top 10 totally unexpected animal behaviours that will surprise, amuse and move you

From the fish that communicate by farting to the spiders that play dead to avoid sexual cannibalism – here are ten animals that will truly surprise you.



The power to survive fire, charred Earth and asteroid impacts

They look like a cross between a hedgehog, porcupine and anteater, but echidnas, believe it or not, have more in common with the platypus.

Researchers have discovered the secret echidna’s superpower – they can survive wildfires.

How do they survive fire? They simply go to bed and sleep through it.

They pick somewhere safe and hidden, such as a hollowed tree log or underground burrow, to snooze away in. Echidnas are capable of a type of hibernation called torpor, whereby they lower their metabolism and body temperature. It actually makes them mildly fire-retardant.

Torpor also allows echidnas to sleep through the times of scarcity that follow major disasters.

In fact, researchers even suspect that states of torpor might have been what allowed mammals to survive the asteroid impact that wiped the dinosaurs off the planet.



These Wild Pigs can teach us a lesson in hygiene

Not many animals rinse off their fruit before eating it because it requires the ability to distinguish between foods that do and do not need cleaning. European wild boar in a Swiss zoo have shown this ability — more specifically, they wash dirty apples (but not clean apples) in a creek before eating them.

Only a few other animals, such as monkeys, have been shown to do this.

At the zoo, all adult pigs and some juveniles carried apple halves soiled with sand to the edge of a creek running through their enclosure where they put the fruits in the water and pushed them to and fro with their snouts before eating.

Clean apple halves were never washed.



Ultrasonic Blasting Genitals

Evolutionary arms races can lead to some truly spectacular behaviours. Bats and moths have been engaged in aerial warfare for nearly 65 Million years.

As you probably know, insect-eating bats use echolocation (sonar) to navigate and to identify and capture their prey. It’s also been known for some time that hawkmoths can use sound to jam this system. It turns out that the male moths are making ultrasonic sounds by scraping their genitals on their abdomen.

The anti-bat functions of these sounds might include startling, cross-family acoustic mimicry, warning of unprofitability or physical defence and/or jamming of echolocation.



Stay Away, I’m toxic

Tiger moths have evolved a clever way to avoid being eaten by their biggest predators, bats. Storing up toxins from the plants they feed on as larvae make them “highly unpalatable”. In other words, they make bats gag.

These moths take guerrilla warfare a step further. They use special organs called “tymbals” to broadcast sounds. Tymbals are related to the sound organs of cicadas, but tiger moths use the sounds like other species use bright colors: to warn potential predators to “Stay away, I’m toxic!” In your dreams, bat!



How to Avoid Sexual Cannibalism

Spider sex can be pretty complicated. It’s well known that female wolf spiders have a taste for eating their partners during courtship, a behavior known as sexual cannibalism. Males have developed some defensive tactics to avoid being consumed while still getting it on. This includes bribing their beloved with a “nuptial gift” of a tasty snack–for example, a dead fly. The gift can help curb the female’s appetite, and/or provide a physical shield that the male can hide behind.

But, to be on the safe side, male wolf spiders have found a more effective trick: playing dead! Known in scientific circles as “thanatosis,” it seems to work: 100% of males who played dead were successful at copulating, versus only 58% of those didn’t play dead.



Sea Cucumbers bum, anyone?

Pearlfish tend to make their homes in the bodies of shellfish, starfish, and other marine animals.

Sea Cucumbers are their most notorious hosts. Having found one by following its smell, a pearlfish will dive into the anus headfirst, “propelling itself by violent strokes of the tail,” according to Eric Parmentier. Why doesn’t the Sea Cucumber simply …ah….clench? It also breathes through its anus. A sea cucumber that’s clenching its butt is also holding its breath! When it exhales, as it must, it dilates its anus, allowing the pearlfish to thread itself in.

Some species just use the sea cucumbers as shelters. But the Encheliophis pearlfishes are full-blown parasites that devour their host’s gonads from within.




These foxes are ecosystem engineers

Artic Fox dens are lush and colourful in the grey Alaska tundra. They fertilise and basically grow a garden.

The gardens create such a stark contrast on the tundra that scientists who recently published the first scientific study on the dens have dubbed the foxes “ecosystem engineers.”

With litters averaging about eight to 10 pups—some as high as 16—the foxes deposit high amounts of nutrients in and around their dens. In Winter they get water from their food, which concentrates nutrients in their urine, making it more potent.

These artic foxes are paying it forward. Lots of species visit the dens because it gives them extra space to forage, a precious food option in a place where there aren’t many.



A thousand-mile search for love

In the late summer of 2009, a young male cougar set off from the Black Hills of South Dakota to look for a mate. And kept going—east across the Great Plains to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and on to New England, through backyards and parking lots, across highways and railroad tracks, driven by the most powerful force on earth.

He probably travelled 2,000 to 5,000 miles, enough to cross the country twice. His odyssey ended tragically in Milford, Connecticut. In a woman’s headlights, she saw what she thought was a deer. She didn’t have time to stop and the two collided.

The Connecticut lion is one of dozens who’ve tried the trip but failed.



Farting Fish

It’s been known for quite some time that herring make unusual sounds, but it wasn’t until scientists captured wild herring and observed them in captivity that they realized these fish produce the sounds by expelling air through their anuses.

Herring are more likely to make these “Fast Repetitive Tick Sounds” (FRTs! ) when other fish are present, suggesting that FRTs are used for social communication.


This deep sea fish uses its fins to walk around

The pink frogmouth, or sea toad uses its fins to “walk” across the continental shelf wall.

The pink frogmouth isn’t the only species of fish to move in such a way. Species of batfish, such as the red-lipped batfish, also use their fins in a similar way to “walk” along the ocean floor. The flying gurnard has also been observed to walk along the sandy seabed.

Some species of “walking” fish may even hold clues as to how the first animals moved from the sea onto land far back in the history of life on planet Earth. A cavefish in Thailand called Cryptotora thamicola is one such species. It walks and climbs up waterfalls not in the wriggling, skipping gait of some other fish but in a manner similar to four-legged critters like salamanders.

Researchers studying the fish note that the species has a gait that one resembles that of tetrapods, the four-legged vertebrates that walk around on land.

Siobhan O’Shea is a freelance writer. She writes about pretty much everything but especially likes to bring readers’ attention to new tech, marketing, human behavior, and other oddities.