living organism that feeds on organic matter other than a human being. That very general definition encompasses a startling variety of creatures and vast differences in lifestyle and behavior. As humans, we generally categorize creatures in terms of life expectancy. We know how long our pets can be expected to live, as well as how long our parents might be with us. But we don’t consider that there might be creatures that are immortal.
Well, there just might…
Masters of survival
There is a species of jellyfish, the turritopsis nutricula jellyfish, that is capable of reverting from its adult state to an immature polyp stage, effectively beginning its life development cycle anew. In theory, this means it can live forever. Although, no one knows for certain if that is the case. Because they have proven able to do this even when sucked in by a ship’s machinery and are then spit out again as a polyp along the voyage far from its origin, that is why these jellyfish can now be found in many oceans. And their population is increasing1.
The Antarctic sponge, which grows very slowly in the cold water does not live forever, but it can live a very long time. The oldest known specimens are 1,550 years old.
Tortoises are believed to be the longest living vertebrates on earth, sometimes living to 250 years.
The turritopsis jellyfish is not the only animal with surprising resiliency. A snail that loses an eye can simply grow another.
It is common knowledge that a caterpillar metamorphosizes into a butterfly when it spins its silky cocoon around itself, but exactly how does this change take place? The caterpillar not only eats a lot of leaves before hibernating, but it digests itself, turning into a soup. The soup then develops into a template of its future self before it completely reformulates into a butterfly2.
Snakes kill over 40,000 people a year. The chopped off head of a snake can still bite and spit out a large amount of venom. On the subject of snakes, it might be helpful to know that five different kinds of snakes can take off and fly up to 330 feet or 100 meters in the air. The faeries and leprechauns apparently do not put up with any of the aforementioned shenanigans. There are no snakes in Ireland6.
In comparison to snakes who kill more than 40,000 people a year, sharks, for all the bad press they receive, actually kill fewer than ten people a year. But humans kill about 100 million sharks a year7.
Oysters on the other hand, are easy going. They just make pearls. They are known to even change gender, if that makes mating go more smoothly.
Bald eagles are dramatic lovers. They mate during a downward descent from the heavens. The pair soars high in the sky, begins a dive and interlocks talons, performing a series of passionate somersaults in their freefall. They mate for life, producing one or two offspring a year3.
The courtship of a male Adelie penguin mirrors that of young man’s. He proposes to the female he is courting by presenting her with a pretty pebble. If she accepts the small rock, they bond and mate for life. Although it’s hard to tell, penguins do have knees. But no one has yet documented them proposing on their knees.
Less formal than their tuxedoed bros, the frogs in the Sadhaya Mountains have an entirely different jam for attracting females. The mountain range, which stretches 1,000 miles across India is home to twenty-four species of dancing frogs. The males dance to attract females. The gender discrepancy is 1:100, so they have to show some really good moves to win the coveted prize. Competition is fierce; they frequently have to use their dancing legs to smack away nearby males contending for their girl.
Cows can sleep standing up, but they can only dream lying down.
Dolphins can stay active for fifteen days or longer by sleeping with only half of their brain at a time.
Ants don’t snore. They don’t have lungs. And besides that, they don’t sleep. Ever. They are just always busy. There are one million busy ants for every human.
Fun fourth-grade facts (Oh, gross!)
Lobsters pee out of their faces; horned lizards can shoot blood out of their eyes; Chinese soft-shelled turtles can expel urea out of their mouths; and some Australian river turtles can breathe through their butts4.
On the other hand, a fact often learned around fourth grade that daddy long legs are the most venomous creatures on earth, but ineffective because their fangs are too small to bite, isn’t true! They don’t have venom at all. They have been around a long time though. A fossil found in Scotland dates the species back 400 million years, 200 million years before dinosaurs appeared.
Specialists in their domain
Cowbirds are lazy. They don’t raise their own chicks, but instead a cowbird will watch carefully, waiting for another songbird to leave its nest and then she lays an egg in it, content to let another bird do the work of raising her young.
Not all birds are lazy. Some just like to sing. Some male songbirds sing more than 2,000 times a day.
Many species of owls have special feathers so that they can in fact fly silently.
Fragile as they appear, Monarch butterflies travel over 2500 miles each winter to escape the cold. Their wings move in a figure 8 motion. And…it is a flutter of butterflies that flutters bye to Canada come cold weather, preferring the warm, bright sun of Mexico5.