The strangeness of nature is the height of entertainment. There are chimpanzees who perform tree rituals, creatures with strange characteristics, and even unidentified animals. In short, the dark side of nature has a lot to offer.
From unprecedented whale swarms to a never-ending panda pregnancy, here are nature’s most exciting mysteries today.
1.Pink manta ray
In 2020, Kristian Laine photographed manta rays (also known as sea devils) while swimming underwater near the Great Barrier Reef. When one of the stingrays turned pink in some of the photos, Lane thought his camera was defective. The truth surfaced after he posted his pictures on social media.
The “failed” images captured the same stingray. Biologists have known about this male stingray since 2015, and it is indeed pink in color. They call him Inspector Clouseau after the bizarre inspector from the Pink Panther movie series.
Despite his bright colors, Clouseau has been spotted less than 10 times. The skin sample rejected theories that the stingray acquired this color from food with red pigments or a skin infection. Research has shown that it looks more like a genetic mutation – possibly erythrism (a condition in which an animal has elevated levels of red pigment).
The pink manta ray reaches a length of 3.3 meters. This is a feat of survival in itself, given that manta rays are black and white, so they manage to avoid predators and chase their prey.
2.15 thousand holes that no one knows about
When they were choosing a site for a new wind farm near California, a problem arose: more than 5,000 depressions were discovered on the seabed. Known to the maritime community for many years, these dents were large, but not a threat. They simply raised the suspicion that they were formed by underground gas.
In 2019, robots were launched into the ocean in search of methane. Research has not found any gas deposits. If the so-called pockmarks were formed by methane, then the last activity was observed about 50,000 years ago. The robots also discovered something that the ship’s sonars had not yet spotted – another 15,000 small depressions.
These depressions were not microspins. In addition to being much smaller and fresher, they also had steeper edges (like a volcano’s crater) and sandy tails pointing in the same direction. One theory pointed to fish living inside objects lying on the ocean floor. Living creatures raise sand, which is carried away by the current. This plunges the subject even deeper and forms a hole. Some of the newly discovered holes had fish living inside the trash, but that didn’t explain why most of them were empty inside.
3.Unprecedented concentrations of whales
As one exploration vessel sailed along the coast of South Africa, it encountered something it had never seen with humpback whales. When these mammals come together, there are rarely more than four of them. At that time, the water literally boiled among the 200 whales gathered in an area the size of a football field.
The time was not right for that either. Humpback whales come to South Africa in winter to hunt plankton and shrimp. However, this “party” took place in the spring. Moreover, it was not a one-off event. The first such gathering of whales took place in 2011, then observed in 2014 and 2015.
The animals feasted, indicating that they were attracted by a large amount of prey. Their migration routes may change, or this is normal behavior. If the latter is true, then the clusters may have disappeared after the hunters killed 90% of the individuals (now their population is stable). It is difficult to say which theory explains these clusters.
4.Creature from Indigirka
About 18 thousand years ago, a puppy died from the cold in Siberia. The body fell into permafrost and rested intact until 2018, when it was discovered near the Indigirka River in Russia. The ice grave preserved the puppy in its original state: it still had eyelashes, fur, whiskers, claws and paw pads. He also had milk teeth, which suggests that when the puppy died he was not even 8 weeks old.
The resemblance to a wolf was obvious. However, the paths of evolution in wolves and dogs diverged about 40 thousand years ago. This means that this puppy could be a dog or a representative of an intermediate link between the two species.
The riddle turned out to be much more complicated. Conventional methods, including genetic testing, could only determine that the puppy was a “boy.” But as to what species he could belong to, there is still no certainty.
5.Mini-mane of lioness Bridget
There was a bearded lady at the Oklahoma Zoo. An 18-year-old lioness named Bridget suddenly developed a “frill” that looks like a mane. True, her hair grew only under the chin, and not like a mane around the head of males. Born in captivity, the lioness has looked normal for most of her life. Her sister Tia, who was born with her in the same litter, remained hairless while Bridget grew this beard from March to November 2017.
However, one hairy female in South Africa provided a clue. She had a deformity of the ovaries, due to which the male hormone testosterone was overproduced. This possibility was ruled out after blood tests of both sisters showed the same levels of the adrenal cortex hormone and androstenedione. The latter leads to the appearance of masculine traits. This discovery led experts to a theory that one of her adrenal glands may have had a harmless neoplasm that produced elevated levels of androstenedione.
6.A strange disease of the devils
Tasmanian devils are critically endangered marsupials. One disease wiped out 85% of the population. This contagious cancer called the devil’s facial neoplasm disease (or “devil’s facial tumor”) infects animals one by one through a bite (when they fight for a female, for territory, etc.). Rapid infection has brought these animals to the brink of extinction.
Take the devils of the West Pencil Pine population. This group lives in the northwest of Tasmania, and their population is growing steadily. In this group, fewer individuals have become infected with the disease, and everyone with the tumor lives longer than they should. No matter how different they are, this is the key to saving the species.
The discovery that they are genetically different gives hope. Genes are a huge problem for devils. Their diversity is so small that they all have the same major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes as the tumor. This may be why their immune systems cannot recognize cancer as a disease. It makes sense that devils have a better chance if some have genes that don’t look very much like disease.
The analyzes brought bad news. Yes, their genes are less tumor-like. No, it didn’t reduce their chances of getting devil’s facial tumor. As discouraging as it was, it further increased the mystery of why they live better than others.
7.Pandas never end a pregnancy
At birth, a baby giant panda is 900 times smaller than its mother. They investigated wanted to find out why, but everything turned out to be not as simple as putting the cub on the scales. In captivity, newborn pandas are rare and are well protected by their mothers.
The main theory was that cubs are born tiny due to an evolutionary remnant. Like all bear species, pandas shorten their pregnancy to avoid maturation of the fetus during hibernation. But since modern pandas no longer hibernate, this explains why their gestation lasts only 4 weeks. Perhaps this time is quite enough for a tiny cub to fully form and develop.
The chances to study newborn pandas finally emerged when a litter was born in Washington, D.C., but the babies died on the same day. They have been studied and compared with newborns from other bear families and animal species. The latter had strong skeletons, which are usually the case with a completed pregnancy.
But the bones of pandas born after the usual 4 weeks were so underdeveloped that they could be compared to a 7-month-old human fetus. This shattered the theory to smithereens. Pregnancy in pandas is not short, but full-term. For reasons unknown, they are more like ovens that beep before the bread is baked.
8.The unicorn puppy
In 2019, a homeless puppy came to the Mac’s Mission shelter. He was about 10 weeks old and needed treatment for frostbite fingers and worms. However, staff and veterinarians could not take their eyes off the tail that had grown on his forehead.
The puppy needed a special name, so he was named “Narwhal” in honor of sea animals with a frontal tubercle. But after he became a viral sensation, the media dubbed him “the unicorn puppy.”
Narwhal underwent research to determine if this appendage could be causing him problems. X-rays did not reveal any bones inside the appendix and showed that it was entirely composed of skin. When the shelter realized that this process would not bother Narwhal, they decided not to amputate him.
The birth defect was unique but mysterious at the same time. It is unclear why the puppy has grown tails at both ends. One explanation is that Narwhal somehow absorbed his identical twin while still in the womb. Among humans, this is known as parasitic twins and manifests itself in the extra limbs or organs that have developed in the surviving twins. Among dogs, this has not been heard of, since they rarely have twins.