Rhinocerous @Denver Zoo 2009-02-14 LAH 307

The rhinoceros, naked mole-rat, and Marabou stork aren’t going to win any beauty contests. They consistently appear on lists of the world’s ugliest animals. But  I beg to differ. In my eyes, all creatures are beautiful.

Marabou_stork_(Leptoptilos_crumenifer)_headOf course, deciding what is beautiful or ugly is a matter of opinion. We’ve all heard that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Where does our idea of beauty come from? Why can one person shy away from a bat, for example, while another is fascinated?

Beauty is frequently an indication of health. A glowing complexion, that sparkle in the eyes, and body symmetry are all features of a healthy human, and traits we consider attractive. Similarly, animals with the same traits as healthy humans are more appealing to us.

Aye-aye_at_night_in_the_wild_in_MadagascarAs I looked at these lists of “ugly” animals, I noticed some common features. We tend to vilify animals with large noses, for example; elephant seals, proboscis monkeys, and blobfish appeared over and over. Bug eyes don’t rate highly either; perhaps because in humans, protruding eyes are a sign of disease. Aye-ayes and those googly-eyed goldfish were considered ugly because of their eyes, and one list included a fruit fly—something I always considered very pretty. (The aye-aye’s huge ears don’t help a lot, either.)

Warthog_DenverZoo_20091007_LAH_3369The warthog is another animal that we frequently consider ugly. It’s true that they don’t meet our accepted criteria for beauty—they’re covered with hairy bristles instead of soft fur, they have beady eyes and knobs sticking out of their face, and their tail resembles a piece of rope—but think how well they’re adapted to their lives in the African bush. Those protruding face-lumps offer protection, as do the two pairs of tusks, and a thick coat of fine fur would keep them too warm in the tropics. Besides, who are we to complain? Warthogs clearly find one another attractive, or there wouldn’t be any.

2 days 1st bath 3To a large degree, I think it’s a matter of connection. Think of the times when the proud parents show us dozens of photos of a red, wrinkled newborn. They’re clearly in love, while we who aren’t emotionally invested make polite remarks about how “precious” the kid is. The same holds true for animals.

Take spiders, for example. I have long struggled to overcome a deeply embedded arachnophobia. I see spiders—especially those skittery, brown house spiders with the oval body and long legs—and run screaming. Yet a friend of mine can’t get enough of them. That’s because he’s spent years learning about spiders, and I haven’t. I admit—the more I know, the less awful they seem. One day, I may even think they’re good-looking. Maybe.

Many people abhor reptiles—snakes, lizards, and the like. Maybe it’s the warty skin, or the fact that they’re “cold-blooded.”

Black Vultures_EvergladesNP-FL_LAH_4711Being unattractive poses problems for animals on a human-dominated planet. Everyone wants to save the polar bear, but try to drum up support for vultures. Conservationists have learned to promote the cute creatures, thereby raising donations for the rest of the crowd.

We humans tend to be prejudiced against any creature we don’t like the looks of. That’s blatantly unfair. The next time you see an animal that makes you cringe, try to be more open-minded. I wonder what those “ugly beasts” think about us humans.

Photos, from top:

2 thoughts on “Ugly

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