There was a plethora of items in the media this morning on communication and cooperation in various species of wildlife. Very humbling for us humans as we usually assume that we invented everything. The most unexpected gem shining from the spoil was the letter to Nature (1) by Brock et al. They have been up to their armpits in the social amoebas known as slime mold. These characters live on bacteria and when the local supply and demand has gone critical, they gather together into a fruiting body – somewhat like their version of the Mayflower – and sail off on the prevailing currents to pastures new. BUT (and note that it is a big ‘but’) a third of the immigrants are farming specialists and carry enough bacteria with them to start new gardens and so prosper in their new world. One is left to wonder if the other two-thirds are lawyers.

Further up the food chain were items on communication of information within a group. Prairie dogs, for example, have a high-pitched squeak and thanks to NPR, I learnt that there is richness in those squeaks that we humans miss. Not surprising, as I have never learnt prairie dog and most foreign languages come across as a sonic blur to my untutored ear. Computers with microphones are much more adept at analyzing the noise. Prairie dogs apparently tell their friends and family the difference between a triangle and a circle. More exciting than that though is that they described people by their shape, or at least height and width, as well as by the color of the tee shirt that they were wearing as they paraded through the colony. There was no translation of the bulk of the chatter though so we don't know what they thought of the designs.

We were also reminded from a different station, that capuchin monkeys get teed-off and refuse to cooperate in monkey psychology tests if they get consistently short changed. Also that crows have great face recognition and ill pass on to their kids which nasty guy is likely to mess with their nests. There were items about chimps and baboons and one about sharks probably being color-blind (so they won’t be put off by the sight of blood?), but I wonder why there is such an element of surprise when these observations are published – shark items apart of course. Cooperation and communication are vital characteristics for species survival. Even animals that prefer to live alone get together for a good time occasionally, just like the rest of us.

1. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v469/n7330/full/nature09668.html

One Response so far.

  1. jazgal says:

    slime molds continue to amaze, (they live just such a bizarre, but adaptable life), but the rest of the creatures, large and small, also offer up their fascinating behaviors and abilities if we choose to look and listen.

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