Animals With Human-Like Characteristics

Photoshop can do some pretty horrifying things. It can drop giant spiders onto the sides of buildings. It can put creepy shadow people in the dark corners of ordinary houses. And it can put human faces, human arms, and human torsos on animals. Sometimes, Photoshop artists are so good at doing this that people are fooled into thinking these human-looking animals are actually real.

Most of the time, they're not. But there are some animals in the world that, through some strange twist of evolutionary fate, ended up with creepily human characteristics, no Adobe Creative Cloud subscription required. Sometimes these characteristics are physical, and sometimes they're behavioral. Either way, they make for some pretty eerie additions to the animal kingdom, if only because they remind us that there might not be anything that special about human beings after all.

The sheepshead fish

The sheepshead fish is actually a sport fish, which means you can go down to the Gulf of Mexico and catch one, then serve it up with some lemon and garlic. If you can get over the way it's smiling at you.

The sheepshead fish is so named because it has a head like a sheep. If that's not weird enough all by itself, it also has teeth like a human. And the resemblance isn't just cursory, either. This thing looks like that guy in your office who talks way too much, has no sense of personal space, and also clearly needs some dental work.

According to Smithsonian, the sheepshead's teeth are even structurally similar to a human's teeth, complete with a yellowish enamel coating. So why does this animal need such creepily human teeth? Well, it uses them to break the shells of its prey, which includes things like crabs, mussels, and barnacles. But it's unclear why it couldn't, you know, just have a beak or something because that would be way less disturbing.

The coruro

The coruro is basically an oversized rat, or maybe an undersized capybara. It has long, curved buck teeth like a sabre tooth tiger, glossy brownish black fur like a beaver, and ears like you. 

Why does the coruro need to have human-shaped ears? Well, science hasn't cracked that one yet. According to a study in the Journal of Comparative Physiology, the coruro has super sensitive hearing and can hear at low frequencies, which is like the opposite of how most rodents hear. This could be because it lives in communal burrows but hangs out aboveground, so it needs to be able to pick up the vocalizations of its buddies in whichever environment it happens to be in. But that still doesn't explain why its ears need to look like human ears, because human hearing is actually pretty terrible. So it's not like this animal's ears have acoustically adapted features that evolved in parallel with us, a similarly challenged yet evolutionarily distant species. No, it's just some kind of cosmic joke's-on-us that seems to have the singular purpose of making us look at their ears and say "what the heck."

The whitemargin unicornfish

The "uncanny valley" is a term some people evoke to describe how it feels to look at something that's sort-of but not-quite human. It's usually used to describe creepily human-looking robots that don't quite do the right things with their fake mouths when speaking or have skin that's just a little too plastic-y, that sort of thing. But you can also apply that feeling to animals that have faces that look just a little too human. Even when it's obvious that you're looking at, say, a fish, that bizarre resemblance to a human, even if it's only slight, is enough to make you feel like those strangely humanoid ants from 1998's "Antz" are crawling around under your skin.

Meet the whitemargin unicornfish, the human-faced saltwater species that some people will put in their hobby tanks for whatever inexplicable reason. According to Whats That Fish, the species hails from the Indo-Pacific. It lives in small schools in outer and deep-water reefs, so it can more effectively surround and horrify unsuspecting divers.

The "nose" (officially called a "horn") on a whitemargin unicornfish is longer than most human noses but is still in more or less the right spot on its face to be upsetting. No one really knows what the horn is for, besides just making everyone feel uncomfortable.

The harpy eagle

If it seems weird to you that a bird could look in any way like a human, that's because you've never seen a harpy eagle from a certain angle.

Granted, the human resemblance vanishes as soon as this bird actually takes wing, but while it's sitting around on the ground or in the trees looking squarely in your direction, it does seem to be shaped pretty much exactly like a person.

The weirdest thing about the harpy eagle is its size. As the Peregrine Fund notes, its longer than many adult humans are tall. With its square shoulders, broad chest, round face, and penetrating eyes, the eagle is often thought to be a human dressed in a weird costume (via The Hindustan Times). In fact from straight on, it looks an awful lot like the Hound in a full suit of armor, only with better hair. It even has prominent brow ridges. Well, feathers, but they have the exact same effect as prominent brow ridges.

