Unless there's something they're not telling us, animals don't actually understand physics. If they fall from the top of a tree and go splat, they have no idea that it was gravity. They only know that they are now dead. But that doesn't stop them from mastering the physical laws of the universe in ways that science just barely understands ...
Dog owners, see if this sounds familiar:
You're out walking your dog and are about to cross a busy intersection. You've started to cross, the light is changing, and this is the moment your pooch decides to take a dump. There he is, sniffing out a spot on the asphalt and spinning around in half a dozen circles to find a position he likes while cars are honking and the driver beside you chucks a Red Bull can full of chewing tobacco spit at your face. But Mr. Poochington cannot be stopped -- in his maddeningly obsessive-compulsive way, he must lay out that turd in a very precise alignment with some crazy feng shui shit that only dogs can understand. The very last thought that crosses your mind before the old grouch in the Suburban floors it and runs you over is "Why exactly are dogs so freaking particular about exactly where they poop, anyway?"
"I learned it by watching YOU!"
Believe it or not, science just might have found an answer. After carefully monitoring nearly 7,500 shits from 70 dogs across 37 diverse breeds, researchers found that the dogs consistently laid waste along the north-south axis of the Earth's magnetic field.
And while you'd like to write that off as coincidence, or that maybe they're going by the position of the sun or some shit, scientists are pretty sure that the dogs were following a kind of built-in magnetic sensor. When they disrupted the magnetic field in the room, the pups' poop centers went haywire, dropping turds in the kind of random patterns that up to now most of you assumed were the norm for canine shits.
Do not test this at home with your dog and a microwave.
If this sounds like some kind of dog turd-based pseudoscience, it's not -- this ability to sense magnetic fields exists in a lot of species. For instance, we've mentioned before how cows have been caught feeding in the same direction on satellite imagery and foxes hunt best while using the magnetic field to triangulate their attacks. It's just that in both of those cases, the magnetic instinct seems to be put toward something useful: a unified herding behavior or an advanced targeting system. But what possible need does a dog have for spinning around and around just to find the perfect angle to play a deuce ... unless it's to flaunt its magnetic mastery in our faces.
If you were to send something flying off a ramp, whether it be a toy truck, a skateboard, or that car you're test driving and don't feel like bringing back, the result would always be the same -- the moment said object leaves solid ground, gravity takes over, it rotates into a nosedive, and you curse that asshole Newton for being right again.
Jacob Peter Gowy
We glided like birds before Newton fucked things up.
For the most part, this is also the case with animals -- if your precious Mr. Fluffykins runs off the edge of the table like the dumbass he is, he'll crash to the ground immediately -- but two completely unrelated creatures have evolved a fun method of telling the laws of inertia to fuck right the hell off. Geckos and cockroaches, when not respectively selling you insurance and making you puke after finding one in your sandwich, escape from predators via an insane vanishing act that defies reason:
University of California, Berkeley
Geckos evolved this ability during their many years aboard pirate ships.
Well. That certainly shouldn't be possible. It even looks like the little bastard is having fun, and possibly screaming in gecko-ese about being king of the world. And cockroaches, strangely, swing around in the exact same pendulum-like manner:
University of California, Berkeley
This is why it's so hard to shake them off your leg.
Both species are clinging to the edge by their adorable little claws and then using their abs of steel to swing underneath the ledge to safety. They appear to be the only species able to do this without the aid of some kind of special shoes. The claws are essential, though. We know this because after researchers declawed the animals, this happened:
University of California, Berkeley
It's funny because fuck roaches.
Aside from being big and goofy-looking and causing massive property damage during pissed-off drunken rampages, elephants are known for being one thing: loud. The idea of them having any kind of inside voice, never mind a secret method of communication that's inaudible to humans, just sounds like a bunch of bullshit. But it's not, unless science is just screwing with us.
"Yeah, and you can stick their ivory tusks up your pee hole to cure your impotency."
By manipulating their vocal cords much the same way we do, elephants are able to communicate via a rumbly infrasonic murmur at a pitch far lower than anything our pitiful human ears could ever pick up. Other elephants can hear it perfectly, though, including ones that live, oh, 20 miles away.
