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).
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.
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?
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.