Can animals speak like humans?

Can animals speak like humans?

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I know some animals don't have the required vocals. But, I do think that some like parrots, etc may have the capability to produce speech and talk just as we do.

My question is that if an animal is trained from birth, spending all the time around only humans, in the initial years of growth when their brains are much into learning everything, can they learn to talk just as we do?

It depends on what is understood by speaking.

Anatomy If by speaking one means producing sounds similar to those produced by humans, than the ability to speak is largely determined by the anatomy of the speech organs - whether they can produce the same type of sound as human does. There are very few animals capable of this (I will find the reference), and this notably excludes some rather close human relatives, such as the great apes.

Neurology Language is a more complex phenomenon than speaking. The most notable difference between the animal and the human communication is that the former typically uses a set of signals with hard-coded meanings, whereas the humans can construct an infinite number of phrases coveying complex meaning. The study of language from this angle has been traditionally carried out by linguists and computer scientists rather than biologists, under the general name of universal grammar (but may also appear under such terms as transformational grammar, generative grammar, etc. ) However, these studies have a direct biological implication that humans possess a genetically coded set of rules for sentence/phrase structure, which is independent on their native language. This clearly requires certain degree of neural development, which the language-less animals do not necessarily possess.

Psychology Finally, language requires significant psychological development - even in humans. Feral children often fail to acquire language competences. Similarly, the extensive studies on small chidlren in care homes (starting from the works by Anna Freud and Melanie Klein from more than a hundred years ago) demoinstrated that children deprieved of normal human contact have significantly diminished speaking abilities. Getting back to the OP - one can therefore question whether an animal could concievably be exposed to normal human environment to facilitae development of linguistic ability similar to that of a human.

See here and here for more background.

Can Evolutionary Biology Tell Us What's Kinky?

Carin Bondar's phenomenal and learned TED talk called "The Birds And The Bees Are Just the Beginning" is one of most informative lectures I've heard in a long time. Her tongue-in-cheek style is extremely engaging and clearly she enjoys what she does. And, she isn't kidding when she notes that if we only studied birds and bees we'd lose a ton of very interesting information about the sex lives of other animals, many of whom were unfamiliar to me.

One size doesn't fit all

The essence of Dr. Bondar's presentation is that there is a lot of diversity in sexual behavior and anatomy among nonhuman animals (animals) and that "one size fits all" explanations don't work. We learn, for example, that paper nautilus males have a detachable swimming penis that once was thought to be a distinct organism, rather than an organ, and that some penises are huge beyond imagination when scaled to the size of a male's body. The roving swimming penis finds females using pheromones (chemicals). And, it turns out, that bed bug sex is incredibly traumatic because of the male's barbed penis that he stabs anywhere on the female's body to impregnate her. He goes from flaccid to ejaculation in less than one second. Vaginas and clitorises also come (no pun intended) in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. I wonder what Alfred Kinsey would have thought about all of this?

I've long been interested in the evolution of different aspects of social behavior, a topic that I cover in my recent book called Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed. As I listened to Dr. Bondar I wondered if evolutionary biology could shed light on what some people consider to be "kinky", loosely defined as some form of unusual or unconventional sex that is considered to be abnormal (and embarrassing). I immediately thought that perhaps we really don't know what is unusual or unconventional because surveys about human sexual behavior may be replete with inaccurate reports of what people really do in bed, on couches, in telephone booths, or on kitchen counters. A web search confirmed my suspicion that sex surveys may not actually tell us what people consider conventional or kinky or what their intimate lives truly are like.

You drive me batty!

It's clear that other animals aren't as inhibited as humans when they want to get it on in one way or another. After watching Dr. Bondar's talk I thought about oral sex in animals, something that I can't recall having crossed my mind even after having watched thousands of interactions in dogs, coyotes, and wolves in which a good deal of attention - both sniffing and licking -- is paid to another individual's genital area. I wondered if we're the only animals who engage in fellatio or cunnilingus. So, I did a web search for "oral sex in nonhuman animals" and I found more than 13 million hits! Once again there are problems with definition because different people define oral sex differently, ranging from oral-genital contact to stimulation that feels good to stimulation resulting in orgasm. Regardless, it's pretty clear that oral sex involves a mouth.

