10 Animals You Won't Believe Are Closely Related
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?
"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
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
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.
The worst part? It's impossible to argue with that decision.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
"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.
4-3 Rock Hyrax
The rock hyrax looks like a confused groundhog or a woodchuck who would chuck wood if it wasn't suffering from what appears to be the most uncomfortable case of hemorrhoids in the Animal Kingdom. When not busy looking confused about where its body parts are located in the fur covered pile of pudding attached to its head, it spends its time being absolutely freaking terrified.
That's because the hyrax is the fat kid in nature's most terrifyingly bully filled high school: Africa. Its natural predators include leopards, Egyptian cobras, puff adders, wild dogs, eagles, and presumably the Queen from Aliens. The only reason it's not extinct is that look on its face up there. The hyrax is never not terrified. It's got three modes: eating, looking out for predators and being eaten by the most terrifying animals on the African continent.
Above: Nature's equivalent of bringing a Nerf gun to a Blitzkrieg.
What it actually is: The elephant's closest living relative
The hyrax is actually the disappointing little broth of the only good reason to ever use the word "Majestic." While the hyrax wedged itself in the rocks and learned to be super scared of stuff, its cousin was chilling out on the savanna getting huge and learning to use its nose as a hand/squirt gun combination.
Even stranger, the hyrax isn't the goofiest looking dipshit in the elephant's royal family. That distinction would fall to the manatee, which you might know as "that morbidly obese, mentally handicapped seal at the zoo.
While they look like walruses, manatees evolved completely independent of other aquatic mammals. Some several million-odd years ago, a group of small, fat, Jamaican mammoths called Prorastomuses started spending too much time foraging in the water. A few million years later and they're bloated, bald and so slow they make the act of floating look exhausting.
So ... out ... of ... breath.
2-1 Great Auk
Standing three-feet-tall, the great auk looked like an emperor penguin with a hangover. Like the penguin, they were large flightless birds with bright white bellies and black backs that only laid one egg a year. To see them in motion was to be absolutely freaking sure you were looking at a penguin. They swam like big fat torpedoes, and waddled around awkwardly like they were dragging around a stone that was tied to their dick. Like two brothers in the same crime family splitting up the block, the emperor penguins chose to live in the South Pole while the great auk ruled the Northern Hemisphere. That was the only really noticeable difference. Well, that and the beak.
While the emperor penguin's snout comes to a smooth point like it was designed to be dipped in ink and sign endorsement deals, the great auk's beak made it look like it had seen its share of bar fights.
Presumably because it was a little big uglier, we didn't feel so bad about wiping every single member of their species off the planet -- shooting the last pair in 1844. But, hey, at least their brothers live on in the south, fighting the good fight one precious egg at a time.
And, occasionally, having their lives narrated by Morgan Freeman.
What it actually is: Closer to just about any bird north of the equator
The only way they're related is that the word "penguin" comes from the French word for great auk, and was given to the Coke mascots by sailors who thought they were looking at a colony of great auks chilling in the Southern Hemisphere. But the name is nothing more than a a centuries-long case of mistaken identity, since the great auk is more like a mutated seagull than anything else.
We knew we recognized that goofy ass look from somewhere.
See, despite looking almost identical to one another, the penguin and the great auk aren't even remotely related. They started rocking the same colors, decided flying was overrated and that diving was where it was at all without passing so much as a single note or meaningful glance. They might as well have existed on opposite ends of the galaxy and they showed up to prom wearing the same freaking tuxedo.
And while we're not here to take sides, the penguin stole the auk's look, stole its name and then the auk mysteriously disappeared. We realize it's absurd to claim that the penguin had anything to do with its extinction, but it's not like the penguin didn't have a financial motive.
That's the North goddamn Pole! That should be a great auk.
The lesson, as always, is that when humanity gets involved, all things being equal -- the ugly guy gets screwed right in his stupid ugly face.
For the Cracked take on other animals, check out The 6 Most Unlikely Partners in the Animal Kingdom and The 9 Most Mind-blowing Disguises in the Animal Kingdom.