Tomorrow is March 1st, which means I’m gearing up for one of my favorite events of the year. That’s right, it’s time for March Mammal Madness!
For the uninitiated, March Mammal Madness (MMM) was created in 2013 when biologist and professor Katie Hinde found a BuzzFeed bracket to determine the cutest animal. Professor Hinde decided to do them one better and created a full-on March Madness-style bracket for mammals.
Each year over at the “Mammals Suck…Milk!” blog, a team comprised of biologists and natural scientists from all over the country select animals to compete in an imaginary bracket for the month of March. The divisions showcase mammals from a variety of different perspectives, from animals who have made their homes in our cities, to aquatic mammals, to not-cats that humans have named after cats anyway, to, increasingly, not-mammals. As the month progresses, animals are pitted against each other in imaginary battles until only one remains.
But not to worry! As the blog states, “The battles are NOT always ‘nature, red in tooth and claw.’ Sometimes the winner ‘wins’ by displacing the other at a feeding location, sometimes a powerful animal doesn’t attack because it is not motivated to…. Even a small claw cut or bite wound can get infected and lots of times an animal will back down rather than take a risk for little potential benefit.”
I can’t say enough about this very silly, but very scientific contest. I filled out a bracket for the first time a couple of years ago thinking it would be quick and straightforward.
I was wrong.
I spent several hours researching and learning about the animals in my bracket. I knew of Homo floresiensis, but had never heard of Andrewsarchus. I agonized over whether the Coyote would get the best of the Opossum, and if a platypus’ venom was enough to take down a maned rat. (Spoiler alert: It wasn’t. I didn’t consider that March is after the platypus’ mating season, so it didn’t have enough venom left over to defeat the Maned Rat).
There are a lot of factors to take into consideration, and to do justice to the bracket, it isn’t enough to just pick the higher seeded animal. You need to consider not just its potential fighting ability, but how it lives in its environment, if it might be hibernating or mating in March, and where the battle is taking place. The early battles take place in “the preferred habitat of the better-ranked combatant” meaning that a tropical animal might do really poorly in an arctic environment.
I did not do very well in my first contest (I ranked last in my office!) but I learned so much and reading the play-by-plays after each round taught me what to pay attention to. It wasn’t just about seeing which animal would win in an out-and-out fight, it was thinking about animals holistically: what they eat, when they might be willing to defend themselves, when they might run away, and the fact that if a hippo and a coyote are fighting in the middle of Central Park, there’s a good chance that the Park Rangers are going to intervene.
It’s great fun, and a great learning opportunity, so much so that the MMM team has developed lesson planning materials designed to bring the game into the classroom, including an early bracket, help for researching the combatants, and a plan for discussing the tournament outcome with students. Educators can also check out the extensive LibGuide from the Arizona State University Library.
The 2020 March Mammal Madness bracket is now available. Check it out, read up on the divisions and tournament schedule, and read all about the MMM team.