Blogs Published at A-Z Animals

The three blogs below were published at during 2023 and 2024. The cornerstone brand out of Flywheel Publishing, A-Z Animals ranks in the top five of encyclopedia-format sites with its blogging platform being wildly distributed in outlets such as MSN.

Discover the Monterey Canyon, an Underwater Gorge Twice the Size of the Grand Canyon

Travel a few hours south of San Francisco and you’ll arrive at a gorgeous stretch of shoreline known as Monterey Bay.

This Pacific Ocean Bay is renowned for its rich and diverse marine ecology. Large whales are often spotted there during migration. It’s a habitat and stopover point for 94 species of seabirds along with seals, sea lions, and sea otters. Fish that inhabit the bay include rockfish, mackerel, salmon, and the prized California halibut.

But the most unique and dramatic feature of the bay will be found under its cool blue waters — the Monterey Canyon. Starting near the shoreline at Moss Landing, the canyon bisects Monterey Bay and heads out to the sea.

Along the way, its ragged cliffs and valleys form a 292-mile (470-kilometer) channel. Its canyon walls are over a mile (1,700 meters) deep and over seven miles (12 kilometers) wide at their broadest point.

But the underwater landscape gets even more phenomenal where the bay reaches out to touch the ocean.

An Underwater Grand Canyon

In 1998 the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) began mapping Monterey Canyon using a variety of sonar equipment along with a robotic underwater vehicle.

What the MBARI has found over the years not only helps to answer long-held questions about Monterey Canyon but also gives a view into how massive it is. Considered one of the deepest submarine canyons on the West Coast, it reaches a depth of 2.5 miles (4,000 meters) at the abyssal plain to which it extends. (An abyssal plain is a flat area of ocean floor where the seabed is at its deepest.)

To put that in perspective, the high side (or north rim) of the Grand Canyon is only 1.5 miles (2,400 meters) high.

Using animation based on data captured over two decades by MBARI explorations, this video shows what the Monterey Canyon would look like if the bay was drained.

An Avalanche of Sediment

Although the depth of the Monterey Canyon is often compared in size to the height of the Grand Canyon, the origins of these two gorges are quite different.

The Grand Canyon was formed millions of years ago by tectonic activity in the Colorado Plateau shaped by the cutting, or carving, action of the Colorado River.

The Monterey Canyon evolved due to moving currents, which have been described as underwater avalanches that shaped the canyon’s walls. They consist of sand and gravel sediment, which is transported by waves and gradually builds up in the canyon.

And there the sediment sits, until something, be it a storm or ground movement, “destabilizes” it. At that point, it can become “a fast-moving slurry of seawater and sand,” called a “turbidity current.” Millions of years of such currents have carved the canyon into its present shape.

These turbidity currents still happen several times a year within the top 12 miles of the canyon. Scientists have discovered that although such currents are quite rare in the deeper areas, there is currently a build-up of sediment in the canyon. A major geological event, such as a failure of the canyon wall or a catastrophic earthquake, could dislodge this sediment, setting off what’s called a “local tsunami.”

Creatures of the Dark

In the waters at the midway depth of the Monterey Canyon, some of the most unusual creatures live. Although dwelling in the dark, without sunlight filtering through the water to support plant life, they have adopted other means of surviving this extreme environment.

One of the more curious creatures found floating around the canyon includes the bloody-belly comb jelly (Lampocteis cruentiventer). This stunning deep red jelly, which looks like a glowing alien, is invisible in the deep waters of the canyon. Red, at those depths, acts like a Harry Potter “cloak of invisibility.” This invertebrate was only first described 20 years ago by MBARI biologists.

Macrofauna, such as tiny snails, worms, and clams live at the muddy bottom of the canyon. These creatures feed on sediments, along with the remains of plants and decaying animals that drift down to the seafloor. A 2010 study found that there’s more food — in the form of nutrient-rich sediment — in Monterey Canyon than imagined.

“The stuff that rains down from above and accumulates at the base of the cliffs isn’t just mud, it’s food,” said marine biologist Craig McClain. “There are tiny food particles and bacteria in the sediment.”

Although the Monterey Canyon has been extensively studied for several decades, it still holds many more secrets.

As NASA scientist Dr. Gene Feldman says, “We have better maps of the surface of Mars and the moon than we do of the bottom of the ocean.”


