Before It's News | People
Wild Things: the Weirdest Facts From the Animal Kingdom
Did you know that trout fake orgasms, or that frogs swallow with their eyes?
Matt Walker scours the latest zoological research to find the interesting facts:
Sex By Surrogate
A male flour beetle (Tribolium castaneum) can mate and impregnate a female he
has never met. No other animal is known to have sex by proxy in this way. Many males often mate with each female. The first
male will deposit sperm in the female, then a second will arrive and use its spiny genitalia to scrape out his competitor's
sperm, before mating itself. Much of the sperm of the first male is carried unwittingly by the second male on its genitalia.
One in eight females are fertilised by proxy.
How Was That For You?
Female brown trout (Salmo trutta) fake orgasms to encourage males to ejaculate
prematurely. By doing so, they dupe their partner into thinking it has successfully mated, before the female fish moves on
to find a better male with which to do the real thing.
Monkeys Mix Their Drinks
Given the choice of whether to have an alcoholic beverage, or something alcohol
free, around in one in 20 vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops) become instant binge drinkers, gulping down so much booze
that they eventually pass out. Around one in seven are heavy drinkers who like their spirits neat, while most are moderate
drinkers who prefer to wash down their alcohol with a little fruit juice. Just one in seven decide not to drink at all.
Bach is Best
Java sparrows (Padda oryzivora) appear to prefer the music of some composers.
Sparrows will listen longer to music by Bach than by Schoenberg, and prefer Vivaldi to Elliott Carter.
Make Me Cry
There are moths that drink the tears of elephants. Tears contain salt, water
and trace levels of protein. Mabra elephantophila steals the tears without the elephants seeming to notice. Lobocraspis griseifusa
does not wait for an animal's eyes to moisten - it sweeps its proboscis across the eye of its host, irritating the eyeball,
encouraging it to produce tears.
Give Me Blood, and Make it Fresh
Dracula ants (Adetomyrma venatrix) suck the blood of their young. Queen Dracula
ants live in Madagascar, cut holes in their own larvae and feed upon the haemolymph, or insect blood, that oozes out.
Tasted Good, I Think
The star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata) is the fastest-eating mammal in the
world, capable of wolfing down a snack of worms in 227 milliseconds. It uses 22 pink fleshy tentacles that adorn its face,
each highly sensitive to touch.
Don't Swim and Eat
European eels (Anguilla anguilla) will not eat at all during their long migration
to the Sargasso Sea.
A female hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious) can eat more food relative to
its body size than any other ruminant. Its stomach contents can make up one quarter of its total body weight.
That Floating Feeling
Seals hold their breath while sleeping on the surface of the water.
Shoot Me, See If I Care
Tardigrades, eight-legged animals that are nicknamed water bears, are the hardiest
creatures on earth. The tiny organisms, up to 1.2mm long, are capable of withstanding the most extreme environments by dehydrating
and going into a state of frozen animation. There is anecdotal evidence that some can survive being immersed in liquid helium,
just 1C above absolute zero. They can withstand being boiled in water, thrown into pure alcohol, and a pressure of 600 mega-pascals
(six times the pressure of sea-water at a depth of 10,000 metres).
One species of spider spends its life underwater. Using a dense mat of specialised
hairs that covers its body and abdomen, the water spider (Argyroneta aquatica) traps a bubble of air around its body, breathing
the trapped air.
Who Needs SATNAV?
Wandering albatrosses (Diomedea exulans) can pinpoint the specific remote island
where their nests are located after making foraging flights of several thousand kilometres of featureless ocean. They do not
rely on the earth's magnetic field, and no one knows how the birds acquire such precise and impressive navigation ability.
The cookie-cutter shark (Isistius brasiliensis) measures only 50cm in length,
yet has been recorded taking chunks out of the rubber sonar domes of nuclear submarines with its razor-sharp teeth.
