Nature's Oddities: 8 Unusual Animal Facts

If you’re surprised to learn that an octopus has more than one heart or that a shrimp has a powerful punch, then check out our unusual animal facts below.

Sep 22, 2023By Lisa Szymanski
unusual animal facts

Animals are weird and wonderful in their own ways, but there are creatures with unique abilities and odd anatomies that will leave you mesmerized. Some of the animals we discuss in this article have more than one brain or express how they feel through facial expressions. Every animal is different, but their uniqueness helps them build families, defend themselves, and ultimately survive. If you’re interested in learning about the strange behaviors and physiology of land and sea creatures, we look at eight unbelievable and unusual animal facts.

1. Elephants Can Run but Not Jump

elephant walking through grass
Elephants can walk and run but not jump.

These majestic beasts have large, flat feet and can weigh up to 4 tons, but their size isn’t why they can’t jump. An elephant can’t hop or skip because its leg bones don’t have an upward structure. The upward bone structure found in the legs of other animals provides the lift needed to jump. Most animals can jump to escape a predator attack. Due to the size of elephants, and their intimidating tusks, they don’t need to jump to evade predators. Another intriguing fact about elephants is that they speak to one another using the vibrations of their feet and trunks.

2. Sloths Take Weeks to Digest Food

sloth hanging in tree full of green leaves
A sloth hanging in a tree.

Sloths move at a sluggish pace, but along with their movement, they have the slowest digestive system of any animal. It can take a sloth longer than a fortnight to metabolize what it's eaten. Researchers have found that a sloth may take up to a month to digest a single leaf. Sloths rely on the temperature of their surroundings to facilitate digestion, as the bacteria in their stomachs are only activated in warm temperatures. It is meant to help these slow-paced animals save energy during extreme winters, but such poor digestion can lead to starvation. And did you know that sloths turn green in the rain?

3. Butterflies Have Tastebuds in Their Feet

butterfly sitting on a yellow flower
A butterfly tasting a flower with its feet.

A butterfly relies on its proboscis to consume nectar and sap from fruit and flowers, but this mouthpart can’t detect flavors. Amazingly, most of their taste buds are on their legs and feet, allowing them to taste different plants as food sources and for laying eggs. Butterflies will taste leaves and flowers to determine whether they will serve as a good food choice for their larvae. Butterflies have a very short lifespan, so their feet help them find food quickly. A fun fact about a butterfly’s sense of taste is that its sensors are around 200 times more powerful than our taste buds.

4. The Peacock Mantis Shrimp’s Punch is Faster Than a Bullet

mantis shrimp crawling out of cave
A peacock mantis shrimp peers out from the rocks.

The mantis shrimp is a curious creature with large eyes and a rainbow-colored body. Despite their tiny size, averaging 5 inches, they pack the most powerful punch of any animal on the planet! These little shrimps have the equivalent of human fists at the ends of their feet, called clubs. When defending themselves or hunting prey, they let off a rapid punch of just over 50 mph. That’s faster than the blink of an eye. Researchers studying the mantis shrimp have to place them in tanks with thick walls to stop them from breaking the glass with a single blow.

5. Horses Talk by Pulling Faces

brown and white horse showing teeth
Horses happily show their teeth.

Horses are fast, majestic, and great therapy animals. But what most don’t know about them is their ability to communicate by pulling faces at one another. Researchers have found that equines can create more than 10 distinct expressions to send messages to one another. Their ability to make unique movements with their lips, eyes, and nostrils helps them express their emotions to fellow horses. These discreet expressions of communication between horses are meant to establish social connections and hierarchy. Some of these cues include widening their eyes to show fear or curling their lips when excited or content.

6. Penguins Propose to Their Partners

gentoo penguin picking up a pebble
Gentoo penguins propose with a small pebble.

The Gentoo penguin is incredibly special because they perform a loving ceremony when choosing a mate. Gentoo penguins are the only species to give their partners a little stone as a gift when they decide to nest. These penguins live on rocky terrain in the Antarctic and use different pebbles or rocks to create a sturdy nest for their eggs. A female penguin will decide whether the stone given to her is good enough to accept the proposal from her mate. Gentoo penguins are monogamous and tend to stick to one partner, but after a few breeding seasons, they generally go their separate ways.

7. An Octopus Has More Than One Heart and Brain

octopus crawling over rocks
An octopus uses its many brains to understand its environment.

Octopuses are extremely intelligent creatures, but they have a strange number of internal organs. An octopus has exactly three hearts and multiple brains, but they don’t all serve the same purpose. One heart delivers blood and oxygen to the brain and body, while the remaining cardiovascular functions encourage blood flow to the gills. Their large brain is near the esophagus, and smaller brains are found at the end of each tentacle. The eight small brains allow an octopus to process information about the taste of food or where prey is located. It makes them more efficient hunters because they can make complex decisions quickly.

8. Giraffes Can’t Express Themselves Vocally

giraffe sticking out its tongue
Giraffes can’t produce distinct voices.

A rather unusual animal fact is that giraffes can’t vocalize. These long-necked animals don’t have vocal cords, making it impossible to produce the vocalizations that other animals use to communicate. They can hum and hiss because they have a voice box, but their 5-to-6-foot-long necks prevent the buzz or vibration needed to create sound. Along with their voiceless condition, giraffes have very long and black tongues to help them reach the tops of trees and prevent sunburn. The dark color of their tongues protects against UV damage as they expose their mouths to the sun when eating leaves. From the voiceless giraffe to the punching power of the little mantis shrimp, every animal is spectacular in its own right.

Lisa Szymanski
By Lisa Szymanski

Lisa is a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys hiking and gardening and has four years of experience volunteering at pet shelters. She is the proud mom of two dogs, a Pitbull named Ragnar, a Boerboel named Blueberry, and four feisty chickens, or as she calls them, the "queens of the yard," Goldie, Gray, Peaches, and Brownie.