Nature never ceases to amaze—and so it was in 2017. This year brought us shark-eating alligators, birds feeding goldfish, and a badger that buried a cow—all by itself.
11) Exclusive: Rare Black Wildcat Caught on Film in Africa
For Sergio Pitamitz, seeing a black cat was a stroke of luck. In February in Kenya's Tsavo West National Park, the photographer spotted a jet-black serval—a wildcat with a normally cheetah-like coat. (Related: "Out of the Shadows, the Wildcats You've Never Seen.")
The animal is melanistic—its genes carry a mutation that creates more dark pigment than light pigment, according to Eduardo Eizirik, a biologist and cat-melanism expert at Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.
10) New Gecko Sheds Skin on Demand, Looks Like Raw Chicken
Tear-away pants may provide comic relief on the big screen, but for some geckos, shedding skin fast can mean life or death. Meet Geckolepis megalepis, a new species of fish-scaled gecko from Madagascar that can drop its scales on demand—all the way down to the muscle.
The tropical creature joins four other lizard species that lose their skin when threatened, similar to the well-known reptilian strategy of shedding tails to escape predators, according to a February study. (Read about an overachieving lizard that grew three tails.)
9) First: Badger Buries Entire Cow in Shocking New Video
Over the course of five days in Utah's Great Basin, a single American badger excavated tunnels beneath the calf carcass until the whole thing collapsed into a pit. The badger then covered the carcass completely and constructed a burrow beside it, inside which it feasted on beef for 11 straight days, we reported in March.
Later investigation into the scientific literature revealed no one had ever recorded a badger entomb anything larger than a jackrabbit.
8) First-Ever Photos Show Wild Lion Nursing Leopard Cub
7) Bird Filmed Feeding Goldfish—Here’s Why
Originally posted on YouTube in 2010, this footage shows a cardinal hopping alongside a goldfish pond, then dropping what appears to be seeds into their waiting mouths.
"My best guess is that the appearance of the goldfish’s open mouth at the surface of the water is just similar enough in size and shape to the open mouth of a baby bird that it triggers the instinct in the adult bird to provide food to it," Princeton biologist Christina Riehl said in August.
6) Orcas Team Up to Kill Whale in Raw, First-Ever Video
For the first time, scientists witnessed how orcas work as a team to surround and kill a juvenile bowhead, which can be three times heavier than an adult orca, according to an August story.
"Once they start to learn something, orcas will keep perfecting the skill, and this family has honed their hunting to require minimal energy," says Olga Shpak, a biologist at the Severtsov Institute of Ecology in Russia who saw the hunt firsthand in the Okhotsk Sea. (See an interactive graphic of orca hunting.)
5) New Purple Pig-Nose Frog Found in Remote Mountains
In August, we reported that scientists had found a new and unusual species of frog in India's Western Ghats mountain range. The frog has shiny, purple skin, a light blue ring around its eyes, and a pointy pig-nose.
Bhupathy’s purple frog is closely related to another purple frog (N. sahyadrensis) found in the region in 2003. Together, the two make up the only known members of their family. The find comes as part of an effort sponsored by the Indian government to sample the DNA of every frog and toad species in the nation.
4) Alligators Attack and Eat Sharks, Study Confirms
It's particularly surprising, says study leader James Nifong, an ecologist at Kansas State University, because alligators are known as freshwater predators.
3) Exclusive Picture: Female Anaconda Strangles Male After Sex
While tracking down a particularly large snake in the swamps of Brazil, photographer Luciano Candisani got more than he'd hoped for: the first known image of a female green anaconda squeezing her mate to death.
The reason is simple: The male is good protein for an expecting mother, especially one who fasts the whole seven months of pregnancy, we reported in February.
2) In Rare Killing, Chimpanzees Cannibalize Former Leader
It was a grisly sight: a murdered chimpanzee, his body beaten, bloodied—and partially cannibalized—by members of his former social group.
Researchers who found the gruesome scene in Senegal in 2013 knew that chimpanzees are no strangers to lethal violence. At every chimpanzee site that’s been studied for more than a decade, scientists have observed conflicts that end in death.
1) Giant Rat That Fell From Sky Is New Species
In November 2015, when loggers felled a 30-foot-tall tree on the island of Vangunu and a rodent of unusual size came crashing down with it.
“I immediately knew it was something new,” mammalogist Tyrone Lavery, a fellow at the Queensland Museum and Chicago's Field Museum who's been searching for the rat since 2010, said in September.
Weighing more than two pounds and growing up to 1.5 feet long, the Vangunu giant rat (Uromys vika) is about four times larger than city rats scurrying through alleys and dumpsters the world over.