March Mammal Madness 2017

Who do you want to see in the hunt in 2018? 
all proceeds support the artists.
Don’t call it a comeback… we’ve been here for years. FIVE years to be exact. And for this 5thAnnual March Mammal Madness we’ve dialed it up to 11 and broken the knob off

In honor of (but in no way affiliated with or representing) NCAA College Basketball March Madness Championship Tournament, Mammals Suck features an annual tournament of *simulated* combat competition among mammals. Scientific literature is cited to substantiate likely outcomes as a probabilistic function of the two species’ attributes within the battle environment. Attributes considered in calculating battle outcome include temperament, weaponry, armor, body mass, running speed, fight style, physiology, and motivation.

Through the scientific information embedded in the bout descriptions, participants are educated about inter-species interactions, the importance of ecological context, how natural selection has shaped adaptations, and conservation management of endangered species.

Red Giant Flying Squirrel wins WILD CARD! 
see the AMAZING first ever (& probably last) MMM live action battle movie!
Special notes not in credits: 
Melissa Flamson at With Permission 
provided guidance to composer Kevin MacLeod
Lenora Ott & Jackie Smith were Butterfly Crew
& MMM parody logo by Zach Holmboe


Adjective Mammals- Spectacled Bear, Clouded Leopard, Maned Wolf, Screaming Hairy Armadillo, Pouched Rat, Banded Linsang, White-Headed Capuchin, & Spotted Skunk ADVANCE!!! See the science here.

Desert-Adapted Mammals- Saiga, Guanaco, Ringtail, Gray Fox, Aardwolf, Sand Fox, Gila Monster, & Honey Badger ADVANCE! See the science here

Coulda Shoulda Division: Pegasus, Sphinx, Tiger, Leopard Seal, Neanderthal Hunting Party, Giraffe, Short-Faced Bear, Sabertooth Cat ADVANCE! See the science here.

Two Animals One Mammal Division: Leopard Cat, Bearcat, Bear Cuscus, Antelope Squirrel, Tiger Quoll, Hog Badger, Hog Deer, & Spider Monkey ADVANCE! See the science here.

Adjective & Desert-Adapted: Honey Badger, Spectacled Bear, Guanaco, Saiga, Clouded Leopard, Aardwolf, Maned Wolf, White Headed Capuchin ADVANCE! See the science here.

Round 2: Shoulda Coulda & 2A1M #2017MMM: Short Faced Bear, Greek Sphinx, Neanderthal Hunting Party, Hog Badger, Hog Deer, Leopard Seal, Spider Monkey, and Bear Cat ADVANCE! See the science here.

SWEET SIXTEEN: Sweet Sixteen Outcomes! Neanderthal Hunting Party, Short Faced Bear, Spider Monkey, Clouded Leopard, Guanaco, Hog Deer, Honey Badger, Spectacled Bear ADVANCE! See the science here.

ELITE TRAIT: Short-Faced Bear, Spider Monkey, Honey Badger, & Spectacled Bear ADVANCE! See the science here.

FINAL ROAR: Short-Faced Bear & Honey Badger ADVANCE to the CHAMPIONSHIP WEDNESDAY! See the science here.

THE CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE!!!! See the science here.

On this day in history 3/27/2017, Human Person @RadiationMouth got the first ever official MMM tattoo from Art Director Charon Henning!

Be sure to check out fan-created Rodent Recaps 
by MC Marmot & friends at their youtube channel!

Summary outcomes heading into the Elite Trait

#AchievementUnlocked and new legitimacy for Team MMM: the tournament (and celebration of science twitter) has now be covered by Deadspin! Huzzah! Chris, Josh, & I penned an essay on March Mammal Madness for The Conversation. And I sat down with Dr. Kiki Sanford and Blair at THIS WEEK IN SCIENCE PODCAST! David Shiffman, aka WHY SHARKS MATTER, wrote about MMM as “Science Communications’s Big Dance.” NPR’s Goats & Soda was cheering for Pouched Rat! Using brackets as pedagogical technique in the Chronicle of Higher Education & a cure for b-ball boredom over at NonDoc!

On the radio the tournament is being played/covered by the science & sports folks at WitsJournalism in South Africa, & the tournament called a “cult phenomena” at The Beat of Sports by Orlando’s Marc Daniels, radio voice of UCF basketball and football. 

And for nostalgia’s sake- here is the very first ever MMM battle! A wild card between titi monkey & naked mole rat in 2013, before realizing that having announcers heinously depleted character counts.



