All posts by besdrongos

The Bio”D” in Disney

It is a widely known fact that many of the beloved Disney characters that we are all too familiar with are based on actual animals. But really, how well do we know about the real-life creatures that inspired them? And how accurate are their real-life behaviours being portrayed through their fictional counterparts? Amongst many, five characters across the Disney universe have been chosen for you to compare fact to fiction because it is honestly such a pity that many of these real-life creatures and their equally interesting character traits lay hidden behind the spotlight.

  • Winnie the Pooh- Canadian Black Bear

(Credits: Heroes Wiki, Alex Pawlowski, New York Public Library)

One of the most timeless and oldest characters in Disney history, Winnie the Pooh, needs no introduction. He was based upon a teddy bear owned by the creator’s son, Christopher Robin Milne. Though the original teddy bear was not based on any actual bear species, the boy named it “Winnie” after a Canadian black bear that lived at the London Zoo. Perhaps this explains the stark difference in fur colour!

Fact:

Winnie the Pooh had a chronic addiction to honey and constantly plotted ways to raid hives with his Hundred Acre companions. Canadian black bears, or bears in general, do in fact love raiding hives too! They have short, non-retractable claws that allow them to climb up trees to reach the heights the hives are at.

Fiction:

While you only ever see Pooh Bear consuming honey, actual bears may be going in for the more succulent prize, as they are rather opportunistic eaters with a taste for almost anything. The bees and larvae are extremely nutritional and rich in protein and fat.

Also, actual bears are coated with long, thick fur which makes it hard for bees to reach the skin surface and sting them, thus making them resistant to bee stings. Their faces and ears, however, are areas uncovered with fur, so they are not completely immune either. So in fact, Pooh doesn’t have to make such elaborate plans just to get to his meals.

2) Zootopia’s Mr. Big – Arctic shrew

 

(Credits: Disney Wiki, Clara Chaisson)

You’d be surprised at the amount of thought that went into casting the characters of “Zootopia”. As a good example, the filmmakers consulted animals experts for “the most vicious carnivore” to play the part of the Mafia king of sorts, and it surprisingly was this petite little creature.

 Fact:

Shrews are as much of savages as Mr. Big in the film. Though seemingly adorable and harmless, these rodents will not hesitate to take on animals larger than them, such as mice, snakes, and scorpions. At one point, it was even believed that the shrew’s bite was poisonous, but it was later discovered that the saliva of some shrew species are lethal to mice and can cause substantial pain to humans. In fact, they hold economic value to farmers, ridding them of pests like insects and slugs.

Fiction:

It would be highly unlikely that an arctic shrew would possess such a wide network of family, friends, and servants, for they are highly solitary animals. Adults are territorial to the point where any forced extended interaction between two shrews would render one of them dead within a matter of days, as studies have shown.

3) The Lion King’s Timon and Pumba – Meerkat and Warthog

(Credits: Toonbaboon, Metro News)

It’s everyone favourite comedic duo and #BFFgoals, Timon and Pumba from “The Lion King”! Have you ever wondered whether these inseparable characters are based on actual, real-life animal interactions? Let’s put their friendship to the test.

It’s…fiction!

The meerkat-looking animals you see in the photograph on the right are actually mongooses and not meerkats! (That’s right, it’s not mongeese.) Warthogs and mongooses have been observed to share a rather rare form of symbiotic relationship between mammals known as mutualism, where both parties benefit – the warthogs cleaned and the mongooses fed.

Limited research has been conducted on this behaviour, though if you would like some evidence, do check out the 2010 BBC special called “Banded Brothers”, here:

4) Finding Nemo’s Pearl – FlapJack Octopus

(Credits: Disney Wiki, Dante Fenolio)

That’s right, for all those of you who thought this adorable character was a jellyfish or squid of sorts, you were wrong! This is a flapjack octopus, appropriately named after the way it collapses on the seabed, looking like mush. Unfortunately, that’s about the point where the resemblance ends, and from here it’s mostly…

Fiction:

If there were indeed fish schools, Pearl would probably not be going to school with the other fishes as octopuses are one of the most intelligent animals on the planet, and very possibly the most intelligent invertebrate on earth. They have highly developed nervous systems that allow them to solve puzzles, mimic other animals through camouflage, and develop both long and short-term memory.

