Inkwell: Authors and Artists
With catlike tread (sumac) Fri 16 Jul 04 11:55
No, lots of animals are no more encoded at birth than we are. (And we ourselves have lots of built-ins we don't even notice. Such as the ability to sneeze, blink, duck, etc.) Some animals have lots of stuff hard-wired, some have certain things hard-wired and not others, but you can't be hardwired for everything, or when your environment changes, you won't be set up to survive under the new conditions, and you will o extinct. Which I hate. As for lower animals, that really isn't a useful way to think about it. Neither is "primitive", since animals that evolved long ago didn't then *stop* evolving. If they're doing something with old- fashioned equipment, it's because it works for them. Some birds do a lot of learning, especially birds that live in a wide variety of environments, like most corvids---you know, crows, ravens, jays. And some fish learn like crazy, especially coral reef fsih, who live in complicated environments crowded with many species. I found this great paper by three scientists who've studied fish (and other kinds of animals), grumbling that people ignore fish when talking about cognition: "[W]e are able to provide fish examples for almost all the phenomena that are currently being discussed in the context of primate intelligence." They note that there are fish who recognize each other as individiuals, fish who know each other's voices, fish who live in extended families, fish who appease higher-ranking fish in their group, fish who keep track of whether other fish are playing fair, fish who copy other fish, fish who learn traditional migrations routes or nest sites, fish who join other fish in ganging up on predators, fsih with long memories, etc. My favorite of their examples is the one about the groupers who invite moray eels to go hunting with them. The groupers swim to the moray's cave, and shimmy invitingly. About half the time they do this, the moray accepts the invitation & comes out, and they cruise along the coral searching for prey. When they find a prey fish hiding in the coral, the eel wriggles in and chases it out, and the groupers grab it when it makes a dash.
With catlike tread (sumac) Fri 16 Jul 04 12:06
(booter), sadly, those tiger cubs with the German shepherd are not in the book themselves. That picture is from the Australian veterinarian who owns the dog: he had clients who were breeding tigers (why, I have not learned), and who freaked when their cage was flooded out and would no longer care for the cubs. So they gave them to the veterinarian, who has that very motherly dog, who was already caring for a mountain lion cub (the cub on the far right), and who welcomed the little tigers. There are other stories of great cats being raised by dogs in the book, however, and the dogs generally do a great job. If the cats are then meant to live in the wild, this is not perfect, however, since they can't teach them how to hunt like a great cat. (The book does include the story of Leo, the orphaned lion cub who seems to ahve acquired the ambition to be an Australian cattle dog.) If the cats are then meant to live in captivity, this is not an issue, but if there is only one cub the new problem may be that the cub, seeing no other great cats, may not view great cats as suitable mates when it grows up. This is thought to have happened with Victoria, an Amur tiger cub who was raised by Rosemary the dog. So in that picture, the tiger cubs will probably do well, and the mountain lion cub probably will too, although it may display an uncanny interest in tigers when it grows up.
With catlike tread (sumac) Fri 16 Jul 04 12:10
(loris), right now one a la mode idea is that of "modules," discrete cognitive/behavioral packages in the brain oriented toward certain tasks. This helps explain why a person or an animal might be very smart about/easily able to learn about one thing or situation, and clueless about others.
With catlike tread (sumac) Fri 16 Jul 04 12:14
I too think sibling influence is underestimated. As noted above, tiger cubs raised by a dog can still figure out that they are tigers if they have each other to look at, but if raised alone (and not by a tiger), mixups may ensue. Marc Bekoff, who studies canids (coyotes, dogs, wolves) and who is very interested in play, suggests that many animals develop a sense of fair play & social justice in the course of play. Animals do play fair, taking turns, reversing roles, and handicapping themselves so that they don't hurt each other, and so that even the smaller animals get a chance to play the mighty hunter. Little coyotes who don't play fair become unpopular---the other little coyotes won't play with them. And often the other little animals are siblings.
With catlike tread (sumac) Fri 16 Jul 04 12:18
Dolphins of course appreciate style, but are not known to favor *particular* styles. I don't know of any place in California for hanging out with dolphins. In general I think it's cruel to keep dolphins in captivity for the puropse of being swum with. But there are places in the world where wild dolphins will sometimes swim with people quite voluntarily.
