Ever wonder why some female spiders eat their mates? Guess what … it turns out they eat any male they can grab! New discoveries about animals are being reported every day, reminding us of how little we actually know about what goes on in the animal world. Here is a 60-second tour of recent headlines.
About those spiders: Female spiders are often much larger than males. MUCH larger, almost as if the males are of little use beyond delivering a bit of sperm for the sake of genetic diversity. In the tarantula species studied here, female spiders who had already mated gobbled up oncoming males before they had a chance to court. Is there a message here for us, men?
New species discovered: Lots of formerly unknown species are being discovered around the world. Awareness is the first step to responsible stewardship and compassion, so we do need to know what’s out there. A survey of the ocean has uncovered hundreds of new species. A relict lizard (a dinosaur, you could say) has been found alive and nesting in New Zealand, and we have even rediscovered the original Furby. What’s more, a closer look at flying lemurs shows that one species is actually three separate species. By the way, flying lemurs don’t really fly, and they aren’t really lemurs.
Extinction news: One out of four mammal species will become extinct faster than we can save them. Tasmanian devils (not really devils) have been devastated by a cancer that destroys their faces and threatens to wipe out the whole species. Congolese gorillas, whose continuing existence is precarious in any circumstances, have now fallen victim to the rebel uprising there. The rangers who have fought so hard against poachers were forced to flee for their own safety as rebels took over the gorilla park. This ruthless unrest is trouble for the gorillas. But we don’t need to go all the way to Africa to find ruthlessness toward animals. Alaskan voters have decided to continue the abhorrent practice of aerial hunting. Wolves are keystone predators who enable an interweaving ecosystem of animals to flourish. But thanks to the successful campaign of big-money special interest groups, Alaskan wolves will continue to be slaughtered in the ugliest ways. Bears too.
News about what goes on in the water: Certain snails walk on water upside-down (under water)–you need to see the photo to appreciate that one. In the oceans, Orca whales use a very sophisticated system of echolocation to find their favorite food, king salmon. These whales can identify the exact species of salmon from half a mile away by listening to the echoes from their calls. Sonar blasts from Navy vessels may damage such sensitive sensory systems and certainly cause distraction, interference, and pain for the many wonderful ocean creatures who use sound to find food and communicate with family, friends, rivals, and mates. But our Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the Navy, allowing them to blast away with sonar, regardless of the damage it inflicts on marine mammals. And speaking of weaponry on the high seas, if you’ve ever heard a right whale make that mysterious gun-shot sound, or even if you haven’t, I’ll bet that you’ve wondered what it is all about. We now know that only males make this startling bang, which is a threat to other males and may also attract females.
… and in the air: The avian nonstop-flight record has been broken: A migrating godwit flew an astonishing 7,200 miles without landing or even gliding. If you are not impressed by that world-class feat of endurance, consider running from New York to San Francisco and back without stopping for food, water, or rest.
Whew, what we didn’t know just a couple of months ago! What did I miss?