Here are 10 incredible ways animals survive treacherous environments

cuttlefish

A cuttlefish blending in to its surroundings in the waters surrounding Thailand.Gerard Soury/Getty

  • The natural world, filled with competition for resources and hostile climates, can be tough on animals.

  • In order to survive, animals have had to adapt in surprising ways.

  • Okapi, for example, have scent-glands on their feet to mark their territory.

Wood frogs freeze their bodies.

wood frog

A wood frog in the Medvednica mountain forest.Nikola Solic

To survive the winter, up to 60 percent of Alaskan wood frogs’ bodies freeze solid. They also stop breathing and their heart stops beating. This allows them to survive temperatures as low as -80 degrees Fahrenheit. And in the spring, they thaw out.

To achieve this semi-frozen state, the frogs build up high concentrations of glucose (up to 10 times the normal amount) in their organs and tissues. The sugar solutes act as “cryoprotectants,” preventing their cells from shrinking or dying.

Sources: National Park Service, The Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology

Kangaroo rats survive without ever drinking water.

kangaroo rat

A kangaroo rat listening for predators at night in the desert.Andy Teucher/Getty

Kangaroo rats have adapted to survive in the desert without ever taking a sip of water. Instead, they get all the moisture they need from the seeds they eat. These critters also have incredible hearing and can jump up to nine feet, which helps them avoid predators.

Source: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Antarctic fish have “antifreeze” proteins in their blood.

fish underwater

Some fish can prevent their blood from freezing.David Loh/Reuters

Five families of notothenioid fish make their own “antifreeze” proteins to survive in the frigid Southern Ocean encircling Antarctica. The proteins bind to ice crystals in their blood, preventing the fish from freezing. This extraordinary adaptation helps explain why these fish make up 90% of the fish biomass of the region.

Source: National Science Foundation

African bullfrogs create mucus “homes” to survive the dry season.

African bullfrog

African bullfrogs are the second largest frog in the world.Samuel Maglione/Flickr

The African bullfrog lives in the savanna of Africa, where it gets very hot and dry. When a frog is out of the water, mucus on its skin helps it breathe by dissolving oxygen from the air. In order to prevent its skin from drying out in the hot African climate, the bullfrog buries itself six to eight inches underground. It then creates a mucus membrane, which hardens into a cocoon. The frog can stay in this cocoon for up to seven years while it waits for rain. When rain does arrive, the moisture softens the mucus sac, waking the frog and signaling the start of the rainy season — the time when the frog breeds and when it is the most active.

Source: The Amphibian.co.uk, Mental Floss

Cuttlefish blend into their surroundings.

cuttlefish

A cuttlefish blending into its surroundings in the Celebes Sea.David Loh/Reuters

Cuttlefish have the amazing ability to change their color and texture to blend into their surroundings. They can detect how much light is being absorbed into the environment and then mimic it with their own pigments. They have 3 skin layers (yellow, red, and brown), which can be stretched in different ways to make unique colors and patterns. Their skin also has papillae, which let cuttlefish appear rigid, like coral. Together, these features allow cuttlefish to escape predators, as well as to sneak up on unsuspecting prey.

Source: UWLax

Tubeworms turn toxic water into food.

Weird_Ocean_19

NOAA

Scientists have long thought that life could not exist at hydrothermal vents deep in the ocean. But in 1977, they found giant tubeworms living along the Galapagos Rift, 8,000 feet below the ocean’s surface. These tubeworms are surrounded by total darkness in their habitat and they live in water filled with toxic gas and acid.

They have no stomach, gut, or eyes. Instead, they are “bags of bacteria” with heart-like structures and reproductive organs. The bacteria inside the worms use the toxic hydrogen sulfide in the water, which would kill most other animals, as an energy source to produce carbohydrates.

Source: National Geographic

Okapi have scent-glands on their feet.

okapi

The okapi is one of the oldest mammals on earth.Jens Meyer/AP

Okapi are strange animals that look like a combination of a giraffe and a zebra. They live in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it’s very hot and where predators such as leopards are always lurking. To survive, okapi use three key adaptations. First, they have scent-glands on their feet to mark their territory. Second, they have infrasonic calls, which allows them to communicate with their calves without predators hearing their calls. Finally, they have 14-to-18-inch tongues, which they can use to wash their eyes and ears.

Source: Africa Geographic

Pufferfish can inflate to more than double their original size.

06_banned pufferfish

NOAA Ocean Exploration & Research

Pufferfish have the ability to inflate their stomachs with water if they feel threatened, sometimes displaying spikes in an effort to deter potential predators. Other times, they puff up just to stretch out their muscles. They can swell up to more than twice their original size.

Additionally, pufferfish produce a neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin that when consumed, can cause paralysis and seizures. In some cases, consuming a pufferfish can lead to death.

Source: Seattle Aquarium

Elephants use their giant ears to cool down.

African elephants

A tusked African elephant in Kruger National park, South Africa.Getty

Elephant ears act like a built-in cooling mechanism. They can cool down by flapping their giant ears. By going through the motion of flapping their ears, elephants are creating a breeze and promoting blood flow through the vessels in the ear, which helps them cool down.

Sometimes elephants splash around in a body of water and use their trunks to spray water droplets and streams behind their ears to boost the cooling effect.

Sources: San Diego Zoo and Kariega Game Reserve

The platypus uses its bill to detect electric fields produced by prey

Platypus

REUTERS/Mick Tsikas

A platypus bill is able to detect subtle electric fields produced by its prey while hunting and scavenging for its food. The platypus dives to search for food along the bottom of a body of water like a river or a stream. It seeks out bottom-dwelling creatures like crustaceans, worms, and insect larvae.

Using push-rod mechanoreceptors, the platypus bill is able to pick up on changes in pressure, motion, and electrical signals left behind by small prey. The platypus sweeps its head from side to side to activate the mechanoreceptors, a chemical structure that allows for the detection of various stimuli like touch, pressure, vibration, and sound.

Source: The American Museum of National History

Editor’s note: This story was first published on July 15, 2016.

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