Sunday, June 30, 2013

Top 10 Most Extraordinary and Unusual Animals

Okay, ladies!  My "Top Ten" list is the top ten most extraordinary and unusual animals.  Yeah...none of you should be surprised about this...

#10:  GIANT COCONUT CRAB, Birgus latro

This creature is unusual and extraordinary for three reasons.  The first is because of its sheer size.  You guys have probably all seen little crabs scurrying across the sand on beaches, right?  They're little enough to squash with your foot (not that I would ever recommend doing so).  Well this crab is the largest land-based arthropod (or crab) in the world.  They have a 16" long body, a 36" long leg span, and can reach weights of up to 9 pounds.  Actually, that's pretty small, since there have been reports of them reaching six feet in length and weighing up to thirty pounds!  Imagine trying to eat all those crab legs!  Something else that makes them unusual is that they can't swim and will drown in water if submerged for too long, but they need water to survive because of their breathing methods.  They have what's called a brachiostegal lung, which is something between a lung and a gill,  and it must be kept moist in order to function.  I know, right?  A crab that can't swim?!  The third reason that this creature makes the list is because it has an hilarious behavior.  The giant coconut crab is nicknamed the "robber crab" because they tend to steal things that they feel they can use, and these are usually shiny objects.  I, personally, find this hilarious (*gasp* SHINY THINGS!!!!). 
#9:  BLOBFISH, Psycholutes marcidusis
This is the blobfish, which is unusual mostly because of its density, apart from looking just plain weird.  See, these guys live at ocean depths of up to 4,000 feet down near Australia and Tansania, where the pressure would be far too much for us humans.  We would be crushed instantly, but creatures like the blobfish do very well.  Their body density is literally only slightly less than water.  In other words, there's really nothing to this fish.  They basically just float around in the deep ocean and suck up any organic matter that passes in front of them.  Unfortunately, even though they have few natural predators, they are still endangered because of deep-sea fishing.  They get caught in the nets  :(  That first picture is a blobfish outside of water, while the second is how a blobfish looks while it's swimming.
 #8:  DUMBO OCTOPUS, Grimpoteuthis
There are actually two species of octopi on the list!  The first is the rare Dumbo Octopus, named so for the fins on its head that make it look remarkably like Disney's loveable little elephant.  They live in the benthic region of the ocean - at depths of up to 13,000 feet.  This creature made the list because it just doesn't behave like other, "normal" species of octopus.  For one thing, these creatures have been measured at 6 feet long, but will only weigh up to 13 pounds.  Think about how unusual that is: a healthy 6-foot-tall man weighs 160 pounds, but this big guy only weighs thirteen?  The Giant Octopus, the largest octopus species in the world, has been measured at 14 feet, but with an accompanying weight of 33 pounds.  There's a good reason for this, though: they live in the deep ocean, just like the blobfish up above, so the less dense the body is, the deeper the creature can live under water.  Something else unusual about these creatures is that they swallow their prey whole, where most octopus species will bite pieces off before swallowing.  They feed off of small worms and invertebrates found in their deep-sea home.
#7:  FRILLED SHARK, Chlamydoselachus anguineus
Usually, when someone hears the word "shark", they think of the large Great White sharks that kill people and terrorize the public, like in the movie Jaws.  The stereotypical shark lives close to shore or in the open ocean, where humans can easily come into contact, and they're the ultimate in predatory evolution.  This extremely rare shark, however, is found in deep waters of up to 5,000 feet - highly unusual for a shark.  Something else that puts them on the list is their primitive evolutionary features.  These are not the fearsome predators that most think of when they picture sharks.  Sure, they have sharp teeth like their shallow-water cousins, but their teeth are shaped like needles as opposed to triangular knives.  They have been called "living fossils" because of their primitive design.  Something else unusual is that their gestation period is the longest of any vertebrate - up to three and a half years - and they rarely breed because they're so rare.  While extraordinary, what this will unfortunately mean as well is that accidentally catching one in deep-sea fishing nets (which unfortunately happens sometimes) can deplete the population to dangerous levels.
 #6:  TARSIER, Tarsius bancanus

