1. Japanese honeybees vibrate so fast they can cook a hornet to death
In Japan, native bees and hornets gruesomely battle. If more than one Asian giant hornet get into a beehive, they will rip all the bees’ heads off, killing 20 insects per minute (thousands in a couple of hours), and decimate the hive. However, the only way Asian giant hornets get into the hive is by first sending a scout to find it.
Luckily for the Japanese honeybees, they have a defense against the scouting hornet: they cluster around the giant and vibrate very, very quickly. Together, the hundreds of buzzing bees generate so much heat that they cook the hornet to death. Nature is pretty metal.
2. Male giraffes drink pee to figure out if the female is ready to mate
Some women track their cycles to figure out when they’re ovulating, if they’re trying to get pregnant (or not), and animals have the same concerns. However, giraffes go about it in a much weirder and grosser way: the male giraffe whacks the female a few times until she pees.
Then, the male drinks her urine. If the female is ready to get pregnant, her urine will be flavored with certain hormones that the male can taste. When he tastes the hormones, he’ll then try to mate with her. She walks away from him for a few days until she’s ready. Female giraffes are pregnant for 13 to 15 months until the baby falls out and onto the ground, running around a few hours later.
3. Horned lizards squirt blood out of their eyes
It’s a dangerous world out in nature, so animals have to evolve good defenses unless they’re top predators. For the little horned lizard, danger abounds in the desert: hawks, roadrunners, bobcats, wolves, grasshopper mice and more are all trying to eat it.
The lizards suck at running, so they try to camouflage and blend in with their surroundings. But that doesn’t always work, so evolution got pretty creative: as a last-ditch defense, the lizards shoot blood out of their eyes. The nasty fluid goes right into the predator’s mouth, making them reconsider making a meal out of the horned lizard.
4. Tiny male anglerfishes fuse with much larger females
If “Sex and the City” took place in the deep ocean, the male deep-sea anglerfish would be Charlotte. He spends his whole life looking for the one because while there may be plenty of fish in the sea, the deep is vast and lady anglerfish are few and far between. Kind of like suitable men in New York, apparently.
So, after the male anglerfish finds her, he gets more than a little clingy: he bites her stomach and then never lets go. Their bodies and circulatory systems fuse together so they become one fish. At that point, the male has achieved his life’s goal of becoming a sack of gonads, while the female would be happy to have another male join them (up to eight in some species!).
5. Pearlfish live in sea cucumbers’ butts
When it comes to House Hunters, everyone has their own peculiar interior tastes, but none could be weirder than the pearlfish’s. It likes to live in sea cucumber butts. Yes, you read that right. A pearlfish’s House Hunter checklist would read: toxic chemicals, no windows, and as slimy as can be.
Sea cucumbers breathe through their anus, so they can’t just clench to keep the fish out. In some cases, as many as 15 fish will live inside one sea cucumber. Don’t think about that for too long. And while plenty of pearlfish just chill in the sea cucumber like a friend staying too long on your couch, some actually consume the cucumber’s reproductive organs, which there really is no good metaphor for.
6. Flatworms “swordfight” to determine who’s the mommy
When it comes to humans, heterosexual couples have no choice over who gets pregnant and who gets the joy of being not pregnant. But if we did, perhaps people would get in fights akin to those of the marine flatworm. The animals are hermaphroditic, meaning they have both male and female reproductive organs, which makes things a bit complicated.
Things get a bit awkward when the flatworms must decide who plays the female role since it requires a lot more energy to make eggs than sperm. The two fence with their male organs, each trying to get a touch in. The loser gets inseminated anywhere on its body, while the winner swims off baby-free. But sometimes, they’re both losers.
7. Moths and butterflies drink animal tears
In the jungle, the mighty jungle, a bird sleeps tonight — and then a moth comes and drinks its tears (is that not how the song goes?). In fact, moths and butterflies drink tears from crocodiles, turtles, and mammals, too. So what exactly is going on here?
Well, animals need the essential nutrients in salt, so scientists believe this is how some moths get them. Sure, you can just grab the salt shaker, but moths and butterflies don’t have that luxury. Instead, they drink animal tears. However, rivers in the Amazon can have plenty of salt in them, so perhaps the moths are actually getting protein from the tears.
8. Once the matriarch dies, a male clownfish becomes female
“Finding Nemo” is a sweet enough story: mom-clownfish dies, so dad-clownfish raises their last surviving child and then goes on a journey to rescue him. It’s fun, but it has a glaring scientific inaccuracy. After Nemo’s mom died, his dad would have become his new mom.
