Wild Things: Life as We Know It

Pollinating crickets, the longest migration, puffed up toads and more…

Cane toad
iStockphoto

Rejection Notice

Cane toads
(Cheryl Carlin)
Cane toads in South America inflate their bodies to intimidate predators. Now University of Sydney-led researchers say females, which are usually larger than males, can displace unwanted suitors by puffing up with air. A female may not want to mate with the first male to grab her and risks drowning if too many males latch on at once.

The Longest Haul

Arctic tern migration
(Cheryl Carlin)
Scientists have proven that the Arctic tern makes the longest annual migration of any animal in the world. Researchers attached miniature geolocators to terns nesting in Greenland and Iceland and found that the four-ounce birds traveled nearly pole to pole, averaging 44,000 miles in ten months. For a bird that can live 30 years or more, that means 1.5 million miles in a lifetime, the equivalent of three trips to the moon and back.

Birds, Bees—Crickets?

crickets
(Cheryl Carlin)
Orchids on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean are pollinated by nocturnal crickets, according to scientists who took night-vision video of the flowers. It’s the first time an insect from the cricket order has been identified as a pollinator. The raspy cricket’s head is just the right size to reach into the flower’s nectar spur.

Observed

American alligator
(Cheryl Carlin)
Name: Alligator mississippiensis, the American alligator.
What’s Old: Gators have been around for 200 million years.
What’s New: Air flows through their lungs in only one direction, delivering oxygen in a continuous loop, according to a University of Utah study.
What Matters: Previously, only birds were known to have “unidirectional” lungs, which deliver oxygen more efficiently than “tidal” lungs, like ours, in which air enters and exits along the same route. The discovery suggests that such lungs evolved much earlier than anyone thought—more than 246 million years ago, in a common ancestor of birds, crocodilians and dinosaurs