Honey, They Took the Kids
Adult emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) attempt to kidnap the chicks of
another breeding pair. They forcibly wrestle the juvenile away from its parents, who try to protect the chick by fighting
back. Kidnapping often occurs when a penguin that has failed to breed sees a chick begging its parents to be fed, and interprets
the juvenile's behaviour as a cue to parent it.
A female house sparrow (Passer domesticus) will often seek out the nest of another
female that her partner has also mated with. She will then kill the first female's young, to remove the competition and ensure
that the male spends as much time as possible helping to raise her chicks.
The caterpillar of the large blue butterfly settles beneath its food plant to
await discovery by red ants (Myrmica species). By secreting hydrocarbons that mimic those made by Myrmica, the caterpillar
tricks a foraging worker into taking it into the nest, where it is placed among the ant grubs. The caterpillar then moves
to safer chambers, returning periodically to binge-feed on ant grubs.
Slavery on Six Legs
Some ant species make slaves of others. Those in the subfamily Formicinae will
go out and raid the nests of other species nearby, and steal their eggs and pupae. These are taken home, when the resulting
young are raised as slaves, having to do all the foraging, cleaning and babysitting for their masters.
Time to Bale Out
Certain species of canopy ant jump out of trees to escape being eaten. When
Cephalotes atratus is approached by a predator it throws itself into the air, orientating its body to steer into a steep glide
and head for the lower reaches of the tree trunk. On average, 85 per cent of all ants that take a leap successfully land back
on the tree.
Mussels can be voracious cannibals. At certain times of the year, up to 70 per
cent of all food eaten by the green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus) is the larvae of its own species.
Try This On For Size
Uloboridae spiders wrap their victims to death. An individual small uloborid
spider (Philoponella vicina) will weave more than 140 metres of silk to wrap a moth or beetle. It binds the silk shroud so
tight that it compresses the prey's body, breaking the insect's legs, buckling its compound eyes inwards, and often killing
it outright. Spiders of the family Uloboridae have lost their fangs, forcing them to evolve their vice-like death shroud.
In the UK alone, domestic cats kill 57 million mammals a year, 27 million birds
and 5 million reptiles and amphibians.
Stop and You Die
Swarms of Mormon crickets (Anabrus simplex), which in the United States reach
up to 10km long, keep on the move not just to find food, but to avoid being eaten by each other. If an individual stops for
any reason, it is likely to be devoured by some of the millions of its following brethren.
The Houdini Challenge
The parasitic gordian worm (Paragordius tricuspidatus) begins its life in water
before infecting the body of a larger insect host: a cricket. But the worm has a remarkable ability to survive even if its
host is eaten by a larger predator. When the cricket is eaten, and partially digested, the worm escapes by burrowing through
the body of the predator, usually a fish or amphibian, until it emerges unscathed in the water, where it continues its life
Would You Like Eyes With That?
Animals usually swallow using their tongue and throat. The northern leopard
frog (Rana pipiens) uses its eyes. To swallow food such as a small cricket, it closes its eyes and retracts its eyeball into
its body. These push into the pharynx and against the prey item, and regular retractions help force the food to the back of
The Big Cell
The yolk in an unfertilised ostrich's egg is the largest single cell found in
We're Just Downsizing
The Galapagos marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus), the only sea-going lizard,
is also the only vertebrate known to shrink in body size regularly when adult, and then to grow larger again. The iguanas
shrink up to 15 per cent in body length during El Niņo weather events, losing bone mass. The following year the iguanas grow
even larger before shrinking again.
Seeing is Believing?
Tarsiers, a primitive group of primates, have eyeballs bigger than their brains.
Can't Help the Way We Feel...
Some genetically engineered mice have have hearts that glow green every time
The wood frog (Rana sylvatica) freezes solid during the winter before thawing
out as the temperature rises in spring. The frog has a unique physiology that prevents damaging ice crystals forming within
Come Fly With Me
The elusive paradise tree snake (Chrysopelea species) is the only vertebrate
that can fly - despite having no limbs. The snake is a true glider, defined as covering a greater horizontal distance than
it falls vertically. First the tree snake leaps from a tree into the air, and adopts an S-shape, changing its body shape to
that of a biplane. Then the snake undulates its body, and while no one can be sure why it does this, the changing posture
might serve to move its centres of gravity and the flow of air pressure in a way that allows controllable flight. It can achieve
a glide angle of just 13 per cent to the horizontal (90 per cent constituting free fall) and cover distances of 20 metres.
