Results will be posted the morning after each game night by 8 AM Eastern
Take me to Sports-Style Summaries!
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Okapi (1) vs. Giant Striped Mongoose (9) – Okapis(Okapi johnstoni) share many similarities with their giraffe relatives & are often referred to as forest giraffes. One notable similarity: both are herbivores with an extra-long, prehensile bluish-gray tongue to grasp vegetation. Although Actual Living Scientist WHAPA Lab at Virginia Tech members, including MMM scientist-narrator Dr. Asia Murphy, have detected Striped Mongooses (Galidictis fasciata) and other carnivorans with camera traps...Very little is known about the behavior of Striped Mongooses and other Madagascar meso-carnivorans (family Eupleridae). Consensus is that Striped Mongooses are nocturnal, generally solitary, and eat small vertebrates and large invertebrates.
Our two striped combatants are both from Africa! Home habitat advantage goes to Okapi and tonight's battle is back in Maiko National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo. Okapi is ruminating, literally. Herbivorous Okapi have fore-gut digestion: bacteria are in their stomach to help digest cellulose, the structural components of plant cells. As part of rumination, Okapi "cough" up food boluses, rechew, and swallow again to break down cellulose and get lots of nutrition. There are no native artiodactyl mammals on Madagascar where Striped Mongoose has been MMMagicked from, but there are a few introduced & naturalized species (goats, zebu, sheep, pigs, & deer). Striped Mongoose is on the move & detects the vague smell of artiodactyl but is not overly concerned. Stripes as camouflage work both ways, to hide the predator AND the prey... Striped Mongoose continues his hunt and... stumbles into ruminating Okapi. Striped Mongoose is rather catlike in some of his movements, and Okapi does not like cats! Leopards are predators of Okapi, attacking adults from above. Okapi sounds off a distress whistle. This female Okapi is big- 300kg, nearly 2m tall, and 2.5m in length, and a bit smaller than an asteroid the size of half a giraffe. Striped Mongoose is, uh, substantially smaller: ~900g and 70cm. Craning his neck upward and taking in the full size of Okapi, Striped Mongoose weighs his options, spins on his heels, fluffs his tail, and takes his hunt elsewhere. OKAPI INTIMIDATES GIANT STRIPED MONGOOSE! Narrated by Prof. Jessica Light.
Greater Kudu (2) vs. Sumatran Striped Rabbit (7) – Rabbits, hares, and pikas are globally widespread. They are important as ecosystem engineers, pets, pests and food. In fact, the March Madness name is a hat tip to European rabbit male-male battles during the spring mating season. Animal behavior often changes during the breeding season. Testosterone levels in male European hares peak in March. Males box each other to establish dominance. The Sumatran Striped Rabbit (Nesolagus netscheri) may be the world's rarest lagomorph. In 31,032 hours of camera trapping it showed itself 2 times for 8 seconds, though camera height may have reduced detection rates. Actual Living Scientist Anh HQ Nguyen from the World Wide Fund for Nature - Vietnam was part of a team that used invertebrate-derived DNA (blood collected from leeches!) to assess the genetic diversity of one of Sumatran Striped Rabbit's closest relatives, Annamite striped rabbit. Remember that leech iDNA paper the genetics team tweeted about in R1? Actual Living Scientists from World Wide Fund for Nature - Vietnam performed that research! Animal behavior also changes in response to disease. For example, Kudu, like people, reduce their activity and rest when they have a fever. Some kudu populations are highly vulnerable to rabies, though disease dynamics are still being studied. All mammals are susceptible to rabies but bats, dogs, foxes, and other canids are the typical host. Diseases like rabies change host behavior to promote its spread. Hosts may foam at the mouth, snarl, and bite. In Namibia, rabies outbreaks in kudu have claimed up to 40% of a kudu population. How do scientists obtain population estimates? Actual Living Scientist Lineekela Nauyoma, PhD student at the University of Namibia is using non-invasive methods like camera traps to assess the conservation status of roan and sable (antelope related to kudu) in Mudumu National Park.
Tonight's battle is in the far southern edge of the Rift Valley in Malawi, Africa, where Kudu (Tragelaphus strepiceros) has Home Habitat Advantage. The sound of drumming is faint in the distance. Kudu strolls down a dry stream bed that has lots of shrubby cover on the edges. He's going toward the aroma of Camel Thorn Tree seed pods (Acacia eriolobia), his favorite food. The trees are short and bushy, suggesting frequent, low level disturbance. MMMagic has transported Sumatran Rabbit into the scene. Sumatran Striped Rabbit spies Kudu from its hidey-hole in the brush. The patterned drumming can now be heard downstream too. Drumming is a way villages in Malawi pass information to each other. KA-CLICK! A monitoring camera-trap snaps pics of Kudu eating the bait; Camel Thorn Tree pod flour combined with a rabies vaccine. The drumming from the village upstream becomes more urgent. What was a trickle of water in the stream had risen to become a churning, muddy flow with large branches being carried downstream. Rabbit remains motionless except for its nose twitching at the smell of water. WHOOSH! Water fills the stream channel! Drumming from the upstream village was warning those downstream about the coming flood so people went to safety. Kudu gracefully steps up on the bank chewing seed pods while Rabbit is swept downstream. KUDU SWEEPS SUMATRAN STRIPED RABBIT! Narrated by Dr. Tara Chestnut.
Greater Rhea (2) vs. Dyak Fruit Bat (10) –Our Greater Rhea (Rhea americana) dad, hanging with his chicks, is making sure they don't get into too much trouble, but glad they're finally off his back (literally!). These chicks sometimes like to burrow themselves into their dad's plumage. Rhea Dad-life is energetically EXHAUSTING! Only <20% of all males even attempt to nest during breeding season and then have to spend >20% of the day in vigilance until chicks are 4 months old. While there aren't too many natural predators for Greater Rheas as adults, crested and Chimango caracaras, foxes, and even ferrets are happy to make a quick snack of the chicks. With the Flamingo on a wild gull chase, our Dyak Fruit Bat (Dyacopterus spadiceus) dad was left circling the skies of Spain. Besides seeing the world from a different point of view, flight might be linked to lifespan in mammals and birds, with shorter lifespans in those who lost the ability to fly. Dyak fruit bats don't echolocate, instead relying on their large eyes and sharp noses to help them find food and get around the rainforest canopy.
TONIGHT'S BATTLE IS ONCE AGAIN in marshy grasslands of Argentina, Rhea Dad walks with his chicks, vigilantly scanning the horizon for predators. Head held high, Rhea is keeping a sharp eye out for slinky, sneaky sneaks in the grass and in the sky and is on high alert. MMMagic delivers Dyak Fruit Bat above the marshy grassland. Dyak Fruit Bat is far from the sacred forests of Northern Indonesia he prefers and where he serves an important role in seed dispersing in the ficus-forward forest. Rhea seems to be straining where his throat meets his body, maybe slightly swollen in the area of the gizzard. The rhea chicks are foraging in the grass, moving toward a small shrub tree, and the Dyak Fruit Bat swoops with wide wings a bit. The Dyak Fruit Bat would prefer a much taller tree, but the small shrub tree is the only arboreal-ish option to make a roost. Greater Rhea Dad seems to be regurgitating while strolling in the wake of his chicks. Dyak Fruit Bat has settled into a sleep arrangement in the low shrub tree, only a bit out of Greater Rhea Dad's beak reach... The Greater Rhea stretches its neck, opens its beak and PROJECTILE VOMITS ALL OVER THE BAT!!! Dyak Fruit Bat crawls to a further branch, shakes out its wings and head, and takes off to fly far away from the Greater Rhea (and his vomit), abandoning the field of battle while the greater rhea opens and closes his beak. GREATER RHEA OUTLASTS THE DYAK FRUIT BAT! Narrated by Dr. Alyson Brokaw and Dr. Mal Sarma.
Siamang (4) vs. Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker (5) – Siamang (Symphalangus syndactylus) dad takes over caring for the offspring once the infant is about 1yr old. Dads carry juvenile siamangs, share sleeping sites with them, and play with them. As Siamang dads provide more care, siamang moms recover quicker from the high body costs of pregnancy and lactation (i.e., physiological and energetic). Siamang moms with more help from dad can can have another baby sooner (shorter interbirth intervals). The Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker (Eumicrotremus orbis). He's round. He's sticky. And he glows. Males are usually a deep red color under the visible spectrum, but fluoresce bright red under UV and blue light. While the green females don't glow the same way, the Dad’s glow does match the red glow of algae found around their nesting areas.
We're back in the tropical rainforest of Gunung Leuser National Park, Indonesia, which is the only place left on earth where tigers, elephants, orangutans, and rhinos still live together in the wild. The Leuser ecosystem is 6 million acres (~3x the size of Yellowstone). It's one of the last remaining intact rainforests and is becoming fragmented due to deforestation fires. But organizations like The Orangutan Information Center and the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity are informing management in this fragile forest. Our siamang competitor is hot off an unwitting battle of the throat sacs with Darwin's frog taking the fall, and Siamang is showing his kiddo the ropes to foraging. Foraging ha become a little harder since the recent fires, but siamang groups don't really have the option to change their territory like other primates might due to their range needs in an ever shrinking forest. The siamang family are seeking out their favorite foods when dad sees something promising in a puddle below! Dad, kiddo on back, swoops down to investigate... Our Lumpsucker is not having a great time. MMMagic has put him in a swampy pool in the middle of the forest. The muddy silty pool bottom is impossible for Lumpsucker to stick his bottom to! Bright reddish-purple Lumpsucker bobs pathetically. Looking so much like a ripe... round... FIG! Siamang carefully dips his hand into the water... Siamang’s hand comes up with sticky fish! A brief sniff & yuck! and Siamang begins shaking his hand to dislodge the sticky fake fig… and launches Lumpsucker INTO THE AIR! Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker plops back into the puddle and Siamang returns to the canopy to follow his frugivorous family to a richer foraging location off the field of battle! LUMPSUCKER DEFEATS SIAMANG!!! Narrated by Dr. Mauna Dasari.
Striped Hyena (3) vs. Highland Streaked Tenrec (11) – The Striped Hyena (Hyaena hyaena) is an omnivorous scavenger, content to eat all sorts of edible items- the remains of large-bodied prey like wildebeests or smaller insects of the invertebrate variety or even the occasional fruit. Like their Hyaenidae bretheren, Striped Hyena is known to ingest and digest bones, usually when other food is scarce. We know a lot about Striped Hyena diet, but we don't know much about their current distribution. Paolo Strampelli and colleagues recently surveyed large African carnivores and found Striped Hyena data particularly lacking. Like other small-bodied mammals, Streaked Tenrecs (Hemicentetes nigriceps) enter periods of torpor to save energy - similar to turning the heat down in your home when you're not there- these small mammals turn down the heat when food is scarce and they can’t access the calories it takes to keep themselves warm when active. Tenrecs will sleep like a dormouse, curled up with their forelimbs held close and their hind legs further away, usually from May-October. They may wake up briefly to re-adjust their position and scratch an itch.
But it's not Tenrec torpor season yet - tonight, we find both combatants within the Serengeti National Park of Tanzania, stomping grounds of Striped Hyena. Striped Hyena has found leftover zebra from a lion kill, disarticulated bones scattered about the Serengeti. Tenrec is again transported with MMMagic away from Madagascar and finds the dry savanna of the Serengeti less than pleasant. In an attempt to find its family members, Tenrec starts rubbing together special spines on its rump and creates a sound somewhere between a scratch and a chirp. Striped Hyena pauses bone crunching a tibia, raises its head and listens motionless... Striped Hyena isn't concerned by Tenrec spine chirping. Striped Hyena hears spotted hyenas chattering as they triangulate in on the aromatic zebra carcass! Striped Hyena is a loner and does not want to tussle with the cousins, so grabs zebra tibia to-go, trotting at a good clip (8-10 km/hr, 5-6 mph). CLONK-PALUNK! The zebra tibia hanging from Striped Hyena's jaws strikes Highland Streaked Tenrec skull! Tenric's scratch-chirping attempt to phone home to his family is silenced... forever. STRIPED HYENA ENDS HIGHLAND STREAKED TENREC! Narrated by Dr. Patrice Connors.
