About a month ago, I sent in that coming week’s column to Jon Mays, editor-in-chief of The San Mateo Daily Journal. “Hummingbirds are pretty amazing,” was Jon’s reply. He’s right, of course, and what makes them amazing is why I’d written two columns about these tiny winged jewels, one about their biology, one about roles they play in indigenous religions throughout the Americas. I responded, “Truth is, pick any animal and spend 15 minutes doing some on-line research and you’ll find that they, too, are amazing. One of the great joys of my career is the opportunity to continue to learn.” Over the month, now and then, I decided to test my thesis by picking an animal, the least apparently amazing species I could imagine, and give it those 15 minutes. I’m not always right, but this time I was….
Regardless of teeny legs and plump bodies, mice can leap “tall buildings in a single bound,” jumping 10 inches or more which is equivalent to a person bounding over a three-story building. The U.S. deployed 200,000 pigeons during the second World War credited with saving thousands of soldiers, and in one recent study these humble birds proved 99% accurate in distinguishing images of malignant from benign tumors. Guppies are not only a good at making babies (50 young every 30 days) but if no guy guppies are available a female can change her sex and become a fertile male. “Earthworm” describes not one but a bunch of animals, including an African species which grows to 22 feet long; our local can exceed 14 inches. Earthworms cut in half die (the myth that each half becomes a new whole is hooey, an example of amazing human foolishness) although an injured tail can regrow.
Rats are worshipped in a Hindu temple in northern India, and about 25,000 live there in peace. Snails can sleep for three years. Slugs have four noses. The much maligned and very common crow is so smart that they recognize and remember individual people, with keen interest in those they believe have done them wrong. Every species has evolved into what we see today due to opportunities and pressures placed on their ancestors, leading to a world of uniquely amazing inhabitants: no exceptions!