New to Nat Geo: Ask Your Weird Animal Questions

Do you have a cuckoo question about cuckoos? Is a question about monkeys driving you ape? Want some crazy answers about crazy ants?

Welcome to our inaugural column of Ask Your Weird Animal Questionswhere we give you a chance to satiate your curiosity about the wild world. Don’t be shy—ask your questions below in the comments or tweet me at @LizLangley.

For our first installment we’ve taken queries from reader comments, starting with MAC in Michigan, who asked about the reproductive lives of anglerfish in the story “7 Demonic Creatures: Thorny Devil, Satanic Gecko, More.”

Q. How do they avoid the usual consequences of inbreeding—i.e., the mom fish using the sperm of her male offspring?

A. Glad you asked, MAC, because anglerfish have a love life so weird they make everyone else’s seem downright unimaginative. (Watch video: “Weird Killer of the Deep.”)

Picture of a black devil anglerfish
A female humpback black devil dangles a bioluminescent lure. Photograph by Edith Widder, Orca

The males, who are much smaller than the females, sniff out a mate and give her the love bite of a lifetime, hanging on until an enzyme fuses his body into hers. He will gradually melt into her until there’s nothing left but sperm, which she will be able to use as needed to fertilize her eggs.

She’ll release potentially millions of eggs on bands of mucus, which float out into the open ocean where the eggs hatch. So while it’s true that the males are tiny compared to the females, that doesn’t mean they are her offspring.

Good thing: Between mucus rafts and melted mates, the anglerfish needn’t hog up any more weird.

Nilantha Aajeewa of Kalawana, Sri Lanka, wrote in last fall asking for help identifying a reptile after reading about zoologist Ruchira Somaweera and his study of the horned lizards of Sri Lanka.

Q. It had two horns on the both sides of its head and had a fin-like thing around its neck. [It] also had a line on its back like teeth of a saw. It had a wonderful titanium blue colour body and its legs and tail were dark blackish blue. It could wrap branches by its tail …”

A. We consulted with Somaweera, who thinks Aaejeewa may have seen a reptilian rainbow known as the hump-nosed lizard, Lyriocephalus scutatus. “It is the only lizard that could be considered to have two horns on the sides,” Somaweera says.

A photo of a hump-nosed lizard.
The hump-nosed lizard. Photograph by Ruchira Somaweera

Hope we found it! Check out more lizards on Somaweera’s website of Sri Lankan reptiles.

Commenting on a story about a new species of tapir discovered recently in the Amazon, Wise from South Africa asked:

Q. How come a huge animal like a tipir [sic] was not seen in the forest?

A. Actually the animal had been seen before by locals and indigenous hunters who helped researchers identify it. Often animals may be known to many but not yet scientifically recorded by scientists as a separate species.

For example, in his book Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape, primatologist Franz de Waal points out that bonobos weren’t declared a separate species from chimpanzees until 1929. (Watch video: “Bonobo Love.”)

A photo of a Chimpanzee, left and a Bonobo, right.
The chimpanzee (left) and the bonobo look very similar. Left photograph by Michael Nichols, National Geographic. Right photograph by Christian Ziegler, National Geographic

A lot of species are also determined with sophisticated DNA techniques, like this new species of humpback dolphin that was hiding in plain sight in Australia.

Last, as the stunning number of annual new-species discoveries attests, some animals are just plain good at not being seen.

Frank Smit from Groningen, The Netherlands wrote in with great question from our story “5 Animals That Regrow Body Parts.

Q. Do you have a theory why it is mostly sea animals that are able to regrow?

While many land animals regenerate body parts, such as deer and their antlers, it does seem that many regenerating animals are aquatic, like sea stars, tunicates, and salamanders.

A photo of a starfish
A starfish on a rock on the coast of Washington State. Photograph by William Dorton, National Geographic Your Shot

We got back in touch with our source, Otto C. Guedelhoefer, who told us that aquatic critters don’t actually regenerate more than other groups, but there are reasons why we’d think that.

For instance, some aquatic species simply regenerate easily and often like sea stars, while other species may take longer or have more trouble—so we may think of the super-regenerators more often.

Guedelhoefer added that aquatic creatures tend to pop up more “simply because more biologists chose to spend their days collecting on the beach rather than digging in the mud,” he says.

Check out this study by Alexa Bely of the University of Maryland on the evolution of regeneration for a good look at how widespread regeneration is. It’s a fascinating subject that can’t help generating—and regenerating—many more questions.

What burning animal questions do you want answered? Comment below!

Follow Liz Langley on Facebook and Twitter.

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Liz Langley is the award-winning author of Crazy Little Thing: Why Love and Sex Drive Us Mad and has written for many publications including Salon, Details and the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @LizLangley and at www.lizlangley.com