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10 Leggy Facts About the Maned Wolf

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Catch a glimpse of a maned wolf on the prowl and you might feel compelled to do a double-take: It looks like a long-nosed, shaggy-haired fox on stilts. Also, its pee mimics the scent of a certain recreational drug. Here are 10 tidbits about the coolest critter you’ve never heard of.

1. IT’S THE TALLEST WILD CANID.

With a shoulder height of up to 35 inches when fully grown, this species is the tallest wild member of the canine family. (Still, it’s nowhere near the heaviest: Full-grown maned wolves max out at just 50 pounds, while the grey wolf can weigh up to 175.) The maned wolf owes its impressive stature to its disproportionately long legs, which probably evolved due to habitat preference. The animals can generally be found in open grasslands in Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina, leading scientists to theorize that their legs evolved to help them see above tall grasses and shrubs while looking for prey.

2. DESPITE THE NAME, IT’S NOT ACTUALLY A WOLF.

Nor is it a fox, a fact betrayed by the maned wolf’s circular pupils. Real foxes have elliptical, vertically-oriented pupils that help them ambush prey in low-light conditions. Thanks to numerous anatomical quirks, the maned wolf cannot comfortably be classified as any kind of fox, wolf, dog, coyote, or jackal. A 2009 genetic analysis determined that the species’ closest relative was the tawny-furred Falkland Islands wolf, which went extinct circa 1880. (For the record, it technically wasn’t a wolf either.) The last common ancestor of these two mammals probably lived somewhere around 6.7 million years ago.

Researchers think that, among still-living animals, the maned wolf is most closely akin to the bush dog, another strange, New World beast. Rather stocky in appearance, the bush dog is notable for having webbed toes that enable it to dig more efficiently and pursue a semiaquatic lifestyle. Bush dogs are native to Panama and South America.

3. IT HAS THREE MAIN VOCALIZATIONS.

In the above video, you’ll hear a maned wolf releasing what is sometimes called a roar-bark. Booming and guttural, the sound is mostly used by mates to communicate with each other over long distances. When angered or distressed, maned wolves will produce a low growl as a warning. They’ve also been known to let loose high-pitched greeting whines.

4. IT’S AN IMPORTANT OMNIVORE.

Fecal samples indicate that, in the wild, fruit and vegetable matter accounts for a third to one-half of a maned wolf’s diet. The canids will often eat roots and bulbs, but they have a special taste for a tomato-like fruit known as the wolf apple (the fruit's name is derived from the maned wolf’s enthusiasm for it). Also called the loberia fruit, it’s thought to help the animals ward off parasitic kidney worms.

Loberia seeds tend to germinate more efficiently after passing through a maned wolf’s digestive tract. Furthermore, the creatures have a helpful habit of defecating directly onto leaf cutter ant nests. The insects then use this fecal matter to fertilize their in-house fungus gardens. In the process, they cast any seeds they might find into the colony’s garbage piles, where the seeds can easily take hold and grow into fruit-bearing plants. And thus, the whole mutually-beneficial cycle repeats itself.

At this point, we should note that maned wolves are still carnivores. They’re very adept at hunting down smaller mammals, with armadillos and rodents being common prey items. Reptiles, birds, insects, and eggs are also consumed when the opportunity presents itself.

5. MANED WOLVES ARE MOSTLY SOLITARY.

Unlike real wolves, these guys don’t form packs. Although adults do live in monogamous pairs and the two mated individuals will defend a permanent territory of around 15 square miles, the male and the female rarely interact outside of the breeding season. For most of the year, they hunt, travel, and sleep alone. Between April and June, however, the wayward partners come together to reproduce. Following a 62- to 66-day gestation period, the female begets anywhere from one to five pups. In captivity, males will help rear the offspring, but it’s unknown if their wild counterparts follow suit.

6. NEWBORNS HAVE DARK BROWN COATS.

These ridiculously adorable puppies have fur that is so dark it almost looks black. As they mature, their coats adopt a predominantly reddish hue, though each leg’s lower half remains dark (they also have a tuft of white on the tail). Then there’s the so-called mane, a streak of dark hair that runs down the neck, terminating just above the shoulders. (More on that in a bit.)

