62 Heartwarming Animal Photos And The Story Behind Them
Chimpanzee feeding a leopard cub at the Southam Park Zoo in the UK, 1971
Animals have the power to entertain us, to spark powerful emotions, and even reveal something about ourselves. Their triumphs and tragedies mirror our own. In the end, we all want companionship and comfort, freedom and self-determination. In these photos from the animal kingdom, we see moments of lighthearted antics and intense scenes of struggle and mortality. Are animals just like us? Well, no, but they're not aliens from the planet Remulak either. Enjoy this selection of surprising and captivating photos of our four-legged, fin-flapping, fine feathered friends. (We've even included a few fake ones that are affecting, even if they're not real.)
Chimpanzees share 99% of our DNA, and thus are our closest genetic relatives. Still, to see a chimp feeding a baby leopard is startling -- animals don't usually look out for any offspring other than their own unless there's something in it for them. But a recent study of chimpanzees has shown they may have something in common with humans that goes beyond DNA: the trait of altruism. In 2010, scientists working in Ivory Coast observed chimpanzees actually adopting young chimps not related to them whose parents had died. Looking out for orphans is the sort of philanthropic behavior we thought, until recently, only humans were capable of. But perhaps this 1971 photo should have been a clue.
Kevin Richardson, known as the Lion Whisperer, takes a selfie with a lion
This is one of the cutest human-animal selfies you will ever see -- it's also considered by many animal experts to be the height of stupidity. The man in this picture is Kevin Richardson of South Africa, the so-called "Lion Whisperer." Richardson runs a private wildlife sanctuary, near Pretoria, where he is amazingly friendly with the beasts. Videos of Richardson interacting with lions are popular on YouTube and fascinating to watch. But these big cats are still wild, potentially-ferocious animals -- in fact, a woman was killed by a lion at Richardson's facility in February 2018. Does Richardson have a bond with this king of the jungle that has prevented him from meeting the same fate? Or has he just been really, really lucky?
An eagle beats a pair of gulls
In this remarkable photo, snapped in the skies over Alaska's Prince William Sound in July 2015, two seagulls are learning the hard way that the bald eagle is the baddest of the birds. Eagles, like all raptors (the bird, not the dinosaur), are carnivores that hunt small mammals and, yes, other birds. The photographer who captured the image said that the eagle simply flew into the gulls' nest, snatched one up with its talons, and left. A second gull gave chase, hoping to annoy the eagle into dropping its friend by plucking feathers from the eagle's neck. This strategy was unsuccessful, and the gull eventually gave up.
A Llama in Times Square, 1957
Show business isn't just for people, and four-legged performers need to get around too. That's why this llama -- named Linda the Llama, actually -- was cruising through Times Square in 1957. Linda had been at a paid gig that day, and was snapped for Life magazine by photographer Inge Morath as she was riding home in the back seat of her trainer's car. These days (and perhaps in 1957, we can't say for sure), it's illegal to keep livestock in New York City, and that includes llamas. But elsewhere in the U.S., llamas are becoming increasingly popular as pets.
A young child takes a closer look at a giant whale shark washed up on the shore of Botany Bay, Australia, 1965
This moment on a beach in Australia in 1965 was truly a meeting of opposites: a small human timidly touching a representative of the largest species of fish on the planet, the whale shark. Though these sea-creatures are huge (and, this one, we can safely assume, is dead) they're completely harmless to humans. The whale shark (like a baleen whale) is a filter feeder, meaning that it swims along with its giant mouth open, straining tiny living things out of the water with filter pads. If you're drifting krill, fish eggs or crab larvae, you might not survive an encounter with a whale shark. If you're a person, you're good.
A mother giraffe kissing her baby on the head
This photograph, known as "The Kiss," is probably the most famous giraffe image ever snapped. It dates from 1995, when giraffe mom Misha leaned down over a wall in Australia's Perth Zoo and kissed her newborn baby Makulu on the top of his head. The shot was printed in newspapers around the world, made into a popular poster, and helped raise awareness of Rothschild's Giraffe, the endangered species to which these two animals belong. Zoo life being what it is, Misha and Makulu didn't have a lot of time together -- about a year later, he was moved to the Melbourne Zoo. There he met Twiga, a lovely young giraffe from the Netherlands, with whom he would have four children.
A baby hippo sticking its tongue out
Our next entry in the Animal Cuteness Olympics is this baby hippopotamus, a major attraction at the Higoshiyama Zoo in Japan. Hippopotami are not usually considered cute animals, but their babies are every bit as adorable as the adults aren't. (We could say that about plenty of humans, couldn't we?) Enjoy the cuteness now, as this youngster will grow up to weigh as much as two tons, if a male, or a ton and a half if a female. Adult hippos are also highly aggressive and dangerous, and they literally fling their poop all over the place to mark their territory. Do not be suckered by this baby hippo.
