especially since both sexes have the same plumage patterns.

8. TO IDENTIFY THEM, LOOK AT THE WINGS.

A bald eagle flies across the water.
iStock

People often get excited about a big soaring bird and yell "It's an eagle!” just before it swoops closer and … oops, it's a vulture. Here's a handy identification tip. Bald eagles usually soar with their wings almost flat. On the other hand, the turkey vulture—another dark, soaring bird—holds its wings up in a shallow V shape called a dihedral. A lot of large hawks also soar with slightly raised wings.

9. THEY'RE COMEBACK KIDS.

Baby eagle chicks in a nest.
iStock

Before European settlers arrived, bald eagles were abundant across the U.S. But with settlement came habitat destruction, and the settlers viewed the eagles as competition for game and as a threat to livestock. So many eagles were killed that in 1940 Congress passed an act to protect the birds.

Unfortunately, another threat rose up at about that time. Starting after World War II, farmers and public health officials used an insecticide called DDT. The chemical worked well to eradicate mosquitos and agricultural pests—but as it traveled up the food chain, it began to heavily affect birds of prey. DDT made eagle eggshells too thin and caused the eggs to break. A 1963 survey found just 471 bald eagle pairs in the lower 48 states.

DDT was banned in the early 1970s, and conservationists began to breed bald eagles in captivity and reintroduce them in places across America. Luckily, this species made a spectacular recovery. Now the lower 48 states boast over 9700 nesting pairs.

10. THEY'RE UNIQUELY NORTH AMERICAN.

An African fish eagle flies over the water.
The African fish eagle is a relative of the North American bald eagle.
iStock

You've probably heard of America's other eagle: the golden eagle. This bird lives throughout much of the northern hemisphere. But the bald eagle is only found in North America. It lives across much of Canada and the U.S., as well as northern parts of Mexico.

Though it may be North American, the bald eagle has seven close relatives that are found throughout the world. They all belong to the genus Haliaeetus, which comes—pretty unimaginatively—from the Latin words for "sea" and "eagle." One relative, the African fish eagle, is a powerful symbol in its own right. It represents several countries; for example, it's the national symbol of Zambia, and graces the South Sudanese, Malawian, and Namibian coats of arms.

11. THEY'RE AERIAL DAREDEVILS.

A bald eagle carries a fish off in its talons.
iStock

It seems too weird to be true: While flying, bald eagles sometimes grab each other's feet and spin while plummeting to the Earth. Scientists aren't sure why they do this—perhaps it's a courtship ritual or a territorial battle. Usually, the pair will separate before hitting the ground (as seen in this remarkable set of photographs). But sometimes they hold tight and don't let go. These two male bald eagles locked talons and hit the ground with their feet still connected. One subsequently escaped and the other was treated for talon wounds.

12. THEIR EYES ARE AMAZING.

Close-up of a bald eagle's face.
iStock

What if you could close your eyes and still see? Besides the usual pair of eyelids, bald eagles have a see-through eyelid called a nictitating membrane. They can close this membrane to protect their eyes while their main eyelids remain open. The membrane also helps moisten and clean their eyes.

Eagles also have sharper vision than people, and their field of vision is wider. Plus, they can see ultraviolet light. Both of those things mean the expression "eagle eye" is spot-on.

13. THEY MIGRATE … SORT OF.

A bald eagle sits in a snowy tree.
iStock

If you're a bald eagle that nests in northern Canada, you'll probably head south for the winter to avoid the punishing cold. Many eagles fly south for the winter and return north for the summer—as do plenty of other bird species (and retired Canadians). But not all bald eagles migrate. Some of them, including individuals in New England and Canada's Maritime provinces, stick around all year. Whether or not a bird migrates depends on how old it is and how much food is available.

14. THEY CAN SWIM … SORT OF.

A bald eagle
iStock

There are several videos online—like the one above—that show a bald eagle swimming in the sea, rowing itself to shore with its huge wings. Eagles have hollow bones and fluffy down, so they can float pretty well. But why swim instead of soar? Sometimes, an eagle will swoop down and grab an especially weighty fish, then paddle it to shore to eat.

Note that the announcer in the video above says that the eagle's talons are "locked" on a fish that's too heavy to carry. In fact, those lockable talons are an urban legend.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library
iStock
iStock

Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios