Pretty much every animal on the face of the earth has been assigned its very own boring, nearly unpronounceable genus and species name, but only a few merit the kinds of monikers that make the average nature enthusiast sit up and say, “Hey! What the heck is that?”
1. The Pleasing Fungus Beetle
Any insect called the pleasing fungus beetle immediately begs the question: was this bug named in reference to a displeasing fungus beetle? If so, how could one fungus beetle possibly be more displeasing than the next, given that they’re, well, fungus beetles? The fact is that pleasing fungus beetles—which consist of about 100 genera in the family Erotylidae—have brightly colored and/or intricately patterned carapaces, which makes them very pleasing to entomologists, if to no one else. And pleasing fungus beetles do have one very displeasing habit: they feast on some of the gourmet fungi prized by Asian epicures.
2. The Chicken Turtle
What do you get if you cross a chicken with a turtle? Well, rather than come up with a punchline for that grade-school joke, we’ll just introduce you to the chicken turtle, Deirochelys reticulata, a freshwater species of the southwest U.S. This turtle didn’t come by its name because it sports feathers and a wattle, but because its meat tastes uncannily like chicken, which once made it a prized menu item in the deep south. However, it’s unclear from whence this flavor derives, since D. reticulata has an extremely varied diet itself, feasting on plants, fruits, frogs, insects, crayfish, and pretty much anything that moves or photosynthesizes.
3. The ᴘ ᴇ.ɴ.ɪ s Snake
The ᴘ ᴇ.ɴ.ɪ s snake, Atretochoana eiselti, may look disturbingly like a ᴘ ᴇ.ɴ.ɪ s, but it definitely isn’t a snake: this South American vertebrate is in fact a two-foot-long caecilian, an obscure family of limbless amphibians that burrow in the mud like earthworms. Amazingly enough considering its stark appearance, the ᴘ ᴇ.ɴ.ɪ s snake was discovered in Brazil in the late 19th century, then promptly forgotten for over a hundred years until a living specimen was re-discovered in 2011. Even more weirdly, if you happen to be a naturalist, A. eiselti entirely lacks lungs, and its broad, flat head is unique among caecilians.
4. The Sarcastic Fringehead
“Hey, big-shot science writer! Why are you wasting your time on puny vertebrates like me when you could be writing about lions and elephants? What, National Geographic isn’t hiring?” Okay, the sarcastic fringehead, Neoclinus blanchardi, may not necessarily be sarcastic in the human sense, but this fish certainly has an unpleasant disposition, with an unusually large, colorful mouth that it uses to grapple with other fringeheads and a pronounced inclination to defend its own territory. Basically, like many “sarcastic” animals, N. blanchardi is all bark and no bite: it opens its mouth wide, but doesn’t say anything worth listening to.
5. The King of Herrings
It sounds like a gag from a Woody Allen movie, circa the mid-1970’s (think of the Russian herring merchant from Love and ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ), but the king of herrings, also known as the giant oarfish is, in fact, the world’s longest bony fish. However, this ten-foot-long marine vertebrate is only distantly related to the much smaller herrings we all know and love; it earned its name because European fishermen of the 18th century thought it was guiding schools of herring into their nets. (At which point you may ask: what kind of king would lead his own subjects to such a ʜᴏʀʀɪʙʟᴇ ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ?)
6. The Screaming Hairy Armadillo
It sounds like the kind of offhand ɪɴsᴜʟᴛ you’d hear in a Disney TV sitcom—”Gosh, mom, don’t have a screaming hairy armadillo!”—but Chaetophractus vellerosis is a real animal, and one that lives up to its name. This armadillo’s back plates are covered with long, bristling, vaguely unattractive strands of hair, and it has an unnerving habit of squealing loudly when ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛened, or even so much as looked at. Fortunately for the tender ears of the indigenous peoples of south-central South America, the screaming hairy armadillo is also very small, barely a foot long and two or three pounds.
7. The Raspberry Crazy Ant
You might imagine that the raspberry crazy ant, Nylanderia fulva, received its name because it looks like a wildly skittering raspberry. Well, truth is stranger than fiction: this ant was actually named after Texas exterminator Tom Rasberry, who was the first to notice a general ɪɴᴠᴀsɪᴏɴ by this South American species. (Ever since, most people have spelled the raspberry part of this ant’s name with a “p,” just because it seems more appropriate.) The “crazy” part refers to N. fulva’s seemingly self-ᴅᴇsᴛʀᴜᴄᴛive behavior; ᴀɢɢʀᴇssɪve swarms have been known to chew through electrical wires, resulting in mass ᴇʟᴇᴄᴛʀᴏᴄᴜᴛɪᴏɴ.
8. The Fried Egg Jellyfish
If the fried-egg jellyfish (Phacellophora camtschatica) were really made out of an egg, what kind of egg would it be? Clearly not one laid by an ordinary bird or reptile, since the bell of this jellyfish can measure a whopping two feet in diameter; perhaps you’d have to go all the way back to the titanosaur dinosaurs of the late Cretaceous period. As imposing as it is, though, the fried egg jellyfish isn’t particularly ᴅᴀɴɢᴇʀous, either to hungry and nearsighted humans or to other marine invertebrates; its tentacles inflict very weak stings, which are still sufficient for harvesting its own much-needed daily breakfasts.
9. The Angora Rabbit
A full appreciation of the angora rabbit requires a brief introduction to the textile industry. Technically, the wool of the angora goat is used to manufacture mohair, while cashmere is derived from the cashmere goat. Angora wool, by definition, can only be harvested from the angora rabbit, of which there are four internationally recognized breeds (English, French, satin and giant). All that said, the angora rabbit is not only one of the most comically named, but also one of the most comical looking, animals on this list: imagine a naive domesticated bunny that stayed up all night watching Dawn of the ᴅᴇᴀᴅ.
10. The Paradoxical Frog
Every bit as paradoxical as its name implies, Pseudis paradoxa has an interesting life cycle: the tadpoles of this frog species measure a whopping 10 inches long, but the full-grown adults are only a quarter of that length. In case you’re wondering a how a three-inch-long female could spawn nearly foot-long hatchlings, that’s not much of a paradox at all, since the tadpoles hatch (and grow) for ordinary-sized eggs. (Completely unrelated to its paradoxical nature, the skin of P. paradoxa secretes a protective chemical that could one day be used to treat Type II ᴅɪᴀʙᴇᴛᴇs).