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14 Fantastic New Beasts Discovered in 2014

Jeff Cremer/YouTube
Jeff Cremer/YouTube

Although we might act like we’re the only game in town, humans are only one of Earth’s roughly 8.7 million species of animals, plants, fungi, and protists. Each year, we discover another 15,000 species. In the last 12 months, scientists have described sex-crazed marsupials, enormous insects, and a punk rock snail—which would make 2014 the year of sex, bugs, and rock and roll. (Sorry. Not sorry.)

1. Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog (Rana kauffeldi) // New York Metropolitan Area, USA

Brian R. Curry

If you’ve ever tried coughing to get somebody’s attention, you know that it usually doesn’t work, and then you have to go on pretending to cough, then really coughing, for what seems like years. This is the story of the Atlantic Coast leopard frog, which has been coughing fecklessly in backyards in the New York City area for decades.

Ecologist Carl Kauffeld first came up with the idea of a third species of leopard frog in 1937, but nobody believed him. In 2012, the results of genetic studies indicated that there was a new frog species centered around Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Then earlier this year, a combination of DNA tests and that weird, cough-like croak confirmed that Kauffeld was right, and the frog was named Rana kauffeldi in his honor.

2. Giant Stick Insect (Phryganistria heusii yentuensis) // Vietnam

Female giant stick insect. Photo by Bresseel & Constant, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.

The newly identified giant stick bug Phryganistria heusii yentuensis really lives up to its name: a female can reach 21 inches, making it the second biggest living bug ever described (the only one bigger is another stick insect living in Borneo). Males are much smaller, which makes mating pretty funny to watch.

3. Bone-House Wasp (Deuteragenia ossarium) // China

The female bone-house wasp brings macabre to a new level: First she stings and paralyzes a spider, then drags the paralyzed body into her nest. There, she lays a single egg on the unlucky spider, then buries it alive. Not too long afterward, the egg hatches, and the new wasp larva eats its way out of the still-living spider.

And that’s the nice part. Bone-house wasps eat spiders, but they also kill ants and bring them back to the nest. Not for food, either: this is just to send a message. Adults carry the ant corpses home, then pile them up at the nest entrance like a gruesome UPS delivery. 

4. Narrow-Mouthed Frog (Chiasmocleis quilombola) // Brazil

João F. R. Tonini; CC-BY 4.0

Deep in the rain forest or Espirito Santo dwells a teeny-tiny frog with a big story. These diminutive amphibians (adults can grow up to about half an inch long) may not look like much, but their forest habitat once kept an incredible secret: the quilombos, or refuges for escaped slaves. The quilombos grew into full-fledged communities during the heydey of Brazil’s slave economy from the 16th to 19th centuries, and some still exist around the country today. 

Wanting to pay tribute to Espirito Santo’s remarkable heritage, the scientists who found the little frog named it Chiasmocleis quilombola

5. Intricate Satyr Butterfly (Hermeuptychia intricata) // Eastern United States

Zookeys

Researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center were studying the genetics of a sampling of Carolina satyrs (Hermeuptychia sosybius)—small, brown butterflies discovered in 1793—when they noticed something odd: The DNA didn't match up. "[The] butterflies looked indistinguishable, were flying together at the same place on the same day, but their DNA molecules were very different from each other," Dr. Nick Grishin, a professor of biochemistry, said. "We thought there was some kind of mistake in our experiments.”

But the DNA didn't lie: Although the insects' wings were nearly indistinguishable, their genitalia were quite different. Carolina satyrs had larger, paler genitalia, while the other species—which scientists called the Intricate Satyr—had smaller, darker genitalia. The species remained undiscovered for so long because it was hiding in plain sight. "[W]e were not able to find reliable wing pattern characters to tell a difference between the two species," the researchers write in their description of the species, which was published in ZooKeys. "This superficial similarity may explain why H. intricata, only distantly related to H. sosybius, has remained unnoticed until now, despite being widely distributed in the coastal plains from South Carolina to Texas, USA (and possibly to Costa Rica)."

And the discoveries didn't end there! Further DNA analysis of other satyr populations revealed another new species, the south Texas satyr (Hermeuptychia hermybius).

6. Elephant Shrew (Macroscelides micus) // Namibia

Galen Rathbun 

What do manatees, elephants, and aardvarks have in common? They can all call this adorable little potato their cousin. Elephant shrews, also known as sengis, are more closely related to elephants than they are to shrews. The sengi species discovered this year is a real trooper, dashing from hiding spot to hiding spot at the edge of the Namib Desert, where plants and shelter are sparse. 