What I found was very interesting and new to me. There have been observations of oral sex among nonhuman primates including baboons and bonobos. Bats too do it. In fruit-eating Indian flying foxes it's been shown that cunnilingus as foreplay is a major part of their sexual repertoire and that it makes sex last longer. Males get about an extra two seconds of penetration if they perform cunnilingus for 15 seconds before entering the female.

In the short-nosed fruit bat fellatio has been observed even during copulation. I wonder if these examples of oral sex in bats are where the phrase, "You drive me batty" (where batty means insane or crazy) comes from? Is it rooted in evolutionary biology?

Is it kinky or not?

Depending on one's take on what's kinky or not, oral sex is unconventionally kinky or "yucky" or normal sexual behavior. If one wants to look to evolutionary biology to tell us what's kinky or not, it's clear there's a lot of what we would call "kinkiness" among nonhuman animals so for something to be really kinky it would have to be an act that goes beyond standard ranges of imagination. We have pretty narrow definitions of sex when compared to other animals.

So, yes, I think evolutionary biology can help us understand what's kinky and what's not. I think of the bumper sticker for evolutionary continuity to go something like, "If we have or do something, 'they' (other animals) have it or do it too."

And, judging from the incredible variability and broad range of sexual behavior among nonhuman animals for which Dr. Bondar's lecture gave us but a small taste, one better get ready for a wild ride if they're going to outdo what we know about the sex lives of the fascinating animals with whom we share different niches on our magnificent planet. We can learn a lot from them, but I'm not sure the reverse is true.

From Grunting To Gabbing: Why Humans Can Talk

As humans evolved, our throats got longer and our mouths got smaller -- physiological changes that enabled us to effectively shape and control sound. According to fossils, the first humans who had an anatomy capable of speech patterns appeared about 50,000 years ago. Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption

As humans evolved, our throats got longer and our mouths got smaller -- physiological changes that enabled us to effectively shape and control sound. According to fossils, the first humans who had an anatomy capable of speech patterns appeared about 50,000 years ago.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Most of us do it every day without even thinking about it, yet talking is a uniquely human ability. Not only do humans have evolved brains that process and produce language and syntax, but we also can make a range of sounds and tones that we use to form hundreds of thousands of words.

To make these sounds -- and talk -- humans use the same basic apparatus that chimps have: lungs, throat, voice box, tongue and lips. But we're the ones singing opera and talking on the phone. That is because over thousands of years, humans have evolved a longer throat and smaller mouth better suited for shaping sound.

Vocal Acrobatics

Humans have flexibility in the mouth, tongue and lips that lets us form a wide range of precise sounds that chimps simply can't produce, and some have developed this complex voice instrument more than others. Take opera tenor Gran Wilson. He has toured the world singing and now teaches at the University of Maryland at College Park and at Towson University. In a split second, Wilson can go from his talking voice to full vibrato, enunciating each sound with graceful clarity as his voice fills the room.

He can do that because of his exceptional control of the Rube Goldberg-like apparatus that makes speech -- from lungs to larynx to lips. It works like this: When we talk or sing, we release controlled puffs of air from our lungs through our larynx, or voice box. The larynx is about the size of a walnut. In men, you can see it -- it's the Adam's apple. It's mostly made up of cartilage and muscle.

Stretched across the top are the vocal chords, which are two folds of mucous membrane. When we expel air from the lungs and push it through the larynx, the vocal chords vibrate, making the sound.

"The surface area of the chords that's actually vibrating is probably half of your smallest fingernail -- a very small amount of flesh buzzing," Wilson says.

Humans have flexibility in the mouth, tongue and lips that lets us form a wide range of precise sounds. Courtesy of Mike Gasser/Indiana University hide caption

The frequency of this buzzing is what gives sound the pitch. We change the pitch by tightening the vocal chords to make our voice higher and loosening them to make a lower sound.

"If you take a balloon and blow it up, you can manipulate the pitch by pulling the neck," Wilson says. The same principle applies to our vocal chords.

The vibrating air gets made into a specific sound -- like an ee or ah or tuh or puh -- by how we shape our throat, mouth, tongue and lips. Fusing these sounds together to form words and sentences is a complex dance. It requires an enormous amount of fine motor control.

"Speech, by the way, is the most complex motor activity that any person acquires -- except [for] maybe violinists or acrobats. It takes about 10 years for children to get to the adult levels," says Dr. Philip Lieberman, a professor of cognitive and linguistic science at Brown University who has studied the evolution of speech for more than five decades.

