Thanks to the know-it-all from second grade, we're all aware that dolphins and whales are mammals, not fish. But it's probably been a while since you've pondered just how incredibly, mind-blowingly weird it is that you and whales were the same animal more recently than whales and sharks. Or to put it in chart form, you and whales split up somewhere in the big tangle of bio diversity up top labeled "Age of Mammals" while whales and fish haven't been the same animals since way the hell down ...
... here where you see the word Selacchi. So how is it that our evolutionary cousins ended up with flippers and fins exactly where fish have them and we ended up needing swimming lessons?
Courtesy of Getty Images.
"You've changed man."
Turns out it's the same reason birds and bats both ended up flying around on wings: convergent evolution, the smarmy term for when completely unrelated species develop similar traits. It happens because, related or not, evolution is going to favor the folks with the best equipment. Here are some critters that prove sometimes evolution is just trying to screw with your head ...
10-9 Brown Antechinus
Image By Glen Fergus
What it looks like:
You don't need your wife standing next to you screaming, "MOUSE! OH MY GOD KILL IT, KILL IT NOW" to tell you what that thing is. If you saw one scamper across your floor, you'd bring out the mousetrap. The next day, when you found the little sucker impaled on the wall of spikes that your tiny mousetrap catapult flung it into, you'd toss it in the trash without a second thought. Well if you love adorable things, or are a fan of the posters in elementary school libraries, we've got some bad news.
What it actually is: A tiny little mutant koala
Image By Quartl
The brown antechinus' lack of a placenta makes it a marsupial, which means that long before it looked, acted and pooped all over your boxes of old family photographs like a mouse, it descended from the evolutionary great grandfather of the koala. Once they split up, the antechinus developed fast-twitch muscles and shrunk so that it didn't need much food to become self-sufficient. Meanwhile, the koala developed whatever the opposite of fast-twitch muscles are, and became a slow moving, constantly sleeping machine of eucalyptus consumption that kind of looks like a teddy bear.
Fortunately for the koala, its prime location on the "OHMYGODSOCUTE" end of the spectrum of reasons humans will freak out about animals is all that really matters in our eyes. Meanwhile, the antechinus secured itself a spot on the "kill it with whatever you happen to be holding at the time" end of the spectrum with mice, spiders and anything that looks like them. The moral of this story: hard work is good and all, but if you look like a teddy bear you can sleep for 18 hours a day and people will take an active interest in making sure you always have plenty of food and sex. Thus concludes the worst Aesop's fable ever.
Image By Cody Pope
The worst part? It's impossible to argue with that decision.
Image By Jagvar
Someone has evidently taken the adorable face of a snub nosed puppy and placed it atop the body of a little hopping bunny rabbit. In action, they hop, lay and graze in a way that would remind you more of kangaroos. Only they're about a foot tall, so they're more like miniature kangaroos, which aren't supposed to exist anywhere that's not selling snack crackers you dip in icing. It's like someone genetically engineered this thing to make your kids not shut up until you bring one home from the pet store.
What it actually is: The fourth largest rodent on Earth
So depending on your perspective, it's either a guinea pig on steroids or a giant rat who's figured out that humans are suckers for good posture.
Like this, except bigger and with its dukes up.
The more you learn about them, the more you realize that they're actually pretty awesome animals. If you did bring one home, for instance, you might notice that it's far less likely to hump your leg or anything that's not its spouse than a dog because mara are one of only a handful of species that mate for life. It's stuff like that that makes us wonder how these things aren't in every household in Los Angeles. It's adorable and you don't have to neuter it into sexual responsibility. Hell, you could have little mara weddings when your mara met his or her soul mate.
Image By Nesnad
With catering provided by your lawnmower.
And then we remember that they're giant rodents whose powerful bounding haunches make them a split second from your face at any moment.
What it looks like:
Either a porcupine or a hedgehog or what happens when porcupines have wildly uncomfortable sex with hedgehogs. If you look beyond the quills, you might notice that it has a beak and, well, that's not right. Get really close and you'll notice it has a pouch like a kangaroo. Get closer than those of us without an official grant from a university are legally allowed to get, and you'll notice that it's got the egg-laying reproductive organs of an amphibian.
Image By Nachoman-au
Also, one of its ancestors was apparently a medieval flail.
Only one other animal looks so much like an elaborate fraud.
What it actually is: The closest cousin of the platypus
... and possibly the only creature with a more baffling path down the evolutionary Plinko board. When scientists discovered the platypus, they spent the next few days waiting for Ashton Kutcher to spring from the brush and explain who had Punk'd them. Prior to the echidna, the platypus's duck bill, beaver tail, webbed feet and kangaroo pouch made it the one creature that worked equally well as an argument against evolution and intelligent design.
Image By Peterdw
"Oh yeah, well how do you explain the platypus?" -- The only time science and Christianity ever jinxed each other.
Scientists now think the echidna was once amphibious like the platypus, and subsequently decided that it preferred to live on land, meaning its journey has actually been more wandering than the thing that looks like the result of a fire in a Disney novelty candle store.
Usually calling something the evolutionary version of something else is a compliment. But in this case, it just means that around the time the platypus was waking up from evolution wearing nature's equivalent of what happens when you get dressed while drunk, the echidna was still out drunk-shopping at nature's Chess King.
Image By Skyring
"What the ... Are these flippers? I knew that last shot of tequila was a bad idea."
Science is just learning all of this since the echidna is a quiet creature that travels alone and never stays in one place for too long, suggesting that it finally evolved a trait that seems appropriate for its body: a sense of shame.