The happiest crocodile you'll ever see
You've probably seen crocodiles take their slow-footed prey in nature TV shows -- the croc approaches stealthily in the water, then suddenly lunges onto the riverbank to grab its dinner with its massive jaws. But crocodiles, especially when they're young, can jump straight up as well. They generate momentum with powerful undulations of their tails, and will also push off from the river bottom if it's shallow enough, launching themselves high into the air. Some crocodiles, such as the Cuban crocodile, even specialize in this feat, habitually hunting for prey perched on tree branches that extend outward from land above the water's surface.
An Australian green tree frog on top of an African spurred tortoise
Do frogs ride tortoises? No, or at least not habitually. There is the issue of speed -- while a tortoise might offer a good surface for the rider, you can't be in a hurry. You'd get wherever you're going much faster if you just hopped. And speaking of the concept of "getting wherever you're going" -- there's no way for a frog to steer a tortoise. This photo, while cute, just makes no sense. When it started showing up on photo-of-the-day/weird-news sites, some journalists called BS, and they were completely right. The frog here is an an Australian green tree frog, and he's riding a sulcata tortoise, which is native to Africa. The photo was taken in Indonesia -- when the photographer was tracked down, he admitted he buys his subjects at a local pet shop, stacks or otherwise poses them for photos, then sells the photos to wire services. Yes, the photo is cute, but it's a completely manufactured scene -- don't believe everything you see (or read) on the internet, folks.
It's raining pigs
Do animals know when they're about to die? Incidents such as this one suggest perhaps they do. This truck was carrying a group of pigs to slaughter near Guangxi, China, when one of the porkers climbed up onto its colleagues and took a daring leap. Was it aware that death was imminent -- or was it just tired of being caged? Unfortunately, we can't ask the pig what it was thinking -- although it did survive the fall and make a break for freedom, the driver of the truck went running after it, caught it and put it back into the truck. So the pig pictured here did indeed become food for carnivorous humans. But even if the pig were alive, it wouldn't be too useful to ask it what it was thinking -- after all, it was a pig, and incapable of speech.
This would be a bad way to go
If you've seen this photo of a bear invading a tent, you might have heard the totally false story attached to it -- that this was the "last picture" taken by noted bear photographer Michio Hoshino before he was mauled to death by a bear. Don't believe it -- although Hoshino was killed by a brown bear in eastern Russia in 1996, this image was not shot by him. The truth is, this image was more manufactured than shot -- a user created it for a Photoshop contest hosted by the website Worth1000. The assignment for the contest was, of course, to create a final-photo hoax image.
Night of the living raccoons
If your dog's food is disappearing from your back porch every night before Fido has a chance to eat it, there's a good chance some uninvited critter is showing up for free meals. A woman who'd had enough of the kibble poaching set up a camera on a motion detector to try to catch the thieves in the act. Raccoons were a logical culprit, and they'll often arrive in groups, but a couple dozen brains-hungry zombie raccoons? Don't believe what you see -- they were just regular raccoons, eerily lit by the flashbulb. And yes, raccoons do stand up, usually when startled or threatened. Unexpected flashes from a camera (the woman is said to have captured multiple pictures) will do that.
A giant walrus sleeping on top of a Russian submarine
When sleep experts studied walruses a few years back, they were startled to find that walruses can go for epic stretches without sleep, swimming almost continuously for up to 84 hours. After that, these big aquatic mammals can crash pretty hard, sleeping up to 19 hours. That sort of exhaustion may explain why, in 2006, this particular Walrus chose such an unusual bed -- the deck of a Russian submarine. Incidentally, the sleep experts observed something even weirder than this scene: Walruses hanging off the sides of an ice floes, by their tusks, with their bodies in the frigid water -- sleeping.
Incredible photo of a mother bat flying with her baby
Thanks to Halloween and cheesy vampire movies, bats have a sinister image they don't necessarily deserve. Bat moms, in fact, are some of the most heroic mothers in the animal kingdom. This grey-headed flying fox (one of the species of large bat we group together as "fruit bats") is working hard for her rather large pup. Winged creatures who break the bonds of gravity do so because precise evolutional engineering -- the hollow bones of birds, for example -- has made them as light as possible. Flyin' ain't easy, just ask a chicken, emu or penguin (well, don't actually ask them...). This mom seems to stay aloft by force of motherly love. But that's bat moms for ya. Now, bat dads are less doting -- running off to help other lady bats realize their dreams of (single) motherhood.
Baby ocelot staring down the camera
Uh oh, did we forget to change kitty's litterbox again? No, as much as this ocelot might resemble a peeved house cat (with a leopard complex), it's bigger and better -- for starters, ocelots are about twice the size of a domestic cat. They prey on critters as large as rabbits, opossums and armadillos, which is quite a step up from the tiny mice your kitty cat takes so much pride in slaying. Ocelots roam throughout South and Central America, but they can be domesticated -- artist Salvador Dali and country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons (before he was famous) were both ocelot owners.