Sadly, Pearl and her father would not have coexisted in the same time period either. Octopuses mate sacrificially, as after they practice external fertilization, the males wander off to die shortly after, and the females either starve to death obsessively guarding the eggs for many months (depending on the species), or her own body degenerates on its own. This, coupled with the fact that octopuses only live from a few months to a few years, is why experts think that humans are instead the dominant intelligence on earth because there was no way for octopuses to accumulate and pass down knowledge without generational overlap, despite their incredible cognitive and learning abilities.

5) Jungle Book’s King Louie – Gigantopithecus

(Credits: Walt Disney. Co, Wookieepedia)

Enough of the present, let’s dig up some of the past! Those of you who have watched the 2016 version of The Jungle Book might have guessed that King Louie’s character is based on the extinct ape species, Gigantopithecus, the largest primate to ever roam the earth.

Fact:

Indeed, it is possible for an early human and this real-life King Kong to have crossed paths. Archaeologists found the fossil remains of the Gigantopithecus in parts of Asia, India included (where the movie was set in), and it existed alongside human ancestors, Homo Sapien and Homo Erectus, for tens of thousands of years.

Its size is no disappointment either, as the Gigantopithecus easily stood up to 3 metres tall and weighed up to 600 kg! (There is, however, a slight locational discrepancy, as the species found in India, G. Giganteus, is only slightly taller than a human, as compared to its much more massive China counterpart.)

 Fiction:

Sadly, a meetup between King Louie and Mowgli would not have been possible, as the Gigantopithecus has been extinct for around 300, 000 to 400, 000 years ago.

Poor King Louie might also have been overly demonized as the Gigantopithecus, after research on its dental structure, has been proven to be a gentle giant with a general liking for bamboo – its cavities closely resembles that of a giant panda, indicating similar diets.

Hopefully, you have enjoyed this magical carpet ride, and realised that actual animals can also be as fascinating as their fictional counterparts!

 

 

 

 

References:

 

  1. Barras, C. (2018). Jungle tales: the real King Louie was the biggest ape of all. [online] Newscientist.com. Available at: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2088989-jungle-tales-the-real-king-louie-was-the-biggest-ape-of-all/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Bear.org. (2018). North American Bear Center – What do bears like to eat in a beehive?. [online] Available at: https://www.bear.org/website/bear-pages/black-bear/foraging-a-foods/206-what-do-bears-like-to-eat-in-a-beehive.html [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Defenders of Wildlife. (2018). Basic Facts About Black Bears. [online] Available at: https://defenders.org/black-bear/basic-facts [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Disney Wiki. (2018). Mr. Big (Zootopia). [online] Available at: http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Mr._Big_(Zootopia) [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Encyclopedia.com. (2018). shrew facts, information, pictures | Encyclopedia.com articles about shrew. [online] Available at: https://www.encyclopedia.com/plants-and-animals/animals/vertebrate-zoology/shrew [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. En.wikipedia.org. (2018). Arctic shrew. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctic_shrew [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. En.wikipedia.org. (2018). Gigantopithecus. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gigantopithecus [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Griggs, M. (2018). Consent Form | Popular Science. [online] Popsci.com. Available at: https://www.popsci.com/warthogs-take-themselves-to-mongoose-gleaners [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Harness, J. and 1, R. (2018). 11 Things You Might Not Know About Winnie the Pooh. [online] Neatorama. Available at: http://www.neatorama.com/2012/01/18/11-things-you-might-not-know-about-winnie-the-pooh/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Manning, E. (2018). ASK A WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, Alaska Department of Fish and Game. [online] Adfg.alaska.gov. Available at: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=wildlifenews.view_article&articles_id=371 [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Nuwer, R. (2018). Ten Curious Facts About Octopuses. [online] Smithsonianmag.com. Available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ten-curious-facts-about-octopuses-7625828/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. Softschools.com. (2018). Octopus Facts. [online] Available at: http://www.softschools.com/facts/animals/octopus_facts/23/ [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].

