Is there a name for the behavioral phenomena of when animals like ants sacrifice themselves?

Is there a name for the behavioral phenomena of when animals like ants sacrifice themselves?

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Title says everything about the first question.

The second question is: does the special case when ants apparently explode, have its own name or does it fall under the same previous term?

The term you're looking for is altruism. According to Wikipedia, altruistic behaviour "allows an individual to increase the success of its genes by helping relatives that share those genes." Someone correct me if I am wrong but this means that this behaviour evolved by natural selection because it ensures the survival of a species in most cases. The link about exploding ants is probably a nifty example of altruism.


Zoology assumes that humans are animals therefore, after Darwin, it became a proper approach to study the biological aspects of moral behavior, and to accept the comparisons of human with nonhuman social behavior. But, this produces nontrivial consequences. For if humans are animals, the definition ‘animal’ must include the properties that characterize humans. Thus, human ethical behavior becomes ‘natural’ and subject to natural selection. Many students of EEB recognize some dependence between evolution and ethics, and accept the role of natural selection in evolution, but are aware of the restrictions placed by natural selection on EEB. Natural selection is only a guiding force, and not the sole source of behavioral (and morphological) changes, and EEB in social groups is only one evolutionary component. The origin of ethical behavior in protohumans and its subsequent development are a subject matter of sociobiology, but the solution of prescriptive ethical problems, of what we ought or ought not do, is a concern of philosophy. While the study of evolution may explain EEB, it does not explain ethical values or goals.

Lumsden and Wilson ( 1983 ) emphasized that neither culture nor evolution is autonomous: ‘culture is created and shaped by biological processes while the biological processes are simultaneously altered in response to cultural change.’ Human ethics works because cultural forces alter the innate bases of behavior. While genes may control the basic instincts, the behavioral responses to stimuli may be automatic therefore, the response may not be always driven by natural selection.

The history of the idea of EEB circles around various theories of human nature, the interpretation of which is central to the entire gamut of dichotomies from nature/nurture to brain/mind. The evolutionary psychologist Cyrulnik ( 1993 ) called these dichotomies pseudoconcepts, because ‘human behavior … is 100 percent innate and 100 percent acquired. Or, what amounts to the same thing, nothing is “innate” and nothing is “acquired.” … the acquired can only be acquired by means of the innate, which in turn is always shaped by the acquired. Nature is nurtured!’

What EEB is asking is not prescription, but how we came to think about prescription. Although sociobiologists accept deep evolutionary bases of morality, few of them are comfortable with the concept of ‘evolutionary ethics.’ The use of this term has begun to disappear, not because all the questions on EEB have been answered, but because the term ‘evolutionary ethics’ unnecessarily confuses the ethical meanings of ‘good’ and ‘ought’ with the biological origin of altruistic behavior.


Examples of collective animal behavior include:

The basis of collective animal behaviour originated from the study of collective phenomena [1] that is, repeated interactions among individuals that produce large scale patterns. The foundation of collective phenomena originates from the idea that collective systems can be understood from a set of techniques. For example, Nicolis and Prigogine (1977) [2] employed the use of non-linear thermodynamics to help explain similarities between collective systems at different scales. Other studies aim to use physics, mathematics and chemistry to provide frameworks to study collective phenomena. [3] [4] [5]

Many functions of animal aggregations have been proposed. These proposed functions may be grouped into the four following categories: social and genetic, anti-predator, enhanced foraging, and increased locomotion efficiency.

Social interaction Edit

Support for the social and genetic function of aggregations, especially those formed by fish, can be seen in several aspects of their behavior. For instance, experiments have shown that individual fish removed from a school will have a higher respiratory rate than those found in the school. This effect has been partly attributed to stress, although hydrodynamic factors were considered more important in this particular study. [6] The calming effect of being with conspecifics may thus provide a social motivation for remaining in an aggregation. Herring, for instance, will become very agitated if they are isolated from conspecifics. [7] Fish schools have also been proposed to serve a reproductive function since they provide increased access to potential mates.

Protection from predators Edit

Several anti-predator functions of animal aggregations have been proposed. One potential method by which fish schools or bird flocks may thwart predators is the ‘predator confusion effect’ proposed and demonstrated by Milinski and Heller (1978). [8] This theory is based on the idea that it becomes difficult for predators to pick out individual prey from groups because the many moving targets create a sensory overload of the predator's visual channel. Milinski and Heller's findings have been corroborated both in experiment [9] [10] and computer simulations. [11] [12] [13]

A second potential anti-predator effect of animal aggregations is the "many eyes" hypothesis. This theory states that as the size of the group increases, the task of scanning the environment for predators can be spread out over many individuals. Not only does this mass collaboration presumably provide a higher level of vigilance, it could also allow more time for individual feeding. [14] [15] [16]

A third hypothesis for an anti-predatory effect of animal aggregation is the "encounter dilution" effect. Hamilton, for instance, proposed that the aggregation of animals was due to a "selfish" avoidance of a predator and was thus a form of cover-seeking. [17] [18] Another formulation of the theory was given by Turner and Pitcher and was viewed as a combination of detection and attack probabilities. [19] In the detection component of the theory, it was suggested that potential prey might benefit by living together since a predator is less likely to chance upon a single group than a scattered distribution. In the attack component, it was thought that an attacking predator is less likely to eat a particular animal when a greater number of individuals are present. In sum, an individual has an advantage if it is in the larger of two groups, assuming that the probability of detection and attack does not increase disproportionately with the size of the group. [20]

