Animal Mysteries

Thousands of blackbirds fell from the sky on New Year’s Eve, believed to be caused by fireworks—and 500 more were found Tuesday in Louisiana. From a celebrity swan slain in Brooklyn to Swiss cows who went over a cliff, see pictures of more unsolved killings.

Stephen B. Thornton, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / AP Photo/

Stephen B. Thornton, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / AP Photo/

Arkansas: Blackbirds Fall From the Sky

Shortly before midnight on New Year’s Eve, as many as 5,000 red-winged blackbirds fell to the ground in Arkansas, dead. It appears they were torn from their nighttime roosts by a thunderstorm, became waterlogged, and died from exposure. "This is a well-known phenomenon," said a Cornell ornithologist. And what about the hundreds of thousands of fish that died nearby? Disease is the apparent cause. "We have fishkills from time to time, it's not unusual,” said one state official. In addition, on Tuesday, 500 dead redwing blackbirds and starlings turned up in Louisana. The birds suffered internal injuries that led to deadly blood clots—possibly from falling from the sky.


Arkansas: 100,000 Fish Wash Ashore

Arkansas is experiencing apocalyptic weather. First it rains dead birds, and now nearly 100,000 dead drum fish have washed up on the shores of the Arkansas River. While scientists say there is no correlation between the dead birds and fish, they are still wondering why so many drum fish are dead along a 20-mile stretch of the river. Experts suspect that disease is to blame for the fish kill, but a pollutant in the water would kill more than just the drum fish, which are the only fish identified so far.

Jonathan Gleich / Flickr

New York: Celebrity Swan Dies in Brooklyn Park

This smells of fowl play! Who had it in for John Boy Walton, the beloved swan at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, killed last March? Suspicions are still lingering, but investigators and a wildlife rehabilitator say it was swan-on-swan violence, judging by the dead bird’s swollen leg and blunt trauma. Park fans demanded an autopsy on the bird, but it was cremated—and not an endangered animal or a victim of abuse, according to authorities. However, John Boy’s death came amid a string of other animal deaths around Prospect Park. In addition to a dead duck and turtle, visitors noticed mutilated animal body parts being dumped in the park.

Mike Groll / AP Photo

U.S.: Bats Wiped Out by ‘White Nose Syndrome’

Bats are eerie enough, but a mysterious disease called White Nose Syndrome has killed a huge number of them across the country since 2006. The disease creates a strange white fungus on the nose, ears, and wing areas of the afflicted bats. Scientists call WNS an “ unprecedented disease,” since it has spread so quickly and wiped out so much of the bat population, but no one seems to know where it stemmed from. Fortunately, in December, a biologist discovered some bats in a World War II bunker in New Hampshire that managed to avoid the rampant disease.

Andrew Erickson / Flickr

Switzerland: Suicidal Cows Jump Off Cliff

Talk about some mad cows. In August 2009, 28 cows and bulls were believed to have thrown themselves over the edge of cliffs in the Swiss Alps. The bodies were found at the bottom of some extremely high cliffs and had to be removed by helicopters. Scientists say animals such as bovines are not capable of committing suicide, although in the high altitude of the Alps, cows and bulls have been known to fall off the dangerous cliffs. But so many cow jumps in such a short amount of time left farmers, police, and scientists puzzled. A police spokesperson said cows that have grown up in the area are pretty savvy and are able to estimate the danger of the cliffs. Some suspected thunderstorms may have scared the cows, or perhaps a tightly linked group of cows grazing may have pushed stumbled over the edge of the cliff.

Panama: Cerro Azul Monster

In September 2009, the grotesque carcass of a hairless, rubbery-bodied creature washed up in the town of Cerro Azul north of Panama City. Was it a genetic mutation of some sort? A monstrous new species? A group of teenagers claimed they had spotted the animal crawling out of a cave in Cerro Azul, and, freaked out, hurled rocks at it, striking the creature dead, and threw its body in a pool of water. They then dubiously claimed to have returned later to take pictures of the animal’s strange corpse, which were then posted on the website of the country’s Telemetro television station. The photos caused an online frenzy, with numerous theories being floated about the creature’s identity. The most popular theory is that it’s a hairless three-toed sloth, an animal that’s quite common in the region, due to its short face, odd body shape, and curved, hooked claws.

Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP Photo

U.S.: Honeybees' Mass Die-Off

Since nearly a third of America’s food supply depends on plants pollinated by bees or other insects, when honeybees started dying out in large numbers in 2007, farmers and beekeepers were in a state of panic, and scientists were baffled. The phenomenon even resulted in a regrettable Hollywood film, 2008’s The Happening, in which the environment turns against the human race. In 2007, 32 percent of bee colonies in the United States collapsed, followed by 36 percent in 2008, and 29 percent in 2009. The die-off continued into 2010, with many scientists suspecting either pesticides, or some sort of plague as the cause of death. Finally, just last month, an EPA document leaked to a Colorado beekeeper seemed to hold the cause: the widespread use of the bee-toxic pesticide clothianidin, produced by Bayer and mainly used to pre-treat corn seeds.

Mike Blake / Reuters

California: Dozens of Jumbo Squid Wash Up on Shore

At 7:34 a.m. on July 11, 2009, the residents of La Jolla, California, were rattled awake by a 4.0 magnitude earthquake. One hour later, however, things got weird. Dozens of jumbo squid, also called Humboldt squid, washed up on shore, flapping helplessly. How did these large creatures, which can grow up to 7 feet in length and weigh up to 100 pounds, appear all of a sudden? Was it caused by the earthquake? Not so, claimed squid expert William Gilly of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station, because people had found beached squid three days earlier. Since it’s unlikely that the squid would be affected by an earthquake’s seismic waves, scientists believe that the beached creatures were caused either by rapidly changing water temperatures, which could prove confusing, or the ingestion of a toxin called domoic acid that’s produced by ocean plankton.

New York: The Montauk Monster

The godfather of unsolved animal mysteries, the “Montauk Monster”—with its leathery body, claws, and beak—is alleged to have washed ashore on Montauk, Long Island. Gawker ran the photo, claiming a tipster told its editors that “a government animal testing facility” was situated very close by in Long Island, and it caused Internet frenzy. You’d think this thing was Cloverfield. New York magazine’s Daily Intel blog dug a little further and discovered that the photo is in all likelihood a fake, circulated to Gawker Media by a marketing company out in Los Angeles called Evolutionary Media Group. However, despite the carcass’ mysterious disappearance, several Long Islanders claim to have spotted the “Montauk Monster,” and, according to paleozoologist Darren Naish, it was merely a raccoon that had decomposed slightly.

Courtesy of New Hampshire Fish and Game

New Hampshire: 2,500 Trout Go Belly-Up

When 2,500 trout were found belly-up in a pool at a Fish and Game Department hatchery in New Hampshire in 2006, state officials were left scratching their heads. However, they, along with Hatcheries supervisor Robert Fawcett, soon discovered the unlikely culprit: a Paddington Bear dressed in a yellow raincoat and hat. Yes, a teddy bear that was accidentally dropped into the pool was believed to have clogged the pool’s drain, blocking the flow of oxygen and suffocating the poor fish to death. The incident prompted Fawcett to compose a written warning, saying: “RELEASE OF ANY TEDDY BEARS into the fish hatchery water IS NOT PERMITTED.” Although it’s not known exactly who dropped the bear, Fawcett did not want history to repeat itself and urged anyone who saw a teddy bear fall into the hatchery pool to immediately find a worker to get it out of there. “They might save your teddy bear, and keep it from becoming a killer,” he said.