How We Got Here

Lieberman says that, looking back at human evolution, it's evident that after humans diverged from an early ape ancestor, the shape of the vocal tract changed. Over 100,000 years ago, the human mouth started getting smaller and protruding less. We developed a more flexible tongue that could be controlled more precisely, and a longer neck.

The reason the neck started getting longer, Lieberman says, is that the tongue moved down, pulling the larynx lower, requiring more room for it all in the neck. "The first time we see human skulls -- fossils -- that have everything in place is about 50,000 years ago where the neck is long enough, the mouth is short enough, that they could have had a vocal tract like us," he says.

But with these important changes came a new risk.

"The downside of this was that because you're pulling the larynx all the way down, when you eat, all the food has to go past the larynx -- and miss it -- and get into the esophagus," Lieberman says. "That's why people choke to death."

So we evolved this crazy airway that allows us to choke to death more efficiently -- all to further our ability to make more sounds and speak.

Controlled Breath

These changes didn't evolve overnight, but it's hard to pinpoint when we moved beyond primitive grunts and started talking. Fossils can only tell us so much about the shape of the vocal tract because much of it is soft tissue. But we can see what the human vocal tract shape has allowed us to do that our primate relatives can't.

Animals and Human Experience the Same Emotions

The link between humans and animals may be closer than we may have realised. Research by Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) has found that our furry relatives may share many of the same emotions that humans experience in everyday life.

Dr Filippo Aureli, reader in Animal Behaviour and co-director of the Research Centre in Evolutionary Anthropology and Palaeoecology at LJMU will present his findings today (September 6) at the BA Festival of Science in Dublin.

He explains: “My research has shown that emotion is a valid topic for scientific investigation in animals and helps us to understand how animals behave with great flexibility.

“For example self directed behaviours, such as scratch -grooming, obviously have a hygiene function, but they also reflect motivational ambivalence or frustration.

“Recent research has shown that there is an increase in such behaviour in situations of uncertainty, social tension, or impending danger. The same can be shown in humans who may bite their nails or pull at their hair in times of anxiety.”

Animals respond to the environment much as humans do, reacting emotionally to others and even becoming stressed and anxious in times of danger. These emotions have a marked effect on their behaviour but while researchers may never be able to know how animals actually feel, studies have found that there are definite behavioural similarities in emotional expression between animals and humans.

Studying animals is helping researchers, such as Dr Aureli, to understand more about the phenomena of emotions. Though animals cannot express their feelings linguistically, researchers have found that like humans, their emotions can be expressed through actions.

Individual primates behave in different ways depending on the circumstances they find themselves in and the group members they interact with. For example, individuals who spend more time in proximity to one another will generally be friendlier and less aggressive to each other – showing that the animals form close bonds with some group members.

Dr Aureli explains: “Monkeys and apes behave as if they take into account the quality of social relationships, for example whether they are friends or non-friends. Emotion can mediate the assessment of one’s own relationships and guide animals’ decisions on how to interact with different partners under different circumstances.”

Dr Aureli’s work has also shown that primates behave as if they discriminate between the qualities of relationships of other individuals. For example, following an aggressive interaction between two animals, a monkey may attack individuals related to the antagonist, or invite close associates to support it in overcoming the aggressor. This further relates to human behaviour, where some humans will protect one another and act on their behalf if a friend is threatened or bullied.

Dr Aureli says: “Emotional mediation can also be used to gather information about the relationships between other group members and guide decisions about how to interact in complex situations involving multiple partners. The framework of emotional mediation of social relationships could be particularly useful to explain social interaction when members of a society are not always together.”

He explains that this is what happens in humans living in small villages. Everyone knows one another by sight or name, but the entire community is rarely all together and individuals spend most of their time in smaller sub-groups which meet, merge and divide with different composition.
Communities with similar characteristics have been found in chimpanzees and spider monkeys.

Dr Aureli continues: “This situation is particularly challenging for social decision making because updated knowledge of social relationships cannot be maintained as individuals spend extended periods separated from other community members. Emotional experiences upon reunion can provide quick updates about possible changes in social relationships.”

Dr Aureli adds: “The study of animal emotions provides powerful tools to better understand the regulation of social relationships in various social systems and the evolution of the human social cognition.

