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A Bounty of Life

Over its 514,000 square miles, Thailand spans widely varying geological and climactic zones, from the temperate regions of the north to the islands of the south. In these zones live more than 10 percent of the world's animals. In fact, Thailand is home to more than 285 mammal species, 925 species of birds -- 300 more bird species than are found throughout all of Europe -- and thousands of flowering plants. Given the nation's astounding biodiversity, it is not an overstatement to call Thailand the jewel of the orient.

Animals of Thailand
White-Handed Gibbon (Hylobates lar)

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GibbonIf you're walking through a Thai jungle, you're likely to hear a white-handed gibbon before you see it. These gibbons are singers par excellence, and use their elaborate songs to define personal territory. Their songs begin with the rising of the sun, when males sing a series of short, sharp songs. In turn, these are repeated and expounded upon by females. Together, each mating pair distinguishes its own space to would-be intruders. The white-handed gibbon has evolved into two shades, blond and black, and interestingly, lacks a tail. But lacking a tail does little to stop the gibbon from swinging acrobatically from tree branch to tree branch, feeding on a variety of fruits (including figs, its favorite).

Binturong (Arctictis binturong)

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BinturongRelaxing on tree branches is the binturong's favorite daytime activity -- understandable, since the animal is nocturnal. Also known as the "bear cat," the binturong has an unusual adaptation for a carnivore: a tail with a prehensile tip. The tail allows the binturong to balance itself while resting in or climbing trees. The binturong's diet includes insects, rodents, small birds, fish and fruit. Females of the species tend to be larger -- as much as 20 percent larger -- than their male counterparts.

Dusky langurs (Presbytis obscura) 

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Dusky LangursDusky langurs, or "leaf monkeys," thrive on the forest's almost endless supply of nourishment. Unlike other more solitary primates like the gibbon, langurs are most comfortable in larger groups. Communal living affords many benefits, including grooming, which frees langurs from ticks and fleas, and reinforces family ties between each member of the langur troop.

Tiger (Panthera tigris)

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TigerThere are so few tigers left in Thailand -- only around 500 -- that many Thai natives are unaware of their presence in-country. Moreover, tigers lie low during the daytime, keeping them out of sight of men and animals alike. But with nightfall, the tiger emerges, and quickly lives up to its reputation as one of Thailand's fiercest predators. The tiger has superb night vision -- some six times more proficient than man's. Combined with its striped coat, which is difficult for prey to see at night, the tiger is a lethal hunter.

Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas)

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Atlas MothLike all of its kind, the Atlas moth begins life as a caterpillar. By the time it starts to spin its cocoon, the Atlas caterpillar is more than five inches long, and only a few weeks away from its dramatic end. Whether male or female, the transformation from caterpillar to moth is a fatal one for every Atlas. When the Atlas moth emerges from its cocoon, it's an awesome sight, with beautiful ruby colored wings that span nearly a foot. But the Atlas' beauty belies a more sober reality. The Atlas moth, unlike the caterpillar, has no stomach, and from the moment of its birth, it has only a day to live. During that day, the female moth exudes a pheromone into the air. Even from miles away, the male Atlas' sensitive antennae detect the scent, and guide the male to the female. Pairs of Atlases mate, and then, with hours, they die.

Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio)

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Purple Swamphen Within a few hours of hatching, purple swamphen chicks are active, already grooming themselves. For their first few weeks of existence, they rely on their parents for food, but after that, the reliant swamphen is ready to begin life on its own. Readily distinguishable by its large size and heavy build, the swamphen resides in marshes and lakes, where it lives among leaves and stems.

Mudskipper (Buliothalmis sp.)

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MudskipperThailand's exotic inhabitants include the mudskipper, a fish capable of walking on land. With the outgoing tide, mudskippers travel out onto exposed mudflats, eager to stake out their own patch of territory. Good mud is a bounty for a mudskipper. From the mud, the mudskipper filters algae and other nutrients. Areas that are rich in food are highly prized, and protecting them can lead to conflicts. When mudskippers face off against one another, they raise their dorsal fins and swell up their bodies. Battles are short, with the loser departing, defeated until the next tide.

Bubble Crab (Scopimera sp.)

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Bubble CrabIn a visible daily cycle, bubble crabs emerge by the thousands from their burrows in the beach. They are barely the size of a human fingernail. With a practiced sense of purpose, they gather grains of sand and work them through their mouths, gleaning off the film of algae and microbes that coat each sand grain's surface. The nutrition gained from each mouthful is minute, but through the course of the day, a crab will move thousands of sand grains, which it forms into perfect spheres.

Macaque (Macaca fascicularis)

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MacaqueWhat belongs in the forest but has adapted to the beach? Thailand's long-tailed macaque, of course. Dwellers on Thai islands, the macaque is the only large animal that forages on the shore. These macaques range through the shallows in communal groups, numbering from 20 to 60 individuals. While females remain with the group into which they are born, male macaques tend to move between groups. Macaques are intelligent, and will use tools -- such as a sharp rock -- to break barnacles from rocks. They also enjoy shellfish and crab.

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