I cut the last eccentric animals post short after talking about camouflaging cephalopods, cancer-smelling dogs, insect farmers, and intelligent crows. This week, I’ll introduce a few more incredibly interesting biological wonders.
The Loneliest Whale in the Sea
Ever since the US Navy began releasing whale recordings to scientists and researchers in the 1980s, it has become well known that whales communicate by vocalizing at low frequencies. The low, haunting moans of most blue and fin whales travel through the ocean at a frequency of about 17-18 Hz. (For comparison, the average frequency range for humans is between 20 and 20,000 Hz). This low frequency is optimized for traversing the oceans since low frequency sounds generally travel further through a medium; thus, songs can reach other whales hundreds of miles away.
However, what if you were a deaf whale incapable of ever hearing such low frequencies? Or what if you had some deformity that prevented you from producing such low frequencies? Those are two possible explanations for recordings of what has been sensationalized as the world’s loneliest whale. Songs from a whale in the North Pacific have been monitored since 1992, when scientists first noticed the whale’s abnormal 52 Hz calls – well outside the range for most whale songs.
It has since been imagined that the whale migrates alone, with no mate ever responding to its calls. No one has seen the whale so it is unknown if this is true, but researchers are currently attempting to find the source of the calls and learn more about this possibly-eternally lonely ocean giant.
It may initially seem strange that humans would so often intentionally impair their central nervous system by drinking alcohol or taking drugs. However, humans are actually not unique in using recreational drugs. In North America and Australia, cattle (as well as sheep and horses) have been known to seek out and ingest crazy weed, or locoweed. Locoweed is a catch-all term for poisonous plants that contain swainsonine, which is toxic to animals. To help gain a perspective on the toxicity and potency of swainsonine, it may be interesting to note that it may potentially find use in chemotherapy.
Grazing herd animals that discover locoweed find it to be very palatable. The first of the herd to ingest locoweed may even act as drug dealers, attempting to persuade others in the herd to try crazy weed – just this once. Cows on locoweed have been observed to stumble around, bump into things, and take unnecessarily giant steps over small items like twigs. Unfortunately, abuse of locoweed causes reproductive loss and can even lead to heart failure.
Vervet monkeys in the Caribbean have also been observed to be users and abusers. On the popular vacation destination of St. Kitts, researchers have been studying a very peculiar behavior in monkeys: they wait near tourist bars and steal leftover drinks. The monkeys’ drinking habits are well-documented; researchers noted that the majority are social drinkers who enjoy a couple drinks while hanging out with others. They also noticed a small percentage of abstainers and a small percentage that could be categorized as alcoholics. These few alcoholics were not so different from their human counterparts; many would steal as many drinks as they could before attempting to start fights and ultimately passing out.
University of Pennsylvania researchers recently revealed a warfare manual from around 1530 AD. The 16th century guide highlights typical medieval weaponry and strategy but also includes a not-so-typical artillery method – rocket cats. The manual includes detailed illustrations of leather sacks strapped and set ablaze on a feline’s back.
The guide, as translated by UPenn scholars, advised seeking a cat residing in the enemy’s fortress, strapping an incendiary device on the cat’s back, igniting it, and sending the cat home. The idea was that the cat, fearful and confused, may hide in a haystack and burn the town from the inside. The warfare manual also included pictures of doves with bombs attached to their backs, but there was no evidence that either animal ever actually saw combat. This may sound astounding to animal lovers, but don’t just pity the cats. Dogs, horses, pigs, elephants, bats, earthworms, sea lions, and pigeons have all seen use in human combat, no matter how undeserving it may seem.