There’s a great deal of variety in the animal kingdom, and North America stands as no exception to housing some of the strangest creatures on this planet that we’ve ever seen. And the likelihood is you had no idea that you were sharing your land with some of these truly one-of-a-kind animal species.
It’s gonna be hard to believe that some of these creatures are fellow neighbors and not just imaginings from science fiction. From cows of the sea to frogs whose heart stops beating, these animals deserve to be acknowledged for their hard-to-believe characteristics. Take a look at the strangest animal in your state.
Alabama’s Red Hills Salamander
It’s an uncommon sighting and the official amphibian of the state. The long salamander is around 11-inches long when it is mature and spends its days burrowing in the ground. Interestingly, it breathes through its shiny, moist skin. But you’ll rarely see it as it spends most of its days underground.
They’re becoming an even less common sighting in recent years, as it’s now been listed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife as an endangered species. The areas they live in are fractured and don’t fall under any protected land. Their suitable environments also fall under areas where deforestation occurs, making life even harder for these not-so-little salamanders.
Alaska’s Ice Worm
The bizarre Alaskan ice worm is a wonder to marvel at. Not only are they incredibly tiny, but they actually thrive living inside glacial ice. It’s one of the most surprisingly resistant creatures in all the states. Their cells freeze at a much lower temperature than their other worm counterparts, and in temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit, they would actually melt into a liquid.
Similar to creatures of the sea, they feed on snow algae, migrating to the surface of a glacier only at dawn or dusk. It’s this behavior that gave them their Latin name of Solifugus, which translates literally to “sun-avoider.” If you happen to find one, remember not to hold him in your hand as it’ll likely be just too warm! But bear in mind that in the winter you’ll be less likely to see one of these little critters, as they journey even deeper into the glaciers.
California’s Banana Slug
These slimy, yellow creatures are probably the weirdest thing you could encounter in California. They’re the second-largest slugs in the world and can live up to seven years of age. You’d be forgiven for wondering how they manage to survive, being so soft, moist, and easy to spot, but they’ve got some ingenious ways of coping. They excrete a thick layer of mucus, which works to stick leaves and soil to their bodies and insulate them.
The real intrigue lies in their dating habits. They are hermaphrodites whose reproductive organs sprout from the top of its head. These organs are also known to be as long as the slug itself. And on top of which, their multi-hour mating sessions can end in one of the slugs eating their partner’s reproductive organs. Unfortunately for them, they don’t grow back.
Colorado’s Sage Grouse
The largest of all U.S grouse’s, this bird has an especially unique mating ritual. The males have two rather distinct yellow air sacs that inflate, mesmerizing the female grouse. The fluffy white plumage that surrounds these bizarre sacs, as well as the fanned-out tail feathers, are all part of the grouse’s spectacle.
The contrast between the males and females during the mating dance is hard to ignore. While the male grouse beat their wings, puff out their chests, and chase one another, the females stand to the side looking uninterested. However, the one-of-a-kind birds are rapidly declining in population due to habitat loss, and have become a near-threatened species as of late.
Connecticut’s Star-Nosed Mole
Meet the fastest-eaters on earth: the star-nosed moles. Their crazy-looking snout holds 25,000 tiny sensory receptors and is what’s responsible for such speed. They can consume three bugs in one second, with it taking them 8 milliseconds to decipher if they can or can’t eat it first.
It’s also the most sensitive touch organ of any mammal, even giving them the ability to smell underwater – the only mammal with the ability to do so. And in the water, they have a cute way of assessing their data. They will blow bubbles and inhale them back in, to pick up on the scent of anything edible.
Deleware’s Common Grackle
Don’t let their name fool you. The Common Grackle has a couple of strange customs that are unique to their species. They are especially resourceful when it comes to sourcing food as they are known to follow plow to catch mice, wade in the water to find fish, or pick off leeches from the legs of turtles.
But they have another particularly weird custom of laying on the ground with their wings spread out, letting ants crawl all over them. The formic acid that they deposit help the bird rid itself of parasites. And if they can’t find ants, they’ll look for walnut juice, lemons, or marigolds to get the job done.
