By: Kristy Harrison, Fady Labib, and Eddie Rodriguez
Being a human is a pretty sweet gig, all things considered. We've got opposable thumbs so dexterous they could start their own Cirque du Soleil troupe and brains so ripped our skulls can barely contain them. But before you grab your dog and give him a triumphant "IN YOUR (FAITHFUL, ADORABLE) FACE!" you should know that some of the traits and behaviors that make us human are also demonstrated by other animals. Animals that apparently think they're people.
#6. Parrots Name Their Babies
What to name a baby is one of the first things that expecting parents obsess about. But whether they end up naming their kid something generic like "Ashley" or "John," or if they happen to despise the fruit of their loins and name him "Audio Science," most moms and dads will agree that names are part of what makes their babies unique and help to forge their individual identity.
And more than that, individual names also make humans special. After all, outside of sappy Disney movies involving comically deformed elephants, what other animal parent takes the time to give each of its newborn members its own permanent moniker?
Except the talking animals depicted in Disney movies aren't so far off the mark, at least when it comes to a few select species.
Dolphins, crows, primates and parrots have all been observed using unique calls when they want the attention of specific members of their groups. This means that, at least among these species, individual animals actually have the equivalent of their own names. Most perplexing of all seems to be parrots, because according to pirate-movie logic, it should scientifically turn out that every single parrot ever has the same name.
But now that scientists know that parrots have signature calls, a few questions come up, like: Who gets to decide the signature call that's given to each parrot chick? Is it the parrots themselves who decide what they should be called, thus making it an innate characteristic? Is some sort of alpha parrot handing out identifying sounds? In order to answer all these questions, researchers at Cornell University filmed parrots in the wild of Venezuela, along with their newborn chicks, to see exactly when and how a parrot got its name.
What the scientists found was that it was not the parrot newborns who got to choose their signature calls. Instead, it was the proud parrot parents who gave each chick its name. Much like a human, the adult parrot will choose a name for its young soon after it's born. Each parrot, though, may tweak its own signature call as it grows older, elongating a whistle here or shortening a chirp there, essentially giving itself a nickname.
#5. Whales Have Pop Songs
Obviously, humans aren't the only animals that sing. Birds do it, killer whales do it, and if you happen to work in construction and are really lucky, you might just see a frog do it.
What makes humans unique is pop culture. One guy can make a song, put it on an album or the Internet and have thousands of people singing along to it, all over the world. There's no way another animal does that, right?
Well, we know of at least one.
Whale songs become "hits" that can spread halfway around the globe. All the males in a humpback whale population usually sing just one song at any given time. But once they get bored of that song, an innovator in the group will start singing a new one. Sometimes, this new song contains elements of the previous song combined with some new stuff, kind of like when the Fat Boys and Chubby Checker worked together on "
." At other times, this song is completely new, kind of like when you're in a freestyle rap battle and you have to come up with something that rhymes with "dingleberry" on the spot.
Once a new song catches on, every hip male in the community will start singing it, too. But that's just a bunch of whales in a group imitating each other. That's not like the mass media pop culture humans have, right?
Except scientists have found out that a song doesn't stay limited to just one population. A catchy enough tune will actually spread all over the Pacific, from Australia to French Polynesia, thousands of miles, over a couple of years. For some reason, all the whales east of Australia are unoriginal and will just plagiarize their western neighbors once they hear them sing a new song.
#4. Chimps Play With Dolls
Playing with dolls was a part of female childhood long before a plastic lady named Barbie triumphantly scored herself a boyfriend. Girls will lead entire fantasy lives with their dolls, giving them names, taking care of them when they're pretend-sick, giving them pretend-weddings and even pretend-scolding them when they pretend-make poor life decisions.
Having such an active imagination is surely not just one of the most childlike traits you can probably think of, but also one of the most human. After all, it's not like other animal species are out there having little slumber parties with their dolls while we're not looking, right?
Except, yeah, there's one species that's totally doing exactly that. Surprisingly, when it comes to playtime, human kids and chimpanzees are actually more alike than you think.
Researchers from Bates College and Harvard University found that young female chimps would take sticks, bark, small logs and vines, and not only cradle them as if they were baby chimps themselves, but also use their imagination for the whole doll-owning experience.
When playing with their doll-sticks, the young females would cuddle with them, put them to bed and rest with them in their nests like a little girl sleeping with her plush toy for security. A few times, the little dolls even got the equivalent of their own Barbie dream houses, as the chimp girls would build separate nests just for them to pretend-live in. And during the day, the chimp girls would also walk around with their sticks tucked between their stomachs and their thighs, mimicking the way that mother chimpanzees carry their babies.
All this behavior, which was witnessed over a hundred times during 14 years, was not just limited to girl chimps. One young male chimp was seen using a stick to play "airplane," resting on his back and holding the stick up with his hands and feet, the way that many parents play with their young children. In another instance, a male chimp was seen with his own stick dolly after he saw his mom was pregnant, pretending to care for it. There were no reports on whether his chimp father went out and worriedly fashioned him some chimpanzee G.I. Joes to get him interested in "man stuff."
