strange behaviors

Cool doings from the natural and human worlds

  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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Archive for the ‘Kill or Be Killed’ Category

Cormorants Like Fish Ladders, Too.

Posted by Richard Conniff on May 8, 2014

Clever cormorant says, "Howdy" to alewife.

Clever cormorant says, “Howdy” to alewife.


A few weeks ago I wrote about the new fish ladder bringing alewives back to Rogers Lake in Old Lyme.  These devices are built mainly to help fish recover old breeding grounds blocked off long ago by dams.  But the alewives aren’t the only ones to benefit.  In its weekly report on fish-counter results at fish ladders around the state, the Connecticut DEEP recently included this photograph from the fishway at Bunnell Pond in Bridgeport.  Something about the shadow-puppetry character of the photo makes it especially creepy.  Another photo showed Read the rest of this entry »

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The Young and the Wild on the Streets of LA

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 18, 2014

Gopher snake schools juvenile red-tailed hawk on the streets of the city

Gopher snake schools juvenile red-tailed hawk on the streets of the city

I’ve written a few posts lately about wildlife in the city.  Then, last night on Facebook, I  happened to run across this strange photo, taken on December 28 in the middle of Los Angeles, not far from Dodger Stadium.

The photographer was “David A.”  and this account seems to come from a friend:  “It’s hard to say what a hawk was doing tangled up with a snake in the middle of Scott Avenue in Echo Park on Friday afternoon. But David A., who snapped the photo above, and a few other people watched and waited as the serpent and bird of prey were locked in a strange embrace on the pavement near Elysian Park: ‘I thought I heard one person say that they thought the hawk had been run over as it just came down with the snake in the street. It must have just grabbed it. I was there maybe five minutes. In that time, the hawk was in the position pictured and the snake was slowly freeing itself (not so much wrestling). The hawk wasn’t moving much. We stood by to make sure no cars would run them over. Once free, the hawk flew off and seemed to not be harmed. The drama ended with the snake slowly slithering back in the direction of the park,’ David said.”

One Facebook commenter suggested that, in the manner of Hollywood stars drawing unwanted attention, the hawk is saying, “No pictures, please.”

Here’s a more informed explanation by Greg Pauly of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum.

The posting also brought out this even more spectacular photo Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Kill or Be Killed | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Treetop Alligators

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 11, 2014

This is a deeply disturbing idea.  Imagine paddling down a stream and looking up to see an alligator or crocodile looking down.  Check out the press release:

treetop alligatorWhen most people envision crocodiles and alligators, they think of them waddling on the ground or wading in water — not climbing trees. However, a University of Tennessee, Knoxville, study has found that the reptiles can climb trees as far as the crowns.

Vladimir Dinets, a research assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, is the first to thoroughly study the tree-climbing and -basking behavior. The research is published in the journal Herpetology.

Dinets and his colleagues observed crocodilian species on three continents — Australia, Africa and North America — and examined previous studies and anecdotal observations. They found that four species climbed trees — usually above water — but how far they ventured upward and outward varied by their sizes. The smaller crocodilians were able to climb higher and further than the larger ones. Some species were observed climbing as far as four meters high in a tree and five meters down a branch.

“Climbing a steep hill or steep branch is mechanically similar, assuming the branch is wide enough to walk on,” the authors wrote. “Still, the ability to climb vertically is a measure of crocodiles’ spectacular agility on land.”

The crocodilians seen climbing trees, whether at night or during the day, were skittish of being approached, jumping or falling into the water when an approaching observer was as far as 10 meters away. This response led the researchers to believe that the tree climbing and basking are driven by two conditions Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Kill or Be Killed | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »

Best Commuter Show on Earth (Not Nice for Dolphins)

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 4, 2014

This video just went up, showing what commuters saw from a ferry yesterday in British Columbia.  Here’s the story from the Vancouver Sun:

An increase in transient killer whales and white-sided dolphins in the Strait of Georgia led to a rare sighting of an attack between the two mammals on Monday near Nanaimo.Travellers on board a BC Ferry were stunned as they Read the rest of this entry »

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Man Versus Wild. Wild Wins.

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 4, 2014

The lead on Todd Masson’s story in today’s New Orleans Times-Pacayune caught my attention:

Chris Morris’ handle on a popular Louisiana hunting-and-fishing forum is “Chris Morris vs. Wild.”

On Sunday, Wild won.

Morris is apparently a hunter with a not particularly enlightened world view.  He was out squirrel hunting on Sunday, and ran into a big surprise:

Morris was moving in the general direction of the squirrel when his attention was diverted immediately and permanently from the small rodent. A 140-pound feral boar had heard Morris’ approach and jumped up from its bed only 8 feet away.

“I turned and looked, and by the time I saw it, it was 6 feet away and closing,” Morris said.

Such situations are not uncommon Read the rest of this entry »

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Tonight, You Sleep With The Starving Pigs

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 18, 2014


Nothing like a colorful murder with Saturday morning breakfast (ah, the bacon and eggs).  Here’s the report from Claudio Lavanga at NBC News:

An Italian mobster fed a rival gangster to starving pigs — and then marveled at how the victim screamed and how the swine gorged themselves, police say.

The gruesome tale — right out the movie “Hannibal” — came to light when police released a wiretapped phone call by Simone Pepe, a member of the ‘Ndrangheta, the most powerful and violent of Italy’s four Mafias.

The caller recounts how he used an iron bar to Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Kill or Be Killed, The Primate File | 1 Comment »

Holy Crap! These Are Some Scary Slave Raiders

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 11, 2014


These modern slave-raiders work on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, up around Traverse City, Michigan, and the secret of their success is traveling light and quick.  They also employ chemical camouflage and have a deft way of murdering anyone that gets in their way.