This is probably the creepiest animal on this list, in my opinion.  The tarsier is a small monkey that lives on the islands of southeast Asia, and what makes it so unusual and list-worthy is just how non-monkey these little guys can be.  For one thing, they're just funny-looking.  Most primates can be described as "cute", and they're mostly diurnal (i.e., day-dwellers).  But those big amber eyes are as large as its brain, giving the tarsier some of the most well-developed night vision in the world.  Their hind legs are twice as long as their bodies, perfect for jumping, but their forelimbs are short and stunted.  For another, most monkeys and primates are herbivores (eating only foliage and berries) or omnivores (they'll eat just about anything, but the most carnivorous they get is insects).  The tarsier, however, is carnivorous, and will eat birds, bats, and lizards.  Yeah...creepy, right?  Then there's their social interactions.  Most other species of primates live in groups, but the tarsier is a solitary animal.  They basically come together only to mate, and then only in pairs.

#5:  AXOLOTL, Ambystoma mexicanum
Finally, something that looks mildly cute, right?!  This is the axolotl, an amphibian that lives exclusively in a single lake in Mexico.  Like the Tarsier and the Frilled Shark, these amphibians are not like others of their species, and that is part of the reason they make this list.  Amphibians, like frogs and toads, are creatures that can live in both water and on land.  The Axolotl, however, is completely aquatic, and while that's strange in and of itself, the reason behind it is even more so.  See, most amphibians have a life cycle that includes a larval form and an adult form, like the frogs and toads that start out as tadpoles.  But the axolotl stays in its larval form for its entire life!  That's right - apart from getting a little bigger, these creatures don't change from birth to death.  It's a phenomenon called neoteny.  But the strangeness doesn't stop there.  A completely unrelated something that puts this creature on the list is its regenerative ability.  Some creatures display the ability to re-grow their limbs - octopi, starfish, etc. - but the axolotl can not only regrow its legs, but its brain and spinal cord as well!  Crazy!  Luckily, these creatures are less endangered than biologists would have us think because they are part of the exotic pet trade, so even though their habitat is vanishing, they'll stick around for a little while longer.
 #4:  MIMIC OCTOPUS, Thomoctopus mimicus

The Mimic Octopus is one of my favorite animals.  They live in the shallow, warm waters of Malaysia and Indonesia.  They have a leg length of about 25 inches and a body length of about two feet.  Their normal coloring is a striking pattern of brown and white stripes.  Now, most people know that octopi are so unique because of their ability to blend in with their surroundings, right?  Like chemeleons, they have the ability to match their external appearance with the area around them.  The Mimic Octopus, however, takes disguise and stealth a step further.  Instead of changing its color, this octopus manipulates its body to mimic the shapes and behavior of other animals in the ocean!  Check out the photo.  On the left is the Mimic Octopus, and on the right is the creature it's mimicking.  They've been spotted acting like flounder, lion fish, sea snakes, and jellyfish.  It's even been said that they can judge which form will be the most frightening to a particular threat.  Crazy awesome, right?!
 #3:  SLOTH, from the families Megalonychidae and Bradypodidae

When most people hear the word "sloth", they think of a creature that they can really only describe as "slow and funny-looking" (which I tend to disagree with because I think they're fricken adorable).  What people don't seem to realize is just how slow and strange they really are, and what unusual side effects their slowness can have.  Sloths live in the rainforests of Central and South America.  And yes, they are really slow.  The sloth's metabolic rates are less than half of other mammals their size, and they can take up to an entire month to digest something.  This means that they only go to the bathroom once a week (and to compound the weird, they do so in the same spot every single time).  On average, their moving speed (or lack thereof) is about 6.5 feet per minute - a distance that would take us less than a second to cross.  They're so slow and stationary that algae actually grows on their fur!  So what you might be saying is, "How do these things even exist anymore...they're sitting ducks!"  That's true, actually, but because they're so slow, they're actually harder to spot than people think.  They don't even have to worry about poachers - they'll cling to their trees even after they've been shot and killed!  Then there's the sloth's upside-down position, which they hold for about 98% of their lifetime.  They mate, give birth, eat, sleep, etc. completely upside-down and hanging from tree branches.  And yet, get this: they can swim!  Like, they can swim well!  How cool is that?!

