Mob Rule

Working with flocks of Polish ravens, Dr. Selva has shown that life is stressful for juveniles. The received wisdom was that as the juveniles go around in gangs, sharing food and generally raising hell, their troubles would start once the grew up and settled down with a soulmate for life. Squabbling with neighbors and bringing up the next generation were assumed to be heavy duty with respect to stress. On the other hand, the young had it easy, just hanging out with their friends taking no responsibility. 

Doesn’t this sound familiar? It is a line going back to the start of our written records, that human adults have been complaining about their young as being lazy, not taking responsibility and generally having an easy time.

The Polish study shows that corticosterone is present at a higher level in the juvenile ravens. This hormone is produced in the adrenal gland as is cortisol, (the stress hormone that we hear so much about) and was used as a measure of the higher stress levels experienced by the young members of the raven gang. I seem to remember that growing up was pretty stressful and being encouraged to get married and settle down.  Gang life has never been low stress due to all the squabbling and jockeying for position and general nonsense that goes on as juveniles mature. Poland clearly needs a raven outreach program in the Bialowieza Forest to bring these raving ravens back onto the straight and narrow.

Ants and other social insects have gang life down to a fine art, though. They all do their own thing and don’t squabble over group decisions. They utilize a system of quorum sensing to recruit their fellows to the same occupation. We’ve all experienced the same sort of things at meetings where it’s difficult to be the hold out and not go along with the majority. Dr. Franks of U of Bristol studies this process in ant colonies. When enough ants start doing the same thing, cognition reaches colony level and the decision is made. Then the colony goes with the flow. Very democratic, no partisan squabbling. Of course, we also have things to learn from lemmings.

One Response so far.

  1. jazgal says:

    Raven culture is quite fascinating - we were just talking about them today, well, crows actually, but all in the family.
    ants too, of course, I am not sure about them being democratic... non-partisan, though, I'll buy.

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