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Thursday, February 18, 2010


Cheater, cheater, belly eater! There have been plenty of people who've scammed their way to the top, and the same goes for the animal kingdom. Find out which creatures are bending the rules to stay ahead, or sometimes, just to survive. From using deceptive appearances to get what they want to taking advantage of circumstances beyond their control, our top 10 might make you believe that cheaters sometimes actually do win.

10. FOX

Perhaps the phrase "sly as a fox" owes its origin to the ultra-sneaky foxes in the mountains of South America. Quite frankly, the foxes need to be as cunning as possible, as birds in this region — such as the Rhea — tend to be quite large. And you know what they say about big birds ... BIG eggs. Foxes wait for the Rheas to make a move so they can sneak in and snatch the eggs, but because the eggs are often too large to grab in their mouths, the foxes will roll the eggs with their snouts to knock it against something, like a rock or a tree, in the hopes of breaking it down. So, does that qualify as over easy or sunny side up?


When it comes to food and money, rats are truly dirty rotten scoundrels. In the United States alone, they wreak havoc to the tune of creating over $19 billion in damages per YEAR. It's no wonder really, when you consider that there are an estimated 70 million rats just within New York City — that's of course not counting pickpockets, slight-of-hand street vendors or crooked politicians. To make matters worse, not only are rats some of the most expensive cheaters, they're also surprisingly fast, with their top speed clocking in at around six miles per hour. Let's just hope a New York City rat marathon never becomes a reality.


The word "chameleon" means "liar" in several languages, and like all good liars, you'll hardly believe what comes out of a chameleon's mouth — namely, its tongue. Step aside Gene Simmons, because a chameleon's tongue is usually twice as long as its body length, extends faster than the human eye can follow, and has a sticky tip on the end used to catch prey. Chameleons can also cheat by hiding their whereabouts with their ability to change color. But sometimes, a shift in appearance is actually trying to tell you something — for example, when they get angry, they turn red. Hey, at least the color coding makes sense.


A caterpillar tends to be more of a trickster, with all kinds of moves up its sleeve to stay alive. Some caterpillars mimic the look of their habitat — such as leaves and branches — to blend in. But there are also some that resemble other things found in nature, like bird droppings — ew! Other caterpillars are tricky thieves, stealing poisons from the plants they eat only to use them to arm their own spines with toxins. There's even a caterpillar that cheats death by becoming a killer. Look no further than Hawaii, which plays home to the only flesh-eating caterpillars in the world. Thank goodness tourists there are greeted with leis around their necks instead of a string of these nasty little suckers. Aloha!


An alligator snapping turtle can take your finger off with one chomp, but the cheat is in how they're able to lure their bait. The inside of the turtle's mouth is camouflaged, and on top of that their tongue features a worm-shaped appendage on its tip. Not only does this look like a fish's feast, but it actually mimics the movements of a worm as well. Can you really blame the fish for falling for it? All the turtle has to do is lie down, open up and say "ahhh" — once an unsuspecting fish moves in for a closer look, the tremendous speed and force of the turtle's mouth completes the ambush. It's an open and shut case.


Fireflies may conjure up happy memories of twinkling flashes in the summertime evening skies, but with over 2,000 varieties of this species flitting about, there's bound to be a few with more sinister intentions. Case in point: most fireflies use their flashing lights to attract mates, but one type of the species has learned how to mimic the luminescent signals of other species to lure them as potential meals as well.


The Hanuman monkey is a total cheat because it steals with impunity — thanks to the fact that its namesake is a Hindu monkey god worshipped by millions of people. Known for its strength and valor, this highly revered primate has a lifelong get-out-of-jail-free card. Nothing is off limits to the Hanuman monkey — food, drinks, clothes, your toupee. Some people will even put these creatures into training to steal on their behalf. If Clooney and Pitt want to save some dough on production costs on the next Ocean's 11 sequel, perhaps they might consider casting these sneaky fellas.


The Virginia opossum cheats death by reacting to threats with an unusual tactic — taking an immediate nap. More specifically, this is where the term "playing possum" stems from, which is often used to describe an attempt to pretend to be dead or injured with an intent to deceive. These slow-moving animals really take their performances seriously by actually going into a catatonic state to make it seem like they are really dead, even when poked. Of course, this defense mechanism doesn't work so well when there's a car involved — kinda hard for drivers to tell the difference between faux roadkill and the real thing. Oops.


