Friday, February 13, 2015

8 Animal Species That Show Love and Appreciation

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  Love is blossoming and flirtation is in the air as couples pair up for the occasion. Of course, Little Critterz wants to celebrate and acknowledge how our fellow animals can also be chivalrous and romantic creatures.  Here is a list of 8 adorable love connections between animals within a species.  

Image Credit: Brian Whipple
Hey fellas, you know when you’re arm wrestling with that special girl and you let her pin you down even though you felt like you could have easily won? Well that was very cute of you, but it’s even cuter when puppies do it!  In a study done by the University of Michigan, it was observed that when playing with female puppies, male puppies will often let them win, even if they have a physical advantage.  Scientists studied puppy litters from four dog breeds: a shepherd mix, Labrador retriever, Doberman pincher and malamute.  The puppies were seen to lick the muzzles of their opponents, giving the female a chance to bite them in a vulnerable position.  Now that’s what Little Critterz calls a true gentleman!  

Image Credit:
Gentoo Penguins
Humans extend flowers or candy when wooing a lady, especially around Valentine’s Day.  Male penguins follow similar protocol when they’ve found that special female penguin and hope to make a companion.  Male gentoo penguins search through piles of pebbles to find the smoothest and most elegant rock to propose to his intended with.  Once the pebble is presented, if the female penguin decides to accept the proposal, she puts the stone in her nest, and the two become lifetime partners...well on their way to making baby penguins.  This courtship is so important to penguins, males often fight over pebbles in order to get the prettiest selection.  Maybe this Valentine’s Day, a pristine pebble will make the perfect gift for your partner! (But guys, better buy some backup roses, just in case.) Maybe this Valentine’s Day, a pristine pebble will make the perfect gift for your partner! Or perhaps another gift that’s a bit more personal and out of the box than chocolates and flowers.

Image Credit: Georgina Gomez
When finding a perfect mate, our friend the seahorse engages in a romantic tango with their true love.  Studies show that male and female seahorses will court for up to several days, during which they take part in an elegant dance. Talk about taking it slow!  They will be seen swimming side by side at the same pace in order to mirror the movement of the other, in sync.  Once paired up with their lifetime mate, seahorses will hold tails when swimming.  

Atlantic Puffins
Atlantic puffins also known as “clowns of the sea” due to their large, brightly colored beaks, are another avian species that choose monogamous, lifetime partners.  Their beautifully colored beaks become bright orange with a patch of blue bordered by yellow at the rear during breeding season.  These bright orange bill plates grow larger before breeding season and then shed afterward.  Once a male and female atlantic puffin pair up, the match is solidified in a sweet kissing like behavior called billing, wherein the pair rub their beaks together. This display will usually draw a crowd of puffins to share in the excitement.  


Great Horned Owl
The great horned owl is another animal that uses song to seek out a lifetime mate.  Males make a high-pitched hooting sound with their throats to attract the attention of female owls.  Females will hoot back to the sound they enjoy the most, to solidify the bond.  They then proceed to bow to each other with dropped wings, rub beaks in a kissing like motion, and clean each others’ beaks with their tongues.  Maybe you will be lucky enough to get a wet kiss like this one from your love this Valentine’s Day!

If the men out there really want to make their ladies happy this Valentines Day, why not serenade them with love songs like crickets do?  Sure, we all know that crickets chirp.  We have heard them singing away in the wee hours of the night.  But they have a calling song for attracting females and a unique chirp for when they have singled out a female that they want to mate with.  The male cricket makes these sounds by rubbing his wings together.  This is the most common song you will hear on a summer night (for attracting females).  The females hear the songs from their legs, which is where their ears are located, and they respond to the song they like the best.  If you like to serenade your woman, sing her a song while presenting a Little Critterz cricket and she surely won’t resist your love!

Image Credit:
Sea Otters
Sea otters may seem like independent creatures of the sea, but they actually are very friendly and sociable.  Sea otters often eat, rest, and sleep together while floating in groups called rafts. A raft may have a few sea otters, or hundreds!  Two otters of the same raft will hold hands while they sleep, so they won’t drift apart from each other.  This isn’t necessarily a mating ritual, but it does show the friendly and sweet manner otters express toward their male or female companions. Valentine’s Day is, after all, about showing love and appreciation to all the important people in your life.

