In North America, you can find almost every kind of climate and habitat you can imagine, from frozen tundra, to deserts, to swamps, to prairies. So there’s a great variety of animal life there, too. Our itinerary starts in the frigid north. Got your parka on?
Don’t fall into that icy water! Unlike this polar bear, you could be dead in minutes! One of the reasons polar bears can stay warm here in the Arctic, whether they’re loping across the ice or paddling through the water, is because the hairs in their fur are hollow, so they fill up with air and insulate the bear from the cold. That’s also why polar bears sometimes turn green in zoos where the water is stagnant. Green algae grow inside those hollow hairs. Oh, this bear is getting ready to come out of the water! Let’s get out of here!
Oh, dear! It’s another bear! But at least it’s occupied. Those little Arctic foxes can prove pests to polar bears, often following them like little kids follow big ones. By the way, polar bears are white all year round (except for those green ones I just mentioned), but Arctic foxes turn brown or grey in the summertime.
Oh, brrrr! I can’t feel my toes anymore! Let’s head south to milder Alaska.
Oh, I certainly hope the fish keeps this big fellow occupied! Brown bears, like this grizzly, are the largest predators on land. They now live mostly in Alaska and northern Canada, as well as a few spots in the Rocky Mountains. But when Europeans first crossed North America, these bears also roamed throughout the Great Plains. Personally, I find it amazing to think that these fearsome beasts were the inspiration for one of the most popular toys in all the world: the teddy bear! The real bears aren’t quite so cuddly!
Oh, dear! Now look who’s shown up! Wolverines have been known to make even mountain lions and grizzlies give up their kills! They’ll eat almost any meat, whether it’s freshly killed or it’s been dead for days. They tear up carcasses and stash the pieces in a lot of different places, so they’ll have food later on. Sometimes, they tear up cabins and tents in search of food. Now, if that wolverine wants your sandwich, hand it over!
Listen to that! The music of the north! It may sound frightening, but it’s nothing to worry about really. When a pack howls, they’re just saying, “We’re over here!” Now, most other wolves interpret that as also meaning, “This is my territory. Stay out.” But scientists have discovered that a few packs of wolves interpret the howls as an invitation to a fight! These bands of bullies zero in on the howling bunch, and try to beat them up and steal their territory. So, no howling, please! It would be just our luck to attract one of these rogue wolf packs!
Just a short commute, and here we are in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. You can take off those parkas now. We’re in luck! Look at this pod of killer whales. These marine mammals (which are also called “orcas”, by the way) use echolocation to find their prey, just like submarines use sonar to keep track of objects around them. Some of my diving friends say that orcas can project sound so forcefully that, if you’re in their path, you can actually feel the sound waves bounce off you! Their mouths are full of very impressive teeth. But, thank goodness, orcas are not interested in echolocating humans for dinner. They’re after salmon and seals.
And now, it’s back on the plane and off to the mountains. Really, who designed this tour?!
No closer now, folks! This cat does not appreciate petting! Did you know that mountain lions once roamed nearly everywhere in North America? But today, you’ll find them only in more remote areas, like these mountains in Idaho. Occasionally, these animals have been known to board passing trains somehow and hopped off in urban parks. Cougars in town! That gives both the city folks and the big cats quite a scare!
Now, where did I put my coat? Oh, never mind. The next stop is Florida – where I can thaw out my toes!
Ah, warm weather at last! You might be surprised to find that there are over two hundred species of crab spiders in the meadows of North America. Some blend in with their backgrounds almost perfectly. These spiders are not dangerous to people – although any spider can bite, believe me – but to bees and other insects, they’re deadly. When you go flower picking, check out the blossoms carefully, or you may hand your sweetheart a bunch of crab spiders!
Oh, my! Don’t touch that fellow! You could get a painful rash from a puss moth caterpillar. They can squirt formic acid when they’re upset. Some people call them “tree asps”, as if they were venomous snakes. Personally, I think that’s going a bit overboard. But then, everyone has his little phobia. Anyway, if you see one, don’t pick it up. Both you and the caterpillar will be happier!
Well, really, there seem to be buggy things crawling around all over this place! I suppose that’s only natural. Insects outnumber humans hundreds of thousands to one, after all. Sometimes, the very thought gives me nightmares! Why, if insects ever got organised and decided to fight humans, we’d be helpless! But, fortunately, that would happen only in the movies. They have only teeny tiny brains after all, and they seem to focus their aggressions only on each other. Still, stay out of the way of these battling stag beetles! They might grab you by mistake, and those pincers hurt!
Now, if there’s one thing I can’t abide, it’s an overly friendly reptile like this fellow! Oh, yes, they’ll smile and sidle right up to you, and next thing you know, they’ve got their teeth sunk into your leg! Never trust them, that’s what I say. They get like this because some people who live along the rivers and canals in Florida think it’s fun to feed alligators from their boat docks. But it’s never a good idea to teach wild animals to associate food with people. Imagine finding this fellow scratching at your back door for supper!
Now, here’s something that you might like to find in your backyard. It’s a rather fearsome-looking spider, but it’s smaller than your fingertip, and it eats mosquitoes and other troublesome insects. Spiny orb weavers, like this one, live all across the southern US, from Florida to California.
Oh, first it was cold and damp, now it’s hot and damp! I’m starting to feel like the proverbial limp dishcloth! Let’s zip over to Arizona and dry out, before my athlete’s foot starts acting up!
Ah, warm, dry air at last! …What’s that? Oh, not to worry. It’s just a little Gila monster. …Yes, it is venomous. But a Gila monster would do almost anything rather than fight. As a matter of fact, if you got bitten by one, the response you’d most probably get from the local wildlife authorities is, “Well, just what were you doing to the Gila monster?” And if you say, “Trying to catch it,” you may be in for a fine as well as a medical bill! Because it’s against the law to capture Gila monsters in many places. So remember, if you grab a Gila monster, you may end up needing both a doctor and a lawyer! That thought is certainly enough to make me stay far away from these lizards! Let’s just walk on.
Oh, dear! Here’s a creature I’m all too familiar with! There are scorpions all across the southern United States, and certainly down into Mexico. Believe me, it’s always more desirable to discover a scorpion by sight rather than by touch! If you want to avoid finding out what a scorpion’s sting feels like, I advise you not to reach or step into dark, cool places without looking first.
Speaking of dark, cool places, let’s just take a quick peek into this cave over here. You never know what treasures you’re going to find in the wilderness!
AARRGH! Back, back, back! My apologies if I’ve trampled anyone. I’ve never seen so many rattlesnakes all together like this! A remarkable sight, and definitely worth a notation in your journals. …A photograph? I really wouldn’t advise it. Not unless you’ve got a zoom lens. …You’d like a shot of me in front of the snakes? I’m very flattered, but – so sorry – we’ve just run out of time. I’ve got to rush now. I’m due to lead some more tours. Hopefully some without so many snakes!