When we visit zoos, we often find an assortment of common animals, familiar creatures of nature that fill us with awe and delight. It’s a big world out there, however, and these familiar animals are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the abundance of fascinating species that inhabit the wilds of Earth.
As well-versed in the Animal Kingdom as you think you may be, there’s a good chance you still haven’t heard of the following five zoological species. They’re certainly not what you would find strolling around your local zoo.
Where to find it: Mexico
Get to know the vaquita now as it currently resides on the critically endangered species list. First discovered in 1958, this rare marine mammal is a porpoise that’s found in the northern Gulf of California, Mexico. Translated to “little cow,” the vaquita sports a round black patch around its eyes, which matches a pair of black lips that appear to be smiling.
Their bodies are small and stout, measuring approximately 5 feet and 110 pounds at their largest, compared to average porpoises that can get as big as 8 feet. The few remaining vaquitas can be found in shallow waters, which is what contributed to their declining population. Shallow waters are popular for illegal fishing nets in the waters off Mexico.
Where to find it: Cold waters worldwide
It’s not the most endearing name for an animal, but the hagfish isn’t the most attractive creature of nature. If not for a July 2017 story in which a truck full of hagfish overturned in Oregon, even fewer people would know what this unusual-looking animal is.
The hagfish is an eel-shaped fish that produces a slime used to slip away from predators. When threatened, it’s capable of producing enough slime to fill a five-gallon bucket in minutes. Secreted from more than 100 glands, the slime expands when it touches seawater, growing to nearly 10,000 times the original emitted amount.
As if that weren’t odd enough, the hagfish has no jaw. Instead, they use keratin teeth to dig into carcasses and feast.
Lowland streaked tenrec
Where to find it: Madagascar
At first glance, this tiny critter may look like a relative of the common porcupine or hedgehog. Despite its appearance, however, it is related to neither. The lowland streaked tenrec is a small mammal found in Madagascar and is identifiable by the yellow stripes that run down its snout
It may not be related to the porcupine, but it certainly uses the same tricks. Those spines on its back aren’t for decoration: When this tiny critter is threatened, it will take the offensive and attack, using its quills to drive off predators.
To help get around the jungles and rainforests they’re often found in, tenrecs are proficient at climbing. They’re capable of hanging by their foot or toe as they scale up to their destination.
Where to find it: Southeast Asia
You’ve likely heard of a lemur before, so chances are you’ll be able to deduce what a Sunda flying lemur is, right? It’s not quite that easy, thanks to the individual responsible for naming this southeast Asian mammal. Not a relative of the lemur, the Sunda colugo is a relative of primates and is only one of two species of colugo in the world.
The Sunda colugo, or flying lemur, isn’t capable of flying, but to navigate the forests of Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia, it can glide a distance of 446 feet. A flap of leathery skin stretches from its fingers to the end of its tail, creating enough surface area to keep it from crashing to the ground.
Another fascinating feature visible only to those looking for it is the animal’s “toothcombs,” or incisors that are used both for feeding and to groom out parasites.
Where to find it: Central Africa
It’s the black and white striped legs that immediately make people think the okapi is related to the common zebra. The head, however, has a distinct familiarity with giraffes, which is the family this mammal belongs to.
Found in the Ituri Forest of Central Africa, okapi are a rarity. They were so elusive that scientists didn’t know of this giraffe relative until the turn of the 20th century. Rotating ears give it the benefit of hearing what’s in front and what may be creeping up behind. Much like the giraffe, okapi sport a dark, prehensile tongue that can reach their ears and eyes.
Though there is no accurate count of how many okapi remain in the Central African rainforest, the estimate is around 25,000, making it an endangered species.
The rarities of Mother Nature
While you may not see any of these incredible oddities in a common zoo, Mother Nature is a veritable melting pot of the unknown. To experience it all, you can either go on the most extensive safari known to man or you can continue researching these five rare animals.