These slow-moving, eucalyptus-eating marsupials native to Australia are beloved for their sweet demeanours and distinctly non-human adorableness. However, they do share one feature in common with homo sapiens: fingerprints. What’s more, their fingerprints, analysed under a microscope, are virtually indistinguishable in the way they loop and whorl from our own. Researchers posit that koalas adapted this feature – which is also present in primates such as chimpanzees – in order to better grasp the branches they climb to forage for leaves.
According to Live Science, elephants have “many admirable qualities”, including a fantastic sense of smell, a seeming near-immunity to cancer, and “complex social lives”. Despite all this, here’s a crazy animal fact: elephants are unable to jump. That’s because they have what an evolutionary researcher at the Royal Veterinary College in London calls “wimpy lower-leg muscles” and inflexible ankles – conditions that also make it a challenge for them to run for more than a short distance. Meet the world’s most famous zoo animals.
Although butterflies have long, tube-like tongues called probosces they unfurl so they can suck in flower nectar, their ability to taste does not come from their mouths. Rather, it lies in their feet. According to the San Diego Zoo, this allows them to discern which flowers they land on are the right ones for laying their eggs on. “[B]y standing on a leaf, they can taste it to see if their caterpillars can eat it,” says the zoo’s website.
There are 13 species of otter worldwide (everywhere but Antarctica) – and sadly, 12 species of these marine mammals are vulnerable, threatened, or endangered. This is news that’s hard to bear when confronted with their inherent cuteness, witnessed in recently circulating photos of mother-and-child pairs holding hands to avoid drifting away from each other as they snooze. Check out these 28 amazing wildlife encounters experienced by Reader’s Digest readers.
Sure, they’ve got those long ears, all the better to hear you with – as AskNature.com points out, they can rotate these appendages 270 degrees in order to detect sounds, some from as far as over three kilometres off, in almost every direction. But they also serve another valuable purpose: they shed heat, allowing rabbits, which can’t sweat like humans or pant like dogs, to stay cool in the summer. Check out these 28 ways your pet is trying to say “I love you”.
Some people call these common urban residents – also, and more accurately, known as rock doves – “rats with wings”. And that’s giving this incredible, intelligent species short shrift. Not only can pigeons be trained to deliver messages across great distances, but researchers at Keio University in Tokyo discovered they could also be trained to distinguish between the paintings of Monet, Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Cézanne, and Renoir. Now that’s an incredible animal fact! Check out five of the funniest ever tweets about animals.
Incredible as this animal fact may seem, dolphins call each other by “name”. Research at the University of St. Andrews found that dolphins can call out to other dolphins by mimicking the distinct whistle of the dolphin they want. Discover eight of the world’s smartest animals that learn even faster than you.
Not convinced that men and chimps are closely related? In 2015, the Royal Science Open Society reported that scientists in Guinea had discovered that the animals they were studying frequently drank fermented palm sap – an alcoholic, naturally-occurring sort of wine that human locals are also partial to. The cool clincher: the chimps also used utensils to gather and drink this liquor, namely, crushed leaves they used as “sponges” to sop it up and move it to their mouths – often in copious enough quantities that some of them actually got drunk.
Like pigeons, bats are another amazing group of animals that are unjustifiably reviled by humans. Certain species, like the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugous) – currently nearly eradicated across the Northeastern United States due to a fungus called White-nose syndrome – can eat 1,000 mosquitoes an hour (that’s one bat per 1,000 mosquitoes!). Perhaps our favourite bat fact of all: they give birth upside down and catch their newborns in their wings.
There’s no point trying to tempt your puss with a sweet treat – sweet is one taste that domestic and some wild cats cannot detect. That’s because they’re lacking sweet sensors on their tongues and elsewhere in their mouths, according to scientists at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. In fact, this seems to be an ability that strictly carnivorous cats lost over time; cats that are omnivores still appear to be able to distinguish a sugary flavour. Find out 13 things you do that your cat actually hates.
There’s a factoid that’s gotten a lot of attention lately, and no surprise – that wombats poop square poo is truly a weird phenomenon! The reasons for how and why this is so have been a mystery for years, but recently a couple of scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Australia’s University of Adelaide decided to do a more rigorous analysis. Turns out, wombat poo is extremely dry, since wombats, which live in arid climates, extract all moisture from their food. National Geographic reports that their intestines are also irregularly-shaped and stretchy, helping to sculpt dry scat into its unique cube-like shape. Find out the 10 things you need to know before you get an exotic pet.
California is a hotspot for surfing, for both humans and ducks! Back in 2010, according to a story reported by The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, people started reporting that they’d spotted mallards everywhere from Santa Barbara to San Diego catching some waves, allowing their feathery bodies to be carried to shore. The reason: food, namely, sand crabs. It’s a behaviour scientists think they learned from watching native shorebirds such as sand scoters and black brants.
Also known as sea cows, these plump, distant elephant relatives can weigh as much as 450 kilograms. They’re also vegetarian, which means that in order to have enough energy to swim around ocean shallows (like Florida), they have to eat 10 percent of their body weight every single day. That’s a whole lotta sea salad!