The closest thing to sea elephants we’ll ever get. A distant relative of the huge land mammals, the Manatee is sometimes even called a sea cow, and they bear no relation to dolphins or whales. They are herbivores and lead peaceful lives, and are impossibly adorable looking.
They are plant-eaters that consume food for half the day. How else would they maintain their large blubbery bodies! They like to hang out around Florida’s power plant discharge as the water is that bit warmer there. Basically, they’re the adorable, gentle giants of the sea.
Hawaii’s Brahminy Blind Snake
You might think that the island of Hawaii is completely free from snakes, but that’s not exactly true. The Brahminy blind snake is the world’s smallest snake that resembles a humble earthworm. And they’re not indigenous to the island – they were likely introduced in the 1980s when potting soil was brought in from the Philippines.
They are the only snake species that is entirely parthenogenic, a.k.a completely female. Their unfertilized eggs hatch into new female blind snakes and they feed on ants and termites on the island. As these are also not native to Hawaii, they don’t greatly impact the ecosystem. In contrast to other snakes, they don’t always swallow their prey whole but opt to decapitate them first.
Idaho’s Pygmy Shrew
These fuzzy little critters are plagued by their ultra-fast metabolism that keeps them constantly on the hunt for food. They can eat up to three times their body weight in a single day, and would preferably consume every few short hours. They weigh less than a single ounce and burn through their fat reserves fast, so there’s little time to waste as a pygmy shrew.
They can’t even sleep for longer than a few minutes at a time, as they need to be on edge for any feeding opportunities. They’re resourceful too, as they will burrow through tunnels or other animals’ nests, even forage through the snow to find something to eat. They lose a lot of weight in the winter (when food is in shorter supply) and change from fluffy little bundles to skinny, rat-like creatures.
These giant salamanders of the sea are scarily close to extinction, with less than 300 left in Indiana. They get their threatening name from settlers who found their appearance unnerving: “It was a creature from hell where it’s bent on returning,” reads a historical account from the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Despite what their name might suggest, they are rather harmless amphibians who feast on small fish and crayfish. They have been described as a “living fossil,” as they have remained almost entirely the same externally for the last 160 million years.
Louisiana’s Roseate Spoonbill
The roseate spoonbill really is that pink. Upon first glance, you may mistake it for a flamingo, but a closer inspection will soon tell you otherwise. They have a yellow/greenish colored head and are approximately the size of a goose, with a long, S-shaped neck and thin legs. And not unlike flamingoes, they wade about in shallow water.
But there’s a lot more mystery to these birds than might initially meet the eye. An entire flock of spoonbill’s suddenly fly and circle around the area at the beginning of a breeding season, but it is not known why. And their beaks are known instruments of foreplay before mating. Similar to penguins, the males take their role as a father seriously, building nests for their to-be young.
Affectionately known as water bears or moss piglets, these micro-animals have eight, chubby legs and a bizarre sucking pharynx. In Maine, they live in water and feed on lichen and moss. On average, they reach half a single millimeter in length in adulthood but have been known to reach three times that. And these little guys are extremely resilient, surviving extreme weather conditions such as freezing, dehydration, and radiation.
It’s even thought that these guys might outlive humans by as long as 10 billion years due to their adaptability. They are the first animals we know about that can survive after exposure to outer space, as they can dehydrate their bodies from 85% water to only 3%. This is so that when they are exposed to extremely low temperatures, their tissue does not split from the expansion of freezing ice.
You might think they’re something similar to a beaver, but they’re actually giant semiaquatic rodents, with alarmingly orange front teeth. And they have a reputation for being just as much of a nuisance as rats due to their rather destructive tendencies. They consume a quarter of their body weight in food a day, meaning their impact on the ecosystem is sizable.
“As an exotic invasive species in our North America wetlands, they can be especially destructive since plant species did not evolve with this forager,” writes a professor of ecology and biology at Central Michigan University. The fact that they also like to feed on agricultural crops probably contributes to their reputation as pests.
