There are a ton of different species of animals and plants on Earth, including many that have yet to be discovered. The diversity of our planet us awe inspiring, and also brand inspiring. It is from this huge pool of earth’s specimens that a lot of pro sports teams pull their namesake. Many teams go for the ferocious predators, hoping to convey dominance over other teams further down the food chain. Some pick an animal as a sort of shout-out to their region’s local fauna. And some pick an animal just because they are not very creative and everyone else is doing it (looking at you Memphis Grizzlies).
But, what if pro sports mascots represented the total biodiversity on this wonderful planet of ours? What kinds of mascots would we end up with? Looking at “the big four” (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL) we broke down what kinds of animals are used too often as mascots, and which are used too infrequently in comparison to all the known species on earth. To clarify, we’re going with the team’s namesake mascot (i.e. Seattle Seahawks), not the furry thing that might run around the stadium. Because really, there is no way to put a taxonomic classification on this thing:
The largest representation of any one group of species on sports teams is…. Humans. No surprise, we’re kind of obsessed with ourselves. About 1/3 of all sports teams are named after some kind of human, usually with an occupation attached. You have Pirates, Cavaliers, Senators, Mariners, and on and on. We also have some that are racist terms for certain groups of humans that should really be changed. Like now! (Dan Snyder, please read on, suggestions coming in a minute).
Other than naming teams after ourselves, our next choice is to name teams after what we classed as inanimate objects or concepts. This would include teams like the Colorado Rockies, Utah Jazz, St. Louis Blues, or the Chicago White Sox. These are usually tied to an aspect of the team’s local geology, culture, or history. In total, this group accounts for the namesakes of about one quarter of all professional teams.
Finally, we get into the actual animals. Leading the pack are the mammals, with 21 teams (17% of the total) named after some type of furbearing milk-producing critter. Of course this is the class that humans belong to as well, but we’re not including us in this tally. This group is for all the bears, coyotes, bulls, wolves, and tigers in the sporting world. Not surprising that this group is well represented. There are some objectively awesome animals here.
After that, we have the birds. Mankind has always admired the avian species. It may be more envy really, that something with brain the size of a raisin can do something cool like fly. But I digress. There are 12 teams (10%) in professional sports named after birds. Usually we’re talking about the predatory birds (hawks, eagles, etc.), but sometimes it’s the more pedestrian ones (cardinals, orioles).
Oddly enough, the next largest group of mascots is what we called “fictional or extinct”. This is where your Raptors, Sabres, Devils, and Angels would reside. Having an extinct mascot is an interesting concept. “Hey, opposing team, are you intimidated by our mascot? It couldn’t beat natural selection but we’re going to beat you!”
Next, we have the fish. We are blessed to live in a time when there are 3 sports teams named after fish: the Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, and San Jose Sharks. Fish make great mascots. I have no supporting facts for that, I just feel it to be true.
The rarest types of mascots include insects (2 teams, Charlotte Hornets and Columbus Blue Jackets) and plants (1 team, Toronto Maple Leafs).
This chart provides a breakdown of the total proportion of teams in each of our groupings:
If Sports Mascots Represented Actual Biodiversity
Alright, so now that you’ve seen what we currently have, what would the sporting world look like if all pro team’s namesakes followed actual biodiversity on the planet? *Note: for our purposes today we’ll take all those teams named after concepts/inanimate objects and give them an animal mascot.
For starters, there could be, at most, 1 team named after humans. Humans, or even primates in general, make up less than 0.0001% of all known species. If we have to pick just one, we recommend the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, because, why not? Pirates are fun. The other 41 teams named after humans will need to find a new namesake (including you Pittsburgh Pirates. And no, it’s not fair).
While there are a ton of teams named after mammals, there are not really that many mammals on earth in the grand scheme of things. To represent true diversity, we could have 1 non-human mammal team. Which sets up a tough decision. So many great mammal named teams to choose from! We recommend keeping the Indianapolis Colts. The rest have to be scrapped.
There are predicted to be 10,000 species of birds in the world, but still, that only accounts for 0.13% of all earth’s species. So with a generous rounding-up, we’ll allow ourselves 1 bird team. We recommend keeping the Atlanta Hawks, partly just to piss off the Atlanta Falcons.
