Ugly side of nature

Two quick stories, and an overall point.
I have recently experienced a resurgence of interest in all things Nature. In particular I have been having a lot of fun trying to identify all the trees in my neighborhood and in all the parks I go to. So the other day I gave myself the task of seeing how many willow trees I could observe along the winding country road near my house. I observed many Carolina and Black Willow trees. Then I came upon one willow that was completely covered over by a climbing vine. It draped over this rather tall tree like a blanket. At first I didn’t even realize there was a tree there, it was so well covered. The tree resorted to sending out a medium size branch with some leaves on it out from under the vine, pitifully trying to reach for some sunlight to keep it alive. That’s one story.
One more quick story. My backyard looks over a nice well kept pond where a pair of Canadian Geese made their home. Just a couple weeks ago, the female had a gosling, and momma and daddy were showing the cute little thing all around the pond and grazing and walking all around the surrounding grass. I am working from home these days and one afternoon, a couple days ago, I heard the two geese wildly honking and flapping. I quickly looked out back at the pond and caught the very end of a neighborhood dog attack. That dog went right for the little gosling. I didn’t see the actual attack, only the family owners of the dog chasing him off the poor little guy. So he escaped with his parents. He tried swimming along with his parents, but couldn’t make it across the pond. He had to turn back. He was obviously hurt badly. He slowly made his way back to the edge of the pond and after about an hour, right there at the shallow waters edge, he died. It seemed to me his parents were just confused; why wasn’t the little one following, why was he motionless. They kept trying to scare him into action, back to life. After an hour and a half, they finally walked off, and in fact, I haven’t seen them around this pond ever since.
My point in all this is — I went from loving the beautiful things in nature to being depressed and almost confused. The ugly side of nature just threw cold water in my face.
Does anyone have any comments on how we should understand these types of experiences?


It’s life don’t dwell on it. Horrible things happen all the time it is just life. I for example when i see a drowning insect always save them, or if i see a beetle or something with one or two ants attacking it i save it from the ants. Horrible things are a fact of life. I would continue further but my thoughts probably aren’t what your looking for.


I’m sorry you had to experience those things. While they are a natural part of the world, it’s still distressing.
For what it’s worth, know that the gosling will go on to feed another animal, or at minimum flies and fungi, and nearby plants.
As for the vines, I like to turn it around and admire the tenacity of the plant and admire how alive they are.
I admit I too am saddened by nature sometimes, though usually when I see an invasive species smothering out native life.


Nature is beautiful but it’s not pretty. In the UK an over-sentimental view of nature has led to much destruction of habitats and reduction of biodiversity. Killing ivy which people think is “strangling” trees is one example, and the ivy which would have supported an enormous amount and variety of wildlife is removed to leave bare tree trunks.


Very interesting post.
I can completely empathize with you confusion/depression. Nature is FULL of unimaginable waste and suffering, and we could sit here all day citing examples without even scratching the surface. I’ll refrain from doing that, but we could.

I don’t really have any good comments/advice, but here are just a couple of thoughts that came to mind at the moment:

  1. Plants almost certainly don’t feel pain or suffer. I don’t just say this just because they don’t have the structures/mechanisms that we animals have to perceive pain or to suffer (although they don’t), but also because it just wouldn’t be beneficial for them. I don’t think they have evolved different mechanisms to do the same thing, since pain/suffering are very complex and specific adaptations that have evolved to lead to certain outcomes in animals. That doesn’t really apply to plants, or to a lot of other organisms.
  2. Nature is FULL of unimaginable waste and suffering, but it is also FULL of unimaginable beauty, complexity, intricacy, and other good things. So if you can do something to improve the situation, do so… but when you can’t, there is nothing wrong with a sort of “willful avoidance” or with intentionally ignoring the bad to focus on the good. If you think about it, being depressed, angry, or feeling bad about the things you can’t do anything about only increases the amount of suffering in the world. So don’t make things worse, it is fine (and good) to find the good in the situation.
  3. The ugly side of nature is actually what creates the good side. We simply would not have the good side without the bad. Every beautiful, complex, and amazing adaptation that you see in the natural world, the very fact that anything more complex than self-replicating nucleic acids exists, is directly due to the fact that competition, parasitism, exploitation, and death exist. Ultimately, it is those interactions which are the driving force for the evolution of complexity, cooperation, altruism, and every other good thing that has evolved.

