Feeding isn't Free

Stop feeding the animals. Seriously. Stop.

Welcome to Team Trash, a newsletter about the places where humans and wildlife meet. I'm Bethany Brookshire, science journalist and author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains.

Today we're trying a little something different! I'm going back to my ROOTS.

What are my roots? Well, science blogging. Back when that was a thing. I'd write pieces about scientific papers I found interesting, and today, that's what we're doing. I thought about pitching this piece to make actual $, but the finding is small enough that I don't think it's news, per se. Instead, it's more of a jumping off point for further research, and a way to think about our own actions.


A European fallow deer, buck with large antlers

Admittedly, this deer IS extremely adorable - B Navez, Wikipedia

We will do a lot to get close to nature. Especially feed it. In my reporting for my book, I came across people who put literal vats of deer corn out every morning. And it is lovely to get close to something wild. To feel like it trusts you. We can feel changed by that experience.

But the deer get changed by it too. A new study out in Royal Society Open Science studied a population of frequently-fed fallow deer in Dublin. The deer all have tags, which allowed the scientists to monitor which deer were most often approaching humans to beg for food, and which preferred their natural diets.

Then, again because they could track the deer, the scientists managed to get their hands on those deer's newborn fawns. They tracked how much they weighed at birth, and then how fast they gained weight--a solid measure of how successful the mother is likely to be at passing down her genes.

And they showed that deer that beg had faster growing, bigger fawns than the ones who steered clear of people.

At first, you're like, so what? The deer are benefitting from close access to humans!

Well yes. And that means...more deer are going to grow up learning to benefit from close access to humans. It means they will become more fearless. Less wild.

Some people might think that's quite sweet. It probably could be.

But it could also lead to more deer spending time near roads, and getting hit. More deer spending time in gardens, eating your plants. More deer BEING more deer, which can lead to the spread of epidemic disease as populations get scrunched together.

It's not just deer either. Birds, raccoons, squirrels, the many many species that humans love to feed for the Tiktok. We love to watch. We love how cute they are, and we dream of our own Disney princess moments.

But feeding is not free. It is another way that we as humans influence the ecosystems we live in. And we're gonna need to think about the consequences, and who is it who actually pays when animals are fed.

Where have you been? 

I hope it's reading this amazing story about how beetles can take water from the air through their BUTTS. Dune stillsuits have nothing on these guys. If they were really serious? A tube right up the anus my friends.

Yeah yeah, dinosaurs owned the land. But they didn't own the sea. Why not? Well, one reason might have to do with how they'd basically bob around like pool floaties!

This piece is slightly older but really important: on online prescribing, and why turning to a pill to solve stage fright is not going to work in the long run.

A lovely and surprisingly meaningful (and mindful?) short piece from David Epstein's substack. Maybe let's take joy from the things we don't want, that we don't have.

Where have I been?

Thank you so much everyone who came out to the Harvard Book Store and U Mass Lowell! What a lovely time.

If you're in NC, come out to the NC Natural History Museum and the NC State University Library! The events are free and we're gonna have a good time.

And thank you to Maryn McKenna and the fantastic online audience for the Atlanta Science Festival and the Georgia Center for the Book! It was a great discussion.

Finally, if you get Sierra Magazine (and you should!), I'm in it this spring, back on my squirrel bullshit.