“What will they think of next?” may be a phrase uttered in response to the latest bizarre lab creation or engineering feat. But you may find yourself astounded by the novelty, sheer ingenuity, or even horror of adaptations that simply take natural sciences to the next level. These are a few of the most shocking adaptations in our living world…
10. Tear Drinker Moth
Vampires are well known in fiction as notorious consumers of blood, while several real world animals act as vampires, drinking blood from living victims. While a film about vampires could easily fall into the genre of horror, a film depicting the behavior of a certain moth would decidedly be classified as a tear-jerker. But not in the way you are expecting! How cringeworthy is a creature that alights on a bird’s eye and proceeds to suck tear fluid as part of its recommended daily intake?
And that creature, the Erebid Moth, is a sizable, fluffy nocturnal moth that has been observed landing on sleeping antbirds. The moth then extends its proboscis into the unwary bird’s eye and drink tear fluid. When the antbird is not hunting insects throughout the day, these creepy moths drink their tears at night. Research findings published in the journal Ecology are accompanied by the hypothesis that mineral nutrients such as sodium, plus proteins, are obtained from the tears. To access this strange soup while not becoming a meal or a victim of retaliation by the bird being “siphoned,” the moth uses its long proboscis to gather tears while staying clear of the bill.
9. Zombie Worms Dissolve Bones
Boneworms certainly sound scary. You won’t be attacked by them, but something has to clean up the bones of animals unfortunate enough to end up dead at the bottom of the sea. Also known as zombie worms, boneworms are one of the most bizarre types of life form to be found dwelling in the ocean depths. Using a powerful acid, the worms dissolve skeletons in the marine environment and then consume the fats and proteins released in the aggressive chemical reactions that ensue at boneworm dinner time.
Nutrient uptake is facilitated by symbiotic bacteria hosted by the worms that serve a digestive function. Roots containing the bacteria hold onto the bones, while plumes extend from the worms to extract oxygen from the water. The creatures measure 1 to 3 inches in length and were first discovered in 2002. The first find was made on a Gray Whale skeleton that had sunk nearly 10,000 feet to the ocean floor. A total of five different zombie worm species have been identified, as noted by the World Register of Marine Species. Strangely, females do all the work of harvesting bone, while the males live inside the bodies of females. In one case, a single female was host to 111 males.
8. Nesting Hornbill Jail
Among the most fantastical birds in existence, the 54 species of hornbills range across Africa, Asia, and parts of Oceania. The garishly colored creatures have exposed skin, extravagantly colored plumage, and bills that rival those of a pelican in their massive form. In nature, the weirdest looking animals also may practice some of the strangest patterns of conduct, particularly when it comes to nesting and reproduction. Most hornbill species, totalling 52 of the 54 occurring worldwide, practice a bizarre nesting routine where the male bird and female bird work together once the female is inside a suitable nest cavity to construct a barrier that imprisons her inside.
This strange task is accomplished by the pair’s collaboration in building a hardened dirt wall across the nest opening that leaves only a narrow space for the male to pass food to the female. The male delivers and applies material once the female is settled inside the nest, while the female helps to fortify the wall trapping her inside the nest. The fortification that imprisons the female inside the tree evidently protects the female and young from predators, while also ensuring no rival males can gain access to the female.
7. Medic Ants
Harbingers of formic acid armament, powerful jaws, and other weaponry both chemical and physical, ants are not seen as the most obvious choice for animal actors in the world of health and wellness. Yet an African species of ant, Megaponera analis presents a contrast. This ant pursues a life fraught with extreme danger: hunting a strong and well defended insect type, namely termites. The hunters go out as opportunistic groups of marauding ants in search of food. The ants send scouts to seek out hunting opportunities, and based on their findings, an army of raiding ants goes out to attack termites and subdue them as prey. In the raids, soldier termites frequently bite of legs of the ants.
Ant battle victims are not left to die, however. Worker ants acting as medics carry their wounded fellow soldiers back home to safety, and go one remarkable step further: applying treatment, apparently with antibacterial effect. Despite lost limbs, the army medic-assisted ants make a good recovery. According to the fascinating research study conducted through the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg in Germany, which was responsible for the discovery, the behavior of the ants is the first of its kind seen in any animals apart from humans.
6. The Vampire Birds of the Galapagos
We all know about the eerie behavior of prowling vampire bats. But next time you are in the Galapagos and see feathers, also take a suspicious look about you for another category of nature’s real life vampires. Yes, blood drinking birds. Charles Darwin is famous for his discovery of finches, telling the story of evolution through natural selection of the best suited genotypes and phenotypes in The Origin of Species. Darwin’s finches, a variety of forms with a common ancestor, included one species that might horrify. That species is the Vampire Finch, with a penchant for bloodletting as a means of gaining nutrition.
Classified as songbirds, the small finches only measure approximately 4.5 inches in length with a global range restricted to Wolf Island and Darwin Island. Classified as endangered, the rare birds supplement their diet that includes seeds during the dry season with blood. Nazca Boobies and Blue-footed Boobies, large seabirds that nest in the Galapagos, are the main victims of Vampire Finch blood raids. Equipped with sharp bills as weapons, the tiny birds land on their much larger targets and pick at the bases of large feather shafts. This action releases a flow of blood, which the Vampire Finches can easily drink.
