Photograph by Stefan Christmann
Photograph by Stefan Christmann
Newsletters

What do a hellbender, saola, and sawfish have in common?

By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor

One of my favorite parts about my job is learning about animals I had no idea existed. Often, I learn about an obscure species for the first time because it’s facing some new threat or is verging on extinction. So, with Endangered Species Day tomorrow, I asked some of my colleagues to share their favorite, little-known threatened animals.

There’s the sawfish, a big ray with a virtual chainsaw coming out of its face, named by Taylor Maggiacomo, an illustrator on the graphics team.

Or the hellbender, suggested by Christine Dell’Amore, an editor on the Animals team. It’s a big, aquatic salamander that often goes by the nickname “snot otter,” for reasons I’ll leave you to imagine.

Francis Rivera, a senior producer, went with the saola, a rare antelope relative that is sometimes called the Asian unicorn.

My own favorite, or one of them, is the northern hairy-nosed wombat, a short-legged wombat that can weigh up to 90 pounds and sways its behind as it walks.

When we think of at-risk species, we often think of iconic symbols of conservation: the elephant, threatened by poaching; the giant panda, threatened by habitat loss; or the emperor penguin (two chicks are pictured above). The penguins’ numbers are OK right now, but they could lose more than three-quarters of their colonies in the next century because of melting sea ice.

Big or small, iconic or obscure, every species has a role to play in the ecosystem. Speaking of small and obscure (and cute)—come back to natgeo.com/animals tomorrow for an announcement from Nat Geo’s Photo Ark, an ongoing project to document every living species in zoos and sanctuaries. I can almost guarantee you’ll learn something new.

What’s your favorite little-known animal? Let us know! And get this newsletter daily by signing up here.

Your Instagram photo of the day

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Photographer Jeff Kerby took this image of a gelada monkey in the highlands of central Ethiopia. “I spent many evenings with these gelada monkeys as they waited above their sleeping cliffs,” Kerby said. “After a busy day of eating grass, they would often rest, groom, and sometimes fight” until sunset.

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Today in a minute

The sting of the murder hornet: What makes the giant Asian hornet's sting so painful—and deadly? The sensation is like being “stabbed by a red-hot needle,” wasp and bee researcher Shunichi Makino tells us. Not only that, but the anguish lingers.

Cold-blooded? I’m a friendly snake:
First, we profiled flamingos. Now it’s the often maligned snake’s turn. A new study of garter snakes, which range from the chilly plains of Canada to the forests of Costa Rica, shows the reptiles have definitive preferences about which fellow creatures they hang out with. “In other words,” writes Virginia Morell for Nat Geo, “they have ‘friends.’”

Not on my pizza: Ancient anchovies were huge and used saber teeth to eat other fish, the New Scientist reports. The discovery came from studies of fossils found in Belgium and Pakistan dating back 55 million years. Current-day anchovies feed on plankton and likely taste different than their mighty forebears, researchers say.

Saying goodbye: Dr. Julie Butler owned and operated New York's 145th Street Animal Hospital, the only full-service veterinary service in Harlem for many years. Butler lived by the principle that “if you have it to give, you give,” caring for animals and opening her home to friends in need. Butler, who was 62, died of complications of the novel coronavirus, her daughter told the New York Times.

Mothering styles: Human or animal, moms seem to share one characteristic: “Many species seem to recognize that the young really don’t know what they are doing,” animal behavioralist Jennifer Verdolin tells us, “so they are given a kind of grace period to learn.” See these images of animals with their young.

The big takeaway

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Locusts! The largest swarms of locusts in decades are descending on East Africa, mowing through food in an area where famine always is a threat. “Terrifying,” says Albert Lemansulani, swatting through a crush of two-inch-long desert locusts in northern Kenya. Haley Cohen Gilliand, writing for Nat Geo, describes the sound of the locusts wings as “snapping like ten thousand card decks being shuffled in unison.” Lemasulani says farmers and herders both know the damage that locusts cause. “We fear for our future because these kinds of swarms will mean we don’t have anything to feed our animals,” Lemasulani says. “It’s as terrifying as COVID-19.” Pictured above, a swarm descending on acacia trees in northern Kenya in April.

Subscriber exclusive: See how a plague of locusts forms

In a few words

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On Friday, Whitney Johnson covers the latest in photography news. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Debra Adams Simmons on history, George Stone on travel, and Victoria Jaggard on science.

The last glimpse

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How to make peace with the world’s deadliest bear: It can run faster than humans. It has long, curved claws. And humans are pressing in. Meet the insect-eating sloth bear, which startles easily. India serves as the final stronghold for the species, with small populations in Nepal and Sri Lanka. Gloria Dickie writes for Nat Geo about how conflict between sloth bears and humans threatens the survival and well-being of both. Pictured above, a rescued sloth bear living at the Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Center in India.

Subscriber exclusive: A bear’s eye view of Yellowstone

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with photo selections by Jen Tse and Eslah Attar. Do you have an idea, a link, a favorite endangered animal species? We’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . And thanks for reading.