Orangutans are remarkably bright. In fact, some experts say their smarts are second only to humans. And like humans, orangutans have used their intelligence to craft tools. That's where the cheater part comes in — these creatures often use their tools to pick the locks of their own cages. In fact, they are so cunning when it comes to breaking and entering (or exiting) that zookeepers have used orangutans to test the security of enclosures for other animals. Next up: safe cracking?


This is truly the mother of all cheaters — the female cuckoo bird will not only raid the nest of her warbler neighbor to steal eggs, she then leaves her own eggs behind to replace what she just ransacked. In a true testament of nature vs. nurture, despite being abandoned, the baby cuckoo bird is just as much of a con artist as its birth mother. Thanks to incubating an egg similar in appearance to the other warbler eggs, the baby cuckoo bird blends among the other chicks and is therefore treated and fed like one of the family. You'd think with the baby cuckoo bird's rapid growth (we're talking 10 times the size of its foster mother!) the warbler would finally take notice that something is amiss. But hey, a mother's love can really turn a blind eye.


Sometimes it's hard to separate fact from fiction, especially with the many myths that involve animals. Their behavior can certainly be mysterious to say the least, so it's no wonder that some of these creatures have become the focal point of speculation. Take a peek at these 10 animal myths and discover which ones are actually true and which are merely urban legend.

10. An Elephant Never Forgets
 This expression likely stemmed from the fact that the elephant has the biggest brain of all land animals — and apparently, the bigger the mass, the better the memory. Elephants are able to retain a mental map of their entire home range — we're talking an area the size of Rhode Island! Elephants also travel in packs and when the group gets too big, the eldest daughter breaks off to start her own contingent, yet she never forgets her roots. One researcher witnessed a mother and daughter elephant recognizing each other after 23 years of separation. MYTH VERDICT: TRUE

9. Crocodiles Are Crybabies
 Terence Trent D'arby sang about crocodile tears in his hit song "Wishing Well," but the phrase that implies expressing fake emotion actually comes from an ancient fable that crocodiles weep while both luring and killing their prey. In reality, crocodiles can't chew, so they are forced to rip their food into chunks and swallow them whole. As luck would have it, the glands that keep their eyes moist are right near their throats, so their eating habits actually force tears into their eyes. MYTH VERDICT: TRUE

8. March Hares Are Mad
 The expression "Mad as a March Hare" may be foreign to many, except for those who spent a lot of time hobnobbing during the 1500s when the saying first came into fashion. Back then, "mad" meant crazy or wild, and this could certainly be used to describe the behavior that was commonly exhibited by the normally shy and quiet hare during the spring mating season (which in Europe primarily meant the month of March). Their odd conduct included boxing with potential paramours, but contrary to early belief, it was the female throwing the one-two punch. MYTH VERDICT: TRUE

7. Groundhogs Can Predict the Arrival of Spring
 It's the only mammal to have its own day named after it and as legend goes, every Feb. 2, the groundhog emerges from hibernation. If it sees its shadow, six more weeks of winter lie ahead, and if not, spring is on the way! The most famous groundhog of all is Punxsutawney Phil, named in honor of his hometown in Pennsylvania where he acts as the spokesperson for all groundhogs. So how much stock should you put in his predictions? In reality, groundhogs prepare for six months of hibernation by eating up to one-third of their weight on daily basis. When they emerge, they actually do respond to changes in light and temperature, two factors that play a part in determining the forecast. MYTH VERDICT: TRUE

6. Are Bats Really Blind?
 This saying has become a fixture of everyday vernacular and the assumption likely developed because bats primarily use a form of sonar to navigate through dark areas and avoid obstacles. However, their eyes, while small and sometimes poorly developed, are also completely functional, not to mention the fact that they have excellent hearing and sense of smell. Perhaps the saying should be changed to "Keen as a Bat"? MYTH VERDICT: FALSE

