What bizarre wonders can be found hopping and slithering alongside streams and in rain forests from China to Brazil? Blind, limbless amphibians that look like unmentionable parts of human anatomy, salamanders longer than full-grown men, see-through frogs and turtles with flat heads, to start. Learning about these seven reptiles and amphibians will have you peering nervously into the dark cracks between rocks the next time you’re hanging out by a river.
Atretochoana: Seriously Weird-Looking Amphibian
It’s not really necessary to state exactly what this highly unusual amphibious creature resembles. Imagine the shock of workers installing a bridge in Brazil when they found six of these bizarre eyeless creatures in 2011. The Atretochoana is a species of caecilian that had previously been known only from two preserved specimens. It’s the largest of the few known tetrapods that lack lungs, likely breathing through its skin. They’re limbless amphibians with snake-like bodies marked with earthworm-like rings, and while they’re thought to be aquatic, we actually don’t know too much about them.
(Really) Giant Salamander
The largest living salamander is the Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus), which can reach astonishing lengths of up to 5.9 feet. It breathes through its skin, which is usually dark brown, black or green in color. A similar species, the Japanese giant salamander, is slightly smaller. It can be found in dark, muddy rock crevices along riverbanks, feeding on smaller salamanders, fish, worms, insects, crayfish and snails. Males compete viciously for females when breeding season rolls around, often killing each other in the process – can you imagine stumbling upon that fight while enjoying what you thought would be a peaceful picnic by the river?
See-Through Glass Frog
Certain species of ‘Glass Frog‘ have such translucent skin, you can see all of their organs, making them an absolutely fascinating creature to observe. They’re usually very small, and have lime green coloration, with some varieties sporting big, marbled black-and-white eyes. Their translucence makes it easy for them to escape predators, especially because they’re mostly active at night. When looking at the underside of the frog, you can not only spot their hearts, livers, and gastrointestinal tracts, but also their tiny bones.
Cantor’s Giant Soft Shelled Turtle
Because it’s lacking a hard shell, the Cantor’s Giant Soft-Shelled Turtle looks sort of like a salamander that’s been flattened on the road. It’s a species of freshwater turtle that can grow up to six feet long with a smooth, olive-colored body, and tiny eyes close to the tip of its snout. It spends about 95% of its life buried and motionless, with only its eyes and mouth protruding from the sand – surfacing only twice a day to take a breath. It can be found in significant numbers in Cambodia, but its population in Vietnam, Laos and Thailand has dwindled due to its desirability as an exotic food.
The Ajolote Lizard looks kind of like a cross between a mole, a salamander and a really long earthworm. It has an elongated, pink, ribbed body reaching up to 9.4 inches in length, a blunt head, and just two limbs. It uses these paddle-like forelimbs to dig deep into the earth. The Ajolote Lizard, also known as the Mexican Mole Lizard, usually resides close to the surface, but rarely emerges from underground. It’s endemic to Baja California, Mexico.
The extremely flattened, triangle-shaped head of the matamata turtle makes it one of the weirdest reptiles in the world. It has an elongated tubular nose, a bunch of little ‘horns’ sticking out from its head, and a very strong neck and jaw that allow it to catch live fish. Its appearance may be camouflage, helping it blend in with bark to escape predators. Found in the freshwater basins of the Amazon and Orinoco in South America, it’s the only species of its genus still living.
Indian Purple Frog
Known as both the purple frog and the pignose frog, this curious amphibian has a weirdly bloated-looking body with soft, moist purple-gray skin and a small head with a pointed snout. That snout enables it to feed on termites, its primary prey. It spends most of the year underground, surfacing only for about two weeks, during India’s annual monsoon. A single breeding pair lays up to 3,000 eggs at a time in rock crevices alongside streams.