Discover Why Hummingbirds Chase Each Other

There’s no mistaking the dizzying display of a hummingbird’s wings as it zips around from flower to flower looking for nectar. But often, that same frantic action is used to chase other hummingbirds. So, why do hummingbirds pursue each other? Are these tiny, unique creatures simply having fun, or is there another reason?

There are several explanations for why hummers behave in this manner!

Tiny Creatures with a Big Attitude

The biggest reasons hummingbirds engage in aerial combat are to secure breeding and feeding territory. A true in-flight fight of two hummers is an amazing display of flying precision. They can twist and turn in the air, fly backward and dive-bomb each other, wielding their long bills as weapons. They can also hover in place like a helicopter.

Not all territorial battles are that dramatic. Sometimes simply a ruffling of features to appear larger, or a high-pitched chatter will be enough to keep a rival at bay. Male hummingbirds are quite territorial when it comes to securing a location with good food or an ideal nesting spot.

But females are quite adept at protecting their space as well. 

Hummingbirds and Nest Wars

Hummingbird moms don’t give up their nesting areas easily! They are also quite protective of their young.

Sometimes another female will attempt to take over a nest, which is around the size of a ping-pong ball. Another aggressive maneuver is for a female who is building a nest of her own to try and steal material from one that’s already completed. A hummingbird nest is built only by the female. That means any thievery of nesting materials is being done by a rival of the same gender!

Watching this kind of maneuver play out demonstrates the tenacity of the female hummer, whether she be a nesting mother or a thief. A mom-to-be, for instance, will continue making repairs to places where nesting material has been stolen and lay her eggs even while under attack. But these kinds of battles don’t always end in a successful defense of the disputed territory. Under such constant duress, nesting moms have occasionally been known to abandon their claim, along with their eggs.

Hummingbird Food Fights

Hummingbirds ingest tremendous amounts of insects and nectar. And they’re eating practically all the time — every 15 minutes! Considering that they consume around half of their body weight every day, a place where food is plentiful is well worth protecting.

Since they don’t make a distinction between a flower and a nectar feeder, they will tend to stake a claim on either. Even if you continually fill your hummer feeder with sugar water, they will not be inclined to want to share it. To a hummer, nectar is nectar, whether it comes from a red feeder or a red flower.

Does a Chase Always Mean a Fight?

During mating season males often decide upon a territory, watch it from high in a tree, and chase other males away. That doesn’t necessarily end in a battle but establishes who’s king of the turf. Male hummingbirds also go to extreme lengths to make themselves attractive to females.

A study done by Princeton University called “dive-bombing for love,” discovered some amazing hummingbird courtship rituals that could be mistaken for fighting. The researchers found that broad-tailed hummingbirds (Selasphorus platycercus), for example, will do some “truly amazing,” spectacular dives to impress the ladies!

Male members of one breeding colony of broad-tailed hummers, which live in the western part of the United States, will sweep down from heights of up to 100 feet in the direction of a perched female. Once they have reached the object of their affection, in a matter of milliseconds, they then combine a “tail-generated buzz” sound with a display of bright-red throat feathers. One of the researchers called it an “in-your-face sensory explosion.”

Are Some Hummingbirds More Aggressive?

There are over 330 species of hummingbirds, although only 15 are found in the U.S.

Of those, the rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) is considered the most aggressive, even more so than crows. Found in western states, this species is extremely territorial and has been observed chasing chipmunks that get too close to its nests!

The ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) is another aggressive hummer. It will chase other males as well as juveniles away from its territory. The males have emerald-green feathers on their backs, along with their namesake ruby-colored throat. Females have white throats, but on rare occasions, they can sport a single red feather.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are found up and down the East Coast from Florida to Maine and as far west as Iowa.

During courtship, both the ruby-throated and rufous hummingbirds can beat their wings up to 200 times a second. That’s a big increase from the typical 50 to 75 beats a second!

How to Keep Hummingbirds from Chasing Each Other

You can reduce the chances of aggressive hummingbird behavior with some simple steps.

First, instead of one or two large feeders with multiple nectar ports, use several small, “one-flower” feeders instead.

And don’t place them all in the same location. For the best results in keeping peace in your yard, put some feeders out of sight from the others. Even the biggest hummingbird bully can’t take charge of four or more feeders strategically placed.  Despite their instinctive territorial nature, it’s not uncommon to see several hummers perched on a feeder and calmly enjoying some nectar together.

