Boa Constrictors Form Hunting Parties and We’re Totally Fine with That

himmelskratzer, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
himmelskratzer, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Scientists have observed Cuban boas lining up, suspending themselves from cave ceilings in a “curtain” of bodies, and waiting for their bat prey to fly through. A report on this never-before-seen behavior was published in the journal Animal Behavior and Cognition [PDF].

At 3 to 6 feet long, the Cuban boa (Chilabothrus angulifer) is a hefty customer, the largest in its genus and one of the biggest in the West Indies. It’s a skilled hunter both on the forest floor and the cave ceiling, dangling like a fanged party streamer and snapping passing fruit bats out of the air.

Cooperative hunting is not uncommon in nature. Wolves do it, as do dolphins, apes, some birds, crocodiles, and even a few species of fish. Snakes … not so much. Scientists have seen snakes hunting in the same place, at the same time, but it was sort of an every-snake-for-itself situation. (In that nightmare-inducing scene in Planet Earth 2, for instance, researchers viewed the snakes as coordinating, not cooperating.) Or so we thought.

Yet when researcher Vladimir Dinets of the University of Knoxville settled in near a sinkhole cave in Cuba's Desembarco del Granma National Park to watch the snakes’ nightly bat-feast, he noticed something unusual: The snakes seemed to be making room for one another.

For eight nights between sunset and dawn, an apparently fearless Dinets watched the cave’s nine snake inhabitants position themselves on the roof of the cave. His first thought was that each snake just had its own favorite or assigned spot on the ceiling.

But over time, he realized that they were rotating, each arriving snake filling in gaps in the curtain space to ensure maximum bat-flightpath coverage.

This wasn’t just a bunch of snakes hunting in the same place at the same time. This was a bunch of snakes hunting together. And it was working. The boas stuffed themselves with little furry bodies.

“It is possible that boas are not unique among snakes, and that coordinated hunting is not particularly rare,” Dinets writes in his paper. “This possibility suggests that at least some snakes are not the ‘solitary animals’ they are commonly considered to be, and that they are capable of high behavioral complexity required for such hunting.”

This is fine.

Is There An International Standard Governing Scientific Naming Conventions?

iStock/Grafissimo
iStock/Grafissimo

Jelle Zijlstra:

There are lots of different systems of scientific names with different conventions or rules governing them: chemicals, genes, stars, archeological cultures, and so on. But the one I'm familiar with is the naming system for animals.

The modern naming system for animals derives from the works of the 18th-century Swedish naturalist Carl von Linné (Latinized to Carolus Linnaeus). Linnaeus introduced the system of binominal nomenclature, where animals have names composed of two parts, like Homo sapiens. Linnaeus wrote in Latin and most his names were of Latin origin, although a few were derived from Greek, like Rhinoceros for rhinos, or from other languages, like Sus babyrussa for the babirusa (from Malay).

Other people also started using Linnaeus's system, and a system of rules was developed and eventually codified into what is now called the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). In this case, therefore, there is indeed an international standard governing naming conventions. However, it does not put very strict requirements on the derivation of names: they are merely required to be in the Latin alphabet.

In practice a lot of well-known scientific names are derived from Greek. This is especially true for genus names: Tyrannosaurus, Macropus (kangaroos), Drosophila (fruit flies), Caenorhabditis (nematode worms), Peromyscus (deermice), and so on. Species names are more likely to be derived from Latin (e.g., T. rex, C. elegans, P. maniculatus, but Drosophila melanogaster is Greek again).

One interesting pattern I've noticed in mammals is that even when Linnaeus named the first genus in a group by a Latin name, usually most later names for related genera use Greek roots instead. For example, Linnaeus gave the name Mus to mice, and that is still the genus name for the house mouse, but most related genera use compounds of the Greek-derived root -mys (from μῦς), which also means "mouse." Similarly, bats for Linnaeus were Vespertilio, but there are many more compounds of the Greek root -nycteris (νυκτερίς); pigs are Sus, but compounds usually use Greek -choerus (χοῖρος) or -hys/-hyus (ὗς); weasels are Mustela but compounds usually use -gale or -galea (γαλέη); horses are Equus but compounds use -hippus (ἵππος).

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

A Rare Blue Lobster Ended Up in a Cape Cod Restaurant

Richard wood, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Richard wood, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Lobsters have precious few defenses when it comes to being tossed in a vat of boiling water or on a grill and turned into dinner. They have not yet evolved into not being delicious. But sometimes, one lucky lobster can defy the odds and escape their sentence by virtue of a genetic defect that turns them blue.

According to MassLive, one such lobster has been given a reprieve at Arnold's Lobster & Clam Bar in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Named "Baby Blue," the crustacean arrived at the restaurant from the Atlantic and was immediately singled out for its distinctive appearance.

Blue lobsters are a statistical abnormality. It's estimated only one in every two million carry the defect that creates an excessive amount of protein that results in the color. A lobsterman named Wayne Nickerson caught one in Cape Cod in 2016. He also reported catching one in 1990. Greg Ward of Rye, New Hampshire caught one near the New Hampshire and Maine border in 2017.

Lobsters can show up in a variety of colors, including orange, yellow, a mixture of orange and black, white, and even take on a two-toned appearance, with the colors split down the middle. Blue is the most common, relatively speaking. A white (albino) specimen happens in only one out of 100 million lobsters. The majority have shells with yellow, blue, and red layers and appear brown until cooked, at which point the proteins in the shell fall off to reveal the red coloring.

It's an unofficial tradition that blue lobsters aren't served up to curious customers. Instead, they're typically donated to local aquariums. Nathan Nickerson, owner Arnold's, said he plans on doing the same.

[h/t MassLive]

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