Sam Droege, Flickr
With Halloween still fresh in our minds, it makes sense to begin with a nice, creepy image. Flies might not get much love from humans (well, okay, they get none), but if they were our size and THIS is what we had to face, it might instead be: "Sir, yes, sir, Mr. Fly! Er, apologies for the classic horror movie and for that Jeff Goldblum remake." Note the compound eyes, which respond faster than anything in the animal world. They're watching you, and watching and watching.Death Munching Blow Flies
Keeping on with the creepies, this ancient spider from the Jurassic period was preserved in sediment and was found in rocks in China. Paul Seldon, of the Paleontological Institute at the University of Kansas, worked some magic with high-tech imagery to capture a close-up of the plectreurid spider.Golden Spider Silk Makes Rare Cloth: Photos
From the very small and old and stuck in stone, we go to a new, previously unknown species of humpback dolphin, which was recently identified off the coast of northern Australia.VIDEO: Dolphins Give Each Other Unique Names
Meet a blue-tongued skink, crossing red sand in the Northern Territory of Australia near Alice Springs. The skink is a type of lizard, one that isn't out to sell you car insurance. A new type of skink, gold-colored, was among three new vertebrate species recently discovered in Australia's Cape Melville mountain range.
Australia certainly seems to be a hotbed of animal discovery activity of late. Footprints made by a bird more than 100 million years ago have been found down under, and they've been deemed the oldest bird prints ever uncovered in Australia. Here, a drag mark made by the rear toe on one of the Cretaceous bird tracks indicates to scientists that it was the mark of a bird coming in for a landing.
Martin Zabala/Xinhua Press/Corbis
We interrupt our narrative flow for a penguin! (We don't really need a reason to show a penguin picture, do we?) This Magellanic penguin carries a branch to its nest in the Punta Tombo Reserve in Argentina. The reserve was created to protect the largest continental colony of Magellanic penguins.Found: Africa's Oldest Penguins
Jiang Fan/Xinhua Press/Corbis
Meanwhile, another reserve gained not a penguin but something a tad larger: a Sumatran tiger. Carteria, a two-and-a-half year old, is seen here in a cage during transport to the Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation, on the southern tip of Sumatra Island, on Oct. 26, 2013. Carteria was sent to the conservation site after it was rescued from poachers.Rare Sumatran Tiger Cubs Born at National Zoo
Jiang Fan/Xinhua Press/Corbis
This monkey, already making its living in the Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation, must not have been too thrilled to discover Carteria would be joining the neighborhood.
Here, there be dragons. And by here, of course, we mean the Prague Zoo. The zoo has been successful at breeding Komodo dragons, of which this 10-day-old baby Komodo is proof. The Komodo is the largest living species of lizard and it can grow up to be about 3 meters (almost 10 feet) long. (Just for comparison's sake, the blue-tongued skink we met earlier maxes out at about 45 centimeters, or 17 inches.) Check out the next slide to see what happens when cute little fellas like this one grow up.
They don't ALL end up attacking pumpkins at the London Zoo, but this Komodo dragon named Raja did. The giant creature is reminding us that Halloween is so OVER now. Raja might even be wondering why humans bother to hollow out, carve, and smash pumpkins when it's so much easier just to bite them. And that's not just the opinion of some random Komodo dragon with an attitude. Raja appeared as himself in the James Bond film "Skyfall." Perhaps here he is really just auditioning for the 743rd installment in the "Friday the 13th" series.Indonesian, 83, Survives Komodo Dragon Attack
A hunter stumbled upon a bizarre sight on a 75,000-acre ranch north of Las Vegas, N.M., on Aug. 27: the remains of more than 100 dead elk. Livestock deaths are not unusual, but so many animals dying off, and doing so in what seems to be under 24 hours, was puzzling to scientists.
Officials with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish investigated the mysterious elk deaths and ruled out several possible causes for the elk deaths, including poachers, anthrax, lightning strikes, epizootic hemorrhagic disease (an often-fatal virus known to affect deer and other ruminants), botulism, poisonous plants, malicious poisoning and even some sort of industrial or agricultural accident.
The investigation was hampered by the state of the elk: Scavengers, including bears and vultures, ate most of the bodies, with maggots and blowflies helping to reduce the elk herd to an eerie scattered sea of skeletons in the desert. [Spooky! Top 10 Unexplained Phenomena]
"We couldn't find anything in their stomachs and no toxic plants on the landscape," said Kerry Mower, a wildlife disease specialist with New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, as quoted by the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper.
Pond scum of death
Through science and further testing of elk tissue samples and water samples, the real killer has finally been found: pond scum. Or, more specifically, a neurotoxin produced by one type of blue-green algae that can develop in warm, standing water.
A bloom of this algae can be devastating to wildlife.
"In warm weather, blooms of blue-green algae are not uncommon in farm ponds in temperate regions, particularly ponds enriched with fertilizer," according to a classic toxicology reference book, "Casarett and Doull's Toxicology: The Basic Science of Poisons" (McGraw-Hill Professional, 2013).
"Under these conditions, one species of alga, Anabaena flos-aquae, produces a neurotoxin, anatoxin-A, which depolarizes and blocks acetylcholine receptors, causing death in animals that drink the pond water. The lethal effects develop rapidly, with death in minutes to hours from respiratory arrest."
In other words, the elk herd suffocated to death, unable to breathe. And the fast-acting toxin explains the animals' strange, sudden deaths. In this case, the algae appeared not in ponds, but in three fiberglass livestock watering tanks not far from where the elk died. The elk also showed signs they had struggled on the ground, further supporting neurotoxin poisoning.
"Based on circumstantial evidence, the most logical explanation for the elk deaths is that on their way back to the forest after feeding in the grassland, the elk drank water from a trough containing toxins created by blue-green algae or cyanobacteria," Mower said in a statement from the Department of Game and Fish.
The algae-produced neurotoxin is similar to curare, the famous toxin found in poison-tipped arrows used by South American Indian tribes. Though anatoxin-A can be deadly to other animals, including dogs and cattle, reports of human deaths are rare. New Mexico ranchers have been advised to sanitize their livestock tanks to prevent further wildlife deaths.