The top 10 weird mammals you should know more about!

Mammals are awesome. Not only are we humans mammals, but so are some of the most iconic animals alive today – think the elephant, the lion… the panda! It seems we more easily fall for another hairy, milk producing mammal than for a spindly invertebrate or a scaly fish.

But there are almost 4600 mammal species on our planet, and a lot of them are way more interesting than the panda, and really weird! So i’m bringing you my pick of the top 10 weird mammals, you should know more about… because with so much diversity in the mammalian class it’s easy to miss some of the more wonderful ones!


  1. Who: de Brazza’s monkey (Cercopithecus neglectus)

Where: Wide spread across equatorial Africa

Why: I like Chimpanzees as much as the next person – they’re smart, they can learn sign language and they’re super closely related to us… BUT do they have a wiseman’s white beard and a crescent crown on their foreheads? No they do not. And that is why de Brazza’s monkey is one weird looking monkey you should know more about.

Despite their loud appearance, these monkeys are very hard to find because they’re so quiet. Just because you’re beautiful you don’t gotta boast about it! It’s also common for de Brazza’s to curl up when predators appear, no doubt to cover their noticeable faces – a sweet image nonetheless, and the perfect start to this top 10.

de Brazza Guenon by Steve Wilson
Pondering the meaning of life, probably. Photo: Flickr/Steve Wilson
Photo: Flickr/JohnBWilson
Rockin’ it from all angles. Photo: Flickr/JohnBWilson
  1. Who: The Kinkajou (Potos fiavus), also known as the Honey Bear

Where: Central and South America

Why: That weird long tongue! Thought to have evolved to help them feed on nectar and honey, I like to think of them as a big hairy butterflies. They do eat insects too though, so the butterfly similarities end pretty quickly. They’re an arboreal species, spending most of their time in the canopy either sleeping in tree holes during the day or hunting and foraging at night.

While groups of kinkajous will sleep together in their dens, they generally act solitary when out and about. Come time to mate however, and the males make up for lost time. They’ve been observed following around a fertile female for up to five hours and then copulating with her for three and a half hours longer – quite a protracted affair!

Photo: Flickr/Josh More
If you got it flaunt it. Photo: Flickr/Josh More
Photo: Flickr/Luca5
Yeah. I see you. Photo: Flickr/Luca5
  1. Who: The Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris)

Where: The Mahakam, Ayeyarwady, and Mekong Rivers in South and South East Asia

Why: Bottle shaped beaks are so last year. The Irrawaddy dolphin sports a flat face instead and the result is kinda like a giant, smiling thumb. A species of oceanic dolphin, they’re incredibly good at dealing with salty, estuarine conditions and live predominantly in scattered populations within river systems.

In one such system, Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady river – Irrawaddys have actually formed a cooperative relationship with humans. They’ll voluntarily herd shoals of fish towards fishing boats, giving the fishermen more food and allowing the dolphins to feed easily on the fish stuck in the net.

In Cambodia and Laos locals actually believe the Irrawaddy dolphins are reincarnations of humans and that it’s therefore bad luck to harm them. Sadly despite this, these wonderfully weird animals are labelled as vulnerable due to the impacts of humans. BUT, you can adopt your very own funny faced friend and check out more amazing photos of them here!

Irrawaddy Dolphin
Thumb face, dolphin style. Photo: Flickr/Frank
Photo: Wikipedia
Dance like the rainbow! Photo: Dan Koehl – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
  1. Who: Giant Indian Squirrel (Ratufa indica)

Where: India, duh.

Why: And you thought squirrels were boring – these much bigger and much more beautifully coloured giant Indian squirrels get even better when you learn about their quirky behaviours. Just like birds, they build nests in the trees!

While aves generally prefer a nest with a convertible design, the giant indian squirrel likes a spherical shaped home and builds its nest by thrusting sticks together into a hollow ball with three to four layers of leaves in between. Impressively, they usually whip them up in a breezy two and half hours.

