Mammals are warm blooded animals that generate their own heat and generally have hair or fur covering all their bodies but their eyes. All but a few Australian mammals give birth to live young. The word mammal is derived from mamma , Latin for "breast,” a reference to the fact that mammal young feed from the breasts of their mothers.
A lot about mammals can be surmised from their teeth. Sharp, fang-like canine teeth are an indication of a meat eater. Large molars in the back are used for grinding up vegetable matter such as roots, leaves and fruit. Chisel-like front teeth are used by grazers and rodents to graze on grass and bite into nuts.
There are about 4,600 species of mammals. About a quarter of all mammals are bats. About a half are rodents. The first mammals were shrewlike creatures that appeared around 200 million years, and scuttled among leaf litter mean on insects and millipedes. According to the official Red List by the World Conservation Union one in four mammals species is threatened. Threats include loss of habitat and competition from alien species.
What makes mammals unique is their hair. One of the key proteins in mammal hair is alpha-keratin. In recent years scientists have discovered the genes responsible for alpha-keratin and also found alpha-keratin in chickens and lizards---the closest living lineages to mammals. Lizards have alpha keratin in their claws as do mammals, which presumably during the evolution harnessed alpha-keratin in their claws to make hair.
Hair and fur are necessary for mammals to store precious heat in their body that has been generated by food supplies. Hair is dense and fine is composed of keratin. Hair grows and is rooted in the skin with nerve fibers that sense movements of the hair. Even mammals such as whales and hippos and naked mole rats that appear not to have any hair do have some---on their eyelids, around their ears or other body crevices. Birds need to generate and store body heat. They use feathers rather than fur to keep heat in their bodies.
No animal can create its own food like a plant does. All animals must get their food from outside their bodies, with the ultimate source being plants. Animals that eat plants directly are called herbivores. Those that eat other animals are called carnivores. Even carnivores are ultimately dependent on plants because the animals they eat either eat plants or animals that eat plants or animals that eat animals that eat plants.
Carnivores are among the most advanced animals. Meat is muscle and is one of the richest, most-energy-packed of all foods. Many carnivores have large brains, in part because catching prey takes more skill and brain power than eating a plant.
Carnivores generally have teeth such as canines that are used to stab the victim and perhaps kill it near the front of their mouth and other teeth (carnassials in mammals) further back in jaws that cut and grind the meat up make it easier to swallow and digest. Unless an ecosystem has been disturbed wherever you find large numbers of herbivores you can find carnivores that feed on them. Most large animals found on the land are mammals.
Carnivorous mammals---or animals---generally fall into two groups: 1) those that feed on large prey; and 2) those that will feed on small bite size prey, often things like insects or earthworms. As a carnivore get bigger in size the more small creatures fail to meet its nutritional needs, with the tipping point being about 20 kilograms, about the size of a coyote, after which point it make more sene to pursue big game.
Hibernation and Reproduction
Hibernation is a process in which animals in temperate climates go a sleep and refrain from eating or drinking to survive the cold and lack of food in the winter. The metabolism of hibernating animals slows and their temperature drops by as much as 37̊F to 50̊F. The body uses just 13 percent of the energy it does when its awake. The central nervous system is maintained
Deaths during hibernation are rare even though the rate of blood flowing to the brain is 10 percent of normal. If the human brain were deprived of that much blood death or major brain disorders would result. Scientists are studying hibernation and its applications to humans, particularly for space travel, preservation of organs for transplants and regulation of the blood during surgery.
Mammal embryos grow a pad, the placenta, that attaches to the wall of the womb and absorbs nutrients for the embryo from the mother's blood through a tube, the umbilical cord. Through this system mothers can keep their young inside them until they are quite large but expelling them from their body often takes considerable effort.
Unlike reptiles and fish, who tend to produce large numbers of young and let them fend for themselves, most mammals produce smaller broods of young and expend a great amount of effort protecting and rearing them. Mammals give birth to live young partly because many mammal young need to move around to some degree to escape from predators soon after they are born.
