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Weird designs

This section's name is a play on the title of the first part of The Life of Mammals: "A Winning Design". As the title indicates, this series sets out to show what winners mammals are, culminating, rather transparently, in the triumph of the infamous hairless ape. For those who enjoy reading other people's rants, I put up a text acridly expressing what I think of this premise.

Other than that, The Life of Mammals is the successor of series like The Life of Birds and Andes to Amazon, grand projects that, unlike the material of the previous two pages which was probably recycled from an old British series and turned up in bits and pieces on Discovery, can be ordered from the BBC shop. It is worth seeing for its rather unique scenes of species that have rarely if ever been filmed from such close quarters; many of which scenes rely heavily on probes and infrared cameras.

Having so rarely been filmed from so close, some of these species may come across as a bit... weird. What, in this case, does "weird" mean? It does not refer to elephant trunks, kangaroo hindlegs, bat ears or other examples of extreme, but by now familiar designs. It means things that (as shown in the thumbnails below - click on the graphic to see the pictures) may make a person briefly stop and stare.

The weirdness may not even be in the animal's appearance; it may be in an untypical posture, like that of the gerenuks standing straight on their hind legs (and not just rearing up, their hips swivel 90 degrees) to get at the high branches.

Or, the location may be untypical: kangaroo on the rocks, possum in the pool.

Things that hang upside-down always look weird. This sloth is a common though unobtrusive example, but the honey possum and its relative the striped possum seem to have no problem feeding with their heads hanging down.

Weird are also animals that, through adaptation to a habitat associated with a whole different class of animals, seem to be stuck between two species: the agouti, half deer, half rat; the mara, half hare, half antelope; and the capibara, half beaver, half buffalo.

They may even appear to have switched families entirely: South African bush dogs shaped like sturdy stoats, and brown hyenas (more closely related to stoats than to dogs) looking deceptively canine; and it doesn't help that the markings of African wild dogs makes them look deceptively like hyenas.

Sometimes, an animal seems to have a small bit of another animal transplanted onto it: the tapir, dikdik and sengi or elephant shrew all seem to have grown a bit of rubbery trunk, the duck-billed platypus (whose bill is nothing like a duck's) had biologists thinking it was a fake, and the kangaroo rat shares features with kangaroos and hamsters.

Everyone knows that kangaroos have pouches, and that, in theory, being marsupials, koalas and wombats have them too; but an actual glimpse of these pouches may be a strange sight.

Ant-eaters, no matter to what animal family they belong, are always good for some weird shapes. Numbats are the most "normal", their termite diet only showing in the shape of their tongues; the hedgehog-lookalike echidna and the giant anteater have typical snouts; the armadillo looks like an armoured little pig; and the pangolin could easily be mistaken for a descendant of the dinosaurs.

But the weirdest - because, to non-burrowers, the most unfamiliar - sights from this series are the animals that are quite happy to spend their whole lives underground; the tentacled star-nosed mole, the eyeless golden mole and strangest of all: the naked mole rat, whose front teeth grow outside its mouth.

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