Previously, I showed some strange aspects of evolution, including convergence and ‘stupid design’. But sometimes, what looks pretty stupid actually serves a pretty niche purpose that has allowed the animal to thrive to this day.
Let’s take a look:
Bats that aren’t very batty
In New Zealand, there is a unique group of bats. You know, those flying rats that fly around catching bugs, in the air.
Except these bats don’t much like flying. They much prefer clumsily scuttling around the ground in the forest.
SourceThough it can fly, many believe, given time, these bats will eventually take to the ground permanently and become a kind of half-way transition species.
But why? Food, of course. These bats live in a habitat in which it’s simply more beneficial for them to stop wasting all that energy on flapping their big finger-wings and instead chill out on the ground.
The rise of a symbiosis between the bat and a particularly interesting plant is suggested to be the primary factor. The Dactylanthus, or ‘flower of the underworld’ is a unique, fully parasitic, yet flowering plant that can produce up to a full cup of juicy nectar in its 10-day flowering period. Perfect for these land bats.
In the meantime, the rest of the basketball-sized plant is underground, attaching itself to the roots of its host. It’s so dependent on its host that it doesn’t even photosynthesize, and will die as soon as its host dies.
SourceOk, this one freaks me out every time I see it. Just take a look at its hunting methods (about 35 seconds in):
So this ‘primitive’ shark, or as I think we all feel, ‘shark gone wrong’, has a mouth that can literally be thrown out of its face to catch things to compensate for its snout being in the way.
As terrifying as it looks, it’s actually pretty low on the danger spectrum. It feeds on small fish and molluscs, is barely twice the size of a human, can’t swim very well and has terrible eyesight. This explains the weird protruding jaw, since they cannot find prey with hunting prowess, they instead sit around and wait for things to come to them, before lurching forwards in a split second.
But they’re hunted by better sharks with substantial hunting prowess, so they’re kind of like the undergoblins of the sea. Gotta feel bad for ’em.
A famous animal in itself, but the devil is in the detail of this adorable… mammal?
When first brought to England, nobody would believe that it was actually a rela animal, and was just a prank – somebody stitching together the bill of a duck, the tail of a beaver and the fur of an otter.
But it’s not just its ridiculous appearance. Platypuses are venomous. This isn’t unique, but it’s definitely surprising. The venom is secreted on a sharp spur on the back of their feet, useful for competing with males in mating season.
SourceThough they have feet, they’re not very accomplished with them on land. The webbing actually retracts when they’re on land, and they waddle around on their knuckles to prevent damaging that extra skin.
Platypuses are monotremes, or mammals that lay eggs. Again, this is not unique, but there are only five living species of mammal that do this, the other four being a variety of anteaters.
Unlike common sense, they only have a single duct for urine, feces and sex instead of multiple openings like real animals.
To make things all the more confusing, the skeleton of a platypus looks very much like a reptile:
SourceWe normally think of mammals being defined as animals that don’t lay eggs, or perhaps don’t have duck beaks, or reptile skeletons, but the main factors that all mammals have are ‘hair, milk, sweat glands, three middle ear bones and a brain region known as the neocortex.’ – three things that platypus succeeds at.
So why do they lay eggs anyway?
The most likely reason is because they took to the water. Millions of years ago, these monotremes were out-competed by marsupials of all kinds, but bearing a live child is bad news if you live in the water, where you would struggle to give them milk without them drowning. That’s not so much a concern with an egg.
While the land-lubber marsupials took over Australia, Platypuses continued to thrive offshore on Tasmania.
SourceHummingbirds in themselves are pretty fascinating, with heart beats as high as 1300 beats per minute, 50 wing flaps per second, and a top speed of over 15 metres/second.
The sword-billed hummingbird is actually a wonderful example of an evolutionary arms race. With a bill longer than its body, life can’t be easy. But is it worth it? Who is the hummingbird racing against?
There are some flowers, such as the Passiflora mixta with particularly long corollas. This means there has to be a very specific symbiosis between animal and plant if they want to get mutual benefits. This is good because not all animals behave the way the flowering plants would like, but making its prize further and further away ensures only the most passionate enthusiasts can seek their reward.
This hummingbird has a beak so long that when resting, it has to tilt its head up in order for it to not fall over. It also has to fly around with its head pointing up, and it can’t even groom itself properly, resorting to a dog-like scratch behind the ears with its feet.
That nectar better be frickin’ tasty.
In this video you can see the extra-long tongue licking away at the feeder:
Giant noses are not unique to hummingbirds, and it seems they are kind of pretty useful in the grand scheme of evolution. Here are some other animals that have developed huge noses for a variety of purposes:
SourceThe saw shark has a huge snout most likely used for advanced detection of prey. Those spines are part of a very sensitive sensory organ.
SourceLike a sawshark, except it’s a fish. Although the sawshark is also a fish so… whatever.
SourceThis ridiculous water-unicorn was a mystery for a while, but there are some sensible observations nowadays. This modified tooth has been seen doing a variety of specific tasks, such as stirring up the sandy ocean floor, fighting, and even slapping fish, rendering them unconscious before gobbling them up.
The tusk can reach 10 feet in length, though they’re often worn down or broken to a smaller size.
SourceAnteaters are pretty well known, but I just find their heads so ludicrous. They have no teeth, and unique stomachs. Whereas most stomachs use hydrochloric acid to help with digestion, the anteaters questionable diet means it’s had to adapt and have formic acid instead.
This diet is generally not great, and anteaters have also adapted to have a lower body temperature than other mammals, at a mere 32.7 degrees C, which helps them use less energy. They also need to sleep 15 hours a day. That gives them 9 hours to constantly slurp up ants before going back to sleep.
What a life.