Enhanced foraging Edit

A third proposed benefit of animal groups is that of enhanced foraging. This ability was demonstrated by Pitcher and others in their study of foraging behavior in shoaling cyprinids. [21] In this study, the time it took for groups of minnows and goldfish to find a patch of food was quantified. The number of fishes in the groups was varied, and a statistically significant decrease in the amount of time necessary for larger groups to find food was established. Further support for an enhanced foraging capability of schools is seen in the structure of schools of predatory fish. Partridge and others analyzed the school structure of Atlantic bluefin tuna from aerial photographs and found that the school assumed a parabolic shape, a fact that was suggestive of cooperative hunting in this species (Partridge et al., 1983). [22]

Increased locomotion efficiency Edit

This theory states that groups of animals moving in a fluid environment may save energy when swimming or flying together, much in the way that bicyclists may draft one another in a peloton. Geese flying in a Vee formation are also thought to save energy by flying in the updraft of the wingtip vortex generated by the previous animal in the formation. Ducklings have also been shown to save energy by swimming in a line. [23] Increased efficiencies in swimming in groups have also been proposed for schools of fish and Antarctic krill.

Another example can be seen in homing pigeons. When a homing pigeon is released with other individuals from its roost, these pigeon groups showed increased efficiency and decision making to shorten the distance of the route taken to return home, thus saving energy when flying between locations. [24]

Ectoparasitism and disease Edit

Animals that form colonies form a cost of living in groups. These colonies exhibit a system with close physical proximity and increased contact between individuals, thus increasing transmission of disease and ectoparasites a universal hazard of animals living in groups. [25]

For example, cliff swallows that are commonly parasitized by swallow bugs incur a cost when forming colonies, as these parasitic bugs increase the mortality rates of cliff swallow nestlings. [26] A study shows that the number of swallow bugs found in cliff swallow nests increased with the increase of cliff swallow colony size, thus reducing overall success of these colonies. [26]

Larger groups of animals tend to harbour an increased number of pathogens and are at a higher risk of epidemics. [27] This is particularly due to the large amount of waste material produced by larger groups, allowing for a favourable environment for pathogens to thrive.

Intraspecific competition Edit

Another cost to group living is the competition over food resources. As individuals group together, there is an increased nutritional requirement of the larger group compared to smaller groups. This causes an increased energetic cost as individuals now travel farther to visit resource patches. [28]

An example of intraspecific competition can be seen within groups of whales and dolphins. Female bottle-nose dolphins with similar home ranges tend to have varied foraging habits in an effort to reduce and negate the intraspecific competition of resources. [29] Benefits of group living on defence from predators is very evident in nature, however in locations of high resource competition poses an effect on the mortality of certain individuals. This can be seen in species of shoaling fish, where the initial aggregation of individuals to a group initially allowed for the protection from predators, however the limiting resources available changes over time, and mortality rates of these fish begin to increase, [30] showing that resource competition is an important regulator of reef fish groups after the initial benefits of refuge grouping and predatory protection.

Interesting contrasts to the benefit of increased group size on foraging efficiency can be seen in nature particularly due to intraspecific interactions. A study conducted on the Alaskan moose shows that with increasing group size, there is a decrease in foraging efficiency. [31] This is result of increased social aggression in the groups, as the individuals of the group spent most of its time in alert-alarm postures, thus spending less time foraging and feeding, reducing its foraging efficiency.

Reproduction and development Edit

With increasing colony size and competition of resources within individuals of a group, reproductive rates and development of offspring may vary due to reduced resource availability. For example, a study conducted on groups of leaf monkeys show that infant monkeys in larger group sizes developed slower than those in smaller group sizes. [32] This staggered infant development in the larger groups were closely related to the reduced energetic gain of mothers with reduced available nutrition, thus negatively affecting infant developmental rates. It was also shown that females within the larger groups reproduced more slowly compared to females in smaller groups.

The Eurasian badger (Meles meles) is an example of a species that incur a cost of group living on the successful reproductive rates. Females present in larger groups of badgers have an increased reproductive failure rate compared to solitary badgers. This is a result of increased reproductive competition within the female individuals in the group. [33]

Stress Edit

Another cost to group living is stress levels within individuals of a group. Stress levels within group living varies dependent on the size of the colony or group. A large group of animals may suffer larger levels of stress arising from intraspecific food competition. In contrast, smaller groups may have increased stress levels arising from the lack of adequate defense from predators as well as a reduced foraging efficiency. [34]

An example can be seen in a study conducted on a species of ring-tail lemurs (Lemur catta). This study found that an optimum group size of around 10-20 individuals produces the lowest level of cortisol (an indicator of stress), while groups with smaller or larger than 10-20 individuals showed an increased level of cortisol production, thus an increased level of stress within the individuals of the larger and smaller groups. [35]

Inbreeding Edit

Another proposed cost to group living is the cost incurred to avoid inbreeding. Individuals may it be male or females in groups may disperse in an effort to avoid inbreeding. [36] This poses a more detrimental effect on smaller, isolated groups of individuals, as they are at a greater risk of inbreeding and thus suppressing the group’s overall fitness. [27]

The structure of large animal groups has been difficult to study because of the large number of animals involved. The experimental approach is therefore often complemented by mathematical modeling of animal aggregations.

