Sunday, 4 February 2007

Survival of the cutest

We've known if for a long time but here's the evidence. David Stokes and his students at the University of Washington looked at what made certain animal species attractive to humans. They analysed the results of a popularity poll for penguins* and found that colour, size and neoteny (retention of juvenile traits in adults) were important factors in our aaaah-isn't-it-adorable categorisation of species. Emperor and king penguins topped the list, with rockhopper and macaroni penguins coming in at second. (Our little blue penguins were at the bottom of the popularity poll. How could they?)

Stokes ties the cute factor into conservation effort.

'We do have these big differences in how we feel about living things. These feelings are going to play a big role in what we choose to conserve.'

So all we need to make invertebrates more appealing is to give them big eyes and a smart colour scheme. Hmmm ... I still can't see anyone wanting to hug a hornet.

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* The penguins were the subject of the poll; they weren't the ones being questioned.

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