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10 Trippy Facts About Triops

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Try to picture a tiny, transparent crustacean that looks like a hybrid of a centipede and a horseshoe crab with a zillion writhing legs. While they’re not likely to win any beauty contests, triops are impressive little critters. The genus Triops has been around for as long as 300 million years—that’s about 200 million years older than T. Rex—making them the oldest known animals on the planet. Here are some other fun facts about these resilient creatures.

1. TRIOPS ARE OFTEN CALLED "LIVING FOSSILS,” BUT THAT'S A MISNOMER.

Commonly known as tadpole shrimp, they appear to be almost identical physically to their fossilized ancestors. But appearances can be deceiving. Recent research shows that their DNA and reproductive techniques are constantly evolving.

2. THEY OFTEN HAVE A VARIETY OF WAYS TO REPRODUCE.

In addition to sexual reproduction, some eggs are capable of developing without fertilization. Other triops are hermaphrodites. This means an entire population can develop from just one egg. No wonder they’ve survived for so long.

3. THERE ARE MORE THAN A DOZEN TRIOPS SPECIES.

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They're found in seasonal ponds, pools, and puddles all over the world. Triops were around before the break-up of the last supercontinent, which helps explain why they live on every continent except Antarctica. Triops longicaudatus, a rather fancy critter with a long tail, frequents all but the colder regions of North America, while Triops newberryi prefers the milder climate of the Pacific Northwest and parts of California. Triops granarius is found throughout much of Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. Triops Australiensis calls, you guessed it, Australia home. Triops cancriformis, the oldest species, hails from Europe, the Middle East, and India, and is considered endangered in the UK.  

4. TRIOPS MEANS "THREE EYES" IN GREEK.

They Might Be Giants wrote a song about this helpful feature. Sing along with the kids:

Two eyes on a face
Are usually enough
But triops has got
One that looks up
And one that looks around
And one to keep an eye
On the other pair of guys
Triops has three eyes

5. THEY CAN HAVE AS MANY AS 140 (SURPRISINGLY MULTIPURPOSE) LEGS.

What what they do with them is far more impressive than walking or swimming. Some legs act as antennae that help them find food, while others create a water current to direct food toward their mouth. Females have capsules on some of their legs to carry eggs. Some triops have lobe or leaf-like extensions on their legs that function similarly to gills, allowing them to breathe.

6.THEY EAT A LOT—INCLUDING EACH OTHER.

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Triops have a varied diet, from mosquito larvae to aquatic plants and tiny invertebrates to, um, other triops. Yes, to support their rapid growth, larger triops will cannibalize smaller ones if food supplies run low. Hey, when your home is perpetually in danger of drying up, you have to eat as much as you can so you can grow and breed before it’s too late.

7. THEY GROW QUICKLY—AND THAT CAN BE DEADLY.

Many reaching maturity in one to two weeks—but their exoskeletons do not. That requires them to molt regularly as they outgrow their exoskeletons. Young triops grow so quickly that molting is a daily experience, and a dangerous one: They can die if they don’t successfully shed the old exoskeleton.

8. TRIOPS EGGS CAN LAY DORMANT FOR DECADES, AND THEN HATCH IN WATER.

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They achieve this by laying something called cysts, or resting eggs, that are eggs with a special structure that protects the interior from extreme temperatures, drought, and even radiation. These cysts allow triops to move into new territory by hitching a ride with some pretty far-out modes of transportation, including inside migrating birds and in the feet and poop of animals that pick them up from puddles and pools.

9. THEY CAN SURVIVE IN OUTER SPACE FOR 18 MONTHS.

Tests on the International Space Station (ISS) prove this hardiness. Those findings led to a NASA high school experiment last year that sent Triops Longicaudatus back to the ISS to test whether it could be grown in space and serve as a high-protein food source for astronauts on future long-term missions.

10. CHARMED? YOU CAN HAVE YOUR OWN!

There is a wide assortment of triops starter kits out there to choose from. They’re low-commitment, too: Triops only live for 1–3 months (less if they eat each other). And when one batch dies out, you can dry out the soil or sand in the tank and transfer it to fresh water. If resting eggs are in the sand, with the proper care, you'll soon have another group of triops. 

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Animals
20 Black-and-White Facts About Penguins
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To celebrate World Penguin Day (which is today, April 25), here are a few fun facts about these adorable tuxedoed birds.

