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Weird & Wild

Slugs and Bugs: 6 Bizarre Animal Mascots in U.S. Sports

Mud hens, boll weevils, and banana slugs are among unlikely team symbols.

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The Evergreen State Geoducks are named after a large saltwater clam native to Puget Sound (pictured).


Ever been psyched out by a clam?

Probably not, but that doesn't stop many U.S. sports teams from choosing small and, some might say, unsightly animals to represent themselves. But what these critters lack in beauty they make up for in toughness and resilience-hence their role as mascots.

With the Super Bowl looming, I took author's prerogative to ask: "What are some of the most unusual animal mascots?" for Weird Animal Question of the Week. (Related: "Pictures: 100 Years of Football in America.")

From lumpy aquatic mammals to squirmy slugs, here are six reasons to remember that looks aren't everything.

Evergreen State Geoducks, Washington State

This huge, burrowing clam, found in abundance in the Pacific Northwest's Puget Sound (map), represents Evergreen State's flexibility and non-competitive approach to learning, according to the university.

Geoducks are filter feeders that live buried under beaches, can extend their siphons three feet (0.9 meter) up through the sand, and live a hundred years.

Gerardo Chin-Leo, a biologist at Evergreen, said via email that geoducks represent "an alternative strategy to winning" the survival game. (Also see "World Cup Mascot: Explaining the Armadillo.")

"Geoducks are long-lived and ubiquitous, so being flexible and non-confrontational can indeed lead to evolutionary success."

Oh, and it's pronounced "gooey duck." But that doesn't mean you can call us NatGooey.

El Paso Chihuahuas, Texas

The mascot of this minor league baseball team is known for being small of body yet big of heart.

"Despite their small stature, many chihuahuas are also quite brave, engaging with and sometimes even challenging other dogs that are giants by comparison," Monique Udell, an animal behaviorist at Oregon State University, said via email.

This valiant spirit is true "especially if [they're] properly socialized as pups"-meaning they learn to interact with dogs and people and are not too sheltered early on, Udell said.

Not convinced? Watch this Good Morning America video of Paco, the rescued chihuahua who became a hero for chasing armed robbers out of his owner's store. Home run, Paco!

Brevard County Manatees, Florida

Found throughout Florida, the American manatee's grace, endurance, and size may have inspired this minor league ball club's name.

Jessica Schubick, communications manager for the South Florida Museum, noted via email that manatees have no natural predators. (Boating accidents are the biggest threat to the docile animals.)

Even so, these aquatic herbivores have "big, dense bones and formidable bulk" that would allow them to control their turf if needed.

Not to mention they're surprisingly swift, and can "briefly propel themselves up to 25 miles [40 kilometers] an hour to make it across home plate." (Also see "How Did Manatees Inspire Mermaid Legends?")

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The Brevard County Manatees mascot works the baseball field in Viera, Florida, in 2012.


University of Arkansas at Monticello Boll Weevils

But the tiny bugs, known for infesting cotton plants, are "really tough"-for one, they're resistant to many insecticides, said Philip Koehler, an entomologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. In winter, boll weevils hide near fields they've infested and return to them come spring.

It's not good for the farmers, but we have to admire their on-field strategy.

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The boll weevil (pictured) is a tough insect that inspired the University of Arkansas at Monticello Boll Weevils baseball team.


Toledo Mud Hens, Ohio

Mud hens, technically called American coots, can be pretty fierce, Marc Devokaitis, a spokesperson for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, said via email.

The namesake of this minor league baseball team is "more than ready, willing, and able to engage in either ritualized or outright physical conflict with its own or other avian species," said Devokaitis, quoting Cornell's Birds of North America database.

These fights are so vicious that they can continue underwater and can result in "the death of the vanquished bird."

Plus, Devokaitis noted, mud hens can run like crazy on water, a great quality in a ballplayer.

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Muddy, the Toledo Mud Hens mascot (seen in Toledo in 2014), is a friendlier version of an aggressive bird called the American coot.


University of California, Santa Cruz Banana Slugs

Banana slugs, which are native to California, are usually bright yellow-hence their name-but can also be green, black, brown, or white. (See a picture of banana slugs.)

Chris Barnhart, a biologist at the University of Missouri in Springfield, said the 7-inch-long (17-centimeter) invertebrates are "defensive specialists."

"They find their way into cracks and crevices. Since the age of wooden ships they've been traveling the world," Barnhart said.

Banana slugs also have some odd behaviors, as described in a presentation by University of California, Santa Cruz professors John Pearse and Jan Leonard.

Not only are the slugs hermaphrodites, but after they mate, one will "sometimes gnaw off the other's male genitalia to disengage-or perhaps its own."

Tough enough for you?

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