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.
All babies look alike, even Theobold Pimpmeister here.
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?
"Never mind, Christine. You can still sell him off to the ivory merchants."
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.
"GWAAK! Polly wants some individuality! GWAAK!"
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.
"He shall be known as TupAWWWK!"
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.
"Hi! I'm (Saxophone solo from Careless Whisper)."
#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 "The Twist." 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.
"Oh God oh God there's nothing that rhymes with 'OoooOOoooWEEEEEeeeeeooooOOOOoo'."
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 bastards who will just plagiarize their western neighbors once they hear them sing a new song.
They just stick it over a dance beat and call it a remix.
#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 gay 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.
"Raggedy Ann won big on the craps table but then got greedy, didn't she?"
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.
The stick was later taken by the CPS.
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."
"If I don't hear explosions from that tree stump in the next 30 seconds, you are grounded, mister."