Emperor Penguin (1) v. Owl Monkey (8) – Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) live in the coldest environment of any bird species withstanding the -40°C air temperatures and 89 mph winds due to a combination of dense, downy feathers that trap air close to their body and a sub-dermal fat layer that provides baseline insulation. While taking care of their eggs during May and June, Emperor Penguin Dads group together into huddles that can raise the ambient temp to over 20°C inside the huddle with up to 10 birds per square meter! Huddles make movement nearly impossible but "Emperor Penguins move collectively in a highly coordinated manner to ensure mobility while at the same time keeping the huddle packed" (Zitterbart et al 2011). Owl monkeys (Aotus azarae) don't have feathers or a sub-dermal fat layer, but they do sometimes huddle while sleeping, which typically occurs at sites 6-25 meters above the ground. Both male and female owl monkeys have scent glands on their chest (pectoral) and beneath their tail (subcaudal), which they use for territorial marking and other communication. Although male and female owl monkeys look the same, their vocalizations can be different with only the males producing "graff hoots" and only females producing "tonal hoots" (sexually dimorphic calls) (Garcia et al., 2020).
The combatants meet at Pointe Géologie in Antarctica where the emperor penguin colony, which has ~3500 breeding pairs, was featured in the 2005 documentary "March of the Penguins." Emperor Penguin has been filling his belly with fish in the Antarctic waters and has turned toward home. Owl Monkey is transported by MMMagic onto the Antarctic ice between the sea and the penguin colony with his 3-month old baby still clinging to his back. Owl monkeys aren't strangers to modulating their behavior and activity levels in response to cold weather, but not the extreme cold of Antarctica. Emperor Penguin is swimming sleekly through the water when suddenly he sees THE OPEN JAWS OF A LEOPARD SEAL CLOSING IN ON HIM! Emperor Penguin "rockets out of the water at high velocity" (Thelen 2021)! Emperor penguins store a layer of air in their feathers before diving into the water. When they ascend toward the surface the penguins release these air microbubbles, allowing them to reduce drag and swim faster! Emperor Penguin "land[s] squarely on a patch of ice and continue[s] sliding toward safety," leaving leopard seal gnashing its jaws in the water (Thelen 2021). Emperor Penguin, now like a launched curling stone, careens into Owl Monkey and sends Owl Monkey skitter-hurling across the slick ice and off the field of battle. EMPEROR PENGUIN COLLISIONS OWL MONKEY! Narrated by Drs. Lara Durgavich, Mauna Dasari, & Katie Hinde.
Striped Dolphin (4) vs. Side-striped Jackal (5) - Striped Dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) are highly acrobatic and frequently jump into the air. One unique behavior to Striped Dolphins is called “roto-tailing” where they rapidly circle their tails while arcing through the air. When feeding, Striped Dolphins will regularly dive to depths of 700m. At these depths the water pressure can squeeze their thorax and compress lungs and trachea. Striped Dolphins have special trachea which can fill with blood to resist this pressure. Side-Striped Jackals (Lupulella adustus) are very vocal. They regularly communicate with other individuals or when threatened with unusual hooting-sounds rather than barks or howls. Side-Striped Jackals often occupy territories w/other canids, such as black-backed and golden jackals. The larger canid is usually competitively dominant, but Side-Striped Jackals will always be displaced, even if encountering a smaller species. Because they are so easily dominated by other carnivores, Side-Striped Jackals are highly adapted to opportunistic foraging and will habituate quickly in highly varied habitats.
Tonight’s battle takes place in and around the Mani peninsula, in the southern Peloponnesus region of Greece. Here the narrow shelf gives way to deep waters of the Ionian Sea very close to shore. Here, where the cool, deep water meets warmer currents, there is an abundance of marine life. Striped Dolphins frequently hunt these waters, taking advantage of large numbers of squid and small fish. Out for a hunt in the forests of coastal Africa, our Side-Striped Jackal has suddenly been transported into the surf of the Mediterranean. From the coastal region of Gabon, Jackal is somewhat familiar with the scent of the ocean. But jackals are not really the swimming type, and this Jackal starts doggy-paddling towards the siren scent of land. When something brushes against its fur... Under the water below Side-Striped Jackal, Striped Dolphin grabs a mouthful of squishy food. Slurp! Dolphin swallows several squid, its favorite food. Unfortunately, those shrimp are filled with chemicals run off the land! The Mediterranean is among the world’s most polluted oceans. The United Nations estimates that 650 million tons of sewage, >120,000 tons of oil, 60,000 tons of mercury, almost 4,000 tons of lead, and 36,000 tons of phosphate are dumped into the Mediterranean... annually! Ocean health improves with both personal & political actions. Cleaning the Mediterranean is ongoing. Research from PEW Charitable Trusts shows it takes multiple avenues to curb pollution. One of the best ways is to stop the source.
Years of eating contaminated prey has resulted in bioaccumulation of many toxins in the body of Side-Striped Dolphin. However, the levels of toxins are not causing any adverse physical effects... for now. But what was tickling at Jackal's fur? Paddling toward shore, Side-Striped Jackal has accidentally swam into the drifting tendrils of a Portuguese Man O' War!! These siphonophores have 30 meter-long tentacles made of stinging polyps. Stings are normally multiple, painful, and severe, usually stunning & killing fish. The tentacles wrap around the tail & back of our Jackal! Hydrozoan and jellyfish stings are quite common in the world's oceans (> 150 million jellyfish stings per year!). But it doesn't take much (pantyhose, diving suits, etc.) to protect oneself against irritating and painful stings. But tentacles also drape across the Jackal’s belly, where the fur is less thick to help shed heat and more skin is exposed. Here the Man O’ War tentacles penetrate canid skin and stinging nematocysts deliver powerful jolts of venom to the Jackal! The venom is evolved to kill small fish, not a 14kg Jackal. But the stings are enough to cause our Jackal to yelp with pain and panic! Seawater & tentacles rush into Jackal’s open nose and mouth, delivering more venom to those sensitive areas. Wracked with intense pain, the airway of Side-Striped Jackal swells and he goes into shock. Unable to breathe and struggling for air, Jackal slips beneath the waves. STRIPED DOLPHIN OUT-SURVIVES SIDE-STRIPED JACKAL! Narrated by Prof. Brian Tanis.
Learn from the Jackal folks: Never go far from shore without a personal flotation device, and if you are swimming in regions of high jellyfish activity, be sure to wear a rash guard, stinger suit, & bring reef-safe sting lotion and sunblock!
Wolverine (3) v. Bat-Eared Fox (6) – Evidence is accumulating that Wolverine (Gulo gulo) Dads visit the dens of females with young in their territory, with the most visits occurring in March. Whether male wolverines are engaging in direct behavioral care is unknown, but researchers speculate that increased visits of male may deter predators or stranger wolverines from approaching the dens. In the Pacific Northwest, the Cascades Wolverine Project monitors the population and distribution through elaborate bait, camera-trap, and hair sample set-ups. While mom forages for termites to sustain lactation, Bat-Eared Fox Dad (Otocyon megalotis) stays home to tend the pups, spending time cuddled in the den with young, grooming their ecto-parasites and cleaning their ears. Bat-Eared Fox Dads will carry very young pups gently in their mouths to move pups to new dens if predators encroach too closely. These dads forage near the den, bringing back small birds, rodents, and large insects when the pups begin to consume solid food.
On the Laikipia Plateau of central Kenya, Bat-Eared Fox Dad is chaperoning his pups on a termite-foraging excursion beyond the den, vigilant for any threats to his kin from black-backed jackals and African wildcats. Bat-Eared Fox Dad has previously co-reared 3 litters of pups in his adulthood. This 4th litter was born last fall, and the time is fast approaching when they will be fully weaned and disperse into "wide open spaces, room to make some big mistakes.” One pup, "she trots this home range in the wild, wide-eyed and grinning, she never tired" as she scampers over playfully to Dad just as MMMagic transports Bat-Eared Fox Dad *and* daughter, Dad precedes and puppy will follow, to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Scene takes the shape of a place out West, but what it holds for her, she hasn't yet guessed.
Wolverine has been surveying the landscape of his home range looking for a carcass to scavenge when a new scent drifts on the wind suggesting easy pickings may be near. Wolverine are "opportunistic feeders and respond quickly to temporarily abundant or easily procurable food" including fox (Pasitschniak-Arts & Lariviere, 1995). Bat-Eared Fox Dad spots the Wolverine coming in their direction and utters a soft contact call vocalization to bring his pup closer to him. But the bat-eared fox daughter is scampering after a recently returned fluttering mountain bluebird and doesn't hear her Dad's contact call. Who doesn’t know what I’m talking about. With greater urgency, Bat-Eared Fox Dad vocalizes a high-pitched warning call that travels farther than the contact call, to warn his daughter of an approaching predator. She sees new faces. She knows the high stakes. As Wolverine closes in fast, the daughter only has enough time to look up and back up against tumbled rocks with a smattering of pines growing from them on the hillside… A young pup's fears no longer callow.
BAT-EARED FOX DAD RUNS IN SNAPPING AT WOLVERINE, in a valiant solo attempt to mob the mesopredator intent on making daughter fox dinner. Having successfully survived to this age, Bat-Eared Fox Dad is experienced, and is shaped by adaptations to invest more toward kiddos at this life stage according to life history theory that would suggest older animals increase effort in reproduction. Bat-Eared Fox Dad has successfully distracted Wolverine while the daughter finds a safe den-like hidey hole amongst the jumbled rocks. The Wolverine chases the Bat-Eared Fox Dad, who now rapidly switches directions to increase chances of escape, but the 4-kg Bat-Eared Fox Dad is no match for the massive mustelid Wolverine at 18 kg! Bat-Eared Fox Dad’s last sight is daughter scampering back through the MMMagic portal to her siblings, safe from the Wolverine. But now Dad won't be coming back to the rest, if these are life's lessons, she'll do her best. WOLVERINE DEFEATS BAT-EARED FOX! Narrated by Prof. Katie Hinde, with assist from The Chicks.
Sea Otter (1) v. Bumblebee Bat (16) – Sea Otter (Enhydra lutra) was a 16th seed in 2014's Marine Mammal Division, losing in the first round, as Sea Otter is the 2nd smallest marine mammal living in the world today. Found along the Pacific coast of North America to Russia, they're capable of living exclusively at sea with their dense coat and ability to float. The Sea Otter uses its cohesive black paw pads to keep slippery prey, like octopi, squid, and fish, from getting away. They use loose folds of skin as pockets to store their favorite mussel-smashing rock. The Bumblebee Bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai) won a berth to this Division in 2023 making it a 2-time WILD CARD Winner! Bumblebee Bat also defeated Pygmy Jerboa in the wild card in 2015. Although the Bumblebee Bat is about 1/20,000th of the Sea Otter weight (2g), the sagittal crest on the skull indicates they pack a big bite. Nigerian scientists at Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University found that Bumblebee Bat guano improves the nutritional quality of red amaranth and antioxidant concentration in false sesame.