Experimental approach Edit

Experiments investigating the structure of animal aggregations seek to determine the 3D position of each animal within a volume at each point in time. It is important to know the internal structure of the group because that structure can be related to the proposed motivations for animal grouping. This capability requires the use of multiple cameras trained on the same volume in space, a technique known as stereophotogrammetry. When hundreds or thousands of animals occupy the study volume, it becomes difficult to identify each one. In addition, animals may block one another in the camera views, a problem known as occlusion. Once the location of each animal at each point in time is known, various parameters describing the animal group can be extracted.

Density: The density of an animal aggregation is the number of animals divided by the volume (or area) occupied by the aggregation. Density may not be a constant throughout the group. For instance, starling flocks have been shown to maintain higher densities on the edges than in the middle of the flock, a feature that is presumably related to defense from predators. [37]

Polarity: The group polarity describes if the group animals are all pointing in the same direction or not. In order to determine this parameter, the average orientation of all animals in the group is determined. For each animal, the angular difference between its orientation and the group orientation is then found. The group polarity is then the average of these differences (Viscido 2004). [38]

Nearest Neighbor Distance: The nearest neighbor distance (NND) describes the distance between the centroid of one animal (the focal animal) and the centroid of the animal nearest to the focal animal. This parameter can be found for each animal in an aggregation and then averaged. Care must be taken to account for the animals located at the edge of an animal aggregation. These animals have no neighbor in one direction.

Nearest Neighbor Position: In a polar coordinate system, the nearest neighbor position describes the angle and distance of the nearest neighbor to a focal animal.

Packing Fraction: Packing fraction is a parameter borrowed from physics to define the organization (or state i.e. solid, liquid, or gas) of 3D animal groups. It is an alternative measure to density. In this parameter, the aggregation is idealized as an ensemble of solid spheres, with each animal at the center of a sphere. The packing fraction is defined as the ratio of the total volume occupied by all individual spheres divided by the global volume of the aggregation (Cavagna 2008). Values range from zero to one, where a small packing fraction represents a dilute system like a gas. Cavagna found that the packing fraction for groups of starlings was 0.012. [39]

Integrated Conditional Density: This parameter measures the density at various length scales and therefore describes the homogeneity of density throughout an animal group. [39]

Pair Distribution Function: This parameter is usually used in physics to characterize the degree of spatial order in a system of particles. It also describes the density, but this measures describes the density at a distance away from a given point. Cavagna et al. found that flocks of starlings exhibited more structure than a gas but less than a liquid. [39]

Modeling approach Edit

The simplest mathematical models of animal aggregations generally instruct the individual animals to follow three rules:

  1. Move in the same direction as your neighbor
  2. Remain close to your neighbors
  3. Avoid collisions with your neighbors

An example of such a simulation is the Boids program created by Craig Reynolds in 1986. Another is the Self Propelled Particle model. Many current models use variations on these rules. For instance, many models implement these three rules through layered zones around each animal. In the zone of repulsion very close to the animal, the focal animal will seek to distance itself from its neighbors in order to avoid a collision. In the slightly further away zone of alignment, a focal animal will seek to align its direction of motion with its neighbors. In the outmost zone of attraction, which extends as far away from the focal animal as it is able to sense, the focal animal will seeks to move towards a neighbor. The shape of these zones will necessarily be affected by the sensory capabilities of the animal. For example, the visual field of a bird does not extend behind its body. Fish, on the other hand, rely on both vision and on hydrodynamic signals relayed through its lateral line. Antarctic krill rely on vision and on hydrodynamic signals relayed through its antennae.

Recent studies of starling flocks have shown, however, that each bird modifies its position relative to the six or seven animals directly surrounding it, no matter how close or how far away those animals are. [40] Interactions between flocking starlings are thus based on a topological rule rather than a metric rule. It remains to be seen whether the same rule can be applied to other animals. Another recent study, based on an analysis of high speed camera footage of flocks above Rome and assuming minimal behavioural rules, has convincingly simulated a number of aspects of flock behaviour. [41] [42] [43] [44]

Aggregations of animals are faced with decisions which they must make if they are to remain together. For a school of fish, an example of a typical decision might be which direction to swim when confronted by a predator. Social insects such as ants and bees must collectively decide where to build a new nest. [45] A herd of elephants must decide when and where to migrate. How are these decisions made? Do stronger or more experienced 'leaders' exert more influence than other group members, or does the group make a decision by consensus? The answer probably depends on the species. While the role of a leading matriarch in an elephant herd is well known, studies have shown that some animal species use a consensus approach in their collective decision-making process.

A recent investigation showed that small groups of fish used consensus decision-making when deciding which fish model to follow. The fish did this by a simple quorum rule such that individuals watched the decisions of others before making their own decisions. This technique generally resulted in the 'correct' decision but occasionally cascaded into the 'incorrect' decision. In addition, as the group size increased, the fish made more accurate decisions in following the more attractive fish model. [46] Consensus decision-making, a form of collective intelligence, thus effectively uses information from multiple sources to generally reach the correct conclusion.

Some simulations of collective decision-making use the Condorcet method to model the way groups of animals come to consensus.