To make sure the shy, rare, speedy Macroscelides micus was truly a new species, scientists had to get a closer look. Fortunately, they learned, the sengis were partial to peanut butter and Marmite. “They’re really sloppy eaters,” says researcher Galen Rathbun. 

7. Killer Sponges (Genera Asbestopluma and Cladorhiza) // Pacific Ocean

If there’s one thing less threatening than Killer Tofu, it’s got to be a killer sponge—unless you’re a crustacean.

Scientists found four new species of carnivorous sea sponges acting casual on the Pacific seafloor. “No,” the immobile, expressionless sponges seemed to say. “We’re not dangerous. Come over here.” But they were lying. Closer inspection of the sponges revealed the tiny corpses of partially digested prey tangled in the sponges’ microscopic hooks. Amphipods, if you’re reading this: beware. (And also, well done, learning to read!)

8. The Boozy Cockroach (Xestoblatta berenbaumae) // Guyana

It stinks. It drinks. And now, it’s funding research.

The latest addition to the cockroach compendium was announced in March by Dominic Evangelista, a PhD student in entomology, and his colleagues. In a blog post on Entomology Today, Evangelista called the new cockroach “dirty, ugly, and smelly,” and added, “These cockroaches have such a serious drinking problem, they’ll drown themselves in [beer].” 

What a sales pitch! And a sales pitch it was: Evangelista had decided to auction off the rights to name the cockroach, with proceeds going to fund his research. The highest bidder? None other than outspoken entomologist May Berenbaum, who recently won the National Medal of Science. But what’s a medal when there are cockroaches to name? “I’m so pleased!” she told the press. “There’s no greater honor.”

9. Bat Frog (Dendropsophus ozzyi) // Brazil

Marcel Sturaro

If it looks a little wary, the newly discovered “bat frog” has good reason: it was named for that famous bat-biter, heavy metal singer Ozzy Osbourne. But Dendropsophus ozzyi needn’t fear; for starters, it lives in the Brazilian Amazon, which is hardly Osbourne territory. And it only sounds like a bat, with its shrill call. And Ozzy doesn’t do that stuff anymore, anyway. 

10. Metal-eating Plant (Rinorea niccolifera) // Philippines

Edwino S. Fernando

A plant that eats nickel? And you thought Ozzy was metal. The newly discovered Rinorea niccolifera possesses the ridiculously hardcore ability to absorb metal without suffering any ill effects. The talent is super-rare—only 0.5 to 1 percent of plants growing in nickel-rich soil have been proven to do it—and has great potential for green technology.

11. Punk Rock Sea Snail (Alviniconcha strummeri) // Hydrothermal Vents, Western Pacific and Indian Oceans

Shannon B. Johnson

Snails are pretty great to begin with. Sea snails take it to the next level. And then there’s the punk rock sea snail, with its rows of spikes and its truly hardcore habitat. Scientists found this snail and several others in the sea-floor area surrounding hydrothermal vents, where the water can reach up to 750° F and higher. Noting the newcomer’s spiky shell, its purple blood, and its “extreme environment,” the researchers decided to name it Alviniconcha strummeri, after The Clash’s lead singer Joe Strummer. 

12. Black-Tailed Antechinus (Antechinus arktos) // Australia

Nature can be pretty brutal, and sometimes what looks like a party is actually a death trap. That’s certainly the case for the mouse-like marsupial known as the antechinus, which literally screws itself to death. After a series of marathon mating sessions lasting up to 14 hours each, the cute little body of the male antechinus is so flooded with stress hormone that it just gives up, and the antechinus dies. Both sexes are “highly promiscuous,” said the scientists who named the species, and a female’s brood is typically the result of pairings with a bunch of different males, all, tragically, deceased. The scientists believe the species is endangered, although I can’t imagine why.

13. Mystery Monster (species unknown) // Peru

From a distance, they look so pretty, like a wall of glowing green lights. Up close? Terrifying. Entomologists discovered the mystery insect, which they believe is the larva of some kind of click beetle, on Reddit, when a wildlife photographer posted an image of the bugs and asked for ID. They headed to the Amazonian forest to find the larvae, and were astonished by its fierce hunting strategy. The glow-worms lay their luminous little heads just outside their hidey-holes, waiting until some curious insect comes along. When it does, the larvae snap it up in their jaws and drag it down into their lairs. The lights go out. Let’s all take a moment to be grateful that this mystery species, whatever it is, is only about a half-inch long.

