Humans are by far the most intelligent species. The human brain, the complicated source of all this intelligence, is the one organ responsible for giving us a superior position over the rest of the organisms ever found on this planet.
Only weighing around 1.34 kg in men and 1.2 in women, the human brain could create civilization, send men to the Moon and probes to Pluto, develop a telescope that can go back in time and invent doughnuts.
But the human brain is not the only majestic organ there is in nature. Apart from us, the primates of primates, almost every animal has at least one organ or body part that is exceptionally distinct and complicated.
Well, in this article and a few others to come, we are going to look into some of these spectacular organs that many animals are famous for, yet, it is just us who do not know how majestic they are.
So let’s hop into it.
1. The giraffe’s elongated neck
The giraffe is the tallest animal that has ever lived on Earth. Yes, it is even taller than the tallest dinosaur scientists know of, at least when compared with its specimen. The giraffe is that tall because it has long, skinny, muscular legs and an even longer neck, the longest an animal has ever had, and that is what we are concerned about here.
The giraffe’s neck is between 2.1 and 3 metres long, with males possibly having a little longer neck than females. An adult male giraffe called Forest kept captive at Australia Zoo, has the longest-ever recorded neck with a length of 5.8 metres!
Giraffes’ necks are pretty flexible. They can move them within a 150° range of motion. When relaxed, necks are usually titled by 30° or 40°. Still, they can also be erected at 90°, especially when giraffes are trying to reach a higher tree branch. Besides, giraffes can bend their necks to graze or twist them, most probably to show off.
Like us, giraffes have a spinal cord consisting of a number of vertebrae. It extends from the end of the skull, along the neck and down to the lower back. The neck alone has seven vertebrae called the cervical vertebrae—cervical means related to the neck.
Surprisingly, we, too, have seven vertebrae in our necks. But while ours measure between 2.18 cm and 2.23 cm per vertebra in women and men respectively, the giraffe’s cervical vertebrae are much longer than that. Although not all seven vertebrae have the same length, each measures at least 28 cm.
These measurements are found in adult giraffes. Baby giraffes, called calves, are born with shorter, still long necks. As they grow to maturity, their bodies get bigger, and their necks get longer until they reach the typical average lengths we mentioned above.
Why so long?
Scientists had to trace back the giraffes’ evolution over millions of years to understand why they have such long necks.
Giraffes belong to a taxonomic family called Giraffidae, which is further divided into two genera, Giraffe and Okapi. Descending from the same ancestor, both animals experienced neck lengthening. But while the okapi’s neck stopped at 58 cm, the giraffe’s neck continued to grow to three metres!
For some reason, which we will explore in a bit, the giraffe’s cervical vertebrae started lengthening, those closer to the skull first followed by the rest. Eventually, they settled at 28 cm each and a total length of 2.1 m to 3 m.
This evolution has ever been as confusing as they are mysterious to scientists. Why was it exclusive to giraffes? Why did it happen in the first place? And which purpose are long necks satisfying?
Well, no one knows for sure. Darwin, the great English naturalist, suggested that giraffes underwent this neck lengthening because they competed with other browsing animals. They wanted to reach taller trees and get access to leaves on upper branches without having to worry about food shortage at lower heights.
However, this does not explain why giraffes, in particular, had their necks elongated. Why did other animals not undergo a similar evolution, especially since many of them were browsers too?
Well, this is when scientists hit a brick wall and decide that the most legitimate answer is: this is just how nature works!
Another theory suggested that necks grew that long to help males when fighting with one another, a behaviour known as necking. The winner typically becomes more dominant and gets access to more females. According to this theory, neck lengthening should have been limited to males, not females.
That is why Darwin’s theory seems more valid.
2. The cat’s sensitive whiskers
Domesticated cats are among, or maybe on top of, the most beloved pets. They are cute, small, clean, funny, and playful. Their meows are as tender to cat people as Beethoven’s sonatas to classic music lovers.
All small, medium-sized and large cats belong to a family called Felidae. So yes, domestic cats and lions are cousins. This large family contains four subfamilies. Two have already gone extinct, and the others, Felinae and Pantherinae, are extant.
The Felinae subfamily contains 11 genera, all containing 34 species. One of these genera is Felis which is further classified into six small and medium-sized cat species. One of them is called Felis catus. This is the only cat species that was domesticated and is now found almost all over the world with more than 60 different breeds.
All domestic cat breeds are famous for having very sharp hearing enabled by 32 muscles in every ear. These can detect even the slightest sounds which human ears cannot catch. Cats can also see very well in the dark. At the same time, their daylight vision is supported by another yet majestic organ, whiskers.
Oh my whisker
Whiskers as organs are very sensitive thick hairs that give cats a lot of information about their surroundings and help them elevate their senses and make the best out of them. They are found on the upper lips, which make them look like moustaches and above the eyes, so they resemble eyebrows. Cats also have whiskers on the chin, near the ears and on their forelegs.
The number of whiskers, patterns, and distribution in these many areas mainly depend on the cat breed. Regarding the cheek whiskers, almost all cats have around 12 whiskers arranged in four rows on each side of the face. They can be more than that, but both cheeks must have the same number for their sum to always stay an even number. This somewhat helps cats get as much accurate information as possible.
