5 Animals That Look Like Cartoons (Until They Kill You)
We all worry about packs of wolves, errant bears, and rogue sharks, even though this is technically the Internet and we should all be safe in here, so long as we never leave. But you shouldn't ignore or underestimate Mother Nature, no matter how innocent and unassuming her avatar might be. If only because that's exactly what she wants you to do.
A Toad With a Weaponized Mustache
Toad encounters generally present little cause for panic. With no sharp claws or pointy teeth to speak of, these amphibians normally rank somewhere between "gross-looking mushroom" and "really judgmental squirrel" on the list of potential natural threats. So if we told you there's a type of toad capable of growing its own mustache, your most pressing questions would probably be "OMG where?!" and "How much does it cost to own?" and "Is his name already Mr. Toadbottom, or will I have to file some sort of paperwork?"
And then we mention that his magnificent lip-scarf is made out of face spikes, and a little bit of the joy drains out of the room. Just a little bit, though, because he's still pretty hilarious:
"Can I interest you in Mr. Toad's Wild Mustache Ride?"
Yep, the Leptobrachium boringii toad from China sports honest-to-goodness gladiator spikes on its upper lip. It seems that, among toads as among gentlemen, fine mustaches and dueling are intrinsically linked. Every breeding season, the males grow 10 to 16 of those "nuptial spines" for mustache-on-mustache combat with one another for the right to do it froggy-style. Here's a video from New Scientist titled "Horny Frogs Fight With Their Mustaches," which sounds like a mistranslated email you'd find in your spam filter, but is in fact an entirely accurate description.
During this time of year, the toads' forearms also enlarge to Popeye-esque proportions to better prepare them for the hostilities to come. Or perhaps just because they're compensating for something ...
Unlike humans, where strong forearms prepare you for the non-mating to come.
The toads are unusually violent toward one another, and their lip-spikes are "as sharp as pencil lead." So a whopping 90 percent of all combatants incur injuries during the course of the duels. But when mating season is over, the toads lose their 'Stache of Fury and stay behind to care for the unborn kids (possibly even if the eggs are not their own), while the females leave the breeding grounds. We take it all back: A mustache-fighting toad secure enough in its own manliness to be a stay-at-home dad is the kind of male role model we should all be lucky enough to find.
A Cuddly Caterpillar With Hidden Venomous Spines
Caterpillars are among the friendliest insects in nature, if children's books and their own inherent fuzziness are to be believed. But they are not to be believed.
Case in point:
"I'm not going back. You can't make me go back."
That is the larval form of the Megalopyge opercularis moth, best known as the puss caterpillar because it looks like a total pussy ... cat?
Come on -- if you found one of these in your garden, you'd at least be tempted to pet it gently. Fold a tiny hat for it out of part of a napkin. Maybe see if it'll eat a seed out of your hand. You know -- standard frolicking stuff.
But you must resist the urge to frolic with the puss caterpillar, because it is one of the most venomous caterpillars in the United States. What you can't see underneath that outstanding mane is an array of hollow, venom-filled spines:
This explains so much.
Those spines pack enough of a toxic punch to send anyone who so much as brushes against them screaming to an emergency room. Symptoms are intense burning pain, massive swelling, breathing difficulties, fever, vomiting, and even temporary paralysis. It's rarely fatal to handle a puss caterpillar, but after the third day of living with swollen limbs and a pain so intense that it can knock you unconscious, you'll never trust anything fuzzy again.
And is that a life really worth living?
A Tiny Lizard That Turns into a Wheel of Spikes
Look at that magnificent son of a bitch! Give him wings and he's a dragon ...
... if he wasn't about 3 inches tall.
The Cordylus cataphractus is a small lizard native to South Africa, where just about every other living thing in its immediate vicinity could eat it as a snack so light that it wouldn't even spoil dinner. Or at least that would be the case if the armadillo girdled lizard didn't have a secret weapon: It's a friggin' transformer.
Here it is changing into its alternate mode, a heavily armored reptilian shuriken.
Dibs on "Reptilian Shuriken" for the prog-electronica band we just decided to form.
Whenever cataphractus feel threatened, they clamp onto their own tails to create a "near-impregnable ball" that protects the underbelly, makes them harder to extricate from between rocks, and presents any attacker with nothing but a mouthful of sharp, scaly spikes. If things get really desperate, their tails are detachable. And if all else fails, they can allegedly deliver a bite strong enough to actually break their own jaws, which is the lizard equivalent of punching a guy so hard, your own arm explodes.
And yes, the armadillo girdled lizard is relatively common in the pet trade, just in case you're one of those people who prefer their pets to double as projectile weapons for home security reasons.
"Just aim for the dick. I'll take care of the rest."
A Stupid-Looking Fish That Can Wipe Out an Entire Fish Tank
Look at this dumb little bastard.
That is Lactoria cornuta, or longhorn cowfish, the official town doofus of the Indo-Pacific reefs. Not only can these dopey bastards harm themselves in a perfectly safe aquarium by getting "wedged in the tank and decorations," but they're also extremely slow swimmers that are pretty easy to catch, at which point they'll often let out "a grunting sound."
Now, with all that in mind, give the little guy a voice, like he's a cartoon character. What does that voice sound like? Is it Patrick from SpongeBob SquarePants? Barney Rubble with a touch of Marvin the Martian? Is it like a tiny aquatic Hodor?
Whatever cutesy voice you've supplied, we're going to go ahead and bet it's probably not Hannibal Lecter. And yet that would be the more apt characterization: Whenever the cowfish is threatened, it releases a substance called ostracitoxin that can kill every single fish in the tank. Including itself.
"Duh -- if I'm dead, no one can kill me, dumbass."
Yes, this stupid, harmless-looking little fish that seems like something you'd find bumping into a wall in a Mario game will go full nuclear. It will kill any and all attackers, even if it has to die itself to do it. It's just that big a fan of murder.
A Giant Rat With a Poison Mohawk
This is a giant rat.
And it's actually ... sort of cute. Or at least not as disturbing as your typical sewer rat. Rats are one of the few strange creatures that, beyond a certain threshold, grow more acceptable the larger they are. For some reason a rat the size of a small dog is nowhere near as disconcerting as one the exact size of your own face. Maybe it's even nice. Go ahead, give it a pet.
Pet it right on its poisonous mohawk.
If you take away one thing from this article, it's to run away from anything resembling '80s hair.
Crested rats chew up the bark of the highly toxic Acokanthera tree, which contains a substance known as ouabain (the same stuff that the locals use to make their poison arrows; in the right dose, it can stop an elephant's heart). Once it's nice and spreadable, they smear the noxious pomade all over the spiky hairs on their backs, which have evolved to become hollow and absorbent so as to provide a more efficient weapons storage and delivery system.
"You should see what we do to our pubes."
Researchers have suspected for years that the crested rat might be poisonous (the fact that dogs frequently dropped dead after attacking them was a major clue), but only recently uncovered the exact mechanism. What we don't know yet is how the rats are able to expose themselves to the deadly toxin without suffering the effects themselves. This is something we should probably figure out before the information makes its way to the New York City sewers.
Related Reading: Prefer your animals to be juvenile and hilarious? This worm looks like a butt. And 'looking like a butt' is less awesome of an animal superpower than this ferret's ability to eat concrete. Ready for a badass new pet of your own? These domesticated jungle cats should oblige.