ANIMALS PLAY WITH OTHER SPECIES?
October 14, 2012
received the following questions about animal behavior.
Q: I saw
a video of a cat on a boat playing with a dolphin. Both animals seemed
to be enjoying themselves. The dolphin even looked like it was smiling.
Was this real or some kind of filming trickery?
you have never had a dolphin or a cat for a pet. A dolphin smiles perpetually,
not because it thinks everything it does is funny but because that it
is the way its head and mouth are shaped. When cats are not sleeping
or eating they are looking for something to play with their shadow,
a cardboard box, a dolphin. I found the video youre referring
to online (www.youtube.com/watch?v=rynvewVe21Y),
and it is as real as it gets when dolphins and cats have nothing else
to do. The dolphin even looks like it is laughing. They like being filmed.
husband and I were visiting friends in Clarksville, Tenn., and saw an
unusual sight: a squirrel and a rabbit playing together in the yard.
I dont mean they were tossing a ball back and forth or taking
turns pushing each other in a swing, but they were clearly engaged in
playful behavior. The rabbit would hop and the squirrel would chase
it; then the squirrel would run and the rabbit would hop after it. All
four of us witnessed this one afternoon. The next day we observed the
same behavior; presumably these were the same two animals we had seen
before. These were definitely wild animals, not someones pets.
Is playing a common behavior in wild animals?
A: I asked
Jim Beasley, who does research on wildlife ecology at the Savannah River
Ecology Laboratory, what he knew of wild animals playing with a different
species. He knew of numerous examples, but he suspected
that most of the individuals engaging in this behavior are young
ones that are still playful and developing their hunting/fleeing skills.
He mentioned deer and other animals playing with cats, dogs,
and squirrels. He noted that such sightings of interspecies play
often occur in urban or suburban areas where the landscape could have
a role in modifying their behavior. The young of many mammals, such
as coyotes, otters, foxes, raccoons, and deer, can be quite playful
with their own species, so I am sure they would engage in similar behaviors
with other species on occasion when the opportunity arose.
Animal Answer Guide series published by Johns Hopkins University Press
always includes a question on whether the species in question (turtles,
frogs, fishes, deer, as well as rabbits and squirrels) play. Almost
no fishes, frogs, toads, or turtles have much to offer in regard to
being playful creatures, even when they are young. Deer raise the bar
a bit in that frogs or turtles will trigger jumping and pawing
in fawns. Im pretty sure the frogs and turtles do not take
advantage of the opportunity to return the playful gesture.
squirrels and rabbits, play behavior is widespread among all the species.
Such activities are generally restricted to juveniles but may occasionally
occur among adults. Behavioral ecologists assume that play in juvenile
mammals confers some biological advantage to the individual as an adult,
but for most species no research has been done to confirm this idea.
However, in a study of ground squirrels, scientists documented that
playing by juveniles enhanced the motor skills of individuals as adults,
which helped them avoid predators and win in fights. Increased
play among ground squirrel females leads to greater reproductive
who has ever had a puppy or a kitten knows that playful behavior is
common among domestic dogs and cats, and it occurs frequently among
other young mammals. Occasionally it even arises between two different
species. Those situations are guided by each species awareness
that the other does not pose a threat. A young squirrel that decided
to play with a rattlesnake wouldnt be around long
enough for anyone to observe the behavior.
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