8 Baby Animals That Don't Look Like Their Parents

White female swan in a nest near the water with her fluffy grey cygnets climbing on her
It takes a little while for swan cygnets to resemble their parents.

Jacky Parker Photography / Getty Images

Some animals, like horses and elephants, look exactly how you would expect them to when they enter the world. Others often don’t look like they are from the same species. From birds and bears to frogs, learn about some of the baby animals that don’t start out looking much like either of their parents.

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A tapir baby, with its distinctive striped and spotted coloring, and its solid colored parent

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When tapirs are born, they have distinctive white spots and stripes covering their red and brown coat that make them look a bit like a watermelon. The markings, which they will lose at around six months, help the calves camouflage in bamboo forests. Of course, one can always find the family resemblance in the nose. Tapirs use their short but nimble trunks to grasp branches and pluck delicious fruit. Even though adult tapirs around the world differ in appearance, the juveniles all have those white stripes and spots.

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A male emu supervising six chicks

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When emu chicks are hatched from their avocado green shells, the babies look very little like the giant birds they will one day become. Baby emu chicks are covered in cream and brown stripes and spots, which help them hide from predators. Within moments of hatching, these little guys are already walking around. At about three months, the baby chicks’ color pattern begins to fade, and the adult emus' feathers become a dusty brown.

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Giant Pandas

A baby giant panda on a pink blanket in an incubator in China.

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These cute bears may have the word giant in their name, but the word to describe the babies when born is miniature. Called a cub, the baby giant panda is about the “size of a stick of butter” at birth. The size isn't the only difference between mother and cub. While the giant panda might be the world's most recognizable bear thanks to its black and white fur coat, the tiny baby is pink and completely helpless. The panda cub begins to make a transformation in appearance after its first week of life, when the distinctive black patches start to appear around the eyes, ears, shoulders, and legs. The cubs first open their eyes at about three weeks and are only able to move around on their own after three to four months.

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Three tadpoles in water with green plants.

Trish Hartmann / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The metamorphosis of a baby tadpole becoming a frog is an amazing process to observe. After frog eggs hatch, tadpoles are born looking more like a fish than a frog with a tail and no legs. After about a week, they are able to swim around and eat, but their legs don’t form for another six to nine weeks. Once the tadpoles grow their legs, they start to look a lot more like their parents, especially when their tail drops off at about 12 weeks.

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Harp Seals

A gray and brown adult harp seal nursing a white harp seal pup

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While harp seal pups do look quite seal-like at birth, they are born covered in yellow fur that turns fluffy white after a few days. It's during this time that the babies, who can't yet swim, are most vulnerable. Their white coats help them blend into their snowy surroundings to ward off predators; however, their appearance also makes them a target for hunters. The pups’ fur begins to shed in a few weeks and is replaced with the beginnings of their adult coat, including irregular dark spots. The markings continue to grow until their fifth year, at which point the spots begin to form into a distinctive harp-shaped design. As adults, the harp seals have a variety of patterns: males have dark heads and many have dark spots on their bodies.

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A brown and white swan cygnet standing near the edge of the water.

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Baby swans, or cygnets, are famous for their transformation from birth to adulthood. Mute swan cygnets are born fluffy brown or gray in color, with a dark bill. Adult mute swans are completely white and have a bright orange bill and a long neck. The cygnets of trumpeter and tundra swans have a similar color shift: beginning with a gray color as juveniles, and becoming fully white as adults.

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Silvered Leaf Monkeys

A female silver leaf langur sitting with her bright orange baby.

Fiona Rogers / Getty Images

The silvered leaf monkey, or silvery lutung, is an Old World monkey found in Southeast Asia. The silvered leaf monkey is so named for its adult coloration, which includes black faces and fur that ranges from gray to gray-brown to black. But the newborn infants have orange fur with white faces, feet, and hands. The infants’ skin color changes quickly to black like the adults, but it retains its orange fur for three to five months.

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King Vultures

A downy white king vulture chick with a brown head and neck in an enclosure.

~Ealasaid~ / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 

Very few birds look like their parents at birth. The feathers generally don't start out the same color, often making them difficult to identify. King vulture chicks go a step further. In addition to white body feathers and black-tipped tail feathers, both male and female adult king vultures have extremely colorful wattles in vivid shades of yellow, pink, red, and orange. The chicks, on the other hand, have white feathers and bald brown heads all the way down to their necks until their third or fourth year.