The Biology of Beauty

As humans, our waking mind is preoccupied with thousands of thoughts on a daily basis, some of which are so habitual and subconscious that we cannot fully acknowledge their existence. In fact, these thoughts may be occupying much more of our mind than we give them credit for, one notable example is beauty. Beauty may seem like a nebulous concept at first but in reality, we unconsciously spend an extraordinary amount of time thinking about beauty in ourselves and others. Surprisingly, this isn’t a recent phenomenon: in the 4th century BCE ancient Greek philosophers were discussing the importance of beauty as a trait that paralleled moral characteristics ( 1 ). However, much of humanity’s endless chase for beauty is not just rooted in philosophy, but also neuroscience. In fact, beauty is considered to be an important aspect of evolutionary theory, and it provides some explanation about how the animal kingdom developed. Through a more nuanced understanding of the evolutionary role that beauty has played throughout human history, we can better reconcile the implications of certain standards in our everyday lives.

So, what is beauty exactly? With thousands of years of discussion it is difficult to come to a singular definition. However, philosopher George Santayana’s proposed definition is a good starting point. In 1896, he wrote “Beauty is pleasure regarded as the quality of a thing.” This appears abstract, but Santayana describes beauty as an objective quality, something like color or size, that is inherent to the object ( 1 ). After a lifetime of being told that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” it may seem strange that beauty has an objective quality. However, even science supports the idea that there is some objectivity to the contributions of beauty to evolution. One meta-analysis of 919 studies revealed that our beauty standards are relatively fixed both across and within different cultures, proving that there are some universally preferred characteristics ( 3 ). Some important factors that predispose us to perceiving a face as attractive include health, symmetry of the face and body, specific ratios (between eye distance for example), and facial color. Attractive faces are also defined as familiar because they tend to match the average features of what is in the population around us, especially when it comes to proportions ( 5 ).

How do these qualities play a role in evolution? After all, isn’t all evolution based on natural selection? If evolution is rooted in natural selection, then how can we explain the existence of male peacock feathers or a male lion’s mane? How can these attention-drawing attributes possibly be advantageous to survival? It turns out that Charles Darwin himself struggled with this question, writing in 1860 that the “sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail makes me sick.” ( 2 ) Peacocks were the ultimate enigma for Darwin, whose theory of natural selection fell short against the peacock’s beautiful and bright feathers.

From this, Darwin developed a theory of sexual selection, wherein the competition for mates of the opposite sex may driven partially by beauty. However, this understanding of beauty may not just be acquired for the purpose of reproduction as one study revealed that even 6 month old infants were able to notice beauty. The infants spent much longer periods of time examining the faces of “attractive individuals” (3 ). This means beauty isn’t just about sex, and it isn’t solely a behavior-driven phenomena. Some of our perception of beauty may come from physics (Einstein & relativity), chemistry (pheromones), and math (the Golden Ratio & symmetry) ( 5 ).

Studies like that performed on the infants suggest that beauty may be wired into our brain. The presence of beauty serves as a form of advertising for many species which serves far more of a purpose than just enabling love. Perceiving takes a cognitive load on our mind, but also yields important rewards. For example, as information about a new face is passed onto the orbitofrontal cortex of the brain, the nucleus accumbens (responsible for reward and reinforcement), will produce transmitters like dopamine ( 3 ). In fact, our brains are so hard-wired to recognize beauty that some studies suggest we process attractive faces much faster than unattractive faces( 3 ).

How the Brain processes Beauty: The nucleus accumbens has been shown “reward” us for finding beauty in the environment and the orbitofrontal cortex processes initial facial information.

One of the most fascinating aspects of beauty and evolution is the idea of costly signals, which are features that suggest reproductive fitness ( 3 ). In order to reap the benefits of these signals, the signaller must make a sacrifice or “cost” these are often selected for by mates and passed onto subsequent generations in the “Green Beard Effect”. This effect explains why some animals possess such outlandish features such as moose antlers ( 3 ). These signals have been selected for repeatedly, change with time, and require nuance to detect. One example in humans is body size. As early as a century ago, a curvier figure was a costly signal that someone was wealthy and well-fed. In the modern day, a leaner figure may be associated with an individual having enough time, money, and discipline to dedicate to their figure. It is important to be aware of the fact that modern technologies allow us to falsely advertise certain costly signals. For example,someone with a fancy car need not necessarily be affluent, and beauty is easily manipulated with the recent rise in cosmetics. The user doesn’t incur as much of a “cost” as compared to true costly signals such as someone undertaking the mental and physical challenges of body building.

Not everyone is genetically blessed with features equivalent to beautiful peacock feathers. But for most of human history, people have sought to find ways to “secure” a mate. For the Ancient Egyptians, this problem was obvious, but the solution was transformative. Egyptians began adorning themselves with jewels and applying kohl to their eyes as a form of costly signalling. This may have inadvertently sparked what one research paper calls a beauty “arms race” that continues into the modern day ( 4 ). This is important as existing literature suggests that one’s perceived attractiveness impacts how they are treated.

The objective field of science is not immune to discriminating based on beauty, even if it is inadvertent. One notorious study in Nature highlighted that social scientists benefitted from being more attractive, while attractive natural scientists were perceived as having less credibility. This comes down to our own internal biases or the “Einstein effect.” We don’t like the idea that someone can “have it all,” meaning that they are attractive and intelligent, so we are more biased towards the less attractive natural scientists ( 6 ). This proves that our stereotypes can alter how we process beauty and limit it over time, which reinforces the idea that, to a large extent. beauty is out of our hands. We cannot truly conform to the ever-evolving media standards of beauty, but we can understand their origins by examining our own evolutionary relationship with it.