The length of such organ also changes according to the cat’s size and fluffiness. So a big cat with fluffy, dense hair is more likely to have many long whiskers. The Maine Coon, the largest and fluffiest cat breed, has whiskers measuring up to 15 cm!
On the other hand, the smallest cat breed, the Singapura, has very short whiskers. The Canadian Sphynx cat known for having no fur at all does not have any whiskers.
When it comes to colour, almost all cats have white whiskers, even though they have different coat colours and patterns. This has something to do with whiskers having no melanin at all. Oh, you do not know what that is? Well, melanin is the pigment that makes the hair, skin, and iris black. Since most cats have none of that in their whiskers, they, the whiskers, always come out white.
However, this does not apply to all cats. The Bombay cat has black whiskers. In fact, the entire cat is black thanks to having almost nothing but melanin in its cells.
Why so sensitive?
We can fairly say that cats see with their whiskers. That is why they are a super vital organ for them. Whiskers help cats learn about and navigate through their surroundings. They help them hunt and defend themselves.
So how does this happen?
Well, whiskers are thick hairs made of keratin and deeply rooted in the skin. They are directly connected to the cat’s nervous system. Each of the face whiskers, for instance, is connected to a muscle. This means the cat can actually move every whisker independently from the others. In addition, large muscles surround the entire bundle of whiskers on each cheek, allowing the cat to move them as a whole.
The tips of these whiskers are very sensitive. Once they touch an object, they instantly send messages to the brain to help the cat get information about it. This tiny little touch tells the cat how far and big the object is and in which direction it is moving.
Besides, if the cat is trying to pass through an opening, its whiskers extend horizontally to measure the width of the opening and see if the cat can go through it or not. As cats are nearsighted, their super organ helps them detect nearby objects. Whiskers extend forward to measure how far the objects are and touch them to examine what they are.
Furthermore, when outdoors, cats use their highly sensitive whiskers to detect how strong the wind blows. If it is too strong, whiskers tell the brain to blink to protect the eyes from damage.
Whiskers also change their movement in proportion to what the cat is feeling at a given moment. If they are droopy, then the cat is relaxed and happy. But if the cat is nervous, scared or stressed out, its whiskers bend backwards. During hunts when the cat is excited, the whiskers usually go forward. Yet, if the whiskers are going forward while the cat itself is going back, that means it is aggressive.
Just like how cats shed their fur in certain seasons, it is normal for them to lose their whiskers sometimes as they always grow them back. But if cats are infected or have an allergy, they may lose their whiskers permanently, which highly affects the cats’ functions.
3. The rabbit’s long ears
According to scientists, at least two vital needs are met by the rabbit’s longest organ, the ears. The first is to help the prey animal detect the presence of predators and start its leg engines to run away. They even keep the rabbit balanced while running. The second need is to regulate the rabbit’s body temperature.
OK. Detecting predators is easy to understand. But how do the ears regulate body temperature?
Well, ears make animals release excess heat. The bigger the ears are, the more heat animals lose. Since rabbits are warm-blooded animals, they use their ears to adjust their internal temperature according to the outer temperature. When rabbits feel hot, they release heat, and therefore their ears feel warm. If the rabbit is cold, the ears will feel cold too.
That is why not all rabbits have the same ear length, which comes at the expense of accurately detecting predators. Rabbits that live in warm places typically have longer ears to help them cool down. This makes their hearing sharp. However, rabbits living in cooler places usually have shorter ears yet their hearing is not as sharp.
How so strong?
The rabbit’s ear consists of three different parts, the outer, the middle, and the inner ears. All three of them work together in harmony to achieve the many functions that help the rabbit survive.
The outer ear is what we see on the outside of the body. As mentioned above, the longer it is, the more heat is released from the body. This typically starts to happen when the body temperature is over 38.9°C. This is the threshold above which the rabbit is in danger.
The outer ear captures the sound and passes it down to the eardrum, a membrane connected to the very end of the outer ear.
The eardrum, in turn, moves the sound to the middle ear. This is usually filled with air to help reduce the sound before it moves to the inner ear, so the latter is not damaged.
Unlike the middle ear, the inner ear is filled with fluid. It receives the sound from the middle ear and starts to process it, and then sends nerve signals to the brain with information about the sounds.
The inner ear is also responsible for balancing and positioning the rabbit. It uses the processed information to tell the rabbit which position its head should take and whether it should be held upright or turned down.
Here we get to the end of the first part of our articles discussing 12 majestic organs found in 12 extraordinary animals.
In this article, we discussed the fantastic giraffe’s neck, which has only seven vertebrae. Yet, it is their added length that makes the neck so long. Then, we talked about the very sensitive cat’s whiskers, which assist with the cat’s vision and help it perform an array of vital functions.
After that, we moved to the rabbit’s long ears. Besides providing a wide range of sounds and sharpening the rabbit’s hearing ability, they also regulate the body temperature.
We hope you liked this article as much as we enjoyed writing it for you. Make sure you check out the other parts of this article to know more amazing things about how miraculous so many animals are.
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