Wild Things: Spider Monkeys, Fire Ants, Hagfish and More…

Dinosaur “thunder thighs” and fast-flying moths

Spider monkey
Spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) hangs by tail with mouth open. Roy Toft / National Geographic Stock

Monkey See, Do

Spider monkeys
(Roy Toft / National Geographic Stock)
Spider monkeys have complex behaviors that vary from group to group, according to a comparison of five isolated populations in Central America. In some groups monkeys kiss, in others they aggressively shake branches at one another. The local traditions highlight the importance of learning in primates, especially when it comes to social behavior.

Learn more about spider monkeys at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Beyond The Tortoise and The Hare

Silver Y Moth
(Kim Taylor / Naturepl.com)
A songbird can fly about three times as fast as the silver Y moth over short distances. But during long-distance seasonal migrations, moths travel just as fast as birds, say scientists from Sweden's Lund University and elsewhere. They tracked birds and moths using radar and found that both averaged 18 to 40 miles per hour. The moth's trick: it waited for favorable tail winds or sought altitudes with fast-moving air. The bird's edge: it flew in most conditions.

Learn more about the silver Y moth at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Yes, They Call It "Thunder Thighs"

Brontomerus
(Francisco Gascó)
A newly described dinosaur from Utah had a huge hipbone that must have supported massive muscles. Why did Brontomerus ("Thunder Thighs") have such beefy limbs? One possibility, suggested by paleontologists at University College London and elsewhere and depicted by artist Francisco Gascó, is that the big muscles gave Brontomerus a formidable kick that enabled it to fight off predators (Utahraptor in the illustration).

A U.S. Export That Stings

Fire ants
(Michael Durham)
Fire ants traveled on ships from their native South America to Mobile, Alabama, in the 1930s and spread through the Southeast. Solenopsis invicta has since sprung up in California, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand and Asia. Genetic tests directed by USDA researchers traced the origins of nine invasions. In all but one, the stowaways came from the southern United States.

Learn more about fire ants at the Encyclopedia of Life.

Observed

Pacific hagfish
(Brandon Cole)
Name: The Pacific hagfish (Eptatretus stoutii), a bottom-dwelling scavenger.
Inside Out: Hagfish, which evolved hundreds of millions of years ago, are known for burrowing into the bodies of dead or dying fish and eating their way out.
Outside In: Hagfish also absorb nutrients through their skin and gills as they wallow. These "novel nutrient acquisition pathways," report Chris Glover of New Zealand's University of Canterbury and co- authors, hadn't been seen in a vertebrate.
Midstream: The authors call the dual-ingestion method a "transitory state" between aquatic invertebrates (many of which absorb food) and vertebrates (which eat it).

Learn more about the Pacific hagfish at the Encyclopedia of Life.