Photo: Flickr/Hari Ratan
Nuts about the Giant Indian Squirrel. Photo: Flickr/Hari Ratan
  1. Who: Pallas’s cat (Otocolobus manul)

Where: The grasslands and montane steppe of central Asia.

Why: Very closely related to your own Snowball or Mittens, Pallas cats are one of seven species of feline in the same lineage as domestic cats. But much more badass. And really fluffy.

Even before they’ve opened their eyes, Pallas kittens begin growling and hissing – setting themselves up from day one for a life much more inhospitable then your comfy lounge room couch. They can encounter temperatures cooler than minus 50 degrees (Celsius or Fahrenheit), so all that fluff is incredibly handy!

Helpful too, are their small sloped ears. While they may look a little weird, Pallas cats are ambush predators and rely on blending in with their environment. Their ear adaptation helps them stay inconspicuous when peering out from behind rocks.

Photo: Flickr/Tambako the Jaguar
Mesmerised by those hazel eyes. Photo: Flickr/Tambako the Jaguar
Pallas on the prowl - Photo: Flickr/jinterwas
Pallas on the prowl – Photo: Flickr/jinterwas
  1. Who: Silky anteater (Cyclopes didactylus)

Where: Central and South America

Why: Butter-cake yellow fur and a face curved like a banana, the silky anteater is one sweet mix. An ant specialist, it spends most of it’s time in the forest canopy – eating up to 5000 ants each night and sleeping in a tightly curled ball during the day. Best of all though, these weird wonders are total badasses too.

Despite being the smallest species of anteater (and looking a little pathetic tbh), they’ve got guts! When sensing danger they firmly grip their tail around a branch and rear up on their hind legs, front paws held above their face in a karate like stance, ready for action. That courage definitely calls for a spot in this top 10!

Now pretty please, for me, go and watch this retro video of a silky anteater, narrated by a much younger David Attenborough and see just how weird (and sweet!) they are.

„Silky Anteater“ von Quinten Questel - Eigenes Werk. Lizenziert unter CC BY-SA 3.0 über Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Silky_Anteater.jpg#/media/File:Silky_Anteater.jpg
That sweet, sweet face. Photo: Quinten Questel – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Flickr/Quinten Questral
Looking for trouble. Photo: Flickr/Quinten Questel
  1. Who: Queensland tube-nosed bat (Nyctimene robinsoni)

Where: Queensland, Australia.

Why: Oh I think you nose why… that rolled up, protruding pair of pipes the Queensland tube-nosed bat calls a nose. A species of fruit bat, their weird nostrils were originally thought to act as snorkels, allowing them to breathe easy as they chomped through fruit.

Further research however, has found that the nostrils are likely used instead to help the bats produce an incredibly detailed olfactory map of their surroundings. Each nostril can open and shut and move independently of each other – and they also happen to be strangely yellow. Obviously a mammal you need to nose, so it’s in the top 10!

Photo: Michael Pennay
Their matching yellow eyeliner just completes the look. Photo: Michael Pennay
Photo: Michael Pennay
Nostrils flared and prepared. Photo: Michael Pennay
  1. Who: Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis)

Where: Africa and the Middle East

Why: Get this. Despite the fuzzy face and resemblance to something like a quokka, guinea pig or prairie dog, these little guys have a very unusual family tree. In an incredibly weird, master piece of evolution, it turns out that hyraxs evolved from a common ancestor alongside ELEPHANTS, DUGONG and MANATEES.

This means that today, hyraxes are most closely related to the enormous elephant and a couple of giant water mammals – what a family reunion! And what better reason to pop these cuties in the top 10!

While there are several species of hyrax, the rock hyrax is probably the most well known. Living within rock crevices, the males in their small groups really know how to charm a female. When in the wooing mood, males compose a complicated song said to reveal a great deal of information about that male to a listening female. The higher ranked the male, the longer he sings!

