These are the strongest animals built by evolution
Earth’s history is full of tumultuous events. The dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid. The surface of the globe was once completely covered in snow. Some animals, however, have survived through these tragic events. Here are some of our favorites.
The gharial is an interesting species of crocodile. Its evolutionary ancient roots connect it to other crocodilian species like the alligator and caiman. Unlike some of these other populations, however, the Indian gharial is critically endangered. This species that once made its home in places as far north as Pakistan is now confined to the mere northern tips of India.
While the gharial has survived up until now, the habitat in which the gharial lives (freshwater riverbeds) is dwindling. Moreover, the creature is the unfortunate subject of hunting for uses in traditional medicine. This is staggering considering the animal’s formidable size — the average gharial will grow 12 to 15 feet and weigh around 2,000 pounds. That’s a bit big.
2. Komodo dragon
The Komodo dragon, named after one of the islands on which it is found (Komodo Island in Indonesia), is the largest currently existing lizard species. But what’s more amazing about this creature is that it has existed for tens of millions of years. The species is thought to have grown so large (about 15 feet long in some cases) because of something called island gigantism.
Island gigantism is something that’s happened in numerous species over time. The reasoning is that, unencumbered by natural predators or constraints on food, certain species are able to grow much larger than they otherwise would. They don’t have to maintain a diminutive body in order to hide. Such a phenomena gave us this beautiful monitor lizard.
3. Shoebill stork
The shoebill stork has another name: Balaeniceps rex. And, if you know any rudiments of the Latin language, “rex” is probably it. Meaning “king” in the largely forgotten language, this species is one of the largest storks around. It’s unlikely to be that thing that you tell your children dropped them off at a young age.
This creature, like the others on this list, has survived for some time. If you’re an amateur ornithologist and want to see a shoebill stork, however, you’ll likely have to travel some ways. The bird is found in Uganda. It might be worth it, though. To see such a formidable beast would be quite the treat. We’d recommend it.
4. Bactrian camel
When asked to recall images of a camel, you likely think of that animal found shipping people to and fro across the North African Sahara — it has one hump, can hold a lot of water, and typically doesn’t protest too much when conscripted into carrying people. The Bactrian camel, on the other hand, defies these expectations.
Instead of one hump, this guy has two. But beyond merely holding this unusual number of humps, the special camel is also covered in a fur uncommon to the more common camel. If you want to find this creature, you’ll have to travel to Central Asia. Here, you’ll find the evolutionarily ancient creature. It’ll likely be forced into some sort of farm work.
The echidna is an ancient species of egg-laying mammal. Also known as the spiny anteater, it likes to make its meals contain many tiny creatures — primarily ants and termites. Surprisingly, the echidna is more closely related to the platypus than to many other mammals. Even more surprisingly, this little guy has survived a great deal of tumult over the past tens of millions of years.
If you’re looking to find this species, you’ll have to travel near to the land Down Under. Once there, you can wander the likes of Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea. But if you see the echidna, watch out. It has spikes for a reason. You definitely won’t want to get so close that you get a body full of these. You’re welcome for the warning.
6. Musk ox
The musk ox is one of those creatures evolved for the Arctic. It has a thick coat of fur clearly adapted to the frozen habitat. Yet somehow it’s managed to survive beyond these freezing conditions into the warming world of today. A curious fact about this ox, other than its evolutionary past, is the smell it emits when rutting.
During the breeding season, this guy emits such a strong odor that everybody nearby must flee immediately. It’s something like a skunk, only multiplied by a couple thousand. This isn’t something that you would like to hang near. This odor, in fact, is why the animal is named the “musk” ox. Anyway, plug your nose if you’re going to hang around these guys.
The Andes Mountains are home to a host of interesting animals. They hold everything from chinchillas to mountain tapirs. But beyond these special creatures lies the vicuña, an evolutionarily ancient relative of the llama. Unlike the llama, however, this guy has adapted to life on the high alpine.
The animal also has a lovely (and extremely expensive) fur coat. But the most surprising thing about this animal is how well adapted it is to the harsh elevated climate. This is why it has the fur that helps keep it warm in the most frigid of environments. Still, the vicuña has continued to thrive since its time in our evolutionary past.
