22 Animals That Are Good for the Earth

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By Nancy Barber, Kelli Bender, Mom.com

Humans around the world will do their part to protect the environment and give back, but for animals, every day is Earth Day. Each creature has its role on this planet, with some being especially helpful to Mother Nature.


Dogs

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Canines can sniff out bacon cooking from four rooms away, so it shouldn't be too surprising their noses help them to do good. A group of dedicated pooches known as the Working Dogs for Conservation are helping humans help other animals. These specially trained dogs sniff out certain at-risk plant and animal species so researchers can carefully keep track of the population numbers for these organisms. The dogs have already helped experts track down the hard-to-find Asiatic black bear and jaguar.


Beavers

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Originally seen as pests, beavers were almost hunted to extinction in the 1800s. Luckily, the numbers have rebounded and beaver protectors are reintroducing the animals into parts of nature in need of a little regulation. The gnawing and damming behavior of beavers has many benefits to the Earth. These animals help prevent floods, droughts and forest fires. Additionally, their regulation of the waterways is a big help to fish and can deflect some of the effects of climate change. The next time you see a beaver, shake its paw and tell it to keep chewing.


Butterflies

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These winged critters are nice to look at, but their assistance to the Earth is more than superficial. Butterflies help pollinate a number of plants that depend on the bug's feeding habits to survive. Plants also benefit from butterflies, thanks to the creature's appetite for aphids. Butterflies are a big part of why this plant-eating pest stays under control. Recently, butterfly farming has been introduced to several tropical communities as an environmentally friendly business to replace other trades that lead to deforestation and pollution.


Squirrels

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Take a look at the trees around you. You can probably thank a forgetful squirrel for a few of them. Every year, countless squirrels stash their nutty food supplies throughout the yards and forests of the Earth. Quite often, the squirrels aren't able to recall everywhere they stored food, allowing nuts to take roots and grow into trees. Many kinds of trees depend on this process to stay alive and spread, since the nuts can't scurry to a new spot on their own.


Rats

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Public opinion about these rodents isn't too high, due to years of plague spreading and subway crawling, but the little guys are doing their part to protect us. Rats have been trained to sniff out landmines and bombs left forgotten in the grounds of many countries. The animals learn quickly and have an impressive success rate. Additionally, they are cheaper to use than dogs, allowing many countries dealing with landmine problems to take more action against the issue.


Llamas

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How can you not love that face? Well, here are a few more reasons to respect it! Llamas are a farm animal with a very low environmental impact. The creatures do not damage grass like many other animals, and they are known to eat invasive weed species. A new position has recently popped up on the llama job market as well: guard llamas. Farmers have found that these animals provide a great way to protect their crops and livestock from predators without harming the environment or hurting animals.


Bats

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Another feared creature that is actually helping you, the bat is all about saving the Earth. The creature of the night is an expert at slaying insects of all kinds, eating up to hundreds an hour. This appetite helps control bug populations and protect crops. Bats are also assisting in medical breakthroughs. Their saliva is used for stroke victims, while their ability to echolocate is being studied to help the blind. Bat guano, while it may be stinky, is one of the best fertilizers to keep the world flourishing.


Sharks

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The movie "Jaws" may have given sharks a bad reputation, but these predators are always helping us out. Expert say we should be thanking sharks for keeping the oceans in line. Sharks feast on weak, old and sick fish, which prevents disease from spreading among marine life. By removing competition in general from the waters, sharks help with biodiversity and bolster the gene pool. This effect trickles down to organisms like algae, which, if not controlled, could create devastating changes on Earth.


Bees

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We all know that bees sting, but they also have a sweet side. Between all the buzzing, these insects help pollinate plenty of plants, keeping our environment rich and thriving. Science has discovered that the bugs make great detectors, too. Bees have been used to locate abandoned (but active) landmines and as indicators of when toxic chemicals have been released in an area. This impressive skill will allow officials to monitor pollutants and cases of chemical warfare.


Seals and Sea Lions

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Seals and sea lions have been nice enough to lend their flippers to science. These animals are being outfitted with monitors so they can obtain data from areas of the ocean that are hard for humans to reach. The monitors, which fall off as the animals molt, have helped us understand the effects of climate change on Arctic ice, and have allowed us to predict ocean circulation patterns.


