8 Adorable Animals That Are Surprisingly Violent

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They're cute. They're cuddly. But beware: they're killers.

1. KOALAS

Young koala in a tree.
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It may seem hard to believe, but the world's most cuddly animal has a dark side. Most of the time, these tree-huggers keep to themselves, adhering to a strict schedule of snacking and snoozing (up to 22 hours a day). But sometimes, a koala snaps. Koala-on-koala violence is generally pretty mild, but they have been known to go after dogs and even humans.

For example: In December 2014, Mary Anne Forster of South Australia found herself at the receiving end of a vicious bite after trying to protect her two dogs from an aggressive koala. The koala sank its teeth into Forster's leg and refused to let go, relenting only after she reached into its mouth and pried its jaws apart with her hands. Forster then walked her dogs more than a mile back to her house before going to the hospital for stitches, proving that the only thing tougher than Australian wildlife is an Australian.

2. BEAVERS

Beaver in water looking at camera.
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They've got huge, razor-sharp teeth that never stop growing. They're fiercely territorial. They build complex underwater lodges with architectural precision. And, most importantly, they don't take crap from anybody. There was the fisherman in Belarus who died when a beaver bit through his femoral artery. There was the lake in an Alaskan dog park where angry beavers sent a half-dozen dogs to the emergency vet for stitches, prompting park officials to post signs reading "WARNING AGGRESSIVE BEAVERS ARE LIVING IN UNIVERSITY LAKE!"

And those are just the healthy, well-adjusted ones. Rabid beavers have gone after swimmers in Canada and the U.S., including an 83-year-old woman in Lake Barcroft, Virginia. "There is no way I will swim in that place again," she said after the incident.

3. COWS

Heck cattle and calf.
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Not all cows. But some cows. And those cows are terrifying. They're called Heck cattle, also known—and we are not making this up—as "Nazi Super Cows."

In the 1920s and '30s, German zoologists (and brothers) Heinz and Lutz Heck each sought to recreate the extinct wild ox called the aurochs, which featured heavily in Teutonic mythology. Heinz Heck chose Spanish fighting cattle as a breeding strain for their prehistoric shape and aggression, and the Nazis used their fierce image in propaganda. Then, World War II happened. The Nazis fell, but the uber-cows survived.

Heck cattle still roam Bavaria to this day and are available for purchase by those with a death wish. Farmer and photographer Derek Gow brought a herd of Heck cattle to his UK farm in 2009 and successfully bred them before realizing he was in over his head. "They would try to kill anyone," he told The Guardian of the dozen or so he had to put down because of the danger they posed. "Dealing with that was not a lot of fun at all."

4. DOLPHINS

Dolphin smiling in a pool.
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It sounds outrageous, but it's true: dolphins are actually pretty horrible.

Researchers have suspected as much since the 1990s, when the battered corpses of hundreds of porpoises and baby dolphins started washing up on both sides of the Atlantic. Eventually the researchers concluded that male dolphins were slaughtering other dolphins, including their own babies, just because they could [PDF].

This news was especially alarming to federal officials, who were concerned about human safety in the growing and unregulated industry of dolphin tourism. "It's a time bomb waiting to go off," said a spokeswoman for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

If that wasn't bad enough, dolphins have sexually assaulted divers and swimmers on numerous occasions, and have been known to play volleyball with helpless baby sharks.

5. PRAIRIE DOGS

Prairie dog eating in a field.
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Move over, dolphins: you’ve got competition for Most Horrifying Murder Spree. And prairie dogs, as it turns out, do not take kindly to competition. Researchers say white-tailed prairie dogs routinely hunt and slaughter ground squirrels, with which they compete for resources.

The prairie dogs are plant-eaters, so once they've bitten the squirrels to death, they just drop the carcasses and stroll away. The first time prairie dog expert John Hoogland saw it happen, he was shocked. "It boggles the imagination that something like that was going on under our noses and we didn't notice," he told New Scientist (which—be warned—includes Hoogland's gruesome images of the carnage in its story).

