Animals of Russia

 

Russia houses a great number of various animal species.  Mammals of more than 300 species, birds of more than 700 species, amphibians of about 30 species and reptiles of 80 species inhabit vast territories of Arctic tundra, hot southern deserts, decidual and coniferal forests, mountain countries, and seacoasts.

Some representatives of Russian fauna are exhibited in Animals of Russia exposition, arranged as semicircle behind the Fairy Tale Tree sculpture on the Old Territory of the Zoo.

The first animals you will see here are Hares.  They live in enclosure adjoining the street and facing Crossover Bridge.  First of all, both Mountain and European Hares are remarkable for their large eyes placed on the sides of the head, allowing animals to look in the opposite directions and expanding their visual angle to 360* C.  It means, that motionless hare is able to see both its nose and tail without turning its head.   That is why it is very difficult to approach a hare undetected, as well as to overhaul it, because hares are able not only to run very fast, but also to confuse chasers crossing their own tracks in various directions.  Hare is not an easy prey for many predators.

One more resident of Russia exhibited here is the Great Eagle Owl.  These largest nocturnal raptors prey in the dusk and at night.  They are excellent predators owing to a number of peculiar traits. Soft plumage makes their flight quiet; acute eyesight allows them to see both in the dark and in bright sunlight; sensitive audition helps to locate prey not seeing it.  Neighbouring enclosure is occupied by Lapland and Ural Owls.  Large wooden nest boxes are placed in the owls enclosures, because in the wild these nocturnal raptors prefer to construct their nests in tree holes.

Common squirrels are leaping in the next enclosure.  These lovely animals were formerly common not only to the forests, but also to the Moscow city parks, where they are rather rare now.   In summer, squirrels wear bright red coats and change them for more fluffy silver-grey coats in winter.   Change of the seasons is marked not only with disguise; in late autumn squirrels store nuts, berries, and mushrooms in their winter nests, constructed in tree holes or in the branches and looking like a round ball.  To dry mushrooms, animals pin them on thin tree branches.

Squirrels' enclosure adjoins the cages occupied by various small passerines (chaffinches, bullfinches, greenfinches, starlings, waxwings, siskins, goldfinches, etc.) most common to the European Russia.

Two adjacent cages house mustelids, one of the most interesting animals at the exposition.  Sable and Marten are small and very mobile animals active almost all day round with short breaks for sleep.  Both of them are predators with a wide range of prey.  Their diets consist primarily of small rodents and birds with great amounts of fruits and berries added to them in summer.  Sables readily feed on cedar nuts devastating food stores of its taiga neighbors.  Unlike sables, martens spend more time on the trees, moving fast from branch to branch.  Like other mustelids, breeding females of martens and sables have a long latent period when development of the embryo is retarded.

A Fox is marten's neighbour both in the Zoo and in the wild.  Foxes usually prey for small rodents abundant in the woods, fields, and at the forest edges.  In summer they readily take also insects and berries.  In winter, one can see foxes wondering in the fields and listening to mouse rustle under the snow.  Hearing familiar piping sounds, a fox bounces as a ball and flaps snow with its paws to get the prey, or begins to dig snow fast.

A Raven is also exhibited here.  Ravens have been always believed to be evil birds attracting death.  The reason for such negative account was the fact that these birds were often seen feeding on carrion.  When their chicks hatch, which happens early in spring after snowmelt, the parents feed them with dead animals.  So the ravens should be called health officers of the forest rather than death messengers'.  These large black birds prefer to breed far from human settlements, building their nests on the highest trees deep in the woods.

Due to their extraordinary talents, Beavers are called constructors and architects.  These animals common to the forest rivers and springs are one of the largest rodents.  Beavers' incisors are very strong; they grow constantly and remain as sharp as razor blades.  Tooth enamel is durable on the exterior side of the animal's upper teeth and soft on their interior side.  The structure of the lower incisors is just the opposite.  It allows beaver's teeth to sharpen constantly.  The beavers use tree trunks and large branches cut with their wonderful teeth to construct dams across streams and rivers.  Their huts are built at such dams.  Although construction of hut seems to be very simple, the hosts are safe in their roomy quarters.  Entrance to the hut is under water, and unwelcome terrestrial visitors are not able to get inside.

Wolf is a well-known predator.  It is well-known fact that the wolves prey on large ungulates, though they readily catch mice prevailing in their spring and summer diet.  Some time ago, farmers considered wolves detrimental animals preying on cattle and other valuable domestic animals.  Elimination of the predators was encouraged.  However, after the number of wolves had declined dramatically in some regions of Russia and the animals had become extinct in certain areas, the faultiness of such concept became evident.  Like any other predators, the wolves prey mostly on weak, injured, and sick animals, thus favouring natural selection.  In winter preying becomes difficult, and the wolves gather in packs.  The pack, usually comprising close kins, is led either by old female, or by two old males.  Cooperative preying enhances wolves' chances to get large animals, such as deer or moose.  In summer, the pack disintegrates and the animals lead individual or pair life.  A pair of wolves is kept in the Moscow Zoo.

 

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