#3. Birds Are Grammar Nazis
Spend longer than a half second on the Internet and you'll encounter someone so hung up on correct grammar usage that you suspect he's got sentence diagrams where his ribs should be.
And for those of you who'd rather gouge out your own eyes than use or read bad grammar, hey, we get it. After all, what's the point of language if we ignore the rules? And wasn't it the invention of language that propelled humanity into civilization the first place?
Well, hold your hair, kids, because some animals are just as concerned about good grammar as we are.
Bengal finches not only have rules of syntax when it comes to songs, but they also get mighty ill when other finches break them.
Researchers at Kyoto University recorded the tweets, chirps and chi-chi-chu-wee-reeeees of a group of finches, then played the songs back to a different group. After a while, the scientists pulled a fast one by taking the same songs and jumbling them up -- forming new "sentences," if you will. In most cases, the finches didn't seem to care. But one version of the jumbled song made the finches go bananas.
They started screeching angrily -- the kind of call usually reserved for intruding enemy finches. The scientists tried playing the same sound sample again with another group, and they got ill, too -- virtually every finch that heard it, in fact. The scientists had accidentally created the finch song version of a your/you're mistake.
In case you're thinking that maybe they had just accidentally created a finch song that naturally sounds violent or threatening, they played it for a group of finches that had been raised in isolation -- they never lived with finches in the wild. They were fine with it. They didn't screech.
But then when those same finches spent two weeks with the first group, the ones that went crazy at the sound of the song, soon they started getting ill at it, too. Being around the other finches taught them the rules of their "grammar," and taught them to get enraged at those who misuse it.
#2. Chimps Rely on Third-Party Mediators to Resolve Disputes
If you're anything like us, sitting between two grownass adults who were so angry that they required two lawyers and a neutral third-party arbitrator to communicate with each other was the stuff childhood (and puppet therapy) was made of.
Or maybe you followed the recent NFL lockout, and heard about how both sides had to meet with a mediator to try to hammer out a deal so that the proceedings wouldn't break down into a fit of screaming and chair-throwing. It's a pretty brilliant system: Two people who would rather chug a gallon of peanut oil than have a conversation just call in a professional to do the talking for them. You might even say it's one of the pinnacles of human civilization.
Except, oh wait. Chimps have totally got the market on third-party mediators covered.
Chimpanzees have figured out that when the mud hits the fan, man chimps need to stay away from each other. That's when a very specific mediator walks into the picture.
Imagine two male chimpanzees are duking it out over who ate the last head lice or who pooted on Nuk-Nuk's favorite tree or whatever. (Like we know what they fight about.) Anyway, after the brawl, each male will sit and wait, presumably with his arms crossed and toes tapping, for the other to come over to reconcile. If no one makes the first move, a female chimp will make it for them.
Here's how: The female will approach one of the males and start grooming him. You know, picking out dirt and bugs and gray hairs and whatnot in order to help him calm down. Then she'll walk over to the other male, making sure Fighter Male #1 follows. With Muhammad Ali on one side and Joe Frazier on the other, the female lets them groom her, together, because grooming is calming.
Then, she walks away, her job done. She intervened, and resolved their monkey conflict. The two males are left sitting together as friends, with neither losing face. We're 95 percent sure this is exactly how the Cold War ended.
#1. Monkeys Understand Money and Favors
As soon as we're old enough to toddle toward the Hubba Bubba on the lowest shelf at the checkout aisle, we get the concept of money. Money is what gets you food, toys and those lame ass OshKosh B'Gosh overalls your mom makes you wear. Money is what puts some people on a throne and others in a sewage ditch. Surely, this one part of human civilization is ours and ours alone.
Nope. Monkeys have also been proven able to comprehend, use and exploit money.
First of all, it turns out that it's not all that hard to teach monkeys to use a currency. In one experiment, it was just a matter of giving capuchin monkeys a bunch of silver discs, then demonstrating that they would get a treat when they turned one disc in to the researchers. After just a few months, they picked up the idea that the discs had inherent value (chimpanzees figured it out even faster in another experiment, and were even taught to recognize different denominations of "currency").
And to be clear, exchanging the silver discs for treats wasn't just some mindless "perform an action to get a prize" trick -- the capuchin monkeys were found to respond logically to price fluctuations, buying less if the price rose and vice versa.
And then, chaos ensued. One monkey, called Felix, quickly ran to the chamber where the "coins" were kept, threw all them into the communal cage and then scurried back. What the scientists had witnessed was a bank heist. When the researchers went in to try and get the coins back, the monkeys put up a fight, only caving in once the scientists gave them treats.
While this was going on, one scientist witnessed a male monkey hand a coin to a female monkey. Was this some act of kindness? Maybe a monkey romance was blooming in the midst of the chaos?
Nope, it was "a favor". The female had relations with the male, and then went off to buy some grapes. Capitalism, kids!
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