5. You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks
 Just because a dog is approaching its more senior years doesn't mean it can't learn a new thing or two. In fact, with approximately 15 minutes of training every day for two weeks straight, even the most stubborn dog can usually learn how to sit, stay, fetch, roll over or whatever your heart desires, regardless of age. The saying is meant to be taken less literally about dogs and more about people — specifically, the types who have been set in their ways for so long that changing their behavior would be (to quote the rock band Chicago) a hard habit to break. MYTH VERDICT: FALSE

4. Are Hens Teeth Really Rare?
 This expression may not be all the rage among the Gen-X, Gen-Y or Gen-2.0 crowd, but there was a time when it was commonly used to describe something very difficult to track down or find. The saying harkens back to long, long ago, as in 150 million years, back when the hen's ancestor the archaeopteryx was roaming the world. This chicken of the Stone Age came equipped with feathers, claws and a beak full of cone-shaped teeth. Scientists not only recently discovered that hens still have the DNA necessary to grow a set of chompers, but actually successfully put the theory into practice. So there! MYTH VERDICT: FALSE

3. Do Camels Really Store Water in Their Humps?

A camel can survive seven days without water, but not because they are carrying large reserves inside their humps. They're able to avoid dehydration that would kill most other animals, thanks in large part to oval-shaped red blood cells (vs. the standard circular variety). As far as that hump goes, it's nothing more than a big mound of fat, though a useful one at that — the lump provides camels with the same amount of energy as three weeks of food. If there's any body part that excels at retaining water, the award goes to the camel's kidneys and intestines. These organs are so efficient that a camel's urine comes out thick as syrup and their feces is so dry, it can fuel fires! MYTH VERDICT: FALSE

2. Do Earwigs Live Inside Your Ears?

If the mention of an earwig makes you shudder or think of that horrifying scene from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, rest assured — while earwigs are predisposed to hiding in warm, humid crevices, they're not likely to choose your ear as their new home. Even if one did, it wouldn't get very far — there's a thick bone in your ear canal to block it from burrowing into your ear and laying eggs. So how did this creepy crawler get its name? Turns out if you stretch one out, it actually looks like an ear ... but who has the time for such antics? MYTH VERDICT: FALSE

1. Do Lemmings Commit Suicide?

The lemmings earn the top spot on the myth list because the misconceptions about these critters are both legendary and long-standing, starting back in the 1530s when a geographer proposed that they fell from the skies during storms. These days, the most popular rumor is that lemmings commit mass suicide when they migrate, but the truth is much less dramatic. Every three or four years, their population drops to near extinction only to skyrocket again, but the ebb and flow is a result of migration in large groups, which can include jumping off cliffs into the water and swimming great distances to the point of exhaustion and even death. The myth was also fueled by the 1958 Academy Award-winning documentary that showed the lemmings leaping to their deaths, but the scene was later busted for being staged. MYTH VERDICT: FALSE

Monday, February 15, 2010

Top 10 Predators

No. 10 - Tarantula
Tarantula spiders are among the most feared animals on the planet, and with good reason. Not only are they giants, as spiders go, but they are such stealthy and skilled hunters that no small animal that wanders within their grasp stands a chance at survival. The typical hunting modus operandi for tarantulas is to be patient. They lie in wait for a hapless passerby and then pounce without warning. Because of their size, they can reach 5 inches in length with a 12-inch leg span; tarantulas are able to quickly subdue their prey and crush them with their large fangs. Finally, they shower their victim's body with digestive juices and then lap up the resulting fluid. Delicious!

No. 9 - Black Mamba
The most fearsome animal in all Africa may well be the black mamba, the giant venomous snake found throughout the southeastern portion of the continent. It gets its name from the black skin on the inside of its mouth, which it displays just before it strikes. These animals are usually quite shy, but can be extremely aggressive when confronted. When they do attack, they tend to strike their victims repeatedly, releasing a lethal mix of neurotoxin and cardiotoxin. In the past, a bite from a black mamba was 100 percent fatal. Now, that figure is decreasing due to the increased use of anti-venom throughout the continent.

No. 8 - Piranha
Of all the fish in all the world's waters, the piranha may have the worst reputation. One look at this predator's slicing teeth and powerful jaws is enough to send chills up the spine. Known worldwide for its aggressive predatory feeding behavior, the piranha is found throughout the fresh waters of South America. They typically feed at dawn and dusk, lurking in the water and waiting for a small animal to pass by. Then, without warning, they attack and devour their prey with ferocity unparalleled in freshwater communities. In some cases, they will form hunting groups in order to take down much larger prey, including horses, capybaras or even humans.

