Consider being born as a platypus. (actually, ‘hatched’ as a platypus) And as you come to awareness, it’s oh no, I am a platypus… There are lots of unfortunate animals that need love too, and here is a small collection for your consideration.
Say hello to the Aye-Aye, a type of lemur, primates only found on the isle of Madagascar. It taps on tree-trunks looking for hidden insect grubs. When it finds one, it chews through the bark and uses its unusually long middle finger to pull out the bug. Aye-ayes are an endangered because of the current burning of their habitat for farmland.
In the Philippines, this species of Visayan Wart-Hogs are named for the wart-like growths on their faces. The hogs are critically endangered, their population having dropped by 80% in just 60 years.
(Could the Visayans have something to do with this?)
Then we have the Purple Pig-Nosed Frog. This frog mercifully spends most of the year underground, surfacing for two weeks during monsoon to breed in ponds created by torrential rain. Because of its reclusive lifestyle, it was only discovered in 2003. It is endangered because it lives only in a small area, and its forests are being cut back to make way for farms.
Despite its ridiculous appearance, the Naked Mole Rat is a champion of the animal kingdom. It is one of the only two “eusocial” mammals, which live in groups where only the queen breeds and most of the rest are sterile workers, like honeybees. Workers dig extensive networks of tunnels looking for underground tubers to feed the group. And, naked mole rats do not get cancer, so researchers are anxious to find out why.
Humphead Wrasse live around the Great Coral Reefs north of Australia. They are large predatory fish, and the males can reach 6 feet long. Their diet is difficult and even toxic animals, including sea hares and crown-of-thorns starfish. Wrasse live in small harems with several females and a single male. When the male dies, the largest female will actually morph into a male and take over the harem. In as little as five days, her ovaries will convert to testes, and this new male will be fully able to mate with females and create viable offspring! This system is called ‘sequential hermaphroditism‘. (as opposed to simultaneous hermaphroditism) It’s quite efficient because there are specific sizes and life stages at which males and females may be most successful. If females are very successful when they are young, or if the largest males are very successful, how about switching teams at the optimal time? Sequential hermaphrodites exploit each sex during varying points in their development, for the maximum reproductive success. Wrasse are an endangered species, mainly from overfishing.
The Giant Titicaca Lake Frog is only found in Lake Titicaca in South America. They sport great folds of skin, to increase their surface area and help absorb more oxygen from the water. Because of their baggy skin, they are sometimes called ‘Titicaca scrotum frogs’. These frogs are critically endangered because they are delicious, their habitat is being lost, and invasive species are taking over the area left.
I know what you’re thinking here; looks like an old boy/girlfriend. We don’t know why the Proboscis Monkeys‘ noses are so big, but males have bigger ones than females, so they might serve as a marker of attractiveness…
They also have a complicated digestive system which helps them digest leaves and fruit, and they may be the only primate which chews its cud. They are endangered as a result of habitat destruction.
Hagfish are about the most ancient vertebrates. Unlike most fish, they have no jaws. Their dinner is the corpses of marine animals which drift to the bottom of the ocean, burrowing inside the bodies and eating them from the inside, a necessary janitorial function. The Pacific Hagfish is especially good at this, as it is the only vertebrate animal that can absorb food directly through its skin, and like all hagfish it can also produce copious amounts of slime to choke prey and deter predators.
And last but not least, we have the Desert Rain Frog, which hails from Namibia and South Africa. Listed as Vulnerable, its underside has a transparent area of skin through which its internal organs can be seen. (Embarrassing) It emerges from its sand burrow at night and wanders around looking for piles of dung, where it is presumed to feed on moths, beetles and insect larvae. Keep in mind, this is the male!
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Most know that in mammals gender of offspring is determined by the male gamete (spermatazoa), whether it passes along an X and Y chromosome for male, or two X chromosomes for female. But it’s interesting to know that with birds (direct descendants of dinosaurs), gender of offspring is determined by the female gamete (egg), and whether it passes along two Z chromosomes for male, or a Z and W chromosome for female!
But for our platypus friend it gets complicated. The platypus actually has five pairs of sex chromosomes (as opposed to mammals which have a single pair), that forms a chain during cell division. An XXXXXXXXXX chromosomal arrangement results in a female offspring, while an XYXYXYXYXY arrangement results in a male. Researchers were surprised to find that while one end of the platypus chromosome chain has a number of genes in common with (other) mammals, the other end of the chain has the DMRT 1 gene (similar to the sex determining system of birds). It’s possible that the platypus may actually preserve the evolutionary transition between the ZZ/ZW system of birds and the XX/XY system of mammals.
Now, fruit flies are simpler. They have only one chromosome that determines gender, and sex of the offspring is decided by the ratio of sex chromosomes to non-sex chromosomes (autosomes). Flies with one sex chromosome and two autosomes are males, and those with two sex chromosomes and two autosomes are female. But irreverent scientists have bred fruit flies with two X’s and three autosomes, creating an ambiguous ratio between the two… so what happens then is each individual cell makes its own decision on whether to become male or female, and the resulting fly is a mosaic of both types of tissue!
With mammals, where gender is determined by a single chromosome, the unpaired sex chromosome isn’t able to undergo recombination with a matching chromosome, which renders the accumulation of harmful mutations more likely. And because of these mutations, selection is continuously moving genes to other chromosomes, ‘degrading’ the sex chromosome that’s unpaired. Mammals’ Y chromosome has become so small (~60 million base pairs, compared with the X chromosome’s 155 million), that the single Y chromosome will eventually become so small and unstable that we expect it to combine with some other chromosome, and an entirely new sex-determining chromosome is created. Rodents, fruit flies, and many other animals have lost a sex chromosome this way, and humans are expected to lose our Y chromosome in about 10 million years.
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