Meet the newest weird creatures

Thanks to the good people at Scientific American, one of my favorite news sources (as well as the oldest continuously operating magazine in the US), we’ve got some more strange Earth-based life forms to marvel over.

Last month, Scientific American released a slide show featuring ten newly-discovered creatures. These range from a frog that keeps its eggs inside the body instead of dropping them into a mucky pond, to a tiny jellyfish-like sea creature off the Australian coast that resembles a see-through mushroom. But these three oddballs below are my favorites of the bunch.

Anzu Wylei, aka the Chicken from Hell

chicken from hell

Unfortunately this one is NOT a living creature, but a newly discovered fossil. It took me a while to get past this disappointment, but I’m good now. Anyway, Anzu is a feathery birdlike dinosaur that roamed North America 66 million years ago. Why is it called the Chicken from Hell? Not for the obvious reasons — its fangs and claws and general viciousness. Nope. It’s because it was found near the Hell Creek fossil site in South Dakota. That part is a letdown. But on the brighter side, Anzu is derived from the name of a feathered demon in Babylonian mythology, so there’s a glimmer of dark hope for this crazy looking beast.

Phyganistria tamdaoensis, aka the Walking Stick

walking stick

I hate bugs. Even ladybugs — I pretend to like them but that’s a lie. Bugs are ugly and evil. Luckily they’re all really small. Or so I thought. Now comes the Walking Stick. As the image shows, this bug is as big as a human forearm. Can you imagine a dozen or so coming after you? I can. So how was this big-ass bug never discovered? Turns out it’s a master of disguise. Thank God this tree branch creature lives in Vietnam, and not in New Jersey.

Phyllodesmium acanthorhinum, aka the Photogenic Sea Slug

sea slug

I like this freaky looking thing for two reasons. 1) it lives in the ocean, and I love the ocean. 2) it looks cool. (Call me shallow, that’s okay.) Anyway, this pretty little gastropod sports brilliant shades of red, blue and gold. But it isn’t just a pretty face. This Photogenic Sea Slug gets along well with its neighbors. Algae that lives in its stomach helps it with photosynthesis, and in turn the slug cleans debris from nearby coral and feeds them to the algae. Win-win.

The chimera in the mirror

Mashed-up mutants aren’t only the stuff of legend and fiction.

Imagine a creature that’s part lion, part eagle and part snake, a creature that breathes fire, a bad-ass scourge. One that looks like this:

 

Chimera_by_josh_buchanan

It’s called a Chimera, and it exists only in ancient Greek mythology. It’s not the only hybrid creature in literature and pop culture.

There’s also the Griffin, also Greek, a lion/eagle mix.

Griffin

These creatures, imaginary as they are, are genetic abnormalities. They are not supposed to exist in nature, mythological metaphors to serve some higher literary purpose. In Left Among the Mutants I wrote about mutating animals (and humans) as a way to convey change, loss and grief.

But it turns out that, to some degree, many of us are freaks of nature. We may all be a little monstrous.

The New York Times published an article that suggests that many humans harbor cells with completely different genetic codes. Theoretically each one of our cells should have the same genetic codes. Not so.

For example:

–A British woman donated blood, and the cells were a mix of Type O and Type A. People are supposed to be only one blood type. Scientists concluded she absorbed cells from her twin brother

–Another woman gave birth to children who were not genetically hers. Doctors say that she originated from 2 separate genomes; some of the other genome gave rise to the eggs of 2 of her 3 children

–In one study, more than half of women had cells with the Y chromosome in their breast tissue. Women aren’t supposed to carry the Y chromosome at all – the Y is men only

Note that this is called chimerism, courtesy of that lion/eagle/snake creature.

How does all this happen? Scientists are just beginning to explore this question. What we do know-at this very early stage-is that we may not be who we think we are. We may be others as well.

Aside from the scientific implications, what could this mean for literature? Movies? TV?

Come on, writers, there’s a whole mountain of possibilities waiting to be mined.