The Least Extreme Forms of Life


The world is full of intensity in many diverse and wonderful forms. Nature is chock full of animals that can run or fly at blazing speeds, others with jaws powerful enough to snap bones, or even the ability to withstand brutally harsh temperatures, pressures, and more. But for all the extremes in the world that life can endure, there are just as many forms of life that just don’t seem to be designed to handle much of anything. 

10. Greenland Shark

Greenland sharks seem like they may qualify as a pretty extreme form of life if you cherry pick your information. Top start with, they’re sharks. That’s always an intense life form. They also may very well be some of the most long-lived creatures in the world with speculation that they could live over 500 years. A nearly immortal shark has to be extreme, right? Well, not so fast. Which is to say the Greenland Shark does not live its life very fast.

Greenland sharks take 150 years to reach sexual maturity, which means their dance card isn’t exactly full. They grow at a rate of one centimeter per year, which is impressive after 400 years but not so impressive for much of the lead up. 

Prior to World War 2 they were fished heavily to be used as machine oil. That means their numbers haven’t had enough time to build up again thanks to that 150 year maturity period. And catching them was likely not all that hard since they’re one of the slowest creatures in the world. Their cruising speed in the water is 0.76 miles per hour. That’s actually slower than the current in many places. 

9. Mayfly

The immortal jellyfish gets its name from the fact that the animal is able to essentially reset its own clock and revert to an earlier stage of life and start aging all over again. The potential to live forever, barring being eaten by some other animal or a catastrophe, is right there. And then on the opposite end of the longevity spectrum is the lowly mayfly, an animal that seems almost like a joke of nature.

Like many insects, the mayfly exists in several life stages. After the egg hatches it emerges as a nymph and lives in the water for up to two days until it reaches maturity. This process can take a while, but not much happens on the road to adulthood. Then it can emerge as a winged adult where it has a staggeringly small period in which to live its life. The longest a mayfly adult may live is a couple of days. But it’s just as likely it won’t even last one full day.

There is so little going on in the life of a mayfly that the mature version of the bug doesn’t even have a mouth. It won’t live long enough to eat food so why bother? Instead, it exists solely to mate and start the cycle over again for another brood of little mayflies who are destined for the same remarkably short lifespan. 

8. Sloths

Most people are familiar with sloths by now since the internet has been enamored with them for years. They’re the only animal that was named for one of the seven deadly sins thanks to their extremely slow paced lifestyle. 

Sloths live most of their lives in trees and rarely come to the ground. When they do, it’s not a fast-paced affair at all and it’s generally just a once weekly trip to the ground to go to the bathroom.. Even in the trees, a sloth can travel about 41 yards in a day

They exist mostly on a diet of twigs and leaves and it takes them days to digest a meal thanks to their exceptionally slow metabolism.  Fortunately for them, they spend about 15 hours a day sleeping so they have plenty of time to let a meal work its way through.

The sloth does so little in its life that many of them grow a green algae in their fur. This is in addition to the bugs that take up residence in their coarse hair which can include beetles and cockroaches. Keep that in mind if you ever want to hug one.

7. Pen Tailed Shrew

There are a number of animals in the world that have extremely limited diets. Koalas and pandas come to mind. But the pen-tailed shrew in Malaysia may have the most interesting limited diet of any animal in the world. They spend most of their time consuming the fermented nectar of the buds of the bertram palm tree. So not only is it just one plant like a koala or panda, it’s the fermented nectar of that one plant. And, because it’s fermented, it means the pen-tailed shrew is forever getting tanked.

The fermented nectar has an alcohol concentration of around 3.8 percent, which is remarkably high for naturally occurring alcohol and around the level of some light beers. They spend an average of 138 minutes a night drinking the nectar, which is naturally fermented by yeast present in the buds. 

As a result of their boozy diet, the animals have a remarkably high blood alcohol level all the time. Despite that, they don’t actually exhibit signs of inebriation. That means the poor creatures drink like party animals but experience none of the side effects. This, even though they’re putting themselves through the equivalent effects of 60 times the level considered excessive when compared to human drinking. 

6. Large Hairy Armadillo

They say cats can sleep around 12 to 16 hours a day, which seems exceptionally lazy by human standards. But even a cat would have to raise a sleepy eyebrow at the habits of the large hairy armadillo which claims the record for being an animal that does damn near nothing all the time.

Research has shown that the large hairy armadillo sleeps upwards of about 20.4 hours per day .This is in lab conditions where the animal doesn’t have to waste time or energy hunting for food, so maybe in the wild it’s a little more energetic, but it’s safe to assume that it’s not running marathons out in the wild. 

5. Nanobes

People are often obsessed with things being the biggest and there’s something to be said for that. But when it comes to the smallest, nature went all out with nanobes. These are the smallest forms of life on Earth. And whatever you’re thinking of when you think small, you’re going to need to think again.  Single-celled bacteria? Not even close. 

A nanobe has a volume of 0.0009 cubic microns, which doesn’t mean much to most of us. It sounds small, but how small? At that size, it would take 150 of them to fill one e.coli cell. A single cell. That’s tiny beyond belief but, despite that, a nanobe is still alive.

