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Top Questions About Animals


Q: What rights do animals have?

From Chris - 6th grade

A: Tough question Chris! The rights of animals are mostly to protect them from physical suffering (not freedom of speech or religion like our Bill of Rights). To start though, each state has different laws protecting animals and in Iowa the laws on animal rights define an "animal" as any nonhuman vertebrate (vertebrates are creatures that have a backbone like birds, fish, mammals, frogs, and snakes). However, in Iowa, the laws are different for farm animals, animals that are hunted or trapped, fish, wild reptiles or amphibians, and any non-hunted/trapped wildlife that is considered a "nuisance." The laws in Iowa protect animals from being abused, neglected, tortured, or abandoned. People who do these things can be arrested and depending on whether this is the first time they have been caught abusing or cruelly torturing the animal, they will go to prison. Activities like veterinary care, hunting, and scientific research on animals can be excluded from the laws, but special licenses have to be obtained. In order to do scientific research on animals at Iowa State University and other institutions in the United States, scientists are required to consult with the university's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee before performing any procedure on an animal (even banding birds) and explain why the procedure is scientifically justified. Humans have been protecting animals for hundreds of years and organizations like the Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals continue to do so today.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Paul Skrade

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Q: Are there more ligers in the world?

From Aaron in Des Moines, IA - 8th grade

A: Ligers are hybrid animals that are the offspring of a male lion (Panthera leo) and a female tiger (Panthera tigris). They do not naturally occur in the wild (because lions are predominantly found in Africa and tigers in Asia) and so are produced in captivity when the two species are kept together. The offspring of a male tiger and a female lion is called a tiglon or tigon. Both of these hybrids are generally thought to be sterile but there have been a couple of cases where the hybrid has successfully mated with one of the parent species. One interesting thing about ligers is that they are the largest cats in the world.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Paul Skrade

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Q: Can you own a tiger in Iowa?

From Erin in Des Moines, IA - 10th grade

A: Since 2007 it has been illegal in Iowa to own a "dangerous wild animal" (including tigers), transport a dangerous wild animal into this state, or if you owned one before 2007 you could still keep it but you are not allowed to let it breed. If you break this law you will be fined at least two hundred dollars (but it could be as much as two thousand dollars!) for each dangerous wild animal you own. After this law was passed the U.S. Federal Government passed The Captive Wildlife Safety Act (2007) which made it illegal to move certain types of live big cats across state lines or U.S. borders unless you qualify as exempt (circuses and zoos would be examples of things that can be exempt). I don't know about Forest City, but the City of Ames passed a code a long time ago that large cats (such as tigers) are not permitted in the city limits unless the animal was being kept before 1988 when this was passed, and even then the animal had to be kept under conditions which met security and space requirements set out in Ames' municipal code.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Paul Skrade

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Q: If an animal is without a nucleus is the animal alive or dead?

From Sahal in Des Moines, IA - 6th grade

A: Animals are multicellular and eukaryotic, and most of the animal cells within the body contain a nucleus. Therefore, all animals, living and dead, have many nuclei. However, there are some animal cells, such as mammalian red blood cells, that don't have nuclei. However, these animals have many other cells in their body that have nuclei.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Tim Mitchell

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Q: How many different types of animals are in the world?

From Ryan in Des Moines, IA - 8th grade

A: Scientists don't know how many different animal species are in the world, nor do they know how many used to be here but are now extinct. This is one of the places scientists actively work- trying to discover and describe as many species as they can. These scientists are called taxonomists. The most diverse group of animals is the insects. There are over a million different species we already know of (in science lingo, there are over a million species that have been described). Insects make up the majority of animals species on earth; about 80% of known animals species are insects. We don't know how many more animals are yet to be described or discovered, but there are likely millions more species awaiting discovery and description.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Tim Mitchell

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Q: Why do lizards clean their eyes with their tongues?

From Rodolfo in Des Moines, IA - 6th grade

A: Some lizards lack eyelids, and just have a clear scale protecting their eye. Eyelids act like windshield wipers, and without them, a lizard's best way to clean their eye is with their tongue. Snakes also lack eyelids, but their specialized forked tongues are not used for cleaning their eyelids.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Tim Mitchell

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Q: Do tigers kill their babies and if so why??

From Kylee in Des Moines, IA - 1st grade

A: When a female tiger is caring for a young cub, she won't get pregnant again until the cubs are grown up. However, if that cub dies, she will try to get pregnant again soon after so she can have another cub. When a male tiger takes over a new territory, he may kill any tiger cubs that the females have because he knows they are not his own. Then, he will try to get her pregnant when she can have more cubs. In the natural world, all organisms want to survive and reproduce, and this is one way the male tiger can increase the amount of cubs he has.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Tim Mitchell

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Q: In the winter, how many animals are in the ocean?

