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Source: iStock

5 Great Snoots of the Animal Kingdom

Source: iStock
Source: iStock
Image Credit: iStock

A nose isn't just a house on the face for the nostrils. Some of nature's most notable beaks can regulate heating and cooling, filter particles, act like fingers, or woo the ladies. These five great animal schnozzes, snoots, and suckers do a lot more than sniff.

1. Saiga (Saiga tataricus)

Saiga antelopes live on the unforgiving plains of Russia and Kazakhstan, where winters see subzero temperatures and summers are dry and desolate. Hang on, you're about to get jealous: the saiga's magnificent snoot is also a personal HVAC system. During hot, dusty summer migrations, the saiga's Gonzo-esque snout acts as an air filter and may even serve as an air conditioner, cooling down its owner’s blood. In the punishing depths of winter, it's a cozy little heater, warming up outside air before it hits the saiga’s lungs.

2. Star-Nosed Mole (Condylura cristata)

Hillbraith, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

This handsome specimen is a star-nosed mole, and those fleshy little things on the front of its face are tentacles. Like most moles, C. cristata has terrible eyesight and spends much of its time underground or underwater. It digs straight ahead with its powerful claws, feeling around with its retractable tentacles. The mole's starry snoot-fingers are super fast, touching up to 12 objects each second and moving so quickly that they look like a creepy pink blur to the naked eye.

They're also super sensitive, and a mole can identify and stuff prey in its mouth within half a second. If that's not enough, scientists think the tentacles might also be able to pick up on faint electrical signals from aquatic prey. That would be useful, because star-nosed moles are also the only mammals that can smell underwater. They do this by blowing bubbles, then snorting the scent-filled bubbles back up their snoots.

3. Darwin's Hawk Moth (Xanthopan morganii praedicta)

Behold one of the most legendary snoots in scientific history: the hawk moth. Three years after the publication of On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin turned his attention to orchids. He was fascinated by their diversity and the remarkable ways they've adapted to make themselves sexy to insects. To help him in his studies, fellow naturalist Robert Bateman mailed Darwin a package of orchid specimens, including Angraecum sesquipedale, which boasts an impressive foot-long nectary. Darwin was boggled. "Good Heavens," he wrote to a friend. "What insect can suck it?"

A few days later, he'd come up with an answer. There had to be a moth, he figured, with a foot-long proboscis. He wasn't exactly laughed out of the academy, but it did sound pretty stupid. But, as it turned out, Darwin was right—although he'd never know. Twenty years after his death, scientists found the Madagascan hawk moth Xanthopan morganii praedicta, complete with super-sized snoot.

4. Proboscis Monkey (Nasalis larvatus)

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Once again, sexual selection is the name of the game: Proboscis monkey chicks dig a male with a big, bulbous honker. But the male's massive schnozz isn’t just for looks; scientists believe that it also works as an amplifier, making sure everybody can hear him.

You really can’t miss a male proboscis monkey. Even if he isn't yelling, you can’t overlook a 50-pound monkey with a big nose, webbed feet, a bright red penis, and a black scrotum. These guys don’t do subtle.

The very same obnoxious visibility that makes male proboscis monkeys so successful also makes them a target. Populations have plummeted in recent years, partly due to habitat loss, but also from hunting. These monkeys are lazy and easy to catch, which makes them a popular meal among local people. They also produce bezoars (gut-stones), which are sold as medicine in China.

5. Hooded Seal (Cystophora cristata)

Most seals are social, family-oriented animals who keep their face-parts to themselves. Not the hooded seal. With adult males averaging about 8 feet long and 660 pounds, this beast is enormous, territorial, and mean. Fights over females and feeding grounds involve biting, punching, bellowing, and waving around the football-sized pink balloons they keep in their noses.

These nasal sacs serve a number of unlikely purposes. When challenged, a male will inflate his balloon and shake it all over the place. To other males, this is apparently intimidating; to females, it’s hot as hell. This means that the males with the most magnificent nose-balloons get to mate and start a new generation of magnificent balloon-snooting babies. Nature is amazing.

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Slow Motion Is the Only Way to Appreciate a Chameleon’s Lightning-Fast Tongue
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From the unusual way they walk, to their ability to change color, the evolutionary adaptations of chameleons are pretty bizarre, and some of them remain mysterious even to scientists. Their super-powered tongues, for instance, can dart out so quickly that the movement can barely be seen with the naked eye. But modern high-speed cameras have enabled researchers at the University of South Dakota to observe this appendage at work like never before. The video below, shared over at The Kid Should See This, includes some of that groundbreaking footage, and it's pretty amazing to watch.

Shooting at 3000 frames per second, the camera was able to capture every split-second aspect of the chameleon's tongue strike. Slowed down, the video allows you to see how every component of the process works in harmony: First, muscles in the lizard’s tongue contract like the string of a bow. Then, when that tension is released, the bony base of the tongue shoots forward, pushing the sticky, elastic part toward the chameleon’s prey.

According to Christopher Anderson, one of the scientists who conducted the high-speed camera research, larger chameleons can catapult their tongues forward at distances of one to two times their body length. For smaller chameleons, this distance can reach up to two and a half times their body length. “Small chameleons need to be able to eat more food for their body size than large chameleons,” he tells bioGraphic in the video, “and so by being able to project their tongues proportionately further than these large species, they basically are opening up additional feeding opportunities to themselves that they wouldn’t have if they had a shorter tongue.”

To see one of nature’s greatest hunting tools in action, check out the full video below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
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Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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