In many cases, the large, dominant males that carried the banner for their species no longer exist as they have been taken by trophy hunters and poachers. Large elephants, elk, Cape buffalo and bears that were routinely killed a century ago are now rare. Scientists say they are beginning to see an evolution in reverse with elephants with small tusks and elk with less antlers having a better chance of survival than those with them. A study of big horn sheep in North America found that both males and females are getting smaller and the size of the horns has shrunk by 25 percent in the last 30 years. Scientists are also finding more tuskless elephants in both Asia and Africa.
Virtually all mammals play. Many mammals enjoy grooming one another.
Dholes are a kind of wild dog immortalized by Rudyard Kipling in The Jungle Book. Also known a the red dogs of Asia, they about the size of a coyote and look like a cross between or a fox and a dog or a coyote and a dingo. [Source: Natural History, November 1999]
Dholes once ranged from Siberia to Sumatra but now are found mostly in forests and scrub lands in India and some places in Southeast Asia and China. About 15,000 dholes remain in all of India, about a third of them live in southern India. Dholes can survive in a variety of habitats: grasslands, dry forests, wet forests. They can even thrive in cities. Even so their numbers are diminishing.
Kipling's characterized dholes as savage killers with "no manners”---a view shared by many Indians. Until recently they were treated as vermin and regarded as a threat to livestock and were killed by local people whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Dholes are endangered animals. Their number are unknown but have dropped dramatically in recent years, primarily as a result of loss of habitat, diseases and poaching of their prey. Even though the Indian Wildlife Act of 1972 made dholes a protected species in India they have been reduced to remnant populations even in areas where they are protected.
Dhole Characteristics, Feeding and Behavior
Dholes are about 90 centimeter long, excluding a 43-centimeter tail, and weigh around 17 kilogram. Males weigh up to 46 pounds; females up to 37 pounds. They are usually a rusty red in color, with a pale underbelly and a black tail.
Dholes are very social animals. They live in packs with seven to 25 members and are led, as is the case of wolves, by an Alpha male and Alpha female. They communicates with each other using unique whistling sounds. Like wolves, jackals and African wild dogs they defecate in communal latrines in fixed places.
Dholes hunt in packs using tactic like those of African wild dogs and feed on animals much larger than themselves: deer, wild boar and antelope. They also eat rodents, berries and insects. Dholes chase down their prey, kill it and devour it one sitting and then move on to find more prey.
A pack typically hunts over an area of 30 square miles. Hunting strategies vary with terrain and plant cover. The packs usually travel over the range and regularly visit places frequented by their prey. A high-pitched whistle is used to coordinate cooperative hunting.
In India, its main prey is chitral, or spotted deer. In Thailand they often feed on sambar deer. When pursuing these animals they attack from different directions and try to separate their prey---ideally young fawns---from the rest of the herd. Their attacks are often thwarted by the mothers of fawns.
Dhole Mating Behavior and Young
Dholes pair off during the mating season, a single week in September or October. Although there are several adult females the alpha female is the only one that does any mating. The Alpha male shows the most interests in her but other males may mount her.
December is the denning month for dholes in southern India. Females dig their dens deep into the earth along the banks of dry streambeds.
While mothers remain in the den with the pups other members of the pack hunt, often bringing back meat for the mother. When the pups are one month old they are moved from the den to a cave. Then the mother begins hunting while old siblings watch over the pups. The pups are then fed regurgitated meat from all the pack members.
Pups are preyed upon by jackals and leopards. When pups are six months old they join the pack on hunts. They usually don't make their first kill until they are around 1½ years old.
Serows look like a cross between a goat and an antelope. The south Asian species weights up to 140 kilograms, reach 1.8 meters in length and stand one meter at the shoulder, and have dagger-like horns, mule-like ears, brown, gray, black or white fur and acute vision, hearing and smell. Both males and females have horns. The horns are not shed annually like deer antlers; they are kept all year round. At the base of the horns and under their eyes are large special preorbital glands that produce smelly secretions that the animals use to mark their territory.
