160229 2016MMM - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

For the past couple of years I've been an enthusiastic participant in that glorious spring Twitter festival called Mammal March Madness. This is the brainchild of Katie Hinde (@mammals_suck) and I highly recommend checking out her official #2016MMM page sooner rather than later.

On the eve of the big bracket reveal I thought I'd write a bit about how I'm likely to choose between the contenders for 2016.

First and most simply: size matters, usually. More than a few miniature mammals have been defeated after being stepped on by a larger but oblivious foe, even though sheer mass wasn't enough to get the beloved but bewildered Walter to the final round.

And of course sometimes there's strength in numbers; a pack of hyenas can defeat a whale, and facing a nest of army ants is very different from taking on a single worker.

As always, Cave Canem.

Temperament is extremely important.

Mammal March Madness isn't just a (simulated) blood sport – not all the time, anyway. An animal that's spooked and runs is just as defeated as one that's caught and eaten; this also applies to otherwise formidable competitors who choose the better part of valour when faced with an opponent that's bigger than they're used to.

My standing rule is to never bet against the short-sighted angry ones.

It didn’t work in 2014, but 2015 made up for it.

Don’t overlook defences.

It's a disadvantage to be small, cute, and timid, but if your response to danger is to curl up into a ball of impenetrable quills, then you may still do okay.

Similarly, even victorious animals may not escape unharmed, so a tough battle may tip the scales for the next bout. These aren't ideal specimens that magically regenerate between rounds – not usually, anyway.

Predation and environment need to be considered. A tough mammal like a big-horned sheep might face down a lot of opponents, but that's not going to help against a lion.

It's also important to remember that for the first few rounds the combat happens in the environment of the top-seeded animal, and that in the final rounds the environment is chosen randomly. This can put an otherwise strong contender at a disadvantage.

And finally, this is a science competition. This has some large implications: Mythical Mammals may be monsters that command human sacrifices, but they can't swing a hammer in the real world. Similarly, anyone who has ever uttered the phrase "the jury's still out" is also likely to have an unhappy time in the real world, since #2016MMM features a Cold-Adapted Mammals bracket.

More subtly, remember that these animals were carefully chosen by some very smart scientists. Go beyond Wikipedia and find out why.

So those are the five main things that I'll be looking at once the #2016MMM bracket is released.

But there's one more critical word of advice: NEVER click a link that mentions Narwhals.

Out of deference for the people who follow me as @matthewpiers, I mostly tweet MMM via my @mtthwrbrtsn account.

And that last screen shot is a joke about sea otters.

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