From Jennifer in Des Moines, IA - 6th grade

A: There are many animals that live in the ocean permanently, regardless of the season. The oceans of our planet cover a very large area, and some of those areas (lik ein the tropics) son't have a winter season. Many animals move around, migrate, within the ocean during different seasons, like whales. However others, like coral can't hardly move at all. Nobody knows how many animals are in the ocean, but there are a whole lot of them all year long, and many can survive the cold winter without a problem. In fact, some animals have to have cold water and can't live in warmer waters.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Tim Mitchell

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Q: What is the difference between an animal cell and plant cell?

From Sahal in Des Moines, IA - 6th grade

A: Hi Sahal, there are three major differences between a plant cell and an animal. I will point out these aren't the only differences, but by and large the most significant. First, plant cells are autotrophs (they can create their own energy from the air and the sun!) They do this through small organelles known as chloroplasts. These chloroplasts contain many individual chlorophyll molecules which help capture energy from the sun and create sugar from carbon dioxide. This is known as photosynthesis. Humans (and all animals) are heterotrophs meaning we get our energy from eating plants or eating other animals which at some point ate a plant. Second, plant cells have a thick cell wall outside of their cell membrane. Animal cells lack this cell wall. This makes our human bodies more flexible and able to move around. A plant does not have the ability to move from wherever its roots have set into the ground. This means that on a really windy day it can't go inside. It is stuck outside to deal with the wind. One way plants have adapted to survive during a wind storm is to create these strong cell walls which give the plant a stiff rigid body. Cell walls also allow plants to grow big and tall which may help then get to more light. Third, plant cells contain one large vacuole which takes up nearly 90% of the volume cell. Animal cells also have vacuoles but are much more numerous and smaller. In a plant cell, the vacuole functions to store water and nutrients. In certain plant cells such as the xylem cells, the vacuole actually expands to make the entire cell hallow. These cells then die and are left hallow and in rows which allow the plant to suck water up from the roots.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Bryon Upton

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Q: Do horses have their babies standing up or laying down?

From Kristiana in Des Moines, IA - 3rd grade

A: Hi Kristiana, female horses almost always lie down to have their babies, although they will occasionally stand up to reposition the foal inside their body if they are having difficulty. Horses generally sleep part of the night dozing while standing up though, which is an adaptation that prey species have so they can quickly flee from predators.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Paul Skrade

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Q: Why do we see more rabbits in the winter than in the summer?

From Kourtney in Des Moines, IA - 6th grade

A: Hi Kourtney, there are a couple of reasons why it seems like there are more rabbits in winter than in summer. In Iowa almost all of the rabbits we see are Eastern Cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus), although there are a small number of White-tailed Jackrabbits (Lepus townsendii) remaining in portions of the state. Unlike the white winter coat of the White-tailed Jackrabbit and its cousin, the Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus), the fur of Eastern Cottontails is brown year-round. While this makes them camouflaged the rest of the year, in the winter they stand out against the white snow and so you're able to see them more easily. Also in the winter there is less food available, forcing rabbits to leave cover to feed in more open areas and at times of day when they would normally remain hidden from predators.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Paul Skrade

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Q: How do mammals feed their babies?

From Sahal in Des Moines, IA - 6th grade

A: Mammals are unique in the animal kingdom in that they have mammary glands that are able to produce milk to feed their babies, at least until they are able to digest other foods. As you know, milk is a white liquid that contains fat, protein, and calcium. Once the babies are able to eat other foods, some mammals will bring them partially digested food in their stomach and regurgitate it for their offspring to eat, while others will lead their babies to places where they can forage for food on their own. Humans are mammals too and once they are able to properly digest it we feed our babies baby food, which is soft and doesn't require teeth to chew.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Paul Skrade

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Q: Why don't animals talk in our language?

From Jonathan in Des Moines, IA - 6th grade

A: The short answer, Jonathan, is that most animals do not have vocal chords similar enough to humans to speak exactly as we do. Some birds, like mynahs (and even some dogs - like Mishka the talking Husky on YouTube) are able to mimic sounds that we make and many species are able to understand vocal commands that we give them ("Sit! Stay! Fetch!"). Other birds (such as Alex the African Gray Parrot) have been taught to speak words and apes (like Koko the Western Lowland Gorilla) have been taught words and signs in sign language so that they can communicate but these are generally not considered truly using language.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Paul Skrade

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Q: Why are animals used to test makeup?