Serow are one of most primitive members of the goat-antelope family. Fossils of an animal remarkably similar to a serow have been found in 35 million year old rocks. The Japanese serow, or kamoshika, are endemic to Japan and are closely related to mountain goats, musk ox and chamois. A slightly related but different species of serow lives in Taiwan. They are also closely related to an other species that ranges cross the Asian mainland from Sumatra to the Himalayas and northern India to southern China.
Serow inhabit forests and scrublands, including tropical and montane environments and feed on grass, shoots and leaves. . In Japan serow inhabit steep slopes of mountains forested with beech and oak. They are sure-footed on mountain slopes and comfortable in dense vegetation. Using their lips and tongues to gather food, they are ruminants and browsers that fed on tree leaves, fruits, flowers, buds, acorns and nuts. They like to eat cedar saplings and thrive in artificial forests.
Serow do not form herds. They generally live alone or in small family groups led by a male and female pair and or female. They generally say confined to a territory which covers several square kilometers. The mating season for the Japanese serow is in the autumn and winter. The gestation period is eight months. Females usually give birth to one kid between September and October. Females of the Japanese species give birth to a one or two kids between May and September. Parents are often seem nuzzling their offspring. Kids don’t have horns. They grow them when they become sexually mature at three years.
Serow are most active around dawn and dusk and spends of the day in thick vegetation. Each individual or family group has its own territory which is marked by rubbing a sticky, smelly substance---produced by special glands underneath the eyes and horns---on tree trunks and branches. The animals have pths along which they move and preferred spots where they mark their territory and deposit their droppings. The size of the territory depend on the availability of food in that area. Solitary animals generally defend a territory of 1.2 hectares. Family groups defend up to 22 hectares.
Japanese serow eat grass and fresh leaves in the spring and consume the leaves of young fir and hemlock saplings in the winter. They stomp their hooves as a warning to others if they pick up a scent they don’t like such as of hunting dogs. They can escape by fleeing on sheer rock face than would send lesser animals to their death.
Serow have traditionally been hunted with dogs who corner them so hunters can shoot them. Serow have a bad habit of looking back at their pursuers, which gives them time to catch up, rather than just making a run for it. In May 2005, a 74-year-old woman in Yamagata was injured after being attacked by a serow that escaped from a pet house at a primary school. The three-year-old serow hit the woman with its horns.
Wild pigs are relatives of domesticated pigs and wart hogs of Africa. Widely distributed across Europe, Asia and the United States, they almost never threaten humans except when they are hunted and cornered. They most justly grunt a lot and scratch for tubers and roots. Male wild pigs are known as wild boars and females are known as sows. The are three kinds of them: 1) wild pigs; 2) feral pigs (descendants of escaped domesticated pigs that went wild); and 3) crosses between the two. Wild boars and domesticated pigs are the same species. They can interbreed and produce viable offspring. Physically, domesticated pigs are fatter and have a shorter snout than their cousins. However, feral pigs that descended from escaped domesticated pigs develop long snouts and sleek bodies like wild boars.
Wild boars are found throughout Asia, particularly in primary and secondary forests and along the edges of agricultural areas. Asian wild boars are smaller than their Eurasian cousins. They average around 100 kilograms. Some weigh around 50 kilograms. By contrast, Siberian boars can reach 300 kilograms.
Wild boars are omnivores that like to root and forage on the forest floor for roots, tubers, bulbs, acorns, spiders, snails, centipedes, moles, shrews, snakes, crayfish, shoots, leaves, grubs, insects, worms, crabs, fallen nuts and even frogs and poisonous snakes. Boars tend to move along at a slow and steady pace but when disturbed are capable of running at very fast speeds. Their short legs are ideal for getting around in forests and brush but they are not very useful for getting around in deep snow.
Pigs and wild boars were traditionally forest creatures that fed on acorns. In many places they are regarded as pests. In the summer farmers often sleep in their fields to protect their crops from wild boars. Bearded pigs are found in Borneo. The rip up litter on the rain forest floor in search of grubs and insects.
Wild Pig Characteristics
Adult wild pigs live to the age of eight or ten. Around the size of farm pigs, they weigh around 100 pounds, stand about 2½ feet or three feet at the shoulder and reach lengths of about four to five feet including the pig-like tail. Large ones can reach a weight of 500 pounds and older boars in some area have an average weight of 325 pounds.
