R. Mickens // AMNH
R. Mickens // AMNH

10 Extreme Animal Facts from AMNH's New Exhibition

R. Mickens // AMNH
R. Mickens // AMNH

There are some incredible animals on this planet, and many of them have evolved incredible specializations to find food, attract mates, survive, and thrive—some of which aren’t too far off from superpowers. You can learn all about these awesome adaptations—and get up close and personal with live nautiluses, mantis shrimp, and axolotls—at the American Museum of Natural History’s latest exhibition, Life at the Limits, which opens Saturday, April 4. Here are a few things we learned from a preview.



Erin McCarthy

1. Black Swallower fish (Chiasmoden niger) are capable of swallowing prey up to 10 times their weight! Scientists aren’t really sure how they do it—the fish (modeled above) live at depths of 2300 feet, and not much is known about them—but this specialization doesn’t always work to the animal’s advantage. In the deep sea, where food can be hard to find, it's helpful to have an extendable stomach and the ability to unhinge the jaws “so [the fish] can eat whatever they come across, within reason,” John Sparks, co-curator of the exhibition and curator in the museum’s Department of Ichthyology, tells mental_floss. “But the downside is, most of these that have been collected have floated to the surface because the fish inside them has been so big that it decomposed before the Black Swallower could digest it, and the bacteria kills them.”

2. Any ants reading this should steer clear of the giant anteater, which can suck down up to 35,000 of the insects in a single day.



D. Finnin // AMNH

3. The tiny, eyeless waterfall climbing cave fish (Cryptotora thamicola), above, found in just two caves in Thailand, has enlarged fins for navigating rocks in fast moving streams.

4. If you're a predator, you might want to give the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizzi) a wide berth: It pees when threatened! 

5. The pupils and lenses in the eyes of Anableps anableps fish are divided: The top half is for looking above water, while the bottom half is for looking below.



D. Finnin // AMNH

6. Elephant seals can descend nearly a mile and stay there for up to two hours to hunt, thanks to lots of hemoglobin—the molecule that carries oxygen around the body—in its blood.

7. The ocean sunfish (Mola mola) is the world’s heaviest bony fish, and it lays more eggs at one time—300 million!—than any other animal. The animals start life pinhead-small but can grow up to 10.5 feet high.

8. A brown kiwi’s egg weighs almost a pound—as much as six jumbo chicken eggs—which is pretty big for a bird that’s the size of a chicken!

9. Next time you see a fish, take a good look into its mouth. Does it have a tongue, or a Cymothoa exigua, the tongue-eating louse? In the only known case of a parasite replacing a host organ, these parasites enter a fish’s mouth through the gills then clamp onto its tongue, drinking the blood until the tongue falls off. Then the louse just hangs out there, right where the tongue used to be, feeding on its host’s blood and acting as its tongue.



Erin McCarthy

10. Unlike other salamanders, axolotls (Ambystona mexicanus), above, spend their entire lives underwater and retain many of their juvenile features—including those cute frilly gills. Scientists are studying the animal’s incredible ability to regenerate lost limbs and crushed spinal cords with hopes of applying that knowledge to human medicine. 

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
Whale Sharks Can Live for More Than a Century, Study Finds
iStock
iStock

Some whale sharks alive today have been swimming around since the Gilded Age. The animals—the largest fish in the ocean—can live as long as 130 years, according to a new study in the journal Marine and Freshwater Research. To give you an idea of how long that is, in 1888, Grover Cleveland was finishing up his first presidential term, Thomas Edison had just started selling his first light bulbs, and the U.S. only had 38 states.

To determine whale sharks' longevity, researchers from the Nova Southeastern University in Florida and the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program tracked male sharks around South Ari Atoll in the Maldives over the course of 10 years, calculating their sizes as they came back to the area over and over again. The scientists identified sharks that returned to the atoll every few years by their distinctive spot patterns, estimating their body lengths with lasers, tape, and visually to try to get the most accurate idea of their sizes.

Using these measurements and data on whale shark growth patterns, the researchers were able to determine that male whale sharks tend to reach maturity around 25 years old and live until they’re about 130 years old. During those decades, they reach an average length of 61.7 feet—about as long as a bowling lane.

While whale sharks are known as gentle giants, they’re difficult to study, and scientists still don’t know a ton about them. They’re considered endangered, making any information we can gather about them important. And this is the first time scientists have been able to accurately measure live, swimming whale sharks.

“Up to now, such aging and growth research has required obtaining vertebrae from dead whale sharks and counting growth rings, analogous to counting tree rings, to determine age,” first author Cameron Perry said in a press statement. ”Our work shows that we can obtain age and growth information without relying on dead sharks captured in fisheries. That is a big deal.”

Though whale sharks appear to be quite long-lived, their lifespan is short compared to the Greenland shark's—in 2016, researchers reported they may live for 400 years. 

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
Animal Welfare Groups Are Building a Database of Every Cat in Washington, D.C.
iStock
iStock

There are a lot of cats in Washington, D.C. They live in parks, backyards, side streets, and people's homes. Exactly how many there are is the question a new conservation project wants to answer. DC Cat Count, a collaboration between Humane Rescue Alliance, the Humane Society, PetSmart Charities, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, aims to tally every cat in the city—even house pets, The New York Times reports.

Cities tend to support thriving feral cat populations, and that's a problem for animal conservationists. If a feline is born and grows up without human contact, it will never be a suitable house cat. The only options animal control officials have are to euthanize strays or trap and sterilize them, and release them back where they were found. If neither action is taken, it's the smaller animals that belong in the wild who suffer. Cats are invasive predators, and each year they kill billions of birds in the U.S. alone.

Before animal welfare experts and wildlife scientists can tackle this problem, they need to understand how big it is. Over the next three years, DC Cat Count will use various methods to track D.C.'s cats and build a feline database for the city. Sixty outdoor camera traps will capture images of passing cats, relying on infrared technology to sense them most of the time.

Citizens are being asked to help as well. An app is currently being developed that will allow users to snap photos of any cats they see, including their own pets. The team also plans to study the different ways these cats interact with their environments, like how much time pets spend indoors versus outdoors, for example. The initiative has a $1.5 million budget to spend on collecting data.

By the end of the project, the team hopes to have the tools both conservationists and animal welfare groups need to better control the local cat population.

Lisa LaFontaine, president and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance, said in a statement, “The reality is that those in the fields of welfare, ecology, conservation, and sheltering have a common long-term goal of fewer free-roaming cats on the landscape. This joint effort will provide scientific management programs to help achieve that goal, locally and nationally."

[h/t The New York Times]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios