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This week on Nature League, Brit and Adrian re-enact mythology tales about plants and animals from around world.

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Nature League is a weekly edutainment channel that explores life on Earth and asks questions that inspire us to marvel at all things wild. Join host Brit Garner each week to learn about, connect to, and love the amazing living systems on Earth and the mechanics that drive them.
Welcome back to Nature League!

This month has been all about rhythms. However, there's an extra week in this month's schedule, and that means it's time for our special segment called “Nature+”! “Nature+” is a segment where we investigate nature in the context of something else.

For this month's “Nature+” segment, we're going to explore Nature plus mythology. [CHEERY INTRO MUSIC]. Back in high school I participated as the mythology member of a Latin quiz bowl team. Nerd alert aside, I've loved mythology from a very young age, and some of my favorite myths have to do with life on Earth.

And while my quiz bowl days were focused on Classical mythology from the Greeks and Romans,. I've compiled a few awesome myths spanning across the the world that I'd like to share with you. That's right - it's story time!

We'll begin with an origin tale from North America. This is the story of Sedna, goddess of the sea, and how the ocean creatures came to be. This is one of the most popular Inuit legends, and as such there are a lot of different versions.

One of them goes something like this:. It begins with Sedna, a young woman with an independent spirit and a strong-willed nature- my kind of girl. She receives a ton of advances from local suitors, but decides to give them all a hard “no” and takes her love life into her own hands.

She chooses a mysterious out of town lover, and is carried away by him. The catch is that he's actually a sea bird in disguise, and when her dad gets word of this he's all like, “Not my daughter”. Sedna's father goes to rescue her from the sea bird love nest she's been hauled off to.

He gets her into his boat, but the sea bird lover isn't having any of it, so he creates a great storm. Dad gets scared and decides, “nope, not worth it” and tries to throw Sedna into the sea. But Sedna is strong, and isn't planning on going down without a fight.

So, she hangs onto the side of the boat and tries to plead with her father. Unfortunately, Dad is both afraid and selfish, and does everything he can to get rid of Sedna. First, he grabs his knife and swings it down onto her fingers.

Not his best parenting moment, but hey- it was a big storm and things weren't looking great. The fingers became the seals in the sea. When Sedna tried to still hang on, her father cut off her hands- these became the walruses.

And when she /still/ tried to cling onto the boat, her father cut off her limbs- these, the largest body parts, became the whales. As she fell to the depths of the sea, Sedna became the goddess of the sea and the creatures in it. While a decently gory legend, Sedna is a central part of Inuit culture, as she controls the animals which sustain these people to this day.

Sticking to the theme of strong women characters, our next myth comes to us from the Gwini on the north coast of Western Australia. It's the story of Min-Na-Wee and explains why the crocodile rolls to kill its prey. The story begins with a lovely day at the beach- the men had caught fish, the women were preparing food, and everyone was having a great time.

Everyone, that is, except for Min-Na-Wee, who was a constant trouble maker since birth. She'd cause fights, tell lies, and was even described as having a hard and scaly face (spoiler alert). The women warned her that something terrible would happen if she didn't shape up, but that didn't stop Min-Na-Wee from continuing to be the worst.

Once she was older, Min-Na-Wee and the other young women were ready to be married off. The elders chose a man for each woman, and everyone was paired off...except Min-Na-Wee. Sort of like being picked last for dodgeball ...except in a weird, patriarchal, gotta get married traditional way.

Or something. Either way, Min-Na-Wee was in a terrible mood about this, so became even more awful. After a while, the elders were over it, and set an ambush for Min-Na-Wee.

As she walked one day, the men of the tribe captured her and rolled her around in the dirt- but, she escaped and ran to the edge of the sea. She was less than pleased about this punishment, and called on the spirits to turn her into a dangerous creature in order to get revenge on the men. That animal was none other than the crocodile, and after her transformation Min-Na-Wee slid into the water and hid until later when one of the men went hunting for crabs and fish in the water.

And I bet you know where this is headed. Min-Na-Wee wasn't a “two wrongs don't make a right” kind of gal, so she exacted revenge by attacking the man and rolling him around in the water until he was dead. According to the legend, the mean spirit of Min-Na-Wee lives on in the crocodiles of Australia, and is why they roll to kill their prey.

And it's also a cautionary tale about not being awful to everyone in your village. While some myths and legends explain the origin of animals that are dangerous to humans, there are also origin myths for some of the most beloved species on Earth. Take the elephant, for example, and the following tale from the Kamba in

Kenya:. The legend begins with a very poor man, and a very benevolent rich man named Ivonya-Ngia, which translates to “he that feeds the poor”. But just in case I'm butchering, we are going to refer to him as “the rich man” from here on out. The poor man figures it might be worth it to find the benevolent rich man, and so travels to find him.