Covered by grayish, brownish or blackish hair and coarse bristles, wild pigs have tusks, straight tails, elongated snouts and erect ears. Domesticated pigs by contrast have little body hair. floppy eras, a spiralling tail and small or no tusks. Wild pigs have a strong sense of smell but not very good eyesight. They can often smell danger but, especially in high grass, they can't see where it is. When threatened wild pigs can reach speeds of 35 miles per hour (compared to 70 mph for a cheetah and 30 mph for a domestic cat). Even piglets are very quick.
Wild boars have large muscles on their chest and the back of their necks which help them root (dig up food in the ground with their snout). Their long snout helps them locate food when they root. Amazingly adaptable, wild pigs in northern regions have developed thick coats of fur and eat enough to amass layers of insulating fat so they can survive cold winters. The short legs of wild boars make it difficult for them get around in deep snow. Thus they are rarely found in places with deep snow.
Wild pigs have two sets of tusks. The more fearsome set, on the upper jaw, is used primarily to pushing through the thornbush. The sharper, small tusks are immediately below on the lower jaw. These are used in defense against attackers and in fights against other wild pigs.The upper tusks are sometimes called whetters. The tusks grow as long as a wild pig lives. The lower tusks, which jut upwards at an angle, are kept sharp and dangerous and the proper length by continual grinding against the upper tusks that grow out sideways.
Wild Pig Behavior and Feeding
Wild boars forage primarily at night. During the day they spend most of their time hiding in dense thickets. The presence of wild boars can be ascertained by the presence of their distinctive four-toe hoofprints and ruts and holes made by digging up tubers and roots. In marshy areas you can see the disturbed areas where they waddle in the mud. Wild boars are good swimmers. They often snort when they swim.
Large boars are generally solidarity animals except in the mating season. Females and young males roam in groups called drifts. Males leave the drift when are about a year old. Wild pigs like to wallow in mud to keep cool and suffocate parasites. They also rub themselves with scent and greet each other by sniffing each other's nose.
Wild pigs rarely venture more than eight kilometers from the place of their birth unless they are forced to by food shortages. They prefer habitants in moist bottomland, flood plains, marshes, sloughs and creeks because of the availability of mud for wallowing and food they like. Wild pigs don't need to migrate or hibernate like other animals. They can survive the winter by eating roots that other animals can't eat.
Pigs were originally forest creatures that fed on acorns. Wild pigs use their snouts and whetters to located and dig up food. The actively forage throughout the year. Wild boars are omnivorous that like to root ad forage in the forest floor for roots, tubers, bulbs, acorns, spiders, snails, centipedes, moles, shrews, snakes, crayfish, shoots, leaves, grubs, insects, worms, crabs, fallen nuts and even frogs and poisonous snakes. In the United States, wild pigs are immune to snakebites and eat snakes. In some places they have brought in get rid of snakes and have achieved that goal.
Wild pigs mainly eat grass, roots, weeds, nuts, bulbs, windflowers, and occasionally tree bark, carrion, rodents and cultivated crops. They are particularly fond of tender shoots of grass and mast (nuts) such as acorns, beechnuts and pecans. Population size is often determined by the availability of mast.
Breeding and Fighting Wild Pigs
Like their domestic cousins, wild pigs have a high reproductive rate. Sows can farrow (give birth) twice a year to four to ten piglets at one time. Pigs have more offspring than other animals. The breeding season lasts for about month. Females are only fertile for four days. Males follow estrous females until finally the female gives in and let a male mount her. Mating takes about eight minutes. Males release a tremendous amount of sperm for their size. Large amount of sperm fills the female so there is no room for sperm for rivals. The male then follows the female around to make sure she doesn't mate with another wild pig.
