The diversity that can be found in nature is simply staggering. Animals come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and they are capable of doing some pretty amazing and wonderfully weird things. And guess what – today we’re taking a look at ten of them.
10. The Newt That Can Stab with Its Ribcage
At first glance, the Iberian ribbed newt looks like a typical member of its taxonomic family. However, this salamander, which, as its name suggests, can be found mainly in the Iberian Peninsula, but also parts of Morocco, has developed a very bizarre, but effective defense mechanism. If the newt ever feels threatened, it can stab its attacker using its own ribcage.
Should the animal want to unleash this attack on a predator, it will keep its body still while swinging the ribs forward, increasing their angle to the spine by up to 50°. Consequently, the tips of the ribcage will actually pierce through the newt’s own skin and stick outside of the body. To add to the attack, the salamander also secretes a milky poisonous substance on its skin, which covers the barbs to deliver an even more potent blow.
Although such a defense mechanism might seem extreme, it appears to cause no ill effects to the newt and neither does the poison which enters the animal’s system when it retracts its ribcage.
9. The Fish That Has Transparent Blood
Back in 1928, a Norwegian zoologist named Ditlef Rustad caught a new species of fish in the Antarctic, which he named the “white crocodile fish,” today known as the crocodile icefish. It looked slightly peculiar, mainly due to its skin, which was scaleless and white in some areas and almost translucent in others. But then the scientist cut the fish open and that is when he discovered something truly unusual because when he sliced into that fish, not a single red drop came out. There was certainly blood, except that it was devoid of color.
The reason for this was a complete lack of hemoglobin and red blood cells. So far, around 16 different species of icefish have been discovered and they are the only known vertebrates to possess this extremely rare trait. There are other animals whose blood is not red, but they still have red blood cells; it’s just that their blood also contains other substances that give it another color such as green.
Initially, it was believed that this unusual adaptation came from the icefish living in a freezing cold, oxygen-rich environment, but more recent research argues that the loss of hemoglobin was a biological accident, one that presents no benefits since the icefish’s clear blood can only transport around 10 percent as much oxygen as regular fish blood. The extreme environment was the icefish’s only savior, as it allowed it to adapt and survive with this genetic obstacle, otherwise, the icefish would have gone extinct millions of years ago.
8. The Marsupial That Poops in Cubes
Most of you will be familiar with the wombat, that cute, chubby, furry marsupial native to Australia. But not all of you might be aware that the wombat does something that no other animal can do – it produces cube-shaped poop.
The wombat excretes 4-to-8 of these cubes at a time and a single specimen can be responsible for up to 100 cubes per day. Unsurprisingly, scientists have studied this unusual ability to try and determine the reason and mechanics behind it since, as far as we know, it is unique in the animal kingdom.
They have reasoned that wombats might distribute these cubes strategically over their territory, as a means of communicating with one another, but it wasn’t until early 2021 that researchers finally worked out how the marsupial is capable of achieving the cube shape. As it turns out, the wombat’s intestine has four distinct areas – two that are flexible and two that are stiff. Food travels through the intestine roughly four times slower than in humans so that the animal can subtract as many nutrients as possible. It is in the last 17 percent of the intestine, in a flexible area, that the poop obtains its cube shape and because it contains almost no moisture, it retains it on the way out.
7. The Snail That Can Make an Iron Armor
While we are talking about creatures with unique and strange abilities, we should mention the scaly-foot snail, also called the sea pangolin. This species is the only animal in the world known to be able to include iron in its skeleton, using it to create its own armor.
Scientifically, this process is called biomineralized armor and it has been around since the Cambrian Period. However, shells are generally made out of chitin, calcium carbonate, and an outer layer called periostracum. But in the case of the sea pangolin, while its shell does include layers of calcium carbonate and periostracum, its outermost layer is made out of iron sulfides. But as the snail’s name suggests, it’s not just the shell that is armored, but also the soft & squishy foot, which is also covered in lots of tiny iron scales.
It is an exceedingly rare creature that has only been found in a handful of deep-sea hydrothermal vents in the Indian Ocean. And it appears that it does not eat food in the traditional way, but rather has developed a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that live inside its gut. The bacterial colonies absorb the chemicals found in the vents and break them down into nourishment for the snail, and it is believed that this process also helps the mollusk develop its unique brand of protection.
6. The Jellyfish That Can Live Forever
As far as unusual traits go, immortality is a pretty useful one to have. There are multiple creatures out there with very long lifespans that go on for centuries, but one species of jellyfish has the ability to technically live forever.
Its name is Turritopsis dohrnii or, more simply, the immortal jellyfish, and it appears capable of reversing biological aging, or senescence, to give it its fancy scientific name. With normal senescence, the cells inside an organism stop dividing and begin dying as the organism gets older, which leads to various organs and tissues no longer working properly. However, the immortal jellyfish can do something remarkable when it faces some kind of environmental stress such as an injury or starvation – it can revert back to a polyp, basically starting its life cycle over again.
It appears that the jellyfish can do this as many times as necessary which is why, technically, it can live forever. In real life, though, it isn’t actually immortal since it still gets eaten or killed in numerous other ways, but at least it has got one less thing to worry about than the rest of us.
