From The One Who Made This Velveteen Rabbit Real
Updated: Dec 1, 2021
Animals! Ever since I was in 5th Grade, I was drawn towards animals like a child to candy. I always loved pets but what drew me to wildlife (barring insects xD) in general, is kind of unclear. I assume it must be from the day I experimented watching some National Geographic/ Discovery. It started with snakes and other reptilians, then the big cats, then marine species and so on. Another incentive was my mum's two words of encouragement to me watching something more meaningful on TV than the cartoons I watched all day xD. But anyway, learning about their habitats, behavioral patterns, physical attributes and their uses, etc. was like learning a new superpower from a superhero movie; except, it's real!
Take for example, Pit vipers (a subspecies of the viper/viperidae family of snakes) and Pythons have a set of small pinhole-sized pits on either side of their faces right above their mouth. These indentations search for heat signatures or body temperatures i.e. they capture an infrared image of their surroundings in real time. Sound like a superpower yet? But wait, I haven't yet explained how it helps the being! Since snakes are nocturnal and do most of their hunting during the night, it is difficult for them to spot their tiny targets in the darkness. The pits help them see a real time infrared picture of their prey which makes it easier for them to know exactly where and when to strike! Isn't that such a perfect ability for the job? This is just one of many adaptations nature has given animals to thrive in their ecosystems.
You must be wondering by now, what is the point of all this? Where am I going with this article? Well, it is to show how "under the radar" animals go with their peculiar adaptations; how our eyes never see, unless forced to, the intricacies of Mother Nature's offerings; how we always see them as beings that do have their own niche but are ultimately inferior to us just because they aren't as dominant; how we are too blinded by the very feature of ours that makes us the most dominant species on this planet.
I want to shed some light on all the defining "superpowers" in animals around the planet that we can admire, learn from and maybe apply in our own lives.
Polar Bears are the largest existing land carnivores clocking in at 600-700 kg for a full grown healthy male. They are the apex predators of their food chain and formidable forces to reckon with. But their size is not what I want to talk about. Their speciality lies in the thermostat of their body, their skin and fur. Since they live in the subzero temperatures of the arctic they need to have extremely good thermoregulation mechanisms and that they do.
Their outermost layer of temperature control is their fur, which is extremely dense and white in colour. The white helps them not radiate any heat outwards. Their skin underneath is actually surprisingly completely black. The fur is so thick that we cannot even see it underneath. This brings us to the second layer, the skin. The black skin allows the bear to absorb any heat from the arctic sun that comes through its fur. The third layer is the extremely thick layer of fat under its skin that keeps it well insulated from the cold outside.
If a human standing in the Arctic is seen through an infrared camera, his body lights up like fireworks on Diwali, showing all shades of red, yellow and orange. It shows we are losing body heat from everywhere. Contrary to this, if a polar bear is shot with an infrared camera, all you see is purple and blue, even black. The only red spot is his nose since there isn't any fur there. This shows that they are losing minimal body heat. In fact, a human only worries about getting too cold in the arctic, but the system works so well that a polar bear only has to worry about keeping itself cool enough, otherwise it will overheat! Isn't that crazy?
King Cobras are the longest venomous snake species in the world with the second largest venom yield of any snake. They are found in the forests of south and southeast asia. They are called King Cobras for a combination of reasons. They are very similar looking to the Cobras but even bigger. They feed on other snake species, mainly cobras, which also makes them cannibals in a way.
But the most defining feature that truly makes them the king of all snakes is that they are immune to all other snake venom. No other snake can win a battle with the king because of this. And it's so beautiful how evolution has made them exactly so, because they feed on cobras which also happen to be highly venomous. So if they weren't immune, their hunts would not be very effective...
The Blue whale is the largest animal to have ever existed on the planet. They can weigh up to 200 Tonnes and be 29.9 metres in length. The size of this gentle giant makes for so much biological brilliance that it truly is a masterpiece of creation made out of sheer scientific perfection.
First off, nothing close to its size could ever live on land. The force of gravity on that body mass would be way too immense for any skeleton to hold up by itself. It is only possible with the help of the buoyancy of water. On top of that it is a carnivore. It feeds on Krill. They are small shrimp-like creatures found in swarms. If it were on land, there would be nothing big enough or abundant enough to suffice the calories required to sustain this size. That is why the largest creatures on land are all herbivores(elephants, giraffes, hippos, rhinos etc.) since only greenery is abundant enough to sustain them.
