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11 Animals With Amazing Prosthetics

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ThinkStock

Think artificial limbs are only for those of us with opposable thumbs and language skills? Think again. Thanks to technology, innovation, and a little bit of luck, animals who have lost paws, flippers, beaks, and tails can use modern prosthetics to make amazing comebacks.

1. Winter the Dolphin: Tail

In December 2005, a fisherman found a three-month-old dolphin tangled up in the ropes of a crab trap off the east coast of Florida. Although local marine mammal veterinarians were able to save her life, they couldn’t save the little dolphin’s tail. The losses obviously affected the dolphin’s ability to swim, so a human prosthetics company joined forces with the marine vets to create a substitute tail made from the same plastic as human prosthetics. Winter the dolphin has done swimmingly with her new tail, adapting to a new swim pattern and adjusting to newer and better versions as the technology improves.

2. Beauty the Eagle: Beak

Take away an eagle’s beak, and you take away its ability to eat, drink, groom - even defend itself. When Beauty the eagle was found at an Alaska landfill in 2005, she was slowly starving to death because a poacher had shot off most of her upper beak. An engineer spent 200 hours developing a nylon-composite beak for Beauty that helps her drink and grip food. Though she’ll never be able to live in the wild again - the beak isn’t strong enough to kill prey - Beauty now spends her days attending lectures as the spokesbird against raptor poaching.

3. Tzvika the Turtle: Legs

You might think that being on the wrong end of a lawn mower would mean certain death for a turtle, but with today’s technology, that’s not necessarily so. After mower blades severely damaged Tzvika’s shell and caused a spinal injury that paralyzed her rear limbs, veterinarians outfitted her with a new set of wheels—literally. A set of tiny tires attach to the turtle’s underside, elevating her to keep her shell from being worn down while still allowing her to walk. Slowly, of course—she’s still a turtle.

4. Indio the Horse: Leg

An animal’s need for a prosthetic isn’t always due to careless humans. Indio the horse kicked through a metal stall wall, more or less severing his hoof in the process. Though an injury like that usually results in euthanization, his owners hoped that there was a different solution. A veterinarian stepped in and was able to remove the rest of the damaged lower leg, replacing it with a prosthetic that allows Indio to function almost completely normally. In fact, Indio was up and moving on his new leg just an hour after the surgery.

5. Mister Stubbs the Alligator: Tail

Chances are, you’ve never been on the losing end of a gator fight. Mister Stubbs has been, and he has a stump where his tail once was to prove it. After he and 31 other alligators were found in an illegal shipment of exotic animals, a team of experts came together to figure out exactly how a prosthetic gator tail would work. After accounting for variables like gravity, weight, and buoyancy, the team developed a three-foot-long rubber tail that attaches to Mister Stubbs with nylon straps. Though a better version is in development—the current tail requires an inflatable water wing attachment for stability in the water—Mister Stubbs is doing well enough that his name is no longer accurate.

6. Stumpy the Kangaroo: Leg

Not that designing any animal prosthetic is easy, but creating a suitably springy leg for a kangaroo is particularly challenging. Because a kangaroo typically hops from point A to point B instead of walking, the prosthetic created for Stumpy, a red kangaroo who lives in an Ohio sanctuary, had to be able to withstand specific movements and forces. A veterinary medicine professor and licensed human prosthesis orthotist joined forces to create an appendage that works similarly to the artificial limb used by amputee runners.

7. Girl the Tiger: Hip

Just like your grandmother, Girl the Malayan tiger suffered from arthritis. Unlike your nana, Girl underwent a three-hour procedure in 2011 that fitted her with a prosthetic hip first developed for dogs. Though the surgery was tricky—the tiger’s heart almost stopped at one point—Girl made it through and was reported to be doing as well as any tiger could be doing after such a serious procedure.

8. Naki’o the Dog:  All Four Paws

When Naki’o the dog was just five weeks old, he and the rest of the puppies from his litter were abandoned in a foreclosed home in Nebraska in the dead of winter. Stuck in the house’s freezing cellar, the poor puppy’s paws were submerged in a puddle that later froze around his feet, leaving him with four stumps by the time rescuers stepped in. A veterinarian’s assistant raised the money to buy prosthetics for Naki’o’s rear legs, but once the pet prosthetics company saw how well the dog adapted, they offered to make the front two for free. Today, the “bionic dog” runs, plays, and even swims just like any other pup.

9. Oscar the Cat: Paws

If there’s a bionic dog, you know there’s also a bionic cat. Enter Oscar, a black cat from England who was asleep in a sunny field when a combine harvester managed to sneak up on him, slicing off his back paws. Though his owners feared the worst, Oscar ended up being a good candidate for titanium rod implants. Veterinarians and engineers say the design of the implants was inspired by the way deer antlers grow through the skin.

10. Tungo the Penguin:  Beak

After getting a little too up-close-and-personal with a boat propeller, a five-month-old Magellanic penguin named Tungo was left with a shattered beak. Tungo would have starved without the help of a veterinarian who was able to salvage pieces of the beak, fashioning them into a prosthetic that allows him to catch his own fish again.

11. Hope the Giraffe: Legs

Although she was born with a hoof deformity, Hope the giraffe has no problem getting around. The deformity occurred because of tendons in her foot that restricted her legs and leg growth, stopping them from developing properly. A medical team began treating the condition within hours of her birth, eventually fitting Hope with shoes that had an external tendon system to keep her hooves aligned properly. As she grew and her legs strengthened, less and less prosthetic was needed. Today, Hope is prosthetic-free, and it’s hard to tell that she ever needed any corrective action at all.