Whale of a Time For Babies
For the first month of their lives, newborn killer whales (Orcinus orca) and
bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) do not sleep but remain mobile for 24 hours a day - as do their mothers.
Eat Me, Baby
A worm-like amphibian, the caecilian (Boulengerula taitanus) takes parenting
to a new level. By elongating specialised stratified epithelial cells, mothers transform their skin until it is twice as thick,
and it is then eaten by their offspring.
Peter Pan Syndrome?
Many tadpoles of the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) never turn into frogs,
instead growing into giant, grossly deformed tadpoles with a hunchback, on average four times longer and up to 50 times more
massive than normal tadpoles. They can survive for years, although they cannot reproduce.
Catch Us If You Can
Cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) change colour almost instantaneously to mimic
the rock or seaweed of the seafloor against which they are hiding. They do so while being completely colour-blind.
Home is Best
In 25 years of intensive research watching a group of killer whales (Orcinus
orca) in the coastal waters of the north-eastern Pacific Ocean, there has not been one documented incidence of a male or female
offspring leaving their mother. Each baby grows up and remains within the family group for the rest of their lives.
Can't Swim? No Problem
Fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) survive floods by clinging together in huge numbers
to form large rafts.
Published: 04 October 2006 in the UK Independent OnlineFrom "Moths that Drink Elephants' Tears and Other Zoological Curiosities"
by Matt Walker
Live Kittens Fed to Snakes in Norway
OSLO -- A reptile
expert claims that Norwegian kittens are in mortal danger from pythons and other snakes kept illegally as pets. Kittens given
away in good faith, with the expectation that they would go to good homes, have instead ended up as dinner for snakes.
"It's heart-breaking for the people who have feelings for their kittens,"
said biologist Kees Ekeli, director of the Bergen Aquarium in western Norway.
"Some people get a kick out of seeing a kitten being eaten alive by a snake,"
said Ekeli. "It's cheap and it's a good size for a medium-sized snake." A nine-foot-long snake usually eats a live meal such
as a big rat about every three days.
Some snakes seem to develop a preference for kittens. Ekeli said owners
of snakes, mostly pythons, frequently call a reptile center he runs for advice on how to look after pets who seem only to
want fresh kitten for dinner.
"We advise snake owners to train their pets to eat dead mice or rats,"
he said -- typically by heating up the rat or the mouse in a microwave and shaking it to make it look alive.
In response to public outrage, advertisements offering kittens in Norwegian
papers are now stipulating: "Not for snake food." Keeping snakes as pets and using live animals as feed are both illegal practices
I've been told by a worker at Herpetron, a local reptile store, that snakes
shouldn't be fed live cats at all because they'll claw the crap out of the snake's innards.
My brother's friend, Hector, once resorted to feeding his snake a dead
cat. The snake wouldn't eat it, probably because they really do prefer live food. You can read a story about adventures with Hector's snake, Chuck, in Cat Tales.
-- Source: Reuters, August 6, 2003
Koalas Going on the Pill
July 31, 2003 -- The koala population in the Australian
state of Victoria is eating itself out of house and home. Parks Victoria is planning to inject a small tube containing
the same hormones as the contraceptive pill under the skin of around 3,000 wild female koalas in the Mount Eccles National
Park, southwest of Melbourne. -- Planet Ark
World's First Glowing Fish on Display
July 31, 2003 -- Another screensaver photo for your
collection: the world's first glowing transgenic fish, nicknamed 'Night Pearl', being shown at the BioTaiwan exhibition in
Taipei July 27, 2003. Taiwan developers injected the green fluorescent gene of jellyfish into the embryo of ricefish to make
the colorless freshwater fish glow in the dark. Environmentalists fear the genetically engineered fish could pose a threat
to the earth's ecosystem. -- Planet Ark
Animal Tales Content:
- Live Kittens Fed to Snakes in Norway
- Koalas Going on the Pill
- World's First Glowing Fish on Display
- Will Animals Talk Behind Our Backs?