7. THEIR SLEEP SCHEDULES VARY SEASONALLY—AND BY REGION.

Maned wolves are sometimes cited as crepuscular animals, meaning that they mainly come out at dawn and dusk. This is an oversimplification. In reality, activity patterns vary wildly depending on the date and where a particular animal lives. For instance, maned wolves in Bolivia are liable to wander about at any hour during the wet season, but they’re unwaveringly nocturnal in the drier months. The situation is reversed in Brazil, where individuals tend to be diurnal in the dry season and nocturnal in the wet season.

8. THOSE “MANES” SERVE AS A DEFENSE MECHANISM.

When threatened, the thick mane hairs stand erect, making the animal appear larger. To enhance the bluff, an anxious mane wolf will stand upright, lower its head, and threateningly arch its back.

9. MANED WOLVES ARE CLASSIFIED AS NEAR-THREATENED.

The future of these wonderful, stilt-legged canids is very much in doubt. Only around 17,000 mature adults are thought to be left in the wild. Most of these inhabit Brazil, where the local maned wolf population has declined by roughly 20 percent over the past 15 years. Widely suspected of being serial chicken-killers, the animals have long been hunted down and killed by chicken farmers throughout South America. Additionally, maned wolves are susceptible to diseases spread by domestic dogs, many of whom act aggressively towards their distant cousins. But the biggest threat to the animals is habitat loss. As grasslands and forests regularly become farmlands and villages, maned wolves are caught in the middle. Accordingly, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) regards this species as a near-threatened one. This means that, in the not-too-distant future, the maned wolf might well become vulnerable—or worse. Hopefully, increased awareness and captive breeding programs will help turn things around.

10. THEIR PEE SMELLS LIKE MARIJUANA.

Roar-barks are all well and good, but maned wolves primarily communicate with scent. These canines, like numerous other animals, use urine to mark their territories—but their pee is a lot different from what your pupper sprays onto the fire hydrant. Maned wolf urine releases pyrazines, hexagon-shaped clusters of nitrogen, carbon, and hydrogen that create a powerful odor that smells a lot like marijuana smoke.

A Dutch police department learned this fact by accident in 2006. That year, law enforcement officials were summoned to the Rotterdam Zoo in South Holland because guests believed there was a pot-smoker illegally lighting up at the facility. To the surprise of many, their culprit turned out to be a maned wolf who was simply marking its territory.

All images courtesy of iStock.

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14 Bold Facts About Bald Eagles
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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 them 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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 weigh 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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
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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.

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New Health-Monitoring Litter Box Could Save You a Trip to the Vet
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Unsure if your cat is sick or just acting aloof per usual? A “smart toilet” for your fur baby could help you decide whether a trip to the vet is really necessary.

Enter the Pet Care Monitor: More than a litter box, the receptacle is designed to analyze cat urine for health issues, The Asahi Shimbun in Tokyo reports. Created by the Japan-based Sharp Corporation—better known for consumer electronics such as TVs, mobile phones, and the world's first LCD calculator—the product will be available for purchase on the company’s website starting July 30 (although shipping limitations may apply).

Sensors embedded in the monitor can measure your cat’s weight and urine volume, as well as the frequency and duration of toilet trips. That information is then analyzed by an AI program that compares it to data gleaned from a joint study between Sharp Corp and Tottori University in Japan. If there are any red flags, a report will be sent directly to your smartphone via an application called Cocoro Pet. The monitor could be especially useful for keeping an eye on cats with a history of kidney and urinary tract problems.

If you have several cats, the company offers sensors to identify each pet, allowing separate data sets to be collected and analyzed. (Each smart litter box can record the data of up to three cats.)

The Pet Care Monitor costs about $225, and there’s an additional monthly fee of roughly $3 for the service. Sharp Corporation says it will continue developing health products for pets, and it has already created a leg sensor that can tell if a dog is nervous by measuring its heart and respiratory rates.

[h/t The Asahi Shimbun]

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