Did you know skunks aren't the only animals that spray stinky stuff? Let's look at a few.
Millipedes. Although centipedes can inject venom through their fangs, millipedes are docile and do not bite. However, many of them compensate for this by squirting out a stinky toxin. They can shoot this stuff up to 32 inches (80 cm), and it can cause irritation of the skin. That, along with the smell, makes this behavior an effective predator defense.
Bombardier beetles. When threatened, these beetles stick their rump in the air and squirt out a noxious fluid that is boiling hot. Through a series of chemical reactions, the nasty stuff is at about 212 degrees F (100º C) when it gets squirted. So, it burns the skin, in addition to being foul smelling. There are more than 500 species of bombardier beetles.
Green woodhoopoes. This one is a bird, native to sub-Saharan Africa. The woodhoopoe builds nests in the hollows of trees. Whenever it is threatened, the bird sticks its rear end out the hole, raises its tail, and squirts a stream of stuff that smells like rotten eggs. This nasty substance contains dimethyl sulphide, which explains the rotten egg smell.
Finally, the African polecat (also called the zorilla), which sometimes gets the dubious honor of being called the smelliest animal on Earth. These animals resemble a skunk, but they are actually a type of wild ferret that lives in Africa. Just like the skunk, the polecat squirts a nasty fluid when threatened, and its black and white colors warn away predators. This could be considered an example of convergent evolution, in which two types of animals that are not closely related have evolved the same features that accomplish the same function.
Below is an African polecat (remember, this is NOT a skunk).
- African Polecat - DepositPhotos
Did you know skunks can spray their smelly stuff with pinpoint accuracy up to 20 feet (6.1 m) away? As masterful as they are at squirting this stuff, they only do it as a last resort because replenishing their supply is a slow process. They refuse to spray when they get in a fight with another skunk. They only do it against predators when they feel their life is in danger.
Of course they also spray—involuntarily—when they get run over by a vehicle. Usually, when people smell a skunk, it's from one that was killed on a nearby road. Actually, the road doesn't have to be nearby—a skunk's smell can easily be detected by humans a half mile (0.8 km) away.
Skunks are so stingy with their spray that they usually only squirt out a small amount. This is enough, and it leaves them with a supply in case they need it before they can produce more. It takes 10 days to refill their anal glands (where the stuff is made). If they run out, skunks are vulnerable to predators until they make more.
An interesting point... dogs often get sprayed by skunks, whereas wild predators (coyotes, bobcats, badgers, wolves, and others) do not. Why? Because domesticated dogs have lost many of their natural instincts regarding the natural world, including the innate fear of skunks. Wild predators immediately recognize a skunk's distinct black and white fur, and they steer clear. Domestic dogs don't, not even when the skunk stomps its feet and raises its tail to warn them away.
I've often wondered what it's like to a dog to get sprayed by a skunk. Humans are visual, experiencing the world with our eyes. Dogs, though, are olfactory-inclined. Scientists guess that dogs smell 10,000 to 100,000 times better than we do. So, I imagine when a dog is hit with skunk spray, it is kind of like if I were to stare directly at the sun. Youch!
Below is a spotted skunk.
- Spotted Skunk - DepositPhotos
Did you know naked mole rats can live in tunnels with almost no oxygen? How? Why? Well, naked mole rats live their entire lives in colonies in closed underground burrows (in southern Africa). The oxygen in these burrows often drops to dangerously low levels.
But this doesn't bother the naked mole rats. In fact, they can go for six hours with very low oxygen, and they can go eighteen minutes with no oxygen at all. This is even more amazing considering these creatures are warm-blooded mammals, not cold-blooded reptiles or amphibians that typically use less oxygen.
How do they do it? It all has to do with the way they use sugar. As humans (as with other mammals), our cells use oxygen and a type of sugar called glucose to make fuel. If you take away the oxygen, our cells begin to die. But the naked mole rat has a trick. When its brain and muscles start getting deprived of oxygen, its body cells switch to using a different kind of sugar called fructose. Metabolizing fructose causes them to quickly drop into a state of "suspended animation." While they're in this state, they use minimal oxygen, although they take a quick breath now and then to test the air. This way they can determine when the oxygen is increasing again, and they immediately wake up and go about their business, digesting glucose again instead of fructose.
As if that weren't impressive enough, naked mole rats are also quite handsome. Don't you agree?
- Naked mole rat - DepostPhotos
Awesome Animal Fact:
Did you know great white sharks are the only sharks that regularly raise their heads out of the water to look around? This behavior is called spy-hopping, and it is common in marine mammals like whales, orcas, and dolphins, but not in sharks, other than the great white.
