11 Mysterious Facts About Okapis


The giraffe’s closest living relative is a striped, long-tongued beast called the okapi. These forest-dwelling creatures are elusive—so much so that the species wasn't discovered by western scientists for centuries. Here’s what every animal enthusiast should know about okapis.


While traveling through central Africa in the 1800s, European explorers would sometimes hear reports of a shy, hoofed, forest-dwelling mammal with distinctive striped hindquarters. During the late 1870s/'80s, a Russian adventurer named Wilhelm Junker managed to obtain a sample of the animal’s hide. Noting its stripes, he misidentified its owner as some new species of zebra, antelope, or chevrotain.

Rumors about the mystery creature eventually reached Sir Harry Hamilton Johnston, a British colonial administrator with a passion for biology. In 1899, he was appointed Special Commissioner of Uganda, and the following year, Johnston was given two shoulder belts made with the skins of an animal the locals called “o’api.” Then, in 1901, he received three more specimens: an entire hide and two isolated skulls. Their anatomy demonstrated that the species was in fact a close cousin of the giraffe. By the end of the year, a correspondent of Johnston’s had announced the existence of this animal—which we now know as the okapi—in a scientific paper, with the scientific name Okapia johnstoni.


How did the okapi, which stands over 5 feet tall and can weigh between 440 and 770 pounds, go undiscovered by scientists until 1901? The species’s preferred habitat played a big role in keeping it off the radar. Even today, scientists have a hard time locating or monitoring okapis because they live in dense, inhospitable forests. Since the striped herbivores are so difficult to observe in the wild, we know very little about their social habits. But with this said, it would appear that okapis lead a solitary existence. According to data collected from radio collars, adults spend most of their lives inside of a territory that might overlap with those of other individuals, but okapis seldom cross paths. While newborn calves will hang around their mothers until they mature, the evidence suggests that full-grown okapis—unlike giraffes—don’t travel together (although other researchers have noted that okapis might travel in pairs on rare occasions).


Both of these herbivores have long, prehensile tongues that help them pull leaves off of tree limbs. The tongues are bluish or grayish in color over the first several inches, which scientists believe prevents them from getting sunburned. A giraffe can be up to 19 feet tall—so relative to its smaller body size, the okapi’s 14- to 18-inch tongue is more impressive than the giraffe’s 20-inch tongue.


We know from a range of evidence that okapis once lived in Uganda. Unfortunately, they seem to have gone extinct there. Currently, wild okapis can only be found within the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, where they live in the dense forests of the northern and central recesses. Population estimates vary, but most scientists think that just 10,000 to 50,000 non-captive okapis are left in the world. They’ve recently been classed as endangered across their entire range.


Okapis are sexually dimorphic, which means there are visible differences between the sexes that have nothing to do with their reproductive organs. For example, male okapis have a horn structure called an ossicone (like a giraffe), but females don’t have real horns, and instead have bumps. When mating season arrives, rival bucks will often use the horns to flank one another.


These browsers subsist on a varied diet that includes the seeds, fruits, and leaves of more than 100 different types of plants, and the occasional fungi. To obtain important minerals, okapis will also lick clays that they find at riverbanks and eat charcoal off of scorched trees.


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Nobody knows why, but newborn okapis usually don’t defecate for the first time until they’re four to 10 weeks old. (But it’s still unknown how much the peculiar situation of zoos affects this timeframe. Until the late 1970s, many baby okapis were suffering from rectal prolapse because of bored mothers overlicking their young’s rectal area.) This could be a survival strategy: Fecal material can attract predators, so maybe the absence of bowel movements early on helps to conceal the calves’ scent from leopards and other carnivores.


On each foot, an okapi has a peculiar gland that sits between the toes and secretes a pungent, waxy material often described as tar-like—and during forest excursions, they sometimes leave that material behind. It’s been speculated that this helps okapis mark their territories, which they’ll also do by spraying urine over shrubs. While an adult female will generally ignore other individuals who wander onto her home range, males apparently behave aggressively towards each another and try to ward off intruders of their own sex. (In the process, those horns are put to good use.)


Giraffes and okapis differ from the majority of quadrupedal animals in the way that they walk. To get from Point A to Point B, most quadrupeds—including dogs and cats—will simultaneously move one leg on their right side and another leg on the left side. In contrast, okapis and giraffes swing both right limbs forward at the same time, then they’ll do likewise with both left limbs. (For a visual aid, check out the above video.) However, when there’s a need for speed, the two species will gallop in a horse-like manner.


