6 Weirdly Human Things You Won't Believe Animals Do
The only reason why everyone loves seeing chimps, dogs, and other animals wearing tuxedos is because Aaaw, they think they're people, even though they totally aren't. Or are they? As we've mentioned before, while no animal has ever come up with their own version of formal eveningwear, many of our four-legged or winged friends do exhibit eerily human-like behavior that will make you question what it really means to be intelligent.
Because you have to wonder, would we still consider ourselves the smartest species on the block if we knew that ...
Birds Protect Their Nests With Passwords
In the same way that you might want to protect your computer, so does the superb fairy wren set up passwords to protect its nest from harmful intruders. But unlike you simply trying to keep people from finding the manifest of the unspeakable that is your browser search history, these tiny Australian birds do it to make sure they aren't raising homicidal babies that don't even belong to them.
It's happened to the best of us.
A recent study published in the journal Current Biology has discovered that fairy wren mothers will start singing a particular song to their eggs about a week before they hatch, which will later act as a "learned password." Once they are born, the wren chicks then have to sing the tune back to their mom in order to be fed, and if they fail, the mother will abandon the nest and leave the birds to die. They do that because fairy wrens often fall victim to the bronze cuckoo, which lays eggs in their nests and tricks them into raising the home-invading brood as their own, who, other than being moochers, also have this silly habit of pushing their step-siblings out of the nest.
They're the jobless futon crashers of the animal kingdom.
Scientists concluded that the fairy wrens evolved this system of password voice recognition to tell their real offspring from cuckoo interlopers, even if the latter are massive, gray monstrosities that look absolutely nothing like wrens. Yeah, for all their complex nest security, birds are kind of stupid like that.
Apparently "chirp" is bird for "Duh!"
Naturally, the cuckoo chick will try to copy the wren's "feedin' time!" call, but in most cases it fails to hack into the avian motherboard and access the sweet database of regurgitated bird food. No wonder, though, considering that the complex two-second trill password consists of 19 separate melodic elements and differs from nest to nest ... which means that if you're the type of person who uses "password1" on all of your online accounts, you're literally worse at security than a bird that needs to password protect its own children.
Cats Use Timeshares to Avoid Territory Conflict
Between the 1960s and 1990s, thousands of people were sold on the idea of timeshares, i.e., collective property rights to a piece of real estate that they all shared a few days per year and never, ever cleaned, apparently. The business was also pretty dirty in a less literal sense, with jacked-up maintenance fees and the inability to sell your share in that Florida condo even if you desperately needed the cash to pay your kid's ransom.
"OK, we'll trade the kid for the timeshare, but you only get him back for two weeks every June."
Cats, on the other hand, circumvented all this bullshit by strategically never inventing money, and so their own experiences with timeshares have been a tad more civilized.
The BBC and the Royal Veterinary College recently ran an experiment just outside of London where GPS trackers and specially developed cat-cams were attached to 50 domestic cats to monitor where they ventured and how they interacted with other felines. The findings showed that each cat actually claimed a small amount of territory as its own, but would then allow other kitties to momentarily move in on their turf. Some might use the newly acquired real estate to hunt or just chill, but would eventually have to move on to let the original owner -- or another cat altogether -- take their place.
Passive-aggressive "housekeeping" notes are a reality of timeshares not even cats can avoid.
However, this doesn't mean that the cats would just let any old schmuck take over their corner, as some of them were observed chasing away unwanted rivals. But if it was a feline they had apparently given access to their turf, then everything was cool. Man, the cat version of The Wire must be boring as hell.
Voles Get Peer-Pressured to Drink More
While they may look like cute little fur-covered turds, the North American rodent known as the prairie vole harbors a deep and dark secret that would shame most humans: Its species is seemingly comprised solely of competitive alcoholics, which is bad news for all vole spouses out there but fantastic news for social scientists wanting to research the nature of peer pressure and social drinking.
Crippling substance abuse has never looked so adorable.
In an experiment from Oregon Health & Science University and the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, a bunch of voles were put in a cage with two bottles, one containing water and the other 6 percent ABV booze. Their drinking habits were then scrutinized, and when left alone, it was observed that the voles tended to drink equal amounts of water and alcohol. However, when housed with another vole, like their sibling, the rodents turned into literal party animals, choosing the alcohol over water 80 percent of the time while their furry companion assumingly kept egging them on and calling them the vole equivalent of "pussy."
"Chug it, bro! What are you, a hamster?!"
Some pairs drank so much that they were probably sharing stories about how seeing their cousin in a bikini gave them a boner that one time, while others were more modest in their alcohol consumption. But in each case, the voles always tried to drink the exact same amount as the other critter in the cage, almost as if their fuzzy reputation was at stake, which is pretty much how humans invented binge drinking.
Hopefully they all got matched with other voles; you never wanna try to go drink for drink with the big guy.
Maybe it was all one big coincidence, though. Maybe these voles will match each other no matter what they drink. Researchers thought about that and conducted another experiment in which the fur-pies were given sugar water, which (other than alcohol) is their favorite thing in the world. While they did enjoy it more than water, the drink-matching behavior stopped completely for the exact same reason why you never see people doing Coke stands at college frat parties.
