I am just going to come right out and say it: some animals are so weird! Now, I know it is not nice to judge another living creature based on appearance or behavior, but what else can you call a fish that walks or a dog that has dreadlocks instead of regular fur? Then, of course, there is the Angora rabbit that has so much hair it looks like a giant dust bunny (pun intended) and the small, shrew-like Solenodon that is one of the few mammals that can deliver a venomous bite.
Yet there are many other animals that have a claim to the weirdo hall of fame. The male duck-billed platypus is another example of a mammal that has venom. Instead of injecting the toxin with teeth, they use a spur on the ankles of their hind legs to administer the dose. The venom is toxic enough to kill small animals, but to humans it is not life threatening (although apparently it causes quite a bit of pain).
While a venomous spur in itself is strange enough, the platypus has many other interesting features, such as the ability to lay eggs, webbed feet, a thick paddle tail for storing fat and, of course, the duck bill. A platypus' mouth not only looks odd, it is also lined with electroreceptors that detect the electrical output from muscle contractions of animals in the water. Sharks, lampreys, sturgeons, catfish and other aquatic species have this ability, but the platypus and echidna (spiny anteaters) are the only two mammals that have this weird sixth sense.
The way animals use their five "normal" senses can also seem strange to us. As humans, we use vision more than our other senses, and despite being able to see in color, we really can't see that well. Moles can't see well either, but that doesn't bother them since they use their other senses to guide them while underground. For instance, the star-nosed mole is famous for his teeny eyes and crazy nose. The appendages do not aid in smelling but instead allow the mole to detect the tiniest of vibrations from creatures living in the dirt. His nose is so sensitive, and he can respond to prey so quickly, that the star-nosed mole is thought to be the fastest eating animal in the world, able to detect and eat an object all within 227 milliseconds!
Aside from the senses of vision and touch, the sense of hearing can also be incredible in some animals. Take the aye-aye for example. This odd-looking primate has huge eyes and ears and extremely long, skeletal fingers. The middle finger is skinnier than the others and used for repeatedly tapping tree trunks. While tapping, the aye-aye will listen to the sound the tapping makes in order to detect if a tasty grub or beetle is inside. Once the food is found, it will chew a hole in the bark and then use this special finger to reach in and scoop out the treat.
Like the aye-aye, many other animals will also go to extreme measures to find or store food and water.
A good example of this is the honeypot ant. Found in the Australian outback in extremely dry conditions, these ants will use their workers as living larders. The "honeypots" will stay in the hive while others go out in search of food. When they bring food back, they feed the honeypot ants so much that their abdomens extend and fill up with the nutritious liquid. When food is scarce, all the ants can benefit from these honeypots since the honeypots will regurgitate the liquid if the others stroke their antennae.
And those are just a few of the strange animals that live on land! In the ocean there are hundreds of creatures that can make your jaw drop. The giant squid holds the record for the world's largest eye (more than 20 inches in diameter!) although it is believed the colossal squid (a different species from the giant squid) has even bigger eyes, and the male angler fish literally attaches and becomes part of the female's body.
There is also the hagfish that can turn a bucket of water into a slimy mess in a matter of minutes, the cuttlefish that can change the color of half of its body to attract a mate while the other half is colored to intimidate competing males, and the blob fish which lives deep in the ocean and lacks developed muscles and instead depends on its gooey body to keep it floating along.
There is no other way to describe these animals than giving them the honor of being called weird. We have a lot of weird animals at the zoo, too. Our maned wolves, while very handsome boys, have legs that seem too long for their body and a distinctive skunk-like smell. In the Finnup Center you can find the hognose snake, a Kansas native that has an upturned nose for digging and an unusual habit of rolling over and playing dead when it is threatened. There are also the siamangs; lesser apes from Asia with vocal pouches on their neck that expand to allow them to project their call for miles.
It's true that animals are weird, but as with people, it is often that oddness that makes them interesting and unique. The more you learn about these strange animals we share the earth with, the more you can really appreciate how amazing they are.
Be sure to visit our new website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org.