Another thing that nature had to keep in mind is the return on investment (ROI) of energy expelled. Given that the blue whale is a carnivore, it needs to hunt. Hunting requires you to burn calories. The thing to note here is, moving 150+ tonnes of pure muscle and bones requires unimaginable amounts of calories, not like a land mammal that hunts. So each time the whale hunts to get food it needs to make sure it burns less and gets enough to suffice the calories burned + whatever it needs through the day. Given all this, it cannot afford failed attempts.
So what does nature do? It gives the whale's teeth an improvisation called "Baleen". This basically means their teeth are elongated and thinned out to the point where they look like a giant comb! The whale can now swim into a pool of krill and all it has to do, is right before it hits it, the whale needs to open its humongous mouth wide and engulf as much krill as possible. This means it also takes in an insane amount of water. So now the baleen help it to filter out the krill from the water. The gap between them is thick enough to let all the water out but thin enough to keep the krill in! So now it gets copious amounts of krill without having to pick and choose. It has a built-in natural filter. Isn't that so well thought out! It's an animal so huge yet so precise in its evolutionary traits. This is the kind of input output balance humans dream of in each process.
Another question that comes is that why are they so big? What made them evolve to get bigger and bigger. Whales from millions of years ago were not even close to as big as the blue whale. There isn't a clear answer but it's believed to be a combination of three reasons. After the last ice age, they lost most of their predators, meaning nobody obstructs their growth or numbers. Secondly, their food i.e. krill, was available in enormous amounts allowing them to increase appetites exponentially. But by far the most convincing explanation is them being migratory.
Whales are migratory creatures meaning they go towards the poles in summer and come towards the equator during the winter, on either hemisphere. This is in search of food, right water temperatures and mating seasons. Their migrations are thousands of kilometres both ways every year. When you have to travel larger distances, larger sized creatures have it much easier in terms of sustainability and energy expenditure. A smaller body would have to do way more energy management throughout the journey and would tire more often because of its lower energy storage capacity as compared to something bigger in size. It's like how you prefer a boat in a lake ride but prefer a ship when travelling across the ocean. You cannot have enough resources for the ocean journey on the boat.
What we do learn from this is when your livelihood or resources of living move away from you, you will have to step out of your comfort zone. Humans face this predicament all the time, so do whales. They have to travel across the oceans and find ways to do it; we have to leave our homes, our cities, to find our own ways to sustain ourselves. It is a way of life, there is no running.( pun intended ;) )
Recently, I came across this video in my Youtube recommendations, from a guy named Dean Schneider. It was about how he had made himself a member of a lion pride in the wild. Yes, you heard me, he straight up lives with lions.
Dean sleeps beside them, pets them, plays with them, he even cleans the bloodied females after a hunt! Now how did he manage to befriend one of the most feared predators in all of wildlife, or wait, befriend a whole pride of them!? Dean had worked with these lions since they were cubs so they know him well. That helps, but, that's not enough to become a part of a full fledged lion pride. What is it? Respect. Lion prides work on the concept of respect. All they expect from the members is that they respect each others boundaries, whether it be personal space, eating habits or playtime. If a lion does not want to be pet they will snarl, growl, give a stare. They will warn you once, twice, then they will inflict harm. Since they can't speak, all these emotions are conveyed through body language.
So Dean himself shows his disapproval by saying no sternly and the lions move away. In one scene he even hits a lioness on the nose with his knuckles when she was putting her teeth on him! What is crazier? It works. She moves away. The same way, he cleans the bloodied females with his hands as other lions of the pride do so with their tongues as a sign of care, so to be a member he has to do it too.
And here we are, believing that only humans have these advanced values of esteem and respect in our society, when really it is an integral part of a lot of animal groups too.
I hope with all these examples I have given y'all some new knowledge, or something to learn from, or just a new way to look at and observe wildlife. A way in which they get the respect they deserve, for they are in no way inferior to us, just different. And there is just so much more beauty in their difference than what the average human eyes can see.