Monday, 12 December 2011

Top 10 Animal Dieters

It's 3 p.m. at the office, and even though you ate a hearty lunch a couple of hours ago, you're scrounging around in your desk drawer looking for something -- anything -- to eat. So much for that New Years resolution to start your diet this week.

Think that when your hunger pangs hit, you've got it bad? Try telling that to many of our animal friends in the wild who don't always know when they'll eat again. In fact, many of these animals go a quite long time between rations. We're talking days, months and even up to a year for a few.

Let's take a look at 10 animals around the world who take dieting to the extreme.

10. The Tick

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The tick is one of the animals on our list that doesn't need solid foods for nutrients. Blood is its meal of choice. It needs blood to grow into each stage of its lifecycle (egg, larva, nymph and adult). Once a tick is full from sucking off a source, like a deer, dog, rat or even a human, it stores the blood in its body, giving it an engorged look. A well-fed adult tick can live as long as two years between meals.

Many people think ticks are insects. Actually, since they have eight legs and no wings, they're arachnids, like spiders, scorpions or mites. Ticks climb up tall grass and when they sense a host is nearby, through odor or body heat, they crawl on to it.

9. The Galápagos Tortoise

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Tortoises are not known for living life in the fast lane. And the Galápagos variety is no exception. These land turtles move along at an extremely slow speed of 0.16 miles per hour (.25 kilometers per hour). To put it in context, you and I walk at an average speed of 2.8 miles per hour (4.5 kilometers per hour).

The Galápagos tortoises are native to the Galápagos Islands located 600 miles (965 kilometers) west of Ecuador in South America. They are the largest tortoises in the entire world, weighing more than 500 pounds (227 kilograms) and measuring up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) from head to tail. They can live more than 150 years.

In order to survive the dry, hot and humid seasons of the Galápagos Islands, these giant tortoises learned to live up to one year without eating or drinking. When they do eat, they chomp on foods that don't need to be watered regularly like cactus, fruits, grass, leaves, and vines. Their bodies are able to store food and water very well.

Unfortunately, this ability worked against their tortoise ancestors. Galápagos tortoise meat was the food of choice for pirates, hunters and whale hunters who made stops at the Galápagos Islands until the 19th century. Because the giant tortoises didn't need to eat regularly, sailors could bring these food sources on board their ships without having to worry about caring for them during long journeys.

8. The American Black Bear

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Many of us were taught in school that bears hibernate to escape the cold harsh winters. Au contraire. In reality, bears sleep for long periods of time in order to adapt to the scarce supply of food during the winter months. American black bears can survive months during the hibernating season without provisions. In fact, they can go for as long as 100 days without eating and drinking, excreting waste or even changing their sleeping position. Don't worry about these bears starving during hibernation though; they are able to cut their metabolic rates in half. While slumbering in the summer, their heart rates at rest are between 60 and 90 beats per minute. Hibernation drastically drops it down to between 8 and 40 beats per minute.

Nature has taught them to be skilled preparers. Bears get ready for the cold winter by packing on the pounds during late summer and early fall. These omnivores stuff themselves with foods like carbohydrate-rich berries, nuts, acorns, insects and small mammals to gain weight, some even gaining as much as 30 pounds (14 kilograms) per week.

Once the bear's body has stored enough fat to survive the winter, the bear makes its way to its den for its long winter nap. As the cold months go by, the bear's body consumes 25 to 40 percent of its body weight. However, it doesn't lose any of its lean body mass, nor does it experience any muscle atrophy, bone or nerve cell degeneration. When the bear awakes in early spring, it's lost massive amounts of weight and is ready to hunt for food again.

7. The Camel

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Even back in the biblical days, men depended on camels as a means of travel through adverse environments like deserts. But these domesticated animals don't let missed meals stop them from making treks across sand dunes. Camels have the incredible ability to adapt to both scorching hot and frigid cold temperatures found in these environments (desert temperatures can rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 37 degrees Celsius or drop below zero at night) Part of their adaptation, is their ability to forgo food and water for long periods of time.

Both types of camels -- the Bactrian camel (two humps) and the dromedary camel (one hump) -- store fat in the lining of their stomachs. This fat can be converted to water and energy for the camels when there are slim pickings in the food and water department. These creatures of the desert can survive a week or more without water and for several months without food because their bodies have learned to adapt to the harsh, extreme conditions of the desert. When they do find nourishment, they're not picky eaters. Desert thistles and thorny shrubs are the cuisines of choice.

Ninety percent of all camels are dromedaries. The only wild camels that are still around are a type of Bactrian camel which resides in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia and China. It's believed that there are fewer than 1,000 in existence. Camels can grow to stand more than 7 feet (2.1 meters) tall at their hump and weigh 1,500 pounds (690 kilograms). At that weight, missing meals don't seem to be much a problem for these "ships of the desert."

6. The Crocodile

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When crocodiles are on the hunt for food, even man isn't exempt from the menu. Crocodile hunters have opened the stomachs of these predators and found everything from bracelets to bits of jewelry to human remains. Ouch.