8. Southern white rhino
Rhinos are formidable species in nearly every way you look at them. They are large, horned, sheathed in thick skin, and harbor a defensive attitude so dangerous that they have been responsible for a great deal of deaths in the areas in which they call home. Unfortunately, the ivory horns of these guys are often the subject of brutal poaching.
Because of this grisly and disturbing trade, the rhinos have become endangered. White rhinos, though, are not so critically impaired. According to the Endangered Species Act, these specific rhinos are only near threatened. While this doesn’t mean that incessant poaching doesn’t still cause a problem, it is a cause for relief.
9. Polar bear
Polar bears are majestic creatures. But they are also terrifying. Known to roam the vast expanses of the Arctic Circle, the carnivorous bears make their weight by catching seals. To survive these Arctic conditions, the polar bear has evolved a thick coat of fur and insulating layer of blubber. Both of these help to keep the bear warm in the frigid waters where it spends most of its life.
Unfortunately, with climate change, the sea ice on which these polar bears make their living is dwindling rapidly in territory. Because of this, the animals are beginning to decline in number. They have since been claimed endangered by the Endangered Species Act. If you want to see one of these guys in all of their natural splendor, then we recommend you get on an expedition ASAP.
One of the weirder creatures on this list, the cassowary has survived a great deal of evolutionary tumult. But other than that, it is said to be the most dangerous bird on the planet. It’s massive, strong, and armed with a dagger middle toe that will “cause serious damage” if plunged in your direction.
Unfortunately for those who live close to the creature in its native Queensland, Australia, deaths do happen. So even though this guy has been through a lot of evolutionary challenges, it has still come out a killer. What we’d recommend is that you don’t be like this farmer who decided to keep one of them nearby. It eventually killed him.
The caribou has been around for tens of millions of years. It’s survived through ice ages, global season changes, and the like. Estimates put the caribou in North America around 2 million years ago. In total, there are around nine species of caribou, each adapted to the cold and frigid conditions under which they initially evolved.
The caribou are distinguished by their reindeer-esque appearance. They have giant antlers, for instance, which they use in battle against each other in order to attract mates. (They also use the things to defend themselves against potential predators.) One of the most formidable facts about these creatures, though, is that they thrive in the Arctic.
12. Elephant shrew
The elephant shrew is obviously not so named because of its diminutive stature. Rather, the animal is given its name because of its nose — which just so happens to look like a baby elephant trunk. If you’re looking to find one of these guys, you’ll have to travel to Africa. Here, you can find something around 19 different species of the elephant shrew.
Amusingly, the elephant shrew is neither elephant nor shrew. This lineage stretches back something like 100 million years. This places the evolution of the species well before the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. If you’re looking for a rugged species that survived not only the predation of large avian dinosaurs, but also a giant bolide-driven extinction event, look no further.
13. Chambered nautilus
Nautiluses are one of the most ancient evolutionary lineages to still exist. The creature goes as far back in history as some of the oldest animals on this planet. The best current estimates for the nautilus’ origins place it at around 505 million years old. What this means is that it would have survived several different mass extinctions — including that which killed the dinosaurs.
The chambered nautilus likely survived so well because it hid in its shell when things got hairy. Of the 30 or so chambers that make up the elaborate hardened structure, the nautilus hides in the very back. But other than its chambered shell, the nautilus is afforded an easy life, capable of thriving off low-oxygen environments. We, unfortunately, can’t do the same.
Sometimes you see a creature so weird that you can’t help but stop what you’re doing and balk. Such a situation should be abundantly present for the babirusa. This hoglike creature (which is actually a breed of swine) has teeth that are a little more than cumbersome. Still, however, the babirusa has managed to survive its fair share of tumult.
If you want to see one of them, you’ll have to travel all the way to Indonesia. Here, you can find the pig with a dental problem thriving off of leaves, fruits, and berries. While the sight of its extra teeth is definitely something to trigger a visceral reaction, their purpose is a little superfluous. And, like with other species, it is only the males that possess these ornate teeth.
15. Wobbegong shark
Named after the Australian Aboriginal term for “shaggy beard,” the wobbegong shark is definitely an odd sight. The bizarre shark makes it living by scouring the ocean floors looking for prey — which for the most part consists of crustaceans and fish. This shark isn’t like something you’d see in Jaws or Deep Blue Sea.
