If you’ve ever had an ant farm, then you know an ant colony runs like a factory with well-defined roles and responsibilities. While ants might appear to be nature’s nuisance, these tiny bugs eat dead insects and their underground tunnels help aerate soil, making them a vital part of any ecosystem.
Beginning in late summer and into the fall, beavers begin preparing their homes for winter. They gather wood by using their tails to prop them up while they chip away at tree trunks with their teeth. Once a tree has broken off from the trunk, the beaver breaks it down into smaller pieces that are more manageable to carry back to the location they plan to build on. Laying the sticks into the mud, they stack layers of wood until the dam is built. But a beaver’s job isn’t done once the dam is complete. It also works to dig out its living quarters, called a lodge, and stockpiles wood to eat during the long winter months.
Female lions not only bring dinner to the table, they also nurture their young and often care for the cubs of other lionesses, too. While male lions are considered the kings of prides and protect their families from predators, the females do the majority of the hunting. Without manes to tip off potential prey, female lions are able to stalk their victims silently within 100 feet (30 meters) before they attack.
7. African Wild Dogs
|African wild dog [link]|
This dog takes the meat no one else wants. In fact, this species plays an essential role in the ecosystem by removing sick or injured animals, which helps keep balance and improves prey species. The hunters of the pack work together like a relay team when targeting prey. When they’ve locked in on their target, some dogs will begin running close to it, with other dogs in the pack running behind. Once the lead dogs begin to tire, those from the back of the pack take over. Thanks to teamwork, prey rarely escapes a chase. African wild dogs hunt twice daily and are successful 70 to 90 percent of the time, unlike lions, which have a much lower success rate at 30 to 40 percent.
|Bowebird (Photo: Tim Laman / National Geographic)|
The male bowebird doesn’t just build a nest for his potential mate; he lavishly adorns it, too – all in hopes of catching a female bowerbird’s attention. When designing, he arranges pebbles, shells, flowers and other objects to stage the nest.
5. Cleaner Wrasse
|Cleaner Wrasse [link]|
These tiny fish average only 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7 centimeters) in length, but they spend all day, every day working to rid other reef fish of unwanted parasites and dead scales. They really get into the nitty-gritty of their job, cleaning fins, tails and even mouths. Surprisingly, they even clean much larger fish that might normally be considered predators. Of course, it’s not completely selfless work for the cleaner wrasse, since all of those parasites are like a buffet for them.
While billions of dollars are spent every year trying to control termite infestations, these little demolishers are an important part of forests’ ecosystems, since they break down cellulose in wood for consumption by plants and animals.
The earthworms are nature’s farmers, plowing the soil as they tunnel through it.
The tunnels they leave behind also serve a purpose by circulating air and water into the soil, keeping it fresh and nutrient-rich. Earthworm droppings, called castings, are also essential, as they are rich in nitrogen, calcium and other nutrients that are indispensable for a healthy ecosystem.
2. Emperor Penguins
|Emperor penguins (Photo: Giuseppe Zibordi, Michael Van Woert / National Geographic)|
The male emperor penguin could be considered Father of the Year when you consider the lengths this Antarctic animal goes to for his hatchling. After traveling an average of 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the ocean to a hatching ground, penguins mate and the mother produces an egg that she passes to the father. While the mother returns to the sea for food, the father sits on the egg for around 64 days until it hatches. Once the baby penguin emerges, the father keeps it warm and even feeds it nutrients secreted from his own esophagus until the mother returns. Upon the mother’s return, parental duties are exchanged so the male penguin can return to sea for his first meal in over four months.
1. Honey Bees
|Honey bees (Photo: Stephen Buchman / National Geographic)|
These little dark brown- and yellow-striped insects are responsible for a multi-million dollar business.
There are no vacations or happy hours at the end of a long day – like the rest of the animals in our countdown, their business runs around the clock with no overtime pay.
Source: Joy H. Montgomery, Animal Planet
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