Animal doppelgangers: misconceptions busted

SCIENCE FOR YOUTH

by Hiya Islam

scienceYou see the herd of sheep in front you? Ever wondered who Bob is and who is Mike? I mean, they all look the same after all. From their perspective, they could be thinking the same about us. Rather than trying to distinguish between the members of a clan, what’s more important  to note is that we often mistake a mule for a donkey, a tortoise for a turtle and what not. For once and for all, let’s break down a few pairs of commonly mistaken animals in the wild!

First up on the list we have the big cats, cheetah and leopard. One careful look at the face is all it takes. Cheetahs have a black streak running down from the inner corner of the eyes to the cheeks, unlike leopards. Other than facial markings, each of them has a different coat. Cheetahs have solid black spots stamped onto them while leopards sport irregular C-shaped rings. Lastly, leopards have retractable claws, Cheetahs don’t. These claws provide all-time, extra traction when running and turning at high speeds given they are the fastest animals on the planet.

What about butterflies and moths? These winged, six-legged pollinators differ in their antennae. Butterflies (diurnal) are seen to have bulbous tip in the end while moths (nocturnal) have feathery or plain antennas. Or, notice the wings. Moths, generally, are dull-coloured in contrast to butterflies’ vibrant show of colours. However, the Madagascar sunset moth is there to prove you wrong with all its butterfly-like features.

‘Is it a turtle or a tortoise’, asked Berta. Turtles are adapted to spend most of their life in water which explains the webbed feet. On the other hand, tortoises are suited to live on land and are terrible swimmers. They have stubby feet with claws that assist in digging. Turtles have relatively smaller domed-shells for streamlining effect. But, exceptions like the box turtles resemble tortoises as they are adapted to spend time significantly more in the terrestrial life.

Another set of confused reptilian pair is the crocodile-alligator duo. One way to tell these dudes apart is by the shape of their snout. Crocodiles have a narrow, pointed, V-shaped snout whereas alligators have wide, rounded, U-shaped ones. Crocs are seen to be smiling smugly with closed mouths; the fourth tooth on lower jaw is always visible. Gators, due to a different arrangement of jaws, hardly show any teeth. Besides, gators cannot tolerate saline water like crocs. So, when you are out in the wild, be aware of gators in freshwater swamps or lakes.

Even though African elephants are slightly larger than its Asian cousins, size is an unsure way of telling which is which. Hence, the head is given attention; Africans have a single dome while Asians feature a twin-domed head with a dent in between. Africans also have ears much larger than Asians. The ears help in temperature regulation. But the biggest difference of all is the place of stay; one simply wouldn’t find an African elephant in Asia!

Still confused? Try Google Images and play a little game of ‘spot the differences’. As far as recognising kin is concerned, most animals use a variety of odors released from several glands that are kin-distinct. Other ways include visual cues such as, behavioural changes. Or they could rely on sound calls.

Hiya Islam is a student of BRAC University.

 

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