Like other shark species, the wobbegong is a trenchant survivor. It’s lasted through almost every major extinction event that has hit the Earth. Despite the shark’s rich evolutionary history, however, the creature is currently endangered by unremitting habitat destruction. Hopefully these guys can survive the extinction event currently created by humans.
16. Horseshoe crab
The horseshoe crab is another of those species that has been around since the time of some of the earliest animals. Its resourceful and industrious nature has enabled it to survive well into the modern era. But, also like a few other creatures on this list (cough, cough, the elephant shrew), the crab’s name does not actually help describe what it is.
The horseshoe crab, in other words, is neither a crab nor a horse. While in some ways it does look like a horseshoe, it does not look like a crab. And for good reason! The creature is more evolutionarily related to spiders and scorpions than it is to crabs. But even more shocking is this guy’s 300-million-year evolutionary history.
The tapir is a bizarre-looking animal. Moreover, its bizarreness stretches far back in evolutionary time — something like 30 million years. One of the more notable things about this species, other than its long past, is that it migrated south to inhabit the South American landmass. This was a part of what biologists and paleogeologists refer to as the Great American Interchange.
In their native lands of Southeast Asia and Central and South America, the thing can be found in the jungle. For most of these 30 million years, the tapir has stayed in these hot and humid jungles. This in part what makes the creature so cool — it hasn’t really changed much since these early beginnings.
While the tuatara might look like a lizard, it is very far from it. The creature, spawning a unique lineage, is the only member that remains of this branch of lizard-like animals. The animal can be found in New Zealand and New Zealand only. So if you’re looking to supplement your knowledge of interesting animals, you might want to travel to find this guy.
What’s more, however, is the tumult through which this species has survived. Given that its evolutionary history stretches back tens of millions of years, this creature has lasted through ice age after ice age. The formidable almost-lizard, then, has survived its share of otherwise damning events. We should take note!
19. Chinese giant salamander
When you see a giant salamander, the normal response should be to run — shrieking — as fast as you can in the exact opposite direction. If you see the Chinese giant salamander, however, the response should be something different. The Chinese giant salamander is a formidable size — something around 4 feet long and 60 pounds.
But what makes its formidable size even more stupendous is that it’s been around for ages. Paleontologists, for instance, think that the salamander is around 3.1 million years old. That certainly gives gramps a run for his money. Anyway, the fact that something as large as the Chinese giant salamander survived as long as it did certainly says something about its resourcefulness.
There are few creatures that jar the mind of the biologist more than the chamois. Among the things that give this species its jarring nature are its curved horns. These horns, clearly used as a way to protect itself from foe and predator, adorn the creature’s skull.
While some might fear the animal would use such horns for evil rituals or the striking down of humans, others know better. Still, the chamois makes this list because it has used these horns (along with a few other neat tricks) to survive throughout the millennia. And with this, it has lasted something around 20 million years.
21. Whale shark
Whale sharks are currently one of the largest living animals on the planet. If this doesn’t make your jaw drop to the floor so fast that it becomes impossible to use, this next fact will: They don’t pose a threat to humans. When you consider that this is a shark, this is truly a stupendous fact indeed.
But even more than that, the shark has existed for hundreds of millions of years. If you’re anything like the rest of us, this number will be nearly unconscionable (that is, unfathomable) to you. If you’re a superhuman, maybe not. Either way, the whale shark has been around for quite some time! We should definitely take notes on this guy.
22. Lake sturgeon
The lake sturgeon might not look like anything spectacular, but beneath its commonplace appearance is a deep and rich evolutionary history. And when we look to it, we should look to it with awe and wonder. The lake sturgeon, thriving in its freshwater habitats, has existed for something around 200 million years.
Like the whale shark, then, the lake sturgeon has had quite the formidable history, surviving through not only the extinction that killed the dinosaurs, but also the countless shifts and turns of the Earth’s climate. Ultimately, the lake sturgeon has found its way time and time again in a world in which many others eventually fall.
Some animals are so weird and bizarre that you wouldn’t think they’d last very long. Some of them, in fact, are so bizarre that you might think their mere existence was Mother Nature getting a little tipsy and having a bit too much fun. If you were to point to a handful of creatures that represent this whimsy, the okapi might make your list.
