1. Vibrating Mosquito Probosces Inspire New Types Of ᴘᴀɪɴless Needles
The mosquito proboscis, nature’s most annoying appendage, has finally become useful by inspiring a new breed of ᴘᴀɪɴless hypodermic needles. Modern medical needles are formulated for maximum holing ability rather than comfort, but if mosquitoes are any indication, it doesn’t have to be that way. You’ve probably noticed your failure to notice being bitten. Such stealthy ᴀᴛᴛᴀᴄᴋs aren’t noticed until the itch kicks in. Your ʙʟᴏᴏᴅ is kept flowing by an ᴀɴᴛɪᴄᴏᴀɢᴜʟᴀɴᴛ, and the bite itself goes unnoticed because the mosquito’s wildly serrated pricker makes minimal contact with nerve endings. In contrast, the much smoother hypodermic needle smashes through receptors like a runaway bus. Once the mosquito has hit paydirt (aka you), it widens the ᴡᴏᴜɴᴅ with its two-jawed proboscis and deploys a crazy straw-like tube to suck your ʙʟᴏᴏᴅ. For added efficiency, the whole thing vibrates to cut an easier, more ᴘᴀɪɴless path into your body. How considerate.
2. The Pinocchio Lizard Tips Its Phallic Nose At The Ladies
The Anolis proboscis, or Pinocchio lizard, gave researchers a nice surprise when it was unexpectedly found in an Ecuadorian cloud forest. Having feared it to be ᴇxᴛɪɴᴄᴛ, ecological bounty hunters from Tropical Herping searched for three years before serendipitously (and anticlimactically) finding one asleep on a branch. It was actually still quite a feat, since searches were carried out by night; the lizard is far too good at camouflaging itself during daylight. It also lives very high off the ground in the most inaccessible strata of trees. The distinctive horn is possessed only by males, who are known to articulate their enlarged stumps quite suggestively at females. The huge schnoz is somewhat of a burden, though, as it must be . . . erected during feedings. How such a maneuver is accomplished is still a physiological mystery, because the area beneath should be devoid of muscles. Only time will reveal the evolutionary purpose of the horn, a rare feature found on only two other types of South American
3. Harris’s Three-Spot Moth Larvae Use Their Old Heads As ᴡᴇᴀᴘᴏɴs
To put it nicely, the Harris’s three-spot moth larva is the most revolting creature ever conceived, and it survives only by being too ᴅɪsɢᴜsᴛɪɴɢ to touch. It’s also pretty good at hide-and-seek, spending its winters hibernating like a bear. Technically, it’s transforming during this time, but it doesn’t just dangle off a branch like other stupid pupae. Instead, it bores its way into a stump and seals off its new domain with a silky seal, embedded with woody fragments to perfectly conceal its presence. Even though it looks like hairy, slithering fecal matter, its most unsettling habit is a predilection to hoarding useless old things—like, for example, its own heads. Those brownish bits adhering to the caterpillar’s wiry hairs are discarded heads from the creature’s past moltings. In true heavy metal fashion, the decapitated mementos are used as ᴡᴇᴀᴘᴏɴs—in close-quarters as bludgeons or from range as manual projectiles. Alternatively, it can choose to simply confuse opponents by shaking.
4. C. Elegans Has A Magnetic Antenna In Its Face
It’s obvious that some creatures detect earthly magnetic fields, but until now, scientists have been unable to identify the physical structures responsible for these mutant superpowers. In June 2015, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin finally stumbled upon the underlying nuts and bolts while tinkering with a little worm named C. elegans. Within the tiny nematode’s head, they found an even tinier, TV-like antenna—a double whammy of learning, as it was assumed that soil-dwelling worms were magnetically ʙʟɪɴᴅ. Researchers confirmed their supposition by placing worms in a gel-filled tube. Local worms always moved downward, as if scavenging food from soil. Worms from other corners of the globe, however, moved in directions which would have corresponded to “down” in their country of origin, as dictated by Earth’s magnetic field. The scientists also found that they were able to boss worms around by altering magnetic fields within the lab. They also ascertained that a certain faulty gene renders worms senseless to this invisible realm. Future research will hopefully determine if other magnetically inclined animals have the same antenna-like structures embedded in their brains as well.
5. Limpets Use Their Tongues Like A Jackhammer
Limpets are small, sturdy aquatic snails. They lack a face in the conventional sense but compensate with jaggedly terrifying maws on their undersides. Like more commonly known animals, the limpet has the gastropod equivalent of a tongue—a radula. Like the pointy papillae that turn cat tongues into sandpaper, a limpet’s radula is forested with spiky projections for scraping algae. The appendage also doubles as jackhammer. It’s used to rasp cozy alcoves into rocky surfaces for the limpet to inhabit. It helps that limpet teeth are nearly inᴅᴇsᴛʀᴜᴄᴛible and have recently been labeled as the strongest biological material known to man. When researchers atomically deconstructed the adamantium-like teeth in the lab, they found them studded with goethite nanofibers, giving them a consistency tougher than Kevlar. This unmatched tensile strength allows the limpet to constantly chew rocks without any ᴅᴀᴍᴀɢᴇ to its teeth. Also, the raspy spikes retain their integrity regardless of size, although materials typically become weaker as they become larger.
6. ᴠᴇɴᴏᴍous Frogs
Some frogs and toads are famously ᴛᴏxɪᴄ but in the laziest ways—they only secrete their foul ᴛᴏxɪns and then wait for hungry or stupid animals to inᴛᴏxɪᴄate themselves by contact. To be considered ᴠᴇɴᴏᴍous rather than poisonous, an animal must take a more active approach in delivering its ᴛᴏxɪn. The hateful Greening’s frog does just that, head butting its enemies into submission like a drunk soccer hooligan. This odd and novel form of enᴠᴇɴᴏᴍation is possible thanks to numerous ᴠᴇɴᴏᴍ-dispensing barbs on the frog’s sᴋᴜʟʟ. The Brunos’ casque-head frog also possesses this ability, making these feisty specimens the only two ᴠᴇɴᴏᴍous frogs ever documented. This recent and ᴘᴀɪɴful revelation came by chance when a researcher in Brazil’s scrubby Caatinga ecoregion scooped up a cute little frog and spent the next five hours trying to extinguish the invisible flames engulfing his arm. Carlos Jared got lucky—he was “stung” by a Greening’s frog, whose ᴠᴇɴᴏᴍ is only more potent than a pit viper. A single gram of Brunos’ casque-headed frog juice, on the other hand, could lay down 300 men.
7. Monkeys Use Faces Like Name Tags
Monkeys boast the most colorful faces in the mammal kingdom, and they’re not just for show. Like humans, they discern friend or foe by facial features, which have evolved to be especially distinctive under the selective pressures of keeping a tight-knit community. Researchers liken the phenomenon to a primitive, simian Facebook. The increasingly intricate markings are used as biological name tags to differentiate family members from other closely related individuals. To learn more, primatologists compiled a Tinder-like database of monkey head shots. Interestingly, they noticed that an Old World monkey’s social status is reliably predicted by its face. Those living in larger communities boasted more intricate decorations, while small-town monkeys featured plainer faces. Then, in a total surprise, it was revealed that New World monkeys follow an opposite trend, sporting more flamboyant faces in smaller communities. Also, specimens living in densely vegetated equatorial regions tend to have darker faces, presumably for better camouflage.