10 Hidden Abilities Discovered In Well-Studied Animals

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Scientists find new, hidden abilities in well-studied animals all the time. It’s a reminder of how little we know and how pleasantly surprising evolution can be. The best part is that the scientific reality is often much odder than anything depicted in the world of fiction.

10. Brown-Banded Bamboo Sharks Store Sperm

bamboo shark

Photo credit: Steve Childs

The brown-banded bamboo shark has recently established itself as the animal kingdom’s most amazing hoarder of sperm. A female shark gave birth to a healthy pup in 2012, despite not being within range of a male shark for the prior four years.

Some sharks love to tease biologists by ejecting unfertilized eggs, so even though the female was laying a carpet of potential shark pups, it was quite expected and disregarded. Upon closer inspection, two of the presumably inert eggs were actually harboring little baby sharks.

The only male in the tank was a Javanese cow-nosed ray. As might be obvious by the name, Javanese cow-nosed rays are not brown-banded bamboo sharks, so either the researchers had witnessed a miracle, or some extremely sneaky male brown-banded bamboo shark was to blame. In this case, the actual science is crazier than the speculation. The female did come into contact with a male and was impregnated in the usual way. The weird part is the 45 months between fertilization and birth.

At first, researchers thought the baby could be a clone of the mother. Some animals, including lizards and a few sharks, can skip sex and go right to birth. However, DNA testing proved that the pup was born of two different sharks. Scientists previously knew that sharks could store sperm, but that they could for such a long time was a surprise.

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