How do I play?
We can only suggest the following for maximal fun & learning. Print out the bracket (or fill out this online fan-created one!), predict who will win in each of the match-ups in round one, then round two, and so on and so forth, all the way out to your prediction who wins IT ALL! Get your friends, colleagues, and/or family to play. Post brackets on wall prominently. Trash talk their selections that depart from yours. Follow along in real time to battle play by plays on twitter by following hashtag #2017MMM or @2017MMMletsgo scheduled bout nights (see schedule below). If twitter isn’t your thing, check the FB page or this blog for updates a couple hours AFTER the bouts conclude for the night.

Most Importantly: Cackle when your predicted animal triumphs, complain when they lose. Laugh & learn along the way!

How are the winners determined?

The organizers take info about their weaponry, armor, fight style, temperament/motivation, and any special skills/consideration and estimate a probability of the outcome and then use a random number generator to determine the outcome- this is why there are upsets in the tournament.
Another thing that can happen is if a species has to battle in an ecology that is really bad for it- so if a cold adapted species is battling in a tropical forest- it can dangerously overheat- changing the outcome probabilities. Sometimes an animal gets injured or snaps a canine in a previous round that carries over into the next round- just like an injury of a star player totally changes a basketball team’s outcome. Also hiding or running away counts as a forfeit.
In the early rounds the battle location is in the preferred habitat of the better-ranked combatant in the battle, and ecology can play a huge role in what happens. Once to the Elite Trait the battle location is random among 4 ecologies (Desert, Fen, Chaparral, or Laurel Forest) in Elite Trait, Final Roar, and Championship battles. The location is announced right before the battle.
Are the battles one on one or do social mammals get their buddies?

Typically the battles are one individual from the species vs. one individual from the other species. In 2017MMM the only “team” is the Neanderthal Hunting Party which will be a small group of hunters working together with Neanderthal technology. Also as you are estimating your outcomes, assume that the combatants represent the most prime-aged, badass, kickass specimen of that species. And just as in nature, there can occasionally be scientifically-grounded outsider interference.

Is the battle always to the death?

The battles are NOT always “nature, red in tooth and claw.” Sometimes the winner “wins” by displacing the other at a feeding location, sometimes a powerful animal doesn’t attack because it is not motivated to- a few years ago in the “Who in the What Now?” Division we had a dhole lose to a binturong because the night before dhole had gorged on babirusa and the gut passage time of wild-canids being 24-48 hours. This meant that the dhole was still full from the night before and unwilling to take the risks of tangling with the binturong. Even a small claw cut or bite wound can get infected and lots of times an animal will back down rather than take a risk for little potential benefit.
“Don’t mind me, just walking by.”
Wait, I thought this was a battle of mammals! What is that cold-blooded, forked tongue gila monster doing here?!

“Slumming.” is what I am pretty sure Gila Monster would say.

But the organizers decided to include gila monster in #2017MMM in honor of winning the #2016MMM Heckler of the Year Award. As such she is now expected to put her money where her mouth is, or rather “put her bite where her mouth is.” #StepUp
photo by Eric Isselee available through Shutterstock.

The internet is full of AWESOME, ACCURATE information- but also a lot of garbage. How do I know I’m getting accurate info about the species when I am doing my research?
ASU Libraries and Oxford University Press have built special MMM portals with freely available resources, articles, and other things for your students to use as you research species. The ASU portal is incredibly comprehensive! Oxford University Press will have articles about some of the top-seeded animals here. You can also find great info from zoos, scientist societies, and even searching stories from news outlets. But some news outlets are more reliable than others. And lookee here: Conservation & Evolution blog WildlifeSNPits created a run down of all the marsupial combatants this year! And a 9th grade bio class made a study guide with fun facts! They took these efforts more seriously than does Calvin (h/t to Marc Kissel for the joke).

I love otters! Can I call them my “spirit animal” without perpetuating racism?
Most probably not. If you have a deep affinity for an animal, but your identity means you are culturally appropriating when you use the term, JK Rowling has you covered- “patronus.” 

What do the numbers next to the Mammals mean?

These correspond to the relative rankings among the species. 1 is the highest/best ranked team in the division and 16 is the lowest/worst- the number assigned is referred to as “seeding” but its functionally interchangeable with ranking (seeded/ranked are therefore also interchangeable).
The single elimination bracket battle favors the strongest teams until you get out to the semi-finals: 1 plays (crushes) 16, 2 plays 15…
Oh and just like the military, or the hunger games- it’s up or out. As soon as a species loses, it’s out of the tournament. #OneAndDone
What is an “upset”?
This is when a low ranked team beats a high ranked team. 9 beating 8 isn’t a super impressive upset.  In the actual NCAA tournament upsets happen when a 12 will beat a 5 or an 11 will beat a 6, once every few years a 15 will beat a 2 in the first round. For example: “Coming off its 11th national championship the season before, UCLA was ready to make another run through the 1996 NCAA tournament as a No. 4 seed. But in his final year as coach, Pete Carril and his 13 seeded Princeton offense got the best of the Bruins, stunning Jim Harrick’s squad in the first round with a last-second basket on a backdoor cut.”
What is a “Cinderella” team?
A “Cinderella” team is a low-ranked team that progresses multiple rounds of the tournament systematically beating higher ranked teams.
So should I always pick the better-ranked mammal?
No! Real fans don’t abandon their favorite mammals just because they are pathetic at this kind of battle (although hopefully well-suited to their particular ecological niche). For example, my primate picks in 2013 performed dismally because my well-established monkey agenda was in direct opposition to reality that apes totally wiped the floor with them. People will clown you if your bracket is TOO conservative by always picking the better-ranked team.
Also the rankings are not infallible and there are upsets in nature too. Upsets are what make March Mammal Madness exciting. Like in 2015 when #3 seed Quokka exited stage left for those sweet burger rings allowing #14 seed Numbat to advance!!! OMG! WHO SAW THAT COMING!?!?!?!

