Five Unusual Christmas Animals

by ZSL on

For years now, reindeer have been hailed as the ‘it-animal’ of Christmas. While there’s no denying they play a pivotal role in the delivery of Christmas, they’re not the only member of the animal kingdom who enjoys yule time fun.

There are plenty of festive creatures who display Christmas cheer all year round. Here are our top five:

The Bowerbirds

Picture of a pair of bowerbirds, published in 1861, with illustrations by Joseph Wolf.

There’s nothing that gets you in the Christmas mood like decorating your own tree. From sparkling lights to glittery baubles, we all love putting in our own festive flare – just as the bowerbirds do.

Bowerbirds are famous for their love of natural bling, as the males try to impress females by building complex nests – complete with flair. Males will use bones, pebbles, shells, berries and even flowers to decorate their love nests. Many birds even use colour coordination to impress a mate, gathering large piles of colourful items.

Bowerbird Nest - created with lots of blue items.

We think if they wanted the bowerbirds could do wonders for anyone’s Christmas tree.


An elephant shrew at ZSL London Zoo

If there’s one thing that represents Christmas it’s eating. Who doesn’t love the pure gluttony that goes with the holidays? It’s estimated that over a quarter of Britons will pack away over 6000 calories over Christmas day – keep in mind you’re only meant to have 2500!

So who can beat our yule-tide love of food? The shrew! Shockingly, these tiny mammals have an incredibly fast metabolism. This means that they eat between 80-90% of their body weight – everyday! Shrew, you put us to shame.

Paratrechalea ornata

Spider web

Spiders have a bad reputation but did you know that some are actually quite giving? The trechaleid spider, Paratrechalea ornata, actually wrap up presents to give to their mates. The spiders, found in South American in streams and rivers, have the males present the females with silk-wrapped presents of tasty prey.

Now females can be quite picky and it’s the males who offer up the biggest gifts that get the privilege of mating. We know this isn’t really part of the Christmas spirit but we’ll let the ladies off.

Eurasian Jays

Pair of Blue Jays

Unlike those picky spiders, jays (a family of birds that includes common crows, ravens and blue jays) know that it’s the thought that counts. These birds don’t give gifts just to new mates but use gifts to strengthen the bonds between lifetime partners.

In fact, some scientists believe that jays actually consider what their partner would like as a gift. In food-giving tests, the jays purposely went for the types of food that were known favourites of their mates. This is called having a ‘theory of mind’, showing an awareness of another’s thoughts.

It was previously thought that only humans had this ability.


Penguins with Christmas tree

Our penguins definitely have that festive feeling.

Much like the bowerbird, our Humboldt penguins at ZSL London Zoo have a sense of occasion when it comes to decorating their nests. Just like we wrap tinsel around our tree, penguins create a special place for their eggs with guano. What is guano?

Well… it’s poo from penguins and seabirds.

Okay, so maybe penguins aren’t as Christmasy as you thought. Stick to using tinsel for your Christmas tree.

You can meet our penguins and this festive season by making a visit to ZSL London Zoo!

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