Lunar New Year is a celebration of the first day of the first month in the lunisolar calendar. The tradition, believed to have started as early as 2300 BC, is based on a 12-year-long cycle, with each year in the cycle corresponding to a particular zodiac animal sign: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog or pig.
This year is the Year of the Rooster.
Many legends surround the origins of the zodiac animals. The most commonly told story involves the Jade Emperor. He decreed that the first 12 animals in the universe to complete a race would be chosen as calendar signs, and the order in which they finished the race would determine the order of the zodiac. The rat, who placed first, is believed to have won the race by hitching a ride on the ox's back.
In honour of Lunar New Year, here are 12 facts about the zodiac animals:
1. Sumatran bamboo rats can weigh as much as a domestic cat.
2. To protect their young, muskoxen form rings around them, with their horns facing out towards predators.
3. Tigers are the world's largest wild feline, weighing up to 363 kilograms and measuring up to 3.3 metres.
4. A snowshoe hare's (rabbit's) white winter fur turns brown as the snow melts each spring.
5. A Komodo dragon bite can kill an animal within 24 hours. Their toxic saliva contains more than 50 bacterial strains.
6. Common garter snakes, Canada's most widespread snake, give birth to live young.
7. The only truly wild horse is Przewalski's horse, a species not descended from domesticated horses.
8. At 14 kilograms, the horns of a male Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are heavier than the combined mass of its bones.
9. Golden snub-nosed monkeys inhabit higher altitudes than any other primate species, besides humans.
10. To attract mates, roosters do a dance called "tidbitting," which involves making noises and moving their heads up and down.
11. The hunting success rate of the African wild dog is higher than a lion's.
12. Female wild boars (pigs) can have two litters per year, with six or more offspring per litter.
This post originally appeared on the Nature Conservancy of Canada's blog, Land Lines.
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