The Awesome Book of Animals: 3 of the awesome-est animals on the planet!

Published on: 03 September 2023 Author: Adam Frost

The Awesome Book of Animals author Adam Frost picks out three of his favourite animals, from the blanket octopus to the pistol shrimp!

A photo of Adam Frost and the front cover of The Awesome Book of Animals

As the writer of The Awesome Book of Animals, I'm often asked what my favourite animal is. And it's a tough question.

I can tell you what my least favourite animal is (giant wasps) and also my second least favourite (normal wasps), but my favourite? There are over a million species of animals out there (plus roughly 8 million that we haven't found yet), and most of them have something going for them.

Like, take leeches. They're pretty gross, right? Sticking to your leg and drinking your blood. But isn't there something cool about an animal that can swell to ten times its size when it feeds? That's like you going from 50kg to half a tonne after an all-you-can-eat buffet. In other words, from your regular size to the size of a bear - and then back down again.

So, in honour of BookTrust's brilliant Bookbuzz programme, I've tried to whittle it down - from a million awesome animals to my favourite three. And, in no particular order, here they are, with some illustrations from my book too.

1. The blanket octopus

So many reasons to love this floppy-headed fella. Like other octopuses, they have brains in each of their arms, so if they ever get cut off, the arms can wriggle away by themselves. When octopuses are stressed, they can squirt ink in your face. And they can get anywhere - they've even been known to clamber out of the water and eat seagulls.

But the blanket octopus is fantastic for two other reasons. First, it's immune to one of the deadliest jellyfish in the sea - the Portuguese man-of-war.

In fact, the octopus can swim calmly up to this jellyfish, rip one of its stingers off, and use this tentacle as its very own whip, which it cracks in the mouth of any animal that tries to eat it.

But the strangest thing about the blanket octopus is the difference between the sexes. In a lot of species, the sexes are different sizes - in humans for example, men tend to be a bit taller than women. But blanket octopuses take this to another level. The female can be 100 times bigger than the male. That's like an average-sized man (1.8 metres) having a 180-metre wife. She'd be twice the size of Big Ben!

An image from The Awesome Book of Animals exploring the size of different creatures

2. The pistol shrimp

I'm staying in the sea for this one. The pistol shrimp is only six centimetres long, but it also has a super-sized pincer that's as long as its body. With this colossal claw, it can trap an air bubble and force an explosion that's as hot as the surface of the sun. This also makes one of the loudest noises on Earth - 216 decibels. That's enough to rupture your eardrums.

You probably won't have seen one of these critters in an aquarium, because it's almost impossible to keep them there. They can crack their claws and shatter the glass.

But that's not all. If their mega-mitt gets bitten off, the smaller pincer just replaces it, growing and growing until it's big enough to create its own ear-splitting blast.

An image from The Awesome Book of Animals exploring the volume of different animal sounds

3. Black bear

An image from The Awesome Book of Animals exploring how often animals pooAll bears are brilliant, but the black bear is my favourite. They can swim, climb trees and run at speeds of up to 35 mph. They're brilliant at catching their favourite food - salmon. They stand near waterfalls, and as the salmon jump upstream, they open their jaws and catch the fish in mid-air. Even Deliveroo can't give you service like that.

But, perhaps because I love sleep, I'm most impressed by the black bear's ability to do absolutely nothing for seven months of the year. Their hibernation is one of the longest in the animal kingdom. They crawl into their dens, their heart rate drops from 50 to 10 beats per minute, and then they don't eat, drink or move for over half a year.

Most incredibly, they don't poo. They block up their bottoms with rocks and sticks (seriously!) and then 'keep it all in' for seven months. This mad method seems to work, because when the bears re-emerge, they have lost about half of their bodyweight, but none of their muscle mass or bone density and are pretty much ready to go hunting straight away.

Discover more fascinating facts about the world's weirdest creatures in my book The Awesome Book of Animals.