A combination of adaptation and natural selection has produced some beautiful and elegant creatures. It also causes some animal body parts to be completely strange. Have sponges lost their brains? What’s so strange about the mantis shrimp’s seemingly telescopic eyes? Why do sheephead fish teeth look so weird? What made researchers think of origami when confronted with the mystery of salamander wings?
Yes, arachnid legs function “kind of like… tongue, nose and fingertips.” Of all the places where tentacles could grow, why would nature choose snakeheads? Skilled combatants claim that almost anything can be used as a weapon, but unlike aquatic salamanders, they may even draw a line across their ribs. Shoe stork is nothing if not an innovative hunter.
When mating season comes, male venomous platypuses don’t have to worry about being cuckolded for good reason. The proboscis monkey’s nose may strike one as plain, but the females of its species seem to appreciate it, and another of its appendages is — well, for now, let’s assume you’ve been warned. .
The wings of the earwig are marvels of natural development. The arthropod lives on the ground. A glance at the insect, of which there are over 2,000 species, would not suggest that they have wings that, together, are twice the size of their bodies.
Intricately folded beneath the much smaller “leathery forewings,” these rear wings, which, as a National Geographic video explains, are “remarkably compact,” are not visible until the insect raises the rear of its body. Then, by flapping the exposed rear wings, the earwig causes them to unfold, which requires such a vigorous and sustained effort that the insect needs to anchor itself on a leaf or twig until the wings completely unfold.
Remarkably, “the open wings lock into place and remain stable,” the video indicates, doing so “without the use of muscle power.” Instead, the insect’s “elastic, spring-like wing joint allows this stability.” Researchers hope to unlock the secret of the earwig’s wings; doing so, they believe will have many important technological applications, “including folded tents, maps, and foldable electronics.” Unfortunately, an attempt to comprehend the unfolding of the wings by “using . . . origami-like folding” procedures failed, the article relates, because the wings “do not fold . . . at a single crease,” as paper does.
The earwig is known for one other rather bizarre reason. As the Oxford English Dictionary points out, the insect’s name derives from the mistaken “belief that the earwig has a habit of crawling into the human ear.” The name of its scientific order, dermaptera, is also rather imaginative. It means “skin wing.”