Out of all the hives in the world, you just had to fly into mine. That’s how researchers studying a specific species of sweat bee in the rainforest of Panama felt when they discovered a bee in their midst that was more valuable than any they’d ever laid eyes on.
Bursting from its larva, this bee launched their study to the forefront of the scientific community. No one had seen anything like it in over 20 years, and luckily for these experts, they had front row seats for a rare specimen that was actually still alive.
It was in the forest of Barro Colorado Island, Panama, that Erin Krichilsky spotted the bug that will forever define her career. The research assistant for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute stumbled upon the bee everyone had spent years searching for.
Buzz About Panama / Erin Krichilsky
To the untrained eye, this little larva growing in the hive they’d collected was just another sweat bee in the early stages of development. When it finally emerged as a full-grown adult, however, it was clear that this bee was incredibly special.
Erin and the rest of the research team observed thousands of bees as part of their study on the daily habits of the Megalopta bee species. Though the arrival of their star subject changed the study’s trajectory.
Entomology Today / Adam Smith
From the left side, this bee’s leg was rather delicate with a peach fuzzy layer of hairs. On the right, though, the bee looked drastically different. Its leg was powerful, covered in a noticeably thicker, longer layer of hair, and those weren’t the only imbalances.
Live Science / Chelsey Ritner
The right side of the bee had a more prominent jaw and a forward-facing antenna in addition to it’s thicker hind leg. All these traits were consistent with a female Megalopta amoena sweat bee, just specifically on the right. Curiously, the left side was characteristically male.
Live Science / Chelsey Ritner
At first glance, Erin knew instantly that this little bee hero was considered a bilateral gynandromorph, which means it is split into two different sexes, one on each side of the body. This was tantamount to hitting the lottery; gynandromorphs are extremely rare.
YouTube / Science Laboratory
Gynandromorphs aren’t exclusively right-side-female, left-side-male. In some cases, the subject has a mosaic style composition of sex features throught the body. Other times it’s axial: the top half is female, and the bottom is male, not only in appearance, but on the chromosomal level.
Wikicommons / Burkhard Hinnersmann
This marked the first gynandromorph for the Megalopta amoena species of sweat bee. As Erin examined the female side built for labor, cast against the smaller build typical of the male, she thought, “It was this super cool individual that wasn’t anything like what I was used to seeing.”
Cornell Research / Jesse Winter
Though bees aren’t the only species where there have documented cases of bilateral gynandromorphs. Scientists have observed birds like peacocks and rooster/hens with this particular sex condition that stand out from a crowd, and they aren’t alone.
Reddit / Crazy_Crocodile
It’s easier for these fascinating creatures to be identified when the species has more distinctly different physicals traits between the sexes. Some of the more aesthetically striking bilateral gynandromorphs include insects like butterflies, snakes, crustaceans, and cats.
Atlas Obscura / Maine Center For Coastal Fisheries
Underneath their eye-catching exteriors, gynandromorphic animals also have internal sex-related differences. Scientists studied a zebra finch that looked observably female, had male sex organs, and a split male-female chromosomal brain, something no one had seen before.
Scientists still have much to learn about this bee’s internal chromosome makeup, as they are limited to the amount of testing they can do while it lives. Still, there are merits to observing the bee in the wild interacting with the rest of the colony.
Entomology Today / Marcos Guerra / Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
The fact that the gynandromorph bee was found still alive is a large part of what makes it so extraordinary. In 1999, scientists thought they stuck gold in identifying a different species of Megalopta gynandromorph, a rare find even though the bee was already dead.
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute / Chelsey Ritner
While this little creature was still alive, the researchers did their utmost to document every single behavioral element they could. Fairly quickly, they observed something interesting from monitoring its sleep patterns.
The gynandromorph was the earliest riser in the hive by a long shot, across both male and female bees. This bee’s internal clock ran much earlier, so it would wake up in the wee morning hours.
Entomology Today / Christian Ziegler
Whether or not the bee’s internal body clock has anything to do with the fact that it’s a gynandromorph, scientists still have no clue. As the author of the study, Adam Smith, said, “Maybe it’s weird because it’s a gynandromorph, or it’s just weird because it’s weird.”