These little things are so minuscule there was actually debate for some years about whether they existed at all. 

4. Ocean Sunfish

People have openly claimed that the Ocean Sunfish, also called the Mola Mola, exists for no reason at all. It does nothing and contributes nothing to the world, which is a harsh assessment for any creature. Most animals are at least useful in the food chain. But the Ocean Sunfish may really have no actual purpose, or at least not much of one. 

The fish looks like a giant face with fins and is relatively huge. It’s the size of a car and can weigh up to 5,000 poundsYou’d think something that big would have something to offer, but it seems like it does not. Because it lives on a diet of plankton and algae with the odd jellyfish included, it doesn’t have any particular nutrients in its flesh so it’s not ideal for eating. It also has a layer of sludgy jelly under its skin to help it float because it has no swim bladder, the organ that allows every other fish to maintain buoyancy. 

Because of their awkward shape and size, the fish are not very adept at swimming. But they have to keep moving because they’ll sink without a swim bladder. Sometimes they actually get stuck floating on the surface as a result of the quirky way they’re put together. 

It’s been argued that the only reason the fish still exists since it barely survives naturally is that it breeds prolifically. They produce 300 million eggs which makes it almost impossible to not survive. 

3. Kakapo Parrots

History has proven that some birds are just not cut out for living fulfilling lives. Just look at the dodo bird, a bird that was reportedly so dumb we actually call dumb people dodos in their honor. But while the dodo has sadly fallen to extinction, the kakapo still lives though it is tragically close to the end as well. Only about 150 of these curious little animals are still alive.

Part of the reason the kakapo isn’t doing so well is that it seems to have no advantages in life at all. The bird is flightless and has no defense against predators. Long ago this was not an issue for them in New Zealand, where the birds originate. New Zealand is not a land of predators and the birds were once so common people complained that their noises kept them up at night. But thanks to dogs and cats and other animals that became common on the island, the kakapo has had a tough go.

The little birds can climb trees with their strong little legs, but that doesn’t do much to save them from cats. And perhaps they’d be OK if they could breed in acceptable numbers but that’s the other issue. The kakapo only breeds when the rimu fruit comes into bloom. That only happens every few years. The males have to build a little bowl in which they’ll make a loud mating call to the females but if there is not enough fruit around, the females ignore them and another year goes by with no babies. Combine this with the fact they have oddly high infertility rates, and these little birds have a lot working against them.

2. Fainting Goats

The true definition of not being extreme in the slightest, fainting goats seize up whenever they become startled, collapsing in a vulnerable heap for upwards of 30 seconds. That’s not a particularly long time but if the reason the goat was startled has anything to do with predators, then they’re probably not in a good spot. 

Also known as myotonic goats, the fainting response isn’t actually a true faint. The goat does not lose consciousness at any point which arguably makes the reaction worse. The scientific cause for the reaction is somewhat complex, but essentially what happens is that when some of these goats engage in a very sudden movement, their muscles are not able to relax again after the quick contraction. That causes the entire body to stiffen up and they will often fall over as a result.

Their muscles may relax again in just a few seconds, and it doesn’t happen to every goat of the species. Still, it’s certainly an example of perplexing fragility in the animal kingdom. Possibly the most bizarre aspect of this entire breed is that humans have actually encouraged this reaction. It could arguably be bred out of them with some effort in the same way horse breeders or dog breeders try to improve their stock. Goat breeders actually bred these animals for increased stiffness as a novelty, which is a hell of a thing to say about a living creature. 

1. Olms

Most people have never seen an olm, and for good reason. (And for those who have seen them, we can all agree: yuck.) That these animals exist at all is a testament to the inscrutable nature of, well, nature. A kind of salamander, olms live their lives in the deepest, darkest caves where they grow to be about a foot long and can do absolutely nothing for longer than any other animal in the world, and that includes eating.

Olms can live upwards of a century and during that time they can go for baffling stretches of time without eating. You’ve likely heard a camel can go without water for 40 days or that a spider can even go weeks without eating. The olm laughs in the face of these weaker, hungrier animals. In captivity these pink, fleshy tube-like beasts with legs have managed to survive for over 12 years without eating a single thing.

Their normal diet, when they do eat, is tiny cave shrimp. If you have one as a pet you can feed it three per day. But since their natural habitat is deep in dark, cold caves with low temperatures and no light whatsoever, their metabolism has evolved into a nearly supervillain-like machine of efficiency that requires just about nothing to keep it going for years and years. 

The trade off for long life and a diet that keeps them slim and trim is that their life isn’t exactly an adventure. Because they live their lives in darkness, their eyes are vestigial and serve no purpose. They do not ever achieve a mature form like many other amphibians and retain their gills for their entire lives. But they can also regenerate lost limbs when injured. That last feature is what makes it nearly impossible to study them. Normally, amphibians are marked by researchers with small scars or even a cut off toe. It sounds oddly cruel, but the olms just repair any damage, so researchers can’t guess their numbers in the wild.

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