I know someone who supports a butterfly conservation charity but sprays their garden plants to kill caterpillars. :thinking:


If I have learned anything in my years it’s that there is no inherent dignity in a Death of any kind. Sure we try to inject some into the process but we never really succeed because there wasn’t any there to begin with. Nobility maybe, compassion probably, but dignity…no.

As the gardeners of this great big Gadren that was gifted to us we can address the different injustices that we perceive. In fact I would encourage you to address it to the best of your ability. Tear down some of the vine if you wish to give the tree a fighting chance. Perhaps erect a small fence or other barrier around the property to reduce the chance of predation by domesticated animals.

I can see how you might feel discouraged by these things but that can be used as a motivation instead of a defeat. Predation is a constant act in a world where competition is the natural order and modern humans aren’t used to losing in that game despite the fact that bacteria/viruses, exposure, accidents, and predation are taking us out all the time too. Please remember, nay believe, that Life(in all it’s forms) is worth protecting, learning about, and propagating despite the fact that Death exists.


If you’re looking for some consolation, I’m not sure this is it, but I’ll tell you something my undergraduate physics professor tells his students: The second Law of Thermodynamics tells us that entropy, the inherent disorder in the universe, is always increasing. Every action we take creates disorder. Even when we try to create ordered systems, the cost in entropy is always higher than the order we create. Eventually, the entropy of the universe will be so great that there is no longer any matter. It will all have been converted to radiant energy and scattered to the farthest reaches of the universe where it can no longer interact with anything. Life itself is an incredibly complex ordered system. There are so many different chemicals that have to bind together in just the right order and so many different systems that have to work together in just one simple organism, the fact that anything as complex as a cell, or a plant, an animal or a person even exists in the first place is nothing short of impossible. The only reason that this can occur at all is the fact that these incredibly ordered systems only exist for an infinitesimal fraction of a second in the lifetime of the universe. So be glad that you are here to experience it in all of its variety and complexity. Life and death, good and bad, beautiful and ugly are not concepts that will exist forever.


Very sorry to hear your experience, I’ve had a few experiences like this but I believe that we as humans react this way to seeing other animals morn and have grief for them. But as others are saying it’s the cycle of life, not as much being a domestic dog attacking wildlife or invasive plants killing out natives, but ultimately it’s nature the repeating cycle of life. But it’s best to not catch yourself on the negatives and focus on the positives.


the responses here kind of relate to one of the reasons I´ve been particularly interested in parasitic wasps and flies since I started exploring entomology…

my knee-jerk response to the notion of parasitism is that its abhorrent… that one creatures lays its babies inside another…and that their baby then eats said creature from the inside out while its still alive …is pretty hard to wrap your head around from a human perspective!

but that’s a really positive challenge to overcome IMO, to discard more traditional perceptions of these actions as good / evil …and see it as the cycle of life as those above mention

and more than that, to connect and in a sense, care for these creatures and value them as well! …is just absolutely fascinating to me. :)

its a powerful experience to gaze into the eyes of a parasitic bee-grabber when photographing it!

spending time with these creatures really shakes my world-view.


Though I am sorry for your distress, but, as the others have noted, there are no good or evil guys in nature. They’re all part of ecosystems and have their own functions. The only evil guy is us, humanity, who import invasive species by trying to beautify the nature or make it more useful for us, trying to eradicate “evil guys” (sparrows, wolves, insects, etc.). Even in your gosling story there is a human hand – it is letting their pet loose with the birds in the vicinity. As for nature – I have recently witnessed the cannibalism of a squirrel, when a male squirrel kills and eats young ones sired by another male. Yes, it’s cruel and seemingly unnecessary (not from the point of view of a killer squirrel, who later mates with a mother squirrel and will guard his offspring well), but this is nature, we have to accept it.


I’ve struggled with this, too. Nature doesn’t do good/evil. It doesn’t do pretty/ugly. It doesn’t salve the sting of death and it doesn’t believe in death with dignity - natural death is often horrible. It does do tenacity, and creativity, and diversity. It accepts and transforms everything.

The consolation is that we who sort things into good and evil and beautiful and ugly can feel and shape these things. We can choose where to cast our gaze and what to cultivate around us, and we can feel deeply the goodness and beauty and respect the harshness, pain and sorrow that brings it all into such sharp relief.

It’s not easy, but it is real. The only goodness and beauty that exists is the goodness and beauty we find and cherish. Good luck.