Yep, while some of us can't hear a shriek coming from right outside our living room, elephants are whispering full conversations with their faraway buddies. It's not because their ears are so abnormally large, either (if figuring out animal biology were that simple, anyone could do it) -- it's actually because elephants may have the most sensitive feet on the planet. Their rumbly whispers create little earthquakes that enter a fellow pachyderm's body by the toenail. From there, the sound travels up their leg, through the body, and into the brain. And based on which toenail felt the whispery tremors first, they can even decipher which direction the sound came from.
"A new prince has been born to the north. They need our trumpets!"
This bit of superhearing allows elephants to do all sorts of networking. They can stay in touch with loved ones, alert others to nearby predators and thunderstorms, and even flirt with a potential mate. It's like an elephant Internet, only their Nigerian scams are resolved by finding the bastard responsible and goring his ass to death.
Whether they can hurt us or not (and chances are they can't), spiders still have to be the most universally loathed of all of Nature's children. But we wouldn't hate them if we knew them better, right? Like if we could get down and really see one up close?
Institute of Physics
That's a spider's foot, by the way. Those feathery bits help it stick to walls, windows, and your shoulder, right now. But its ability to cling has squat to do with glue-like stickiness or natural Velcro hooks. No, as it turns out, these little monsters are masters of static electricity. A spider's tiny toe dusters take advantage of a natural phenomenon called van der Waals force, where the electrons between Spidey's hairs jitter around in close quarters until a negative and a positive finally meet. And just as MC Skat Kat prophesied, opposites attract, in this case creating a bond that results in the spark necessary for a spider to hang in there like the kitten on one of those inspirational posters.
Even the spider's web uses electricity to get what it wants. That's right, the web. The damn thing might not technically be alive, but to the poor flies that it literally reaches out to grab and turn into dinner, it might as well be.
Victor Ortega-Jimenez, UC Berkeley
Such electric webs can be found worldwide.
Yep, the idea of spiderwebs as sticky mini-sarlaccs waiting patiently for clumsy-ass prey to carelessly crash onto their plate is pure bullshit. Thanks to static electricity, webs actually show more initiative when finding food than the average college kid. This happens because insects, while aimlessly flapping around as they're wont to do, tend to shed negative electrons, becoming positive. Spiderwebs, which are typically neutral or negatively charged, respond to the presence of positivity the only way they know how -- by literally reaching out and grabbing the source, like a fishing net with a mind of its own and a never-ending appetite.
Almost every living thing feeds off the sun. It's just that for most of us, there are several middlemen (plant eats sunlight, cow eats plant, human eats cow). Hey, wouldn't this whole thing be easier if our bodies were solar-powered?
Christopher Ingram/iStock/Getty Images
"Fuck off, pants!"
Well, Vespa orientalis, aka the oriental hornet, aka the one creature you don't want inside your hat, is partially powered by solar panels on its skin, which explains why it stalks the innocent during the day, whereas most other hornets prefer to terrify those who dare cross their paths in the early morning. Researchers captured some of them and shined them with an ultraviolet light, probably as a routine check for vampirism, and noticed that the hornets sprang into action.
When they stuck the specimens under a microscope, scientists found special structures on the exoskeleton that are incredibly efficient at collecting sunlight and converting it into electricity. Now, the hornets haven't achieved a purely solar-based physiology -- they still have to eat like everybody else. So what do they do with the power? Scientists think part of it gets transferred to the muscles that operate the wings, but the rest goes to air conditioning.
"I want to be comfortable when I'm ruining your shit."
That's right -- while these hornets thrive in hot and sunny environments (sorry, England, no solar bugs for you), scientists have discovered that they actually possess a low body temperature, which suggests that they're converting excess sunlight into electricity to cool themselves.
Hell, even their cocoons have photoelectric properties, harnessing sunlight to keep the pupae inside toasty and help it fully develop into a beautiful wriggling baby maggot, eager to face the world and make it scream.
Well, guys, looks like it's time to blot out the sun.
"Then we will sting in the shade."
Related Reading: Physics isn't the only thing in nature animals have been screwing around with -- they don't play by the rules of evolution either. And, you know what else laughs in the face of physics? Unbelievable substances like plastic that is only one atom thick and gases heavy enough to float solid objects.