We know what you're probably thinking right about now. "Come on, Cracked," you say in your thick Scottish brogue (because we like to imagine that all our readers sound like Sean Connery). "Everyone knows hyenas are some kind of lopsided dogs. You can't surprise us by telling us that once you dig down past the inch-thick coat of ugly, they're practically man's best friend."
But before you run out to the nearest rescue shelter to see if there are any hyena pups available, there's something we need to tell you.
Closest Living Relatives: Mongooses
Dictionary be damned. The plural of "mongoose" will always be "mongeese" to us.
Wait, how could something that looks like somebody mixed equal parts broken stepladder, mange and hate be closely related to these cute and cuddly little ferret-things? It might be easier to swallow when you remember that mongooses like to murder the shit out of snakes just because why the fuck not? but, but ... CUTE! And hyenas tried to kill Baby Simba! Baby Simba! How could this be right?
Well, carnivorous mammals (the order Carnivora) are divided into two suborders: the doglike carnivores (Caniformia) and the catlike carnivores (Feliformia). You might think by looking at them that hyenas belong in the "doglike carnivore" class, but they actually belong in the suborder Feliformia and share a close branch with the mongoose family, which also includes the meerkat (e.g., Timon from The Lion King). That's right, the lovable little guy who convinces Simba to forget about all his worries is the long-lost cousin of the animals who helped kill his dad. Et tu, Timon?
Above: The "Loose Change" of the lion world.
And yes, that also means hyenas are more closely related to cats than to dogs. So be sure to pick up a litter box when you go get yourself that new guard hyena.
We've talked about sea squirts (tunicates) before. They're the poor, unfortunate souls that swim around like little tadpoles, happy as any spermlike creature can be expected to be, when all of a sudden their evolutionary programming takes over and they attach themselves to the sea floor, devour their own brains, lose their ability to swim and filter feed for the rest of their boring, miserable existence.
So which animals do you think are these doomed little guys' closest living relatives?
Sponges? Corals? Worms? Nope.
Closest Living Relatives: Vertebrates Like You
Go Team Spine!
That's right, say hello to your Cousin Squirt.
Vertebrates (you, other mammals, birds, fishes, reptiles and amphibians) are the closest evolutionary cousins of the sea squirt. In fact, scientists believe that the sea squirts (especially in their larval form) may resemble the original ancestor of all vertebrate life on earth. In other words, your earliest ancestors may have looked something like this:
Jim Williams, Southwest Tennessee Community College
If we're looking at that right, our ancestors were particularly well-hung.
So consider this: Instead of inventing new technology, creating fabulous works of art and writing dick jokes on the Internet, we could have parked our asses on the sea floor and devoured our own brains.
For more reasons we're better than Animal Planet, check out 8 Ingenious Ways Animals Outsmart Predators and 7 Animals That Are One Flaw Away From Taking Over the World.