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Monday
Aug242015

Incredible Animal Adaptations



Adaptation is but a season finale in the perpetual series that is evolution—it's how the Earth continues to enjoy unbelievable biodiversity since the dawn of life nearly 4 billion years ago. Adaptive traits allow organisms to respond to various environmental triggers. Below is a spotlight on several unbelievable animal and insect adaptations that will make your jaw drop!

Defence is the best offence

Like all ants, Camponotus saundersi is instilled with an overwhelming sense of community. However, this sense of duty can be taken to the point of self-sacrifice when armed with exceptionally large jaw glands loaded with a sticky, corrosive substance. C. saundersi self-detonates by voluntarily contracting its muscles to rupture the glands, a process called autothysis, thereby immobilising and irritating those in the vicinity. This tactic is most effective against other warring ants.

pixabay | skeezeAnother animal that uses its bodily fluids for defence is the Northern fulmar, a common sea bird in the North Atlantic and North Pacific. When threatened or under attack, the fulmar regurgitates a stomach oil made of wax esters and triglycerides. Essentially aiming the vomit at other flying adversaries, the substance mats the attacker’s feathers, impairing flight and thus resulting in death. The lethal vomit also doubles up as nutritious sustenance for chicks and long-haul journeys.

Good to the very last drop
Amphibians live on land and in water, but the latter is not as easy for creatures inhabiting Sub-Saharan Africa. The African bullfrog has devised an ingenuous way to hibernate during the dry season, also known as aestivation. It burrows underground and encapsulates itself in a mucus sac that eventually hardens to prevent water loss. The bullfrog can remain in this state for several months, and once the rains come, the membrane is eaten by the bullfrog after splitting open from absorbing moisture in the ground.
pixabay | DustytoesAnimals living in hot, arid climates are well suited to such conditions with adaptive traits such as physical features that allow them to easily expel body heat or physiological ones that facilitate water retention. The dorcas gazelle, for example, never needs to drink a single drop of water in its life. Its body extracts all the water necessary from its plant-based diet. The gazelle’s body also concentrates urine so that its wee is solid rather than liquid waste.
pixabay | HansWhen the weather outside is frightful
Extreme heat takes a lot of getting used to, just as extreme cold does. No animal is better accustomed to frigid temperatures as the arctic fox. In addition to its lush fur coat that provides plenty of insulation, its appendages (legs, ears, muzzle) are small in comparison to its central body mass to conserve heat. It even has fur on the bottom of its feet! Like polar bears, its pelt is white to camouflage with the snow.
pixabay | robynmBut what if you have to brave the unforgiving cold without the aid of a thick fur? Once again, we take a look at frogs to see how they deal with their local weather conditions. Rana sylvatica, an arctic wood frog, quite literally allows itself to freeze over during hibernation. The frog can remain unharmed with up to 65% of its body water frozen. All of its bodily functions—breathing, heart rate, metabolism—practically stop, similar to cryogenic freezing processes found in science fiction. Heightened levels of glucose and urea in the body allow R. sylvatica to withstand much lower temperatures without damage to the cells and organs caused by the formation of ice around tissues.

Resilience to toxins

The kingsnake, called such probably because it’ll eat anything it can sink its teeth into (including other snakes), is immune to the venom of prey snakes.
pixabay | sipaThere has been increasing evidence to suggest that doctors who are exposed to radiation in their line of work have developed an enhanced line of defence to protect themselves. While an increase of hydrogen peroxide in the blood is possibly harmful to cells, a correlating increase in a certain antioxidant and enzyme may mean that the body is reacting to protect cells against radiation as well as to systematically kill the cells that are already damaged.

Misbehaving

Some of the most interesting adaptations are the ones in which animals change their behaviours in order to adjust to their environments. The diving bell spider lives its entire life underwater, despite breathing air. It weaves a special kind of web that’s used as an air bubble, which it takes underneath the water’s surface to prey, mate and raise offspring. The spider eventually has to refresh the air supply in the bubble every few days.

After getting the basics down like evading predators and finding food, animals then concentrate their efforts at attracting a mate to procreate. Small male cuttlefish have been observed outsmarting other cuttlefish that are superior in size. With no means to dominate in a physical altercation, the smaller male disguises itself as a female. With its opponent’s guard down, the smaller cuttlefish is able to circumvent its rival and get close enough to mate with the guarded female.

Regressive evolution

Many assume that evolution is a linear path of progression, but some animals experience regressive evolution where they lose traits or features over time. The blind cave tetra is a fish that lives in the underground rivers of Mexico. Because it lives in complete darkness, it has lost its sense of vision and even eyes! Compared to the surface dwelling tetra, it has also lost pigmentation, sporting a pinkish-white colour. But the blind tetra has a few constructive adaptive traits, such as taste buds all over its head and the ability to store four times as much energy as fat.

Several families of reptiles and amphibians have evolved to do away with legs in order to facilitate more efficient movement underground or through water. The blind legless skink is a lizard that---you guessed it—has evolved legless and blind (almost eyeless) forms. They burrow underground, and some, like the blind cave tetra, are albino.

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By Frances Lai – Online Journalism Intern

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