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Evolution is a pretty straightforward affair: If you can't stab through thick antelope pelt like you used to, you'll evolve sharper, bigger teeth or stronger jaws. If you keep getting eaten by giant-toothed predators, you'll evolve longer legs for greater speed. If you keep getting harassed by hawks, you'll evolve lanky, hawk-swatting arms. It's pretty much just an endless race of reach and teeth. But occasionally, evolution will reach way the hell out of the box and come back with solar-powered lizards and Iron Man snails ...

The Spotted Salamander Is Solar-Powered

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Spotted salamanders are the first known vertebrates to effectively be solar-powered. They are living amphibians that get energy from photosynthesis, like plants. How is this possible? Well, scientists have long thought that algae had a symbiotic relationship with salamander larvae, giving them only the resources it didn't need (scientists refer to this as the "your shitty college roommate effect"). Research in recent years has proven that this is not the case, however: New studies have shown that salamanders actually have algae all up in their very cells. Aside from being very, very gross, this trait helps the spotted salamander put a new, very literal meaning behind green energy.

Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
"Here comes the sun, doot-'n'-doo-doo ..."

The spotted salamander's larval stage lasts for months, and embryos with algae in their somatic and germ cells have a faster growth rate and higher survival rate than those without. If humans are one day able to adapt this amazing trait as our own, we could bolster the world's food supply by becoming walking slime-hybrids! That ... sounded better before we typed it out. Regardless, the next time you see some Oompa-Loompa-looking Jersey Shore d-bag, withhold your scorn: He could be our best hope for combating global starvation.

Atlantic Wolffish Make Their Own Antifreeze

© Citron / CC-BY-SA-3.0

At first glance, it looks like wolffish got beaten with the short end of the evolution stick. These terrifying yet inexplicably stupid-looking fish inhabit the deep sea, and like most deep-sea creatures, they have cleared massive biological hurdles in order to survive where they do. To thrive in an area where it's too cold for most things to even exist, the wolffish have to make their own antifreeze.

And we mean that literally: This very same antifreeze protein can now be found increasing the freezing tolerance of crops, improving farm fish life in cold climates, lengthening the shelf life of frozen foods, enhancing preservation of tissues for transplant in medicine, and even improving the texture of low-fat ice cream (mmm, wolffish sundaes).

Via Jonathan Bird
Don't you just want to put whipped cream on them and lick 'em?

Think about that for a second: The Ron Perlman of the fish world up there has antifreeze proteins that have allowed us to make great strides in medicine, ensure a consistent world food supply, and provide delicious frozen treats that are easy on the waistline -- all because it's too stupid to move someplace warm.

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Tripod Fish Have Built-In Chairs

Via Oceancontent

The tripod fish's fin rays have evolved into long, bony protrusions that it uses like a biological Barcalounger. That's not exaggeration on our part: The tripod fish's whole strategy for survival is to sit on the ocean floor, using its hind fin-legs to angle its body so that it faces against the current. This way it can simply open its mouth to eat small shrimp, fish, and crustaceans that the current sweeps by, and it doesn't even have to move!

The human equivalent would be moving a recliner in front of a conveyor belt so that you can eat Fritos without all that pesky "reaching for the bag" business. The deep ocean is a terrifying and unforgiving place: If you're going to survive down there, you need at least one amazing trait to trip up the animal reaper when it comes swimming for you. Most creatures evolve to be faster, camouflage themselves better, or simply scare the shit out of any and everything on God's green Earth. The tripod fish, on the other hand, evolved nature's version of a disability scooter. Watching them "in action" is truly an inspiring sight, in the same way that watching a Rascal-bound fat man knock cans of spray cheese off the top shelf with his umbrella is an "inspiring sight."

African Dung Beetles Navigate Using the Milky Way

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Dung beetles are the tiny waste management officials of the insect world, but did you know that they have the soul of an astronomer?

It turns out that African dung beetles plot their courses using the light from the Milky Way, effectively making dung beetle navigation more complicated than your crummy knockoff GPS. For dung beetles, moving in a straight line away from a poo pile is crucial. Rolling giant balls of crap can be dangerous, because it's easy to get off track, as anybody who has set out to Katamari an innocent pile of skis and then accidentally absorbed a child's playground can attest.