Once he reaches the mansion, the rich man lived up to his reputation and offered the poor man kindness and gifts. Happily ever after, right? Welllllll not exactly.

See, the poor man wasn't in the mood for any handouts or charity, and instead asked the rich man to give him the secret of how to become rich. After some consideration, the rich man was all like, “Alright, fair enough. Here, I've got something for you.

Take this flask of ointment and rub it on your wife's upper canine teeth. It'll make them grow, and then you can sell them.” The poor man figured he may as well give it a try, so he took the ointment and returned home. Explaining the plan to his wife was the harder part, but he promised her they would become really rich, so she was a good sport and went along with it.

She put the ointment onto her top canine teeth and after a few weeks they had grown into tusks several feet long. The man convinced his wife to let him pull them out and sell them, which he did. They got a flock of goats, and all was good.

However, when the wife's teeth grew again, they grew even longer that the first time, and this time she wasn't down to let the man pull them out. In addition to her teeth, her body had also grown bigger, and her skin had turned thick and grey. While fighting about having her teeth pulled, she decided she was done, and she left the house and went to live in the forest.

While in the forest she gave birth to a son who had her same thick, grey skin and tusks. Try as he might, the husband kept visiting her in the forest but could never get her to return. Instead, she continued to live in the forest and gave birth to many more children.

The wife was the very first elephant, and all of her children born in the forest were the first population of this species. According to the tale, this is how the elephant came to be, and the reason why elephants have such amazing memories and are as intelligent as people. The last myth I'd like to share with you doesn't explain the origin of an animal, but rather the origin of a certain plant's color.

This is the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, most famously told in The Metamorphoses written by the Roman poet Ovid. It goes something like this:. Pyramus was a handsome young man living next door to a lovely young woman named Thisbe.

They were super into each other, but their fathers forbade them from being together. And yes, Shakespeare totally took note of this plot line…. Despite being forbidden to get together, Pyramus and Thisbe would trade sweet nothings back and forth through a small hole in the wall between their houses.

One day, when they couldn't stand being apart anymore, they hatched a plan to sneak out of their houses that evening and meet up at a graveyard under the tree with snow-white fruit. Sort of goth noir romantic, sure, but it worked for them and they waited for night. Thisbe snuck out using a veil as a disguise, and got to the meeting spot under the tree.

But a lioness came out of nowhere looking to drink at a nearby water feature, her face covered with blood from a recent kill. Thisbe gave a hard “nope!” to this, and ran away into a cave. While running, her veil fell from her face and was left behind.

And just to make sure we had a decent tragedy to work with here, the lioness mangled Thisbe's veil with her bloody mouth on the way out. Pyramus then appeared, and after seeing the lion prints and bloody veil he assumed the worst. He cried to the heavens, “Oh no, it's all my fault, I asked Thisbe to come here and I got to the tree second and it's too late and I can't go on and ughhhhh”.

Again, Roman Romeo etc. etc. Pyramus picked up Thisbe's veil, sat under the tree, and stabbed himself with the sword he'd brought along in case of, oh I don't know, lions. His blood spurted up onto the snow-white berries of the tree, turning them black, and the rest of his blood seeped into the soil and roots of the tree, turning the mulberries a purple color.

Thisbe eventually came out of hiding and goes back to the tree. Although she sees Pyramus, the tree's fruit is now a different color, and she's unsure as she approaches. When she gets to the tree, she sees a dying Pyramus and puts the pieces together.

Pyramus dies after seeing her face, and Thisbe miserably laments that she too must now die, and the tree should thus always have dreary-colored fruits suitable for lamentations. Thisbe fell on the sword, killing herself on the same knife that had killed her love. The gods took notice, however, and had pity- they made it so that the mulberry tree always has black-colored fruit when it is ripe in memory of the two lost lovers.

Humans have lived alongside non-human animals for all of human history. Much like other unknown, incredible, and unexplained phenomena in the natural world that got explained by myths, plants and animals were also explained in stories. What's more, animals could represent gods, human qualities and virtues, and teachable lessons throughout mythology, and some of this still exists today.

Thanks for watching this episode of Nature+ here on Nature League. While myths and folklore paint colorful tales about life on Earth, I feel like facts and details about living species are just as incredible and interesting. To learn more about why life on Earth is awesome enough to inspire thousands of years of mythology, go to, subscribe, and share.