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5 fantastic beasts and where to find them

Lorna Cowan / 24 November 2016 ( 20 November 2018 )

In JK Rowling’s blockbuster, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, magizoologist Newt Scamander has compiled a book describing 85 magical species found across the globe. These may not be magical, but they're pretty incredible...

An Axolotl
A happy little chappy, who appears to have a permanent smile on his face, the axolotl is an amphibian you could grow to love.

Hippogruffs, Hungarian Horntail dragons, grindylows, nifflers – all creatures great and small discovered during JK Rowling's Newt Scamander's years of research travelling around five continents in the Harry Potter universe.

Here we look at further fantastic beasts you could stumble upon while on travels of your own – and you won’t even need to pack a wand!

Pink dolphins

A pink dolphin in the Amazon

Looking like a mystical creature that wouldn’t appear out of place beside a bundimun or chizpurfle, the pink dolphin is indeed a real, friendly, social creature who happily frequents the waterways of the Amazon River and the basin of the Orinoco River in South America.

Also known as a boto, bufeo or Amazon River dolphin, it is one of five species of dolphin that makes its home in rivers, and considered to be the most intelligent. 

Research even suggests it has a brain capacity 40% larger than that of humans. Healthy dolphins can live up to 30 years. Interestingly, the average animal kept in captivity survives for just 33 months.

Surprisingly, the pink dolphin is only a distant relation to dolphins who swim in the sea. It is actually a species of toothed whale, with adult males being approximately 7.6ft long and weighing around 24 stone. 

And unique among cetaceans, the male is significantly bigger than the female, instead of the other way round. However, they don’t travel anywhere fast. Slow in the water, their maximum swimming speed is just two miles per hour.

At first glance, the pink dolphin looks like it needs to put some clothes on! Its pink appearance varies between a solid and mottled colour, with the difference depending on the temperature, water transparency and geographical location. Where they live also determines what the pink dolphin eats. 

Fortunately, they are not fussy and will feed on over 50 different species of fish, including catfish and piranhas. River crabs and small turtles are also sometimes on the menu.

See the pink dolphin on a voyage down the Amazon

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Accurate illustration of a Tardigrade

Tardigrades may be small – they only measure 1mm when fully grown – but they are mighty. It doesn’t seem to matter what you try to do to these minute creatures, they can survive extreme conditions that would kill and destroy nearly all other known life forms. 

Tardigrades can even go without water or food for more than 30 years, and can survive in the vacuum of outer space!

Found all over the world - on the tallest mountains, in the deepest seas, at the equator and in polar regions – nothing seems to faze this short and stubby creature with four pairs of legs. 

And while you’ll need a microscope to have a good look at them, once you do, you’ll agree they are weird yet wonderful.

Tardigrades are also known by much cuter names, being sometimes referred to as a water bear or moss piglet. They are aquatic and often found in damp moss, lichen and leaves, munching away on plant cells, algae and small invertebrates.

Go in search on tiny tardigrades in the volcanoes of the Canaries


An Aye Aye in Madagascar

The island of Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean, is awash with curious creatures, and  around 75% of the species found here live nowhere else on the planet. One of these species, the aye-aye, looks a little like a gremlin and has big eyes and ears similar to those belonging to Harry Potter’s house-elf Dobby.

Spending much of their lives high in rainforest trees, during the day the aye-aye curls up sleeping in branches. Then at night, it searches for grubs in tree trunks, tapping the bark and listening for echoes which indicate an insect tunnel below. 

Dinner is prised out with the aye-aye’s long, bony, witch-like middle finger. This digit is also perfect for scooping out the flesh of coconuts, an aye-aye treat.

Originally classed as a rodent, the aye-aye is actually related to the chimpanzee, ape and, indeed, us. Its thick coat is usually dark brown in colour, and its face a paler grey. 

It is also distinguishable by its bushy tail, some 15cm longer than its body. Pointed claws on the aye-aye’s fingers and toes enables it to dangle from branches.

Once upon a time though, the aye-aye did not really want to be seen. Thought to be an omen of bad luck, locals killed them on sight. Today the endangered species is protected by law.

Discover aye-ayes on the island of Madagascar


An Axolotl

A happy little chappy, who appears to have a permanent smile on his face, the axolotl is an amphibian you could grow to love. 

Originally from Mexico, living in lakes south of Mexico City, the axolotl is also known as the Mexican salamander or Mexican walking fish.

The name derives from the Aztec language, with alt meaning water and xolotl meaning dog. In Aztec mythology, Xolotl was the dog-headed god of all things grim, who would lead the souls of the dead to the underworld. 

Fearful that he himself would be killed, he transformed himself into an axolotl to hide.

Commonly around 9 inches in length, the axolotl’s comical branches sticking out either side of its wide head are its gills. 

Even as an adult, the axolotl remains aquatic and gilled, unlike other amphibians who undergo metamorphosis, developing lungs and moving to the land. 

It is however, able to regenerate. Not that unusual for amphibians, but the axolotl can not only rebuild limbs, it also has the capacity to reconstruct its jaw, spine and even its brain without any scarring – what would Newt Scamander have to say about that?!

The colour of an axolotl varies. In the wild, they are mainly a tan brown with gold speckles. However, breeding has resulted in them also being pale pink with black eyes and golden with gold eyes.

Carnivorous, it eats insects, worms and small fish. Axolotls locate food by smell and won’t hang around if they sniff something tasty – one snap and a meal will be sucked into their stomachs like a vacuum.

Discover Axolotls for yourself on a holiday to Mexico

Thorny dragons

A thorny dragon

You’ll find Norwegian Ridgeback dragons, Romanian Longhorn dragons and Ukrainian Ironbelly dragons in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but alas no thorn dragons. 

These spiky creatures prefer the desert and scrubland of central Australia, and are native to the country.

Known by a variety of other names - the thorny devil, mountain devil, thorny lizard and moloch – it has an intimidating array of spikes covering its entire upper side of its body. 

With so many jagged edges, it puts off predators who prefer a meal to slip down a bit more easily. And if that doesn’t put off the hungry, the thorny dragon also has the ability to camouflage itself, or simply freeze on the spot. 

It has another trick up its sleeve too, or rather on the back of its neck – a false head. If a predator is on the loose, the thorny dragon will dip its real head down to confuse its would-be attacker.

As for food for itself, the thorny dragon’s diet consists mainly of ants, lots of them. Over the course of a day, it will gobble down ants in their thousands. It drinks water that has collected between it ridged scales, which is transmitted to its mouth through its skin.

Find some thorny dragon for yourself on a holiday to Australia


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.