A story about Georgia Aquarium’s new wolf-eels summed up their appeal with one visitor’s reaction: “‘Oh, God. Why display these? They’re so ugly.’”
The visitor isn’t being insensitive. Wolf-eels are not cute in any of the usual cuddly ways. If they’re cute at all, it’s because they’ve swum circles around “unattractive” and gotten back to some kind of see-for-yourself starting point.
Last time I heard so much chatter about an unattractive animal, it was the naked mole rats over at Zoo Atlanta. As we said in the AJC: “Ugly enough to make a freight train take a dirt road; so homely they have to sneak up on a bowl of water to drink from it; hideous enough to haunt a nine-room house from the front porch.”
(Ummm… we meant that in the kindest possible way. Of course.)
Let’s do a little comparison.
Zoo Atlanta’s naked mole rats, Heterocephalus glaber
Atlanta debut: Seventeen of them went on display on April 1, 2008, a few months after arriving from the Houston Zoo.
Background: Neither mole nor rat, they’re more closely related to porcupines and hedgehogs. “Mole rats, native to Africa, are nearly blind. They spend their lives tunneling in the dark. Each mole rat, slightly larger than a well-fed mouse, has white incisors that protrude from upper and lower jaws.” — AJC
What the staff says: “I think…that they’re interesting.” — Sam Rivera, Zoo Atlanta veterinarian with obvious training in diplomacy.
Good to know: They have strict social structures, one queen and they only like each other. They “roll around in ‘toilet chambers’ so that all members of the colony share the same distinctive colony smell.” The mole rat queen gave birth to six pups on May 19.
Want to see? The naked mole rats live in their own habitat near the reptiles and pandas at Zoo Atlanta, 800 Cherokee Ave S.E. in Atlanta’s Grant Park.
Georgia Aquarium’s wolf-eels, Anarrhichthys ocellatus
Atlanta debut: The six adolescents are brand new to Atlanta from the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Give ‘em a wave hello from the other side of the glass.
A little background: Low-energy and docile, neither wolf nor eel, but members of the wolffish family, they typically stay tucked in the rocky ridges of the North Pacific. They live among six species of rockfish, sea stars and green surf anemones in their new home. — AJC
What the staff says: “They’re so ugly, you gotta love them. They’ve got a face only a mother could love.” — senior biologist Kerry Gladish, standing in for mom.
Good to know: Wolf-eels can grow to 8 feet long and 40 lbs. Males and females pair-bond for life, live together and take turns curling their bodies around their egg mass to protect it from predators.
Want to see? The wolf-eels live in the Alaska Rocky Reefs exhibit at Georgia Aquarium, 225 Baker St N.W. in Atlanta.