Spiders have personality, too

Who says humans are the only living organisms with personalities? Scientists have known for many years that certain animals, like cats, dogs, and chimps have distinct, developed personalities, but what about smaller organisms with brains that aren’t quite as developed? Like, say, spiders?

To find out whether spiders have their own distinct characters that help to shape their individual lifestyles, researchers in India chose a social species of spider, Stegodyphus sarasinorum, one of the few spider species that live in colonies. In order to make the investigation easier, the scientists chose to focus on only one aspect of personality: boldness. In spiders, ‘boldness’ is described as “the tendency to rush out of the nest to see what sort of creature has become stuck in its web, rather than hanging behind to see what develops.”

When the 40 little spiders chosen as specimens were observed in their simulated environments, researches found that individual spiders varied considerably between being very bold and very shy. They also found that the bolder ones in the community were assigned tasks like dealing with captured prey, while the meeker ones usually engaged in less confrontational tasks like nurturing offspring. Since within-group variation in individual personalities seems to shape task differentiation, I personally believe that this is an evolutionary process designed to lead to increased colony efficiency and productivity. Interesting!

Sources: 1 | 2 | 3

Common Cuttlefish Reproduction

Categorized as a shallow water cephalopod, the Common Cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis (Sepiidae), is generally found in the eastern North Atlantic, throughout the English Channel, and south into the Mediterranean Sea, though populations have also been recorded along the west coast of Africa, and as far south as South Africa.

In the spring and summer, male and females migrate to shallow, warmer waters to spawn. They exhibit elaborate courtships, wherein males attract females through spectacular displays of colored bands passing rapidly along their bodies. Males then hold their arms stiffly in a basket formation to show their virility. Similarly, females display a uniform gray color when ready to mate. 

Mating in Sepia officinalis involves internal fertilization, so, eventually the male will grasp a female and mate with her. Using a modified arm, known as the hectocotylus, the male passes spermatophores to the female.

After mating, fertilized eggs are stored in the oviduct of the female until they are ready to be deposited. The female deposits eggs one by one in clusters on seaweeds, shells, or even debris. She blackens them for camouflage with the same ink that cuttlefish use to cast a smoke screen against large predators. The male often remains at her side for some time, but he has no romantic intentions. He is merely trying to prevent her from mating with another male. Mate guarding, in which males aggressively fight over and guard their females, is common.

After spawning both male and females die.

References: [1] - [2]

Photo credit: ©Joris van Alphen | Locality: Oosterschelde, Zeeland, Netherlands (2010)

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Why everything you know about wolf packs is wrong
By Lauren Davis

The alpha wolf is a figure that looms large in our imagination. The notion of a supreme pack leader who fought his way to dominance and reigns superior to the other wolves in his pack informs both our fiction and is how many people understand wolf behavior. But the alpha wolf doesn’t exist—at least not in the wild…

Although the notions of “alpha wolf” and “alpha dog” seem thoroughly ingrained in our language, the idea of the alpha comes from Rudolph Schenkel, an animal behaviorist who, in 1947, published the then-groundbreaking paper “Expressions Studies on Wolves.” During the 1930s and 1940s, Schenkel studied captive wolves in Switzerland’s Zoo Basel, attempting to identify a “sociology of the wolf.”

In his research, Schenkel identified two primary wolves in a pack: a male “lead wolf” and a female “bitch.” He described them as “first in the pack group.” He also noted “violent rivalries” between individual members of the packs… Thus, the alpha wolf was born. Throughout his paper, Schenkel also draws frequent parallels between wolves and domestic dogs, often following his conclusions with anecdotes about our household canines. The implication is clear: wolves live in packs in which individual members vie for dominance and dogs, their domestic brethren, must be very similar indeed.

A key problem with Schenkel’s wolf studies is that, while they represented the first close study of wolves, they didn’t involve any study of wolves in the wild… In more recent years, animal behaviorists, including [wildlife biologist L. David] Mech, have spent more and more time studying wolves in the wild, and the behaviors they have observed has been different from those observed by Schenkel and other watchers of zoo-bound wolves. In 1999, Mech’s paper “Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs” was published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology. The paper is considered by many to be a turning point in understanding the structure of wolf packs…

Mech’s studies of wild wolves have found that wolves live in families: two parents along with their younger cubs. Wolves do not have an innate sense of rank; they are not born leaders or born followers. The “alphas” are simply what we would call in any other social group “parents.” The offspring follow the parents as naturally as they would in any other species. No one has “won” a role as leader of the pack; the parents may assert dominance over the offspring by virtue of being the parents. While the captive wolf studies saw unrelated adults living together in captivity, related, rather than unrelated, wolves travel together in the wild. Younger wolves do not overthrow the “alpha” to become the leader of the pack; as wolf pups grow older, they are dispersed from their parents’ packs, pair off with other dispersed wolves, have pups, and thus form packs of their owns.