Bumblebee Bat is heading back to its limestone cave in Thailand after a night of hunting. When Bumblebee Bat enters the cave, the temperature drops about 20℉ and the sound of crickets is replaced by slapping waves. MMMagic has transported Bumblebee Bat off the shore of one of the Aleutian Islands near Alaska. Unfortunately, the middle of the sea isn't a great place for a bat to sleep. Sea Otter, meanwhile, yawns below Bumblebee Bat. Sea Otters are diurnal (active during the day), so when the bat is just getting ready to bed, Sea Otter is waking up. Bumblebee Bat uses their echolocation to scan its surroundings, fluttering about making its "characteristic tweets" (Hill & Smith 1981). No cave to be found, Bumblebee Bat flutters away intent to find land while Sea Otter begins to groom himself. SEA OTTER OUTLASTS BUMBLEBEE BAT! Narrated by Dr. Asia Murphy.
Rock Hyrax (2) v. seed Pygmy Jerboa (15) – Hopping into the ring at a whopping 3.5 g is the Pygmy Jerboa (Salpingotulus michaelis) who LOST its 2015 wild card battle as Bumblebee Bat chased it from contention. These tiny rodents have elongated hind limbs like a mini kangaroo and a long tail that provides balance as they zig-zag run through sand. Known only from desert regions of southwest Pakistan, Pygmy Jerboas do not need to drink water because they get their daily water from eating seeds and leaves. Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis), weighing about 10lbs, was a #16-seed back in 2014. But even getting to compete as a social group in the Social Mammal Division, Rock Hyrax was no match for the stomping power of a fully armed and operational Musk Oxen herd. Unlike Pygmy Jerboa, the Rock Hyrax has a broad geographic range, occurring through most of Africa and parts of the Arabian Peninsula. They can easily scamper in and among their rocky dwellings thanks to their large, soft footpads. Although they look like large rodents and are sometimes referred to as 'rock rabbits', Rock Hyraxes are neither. Rock hyraxes are most closely related to elephants and in their own Order: Hyracoidea.
Stocky formations of the Hoggar mountains pierce the skyline in Ahaggar National Park in southeast Algeria. This otherworldly landscape is most notably home to the critically endangered Saharan Cheetah. Our male Hyrax is sprawled out on the edge of a large rock, basking in the Algerian sun. Rock Hyraxes are notoriously lazy, spending 95% of their day just lounging. Other hyraxes are scattered nearby, with a handful piled all on top of each other in a heap. Having been snoozing away in a cozy burrow moments ago, our nocturnal Jerboa blinks against the setting sun. Jerboa takes a cautious hop on the rocky surface where our Hyrax is sprawled. TRIILLLLLLLLL. Our Hyrax jerks his head up as the high-pitched alarm of another, nearby hyrax echoes across the rocks. With a grunt, the Hyrax bounds into its nearby crevice just as the elegant haunches and graceful tail of a Saharan Cheetah saunter into view. The Jerboa goes to bound into the rock refuge too… SMACK! The Cheetah whacks at the first sign of movement with a long, curious paw and sniffs at the unfamiliar rodent before consuming the tiny, stunned Jerboa in one swallow. Content with its snack, Cheetah continues on its way, while the Hyrax emerges from the rock crevice to resume foraging. ROCK HYRAX OUTLIVES THE PYGMY JERBOA!! Narrated by Dr. Alyson Brokaw.
Mara (4) v. Siberian Chipmunk (13) – In 2014, the Mara (Dolichotis patagonum), weighing 8.12kg, was the #15-seed rabbit-looking capybara relative that acts and moves like an ungulate in The Who in the What Now Division. With tiny, hoof-like feet, Mara spends the day walking through open environments, nibbling on just the very tops of uncommon grass, cacti, and fruits in the shrub and grasslands of Argentina. The Mara is always carefully watching for South American gray foxes and hawks. Like rabbits, Mara are hindgut-fermenters, with food mostly being digested in the cecum and large intestine. Things don't break down all that well, so Maras believe in enjoying a meal twice, practicing coprophagy (i.e., poop-eating), even eating poop that's not their own! Siberian Chipmunk (Eutamias sibiricus) is back after being a #15-seed first-round snack attack in 2016 for #2-seed Snow Leopard in the Cold-Adapted Division. At 150g, the Siberian Chipmunk is found in Russia and surrounding, northern countries, where it eats a variety of food, including birds, reptiles, fungi, and seeds. Siberian Chipmunks spend their days in the forest, stealing from the food caches of other chipmunks while carefully avoiding their own until there are no witnesses, ever-preparing for the coming winter.
MMMagic transports our Siberian Chipmunk to the warmth of a southern hemisphere late summer day and goes motionless where he stands to assess the yellow, nearly transparent grass. Nearby, the Mara male is carefully rubbing his butt against the ground marking his small, drifting territory that centers around his female mate. The female does not pay attention; she's busy eating. The Siberian Chipmunk is determined to find the nearest hideyhole and the Mara male is marking his territory, so both are too preoccupied to notice the slinking predator… then Siberian Chipmunk alarms a shrill cry as a lesser grison slinks into the scene! The Siberian Chipmunk's shrill cry reveals its position and is abruptly cut off by the jaws of the lesser grison. MARA OUTLIVES SIBERIAN CHIPMUNK! Narrated by Dr. Asia Murphy.
Dik-Dik (3) versus Colo Colo Opossum (14) - The Dik-Dik (Modacta guentheri) is one of the most diminutive ungulates, but a heavyweight in this bracket, weighing in at 3–5 kg (6.6–11.0 lb) or 12-23 stoats. Dik-Diks live in male-female pairs with dependent offspring in scrubby or woodland areas with some cover. Being a bite-sized snack to a multitude of predators means Dik Dik spend a lot of time being alert, always ready to dash for safety into the nearby bush. Females and males look very similar from a distance, though females are slightly larger and males have a modest pair of horns that are used to fight other males, not so much defending himself or family against predators. The Colo Colo Opossum (aka Dromiciops gliroides, monito del monte & chumaihuén in Mapudungun, the language of the Mapuche in south-central Chile & west-central Argentina) lives in cool humid high-altitude forests and builds round nests where they cram together to retain heat during hibernation. This miniscule marsupial scarfs insects to store fat for hibernation in her tail, and by the end of the (southern) summer Colo Colo may get her energy reserves up enough to weigh an impressive 1/5th of a stoat (~42g). As a marsupial, the Colo Colo has a delightfully complex reproductive situation, consisting of two uteruses, two vagina, & a four-nippled pouch in which her minuscule offspring finish developing.
Our scene opens in Meru National park in central Kenya. The park covers 870km² and "habitats that range from lush green vegetation on rich volcanic soils to semi-arid scrublands and open plains" (Africa Geographic). The nocturnal Colo Colo is rudely awakened by sunlight pouring onto the acacia tree she's in. She wraps her engorged but still grasping (prehensile) tail around a branch & wonders if her soon-to-be-weaned offspring are keeping warm back in their nest. Down below, the female Dik-Dik is resting with her family under the tree the Colo Colo is wedged in. Above all of their heads, a Central African Rock Python glides down a branch, flickering tongue sensing several potential mammalian targets. The python pauses and lifts her head to evaluate the distant but familiar scent of the Dik-Dik versus a closer but unfamiliar smell. Deciding not to try anything new, the python slithers down the trunk of the tree, heading towards the baby Dik-Dik. Though small, this delectable morsel would keep her satiated for quite a while. The snake's movement catches the eye of a White-bellied Go Away Bird perched in the top of a nearby tree. The bird's alarm calls are meant to warn members of her species, but Dik-Dik eavesdrops and takes heed, looking around for a predator. The Colo Colo on the other hand is far from home & the alarm call is not familiar. Colo Colo gets ready to move away from the Go Away Bird, but the python senses the nearby movement and strikes. Wrapping a coil around the small Colo Colo, the python squeezes & waits for the Colo Colo to die of cardiac arrest. DIK-DIK OUTLASTS COLO COLO OPOSSUM!! Narration by Dr. Anne Hilborn.
Sibree Dwarf Lemur (5) vs. Silver Pika (12) – The Sibree Dwarf Lemur (Cheirogaleus sibreei) is one of ~25 species of dwarf/mouse lemurs, which are tiny primates found only in the rainforests of Madagascar. The Sibree Dwarf Lemur weighs in at ~270g and is back after a 2015 1st-round "RUN AWAY!" from Tamaraw in the Critically Endangered Division. Long thought extinct, Sibree Dwarf Lemurs were rediscovered in 2008 in central Madagascar. Alpine specialists, with only 3 known populations isolated on a few mountaintops. Little is known about this small, elusive, nocturnal species, but like other members of their family, they have strong hind legs and a long tail used for balance. The Sibree Dwarf Lemur are omnivores, consuming invertebrates, flowers, leaves, and figs. Pikas (Ochotona argentata), on the other hand, are round, FLOOFy, rabbit relatives with no tails, typically found in alpine habitats. The Silver Pika weighs about 240g. That's double its American cousin O. princeps, but smaller than its opponent. As a #16-seed in the Critically Endangered Division in 2015, Round 1 saw Silver Pika sidelined (stage whisper: SQUISHED) by #1-seed Sumatran Rhinoceros. Silver pikas are actually among the least-studied of the pikas and have the tiniest range of any pika in China: they are only found in a few small areas of rocky habitat totaling ~50 square kilometers on Helan Mountain. In spite of its name, the Silver Pika is only silver in the winter: its fur is actually bright red in summer! Perhaps it is also named for the fact that most of its occurrences are in the entrances of disused mine shafts... (Sidebar: Did you know that there is a WHOLE SOCIETY devoted to FLOOFY pikas? The North American Pika Consortium even has ENTIRE CONFERENCES devoted to pikas every few years!).
Our battle happens in the rainforest of Tsinjoarivo, Madagascar, the only home habitat for the Sibree Dwarf Lemur. It's dusk and there is a light rain. Due to a bit of MMMagic, the Silver Pika finds itself in a most unusual place: scurrying along a warm forest floor. Suddenly leaves rustle overhead. It's the lemur rousing from daytime slumber and beginning to hunt for an insect breakfast. Its large forward-facing eyes give it excellent depth perception and night vision, so it easily spots the floofy pika. It LEAPS from a branch... And lands SQUARELY ON THE PIKA! The lemur desperately clutches the pika's thick fur, trying to get a good grip. The pika, meanwhile, darts among branches in the forest floor, lighting fast, trying to shake the lemur from its back. CLONK! Sibree's Dwarf Lemur gets clocked by a low branch in the understory as Silver Pika runs away unharmed. But the heat of the Malagasy rainforest has taken its toll. As an alpine specialist, the Silver Pika can't handle the tropical heat, over 75F, even after dark. As the lemur shakes head, the pika turns tail (so to speak, since it has no external tail) and dives into an abandoned gold mine shaft in the forest to cool off, departing the field of the battle. SIBREE DWARF LEMUR "SEES STARS" BUT OUTLASTS SILVER PIKA! Narration by Prof. Jo Varner.
Itjaritjari (6) vs. Silky Anteater (11) - The Itjaritjari (Notoryctes typhlops), also called the marsupial mole, is very small (head & body length 121–159 mm, weight 40–70 g), has big digging claws on its front feet, and a thickened "rostral horny shield" to protect its nose and front of its face (Bennison et al. 2014). Itjaritjari is a marsupial whose babies spend time in a pouch after birth. Living underground, the Itjaritjari's pouch opens backwards so it doesn't fill up with sand and soil from mom's tunneling movements. The Silky Anteater (Cyclopes didactylus) is a teensy tree-living, ant specialist that consumes 700-5000 ants per day year-round. The 225-gram Silky Anteater has combination coloring of grey, brown, tan, and yellow hairs that are long and dense with a silver gloss. When threatened in the tree-tops, Silky Anteater takes a defensive stance, clinging to the branch with back feet and grasping tail and holding its front feet to protect its face, a tactic, incidentally, that was not effective in 2017 March Mammal Madness when Silky Anteater was a #15-seed against the #2-seed Clouded Leopard.
