By Laura Kemmerer
Whether looking up into the vault of the heavens or down into the depths of the ocean, millions of years of evolution have populated the world with a variety of strange and wonderful creatures. From the microscopic to the massive, living things found in all different environments continue to astound scientists and laymen alike. The following list of organisms is a brief look at just a few of the creatures we share this wildly strange world with.
Tardigrade, the Water Bear
When one hears the term “microbe,” the first thing that usually comes to mind is a grotesque, amoeba-like creature that looks nothing like what we see in the day-to-day world. But the tardigrade, or water bear, is exactly that—a microbial life form that looks like a microscopic version of a rather squishy bear. While not widely known, the water bear can make its home almost anywhere. According to Microscopy UK, the tardigrade has the ability to retreat into a cryptobiotic state, which is akin to hibernation, where it can withstand everything from exposure to radioactive radiation to storage in liquid nitrogen. To regain its normal state of operations, all the water bear requires is a single drop of water.
Axolotl, the Mexican Walking Fish
While the axolotl is more commonly known as the Mexican Walking Fish, it’s in fact not a fish at all. Rather, the axolotl belongs to the same family as salamanders. According to Axolotl.org, axolotls breed in captivity and range in color from a near-black to a golden hue. What’s particularly compelling about these captivating creatures is the fact that they never experience metamorphosis, even when they reach sexual maturity. The axolotl remains in the larval form throughout the course of its life, which is an occurrence known as neoteny. But what this unusual creature is best known for is its astounding regenerative capacities. According to the Scientific American, the axolotl can regenerate entire limbs and vital structures such as the spine.
Elysia Chlorotica, the “Solar-Powered” Slug
While many consider the plant and animal kingdoms to largely be mutually exclusive, a relatively recent discovery has proven that that is no longer the case. Known far and wide as the “solar-powered” slug, this small, vibrantly green creature has managed to do something truly extraordinary. According to the Encyclopedia of Life, this slug makes its home in the sea, “sequesters and retains photosynthetically active chloroplasts from the algae it eats and, remarkably, has incorporated algal genes into its own genetic code.” What this means is the slug can use the power of the sun as a source of energy, much as plants do.
A bird that looks like it’s perpetually startled, the tawny frogmouth is most often confused for a member of the owl family. Known primarily for its exaggerated appearance, the tawny frogmouth has a unique method of hunting its prey. According to Seaworld.org, the frogmouth is not gifted with the strong feet and talons of other birds. This clever creature most often feeds at night, staying stock-still. In some regards it emulates the Venus flytrap, especially when the frogmouth waits for its prey to climb close to the whisker-like feathers that surround its mouth. This form of feeding is particularly effective for the bird, as its coloring serves as excellent camouflage.
Kiwa Hirsuta, the “Yeti Crab”
The creature known as the “yeti crab” was originally discovered in 2006 near the coast of Easter Island, according to the Scientific American. Looking like it is covered in fur, the Kiwa hirsuta uses the fuzzy-looking bristles that cover its claws to collect bacteria upon which it feeds. The Scientific American goes on to explain that while people might assume the yeti crab would get tired with having to wave its claws around to collect bacteria that is not necessarily the case.
“The crabs have to use energy to swing their arms back and forth—so by doing so they must gain more energy through their [food source, bacteria,] than they expend by waving their arms,” Andrew Thurber, the author of a recent paper on the yeti crab, said in the Scientific American article. “I don’t think they get tired.”