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20 weird creatures you didn’t know exist

by Martin Morin

Do you know your aye-ayes from your axolotls? Think you could recognize a chevrotain in a crowd? Here are 20 animals that look as though they come straight from the pages of a fairy tale, although they all actually exist!

Gerenuk

First described in 1878

This mammal, also known as the giraffe gazelle or Waller’s gazelle, lives in East Africa, mainly in Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia. Gerenuks are herbivores that can live for a dozen years or so. They are highly adaptable, able to survive in very dry environments. The species is threatened by habitat loss.

Dugong

First described in 1765

This marine mammal, which can grow to lengths of three metres (10 feet) and weighs in at around 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds), has a lifespan of up to 70 years. Dugongs spend their days peacefully swimming through the Indian and Pacific oceans, as well as the Red Sea. They are related to the manatee and… the elephant! These animals have long been hunted for their oil, meat, skin and bones, and although the species is now protected it is still vulnerable. Dugongs feed by grazing the ocean floor — they are the only marine mammals that are strictly herbivorous.

Siberian flying squirrel

First described in 1758

The native habitat of the Siberian flying squirrel (or pteromys volans to its closest friends) stretches all the way from Finland to the Bering Sea. This charming little creature, which weighs barely 150 grams (five ounces), is able to glide over distances of up to 40 metres (130 feet). This squirrel prefers to hunt at night, and isn’t averse to nabbing an egg or two from unguarded nests.

Bongo

First described in 1861

This creature is the largest of the forest antelopes. Bongos are magnificent mammals that can weigh up to 450 kilograms (1,000 pounds), crowned with horns that can be up to a metre (three feet) in length. These herbivores live in central and southern Africa. Male bongos tend to be solitary.

Saiga

First described in 1766

This antelope (‘saiga’ means antelope in Russian) is critically endangered though hunting. These strange-looking mammals can be found on the steppes of Central Asia, in Mongolia, Russia and Kazakhstan. Their giant noses are incredibly flexible, capable of filling with air and keeping it warm during cold periods. The nose also serves as a filter when the wind whips up desert dust. Saigas move in herds over great distances.

Aye-aye

First described in 1782

This little lemur, which looks like a cross between a bat and a Gremlin, lives on the island of Madagascar. The species is sadly endangered. Aye-ayes weigh around two kilograms (four pounds) and can live for up to 20 years, spending their lives in the treetops and avoiding being at ground level as much as possible.

Star-nosed mole

First described in 1871

This cute (?) little mole has a nose that looks a bit like an octopus or a starfish. Its 22 tentacles are covered with 25,000 sensors that allow the mole to locate and devour prey in less than a second. They can be found tunnelling through the marshes of North America.

Batfish

First described in 1808

This red-lipped fish lives in waters around Peru and the Galapagos Islands. It’s a pretty poor swimmer, using its fins like legs to walk around the ocean floor, over 30 metres (100 feet) below the surface.

Lowland streaked tenrec

First described in 1798

This tiny, punky mammal can only be found in one place on Earth: Madagascar, off the coast of southeast Africa. These animals can grow up to 20 centimetres long (eight inches), weighing only 125 to 280 grams (four to 10 ounces). Its spines, like those of a porcupine, are detachable, providing a defence mechanism while foraging on the ground. This tenrec also uses its quills to communicate with other members of the species, rubbing them together to warn of a predator.

Japanese spider crab

First described in 1836

This enormous marine creature, considered a delicacy by some seafood lovers, can weigh over 18 kg (40 pounds) and have a leg span of over 18 feet (five metres). To protect themselves on the ocean floor, these crabs cover their shells in sea sponges and other small animals as a disguise. They are often found near thermal vents, over 600 metres (2,000 feet) underwater.

Blobfish

First described in 1995

This recent addition to the catalogue of known species was recently awarded the coveted (?) accolade of being the most ugly animal on Earth. We can see why, with its face that even a mother would struggle to love. It looks a little better when observed in its natural habitat, in the waters surrounding Australia. A frequent collateral victim of commercial fishing, this species is unfortunately in danger of extinction.

Glaucus Atlanticus

First described in 2013

This prettily coloured mollusk looks like something straight out of the Harry Potter universe. It is tiny — just three centimetres (1.2 inches) long — but is certainly no pushover, having no qualms whatsoever about eating a member of its own family if it’s hungry enough. It also secretes toxins to protect itself from predators. It is mainly found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Though these sea slugs are hermaphrodites, they need to mate with a partner.

Goblin shark

First described in 1898

The goblin shark likes to hide its beauty away, living at depths of over one kilometre (3,300 feet) in oceans all over the world. It has a protrusible jaw that can extend forward to help catch prey. Its preferred method of hunting is to remain hidden, waiting until the last second to attack. A mature goblin shark can be up to four metres (13 feet) long.

Purple frog

Species family first described in 1918. Specific species first described in 2003.

This shifty-looking individual, formally known as Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis (one to impress your friends with at your next dinner party), is found in India and South Asia. It lives permanently underground except for two weeks a year, during mating season, when females lay around 3,000 eggs.

Chevrotain

First described in 1864

Looks like a deer, but measures barely 30 centimetres (a foot) high, with tiny, baby horns! It’s easy to see why the chevrotain is also known as a mouse-deer. This solitary, vegetarian, nocturnal animal lives between Asia and Africa, often hiding out in dense woodland along riverbanks. If it spots a predator, it gets into the water to hide.

Panda ant

First described in 1938

Misleadingly named, this creature is actually a species of wasp (there are, in fact, over 3,000 different species belonging to the mutillidae family). Pretty as this insect is, there’s a painful sting in that tail and its distinctive look serves just one purpose — keeping predators at bay. The panda ant lives in Chile and Argentina, and is a solitary insect. It is, however, parasitic, laying its eggs in other insect nests so that its young can feed on the other larvae.

Mantis shrimp

First described in 1817

Around 450 types of mantis shrimp have been identified to date. Most grow to be as long as 10 centimetres (four inches), with some measuring over 35 centimetres (14 inches) — the longest ever measured was a whopping 46 centimetres (18 inches) long. Fun fact: their eyes, mounted on stalks that are independent from one another, are recognized as being the most complex visual system in the animal kingdom. That, combined with their brightly-coloured bodies, make the mantis shrimp truly remarkable.

Axolotl

First described in 1798

Also known as the Mexican walking fish, this animal is in fact a salamander. Unlike other members of its species, the axolotl retains its dorsal fin and gills into adulthood. This is what is known as neoteny, meaning that they stay in their larval state without ever undergoing metamorphosis. The axolotl also has a super power: it is able to regenerate damaged organs, from an eye to part of their brain. Found in Xochimilco Lake, Mexico, this remarkable creature unfortunately finds itself on the list of endangered species.

Yeti crab

First described in 2005

This crab lives in the freezing ocean depths, more than two kilometres (1.2 miles) underwater. No surprise, then, that it wasn’t discovered before 2005. Those crabs living in Antarctic waters gather around thermal vents. And when we say gather, we’re talking about every available space being filled with the creatures, as many as 70 animals per square foot. Piling up like this allows them to keep warm but avoid the boiling heat that comes from these vents.

Dumbo octopus

First described circa 1885

There are 13 different species within this octopus family, which get their name from the fins that make them look like a certain elephant created by Helen Aberson in 1939 and popularized in the eponymous Disney film. This tiny creature, which has little in common with other octopuses, lives deep in the ocean, up to four kilometres (2.5 miles) underwater. Its translucent skin can change colour, a bit like a chameleon. They live for three to five years on average, and grow no larger than 20 centimetres (8 inches).

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