The Ten Most Interesting Animal Species You Probably Haven't Heard Of
Turns out the animal world isn't just about lions, giraffes, dogs, cows, and cats. Mother Earth contains many creatures that are just now being discovered by scientists, and not only at the bottom of the ocean. A six-foot long tree lizard and a new African antelope were discovered in the last couple of years. If you're not a scientist, you may find you have some news to catch up on.
10. Angora Rabbit
Strigops habroptilus (a domesticated variety)
The Angora Rabbit is the product of hundreds of years of domestic breeding for its wool. The result looks something like a cat that has touched a power line, a cotton ball with a face, or a sheep that's been through a straightener. There are actually multiple breeds of this rabbit, and they were very popular among French royalty. I'm curious if Elmer Fudd would want to hunt one of these guys. Check out this site, which takes them very, very seriously.
9. Dumbo Octopus
This little guy can be found really, really deep in the ocean. By deep I mean 7000 meters deep. He's not called the Dumbo Octopus because of his intelligence, either. He uses his ears to swim. Why does this guy make the list? Because he's kind of cute, despite being used to swallowing his victims whole. No need to worry, he's only about 20 centimeters long, full grown. Scientists don't know all that much else about him.
Golly-gee, that's one ugly creature. What was evolution thinking?
You might guess that the blobfish isn't a fast swimmer. It doesn't even have to swim most of the time, as its body tissue is slightly less dense than water, allowing it to float effortlessly just off the bottom of the ocean, waiting for its dinner of microorganisms to float by. How does it survive not being eaten? By not being tasty. In fact, it's inedible to humans. It's still endangered though; overfishing of the ocean bottom leads to these guys being hauled out of the ocean at a fast rate.
To be fair, in its natural habitat the blobfish might look somewhat less hideous than these shapeless, decompressed victims that have been hauled to the surface; see the artist's drawing below.
Artist's Impression of Blobfish at Home
The kakapo is the world's largest parrot. It evolved into such a large and peaceful bird because of the former lack of mammalian predators in its island home in New Zealand. Among its qualities: it smells weird, barks like a dog, and is portly and nocturnal.
It is critically endangered (there are less than 200 left, and most of these individual kakapos have names). When Europeans brought dogs and cats over to New Zealand, these animals learned the kakapo's smell, and were able to find them with ease. Once again an example of humans messing with nature. Poor kakapos. At least it is fun to say their name.
Q: What has three toes on its front limbs, two toes on its back limbs, pale human-like skin, is blind, lives to 100 (some say only 60), lives in caves, and can go ten years without food?
A: You should have guessed from all those hints (and the subtitle) ... the olm.
This blind salamander of the limestone caves of southern Europe is not much like any other amphibian. The olm has a great sense of hearing and of smell. Its olfactory system is so well-made that it can sense how many little living things surround it. Many a fisherman became a believer in sea monsters after catching one of these creatures ... just check out the picture above.
5: Matamata Turtle
This South American freshwater turtle makes the list because he looks like a tank. The matamata looks bulletproof, fireproof, radiation-proof, and toughest of all, child-proof. I'm not sure about any of those claims though, as I didn't run into any support during my research. Though the shell and head look extremely tough, and probably are, they are meant for camouflage; the matamata is said to resemble a chunk of bark with dead leaves. From above, he would be very hard to see sitting on the bottom of a creek, and also a nasty surprise if you stepped on him. I say this as a person afraid of snakes and spiders. I can't imagine how the person who discovered this river monster felt.
4. Barreleye Fish
Macropinna microstoma (and other fish in the family Opisthoproctidae)
The barreleye in the video above is one of the few ever seen alive with its distinctive transparent head. Although it has been documented since 1939, in early specimens nets or lines had pierced and deflated the fluid bubble that makes this fish so unique.
The transparent head works like a cockpit in a fighter plan. The fish can rotate its eyes backwards and upwards to see prey and predators. Useful, eh? It also is one of the few animals on earth that can put its anatomy on display without dying.
Too bad it dwells in such deep water, or else I'd buy an aquarium for one of those things with my HubPages earnings.
