1. Panda Cows
Adorable Chinese bears aren’t known to frequent the Rocky Mountains, but on Dec. 31, 2010, a Colorado farmer delivered the next best thing: a miniature panda calf. The rare bovine, named Ben, has black ovals around his eyes and a white belly. He’s one of only a few dozen panda-colored minicows in the world, and owner Chris Jessen is hoping to sell him into some collector’s menagerie for about $30,000. A few decades ago, scientists viewed the “miniature condition” (tiny cows grow to be a few hundred pounds, while common cows can weigh up to 4,000 lb. [1,800 kg]) as a lethal genetic fluke for cows. But today the animals are bred as novelties and pets, and some pint-size bulls are even used for junior rodeos.
Let’s take a look at some animals in miniature form.
2. Fennec Foxes
This fantastic minifox is a desert dweller who weighs in around 3 lb. (1.4 kg) and stretches just beyond a foot (30 cm), not counting its uniquely gigantic ears, which can measure almost half its body length. The smallest of all the world’s foxes, the fennec burrows away during the day and scavenges for insects and fruit at night. Its huge ears emit body heat and help it keep cool among the dunes of the Sahara and elsewhere in North Africa. Some locals hunt the fennec for its fur, while others capitalize on its cuteness in the pet trade.
Have you ever wanted to own a pig but found the prospect of living with a 250-lb. (110 kg) hog to be too much of a commitment? Well, then the micro-pig is for you. The adorable little porkers start out at less than a pound and grow to weigh somewhere between 40 lb. and 70 lb. (18 kg and 30 kg) as adults. They don’t shed and can be trained to use a litter box.
4. Philippine Tarsiers
Tarsiers are tiny primates with enormous, bulging eyes, best suited for the creatures’ role in nature — which appears to involve slinking up and down branches at night with oversize, webbed hands while looking as bewildered as can be. Part Gollum, part the snake character in Disney’s Robin Hood, the tiny Philippine tarsier is said to have the largest eyes of any mammal relative to its size. Those eyes are rooted in their sockets and remain shiftless. Creepily, the creature can swivel its head a full 180 degrees; it can also curl up, flatten or unfurl its membranous ears at will. Tarsiers, which hide during the day in the shallows of trees or other tropical vegetation, prey on insects and rarely eat plants. They are said to make lousy pets.
5. Bee Hummingbirds
Hummingbirds might be known for their furious wing-flapping, but that avian family also lays claim to the smallest bird in the world. The bee hummingbird, found in Cuba, measures a little more than 2 in. (5 cm), counting the bill and the tail, and weighs about 2 grams — roughly the equivalent of two dimes. The largest of all hummingbirds (the aptly named giant hummingbird) weighs about 10 times as much. Still, the wee bee variety can fly with the best of them, clocking in at about 50 to 80 flaps per second.
6. Miniature Horses
Little horses have been trotting the earth for millions of years. One of the oldest known ancestors of the modern horse, known as the dawn horse, stood between 1 ft. and 2 ft. (30 cm and 60 cm) high at the shoulder. Miniequines were buried with Egyptian pharaohs, and in the Middle Ages they were must-have pets. In the 1800s, miniature horses were imported to work in low-ceilinged American coal mines as pit ponies. They’ve since started to serve as alternatives to seeing-eye dogs, and today the American Miniature Horse Association boasts a registry of 185,000 — all capped at 34 in. (86 cm) in height. As with full-size horses, they can get prohibitively expensive: the cheapest cost around $1,000.
7. Pygmy Goats
An African export initially exhibited in zoos, the pygmy goat today is used for milk and meat like its bigger relatives, in addition to being kept as a pet. (Owners describe the goats as anything but gruff.) The National Pygmy Goat Association has strict requirements for registering an animal. The goats must, for example, have specific coloring and be shorter than 2 ft. (60 cm) from the base of the neck to the ground. On adult males, the more hair growth, the better; the 2010 breed standard eloquently explains that an owner wants “the beard to be full, long and flowing, the copious mane draping, cape-like, across the shoulders.” Who would have thought tiny goats could sound so regal?
8. Cuvier’s Dwarf Caiman
It may look like a slightly cuddlier version of the crocodile, but it’s just as ferocious. The Cuvier’s dwarf caiman is the smallest croc around, usually getting no bigger than about 4 ft. to 4½ ft. (1.2 m to 1.4 m) in length. These guys are found in cool, fast-moving rivers in South America, and sometimes live in waterfalls and rapids. Even with its small size, a dwarf caiman eats birds, fish, other reptiles and even some small mammals. Considered a keystone species because it maintains the ecosystem it lives in by preying on certain fish (which would dramatically change that ecosystem if left unchecked), it has very few predators thanks to its armored, jagged skin.
9. Pygmy Marmosets
The pygmy marmoset is one of the world’s smallest monkey breeds. Grown ones weigh only 4 oz. to 5 oz. (110 g to 140 g) and grow to be a mere 6 in. (15 cm) long. They live in the Amazon rain forest, where they do charming things like leap between trees and eat insects and tree sap. Pygmy marmosets have sharp teeth and claws, but they are relatively docile and a favorite in the exotic-pet trade.
10. Barbados Thread Snakes
At first, it just looks like a worm. But when you peek closer, it slithers like a snake. It sticks its tongue out like a snake. It creeps you out like a snake. Discovered under a rock in 2006 in Barbados, this thread snake is as thin as spaghetti and smaller than any of the 3,100 other known snake species. Researchers believe it is the smallest a snake can evolve to be.