A Hummingbird’s Fight for Life

Since most hummingbird battles are for territorial reasons, you might think they’re simply aggressive little birds who enjoy a good fight. But it’s their metabolism that keeps them on guard constantly.

Hummingbirds do not have robust stores of energy. They wouldn’t survive without constantly consuming nectar or insects. It’s only before migrating that they significantly increase their body weight. Their diminutive size and weight, no more than that of a penny, also impair their ability to keep warm.

Since they need to constantly keep taking in calories, how does a hummingbird sleep?

Hummers keep from starving to death while sleeping by entering a state of “torpor,” a type of temporary, involuntary hibernation. During torpor, the bird’s heartbeat and body temperature go down, reducing its need for food.

The hummingbird’s metabolism is so unique that researchers have been studying it for decades. One expert, Associate Professor Kenneth Welch at the University of Toronto, found that hummingbirds utilize oxygen at rates humans can’t — not even world-class athletes! Dr. Welch also discovered that hummingbirds, unlike people, can immediately move glucose (from nectar) through their system. It goes directly to their muscle cells in “real time.”

By Land or Water, Hummers Migrate Alone

All healthy North American hummingbirds migrate great distances, with one exception — the Anna’s hummingbird (Calypte anna). These lovely multi-colored little birds, which reside mostly in California, don’t migrate in the typical sense. Called “altitudinal migrants,” they seek out higher altitudes in warmer weather, and lower ones in winter.

Triggers for hummer migration in the late summer include lower temperatures and diminished daylight. Hummers such as the ruby-throated variety then make the long journey south, even going as far as Costa Rica. Some take a shorter trip across the Gulf of Mexico, a dangerous route with no place to stop and rest. Others go by land around the coast of Texas, which allows them to refuel on the way. 

Whatever route a migrating hummingbird chooses it’s known to repeat again and again. Flying alone, their instincts guide them over land and water. Banded hummingbirds have even shown up in the same places on the same day every year during migration!  Like a veteran traveler with a road map, these diminutive birds instinctively know where to go and how to get there.

And when nature calls them back north in the spring to their breeding grounds, their journey will follow the same path.


The Top 8 Animals with the Most Teeth in Their Mouths

In the animal kingdom having teeth isn’t always a requirement. Birds don’t have any, neither do anteaters or the largest animals on the planet — blue whales. But for those animals with teeth, there are amazing variations in how many they have.

And certainly, humans won’t be on this list! With adults only having 32, non-replenishing teeth, people have a long way to go to match some of these animals.

1. Snails

These slow-moving creatures that live on land and in salt and freshwater have several distinct features. For one, they grow their own “homes,” in the form of a shell. Like many other mollusks, they secrete calcium carbonate to make a hard shell.

But while these spiral-shaped shells are the most visible part of a snail, their most unique facet, their teeth, are microscopic. While the numbers vary, scientists say that snails have up to 20,000 teeth. The garden-variety snail has an average of 14,000. These minuscule teeth are arranged in rows on what’s called the radula, which is more like a tongue than a jaw.

In 2015 researchers discovered that the teeth of a limpet, a type of sea snail, consist of the strongest natural material found on Earth. As researchers told the BBC, the teeth are made from “a mixture of goethite (an iron-containing crystal) nanofibers encased in a protein matrix.”

2. Slugs

Tying for first place in total number of teeth is the slug. Like snails, these shell-less mollusks also have a radula. Another snail similarity is the fact that the radula can contain up to 20,000 of these tiny, razor projections. The yellow, extra-slimy, terrestrial banana slug found along the Pacific Coast of the U.S., has the most teeth.

Slugs continually lose and regrow rows of teeth. They eat by scraping up food, which they grind with the radula. And they eat almost anything, plant matter, stems, seeds, spores, and fruit, as well as decaying insects. These creatures are among the slowest animals on Earth.

Slugs are sometimes viewed as snails without shells, but the two are different species of gastropods.

3. Sharks

When you think of shark teeth probably the first thing that comes to mind is the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias). Those frightening rows of serrated, long, and pointed teeth were made famous in the classic movie “Jaws” But great whites “only” have around 300 teeth.

