6 Animals That Show Mother Nature's Sense of Humor

Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images

You've heard jokes like these all your life: What do you get if you cross an octopus with a cow? An animal that can milk itself. I didn't find such an animal, but the world has plenty of strange species that at first glance appear to be hybrids of unrelated species because they have attributes that surprise us. However, we are only surprised because our personal experiences don't encompass all that nature offers.

1. Turtle + Hedgehog = Armadillo

Rudyard Kipling wrote the story The Beginning of the Armadillos, in which the animal came from a tortoise and a hedgehog. They didn't join to give birth to armadillos; instead, they taught each other their talents. The hedgehog helped the tortoise learn to curl into a ball, and the tortoise taught the hedgehog to swim, which toughened up his spines into armor. Before they knew it, both had turned into armadillos.

Here in the real world, armadillos are related to both sloths and anteaters and are native to Latin America except for the nine-banded armadillo we see in the US. In certain states they are called "speed bumps."

2. Giraffe + Zebra = Okapi

The okapi (Okapia johnstoni) appears to be a short giraffe with a zebra's legs tacked on as an afterthought. The animal, which lives only in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (and in zoos), is actually related to the giraffe but was "shorted" in the neck department. To make up for that oversight, the okapi has a tongue long enough to lick its own ears! The zebra stripes are thought to be used as camouflage, and to make it easy for okapi young to follow their mothers through the rain forest.

3. Anteater + Armadillo = Pangolin

The pangolin is also known as the spiny anteater. They are mammals, but have keratin scales over their bodies. They roll up into a ball in defense like an armadillo or a hedgehog. Recent genetic studies show that pangolins are related to neither anteaters (despite the fact that they eat ants) nor armadillos. But the weirdness doesn't stop there: pangolins can spray a nasty musk just like a skunk. And they don't have any teeth!

4. Bird + Fox = Fruit Bat

Fruit bats encompass several species and are also called megabats or flying foxes. What sets fruit bats apart from your garden variety insect-eating belfry-hangers is the fact that most fruit bats do not use echolocation to get around. They need their eyes big and their noses long to sense where they are going, so their faces look like more familiar land mammals—particularly dogs. No doubt that's where the term flying fox came from. If you couldn't see a fruit bat's wings, you might have a hard time guessing the species.

5. Duck + Beaver = Platypus

The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) of Australia looks like a taxidermy experiment in which a mammal has been accessorized with a beaver's tail, a duck's bill, the venom of a snake, and the feet of an otter. This animal is not related to any of the others, however. The platypus is a monotreme. It shares that order with only four other species which are all echidnas. It is truly unique in the animal kingdom, and the most likely of any in this list to be an example of God's sense of humor

6. Hoop Snake + Lizard = Armadillo Girdled Lizard

This lizard might be what people saw when they came up with the legend of the hoop snake (featured in a previous post). You don't find too many lizards that protect themselves by rolling into a ball, but the Armadillo Girdled Lizard (Cordylus cataphractus) does just that. This lizard grabs its tail with its mouth and forms a ring with its spines pointing out. Any predator will have a hard time figuring this thing out, much less eating it! The name is just a descriptor; this lizard has no relation to an armadillo, which is a mammal.

Meet Gracie: The Resident 'Bark Ranger' at Montana's Glacier National Park

NPS/A.W. Biel
NPS/A.W. Biel

Gracie isn't like the other park rangers at Glacier National Park in Montana: She’s not afraid to run after bighorn sheep and mountain goats in order to keep them at a safe distance from visitors. And while she doesn’t earn a salary, she’s content to work for belly rubs.

That’s because Gracie is a trained border collie who became the first employee-owned dog to become a “bark ranger” at a U.S. national park. She was accepted into Glacier’s wildlife shepherding program in July 2016 and has been protecting both humans and wildlife alike ever since.

One of Gracie's main duties is to keep sheep and goats away from areas with high foot traffic, like the Logan Pass parking lot. Through habituation, many of the park’s native species have begun to feel comfortable around humans, and sometimes even approach them. This is problematic for a couple of reasons.

“When closely approached or provided with human food, bighorn sheep and mountain goats can become aggressive; each has the ability to kick, bite, gore, or trample when feeling threatened,” the National Park Service (NPS) writes on its website. “This can cause injury—or in rare cases, death—to people and can cause the animal to be lethally removed from the population.”

