TOY ART IMITATES AN INVASIVE SPECIES
of art imitating nature are uncountable and as varied as faux mink coats,
ice sculptures of animals and the Chihuly glass flowers in the Bellagio
Las Vegas lobby. A recent article in the journal Humans and Nature
by ecologists Jeff Lovich of the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff,
Arizona, and Katsuya Yamamoto of Kobe, Japan, have added a new layer
to the assertion that art takes nature as its model. The
scientists give evidence that as nature changes, so does the art that
Lovich is an internationally known turtle biologist who has conducted
ecological research on turtles in many regions of the world, including
Japan. He recently showed me a series of photographs of tin toy turtles
that were popular in Japan for decades prior to World War II. From at
least the 1920s to the end of WWII, the toys were muted earth-tone
colors representative of native species of Japanese turtles. Lovich
and Yamamoto conducted research on the turtles and became familiar with
how the toys were a manifestation of local species.
1950s, as Japanese toys became an important exported commodity, the
colors of Japans toy turtles began to change. They became brighter.
Reds, greens and yellows began to be displayed more prominently. Exports
to America had increased, and perhaps more vibrant colors were in demand.
But according to the Lovich and Yamamoto, the shift has a more intriguing
explanation involving the international pet trade and the subsequent
presence of a new turtle in Japan the red-eared slider turtle.
As the authors note, the change was coincident with the importation
of large numbers of colorful slider turtles to Japan via the pet trade.
sliders are native to more than a dozen U.S. states, with a geographic
range that encompasses most of the Gulf States from Alabama to Texas
and northward to Kansas, Missouri and Illinois. Outside the prescribed
area where they occur naturally they can become an invasive species.
Sliders have been introduced to and survived and thrived in temperate
and some tropical zone areas on every continent, except for Antarctica,
as well as many large islands, including Japan.
sliders are pretty. A new hatchling has a vivid green shell, yellow
stripes on its face and legs, and a bright splash of red or orange on
the sides of the head. They are the most common species of pet turtle
in the world. Millions have been sold as hatchlings in the pet trade
and transported to every state and dozens of countries, whereupon a
problem arises. A turtle leaving a pet store could be in the hands of
someone who doesnt know how to take care of it. Upon realizing
their incompetence as a pet owner, many people just release the turtle
into a nearby body of water, where it can become an environmental problem
because of competition with native turtles.
problem arises when a person does take care of a hatchling properly,
so that it reaches maturity. An adult slider turtle can weigh 100 times
more than it did as a tiny baby turtle that was easy to keep in a small
bowl, resulting in another reason for many people wanting to get rid
of pet turtles. This is true throughout the United States and, not surprisingly,
in other countries as well. This led to the subsequent establishment
and numerical dominance (of red-eared slider turtles) in Japanese wetlands.
turtles native to the Japanese islands were mostly shades of brown,
sometimes with yellow markings, but red-eared sliders are now more prevalent.
Toy turtles are still being made in Japan and exported as they have
been for the past 70 years. But the color patterns have changed, presumably
in response to human perceptions of what a typical Japanese turtle looks
like. Cultural changes have always occurred in response to environmental
changes. The red-eared slider has offered an opportunity to observe
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