So far, science has failed to explain why harpy eagles look like this, mostly because no one would ever fund a study titled "Why harpy eagles look like the Hound: a comprehensive review." The closest explanation anyone has come thus far is that they're built for catching large prey. Much like the Hound.

The emperor tamarin

Primates are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, and they have many features in common with us, from their hands and feet to their faces. So that "uncanny valley" sensation is kind of familiar. But some primates kind of cross the line from uncannily similar to comically similar. The emperor tamarin is one such example. In fact the emperor tamarin is kind of like the monkey version of Hulk Hogan, only without the wrestling chops, and also its mustache is way, way more glorious.

According to Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, the emperor tamarin may have been named for the German emperor Wilhelm II, who had a similarly glorious mustache — though it actually pointed in the opposite direction.

It's probably safe to say that no one knows exactly what the mustache is for, but there's been some speculation that the monkeys might use it to identify each other. Because you'd have no problem identifying that guy you know with the giant, white mustache ... unless literally everyone you know has giant, white mustaches.

The white lips cichlid

Fish lips are a common source of hilarity amongst anyone who has ever watched aquarium fish swimming around doing that thing they do with their lips. Who among us has not, on occasion, stood around making fish-lip faces for the amusement of others? Most fish lips, though, look like fish lips. A few look like runway model lips.

Meet the Mdoka white lips cichlid, which hails from Lake Malawi and looks just as silly as you do when you put on that pouty face for a selfie. Why the white lips? According to aquarium fish experts at Imperial Tropicals, it's only the mature males that have them, though no one really seems to have any theories for what exactly they're for. Because they give the fish a sort of "come hither" look, maybe it's a mating thing.

Interestingly, the only science that seems to mention this species at all is either discussing the vulnerability of Lake Malawi fish species or is using "Mdoka fish lips" as a descriptor referring to the abuse of cosmetic lip fillers. No help there, science.


Guardians of the Galaxy made raccoons cool and sort of badass but deep down inside, they will always be trash pandas. Raccoons eat your cat's food, tip over your garbage, and if they can get their hands in your chicken coop they will pull your favorite hen through the wire in millions of tiny pieces. Also, they steal batteries they don't need, and their feet are strangely human.

According to the Center for Northern Woodlands Education, raccoons have hands that work almost like human hands, but they lack opposable thumbs so their hands don't actually look much like human hands. Still, they can use them for humanish tasks like washing food, pulling chickens through wire piece by piece, and giving your dog rabies.

Visually, though, the raccoon's feet are even more bizarre. From the bottom, they look almost exactly like human feet. Not sure why, exactly. It is true that raccoons are especially excellent at standing on their back legs, so maybe their feet are shaped that way so they'll have good balance when they become an army of back-leg-standing zombie raccoons like that one time in Ohio

According to Live Science, raccoons can also rotate their back feet 180 degrees. This helps them climb down vertical surfaces head first, which is not much like what human beings do with their back feet. Still, the human look does add to the whole "raccoons are super creepy" message that the species has been trying to forward for its entire existence, so maybe that's the only reason they need.

Red foxes

Red foxes don't look anything like people, and they certainly don't smell anything like people, but they sometimes do sound like people. And not in a "hiya, I sound like a person" kind of way, either — more like a "someone is getting murdered in your backyard!" kind of way.

According to Live Science, red foxes scream bloody murder just like people do when they're being, you know, bloodily murdered. It's worth noting that this is not the only sound red foxes make — they actually have around 20 different calls in total. Most of them are identifiable as animal noises (barks, yips, growls, and the like). But if you happen to be lying awake late one night while everyone else is asleep, and a red fox makes that one other sound just outside your bedroom window — well, your first instinct might be to call 911. If you survived the heart attack.

What's even weirder is what red foxes use this particular call for. Evidently it's usually the females that scream like murder victims, and they do it to woo the males. Because nothing says "I want to be your girlfriend" like a horror movie shriek. The point of the call is that it travels a long distance, which helps ensure that no potential suitor within miles (or you, comfortably lying in your own bed) could possibly fail to take notice.

The golden langur

Some monkeys have a sort of comical resemblance to human beings. They have mustaches, faces like grumpy old men, or they look cute in a hat and vest. For other monkeys, the resemblance kind of crosses a line. It's obviously a monkey, but there's something in its eyes or the shape of its face that's just a little too familiar, a little too not-monkey.