Diurnal dung beetles are able to detect a symmetrical pattern of polarized light that appears around the sun by using a set of photoreceptors -- meaning that they can roll better in a straight line by looking at the sky than they can by watching where they're going. However, this isn't the case for the African dung beetle, which is nocturnal. Scientists initially thought they navigated using light from the moon, but repeated experiments proved that it was something far more philosophically complex.

Via Current Biology
Looking toward the heavens, the African dung beetle ponders the meaning of life. It is to roll poop, he concludes.

It turns out that African dung beetles can actually see the dim strip of light that is the Milky Way from the Southern Hemisphere. This is incredible for an animal of this size, or anything without a telescope, for that matter. And the absolute best part? The dung beetles' galactic navigation abilities were proven by forcing test beetles to don tiny hats that blocked their view of the sky. The beetles then proceeded to roll around aimlessly, never getting anything done or having any clue as to where they were going, but at least thinking they looked pretty damn fly while doing it. You know: Just like every dude who wears a fedora.

Via Eric Warrant for National Geographic
"Leave me alone -- I've got shit to do!"

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Japanese Puffer Fish Make Crop Circles

Via Sostadiumstatus

When an underwater photographer off the coast of Japan found these almost-6-foot-wide intricate structures drawn on the ocean floor, he had no idea what made them. Aliens? Aquaman? Alien Aquamen? (Isn't that what Stargate: Atlantis was about?) Regardless, these underwater crop circles (we have to ask: What's the crop here, fellas?) thrilled and excited all who saw them as they pondered what great and mysterious beings must surely be behind these astoundingly complex works of-

Oh, it was a horny fish? All right then.

Via Atheistuniverse.net
It's like the fish version of a booty text.

A television crew observed the tiny Japanese puffer fish painstakingly carving the design all day and night using just one fin. The more elaborate the "crop circle" was, the more likely a male was to find a mate. But they're not just elaborate Piscean fuck-palaces -- the intricately carved walls do serve other functions. The underwater crop circles act as a buffer for the ocean currents, which allow the puffer fish's eggs and young to stay in one place, and they also really blow the minds of frizzy-haired idiots on the History Channel.

The Scaly-Foot Gastropod Can Turn Flesh into Metal

Via Anders Warén, Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm, Sweden.

There exists a species of hydrothermal vent snail that can incorporate metal from deep-sea vents into its own flesh like a gross, slimy version of Colossus from the X-Men. The snail's "foot" (that big pad of flesh it moves around on) is covered with iron-mineral scales that it culls from sulfides, and its shell comes complete with an outer layer of greigite (so named for its discoverer, Greg, the toughest marine biologist in the seven seas).

Scientists have observed deep-sea crabs attempting to break these snails between their claws for literally days on end, which often accomplishes jack levels of squat. Though the crabs get through on occasion, for the most part the scaly-foot gastropod just slimes around, covered in the maritime equivalent of the Iron Man suit, laughing at nature's various ineffective attempted murders.

Pictured: The billionaire alcoholic of the undersea world.

The mollusk's iron plating is so tough that the U.S. military is even taking cues from its unique shell makeup to design better armor for soldiers. Experiments at MIT's Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies have shown that the scaly-foot gastropod's organic middle layer absorbs mechanical pressure (from things such as squeezing) while dissipating heat; the outer, metallic layer is extremely hard to pierce; and the innermost layer is ... well, snail.

If the evolutionary race between prey and predator that has created these snails is any indication, somewhere down the line there will eventually be a species of crab that can take down this snail, and then, the world.

Andrew is an environmental biology student and an independent musician. You can help support him in his ska music endeavors by liking his page here, downloading his album, or both!

For more interesting gadgets animals can have, check out The 6 Most Badass Murder Weapons in the Animal Kingdom and The 9 Most Mind-blowing Disguises in the Animal Kingdom.

Animals have proven that they can be prepared for any situation, but we humans will always have 5 Things in Life You're Never Really Prepared For.

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