An orca calf swims with its mother at The Marineland Animal exhibition Park on December 12, 2013 in Antibes, France.
In keeping with the year-end baby burst, this screenshot of a video from Dec. 9, 2013, at Muenchener Tierpark Hellabrunn zoo in Munich, Germany, shows two newborn polar bears cuddling with their mother Giovanna. The difference in size between what is now and what will someday be is staggering.
One thing those polar bear cubs will never have to worry about is growing up with a fleshy "rooster" comb atop their big, furry heads. Not so lucky, apparently, was Edmontosaurus, which had just such an unusual hood ornament, as depicted in this reconstruction. A new fossil of the duck-billed dinosaur revealed the presence of the feature, something never before discovered on a dinosaur.
Mating can be a tricky endeavor, no matter what the species. Male elephant seals, new research shows, have figured out a way to at least cut down on all of their violent jousting, when it comes time to find Ms. Right. It turns out they are able to recognize the distinct calls of their rivals, and those calls clue them in to whether the sound is from a serious, badass Alpha Male with whom they'd best not tangle, or from the kind of milquetoast seal they're only too happy to take on. This call recognition, then, lets them maximize on their fight-or-flee instincts.
Fans of wading birds may wish to avert their eyes. Yes, those are bird parts -- from a snowy egret -- at the sides of this American alligator's mouth. The fierce reptile, at St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park in Florida, was able to successfully lure the bird with a stick (the kind egrets use for building nests). Researchers have observed this technique being used purposely by alligators and crocodiles, marking the first time reptiles have ever been documented using tools for hunting prey.
It's true that plenty of other creatures can change their colors when it suits their needs -- octopuses, flounder, politicians -- but none seem to do it with quite the flair of the chameleon. It's usually assumed they employ the wardrobe change purely for camouflage, but a study in the journal Biology Letters found that the color shift also reflects such things as the chameleon's mood and status.
Meet a bug that's universally reviled and harder to kill than a long-running reality-TV show: Cimex Lectularius, better known by its common name, bed bug. If you admire species tenacity, then you should celebrate the bed bug -- well, even if it makes you itch and dines on your blood. Though deep-freezing them seems to offer one way to off them, the bed bug continues to have science on the run.
Speaking of deep freezes, and as long as we're being a bit icky, let's check out Periplaneta japonica, a species of cockroach -- male on the left, female at right -- discovered on New York City's High Line in 2012. Native to Asia, and heretofore unseen in the United States, they can thrive even in freezing temperatures. The good news for New Yorkers? So far scientists don't think these roaches will be much of a nuisance, as they will likely be too busy competing with other species of cockroach that have already planted their flags on the Big Apple.
Heavy storms have raged throughout Israel recently, causing traffic disruptions and power outages across the country. Perhaps that has meant more time for playing with pets. Here an Israeli man has some fun sliding on the snow with his dog. As humans, we like to think we walk our dogs, but so often the reverse seems to be true.
Even with only about two weeks left until he has to fly all over the world in a sleigh powered by reindeer, Santa Claus nonetheless seems to have taken time for a trip to, of all places, the French Riviera. Those dolphins jumping out of the water in the background at the Marineland park in Antibes, France clearly have just one thing in mind: toys! As for Santa, he may be wondering if he's not long for the North Pole, as countries are pondering laying a claim to it (see the video link below).