Friday, September 29, 2023

Bigfoot in Tulsa!

A silhouette of Bigfoot against an Oklahoma map is popular iconography on pickup trucks in Oklahoma. Do the drivers of these trucks believe in Bigfoot? I never asked, because I might have gotten the response, “Yeah. You got a problem with that?”

And if that question was put to me, as a retired biology professor, I would be unable to resist answering it. It would give me the opportunity to teach all about genetics, population biology, and evolution.

Bigfoot cannot exist. Believers could say that He exists, but has never been seen. Unless Bigfoot was a single, immortal individual (no animal can be immortal), there would have to be a population of Bigfoots: daddy, mommy, and kids. Each additional Bigfoot would vastly increase the chances of someone detecting them. And Bigfoot, if He exists, is, well, big. He would need lots of food. He is usually depicted as a mammal, which means He is warm-blooded, and probably carnivorous, which means He needs lots of food. Carnivores are at the top of the food pyramid, which means that a few carnivores would need a food base of lots of herbivorous animals and plants. But where is the evidence that extensive browsing has occurred in Oklahoma forests? Bigfoot would mean Bigfood. Even if an individual Bigfoot could hide in a forest, He could not hide his feeding frenzy.

Bigfoot reminds me of a poem by Ogden Nash, about a monster from Native folklore, the Wendigo.


The Wendigo, the Wendigo,

I saw it just a friend ago.

Last night it was in Canada,

Tonight on your veranada.


But there are a couple of interesting things about Bigfoot and Wendigo. The first is that it is not interesting to simply say that there is no Bigfoot; it gets interesting when you have to explain why. Food chains, population biology, all of that. Now it becomes a teachable moment. Although by the time the guy was searching around in his pickup for a gun, I don’t think I would feel like being a professor any more. I posted a video about this.

The second interesting thing is that, according to Native mythology, the Wendigo started off as a good person who was transformed by self-aggrandizement into a monster. Could you become a Wendigo or a Bigfoot? Could I? I read this idea in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass, in which the Wendigo reference is one of the least important parts.

And of course all of this applies to Nessie, also. The monster (often portrayed as a plesiosaur) what supposedly still exists in Loch Ness, Scotland. One of the largest conventions of Loch Ness Monster believers took place in August 2023. The local officials insist this was not just a publicity stunt.

My final thought is, why do people believe these things? I assure you, the reality of science—genetics, population biology, and evolution—is interesting without having to invent fantasy.


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