5. Egg-Eating Snake
We take it for granted that snakes strike and envenomate, constrict, or simply seize live prey in their jaws. We also rightly fear such serpent behavior in case we are the target of a defensive or predatory attack, yet not all snakes make a living by hunting moving prey. A small selection of egg-eating snakes take a marked departure from the snake world norm by forgoing typical animal prey to instead swallow birds’ eggs as their mainstay diet. The 16 species of Dasypeltsis snake hail from woodlands and forests all over the African continent. Nonvenomous and toothless, the members of the genus Dasypeltis range from one foot to over 4 feet in length.
Tree climbing presents no obstacle for these agile snakes, whose technique of pilfering is to steal the eggs of forest and woodland birds. The snakes have flexible jaws, allowing sizable eggs to be swallowed. Instead of using teeth, the snakes swallow the eggs and then use their musculature to press the eggs against hard spinal protrusions, cracking them open and allowing digestion. The Indian Egg-eating Snake Boiga westermanni is the only other egg-eating snake apart from members of the Dasypeltis genus. Native to India, Bangladesh and Nepal, this snake feeds entirely on bird eggs, typically measuring around 23 inches and potentially reaching over 31 inches in length.
4. Cape Ground Squirrel – Umbrella Master
At first glance, a squirrel might not seem remarkable. At the same time, an umbrella might be immediately associated with humans taking shelter from the rain, not with animal abilities. Nature is full of surprises, however, and what humans believe they have invented may have already appeared in the adaptive history of another species. Most unique is the fact that Cape Ground Squirrels of Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, and Lesotho use their enormous and disproportionate bushy tail as a parasol to shield them from the sun.
Not only is this adaptation comfortable and potentially life-saving in the hot, harsh, dry grassland and semi-desert conditions in which they occur, the ability to bring shelter with it gives Cape Ground Squirrels a survive and thrive edge over other species of herbivores. In addition to protecting them from the sun’s heat, Cape Ground Squirrels have skills in using their tail as a self-defense tool. When mobbing a potential threat as a group, the squirrels may discourage the attacker by using their huge tails as distractions or even shields. In mating displays, males engage in energetic competitions that consist of leaps into the air and controlled rolling tumbles, while seldom engaging in any actual fighting among themselves.
3. Red-breasted Nuthatch
Nuthatches are small, unassuming birds found most diversely in Asia and also occurring in North America, Europe, and small portions of Northern Africa. The birds have the remarkable adaptation of crawling downwards along tree trunks, in the majority of species, but that is not what makes them truly exceptional. An oddly behaving North American species, the Red-breasted Nuthatch, exhibits a more than slightly odd survivalist habit. In the nesting season, Red-breasted Nuthatch nests, which are located in the cavities of trees at a wide variety of elevations, are often found to be encircled by smeared conifer pitch all around the hole that serves as an entrance to the nest.
This bizarre effort undertaken by the Red-breasted Nuthatch is a phenomenon that has captured the attention of curious ornithologists. The ring of pitch apparently serves as a natural glue trap to deter parasites, predators, or both. If a harmful insect or other small creature were to try to make its way into the nuthatches nest, it would get stuck. A larger intruder would have a sticky mess on its paws, feet, or wings. Certain Old World nuthatches use bark to disguise their nest or apply mud to make the entrance small and ward off predators
2. Cuvier’s Blind Legless Skink
Legs and eyes are among the most valuable assets many creatures can have, including lizards. But the bizarre nature of evolution means that when a preferred living environment is not exactly normal, normal animal traits that may be taken for granted are simply thrown away. The Cuvier’s Blind Legless Skink Typhlosaurus caecus is an extremely weird creature. They are lizards that resemble worms or snakes, but have given up their legs and eyes. Why? To stay cool and safe underground. In order to avoid the surface, instead hunting vulnerable prey species and traveling below the sand, the Blind Skink gave up its legs and eyes, as they would be a great hindrance and a handicap underground.
Without extending limbs, drag is greatly reduced as the lizard works its way through material such as soil and sand in a burrowing fashion. Tiny black vestigial eyes are visible below the skin, with no external traces of limbs. Limited in its global occurrence to small portions of South Africa on the coast, they range between approximately 6 and 8 inches in length. The Cuvier’s Blind Legless Skink also stands out as a viviparous reptile, a species that gives birth to live young rather than laying eggs.
1. Komodo Dragon Venom
We know too well that many snake species are venomous, killing with a quick bite that injects potent and complex toxins. In mythology, dragons can spew deadly fire forth from their mouths. But the terrifying 10-foot lizards from Indonesia known as Komodo Dragons not only bring down large prey such as deer and even Water Buffalo, they have also attacked and killed humans wandering into their habitat. Long thought to subdue their prey with bite loaded with bacteria, these largest of lizards that may weigh up to 150 pounds are also a venomous species of reptile.
Komodo Dragons have venom ducts placed between their teeth in their lower jaw, which release venom into the awful wounds inflicted by the striking dragon’s knife-like teeth. The Komodo Dragon can smell prey nearly 6 miles away, while its eyesight gives it a visual range for detecting movement over 900 feet away. Once the dragon has located a suitable hunting opportunity, it may lie in wait, bursting out from a hidden position to deliver gashing wounds with its sharp teeth and powerful bite. Then, the venom dribbled into the wounds is allowed to weaken the prey. Feeding follows as the prey weakens and dies.