Dogs are man's best friend, they say, a relationship that goes back tens of thousands of years – but make no mistake, their ancestor is not your ally. Science has brought some wondrous features of the animal world to light in 2021, including the revelation that you can raise a wolf pup on your knee but shouldn't get cocky; cats can speak, and so can naked mole rats – with roughly the same outcome; how rockfish can live for centuries; and so much more, including why we can't move to Mars, a revelation courtesy of fruit flies in outer space.
There's a lot of sentimentality out there about wolves, but there's a reason why Jack London named his book "White Fang" – they're not dogs, and it has now been scientifically demonstrated: wolves do not make good pets. Dogs make good pets.
Dogs descended from wolves, a relationship that goes back tens of thousands of years, yet they became good pets. How did this begin, one wonders? Hint: it gets very cold in Siberia and meat was likely involved. Then they and we discovered that co-hunting made more sense than competition. But don't try this with your Shih Tzu.
Cats in fact have a wide range of vocalizations and, in contrast to the prevailing but erroneous assumption, they may ask for help, sometimes, if they're in the mood – and you are. Yes, they are good pets, too. Cats are good. Do not parse "good."
In fact studying language (of sorts) in animals has become all the rage – long gone are the days people snidely assumed that only humans can speak. The eternally youthful, xenophobic little wonder known as the naked mole rat lives in subterranean colonies and wouldn't you know, each colony has its own dialect and they don't like the members of other colonies.
Naked mole rats are not good pets. Some think that millipedes are good pets. Well, it takes all types – and here's some good news for that type! Finally science found a true millipede that actually has more than 1,000 legs. Until now the leggiest millipede had only 750 legs – how embarrassing. But the newly discovered arthropod might not be a good pet, less because it looks like a worm and more because it lives deep underground. In Australia.
Gin a body meet a body, comin thro' the rye, and one of the bodies is furry, black and white, looks back at you and stands on its hands with its enchanting tail bewitchingly waving in the air – don't just stand there mesmerized and definitely don't annoy it. It may be a previously unrecognized species of hand-standing skunk that had remained unrecognized by science because people shy from studying animals whose shared secretions can turn you into a social pariah.
Indeed the insect that died in the Eocene era in Colorado was very small, but he was so extraordinarily preserved that we can still see the stripes on his little legs, and an extra treat between them.
About 35,000 years ago a cave bear died in Siberia, and it was not a heart attack. Speculation of ritual murder must remain just that, but there is that hole in its head that cries out for interpretation. Meanwhile in prehistoric Mexico, we learn, bears did not relieve themselves only in the woods.
Cephalopods in general and octopi in particular are so smart and different from all other life that some, even scientists, speculated that they are from outer space. Apparently that is not so: they are different because they split off whatever family tree they split off from over half a billion years ago. You, puny human, have been evolving for perhaps – max – half a million years. All hail the cephalopod.
The longest-lived among us humans may live 100 years. We probably won't, though. Rockfish can live for centuries. Now a genetic study reveals how that is. Meanwhile, a very different sea creature has a rather different solution to the vicissitudes of life – no losing a mere tail or arm, this mollusk can sever its own head from its body and grow a new body. Creepy? Nah, the creepy thing is that the headless body may live on for months...
Unsurvivable heat spikes. Snow drifts meters high, howling storms, multiple vortex tornado blitzes, "rivers in the sky" – and just when you thought you had survived all that, along comes a beaver or some other burrowing mammal, digs a tunnel into your dirt levee and Bob's your underwater uncle. Scientists warn that when calculating the lifetime of levees one must factor in burrowing animals, which can shorten the prospective lifetime of said levee by more than 90 percent.
If you are a mongoose, you do not know who your mother is – which creates a more egalitarian society.
How many stories involve showing movies to spiders who are suspended over really small treadmills? Read this one.
It's official: lady bats feel colder than man bats, lending credence to shivering women everywhere griping about the air conditioning. In fact the fruit bats team of Tel Aviv University has had many a revelation about the aviating mammals, including how they survive so well in Israel's hectic cities –sheer chutzpah – and how they weather pandemics for which they are wrongly blamed. All hail the bat!
Peak metal and budget constraints aside, fruit flies in space have finished off the dream of colonizing Mars. The unfortunate insects were shown to have suffered from spectacular heart damage under conditions of zero gravity. Adding to a host of other studies showing that space travel is really unhealthy, perhaps it's time to stop fantasizing about warp drives and concentrate on saving what we have: Earth.