It’s not just us that have besties…
You probably have experienced or are experiencing being in a group. You do everything together; you study together, listen to the newest music together, and even take restroom breaks together to go touch up one another’s make-up. (I think most of us girls can attest to that one) We do these things not for survival, but for our own pleasure and to feel less lonesome. What if I told you that some living things don’t do this for fun, but instead have friends because they simply need them to survive? In honor of Valentine's Day, I chose to write about social groups in animal species. You might be surprised to find out that these creatures that I’m talking about are tons of different and common animals. They need one another to survive out in the wild, and for more reasons than just keeping each other sane. In the animal kingdom, social species group together with the goal of increasing the overall survival of these species. A solitary moose is more likely to get picked off by a pack of wolves than if it had protection or some sort of lookout around it. While they may have to share food with the group, their overall survival rate is increased with the presence of the group. Some animals even join forces to take down prey bigger than them with less risk and effort. Animals also need each other to learn and communicate. Animal species don’t just sit around and already know how to do things such as hunting and scavenging, they learned from parents or others.
How are they social?
We humans have cliques and other things like that, but who would’ve guessed that animals can be just like a group of high school girls? Sometimes one animal in the group will do something to increase the survival of another at the potential costs of its own safety or survival. That behavior is called altruism. It’s similar to how you might stand up for a close friend to a whole group of people. You could either get completely attacked and have your social status be damaged, or they could hear your point and think that you’re a nice person for standing up for your friend. Altruism is performed to better the survival potential of the group rather than the individual. Many animals, like prairie dogs, will risk the notice of a predator by sounding an audible alarm call. Others, like deer, use a visual alarm call to warn other members of the social group that a predator is nearby. But, in doing so, the individual that’s sounding the alarm attracts the notice of the predator, potentially risking its own life to save the group. When an altruistic act is performed for a member of one's own family it is called kin selection. Now, let’s say that a plane crashes and many families are stranded on a desert island. If I chose to forage and find food for just my family and I and didn’t share with anyone else, that would be the act of kin selection. I’m putting my own family’s needs before any of the other people’s on that island, just like animals do in the wild. While living together, social groups are naturally organized. Just like how the USA elects a president, or how teachers are in charge of a classroom, many animal social groups are organized through a dominance hierarchy. The male or female in charge is the most dominant, the alpha, the leader of the group. While many groups are male dominant, some groups, like the spotted hyena and bonobo, are female dominant (slay queens). In a lot of ways, animals seem to have
more gender equality than we humans do. In some animal societies, your rank is determined by your parents, like royalty. If that isn’t the case, then your rank can be determined by age or fitness. It’s kind of like how humans can make judgments about each other. Usually taller or bulkier people seem scarier or more superior, so we tend to listen to them or follow their directions by instinct. Kids listen to adults because adults are older.
Communication is key
Animals obviously can’t just go up and speak to one another as humans can, but they do have their very own language and ways of communicating. Although they technically don’t speak to one another, their way of communicating is similar to ours. Humans definitely gesture or make faces at one another to get a point across (for example, the bug eyes for “Can you believe she said that?!”), often silently so it can be more private. Animals are the same way, although possibly less shady. Animals communicate in many more ways than just speaking; they talk through smells, body language, sounds, touching, and much more.
One way they talk to each other is through something called auditory signals. Animals in different regions have often been overheard sounding off in different dialects. For example, one study found that blue whales produce different patterns of pulses, tones, and pitches depending on where they're from. Auditory signals are widely used in the animal kingdom and are particularly important in birds. Birds use sounds to convey warnings, attract mates, defend territories, and coordinate group behaviors. Water, like air, can carry sound waves, and marine animals also use sound to communicate. For example, dolphins produce noises like whistles, chirps, and clicks. They arrange these noises in complex patterns. The idea that this may represent a form of language is intriguing but controversial.
Visual communication involves signals that can be seen, like the bug eyes I was talking about earlier. Examples of these signals include gestures, facial expressions, body postures, and coloration. Animals also use visual cues to identify family group members. Gesture and posture are widely used visual signals. For instance, chimpanzees communicate a threat by raising their arms, slapping the ground, or staring directly at another chimpanzee. Giraffes have spot patterns that are different between species and
even family groups, allowing them to recognize their families from a distance. In that way, animals are different from humans. Human families don’t typically all walk around with colored mullets or dressed in black to recognize each other, we’re able to just recognize each other through detecting one another’s voices and looking at each other’s faces. Changes in coloration also serve as visual signals. For instance, the bright coloration of some toxic species, such as the poison dart frog, acts as a do-not-eat warning signal to predators.
More than just small talk
Like I mentioned previously, animals talk to one another for more reasons than just the purpose of enjoyment. They require communication in order to survive out in the wild. I listed some examples down below:
Obtaining mates. Any animals use communication to find or attract mates. They often use both auditory and visual signals to find these mates. Some animals will turn more colorful, and others might make a call.
Defending territory or establishing dominance. In many species, communication behaviors are important in establishing dominance in a social hierarchy or defending territory.
Coordinating group behaviors. In almost all social species, communication is key in coordinating the activities of the group, such as food acquisition and defense, and in maintaining group cohesion.
Caring for the young. When able to communicate, parents can explain how to do certain things in order to survive and can teach young about things to avoid. It will help ensure that the offspring will survive.
Some of the most social animals:
Elephants are known for being sweet and social animals. In some cases, when you think of elephants you think of how they mourn the loss of fellow family members and herd mates. Males live in solitary while females live in highly bonded herds. Elephants have long been known to rush to the aid of babies caught in strong river waters or stuck in the mud.
Wolves have extremely strong bonds with one another. Some may even sacrifice their own lives to protect the rest of the pack. It was once thought that wolf packs consisted of unrelated individuals who often fought each other for dominance till L. David Mech researched wild wolves and debunked the idea. He found that the pack consisted of the mated alpha pair, their puppies, and some adult offspring from previous litters.
Like other dolphins, orcas are extremely social animals. Within each pod, they establish complex social hierarchies, with females at the top. In pods of resident whales, offspring will stay with their
mothers in the same pod for their entire lives.
Dolphins have been shown to have strong social bonds with one another and only seem to exhibit caring behaviors towards not only their own species but other species as well. They’re known for saving humans from shark attacks and drowning and have even saved seals and whales as well. They use calls to one another to communicate and are constantly just splashing around and having fun with each other.
Lions are actually the most social of all wild cat species and live in prides with one another. While males have a harder life once they become older, old females even with missing teeth are waited on and given food. Nuzzling is not just a cuddly behavior; lionesses lick each other and males rub their heads to strengthen social bonds.
Animals are pretty freaking cool species, and obviously more similar to us than we’d ever guess. It’s important to understand life outside of your own species and home for tons of reasons. It helps us get a better understanding of other points of view and can even allow us to better understand animal’s sometimes common behaviors. I hope this blog post was somewhat fascinating to you and helped you learn a little bit more about the world around us. As always, please subscribe to the blog and like this post if you found it interesting. Stay tuned for my next post, because I plan to get a lot more personal about my own life and tell my own story. Thanks for reading!
By: Ardie N.