From Kourtney in Des Moines, IA - 6th grade

A: Kourtney, animals are used as models for human beings in testing new products that could have potentially harmful effects such as skin irritation or even blindness. A good example of how this is carried out is the Draize test where a small amount of the test substance is put on either a bare patch of skin or directly onto the eye and then the animal is monitored to see how it reacts. Animal testing is a very controversial subject as it can seem extremely cruel, but many beneficial procedures such as organ transplants and open heart surgery were made possible through first testing the procedures on animals. At Iowa State University and other institutions in the United States, we are required to consult with the university's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee before we perform any procedure on an animal (even banding birds) and explain why the procedure is scientifically justified.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Paul Skrade

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Q: Have you ever experimented on animals?

From Lexi in Des Moines, IA - 6th grade

A: Yes, I frequently use animals in my experiments. But, in our experiments we are very conscious of animal welfare, and have all our protocols approved by a team of other researchers, veterinarians, and citizens to ensure the animal is being treated with care.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Tim Mitchell

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Q: Why do cats meow all the time?

From Allison in Des Moines, IA - 6th grade

A: Animals have a variety of methods to communicate with each other. There are chemical signals like when a dog 'marks their territory' with urine, visual signals when peacocks use their big and colorful tail to attract females, and auditory signals like when cats meow! There are many reasons why a cat meows and it depends on if the cat is wild or domesticated - a pet. Kittens in the wild probably use their meow to call to their mother and for a domesticated cat, it may be used in a similar manner to call to their owner.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Tim Mitchell

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Q: What is the weirdest animal you have ever seen?

From Kareemah in Des Moines, IA - 7th grade

A: The weirdest animal I have found is a flounder. When I went to the South Carolina Aquarium, there were four flounders in the glass display and we had to find them. I am unsure if you know much about the flounder, but in its life cycle, an adult flounder has two eyes on one side of its head, but at hatching, one eye is located on each side of its brain. One eye moves to the other side of the body as a process of metamorphosis as it grows from larval (newly hatched) to juvenile (youth/child…kind of like a person who is not a baby but not an adult) stage. Metamorphosis is a biological process by which an animal physically develops after birth or hatching, involving a change in the animal's body structure through cell growth. As an adult, a flounder changes its habits and camouflages itself by lying on the bottom of the ocean floor as protection against predators. As a result, the eyes are then on the side which faces up. Can you find the flounder in the picture?

Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Joy Jackson

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Q: Why do male pandas eat their babies?

From Kareemah in Des Moines, IA - 7th grade

A: The Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is one of many species that have been documented committing infanticide (killing young of their own species). This can happen when a male encounters a female with a baby and he kills her cub so that she will mate with him and have his offspring. Although male pandas really have no interaction with females except when they get together to mate, it is thought that they would not kill their own young because they would recognize the mother. I could not find any information about male pandas eating baby pandas in the wild, since their diet consists almost entirely of bamboo but they will occasionally eat meat such as birds or rodents. Female pandas that have multiple cubs at once have been documented abandoning one cub so that the other has a better chance of survival and this is known as filial infanticide. However, filial cannibalism (eating your own offspring) has not been documented in wild pandas. Male bears of other species that are omnivorous will kill and eat cubs of their same species.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Paul Skrade

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Q: Are squirrels herbivores or carnivores?

From Moniqueca in Des Moines, IA - 7th grade

A: There are multiple species of squirrels. The family of squirrels (Sciuridae) actually includes a variety of tree squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, flying squirrels, and prairie dogs. Tree squirrels are what most people refer to when they say "squirrel." The two kinds of tree squirrels that are common in Iowa are the fox squirrel and gray squirrel. The diet of both of these types of squirrels consists of tree bark, acorns, nuts, seeds, crops (like corn and soybeans), and fungi. When these types of food are in low supply, these squirrels will also eat insects, frogs, small rodents, small birds, and bird eggs. Because they eat plant based foods like tree bark, nuts, and seeds, and meat foods like insects and birds, squirrels are both herbivores and carnivores. Organisms that eat both plant based foods and meats are called omnivores.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Brandon Jeffrey

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Q: Are unicorns real? What do they eat and where do they live?

From Alicia in Des Moines, IA - 7th grade

A: We don't know! But we can make a testable hypothesis that will inform us. An example of a good hypothesis: There are NO unicorns. Now, if you ever find a unicorn, you will know your hypothesis is false, and that unicorns do exist. This is what we call a falsifiable hypothesis. So far, there has never been any evidence that unicorns exist. We have not been able to disprove this hypothesis, so we will continue to think there are no unicorns until some evidence suggests otherwise (like somebody finds and documents a unicorn). It is important that if someone claims they see a unicorn (or bigfoot, aliens or the abominable snowman), that they have solid evidence that is presentable for other scientists to examine.
Question answered by: Symbi Scientist, Tim Mitchell

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