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In his 1859 work, On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin introduced his theory of gradual evolution by natural selection. When an organism is born with an advantageous mutation (such as a larger brain or sharper claws) it stands a better chance of surviving to pass on those characteristics. With millions of organisms simultaneously undergoing this process and interacting with one another, nature becomes an infinitely complicated web. Over time, one organism may develop a characteristic specifically suited to utilize another organism. These are called symbiotic relationships. If youve seen Finding Nemo, you already have an idea of the mutually beneficial relationship clownfish share with sea anemones. The painful, stinging cells of the sea anemone do not affect the clownfish, and in return, the feces of the fish sustain the anemone. The hairy bodies of bees are specifically adapted to gather pollen from flowers, which use nectar and bright colors to attract pollinators. These relationships develop and change with each passing generation. A successful relationship is not necessarily a permanent one; the interdependence of nature makes it both fragile and strong. A break in one relationship often results in the formation of something new. This gradual process leads to unique adaptations that often seem quite bizarre out of context. The following weird creatures did not come to be by chance, they are just snapshots in the ongoing process of change and adaptation.

1. Axolotl

With declining natural populations, the Axolotl may soon be little more than an interesting evolutionary detour. Native to only two lakes in Mexico, Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco, the Axoltl has all of its evolutionary chips in one basket. With one of those lakes drained and the other recently infested with alien predators like the Asian carp and African tilapia… it would appear their time is limited. While many amphibians have left the water by developing lungs over time, the axolotl remains aquatic and uses gills to breathe. Unlike most salamanders, the axolotl does not undergo the process of metamorphosis and lives its entire life as what appears to be a sexually mature larva.

However, metamorphosis can be induced, and there have been instances when a thyroid hormone injection has turned an axolotl into a new species of salamander. These newly created salamanders were terrestrial… and even developed lungs! Because they can be influenced in this way, a large number of axolotls exist in captivity for scientists to use as model organism. One of the axolotls most interesting characteristics is their ability to regenerate lost appendages over a few months. There have even been instances of axolotls regenerating parts of their brain. You can see why scientists are interested! Not only does this creature have cover boy looks, he just may contain the solution to human regeneration.

axolotl

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