MMMagic transports Silky Anteater from its nocturnal ant foraging in the green, lush South American forest along river corridors... to daytime in the red sands of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in central Australia. In 1985, Kata-Tjuta National Park was returned to the Yankunytjatjara & Pitjantjatjara people, the traditional stewards/owners of the land (cough, contingent on an immediate 100-year lease to the Australian govt). Today in the joint-managed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, "Tjukurpa – Anangu traditional law, knowledge & religious philosophy – guides everything that happens in the park, just as it has for tens of thousands of years”, and Tjukurpa guidance includes "using traditional methods to conserve the park’s plants, animals, culture & landscapes" (Parks Australia). Terrified to find itself terrestrial in a sandy desert, Silky Anteater begins moving toward a massive rock in the distance. Seasonal rains pour and pool in the massive rock habitat, watering groves of Bloodwood trees at Uluru's base, an arboreal oasis for Silky Anteater. FWWWWW! Itjaritjari emerges from the sand after a lizard. CLONK! The lizard collides face-first with Silky Anteater. BOING! Lizard bounces backwards into Itjaritjari's grasp to be RRRRRRFT ripped open! SLOSH! Itjaritjari noisily eats lizard's insides... POOF! Silky Anteater leaves behind only a puff of sand dust as he races toward the only tree in sight, leaving this nightmare scene of battle. ITJARITJARI SCARES SILKY ANTEATER!!! Narration by Prof. Katie Hinde.
Bulldog Bat (7) vs. Thor’s Hero Shrew (10) – Greater Bulldog Bat (Noctilio leporinus) was first seen on the MMM scene in 2019, as a #16-seed against Moose in the Waterfalls Division and was sadly exited from the tournament by hypothermia in a Bomb Cyclone that ripped through Rocky Mountain National Park. Strikingly orange with short, velvety fur, the Bulldog Bat is nicknamed for its square head and droopy, bulldog-like lips. While it may be itty-bitty to some, this Bat's 70 cm wingspan is nothing to scoff at. Most distinctive are the Bat's long feet and curved nails, which it uses to catch fish in freshwater streams and rivers in Neotropical forests. In addition to fish, Bulldog Bats regularly feed on aerial insects like beetles and moths, though in Puerto Rico, Bulldog Bats are even reported to hunt other smaller bats. First described by science in 2013, Thor's Hero Shrew (Scutisorex thori) has a backbone as impressive as any superhero and emerged from the 2016 wildcard against King Midas Bat, to be sadly defeated by #1-seed Panda's powerful Sits-and-Persists strategy. Thor's Hero shrew has relatively massive backbones (vertebrae) complete with interlocking bony tubercles, making it ~4x stronger than that of a human (adjusted for size). Known only from the village of Baleko in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Thor's Hero Shrew has grizzled brown and grey fur, a long bicolored tail, and weighs about 47g. Exactly why their spine is so strong remains to be seen, but it's thought to be related to their foraging habits, based on observations from local residents who commonly see these shrews when collecting beetle larvae.
The silvery thread of moonlight just brushes the tops of the ancient stones of High Temple, the tallest of the ancient Mayan ruins part of the Lamanai Archeological Site in northern Belize. Nearby, the waters of the New River lap softly against the bank. A shadow glides about a foot above the waves. It's our Bulldog bat, out for a night of fishing in its home habitat. Transported by MMMagic from its central African home, our shrew finds itself on the banks of the river. SNIFF. SNIFF. The air smells different, but is warm and humid like what the shrew is used to. Hungry, the shrew scuffles along the edge of the water looking for a snack. The bat swoops by, opens its mouth wide and emits a loud SCREEEE (140 dB SPL to be exact, like standing next to a jackhammer)! A soft splash echoes against the night sky. With the bat's calls outside of the shrew's hearing range, the shrew does not notice. Shrew is busy trying to wedge its body against a hefty tree branch to look for grubs, using its strong back as leverage. Despite the shrew's best effort, the tree branch will not budge. The shrew withdraws its body from the branch and scuttles away from the river's edge in search of easier hunting. A second splash follows as the bat's slippery fish prey slips through its claws. Bat circles back, ready to try again. BULLDOG BAT OUTLASTS THOR'S HERO SHREW! Narration by Dr. Alyson Brokaw.
Southern Ningaui (8) vs Grasshopper Mouse (9) - This is a battle of teeny terrors! Welcome to the arena the Southern Ningaui, 12g of complete fury from Southern Australia. "While Southern Ningaui only get up to 5.7 cm long, they are known for going after prey that is double their size, attacking in a "lunge-bite-retreat" style." (Bos 2001). Like many other marsupials, female Southern Ningaui have a pouch in which to carry their babies, which are born in November and December. Ningaui was a #16-seed that ran away from #1-seed Pygmy Hog in the first round of Tiny Terrors in 2020. On the other side of the arena is the whopping 40g Grasshopper Mouse, found in the western parts of North America, from Canada to Mexico. With small, pointed teeth, much like the Southern Ningaui, the Grasshopper Mouse is a carnivorous beast, eating invertebrates and other mice, including members of their own species. In 2017, in the Two Animals One Mammal Division, #15-seed Grasshopper Mouse became dearly departed after a lethal bite from #2-seed Leopard Cat.
It is just after sunset in the mallee habitat in Mungo NP, southern Australia. Mungo NP is a World Heritage site, home to some of the oldest ritual human burial sites, and co-managed by indigenous Aboriginal Australians. Our Southern Ningaui leaps from the top of a stalk into a clump of vegetation, snagging a tasty moth! Still crunching on their prize, the Ningaui continues its foraging walk, sniffing for more food as it weaves in & out of clumps of vegetation, unaware that something is stalking Ningaui from the shadows. Only the shrill, bloodthirsty cry alerts the Ningaui as the Grasshopper Mouse pounces! Grasshopper Mouse prefers insects when they are available, but with it March in the US, there are few bugs around. So now Grasshopper Mouse craves meat. "Ningaui could outrun Grasshopper Mouse in the open," (Bailey & Sperry 1929), but Ningaui prefer habitats that haven't burned recently with plenty of "narrow place(s) [where] they [can] catch & kill." (Kelly et al 2011). As the Grasshopper Mouse grasps the Ningaui with strong paws, Ningaui turns sharp teeth on Grasshopper Mouse! Grasshopper Mouse, used to tangling with lightning quick scorpions, dodges the bite. And lands a bite of its own… Right through the Ningaui's skull! The Ningaui's body twitches as the Grasshopper Mouse begins a long-awaited feast. GRASSHOPPER MOUSE DEVOURS SOUTHERN NINGAUI! Narrated by Dr. Asia Murphy.
Golden Eagle (1) vs. Spongilla Fly (16) - Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) are widely distributed in the Northern Hemisphere and are North America's largest raptor with an up to 7 foot wingspan. Females are larger than males, and adult eagles are largely brown, with golden coloration on their heads, neck, & nape. Golden Eagles build incredible nests, sometimes building on top of nests of previous generations of Golden Eagles, with long-time use of the most preferred nest locations. A seven meter (21 foot) tall Golden Eagle nest on a basalt wall was studied near Sun River, Montana. The oldest, most foundational nest was radiocarbon dated to the early 1400s. Spongilla flies (Climacia areolaris) are widely distributed living within freshwater ecosystems from Mexico to Canada. After hatching & going through two stages of underwater development (one parasitizing freshwater sponges), the larva emerge from water, spin a protective net for a cocoon for their transformation into an adult stage. The little larvae selects a spot, fixes legs to surface, and then dabs their abdomen to the surface so "viscid, semi-liquid silk oozes out" swinging their abdomen in wide arcs to create fiber threads in a systematic pattern over 6-8 hours (Brown 1952).
Tonight's battle takes place in the Scottish Highlands where Golden Eagle populations have persisted even as their White-Tailed Eagle brethren were extirpated from the United Kingdom. In March, the Spongilla Fly has been overwintering in suspended development in a larval stage (diapause). Currently a 2nd Instar, this insect is only about 1mm wide & 3mm long. Adult Spongilla Flies died off after breeding at the end of last summer. MMMagic transports Spongilla Fly Larva to Scotland directly onto the base of Golden Eagle's talon! Spongilla Fly Larva at this developmental stage should be under the water and the larva's gills flutter uselessly. The Golden Eagle, preening the feathers that reach down to her toes incidentally consumes Spongilla Fly Larva, without even noticing. GOLDEN EAGLE INCIDENTALLY EATS SPONGILLA FLY! Narrated by Prof. Katie Hinde.
Cathedral Termite (2) vs #15 seed Dung Beetle (15) - The Cathedral termite (Nasutitermes triodiae) is native to Northern Australia and their colonies build mounds over 15 feet high. Like all termites, Cathedral termites are eusocial - with three types of castes - workers, soldiers and reproductives. Cathedral termite soldiers are called "nasute soldiers” because of the frontal projection (nasus) on their head. The whole termite colony cannot compete in March Mammal Madness, so our combatant is a single nasute soldier weighing in at a grand total of 10 mg. Kheper larmarki is a dung beetle species native to South Africa. Dung is used as a food source. In 2019, Dacke and colleagues found that South African dung beetles can navigate using both celestial and wind cues. Kheper larmarki is a model system for navigation studies in Dung beetles. When ready to roll a dung ball, K. larmarki does an orientation dance on top of the ball.
Our battle begins at midday in Litchfield National Park in northern Australia (aka "Top End"), home of some amazing Cathedral termite mounds. Dung beetle finds itself transported adjacent to a cathedral mound, and next to an unusual but welcome olfactory delight - dingo droppings! Dung beetle makes short work of the dingo dung - molding the feces into a ball- and does a little dance as the Dung Beetle prepares to roll the dung ball away. The beetle rolls the dung up the cathedral mound, mounting the alarm response of the colony. As the termite soldiers arrive at colony entrances, gravity overcomes the dung ball and it rolls off the mound. The beetle chases after the ball of feces and off the field of battle! CATHEDRAL TERMITE OUTLASTS DUNG BEETLE!! Narrated by Prof. Chris Anderson.
Homo habilis (3) vs. #14-seed Pueblo Bee (14) - Homo habilis is a member of the group of fossil species closer to humans than to any other living primate. This group, called hominins, all walked on two legs. The earliest claimed Homo habilis is ~2.8 million years old and was found by Chalachew Seyoum in Ethiopia. Paleoanthropologists estimate that a male Homo habilis would have stood about as tall as a 4th grader (about 1.5 meters). Hominin height is estimated from fossil limb bones and their stride length as seen in fossilized footprints. Homo habilis made what is known as the “Oldowan Industrial Complex”- tools, like choppers and flakes, made out of stone. These tools were used for removing meat from bones and to break open animal bones to get marrow. Homo habilis made stone tools by knocking rocks against each other. While the tools might not look fancy, it takes some practice to get the hang of making them. Anthophora pueblo is a bee species with some buzzworthy news: beelieve it or not, using their strong jaw they excavate nests in sandstone. The long-lasting durability of these nests, and ability to reuse them, may be why natural selection has favored these bees making this kind of nest. This nesting in stone, though, is not without costs: "Mandible wear is consistently seen in older females, a consequence of excavation that likely limits their further use." (Orr et al. 2016). It is important to know the role all bees play in their niche: There are over 20,000 bee species and they provide "vital roles in ecosystems and agriculture around the globe." (De Jong & Lester, 2023)
Late afternoon at Naibor Soit, a quartzite outcropping at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania 1.7 million years ago. The savannah grassland with scrub and bush is home to giraffe, antelope, hyena, and other MMM favorites. Homo habilis is selecting raw materials for tool-making. Pueblo Bee finds itself transported by MMMagic from the desert shrublands of Utah to the same spot where Homo habilis is making tools, beewildering Anthophora pueblo. Pueblo Bee beelines to the rocks, looking for a soft sandstone to excavate a nest, but the quartzite rock here is harder than the soft sandstone at home. The Pueblo Bee’s mandibles have trouble making any scrapes to start the nest. WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! Homo habilis is striking rocks and assessing break patterns for the perfect flake. Pueblo Bees, unlike many some other bee species, are not aggressive. The whacky action and hard stone motivates the Pueblo Bee to fly away from the field of battle. HOMO HABILIS DIVERTS PUEBLO BEE! Narrated by Prof. Marc Kissel.