In between catches, large adult crocodiles can go for three or four months without food while a few have been known to survive for a whole year without eating or drinking.

A process called estivation helps them survive this temporary fast. Estivation is similar to hibernation except it's done in dry and hot conditions as opposed to cold wintry conditions. The goal is the same: Their bodies conserve energy in order to survive an environment where there is little available food or water available to them.

During this time, crocodiles will hide out in burrows and banks to wait out the dry season. Unlike their hibernating counterparts, crocodiles' body temperatures remain warm so they are still using energy and water and have the potential to use up their reserves much faster. But as long as they are not active, crocodiles can survive this period.

When these carnivores (which make their home in Africa, Australia, the Americas, and Southeast Asia) finally eat, nothing or no one is off limits.

5. The Salmon

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Traveling for hundreds to thousands of miles upstream without food is the fate bestowed on the fish species known as salmon. Salmon are unique in that they thrive in both freshwater and seawater. They're born in freshwater, and as they are growing up, they make their home in the salt waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In fact, they spend most of their adult life eating food from the ocean.

When they become of age to reproduce, both male and female salmon must travel upstream back to their place of birth (usually in freshwater rivers). There is one catch though: These delectable fish have to travel hundreds of miles back to their native waters without eating a lick of food during the trip -- salmon don't feed in freshwater.

To prepare for the long journey, they eat beforehand. While traveling upstream to their spawning grounds, salmon can go up to nine months without eating. The lack of food is not their only challenge during migration. They have to swim against the flow of treacherous water and even waterfalls so many salmon die or are badly bruised when they do get to their spawning grounds The energy to sustain them on this trek comes from the fat stored from food eaten prior to the migration.

4. The Wolf

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The very existence of a wolf hinges on its full-time job: hunting for food. Wolves are predators because they hunt and kill other animals just so they can survive. The good news is that they don't have to worry about being hunted by other animals for food. The bad news is that sometimes the adult wolf has to go for days and even weeks without food if there isn't enough prey for them to eat.

Wolves' instincts have taught them how to make the most of their hunt. If their hunt is successful, they rely on that kill to sustain them for days or weeks when the timing of their next meal is questionable. A typical meal might be deer, elk, bison or moose. The cost of a good hunt isn't cheap. Sometimes wolves, the largest members of the dog family, get kicked and bruised while trying to take down a large animal like a deer. This is why they prefer to attack old, sick or weak animals.

If a wolf does have the chance to eat regularly, it can survive on 2 1/2 pounds (1.1 kilograms) of food a day. However, when it makes a kill, a wolf may eat 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of meat at one time, because it never knows when it'll eat again.

3. The Humpback Whale

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Salmon aren't the only residents of the water who make annual long-distance journeys. The humpback whale migrates to warmer waters for mating and reproduction but loses its regular food supply in the process. While spending summers in the North Pacific, humpback whales feed on krill and small fish, eating up to two tons of food a day. These creatures aren't found in Hawaii's warm waters so the whale trades a plentiful food supply in the cold ocean waters in the summer for a nonexistent one in the warm oceans in the winter.

The humpbacks store all this extra food in their bodies as blubber, which they rely on for energy and warmth during those four or five winter months. (In fact, because baby whales have only a thin layer of blubber, births must take place in warm waters.) By the time they are ready to make the trip back to the North Pacific, they'll have burned through all that blubber and lost a large amount of weight. Talk about a way to diet.

2. The Python

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Just the mention of the word "snake" gives some people the willies. But humans need not worry too much about ending up on the prey list for these non-poisonous reptiles. Animals like pigs and deer satisfy the palates of the larger pythons.

Depending on the size of the reptile, pythons can also eat rodents, birds, lizards, monkeys and antelopes. These cold-blooded animals don't need to eat often because they don't require a lot of food to maintain a high body temperature like their warm-blooded counterparts. With slow digestive systems, it can take pythons one to several days to digest their conquest which they swallow whole. They become inactive during this process. Their slow digestive system allows them to go for long periods of time between meals.

Pythons in the wild reside in tropical and subtropical Asia, Africa and Australia. Rainforest and swamps of these countries provide great environments for pythons to find food. These nighttime hunters will consume a large animal and remain full for long periods of time. Some pythons can survive for up to a year after consuming large prey before eating again.

1. The Cockroach

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No one wants to have these insects move in as houseguests because when they do, they have no intention of leaving -- and they spread germs and bacteria. Cockroaches might be annoying and yucky, but one thing's for sure: they don't need a lot of food to stay alive. Though they won't make it past two weeks without water, they can go for a whole month without food.

Cockroaches dine on meat, cheese, sweet foods, plants and other insects but they've also been known to eat paper, glue, books and other materials found around places they inhabit. Their digestive systems can handle a wide variety of substances. Since cockroaches have been around from the time of dinosaurs, you could say they have truly mastered the art of survival.

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