Wild Things: Life as We Know It

Butterfly GPS, glowing mushrooms, bat-hunting songbirds and more

Coldblodded Devotion
Wayne Bennett / Corbis

Coldblooded Devotion

Alligators
(Maura McCarthy)

Like most reptiles, alligators tend to live a solitary existence. But during spring mating season, according to research conducted in Louisiana, they appear to resume long-term relationships. A ten-year genetic study of adults and offspring revealed that even though males and females often mated with multiple partners during any given season, many pairs reunited year after year.

Learn more about the American alligator at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Glowing Mushrooms

Glowing mushrooms
(Maura McCarthy)
Scientists have identified seven new types of luminescent mushrooms. The work, from Brazil, Japan and five other countries, ups the number of known species of glowing fungi to 71. Researchers speculate that the chemically produced light attracts nocturnal animals, who disperse the fungi's spores.

Seriously Silly

macaques
(Maura McCarthy)

We aren't the only animals to make fools of ourselves mugging and cooing for infants. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health say rhesus macaques interact with babies in a similar fashion, smacking their lips and making prolonged eye contact. Goofy or exaggerated expressions may serve a similar purpose in monkeys and people: helping the young learn to communicate.

Learn more about Rhesus macaques at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Butterfly GPS

butterfly
(Maura McCarthy)

Migratory monarch butterflies travel great distances by orienting themselves to the sun at any time of day.

Now University of Massachusetts scientists say the insect's antennae are the key to navigation; when the scientists removed or painted them to block sunlight, monarchs lost their way. The surprise? Antennae aren't just for detecting scents after all.

Learn more about monarch butterflies at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Observed

great tit songbird / bat
(Maura McCarthy)
Name: The great tit (Parus major), a sparrow-size songbird widely distributed in Europe and parts of Asia.
In The Field: Is a lively backyard visitor, with bright colors and a multiplicity
of songs.
In The Cave: Becomes a pillaging bat predator.
Under Study: The bird goes bat hunting when seeds and insects become scarce, usually in late winter, notes a study led by the Max Planck Institute in Seewiesen, Germany. Then it's ambush time. Researchers watched great tits enter a Hungarian cave where common pipistrelle bats were hibernating and haul the inch-and-a-half-long animals out. The researchers call it a "surprising innovation" during a food shortage.

Learn more about the great tit at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Learn more about pipistrelle bats at the Encyclopedia of Life.