Do you swoon when you cuddle up to your kitten? Or can’t help but laugh at the sight of a puppy, even though it’s just so darn cute? As with humans, not all animals are equally adorable. So what makes one animal more of a heartthrob than another?
“The more babies an animal has, the cuter it is,” said Kathryn Lord, a psychologist at Connecticut College. Dozens of studies have found that humans tend to find animals with juvenile characteristics—such as large eyes, shiny fur, and rounded features—more endearing.
This preference for cuddly features even influences our perception of how big an animal is. For example, people tend to think that small animals are cuter than large ones, even when they’re looking at the same size. As for why this phenomenon exists in the first place, biologists say it’s most likely due to babies’ vulnerability and need for caretaking. Humans find things—including potential mates—more attractive if they look healthy and strong, which may be part of why we find babies so appealing.
What are ugly fat animals?
While some animals look their best when they’re babies, others become much cuter as they grow up. Take sea lions for example. These pups aren’t exactly cuddle-worthy; in fact, many people think they’re downright ugly (to be fair, they do resemble walruses). But once they mature, they become more pudgy and endearing—which is why many zoos feature full-grown sea lions in their exhibits.
Another case of cuteness is the hippopotamus, which looks like a blobby water tank with legs when it’s young. But as it gets older, its bulky body slimming down to reveal a surprisingly graceful physique. This pattern of cuteness increasing with age is called ontogenetic scaling, and it’s common in many animals, including our own pets. “Horses are fairly cute when they’re young,” said Lord. “But there’s some point during sexual development where suddenly they get totally hot.”
What are the characteristics of cute animals?
Some animals have a combination of cuddly features that make them incredibly squeezable. One such example is the pangolin, a mammal that looks like a pinecone with legs. Like other scaly mammals, pangolins have thin, prickly scales that become less pronounced as they get older. But pangolins get extra points for their long, slender snouts and big, bright eyes like a baby deer’s, but with the novelty of being covered in scales. So while we may find these animals ugly at first sight (or second or third?), they’re gradually winning us over with their endearing faces and strange bodies. That’s the case for many of the animals on this list, which are just plain ugly—at first.
“It’s really about being able to appreciate the cuteness in something that people don’t think of as cute,” said Lord.
So if you see an animal that seems unattractive at first glance, wait a little longer—you may be surprised by what you find.
Which animal is the ugliest?
So what makes an animal ugly? Scientists say that there is no one answer since it’s all subjective. But if you’re looking for the world’s ugliest animals, consider those animals which are either dangerous, disgusting, or just plain weird-looking. One such animal is the blobfish (scientific name: Psychrolutes marcidus), which was crowned the World’s Ugliest Animal in 2013—a title it still defends today. But that distinction was based on what this creature looked like on land. But drop this fellow 9,200 feet below sea level, and the water holds up all that flab like a push-up bra, making the fish a little more handsome.
Other potential contenders in the ugliest animal contest include:
The probosci’s monkey (Nasalis larvatus), has a giant, droopy nose that obscures its face and makes for some pretty unattractive photos;
Venezuelan poodle moth (Ilicura militarist white), whose furry body looks like a poodle that’s been attacked by bees;
And the world’s largest rodent, the capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), his beady little eyes and crocodile-like teeth.
With so many ugly animals out there, this list could go on forever. But if you’re looking for even more examples, consider checking out the world’s ugliest dog contest, which happens every year in California.
And if you need an ugly animal fix while waiting for that event to kick off, feel free to check out Lord’s website. There she highlights some of the least-attractive animals around, although she insists that all these creatures are beautiful.
“I’m not saying they’re the most exotic, exciting animals,” she said. “But they all have that capacity to be cute in their own way.”