Today, we’re giving you an inside look at what it takes to make the podcast. A bunch of people make this show, which means that our ideas meetings almost inevitably turn into total chaos when one of us starts shouting our favorite facts about our favorite animals.
This time, we gave up. Rather than fight it, we’re leaning in to bring you four stories about animals. Or rather… four cases for animals that are the best… the coolest… the niftiest… however you want to define that. And when it’s all said and done, we’d like you to settle this one for us. A review of your options is below.
To some, termites might only be considered a pest — as wood-consumers, termites invade houses and eat crops — but they are also fungus farmers, master architects, and shapers of the landscape. As social insects, termites live in colonies made up of a workers, soldiers, king, and incredible long-lived termite queen, together forming a “superorganism”, greater than the sum of its parts. Some species build towering 15-17 foot mounds, beautifully engineered to regulate water, air, and temperature flow within their colonies. Not all termites live in those iconic superstructures. For instance, in parts of the Namibian savanna, where circular bare patches of earth polka dot the landscape. These spots, appearing and disappearing mysteriously over the course of decades, are also known as “fairy circles”, and they may be caused in part by underground termite colonies. These termite-associated “fairy circles” increase fertility, help prevent desertification, and are distributed in a recognizable Turing pattern.
When you think of hyenas, what comes to mind? Likely, the evil trio in The Lion King that work as the villain Scar’s henchmen. Hyenas have a bit of an image problem. But maybe it’s time for a rethink. Hyenas live in matriarchal societies where the females do most of the hunting, determine the social structure, and raise all of the cubs (which happen to be pretty adorable). Female hyenas are also bigger than the males and males tend to be subservient to the lowest female hyena in clans. Hyenas live in multi-generational clans, taking care of young and old alike, and communicating through a complex language of cackling. Hyenas are also impressive hunters, running and chasing down prey at up to 35 mph (a speed they can maintain for miles).
T. dohrnii -- This teeny tiny animal is one of the few known cases of a creature capable of reverting back to a sexually immature stage after reaching maturity, when t. dohrnii is caused physical or environmental distress, including natural aging, it will retract its tentacles and turn into a blob of transdifferentiated cells that will sink to the bottom of the ocean and grow into a polyp. The polyp buds into even more genetically identical jellyfish -- thus t. dohrnii has both evaded death and managed to clone itself. This process could theoretically go on indefinitely, making the t. dohrnii effectively biologically immortal.
Pound for pound, the Quetzalcoatlus is a Guinness Book of World Record's level weird and scary creature. The Quetzalcoatlus is the largest of a group of flying reptiles known as the azhdarchics, from an Uzbek word for dragon. It’s a terrifying predator that can takeoff in half a second and hit a burst speed of 100 mph. The Quetzalcoatlus has an enormous, nine-foot long skull that is three times the size of its torso, a giraffe-like neck, and a wingspan of 30 feet or more, similar to a F-16 fighter jet. Then not flying, the Quetzalcoatlus stands on its hind legs and walks on its folded up wings, kind of like crutches. Females lay pliable shelled eggs, like that of a turtle or lizard, and give birth to babies (called “flapplings”) that can fly within hours of being hatched.