CLOSE
Original image
himmelskratzer, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Boa Constrictors Form Hunting Parties and We’re Totally Fine with That

Original image
himmelskratzer, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Scientists have observed Cuban boas lining up, suspending themselves from cave ceilings in a “curtain” of bodies, and waiting for their bat prey to fly through. A report on this never-before-seen behavior was published in the journal Animal Behavior and Cognition [PDF].

At 3 to 6 feet long, the Cuban boa (Chilabothrus angulifer) is a hefty customer, the largest in its genus and one of the biggest in the West Indies. It’s a skilled hunter both on the forest floor and the cave ceiling, dangling like a fanged party streamer and snapping passing fruit bats out of the air.

Cooperative hunting is not uncommon in nature. Wolves do it, as do dolphins, apes, some birds, crocodiles, and even a few species of fish. Snakes … not so much. Scientists have seen snakes hunting in the same place, at the same time, but it was sort of an every-snake-for-itself situation. (In that nightmare-inducing scene in Planet Earth 2, for instance, researchers viewed the snakes as coordinating, not cooperating.) Or so we thought.

Yet when researcher Vladimir Dinets of the University of Knoxville settled in near a sinkhole cave in Cuba's Desembarco del Granma National Park to watch the snakes’ nightly bat-feast, he noticed something unusual: The snakes seemed to be making room for one another.

For eight nights between sunset and dawn, an apparently fearless Dinets watched the cave’s nine snake inhabitants position themselves on the roof of the cave. His first thought was that each snake just had its own favorite or assigned spot on the ceiling.

But over time, he realized that they were rotating, each arriving snake filling in gaps in the curtain space to ensure maximum bat-flightpath coverage.

This wasn’t just a bunch of snakes hunting in the same place at the same time. This was a bunch of snakes hunting together. And it was working. The boas stuffed themselves with little furry bodies.

“It is possible that boas are not unique among snakes, and that coordinated hunting is not particularly rare,” Dinets writes in his paper. “This possibility suggests that at least some snakes are not the ‘solitary animals’ they are commonly considered to be, and that they are capable of high behavioral complexity required for such hunting.”

This is fine.

Original image
Focus Features
arrow
Animals
25 Shelter Dogs Who Made It Big
Original image
Focus Features

If you’ve been thinking of adding a four-legged friend to your brood and are deciding whether a shelter dog is right for you, consider this: Some of history’s most amazing pooches—from four-legged movie stars to heroic rescue dogs—were found in animal shelters. In honor of Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month, here are 25 shelter dogs who made it big.

Original image
iStock
arrow
technology
This High-Tech Material Can Change Shape Like an Octopus
Original image
iStock

Octopuses can do some pretty amazing things with their skin, like “see” light, resist the pull of their own sticky suction cups, and blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. That last part now has the U.S. Army interested, as Co.Design reports. The military branch’s research office has funded the development a new type of morphing material that works like an octopus’s dynamic skin.

The skin of an octopus is covered in small, muscular bumps called papillae that allow them to change textures in a fraction of a second. Using this mechanism, octopuses can mimic coral, rocks, and even other animals. The new government-funded research—conducted by scientists at Cornell University—produced a device that works using a similar principle.

“Technologies that use stretchable materials are increasingly important, yet we are unable to control how they stretch with much more sophistication than inflating balloons,” the scientists write in their study, recently published in the journal Science. “Nature, however, demonstrates remarkable control of stretchable surfaces.”

The membrane of the stretchy, silicone material lays flat most of the time, but when it’s inflated with air, it can morph to form almost any 3D shape. So far, the technology has been used to imitate rocks and plants.

You can see the synthetic skin transform from a two-dimensional pad to 3D models of objects in the video below:

It’s easy to see how this feature could be used in military gear. A soldier’s suit made from material like this could theoretically provide custom camouflage for any environment in an instant. Like a lot of military technology, it could also be useful in civilian life down the road. Co.Design writer Jesus Diaz brings up examples like buttons that appear on a car's dashboard only when you need them, or a mixing bowl that rises from the surface of the kitchen counter while you're cooking.

Even if we can mimic the camouflage capabilities of cephalopods, though, other impressive superpowers, like controlling thousands of powerful suction cups or squeezing through spaces the size of a cherry tomato, are still the sole domain of the octopus. For now.

[h/t Co.Design]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios