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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

The unique, interesting and strange creatures among us

Go outside. The final bell has rung and students across the state are out of school for the summer. Tell them to unplug from their gaming devices, cell phones, tablets and computers and go outside. There is a wild world out there.

While they may not be in the classroom, school-age children and adults alike can get quite the education simply by exploring Oklahoma. Many strange, unique and outright wild wildlife species call the state home.

We have bears. We have pronghorn and bighorn sheep. We have mink. We have bison. You name it; we have it, or more than likely, something much cooler.

As one of the most ecologically diverse states in the nation, Oklahoma boasts more than 760 species of wildlife, including more than 350 bird species, over 100 mammal species and more than 170 species of fish.

“Oklahoma has a diverse assemblage of plant communities due to the transition between a Gulf of Mexico and Rocky Mountain weather influence which creates dramatic climatic variation,” said Dwayne Elmore, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist. “This diversity of climate and plant communities gives us a diversity of wildlife.”

Everyone has seen our white-tailed deer and knows about the scissor-tailed flycatcher. But, many other species are either more difficult to detect, or just downright strange.

Loggerhead.jpgDid you know Oklahoma has the only songbird known to regularly kill and eat other adult songbirds? If that isn’t cool enough, wait until Scott Loss, assistant professor in OSU’s Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, explains its preferred method of doing so.

“The Loggerhead Shrike will carry and impale their prey on a thorn bush, or barbed wire fence, to come back and eat later,” Loss said. “In Oklahoma, you can often see rodents, lizards and birds stuck on fences. That didn’t happen by accident.”

The Loggerhead Shrike also feeds on insects, but doesn’t bother with impalement. Their population has drastically declined over the years, but can still be found in the open country.

Pirate Perch.jpgOne of the more unique wildlife species found in the water is the pirate perch. Found primarily in the southeastern part of Oklahoma, this small species of fish grows only to about 5 inches in length, but it’s a different part of its physical makeup that makes this fish strange.

“The urogentical pore (anus) is near the mouth of the pirate perch, as it is with the cavefishes, and used for spawning, where the eggs are fertilized in the mouth and then spit out into the substrate for development,” said Jim Long, assistant unit leader for the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and adjunct associate professor at OSU.

Paddlefish.jpgAnother water-dwelling weirdo is the paddlefish, or spoonbill, depending on where you are from. The paddlefish’s nose is about a third of the length of its body and is filled with electrosensors, allowing the fish to find large groups of plankton to eat.

“They even look like sharks before their bills begin to grow,” Long said. “This unique species of fish is prehistoric.”

Gator.jpgSpeaking of prehistoric, there are dinosaurs walking around present day Oklahoma. To be more accurate, they spend more time in the water than they do on land, but American alligators lurk in the southeastern corner of the state.

“Alligators may seem intimidating, but they are model parents. The female alligator guards her nest of eggs relentlessly to make sure that raccoons or other animals do not dig them up and eat them,” Elmore said. “The eggs have vegetation piled on top so that the eggs incubate at the proper temperature for development.”

Strangely enough, alligators are more closely related to birds, which are direct descendants of dinosaurs, than they are to modern reptiles like lizards. With mouths full of 80 teeth and the ability to move on land at speeds up to 20 miles per hour, a 15-foot long male American alligator isn’t exactly like a bird, however.

FlySquir.jpgFrom a scary giant like the alligator we move to a little less intimidating Oklahoma animal. The smallest of the Oklahoma squirrels, the southern flying squirrel, only reaches eight to 10 inches long and, bummer; it doesn’t really fly.

“The southern flying squirrel actually glides through the air rather than flying,” Elmore said. “To fly, they would have to gain altitude. They can’t do that, but they can glide upwards of 200 feet.”

The flying squirrels have two primary adaptations allowing for this “flight.”

The first is its thin layer of fur-covered skin, or patagium, extending from the fore feet to the back feet. When stretched tight, this patagium acts as an umbrella, allowing the squirrel to glide through the air. The second adaptation is the flattened tail, which is almost half of the total body length. The tail acts as a stabilizer and also helps when balancing on small limbs.

Beetle.jpgMeanwhile, under those limbs and scouring the ground are some interesting insects. OSU’s agriculture television show, SUNUP, recently did a segment on the American Burying Beetle, the only federally endangered insect in the state.

Recognizable by their black and orange colors, the night-active species can grow to about 2 inches long and can be found primarily in forested areas. These beetles will find a small dead animal, like a mouse or bird, bury it in the ground and raise its offspring on it.

“The male and female will get underneath the dead animal and do pushups to see how much it weighs,” said Wyatt Hoback, assistant professor in OSU’s Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology. “If it’s the right size, they’ll start digging a hole under there and the animal will fall into the hole.”

This is an impressive feat on its own, considering many times the animal being buried will weigh between 100 times to 200 times more than the beetles. That is the equivalent of a 200-pound man burying a 20,000-pound object, in about an hour.

This short list of unique wildlife species found in Oklahoma is just the tip of the iceberg. What else is out there? There is only one way to find out. Go outside.

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REPORTER/MEDIA CONTACT:

Sean Hubbard
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
157 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-4490
Fax: 405-744-5739
Email: sean.hubbard@okstate.edu

 

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078
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