Wild Things: Life as We Know It

Hungry snakes, giant kangaroos, bat noses, and more

Giant kangaroo
Giant kangaroo Michael Long / NHMPL

Didn't Hop Fast Enough

giant kangaroo
(Cheryl Carlin)
After people first arrived in Australia 50,000 years ago, the giant kangaroo, Procoptodon goliah, became extinct. In a new study, researchers in Australia and the U.S. rule out climate change and fire as the cause: the seven-foot-tall marsupial ate shrubs that could withstand drought and burning. Instead, human hunters likely wiped out the creatures.

Web of Lies

Spider Web
(Cheryl Carlin)
Orb spiders on Taiwan's Orchid Island place bundles of prey carcasses and egg sacs on their webs, making the webs more visible to predators. A bad strategy? Not really. Researchers at Tunghai University found that the globs, similar in size and color to the spiders' bodies, act as decoys. The more there are, the less likely a bird is to attack the actual spider.

Learn more about the decoy-making orb spider at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Nose Job

Horseshoe Bat
(Cheryl Carlin)
The Bourret's horseshoe bat, found in Southeast Asia, has a nose that's twice as long as other horseshoe bat noses. Now a study from Virginia Tech and elsewhere hints at a reason: the prominent schnoz shapes the sonar beam the Bourret's uses to navigate and detect prey. A shorter nose produces a less-focused sonar beam, according to simulations, whereas the Bourret's nose sharpens the sonar signal and gives it a greater range.

Learn more about the horseshoe bat at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Parasite Protection

Ecuadorean rain forest plant
(Cheryl Carlin)
Why do the variegated leaves of the Ecuadorean rain forest plant Caladium steudneriifolium mimic the appearance of solid-colored caladium leaves infested with parasitic moth larvae? Defense, say researchers in Germany. Moths mistake variegated leaves for already-infested ones and avoid laying eggs there. For the variegated plant, the trade-off may be less energy: white streaks reduce photosynthesis.

Learn more about Caladium steudneriifolium at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Observed

Tentacled Snake
(Cheryl Carlin)
Name: The tentacled snake, Erpeton tentaculatus, of Southeast Asia.
Hunts: In the J position.
Exploits: The C-start.
Eats: With very little effort, says Kenneth Catania of Vanderbilt University. When fish perceive a threat, they reflexively turn away and their bodies form a C, known as a C-start. The J position is the stance a hungry E. tentaculatus assumes (1) with its head at the lower end of the J. If a fish swims by, the snake flexes its body (2) scaring the fish into forming a C and landing it in the snake's mouth (3). It's a rare case of a predator exploiting its prey's best defense.

Learn more about the tentacled snake at the Encyclopedia of Life.