Tag: Animals

7 Animals That Use Drugs In Nature

1. Dolphins

Dolphins are known to be highly intelligent species, but you might not have heard that they are also highly adept at consuming drug-like chemicals. They have been observed with pufferfish in their mouths, gently squeezing them to release a neurotoxin that causes them to enter a trance-like state. While Tetrodotoxin (the poison commonly found in pufferfish) can be lethal in higher doses – it’s about 1,200 times more deadly than cyanide – it gives the dolphins a peculiar sensation when consumed in very small doses. The dolphins were reported to be seen staring at their reflection beneath the surface of the water, and gently handing the pufferfish as to not release too much toxin.

2. Cats

Cats are a more commonly known animal to enjoy the effects of drugs. Nepalactone comes from the catnip plant, and it triggers a state of sexual arousal upon consumption. Domestic cats aren’t the only ones affected by it, either. Leopards, tigers, and lynxes have also shown an interest in the plant. It’s users can be seen rolling, rubbing themselves, sicking, sniffing, jumping, and sleepiness. A cat’s susceptibility to the drug is genetic, meaning that some cats are genetically more susceptible to the effects of catnip, while others will demonstrate little or no reaction. About 33% of cats are unaffected by the drug.

3. Cows

Locoweed is a purple-colored flowering plant that can be found all over North America. Cows will often be found standing still and grazing on the plant for long periods of time. It acts as a form of tranquilizer, in that it calms the cows down. However, this plant is very harmful when consumed for over two weeks; causing depression, reproductive dysfunction, weight loss, and brain damage. It can even be spread to younger animals through the mother’s milk. Horses and sheep have also shown tendencies to gravitate towards the plant.

4. Big Horned Sheep

The Canadian Rocky Mountains are home to Big Horned Sheep that have a special fondness for the lichen that grow there. While the lichen only forms in areas where more common plants are unable to grow, the sheep still venture the treacherous terrain so they can satisfy their urge. The lichen is a hallucinogenic that the sheep consume by scraping it off the rocks with their front teeth. Sometimes, the sheep have even grinded their teeth down to the gum just so they can satiate their addiction to the powerful drug.

5. Wallabies

Home to  around half of the world’s legal opium production, Australia is a major beneficiary of the pharmaceutical industry. However, having giant fields of poppies comes with it’s downsides, as well. Wallabies, a species indigenous to Australia and New Guinea, are commonly found in these fields getting high, running around in circles, and crashing in place. Because opium is so addictive, the Wallabies will return again and again to satisfy their desire for more.

6. Jaguars

The Ayahuasca vine grows in central and South America, and is a favorite among jaguars. Also known as yagé, this plant acts as a hallucinogen to these jaguars, and gives them heightened senses. It is also cooked into a drink that the natives like to drink to experience what some call a “dizziness”. While jaguars are a distant cousin to domestic cats, they don’t gravitate towards catnip, but rather their own indigenous drug of choice.

7. Bees

The sugary sap of the lime tree becomes very appealing to bees once it ferments. They enter a drunken stupor that makes it especially difficult for them to maneuver in the air. They can also lose their sense of direction and become temporarily lost. While this isn’t ideal for the success of the hive, sometimes the buzz is worth it.

There’s Always a Bigger Fish: Watch These Sharks Get Eaten

Seals off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa have been known to eat Blue Sharks
Image Via: Chris Fallows

Sharks might be the best-designed killing machines that exist in the natural world. They spend the bulk of their lives hunting and viciously killing smaller animals to satisfy their enormous energy needs. In short, sharks are big, mean, and scary. However, the laws of nature don’t make special exceptions based on taxonomic classification. As it turns out, just calling yourself a shark isn’t enough to guarantee that no other ocean dweller is willing to take a swing at you.

The ocean is a dangerous place. In the rare situations that sharks aren’t the biggest, meanest, and scariest creatures swimming around, they too can find themselves on the wrong end of a set of jaws. Here’s a look at some sea monsters that have proven themselves able to turn the tables on sharks and make a meal out of them. 

1. Octopus

  As far as cephalopods go, giant squids enjoy most of the notoriety. There’s an indelible terrifying quality that being a 40-foot-long, sharp-beaked mass of tentacles imparts that few other sea creatures can match. Still, their smaller cousins have a lot going for them in the “lethal predator” department. Octopuses are among the smartest animals on land or sea, and in the GIF above, you’ll see the price one shark paid for underestimating them. The octopus appears to have been camouflaging itself at the time, and as soon as the shark strayed too close, it pounced. While the shark’s small size made it a less intimidating target than most, this octopus’ 8-armed embrace is clearly a deadly one.

