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The Iberian ribbed newt likes doing regular newt things, like living in ponds and eating worms. But when they’re threatened by a predator, they basically become the newt version of Wolverine from X-Men.

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Sources:
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https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/deep-sea-snail-iron-shell-first-creature-declared-endangered-ocean-mining-180972727/
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Images:
https://www.storyblocks.com/video/stock/european-bee-eater-sitting-on-the-branch-southern-europe-nature-sjbx8nihippfwehp
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Pretty often, the thing that makes an animal weird to us is that it does something that we can’t do.

I’ve accepted the fact that most birds can fly and that fish can breathe underwater, but if I was just finding out about that, my mind would be blown. Wait, breathing?

Under where? Underwater?! It’s the abilities that we haven’t been exposed to that really bend our understanding of the universe.

Like frogs that can survive being literally frozen solid in the winter, like little frog bricks, and then thaw out in spring, no problem. Or, deep sea snails that build their own biological armor out of iron. Really comic-book-level superpower stuff.

But, sometimes, evolution takes it even further. [ ♪ Intro]. A prime example of this kind of super-bizarre beast is the Spanish or Iberian ribbed newt. It’s found in both Spain and Portugal, as well as in Morocco.

And it’s a relatively large newt, about 30 centimeters or so in length. These newts prefer to live in deep, quiet pools like ponds and cisterns, rarely leaving the water. And they spend their days snacking on small prey, like insects and worms, and sometimes plants when prey is scarce.

It all sounds very chill. But when they’re threatened by a predator, well, they basically become the newt version of Wolverine from X-Men. This unassuming-looking amphibian is also called the sharp-ribbed newt for good reason, because it can poke the pointy ends of its ribs out through its skin to stab anything that’s trying to mess with it.

They do this by arching their backs and rotating their ribs forward, which stretches the skin over the rib-ends until they just slide on through. For people, that’s an all-caps medical emergency. But for the newt?

It’s just a flesh wound. Being able to rotate their ribs isn’t actually unique to these newts though, the joint anatomy that lets them do it is shared by a number of newts and salamanders, maybe to help them look bigger to try to scare off predators. The Iberian ribbed newt has just taken it to an extreme.

And the places where the ribs poke out through the skin are marked by bright orange warts or bumps that stand out against the rest of the rest of the newt’s skin. These are probably an aposematic signal, one that tells a predator that trying to eat the newt is not going to be worth the trouble, like the bright colors of many poison dart frogs or the vivid yellow and black stripes of a wasp. As for how the newt is able to survive using its skeleton as a weapon like this?

Well, the same way Marvel’s Wolverine can. The Iberian ribbed newt also has super-healing abilities. Some of the earlier researchers who studied the newt thought that its ribs stayed covered by a kind of sheath.

That they didn’t actually break the skin. And the scientists who set out to study the newt’s defenses for a paper published in 2010 initially thought that they might’ve had pores in those orange warts that let the rib-ends just slide out, again without breaking the animal’s skin. But they discovered that, no, its ribs really do make actual holes in its skin, which should open the newt up to the risk of infection and death, except it doesn’t.

Because, it turns out that amphibians in general, and newts and salamanders in particular, are really good at regenerating tissue. The Iberian ribbed newt can even regrow limbs and organ tissue, which makes the punctures the ribs cause seem minor in comparison. And during healing, their skin is protected by special antimicrobial peptides, or short chains of amino acids, that keep them from getting serious infections.

These incredible healing abilities have made the Iberian ribbed newt an excellent model organism for studying tissue regeneration in space! Yep, these soft critters are also astronauts! They’ve been to space on at least 17 different missions.

Wolverine, by the way, has also been to space a number of times, so the comparisons keep coming! And they were used to study whether tissue regeneration happened faster or slower in microgravity, along with the effects of microgravity on reproduction, growth, and development. Weirdly enough, their tissue regenerated faster in space than it did on the ground, maybe due to the stresses put on the newts’ bodies by microgravity and space flight.

Okay, so the Iberian ribbed newt can stab things with its skeleton, heal and regenerate tissue like a pro, AND has been to space multiple times. Should Marvel be suing for copyright infringement? No, because the newt totally one-ups Logan.

It’s also toxic, like a lot of other amphibians. When the newt starts getting agitated enough to deploy its pointy ribs, it secretes a poisonous substance from glands on its neck, back, sides, and tail. And while this milky goo has been described by one scientist as “harsh and irritating to human mucus membranes.” And no, I don’t know how he figured that out.

It’s deadly to smaller animals, like mice. Between its spiky ribs and its poisonous coating, the newt makes itself into a very unappetizing snack for predators. But for a beast that, to us, seems to have superpowers, it’s really just doin’ what newts do.

Flexible rib joints? Pretty standard among newts. Tissue regeneration?

Amphibians, especially newts and salamanders, do that all the dang time. Toxic secretions? Also a classic amphibian trait.

In their own evolutionary context, the Iberian ribbed newt is hardly bizarre at all, except for the whole rib-stabbing thing. And that’s just it, the more we dig into each bizarre beast, the more we come to find that maybe it’s not the beast that’s so odd, it’s just our own context that makes it seem that way. The Bizarre Beasts pin club is open for new subscribers again!

The sign up period runs through the end of October 4th. When you sign up, you’ll get the newt pin in the middle of the month, and the pins after that around the time each new video goes live. The newt also makes a great spooky accessory for Halloween, if that’s something you’re into!

Follow us on Twitter @BizarreBeasts, and on Instagram and Facebook @BizarreBeastsShow for more cool newt-facts, and we love to see folks show off their pins! As always, profits from the pin club go to support our community’s efforts to decrease maternal mortality in Sierra Leone. [ ♪ Outro].