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6 Animals That Show Mother Nature's Sense of Humor

You've heard jokes like these all your life: What do you get if you cross an octopus with a cow? An animal that can milk itself. I didn't find such an animal, but the world has plenty of strange species that at first glance appear to be hybrids of unrelated species because they have attributes that surprise us. However, we are only surprised because our personal experiences don't encompass all that nature offers.

1. Turtle + Hedgehog = Armadillo

Rudyard Kipling wrote the story The Beginning of the Armadillos, in which the animal came from a tortoise and a hedgehog. They didn't join to give birth to armadillos; instead, they taught each other their talents. The hedgehog helped the tortoise learn to curl into a ball, and the tortoise taught the hedgehog to swim, which toughened up his spines into armor. Before they knew it, both had turned into armadillos.

Here in the real world, armadillos are related to both sloths and anteaters and are native to Latin America except for the nine-banded armadillo we see in the US. In certain states they are called "speed bumps". Armadillo image by Flickr user Ben Cooper.

2. Giraffe + Zebra = Okapi

giraffe550_Okapi

The okapi (Okapia johnstoni) appears to be a short giraffe with a zebra's legs tacked on as an afterthought. The animal, which lives only in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (and in zoos), is actually related to the giraffe but was "shorted" in the neck department. To make up for that oversight, the okapi has a tongue long enough to lick its own ears! The zebra stripes are thought to be used as camouflage, and to make it easy for okapi young to follow their mothers through the rain forest. Okapi image by Raul654.

3. Anteater + Armadillo = Pangolin

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The pangolin is also known as the spiny anteater. They are mammals, but have keratin scales over their bodies. They roll up into a ball in defense like an armadillo or a hedgehog. Recent genetic studies show that pangolins are related to neither anteaters (despite the fact that they eat ants) nor armadillos. But the weirdness doesn't stop there: pangolins can spray a nasty musk just like a skunk. And they don't have any teeth!

4. Bird + Fox = Fruit Bat

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Fruit bats encompass several species and are also called megabats or flying foxes. What sets fruit bats apart from your garden variety insect-eating belfry-hangers is the fact that most fruit bats do not use echolocation to get around. They need their eyes big and their noses long to sense where they are going, so their faces look like more familiar land mammals—particularly dogs. No doubt that's where the term flying fox came from. If you couldn't see a fruit bat's wings, you might have a hard time guessing the species. Fox image by Flickr user Kris *Thirty6Red*. Bat image by Flickr user smccann.

5. Duck + Beaver = Platypus

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The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) of Australia looks like a taxidermy experiment in which a mammal has been accessorized with a beaver's tail, a duck's bill, the venom of a snake, and the feet of an otter. This animal is not related to any of the others, however. The platypus is a monotreme. It shares that order with only four other species which are all echidnas. It is truly unique in the animal kingdom, and the most likely of any in this list to be an example of God's sense of humor. Platypus image by Stefan Kraft.

6. Hoop Snake + Lizard = Armadillo Girdled Lizard

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This lizard might be what people saw when they came up with the legend of the hoop snake (featured in a previous post). You don't find too many lizards that protect themselves by rolling into a ball, but the Armadillo Girdled Lizard (Cordylus cataphractus) does just that. This lizard grabs its tail with its mouth and forms a ring with its spines pointing out. Any predator will have a hard time figuring this thing out, much less eating it! The name is just a descriptor; this lizard has no relation to an armadillo, which is a mammal.

Can you think of other examples of animals that look like hybrids of unrelated species?

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News
'Angry Badger' Terrorizes Scottish Castle, Forcing Closures 
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Portions of the 16th-century Craignethan Castle in Scotland were shut down last week after a less-than-friendly badger holed up there and refused to leave. Historic Environment Scotland, which manages the site in South Lanarkshire, sent out a tweet last Friday notifying visitors that the property's cellar tunnel would remain closed over the weekend “due to the presence of a very angry badger.” Staff tried to coax it out with cat food and honey, but the badger did what it wanted, and they were unable to move the mammal.

A spokesman for HES told the BBC, "The castle is surrounded by woodland and we believe the badger may have become lost. Staff first spotted some dug-out earth on Wednesday evening, and later spotted the badger on closer inspection."