The armadillo girdled lizard looks like a miniature dragon
This cute lil' dragon-esque thing is called an armadillo girdled lizard, and it's afraid. We know it's afraid because it's exhibiting its signature defense mechanism, which is to take its tail into its mouth, protecting its soft underbelly and offering only its spiky armor for would-be predators to gnaw on. The lizard isn't an armadillo at all; the two species aren't even distantly related (an armadillo is a mammal), but this guy gets his name from the curling-up behavior, which reminded some zoologist of a similar defensive behavior of the South American three-banded armadillo. For students of ancient symbolism and magic, the armadillo girdled lizard's Latin name is even more fun: Ouroborus cataphractus, a reference to the ouroborus, a mythical dragon eating its own tail that symbolizes eternity or the cycle of life and death, among other meanings.
Unbelievable shot of a bear chasing a cyclist. No, really, it cannot be believed
You may have seen this picture before, with the caption "Canadian meals on wheels" or something like that. Ha! Not a bad caption, but "Canadian learning Photoshop" would have been more accurate. No, a man is not riding down a highway in frigid, snow-on-the-trees conditions wearing shorts and short sleeves. There have been instances when motorists spotted a bear following a motorcyclist on highways, but this isn't one of them. For future reference, a grizzly bear can run about 40 miles per hour over short distances, so wildlife experts advise against running away lest you inspire the bear to chase you. Their advice for cyclists who find themselves cut-and-pasted into a bear picture? Unknown.
The emperor tamarin
The emperor tamarin is a primate about the size of a squirrel that lives in the Amazon basin where the borders of Peru, Bolivia and Brazil meet. It's not really the "emperor" of anything -- it just has a tremendous mustache. The Swiss zoologist gave the tamarin its imperial name as a joking tribute to Emperor Wilhelm II, who was known for his powerful mustache. Interestingly, Wilhelm's mustache was styled upward and outward, while the tamarin's curves downward and in upon itself. Still, it's an impressive feat of facial hair, and belongs in the Handlebar Hall of Fame alongside those of Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers (the baseball player), Ty Cobb (the lawyer), Wyatt Earp, Salvador Dali, and Sam Elliott.
3 beavers chilling by the water
Look at these happy beavers -- they seem awfully proud of themselves after a long day of killing trees. You can't really fault them for obeying their animal instincts -- hey, beavers gonna beav. But if you've ever had a beaver take down a tree on your property, you're likely to agree with the many people who see these critters as a nuisance. But for context, let's look at the Britain, where Beavers were hunted to extinction in the 16th century. Beavers were recently reintroduced in parts of the country, and scientists report that the dams they have built are combating erosion as hoped. So -- are beavers a nuisance or a necessity? Seems we'll be chewing over that one for awhile longer.
A very little dog on top of a very big dog, 1950.
The Great Dane is a wonderful dog breed, good with kids and of course a loving parent to its own pups. And huge! Great Danes are huge dogs -- gentle giants, their owners say. But does a Great Dane, great as it may be, deserve this? You cannot blame the puppy, it obviously did not climb into this position. No, a person put the puppy on the big dog's head in order to take this ridiculous photo. And the Great Dane is just like, "really? I am a loving companion and a decent all-around dude of a dog and you do this? You put a puppy on my head and take pictures? Are we done yet?"
The Ardennes draft horse, one of the oldest breeds of draft horse
The Ardennes draft horse looks like a beast from another era, and indeed it is -- these hearty horses have been earning their hay by pulling heavy loads since at least the time of Julius Caesar, who seems to have described them in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentaries on the Gallic War), published around 50 BC. Developed in (as you might have guessed) the Ardennes region of France, Belgium and Luxembourg, the Ardennes draft horse has participated in some of human history's most notable struggles, including the Crusades, the French Revolution, Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812, and World War I. Today, unfortunately, this handsome and pleasant breed is primarily used for its meat, which is consumed in many European countries despite outrage from the U.S. and U.K.
Alfred Hitchcock serving tea to Leo the Lion, the mascot for MGM Studios
In this photo, said to be from 1957, director Alfred Hitchcock is having tea with Leo the Lion, the famous mascot of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) movie studio. Tea would be a logical beverage for Hitchcock, who was British -- not so much for Leo, but he doesn't appear have a place setting (or an opposable thumb). Leo has been portrayed by numerous lions over the years; in 1957 this would have been either Henry the lion, who was on his way out having served just two years, or Leo (actual name: Leo) the lion, who is the lion you've seen at the opening of every MGM movie since. Although we don't have much information about the photo, there can be little doubt that it was snapped as publicity material of some sort connected to North by Northwest (1959) -- the only film Hitchcock made for MGM.
