Tea Parties, Bird Barf, and Rat Skulls

At tea parties, etiquette is key. You need to know which spoon to use, whether to pour the milk or the tea first, and, when a fellow scientist hands you an owl pellet for your research, how to graciously accept it and dissect it right there at the table.

Field Museum collections manager Bill Stanley was at a garden tea party in Tanzania when a colleague handed him a coffee can containing an owl pellet for him to study. The hacked-up mass of fur and bones contained the key to a scientific discovery—the skull of a rat never before seen in the region.

New Discoveries in How Animal Moms-to-Be Feed Their Babies

Pop quiz—what kinds of animal mothers feed their babies before birth? The first (and maybe only) ones to come to mind are probably mammals like us—moms-to-be funnel nutrients from their blood supply right to their developing embryos through an organ called the placenta; the moms literally “eat for two.” That’s a different kind of nourishment than you see in most other animals—the majority lay eggs with a nutritious yolk for the embryo to use as it develops.

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