Unlike the murder-happy dolphins, however, the prairie dogs have a clear motivation. Prairie dog serial killers (that is, those that just kept killing) tend to have more babies than non-killers, and they and their offspring are more likely to survive.

"It begs the question of whether it's going on in other species," Hoogland said.

6. SLOW LORISES

Slow loris hiding behind a tree.
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After the dolphin, the slow loris looks like a saint. A shy, weird saint, with a mouth full of needle-like teeth and venomous elbows.

Yes, the slow loris has venomous elbows. When a loris feels threatened, it throws its arms over its head. This is adorable, but it's also strategic, giving the little primate an opportunity to lick the toxin-producing glands in its upper arms and fill its mouth with venom. While the venom itself is only strong enough to kill smaller animals, loris bites have sent humans—including one researcher—to the hospital in anaphylactic shock.

Some scientists argue that the loris's elbow grease isn't venom at all, and that its ability to kill is purely incidental. But … this is probably not much comfort to someone who's just been bitten.

7. SWANS

A swan swimming in green waters.
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Like most cows, most swans are fine. Sure, they get a bit territorial during breeding season, but who doesn't? But the swans that are not fine are really, really not fine.

Take Hannibal, the swan who killed 15 other swans and injured dozens more on the grounds of Pembroke Castle in Wales. Hannibal bit his victims, beat them with his wings, broke their toes, and held their heads underwater until they drowned. After each brutal attack, Hannibal would parade in front of his kill, displaying the carnage for his wife—Mrs. Hannibal—and cygnet.

And then there's Mr. Asbo, the swan that terrorized rowers on the River Cam in Cambridge for years. Mr. Asbo (short for "Anti-Social Behaviour Orders") regularly attacked and even capsized small boats before turning his aggression on larger vessels. Eventually, even the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) agreed that Mr. Asbo was "out of control" and got a license to relocate him and his mate to another county. One year later, a young male swan appeared in the same spot and started threatening people. Locals named the cocky newcomer Asboy, after his father.

8. HIPPOPOTAMUSES

Hippopotamus standing in the water.
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Each year, the humble hippopotamus kills more people than lions, tigers, or bears. Or sharks, for that matter. (In the hippo's defense, humans kill quite a lot of hippopotamuses. This is not cool.) They're intensely aggressive, which is a dangerous quality in an animal that can reach 17 feet long and 10,000 pounds. They're not slow, either: They can reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour on land, outpacing even Olympian Usain Bolt. They go after each other, after humans, after crocodiles, and even after boats and cars, flipping the crafts and attacking the inhabitants. From time to time, someone will try to tame a hippo and keep it as a pet. This does not end well. Do not try this.

This story first ran in 2015.

5 Times the Jig Was Up Because the Parrot Squawked

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Most of our feathered friends can sing, but only a few can talk. And if those talkers witness something naughty, they might just tell on you.

1. SUSPICIOUS SWEET TALKING

A woman in Kuwait, where adultery is illegal, had been suspicious for some time that her husband was carrying on an affair with their housekeeper. There were little signs, like when she returned home from work early and noticed that he seemed nervous. But it was when the family parrot squawked unfamiliar sweet nothings that she decided to take her suspicions to the police. If her husband wasn’t saying those things to her, how was the parrot learning them? However, because it could not be proven that the parrot hadn’t heard the phrases from a steamy TV show, the bird's evidence was deemed inadmissible.

2. THAT'S NOT MY NAME

In another case of infidelity revealed with a squawk, a man was surprised to hear his beloved African Grey parrot Ziggy say, “Hiya Gary!” when his live-in girlfriend’s phone rang, because his name was not Gary. After he heard the parrot say, “I love you, Gary,” and make kissing sounds when the name Gary was said on TV, he confronted his girlfriend, who admitted she was having an affair with Gary. Not only did he lose his girlfriend, but when the parrot continued to chatter on about Gary in her voice, the man was forced to give his pet up too.

