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Nature Watch: Everything from Armadillos to Zebra Butterflies

Extreme Makeover

Some humans will go to extremes to change their appearances, with new hair styles and wardrobes and even facelifts, nose jobs, and tummy tucks. But no matter how drastic the change, a human being after an extreme makeover still pretty much looks like the same species. The same cannot be said of some members of the animal kingdom. Some creatures start out looking like one thing in their youth and end up looking like something completely different in adulthood.

Few would argue that the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail doesn't change for the better when it metamorphoses from a fat grub to a graceful yellow and black butterfly. But some animal "makeovers" don't yield such raving beauties. Wriggly little tadpoles turn into frogs, creatures much maligned in fairy tales. Certainly, a frog is no prince! But the new look seems to please the other frogs, and that's what it's all about. Animal makeovers, like those of many humans, are all about attracting a mate.

Sockeye Salmon, which live in the ocean as adults and in freshwater streams and lakes when young, undergo an automatic makeover when it's time to return to their native streams and spawn. While living in the ocean they have a silvery-blue-green hue but as they head for the hills they turn blood red with light green heads, and the male acquires a hunchbacked profile. In the animal kingdom, as in humankind, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The Horned Grebe, which looks like a smallish, drab gray and white ducklike bird in winter, acquires new splendor when the breeding season rolls around in spring. Its body darkens, and its sides and neck turn a conspicuous brick-red. Its head turn jet black and is adorned by two brushlike tufts of bright yellow feathers (the "horns"), one on each side of its head. If all goes well, this makeover will gain it a mate.

Like the victims -- er, contestants -- on "Extreme Makeover," some bird species appear to undergo rhinoplasty when it's time to attract a mate. But their "nose jobs" tend to result in bigger and more conspicuous "noses," rather than something small and pert. American White Pelicans, already endowed with a sizeable bill, grow a horny orange knob toward the tip, sort of like a hood ornament. The bills of puffins grow bigger and wider and turn bright red or yellow, becoming more visible from afar. Big red feet complete the picture. What puffin of the opposite sex could resist such a display?

Learn more about the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Sockeye Salmon, or puffins.