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The Androgynous Lionesses of Botswana

Moremi Game Reserve, located in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, is home to a pride of butch lionesses with deep roars and bushy, luxurious manes. They look so much like male lions, they easily fool competing prides into believing that they’re actually males.

The maned lionesses are regularly spotted by visitors to the Mombo Safari Camp, an area within the Reserve where these wild beasts reside. Wildlife experts believe that the lion population in the area might have a genetic condition that causes the phenomenon. The seasonal flood waters of the delta could have isolated these lions for decades, forcing them to inbreed their way to a genetic mutation causing a hormonal imbalance.

When National Geographic contacted Luke Hunter, president of the big-cat conservation group Panthera, for answers, he explained that masculine females are likely to occur when the embryo is disrupted – either during conception or while in the womb. “If the former case, the genetic contribution of the sperm – which determines the sex of the fetus in most mammals – was probably aberrant, giving rise to a female with some male characteristics,” he said.

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Meet Hyperion, the World’s Tallest Tree

Up until August 2006, the tallest known tree in the world was a 369-foot California redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) nicknamed ‘Stratosphere Giant’, located somewhere in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park in California. To give you some idea about its massive size, that’s twice the height of the Statue of Liberty, minus the foundation.

But the Giant lost its status when two naturalists, Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor, stumbled upon group of trees in California’s Redwood National Park that were taller than any they’d ever seen before. They made preliminary measurements using professional laser equipment based on goniometry, and found not one, not two, but three trees that were taller than the Stratosphere Giant.

The tallest of the lot, named Hyperion, was found to be a good 10ft taller than the Giant, standing at a whopping a 379 ft. When Atkins and Taylor announced their discovery, a team of scientists led by Humboldt State University ecologist Steve Sillett arrived at the park to measure it again in September 2006. They were aiming for more accuracy, so they actually used a tape this time. They actually climbed to its very top and dropped the tape to the ground. The epic stunt was filmed for National Geographic.  

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These “Walking Trees” in Ecuador Can Allegedly Move Up to 20 Meters per Year

The Socratea exorrhiza is perhaps the world’s only mobile tree. They say its complicated system of roots also serves as legs, helping the tree constantly move towards sunlight as the seasons change. Walking trees can apparently move up to 2-3 cm per day, or 20 meters per year. That may not sound like much, but it’s pretty much a marathon by tree-standards.

Rainforest guides in Latin American countries like Ecuador have been telling tourists about the amazing walking trees for decades now. The most common version of the story is that the tree slowly ‘walks’ in search of the sun by growing new roots towards the light and allowing its old roots to die. The unusual roots, split from the trunk a few feet above the ground, add to the illusion of the tree having legs.

“As the soil erodes, the tree grows new, long roots that find new and more solid ground, sometimes up to 20m,” explained Peter Vrsansky, a palaeobiologist from the Slovak Academy of Sciences who lived for a few months in the Unesco Sumaco Biosphere Reserve, about a day’s journey from Ecuador’s capital Quito.

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Iconic “Tree of Life” in Kalaloch Is a Monument to Resilience

Located on an eroded, partially caved in cliff on Kalaloch beach, within Olympic National Park in Washington, the Tree of Life is stubbornly hanging on to the eroding soil with just a few of its roots. Some call it magical, others immortal, I just think it’s resilient. 

The roots in the middle are exposed and spread out, making it look like the tree is hanging on for dear life. And what’s truly surprising is that it has managed to survive this way for years, sprouting fresh green leaves despite its roots having very little contact with soil. It hasn’t toppled over, not even during the worst of storms that regularly hit the coast. While many other healthy trees in the area have succumbed to the unpredictable weather, the Tree of Life manages to survive, year after year.

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Tiny Bird Mimics Other Birds’ Warning Calls to Confuse Predators

Despite its tiny size, the brown thornbill is quite capable of protecting itself in the wild. Its survival strategy is simple yet effective – it scares other birds away by ‘crying hawk’!

It seems that most birds use certain calls to warn their kin of impending danger, especially when hawks and other birds of prey are approaching. The thornbill is not only aware of this fact, but can reproduce the danger signals of several species, including the much larger pied currawong. Predators are fooled by the false alarm, and the thornbill earns its chicks a few extra seconds to escape.