“Therefore, the way we usually operate in the social world may not be too different from what other animals do. The more we discover about how animals, especially monkeys and apes, use emotions to make social decisions the more we learn about ourselves and how we operate in the social world.”

Dr Aureli presents his research as part of BA Festival f Science session on 'Primate Social Cognition: What monkeys know and feel about each other'. The session will focus on the use of innovative perspectives to investigate cognition, in the absence of language, which may be applicable to the study of humans.

Hairless, clawless, and largely weaponless, ancient humans used the unlikely combination of sweatiness and relentlessness to gain the upper hand over their faster, stronger, generally more dangerous animal prey, Harvard Anthropology Professor Daniel Lieberman said Thursday (April 12).

Just days before Monday’s 111th running of the Boston Marathon, Lieberman presented his theories of the importance of running to ancestral humans to explain why we’re the only species that voluntarily runs extraordinarily long distances, such as the 26.2 miles in the marathon.

The talk, “Why Humans Run: The Biology and Evolution of Marathon Running,” was delivered at the Geological Lecture Hall as part of the Harvard Museum of Natural History’s spring lecture series, “Evolution Matters.”

While more than a million humans run marathons voluntarily each year, most animals we consider excellent runners — antelopes and cheetahs, for example — are built for speed, not endurance. Even nature’s best animal distance runners — such as horses and dogs — will run similar distances only if forced to do so, and the startling evidence is that humans are better at it, Lieberman said.

Modern humans and their immediate ancestors such as Homo erectus sport several adaptations that make humans, instead of some ferocious, furry, or fleet creature, the animal world’s best distance runners.

“Humans are terrible athletes in terms of power and speed, but we’re phenomenal at slow and steady. We’re the tortoises of the animal kingdom,” Lieberman said.

That evidence belies the long and firmly held belief that humans are the animal world’s biggest wimps and, if not for our big brains and advanced weapons, we’d be forced to subsist on fruits and vegetables, always in danger of being gobbled up by fiercer predators.

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The problem with that theory, Lieberman said, is that we began adding meat to our diets around 2.6 million years ago, long before we developed advanced weapons like the bow and arrow, which was developed as recently as 50,000 years ago.

While some of our ancestors’ meat-eating may have been due to scavenging, Lieberman said the appearance about 2 million years ago of physical adaptations that have no impact on walking but that make humans better endurance runners provide evidence that early scavengers became running hunters.

Specifically, we developed long, springy tendons in our legs and feet that function like large elastics, storing energy and releasing it with each running stride, reducing the amount of energy it takes to take another step. There are also several adaptations to help keep our bodies stable as we run, such as the way we counterbalance each step with an arm swing, our large butt muscles that hold our upper bodies upright, and an elastic ligament in our neck to help keep our head steady.

Even the human waist, thinner and more flexible than that of our primate relatives allows us to twist our upper bodies as we run to counterbalance the slightly-off-center forces exerted as we stride with each leg.

Once humans start running, it only takes a bit more energy for us to run faster, Lieberman said. Other animals, on the other hand, expend a lot more energy as they speed up, particularly when they switch from a trot to a gallop, which most animals cannot maintain over long distances.

Though those adaptations make humans and our immediate ancestors better runners, it is our ability to run in the heat that Lieberman said may have made the real difference in our ability to procure game.

Humans, he said, have several adaptations that help us dump the enormous amounts of heat generated by running. These adaptations include our hairlessness, our ability to sweat, and the fact that we breathe through our mouths when we run, which not only allows us to take bigger breaths, but also helps dump heat.

“We can run in conditions that no other animal can run in,” Lieberman said.

While animals get rid of excess heat by panting, they can’t pant when they gallop, Lieberman said. That means that to run a prey animal into the ground, ancient humans didn’t have to run further than the animal could trot and didn’t have to run faster than the animal could gallop. All they had to do is to run faster, for longer periods of time, than the slowest speed at which the animal started to gallop.

All together, Lieberman said, these adaptations allowed us to relentlessly pursue game in the hottest part of the day when most animals rest. Lieberman said humans likely practiced persistence hunting, chasing a game animal during the heat of the day, making it run faster than it could maintain, tracking and flushing it if it tried to rest, and repeating the process until the animal literally overheated and collapsed.

Most animals would develop hyperthermia — heat stroke in humans — after about 10 to 15 kilometers, he said.

