If you think you’ve seen it all after a trip to the zoo, think again. There are some seriously strange animals out there. Lewis Packwood tracks down the 10 weirdest creatures in creation.
You may not actually want to track this one down – this a seriously mean bird. That enormous beak is a ferocious killing weapon that allows the shoebill to decapitate its prey. An adult’s bill can grow up to 24 centimetres long, and it will eat anything from fish to lizards to snakes – and even other birds. Thankfully they tend to be fairly nervous of humans, since judging by that death stare we wouldn’t last long if they ever turned against us. Shoebills can be found in central Africa – Lake Albert in Uganda is probably the best place to track one down.
2. Long-eared cow
For some reason, certain breeds of Thai cow have developed extra-large ears, making them look not too dissimilar to cud-chewing rabbits. The jury is out on whether those mega-ears allow them to hear any better, although they could be handy for swatting flies. You can find these lug-tastic beasts scattered throughout rural Thailand.
3. Proboscis monkey
Hot on the heels of the long-eared cow comes the jumbo-nosed monkey. These simians are one of the largest species of monkey, growing up to 76 centimetres long, but their main distinguishing feature is that enormous schnozz, which can reach up to 10 centimetres in length and droop down below their mouth. Only males develop mega-noses, and the lady monkeys go wild for them – the bigger the nose, the more atractive the male. You can track down proboscis monkeys in Malaysia, on the island of Borneo.
4. Albino alligator
At first glance you might think this is a sunlight-starved sewer ‘gator, but in fact albino alligators occur naturally in the wild – albeit very rarely. You can see these eerie reptiles at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm in Florida.
5. Marabou stork
If you thought the shoebill was sinister, just wait until you see the marabou stork, or ‘undertaker bird’ as it’s also known. This nightmarish bird feeds mostly on carrion, hence its bald head – if had feathers on its bonce, they’d quickly get clogged with clotting blood. The marabou stork isn’t fussy about what it eats either: they’ve been known to chow down on faeces, pigeons, pelican chicks, insects, fish, frogs, crocodile hatchlings, small mammals, human garbage and even flamingoes. These massive birds are easy to spot – they have a wingspan of around three metres. You can find them across central and southern Africa, but Mikumi National Park in Tanzania might be a good place to start.
6. Leafy seadragon
You’ve probably heard of seahorses, but did you know there are seadragons too? As with seahorses, it’s the male seadragons that care for the eggs – the female deposits them on the male’s ‘brood patch’, and he cares for them for around nine weeks until they hatch. You can see leafy seadragons on the southern coast of Australia – although with their convincing camoflauge, they might be hard to spot.
Also known as a sea cow, the manatee resembles a seal, but with an enormous, flat paddle instead of rear fins. The story goes that early sailors mistook them for women with fish-like tails, hence the creation of the mermaid myth. All I can say is that those sailors must have been at sea for a very long time if they mistook these beefy creatures for a woman. You can swim with manatees at various places along the Florida coast.
8. Duck-billed platypus
When British explorers first sent back samples of the duck-billed platypus to the UK, scientists thought it was a hoax. In addition to its odd bill, this creature has a poisonous spur on its hind foot, making it one of only a handful of venomous mammals. Not only that, it’s a monotreme – a mammal that lays eggs. These bizarre creatures can be found throughout western Australia, but your best chance of spotting one is at Taronga Zoo in Sydney.
9. Thresher shark
The extraordinary thresher shark grows up to six metres long, and half of that length is made up of its enormous tail. This bizarrely elongated appendage is used in hunting – the shark thrashes it through the water to stun prey, which mostly consists of fish like tuna, along with the occasional seabird. Thresher sharks can mostly be found in the northern Pacific, but the best place to spot them is on an organised dive in Malapascua, the Philippines.
10. Naked mole rat
These baggy-skinned, blind creatures live in colonies with a queen, just like ants. Even weirder, they have no sensitivity to pain and they never get cancer, which has made them fascinating to science. This animal oddity can be found in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia… and Bristol Zoo, if you don’t want to travel too far.