Wild Things: Life as We Know It

Hummingbirds, birch trees, queen bees, northern quolls and more…

Northern quolls, cat-size Australian marsupials
Northern quolls, cat-size Australian marsupials FLPA / David Hosking / AGE Fotostock


purple-throated carib
(Cheryl Carlin)
Name: The purple-throated carib (Eulampis jugularis), a Caribbean hummingbird that feeds on the nectar of Heliconia flowers
Fighters? Males defend unusually large territories.
Lovers? Their territories include a Heliconia species whose nectar only female E. jugularis can reach with their long, curved beaks. Males gain an advantage in mating by allowing females to feed on the flowers.
Farmers? It’s the first time researchers have documented male birds guarding a food only females eat. Study authors W. John Kress of Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and Ethan Temeles of Amherst College call it “nectar farming.”

Learn more about the purple-throated carib at the Encyclopedia of Life.


Birch trees
(Cheryl Carlin)
Birch trees borrow bug repellent. Rhododen­drons emit airborne compounds that keep away weevils, moths and aphids. Scientists in Finland found that nearby silver birches absorbed repellent in their leaves, later released it—and suffered less pest damage than other birches. It’s the first time such interactions have been seen in a forest.

Learn more about rhododendrons at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Sleek Stripes

sea snakes striped
(Cheryl Carlin)
Why are so many sea snakes striped? University of Sydney scientists say solid black sea snakes may be at a disadvantage: they are coated with more algae, which slows them down. In underwater lab tests algae bloomed faster on all-dark surfaces, the scientists found; such fuzz causes so much drag it reduces the serpents’ speed by about 20 percent. No wonder black, algae-covered snakes are more often found skulking in coral hideaways than out-and-about striped snakes.

Learn more about sea snakes at the Encyclopedia of Life.

How to Get a Bigger Brain

Megalopta genalis bee
(Cheryl Carlin)
A Megalopta genalis bee queen can be either solitary (building a nest and foraging on her own) or social (being served by a worker bee). Scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama found that in social queens, the brain region for memory and learning is larger than in solitary ones. The bottom line: managing workers may be more intellectually demanding than going it alone.

Learn more about Megalopta genalis bees at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Bitter Lessons

Northern quolls, cat-size Australian marsupials
(FLPA / David Hosking / AGE Fotostock)
Northern quolls, cat-size Australian marsupials, are driving themselves to extinction by eating toxic cane toads invading their territory. But researchers down under have taught some quolls to save themselves. They applied a nauseating chemical to cane toads too small to be lethal, and then fed those amphibians to quolls, much to the quolls’ disgust. When released into the wild, those quolls survived up to five times longer than untrained animals. The researchers envision deploying batches of chemically treated cane toads to teach quolls the bitter truth.

Learn more about the northern quoll at the Encyclopedia of Life.

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