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Is All Wild Life ‘Wildlife’? May 13, 2014  |  By Admin

Photo: National Park Service, Wikimedia Commons.

Creatures living in the wild— that is, non-domesticated and not introduced by humans— have captivated us since ancient times. Much wildlife art, from the painted walls of the Chauvet Cave to the works of Rosa Bonheur and the photographs of Nick Brandt, taps into our fascination with animal life, most often large animal life.  This seemingly innate intrigue prompts questions: Is a biotic entity only considered ‘wildlife’ if it’s an animal? Perhaps only if it’s a creature visible to the human eye?

The unimaginable diversity of Earth’s flora, fungi, lichens, algae and microbiota are fundamental in the complex and innumerable cycles, flows, systems and interrelations supportive of the development and sustenance of Earth’s entire biotic community. These beings fit the classification of ‘wild’ life— yet so often remain culturally void of recognition as ‘wildlife’.

Such nontraditional wildlife can garner human reverence, and does so less than 100 miles north of the Museum, where pigmented thermophilic (heat-loving) bacteria help to produce the spectacular hues of Yellowstone’s famed Grand Prismatic Spring.

Much nontraditional wildlife exist according to physical and temporal scales— not to mention modes of sentience— that humans do not readily identify with, though scientific study continues to increase their legibility and perceived resonance to our lives. Surely we will esteem in perpetuity the charismatic animals that have inspired humans to question and identify their roles in the global ecosystem. Will we cultivate a similar wonder for the subtler, yet ubiquitous influences of microscopic and rooted life, as well?

-Carrie Schwartz, Assistant Curator of Education & Exhibits

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