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The T. rex that became a duck—but we still fear it

Elysa Ng
Elysa Ng

Sixteen-year-old. Loves life sciences and literature.

Jakarta  /  Tue, June 11, 2019  /  01:13 pm
The T. rex that became a duck—but we still fear it

These ducks are watching you. (Shutterstock/Danielle Balderas)

A phobia, commonly known as an excessive and irrational fear of something, is quite common in the life of a typical person. It is less common, however, for a phobia to render a person unable to go about their daily activities.

Typical phobias include the fear of heights, the fear of dying and the fear of insects and spiders. Phobias might stem from a couple of causes—for example, a person might have had a traumatic experience, or perhaps there is some neurological problem that can only be explained by psychology. But phobias are not limited to the common types of fear. There are people out there with very unique types of fear.

One of these is anatidaephobia, the fear that somewhere out there, a duck is watching you. You could be doing anything, anywhere, but the feeling is there. That white, feathered bird is watching you with a gaze that is not friendly at all. This isn’t exactly a kind of active fear where people might freak out—it’s more of an unsettling feeling that causes anxiety in the individual.

This phobia is relatively very rare, but more people have recently heard about it from internet memes. Some experts say the reason why this phobia exists in the first place may be because of a traumatic encounter with a goose or duck sometime in the past. Geese and swans are not exactly the friendliest of animals, and children might fail to understand that until it’s too late.

What people find funniest about anatidaephobia is that the duck still remains that adorable, white-feathered bird. After all, ducks and geese play an integral part in children’s short stories about farm animals. People grow up believing that these animals are just cute and fluffy birds. However, what people do not know is that ducks have gone through millions of years of evolution and are the result of evolution from the dinosaurs that once ruled the land.

In a sense, it is nearly comical. How did that gigantic, fearsome reptile with serrated teeth that once dominated the land become a small and feathery bird with a beak instead of teeth?

One explanation is the theory of evolution proposed by Charles Darwin. In a nutshell, evolution is known as the gradual change of characteristics in a population over time. This process can even take millions of years. Evolution serves as a response to changes in the environment—only the strongest and the ones that can reproduce would be able to survive. Evolution is the link between the dinosaurs and the ducks.

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One of the oldest known birds is actually not a hundred percent bird. It’s more of a mix between dinosaur and bird. The Archaeopteryx is a bird known to live in the late Jurassic period about 150 million years ago, but instead of a beak with no teeth, it still had some reptilian teeth.

Following Archaeopteryx in the fossil record are some other animals, including Sapeornis from the early Cretaceous period and Confuciusornis, one of the first birds that had no teeth and was found in the late Cretaceous period.

Finding the links between how all the beings in this world came to be is the job of evolutionary biologists. Researcher Shuo Wang from the Capital Normal University of Beijing even found out that some dinosaurs lost their teeth when they grew older and used a beak instead. It is believed that this process happened earlier and earlier, probably because it was supported by conditions in the environment, and that eventually the animals that hatched from eggs already had fully formed beaks.

Could it be possible that the fear of ducks and birds is linked to a very ancient fear mammals once had of the dinosaurs roaming the world?

Fear is known to be passed down from one generation to the next, and the evolution of fear is extremely important for the survival of humans. There is a reason why humans react badly to snakes and to heights—these phobias are a result of fears that have gone down from one generation to the next. Essentially, humans learn to be afraid of these things because they might cause danger and some lives to be lost.

The mighty dinosaur that once instilled fear in us mammals has turned into a feathery friend a while after the meteorite crashed into the Earth. And yet, ironically, some of us still fear both, even with the gigantic size difference. Perhaps that’s because they still have their aggressive nature in there somewhere. Perhaps one day the ducks will rise to take over the planet again. (mut)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.