Lungfish (4) vs. Tent-making Bat (13) - Most species of lungfish can "terrestrialize" during droughts or dry seasons. The Lungfish will secrete a protective mucus cocoon in a mud nest, lowering their metabolic rate & changing their waste processes (aestivation) to survive months or even years. Our Lungfish combatant, Protopterus dolloi, living in a habitat that retains moisture year-round, does not typically "terrestrialize" but can under extreme conditions. Lungfish could have been in Dad Bods Division as males build the mud nest and protect eggs during the summer breeding season. The Tent-Making Bat (Uroderma bilobatum) is common in lowland forests of Central America and eats fruit (frugivorous) with a particular fondness for figs, and typically lives in social groups of 2-59 individuals. Mostly greyish-brown, this combatant could have also been in the Mighty Stripes Division due to the two white stripes that run from behind its ears and down its face, and one white racing stripe down its back.
Tonight's battle takes place on the muddy floodplains of Lake Nkuna of the Congo River in central Africa. Recent heavy rains have drenched the region, creating many muddy pools and braided streams. An obligate airbreather, Lungfish "walks" in shallow, muddy water hunting small vertebrate and invertebrate prey. Tent-making Bat, although alone, immediately begins to make a tent to have an out-of-the-rain sleeping site. Laboriously making dozens of bites and chewing along the structural veins of a large tree leaf, the Tent-Making Bat weakens the leaf so it droops in a way that protects from wind, rain, and other weather, so the bat stays warmer. In the shallow muddy waters below, water sluices across the Lungfish. Without family or friends to help, the tent-making is slower-going than usual for the 16g Tent-Making Bat. Repositioning to bite a structural vein, a gust of wind blows the bat into the muddy puddle below. Omnivorous 8kg Lungfish is already at the surface, breathing air. Lungfish ravenously closes in on the struggling, floating bat. LUNGFISH DEVOURS TENT-MAKING BAT! Narrated by Prof. Katie Hinde.
Palaeocastor fossor (5) v. Trapdoor Spider (12) – Palaeocastor fossor was a fossil beaver, but unlike the wetland associated beavers of modern beavers, Palaeocator fossor lived in a dry grassland. Palaeocator fossor excavated corkscrew burrows that could be 8+ feet deep, fossilized versions of these structures were termed ‘Daimonelix’ meaning "Devil's Corkscrew" when originally described. These burrows are found in high densities, with many burrows clustered together in towns, but the burrows did not connect with neighbors. Sydney Brown Trapdoor Spider (Arbanitis rapax) is typically found year-round waiting in ambush at the entrance to its burrow. These spiders will silk-tether a fallen leaf to close the entrance to their burrow or silk tether to fallen needles to detect steps of prey passers-by. Once prey are captured, Trapdoor Spider will back up a bit into the burrow to consume their prey, dropping uneaten bits into a carcass pit at the bottom of the burrow, or as scientists say "a midden of uneaten prey remains near the bottom of the burrow" (Bradley 1996).
About 22 million years ago, the Harrison Formation of Western Nebraska was a semiarid, upland paleoenvironment of sandy substrate where Palaeocastor fossor lived in many Devil’s Corkscrews. MMMagic transports the arid-adapted Trapdoor Spider who feels nearly at home in the sandy soil. Trapdoor Spider readily begins excavating a new silk-lined burrow. The surrounding grasslands are a veritable smorgasbord-orgesboard-orgesboard for the Trapdoor Spider with the beetles, ants, and other insects the spider prefers. Periods of dispersal from the natal nest and the construction and establishment of their own burrow is a time of high mortality for Trapdoor Spiders from numerous predators. WHAMPF! Palaeocastor moving quickly into the only burrow entrance tumble-tramples over the Trapdoor Spider that had not yet crafted enough of a depression to avoid Palaeocastor's stride. PALAEOCASTOR TRAMPLES TRAPDOOR SPIDER! Narrated by Prof. Katie Hinde & Dr. Yara Haridy.
Goanna (6) vs. Rufous Hornero (11) - Goanna (Varanus panoptes) is also known as the yellow-spotted monitor. At about 150 cm they are one of the largest of the Australian lizards. Like many monitors, they eat fish, rodents, and other lizards. And like another contender in this bracket, they make helix-shaped burrows that are then used by other animals! Rufous Hornero (Furnarius rufus), aka the red ovenbird, is the national bird of Argentina and Uruguay. Their domed nests weigh about 4 kg and are made out of mud and dung, to which they add straw, hair, etc to make a mortar. Some scientists think the nests help to keep the baby birds warm, freeing the parents to forage for food, but this is debated. While they rarely reuse old nests, other birds might use Furnarius rufus’ abandoned nests. While recently fledged chicks will try to help build nests, even carry mud & dung to help, adults often chase them away from the nest site (n.b. much like young kids helping to bake, it probably takes 3 times as long to do anything with the kids around).
Tonight’s battle is the rocky eucalyptus woodland near Townsville, Queensland, home to many lizards, skinks, & snakes. The Ovenbird is transported by MMMagic to Townsville and, while not too distressed by the environment, the Ovenbird is none too happy that the nest he had begun to build for the upcoming breeding season has disappeared! Goanna emerges from the opening of a burrow deeper than almost any other vertebrate: the average depth is 2.3 meters (but some are as deep as 3.6 m) with a brief sloping section, followed by the helix, and then a nest chamber deep below. Ovenbird begins collecting materials to build a new nest. Vfovfovfovfovfovfovfo! The rhythmic drum vocalization of the poisonous cane toad. Cane toads, intentionally released by colonizers in 1935 for pest control in sugarcane fields, were lethally poisonous to many of Australia's native vertebrates. Eating adult cane toads has up to a 90% mortality risk for Goannas. Goanna approaches the cane toad, tongue flickering the air. The Ovenbird, as it often does, “utters a peculiar, loud, shrill, & quickly reiterated cry," as described by Charles Darwin in Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle (1842). The Goanna's flickering tongue tastes cane toad. But Goanna has a learned taste aversion to cane toads from a non-lethal exposure to a juvenile cane toad previously. Ovenbird watching from a perch now sees Goanna climbing the tree toward Ovenbird. Wasting no time, Ovenbird flies to a less active part of the forest. GOANNA DEFEATS RUFOUS HORNERO! Narrated by Prof. Marc Kissel.
Montezuma Oropendola (7) v. New Caledonian Crow (10) – Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma) are in the icterid bird family (the group that includes orioles and grackles) found in lowland Mexico and parts of Panama. These strikingly colored birds have a very distinctive call. The Females build pouch-like nests made from plant materials such as palm fronds and roots with the bottom of nests having leaf material for cushion. New Caledonian Crow (Corvus moneduloides) are ~40 cm long and found on the Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia. They eat a wide range of food but are most famous for their technique of obtaining insects hidden in crevices by using sticks as tools. They even will work the end of the stick into a hook, which makes it much faster for them to grab an insect snack.
In La Selva Research Station, Costa Rica, New Caledonian Crow has been transported by MMMagic to the base of a tree with a large Oropendola colony. Seeing a dead limb on the ground, the New Caledonian Crow begins to scan for a stick to forage for insects. The Montezuma Oropendola swoops to investigate the novel Crow, who looks somewhat similar to a Giant Cowbird. Giant Cowbirds are common brood parasites of Montezuma Oropendolas - they lay eggs in Oropendola nests and rely on Oropendolas to raise their young. Mistaking the New Caledonian Crow for a Cowbird, the Oropendola attacks! The New Caledonian Crow is an agile flyer - it evades raptors in it's native range - and escapes the diving Oropendola. Banking in midair, the New Caledonian Crow rounds on Montezuma's Oropendola in a counter-attack and drives it from the field of battle! NEW CALEDONIAN CROW DEFEATS MONTEZUMA'S OROPENDOLA!! Narrated by Prof. Chris Anderson.
Veined Octopus (8) v. Pufferfish (9) – The Veined Octopus (Amphioctopus marginatus) is a relatively small cephalopod with a body sac (mantle) ~5.5cm long. Veined Octopus is named for the branching dark lines present over the body that extend down onto the arms that have a 25cm span. The Veined Octopus lives in the Indian Ocean occupying the muddy, sandy seafloors where the octopus hunts for shellfish. The white-spotted Pufferfish (Torquigener albomaculosus) has a muted grey-blue body with mottled white spots. Divers observed long mysterious 2-meter geometric sand circles in the waters near Ryukyu Islands, Japan, which are now known to be made by 10-cm male white-spotted pufferfish.
In the "subtidal soft-sediment substrates to 18 meters deep off the coasts of Northern Sulawesi, Indonesia” (Finn et al. 2009), home habitat of Veined Octopus the combatants will encounter each other. Pufferfish is often found only a bit deeper at the transitions to the mesophotic zone, waters where sunlight still penetrates. Pufferfish immediately begins constructing a geometric circle by rapidly moving fins to plough a trench in the sand toward what will become the center of the geometric circle. Pufferfish swims out to the perimeter of the radial design he is constructing and is just about to flutter-flap another trench when... SON OF A SAND-DOLLAR! A floating coconut is... walking... through the radial circle messing up the design!? Holding two halves of coconut, the Veined Octopus is striding along the ocean floor with its legs. The Pufferfish begins to reconstruct the trench as a shadow passes above the scene... The Veined Octopus grasps the two coconut halves tighter to its body to camouflage itself from predators while bobbing in the water. Pufferfish industrially continues its installation mating project as Veined Octopus coconut strolls off the field of battle. PUFFERFISH OUTLASTS VEINED OCTOPUS! Narrated by Prof. Katie Hinde.
Okapi (1) vs Four-Striped Grass Mouse (16) - Introducing our Mighty Stripes top-seeded combatant, Okapi! Okapis (Okapi johnstoni) are the closest living relatives to giraffes. But instead of the spots or patches that cover a giraffe's body, Okapis are sporting stripes, resembling zebras. White or cream colored horizontal stripes line the upper parts of the rear & front legs to their solid white ankles. To our eye, these stripes are in stark contrast to the dark, velvety body of Okapis. In the African rainforests where Okapis occur, these stripes work as camouflage, looking similar to the streaks of light penetrating the forest. Seeded last in the Mighty Stripes division is the Four-Striped Grass Mouse, named for the four, longitudinal, dark stripes down the back of these small rodents. There are currently 5 species of Grass Mice in the genus Rhadomys recognized, all occurring throughout southern Africa with different species often having different social systems & habitat preferences. Four-Striped Grass Mice (Rhabdomys pumilio), as currently recognized, prefer arid & grassy habitats along coastal South Africa. This rodent species is highly abundant & social, with a bold & inquisitive personality.
