The natural world, filled with competition for resources and hostile climates, can be harsh on animals.
To survive, the animals had to adapt in surprising ways.
Okapis, for example, have scent glands on their feet to mark their territory.
Wood frogs freeze their bodies.
To survive the winter, up to 60% of the bodies of Alaskan wood frogs freeze. They also stop breathing and their heart stops beating. This allows them to survive temperatures as low as -80 degrees Fahrenheit. And in the spring they thaw.
To reach this semi-frozen state, frogs accumulate high concentrations of glucose (up to 10 times the normal amount) in their organs and tissues. Sugar solutes act as “cryoprotectors”, preventing their cells from shrinking or dying.
Sources: National Park Service, Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology
Kangaroo rats survive without ever drinking water.
Kangaroo rats have adapted to survive in the desert without ever taking a sip of water. Instead, they get all the moisture they need from the seeds they eat. These creatures also have incredible hearing and can jump up to nine feet, which helps them avoid predators.
Source: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Antarctic fish have “antifreeze” proteins in their blood.
Five families of notothenioid fish make their own “antifreeze” proteins to survive in the freezing Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica. The proteins bind to the ice crystals in their blood, preventing the fish from freezing. This extraordinary adaptation helps explain why these fish make up 90% of the region’s fish biomass.
Source: National Science Foundation
African bullfrogs create “houses” of mucus to survive the dry season.
The African bull frog lives in the African savannah, where it is very hot and dry. When a frog is out of the water, the mucus on its skin helps it breathe by dissolving oxygen in the air. In order to prevent its skin from drying out in the hot climate of Africa, the bullfrog buries itself six to eight inches underground. It then creates a mucous membrane, which hardens into a cocoon. The frog can stay in this cocoon for up to seven years while waiting for rain. When the rain comes, the moisture softens the mucous sac, waking the frog and signaling the start of the rainy season – when the frog breeds and is most active.
Source: The Amphibian.co.uk, mind thread
Cuttlefish blend into their surroundings.
Cuttlefish have the amazing ability to change color and texture to blend in with their surroundings. They can sense the amount of light absorbed from the environment and then mimic it with their own pigments. They have 3 layers of skin (yellow, red and brown), which can be stretched in different ways to create unique colors and patterns. Their skin also has papillae, which make the cuttlefish appear stiff, like coral. Together, these features allow cuttlefish to evade predators and sneak up on unsuspecting prey.
Tubeworms convert toxic water into food.
Scientists have long thought that life could not exist in hydrothermal vents deep in the ocean. But in 1977, they found giant tubeworms living along the Galapagos Rift, 8,000 feet below the ocean surface. These tube worms are surrounded by total darkness in their habitat and live in water filled with poisonous gas and acid.
They don’t have stomachs, intestines, or eyes. Instead, they are “bags of bacteria” with heart-shaped structures and reproductive organs. The bacteria inside the worms use the poisonous hydrogen sulfide in the water, which would kill most other animals, as an energy source to produce carbohydrates.
Source: National Geographic
Okapis have scent glands on their feet.
Okapis are strange animals that look like a combination of a giraffe and a zebra. They live in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it is very hot and predators such as leopards are always on the prowl. To survive, okapi use three key adaptations. First, they have scent glands on their feet to mark their territory. Second, they have infrasonic calls, allowing them to communicate with their young without predators hearing their calls. Finally, they have 14 to 18 inch tongues, which they can use to wash their eyes and ears.
Source: Africa Geographic
The puffer fish can swell up to more than double its original size.
Pufferfish have the ability to inflate their stomachs with water if they feel threatened, sometimes displaying spikes in an attempt to deter potential predators. Other times they puff up just to stretch their muscles. They can swell up to more than double their original size.
Additionally, pufferfish produce a neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin which, when consumed, can cause paralysis and seizures. In some cases, eating a puffer fish can lead to death.
Source: Seattle Aquarium
Elephants use their giant ears to cool off.
Elephant ears act as an integrated cooling mechanism. They can cool off by flapping their giant ears. Going through the movement of flapping their ears, elephants create a breeze and promote blood circulation in the vessels of the ear, which helps them cool down.
Sometimes elephants splash in a body of water and use their trunks to spray water droplets and streams behind their ears to enhance the cooling effect.
Sources: San Diego Zoo and Kariega Game Preserve
The platypus uses its beak to detect electric fields produced by prey
A platypus beak is able to sense the subtle electric fields produced by its prey while hunting and retrieving its food. The platypus dives to look for food at the bottom of a body of water such as a river or stream. It searches for bottom creatures such as crustaceans, worms and insect larvae.
Using pusher mechanoreceptors, the platypus’ beak is able to pick up changes in pressure, movement, and electrical signals left behind by small prey. The platypus sweeps its head from side to side to activate mechanoreceptors, a chemical structure that allows the detection of various stimuli such as touch, pressure, vibration and sound.
Source: American Museum of National History
Editor’s note: This story was first published on July 15, 2016.
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