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Forget the Jabberwocky, the Bandersnatch or the Jub-jub - the planet Earth is populated by enough strange and wonderful creatures without resorting to fiction. Some are rare, some are on the verge of extinction, some, like the duck-billed platypus, are prolific but just plain odd. This entry discusses just a few of these weird creatures, great and small...
Under the Sea
The Angler Fish
The amazingly ugly angler-fish, as illustrated above, lives deep in the Atlantic and Antarctic oceans. The (sometimes luminous) spine of their dorsal fin acts as a fishing rod with a fleshy 'bait' at the end to attract other fish for it to eat. The female of the species can grow up to 47 inches long but the males never grow longer than 2.5 inches. The males live almost as parasites on the females - attaching themselves to the female's body by biting. His mouth fuses with her skin and the bloodstreams of both become connected. The female feeds him enough nourishment to keep him alive long enough for reproduction. He slowly begins to degenerate - his eyes wither and then he loses them entirely, his internal organs disappear and eventually he becomes nothing more than a source of sperm.
People go to the bottom of the sea to prove that?! The loss of non-essential organs and general tissue atrophy following marriage is not unique to humans, it seems.
The Sea Squirt
The sea squirt has a very simple brain which is used only to find a suitable spot to root itself for life. Once it's settled into a spot, it no longer needs the brain, so it eats it. This has been compared by at least one Researcher to a professor receiving tenure at a university.
The Sea Horse
The only male on the planet that gives birth to the young, the sea-horse is, unsurprisingly, not actually a horse. The male and female mate face to face (which is also unusual in the animal world). The female passes the eggs to the male, which he keeps in a pouch. Eventually, he gives birth using contractions to squeeze the babies out. They then swim off to begin their own lives. Parenting over.
The Octopus and Friends
Octopuses and cuttlefish can change their colour to communicate with others.
Cuttlefish mate for life.
Whalers have often noted huge marks the size of dinnerplates on sperm whales who have been fighting octopuses (the whales feed on deep-sea octopus).
Octopuses are said to be as intelligent as dogs:
I saw a documentary not long ago, where the researchers couldn't understand why some of the specimens were disappearing. They set up a video camera then left for the night. The culprit was their octopus, which left its tank, crawled along to the tank of the missing creatures, climbed in, ate its supper then crawled out again, and made its way back to its own tank. The fact that it was already well-fed, and it waited until the researchers had gone for the night, proves that it wasn't driven by hunger, and it knew when to go on the hunt...
Creatures of the Land
Creepy-crawlies and Wriggly-squirmies
The common earth-worm strikes many people as weird. Partly because it appears to eat soil, and partly because of the myth that if cut in half, both pieces of a worm will continue to live on. This fallacy was discredited by one Researcher:
It's a common misconception that you get two worms by cutting one in half. The wriggling observed is due to neural impulses during the worm's death throes.
So just think on that next time you're digging up your garden...
Centipedes and millipedes are not so called because of an exact number of legs, rather it's because they have lots of legs. Centipedes have one pair of legs on each segment of their bodies, whereas millipedes have two pairs on each segment. Members of the invertebrate family, both creatures live in dark, moist places, usually under rocks, sticks, or leaf litter. Centipedes feed on insects and have small poison claws which they use to paralyse their prey. Millipedes feed on organic matter, and overwatering or overmulching your garden can cause an infestation.
During May and June, you can often find small, inch-long beetles on windowsills, on the ground outside the house, or bashing into windows during the evening. They are cockchafers, or may-bugs. Cockchafers have interesting fan-like antennae and the vibrations of their wings make a buzzing sound when they fly. They have dark-brown bodies with a natty chevron motif, nut brown wing cases and very spikey legs which look to be designed to attach to almost anything, but seem in fact to be very poor at holding anything at all. The oddest thing though is their behaviour.
There is a saying that goes something like 'If God had meant us to fly, he would have given us wings', well I would extend this to the may-bug by suggesting that a navigation mechanism would turn out to be useful, too, but this seems to be the aspect of design which has been rushed. They fly all right: strongly, quickly, but do they appear to have any control? No. Oh, they can find a bright light with no trouble at all, they will bang their heads for ages, frequently falling to the ground where they almost always seem to land on their backs before turning over and doing it again... I rather think that these were one of the prototypes for the stag-beetle that someone let loose by accident.
Warm-blooded, egg-laying animals are birds. Cold-blooded, egg-laying animals are reptiles. So the theory once went. The platypus has got a beak like a duck, lays eggs and its other name is the 'flatfoot duck', but it's a mammal rather than a bird and it doesn't have feathers. It's got four legs with claws on them and membranes between them. Like reptiles, males have internal testicles, while both sexes have a 'cloaca' (common exit point for faeces and urine) like birds and reptiles, something singularly uncommon in mammals. No wonder that, over history, it was allocated several places in the classification system and that at one time it was named Ornithorhynchus paradoxus (paradoxical bird-snout).