1. All 17 species of penguins are found exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere.

2. Emperor Penguins are the tallest species, standing nearly 4 feet tall. The smallest is the Little Blue Penguin, which is only about 16 inches.

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3. The fastest species is the Gentoo Penguin, which can reach swimming speeds up to 22 mph.

Gentoo Penguin
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4. A penguin's striking coloring is a matter of camouflage; from above, its black back blends into the murky depths of the ocean. From below, its white belly is hidden against the bright surface.

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5. Fossils place the earliest penguin relative at some 60 million years ago, meaning an ancestor of the birds we see today survived the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.

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6. Penguins ingest a lot of seawater while hunting for fish, but a special gland behind their eyes—the supraorbital gland—filters out the saltwater from their blood stream. Penguins excrete it through their beaks, or by sneezing.

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7. Unlike most birds—which lose and replace a few feathers at a time—penguins molt all at once, spending two or three weeks land-bound as they undergo what is called the catastrophic molt.

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8. All but two species of penguins breed in large colonies of up to a thousand birds.

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9. It varies by species, but many penguins will mate with the same member of the opposite sex season after season.

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10. Similarly, most species are also loyal to their exact nesting site, often returning to the same rookery in which they were born.

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11. Some species create nests for their eggs out of pebbles and loose feathers. Emperor Penguins are an exception: They incubate a single egg each breeding season on the top of their feet. Under a loose fold of skin is a featherless area with a concentration of blood vessels that keeps the egg warm.

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12. In some species, it is the male penguin which incubates the eggs while females leave to hunt for weeks at a time. Because of this, pudgy males—with enough fat storage to survive weeks without eating—are most desirable.

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13. Penguin parents—both male and female—care for their young for several months until the chicks are strong enough to hunt for food on their own.

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14. If a female Emperor Penguin's baby dies, she will often "kidnap" an unrelated chick.

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15. Despite their lack of visible ears, penguins have excellent hearing and rely on distinct calls to identify their mates when returning to the crowded breeding grounds.

16. The first published account of penguins comes from Antonio Pigafetta, who was aboard Ferdinand Magellan's first circumnavigation of the globe in 1520. They spotted the animals near what was probably Punta Tombo in Argentina. (He called them "strange geese.")

17. An earlier, anonymous diary entry from Vasco da Gama's 1497 voyage around the Cape of Good Hope makes mention of flightless birds as large as ducks.

18. Because they aren't used to danger from animals on solid ground, wild penguins exhibit no particular fear of human tourists.

19. Unlike most sea mammals—which rely on blubber to stay warm—penguins survive because their feathers trap a layer of warm air next to the skin that serves as insulation, especially when they start generating muscular heat by swimming around.

20. In the 16th century, the word penguin actually referred to great auks (scientific name: Pinguinus impennis), a now-extinct species that inhabited the seas around eastern Canada. When explorers traveled to the Southern Hemisphere, they saw black and white birds that resembled auks, and called them penguins.

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6 Myths About Animals, Debunked
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It’s easy to think we understand animals: They’re present in every part of our culture, from the movies we watch to the clichés we use. But the way a species functions in the wild is often worlds apart from a stereotype or cartoon. This gulf between misconceptions and reality is the theme of Lucy Cooke’s new book, The Truth About Animals.

"We have a habit of viewing the animal kingdom through the prism of our own existence, and that trips us up and obscures the truth,” Cooke, a zoologist and founder of the Sloth Appreciation Society, tells Mental Floss. “I think it's time we rebrand the animal kingdom according to facts and not sentimentality.”

As Cooke examines in her book, the real world is one in which pandas are virile lovers and sloths are master survivalists. These are just a few of the myths that were debunked in The Truth About Animals.

1. PANDAS HAVE LOW SEX DRIVES.

Pandas have long been blamed for their own precarious position in the animal kingdom. The species is in danger, some people claim, because pandas are reluctant to or just plain bad at copulating. If only they would get off their furry behinds and get it on, there would be more of them.

In The Truth About Animals, Cooke debunks this modern myth. Pandas have been living in the wild for 18 million years—long before humans swooped in to act as their savior—and that wouldn’t be the case without healthy sex habits. It’s true that pandas are difficult to breed in captivity, and the several failed attempts of zoos to produce a baby panda throughout the 20th century is likely what led to this stereotype. But the bears are much more responsive to members of the opposite sex in the wild. The female chooses who she mates with, moaning from high in a bamboo tree while several males on the ground compete for her attention. Once the bears have paired off, they can have sex over 40 times in one afternoon.