 

  1. YouTube. (2018). A Warthog Spa – Banded Brothers – Series 1 Episode 1 Preview – BBC Two. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXW_1i1pA0w [Accessed 10 Jun. 2018].
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International Biodiversity Day 2018

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Happy International Biodiversity Day! Today, 22 May 2018, marks the 25th anniversary of the day the Convention on Biological Diversity came into effect. Why not celebrate by donating a tree or two in support of our planet?

The Trillion Tree Campaign has allowed people around the world to pledge and donate to plant trees since its 2006 launch by the United Nations Environment Programme. As of 2016, more than 14.2 billion trees have been planted by people who care about the earth. Last year, the campaign set a new goal of a trillion trees. A 2015 study by Yale found that there are about 3.04 trillion trees on earth. However, we lose about 15 billion trees each year – imagine what a difference we could make with a trillion trees! You could become a part of that movement with just a few clicks.

Join in the effort at https://www.plant-for-the-planet.org/en/treecounter/billion-tree-campaign-2, and spread the word!

Endangered Species Day

Summer break is finally here and perhaps you’re thinking of going on a vacation and exploring the world. Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who will actually be doing that this summer. However, for those who aren’t that lucky, fret not! In commemoration of Endangered Species Day, we’ll take you on a journey around the world (all seven continents!) while showing you some of the endangered species that inhabit these places.

First off, what’s Endangered Species Day? This special day is part of a campaign organised by the Endangered Species Coalition. Through the Endangered Species Day, the Coalition hopes to educate people of all ages about the significance of protecting endangered species, as well as inform people about the everyday efforts that they can undertake to contribute to conservation. In 2018, Endangered Species Day will be commemorated on May 18th. Although efforts for Endangered Species Day are largely concentrated in the United States, we will be focusing on species found around the world for this blog post and the conservation statuses of these organisms will be based off the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Asia – Gymnoderma insulare [Endangered]

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Starting from home in Asia, we have Gymnoderma insulare, which is a well-documented lichen due to its rarity in the wild. This lichen was only found in five locations in Japan (during the period of 1926-2012) and Taiwan (in 2007). It grows at the bottom of tree trunks in old forests, specifically the trees Cryptomeria japonica (in Japan) and Chamaecyparis obtusa (in Taiwan). Old-growth forests with these two tree species were and continue to be threatened by forestry and natural hazards such as typhoons.

Australia – Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) [Critically Endangered]

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(Credits: Jeremiah Blatz)

Going down under, the hawksbill turtle can be found nesting in small numbers along the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait. The Dampier Archipelago and Montebello Islands (off the northwest coast of Australia) are home to one of the biggest hawksbill populations globally. Sadly, these majestic creatures face many threats such as tortoiseshell trade, egg poaching and destruction of nesting habitats – all of which severely affect their population and ability to reproduce.

Antarctica – Amsterdam albatross (Diomedea amsterdamensis) [Critically Endangered]

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(Credits: Dominique Filippi)

Prepare your thick fur coats and stay warm, for we’re heading to Antarctica! Look up, as you may see the Amsterdam albatross, which is a humongous bird with a wingspan of up to 340cm. It is an endemic species, which means that it breeds only on the Plateau des Tourbières on Amsterdam Island. The latest data shows the total population standing at about 170 birds. Although the recent growing population has been encouraging, it is projected that in the long run, the albatross populations will see a continuing decline due to a disease that results in chick mortality.