What is a Superorganism? (with pictures)

A superorganism is any aggregate of individual organisms that behaves like a unified organism. Members of a superorganism have highly specialized social cooperative instincts, divisions of labor, and are unable to survive away from their superorganism for very long. The standard example of a superorganism is an ant colony, but there are many others -- termite mounds, bee hives, wasp nests, coral reefs, fungal colonies, groves of genetically identical trees, etc.

Some have suggested that humans are each a superorganism, because in every typical human being is over 10 13 to 10 14 microorganisms performing a variety of tasks, but mainly helping with digestion. Microorganisms in the human body outnumber our cells over 10-to-1, and their genetic material outnumbers ours 100-to-1. Many of these have not been isolated or studied. The Human microbiome project, a $115 million US Dollars project by the National Institutes of Health, aims to identify and characterize as many of these microorganisms as possible, which include bacteria, archaea, and viruses.

In the iconic superorganism, an ant colony, there are specialized ants to deal with various tasks. Soldier ants to defend the colony, worker ants to gather food, a queen ant to lay eggs, etc. Termite mounds are similar. Termites actually construct elaborate cathedral mounds, which may reach 9 m (30 ft) high in extraordinary cases. All these colonies operate as unified entities. Soldier ants may willingly sacrifice themselves in defense of the nest, an unusual behavior among animals, which are usually shaped by evolution to be self-preserving.

Coral reefs are sometimes considered superorganisms because of the way they form a continuous mass of animals. Like other superorganisms, the constituent organisms of a reef have very similar, if not identical genetic structures. Although the coral animals in a reef do not actively cooperate, their presence as a habitat for a wide diversity of animals brings in so much food matter that these animals do cooperate, if unwittingly. Reefs have existed, minus a few gaps, since the beginning of the Cambrian era, about 542 million years ago.

Some thinkers have somewhat fancifully called human information networks the emerging signs of a global superorganism, but this is not very correct as humans have not evolved to cooperate in such large numbers. For most of our history, humans have cooperated in 100-200 person hierarchical tribes, where each individual is highly self-interested, the gene pool is diverse, and cooperation is anything but perfect. Global populations exceeding 5 million are a relatively recent phenomenon, and humans have not had time to evolve to acquire signature characteristics of the constituent members of a superorganism. Furthermore, there is no active selection pressure in this direction.

Michael is a longtime contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

Michael is a longtime contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

Assessing the Beliefs of Animals


I think the definition of altruism is quite clear so I’m not sure why we need to purposely muddy our common notion of it just for the sake of denying its existence. Altruism must relate to behaviour that assists others where no possible perceived benefit could be gained and clearly this has been shown in countless occasions, even though we humans are typically more drawn to observations of mammal savagery, skewing our perceptions about the “wild kingdom”. Clearly these cases cited of altruistic behaviour by animals offer no chance of reciprocity other than perhaps a good feeling about doing it. I don’t know why humans would suppose that they are unique ‘angels’ in the animal kingdom – the only creatures harbouring altruistic dispositions or even consciousness. We are unique in our level of consciousness and our advanced ability to construct mental structures to introspect but it is likely that we are not creators or founders of morality instead jut the most expressive reflective articulators of it. Likely, there are extraterrestrial creatures in the universe that we have not yet met that have arrived at a deeper consciousness than we have currently. Our level of consciousness is more a product of genetic drift than through natural selection and other creatures will develop it eventually, if we spare the world for them to do so. We may just be “early birds” in our depth of consciousness but altruism, empathy and morality may have always been as true a feature of life as the survival instinct has been

Altruism exists in mammals and birds mostly. This stems from empathy. The point of empathy is to make the self and another indistinguishable. We feel pleasure at helping others. So yes, one can say altruism is “selfish” although this is missing the point entirely. Semantics are the problem. If doing something for another is just as selfish as helping oneself, language has become obsolete.

It’s a pretty weak argument to say an altruism that would risk an organism’s life or even take it can be called ‘Selfish’. If Altruism were to not exist in it’s true form then the world wouldn’t have any animal activists or vegans for example.

We humans are vain. There have been numerous sightings by researchers while aboard vessels conducting unrelated research, of whales saving the lives of young seal. Rolling onto her back a whale may draw an imperiled seal pup onto her belly, where the pup rests secure till the predator, in the report I read, a shark, had withdrawn. The pup then slid into the water and made for the icefloes and its mother. Allomaternal care. Key word any animal. I found related behaviour among Ravens. Allomaternal care is common among birds. In mammals, some form of alloparenting has been reported in over 120 species.
For bats.

I’ve read another book by Marc Bekoff (The Emotional Lives of Animals) and it was very good. He’s a well-known cognitive ethologist and he’s written several books:

Elephants (Africana loxodonta) will slow to accommodate injured family members, stay with ill or injured members (until forced by thirst/hunger to go). They will cooperate to lift a fallen family member. They will cooperate to rescue in distress youngsters such as this video…
Great discussion Candice. I first read about this via Marc Beckoff – the part of your article that states “…Animals are only altruistic when it promotes their survival. It’s quite a stretch, they say, to believe that animals are capable of the complex thinking required to save a life.” and later “True altruism is not very common because it wouldn’t make much sense biologically.” Is the hoary old chestnut of anthropomorphism being leveled at anyone who potentially observes a behaviour and interprets it as ‘for the good of the relationship’ rather than for the good of the species..” I reckon if we (a social mammal) have the capacity to act for the good of another individual at our own cost that other long-lived, social sentient animals do too.

