The natural world is resplendent with beautiful animals that reveal the wonders of evolution. This article will present seven creatures that are likely to captivate your imagination.
Do not expect to recognize many of the animals on this list. While some might be familiar, nature provides us with almost 9 million distinct species. Beauty is not limited to the hundreds of animals that we can readily identify.
Some fun facts will be provided about each of the seven animals. Whether for survival or mating, natural selection has endowed these creatures with unusual anatomical adaptations and spectacular panoplies of color!
The mandarin fish (Synchiropus splendidus) swims in the south-west Pacific Ocean close to Australia, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Its array of color is similar to that of the robes worn by an Imperial Chinese mandarin or bureaucrat. The blue color comes from a cellular pigment that is unique to the species. The mandarin fish is only 6 cm long. It dwells in secluded lagoons and reefs, eating small crustaceans.
The fennec fox (Vulpes zerda) lives in North Africa and the Sahara. Its huge ears can grow up to 15 cm long. They radiate heat away from the animal and allow it to locate subterranean prey. The fennec fox is a predominantly nocturnal animal, hunting small mammals, birds, and insects at night. It can live up to 14 years and reach a size of 40 cm, not including its 30 cm tail. They can bark, purr, and snarl, and their natural predator is the eagle owl. ‘Fennec’ is the Arabic word for fox, and it is the national animal of Algeria.
The black backed kingfisher (Ceyx erithaca) is approximately 13 cm in length. It lives in southeast Asia and India close to streams and rivers in well-shaded, wooded areas. These kingfishers eat insects and snails as well as small lizards, frogs, and crabs by the riverside. They build tunnel-like nests in the riverbanks that can be up to a meter long. These nests can take more than a week to dig.
The Zanzibar red colobus (Procolobus kirkii) is a monkey that lives only on Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania. They are an endangered species with no more than 3000 left in the wild. The people of Zanzibar hold negative views of the animal and call them `poison monkey’ because of their unusual smell. They live in groups of up to 50 individuals, with a 1:2 ratio of males to females. The red colobus eats leaves, seeds, and flowers that it finds in forests, coastal areas, and swamps. They also eat unripe fruit because they cannot break down the sugars in ripe fruit. They are known to eat charcoal to aid digestion.
The caracal (Felis caracal) gets its name from the Turkish words kara kulak, meaning `black ear’. It has a number of adaptations that allow it to live in a diverse range of habitats. These include its long, tufted, and highly flexible ears that help it hear the smallest of sounds, and powerful hind legs that allow it to leap several meters into the air to catch birds. They also eat small mammals, gazelles, and reptiles. The caracal lives in Africa and the Middle East and can grow up to a meter long, plus a 30 cm tail.
The poison dart frog (pictured: Dendrobates azureus) lives in Central and South American rainforests, growing to between 1.5 and 6 cm in length. Indigenous people used the frog’s toxic secretions to poison the tips of blow-darts, giving the frog its name. The secretions, which are being studied in medical trials, might also be used as muscle relaxants, appetite suppressants, and heart stimulants. Their bright colors form `aposematic patterns’, which serve to ward off predators by suggesting an unpalatable toxicity. There are around 175 closely related species of poison dart frog which vary in size and coloration. The most colorful are the 5 within the dendrobates genus.
The tiger (Panthera tigris) is the largest and most eye-catching of the big cats. They can grow up to 3.3 meters in length and weigh over 300 kg. Tigers have a lifespan up to 26 years, though all 6 subspecies (Bengal, Siberian, Sumatran, Malayan, Indochinese and South China tigers) are endangered, with a total population of less than 4,000. The Bengal tiger is the most common and the Siberian is the largest. They live in India, southeast Asia, and the far east of Russia (Siberia). Their striped fur serves as camouflage in their natural habitat of long grasses and wooded areas. Underneath the fur, their skin is striped in the same pattern.