2. SLOTHS ARE LAZY.

Cooke was inspired to write her book by sloths, which she describes to Mental Floss as “highly successful, highly evolved” creatures. Not everyone agrees: More than perhaps any other animal, sloths have become synonymous with laziness and sluggishness, and today they’re held up as an example of evolutionary failure.

The reality is that sloths are much more impressive than their appearance suggests. They’ve been around since 64 million years ago—earlier than wooly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers—and they have their slow and steady nature to thank for their success. Sloths have a remarkably slow digestive system and a low-calorie diet, so they expend as little energy as possible, not out of laziness, but out of survival instinct. A sloth is awake for more than half the day, and when necessary it can scramble up a tree at speeds approaching 1 mph. It spends most of its day in a still, seemingly trancelike state, but it isn’t wasting its potential: It’s conserving energy so it can maintain its dominant spot in the evolutionary tree.

3. PENGUINS ARE LOYAL LOVERS.

Emperor penguins, the most famous of the bird group, are known for splitting parenting duties between mated pairs, with the father incubating the egg while the mother gathers food for her family. This has led some to praise penguins as the reflection of ideal, moral family dynamics in the animal kingdom, but these people should probably find a different analog. Though the parents of any given chick may raise their offspring together, penguins aren’t monogamous: 85 percent of emperor penguins find a new partner from one breeding season to the next. Penguins are also some of the only animals known to exchange goods for sex. Adélie penguins need rocks to build up their nests during warmer months when meltwater threatens their eggs. With no parenting duties to distract them, bachelor penguins end up collecting more stones than they need, so some females will sometimes trade a one-off sex session for one of their pebbles.

4. VULTURES STALK DYING PREY.

Watch enough survival movies and you’re bound to see a shot of a hungry vulture trailing behind the starving protagonist, waiting for them to lie down and die. The myth that vultures stalk their prey while it’s still alive and have the power to predict death is a persistent one, but that doesn’t make it accurate. The scavengers have no interest in living animals and will only seek out meat from dead and decaying corpses. Rather than reaper-like premonitions of mortality, turkey vultures and greater and lesser yellow-headed vultures use their noses to locate their meals. They join kiwis and kakapos on the small list of birds with highly-developed olfactory glands. Without a strong sense of smell, other New World vultures and all Old World vultures primarily rely on sight to find food. Some New World vultures like black vultures have adopted a different strategy: They'll follow turkey vultures to their prey, taking advantage of their sensitive noses.

5. ALL BATS ARE RABID BLOOD-SUCKERS.

Bats may be the animals most closely associated with the horror genre. They crave blood, so the myth goes, and though a bat latched onto your neck won’t be able to suck you dry, it will likely infect you with a nasty case of rabies.

According to Cooke, there are many problems with the statement above. Bats are poor stand-ins for their fictional vampire counterparts; only three species of bats drink blood—the common vampire bat, the hairy-legged vampire bat, and the white-winged vampire bat—while most prefer fruit or insects. After climbing onto its prey, the vampire bat locates where the blood is flowing with the heat sensor on its nose, and then, using its sharp front teeth like shears, it cuts away any hair that might be blocking the skin. Rather than biting down and sucking like Dracula, the bat creates a small incision and laps up blood from the open wound. They can recognize an individual animal's breathing patterns and return to feed on it the following night, taking advantage of the reliable blood source.

Bats are rarely rabid, with just .05 percent of them carrying the disease—less than dogs or raccoons. The image of a bat getting tangled in your hair also has no basis in reality: Their sophisticated echolocation system signals them to turn long before they have a chance to collide with your head.

6. FEMALE HYENAS HAVE PENISES.

Hyena genitalia has been baffling scientists for centuries. Member of both sexes appear to have a penis, while in females there’s no external vagina to be found. Scientists originally thought that hyenas must be hermaphrodites, but the true explanation is even more unusual. Though it’s often referred to as a pseudo-penis, female hyena genitalia doesn’t produce sperm, technically making it a nearly 8-inch-long clitoris. This appendage is also saddled with all the same duties as a conventional female organ, including giving birth to hyena pups.

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