Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Undomesticated Peeves Part 1

(Well, they can’t be “pet peeves” if they’re about wildlife, can they?)

Recently Patti Abbott posted a question on her blog asking what relatively small things annoyed her readers. Being who I am, I had to struggle to keep the list down, but one of my foremost irritations is, of course, a biology-related one.

Often—faaaar too often, in our supposedly civilized society—people confuse mammals with animals. This is not to say that mammals are not animals. However, just as all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares, “animals” is a category that includes a vast array of species that are not anything like mammals (which themselves make up only a tiny percentage of the number of animals out there).

And I have to admit, I’m baffled when people say that insects or fish or octopi aren’t animals. What do they think they are—fruit?

[this mantis shrimp is having an existential crisis:
when it looks in the mirror, does it see an animal?]

This is not just a trivial thing, given that it highlights both our mammal-centric thinking (dangerous as well as profoundly inaccurate) and our general ignorance of basic zoology. Or maybe it’s not true ignorance so much as carelessness; surely if someone paused to think, he or she would realize that there is no category other than “animal” into which they could place alligators or stick insects or barnacles. But it worries me that anyone would have to pause to think about it.

Maybe I’m just being snobbish, complaining about these taxonomical inaccuracies. But—here’s the great part—I don’t care!

Don’t say that jellyfish, or fruitflies, or any other species lacking hair and mammary glands, aren’t animals. There’s just no excuse for that kind of thing.

Stay tuned for more of my education-through-harangues campaign!

{A note: I do write all text and take all pictures. Please do not reproduce either without my permission.}


Anca said...

Thanks for making me laugh out loud! That newt is gorgeous, but is it an animal:)?

biobabbler said...

OH em GEE! THIS has made me NUTS FOREVER! It's truly shocking the caliber of people who make this mistake.

And I ask myself the same, old school question: if it's not an animal, then is it vegetable or mineral?!?


The great Will Shortz of the NYT crossword puzzle screwed this up on NPR radio's puzzlemaster Sunday puzzle years ago & my husband & I did that immediate, shocked, silent stare at each other.

A caller had to name an animal in the zoo that starts with the letter B and the caller said bluejay and Will said he was wrong "That's not an animal." WILL SHORTZ!! That's not a MAMMAL, but it's most certainly a living, breathing, peeing, pooping, thinking animal. Oy.

I'm very glad you brought this up. Pretty shocking error by so many people and I'm always ready with "So, is it vegetable or mineral, then?" hmmm??

=) THANK YOU. *sigh* kinda cathartic. =) xoxo

Olivia V. Ambrogio said...

@biobabbler: Thanks for the validation! Yes, it's astonishing how many well-educated people don't pay attention to what's coming out of their mouths when zoology is involved. That's why people like us--as you've suggested--need some nice superhero gear so we can leap to the rescue and correct misapprehensions and ignorance.

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