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10 weird facts about Canadian wildlife

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Canada doesn’t have quite the lineup of interesting/deadly/weird animals that some places in the world can boast (we’re looking at you, Australia). But we’ve got our share of odd creatures. Here are some of the strangest facts about the creatures that call Canada home.

There’s a shrew that can walk on water

The marsh shrew, an endangered species that can be found in southwest British Columbia, has an interesting talent: it can run on water for three to five seconds before diving to hunt for aquatic invertebrates. No, it’s not a miracle–although the 16-centimetre rodent is also known as the “Jesus shrew”–the marsh shrew’s fur traps air, which gives it buoyancy. Speaking of shrews, Canada also houses the Americas’ smallest mammal: the pygmy shrew.

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Manitoba is home to a lot of snakes

Ophidiophobes, beware: the Narcisse Wildlife Management Area in Manitoba is home to the largest concentration of snakes in the world. That’s because the 11,800-hectare WMA is home to close to 70,000 snakes, especially red-sided garter snakes. In early May, snakes emerge from their winter dens and begin courting rituals, the most dramatic of which is the formation of “mating balls”–essentially a big, wriggling, writhing mass of male snakes clustered around a single female. If you can get over the “ick” factor, Narcisse makes it easy to see the phenomenon, with walking trails by the snake dens and interpretive signs.

Photo by Cindy Creighton/ShutterstockPhoto by Cindy Creighton/Shutterstock

There’s a Canadian “antelope”

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the pronghorn is a true antelope: it’s known as the American antelope, its scientific name is Antilocapra americana, and it certainly looks like the antelope you’d find bounding along on the African savanna. It even features in that old campfire classic, Home on the Range. But the pronghorn is actually more closely related to giraffes and okapi than to true antelopes. It’s also the fastest land mammal in the western hemisphere, reaching speeds of up to almost 90 km an hour for short distances.

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We have marine species that live ridiculously long lives

Bowhead whales, rougheye rockfish, red sea urchins and ocean quahogs can all live to be supercentenarians–reaching past the century mark towards lifespans of 200-plus years. Ocean quahogs, especially, may be some of the longest-living organisms on earth: one found in 2006 off the coast of Iceland was found to be 507 years old. (And don’t even get us started on trees. Some cedars on Vancouver Island are close to 2,500 years old.)

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We’re finding more bizarrely coloured lobsters

Lobsters are usually a dull, mottled green–that is, until you steam them, at which point they turn that appetizing red colour. In recent years, reports have increased about fishers finding odd-coloured lobsters: blue, orange, calico, and even split coloured types. There’s no evidence about why this is happening: many people think it’s simply due to a combination of an increased lobster harvest and the prevalence of smartphone cameras make it easier both to catch and document these oddball crustaceans.

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We’re home to the fastest bird in the world

Peregrine falcons can dive at more than 300 km per hour, with the top flight speed clocked in at 389 km. It’s pretty darn hard to outfly or outmaneuver a predator who can do that. In cities, they’re particularly masterful at snatching pigeons out of the air.

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The beaver is North America’s largest rodent

Yes, the beaver is a rodent. And we put it on our nickel. Of course, the beaver is also an important symbol of Canada’s history, but still–it’s a massive rodent. Actually, the beaver isn’t anywhere near as big as it used to be. Giant beavers were common during the last ice age, reaching up to eight feet long and weighing up to 200 pounds. Imagine the size of the dams!

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Polar bears don’t need to drink water

There isn’t a lot of liquid water at certain times of the year in the Arctic, so the polar bear has evolved not to have to drink. Instead, its body undergoes a chemical reaction that breaks down fat and creates all the water it needs. Interestingly, this is why polar bears’ diets are very high in fat but low in protein–it takes too much water to flush out the byproducts involved in metabolizing protein, so bears feast on more blubber than meat.

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Wood frogs can survive being frozen over the winter

Wood frogs are very cold tolerant, which is handy, since they range across Canada up into the Far North. When the time comes to hibernate, wood frogs will burrow into the upper layers of the soil, under dead leaves. There, they can survive the winter by accumulating urea and glucose in their tissues to limit the amount of ice that forms.

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There are species of animals that don’t live anywhere but Canada

Some species you can’t find anywhere but here. This includes a number of lemming species, two species of shrew, Ross’s goose, Harris’s sparrow and a small collection of insects and fish. For the most part, though, animals don’t pay any attention to borders–even the ones we think of as “ours.”

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