Teacup pigs became the new "it" pet of 2009, but they're hardly the only mini animal worthy of attention. Thanks to the work of Mother Nature—and science, in some cases—we’ve been introduced to plenty of lovable, itty-bitty versions of bigger animals. While some, like the pygmy hedgehog, are perfectly suited to be a family pet, others are best admired from afar. Either way, these teeny species are just too cute to pass up.
The first record of miniature horses dates back to the 17th century, when King Louis XIV kept a zoo of unusual animals at the Palace of Versailles. But it wasn't until 1978 that the American Miniature Horse Association (AMHA) officially established the miniature horse as a separate breed. According to the AMHA, a miniature horse must be shorter than 34 inches tall, measured from the last hairs of the mane. Despite their diminutive size, these horses are tough: On average, they live one-third longer than average-size horses.
Tiny enough to fit on the tip of a pencil, the smallest frog in the Old World (Europe, Asia and Africa)—Microhyla nepenthicola—was discovered near Gunung Serapi, a mountain in Malaysia’s Kubah National Park. Adult males grow up to ½ inch on average. For decades, the frog was featured in museum collections as the offspring of other species. It wasn’t until 2010 that it was discovered and relabeled as its own separate micro-species.
Pygmy Mouse Lemur
This big-eyed, nocturnal tree dweller is the smallest primate in the world, measuring less than 2½ inches from the top of its head to the base of the tail (its tail can actually be twice as long as its body). The mouse lemur weighs between 1 and 4 ounces and is well-equipped for hardy survival: It can store up to 35 percent of its body weight in fat in its tail and hind legs, and uses it to live off when food is scarce. Photo: courtesy of WikiMedia.org
This beautifully colored bird is beyond small—weighing a mere 1.8 grams and measuring just 2 inches long—and elusive, living only in Cuba and the nearby Isle of Pines. But don’t be fooled by its size: This bird is a powerhouse. It has a wing rhythm of up to 80 beats per second, and its heartbeat is the second fastest of all animals’. To keep up their speed, bee hummingbirds eat up to half their body mass a day and drink roughly eight times their body mass in water.
A popular pet because of its sweet and curious disposition, the African pygmy is a crossbreed of the white-bellied or four-toed hedgehog and the Algerian hedgehog. The result is a domestic-friendly creature that typically weights ½ to 1¼ pounds and is 5 to 8 inches long. Like its wild brethren, it has a long pointy snout, large eyes and ears, four digits on each foot and a short tail—plus plenty of white-tipped quills to be careful of!
Given their petite size, even average seahorses are inherently adorable. But this mini fish, which usually doesn’t get bigger than 1 inch long, takes it to the next level. There are nine species of pygmy seahorses, which are generally white, yellow or gold with red-rimmed white spots. All species tend to have a very round body and a small, well-defined snout. As with other seahorses, the male carries the eggs, but instead of incubating them in a pouch in his tail, the male pygmy seahorse does it in a special cavity in his trunk.
Not to be confused with the miniature horse, a miniature mule is the offspring of a miniature mare and a miniature donkey. They’re sterile like full-size mules, but only stand up to 48 inches tall. They make feisty pets, but are also bred for showing and pulling goods/equipment.
The smallest crocodilian species in the world, the dwarf caiman is still relatively hefty: Females can reach 3 feet, and males up to 3½ feet. Residing in the freshwater rivers and swamps of northeastern South America, this species has heavy, bone-like scales that cover its back and sides, and an upturned snout and pronounced overbite. Despite their rows of sharp teeth, there’s something about their short, smooth, concave heads and tiny limbs that makes them one of the most endearing reptiles around.
These adorable micro-pigs have become popular pets in Britain—and to some extent in the U.S.—due to their manageable size and sweet personality. A mix of several different breeds including potbellied pigs, Tamworth, Kune Kune and Gloucester Old Spot, the piglets only weigh about 9 ounces at birth—about the size of a teacup, hence the name. They reach full size at 2 years old, topping out at 12 to 16 inches, and weighing around 65 pounds—about the size of a spaniel.
This adorable monkey is also the world’s smallest, weighing less than a soda can and measuring just under 6 inches on average—not including its tail, which tends to be twice as long as its body. Pygmy marmosets primarily live in the tropical rainforests of South America and southern and eastern Africa. Given its swift speeds and preference for living right under the canopy layer of massive trees, the marmoset has proven to be difficult to study in the wild.
Native to the deserts of North Africa, Arabia and parts of Central Asia and Pakistan, these cute and cuddly-looking felines unfortunately prefer hot, dry climates to the comfort of your home. Growing up to 2 feet in Iength and weighing just 7 pounds on average, sand cats are well equipped for the desert’s extreme weather: Thick, medium-length fur insulates them against the nighttime cold; pads on their feet are covered with long hair to shield them from the hot earth.
Discovered in 2006, this fish is the world's smallest vertebrate. A member of the carp family, it was found living on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in dark, ultra-acidic waters. It measures 0.3 inches long, and looks more like a larva than a fish, because of its translucent skin.
Although it’s the smallest fox in the world, the fennec fox is hard to overlook, with its sweet heart-shaped face and massive ears. Those ears—standing 6 inches tall—aren’t just for show, however. They help the fox expel body heat and keep cool during sun-ravaged days in its native North Africa. Measuring up to 16 inches—not including the tail, which is between 7 to 12 inches—fennec foxes typically weigh just over 3 pounds. They’re covered in long, thick fur that acts as a defense against the extreme desert environment. This same cream-colored fur makes it a prize for hunters, and a favorite of the captive pet trade.
Babydoll Southdown Sheep