How long does it take for baby animals to grow up? In this episode, we're learning about cheetahs and horses with two questions from siblings in Australia.
11-year-old Jamari wants to know how long it takes for a cheetah to go from a cute little fluffball to a fully-grown cheetah that can hunt for itself? Our answer comes from Dr. Adrienne Crosier, cheetah biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. The Institute focuses on the survival of endangered species, like the cheetah. Since, 2010, they have had nine cheetah litters born, totaling 34 cubs, 26 of whom have survived.
"Gestation, or the length of time that a cheetah female is pregnant, is just about three months. The average is 92 days. In the wild, cheetah moms will give birth in a nest they have made in tall grass, or somewhere safe where the cubs can be hidden really well. At the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, they usually give birth in one of the dens that we provide for them. Sometimes, they do give birth outside, as long as it's not too cold."
"Cheetah cubs are very gray in color when they are born, and it's very hard to see their spots until they are a few months old. Their eyes and ears are not open when they are born and they only weigh about one pound. Cheetah cubs have claws when they are born, but they do not have teeth right away. The cubs make a lot of different noises. They purr just like your cat at home, and they also chirp, which is a high pitched call used to locate each other. So the cubs will chirp to each other and they will also chirp back and forth with mom.
"The cubs will nurse for three to four months, but they will actually start eating meat a five to six weeks. Cubs are able to walk when they are just a few weeks old. They will start running around when they are three to four weeks of age."
"In the wild, the cubs will learn how to hunt from mom. She starts teaching them this when they are about six months old. The cubs leave mom when they are about two years old and at that point, they are able to hunt for themselves."
"All of the brothers in a litter will stay together for life in what we call a coalition. They will hunt together and stay together in a tightly bonded group. Females live alone as adults unless they have cubs. Females will have their first litter in the wild at about three years of age."
--Dr. Adrienne Crosier, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.
For an answer to this question, we turned to the University of Vermont Morgan Horse Farm. Morgans are a breed of horse that is native to the northeastern United States. Steve Davis is the director of the UVM Morgan Horse Farm in Weybridge, Vermont.
"These animals are referred to as fillies, a juvenile female, until they are three years of age or they become pregnant and have a foal of their own, and then they would be called a mare."
"Birthings are quick. So, usually within 45 minutes the hard labor has started and the foal hits the ground. Within the hour a typical foal is on their feet. They are pretty wobbly at first, and so mares try to be secluded. If they are in a pasture with others, they try to go off by themselves. In that first couple hours, when that foal gets its first milk, and they get their wobblies out of their long-legged systems, they can motivate and get away from predators.
"For the first few weeks, foals are strictly on milk and they nurse probably every hour or so. The mare's milk is very rich in nutrients. Very quickly, they'll start eating grass, or hay and grain, at a month of age. As they develop, they'll start getting supplemented with grain.
"Our animals are weaned at four to six months of age. Then they are referred to as weanlings. After the first of the year, they are considered yearlings." At three years old they become stallions or mares, whether they are males or females. Juvenile females are called fillies, and juvenile males are colts.
- Steve Davis, director of the UVM Morgan Horse Farm