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101 Animal Shots You'll Go Wild Over

Fearsome Jaws

A new species of wasp with giant jaws.

(Image credit: Dr. Lynn Kimsey, Dr. Michael Ohl)

A newly discovered wasp found in Indonesia has enormous sickle-shaped jaws to rival its fearsome sting.

The new species has been dubbed Megalara garuda after the Garuda, a part-human, part-bird legend that is the national symbol for Indonesia. Little is known about the wasps' behavior, but based on other wasp species, males may use their giant jaws to hold females during mating.

The wasp was simultaneously discovered by researchers Lynn Kimsey of the University of California, Davis and Michael Ohl of the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, who report their discovery in the journal ZooKeys this week. A specimen of the wasp collected in the 1930s was lurking in the insect collections of the museum, unexamined. At the same time, researchers searching the Indonesia island of Sulawesi found a modern specimen of the same wasp.

Seal Surprise!

A seal meets divers on the Antarctic Peninsula

(Image credit: Photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution Archives)

Welcome to my ice crevasse. Two divers meet an unexpected surprise in the frigid waters of Palmer Land on the Antarctica Peninsula during a 1962-1963 expedition. Their encounter was with a Weddell Seal (Leptonychotes weddellii), a deep diver that favors a coastal ice habitat. These bruisers can tip the scales at up to 1,360 pounds (600 kilograms) and they live farther south than any other mammal on Earth.

This vintage photograph was taken in 1962 during an Antarctic survey led by biologist Waldo Schmitt, an honorary research associate at the Smithsonian Institution. A crustacean expert, Schmitt travelled the world on multiple research expeditions. The one to Antarctica would be his last. He died in 1977 at the age of 90.

Pretty in Pink

A pink crab on a pink bed of coral near Indonesia.

(Image credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010)

Extending its arms 8 inches (20 cm) across, a pink crab perches on a bed of soft coral 2,310 feet (740 meters) deep in the Sangihe Talaud region off of Indonesia. The Little Hercules ROV captured this image of the colorful critter during a 2010 ocean expedition. Crabs like these are only found living on soft coral.

Cozy Penguin Babies

Baby emperor penguins cuddle up to their parents

(Image credit: Paul Ponganis, National Science Foundation)

Brrr… It's cold out there! Baby emperor penguins snuggle up with their parents on the chilly Antarctic ice. Recent research headed by Michelle LaRue of Minnesota University turned up good news for these beautiful birds: Using high-resolution satellite imagery, the scientists counted the entire population of emperor penguins in the Antarctic and found twice as many as expected.

Still, LaRue said in a statement, the loss of sea ice in the Antarctic is troubling for emperor penguins, which rely on the ice for their breeding grounds. Knowing the baseline number of birds will help researchers monitor populations over time, better clarifying how environmental change affects these birds.

Emperor penguins are the only species that breeds exclusively on Antarctic sea ice. After the chicks hatch, mom and pop penguin alternate cuddling with baby while the other goes to fish. After about 50 days of this, all the baby penguins huddle together for warmth while their parents strike out to sea, returning occasionally to bring food. These baby penguin huddles, called crèches, can hold thousands of little penguins.

Predator Under Threat

A black tip reef shark in American Samoa.

(Image credit: Marc Nadon)

Gliding watchfully over coral and reef fish, a black tip reef shark patrols the waters off the Rose Atoll of American Samoa. A recent study found that reef sharks like this one are vanishing rapidly near populated islands, with up to 90 percent of sharks in these areas missing compared to isolated reefs. The cause could be illegal shark fishing or simply human activity in these reefs that leaves less food for the sharks. For more on these threatened apex predators, visit our gallery of wild sharks.

Pucker Up!

A scorpion fish from off the East Coast of the southern U.S.

(Image credit: Paula Keener-Chavis, NOAA, Islands in the Stream Expedition 2002)

Ready for fishy kisses? On second thought, it's best to steer clear of this south Atlantic scorpion fish. This fellow is part of the Scorpaenidae family, a group that includes the world's most venomous species. (The lionfish, with its venomous fin rays, is another family member.) This image was taken in 2002 during a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expedition to explore the eastern coast of the U.S. from Florida to North Carolina.

Flee the Flea

An SEM image of a flea.

(Image credit: Janice Haney Carr/CDC)

Where do fleas get their incredible jumping abilities? Look no further than these massive hind legs. Although fleas only get about 1/8 of an inch (3 millimeters) long, they have a horizontal jump range of up to 7 inches (18 centimeters) — that's more than 1,000 times their body length. Flea bites are to be avoided; it's these jumping insects that are responsible for transmitting the Black Death, or plague, from rats to humans in the 1300s.

The Ocean's Tiny Aliens

A nudibranch found off the coast of the U.S.

(Image credit: Art Howard, NAPRO. Image courtesy NOAA Ocean Explorer.)

Alien or sea creature? This delicate blue organism is a nudibranch, a type of marine mollusk. Nudibranches are often confused for sea slugs, but the two groups are separate.

The blue nudibranch seen here is just an inch (2.5 cm) long. It was found clinging to sargassum seaweed during a NOAA Life on the Edge mission in 2003. Scientists explored the continental slope and shelf edge off the coast of the southern U.S., from North Carolina to Florida. The team observed everything from sea urchins to flying fish on the 11 day mission.

The Pink Lady

A pink Antarctic krill.

(Image credit: Carsten Pape, Alfred-Wegener-Institut)

Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) plays a key role in the food webs of the South Ocean. In fact, throughout their evolutionary history, these tiny crustaceans have developed many biological rhythms that are closely connected to large seasonal changes in their environment.

But how will marine organisms like the krill react to environmental changes at the poles, such as receding sea ice and ocean warming, given that their vital processes, such as reproduction cycles and seasonable food availability, have been synchronized with the environment over millions of years? To answer this question, researchers in the virtual Helmholtz Institute PolarTime are taking a very close look at Antarctic krill, which serves as a model organism for a polar plankton species that has adapted to the extreme conditions. The Helmholtz institute is part of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research.

The (Tiny) Face of a Killer

Velvet ant magnified 23 times.

(Image credit: CDC/ Michael and Paula Smith)

The visage of a tiny velvet ant peers up in this scanning electron microscope image magnified 23 times. This tiny creature, genus Dasymutilla is not actually an ant at all, but a wasp. She (this is a female) boasts a nasty sting, especially if you're another wasp or bee. In order to reproduce, velvet ants lay their eggs inside the larvae of wasps and bees. When the eggs hatch, they feed on the still-living but paralyzed larvae that house them.