Around 1.2 million animal species have been described (although millions more undiscovered species exist), but most of us have only ever seen or heard of a handful of these.
While you might be able to point out pigs, elephants, sharks and squirrels until the cows come home, some of this planet’s animals are unbelievably weird. So much so that if you tried to describe them to someone, they might start to get a little worried about your overactive imagination.
Chinese Water Deer
If someone told you they’d seen a vampire deer, you might think they’d suffered a blow to the head, but they might not be too far off. Rather than having antlers, like other deers, male Chinese water deers have 2-inch tusks that look like oversized fangs.
Females also have these tusks, but theirs are much smaller, only around a quarter of an inch. As their name suggests, these deers originate from China, but some wild herds exist in England and France, after having being accidentally released from private collections. Despite their fearsome fangs, they’re more likely to run away from you than sink their teeth in. They’re generally fairly peaceful animals, but males will use their tusks to fight with other males of their species around breeding season.
Pink Fairy Armadillo
You may know what the average armadillo looks like, but pink fairy armadillos are quite different from the rest of their cousins. These tiny mammals are only around 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 inches long and are a pale, rosy pink in color. The high density of blood vessels in their shells is what causes the pink coloration.
Their shells are much more fragile than those of other armadillos species, which leads scientists to believe that they’re more useful for regulating these critters’ temperature than as armor. While they might sound cute as a button, you’re unlikely to spot them – even in their native Argentina – as they’re nocturnal and also thought to be endangered.
Part whale, part unicorn, the narwhal is a strange beast. Their horn or tusk is really a tooth that protrudes through the upper lip. Males can have tusks of between 13 and 18 feet in length, but they’re completely absent in females.
They belong to the cetacean family and are a type of toothed whale. Their scientific name, Monodon monoceros translates from Greek as “one-toothed unicorn.” In the Medieval and Renaissance eras, their tusks were sometimes sold or passed off as unicorn horns.
One thing that most people think sets mammals apart from other types of animals is that they give birth to live young, but that’s not always the case. The long-beaked echidna is one of only two types of mammal that lays eggs and are thought to be an important evolutionary link.
If that’s not weird enough, their lengthy, beak-like snouts don’t have any teeth in them, instead these animals chew their food using rows of spiky projections located on their extra-large tongues. In among their coarse, dark fur, they have a number of hard spines which help protect them from potential prey. These endangered creatures only live in New Guinea and parts of Australia.
The African shoebill’s monstrous size along is enough to make them, frankly, slightly terrifying. They stand almost 5 feet tall, have a wingspan of up to 12 feet and weigh around 20 pounds. Their strange appearance has netted them the nickname “whale headed stork.”
Weirder still is their huge bill, which closely resembles a Dutch clog. It measures roughly 10 inches long and can be used to catch and kill a range of prey, including monitor lizards and even young crocodiles. Although unconfirmed, there has been one report of a shoebill eating a baby antelope!
Proboscis monkeys are aptly named after their long, protruding noses. Only males have enlarged noses, which can reach almost 4 inches long. We don’t want to say that bigger is necessarily better, but scientific research has shown that females of the species show preference toward mates with larger noses.
It’s hypothesized that this is because it acts as a kind of amplification chamber, allowing them to make louder mating calls. Endemic to Borneo, these are the second larges monkey is Asia, measuring between 21 and 30 inches long, with males notably larger than females.
Parrot Fish have some extremely unusual characteristics and habits. First off is the toothy beak from which they get their name. They use this to bite off and grind up chunks of rocks and coral, which they them extract polyps and other tasty morsels from. Next on the list is their disturbing form of pajamas.
Certain parrot fish species encase themselves in a mucus crust when it’s time for bed, which helps to protect them from predatory attacks while they’re trying to catch 40 winks. Perhaps oddest of all is their ability to change gender according to necessity. A male normally reigns over a harem of female parrot fish, fertilizing all of their eggs. However, if the male dies and there are no other males in the area, one of the females can spontaneously change gender in order to keep up the reproductive cycle.
Saigas look like a bizarre hybrid of an antelope and ALF of the eponymous 1980s sitcom. Their large, bulbous noses aren’t just for appearances; they help these creatures to breathe clean air during the summer in their dusty, arid habitat, and to warm the air they breathe during the winter, when temperatures plummet.
Sadly, Saiga antelopes are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Their decline is mainly due to habitat loss, hunting and climate change. Today their population is at less than 50,000 and is centered in three main regions of Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Kalmykia, but their range was once much larger, spanning much of Europe. They even used to live in North America during the Pleistocene era.
Question of the day:
What weird and wonderful animals do you know of?
Leave your answers in the comments below!