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Science

Viral video shows how to find your vestigial organs

Your tailbone was once an anchor for … your tail.

Image from Vox on YouTube.

Evolution of the body is divergent.

The human body is an amazing organism, to say the least.

To watch an athlete dunk a basketball or a ballerina turn a pirouette is to witness an extraordinary machine at work. But the human body is also a biological junkyard of useless ideas it has yet to ditch as we evolve.


If humans have a creator, it has a sense of humor, because why else would it clutter the human body with organs that have no use? Why is the occasional baby born with a tail? These useless body parts are known as vestigial organs.

The video below goes over just a few of the vestigial organs we can locate on our bodies if we know where to look.

Ten to 15 percent of people can see a tendon in their wrists that connects to the palmaris longus muscle. Although it serves no purpose for humans, it's essential for primates that live in the treetops and swing from limb to limb.

Humans also have three muscles around their ears that allow some people to make them wiggle. When fully formed in other mammals, the muscles work to rotate the ears in order to pinpoint the source of sounds.

Although these body parts are worthless in a practical sense, they serve as a reminder of our vast evolutionary history and reveal our deep connections to other beings on the planet. That knowledge is far from useless.


This article originally appeared on 10.27.17

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Nómade the elephant was born without tusks. Now her mutation is mainstream.

Evolution could help defend elephants from poachers — but that might not be a good thing.

Growing up in war-torn Mozambique wasn't easy for Nómade the elephant.

Mozambique, a southeastern African nation, gained its independence from Portugal in 1975. Then two years later, the Cold War found its way onto Mozambican soil in a bloody conflict that lasted until the mid-1990s and claimed up to a million human lives and displacing even more.

When the human forces weren't directly at each other's throats, they scavenged the savannah for animals they could kill for meat and ivory to trade for weapons or cash. But Nómade survived, along with 11 of her sisters, thanks in part to a miracle mutation that left them without tusks.


Nómade and her family. Photo provided by Joyce Poole/ElephantVoices, used with permission.

By the end of the war, the African elephant population in the Mozambique park where Nómade lived had been reduced by more than 90%.

Half of the females left alive were tuskless, just like Nómade.

Tusks are a crucial survival tool for elephants and, unfortunately, one of the main reasons why people try to kill them. While those lengthy incisors obviously make great weapons, elephants also rely on them for foraging in the dirt for minerals or food as well as scraping bark off trees or bending down branches to reach tasty goods. They're handy as a place to rest those big, heavy trunks on, too.

In typical animal fashion, however, males tend to have the mightier tusks, which they rely on to show off their elephant sexiness. It also means that they get poached in much higher numbers. As a result, the tusklessness gene has only really passed down the maternal side of the African elephant family tree, to elephants like Nómade.

This is the epitome of evolution in action: a rare mutation that grows more common over several generations when it turns out to be a blessing for survival.

Back in the 1930s, tusklessness was estimated to affect about 1% of both African elephant genders; today, there are parts of the continent where 98% of the females are born without tusks. 'Cause who's gonna hunt 'em if there isn't ivory to sell?

Average male tusk sizes in Africa are actually shrinking. But totally tuskless males are still rare, seeing as — erm — lady elephants are less inclined to breed with them. Sorry, fellas. Photo by Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images.

It turns out the same tusklessness that saved these females' lives might also be leaving a lasting impact on the whole of African elephant society.

Elephants are, of course, incredibly smart and social creatures. "But the scars of poaching last a very long time," according to Joyce Poole, Ph.D., co-founder and co-director of the ElephantVoices, a conservation group that works with Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, where Nómade and her family roam.

Having lived under the threat of violence for so long has left many elephants with the equivalent of a broken home, Poole explains. "When a family loses a matriarch, the possibility of calf survival drops because there's no one to take care of the young." For example, the first few times she encountered Nómade, she says, "she was in a different group. A similar configuration of animals, but a different configuration every time." (That's also how she got her name — "nomad" in Portuguese).

To make matters worse, many of the females that do survive past childhood don't even reach full sexual maturity — both from increased stress levels and the fact that, well, there just aren't enough males left to go around, which means they probably aren't going to get pregnant. As a result, the rate of tuskless elephants just keeps going up because the males with tusks are dying out faster than they can be replaced.

Photo by Anna Zieminski/AFP/Getty Images.

"There's also pervasive myth — I'd call it an old wives' tale — that tuskless females are more aggressive than elephants with tusks," Poole says.

To be fair, there are some aggressive tuskless females, particularly in Nómade's family. In another early encounter at Gorongosa, one of Nómade's sisters led a massive mob of more than 30 elephants straight at Poole's safari truck, a move which earned her the name Corajosa, or "Courageous One."

But that behavior wasn't because of her tusklessness, Poole explains. "These are some of the most aggressive elephants in Africa because of what they've been through, and they pass that behavior down from one generation to the next."