A young crocodile adorned with butterflies
This caiman (a relative of crocodiles and alligators) looks pleased as punch and mighty spiffy adorned by such colorful butterflies. Shot on the Los Amigos river in southeastern Peru, it's a fun, intriguing photo, but, you know -- why? Well, there's actually a very good explanation: The butterflies are drinking the caiman's tears. The tears contain sodium (salt) and micronutrients that the butterflies need and do not get from their primary diet of nectar. Sodium is useful, for instance, in the formation of the eggs the butterflies will produce. It's additionally theorized that the butterflies pick reptiles because they don't move a lot,preferring to conserve their energy and bask in the sun for hours on end. What's in it for the caiman? Why doesn't it try to shake them off or even eat the butterflies? Until we learn differently, we'll assume it's fashion sense.
So tell me, how do you really feel?
Give a primate four fingers and a thumb, and eventually he'll flip you off. Is this orangutan really mad at us? Is he telling us to, ahem, "buzz" off because he's in a bad mood? Is he sending a message to humanity on behalf of the animal kingdom, indicating that they've had enough of our cruelty and wastefulness and they plan to take the planet back for the good of their young and their descendants? These are all possible explanations of this picture, but they are wrong. This orangutan is obviously angry because of the ridiculous Photoshopping of his eyeballs. You'd be angry too if someone painted your irises white.
This baby blue heron looks just like a dinosaur.
Anyone who doubts the evolutionary connection between birds and dinosaurs should check out the a baby blue hero. Enlarge this screeching monstrosity to human height and you've got a terrifying creature fit for the next Jurassic movie. Great blue herons are commonly found near the shores and in wetlands all over most of North and Central America, as well as the Caribbean and the Galápagos Islands. In adulthood, it's the largest North American heron, standing as tall as 4 and a half feet, with a wingspan that can exceed six feet. It's a slender, elegant bird that looks magnificent in flight -- in adulthood. As a baby -- not so much.
An upset baby elephant throws a temper tantrum
Elephants are intelligent animals, and they develop at a similar rate to humans, with their young reaching adulthood by about 20 years old. But perhaps they're most relatable when a parent has to deal with a bratty baby. Yes, elephant kids, like human kids, get ornery and throw tantrums when they want attention. Watching these brats of the African savanna meltdown is a consoling lesson to any parent. Baby elephants aren't getting their iPads taken away or being forced to wear a nice sweater to grandma's house, yet they still throw tantrums. They throw tantrums over nothing. You're doing just fine, human moms and dads.
Roland, a 4000-lb elephant seal, gets a snow bath from his handler at the Berlin Zoo in 1930
In Berlin, Germany, during the Weimar period, Roland the two-ton elephant seal was a local celebrity, charming Berliners with his massive form and appetite. In this 1930 photo, he's receiving a snow bath from a zookeeper. By 1935, Roland would have competition from the Hannover Zoo: Goliath, a 4-ton beast of an elephant seal imported from the US where, according to one account, he had grown so large that the cost of his daily fish consumption made him unprofitable for the American zoo where he'd been living. Around the turn of the new year, 1935-36, tragedy struck for fans of these lumbering sea creatures: Both Roland and Goliath died within 48 hours of each other. It was a sad few days for animal lovers, but on the other hand -- this was 1936 Germany. Hitler was chancellor, the Nazi flag flew over the Reichstag, and Jews had been stripped of their rights by the Nuremburg laws. Germany had a lot going on.
Check out the mesmerizing eyes of the ghost glass frog!
The Limon ghost glass frog is the largest of the glass frogs of Central America, measuring around 3 centimeters in length. Like many glass frogs, parts of its body are translucent, although it's mostly an opaque green on its back and white on its underside. What sets this frog apart are the eyes -- those bulbous white forward-facing eyes with their horizontal slit-like pupils. If not for the blue-streaked sclera, those eyes would be Kermitesque. They're still pretty similar to the two ping-pong ball halves Jim Henson glued onto his first Kermit (the body was made from a green coat his mother was throwing out) back in 1955.
The blue-ringed octopus is one of the world's most venomous creatures
The blue-ringed octopus is found in coral reefs in the Pacific and Indian oceans, and it is a beautiful specimen indeed. But steer clear of this golf-ball-sized creature -- it's one of the most toxic creatures on the planet, packing a venom that contains the powerful neurotoxin tetrodotoxin, which is famously also carried by pufferfish, known on the menu in Japanese restaurants as fugu, the seafood delicacy that just might kill you. Tetrodotoxin causes severe paralysis, which kicks off a host of unpleasant secondary effects -- imagine your body shutting down, bit by bit -- with death usually resulting from lung failure. Though tiny, the blue-ringed octopus carries enough venom to kill twenty-six adult humans within minutes. In other words, DO NOT PET.
