Wild Things: Mongooses, Bladderworts and More…

Fairy-wrens, wasps, and a nearly 3,000 year old big toe

Splendid Fairy-wren
Splendid Fairy-wren (Malurus splendens splendens) calling. Steven David Miller / NaturePL.com

Drum Beat

paper wasp
(Ed Reschke / Peter Arnold)
Two castes of paper wasps are genetically identical. Larvae turn into either workers or potential queens, depending on the behavior of adults, say University of Wisconsin scientists. If adults drum on nest walls with their antennae, the vibrations inhibit fat storage and produce workers.

Learn more about paper wasps at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Shared Birthdays

Juvenile Banded Mongoose
(Mark Macewen / Peter Arnold)
Banded mongooses, small striped carnivores from sub-Saharan Africa, have unusually high "breeding synchrony"—64 percent of females give birth on the very same night. A 12-year study in Uganda reveals the reason for this phenomenon. If a mommy mongoose gives birth too early, other adults in the group may kill the new pup. And if a pup is born too late, it is too small to compete with larger litter mates and is more likely to starve.

Learn more about the banded mongoose at the Encyclopedia of Life.

All Over In A Snap

Tiny aquatic bladderworts
(Barry Rice / Sarracenia.com)
Tiny aquatic bladderworts are the world's fastest carnivorous plants, say researchers from the University of Grenoble and elsewhere. The plant takes its time getting ready to eat: it pumps water out of its trap for an hour to create a vacuum. Then when a small crustacean taps a trigger hair, a trapdoor opens and the plant sucks in water—and prey—within a millisecond. Once inside, the prey is dissolved by digestive juices.

Learn more about bladderworts at the Encyclopedia of Life.

You'll Be Safer With Me

butcherbird
(Steven David Miller / NaturePL.com)
Male splendid fairy-wrens sing a special song when they hear the call of a butcherbird, their predator. The behavior would seem to paint a target on the fairy-wren. But University of Chicago scientists report the males are actually issuing a mating call. They are choosing a moment when fearful females are most attentive, the researchers found. The effect may be like that of a scary movie on humans, in which fear brings a date closer.

Learn more about splendid fairy wrens at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Observed

big toe
(University of Manchester)
Name: Tabaketenmut's hallux, or big toe; made of leather and wood, it was part of a mummy from the necropolis at Thebes.
Oldest? The Capua leg, which dates to 300 B.C., was known as the world's oldest prosthesis. Tabaketenmut, the daughter of a priest, lived at least 400 years earlier. But was the hallux functional?
Latest: Yes. Jacqueline Finch of the University of Manchester persuaded two right-big-toe amputees to walk around in sandals and a replica; it bore their weight and was comfortable. She says credit for the foundations of prosthetic science "should be firmly laid at the feet of the ancient Egyptians."