Pack of African wild dogs. (Photo by Bart Swanson.)
Canidae, otherwise known as the dog family, is one of the most highly adaptable carnivore families out there, with an array of body forms and behavioral adaptations. From the three-pound fennec fox to the gray wolf, which can weigh upwards of 130 pounds, there are 34 living species of canids.
I plan to do a series of individual articles on the behavior and life habits of different canids, but for now let’s have an overview of how the group evolved and what sets them apart from other carnivorous mammals.
I’ll also discuss- briefly- the misconceptions of canid social behavior present in popular media.
This is a coot.
(Photo by Dan Pacamo.)
These are baby coots.
(Photo by Böhringer Friedrich.)
I… I sure hope nothing bad is going to happen to those little guys.
(Spoiler alert: if you agree with the above statement, you may not want to click the read more.)
Or, in other words, polyandrous chimera monkeys.
Now that I have your attention, let’s discuss this group of diminutive little primates and how they can throw most of what we assume about paternity out the window.
(Photo by Carmem Busko.)
This is definitely a really interesting topic to me, and I’ll try to answer to the best of my ability. Keep in mind that I’m coming at this from a psychology/biology background, not an anthropological one- I’d love to hear people from that field weigh in on the topic.
I’d also like to note that some of the things in this article aren’t based on scientific research but my own observations and opinion.
Here’s what I go over:
- Why people keep animals, and the types of relationships people have with animals
- Domestic vs tamed animals
- Conditions that allow humans to keep pets
- Animal-animal relationships that resemble human pet keeping
Same-sex behavior in birds: what it looks like, why it happens, and how it might be better for the species than you think.
Mental Disorders in Animals
(Photo by Julie Corsi.)
Above is an image of a captive parrot that suffers from excessive feather-plucking, or pterotillomania. People who work with captive parrots or own parrots as pets have probably at least heard of this disorder, or even observed it firsthand. The parrot may have an excellent diet and be in good physical condition, yet it will continue to pluck and pluck at its own feathers, shaving itself bald in places.
If the cause is not a disorder of the body, then, can we say that this is a symptom of a disorder of the mind?
That brings up another question, though: how can we possibly know what is happening in an animal’s head? How can we separate an animal’s behavior into that of bodily needs and that of mental needs? People like to point out all the time that you can’t sit a dog on a couch and ask him what his childhood was like; we don’t even know if a dog’s memory of his childhood exists in any form that a human would recognize. While I think most people would agree that animals have minds, they function- by necessity and evolution- in ways ours do not.
I think this has to be the focal point of the following discussion: animal minds and human minds are different. Am I saying animal minds are inferior? Certainly not. But I’d like to point out that a lot of the research on mental disorders in animals focuses on finding parallels with human mental disorders. Yet the underlying reasons for disordered behavior in animals may be because they have mental needs that humans do not. For example, a popular theory behind why parrots develop pterotillomania is because they are not given ample opportunities to perform normative food-foraging behaviors.
So what forms of mental disorders are present in animals, and what are biologists, psychologists, veterinarians, and pet owners doing to better understand them?
Below the cut I’ll be discussing several things that people may find distressing/triggering: animal suffering, mental illness (including references or descriptions of the most commonly diagnosed human mental disorders), and animal research. It’s an upsetting topic, which is why I’m writing about it much more formally than I normally do, but I think it’s both interesting and important.
I don’t know how else to preface this article. Birds, man.
So I’m willing to bet that a lot of you are aware of brood parasitism à la the cuckoo, and a good number of my followers have probably even heard of the terrifying methods the intraspecific brood parasitic coot uses to weed out the fakers from its progeny.
But have you heard much about this lady?
(Photo by Thomas Quine.)
Looks kind of drab and unassuming, doesn’t she.
(She murders your children if you don’t do what she wants.)
So let’s talk about brood parasitism and why it’s good and why it’s not so good and the different strategies that different bird species use, including mafia behavior. And we’ll talk about the development of male cowbird courtship too because that’s kind of cool. But yeah, lots of bird child murdering coming up just so you’re aware.