A young Martha Stewart with a cow, 1964
Martha Stewart is known today as the greatest TV home maven of all time, skilled in all things cooking and crafty, but back in the early 1960s, she worked as a professional model. She began her modeling career at age 15, and her clients included Chanel and Tareyton cigarettes. The gig helped fund her studies at Barnard College, in New York City, from which she graduated with a double major in history and art history. While this photo might not have been a modeling shot per se (when Martha shared it in 2013 it was credited to Andrew Stewart, whom she'd married in 1961), it's a glamorous depiction of the farm life in the American northeast that inspires so much of her homemaking acumen.
Camouflage? There's more to the chameleon's ability to change color than that
Chameleons are famous for their ability to change color, and it's tempting to describe this amazing trait as a camouflaging mechanism, but it's actually much more complicated. Most of the color changes a chameleon might display have to do with behavior and state of mind. A chameleon adopts brighter hues when it's gearing up for a fight with other chameleons, and darker ones when surrendering or defeated. Chameleons may also change color to signal to others -- for instance, females are known to change the color of their bodies to let the males know they're in the mood for lovemaking.
The narwhal, sometimes known as the 'unicorns of the ocean'
There are two kinds of whales: Those that obtain food by filtering tiny critters out of the water (baleen whales), and those with teeth. Toothed whales include dolphins, porpoises, sperm whales and beaked whales. Within the evolutionary family of toothed whales, there's this fella, who is without a doubt the oddball cousin. It's the narwhal, nicknamed the "unicorn of the sea" due to the long, helical horn or tusk protruding from its face. But this defining appendage isn't really a horn -- it's a tooth, specifically the upper left canine, which natural selection dictated should grow to an extraordinary length, straight ahead. For many years, the purpose of the tusk was more or less unknown, but today it is thought to be used to measure salinity of water, and also in some cases for stunning the fish the narwhal likes to eat.
Baby elephant getting a drink of water
An elephant's trunk is one of the most fascinating biological advances in the animal kingdom. Essentially an elongated nose, it does much more than smell. The dextrous nubs at the end can pick up grass and other vegetation for the elephant to eat, while the trunk itself can lift hundreds of pounds. Because elephants can breathe through their trunks, they can use it as a snorkel while the rest of their body is submerged. And because they can drink through it, the trunk serves as a straw, allowing the elephant to drink water from ponds at its feet or, as this youngster demonstrates, a fountain.
Hello world! A Nile crocodile ready to leave the egg
This young crocodile is ready to come out of its shell -- but it's been lucky to get this far. Though expectant crocodile mothers do their best to hide their eggs in a secret nest, predators can still find the nest and raid it for food. Since the nests are often dug near water, flooding of the nest is also a threat. Predators, flooding and other circumstances can destroy up to half of all the eggs crocodiles lay. Newly hatched crocodiles are vulnerable as well, and require protection from a mother croc until they can fend for themselves. Only about 1% of crocodile hatchlings make survive to maturity -- but for those that do, the tables turn completely, as adult crocs have virtually no predators.
A female octopus may lay up to 100,000 eggs
Reproduction and parenthood for octopi is vastly different from what we humans know. Once fertilized by the male octopus, the female emits tens of thousands of eggs on strings, which she will guard hang in a cave or between rocks, and tends to over the next 5 to 10 months. Octopi mate just once in their lifetime, and the father dies soon after mating. The mother watches over her eggs obsessively, going without food, and will die soon after they hatch. And despite both parents' remarkable (and literal) self-sacrifice, most octopi are still doomed, as hatchlings have about a 1% chance of survival.
Have you ever seen a baby Appaloosa mini horse?
What's cuter than a miniature horse? A baby mini horse, duh. This baby Appaloosa mini horse won't get any taller than 38 inches -- because if it does, it will cease to be a mini horse and become a shetland pony. Sorry, those are just the rules. And actually, even though it is simple, there is not consensus as to when a mini horse stops being a mini horse. The American Miniature Horse Association (AMHA) uses the 38-inch rule, but another governing body, the American Miniature Horse Registry (AMHR) denies mini-horse status to any horsey thing over 34 inches tall. We humans have to make everything so complicated with our rules and rulers, don't we? Call them mini horses or Shetland ponies, it's unlikely they care -- as the saying goes, just don't call them late for dinner.
In case you haven't seen one before, this is a baby musk ox
This baby musk ox is cute, but vulnerable to predators, usually arctic wolves. But musk oxen, who live primarily in Greenland and the Canadian Arctic (Northwest Territories and Nunavut), have a pretty amazing defensive maneuver that involves the whole herd. The calves huddle in a group while the cows and bulls form a circle or semicircle around them. When the wolves try to attack, the bulls lower their heads -- the attackers meet a wall of the horns and hard plates that sit atop the bulls' heads. (Females, which have horns but not plates, aid in the defense as well as needed.) The musk oxen defense is virtually impenetrable.