This doesn’t mean that wolves don’t display social dominance, however… Wolves (and other animals, including humans), display social dominance, it just isn’t always easy to boil dominant behavior down to simple explanations. Dominant behavior and dominance relationships can be highly situational, and can vary greatly from individual to individual even within the same species. It’s not the entire concept of wolves displaying social dominance that was dispelled, just the simple hierarchical pack structure…

Source: io9.com

Images credit: Caninest - Michael Cummings

“Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans have been living for hundreds of thousands of years in their forest, living fantastic lives, never overpopulating, never destroying the forest. I would say that they have been in a way more successful than us as far as being in harmony with the environment.”

Jane Goodall (primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, UN Messenger of Peace, and overall beautiful ambassador of life on this planet)


this young female orca carry her dead calf in her jaws for a week before she releases it to express her grieving. There is a 40% mortality rate amongst setchean (mammals) in Norway.

Pollution that the plankton eat, which the orca feed on, comes out through the mothers milk, leading to poisoning of the calf from the ingestion of the milk.

all right guys here it is THE BIG GAY ANIMAL SEX POST

or in other words, “Why Nonhuman Homosexual and Asexual Behavior has both Survival and Reproductive Benefits” aka that lit review i’d like to write if i could ever be arsed to get around to it

yes reproductive benefits you heard correctly we’re gonna get there but first we better do a basic rundown of what I mean by homosexual/asexual behaviors


Keep reading

Another illustration for my women in science series. Jane Goodall is a primatologist, ethologist and anthropologist and is the worlds top expert on chimpanzees.

Get one here at: https://www.etsy.com/listing/197871802/women-in-science-jane-goodall

After 2,500 Studies, It’s Time to Declare Animal Sentience Proven

Marc Bekoff, emeritus professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is one of the pioneering cognitive ethologists in the United States, a Guggenheim Fellow, and co-founder with Jane Goodall of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. This essay is adapted from one that appeared in Bekoff’s column Animal Emotions in Psychology Today. He contributed this article to LiveScience’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

In June, during a series of lectures I presented in Germany, a number of people asked questions of the sort, “Isn’t it about time we accept that animals are sentient and that we know what they want and need? Shouldn’t we stop bickering about whether they are conscious, feel pain and experience emotions?”

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard those questions, and my answer is always a resounding, Yes. Scientists do have ample, detailed, empirical facts to declare that nonhuman animals are sentient beings, and with each study, there are fewer and fewer skeptics.

Many people, like those at the lectures in Germany, are incredibly frustrated that skeptics still deny what researchers know. Advocates for animal welfare want to know what society is going to do with the knowledge we have to help other animals live in a human-dominated world.

Declaring consciousness
As I was flying home, I thought of a previous essay I wrote called “Scientists Finally Conclude Nonhuman Animals Are Conscious Beings” in which I discussed the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness that was publicly proclaimed on July 7, 2012, at that university. The scientists behind the declaration wrote, “Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

They could also have included fish, for whom the evidence supporting sentience and consciousness is also compelling (see also). And, I’m sure as time goes on, researchers will add many other animals to the consciousness club.

A universal declaration on animal sentience
Based on the overwhelming and universal acceptance of the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness I offer here what I call a Universal Declaration on Animal Sentience. For the purpose of this essay I am defining “sentience” as “the ability to feel, perceive, or be conscious, or to experience subjectivity” (for wide-ranging discussion please click here.)

I don’t offer any specific, geographic location for this declaration because, with very few exceptions, people worldwide — including researchers and non-researchers alike — accept that other animals are sentient beings.

One notable exception is Oxford University’s Marian Dawkins who continues to claim we still don’t know if other animals are conscious — using the same data as those who wrote the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness. I call this Dawkins’s Dangerous Idea.

But, the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare is instead based on what I believe is the indisputable fact that animals are sentient and that they can suffer and feel pain, as recognized by the Treaty of Lisbon and the rapidly growing field of compassionate conservation. Evidence of animal sentience is everywhere — the remaining questions are a matter of why sentience evolved, not if it evolved.

