Back from the Dead
This beetle is a predator in the water but vulnerable in the wider world. Graphoderus bilineatus, a European water beetle, is listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and was thought to be locally extinct in Germany. But researchers with the Barcoding Fauna Bavarica project in Germany discovered that these beetles are still kicking around. The project is part of a larger scientific push to "barcode" species based on DNA snippets, enabling researchers to identify flora and fauna more accurately. Researchers engaged in barcoding projects convene these week in Adelaide Austraila for the fourth annual International Barcode of Life Conference.
Hello There, Bear
A brown bear rolls on its back in the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
Hungry, Hungry Puffin
Yum, anchovies. Actually, this generous puffin meal is made up of sand lances, little fish commonly found in the North Pacific and North Atlantic. Sand lances and other "forage fish" are critical to the survival of seabirds like this puffin. According to new research published Dec. 23 in the journal Science, seabirds need about a third of the fish in the sea to maintain their current lifestyles. That information is important because it gives researchers a sense of how much overfishing will affect animals that depend on the ocean for dinner.
A Dignified Bunch
Fur seals sun themselves on South Georgia Island in the Southern Ocean. Oxford zoologist Alex Rogers snapped this shot during an expedition to explore the first known deep-sea hydrothermal vents in the Antarctic. The fauna under the water turned out to be even more intriguing than the animals on land. See a gallery of photos from the vents here.
Excuse Me, Waiter ...
... But there's a frog in my drink. Or maybe this little guy is an amphibious genie, here to offer three froggy wishes? Either way, it's best not to sip this beverage: This strawberry poison dart frog from Isla Bastimentos in Panama is quite toxic. A new study, published in January 2012 in the journal The American Naturalist, finds that these frogs' coloration patterns, as seen by birds, corresponds to how deadly they really are. Now that's truth in advertising.
Brand-New Snake Species
This striking black-and-yellow fellow is a brand-new species just discovered in remote Tanzania. Dubbed the Matilda's horned viper after the daughter of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Tanzania program director, the snake measures 2.1 feet (60 centimeters) in length and sports horn-like scales above its eyes.
The WCS announced the discovery of the new horned viper on Jan. 9, but they're keeping the exact location of the snake's habitat a secret to prevent poaching from illegal pet collectors. But the snake is already likely to be placed on the endangered list, as its habitat has been hit hard by logging and charcoal manufacturing.
Fly Behind Bars
Stuck behind bars for a crime he didn't commit? Nah, this fruit fly is part of an experiment to uncover how insects navigate thousands of miles during migration, or even find their way from flower to flower in the front yard. The "bars" of light demarcate a light-emitting diode (LED) flight arena, but what really holds the fly in is a magnetic field (he's glued to a metal pin, allowing him to move naturally within the field but keeping him in place).
The outcome of this bizarre set-up is the discovery that fruit flies look to the sky to keep their bearings. In naturally polarized light, the flies had no trouble staying on course. But when researchers altered the light polarization patterns, the flies got discombobulated. That means that as long as a bit of sunlight makes its way to the fly's eye, it can use the patterns in light to get where it's going — sort of an all-weather version of sailors navigating by the stars. The researchers reported their results Jan. 10 in the journal Current Biology.
High-Stakes Slug Sex
This banana slug yin-yang is not quite as innocent as it seems. In fact, it's a bizarre mating dance — and just the beginning of how weird things are about to get for these mollusks.
You see, banana slugs are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female sexual organs. These organs are located, oddly enough, near their heads, explaining the cheek-to-cheek position you see here. When banana slugs start to mate, they nip, bite, and eventually intertwine, inserting their penises into one another's genital openings.
Once the sperm transfer is complete, slugs sometimes can't disengage from one another. That's when they do something really strange: a process called apophallation. Not to mince words, this means that one or both slugs chew the other's penis clean off. The organ doesn't regenerate, so these post-apophallation slugs live the rest of their days as females.
For more crazy animal mating strategies, see: Top 10 Swingers of the Animal Kingdom. West-coasters can learn more at a new exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco called "Animal Attraction," which opens Feb. 11, 2012.
Deadly Undersea Beauty
The tendrils of a sea anemone bring to mind the petals of a flower — but these petals bite. Sea anemones are predatory animals. Their tentacles are studded with venomous cells called nematocysts, which release toxins into prey such as fish and crustaceans, paralyzing the victims for easy digestion.
We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat
Strangest class picture of all time? Nope, just a little tourism. A 12-foot-long female tiger shark shows off her size above a row of SCUBA divers at Tiger Beach in the Bahamas, a popular ecotourism spot. There have been worries that these eco-tourist spots disrupt sharks' natural wanderings by making them overly dependent on the chum that tour guides throw out to attract the giant, predatory fish. But new research suggests that's not the case. In fact, responsible eco-tourism may benefit sharks by encouraging local governments to protect them. [Read the full story here]