World Wildlife Day: Rare and Unknown Animals that deserve your attention
March 3rd was chosen by the United Nations to be World Wildlife Day. It’s a day to celebrate the amazing myriad of plants and animals that occupy this planet. One of the ways to get involved is to simply learn a bit about a species of animal you’ve not heard of before. So to that end, we’ve picked 6 different denizens of the animal kingdom that deserve your attention.
1) The scuba-diving lizard
It’s important to have a hobby, so much so that water anoles (Anolis aquaticus) in Costa Rica have been observed scuba-diving. In the footage, a pocket of air can be seen adhering to the lizard’s head, forming a kind of retro sci-fi bubble helmet that allows them to stay underwater for up to 16 minutes!
Ecologist Lindsey Swierk of Binghamton University managed to observe this behaviour for the first time, and said in a New Scientist article that “They are probably extracting lower concentrations of oxygen every time they’re respiring the air bubble, but it might just be enough to keep them underwater for long enough that they can escape a threat.” We think it’s a great idea, and will be hiding in the bath come any future engagements we’d rather skip.
2) The vampire fanged tufted deer
Image source: Wikimedia
A close relative of the muntjac, the tufted deer (Elaphodus cephalopus) are named for the tuft of hair on their foreheads...but we’re sure it’s not the first thing you've noticed about them. Nope, it’s the vampire-like canines that the males sport that really grab your attention.
Found in Myanmar and central parts of China, these small deer won’t suck your blood. Instead, they subsist on leaves, twigs, grasses, and fruits. The fangs do have a purpose though, and are mainly used to fight with other deer during mating season, or over territorial disputes. They do have antlers too, but these are small enough to be covered by the titular, effortlessly stylish tuft.
3) Axolotls: The popular pet that can only be found in one place?
Image source: Wikimedia
Axolotls also pose an interesting paradox when it comes to conservation. These adorable amphibians are plentiful in captivity, and are often kept as pets. There’s even places in Japan when they’re served up as a deep fried snack. However axolotls are also classed as critically endangered, as they can now only be found in just one place in the wild: the lake complex of Xochimilco (pronounced SO-chee-MILL-koh) near Mexico City.
When you think of Axolotls, you probably think of a pinky-white critter like the one above, but wild ones are actually brown and tan with gold speckles. The white ones are known as “leucistic” and are mainly found in captivity. There’s evidence that many of these are descended from a single mutant male axolotl that was shipped to Paris in 1863!
4) Bat-eared foxes can hear insects underground
A native of Southern and Eastern Africa, the bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis) obviously gets its name from its huge ears, which can grow up to 5.3 inches long. For an animal of this size (standing 11.8-15.7 inches at the shoulder) that’s some impressive auricular equipment.
Although they do look very, very cute, these ears aren’t just for show. The bat-eared fox has such good hearing, that they can actually hear termites and beetles (their favourite food) that are still under the ground. Another way these foxes are suited for their insect diet is their teeth - bat-eared foxes have more teeth than most mammals. With 46 to 50 pointy teeth in their jaw, these chompers are the ideal tools for munching up bugs and insects.
5) Pistol shrimp, the fastest draw under the sea
Now we’re heading back to the water, to find a gun-slinging crustacean, the pistol shrimp. Pictures definitely speak louder than words here, as this calmly spoken (yet oddly intense) clip from BBC Earth will contest.
The very, very simple version is that the shrimp slams it’s specially designed claw closed with such force, that water is displaced at 105 feet a second. This causes a bubble to form, swell and collapse. When the bubble collapses, for just a split second, temperatures nearly as hot as the surface of the sun are generated! The resulting flash and snap sends a shockwave hurling towards the shrimp’s prey! Phew, lobsters and their ordinary claws (that don't fire weaponized bubbles) don’t seem all that scary anymore.
6) Can you smell popcorn? It might be a binturong
Image source: Wikimedia
Binturongs (Arctictis binturong) are often also known as “bearcats,” but are neither bears, nor cats. These fuzzy carnivores actually belong to the Viverridae family (which also includes civets and genets). And while we’re contradicting ourselves, we did indeed say “carnivore,” which is the correct classification, but binturongs eat mainly fruit.
A fantastical fact about binturongs: they smell of popcorn. Using scent glands under their tails, Binturongs can drag said tail behind them to leave a scent trail. To humans, this smell is reminiscent of buttered popcorn, but in the wild its purpose is to let other binturong’s know if they’re wandered onto each other’s turf.
Binturongs live high in the rainforest canopy in their native home of Southeast Asia. They even have a prehensile tail (one of only two carnivores to do so) for gripping, but due their size they cannot leap from tree to tree. In fact, binturongs will climb all the way down to the forest floor and all the way back up another tree if they fancy a change of scene.
We’ve barely begun when it comes to the weird, wonderful and wacky animals that are out there, but we hope you enjoyed a look at these few. Watch this space, here’s hoping we get to expand this list in the future!Animals, List, Science, Travel, Weird & Wonderful, World