Research supporting animal sentience
The database of research on animal sentience is strong and rapidly growing. Scientists know that individuals from a wide variety of species experience emotions ranging from joy and happiness to deep sadness, grief, and post-traumatic stress disorder, along with empathy, jealousy and resentment. There is no reason to embellish those experiences, because science is showing how fascinating they are (for example, mice, rats, and chickens display empathy) and countless other “surprises” are rapidly emerging.

A large amount of data are available on an interactive website called the “Sentience Mosaic” launched by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA; for more details please see also), which is dedicated to animal sentience.

An essay written by Helen Proctor and her colleagues at WSPA provides a systematic review of the scientific literature on sentience. The effort used a list of 174 keywords and the team reviewed more than 2,500 articles on animal sentience. They concluded: “Evidence of animal sentience is everywhere.”

Of particular interest is that Proctor and her colleagues also discovered “a greater tendency for studies to assume the existence of negative states and emotions in animals, such as pain and suffering, than positive ones like joy and pleasure.” This is consistent with the historical trend of people who readily denied emotions such as joy, pleasure and happiness to animals accepting that animals could be mad or angry (see also Helen Proctor’s “Animal Sentience: Where Are We and Where Are We Heading?”). There is also an upward trend in the number of articles published on animal sentience (identified using sentience-related keywords) from 1990 to 2011.

Solid evolutionary theory — namely, Charles Darwin’s ideas about evolutionary continuity in which he recognized that the differences among species in anatomical, physiological and psychological traits are differences in degree rather than kind — also supports the wide-ranging acceptance of animal sentience. There are shades of gray, not black and white differences, so if people have a trait, “they” (other animals) have it too. This is called evolutionary continuity and shows that it is bad biology to rob animals of the traits they clearly possess. One telling example: humans share with other mammals and vertebrates the same areas of the brain that are important for consciousness and processing emotions.

Humans are not uniquely sentient
People surely are not exceptional or alone in the arena of sentience. We need to abandon the anthropocentric view that only big-brained animals such as ourselves, nonhuman great apes, elephants and cetaceans (dolphins and whales) have sufficient mental capacities for complex forms of sentience and consciousness.

So, the interesting and challenging question is why has sentience evolved in diverse species, not if it has evolved. It’s time to stop pretending that people don’t know if other animals are sentient: We do indeed know what other animals want and need, and we must accept that fact.

Nonhuman-animal minds aren’t as private as some people claim them to be. Surely, we might miss out on some of the nitty-gritty details, but it is safe to say that other animals want to live in peace and safety and absent from fear, pain and suffering, just as we do.

(Nonhuman animals even worry — despite the erroneous claim that they don’t, ample evidence shows they do worry about their well-being (“Do Animals Worry and Lose Sleep When They’re Troubled?”) and that excessive worrying and a lack of rest and sleep can be costly.)

While some people still claim that we do not know that other animals are sentient beings, countless animals continue to suffer in the most egregious ways as they are used and abused for research, education, food, clothing and entertainment. And indeed, animal sentience is assumed in many comparative studies and recent legislation — such as policies protecting chimpanzees from invasive research, based on what is known about these amazing sentient beings. [America’s Fleeting Chance to Correct Chimps’ Endangered Status]

Society really doesn’t need any additional invasive research to move on and strongly declare that other animals are sentient, though studies continue. For example, Farm Sanctuary has put out a call for proposals for observational research on the cognitive and emotional lives of farm animals. Some researchers are indeed looking into using brain imaging to access the minds of other animals (see for example Emory University’s Gregory Berns’s work with dogs; Dr. Berns told me that he now has 11 dogs who are “MRI-certified”).

Moving forward as a society
The time is now to shelve outdated and unsupported ideas about animal sentience and to factor sentience into all of the innumerable ways in which we encounter other animals. When the Cambridge Declaration was made public, there was a lot of pomp, champagne and media coverage. There is no need to have this fanfare for a Universal Declaration on Animal Sentience. It can be a deep, personal, and inspirational journey that comes from each of our hearts — and such a realization has a strong, and rapidly growing, evidence-based foundation.

The animals will be grateful and warmly thank us for paying attention to the science of animal sentience. When we listen to our hearts, we are recognizing how much we know about what other animals are feeling and that we owe it to them to protect them however we can. Please, let’s do it now. It is easy to do and we can do no less.

This article was adapted from “A Universal Declaration on Animal Sentience: No Pretending” in Psychology Today. More of the author’s essays are available in “Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed” (New World Library, 2013). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.This version of the article was originally published on LiveScience.

Source: LiveScience

Photo Credit: sagansense, Smithsonian Zoo, 2011


Dominance Behavior in Canids

I didn’t really even WANT to make a post about this.

