It’s been a year of wild surprises.
Animal encounters are a permanent fixture on our social media feeds, but can you imagine spotting a huge alligator on a golf course, or finding a green puppy in your litter, or holding a yellow turtle? This year may have been full of ennui, but these pictures of bold and beautiful animals around the world inspired awe and bewilderment. It goes to show that even after all that we know about the wild world, it is still capable of amazing us daily.
An Italian farmer in Sardinia was pleasantly surprised when his mixed-breed dog Spelacchia gave birth to five dogs, one of them green in color. Reuters reported that Pistachio was born on October 9, to a mix-breed mother along with four brothers and sisters who all had white fur. The rare fur, which is caused by a green pigment called biliverdin, was starting to fade as he grew older, but this shade of color on the pup surely brightened some days on social media.
In Florida, a house cat brought a gift for its humans—an out-of-ordinary two-headed snake. The black racer snake is commonly found in Florida and is not venomous. Palm Harbor resident Kat Rogers informed in a Facebook post that her daughter had named the new friend Dos (Spanish for “two”) and that he was having trouble coordinating his two heads.
It is now being cared for by the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.
In a post, the institute explained that the snake is unlikely to survive in the wild because the two heads make different decisions, interfering with the species ability to protect itself or feed. But why the two heads? It clarified, “This phenomenon, termed bicephaly, is uncommon but happens during embryo development when two monozygotic twins fail to separate, leaving the heads conjoined onto a single body. Both heads’ tongues flick and react to movement, but not always in the same way.”
White Sea Turtle
A creamy sea turtle hatchling became a cause of delight for volunteers on a South Carolina beach, and later social media users. The town of Kiawah Island posted pictures of the little white reptile crawling on the beach, much different from other sea turtles who are green or gray. The post clarified that the hatchling had a condition called leucism, “a condition where animals have reduced pigmentation. Leucism is different from albinism as albino animals have a complete loss of pigment, leaving them completely white with red or pink eyes.”
The chance of survival for a noticeably white turtle in the wild is low. The Olive Ridley Project explains, “Camouflage is important to all animals, particularly very small sea turtle hatchlings that are predated on by almost everything. So, to be born white makes you stand out and very visible to predators.”
Black Panther & Leopard
An Indian wildlife photographer waited for six days to capture this incredible sight of a black panther, Saaya, with his mate Cleopatra, a leopardess. Clicked in the winter of 2019 at the Kabini Forest Reserve in Karnataka, Mithun H. released the photos in July and impressed the world with this majestic coupling.
The Bengaluru-based photographer, who was following the couple since they first mated in 2016, told Indian Express that this photograph is special because they’re glaring directly into the camera. “I got them on camera quite a few times earlier when they would be together once a year for mating. But this recent one was special because of that perfect moment when they both turned together without a care in the world and the fact that so much patience and work had gone behind that image,” he expressed.
Rare Blue Whale
The elusive blue whale—the largest animal on Earth (200 tons in weight and 80-100 feet long)—doesn’t get photographed often. In the past 100 years, it has possibly been seen three times off Sydney’s coast, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service confirmed. So, how lucky was wildlife photographer Sean Keenan who got the whale on film, for all the world to admire, not once but twice?
Sharing the picture in August, he wrote, “Yesterday watching a lot of humpbacks travel south in my usual spot at Maroubra, one of the great wonders of the magical ocean appeared in-front of me.” Much to his surprise, his drone captured another one a few weeks later.
NPWS’ Andrew Marshall said in a press release, “Blue whales are largely ‘invisible’ even to the most avid whale watchers and researchers as the creature is very rarely seen around the world. They are not often seen because they tend to live very far out to sea, their populations are widely dispersed, and we have very limited data on its migration and critical habitat. We have reports of blue whales near Sydney from land-based observers at Cape Solander in 2002 and 2013. But this recent sighting is the first time we have aerial photos and vision of the whale confirming this species off our coast.”
In October, a bright yellow turtle got caught in a fisherman’s net in West Bengal, India. The Indian flapshell turtle is normally green in color, but this one made waves because of pigmentation loss due to genetic mutation, Shailendra Singh of Indian Programme Director of Turtle Survival Alliance told The Times of India.
The rescued turtle was compared to melted cheese online. And it isn’t the only time a yellow turtle was spotted in the country—just a few months ago, villagers in Odisha also found this unusual freshwater species and handed it over to the forest department.
When an alopecia-suffering opossum was dropped off at South Plains Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Lubbock, Texas, executive director Gail Barnes thought it was a hairless cat. But the opossum was lucky she found a new home because it would have been difficult for her to survive without her fur to protect her against chilly Texas winters.
In a post, the center appealed for community support, and boy they were surprised by the outpouring! “This is the first for us at the Wildlife Center. This 3-to 4-month-old hairless opossum was found in Lubbock. She would never survive in the wild. This opossum is going to need a winter wardrobe,” it said. The post was shared by animal lovers and the little opossum got clothes and love in abundance.
If you see her subsequent videos, you will see the animal in an incubator, dressed up for Halloween, and receiving her first hand-knit sweater in the mail. She is doing well and has almost doubled in weight, one video shared.
Alligators are common in Florida. They are often spotted bathing or trotting, and residents have become used to them. But this one monster gator inspired a social media frenzy when it was seen strolling at the Valencia Golf & Country Club in Naples during storm Eta. The sheer size of it ignited comments about dinosaurs and Jurassic Park on social media. This is as crazy as 2020 gets.
Golden Tiger Cubs
An amusement park in China has welcomed four golden tiger cubs. The Taihu Lake Longemont Paradise is now home to these incredibly rare cubs, one male and three females. These blond cubs are being watched by zookeepers because their mother, also a golden tiger, hasn’t bonded with them yet, the Daily Mail reported.
Their blonde fur and brown stripes are caused by a genetic mutation of the Bengal tiger. Only 30 of these golden tigers exist in the world, making them very special. The breeding rate is lower than the white tiger and the snow tiger, and it’s rarer than the Chinese panda, the park wrote in a social media post.
Another golden tiger went viral this year—this one was an adult spotted at the Kaziranga National Park in Assam.
Back in July, netizens were all hearts for a video of yellow bullfrogs frolicking in the rain in Madhya Pradesh. Indian Forest Officer Parveen Kaswan celebrated the video online with his tweets and explained that it’s normal behavior for frogs to change color during monsoons to find their mate.