While I’ve not seen it personally, I have heard it said that Alaskan Wood Frogs survive winter by allowing their body to become two-thirds ice cube. Some fish in Antarctica have developed a method of creating antifreeze that bind to ice crystals that form in their blood.
The non-flatteringly named Hagfish release a gooey slime whenever they come under attack which can get into the gills of whoever frightened them, choking them to death.
Texas Horned Lizards are said to shoot blood out of their eyeballs for a distance of up to five feet when they feel threatened. If you startle a female Texas Horned Lizard bad enough while exploring the Neesopah Reservoir, you could reasonably end up relaying the tale with something akin to: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.”
[Under no other circumstances could it be considered “reasonable” to use that phrasing, unless there is yet another strange blood-related adaptation we have yet to discover.]
If one wants to survive a hostile world, one must adapt.
That is the general principle of natural selection. Those with traits most suited to their environment are more likely to survive and pass on essential traits to the next generation, allowing them a step up on the evolutionary durability ladder. Others who were unable to adapt end up dying off like so many lemmings running head-first off that proverbial cliff.
[Fun fact: this is not a factual adaptation of lemmings; just a misconception to explaining the waxing and waning of populations in a given habitat. In actuality, scientists believe it might be their inability to adapt their reproduction levels to their environment that causes these die offs].
Given enough time and will, it’s probably safe to say that a person could adapt to any type of less-than-ideal burgeoning on openly hostile condition. [In fact, I’d argue the whole of U.S. history from the perspective of its people of color is evidence of this adaptability and resilience.]
That’s not to say there won’t be hiccups along the way. It’s a common misconception that natural selection is an all-seeing, all-powerful force, pushing different organisms in the direction of adapting useful and awesome traits. But natural selection isn’t perfect. Natural selection doesn’t seek perfection, just good enough. And natural selection sometimes has help from systems of power.
Natural selection isn’t about want either. You don’t adapt because you want to; you don’t get every adaptation you want. Adaptations are made out of need, and they aren’t always desirable.
In all evolutionary steps, there were dozens of iterations that didn’t make it; their adaptation took too long or were complete rubbish, leading to their lines’ utter disappearance from history.
For instance, maybe back in the evolutionary chain, when the first female Texas Horned Lizard was developing the ability to shoot blood out of her eyeballs (or wherever) a distance of five feet, her brother developed the ability to shoot blood into his eyeballs, to prevent him from seeing what frightened him. This caused incredible pressure on his cranium and eventually smooshing his brain matter into a paste, killing him, but saving all future generations from the same fate. Who knows. Not all adaptations are going to be perfect the first time around.
And sometimes an inadvisable adaptation becomes a cultural norm that takes some generations to remove. For instance, somewhere in my ancestry, a pattern of conciliatory and assimilation tactics were adopted to survive the colonialist invaders after brute force did not get the job done. On its face, quite a useful adaptation. After all, if a colonizing force decrees that the reason for your subjugation is your “savagery” and “unculturedness,” what better adaptation than to mimic their behaviors and adopt their culture to prove that you are not what they say you are?
Unfortunately, this adaptation didn’t provide the protection or the lesson intended and my Indigenous ancestors had their land, language, culture, and people forcibly taken. The survivors of that original generation passed down the assimilation tactic for a few more generations — hoping that eventually, enough assimilation would be achieved and that generation would be accepted by the settlers. [Additionally, for most, the assimilation tactic adopted for survival was no longer something chosen, but something forced upon them in Candian Indian Residential Schools].
But, eventually, a generation grew and passed down to their descendents the knowledge that assimilation wasn’t all that helpful — giving the next generation a chance to form a different [hopefully better] survival stratagem to withstand the white supremacist environment they found themselves steeped in, for the betterment of the condition of their descendents.
Who knows. Maybe after we’ve exhausted all possible pacifying maneuvers, maybe nature will finally give us that edge we need — the ability to release a gooey slime or shoot blood out of our eyeballs (or wherever). Those are adaptations I’d love to try out.
Chris Talbot-Heindl (they/them) is a queer, trans nonbinary, mixed-race creator. They are the co-creator and editor of The Bitchin’ Kitsch and creator of The Story of Them graphic novel and Chrissplains Nonbinary Advocacy to Cisgender People educomic.
Twitter and Instagram: @talbot_heindl, https://www.talbot-heindl.com/