Africa – Senecio exuberans [Endangered]

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(Credits: Peter Wragg)

Ditch the winter wear and get decked out in easy breezy clothes as we traverse the vast grasslands of Africa. Senecio exuberans was once described as ‘one of the most characteristic features’ of the grasslands around Pietermaritzburg. It’s not hard to see why, as it can grow up to 1.5m tall and its bright yellow flowers stand out among the African grasslands. This species was initially a common sight on such habitats. Unfortunately, as a result of agricultural and developmental pressures, this charismatic plant is now close to extinction.

Europe – Dusky winged fritillary (Boloria improba) [Endangered]

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(Credits: Magnus Unger)

Next, we move on to Europe to see the beautiful dusky winged fritillary. This butterfly can only be found on exposed, grassy areas, frequently on gentle gradients within a limited geographic range in Northern Europe. Owing to its restricted range, long-term threats to this species include climate change and the subsequent changes in vegetation and timberline.

North America – Red wolf (Canis rufus) [Critically Endangered]

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(Credits: https://www.lifeandscience.org/red-wolves)

Say hello to the red wolf in North America! Interestingly, these wolves were declared to be Extinct in the Wild by 1980. A successful reintroduction in 1987 by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) led to a reintroduced population in eastern North Carolina, USA. Current population numbers within this area are less than 150. Anthropogenic threats such as moving vehicles and gunshots can pose serious dangers to this fragile population.

South America – Orincoco crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius) [Critically Endangered]

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(Credits: Fernando Flores)

Finally, we end off our world tour in South America, where the Orinoco crocodile resides exclusively in in the Orinoco River. Holding the title of being the largest predator in the Americas, the male Orincoco crocodiles can grow up to 6m long (that’s how tall giraffes are!). In the past, these reptilians were nearly hunted to extinction for the production of leather. Today, pollution, hunting and the collection of juvenile crocodiles for the live animal trade are the biggest threats to the population, which has been reduced to about 500 individuals.

As Endangered Species Day approaches, you could contribute to conservation efforts through simple acts such as sharing this post with your family and friends, or just by learning more about the threats that biodiversity faces. With that, we hope that you now know more about endangered animals around the world and have a great summer vacation!

References

Endangered Species Day. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.endangered.org/campaigns/endangered-species-day/

Ohmura, Y., Nadyeina, O. & Scheidegger, C. 2014. Gymnoderma insulare. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T58520980A58520984. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2014-3.RLTS.T58520980A58520984.en. Downloaded on 15 May 2018.

Hamann, M., & Riskas, K. (2013). Australian endangered species: Hawksbill Turtle. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/australian-endangered-species-hawksbill-turtle-16218

Mortimer, J.A & Donnelly, M. (IUCN SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group). 2008. Eretmochelys imbricata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T8005A12881238. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T8005A12881238.en. Downloaded on 15 May 2018.

BirdLife International. 2017. Diomedea amsterdamensis (amended version of 2016 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T22698310A110677305. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-1.RLTS.T22698310A110677305.en. Downloaded on 15 May 2018.

Senecio exuberans | Plantz Africa. Retrieved from http://pza.sanbi.org/senecio-exuberans

Kloof Conservancy » Rare and Endangered Plants. Retrieved from https://www.kloofconservancy.org.za/rare-and-endangered-plants/

van Swaay, C., Wynhoff, I., Verovnik, R., Wiemers, M., López Munguira, M., Maes, D., Sasic, M., Verstrael, T., Warren, M. & Settele, J. 2010. Boloria improba. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2010: e.T174312A7048346. Downloaded on 15 May 2018.

Kelly, B.T., Beyer, A. & Phillips, M.K. 2008. Canis rufus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T3747A10057394. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T3747A10057394.en. Downloaded on 15 May 2018.