3. THE AWFUL LAST LAUGH

Even when other evidence is already damning, a parrot can add an extra sinister twist to a crime investigation. When an elderly woman was found in a filthy South Carolina home, covered in bedsores and near death, her daughter was charged with elder abuse and neglect (her mother died the next day). The police noted that a parrot in the house repeatedly cried for help and then laughed. They believe it was mimicking the interaction between the mother and daughter: The mother pleading for help and the daughter laughing.

4. REPLAYING THE LAST WORDS

After a Michigan man was found shot to death in his home, his parrot kept repeating a dialogue, alternating between a man and woman’s voice, that went: “Get out.” “Where will I go?” “Don’t f***ing shoot!” His wife—who police believe tried to kill herself but did not succeed—was charged with his murder and was convicted in 2017.

5. GIVING THE CRIMINAL AWAY

Tales of parrots giving the criminal away go back to the 19th century, when the leader of a Paris crime syndicate who went by Victor Chevalier escaped with his beloved parrot from the residence he shared with his wife Marie before the cops descended on him. When an officer was called to another residence for a seemingly unrelated search, he heard as he walked in, a parrot cry out “Totor! Riri!” which happened to be the pet names of Victor and Marie. The discovery of the parrot eventually led to the capture of Victor.

This piece originally ran in 2016.

Scientists Reveal the Most Comprehensive Map of Butterfly Evolution Ever—and It's Gorgeous

Espeland et al., Current Biology (2018)
Espeland et al., Current Biology (2018)

There are 18,000 known butterfly species in the world, so maybe it’s not surprising that scientists haven’t quite worked out how they’re all related. Recently, scientists developed what is currently the most comprehensive roadmap of butterfly evolution ever, one that includes 35 times more genetic data and three times as many classifications as past butterfly evolutionary trees. Oh, and as Fast Company found, it’s beautiful.

The study, published in Current Biology, drew on genetic data from 207 butterfly species that together represent 98 percent of butterfly tribes (the classification just above genus). Led by Florida Museum of Natural History curator Akito Kawahara and Marianne Espeland of the Alexander Koenig Research Museum in Germany, the study used this genetic data and the fossil record to trace the evolution of different butterfly species and figure out when different species split off from their cousins.

A circular visualization of the butterfly family tree
Espeland et al., Current Biology (2018)

Needless to say, millions years of evolution means a lot of information to visualize in one family tree. Each bold label on the very outside of the circle represents a tribe, like Tagiadini, followed by the individual species that made it into the study, like Tagiades flesus (the clouded skipper). Species are clumped together by subgroup—in this case, Pyrginae (spread-winged skippers)—and color-coordinated by family—in this case, Hesperiidae (skippers).

The solid gray circle near the center, labeled K-PG boundary (for Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary) represents the mass extinction event that killed off most of Earth’s plant and animal species, including the dinosaurs.

A close-up of a circular visualization of the butterfly family tree
Espeland et al., Current Biology (2018)

The study confirms several pieces of information that butterfly experts had hypothesized about in previous studies, while overturning other hypotheses. Butterflies can be divided into seven different families, and though previous research estimated that the first butterflies appeared around 100 million years ago, this study pushes that date back to around 120 million years ago. But there were just a few early ancestors of butterflies prior to the mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs, after which the butterfly family tree explodes into different branches.

Swallowtail butterflies (the subfamily Papilioninae, to the left in blue) were the first butterfly family to branch off, so they’re a “sister” species to all other butterfly species. Skippers (the family Hesperiidae, in purple) likely branched off next, then nocturnal butterflies like the Hedylidae family (in gray). However, some species that scientists previously thought were sister groups do not, in fact, share common ancestry, including swallowtails, birdwings, zebra swallowtails, and swordtails. The timeline shows that some butterfly species seem to have evolved together along with the plants they feed on or, in some cases, ant species with which they now have a mutually beneficial relationship.

[h/t Fast Company]

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