CLOSE

Watch Ghostly 'Sea Angels' Swim Through the Depths

Some are called sea angels, others sea butterflies. Whatever you call them, the pteropods are really, really cool.

You might not know it to look at them, but the pteropod is a type of snail. Where other snails have a single, solid foot for scooting along the sea floor, the pteropod’s feet have split into wings, allowing the eyeless, translucent snail to to “fly” underwater.

They may look lovely, but their eating habits are … less so. Some pteropods are active hunters who will eat other pteropods when they find them. But others go fishing: They deploy a big, slimy net of mucus, then drift through the water, collecting the disgusting detritus known as marine snow.

And as they eat, so are they eaten. Pteropods are really important to the food chain. Some scientists call pteropods the “potato chips of the sea,” because just about everyone eats them. 

Stephanie Bush (script writer and narrator of this video) is a postdoctoral fellow at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. You can read more about her pteropod research here.

Header image via YouTube // MBARI 

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
science
Why Can Parrots Talk and Other Birds Can't?
iStock
iStock

If you've ever seen a pirate movie (or had the privilege of listening to this avian-fronted metal band), you're aware that parrots have the gift of human-sounding gab. Their brains—not their beaks—might be behind the birds' ability to produce mock-human voices, the Sci Show's latest video explains below.

While parrots do have articulate tongues, they also appear to be hardwired to mimic other species, and to create new vocalizations. The only other birds that are capable of vocal learning are hummingbirds and songbirds. While examining the brains of these avians, researchers noted that their brains contain clusters of neurons, which they've dubbed song nuclei. Since other birds don't possess song nuclei, they think that these structures probably play a key role in vocal learning.

Parrots might be better at mimicry than hummingbirds and songbirds thanks to a variation in these neurons: a special shell layer that surrounds each one. Birds with larger shell regions appear to be better at imitating other creatures, although it's still unclear why.

Learn more about parrot speech below (after you're done jamming out to Hatebeak).

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
paleontology
Extinct Penguin Species Was the Size of an Adult Human
iStock
iStock

A penguin that waddled across the ice 60 million years ago would have dwarfed the king and emperor penguins of today, according to the Associated Press. As indicated by fossils recently uncovered in New Zealand, the extinct species measured 5 feet 10 inches while swimming, surpassing the height of an average adult man.

The discovery, which the authors say is the most complete skeleton of a penguin this size to date, is laid out in a study recently published in Nature Communications. When standing on land, the penguin would have measured 5 feet 3 inches, still a foot taller than today’s largest penguins at their maximum height. Researchers estimated its weight to have been about 223 pounds.

Kumimanu biceae, a name that comes from Maori words for “monster" and "bird” and the name of one researcher's mother, last walked the Earth between 56 million and 60 million years ago. That puts it among the earliest ancient penguins, which began appearing shortly after large aquatic reptiles—along with the dinosaurs—went extinct, leaving room for flightless carnivorous birds to enter the sea.

The prehistoric penguin was a giant, even compared to other penguin species of the age, but it may not have been the biggest penguin to ever live. A few years ago, paleontologists discovered 40-million-year-old fossils they claimed belonged to a penguin that was 6 feet 5 inches long from beak to tail. But that estimate was based on just a couple bones, so its actual size may have varied.

[h/t AP]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios