15 Amazing Sleeping Habits of Animals

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Animals don't have sleeping masks or soothing prerecorded sounds to help them get the sleep they need, so they have to make do with what nature and their bodies allow. Consequently, many have found some incredible ways to get their much-needed rest.

1. DOLPHINS

Bottlenose dolphins underwater
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Dolphins are amazing creatures, and while they are usually noted for their adorableness, wits and/or disturbing sexual aggression, their sleeping habits are worth mentioning too. They can enter into periods of very deep sleep referred to as "logging" because while in it, a dolphin looks like a log floating at the surface of the water. Crazier still, the bottlenose dolphin readies itself for slumber by literally shutting down half of its brain, as well as the eye opposite the powered-down hemisphere. The other half of the brain (and opposite eye) stays turned on to watch out for whatever might come along, whether be it other dolphins or predators. It also tells the dolphin when to come up for air. After two hours or so, the sides switch, so both eyes and brain hemispheres get their due rest. This process isn't unique to dolphins, as fruit bats, porpoises, iguanas, seals, birds, and ducks do it too.

2. SPERM WHALES

A sperm whale floats near the surface of the water.
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In 2008, researchers happened upon a group of sleeping sperm whales bobbing vertically in the water off the coast of northern Chile. The sight alone was amazing, but then things got strange. These whales, which were thought to only allow one side of their brain to rest at a time, like dolphins and some other whales, didn't seem to notice the approaching vessel. It wasn't until one of the cetaceans was accidentally nudged that the group woke up and fled. Through this discovery, researchers learned that sperm whales sleep differently from their relatives—in short, regular periods of full sleep near the surface. They don't breathe or move during their naps, and if this is the only kind of sleep they get (it's unclear whether they also engage in half-brain sleep), the relatively short amount of cumulative slumber might make them the least sleep-dependent of all mammals.

3. GIRAFFES

Baby giraffe sleeping on the ground
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Giraffes don't rest much longer than sperm whales do. They sleep about 20 minutes a day in order to avoid predators. Being such a tall, lanky beast also makes it difficult to catch some quick z's, but when they do curl up for some rest, it's pretty adorable.

4. SEA OTTERS

Two sleeping otters holding hands in the water.
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Predators aren't the only issue to navigate while asleep. As otters know, there's also the possibility of drifting off (pun absolutely intended). When sea otters fall asleep, they do so while lying on their backs at the surface of the water and in groups or in seaweed forests, sometimes holding hands to keep from floating apart.

5. ALBATROSSES

An albatross flying over the waves.
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The albatross is a sea bird that spends much of its life soaring around on the hunt. Its lifestyle doesn't leave a lot of time for snoozing, so it's believed the albatross multitasks by sleeping while flying. Alpine swifts are believed to do this too, as are migratory Swainson's Thrush birds, who take hundreds of little power naps lasting only a few seconds each.

6. DUCKS

Ducks standing in a row.
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Our feathered friends do more than sleep with one eye open. They sleep in a clique. Ducks queue up in a row when it's time to hit the hay, and the ones at the end of the line keep the eye facing away from the group open to watch out for predators, and close the other eye. The ducks inside close both of their eyes. The single-hemisphere sleep in the bookending ducks keeps the whole row safe.

7. MEERKATS

A pile of sleeping meerkats.
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Meerkats spend their nights in burrows, which consist of complex tunnel systems and underground sleeping quarters. Communities of meerkats are called mobs or gangs and can consist of up to 40 animals with an alpha male and female in each community. They sleep in heaps, getting warmth from one another and protecting the gang leaders at the bottom of the pile. Puppies, squirrels, bats, and a slew of other creatures are also known to huddle up for warmth during sleep (including the elusive homo sapiens).

8. HORSES, ZEBRAS, AND ELEPHANTS

A zebra mother and her foal standing in the desert.
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This is the crew of the standing sleepers, who stay alert during their rest by remaining on their feet. These animals are able to lock their legs in a straight standing position in such a way that it doesn't require much muscle effort. This is called a "stay apparatus." While it's a cool trick, horses (and cows too) do need to lie down from time to time, because they can't achieve REM sleep while standing up. Flamingos sleep while standing too, but they do so because there aren't many cozy places to slumber in their usual habitats.

9. BROWN BATS

Bats hanging from a cave ceiling and sleeping.
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On the other side of the mammalian sleep spectrum from sperm whales and giraffes are brown bats, which sleep about 19 hours a day. The nocturnal creatures snooze upside down all day, a stance born of efficiency, as it's easier for them and their weak wings to take off from that position. After bats, the lengthiest daily sleepers are armadillos, opossums, sloths, tigers, and then domestic cats. Keep that in mind next time you want to tell your feline to get a job.

10. SHARKS

A shark with smaller fish getting out of its way.
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Most sharks have to keep moving constantly in order to get oxygen through their gills, while others have developed spiracles, openings behind the eye that allow them to take in oxygen while stationary. But generally their sleep is thought to be more of an idle state than a full-fledged shut down. Scientists have found that the spiny dogfish's swimming might be coordinated by the spinal cord and not the brain, which would indicate that sharks might be able to power down their noggins and continue moving after all. Others speculate that some white sharks might face the current while stationary, so water moves over their gills with no effort from the fish itself.

11. WALRUSES

Hundreds of walruses sleeping together.
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Walruses can also sleep and swim at the same time. They're also basically that friend of yours who can fall asleep anywhere—they can hold their breath for up to five minutes and catch a nap underwater, or deep-sleep ashore for as many as 19 hours. They deserve a deep slumber though—walruses have been known to swim continuously for up to 84 hours. For water sleeping, walruses can inflate spaces in their bodies called pharyngeal pouches, which act as sort of a biological life jacket to keep the blubbery beasts afloat.

12. DESERT SNAIL

Desert snail on the ground.
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It doesn't seem like a snail would have a very taxing life, but these little slimy creatures can go on sleeping for literally years. One particularly famous incident involved an Egyptian desert snail who was assumed dead by a British Museum staffer who affixed the snail to an identification card. Four years later, traces of slime were discovered on the card, and when the staff removed the shell from the card, the animal crawled out.

13. FROGS

Freezing frog in hibernation.
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Frogs survive winter by hibernating much like their larger, furrier friends, but their feats are arguably way more incredible. Frogs are equipped with a kind of animal antifreeze, which means that while ice crystals may form in body cavities and under the skin, high concentrations of glucose in its vital organs prevents those essential parts from freezing. A partially frozen frog stops breathing and its heart ceases beating, but when the spring thaw comes and temperatures start to rise, its body resumes its functions and springs back to life.

14. BEARS

Mother bear and two cubs in the woods.
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The sleeping habits of bears aren't usually anything notable, except when it's time to give birth. In the winter months, when pregnant mothers are deep in hibernation mode, their heart rates slow, and they stop eating, drinking, urinating, defecating, or exercising. But mama bears will rouse themselves enough to do a little thing called giving birth. The cubs then nurse on their sleeping mom for the next few months until she wakes up and takes them out into the world.

15. APES

Orangutan sleeping on a tree limb.
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Scientists are studying apes to learn things about the way humans sleep and how that might have helped us evolve. They've found that animals like the orangutan, gorilla, and chimpanzee all like to curl up to sleep just like humans. They also make beds or find platforms for predator-free slumber, which consequently helps them sleep better than counterparts such as the upright-sleeping baboon. That chance for a longer, more restful sleep might have been a factor in our own evolutionary process, helping us to get smarter with each 40 winks.

This story originally ran in 2015.

Ryrkaypiy, Russia, Is Being Overrun By Hungry Polar Bears

Mario_Hoppmann/iStock via Getty Images
Mario_Hoppmann/iStock via Getty Images

Polar bears are becoming a common sight near the village of Ryrkaypiy in northeastern Russia. As CNN reports, nearly 60 bears were spotted looking for food in the area, and experts say climate change is to blame.

Normally around this time of year, Arctic sea ice is thick enough for polar bears to use it as a platform for hunting seals. Temperatures have been warmer than average this year, and without the ice to support them, hungry polar bears are being pushed south into human-occupied territories on land.

According to a statement released by World Wildlife Fund Russia, the bears gathering in Ryrkaypiy are thin-looking and include cubs and adults of various ages. So far, they've been subsisting on walrus carcasses that have been lain on the village's shore since autumn.

No incidents between bears and villagers have been reported yet, but the 500 residents are on guard. Volunteers are now patrolling the town limits and school buses have started picking up children who would normally walk to class.

Prior to this decade, it was unusual to see more than three or five polar bears near Ryrkaypiy at a time. But as climate change drives global warming and melts Arctic sea ice, seeing large groups of polar bears at lower latitudes is no longer an anomaly. Earlier this year, Novaya Zemlya, Russia, declared a state of emergency after more than 50 bears invaded the region. As sea ice becomes more scarce, the circumstances forcing hungry polar bears to share space with people will only get worse.

[h/t CNN]

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

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