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Tree of Knowledge - Animals & Plants
The cheetah, which lives and hunts on the plains of East Africa, is the fastest animal on Earth. It can run at speeds of over 100 km perhour. That is three times faster than an Olympic 100-meter sprinter.

The greatwhite shark has been guilty of more unprovoked boat attacks in South African waters than any other shark. In one particular area, called False Bay, the great white has attacked eleven boats - more than in any other place in the world.

The largest lizard in the world is the Komodo monitor lizard, also called the Komododragon. It only lives on four islans in Indonesia and can grow to 2.25 meters.

The poison arrow frog lives up to its name. Its poison is so strong that a minute drop (about the size of grain of sugar) can kill a human being very quickly.

 The Amazon rainforest is now being rapidly destroyed. Every single minute of every day, an area of forest the size of 30 football pitches is chopped down.

The Saguarocactus, which grows in the deserts of Arizona and California, USA, is the biggest in the world. It can reach a height of 17.7 meters.

Fungi are all around us - some are great food delicasies, some are source of life-saving drugs, while others can devastate crops and a few are so poisonous that they can kill. 

The ferns and their allies, the clubmosses and horsetails, are ancient plants that evolved some 350 million years ago. They were the first plants to successfully colonize the land, and they reigned supreme for 100 million years. 

Plants utilize water and mineral salts from the soil, light from the sun and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Chlorophyll which is contained within their leaves splits the carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and sugar. The sugar, a form of energy, is stored in the leaves while the oxygen is released into the air via the stomata. 

Most plants live independent lives, but some depend on others for vital nutrients or support. Climbers use their host as a means of reaching the light, but parasitic plants enslave their hosts, which support them nutritionally as well as physically. 

Carnivorous plants are among nature's wonders. Living in places with few nutrients in the soil, they have evolved a survival strategy unique in the world of plants - they capture and eat live prey. 

Animal tissue reacts to the presence of a virus or other foreign protein by producing antibodies. These neutralize specific proteins. These antibodies remain in the bloodstream for some time after the offending protein has been eliminated, thus providing some degree of immunity. The ability of antibodies to provide protection is the mechanism by which vaccines work (the word comes from the vaccinia virus, which causes cowpox - from which the first vaccinations against smallpox were prepared). Immunity is provided either by antibodies being injected into the bloodstream, or by a suspension of killed or inactivated virus being injected so that antibodies are produced without the disease itself developing. 

Insects are superbly equipped to live in almost any habitat, and are capable of making rapid adaptations to dramatic environmental changes. For this reason, they will probably continue to flourish long after the last mammals have vanished from the planet. 

The tallest tree in the world is a coast redwood called 'National Geographic Society'. 

Spiders are lethal killers, trapping their victims in a silky web and injecting them with a powerful poison. But, while most spiders are venomous, very few are harmful to humans - and those that are will only bite when frightened. 

Lepidoptera, as butterflies and moths are collectively known, first appeared over 100 million years ago dutring the age of dinosaurs, and despite a complicated life cycle, they have a number of very clever means to help them survive in the world around them. 

The word 'dinosaur', which means 'terrble lizard' in Greek, was first used in 1841 by Dr. Richard Owen. 

The heaviest known dinosaur is Ultrasaurus, whose remains were first discovered in 1979. Estimates put its weight at a massive 130 tons. 

The largest dinosaur egg ever found was discovered in France. It was the size of a rugby ball and was laid by a sauropod, the huge Hypselosaurus. 

Stegosaurus had the smallest brain of any animal in relation to its size, then or since. It weighed nearly 2 tons and was 6 meters long, but its brain was only the size of a walnut. 

Nobody really knows why dinosaurs died out. Scientists used to believe that as cold-blooded creatures, which cannot regulate their body temperature, they simply died of exposure when the world's climate cooled at the end of the Cretaceous Period. Now, with evidence that some species were, in fact, warm blooded, this theory does not seem to solve the mystery. 

A guinea pig is not a pig. Its' actually a rodent - a small, fat member of the rat family, with short ears and no external tail, used in biological experiments. And it's not from Guinea - it originated in South America. 

Although flowering plants now dominate the world's flora, in earlier times ferns and clubmosses covered the land. And the evolution of plants all started with the lowly algae. 

Bacteria (singular: bacterium) are the most plentiful form of plant life on Earth, and can be found in salt and fresh water, air, soil and dust. They differ from other plants in several ways and consist of a mass of protoplasm within a form cell wall made mainly of protein, not of cellulose (as in other plants). They do not contain chloroplasts, so few are able to manufacture their own food; they are mostly saprophytes or parasites. Some swin around (in water or in blood for instance) by movement of one or more filaments (flagella), and all are very small - about 0.0001mm across. 

Flowering plants are the most highly evolved and dominant group of plants. Some, especially those pollinated by wind, have tiny or insignificant flowers, but those that depend on insect pollination are usually bold and brightly coloured, and many have intricate blooms. 

The purpose of brightly coloured flowers is to attract insects. While a bee is feeding on the nectar at the base of the flower, pollen is dusted onto its back by the anthers. Pollen will be rubbed onto the stigma of another plant visited by the bee. 

The last dinosaur vanished from Earth about 65 million years ago, after dominating the planet for 160 million years. 

Over a million different species of animals have been scientifically cataloged, and over three quarters are insect species found each year, there could easily be another 10 million - and all will be insects. 

The accelerated evolution displayed by pesticide-resitant insects occurs in many organisms. One reason why scientists have difficulty countering AIDS is that the virus which causes it keeps evolving. 

Corals, sponges and echinoderms are all primitive animals that live in the ocean. Their ability to extract nutrients from the water; which they filter through their bodies, has ensured their survial in a potentially hostile environment for thousands of years, but now man-made hazards are putting them at risk. 

Worms, slugs, and snails are all invertebrates which means that they have no backbones. They all live in the soil and need moisture for survival and reproduction. 

If we judge success by the number of species and their abundance, then insects are the most successful animals on Earth. And by this criterion, beetles, with nearly 300,000 species, are the most successful of the insects. 

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Copyright 2000 Ron C. Velasco