Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Some new news about archeo-platypuses brings to mind an old piece of writing by me. NOTE: It got Andy into college without giving me any credit.
I'll repost in its entirety, mostly because I don't think its old home will be around much longer:
The Platypus Principle:
A Kickass College Essay
Sometimes a theory is not as watertight as predicted. There can be an anomaly that was not in the wildest of science's predictions. The theory of natural selection is one of these theories with such anomalies. Take, for example, the wilds of the continent of Australia. There lives a beast, furry and birdlike. By all accounts, it should be dead, but it is alive. How can this be?
The duck-billed platypus, Ornithorhynchus anatinus, is a creature unlike any other. It has the fur and milk glands of a mammal, but also a beak like a bird. Running down the list further, the animal lays eggs like birds and reptiles, and it spends much of its time waterborne, a trait mostly thought of as a fish's or an amphibian's.
This bizarre chimera of animal kingdoms, with all these defects, survived the initial cuts of Darwinism. It has continued to find loopholes where it should have gone extinct. There are very few feasible ways such a confusing creature could have made it to this point in history. The platypus's appearance must have played a part in its unthinkable survival.
Looking back, the platypus's ancestors, also very oddly structured, survived from Mesozoic times. Back in those days, these creatures were pretty normal compared to many of the crazy things that had evolved (though the reptiles did find all the mammals to be quite weird). These archeo-platypuses then survived a meteorite crash and hibernated through an Ice Age. By the end of the Ice Age, the archeo-platypuses had evolved into the platypuses more common today. But also by this time, they were very weird in comparison to everything around them.
Most of what could have been the platypus's natural enemies were altogether too confused by its outward appearance. Dingoes and other carnivores could not decide whether to eat it or just to laugh at it. The first human explorers were also very confused by the mammal. When they captured one, did they need to skin it, gut it, or pluck it? It was only when science picked up that the platypus faced any real danger, coming from the incessantly curious naturalists trapping the animal and tossing it into formaldehyde. But, otherwise, the platypus escaped its enemies time and time again.
The confusion created by the platypus's looks still allows the survival of many platypuses. The platypus's looks cause many creatures to take pity on it. Other marsupials allow the platypus shelter in their pouches. Mother dingoes and other wolves have taken care of young platypuses, much like their own young. The platypus has time and time again accidentally survived, based on looks alone.
The platypus has been able to live for the past eons relatively safely. Creatures normally have not survived unless they are the strongest, the fastest, or the smartest. The platypus is not strong, fast, or smart. It is actually a pretty mediocre animal, except for its looks. This begs the question: Perhaps the sheer weirdness of the creature makes it strong? Natural selection possibly did work then, just in a very unconventional way. By sheer weirdness, confusing everything around it, the platypus has survived, creating what may now be referred to as the "Platypus Principle." This also applies to the platypus's cousin, the echidna, the Venus flytrap, and the French poodle. These creatures have survived on weirdness of their looks alone, invoking the Platypus Principle.
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