In 1799, George Shaw received a report about a strange animal from a colony called New South Wales that is now part of Australia. The report came with a jar in pungent alcohol, containing a creature that was part duck, part otter, and part mole. Shaw, upon seeing the animal, quickly went to snip the fur, expecting to reveal the stitches of the animal that was straight out of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. But the settlers of New South Wales were not playing a TikTok prank. And as evidence continued to support its authenticity, the world was introduced to the platypus.
But the platypus isn’t the only creature we thought was a dream. Back in the medieval age, “strange” creatures gained fame and were immortalized in sagas and poems, only to be revealed as real-life animals. The fun thing about all of this? We keep on discovering extraordinary organisms just like these 20 animals that look like they’re from another planet.
1. Chinese Giant Salamander
The Chinese Giant Salamander is one of the biggest amphibians in existence. This one might be small but they can grow up to around 6 feet. Yes, that’s around the size of a human being. When threatened, they produce a liquid that smells of peppers to ward off prey. Today, the giant salamander is registered as critically endangered due to overconsumption by humans.
At first glance, you’d say that this creature is straight out of a children’s fairytale book. Pale skin, five-fingered hands, and buttons for eyes, you’d think that this is a species of a mermaid, along with its elaborate “headdress”. Axolotls come from a line of salamanders and amphibians. Scientists are doing their best to save their species since there are only a few hundred of them in the wild.
3. Markhor Goats
This majestic goat got its name from eating snakes and turning them into these elaborate horns. Or at least that’s what the local myths tell us. The Markhor goat is the premier fauna of the Hindi Kush Alpine Meadow and is a staple in Northern Asia. Much like the animals in this list, the Markhor is listed as critically endangered. Pakistan made it their official animal to raise awareness for this majestic species.
4. Highland Cow
At first glance, you’d think that these cows are living in an alien world where winter is the only season it knows. Compared to your average cow, these bovines are stockier and furrier. The Highland, the oldest registered cattle breed in the world, originated from the highlands of Scotland. This reliable breed is so resilient that it needs less than what an average cow needs and will thrive in an environment where most breeds would perish. If that’s not alien to you, we don’t know what is.
It’s like an alligator but with a toothed beak. That’s the first thing you’ll notice about the gharial. They once frequented the areas spanning Pakistan to Myanmar but has since shrunk into the areas of India and Nepal. Unlike their distant relatives, the crocs and the gators who lunge at their prey, the gharial use the sensory cells in their snouts to sense vibrations in the water then grab on to unsuspecting fishes.
The gerenuk got its name from the Somali word “giraffe-necked”, which perfectly describes this species of antelopes. But unlike giraffes, gerenuk feed on tall bushes by standing on their hind legs. They are also a very vocal species, doing different sounds depending on the situation. They do a buzzing sound when threatened, a whistle when annoyed, a loud bleat when in extreme danger, and a soft bleat when females communicate with their young. Because of human infrastructure, their habitat has shrunk which led to a decrease of their population to up to 25% for the last 14 years.
7. Thorny Devil
Bristly, horned, crusty. You’d think that this reptile lives in a barren alien world battered by unforgiving winds. But actually, they’re from Australia. Thorny Devils are reptilian anteaters with a penchant for fooling their predators. As if the thorny topside is not enough of a warning, thorny devils also have a false head and a weird jerky walking pattern. Does it need a system reboot? Is it drunk? We’ll never know.
8. Hooded Seal
These alien creatures stand out because of their inflatable nasal “bladder” and cavity. When challenging a male, a hooded seal can inflate these bladders like a person blowing bubble gum. Why they opted for that feature instead of horns? We guess they wanted to be freaky yet original. They are currently under a “protected” status with threats ranging from hunting, entanglement, and climate change.
9. Dumbo Octopus
The underwater world boasts a widely diverse array of otherworldly species. One of them is an octopus named aptly so because of its ear-like fins. Sighting one is extremely rare since they live in deep open oceans, under the depth of 13,000 feet. This makes them the deepest living of all octopus species. Because they live in the open ocean, this species had to be creative with reproduction. Females carry eggs in different stages of development and can carry sperm for a long time. This allows them to reproduce anywhere just as long as the conditions are right.
