Discoveries in the modern field of biology most frequently come from petri dishes and microscopes, but it wasn’t long ago that naturalists scoured the earth in search of rare animals. It was the prize of these old scientists to discover animals never seen before. These endemic species with odd and unique adaptations are scattered across the planet in specific niches. Many are endangered, while some are simply highly adapted.
Easily mistaken for one of Jim Henson’s Muppets, the bulbous-nosed proboscis monkey, or Bekantan in Indonesian, is an arboreal Old World monkey found only on the island of Borneo. Proboscis monkeys are highly social creatures with lax hierarchies. Groups frequently band and disband throughout the day before returning to sleep together. Serious aggression is rare among these unusual animals, with territorial disputes being settled mostly through audible honking.
Pygmy hogs are pocket-sized porcine found only in the grasslands surrounding the Himalayas. The little pigs span no more than 11 inches by adulthood and weigh all of 15 lbs. Males bear a white moustache of pale hairs and small, sharp tusks protruding from their mouths. When on the go, pygmy hog families travel in single-file lines, adults at either the front or rear, with a litter size between two and six. The rare creatures are seldom spotted and are highly endangered, with estimates of only 250 left on the planet.
The Tasmanian Devil is endemic to, you guessed it, Tasmania. Like all marsupials, it is found only in the Outback. However, unique among the marsupials, these Devils are carnivorous, with front legs stronger than the rear. Not far from its cartoon depiction, it’s both fast and ferocious, capable of running up to 8.1 mph despite being only two feet tall, and it has the strongest bite relative to body size of any living mammal. To make them even scarier, their teeth grow throughout the entire course of their lives.
Texas Blind Salamander
In the water-filled caves of the Edwards Aquifer in San Marcos reside Texas Blind Salamanders. As the name suggests, the rare amphibian is completely blind. Its vestigial eyes exist only as tiny dots beneath the surface of its translucent white skin. Living underwater and underground, the blind salamander senses prey from water pressure in its surroundings and sustains itself on snail, shrimp and other small invertebrates.
Male Wilson Bird
The lowland rainforests of West Papua, New Guinea are the only places in the world to spot the brightly-colored object of David Attenborough’s fascination: Wilson’s bird-of-paradise. This member of the family paradisaeidae received its namesake from Charles Lucien Bonaparte, the nephew of none other than Napoleon. Charles named it after the ornithologist from whom he purchased it. Wilson’s bird-of-paradise is the most brightly colored of its family, known best for its elaborate mating dance, first captured on film by Attenborough himself.
Madagascar is home to the world’s largest diversity of chameleon species—over 150 exist! The slow-moving, color-shifting creatures have captured the attention of exotic animal lovers for ages. Though it is a common misconception that their color-shifting behavior is an adaptation for camouflage, male chameleons change color to intimidate other males with the most vibrant displays. And although several species can be found across Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, one tiny species of Chamaeleonidae is found solely on the islet of Nosy Hara off Madagascar. Brookesia micra is one of the smallest vertebrates in the world with an adult length of just about an inch from nose to tail.