We’re usually so wrapped up in human affairs, we forget that we share this planet with a great, diverse animal kingdom. Sweet Mother Nature in her endless bounty has given us a family of fellow living things, presumably so we could learn something about them, about ourselves and about the nature of life and the universe itself.
Mostly we end up killing them. So it goes. But among the curious in our own race, there are those who dedicate their lives to unpacking the biological microcosms in other races. There are several species of animals out there, definitely a lot more than a hundred or even a thousand, and though many of them aren’t as great at flipping channels on a remote as we are, they’re still vastly, maybe infinitely fascinating.
The surface level of animal fascination lies in their aesthetics. Vain beasts that we are, human appreciation of animals tends to orbit around how they look. Fair enough, since animals look quite different from us. In fact, there’s a spectrum of how different animals look from us. At the near-end of the spectrum you have the chimp, our friendly distant cousins. At the far end you have… aliens? Absolutely aliens. Okay, probably not aliens, but they definitely look like they could’ve come from space. See for yourself.
15. Star-Nosed Mole
Well, bless our stars. The star-nosed mole is a mole like any other, except it has some crazy anime spider attached to its face, like all the time. Picture one of these things creeping up on you in bed and giving your toesies sweet little kisses. You won’t have to worry about that sort of thing unless you live in eastern Canada and the northeastern United States. For those who do live in those areas, maybe you’ll want to start sleeping with some shoes on.
Anyway, Mother Nature decided to gift this little creature with that… thing on its face, and she has a good reason for doing so. The twenty-two horrifying appendages that ring the star-nosed mole’s snout are actually organs containing over 25,000 sensory receptors. They’re called Eimer’s organs, and they help the mole make its way around its environment. These organs are actually so sensitive, they may be able to detect seismic wave vibrations. So maybe if you find a star-nosed mole making out with your feet, that’s just its way of letting you know that an earthquake is coming.
14. Promachoteuthis Sulcus
Say cheese, little squiddy. No photoshop at work here, folks. That is an actual squid, sporting what looks like a decent set of human teeth in its mouth. Though, they’re not actually teeth — they’re lips (ew!) sheltering the squid’s beak, which is similar to a bird’s beak. We’d love to provide you some additional footage so you can get a proper visual on how those teeth aren’t really teeth, but the fact is we’re lucky to have any footage at all of the promachoteuthis sulcus. This is a recently discovered, extremely rare species. The only known specimen in recorded history was accidentally caught in a net by German scientists in 2007. Not much is known about this mysterious abnormality, but the scientists have concluded that the specimen is female. We like to think that, when they pulled her out of the net, she cussed the scientists out loudly, with great British eloquence, then politely demanded to be thrown back into the water.
13. Mantis Shrimp
This little brawler is on a mission to redefine the term ‘shrimp.’ That word has been used time and time again to oppress those who are seen by their oppressors as puny weaklings. The Mantis Shrimp (also known as the stomatopod) is puny, yes, but it far from being a weakling. It’s not even technically a shrimp, actually — more like a crustacean. Ounce for ounce, the mantis shrimp packs one of the most powerful punches in nature. Its hammer-like claw strikes outward in a spring-loaded fashion that completely decimates its prey. The strike is way too fast to see, clocking in at speeds up to 50 mph. While most mantis shrimp grow to about 10 centimetres (3.9 in) in length, the largest of the species can be found anywhere from 38 cm (15 in) to 46 cm (18 in). It is said that the larger species in captivity are able to crack through the glass of an aquarium with a single whopping strike.
Fans of the Pokémon series will fondly remember Dewgong, entry number 087 on the Pokédex. Well, Dewgong’s name and image isn’t too far removed from its original source, the dugong. A marine mammal of the order Sirenia, dugongs are the only exclusively marine herbivorous mammal. It’s in the same family as the manatee; however, it’s quite easy to tell a dugong apart from its relatives. Aside from sporting a tail similar to that of a dolphin’s, dugongs have a special mouth and skull formation, with its snout turned downwards at a sharp angle. This makes it look something like an organic ocean floor vacuum. Sadly, dugongs are a hunter’s delight and have been so for thousands of years, mostly due to their meat and oil. If it successfully avoids fishing nets and harpoons, the dugong can enjoy a long life of over 70 years; however, it’s still quite vulnerable to extinction due to its slow reproduction rate.
