10 Quirky Animals of the Steppe

A Secretary Bird Portrait
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The steppe, sometimes called the grasslands or prairie, is one of Earth's major biomes. Found in North and South American and parts of Asia and Australia, steppes are subject to extremes of heat, cold, wind, rain, and wildfire — and steppe animals are adapted to survive in almost any weather. In fact, steppe regions around the world are home to 80 mammal species and more than 300 species of birds. Some of these animals, like buffalo, are well-known, while others are rarely seen. Here are 10 animals with unique and quirky traits that thrive on the steppe.

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Saiga antelope drinking water

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A small antelope with a big nose, the saiga is about the size of a german shepherd. Its unique nose is surprisingly similar to that of the whale; males use their noses to make roaring sounds to attract mates. Saigas can also filter out prairie dust and warm freezing air in winter with their noses. These antelopes live in Eurasia and southeastern Europe; they formerly ranged all the way across Asia and into North America but have been hunted to near-extinction.

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Przewalski's Horse

Przewalski's Horses grazing in the Mongolian steppe

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Mongolian wild horses are close cousins to the zebra and the domestic horses we typically ride. These horses are a bit shorter and stockier than other horses, and their hair is thicker because they are adapted to withstand the freezing cold winds of the Mongolian, Kazakstani, and Chinese winters. Like other horses, Przewalski's horse grazes on grasses. What sets them apart from other horses, though, is that they have never been fully domesticated.

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Giant Anteater

Giant Anteater
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About the size of golden retrievers, giant anteaters look even bigger because of their thick, stiff fur. These remarkable animals live in Central and South American forests and grasslands. True to their name, they eat an incredible 30,000 ants per day. To gather so much food, they break open ant hills and then flick their tongues inside up to 150 times per minute to pick up hundreds of ants at a time.

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Secretary Bird

Secretary Bird

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This huge bird stands nearly five feet tall with a wingspan of nearly seven feet. And yes, it really does look like a secretary — assuming the year is 1880. These birds appear to sport gray tailcoats and dark knickers, and the feathers that project out from around their heads do look a bit like quill pens. Secretary birds live in sub-Saharan Africa, and, as they are birds of prey, they hunt small mammals and reptiles in the long grasses of the African steppe.

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Hamadryas Baboon

Sitting familia of sacred baboon
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Once considered sacred by the ancient Egyptians, hamadryas baboons are big, tough apes. They live in troops of several hundred, which helps to protect them from predators. If you come face to face with a hamadryas baboon, you may be surprised by their behavior as they yawn in your face to show their sharp canine teeth, smack their lips, or stare you straight in the eye. These behaviors are threats, so it's best to get out of their way quickly.

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Jerboa, a small steppe-dwelling rodent

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Jerboas are small rodents about the size of a fist. These amazing creatures can leap several feet vertically and horizontally, and move in a zigzag pattern to avoid predators. Amazingly, they get all of their water from the insects and plants. There are 33 species of jerboa; the most famous is a desert dweller with enormous ears, sometimes called the desert rat.

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Burrowing Owl

Burrowing owl
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Several species of birds take over other creatures' homes. But what makes burrowing owls unique is they live in holes in the ground. These clever creatures spread their scat around the outside of their burrows to attract small rodents and insects for their meals. Burrowing owls are small, and the males and females are about the same size; because they're so diminutive, they can easily become prey for bigger owls as well as mammals like coyotes.

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Northern Lynx

Northern Lynx

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The beautiful northern lynx is a powerful feline with pointed tufted ears. They're only about the size of a golden retriever, weighing in at no more than 65 pounds. The northern lynx is a native of the Asian steppes, but can also be found in Canada, the United States, and even Europe. If you're lucky enough to spot one, you may observe them leaping up to seven feet into the air to catch birds, or using their broad paws as snowshoes when they go hunting in winter. Northern lynx are highly prized for their fur, and, as a result, their numbers are dwindling.

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Screaming Hairy Armadillo

Screaming hairy armadillo

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Yes, these small armadillos really are hairy. And they really do emit a shrill scream when they're frightened and angry! Like other armadillos, they are covered by hard plates, or bands, many of which can move. They prefer living on their own, digging cone-shaped burrows using only their hind feet.

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Houbara Bustard

Houbara Bustard

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This chicken-sized, flightless bird has a great name and some beautiful plumage, but that doesn't explain why it's made headlines. The houbara bustard is native to the steppes in Pakistan, where princes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates journey just to hunt it. In recent years, though, conservationists have succeeded in limiting hunting and helping the houbara bustard population to grow.

View Article Sources
  1. "Giant Anteater." San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.