Is it possible for a cute, cuddly, normal land mammal to smell underwater? Forty students were polled, thirty-nine answered no.
“Sure it is, right before it drowns,” one student told Flux.
Ninety-eight percent: that is a pretty cohesive answer, but once again University of Oregon Students, you are incorrect. To the one student who answered yes, I commend you.
Enter the first star in a lineup of five creatures that have evolved unbelievable abilities, the Star Nosed Mole.
#1 Underwater Smelling: Star Nosed Mole (Condylura cristata)
It’s certainly not the most beautiful rodent, but when it comes to strange abilities, the Star Nosed Mole has one for the charts: underwater smelling.
The tiny mole uses it’s strange twenty-two-tenticled sniffer to blow and re-inhale air bubbles underwater. Five to ten bubbles per second (about the same speed a rat sniffs a suspicious odor) are aimed at potential prey items when the mole is submerged.
Each fleshy tentacle of the nose is covered in 25,000 sensory receptors called Eimer’s organs that the mole uses to find food in its marshy habitat.
“When these bubbles come into contact with an object, it is almost inevitable that odorant molecules will mix with the air and be drawn into the nose when the bubble is inhaled,” Kenneth Catania, assistant professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University, said.
#2 Mountain Dive: Venezuelan Pebble Toad (Oreophrynella nigra)
Measuring only a few centimeters long, this teeny toad has picked quite a dangerous place to call home—the flat, table-like Tepui Mountains, which rise thousands of feet above the Northern edge of the Amazon rainforest.
Luckily the Pebble Toad has no problem with falling—in fact, it relies on it. Only able to hop a maximum distance of one inch, the toad has developed an alternate mode of escape.
When threatened, it curls in its limbs, tenses its muscles, and hurdles itself down the nearest cliff face, bouncing down the rocks like a rubber ball.
Because it is so small, and weighs so little, the forces of impact are too light to cause it any harm. Watch high-speed video of this amazing escape artist here!
#3 Bloody Eyed Bandit: Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum)
The Texas Horned Lizard, introduced to the western United States through the pet trade, is native to the southeastern coastal plains, a desert environment made mostly of sand dunes.
Like most dune-goers, ants and small insects make up the majority of the reptile’s diet. Foraging for ants (about 200 per day) means spending long periods of time in the open. In order to protect itself, the lizard has developed quite a few defense mechanisms, but one is far stranger than the rest.
Should a predator not be deterred by its camouflaged coloring, playing dead, or spiked back (which can be used to pierce the throats of birds and small predators), the Horned Lizard will squirt an unexpected foul tasting blood excretion from the sinuses behind its eyes.
Taking this extreme action doesn’t hurt the lizard, but it consumes up to a quarter of the body’s blood so it is only deployed when absolutely necessary.
#4 Now You See Me, Now You Boom: Harlequin Mantis Shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus)
The Harlequin (or Peacock) Mantis Shrimp is undoubtedly one of the most beautifully colored animals in the ocean, but don’t let that fool you. This crustacean packs a mean punch—the fastest in the world, in fact.
Reaching speeds over fifty mph and delivering approximately 160 pounds of instantaneous force with its spring loaded clubs, the mantis shrimp can easily crack the shells of clams and other mollusks—but has also been known to TKO aquarium glass without causing any damage to itself.
Studies show that the club structure is made up of three layers of differing hardness, stiffness, and orientation, which allow small cracks to form in the club but prevent them from growing or spreading. The outermost layer is made of highly crystallized form of the mineral hydroxyapatite, a key component of human bone and teeth.
Not only does the Mantis Shrimp boast some of the most effective arsenal in the world, but it also has the most complex vision system currently known to science, able to detect circular polarized light, something no other creature can do.
#5 Take a Deep Breath: Spanish Ribbed Newt (Pleurodeles waltl)
What do Xmen’s “Wolverine” and this small nondescript newt have in common? Skin piercing spikes, of course—but for the Spanish Ribbed Newt, using them is a last resort.
Newts’ skin is moist and quite slippery, so squirming away to escape predation is quite effective. But should the Spanish Ribbed Newt find itself cornered, it moves on to phase two.
When attacked or threatened the Newt will rotate its ribs forward, increasing their angle to the spine while holding the rest of its body still. When the force becomes too great, the sharp spear-like ribs actually pierce through the newt’s skin. As the ribs come through, a toxin, which is bothersome to humans but potent enough to kill small rodents, is excreted through pores in the skin.
The newt not only appears to be immune to its own poison, which seeps into the body tissue when the ribs are exposed, but also displays extraordinary skin regeneration.
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