Yup, clownfish start out male, but once the group’s female dies, the largest male morphs into a female. After that, the clownfish story strays from PG and into R-rated territory. Nemo, the only other male clownfish around, would grow up and then mate with his mom-who-was-his-dad. It’s easy to see why the writers strayed from the real story.
9. Crows hold grudges against people for years
Science says, don’t cross a crow because they’ll remember you. For years. After mask-wearing scientists captured crows and then released them, the crows taunted and dive-bombed the people every time they had the masks on. The mean spirit persisted for years and the captured crows even told others about the bad people.
However, the scientists wore different masks when feeding and caring for the captive crows. In the birds’ eyes, these people were just fine and not scary. So don’t do anything bad to a crow because you will be harassed forever. They’re some of the smartest animals, after all.
10. Teenage elephants become delinquents if they don’t have strong parenting
Just like a teenager can become troubled without proper parenting, elephants suffer when their adults are taken away. In the 1990s, a gang of teenage elephants whose parents had been culled ran around murdering rhinos until middle-aged elephants were introduced to them. With the adult males around, the teenagers weren’t hopped up on hormones anymore.
Years later, in a different part of Africa, elephants were harassing people and villages. Scientists believe the elephants lost the older members of their group to poaching so they’re taking revenge on humans. Turns out you can’t just kill random elephants and expect their families to be fine.
11. This mammal mates so intensely that he disintegrates
“Live fast and die young” is the life motto of this little mouse-like marsupial. For two or three weeks, male antechinuses very nearly mate non-stop. Not long beforehand, his body had stopped making sperm, so he has to get it all out to pass on his genes. It’s imperative that the females get pregnant during this time so they have their babies in a season with plenty of food.
The male antechinuses do it with as many females as they can and each time can last as long as 14 hours. But the exhaustion takes hold of his body: his fur starts falling out, he’s internally bleeding, he gets gangrene, he goes blind, and soon enough, he drops dead.
12. These isopods eat fish tongues and then become the tongue
While the cat has probably never literally gotten your tongue, this creature literally eats fish tongues. What is this monster, you ask? It’s a type of isopod, making them related to roly-polys and other crustaceans, like crabs. But let’s skip to the weird stuff.
The tongue-eating isopod wriggles its way into a rose snapper’s gills and then drinks the blood out of the host’s tongue. Then the isopod becomes a living tongue, helping to grind food against the teeth on the roof of the fish’s mouth. Oh, and they mate in the fish’s mouth, which provides the female a nice hidey-hole to raise her kids in.
13. Komodo dragons can have virgin births
It was a bit of a shock to zookeepers when a female Komodo dragon laid eggs despite being completely isolated from any males. How had she managed to reproduce all by herself? In science, this sort of virgin birth is called parthenogenesis. Her eggs fused with other materials in her body to make embryos.
Essentially, the Komodo dragon’s babies are her clones; they have the same DNA as her. Similarly, a python and a swellshark also surprised their keepers with their own virgin births. Some animals can do this if no males are around, as a last effort to pass their genes on to a new generation.
14. These wasps mind control caterpillars into taking care of their babies
While the CIA was trying to figure out how to mind control people in the 1950s, this parasitoid wasp had already mastered it long ago — on caterpillars, not people. First, a female injects her eggs into a caterpillar. Inside, they hatch and the larvae feast on the bodily juices.
Once the baby wasps are big enough, they burst out of the caterpillar, as many as 80 at a time. But the caterpillar isn’t dead yet and the wasp larvae must still undergo a metamorphosis. Two of the larvae stay inside the caterpillar, controlling it and making it protect the young wasps on the outside as they go through a disturbing sort of puberty.
15. This salamander makes babies by sitting on a Hershey’s kiss
The axolotl is basically a salamander Peter Pan — it never fully “grows up” since it keeps its external gills and stays in the water. Other salamanders go through metamorphosis and move to land, but not this guy. Axolotls can reproduce sooner because they aren’t doing silly things like breathing air.
When a male and female mate, they do a sort of dance and then the male drops a spermatophore, a blob that contains his sperm. It looks like a translucent Hershey’s kiss, with the sperm as the paper tag. The female then sits on it and thus her eggs are fertilized.
16. The mantis shrimp heats water almost to the temperature of the sun
While the mantis shrimp is famed for all the colors it might be seeing, it’s well known for another reason too: it needs bulletproof aquariums because it can punch through regular glass. This small creature packs an astounding punch and the more you learn about it, the cooler it is.
The mantis shrimp’s punch is so powerful and fast that — for just a moment — it heats the water around its claw to nearly the temperature of the sun. Why does it have such an intense superpower? It’s to break animal shells so the shrimp can feast on them.
