The world is filled with weird and wonderful things, and the animal kingdom has more than its share. From animals that look or act like one thing, but are really another, to those that don’t act like anything we’ve ever seen before. There are eye-popping camouflage disguises and cuteness where you least expect it. The world is teeming with things we can scarcely imagine. So here is just a sampling.
The Raccoon Dog, or Tanuki, is an actual member of the dog family. However, scientists consider it closer to primitive dogs than to modern ones. It may look similar to a raccoon, but the two species are not closely related. They share several anatomical features with different kinds of foxes, but they’re not closely related to foxes, either. Unlike the dogs that they are related to, omnivorous Tanukis are avid tree-climbers. They also hibernate. Raccoon dogs vary in size, from 18″ to 28″ in total length. They are native to East Asia but are also abundant in the Baltic States, and in western and central Russia.
Cantor’s Giant Soft Shell Turtle
The endangered Cantor’s Giant Soft Shell Turtle is a freshwater turtle native to Southeast Asia. These are big turtles — 28 to 39 inches in length. Their defining feature is their smooth, soft carapace. What possible good does it do a turtle to go about without a shell? Well, the Cantor’s Giant Soft Shell Turtle is an ambush predator. It spends much of its life on the bottom of lakes and rivers, buried in mud. There, it waits for a likely looking snack to swim by, and SNAP! In this situation, being flat, soft, and mud-colored are three distinct advantages.
Can you see the spider in the center of this picture? Probably not at first. We’ll give you a hint. It’s on the main limb, very close to the junction of the limb sticking out to the right. From this angle, it looks like a knot in the wood. This amazing creature is Dolophones conifera or the wraparound spider. This arachnid camouflages itself by flattening its body against a tree, and wrapping itself around that tree. The wraparound spider is native to Australia, where else? In photos, these spiders may look quite large. In reality, though, males are only about 5mm long, and females about 8mm — that’s about three to an inch.
People have called the Mangalitsa a “curly pig” and “a pig in sheep’s clothing.” This species is a hybrid, created in Hungary in the 19th century, by combining different breeds of domestic pig from Hungary and Serbia with the European Wild Boar. The result is a domestic pig with white, tightly-curled wool like a sheep. You will find Mangalitsa (or Mangalica) pigs all over Central Europe, including Hungary, Austria, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Germany. Although these pigs produce less meat than other domestic pig breeds, they are still largely kept as food animals. Their primary product is a kind of spicy sausage.
There are a lot of weird and wonderful things swimming around beneath Antarctic waters. The cold seems to impart magical powers of great size and longevity. Another weird species you’ll find down there is the Antarctic Icefish or Notothenioidei. Take a close look at the photo. Notice anything interesting? The Antarctic Icefish and its relatives are transparent. And what about their blood? It’s also transparent! The Antarctic Icefish has no hemoglobin to make the blood red. This species, and its relatives, also lack a swim bladder. What they do have, however, is a kind of antifreeze running through their veins. This is how they can stand such cold temperatures.
Behold the Vampire Deer! The Tufted Deer is named for the black tuft of hair on its head. However, we think the fangs that males develop are a much more impressive feature. Unlike the vampires we read about, these fanged beasties are vegetarian. However, they do only come out at dusk. The Tufted Deer lives in the forested mountain regions of Myanmar and the South of China, from the coastal southeast to Tibet. This striking looking creature is declining in number, unfortunately, due to habitat loss and overhunting.
Pink Fairy Armadillo
When a lot of people think of armadillos, they think of hard shells and creatures that can roll into a protective ball. The Pink Fairy Armadillo is all that, but with a twist: a pretty pink color, and a soft, furry underbelly. The Pink Fairy Armadillo is native to the central Argentinian plains. Temperatures can vary widely, here, even over the course of the day. Scientists believe that the armadillos’ hairy undercoat helps them to regulate their body temperature. Sightings are rare, so no one is quite sure how many of these burrowing insectivores exist. Their greatest identified threats are wild boars, as well as domestic cats and dogs. These little guys are only around four inches long, after all.
Blue Dragon or Sea Swallow
The Sea Swallow, sometimes called a Blue Dragon, is a species of sea slug. Sea slugs, as a group is amazing, with vivid colors and shapes that remind us, like the Sea Bunny, of something different altogether. This brilliantly colored creature is small enough to sit in the palm of your hand. They live at the surface of the water, floating upside down, and using the water’s surface tension to keep them afloat. Though they are small, however, Blue Dragons be fierce. They feast upon the venomous Portuguese Man O’ War jellyfish. And Blue Dragons themselves, like many sea slugs, are also venomous. They like tropical waters and have been found in parts of Europe, South Africa, Australia, and Mozambique.
It’s a weird, wild, wonderful world out there. Want to see some more strange animals? Check out these freaky sea creatures from National Geographic.