They’re Related?! 16 Totally Surprising Animal “Cousins”

So, I was given an assignment to find some the most surprising animal “cousins” — species that are closely related that you wouldn’t expect.

The major thing I learned from this is basically that I sort animals like a two-year-old. I absolutely would have thought that elephants, hippos, and rhinos were in one group, with the Latin name Mammalius Humongous. To answer your question: Sadly, yes, I did pass both biology and Latin in high school.

If it were up to me, I’d re-classify all the animals in a way that makes sense. For example, all the animals that look really cute when they stand up would be in one group, because the fact that meerkats aren’t in the same family as otters and weasels is just plain wrong.

Alas, it isn’t up to me. Just like my own family tree, the animal family system is completely cray-cray.

Enjoy these surprising animal “cousins” — just in time for Cousin’s Day on July 24th!

  • Dear Animals, Congratulations on having a weirder family tree than me. 1 of 17

    Click the arrows to scroll through these crazy animal cousins.

  • Red Panda 2 of 17

    The red panda is also called the lesser panda, the red bear-cat, the shining cat, and the firefox. However, it's not actually a panda, a bear, a cat, or a fox. The red panda is the only living member of the genus Ailurus.

    So what's the red panda's closest cousin?

    (Photo Credit: iStockphoto)

  • Raccoon 3 of 17

    The red panda has its very own family (Ailuridae), but scientists have placed it in the superfamily Musteloidea. Other critters in the superfamily Musteloidea include weasels, raccoons, and skunks.

    (Photo Credit: iStockphoto)

  • Now I see it. 4 of 17

    Basically a red panda is a way cuter raccoon...with a dye job.

    (Photo Credits: iStockphoto)

  • Tapir 5 of 17

    This is a tapir. There are four species of tapir, all classified as endangered or vulnerable. These mammals live in jungle and forest regions of Central and South America, as well as Southeast Asia. A tapir is about the same shape as a pig and has a prehensile snout. However, most tapirs get to be about 7 feet long and 3 feet high. Tapirs are odd-toed ungulates, like horses, but they don't have hooves.

    Its closest cousin is...

    (Photo Credit: iStockphoto)

  • Rhinoceros 6 of 17

    Odd-toed ungulates fall into two categories: those with hooves (horses) and those with functional toes. The ones with functional toes are tapirs and rhinos.

    I really, really would have thought that a rhino's closest cousin would have been a hippo or an elephant, but I was way off!

    (Photo Credit: iStockphoto)

  • Elephant 7 of 17

    Female elephants are called cows, and the young are called calves, but they're not closely related to cows. Now that we know that elephants and rhinos aren't kissing cousins, that brings us to this important question: what is the elephant's closest cousin? 

    (Photo Credit: iStockphoto)

  • Manatee 8 of 17

    Manatees and dugongs make up the order Sirenia, also known as "sea cows." These aquatic mammals are the elephant's closest living relatives.

    Fun fact for the kids: The manatee's digestive system produces a huge amount of gas. Scientists believe that manatees compress the gas in their intestines to help control buoyancy. Yay farts!

    (Photo Credit: iStockphoto)

  • Mara 9 of 17

    This is a mara, also called a Patagonian hare. These mammals live in Argentina and Paraguay and can hop like a rabbit, bounce on all fours, or gallop. Despite only being about 18 inches tall, they can leap as high as six feet and can run at speeds of 18 miles per hour.

    Its closest relative isn't a rabbit, it's a...

    (Photo Credit: iStockphoto)

  • Guinea Pig 10 of 17

    Maras are part of the cavy family, making them closely related to guinea pigs, and are the fourth-largest rodents in the world.

    (Photo Credit: iStockphoto)

  • Capybara 11 of 17

    By the way, this is a capybara, the other guy that rounds out the cavy family with guinea pigs and maras. 65-pound guinea pigs for the win!

    (Photo Credit: iStockphoto)

  • Hippopotamus 12 of 17

    The word "hippopotamus" comes from the Greek term for "river horse," but the animal's closest relative isn't a horse. And despite having a body shape similar to a pig's, that's not a relation either. Its closest cousin is...

    (Photo Credit: iStockphoto)

  • Dolphin 13 of 17

    It wasn't until 2005 that scientists figured out that hippos share a common ancestor with cetaceans — dolphins, whales, and porpoises — so those are its closest living relatives. 

    (Photo Credit: iStockphoto)

  • Echidna 14 of 17

    This is an echidna, also known as a spiny anteater, although they're not closely related to anteaters at all. Echidnas are mammals that live in New Guinea and Australia. They look like hedgehogs and porcupines, but they're not closely related to those, either. (By the way, hedgehogs and porcupines aren't even all that closely related to each other; porcupines are rodents and hedgehogs aren't.)

    The echidna's closest living relative is...

    (Photo Credit: iStockphoto)

  • Platypus 15 of 17

    Oh, there you are, Perry. The echidna's closest living relative is the platypus, another wacky Australian creature. Contrary to popular belief, platypi aren't the only mammals that lay eggs; echidnas do as well. The four species of echidnas and their platypus pals are all monotremes — mammals that lay eggs. Like other mammals, they have hair on their bodies and produce milk for their young.

    Nifty fact: Monotremes (echidnas and platypi) and marsupials (kangaroos, wallabies, etc.) have only one opening for the purposes of urination, defecation, and reproduction, like most lizards. I bet that's more than you ever really wanted to know about Perry the Platypus.


    (Photo Credit: iStockphoto)

  • Seal 16 of 17

    Seals are pinnipeds, a group of finned mammals that also includes sea lions, fur seals, earless seals, and walruses. Before we tell you who their closest living relative is, here's some helpful info: their family doesn't include otters, whales, dolphins, or manatees. Their closest cousin is...

    (Photo Credit: iStockphoto)

  • It’s either bears or weasels. Really. 17 of 17

    Yeah. Scientists can't decide if seals (and otters, walruses, and other pinnipeds) are more closely related to bears or weasels. Um...okay. That totally makes sense. 

    (Photo Credits: iStockphoto)

Read more from Joslyn on Babble and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow Joslyn on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

Recent posts: 
LOL: 12 Over-the-Top Fascinators That Would Be Perfect for the Royal Baby
20 Pets Doing Chores: So Helpful! (Sort Of)
15 Pets That Look Like Doctor Who Characters
Already? 10 Retailers That Are Offering Back-to-School Sales Right Now


Article Posted 5 years Ago

Videos You May Like