Mooncalves and elusive creatures of the natural world

The Natural History Museum

Explore the stories behind the Fantastic Beasts™: The Wonder of Nature exhibition. Discover nature's most timid and elusive creatures that, like the Mooncalves of the wizarding world, avoid contact with humans at all costs.

MooncalfThe Natural History Museum

'The Mooncalf is an intensely shy creature that emerges from its burrow only at the full moon.

Its body is smooth and pale grey, it has bulging round eyes on top of its head and four spindly legs with enormous flat feet. Mooncalves perform complicated dances on their hind legs in isolated areas in the moonlight. These are believed to be a prelude to mating (and often leave intricate geometric patterns behind in wheat fields, to the great puzzlement of Muggles™).'
– Newt Scamander, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them™

LunascopeThe Natural History Museum


A lunascope is a magical tool that helps wizards identify phases of the Moon. Newt Scamander™ carries a lunascope with him to New York in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them™.

In his book, Newt describes a creature – the elusive Mooncalf – that can only be seen during a full Moon.

'It's a lunascape, old boy – no more messing around with moon charts, see?'
– Overheard by Harry Potter™ in Diagon Alley™, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban™ (book)

MooncalfThe Natural History Museum

'Watching Mooncalves dance by moonlight is a fascinating experience and often profitable, for if their silvery dung is collected before the sun rises and spread upon magical herb and flower beds, the plants will grow very fast and become extremely strong. Mooncalves are found worldwide.'
– Newt Scamander, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them™

MooncalfThe Natural History Museum

Elusive creatures

Many animals are very difficult to spot in the wild.

Like the Mooncalf, some creatures can only be seen above ground at certain times of the year.

Others rely on their sharp senses of vision, hearing and smell to sneak up on prey or escape the notice of predators. These adaptations also help them avoid humans.

To catch a glimpse of these creatures, you need to know when, where and how to look.

OkapiThe Natural History Museum

Okapi (Okapia johnstoni)

This shy animal is well-adapted to avoiding predators including leopards and people.

Okapis' zebra-like markings help camouflage them among dense, shadowy forests. Their sharp hearing keeps them alert to approaching threats.

Amazing ability
Moving each of their ears in a different direction to listen out for approaching predators

Where to find them
Hidden in the rainforests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

OkapiThe Natural History Museum

Spotting a wild okapi

Local and international conservation organisations leave camera traps in the forest to observe okapis without disturbing them.

The okapi is an endangered species that faces threats from deforestation, poaching, and other human activities.

No one knows exactly how many okapis remain in the wild, but information from camera traps could help researchers estimate their population size.

Researchers can identify individual okapis based on their unique stripe patterns.

Mexican burrowing toad Mexican burrowing toadThe Natural History Museum

Mexican burrowing toad (Rhinophrynus dorsalis)

Like the magical Mooncalf, this mysterious toad spends most of its time hidden in its underground burrow.

Scientists suspect it emerges only once a year, after heavy rainstorms when it comes out to breed.

Researchers often find Mexican burrowing toads by following the sound of their wailing mating calls.

Fantastic feature
Spade-like growths on its back feet help this toad tunnel underground

Where to find them
In Central America, calling out for a mate after rainstorms

Canadian LynxThe Natural History Museum

Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis)

Well-adapted to cold northern forests, these secretive, solitary hunters are rarely encountered by people.

Recognisable by their tufted ears, Canada lynx rely on their sharp hearing and vision to find snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus), their main prey.

Lynx's wide, padded paws help them walk over deep powerdery snow as they silently stalk their next meal.

Amazing ability
Moving quickly and quietly over deep snow to catch snowshoe hares

Where to find them
The cold forests of Canada and the northern United States

Canadian LynxThe Natural History Museum

Detecting DNA from snow tracks

All animals shed skin cells, hairs and other material containing genetic information into their environment.

Scientists can sometimes use these clues to determine exactly what species have been in an area, without ever seeing them.

In the United States, researchers found that lynx could be identified from DNA left behind in their snowy footprints.

Fennec foxThe Natural History Museum

Creatures of the night

Like the magical Mooncalf, some real-world animals prefer to live by the light of the Moon.

Fennec fox (Vulpes zerda)
Nocturnal fennec foxes is have reflective surfaces behind their retinas, which help their eyes take in more light.

Fantastic feature
Eyes that allow them to thrive in low light

Where to find them
Hidden in their cool, underground burrows the North African desert

Spectral tarsierThe Natural History Museum

Spectral tarsier (Tarsius spectrum)

Tarsiers have the largest eyes of any animal in relation to body size. Great big eyes allow these small primates to maximise the amount of light they capture.

Heightened senses are important in the dark since the earlier an animal can sense prey, predators or a mate, the greater their chance of survival.

Fantastic feature
Big eyes to see in the dark

Where to find them
Peering through the forests of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia and the Philippines

Giant centipedeThe Natural History Museum

Cave life

Deep in caves, beyond the reach of sunlight, animals mostly rely on food coming in from the outside.

Giant centipede (Scolopendra gigantea)

Giant centipedes are at the top of the food chain in some caves in South America. Their large size and their venom allow them to prey on bats.

Fantastic feature
Venom to overpower prey

Where to find them
Northern South America and the Caribbean

Puerto Rican cave boaThe Natural History Museum

Puerto Rican boa (Chilabothrus inornatus)

Cave boas have infrared sensitivity, which is an ability to sense heat. These snakes can be found hunting bats in the darkness, hanging from the ceiling of a cave and catching their prey mid-air.

Amazing ability
Sensing the body heat of prey

Where to find them
The island of Puerto Rico

What is the elephantnose fish's secret ability? | Natural History MuseumThe Natural History Museum

The darkness of caves has dramatically affected the evolution of some animals. Cave fish no longer develop eyes, and they rely on other senses to survive.

OlmThe Natural History Museum

Olm (Proteus anguinus)

The olm has undeveloped eyes. These cave-dwelling salamanders rely on special receptors that help them sense the electric fields of approaching predators and prey.

Fantastic feature
Electroreceptors to sense what's around them

Where to find them
In underground caves north of the Adriatic Sea

Humpback anglerfishThe Natural History Museum

A light in the dark

Humpback anglerfish (Melanocetus johnsonii)

The anglerfish has a modified spine with a bioluminescent lure at its end, which it twitches to attract prey.

Fantastic feature
Attracting prey and lighting up the deep, dark sea

Where to find them
Deep in oceans across the globe

Vampire squidThe Natural History Museum

Vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis)
The vampire squid lives in the dark depths of the ocean. When threatened, this little cephalopod can turn itself inside out, hiding in a webbed 'cloak' of arms and exposing its sharp spines called cirri. This isn't their only method of defence.

Vampire squids don't produce ink as this wouldn't benefit them in the lightless depths of the ocean. Instead they release a bioluminescent fluid to distract attacking predators while they flee in the opposite direction.

Amazing ability
Turning itself inside out to hide from predators

Where to find them
In the depths of the ocean

Credits: Story

For more information and to book tickets to the exhibition, visit the Museum's website.

To find out more about the Wizarding World, visit

WIZARDING WORLD and all related trademarks, characters, names, and indicia are © & ™ Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Publishing Rights © JKR. (s21)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps