Fast Times in Order Mammalia

Our furry cousins are shining, sniffing, and shtupping in recent animal-world news

Published October 7, 2023

Just when you thought you knew everything possible about mammals, new research has thrown some mammoth curveballs. Here’s an overview of a few of some stories you might have missed.

Ready to Glow

If you’re organizing a Halloween party, consider inviting some furry friends to be your guests of honor. According to new research conducted at the Western Australian Museum – by, um, walking around the taxidermied specimens with a blacklight – there are at least 125 different species of mammals that display fluorescent hues of pink, green, white, and blue when viewed under ultraviolet light. Scientists have long known about this hidden superpower within wombats and platypuses (Australia, right?) but it turns out that dozens of other species glow, 24such as red foxes, polar bears, and bats.

The underlying reason for this is the biofluorescent properties of keratin, so some surmise that the colors are simply an accidental byproduct of evolution – in the fur of the Southern marsupial mole, for example, elevated keratin levels help protect against abrasive soil particles. But other scientists believe the effect directly contributes to the survival of some species, like mating displays or territorial defense among nocturnal creatures.

Either way, it’s more fun than most things that only show up under a blacklight.

Mammal Pride

Speaking of vibrant hues, the rainbow banner has been extended further than ever before into the animal kingdom. According to Science Alert, evolving same-sex behaviors have been observed in 1,500 species, including 51 mammals—lemurs, apes, and more—and indeed, they seem to have lost and regained these behaviors at various points along the way. These same-sex behaviors include mounting, cooing, courting – and, yes, intercourse – among both males and females, wild and domestic.

Since same-sex behavior seems more common among highly social species, some scientists hypothesize that its evolutionary role is to promote bonding and minimize social conflicts, while reinforcing hierarchies in the animal kingdom. But another theory suggests that the primordial earth was an absolute sexual free-for-all – “perhaps before they evolved recognizable sex-specific traits now used to attract mates,” according to the article. Hot.

Menthol to the Rescue

After the fluorescent pride parade, mammals may soon be encouraged to finish with some menthol. A recent study in mice has shown that inhaling menthol may actually help improve immune and cognitive function, and may be a viable treatment method for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s. (According to ALZForum, other species susceptible to Alzheimer’s-causing amyloid plaques include monkeys, apes, and dogs.)

Menthol has this effect, the study says, because it decreases levels of interleukin-1-beta, part of the inflammatory response that triggers the disorder. Menthol is already a common ingredient in therapeutic products such as IcyHot and VapoRub – as well as some cigarettes, though doctors are less likely to recommend that ingestion route.

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