Interested in finding out more about ugly animals, or want to see the ugliest animal on the planet? Then read on below for our take…
Nature is a wonderful thing, but not every creature is as cute as a panda bear or as beautiful as a leopard. Whilst each organism is important and every animal has a role to play, there are times when evolution turns out a creature that doesn’t quite meet the aesthetic standard that we’re used to as humans… which is another way of saying there are some downright ugly animals.
Beauty and ugliness are fairly subjective, relative ideas, however, so using no scientific approach whatsoever we’ve picked a variety of species to showcase just how ugly nature can get. Each ugly animal listed below is shown with a photo for proof, and ranked in no particular order. (The ugliest fish are worthy of their own post).
So, with this context in mind, let’s look at our pick of 15 of the world’s ugliest animals:
One of the world’s rarest birds, breeding programs have helped the Californian condor (Gymnogyps californianus) back from the brink of extinction. At one point in the late 20th century there were only eight Californian condors alive. Now with over 200 birds in the wild, the population is now much healthier, but still critically endangered.
Although they’re the largest flying land bird, they look amazingly graceful as they glide above the deserts and canyons of the Western USA. Look closer, however, and they’re a lot less photogenic, with a bald, wrinkled, multi-coloured head and neck adapted for scavenging. Much like vultures, having no head feathers means they won’t get covered in blood clots as they pick at large carrion.
Naked Mole Rat
Naked mole rats (Heterocephalus glaber) are unique creatures for a number of reasons aside from their really ugly animal looks. Firstly they are the only (almost) naked rodent, with their near hairless bodies adapted for living life burrowing below ground level. The few fine hairs they do have on their body act like whiskers to help them feel their environment.
Secondly, these rodents live in insect-like underground colonies with several dozen rates, led by one breeding queen rat. Most closely related to porcupines, guinea pigs, and chinchillas (rather than either moles or rats) they are the longest living of all rodents, surviving up to 30 years in the wild. Because they spend almost all of their life underground they don’t need strong eyesight and are almost blind. Perhaps this is for the best, as given what they look like, this means they don’t have to see one another!
Found only on the Asian island of Borneo, the unique looking proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) is now an endangered species due to habitat destruction. It’s not clear exactly why the male monkey has such a huge, bulbous nose, but it’s thought it helps them to either attract a mate, make their distinctive loud honking calls, or intimidate other competing males. Or possibly some combination of all three.
These ugliest of monkeys have an unrelated skill. They’re some of the best swimmers around thanks to their webbed feet and hands – able to even outswim predators such as crocodiles!
The small star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata) makes this list of ugliest animals because of the incredible tentacle-like organs sprouting from its face. This ‘nose’ is made up of 22 fleshy appendages covered with more than 25,000 super-sensitive receptors that help the mole find their way underground.
Whilst it’s not a great look for a beauty parade, this star-nose is one of the most sensitive organs nature has created, helping the star-nosed mole to become a very proficient hunter, and master of its underground domain.
The aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is not a gremlin come to life, but rather a nocturnal lemur found in Madagascar. Their straggly hair, bulging eyes, continually growing incisors, and oversized ears combine to make them one of the ugliest primates around, and an easy add to this list of world’s ugliest animals (plus an honorable mention on our list of funniest animal names!)
Adding to their weird looks is an unusually long, bony middle finger. As they aye-aye walks on a branch it taps with this middle finger to listen for echoes then chews through the wood to use its middle finger to prise out insects to eat.
Roti Island Snake Necked Turtle
This strange-looking turtle is endemic to the Indonesian island of Rote. Their necks are so long that, unlike other turtles and tortoises, they’re unable to withdraw their head back into their shell, so they wrap it around the side of their shell instead.
With a very small area of natural habitat available, combined with heavy targeting for the pet trade, these ugly turtles are experiencing population decline in the wild.
The horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus philippinensis) gets its name from the shape of its ‘noseleaves’ – the strange ear-looking thing in the middle of its face. The upper portion is pointed with the lower section shaped like a horseshoe.
