8 Adorable Animals That Are Surprisingly Violent

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They're cute. They're cuddly. But beware: they're killers.

1. KOALAS

Young koala in a tree.
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It may seem hard to believe, but the world's most cuddly animal has a dark side. Most of the time, these tree-huggers keep to themselves, adhering to a strict schedule of snacking and snoozing (up to 22 hours a day). But sometimes, a koala snaps. Koala-on-koala violence is generally pretty mild, but they have been known to go after dogs and even humans.

For example: In December 2014, Mary Anne Forster of South Australia found herself at the receiving end of a vicious bite after trying to protect her two dogs from an aggressive koala. The koala sank its teeth into Forster's leg and refused to let go, relenting only after she reached into its mouth and pried its jaws apart with her hands. Forster then walked her dogs more than a mile back to her house before going to the hospital for stitches, proving that the only thing tougher than Australian wildlife is an Australian.

2. BEAVERS

Beaver in water looking at camera.
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They've got huge, razor-sharp teeth that never stop growing. They're fiercely territorial. They build complex underwater lodges with architectural precision. And, most importantly, they don't take crap from anybody. There was the fisherman in Belarus who died when a beaver bit through his femoral artery. There was the lake in an Alaskan dog park where angry beavers sent a half-dozen dogs to the emergency vet for stitches, prompting park officials to post signs reading "WARNING AGGRESSIVE BEAVERS ARE LIVING IN UNIVERSITY LAKE!"

And those are just the healthy, well-adjusted ones. Rabid beavers have gone after swimmers in Canada and the U.S., including an 83-year-old woman in Lake Barcroft, Virginia. "There is no way I will swim in that place again," she said after the incident.

3. COWS

Heck cattle and calf.
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Not all cows. But some cows. And those cows are terrifying. They're called Heck cattle, also known—and we are not making this up—as "Nazi Super Cows."

In the 1920s and '30s, German zoologists (and brothers) Heinz and Lutz Heck each sought to recreate the extinct wild ox called the aurochs, which featured heavily in Teutonic mythology. Heinz Heck chose Spanish fighting cattle as a breeding strain for their prehistoric shape and aggression, and the Nazis used their fierce image in propaganda. Then, World War II happened. The Nazis fell, but the uber-cows survived.

Heck cattle still roam Bavaria to this day and are available for purchase by those with a death wish. Farmer and photographer Derek Gow brought a herd of Heck cattle to his UK farm in 2009 and successfully bred them before realizing he was in over his head. "They would try to kill anyone," he told The Guardian of the dozen or so he had to put down because of the danger they posed. "Dealing with that was not a lot of fun at all."

4. DOLPHINS

Dolphin smiling in a pool.
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It sounds outrageous, but it's true: dolphins are actually pretty horrible.

Researchers have suspected as much since the 1990s, when the battered corpses of hundreds of porpoises and baby dolphins started washing up on both sides of the Atlantic. Eventually the researchers concluded that male dolphins were slaughtering other dolphins, including their own babies, just because they could [PDF].

This news was especially alarming to federal officials, who were concerned about human safety in the growing and unregulated industry of dolphin tourism. "It's a time bomb waiting to go off," said a spokeswoman for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

If that wasn't bad enough, dolphins have sexually assaulted divers and swimmers on numerous occasions, and have been known to play volleyball with helpless baby sharks.

5. PRAIRIE DOGS

Prairie dog eating in a field.
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Move over, dolphins: you’ve got competition for Most Horrifying Murder Spree. And prairie dogs, as it turns out, do not take kindly to competition. Researchers say white-tailed prairie dogs routinely hunt and slaughter ground squirrels, with which they compete for resources.

The prairie dogs are plant-eaters, so once they've bitten the squirrels to death, they just drop the carcasses and stroll away. The first time prairie dog expert John Hoogland saw it happen, he was shocked. "It boggles the imagination that something like that was going on under our noses and we didn't notice," he told New Scientist (which—be warned—includes Hoogland's gruesome images of the carnage in its story).

Unlike the murder-happy dolphins, however, the prairie dogs have a clear motivation. Prairie dog serial killers (that is, those that just kept killing) tend to have more babies than non-killers, and they and their offspring are more likely to survive.

"It begs the question of whether it's going on in other species," Hoogland said.

6. SLOW LORISES

Slow loris hiding behind a tree.
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After the dolphin, the slow loris looks like a saint. A shy, weird saint, with a mouth full of needle-like teeth and venomous elbows.

Yes, the slow loris has venomous elbows. When a loris feels threatened, it throws its arms over its head. This is adorable, but it's also strategic, giving the little primate an opportunity to lick the toxin-producing glands in its upper arms and fill its mouth with venom. While the venom itself is only strong enough to kill smaller animals, loris bites have sent humans—including one researcher—to the hospital in anaphylactic shock.

Some scientists argue that the loris's elbow grease isn't venom at all, and that its ability to kill is purely incidental. But … this is probably not much comfort to someone who's just been bitten.

7. SWANS

A swan swimming in green waters.
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Like most cows, most swans are fine. Sure, they get a bit territorial during breeding season, but who doesn't? But the swans that are not fine are really, really not fine.

Take Hannibal, the swan who killed 15 other swans and injured dozens more on the grounds of Pembroke Castle in Wales. Hannibal bit his victims, beat them with his wings, broke their toes, and held their heads underwater until they drowned. After each brutal attack, Hannibal would parade in front of his kill, displaying the carnage for his wife—Mrs. Hannibal—and cygnet.

