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You’re A Single-Celled Organism. Can You Evolve Into A Duck?

Okay, so.

You live on this.

You are this.

You’re alive.

Ah. Okay.

Never mind.

Yes, great. You’re alive, and you live here.

For your first act as a living thing, you die.

You did not manage to evolve into a duck.

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You imagine your descendants, and their descendants, and all their exploits and achievements in the world.

Then a vivid image comes to you.

You surrender yourself to the vision. You think about this.

Ah...a duck.

It’s perfect.

So it is resolved: You will be this thing. Someday, the child of the child of your distant descendant will wake up, and it will be this. It will be a duck.

Good idea. You try out making a protein. Whoa. That’s actually a good protein you made. You have a knack for this.

You make another protein.

Oh, my God.

You were born to do this. The joy you get from making proteins causes one of your organelles to contract and then expand, and it’s the greatest feeling you’ve ever known.

Flouting tradition, you throw yourself into making proteins. You go on to become the most prolific thing ever to have lived on the thing, in terms of proteins made.

After 16 minutes of protein production, you die. You did not manage to evolve into a duck, but you left behind a legacy of incredible proteins that will not soon be forgotten.

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Over the next billion years, you really go all-out theming your genetic buildup around the idea of “Under The Sea.” Pretty soon, you look like this.

Nice going! What next?

Your body swells, and soon you’re this huge thing.

You adapt to the low depths of the deep sea, and soon you look like this thing.

via Flickr via Nan Palmero

You evolve into a strange, luminous deep-sea creature that looks like this. You did not manage to evolve into a duck.

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You go for style, and it pays off. You spend the next era cruising around the ocean as this incredible fish.

Oh, no. You went right for the duck too early and mistakenly evolved into Michael Phelps the swimmer. In the open ocean, you are quickly eradicated by some of your better-adapted cousins. You did not manage to evolve into a duck.

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via Flickr via Jon Bragg

You spend another few million years dying whenever you are small and breeding when you’re large. Soon, you are this healthy creature.

You go all in on bigness. Your body swells with each generation, and your species becomes known throughout the ocean for its incredible size.

Over billions of years you become bigger and bigger until, finally, just as the present day arrives, you are Australia, the largest creature in the seven seas.

You are a titan of the ocean, but you have failed to evolve into a duck.

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Wow. This is a big moment for you.

Forsaking everything, you take one last gulp of water and burst through the surface and onto land.

Your fins fall away, your gills wither, and the land becomes your home.

Wow. This is a big moment for you.

Forsaking everything, you migrate into the water and leave the land behind.

You begin to grow fins and gills, perfect for this new era of life under the sea.

Wasting no time, you work your position on land to your advantage by becoming trees. Tall and wooden, you are built to last.

You remain trees. You are trees.

You are still trees.

You are trees.

You keep being trees. The present day arrives, and you are trees. The future arrives and passes, and you are trees. You did not evolve into a duck, but in a way that’s okay. You are trees.

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You are no longer trees. Instead, you are paper.

You evolve ink. As millennia pass, the ink patterns begin to form better and better shapes.

At last, you arrive at the most highly evolved form of paper that is possible: You are a picture of a duck.

Congratulations. You almost did it. You did not evolve into a duck, but you came very close.

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You are a plain-flavored land creature.

You become this plain-flavored land creature.

You evolve to get some things installed in your ears that make you more stylish. It’s not comfortable.

You are a family-oriented plain-flavored land creature.

via animalssittingoncapybaras.tumblr.com

You remain supremely confident that a plain-flavored land creature is the thing to be. When the present day arrives, you are still this basic template of a creature.

via jakebabel.tumblr.com

Finally, a predator attacks you.

via jakebabel.tumblr.com

You were a plain-flavored land creature, and you were eradicated by a predator. You did not manage to evolve into a duck.

As a species, you decide that beaks look good and that everyone should have beaks.

Many millions of years pass. Eventually, you look like this.

You look around, and it seems everyone has the same idea. All trying to be a duck, but no one quite getting it right.

You keep evolving, day in and day out. But it seems to be of no use.


This isn’t working.


God hears you and mutters some magic words.

Awesome! You are practically there. Becoming a duck from here should be an absolute layup.

No...

What happened? Somehow, you took things too far, and you evolved into an ostrich. In case you weren’t aware, this creature is a scam, posturing as an upgraded, premium duck that in practice lacks any of the charm of the barebones original. You’ve been had. You did not manage to evolve into a duck.

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Evolution hasn’t been going so great, so you form a symbiotic relationship with Henry. The way your mutualistic dependence works is that Henry points at you and then you point at Henry. Then you both reproduce and your children do the same thing.

You remain in the symbiotic relationship with Henry.

You stay in the symbiotic relationship with Henry forever. When the present day arrives, you are still pointing at each other, and you have not managed to evolve into a duck.

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You go for the duck, but it’s too much of a stretch. On June 30, 1985, you evolve into Michael Phelps the swimmer. It’s clear that there is nowhere to go from here—your body is optimized for acquiring gold. You and your descendants are happy to be the species called Michael Phelps the swimmer, and yet sometimes you still dream of the duck you might have become, imagining what might have happened if you’d made just a few different choices somewhere along the way...

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You become a rock. It’s a relief to be out of that strange situation with Henry.

You become a round rock.

You become a small round rock.

You become a many-legged rock.

via torange.us

Well, you are a tiny smooth rock. Not much else to say here except, “Yes, that’s a smooth rock,” and “Thanks for trying to evolve into a duck, but in the end, you didn’t have the stuff.”

Giving up completely, you split yourself open, and a miracle happens. It’s a duck. After billions of years, you are here. The prophecy fulfilled. You evolved into a duck.

Yes. You are duck.

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You are a single-celled organism that has had a vision of a duck. You don’t know how to do it, but it’s still billions of years ago, so you’re optimistic.

How will you proceed?

No, you’re not. This is a duck.

You are a single-celled organism that has had a vision of a duck. You don’t know how to do it, but it’s still billions of years ago, so you’re optimistic.

How will you proceed?


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