Exactly Why Birds Survived The Dinosaur Apocalypse (And 5 Creatures That'll Live Through The Next One)
Guess size doesn't always equal power? As it turns out, birds might've survived that pesky dinosaur-killing asteroid because they were tiny, proving once and for all that short people will survive the apocalypse. (Probably.) While dinosaurs became extinct 66 million years ago, birds have not only survived but thrived. So just how did their downsizing help them escape extinction?
Well, according to new research by the United Kingdom's Oxford University, dinosaurs started out small. About 230 million years ago, most dinosaurs weighed in between 10 to 35 kilograms and were about the same size as a Labrador. But 30 million years later, some had grown significantly in size, and eventually the largest species weighed as much as 90,000 kilograms. There was one group, however, that never followed this bulking trend: the maniraptorans, feathered dinosaurs that eventually became birds.
While other species increased in size overall, maniraptorans evolved both smaller and bigger species, and when the asteroid that destroyed the dinosaur population hit, the only dinosaurs that were able to survive were maniraptorans that had downsized to around 1 kilogram. Benson and his team concluded that their small size allowed them to better adapt to the changing conditions.
So if the Earth were to experience another apocalypse, it'd be nice to be a bird, since they seem to have the evolutionary know-how to survive. But what other animals would live to see tomorrow? Here's our short list.
1. The Tardigrade
Also known as water bears, these microscopic invertebrates are considered to be the toughest animal on the planet. Further proof that the smaller you are, the better your chances of survival, the tardigrade is about 1mm long.
So just what makes it so tough? The tardigrade can survive extreme heat (boiling), extreme cold (close to absolute zero), extreme pressure, as well as radiation, the vacuum of space, and dehydration. It can go 10 years without water by going into cryptobiosis (extreme hibernation), during which it enters a state called a 'tun,' which makes them nearly indestructible. And if all this sounds unbelievable, scientists tested the tardigrade's resilience by sending some into outer space in 2007. Most of them came back without a scratch. That's baller.
2. The Devil Worm
Like the tardigrade, the devil worm, a species of nematode that was only discovered in 2011, can survive a lot of nonsense. If another asteroid — or a doomsday bomb — were to hit the Earth and the majority of the animal kingdom died from the lack of oxygen, extreme pressure, and searing heat, the devil worm would be just fine. What's helped them become so resilient is living deeper in the earth than any other animal in the world.
The devil worm was found 2.2 miles below the Earth's surface, beating the previous record held by multicellular organisms by a full mile. When it's not doing absolutely nothing, it's drinking 12,000-year-old water and eating simple bacteria.
3. The Mummichog
The mummichog is a very unique fish that can survive just about any kind of water habitat: saltwater or freshwater, hot or cold, and clean or polluted. Like the tardigrade, scientists decided to send a group of mummichog into space to see if they could substitute gravitational pull for light, and even the unhatched mummichog were able to adapt to the weightlessness.
Their highly adaptable nature comes from the ability to activate or deactivate a large number of genes depending on their environment. This will come in handy when our oceans become polluted beyond repair. The mummichog can single-handedly spearhead marine life survival.
4. The Cockroach
Of course the cockroach was going to make this list. As the old saying goes, only two things will survive the apocalypse: cockroaches and Cher (but we'll leave Cher off this list). In fact, after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, reports surfaced that cockroaches were the only living things that survived the blasts.
Furthermore, the pesky insects have been on Earth for 250 million years, which means they've already survived several mass extinctions. It probably helps that they come with some pretty nifty features, like regenerating body parts, the ability to hold their breath for 40 minutes (so that's why drowning them never works!), and a brain that's dispersed throughout their body. That last feature allows it to live without a head for several weeks, the same amount of time it can survive without water. Cool? Nah, just gross.