Nautilus / Michael Pfaff
It’s the hope of the research team that gynandromorph species aren’t treated as freaky mutations. Instead, they hope it starts a broader conversation about whether these chromosomal deviations are borne out of evolution.
Entomology Today / Adam Smith
There’s no definitive proof that gynandromorphs are infertile, though the experts largely believe they aren’t capable of reproducing. Still, there’s no doubt going to be an increase in the number of species with sexual fluidity.
Flickr / USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program
So if you’re out for a walk in the forest, and you spot an insect that seems a bit hodge-podge, there’s a chance it could be a gynandromorph. Though, not all creatures with physical deviations can be attributed to varied sex chromosome dispersion.
NPR / Rod Morris
Sometimes a fairly common genetic mutation can make an animal almost unrecognizable. From tigers born without any stripes to dolphins that are a shocking shade of pink, animals with fascinating appearances pop up in the wild.
Wildlife Journal / Chester Moore Jr.
1. These tigers feature different color variants due to genetic conditions. Second from left is a “normal” tiger, along with big cats of three color variants: a stripeless white tiger; a golden tiger whose stripes are a darker orange, not black; and a white tiger with black stripes.
2. This bicolored cardinal is known as a bilateral gynandromorph. This genetic mutation occurs during the first cell division of the fertilized egg, causing one of the cells produced to be male and the other to be female. The result is a peculiar animal whose entire one side is female while the other side is male.
3. Pythons are usually covered in colorful scales that keep them camoflaged for safety or to help them to sneak up on their otherwise unsuspecting prey. But this python’s unusual—and eye-catching—piebald patterning isn’t slowing him down.
4. Blonde elks typically boast thick, dark brown fur to help them keep a low profile in the brush when predators lurk nearby. This one may be the exception to the rule, but that doesn’t make her any less beautiful.
5. Male peacocks are typically characterized by their brightly colored plumes. They use these feathers to catch the eye of potential mates. If looking unique is the order of the day, this bicolored peacock shouldn’t have any problems doing just that!
6. Whenever you see a lobster, it’s usually an unmistakable bright red color—and on a plate. When alive, however, lobsters tend to have a mottled brown or orange hue. That’s why this rare blue lobster definitely stands out from the rest.
7. Erythrism is a genetic condition that results in an unusual reddish pigmentation of the animal’s fur. Thankfully, in the case of this badger, his different-colored coat doesn’t keep him from making other badger friends.
8. Is a black-backed jackal still a black-backed jackal if he is erysthristic—and thus, he has no black back to speak of? And no, this is not a riddle, but it certainly sounds like one, doesn’t it? Good luck figuring this one out.
9. This sweet Rottweiler has a condition called vitiligo, which causes depigmentation of parts of his skin and fur. It occurs when melanocytes, the cells responsible for pigmentation, die or are simply unable to function. While most of his fur is white, you can see his typical black and tan coloring near his snout, brows, and ears.
10. You might think that pink dolphins are something that exist solely in Lisa Frank illustrations, but this rare little fellow is proof that reality can be better than anything you could dream of. Imagine seeing this little guy in the ocean?
11. This tiger has a very distinctive coloration. Apparently a tiger can’t change its stripes, but clearly this big guy and his messy tangle of white marks never got the memo! It really makes you wonder how this happened.
12. Pandas are normally characterized by a few different things: their taste for bamboo, their frequent naps, and their distinctive black-and-white coloring. That makes this brown panda an incredibly rare bear indeed!
13. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but the jury’s still out on whether the same can be said of this almost solid-colored zebra. This unique animal might not look entirely like his mom, but he’s still super special.
14. Say hello to Venus the chimera cat! Chimeric animals have a mixture of genetically distinct tissues that arise from two or more fertilized eggs that fused together in the womb. This means that they are, essentially, two twins combined into a single creature.
15. There’s something a little supernatural about this particular chimeric bunny, isn’t there? If he had to have a favorite holiday, do you think it’d be Easter—or Halloween? Survey says it’s got to be the latter. It’s always more fun to dress up.
16. This pretty parakeet is also a chimera. Just look at his beautiful green and blue feathers! Being a chimera doesn’t have to make an animal an oddity; in fact, it can often just give an animal an opportunity to show off.
