Wild Things: Life as We Know It

Whale of a comeback, dancing cockatoos, sticky bees, and waltzing pond scum

Blue Whale
Visuals Unlimited / Corbis

Comeback Trail

Blue Whale
(Cheryl Carlin)
Whalers killed tens of thousands of blue whales before their hunting was banned in 1966. Today, the largest animals on earth are showing encouraging signs of rebounding. Identifying individual blue whales in the Pacific Ocean since 1997, scientists from the Cascadia Research Collective and elsewhere found that the animals are once again migrating from California to British Columbia and Alaska.

Learn more about the blue whale at the Encyclopedia of Life.


Bobbing cockatoo
(Cheryl Carlin)
Name: Snowball, a sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita eleonara).
Moves: Bobs head, lifts leg to the tune of the Backstreet Boys' "Everybody."
Discovered: On YouTube. By scientists who then studied the bird's behavior. Analyzed: When the tempo of the music changed, the bird changed the pace of his head bobbing and leg lifting accordingly. Writing in Current Biology, the scientists call this "moving in rhythmic synchrony with a musical beat." Others call it dancing.
Not Alone: A second analysis, in the same journal, of more than 1,000 animal videos on YouTube suggests that other animals that learn through vocal mimicry—songbirds, seals, elephants, some bats and others—may have the same ability.

Learn more about the sulphur-crested cockatoo at the Encyclopedia of Life.

A Safe Landing

Bumblebee landing
(Cheryl Carlin)
Bumblebees search for flower petals that offer traction, University of Cambridge-led scientists have shown. Some petals are smooth and slippery, but others have cone-shaped cells that act like Velcro when bees touch down. The reward for sticking the landing? Bees can guzzle nectar more readily. For the flowers' part, more and longer visits by bees increase the chances of pollination.

Learn more about honeybees and snapdragons at the Encyclopedia of Life.

In Plain Sight

Acacia Fumosa
(Cheryl Carlin)
Where in the world could millions of 20-foot-tall trees flourish across an area larger than Delaware without scientists noticing them? In remote and war-torn hills between Ethiopia and Somalia. An Uppsala University botanist recently documented, for the first time, Acacia fumosa, a common tree with gray bark and pink flowers. More than 2,000 new species of flowering plants are described worldwide each year, but few are this conspicuous and widespread.

Not Bad For Pond Scum

(Cheryl Carlin)
Volvox are single-celled algae that live in spherical colonies containing thousands of cells. When the cells twirl their flagella, the whole colony spins. Now biophysicists in England and Japan say Volvox colonies interact in unexpected ways. In a "waltz", they revolve around each other. In a "minuet," they hover farther apart. The scientists speculate that the coordinated movements increase the chances of cross-colony fertilization.

Learn more about Volvox algae at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Get the latest Science stories in your inbox.