Very Top Five... Clever things mammals have evolved

Monday, 12 October 2009
Nature is great at inventing things because it has the time to tinker. Millions of years of evolution have gone into improving the best and scrapping the worst bits of creatures in an endless search for perfection. (Alternatively, God did it. And he’s jolly clever, by all accounts, so proponents of evolutionary theory and creationism are in agreement, at least on this; Creatures are very well suited for purpose.)

So what makes a great product of evolution? Firstly, usefulness is paramount. Often a good idea will be repeated in many creatures, while others are so unique to one animal that it automatically gains an upper hand. Also, when you get right down to it, it’s very important that the mammal feels cool about itself. For example, the streamlined cheetah’s body is cool, whereas the two-in-one anus/genitalia of the duck billed platypus (while undoubtedly an efficient invention) is definitely not. (Are platypussies even mammals? Who can say? Well, biologists, obviously. And anyone who can be bothered looking it up.)

With these criteria in mind; the best of Nature’s mammalian inventions:

5. Ears, Common Pipistrelle Bat

Ears could be considered quite anatomically simple when compared to the other sense organs but are just as functional and provide a wealth of sensory information, making them all the more elegant in their design. Hearing allows an animal to process a wealth of information about its environment which is vital for survival.

Insectivorous Bats like the Pipistrelle get the most out of their ears. These are so sensitive that they act as sonar sensor, meaning the bat can squeak and listen to the echo to build up a 3D picture of its environment - and consequently zero in on insects in total darkness. And the insects are totally all like bzzzzzz OMGWTFWASTHATLOL!ARgh…

4. Eyesight, Tarsiers.

Mammalian eyesight is pretty good all round, in both small and large animals, and in predators and prey species alike. Tigers need good eyesight to catch llamas or whatever, and llamas need good eyesight to catch those sneaky tigers red handed. Or preferably before they get red handed, of course.

As for Tarsiers, think of a hand-sized ET with fur, and you’re close enough. Tarsiers have huge eyes, which are actually bigger than their brains. (If that doesn’t sound all that big, imagine what human eyes would look like if they were same size as our brains. Exactly.)

And they need them, because they live in the jungle and only come out at night. This necessitates something extraordinary to put them beyond the competition; else they’re going to get face-slammed by the razor claws of screaming jungly death.

3. Circulation system, blue whale

The circulation system of the vertebrates is a superb system of intra-bodily transport, and is a marvel of engineering, complete with valves, pressurised pipelines and the great central pumping station of the heart. Beats the man-made pipe system of any city you’d care to mention.

This complicated system is most impressive in the largest vertebrate, the blue whale, complete with a heart the size of a car and arteries big enough for a human to slide through. Not that you’d want to, as you’d drown in blood (if the pressure didn’t kill you first. Which it would.)

2. Nose, Grizzly Bear.

Like animals which rely on their ears, animals which rely on their noses obtain a massive wealth of information about their surroundings which is vital to their survival. A good nose is an advanced chemical identification laboratory, and these are still far, far more acute than any chemical or physical man-made equivalents. So there, science.

Bears noses have about seven times as many receptors as bloodhounds do, which in turn have one hundred million times more than us puny humans.

This is one of the many reasons that you shouldn’t get into a smell-off with a bear, another being that bears often fail to understand the rules, and if they feel pressured or stressed, they may try to eat your face.

1. Brain, Human

Oh yes, we win! Hell’s yeah!
The brain in any animal is the literal (hah!) nerve centre, controlling movement, biological process, instinct and thought, and whether spread throughout the body (as in insects) or in a central position in the head (as in vertebrates), the brain is totally, irreplaceably vital to the creature’s operation.

In a few tens of thousands of years (An instant compared to the planet’s long history and short even to the ordinary rate of evolution) the human race has reached a pre-eminent position of dominance over all other animals. We even ride some of them around; that’s how much we pwn them.

The human brain has even enabled man to understand evolution, and thus gives us the ability to appreciate our own mechanism of creation. It also provides some humans with alternative hypotheses to evolution, which can only further demonstrate the boundless creativity of our dear grey masses, regardless of which theory is the correct one.

In first place, I give you: the human brain. Does knowing that give you a warm glow? If so, that was delivered courtesy of your brain. How pleasantly fitting.


Skye said...

Wow, I've just read the 3 most recent posts you've put up! Very interesting!

Thanks for stopping by my place and commenting, it's always nice to see new people come around for a visit :) (besides, that is a great way for me to find new blogs to visit in turn!)

Nanodance said...

Another winner! I have a little something for you over at Callithump Thunderblog.

Ewan said...

Is the brain really the best? Being able to reflect has caused us quite a lot of trouble mating/surviving wise. For instance I'm using my time commenting here instead of eating/sleeping/sexing unlike the grizzly bear with the bitching nose.