As a child, I really wanted a pet hamster. In my nerdy eagerness, I did a lot of research at both my school and local library to read books on how to be the best hamster owner ever. I would take notes on how to clean, feed, and play with hamsters in between reading chapters of the latest Harry Potter book (Prisoner of Azkaban, my favourite of the series). I memorized which wildflowers and native plants they could eat so that I could pick them off the ground on the way home from school. My young, hamster-obsessed self was very, very ready to have a pet hamster.
The day we arrived at the pet shop, my mom took one look at the rodents and exclaimed, “No way! They look just like mice!”
….Needless to say, we didn’t get a hamster. I was pretty disappointed.
But now that I’m older and wiser, I can understand my mom’s fear of rodents. There are a lot of people who fear the typical pestilent creatures: mice, cockroaches, spiders, and snakes. Front the perspective of evolution, this fear sort of makes sense. Our ancestors survived to pass on their genes thanks to their habits, thoughts, and sense of caution. This knowledge, which would’ve included fear of dangerous animals, was passed on to their offspring. Perhaps rats were included in those intergenerational teachings?
Rats and rodents in general don’t have the best of reputations. Rats and mice will flock around decayed food and often attack crops. For many, their presence signals decay, dirt, and unhygienic environments. These harbingers of disease thrive in environments where sickness can spread and infect many living creatures.
I wonder if we will one day develop these types of fears in response to artificially intelligent creatures. Will robotic snake reincarnations at zoos and carnivalesque displays still scare us if global warming renders them all extinct? Will the trauma of a hypothetical, apocalyptic war with robots one day give us a sense of fear and disgust anytime we interact with a mechanoid?
Nevertheless, fear comes from an instinct of self-preservation and this is important for the survival of our species. I’m still a bit disappointed I never got a pet hamster though.