Posted in animal facts, Animal Kingdom, animal mascots, animals, Arts, biodiversity, Community Events, conservation, ecology, education, Entertainment, environment, Fun Animal Facts, nature, nature conservation, Nonprofit Groups, Small Business, storytelling, talking mascots, teaching, Uncategorized, Western New York Organizations, Wild Animals, wildlife, wildlife education, wolf reintroduction, wolves

Attack of the 50-Foot Snail Ants!

By Katie Gill, @CaffeinatedKid

 

You never know what information a person is going to divulge when you start a conversation with him or her.

Origami Box
The shoebox of 50 origami animals we brought to the Eco-Fair. People who gave us a howl or a fun animal fact got to bring home one of these creatures.

On Sunday, June 18, we attended the Brighton Eco-Fair. Fun fact: this was the first official event Animal School participated in after we began working as a mom-and-pop operation last year. To celebrate our paper anniversary, I crafted up 50 origami animals, packed them in a shoebox and gave one to each person at the event who told us a fun animal fact. We later extended our offer to those who performed one of the wolf calls Howler was teaching.

One of my favorite things about working with Animal School has been meeting so many interesting people. You all have such an amazing breadth of knowledge, experience and creativity. The cute kids and dogs who run up to our mascots, greet them with great big smiles and start playing are high on the list, too. Having fun while learning is what Animal School is all about. We are constantly learning new things from the people we meet, and we strive to share our knowledge with you.

Origami 1
The origami animals we gave away (from left to right): a flapping butterfly, angel fish, rabbit, pelican and wolf/fox/coyote

This year’s Eco-Fair focused on the theme of conservation, so we had Howler Wolf talking about why conserving wolf populations is vital. As anyone who has seen our Lupinology presentation knows, wolves are a keystone species, crucial to an ecosystem. Pluck them out of their environment, and all other living things are drastically affected. Everyone’s favorite example of this is the gray wolf’s reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, which allowed several animal species to thrive. It also kept coyote populations in check – ’yotes tend to become invasive species that throw off the balance of an ecosystem when their numbers get too high. Even some tree species that had long been absent started to grow again once the wolves were brought back into the ecosystem.

Eco Fair Howler
Howler Wolf at the Brighton Eco-Fair, teaching folks all about wolves and why they are so important to their ecosystems

The results of this reintroduction teach us two things. One: wolves are imperative to their ecosystems. Two: we can never be entirely certain how a plant or animal affects its surroundings. Therefore, we should never assume that adding infrastructure, plants or animals to an ecosystem will be perfectly safe. Even when scientists and environmentalists perform studies to project what will happen when we build architecture in an ecosystem, there can still be unanticipated consequences. Nature exists in a delicate balance, and we must be mindful of that so that we can conserve it and flourish for generations to come.

Wolves used to live all around North America. However, when hunters started becoming overzealous, particularly as myths about wolves attacking livestock and people without provocation rose, the lupines’ numbers plummeted. Today, there are only a handful of areas in the U.S. where wolves live. Here in upstate New York, there are no known wolves roaming around, though there have been some unconfirmed sightings in the Adirondacks and extreme upstate region. The good news is that wolves are slowly being reintroduced to various states across the U.S., so there is still hope of reviving their grand ecosystems of centuries past.

Now, moving on to fun animal facts, we got a good number of responses from people at the event. Some of our favorites are:

