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Nature has a thing about survival of the fittest. In that spirit some species of animals (whether they live in water, on land or in the sky) have gone to extremes to make sure they have whatever bonus edge they can get over their neighbors in the wild.
1. The pink fairy armadillo
What scientists like to call it: Chlamyphorus truncatus
The smallest (and, of course, pinkest) armadillo in the world favors the grasslands and sandy plains of Central Argentina as its home territory. If you happen to stumble across one in the Argentinian wilds, consider yourself extremely lucky. This ant-loving burrower keeps to life underground, preferably near anthills that can double as all-you-can-eat buffets. Usually weighing in at less than half a kilogram (about one pound), it substantially lacks in the body weight department compared to other members of the armadillo family, some of which can top the scales at 33 kilograms (nearly 73 pounds).
And while its bigger relatives are known for their armored shell, the pink fairy armadillo’s fragile back plating isn’t completely attached to its body. That pinkish tinge you’re seeing is a result of blood vessels showing through, and as you might have already guessed it’s not much good for protection, either. Instead, scientists believe its purpose is to help control body temperature, changing the pinkish hue it has as environmental temperatures rise or fall.
2. The Honduran white bat
What scientists like to call it: Ectophylla alba
If it weren’t for the fact that ‘bat’ is in its name, this fluff of white fur could be mistaken for a genetic experiment involving a hamster, a budgie and an albino rhino gone horribly haywire. Native to eastern Honduras, northern Nicaragua and parts of Costa Rica and Panama, this nocturnal fruit-eater likes to set up camp in lowland rainforests.
Speaking of camping, using the leaves of the Heliconia plant, this 5-centimeter (2-inch)-long bat creates shelter by folding a leaf into a makeshift tent. It’s the reason why it is sometimes referred to as the Honduran tent bat, and each re-jigged leaf can have a colony comprising of one male with six female companions living under it.
3. The Venezuelan poodle moth
What scientists like to call it: currently undecided
Is it, or isn’t it? That is the question often associated with the poodle moth since it was first brought to the general public’s attention in 2012. Kyrgyzstan zoologist Arthur Anker reportedly snapped 75 pictures of what some experts feel might be a relative of the muslin moth, which falls into the category of tiger moths. That’s about as far as the classification for the 2.5 centimeter-long (one inch) poodle moth goes. ‘Reportedly’ gets tagged along with this because it’s still a source of debate whether the poodle moth exists. It appears as though the pictures were taken Anker in Venezuela’s Gran Sabana region in the Canaima National Park during the winter months of 2008 and early 2009, and while it still has no genus assigned it was Anker who dubbed his find the poodle moth.
Information about this undeniably cute creature is sparse and no one seems to have been able to track down another one down in the wild since the initial discovery. That’s not to say this is a hoax… we think. Canaima is one of the largest national parks in the world at three million hectares, and when you’re looking for something smaller than a big toe it what could be described as one of the planet’s messiest all-natural living rooms, spotting it might be a little tricky.
4. The star-nosed mole
What scientists like to call it: Condylura cristata
These 22 pink ‘fingers’ on its nose help the nearly blind mole find food. Besides being freakishly impressive looking, these fingers combine to house over 100,000 nerve fibers. A big number, but what does it really mean? On a neurological level, the star-nosed mole can basically see with its snout. It can also gobble a worm in a quarter of a second, which makes it the fastest-eating mammal on the planet.
Of the 39 known species of moles, this is the only one that calls a swamp its home. Its namesake nose allows this mole to efficiently hunt its insect prey (in most cases, worms) while on land but also enables it to smell…underwater. Bubbles blown from its nose are inhaled quickly, which the mole then smells to detect scents in the water. It might be a little bizarre to look at, but this marsh-loving animal’s scent capabilities are still a fascinating study in progress for scientists who don’t mind dealing with a creature that has tentacles on its face.
5. The okapi
What scientists like to call it: Okapia johnstoni
The okapi, aka the forest giraffe, can be found in Congo’s rainforests and looks like it’s been spray-tagged by thugs (if artistic thugs hung around in the northeastern rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, that is). With it’s striped black and white zebra-like legs and a coat of fur that appears to glisten with a purple hue, this long-necked relative of the giraffe does its best to avoid natural predators like panthers but has had limited success avoiding man. Hunting and an ever-shrinking territory being eaten up by mining and logging operations now have the okapi on the endangered species list with fewer than 4,500 left in the wild.
6. The proboscis monkey
What scientists like to call it: Nasalis larvatus
Don’t be turned off by the fleshy nose of the proboscis monkey. It acts like an echo chamber which helps amplify vocalizations to attract breeding females (and spook males) in the jungles of Borneo. But there’s more to the proboscis monkey’s honker than just making a lot of noise; research is showing the bigger the nose a male has, the more, how should we say this — junk in the trunk he is packing. It acts as a sexual billboard to potential mates, which they take as notification the 23 kilogram (50 pound) monkey hunk in front of them has a higher sperm count, which increases the odds of successful copulation.