If you want to see shark teeth, check out the whale shark (Rhincodon typus). This unique giant fish, which can be up to 40 feet long, has over 300 rows of teeth. Those rows can contain as many as 3,000 tiny teeth. The oddest thing about this gorgeous spotted fish with the large mouth is the fact that it doesn’t need its teeth to hunt or eat. The whale shark is a filter feeder. It swims with its mouth open to take in and filter plankton and other nutrients, teeth not required!

Sharks, which are born with all of their teeth, continually replace lost ones. Shark teeth do not have roots, nor are they attached to the gum.

4. Pacific Lingcod

If the Pacific lingcod’s appearance and size don’t spook you, its incredible rows of razor-sharp teeth will. This bottom-dwelling fish has over 500 teeth in its huge mouth. And that’s not even the most fascinating aspect of its choppers.

In 2021 research published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B described how the Pacific lingcod loses and almost immediately regrows 20 new teeth every day. These fish not only have two sets of jaws but their palates are also lined with hundreds of tiny teeth. Researcher Karly Cohen, Ph.D. described the toothy setup by noting that “Every bony surface in their mouths are covered in teeth.”

The Pacific lingcod’s back jaw — the pharyngeal jaw — is used for crushing prey. And it’s this back jaw that appears to lose the most teeth, the researchers found. As for what this fish dines on, that would be “anything it can shove in its mouth,” said Dr. Cohen.

The Pacific Lingcod (which is not related to a true cod) can grow to up to 80 pounds and five feet in length. It’s found in great numbers off the coasts of British Columbia in Canada and Washington state.

While the Pacific lingcod has an incredible number of teeth, its tooth loss and regrowth could be typical of other fish. “Most fish have teeth like lingcod,” Dr. Cohen said. “And so it could very well be that most fishes are losing mass amount of their teeth daily,” she added, and replacing them just as quickly.

5. Giant Armadillos

Looking like an armored tank, the giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus) is big both in size and well-equipped to accomplish its mission. With up to 100 teeth in its mouth, it wins the prize for having the most teeth of any land mammal.

Weighing over 100 pounds and measuring up to five feet long, these giants of the armadillo kingdom prefer to feast upon ants and termites. Using its super-size front claws, a giant armadillo can easily destroy a termite mound and eat the entire colony in one sitting, making it nature’s perfect exterminator. However, these ancient mammals, which are native to South America are listed as “vulnerable to extinction” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They are killed for food and for their huge claws, as well as being hit by cars — victims of ever-expanding highway systems. But these exotic creatures are so rarely seen and so elusive that they could easily become extinct without anyone realizing it.

6. Bottlenose Dolphin

These “smiling” marine mammals can possess up to 100 teeth.  Only this extensive set of choppers isn’t for chewing, but for catching prey. Their teeth come into play when they hunt for their preferred meals of fish, squid, and shellfish. They then swallow their meal whole. The bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncates) is found in waters all over the world, including bays, estuaries, and oceans.

Although not considered threatened, bottlenose dolphins are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the U.S. They are highly intelligent, using sound, as do whales, to communicate.

They are also very vulnerable to threats from human activities. This includes pollution, vessel strikes, and noise generated by various types of sonar, such as what is used to map the seabed for offshore energy exploration.

7. Boa Constrictors

The common boa constrictor (Boa constrictor) is another animal that uses teeth for purposes other than chewing. It can have up to 100 sharp, menacing teeth curved inward to latch onto prey. Once its catch is in its mouth, the snake then twists its body around the victim, soon swallowing it whole.

This nonvenomous snake was originally thought to kill by constricting and suffocating its prey. However, research done in 2015 and published in The Journal of Experimental Biology tells a different story. What it found is that the boa’s constriction kills by cutting off the blood supply, rendering its prey unconscious in a matter of seconds.

8. Spinner Dolphins

Spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) have notable, long, thin beaks that can hold up to 65 teeth. Unfortunately, those teeth are considered a form of currency and jewelry in the Solomon Islands. Between 1976 and 2013, it’s estimated that over 15,000 of these marine mammals were killed in that part of the world, a group of islands northeast of Australia, for their teeth and meat.

Like Bottlenose dolphins, spinners also use their teeth for grabbing and gripping prey. Their name comes from a behavioral quirk of leaping out of the water and spinning while in the air. Researchers have counted up to seven remarkable spins before they fall back to the water with a great splash.