#2:  ANGLER FISH, from the order Lophiiformes
Now for some more not-so-cute.  This is the angler fish, an order of deep-sea fish that are characterized by their angler hanging from their heads.  That's actually part of why they make this list, and why they're so high up on it.  Their lures are bioluminescent - they can make their own light due to chemical reactions in their bodies.  In the deep ocean waters, very little light can penetrate, so making one's own light and using it to attract prey is a very revolutionary and innovative evolutionary development.  But that's not the only reason I find them so strange.  Actually, what makes them just plain weird is their reproductive methods.  See the angler fish in the picture?  That's basically what people think of when they think about these fish, right?  But get this: that thing is female, and all other anglers that look like this are female.  The males?  They're little more than a bundle of nerves with fins - evolutionarily stunted, thirty times smaller than the females, and have no angler whatsoever.  They don't eat, either.  Their only job is to find a female...and attach themselves to her.  Yeah, get this: the males will bite into the flesh of the female with their specialized teeth, and then their bodies start to merge.  Over time, the male becomes little more than a sperm-providing parasite, to the point where they stop looking like fish at all and look more like fleshy lumps.  Basically, she feeds him while he gives her the sperm she needs to reproduce.  I guess it makes sense, even though it's really strange - angler fish are solitary creatures, and they probably don't meet each other very often at all in the dark abyss of the deep ocean.  Scientists have found females with multiple males attached to her in various stages of merging.  Weird...weird, weird, weird...
#1:  WATER BEAR, Hypsibius dujardini
Now for the most extraordiary creature on Earth: the Water Bear.  These little guys are only about one millimeter long when they're fully grown, making them little more than microscopic.  They live mostly in lichen and mosses throughout the world, though they can be found just about anywhere.  Here's why: water bears are extremophiles, or creatures that can survive in extreme environments.  Not only that, but they're polyextremophiles - creatures that can survive multiple types of extreme environments.  Water bears can survive just about anything.  They can endure temperatures from just above absolute zero (or with next to no heat whatsoever) to well over the boiling point of water.  They can survive in pressures higher than six times that of the deepest ocean trenches.  Radiation doesn't affect them either - they can live through doses hundreds of times stronger than what would kill human beings.  They can even dehydrate to less than 3% water and still rehydrate as if nothing happened, and they can go without eating for over 120 years!  They're so resilient that scientists even sent them into outer space to see if they would live through it, and guess what, they did!  Solar radiation and exposure to the vacuum of space didn't affect them.  But okay, that's not enough?  Get this: not only can they live and survive in these extreme environments, but they can also reproduce in these environments, and produce viable offspring that can then reproduce themselves.  They're the most resilient animals on Earth, and therefore easily hold the top spot in my "Top 10 Most Extraordinary and Unusual Animals" list.
Well, I hope you ladies had fun reading this!  I know it's long, but seriously, there's some pretty interesting stuff here!  I mean, at least read about the water bear...


  1. It's really interesting to me that so many of these are sea creatures -- but in a way that makes sense, given how little we know about our oceans.

    I should probably figure out my top ten topic . . .

  2. I didn't realize until after I posted just how many of the creatures were from the oceans. But you're right, I'm not exactly surprised. We know more about the surface of the moon than we do about our own oceans because of all the pressure down there.

    I can't wait to read about everyone else's!