10. Goblin Shark
Their faces might come straight out of a fantasy book but these sharks are as real as real could get. Goblin sharks are deep-dwelling creatures found, albeit rarely, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Besides their distinct facial features, goblin sharks have this freaky ability to extend their jaws up to three feet to catch prey. But only because they’re sluggish creatures and that’s the only way they could catch prey.
The velella is as interesting as its appearance. These seemingly otherworldly creatures have been sighted along the northern Pacific and Atlantic coasts but their way of getting there is unlike any other species. They got their name from their primary mode of locomotion which is the fin that runs over their bodies. These “fins” act as sails. Yes, like sailboats. And these creatures travel the sea where the wind takes them.
They may not look like primates at first glance but their closest relatives are apes and chimpanzees. The aye-aye is a primate endemic to Madagascar and is widely known for their, well, middle finger. No, these animals are not cussing at you. This middle finger is their primary tool for feeding. They tap on trees to find wood-boring larvae or scoop out the flesh of coconuts. Unfortunately, these animals are considered bringers of ill omens, that’s why they are being killed on sight. This contributed to their dwindling numbers and their status as endangered.
13. Irrawaddy Dolphin
This animal is strange because it looks like a giant smiley face with fins. But this is also the reason why a lot of people love this species of dolphin. Besides the coasts of South and Southeast Asia, the Irrawaddy dolphin inhabits three rivers: the Ayeyarwady in Myanmar, the Mahakam in Indonesian Borneo, and the Mekong. The gentle creatures face the threat of extinction due to bycatch or accidental capture.
14. Magnificent Frigatebird
This seabird is a mainstay in the subtropical Americas and is most famously known for their courtship rituals. The magnificent frigate bird has an inflatable red pouch under its bill which it bloats up to attract a mate. This makes them into a cross between a bird and a red balloon, and quite literally. They are also known to be the most efficient foragers since tropical waters are not as productive as temperate oceans. Besides letting the wind do most of the flying for them, they are also known to “bully” other birds into giving up their catch, making other animals “do the work for them”.
Before anything, dugongs are different from their close relatives, the manatee. Now that we have that out of the way, dugongs are strange because they closely resemble the other name that they go by — sea cows. They look exactly what an underwater bovine would look like and they even act the same way given that dugongs spend most of their time grazing. They might look like belugas, but they’re more closely related to elephants. They are currently under protected status as they are already regionally extinct in some areas.
16. Red-Lipped Batfish
If we have an alien world here on Earth, look no further than the Darwinian shrine of Galapagos. This island and its isolation showcase a melting pot of evolution. From the land iguana to the giant tortoise, the Galapagos doesn’t run out of alien creatures. One of them is this species of batfish that’s ready to still your man. The “cosmetics” isn’t only the fish’s strange trait. It also uses its fins to “walk”.
17. Mangalitsa Pig
The Mangalitsa pig looks like ice-age livestock with its wooly fur, or a pig in sheep’s clothing. Originating from Hungary, this breed of pig almost became extinct in the 1990s, with only less than 200 heads. It’s mostly because these are free-range type pigs who love foraging and a lot of space. They also produce less offspring and were less economical than other breeds.
18. Maned Wolf
If one will tell you that they found a fox on stilts, they’re probably talking about the maned wolf. The animal got its name from the mane behind its neck that stands erect when they smell danger. They’re mainly found in South America, in grasslands and scrub forests. Unlike other wolves, maned wolves often hunt alone. To the curious, yes, these are tall animals reaching up to 1 meter in height.
19. Saiga Antelope
They may look like an animal in Star Wars but these plain grazers are found mostly in Kazakhstan. They may look sluggish with their snouts just hanging, but they can run up to 50 mph across the plains. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough to save them from being endangered. This breed of antelopes is hunted for their horns and used in traditional Chinese medicine. This practice led to their dwindling numbers, further exacerbated by illegal poaching and disease.
20. Black Rain Frogs
No, these are not Jabba the Hutt’s offspring. These are just really grumpy avocados. These avocados, only found on the southern coast of Africa, can be relatable to those who don’t like being around other creatures so much. If found in an unwanted company, they puff up so big and heavy that predators can’t carry them away. Even after mating, they become home buddies and spent most of their time guarding the eggs.
While these animals look like creatures from another planet, these organisms live with us and among us. That said, we should be aware of their existence and how we affect their environment and habitat. Read more about these animals and see ways you can help ensure that future generations could still look at them in curious awe.