  • Owls’ wings are structured in a way that prevents other animals from hearing the birds coming. There are a couple of mechanisms at work here. First, the broadness of owls’ wings keeps them from flapping too much, which reduces noise. Furthermore, as How Stuff Works states, “When most birds fly, turbulence – created when air gushes over the surface of their wings – causes noise. Owls’ wings, however, are unique because they reduce noise caused by turbulence. An owl’s primary feathers are serrated like a comb. This design breaks down turbulence into smaller currents called micro-turbulences.”
  • We learned from Braddock Bay Raptor Research that you can tell the age of a broad-winged hawk by its tail feathers. Juveniles’ tails have narrow bands of color, whereas adults have broad black and white bands on their tails. At about one year of age, a hawk reaches adulthood and will molt its feathers, allowing its new plumage to come in. This is similar to how humans lose their baby teeth and have adult ones grow in their places!
  • As we mentioned above, in 1995, humans reintroduced gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park, which changed the park’s entire ecosystem. Someone informed us about a documentary she saw regarding Yellowstone, which showed how even the bends and path of a river changed as a result of the wolves’ presence. Remember: wolves are important to an ecosystem because they bring vitality. Ask Howler Wolf if you would like to learn more.
  • There is widespread misconception about how two species crossbreeding is a symptom of climate change, global warming and habitat loss. However, as one woman mentioned to us, creatures have been mating with other species for centuries, so these hybrids are not necessarily a result of negative effects on our environment. I will have to do additional research before I say anything conclusively, but it is probable that the convergence of certain traits between species could produce evolutionary advantages and be examples of adaptation. On the other hand, there are animals that breed with other species due to loss of habitat and human interference. Pugs, for example, which humans have and continue to selectively breed, have severe respiratory distress throughout their lives due to the shapes of their skulls. (Yet another reason it’s always better to #AdoptDontShop, because some animal breeders inbreed cats and dogs for their purebred status, which can cause severe and lifelong health problems for the animals.) Other possible concerns for interspecies offspring are health problems, infertility and shorter lifespans. A few common examples of hybrids species are wolfdogs, coywolves, coydogs and grizzly-polar bear hybrids.

The best response of the day, however, came from a young man with a vivid imagination and knack for storytelling. He said that snails and ants are two of the strongest creatures in existence, and that a snail-ant hybrid could take over the planet by invading power plants. These snail ant assailants would be the ultimate destroyers and overtake the earth!

Immature Radioactive Samurai Slugs
This young man’s tale about snail-ant hybrids reminds me of the Tiny Toon’s Immature Radioactive Samurai Slugs, a parody of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

This kid captivated me. I just stood there, eager to hear more, engrossed in the yarn he spun. So many questions came to mind, including: where would these hybrids come from? Why is this not already an amazing splatstick B-Movie horror flick? Where did this elementary-school-aged kid come up with this dystopian future filled with Godzilla-like super bugs? (Thinking back, I don’t know if he ever said they were giant monsters, but I was definitely getting a Mothra vibe from what he described.) Which parts of the snails and ants would be the strongest? How do the two fuse into one species? Genetic engineering? Would they be able to naturally reproduce, or be infertile like mules, the horse-donkey hybrids? Would these creatures stay their original sizes, or adapt to support their larger and smaller sections? Which sections of each animal would make the evolutionary cut? Would they be giga-snail ants, or under-the-radar mini assailants? Would it be a gradual takeover or a snowballing situation? Where would the takeover start? Would the world end up like the “true” ending of Little Shop of Horrors, with these devious creatures we unknowingly nurtured taking over humanity? How intelligent would they be? Are these snails intentionally seeking out power plants, or just looking for shelter and sustenance? What draws them in? How do they get in? Does their slime make machines and electricity malfunction, or does this massive wave of them get into nuclear reactors, which turn them into Hulk-like beasts? Where do the ants fit into this equation? Do they become snail ants before or after taking over the power plants? Can this be avoided if we switch to greener energy? Do the snails feel malice towards humanity? Do they have an agenda? This scenario prompts a lot of thought-provoking questions, and I want to know more about the world this little guy created with his words. Most importantly, where did he come up with this idea?

I am going to have to do some research into snails and ants to see if they are like cockroaches and can allegedly survive a nuclear blast. I also want to see if I can find media that may have inspired this kid, because I am now invested in finding answers to this hypothetical scenario, and maybe making some concept art.

The funny thing was, after this kid told us all about the snail ant takeover, he didn’t even want an origami animal! So we ended up giving one to his brother instead.

It is amazing what you can uncover when you have an inquisitive mind, a thirst for knowledge, natural curiosity and the ability to problem solve creatively.

