June 6, 2012 / Nature / 0 comments
Imagine this scenario. You are sightseeing on an African safari. Dawn is breaking. The shimmering sun starts to climb into the pink-tinged sky. As you peacefully pass through an undisturbed savannah, your gaze falls upon a herd of grazing wildebeest, an antelope eating, a lion sleeping. Just as your eyelids begin to close with the weight of the mid-morning haze you spot a deformed, hairless, hedgehog-like creature writhing around on the desert floor. The hairs on the back of your neck shoot to attention, your eyes spring open in shock, and your body recoils in shuddering horror.
Ok, so the situation is fictional. Should you stumble across any of the creatures mentioned in this article, however, this is undoubtedly the reaction that would occur. For those of you who thought animals to be cute and fluffy little critters, think again my friends. Monsters and beasts are very real and the come in the six following bizarre forms….
1. Mirounga angustirostris (The Northern Elephant Seal)
Known commonly as the Northern Elephant Seal, and often spotted off the coast of British Columbia, this fin-footed creature is not your average visitor attraction. An anomaly of the animal kingdom, this funny looking creature is unfortunately cursed with crusty flesh that culminates in a misshapen trunk-like snout. A sight for sore eyes (both literally and figuratively), these aquatic animals spend most of their time bobbing along the surface being mistaken for driftwood. If that’s not bizarre enough, though, their behavioural attributes certainly are. On a periodic basis the Northern Elephant Seals are known to haul themselves to land to shed their skin. Yes that’s right, their skin. Moulting an entire layer of skin and hair, this serpent-like feature can mean sheets of crumbling coat are shed. Perhaps most amusing of all, however, is the male defense mechanism during breeding. Raising their protruding snouts proudly into the air, the bull male releases a loud rattling growl – similar to a disgruntled snort – to challenge its male competitors. A pretty advanced attribute, if you ask me.
2. Saiga tatarica (The Saiga Antelope)
Short of instructing you to imagine a humpless camel with horns, the Saiga tatarica is a hard species to describe. Ordinarily known as the Saiga Antelope, this critically endangered animal has a very distinct appearance. Identified by its thick sturdy body, long spindly legs, cinnamon-coloured coat, elongated snout and waxy horns (attributed to the males only), there is no animal that is quite comparable. Originally inhabiting great expanses of Eurasia, this rare animal is now limited to Russia, Kazakhstan and parts of western Mongolia. Preferring to graze in semi-desert locations, this striking species can cover dozens of kilometers in a day, reach speeds of up to 80kmph, and swim adeptly across rivers and streams. Beat that, meagre camel.
3. Proteus Anguinus (The Olm)
Nicknamed ‘the human fish’, even Scorsese couldn’t create something as horrific as the Proteus. A blind amphibian also known as the Olm, this slippery fish can be found lurking within haunted hollows such as Croatia’s Baredine Cave and the subterranean waters of Slovenia, Italy and Herzegovenia. Boasting spine-chilling traits such as a heightened sense of smell, taste and hearing, an ability to survive 10 years without food, and a capacity to live up to 100, the Olm is entirely unique. If that hasn’t given you sufficient chills then perhaps its pale white skin, which is fleshy to the touch, will do the trick. It certainly worked for me.
4. Pelochelys Cantorri (The Soft-Shelled Turtle)
Imagine a turtle that has been stretched on a rack and then subsequently crushed by a thousand bricks; that’s the Peloychelys Cantorri. Residing on the riverbanks of freshwater streams in India, Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam, the flattened physique of this endangered turtle greatly heightens its comical appeal. Known locally as Cantor’s Giant Soft-Shelled Turtle, this unfortunate little critter is cursed with a smooth olive-skin shell that blends seamlessly with a broad head, minute eyes and pointed snout. Growing up to lengths as large as 2 meters, and with no choice but to ambush its prey, this gargantuan turtle spends most of its days buried beneath the sand. Quite understandable, really.
5. Ogcocepphalus darwini (The Red-Lipped Batfish)
With a name like Ogcocepphalus darwini, or The Red-Lipped Batfish, a weird animal warning is hardly necessary. Far too curious to ever go unnoticed, however, this striking species is not one to be ignored. Challenging Poseidon and his trident-wielding-ways, the Red-Lipped Batfish rules the underwater world by an alternative means: a pair of rouge tinged lips. Pretty but deadly, this rose-petal-pout administers the ultimate kiss of death when cunningly combined with a dorsal fin developed during adulthood. Retractable and spine-like, this extendable fin is first used to reel in the unsuspecting victim (usually a shrimp or crustacean). Once drawn to the edge of batfish’s mouth, and dazzled by the startling smear of crimson flesh, the victorious creature will then devour its prey without a second thought. The black widow of the sea; look out for this lethal monster lurking in the watery depths of the Galapagos Islands.
6. Daubentonia madagascariensis (The Aye-Aye)
With the body of a monkey, the face of a lemur, the teeth of a rodent and the tail of a squirrel, the Aye-Aye is truly a monster incarnate. Native to the rainforest canopies of Eastern Madagascar, this tree-dwelling gremlin defies all natural laws. Most notable is its curious adaption to collecting food. Mimicking the tapping actions of a woodpecker, the Aye-Aye gnaws into tree barks to claws out grubs using only its elongated middle finger. Born with opposable thumbs, thin bony fingers – think of Roald Dahl’s Witches – and independently rotating ears, this hairy fiend is the stuff of nightmares. Oh, and did I forget to mention that its incisors continue growing until the day it dies…my mistake.