A Whole Bunch of Animals That Probably Shouldn't Exist - Specialization Week

By Anna Swann-Pye

With niche specialization and thousands and thousands of years of evolution under their belts, its no wonder that some species out there are especially weird. While we’re busy contemplating the possibility of a real life Hippogriff, blobfish are swimming around in the deep sea with no concept of Harry Potters 1-7.

What is a blobfish? Although it looks like a child’s first attempt at ‘art’ it is, in fact, a rare sea creature that is found, most often, off the coast of Australia. And it is ugly. It’s rarely seen by humans, as it swims at extreme depths and (luckily) typically out of view. This ball of slime should be googled at your own risk, but it certainly looks like a creature that is somehow devolving. But, believe it or not, this sad-sack of a fish looks the way it does for a reason. It can swim so low to the ocean floor because of its gelatinous body and its density (just a little less dense than water) which enables it to float without expending much energy and without being crushed by the weight of the sea. It’s ugly body not only allows it to survive but be extraordinarily lazy as well. So, somehow the blobfish is living proof of survival of the (not so) fittest.

The blobfish is not the only creature that looks too weird to be real. The shoebill, which lives in the marshlands of Kenya, looks like a cartoon bird. It’s beak is the size of a human shoe and completely disproportionate. But, although might appear that the bill would be too heavy to lift, it is a necessary physical trait. The shoebill feeds by ambush by clasping fish in its powerful mandibles in an unbelievable display of strength and power. If you don’t believe it, see for yourself. So, although shoebills look like the funniest Dr. Seuss character you’ve ever seen, those bills mean business.

A shoebill at the Jurong Bird Park in Indonesia.

Photo by Drew Avery.

The weirder these animals look, it seems, the harder they are to find. So it’s no wonder, then, that the star nosed mole is (quite possibly) the weirdest of them all. But – surprise! – this creature lives under our noses. Just, way way under. Most commonly spotted deep down under the wetlands of Eastern North America, this little mammal lives in complete darkness, which means that, having never seen the sun, the star nosed mole’s eyes were rendered evolutionarily useless and never fully developed. Yet where the mole lacks in one sense, though, it makes up for in another. Its unbelievably strange looking star-shaped nose is capable of detecting the animal’s surroundings with speed and accuracy, and can even figure out what items are edible both in and out of water. The star nosed mole is one pretty impressive creature that also looks like the stuff of nightmares.

But, just in case little creepy octopus-headed moles are not terrifying enough for you, we’ll end with a real prehistoric looking horror: the frilled shark. These sharks live deep down off of the coast of Japan, and are extremely rare. They appear, to an unassuming eye, to be part-eel-part-dinosaur. But, like the blobfish, their creepy physique works to a serious advantage. Its body cavity stores its huge, low-density liver (filled with oils and hydrocarbons) which it uses to maintain buoyancy at depths up to 660 feet. So, ironically, it is due to its creepy looks that this creatures stays way out of our sight. There’s not much to say about the frilled shark, because they are so rarely spotted. No one, for example, has ever witnessed its eating habits. When one was discovered near the surface, it was due to a serious illness, and the “living fossil” died a few hours after. In this way, the terrifying frill shark might be the closest we’ll ever get to a mythical unicorn.

In all likelihood, most of us will go our entire lives without spotting any of these creatures. But just knowing that super-specialized, awe-inspiring animals are out there, should be enough to convince us to keep our eyes peeled. Chances are, for every super weird creature that has been documented, there are a hundred more that are yet to be discovered. If you’re like me, though, and are easily spooked, perhaps you shouldn’t look too hard.