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Evolution, What Were You Thinking?

Biologists tend to talk about evolution as the ultimate designer, perfecting the design of animals and plants over millions of years to be perfectly tuned to their environment. Think of the polar bear, able to withstand freezing temperatures, blend in with their snowy habitat and swim long distances from one ice floe to another–or sharks, the ultimate, streamlined aquatic killing machines.

But then you come across the ridiculous gerenuk, and you begin to think…WTF, evolution? That was journalist Mara Grunbaum’s reaction to this and other absurd-looking or bizarrely-acting creatures, anyway.

“I kept coming across these organisms that were strangely engineered, or just plain bizarre” Grunbaum said, “and kept wondering, ‘how on Earth did this happen?”

About a year ago, Grunbaum collected enough examples that she wanted to share them. The result: a Tumblr page titled (what else?) WTF, Evolution?, and, says Grunbaum, “it’s kind of taken off.” In fact, she has about 100,000 followers on the Tumblr and thousands more on her Facebook page. Soon, she’ll even be publishing a book that compiles some of the best examples.

The images are crazy enough; if you think a duck-billed platypus looks odd or that a camel seems like a horse that was designed by committee, you haven’t seen anything yet. But Grunbaum’s commentaries, which consist of brief, incredulous conversations with evolution itself, are frequently hilarious.

Most of her followers, Grunbaum reports, get the joke. They understand that the best adaptations don’t necessarily look pretty (and she gives readers links and other information to explain why a particular oddity is in fact highly adaptive). She’s gotten a few comments to the effect that these absurdities of nature disprove evolution entirely. Only God could create such creatures, they believe.

But of course, that raises another question: if God is perfect, how could he (or she) have such abysmally bad taste? WTF or not, evolution is clearly in charge.

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