Much like other insect-eating bats, the horseshoe bat uses echolocation to catch its prey, and it’s thought their unusual face organ makes them more attuned to sound waves, improving their hunting. It may be a good hunter, but it’s certainly not a looker!
Giant Chinese Salamander
The giant Chinese salamander (Andrias davidianus) is the world’s largest amphibian and can grow up to 2 meters. Endemic to mountain streams and lakes in central China’s Yangtze river basin, this salamander is fully aquatic and can breathe through its skin. Their skin also has special receptors that pick up vibrations in the water, to help them pinpoint their prey.
We’re not sure if this salamander is really ugly, or just a little strange looking – either way, it’s certainly unique. It’s also critically endangered in the wild due to habitat loss and overcollection, as it’s used in traditional Chinese medicine and is also considered a delicacy to eat.
Perhaps adding an elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) to this list of ugly animals is a stretch, given that calves and female elephant seals are relatively OK-looking, and even cute.
However at sexual maturity males begin to develop a giant nose that continues growing for around five years, making them truly deserving of their name (referencing the elephant’s trunk). Add to this the male’s behavior of fighting each other viciously to control sections of beaches containing groups of females, and they often end up looking like the specimen pictured. Quite a state, and deserving of being classified as an ugly animal, we’re sure you’ll agree!
There are four species in the hyena family, varying in size. Hyenas are unique and vital components of most African ecosystems, both taking advantage of other animals’ kills for easy meals and hunting themselves. The size of a hyena kill or scavenge is generally determined by the size of the hyena’s clan, which can run to dozens. They often hide extra food in watering holes, since nothing is wasted. Hyenas will eat every part of an animal, including bones and hooves.
Hyenas can adapt to almost any habitat and are found in grasslands, woodlands, savannas, forest edges, sub-deserts, and mountains.
Marabou storks one of the most distinctive birds found in Africa south of the Sahara – and one of the world’s biggest birds. They are found in both wet and arid habitats, often near human habitation, particularly landfill sites.
They’re an unusual looking bird, bald-headed with wisps of hair, perhaps worthy of their addition to the ugly five. They have a wingspan of 2.6 meters and a height of 1.5 meters.
Marabous are scavengers eating anything from termites, flamingoes, and small birds and mammals to human refuse and dead elephants. They also feed on carcasses with other scavengers such as vultures and hyenas.
Interesting maribou stork fact: they have hollow leg and feet bones, an adaptation to help them fly
The Titicaca frog (Telmatobius coleus) live in the high Andes around Lake Titicaca and is known to grow up to 0.5 meters long. It’s also known as the ‘scrotum’ frog, which describes its loose, baggy skin that ripples around its body in folds. The name alone earns the Titicaca frog a place on this list! It’s thought the folds of skin are to give the frog extra surface area to absorb more oxygen from the lake’s water.
Like many animals on this list, the Titicaca frog is endangered due to pollution from mining, collection for eating, and inclusion in a ‘frog juice’ drink believed to be an aphrodisiac.
Vultures are scavenging birds of prey, who love nothing more than to pick on carcasses of dead animals on African plains. Africa supports 11 vulture species, of which size are confined to the continent only. Sadly seven of these 11 vulture species are categorized as endangered or critically endangered African animals.
Vultures are affectionately known by nature-lovers worldwide as ‘Nature’s Clean-up Crew’. They’re one of nature’s most successful scavengers, and help clean the African landscapes like no other.
Warthogs (Phacochoerus africanus) are normally found in family groups, where they spend most of their time either looking for food or wallowing in the mud at waterholes. At night they shelter in burrows, entering tail first. As wild members of the pig family, these ugly animals have a characteristic pig nose, wart-like growths on their faces, a mane of hair that cascades down their backs, and razor-sharp tusks protruding from their mouths.
Put all this together and they’re no image of beauty, but are very well adapted for living across sub-Saharan Africa, with a preference for open woodland and savannahs.
And that’s your lot for our ugly animals list. What did you think – any obvious animals missing? Or any animals on the list you feel are harshly treated and should be removed? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!
And if you’re feeling concerned for the wellbeing of any of these animals, it might be worth getting in touch with the Ugly Animal Preservation Society (yes, that is a thing!).