Monday, April 21, 2014
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GUEST COLUMN • Mark Magnan | Survival of the fittest

We have all seen the TV shows, documentaries, about how nature has a way of breeding out the bad characteristics of animals. Of course there has been much written about this over the years, often in controversy. But the simple explanation is that the slower or “dumber” animals get weeded out, leaving only the better bloodlines.
We do a version of this with our domestic animals. The livestock shows are full of these examples. But for generations the slower or poorly advanced antelope in Africa get eaten by the faster and smarter lions. It just keeps on going.
One might think by now that all of the slow antelope might have been bred out, leaving only a super fast breed. I don’t think that has happened, just as the lions have failed to evolve to follow along. If this theory was true we would have jet powered antelope being chased by rocket powered lions.
To a degree, this evolution does help clean up the herd. It removes sick and less powerful animals, leaving the better ones to keep the bloodlines strong.


As humans, we make it better and more convenient for our challenged members, as we should. But animals offer theirs up as a sacrifice to keep the predators happy and full. If poor Aunt Agnes the Antelope twists her ankle one day, she becomes a bit of a buffer for all the others. I am sure that all the other antelopes liked Aunt Agnes, but better her than us, so to speak.
But back to the evolution of animals. For me the first creature that comes to mind is the armadillo. One might deduce that all the armadillos with poor judgment and bad eyesight would be thinned out by now. Another is the squirrel. This has to be the most indecisive animal on the planet. No wonder so many are laid out on the road, a victim of the automobile.
The squirrel starts out across the road, you might wonder what he is thinking, “I can make this, no problem. Well, perhaps I can’t make it; I should turn around. No wait, I can do this. Oh my, that car is closer than I thought, I need to turn back.Well, what the heck, I am this far, surely I can get all the way across. But why risk it? I am turning back. Darn it, I am fast. I can make....” Thwack.
I mean for an animal that is as nimble as a squirrel, you would think it would be able to make better decisions. They jump around the tops of trees without a care.
They can run (not walk) across a thin power line 30 feet above speeding traffic.
They can judge the maximum height that a dog can jump so they can position themselves mere inches above that level to tease the dog.
Yet, when they get on the pavement they seem to lose all capacity for rational thinking.
Wouldn’t it be great if other areas of our lives worked like natural selection?
Rude and inconsiderate people would eventually be bred out of society. Weeds and nuisance plants would be gone from our nice lawns. Bad singers would be a thing of the past. My list could go on and on.
Nature works well when left alone. Sometimes I think we try to help a bit, and we interfere. But quite often I would have some valid suggestions for “natural selection”, although I am sure we all do. A high percentage of us might list politicians for elimination.