2. Orca

SeaWorld and Free Willy have worked in concert to untether the public perception of orcas from reality. The general sentiment that these monsters occupy the spot next to golden retrievers on the animal friendliness spectrum is misguided, to say the very least. Frequently (and aptly) referred to as “killer whales,” orcas are among the most ruthless killers in the animal kingdom. 

Orcas are both bigger and more intelligent than sharks, and if that weren’t enough, they also have the unique advantage of traveling in packs. The true wolves of the sea, a group of orcas can here be seen dissecting the carcass of a large shark that had the misfortune of crossing paths with them. The group hunting tactics that killer whales display are incredible in their sophistication and ruthless in their execution. Sharks aren’t a preferred prey item for orcas, but when other options are scarce, an unlucky few can find themselves on the menu.

3. Grouper

The appropriately named goliath grouper doesn’t find itself outgunned in the size department very often. The giants can grow to 800 pounds and over 8 feet long, and they eat correspondingly massive prey. This four-foot-long blacktip shark found itself both outsmarted and undersized in late 2014, when a fisherman off the Florida coast hooked it on a live mullet. 

As the angler brought the small shark boatside, a dark mass began to materialize from the deep. Seconds later, an explosion of force rocked the boat as this enormous goliath grouper crushed the vulnerable blacktip. The grouper made off with the shark—or what was left of it—and the fisherman was left with this spectacular video of the topwater strike.

4. Bigger Sharks, Example 1

The open ocean food chain is governed by one overarching rule: bigger is better. Shark or seal, turtle or tuna, whiting or whale shark, an animal’s place in the ecosystem is determined by size. Big sharks are closer to the top of the food chain than little sharks. This means that—you guessed it—big sharks are completely unprincipled about cannibalizing their own kind. 

In the video above, a small, vulnerable blacktip learns the hard way that it’s a shark-eat-shark world. A fully-grown bull shark, somewhere in the neighborhood of 9 feet long, succeeds in swallowing most of the blacktip whole before realizing that it will have to leave a fin or two behind. Bull sharks have a (highly accurate) reputation for being some of the meanest, most aggressive fish in the sea, and they are much less picky about what they eat than other sharks. Apparently, family ties don’t mean much to a bull shark.

5. Bigger Sharks, Example 2

The best evidence that sharks are indiscriminate killers when they’re hungry might be the fear with which small sharks respond to the appearance of a larger predator in their midst. In the excellent drone footage shown above, a massive hammerhead is clearly intent on preying upon a school of smaller blacktips. At first, the small sharks slowly accelerate in an effort to put distance between themselves and the hammerhead. That all changes when the hammerhead hits the gas. Knowing they’re firmly in harm’s way, the blacktips scatter as fast as they can. One nearly does a barrel roll and comes out of the water in its panic. Preparedness—and lots of eyes spotting the hammerhead before it got too close—saved this school from becoming lunch. While this group was fortunate, they were also clearly conditioned to fear the hammerhead. Small sharks know that if they don’t steer clear of their larger relatives, they’ll never get a chance to grow up. 

In spite of all these videos, it’s important to realize that sharks are the dominant predators in their environments a vast majority of the time. They’ve often been described as “perfect killing machines.” The characterization is a fair one. The fossil record indicates that they’ve barely evolved over the past several million years, likely because they don’t have to. They are such successful hunters that it’s hard for nature to improve on the design. However, these videos demonstrate that nothing in the ocean is safe in every situation. Bigger, smarter, and more deadly hunters sometimes do inhabit the same waters as sharks themselves. In the broader marine ecosystem, just being born a shark isn’t enough to keep you out of a hungry mouth.

Vultures: Creepy, Gross, and Vitally Important

Texas’ Highland Lakes region is big sky country, open land with not very many humans, starry skies and tons of outdoor recreation. I stayed a few nights at the Canyon of the Eagles in July. It’s a relaxing resort with white rocking chairs and views of Lake Buchanan. But I quickly found out summer was the wrong season for eagles. I had landed in the Canyon of the Vultures.

Now vultures are nothing new to most people. Between New World vultures and Old World vultures, they inhabit every continent except Antarctica. Since critters die everywhere, vultures have plenty of leeway in where they hang their hats. But somehow I’d never thought much about them until visiting Burnet County.