On Saturday, staff used a GoPro camera to check out the tunnel from a safe distance and learned that the badger had left voluntarily, but not before making a mess. The critter dug through both soil and stonework, according to The Scotsman. The castle, an artillery fortification erected around 1530, is already partly in ruins.

Craignethan Castle in Scotland
Sandy Stevenson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Badgers are not typically dangerous, but they can become aggressive if they feel cornered or threatened. They can be seen year-round in Scotland, especially during spring and summer. Earthworms, bird eggs, small mammals, fruit, and roots are among their favorite meals, and they can even be “tempted into your garden by leaving peanuts out—a tasty snack for our striped friends,” the Scottish Wildlife Trust says.

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Animals
15 Delightful Facts About Dolphins
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Dolphins are known for being smart, playful creatures that can learn to perform impressive tricks. But you might not know that dolphins are also champion nappers who have helped the U.S. Navy protect nuclear warheads. We're celebrating National Dolphin Day with these 15 facts about the cute, friendly cetaceans.

1. THEY'RE EXCELLENT NAPPERS.

Since dolphins can't breathe underwater, they need to swim up to the ocean's surface to get air. So how do they sleep without drowning? Essentially, dolphins are champion power nappers. Rather than sleep for several hours at a time, they rest one hemisphere of their brain for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, and they take these "naps" several times each day. By resting one hemisphere of their brain at a time, dolphins can continue swimming, breathing, and watching for predators 24/7.

2. THEY COMMUNICATE WITH CLICKS AND WHISTLES …

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Dolphins communicate with one another underwater by making a variety of vocalizations. To find prey and navigate the ocean, they make clicking sounds, and they "speak" to other dolphins by whistling. Dolphins also produce loud burst-pulse sounds when they feel excited or aggressive, such as when they need to scare off a nearby shark. Some female dolphins also produce a burst-pulse to reprimand their offspring, called calves, for bad behavior.

3. … BUT THEIR LANGUAGE REMAINS A MYSTERY.

Although marine scientists have studied and recorded dolphin vocalizations for decades, many aspects of the animals’ language and how they communicate are still unknown. Scientists have not yet broken down the individual units of dolphin sounds, and they're still searching for a Rosetta Stone that links the animals' vocalizations to their behavior. By using new technologies—including algorithms and high-frequency recorders that work underwater—scientists hope to finally unlock the mystery of the dolphin language.

4. THEY USE ECHOLOCATION TO NAVIGATE.

To know where they are in relation to other objects and animals, dolphins use echolocation (a.k.a. biological sonar). After emitting a series of high-pitched clicks, they listen for the echoes to bounce off their surroundings. Based on these echoes, dolphins can judge where they are in space and determine the size and shape of nearby objects. Besides helping dolphins evade predators, echolocation allows them to trap, catch, and eat fish and squid.

5. THEY MAKE FRIENDS WITH OTHER DOLPHINS …

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Dolphins are highly social, and scientists are still discovering fascinating details about how the aquatic mammals socialize with one another. In 2015, scientists at Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute published research in the Marine Mammal Science journal about the social networks of dolphins. After spending over six years tracking 200 bottlenose dolphins in Florida's Indian River Lagoon, the scientists discovered that dolphins have friends. Instead of spending equal time with the dolphins around them, the animals actually segregate themselves into friend groups. Just like humans, dolphins seem to prefer the company of certain peers more than others.

6. … AND EACH DOLPHIN RESPONDS TO ITS OWN NAME.

Dolphins aren't swimming around with name tags, but every dolphin has its own unique whistle. Scientists believe that dolphins use these signature whistles for life, and female dolphins may even teach their calves their whistles before they're born. Dolphins use their signature whistles to call out to one another and may be able to remember other dolphins' whistles after decades apart.

7. THERE ARE 44 DIFFERENT DOLPHIN SPECIES.

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Although bottlenose dolphins are the most well-known and recognizable, there are 43 other dolphin species. Most species live in temperate and tropical oceans, but a few live in colder oceans or rivers. Depending on their species, dolphins can vary considerably in their physical attributes and behavior. For example, the largest dolphin species, the Orca (also called Killer Whale), can be 30 feet long—10 times longer than the smallest dolphins.

