science
This Ancient Reptile Evolved a Weird, Bird-Like Head 100 Million Years Before Birds Did

Imagine an animal with the body of a chameleon, the feet and claws of an anteater, the humped back of a camel, and a tail that is both flattened like a beaver’s, but also like that of a scorpion. If you’re thinking this sounds like someone just threw your local zoo into a blender—or that it’s not far off from mythical creatures like the chimera or manticore—this would be understandable. But this bonkers description fits a real, long-extinct group of tree-dwelling reptiles that lived more than 200 million years ago. Now, a new species of these freaky little critters has been identified, and its fossilised remains pile onto the anatomical strangeness, showing that this ancient reptile evolved a toothless, remarkably bird-like head in a world 100 million years before birds with heads like this even existed. Read More >>

science
A Freakishly Large New Species of Rat Has Been Discovered in the Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands—a nation comprised of nearly one thousand islands located northeast of Australia, between Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea—is an impressive corner of the globe. Dense, lush rainforest blankets the majority of the islands, and the country’s coral reef biodiversity is among the richest in the world. Many of the plants and animals in the Solomon Islands have evolved in splendid isolation, and now, one of these animals has emerged from its idyllic surroundings, revealing itself to science for the first time: the vika (Uromys vika), a big-ass rat four times the size of even the heftiest of the familiar, city-slicker variety. Read More >>

science
Crazy New Hermit Crab Makes Its Home Inside Another Living Animal

The life of a hermit crab is one of repetition. Find an abandoned snail shell. Live in it. Nom on some flecks of detritus. Grow bigger. Find a slightly bigger shell. Repeat all steps for the rest of your crustacean life. The most onerous part is continually upgrading the shell, a process that can get pretty intensely competitive with other crabs around. However, a newly-discovered species of hermit crab avoids the shell renting game altogether, opting to reside in a living coral, one that grows alongside the crab, meaning no more relocating once the square footage gets a bit tight. Read More >>

science
Biologist Subjects Himself to an Electric Eel Attack for Science

It’s no secret that the electric eel (Electrophorus electricus) is a species not to be messed with. Capable of generating an electric discharge of more than 800 volts, the enigmatic tropical fish can easily stun prey and would-be predators alike. Land-lubbing assailants aren’t safe either; the eels can breach out of the water like high-voltage snakes, landing on attackers and dispensing a Taser-like jolt. Now, new research described in a paper published today in Current Biology has revealed key details of how the eels execute this electric lunge, and just how bad the jolt can be—discoveries that relied on one scientist’s bravery...and his right arm. Read More >>

science
How the Deadliest Frogs on Earth Avoid Poisoning Themselves 

Poison dart frogs have an ominous and well-deserved reputation as a lot of death stuffed into a teeny, neon package, and none is more dangerous than Colombia’s golden poison frog (Phyllobates terribilis). With skin slaked with enough of the potently neurotoxic batrachotoxin (BTX) to kill a staggering 20,000 mice, the golden poison frog somehow doesn’t poison itself. A team of scientists have now pinpointed how the frogs survive their lethal secretions: a single genetic mutation that results in full immunity to BTX. Read More >>

science
Burying Beetles’ Embalming Bum Juice Is Even Worse Than It Sounds

Burying beetles (Nicrophorus) are hard to miss. The insects aren’t big, but most species are painted with vibrant, orange blotches on a glossy black background. According to new research, walking around dressed in their Halloween best may have a very important function for the beetles. The colouration may be “aposematic,” bright and conspicuous to sternly warn other animals of the wearer’s unsuitability as a meal. So, what is it about the burying beetle that makes it noxious to would-be predators? Anal secretions. That’s right, bum juice. Read More >>

science
Killer Ants Snap Their Spring-Loaded Jaws 700 Times Faster Than You Can Blink

Below the tangle of vines and branches of the East Malaysian rainforest, a small contingent of ants scuttles frenetically along the shaded leaf litter. But these are no mere picnic pests — these are Myrmoteras trap-jaw ants, fearsome predators armed with long, spiky, widely-agape mandibles — and they are on the hunt. Suddenly, an insect-like springtail comes into the view of a trap-jaw’s compound eye. With a quick rush from the ant, it’s all over, and the springtail is pitifully pinned in the ant’s prickly jaws. Read More >>

science
Ancient Carnivorous Dread-Possum Is Upending the History of Mammals

During the 65 million years following the extinction of the dinosaurs, the success story of the mammals has been more than a little imbalanced. Eutherians (placental mammals like dogs, horses, you and me) had an evolutionary rager, exploding in diversity and filling vacant ecological roles across the Northern Hemisphere. Metatherians (including marsupials like kangaroos and koalas) only got a modest foothold in the smaller, southern continents of South America and Australia. For tens of millions of years, everything north of the equator seemed to be a land of total placental mammal dominance—but the fossilised remains of a cat-sized metatherian carnivore in Turkey are now challenging that story. Read More >>