Polar Bears
Polar Bears are known to be solitary creatures except for when the mating process begins during the spring.  In this mating ritual, the males take charge of courting the females by aggressively fighting with each other for the right to mate with a female.  Males tend to get one female in their mind to mate with and will fight all others that want to be with her. Males have been known to go more than 100 miles to mate with a female that they have picked up the scent of.  These fights between males are extremely aggressive and can last for hours.  They often result in torn skin, broken teeth, and plenty of scars for all involved.  When these tough guys find their lady bear, they aren’t messin’ around!
Now that you know 8 of our favorite love rituals between animals, hopefully you feel the love in the air and are inspired to do something special with your special someone.  Think about which courtship or romantic ritual fits your style? What would communicate your feelings best? Send your love with a Little Critter of one of these animals and tell your partner about the unique manner your animals shows its eternal love!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Chinese New Year 2015│Year of the Goat: Embrace Energy, Creativity and Harmony

Chinese New Year 2015
Another new year is upon us. Chinese New Year 2015 is celebrated on February 19 as it coincides with the lunar calendar. 2015 is the year of the sheep, goat, and ram.

The Meaning of the Green Wooden Sheep
According to Chinese astrology, 2015 is the Year of the Green Wooden Sheep, and with this comes prospects for the new year. Understanding the significance and meaning of the green wooden sheep will be important in order to embrace the most benefits out of the upcoming year. In Chinese astrology, the sheep brings positive energy and creativity, while the color green represents harmony and nature, and the element of wood reinforces positive energy, good fortune, and creativity for the year 2015. The New Year is predicted to be lucky and highly prosperous for those who embrace it.

Embracing the Year of the Green Wooden Sheep
Each year brings opportunities to connect with unique aspects of Chinese astrology. Cultivating the year of the green wooden sheep will allow you to take advantage of the benefits the new year has to offer. Here are some tips on how you can embrace the green wooden sheep in your home and your life.

How to Decorate
How you decorate your home this year is going to be very important in harnessing the positive energy of the New Year. In Chinese astrology, the sheep appreciates quality, but has no interest in luxury. The sheep is happy with simplicity. Think about ways to declutter living areas. The green wooden sheep symbolizes nature, trying to add more greenery and plants to your home is a great way to cultivate this energy. Include wood and wool is another great way to embrace the New Year. Use these elements to create a warm and peaceful atmosphere in your home in 2015. Zodiac animals are often displayed in many areas of the home during the year. Don’t be afraid to add sheep figurines and symbols around your house.

How to Dress
As mentioned above, the sheep appreciates quality, but does not care about the price tag. Dress well by inquiring about materials and manufacturing, rather than price tag. Focus on adding a creative touch and personal style to your ensembles. Of course, shades of green are preferred in the clothes that you wear. If you can wear an item that was handmade such as a scarf, sweater, or hat you knitted yourself, you will be sure to feel the sheep’s positive, creative energy!

What to Eat
Sheep are plant eaters. They love to eat slowly and enjoy each bite of food. Eating green vegetables this year is an absolute must! Also, serving vegetarian dishes on Chinese New Year’s Eve is recommended to welcome in the green wooden sheep. We’re not saying avoid meat entirely, but this year is a particularly good year to explore meatless meals

What to Do
In the Chinese New Year, make an effort to bring your friends and family close together avoiding any conflicts. The sheep is a passive yet attentive sign, so give attention to others by listening to them and reserving judgements whenever possible. Try to be open to different ways of thinking and reasoning to better understand those around you. The green wooden sheep will increase the effect of any efforts in this direction!

Chinese New Year
Also known as Spring Festival, the Chinese festival marks the start of the new year, beginning on the second new moon after the winter solstice and ending on the full moon fifteen days later. It is celebrated by visits to family and friends, special meals, fireworks, and of course, gift giving. Chinese New Year is the most important celebration in the Chinese culture. It is also the longest celebrated holiday in Chinese culture!

How Chinese Culture Traditionally Celebrates Chinese New Year
Putting up decorations is a vital part of preparing and celebrating the Chinese New Year. Because it is the year of the green wooden sheep, many houses will be decorated with images of sheep to bring in luck for the New Year. Many houses celebrating Chinese New Year will have images of gods on their front door as a prayer for blessings, longevity, health, and peace. Door God Images are always seen holding weapons as if ready to fight because in China they represent righteousness and power.

Putting up Spring couplets or New Year Couplets around the house is another way to decorate for the New Year. Spring couplets are paired phrases, usually seven Chinese characters each, written on red paper in black ink and pasted on each side of a door frame. Pasting Spring couplets on your front door is said to bring best wishes for the New Year and ward off evil spirits from your home.

New Year paintings are put up within the house to bring in best wishes while creating a prosperous atmosphere. These paintings traditionally include flowers, birds, ripe fruit, treasure and the current Chinese zodiac animal.

The New Year’s Eve feast is an extremely important part of ringing in the New Year. This dinner is celebrated the night before New Year’s with all of the family members together. People in different parts of China eat different dishes at this meal, but most commonly families will prepare dumplings.

