Talk to the Animals

Zoologist and animal behaviour expert, Sally Hibbard, is interested in the relationship between people and their pets. She’s a fan of frogs, scared of spiders and can be seen spotting stick insects.

Talk to the Animals: Loving ugly animals

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Axolotls, spiders and hairless breeds - these ugly pets don't have a lot of fans. Sally Hibbard defends her favourite 'aesthetically challenged' animal.
Spiders, hairless dogs and axolotls aren't your usual cute and cuddly pets.
Photo / Thinkstock
Spiders, hairless dogs and axolotls aren't your usual cute and cuddly pets. Photo / Thinkstock

Spiders are amazing animals. Their web weaving skills make them true animal architects and as a hunter they would surely rival a lion with their stealth and speed, albeit on a miniature scale. I really do appreciate these masterpieces of evolution, but they still completely freak me out. So much so that when I found a daddy long legs had joined me on a late night drive, I pulled over, got out of my car and walked home. I should mention that I did ask a few passersby to deal with the unwelcome hitchhiker before abandoning my vehicle, however if you need help with spider removal, you may want to give Grey Lynn a miss.

Being a spider phobic means that I do understand that some people have an aversion to certain animals, but does this really make them ugly?

Within my own animal collection, those that get the most negative, not to mention spectacular reactions from the public would be the rats, mice and lizards. Some people will put on quite a show, telling me how truly ugly and disgusting they are, making scary faces and shuddering dramatically.

As well as being part of my work, these animals are my pets, so I sometimes find myself a little put out by this public dissing. Of more consequence though is that these displays are often witnessed by their children, resulting in a healthy fascination quickly turning into fear and suspicion.

My favourite 'aesthetically challenged' pet of all time is the Mexican axolotl. This awesome amphibian has it all; striking looks, the ability to never grow up and if it loses a leg or even part of its head, the axolotl grows it back again.

Do you think any animals are ugly? Do you have a pet that you want to defend? Join the chat in the comment section below.

Sadly axolotls are critically endangered in their native Mexico because of pollution of the single lake that makes up their natural habitat.

However, they are plentiful as pets and are studied extensively due to their powers of regeneration. The loss of a limb in humans and other animals is permanent, as cells are not able to differentiate into assorted bodyparts. The axolotl however, has the rather magical ability to not just heal a wound but regenerate all the missing pieces. The possibilities in medical research are vast, hence their value in this area.

As if that wasn't enough to make them superstars of the animal kingdom, axolotls have another great trick. More conventional members of the salamander family start off looking much the same as an axolotl before absorbing their gills and leaving the water as an adult. Axolotls remain as a gilled aquatic juvenile, not bothering to become adults and are able to reproduce in this form. This is essentially like tadpoles breeding to produce more tadpoles!

Axolotls make interesting pets and can be housed in a filtered aquarium with plenty of floorspace for their nocturnal wanderings, and must be provided with lots of hiding places. They are carnivores and will engulf small fish, strips of meat or earthworms with a single gulp of their extra wide mouths. For the squeamish, it is now possible to buy axolotl biscuits.

Other frequently mentioned 'ugly pets' are the hairless cats and dogs popular with allergy sufferers. These wrinkly alien-like creatures have a few issues, such as being prone to sunburn, making them more of an indoor pet. Their lack of hair means they suffer from dry skin, are prone to injury and dermatitis, and they can get very cold.

Would you have an unusual looking skinny pig as a pet?
Photo / Creative Commons
Would you have an unusual looking skinny pig as a pet? Photo / Creative Commons

The fascination with hairless pets continues with the 'baby hippo' surfacing overseas in the pet market. Also known as 'skinny pigs', these are actually guinea pigs minus the fur. These hairless creations are the result of selective breeding, so unlike axolotls we can't blame nature for this one.

- www.nzherald.co.nz

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