17. These crabs wear sea urchins as hats
Why evolve your own pointy spines when you can just grab someone else and carry them around as protection? Carrier crabs, aka urchin crabs, do just this. They grab sea urchins with two of their legs and carry them around on their backs to protect themselves from predators.
Sometimes little fish will even swim between the urchin’s spines, too. But don’t worry about the sea urchin; it gets access to new feeding areas, so it’s a pretty good deal all around. Other types of decorator crabs will put seaweed, corals, sponges, and whatever else is around on their bodies to camouflage themselves.
18. Dolphins can sleep with half their brain at a time
Dolphins literally sleep with one eye open and one half of their brain still awake. They stay half awake to watch for predators and obstacles, plus to make sure they get air every now and again. After about two hours of this, the awake brain hemisphere will go to sleep and the other side will wake up.
They do this for a few hours at night, spending about a third of the day asleep. Dolphins (and whales) wouldn’t be able to breathe if they were completely asleep, so they keep part of the brain alert. To be honest, it sounds exhausting.
19. Assassin bugs pile dead ants on their backs
Crabs aren’t the only ones with a weird sense of fashion — when it comes to assassin bugs, it gets weirder. These bugs stick balls of dead ants on their backs, most likely to confuse their predators (jumping spiders) into thinking they aren’t assassin bugs.
With a great big ball of dead ants, the assassin bugs don’t really look like prey anymore. Plus, the spiders may not want to eat ants because ants often swarm on attackers and use chemical weapons to deter predators. Oh and these ant corpses weren’t just laying around, the assassin bug first paralyzed them and ate their insides.
20. Caterpillars digest themselves into soup to become butterflies
Sure, we all know about caterpillars closing themselves into chrysalises and then emerging as butterflies, but how much do you really know about what goes on inside the chrysalis? It’s more than a little weird. The caterpillar actually digests itself and becomes a goopy soup.
The only body parts still intact are called imaginal discs. They form the adult’s parts: eyes, wings, legs, etc. They were inside the caterpillar before it made the chrysalis, either just chilling or slowly turning into a body part, depending on the species. The protein soup provides the discs with the fuel to make new cells and thus a new body.
21. These male spiders give gifts to females to entice them into mating
Even in the animal world, gifts mean romance. Some male spiders bring gifts to females when they want to mate. What does a lady spider want? A dead, tasty insect, of course. The males often wrap up the snack in silk before presenting it to the prospective mate.
However, while some males will give juicy flies, others will give mostly-eaten gifts. These are pretty much worthless, but since it’s wrapped in silk, the female can’t tell what he’s given her until they’re already mating. It’s like getting a box of chocolates and then opening it later to find out there’s one piece left — and it’s that raspberry flavor no one wants.
22. Bald eagles do free-falling somersaults for romance
Bald eagles take the trust fall thing to a whole new level. While courting, a male and female pair will do mid-air acrobatics. For instance, they will fly really high up, lock their talons together, and then freefall. During the fall, the pair will tumble in cartwheels until they break apart at the last minute, flying away from the ground.
After the eagles join the mile high club, they can take a couple of months to build a nest together. Then they get intimate: sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, cleaning each other’s feathers, calling to each other, and finally mating. The two will stay together and raise chicks till death do them part (seriously, their “divorce” rate is less than 5 percent).
23. Male cuttlefish morph half their body to look female when courting mates
In the animal world, there are several species whose males look a lot like the females of their species. These sneaker males have to get past the larger, dominant males in order to mate with a female. The cuttlefish takes this a step further and is more flexible about it.
When courting a female, a male cuttlefish will make the half of his body facing away from her look like a female. To other males, they look like two females hanging out, but actually, he’s about to mate with her. On the side facing her, his patterning is typical of a male.
24. Great bowerbirds use illusions to get mates
Bowerbirds have a pretty unique way of courting: the male constructs a structure called a bower, which is often made of sticks, and then waves colorful trinkets and fruits at the female. She sits in the bower watching and judging his display, then decides whether or not they can mate.
The great bowerbird uses a bit of illusion and trickery to make himself look better during this process. He places small bits of bones and shells near the bower entrance, putting the larger ones further from the female. The effect is a bit of forced perspective that makes the area look smaller and thus makes the bird look bigger and, presumably, more attractive.
25. Secretary birds kick their prey to death
If you’re afraid of birds, it might be the beak that gives you a scare, but when it comes to the secretary bird, the feet are the business end. Rather than fetching coffee and answering the phone, secretary birds wander around the African savanna, looking for tasty prey.
Once the bird spots an insect, lizard, or snake that catches its fancy, it viciously kicks the prey to death. The whole thing is over pretty quickly and soon enough the snake has turned snack. These birds are around four feet tall (almost five) and they kick with a force five times their body weight.