10 Quick Facts About Roadrunners

MikeLane45/iStock via Getty Images
MikeLane45/iStock via Getty Images

Anyone who was raised on Looney Tunes cartoons might be surprised to find out that roadrunners aren’t long-necked or purple-crested—but roadrunners and coyotes do occasionally engage in chases. Here are a few fast facts about these unusual desert birds.

1. Roadrunners are members of the cuckoo family.

Found in deserts, grasslands, and forests, the greater roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) cruises through the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. Its slightly smaller relative, the lesser roadrunner (Geococcyx velox), is generally found further south. Both birds belong to the cuckoo family, Cuculidae, which also includes anis and malkohas. All the members of the family have zygodactyl feet, with two forward-facing and two backward-facing toes. The arrangement gives roadrunners X-shaped footprints.

2. Roadrunners are fast—but coyotes are faster.

Greater roadrunner in a desert habitat
RONSAN4D/iStock via Getty Images

According to The Real Roadrunner by Martha Anne Maxon, scientists have clocked the speedy birds running at 15 to 20 miles per hour. Coyotes can run twice as fast as even the fastest roadrunners, but luckily for the birds, coyotes would just as well dine on small rodents, plants, and lizards instead of birds.

3. Flying isn’t the roadrunner’s forte.

Most of the time, roadrunners get around on foot, but taking flight is an option too. Roadrunners will sometimes glide down to Earth from tree branches or canyon rims, but they’re limited to short-distance powered flights because their wings are weak and their muscular legs weigh them down. To get airborne, they usually need a running start.

4. Lizards, seeds, and hummingbirds are on the roadrunner’s menu.

Opportunistic and omnivorous, roadrunners will eat seeds, cactus fruit, snails, snakes, lizards, insects, arachnids, and rodents. Smaller birds are fair game, too. Roadrunners will sometimes lurk around birdfeeders and, with a great leap, snatch songbirds in midair. Wildlife photographer Roy Dunn recently filmed a roadrunner capturing a hummingbird at his backyard feeder.

5. Roadrunners can out-maneuver striking rattlesnakes.

Roadrunners have no fear of venomous rattlesnakes—in fact, they find them delicious. But hunting one takes patience. When the two beasts face off, the roadrunner will fan its wings, which makes the bird look bigger and more threatening. As the snake strikes, the roadrunner nimbly leaps out of the way. This happens over and over until the bird, having learned the snake’s routine, grabs it by the back of the head in mid-strike. Then the roadrunner bashes the snake against the ground until it’s subdued or dead. Since they don’t have talons and their beaks aren’t equipped to rip through flesh, roadrunners swallow snakes whole.

6. Puebloan peoples believe roadrunners ward off dangerous spirits.

Roadrunners are viewed as protective entities among Puebloan peoples in the southwest U.S. Members of these tribes scratched X-shaped symbols designed to look like the birds’ tracks into the earth around dead bodies. The Xs were believed to secure them from evil spirits: malevolent beings would get confused because they couldn’t tell which way the roadrunner who left the “footprints” had been headed. Likewise, roadrunner feathers were placed over cradles to protect the babies inside.

7. Roadrunners do not say “beep! beep!”

Male roadrunners emit cooing noises while courting females and defending territories. Both sexes also use barks and growls to communicate—and for unknown reasons, roadrunners like to produce a long series of clicks by snapping their beaks. The clicks might be a message about one’s territory or a signal to broadcast one’s location to others.

8. Greater roadrunners team up to defend their territories.

Greater roadrunner running across a road
ca2hill/iStock via Getty Images

Considered monogamous, greater roadrunners sometimes pair for life. To help maintain the relationship, males periodically dance for their partners. They’ll also offer food and materials that can be used during nest construction. Both parents take turns incubating their eggs, which are laid in clutches of two to six, and they share chick-raising duties later on. Defending the home turf is another task they perform together. A single pair of roadrunners may occupy a huge territory encompassing up to 250 acres.

9. Roadrunners can conserve energy by lowering their body temperatures.

Roadrunners don’t migrate. On cold nights, the birds reduce their own body temperatures by as much as 15°F, which allows them to burn less energy. To help warm themselves back up, the birds like to sunbathe in the early morning [PDF]. They even raise their feathers to expose their skin directly to the sun’s warming rays.

