I think, like many biologists, I could call myself an admirer of all the many varied products of evolution that roam this planet, especially the weird ones.
One of these little known and neglected animals is the Texas Blind Salamander or Olm. As its name suggests it is blind, but more then simply not having functional eyes, they have lost their eyes all together. They live deep in flooded underground caves where there is no need for any sort of eye because there is no light to speak of.
But aside from their blindness, these salamanders have several other peculiar traits. Due to their lack of eyes, they have developed the ability to sense the small charges of electricity given off by animals around them. This ability allows them to detect prey when it comes near them, which may not happen for weeks on end in the stark environment of their dark, watery habitats. These salamanders, as you can see from the picture above, have fanned, branch like external gills that allow them to extract the little oxygen from the cave water around them.
One of the aspects of the Olm that I find really fascinating is that it is a perfect example of how evolution doesn’t keep useless baggage. The first amphibian that wandered down there probably had eyes, however in its subterranean environment, there was no light for the salamander to see, thus over many, many generations they lost their eyes. This kind of evolutionary loss can be seen in the skeletal structures of whales, which show the hint of a pelvis and leg bones. Their ancestral species had back limbs, but due to their watery habitat a strong tail for propulsion was far more important that legs and so an entire set of limbs was lost.
I find this, like all aspects of evolution, amazing and it makes me wonder why humans have not followed evolutions example of letting go of useless systems and structures. Today’s society has massive waste problems and we as individuals tend to collect a lot of useless junk over our lives that simply adds to world waste. If we, as a society, only used and bought what we needed, really needed, in our lives there would be a lot more durable products, much more biodegradable materials, and of course much, much less waste.
The amazing and complex gills of these creatures are what really interest me. The moment I saw them I thought they could have some very interesting Biomimicry applications.
- Their structure remained me of branches and they could be used as template for filter designs to filter gasses or pollutants out of water systems.
- Their shape could inspire air filtration systems even, or perhaps unique wind turbines.
Those I ideas are a little far fetched, but to be honest most of the ideas nature gives me are. The only way I can find out if they’re practice is to research how they could be developed and executed.