Speaking of …

Stay tuned, Wild Things.

Posted in animal mascots, animals, Arts, education, educational mascots, End of Year Review, Entertainment, environment, Farmers Markets, mascots, nature, Nonprofit Groups, Small Business, talking mascots, teaching, vlogs, Western New York Organizations, wildlife, wildlife education

Animal School: Our Year In Review

By Katie Gill

Happy New Year, everyone!

With 2017 officially here, we thought it would be a good time to reflect on what Animal School has accomplished since its inception this summer and what we have to look forward to.

keleFirst off, on Sunday, January 15,we will be at the Mendon Ponds Winterfest from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Inola the arctic fox will be there representing us as well as Braddock Bay Raptor Research. If you recall, we did a video series called “Bird Eye’s View” this summer with BBRR, which you can find here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfVO60UBicM&t=2s&list=PLI0kQykroXfLe8_JT_YK8VEwcllHwZY-_&index=15. Mendon Ponds Winterfest is a family-friendly event open to the public, so we hope to see you there!

Now, regarding our past year: Animal School, in its current form, took place after Nick asked me to design a brochure to help him promote his educational wildlife mascot program. I ended up coming with him to the 2016 Brighton Eco Fest, since we had done a fair amount of sales and marketing work together already and, having been in a relationship for the better part of a decade, already had a shorthand with one another.

inolaAt Eco Fest, we caught the eye of Robert, from Impact Earth, Inc., who invited us to tour with his group at the Pittsford, Churchville, Lakeside (Charlotte) and Macedon Farmers Markets. We even crashed the Brighton Farmers Market a few times. During this period, we received useful insight from the public about roc-pridebuilding our program to include more interactive elements and appealing to people of all ages. Hence, we began our fun animal facts and grew our social media presence to include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, this blog and YouTube.

In the summer we were invited to the Rochester Pride Fest with the Wildlife Educators Coalition. Nick and I both got to be part of the gen-sum-festparade, which was the biggest, most fun parade either of us has ever experienced. Everyone was so nice and supportive of one another, I genuinely can’t think of a better festival I’ve been to in Rochester.We also went with WEC to the Geneseo Summer Festival and did an event with Cool Kids! in Brockport, NY, our old college town.

We transitioned into the fall with the Walworth walworthHarvest Moon Festival, where we had a coloring station set up for kids so they could draw while learning about the various types of foxes that exist in North America. And yes, I did draw and color those foxes on the display board. I hope to do a display of kestrels at some point in the future.

foxesThose are all the big and successful events I can think of. We tried to do a Turtles Around Town feature, which was like an interactive Where’s Waldo? and conveniently coincided with the release of Pokémon Go! Unfortunately, it did not receive enough engagement to warrant its continuation, especially considering the amount of work it took to find new locations each week and the cost of driving around to scout out locations.

Moreover, we did a series of videos entitled Vulpinology, in which our fox characters, Swift and Inola, talked about different species of foxes, as well as the latest news surrounding them. Again, costs and time spent for these videos deterred us from producing more, especially since the audio quality was not up to our standards — a result of our lack of equipment — and it was too difficult for me to film for hours with my back injury. We were going to start a Fairy Tale Fallacies feature as well, the first video of which I accidentally deleted, in which we discussed popular fairy tales and the misinformation, misconceptions and myths they spread about wildlife. However, that has also been put on the back burner. Most recently, Nick started an Ask Howler vlog, where people can ask our resident talking wolf questions about wolves and wildlife. So far, it has had a decent reception.rudolph

At the end of November, Nick received a Rudolph costume from an old friend, and we got to take the red-nosed reindeer to the East Rochester Christmas Festival, Uno Chicago Grill in Victor, Lift Bridge Book Shop in Brockport and, perhaps most importantly, the CURE Childhood Cancer Association‘s Holiday Party, where he was a surprise hit.