The thornbill’s talent for mimicry was discovered by researchers from the Australian National University (ANU). “I am amazed that such a tiny bird can mimic so many species, some much bigger than itself. It’s very cunning,” said one of the researchers, Dr. Branislav Igic.

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Abandoned Chinese Village Reclaimed by Nature Becomes Tourist Attraction

It really doesn’t take long for Mother Nature to reclaim her territory, slowly obliterating all signs of human occupation, if we only allow it. Case in point is the abandoned Chinese village of Houtou Wan which, within a span of 50 years, has become a beautiful secret garden completely covered in lush vegetation.  

Houtou Wan village is located on one of the 394 Shengsi Islands of China’s Yangtze River. It used to be a thriving fishing town a few decades ago, but it was gradually abandoned as the number of fishing vessels outgrew the size of the bay and the population was forced to relocate. All but a handful of villagers left Hotou Wan in the last half century, leaving nature to work her magic on the settlement. The result is nothing short of breathtaking.

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Moss Viewing – A Strange Yet Increasingly Popular Japanese Pastime

A lot of people walk by moss all the time, without even giving the time of day, but in Japan, they actually have this thing call moss viewing that involves going on trips to damp places and staring at moss for hours, as a means of relaxation.

According to Takeshi Ueno, a plant ecology expert at Tsuru University, the activity is particularly popular among women, because “they are rich in emotions”. “They can innocently enjoy changes in the shapes and colors of leaves, for example, so they are well-suited to moss viewing,” Ueno, who usually leads the moss viewing trips near Lake Shirakoma, added.

It all started in 2013, when Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryu Hotel in Aomori Prefecture introduced a one-night program that included an observation tour of the moss colonies in a riverside forest. It was an unsuspected success, and after the Bryological Society of Japan named the area around Lake Shirakoma a ‘precious moss-covered forest’, moss-viewing became a regular affair. The event has become so popular among female travelers that it is held about eight times a year.

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Harmless Caterpillar Mimics Menacing Snake Head to Fool Predators

Meet the Dynastor darius darius, a harmless caterpillar with astounding survival skills. In order to avoid being attacked by predators during its pupal stage (when the larvae transform into butterflies or moths), the helpless creature takes on the form of a rather menacing snake!

Native to Trinidad, the shape-shifting D. darius often mimics the head of a Gaboon pit viper, successfully fooling even the toughest of its predators. After it sheds its final layer of skin, the caterpillar enters its pupal stage, and its chrysalis takes the shape of a viper’s head. The transformation lasts 13 days, during which time this mimicry is its only line of defense. To make the appearance even more believable, the scary-looking chrysalis hangs on the underside of forest leaves at a carefully selected angle.

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Colorado Lake Becomes Giant Fish Bowl after Dumped Goldfish Multiply by the Thousands

Releasing pet fish into a lake might sound like a kind thing to do, but in fact, it is quite the opposite. Teller Lake in Boulder, Colorado, is making headlines for a bizarre surge in its goldfish population, after someone apparently dumped three or four of them in its waters a couple of years ago. The lake is now home to a whopping 3,000 to 4,000 goldfish that are putting its delicate ecosystem in danger.

The fish have multiplied beyond control – they’re eating up all the resources, spreading unnatural diseases, and threatening to overrun the lake’s natural species. Colorado wildlife officials say that humans are to blame.

“Dumping your pets into a lake could bring diseases to native animals and plants as well as out-compete them for resources,” said Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) spokesperson Jennifer Churchill. “Everything can be affected. Non-native species can potentially wipe out the fishery as we’ve put it together.”

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8-Year-Old Girl Feeds Neighborhood Crows, They Thank Her with Gifts

8-year-old Gabi Mann, from Seattle, has some very unusual friends who shower her with gifts almost every day. Ever since she started feeding her neighborhood crows, they began returning the favor and bringing back all kinds of trinkets.

Gabi’s unique relationship with the neighborhood crows began in 2011, when at age four, she was prone to dropping food. Soon, the crows were always watching for her, hoping to get a bite of the crumbs she dropped. As she got older, she began to feed them consciously – she would share her lunch with them on the way to the bus stop. It wasn’t long before crows were lining up in the afternoon to greet her at the stop.

