The natural world, full of competition for resources and hostile climates, can be hard on animals.
To survive, animals have had to adapt in surprising ways.
Okapi, for example, have scent glands on their feet to mark their territory.
Wood frogs freeze their bodies.
To survive the winter, up to 60 percent of Alaskan wood frogs’ bodies freeze. They also stop breathing and their heart stops beating. This allows them to survive temperatures as low as -80 degrees Fahrenheit. And in the spring they thaw.
To achieve this semi-frozen state, frogs build up high concentrations of glucose (up to 10 times the normal amount) in their organs and tissues. Sugar solutes act as “cryoprotectants,” preventing their cells from shrinking or dying.
Sources: National Park Service, The Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology
Kangaroo rats survive without ever drinking water.
Kangaroo rats have adapted to survive in the desert without ever taking a sip of water. Instead, they get all the moisture they need from the seeds they eat. These creatures also have incredible hearing and can leap up to nine feet, which helps them avoid predators.
Source: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Antarctic fish have “antifreeze” proteins in their blood.
Five families of notothenioid fish make their own “antifreeze” proteins to survive in the frigid Southern Ocean that surrounds Antarctica. The proteins bind to the ice crystals in their blood, preventing the fish from freezing. This extraordinary adaptation helps explain why these fish make up 90% of the region’s fish biomass.
Source: National Science Foundation
African bullfrogs make “houses” of mucus to survive the dry season.
The African bullfrog lives in the African savannah, where it is very hot and dry. When a frog is out of the water, the mucus on its skin helps it breathe by dissolving oxygen from the air. To keep its skin from drying out in the hot African climate, the bullfrog buries itself six to eight inches underground. Then it creates a mucous membrane, which hardens into a cocoon. The frog can stay in this cocoon for up to seven years while it waits for rain. When rain comes, the moisture softens the mucus sac, waking the frog up and signaling the start of the rainy season, when the frog is breeding and most active.
Source: The Amphibian.co.uk, Mental Floss
Cuttlefish blend in with their surroundings.
Cuttlefish have the uncanny ability to change color and texture to blend in with their surroundings. They can detect how much light is absorbed in the environment and then mimic it with their own pigments. They have 3 layers of leather (yellow, red and brown), which can be stretched in different ways to create unique colors and patterns. Their skin also has papillae, which make cuttlefish appear stiff, like coral. Together, these features allow cuttlefish to evade predators and sneak up on unsuspecting prey.
The tubeworms turn toxic water into food.
Scientists have long thought that life could not exist in hydrothermal vents deep in the ocean. But in 1977 they found giant tubeworms living along the Galapagos rift, 8,000 feet below the ocean’s surface. These warblers are surrounded by total darkness in their habitat and live in waters filled with toxic and acidic gas.
They have no stomach, intestines or eyes. Instead, they are “bags of bacteria” with heart-like structures and reproductive organs. The bacteria inside the worms use the toxic hydrogen sulfide in the water, which would kill most other animals, as an energy source to make carbohydrates.
Source: National Geographic
Okapi have scent glands on their feet.
Okapis are strange animals that look like a combination of a giraffe and a zebra. They live in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it is very hot and where predators such as leopards are always on the prowl. To survive, okapis use three key adaptations. First, they have scent glands on their feet to mark their territory. Second, they have infrasonic calls, which allow them to communicate with their calves without predators hearing their calls. Finally, they have 14 to 18 inch tongues, which they can use to wash their eyes and ears.
Source: Geographical Africa
Pufferfish can inflate to double their original size.
Puffers have the ability to inflate their stomachs with water if they feel threatened, sometimes showing barbs in an effort to deter potential predators. Other times they swell up just to stretch the muscles. They can swell to more than double their original size.
Additionally, pufferfish produce a neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin which, when consumed, can cause paralysis and seizures. In some cases, consuming a puffer fish can lead to death.
Source: Seattle Aquarium
Elephants use their giant ears to cool off.
The elephant ears act as a built-in cooling mechanism. They can cool off by flapping their giant ears. By performing the motion of flapping their ears, elephants create a breeze and promote blood flow through the vessels in the ear, which helps them cool down.
Sometimes elephants splash around in a body of water and use their trunks to spray drops of water and streams behind their ears to increase the cooling effect.
Sources: San Diego Zoo and Kariega Game Reserve
The platypus uses its beak to detect electric fields produced by its prey
A platypus beak is able to detect subtle electric fields produced by its prey while hunting and foraging for food. The platypus dives for food along the bottom of a body of water such as a river or stream. Look for bottom-dwelling creatures such as crustaceans, worms, and insect larvae.
Using nudging mechanoreceptors, the platypus’ beak is able to pick up changes in pressure, motion, and electrical signals left behind by small prey. The platypus moves its head from side to side to activate mechanoreceptors, a chemical structure that allows it to detect various stimuli such as touch, pressure, vibration and sound.
Source: American Museum of National History
Editor’s note: This story was first published on July 15, 2016.
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