Photo: Pablo Necochea
Let me sing for you sweetheart. Photo: Pablo Necochea
Photo: Flickr/Cloudtail
Taking a break from being an absolute charmer. Photo: Flickr/Cloudtail
  1. Who: Saiga Antelope (Procavia capensis)

Where: Central Asia

Why: It’s not a face that’ll win a beauty contest: nose like floppy shot gun barrel and the illusion of weirdly big, bug eyes – but gosh it’s fascinating! With populations in Russia, Kazakhstan and a sub species in Mongolia, these gentle sweeties live in some of the harshest conditions in the world.

Come calving season they can meet in extraordinary numbers, however the population has been dwindling and in a tragic turn of events, in June this year (2015) around half of the world population was mysteriously killed off by some still unidentified phenomenon. Mass die offs of the saiga have occurred in the past however, and science and veterinary teams are now better prepared than ever to understand the problem and hopefully find a solution!

Photo: Darwin Institute
It doesn’t get much weirder than this! Photo: Darwin Institute
  1. Who: The Ground Pangolin (Smutsia temminckii)

Where: Southern and Eastern Africa

Why: A mammal that almost looks reptilian! The pangolin has long been a favourite mammal of mine thanks to its weird, scaly appearance – and that is why i’ve given it the honorary position as number 10 in my top 10 list. Born as adorable soft-bodied babies, their keratin scales harden as they get older and develop blade like edges to deter predators when they curl up in a ball.

While there are eight species of pangolin all equally as wonderful and weird as the other, I love the especially odd, lop-sided look of the Ground Pangolin – with it’s huge ‘heavy hindquarters’ and disproportionately small head. They have an amazing walking style – crouched over, using their hindlegs alone, with the occasional help from their forelimbs and tail for balance. As the only species of pangolin found in Southern Africa the Ground Pangolin is a true gem too and definitely deserving of this top 10 spot!

Photo: David Brossard
Love their little curly ears too! Eek! Photo: David Brossard
Photo: David Brossard
And that’s a wrap! Photo: David Brossard

References

Blount, J. D., & Taylor, N. J. (2000). The relative effectiveness of manipulable feeders and olfactory enrichment for Kinkajous. International Zoo Yearbook,37(1), 381-394.

Hall, L. 1983. Queensland Tube-nosed Bat Nyctimene robinsoni.. Pp. 286-287 in Complete book of Australian mammals.. North Ryde, NSW: Cornstalk Pub.

Hayssen, V., Miranda, F., & Pasch, B. (2012). Cyclopes didactylus (Pilosa: Cyclopedidae). Mammalian Species, 44(1), 51-58.

Ilany, A., Barocas, A., Kam, M., Ilany, T., & Geffen, E. (2013). The energy cost of singing in wild rock hyrax males: evidence for an index signal. Animal Behaviour, 85(5), 995-1001.

Nayak, B. K., & Patr, A. K. (2015). Feeding and nesting ecology of the giant indian squirrel Ratufa indica (Erxleben 1777) in Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary, Balasore, Odisha, India and its conservation. International Journal of Bioassays, 4(03), 3741-3746.

Ross, S., Munkhtsog, B., & Harris, S. (2012). Determinants of mesocarnivore range use: relative effects of prey and habitat properties on Pallas’s cat home-range size. Journal of Mammalogy, 93(5), 1292-1300.

Springer et al., 1997, M.S. Springer, G.C. Cleven, O. Madsen, W.W. de Jong, V.G. Waddell, H.M. Amrine, M.J. Stanhope, Endemic African mammals shake the phylogenetic tree, Nature, 388 (1997), pp. 61–64

Stuart, C., & Stuart, T. (2001). Field guide to mammals of southern Africa. Struik.

Wahome, J. M., Rowell, T. E., & Tsingalia, H. M. (1993). The natural history of de Brazza’s monkey in Kenya. International journal of primatology14(3), 445-466.

Williams, N. (2009). Dolphin surprise. Current Biology, 19(8), R307-R308.

8 comments

    • Oh the smiling thumb has to be up there for sure! Haha i’m laughing just thinking about it now… But also the Hyrax – it has such a seedy little smile, i’m totally charmed there as well 😛 Thanks for the lovely words Gio! 😀

      Like

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