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5 Animals That Eat Brains

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ThinkStock

You don’t have to watch The Walking Dead to catch some brain-eating action. In yet another example of truth being stranger than fiction, it turns out that the animal kingdom has produced some consummate noggin-nibblers … including a few that might surprise you!

1. Lumholtz’ Tree Kangaroo (Dendrolagus lumoltzi)

Adorable though they may be, these marsupials have been known to add a dash of protein to their predominantly herbivorous diets by horking down the occasional bird brain. Unconcerned with waste management, tree kangaroos generally discard the rest of the corpse after consuming the gray matter.

2. Great Tit (Parus major)

The great tit’s powerful beak is an excellent nut-smashing tool. It also doubles as a handy-dandy bat-skull-crusher. Seeds and insects are the favored cuisine, but this songbird is a devout opportunist. Specimens have been spotted scavenging corpses and breaking into milk bottles to get through the lean times, and when things get particularly desperate, they’ll even decapitate hibernating bats before eating their brains (along with a few other organs).

3. Sea Squirts

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Enigmatic and often beautiful, sea squirts are a diverse group of filter-feeding marine invertebrates scientifically known as “tunicates.” Their life cycle is rather intricate, and at one point during this metamorphosis, they’ll literally devour their own brains. Luckily, this occurs after the creatures have stopped needing them.

4. Pork Tapeworm (Taenia solium)

One of the deadliest parasites known to science, pork tapeworm larvae sometimes invade human brains, consuming sizable chunks of mental tissue in the process.

5. Chipmunk (Tamias sp.)

Acorns don’t always cut it. Chipmunks also eat grass, mushrooms, insects, and even small frogs from time to time. For reasons unknown, mouse brains also periodically show up on the menu (though, curiously, the chipmunks tend to ignore the remainder of the carcass afterwards).

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Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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