in nature which look similar but are actually quite different. The differences, however, can become
obvious if we know what to look for. These are 10 of the most commonly confused animal pairs
with some clues for you to tell the difference. Enjoy...
|African and Asian Elephants|
African and Asian — or Asiatic — elephants can look similar from afar. It is only through
observation can we know how to identify them.
First, the ears are an important feature to compare; African elephants have bigger ears than
their Asian cousins, and that’s to better cool off.
Another way is to count the number of ‘fingers’ each elephant has at the end of their trunk. The
African elephant will have two fingers, while the Asian will only have one. A final way is to
count the bumps on their head or ‘domes’. Here the Asian elephant will have two, while the
African elephant will have only one.
|Alligators and Crocodiles|
These two are often confused. Although alligators and crocodiles are ‘crocodilians’ by definition,
they are two separate species with distinct features. So how to tell them apart?
Well, the snout is a major giveaway, because the crocodile will have a V- shaped snout, while the
alligator will have a U-shaped one.
Both reptiles also live in different places; alligators are only found in the Americas and China,
while crocs can be found in the Americas, South-East Asia, Africa, as well as Australia.
But perhaps the most significant difference is that crocodiles can lift their bodies off the ground,
while alligators cannot. You check this YouTube video to see for yourselves how crocodiles literally
fly out of the water.
|Turtles and Tortoises|
This one is usually more a verbal mistake than real confusion. Both reptiles tend to be lumped
together by colloquially being called turtles, probably because the word is easier to pronounce
Simply put, there are no actual land turtles. Turtles live almost all their lives in the sea, only
appearing on land to lay eggs. Being aquatic is the reason why instead of stumpy legs they
have webbed feet and fins — and long flippers in the case of sea turtles.
As for tortoises, they live on land almost exclusively, hence walking around on what looks
like scaly sticks. They aren’t good swimmer but can sometimes enter water bodies, either to
clean themselves or to drink. The two species are radically different, that they cannot even
There is a third term, “terrapins”, that is sometimes used for semi aquatic turtles which live
around swamps and ponds. They are like a mix between turtles and tortoises.
|Frogs and Toads|
This one is quite tough for many, even for some scientists. The reason is because there are over
400 kinds of frogs and over 300 kinds of toads. Despite sharing the same order (Anura), they
vary greatly in appearance and habitat.
Usually, frogs are smaller, have round bulging eyes, and do more hopping. They also swim more,
so they have longer hind legs with webbed feet. Toads prefer land and do more walking, so their
legs are shorter and aren’t as developed. They also have dry, rough, and bumpy skin, as opposed
to the frog’s smooth, moist, and slimy skin.
A more detailed difference is in how they lay their eggs: Toads lay them in a strand, while frogs
arrange theirs in a grape-like cluster.
|Llamas and Alpacas|
Llamas are twice the size of alpacas, yet it’s easy to confuse the smaller alpaca with a young
llama, or vice versa. The animals, though, have different occupations; the llama was bred to be
a transport beast, to carry packs, while the alpaca was bred for its illustrious fur and strong
fibers. Funnily enough, llamas can be used to guard alpacas, so we may sometimes see them
together in groups.
Remarkably, both of these furry camelids are currently taking part in Animal-Assisted Therapy,
just like dogs and cats and dolphins. They just move around as they are, spreading
happiness and comfort among old and sick folks.
|Seals and Sea Lions|
These two animals look a lot alike and many have trouble identifying them. The key to making
that call is by looking at the flippers. Seals are generally smaller and better adapted to the water
than land where they have trouble walking and have to belly crawl and kind of shimmy along.
Sea lions, on the other hand, can actually walk on all fours and even run on land.
sea lions, which means they have access to more places in the ocean. Other differences is that
sea lions have visible ear flaps and long foreflippers, whereas seals have no ear flaps at all.
Fur seals, though, do have ears but they are not considered ‘true’ seals.
|Dolphins and Porpoises|
Dolphins and porpoises (and whales) are all mammals belonging to the order Cetacea. The
porpoise is much rarer to see than the dolphin, so they tend to get grouped with them. Whoever
gets to see a porpoise must think it just looks like an odd-looking oceanic dolphin. But in fact,
both animals are separate species.
The easiest difference to spot is, again, the snout or the ‘beak’ — proper name is rostrum;
dolphins have longer ones which elongate their faces, while porpoises have a rounder head and
a shorter snout, more like a whale.
Also, porpoises have a big triangular dorsal fin (back fin) and spade-shaped teeth, while dolphins
have a curved dorsal fin and cone-shaped teeth.
There are 43 species of dolphins found in the world, 38 of which are marine dolphins while 5
are river dolphins.
|Leopards and Cheetahs
This one isn’t really confusing as some of the other pairs. But leopard and cheetahs belong to very different species, and even act and look different. Perhaps the cheetah’s nickname “The
Hunting Leopard” has something to do with it.
The most remarkable difference to notice between the two animals is that cheetahs always have
round, solid spots on their fur which look like ‘thumbprints’. Leopards, on the other hand, have
black patterns which look more like broken rings.
Unlike all other cats, cheetahs cannot retract their claws up into their paw pad and they are
Cheetahs are twice as fast as leopards and hunt during the day — otherwise they may crash into
trees at 50 mph. In fact, they are the fastest land animals. Leopards are nocturnal animals that
like to drag their preys up the trees.
Both are kind of solitary animals, but the cheetahs are a bit more social and will form groups
of 2 -3 individuals at times. Cheetah brothers are known to live together and can form a small
Due to some similarities with leopards and cheetahs, the South American Jaguar sometimes
joins the confusion.
Learn more about Big Cat Hybrids on here.
Lizards and Salamanders
Despite the fact that lizards are reptiles while salamanders are amphibians, both look similar and
can be confused. However, the skin of these animals remains their biggest giveaway.
The lizard has scales, whereas because salamander spends a large amount of time in the water,
it has smooth, slimy skin which resembles the frog’s. Lizards can grow much longer than
Lizards live on land and will rarely go to water, they may also be better listeners as they have
external ears. Lizards’ eggs have hard shells and their young babies look like a smaller version
of their parents. Baby salamanders, on the other hand, look more like tadpoles.
|Donkeys and Mules|
Donkeys and mules have a lot in common and are often confused. A simple reason is that mules
are half donkey: A mule is the result of breeding a jack (male donkey) with a mare (female horse).
The donkey is a domesticated member of the horse family, Equidae, and has been used as a
working animal for at least 5000 years.
One of the main differences between the two when it comes to looks is that mules have
smaller ears than the donkey’s distinctive large ones, and their tail looks like that of a horse.
Donkeys’ tails look like cow tails, which are muscular and with little hair on them.
Another difference is that donkeys can mate, while mules cannot as they are almost always
sterile, except in some rare cases. As a hybrid or a cross, mules are widely seen as stronger,
calmer, and better workers than donkeys.
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