Eww! No, wait ... aww! Long ears, giant noses, slimy pink skin—these eight animals are so strange-looking that they go beyond ugly and come back around to cute.
Where it lives: Asia and sub-Saharan Africa
Animal or vegetable? The pangolin looks like a walking artichoke. But its tough scales aren’t totally strange—they’re made of keratin, the same stuff in human hair and fingernails. And the pangolin has another thing in common with us—it’s a mammal.
Where it lives: New Zealand
This bird doesn’t fly—it jogs! The kakapo is the world’s only flightless parrot, but it has strong legs that make it a good tree climber. And when the kakapo needs to get down? It just uses its wings to “parachute” to the forest floor.
Where it lives: Central and South America and Southeast Asia
This pig-shaped animal has one weird feature—a trunk, which is really an extended nose. Like an elephant, the tapir uses its trunk to grab things. A tapir will pull leaves off branches and pluck fruit from trees and bushes with its nimble nose.
Where it lives: A small lake complex in south-central Mexico
The Mexican axolotl is like a salamander that never grew up. The amphibian keeps the shape of a tadpole—a long fin along its back and frilly gills on top of its head—throughout its adult life.
Where it lives: Madagascar
This primate uses its unusually long middle finger to scoop out insect larva from the inside of trees. It may look bizarre, but the primate is related to chimpanzees, apes, and even humans!
Brown long-eared bat
Where it lives: Europe and western Russia
Bats locate prey through echolocation—they bounce sound off of objects to “see” where they are. But the brown long-eared bat sends out extra-quiet sounds. That’s why it’s developed ears nearly as long as its body to hear its own calls. Those long ears may look odd, but when this bat’s sleeping they look supercute, as the bat tucks each ear under a wing.
Titicaca water frog
Where it lives: A lake on the border of Bolivia and Peru
This aquatic frog looks like it’s wearing skin that’s too big for it. But all those folds and flaps allow more oxygen-rich water to pass over the frog. This means the frog can stay underwater—no need to come to the surface to breathe.
Where it lives: Central Asia
Saiga antelope certainly have an unusual nose—but that’s because they have an unusual habitat. In the dry steppe and grasslands of central Asia, the air temperature averages minus 4°F. As supercold air moves through their huge noses, filled with hair and lots of mucus, it warms enough to enter their lungs. It also protects against the dusty air kicked up by the hooves of large herds—no need to wear a dust mask when you’ve got one in your nose already!
Text by Allyson Shaw, NGS Staff
Photo credits: GP232, iStockPhoto (pangolin); Brent Stephenson, Nature Picture Library (kakapo); Rebecca Naden, Reuters (tapir); Stephen Dalton, Minden Pictures (axolotl); Smellme, Dreamstime (aye-aye); Grzegorz Gust, Dreamstime (bat); Pete Oxford, Minden Pictures (frog); Vitalii Zubritskyi, Dreamstime (saiga)