There’s more to the proboscis monkey than just its nose, and thanks to webbed hands and feet it’s a decent swimmer. You’ll find harems consisting of one dominant male and several females always living close to water (rivers and swamps are the prime locations), and as you may have already guessed the guy with the biggest nose will be the one sitting at the head of the table.
7. The leaf-tailed gecko
What scientists like to call it: Uroplatus
There are eight species of leaf-tailed lizards in this gecko family, all of which are native to the rainforest regions of Madagascar and its surrounding coastal island neighbors. Their name nicely summarizes the preferred habitat for these geckos; they’re most comfortable sticking close to trees and plants, where their natural camouflage abilities can keep them off the radar of their predators. No expenses are spared when it comes to appearances, either. These 10-30 centimeter-long (4-12 inch) animals mimic their surroundings perfectly. They don’t just look a leaf, they look like a leaf that’s been chewed and trampled on. From the air, these nocturnal carnivorous hunters always need to keep one eye open for eagles and owls, while rats and snakes are the biggest worries on the ground. Speaking of eyes — geckos don’t possess eyelids in the traditional sense, but a transparent cover.
If you’re ever hoping to find a leaf-tailed gecko in the jungle, you might have to keep your fingers crossed for stumbling across one that happens to be in the midst of an eyeball lick, something done to help clear away dust and dirt. Unfortunately, deforestation is putting all of the species leaf-tailed geckos at risk, although they currently do not sit on the endangered species list (or maybe they do and we just can’t see them).
8. The roughback batfish
What scientists like to call it: Ogcocephalus parvus
With a face only a mother could love (and even then odds are slim it’s one they would want to kiss), this ten centimeter (four inches)-long bottom-dwelling underwater alien is, on top of being small and odd-looking, a pretty lousy swimmer. Because of that, this member of the batfish family (there are at least known species) usually stalks its dinner from patches of grassy patches where it can use the element of surprise to ambush its prey. That can include very small fish, scallops and snails.
Usually found in the western waters of the Atlantic, there is an upside to life as a roughback batfish: it hasn’t had any run-ins with humans, nor is it being feasted on by larger animals. As a result, its population numbers are high enough that the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists it as “locally abundant.” In other words, safe to go on living life as an underwater animal named after a bat that can’t really swim.
9. The saiga antelope
What scientists like to call it: Saiga tatarica
Found in steppe grassland regions of Asia, from Hungary to Mongolia, the hump-nosed saiga antelope is an animal you might have heard about already due to some very bad recent news for the species. In the 1990s, the saiga was one of the few remaining beasts on this planet that could claim to have relatives that spent time roaming the Earth alongside a mammoth, with numbers in excess of one million. Today, estimates put their population count at less than 50,000. Everything about this animal demonstrates a creature that is meant to be able to endure harsh environmental conditions, including a nose that allows frigid air to be warmed up before hitting the lungs.
What it can’t combat is illegal hunting from the human side of things and Mother Nature deciding to throw this now-endangered species a curveball on top of that with 2015’s bacterium outbreak of Pasteurella multocida. In a three-week time span, 200,00 saiga — 60 percent of this antelope’s population — died as a result.
10. The peacock mantis shrimp
What scientists like to call it: Odontodactylus scyllarus
The waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans are being patrolled by an animal with astounding vision, appendages that pack the power of a speeding bullet and a colorful appearance that makes it easy to pick out of a lineup. It’s the peacock mantis shrimp, a crustacean that inhabits the shadows of coral growth or ocean-floor rock beds and isn’t afraid to get into a boxing match when it comes to territorial disputes or putting dinner on the table. Using the most complex eyes of any animal on Earth, this shrimp has no problem spotting predator or prey as it approaches thanks to its two independently moving eyes.
Within those eyes, you’ll find the workings that allow it to see ultraviolet light and ten times more colors than humans. And those deadly appendages? They enable the peacock mantis shrimp to take on opponents larger than itself, and researchers have calculated it can land a punch at the speed of a .22 caliber bullet. Not just any .bullet, mind you — armor-piercing bullets. It’s why you can often find this shrimp feasting on mollusks and crabs.
What scientists like to call it: Capra falconeri
This wild goat can be found in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, specifically within high-altitude monsoon forests scattered across the mountains. These forests provide herbivorous markhor a chance to find plenty of foliage to eat, such as fruits, flowers and leaves. The national animal of Pakistan, it is officially endangered, with only 2,500 left in the wild.
How does an animal living perched on steep cliffs in a remote part of the world and possessing two spiraling antlers that reach lengths of 1.5 meters (almost five feet) become endangered? Blame humans and deforestation for that dilemma, along with predators like wolves, lynxes and snow leopards.
