Wednesday, 24 December 2014


Top 10 Weirdest Animal Stories of 2014: Editors' Picks
By Christine Dell'Amore,
National Geographic News, 23 December 2014.

This was a banner year for the bizarre, with a snake virgin birth, an extremely rare black sea devil, and a real-life unicorn making headlines in Weird & Wild.

Luckily for our fans, we've rounded up our editors' picks of the ten best weird stories of 2014. (See the weirdest stories of 2013.)

10. Purple Frog Goes Underground


Tenth on our list of oddest animal stories is the unusual mating strategy of the Indian purple frog, also known as the pig-nosed frog, an endangered species (pictured) native to the mountains of India's Western Ghats.

Males of the colourful amphibian, discovered in 2003, call to attract females from underground - a strange method of courtship, according to a study published in February.

9. Self-Poisoning Birds


The lengths we go to for love can sometimes be dramatic - and so it is for male great bustards (Otis tarda), whose daredevil diet of poisonous beetles may actually help them get a date, according to a study published in October.

The research found that males (pictured, a male, right, courts a female) eat substantially more blister beetles than females do, a strategy that makes them appear healthy - and thus sexier - during courtship rituals.

8. Calico Lobster


You could call it a lucky catch: In August, a fisherman captured an extremely rare "calico" lobster in New Hampshire (pictured).

Naturally brownish green, lobsters can come in a variety of colours, including blue, two-toned - with colours split strikingly down the middle - and albino, which may be as rare as 1 in 100 million. (See pictures of albino animals.)

The chance of finding a calico lobster is between 1 in 30 million and 1 in 50 million, according to some estimates.

7. "Sushi" Armadillo


This critter may look like a slice of salmon sushi, but it's actually Argentina's pink fairy armadillo, which we featured in October.

The smallest armadillo, at 3.3 to 4.6 inches (84 to 117 millimetres) long, this little-seen animal has silky white hair and a pinkish carapace - a kind of outer shell or body armour.

It's also an incredible digger: The species' longest claw is about one-sixth the length of the body.

6. Downtown Coyotes


An extreme breed of coyote is finding there's no finer place than downtown Chicago, where the predator has learned to lurk under the radar of city life, we reported in November.

About 2,000 of the carnivores have adapted surprisingly well to living downtown, recent images and tracking data reveal (pictured, a screengrab of a video of an urban coyote).

The versatile carnivore, native to middle America, has spread into nearly every corner of the U.S. in the past few decades, taking particular advantage of the suburbs and their wildlife buffet. (Related: "Coyote-Wolf Hybrids Have Spread Across U.S. East.")

5. Dancing Frogs


Fourteen new species of tiny "dancing frogs" were discovered in the jungles of western India, scientists reported in May.

The spectacular haul more than doubles the number of Indian dancing frogs, a family named for the bizarre courtship displays of their foot-waving males, to 24 species. (See "Pictures: Meowing Night Frog, Other New Species Found.")

4. Toxic "Toupee" Caterpillar


No warm and fuzzy here - a possible boom in a highly toxic but irresistibly touchable caterpillar sent people in the eastern U.S. to the hospital earlier this year, we reported in September.

The most venomous caterpillar in the U.S., the furry puss caterpillar (pictured) got its name because it resembles a cuddly house cat.

While these insects may look soft, their outer comb-over (which some have compared to a toupee or the coif of Donald Trump) hides small, extremely toxic spines that stick in your skin. (Read more about venom in National Geographic magazine.)

3. Black Sea Devil


With its gaping mouth, needle-sharp teeth, and slightly startled expression, the black sea devil anglerfish seems tailor-made for the spotlight.

And in fact, one particular female got her close-up on November 17 (above) when researchers got footage of this rare anglerfish - the first time this species has been filmed alive and in its natural habitat - off central California. (See rare footage of the deep-sea oarfish.)

2. Real-Life Unicorn


It looks like it just walked out of a fairy tale, but this deer with a single, unicorn-like antler is the real thing, we reported in November.

Shot by a hunter in Celje, Slovenia (map), in August, the roe deer has an extremely rare type of antler deformity, likely caused by an injury early in the antlers' development. Such injuries are common in deer and often lead to antler abnormalities, including bizarrely shaped racks.

The abnormal antler on this Slovenian "unicorn" is so unusual that scientist BoĊĦtjan Pokorny, who verified the animal's authenticity, said he's never seen anything like it in nature.

1. Snake Virgin Birth


Virgin birth has been documented in the world's longest snake for the first time, we reported in October.

An 11-year-old reticulated python named Thelma produced six female offspring (pictured) in June 2012 at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky, where she lives with another female python, Louise. No male had ever slithered anywhere near the 200-pound (91-kilogram), 20-foot-long (6 meters) mother snake.

New DNA evidence, published in July in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, revealed that Thelma is the sole parent, said Bill McMahan, the zoo's curator of ectotherms, or cold-blooded animals. (Read: "'Virgin Birth' Seen in Wild Snakes, Even When Males Are Available.")

Photo gallery by Mallory Benedict.

Top image: Indian purple frog (Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis). Credit: Karthickbala/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: National Geographic News. Edited. Top image added.]

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