So that lamb prancing down the road with a look of unrestrained glee on its face -- pretty adorable, right? Sure, if you ignore that, in reality, the lamb is probably scared out of its wits and running for dear life.
And similarly, this cockatoo is probably not really an ACDC fan but just vehemently wants the heavy metal music to go away, though it does make a great party trick for the owner. And does this hyper owl really want to be your friend, or does she just want you to get out of her face?
That’s the problem with LOLcats and the cute animal pics that crowd Pinterest, Tumblr, and the Huffington Post (not to mention OnEarth’s own “Eco Porn” series) -- the animals in those pictures may very well be terrified. The sign of a truly content animal is often vacant calmness, which doesn’t always make for exciting photographs. When animals are worked up or scared is when they tend to physically react, giving us perceived grins that are more often grimaces and wide eyes that are frightened, if adorable.
When humans bare their teeth, for example, it’s usually a smile. For other mammals, it’s a threat response or a sign of aggression.
And remember that ACDC-loving cockatoo? Sure, his fluffed-feathers may suggest a sweet ‘80s mullet to us, but other parrots would see them as a signal of irritation. And when many animals are stressed, they just give up and play dead, like this meerkat’s friend. That grin looks a little more gruesome now, doesn’t it?