Massachusetts’ Hickory Horned Devil
Take it all in. As dangerous as they look, they’re actually completely harmless. Their outer body of green and red thorns, horns, and spikes are entirely empty threats. These guys are simply caterpillars that feast on leaves before they enter their pupation phase as they wait to turn into a moth.
Their bodies are green but become more turquoise as they age. This fearsome design is quite literally a life-saver for the not-so-little Lepidoptera, as the animals that would usually eat them (such as chickens) usually opt to steer away from them.
Minnesota’s Grey Tree Frog
Minnesota is home to some pretty harsh weather. And while this grey tree frog might not look like something out of the ordinary, it actually has a completely ingenious and unusual way of coping with the freezing temperatures. It is able to freeze itself entirely in the face of an especially difficult winter.
It can survive the freezing of its internal body fluids. Its body will produce large quantities of glycerol but the heart of a grey tree frog can completely stop, only to restart itself later. The vital organs of the frog would stop too, and would only restart once the freezing temperatures had dropped and it is able to thaw itself. A remarkable feature of Minnesota’s native frog.
Missouri’s Scolopendra Heros
Here we have the giant centipede of the desert, the scolopendra heros, and the single largest centipede of the desert. It has over 60 yellow legs, and a red, orange, and black body with two protruding fangs. It is aposematic, meaning its vicious appearance serves as a warning to predators.
These creatures are natural-born hunters. And hunt comparatively large animals too, compared to their size. They’ve been known to eat reptiles, rodents, and flying bugs, which it catches by leaping mid-air to take down their prey. Its venom does the rest of the job, working to rupture the cell’s membrane and make the animal unable to move. These predators are super lethal.
Nebraska’s Nine-Banded Armadillo
These cute insectivores are named after their most striking feature – their armors (Armadillo translates to little-armored one in Spanish.) Despite what their name suggests, they can have anywhere from seven to 11 bands on their back – so perhaps nine was taken as a sort of mean average.
It’s not just their outer epidermal scales that make them intriguing to behold. They have long tongues that stick to insects and hairy bellies. But despite what is commonly thought about them, they actually don’t curl up into a ball and roll away from a threat.
New Hampshire’s Buffalo Treehopper
This little critter is anything but ordinary-looking. While it is perfectly camouflaged to blend into its leafy surroundings, it’s one of the strangest shaped insects around. Its unique design was the inspiration behind its name, buffalo treehopper; it looks like it has the horns and tail of a bison.
It isn’t strictly accurate, however, as the tail makes up the pointed edge down the middle of its back, and the horns are just the two, pointed corners on top of its head. Regardless of its appearance and hefty mass, it leaps from plant to plant looking for food.
Nevada’s Cat-Faced Spider
Also known as the jewel spider, the cat-faced spider is considered one of the angulates – i.e. it has two points protruding from its abdomen. And the points on the particular arachnid form a feline silhouette, giving this eight-legged spider its name.
It may look like something you’d want to stay far away from, but the truth is it’s not harmful to people and can be approached. Bear in mind that it usually sits with its head facing the floor, so the cat might appear upside down.
No, this isn’t a still from some science-fiction movie – this is the Lamprey of Ohio, the blood-sucking eels of the river. They have strange disc-shaped mouths that act as a suction cup to stick to their prey and haunting rows of yellow teeth that spiral down into their throat. They’re truly the thing of nightmares.
These crazy mouths aren’t just used for eating, but also for the building of their breeding pits as they pick up and move stones. But they’ll work as a team for a task like this; a whole group of lampreys would team up to build the best breeding pit imaginable. Thank goodness for their strong suction!
Pennsylvania’s American Paddlefish
The ancient American paddlefish has been around for up to 400 million years since the Paleozoic era. They’re basically living fossils, with the most unique and bizarrely long snouts. These fish remain a mystery in some ways; for example, teen paddlefish have teeth while full-grown paddlefish, do not.
Their snout is also known as their paddle due to the flat shape from the top and bottom. It far outgrows the length of its head and is thought to be useful for one of two reasons. Either it’s a touch organ, or it works to give the fish some added stability when its jaw is open wide. They’re not light, after all – the adults can weigh up to 200 pounds.