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NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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Animals
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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Joe Raedle, Getty Images
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Animals
10 Things You Might Not Know About Grizzly Bears
Joe Raedle, Getty Images
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Ursus arctos horribilis is better known by the more casual term of grizzly bear. These massive, brown-haired predators have a reputation as one of nature’s most formidable killing machines. Standing up to 8 feet tall and weighing 800 pounds, these fierce mammals have captivated—and frightened—humans for centuries. Keep your distance and read up on these facts about their love for munching moths, eating smaller bears, and being polar-curious.

1. THEY’RE ACTUALLY PRETTY LIGHT EATERS.

Grizzlies—more accurately, North American brown bears—are strong enough to make a meal out of whatever they like, including moose, elk, and bison. Despite their reputation for having carnivorous appetites, their diet also consists of nuts, berries, fruits, and leaves. They’ll even eat mice. The gluttony doesn’t kick in until they begin to exhibit hyperphagia, preparing for winter hibernation by chomping down enough food to gain up to three pounds a day.

2. THEY USE “CPR” TO GET AT YOUR FOOD.

A grizzly bear eats fruit in Madrid, Spain
Dani Pozo, AFP/Getty Images

More than 700 grizzlies live in or near Yellowstone National Park, which forces officials to constantly monitor how park visitors and the bears can peacefully co-exist. Because bears rummaging in food containers can lead to unwanted encounters, the park’s Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center tests trash cans and coolers to see if they’re bear-resistant. (Nothing is truly bear-proof.) Often, a bear will use “CPR,” or jumping on a canister with its front legs, in order to make the lid pop off. Containers that can last at least 60 minutes before being opened can be advertised by their manufacturers as being appropriate for bear-inhabited environments.

3. THEY CAN CLIMB TREES.

It's a myth that grizzlies can't climb trees. Though their weight and long claws make climbing difficult [PDF], and they need support from evenly-spaced branches, grizzlies can travel vertically if they choose to.

4. THEY’LL EAT OTHER BEARS.

Two grizzly bears play in a pool at a zoo in France
Jean-Francois Monier, AFP/Getty Images

In addition to being omnivorous, grizzlies can also be classified as cannibals. They’ve been spotted eating the carcasses of black bears in Canada. Calling it a “bear-eat-bear world,” officials at Banff National Park in Alberta said the grizzlies are “opportunistic” and more than willing to devour black bears—sometimes just one-fifth their size—if the occasion calls for it. And it’s not just black bears: One study on bear eating habits published in 2017 recorded a 10-year-old male eating a 6-year-old female brown bear.

5. THEY LOVE MOTHS.

Although grizzlies enjoy eating many insects, moths are at the top of the menu. Researchers have observed that bears are willing to climb to alpine heights at Montana’s Glacier National Park in order to feast on the flying appetizers. Grizzlies will turn over rocks and spend up to 14 hours in a day devouring in excess of 40,000 moths.

6. A PAIR OF THEM ONCE LIVED ON WHITE HOUSE GROUNDS.

A grizzly bear appears at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenseburg, Colorado
John Moore, Getty Images

In what would be considered an ill-advised decision, explorer Zebulon Pike decided to gift his friend President Thomas Jefferson with two grizzly cubs in 1807. Jefferson reluctantly accepted them and kept them in a cage near the north entrance to the White House, and later re-gifted the cubs to museum operator Charles Willson Peale. Sadly, one of them got shot after getting too aggressive with Peale’s family.

7. THEY CAN RUN FASTER THAN USAIN BOLT.

The bears we see in fiction or lazing about in the wild tend to look cumbersome and slow, as most anything weighing nearly a half-ton would. But in a land race, even Olympic champions would be on the losing end. Grizzlies can reportedly run 35 mph, and sustain speeds of up to 28 mph for two miles, faster than Usain Bolt’s 27.78 miles per hour stride (which he can only sustain for a few seconds).

8. THEY MATE WITH POLAR BEARS.

A grizzly bear is shown swimming at a pool in an Illinois zoo
Scott Olson, Getty Images

In parts of Alaska and Canada where grizzlies and polar bears converge, there are sometimes rare sightings of what observers call “grolar bears” or “pizzlies.” With large heads and light-colored fur, they’re a hybrid superbear birthed from some interspecies mating. Typically, it’s male grizzlies who roam into those territories, finding female polar bears to cozy up with. Researchers believe climate change is one reason the two are getting together.

9. THEY KNOW HOW TO COVER THEIR TRACKS.

When it comes to intellect, grizzlies may not get all the same publicity that birds and whales do, but they’re still pretty clever. The bears can remember hotspots for food even if it’s been 10 years since they last visited the area; some have been observed covering tracks or obscuring themselves with rocks and trees to avoid detection by hunters.

10. THEY’RE NOT OUT OF THE WOODS YET.

A grizzly bear and her cub walk in Yellowstone National Park
Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images

For 42 years, grizzlies at Yellowstone occupied the endangered species list. That ended in 2017, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that a rise in numbers—from 150 in the 1970s to more than 700 today—meant that conservation efforts had been successful. But overall, the grizzly population is still struggling: Fewer than 2000 remain in the lower 48 states, down from 50,000 two centuries ago.

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