Manatees (part two)
These gentle creatures share water space with some of the fiercest predators out there – namely, alligators. You’d think that would be bad news for manatees. But scientists report this cool animal fact: the two species coexist quite nicely. Alligators have been caught catching rides on manatees’ backs – although there’s speculation that it was the manatee benefitting, from a back scratch. And manatees aren’t shy about bumping alligators to get them to move out of their way, says PBS.
You’re not seeing things: These powerful (and unfortunately endangered) bears do indeed have humpbacks. The hump is actually a strong muscle, says BearSmart.com, developed to help grizzlies with their digging – “ripping through the earth and tearing apart rotted logs in search of roots, plant bulbs, insects, rodents, and other grubs…[as well as]…powering them as they dig out winter dens.”
It’s perhaps common animal-fact knowledge by now that the stripes on every tiger are as individual as fingerprints or snowflakes – no two patterns alike. But did you also know that those patterns on a tiger’s fur repeat on its skin? These patterns, says National Geographic, serve as camouflage, with the stripes making it hard for prey to see all of its predator at once. It’s possible the Sumatran tiger could disappear in your lifetime.
These docile African ruminants, which can grow as tall as six metres, have a very unusual feature: Their tongues are deep purple. Although there’s lots of speculation as to the whys of the extra-dense melanin of giraffes’ mouth organs – and no hard facts – scientists believe that the dark colour is to protect them from sunburn as they munch leaves all day long out in the strong sun.
Did you ever leave your dog alone for longer than usual, only to come home and swear that she missed you more than usual? You probably weren’t imagining things. According to Animal Planet, dogs can tell the difference between one hour and five hours. They also have an innate sense of when things should happen – like their regularly-scheduled walks and meals. Find out the 53 mistakes every dog owner makes.
Myanmar snub-nosed monkeys
With all the bad news about animal species going extinct around the world, there’s good reason to celebrate when new species are actually found. One such recently discovered species is the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey, a.k.a. the sneezing monkey. How did it get this name? Its upturned nose gets water in it when it rains, which the monkey sneezes out, reports The Guardian.
Most animal horns are made of bone. Not so the rhinoceros. As researchers at Ohio University learned in 2006, they’re made of keratin, the same stuff that comprises human hair and fingernails. Threading through the core of the keratin and making it super strong are calcium deposits, which are non-existent on the horn’s outer, softer surface. Over time, that surface gets whittled into its pointy shape by sun exposure and frequent head-butts between fighting animals.
Why would any animal need multiple hearts and brains? We can find out by studying these tentacled dwellers of the deep, which have three hearts – two to pump blood to its gills and one to pump blood to the remainder of its body. And also an astounding nine (!) brains – one that serves as its central control station, and eight others that are actually “large ganglion[s] at the base of each arm which control…movement,” explains the Daily Catch.
Literal freezing is definitely not recommended for humans or other mammals, since it leads to, well, death. But for a species of Alaskan wood frog, freezing (mostly) solid, with two-thirds of their bodies turning to ice, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, allows them to withstand brutal winters and live until the spring. At which point, they thaw and carry on with their existence. Head here to find out how to choose the perfect pet for your family.
The common household nuisance (Musca domestica) may not have any vocal cords (actually, no insects do). But that doesn’t mean it can’t make any noise. By flapping its wings 190 times per second it makes a sound at a frequency that “the human ear interprets…as a pitch along the F major scale.” Check out these 13 tricks to keep bugs away from picnics.
It turns out, giraffes aren’t the only large natives of the African continent that require protection from the powerful rays of the sun. Hippos do, too. And they actually have their own cooling system. Known as “blood sweat” (although it’s not actually blood or sweat, according to Scientific American), this oily secretion evaporates as it dries, lowering a hippos temperature. Why the name? It appears red in the sunlight.
Ever wonder why zebras have those vivid black and white stripes – since they couldn’t possibly serve to make them inconspicuous out on the Ethiopian grasslands? Oddly, the stripes do actually make these ungulates harder to see in the tall green and yellow grass. But those black and white zags have another function – they deter nasty biting horseflies, according to research published in the Royal Society Open Science journal.
Tiny, iridescent hummingbirds sure move fast, darting from flower to tube-shaped flower in your backyard garden so fast you can hardly see them. But their wingbeats – of 40 to 80 every second – don’t just propel them forwards. They also help them move backward, which is a feat that no other bird can accomplish without help from the wind.
It’s a strange but true animal fact that bears repeating, just because it’s so darn cool: Famously pink flamingoes aren’t pink. They’re actually born grey. And they’d stay that way, too, if it weren’t for their highly specialised diet of shrimp and blue-green algae. According to BBC’s Science Focus, these foods contain a natural dye called canthaxanthin, which causes flamingo feathers to gradually turn pink over time.
Speaking of shrimp, they are uniquely odd little critters, anatomically speaking. They’ve got ten legs instead of a backbone and all of their vital organs – not just brain but heart, stomach, ovaries, and testicles – are located inside their heads. And although the words “shrimp” and “prawns” are often used interchangeably, scientifically speaking, they’re members of different suborders.
