This was originally written on Hatch — internal version of Medium for Medium employees — on April 25, 2015. It is presented here without edits. (See Hatching Inside Medium for more backstory.) ¶ Context for this piece: On the way to our company retreat, we were asked to write about our conversation with whomever we sat next to on the bus.

Bees are basic

Five strange facts about the animal kingdom I learned from Eugenia on the way to Calistoga, and how they can help you with your work at Medium

1.

You cannot domesticate a fox. This is possibly a well-known fact, but Eugenia elaborated on this a bit more. Turns out, it’s not that foxes are too wild to be domesticated. It’s something else: the process of domesticating a fox makes it stop being a fox.

That is insane. Welcome to quantum biology. Try to take a fox home — some Russians did — and it will start being nicer, raising its tail, and essentially turning into a dog. The crazy part: not only in its behaviour, but also appearance.

Within four generations, some foxes were wagging tails. By generation six, 1.8% eagerly sought human friends. By generation 10, it was 18% and by 20 it was double that. Curiously, the friendly gene came attached to some other physical genes that made the foxes look like other domestic animals: curly tails, white faces, droopy ears. It took only about 35 years to completely domesticate the species.

So, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say you have a fox at home. Because either it turned into a dog… or your fox already killed you.

How this applies to work: Wanna be as handsome as Jimmy? Pick up some Objective C. Going for a Luke Look®? Start dealing with our users. Want to look like Sarah? Lawyer up. 35 years later, guaranteed: you will look exactly like them.

2.

Bees communicate through wagging their tails, and this is also relatively rudimentary knowledge. However, huge disappointment to all animal lovers: bees are basic. The tail wagging is not some sort of sophisticated abstract language. It’s simply a 1:1 mapping of what needs to be done to fly somewhere. If the target is closer, the wagging is tighter. If it’s far away, it’s more loose. If you’re a bee, you just need to look at what some other bee is doing with its tail and repeat it verbatim — and you will literally end up at your target. You can otherwise be the dumbest bee in the bee drawer. No beeg deal. It will still work.

What the hell. I’ve been lied to my whole life. I was under the impression bees are the dolphins of the sky, and it turns out bees are just the dolphins of some stupid alternate universe where dolphins are as stupid as bees are here.

How this applies to work: Ever have trouble following Nadia’s movements at yoga classes? Imagine you’re a bee. Then repeat everything. Problem solved. Keep the honey.

3.

Check out this article:

The search for a better email spam filter has researchers turning to nature and taking inspiration from the way an ant colony defends itself against intruders. Ant defense behavior operates according to distributed network rules, similar to that of human immune systems. Researchers say this suggests that evolution has at least twice created a natural security protocol that, mimicked by email servers, would make it much harder for spammers to successfully infiltrate a system and avoid detection.

Fascinating, right?

No. Who gives a shit about distributed network rules.

Here’s the only thing you need to know: ants like spam. Like, canned spam. Wanna get ants away from something? Open a can of spam nearby. It’s flawless: they will move towards the spam. Case closed. You’re fucking welcome.

How this applies to work: Slacking is for losers. Spam is for closers. Want a coworker to get to a meeting? Turn them into ants and then put a can of spam in the meeting room. 100% bulletproof. Just don’t forget to turn them back into people or even fifteen holacracies won’t get that meeting in order.

4.

Geese will instinctively start rolling anything that looks like an egg. It is guaranteed by nature. It’s a built-in feature of any goose.

Geese don’t actually understand the idea of an egg. If you ask a goose “what’s an egg?” it will pause, appear puzzled, maybe look around to see if other geese have some idea. This is called anthropomorphization. The goose actually has no clue you are speaking, or even what speaking is as a concept. You are just attributing human reactions to an animal. If other people are around when you are asking a goose questions, they will probably not think very highly of you.

But if you put something that just looks like an egg in front of a goose, it will still start rolling it. It could be an actual egg. It could be, like, maybe an orange. It could be a ball of $20 bills, but you are better off giving those to the Russians to domesticate you a fox. It could be a Death Star from the alternate universe where people are the size of ants. The goose will still roll it back to the nest. This is called gestalt. It happens to also be that pretentious German word designers use when they want a raise.

In related news:

The response of our Seewiesen turkeys to “elongated objects that resemble a snake” could be observed every spring after the danger of frost had passed and a garden hose was rolled out between the “Gänsehaus” (a small building, used primarily as laboratory for poul-try research) and one of our turkey pens outside the surrounding fence. The hose resembled a very long snake, between the faucet and the fence. While other fowl ignored this event, our turkeys became highly agitated, approached the hose clucking and gobbling, and stayed about a meter away.

Man. Science is cruel.

How this applies to work: Moving desks? Save yourself trouble. Roll everything into a ball, then bring in a goose. It will take care of everything. And admit this reminded you of Katamari Damacy, you goddamn nerd.

5.

How to capture an ant? You can, of course, try to talk it into following you, but holy shit we covered the futility of this approach just above, won’t you pay some attention for a foxgone minute.

The best way is to get a little pipe, and simply… suck ants in from the ground, one by one. Of course, you don’t want to swallow an ant, so you need to adorn your pipe with a filter and an ejection route into a little ant prison, at the moment the ant gets close to your mouth. Unless, that is, you’re on an “ant”kins diet.

pause for laughter, best joke in the post I think

Here’s the kicker, though: the ant will sense danger and eject some sort of a liquid or vapor while flying — I am omitting details not because I wasn’t paying attention when Eugenia was telling me all this, but because it’s crucial for a master storyteller to skip unimportant bullshit — and if you inhale that, it will get you just a little bit high.

No kidding! You can get stoned via ant suckitude. It’s antastic news.

the ant jokes literally just write themselves, it’s like a bee wagging its t

How this applies to work: Friday gets you down? Grab a straw, go to the Yerba Buena park nearby and get high as a kite on some ant defense juices. Naureen, let’s update the perks page.

(There’s, of course, no way of knowing whether I did or did not do just that before writing this post.)

Thanks, Eugenia! It was an awesome commute.

Designer/typographer · Writing a book on the history of keyboards: https://aresluna.org/shift-happens

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