Ugly animals rule, cute is creepy

13.09.2013 17:03

What makes an animal cute? Why
would we humans decide en masse
that some non-humans are more
aesthetically pleasing than others? An
easy answer would be that we like
things that are cute and fluffy. Even
primates show a preference for
softer, more comforting contact , even
opting for that over food.
Soft fur clearly isn't the only factor
influencing our idea of what's cute
though. If it were, why would we
have developed a strong psychological
bond with cats on the one hand while
developing entire industries for
wiping out rats on the other? Rats are
small and furry too, why do they
need to be eradicated? Granted,
there's the whole "spreading disease
and plague" thing, so it's not a
completely fair comparison.
Things that have the properties of
human babies/infants seem to be
considered cute. This may be why we
seem primed to take care of things we
find cute, sometimes even to the point
where it defies logic. I recall passing
a stand where animal rights activists
were collecting signatures for a
petition to protest animal
experimentation (using images of
monkeys and dogs, rather than far
more commonly used mice and, of
course, rats, meaning humanity still
hasn't gotten over that whole "black
death" thing).
One passer-by was signing the
petition while ranting about how
terrible it was that people would be
cruel to animals for no reason and
anyone who does that should be
locked up. He then turned to leave,
spotted a pigeon in his path and
kicked it out of the way, accusing it of
being a "filthy bird". Apparently
cruelty to animals is not on, unless
they fall below an unspecified
standard of hygiene.
It would be wrong of me to imply that
animal rights protesters are just
cynical for using images of "cute"
animals in their materials; if they
have to gain the support of the
general public, it's more of a
necessity. This becomes apparent
when conservation groups do it too .
Axolotl. Phwoarrr! I would. Photograph:
Jan-Peter Kasper/EPA
Is cute "better"? A purely human-
centric subjective factor is
meaningless in evolutionary contexts.
Cute things aren't intrinsically more
worthwhile than non-cute things (if
this even makes any sense in the
context of complex biospheres). Plus,
some research suggests cute animals
provoke an aggressive response
(possibly due to the caring inclination
being thwarted by distance/species-
incompatibility). If you're going to
try and aggressively squeeze a
smaller, furrier creature, try the
testicle-shredding Honey Badger.
Thankfully, the uglier animals are
finally getting the attention they
deserve. Recently, the ever-popular
Ugly Animal Preservation Society,
which uses comedy and conservation
science to promote the plight of the
less aesthetically pleasing endangered
creatures, held a national vote,
announced at the British Science
Festival in Newcastle, to determine
which is the world's ugliest
endangered animal. The five finalists
were as follows.
The blobfish
The winner was the humble blobfish ,
named using the "say what you see"
system of taxonomy. The blobfish is
very accurately named. Picture a
sculpture of a Sontaran made out of
margarine that's been left in the sun
for five hours. Now stick a fish body
on that, and you're pretty much
The kakapo
The kakapo isn't exactly ugly when
compared to some of the slimier/
insectile members of the animal
kingdom. They're parrots, but
surprisingly large, flightless ones,
native to New Zealand. Admittedly,
they're a bit shambolic and
cumbersome compared to the rest of
the parrot kingdom . They are to
"parrots" what darts players are to
The proboscis monkey
The most notable aspect of the
proboscis monkey is that it has big
nose. As in, seriously big. If you see
one, your immediate reaction would
be "that's a big nose", much like if
you saw a person on fire you'd think
"that person's on fire". You wouldn't
really dwell on their height or other
measurements. I'm sure the proboscis
monkey has other properties too, but
the main thing is the nose.
The scrotum frog
The scrotum frog must surely be
damning proof that intelligent design
can't be real. Imagine the
conversation between designers that
could have led to this.
"You know what's a really good look?
The human scrotum"
"Hmmm ... is there any way we could
make it even better?"
"How about if we made it 10 times
bigger, gave it eyes, limbs, slimy skin
and a tendency to croak?"
"Great! But will people take it too
"What if we make it indigenous to
lake Titicaca?"
The axolotl
I had a pet axolotl as a child. He was
creamy white but with red fronds for
"hair". We kept him in a tank and
had to feed him strips of raw liver
with tweezers. We called him "Alan",
because that's what my family was
like. He was awesome and I won't
hear a word against this glorious
salamander, so here's a quote from
fellow (better) science comedian
Helen Arney, who championed the
axolotl in this contest
"The axolotl's true ugliness is on the
inside. I discovered that they stay in a
juvenile state their entire lives and
never grow up, which is creepy ...
Earlier this week I met a baby axolotl
at Newcastle's Life Centre - at just
2cm long it had already eaten more
than two dozen of its brothers and
sisters, leaving Hannibal (that's what
they named him) all alone in his
fratricidal cannibal tank".
So ugly animals are finally getting the
respect and consideration they've
always been entitled to. We always
emphasise how shallow and immature
it is to judge others on their
appearance alone, why should it be
any different with animals? Besides,
some studies have shown that an
animal is considered more attractive
if it is believed to be endangered . So
by acknowledging the precarious
state of these ugly creatures, perhaps
we could make them more beautiful?
But then, why should we need to?