Weird Wild Nature: Animal Edition

Science isn’t all weird animals and mind-blowing facts, but today that’s exactly what the doctor ordered. I mean, let’s be honest: after last week’s discussion of genetically modified organisms and the general “oh my god what is going to happen to this country” election stress of last Tuesday, this feels like a day to point out the amazing and weird ways that nature finds a way.

Darwin's frog, which has a brown body with a pale yellowish stripe down its back that resembles a leaf
Photo of Darwin’s frog from wikicommons by Mono Andes.

Darwin’s frog.  In the forest streams of Chile and Argentina lives a fairly unpresuming looking frog. Physically, it resembles a dead leaf, a trait that helps it hide away from predators. But pretty neat camouflage is not enough to make this list: what really sets Darwin’s frog apart is how it goes about its business of making new frog babies.

Things start out pretty normally, with the female laying some eggs and the male guarding them until they hatch. Now we’re about to get weird. Instead of letting the wee baby tadpoles make their own way in life, the male swallows them and carries his kids in his vocal pouch. The tadpoles develop, feeding off the yolk from their eggs, and after they reach about ½ an inch in size, they just hop out of their good ol’ dad’s mouth.

Swimming duck-billed platypus.
Photo of a playtpus from wikicommons by Stefan Kraft.

2   Platypus. I cannot make a list like this without my favorite weirdo animal. For starters, the platypus resembles what would happen if an animal was thrown together using spare parts. For seconders, this otter-duck-beaver-looking weirdo is a monotreme, so it is one of the few mammals that lays eggs instead of giving birth to live young. If that wasn’t enough, the platypus has mammary glands, but no teats, so it just exudes milk from its pores, which its young laps up. Oh, and both male and female platypus have ankle spurs, but males match this spur with a venom so powerful it can paralyze a human. There are only a small handful of venomous animals, and most of those are shrews who release the venom through their teeth when biting prey, which is significantly more normal (but, since they’re mammals and not, say, snakes, still sort of weird).

Glass sponge known as a Venus Flower basket: Looks like four glowing white tubes growing from the ocean floor
Photo of Venus’ Flower Basket from wikicommons by NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration.

3  Glass sponges. Sponges might not look like much, but as members of the phylum Porifera, they are definitely animals. They don’t have much in the way of a digestive, nervous, or circulatory system, but hey, that just makes them all the weirder. Many sponges have basically endoskeletons made from calcium carbonate. Many marine organisms make shells or other hard body parts from calcium carbonate, so that seems fairly normal. However, a small group of sponges use glass instead. These sponges, called hexactinellid sponges, pull silicic acid from the ocean water, convert that to silica, and build these elaborate glass skeletons. The most well known example is called Venus’ Flower Basket, which just sounds lovely and almost hides the fact that these bizarre creatures are basically using biology to make glass.

What’s your favorite weirdo animal? Have any to add to this list?

4 replies on “Weird Wild Nature: Animal Edition”

I . love. playtpi(puses?).
I’ve been trying to remember from my evolutionary bio class (and maybe you/someone else can remember better), which are the class/order of animals that get pregnant, but then their uterus basically seals and the baby must rupture out. Of course I only remember the horribly-painful/awful-sounding part, not the actual name…

Other favorite animals: echnidna (the other monotreme!) and kiwi (which are almost more mammal than bird!).

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