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6 Animals That Show Mother Nature's Sense of Humor

You've heard jokes like these all your life: What do you get if you cross an octopus with a cow? An animal that can milk itself. I didn't find such an animal, but the world has plenty of strange species that at first glance appear to be hybrids of unrelated species because they have attributes that surprise us. However, we are only surprised because our personal experiences don't encompass all that nature offers.

1. Turtle + Hedgehog = Armadillo

Rudyard Kipling wrote the story The Beginning of the Armadillos, in which the animal came from a tortoise and a hedgehog. They didn't join to give birth to armadillos; instead, they taught each other their talents. The hedgehog helped the tortoise learn to curl into a ball, and the tortoise taught the hedgehog to swim, which toughened up his spines into armor. Before they knew it, both had turned into armadillos.

Here in the real world, armadillos are related to both sloths and anteaters and are native to Latin America except for the nine-banded armadillo we see in the US. In certain states they are called "speed bumps". Armadillo image by Flickr user Ben Cooper.

2. Giraffe + Zebra = Okapi

giraffe550_Okapi

The okapi (Okapia johnstoni) appears to be a short giraffe with a zebra's legs tacked on as an afterthought. The animal, which lives only in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (and in zoos), is actually related to the giraffe but was "shorted" in the neck department. To make up for that oversight, the okapi has a tongue long enough to lick its own ears! The zebra stripes are thought to be used as camouflage, and to make it easy for okapi young to follow their mothers through the rain forest. Okapi image by Raul654.

3. Anteater + Armadillo = Pangolin

anteater550_pangolin

The pangolin is also known as the spiny anteater. They are mammals, but have keratin scales over their bodies. They roll up into a ball in defense like an armadillo or a hedgehog. Recent genetic studies show that pangolins are related to neither anteaters (despite the fact that they eat ants) nor armadillos. But the weirdness doesn't stop there: pangolins can spray a nasty musk just like a skunk. And they don't have any teeth!

4. Bird + Fox = Fruit Bat

eagle550fruitbat

Fruit bats encompass several species and are also called megabats or flying foxes. What sets fruit bats apart from your garden variety insect-eating belfry-hangers is the fact that most fruit bats do not use echolocation to get around. They need their eyes big and their noses long to sense where they are going, so their faces look like more familiar land mammals—particularly dogs. No doubt that's where the term flying fox came from. If you couldn't see a fruit bat's wings, you might have a hard time guessing the species. Fox image by Flickr user Kris *Thirty6Red*. Bat image by Flickr user smccann.

5. Duck + Beaver = Platypus

beaver550Platypus

The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) of Australia looks like a taxidermy experiment in which a mammal has been accessorized with a beaver's tail, a duck's bill, the venom of a snake, and the feet of an otter. This animal is not related to any of the others, however. The platypus is a monotreme. It shares that order with only four other species which are all echidnas. It is truly unique in the animal kingdom, and the most likely of any in this list to be an example of God's sense of humor. Platypus image by Stefan Kraft.

6. Hoop Snake + Lizard = Armadillo Girdled Lizard

hoopsnake550armadillolizard

This lizard might be what people saw when they came up with the legend of the hoop snake (featured in a previous post). You don't find too many lizards that protect themselves by rolling into a ball, but the Armadillo Girdled Lizard (Cordylus cataphractus) does just that. This lizard grabs its tail with its mouth and forms a ring with its spines pointing out. Any predator will have a hard time figuring this thing out, much less eating it! The name is just a descriptor; this lizard has no relation to an armadillo, which is a mammal.

Can you think of other examples of animals that look like hybrids of unrelated species?

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NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
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technology
Researchers in Singapore Deploy Robot Swans to Test Water Quality
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

There's something peculiar about the new swans floating around reservoirs in Singapore. They drift across the water like normal birds, but upon closer inspection, onlookers will find they're not birds at all: They're cleverly disguised robots designed to test the quality of the city's water.

As Dezeen reports, the high-tech waterfowl, dubbed NUSwan (New Smart Water Assessment Network), are the work of researchers at the National University of Singapore [PDF]. The team invented the devices as a way to tackle the challenges of maintaining an urban water source. "Water bodies are exposed to varying sources of pollutants from urban run-offs and industries," they write in a statement. "Several methods and protocols in monitoring pollutants are already in place. However, the boundaries of extensive assessment for the water bodies are limited by labor intensive and resource exhaustive methods."

By building water assessment technology into a plastic swan, they're able to analyze the quality of the reservoirs cheaply and discreetly. Sensors on the robots' undersides measure factors like dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll levels. The swans wirelessly transmit whatever data they collect to the command center on land, and based on what they send, human pilots can remotely tweak the robots' performance in real time. The hope is that the simple, adaptable technology will allow researchers to take smarter samples and better understand the impact of the reservoir's micro-ecosystem on water quality.

Man placing robotic swan in water.
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

This isn't the first time humans have used robots disguised as animals as tools for studying nature. Check out this clip from the BBC series Spy in the Wild for an idea of just how realistic these robots can get.

[h/t Dezeen]

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iStock
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science
There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
iStock
iStock

Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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