Today's battle occurs on the Okapi's home turf, Maiko National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Okapi are active during the day (diurnal) and females are larger than males. Our large, female Okapi is walking slowly while feeding. Four-Striped Grass Mouse finds himself in an unfamiliar & intimidating habitat. Too many plants! Too humid! No frens! Male Grass Mice, however, are bold & curious. Our male Grass Mouse starts sniffing around, exploring. Okapi chomps on some plants following a trail that encompasses her home range. As Okapi steps, scent glands near her feet release a tar-like discharge onto passing plants, marking her passage through the dense vegetation of her territory. Four-Striped Grass Mouse detects a presence nearby, not through his sense of sight but SMELL! The discharge from the Okapi's scent glands has a distinct smell, one that Four-Striped Grass Mouse has picked up and finds noxious. Four-Striped Grass Mouse can't take the novelty and flees from the field of battle! OKAPI REPELS FOUR-STRIPED GRASS MOUSE! Narrated by Prof. Jessica Light
Greater Kudu (2) vs Badger Bat (15) - Float like a butterfly, look like a...badger? Also called the pied butterfly bat & panda bat, tonight's bat contestant is a striking beauty of dark fur patterned with light yellow stripes similar to the European badger. This bat makes its home in the tropical moist lowland and dry forests of Africa, with most specimens recorded from the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. With long, narrow wings, the Badger Bat (Glauconycteris superba) is likely a canopy species, flying at high speeds to catch insects in flight above the trees. "Based on morphological characteristics, the Badger Bat was briefly reclassifed as a new genus Niumbaha, meaning "rare" or "unusual" in Zande, the language of the Azande people - the primary ethnic group in South Sudan. Greater Kudus (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) are one of the world's largest antelope. They have a dark head and are grey-brown with 4-12 light stripes along their mid-section that camouflage them from predators like spotted hyena, wild dogs, and big cats in the forests, savannahs & shrublands in southern & eastern Africa. Their legs are long & overall body shape is narrow. Adult male Kudus can be twice the size of females, reaching nearly 700 lbs! Their striking twisted horns are the largest of any antelope and are attached to the skull permanently. Antlers shed, horns do not.
Tonight's battle takes place at Etosha National Park in northern Namibia, where it is currently the middle of the night. Most of the park is a lake bed. The recent rains mean there's plenty of water & new vegetation growth for browse. Our Kudu is a massive male with nearly 3 full twists to his 4.5-foot-long horns. In the darkness, he is browsing on the sweet, new growth of Mopane leaves. Our Badger Bat, a mature female, is transported by MMMagic to the field of battle. She flits along where the forest meets the open grasslands, switching between different echolocation calls to learn about this unfamiliar place. Badger Bat detects a large hatch of insects flying above kudu's head, she swoops by his ear, catching insects in her tail membrane & pitching them into her mouth, like a butt spoon. WHAMMMM!!!! A barn owl snatches Badger Bat out of the air, lands and gobbles the bat down in less than 2 minutes, removing Badger Bat from the field of battle. KUDU OUT-SNACKS BADGER BAT!
Narrated by Dr. Tara Chestnut and Dr. Alyson Brokaw.
Striped Hyena (3) vs Fire-Footed Rope Squirrel (14) - Both of tonight's competitors display Mighty Stripes, are found across the African continent, and lead solitary lifestyles - but their similarities stop there. Striped Hyenas (Hyaena hyaena) tip the scales at 55kg (121lbs) with stripes adorning their torsos and legs, and are active during dawn, dusk and into the night. Don't confuse Striped Hyena with its Spotted cousin nor the hairier Brown Hyena or Aardwolf. Striped hyenas stripes are most visible during the summer when their hair is shorter. Fire-footed Rope Squirrels (Funisciurus pyrropus) weigh 243g (1/2 lb) and are diurnal tree squirrels with a fabulously striped tail. Fire-Footed Rope Squirrels will eat discarded bark from the Ceiba pentandra tree that's been ripped by chimpanzees foraging for the inner bark richer in sap.
Tonight's battle takes place in the Loisaba Conservancy in the Laikipia Plateau of central Kenya. Fire-Footed Rope Squirrel, however, is feeling less than fabulous on the home turf of Striped Hyena. Squirrel prefers moist savannas and lowland tropical forests, not this much drier grassland. The sun is setting and Fire-Footed Rope Squirrel is darting between the grasses, trying to find a nice tree to climb and make its home for the night. Not too far away, Striped Hyena is standing alone and still, surveying the landscape. Striped Hyena is hungry and normally would scavenge the savanna for a good meal, but nearby Spotted Hyenas are protecting a fresh carcass, so Striped Hyena selects food foraging option 2: hunt for small mammals. Fire-Footed Rope Squirrel stands on hind legs - completely still - attempting to scan the surroundings, but the high grasses limit visibility, and the grass isn't strong enough to support the weight of the squirrel to get a better view. Fire-Footed Rope Squirrel hears a rustle in the grass before Striped Hyena snatches the squirrel with hyena jaws! Striped Hyena shakes head violently from side-to-side, snapping small squirrel bones. STRIPED HYENA CHOMPS FIRE-FOOTED ROPE SQUIRREL! Narrated by Prof. Patrice K. Conners.
Striped Dolphin (4) vs Chequered Elephant Shrew (13) - Striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) get both their common and scientific names from the striking blue-gray and white stripes and blazes which fan out from eye to tail. Striped dolphins are more robust than most dolphins: Individuals can get up to 2.5m long and weigh 157kg. While Striped dolphins will sometimes travel alone or in small groups, they can be very social and form schools of several thousand. Elephant Shrews (Rhynchocyon cirnei), also called Sengi, are distantly related to elephants but even less related to shrews. The animals get their Elephant name because these small mammals have a long and dexterous proboscis they use to help find insects within leaf litter. What the common name does get right is these Elephant Shrews are “checkered,” with several black and white alternating squares in distinct stripes running along the length of the back. While the schnoz of Elephant Shrews is outstanding, they do not have extraordinary smelling abilities. Analysis of their nasal structures suggests olfaction is less refined than dogs.
It’s a beautiful day in the lush forests of Tanzania when MMMagic transports the Chequered Elephant Shrew into the Mediterranean Sea, home habitat of the higher-seeded Striped Dolphin. Striped Dolphins occur in deep waters away from the continental shelf. Nearby, a male Striped Dolphin is moving steadily through the warm, pelagic waters. Dolphin “streaks” through the waves with minimal drag because of his tapered body shape. Panicked Elephant Shrew frantically swings its long limbs. Adapted for running rather than deep water, the little mammal flails, making tiny splashes. Struggling more and more to keep above the swells, the Elephant Shrew grows exhausted. Soon only the tip of the Elephant Shrew's long nose is above the water, still providing precious air. WHOOSH!!! Deepwater red shrimp trapped in nets are hauled up by a fishing trawler... but there's bycatch! Sengi is saved! For once bycatch rescues a life. The fishing vessels sails on, leaving behind the dolphin on the field of battle! STRIPED DOLPHIN OUTSWIMS CHEQUERED ELEPHANT SHREW! Narrated by Prof Brian Tanis.
Side-Striped Jackal (5) v. Common Striped Possum (12) – Side-Striped Jackals (Lupulella adustus) are one of three species of medium-sized canids native to Africa. They are easy to identify by the prominent white and black stripe along the sides of their body, separating their gray back from brown belly. The Side-Striped Jackal is small (13kg and only 95cm long) and stocky with shorter legs, so they do not chase prey. Instead they rely on hiding in dense vegetation and ambush-pouncing on prey. Common Striped Possum (Dactylopsila trivirgata) are white with three black stripes: one along the back and two on each side, running from a distinctive "Y" pattern on the head and merging together on the long tail. For marsupials, the Striped Possum has the largest brain compared to its mass (423g). It isn't exactly clear why Striped Possums have such large brains, but it’s possible they evolved large brains to cognitively deal with unexpected environmental change.
In Gabon, Africa, just outside the town of Gamba, a Jackal is searching its home habitat for food. MMMagic transports a large Possum, who is native to tropical forests of Australia and New Guinea, outside the town and feels fairly at ease in the habitat. Sniffing the wind, the Possum detects some ripened figs that have fallen to the forest floor. While it does occasionally eat figs, Stripped Possums will often forage for insects around fruits and flowers, so the ripe figs are a rich foraging patch for insects. The Jackal has also smelled the delightful aroma of fallen figs! Jackals are opportunistic feeders that consume other small mammals, but as much as 1/3rd of their diet can consist of figs and other fruits. Excited for the prospect of a quick meal, both mammals simultaneously converge on the fig pile. Emerging from the dense vegetation, they see each other- Jackal lunges while the Possum turns to flee! Leaping forward, the Jackal slips on some rotten figs. With paws and jaws landing just to its side, the Possum darts up a nearby tree trunk and disappears into the canopy. Unable to climb after its prey, the Jackal settles for a fig dinner. SIDE-STRIPED JACKAL DISPLACES STRIPED POSSUM!!! Narrated by Prof. Brian Tanis.
Wildcat (6) v. Highland Streaked Tenrec (11) – Tenrecs (Hemicentetes nigriceps) are small mammals endemic to Madagascar that range greatly in shape and size. Highland Streaked Tenrec weighs 160g and is covered with a mix of hairs and spines with three distinctive white stripes along its back. Wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) is a big felid (6.5kg /14lbs) that has stripes along its whole body. Wildcats are found on three continents and are divided into multiple subspecies. Our Wildcat combatant is from the woodland lineage of Scotland that is on the brink of extinction.
In the wooded Highlands of Northern Scotland, the Streaked Tenrec of the Madagascan Highlands feels right at home in the habitat of the Wildcat because of the similar humid forests amongst the mountains. Tenrec starts foraging, stirring the leaf litter and soft ground for earthworms. Suddenly, Tenrec stops digging with its enlarged forelimbs. From head to rump, it raises its spines and starts a "buzzing" vocalization- classic Tenrec defensive maneuvers (Marshall & Eisenberg, 1996). Wildcat has been watching this strange looking creature through the leafy undergrowth and the felid adjusts itself, centering its body over paws, leaving a forepaw raised, eyes concentrated on the Tenrec. Spines still raised, Tenrec moves its head in short bursts, trying to locate the nearby threat. CRUNCH! THRASH! HISSSSS! REEEEEOOOOOW!! An equally-sized, big feral domesticated cat jumps into the scene! Cat tussle ensues!! Domesticated cats are one of the biggest threats to Scottish Wildcats due to direct competition for space and food, disease transmission, and hybridization. Tenrec watches as the two cats tumble apart, one felid fleeing, one felid chasing into the forest, both felids leaving the field of battle. TENREC OUTLASTS WILDCAT!! Narrated by Prof. Patrice Conners.
Sumatran Striped Rabbit (7) v. Numbat (10) – Numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus) is a medium-sized (700g), endangered marsupial that is currently restricted to two naturally occurring populations in SW Australia. Numbats are reddish-brown near the head, have a black mask with white spots near the shoulders and transitions to dark brown toward the tail with bright stripes in the middle and a bottlebrush tail. The males can be twice the size of the females. Numbats have simple, conical teeth that are barely visible above the gum and an exceptionally long tongue ideal for eating termites. Indonesia covers only 1.3% of the world’s total area, yet contains 12% of mammals of the world, including two native and one introduced rabbit. Sumatran Striped Rabbit (Nesolagus netscheri) is the only native rabbit to the island of Sumatra. Sumatran Striped Rabbit is endangered and known only from a few museum specimens and camera trap records. The Sumatran Striped Rabbit range and status has been difficult to determine by confusion with invasive European Rabbits that were pets that now live wild in urban and suburban areas. Sumatran Striped Rabbits are similar size to European Rabbit (~1.5kg) but the Sumatran Striped Rabbit has black/brown stripes on a yellow-gray background and short black ears.
It is morning in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, South Sumatra, Indonesia, our adult male Rabbit is nestled in at the base of a shrubby tree on the edge of the forest where local coffee growers recently saw Striped Rabbits. Numbat is transported by MMMagic to this unfamiliar humid habitat with dense vegetation. He snuffles around, taking in all of the new scents when he takes a big whiff around the shrub where Rabbit is tucked in to sleep for the day. Nearby, a Sun Bear is tearing into a partially rotten log on the forest floor to get at the fatty and nutritious termites inside. Rabbit remains still but gives Numbat as much side eye as an animal with lateral orbits can give. Numbat's raised snoot detects the siren scent of termites! Skittering to the far side of the log to avoid the Sun Bear, Numbat joins the line of tromping termites, tongue-lassoing the tasty treats while toddling of the field of battle! SUMATRAN RABBIT OUTLASTS NUMBAT!!! Narrated by Dr. Tara Chestnut.