From a distance, the golden langur looks like an ordinary monkey. It's dressed like an especially orange Elton John, but it's got long arms and legs like any other self-respecting tree-swinging primate. Get a little closer, though, and its face starts to look uncannily human, though it's hard to really pinpoint why exactly. It might be the shape of the eyes or the placement of the nose, or the straight mouth. None of the features are exactly person-like, but taken together they are close enough that you feel like you're looking into the face of someone you've met before.

According to the New England Primate Conservancy, there are between 6,000 and 6,500 golden langurs living along the border between India and Bhutan. They weren't classified until 1956, and science still doesn't know much about them — including why the heck they have faces like people. Some mysteries should just remain unsolved.

Afghan dogs

Humans like to breed our pets to have qualities that would never work in nature. Imagine a pack of wild dachshunds, roaming the German wilderness in search of herds of milkbones, or hairless cats stalking catnip mice on their silken pillow mountaintops. The truth is that dachshunds and hairless cats wouldn't last five minutes in the wild, and that's fine by us because that's not why they are bred to look like living hotdogs and shaved rodent-monkey thingies. As pets, they are adorable, or, in the case of hairless cats, disturbing.

Sometimes, animals are also bred to have qualities that are, well, sort of human. As an example, the Afghan hound looks like Cher. Obviously, looking like Cher serves no valuable evolutionary purpose. It's not like Afghan hounds can use their looks and singing talent to get a recording contract. Long, flowing locks that blow elegantly in the wind aren't going to help you catch a caribou, either.

According to Afghanistan Analysts, the breed's ancestors were prized for their excellent eyesight, which made them valuable hunting dogs. It was only after they were discovered by Europeans that breeders were all, "let's destroy their eyesight by breeding them to have long hair that hangs in their faces all the time." Today, the Afghan hound has evolved from noble hunting dog to dog that looks like Cher and sometimes appears in television commercials. What a strange trip that must have been.

The shortnose batfish

This fish has a face like an angry old man, walks around on four legs like a frog, and has skin that looks kind of like that weird textured ceiling in your grandma's house.

The shortnose batfish is a strange looking fish. In fact this fish is so strange looking that if you encountered it while out for a snorkel in its home-waters between Florida and Venezuela, as per the Smithsonian, you would return to the surface immediately so you could evade whatever hostile force had just transported you to a distant alien world.

According to World Register of Marine Species, the shortnose batfish is not endangered or threatened in any way, probably because no one would dare try to eat something that looks like that, but diving and snorkeling sites mostly agree that it's unusual to encounter one. This is because batfish are often hiding in sand, are nicely camouflaged with their surroundings, and prefer to do most of their swimming or crawling or whatever it is you call that during the night. Hey, if you looked like that, you'd probably be a bit of a recluse, too.

Anyway, of all the shortnose batfish's odd features the oddest is probably its face. In profile, the batfish looks an awful lot like your grumpy neighbor when he's sitting around on his porch telling kids to get off his lawn. Why? Reasons.

The African grey parrot

Everyone has a voice that plays in their head when they imagine what a parrot sounds like saying the words "Polly want a cracker." Never mind that no trained parrot anywhere ever says the words "Polly want a cracker," because even parrots understand the importance of avoiding stupid stereotypes. Still, in your head a parrot's voice sounds kind of gravely and shrill, and each sentence usually begins or ends with a nonsensical screech. So it might surprise you to hear that an African grey parrot mimicking a human actually sounds nothing like that parrot in "Pirates of the Caribbean" and in fact sounds so similar to a human being that blindfolded you probably couldn't tell the difference.

According to Scientific American, African greys evolved to mimic other birds, and that talent also happens to carry over to mimicking human beings when living in captivity. This skill isn't unique to African greys, but they are especially good at it.

It's actually an advantage for birds to learn their calls versus having them genetically programmed. Groups of parrots can develop local dialects, which helps them distinguish family members from strangers. Good mimicry also requires skills like listening and memorizing, which in turn makes for a smarter species. So when these birds are kept as pets, they learn their "calls" from the people they live with — and they're so good at it that they learn to sound not just like humans but like the specific people they're mimicking.