Frogs

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Frogs don't just spend their days hopping from lily pad to lily pad. They also spend a good block of time slurping down bugs. These amphibians are crucial for controlling the insect population. Researchers are also finding that frogs are a good barometer for water quality. When the animals start to suffer, it is often a sign of a serious problem that has gone unnoticed or ignored. The recent increase in frog deaths have spurred many into action in protecting the world's waters and reevaluating pesticides used near water sources.


Narwhals

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We are just lucky that these "unicorns of the sea" are real, but to make it even better, these animals have started helping us. Like seals and sea lions, a group of narwhals have been outfitted with temperature monitors. During deep dives, the narwhals are able to provide info about how cold the deep sea truly is. So far, the numbers these narwhals are bringing back are warmer than expected, which allows researchers to campaign harder for climate control.


Elephants

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Elephants are one of the most intelligent species on Earth. Not only are they capable of strong emotions, but they also play a key role in the environment. They use their tusks to dig for water during dry weather. This action provides water for other animals in their shared habitat. They also create gaps in the forest vegetation when they eat. That creates space for new plants to grow and for smaller animals to find new paths through the forest.


Birds

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It might be easier to say what birds don't do when it comes to the Earth's environment. From seed dispersal to plant pollination, they truly do it all. Birds also aide in insect pest control when they chow down on those tiny bugs and help to aerate soil when they dig with their claws. Birds also play a role in forest decomposition, and they are similar to frogs, acting as bio-indicators for the ecosystem. They play an essential role when it comes to the Earth's survival.


Ants

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Ants are crucial to the Earth's soil. Who knew, right?! The tiny but mighty insects keep our ecosystems in balance and help to clean up rainforests. When they dig their tunnels, they aerate the soil and recycle nutrients. In doing so, they provide rich, healthy soil for plant growth. Their tiny actions make a huge difference, which includes reducing the need for chemical fertilizers or irrigation.


Primates

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Primates are our closest relatives in nature. They are incredibly important in tropical rainforests. They disperse seeds as they eat fruits in the forest and fertilize the soil. Their actions help to prevent the erosion of soil in our rapidly disappearing rainforests, which in turn influence global rainfall patterns.


Boars

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Boars are normally very destructive in their environment, and while that is still true, they are also champions at seed dispersal. Their stiff, bristly fur easily catches seeds as boars work their way through forests. Researchers counted the types of seeds found in boars' fur, and the number was upwards of 40 different seed species. Boars scatter the seeds far and wide, creating high levels of plant diversity in forested areas.


Plankton

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Without plankton, there would be half the oxygen in the world that there is today. These microscopic critters stay close to the surface of the water, where there is enough light for photosynthesis. They also break down organic matter in water and recycle dead organisms. Plankton are an unbreakable link in the ocean food chain.


Whales

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Whales are doing their part to save both land and sea. Their excrement is full of nutrients. When whale expel their excrement near the surface of the water, it transfers to birds. They then carry it to land, where the nutrients are transferred to the soil, thus acting as a natural fertilizer.


Fish

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Fish excrement helps the ocean's climate. Strange, but true. Fish ingest a lot of salt when they drink salt water, and they produce calcium carbonate in their excrements. When it floats to the surface and dissolves, it counteracts the carbon dioxide. This reduces the acidity of the ocean water, thus creating more balanced chemical levels in the ocean.


Worms

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These creepy guys aren't going to be at the top of anyone's "Favorite Animal" list, but they are helpful to the Earth. As they burrow and consume soil, worms extract nutrients from decomposing matter, like leaves and roots. They transport these nutrients to the surface with their excrements, and all of that digging that they do aerates the soil.


Termites

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Termites might be destructive when it comes to your home, but the exact opposite is true when it comes to nature. Do you know all that gunk that sits around at the end of autumn? The dead leaves and compost that seems to take forever, to, well, decompose? You can thank termites for their eventual destruction. They consume decomposing plant matter, which in turn helps to recycle ecosystem energy.

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