Furthermore, our Fun Animal Facts are now organized by a weekly theme. I would like to do a series of drawing videos based off of the parody story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears I wrote back in 6th grade, and perhaps one of the nonfiction deer story I co-wrote in 1st grade. Likewise, we are planning to get a new coyote mascot, since the one Nick has is cheap and doesn’t work or fit well. We are also crafting a vulture, horse and probably something else that escapes me.

Nick has also been interviewed by Elope, Inc., the designers of several of our mascots’ heads, and The Mascot Diaries, so those are two things we are eager to share with our audience!

Additionally, we still desire a Patreon account to get paid for our work, but need to find a way to reward the patrons for their ongoing support other than just thanking them in videos and blog posts and continuing our Fun Animal Facts. I have ideas, but they still need to be refined. For example, we want to have patrons come up with ideas for videos and Fun Animal Facts themes, but there are some unsavory characters on the Internet who we want to keep from poisoning our family-friendly program, so I need to keep our guidelines for suggestions strict and precise.

We are continually toying with Animal School’s voice, too. We want what we write and say to appeal to people of all ages, though each project we work on feels inherently geared towards a certain age group. Then again, kids are so smart with their insights and breadth of knowledge, they often make us feel like the children! So we are constantly tinkering with our writings and videos so they are accessible to everyone.

Finally, thank you to everyone who has supported us on this journey. Your help and encouragement has been instrumental to our success.

Until next time: stay wild, friends.

Posted in animal facts, animals, Arts, biodiversity, ecology, education, Entertainment, Farmers Markets, nature, nature conservation, Small Business, wildlife, wildlife education

Fun Animal Facts: Weekly Recap

We’ve had a busy week! Video shoots, Turtles Around Town, the 2016 Rochester Pride Parade and, of course, a series of fun animal facts. Also, our fox puppet, Jingo, sang a “Tom’s Diner” parody because she is a saucy little fox.

If you are hoping to see us out and about, Howler Wolf will be with the Wildlife Educators Coalition at Cool Kids! in Brockport this Friday from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. We will also be at both the Pittsford Village Community Farmers Market and the Brighton Farmers Market this Saturday and Sunday with one of our talking animal characters. So come on by, support our local businesses, get some amazing food (seriously, I cannot praise the quality and variety of food and drinks vendors have at these markets enough) and enjoy the sun!

Without further ado, here is our assemblage of animal facts from the past week:

  • Domesticated goats can quickly revert back to their feral state out in the wild. The same goes for domesticated cats!
  • Common Garters are New York State’s mostGarter Snake common snake species. Between 16 and 30 inches long, they eat insects, slugs, worms, and even the occasional frog or mouse! (Photo from Wikipedia)
  • Fun Animal Fact: All the Kongs in “Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze” are designed after real monkeys.
    DKC TF
    Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

    Donkey Kong = Mountain Gorilla
    Diddy = Spider Monkey
    Cranky & Funky = Gorilla
    Dixie = Chimpanzee
    Poison Dart Frog

  • Poison Dart Frogs’ bodies have elaborate designs & brilliant colors to ward off potential predators, a natural defense tactic called aposematic coloration. (Photo from National Geographic Kids)tegu
  • Tegus are a group of large omnivorous lizards native to Central and South America. The amount of meat tegus consume decreases as they mature. Pictured below is an Argentine Black and White Tegu, the largest of all tegus. (Photo Credit: Branson’s Wild World)Peafowl
  • Peacocks are actually male peafowl. Females are referred to as peahens, babies are peachicks, and a group of peafowl are an Ostentation or Muster. (Photo Credit: Coqui de Vicente on Pinterest)Koala
  • Koalas are anatomically designed to hang out in tree branches for extended periods. They have thick rump fur, a cartilaginous pad at their spine’s base, a curved backbone, and two fewer pairs of ribs than most mammals (11 instead of 13), which creates a curled skeletal structure that allows koalas to lounge in tree forks. (Photo and information from: http://www.animalfactguide.com/animal-facts/koala/)
  • Monarch Butterflies are the only butterflies Monarchsthat make two-way, multi-generational migrations. In the fall, our North Eastern Monarchs travel 1,000s of miles from here to Mexico! (Photo from Amusing Planet)

Those are all of our facts for this week. Remember, Animal School is also on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, so check in with us regularly to keep up with our entertaining animals, arts and insights into wildlife. We’re all over the place!

