Here's What It Looks Like When Evolution Gets Weird
We've all heard examples of evolutionary perfection: The cheetah's sleek, long-legged body, built for speed on the African savanna, or the parrot's tough, ridged beak, ideally shaped for cracking open nuts. These adaptations may make us marvel at nature's inventiveness and engineering skill. But you know what I love more than these shining examples of evolution? The less elegant creatures-the ones that survive despite being awkward, ugly, slime-covered, or completely absurd.
I collect these evolutionary oddities on my blog, WTF, Evolution?, and in the new book of the same name. In captions, I try to imagine: If there had been a thought process behind these organisms, what would it have been?
In reality, of course, evolution doesn't think. It doesn't sit down and plan out the best course for an organism to take. Instead, mutations happen at random, the useful ones stick, and over time they become adaptations that help the animal survive in its environment. But they're not necessarily the features you'd choose if you were designing something from scratch.
And if evolution were sentient? Well, if the things it's created are any indication, then it would clearly be spending most of its time plastered, distracted, or entirely out of its mind. Below are just four examples of the more than 100 in the book.
Scientific Name: Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis
Habitat: Wet forests in the Western Ghat Mountains of southern India (Photo: © K Jayaram/Science Source)
Really, Evolution? You've had 130 million years to work on the pignose frog, and this is the best you could do? Did you maybe boil it too long?
Scientific name: Ogcocephalus darwini
Habitat: Sandy reef bottoms in the southeast Pacific (Photo © Mark Conlin/Getty Images)
Come on, Evolution, you cannot be serious with this sh- Oh, wait. OH. Ha! I get it. Clearly, the red-lipped batfish is a work of satire, not meant to be taken as a literal "animal," which would of course be ridiculous. Sorry, I can be a bit slow sometimes. Nice one.
Banded Piglet Squid
Scientific name: Helicocranchia pfefferi
Habitat: Up to 6,500 feet deep in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans (Photo © Gary Florin/Rex USA)
The piglet squid would seem to suggest that Evolution's medications are working. Possibly a little too well.
Scientific name: Macrobiotus sapiens
Habitat: Soil, damp moss, and bodies of water all over the world (Photo © Eye of Science/Science Source)
"Okay. This is it. I just came up with the greatest animal yet."
"This should be good."
"It's called a tardigrade. It's only half a millimeter long, so it's basically invisible."
"It has sharp claws for grabbing onto anything and a suction mouth for feeding."
"Seems reasonable, Evolution."
"But here's the cool part: It can survive pretty much anything! Drying out? Freezing? Extreme radiation? It doesn't care. It just hunkers down and waits it out, then pops back to life later on."
"Huh. I guess that is kind of cool."
"And it can even survive in the vacuum of outer space."
"What? Why would it possibly need to survive in outer space?"
"You never know."
Mara Grunbaum is a science writer in New York City. Her book WTF, Evolution?! A Theory of Unintelligible Design is available now.