Note: Kids, this is your lucky day! Animal expert Ken Keffer has joined us on the AKontheGO blog to talk about our state’s amazing animals, and some fun facts you might not know. Ken co-wrote the new book “The Secret Lives of Animals” with Stacy Tornio, and I am having a blast reading it. Ken lived in Alaska for a long time, and was pretty excited when I asked him to come up with a few cool oddities regarding our animals and birds. Enjoy! ~EK
Alaska has amazing wildlife! Many species, like caribou and polar bears are pretty unique to the state. Others, like flying squirrels and slugs are more familiar across much of the rest of the country. The Secret Lives of Animals helps reveal the mysteries of both common and lesser-known critters. With 1,001 tidbits, oddities, and amazing facts, you’ll be sure to impress your friends on something they didn’t know. You might even be able to stump your parents or your teachers!
Here are 10 Alaskan animals with facts guaranteed to entertain.
Walrus: A walrus is one of the most recognizable species, even though not very many people will ever get to see one in the wild. Walruses are related to seals and sea lions, collectively known as pinnipeds (meaning fin-footed). The scientific name for walrus, Odobenus rosmarus, means tooth-walking sea horse. Their iconic tusks are impressive, but their vibrissae whisker hairs help them detect vibrations in the water.
Bison: People Outside might be aware that the Alaska state mammal is the moose, but they might not associate bison with the state. Alaska boasts herds in Delta Junction, Copper River, Chitina River, and Farewell. Even though they aren’t related to the buffalo of Asia and Africa, bison are sometimes called buffalo. They might look big and slow, but they can reach speeds of nearly 40 miles per hour. AKontheGO Note: Check out our post about the recent release of Wood bison from the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
Musk Ox: Alaska is the only state where you can find musk oxen. At one point they were even extirpated (completely eliminated) from Alaska, but they were reintroduced to the state in the 1930s. Young musk oxen begin growing their horns when they are just a month old. The calves don’t grow up too fast though, as they can stay with their mothers for 18 months.
Dragonfly: The four-spot skimmer dragonfly is the Alaska state insect. Many people think girl dragonflies are called damselflies, but that’s not true. Damselflies are a type of dragonfly. Damselflies rest with their wings folded behind their bodies, while dragonflies, like the four-spot skimmer, rest with their wings held out to the side.
Chickadee: Chickadees are backyard favorites across much of North America. Most places have just one or two species of chickadee, but not Alaska. Here there are an amazing four species including black-capped, chestnut-backed, gray-headed, and boreal. If it seems like chickadees are always coming to your feeder, it might be because they’re taking the seeds off to hide (cache) them for later.
Halibut: Halibut are the largest flatfish species. Halibut are a right-sided flounder that can weigh well over 100 pounds, even as much as 500 pounds. What is the largest halibut you’ve ever caught? While Pacific halibut are popular, the royal title of Alaskan state fish is reserved for the king salmon.
Hare: There are no true rabbits in Alaska, only hares, including the snowshoe hare and the Alaskan hare. The main difference between rabbits and hares is that hare babies are born with hair. Baby rabbits don’t have any fur when they are born. Hares can move around shortly after birth, while rabbits have to stay in a nest for a while.
Heron: The great blue heron is a long-legged wading bird often associated with water. Not to be confused with sandhill cranes that fly with their necks outstretched, herons fly with their necks tucked in like an “S”. Herons often nest in groups called rookeries. There has even been a small rookery of great blue herons in downtown Juneau before.
Starfish: Starfish, sometimes called sea stars, are common in Alaska’s maritime regions. Starfish aren’t fish. Instead they are invertebrates. Maybe you knew that, but did you know that they can push their stomach out through their mouth to eat larger prey items?
Frogs and Toad: Alaska has only has two species of frogs (Columbia spotted and wood) and just a single species of toad. Western toads are found from southeast Alaska to Prince William Sound. It is a myth that touching a toad will give you warts, but here is a fun fact about toad skin. Toads shed their skin often, and then they usually eat it!
Bonus! Willow Ptarmigan: The Secret Lives of Animals coauthor Ken Keffer named his dog Willow after the state bird of Alaska, the willow ptarmigan. Willow The Wonder Mutt is brown and white and looks like a molting ptarmigan in spring or fall.