By the end of the process, Lieberman said, even humans with their crude early weapons could have overcome stronger and more dangerous prey. Adding credence to the theory, Lieberman said, is the fact that some aboriginal humans still practice persistence hunting today, and it remains an effective technique. It requires very minimal technology, has a high success rate, and yields a lot of meat.

Lieberman said he envisions an evolutionary scenario where humans began eating meat as scavengers. Over time, evolution favored scavenging humans who could run faster to the site of a kill and eventually allowed us to evolve into persistence hunters. Evolution likely continued to favor better runners until projectile weapons made running less important relatively recently in our history.

“Endurance running is part of a suite of shifts that made Homo [the genus that includes modern people] human,” Lieberman said.

Brain Scans Show Striking Similarities Between Dogs and Humans

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Golden retrievers and border collies pose by the MRI machine. Image: Borbala Ferenczy

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A new brain-imaging study of mankind's best friend has found a striking similarity in how humans and dogs — and perhaps many other mammals — process voice and emotion.

Like humans, dogs appear to possess brain systems that are devoted to making sense of vocal sounds, and are sensitive to their emotional content. These systems have not previously been described in dogs or any non-primate species, and the new findings offer an intriguing neurobiological glimpse into the richness of our particular corner of the animal kingdom.

"What makes us really excited now is that we've discovered these voice areas in the dog brain," said comparative ethologist Attila Andics of Hungary's Eötvös Loránd University, lead author of the Feb. 20 Current Biology paper describing the experiments. "It's not only dogs and humans. We probably share this function with many other mammals."

Conducted in the laboratory of fellow Eötvös Loránd ethologist Ádám Miklósi, one of the world's foremost researchers on canine intelligence and behavior, the study was inspired by a turn-of-the-millennium discovery of regions of the human brain attuned to human voices. Similar regions have since been described in monkeys, which last shared a common ancestor with humans 30 million years ago.

Humans and dogs last shared a common ancestor 100 million years ago. If a voice-attuned region could be found in dogs too, the trait would truly run deep in our shared biology.

To investigate the possibility, Andics and colleagues trained six golden retrievers and five border collies to lie motionless inside a scanner so the researchers could collect fMRI scans of their brains. These scans measure changes in blood flow, which is widely considered an indicator of neural activity.

Inside the scanner, each of the 11 dogs, and a comparison group of 22 men and women, listened to nearly 200 recordings of dog and human sounds: whining and crying, laughing and barking. As expected, human voice-processing areas responded most to human voices. In dogs, corresponding brain regions responded to the sounds of dogs. In both species, the activity in these regions changed in similar ways in response to the emotional tone of a vocalization – whining versus playful barking in dogs, for instance, or crying versus laughing human voices.

To people who know dogs as companions and friends, the results might seem predictable. But seeing it play out in the brain drives the point home.

"It's not a surprising finding, but it's an important finding," said cognitive ethologist and author Marc Bekoff, who was not involved in the study. Processing vocal sounds and emotion "is fundamental to who they are."

The responses were not identical between species. In dogs, vocal processing areas also responded to non-vocal sounds, but in humans they were triggered by voice alone — hinting, perhaps, at the intensely social trajectory of human evolution, said Andics. The areas may have evolved to be even more finely tuned for vocal sounds in humans, he speculated. Dogs in the study were also slightly better-attuned to human voices than people were to those of dogs.

That said, what the two species share appears to outweigh the differences, and raise some fascinating questions. Dog intelligence and social awareness is sometimes attributed to the 15,000 or so years they — Canis lupus familiaris, to be precise — have spent in the company of humans, being evolutionarily rewarded for social sensitivity.

The regions tagged in the new study, however, have deep evolutionary roots. Though dogs might conceivably have developed them independently of humans, it's far more likely that they were present in that long-ago common ancestor, said Andics. They might even be traced further back into our evolutionary heritage.

Anatomy of a human (above) and dog brain, with areas linked to vocal processing outlined.

Image: Andics et al./Current Biology

Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp of Washington State University, who studies the neurobiology of emotions in animals, said the findings "are to be expected from what we have long known about the overall evolutionary organization of mammalian brains." Panksepp, who was not involved in the study, believes that sophisticated sound-processing and emotional sensitivity is a fundamental trait of mammals.