 

Posted in animal mascots, animals, biodiversity, children's books, ecology, educational mascots, environment, Farmers Markets, nature, nature conservation, talking mascots, Uncategorized, wildlife, wildlife education

The Importance of Farmers Markets

Swift at MFM 16

You may not think the subject of Farmers Markets has much to do with wildlife but you’d be surprised. First, let me tell you a bit about famers markets in general.

The idea behind a farmers market is simply to give local farmers a chance to sell their produce and/or meats directly to the public. This is great because often, this produce is organic, which means it was grown or raised without the use of chemicals, hormones or other not-so-natural elements.  While the nutrition content of organic and conventionally grown produce is about the same, a lot of people prefer organic foods because the chemicals in pesticides, herbicides and other sprays can be harmful over time and may not come off completely after being washed.

Farmers markets offer a lot of local foods, which reduces the need to have the same items shipped to stores over great distances. This reduces the use of fuel, which is good for the environment.  To put it simply, it is easier to buy tomatoes from a local farmer than it is to buy tomatoes that are grown from out of state.

Also, the selection of goods and foods at farmers markets is often greater than that of most supermarkets, especially during peak periods of the growing season. You can find a greater variety of meats, honey, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and even mushrooms at these farmers markets.  It is often amazing to see what’s on hand.  You can try things you’ve never had the chance to try before!

So where does this tie into our wildlife?

Well, the local bees benefit from local farmers! This means more flowers pollinated that will lead to more fruit and veggies.  Not to mention, this could help strengthen the area bee populations as a whole, which have been struggling.  Some farmers have man-made bee hives near their fields.

Recently, we at the Wildlife Educators Coalition have been touring the area Farmers Markets in Brighton, Pittsford, Charlotte, Churchville and Macedon. When I’d bring out our character, Swift the Fox, I would often teach folks not only how foxes hunt, but about some of the things foxes like to eat. Foxes are omnivores, which means they eat both animals and plants.  A farmers market has a lot of the things a fox would like to eat.  For example, many farmers and vendors have had strawberries for sale over the last few weeks, along with early season honey, fresh eggs and even ducks.  Now that is some prime fox food!  It was my hope that by having Swift teach this to families who were passing through the market, it would encourage them to perhaps purchase something from the farmers as well.  We certainly ended up picking up a few items.

So check out your local farmers market! There is always something new there and produce changes with the passing of the seasons.  And who knows, maybe you’ll see us there, too!

Until next time, stay tuned and stay wild!

Posted in animal mascots, animals, biodiversity, children's books, ecology, educational mascots, environment, nature, nature conservation, talking mascots, Uncategorized, wildlife, wildlife education

Animal School at Area Farmers Markets!

howler FM

A few weeks ago, the Wildlife Educators Coalition made an appearance at the annual ColorBrightonGreen Eco-Fair.  We set up a booth, Hiawatha the Umbrella Cockatoo entertained and I gave howling demonstrations as Howler the Wolf.  Despite some rainy and windy weather, we had a good time.  This event was happening in conjunction with the Brighton Farmers Market, who seemed to enjoy seeing Howler mingling and howling with market patrons.

The market is run by the good people at Impact Earth, whom invited us to attend four of the other markets they manage. We visited the Pittsford and Charlotte markets thus far, and we’ll be visiting the Churchville Market on Tuesday, June 28th from 330 to 7 and the Macedon Market on Wednesday, June 29th from 2 until 6. We will also make some appearances at all five of these markets over the summer and fall, so stay tuned for dates and times!

So come out and say hello to Howler as he gives some howling demonstrations and get the scoop about our paws-on programs as well as the Wildlife Educators Coalition/Publishing as a whole.

Stay tuned and stay wild!