Utah’s Gila Monster
Check out the scales on this one. Meet the aptly-named Gila monster, a relative of the Komodo dragon, a hugely venomous lizard that thankfully spends most of its life underground. The 5% of the time their above ground, they move slowly and cautiously, carefully calculating who their next victim should be.
And you really don’t want to be the target of this particular lizard. Their venom is secreted through their saliva, which they ensure enters your bloodstream with a quick bite. But don’t fear much – to a healthy adult human, their bite shouldn’t pose as fatal. And since they’re such slow movers, you can easily outrun them!
The Geoduck of Washington is one of the longest living animals in the world and the biggest burrowing clam. The body grows so large that it is too much for the geoduck to retract, so their valves simply remain open. And their resemblance to another animal led to their nickname in China of elephant trunk clams.
But don’t let their soft bodies fool you – they’re pretty resilient sea creatures. The neck can stretch out up to 24 inches from its body, and once they’ve positioned themselves adequately three feet into the sand, they can hang there for a full century.
Tennessee’s Cave Salamander
The cave salamander of Tennessee might look pretty early on in its development, but it’s supposed to look like that. Its pink/translucent body remains in the larval state for its whole life, explaining why it appears so unmatured even in adulthood.
But these amphibians aren’t just slimy. They sport bright red gills on the outside of their necks and generally have very pale pink bodies. They don’t like to leave the cave streams where they dwell, either, and it’s not surprising. They don’t look like they have many defenses!
West Virginia’s Puss Caterpillar
Don’t judge a book by its cover. You’d be forgiven for assuming they were harmless little furballs, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. The deceptive puss caterpillar has a dense, hairy coat, that hides its very poisonous spines. Should you encounter such poison, you’d barely make it back in one piece.
“Intense pain, swelling, itchy rash, anxiety, fever, muscle cramps, swollen glands, and vomiting,” are all side effects of being on the wrong end of a puss caterpillar, according to the University of Michigan. So now you know – should you come across one of these fluffy ones, keep your distance.
You might mistake the Jaguarundi for a weasel if you stumbled upon it in Texas. But it’s neither a weasel nor a jaguar, and actually has most in common with a mountain lion. At only 30 inches long, this foraging animal preys on rats and mice as its main food source.
Interestingly, they have spots when they’re born just like a leopard, but they lose them as they mature. They also like to live a solitary life, but occasionally pair up and hunt in twos. You can find them in Central and South America, but the Gulf Coast of the Lone Star State is the only place you’ll see them in the states.
Wisconsin’s Craspedacusta Sowerbii
Don’t worry – this Craspedacusta Sowerbii, or freshwater jellyfish, has stingers that are too tiny to pierce through our skin. Strangely, they’re indigenous to China but have been spotted several times in Wisconsin’s lakes. But they have another mystery about them that science is still trying to figure out.
It’s said that if you want to spot them, the best time to visit the freshwater lakes is August and September. But the amount of jellyfish you see can vary wildly from season to season, and it’s not clear why. Still, these inch-long creatures are a joy to witness in the gentle shallow waters if you get the chance.
This wolverine isn’t part wolf at all – it actually shares more with the common weasel as a member of the Mustelid family. As you can see from its thick fur coat, the wolverine is designed to withstand freezing temperatures without hibernating – the oil in their fur means they’re able to avoid frostbite during the winter months.
Their wide feet are ideal for wading through the snow, and their upper molars at the back of their mouths have a 90-degree rotation. This allows them to easily rip the flesh off of the bone of frozen animal carcasses. Yep, these beasts are wonderfully adapted to Wyoming’s habitat.
New Mexico’s Gemsbok
You wouldn’t normally find a large wild herd in New Mexico. But the gemsbok antelope has been living happily in the area ever since they came from South Africa in 1969. This was when a herd of 95 gemsboks were taken out of the savannahs and dropped in New Mexico to allow hunters a larger target.
But the gemsbok didn’t have any natural predators in New Mexico and thrived in the environment. Now there are more than 3000 of them running around. They’re as tall as a car so if you see one, you’ll probably know it. You might get lucky at White Sands National Monument in spotting these beautiful South African beasts.