science
These Adorable Sea Snakes Are Losing Their Stripes Because of Pollution

Sea snakes are a striking sight on the sun-dappled Pacific and Indian Ocean coral reefs they call home. They swim with deliberate yet graceful winding movements above the reef, and they are often conspicuously coloured, with many species sporting patterns flush with yellows, oranges, and blues, broken up by stripes, blotches, and spots. This scaly skin, delicately painted by evolution, is part of what makes encounters with them so memorable. However, one species of sea snake—the turtle-headed sea snake (Emydocephalus annulatus)—is losing its captivating stripes. The culprit behind this robbery? Pollution. Read More >>

science
Tiny Spider Appears to Have Sailed Across an Entire Ocean

Spiders in the family Migidae don’t get out much. Known as “tree trapdoor spiders,” they are unapologetic homebodies, spending nearly their entire lives chilling in a single burrow. Unlike their close, but much more famous relatives the tarantulas, tree trapdoor spiders are teeny, with most species small enough to fit on a fingernail. Just a few meters away from where they originally hatched, they build silk-lined tubes within the bark of trees and hide inside, waiting for prey to come close enough for an ambush attack. Read More >>

science
Terrifying Ocean Predator Changes Our View of the Worst Mass Extinction in History

252 million years ago, the Earth was in a really bad place. At the boundary of the Permian and Triassic periods, our biosphere experienced its most dramatic mass extinction event (so far), one so utterly complete that it has been solemnly termed the “Great Dying.” Precious little was spared, and it’s generally been thought that it took many millions of years for life to stand back up again. But a recently-discovered fossil dating to just after the Great Dying is helping to erode our vision of a slow post-extinction recovery, showing that ecosystems recovered very quickly, were thriving, and full of teeth. Rows upon rows of razor-edged teeth. Read More >>

climate change
Aardvarks Might be Doomed Because of Climate Change

Aardvarks (Orycteropus afer) are probably the most endearingly doofy-looking animals ever to grace the African continent. These Seussian snufflers look like someone threw an anteater, a rabbit, a pig, and an armadillo into a smelter. Aardvarks have entered the consciousness of millions of children as both the first animal in any alphabetic listing, and the species ID of the titular character of the animated series Arthur. This all makes findings in a new paper published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters particularly hard to hear: Climate change may kill off large numbers of aardvarks, to the point of regional extinction (or ‘extirpation’) in many areas. Read More >>

science
Nightmarish Sea Spiders Pump Their Blood Using Their Guts

Earth’s oceans are well-stocked with otherworldly inhabitants, but few of these critters are quite as strange as sea spiders, which look like something that would lurk in the crawlspace under Slender Man’s house. With their impossibly spindly legs, sea spiders—which aren’t even actual spiders—stride across the ocean floor with eerily slow, deliberate steps. They eat by piercing stationary animals like sea anemones and sponges with their long proboscises, and sucking up chunks of tissue softened by digestive juices. Now, new research published in the journal Current Biology piles onto the weirdness, demonstrating that sea spiders move blood and oxygen around their bodies not by pumping their hearts, but by pumping their guts. Read More >>

science
Nightmarish Crocodile Relative Terrorised Dinosaurs in Prehistoric Madagascar

Roughly 165 million years ago during the mid-Jurassic, Madagascar was an alien place. The famously large island has yet to fully cleave itself tectonically from India and Africa, still crammed together with the rest of the southern supercontinent of Gondwana. Primates have yet to evolve, and flowers aren’t even a thing yet. This Madagascar is instead alive with a spectacular diversity of dinosaurs and reptiles, racing along the dirt and soaring above the forests. But everything that slinks, bounds, and lumbers across this sun-baked, proto-Madagascan theatre is united in unshakeable wariness over the region’s most feared apex predator: Razanandrongobe sakalavae, an enormous, land-striding relative of crocodiles with a nightmare where its face ought to go. Read More >>

animals
Adorable New Elfin Toad Is Straight Out of Middle-Earth

Far up in the Langbian Plateau in southern Vietnam, a dense, dark forest gently breathes with a passing breeze. Billowing fog continually invades and shrouds the canopy. Thick, verdant moss blankets every rock and tree, and the landscape weeps with trickling rivulets of water. This gorgeous setting feels like it could host any number of magical beasts, and now, a team of researchers has revealed a new woodland creature that looks particularly at home. Behold, the elfin mountain toad. Read More >>