12. Matamata Turtle
What scientists like to call it: Chelus fimbriata
The nocturnal matamata turtle makes its home in the Amazon regions of Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia, where it burrows into the muddy bottoms of slow-moving streams and shallow rivers. Once nestled in, it uses its shell’s bark-like appearance and head that looks like a leaf to blend right in with the sunken foliage around it. With its long neck, this turtle can have its feet on the ground still while it sticks its nose up to the water’s surface for a breath of fresh air, feeding its reputation for being a bit lazy when it comes to exercise.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this might be chocked up to it weighing in at upwards of 17.2 kilograms (38 pounds), although a newly-hatched matamata will attempt to swim until its size and awkward body shape catches up to it. The matamata also avoids excessive movement at mealtimes, instead using its camouflaged appearance to lay low and ‘vacuum’ its prey into its mouth. Ideally, that would be small fish and crustaceans, but with its poor eyesight chances are good this turtle would be happy with anything that finds its way into its gullet.
13. Glass Frog
What scientists like to call it: Centrolenidae
While most of the nocturnal glass frog is a soft-green color, it gets its name from the transparent skin on its abdomen. It’s the sort of physical feature that has possibly saved this tiny amphibian (even the ‘giant’ classification of the glass frog is only eight centimeters, or three inches, in length) from dissection since its internal organs are completely visible through its skin. A variety of these frogs can be found living in the canopies of rainforests in South and Central America, and these tiny creatures have also been featured on Colombia’s 500 peso coin.
It’s a marvel of the natural world that continues to astound, including the 2017 discovery of a new species in Ecuador with a larger transparent area that allowed scientists a clear view of its beating heart. Additionally, glass frogs are protective of their children. A study by Boston University researchers found that in many different glass frog species, mothers and fathers stand guard over their eggs for hours overnight. Never known as fighters, but males can be extremely territorial, and will often send some guttural verbal warnings to intruding males before hopping after them to make sure their point has been made.
What scientists like to call it: Ambystoma mexicanum
The axolotl (ax-oh-lot-ul) is notable amongst amphibians in that they do not undergo metamorphosis before adulthood. Huh? Basically, that means this salamander that can only be found in the canals and lakes around Xochimilco, Mexico, retain adolescent physical traits throughout their 15-year lifespan. Adult axolotl remain in the water and keep their feathery gills, even though as adults they have fully-formed lungs. In the axolotl world, it sits at the top of the food chain that sees them surviving on a diet of mollusks, worms, insect larvae and crustaceans. Until recently, the axolotl’s main worry on the predatory scale was herons, but the introduction of several species of large fish into its ecosystem has thrown the balance of power off somewhat.
If attacks are a concern, like most salamanders this one can at least regenerate lost limbs, but on top of that ability the axolotl can rebuild segments of its own brain and spinal cord. Where things get really strange is that no matter what part of its body it has had to re-make and no matter how many times it has had to undergo this natural plastic surgery, there is never any scarring or sign of an injury. Despite this super-human talent, the axolotl is considered critically endangered, due to the growth of Mexico City and the resulting pollution.
What scientists like to call it: Pholidota
Spread across Southern, Central, East Africa and Asia, the pangolin bears a strong resemblance to a pinecone mixed with an anteater. It’s one of the reasons why it is sometimes called a scaly anteater, although it takes a page out of the armadillo defense strategy guide by curling up into a ball when it feels threatened. And threatened it is — the eight pangolin species are currently thought to be some of the most heavily trafficked wild mammals in the world. This is attributed to the demand for their keratin-based shells, which are frequently used in Chinese medicine. In China and Vietnam, their meat is considered a delicacy, and those factors combine to see 100,000 pangolin poached from the wild every year.
Depending on the region it is living in (Africa and China each have four pangolin species), they can be found sleeping either in trees or in underground burrows. Authorities are fighting an uphill battle in the fight against this animal’s poaching, especially in China where a recent survey revealed 70 percent of respondents believed pangolin scales have medicinal value.
Watch: Weird-Looking Creatures You’ve Probably Never Seen Before
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- 10 weird little aliens you can find right here on Earth
- A-Z Strange Animals List
- Inside the Bizarre Life of the Star-Nosed Mole, World’s Fastest Eater
- Axolotl found in Mexico City lake after scientists feared it only survived in captivity
- (Some) Frogs Are Better Parents Than We Thought
- Matamata, Chelus fimbriatus
- Chelus fimbriata
- Marabou Stork
- Capra falconeri
- Capra falconeri
- Rollin’ With the Pangolin
- WORKSHOP ON TRADE AND CONSERVATION OF PANGOLINS NATIVE TO SOUTH AND SOUTHEAST ASIA
- The axolotl mutants
- You Can See the Living Heart of This ‘Glass Frog’