Okapis may not be the most vocal of animals, but they aren’t mutes either. “We hear coughs, bleats, and whistles quite often,” Dr. Matt Anderson, a behavioral ecologist who’s studied the okapis at the San Diego Zoo, notes in a blog post. Mothers will also communicate with their calves by releasing infrasounds—noises that fall below the normal limits of human hearing. Bioacoustics expert Elizabeth von Muggenthaler recently discussed this phenomenon in a 2013 paper. By keeping close tabs on okapi behavior, she’s found that you may be able to tell when an okapi is making infrasounds by watching the creature’s body language. As they generate ultra-low-frequency calls, the animals are known to rapidly jerk their heads upward and point their noses to the sky [PDF].


Human cells generally contain 23 pairs of chromosomes, or 46 in total. Dog cells have 78 overall while 38 can be found in those of cats. But okapis are different. Although most have 46 per cell, a few specimens feature 44 or 45. What’s truly baffling about this is that okapis with an atypical chromosome count appear perfectly normal and healthy. The individuals who have 45 per cell are especially perplexing. Animals with an odd number of chromosomes usually exhibit physical abnormalities. Yet in a bizarre twist, the 45-chromosomed okapis look ordinary, as do their offspring. Geneticists are still trying to figure out what’s going on here.

Bad Moods Might Make You More Productive

Being in a bad mood at work might not be such a bad thing. New research shows that foul moods can lead to better executive function—the mental processing that handles skills like focus, self-control, creative thinking, mental flexibility, and working memory. But the benefit might hinge on how you go through emotions.

As part of the study, published in Personality and Individual Differences, a pair of psychologists at the University of Waterloo in Canada subjected more than 90 undergraduate students to a battery of tests designed to measure their working memory and inhibition control, two areas of executive function. They also gave the students several questionnaires designed to measure their emotional reactivity and mood over the previous week.

They found that some people who were in slightly bad moods performed significantly better on the working memory and inhibition tasks, but the benefit depended on how the person experienced emotion. Specifically, being in a bit of a bad mood seemed to boost the performance of participants with high emotional reactivity, meaning that they’re sensitive, have intense reactions to situations, and hold on to their feelings for a long time. People with low emotional reactivity performed worse on the tasks when in a bad mood, though.

“Our results show that there are some people for whom a bad mood may actually hone the kind of thinking skills that are important for everyday life,” one of the study’s co-authors, psychology professor Tara McAuley, said in a press statement. Why people with bigger emotional responses experience this boost but people with less-intense emotions don’t is an open question. One hypothesis is that people who have high emotional reactivity are already used to experiencing intense emotions, so they aren’t as fazed by their bad moods. However, more research is necessary to tease out those factors.

[h/t Big Think]

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
The 10 Wildest Movie Plot Twists
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

An ending often makes or breaks a movie. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as having the rug pulled out from under you, particularly in a thriller. But too many flicks that try to shock can’t stick the landing—they’re outlandish and illogical, or signal where the plot is headed. Not all of these films are entirely successful, but they have one important attribute in common: From the classic to the cultishly beloved, they involve hard-to-predict twists that really do blow viewers’ minds, then linger there for days, if not life. (Warning: Massive spoilers below.)

1. PSYCHO (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock often constructed his movies like neat games that manipulated the audience. The Master of Suspense delved headfirst into horror with Psycho, which follows a secretary (Janet Leigh) who sneaks off with $40,000 and hides in a motel. The ensuing jolt depends on Leigh’s fame at the time: No one expected the ostensible star and protagonist to die in a gory (for the time) shower butchering only a third of the way into the running time. Hitchcock outdid that feat with the last-act revelation that Anthony Perkins’s supremely creepy Norman Bates is embodying his dead mother.


No, not the botched Tim Burton remake that tweaked the original movie’s famous reveal in a way that left everyone scratching their heads. The Charlton Heston-starring sci-fi gem continues to stupefy anyone who comes into its orbit. Heston, of course, plays an astronaut who travels to a strange land where advanced apes lord over human slaves. It becomes clear once he finds the decrepit remains of the Statue of Liberty that he’s in fact on a future Earth. The anti-violence message, especially during the political tumult of 1968, shook people up as much as the time warp.

