Last weekend I watched Hank the Sloth Bear, resident of the National Zoo, suck mealworms through a tube. The zookeeper loaded up her hand full of the beetle larvae and Hank used the power of his lungs to pull up the treat. He was obviously strong and a voracious eater, so I was impressed. I can appreciate anyone willing to suck their treats through a long tube. That shows a dedication to snacking with which I can identify.
But what I liked most about Hank was his incredibly floppy face. His ears were hairy and droopy, like a Muppet. His nose had extra skin so he could pull it flat to his face. His lips were comically saggy, heavy with extra skin. All of this is an evolutionary benefit to allow Hank to suck up termites easier, but it mostly seems like an evolutionary benefit for looking ridiculous. It’s great.
Everyone really appreciated Hank’s unique facial features, but I’m wondering why we don’t appreciate such unique features on humans. No one sees a man on the bus with huge, uneven ears and just can’t stand how adorable he is. A woman with heavy, sinking cheeks isn’t praised for her distinctive beauty. A person without most of his teeth isn’t considered a bit unfortunate, but ultimately charming. Why is it that we can accept, even praise, these unusual characteristics in other animals, but not in ourselves?
Next time I see someone with a super floppy face, I’m going to hug her and tell her that her distinct look reminds me of a sloth bear. That might not go over well at first, but if she’s unhappy with the compliment, I’ll just turn it around and ask her why she’s so speciesist and what she has against sloth bears. That’ll show that droopy-faced lady.