These are our favorite animal stories of 2022

Skydiving salamanders and spiders dodging postcoital death are among the critters that most impressed us

image of male and female orb spiders mating

After mating, a male Philoponella prominens orb weaver spider (reddish brown) will use its front legs to catapult backward and escape becoming lunch for the female (dark brown).

S. Zhang

From spiders that catapult their way to safety to sea sponges that sneeze themselves clean, here are the creature features that most impressed us in 2022.

Fishing fox

Pics or it didn’t happen. In the first recorded instance of a red fox fishing, a team from Spain filmed a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) catching 10 carp over a couple hours (SN: 11/5/22, p. 4). In 1991, a researcher reported arctic foxes in Greenland fishing. Foxes are only the second type of canid — wolves can do it too — that are known to fish for a feast.

In March 2016, a male red fox (Vulpes vulpes) in Spain was spotted grabbing carp during spring spawning season. 

Skydiving salamander

Flying squirrels, yes, but a skydiving salamander? This bold amphibian, native to northwestern California, can jump and glide among the tops of towering redwood trees. By extending its front and hind legs like a skydiver, the wandering salamander (Aneides vagrans) can control and adjust its speed and direction while in the air (SN: 6/18/22, p. 12).

Scientists put salamanders in a vertical wind tunnel to simulate falling from a tree and filmed the animals. While falling, the wandering salamander (Aneides vagrans) can move horizontally (glide) in the air and slow its descent (parachute). It, like its close relative A. lugubris (shown in the third clip), can also move its limbs to change direction midair.

Crafty cockatoos

In an interspecies battle for the ages, people in Sydney have had to up their defenses to stop cockatoos from rifling through outdoor trash bins (SN: 10/8/22 & 10/22/22, p. 10). The birds have learned to push bricks off the bin covers using brute force, while sneakers jammed through a bin’s handles are a better deterrent. But these trash thieves may eventually find a way around that blockade too.

On the streets of Sydney, an arms race is brewing between humans and cockatoos.

Spring-to-safety spiders

Philoponella prominens males perform a death-defying stunt to keep from being eaten by a mate after sex. The orb weaver uses hydraulic pressure within its leg joints to launch nearly 90 centimeters per s­econd to safety (SN Online: 4/25/22).

A male Philoponella prominens spider avoids being eaten by a female after sex by leveraging hydraulic pressure to extend leg joints and fling himself away, seen here first at about one-fiftieth actual speed and then at normal speed.

Joyriding goldfish

Teach a fish to drive a motorized fish tank and it will drive wherever it wants. Goldfish taught to drive showed they could navigate outside their natural environment and reach a target (SN: 2/12/22, p. 4). Maybe one day these cruising fish will boldly go where no fish has gone before.

Snotty, sneezy sea sponges

These creatures take self-care to the next level. Sponges are filter feeders, sucking up water through their pores to get nutrients. But when unwanted junk comes in, an Aplysina archeri tube sponge traps the particles in mucus, then expels it in one slow-motion sneeze (SN: 9/10/22, p. 4). The Caribbean sponges are constantly oozing mucus like a child with a runny nose. Looks like someone could use a tissue.

The Caribbean tube sponge (Aplysina archeri) uses contractions — called “sneezes” — to help eject mucus from its pores, or ostia. As the time-lapse video zooms in closer, it’s possible to see tiny specks of debris floating out of these pores and traveling along a “mucus highway” where they collect into stringy clumps of goo floating above the surface of the sponge. In real time, this sponge takes between 20 and 50 minutes to complete a sneeze.

Deborah Balthazar was the Fall 2022 science writing intern at Science News. She holds a B.A. in biology with minors in English and chemistry from Caldwell University and a master's degree in science journalism from New York University.

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