Males are most aggressive during the mating season. They usually don't fight because the can inflict serious injuries with their tusks. Instead they usually show off their tusks by swinging their heads from side to side and laying territorial scent markers. Males with the biggest tusks and warts are usually dominate
"When a boar fights," Bill Brett told Smithsonian, "he opens his mouth and throws his head sideways and up, and then jerks it back. Lots of times this leaves two cuts, one from the tush and one from the whetter. He's at his peak as a fighter from about two year sold., when his tuskes are an inch and a half long, to about 6 years old, when he begins to loose a little of his quickness, and his tusks start getting long enough to curl back some and not hit straight in."
Young wild boars have striped patterns. It is probably not totally camouflage because when a predator approaches they get up and run (camouflage is most effect iveif an animal remains still). Perhaps the patterning is a signal to parents not to eat their babes.
After mating, females remain with their drift for about four months and then retire to give birth alone in a cave, a den of another animal, an abandoned building or leaf-lined holes in the ground. Mother wild pigs are always hungry as they divide time between eating and taking take care of their young. Through play young piglets learn self protection.
Wild Boar Attacks in Asia
Wild pigs have killed people, bears and lots of dogs that have attacked them. In September 2011, the Indian Express reported that a wild boar attacked people in Mudiger in n the Indian state of Karnataka. “A huge tall single-horned wild boar appeared in the town at 10 am and injured passers-by before fleeing. The town usually witnesses a mad rush of people on Monday when the attack occurred. The boar that appeared before V R L Lorry Transport office on J M road, injuring milkwoman Ganganamakki Sarojamma. When she started screaming, V R L office boy Kiran came to rescue her but, in the attempt, he was also attacked. People assembled and tried to scare the animal. The alarmed boar ran along M G road and was seen at Azad road. On a running spree, it attacked an old woman and threw her into the gutter nearby. It hurt a bike rider coming on the road. Later, it fled the scene through Santhe Maidan. Range Forest Officer Harshavardhan visited M G M Hospital where the injured were being treated and assured of providing medical expenses to them. ACFO Srinivasa Reddy said the wild boar would be left into the forest. [Source: Express News Service, September 13, 2011]
In November 2011, the Borneo Post reported a wild boar attacked an elderly man in Pendang in the Kedah district of Malaysia: “An elderly man has been hospitalised due to severe injuries he suffered from an attack by a wild boar behind his house at Kampung Pokok Tai Lama, near here, early yesterday. In the incident at about1am, the victim, Nordi Said, 51, heard a noise from outside of his house then scouted it out as he thought it was villager’s sheep that normally roamed around his house. Members of the Civil Defence Department (JPAM) sent him to the Yan hospital at around2ambefore he was rushed to the Sultan Abdul Hospital Halim in Sungai Petani due of his critical condition. [Source: Borneo Post, November 27, 2011]
Nordi’s brother Jaafar Said, 37, who lived near his home, said he knew about the incident when his sister-in-law sought his help. “My sister-in-law came to my house to tell about the incident. When I arrived at the scene, I saw the boar was still attacking and biting my brother,” he told Bernama. Jaafar said he took about 10 minutes to chase out the animal with a steel hanger. “When I tried to chase it out, it attacked me. When I ran, the boar turned around and attacked my brother. I fought it and finally it released my brother and ran into a nearby forest,” he said, describing the animal as huge. He said the doctor informed him that his brother had suffered internal bleeding in the chest and that he was still unconscious in the emergency ward.
In April 2012, the New Straits Times reported that a woman was attacked by a wild boar in Kota Baru. Malaysia: “Rubiah Samad, 54, was with two relatives when the incident happened at 9.30am. The mother of eight suffered injuries on her left leg and sought outpatient treatment at Raja Perempuan Zainab II Hospital in Kota Baru. Recalling the incident, Rubiah said she was busy collecting the mushrooms at about 100 meters from her house when she spotted a wild boar appearing out of nowhere. The animal behaved aggressively and started to go near one of her relatives, Pak Husin. She said the wild boar was medium-sized and its height reached her waist. "From the distance, I saw Pak Husin waving a parang to defend himself and his wife. "He managed to frighten it and it fled. Unfortunately, it reappeared later and started to attack me," she said. After attacking and biting her, the wild boar ran off. [Source: New Straits Times, April 5, 2012]
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated November 2012