The alpha-beta-omega model of wolf packs is dead in scientific literature, hammered into the ground, so to speak, and it’s been dead for over ten years. So why am I still hearing about it on TV and reading about it in articles? Why are popular dog trainers that encourage you to “be the alpha” still taken seriously?

I think the unfortunate truth is that the idea that there are strong and ferocious leaders in wolf packs and that you, too, can take on that role with your dog is just somehow appealing to people. Almost romantic, in the older sense of the word. And because of this, it makes money. It sells werewolf media. It sells dog training classes. Educational science channels that have no business promoting this false ideology keep it on board because it gets people watching.

If you couldn’t tell, I’m pretty fed up with the whole thing.

Okay, let’s talk about dominance, particularly what the word even means, because popular media does a terrible job of explaining it.

Read more…


The Mimic Octopus
MarineBio.org viabiovisual

Taxonomy:  Animalia > Mollusca > Cephalopoda > Octopoda >
Octopodidae > Thaumoctopus mimicus

The Mimic Octopus [2] was discovered in 1998 off the coast of Sulawesi in Indonesia on the bottom of a muddy river mouth.

All octopus species are highly intelligent and change the color and texture of their skin for camouflage to avoid predators. Until the mimic octopus was discovered, however, the remarkable ability to impersonate another animal had never been observed.

Although mimicry is a common survival strategy in nature, the mimic octopus is the first known species to take on the characteristics of multiple species:

  • [3] Sole fish: This flat, poisonous fish is imitated by the mimic octopus by building up speed through jet propulsion as it draws all of its arms together into a leaf-shaped wedge as it undulates in the manner of a swimming flat fish. 
  • [4] Lion fish: To mimic the lion fish, the octopus hovers above the ocean floor with its arms spread wide, trailing from its body to take on the appearance of the lion fish’s poisonous fins. 
  • [5] Sea snakes: The mimic octopus changes color taking on the yellow and black bands of the toxic sea snake as it waves 2 arms in opposite directions in the motion of two sea snakes.

Scientists believe this creature may also impersonate sand anemones, stingrays, mantis shrimp and even jellyfish.

This animal is so intelligent that it is able to discern which dangerous sea creature to impersonate that will present the greatest threat to its current possible predator. For example, scientists observed that when the octopus was attacked by territorial damselfishes, it mimicked the banded sea snake, a known predator of damselfishes.

Source: MarineBio.org  
Cartoon: xkcd

Someone asked me why cats meow at their owners and luckily for them I have done an entire academic project on this, which the above video was part of.

(Note: I am not the girl in the beginning. Also, don’t worry, to produce the more negative meows cats were at worse mildly irritated with fierce cuddling; one cat was placed in a shower to make it think it was going to get a bath, but the shower was never turned on.)

There are five basic meow categories cats use with their owners.

  • Agonistic: an aggressive meow, basically saying, “back off!”
  • Distress: basically, “help me! I’m scared!”
  • Food-related: fairly obvious, but it’s asking for food
  • Obstacle: asking for the owner to help with an obstacle, like a closed door or window
  • Afilliative: produced when the cat wants a petting session or during a petting session

Based on my own personal experience, I’d add a sixth meow-to-owner category, contact calls (that random meowing your cat does until you respond to it, also the back-and-forth vocalizations owners sometimes have with their cats), but there is no official literature on it yet.

Cats also use slightly different vocalizations with other cats, namely that they mainly meow at their mothers as kittens and as adults rarely meow to each other except when in heat/in an aggressive situation.

Note that this analysis is also limited specifically to meows, which are sounds the cat produces with a sustained open mouth. Other sounds may include purrs, trills, hissing, and spitting (see here for a study on all cat sound types).

Papers to look at:

Brown, K., Buchwald, J., Johnson, J., & Mikolich, D. (1978). Vocalization in the cat and kitten. Developmental psychobiology, 11(6)

McComb, K., Taylor, A. M., Wilson, C., & Charlton, B. D. (2009). The cry embedded within the purr. Current Biology, 19(13)

Nicastro, N. (2004). Perceptual and Acoustic Evidence for Species-Level Differences in Meow Vocalizations by Domestic Cats (Felis catus} and African Wild Cats (Felis silvestris lybica). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 118(3).