3. DEEP RED (1975)

It’s not rare for a horror movie to flip the script when it comes to unmasking its killer, but it’s much rarer that such a film causes a viewer to question their own perception of the world around them. Such is the case for Deep Red, Italian director Dario Argento’s (Suspiria) slasher masterpiece. A pianist living in Rome (David Hemmings) comes upon the murder of a woman in her apartment and teams up with a female reporter to find the person responsible. Argento’s whodunit is filled to the brim with gorgeous photography, ghastly sights, and delirious twists. But best of all is the final sequence, in which the pianist retraces his steps to discover that the killer had been hiding in plain sight all along. Rewind to the beginning and you’ll discover that you caught an unknowing glimpse, too.


Sleepaway Camp is notorious among horror fans for a number of reasons: the bizarre, stilted acting and dialogue; hilariously amateurish special effects; and ‘80s-to-their-core fashions. But it’s best known for the mind-bending ending, which—full disclosure—reads as possibly transphobic today, though it’s really hard to say what writer-director Robert Hiltzik had in mind. Years after a boating accident that leaves one of two siblings dead, Angela is raised by her aunt and sent to a summer camp with her cousin, where a killer wreaks havoc. In the lurid climax, we see that moody Angela is not only the murderer—she’s actually a boy. Her aunt, who always wanted a daughter, raised her as if she were her late brother. The final animalistic shot prompts as many gasps as cackles.


The Usual Suspects has left everyone who watches it breathless by the time they get to the fakeout conclusion. Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), a criminal with cerebral palsy, regales an interrogator in the stories of his exploits with a band of fellow crooks, seen in flashback. Hovering over this is the mysterious villainous figure Keyser Söze. It’s not until Verbal leaves and jumps into a car that customs agent David Kujan realizes that the man fabricated details, tricking the law and the viewer into his fake reality, and is in fact the fabled Söze.

6. PRIMAL FEAR (1996)

No courtroom movie can surpass Primal Fear’s discombobulating effect. Richard Gere’s defense attorney becomes strongly convinced that his altar boy client Aaron (Edward Norton) didn’t commit the murder of an archbishop with which he’s charged. The meek, stuttering Aaron has sudden violent outbursts in which he becomes "Roy" and is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, leading to a not guilty ruling. Gere’s lawyer visits Aaron about the news, and as he’s leaving, a wonderfully maniacal Norton reveals that he faked the multiple personalities.

7. FIGHT CLUB (1999)

Edward Norton is no stranger to taking on extremely disparate personalities in his roles, from Primal Fear to American History X. The unassuming actor can quickly turn vicious, which led to ideal casting for Fight Club, director David Fincher’s adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel. Fincher cleverly keeps the audience in the dark about the connections between Norton’s timid, unnamed narrator and Brad Pitt’s hunky, aggressive Tyler Durden. After the two start the titular bruising group, the plot significantly increases the stakes, with the club turning into a sort of anarchist terrorist organization. The narrator eventually comes to grips with the fact that he is Tyler and has caused all the destruction around him.


Early in his career, M. Night Shyamalan was frequently (perhaps a little too frequently) compared to Hitchcock for his ability to ratchet up tension while misdirecting his audience. He hasn’t always earned stellar reviews since, but The Sixth Sense remains deservedly legendary for its final twist. At the end of the ghost story, in which little Haley Joel Osment can see dead people, it turns out that the psychologist (Bruce Willis) who’s been working with the boy is no longer living himself, the result of a gunshot wound witnessed in the opening sequence.

9. THE OTHERS (2001)

The Sixth Sense’s climax was spooky, but not nearly as unnerving as Nicole Kidman’s similarly themed ghost movie The Others, released just a couple years later. Kidman gives a superb performance in the elegantly styled film from the Spanish writer-director Alejandro Amenábar, playing a mother in a country house after World War II protecting her photosensitive children from light and, eventually, dead spirits occupying the place. Only by the end does it become clear that she’s in denial about the fact that she’s a ghost, having killed her children in a psychotic break before committing suicide. It’s a bleak capper to a genuinely haunting yarn.


David Lynch’s surrealist movies may follow dream logic, but that doesn’t mean their plots can’t be readily discerned. Mulholland Drive is his most striking work precisely because, in spite of its more wacko moments, it adds up to a coherent, tragic story. The mystery starts innocently enough with the dark-haired Rita (Laura Elena Harring) waking up with amnesia from a car accident in Los Angeles and piecing together her identity alongside the plucky aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts). It takes a blue box to unlock the secret that Betty is in fact Diane, who is in love with and envious of Camilla (also played by Harring) and has concocted a fantasy version of their lives. The real Diane arranges for Camilla to be killed, leading to her intense guilt and suicide. Only Lynch can go from Nancy Drew to nihilism so swiftly and deftly.


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