And then there's Mr. Asbo, the swan that terrorized rowers on the River Cam in Cambridge for years. Mr. Asbo (short for "Anti-Social Behaviour Orders") regularly attacked and even capsized small boats before turning his aggression on larger vessels. Eventually, even the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) agreed that Mr. Asbo was "out of control" and got a license to relocate him and his mate to another county. One year later, a young male swan appeared in the same spot and started threatening people. Locals named the cocky newcomer Asboy, after his father.

8. HIPPOPOTAMUSES

Hippopotamus standing in the water.
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Each year, the humble hippopotamus kills more people than lions, tigers, or bears. Or sharks, for that matter. (In the hippo's defense, humans kill quite a lot of hippopotamuses. This is not cool.) They're intensely aggressive, which is a dangerous quality in an animal that can reach 17 feet long and 10,000 pounds. They're not slow, either: They can reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour on land, outpacing even Olympian Usain Bolt. They go after each other, after humans, after crocodiles, and even after boats and cars, flipping the crafts and attacking the inhabitants. From time to time, someone will try to tame a hippo and keep it as a pet. This does not end well. Do not try this.

This story first ran in 2015.

Do Dogs Understand What You’re Telling Them? Scientists Are Scanning Their Brains to Find Out

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iStock/kozorog

We all know that dogs can learn to respond to human words, but it’s not always clear what’s happening in a dog’s brain when they hear and recognize words like “cookie” and “fetch.” Do they have to rely on other clues, like gestures, to figure out what we mean by that word? Do they picture a dog biscuit when you say “cookie,” or just the sensation of eating? In a new study, scientists from Emory University and the New College of Florida tried to get to the bottom of this question by training dogs to associate certain objects with words like “blue” and “duck,” then using fMRI brain scanners to see what was happening in the dogs’ heads when they heard that word.

The study, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, examined the brains of 12 different dogs of various breeds (you can see them below) that had been trained to associate two different objects with random words like “duck,” “blue,” and “beach ball.” Those two objects, which were different for each dog, were brought by the dogs’ owners from home or chosen from a selection of dog toys the researchers compiled. One object had to be soft, like a stuffed animal, and the other one had to be something hard, like a rubber toy or squeaky toy, to make sure the dogs could clearly distinguish between the two. The dogs were trained for several months to associate these objects with their specific assigned words and to fetch them on command.

Then, they went into the fMRI machine, where they had been trained to sit quietly during scanning. The researchers had the dogs lie in the machine while their owners stood in front of them, saying the designated name for the toys and showing them the objects. To see how the dogs responded to unknown words, they also held up new objects, like a hat, and referred to them by gibberish words.

Dogs in a science lab with toys
Prichard et al., Frontiers in Neuroscience (2018]

The results suggest that dogs can, in fact, discriminate between words they know and novel words. While not all the dogs showed the same neural response, they showed activation in different regions of their brains when hearing the familiar word versus the novel one.

Some of the dogs showed evidence of a greater neural response in the parietotemporal cortex, an area of the dog brain believed to be similar to the human angular gyrus, the region of the brain that allows us to process the words we hear and read. Others showed more neural activity in other regions of the brain. These differences might be due to the fact that the study used dogs of different sizes and breeds, which could mean differences in their abilities.

The dogs did show a surprising trend in their brains’ response to new words. “We expected to see that dogs neurally discriminate between words that they know and words that they don’t,” lead author Ashley Prichard of Emory University said in a press release. “What's surprising is that the result is opposite to that of research on humans—people typically show greater neural activation for known words than novel words." This could be because the dogs were trying extra hard to understand what their owners were saying.

The results don’t prove that talking to your dog is the best way to get its attention, though—it just means that they may really know what's coming when you say, "Want a cookie?"

Scientists Find Fossil of 150-Million-Year-Old Flesh-Eating Fish—Plus a Few of Its Prey

M. Ebert and T. Nohl
M. Ebert and T. Nohl

A fossil of an unusual piranha-like fish from the Late Jurassic period has been unearthed by scientists in southern Germany, Australian news outlet the ABC reports. Even more remarkable than the fossil’s age—150 million years old—is the fact that the limestone deposit also contains some of the fish’s victims.

Fish with chunks missing from their fins were found near the predator fish, which has been named Piranhamesodon pinnatomus. Aside from the predator’s razor-sharp teeth, though, it doesn’t look like your usual flesh-eating fish. It belonged to an extinct order of bony fish that lived at the time of the dinosaurs, and until now, scientists didn’t realize there was a species of bony fish that tore into its prey in such a way. This makes it the first flesh-eating bony fish on record, long predating the piranha. 

“Fish as we know them, bony fishes, just did not bite flesh of other fishes at that time,” Dr. Martina Kölbl-Ebert, the paleontologist who found the fish with her husband, Martin Ebert, said in a statement. “Sharks have been able to bite out chunks of flesh, but throughout history bony fishes have either fed on invertebrates or largely swallowed their prey whole. Biting chunks of flesh or fins was something that came much later."

Kölbl-Ebert, the director of the Jura Museum in Eichstätt, Germany, says she was stunned to see the bony fish’s sharp teeth, comparing it to “finding a sheep with a snarl like a wolf.” This cunning disguise made the fish a fearful predator, and scientists believe the fish may have “exploited aggressive mimicry” to ambush unsuspecting fish.

The fossil was discovered in 2016 in southern Germany, but the find has only recently been described in the journal Current Biology. It was found at a quarry where other fossils, like those of the Archaeopteryx dinosaur, have been unearthed in the past.

[h/t the ABC]

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