The Chinese officially ring in the New Year with the sound of loud bells that start ringing at midnight. People will gather in large squares or temples where huge bells are rung on New Year’s Eve. The Chinese culture believes that this tradition of ringing the bells wards off bad spirits and brings good luck with the start of the New Year.

Chinese New Year’s Day
In Chinese culture, how one celebrates the first day of the lunar calendar determines their fortune for the entire year. There are a few different ways to celebrate the New Year that can affect your luck in the coming year! Similar to celebrating The New Year in the United States, as soon as the clock strikes midnight the sky is populated with fireworks and firecrackers. This is one of the most important parts of celebrating Chinese New Year in China. Cities and towns are lit up with the bursting of lights from various firecrackers as a show for everyone to enjoy.

On the first day of the New Year, people greet each other with good wishes for the incoming year by saying “Gongxi”, literally translated to respectful joy. It is custom for family members to greet each other and others with this term of good luck. In recent years, it has been more common for the younger Chinese generation to send Gongxi in a text message or Ecard in addition to visiting friends and family on the first day of the New Year.

In China, lion dances and dragon dances are another popular celebratory event that can be seen on the first day of the New Year. This dance is performed by a group of dancers that manipulate a long and flexible figure of a dragon with poles positioned at different points of the dragon costume. Dragons are a symbol of China, and they are believed to bring good luck, therefore the longer the dragon in the dance, the more luck it will bring to the New Year.

Common Gifts for Chinese New Year
Gift giving is a huge part of celebrating Chinese New Year. Each gift given by a family member brings the potential of good fortune and happiness for the New Year. Here are some traditional gifts that you can give to your family members to wish them luck and fortune in the year of the green wooden sheep!

1.  Chinese lanterns are a common gift given by Chinese family members and friends. These red lanterns come with gold pictures of the Chinese calendar animals. Since it is the year of the green wooden sheep, a fabulous gift for your loved ones would be a red lantern with the image of a gold sheep painted on it.

2.  Chinese abundance hangers are another popular gift for this special occasion that includes symbols such as a gourd or a lotus flower. Each symbol has a unique significance, for instance the Chinese consider the gourd to be a symbol of longevity that protects one from negative energy and bad spirits, while the lotus symbolizes the ability to rise up from even the darkest of moments. These hangers make a perfect gift for anyone that needs uplifting positive energy.

3.  Get your loved ones a porcelain figurine of their unique Chinese zodiac animal. Whether they are the year of the sheep, monkey, snake, dog, pig, rat, ox, rooster, horse, snake, tiger, rabbit, or dragon, Little Critterz has a special figurine for each Chinese zodiac sign! Spark their interest in Chinese New Year and give them an insight about themselves!

4.  One of the most common gifts for an elder to give their child/grandchild is a red and gold envelope of money. This tradition is called Lai See. The envelopes that hold the money are always red and gold because in Chinese culture these colors represent prosperity and good luck.

5.  This Chinese New Year give your loved ones a beautiful piece of Chinese jewelry like a silver longevity pendant. If you are aware of your loved ones zodiac animal, give them a necklace with a pendant of their specific sign.

6.  One of the Chinese New Year gifts that your dear ones will appreciate is a basket of fresh flowers that represent rebirth and new growth. Some of the flowers you can choose are peonies, azaleas and narcissus.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Fair Trade Chocolate: The Sustainable Gift for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and it’s safe to say that couples everywhere will be showering each other with jewelryflowers, and especially; chocolate gifts. But have you ever stopped to think about where your chocolate is coming from? Or what kind of impact its production has on the environment?

You could buy chocolate from a major corporation without any sustainability measures in place despite their large profit and buying power. Or you can choose chocolate that supports farmers and communities, is grown sustainably, and doesn’t use child labor in production. This alternative is fair trade chocolate or organic chocolate.

What is Fair Trade?

Fair trade chocolate, coffee or other products is a trading partnership that seeks greater equity in international trade, by ensuring more money from the sale of these good reaches the hands of the farmers and their communities. Fair trade helps build sustainable businesses in developing countries that positively influence the community.

To earn a license from Fair Trade USA to use the Fair Trade Certified™ label on their products, companies must buy from certified farms and organizations, pay Fair Trade prices and premiums and submit to a rigorous supply chain audits. This process entails a high level of transparency and traceability in their global supply chains. If chocolate is certified as fair trade, it signifies that the nonprofit agency TransFairUSA has traveled to the producer site at least once per year to guarantee that farmers are working in healthy and environmentally sustainable conditions.

