The Olympics are almost here! While human Olympians have amazing physical abilities, for wild animals, strength, speed, agility and endurance mean more than medals. These skills are a matter of survival. The National Wildlife Federation identifies these animal Olympians with gold medal-worthy abilities.
High-Jump Stars: The champion of the animal world may be the spittle bug. This insect is only as long as a pencil eraser but it can jump 115 times higher than its body length. That would be like a person leaping over a 70-story skyscraper.
Going the Distance: Chinook salmon may travel more than 2,000 miles as they swim inland from the sea and head up the rivers and streams where they hatched. That’s roughly the distance between Detroit and Los Angeles. Then there is the Arctic tern, a bird with the longest migration, traveling from the Arctic all the way to the Antarctic, and back again, each year. They literally migrate from one end of the planet to the other, 50,000 miles in total! The sooty shearwater would take the silver medal with a migrating journey beginning in New Zealand and ending in the North Pacific, 40,000 miles round-trip annually. The Pacific gray whale can only hope for the bronze. It’s the longest migrating mammal, traveling a round-trip journey of 12,000 miles
Broad-Jump Winners: What animal takes the prize among the best leapers? Most scientists agree: it’s the tiny southern cricket frog, a tree frog living on the ground in many southeastern states. It’s only about an inch long but can jump 62 times its body length.
Diving Specialists: The sperm whale can dive deeper in the ocean than any other animal, heading down at least a mile or more. Their breathing and blood-circulation systems are made for this, since they have much more oxygen in their muscles than we do and they can send more oxygen through their blood to their brains and hearts. Sperm whales can go way down and stay down for up to an hour or two without coming up for air.
Gymnasts of the Jungle: The African Bush Baby is a tiny primate and lives in the treetops. It has incredible leaping abilities. As it prowls the tropical forests at night looking for fruits and insects to devour, bush babies can make leaps of 20 feet or more, which is many times their own body length. They are great jumpers and acrobats, too, as they move in complete silence and can see in almost absolute darkness with the help of their huge eyes.
Run, Run, Fast as You Can: The fastest animal on land is the cheetah, which can run at speeds more than 60 miles per hour. But even that doesn’t always ensure that this big cat gets a meal. The gazelles and other small antelope that are the cheetah’s main prey are not as fast as the cat, but they have greater endurance and agility in a high-speed chase and often escape the spotted speedster. The silver medal would go to the pronghorn, the second-fastest land animal with a top speed that almost matches the cheetah’s.
Fast Swimmers: The killer whale or orca can swim up to 30 or 40 miles an hour. But it usually cruises at much slower speeds, between 2 to 6 miles an hour. The gentoo penguin can’t fly in the air like other birds, but it can fly through the water. It has a perfect shape for swimming and wings that work like paddles. It can reach a speed of 15 miles an hour, three times faster than humans.
Kids can be Olympians in their own backyard with these fun games suggested by the National Wildlife Federation’s Be Out There campaign, which is designed to get kids outside and connecting with nature.
Be A Sharp Shooter: Line up plastic cups on the edge of a table or deck railing. Let kids use water balloons or squirters to knock down as many cups as they can in 15 seconds. If it’s too easy, have the kids move further away from their targets.
Rhythmic gymnastics: Designate an area on the lawn as an arena. Give the kids plastic hoops, balls and long ribbons and let them make up their own routines. Music is essential for this event.
Running: Races can be short or long, depending on your space. If you have a crowd, relay races are not only fun but help children of different sizes and abilities work together. Low hurdles and obstacles add an additional challenge for older children.
Weight Lifting: Children can create this event with everyday objects around the house and yard. Heavy cans, like well-sealed paint cans, or light hand weights work great. See which athlete can lift the object and hold it in the air the longest.
Jumping for the Gold: A standing broad jump is simple to prepare. Create a marker for the starting line and a stick in the ground to mark finishes. Use the front of the toe or back of the heel for marking the landing foot.
Balance Beam: Lay down several 2x4s or 4x4s end to end in the yard. Let kids walk across with their eyes closed, changing direction, balancing a pillow on their head. Try a one-foot balance and creative dismount. Add music for drama.
Volleyball: Set up a low net or plain rope at the average head height of the players. Use a plastic beach ball or balloon
More ideas for outdoor fun can be found at beoutthere.org
Rachel Smilan-Goldstein, a Washington Parent intern, is a journalism student at the George Washington University.