If you study Nature long enough and deeply enough, it will eventually show you everything that exists. This can be a tough learning process because you will get to see things you would rather not see, and learn things you would rather not learn.

But, as is true of life in general, we do need to know the whole picture, not just the pretty and uplifting parts. Life is not here to entertain us, and nature is not here to soothe us.

Even in the people we love the most and admire the most, we will sometimes see a glimpse of something repugnant or disappointing; that’s the way things are.

We are all under pressure right now with the pandemic rolling over us, and we wish there was something out there which was composed entirely of comforting loveliness.

But the truth is always your friend, so embrace it, don’t shy away from it. Try not to judge nature as “good” or “bad”, just observe it with an open mind.

Nature is the ultimate teacher. In fact nature is our original mother – we were born from her. There is an overall beauty and magnificence in nature, despite it being “red in tooth and claw”.

Nature is not something separate from us and different from us, it is what we are made of too. We have to come to terms with it, with all it, otherwise we won’t be able to come to terms with what it is to be human, what it is to be “me”.

I reckon you are feeling sad and a bit defeated, as I think we all do from time to time, especially during this pandemic. But if you do love nature, go back out there and keep looking. Look smaller, and look bigger too. Give nature a chance to show you how it all makes sense, and what you can do to make things better if there are issues for which humans are primarily responsible.


Welcome to the forum! Your mention of the gosling reminded me of this recent essay on the same topic which coincidentally features goslings:


I think one of our more insidious traits as humans is our tendency to anthropomorphize nature. Growing up in relative comfort, under the jurisdiction of laws and human rights, with abstract views on life and morality that are very foreign to this world (when compared to the rest of life on Earth), it’s easy to impress our human views upon nature and see things through our lens. And while it’s perfectly normal and natural to feel uncomfortable at the brutality nature has to offer, it shouldn’t taint your view of nature, because nature doesn’t give a damn about our human misconceptions.


Many of us here have asked the same question. Seeing all the compassionate and empathetic replies you’ve gotten shows another side of nature. We can choose to build rather than destroy. In Romans 8:22 The Apostle Paul made the same observation as you did “For we know the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” I feel sad with you and I feel some comfort too.


I see parasitic wasps as a mercy. Too many caterpillars can devastate crops leading to starvation.


“nature” is a human concept that doesn’t really exist out there. A goose isn’t “nature”, it is just a goose. And a goose, like a lot of different animals, IS able to feel pain and to suffer horribly. It DOES care that it is being attacked by an eagle and half of its intestines are currently hanging out of its body. That is absolutely NOT a misconception, it does not constitute “anthropomorphizing”, or “judging nature”, it is a real, objective, biological fact.

To reply more broadly (not just to Nick): if there is ANYTHING objective in the universe, it is that pain and suffering are inherently and objectively bad. That is true by definition. Even though sometimes they can be a part of something that is overall good that outweighs them (such as feeling some pain/suffering as a means to obtain a larger reward later on, or to achieve a goal), the feelings themselves ARE indeed bad. There’s no judgment or subjectivity involved in acknowledging that. As such, I think it is missing the point to say that we shouldn’t “judge nature”, “anthropomorphize”, or “look at nature through our human lenses”. While the good may outweigh the bad (let’s say the eagle in the scenario above is a beautiful endangered keystone species on which an entire ecosystem depends, and the goose belongs to an invasive species that is destroying that ecosystem), that fact doesn’t make the bad disappear. The gosling being ripped apart alive by an eagle is still suffering horribly. I think it’s a little flippant* to ignore this fact and pretend that it’s all just a matter of interpretation, that there is no objectively ugly side of nature.

*that’s not exactly the word I’d like to use, it’s a bit too strong/negative, but I can’t think of a better word


Domestic dogs are not part of nature, so there should be a long tlk with those owners about how to walk with a dog.
All situation is not evin ugly, it’s the actual side of the life, you too kill thousands of creatures every day and don’t even notice it, to live an organism has to kill something or find something dead, as eucariots are not bacterias and can’t survive without it. And I’m glad that dead gooseling is what broght you those thoughts, there’re far more brutal things happening.


A glance to the question from the other side: how many ecosystems were erased, plant communities damaged, wildlife killed or drawn to starvation and died by creating crop fields? There is no correct answer to the good and the bad nature even from an anthropomorphic point of view.