They say that truth is stranger than fiction. And the same goes for nature. After all, the animal kingdom is chock full of bizarre creatures, whether we’re focusing on behaviors, diets, or looks, we can’t blame all the weirdness on animals alone. Sometimes the most fascinating stories involving critters are fueled by human activity.

Keep reading as we closely examine some of the most unique recent news about mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects.

Scientists Taught Parrots to Video Chat… Then, This Happened

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing parrots in the wild, you know birds of a feather flock together.  While many parrots have ended up stateside living single in cages, they haven’t necessarily gotten used to ruling the roost. In fact, you could say our beaked companions are lonely. Fortunately, a new scientific study has brought light to the situation while providing a potential solution. And we have technology to thank for it.

A group of researchers from the University of Glasgow, Northeastern University, and MIT presented their findings at the 2023 Conference on Human Factors. After teaching domesticated parrots how to video call other bird brains, they were amazed by the results. Study subjects came from Parrot Kindergarten, an online training program for pets and their owners. Scientists taught these birds to ring a bell. From there, they touched the image of another parrot, initiating a video call.

All told, 212 video calls resulted from this activity. Next, they let the animals run wild, dialing their friends as often as they wanted. This resulted in nearly 150 deliberate phone calls between birds and 1,000 hours of video footage. Ilyena Hirskyi-Douglas, co-author of the study, explains what happened next. “Some would sing, some would play around and go upside down, others would want to show another bird their toys.” In other words, they communicated individually, exhibiting behaviors similar to human society.

Mojave Max Is Fashionably Late in Sin City

Move over, Punxsutawney Phil! There’s a new weather predictor in town, and his popularity is growing by leaps and bounds. His name is Mojave Max, and he emerges from his winter burrow annually, predicting when spring will begin. The desert tortoise is the stuff of local lore, and he’s also become a favorite of schoolchildren in Las Vegas, Nevada.

He typically leaves his burrow anywhere between February 14th and April 17th, bringing to a close his cold weather slumber, known as brumation. But this year has marked a surprising exception. Arriving fashionably late on April 24th, he brought a girlfriend for the big debut at Springs Preserve. This is the latest he’s shown up since 2000! What took the little, shelled guy so long? According to Tom Bradley, Jr., spokesman of the preserve, “It’s taken longer for the soil in the burrow to warm. Once it finally warmed up, Max came out.”

Mojave Max’s companion has also provided the preserve with a reason to celebrate. After all, desert tortoises have been listed as a threatened species since 1990. As it turns out, life in the desert is hard knock. From wildfires to invasive species, road mortalities to predation, these turtles face countless obstacles throughout their lives, yet they keep chugging along. Despite the lateness of Spring 2023, we hope Mojave Max and his lady friend will soon welcome a new set of shelled babies into the world.

Bold Jumping Spiders Go Blind With Hunger… Literally

Some people turn into divas when hungry, and others curl into a ball and go to sleep. While understandable human behaviors, they can’t compare to the flare and drama that malnourished bold jumping spiders bring to the game. When these fuzzy, eight-legged insects get hungry — we’re talking ravenously hungry — they literally go blind.

Typically, bold jumping spiders have excellent vision. Think high-resolution color vision. But scientists began wondering what was wrong after noticing dark spots on some of the arachnids’ eyes. They soon realized the spots were symptoms of degeneration linked to poor diet.

Elke Buschbeck, a co-author of the study, explains, “The condition of the eyes of the spiders with less nutrition was much worse. We could tell just by looking at them with the ophthalmoscope that some of their photoreceptors had died.” Why does this happen? Because the spider’s photoreceptors need lots of energy to function properly. Without the nutrition that provides this energy, the spiders end up as blind as … well, a bat. 

“Beautiful Bulldog” Is a Thing (No, Really!)

Every year, Drake University hosts a Beautiful Bulldog competition in search of a face that only furbaby mommies can love. This year’s award winner was recently announced, Patch, a two-year-old English bulldog. She stunned audiences at the event by trotting through a hoop on the runway. All the while, her jowls and wrinkles epitomized the ideal English bulldog.

Of course, bulldogs can’t usually get by on their looks. So, what made officials at Drake decide to host a bulldog beauty pageant in the first place? The school’s mascot, which is (you guessed it!) a bulldog.

What’s up next for the dog celeb? She will now take on the role of mascot in real life (IRL). For a dog that started out as a rescue, it’s tough to beat this rags-to-riches story. Her owner, Jennifer Hinton, could not have predicted where Patch would end up. But she always had faith in her beloved pooch, and it’s that faith that has paid off with the “Beautiful Bulldog” title.

By Engrid Barnett, contributor for


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