Puppies Let Girls Win
Remember when you were a kid and you first started to actually enjoy playing with the opposite sex? Well, if you did, then you probably let your girl pal win from time to time, like giving her the opening to make that basket by "accidentally" tripping. You didn't do it because you were sexist, you did it because you were a kid and you wanted to play as long as possible. Or maybe you were going through what famed physician Dr. P. Anka aptly called "puppy love," seeing as the exact same behavior is often observed among young dogs.
Although the puppies don't pop as many awkward boners.
Studies have shown that puppies actually treat girls very differently when it comes to play fighting, often exposing sensitive areas such as the neck or muzzle and letting their partner bite them there, which apparently wins you all the points in doggy-style wrestling. It's important to note that in such cases, the male puppies are always at a physical advantage, yet often fall to the ground like a boxer taking a dive whenever they are playing with girl dogs. However, when going against wiener dogs with wieners, the puppies turn into Rocky as trained by Cobra Kai, showing no mercy to their opponents.
"THIS IS WHAT I THINK OF YOUR GENITALS!"
Camille Ward from the University of Michigan claims that the puppies allow themselves to lose to endear themselves to the females, which will hopefully be followed by more hours of play fighting and eventually some sexy times.
Because it's hard to lay down an effective pick-up line when you look goofy in sunglasses.
This is interesting because nature usually prefers that their adolescents sweat testosterone through their wife-beaters and dominatingly impregnate as many females as possible. With puppies, though, it's almost as if they've all learned about male-female interactions by reading old Calvin and Hobbes comic strips.
Pigeons Screw Themselves Over With Gambling
Gambling is probably one of the more nonsensical human activities, as it involves betting a sure thing like money in your pocket on a tiny chance of winning more money, which usually ends with you poorer and none the wiser ... but could the same behavior be found among pigeons? If you've ever wondered that, then congratulations, you are psychologist Thomas Zentall at the University of Kentucky, or someone who really needs to get out of the house more.
Armed with some relatively smart birds, Zentall decided to test why living organisms seem to ignore our many losses and focus solely on the rare wins. The study presented Zentall's pigeons with two randomly colored lights to peck at. Pecking at the "safe" light would produce three food pellets every time, while the "gamble" light would flash green 80 percent of the time and award nothing or red 20 percent of the time and award 10 pellets. In the long run, this means that the birds who play it safe will receive one extra pellet per try, while the gamblers, despite the occasional big win, will statistically always receive less food.
"No, no, man. I have a system!"
After dozens of run-throughs to get the pigeons comfortable with the set-up, the real trial began, where the pigeons chose to gamble 82 percent of the time, getting less food every time and apparently sustaining themselves on nothing more than the rush and the blinking of the pretty lights. As Zentall put it, the pigeons were willing to get less food simply because the rare jackpot payout went against their expectations, which their bodies somehow managed to metabolize into nourishment, by the looks of it. It's the same reason why hardcore gamblers manage to waste days in front of slot machines without breaks for lunch or even going to the toilet.
That might not be the only reason.
However, just like with human gambling, once you remove the false allure of hope, like by making the pigeons' green and red lights both dispense 10 pellets 20 percent of the time, the birds immediately started pecking the "safe" three-pellet light instead of gambling and telling themselves that "It's about to pay out aaaaany minute now. I can feel it."
Termites Have Political Campaigns
With the news media already in partial 2016 election mode three fucking years before the damn thing is scheduled, we're good with calling "political campaigning" the most bullshit thing about humanity since barnyard porn. Every other species on the planet makes their specimens fight to the death for the title of leader instead of going around shaking hands and making themselves appear less revolting than the other candidates ... every other species, that is, except for Cryptotermes secundus termites, which hold what looks just like political campaigns for the title of king or queen, aka Termocracy: The Fight for Capitol Mound.
It's been a tense election season, with Occupy Cedar in full swing.
These termites usually congregate in small groups of 50 to 100 where every worker insect has the chance to one day become king or queen after one of the royal termites kicks it. However, when that time comes, only about 12 percent of the eligible bugs make the physical transformation necessary to sit on the Chewed-Up Wooden Throne, after which things go pretty much as you'd expect. The opponents fight each other and the injured are left to be devoured by other termites, which we still say would vastly improve our own political system. After the initial electoral coliseum, however, the surviving termites begin, well, canvassing.
The surviving termite candidates suddenly become much more social, spending a lot of time feeling others with antennae to get everyone familiar with them, which, no matter how you look at it, sounds exactly like a candidate going around shaking random people's babies and kissing their hands, unless we got that confused somehow. The campaigning termites even occasionally sweeten the deal by feeding workers surplus food that is produced from their butts, because the animal world is pretty upfront about the fact that all politicians are feeding their constituents shit.
"Buckle up, Jack; I've been eating particle board all week."
There is also one other trait that sets the termite elections apart from our own, and it's the fact that they are efficient as hell, with the new king or queen being accepted by the colony and instated on the throne up to 11 days after the first batch of candidates emerges. We suspect that it's mainly because becoming termite royalty means that you are the only one with the right to breed, and you can bet that if our politics involved socially sanctioned nookie, every election cycle would last like two weeks tops.
Andrew is a writer, musician, and aspiring wildlife biologist who appreciates your left clicks more than your right.
Related Reading: Some animals have weirdly human sex lives- did you know goats are turned on by lesbian porn? Even human emotions aren't unique among the animal kingdom: tigers have been known to seek revenge. Need further convincing that our species ain't that special? Check out how close these robots are to homo sapiens.