Panda bears, tigers, elephants: “cuddly” celebrity species have it made. They rake in the majority of conservation funding. Possums that tote straw with their tails? Bats that run on their wings? Vultures that stick their heads into carcasses? Ummmmm…not so much. Here are six baby animals that are just so ugly, weird, and cool — some essential to our ecosystems — that they’re actually quite lovable. But, when it comes to beauty in the animal kingdom, as the cliched saying goes, it’s “in the eye of the beholder.”
What animals lap blood, are completely blind, get tangled in your hair, and hang out exclusively in belfries? Well, whatever they are, they’re not bats: the only mammals capable of true flight. From bumblebee bats, which are approximately the size of jellybeans, to giant golden-crowned flying foxes, “flying rodents” are responsible for pollinating over 500 species of plants, including mangos, bananas, and cocoa. Bats also the slowest reproducing mammals on earth. During early June to mid-August, most species produce only one pup. Pink, hairless, blind: within a week, the pup’s sprouting hair, opening its warm round eyes, and practicing its babbling or baby talk. It’s also cuddling in its mom’s wings — or if it’s being rehabilitated by humans, it’s wrapped like a miniature burrito in a cozy little blanket with a pass in its mouth.
North America’s only marsupial, possums have superpowers: they’re mostly immune to rabies and the venom of rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and other pit vipers. Possums also have a fifth appendage: a prehensile tail that allows them to hang from tree branches for a short period of time. With 50 teeth, excellent night vision, and superior intelligence — a study in the Journal of General Psychology says that their memory is better than cats, dogs, rats, and rabbits — possums are nature’s cleanup crew, eating rodents, insects, frogs, and even animal bones. They can even have up to 25 babies (joeys), who are the size of small beans, at one time! You might think that possums are weird, maybe even super ugly, but we call them heartwarmingly cute. So endearing, in fact, that a dog name Pretinha adopted her own “litter” and even gave them piggyback rides, giving a whole new meaning to “playing possum”.
From Captain Jack Sparrow, a blend of Keith Richards and Pepé Le Pew, to Bambi’s Flower, skunks might be stars on the silver screen, but in real life, people raise a stink over them. Why? Nocturnal and solitary, skunks have two lines of defense: an awkward handstand-dance, where they stomp the ground and slap their tails, and an oily, sulfur-smelling spray that causes skin irritation and even temporary blindness. However, skunks have a devoted domestic following — it’s legal to own them as pets in 17 states. “Skunks are way-way more affectionate and way smarter [than dogs and cats],” Travis Hamza told National Geographic. “They personify determination and have a keen sense of ingenuity that would put a smile on Willie Nelson’s face and a tear in his eye. Skunks are as American as it gets.” You might think that’s a bit of a stretch. But, you have to admit one thing: these lil’ stinkers are just plain adorable.
Toothless with a two-foot tongue that’s loaded with tiny spikes, at first glance, the seven-foot-long giant anteater wouldn’t even move the cute-o-meter. Add in four-inch claws that are used to fend off cougars and jaguars and gray, straw-like hair and you might, just might, dare to call this South American-native ugly — very, very ugly. But, what they lack in style, they make up for in smarts. Flicking their tongues 150 times per minute, they suck up more than 35,000 ants and termites per day while never completely destroy their nests. Giant anteaters don’t sweat, and they also use their snouts as snorkels, making them the Michael Phelps of the animal kingdom. That leaves no doubt in our minds: adult “ant bears” are cool. Their babies? Endearing: they’ve got us (especially London Zoo’s Beanie, who’s surrogate Mom is a teddy bear) wrapped around their fingers, err…claws.
When you hear the word “vulture,” you probably picture a bald, squabbling bird that has no sense of smell and dagger-like talons circling around some poor soul that’s on the brink of death. And you’d be partly right. Living on every continent, except for Antarctica and Australia, vultures mostly consume corpses that have rotted so much that the meat can be toxic to other animals. And, yes, we won’t lie — nature’s janitors have some pretty disgusting habits: vomiting to lighten their bodies weights, peeing to cool off their legs, and eating animals’ afterbirths. But, something has to clean up our mess — in the U.S., someone hits an animal with his or her car every 15 seconds. Aside from vultures mating for life, which we think is downright romantic, baby vultures are horribly cute from their baby blues to toddling around their “nests” on big dinosaur feet.
Armadillos, possums on a half-shell, are “ugly enough to stop clocks” and “dumber than a bag of hammers.” That’s what someone posted on a forum titled “armadillos are friggin’ creepy.” (Biased? Definitely!) Maybe, that exact thought has popped into your mind once or if you live in the deep South, dozens of times. We’re sorry to break it to you, though: the “A” in armadillo stands for “awesome.” They can breathe underwater for six minutes, and their tongues allow them to slurp up 40,000 insects in one setting. (They’re the anteater’s cousins, after all.) Scientists even believed that armadillos could have “virgin births.” In actuality, females can delay egg implantation for four-months to two years. And, if that’s not cool enough: nine-banded armadillos always give birth to four identical, soft-shelled pups. That’s cuteness to the A power.