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.”)

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.

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
  • S Turner

    On February 19, I watched a NOVA/National Geographic program on honey badgers. A few minutes into the program, a statement was made that honey badgers are not actually badgers, but weasels … I found this confusing … aren’t all badgers members of the mustelidae family, which also includes weasels? Are honey badgers actually badgers or not?

  • bikerpilotdanny

    For the anglerfish, if the male ends up morphed into the female, when does the actual “intercourse” begin? If it was a perpetual pleasure down to the last cell, it wouldn’t be so bad for the poor male fish.

  • Matt

    We hear of occasional stories of dolphins saving a swimmer, but we don’t seem to hear about any who take a hapless victim further out to sea. Does this happen?

  • Christie Day

    Progress has been made with creating tooth material that genetically matches human teeth needed for implant. Could this technology be used to create authentic elephant and rhino tusk material to help break up the black market for tusks?

  • Grace M.

    Since this is about asking weird animal questions. Why is it that there is only one specie of toxic cuttlefish? All the other species of cuttlefish aren’t toxic, but the flamboyant cuttlefish is.

  • Liz Langley

    Excellent questions! Looking forward to tackling some of these on the blog next week & in the future! Thanks!

  • patty

    What do the giant centipedes of Madagascar eat?

    Thanks, Patty

  • Robert C Brooke

    There is a park down the road where I live with two ponds.On several occasions when walking my dog in the morning or afternoon,I’ve seen a male belted kingfisher.Are males more likely to be seen?

  • Tristan

    Which insect or animal is the Don Juan of the wild kingdom? Who is the counterpart to a Denzel or Brad Pitt? (The Thelma and Louise-era Brad Pitt, not the “Now that I’ve bagged Angelina I don’t need to put any effort into grooming myself version”).

    Anyway, which one makes the ladies’ wings flutter or fur fly – and doesn’t end up getting their head eaten or being absorbed into their mate?

  • Bernice Spurger

    Can you tell me why a wild rabbit would dig a hole about 1/2
    as long as it is, store dead oleander leaves in it and then cover it up completely. Even spreading the decorative rock
    back where they were originally. If four of us hadn’t watched
    this procedure we would have thought we were imagining
    things. Even though we knew right where it was done we
    couldn’t see any trace of disturbance.

  • Yaman

    Why would not a spider stick to its lwn web? Why are thet always able to walk around their web but other insects get sticked immediately?

  • Liz Langley

    @S Turner
    @Grace M.
    Thanks for the great questions! We answered them in this week’s Weird Animal Questions (link below)!
    Hope everyone will keep leaving questions on the comments or send me questions on Twitter! 🙂

  • Tristan

    Last weekend I was doing a project in my garage when I hear a “thump!” on the roof. A moment later, a bird landed on the driveway. Moments later, a prey bird (hawk?) swooped down, picked up the bird in its talons, and flew off. So, that started me thinking, “What other animal has their own species as a regular item on the buffet?” I’m not talking about animals who eat their young to prevent future competition or animals who will resort to cannibalism if they’re starving to death (e.g. rats and soccer teams). Just animals, like this prey bird, who don’t make the distinction between “us” and “them” when they’re feeling a bit peckish.

  • Liz Langley

    @Christie Day

    Thank you for the questions! They were answered in last week’s Weird Animal Questions column. 🙂

    Hope everyone will keep sending questions!


  • Liz Langley
  • Liz Langley


    Your questions were answered in “Weird Animal Questions: Love in the Animal Kingdom” 🙂

  • Liz Langley

    @Bernice Sprunger
    Hello Bernice! It took awhile but I got an answer to your question! Here it is on “Weird Animal Questions: Animal Nests Explained”

  • Lori Wright

    My friend brought home a bag of mixed bird seed in a plastic bag and put it on a shelf in the garage. She found a small hole when she grabbed it later on and found the seed had been placed in strange places behind other items on the shelf. The strange thing is the Mixed seed had been separated into two totally separate piles. The black Millet seed was in another area from the smaller round seed. They continue to find areas of one type of seed in one bag and one type seed in a separate place. They haven’t seen any droppings, what kind of animal could be doing this?

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