Spotted Hyena: The Clown of Class Mammalia

Hyenas got a real bad rep in Disney’s The Lion King. They’re the top scavengers of the African savannah though they do also hunt and bring down prey, and they are largely known for two things: for laughing and for turning the notion of “patriarchy” on its head!

For a long time, the species was believed to be hermaphrodite, as back at the beginning of the 19th century, early explorers saw that their caged “male” hyenas could actually give birth. The clitoris of the female hyena is so large that it is indistinguishable from the male hyena‘s penis. In addition, they have a fake scrotum made by the enlarged joined vulva, and pseudo-testes filled with fatty tissue.

Why, you ask? Female spotted hyenas carry higher levels of testosterone than the males in their blood; indeed every clan is a matriarchy ruled by an alpha female. The hyena vagina is actually sealed shut, so one consequence of this is that 1 in 10 females actually die during childbirth.

As for the reputation for cackling, hyenas don’t actually laugh because they’re happy. The cries that sound like laughter are actually signs of agitation and aggression, especially during feeding.

Speaking of feeding, this is what hyena poop looks like. It’s totally white. Why? Because they eat EVERYTHING – including bones.

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Hyena poop smacks of white privilege (haha)

Marabou Stork: Whitewashing

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Marabou Stork with a 10ft wingspan. Here’s a gross and racist fact: its name comes from “marabout,” which is an Arabic term that means a Muslim religious leader or preacher. Later, the French adopted the word to mean “ugly, misshapen old man or priest,” which shows you what the French thought of the aesthetic appeal of imams.

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That bulging throat sac that resembles a large hairy testicle is for thermoregulation, and its bald head hints at its diet – like a vulture, this stork eats mainly carrion.

Notice its white legs? The Marabou Stork poops down its own legs, Mikael Ekvall-style (who I deeply respect, by the way: http://newsfeed.gawker.com/what-happened-to-the-runner-who-…). This is called “whitewashing” which changes the color of their normally black legs to white. No, it’s not incontinence, nor is it some weird mating habit – this is another way for the bird to cool itself down.

So next time you are hot and stuffy, you know what to do

Cicadas: Cicadian Rhythms

Summer in Japan is always associated with semi, or in English, the cicada. They provide the soundtrack of summer, with the males chirping incessantly to attract a mate. Some species hit 120 decibels, equivalent to standing in the front row of an AC/DC concert.

Cicada nymphs spend years below ground and emerge when the soil temperature gets warm enough, molting in the process, leaving a vacant shell behind. Because of their apparent ability to reborn, cicadas have come to represent resurrection and immortality in many cultures. In Taoism, they are symbols of tsien, the soul that leaves the body at death.

Fun fact: some species of cicada match their yearly life cycles to prime numbers. The reason for this mathematical precision is to avoid even-numbered and therefore predictable breeding cycles, which their predators could match. By ensuring that trillions hatch on a single evening, but at unpredictable times, they literally swamp their predators who gorge themselves until they can’t face anymore, without damaging the cicada population. The 13- and 17-year cycles only coincide once every 221 years.

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Ghost in the shell?