World Animal Day

October 4, 2013

Torah Kachur

Today is World Animal Day, but considering the state of our environment we really should have more than just one day to celebrate our animal-kin.  We need to celebrate the animals in nature every day, each and every day we should kiss a few frogs or wrestle a few hogs to say "thank you" to the creatures that let us share the earth with them.


What are these kind and gentle creatures that so willingly let us co-habitate?  The answer is that we just don't know, there is an estimated 8.7 million species of the planet, most of those are microbes but if only 15% of living species are known to science, then that leaves a lot of those as animals. 


And even just this year we are discovering new animal species:


Take the legless lizard found living near LAX, this snake-but-not-snake is a lizard.  Anniella grinneli (we'll just call her Annie) can give you a little flirty wink because they can blink, which snakes cannot do.  What does this tell us about evolution?  That legs aren't really that important, both snakes and legless lizards have lost their legs independently suggesting that twice in evolution the world looked better at a slither.  Annie is pretty cute and was discovered around LAX, let's just hope that after this discovery the habitat of this rare peek into evolutionary history can be best preserved.

Photo courtesy of James Parnham


Or how about the teddy-bear looking Olinguito discovered high in the Columbian and Ecuadorean rain forests.  This is a new mammal, the first new mammal discovered in years.  And it's cute to boot!  Hopefully the idea of preserving a teddy bear's habitat will spur some better protection of the Amazon and it's early streams better than a pirahna can.



Olinguito Science in Seconds


But that's just it, we don't care if we discover microbes living at the bottom of an ice-encased salt lake because they aren't cute.  But when we characterize a fuzzy cuddly animal it is international news.


What would you rather protect?  An animal that looks like something I sleep with every night and snuggle with (TMI?) or an ugly epaulette shark discovered off the coast of Australia? 


So what they aren't cute - the epaulette shark is a walking shark that can survive in low oxygen waters suggesting incredible adaptations to the changing environment.  These guys may be better clues to our evolutionary past and future than just another furry thing.



Save all the animals....but sometimes especially the ugly ones



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