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Animal News Roundup! Three Weird New Discoveries You Need to Know About

••• Joel Pellegrin/iStock/GettyImages

From learning the real reason why zebras have stripes to the discovery of fossils from 500 million years ago, scientists have been busy studying animals around the world. If you're wondering about the latest research about animals and its impact on biology, keep reading.

Why Zebras Have Stripes

The beautiful black and white stripes on a zebra may serve an important purpose. Scientists have speculated that the stripes help zebras identify each other or provide camouflage. However, new research reveals that the stripes confuse flies and make it more difficult for them to land on the zebras.

Researchers compared zebras and horses living in a U.K. stable and discovered that stripes offered the benefit of fewer bites from horseflies. When researchers put black and white coats on horses, they saw the same results. Horseflies found it more difficult to land on the stripes, so the animals had fewer bites. It's possible that flying insects think the black stripes are branches and try to avoid them. It's also likely that the patterns confuse their visual field.

Bees Can Do Math

Bees have remarkable abilities to remember things, but researchers have discovered that they can also do math. Previous studies showed that bees understand the concept of zero. Now, a new study from RMIT University in Australia found that bees could add and subtract.

You can't ask a bee to fill out a basic arithmetic worksheet with a tiny pencil, so researchers had to come up with creative ways to test their math abilities. They made a special maze with cards that had different colored shapes. Each color meant they had to either add or subtract one. For example, the first card had five yellow triangles, which meant the bees had to subtract one to get four. The next part of the maze had two cards: one with four yellow triangles and one with two yellow triangles. To get to a hidden drop of sugar water, the bees had to pick the card with four yellow triangles.

The bees in the experiment slowed down to look at the cards and eventually figured out how to navigate the maze by adding and subtracting. However, it took them 40 to 70 trips to learn how to do it. After the researchers changed the cards and removed the sugar water, the bees continued to solve the math puzzles correctly. Their average success rate was steady at 70 percent.

Half-Billion-Year-Old Fossils Discovered

If you're wondering what animals looked like 500 million years ago, scientists in China have the answer. Paleontologists have found more than 2,000 species at the Qingjiang fossil site, and about half are new organisms that have not been studied before. Located along the Danshui River, the site has many preserved fossils from the Cambrian period.

The ancient fossils may hold answers to animal development and evolution. Many of the preserved animals still have their soft tissues and organs. From primitive fish to sea anemones, the fossils revealed a large variety of animal life.

China Clones a Police Dog

CNN reports that China is training its first cloned police dog. Since scientists cloned Dolly the sheep in 1996, other pets and animals have been duplicated. In China, the Sinogene company was responsible for cloning a talented police dog who was nicknamed Sherlock Holmes.

Kunxun is the cloned puppy and similar to a German Shepherd. She was cloned from Huahuangma, a famous 7-year-old police dog, who helped fight crime and solve cases. Kunxun is already receiving training with the hope that she will also become a police dog in the future. The goal of the cloning was to create a dog that would be easier and faster to train.

New Sea Squirt Discovered

Scientists exploring the Java Trench in the Indian Ocean found a sea squirt no one had seen before. Sea squirts, or ascidians, are animals that look like sacs and are capable of squirting out water. CNET reports that the new sea squirt looked like a balloon on a string and was floating in the water. Although there is little information about the new animal, scientists hope to learn more in the future.

Pet Parrots Are Breeding in the Wild

Parrots that escaped their homes as pets are breeding in the wild throughout the United States. Although they're not native to the U.S., 56 different parrot species have been found in 43 states. In a new study, researchers learned that 25 species are breeding in 23 states.

One famous example is the monk parakeet colony located in Hyde Park, Chicago. The bright green birds are native to South America and came to the U.S. as pets in the 1960s. It's not clear how the birds ended up in Hyde Park, but researchers speculate they may have escaped someone's home or a shipment container. Today, the birds continue to breed in the wild and spread through the Chicago area. They don't pose a threat to native birds.

Why Whales Don't Get Cancer

Scientists believe that being overweight and older increases the risk of cancer. However, some of the heaviest and oldest animals on the planet, whales, rarely get cancer. In a new study, researchers examined the DNA of humpback whales and learned that parts of their genomes evolved faster compared to other mammals. These parts had genes for DNA repair, cell growth and cell division.

Cancer can start because of problems with cell division and growth, which can lead to tumors. Mutations can also cause cancer, but whales have few DNA mutations. This may explain Peto's Paradox that states the number of cells in an organism doesn't seem to correspond with the likelihood of getting cancer. You would expect organisms with more cells, which could have more mutations and problems, to have a higher rate of cancer, but it's not true.

Researchers believe that whales evolved to fight cancer over time. This gives them hope of finding a way to help humans and other species beat cancer, too.

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About the Author

Lana Bandoim is a freelance writer and editor. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and chemistry from Butler University. Her work has appeared on Forbes, Yahoo! News, Business Insider, Lifescript, Healthline and many other publications. She has been a judge for the Scholastic Writing Awards from the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. She has also been nominated for a Best Shortform Science Writing award by the Best Shortform Science Writing Project.