14. Possible New Snailfish // Mariana Trench, Pacific Ocean

Researchers on an international expedition to the Mariana Trench spotted this creepy fish 8143 meters below the surface—which makes it the deepest-living fish. (The previous record, 7703 meters, was held by Pseudoliparis amblystomopsis, a species of snailfish.) "We think it is a snailfish, but it's so weird-looking; it's up in the air in terms of what it is," Dr. Alan Jamieson, from Oceanlab at the University of Aberdeen, told the BBC. "It is unbelievably fragile, and when it swims, it looks like it has wet tissue paper floating behind it. And it has a weird snout—it looks like a cartoon dog snout." Without being able to bring it up, scientists can't confirm that it's a new species, but Jamieson says it doesn't look like anything he's seen before.

...And Everybody Else.

There were way too many cool species to narrow it down to 14. In the last year, scientists have found handfuls of mantises, birdsshrimp, and even a few dinosaurs.

It’s easy to get cocky and think we’ve seen everything there is to see on this planet. But every time we think we’re done, along come the killer sponges.

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Atlanta Shelters Give Pups a Temporary Home for the Holidays
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The holidays are looking a little brighter for adoptable dogs from two animal shelters in Atlanta, Georgia. As ABC News reports, a new program called Home for the Pawlidays is providing temporary homes to longer-term residents of Fulton County Animal Services and DeKalb County Animal Services for the week of Thanksgiving.

The initiative was organized by Atlanta's LifeLine Animal Project, a local group dedicated to providing healthcare and homes to shelter dogs. The dogs that were chosen for the project may be older, have special health needs, or other issues that make it more difficult to find them forever homes.

But from November 18 to 25, the dogs are getting to spend time away from the shelter and in the homes of loving foster families.

“We were thinking, everyone gets a break from work, and they should get a break from the shelter,” LifeLine’s public relations director Karen Hirsch told ABC News.

Some caretakers have already fallen in love with their four-legged house guests. Foster Heather Koth told ABC that she hadn’t been considering adoption, but after meeting Missy the shelter dog, she now plans to foster her until she has a permanent home or possibly adopt the dog herself.

And for the dogs that can’t be kept by their temporary owners, just a week of quality playtime and sleeping in a real bed can make a huge impact. You can check out photos of the pets who are benefiting from the program this week below.

[h/t ABC News]

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25 Things You Didn't Know About Turkeys
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Most of us probably associate turkey with a sumptuous Thanksgiving spread, but there’s a lot more to the big bird than how delicious it is alongside your grandma’s famous cranberry sauce. Here are a few bits of knowledge you can drop over the dinner table—when you’re not fighting with your family over white meat or dark meat, that is.

1. THE NORTH AMERICAN WILD TURKEY POPULATION WAS ALMOST WIPED OUT.

Wild turkey
iStock

Wild turkeys once roamed the continent en masse, but by the early 20th century, the entire U.S. population had been whittled down to a mere 30,000 due to hunting and the destruction of their woodland habitats. In the 1940s, many of the remaining birds were relocated to parts of the U.S. with recovering woodlands so the turkeys could repopulate. Despite these efforts, by 1973, there were still just 1.5 million wild turkeys in North America. Today, that number is up to about 6 million.

2. TURKEY APPENDAGES ARE LIKE MOOD RINGS.

Wild turkey
iStock

The dangly appendage that hangs from the turkey’s forehead to the beak is called a snood. The piece that hangs from the chin is the wattle. These fleshy flaps can change color according to the turkey’s physical and mental health—when a male turkey (called a tom, of course) is trying to attract a mate, the snood and wattle turn bright red. If the turkey is scared, the appendages take on a blue tint. And if the turkey is ailing, they become very pale.

3. TURKEYS CAN FLY.

Wild turkey in flight
iStock

Well, domestic turkeys that are bred to be your Thanksgiving centerpiece can’t. They’re too heavy. But wild turkeys can, reportedly at speeds up to 55 miles per hour. Though they don’t go very far—usually less than 100 yards—wild turkeys are among the five largest flying birds in the world. They’re in good company: Others on the list include the swan and the albatross.

4. THEY CAN ALSO SWIM.

Wild turkey drinking water
iStock

Turkeys don’t swim often, it seems, but they can, by tucking their wings in, spreading their tails, and kicking. In 1831, John James Audubon wrote, “I have been told by a friend that a person residing in Philadelphia had a hearty laugh on hearing that I had described the Wild Turkey as swimming for some distance, when it had accidentally fallen into the water. But be assured, kind reader, almost every species of land-bird is capable of swimming on such occasions, and you may easily satisfy yourself as to the accuracy of my statement by throwing a Turkey, a Common Fowl, or any other bird into the water.”

