30+ Amazing Animal Traits

When we look at the unique evolutionary adaptions pf our fellow animals, it is often with wonder and awe. Their physical and intuitive abilities regularly surpass our own in terms of speed, strength, sight, smell, sense of direction, and at times, group/family unity.

“Let us remember that animals are not mere resources for human consumption. They are splendid beings in their own right, who have evolved alongside us as co-inheritors of all the beauty and abundance of life on this planet.”

Marc Bekoff, Animals Matter: A Biologist Explains Why We Should Treat Animals with Compassion and Respect

Every species of animal (including humans) is unique and gifted in its own way. From the navigational abilities of a honey bee to the loving care of a mother whale, our fellow animals are awe-inspiring, to say the least.

Did you know, for instance, that each dolphin has a uniquely identifying signature whistle? Or that cows are able to smell odors that may be five or six miles away?

Read on and learn about some of the amazing traits and knowledge that our fellow animals possess.


Elephants can smell water up to three miles away. They live in matriarchal societies with strong social bonds that endure for decades. Elephants grieve at the death of a family member or friend. Touching is an important form of communication among elephants (Individuals greet each other by stroking or wrapping their trunks.)

An elephant’s trunk is a multi-tasking instrument used for breathing, syphoning and spraying water, smelling, touching, grasping and making sound. An elephant can lift up to 770 pounds with her trunk, but it can also be used for delicate tasks like wiping an eye. When under water, an elephant uses his or her trunk as a snorkel.

Honey bees

If you put a honey bee in school they would ace physical ed, geography and geometry! That’s because honey bees dance to communicate important information, such as where food or a new home can be found. Scientists have decoded these dances to discover that honey bees know the world is round (they probably knew it long before we did) and can calculate precise angles as well (which is very helpful when you’re giving a fellow honey bee directions.)


Hummingbirds have wings that beat up to 200 times a second. They are also the only birds able to hover, and they can fly backwards and even upside down!


Dolphins are known to show altruism. They will stay with injured or ill pod mates, even helping them to breathe by bringing them to the surface if needed. This altruism is not limited to members of their own species, but has crossed species boundaries throughout time. They have preformed such heroic tasks as protecting humans from sharks and guiding a sperm whale and her calf out of shallow water to safety.  Each dolphin has a uniquely identifying signature whistle, much like an individual name.

Dolphin clicks are among the loudest sounds made by marine animals. Although they lack vocal cords, these sounds are produced using six air sacs near their blowholes.


A dog can identify a sound’s location much faster than a human can, as well as hear sounds four times farther away than humans.

Dogs have a sense of smell ranging from 100,000 to 1,000,000 times more sensitive than a human’s; 100 million times greater in bloodhounds. To locate a smell, a dog uses his/her wet nose to determine the direction of the air current that contains the smell they are following.


Cows are devoted mothers and have been known to walk for miles to find their calves. Cows have almost total 360-degree panoramic vision. They also have an excellent sense of smell and are able to detect odors 5-6 miles away. They can also hear both high and low frequency sounds beyond human capability.

The oldest cow on record, Big Bertha, was born in Ireland, and died three months shy of her 49th birthday. An average cow’s natural lifespan is 20-25 years.


Lobsters can live up to 60 years. They grow throughout their lifespan, and are able to add new muscle cells at each molt. They can stay mobile, agile and fertile as they age and older lobsters may in fact be more fertile than younger lobsters. This is possibly because of a special enzyme they produce that repairs DNA sequences.


Some Butterflies, such as the Monarch, migrate over extremely long distances. In fact, the Monarch’s journey spans over 3000 miles from Mexico northward.

Butterflies often lay their eggs on plant species that have toxic substances in them. The hatched caterpillars then eat these plants, retaining the toxic substance in them into adulthood and making the caterpillars unpalatable to birds and other predators.

A butterfly’s sense of taste is 200 times stronger than ours!


A mother pig “sings” to her piglet while nursing.

Newborn piglets learn to run to their mothers’ voices and to recognize their own names. Many pigs also love tummy rubs.


Rabbits can see behind themselves without turning their head. Free-living rabbits live around 10 years, while domesticated rabbits can live to 16 years, and the longest on record is 18 years.

Note: Domesticated rabbits should never be let out in the wild, because they won’t be able to survive. Rabbits can live in a home or protected porch, and even be litter-box trained.



Horses have the unusual trait of being able to sleep both standing up and lying down. The oldest horse on record was “Old Billy.” Born in England in 1760, he lived to the age of 62!


Chickens have a complex language all of their own, with over 30 different types of alarm calls depending on the type of threat. They also have great memories and can differentiate between over 100 different faces (of their fellow chickens).