Breeding by humans no doubt refined the vocal processing systems of dogs, said Bekoff, but they were likely quite sophisticated by the time our species' paths converged 15,000 years ago. Certainly wolves, coyotes and other undomesticated members of the canine genus are quite vocal and sensitive to emotion perhaps that's why humans and dogs made such a good team.

What Playful Animals Can Teach Us About The Biology Of Fun

Play and fun, though seemingly purposeless, are fundamental aspects of the human experience.

It wouldn't be a stretch to say that we're wired for play. But why? By definition, play is an activity without purpose or aim -- but it does have important implications for learning and development.

We can look to the animal kingdom to see how fundamental play is to human nature, and to understand why we might have evolved to seek out and enjoy fun. In a new special issue of the journal Current Biology, scientists share insights on fun and play in various animal species in order to shed light on the importance of amusement in our everyday lives.

"The brain activity associated with ‘having fun’ presumably leads in some way to activation of reward centers in the brain. This would give a proximate explanation for why we pursue fun, but why has this reward-relationship evolved in the first place?" Geoffrey North, editor of Current Biology, writes in an editorial. "What evolutionary advantage is there to engaging in the kind of activities we associate with fun? As usual with an evolutionary question it is helpful to take a broad look at what appear to be similar behaviors in other species -- in particular, to consider fun in other animals, and what functions it might have that could contribute to their evolutionary fitness."

As North insists, fun can be an important area of inquiry in biology, "touching on important issues of how we learn to interact with the world."

Here are some fascinating insights on the biology of play.

Fun is functional.

Feeling pleasure is part of a mechanism used to ensure animal fitness. It's a way for them to safely and enjoyably practice important skills, such as agility and fighting skills.

"Play is evolution's way of making sure animals acquire and perfect valuable skills in circumstances of relative safety," writes biologist Richard Byrne.

Specific types of play can also contribute to the development of cognitive skills that might not immediately be obvious. For instance, baboons have been observed teasing cattle by pulling their tails when the cows are behind a wire fence and therefore can't retaliate. Byrne suggests, because our enjoyment of teasing comes from imaging how the victim feels, that baboons may possibly have some theory of mind ability not yet recognized by scientists.

Similarly, elephants like to chase harmless animals, seemingly for their own enjoyment. Although we're not sure why they do this, it may also be that they are practicing some sort of cognitive skill, such as theory of mind.

Dolphins play, but not in the way we think they do.

Dolphins are often taken to be playful creatures because of their ever-present smiles, which, as Dr. Vincent Janik points out, is a "feature of their anatomy they have no control over."

While jumping in the surf and chasing one another may not exactly be play activities for dolphins, the sea mammals do enjoy fun in other ways. Biologists have noted that dolphins often stop what they are doing when large ships approach, in order to ride in the bow waves of the ship, only to return to where they were after the boat has passed. "Dolphins clearly do seem to spend time playing," Janik writes.

Some reptiles like to have a good time.

Lizards, turtles and crocodiles have all been found to exhibit convincing evidence of play, according to biologist Gordan Burghardt, although there are relatively few examples overall of play in reptiles and amphibians. Komodo dragons engage in "complex interactions with objects," similar to the behavior of dogs. Aquatic Nile short-shelled turtles, too, enjoy bouncing basketballs and floating bottles.

Octopuses may be the only celaphods that play.

While most cephalopods have not been observed to exhibit play-like behavior, there are some documented instances of play in two species of octopus. Biologists have found that these two types of octopus tend to engage in play when confronted with foreign objects.

"When encountering a novel non-food object, Octopus vulgaris shows a sequence of behaviors that moves from a 'What is this object?' exploratory behaviour to playful 'What can I do with this object?' interactions, involving manipulative behaviors such as pushing, pulling and towing," writes biologist Sarah Zylinski. "I have watched a captive Octopus bimaculoides. pounce on a fiddler crab and then release it unharmed, repeating this release and recapture many times over, as a cat might with a mouse, and other people who have spent time observing octopuses have similar anecdotes of play-like behaviors."

Even birds have the capacity for fun.

Neurobiologists studying birds have found that the avian brain may experience pleasure and reward similar to how the mammalian brain does. If birds are capable of experiencing pleasure, they argue, then they are also capable of having fun.

