One of the many miracles of nature is its propensity for endless variation.
Over the eons of evolution, creatures have shown an incredible capacity to conform to their environments, sometimes becoming so specialized that they only exist within the narrow confines of a particular habitat, perhaps eking out an existence atop a single mountain or living out their days on a secluded tropical island.
Here, one of the more unusual creatures endemic to Australia’s Outback: the thorny devil lizard, Moloch horridus. The lizard has a fearsome appearance despite being quite harmless.
Among its many desert specializations, one of the strangest is its ability to drink water through its skin, not by absorption but rather capillary action. If the thorny devil puts its foot in a puddle, a network of channels in the scales carries the water to its mouth like tiny straws.
A primate found exclusively in the highlands of Ethiopia, the gelada, Theropithecus gelada, is a baboon-like monkey.
Males sport a luxurious golden mane, and both males and females have red triangles of bare skin on their chests.
Geladas spend the bulk of their days sitting in fields eating grass, and by night they climb onto the ledges of cliff faces to sleep.
The Galapagos Islands are famed for their abundant endemic species. And one of the most rare is the pink land iguana, Conolophus marthae, which split evolutionarily from the other land iguanas some 5.7 million years ago.
They live exclusively in a 25 square kilometer area atop the Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island. Researchers believe their numbers are dangerously small, and likely under serious threat from feral cats.
In the highlands of Venezuela, towering flat-topped mountains called tepuis rise from the jungles to create isolated islands in the clouds.
Here lives the pebble toad, Oreophrynella nigra, a tiny, rough-textured toad with an odd escape technique. When pursued by a tarantula or other predator, the pebble toad rolls into a ball and hurls itself downhill, bouncing and rolling like a loose stone.
The male Wilson's bird of paradise, Cicinnurus respublica, boasts spectacular plumage, including a turquoise crown, emerald green breast and tail feathers that spiral outward like Captain Hook’s waxed mustache.
For his mating display, the male prepares an arena by obsessively clearing away loose leaves and twigs.
This rare species lives only on two tiny islands—Waigeo and Batanta—in the Raja Ampat chain, a remote collection of islands off West Papua, an Indonesian province of New Guinea.
The world’s smallest chameleon, Brookesia micra, was only recently discovered living exclusively on a tiny rock islet called Nosy Hara, off the northern tip of Madagascar.
Fully grown, the tiny lizards reach barely 1.2 inches long, and their extreme dwarfism is thought to be the result of their limited range. The chameleons have specialized to live among leaf litter in the cracks of the island’s rocky terrain.
A rare and unusual amphibian, the Texas blind salamander, Eurycea rathbuni, lives entirely in the persistent darkness of water-filled caves connected to the Edwards Aquifer in Hays County, Texas. It has no eyes or skin pigment, and frond-like external gills protrude from its neck.
Despite its lack of vision, heightened senses make it a skilled predator—it roams the underwater habitat hunting tiny snails and shrimp by sensing pressure waves in the water.
In the remote Pacific Island chain of Palau, a marine lake on the island of Eil Malk is home to a unique population of golden jellyfish.
Cut off from their oceanic relatives for millions of years, the golden jellies, Mastigias papua etpisoni, have lost much of their sting and evolved a symbiotic relationship with algae that live in their tissues, lending their eponymous golden color.
Reliant on the algae for food via photosynthesis, the jellyfish make a daily migration across the lake, following the arc of the sun.
Found only in the cloud forests of Papua New Guinea’s Huon Peninsula, the Matschie's tree kangaroo, Dendrolagus matshiei, is a plush brown marsupial with golden paws, belly and tail that spends most of its life in the treetops munching leaves.
Like other kangaroos, female Matschie's tree kangaroos carry and nurse their joeys in a pouch.
Costa Rica’s biologically dense Osa Peninsula is home to nearly half of the country’s animal and plant species.
One of many creatures only found here is the Golfo Dulce poison dart frog, Phyllobates vittatus. Black with distinctive red stripes down the sides, the frog harbors a potent neurotoxin in its skin, which can cause seizures and paralysis.