10 Animal Facts You Probably Didn’t Know Part V

10 Animal Facts You Probably Didn’t Know Part V

Nature’s at It Again

1. The Spanish ribbed newt uses its ribs like spikes

Photo: Peter Halasz via Wiki Commons

Photo: Peter Halasz via Wiki Commons

One of the weirdest and most gruesome defense mechanism in nature comes to us courtesy of the Spanish ribbed newt. If it feels threatened, the newt will push its ribs forward until they actually pierce through its body, exposing the sharp tips like spines. Not only that, but the skin also gets covered in a milky poisonous substance that also coats the ribs, effectively turning them into poisonous stingers. You might think that piercing its ribs through its own body might hurt the newt, but it doesn’t appear to have any ill effect on the animal. Like most amphibians, this newt possesses remarkable healing properties. So, to cut the story short, the Spanish ribbed newt is Wolverine from X-Men.

2. Narwhal tusks are actually teeth

Photo: Glenn Williams via Wiki Commons

Photo: Glenn Williams via Wiki Commons

We’re all familiar with the predominant characteristic of narwhals – the huge tusks which can be half their whole body length and also gives them the nickname of “unicorns of the sea”. What most people probably don’t know is that the tusk is actually an inside-out tooth. And it’s not used for what you think it is.

We’ve actually struggled for a long time to determine exactly what the teeth are for. Fighting each other, attracting females and spear fishing are just a few of the theories put forward. A new study shows that the tooth functions as a sensitive organ, able to detect changes in the narwhal’s environment like temperature and salinity. It’s also an appendage found almost exclusively on males (some even have two), so it is possible that it plays a role in their mating rituals.

3. The colorful feather patches on hummingbirds’ throats are called gorgets

Photo: Jon Sullivan

Photo: Jon Sullivan

There are numerous species of birds that have gorgets, but they are predominant among hummingbirds. They are also typically iridescent and prolonged exposure to the Sun can change the colors. The name comes from a medieval armor plate that was placed around the throat to protect soldiers. In birds, gorgets are usually found on males which suggests that they are used to attract females.

4. Wombats have backwards pouches

Photo: Orion Wiseman via Flickr

Photo: Orion Wiseman via Flickr

Wombats are marsupials and a defining characteristic of all marsupials is the pouch where they keep their babies. However, unlike most marsupials, wombats also do a lot of digging. In order to prevent the pouches getting filled with dirt, they’re placed facing the rear. Backwards pouches are not exclusive to wombats, though. Other digging marsupials like Tasmanian devils and bandicoots also have them.

5. Belugas are the only whales that shed their skin

Photo: Steve Snodgrass via Wiki Commons

Photo: Steve Snodgrass via Wiki Commons

Each summer, beluga whales molt by shedding their outer layer of skin. They are the only cetaceans that do this. They do this by traveling to shallow waters where they rub against coarse gravel. Uniquely, belugas are also the only cetaceans capable of moving their heads up and down and side to side because they don’t have their cervical vertebrae fused together.

6. Starfish have sea water instead of blood

Photo: Laszlo Ilyes via Wiki Commons

Photo: Laszlo Ilyes via Wiki Commons

For starters, most marine scientists encourage people to use the term sea star instead of starfish in order to make it clearer that the animal is not a fish, it’s an echinoderm. Furthermore, sea stars don’t have any actual blood coursing through their bodies. It’s actually filtered sea water.

7. Rhino horns aren’t true horns

Photo: Coralie via Wiki Commons

Photo: Coralie via Wiki Commons

Like the narwhal, the most distinguishing feature of the rhinoceros is its massive horn. Also like the narwhal, the rhino horn isn’t a genuine horn, either. A true horn is made out of bone, covered by a thin layer of keratin (the substance also used to make hair and fingernails). The rhino’s horn is made entirely out of keratin.

8. Blue-footed boobies attract mates through dancing

Photo: Kilobug via Wiki Commons

Photo: Kilobug via Wiki Commons

Clearly, any animal that has its own special little dance becomes significantly more interesting and this mating tactic is oftentimes found among birds. One notable example is the blue-footed booby, found off the islands of South America. Like the name suggests, this bird had blue feet, an odd characteristic which is also a good indicator of their overall health. Therefore, the bluer the feet, the more attractive the specimen which is why the booby is eager to show off its feet using a dance.

9. The North American hognose snake plays dead to deter predators

Photo: Dawson via Wiki Commons

Photo: Dawson via Wiki Commons

The various species of hognose snakes actually have quite a few tricks up their…umm, sleeves used to scare off any potential predators. Most of them are known to flatten their necks and raise their heads off the ground, similar to a cobra. They also hiss and might feign a few strikes but rarely do they actually try to bite because their venom is not powerful.

The North American variety of hognose snake has been observed feigning death when it finds itself in a dangerous situation and it goes all out: it rolls onto its back, sticks its tongue out and even emits a foul-smelling musk to convince predators that it’s really, really dead.

10. Snails can survive being eaten by birds

snail

Photo: Macrophile via Wiki Commons

One study found that snails eaten by Japanese white-eyes on the island of Hahajima can survive the trip through the bird’s intestinal tract and come out the other end still alive. According to the study, up to 15% of snails can survive digestion this way. This might suggest that predation might have actually became a tactic essential in spreading the snail population.

 

Want even more animal facts? Click for Part 1 or Part 2 or Part 3 or Part 4.