Rekindle Your Wild Joy and Deep Belonging to the Earth

Animal Attributes May 17, 2010

As humans, we have many capabilities, some of which we mistakenly seem to think set us apart from the matrix of other beings; yet other animals, our elders, possess interesting capabilities as well. Yearning after these too, we’ve applied what Janine Benyus termed “biomimicry” in order to create airplanes, scuba gear, velcro, and many more very useful and fun tools.

Over the years, I have enjoyed asking my friends, students, and random acquaintances made at bus stops and the like,

“If you could add three attributes to yourself

from the animal, plant, or mineral kindoms,

what would they be?”

Not surprisingly, most people choose attributes of other animals, even though photosynthesis is among the coolest abilities around, seeing as how a being with that can bypass the entire messy business of eating and shitting in favor of simply extracting the body’s needs straight from loafing around in sunlight (aaahhhhh!)

Personally, if I had the chance to add three new attributes, I’d choose wings, gills, and soft, waterproof fur like a beaver’s. That way, I could go anywhere I liked, exploring and feeling at home in any realm – on land, up in the air, or underwater – and still be warm.


Here are a few more of my own and others’ choice attributes, some of which begin to sound like superpowers:

  • wings (feathered like a bird, or leathery like a bat)
  • night vision
  • antlers
  • piercing sonic shrieks
  • limb regeneration (the ability to grow parts back), like a lizard or starfish
  • bioluminescence
  • three stomachs, like ruminant animals such as cattle
  • reproduction by spores, like mushrooms
  • a tail, to flick or hang from
  • immovability of a rock; the ability to sit and just erode
  • labradorescence
  • photosynthesis
  • eyesight of a raptor
  • twitch muscles of a cheetah
  • sticky feet
  • fur  (what sort? what color?)
  • feet that can turn around backwards, like a squirrel
  • dolphin-like swimming/breath holding/pressure resistance
  • the ability to jump and balance like a cat
  • the quivery alertness of prey animals
  • a dog’s acute sense of smell
  • the agility & balance of a mountain goat
  • the ability to change genders throughout one’s lifetime, like a clownfish. (My friend Judy Pratt asks, “Wonder how our gender struggles would even out with a bit more experience of the supposed “other”???”)
  • hermaphroditism, like a banana slug

My eminently practical friend Alan Winston says, “There are some attributes I’d really like to be able to summon when I want them, but which’d be inconvenient the rest of the time. Wings (and supporting musculature and lung size, etc. to make them functional for flight rather than merely decorative) would make it pretty hard to sit in cars.”  I was going along with that, laughing, when I suddenly realized, if you had honking great wings, why would you *need* a car?! Emissions problems solved!


We are clearly not the first to yearn after these things, as witnessed by these ancient shapeshifting sculptures from Europe, the antlered man on the Gundestrup Cauldron and the bas-relief of Lilith with owl feet and wings, both surrounded by related allies of other species.

What attributes would YOU like to add,

should the Sudden-Evolution Wish Fairy appear?

Feel free to respond in the comment box below!


– Of course, this may go both ways. Sometimes the nonhuman relatives might wish for our attributes (as well as our cuisine):



3 Responses to “Animal Attributes”

  1. Tim Says:

    I would like access to the other 80%-90% of our brain capacity. And if that did not automatically involve wings — those too!

  2. Tina Fields Says:

    If you could add any three attributes to yourself from the animal, plant, or mineral kindoms, what would they be? Examples: wings, bioluminescence, spinning silk from your rear end…

    Following are the myriad wonderful answers that followed when i posted this question on Facebook:

    Coleen O’Connell:
    Wings, gills, and thick fur

    Lisa Mertz:
    LOL! What can be better than those 3?

    Liz Delgado:
    night vision, regeneration, and feathered wings

    Chava Miriam:
    three stomachs, spores, labradorescence!

    Anne-Marie Cory:
    all I need is a tail- so I can flick it. But I wouldn’t mind if I woke up with wings one day….

    Priscilla Stuckey:
    The immovability of a rock. Just settled in place. But at the same time, wings!

    Dino Germano:
    From the starfish, the ability to grow parts back…

    Dino Germano:
    Also the fast twitch muscles from a cheetah, and eyesight of a raptor.

    Anna Fitzpatrick:
    fur, sticky feet, and gills

    Genny Engel:
    Photosynthesis (so handy for those days when you’d rather sun than eat). The ability to fly, and … well … I was going to say, the ability to sit there like a rock and just erode, but I think I’ve already got that.

    Alan Prince Winston:
    There’s some attributes I’d really like to be able to summon when I want them, but which’d be inconvenient the rest of the time. Dolphin-like swimming/breath-holding/pressure-resistance might be good all the time, but wings (and supporting… musculature and lung size etc to make them functional for flight rather than merely decorative) would make it pretty hard to sit in cars. If I could just say “swim like a dolphin, fly like an eagle, jump and balance like a cat”, those’d all be cool. Oh, and there’s some situations where quivery alertness of a prey animal could be useful, but I wouldn’t like to have it that way all the time.

    Erin Vang:
    ‎1. Fur. I’m tired of everything about clothing and hair.
    2. Fur. 3. Fur.

    Moira Hill:
    Maybe a better sense of smell, and the agility/balance of a mountain goat (I miss being able to boulder climb), but have to say I mostly agree with Alan. Your question reminds me of a funny Bizzaro cartoon from a few years back:

    Judy Pratt:
    Well tina, I didn’t respond to this at first, but I’ve found it remains in my brain and surfaces when I am doing other things. Most recently I was fantasizing about animals that change genders — like the clownfish, I think. Or maybe the banana slug…or perhaps its a hermaphrodite? And there are so many SF/Fantasy novels with this notion woven in. Wonder how our gender struggles would even out with a bit more experience of the supposed “other”???

  3. Heather Awen Says:

    1. I am in a new love affair with bacteria at the moment, so I would ask for their/its ability to swap DNA by rubbing against each other. I am not sure if this means I could rub up against only other human animals though. I guess that could get me different skin colors, immunities, hormones – I realize now that I am not sure what other human’s genes could give me. Also who would “i” be at the end of a day of gene swapping? Maybe this is why barteria has no species and may be considered a giant organism of one.

    2. Slime mold has the most creative life I know of so far. I’d like to be a plant, an animal, many little things, one big thing, traveling, rooted, and all that too! Here I am oozing down the street, oh my, look, I am growing in the soil now, who is that girl? 🙂

    3. This is a toss up between bat sonar and birds migration alignment powers. The migration power sounds comforting, to know what direction my life is meant to go, but sonar seems like a REALLY cool way of knowing/experiencing/moving through the world.

    Working with the new wonderful theories of co-evolution, I’d like to evolve the way protists did/do, by merging with other organisms and forming relationships that create new beings. I don’t know what those would be, but somehow if a giant Venus fly Trap ate me and I didn’t die but became a part of it, the way microchondria now is part of other cells and not a seperate organism, what would that look like, and what purpose would we serve?

What do you think?

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