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Julie Scardina's More Exotic Animals

The Martha Stewart Show, February 2007

Spider Monkey
The spider monkey is a New World monkey that lives in evergreen and tropical forests in places that include Mexico and Brazil, and it rarely comes down to the jungle floor; it prefers upper, undisturbed portions of the forest. Adults, which reach an average of 20 inches tall, have disproportionately long limbs, inspiring the name spider monkey. The spider monkey lives in groups of about 30, with smaller subgroups of fewer than four (a mother will stay with her offspring). It doesn't have thumbs, so grooming habits aren't as advanced as other primates', but its long, prehensile tail sometimes acts as a fifth hand.

The extremely agile spider monkey is diurnal, and spends nights sleeping in carefully selected trees. It mates year-round; generally, each female produces one offspring at a time. It eats fruit, seeds, leaves, flowers, bark, and honey; a very small portion of its diet consists of insects, larvae, and bird eggs. The average life span of a spider monkey in the wild is about 27 years.

Slow Loris
The slow loris is a primate found in tropical evergreen forests in southeast Asia. It is slow-moving but a good climber, and can hang from branches by its feet -- its well-developed thumbs and powerful grasp make it difficult to remove it from branches. The solitary animal, which hisses when it is disturbed, is nocturnal -- it spends days sleeping in a tight ball in trees and wakes up at sunset. The slow loris, which typically lives for 15 to 20 years, eats fruit, gums, shoots, and bird eggs. It can produce a poison, which it mixes with its saliva, to protect itself against enemies; mothers lick offspring with this to ward off predators.

Young Canadian Lynx
The young Canadian lynx is found in the forests of Canada, Alaska, Montana, Idaho, and Washington. It is often confused with bobcats, but can be distinguished by its tail, which looks like it has been dipped in ink all the way around, whereas a bobcat's tail is black and white. Its large feet are covered in fur, which acts as snowshoes. The lynx is a solitary animal, except for females with offspring or siblings that have just separated from their mother, and is usually active at night.

It depends almost exclusively on snowshoe hare for food; the snowshoe hare population peaks every 10 years and, as a result, so does the lynx population. When the hare population is low, the lynx eats small rodents, birds, and small hoofed animals. Although it is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, fur trapping is still a great threat to the lynx.

Tamandua
The tamandua, which means "ant catcher," is found in forests in northern South America. It has a long nose with a little mouth on the end; a wooly, dense fur coat; and a hairless prehensile tail. Its sticky saliva helps pick up food -- typically ants and termites in trees; each time it sticks its long tongue into a termite nest, it gets hundreds of termites. The tamandua often sleeps on tree branches during the day, and uses a strong odor to mark its territory; locals call it the "stinker of the forest."

Opossum
The opossum is the only marsupial found north of Mexico; it is found throughout much of the United States and north into parts of southeastern Canada. About the size of a house cat and often mistaken for a rat, it thrives in urban and suburban environments. Its almost hairless prehensile tail grasps and holds things and stabilizes it when it climbs.

It has more teeth (50) than any other North American mammal, and may bear them or hiss when confronted; it is generally shy and harmless, however. The opossum dislikes confrontation and sometimes plays dead -- hence the expression "playing opossum." Contrary to popular belief, the opossum rarely raids garbage cans or gardens. It is omnivorous: It eats insects, slugs, snails, worms, grass, and leaves, and occasionally will eat snakes, ground eggs, corn, and other vegetables.

The opossum is nocturnal and takes shelter during the day in tree dens, old squirrel nests, or its own nests it has built (sometimes under decks and patios). It usually breeds twice a year and give birth to as many as 12 young to combat the high mortality rate. It has one of the shortest life span among mammals of its size -- it usually lives two to four years.

Comments (1)

  • SamGerald 11 Apr, 2012

    Sounds like a good idea to have a Tamandua around for termite control. Great article, thanks!