Sometimes you need to dress to impress a potential mate—or rival. Mostly, you need to fade into the background so you don’t get eaten.
It doesn’t make sense that octopuses can camouflage themselves so well—because they can’t see any of the colours they’re matching.
But what has their colour-changing ability got to do with their tendency towards violence?
How do animals know where they’re going? Humans have been puzzling over the mysteries of migration and navigation for centuries, and our ideas about it have gone from absolutely wild to only slightly less so.
Faeces have a lot to teach us. They can reveal secrets about the lives of extinct animals, and the troubles of endangered ones. Eating dung can give animals a nutrient boost—while in the oceans, a deluge of plankton poo powers the entire carbon cycle.
Adults have complained about teenagers since the dawn of time, but it turns out evolution has good reasons for giving adolescents deep-seated social insecurity and a propensity to take silly risks. Just like humans, animals go through ‘wildhood’—a time of experimentation, creativity, danger and learning.
Some animals are ephemeral. Others are almost eternal. Some age gracefully, while others self-destruct. Why are some creatures here for a good time, and others for a long time?
Fish taste with their fins. Butterflies taste with their legs. Octopuses taste with everything. Cats can’t taste sugar. So, why do humans taste only with their tongues, when there are taste receptors all over the human body?
Evolution is an arms race writ large—nature red in tooth and claw. With each generation, predators and prey refine their aggressive weapons and defensive armour, while males wield increasingly strange appendages in their battles over mating rights.
Moths, sharks, seahorses, stick insects, crab spiders and spider crabs all use different forms of disguise to hide from those who want to eat them—or to better ambush their prey. What can we learn from them?
Almost all animals sleep—insects, mammals, even jellyfish and sponges. Some of them even dream. But what is sleep for, and how has it shaped us?
Electric eels are living batteries that taser their prey with 860-volt jolts. Sharks use electricity like an extra sense to see fish and sneak up on them. Spiders fly using the atmosphere’s electric charge, and bumblebees and flowers communicate through their personal electric fields. How else does the natural world use electricity?