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When nature is weird

on Apr 24, 2018

One thing I absolutely love about nature is how it keeps us guessing! Our natural world seems to break the rules and we often get the opportunity to observe some pretty bizarre things. At first glance many things seem unusual or even crazy but from nature’s point of view, it all forms part of a greater plan. Still, the following phenomena have often left people scratching their heads...

01Terry Ennever POW Hyena Focus Final

Sometimes I think horror movies get their inspiration from nature. Have you ever heard about a spider-hunting wasp? These brutal insects have developed a strategy where they can keep their eggs safe and the larvae can be fed when they hatch. They do this by “hunting” ground-dwelling spiders. They sting and paralyse the arachnid before digging a hole and burying it in the ground. Terrible right? That is only the beginning. They lay their eggs in the spider and when they hatch, the larvae feed on the spider from the inside out! The wasp’s plan is not to kill the spider with its venom as it still requires the meat to be “fresh”. Lovely!

02Sheldon Hooper Spider Wasp 11 06 17 Final

Nothing in nature is wasted... including faeces! Some animals eat the waste products of others (coprophagia) such as the Hooded Vulture feeding on carnivore scat. Others need to unfortunately eat their own droppings! Scrub hares are undoubtedly one of the cutest animals in the bush but their habits may make you reconsider. These lagomorphs have a poor digestive system and are not able to extract all the nutrients (the first time) from their vegetative diet. Thus, once the hares have done their “business”, they immediately turn around and eat it! The food passes through their gut a second time and comes out as a well digested, dull-coloured pellet. Bon appetit!

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Sometimes dung is not eaten but rather used in yet another peculiar way. Leopards roll in dung (mostly from buffalo) and it is speculated that this masks their scent when on a hunt. Clever cats!

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Let’s talk about another adorable animal... the bushbaby! These small primates top the list for many! I’m sure you wouldn’t want to pick them up anymore if I told you how they mark their territory... by urinating on their hands!! The strong scent remains intact as they cling and jump effortlessly from branch to branch, successfully demarcating their territories.

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The last thing I think of that should go into a giraffe’s mouth - is a bone! This is however a common sight as we often watch how these beautiful animals pick up bones and suck on them. It’s an incredibly entertaining spectacle as the giraffe maneuvers the old bone (sometimes quite a large one) through its mouth. It all happens for a good reason though as giraffes obtain extra calcium needed to keep those large bones strong and healthy!

06Kevan Dobbie Giraffe Bone 1 Final

Back to another sort of horror story... there is a certain species of fungus which uses certain ants as their host for reproduction. The spores of the fungus enter the ant’s brain and changes its perception of pheromones. This causes the ant to climb to the top of a grass blade and hook its mandibles in the leaf. From here the fungus absorbs the ant’s brain and kills it. Not the best way to die I suppose! The spores spread out of the ant and enter another to complete its lifecycle. Wow!

07Kyle New Grass Grow 15 Dec Final

Physiologically, some animals also just don’t make sense. The best example is the Spotted Hyena. They have unusually long legs with short hindquarters. This is an adaptation to walk far distances in the search of food without tiring. They live in a matriarchal society where all females outrank males and are much larger too! To make things that extra bit stranger, female hyenas have a penis-like organ which has led many people to believe that they are hermaphrodites. This is not the case. The foetus is exposed to high levels of testosterone when the mother is pregnant which stimulates the development of these male-like organs - which have no purpose! This doesn’t make our lives any easier when trying to tell the difference between male and female hyenas!

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As strange as this all may seem, it is clear that nature has its own way of doing things and everything has its purpose. We can only sit back and marvel at what our natural world has to offer.

Well, that’s it for the weird and wonderful... for now. Stay tuned for a follow-up blog in the near future!

09Jacques Smit Landscape Final
  • Blog by Chanyn-Lee Zeelie (Earth Lodge Ranger)
  • Images by Terry Ennever, Kevan Dobbie, Kyle Strautmann, Jacques Smit & Sheldon Hooper
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