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Five Ugly and Bizarre Animals

Updated on September 28, 2013
The naked mole rat, surely one of the most ugliest looking rodents around.
The naked mole rat, surely one of the most ugliest looking rodents around. | Source

Our Fascination with Bizarre Animals

The vast majority of people loves animals. There has been a plethora of scientific studies that shows that keeping pets is good for our health, not just improving our mental state but also our physical health through reducing stress.

However, whereas there is very little controversy about cute, fluffy kittens or puppies, what about the ugly and bizarre species? Some of them are truly horrid to look at. Others have repulsive habits that can disgust even the most ardent animal lover.

Yet, if you look beneath the skin, so to speak, these animals are truly fascinating. Not just because we are often attracted to the bizarre and repulsive, but because studying how their weird habits adapt them to their ecological niches, can give us fascinating insights into how evolution proceeds.

Below are my favourite five "ugly" animal species.

Ok, it looks ugly.  But it is extremely long lived, doesn't get cancer, and lives peacefully in social communities, the hippy of the rodent world.
Ok, it looks ugly. But it is extremely long lived, doesn't get cancer, and lives peacefully in social communities, the hippy of the rodent world. | Source

The Naked Mole Rat, Ugly but Resistant to Cancer, Chronic Pain, and Violence

When I first saw a picture of a mole rat, Heterocephalus glaber, the first thing that occurred to me was that nature was playing a game, trying to design a rodent that would truly horrify people with its ugliness. Naked skin with a few long bristles, check. Tiny, vestigial eyes, check. Long teeth that don't fit in its mouth, check.

True this subterranean rodent from Southeast Africa, will not win any beauty prizes. But if you look beneath the horrible skin, being a naked mole rat has many advantages.

For rodents, these animals have a very long lifespan, they can live to be about 30. In contrast the normal life span of a mouse is 2-4 years. What is even more exciting, is that they seem to be resistant to cancer. This made them very useful subjects for cancer researchers.

Results published this year in the journal Nature suggest that the naked mole rats' cancer resistance comes from their hyaluronic acid (HA) variant. HA is found in all animals, in the space between cells, but naked mole rats seem to have larger HA molecules and more of them. This adaptation gives them loose very flexible skin, which allows the rats to move over each other in the narrow tunnels under the earth.

Other advantages of being a naked mole rat is that they are not bothered by very low oxygen conditions, or high carbon dioxide. The latter fact appears to make them not feel chronic pain, another factor that is being studied by biomedical researchers.

They lack a neurotransmitter, substance P, that is responsible for pain sensation. They feel no pain when treated with acid or chillies.

The social structure of their colonies is also very strange. They are one of only two eusocial mammals known. Their social structure resembles that of ants or termites, there is only one fertile female, the queen, who breeds with a few chosen males. The rest of the colony is made out of workers, and soldiers.

A frog or roadkill?
A frog or roadkill? | Source

The Surinam Toad Pipa Pipa

Although called a toad, Pipa pipa is fully aquatic, spending all its time in rivers. It definitely looks bizarre, more like the victim of a bus squashing rather than a frog.

However, it is its reproductive habits that are truly bizarre. Many frogs don't do any kind of parental control, leaving the eggs unattended and the tadpoles to fend for themselves. The surinam toad is one of the exceptions, taking parental care to a fairly extreme extent.

Like with all amphibians the eggs are fertilised externally during amplexus. After this, the eggs roll on the female's back, where they become embedded in the skin. They stay there until they are fully developed toadlets, which then hatch out of their little pockets and swim away.

The confusing duck billed platypus
The confusing duck billed platypus | Source

The Duck Billed Platypus, Mammal or Bird?

Surely one of the fundamental characteristics of mammals, is that they give birth to their young, and that females produce milk from their nipples to nourish their young. However the duck billed platypus confounds these expectations.

The duck billed platypus, is classified as a mammal, but it looks like a strange cross between a duck and an otter. It is an amphibious animal that spends a lot of time in the water. It has webbed feet and that bill, rather than a mouth.

The bill is actually soft, unlike that of birds. It is actually a sensory organ with which the animal detects its prey, the mouth is located underneath.

The platypus looks so strange that when it was first discovered by Europeans in New South Wales, and a pelt was send back to the UK in 1798, the British zoologists suspected a hoax, and spent time looking for stitches, since they assumed somebody had sawn different animals together.

