What would be the best adaptation to have? The worst? The lamest?

So, if you could have any one adaptation possessed by a non-human species (extant or extinct), what would it be and why?

So many choices! Flight would be awesome. Prehensile tail (great for sterile technique, where it always seems like you need x+1 hands where x is how many you have) Ability to change color to blend into your background. Cheetah speed. Photosynthesis. Echolocation (this would let you answer a famous question posed by philosopher Thomas Nagel). Ability to reproduce clones of yourself. Gecko toe pads. But if forced to choose, I’d go for the ability to go dormant and then revive many years later. I’d be my own time machine! Well, either that, or the ability to flare my neck ribs when threatened or challenged. 😉

Conversely, there are plenty of adaptations I wouldn’t want to have. I have no desire for the ability to dig like a mole. Having to lek in order to attract a mate seems like it would be really awkward and embarrassing. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t want to be able to photosynthesize, since I like to eat food. But as a new(ish) dad, I think semelparity would be the worst–you wouldn’t get to watch your kids grow up!

And what would be the lamest adaptation to have? I mean, I don’t want to photosynthesize or dig like a mole, but I can appreciate that those are remarkable adaptations. But are there any adaptations you wouldn’t want because they’d be totally lame? I can think of at least one: the ability to play dead like a hognose snake. When challenged, you fall on your back, stick your tongue out, and writhe? What are you hoping–that your enemies will die from laughter? That they’ll take mercy on you because you’re so pathetic? Lame, lame, lame, lame, lame!

So, what would be the best adaptation to have? The worst? The lamest?

7 thoughts on “What would be the best adaptation to have? The worst? The lamest?

  1. Hi Jeremy, great minds think alike 🙂

    A few months ago I wrote a blog on persistent seed banks that began, “If you could choose a Super Power what would you choose? Incredible speed, rubber arms, hulking strength or maybe X-ray vision? If I had the chance, I’d want to produce seeds. And not just any seeds. I’d want seeds that persist in the soil for ages. As every gardener knows, that’s the way to world domination.” http://ianluntresearch.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/super-seeds/

    Great to know that a humble field ecologist and a super-blogging evolutionary ecologist have the same yearnings for immortality! Thanks for a great blog site, Ian

  2. Umbrage.

    Hognosed snakes have several fascinating behaviors that are designed to escape predation. Playing dead, of course, is one of them. It is interesting to think about how and why this behavior evolved. Recent work (Gerald 2008) has suggested that snakes will use different defense strategies depending on their temperature and body-size. It’s likely a complicated series of trade-offs. Now, if we still had to fear being eaten by predators, I would be glad to have many defensive tricks up my sleeve, including puffing up, hissing, puking up my last meal and yes, if all else fails, playing dead.

      • And yes, I recognize that playing dead is a sophisticated and interesting adaptation. But I’m sorry, it just looks ridiculous to me. Which is neither here nor there when it comes to thinking about it from an evolutionary perspective, but which is all that matters from a “I need a silly joke to toss into this post” perspective. 😉

  3. I’d like to be able to produce ink, since I always seem to lose my pens somewhere.

    What I wouldn’t want to adapt to do is ejecting parts of my gastrointestinal tract from the anus when irritated in the style of sea cucumbers. This would make browsing the internet impossible, or at least a bit disgusting.

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