8. THEY DON'T USE THEIR TEETH TO CHEW FOOD.

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Dolphins have teeth, but they don't use their chompers to chew food. Instead, dolphins use their teeth to catch prey (fish, crustaceans, and squid) and swallow it whole. Since they forgo chewing, digestion occurs in their stomach—or, more precisely, in part of their stomach. Dolphins have multiple stomach chambers, one of which is devoted to digestion, while the other chambers store food before it's digested.

9. THEY TYPICALLY GIVE BIRTH TO JUST ONE CALF.

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Depending on their species, most female dolphins (called cows) carry their babies for nine to 17 months before giving birth to a calf. Interestingly, calves are born tail first, rather than head first, so they don't drown during the birthing process. After nursing for one to two years, a calf typically stays with its mother for the next one to seven years, before mating and having its own calves.

10. THEIR SKIN CAN BE REGENERATED EVERY TWO HOURS.

If you've ever swum with dolphins, you know their skin looks and feels super smooth and sleek. There's a reason for that—a dolphin's epidermis (outer layer of skin) can be sloughed off and replaced with new skin cells as often as every two hours. Because their skin regenerates so often, it stays smooth and, as most scientists believe, reduces drag as they swim.

11. THE U.S. NAVY TRAINS DOLPHINS TO PROTECT NUCLEAR WEAPONS.

A bottlenose dolphin named K-Dog from the Commander Task Unit jumps out of the water in 2003. Commander Task Unit is comprised of special mine clearing teams from The United Kingdom, Australia, and the U.S.
A bottlenose dolphin named K-Dog from the Commander Task Unit jumps out of the water in 2003. Commander Task Unit is comprised of special mine clearing teams from The United Kingdom, Australia, and the U.S.
Brien Aho, U.S. Navy/Getty Images

Despite dolphins' general friendliness, some of them are trained for combat. The Navy Marine Mammal Program at San Diego's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) trains dozens of bottlenose dolphins (as well as sea lions) to help the U.S. Navy. In the past, the U.S. military has used dolphins in conflicts in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. Today, thanks to their intelligence, speed, and echolocation skills, dolphins are trained to find enemy swimmers, locate underwater mines, and guard nuclear arsenals.

12. THEY'RE NOT THE SAME AS PORPOISES.

To the untrained eye, dolphins and porpoises look nearly identical, and many people mistakenly think that porpoises are a type of dolphin. But the two species belong to completely different families and differ in their physical attributes. So how can you tell them apart? Dolphins, which are usually bigger than porpoises, typically have longer beaks and curved dorsal fins. Porpoises, on the other hand, have more triangular dorsal fins as well as spade-shaped (rather than conical) teeth.

13. HUNTING, OVERFISHING, AND RISING OCEAN TEMPERATURES THREATEN THEM.

Some dolphin species are endangered or functionally extinct (like China's baiji dolphin) due to hunting, overfishing, and pollution. Although dolphin meat is high in mercury, the animals are still hunted for their meat and eaten in parts of Japan and the Faroe Islands of Denmark. Overfishing means that dolphins' food sources are shrinking, and some dolphins get caught up in fishing nets and die. Additionally, climate change and rising ocean temperatures are driving some fish and squid away from their natural habitats, putting dolphins' main food source at risk.

14. A SUPERPOD CAN CONSIST OF MORE THAN 1000 DOLPHINS.

a pod of dolphins swimming
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Dolphins live in groups, called pods, that typically contain dozens or hundreds of dolphins. By swimming in a pod, dolphins work together to hunt prey, evade predators, and care for sick or injured members. But different pods can also merge, forming a superpod of more than 1000 dolphins. Superpods are typically temporary and occur in parts of the ocean with plentiful food (and less competition for tasty squid).

15. THE OLDEST DOLPHIN IN CAPTIVITY LIVED TO 61 YEARS OLD.

Dolphin lifespan varies greatly by species. Most dolphins in the wild live for a few decades, while those in captivity have a drastically reduced lifespan and may live for only a few years. So it's all the more shocking that the oldest dolphin in captivity lived to be a sexagenarian. Nellie, a bottlenose dolphin who lived in a marine entertainment park in Florida, was born in 1953. She appeared on TV shows and commercials and performed tricks for the park's attendees before passing away in 2014.

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