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Saturday, November 8, 2014
Nature ... Society ...

It’s interesting how we humans can see something in nature that strikes our fancy for some odd reason, and give it an imaginary quality that has nothing at all to do with whatever it is. I think they call this “anthropomorphizing” or something. I.e., trying to humanize something that just ain’t human.

One example is polar bears. A lot of people seem delighted with the thought of polar bears. They’ve starred in movies and Coke commercials. Maybe it’s their fluffy white fur. Once upon a time, people shot the darn things, skinned them, and used the lovely fur as a rug. But that was back in the Teddy Roosevelt days. Today you can still buy polar bear rugs, but they are obviously fakes. Real polar bears are endangered by the warming of the Arctic Zone, and thus generate a lot of sympathy from the public.

So instead of plugging and skinning them, we now give them voices and put them in commercials and make them cute. Not just in look, but in how they act. In reality, they don’t act anything like the way they do in Coke commercials. They don’t make good, loving parents, for one. Nor do they form nice little communities. They’re pretty much loners, and a male will eat his cub if there’s nothing else around to munch on.

And they also don’t make much of a distinction between a seal and a human being. Both would represent a few more calories to help a bear get thru the cold Arctic nights (and days!). The seal is probably preferable, given its blubber, but humans are packing more and more blubber themselves these days. We’re getting fatter, while polar bears are getting hungrier as global warming and industrial pollution messes up their normal food sources. Thus, there have been an increasing number of polar bear attacks on humans in recent years, especially as they move towards human habitats desperate for food (garbage being their first target, with people being an occasional snack).

There’s another kind of bear that isn’t quite as popular as the polar bear, but likewise seems subject to being “cutesy-fied” by the media. That one is the water bear or tardigrade, which is actually a tiny little organism not much bigger than an amoeba (they are about 2 one-hundredths of an inch long). I’ve seen some pictures of them lately in various articles, including one in Scientific American. The most popular image of a water bear seems to be this one:

(Sorry, I don’t know who took that photo, and I hope I’m not violating someone’s copyright. If so, I’ll take it down.)
The pic is kind of weird, but the tiny critter is not entirely un-bear like. The thing appears to have a face, even. It has some sort of snout, but somewhere in those wrinkles appears to be two eyes and a mouth, and it almost appears to be smiling! And look at those chubby arms and little paws. Oh, how adorable! How long can it be until someone puts a talking water bear in a feel-good commercial?

But let’s take a look at some other pix I found on the Internet (again, not sure if these are copyright or in public use, will remove if there is any problem.)

As you can see, the thing does NOT have any eyes and mouth. What you thought was a face is just some kind of bug-like projection. It’s cute little paws are more like insect claws. Some of the pix on the Wikipedia site are even less “anthropogenic”. These “bears” are basically somewhere between a bug and a protozoa or a nematode. They’re probably not as dangerous as a polar bear; at worst, a few too many of them in your water might give you a stomach ache.

But once again, we tend to take cuteness too far these days. Maybe it’s part of the “Twee” movement. Whatever, it’s time to get real. Polar bears do not deserve extinction, but they definitely aren’t innocent victims either. And tardegrades / water bears, although scientifically interesting in many ways, aren’t cuddly either. Both deserve their place in the biosphere. As with Mother Nature in general, they deserve respect from humankind; but they aren’t our friends. For friends, stick with human beings, however difficult they can be. Or take your chances with a dog or cat; but know that even they ultimately have their own agendas.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:00 pm      

  1. Jim, I don’t know if it’s just me or what, but don’t these pictures look as if they are made of some kind of cloth? The pix in Wikipedia do not seem to look anything like the ones here. Looks to me as if someone used something to approximate what “water bears” look like.

    Then too, even tho Polar Bears can be, and are, dangerous to humans, I don’t think we need to worry about them where we live, as the farther south they get the warmer the temps get. I don’t think they are made for that warmer weather. And, frankly, I think that the people who live where Polar Bears live know somewhat of how to deal with them.

    So, when it comes right down to it, I doubt I’ll worry too much about either of these in the near future. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — November 9, 2014 @ 10:15 am

  2. Water Bears scare me more than Polar Bears: they can survive in space while Polar Bears have trouble surviving here (sorry Polar Bears).

    Comment by Relyk — February 20, 2016 @ 4:08 am

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