In Burnet County, 54 miles northwest of Austin, the deer hunting season is short. Therefore, the deer are many. This means odds are higher than they are most places that a motorist will hit a deer. And that is A-OK with the vultures of Burnet County, who cruise in circles above every road, waiting for lunch, teatime and elevenses. Unfortunately for everybody, vultures get so intent on eating roadkill that motorists also have higher than normal odds of hitting a vulture.

No Respect

Source: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/print/2016/01/vultures-text

Unlike sea otters, monk seals and red pandas, the 16 at-risk vulture species have few fans clamoring to save them. They’ve been reviled for centuries. Even Charles Darwin, who you’d think would respect every important member of an ecosystem, called turkey vultures disgusting and described their heads as “formed to wallow in putridity.” Vultures’ garbage-picking ways clean up our natural environment and cut down on the spread of disease.

Meanwhile, American Indians collect eagle feathers for rituals, sports teams name themselves after that giant bird of prey and America adopts the bald eagle as its national bird. In Burnet County, I take the beautiful 22-mile Vanishing Texas River Cruise on a boat called –what else– the Texas Eagle. One woman I met in Burnet County told me that people often called vultures “Mexican eagles.” I couldn’t suss out if that was supposed to be polite to vultures or rude to Mexicans.

As I watched black vultures and turkey vultures flying over our boat, I pondered vultures’ image problem. People think vultures are gross while eagles are majestic. But vultures are more peaceful than eagles, eating what’s already dead rather than killing it. Most people are more like vultures, eating dead food, albeit packaged and store-bought, rather than killing. Yet people would rather identify with eagles, who are a dignified national emblem, and not routinely seen with their heads buried in carcasses.

Vulture Facts

I was traveling with a small group of people I didn’t know very well. My burgeoning interest in vultures outweighed theirs, to put it mildly. When we drove past a dozen black vultures with their heads buried in a deer, my fellow passengers looked away while I yearned to stop.

Fortunately for me, I met a couple of naturalists in Texas who filled me in on vulture fun facts. Tim Mohan, a tour guide on the Vanishing Texas River Cruise, told me that vulture DNA is closer to stork or flamingo than other birds of prey. Turkey vultures are the rare vulture that hunt by sense of smell. Black vultures hunt by sight. They can see for three miles, while eagles can only see two. Which indicates the expression should be “vulture-eyed,” not “eagle-eyed.” “They’re great garbage cans,” Mohan said admiringly.

Jasmine Scott, an interpretive ranger at Inks Lake State Park, had grosser vulture trivia. After leading my group on a kayak tour of the lake, we relaxed outside the gift shop. Birds don’t sweat, she said, so they open their beaks like dogs open their mouths to get their temperatures down, or stand on one leg to limit the amount of heat absorbed from the ground. But black and turkey vultures have another trick up their feathered sleeves. “Both species of vulture will poop on their legs to help thermoregulate,” she said.

Vultures are known for their distinctive bald, cranky old man look. “They don’t have feathers on their face or neck,” Scott said, because of “all that yuck they’re getting their face into.”

When vultures are scared, they induce vomiting as a defense mechanism. This also helps lighten their load so they can quickly fly away. Now this may sound gross enough, but two factors notch up this tactic: their diet of rotting meat and their extremely acidic stomach acid. Scott once saw a vulture launch vomit at a dog. “It was this awesome green color,” she said. “They’re scary accurate at spitting that at dogs or people.” Vulture vomit is acidic enough to sting flesh on contact. However, bald eagles sometimes eat vulture barf. Who’s the gross bird now?

Source: BBC News

Relaxing into our mortality

Around the world, vulture populations have decreased due to intentional poisoning, accidental lead poisoning from spent ammunition in scavenged carcasses, DDT contamination, lack of large enough trees for nesting, highway mortality and being shot or caught in walk-in traps. Indian vultures died from kidney failure after feasting on dead cows treated with a drug called diclofenac, leaving them critically endangered. Obviously, vultures should be afraid of us, not the other way around.

I think vultures make people uneasy because they’re as comfortable with death as we are uncomfortable with it. Vultures remind people of our own mortality. Scott remembered a sunset kayak tour last year. “The clouds rolled in quickly,” she said. “It got darker than we anticipated. All the vultures went way up into the sky all together. It was ominous. Everybody was saying, ‘What’s about to happen?’ Everybody was freaking out.”

Scott told everybody to relax, that the vultures were just using the warm air to cruise on. “When they’re circling, that’s equivalent to laying on the couch watching Netflix,” she said.

See? They’re not really so different from us.