March 26, 2014 | David F. Coppedge

Bizarre Animal Discoveries

Strange things have been coming to light about animals we knew and animals we didn’t; bizarre animals, and normal animals with bizarre traits.

Ocean dandelion:  At The Conversation, Rebecca Helm was intrigued by the “ocean dandelion,” a creature science knew little about.  Was it a sea anemone?  A marine flower?  It turns out this colorful creature is a whole colony of siphonophores, related to the Portuguese Man-o’ War.  Though the “petals” can live independently, they live in a communal arrangement that remains little understood.  Helm’s article includes pretty pictures of the collective thing.

New eye type:  The glasshead barreleye, a fish that lives 800 to 1,000 meters down, has an upward-pointing eye that helps locate predators, PhysOrg reported.  This cylindrical eye has a “mirror-like second retina which can detect bioluminescent flashes created by deep-sea denizens to the sides and below,” the article explains. How does it work? “The light coming from below is focused onto a second retina by a curved mirror composed of many layers of small reflective plates made of guanine crystals, giving the fish a much bigger field of vision.” This is one of two known cases of reflector eyes in vertebrates (some mollusks and crustaceans have them), but the two cases are in different genera. “That indicates that two related but different genera took different paths to arrive at a similar solution – the reflective optics and a second retina to supplement the limited vision of the conventional refractive cylindrical eye.”

Sea wonders:  In a review of a new book, Adrian Barnett took a “wild ride through the ocean’s strangest creatures” for New Scientist.  From the pages of The Extreme Life of the Sea by Stephen and Anthony Palumbi, Barnett mentions the Pompeii worm, whose hind end endures 80° C next to a hydrothermal vent; jellyfish that solved the problem of ageing; and Sailfish that corral their prey with their fins.  The book explores some of the incredible diversity in the various habitats from shallow lagoons to realms under polar ice, from surface waters to abyssal canyons.  Most abundant animal on Earth is probably “Prochlorococcus, a tiny cyanobacteria [sic] found in the 1980s.”

Cuckoo theories:  Cuckoos have been thought of as parasites, using other birds to raise their eggs.  Science Magazine found some mutual good in the arrangement, however.  In an article titled “From Parasitism to Mutualism: Unexpected Interactions Between a Cuckoo and Its Host,” researchers from Spain describe how they found a secretion from cuckoo chicks helps crows avoid predation, even if they hatch fewer baby crows from invaded nests.

Aesop’s crow:  It’s not just a fable any more.  A video clip on New Scientist shows a New Caledonian crow reasoning that if it drops objects into a water column, a treat floating just out of reach will rise to become accessible.  Experimenters figure the bird has the reasoning ability of a 5 to 7 year old child.

Amazing FactsBird lept in:  “How does the Arctic tern (a sea bird) fly more than 80,000 miles in its roundtrip North Pole-to-South Pole migration?” an article on Science Daily begins (see Arctic tern story in Flight: The Genius of Birds).  “How does the Emperor penguin incubate eggs for months during the Antarctic winter without eating? How does the Rufous hummingbird, which weighs less than a nickel, migrate from British Columbia to Mexico?”  Those and other feats were poorly understood partly because leptin—a protein that regulates body fat storage—evaded detection in birds.  Now it has been detected by researchers at the University of Akron, the article crowed.

Smart goats:  Goats may look dumb, but they can remember solutions to a puzzle for 10 months or more, an article on PhysOrg reveals.  They’re “far more clever than previously thought,” the article says, though some farmers may interject that they already knew that.  Describing experiments at Queen Mary University of London, the article says that they can watch other goats solve a puzzle, but prefer to live on their own.  They appear to have good long-term memory.

Male bear wanderings:  Studies of the Y chromosomes of male bears suggests they travel far and wide, another article on PhysOrg says.  Researchers “found evidence of extensive male gene flow that has led to the distribution of some brown bear Y chromosomes across incredibly large geographic distances, with two brown bears as far away as Norway and the Alaskan ABC islands carrying very similar Y chromosomes.”  That’s greater Y-chromosome gene flow than occurred when Genghis Khan spread his empire across Asia.

Mammoth troublesScience Magazine examined the merits and demerits of a new theory for extinction of the mammoths: inbreeding.  Some mammoth bones from the North Sea area show defects that might be related to inbreeding that might have sent the lumbering giants into a genetic tailspin.  It’s a “fascinating idea,” but some other scientists are not convinced.  Still, “When we think about the mammoth, we picture the 3-meter-high, 6-ton beast roaming northern Europe in imposing herds, fending off human hunters with their dangerous tusks,” the article acknowledged.

These articles not only point out amazing facts worth knowing, but illustrate the difference between operational science and origin science that Ken Ham emphasized in the recent creation debate (2/05/14).  Researchers can study fish eyes, bear chromosomes and bird proteins in the present, and learn much.  They can’t however, observe how these things came into existence.  Most of these articles described scientists doing good observational science.  Few of the articles mentioned evolution; it would have been a waste of time anyway, since the facts fit the creation model better than the evolution model.  Creationists love true science that focuses on what we can observe, test, and repeat.





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