8 Baby Animals That Don't Look Like Their Parents

It takes a little while for swan cygnets to become the elegant animals we all know. (Photo: MyImages - Micha/Shutterstock).

Some animals, like horses and elephants, look exactly how you would expect them to when they enter the world. Others, well, if mom and baby were standing next to each other, you might not think they were even the same species. Check out these baby animals that definitely don't look like mom or dad.

1. Tapir

A tapir baby and a parent

When tapirs are born, they have distinctive white spots and stripes covering their bodies. As the juveniles grow into adulthood, they lose their festive markings. 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.

2. Emu

A male emu and chicks

Much like the tapir, baby emus are covered in cream-colored stripes and spots. When hatched from their avocado green shells the babies look very little like the giant birds they will one day become. They are, in fact, one of the largest birds on the planet, second only to the ostrich. And within just moments of hatching, these little guys are already walking around. A fully grown emu is much less colorful. The feathers lose their pattern and become a dusty brown.

3. Giant Panda

A baby giant panda
A week-old giant panda at Chengdu's Giant Panda Breeding Research Base in China. Wikimedia Commons

These cute bears may have the word giant in their name, but the only word to describe the babies when born is miniature. The World Wildlife Fund notes that when birthed, the baby is about the size of a stick of butter, equalling about 1/900th the size of its mother who, thanks to eating 26 to 84 pounds of bamboo each day, can weigh up to 330 pounds. The size isn't the only difference between mother and cub. The giant panda might be the world's most recognizable bear thanks to the black and white coat. For the first week of life, the baby is just pink. Then, black patches start to show up on the skin around the eyes, ears, shoulders and legs.

4. Frogs

Trish Hartmann/flickr

We might not be able to see giant pandas and molas as they grow into adulthood, but we can watch frogs as they go through their metamorphosis. Have a kid? Take him or her down to your local pond, look for tadpoles and then come back each week to watch them as they grow legs and arms, and lose their tails. It's an incredible (and adorable) process to observe.

5. Harp Seal

An adult harp seal nursing a harp seal pup
Vladimir Melnik/Shutterstock

Of course a harp seal still looks like a seal when born. However, in what likely makes them one of the cutest species on the planet, the babies are covered in fluffy white fur for about their first three months on earth. It's during that 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, these white coats, meant to protect them, have also made them a target for hunters. As adults, the harp seals have a variety of patterns, many with dark spots on their bodies.

6. Swan

A swan cygnet
Katarina Christenson/Shutterstock

We can't have this kind of list without swans. After all, there is a whole story ("The Ugly Duckling") that's plot hinges around the difference. The babies can appear as a dirty grey. That is, until they grow up to be the elegant snow-white birds we are all familiar with. But if you ask us, the babies are still darn cute.

7. Ocean Sunfish

An ocean sunfish fry and an adult ocean sunfish
Wikimedia Commons & Wikimedia Commons

Photos: Wikimedia Commons & Wikimedia Commons

An ocean sunfish, also known as a mola, is one of the strangest, and largest creatures in the ocean. And we can guarantee that if you saw mom and baby next to each other, you wouldn't guess that the tiny pinhead sized fish would one day grow up into the giant and odd-looking parent. When born, a mola is covered by a star-shaped transparent casing. That shell disappears and the fish grows up to become a creature you might mistake for a shark from the surface. The heaviest bony fish in the ocean, the mola can grow to more than 5,000 pounds. The baby doesn't stay tiny for long. A mola at the Monterey Bay Aquarium grew two pounds a day for 15 months, rounding out at 822 pounds during that time. The mola moves through the water using the dorsal and anal fins since the back fin never grows outwards, giving the fish that strange unfinished appearance.

8. King Vulture

A king vulture chick

Very few birds look like their parents when born. The feathers generally don't start out as the same color, often making them difficult to identify. The king vulture goes a step further. The adults don't have bright feathers. They have bright faces with shocking jolts of yellow, pink, red and orange. The babies on the other hand, have white feathers and bald heads all the way down to their necks. The skin doesn't even show a hint of its future majesty, and instead is a crinkly grey and pink color.