Rhesus monkeys

Rhesus monkeys don't look much like humans, at least not compared to some, but they do have similarities that are even more uncanny than mere physical features. Rhesus monkeys have morality, which until recently was something that scientists thought was limited only to human beings. Well, certain human beings, anyway.

Scientists do love to avoid the dreaded anthropomorphism, as The Guardian notes, which is probably why they just assumed animals couldn't have a sense of morality. Meanwhile, those of us who have pets have always believed otherwise. Anyway, in a couple of recent studies, scientists decided to look into this thing that the rest of us already knew, using rhesus monkeys. In the 2014 version published in Psychonomic Science, researchers confirmed that a hungry monkey won't flip a switch that releases food if the action also delivers an electric shock to another monkey.

Interestingly, not all monkeys in the study seemed to care if their friends got an electric shock or not, which actually also parallels human behavior. And let's just also acknowledge the irony of researchers shocking monkeys and withholding food in a not-super moral way in order to show that monkeys have a moral compass.

New Caledonian crows

Another thing scientists used to think was that tool making was a uniquely human quality, but that's clearly not true. Jane Goodall debunked this idea in 1960 when she observed chimpanzees stripping the leaves off of sticks so they could be used as bug-catching devices.

Still, this is not super surprising in a chimpanzee, since chimpanzees share like 96% of our DNA. What's surprising is when this quality shows up in other animals, especially animals that aren't even in the same class as we are.

According to Science Daily, New Caledonian crows can also make tools. And the crows that participated in the 2018 experiment that made this observation weren't just stripping the leaves off of a stick, either, which frankly is such a rudimentary tool making technique that comparatively speaking it's not even that impressive.

Researchers gave the crows a food-containing puzzle box that could be opened with a long stick. The crows all figured out how to open the box with the long sticks the researchers left lying around. But when the researchers gave them only short sticks that could be connected to make a long stick, half the crows figured out how to put them together so they could be used to unlock the food boxes. That's not something most humans learn to do until the age of 5 or so, so yeah. It's starting to become hard to find things that truly separate us from all the world's other creatures.

Prairie dogs

Prairie dogs are cute, but they're rodents — and humans really don't like to imagine that rodents can be smart. Once rodents become smart, they will take over the entire world and everything in it. There will never again be mouse poop-free garages, and hantavirus will be the new COVID. It's really just too horrible to comprehend.

Still, let's comprehend it. Prairie dogs are no ordinary rodent. They don't just squeak like a mouse or chatter like a squirrel. They have language.

According to biologist Con Slobodchikoff (via CBC), who's been studying prairie dogs for 30 years, the animals have different calls to tell other members of their colony about different kinds of threats. But it's not just basic threats, like "flying predator" or "ground predator." They have calls that distinguish dogs from coyotes, calls that distinguish large dogs from small dogs, and calls that distinguish black dogs from brown dogs. Evidently, they can also describe the size and clothing color of a person, the speed at which the person is moving, and they can note whether or not the person is carrying a weapon.

This discovery kind of slips into bonkers territory when Slobodchikoff suggests people might one day be able to make a device that can translate animal sounds into human words, much like the dog collars in the movie "Up," only probably without all the nuance and subtext. An intriguing idea but dude, that was a Disney movie.


Chimpanzees are our closest relatives, and there are a lot of things they do that are eerily similar to the things humans do. They have personalities, they can laugh, they walk upright, and they can get sick with many of the same diseases that afflict human beings. They can also start wars. Like real, actual wars that drag on for years and have many casualties.

According to Discover, the most famous chimpanzee war happened during the 1970s in Gombe National Park in Tanzania. The war started when a group of chimpanzees broke away from the main group and tried to establish their own territory. For years, the two groups would send "war parties" into each other's territory, and by 1974 it got bad enough that the northern chimps were regularly invading southern territory for the sole purpose of killing rival males.

It was mostly a one-sided war, with northern apes killing southern apes, but it went on for nearly eight years until all the southern males were dead. The northern group then expanded their territory into the former range of their rivals, and the war was over.

This is not the only documented chimpanzee war, either, which just goes to show you that animals can sometimes look like us, behave like us, and be horrible to each other, just like us. In the end, there really isn't much left that can truly separate the human animals from the non-human animals.