10. The roadrunner is the state bird of New Mexico.

The greater roadrunner was formally chosen to be the Land of Enchantment’s state bird on March 16, 1949. Since then, the anti-littering organization Keep New Mexico Beautiful, Inc. has adopted an anthropomorphic roadrunner named Dusty as its mascot.

10 Ginormous Facts About Coconut Crabs

Janos/iStock via Getty Images
Janos/iStock via Getty Images

They're huge and antisocial. They will steal your silverware and can rip apart whole coconuts with their claws. Grab a piña colada and enjoy these 10 ginormous facts about the amazing coconut crab.

1. Coconut crabs are colossal.

Native to islands in the Indian and southern Pacific oceans, are truly humongous. They can weigh 9 pounds and measure 3 feet from leg to leg. Coconut crabs are the largest land-living arthropods—the phylum of joint-legged creatures that includes crabs, insects, spiders, and scorpions. Even Charles Darwin was stunned by their “monstrous size.”

But be aware: Occasionally, a viral photo circulates that exaggerates the coconut crab’s size. As biologist Michael Bok explains, the coconut crab in that infamous photo is normal sized, but the trash can is unusually small.

2. Coconut crabs are actually hermit crabs.

Coconut crab
Sandwich, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Where does such a bizarre animal fit in the animal kingdom? Are they lobsters? Tarantulas? Space aliens? In fact, Birgus latro is a kind of hermit crab.

You may have seen smaller hermit crabs on a trip to the beach—or for sale at a pet shop. They take shelter inside abandoned snail shells, carrying them around as portable homes. But if coconut crabs are hermit crabs, then why don’t they live in shells? Well, they do—when they’re young and still small.

3. Coconut crabs quickly outgrow their borrowed shells.

Like other crabs, hatchling coconut crabs begin their lives floating freely at sea. After about a month of eating and growing, they find a snail shell and move in. The little coconut crabs carry this mobile home as they begin to transition to a land-based life.

A seashell is a nice, protected place to live, but it has its drawbacks [PDF]. As a crab gets bigger, its shell gets tighter—like an old pair of shoes on a kid who’s growing fast. The crab needs to find a bigger shell and make a quick switch. And that larger home will be heavier to tote around.

So, after a year or so of inhabiting shells, the coconut crab makes a major lifestyle change. It crawls out and hardens the parts of its body that were once protected by the shell by regrowing layers of calcium-based tissues, a process called recalcification. Without its old home, it’s free of size constraints. Now, unlike other hermit crabs, it can become enormous.

4. Coconut crabs eat coconuts, of course ...

This might seem obvious from the coconut crab’s name. But if you’ve ever tried to crack open a coconut, you know that it’s a steep challenge. In fact, a lengthy scientific debate once raged about whether coconut crabs were really able to open the fruit. It turns out that they’re up to the challenge—but they don’t just pop open their prize and dig in.

Breaking into a coconut is a mighty ordeal even if you’re a heavily armored crustacean the size of a small dog. Coconut crabs first use their claws to scrape away the fibrous coating. This can take hours or days. Finally, they stab into the fruit at a weak point and rip it open.

This diet helps coconut crabs grow large: those with access to coconuts may be twice as massive as those without. But eating the fruit isn’t essential for their survival. So what other items do the largest land-living arthropods shove into their maw?

5. ... but they also eat dead animals, their own body parts, and each other.

As well as the occasional biscuit, as you can see in the video above. (Note: Do not feed biscuits to coconut crabs.) A coconut crab’s diet may include other tropical fruits, fallen plant material, dead and decaying animals, rats, and other crab species. They’ll even eat members of their own kind. In fact, biologist Mark Laidre says they only relatively recently evolved to eat coconuts—a skill unique to modern coconut crabs—which helps them to eat each other less.

They also eat their own discarded body parts. As coconut crabs grow, they periodically molt their tough outer layer (the exoskeleton) and grow a new one. Once they’re done molting, which takes about a month, they gobble up their own exoskeleton.

