Wild Things: Life as We Know It

Orchids, Baboons, Ancient Reptiles and More…

Hammerhead shark
Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock

Hot-Blooded Reptiles

Stenopterygius quadriscissus
(Maura McCarthy)
Sea-dwelling reptiles hundreds of millions of years ago were warmblooded, according to a new study led by Lyon University. It’s the clearest sign that some ancient reptiles, unlike modern ones, had a metabolism similar to that of mammals. Oxygen atoms in fossil teeth show plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs (ten-foot-long Stenopterygius quadriscissus) had internal temperatures of 95 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit, even in chilly water.

Orchid Betrayal

The Dracula orchid
(Maura McCarthy)
Researchers in Ecuador have discovered a new trick from a famously deceptive family of flowers. The Dracula orchid, so named because its modified leaves resemble flying bats, has a central petal that looks like the small, white mushroom where Zygothrica flies mate. The flowers even give off a fungal scent. Why? Flies that congregate on an orchid unwittingly gather pollen and transfer it to the next flower they visit.

Learn more about dracula orchids at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Gals With Pals Live Longer

Chacma baboons
(Maura McCarthy)
Friends are key to reaching a ripe old age, at least for chacma baboons in Botswana. Researchers say females that maintained a stable set of female grooming partners lived years longer than those with fewer or briefer partnerships. Surprisingly, social bonding had a greater impact on an animal’s longevity than did her rank in a group’s hierarchy.

Learn more about baboons at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Sharks Smell In Stereo

Hammerhead shark
(Maura McCarthy)
How might the hammerhead shark’s extended snout be a benefit? For pinpointing prey, say researchers in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, who squirted squid juice into the nostrils of small sharks called smooth dogfish. The results suggest a shark’s brain uses minute time differences between the arrival of a scent at each nostril to detect where it is coming from. Widely separated nostrils would yield a better reading.

Learn more about hammerhead sharks at the Encyclopedia of Life.


Learn more about dogfish at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Observed

House finches
(Maura McCarthy)
Name: Carpodacus mexicanus, or the house finch.
Color Counts: Males’ plumage ranges from pale yellow to deep red, and females find males at the red end of the spectrum most attractive.
But Context Matters: Yellowish males try to make themselves look better by hanging out with males that are even yellower, according to a study from the University of Arizona.
And Sometimes Wins: Yellowish or orangish males that changed their social context “had nearly the same success in attracting females as did the most colorful males,” says co-author Kevin Oh. In other words, an individual male’s social networking can overcome a physical disadvantage.

Learn more about house finches at the Encyclopedia of Life.