Thought of the Week: [Insert Number]-Legged Creatures

These have four legs. I think they’re called ungulates.

I was reading the “about” of a blog, recently, and they mentioned being an advocate for all the four-legged creatures of the world. I whole-heartedly agree, but it caused me to wonder: what about all the others? What about those with six legs, with eight, with a hundred, or with none?

I remember being fascinated by life, in general, from a young age (funny how I failed biology). I had these great children’s science books, and my two favorites were those on snakes and spiders. Don’t get me wrong – these creatures terrify me – but they also fascinate me, inspire me, and awe me. I try my best to never, ever kill any creature found in our house; many, many spiders have found themselves peacefully transported outside in a small glass I have just for this purpose. I will swat a few insects – flies and mosquitoes – but even then I feel a little bad (okay – not for the mosquitoes).

One of thousands, all working perfectly together to strengthen the whole. We humans could learn from these creatures.

The thing that fascinates me most, however, about these many and varied creatures is the startling intelligence displayed by these creatures. There are many, many humans I can think of that behave with far less intelligence than the smallest six-legged bug. I remember reading not too long ago that the octopus, about which so little is known, keeps as much as forty percent of its brain in its tentacles (note: not nervous system, but actual brain). In other words, each specific tentacle is a living, thinking unit, separate yet part of the whole. If amputated, the tentacle will continue to live on, moving, crawling, and will even attempt to capture food.

It is these alien intelligences that bewilder me, astound me, and give me thought for the diversity of all life. We are attuned to empathizing more directly with animals that are closest to us in appearance and behavior; we attribute many human characteristics to our dogs and cats, find it adorable when a parrot learns to say a word, or even when a mouse sniffs a piece of cheese. Certainly, our perspective of these behaviors is significantly different to the perspective and thoughts of the animals themselves, but it is nothing compared to the alienness of those creatures far, far removed from us.

So visceral, so frightening – built perfectly for this job.

I think often of the remarkable intelligence of spiders. Lone, solitary creatures, they defend their realms viciously, often killing other spiders in the process. They have an astonishing patience, to lay in wait for days. They have foresight, to capture food and store it for later consumption. They are master architects, building structures naturally and instinctively that the greatest human engineers have yet to better. They have senses beyond senses, able to feel imperceptible motions in the ground and air. Their eyes…what can it possible be like, to see the world from all directions, through eight, or ten, or a dozen eyes?

Look closely – what beautiful colors.

The frightening beauty of these creatures is also a thing that possesses me. Humans are nothing compared to the visual diversity of these creatures. Imagine one person having black skin with vertical stripes of white pigment, while another’s skin is burgundy, spotted with patches of green skin. The colors, textures, and dynamics of their appearance is astonishing. Even the greyest of moths has a wonderful hue, when seen close.

And then there are those with no legs, the great creatures of the sea. Sharks, so long seen as mindless death machines, know each other, recognize friend from foe, and can tell from a single taste that a human is not a fish, and not worth eating. And whales…oh, what wondrous creatures. If ever there was a creature to better the ways of the human race, it would be they. Rulers of their ocean world, they journey, they feed, they play, and their lives are perfect…except for the mindless human death machines that thoughtlessly kill all those creatures around them, ignorant of their pain, of their lives, and of the destruction they will bring upon their own world.

Douglas Adams once spoke of this intelligence of the whales’ smaller cousins, the dolphins:

Man has always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much…the wheel, New York, wars and so on…while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man…for precisely the same reason.

How true this is.

9 thoughts on “Thought of the Week: [Insert Number]-Legged Creatures

  1. Such a lovely piece of writing. Thankyou!
    I was only writing about flowers this morning (unpublished as yet), that I am in awe when I plant a tiny little seed, that a beautiful, perfect and intricate bunch of flowers can be produced, or that by planting one single pumpkin seed, massive vegetables are given to us for nourishment. Truly a miracle.
    And the one insect that terrifies me – bees – highly allergic! And yet they’re the ones who help all those beautiful plants grow.
    I like hearing about your awe, it’s good you are letting it in. 🙂

    • Why, thank you! I am more impressed by all the other life we share the planet with than I am by humans, for the most part. (Thinking back to Descartes here), I sometimes think that consciousness was the worst thing to ever happen to the human race.

      I love flowers, too – odd, you might think, for someone so dark and gloomy! I don’t think there’s anything profound in it; they’re just really, really pretty.

  2. I love the dolphin quote. My personal opinion is that many, many animals are *far* more intelligent than humans. We are not the superior race. (I’m just hoping it’s not spiders! *shudder* )

  3. Well I cant say that I wont harm other creatures I am a hunter, but i do believe that you only kill what you can eat and never for throphy hunting, and i have instilled this mindset in all my children and they follow it the same as i do, my son asked once if he could shoot a bird that was sitting on a limb i told that he could but he would have to eat it, i then reminded him of our motto only kill what you plan to eat, and never kill anything you cant eat, nature is its own keeper and there are predators and there are non predators, so i asked which of these two did he think humans were and he said of course predators and i told him that most humans were predators but that we, him and i were both hunter and prey, because there is always something out there bigger than you that could quit possibly eat you. always remember we are not always at the top of the food chain, we my have guns but they run out of bullets and we have an instinct to survive but so do all creatures great and small. he has since never asked me to shoot at a little bird, i dont know if he has on his own but never once around me, no one taught me to hunt it just came natural for me, and i dont hunt the way other of my friends hunt but i usually get what i need to feed my family regardless if it is a deer, turkey, rabbiits or even fish, dont come back to camp empty handed you never know.

    • You know, this is always a fine line. I’m no vegetarian, I enjoy a good steak, but we’re not strict meat-eaters in our house; we often have meat-free dinners simply because that’s how the dish we want is.

      I always think of it in a naturalistic sense. There are animals out there – plenty of them – that kill for a living. We would hardly fault a lion or a bear for killing its prey and eating it. What I don’t condone, however, is unnecessary cruelty to animals. Killing for sport, I feel, is dishonorable. I can’t stand the way livestock are treated in many industrial farms, and we try to buy free-range meats and poultry as much as we can. The family of a close friend of mine growing up owned a farm, and their two produces were milk and wine (this was in Switzerland). While the cows were mainly dairy cows, they were treated with absolute care and compassion.

      So no – I have no quarrel with you hunting; if anything, I appreciate your dedication to the animal, and I am proud of the values you are teaching your son.

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