No. 7 - Gray Wolf
Most of the world's top predators are strict loners, preferring to rely on their own prowess to bring down prey. But to the gray wolf, the success of the hunt depends on cooperation among many. A typical wolf attack begins with members of the pack working together to encourage their victim to run. Not only is a lone animal easier to bring down than one that is in a herd, but a running animal poses less of a threat than one that is poised to fight. Then, the alpha male leads the chase, with his alpha female close behind. Once their victim stumbles and falls to the ground, the pack surrounds the animal and goes in for the kill.

No. 6 - Komodo Dragon
The largest of all lizards, the Komodo dragon is a mighty reptile that weighs up to 300 pounds and can reach a length of more than 10 feet. This animal takes our No. 6 spot for having multiple predatory advantages: speed, strength and the tenacity to bring down prey species twice its size. They also have a toxic bite; any victim that survives a Komodo dragon attack is likely to succumb to their wounds soon after. Komodos mainly hunt by ambushing their prey, but they are also fast runners and good swimmers. What's more, their incredible predatory skills are matched by an equally impressive ability to consume meat, up to half their own body weight in a single meal.

No. 5 - Crocodile
There is nothing more frightening than a predator that lurks underwater for its prey, camouflaged by the surrounding environment, silently watching its victim and planning its kill. No. 5 in our countdown is the crocodile, a stealthy and extremely violent predator. With long, powerful jaws and teeth, the crocodile preys on a variety of animals. Some species, such as the Nile crocodile, can bring down very large prey such as zebras and buffalo. Its typical mode of attack is to wait at the water's edge for an animal to come to drink and then drag the hapless creature underwater and begin spinning around forcefully and repeatedly in order to tear off chunks of flesh.

No. 4 - Killer Whale
As the name suggests, the killer whale is a deadly predator, combining remarkable skill with awesome physical power. Orcas have a number of ingenious techniques in their hunting arsenal, giving them one of the most diverse diets of all aquatic predators. For example, they are fond of knocking seals and penguins from ice floes in order to seize them as they fall into the water. They have also been known to intentionally beach themselves in order to reach seals onshore. Highly social animals, killer whales tend to live in pods made up of dozens of individuals working cooperatively to snag prey. Some have even been known to successfully prey on great white sharks.

No. 3 - Grizzly Bear
The grizzly bear, also known as the brown bear, is probably the most feared animal in North America. This powerful predatory animal can stand 7 feet tall and weigh more than 800 pounds. Its strong limbs and huge paws can kill a man in a single swipe, and its powerful crushing jaws allow it to feed on a variety of foods, including large mammals. Grizzlies are also strong swimmers and fast runners. Coming face to face with this animal in the wild can be a harrowing experience, but the best response is to stand tall and resist the urge to run. These animals have been clocked at more than 40 miles per hour, and running away from them can trigger their chase response.

No. 2 - Lion
This animal is known as the "king of the jungle," and for good reason. Lions hunt some of the largest prey on Earth, including buffalo and wildebeest. Part of their terrific success as predators comes from the fact that they cooperate in their kills. Lions live in social groups called prides, and all members work together in the hunt. Young lions learn their place in the pride early in life by play-fighting, which teaches them the skills they'll need for the hunt and determines what role they are most suited to perform. Lions' hunting success rate is only about one in five, but those odds are impressive when you consider that their prey species are massive creatures with plenty of fighting power of their own.

No. 1 - Great White Shark
Any animal that has the misfortune of being preyed upon by the great white shark stands very little chance of surviving the attack. This animal is No. 1 on our countdown for its remarkable predatory abilities. With its streamlined body and strong jaws, the great white is a powerful animal: a fast swimmer and an agile aquatic acrobat able to leap high out of the water to surprise its prey. The great white shark also has multiple rows of sharp serrated teeth, each being replaced as soon as one is lost. In fact, a single shark can go through more than 50,000 teeth in its lifetime. Great whites typically begin their attacks with a single punishing bite. The shark then waits for its victim to be weakened by the wound before it returns to eat - a technique that allows the predator to feed in relative safety.