New York critters: facts and figures

All you need to know about pet laws, zoo toys, taxidermy and-of course-the gay penguins.



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The 2006 Central Park BioBlitz, an inventory of the park’s organisms, discovered 43 bird species, 117 invertebrates (including leeches, red mites and tadpole snails), nine reptiles and amphibians (bullfrog, snapping turtle), five species of freshwater fish (goldfish, koi, largemouth bass) and 11 species of mammals (humans, house cats, Norway rats).


Among the animals banned as pets in NYC: dingo, otter, skunk, badger, tiger, lion, leopard, puma, Burmese python, yellow anaconda, white-throated monitor, Komodo dragon, aardwolf and—sorry X-Men ans—wolverine.

It is said that when Henry Hudson discovered Manhattan in 1609, it was populated by black bears, wolves, elk and mountain lions.


The barnacle has the largest penis of any animal, relative to its size. It’s about ten times its body height. Barnacles (and their massive members) can be seen on all NYC bridges, and during low tide in the New York Harbor.

The Department of Health estimates that there are 500,000 dogs in New York City— that’s one dog for every 16 New Yorkers.

Bizarre consumable Chinatown offerings include sea cucumbers, sea horses, lizards, deer musk glands, swallows’ nests, antlers, crocodile-bile pills and rhino-skin vitamins.

Taxidermists are a dying breed in New York City; there are fewer than half a dozen listed in the phone book. According to John Youngaitis, owner of the Cypress Hills Taxidermy Studio in Brooklyn, it takes one day to remove an animal’s skin, two to three weeks to tan it, another week to build an artificial body and wrap the skin around it and up to a month to dry. Once the specimen is dry, it takes another day to glue on facial details like the teeth and eyes.

This past June, in observance of the holy month of Saga Dawa, Tibetan monks pooled


to buy live crabs, clams, snails and lobsters from local fish markets. They released them into the Hudson as part of a religious rite.

Empire State Building

On September 11, 1948, the sky above Manhattan turned dark as hundreds of birds flew straight into the Empire State Building. Some died instantly; others sustained massive injuries. A dozen different species were later identified among the fallen, who’d been blinded by a fog. The New York Times’ front-page headline read

Tiny Bodies Litter 5th Ave



There are


species of bees living in New York City, including the honeybee. The giant Asian resin bee, one of the newest emigrants, is conspicuous due to its bulbous figure.

Seals are now common winter residents of New York Harbor and western Long Island Sound.


The most popular items in the Bronx Zoo gift shop are the plush langur and mandrill monkeys with Velcro hands. The store sells between 8,000 and 10,000 of them annually.


When Wendell and Cass, male penguins at the New York Aquarium, were spotted mating, zookeepers set up a hutch exclusively for the two lovebirds. They remained monogamous until Cass passed away in 2004, leaving Roy and Silo, the Central Park Zoo’s gay penguins, to carry the rainbow flag.


Park Slope’s Chiles & Chocolate (54 Seventh Ave between Lincoln and St. Johns Pls) charges $1 extra for


small grasshoppers to be mixed into your guacamole.

Polar bear

The headquarters for the Explorers Club features a stuffed polar bear, cheetah and emperor penguin. Honorary president Jim Fowler, once the host of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, presents unusual animals every year at the infamous Explorers Club Dinner in the Waldorf-Astoria’s grand ballroom. In recent years, he’s brought in a llama, a snow leopard, chinstrap penguins and two brown-bear cubs. And club members still talk about the time he made an entrance on camelback.

An escaped rodeo bull charged through the streets of Queens in 1999. It was eventually cornered and shot by police in a Long Island City parking lot.

New York City has more live-poultry markets than anywhere else in the Northeast. As of June 2007, Bronx County had 20 storefront bird-slaughter facilities, Kings County had 28, Queens had 27 and Manhattan had six. The world’s leading bird flu expert, Robert Webster, has urged that all live-bird markets be shut down to help prevent future human flu pandemics.

In 2006, the NYC Center for Animal Care and Control rescued 3,342 animals (excluding cats and dogs); some were surrendered, some were removed from private residences, and some were picked up on the streets. Intakes included 311 chickens, 200 opossums, 194 hamsters, 60 bats, 35 iguanas, 16 skunks, five goats, four alligators, three deer, two ravens and one beaver.

Bald eagle

There are about


species of birds in New York City, including ospreys, snow geese, bald eagles, Eastern screech owls, ruby-throated hummingbirds and Tennessee warblers.

Zebra-striped Indo-Pacific lionfish

There are poisonous, zebra-striped Indo-Pacific lionfish off the south shore of Long Island, and likely in the waters off of Brooklyn and Queens.

Northern snakehead fish

Northern snakehead fish, each one a compact killing machine with rows of sharp teeth, are considered a delicacy in Chinese and Korean cuisines. Live snakeheads were banned in New York in 2004, but in July, biologists discovered four snakeheads—one of them 28 inches long—in Meadow Lake in Queens’ Flushing Meadows–Corona Park.


The NYC Chihuahua group on is the largest such club in the nation. It has



The human is the most dangerous animal in New York City. According to the New York Police Department, it has been responsible for more than 300 murders this year alone. Another fun fact: Approximately 1,600 humans are bitten by other humans annually in New York City.

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