6. Coconut crabs have an amazing sense of smell ...

Coconut crabs often forage at night. How do they find food when they’re wandering around in the dark? They sniff it out. These animals have a strong, highly efficient [PDF] sense of smell. In fact, a large portion of their brain is devoted to detecting odors.

7. ... which might explain why they're thieves.

Coconut crabs are also known as robber crabs because they snatch silverware and other objects and carry them away. Some people have even advanced the gruesome theory that Amelia Earhart’s remains are missing because coconut crabs hauled them down into their burrows. The thievery might be tied to that incredible sense of smell. Coconut crabs ignore objects that have been washed clean of scents, suggesting that they may only abscond with things that carry a faint whiff of food.

8. Coconut crabs are pretty antisocial.

Adult coconut crabs live alone in crevices or burrows. They aggressively guard their privacy; a crab entering another’s burrow risks becoming a meal.

But that’s not the end of their antisocial behavior. When coconut crabs emerge to feed, they keep their distance from each other. To maintain their personal space, they’ll announce their presence with ritualized claw waving. Laidre sought to find out if coconut crabs ever gathered together to interact (beyond mating or eating each other). The scientist tethered coconut crabs to one spot and watched to see if any others came to visit. They did not.

9. Coconut crabs carry their developing young under their abdomens.

After coconut crabs mate, females attach their eggs to special appendages and carry them under their abdomens. While the young develop inside the eggs, the females hold onto them, sticking near the edge of the sea so that they can periodically moisten the eggs.

But this care ends when the young are ready to hatch. The females release their hatchlings into the ocean waves. Now the tiny, floating babies must fend for themselves—and only a few will survive to return to land.

10. We need to learn a lot more about coconut crabs.

Coconut crab
Anne Sheppard, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Coconut crabs are little-studied creatures, and we need to know more about them—not just because they’re incredible and have a lot to tell us about biology, but also because we want to keep them around.

They may be huge and heavily armored, but they can be vulnerable. Coconut crabs take an extremely long time to grow big—they can live more than 40 years—and introduced predators such as rats can harm smaller, younger individuals or those in the process of shedding their exoskeletons (when their bodies are soft). Habitat loss has also caused local declines in some areas. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the coconut crab as data deficient: That is, we don’t know enough about its locations and populations. That’s why we need to study and learn more about these amazing, otherworldly critters.

‘Water’ in Kansas City Woman’s Ear Turned Out to Be a Venomous Brown Recluse Spider

N-sky/iStock via Getty Images
N-sky/iStock via Getty Images

Susie Torres, a resident of Kansas City, Missouri, woke up on Tuesday morning with the distinct feeling that water was lodged in her left ear. She likened it to the swooshing sensation that can often happen after swimming, WDAF-TV reports.

Instead of waiting for the problem to resolve itself, Torres went to the doctor—a decision that might have saved her from some serious pain. The medical assistant was the first to realize something was alarmingly amiss, and immediately called for backup.

“She ran out and said ‘I’m going to get a couple more people,’” Torres told 41 Action News. “She then said, ‘I think you have an insect in there.’” For many people, the thought of having any live insect stuck in an ear would be enough to cue a small- or large-scale freak-out, but Torres stayed calm.

The doctors “had a few tools and worked their magic and got it out,” Torres said. The “it” in question turned out to be a spider—and not just any harmless house spider (which you shouldn’t kill, by the way). It was a venomous brown recluse spider.

“Gross,” Torres told WDAF-TV. “Why, where, what, and how.”

Miraculously, the spider didn’t bite Torres. If it had, she would’ve ended up visiting the doctor with more than general ear discomfort: Brown recluse bites can cause pain, burning, fever, nausea, and purple or blue discoloration of the surrounding skin, according to Healthline.

Torres may have remained admirably level-headed throughout the ordeal, but that doesn’t mean she’s taking it lightly. “I went and put some cotton balls in my ears last night,” she told WDAF-TV. “I’m shaking off my clothes, and I don’t put my purse on the floor. I’m a little more cautious.”

Is this the first time an insect has posted up in the ear of an unsuspecting, innocent human? Absolutely not—here are six more horror stories, featuring a cockroach, a bed bug, and more.

[h/t WDAF-TV]

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