science
New Evidence From Ancient Amber Shows Dinosaurs Were Plagued By Ticks

New research on 100 million year-old amber with ticks preserved inside indicates these tiny, annoying critters have been around for a long time—and that dinosaurs were among their hosts. Read More >>

science
200-Pound Penguins Once Prowled the Seas of Ancient New Zealand

Penguins are objectively adorable animals. The flappy little buddies waddle around on stubby feet, and some even like to be tickled. Their chicks are basically cute fluffballs made of fat and charisma that dance in children’s movies. However, a new fossil discovery in New Zealand has revealed an ancestral penguin species that was considerably more intimidating than today’s agreeable Antarctic chaps. This long-extinct penguin was immense—standing nearly six feet tall and weighing more than two hundred pounds—one of the largest semi-aquatic birds to ever shuffle across the Earth. Read More >>

science
Freaky New Dinosaur Was Part Duck, Part Raptor

The last few years have yielded some truly bizarre dinosaur discoveries. From rhino-like animals with massive heads and stubby spines, to beaked mishmashes of every dinosaur in the book, there’s been a cavalcade of incredible additions. But perhaps none of these quite measures up to the unrelenting strangeness of a newly-discovered species of dinosaur that lived in the Cretaceous period of Mongolia some 75 million years ago. Read More >>

science
For Fish Penises, Bigger Isn’t Always Better

When it comes to reproduction, most fish are external fertilisers, crop dusting eggs in a cloud of sperm. But swordtails (Xiphophorus) aren’t like most fish. These fish fertilise eggs internally and “give birth” to live young. To help this whole operation, males have evolved external genitalia for transferring sperm—a tool not typical among fish. Naturally, the next question would be—for swordtails at least—is bigger better? After all, they went through all the trouble of evolving penises in the first place. New research on the matter of female swordtail preferences towards their males’ members provides an answer: not necessarily. Yes, size is important, but so is how the males use it—and only when females are healthy enough to be in a discerning position. Read More >>

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Ridiculously Waterproof Fly Survives Dives Into Toxic Lakes

If you’ve ever seen an outdoor swimming pool between cleanings, then you’re well aware of the death trap that standing water can be for flying insects. Bees, grasshoppers, and flies all easily tumble into the chlorinated sea, only to find themselves drenched and unable to fly away. But one type of fly is both at home in the air and under water. Alkali flies (Ephydra hians) dive into a lake, feed on the bottom, and shoot back to the surface to fly away, staying drier than a saltine the whole time. Now, scientists have figured out how they pull it off. Read More >>

science
Crested Pigeons Sound the Alarm With Whistling Wings

A small contingent of chunky, dove-like birds cautiously patter around a clearing in a park in suburban Sydney. Suddenly, a feral cat pounces out from some nearby brush, narrowly missing a flock member’s feather plume-festooned head with a paw. In a panicked huff, the birds take flight, and the air fills with a series of creaking whistles. Amazingly, these noises don’t come from the birds’ mouths, but from the flapping of their wings. The birds—crested pigeons (Ocyphaps lophotes)—have long been recognised for their loud flying, but new research has revealed how they make the whistling and just what these strange sounds are for: the whistling wings function as an alarm, telling other pigeons that danger is near and to vamoose, and it’s unlike anything known among birds. Read More >>

science
This Huge, Four-Horned Mammal Is Rewriting Giraffe Prehistory

Giraffes are hard to miss. Scraping the sky at roughly 18 feet up, they are the tallest animals on Earth. Humans have taken notice, becoming infatuated with giraffes from the first moments of the animals’ lives, and revering their iconic, alien gangliness across the globe. But despite all this attention, our species doesn’t have a particularly good grasp of the evolutionary history of giraffes and their relatives. But now, thanks to a newly-discovered fossil of a new species of extinct, ancestral giraffe, the giraffe family tree just grew a few more limbs and came into tighter focus. Read More >>

science
Shrews Shrink Their Heads to Survive Winter

Right now, as autumn descends upon the Northern Hemisphere, many animals are preparing for the frigid and lean winter months. Bears are going through a serious bulking phase. Hares and stoats are changing the colours of their coats. Oh, and shrews’ heads are shrinking. New research shows that the skull of at least one variety of shrew actually shrivels in size every winter. Read More >>

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 >>