It seems like the internet obsesses over a small list of animals deemed as cute. From happy Shiba Inu dogs to friendly dolphins, these creatures may elicit a few "awws" but eventually get boring after a while. Perhaps it's time for an introduction to some more interesting animals for more variety. With a bit of research and a lot of personal bias (I love birds and monkeys), I compiled a list of seven overlooked animals I absolutely adored at first sight.
Though these adorable birds may be recognized as the national bird of the United Kingdom, European Robins aren't as well known in the Americas. Thus, I feel like it's my obligation and duty to introduce these tiny spheres with legs to my fellow Americans. Not to be confused with the American Robin, the European Robin belongs to a completely different genus than their western counterparts. Common garden birds in Europe, the European Robin has a brown head, back, tail and wings with an orange face and breast. Their underbellies are usually white and their wide eyes give them a curious innocent expression. This along with the fact that they puff up into little balls probably explains why they're so dang cute. However, don't let this bird's friendly appearance fool you. They can be solitary, territorial birds who are quite elusive and shy, puffing out their chests in aggressive displays and attacking other competing birds. If you needed an example of a cute force to be reckoned with, the European Robin is a perfect candidate.
Grant's golden mole is perhaps one of the cutest animals without eyes I have ever beheld. It lives in the deserts and sand dunes of the Namib in one of the driest habitats of the world. Though it lacks eyes, it makes up for it in extremely sensitive hearing and vibration detection which it uses to hunt for prey at night. Contrary to other moles, the golden mole doesn't have a permanent tunnel system because the sand they burrow in collapses on itself. It's more like a "sand swimmer" than a sand digger. Unfortunately, this strangely cute creature is vulnerable as it faces habitat destruction through dune removal and diamond mining.
Because of their occasional habit of eating dead animals, magpies and their crow relatives are usually the subjects of much superstition and fear, being an omen of bad luck in many cultures. However, despite their bad reputation, these birds have an amazingly mischevious, curious and clever personality that is the subject of many funny anecdotes. In fact, they are among one of the most intelligent animals to exist with a brain to body ratio similar to those seen in great apes. These birds have demonstrated the ability to mimic human speech, use tools, work together as teams, recognize themselves in a mirror and hold "funerals" for themselves. In my opinion, the black and white with hints of iridescent blue and green on their wings make them one of the most beautiful birds I've ever seen. If you want to know more about these birds, here's a hilarious and interesting video about a man who lives with a magpie.
I first learned about sandgrouse through Planet Earth II and immediately fell in love with their silly calls, interesting adaptations and hardworking tenacity. Living in one of the driest environments on earth, sandgrouse nest in the desert and must bring back water for their chicks. Thus, they've developed one of the coolest adaptations ever. By laying their belly over the water, male sandgrouse can soak, collect and transport up to two tablespoons of water in their feathers like a living sponge. The chicks then "milk" their dad's feathers to drink the water. If this wasn't cool enough, sandgrouse have the most adorable call ever which sounds like a rubbery, less annoying, cuter version of a squeaky toy.
Gibbons are a family of primates I find incredible. Native to Asian forests, these animals live their entire lives swinging from tree to tree and are therefore perfectly adapted to it. With hook-shaped hands for reaching branches, long, outstretched arms, powerful legs and specially adapted shoulder joints, these guys are skilled, acrobatic climbers perfectly capable of jumping and swinging long distances. Their form of movement known as brachiating allows them to move 35 miles per hour through the jungle and cross distances as wide as 50 feet in a single swinging leap. In addition, gibbons are one of the most bipedal primates besides humans who usually walk on two feet when not in the trees. This behavior captured in many videos looks extremely similar to humans and offers insight into why humans learned how to walk. Unfortunately, many are endangered or critically endangered from habitat loss, the illegal pet trade and poaching for traditional medicine.
This strange oddity is the kakapo, a large, flightless parrot home to the islands of New Zealand. With large eyes, a long beak and an owl-like face, it looks eerily similar to a wise, old man. Among some of the many ways it's unique, it's nocturnal and roams the forrest floor occasionally climbing trees. However, this cute, fat, flightless bird may not be here in a few years. It's now critically endangered with 157 birds making up its total population as of 2017. Though it used to be common in New Zealand, humans introduced mammals and predators nearly wiping them out. In addition, such few numbers cause extremely low genetic diversity and fertility rates bringing an onset of new problems. Among these is inbreeding which is causing the spread of diseases and defects. Now, the kakapo is the center of many conservation efforts with Sirocco the kakapo as an ambassador to spread awareness and teach people about these interesting creatures.
Kea are also similar to kakapo as they're also home to New Zealand and somewhat unique from other parrots being the only alpine parrot in the world. With a long, curved beak and olive-brown feathers, these birds look quite unassuming from the outside aside from a few streaks of orange under their wings. However, it's their personality that makes these birds so charming. They're naturally curious and mischevious which makes them unafraid of humans. Thus, they've become a common feature in New Zealand's ski fields and mountain huts and are notorious for stealing and destroying food, shiny objects and rubber from car windows. Another prominent feature is their intelligence. Many can perform similar tasks as a crow using problem solving and teamwork. Unfortunately, these birds are endangered due to conflicts and accidents involving humans along with previous laws that allowed the hunting of kea to protect sheep from attacks. However, the fact that they've managed to adapt and survive with humans indicates a high reproductive potential for them. If you want to see how they behave, Youtube is packed with videos about these birds wreaking havoc and being playful.
There are so many different amazing animals we're missing out on right now simply because we're unaware of them. Hopefully, this article helped introduce some new cute and fascinating animals a little different from the norm. If we can bring attention and awareness to these truly special animals, perhaps we can help save them or at least know about them for the brief time they exist on Earth. Happy learning!