Many people think vultures are disgusting. Yes, they eat dead, rotting animals. Yes, they can smell pretty bad. And yes, they can vomit at will… and even use that as a self-defense mechanism if necessary. But vultures are very interesting—and important—creatures.
Most vultures live together in families or other groups. Male and female vultures are often monogamous, meaning they will stay with the same partner year after year. Vultures lay one or two eggs at a time, and the parents take turns sitting on the eggs for five to eight weeks to incubate them. After the eggs hatch, both of the vulture parents help nurture their offspring.
Vultures must bring food for their young chicks. Whether it’s an animal that died from natural causes, one that was killed by predators, or even one that ended up as roadkill, vultures eat food wherever they can find it. The vulture parents eat their fill, then fly back to the nest and regurgitate the food into their chick’s throats. Vomiting at will comes in handy once again!
Both vulture parents will care for the chicks until they are able to fly. Then, they’ll teach the young vultures how to find their own food and take care of themselves. Some young vultures will eventually go off on their own, but most choose to join the group and stay near their parents.
That’s not all that’s fascinating about vultures, though. Ever wonder how they can eat all that gross stuff and not get sick? Well, vultures have special, super-strong stomach acids that kill all kinds of bacteria. And that’s great news for us, because if they didn’t get rid of all those rotting corpses, we’d have a much more disgusting—and dangerous—problem on our hands.
So remember, they may not look or smell very nice, but vultures are highly social animals who depend on one another for survival. And we depend on them, too, to be nature’s cleanup crew. Vultures aren’t vulgar… they’re vital!
A wake of white-backed vultures eating the carcass of a wildebeest. A group of vultures is called a kettle, committee, or wake. The term kettle refers to vultures in flight, while committee refers to vultures resting on the ground or in trees. Wake is reserved for a group of vultures that are feeding. Wikimedia
Authors Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson have teamed up to create a series of sneaky stories about the natural world designed to amaze, disgust, and occasionally bamboozle you. Every story in this book is strange and astounding, but one out of every three is an outright lie. Some false stories are based on truth, and some of the true stories are just plain unbelievable! Don’t be fooled by the photos that accompany each story—it’s going to take all your smarts and some clever research to root out the alternative facts. Don’t believe everything you read!
Are you tougher than a tardigrade? I don’t think so.
These typically water-dwelling animals may be microscopic in size (barely half of a millimeter when fully grown!), but boy are they fierce. Sometimes called “water bears,” they’re anything but cuddly. Each of their eight legs is decked out with wicked claws. Some tardigrades have full body armor. Most have specialized "sucker" mouths to pierce the cells of plants and animals and suck out their nutrients, while others prefer to consume their tiny prey whole… and that prey might even be another tardigrade!
Aside from ending up as someone else’s dinner, though, tardigrades are practically indestructible. They can survive in just about any conditions and take on just about anything life has in store for them. Starvation? No worries there: Tardigrades can go without food for at least 10 years. What about water, you say? No problem. They’ll just suspend their life activities and wait until the drought is over. They can survive at pressures more than six times that of the deepest ocean trenches. And, you’d die from radiation poisoning long before a tardigrade would even notice. Scientists have even tried shooting them into outer space… and the tardigrades survived.
Because of their ability to live practically anywhere, these little guys are practically everywhere. Tardigrades can be found on top of Mount Everest and in boiling hot springs, in desert dunes and rainforest canopies, in freshwater lakes and salty oceans, on your roof, outside your front door… maybe even in your bed or on your dinner plate! There are billions and billions of tardigrades… and they’re always making more!
Fortunately, there’s no need to worry—tardigrades are completely harmless to humans. In fact, tardigrades may actually end up being our best friends someday. Because they can do so many things that other Earthly animals can’t, scientists are studying tardigrades to try to find solutions to all kinds of problems. Want to dry something out to preserve it, then rehydrate it later? Study how tardigrades do it. Wish we could safely reanimate something that has been frozen? Learn from the tardigrades. Need to protect cells from being damaged by radiation? Figure out why tardigrade cells can withstand it.
Who knows? Someday the tough tardigrades might teach us all kinds of handy tricks!
Tardigrades are short and plump, with four pairs of legs, each with four to eight claws also known as "disks." Schokraie E, Warnken U, Hotz-Wagenblatt A, Grohme MA, Hengherr S, et al. (2012)/Wikimedia Commons
An adult Milnesium tardigrade, an example of more than 1,000 species of the tiny animal. Bob Goldstein and Vicky Madden, UNC Chapel Hill/Wikimedia Common
This video shows a tardigrade in real time at 100X magnification. Dmitry Brant via Wikimedia Commons
Laurie Ann Thompson and coauthor Ammi-Joan Paquette begin a fascinating new series with Two Truths and a Lie, a book that presents some of the most crazy-but-true stories about the living world. Some of the stories are too crazy to be true—and readers are asked to separate facts from fakes! "A brief but savvy guide to responsible research methods adds further luster to this crowd pleaser.” —ALA Booklist (starred review)
MLA 8 Citation
Thompson, Laurie Ann. "Tardigrades Make the Grade." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 21 Mar. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
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