#Cuteoff crowns the cutest animal on Twitter, for now

On an average day, the Internet is a variable smorgasbord of animal cuties, but earlier this month, an even higher number of adorable baby birds, itty-bitty reptiles and comically posed amphibians flooded Twitter, thanks to a worldwide hashtag battle.

Cheetah researcher Anne Hilborn, a doctoral student at Virginia Tech, is cited as the genius behind the virtual pageant, alongside other researchers like her supervisor Marcella Kelly, and Rob O-Sullivan, a zoologist with The Herpetological Society of Ireland.

Hilborn has helped spark similar viral events in the past, like the researcher confessionals #fieldworkfail and #fieldworkwin, plus #junkoff, featuring animal genitalia. But #cuteoff drew the biggest crowd, and a whole lot of submissions, of both traditionally and nontraditionally cute contestants. It also furthered, and hopefully reclaimed, some oddball descriptive terms, like squeethe squealing-sound made by a person seeing something super cute. 

But of the thousands of entries, and even more tweets, retweets, and favourites, who was the ultimate winner? O’Sullivan says the true victor of the #cuteoff was science communication—the ultimate goal of the whole undertaking to begin with. He adds that it was awesome to see people get so excited about lesser-known species, and points out that these opportunities to mingle with the public make researchers more approachable. Quite a few of the most popular enteries came from zoos, museums, and government agencies. Factoids were also encouraged in the 140-character accompanying tweet.

There may never be a true #cuteoff champion, given the intense variety, and comparable adorableness of applicants, but here’s some of the top contenders, based on retweets and favourites.

1. Rock Hopper Penguin

2. Baby Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit

3. Juvenile Coast horned lizard

There were a few early media-favourites too, whose inclusion in circulating articles garnered the ‘awwws’ of many, but made their real impact too tricky to individually quantify. 4. Newly hatched Atlantic bobtail squid

5. Baby Painted turtle

6. Eastern Red-backed Salamander

Missed the first round? Don’t worry. The competition rages on. Over the last few days the debate has started to regain traction, and knowing the fondness us humans have for the small, fuzzy, disproportionate and big-eyed, things could get even more heated this time around. That also means there’s still time for dark-horse contenders to pull out ahead at long last and gain social media celebrity status. Personally, I’m rooting for the nudibranch.