“Said Leopard to Baviaan (and it was a very hot day), ‘Where has all the game gone?’
And Baviaan winked. He knew.
Said the Ethiopian to Baviaan, ‘Can you tell me the present habitat of the aboriginal Fauna?’ (That meant just the same thing, but the Ethiopian always used long words. He was a grown-up.)
And Baviaan winked. He knew.
Then said Baviaan, ‘The game has gone into other spots; and my advice to you, Leopard, is to go into other spots as soon as you can.'”
– Rudyard Kipling, Just So Stories (How the Leopard got his Spots)
Now, hopefully most of you have read Just So Stories (if you haven’t, O Best Beloved, do it now!). They were an integral part of my childhood, even before I knew the collection existed. All sorts of wonderful fables to explain just how things came to be, and I loved them so much.
Of course, these are just stories, and have no real truth behind them… right? While in class today, a phrase my professor used kept sticking in my head. While talking about how prey animals can protect themselves from being detected by predators, the first option was to “be rare (or leave town)”. The way this was phrased reminded me over and over of something… until I realized it sounded just like something Baviaan would say. And truly, Baviaan spoke the truth when advising the Leopard and Ethiopian, for predator-prey relationships are truly an arms race, just as depicted in their story.
In the ‘sclusively bare, hot, shiny High Veldt, the Giraffe and Koodoo and Zebra are all easily visible to the Leopard and Ethiopian. To avoid them, they move into the forest, which is all spickly-speckly, and they change their coats accordingly to fit in. Now, the Leopard and Ethiopian are having trouble finding them, and as a result, must then change themselves to not be seen in the forest while hunting for their dinner.
And so it goes in the real world. One prey animal ends up with some sort of advantage over the predator, and those individuals who express that advantage survive to pass on their genes to the next generation. Eventually, a predator ends up with a trait able to make up for the advantage the prey animal has shown, and therefore eats better and is able to produce more offspring, passing these superior genes on as well.
Now, a few real life examples.
I just came across this video a few days ago (and promptly saved it to my favorites list). A spectacular example of mimicry, where the octopus can take on the shape and movements of quite a few different species. Who knows if the octopus is consciously deciding to look like this, or if it’s all just reflex. Still floored me.
Just an example that animals aren’t the only tricky ones. Seeing plants evolve traits like this is a great reminder that evolution isn’t a conscious effort. It’s easy to think that a species as a whole decided that one trait would be effective, but plants have no nervous systems (yet!), and all these things evolved naturally, through trial and error.
And this is adorable.
P.S. 100 total page views today!!