Fortunately, Corajosa, Nómade, and the rest of their kin have warmed up to Poole over time. They also have another tool to make up for their lack of tusks: their trunks. "They're such smart animals and the trunk is such a magnificent organ that they are able to compensate," Poole says. "It can push over a tree or caress a baby … it's a magnificent thing to have."

HOORAY, WE STILL HAVE TRUNKS! Photo by Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images.

On one hand, these African "tusklesses" are proof of evolution in progress.

On the other hand, it's also a frightening example of the damage that human intervention can really do. What was once a genetic survival advantage has now become the exact opposite — and it's likely that that trend will continue.

"If we're able to bring poaching and the illegal trade, then over generations, the tusklessness will decline," says Poole. "But that's going to take a long, long time."

There is a silver lining, however. While half of the females who lived through the war in Mozambique are tuskless, only about a third of the elephants born since then have the same condition. And the fact that they can live for upwards of 70 years means that, if things do improve, we'll actually be able to observe the difference across generations. It's one thing to know that nature always finds a way; it's another thing entirely to see that change in action.

How many times has this happened to you? You're dating someone you really like. You've been out a few times. You're absolutely hitting it off. But there's that one thing you just can't quite get over.

Maybe they have bad breath? Or a messy apartment? Or a collection of tiny fiberglass unicorn figurines that's just a little ... too large?



Their sweet precious baby. Photo by rsteve254/Pixabay.

Some dealbreakers are obvious, like if the person lives eight hours away and doesn't own a phone and plays polka music constantly. No one would blame you for ending it over even one of those things.

Other dealbreakers, though? They might make you feel like maybe you're being a little petty. I mean, you could learn to live with those unicorn figurines, couldn't you? There are perfectly logical reasons why they might have so many. In the right light, they're almost ... classy.

And yet, deep in your heart, you know — the relationship ain't goin' anywhere. And it makes you feel like a hateful superficial love ogre.

Good news! You should stop worrying about being a bad person because of your weird or irrational dealbreakers.

"Smells bad" is a common dealbreaker. Photo via iStock.

Believe it or not, science is on your side!

And science wants you to know that not only are you far from alone, your dealbreakers are valuable tools for avoiding disaster.

When it comes to dating, “avoiding negative traits [in other words, dealbreakers] is probably more important than optimizing ideal traits," University of Florida Professor Gregory Webster told Upworthy.

Webster recently published a study looking at the power of these dealbreakers, along with colleagues from America, Australia, and Singapore. The researchers conducted six different studies, mostly through anonymous surveys, to learn the dating preferences of 6,000 people.

What they found was that people tend to give more weight to negative qualities than positive ones. Think of dating like a game: If each good quality is worth two points, each bad one is worth ... more like a whopping negative 17 points.

The game is unbalanced.

Webster and his colleagues found that dealbreakers were stronger for people looking for long-term relationships than short-term, for romantic relationships than for friendships, and a bit stronger for women than men in the short-term.

While it can feel bad to break-up with someone over one or two negative traits, studies suggest that our brain's focus on those bad things might be designed to protect us.

Let's say there's a person you're interested in, but they only eat processed cheese.

Not saying this person is me. Image by PeRshGo/Wikimedia Commons.

If you break up, sure, you might miss out on some good stuff. Fun romantic adventures. Potentially incredible sex. A lifetime of pure companionate bliss. But hey, they're not the only person on Earth. Literally millions of other humans could give you those things.

On the other hand, if you decide to stay with Mr./Ms./Mx. Cheez Whiz, you might end up in a horrible, cheesy explosion while taking the Polly-O factory tour because that's what you do for fun now. Or maybe, upon hitting puberty, your children will end up smelling vaguely, but relentlessly — tragically — like Velveeta.

Very specific bad things can happen.

So why does our brain work this way? It might be an evolutionary defense mechanism.

A pair of gibbons. Image from MatthiasKabel/Wikimedia Commons.

"The study's findings support adaptive attentional biases in human social cognition, which suggests that focusing on the negative serves as a survival function," the researchers wrote in a press release.

In other words, way back before we were modern humans, back when we were little more than apes, it was really important that we pay attention to bad stuff. Because bad stuff wasn't just auto payments and not being invited to the office party or processed cheese. Bad stuff was sabertooth cats and giant eagles.

There's always more fruit somewhere in the jungle, but the ape who didn't pay attention to the sudden suspiciously-eagle-shaped shadow circling above doesn't get to stay around a whole lot longer.

If you're on the receiving end of a dealbreaker, don't worry!

"A dealbreaker for one person may be a dealmaker for another," Webster says.

Just an ordinary, happy, totally real American couple being really real and washing dishes together in a totally real candid moment. Photo via iStock.

In the report on the study, Webster cites impulsiveness, which can be a huge turn-off for some, as being a potentially huge turn-on for someone else who might be attracted to that kind of spontaneity.

The good news? That applies to dealbreakers big and small:

Being only 1% religiously compatible with one person just means you're 99% religiously compatible with someone else. Living 800 miles away from one potential partner just means you live a few blocks away from another. Your significant other refusing to see "Carol" with you for the 37th time just means you have an extra ticket for the next person in your life.

