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Mantis Shrimp: The Quickest Killers in the Animal Kingdom

The mantis shrimp is an interesting creature: It flaunts a whole rainbow of colors, has some of the best working eyes in the animal kingdom, and ruthlessly kills its prey with extreme precision and power. There are over 550 species of the ocean dweller, but of those hundreds, the formidable crustaceans have just two primary methods for maiming their prey: smashing or spearing.

As PBS's Deep Look series explains in the video above, smashers have a strong club, which they use to literally punch animals to death (or bust open a shell). Their tiny boxing glove moves through the water at 50 mph—faster than a .22-caliber bullet. These clobberers also have a simple spear that's sharp enough to jab their enemies in turf battles, but pro spearers have an advanced harpoon with a serrated blade. They hide in the sand and wait for an unsuspecting fish to pass by so they can leap out and attack before dragging the unsuspecting animal to its death. Yikes.

The mantis shrimp combines this pure power with an incredible sense of sight. While humans have two pupils and three color receptors, the mantis shrimp has six pseudopupils and 12 receptors to better destroy their enemies. As the video explains, "Mantis shrimp can perceive the most elusive attribute of light from the human standpoint: polarization. Polarization refers to the angle that light travels through space. Though it’s invisible to the human eye, many animals see this quality of light, especially underwater."

This skill is great for more than just killing dinner: The special vision lets mantis shrimp communicate with each other and stake out territory. Scientists have even borrowed this technique to find injuries and even cancer with polarized light. Just another example of how Mother Nature can be both beautiful and terrifying. 

[h/t SPLOID]

Images: iStock

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science
Why Can Parrots Talk and Other Birds Can't?
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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).

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paleontology
Extinct Penguin Species Was the Size of an Adult Human
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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]

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