With catlike tread (sumac) Fri 16 Jul 04 12:23
I don't have any statistics on how often dolphins try to molest their playmates (like certain unfortunate moray eels in the dolphin tank at a certain zoo in South Africa), but I am confident that it happens far more often in captivity. A bored dolphin can come up with some pretty bizarre behaviors. A funny example is the summer at one oceanarium when all the dolphins went crazy for seeing if they could balance on the tops of the walls around their tanks. Usually they could, but sometimes they fell out onto the walkways around the paths, and the oceanarium workers had to get together and heave the dolphins back into the tanks. (We're talking about hoisting 400 slippery pounds over a waist-high wall.) When the workers saw dolphins jumping up to try to balance on the walls, they would yell at them to stop, but the dolphins found that even more entertaining. Luckily it was just a one-summer fad.
Martha Soukup (soukup) Fri 16 Jul 04 12:29
Whoa, glad none of them got seriously hurt.
thomas pynchon (plum) Fri 16 Jul 04 12:36
There was that guy at the meeting who seemed to be saying that there were perky playful dolphins around here. I know there's a place on the west coast of australia that's a human/dolphin playground. speaking of captivity, in Thailand there is an elephant "training" center. Tourists pay to live with and ride elephants and allegedly tell the elephants what to do. However, when the elephant doesn't agree, she goes over to the water supply, fills up, and then soaks the human in elephant spray, I am dying to meet an elephant, but wonder if this is a bad thing.
With catlike tread (sumac) Fri 16 Jul 04 12:55
Obviously, whether dolphins or elephants, you should wear a wetsuit. The person at the reading said that dolphins come and swim alongside his boat, although I am not sure whether that was in the Bay or outside the Golden Gate Bridge. Dolphins do like to swim along moving boats, but you don't: it's COLD in the water here, plus you can't swim as fast as either the boat or the dolphins. I have kayaked in Hawaii and had lovely white-sided dolphins come and swim alongside the kayaks and give us the eye. ("Yup. More tourists. True, they don't have cameras, but they are definitely tourists. I'd say they're from the mainland US. Kind of pale, maybe from the East Coast. That one urgently needs paddling lessons. Let's go get some pink snapper.")
thomas pynchon (plum) Fri 16 Jul 04 12:58
note to self: build contraption.
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Fri 16 Jul 04 14:00
One thing that totally fascinated me in your book was how often animals of all species raise changelings -- babies born of other parents, sometimes even parents of another species. Obviously, that's an advantage for the babies! But maybe not so much for the parents?
With catlike tread (sumac) Fri 16 Jul 04 14:19
It wouldn't seem to be an advantage for the parents, would it? One possible exception might be in some species of birds in which pairs raised babies in nests in the same colony or neighborhood as other pairs. It often turns out, if you actually do the DNA testing and the observation, that the eggs in a given nest do not all have the same father. In fact they do not all have the same mother, since females can either lay eggs in somebody else's nest, or carry (in their bills!) eggs to another nest. The result of this "distributed" parenthood is that a bird a) spreads the risk; and b) has insurance against vicious neighbors. If one pair's nest is destroyed, say all the eggs are eaten by a sneak, each may have some offspring in other nests---so the risk is spread. And since the neighbors have been spreading the risk too, *they* can't just wander over in a bad mood and peck holes in your eggs, because some of those eggs might be *their* offspring. So it takes a village, if the village is Peyton Place.
Reva Basch (reva) Fri 16 Jul 04 15:04
I stared at that cover photo for the longest time, trying to figure out whether it was Photoshopped. So let me ask an editor-type question: How did you decide to do this book, and how did you go about it? Did you just start collecting delightful and fascinating anecdotes about how animals learn until you reached critical mass and some themes started emerging? Or what?
With catlike tread (sumac) Fri 16 Jul 04 15:14
(Oh, that "sneak" in post 37 was supposed to be a "snake.") No, I believe the cover photo is not Photoshopped. I decided to do some other books first, but those didn't pan out. This was the first one that editors went for, and that they proposed to do in a reasonable manner (the unreasonable proposals are related to other books that didn't get done). I suppose I did start to collect anecdotes until themes emerged. Some things I had to search particularly hard for: stuff about tigers; stuff about learning to walk/swim/fly; and of course, stuff in obscure foreign journals. How I love Interlibrary Loan.
E M Richards (booter) Fri 16 Jul 04 15:20
I have to admit, I laughed at the story of the smartassed dolphins who leaned out of the tank and had this idea - I wonder if dolphins do that cat thing - "I MEANT to do that." As for dolphins getting jiggy, I talked to a guy who worked with them for something like 6 or 8 years. He said dolphins are incredibly horny and they will masturbate with all sorts of things. One dolphin broke some poor fish's back and used it as a playtoy. Also dolphins can get rough with tourists. That said, there are dolphins that swim alongside boats in the Golden Gate. When I said goodbye to the partner of a friend in a Neptune Society think, the dolphins escorted our boat back under the GG Bridge. Sumac, did you do many interviews or was it mostly reading type research? (If you ever do a junket to visit animal handlers, I'd love to be in your posse. I am starting to think I should have become a zookeeper.)
