Animal traits are often correlated to an animal’s environment, predator avoidance, and mating habits. Often the traits make sense, but here, we explore how natural traits can become totally bizarre. And yet, while bizarre, each one of these traits makes total sense and is 100% beneficial to the animal’s survival.
10. The Secrets of Hippopotamus Sunscreen
The hippopotamus and its little brother, the Pygmy hippopotamus, both have a strange adaptation that may appear highly disturbing at first glance: the ability to apparently sweat blood. In hot weather, these animals can be observed leaking red fluids from their skin, which runs down their body in a highly obvious manner.
In fact, this red fluid is not blood, but a sweat-borne chemical composed of two chemically unstable pigments which rapidly polymerize upon exposure to sunlight. This chemical is a powerful natural sunblock, and actually helps to prevent the skin disorders that it looks like it may have resulted from. Thanks to these red and orange pigments — known as “hipposudoric acid” and “norhipposudoric acid” respectively, the nearly bare-skinned animals are well-protected as they forage in the heat of the day.
9. The Fish with a Penis on its Head
In Vietnam, a bizarre freshwater fish aptly named Phallostethus cuulong has been discovered. This bizarre fish stands out with what appears to be a penis attached to its head, in the throat region. Even more disturbing is the presence of barbs that allow the male to grab onto the female. Correspondingly, the female reproductive system is located on the female fish’s throat.
There are literally no options for this fish other than face-to-face spawning. Researchers note that the discovery of additional species of “penis chested fish”, with the penis mounted just below the face sheds, little light on the purpose of the adaptation. However, this style of mating seems to be rather efficient. Fewer anatomical constraints are present than one might otherwise expect, as the females lay eggs rather than giving birth to live young.
8. Nocturnal Gulls
“What will they think of next” is a phrase best applied to nature and the processes of natural selection. Surprises abound, not the least of which is the existence of nocturnal gulls. Native to the Galapagos Islands, swallow-tailed gulls have a light body and ash grey hoods. Offset against the color of the head are enormous, pitch dark eyes that serve as a perfect adaptation to the nighttime feeding habits of these gulls. The birds are effective night hunters of small squid found at the ocean surface. No other nocturnal gulls exist.
Studies suggest that the gulls match their hunting behavior to moon cycles, with full moons causing prey to stay away from the surface in favor of darker conditions. As a result, these gulls prefer to hunt during duller phases of the moon, when prey is more readily available.
7. The Sea Lizard
Mosasaurs may be extinct, but a sea lizard still lives in the waters of the Galapagos Islands. The Marine Iguana has adopted an oceanic lifestyle in apparent abandonment of the forest-dwelling heritage of the iguana group. With pinks and greens making up its colors, the Marine Iguana reaches over a meter in length, and resembles a beached whale or perhaps a sea lion as it hauls out on the rocks in its coastal habitat. This lizard is a plant eater, and feeds on seaweed as its primary diet.
No other member of the lizard family is adapted to the ocean, but the special adaptations of the Marine Iguana make it highly effective in its chosen lifestyle. Salt is shed by cleaner glands, and extruded salt often appears on their heads. Specimens may come in bright pink colors as well as brownish tones.
6. The Leaf Fish Ambusher
South America’s Freshwater Leaf Fish is a member of the perciforme family, which contains more living fish species than any other group. Many of these species are very ordinary, such as bass, shiner perch, and a wide range of rockfish. However, such a vast diversity of species filling a range of environments practically ensures the existence of truly bizarre perch family members. The perch family contains certain species, native to South America, that have mastered the art of mimicry in becoming deadly imposters.
Leaf Fish have flattened bodies and underslung jaws that allow them to look like a leaf and float along the river. When fish prey come within reach, these floating leaves will lunge forward and strike the prey, which has almost no chance of escape from the surprise attack. These predators are perfectly adapted as so-called aggressive mimics.
The Gerenuk is an example of nature’s sometimes-makeshift approach to ecological problems. While giraffes have developed great height to feed on trees, the Gerenuk measures just over three feet tall at the shoulder. Although smaller, this bizarre antelope has an extremely long neck that makes it resemble a tiny brown giraffe. If that wasn’t enough, the Gerenuk actually props itself up with its front feet and stands on its hind limbs, reaching a far greater height than any other antelope could. The tongue and sharp teeth are then put to work, stripping leaves off the target plant.
4. Spiders with Abdominal Horns
Whether you hate or admire them, spiders are a creature firmly implanted in the human imagination. Ranging from tiny garden weavers and deadly black widows to enormous, creepy tarantulas, spiders are familiar to us as almost completely round animals with eight legs. But certain members of the Macracantha genus simply defy imagination and set the standard for extreme spiders. Measuring just two centimeters or less, these web-weaving arachnids have enormous horns extending from their abdomen, which ends up resembling the skull of an antelope or long horned cow. Incredibly, each hornlike structure may extend as much as four times the diameter of the spider’s main body section.
The purpose of such hornlike ornaments remains an open question to scientists. However, studies of other animals with similarly ridiculous adornments suggest that the horns could serve sexual display purposes, or assist in winning hierarchy and territory disputes among rival spiders.
3. The Mouth-Peeing Turtle
Animals eat with their mouths and pee with their naughty bits — that’s grade school science, right? Or, maybe not. Researchers studying the Chinese Soft-Shelled Turtle observed that the animals actually pee through their mouths. At the University of Singapore, scientists noticed that these turtles would place their heads in water and wiggle their tongues. Rather than drinking, it became clear that these animals were actually releasing urine into the water, through what we all think is the wrong end.
Chinese Soft Shelled Turtles also dunk their head in the water to allow gill-like structures in their mouths to secrete the urine. The catch is that water is required, so these animals have to find water to urinate in this manner.
2. Goblin Shark
Once thought to be extinct, the Goblin Shark, native to certain sections of the Atlantic coast, remains one of the most bizarre creatures ever found in the ocean. This mysterious species has been known to reach 3 meters in typical circumstances. However, certain finds suggest the animal may reach much longer, more monstrous lengths of over 2 meters.
The Goblin Shark uses its enormous nose, protruding far beyond its jaws to, send out minute electrical fields and sense prey items such as fish and invertebrates. Once prey is detected, the lower jaw shoots out and grasps the prey in a toothy, flesh and bone shearing grip at lightning speed.
1. The Long-Wattled Umbrellabird
In Columbia and Ecuador, one of the most bizarre birds on the planet is found in upland forests known as the Choco. The Long-Wattled Umbrellabird is a member of the Cotinga family, a more primitive group of songbirds with an astonishing variety of body forms and ornaments. The Umbrellabird finds itself at the elite level of Cotinga oddity, with its truly weird mating ornaments. It sports a dangling, flesh-covered wattle or “tube” that hangs from its chest. The wattle inflates with air to the point where the crested bird looks as if it is stuck on a pole. The male bird with the most impressive wattle has a higher success rate in mating routines.