10 Animal Facts You Definitely Don't Know
With possibly millions of species out there, the animal kingdom is home to some of the coolest, strangest, most mind-boggling individuals around. And each species has its own quirky behaviors that set it apart. Here's a small sampling of some of the stranger animal facts out there - and a reminder of how cool nature really is.
Butterflies drink turtle tears.
When all you eat are flowers, it can be hard to get enough sodium in your diet. That's particularly true in the Amazon, which is especially salt-deficient because it's cut off from the ocean. So Amazon butterflies have turned to lachryphagy, or tear eating. Swarms of butterflies will descend on turtles, gently sipping the tears from their eyes to round out their diets. While they're open to drinking the tears of bigger animals - evencrocodiles - turtles are a favorite target because they're slow. The behavior's also been seen in bees and other insects.
Dung beetles navigate by the Milky Way.
A 2013 study showed that the little beetles use the stars to orient themselves when traveling along on dark nights. Dung beetles will collect a ball of dung from a pile left behind by an animal, then roll it off somewhere where other beetles won't steal it. Since the insects like to travel in a straight line, they use the Milky Way to direct themselves and keep from curving back. They can also use the sun and moon to navigate. While this behavior has been seen in animals like birds and seals, dung beetles are the first insects confirmed to do so.
Dolphins don't sleep.
Well, that's sort of true. Rather, they're not unconscious when they sleep. Dolphins, orcas and other whales are conscious breathers, which mean they have to willingly take each breath and don't breathe automatically like humans do. So if they were to fall fully asleep, they would suffocate. Instead, dolphins and their cousins practice unihemispheric sleep - which means they turn off one half of their brain at a time and stay semi-conscious. It's why you don't see sleepy dolphins floating at the surface of the ocean every night.
Squirrels use perfume.
While squirrels are quite scrappy, they'd rather avoid a fight. And what better to chase off a predator than a full-grown rattler? So when ground squirrels find sloughed-off rattlesnake skin, they'll chew on it and then lick it all over their little bodies. That way they smell like big scary snakes instead of tasty little squirrels, and predators will be scared off.
It's called self-anointing, and it's not uncommon in the animal kingdom. Hedgehogs will sometimes kill toads so they can bite open their venom glands and smear it on their spikes.
Crocodiles don't age.
When most animals reach the end of their life span, they start to break down and exhibit senescence, which we know as aging: grey hair, tiredness, reduced appetite. Some animals, like crocodiles or tortoises, exhibit negligible senescence, or don't age - which means at 50 or 100 they're as perfectly fit as ever. As long as they have enough food, they can just keep growing and growing. Of course, this doesn't make them immortal, as they can still fall prey to accidents or disease. But they stay fairly biologically young - which is why we get spry 112-year-old crocs and 183-year-old tortoises.
Owls keep pets.
While screech owl parents usually kill food before bringing it back to their babies, when they find blind snakes - which look like scaley worms - they'll drop them into the nest live. If the blind snake can make it past the hungry baby owlet beaks, he buries himself under the nest where he sets up a little home of his own. There, he earns his keep by feasting on bug larvae, helping to keep the owl chicks safe from infestation. Like an edible little nanny.
Buffalo are democratic.
African buffalo travel in herds of up to 1,000 members, and it's no easy task to get everyone to agree on where to travel next. So they vote on it. As one dedicated researcher observed, adult females will indicate their choice by standing up, gazing in a certain direction and then lying back down - males don't get to vote. And if the decision is split? The herd will spend the night grazing in two different areas and meet up in the morning.
Seagulls hunt whales.
A gull's diet usually consists of small fish, garbage, french fries - the usual. But a group of gulls - specifically, kelp gulls - off the coast of Argentina has found a stranger food source: 60-ton southern right whales. When the giant whales surface to breathe, groups of gulls will descend on them, stripping off pieces of flesh and leaving them with gaping wounds up to eight inches long. They specifically target young calves and their mothers, knowing the babies are an easier meal - up to 99 percent of mom-baby pairs have lesions from the attacks, and the feisty predators could be contributing to the high average calf mortality rate in the area.
Octopus arms have their own brain.
Many animals have a central brain that dictates movements to the entire body. Octopuses have a central brain - but each tentacle has its own brain as well. So the main brain needs only to send a simple message to one of the arms, where two-thirds of the octopus' neurons are located, and the arm brain will figure it out from there. This means that if you chop off an octopus' arm (don't actually do this), the arm can still react like it would if it were attached to the octopus. And it seems like it's working out well for them - octopuses are some of the most startlingly intelligent animals out there.
Bedbug sex is violent.
Bedbugs are no favorite of humans, thanks to their itchy bite marks and plague-like contamination abilities. But it turns out they're not very nice to their ladies, either. Instead of bothering with his mate's reproductive tract, a male bedbug will take his sharp, pointy penis - and stab it right into her abdomen. Oh, but there must be some evolutionary advantage for the females, you say? Nah. Sometimes they die.
The brutal practice isn't unique to bedbugs. It can be found in a number of invertebrates, including a spider appropriately named H. sadistica.
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