Mountainfilm: WTF Evolution?

Mountainfilm: WTF Evolution?

 While in New York, we visited the Museum of Natural History not just for the dinosaur room, but this time specifically for a show entitled “Life at the Limits: Extreme Creatures,” about gaining an understanding about how and why weird and astonishing species evolve. For example the tardigrade, a creature whose cuteness depends on the quality of your scanning electron microscope, is about as appealing as an organism without eyes can be. According to one site: 
“It has something on what seems to be its front end that resembles a nozzle for a sophisticated vacuum cleaner. Unlike a vacuum cleaner, the tardigrade is close to immortal. It can survive for years as a dried-out ball, with no water, and is apparently immune to radiation. It actually doesn’t look like an animal at all. In some electron micrographs, it seems to be an inflated spacesuit.”
Creatures like the tardigrade populate Mara Grunbaum’s oversized sandbox, which she documents in her new book WTF Evolution?
Remember this one from one of Robin Williams’ best-known stand-up routines? “If you look at a platypus, you think that God might get stoned: ‘OK, let’s take a beaver and put on a duck’s bill. It’s a mammal, but it lays eggs. Hey, Darwin, kiss my ass!'”
Mara talks about the platypus and even stranger animals.
Mara is a guest of Telluride Mountainfilm and penned the following fun blog.
From WTF, Evolution?! - Workman Publishing South American Tapir Tapirus terrestris Photo © Thomas Vinke/age footstock

From WTF, Evolution?! – Workman Publishing South American Tapir Tapirus terrestris
Photo © Thomas Vinke/age footstock

When Mountainfilm director David Holbrooke first invited me to present at the festival this year, I have to admit I was a little surprised. I’m not a documentarian or visual artist. I’m not an environmental activist or mountaineer. I haven’t scaled any sheer rock faces, won any international awards or explored any active volcanoes (unless growing up in the general vicinity of Mount Rainier counts).

So what did I do that merited the great honor of being included in this year’s lineup? I made fun of weird animals on the Internet.

Let’s back up. I’m a science writer and editor, which means that my day job is to learn about science and craft stories about it that will appeal to the general public — and hopefully teach them a thing or two as well. I’ve covered everything from geology to environmental science to engineering, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the biological sciences and all of the strange and glorious discoveries they bring.

To see what I mean by “strange,” just take a look at the animal kingdom. The babirusa, for instance, a wild pig native to Indonesia, has overgrown teeth that erupt through its snout and curve backward around toward its own face. The tusks are, as far as biologists can tell, almost completely useless. The gum-leaf skeletonizer caterpillar, which has to shed its hard outer skeleton in order to grow, keeps a stack of its shed head cases piled on top of itself like a hat. No one knows why. A rodent called the antechinus mates itself to death. Marabou storks look like imaginary monsters. Wombats poop cubes. The list goes on…

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