15 Amazing Sleeping Habits of Animals

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Animals don't have sleeping masks or soothing prerecorded sounds to help them get the sleep they need, so they have to make do with what nature and their bodies allow. Consequently, many have found some incredible ways to get their much-needed rest.

1. DOLPHINS

Bottlenose dolphins underwater
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Dolphins are amazing creatures, and while they are usually noted for their adorableness, wits and/or disturbing sexual aggression, their sleeping habits are worth mentioning too. They can enter into periods of very deep sleep referred to as "logging" because while in it, a dolphin looks like a log floating at the surface of the water. Crazier still, the bottlenose dolphin readies itself for slumber by literally shutting down half of its brain, as well as the eye opposite the powered-down hemisphere. The other half of the brain (and opposite eye) stays turned on to watch out for whatever might come along, whether be it other dolphins or predators. It also tells the dolphin when to come up for air. After two hours or so, the sides switch, so both eyes and brain hemispheres get their due rest. This process isn't unique to dolphins, as fruit bats, porpoises, iguanas, seals, birds, and ducks do it too.

2. SPERM WHALES

A sperm whale floats near the surface of the water.
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In 2008, researchers happened upon a group of sleeping sperm whales bobbing vertically in the water off the coast of northern Chile. The sight alone was amazing, but then things got strange. These whales, which were thought to only allow one side of their brain to rest at a time, like dolphins and some other whales, didn't seem to notice the approaching vessel. It wasn't until one of the cetaceans was accidentally nudged that the group woke up and fled. Through this discovery, researchers learned that sperm whales sleep differently from their relatives—in short, regular periods of full sleep near the surface. They don't breathe or move during their naps, and if this is the only kind of sleep they get (it's unclear whether they also engage in half-brain sleep), the relatively short amount of cumulative slumber might make them the least sleep-dependent of all mammals.

3. GIRAFFES

Baby giraffe sleeping on the ground
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Giraffes don't rest much longer than sperm whales do. They sleep about 20 minutes a day in order to avoid predators. Being such a tall, lanky beast also makes it difficult to catch some quick z's, but when they do curl up for some rest, it's pretty adorable.

4. SEA OTTERS

Two sleeping otters holding hands in the water.
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Predators aren't the only issue to navigate while asleep. As otters know, there's also the possibility of drifting off (pun absolutely intended). When sea otters fall asleep, they do so while lying on their backs at the surface of the water and in groups or in seaweed forests, sometimes holding hands to keep from floating apart.

5. ALBATROSSES

An albatross flying over the waves.
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The albatross is a sea bird that spends much of its life soaring around on the hunt. Its lifestyle doesn't leave a lot of time for snoozing, so it's believed the albatross multitasks by sleeping while flying. Alpine swifts are believed to do this too, as are migratory Swainson's Thrush birds, who take hundreds of little power naps lasting only a few seconds each.

6. DUCKS

Ducks standing in a row.
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Our feathered friends do more than sleep with one eye open. They sleep in a clique. Ducks queue up in a row when it's time to hit the hay, and the ones at the end of the line keep the eye facing away from the group open to watch out for predators, and close the other eye. The ducks inside close both of their eyes. The single-hemisphere sleep in the bookending ducks keeps the whole row safe.

7. MEERKATS

A pile of sleeping meerkats.
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Meerkats spend their nights in burrows, which consist of complex tunnel systems and underground sleeping quarters. Communities of meerkats are called mobs or gangs and can consist of up to 40 animals with an alpha male and female in each community. They sleep in heaps, getting warmth from one another and protecting the gang leaders at the bottom of the pile. Puppies, squirrels, bats, and a slew of other creatures are also known to huddle up for warmth during sleep (including the elusive homo sapiens).

8. HORSES, ZEBRAS, AND ELEPHANTS

A zebra mother and her foal standing in the desert.
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This is the crew of the standing sleepers, who stay alert during their rest by remaining on their feet. These animals are able to lock their legs in a straight standing position in such a way that it doesn't require much muscle effort. This is called a "stay apparatus." While it's a cool trick, horses (and cows too) do need to lie down from time to time, because they can't achieve REM sleep while standing up. Flamingos sleep while standing too, but they do so because there aren't many cozy places to slumber in their usual habitats.

9. BROWN BATS

Bats hanging from a cave ceiling and sleeping.
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On the other side of the mammalian sleep spectrum from sperm whales and giraffes are brown bats, which sleep about 19 hours a day. The nocturnal creatures snooze upside down all day, a stance born of efficiency, as it's easier for them and their weak wings to take off from that position. After bats, the lengthiest daily sleepers are armadillos, opossums, sloths, tigers, and then domestic cats. Keep that in mind next time you want to tell your feline to get a job.

10. SHARKS

A shark with smaller fish getting out of its way.
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Most sharks have to keep moving constantly in order to get oxygen through their gills, while others have developed spiracles, openings behind the eye that allow them to take in oxygen while stationary. But generally their sleep is thought to be more of an idle state than a full-fledged shut down. Scientists have found that the spiny dogfish's swimming might be coordinated by the spinal cord and not the brain, which would indicate that sharks might be able to power down their noggins and continue moving after all. Others speculate that some white sharks might face the current while stationary, so water moves over their gills with no effort from the fish itself.

11. WALRUSES

Hundreds of walruses sleeping together.
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Walruses can also sleep and swim at the same time. They're also basically that friend of yours who can fall asleep anywhere—they can hold their breath for up to five minutes and catch a nap underwater, or deep-sleep ashore for as many as 19 hours. They deserve a deep slumber though—walruses have been known to swim continuously for up to 84 hours. For water sleeping, walruses can inflate spaces in their bodies called pharyngeal pouches, which act as sort of a biological life jacket to keep the blubbery beasts afloat.

12. DESERT SNAIL

Desert snail on the ground.
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It doesn't seem like a snail would have a very taxing life, but these little slimy creatures can go on sleeping for literally years. One particularly famous incident involved an Egyptian desert snail who was assumed dead by a British Museum staffer who affixed the snail to an identification card. Four years later, traces of slime were discovered on the card, and when the staff removed the shell from the card, the animal crawled out.

13. FROGS

Freezing frog in hibernation.
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Frogs survive winter by hibernating much like their larger, furrier friends, but their feats are arguably way more incredible. Frogs are equipped with a kind of animal antifreeze, which means that while ice crystals may form in body cavities and under the skin, high concentrations of glucose in its vital organs prevents those essential parts from freezing. A partially frozen frog stops breathing and its heart ceases beating, but when the spring thaw comes and temperatures start to rise, its body resumes its functions and springs back to life.

14. BEARS

Mother bear and two cubs in the woods.
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The sleeping habits of bears aren't usually anything notable, except when it's time to give birth. In the winter months, when pregnant mothers are deep in hibernation mode, their heart rates slow, and they stop eating, drinking, urinating, defecating, or exercising. But mama bears will rouse themselves enough to do a little thing called giving birth. The cubs then nurse on their sleeping mom for the next few months until she wakes up and takes them out into the world.

15. APES

Orangutan sleeping on a tree limb.
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Scientists are studying apes to learn things about the way humans sleep and how that might have helped us evolve. They've found that animals like the orangutan, gorilla, and chimpanzee all like to curl up to sleep just like humans. They also make beds or find platforms for predator-free slumber, which consequently helps them sleep better than counterparts such as the upright-sleeping baboon. That chance for a longer, more restful sleep might have been a factor in our own evolutionary process, helping us to get smarter with each 40 winks.

This story originally ran in 2015.

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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