Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Favorite Mammal Episode III: The Gerenuk

Speaking of heads in the clouds, here's an animal that can get pretty high trying to eat its favorite food, the leaves of the Acacia tree: The Gerenuk.

Episode 3 of the BBC's Life of Mammals is entitled "Plant Pradators" and it deals with the multitude of mammals who eat vegetation in its various forms, and the unique challenges this diet creates. The instincutal intelligence that's evolved for these animals is quite impressive, allowing them to uniquely adapt to their environments. One example of this are the Elephants who have become salt miners, scraping cave walls with their tusks in order to compensate for the mineral diffeciencies caused by their usual plant eating ways.

And then there's the small Pika from the Canadian Rockies, which looks like a round-eared rabbit, and collects plants with varying degrees of toxicity to build up its winter stores (the poisons preserve the vegetation through the cold, so the least toxic plants are eaten first and the most toxic toward the end of the season).

As for the Gerenuk, it's one of several animals who eat different strata of the Acacia, ranging from the small Dik-Dik to the majestic Giraffe. It's able to reach branches that animals of comparable size, for example the Impala, can't because of the Gerenuk's ability to swivel on its hips and stand upright. Now that's one intelligent design!
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