5 Animals Whose Parts Are in Odd Places

#EcoList of Things We Love

1. That Ghost Shark’s a Dickhead — Literally

Ghost shark courtesy NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

We don’t mean it in a bad way. But there’s a species of ghost shark — cartilaginous relatives of rays and sharks that are also known as chimeras and ratfish — that was observed off California and Hawaii for the first time in 2016 and appears to have a retractable penis on its head. The pointy-nosed blue ratfish, or Hydrolagus (cf) trolli, generally lives at depths exceeding 2,000 feet and was only first described in 2002; when caught on video in December 2016, it decided to “come up and bounce its nose off the lens and swim around and come back,” said scientist Dave Ebert. Why its penis is located on its noggin, and why this bold feature might prove to be a selling point on Tinder, thus far remains a mystery.

2. Third Eye for the Scaly Guy

Tuatara by Sy/Flickr.

Lizard-like reptiles that live only in New Zealand and are the sole remaining representatives of their evolutionary branch, tuataras are fascinating critters. Growing up to two and half feet long, these green-brown creepers look a little like horny toads and a little like dinosaurs — and have several extraordinary characteristics. Most notable among these is a third eye on the top of tuataras’ heads. Though many lizards and some frogs and fish also have a third, tiny “parietal” eye, the tuatara’s is better developed, with a small lens and retina, and is particularly visible when the animals are newly hatched. Does the third eye mean that tuataras have attained enlightenment? Jury’s still out.

3. Fresh Air? Down There.

Nudibranch by John Turnbull/Flickr.

One kind of nudibranch (those marine mollusks that come in thousands of gloriously colorful species) breathes through a frilly, floral-looking “plume” around its anus. The dorids’ branchial plumes, as well as their spectacularly lovely, albeit sluglike bodies, are so pretty they’re almost fantastic — so the rectal-region breathing apparatus looks quite a bit better on their butts than it probably would on ours.

4. Mother Goose, Mother HORROR

Goose by Ken Slade/Flickr.

Have you checked out the open beaks of screaming geese? Don’t, probably. If you still want to sleep at night. These large and powerful birds, not content with cornering the market on children’s nursery rhymes, may be working behind the scenes on plans for world conquest. Having tried the warm-and-fuzzy route to self-promotion via the highly successful Mother Goose branding campaign, but still not secure in their dominance over the human race, they may be planning to use their long, serrated tongues that appear to be lined with rows of needle-sharp teeth to terrify us into submission.*

*Just kidding. All geese are good geese.

5. These Legs Were Made for Hearin’

Yellow-orange-faced katydid by Dr. Daniel Robert and Dr. Fernando Montealegre-Z.

Deep in the Colombian rainforest, far from the prying eyes of outsiders, lives an insect with human ears. Well, almost. The insect, Copiphora gorgonensis, is the yellow-orange-faced katydid (someone was indecisive at the naming ceremony, I guess). Its ear structures are remarkably similar to people’s eardrums and cochleae — highly sophisticated hearing organs that may help it avoid predators like bats, according to researchers. One difference, though, is the ears’ location: tucked into the crook of the green bugs’ long front legs. Also, these katydids never wear pants. Coincidence? I think not.

This article is part of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Flotsam series of lists. Send us your ideas for Flotsam at flotsam@biologicaldiversity.org.