What do you get when you mate an antelope with a giraffe? This lovely long-necked little monster, the gerenuk. They actually belong to the antelope family and are found in the African Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa. The gerenuk is easily distinguishable by its extremely long and thin neck and limbs as well as the dual-colouration of its coat, sporting a brownish-red back and softer-toned flanks. Males of the species have horns in the lovely shape of a lyre, curving backwards and forward. Gerenuks are peaceful creatures, choosing to avoid all violent activity presumably to save their energy and use it to forage and feed. In fact, the majority of their time is spent browsing for grub. With their long necks, it’s quite easy for gerenuks to sift through the branches of a tree for leaves and fruit. Which, as you can imagine, is quite something to see.
The tardigrade is a fascinating little critter. There is much to be said about them, but perhaps their most remarkable trait is their stamina. At 0.5 mm (0.02 in) long when they’re at their full size, tardigrades are small by most stretches of the word. Their size, however, is by no means an indication of their tenacity. Tardigrades are known to be the most resilient animal in nature, by far. They can survive temperatures as low as −458 °F (−272 °C) and as high as 300 °F (150 °C), conditions that would instantly destroy pretty much any other kind of living thing. You can try to kill a tardigrade by overwhelming it with pressure, except it can resist pressure levels around six times greater than those found in the very deepest of ocean trenches. If all else fails, you can always try to chuck it right off the planet, but tardigrades can survive in the vacuum of space. Oh, and they can go without food or water for over 30 years.
The unicorn of the sea, the narwhal (or narwhale) is a whale easily distinguishable for having a magnificent spiral tusk protruding from its face. That tusk, believe it or not, is actually a protruding canine tooth. It’s normally found on males (females can sometimes grow a small one themselves), and it can grow up to 8.8 feet (2.7 metres) long. As far as scientists know, the tusk is primarily used in mating rituals to impress the ladies and battle rival males. These mystical beasts are found in Russian and Greenlandic waters as well as in the Canadian Arctic. Narwhals have been sighted in groups of a couple dozen, but some report seeing them gathering by the hundreds, or even several thousand! Must be quite an event to witness. We may not have the possibility of witnessing it for long, though, since narwhals are among the several species of mythical sea creatures in danger of extinction.
8. Giant Isopod
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the giant isopod. You can thank us later for the heebie-jeebies. The giant isopod is like most other isopods except… kinda bigger. Typical isopods are only around 5 centimetres (2.0 in), whereas typical giant isopods can grow between 19 centimetres (7.5 in) to 36 centimetres (14.2). And those are just the sizes of the average giant isopod; one specimen found in 2010 was actually 2.5 feet long! If we had an infestation of these monsters in our home, we’d curl ourselves into a little ball as they came upon us, dreaming wishfully of cockroaches. Thankfully, you won’t have to worry about your home being invaded by giant isopods, as they spend most of their time in the deep ocean floor. Scientists think that their great size is actually an evolutionary trait they adapted to help them survive the high amounts of pressure found in deep waters. Either way, we’re happy that they’re hanging out in the oceans rather than our living rooms.
The shoebill is something like a stork, but one that would probably eat your babies before it delivers them to you. Just kidding… these giant birds aren’t known to be a threat to humans, but that that doesn’t mean you should give it your child in a basket! Anyway, the shoebill is a massive bird, getting as big as 5 feet in height. Its appearance suggests it wouldn’t be too much of a misfit if it were part of the jurassic period. They might not be that old, but shoebills have been around for a while, with their appearance being noted in ancient Egyptian artwork. Though they’re not a direct threat to humans (not to say you should ever attempt to pet one, despite how nightmarishly adorable it looks), shoebills are considered a daunting predator in their environment, with a diet that includes lungfish, baby crocodiles and even monitor lizards.
6. Blue Dragon
The Glaucus atlanticus (or blue dragon) honours its namesake well, looking like a mythical ice dragon from a cheesy fantasy novel. These little dragons are far from imaginary, with some evidence suggesting that they can be found throughout the world’s oceans. Concrete reports have pinned them in European waters, the Humboldt Current ecosystem in Peru, Andrha Pradesh in India, the east and south coasts of South Africa, Mozambique and the east coast of Australia. If you’re reading this entry from any of those regions and are thinking about going on a blue dragon hunt, be our guest, but be sure not to touch them directly. Although adorable and handsomely cartoonish, these slugs are extremely venomous. Their diet includes venomous prey like the Portuguese man o’ war, and the blue dragon stores its prey’s venom to use against their enemies. Used on humans, their stings normally result in red welts and a sensation of pain that should be gone within three hours. In extreme cases, however, the sting can result in swelling that may impair breathing, and potentially lead to cardiac distress or (in super rare cases) death. So go ahead and look, but be sure not to touch.
