The 10 Strangest Animal Discoveries of 2015

Coming in at No. 5 is a hippo-size vacuum cleaner discovered by Vertebrate Paleontologist Louis Jacobs of SMU.

by Laura Geggel
Staff Writer

Every year, scientists wade into jungles, deserts and museum collections to examine animals and, if they're lucky, discover a new species.

For instance, in 2015 researchers identified a ruby-red sea dragon off the coast of Australia, a new species of giant tortoise in the Galápagos Islands and an ancient spikey worm with 30 legs in China. As these newfound creatures are uncovered, it's important to protect them from pollution, habitat loss and the havoc caused by invasive species, especially as Earth enters its sixth mass extinction, experts say.

In the meantime, scientists are busy learning about these new animals, and whether these critters can inspire new materials, robots and medicines. Here's a look at 10 newly identified ─ and exceptionally strange ─ animals, both living and extinct.

5. Hippo-size vacuum cleaner

It might not help clean the living room, but about 23 million years ago a hippo-size mammal used its long snout as a vacuum cleaner, suctioning up tasty morsels of marine algae and sea grass along the coast.

The newly identified extinct animal (Ounalashkastylus tomidai) belongs to the order Desmostylia, the only known order of marine mammals to go completely extinct, the researchers told Live Science in October.

The scientists found four O. tomidai skeletons, including one baby, on the Aleutian Islands' Unalaska.

"The baby tells us they had a breeding population up there," said study co-author Louis Jacobs, a vertebrate paleontologist at Southern Methodist University in Texas. "They must have stayed in sheltered areas to protect the young from surf and currents."

Read the full list.

Also see: New fossils intensify mystery of short-lived, toothy mammals unique to ancient North Pacific