Reptiles also make up 0.13% of the known species on Earth, so we’d allow ourselves 1 team as a part of this exercise. And guess what! We already have exactly 1! You go Arizona Diamondbacks, you are perfect just the way you are (although… while your team is named after a reptile, the mascot is still a mammal for some reason. What’s up with that?).
Remember my earlier excitement about our 3 fish teams? Well that’s all about to get dashed. There are only 40,000 species of fish making up 0.56% of all species on earth. This means we could justify perhaps 2 fish teams, and even that is a bit of a stretch. We recommend putting a marlin, a shark, and a sting ray in a large tank and just see how things shake out.
Plants are a weird thing to name a team after right? Leave it to the Canadians to do that (Toronto Maple Leafs, though once again, namesake is a plant and mascot is a mammal named “Carlton”). But they are helping us meet the plant quota if we want represent actual biodiversity. Unfortunately, that’s not enough. We’d need 6 pro teams named after plants to get a representative number of sports teams for the 368,000 species of vascular plants (we’re excluding bryophytes here, because, c’mon. Bryopythes bro? Get real). For the other 5 plant teams we’d recommend a Venus fly trap named team. Most badass plant, by far. And it would be a great mascot costume. For the other 4, I don’t know, some trees or rhododendrons or something.
Hey y’all, how did we make it this far as a society without a pro sports team named after an amphibian? The 15,000 species that can’t decide if they want to be a fish or a reptile that we have come to call amphibians are not represented at all! But there are not too many species when you look at the big picture. So we’d just be looking for one team to represent the group. And we have the perfect one: The Carolina Hellbenders. What’s a hellbender? Click here. You will not be disappointed. Another name for the hellbender is “Snot Otter”, fantastic.
So now we have burned through most of the groups of species you most commonly associate with pro sports teams, yet we’ve only assigned 13 of 122 teams to those groups. It’s time to look at where the real species diversity on Earth lies: the creepy crawlies. If you want a visual of how many of earth’s species are creepy crawlies, here it is:
If we are staying true to the goal of representing planet Earth’s biodiversity in the sports world we would need about 79 teams named after insects! There are over 5 million species of insects on this rock of ours, totaling 69.6% of the overall number of species. Obviously the Charlotte Hornets and Columbus Blue Jackets can stick around. But we need to come up with 77 more. Let’s get some beetles in there! Maybe a dragonfly, that would be cool. San Diego Padres, would you like to keep your theology themed mascot? You’re the Praying Mantis’ now. Hey Minnesota Vikings, since you’re really only relevant once every 17 years, how about becoming the Minnesota Cicadas? Anybody interested in a mascot that truly epitomizes teamwork? Bees! Or ants! It’s shocking there are not more bug mascots already!
But we’re not done yet! Many will find this fact horrifying, but there are an estimated 600,000 species of arachnids on the planet. Yes, we’re talking about spiders. And we need 9 spider based teams to match real biodiversity. There is already a spider named team in the college ranks, but we are completely lacking at the pro level. Tarantulas anyone? Black widows (it would take a progressive group of male athletes to adopt a namesake species where the female eats the male, but hey, it’s 2016, why not)?
Ok, what else do we need. Oh! Nematodes! We need a bunch of teams named after nematodes! Nematodes, for those not familiar, are worm-like organisms with tubular digestive systems with an opening on either end of their body. They are often parasitic. And we need 8 teams named after them. Let’s just throw out: the L.A ‘Todes (basketball), the New Orleans Nematodes (football), and the Twin Cities Tylencia (baseball). Of course you know the subclass of nematodes known as Tylencia, no need for an explanation as to why this one is both hilarious and appropriate!
Finally, we’re starting to round out all our pro sports teams with a representative mascot. But we have a few left to go. We need 3 teams named after crustaceans (Boston Lobsters? Cincinnati Crawdads?) and 4 after mollusks (Sacramento Snails? Seattle Banana Slugs? Orlando Oysters? All great names!).
Next, we need 1 team each to represent these smaller groups of species: Myriopoda (Milwaukee Millipedes?), Hexapoda (Florida Flies?), Echinodermata (San Diego Starfish?), and Platyhelminthes (uh, I don’t know, it’s a flatworm, first team to raise their hand gets it!).
Last, we have the annelid family. Which we know commonly worms. We need one team named after the noble worm, and we think we have the perfect team in mind. We welcome the pro football team from Washington D.C. to embrace their new mascot “Willy the Worm”. We think he is very emblematic of how you have handled your current mascot situation.