As a society we’re especially fond of animals we deem beautiful, cute, majestic, or otherwise attractive: peacocks, corgis, Arabian horses. But maybe these nice-to-look-at creatures don’t need any more attention. Instead, let’s take time to appreciate the weird and homely animals we share the planet with — haven’t we all at some point counted ourselves among them?
1. Why Are Damascus Goats So Ugly?
This creature, native to Syria and other parts of the Middle East, comes with a face only a goatherd could love. It’s the lone domesticated species on the list, and you might wonder if some waggish breeder conjured it up as a practical joke. But believe it or not there’s a festival devoted to Damascus goats, complete with a beauty contest to select the most attractive of these bizarre animals from around the Persian Gulf.
That’s right: The overbite, bulging forehead and absurdly floppy ears are no joke. They’ve been bred carefully for hundreds of years to make them better suppliers of milk and meat, and apparently also to exaggerate their striking facial features. So clearly the humans who live alongside them are fond of these peculiar looks. Nevertheless, there’s no denying they’d blend right in on a Star Wars set.
Read More: The 5 Senses Animals Have That Humans Don't
2. What Does a Blobfish Look Like?
You’d think someone had coughed up a colossal loogie, but this is in fact a real animal. The blobfish achieved stardom in 2013, when it won a public vote for ugliest animal in the world. It became the mascot for the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, which advocates for “nature’s more aesthetically challenged creatures.” However, it turns out we all fell for a smear campaign — the blobfish isn’t so hideous after all.
You may have noticed that the iconic photo was taken on land. As deep-sea fish living up to 4,000 feet below the surface, they have weak bones and muscles, relying instead on the immense water pressure to maintain their shape. So down there, under the conditions they evolved in, they look perfectly ordinary.
Haul them up to the surface, however, and they undergo rapid depressurization, suffering severe tissue damage in the process. That’s the unfortunate explanation for the gelatinous pink body, bulbous nose, and drooping mouth we’ve come to know. If you made the same journey in reverse, you wouldn’t look too hot yourself.
3. What Does the Naked Mole Rat Look Like?
Neither a mole nor a rat, but very much naked, this one-of-a-kind East African rodent is as fascinating as it is unsightly. At first glance you might mistake it for the least appetizing potato you’ve ever seen, the folds of its pale, blotchy skin dotted with just a few scraggly hairs that allow it to sense its surroundings. But if ever an animal taught us not to judge a book by its cover, it’s this one.
To start, naked mole rats are one of just two eusocial mammals on the planet, meaning they live in colonies in which most individuals serve the few who reproduce — in this case, a single queen. They also shatter longevity expectations for a creature their size, living up to 30 years.
Even those grotesque incisors have a good story: One-third of a naked mole rat’s somatosensory cortex (the part of the brain that processes touch) is dedicated to its teeth, which they use to dig literally miles of tunnel. In other words, nature was too busy perfecting function to get bogged down by style.
4. Why Do Proboscis Monkeys Have Big Noses?
If Squidward fell in love with a baboon, out would come something like the proboscis monkey. It’s named after the biological term for “big honkin’ nose,” and boy oh boy, talk about a schnoz. Native to the mangrove forests of Borneo, they also have pot-bellies and big fleshy pads encircling their necks, oddly reminiscent of the accordion-like ruffs worn by wealthy 16th-century Europeans.
The species is sexually dimorphic, with only the males sporting a true proboscis. In fact, to explain this stupendous appendage, some experts have cited sexual preference. Because they live in harems, at a ratio of one male to perhaps a dozen females, it may be that natural selection puts a lot of pressure on males to evolve extravagant features.
Indeed, a study published in Science Advances in 2018 found “a clear link” between nose size and harem size. On an unrelated note, if anyone can recommend a plastic surgeon…
5. What Does the Aye-Aye Look Like?
Don’t worry, our next guest is getting adequate sleep, that’s just the way it is. The aye-aye, with its permanent expression of wild-eyed shock and long, slender skeleton fingers, is as much a fright as an eyesore. The indigenous Malagasy people of Madagascar consider it a bad omen, and it’s not hard to imagine why. Each one looks like a crazed hermit who just stumbled out of the wilderness to let us know the world is ending.
Sadly, to counteract the unlucky event of seeing one, the Malagasy will often kill the offending creature, a tradition which has contributed to its endangered status. In reality the aye-aye is just another (albeit unusual) primate trying to get by, using its outrageously long third digit to fish out wood-boring insects from channels in trees — not to cast curses.
6. Why Does a Horsehoe Bat Look Like That?
If it looks like this thing has a ghastly flower blooming smack in the middle of its face, you’re not far off. That ornate organ is called a noseleaf, and although its purpose isn’t fully understood, many biologists believe it's used to direct echolocation calls, helping them to navigate and hunt more efficiently.
There are dozens of species of horseshoe bats spread across the tropical and temperate regions of Eurasia and Africa, each with a unique noseleaf. Before you go mocking their appearance, however, keep in mind they may hold humanity’s fate in their tiny clawed hands: It’s possible the coronaviruses responsible for the SARS and COVID-19 outbreaks originated in horseshoe bats. So, in case their self-esteem has anything to do with the matter: What a handsome face!
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