Tarsiers are interesting creatures.These little guys grow to be a whopping five inches. They eat insects and have been known to jump from tree to tree and eat birds.
That's right. They're nocturnal, and move very, very fast using their bony fingers and long tail. Females usually have about one little baby tarsier per year. What else is unnatural about these creatures? They can twist their heads 180 degrees like an owl. If they were any bigger, I'd be terrified of them.
This once again proves that Mother Nature has more creativity than science fiction writers.
2. Flying Squid
Several species, including Todarodes pacificus, Ommastrephes bartramii
Flying ... Squid?
I couldn't find much information on flying squid, because people have been mistaking them for flying fish. Only within the last 20 years was the flying squid seriously talked about in academic circles. If you readers have been on the water much, you know that flying fish just zoom by and it is hard to distinguish their finer features from a boat. Flying squid are even rarer, and zoom by just as fast.
Scientists recently confirmed that there is a flying squid known as the "red" or "neon" flying squid. But it's blue. We don't know how they jump out of the water, or why, or apparently even what color they are. More research needs to be done on these things.
Number 1 (and My Favorite): Darwin Bark Spider
Darwin's Bark Spiders were a recent discovery (2009) for the world at large; here are some pictures and discussion (in National Geographic) from the scientists who first documented them. Of all these creatures, they mystify me the most. A couple of facts: First, their silk is much stronger than any other spider's silk that has been studied. It is 10 times stronger than Kevlar (that stuff in bulletproof vests). Second, and probably related, they somehow string their webs across, not along, rivers...don't you have to have two people to string something across a river? Maybe they swim across, who knows. Their webs are the biggest and strongest spiderwebs known.
The best way to study them is by boat because that's the only way scientists can analyze their behavior from up close. Much about them is still unknown, because for a long time only local Madagascar rangers and tour guides knew about them.
They eat bees, dragonflies, and mayflies (up to 32 mayflies have been found in one web at a time). People wonder if their webs can catch birds, too.
Bonus: The Mimic Octopus! How Could I Forget...
The Mimic Octopus was discovered in 1998, in shallow, murky Indonesian seas. What makes it special? Watch the video and see for yourself. It can mimic many underwater species, and mimic them very well indeed. In one example, it mimics a crab so that real crabs thinks that the octopus is a mate. Only then it devours the (probably shocked) crab that is trying to mate with it. Nature is a cruel, cruel beast. Imagine laying down with a hot date you picked up at the bar, only for it to turn into a ravening grizzly bear waiting to devour you. Ugh.
In another instance, the mimic octopus tricks one of its predators into thinking it's a snake by burying six to seven legs in the ocean floor. The snake that it's mimicking, by the way, preys on the fish that preys on the octopus. Extending the metaphor from before, one could say that is basically the same thing as your Mcdonald's chicken strips turning into something that looks like a ravening grizzly bear waiting to devour you. Smart, eh?
Intelligence: One Last Thought
I'd like to bring up another point. At times I've discussed the idea (pardon my lack of sources and extended use of parentheses) that one measure of a species's intelligence might be how well it survives over very long periods of time.
Of course many people assume that humans are the most intelligent species. A very strong case can be made for that. However, as a purely hypothetical thought experiment, let us imagine that humans make weapons that, hmm, well, might be able to destroy entire cities. Let us further posit that humans might use this superweapon on each other in the course of human disputes over political ideas. In this hypothetical case, the world could be turned to ruin, and humans essentially wiped from the face of the planet, along with many other poor animals who got in the way. This scenario is not entirely inconceivable; let's face it, we've ruined many many natural habitats doing our thing and karma is not really on our side.
Consider also that humans as we know them have been on the face of the earth for MAYBE two to three million years. Our newly discovered friend the mimic octopus, however, has most likely been happily doing his thing for millions and millions of more years, safely and discreetly at the bottom of the ocean.
So—humans are smart enough to create a weapon of incredible power, and some other cool stuff like the drive-thru, but dumb enough to blow ourselves up because we don't know if we like communism or democracy better. The octopus is smart enough to mimic at least five or six different animals, and also likely smart enough to live to see its great-great-great-great-(x50)-great-grandchildren. Which is smarter?