5. TURKEY POOP CAN TELL YOU A LOT.

A handler picking up turkey poop at the White House Turkey Pardon in 2013.

The next time you happen across turkey poop—which happens all the time, we know—take a closer look at it. If the droppings are shaped like a “J,” they were left there by a male turkey. Spiral-shaped poo? The culprit is female.

The citizens of Pilot Rock, Oregon, probably don’t much care about the shape of the stuff, but more about the quantity of it. Earlier this year, Pilot Rock turned to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) for help combating a flock of 50 to 70 wild turkeys that would periodically invade the town, destroy gardens, perch in trees, and poop on pickup trucks. The ODFW offered several solutions, but as far as we know the turkeys still rule the roost at Pilot Rock.

6. TURKEY PROBABLY WASN'T ON THE PILGRIMS' MENU.

A recreation of the Pilgrims' first settlement
iStock

Thanks to historical records, we know for sure that the Wampanoag brought deer, and the English brought fowl—likely ducks and geese.

7. BEN FRANKLIN DIDN'T REALLY WANT THE TURKEY TO BE OUR NATIONAL BIRD.

A drawing of Ben Franklin.
Getty / Hulton Archive / Handout

You may have heard that at least one of our Founding Fathers lobbied hard to make the turkey our national symbol instead of the noble bald eagle. That’s not quite true, but in a letter to his daughter, he did expound on the character of each, which may be where the rumor got started:

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

“With all this injustice, he is never in good case but like those among men who live by sharping & robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our country…

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

8. ANOTHER TURKEY FAN: ALEXANDER HAMILTON.

Portrait of Alexander Hamilton
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Yep, A. Ham liked turkey. In fact, he thought eating turkey was practically a god-given right, and once remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day."

9. TEDDY ROOSEVELT BELIEVED THE BIRDS WERE CUNNING PREY.

Teddy Roosevelt on a hunting trip in Africa.
Getty / Hulton Archive / Stringer

Ol’ TR may have been accustomed to hunting big game, but wild turkeys held a special place in his heart. He believed they were every bit as challenging to hunt as deer. In his 1893 book Hunting Trips of a Ranchman and the Wilderness Hunter, he wrote, “The wild turkey really deserves a place beside the deer; to kill a wary old gobbler with the small-bore rifle, by fair still-hunting, is a triumph for the best sportsman.”

10. WILD TURKEYS HAVE BETTER VISION THAN YOU DO.

Close up of wild turkey's head
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Their fantastic vision is probably one reason Teddy Roosevelt found turkeys such a challenge to hunt. They can detect motion from many yards away, have vision three times greater than 20/20, and have peripheral vision of about 270 degrees. Ours, comparatively, is only 180. And although turkeys can’t see in 3D, they can see UVA light, which helps them better identify predators, prey, mates, and food.

11. THE TOP TURKEY-PRODUCING STATE MAY SURPRISE YOU.

Domesticated turkeys on a farm
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You may know Minnesota for producing Prince, the Mall of America, and Target. But we also have the Land of 10,000 Lakes to thank for our Thanksgiving turkeys. According to the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, approximately 46-48 million turkeys are produced in Minnesota every year. In fact, it’s where the turkey that receives a presidential pardon hails from every year. Speaking of which ...

12. THE PRESIDENTIAL TURKEY PARDON MAY DATE BACK TO ABE LINCOLN.

President Barack Obama pardons a turkey in 2011.
Getty / Mark Wilson / Staff

Officially, the tradition of the sitting president of the United States pardoning his Thanksgiving turkey dates back to John F. Kennedy, who decided to let his gift from the National Turkey Federation off the hook. But he wasn't the first president to let a turkey go free: When Abraham Lincoln’s son Tad befriended one of the birds intended for Christmas dinner in 1863, kind-hearted Abe granted it a stay of execution.

13. THE FIRST TV DINNER MEAL: THANKSGIVING LEFTOVERS

Thanksgiving TV dinner
iStock

In 1953, Swanson ended up with 10 train cars full of frozen turkeys—260 tons of them—when an overzealous buyer ordered too many turkeys for the holidays. Salesman Gerry Thomas solved the problem by ordering 5,000 aluminum trays and setting up an assembly line of workers to scoop dressing, peas, and sweet potatoes into the compartments. Slices of turkey rounded out the meal, which Swanson sold for 98 cents. The idea was a hit: The following year, 10 million turkey TV dinners were sold.

14. NATIONAL TURKEY LOVERS’ MONTH ISN’T WHEN YOU THINK.

Grilled meats on a silver tray
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Everyone eats turkey in November and December, so there’s not a lot of need for extra poultry promotion during those months. If you want to celebrate National Turkey Lovers’ Month, you’ll have to do it in June with some turkey brats and burgers on the grill.