I remember in 2015 being pretty dang salty when the mythical animal went down because “REAL mammals beat imaginary Mammals” in the Final Roar. Is that crap going to happen again?

No. The organizers have modified the rules such that a mythical mammal CAN beat a real mammal in March Mammal Madness. 
That bracket is sick! Who made it?
MMM fan and Design Thinker & Aero-Robotics Program Director at Safety Third Racing Will Nickley! Last year after the launch, he very, very nicely “here, I fixed that for you.”  I suspect that any number of graphic designers thought my original janky bracket was the design equivalent of Comic Sans (a font that has some really great things going on, by the way!). Anywho, Will was kind enough to create the official bracket from the get go of #2017MMM.

How can I find out the specific species that is the combatant? 
Indeed, sometimes the common name leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Here is a link to the animal list with the Latin binomials!
Speaking of brackets:
This year I opened up a request form for educators to get early access to the bracket for lesson planning. Over 200 folks responded and we now know that MMM is played in classrooms throughout the United States and across the world. One such requestor, Sam, expressed love of the “old school” bracket. Sam updated the old bracket and sent it back for any other folks who preferred this version.

Old School Bracket

A couple days after Sam & I interacted, I got this email, which I am sharing with permission:
“I have a confession to make. I am not a teacher, but merely an eighth grader who was too excited about the upcoming tournament to wait for the student release. I have been following the tournament since the start, and every year at this time I find myself constantly refreshing your page, just hoping that the bracket would appear. I sincerely apologize for deceiving you.”
Sam, who loves animals, science, learning, and bends arbitrary timelines in pursuit of knowledge, but is still deep down a good enough person to confess and contribute. Well Sam, there is nothing “merely” about being an 8th grader and I look forward to the day you are launching your career and the rogue park service recruits you, because clearly you are on Team THE HEROES WE NEED.
Week One          
3/6/2017    Wild Card                                        M    7:00 *special time*
3/8/2017    Round 1: Adjective                         W    8:30
3/9/2017    Round 1: Desert                              Th  8:30
Week Two          
3/13/2017  Round 1: Coulda Shoulda               M   8:30              
3/14/2017  Round 1: Two/One                          T    8:30
3/16/2017  Round 2: Adjective & Desert           Th  8:30
Week Three                
3/20/2017  Round 2: C/S & Two/One                M   8:30
3/21/2017  Sweet Sixteen All Divisions             T    8:30
3/23/2017  Elite Trait                                         Th  8:30
Week Four         
3/27/2017  Final Roar                                       M    8:30

3/29/2017  CHAMPIONSHIP!!!                         W    8:30 *regular time*

All times are PM Eastern Time Zone. Be There

And by “be there” I mean following the twitter hashtag #2017MMM, results posted following battles on FB & storify.

MMM New Divisions ROLL CALL!

This year we have ALL new divisions! And to roll out the new divisions, we are going to release two taxa from each division. Huzzah!! Art credit to the incredible Charon Henning!

Having recently moved to the Valley of the Sun, I have new appreciation for the adaptations that make desert living possible. So we have… drum roll…


Last year we had Mighty Giants, animals that were actually big, or big for their clade., or TERRIBLE as well as big.  BUT some animals are such a funky combination of magical that they need two animal names for one taxon! So we have… drum roll…

Some mammals were heavy favorites to take it all, but due to Cinderella upsets determined by random chance, exited the tournament earlier than predicted. They coulda been a contender, they shoulda been… so we’re bringing them back for one more shot at glory!

Before I became a biologist, I was all about the linguistics- from syntax to phonemes, the arrangement and meaning of words made my heart go pitter patter. Indeed I still heart the dictionary more than ever. In 2016 we featured the Mammals of the Nouns. In 2017 we have…

yes, a banded linsang is an actual animal that is real.
The Full Bracket will be available on this post starting February 27th
Yes. In 2017 the Wild Card Battle is a 4 species Battle Royale…

And yes, we green screen filmed the simulated wild card battle. 
Because that’s how we roll. 

