Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

June 13, 2008

This Squirrel is Smiling, Right?

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:37 pm

Humans and a few of the great apes are supposed to be the only creatures that smile, but anyone who has ever owned a dog knows this is not so. Dogs do manage a silly embarrassed kind of smile on occasion. The physical mechanics and psychological causes behind a canine grin are not the same as those leading to our simian mouth curve, but to the human eye it looks like a real smile.

Most animals canít smile. They donít have the wide range of facial muscles to co-ordinate such a thing.They also donít have the need to. The facial abilities of manís best friend are tied into their social interaction style and body language communication. Even if they could, cats would never choose to smile. The thought of a real chickadee or an actual manatee cracking a grin is a little freaky. Adult mayflies have no mouth, soÖyou get the point.

In this age of digital morphing and enhancement pictures of smiling animals are commonplace. Happy mouth features on cartoon animals help us to tell the difference between the ďbadĒ animals and the ďgoodĒ or ďsadĒ ones. As a cartoonist of long standing, I certainly understand this. When animals talk they need expressive, if unnatural, mouth shaping abilities. Aside from smiling dog pictures, we immediately know all these images arenít real.

All of this pontification leads me to the picture (see above) of a smiling squirrel. This is one of the members of the Red Squirrel family that was reared in one of my backyard trees.These little guys show themselves on regular occasion and often allow me to take a few shots before dashing off.Squirrels are one of those animals that look natural with a smile, but they donít naturally have one.

I cannot deny it.This one apparently smiled for the camera. I didnít realize it until I reviewed my shots afterward. For all I know, the diminutive creature may have winked as well, but my shutter didnít capture it. I did absolutely nothing to alter the image because I absolutely donít know how to do such a thing (just ask any of my kids).

For this Naturespeak entry, I will let the photospeak do the work.

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