15. THE TURKEY YOU’LL BE EATING IS PROBABLY ABOUT 18 WEEKS OLD.

Roasted turkey on a platter
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That’s how long it typically takes the birds to grow to maturity, which is when they’re usually slaughtered.

16. THERE WAS ALMOST A TURKEY SIDEKICK IN POCAHONTAS.

Loren Javier via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

At one point, Disney thought Pocahontas needed a little comic relief, so they hired John Candy to voice a wisecracking woodland fowl named Red Feather. Sadly, Candy passed away while the logistics were being worked out, so animators dropped the turkey entirely and opted for a clever raccoon named Meeko.

17. NOT ALL TURKEYS GOBBLE.

Close up shot of a wild turkey
iStock

If you hear a turkey making the distinctive noise we all associate with them, then you’re hearing a male communicating with his lady friends up to a mile away. Females make a clicking sound instead of a gobble.

18. IF YOU DON’T EAT TURKEY AT THANKSGIVING, YOU’RE IN THE MINORITY.

A black and white photo of a family gathering around the table as the mother brings in a turkey.
Getty / Evans / Stringer

According to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving.

19. TURKEY CRAVINGS CAUSED A SPIKE IN KFC SALES IN JAPAN.

A large Kentucky Fried Chicken sign
iStock

When KFC opened its first stores in Japan in the 1970s, the company was surprised to find that sales soared during the holidays. The phenomenon stymied executives since most of Japan celebrates neither Thanksgiving nor Christmas. It was later discovered that foreigners craving holiday turkey had decided that KFC’s chicken was the next best thing. After the company figured this out, they played up the association with their “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” campaign—“Kentucky for Christmas.” It worked on tourists and locals alike, and today, Christmas Eve is still the highest-selling day for KFC Japan.

20. THERE IS PROPER TURKEY TERMINOLOGY.

A flock of turkeys on a farm with one staring directly into the camera.
Getty / Cate Gillon / Staff

You probably know that a group of turkeys is a flock, but they can also properly be called a “rafter.” And should you want to call baby turkeys something a little more precise, you can call them “poults.”

21. THE MAYA USED TURKEYS AS SACRIFICIAL OFFERINGS.

A Maya tripod plate featuring a bird
Los Angeles County Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Archaeologists have found vases dating from 250-800 CE that have turkeys depicted on them. According to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee art historian Andrea Stone, "turkeys were quintessential animals for feasting and for sacrificial offerings." The Maya even crafted tamales shaped like the birds.

22. DURING THE ‘70S, YOU COULD CALL JULIA CHILD FOR TURKEY ADVICE ON THANKSGIVING.

Julia Child in her kitchen in 1978
Lynn Gilbert via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Even when she was at peak popularity, the famous chef refused to remove her phone number from public listings. According to friends, complete strangers would call Child on Thanksgiving to ask for advice on cooking the perfect turkey. Julia always answered the phone, and typically told callers whatever they needed to hear to get them to relax and enjoy the holiday. She even told some amateur cooks that turkey was best served cold anyway.

23. BIG BIRD IS A TURKEY.

Big Bird and Elmo at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Getty / Matthew Peyton / Stringer

Well, according to Sesame Street, he’s actually a canary—but his plumage makes him a turkey. The good people at American Plume & Fancy Feather provide Sesame Street with several thousand turkey feathers per costume to make sure Big Bird looks soft and fluffy.

24. THE BIRD IS NAMED AFTER THE COUNTRY.

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey
iStock

But the whole thing was a mistake. Centuries ago, the English began to import a rather tasty bird, now known as a helmeted guinea fowl, from Madagascar. But they didn’t know it was from Africa. Because it was imported to Europe from merchants in Turkey, the English believed the birds were also Turkish.

Later, when the Spanish arrived in the New World, they discovered Meleagris gallopavo—the wild turkey. It was delicious, so they started importing it back to Europe. Europeans thought it tasted like the “turkey” guinea fowl they had been enjoying, so they called it the same thing.

25. WHAT, EXACTLY, IS DARK MEAT?

Roasted turkey legs on a piece of butcher paper
iStock

It’s just a different type of muscle than white meat. White meat is the result of glycogen, which doesn't need much oxygen from the blood because the muscles it fuels only require short bursts of energy. Dark meat, however, is found on wings, thighs, and drumsticks—muscles that are used for long periods of time and require more sustainable energy. It’s made dark by the proteins that convert fat into energy.

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