Weird animal features – Part 3

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Animals come in all shapes and forms. Each of them had millions of years to evolve into what they are now, and this shows them at their true potential for this era. Those that survive throughout time will evolve into sub-species or maybe even into something completely new. But what's out there already is so diverse and so remarkable, that it's more than worth it to check it out!

Hi! My name is Tessa, I’m a Dutch artist, specializing in wildlife and creature designs. I love to share my passion for nature, art and fantasy, and do that by creating this archive and community, alongside my company Tez Art & Design.

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This article is part of a series, find similar articles at the bottom of this one!

Vocal cord, times two

Koalas are part of the marsupial family, an unique strain of animal species living mostly in Australia. Among the marsupial family you can find animals like kangaroos, wallaby’s, wombats, bandicoots, the now extinct thylacine, opossums and more. Typical for most of these species is that they carry their young in a pouch.

The Koalas however have another strange feature, they have two vocal cords! This allows them to reach extremely low frequency’s with their vocal cords. This counts for both males and females. They have a unique anatomy in which their pharynx and soft palate are elongated. This results in a permanently descended larynx. In addition, the hyroid apparatus has a human-like configuration. Here, paired dorsal, resilient ligaments suspend the hyroid apparatus from the skull, The ventral parts are tightly connected to the descended larynx. But without making this an anatomical lesson: This means that both sexes, and especially the males, can reach a remarkably low frequency. It’s more than likely that this developed throughout time with the help of natural selections: Females prefer deep voices, hmm, in what other species do we see this too? ;).

What does this mean for artists?

Well, it’s really good to be aware that there are always ‘odd ones out’. Boundaries can be extended and shifted into something unknown and new. It makes sense that this is possible, but who would have thought of something like this but nature? This proves yet again for creative nature is, and how natural selection works. Understanding this is an extremely powerful tool in your creature and character design!

Low frequencies are produced by more animals, mostly (but not always) larger animals like elephants and cows for example. More often than not, people cannot hear the sound, but they can feel it instead. It’s a weird experience and could trigger a persons ‘6th sense’ (something is off, or you see a pattern etc). How neat would it be when people fled an area because of an uneasy feeling, only to find out later that some cute little fellow with weird vocal cords was hibernating in the swamp nearby?

The tongue that’s more than a tongue

The Alligator Snapping Turtle has a worm-like appendage on its tongue with which it lures in unsuspecting prey.
Image by: LA Dawson – Animal courtesy of Austin Reptile Service

Alligator snapping turtle, an impressive name for an impressive animal. This primeval looking turtle is one you don’t want to be bitten by, but you don’t have to worry. Despite their name suggesting that they might be aggressive: They’re not. They’re actually lazy creatures that much rather sit and wait for their prey to swim right into their gaping mouths. They make this happen with the help of their tongues which have a pink worm-like lure right on the tip. They just wiggle it around and an unsuspecting fish might just swim in like that and snap! It’s gone. Just make sure that your toe isn’t mistaken for a fish, or a finger, or something else… Because you’d be putting that part of you into an early ‘grave’.

What does this mean for artists?

Well, put a lure anywhere really, It doesn’t need to be a tongue, it can also be a protrusion on top of the head like with angler fish. It does make most sense though to have the lure near the head, because we all know where the poor animal that fell for the trick needs to go.

You can go many ways with this. Generally it’s predatory animals sporting this feature, but you can also just be a teenager astray in a magical forest where bad faeries lure you out with a… Lure and capture you for their evil practices. Yea, I know, a silly thought, but it are those that can make your mind rollin’! Don’t act normal, just be crazy. We’re creatives, this is our power!

Spider logic

I’m not a fan of spiders, at all. And I mean that I can literally become one with the pillow behind my head when Facebook unexpectedly serves me a nice zoom-in of a spider. But this is not so much the case with the

I mean, just look at them! They’re cute, they’re colorful, small, they walk funny, and guess what: They can interact with people! And they dance! Okay, they dance for their mates, which is very entertaining to watch, but the most remarkable about these spiders is their intelligence. The fact they have the sharpest vision known for animals their size seems to aid their intelligence. They’re active hunters and stalk their prey, rather than sit and wait for prey to come their way.

