If you’ve trolled the Internet any time in the last decade, you know that animals and their silly antics are very happening. And no wonder. For the most part the creatures we interact with are adorable and waggish, even if they can be annoying, childish, and smelly. Hell, they sound like husbands. What’s not to love?
Those precious looks and that infantile behavior get to us for good reason: Our brains are programmed to respond to “cuteness”—traits including big eyes (especially when close together), clumsiness, softness and roundness, tinyness, general helplessness—so we’ll keep taking care of our own babies even when they’re screaming and pooping and projectile vomiting simultaneously.
Puzzlingly, studies show that sometimes our response to “cute” is almost violent. We can hardly stand how cute something is, we want to hug and squeeze it to death! It might make us cuddle a little harder, pinch a bit tighter, scratch bellies with extra verve. I’m not sure how that near-aggression is good for survival of a species, but it means newborn kittens should beware the pleasantly plump lady in the purple cat sweatshirt. She means well, but she’s stronger than she looks.
I’ve loved animals the whole time. As in, I think “adores animals” is caught up in my DNA, between “barely tolerates 80s music” and “appreciates stainless steel appliances.” And having a passion for something outside of yourself often means wanting that thing. As much of it, in as many forms, as possible.
It’s pretty easy to love mammals. They’re generally furry and familiar and pretty huggable, unless they want to eat you. So I’ve been working on a top-ten list of non-mammals that I’d really like to have and hold. I’m not saying it would be legal or moral or safe to own some of these—and of course I would never hide an owlet in my sock and try to board a plane, even if that owlet seemed totally okay with my ripping him from the nest and running like hell with him through the forest (seriously, baby owls love adventure). But I can still dream of hanging out with them at home, can’t I?
So, here we go. This is just a taste of those I covet. If I added mammals the list would be crazy long, filled with wolves, apes, whales, and lemurs, although I’d have to skip “sloth” because everyone and their Uncle Frank wants a sloth now, and that’s just irritating.
So, in no particular order except that they happen to go from 10 to 1, here is my list.
Top 10 Non-Mammals I’d Like to Take Home Because I Love Them So Much:
10. Panther chameleon: First of all, totally cool. Shifting rainbow colors. Tail like an extra hand. One eye looking here, the other there. (New research suggests their googly eyes are more coordinated than once thought, for the record. But they do still google independently, which looks hilarious.) And like me, this reptile just can’t make a decision. Take a step forward? Maybe not. Take a step forward? Maybe not. Okay, take a step forward. Now stand there and think about what you’ve done. (You can have chameleons as pets but they need live food and very special humid conditions to thrive. Not for everyone.)
9. Komodo dragon: Who needs a watchdog when you can have a go-cart-size lizard with toxic drool to greet strangers at the door? Beware would-be thieves, roving cash-only roofers, and you there with the religious pamphlets who wants just a moment of my time.
8. Sea horse: So sweet, so delicate. It looks like such a kind-hearted and honest critter. You could trust a seahorse with your darkest secrets. And the dads carry the young, which is kind of special. (People do keep seahorses in tanks but please don’t…they tend to do poorly in captivity. Seriously. Forget it.)
7. Veined, mimic, or common octopus: Three of the best hide-and-seek players of all time. One carries around and slips inside coconut shells, the second pretends to be another animal entirely, and the third simply disappears into the background on a whim. I’d want these guys as my going-out buddies. We’d have wild times, indulging in all kinds of practical jokes and high jinx. And there would be lots of good hugging. I’m sure I don’t have to explain why.
6. Eyelash Viper: A pure yellow one. I know, I know. Deadly. But so beautiful. Not everyone can wear yellow—I know I can’t, it just washes me out—but this snake owns yellow. It’s like a ray of sunshine in a dim forest. Who doesn’t need more sunshine in their life?
5. Bobtail squid: It might as well be a puppy that rolled in glitter. Look at it. LOOK AT IT!
4. Saw whet owl or snowy owl or, hell, any old owl: Owls. Totally badass birds that don’t give a damn. They’re just gonna do their thing no matter what, staying up all night and hooting and scooping up rodents and turning their heads all the way around. The saw whet version is a tiny feathered gnome (see photo up top) and the snowy one is just so darn gorgeous I might hug it too death. The other 214 species are similarly awesome, and they know it.
3. Praying mantis: You know how when you walk by one it turns its little triangular head to watch you? I love that. How fun to have these leggy insects perched all over the house, following your every move. Not creepy at all. Also cool about the mantis, sometimes a male offers himself up as food for the female after sex. How generous is that? (If he doesn’t offer, she might eat him anyway, btw.)
2. Glass frog: Like the praying mantis, I’d want these all over the house, just hanging out. If I had a glass coffee table, I’d put a whole army of ’em on top and lie underneath so I could examine their internal organs. Hours of fun!
1. Whale shark: Perhaps the least practical of my choices, but what a thing to have! Biggest fish on the planet! In a clown suit! And pretty much harmless unless you are a tiny bit of something that floats around in the water column. In that case, beware the gargantuan swimming mouth.
Allow me to reiterate here, in hopes of avoiding any comments about how terrible it is to keep exotic animals at home, that I’m not actually advocating keeping dragons and vipers and octopi as pets. Okay? Okay?
Now, dear reader, what non-mammals would light up your life and living room, were it okay to bring them home? Please share your strange and wonderful dream zoo, if you so desire.
All photos from SHUTTERSTOCK