From a shark with a sex organ on its head to a spider with a flashing disco ball, we rounded up Earth’s oddest offerings of the year.
They discover this two-headed blue shark fetus inside its mother in 2008 off Australia.
LONGEST-LIVED VERTEBRATE MAY LIVE 500 YEARS
A Greenland shark swims under the ice in Lancaster Sound off Nunavut, Canada.
It’s no fish tale: The Greenland shark is the longest-lived vertebrate on the planet, an August study found.
The animal, native to the cold, deep waters of the North Atlantic, can live to at least 272 years—and possibly to the ripe old age of 500.
“We had an expectation that they would be very long-lived animals, but I was surprised that they turned out to be as old as they did,” says study leader Julius Nielsen, a biologist at the University of Copenhagen.
EXTREMELY RARE WHITE GIRAFFE SPOTTED
Talk about a head-turner: They spotted an extremely rare white giraffe calf in January in Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park.
Scientists at the New Hampshire-based wildlife-research group Wild Nature Institute originally reported the newborn Masai giraffe calf in 2015, around the time a local tour guide named her Omo, after a popular local brand of detergent.
Omo isn’t albino; she has a genetic condition called leucism, says Derek Lee, founder of the institute. Her skin cells don’t produce pigmentation, but soft tissues, such as her dark eyes, do.
CATERPILLAR DRUMS ITS ANUS TO FIND FRIENDS
A group of masked birch caterpillars hang out on a leaf, possibly communicating via vibration.
When it comes to finding new friends, this caterpillar busts its butt—literally.
Scientists already knew that masked birch caterpillars rub hairs on their rear ends against a leaf to create vibrations.
But research described in April suggests that the pepper-grain-size insects use so-called anal drumming to beckon other young caterpillars to join their silken shelters. (See “Giant Sea Cucumber Eats With Its Anus.”)
DISCO SPIDER PULSATES WITH BAFFLING COLOR
Regularly photographed in Singapore, the creature’s pulsating designs are proving a tricky puzzle to solve. Scientists don’t know how the arachnid, in the genus Cyrtarachne, produces the internal movements, let alone what purpose it might serve.
“I haven’t seen anything like it,” Linda Rayor, a spider biologist at Cornell University, said in December. “Really, it is bizarre and interesting.”
TWO-HEADED SHARKS KEEP POPPING UP
Most two-headed sharks don’t survive birth.
Two-headed sharks may sound like a figment of the big screen, but they exist—and more are turning up worldwide, scientists say.
No one knows why more two-headed sharks are showing up, but some suspect that overfishing is reducing the gene pool, leading to genetic abnormalities. Others suggest simply that there are more scientific journals around to publish accounts.
WHY THIS ANIMAL’S PEE SMELLS LIKE BUTTERED POPCORN
Binturongs, or bearcats—neither bears nor cats—are Southeast Asian mammals whose urine has a movie-theater aroma.
The compound is the same substance that gives fresh popcorn its yummy smell, according to the study’s scientists. When a popcorn kernel is heated, the proteins and sugars create a chemical reaction that in turn forms 2-AP.
SPIDER THAT LOOKS LIKE A LEAF
This orb-weaving spider, native to southwestern China, is the first one known to mimic a leaf.
The arachnid uses its silk to attach leaves to tree branches and then hides among the branches, according to a November study in the Journal of Arachnology. The researchers still aren’t sure why the spider does this, but they believe it’s likely to hide from predators or sneak up on prey.