Eagle grabs a drone during a police exercise in the Netherlands
Drones are becoming a nuisance in the air, as users unwittingly fly them into sensitive airspace (for instance, government property where world leaders may be exposed) causing anti-terrorist squads headaches. And some drones are actually used by criminals, to case potential targets and keep tabs on law enforcement officers. Something must be done -- clearly, this is a job for eagles. The eagle in this picture is being trained by Dutch police to nab a drone in midair. Police and military forces around the world are investigating this approach, although the Dutch themselves have put the program on hold over concerns that the eagles don't always stick to the job they're assigned.
The Asian arowana, the world’s most expensive aquarium fish
The Asian arowana is the most expensive aquarium fish in the world, with a pricetag said to be around $150,000 -- and perhaps much more, depending on the whims of the black market, as it's illegal to import an Asian arowana into the United States. It's a beautiful fish that is rarely seen in the wild, and instead must be bred on high-security farms. It's said to bring good luck, and even to have such fierce loyalty that, if its owner were threatened, the Asian arowana would leap from its tank in a suicidal rescue attempt. Wow -- that's a remarkably brave thing that no fish would ever do.
The only living quagga to have been photographed, from 1870.
You're looking at the only quagga ever to be photographed -- this is one of five pictures taken of the now-extinct animal at the London Zoo in 1870. The quagga was once plentiful in South Africa, but was hunted to scarcity by Dutch settlers and Afrikaners for its pelt and meat, and possibly because it competed with their foraging livestock. Although the quagga was thought to be its own species, DNA testing (the first such testing on an extinct animal) revealed that it's actually a subspecies of plains zebra. Is the quagga a zebra that lost its stripes, or a brown horsey animal that got stuck (evolutionarily speaking) halfway on its journey to becoming the fully-striped zebra? Since we don't really know why the zebra is striped all over, we're a long way from knowing why the quagga was only half-striped.
The transparent butterfly greta oto, better known as the glasswinged butterfly.
Many wild things use colors to blend into their environments, hoping to avoid predators by means of camouflage. The glasswinged butterfly, or Greta oto, uses a notable lack of color to avoid becoming someone else's meal. When it takes to the air, its flapping transparent wings become essentially invisible. The glasswinged butterfly is native to Central and South America but has been spotted as far north as Texas. If the disappearing act doesn't work, the insect has a secondary method of dissuading its predators (primarily birds): It loads up on toxins from certain flowers that give it an unpleasant taste.
This turtle swimming the Southern Great Barrier Reef is more than 100 years old.
Turtles can get really, really old; in fact, there's a turtle named Jonathan living on the island of Saint Helena that is 186 years old. The turtle pictured here isn't Jonathan (Jonathan is looked after by humans), but this shelled survivor, photographed swimming around the Southern Great Barrier Reef is thought to be at least 100 years old. It's interesting to note the algae that has accumulated on his shell. Many Native Americans believed that the world they knew -- hills, valleys, forests, coastlines, all of it -- was actually situated on the back of a giant cosmic turtle. This turtle seems to have grown a landscape of his own.
Behind the scenes of Jaws.
Take 5, everybody. There is no real shark in this shot, just the animatronic shark named Bruce, lounging on set next to actor Robert Shaw during the filming of Jaws, the shark-disaster movie directed by Steven Spielberg that was released in 1975. Bruce wasn't real, but the fear he inspired in audiences was real enough. In fact, the increased villification of the great white shark -- which, to be fair, actually does maim and kill humans from time to time -- led to a surge in shark fishing that has reduced the population of the feared fish in the waters off the east coast of the U.S. by 50 to 90%, depending on species.
Woman sitting with her pet cheetah having tea at a café in Paris, 1932.
In this 1932 photo by Alfred Eisenstadt, an unidentified woman is sitting at a cafe in Bois de Boulogne, the large public park in Paris' 16th Arrondissement, with her pet cheetah on a leash. There's a history of Parisians keeping exotic animals as pets -- it goes way back to kings, queens and Empress Josephine (Napoleon's wife), but also has modern-day examples. In a famous photo, Salvador Dali emerges from the Paris Metro (subway) with an anteater on a leash. Josephine Baker, the famous American-born dancer who lived most of her life in Paris, kept a cheetah named Chiquita as a pet, and actress/journalist Marguerite Durand had a Lion named "Tiger." Perhaps the oddest choice of pet was that of 19th-century poet Gerard de Nerval, who could be seen out walking his animal companion Thibault -- a lobster.
Not all shark tales are true.
Jaws: The Revenge, released in 1987, was the third sequel to Jaws. It was a terrible movie that should never have been made. If it had not been such a terrible movie, more people might have seen it. More people might have been familiar with the scenes in it. More people might have recognized this as a still from the movie and not a real photo of a shark attack.
THIS IS NOT A SHARK ATTACK; IT'S A SCENE FROM A MOVIE.
THIS IS NOT A SHARK ATTACK; IT'S A SCENE FROM A MOVIE.
THIS IS NOT A SHARK ATTACK; IT'S A SCENE FROM A MOVIE.
Ok, let's move on...
