Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: Monster Genome Theory

Magical evolution is one of the few things both nightmarish monsters and evolutionary biologists mutually dislike (that, and egg salad sandwiches). Yet it became plainly obvious that something was up when Banshees of the British Isles, Greek Sirens and North American Wendigos displayed such similar traits. All displayed voices that broke all laws of sound, but boasted very similarly shaped throats and vocal passages. Up until then it had just been a “talent thing,” and only fringe biologists had dared suggest their voices had co-evolved, or evolved in a common ancestor.

These fringe thinkers observed that the Wendigos were already incredibly hairy, boasted slow metabolism, and even adaptations to cannibalize, all suited to their bitter home climates – things that looked like heritable traits. The fringers suggested Wendigo cries might have mating advantage.

Co-evolution seemed more likely as the Sirens also developed their voices for mating purposes in the highly competitive Grecko-Roman mythological world where men and gods were not only attracted to voluptuous women, but other men, children, and assorted livestock. The magical voice was essential to the perpetuation of the Siren species. And since Sirens also tended to eat their lovers, it had a Wendigo-like hunting aspect.

Only the Banshees held out, with an ironclad explanation that their piercing voices had evolved so that they could be heard in sports pubs on game day. Banshees, the militant traditionalists and rugby enthusiasts that they are, published article after article slamming the evolutionary theory. “And good luck,” one scholar put it, “finding fossil record evidence or incorporeal species.”

Undaunted, Wendigo and Siren scientists are still tracing their lineages. They think they may have a new lead, in the form of the howler monkey in Africa.

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