Animals have been at the heart of our most beloved fantasy stories, from classics like The Jungle Bookfull of colorful, talking animals and iconic books like Harry Potter, where mythical creatures are commonplace. Unfortunately, giant talking snakes and fire-breathing dragons have yet to be found on Earth. But who says these legendary creatures are figments of our imaginations?
These five intriguing (and very real) animals have been roaming the Earth for quite some time, and they look just like the creatures from your favorite fantasy.
1. Deer vampire
Various toothed water and musk deer have been nicknamed “vampire deer” to exchange their antlers for fangs that protrude beyond their lower jaws. Now you can imagine a flesh-tearing deer that uses its teeth to bite and kill prey. Yet, despite their unusual appearance, deer vampires are actually harmless.The vampire’s deer teeth—like antlers—are reserved for money (male) as a weapon to fight predators. These creatures are herbivores and feed on grass and vegetation. They can also be used as an object of sexual attraction to win over potential partners.
Vampire deer are one of the smallest species of deer, rarely growing more than 3 feet (1 meter). Although the creatures originated in South and East Asia, they were imported Great Britain in 1870 and displayed as exotic zoological attractions in various parts of the world. According to a recent study by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the vampire deer is listed as endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List due to habitat loss and hunting.
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(Credit: Dotted Yeti/Shutterstock)
Let’s face it, “narwhal” seems like a pretty fancy name. However, these strange creatures are indeed real and are found in the coastal waters and rivers of the Arctic. Narwhals are whales belonging to the Family Monodontidae along with Beluga. This fascinating creature is nicknamed the “unicorn of the sea” because of its massive 10 feet (3 meters) tooth/tusk on your head. Male narwhals usually wear a tusk while only 15 percent of women there is one. Although the tusks have no magical power, they are actually quite extraordinary and have over 10 million nerve endings. Their tusk allows whales to have amazing sensory abilities such as sensing changes in water temperature and salt levels and sensing the presence of squid, shrimp and other prey. New research suggests that male narwhals may also use the tusk to attract mates, similar to peacock feathers.
The whale’s gray hue has a lot to do with its unique name. The Scandinavian prefix “Nar” means “carcass”, thus imitating the pale color of the narwhal, while “hval” means “whale”. While rising temperatures and human behavior continue to threaten the existence of these beautiful creatures, we may still be able to save the magical narwhal as it is not yet on the endangered species list.
3. Komodo dragon
(Credit: ANDREY GUDCOV/Shutterstock)
The Komodo dragon might be the closest thing we have to a true dragon, minus the wings and fire-breathing abilities. These giant lizards closely resemble the mythical creature with their long tails, yellow forked tongues and the ability to take down any prey (including humans) with their sharp teeth and venomous bite. In fact, Komodo dragons are known as the largest lizards in the world, with the average Komodo weighing about 154 pounds (70 kilograms) and growing to about 10 feet (3 meters) in length. The lizard’s appetite is equally remarkable, its stomach allowing it to overeat 80 percent of your own body weight in one meal. Komodo dragons also have impeccable throat muscles that enable them swallow large pieces of meatand they will eat anything from live prey to carrion.
Western scholars recorded the first appearance of the dragon in 1910 when Lieutenant van Stein van Hensbrouck set out to investigate rumors of a land crocodile in the islands of Indonesia. This led to van Hensbroek capturing and killing a six-foot-long Komodo, which later became popularized as a “dragon” due to its appearance. However, fossils show that the lizard may have originated in Australia more than 4 million years ago before crossing the sea to make its home in Indonesia’s Komodo Islands. The dragon recently entered the IUCN list of threatened species due to rising sea levels threatening the low-lying savannas where the animal lives.
4. Spiny viper
If snakes scare you, then this one should top the list. The spiny viper is an incredibly venomous snake that can be found nestled in the flowers of trees in the forests of Central Africa. The otherworldly snake comes in all sorts of different colors, including green, blue, brown, and yellow. Its scientific name, Atheris hispida, means hairy and tailed, accurately capturing the animal’s dorsal spiny scales that stretch across its rather thin and slender body. However, don’t let its small size fool you! The poison from this creature can cause serious bleeding of the internal organs. Their tails also make the spiny viper excellent climbers, allowing them to slide up and down branches to catch their prey.
Fortunately, the spiny viper is nocturnal and remains hidden deep in the secluded rainforests of Africa, thus limiting human interaction. For now, the snake is happy to feed on available mammals such as frogs, lizards and sometimes birds.
5. Parrot Dracula
(Credit: Afandi Rahman Halim/Shutterstock)
With black feathers and a scarlet belly, the Dracula parrot, also known as Peske’s parrot, gives a whole new meaning to gothic creatures. Found in the hills and rainforests of New Guinea, the parrot is quite large, measuring about a foot and a half (1 meter) from tail to beak. The unique parrot has a curved beak and bald head that resembles vultures and prefers to hop from one limb to another rather than fly. Although the animal’s unfortunate name and garish appearance may scare you, rest assured that the parrot feeds primarily on figs, not blood.
Unfortunately, the mysterious bird is classified as vulnerable according to IUCN Red List due to habitat loss as well as hunting. The parrot’s unique feathers are highly prized by collectors, making the rare bird a valuable target. Currently approx 20,000 to 50,000 Dracula parrots roam the wild, although their population continues to decline.