Schley, R. (2016). On the brink: 10 South American species endangered by environmental changeClimate & Environment at ImperialInsights from staff and students across Imperial working in climate and environment related areas. Retrieved from https://granthaminstitute.com/2016/03/02/on-the-brink-10-south-american-species-endangered-by-environmental-change/

 

World Water Day 2018

world water day

Psst, World Water Day is coming up soon! Here’s a little tip for you to celebrate the upcoming World Water Day on March 22nd:

Go on down to one of the Singapore World Water Day (SWWD) roadshows with your latest Singapore Power (SP) bill, and if the folks at the roadshow see that you’ve been a diligent water saver, you’ll be able to receive an exclusive premium. This sweet opportunity will be waiting for you during the entirety of March, but limited stocks are available (just like one other precious, precious resource).

Find your nearest roadshow here: https://www.pub.gov.sg/getinvolved/singaporeworldwaterday

The above link is also where you can find SWWD’s official partners, including Ben & Jerry’s and oBike, who are eager to offer you a steal of a deal for the right water-saving attitude.

Here’s something to think about this World Water Day: wetlands. Sure, we need to do all we can to keep that fresh, clean, thirst-quenching clear water running out of our taps. But is that enough? Nature needs water too, and we need nature.

Urbanising cities have a common trend of gradually encroaching on natural spaces like wetlands. These cities will only expand and multiply as time passes, and it may seem a waste to preserve a wetland when it could be a bustling hub. The truth is, however, that wetlands are important to us, even to those of us who live highly urbanised environments. Wetlands provide a wide array of ecosystem services, such as absorbing excess rainfall during storms and helping to reduce the risk of flooding. Now, that’s relevant.

In particular, Singapore boasts a sprawling Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, which is not only a site teeming with heritage, but also with birds of every shape and size. Native birds, exotic birds that have travelled from across the world to spend the winter in sunny Singapore – our very own wetlands are a key stopping point in the East Asian Australasian Shorebird Site Network, which include Kakadu National Park in Australia, Mai Po in Hong Kong and the Yatsu Tidal Flats in Japan.

This World Water Day, maybe leave a little room in your thoughts for the wetlands around the world and in our own garden city, while you’re taking a short shower.

 

Save A Spider Day

It’s Save a Spider Day! OK, I know you’re about to click away because spiders are, well, look at them. If you haven’t gazed deep into a spider’s multiple eyes and shuddered, then you’re just a big, hairy, leggy, liar. But if you think about it, like really think about it, you’d probably still choose to live in a world with spiders in it, rather than without. I mean, I doubt Baygone would be a good enough substitute for a worldwide population of diverse spiders deviously conspiring 24/7 to eliminate their next insect. Do you like birds? Well, good, because birds love spiders. (As food.) Do you like diseases? No? Then thank your lucky stars, because spider venom will soon be used to treat a variety of diseases that cause muscular dystrophy. By the way, can YOU pull the natural world’s strongest material out of your butt? No? Then please, take a seat. (If yes, call 995.)

Hey, check out this fancy boy over here.

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Video: Jurgen Otto (https://www.youtube.com/user/Peacockspiderman)

Fashion week has nothing on this male peacock spider. When it’s time to find a lady, the male peacock spiders show off their brightly coloured backs and sweet moves. Peacock spiders are tiny, with the largest species measuring a whopping 5mm. Imagine that, a tiny colourful speck waving its arms at you because that’s the sexy thing to do. Also, the females eat the males who don’t dance well enough, but let’s not dwell on that.

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This spectacular shot by local wildlife photographer Nicky Bay does great justice to the silvery markings on the mirror spider’s abdomen. When the spider is at rest, the silvery shapes on its abdomen visibly enlarge. It almost looks like a piece of stained glass art!

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Photo: ggalice via Flickr

Net casting spiders are metal as it gets. They weave webs that resemble fishnets, which they then launch at their prey to capture them.

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Photo: Nicky Bay

Look at those eyes. They’re not messing around.

Next time you see a spider, maybe think twice before screaming and squashing it (you can still scream, though). First of all, it cannot be denied that spiders are way cooler than us and also do us a huge favour by catching insects. Second of all, I don’t think you’d want to make an enemy of a spider at this point.