The echidna, or spiny anteater, is one of just a few egg-laying mammals.
Quick: What mammals lay eggs? There aren't many -- in fact, it's just the platypus and four species of echidna. They apparently did not get the memo that mammals don't lay eggs. Echidnas are found in Australia and New Guinea, and some of them eat ants, which has caused these critters to pick up the name "spiny anteater" -- but they aren't related to real anteaters. Nor are they related to porcupines, despite the quill-like spines. Well, they are related in the sense that anteaters and spiny anteaters and porcupines are mammals. But so too are humans, cows, and dolphins. We're all just one big happy family.
Get a glimpse of the clouded leopard while you can.
The clouded leopard keeps to itself, preferring to live in the trees and out of sight in its habitat -- parts of China and the Himalayan foothills. This elusive behavior is a pretty good idea, considering that gorgeous and distinctive pelt -- poaching of clouded leopards for their skin, teeth, bones and meat (used in some traditional medicines when a tiger isn't available) is widespread. The clouded leopard's name is misleading, as it's not closely related to the leopard. It's the smallest of the so-called "big cats" and actually forms an evolutionary link between them and the "small cats," a group that includes the cheetah, ocelot, lynx, cougar, and the domestic house cat.
Baby otters are born blind and toothless.
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino in existence, passed away in 2018.
This northern white rhinoceros, named Sudan, was believed to be the last male of his kind. In March 2018, he died, leaving his species on the brink of extinction. The last hope for white rhinos lies with in vitro fertilization (IVF). Scientists have created hybrid embryos -- part northern white rhino, part southern -- which they say could be a first step in bringing back pure northern white rhinos. The two remaining northern white rhinos known to exist are Najin and Fatu, Sudan's daughter and granddaughter, neither of whom are able to bear children. Like Sudan, the two are protected by armed guards at all times, defense against the poachers who kill rhinos for their horns and have left the species in this desperate situation.
Is this white kangaroo an albino? Do you know how to tell?
Is this white kangaroo, spotted in South Australia in 2016, an albino? That's a good question. White kangaroos do exist, as a genetic strain of the grey kangaroo, so this could be just another white kangaroo. Experts said that you can't truly tell whether an animal is an albino without getting close enough to study its eyes. Albinos get their white appearance from an inability to produce pigment and most of their bodies, including fur and hair, are white as a result. But the lack of pigmentation in the eyes leaves blood vessels exposed, giving albinos distinctive red eyes. What do you think -- can you tell whether this 'roo has red eyes?
Black Panther? Well, technically a black jaguar. But still -- Wakanda forever!
It's a black panther -- just not the African (or Marvel superhero) kind. See, "black panther" is a term that refers to melanistic big cats, wherever they may be. In Africa and Asia, "black panthers" are leopards with an abundance of the pigment melanin. This American black panther is a jaguar. Black panthers -- whether technically black leopards or black jaguars -- are relatively common. About 6% of all jaguars are melanistic, while in Asia and Africa the melanistic color variation can be so common that it dominates some populations of leopards. This gets into genetics -- the melanism allele is dominant in jaguars, but recessive in leopards.
The epaulette shark can walk between coral heads at low tide, along the seafloor and even on land.
The word "epaulet" refers to an ornamental shoulder piece found on many uniforms to denote rank -- it comes from the French word "epaule," which means "shoulder." In an ironic bit of species-naming, this shark was dubbed the epaulette shark due to the large spots behind each pectoral fin. It has epaulettes -- but no shoulders. Found in tidal pools on the southern coast of New Guinea and the northern coast of Australia, the nocturnal epaulette shark has a few other quirks. If it's running low on oxygen and stuck in anoxic water (water that has been depleted of all its oxygen) the epaulette shark can shut down some of its neural functions and just chill out until a wave bringing oxygen-rich water comes along. It also tends to walk on its fins more than it swims.
Cats catching squirts of milk during milking at a dairy farm in California, 1954.
This is "Cats Blackie & Brownie Catching Squirts of Milk During Milking at Arch Badertscher's Dairy Farm," one of the most popular cat pictures from the pre-internet, pre-cheezburger era. It was shot by famous photographer Nat Farbman in the early 1950s and published in Life magazine. It's a classic image of American farm life -- you've got the livestock, the smiling farmer, the nutritious and fresh warm milk and of course you haz cats. Of course, this is the part where someone chimes in and says cats are actually lactose intolerant, and the whole cliche of treating cats to milk is actually harmful to them. Arch Badertscher, how could you?
Ever seen a blue footed booby?
You might want to keep this one away from the eager eyes of impressionable young boys -- it's a pair of naked boobies in plain sight on a beach. Ah, there's a joke that nobody has ever made before. These are boobies, the bird -- each is a blue-footed booby, as you can tell from the blue feet. (Anyone care to guess what gives the red-footed booby its name?) Boobies are not named for female breasts, which would be silly and inaccurate -- they are boobies in the sense that they are boobs, clowns, fools, dolts. They are clumsy on land (like many seabirds) and are strangely trusting of humans.
