Whether it was unusual animal battles, surprising new species or sea creatures acting just like us, 2018 was full of fascinating stories about wildlife.
Here are our favorite stories about critters from the past year.
Footage from BBC series Dynasties released in December showed a male lion stumbling onto a pack of 20 hyenas. While a lion has no problem taking on a single hyena, a pack of 20 hyena is another story. This viral video of a real-life Lion King trying to keep hyena from ripping it to pieces luckily has a happy ending.
When a seal and an octopus fight, it’s interesting. When a kayaker gets caught in the middle, it’s news. ‘After a fun paddle around the peninsula catching waves, we spotted a giant male seal fighting an octopus,’ New Zealander Kyle Mulinder said on his Instagram account in September. ‘Before we knew it, the fight came to us.’ The seal jumped out of the water with the octopus in its mouth and accidentally slapped Mulinder in the face with it.
In March, the first ever footage of anglerfish engaged in a violently gruesome mating ritual was captured by wildlife filmmakers. ‘It was really a shocker for me,’ one scientist says of the footage.
A mating song that sounds like a vibrating cell phone makes this unusual sea creature fun to watch. In May, ocean videographer Bob Mazur thought he was hearing sounds coming from his scuba gear, until he spotted the noisy sea creature hiding under some coral.
All the nope
The Wildlife Center of Virginia posted a photo of a rare two-headed Eastern Copperhead snake in September. The snake has two tracheas, two esophaguses and a shared heart and set of lungs. Hello, nightmare fuel.
In December, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program shared a Facebook photo from an atoll off Hawaii of a seal with a spotted eel dangling from its nose. Oddly enough, this wasn’t the only case of such an incident. ‘In all cases, the eel was successfully removed and the seals were fine. The eels, however, did not make it,’ marine biologist Brittany Dolan wrote in the Facebook post.
John Hammond killed an 18-foot-long (5.5-meter) python in December, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shared a startling photo of his trophy on Facebook. The snake set a new record for largest python caught as part of Florida’s snake removal program. This 150-pounder beat out a 17-foot, 120-pound snake snagged in November.
A human touch
In February, an orca named Wikie made said the human words ‘hello,’ ‘bye-bye,’ and ‘one, two, three.’ Researchers from Complutense University of Madrid and Pontifical Catholic University of Chile discovered that Wikie can mimic the words much like a parrot, without understanding the context of the language itself. Even though the orca isn’t technically comprehending the words it repeats, the fact that it can imitate human language through social learning is considered profound.
Who knew giving a party drug to octopuses would make them act just like us? In September, scientists at Johns Hopkins University released a study that revealed what happened when they dosed octopuses with MDMA to learn more about the drug’s effects on marine life. The dosed octopuses spent more time than the non-drugged octopuses interacting socially by touching one another with their tentacles. This led the researchers to conclude that the effects of MDMA on serotonin in the brain work similarly in octopuses and in humans by encouraging more social behaviors.
In August, unusual footage was captured by the staff of The Stanley Hotel — the lodging that inspired author Stephen King’s book and director Stanley Kubrick’s movie The Shining. It showed a wild black bear crawling on furniture and wandering through the hotel’s ornate lobby. Neither the bear nor any people were hurt during the unexpected incident, as hotel staff managed to shoo the bear back outside.
Turns out captive dolphins might enjoy TV like humans, according to a study released in December. Researchers at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder in Key Largo, Florida, played videos — which included nature shows and SpongeBob SquarePants — on TV screens through underwater windows for 11 bottlenose and five rough-toothed dolphins to study their behavior. From the collected data, researchers revealed in the study that the dolphins may have been interested in the TV shows no matter what was on, though male dolphins seemed to react more to the videos than female dolphins.
An African grey parrot named Rocco used an Amazon Echo to rock out to the band Kings of Leon and order treats. The stray bird, who was adopted by a staff member of the National Animal Welfare Trust in the UK, became an internet sensation in December for swearing up a storm, ordering items off of Amazon and chatting with the Alexa digital assistant on an Amazon Echo smart speaker.
Last of their kind
The female trapdoor spider named Number 16 passed away in Australia in April, leaving scientists who’d been studying her feeling ‘miserable’ about her death. The scientists who studied Number 16 say she helped them understand how the stresses of climate change and deforestation could impact the species.
The life of the last known male northern white rhinoceros came to an end this year. The 45-year-old rhino named Sudan was put to sleep in March by officials from the nonprofit Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, after it became clear the animal was in extreme pain from age-related health issues and a series of infections. The last of his kind, Sudan leaves behind two females of his subspecies — Sudan’s 27-year-old daughter Najin and 17-year-old granddaughter Fatu.
At the start of the year, researchers from Instituto Butantan in Sao Paulo, Brazil, named seven new species after fictional spiders from Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Charlotte’s Web and more. The species were discovered in the caves of northern Brazil and belong to the same Neotropical genus Ochyrocera.
In August, German researchers from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology named a newly discovered wasp species found inside fossils after the Xenomorphs from Alien. The parasitic wasps make hosts of other insects, laying eggs inside or on top of other insects. As the young wasps grow, they eat the hosts’ bodies from the inside out, and often burst through their hosts’ abdomens, just like the chestbusters in Alien.
Odontonia bagginsi is named it after Bilbo Baggins, the hairy-footed hobbit from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series. The new name of the minuscule shrimp, which measures a fraction of an inch (under a centimeter), was announced by scientists in June.
In July, scientists in Australia discovered a new venomous bandy-bandy snake: Vermicella parscauda. Researchers from the University of Queensland found the small nocturnal burrowing snake along the western coast of the Cape York Peninsula. Sadly, the university also revealed that the rare reptile ‘may already be in danger of extinction due to mining.’
Australian arachnologist Robert Raven revealed in May that 23 new species of spiders were discovered across the continent. The spiders are from the generas Dolomedes, Ornodolomedes, Megadolomedes, Dendrolycosa and Mangromedes.
A team of 40 scientists from 17 countries journeyed 4.6 miles (7.5 kilometers) below the surface of the water in the Atacama Trench in the Pacific Ocean to study the creatures below, and discovered three new species of fish, which they announced in September. The pink, the blue and the purple Atacama Snailfish impressed scientists with their gelatinous, transparent bodies.