What are some of the weirdest animals in the world? Everyone’s gone to a sci-fi or horror movie that features some strange beastie. Still, some of those CGI oddities can’t hold a candle to some of the animals on this list, whether it’s because they seem to be a mash-up of unrelated animals or seem indestructible or improbable. Read on for more information.
#10 Weirdest Animals: Aye-aye
Already one of the ugliest animals on earth, this solitary little primate is also one of the most unusual. Found only in Madagascar, it is 14 to 17 inches long, with a long tail. Its body is covered in long, wiry hairs that range in color from gray to black with whitish guard hairs. Its face is foxlike, but its teeth grow continually like a rodent’s. The aye-aye uses echolocation like a bat and can climb down trees headfirst like a squirrel. Its eyes are round, staring and orange or tan. The animal also has a specialized third finger it uses to poke into cavities it’s made with its teeth and pull out grubs. Natives consider it evil and kill it on sight, and the aye-aye is endangered.
#9 Weirdest Animals: Okapi
Is it a giraffe? Is it a zebra? Is it the result of a giraffe and a zebra getting too cozy? Also known as the zebra giraffe, the okapi is actually a close relative of the giraffe but is not any sort of hybrid. This strange and weirdly attractive animal is about 4.9 feet tall at the shoulder and about 8 feet in length. Females are a bit taller. Its neck is long but not as long as its cousin, and it has a sleek, dark brown or reddish-brown coat and those zebra stripes on the legs and hindquarters. Male, but not female okapi have ossicones on their heads. The animal is endangered and is found naturally only in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The okapi is endangered and a favorite whenever it appears in zoos. Zoos that feature the okapi include the Bronx Zoo, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, the Dallas Zoo, the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, and the St. Louis Zoo.
#8 Weirdest Animals: Megamouth Shark
This shark, Megachasma pelagios looks fearsome with its tub-sized mouth, but it’s a peaceable plankton feeder much like basking and whale sharks. Discovered only in 1976, it is an elusive species that lives deep in the warmer waters of all the world’s oceans. Unlike other sharks, it is not a champion swimmer, has a soft body and seems to exert minimum energy to keep itself moving. It has a white belly and is brown, dark blue or gray at the top. It also has weird, prominent lips. The mouth of the megamouth can be over 4 feet wide and has as many as 50 rows of little teeth in the upper jaw and 75 rows in the lower. The shark can grow as long as 18 feet and weigh over 2 tons. Its conservation status is Least Concern, but then again, scientists don’t actually know how many megamouth sharks there are.
#7 Weirdest Animals: Pangolin
This animal, much in the news lately for its possible role as a vector for Covid-19, comes with its own armor. Also known as the scaly anteater, the pangolin’s skin is covered in scales made of keratin, which is the same stuff that makes up other animals’ hair, fur, claws and fingernails. It is the only mammal known to have these kinds of scales, which has made it a focus of attention, both good and bad. Poaching and habitat destruction has made most of the six pangolin species endangered, critically endangered or vulnerable. This is true even though the animal protects itself by curling up in a ball and presenting its sharp-edged scales when it’s threatened.
Pangolins, which are solitary creatures, are nocturnal and only eat termites and ants. Though they are hard to keep in captivity, zoos such as the Brookfield Zoo, the Taipei Zoo, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia have some.
#6 Weirdest Animals: Hairy Frog
Hair and fur are usually attributes of mammals and maybe some insects, but they’re almost never seen on amphibians and reptiles. The hairy frog, also known as the Wolverine or horror frog, is an exception. The males of these frogs, which grow about 4 to 5 inches long, develop what seem like hairs on their sides and their thighs during the breeding season. They’re not really hairs but dermal papillae, and they have arteries that help the frog absorb more oxygen. They operate very much like the gills the frog has while it’s a tadpole. The male frog will need the extra oxygen because after the female lays eggs in the water, he’s the one who guards them.
Another unusual thing about this frog is that it has retractable claws, like Wolverine. The claws are made out of bone, and they can only be everted if the frog breaks the bones in its own toe and allows the claw to rip through its skin. This frog is found in West Africa, notably in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Though the frog isn’t endangered, it is hunted and eaten.
#5 Weirdest Animals: Tsetse Fly
Found in tropical Africa, the tsetse fly is responsible for spreading sleeping sickness. This isn’t what makes it weird, as many insects are disease vectors. What makes this fly unusual is that the larva develops in the mother’s uterus, and the mother feeds it with milk. These reproductive strategies are supposed to belong to mammals.
The female tsetse fly only lets one of her eggs become fertilized at a time, and the baby undergoes its larval stages while it’s in her uterus. While the larva is developing, the mother feeds it with a substance very much like milk, even though it’s still in her uterus. The tsetse fly mother then gives birth to the larva when it achieves its third larval stage. The larva then crawls into the ground, becomes a pupa and lives for about a month on the nourishment it has received from its mother.
#4 Weirdest Animals: Platypus
Everyone knows about the platypus but that doesn’t make it any less strange. Indeed, the more people learn about this animal, the weirder it becomes. Of course, the platypus has a bill like a duck, webbed feet like an otter, eyes like a hagfish and a tail like a beaver. It is a mammal that lays eggs, and the male has poison spines on its hind feet. Its fur glows under black light, and it finds prey through electrical signals picked up by receptors on its bill. Only the left ovary in the female platypus works. When it was first encountered by Europeans, they thought the platypus was a fake like the Fijian mermaid. The San Diego Zoo is the only zoo in America to have a platypus exhibit. Others include the Taronga Zoo and the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Australia.
#3 Weirdest Animals: Blobfish
Another entry as one of the world’s ugliest creatures, this pinkish-white fish has the face of a disgruntled old man. Also called the fat head, it is found in the deep waters off New Zealand and Australia. One Blobfish was retrieved from a depth of 3900 feet. To be fair, the Blobfish doesn’t really look like its most famous photograph. When it is pulled up from the depths of the ocean too quickly it suffers such trauma that it collapses into a blob. Most Blobfish that have been captured are about a foot long and weigh about four pounds. It is probably an ambush predator or simply snaps up any food that comes close enough.
#2 Weirdest Animals: Sponge
The sponge is one of those marine animals that looks like a plant but isn’t. Indeed, the sponge can’t even be said to look like a plant as much as an organism that dropped in from outer space. Made up of unspecialized cells interspersed with channels and pores, this animal has no digestive system. It does not have a brain or a nervous system. It does not have a circulatory system. It has no internal organs. It is only alive because the ocean currents bring it food and oxygen and remove waste products. The sponge was the first animal to differentiate itself from the common ancestor shared by every animal and was probably around as long as 750 million years ago. Yet sponge life is surprisingly complex, and the study of these creatures is called Spongiology.
#1 Weirdest Animals: Tardigrade
Also called the water bear, animalcule and moss piglet, this microscopic creature is nearly indestructible. It is also everywhere. It is in the Antarctic and in bodies of water, it is in rainforests and mud volcanoes and deserts. It has even survived being exposed to outer space itself. It can live through temperatures that approach absolute zero and temperatures that are as high as 300 degrees Fahrenheit. It can tolerate radiation and levels of pressure that would kill a human being. If it must, the tardigrade can go without food and water for 30 years or more and endure being dehydrated for a decade. A tiny, fat, segmented beastie with eight legs and clawed feet, it eats one-celled plant material and invertebrates smaller than itself. Count on the water bear to be around till the heat death of the universe.
Yes, these animals are unusual and weird, but their weirdness makes the world an exciting place. Head to our endangered animals listing page and learn more about the species, some weird and some not, that need your help.