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Underappreciated Animals and Plants that Deserve a Place in Our Hearts

Updated: Jun 11

(and maybe in our fashion choices, too)


A pink jellyfish against a blue background

Last year, my husband and I got our nephew the most adorable book for Christmas: Escargot, by Dashka Slater and illustrated by Sydney Hanson. The main character and narrator is Escargot, a French snail. At one point in the book, Escargot asks the reader, "Let's talk about our favorite animals. Is yours the Dog? The Cat? The Platypus? The Wildebeest? The Lemur? The Hippopotamus? ... The Snail?" He proceeds to express his profound sadness that no one ever chooses the Snail.


The cover of the children's book Escargot, featuring an illustration of a snail dressed as a French person and the title of the book in blue font

In fact, Escargot kind of has a point. Lists of popular most-favorited animals are often a combination of:


  • Common domestics (Dogs, Cats, Horses)

  • Cute documentary or film stars (Penguins, Meerkats, Monkeys), and

  • Animals that fall under what is known as the "charismatic megafauna effect": our propensity to be drawn towards larger animals with recognizable personalities (Elephants, Lions, Dolphins).


To be fair, it's unsurprising that the animals we see often (in the home, on the screen, at the zoo) and find attractive or adorable are the ones we end up caring the most about.


An infographic map showing popular animal searches by country

Source: Explore Worldwide


Why does this matter, except to a saddened fictional Snail? Don't worry, this isn't a call to ditch your favorite animals. But maybe start noticing some other ones, too. It's worth noting that while all life is important to the balance and health of our planet, not all of it receives our support in the face of environmental changes and other dangers. The animals who get our attention are the ones who get funding and activism for research and protection. While we're busy sharing beautiful pictures of Tigers, we're ignoring and thus underfunding other potentially essential keystone species--all because they don't look or act engaging enough (sorry, Snails). I want to add that all of these observations apply in the plant kingdom as well.


Pop stars of the past encouraged us to "Save the Whales!", but it's unlikely we'll see Taylor Swift touting a "Save the Aye-Ayes!" t-shirt any time soon...or is it?


A scientific illustration of an Aye-Aye's head and hands in profile

Aye-Ayes: the stuff of nocturnal primate nightmares


Okay no it's really not. But this is where art and fashion can step in! They are powerful tools for spreading awareness: eyes on an Aye-Aye shirt mean people start noticing, talking about, funding, learning about, and eventually supporting these creatures. And scary doesn't mean unimportant.


As someone who's favorite animal is the Octopus, and sees beauty in the weirdest or most mundane things, I tend to pay attention to outside-of-the-box denizens of Earth a little more than most. It's prompted me to create lots of pieces with this topic in mind. In fact, it was the inspiration for my Spring 2023 fashion show designs!


Here are 10 plants and animals I showcased through hand-painted, one-of-a-kind works of art on secondhand clothing items: important members of our planet who now have the opportunity to be spotlighted and cared about in a new way. I've actually seen two of them (number 8 and number 10 on the list) make huge strides in the past couple of years!


Let me know in the comments what your favorite odd, ugly, or unassuming plant and/or animal is! What would you love to see represented on a piece of clothing and advocated for?


1. Jellyfish


Watching Jellyfish is one of my favorite peaceful activities at an aquarium. This jacket showed that something otherworldly and maybe even scary can also be beautiful. It succeeded so well that someone bought it immediately after it was shown on the runway.


The front and back of a black formal jacket with a blue jellyfish painted on it

Jellyfish play an important role in Ocean food chains, help indicate changes in ecosystems, and even inform scientific research about genomes.


2. Venus Fly Trap


They might give creepy "Little Shop of Horror" vibes, but there are hidden, elegant facets to carnivorous plants like the Venus Fly Trap.



Did you know they create delicate white flowers?


3. Snake


I loved creating the individual scales of this Leaf Viper.

Apex predators are often keystone species in an ecosystem, even if they're small like a snake.



4. Oyster

(and bonus Seaweed)


I live in Rhode Island, where Oysters provide important roles in both aquaculture and ocean water filtration.

A closer look at an Oyster shell reveals its understated beauty through subtle iridescence and colors.


5. Dandelion


Many people consider Dandelions to be a weed that they want eradicated from their lawns. But these flowers provide an essential first food source in early spring for pollinators like bees, who are hungry and weak after winter dormancy.


Just like a tiny flower on a green lawn, even small details on a clothing item can be enough to attract the right attention.


6. Eel


There are a staggering number of species of both freshwater and saltwater eels.


This jacket was inspired by Whitemouth Eels, who I encountered on a work trip in Hawaii. Just like in all my work, each detail (including every dot) was meticulously painted on by hand.


7. Scorpion


Scorpions are crucial for keeping insect populations under control, and their venom contributes to important pharmaceutical research.

On this dress, I wanted to artistically interpret their amazing ability to glow under ultraviolet light.


8. Mushroom


Mushrooms are having a bit of a popularity moment right now. I'm including them on this list because they are a great example of the "clothing/art to attention to funding" pipeline.

Mushrooms started showing up on cute clothes and artwork, and pretty soon I began seeing new books, nature documentaries, research, and activism growing in their wake.


9. Dragonfly


Dragonflies are fascinating creatures, and there's a lot we can learn from their eyesight, hunting abilities, life cycles, and more.

Even the intricate structure of their wings is worthy of study.


10. Octopus


Saving my favorite for last! Octopods are also rising in popularity. They've gone from slimy "monster" of the ocean to the "cool girl" darling of books, documentaries, Instagram accounts, and TV series.



As in other aspects of life, it seems the more we learn about them the better we like them, which prompts us to learn and do more for them in an ever-growing positive loop cycle. Let's see what other underappreciated animals and plants we can do this for!


I specialize in creating custom pieces of sustainable hand-painted event wear that speak for the cause you care about most--even if that's the Aye-Aye:



Remember to comment what your favorite odd, ugly, or unassuming plant and/or animal is! What would you love to see represented on a piece of clothing and advocated for?


 

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4 Comments


I was actually just reading a book that talked about this! Apparently, there is a group of comedians that do shows about the ugly animals in order to raise this exact type of awareness and to remind everyone that all animals matter.

https://uglyanimalsoc.com/

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Thank you--Great timing on the book! And these sound like my kind of people. So excited to learn more about their work!

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Loved this! My first thought was the largest flower in the world - Rafflesia arnoldii. They’re a beautiful rainforest flower that bloom for only a couple of days, but reek of rotting flesh (to attract flies for pollenation!). I also just found out that they’re critically endangered!

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So glad you loved it! And oh my goodness, thanks for sharing this perfect example! I distantly remember learning about that flower in elementary school and loving it. It's so cool to hear about it again. It would be amazing to have this plant be the feature of a piece!

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