All of March Mammal Madness is provided by the tireless efforts of many awesome people…
We are also delighted to introduce a kickass line up of new battle narrators who will join Josh, Chris, & I in describing what could possibly go down when two species encounter one another! Mauna Dasari, Ph.D. Student, University of Notre Dame; Dr. Marc Kissel, Postdoctoral fellow at the Univeristy of Notre Dame; Dr. Patrice Kurnath Connors, Post-doctoral Researcher & Instructor, University of Utah; Dr. Danielle Lee, Visiting Assisting Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Southern Illinois University; Dr. Jessica Light, Associate Professor and Curator of Mammals, TAMU.
And since science is most badass when paired with kickass art- we are so excited to welcome back tattoo artist and scientific illustrator Charon Henning to once again astound and astonish us with incredible creations! Selected art is available at the Mammal Madness Society6 shop– all proceeds go to supporting the artists who dedicate hundreds of hours to this the “Performance Science” of MMM.  
Dr. Anne Stone of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change & Dr. Melissa Wilson-Sayresof the School of Life Sciences, ASU will be on deck tweeting about genetics, genomics, and phylogeny of battle species!

The American Society of Mammalogists will once again be tweeting photos from their Mammal Images Library. Folks contributing from ASM include Brian Tanis, Sean P. Maher, Vanessa Apkenas, & Jessica Light. All the images there are free to download, and higher-res files of all the images can be requested. The big bonus for the Mammal Images Library is that all the images have correct IDs and are up-to-date taxonomically. What an amazing resource!
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History (the first Natural History Museum I went to as a little kid!) returns to tweet images of their collections and how to use collections for scientific research! Dr. Nicole Burt and other museum curators, scientists, and educators will be team-tweeting from the @CMNHzoologyTo learn more about CMNH go to their Facebookor webpage

Welcome new MMM contributors from the Aldo Leopold Foundation @AldoLeopoldFdnwho will provide images & quotes about conservation & land stewardship in both historical and contemporary context. The Foundation’s mission is to foster care for people, land, and communities through the legacy of Aldo Leopold, best known as the author of the conservation classic A Sand CountyAlmanac and founder ​of the field of Wildlife Ecology. They also have a very active FB page. Director of Education Jennifer Kobylecky & Public Program Coordinator Anna Hawley will be spearheading efforts from the Foundation.
ASU Library is getting involved too! Anali Perry, René Tanner, Mimmo Bonanni, Ashley Gohr, and Joel Smalley have created a guide and curated online resources that lists recommended resources, targeting a general K-12 audience to help with researching their brackets. A link to the guide will be posted here when the bracket goes live in February 27!
AND “Oxford University Press is proud to be participating in this year’s tournament by curating a special collection of research from Journal of Mammalogy and Mammalian Species. These titles from the American Society of Mammalogists have published great research on select species competing in MMM. Check out their March Mammal Madness Special Collection and take advantage of the free content to aid in assembling your bracket.” Thanks to Nicole Taylor & Lauren Godwin for making this possible!

 TEAM March Mammal Madness!!!
Everyone Not Pictured Yet.
How to Keep Up with the Tournament:
Follow the action on twitter #2017MMM or see storify archive linked on this post daily once the tournament launches. To reach broader audiences we have launched a Facebook March Mammal Madnesspage- share early & often!
Educators & Parents & other here just for the facts– I recommend following @2017MMMletsgo. For the 3rdyear in a row, Brown University class of 2020 student, Emma curates only the bout tweets and not spectator #TrashTalk that shows up when you follow the hashtag #2017MMM.
But you should follow all of these accounts just as a matter of principle.
If this is your first year playing, check out info from 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013; the Wikipedia page(thanks Human Person & Brendan McDermott!); and these examples of the amazing radio and print media coverage from previous years.

Come Back February 27th for the release of the Digital Bracket. If you are in the Phoenix Area Feb 25th, come to ASU for Night of the Open Door! There will be a March Mammal Madness Trail from the School of Human Evolution & Social Change to the School of Life Sciences to the ASU Library!! Pick up a bracket, stickers, AND MORE!

& Educators- if you would like the bracket early to plan use in the classroom, no problemo! Please fill out this online form & the bracket will be sent to you early. You just can’t release it to the students until 2/27.

This year is the 5th annual so we had already planned to go a little over the top (did I mention the green screen filming?) but we are also going to do more to highlight national parks, environmental protections, #actuallivingscientists and science funding throughout the tournament. 

March Mammal Madness is a love letter TO the science community and a love letter ABOUT science. 

And this love letter is needed now more than ever. Welcome.


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