Natural phenomena, aninal interactions and behavioural aspects are as diverse amd mysterious as nature itself. There is a saying in Bengali “jatu jann tatu mann”. Meaning the behavioural triats of humans are as diverse as the number of human beings – each is different from others in certain respect. Therefore, may it be altruism, agonastic, parasitic, or other type of behaviour we know some but do no know many that could be known in due course of time. Animals behaving in normal circumstances do often behave differently in altered circumstances. I believe altruism is true and almost universal in human, domesticated and wild animals. We need to observe more intricately to gather more information.
Hafiz Yahya

When I was about five, I was a fairly typical little boy with a very strong interest in natural history. I grew up in the bush near Sydney, Australia, and one day was watching ants and ant-lions. Two Green ants Rhytidoponera metallicus were walking past an ant-lion pit, about 3cm apart. I flicked the first one in and without hesitation the second ran straight into the pit, grabbed the first ant (who had been grabbed by the ant-lion) by the jaws and tried o pull it out. I can’t recall whether it was successful but I never flicked another green ant into an ant-lion pit!

From a personal point of view, the concept of altruism in species other than humans is more of a hangover from the age of romanticism. Animal behaviourists are usually very careful about trying not to anthropomorphise their experimental subjects and the results. Unfortunately, our language, the tool we use to describe results, is found wanting in describing the non-human construct………As you will note from my somewhat abbreviated spiel, the issue of altruism in the non-human world is subjective. I can only base my views of my 25 years as a zoologist with almost half of that time spent in the field observing numerous species of fauna (granted, all of it terrestrial vertebrate fauna), my readings on the subject and the thoughts derived from those sources. BUT as a scientist I await evidence to the contrary (what is life if it is not for learning).

I do not know if this classifies as altruism but in Attleboro, Massachusetts, just a few miles from where I live, a couple has documented the strangest interspecies relationship I have ever heard of. A wild crow in their back yard has raised and become great friends with a stray kitten. They have a film posted on You Tube.

This discussion about altruism has been very interesting. It brings to mind the words of an anonymous author. Words I think best describe our relationship with animals. The author states:

“We need another, wiser and perhaps more mystical concept of animals. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. Therein we greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete. Gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, they live by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren. They are not underlings. They are other nations, caught with ourselves in the web of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and the travail ahead.”

From birds who can navigate flawlessly over thousands of miles of open ocean to the sonar of whales, animals have shown extensions of senses we do not have. Dogs who pull injured mates from traffic and elephants who obviously grieve when one of their own dies, show over and over again that animals are not just “instinct” driven.

Animals really are different from you and I. It’s only man’s hubris that prevents us from fully acknowledging and respecting those differences. I believe until we learn to stop measuring animals by ourselves, we have not earned the right to call ourselves truly civilized.

I would urge anyone who has not yet read the 1996 NYTimes bestseller WHEN ELEPHANTS WEEP the emotional lives of animals by Dr. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson to do so if you have an interest in animal behavior & emotions. I believe he devotes a whole chapter to documenting the many altruistic acts observed in a broad range of animal species as well as a variety of other emotions (grief, jealousy, anger, joy, boredom, etc). He also makes a strong case for their ability to express appreciation for beauty and even create art. This book (still used in many comparative psychology curriculum) is a masterpiece that is fascinating to read and would convince even the most skeptical human animal that these emotions and abilities are not exclusive to homo sapiens. I would also recommend Sociobiology by the eminent biologist E.O. Wilson.

I heard the following story. A guy was driving his truck on a back road on his way home one evening. He came upon a young fox laying beside the road. He stopped, went back to see about it and found that it was still alive but it couldn’t stand. He went back to his truck to phone for help and when he looked up in his rear-view mirror, he saw two foxes “carrying” the injured fox back off into the brush. He said that he felt that the injured fox would be just fine and drove away.

I think we need to keep exploring the answers to that question until the majority of people begin to believe that animals are really no different from you and I. That has huge implications for so many parts of our lives and theirs.

We can’t be held captive to thinking within the box of empirical science where skepticism and special interests cause good forward thinking toward an emergent consciousness to flounder and languish amidst the confusion of logic dependent only on known scientific Socratic fact.

However, that Pandora’s box is slowly opening wider and wider with new research into animal cognition, animal consciousness, animal awareness, animal intelligence and yes…animal emotion… dispelling Dan’s statement that “humans are the only ones aware of their existence.” For pete’s sake…we just learned that the gene for language has been found in Neanderthal DNA and there have been hundreds of examples of animals deliberately using tools in a premeditated way…proving that Homo sapiens, “Thinking Man,” has no proprietary claim on either language or tools setting him above or apart from any other nonhuman animals! It is even arguable that he is a natural terminal predator!! (I consider him a “cheat” since I share the belief we are primary consumers in our natural state!)

I know Dan’s next statement is going to be “show me the facts” because he is such an able researcher and debater albeit sympathetic to the brotherhood of wildlife “managers” and “conservationists” who are adamant that wildlife is a natural resource to be managed to the benefit of society and thereby they are detached of sorts from the natural world in a spiritual “conscious” sense. But I implore all who still question, to do the research and answer your questions to your own satisfaction. The empirical “facts” are out there along with the ancient wisdom that has always been known.

I’d hate to see anyone still stuck in this contemporary conservative yet dominant worldview…and to my understanding…this current structure of human consciousness, the “rational mind” of enlightened thinking, which is actually a “Dark Age” according to William I. Thompson in his “Coming Into Being:Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness”…is a precursor of yet another imminent emerging mutation of human consciousness (see Gebser 1985 “The Ever-Present Origin”, Feuerstein 1987 “Structures of Consciousness”, Roszak 1975 “Unfinished Animal”)…albeit a higher form of animal consciousness since we ourselves are naught but animals!!

