According to UW zoologist Kay Steppenhoef, UW-Madison’s beloved mascot, Buckingham U. Badger, may not be an actual badger.
Steppenhoef first doubted Bucky’s identity as a member of badger species Taxidea taxus while performing preliminary research as part of a taxonomic restructuring effort.
“We sent out one of the undergrads to get a fur sample from Bucky—not because we really needed it, but just to give them some busywork so they’d leave and stop fogging up all the good microscopes with their mouth-breathing.”
Steppenhoef, however, was in for a shock when her dutiful assistant returned with the sample.
“Afterward I felt kind of bad, so I humored the undergrad and did some DNA barcoding with the genetic material from Bucky’s fur. At first I didn’t believe it, I thought either the machine was broken or Thick Rick—I mean, our undergrad—was even more dense than we took him for. The DNA from the fur sample was an almost perfect match with that of the common cotton plant, not a badger.”
To put her mind at ease, Steppenhoef collected samples and ran more tests herself, but came up with the same results.
“I tracked Bucky down, nailed him with a tranquilizer and took multiple fur samples this time. No change. The tests showed Bucky is made of 100 percent pure, machine-washable cotton. I was shocked.”
The confused zoologist turned to other experts for advice, including renowned UW-Madison plant taxonomist Wayne Avery.
“Dr. Steppenhoef’s findings profoundly disturbed me,” Avery said. “I lost sleep. How could we not have known?”
The plant taxonomist conducted his own investigation, observing and taking field notes of Bucky at local sporting events and fundraisers. Soon he had developed his own explanation.
“Everything Bucky does, his behavior, the way way he cranks out push-ups at football games and performs complex choreographed skating at the Kohl Center, all these things point to Bucky’s putative identity as your run-of-the-mill mustelid. It is enough to fool even the trained observer, but I now believe Bucky isn’t a badger at all.”
Avery points to subtle visual cues that back up Steppenhoef’s genetic evidence.
“I think he’s really some sort of animate plant species, hiding from man and the scientific world in plain sight through a type of advanced Batesian mimicry, that is an otherwise harmless organism resembling the appearance of a more dangerous one—or in the case of Bucky, a plant mimicking a badger. But the illusion isn’t perfect. If you look closely there are subtle differences between Bucky and other badgers, like the lack of sexual organs around Bucky’s pelvic region, and the peculiar shape of his carnassial dentition.”
Their findings have the potential to undermine decades of mammalian and plant taxonomic research. It raises the question: What other plants could be running around disguised as animals, with us none the wiser?
“I question everything now,” Steppenhoef said. “Is my dog really a dog? Are my children really human, really even mine? I look in the mirror in the morning and wonder: Am I just a cotton plant with a consciousness? Finding any sort of answer all starts with figuring out this Bucky business. I’ve been petitioning UW Athletics to let us to put Bucky down and conduct a full autopsy. It’s the only way we can be sure.”