This March, it’s time for a different kind of bracket: March Mammal Madness. Instead of obsessing over college basketball teams, pit furry, fuzzy organisms against each other in epic (and purely theoretical) duels to see which one comes out on top.
Brackets for the 2019 edition of March Mammal Madness are available, and this year’s competitors range from the mink to the nine-banded armadillo to spinifex hopping mouse to the... dandelion. (The tournament does include some non-mammals.) The dandelion, in case you were curious, starts off pitted against the nimravid, which on the one hand was a large cat like the saber-toothed tiger, but on the other hand is now extinct. This battle promises to be exciting.
The best part of Mammal Madness is that the entire thing is as scientific as possible. Before the tournament begins, scientists consult the literature to analyze how each animal would fare against its competitor, using factors like armor, running speed, and physiology to create ranks and brackets. To be clear, “winning” doesn’t necessarily mean that one dies; an animal could win by taking over the feeding location. Plus, the organizers clearly encourage picking your favorite animal even if they don’t win. As the FAQ puts it, “real fans don’t abandon their favorite mammals just because they are pathetic at this kind of battle.”
Each animal is then assigned a probability of winning — but to add the element of chance, a judge rolls a 100-sided die. Let’s say the markhor has a 73 percent chance of winning against the streaked tenrec. If the dice lands on any of the 73 numbers assigned to the markhor, the markhor wins. If not, the tenrec will be triumphant. The full schedule is here and the competitive among us can follow along on Twitter using the hashtag #2019MMM.
March Mammal Madness was started by Katie Hinde, an evolutionary biologist at Arizona State University, in 2013 and has had a pretty exciting five years. Past winners are usually big, showy animals like the elephant and Sumatran rhino, but it’s more fun to root for the underdog. Who knows? Maybe it’s the dandelion’s year.