Striped Polecat (8) vs Giant Striped Mongoose (9) – Striped Polecat (Ictonyx libycus) is mostly black, with white stripes running down the body and a black head with a white ring around the face and white areas near the nose. The coloration is an “aposematic” warning to tell other animals not to mess with it. Polecats can release a stinky foul-tasting fluid from their anal scent glands, which lingers on their fur. Striped Mongoose (Galidictis fasciata) is beige or tan in color with 5-8 dark-colored stripes on its back that run the length of the body to help with camouflage. Scientific names sometimes change due to new evidence. The Latin binomial species name for the Striped Mongoose has been split to include two subspecies: G. f. fasciata and G. f. grandidieri. Both of our combatants are medium-sized carnivores (mesopredators) found in Africa. Polecat has a somewhat odd distribution throughout northern Africa (but not the Saharan Desert) and Striped Mongoose is found only in Madagascar. Taxonomically and evolutionarily, Striped Mongooses are cat-like carnivorans in family Eupleridae (~900g), while Polecats are distantly-related and dog-like in the family Mustelidae (~600g).
In Taourirt Province, Morocco, in North Africa, the semi-desert with low grasses and bushes attract small vertebrate prey and provide excellent cover for the nocturnal hunting of the Striped Polecat. Transported by MMMagic, Striped Mongoose blinks at the disappearance of his mountain forest home replaced by scrubland. In the darkness, both medium-sized predators hunt for small rodents, slinking across the open ground in the faint light cast by the waning crescent moon. Striped Mongoose dives at a rodent and comes up with a fat-tailed jird! Crunch-munching on the foreign delicacy, Striped Mongoose is interrupted as Striped Polecat steps into the moonlight with a piercing stare. Within animal communities, predator-on-predator attacks happen to eliminate the competition, such that "killing is common between <related> predator species and of not dis-similar body size" (Ritchie & Johnson 2009). The two stare at each other as a rivulet of jird blood runs onto Mongoose’s chin. "In intact predator communities in Africa, a carnivore may be at risk of attack from as many as 14+ species of other carnivores" (Ritchie & Johnson 2009). Striped Mongoose has never before encountered a mustelid, but has no misapprehensions that he has encountered an aggressive competitor in Striped Polecat. Striped Polecat launches at Striped Mongoose! Tumble-rolling to the base of a shrub, the two predators grapple, scraping claws and biting teeth! Striped Mongoose attempts to flee into trees, but uselessly snaps fragile twigs of the scrub-brush available in the semi-desert, escaping nowhere as Striped Polecat closes in! Striped Mongoose, now fighting for his life, twist-grapples against the Polecat! The mesopredators are the same body length (70cm), but the Mongoose's heavier weight begins to give the advantage, tiring the Polecat whose clawing and biting becomes feebler… Rolling clouds cast shadows on the locked combatants, as Striped Polecat's eyes fade to unseeing. "Overall, mortality rates in carnivore populations due to attacks by other predators may be in the range of 40–80%" (Ritchie & Johnson 2009). STRIPED MONGOOSE ELIMINATES THE COMPETITION...STRIPED POLECAT!! Narrated by Prof. Jessica Light and Prof. Katie Hinde.
Emperor Penguin (1) v. Lined Seahorse (16) -- Emperor Penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) are the largest species of penguin (100 lbs/45 kg and 3.3 ft/100 cm) and 5th heaviest bird overall. While males and females have the same yellow and black markings, males are about 30% bigger than the females. This extra bulk helps them incubate their eggs against two months of harsh Antarctic winter until the chick is ready to hatch. The Lined Seahorse (Hippocampus erectus) are named for the white lines that help them camouflage themselves into their seagrass-based habitats. The Lined Seahorse is small (15.3cm and 14.3g), with males being slightly bigger than females. Lined Seahorse dads are responsible for the care of seafoals. The females deposit the eggs into the male's "brood pouch", where they're fertilized and incubated for about two weeks. Lined Seahorses typically have just one partner in their life (monogamy) with whom they engage in complex bonding behaviors (Lin et al. 2008).
In Verleger Point, West Antarctica, Emperor Penguins live in some of the harshest and remote environments on the planet. Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey use satellites to look for emperor penguin poop stains (guano streaks) on the ice to identify new colonies! Right now is the start of the Antarctic Autumn and a huge male emperor penguin is bulking up for the winter breeding season. Penguin has been diving for krill and silverfish, but he's nearly had his fill for the day when he spots something drifting closer to the surface. The Lined Seahorse is struggling in these cold waters -1C around Antarctica. Lined Seahorse is swimming towards the sea ice, hoping for warmer shallows when Penguin swims from below... and swallows Seahorse whole! EMPEROR PENGUIN SWALLOWS LINED SEAHORSE! Narrated by Dr. Mauna Dasari.
Greater Rhea (2) v. Three-spined Stickleback (15) – As a flightless bird, the male Greater Rhea (Rhea americana) stands at 5 ft tall and 85lbs, with glorious black and gray plumage. Rhea's extra-long wings and legs are great for balancing, pivoting, and running away from trouble. Rheas are devoted dads and provide all care for chicks, moms peace out after producing and laying the eggs. Dads build the nest, incubate the eggs, and care for the nestlings after hatching (Fernandez & Reboreda, 2003). The Three-spined Stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) is a little fish, only 3-10 cm long, but gets its name from its 3 dorsal spines. Breeding males have a red belly, blue sides, and iridescent green or blue eyes. Male Sticklebacks also do all the care of the young – Dads defend their territories, construct nests, and then watch out for their newly hatched and vulnerable babies (also called "fry"). Evolutionary biologists LOVE the Three-spined Stickleback because their repeated adaptation from the ocean to freshwater is a great model for parallel evolution.
In Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Greater Rhea roams a temperate grassland which gradually changes from flat, low marshes surrounded by short grasses to some woodland at higher elevations. Greater Rhea scans vigilantly for predators as his 3-month old chicks drink from one of the many little streamlets running through the marsh. MMMagic transports Three-spined Stickleback into the streamlet amidst the chicks. Sticklebacks are great at adjusting to changing saltiness of water between sea and stream (high tolerance for fluctuating salinity), as long as the water is clear the Stickleback can still forage for food. Greater Rhea's chicks tromp-slosh playfully in the steam and Greater Rhea begins to herd his chicks back to the nest. Chick tromping has churned up mud, ruining the water for Stickleback foraging. Stickleback swims and flops furiously in the streamlet to escape the playful rhea chicks and muddy water. CHOMP! Greater Rhea makes a fast snack of the fish. GREATER RHEA DEFEATS STICKLEBACK! Narrated by Dr. Mallika Sarma.
Wolverine (3) v. Giant Waterbug (14) – Giant Waterbug (Belostoma lutarium), found in aquatic habitats in the Eastern half of the US, are ambush predators adapted for "extra-oral digestion" (Swart & Felgenhauer 2003). Or said another way: Giant Waterbugs grab and hold underwater prey with their grasping front legs while impaling prey with a mouth syringe to inject liquifying spit so waterbug can slurp up through a mouth siphon dissolved tadpoles like a milkshake. After lady Giant Waterbugs deposits an egg pad onto the Dad's back, male Giant Waterbugs keep the eggs away from predators and keep the eggs moist by doing push-ups at the water line, known as brood pumping. Wolverine (Gulo gulo) walks on snow to scavenge the carcasses of lynx kills across his circumpolar range and is the heaviest terrestrial mustelid (30kg). Wolverine has brownish-black black fur that is often crossed by a gorgeous golden band from their crown, across shoulders, to their rump. Wolverine Dads sometimes visit dens of females with young and have been found to roam around with their kids after kids move out of their mom's den. This time with Dad, on the cusp of adulthood, may be an important time of learning or may improve survival.
In the spring-snow covered Rocky Mountains of Western North America, the Wolverine's loping gallop covers wide distances across his large territory searching for winterkill carcasses. Mid-March, the Giant Waterbug has just emerged from over-wintering in an inactive state, protected in the leaf litter clumped in the shallows of a shoreline in the Shawnee National Forest in Illinois. Hungry and with breeding season around the corner, Waterbug needs calories. Waterbug submerges into the water, assuming an ambush position, extending his abdominal breathing snorkel (respiratory siphon) beyond the water for air... tiny BONK! Waterbug's snorkel has hit ICE?! MMMagic has transported Giant Waterbug to the frigid Rockies, but luckily there is some gap between water and ice so this air-breathing insect is in no danger of suffocation except… Wolverine's wide paw bursts through streambank ice, crushing Giant Waterbug. WOLVERINE DEFEATS GIANT WATERBUG! Narrated by Prof Katie Hinde.
Siamang (4) v Darwin's Frogs (13) - Siamangs (Symphalangus syndactylus) are about twice the size of other gibbon species (adults ~26lbs/12kg). These guys stand ~1m tall… if you can find them standing! Siamangs prefer to swing from branch to branch using their extremely long arms (and their 1.5m wingspan!) in a type of movement called brachiation. Siamangs are the greatest of "lesser apes" at being Dads, carrying their offspring through the forest. Males are the main carriers of young once babies are a year old and have become really heavy for mom to carry and are not nursing as often. Darwin's Frogs (Rhinoderma darwinii), are funny little guys with an average body length (or snout-to-vent length (SVL) for all you budding herpetologists) of about 27mm or ~1 inch. In Darwin's Frogs, Dads carry their tadpoles in their vocal sacs. Darwin frog Dads transport and nurture the fertilized eggs and tadpoles in their big cheek pouch (gran saco bucal aereo) for 6-8 weeks before they come out as fully metamorphized froglets in a process known as neomelia.
Early morning in the tropical rainforest of Gunung Leuser National Park, Indonesia, in the Tropical Rainforest of Sumatra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Darwin's Frog finds itself MMMagicked to a slightly warmer, more tropical environment than the temperate rainforests of Chile and Argentina. While the temperature difference is not too bad, this frog is not a fan of being so high in the canopy! Darwin's Frog blends into the environment thanks to their ability to camouflage as a leaf. He's looking around for any predators when he hears a tentative whoop... whoop...whoop...whoop...WHOOPWHOOPWHOOPWHOOPWHOOP. Then a deep inhale and scream reverberates through the forest! Darwin's frog is panicking as the entire tree starts shaking! The Frog grips his branch as other leaves drop around him! A black fuzzy figure seems to be flying through the tree branches- it’s Siamang brachiating while calling (vocalizing)! The deep reverb is coming from his throat sac - it's the size of a grapefruit when fully inflated. Suddenly, Darwin's frog's branch is yanked down by a lesser ape swing and the frog plummets toward the forest floor as a small siamang family's unique territorial song reverberates throughout the forest. SIAMANG DEFEATS DARWIN'S FROG! Narrated by Dr. Mauna Dasari.
Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker (5) v Peacock Wrasse (12) - Good evening from the Aleutian islands in the North Pacific, tonight we feature a fishy combat between the Pacific Lumpsucker and the visiting East Atlantic Peacock Wrasse. The Wrasse is a swell dad, pun intended, spending over a month on his carefully constructed algal nursery mat. During this time the big ones stay and defend the structure. Medium sized wrasses (12-20 cm) will sometimes wander, looking for mating opportunities. Peacock Wrasse live along the coast of Spain and this fine fellow is a bit confused to be in Alaska. The Wrasse, out of place, recognizes some of the food options, there ARE octopuses and sea urchins here in the Aleutian Islands. Meanwhile, our Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker is living his best paternal life, stuck to a rock crevasse and defending his brood of 202 eggs, on average. The rocky intertidal zone of the North Pacific isn't the easiest place in the world to make a living, especially if your body shape can be kindly described as "Ping-Pong ball," so the Lumpsucker is bedazzled in a series of overlapping armor plates. The hungry Wrasse prods around the cold waters, looking for food.
