Childhood

The story of the axolotl is not unique to the natural world, but it is truly fascinating.

The axolotl, Mexican salamander or Mexican walking fish, is a neotenic salamander that becomes an adult and reaches sexual maturity without undergoing any biological changes or metamorphosis. In effect, axolotls don’t suffer the hangups of puberty. This state is known as ‘neotany’ and is a trait that we’ve artificially bred into our domestic dogs and cats; think about those round heads, over sized eyes and features – remind you of a human baby? It’s no coincidence.

Instead of developing lungs and venturing onto land like other amphibians, the adult axolotl remains fully aquatic, keeping its external gills and tadpole-shaped tail. They have no eyelids, barely have teeth, and have the ability to regenerate a limb, tail or appendage if it it damaged or severed. They are effectively an adult in child’s clothing.

And in a way, we all are. No matter how much we age, our childhood hangups follow us, whether we want them to or not. Humans have many neotenic tendencies, from adult women hoarding soft toys to baby-talking to each other in the throes of a new relationship. I myself am not averse to a bed-full of soft-toys.

That’s why the axolotl, and other animals that seem to have neglected ageing, are so fascinating to me. Another example is the naked mole rat, an inspiring, far-from-charming little rodent that looks like a newborn rat, has virtually no fur, doesn’t suffer the effects of ageing, and is almost immune to cancer.

What would it be like if we were all to succumb to large-scale Peter Pan Syndrome; not having to worry about bills, the nine-to-five routine and missing the last bus. When the biggest worry of your day is making sure you don’t step on the cracks in the pavement (I still do this now – in my head of course) or that you get to the biscuits before your father does.

I think we need to learn a lesson from the axolotl; carrying our childhood into later life can have surprising benefits.

Axolotl Oil Painting

 

16108_792001954200068_199260245533953879_n
Axolotl, Oils on Canvas
Advertisements

No Forest Too Far

The world is quite literally on our doorstep. Thanks to globalisation, immigration, airline travel and our amplified imagination, almost every corner of the world has been discovered, trampled on, and had a selfie taken with it.

Yet there are still places in the world that most of us have never heard of. Species we’ve never heard of; a habitat we never knew existed. What is even more surprising and sobering, is that some of these species could be gone before we even realise they were ever there.

A prime example is the saola, affectionately known as the Asian unicorn, an animal as legendary as its name implies. The saola is only as old as I am (in terms of its exposure, having only been discovered officially in 1992), but already it is facing severe pressures. Its evergreen forest habitat sits caged in from all sides, hemmed-in by the Annamite mountains, along the borders of Vietnam and Laos. The saola is unfortunate enough to be caught between two extremely industrialised and developing countries, and it faces habitat destruction, which people to exploit to hunt for food, traditional medicine and more.

Saola Watercolour Painting

“Only recently discovered, saola are already extremely threatened. At a time when species extinction on the planet has accelerated, we can work together to snatch this one back from the edge of extinction.”

Dr. Barney Long, WWF Asian species expert

 

No forest is too far away for us to ignore any longer.