Environment

Ugly Animals Are Ignored by Scientists, While the Big-Eyed and Cute Get All the Attention

A new study finds that scientists are just like the rest of us.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Gallinago_media

There is a reason the Internet loves videos of kittens and puppies and squealing baby sloths and slow lorises eating rice balls. They are adorable to look at, and anyone who says otherwise has a heart made out of everything terrible in the world. This special affection for cute animals is a universally human trait. There’s even a theory that the desire to care for big-eyed little things, human or otherwise, is built into our DNA.

You might expect that scientists would avoid the cuteness trap and focus on conservation studies across the board, with little or no regard for how fuzzy wuzzy the animal is. But scientists are people too, and they have the same biases as the rest of us. A new study finds that as a consequence, ugly animals don’t get nearly the amount of attention as cute animals.

Those are the findings of an Australian study published in Mammal Review. Study authors examined 331 Australian terrestrial species and put them into three categories: the good (kangaroos and koalas), the bad (“introduced and invasive species such as rabbit and foxes”) and the ugly (bats, rodents, etc.) They then analyzed books, journals and other materials published since 1900 to find out how often the animals—good, bad and ugly—appeared.

They found that good animals had mostly been studied for their anatomy, while bad animals had been studied with population control in mind. The ugly animals, though? Those poor guys were largely given the cold shoulder, appearing in just 1,587 out of the 14,248 materials studied—even though they make up 45 percent of the animals included in the study.

"We know so little about the biology of many of these species. For many, we have catalogued their existence through genetics or taxonomic studies, but when it comes to understanding what they eat, their habitat needs, or how we could improve their chances of survival, we are very much still in the dark," study author Patricia Fleming writes. "These smaller animals make up an important part of functioning ecosystems, a role that needs greater recognition through funding and research effort."

That news sucks for bats and other uglies, though I’d argue anyone who thinks bats are ugly has never seen the video below:

(h/t Mental Floss)

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

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