Not your average visit to the zoo

The wackiest animal news from 2011

December 31, 2011

1. Squids Will Be Squids

Scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute who use submarines to spy on deep-sea squid have found that males of the squid species Octopoteuthis deletron unload their sperm on both males and females. For these squid, it’s a dark, empty ocean, and when they happen across another squid, they have to get down to business — no time to check for lady parts!

2. Spiders Are Brainy

Spiders need smarts to weave those complicated geometrical webs, but it’s hard for them to pack their brains into their tiny bodies. Researchers with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute have found that some spiders’ brains spill out into their legs so that the little guys don’t have to sacrifice brainpower to minimize their body size. Sneaky, creepy and wicked smart? We do have good reason to be afraid of spiders.

3. Official Party Animal of 2011: The Moose

If you haven’t heard this story, it should be at the top of your priority list. A moose, drunk off of a dinner of fermented apples, got stuck in a tree in Sweden. It was rescued by a group of locals, and the next morning it probably convinced itself the whole episode was just a crazy dream. The pictures are wild.

4. When Ants Fly

“Flying” might be too strong a term; it’s technically “controlled descent.” Nonetheless, several kinds of ants can control their movement through the air if they are in free fall. One species steers with its butt. Perhaps the best part of this story is the fact that there are scientists in some jungle using tweezers to drop ants from trees and filming what happens.

5. When Rhinoceros Fly

When several black rhinoceros were airlifted for relocation to a preserve in South Africa this year, the World Wildlife Fund snapped a handful of thrilling photographs. It’s not every day you get to see a rhino hog-tied, blindfolded and hanging upside down from a helicopter. And, if the dwindling population of these animals recovers properly, you hopefully won’t see it again.

6. Forty-Nine Dead in Ohio

This news might have had many of us checking our calendars to see if it was April Foolʼs Day: dozens of African beasts running rampant in a small Ohio town? Yet, the story was not a joke spawned by the plot line of “Jumanji.” In a strange tale of suicide, passion and death, tigers, lions and bears were released and then shot down in Zanesville, Ohio in the fall of 2011. I’m sure a movie based loosely on the real-life events will be coming soon to a theater near you.

7. Cyclops Shark

Cyclops aren’t often found outside of Greek and Roman mythology, but this year one turned up off the coast of Mexico. In the Gulf of California, a local fisherman found a freakish fetus inside a dusky shark. The baby shark was an albino cyclops, with one large eye in the center of its snout and milky white skin. The shark would not have survived long after birth, and this lucky catch allowed scientists a rare glimpse of genetic abnormalities in sharks.

8. Weirdest Rodent Award: Naked Mole Rat (Again)

Naked mole rats have always been weird. The African rodents look like tiny, hairless mutant beavers. They have terrible eyesight and spend most of their time toddling around in underground colonies. Now, in addition to an immunity to cancer and high pain tolerance, these guys take the award for severely deformed sperm. New research has found that male naked mole rats have such malformed sperm that we are lucky to have them around at all.

9. St. Patrick and the Polar Bear

Ursus maritimus is not your average Irish name, but like many an American, polar bears can now trace their roots back to Ireland. Using DNA from both living and fossilized bears, scientists discovered that ancient polar bears interbred with the now-extinct Irish brown bear around 50,000 years ago. So the next time St. Patrickʼs Day rolls around, pass a pint on over to the nearest polar bear.

10. Blackbird Massacre

At the very beginning of 2011, thousands of red-winged blackbirds died in a single event in Arkansas. Though it might have seemed a harbinger of a swiftly approaching apocalypse, it boiled down to little more than an unfortunate accident. The birds were probably casualties of a loud New Yearʼs Eve fireworks display. So think twice when you set those things off this year!

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