strange behaviors

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    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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Posts Tagged ‘bonobos’

When Do Animals Feel the Beat?

Posted by Richard Conniff on June 25, 2014

Frogs Playing Musical Instruments

When researchers reported early this year that they had managed to get captive bonobo apes to pick up a beat and play along briefly on a drum, it was merely the latest entry in what has begun to look like a multi-species musical extravaganza. Just in the past year or so, scientists have given us a California sea lion bobbing its head to Earth Wind and Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland” and a chimpanzee in Japan spontaneously playing a piano keyboard in time with a simple beat. Before that, a study reported that romantically-inclined mosquitoes harmonize the whining of their wingbeats. Think: The Animals, Part II.

The study of animal musicality, and ours, goes back at least to Charles Darwin. He noted that rhythm is everywhere in the biological world, from the beating of hearts to the synchronized flashing of fireflies, leading naturally, he thought, to the rise of music. Scientific interest in music began to increase with the discovery of whale songs in the 1960s, and has grown dramatically in this century, thanks partly to new imaging technologies for viewing how the brains of various species respond to music.

Some scientists believe we would see musicality in the animal world more often if we looked more carefully. For instance, Read the rest of this entry »

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Strange (and Sweet) Primate Behaviors

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 22, 2013

A bonobo consoles a distraught pal (Photo: Clay & DeWaal)

A bonobo consoles a distraught pal (Photo: Clay & DeWaal)

One of the persistent myths about the natural world is that animals live in a constant state of aggression, confrontation, and even open combat.  But even relatively brutal chimpanzees spend only about five percent of their day in aggressive encounters–and 20 percent grooming social allies.

The truth is that the social and emotional lives of other primates are in many ways a lot like our own, and two new studies add to the growing evidence.  In the first, published in Evolution and Human Behavior, the researchers found that chimpanzees, like humans, typically form friendships with individuals who have similar personalities. Researchers Jorg J. M. Massen and Sonja E. Koski spent hundreds of hours observing chimpanzee troops at two European zoos, paying particular attention to individuals who liked to sit together.  These friends turned out to be similar in sociability based on how much time they spent grooming, and whether they liked to hang out in a crowd, or off on the periphery.  They also resembled each other in boldness—that is, the willingness to mob an apparent threat, like an artificial snake.

That suggests why friendships may matter as much to chimps as to humans: They make it more likely that individuals will find a mate, reproduce, keep the kids alive, and stay well themselves.  Friends also support each other in conflicts.  For chimps, as for humans, having friends is natural and necessary. These are social creatures, never meant to live in isolation.

The other study, just out in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looks at the emotional lives of bonobos, a separate chimp species thought to be even more closely related to humans. Researchers from Emory University studied bonobos rescued from the bushmeat and pet trades, at a forested sanctuary on the outskirts of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The emotional life of non-human primates is “still rather a taboo subject in animal behavior,” co-author Zanna Clay told TakePart, in an email.  Old School researchers suspect it as a form of Read the rest of this entry »

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