The water is cold, the terrain strange, and the predators unknown. The 3-cm Lumpsucker is enjoying the sensation of flushing cold, highly oxygenated water over his eggs. The Wrasse, no stranger to biting highly ossified things, sees this bright orange and white Ping-Pong fish JUST CHILLING THERE, I mean, does he not know about predators? The wrasse strikes! Lunging after the lumpsucker, trying to dislodge it- the Wrasse strikes but the lumpsucker isn't called a sucker because he was born yesterday - NO! Lumpsucker’s pelvic fins are fused to create a powerful suction cup! The Wrasse is unable to bounce the lil’ guy off his perch. Thwap! Again, the wrasse strikes and, this time, scrapes his face on the SPINY Lumpsucker's tooth-like armor. Frustrated by this little fish nugget who refuses to budge, the Wrasse swims off PACIFIC SPINY LUMPSUCKER DEFEATES EAST ATLANTIC PEACOCK WRASSE! Narrated by Prof. Josh Drew.
Bat-Eared Fox (6) vs. Spotted Sandpiper (11) – Bat-Eared Foxes (Otocyon megalotis), named for their enormous ears, are a small 12-lb canid and mostly sandy-coated with yellow-brown colors, except for some black on their legs, tail, and a black Zorro-like mask across their eyes. While moms extensively forage during peak lactation, Bat-Eared Fox Dads spend significantly more time near den sites protecting young from predators (like jackals), huddling with young, and grooming parasites from the fur of young. Fox babies are variously called kits, cubs, and pups. For Bat-Eared Foxes, Dads spending time near dens is important for survival of the young. The Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) is a widespread migratory bird throughout North America living along lakes, streams, and wetlands. The Spotted Sandpiper gets its name from the prominent dark spots that develop on their plumage during the breeding season. Spotted Sandpipers with the fewest feather mites, healthy immune system, and heavier body weight have the largest, most impressive plumage spots. Female spotted sandpipers especially signal quality through plumage spots, a role reversal from most other birds. Male Spotted Sandpipers incubate ~4 eggs in ground nests for 21 days and then provide all the chick care after nestlings hatch. Dads will even use the "broken wing display"- behaving as though they are dragging a broken wing along the ground, flapping their tail feathers while piteously squealing to tempt predators away from the nest and vulnerable young.
In the Laikipia Plateau of central Kenya, March marks the beginning of a rain season that will stretch into July, and ephemeral ponds begin to appear in the parched semi-arid grasslands. Spotted Sandpiper is migrating from Mexico toward northern breeding grounds in Canada... with dusk approaching, the Spotted Sandpiper begins circling down to seasonal ponds amidst sandy dunes in a Western Red Desert in the US. MMMagic transports Spotted Sandpiper to semi-arid highlands of Kenya that look almost similar at a glance. Bat-Eared Fox Dad is on a brief foraging excursion from the den, while the Spotted Sandpiper lands on the shore of a pond, darting his head back and forth in the muddy flats catching termites with his little beak. The Spotted Sandpiper's walks with a distinctive teetering, bobbing the rear half of its body rhythmically. In 1892, C.C. Abbott wrote "How aptly they have caught the motion of the rippling water" speculating this as a possible tactic for camouflage. BUT the Bat-Eared Fox has spotted a most tasty morsel...The Spotted Sandpiper's fast beak speedsnaps a termite on wing as the Bat-Eared Fox darts in! With quick, short wing beats, the Spotted Sandpiper is aloft over the water, fleeing the canid disturbance! (PSA: Please leash your dogs where shorebirds nest). As Spotted Sandpiper departs the field of battle, the Bat-Eared Fox gorges on what he’d dashed in for… termites. Bat-Eared Fox is a termite specialist, you know. BAT-EARED FOX OUTLASTS SPOTTED SANDPIPER! Narrated by Prof. Katie Hinde.
Greater Flamingo (7) Dayak fruit bat (10) - Like TSwift sings, greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) have got that "red feather classic thing" the ladies like and NEVER go out of style. Looking that good in both males and females takes work. Flamingos apply preen oils (from gland secretions) to their bodies like makeup, enhancing their natural beauty with brighter colors. Brighter flamingos tend to nest earlier than dull individuals, a potential advantage that could mean getting the best nesting spots in the colony. While both male and female greater flamingos take care of chicks, flamingo dads can spend more time incubating and defending the nest from potential threats than females. Dayak fruit bats (Dyacopterus spadiceus) live in the rainforests of Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo, where they are quite rare. Weighing about 70-80 grams, they feed on hard fruits in the forest canopy. Among mammals, Dayak fruit bats are particularly interesting because multiple males captured in Malaysia produced milk from their mammary glands. But these dads make very little milk and their skin texture suggests pups aren't nursing, so dadbat milk production (galactorrhea) may be more a byproduct of hormones from behaviorally caring for pups than nourishing pups.
The late afternoon sun glows golden over Laguna Fuente de Piedra in southern Spain. Home to the second largest greater Flamingo colony in Europe, the breeding party is just getting started in mid-March. Our father Flamingo has been sitting on the nest for the past several hours. He shifts slightly, revealing the single precious brown speckled egg perched on the mud mound nest. Father Flamingo gives a big stretch, showing off his full height (187 cm) and preens his bright pink feathers. Thanks to those lovely feathers, our pair managed to get one of the best nesting spots in the colony. Our Dayak Fruit Bat, having been roosting cozily in a cracked tree trunk in Malaysia, is unceremoniously dropped into the sky above the noisy flamingo flock. SQUAWK! The bat twirls as a yellow-legged gull swoops down, landing just to the side of the flamingo on his nest. The gull side-eyes the flamingo, looking for an opportunity to grab that tasty egg. Seeing the gull, our Flamingo stretches his neck out to its full length, ruffling his feathers while swiping his hooked beak towards the approaching gull. The gull hops closer and the Flamingo's hooked beak clamps onto the gull's beak. BINGO! The gull yanks upwards, pulling the flamingo up and away from the precious egg. Quick as a flash, the gull breaks free and slips under the flamingo's legs to swipe at the egg. Egg in beak, the gull takes off, with the flamingo hot in pursuit. That leaves our bleary-eyed fruit bat still circling above the glimmering lake on the field of battle! DAYAK FRUIT BAT OUTLASTS THE GREATER FLAMINGO! Narrated by Dr. Alyson Brokaw
Owl monkey (8) and Caspian tern (9): The Caspian tern (Hydroprogne caspia) is the largest tern in the world (~21 inches long, 27.5 oz, wingspan of about 50 inches) and is found in parts of North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australasia because they have the furthest migration of any animal. Caspian terns prefer to live and nest in coastal and wetland habitats. Like many other tern species, they hunt fish by flying over shallow water, looking down, and diving to catch their prey. "In 2022, Caspian tern populations in the N. American Great Lakes region were devastated by avian influenza (H5N1), which has been in the news recently for making the jump to some mammal species…” (Graham, 2022). Male and female owl monkeys (Aotus azarae) show no differences in size or coloration (called "sexual monomorphism"). Both sexes weigh about 1 kg and have a head/body length of 14.5 inches, plus another 15.7 inches of tail. Sometimes called "Azara's night monkey" or "southern night monkey" and known locally as "mirikinà", owl monkeys make their home in the trees of South America. Their range includes Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay, as well as small parts of Peru and Argentina. Unlike the rest of the species in the genus Aotus, which are all nocturnal, Azara's owl monkey may be active during the day and night, a pattern scientists call "cathemeral."
Tonight's battle takes place in the semi-deciduous gallery forest of the Argentinian Chaco, where Actual Living Scientist Eduardo Fernandez-Duque founded The Owl Monkey Project in 1996. Owl Monkey is foraging for fruit alongside his mate. Unlike most mammals, owl monkeys form long-lasting monogamous pair-bonds and genetic studies show little evidence of extra-pair paternity (Huck et al 2014). Owl monkeys give birth in the spring (Oct-Dec). Sure enough, this pair of monkeys has a 3-month old baby with them, clinging securely to...DAD's back. Male Owl Monkeys put their Dad Bods to good use by carrying infants full-time from 3 weeks-5 months of age. Male Owl Monkeys aren't the only dads who help their offspring get around: Last year a team of researchers found that among Caspian terns, male parents primarily migrate with young. Tonight, MMMigration has brought Caspian Tern to Owl Monkey's home turf, although with no young tern in tow: Caspian Terns don't breed until late May or early June each year. Startled to find himself in unfamiliar surroundings, Caspian Tern vocalizes loudly. Owl Monkey pauses his foraging and looks around for the source of the foreign sound, a potential predator, perhaps? Caspian Tern IS hungry… But owl monkey is not his typical prey, and Caspian Tern sees no opportunities for shoreline hunting in this dense, dark, INLAND environment. Rising into the sky above the tree canopy, Caspian Tern takes wing to search for less enclosed spaces than this forest. OWL MONKEY OUTLASTS CASPIAN TERN! Narrated by Dr. Lara Durgavich
SHREW-MOLE (Neurotrichus gibbsii) vs. BUMBLEBEE BAT (Craseonycteris thonglongyai) in the battle that determined a berth to the “Big Show.” Shrew-mole looks like a mole, is the size of a shrew, has the lower body temperature of a mole, & faster metabolism of a shrew #HangryLikeAShrew. Shrew mole lives on the west coast of North America, from the Fraser River in British Columbia, Canada south to Monterey County, California USA.
Bumblebee Bat weighs 2.0 grams in length & 33 millimeters in weight, coming in ~80% lighter & ~75% shorter than shrew mole. This teensy bat lives in Thailand & Myanmar, and was first collected by eminent Thai biologist Kitti Thonglongya, who sadly passed away before describing the bat. But colleagues named the species in his honor! Genetic evidence suggests BUMBLEBEE BAT's range could be explained by "Sweepstakes Dispersal" events "via storms, cyclones or typhoons". It's unlikely they got to where they currently live on those teeny little wings alone!
Tonight's BATTLE LOCATION was determined by COIN TOSS, giving Shrew-Mole #HomeHabitatAdvantage on Destruction Island, WA, Quillayute-Needles National Wildlife Refuge, home to the Quileute Nation. Shrew-mole scurried along the forest floor searching for worms, insects & isopods to eat. Dusk approached as rain patters leaves. Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, dawn approaches in Myanmar. Bumblebee Bat had been flying toward the roost in its limestone cave after a night of mediocre hunting due to wetter and windier conditions from the La Nina cycle. MMMagic whooshed Bumblebee Bat, in an UNPRECEDENTED sweepstakes dispersal, to a wilderness island on the outer coast of Washington State! Shrew-mole had just settled in for a nap, as it does every 2-18 mins, under a fallen maple leaf. THWACK! The wind tumbled Bumblebee Bat to the ground, cartwheeling across the napping Shrew-Mole and dislodging the maple leaf blanket! Shrew-mole dived back under its sleep leaf, and held motionless sniffing the stranger for indications of danger. Bumblebee Bat needed food, the rain kept the flying insects down, but this bat has several hunting strategies, including catching invertebrates from the ground. Shrew-Mole can't stay still for long, has to get calories, and resumes hunting too. Bumblebee Bat began munching on a familiar food source… Daddy Longlegs (harvestman, arachnids) while Shrew-Mole was hot on the hunt for beetle grubs along a fallen log… Shrew-Mole ran off the field of battle! BUMBLEBEE BAT OUTLASTS SHREW-MOLE! Narration by Dr. Tara Chestnut
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