 

Sources:

http://www.medicaldaily.com/venom-medicine-how-spiders-scorpions-snakes-and-sea-creatures-can-heal-328736

http://animals.mom.me/importance-spiders-ecosystem-6242.html

 

Goose mother

Gather round, friends. I’m going to tell you the story of Christian Moullec, world’s biggest goose mum.

You’ve probably heard about imprinting, the amazing and sometimes hilarious phenomenon where newly hatched ducklings or goslings look at the first large moving object in their field of vision and think: “That’s it. That’s my mum.”

In other words, imprinting is a process of rapidly forming strong social bonds with a parent within the first day of hatching (or, in the case of mammals, being born). This usually works pretty well, and imprinting is an important process not just in infancy, but also later in life when it’s time to mate. In this story, however, the distinguished mother goose is a 58-year-old moustachioed Frenchman named Christian Moullec. This proud parent hand reared his sweet children from gosling to goose, and the journey was nothing short of adorable spectacular.

Though it may seem cute to have a couple of fluffy little birds waddling after you, parenting is never a trivial matter. Moullec took on the grave responsibility of caring for his goslings 24/7, and this included teaching them to swim.

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When the goslings were three weeks old, they loyally followed Moullec to a pond, where he proceeded to teach them the Goose Basics of Safe Swimming, including Looking Around for Danger, Kicking With Your Legs, and Keeping Your Feathers Oiled. By allowing the ducks to imitate his behaviour, Moullec is able to effectively teach them what any respectable mother goose can.

Fast forward a few weeks, and the geese are more fully grown and ready for the next big thing.

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No, you aren’t dreaming. That is a man-goose-mum in a lightweight aircraft teaching his kids to fly. Thank you, universe, for this blessing. After several training sessions in his minimalist aircraft (known as a microlight), Moullec was able to guide the geese in a graceful soar over the city of Edinburgh, riding in perfect formation.

ss1.png There goes that weird family again.

For more than twenty years now, Moullec has been raising orphaned geese and flying alongside them in his humble microlight. The purpose? To guide them along safe migratory routes. Wild bird populations have been declining in Europe, and Moullec took the matter into his own hands – into his own home, where he raises the birds which would otherwise have been lost without a parent. He also provides visitors with the opportunity to fly alongside the birds and experience the awe and wonder that he knows so well – and that’s how he funds his own project.

“The most beautiful thing to realise on earth is to fly in the heavens with the angels that are the birds.”

– Christian Moullec: pilot, parent, hero.

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Sources:

Earthflight (2011) BBC One.

http://www.indiana.edu/~p1013447/dictionary/imprint.htm

https://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/psychology/psychology-and-psychiatry/imprinting

 

What If Cats and Dogs Had Opposable Thumbs Day

Happy ‘What If Cats and Dogs Have Opposable Thumbs’ Day!

It’s a mouthful, but a joy to say! I personally will be saying this non-stop to all my friends today.

You’re probably wondering why we even have such a day in the first place. Well, you can blame none other than Thomas Roy, who together with his wife have created over ninety holidays – it’s a pretty respectable hobby. Roy invented the holiday while pondering the endless hijinks his pet cats and dogs could get up to if they had opposable thumbs. They would probably eat with their hands, for instance, like monkeys, instead of sticking their entire faces in their food bowls. They could open the fridge and help themselves to your cake. The possibilities are both wonderful and terrifying.

A whole new world.

Opposable thumbs, which are able to face in the opposite direction to the rest of your fingers, are more vital to your daily life than you’ve ever considered. Without them, you couldn’t grab anything, not even your second helping of cheese rings. You wouldn’t be able to shake hands with anyone and would probably resort to slapping at them with your helpless paws, the way cats do now when they want a facerub.

Let’s celebrate the fact that we have opposable thumbs and our pets don’t! After all, it is because of opposable thumbs that we can squeeze their cheeks and they can’t squeeze ours. If they could, life with them would change forever.

Then again, it might not make that much of a difference. I mean, if your cats had opposable thumbs, they could clean up their own poop, but would they?