5 The Aye-Aye’s Finger
If most amazing aspect of this Madagascar native is the fact that its name is a cartoonish maritime affirmative, the animal’s second most notable trait is its highly evolved fingers. An aye-aye’s preferred foods are grubs often found burrowed into trees. To locate these tasty morsels, the aye-aye’s third finger has evolved into a slender, precise digit used to rapidly tap at tree trunks, revealing hollow cavities where a meal might be found. Its fourth finger has evolved to be much longer than the other digits, and is used to scoop grubs out of holes the aye-aye chews into the tree.
4 The Narwhal Tusk
Almost all mammals have teeth, and many species have developed highly evolved choppers over the years. But neither the saber-toothed tiger fangs nor the elephant’s mighty tusks has anything on the dental evolution of the narwhal. Adult narwhal whales sport a single tusk protruding from the upper left side of their jaw. The tip of the narwhal’s spiraling protrusion is as sharp as a spearhead, and the tusk can grow to be as much as nine feet long. Occasionally a narwhal will grow two tusks, but this is exceedingly rare: usually only the left side of the whale’s mouth develops this organic lance. Why exactly narwhal’s have tusks is unclear: the reasons may range from defense to courtship behavior to stabilization while swimming. In earlier days, harvested narwhal tusks were often passed off as unicorn horns.
3 The Human Throwing Arm
The evolutionary adaptation that allowed our species to dominate the earth may well be the same one that allowed Nolan Ryan to throw all those no-hitters. The complex tendons and muscles in the shoulder, along with the human torso’s ability to twist almost 180 degrees above the pelvis, allows us to hurl objects five times faster than any other creature, and with unmatched accuracy. This let our ancestors both ward off predators and hunt for prey, initially with stones and other found objects, but soon using specialized tools such as the spear.
2 Bioluminescence and the Anglerfish
Fortunately for you, the anglerfish lives in the depths of the ocean, because it looks like something from the depths of a nightmare. The fish’s name is derivative of its preferred method of hunting, wherein they use a long lure-like filament protruding from the center of their heads to attract prey. The hapless creature drawn to the little bobbing lure ends up becoming a meal rather than receiving one, courtesy of the anglerfish’s gaping mouth and needle-like teeth. To enhance the attraction of their lures, many subspecies of anglerfish have developed bioluminescent filament that glows in the dark depths of the sea, making it that much more attractive to nearby creatures.
A number of recent studies have confirmed what anyone with a heart innately knows: babies, of almost any species, are cute. But what does “cute” look like? In most species, the same cues that adults find charming also tend to make recent offspring appear vulnerable, needy and nonthreatening. This response transcends human perception, and is shared among a wide range of animals. Cuteness” is quite likely a nearly universal evolutionary adaptation designed to foster the parenting and protective instincts in adult creatures.
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