- On "Dumb" Animals
- Porcupine Trouble
- Visitors to Zoo Made Queasy by Lions' Dinner
- The Bill for the Bird
- More Animal Tales and related links
On "Dumb" Animals
topic of animals is a lot like weddings and funerals -- it can bring out the very best and the very worst in people.
I once wandered in to a Dogs forum and had the ill-advised audacity
to respond to the moderator's query on where people stood on the forced sterilization of mongrels. I'm of the opinion that
if you let he world know that you want a pet, strays will beat a path to your door, and it doesn't sit well with my conscience
to buy a purebred dog when perfectly good dogs and puppies are put down in the Pound. But, I also believe in freedom to choose,
so, I innocently presented my opinion that so-and-so's mutt Rover has as much right as so-and-so's pedigreed Fifi to pass
along their traits, and voted against mutt-sterilization.
Only among the Pro- and Anti-Abortion camps have I ever seen
such extreme and vitriolic responses. Evidently there are a lot of dog breeders who frequent this forum, and they were all
hot for my blood. After learning much more than I really needed to know about such birth defects as hip-dysplasia, I made
friends with a few forum-goers, but bitter enemies with the majority of them, and no one's opinions were changed a bit. I
couldn't help but wonder if the moderator (he weighed in with the pro-sterilizers) had only posed the question to weed out
those who disagreed with him.
One day Schmidt came to my office with a very fine black eye. "What on earth hit you?" I asked.
"Vell, ven I vent to der creamery dis morning, Hans and Klaus
vas talkin' awful loud. I vent up to dem and vanted to know der drouble und Hans said dat Klaus said he vasn't fit to sleep
mit der hogs."
"Vell, I couldn't take dot. Hans is my friend. So I turned to
Klaus und I said, 'You can't talk like dat about Hans. He is my friend. You say he is not fit to sleep mit der hogs. I say
he is!' Und den, vould you believe it, Klaus hit me!"
The Bill for the Bird
A woman brought a very limp parrot into a veterinary office. As she laid
her pet on the table, the vet pulled out his stethoscope and listened to the bird's chest. After a moment or two, the vet
shook his head sadly and said, "I'm so sorry, Polly has passed away."
The distressed owner wailed, "Are you sure? I mean, you haven't done any
testing on him or anything. Might he just be in a coma or something?"
The vet rolled his eyes, shrugged, turned, and
left the room returning a few moments later with beautiful black Labrador. As the bird's owner looked on in amazement, the
dog stood on his hind legs, put his front paws on the examination table and sniffed the dead parrot from top to bottom. He
then looked at the vet with sad eyes and shook his head.
The vet patted the dog and took it out but returned a few moments later
with a cat! The cat jumped up and also sniffed delicately at the ex-bird. The cat sat back, shook its head, meowed and ran
out of the room.
The vet looked at the woman and said, "I'm sorry, but like I said, your parrot is most definitely
100% certifiably dead."
He then turned to his computer terminal, hit a few keys, and produced a
bill, which he handed to the woman.
The parrot's owner, still in shock, took the bill. "$150!" she cried, "$150
just to tell me my bird is dead?"
The vet shrugged. "If you'd taken my word for it the bill would only have
been $20, but...what with the Lab Report and the CAT Scan things went up! -- From Sandi
Visitors to Auckland Zoo Made Queasy by Lions' Dinner
A group of architects were left a little queasy after watching lions dine
on whole horse heads during a guided evening tour of Auckland Zoo.
"It is on television. It happens naturally and if you go on safari
that is what you see except it is a whole animal. This is just a head," zoo spokesman Glen Holland told the Canadian Press.
"Should we be shielding people from reality?"