Yet this emergent consciousness breaching its very own birth is yet another evolutionary mutation in the archeology of human awareness. Oh, why am I always so surprised at the depths and obstinacy of Homo hubris!!

“But like most examples of animal altruism, what seemed to be a selfless act had selfish benefits.”

wouldn’t this be true for human animals, as well?

Amazing… Kropotkin already wrote about altruism more than a 100 years ago… Now it seems we have proof he was right…

Binti is best known for an incident which occurred on August 16, 1996, when she was eight years old. A three-year old boy climbed the wall around her zoo enclosure and fell 18 feet onto concrete below, rendering him unconscious with a broken hand and a vicious gash on the side of his face.[1]
Binti walked to the boy’s side while helpless spectators screamed, certain the gorilla would harm the child. Another larger female gorilla approached, and Binti growled.[1]
Binti consoled the child and kept the other animals at bay, so that zoo personnel could retrieve him.[2] Her 17-month-old baby, Koola, clutched her back throughout the incident. The boy spent four days in the hospital and recovered fully.[3]
[edit] Aftermath
After the incident, experts debated whether Binti’s actions were a result of training by the zoo or animal altruism. Because Binti had been hand-raised, as opposed to being raised in the wild by other gorillas, she has had to be specially trained to care for an infant and to take her child to personnel for examinations. One could assume that this training resulted in her behavior when the little boy fell into her enclosure.[citation needed] Primatologist Frans de Waal, however, uses Binti Jua as an example of empathy in animals.[2]

I believe that true altruism does not exist.
Animals, humans included, will act solely to benefit themselves and therefore increase the probability of gene propagation. Every altruistic act is either an error or a selfish act that will in some way benefit the actor. It could have immediate benefits or indirect ones, such as putting the actor in a better light and thus raising his/her position in society or his/her circle of friends, for example.
The dolphin/whale interaction is a very good recent example. Why are they together? Well, maybe for mutual benefits: the dolphin is protected and the whale-babysitter has an extra pair of eyes to check for dangers. Or maybe there is another reason that we can’t yet understand, but the only certain thing is that there will be a reason and the reason will not be selfless.

Well, I actually believe that animal altruism does exist. Why shouldn’t the fact that animals can actually think for themselves and help other animals for just kindness? Are animals just basically creatures then, that do not have any compassion? I believe animals CAN have compassion for other animals, even if it isn’t their own kind, species, and so forth. They aren’t just creatures that think to just survive and not think about any other animal. I know the mothers care for their young, so they have love. So if they have love for their own young and to mate, then why can’t they have any compassion? They can do whatever they want, and not only for selfish self-benefiting reasons. All of these incidents that prove animal altruism aren’t just weird errors. If you were an animal, would you not show compassion just like when you were human?

Before discussing, perhaps a detailed definition of altruism is needed.

This was a very interesting article. At the heart of your question, “Is animal altruism real”, is to argue if there is such a concept as “true altruism”. What appears as unselfish behavior or taking on the needs of others above oneself could be for some benefit unknown to the observer. The part of the article titled “Helpful Acts, Selfish Benefits” hits this idea dead on.

Elephants have been a main focus of behavioral observation to determine if animal altruism is real, and a larger focus to try and determine if mammals have “feelings” or emotions. Not to completely go off grid, but again that all depends on how one interprets behavior and the definition of a word. What is an emotion? One definition is: “A psychological state that arises spontaneously rather than through conscious effort and is sometimes accompanied by physiological changes.” So when an elephant makes trumpet call when a calf dies, is it crying from depression (feeling) or is it an outside environmental stimulus causing a hormonal change in the hypothalamus thus resulting in a behavior. Or maybe its chemical, the chemoreceptors in the parent elephant are triggered by the “smell” of decease, thus causing other biological changes resulting in a specific behavior. I am not saying this is the case, but just arguing the fact that it is all perception and lack of definition in a word.

The reason I mention emotions in an discussion on altruism is that I think they go hand in hand. It also means that for animal altruism to exist, that means the animal must have a conscious and as far as I understand, humans are the only ones aware of their existence. While overly simplistic, just put a mirror in front of an intelligent living thing and watch what happens.

There are many examples of animals possibly displaying altruistic behavior. Going back to elephants, an adult female will put herself between danger and herd (especially if young present). This could be the female putting the welfare of others above her own, but I think it is a survival strategy for the species to make sure the young mature – especially considering intense amount of energy put into reproduction and low numbers of offspring. A dog that saves a person from a burning house again could be seen as animal altruism, but maybe the dog’s instinct knows that is food and care source. The famous female lion that took care of a baby antelope while she alone was starving (the story was huge on you tube, discovery channel, and Nat Geo). Could be that she was young, inexperienced, was separated from pride, and was substituting it for normal companion (far fetched, and I forget what the professionals theorized the “true” reason).

Either way, it is an interesting concept and even more interesting debate on theories in why animals behave certain ways.

Absolutely..compassion began with maternal instinct long before Homo species were a twinkle in Australopithicus’ eye! Man has no more proprietary claim on altruism in the animal world than he does on language and tools, based on the latest scientific research…which comes late of ancient tribal wisdom in the first place!

