4 Cute Animals With Creepy Secrets

#EcoList of Things We Love

Cybele Knowles
Center for Biological Diversity
4 min readOct 21, 2016


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Is it possible to be both cute and creepy? But of course — prepare yourself for awwws and shudders.

  1. Tufted Deer: Bambi With a Bad Overbite
Tufted deer by Heush/Wikimedia.

Tufted deer are named after the striking tufts of hair on their foreheads. And although these dainty deer from central China do have sweet hairstyles, they also have fangs. The males use their extra-long canines as weapons in mating and territorial conflicts. They also have antlers to fight with, but tiny ones — so small they’re usually hidden under the deer’s namesake tuft.

Water deer, musk deer and muntjac also have fangs. It’s believed that way back in the day, all deer, like today’s tufteds, were small in stature, with both fangs and horns. In the course of evolution, taller deer species developed their antlers and lost their tusks, while smaller deer kept small antlers but retained their tusks — and their creep factor.

2. Platypus: Funny Cutie With Poison Spurs

Platypus by Klaus/Flickr.

The platypus is a semi-aquatic, egg-laying mammal with a duck bill, beaver tail, webbed feet, waterproof coat, reptilian gait… and poison spurs.

On their back heels, male platypuses have spurs connected to poison glands that activate during the breeding season. In battles over mates, male platypuses wrap their back feet around each other and stab stab stab. A platypus will also use his spurs if threatened. Platypus venom can paralyze or even kill small animals such as dogs; it’s not lethal to humans but causes excruciating pain that can’t be treated with conventional painkillers and can last for a month or more. Try not to get platypus-spurred out there, people.

3. Velvet Worm: Little Softie With Deadly Slime Cannons

Velvet worm by nascenthought/Flickr.

Velvet worms, found throughout the southern hemisphere, are invertebrates up to 8 inches long with velvety skin. Predators of insects, snails and other available small creatures, they have sharp jaws and flesh-dissolving saliva. They move slowly on their stub feet (called “lobopods”). So how do they catch their meals? With glue-slime cannons, of course.

Velvet worms have an impressive set of slime glands that are almost as long as their whole body and make up about 10 percent of their mass. Once this ambush predator gets prey in its sights, it shoots sticky, quick-drying slime from two facial orifices. The slime hardens, holding the prey captive until the velvet worm makes its way on its slow, stubby feet to the dinner table. Watch a velvet worm throwing slime like double lassos at a rodeo.

4. Irukandji Jellyfish: Wee Jelly Will Not Hesitate to Mess With Your Head

Irukandji jellyfish by Dr. Lisa-Ann Gershwin.

The Australian Irukandji jellyfish is one of the most poisonous jellies in the world, which you might not expect since it’s also one of the tiniest: only 5 to 25 millimeters wide, with tentacles of only a few inches in length.

Getting stung by an Irukandji jellyfish is reportedly among the most painful and horrible experiences known to humankind. Symptoms include severe headache, backache, muscle pains, chest and abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, sweating, high blood pressure that can lead to brain hemorrhage, and heart failure. Several people are believed to have died from Irukandji jellyfish stings.

However, the strangest symptom of the sting is an impending sense of doom. “Patients believe they’re going to die, and they’re so certain of it that they’ll actually beg their doctors to kill them just to get it over with,” says biologist Lisa Gershwin. Just how did Irukandji jellyfish figure out how to game our awareness of our mortality? It’s a mystery — and also quite creepy.

Flotsam is a list of things we think are cool. Send us your ideas at flotsam@biologicaldiversity.org.