Lessons from natural world animal misfits: Being different is awesome!

Nature is glorious, soothing, frightening, powerful, beautiful and the list of adjectives continues. Take the Roman god of agriculture and wine Bacchus for example, Nature is associated with freedom, abandonment and pure joy unrestrained by society. Nature, or “the Magic” as in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel The Secret Garden, has the power to heal and restore strength. Even a vertical city like New York, where every square footage of land boasts a premium price tag, Central Park and its 778 acres of prime real estate would never be turned into luxury condos or high-end retails.

I am further convinced of Nature’s beneficial traits after watching a PBS documentary “Nature: Animal Misfits.” The documentary showcases a group of animals that appear ill-equipped for survival, yet these animals somehow managed to be remarkably well-adapted in their chosen way of life. More than misfits, these animals provide great lessons on health (giant panda), love (kakapo), work (sloth) and life (nautilus).

Being different can be awesome sometimes, like the animal misfits. It's about finding your niche and just go "Whoopee!" (Seoul, Korea/December 2010)

Being different can be awesome sometimes, like the animal misfits. It’s about finding your niche and just go “Whoopee!” (Seoul, Korea/December 2010)

Giant Panda: High-fiber foods are good for you

Giant pandas, like grizzlies and polar bears, belong in the bear family. But unlike the other bears, giant pandas are vegetarians (or bamboo-tarians). Bamboos, however, have so little energy, giant pandas have to constantly eat, up to 16 hours and 40lbs (approximately 18kg)  of bamboos a day.

A giant panda can consume up to 40lbs of bamboo a day.

That my friend, is a lot of fiber. Fiber, which turns into gel in the stomach and slows digestion, helps lower cholesterol and blood glucose and is something that the body needs but can never actually digest. Nonetheless, fiber-rich foods are good for us. In addition to regulating blood sugar levels as well as reducing risks heart disease/stroke/diabetes/breast cancer/other diseases, fiber  plays an essential role in helping our body detox: ushering toxin out of our body through healthy bowel movement (and yes, I mean poo). Giant pandas, with their habit of consuming large quantity of high-fiber single food source on a daily basis, engage in healthy bowel movements up to 40 times a day!

And that’s why you should eat your broccolis (p.s. a high-fiber superfood)!

Kakapo: Serenade your woman with dedication 

In an age where online dating is the norm, and in a city like New York where the etiquette of a prolonged chase is non-existing, Sherry has to admire the kakapo.

Kakapo is a flightless parrot (image credit: web/Wired)

Kakapo, a bird found in the primeval forests of New Zealand, is the heaviest and only flightless parrot in the world. The reason why kakapos became ground dwellers was that prior to the arrival of European settlers, there were few ground predators on the island. But even though the settlers introduced new ground predators like weasels, cats, these birds have not evolved to cope with the changed landscape, and continued to hop along in san-danger oblivion. In fact, when facing danger, kakapos’ defense mechanism is to stay very, very still.

Well, I feel for them, I truly do. (it’s a little too cute, won’t you say?)

Their mating approach, like their defense strategy, is also a little kakapo-y. Every year during mating season, male kakapos would make a low, fog-horn-like call that can be heard within a three-mile radius. They would call for three hours every night for three months (approximately 270 hours of serenading), in hope of attracting the attention of a female kakapo. The problem is male kakapos can call and call and call and score zero, because the ladies are only interested in breeding every five years.

Bearing in mind male kakapos’ dedication – 3 hours x 3 months, guys, step up you game!

Sloth: Find your niche and optimize 

Sloths are often considered lazy, as they are often observed hanging motionless, upside down from the branches of trees. And if you call someone a sloth, you are saying he or she is lazy, exhibiting reluctance to work. But that is not true. Sloths are not lazy, they simply have found a survival mode they excel at, and adapted their entire lifestyle to suit that strategy. Please, call them masters of optimization.

You see, sloths live in rain forests where tropical leaves are plenty. But these leaves are often hard, toxic and indigestible. In order to digest these leaves, sloths have a large, multi-chamber stomach with bacterias that can break down the tough leaves (from supply and demand point of view, a smart move for sloths as there are plenty of leaves with few competitors equipped with the stomach to tackle the task). Nonetheless, breaking down toxic leaves is hard work. Indeed, sloths can take up to two weeks to digest a single meal!

You have your dilemma, sloths either have to eat more (and somehow digest faster) or do less to burn less energy. They opted for the latter.

A sloth is not lazy, just optimizing the as-little-movement-as-possible model! (image credit: Web/www.ecologypocketguide.com)

But don’t sloths have predators? (They do, including harpy eagles and jaguars.) How can sloths escape from their predators if they barely move at all? The  answer is camouflage. What sloths lack in speed, they make up in smarts. They have evolved to host an entire community of algae, single-cell plants that turn their thick fur coats green, and thus hiding them from their predators.

Applying some sloth to work means that you consider your niche and evaluate where you can best excel at – for sloths, that’s choosing to eat toxic tropical leaves; you develop a method to support your niche – for sloths, that’s move less to complement slow digestion; you strengthen your position by adding protection, such as learning a new program or building a strong network – for sloths, that’s what those algae communities are for.

Yes, I doth think them sloths rather amazing!

Nautilus: It’s okay to go backward, and it’s okay to bump into things 

Finally, the nautilus. These ancient living fossils are sea creatures distantly related to octopuses and squids.

Nautilus move by shooting water out of their tentacles, like a jet boat. (image credit: Web/Wikipedia)

Nautilus move rather clumsily, by forcing water out of their tentacles using a principle like jet propulsion, which uses the backward ejection of a high-speed jet of gas or liquid, to move forward. Because the way their tentacles fold, their eyes are predominately looking backwards. Let’s see, pushing forward while looking backward, jet engine, high speed… sounds like the perfect combo for collision!

That’s exactly right. If you were to watch them move, you would not have believed these creatures are capable of surviving, bumping into rocks and other sea creatures. But survive they did, and for over 400 million years. I think that says a lot. And I think perhaps nautilus are telling us that it is okay to float backward and bump into a couple things along the journey of life.

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