A mother hen and her chicks begin communicating even before the chicks hatch out of their eggs. The hens talk to their eggs, including purring and other sounds, which can help the chicks recognize their mother’s voice after they hatch. Chicks also begin to cheep inside their eggshells after about 19-20 days of incubation. The mother hen will not leave the nest from the time she hears her chicks’ first cheeps until they are hatched.


Hippopotamuses are the second largest land animals, just behind elephants, but amazingly, they can still run faster than a human.

Sailfish, swordfish and the shortfin mako shark

All of these water bound animals have been clocked swimming at 50-60 miles per hour.


Both male and female penguins take turns caring for their eggs and chicks.

While swimming, penguins jump out of the water in low arcs (called porpoising). This act coats their feathers in tiny bubbles, which helps reduce friction and allows them to swim faster: up to 20 miles per hour (32 kph)!


A lion’s roar can be heard as far as five miles away.


Goldfish are the only animals that can see in both infrared and ultraviolet light.


Mice are remarkably adaptable to almost any environment, making them one of the most successful mammals living on Earth today.

Mice in the wild are nature’s architects; building intricate burrows that have long entrances equipped with escape tunnels and routes.


Hamsters are generally solitary animals. They are excellent diggers, constructing burrows with one or more entrances. A burrow includes a steep entrance pipe, a nesting chamber, a food-storage chamber, and a branch for urination – in other words, an entrance lobby, a bedroom, a kitchen and a bathroom!

Galapagos Tortoises

The Galapagos tortoise has a potential life span of over 175 years.


The tuatara is a reptile unique to New Zealand. Tuatara may have the slowest growth rates of any reptile, continuing to grow larger for the first 35 years of their life. Their average lifespan is about 60 years, but they can live to well over 100 years old*.

* Experts believe some tuatara have lived as long as 200 years, but sadly in captive situations.



Male seahorses produce offspring. The female seahorse deposits eggs into a pouch on the male, who carries them through gestation and births them.

Mockingbirds (Northern)

A mockingbird can imitate other birds, animals and even mechanical sounds such as a car alarm. As convincing as these imitations may be to humans, they often don’t fool other birds.

Bald eagles

The bald eagle can swim! They use an overhand movement of the wings that is similar to the butterfly stroke.


Goats are inquisitive, intelligent and readily revert to the wild (become feral) if given the opportunity, which is rare for domesticated animals.


Sheep are known to self-medicate when they are ill, eating specific plants that can cure them. Sheep have very good memories. They remember up to 50 sheep and human faces for up to two years, and they do this by using a similar neural process and part of the brain that humans use to remember.

Healthy lambs can stand within minutes after birth and are able to move with the herd almost immediately.


Rats like playing collectively and love to sleep curled up together. They often share parenting responsibilities and take care of any injured or sick rats in their group.


Ducks have waterproof feathers (which is good for a species that spends so much time in or on the water!). There is a special gland near their tails to produce oil that spreads and covers the outer feathers. Beneath the outer coat is a layer of fluffy and soft feathers (down) that keeps them warm.


A turkey’s head can be red, white, pink, blue, or gray, and can change color according to his mood, with a solid white head and neck being the most excited. Free-living turkeys can adapt to virtually any dense native plant community as long as openings (such as a meadow) are present.


Whales are cetaceans, along with dolphins and porpoises, and are descendants of land-dwelling mammals. Like all mammals, whales breathe air, are warm-blooded, nurse their young with milk from mammary glands, and have body hair.


Cat nose pads are uniquely different, like fingerprints in humans. They can also have a litter of kittens fathered by more than one male.


There are over 90 different species of deer, ranging from the 20 pound Northern Pudú to the 1,000 pound moose.
A fawn will take his/her first steps in the first 20 minutes of life.

Kaibab Squirrel

The Kaibab Squirrel habitat is confined entirely to the ponderosa pine forests of the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park and the northern section of Kaibab National Forest. This species is not found anywhere else in the world!


It is obvious to see that nonhuman animals are not “lesser than” us. They are just different. When we look at our fellow animals’ unique evolutionary adaptions it is often with wonder and awe. Their physical and intuitive abilities regularly surpass our own in terms of speed, strength, sight, smell, sense of direction, and at times, group/family unity. Yet in many ways we still hold power over them, if only through our own manufactured mechanical and industrial evolution.

Regardless of their remarkable abilities though, it is so obvious that other animals are perceptually aware, with the capacity to feel, and especially to experience fear and suffering. They want to live. No studies are required; that’s all we need to know.

This is why it is so important to use our power wisely to protect and care for our fellow animals, be they small and scaly or large and furry.



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