Saturday, 4 October 2014

It's World Animal Day!

We all love days like 'Father's Day', 'Mother's Day' and even 'Grandparent's Day', but it was great to see on the calendar that today is World Animal Day.

Starting in 1931 at a convention of ecologists in Florence, they decided that this day would highlight the plight of endangered animals. October 4 was then chosen to mark World Animal Day because it is the feast day of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

Everyone knows I am mad about animals, so I thought that today of all days would be an ideal time to mention two species that have had an impact on me.

The great grey owl is one of my favourite birds of prey. These beautiful birds can be found in northern Europe, Asia and Alaska through to Canada. They are approximately 61-69cm long and the wing span of males can reach 1.3-1.5ft in length, while the females wing span is 1.4-1.6ft. Remember although the male and female in smaller species are roughly the same size, with larger birds of prey such as the great grey, the females are bigger. Some say this is to help them protect their nests from aggressive males. 

When I was younger, my grandad used to breed owls and one of his favourites was a great grey called Smoky. We all thought that Smoky was a boy (it's difficult to sex owls), but then he laid an egg on my grandad's birthday! So that was a big surprise!

As you can see above, the facial disc has dark symmetrical lines and the blackish patch underneath the bill looks like a black 'beard.' In fact, the German name for the great grey is 'Bartkauz' which means bearded owl. They tend to move around and breed in areas where there is plenty to eat. In the wild they live to about seven, but can reach the age of 27 in captivity.

I've grown up with owls for most of my life, so they always hold a special place in my heart. I do miss seeing them when I go to visit my grandma, and can always remember helping to hand-rear the youngsters when spring came around. This isn't a picture of a great grey, but me and my sister with a baby barn owl is still pretty cool!

I've loved horses for as long as I can remember - my dad blames those expensive horse riding lessons on my mum as she had a horse before I was born and that's why I've always wanted one of my own. And although I can't ride this one, I do think the tiny seahorse is a enchanting fish. It's a member of the pipfish family and can usually be found in shallow water near seagrass beds. Their dorsal fins move at roughly 35 beats a second - amazing! - and there are 35 species from the 2.5cm pygmy to the 35cm Eastern Pacific seahorse. 

Most can be found hanging on to coral and near a fast water channel which supplies them with their main food, plankton. They can do this because their tail has adapted to be able to grasp or hold objects - in other words it is prehensile. 

What's interesting about these little creatures is: 1. Their eyes move independently so they can look out at the rest of the ocean without giving their presence away. 2. The male takes on the pregnancy! This happens when the female releases the eggs into a special pouch in the male's abdomen. The male then fertilises the eggs when they embed into the tissue of the pouch wall and he creates a fluid that will nourish the youngsters, before they are released into the sea. I wish that happened with humans!

I'll leave you with this photo of me and koala when I visited Australia in August - I'll write a post all about this amazing trip soon! 

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