The elusive ili pika
Who's the all-time champion of hide and seek? Maybe it's this feller -- the Ili pika. The super-cute mammal, looking something like a rabbit with a teddy-bear face, was discovered in 1983 in the Tian Shan mountains of northwestern China. Following its discovery the Ili pika was spotted just 29 times -- then, sometime in the early '90s, it seemed to disappear completely. For over 20 years, there were no sightings of any Ili pika. None. Zip. Nada. For all we knew, it had gone extinct. Then, in 2014, an Ili pika (the one in this picture, specifically) showed its face again. Gotcha!
A round of applause from the short-eared owl
Does everyone know what sound an owl makes? If you said "hoot," you are of at least average intelligence. We also would have accepted "screech." But this owl, a short-eared owl, is making a different noise -- he's clapping. Yes, certain owls (and some birds) clap their wings together in mid-flight. It's said to be a mating behavior, a bit of razzle-dazzle for the for the females who may be watching. The clapping can also be directed at intruders, a warning that you'd best take your intruding elsewhere. Whether the intruders are scared off by this clapping or simply flattered by the applause, we do not know.
A rare albino moose in Gunnarskog, Varmland, Swede.
This is Ferdinand the albino moose, a moose who has attained celebrity status in Varmland, Sweden. You can see why -- head-to-toe white and looking like an alabaster sculpture, it's a majestic and rare beast. Photographers flocked to the area after its discovery, hounding him like paparazzi. But what do you do when a celebrity runs off the rails? (When you're an albino moose, there's no mistaking you -- you can't say "no, it wasn't me, must have been some other albino moose.") So when an albino moose charged a woman out walking her dogs, authorities decided he needed to be caught and euthanized. Public outcry was intense, as Ferdinand is basically a mascot for Varmland at this point. Officials backed down, noting that there have not been any further incidents and Ferdinand continues to roam the area.
A funny penguin makes a little girl laugh.
How funny are penguins? They're hilarious. Those cute faces, the waddling gait, the wings awkwardly sticking out on either side -- of course a kid's gonna laugh. That's what two-year-old Nicola McNally is doing here, highly amused by Rocky the Penguin. This photo was snapped in 1980 at the Cotswold Wildlife Park in Oxfordshire, UK. Rocky is a Humboldt penguin, a species notable for their friendly nature to humans. Humbolts' popularity at zoos seems to ensure they will continue as a species, even though in the wild they have been classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as a threatened (vulnerable) species.
The pink-necked green pigeon is found in parts of Asia
Question for you: What's the difference between a pigeon and a dove? On the one hand you've got the pigeon, grey denizen of large cities, fearless snatcher of snacks, percher on statues, pooper on people, thought by some to be a nuisance worthy of the term "flying rat;" on the other hand you've got the dove, immaculate white symbol of peace. Nobody's going to release pigeons at their wedding or name their replenishing beauty soap "pigeon." But they're the same bird. A dove is a white pigeon. You know what's not a white pigeon? The pink-necked green pigeon. This rainbow of a bird is found in Cambodia, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- and not Trafalgar Square.
Rare brown panda Qizai was abandoned by his mother
Qizai is the only brown panda in captivity. He was abandoned by his mother -- who is said to have had the usual black-and-white color scheme -- when he was two years old. Scientists figure Qizai is brown because of a genetic anomaly. In March 2018, video cameras captured footage of another brown panda, the ninth overall sighting of brown pandas in history. Qizai's handlers want to breed him with a female, who will inevitably be black-and-white, to see whether brown offspring is produced. In August 2018, Qizai was paired up with a female, Zhuzhu, but no magic happened during the 48-hour window in which she was fertile. Oh well -- better luck next year.
If you plan on catching this rock, you're gonna need a bigger boat
This shark lives at Palolem Beach, in Goa, India and it never leaves. It never moves. It's a rock. Street artist Jimmy Swift painted it in 2015 and it's been a favorite spot for tourist selfies ever since. Swift says he knew from his first glance that the rock was meant to be a shark. "It's truly amazing how mother nature can carve out such a perfect shape," he said. The shark, which was inspired by Jaws, is the second piece Swift has painted at Palolem Beach -- just days earlier, he painted an elephant onto the contours of a natural rock formation.
An elderly lion in his final hours
The rules of life in the jungle are unkind and absolute. Though we humans go to great lengths to prolong life at any cost, lions aren't quite so sentimental. The struggle for food is too great to preserve those who've outlived their usefulness. Such was the case with Skybed Scar, a lion who was well known in South Africa's Kruger Park. He had once ruled over his own pride -- a king of the jungle, as they say -- but those days had passed. This picture shows Scar in his final moments: Elderly and abandoned by his own descendants, too weak to obtain his own food, he has grown thin and will soon die.