In the winter, Gracie also helps shepherd deer out of highly populated areas in an effort to keep predators—namely mountain lions—away from people. Gracie completed a 10-week training program in Florence, Montana, where she learned how to control her direction and speed. She also knows when to retreat at the command of her owner, Mark Biel, who works as the park's natural resources program manager.

Gracie’s hard work has not gone unnoticed either. Her Instagram account, which chronicles the life of a #WorkingDog, has more than 17,000 followers. Check out some of the photos and videos below to see this very good girl in action.

Every time Gracie moves wildlife, Ranger Mark records how many animals were moved, how long it took to move them, where they went, and how long they stayed out of the area. This helps us evaluate the effectiveness of the program and learn about wildlife habits. The data show that in the park headquarters area, the deer have four established “escape routes” they favor when heading into the woods. Watch as this deer stops to decide which way to go, then heads to the left, toward the woods and one of those routes. Turning to the right would have taken it away from Gracie, but further into the housing area. This is an example of the program working as it’s intended. When pressured from a distance, the deer decides that the more comfortable place to be is in the woods, instead of further inside the populated area. 🐾🦌 #parkscience #barkrangergracie #barkranger #whitetail #keepwildlifewild​ @glaciernps @glacierconservancy @wind_river_bear_institute #workingbordercollie #workingdogsofig #glaciernationalpark #glacier

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What's the Difference Between a Rabbit and a Hare?

iStock.com/Carmen Romero
iStock.com/Carmen Romero

Hippity, hoppity, Easter's on its way—and so is the eponymous Easter bunny. But aside from being a magical, candy-carrying creature, what exactly is Peter Cottontail: bunny, rabbit, or hare? Or are they all just synonyms for the same adorable animal?

In case you've been getting your fluffy, long-eared mammals mixed up, we've traveled down the rabbit hole to set the record straight. Although rabbits and hares belong to the same grass-munching family—called Leporidae—they're entirely different species with unique characteristics. It would be like comparing sheep and goats, geneticist Steven Lukefahr of Texas A&M University told National Geographic.

If you aren't sure which animal has been hopping around and helping themselves to the goodies in your vegetable garden, take a closer look at their ears. In general, hares have longer ears and larger bodies than rabbits. Rabbits also tend to be more social creatures, while hares prefer to keep to themselves.

As for the baby animals, they go by different names as well. Baby hares are called leverets, while newborn rabbits are called kittens or kits. So where exactly do bunnies fit into this narrative? Originally, the word bunny was used as a term of endearment for a young girl, but its meaning has evolved over time. Bunny is now a cutesy, childlike way to refer to both rabbits and hares—although it's more commonly associated with rabbits these days. With that said, the Easter bunny is usually depicted as a rabbit, but the tradition is thought to have originated with German immigrants who brought their legend of an egg-laying hare called "Osterhase" to America.

In other ambiguous animal news, the case of Bugs Bunny is a little more complicated. According to scientist and YouTuber Nick Uhas, the character's long ears, fast speed, and solitary nature seem to suggest he's a hare. However, in the cartoon, Bugs is shown burrowing underground, which doesn't jive with the fact that hares—unlike most rabbits—live aboveground. "We can draw the conclusion that Bugs may be a rabbit with hare-like behavior or a hare with rabbit nesting habits," Uhas says.

The conversation gets even more confusing when you throw jackrabbits into the mix, which aren't actually rabbits at all. Jackrabbits are various species of large hare that are native to western North America; the name itself is a shortened version of "jackass rabbit," which refers to the fact that the animal's ears look a little like a donkey's.

A jackrabbit
Connor Mah, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

As Mark Twain once famously wrote about the creature, "He is just like any other rabbit, except that he is from one-third to twice as large, has longer legs in proportion to his size, and has the most preposterous ears that ever were mounted on any creature but the jackass." (Fun fact: Black-tailed jackrabbits' extra-long ears actually help them stay cool in the desert. The blood vessels in their ears enlarge when it gets hot, causing blood to flow to their ears and ridding their bodies of excess heat.)

Rabbits, hares, and jackrabbits all have one thing in common, though: They love a good salad. So if you happen across one of these hopping creatures, give them some grass or weeds—and skip the carrots. Bugs Bunny may have loved the orange vegetable, but most hares and rabbits would prefer leafy greens.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, send it to bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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