Mimicry

Some species like portia will mimic the behavior of other spiders to lure females out of their nest. Not to mate, but to devour the unsuspecting female spider which was expecting to be courted. The same species is known for tricking spiders from their webs, simply by tapping their web with one of their paws.
They do it in such a way that it mimics a prey the spider would eat. If the spider portia is targeting is quite small, it just plucks at a silk strand of the other spiders web, waiting for it to come out and attack. If the spider portia is hunting is significantly larger, it instead will mimic a tiny fruit fly. The spider owning the web will more likely just inch closer instead of charge the disturbance when it’s small. This will allow for portia to have a better timing and jump on the spider, disabling it with its poisonous fangs.

If this tactic doesn’t work, it will instead attempt to shake the whole web as if a gust of wind struck it. This will cover up the vibrations portia makes when approaching the other spider through its web. But there is way more to this group of spiders, but that will be a dedicated article for another time!

Human interaction

Because of their intelligence they can also interact with people. This can mean as little as jumping on you when they’re attacked by a predator – They know said predator most likely won’t approach humans, keeping the spider safe. Because their incredible eyesight, better than our own, they’re capable of observing people and deciding if they’re safe to approach. They may not choose direct interaction voluntarily (although some do) but they will check out if you’re safe to be around at the least.
In this video you can see some interaction between a human and a jumping spider. You may wonder what the bond is between these two, if they know each other already, or if this is just a snapshot, and the spider is just trying to find out what this giant fleshy thing is pointing at it. Either way: It displays perfectly how a jumping spider can interact with a human!

Eh, and just have fun with the one below! The group Peacock Spider falls under jumping spiders as well, and they reflect perfectly what I’m talking about.

What does this mean for artists?

Well, I guess spiders have been on the mind of many artists and storytellers throughout time. You probably don’t need me to give you inspiration, but I hope that jumping spiders give you a different perspective and maybe sometimes apply them in friendly ways instead of malicious ones. Just imagine a spider like this, but the size of a horse. Imagine how far it could jump (taking its mass into account) where it could lead you, or how it could help you to get to places nobody else can? And imagine what it’s spidery senses would do for a human being in volatile lands!

Snub-nosed monkeys

Snub-nosed monkeys live in large groups up to 600 members high in the mountains. The absence of a nose helps them survive the extreme colds.
By Eva Hejda through Wikipedia

Have you ever heard of snub-nosed monkeys? If not: They’re a group of old-world monkeys of the genus Rhinopithecus. It’s also the only species within this genus. When you see them you probably recognize them right away: They have no nose! Their faces have a skull-like appearance because of this.
Snub-nosed monkeys live in Asia, from China to Vietnam in high mountain ranges (up to 4km high or 13,000ft). These extreme colds are literally a pain for appendages, like the nose.

For many animals, regulating heat or cold, means adaptation. Some animals will create a larger nose so they can warm up the cold air before it enters their lungs. Not so much with the Snub-nosed monkeys. Their noses disappeared altogether, except for a little stump. It’s more than likely that animals with smaller noses had a higher survival rate, which allowed them to survive better and longer, which meant more offspring with similar genes.

At the other side of the scale there are Saiga antelope, their large bulbous noses filter out dust during dry summers and warm up air during cold winters.

What does this mean for artists?

The features are quite self-explanatory, but if gives food for thought when you create a creature that lives in very hot or cold environments. Additionally it can really add to storytelling. Snub-nosed monkeys look quite freaky, if you put some effort into it you could come up with something otherworldly but believable. The same counts for the Saiga antelope. In my opinion it could be a creature from Dune, or Tatooine in Star Wars, but really, they just roam planet earth.

Ankol Watusi

The Ankol Watusi generates its temperature through its giant horns. They help cooling down during the hot African days,
Photo by Daley van de Sande on Unsplash

And lets continue with temperature regulating apparatus, no, it’s not always the nose. In fact: Any body part helps out, the biggest organ of which is the skin, which is in direct contact with the air. But for Ankol Watusi, a cow-breed that stems from the extinct aurochs, this wasn’t enough. These wonderful bovids from Africa sport giant horns that help regulate the body temperature. In fact, it’s argued that all bovids growing horns use their horns this way. Removing their horns might actually cripple their temperature regulation. But with animals like the Ankol Watusi this is even more the case.

Ankol Watusi live in Africa where it’s not uncommon for temperatures to vary between -6c (20F) to 49c (120F) on the same day. Stopping the body from overheating during the way is key, and what makes this bovid so succesful in extreme heat.
Blood runs through the horns, allowing excess heat to leave the body more quickly than it would without these horns.

More on weird animal features

Want to learn more about weird animal features? This article is part of a series and has more related articles.

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