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Muhammad Mahdi Karim via Wikimedia Commons
Muhammad Mahdi Karim via Wikimedia Commons

This Tiny Dragonfly Routinely Travels a Record-Breaking 4400 Miles

Muhammad Mahdi Karim via Wikimedia Commons
Muhammad Mahdi Karim via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most well-traveled creatures on Earth is no bigger than the length of your thumb. The Pantala flavescens dragonfly, also known the globe skimmer and wandering glider, surpasses the monarch butterfly for the longest migratory flights in the insect class, Newsweek reports.

The findings were recently reported in the Journal PLOS One by a team led by Rutgers University biologist Jessica Ware. At less than 2 inches long, these dragonflies are too tiny to support GPS tracking devices. Instead, the researchers looked at the genes of Pantala flavescens samples from North America, South America, and Asia. What they found was that dragonflies as far apart as Texas and India have strikingly similar genetic profiles. This suggests they are all part of a global panmictic (or interbreeding) population, which is rare among animals, the researchers note.

In a worldwide species like P. flavescens, which can be found on every continent except for Antarctica, genetic similarities are often concentrated in geographic "neighborhoods" of individuals living close together. Wandering gliders are different in that they're flying across the globe to mate with one another. They're now estimated to migrate distances of 4400 miles or more, putting them way ahead of monarch butterflies, which held the previous insect migration record of 2500 miles. (The arctic tern holds the all-time record of 44,000 miles covered per year.)

To complete these epic journeys, the wandering gliders hitch a ride on the breeze when their wings need a break from flapping. Even though the trip is perilous for many individual dragonflies, it's good for the species overall because it allows them to find fresh water to mate and lay their eggs any time of year.

[h/t Newsweek]

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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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iStock

Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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