Will Animals Talk Behind Our Backs?
In case you missed it, Takara Company, a major Japanese toy manufacturer,
already came out with a device that can interpret your dog's bark. Now, when your dog is humping your mother-in-law's leg,
you can understand the sweet nothings he's growling at her. This product interested 300,000 people, who all bought one.
With the success of its "Bowlingual" device, Takara is aiming for the cat-lover
market with a new animal language translator: the "Meowlingual." At only about $75.00 American, the company hopes to sell
at least as many units as the "Bowlingual."
So, in addition to 300,000 talking dogs, we'll have 300,000 talking cats
by the end of 2004. Can you imagine? That's all cats need -- put the power of speech into the paws of these little monsters
and they'll take over the world!
Isn't it enough that I'm woken up daily by cats combing my hair with their
claws, rubbing cold wet noses in my face, or tickling my feet? Now the little furry despots can simply say, "I don't care
if it's 3 a.m. -- the food dish is empty and I'm starving!" I hate to think what a cat in heat would have to say.
But, I'm reassured by the description of the product -- it doesn't actually
translate your pet's "speech" into sound -- it's a palm-sized electronic console with a small display screen that allows you
to read what your pet is saying. So, unless you're actually able to see the screen, your conversation with your pet can be
Nevertheless, if you purchase a "Meowlingual," make sure you put it away
when company's coming. You'll have no secrets from anyone if your pets start talking. -- the Editor, Source: Reuters 'Oddly Enough'
Dr. Cutter is the local Veterinarian, known for his wry humor. He surpassed
himself one summer day when a city dog was brought to him after an encounter with a porcupine.
After almost an hour
of prying, pulling, cutting and stitching, he returned the dog to its owner. "What do I owe you?" asked the woman.
dollars, Ma'am," he answered.
"Why that's simply outrageous!" she stormed. "That's what's wrong with you Maine people.
You're always trying to overcharge us summer visitors. Whatever do you do in the winter, when we're not being ripped off?"
porcupines, Ma'am." -- Freaky Animals
Reality Too Unappetizing for Zoo-Goers
Let me get this straight: some people go to a zoo (an attempt to confine
formerly free-roaming species in as "natural" a setting as possible) to see "wildlife" -- but object to it being too wild.
Or would it have been okay if the lions had been taking down a live horse?
There is a hotly contested divide between those who think we should eat
horses and those who think horse-eating is taboo. Underlying the quarrel over whether eating horsemeat parts is ethical if
it is done by a lion is the arrogance of some humans who believe that lions should change their eating habits from meat to
I thought it was a hoot when I discovered that Purina makes chow for zoo
animals, but it never occurred to me that it would be an indication of food politics.
Some people actually believe that the instinctive aggression of animals
-- the desire to kill prey for food, in other words -- can be bred out of kept animals if we prepare a variety of non-meat
items for them. These are the kind of people who spend an afternoon cooking their pets dinner but won't give them table scraps.
My cats have a healthy attitude about food. They compete to snag table
scraps from unsuspecting diners, but won't touch them when I give them to them. They still at least have a hunting instinct.
The male cat even ate a bug once.
Of course, people in some societies still eat what we consider pets. I'll
bet those people would have no problem watching a pride of lions tearing up a nice haunch of gazelle.
Do most of us still know where meat comes from? And do those of us who
know it still really make the contact between the knowledge of the killing floor and the actuality of eating a burger in a
fast food restaurant?
How many of us have seen firsthand the cleaning of an animal carcass and
preparation of it for Sunday dinner? I have -- and I will say it did nothing to make me like eating meat, but did teach me
to appreciate the animal's sacrifice a lot more. And if you like to eat meat, you really should appreciate the effort that
goes into killing, cleaning, and butchering the animals that make the meat.
What really cooks my noodle is that there are people who are so super-sensitized
to violence that they object to wild animals eating meat, while there are also people who are so attracted to violence that
they think boxing and dog fighting are sports. How can such diversity exist in a society? Because we are civilized! -- the Editor