Nicastro, N., & Owren, M. J. (2003). Classification of domestic cat (Felis catus) vocalizations by naive and experienced human listeners. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 117(1)

Yeon, S. C., Kim, Y. K., Park, S. J., Lee, S. S., Lee, S. Y., Suh, E. H., … Lee, H. J. (2011). Differences between vocalization evoked by social stimuli in feral cats and house cats. Behavioural Processes, 87(2)


Great bowerbird - Chlamydera nuchalis
Jardine & Selby, 1830

The great bowerbird is a member of the bowerbird family, which are known for their unusual mating strategies. The male birds build small structures and collect things like pebbles and flowers. Apparently, C. nuchalis uses a type of optical illusion to impress females. The smaller pebbles are placed near the entrance of a hallway made of twigs, and larger stones are placed much further from the entrance. Placing the stones this way can create the illusion that all stones are the same size.

Scientists tested if the female birds preferred the males using the illusion over other males. They found out that the females do in fact see this illusion and use this to choose a male.

Animalia - Chordata - Aves - Passeriformes - Ptilonorhynchidae - Chlamydera - C. nuchalis

L.A. Kelley & JJ. Harrison
(x) (x)

Western Grey Plantain-eater - Crinifer piscator

The Western Grey Plantain-eater, scientifically named Crinifer piscator (Cuculiformes - Musophagidae), is a West African species whose call is one of the most familiar of this area.

Like all turacos, this one is strongly territorial. They can be seen in family groups for long time. The group may travel large distances to find abundant food source such as a particularly favoured fruiting tree. 

They are monogamous with strong pair-bonds. These birds display effusive greetings bowing their heads and spread their tail fan. Rituals also include mutual exchange of food and loud calls when they perch in the treetops.

References: [1] - [2]

Photo credit: ©Isidro Vila Verde | Locality: Abuko Reserve, Sara Job Kunda, Western, The Gambia (2007)

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Empathy more common in animals than thought

via Science Daily, 21 January 2016

Prairie voles are particularly social rodents, causing them to be the focus of many studies. This led James Burkett and colleagues to explore their potential for empathy-motivated behaviors.

The researchers created an experiment where relatives and known individuals were temporarily isolated from each other, while one was exposed to mild shocks. Upon reunion, the non-stressed prairie voles proceeded to lick the stressed voles sooner and for longer durations, compared to a control scenario where individuals were separated but neither was exposed to a stressor.

Measurements of hormone levels revealed that the family members and friends were distressed when they could not comfort their loved one.

The fact that consoling behavior occurred only between those who were familiar with each other – including non-kin members – but not strangers, demonstrates that the behavior is not simply a reaction to aversive cues, the authors note.

Since the oxytocin receptor is associated with empathy in humans, Burkett et al. blocked this neurotransmitter in prairie voles in a series of similar consolation experiments. Blocking oxytocin did not cause family members and friends to alter their self-grooming behavior, yet they did cease consoling each other. (continue reading)

Journal Reference:

J. P. Burkett, E. Andari, Z. V. Johnson, D. C. Curry, F. B. M. de Waal, L. J. Young. Oxytocin-dependent consolation behavior in rodents. Science, 2016; 351 (6271): 375 DOI:10.1126/science.aac4785 (x)

Photo Credit: Zack Johnson

Move beyond the “cuddle chemical”  simplification with these other sources on oxytocin! (American Psychological Association, Nature, Live Science)

Mesozoic moose by Hyrotrioskjan
’ve taken the liberty of editing this description by the artist (who is not a native speaker of English):

Therizinosaurs are said to be found in non-arid strata. They have huge feet which are perfect to cross swamps. The long neck could be used to grab water plants. Some modern birds have closable nostrils… maybe a feature which is older than we think.

I don’t mean to say Therizinosaurs were semiaquatic; I suggest instead a lifestyle  similar to the modern moose, often seen grazing in the water.

Therizinosaurs may have carried their young on their backs. The thorax was very wide, as far as know, and together with muscles, skin and feathers it was maybe a nice place to rest when Mum was searching for food.

Indian giant squirrel  (Malabar giant squirrel)

You will excuse me if I overwhelm you with giant squirrels, but I have a strange fascination for them. Not only their great size (measuring up to almost 46 cm in length, half of which is tail), and their beautiful color (red, black and white), or even their charming name, Ratufa indica; but also their behavior.

These squirrels are solitary and territorial. The sexes occupy separate territories that may overlap, but yet they share food. Squirrels with neighboring territories utilize common resources by a system of time-sharing and encounter avoidance…. they don’t fight! 

Sadly, the total population is estimated at less than 5000 individuals occurring in fragmented subpopulations and the decline in population is expected to continue.

Reference: [1] - [2]

Photo credit: ©Aaru

Locality: unknown

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