Sunday, February 22, 2009

Most excellent creatures all


This fellow washed up on our beach yesterday. A burrowing sea cucumber, Holothuria arenicola, I believe, ten inches long. If there were a prize for the ugliest form of life, this blob would have few competitors. Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, in this case a brace of grandchildren shouting "Yuk!"

We are here at the opposite pole of esthetics from the moment that Alfred Russel Wallace found a golden birdwing butterfly in the wilds of Indonesia:
The beauty and brilliancy of this insect are indescribable...on taking it out of my net and opening the glorious wings, my heart began to beat violently, the blood rushed to my head, and I felt much more like fainting than I have done when in apprehension of immediate death. I had a headache the rest of the day.
No doubt if you were a burrowing sea cucumber, you'd think this fellow handsome. Except, there is really no need for beauty. Presumably, these creatures reproduce by spewing eggs and sperm into the water and leaving the rest to chance. A gonad. A mouth and an anus. What else does one need? All that beauty and brilliancy of the birdwing butterfly? No thanks. Beauty in the great scheme of evolution is what works.