More than 99 per cent of all species that have lived on Earth are now extinct. And scientists estimate that roughly 90 per cent of the species left on Earth have yet to be discovered. How sad that most of these will also be extinct long before we discover them thanks to our way of living…
Think of any form, any colour, and any combination of colours, sex, eating habits or whatever. Nature has already invented it. And every year scientists discover more and more life forms. In Madagascar alone 615 have been discovered, one of them, the stunning Furcifer timoni chameleon, a shocking green with purple spots who looks as if he has just been painted for a heavy metal rock show. Every year scientists list the ten weirdest creatures found. I wish I could show you their pictures but I have to be content with writing about those found in the last five years. I am not choosing the medical malformations like the one eyed shark or the two headed one. These are aberrations and do not survive. Let’s look at the amazing wonders that exist normally across the world. The deep-sea acorn worm with huge lips, Yoda purpurata, has been discovered 2.5 kilometres beneath the Atlantic Ocean. The bright purple worm has large lips on the side of its head and uses them to snag its prey. Scientists have names it after the Star Wars character Yoda. No one knows what it does as yet but scientists say this may be an ancestor of ours.
An amazing fungus species Ophiocordyceps camponoti-balzani has been discovered that grows like a dark stalk out of a “zombie” ant’s head in a Brazilian rain forest. The fungus is made of four distinct species—all of which can “mind control” ants. The fungus species infects an ant, takes over its brain, alters its behaviour and then kills the insect once the fungus moves to an ideal location for growing and spreading its spores. The fungus’s spores enter the body of the ant and makes it climb up the stem of a plant and use its mandibles to secure itself to the plant. Infected ants bite the leaf veins with abnormal force, leaving dumbbell-shaped marks. The fungus then kills the ant, and continues to grow eating the insect. When it is ready to reproduce, its fruiting body grows from the ant’s head and ruptures, releasing the spores which infect the ants nearby. Even more amazingly, ants have evolved the ability to sense that a member of the colony is infected; healthy ants will carry the dying one far away from the colony in order to avoid fungal spore exposure.
A new discovery has been made in the Philippines of a sea slug that looks like a pancake. It’s almost flat with black branches running across a white surface and yolk like yellow spots bursting through. The sea slug is a hermaphrodite and has a set of reproductive organs for both sexes but cannot fertilise itself. To mate, two sea slugs come together side by side and (usually both) pass sperm sacs through a tube right behind the head. The eggs hatch into free-swimming larvae which eventually settle onto the ocean bottom as adults.
An expedition by the California Academy of Sciences to the Philippines brought back evidence of more than 300 new species, some of which are bizarre. For example, the deep-sea swell shark that can suck in water to make itself larger when confronted by a predator. The mountain jungles of Vietnam are home to a new breed of “vampire”—a “flying” tree frog dubbed Rhacophorus vampyrus. Found in 2008, the two-inch-long frog uses webbed fingers and toes to glide from tree to tree. Vampire tree frog tadpoles have a pair of hard black hooks like fangs sticking out from the undersides of their mouths. These frogs never come down on the ground – adults deposit their eggs in water pools in tree trunks. The parents feed their baby tadpoles by laying unfertilised eggs as meals. The fangs help in slicing these open.
A “devil worm” called Halicephalobus mephisto, for Mephistopheles the demon of Faustian legend, has been found 3.5 kms under the Earth—the deepest-living animal yet found. These creatures are millions of times bigger than the bacteria they feed on and live in rocks, having evolved to survive the crushing pressure and high heat of the depths. Off the Florida Keys, hundreds of stinging tentacles dangle from a “pink meanie”—a new species ofDrymonema larsoni jellyfish discovered this year, which is large ( 3 feet across and 50 pounds) and pink and has a taste for other jellyfishes. Pink meanies prey on other jellyfish, entangling them in tentacles that can be up to 70 feet long. The meanies then reel their victims in and consume them. Adult Drymonema do the majority of their digestion using specialized “oral arms” that dangle alongside their tentacles. The oral arms exude digestive juices which break down the prey. The creatures have been documented eating 34 jellyfish at a time.
An underwater oddity, the coral reef-dwelling harlequin shrimp is a colourful and dangerous predator. Male and female shrimps pair for life. Although they are small (2-5 cm in length) they eat animals bigger than them. A mated pair of harlequin shrimp will co-operate when it comes to preying on their favourite food, starfish. The Potato Bug has nothing to do with potatoes. It feeds on dead material, burrowing underground to get to decaying roots. It produces a unique song, used to communicate during mating, and is made by the insect beating its abdomen against the ground, and gives off a foul-smelling scent. The Dunaliella algae discovered in 2010 in a cave in Chile’s Atacama Desert thrive on very little water. These microbes grow on top of spiderwebs to capitalise on dew that condenses on the webs in the mornings.
The Deinococcus radiodurans bacterium can survive a 15,000 gray dose of radiation, where 10 grays would kill a human and it takes over 1,000 grays to kill a cockroach. One newfound creature is a loriciferan of the genus Spinoloricus. The creature can survive without oxygen. How many odd creatures have been discovered ! Mudskipper which are fish that live most of their life on land ; Slender Lanternfish that have light organs dotted along the undersides of their bodies; Deep-sea stargazer fish that look like bulldogs and bury themselves in the seafloor to ambush passing prey after locating them with eyes set on top of the head, and use electricity to stun their prey; Humpback Anglerfish which are the size of a tennis ball, have an enormous head dominated by a cavernous mouth full of long slender teeth that can fold backwards when prey is being swallowed; The Fangtooth fish whose teeth are so long that when the jaw is shut, the lower pair must slide into special sheathes on either side of the fish’s brain to avoid impaling it; The Black Swallower which has the ability to extend its stomach 3 times its size so that it can swallow fish that are bigger than itself, and when it encounters dark waters, creates its own light.
More than 99 per cent of all species that have lived on Earth are now extinct.And scientists estimate that roughly 90 per cent of the species left on Earth have yet to be discovered. How sad that most of these will also be extinct long before we discover them thanks to our way of living.
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