The okapi is a creature with the behind of, let’s just say, a zebra. The rest of its body, however, is like that of a regular deer or antelope. Why, then, is it so weird? While we can’t answer that, what we can say is that the creature has survived its fair share of evolutionary tumult, living for something around 20 million years.
24. Saiga antelope
While it might not look like much, the saiga antelope is a formidable creature. With a pair of horns clearly meant to protect it from other saiga males (and possibly some of the predators that lurk around its lands), the antelope is not one to be messed with. You’ll find these cool-looking antelope across the mountains of Mongolia and Caucasus.
Or, rather, you likely won’t find them. While the history of these guys stretches back tens of millions of years like other antelope species, these guys aren’t doing so hot in the here and now. Because of things like habitat destruction and global warming, the population of these guys is dwindling and dwindling fast.
25. Alligator gar
Fish don’t often land on our radar as something terrifying and worthy of fear. That won’t be the case once you commit this gigantic beast to memory. The alligator gar (also aptly called the giant alligator gar) is a giant of the fresh waters it calls home. Indigenous to certain unfortunate lands in North America, this terrifying beast roams and roams ferociously.
The alligator gar is a large freshwater fish with the teeth of an alligator (hence the name). While it might not have the same power behind its bite, the teeth should be enough to induce a fear-based coma. If not, you should look to see one of these things in person. The sight will surely creep into your scariest nightmares.
26. Siberian musk deer
It’s not every day that you see a deer with the fangs of a saber-toothed tiger. OK, while its fangs might not be as long or as egregious (they were kind of impractical), the musk deer is equipped with a pair of fangs that make it look simultaneously terrifying and funny. If you see one of these guys, you won’t know whether to laugh or weep. You might do a bit of both.
While some might think that these teeth are used to kill, they are actually used as a display — like the antlers of their closely related deer cousins. While one might wonder which is more useful (the horns or the teeth), the fact is that the deer could deliver one hell of a bite. Perhaps this is why the animal has lasted so many millions of years.
27. Sandhill crane
Cranes are consistently fascinating creatures. They hang precariously over the water, daintily drinking and elegantly posing. If Mother Nature put some of the creatures on this list here to terrify us, it seems she might have put the sandhill crane here to bless our eyes. Regardless, the sandhill crane distinguishes itself from others for reasons that are likely clear.
The first of these reasons, if it even needs to be called out, is the red carpet that adorns its head. But more than that, this species of crane is anything but dainty — it lives in one of the harshest regions on the planet, making its home in places like northeastern Siberia. Because of this, the animal has been able to survive some of the harshest things the world has thrown at it.
Walruses, like a few of the other creatures on this list, have developed massive teeth as a way to both protect themselves and show off. It’s like, c’mon, do you really need to boast that much? Anywho, the walrus has been around for quite some time. While its lineage doesn’t stretch back as far as that of the whale shark or alligator, it does stretch back quite a ways.
The earliest evidence we have of walruses stretches back something like 20 to 26 million years. When we go this far back for humans, we find ourselves back in the trees, but the same cannot be said for this seaworthy friend. The walrus remains, at least from what we can tell, unchanged to the same extent. Good for the walrus.
29. Tadpole shrimp
Shrimp, in case you were unaware, are some of the oldest creatures on this planet. And this isn’t to say they’re old like your great-grandparents might be old. Rather, they’re old in that their evolutionary history stretches back so far that to contemplate it might make you go insane. OK, maybe not. But it does go back quite a ways.
The tadpole shrimp in particular, however, stretches back around 300 million years. This puts it among the likes of sharks and other evolutionarily ancient creatures that have made it through much of the Earth’s temperamental past. But other than that, the shrimp looks a little gross. So we’d recommend you look at it long and hard so you never have to again.
Like many of the other animals we’ve discussed so far, this species stretches back quite some time. One of the most common of brethren, the sturgeon goes back around 245 million years. Something peculiar about these guys, though, is the tremendous size to which they can grow. Some of the largest, for instance, weigh about 1 ton.
That’s a lot of fish. Fortunately for us, the sturgeon doesn’t have any teeth. But more than that, it isn’t really all that aggressive toward humans. What this means is that we can continue to live with them in perfect harmony — that is, if we don’t destroy their environment first. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.