One need only visit the myriad of Facebook sites that document animal altruism in daily posts meant to inspire and fulfill the longing and emptiness of humans suffering from their detachment from the natural world.

Rivers change their course over time due to a number of different factors. While erosion difficult to study, as it occurs over long periods of time, satellite images can be used to allow us to see changes in landforms. These images of the Ucayali River are placed together allowing us to see 30 years of changes in a few seconds.

Image from NASA/USGS Landsat, GIF created by Zoltan Sylvester, geologist

Unanswered questions and future areas of exploration [ edit | edit source ]

In the study of social transmissions, one of the important unanswered questions is an explanation of how and why maladaptive social traditions are maintained. For example, in one study on social transmission in guppies (Poecilia reticulata), naive fish preferred taking a long, energetically costly route to a feeder that they had learned from resident fish rather than take a shorter route. These fish were also slower to learn the new, quicker route compared to naïve fish that had not been trained in the long route. In this case, not only is the social tradition maladaptive, but it also inhibits the acquisition of adaptive behavior.

Self Organization Facilitates The Flow Of Life’s Energy

Self organizing systems, like groups of cells in our bodies, bird flocks, animal herds, fish schools, and ant colonies are open systems that receive and transmit a constant flux of energy and matter from and to their outside environment. Through self organization, a system becomes ordered in space or time, often leading to emergent properties that are different from those of its individual parts. Unlike closed systems which are always in equilibrium, self organizing systems are open systems that operate far from thermal equilibrium and rely on a continuous flux of energy and materials that is delivered from the outside by their connections with the system’s boundaries. Intuitively, the idea that a self organizing system is an open system can be visualized when one considers that a fish school continually receives food energy from its surrounding environment as it moves through the water. The bottom line is that a self organizing system requires constant energy flow in order to exist.

With a foundation of connectivity and structured energy flow solidified in our thinking, we are now going to explore how Nature’s complex systems “self-organize”. While not the only way that Nature becomes organized, self-organization is so common that we regard it as an operating principle of Nature. However, to be complete in our thinking, we must briefly examine other methods that Nature uses to organize herself into patterns that we can easily recognize. These other methods of pattern formation do eventually become involved in the process of self-organization. What all of these pattern formation methods have in common is that they are all ways to formulate structures that are conduits for energy.

This discussion of Nature’s pattern formation methods comes partly from authors Scott Camazine in his book “Self Organization in Biological Systems” and Kevin Kelly in his book, “Out Of Control”. Answers to the question about system forming mechanisms is very complex. Rather than get bound up in unnecessary detail, it is wiser to talk about a range of possible system forming processes. This range is bounded by two extremes.

At one extreme, one can build a system by constructing a long string of sequential operations — much like a factory assembly line where each event is somehow related to a fixed unit of time.

Sound or ocean waves are approximate examples of sequential operations and their resulting wave patterns. Scott Camazine elaborates on the sequential or linear approach to system formation by noting five activities that support the sequential method of system formation. They are:

1. A well informed leader who directs himself or a group. Any system that promotes synchronization will benefit from a leader. An example of sequential pattern formation using a well informed leader is the queuing of young geese behind their mother in flight. It is thought that it is the “follow the leader” process that imprints the migratory route into the behavior pattern of the young geese. From birth, they imprint to their mother and follow her over the route the first time. “Fly Away Home” [ ] is a wonderful movie that portrays this process.

2. A blueprint is a pictorial set of physical instructions or perhaps ingrained “instinct” that shows what is to be built. A blueprint example in Nature is the genetic or cultural imprint of a bird’s song that specifies tonal and temporal relationships.

3. A recipe is a set of sequential instructions. Camazine notes that recipes specify how something is to be built. A spider creates its sticky orb following a genetically determined recipe for laying out the various radii and spirals of the web.

4. Templates are a full sized guide or mold specifying the final pattern. A weaver bird uses its own body as a template as it builds the hemispherical egg chamber of its nest.

5. Stigmergy is guidance based on response to stimuli from the product of work previously accomplished. Worker termites are thought to practice stigmergy. In the presence of certain configurations of a mound’s construction the worker is stimulated to a high degree of activity, and will add building material to specific parts of the construction.

More than one sequential activity may be simultaneously employed. For example, a blueprint can be used by a leader to create a certain pattern.

1. Australian Redback Spider – Cannibalism and Underage Relationships (…Oh My)

Glossy, black and red, and resembling a Black Widow, the Australian Redback Spider is a species with a secret to survival and a path of living that includes a rather horrendous sex life. Native to Australia and found all around the country, it is worth noting that this species of spider has been benefited by human settlement, extending far beyond Western Australia to inhabit a range of environments, particularly settled habitats. Potentially deadly to humans because of its venomous bite, the Redback Spider preys on insects and also other spiders, small mammals, and reptiles from time to time. Males are less than half the size of females, and are often victims of what is somewhat terrifyingly termed “sexual cannibalism.” Females devour males to gain protein as a reproductive advantage.

But being cannibalized is not the ideal fate for a male Redback Spider that might prefer to mate and live to mate another day. Because of the awful actions of females, males of this species that might otherwise get cannibalized after mating may sometimes resort to an unusual strategy. By mating with immature females, “shrewd” males of this species try to avoid getting eaten in the heat of the moment while still passing on their genes in the long run.

Watch the video: Ο ελέφαντας και το μυρμήγκι. παραμυθια. παραμυθια για παιδια στα ελληνικα. ελληνικα παραμυθια (May 2022).