When it comes to nocturnal beasties, the aye-aye takes the biscuit. Found in Madagascar, it has huge, bulbous eyes and an elongated finger for getting grubs out of trees. It, too, is endangered, and was the inspiration for Douglas Adams' tour around the world in search of other endangered species, as documented in the book Last Chance to See.
Not all weird animals reside in the wild of course. Thanks to the Austin Powers movies, hairless cats have become a bit of a luxury accessory for the richest homes. They're not really hairless - they do have a very fine down. Also known as called Sphynx cats, they are said to feel uncommonly like peach fuzz or a chamois.
Some of the lizard species living in North American deserts just appear like other lizards, except the fact that all members (eg of the species Cnemidophorus uniparens) are all female. In this case, the offspring arises just from one parent. They have a society without men and sperms - but not without sex: the females do some kind of pseudo-copulation to each other, just like male and female lizards from other species do, and lizards sexually active in that way produce significantly more eggs than sexually inactive ones.
The quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala, but is now so endangered (because people still hunt it illegally so they can stick its immensely long, iridescent green tail-feathers in their stupid hats) that the Guatemalans have to go to Costa Rica if they want a reasonable chance of seeing one. There are only 200 breeding pairs left in Costa Rica, which of course means only 100 males (they're the ones who have the aforementioned tail-feathers).
New Zealand appears to have more than its fair share of unusual birds. The national symbol of New Zealand is a particularly strange bird - the kiwi. Though classified as a bird, it is unable to fly and its feathers - much sought after for the production of Kahu-Kiwi cloaks - are more like spines than traditional feathers. They are bipedal and prefer to be on the ground instead of in trees.
The kakapo - the world's heaviest parrot - is not only another flightless bird but it's also nocturnal. As one Researcher simplified the situation:
- It was too fat to be able to fly.
- It was too dumb to remember that it couldn't fly.
- It would spread its wings and fall like a brick.
The kakapo, also called owl parrot, goes by the Latin name of Strigops habroptilus. They are reputed to smell of either spicy cinnamon or sour milk. While we're on the subject of parrots, the kea is the murderous thug of the family, so much so it is known as the 'feathered wolf'.
Other New Zealand birds include:
- The tui - the parson bird
- The pukeko - the swamp hen
- The piwakawaka - the fantail
- The ruru - aka the morepork (an owl)
The Lyrebird is a native Australian bird with an unusual party trick, even though the male has elaborate plumage (which with birds usually means they haven't got much in the way of a call) that isn't enough for it also has to impress with its call, or rather someone else's call. Because the Lyrebird can impersonate any call it has heard during a couple of weeks when it was growing up, and impersonate it so flawlessly even the bird it is impersonating wouldn't spot the difference. However, as with many things, the arrival of humans has affected it, although in an amusing rather than threatening way. These days in areas where Lyrebirds live close to humans it would be as common to find a Lyrebird who can do a flawless impression of a self-winding camera, a car alarm, a snatch of conversation, or a spot-welding machine as one that can do a good Kookaburra.
Some More Weird Animal Facts
If you'd put all insects on one side of a balance and all the rest on the other side of the balance, the insects would outweigh the rest.
Scientists found out how bees communicate. Bees, however, are not able to learn a foreign language. That is, Egyptian bees do not learn how to communicate with European bees.
Butterflies have 12,000 eyes. They fly with an average speed of 32 km/h. Swordfish, meanwhile, can reach up to 110 km/h.
Some moths use acoustic countermeasures to scramble the bat's sonar.
Snails can remain dormant for up to three years.
The honeysucker (aka the honey-eater, classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Passeriformes, family Meliphagidaeis) is the only bird that can actively fly backwards. They cannot, however, walk.
Crocodiles kill on average 2,000 people per year.
In the last 4,000 years, no new animal has become domesticated.
Humpback whales keep composing new songs, and sing old ones rarely.
Giraffes have no voices.
- Elephants cannot jump.
Gorillas can't swim. Cats can, though they do not traditionally like water.
The Weirdest Creature of All
It has been theorised that a species of ape evolved due to a semi-aquatic lifestyle. This ape lost nearly all of its hair, and instead developed a layer of subcutaneous fat, which is white fat, almost useless as insulation but very good for buoyancy. This ape is also the only land mammal to be able to control its breathing leading to the evolution of communication. It has a raised voicebox and lowered diaphragm which, along with the white fat, are usually only found in aquatic mammals such as dolphins and whales. It sweats profusely, as if it is used to the cooling effect of water, and its young are born with no fear of water and automatically hold their breath when submerged.
This ape is known as Homo sapiens...
What Makes Them So Unique?
They are bipedal, and with little body hair they tend to wear the skins of other animals. They will eat anything that moves, and if it doesn't move they will try to eat it anyway. Some will even eat parsnips. They live practically anywhere on land, but with a preference for coastal or riverside locations. Particularly like places with a ready supply of alcohol. Will live readily in vast communes or 'cities'. They are social animals though many also prefer solitude. Though they would like to go to a deserted island in the Pacific Ocean, their insatiable sex drive obliges them to stay close to their vast, sprawling communes. Like the lemming, they have a great habit of endangering themselves, usually when things are going quite well. Best to leave them alone...