Animals are just like us? Yes and no. Humans are animals, after all, and all of us have the same basic needs: food, water, oxygen and shelter.
Animals eat, sleep and drink just like we do, but at the same time, animals are nothing like humans at all. They aren’t as highly evolved as humans, and they lack self-awareness, which is considered to be one of the defining characteristics separating humans and animals.
As we learn more about animals, we learn more about what make us different and also what we have in common. So let’s take a closer look at some human behaviors that we share with some species in the animal kingdom. But remember, it’s important to acknowledge that animals are not human. However, they deserve to be respected both for their similarities and differences to us.
They give gifts
Animals might not celebrate birthdays and other gift-giving occasions, but some animals are known to give gifts. In the animal kingdom, most gifts are nuptial gifts. These are gifts given during courtship or mating as a strategy to increase the likelihood of reproduction. Primates are the most well-known gift givers, but some insect, arachnid and bird species also engage in gift giving.
Animals gifts are quite a bit different from what most people are used to. For example, male great gray shrikes, a bird that lives mainly in Europe, Asia and Africa, impale their prey on a thorn or sharp object for females to find. The females then select their mates based on what they have to choose from. Larger prey is viewed more favorably than smaller catches.
Words to know
Basking: To lay exposed to warmth and light, usually from the sun.
Characteristic: A feature or quality belonging to a person, place or thing that helps identify it.
Courtship: The behavior of male animals to attract a mate.
Ectotherm: An animal that is dependent on external sources of body heat.
Evolved: To develop gradually, from a simple to a more complex form.
Feisty: Touchy and aggressive.
Impale: To pierce with a sharp instrument.
Nuptial: Related to a wedding or courtship.
Self-awareness: Conscious knowledge of one’s character, feelings and desires.
Spermatophore: A protein capsule containing genetic material.
Woo: To seek the favor or support of.
In the insect world, males often provide females with genetic material contained in a spermatophore as part of the reproductive process. Some insects also present these spermatophores as nuptial gifts. Wrapping isn’t unheard of in the animal kingdom either. Male nursery web spiders will wrap up an insect in silk and present it to females in an attempt to woo them.
Not all gifts in the animal kingdom are nuptial gifts, however. One of the most famous gift givers in the animal kingdom is the American crow, some of which are known to leave gifts for people who feed them.
Probably the most well-known example of animals leaving gifts for people is cats leaving prey for their owners. However, it turns out this isn’t actually an example of gift giving. Cats certainly do sometimes leave their prey in spots for their owners to find, but it’s more a case of them abandoning it than anything. Why? Because the smell of readily available cat food is more appealing and easy to eat.
They lie out in the sun
Sunbathing is actually fairly common in the animal kingdom, although they aren’t doing it to get a good tan. Different animals lie in the sun for different reasons. Reptiles like snakes and turtles are often seen basking in the sun, and it’s an important part of their biology. Reptiles are cold-blooded, or ectotherms, which means they don’t make their own body heat like we do. For reptiles, basking is a way to warm up.
Many birds sunbathe too, spreading their wings out wide to let them soak up the sun. Different birds sunbathe for different reasons. Turkey vultures, for example, often soak up the sun to warm up on a cold morning. Sunning can also help birds get rid of parasites on their feathers and skin.
And some of our pets are well-known for their love of the sun. Many cats and more than a few dogs love a nice sunny day when they can follow the sun across the floor. They aren’t alone among mammals. Mammals from hippos to sea lions enjoys a little time lying in the sun.
Scientists still don’t fully understand it, but growing evidence suggests that some animals do grieve. Grief in animals is a complex topic because we can’t exactly ask them why they act differently when an animal they are close to dies. In addition, the understanding of mortality is thought to be a uniquely human characteristic.
More and more research suggests some animals experience grief, although it requires that scientists interpret certain behaviors as grief. Elephants are one of the most well-known examples of animals that grieve. Elephants will react to the remains of a dead elephant, but they never have any reaction to the remains of other animals. They also sometimes “bury” their dead, covering them with soil and plant matter.
Female orcas and whales have been known to carry their dead calves with them for a time after they die. This is thought to be an act of mourning. In one case, a mother orca carried her calf, which died shortly after birth, with her for weeks after its death. Other members of the pod also took turns carrying the body.
These animals aren’t alone in reacting in grief. Primates like chimpanzees, birds such as crows and magpies and a type of wild pig called a peccary are also known to exhibit mourning behaviors.
They are protective
Anyone who has ever watched a documentary on animals in the wild has no doubt seen examples of the fiercely protective nature of some animals. This is also a trait humans often celebrate in themselves. Being protective of your children is something parents take pride in, and that fierce protectiveness is often on display in the animal kingdom, too.
Among animals, it’s mothers that are most often known for being protective of their offspring. This is because moms do most of the childrearing in nature. Sometimes this protective nature can be amusing to us humans. This was the case in 2013 when Mei Xiang, one of the pandas that lives at the Smithsonian National Zoo, tried to prevent zookeepers from examining her newborn cub.
On occasion, protective parents will take drastic measures to try to keep humans away from their babies. Canada geese, for example, can be pretty feisty in spring. First, males are protective of their female nesting partners as they sit on the nest. Later, after the goslings hatch, both parents are ready to step in if anything or anyone gets too close to the babies. Geese will hiss, flap their wings and chase when trying to protect their nest and babies, so it’s best to give them their space.
Female whales are also extremely protective of their calves and will try to fight off predators looking for an easy meal, especially when it’s other whales doing the hunting. Octopi are dedicated to protecting the next generation too. Before the eggs hatch, mother octopi will stand guard over their offspring without ever taking a break to eat or leave the area.
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