LXV: Why, Evolution, Why?

It’s that time of year again — school bells ringing, coffee steaming, and coeds questioning all their life choices. The start of the school year always leads to a lack of creativity for me, since I can’t get my mind off the ever-fascinating subject of economics. It is my major, so I should probably learn something about it.

As the first few days of class drag on, I realized I have never shared with the world one my absolute favorite conversation topics: animals who got screwed by evolution. My friends say I need better conversation topics.

So without further ado, I present my top 5 favorite critters who are completely out of evolutionary luck.

1. The Colossal Squid: So named because people accidentally named a smaller squid the “giant squid” and realized their mistake too late, the colossal squid is really quite doomed when it comes to overeating. For most animals, the goal is to eat as much as you can whenever you can, because you don’t know when your next meal will be. For colossal squid, this is not really a possibility. The colossal squid has a tiny donut-shaped brain that weighs roughly 22 grams, compared to its average 1250 kilogram total. That’s like a human having a brain the size of a dime. But it’s not just brain size — it’s brain shape. The donut-shaped brain wraps around the squid’s esophagus. Since the esophagus is used to move food to the stomach, anything the squid eats will essentially brush up against its brain. Eat something too big, and a colossal squid can get brain damage, or even die. They compensate by being passive hunters and tearing their food into small pieces using their sharp beaks, but all in all it’s something evolution should have sorted out a while ago.

2. The Kakapoo: This wacky bird is native to New Zealand, and weighing in at a whopping 8 pounds, you would think they could do some serious damage, especially considering that they sport massive claws and large, heavy beaks. Theoretically they could, if they had anything to do damage to. But the kakapoo has no natural predators because New Zealand is populated also entirely by goofy marsupials, so these jumbo-sized birds spend most (read: all) of their time mating wildly. Sounds like an evolutionary jackpot, right? Wrong. The kakapoo is oddly friendly and also entirely flightless, so when humans arrived with all sorts of predatory companion animals, the kakapoos were totally clueless. They waddled their fat flightless butts right up to their new-found predators and were promptly slaughtered into near extinction because even my 90-year-old arthritis-ridden grandma can move faster than they can.

3. The Kiwi: Get it together, New Zealand. Your birds are fat, green, and bad at birding. Like its pal the kakapoo, the kiwi is a chubby green fluff-ball that can’t fly to save its life, and if your mom has ever guilt-tripped you about how difficult your birth was, a kiwi will give her a run for her money. Kiwi birds lay eggs that weigh roughly 20% of their body weight. That’s like a human woman giving birth to a 3- or 4-year-old child. Prehistoric kiwis were the size of cassowaries, and although the adult bird gradually shrank, the egg didn’t. A kiwi egg is so massive relative to the mother’s body that the mother is totally unable to eat for several days before laying it. After giving birth, the kiwi mother just can’t even and walks out, leaving the incubation of her massive egg to the father while she attempts to recuperate. Probably not the best way to create a new generation.

4. The Honeybee: Most of us have been stung by a bee at some point in our lives. If you’re lucky, you’re not allergic and you get to keep on living, but the rest of the time, it’s the honeybee who gets the short end of the stick. Honeybees have a venomous sting, although it won’t do much to an animal the size of a human. When they deploy their stinger, it remains in the victim with the venom sac attached to allow it to continue pumping venom. The only problem is that the venom sac is attached to the rest of the honeybee’s organs. This means that when it stings,  the honeybee leaves behind its stinger and rips out the rest of its internal organs in the process, promptly dying in a blaze of kamikaze glory, never to pass on its genes.

5. The Mayfly: There’s no clever intro conceit for this one. A mayfly just doesn’t have a mouth, ok? It’s stupid. They have a mouth as larvae, and when they metamorphize into adults the mouth disappears and their digestive organs fill up with air. After that it’s just a race to mate as much as they can before they starve to death. Literally every mayfly that doesn’t get eaten by something else will starve to death quite soon. It’s so terrible; not that I like mayflies or want more of them, but it’s just so dumb. I seriously can’t believe evolution let that one slide. That is all.

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