With catlike tread (sumac) Fri 16 Jul 04 16:05
I didn't do many interviews --- let's see, I talked to some tiger keepers, at a zoo and at a shelter. I talked to panda people at the National Zoo. I talked to a spear-winged bat researcher, a bat rehabber, the people who wrote the book on keas. I didn't get stuff I could use from all of this, as when I went to the Academy of Sciences and talked to the octopus person, but it was still fun. I visited a hyena colony, and I emailed with Saba and Dudu Douglas- Hamilton, filmmakers who told me about the lioness that adopted the oryx calf. I interviewed my mother and sister about their animal experiences. I talked to Greta McMillan, who told me about the red pandas learning to get vaginal swabs in exchange for access to a bowl of apples. And I interviewed (bradburn) about his pig experiences. Junket! I love the idea.
thomas pynchon (plum) Fri 16 Jul 04 17:40
It would interest our readers to hear of the pig experience. Do you think humans are more intelligent than crows?
With catlike tread (sumac) Fri 16 Jul 04 18:31
Which human? Which crow?
thomas pynchon (plum) Fri 16 Jul 04 18:54
how far is the distance between the intelligent crow and the cretin crow? the humans have a way of measuring intelligence -- does this only apply to human ideas of intelligence? I am wondering if crows et al have an intelligence in a direction that we can't fathom. how do you become a crow?
Paulina Borsook (loris) Fri 16 Jul 04 19:08
re: big cats being reared as/by dogs: was struck when watching a documentary on the raising of cheetah kits/cubs/whatever in captivity by how much the adolescent cheetahs seemed like dogs to me: the same sitting looking for a snack, the same friendly attention to the perceived alpha animal (i.e. human caretaker) --- all so very different from how i think of -cats- being. you could see the caretaker sort of dealing with the cheetah the way you do with dogs and not cats (the playful pat on the butt, for example).
With catlike tread (sumac) Fri 16 Jul 04 20:29
Well, human ways of measuring intelligence are not satisfactory to all humans. As for the range between brilliant and cretinous crows, I am not sure. The range in their relatives the ravens seems to be pretty great, though. When Bernd Heinrich tested ravens by hanging dry salami (which the ravens loved) from long strings on perches, so that the only way they could get it was to land on the perch, pull the string up as far as they could, anchor it under a foot, pull it up some more, anchor it again, pull up, and eat the salami---when, he did this, a few ravens instantly knew what to do, most took a while to figure it out, and a few never learned, even when they saw others do it. So quite a range among not that many ravens.
With catlike tread (sumac) Fri 16 Jul 04 20:31
I have never understood why cheetahs are so doggy, but they are. They even seem to have coarse doggy fur.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Fri 16 Jul 04 20:37
ah, i see. so cheetahs, like abyssinian cats, are intrinsically very doglike cats. useful to know, somehow...and why am i not surprised that you would know this? [g]
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Sat 17 Jul 04 10:00
disclaimer: i have not yet read the book. But I have a question--what is instinct? ok some more quesitons--what is the difference between instinct and learned behavior? and what is the difference between instinct and sensory response? I guess, throughout my life, i have heard so many people attribute animal behavior to instinct, yet whenever I observe animals, that seems to be a vast reduction of what is actually occurring.
With catlike tread (sumac) Sat 17 Jul 04 11:39
Scientists keep trying not to say "instinct" or "innate." They keep inventing terms like "fixed action pattern" and "behavior module" but then they find themselves saying instinctive all over again. My view is that every animal, including us, has some hardwired (this is the currently fashionable term at least in speaking) behavior and some learned. A bee is lot more hardwired than a bonobo, but even a bee learns things and has the capacity to learn tasks scientists set, like "nectar is in the asymmetrical fake flowers, not the symmetrical fake flowers." But a lot of behavior comes from the interlocking of instinctive stuff and learned stuff. One simple example: baby chicks do not know what water looks like. They can be dying of thirst, standing in the middle of a puddle, and not realize that relief is underfoot. But this doesn't last long, because chicks automatically peck at every speck they see, and so they will peck at the first speck they see on the surface of water, get a beakful, and make the connection. (They also learn not to peck at things like their own toes and chicken droppings.)
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