The platypus actually lays eggs, like birds and reptiles. It is only one of five species of mammals that does that, the other are four different species of echidna.

The female has mammary glands that produce milk, but it doesn't have nipples. Rather the milk is extruded from pores in the skin and is lapped by the young from the fur on their mother's stomach.

The weird looking primitive hoatzin bird from the Amazon.
The weird looking primitive hoatzin bird from the Amazon. | Source

Hoatzin, a Primitive Bird with Claws on its Wings

If the flat billed platypus can be considered a primitive mammal, then the hoatzin definitely fills the role of a primitive bird.

It is generally accepted now, that birds evolved from dinosaurs. Some people consider "first bird" to be Archaeopteryx, which had feathers but also a jaw with teeth and claws on the digits of its forelimbs.

Now Archaeopteryx lived in the late jurassic period. However, in the Amazon forests today, you can find the hoatzin, a colourful, chicken sized bird, whose chicks hatch with claws on their thumb and first finger. They use these to help them climb branches before they develop flight capability, although adult birds don't have claws.

The hoatzin also had a unique method of digestion among birds. It mainly eats leaves and relies on bacterial fermentation to digest these, much like cows do. However, unlike cows, this fermentation happens in its crop, which is much larger than other birds. This method produces a strong, manure-like smell, explaining one of the birds' common names, the stink bird.

The Malagasy people think the aye aye is an evil demon.  You can see why.
The Malagasy people think the aye aye is an evil demon. You can see why. | Source

The Aye-Aye, an Exceptionally Ugly Lemur

I am sure most people would agree that lemurs are extremely cute, and would be surprised at including a lemur species in the "exceptionally ugly" list. However, the aye-aye of Madagascar would certainly not win any beauty contests. In fact it is so weird looking that Malagasy people think that it is an evil demon which will bring them bad luck, and kill it whenever they encounter it.

The aye-aye is distinguished by its exceptionally narrow and long middle finger. It occupies the same ecological niche as a woodpecker, feeding on grubs inside trees. It finds tunnels in the tree by tapping its trunk with its finger, and uses its incisors to gnaw a hole. It then captures grubs by fishing them out with its finger.

So, which of these animals freaks you out the most?

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    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 3 years ago from London

      Thanks you Nero. I think the way the aye aye uses its finger is kind of cute, but the animal is rather ugly in my opinion! Hard to believe it is a lemur.

    • profile image

      Nero Walker 3 years ago

      I actually thought the Aye Aye was cute. Maybe a bit scary looking. Very interesting hub. I had never heard of these except the platypus.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 4 years ago from California

      Imagination could never come up with these animals.

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 4 years ago from Southern Georgia

      Strange creatures except for the platypus which I was aware of already. Great hub!

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Incredibly interesting hub! I have heard of all of these except for the Hoatzin. It is probably as close to a dinosaur bird as we will see. It is a shame that some of the people of Madagascar kill the Aye Aye when they see it. It is rather "demonic" appearing, however. I enjoyed your hub! Voting up and interesting. :)

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Thanks pstraubie48. I think the stink does give them some protection, people don't hunt and eat them unless they have to. But it might just be a by-product of how their digestion is setup.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      Your title was not misleading. These are a collection of weird ones for sure. With a nickname like stink bird, I imagine he may not have too many 'friends." Is that part of a protective measure against predators?

      Thee seem to be hooked up with the claws on their wings already.

      Fascinating read.

      Angels are on the way.

      Voted up and shared. ps

    • aa lite profile image
      Author

      aa lite 4 years ago from London

      Funny you should say that about the mole rats, when people first came across them they assumed that they found a really old and decrepit specimen. Then they realised that they were all like that.

      I agree that the platypus (or the hoatzin) are not ugly, but they are pretty bizarre.

    • HollieT profile image

      HollieT 4 years ago from Manchester, United Kingdom

      Amazing, I couldn't vote because none of these animals actually freak me out! Whilst I don't find any of them aesthetically pleasing, I don't think they are particularly ugly either. Maybe I'm weird too. To me, the naked mole rat just resembles an old person; sagging skin, brown teeth and no hair. But unlike old people resistant to cancer.

      I have always really liked the platypus, I'm quite shocked that people would consider it to be ugly.