As humans, we like to think that we have a monopoly on living the good life. But we shouldn't assume that other animals don't also enjoy their lives and revel in their extraordinary abilities. Here are 9 animals that are probably having more fun than you right now.
Before we get started, it's important to note that many of the animals listed here appear to be living extremely worthwhile and exciting lives — but that's from our perspective. For all we know, being an airborne apex predator or a shape-shifting aquatic cephalopod is as banal as walking or brushing our teeth (but I doubt it). We're deliberately anthropomorphizing, here — but that's the point. We're having fun imagining what life must be like as another creature.
Nearly everyone wonders what it would be like to be a dolphin. And indeed, they certainly look like they're having fun. Dolphins, of which there are over 36 different species (including orcas), have large hydrodynamic bodies that are perfectly adapted to the water, allowing them to reach speeds of 25 miles per hour (40 kph). They use this speed to full advantage, sometimes travelling in excess of 100 miles (180 km) per day. Studies show they have a neurological architecture very similar to our own, and are capable of passing the mirror test. They've been observed to play (I once body-surfaced alongside a bottlenose dolphin in Florida), and even create their own art. They communicate with each other using a complex series of clicks, burst-pulses, and whistles, which they use for echolocation and signature names (yes, dolphins actually have their own names). They also live in fission-fusion social arrangements, which means dolphins come and go between pods as they please — no questions asked. They have a very liberal attitude towards sex — exchanging partners at will and engaging in orgies. Of course, being a dolphin has its challenges; males have been known to get sexually aggressive with both females and males.
If there's a single saying that best encapsulates what life must be like for the bonobo, it's "make love, not war." These gentle great apes — the closest living relative to humans — are constantly having sex with each other, and for any number of reasons. They use sex to greet each other, as a way to prevent and alleviate social conflict, for reconciling (yes, bonobos have make-up sex), and for the pure enjoyment of it. They've also been observed to engage in French tongue kissing, face-to-face sexual intercourse, and even oral sex. Homosexuality is widely practiced (by both genders). They also refrain from forming monogamous relationships, and do not discriminate based on age. Now while some might call this a feminist utopia, it's important to note that it is a matriarchal system — and sex is often used as a form of control; female bonobos, in a coalition with other females, will withhold sex from non-cooperative males. That said, they are by far the most peaceful primate on the planet.
A number of species have had the misfortune of being domesticated by humans, including various beasts of burden and livestock animals. But some, like cats and dogs, have benefited tremendously by forging a mutually beneficial inter-species relationship. No longer needing to earn an honest living in the forest, cats and dogs are utterly pampered and loved by their human hosts. Yes, some of these animals are neglected and don't always live in the most appropriate conditions, but for the millions upon millions who do, life is good.
As grounded terrestrial creatures, we're hopelessly envious of birds. But as far as flying animals go, the eagle clearly stands above the rest. Eagles, which comprise more than sixty species, sit comfortably atop the food chain and are the premier apex predators of the avian world. They are large and powerful birds, featuring a heavy head and beak. And indeed, their flying and predating abilities would truly be something to experience. Soaring high above the ground, they use their extraordinary vision to spot prey at extreme distances. In fact, using their highly specialized eyes, they have a visual acuity that's 3.6 times better than our own. And with their large wingspans (some Alaskan bald eagles have been measured at an eight foot length), they swoop down on unsuspecting prey, eating everything from fish to large mammals. There have even been accounts of eagles being able to take off with loads in excess of 15 lbs (6.8 kg).
Being able to run like a cheetah would be a blast, with their specs sounding like something right out of Car & Driver. The world's fastest land animal, the cheetah can accelerate from 0 to 62 miles per hour (100 km/h) in just three seconds. That's faster than the 2013 Corvette 427, which needs just under four seconds to reach the same speed. The cheetah's top speed is around 60 to 65 miles per hour (96.5 to 104 km/hr) and it can sustain this for nearly 1,600 feet, which is a half-kilometer. It uses this speed to hunt for gazelles and impalas — and it does so with startling efficiency, achieving a success rate of nearly 50% .
Though it might sound completely otherworldly and bizarre, the daily adventures of an octopus would be fascinating to experience. Despite having to raise themselves from birth (their mothers die soon thereafter), octopuses use their remarkable intelligence to learn about the world around them from scratch. In turn, they are extremely inquisitive, excellent problem solvers, and even playful (check out this account of an octopus who stole a diver's camera). They're also incredibly in tune with their environment; they can morph their bodies, including changing the pigmentation and texture of their skin, to mimic undersea objects and even other sea creatures. Indeed, as the efforts of neuroscientists like Mark Hall and David Edelman are showing, octopi are far more intelligent and self-aware than we often give them credit for.
Fun is in the eye of the beholder, and for some, that means rest and relaxation. No mammal better exemplifies this than the sloth. Because of its limited diet — which consists primarily of leaves, buds, and tender shoots — the sloth has evolved an agonizingly slow metabolism. Leaves provide very little energy and nutrition and are difficult to digest. So sloths have evolved slow-acting stomachs with multiple compartments in which symbiotic bacteria break down the leaves. This process can take as much as an entire month! Consequently, the sloth's slow metabolic rate allows it to rest at a body temperature of 30 to 34 °C (86–93 °F) (human body temperature is 37 °C (98.6 °F)). They move incredibly slowly (on the ground they can only move at a speed of 6.5 feet per minute (2 meters), and sleep upwards of 15 to 18 hours per day. Sloths have specialized hands and feet which feature large claws allowing them to hang upside-down from branches without effort. They sometimes give birth in this passive position — and even die (their bodies are often found still hanging off tree branches).
Imagine being a creature that glides from tree to tree all night long, pausing only to gorge on sugary nectarous foods. Yeah, that's the sugar glider, a marsupial that we're all deeply envious of. Though similar to the tree squirrel, it's not related. Found in Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea, the sugar glider uses is flaps of loose skin which it spreads to expose the gliding membranes. It can glide 50 meters or more, and can control the direction of its flight by moving its legs and tail. An omnivore, it prefers to eat acacia gum, eucalyptus sap, manna, and honeydew.
As Mel Brooks once said, "It's good to be the king." And indeed, it's also good to be a lion. Setting aside the fact that humans are slowly driving this species into extinction, the lion is a fearsome carnivore with virtually no predators to be concerned about. And indeed, given a lifestyle that essentially involves hunting, eating, playing, sleeping, and having lots of sex — it's definitely a lifestyle to be envious of. In most prides, lionesses do the hunting, while the males stay at home to guard the young. They mostly hunt by stalking and launching a surprise attack at close distances, preferring wildebeests, impalas, and zebras. And if hunting seems like too much of a chore, they can always steal food from hyenas, or simply look for signs of vultures gorging on a ready meal. Adults will eat anywhere from 5 kg (11 lb) to 7 kg (15.5 lb) of meat each day.
But when it comes time for sex, that's when the fun really starts. A lioness often mates with more than one male when she is in heat, and mating bouts can last up to several days — with couples sometimes doing the nasty up to 20 to 40 times per day. In fact, they have sex so frequently that they basically stop eating. But not to paint a completely ideal picture, males sometimes fight to the death, and they often commit infanticide.
Top image: Shutterstock.com/sad; bonobo: Sergey Uryadnikov/shutterstock, dogs: Elena Elisseeva/shutterstock, lion: EcoPrint/shutterstock.