Selection Sunday: A Sweet 16 of Cool Animal Discoveries

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As any college basketball fan knows, today is Selection Sunday, when 65 teams will be slotted in the NCAA Tournament (also known as March Madness). In celebration of this annual holiday, WebEcoist has selected some of the coolest, strangest and most interesting animal discoveries from recent months. From bottlenose dolphins turning diabetes off and on to extremely drunken bats flying straight to gorillas possibly eating monkeys, this Sweet Sixteen of recent animal stories and findings certainly fits the bill of downright weird, exciting and intriguing.

Must See TV: What’s Been Brewing Under the Sea?

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Dolphins have been previously included among the world’s smartest mammals, and now according to new research, our bottlenose friends may be able to induce type II diabetes to sustain their large brains. Suggested by new findings, bottlenose dolphins are able to turn on diabetes (when sugar builds up in the blood rather than the cells as a result of insufficient or ignored insulin) when food is scarce and then turn off the condition after eating a meal. Commonly viewed as enemies to dolphins, sharks apparently are not bloodthirsty hunters 24/7. According to a new study, sharks and manta rays commonly visit fish cleaning stations – where smaller fish suck off algae, mucus, dead tissue, etc. – peacefully letting the cleaner fish pick them clean for hours at a time. Who new that sharks were capable of embracing their softer sides?

Unexpected Game Plans: Underwater Deception and Drama

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Speaking of some more underwater surprises, normally big and bad Atlantic octopuses were recently documented mimicking the swimming style and appearance of smaller flounders to avoid predators. Rather than swimming with their arms trailing their heads, the Atlantic octopuses have been recorded folding and then athletically moving their arms like flounders, which allegedly would cause larger predators to pause before taking a bite at them as compared to when their arms are dangling about. In a similar light, startled vampire squid have been recently documented completely turning themselves inside out – allowing their arms to retract within their bodies – to throw off predators. As for the Hawaiian bobtail squid, it has been known to utilize a luminescent bacteria to light up its underside, thus providing a sense of invisibility and protection from sharks and other predators that may be lurking below. Just as in the NCAA Tournament, it’s apparently all about surviving and advancing in the marine world.


Sharp Shooters: Chameleons and Tentacled Snakes

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In the animal kingdom, the ability to sprint, swim, jump and perform other advantageous activities usually is slowed by drops in temperature; however, this is not the case for chameleons. According to recent research, chameleons feature a unique, weatherproof accelerator muscle in their tongues that allows them to snag prey at alarming speeds in all types of weather conditions. As for the curious tentacled snake, it uses two tentacles at the top of its head to hunt for and see fish in murky water conditions. Researchers recently learned that the tentacled snake adeptly forms its body into a “J” shape when hunting for food, which causes fish to dart towards rather than away from its mouth. It seems that some reptile athletes aren’t competing on a level playing field.



High Above the Rim: Drunken Bats and Shrewd Bees

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Up in the sky, there have been a variety of recent surprises, including that of the inebriated bat. According to recent research, bats can get drunk eating nectar and fermenting fruits; however, the intoxication hardly affects them thanks to sonar that allows even the most drunken bats to fly normal. Just as bats can suck up their fair share of alcohol without too many worries, the sucker-footed bat is rare in that it roosts upright as opposed to the normal upside down position. While researchers previously thought that the sucker-footed bat was able to roost this way as a result of using its pads like suction cups, it turns out these bats are more like tree frogs and certain other insects that use sweat and water adhesion to stay perched on leaves.

In terms of landing on leaves and other objects, bees recently amazed researchers with their abilities to use their eyesight when adjusting to different landing platforms. When coming to a surface, bees steadily slow down as the object gets larger, which helps them determine specific landing strategies, such as touching down their back legs first when approaching flat surfaces or making initial contact on vertical and upside-down platforms with their antennae and then using their front legs to help flip their hind legs onto the surface. Apparently masters at stopping, honey bees will alter their normal waggle dance, which typically signals good sources of food for other bees, by butting their heads into recipients, which apparently details sites that are dangerous and warns the other bees to avoid those areas. As for other unique insect communication and travel, a new finding detailed how migrating moths and butterflies are hardly slaves to the wind but rather active surfers of breeze, which allow them to travel to where they want to go at much higher speeds and in shorter time periods.


Freakish Plays: Microscopic Worms and Parasites

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In the category of miscellaneous, intriguing and bizarre recent discoveries, scientists have found that microscopic worms can be paralyzed by ingestion of a light-sensitive chemical called dithienylethene. Once exposed to light, the microscopic worms regained normal wiggling movement; though it should be known that the paralyzing chemical eventually killed the worms. Now if it was only so easy for a parasite known as Wolbachia bacteria, which has been found to shut down the immune systems of wasps and other insects. Especially morbid, these parasites have been shown to turn male spiders, mites and nematode worms into females and cause virgin females to give birth. Even worse, these parasites can reproduce at rapid rates. Talk about a freak show.

Big Upsets: Monkey-Eating Gorillas & Autism-Treating Mice?

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While wild gorillas have historically feasted on plants, fruit and the occasional insect, they may actually eat meat after all, according to new findings discovered nowhere else but in gorilla poop. A recent analysis found monkey and antelope DNA in gorilla feces, possibly suggesting that gorillas prefer a meaty meal every so often. If the thought of gorilla poop is a bit too filthy for your tastes, perhaps these recent findings on house mice will suffice. Hardly known to make a peep, male mice were recently observed singing ultrasonic love songs to court females, which responded with their own vocalization. According to the study’s researchers, learning more about mice vocalization may help us understand autism, a developmental disability marked by communication differences. Essentially, researchers note that some mice are better than others at vocalizing their love songs; if more can be understood about what makes certain mice better communicators, researchers propose that this may provide more insight on human communication gaps. Sounds promising.