Amateur Zoologists Share Which Animal They Think Evolution Screwed Over The Hardest.
People on Reddit shared their favorite stories of animals that evolution screwed over. Enjoy.
Many thanks to the Redditors who responded. You can check out more answers from the source at the end of this article.
1. Koalas. They're so stupid they can't even identify eucalyptus leaves if they're not on a branch. They also have bad teeth, which means if they wear down their teeth too much (which they will, because they eat leaves) they'll just starve to death. Also the babies have to eat the mother's poop.
2. Bees got stuck with a bad defense system. "Get out of my house!... oh I seem to have ripped my own guts out."
3. Well, evolution let humans grasp the concept of our own mortality, but left us largely unable to deal with it.
4. I think evolution put the snail in a funny spot. At some point during a snail's life, its body will twist in a way such that it would allow the snail to retract its head into the shell, offering better protection. However, as a result, the snail's anus will sit directly above its head, and the anus could empty into its mouth.
5. I wouldn't strictly say the hardest, but I would nominate Giraffes for inheriting a bunch of weird coping mechanisms for the niche it's carved itself.
A giraffe starts life by falling 2 meters (6ft) to the ground. Being the only mammal born with horns (ossicones), this is an unpleasant start for everyone involved. Then things get weird.
One of my favourites is the recurrent laryngeal nerve: In most mammals, this already is a pretty poor situation.
The nerve, instead of travelling directly from the brain to the larynx, it typically travels down the neck, around the aortic arch in the heart, then up to the larynx. In humans, this makes it ~5x longer than the ideal route. In giraffes, it extends the nerve to nearly 4.5 meters (~15 ft).
In addition to that, the distance between their feet and their brains, they have built in lag (about 100ms), meaning they need their spinal muscles to manage to process of finding footfall, rather than thinking about it.
Giraffes and nerves are kinda weird, circulation is a whole other level of messwittery. Firstly, they need to get blood to their brains, as a result, their hearts are huge. Consequently, their blood pressure is extremely high, the highest of any animal and their heart rate rests at about 170bpm. This is fine for getting blood up to the brain, but is problematic for the lower body.
In order to prevent turning into a whirling dervish of blood spewing madness every time they get a leg injury, and to prevent blood simply pooling in their legs, they've adapted extremely tight skin on their legs, and a series of one way valves to keep blood running in the right direction.
So that's not so bad, right? I mean, it's weird, but it's to be expected.
Problems start when it has to drink; when a giraffe lowers itself down to drink, it has to contend with the blood now rushing towards its head. Without compensation, it would die as soon as its head got below a certain threshold.
Firstly, when a giraffe bends its head down, valves in its neck shut down, preventing excessive blood flow to the brain. For the extra load from blood re-entering the brain, they need to distribute it in a spongy network of blood vessels. As they stand again, they use this system to maintain a steady blood pressure in their brain as they stand again. I suppose the upshot of this, is that throughout history, genetically weak giraffes have died in absolutely hilarious ways.
That's all great, but it's nothing on my favourite evolutionary arms race (barring ducks).
The Acacia tree vs giraffes:
The first line of defense for an acacia tree is the fact that it's covered in huge spines.
Giraffes get around this with their massive prehensile tongues, which they can use to avoid spines and still strip leaves.
The next line of defense for the acacia is tannin. Tannin tastes terrible (it's also toxic, and can kill other herbivores), when a tree senses it is under attack, it ramps up production of tannin in order to make it less attractive to eat.
The simple solution to this for the giraffes is just to rotate trees.
Now multiple trees are at risk, the acacia plays its next trick: it communicates with other trees in its vicinity by releasing chemicals into the air (fun fact, the lovely smell of fresh cut grass is also a distress marker). As the trees pick up these chemical markers they all ramp up production of tannin until the threat is gone.
It's at a point where giraffes now need to stalk acacia trees, approaching them only from downwind to avoid the trees that have been alerted.
The acacia has one more trick up its sleeve: Some species have developed heavily modified spines which house aggressive ants. The acacia have developed a symbiotic relationship, feeding the ants on nectar and housing them, in return the ants aggressively defend the tree.
As for the other stuff I can't fit in here: some of you may recall a terrifying image of a leatherback turtle's throat (actually just fleshy appendages - they eat jellyfish). Anyway, long story short: giraffes have them too. They've also got extremely strong esophagus muscles to facilitate regurgitation of food and you can make hallucinogenic drugs out of them.
