Ducktales: 3 Theories on how the species of Duckburg evolved
I never set out to write academic essays. That’s not the sort of platform I thought I would have as a washed-up author in my 30s, but when I truly, genuinely love something, I start to pick it apart scientifically.
Recently, during my stay in a very nice facility for helping me with my bad brain, I was exposed to the wonders of Ducktales (2017) where Scrooge McDuck is voiced by David Motherfucking Tennant and Huey, Dewy, and Louie are voiced by Danny Pudi, Ben Scwartz, and Bobby Moynihan respectively.
I’d been putting off watching this show for ages. It’s been out since 2017 and, as someone who adores cartoons, I should’ve been drawn to it immediately, but I largely ignored it. I think it’s because I was done with new Disney remakes. I’d been burned one too many times by their endless stream of lackluster reboots and money grubbing cartoons and I wasn’t willing to give a remake of a TV show that had shaped my formative years a chance.
This was a massive mistake on my part. I watched five episodes while I was in the hospital then came out and finished the entire series in two days and now I’m rewatching it. Again.
One of the Hallmarks of my personality (besides rambling on forever) is using science (especially the theory of evolution) to make sense of fictional worlds. I did with Doctor Who, I’ve done it with several Marvel Comics, I did it with Wizards of Waverly Place.
Now, I’m doing it with Ducktales. This all started with a conversation I had with my best friend, Lisa Stapleton on the basis of if the multiple species in the Ducktales universe (of which we’ve seen several) could cross-breed. Now, if any of you are giant genetics nerds like me, you know that most crossbreeding in animals produces either 1) unviable offspring or 2) sterile offspring. So, I was operating on the understanding that since we don’t see many interspecies relationships, that this would be the case in the Ducktales universe.
What if it wasn’t? What if, there are interspecies relationships where we see viable and non-sterile offspring? How would that shape the Ducktales universe? Given the vast scope of the universe and the multitude of species present, it’s likely there have been several interspecies relationships (As seen with Launchpad and the unnamed couples shown below) and some of those species may have tried to reproduce.
It also stands to reason that with these species having similar body shapes, a bipedal walk or waddle, similar capacity for language, and opposable thumbs, they would have to be incredibly similar genetically, with only superficial and (some) reproductive differences (as we see with Della on laying eggs instead of giving live birth).
Before we can examine the potential of cross-species reproduction, we first have to understand how the species in Ducktales evolved to become the type of consciously sentient beings they are today.
I have three theories on how they could’ve evolved, based on my knowledge of evolution and three articles I read to try and make sense of my conclusions, which I will link below.
Theory #1: The Common Ancestor Theory
Due to the consciously sentient species in Ducktales evolving to display the same or similar understanding of language, the same bipedal walk or waddle, the same capacity for problem solving, and similar bipedal with opposable thumb ape-like shapes there is (or has to be) a marked event in the evolution of species, where each species in the ducktales universe evolved from a similar ancestor (Aka a missing link, Lucy).
Theory #2: The Absence of Humanity Theory
Due to the fact that humans do not exist in this universe, save for the singular “Quack Pack” episode showcased in Ducktales season 3, animals in the ducktales universe adapted the same way homo sapiens did due to the same evolutionary pressure to populate the earth.
This secondary factor (ducks et al evolving to fill the homo sapien gap) seems less likely because according to Robin Dunbar, professor of Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Oxford (and several of their colleagues in this article on Gizmodo) it is highly likely that single species would rise to the top (in this case, ducks) and create a society consisting solely of consciously sentient ducks or, if they were feeling particularly merciful, a society of all avian species.
According to Robin Dunbar et al, because humans evolved to this level of intelligence, we’re preventing other species from evolving to conscious sentience alongside us by hunting them to extinction.
So, it stands to reason when we’re examining Ducktales and the duck/avian-centric storytelling, it’s likely they could’ve developed the same or similar need to destroy any species similar to them in adapting intelligence. Such as, but not limited to: Mammals, other avians, marsupials, reptiles, etc., but as mentioned above, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Based on the multiple species present in Ducktales.
Theory #3: The Human Involvement Theory
This theory is based on the research of Steven M. Platek from Georgia Gwinnett College who cites domestication and training as a viable way to aid in the evolution of non-human species.
In this theory, I expect humans could’ve played a massive part in the evolution of these species. Maybe in the future, humans domesticate animals to the point of understanding the concept language (like the pets you see on tiktok using the buttons) giving them the ability to communicate with us.
Then those pets using buttons have children and since children tend to imitate their parents, they also learn to use the buttons to communicate with humans. Then those pets have children and so on.
Perhaps they would eventually develop past the need to use buttons to communicate by mimicking the sounds the buttons produce. This could cause them to gain a very rudimentary grasp on the human language to express their wants and needs.
Then perhaps, over time, this could cause these animals to develop a more complex understanding of themselves and the world. While most animals have an impressive grasp on the concepts of community, hierarchy, and use of tools, they lack the ability to understand conscious sentience and use human language. So, I theorize that as their brains develop human language through rewards and eventually mimicry, they would also begin to gain consciousness to a level bordering on human intelligence in bridging communication gaps as examined in this article on The Atlantic.
The same could go for humans domesticating apes and species with the ability to communicate via sign language. It’s already been proven that once apes and monkeys learn sign language, they teach others how to use it (especially their children) in order to communicate their wants and needs to humans.
So, what if over time these animals developed their understanding of human languages to the point of rudimentary communication (similar to parrots, starlings, and magpies). Then humans have a mass extinction event and die off. Leaving room for these animals to grow and adapt with the ability of creating their own society.
The languages between these animals could die off without humans to communicate with them, similar to how when you’ve learned a secondary language you can forget it over time with disuse. Or, the languages these animals used to communicate with humans would become essential in them communicating between different animal groups in order to create the complex society we see in Ducktales today.
This third theory, I believe could be argued as the correct theory. If nothing else than seen the in Timefoon episode of Ducktales (Season 2 Episode 21) when Huey observes Bubba the Caveduck and is surprised to see him being far more advanced than he should be.
The episode writes it off as him being a part of the McDuck line and being advanced due to being “sharper than the sharpies” and all that jazz, but it’s very likely it could be due to Bubba being raised by a human society that had gone extinct. This would explain his understanding of their adapted language (human English) and his love of chilli dogs (humans tend to feed their pets all manner of unsavory things while training them).
I understand that applying scientific concepts to cartoons tends to ruin the mystique or disprove the fantastical and magical elements involved in these properties, but it is my belief that applying scientific understandings to children’s TV shows can help us in creating stories of our own and uplifting STEM careers.
All three of these theories may very well be wrong and the ducks et al in Duckburg could’ve been zapped by the intelligence ray as seen in Double-O-Duck in You Only Crash Twice (Season 3 Episode 3) and adapted the way (I assume) Gidget adapted the Rescue Rangers or they could just simply be, but by examining all parts of a story, we can draw our own conclusions and create our own fantastical worlds with a better understanding of how they’re built.