Pandas are cute, tigers are majestic and the poor, lonely polar bears are oh-so-marketable. Whenever you think of the words ‘endangered species,’ these animals quickly rise to mind but has anyone ever given a thought to the less photogenic creatures of the Earth? The northern bald ibis, the aye-aye, the purple pig-nosed frog and other so-called ‘ugly’ species are seldom pictured in WWA Animal Awareness pamphlets, but they’re just as endangered as any other ‘pretty’ species on the planet.
The University of Connecticut’s Honors Council Environmental Committee aimed to change that perception, with its third annual Ugliest Endangered Species Competition at the Student Union on March 5. Species such as the purple nosed pig frog, the okapi and several others were all on display for students to learn about, with each presentation set up by a different student organization, participating in the event.
“It’s quite beautiful,” said Julia Peay, a sixth semester biology major, as she discussed the finer details of the green humphead parrotfish for her display, representing her organization EcoHusky.
“The fish has a humped appearance and a pair of fused ‘teeth’ used for scraping algae off of rocks and coral,” Pealy’s co-presenter Adrianna Antigiovanni said.
“These are really critical in ecosystems to promote coral habitats,” said Antigiovanni, who is a environmental studies major in her sixth year.
Without the algae removal, she said, coral suffocate and can die off, putting other species that live in the coral reefs at risk. In addition, the parrotfish eat dead and dying coral, helping clear out reefs.
As a consequence, “They poop sand,” Antigiovanni said. “The way it gets processed turns into them pooping sand.”
Currently the parrotfish is on the endangered species list due to overfishing, recreational hunting and habitat loss, Pealy said.
“The parrotfish was just one of six on display for the event, which was inspired by the UK comedy group Ugly Animal Preservation Society, which raises awareness for less photogenic species and their endangered status,” event organizer Colby Buehler, a sixth semester Honors student studying chemical engineering, said.
“Pandas are cute. They’re huggable,” Buehler said. “Animals like [the ones on display] don’t see much support.”
The six clubs participating is an increase from last year’s five, Buehler said. Organizations participating included the UConn Birding Club, Honors in STEM and a competition newcomer Leadership in Action, along with others.
The event was listed as an Honors event, with several students attending in order to fulfill an Honors requirement, and voting for their favorite animal. Others stopped by out of interest for the competition, and the very strange sights it had to offer.
“I’ve learned about new species. It’s interesting,” said Mihir Nene, a second year mechanical engineering major who stopped by after seeing a sign outside. “I feel like a lot of our attention towards conservation goes to species that are aesthetically appealing.”
In the end, once the votes for the species were counted, the 2017 winner for the Ugly Endangered Species was the humble and hideous green humphead parrotfish, with the winners being awarded a certificate framed with ugly animals as a prize.
Buehler said that he hopes to expand the competition for next year, and bring in more student organizations to help raise awareness.
“It’s important to think about the things you usually don’t think about,” he said. “A lot of these animals don’t get a lot of press coverage.”
Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets @marlese_lessing.