These rigorous standards of quality ensure delicious chocolate and coffee as well as additional benefits to buying fair trade products:
  • Consumers who purchase fair trade goods support the farmers and producers who are struggling to improve their lives. 
  • You are also supporting the environment when purchasing fair trade products. Fair trade rewards and encourages farming and production practices that are environmentally sustainable. 
  • Producers are also encouraged to strive toward organic certification. (remove sources from post and have all sources linked at the end)
  • Shoppers can buy products in line with their values and principles. 
  • They can choose from an ever growing range of ethical and delicious quality products. 

Fair Trade Chocolate vs Organic Chocolate

Fair trade chocolate and organic chocolate are not the same.

Fair trade chocolate is produced using ethical harvest practices that don’t negatively impact the environment and wildlife.

Organic chocolate is made only from ingredients that were produced without the use of pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. The use of these harsh, toxic chemicals used on or near edible plants is of concern to many people because they end up on our dinner plates. Food that is labeled as organic does not contain any of these toxic pesticides.

Wonderful news is most organic chocolate and fair trade chocolate really go hand in hand! You will find that many organic products are also fair trade products and vice versa. In fact, most organic chocolate manufacturers ensure that they only buy from fair trade producers.

Dangers of Traditional Cacao Farming

Cacao farming that isn’t regulated has a negative impact on our environment and wildlife. According to non-profit organization Green America, when farmers are in economic crisis, they are forced to increase productivity regardless of the environmental impact.

This often means cutting down trees on their land to make as much room as possible for planting more cocoa plants. Trees provide critical wildlife habitat and prevent soil erosion, so when they are removed from the land many wildlife habitats are destroyed and the plant species diversity is drastically reduced. Our wildlife and environment are such valuable parts of the Earth. This Valentine’s Day make sure you support the environment and explore fair trade chocolate and organic chocolate options.

Child labor is another tragic concern about buying chocolate that isn’t fair trade certified. According to the International Labor Organization, over 284,000 children work in hazardous tasks on West African cocoa farms. This includes using a machete or applying pesticides unprotected. 66% of children working on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast don’t attend school. Some farms even use child slave labor (See CNN Freedom Project).

However, if you’re buying fair trade chocolate, farmers are required to be paid a living wage. The Fair Trade certification on chocolate also prohibits abusive child labor. Plus, monies from the sales of these good feeds back into the community to support programs like education and clean water.

What To Look For

There are several seals of approval to look out for.

Fair Trade Logo, fair trade federation, equal exchange logo, fair for life, USDA organic certified, or look to see if the product says Kuapa Kokoo, a fair trade cooperative.

Fortunately, the market for fair trade chocolate and organic chocolate is gaining momentum! You can find fair trade chocolate at many large grocery stores, neighborhood boutique stores and even Amazon!

When you’re shopping for chocolate for that special someone, make sure it has one of the seals of approval, so you know its production was regulated and you can feel good about the gift you will be giving. The FAIRTRADE Certification Mark on a product provides consumers with the assurance that fair trade cocoa producers are regularly audited against the strict child labour standards that prohibit the worst form of child labour. Not only is Fair Trade almost certainly your best option when it comes to buying chocolate that is slavery-free and environmentally sustainable, it also provides the best guarantee that a significant portion of the money you spend will go towards improving the communities in impoverished countries where the cocoa was produced.

Fair Trade Chocolate and Organic Chocolate Retailers

To make buying fair trade chocolate and organic chocolate easy for you this holiday, here are some of Little Critterz favorite online retailers that sell FAIRTRADE certified chocolate and organic chocolate.

Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Company
Camino Cocoa
Deans Beans
Divine Bars (Day Chocolate Co.')
El Rey
Equal Exchange
Frontier Cooperative
Seventy %,
Shaman Chocolates
Terra Nostra Organic
Theo Chocolate
Endangered Species
Nirvana Chocolates

There are also many options for buying fair trade chocolate and organic chocolate in-person.
Eating Evolved
Whole Foods Private Label (365 Organic Chocolate, Whole Kids Organic')
Green and Black's
Health by Chocolate
Amano Fair Trade
Clif Bar
Trader Joe's
Dagoba Organic Chocolate
San Francisco Chocolate Factory

Image from
A Sustainable Choice

This Valentine’s Day Little Critterz encourages that you show your love for that special someone as well as for the environment and wildlife within it. By looking for fair trade chocolate, you are making a difference in the lives of the people who grow the food you eat and products you use, their communities and the animals in their habitat. We challenge you this Valentine’s Day to opt for fair trade chocolate or organic chocolate.

Equal Exchange
Green America
Fairtrade International
Fair Trade USA
Vision UCSD