"Okay, welcome to life #74,102,345,567. We've decided to give you the name Penguin"
"Cool. So what am I?"
"Well...you're a bird but-"
"Oh sweet! Raptor of the sky; flying around on the breeze."
"Well uh...not quite. You actually are unable to fly."
"Huh...well that's okay, Cassowary can't fly but nobody dares mess with him. I mean those huge claws will come in handy-"
"Yeah sorry, no talons or anything either. We went with a different route."
"....Well if I can't fight or fly, then I must have evolved to be crazy fast like Emu or Road-Runner."
"Well fast is a bit subjective really.. You can waddle at like 3 miles per hour"
"Don't be mad."
"Is this a joke? Am I the new Dodo? I'm gonna get picked off by predators in no time!"
"Well you do have a few predators like Polar Bear and Killer Whale, and the newbie "human" can be kinda a dick, but you do have less predators than many."
"Well its something.."
"Yeah most predators were not interested in subzero temperatures."
"OH GOOD, I GET SOME PEACE OF MIND FREEZING MY BUTT OFF!"
"Hey take it easy, Turkey isn't much better and he's cool."
".....So what DID I get?"
"Well you kinda look like you're wearing a butler's outfit.."
"You're feathers kinda make it look like you're wearing a little cute tuxedo."
"How does that help me?! Whatever I'm leaving now.."
"Alright good luck, hope the humans don't melt your home."
7. I don't really think they're the animal evolution messed over the hardest, but I want to mention antechinuses, which are a kind of small marsupial that look similar to rodents. Antechinuses literally mate themselves to death. Like, physically, their body falls apart. They have sex until they physically disintegrate.
It's a viable reproductive strategy, it's just also kind of terrifying.
8. Pandas got it pretty rough.
They used to be bears. Like real, meat-eating, dangerous to mess with killer bears.
Now they spend 14 hours a day eating bamboo which has a bad nutritional value and the rest of the time sleeping because bamboo is a bad energy source.
No wonder they don't breed very well, the poor things are exhausted.
9. The Irish Elk. The cause for their extinction is disputed, but one theory is that they evolved antlers so large their habitat could no longer sustain them.
10. Greenland sharks have it pretty rough IMO, they are all blind due to a lovely parasite that latches onto their eyes and are thought to be the longest lived of any vertebrate at 392 120 years. That's a long time to blindly swim around in freezing water.
11. Sloth, literally dies by grabbing it's arm and not the branch.
12. The poor turtles that hatch on a beach at night and follow the light (the moon) which evolution has timed to lead them to the sea.
But now the lights from the town lead them up the beach and on to the roads, they walk for ages and never find the sea :(
UK redditors will know this was recently documented on Planet Earth II.
13. Not one of you people give any thought to the fainting goat!
Oh yeah btw when you're threatened, distressed or surprised in anyway your legs seize up beneath you leaving you completely defenceless on the ground.
Wha da heck nature??!
14. Barbourula kalimantanensis
A tiny frog that no longer has any lungs. They have to live in cold, fast-flowing fresh water that's oxygenated enough so their skin can absorb enough.
They're really rare for a very good reason they (almost) can't survive to find another habitat if something happens to the little stream where they were born.
15. Dogs. We selectively bred them into rather horrifying inbred shadows of their former species. The irony is that with the evolution of humans came the de-evolution of canines.
16. Female Argentine Blue-Bill Ducks.
Instead of a cloaca, the males reproductive organ can be longer than the length of its body.
17. The octopus.
Incredibly smart, capable of solving puzzles, and generally displaying very smart behaviours. They pretty much self destruct after one reproductive episode, and the females live only long enough to protect her eggs.
18. Chicken. Went from fearsome dinosaurs... To whatever it even is. A flightless(?) bird who's eaten and the butt of many jokes.
19. Peppered moths. They evolved to blend in with tree bark, then the industrial revolution covered all the trees with soot, so they stood out like a sore thumb and got eaten by birds. This created a selection pressure towards black pigment making them darker.
Then humans finally twigged that all this pollution isn't a good idea and cleaned up their act, so the now black peppered moths stood out against the clean trees.
20. Angler fish. Males in particular. I believe this fish resulted from mother nature's worst breakup.
21. Sea cucumbers, they're living anuses that can spew their guts out as defense.
22. Bed bugs evolved to have sex by having the male stab the female with his hypodermic penis.