In 2013, Gabi started feeding the birds regularly, instead of sharing her scraps with them. Along with her family, she would fill the birdbath in the backyard with fresh water every day, cover the bird feeder platforms with peanuts and throw handfuls of dog food on to the grass. Soon, the crows automatically lining up on the telephone lines, waiting for their treats.

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Fascinating Amazonian Bird Mimics Toxic Caterpillar to Fend Off Predators

While most young birds rely on their parents for protection, the chicks of the Amazonian Cinereous Mourner have their own survival tactic. In order to avoid being eaten by predators, they actually mimic poisonous caterpillars!

On hatching, the chicks are covered with bright orange, spiky feathers that make them look like massive caterpillars that use bright colors to warn predators of their toxicity. And to make their camouflage even more effective, they even writhe about much like caterpillars.

“These traits give it a resemblance to a hairy, aposematic caterpillar,” said Dr. Gustavo Londoño, a biologist at the University of California. “Because predation is the main cause of avian nest failure, selection should favor strategies that reduce the probability of nest predation. The caterpillar we encountered measured 12 cm, which closely matches the size of the L. hypopyrra nesting. The striking morphological similarity is the caterpillars’ orange ‘hairs’ with white tips, which match almost exactly the nestling’s elongated orange downy feather barbs with bright white tips.”

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Fascinating Viper Uses Its Realistic Spider-Shaped Tail to Lure Prey

As if snakes weren’t scary enough on their own, some apparently have spiders for tails to raise the horror factor to infinity . The aptly named ‘spider-tailed viper’ has a bizarre arachnid-shaped appendage that it uses to attract unsuspecting prey.

According to science writer Ed Yong, the fearsome snake was formally described only nine years ago, in Iran. Its existence has been known since the sixties, but because only one specimen had been spotted, its tail was dismissed as a deformity. However, further investigations in the area revealed the tail was actually a defining characteristic of a whole new species of snakes.

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Amazing Alaskan Wood Frog Freezes Solid in Winter and Comes Alive in Spring

There are several creatures that possess a certain tolerance to subzero temperatures, but none as amazing as the Alaskan Wood Frog. This tiny amphibian can survive being almost completely frozen during winter, only to miraculously come back to life as soon as spring arrives!

For days, even weeks weeks at a time during its period of winter hibernation, over 60 percent of the frog’s body freezes;  it stops breathing and its heart stops beating. Its physical processes like metabolic activity and waste production come to a halt. “For all intents and purposes, they are dead,” said Don Larson, a Ph.D. student at Fairbanks, Alaska. As per his research, wood frogs can survive long winters where temperatures range between -9C to -18C. In fact, it can go through 10 to 15 freeze/thaw cycles over the course of a single season.

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Scientists Use Calvin Klein Perfume to Attract Jaguars

While camera traps have been used in ecological research for decades, luring animals towards these traps requires constant innovation. And you’ll never believe what they’re now using to attract wild jaguars – Calvin Klein Obsession for Men!

According to Miguel Ordeñana, a biologist with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and an expert on camera traps, the idea belongs to a Bronx Zoo researcher who tried a bunch of different scents before discovering the jaguar’s affinity for Calvin Klein. What’s special about the cologne is that its two main ingredients – civetone and vanilla extract – create a combination that’s irresistible to these big cats.
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Beautiful “Skeleton Flower” Turns Transparent When It Rains

The Diphylleia grayi is a beautiful white flower that turns transparent upon contact with water. When it rains, the clusters of lovely blooms magically transform into glistening, crystal-like blossoms. Because of this amazing phenomenon, the Diphylleia grayi is commonly known as the ‘skeleton flower’.

The plant generally grows on moist, wooded mountainsides in the colder regions of Japan and China. It is recognizable by its large, umbrella-shaped leaves that are topped with small clusters of pearly white flowers. While the plant is perennial, and can grow up to a height of 0.4 meters, the flowers bloom from mid-spring to early-summer in shady conditions. As the petals of these flowers are soaked in water, they slowly begin to lose their white pigmentation, turning completely transparent over time. When dry, they return to their original white version.

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