European researchers discovered this astonishing behavior.  They’ve named the species Temnothorax pilagens, from pilere (Latin): to pluck, plunder or pillage. The paper is just out in the open access journal ZooKeysHere’s the press release

In contrast to the famous slave-hunting Amazon Ants whose campaigns may include up to 3000 warriors, the new slave-maker is minimalistic in expense, but most effective in result. The length of a “Pillage Ant” is only two and a half millimeters and the range of action of these slave-hunters restricts to a few square meters of forest floor. Targets of their raiding parties are societies of two related ant species living within hollow nuts or acorns. These homes are castles in the true sense of the word — characterized by thick walls and a single entrance hole of only 1 millimeter in diameter, they cannot be entered by any larger enemy ant.

An average raiding party of the Pillage Ant contains four slave-hunters only, including the scout who had discovered the target. Due to their small size the raiders easily penetrate the slave species home. A complete success of raiding is achieved by a combination of two methods: chemical camouflage and artistic rapier fencing.

The observed behavior is surprising as invasion of alien ants in an ant nest often results in fierce, Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Biodiversity, Fear & Courage, Kill or Be Killed | 4 Comments »

Mystery of the War Elephants Solved

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 10, 2014

This artist's explanation was that North African forest elephants (left) are smaller than Indian elephants (right). (Source: )

This artist’s explanation was that
North African forest elephants (left) are smaller than Indian elephants (right). (Source: )

Scholars have been arguing almost forever over the “War of the Elephants,” which took place in 217 B.C. between Ptolemy IV, King of Egypt, and Antiochus III the Great, whose kingdom reached from modern-day Turkey to Pakistan.

The battle (also known as the Battle of Raphia) took place in what is now Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on the border between present-day Egypt and Israel. It was the only known battle in which Asian and African elephants faced off against each other.  The great mystery, until now, was why historical accounts described the African elephants as smaller and less powerful than their Asian counterparts.

That never made much sense because we know that the largest African savannah elephants are bigger on average by about a half meter and 1000 kilograms. The historical account said Ptolemy, leading the army with the African elephants, had commandeered his elephants from what is now Eritrea, on the Red Sea, home to the northernmost population of savannah elephants. Some scholars (and the unknown artist for the illustration above) argued that he had obtained African forest elephants rather than savannah elephants.  Forest elephants are a closer match in size with Asian elephants, and research has recently demonstrated that they are a separate species from savannah elephants.

So did Eritrea have forest or savannah elephants?

Now a study in The Journal of Heredity proposes Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Biodiversity, Fear & Courage, Kill or Be Killed | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Fish Leaps, Takes Down Bird on The Wing

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 9, 2014

O.k., in recent months we’ve seen an eagle tackling a saiga deer, and an Australian wedge-tailed eagle carrying off a fox.

Now comes proof that, while birds may be dinosaurs once removed, even a fish will now and then take one down.

Here’s the report from Daniel Cressy at Nature:

1.14496-ALAMY-AWKWNFThe waters of the African lake seem calm and peaceful. A few migrant swallows flit near the surface. Suddenly, leaping from the water, a fish grabs one of the famously speedy birds straight out of the air.

“The whole action of jumping and catching the swallow in flight happens so incredibly quickly that after we first saw it, it took all of us a while to really fully comprehend what we had just seen,” says Nico Smit, director of the Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

After the images did sink in, he adds, “the first reaction was one of pure joy, because we realized that we were spectators to something really incredible and unique”.

Read the full account here.

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A Snake That Ate Dinosaurs

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 23, 2013


The photo of the actual fossil (on the left) is a little inscrutable for non-paleontologists. So the picture above diagrams the action.














This is a pretty exciting fossil, found near Dholi Dungri in Gujarat, western India.  It’s not new, but I just happened to come across it while browsing around the web.  Here’s the authors’ account from their 2010 article in PLOS Biology:

Snakes first appear in the fossil record towards the end of the dinosaur era, approximately 98 million years ago. Snake fossils from that time are fragmentary, usually consisting of parts of the backbone. Relatively complete snake fossils preserving skulls and occasionally hindlimbs are quite rare and have only been found in marine sediments in Afro-Arabia and Europe or in terrestrial sediments in South America. Early snake phylogeny remains controversial, in part because of the paucity of early fossils.

We describe a new 3.5 meter-long snake from the Late Cretaceous of western India that is preserved in an extraordinary setting—within a sauropod dinosaur nest, coiled around an egg and adjacent the remains of a ca. 0.5 meter-long hatchling.

Other snake-egg associations at the same site suggest that the new snake frequented nesting grounds and preyed on hatchling sauropods. We named this new snake Sanajeh indicus because of its provenance and its somewhat limited oral gape. Sanajeh broadens the geographical distribution of early snakes and helps resolve their phylogenetic affinities. We conclude that large body size and jaw mobility afforded some early snakes a greater diversity of prey items than previously suspected.

So was the fossil just an accidental association? Or were snakes really raiding dinosaur nests back then?

Multiple lines of evidence suggest that the snake-dinosaur association preserved at Dholi Dungri was the result of preservation of organisms “caught in the act” rather than a postmortem accumulation of independently transported elements. First, the pose of the snake with its skull resting atop a coil encircling a crushed egg is not likely to have resulted from the transport of two unassociated remains. Second, the high degree of articulation of the snake, hatchling, and crushed egg, as well as the excellent preservation of delicate cranial elements and intact, relatively undeformed eggs rule out substantial transport and are indicative of relatively rapid and deep burial.

Posted in Kill or Be Killed, Sex & Reproduction | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »


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