And if it's bad stuff like being too messy, well, there's always Chore Wars.

If you're the one finding the dealbreaker, that's OK too. It's just your monkey-brain trying to keep you safe. You'll find someone else.

Your ex may take it hard — breakups are rarely easy. But in the end, they'll find someone else too.

Turns out #373 was her favorite too! Photo by rsteve254/Pixabay.

There are plenty of unicorns in the field, after all.

Today is Charles Darwin's 207th birthday! Darwin, who famously wrote "On the Origin of Species," the book that introduced much of the world to evolution and the theory of natural selection, didn't just write about animals. He also kept quite a few of them as pets, including several dogs, a tortoise (kind of), and pigeons.

Just like Darwin, Mother Nature shares her home with some interesting animal companions. And if you squint, you can see the resemblance they have to more familiar animal faces.

So in celebration of Darwin's birthday and his pets, here are 10 cool animals that don't look exactly like your domesticated Fluffys, Pollys, and Rexes but just might be related to them.


1. Your fluffy house cat may be related to the smilodon.

Image from Sergio De la Rosa Martínez/Wikimedia Commons.

Smilodon! One of the fabled saber-tooth cats. They lived up until about 10,000 years ago in North and South America.

2. And your dog has some family to match — dire wolves.

Image from Sergio De la Rosa Martínez/Wikimedia Commons.

Yeah, George R. R. Martin didn't just make up House Stark's emblematic animal out of whole cloth. Like the smilodon above, these guys roamed up until about 10,000 years ago. While superficially similar to modern wolves, your average dire wolf would have weighed about 25% more.

3. But it's Lamb Chop's cousin you have to really watch out for.

Image from Boris Dimitrov/Wikimedia Commons.

What do you get if you cross a sheep with a wolf? This guy! He's an andrewsarchus, and though he might look more like some kind of prehistoric hyaena, evidence suggests he belongs in the same order as goats, sheep, and deer.

4. Babe's cousins are no slouch either.

Image from Heinrich Harder/Wikimedia Commons.

And people think warthogs are ugly! These distant relatives of pigs, known as entelodonts, lived about 33 million years ago.

5. Think your brightly colored, talkative parrot is a handful? Try sharing your home with Haast's eagle.

Image from John Megahan/Wikimedia Commons.

This featured creature also has the distinction of being the only thing on the list to have lived in modern times – up until the year 1400. The species lived in New Zealand, where it preyed on the giant, flightless birds known as moa. They may even be the giant man-eating birds of Maori legend!

6. The creature in this illustration is related to today's horses. Really, I swear. I'm not making it up.

Image from Jay Matternes/Wikimedia Commons.

Though they might look more like a gorilla (or Joe Camel) than Black Beauty, these are in fact distant relatives of modern horses known as chalicotheres. They died out about 3.5 million years ago.

7. This massive titanoboa just wants to give you a hug.

Image from Ryan Somma/Flickr, taken at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.

Yes, that is a snake big enough to eat a crocodile. Titanoboa lived about 60 million years ago, at a time I imagine it must have ruled the post-dinosaur world.

And sorry, Potterheads, but as far as history and science are concerned, there is no record of one of these behemoths living in a Chamber of Secrets below a magical school, and though titanoboas aren't around today, no, they weren't wiped out by a messy-haired, bespectacled pre-teen wizard stabbing a dusty old diary with a fang either.

8. Your goldfish dreams of life as a megalodon.

Image from Karen Carr/Wikimedia Commons.

Megalodon is not just the star of bad science fiction movies! The megalodon really did munch its way through the ocean from about 16 million to about 3 million years ago. If your goldfish could LARP, it'd probably go as one of these toothy giants.

9. Even turtles have some impressive relatives in their family trees.

So, yes, there are more lifelike drawings of this massive turtle known as archelon, but you really gotta check out the size of this thing. Archelon lived about 80 million years ago and must have weighed at least two tons. And it had an even larger cousin — stupendemys!

Finally, I'm so sorry, but I have to include at least one huge bug on this list. Look away now if you hate creepy crawly critters.

10. This is a pulmonoscorpius.


Some people like to keep scorpions as pets, but even they would probably think twice before adopting pulmonoscorpius.

The thing was more than two feet long! Luckily, of all the creatures on this list, we're the furthest away from the time that spawned this massive bug — the species died out over 300 million years ago. Thank goodness.

It might be hard to imagine trying to keep any of these creatures as a pet. But, Fluffy and Rex aren't the only animals with weird cousins.

After all, it's not too long ago that we looked like this ourselves:

A reconstruction of homo habilis. Image from lilyundfreya/Wikimedia Commons.

Everything on Earth is, ultimately, related to each other. That's one of the greatest ideas that Charles Darwin handed down to us. Humans, animals, even our pets. We're all one big, weird — sometimes incredibly weird — family.

And if homo habilis up there is what we looked like 2 million years ago, what are we going to look like 2 million years in the future? Maybe we'll out-weird them all.