Even if you detest spiders—even if a photo of one makes you recoil from your screen—pause for a moment and consider the sheer machinery of these creatures. They coordinate the movement of eight legs and up to eight eyes at once. They are their own miniature textile factories, pumping out silk thread from an intricate set of appendages. And while most spiders use their legs to help spin the thread, or glue one end to a surface to pull it out, recluse spiders don’t need the help. They have the first known spinners that are entirely self-powered.
Whoever named the sea cucumber after a vegetable didn’t give it enough credit. Yes, sea cucumbers are soft, warty tubes that scoot eyelessly along the seafloor. But they aren’t helpless. Some secrete a poison that’s deadly to other animals. And some, when threatened, shoot sticky threads out of their anuses to tangle up predators. When researchers collected these bizarre weapons and tested them in the lab, they discovered a material that’s unique among sea creatures. Read More
It’s surprisingly hard to stick a camera to a dolphin. Surprising, anyway, when you consider the other animals that have carried monitoring devices down into the ocean for human scientists: sharks, sea turtles, birds, manatees, even whales. When a group of researchers recently overcame the challenges and created a camera that dolphins can wear, they were inducted into a dizzying underwater world.
If you think house hunting is hard, consider the plight of this snail. It lives only in tide pools in southern Japan. Within those tide pools, it only lives in holes carved out of rock—specifically, holes dug by sea urchins. But it can only move into one of those holes after the hole-digging urchin has moved out. When a second, differently shaped sea urchin moves into the hole, it leaves a gap between its spiny body and the wall of the burrow. It’s this nook that the snail snuggles into. Read More
Newly hatched caterpillars look helpless: they’re teensy, soft and juicy, with no parent around for protection. But certain young insects, the masked birch caterpillars, are more capable than they seem. They gather in groups to keep themselves safe. To form those groups, they use a previously undiscovered language of buzzes, vibrations, head banging and butt scraping.
They say an elephant never forgets. But a more accurate adage would be that an elephant never sleeps—or, hardly ever. Tracking two wild elephant matriarchs for a month revealed that they averaged only a couple of hours a night. On some nights they surprised researchers by never going to sleep at all. This might make them the most wakeful mammals in the world. Read More
Humans have been fighting our internal clocks ever since we invented sitting around a campfire. We have powerful natural rhythms that keep us on a 24-hour cycle; if you’ve ever been steamrollered by jet lag after an intercontinental flight, you know how powerful those rhythms are. But we muffle them with caffeine, alarm clocks, and electric lights. It’s easy to undo the damage, though. One weekend of camping can do the trick—and it’ll even cure your case of the Mondays.
Yes, this cephalopod is looking at you funny. It’s a kind of cockeyed squid—an animal that looks like some jokester misassembled a Mr. Potato Head. One of the cockeyed squid’s eyes is big, bulging and yellow. The other is flat and beady. After studying more than 25 years’ worth of undersea video footage, scientists think they know why. Read More
The African puff adder is one of the most dangerous venomous snakes on the continent. To find prey, it doesn’t need to go hunting; the snake simply lies in wait and attacks small animals that wander past. An ambushing puff adder is both camouflaged and unsmellable to predators. This snake is not goofing around—but it does like to stick its tongue out. Researchers discovered that puff adders in the wild waggle both their tongues and their tails to lure prey, like a prolonged and high-stakes hokey-pokey dance.
Xavier Glaudas, a postdoc at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, and herpetology lab director Graham Alexander didn’t set out to study any bizarre new snake behaviors. They simply wanted to watch puff adders hunting in the wild, Glaudas says. They used a simple strategy no one had tried before: pointing videocameras at puff adders and watching for a long, long time. Read More
Maybe you’re feeling like the animal you most identified with in previous years (panda bear in snow, puggle, Betty White) just isn’t adequate for 2017. If that’s the case, here are three creatures that would like to apply for the job. Only one is venomous. Read More