Able to survive and thrive only in the cleanest, clearest, fast-moving fresh water, caddisflies are mothlike insects that have an enviable ability: They can make their own protective houses. Using the same “silk” they produce to make cocoons as larvae, they stick together tiny bits of river detritus like pebbles, pine needles, and leaves which they fashion into tubelike caves, reports the Hitchcock Center. They add on to these portable homes as they grow bigger.
They moo. They chew grass. They make milk. And they also…make friends?! You heard that right. According to an article in Frontier magazine, scientists have discovered that bovines can have besties and just being around them causes them to feel relaxed and free of stress.
Living on land or in the water, snails are gastropods that in some cases can grow up to 30 centimetres long (ugh). Notorious for their slime trails, researchers have found these may actually have some surprising uses, as antioxidants that can also reportedly regenerate human skin and act as all-natural wound-healers.
Forget about buying the love of your life a diamond ring. If you’re a male penguin, what you’re really interested in finding is a pebble to lay at the feet of your beloved. This gift has a practical purpose, though. The Adélie species of penguin make their nests out of pebbles and rocks, to keep the eggs inside safe from melting snows.
There’s something so joyful about the site of a bunch of penguins jumping into the air before plunging from the ocean onto the ice. Here again, penguins are eminently practical. According to BBC’s The Blue Planet, just before they make this little move “they release air bubbles from their feathers. This cuts the drag on their bodies, allowing them to double or triple their swimming speed quickly and launch into the air.”
Even more penguins
These (arguably) cutest of all possible animals have a less attractive side. Once a year they go through what’s called a “catastrophic molt” and it’s as shocking as it sounds; they lose all of their feathers at once, which means no swimming or fishing for dinner for the two weeks or longer it takes for new feathers to grow in.
They eat tulip bulbs from backyards in the spring. In the autumn, they dig up planting beds to hide their acorns. And all winter long they chase the poor hungry birds away from the bird feeder. Still, these backyard thugs are surprisingly good neighbours. According to scientists, they’ll actually adopt orphaned baby squirrels as their own.
The videos are all over YouTube: macaque monkeys in Japan and elsewhere picking the pockets of tourists and taking their coins. What could possibly be inspiring these acts of larceny? Hunger. The clever macaques take their coins straight to vending machines and use them to buy themselves a little snack.
Fact: Pandas are endangered. Fact: Pandas are ADORABLE. Fact: Pandas don’t just eat bamboo, as most of us have been lead to believe (although bamboo does comprise a whopping 99 percent of their diets). Actually, giant pandas are omnivores and when they can get their paws on other comestibles, they also enjoy noshing on small animals and fish.
Sure, they eat roadkill (actually doing us a huge ecological favour). But that’s not the least party-friendly behaviour exhibited by vultures. According to Animal Planet, since these massive birds do not have any sweat glands, they’re forced to find another way to keep cool in the hot months. That way: pooing on their own feet.
According to an article in Modern Farmer magazine, sheep have a lot more going for them than might be immediately apparent. To wit, they “have rectangular pupils that give them amazing peripheral vision – it’s estimated their field of vision is between 270 and 320 degrees; humans average about 155 degrees – and depth perception.” Good luck sneaking up on these herbivores!
Not to be outdone for unusualness in the farmyard, goats have a few odd traits themselves. For starters, they have no teeth in their upper jaws. They’ve also got accents, which vary from country to county. And as if all that wasn’t peculiar enough, reports Mental Floss, one species of goat is known to have its muscles freeze up when it startles, causing it to fall over in a faint-like action.
Turns out, humans aren’t the only animals that experience REM – the rapid eye movement of sleep during which we dream. Chickens have REM sleep, too, says ThePoultrySite.com. And more than that, they also experience something called unihemispheric slow-wave sleep, in which one half of their brain stays awake while the other one rests.
While raccoons are renowned for getting into garbage bins and making a meal – and a mess – out of week-old garbage, find a little place of admiration in your heart for these masked scavengers – some of them have been witnessed dunking their food in water in an action that looks suspiciously like they’re giving it a preliminary wash.
Few people since the end of the Victorian era, when leeches were (misguidedly) used as a curative, have any fondness for these predatory worms. And it turns out, the distaste for them is well-founded. According to the American Museum of Natural History, leeches have “three separate jaws with 100 teeth each…[E]ach of the jaws and teeth makes a separate incision”… all the better to suck out your blood. Er, no thank you.
Honeybees living in a colony perform all sorts of tasks – cleaning and guarding the hive, feeding larvae, collecting pollen and flower nectar. In 2012, scientists at the University of Illinois reported their findings that bees have personalities that cause them to do well at the jobs they’re best suited to, with “thrill seekers” for example, excelling in scouting out new nest sites.
Faced with the seemingly impossible task of penetrating the hard shells of walnuts in order to gobble the sweetmeats inside, crows in Japan have learned to lay the nuts out in the middle of the road so that cars can run them over and crack them open. But perhaps most amazing of all, according to a PBS report: the crows are reading traffic lights in order to know when it’s safe to arrange the nuts, and when it’s safe to hop down and gobble them up.
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