As humans, we think we’re pretty smart. Just look at all the buildings, technology and weapons we’ve created. Mother Nature has a way of quietly putting us in our place, however. She constantly reminds us that although we know millions of facts about thousands of species, we really don’t know squat.
Even some of the most recognizable and most-loved animals on the planet are embroiled in mysteries that science has only just begun to unravel. Don’t believe me? Here are five amazing things we only just figured out about animals that most of us could name in an instant.
5 Recently Solved Animal Mysteries That Prove We Know Nothing
1. Zebra Stripes – Scientists have always assumed that zebra stripes were a sort of camouflage (it was thought that when the zebra was running, the stripes helped to confused predators), but a new study has proven that theory less than credible. The research, published in late 2013, found that the stripes actually protect zebras against biting flies.
2. Ceiling-Walking Spiders – We’ve observed spiders climbing up vertical walls and even upside down across ceilings hundreds of times, but it was only recently that we figured out how arachnids perform this gravity-defying feat. In early 2014, scientists discovered that spiders have thousands of small hairs at the end of their legs. These “tiny hairs create multiple contact points between the spider and the surface that increase the spider’s ability to hang on,” writes Carrie Arnold for NatGeo.
3. Pulsating Coral – We’ve been studying these incredibly important ocean creatures since the 19th century, but it was only recently that we figured out why many species pulsate–continually opening and closing their flower-like heads. With the help of an imaging device that allowed them to see down to the particle level, scientists learned that “the movement stops waste water from building up around the corals. They also found that the oxygen levels in the water around corals were kept low by the movement, increasing the efficiency of photosynthesis in algae that the corals use for food,” reports Listverse.
4. Baby Crustacean With No Parents – Babies look like miniature adult humans. Infant chickens, rabbits, horses and even elephants are the same. But for years, an oceanic creature first identified by a marine scientist in 1828 has baffled scientists by (apparently) only existing as larvae. Try as they might, scientists just couldn’t figure out what this monster larva matured into as an adult. It was late 2012 that collaborative research revealed that this larval creature with armor-like horns grows up (somewhat ironically) to be a shrimp.
5. Bumblebee Flight – Ahhh the bumble bee. We’ve all heard this insect held up as a metaphor for miracles. Although it was claimed that the bumble bee defies all laws of physics and shouldn’t be able to fly, “no one told the bee” or so the saying goes. Apparently, this was just a myth started by a researcher who judged the insect as if it were an airplane. Which it of course isn’t. The actual story of how bumble bees achieve liftoff is an incredible one involving lasers and tiny invisible hurricanes. And LOTS of physical laws, all of which remain unbroken.
All images via Thinkstock except for Cerataspis monstrosa, via D.L. Felder and FIU