MARCH MAMMAL MADNESS – Fun Lessons from the First Round

2018MMM Rd 1 bracket

Greetings to everyone who has an interest in the amazing “Performance Science” event of the springtime: March Mammal Madness.

In my previous post, I shared the history of this six year old event and how you could get in in on the ground floor of this year’s tournament. More than 1,500 educators responded to March Mammal Madness creator Dr. Katie Hinde’s offer for early brackets! Based on their replies, Hinde estimates that at least 120,000 students will be participating this year.

As I write this, the first round of contests has ended and I am here to share some of the things my students and I have learned from the first round.

In the spirit of good-natured competition, I posted my bracket online.

2018 MMM Bracket]

A perfect Wild Card and first round would leave someone with a perfect score of 33 points (one point for each winning choice). My current score is 25 points, with several of my 6th-grade students besting me. The top score of the first round for my students is 28 points. Given that each match in the later rounds is worth more points, I am optimistic I can close the three-point gap and overtake my young students!

Round One

The most shocking lesson came from the wild card match between the praying mantis and the goldcrest. I was a firm believer that #BirdsEatBugs as were many of my students. However, we all learned that an insect like the praying mantis actually kills small birds by biting into their brains when it ambushes them. I know we never would have had a discussion like that out of any textbook!

ayeaye CharonHenning
Aye-Aye image courtesy Charon Henning

In my experience with students and MMM, the greatest learning chances come when you have the discordant events we call upsets. I give great kudos to Dr. Hinde and her team when it comes to taking advantage of upsets to highlight anatomy or behaviors that would usually get overlooked in a more traditional zoology lesson.

My favorite of this year’s upsets was the #10 aye-aye defeating the #7 coatimundi. By having my students wondering how in the world the aye-aye could win, we had short but valuable discussions about habitat loss and cultural ideas that result in aye-ayes being killed for seemingly possessing “evil spirits” We also got to investigate the unusually long finger this lemur uses for probing into logs to get insets and their larvae. If you’ve never seen an aye-aye in action, this video from the Duke Lemur Center will show you how fascinating these unique critters really are!

Common Octopus image courtesy Mary Casillas

Part of the fun of March Mammal Madness is predicting upsets. This was the case for me as I had heard about an example of an octopus suffocating a dolphin several weeks ago in a National Geographic article. When we saw the first round matchup between the cookiecutter shark and the common octopus, the idea of the octopus drowning the shark did not seem so far-fetched … and that’s precisely what happened!

matis shrimp charon henning
Mantis Shrimp image courtesy Charon Henning

Finally, there are those great upsets you consider before choosing to go with the safe pick. This happened to me with the #13-seeded mantis shrimp taking out the #4-seeded alligator snapping turtle. Having talked with (and shown) my students the amazing clubbing power of the much-smaller mantis shrimp, I just could not bring myself to think the diminutive crustacean could take out the MUCH larger alligator snapping turtle. I officially regret that decision!

tardigrade Charon Henning
Tardigrade – #AltAdvance! Image courtesy Charon Henning

The greatest quirk of this year’s tournament so far came with the massive green anaconda meeting up with the wildly popular (and microscopic) tardigrade, or water bear. The battle seemed over when the anaconda displaced the tardigrade … only to have it land in the scales of the snake. The anaconda won the match, but we were told that the tardigrade was to be considered an #AltAdvance—a term that has baffled the MMM community. We have been promised clarification when the anaconda & tardigrade head into their Round 2  battle on March 26.

As you can tell, my students and I are enjoying the start of March Mammal Madness. I know there are thousands of other classrooms worldwide who are having similar experiences. If you’ve missed the first round, it’s not too late to join the fun and learning. I strongly recommend the YouTube videos of MMM fan “M.C. Marmot.” Here are the overviews of the first round for you.

For a great “one stop shop” of MMM information you cannot go wrong with Dr. Hinde’s page at

Good luck in Round 2 and beyond!

In Talking Evolution, teacher and science communicator John Mead brings evolution and biogeography “down to earth” with practical ideas for classrooms and learning networks.


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