Well if you are the kind of person that goes around reading articles with titles like “10 Animals You Probably Didn’t Know About” then maybe you already know about these, but most people don’t.
You may have actually heard us mention this on Science… sort of, but there were no pictures then, and you might have thought to yourself, I think I know what they were talking about. You didn’t. Here’s a picture. Know what is even crazier? It’s a mammal! Know what else? There are 7 different species spread over Africa and Asia. As you might guess by looking at them, they are probably closely related to armadillos and anteaters.
They look like snakes or maybe earthworms, well at least most of them do. Here is a picture of an amphisbaenian that still has it’s forelimbs leftover from when an ancestor used them for something. The rest of them look pretty much the same, without the forelimbs and, often, smaller (6 inches or so). Ready to have your mind blown again? This particular amphisbaenian can be found in the U.S. (just Arizona really and you’re more likely to see one in Mexico) not in some crazy uninhabited part of the world. What are they related to? Good question, people fight over whether they are more closely related to snakes or lizards and I’m not going to be able to sort that out for you here.
While all of the animals on the list so far are on the rare side, this one is all but gone. The Vaqitas are small (~4.5 ft long) cetaceans (whales and dolphins) that live in the Gulf of California.
There are only about 300 of them left; they won’t be around much longer. Sadly, you’ll probably never see one.
Here is another one that lives in the U.S. (this time it’s primarily Texas but you might spot one in New Mexico or Arizona). But it’s primarily Central and South American. The Coati is a raccoon relative but it hangs out in the daytime (making it diurnal instead of nocturnal).
But given that they are diurnal, live in Texas, and are pretty large, it’s surprising more people aren’t familiar with them. They are good at making themselves scarce.
Think amphisbaenian but amphibian style. These guys are more closely related to frogs and salamanders than to snakes and lizards (or earthworms which they look a lot like) and you’ll find them in humid tropical regions around the globe in mostly hard to get to places.
These guys are particularly weird, they like to burrow and have tentacles between their eyes and nose (although some species may have an eye on a tentacle, weird).
6. Giant Salamanders
Sticking in with the amphibians for a moment, you probably think a big salamander would be about 9 inches long. If you live in the Pacific Northwest you may have seen a Pacific Giant Salamander that can be 12 inches long. If you live near the Appalachian Mountains you may have seen a hellbender reach 16 inches or so.
All that pales in comparison to the giant salamanders of the Orient. Chinese and Japanese Giant Salamanders can reach nearly 4 feet in length! The Chinese one is nearly extinct but the Japanese one is “only” near threatened and should be around for a while.
Disgusting animal. Also called a slime hag. They generate mucus pretty much on command. They live in deep, cold water and supposedly when they are hauled up to the surface they can produce bucketfuls of mucus as a defense strategy. Anyway, these are the only non-vertebrates on the list. They are referred to as craniates, they have a partial skull but no vertebrae. If you have seen them it is probably on Discovery Channel documentaries where they look at whale carcasses. These guys hang out and scavenge pretty much anything that falls down into deep water. Besides the slime, they are famous for their knot-tying behavior (not the kind of knot-tying that Larry King and Elizabeth Taylor are famous for). They have no jaws so to “bite” flesh off a carcass they suction onto it, and tie themselves in a knot. They then slip the knot towards the carcass until they can force their head through the noose of the knot, thus pulling off a piece of flesh; charming.
Also called ratfish. You thought I was going to put a coelacanth in this list didn’t you. Nah, like your favorite band that no one has ever heard about, those are so last year. As mentioned on Science… sort of once upon a time, these guys are chondricthians so they have cartilage skeletons but they stop short of being elasmobranchs (members of the group with sharks and rays in it). They typically are found in deep water but not all the time. Like stingrays they have a venomous spine, but the ratfish spine is in its dorsal fin. They are generally pretty small, so you don’t have to worry about being taken down by one if you swim at dusk.
I know what you ‘re thinking, “If there was an animal called an aye-aye, I’d know about it.” Well there is, I don’t know if you know about it or not. I’m guessing not, that’s why I put it on this list. They aye-aye is a lemur and like all good lemurs, they live on Madagascar. You thought lemurs were cute almost monkeys with black and white ringed tails. They are, but there are lots more lemurs than just those. The aye-aye is kind of the primate equivalent to a woodpecker. They have the creepiest fingers around. They use them to tap on trees to find grubs and whatnot, then they gnaw through the wood and fish out the grubs with their long middle finger. Tell me they don’t look like something out of the movie Labyrinth. To be fair, this picture is of a juvenile, they get furrier as they get older, and their ears don’t look quite as huge and bizarre. But those fingers are for life.
Speaking of animals that are weirder as juveniles than as adults, the hoetzin is one weird bird. When it is born it has d almost a hand instead of a wing. It looks what a lot some paleontologists think that dinosaurs (the extinct kind) might have looked like.
The claws on the wings are hard to see but they’re there. These guys do a lot of climbing up trees when they are young. Evidince that birds evolved from climbing trees then flying or gliding down rather than evolving powered flight from a ground based take-off? Hard to say (actually I’d say probably not), but interesting none the less.
Anyway, as the bird gets older the claws gradually disappear until they look like most birds, still cool, but the claws are only on their feet.