I am a Ph.D. wildlife conservation biologist and zoo professional who has worked with hundreds of species of animals over the last three decades. I have come to appreciate that whatever humans might think about their own uniqueness in love, life, and the pursuit of happiness, the animal kingdom has seen it all and more. A few years ago, some friends of mine decided to ask me how some of their personal issues would be viewed by a biologist with a literal bird’s-eye view of an endless variety of animal behavioral and social biology. They liked what they heard. This was followed by a few lectures on the subject and so now, I am opening up the floor to you.
Image courtesy of the Wildlife Conservation Society
Dear Dr. Dan:
My frat brother and I have been totally compatible as “brothers” until we started sharing a room. He is always creating messes. I have tried to tell him to “clean up his act,” but he just accuses me of being neurotic and throws his belongings around even more. We are not even on speaking terms now. What is going on?
Dear Mr. Clean:
It is not unusual for young animal males to respond to any sort of a challenge with counter-aggression (especially if the male is an idiot as your “brother” probably seems to you now). Keep in mind that bachelor male lions manage to squelch male-male aggression when teaming up pays off in enhanced survival or mating success. In your case, the pay-off is shared rent and more disposable income with which to be cool. If you want to salvage the situation, simply turn off the challenge (e.g. “yo, sorry I was such a neat freak”) and then relax. Do not lift a finger to pick up anything. Your brother’s tolerance for clutter and dirt is obviously greater than yours but eventually he will solicit YOUR assistance in keeping the place clean and perhaps well in advance of scaring away desirable guests.
[image from http://www.imdb.com/media/rm3582367488/tt0077975]
Dear Dr. Dan,
My spouse and I are exploring adopting a child. Is it possible to have the same innate parental bond with an adopted child as it is with a biological child?
The answer is both yes and no. Animal species work overtime to ensure that they invest only in their own biological offspring thereby keeping intact one of the major engines of natural selection, i.e. bias toward genes and gene complexes that promote survival and competent reproduction. You have no doubt seen the documentaries that show emperor penguins grouping all their half-grown young in a crèche while making no mistake about which chick belongs to whom. However, parental bonding operates independently from the act of giving birth so if you re-arrange all the emperor penguin eggs before they hatch, the non-biological parents will be just as focused on their adoptive chicks. Adoption of, or assistance with siblings, nieces and nephews, or grandchildren also gets a nod from nature as this is often seen as selective advantage in many species from wolves to marmosets. Humans have added yet another wrinkle to the evolutionary term “selective advantage” by benefiting from behavioral diversity in a cultural context - so adoption might be driven by group advantage in adopting relatives and “outsiders” alike. This may be especially operational if the cost of adoption is low in child-focused societies where everyone pitches in anyway. It is clear that humans vary tremendously in their innate attraction to adoption ranging from those who will adopt 20 children in a heartbeat to those who would never consider adoption at all. Those parents with both biological and adopted children will tell you that the sense of parental devotion to all their children is the same.
(image from dreamstime.com)
Dear Dr. Dan,
Why am I always attracted to “bad” boys? It seems that the more aggressive, rude and inconsiderate they are, the more I become interested.
Here we have to consider our primate roots and the ways in which social groups benefit from a broad range of personality types, including the rude and crude. In baboon society, it is exceptionally reassuring to know that many of the males will turn into a blazing ball of fanged fury when the group is threatened by predators. And it really works – even leopards are hesitant to take on these guys. So perhaps several million years worth of very impressed females would tell you that you are not all wrong. But unless you are the type of person who truly thinks grizzly bears make good pets, you should reconsider the roots of your attraction and take a look at some of the more sensitive male personality types that exist because they impress females, too.
Dear Dr. Dan,
Can men and women be friends?
All social animals benefit from a range of inter-individual relationships in a social group. While “friendship” is not easy to assess biologically, “partnerships” are observed frequently in tag team hunting strategies among wolves and lions, and very clearly among pair-bonded males and females of virtually all the animal species that form pair bonds. Among humans, male-female friendships are common among relatives, children, between generations, and more recently, among work colleagues. Also, some of the best advice out there is to marry someone who can be a friend as well as a mate. Of course, the spotlight is usually on those young male-female friendships that get complicated by hidden agendas, generally to do with the unwelcome libido of one or the other. So yes, men and women can be friends if friendship is the clear objective, but no, for those men and women who interpret all positive interactions with the opposite sex as courtship.
[Image from Starkinsder.com]
Dear Dr. Dan Is monogamy “natural?” (Or natural for humans)?
In a word, yes, monogamy or “pair-bonding” abounds in nature and in human cultures all over the globe. But while nature offers a ringing endorsement of monogamy for swans, cranes, blue birds, gibbons, and countless other species, nature also maintains “options” and builds in liberal doses of divorce and adultery for pair-bonders at statistical rates that might sound familiar. With notable exceptions (you know who you are), humans really like monogamy for the neat little interpersonal and societal contract it offers. Whether we are talking pigeons or the Royal Couple, the significant pay-off for unchallenged monogamy seems to be less stress, better defended territories and resources, and better quantity/quality of offspring. Apparently, though, a large portion of the Animal Kingdom still wonders at times and would ask the same question you did.
[Image from http://frontlineprincewilliam.com]
I recently saw a post that read as follows:
Dating Tip No. 1 : Never Chase a Man It is my firm belief that underneath every civilized man lies an eager nine year-old boy yearning to be Indiana Jones. So, imagine my frustration when girls throw themselves at guys with the ferocity of ten starving hyenas! Imagine! I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: never chase a man.
By definition, ”chase” usually means that the closer you get, the farther away the “chased” goes. Clearly, this is a losing strategy unless you happen to be a social insect in which a race of all eligible males to catch the flying princess is the whole point. Most all of the vertebrate species from bower birds to chameleons to Johnny Depp know that attraction works better than hot pursuit. Altogether, I would agree and expand this to never chase a man, woman, jackrabbit, or any other member of the living world. -Dr. Dan
[image from chumpysclipart.com]
Dear Dr. Dan,
I always hate to admit this, but I am a young woman who is only attracted to tall men. Sometimes I think I am missing out on what the rest of the male world has to offer by being so restrictive, but I can’t seem to change. By the way, I am only medium height myself.
Signed “I like the weather up there.”
Many studies have documented that female-driven mate choice is a real phenomenon and generally boils down to finding a mate that will pay off big time for your future offspring.
You like tall, pea hens like enormous and colorful fan-like tails, and female elk like mature antlers and an aggressive persona. Even pea hens and female elk will sometimes choose persistent and available over the obvious.
- Dr. Dan
[image from http://www.klast.net/bond/images/height.jpg]
DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT YOUR “INNER ANIMAL” OR THAT OF SOMEONE YOU KNOW? WRITE TO DR. DAN! If you often wonder what motivates your work associates, friends, neighbors, significant other, or even yourself, find out what the animals might think and discover what an interesting biosphere we live in at the same time.
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After years of getting to know a few thousand animals on a first name basis, I have come to the conclusion that the so-called divide between animals and humans is really a laugh. The only concrete difference that I can find is that a few humans are better readers than most animals. Millions of years of evolution have led to one over-arching truth — that all life on earth is hard-wired to make tough decisions: with or without a lot of information. So how do they, and for that matter we, know when we have found the love of our life?
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(Source: The Huffington Post)