5. The Shrimp That Can Fire Air Bullets
The pistol shrimp might only measure a few centimeters in length, but it is among the loudest creatures in the ocean, competing with giants such as the beluga or the sperm whale. But it’s how it creates its deafening sound that is truly incredible.
When we say pistol shrimp, we are actually referring to hundreds of species of the Alpheidae family of snapping shrimp, but they all share the same unique characteristic. They have asymmetrical claws, with one of them much bigger than the other and, at the end, it doesn’t have traditional pincers, but rather a “pistol-like” device that gives the crustacean its name.
The claw is made out of two components. Scientifically, they are called the dactyl and the propus, but they are more often referred to as a plunger fitted into a socket. The point is that when the shrimp closes its claw at very high speeds of almost 100 km/h, the plunger pushes forward a jet of air that is powerful enough to create a cavitation ring and produce a cracking sound that reaches 218 decibels and is louder than a bullet. Not only that, but the temperature is insanely high – we’re talking 4800 degrees Celsius, which is as hot as the surface of the Sun.
Of course, all of this happens in a flash, over a very small area. A human would not even notice it with the naked eye, but the impact is enough to stun, even kill the prey of the pistol shrimp.
4. The Lizard that Shoots Blood Out of Its Eyes
There is a very bizarre defense mechanism called autohaemorrhaging, which involves an animal intentionally discharging blood from its body to deter predators. A lot of insects do this and their blood often contains toxic compounds to ward off would-be attackers. This behavior has also been seen in several species of horned lizards from the Phrynosomatidae family, but they take autohaemorrhaging to the next level because they not only discharge their blood, they shoot it as a projectile. And just to make it even weirder, they shoot it out of their eyes.
The horned lizards have special ducts in the corners of their eyes. If they are attacked, they can restrict blood flow traveling to their body, thus building up the pressure in their heads until tiny blood vessels rupture, channeling the liquid out through the ducts. The lizard can shoot the blood over a distance of three to five feet, and it usually reserves this unusual defense for canine attackers. While the blood does not contain any toxins, it does appear to have a chemical compound that makes it foul to dogs, wolves, and coyotes.
3. The Sea Cucumber That Can Liquefy Its Body
If someone were to ask you which real animal is most like the T-1000 Terminator, you probably would not answer the sea cucumber. And yet, the sea cucumber possesses an incredible ability that no other creature has – it can turn its body from solid to liquid and back to solid again.
This is something that all species of sea cucumber can do, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that we finally understood the mechanics behind this bizarre power. To give it its proper scientific explanation, “the sea cucumber’s ability to change the shape of the body wall is due to the changes in the stiffness of a protein-rich interfibrillar matrix, which bonds with the collagen fibrils.”
In simpler terms, it is all due to the high levels of collagen in the sea cucumber. All animals have collagen, but the special fibers in this marine creature create something called mutable collagenous tissue or MCT, which has the unique ability to rapidly change its stiffness, thus granting the sea cucumber this almost superhero-like power.
2. The Wasp That Can Create Zombies
This one is the most recent entry on the list, having only been discovered slightly over a decade ago in the Mekong region of Thailand. It was a wasp that was just one of over a hundred new species of animals discovered by scientists in that area over a period of a few years, but its behavior was unique, captivating, and creepy enough to grab the public’s attention when it was time to find a new name for the creature.
Like other wasps, this newly-found species likes to immobilize its prey which, more often than not, consists of cockroaches. But instead of completely paralyzing its victim, this wasp prefers to “zombify” it. It pierces the belly and injects a toxin that targets the neural nodes. Specifically, it blocks all receptors of octopamine, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for initiating spontaneous movement. This leaves the cockroach docile, capable only of shambling around aimlessly. The wasp can then guide the pacified victim to its lair where it can devour it alive at its convenience.
Following a public vote, the wasp was fittingly named Ampulex dementor after the soul-sucking dementors from the Harry Potter franchise.
1. The Mammal That Was Too Weird to Be Believed
Nowadays, we are all pretty familiar with the platypus, so its bizarre appearance doesn’t shock us anymore, but when European naturalists first laid eyes on it, they thought it was a hoax and that somebody stitched different animal parts together. It wasn’t until a live one was brought to Europe that they became convinced that this unusual mammal was actually real.
But even the people who are used to the way the platypus looks probably do not realize just how many ways this animal finds to break conventions. For starters, the platypus is part of an exceedingly rare group called monotremes, which consists of mammals that lay eggs to reproduce. And in case you are wondering just how rare this is, it only includes five animals – the platypus and the four species of echidna.
But that’s not enough, because the platypus is also part of another exclusive group – venomous mammals. Venom is usually the preferred weapon of reptiles and arthropods, even fish, but there are a few species of mammals that have it in their arsenal. In the case of the platypus, it is only the male who is venomous, as he possesses a spur in his hind limb to deliver the toxin. Although there have never been any recorded human fatalities, the sting is enough to produce excruciating pain that can incapacitate you for weeks.
And that’s still not enough for the platypus because it has one more unusual trait – it uses electrolocation to find its prey thanks to electroreceptors in its bill. Again, this is a common mechanism, if you are a fish, but as far as mammals are concerned, monotremes are the only ones known to possess this ability.