5. Sea Bunny
The Jorunna parva (or sea bunny) looks like it was drawn up by an anime illustrator, but it wasn’t. Like every other living thing, it was birthed from the womb of Mother Nature herself, who for some reason decided it should be a slug with an uncanny resemblance to the very cutest of little bunnies. At first look, this snail seems to have ears and even a stumpy tail that looks just like a rabbit’s, not to mention its white skin tone and bunny-like snout. Looks are deceiving, however; those ears are actually sensory organs which detect chemicals in its surroundings that help the sea bunny find food and mates, and that tail-looking thing is actually the snail’s set of gills. Despite being unfathomably adorable, you should not make physical contact with a sea bunny if you run into it in the wild. These snails are venomous in the same way a blue dragon is, siphoning and storing venom from its food to use against its enemies.
4. Blanket Octopus
Who among us could understand the inner mechanisms of Mother Nature’s mind at work? When designing this particular octopus, she decided it would not be complete without a large, fluorescent blanket attached to it. Kinda makes you want to nuzzle next to it and take a short power nap, that is if you’re the type to take your naps underwater. Anyway, the blanket octopus (known in the biological circles as the tremoctopus) is a genus of pelagic cephalopods. Its nickname stems from the transparent webs that connect the dorsal and dorsolateral arms, and they’re only found on females. When feeling threatened by other sea creatures, the females use their namesake as a defensive measure, unfurling their horrific (yet apparently silky smooth) blanket-like membranes and flapping it in the water, giving the impression of a vastly increased size, thus turning a defenceless little octopus into a billowing water nightmare. Whatever works…
Unless you’re some sort of marine biologist and have come equipped with the tools necessary for survival, you never, ever want to run into an anglerfish in its natural habitat, mostly because that means you’d be fathoms deep in the ocean, where it’s unimaginably dark and where your lungs will give out before you can reach anywhere near the water’s surface. As you feel the cold of touch of death coming over you, you may notice a bright light in the distance and think you’re entering the tunnel to the other world. Maybe you are, or maybe you’ve just seen the lure of the anglerfish, coming toward you to sniff around and see what’s up. Any small fish living in deep waters knows that the light emanating from an anglerfish means certain death via sharp, meticulous gobbling. Thankfully you’re not a small fish, but still, what on Earth are you hypothetically doing in the deep ocean without a respirator?
2. Superb Bird-Of-Paradise
Wow, what a name! When hearing the Lophorina superba’s (super bird-of-paradise) common name, you’d picture a twenty-foot-long magnificent phoenix with dozens of unique magical powers, possessing feathers that, when shed and fanned on the ill, can cure any sickness. Unfortunately, that type of beast has yet to be discovered. What we have here instead is a kind of cool, if not admirably tenacious little bird. Growing to approximately 26 centimetres (10 in) long, the superb bird-of-paradise’s (it’s really hard to get used to calling it that) distinguishing characteristic lies not in its size or its magical powers, but in its vivid display of courtship. With a population of males that vastly exceeds the females, these little birds take competition to a whole new level. When courting a female, the male will make an ellipse-shaped caped smiley face of itself and proceed to show off some incredibly snappy dance moves in the hopes of netting the broad before him. Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn’t; a female superb bird-of-paradise will reject 15-20 males before it consents to one.
Out of all the animals on this list, none get more flack for being aesthetically challenged than the blobfish. Named as the world’s ugliest animal in 2013 and being selected as mascot of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, blobfish are known for their total unsexiness more than anything else. Indeed, the blobfish does look like an aquatic anthropomorphization of your beady-eyed, bored, overweight old neighbour, but that’s all due to context. Every photograph we have of the species was shot in our environment, where their bodies are altered significantly. Blobfish dwell naturally between depths of 600 and 1,200 metres underwater, where the pressure is between 60 and 120 times as great as it is at sea level. When outside of its natural environment, the blobfish decompresses to a great degree, so it only looks like a blobby old uncle when it’s within our pressure range. Since it’s too deep in the ocean to photograph properly, scientists believe that blobfish in their natural environment look a lot like its relative, the blob sculpin, a much snazzier looking fish. So before you judge the fugliness of a blobfish, try taking a selfie in their neighborhood, and see if your head doesn’t explode from the pressure.