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Top 10 Wacky Animal Stories of 2011As 2011 draws to a close, here we bring you the weirdest stories of the year of animals and insects. From transvestite birds to zombie caterpillars and our own set of animal superheroes, it's been a wacky ride.
Apocalypse or a-flock-alypse?Slide 2 of 21
Apocalypse or a-flock-alypse?
This year started with a bang as scores of birds fell from the skies in January. The "aflockalypse" as it became called, harkened back for many to their first time watching Alfred Hitchcock's psychological thriller "The Birds," but experts agreed that the birds' …and fish's mass deaths were just coincidental.
It started with the mysterious deaths of thousands of blackbirds in Arkansas and Louisiana around New Years' eve. The birds were mostly dead when they hit the ground across a 1-mile area. This was followed by several reports of dead fish washing ashore and many more "massive" animal die-offs. A map of various die-offs has 30 listed.
In the end, the bang with which it all started was probably fireworks, which killed the original blackbirds. Researchers agree the best explanation so far is the fireworks' noise and lights may have scared or disoriented the birds, causing them to fatally injure themselves flying into buildings, water towers and trees. The wide pickup of the original blackbird story probably set off the media attention later stories received, but these kind of die-offs are normal, researchers and ecologists say.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center records, there were 188 mortality events across the country involving 1,000 birds or more between 2000 and 2010. In 2009, individual events included one in which 50,000 birds died from avian botulism in Utah; 20,000 from the same disease in Idaho; and 10,000 bird deaths in Washington from a harmful algal bloom. Mass-mortality events occur in other animal populations as well, according to the Geological Survey.Slide 3 of 21
The zombies are comingSlide 4 of 21
The zombies are coming
With all those dead animals reported in January, of course 2011 was a bumper year for zombie insects. Reports of mind-controlled ants and caterpillars creeped everyone out this year.
In May, in the journal BMC Ecology, researcher David Hughes from Pennsylvania State University reported that a parasitic fungus infects forest ants to fulfill its bidding. The fungus fills the ant's head with fungal cells and changes its muscles so the ant can grab a leaf in a death grip just when and where the fungus wants it — specifically, they all bite down around noon, then all die together around sunset, like some weird fungus-addled ant cult. The fungus then bursts out of the ants' head and spreads its spores to its next unwitting victim.
Another report in September found the genetic culprit that sends caterpillars to the treetops, where they liquefy and rain infectious death down on their peers. The virus that zombifies these gypsy moth caterpillars also makes sure they grow as large as possible so they spread infectious viruses far and wide, study researcher Kelli Hoover, of Pennsylvania State University, said. They also send the caterpillars crawling up trees in the middle of the day, when they are most vulnerable to bird attacks.Slide 5 of 21
The mouse with two dadsSlide 6 of 21
The mouse with two dads
In a wacky feat of genetic engineering and a stem cell switcheroo, researchers created the first mouse baby from the genes of two male mice — a mouse that literally has two dads. The mousey Dr. Frankensteins, from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, turned cells from Dad No. 1 into X-only stem cells, which they injected into an egg to make a female mouse, which was then fertilized by sperm from Dad No. 2. [How Mr. and Mr. Mouse Had a Baby (Infographic)]
The study, published in the journal Biology of Reproduction, is the first step to making human children from two men, though that is a long way away. This mean feat of genetic engineering was also dubbed by LiveScience reporter Stephanie Pappas as "scientific progress at its cutest" when she met the mice in person.Slide 7 of 21
Animals with superhero sensesSlide 8 of 21