17. This chimeric lobster is yet another instance of an animal being its own twin. Can you imagine what it must have been like to pull this lobster out of the sea? It’s hard to decide if the fishermen who caught him thought this was a good omen or a bad one.
18. Who said that all zebras have stripes? While these animals might normally be known for their coloring, sometimes genetics can deal an unusual card and result in a zebra that is truly one-of-a-kind.
19. Check out this beautiful macaw. Most parrots boast multiple bright colors of feathers all over their entire body. This one might have more of a monotone look with his coloring, but he certainly does have a brilliant and bright coat!
20. This blonde mongoose looks more like a common house cat, doesn’t he? It’s amazing how the simple change of an animal’s color can make a person notice things about them they never have before.
21. If you spotted this rusty-hued gator at the edge of a lake, you might think you were actually looking at a statue. He doesn’t even seem real! Unfortunately, as his prey already knows, he is most certainly not fake.
22. This strawberry-colored leopard is so rare that only one was ever discovered. What’s so wonderful about this animal’s coloring is just how subtle it is. You might not even notice there was anything different unless you really looked for it!
23. This pink grasshopper is the antithesis of what we think an insect should be: green! With a beautiful rosy coloring like that, it’s hard not to imagine that he sticks out to predators.
24. Speaking of pink… this pink katydid’s hue is also the result of erythrism. Most don’t survive to adulthood because their vivid color makes them more visible to predators. The silver lining here is that they are certainly beautiful while they are alive.
25. Have you ever seen anything like this piebald squirrel hanging off of a concrete wall? It’s cool that certain squirrels are born with looks that make them more conspicuous. Everyone knows how sneaky squirrels can be!
26. This distinctive leopard was photographed in India. Who knows just how many of these leopards exist? The photographer who snapped this image was lucky enough to capture the normally nocturnal hunter on film at all.
27. A spotless cheetah was only ever seen once. Isn’t it strange how this animal seems to have an almost cartoonishly long body because of its strange markings (or lack thereof)? It’s weird, but no less beautiful.
28. Here’s a partially melanistic squirrel. Sure, everyone knows that this squirrel’s appearance is the result of a genetic abnormality, but that doesn’t stop it from looking somewhat sinister, no? What do you have planned, squirrel?
29. Here’s another squirrel with a dark side. Of course, that is meant literally. Just check out his unique black stripe! It’s almost as if he fell into a vat of black paint. His strange looks don’t seem to be affecting him at all in his quest for acorns, though.
30. If you came across this photo of a piebald moose and thought you were looking at a horse, you certainly aren’t alone. It’s crazy how changing the color of an animal you’ve seen a thousand times can completely transform its appearance.
31. This piebald fox kit is so cute. Even though you’re not supposed to adopt wild animals and make them your pets (for obvious reasons), can you blame anyone who might have seen this little fox and wanted to bring him home? He almost looks like a husky… or a wolf.
32. Pelusa the polar bear has changed color—from white to this stunningly bright purple—after being treated for a skin condition at an Argentinian zoo. Believe it or not, these pictures were not Photoshopped at all!
33. Purple must be the color of the year, because this squirrel, named Pete, is definitely on-trend. He was found at Meoncross School in Stubbington, Hampshire in England. The cause of his unique coloration remains unknown, however. Perhaps Pete got into some hair dye?
34. These deer have piebaldism that appears like partial albinism. While this may not be what nature intended for these graceful animals, there’s no denying their sheer beauty as they roam an open field.
35. Piebald animals have beautiful spotting patterns of unpigmented areas of skin and fur… which is exactly why this little fawn looks a whole lot more like a show pony than it does any deer you have probably ever seen before.
36. Ravens are often viewed in some cultures as omens of bad fortune. So, what does that say about a piebald raven? Since it is both black and white, maybe it is delivering news that isn’t all bad? “You want the good news or the bad news first, ma’am?”
37. This beauty is a piebald Commerson’s dolphin, also known as a panda dolphin. If you love dolphins and you love panda bears, then this little creature might be almost too much for your heart to handle. It almost looks like a reverse orca whale!
38. The “king cheetah” is a rare mutation characterized by a distinct fur pattern featuring both spots and stripes. It’s been reported only five times in the wild since the 1920s, though it was not photographed until 1974. Thank goodness someone got a record of it here!