By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor
Last week I wrote about little-known endangered species—animals few people have heard of but nonetheless need conservation attention. Conservation publicity tends to focus on “charismatic megafauna,” or large animals with widespread appeal, like elephants, giant pandas, and orcas. And it’s understandable. The elephant, for example, is a keystone species, meaning it plays an outsize role in its environment. Its disappearance could cause a cascade of destruction throughout the ecosystem.
Many of us at Nat Geo are partial to the little-known, under-appreciated, and often ignored species. Judging by the number of emails we’ve gotten since last week’s Animals newsletter, you are, too. Here are some of the more obscure animals you’ve shared with us.
By far the most common one we heard was the pangolin (pictured above). I tend to think of pangolins as an up-and-coming poster animal for the conservation movement—the next panda, if you will. Found in Asia and Africa, pangolins tend to be unknown in other parts of the world. But they shouldn’t be! They’re amazing creatures: The only mammal with scales, they look like little dinosaurs-anteater hybrids. And they’re believed to be the most trafficked non-human mammal in the world. Their scales are dried and used in traditional Chinese medicine, and their meat is considered a delicacy in some circles.
Other lesser known animals readers sent in include: the aardwolf (neither an aardvark nor a wolf), the shoebill (an African bird whose name is...very accurate), the tuatara (three eyes!?), the aye-aye (are we sure it’s from Earth?), the saiga antelope (look at its trunk-like nose!), and the Gooty sapphire ornamental tarantula. Keep the suggestions coming! I’ll try to feature more lesser-known animals in the weeks to come.
Don't get this newsletter daily? Sign up here.
Your Instagram photo of the day
Getting closer: More than a million people on Instagram have liked this Cristina Mittermeier photograph, which she shared in an effort to build social connection. “No one knows exactly what the world will look like on the other side of this pandemic, but we can hold onto our compassion and our sense of community through it all. We can focus on the good and find beauty and hope in our solitude,” she writes.
Related: How Cristina Mittermeier merges storytelling and science
See: Our best animal photos of the year
Are you one of our 137 million Instagram followers? (If not, follow us now.)
Today in a minute
Why so skinny? Right whales have historically been as long as school buses and weigh up to 70 tons. That’s still true for southern right whales, flourishing in the relatively quiet Southern Atlantic. Not so for North Atlantic right whales, which are contending with busy shipping lanes and huge fishing nets. North Atlantic mother whales appear to be about five tons lighter and in generally poorer shape than their southern counterparts, Haley Cohen Gilliland reports for Nat Geo. Only 409 North Atlantic whales remain. Scientists say one reason for the weight disparity is exhaustion from dragging around tangled fishing gear. Another is warming oceans: The crustaceans they feed on have moved farther north.
COVID-19 update: Could minks give the coronavirus to humans? Dutch authorities say a mink on a fur farm may have done just that, Nat Geo's Dina Fine Maron reports. There are many unknowns, but if it’s confirmed, it would be the first known animal-to-human transmission of the disease. The nation has begun mandatory testing at all mink farms in the Netherlands and says the risk to the general public is very small. Cats may also play a role in spreading the virus between farms, the government said.
Like metal detectors: Cadaver dogs usually are employed to sniff out bodies that were lost, slain, or crudely buried in an event such as a wartime battle. But researchers found the dogs have another skill—uncovering buried remains from ancient human history. The trained dogs have found centuries-old bones in Croatia and North America, the New York Times reports. It’s unclear what volatile organic compounds in human remains are significant to trained sniffer dogs or what aspects of an environment help retain the scent.
Triumph of the introverts: A study tested parrotfish in waters containing predators such as lionfish. The bolder parrotfish? You guessed it—eaten. “Shy fish,” Scientific American reports, “had a significantly higher chance of surviving—not because they recognized lionfish as predators, but because they were simply more afraid in general."
The big takeaway
How they rule: For a queen bee, invisible chemical compounds called pheromones are key to her power over a colony. They help her direct worker bees to food or decide on the construction of new combs. For the male silkworm moth (pictured above), receptors on its antennae pick up a female’s pheromones, reports Liz Langley for Nat Geo. Lemurs, young rabbits, cats, and other animals use scent cues as well.
Subscriber exclusive: How sex pheromones work on humans
In a few words
Did a friend forward this to you?
On Friday, Whitney Johnson covers the latest in photography news. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Debra Adams Simmons on history, George Stone on travel, and Victoria Jaggard on science.
The last glimpse
'Like discovering a kangaroo in Norway’: That’s how one marine biologist has described the discovery of a new type of pygmy seahorse in the Indian Ocean off southern Africa. That’s more than 5,000 miles away from the Pacific home of six other types of pygmy seahorses, which are about the size of a grain of rice. The researchers have named the new seahorse Hippocampus nalu. In the South African languages Xhosa and Zulu, nalu roughly translates to “here it is,” Nat Geo’s Douglas Main reports.
Subscriber exclusive: Dolphins have a unique whistle for their friends, and other breakthroughs