Spy-hopping is often done while hunting, particularly if the sharks are hunting seals, one of their favorite prey animals. Some scientists have suggested it may also help the sharks smell their prey, as scents travel through the air much faster than through the water.
But great white sharks are also considered curious animals, and they may sometime spy-hop simply to see what's going on around them.
Great white sharks are also unusual in that they display breaching behavior. This is when they attack by charging prey—particularly seals—at such a high speed that it carries the shark completely or partially out of the water. I'm pretty sure the seagull is photoshopped into this image, but it still illustrates the concept.
- Great white shark attacking seagull - DepositPhotos
Did you know giant anteaters slurp up 35,000 ants every day? Well, they don't actually count them and stop when they reach exactly 35,000. But they do eat a LOT of ants. In fact, these bizarre mammals pretty much eat only ants (and termites). They don't even have teeth because you don't need teeth for eating ants. What you do need, though, is a really long, sticky tongue. How long? Two feet (61 cm) long. And it helps if you can flick that long tongue out 150 times per minute to gather up as many ants as you can before they escape. Oh, and big strong claws are helpful for tearing into ant mounds.
This basically explains how a mammal weighing up to 110 pounds (50 kg) can exist eating only ants and termites. They're really good at it!
Sure, giant anteaters have physical characteristics making them almost perfect for eating ants, but they also have behaviors that help them out. Anteaters rip into ant mounds with their long claws, but they don't completely destroy the mounds. If they did, they would be destroying their own food source and would die out. They only feed on each ant mound for about one minute before moving on to another mound. In this way, they can continue feeding in the same area indefinitely. They are responsibly managing the resource in a sustainable way.
Giant anteaters live in South and Central America, usually in savannas, dry forests, and grasslands, where there are plenty of ants.
- Giant anteater - DepositPhotos
Did you know there is a frog that is much larger as a tadpole than after it turns into a frog? The tadpole of a paradoxical frog (awesome name, right?) can be 11 inches (27 cm) long, making it the longest tadpole in the world. However, the adult frog's body is only about three inches (7.6 cm) long.
So, why do these massive tadpoles shrink as they become frogs? Basically, it's a result of storing lots of food needed for the energy-intensive process of metamorphosis. The herbivorous tadpole stuffs itself with algae, storing nutrients in its huge tail. Then most of this stored food is used up as the tadpole transforms into an adult frog, reducing the animal's size dramatically. As with most frogs and toads, the tadpoles are herbivores, but the adults are fierce predators.
By the way, there happens to also be a critically-acclaimed jazz band by the name of Paradoxical Frog. Just thought I'd include that totally unrelated and inconsequential tidbit.
- Paradoxical frog and tadpole - Chipmunkdavis, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Did you know there's a spider that lives underwater by making an air bubble? The diving bell spider is the only known species that does this. They live completely submerged in freshwater streams and ponds of Asia and Europe.
Here's how they do it: the spider weaves a fine net-like web under water, attached to several plants. Then it goes to the surface to get air. It traps air bubbles between the fine hairs on its body, swims down to its underwater web, and releases the bubbles under the web. The air bubbles rise and get trapped in the web. The spider continues to do this until the web contains an air bubble large enough to live in. Whenever it needs more air, the spider returns to the surface to get more.
Other than catching prey, which the spider does outside the bubble but still underwater, it spends its time in the bubble, where it eats its food, molts its exoskeleton, mates, lays its eggs, and raises its young.
Below is a diving bell spider depicted on a stamp from the country of Azerbaijan, which is on the Caspian Sea.
- Diving bell spider stamp - Post of Azerbaijan/Azermarka, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Did you know there is a real predator that feeds just like the terrifying sarlacc from the Star Wars movie The Return of the Jedi? The fictional sarlacc burrows in the sand, creating a cone-shaped pit, then it waits, buried, at the bottom of the pit for prey animals to fall in and slide down the slope. Then it grabs the prey and pulls it under the sand.
Well, this perfectly describes the feeding habits of an antlion larva. If you live in the midwest or eastern United States, you have probably seen the little cone-shaped pits antlions make.
These antlion traps are very effective for trapping ants. If an ant walks over the side, it will slide down to the bottom. The antlion, buried beneath the sand at the bottom, will flick loose sand up onto the sides of the cone, thus making it even harder for the ant to climb out. Then the antlion grabs the ant with its huge jaws. These jaws are hollow, and they suck the fluids out of the ant. Below is a miniature sarlacc... oops, I mean an antlion larva.
Everyone needs a creative outlet. That's why I write.