Play, though relatively uncommon in birds, has been observed in crows and parrots. The play of these two species is similar to what has been observed in primates -- "elaborate acrobatics, manipulating objects, and different types of social play, including play fighting," write Dr. Nathan Emery and Dr. Nicola Clayton of University College London.

Singing may also be a form of play in these birds, Emery and Clayton suggest.

Human infants like clowning around.

Infants form a sense of humor by clowning around and noticing how others respond to absurd behavior, according to psychologists Vasu Reddy and Gina Mireault. In fact, infants joke around before they can even speak or walk -- and a baby's laughter can provide us with important insights on how they see the world. Infants react to "clowning" behavior, such as pulling hair and blowing raspberries, can show us that they are aware of others' intentions.

"As [infants] discover others' reactions and, indeed, others' minds, they also discover the meaning of 'funny', a construct that varies across and within cultures, regions, families, and even dyads," write Reddy and Mireault. "Infants become attuned to the nuances in humour through their social relationships, which create the practice of contexts of humorous exchange."

Redefining communication

Tree language is a totally obvious concept to ecologist Suzanne Simard, who has spent 30 years studying forests. In June 2016, she gave a Ted Talk (which now has nearly 2.5 million views), called “How Trees Talk to Each Other.”

Simard grew up in the forests of British Columbia in Canada, studied forestry, and worked in the logging industry. She felt conflicted about cutting down trees, and decided to return to school to study the science of tree communication. Now, Simard teaches ecology at the University of British Columbia-Vancouver and researches “below-ground fungal networks that connect trees and facilitate underground inter-tree communication and interaction,” she says. As she explained to her Ted Talk audience:

I want to change the way you think about forests. You see, underground there is this other world, a world of infinite biological pathways that connect trees and allow them to communicate and allow the forest to behave as though it’s a single organism. It might remind you of a sort of intelligence.

Trees exchange chemicals with fungus, and send seeds—essentially information packets—with wind, birds, bats, and other visitors for delivery around the world. Simard specializes in the underground relationships of trees. Her research shows that below the earth are vast networks of roots working with fungi to move water, carbon, and nutrients among trees of all species. These complex, symbiotic networks mimic human neural and social networks. They even have mother trees at various centers, managing information flow, and the interconnectedness helps a slew of live things fight disease and survive together.

Simard argues that this exchange is communication, albeit in a language alien to us. And there’s a lesson to be learned from how forests relate, she says. There’s a lot of cooperation, rather than just competition among and between species as was previously believed.

Peter Wohlleben came to a similar realization while working his job managing an ancient birch forest in Germany. He told the Guardian he started noticing trees had complex social lives after stumbling upon an old stump still living after about 500 years, with no leaves. “Every living being needs nutrition,” Wohlleben said. “The only explanation was that it was supported by the neighbor trees via the roots with a sugar solution. As a forester, I learned that trees are competitors that struggle against each other, for light, for space, and there I saw that it’s just [the opposite]. Trees are very interested in keeping every member of this community alive.” He believes that they, like humans, have family lives in addition to relationships with other species. The discovery led him to write a book, The Hidden Life of Trees.

By being aware of all living things’ inter-reliance, Simard argues, humans can be wiser about maintaining mother trees who pass on wisdom from one tree generation to the next. She believes it could lead to a more sustainable commercial-wood industry: in a forest, a mother tree is connected to hundreds of other trees, sending excess carbon through delicate networks to seeds below ground, ensuring much greater seedling survival rates.

Do you have animals in your everyday life? If so, tell us how they confirm or disprove your theories.

I was never much of a dog person because I was interested in free-living, wild animals, but I have two dogs now and I cannot believe how much I love these dogs and how much they are part of our family.

They know exactly who we are. They know who strangers are. They are often very, very happy. Occasionally they get frightened by things that are strange or they aren’t sure what’s going on.

The only thing they cannot do is speak to us in full sentences, but they communicate all the time. They know what they would like to do and they can plan a little bit. They may not plan what they’re gonna do next week, but they know when they want to go out or when they want to get us to take them out for a run.

When we take them to a certain beach, they know exactly what the routine there is, even if we haven’t been to that beach in months. When we take them over to my mother’s, they remember that the shed in her backyard has cottontail rabbits under it and they always run straight to the shed to investigate.

How closely related are humans to apes and other animals? How do scientists measure that? Are humans related to plants at all?

Humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and their extinct ancestors form a family of organisms known as the Hominidae. Researchers generally agree that among the living animals in this group, humans are most closely related to chimpanzees, judging from comparisons of anatomy and genetics.

If life is the result of "descent with modification," as Charles Darwin put it, we can try to represent its history as a kind of family tree derived from these morphological and genetic characteristics. The tips of such a tree show organisms that are alive today. The nodes of the tree denote the common ancestors of all the tips connected to that node. Biologists refer to such nodes as the last common ancestor of a group of organisms, and all tips that connect to a particular node form a clade. In the diagram of the Hominidae at right, the clade designated by node 2 includes gorillas, humans and chimps. Within that clade the animal with which humans share the most recent common ancestor is the chimpanzee.

There are two major classes of evidence that allow us to estimate how old a particular clade is: fossil data and comparative data from living organisms. Fossils are conceptually easy to interpret. Once the age of the fossil is determined (using radiocarbon or thermoluminescence dating techniques, for example), we then know that an ancestor of the organism in question existed at least that long ago. There are, however, few good fossils available compared with the vast biodiversity around us. Thus, researchers also consider comparative data. We all know that siblings are more similar to each other than are cousins, which reflects the fact that siblings have a more recent common ancestor (parents) than do cousins (grandparents). Analogously, the greater similarity between humans and chimps than between humans and plants is taken as evidence that the last common ancestor of humans and chimps is far more recent than the last common ancestor of humans and plants. Similarity, in this context, refers to morphological features such as eyes and skeletal structure.

One problem with morphological data is that it is sometimes difficult to interpret. For example, ascertaining which similarities resulted from common ancestry and which resulted from convergent evolution can, on occasion, prove tricky. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to obtain time estimates from these data. So despite analyses of anatomy, the evolutionary relationships among many groups of organisms remained unclear due to lack of suitable data.

This changed in the 1950s and 1960s when protein sequence data and DNA sequence data, respectively, became available. The sequences of a protein (say, hemoglobin) from two organisms can be compared and the number of positions where the two sequences differ counted. It was soon learned from such studies that for a given protein, the number of amino acid substitutions per year could--as a first approximation--be treated as constant. This discovery became known as the "molecular clock." If the clock is calibrated using fossil data or data on continental drift, then the ages of various groups of organisms can theoretically be calculated based on comparisons of their sequences.

Using such reasoning, it has been estimated that the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees (with whom we share 99 percent of our genes) lived five million years ago. Going back a little farther, the Hominidae clade is 13 million years old. If we continue farther back in time, we find that placental mammals are between 60 and 80 million years old and that the oldest four-limbed animal, or tetrapod, lived between 300 and 350 million years ago and the earliest chordates (animals with a notochord) appeared about 990 million years ago. Humans belong to each of these successively broader groups.

How far back can we go in this way? If we try to trace all life on our planet, we are constrained by the earth's age of 4.5 billion years. The oldest bacteria-like fossils are 3.5 billion years old, so this is the upper estimate for the age of life on the earth. The question is whether at some point before this date a last common ancestor for all forms of life, a "universal ancestor," existed. Over the past 30 years the underlying biochemical unity of all plants, animals and microbes has become increasingly apparent. All organisms share a similar genetic machinery and certain biochemical motifs related to metabolism. It is therefore very likely that there once existed a universal ancestor and, in this sense, all things alive are related to each other. It took more than two billion years for this earliest form of life to evolve into the first eukaryotic cell. This gave rise to the last common ancestor of plants, fungi and animals, which lived some 1.6 billion years ago.

The controversies surrounding biological evolution today reflect the fact that biologists were late in accepting evolutionary thinking. One reason for this is that significant modifications of living things are difficult to observe during a lifetime. Darwin never saw evolution taking place in nature and had to rely on evidence from fossils, as well as plant and animal breeding. His idea that the differences observed within a species are transformed in time into differences between species remained the most plausible theory of biodiversity in his time, but there was an awkward lack of direct observations of this process. Today this situation has changed. There are now a number of very striking accounts of evolution in nature, including exceptional work on the finches of the Galapagos Islands--the same animals that first inspired Darwin's work.

Watch the video: Τα Ζώα Ποτέ Δεν Παραλείπουν Να Μας Κάνουν Να Γελάμε - Σούπερ Αστεία Ζώων (August 2022).