How many animals are left in the world?
Stevie Anderson from Tyne and Wear (Aged 5-14)
Are animals capable to feeling the same emotions as humans? Do they feel guilt, embarrassment, grief and love?
Sophia from Greater London (Age 15-24)
Darwin wrote extensively in the 19th century about the expression of the emotions of animals and people so it’s a question that has long been pondered.
Talking to various colleagues at Newquay Zoo, there are mixed opinions on this. People mentioned animals showing recognition of death of owners or members of their group (famously elephants and Greyfriars Bobby). Where it gets complicated is the human names we put onto various emotions in animals – happy, sad – etc which becomes almost too ‘anthropomorphic’ for many. We often get asked about how our zoo animals are feeling (to be fair, some animals always look ‘miserable’). Talk to people who have a close relationship with animals and they will talk about how animals become highly attuned to the emotional state of their owners.
Mark Bekoff in a recent article in New Scientist (23 May 2007) gives one example I like from a recent book called “Pleasurable Kingdom” by ethologist Jonathan Balcombe who tells a peculiar story about fish crows –
“They first engaged in flight play then, over the next 10 minutes, one bird (always the same one) repeatedly sidled up to the other, leaned over and pointed his/her beak down, exposing the nape. The other bird responded by gently sweeping his/her bill through the feathers as though searching for parasites. There was every indication that they were mates or good buddies, and that their contact was as pleasurable for both giver and receiver as a massage or caress between two humans.” All the signs are that many animals can experience pleasure. There is also ample evidence they feel joy, especially during play.”
Mark Norris, Education Officer, Newquay Zoo
Many animals express some of the same emotions as people, such as fear and anger, but they do not express them is the same way. A frightened pigeon flattens its feathers against its body, while an angry pigeon ruffles its feathers which makes it look bigger. Whether animals feel the same emotions is problematical, because (1) a human actor can express emotions without feeling them, which shows that it is not necessary for humans to feel emotions in order to express them. If it is not necessary for humans, then it may not be necessary for other animals. (2) If animals feel emotions, they would not feel them in the same way as we do, because an animal does not have a human brain. They may feel them somehow, but we can’t tell how. We can’t tell how, because (3) when a person says to you how they feel, you can only interpret this in terms of how you would feel in their situation. This process (your feeling about them) is called empathy. To understand animal emotions you have to try to empathize with the animal.
David McFarland, Science writer
Filed under: age 15-24, Animals Big Questions, Anonymous Scientist's Big Answers, Answered Big Questions, Biology Big Questions, Brain Big Questions, David McFarland's Big Answers, Mark Norris' Big Answers | 1 Comment »
How do fish sleep?
Talis Maisey Edwards from Carmarthenshire (Age 5-14)
Answer:Yes fish sleep. But it’s not sleep as we know it. They don’t have eyelids to close, they sometimes do it during the day, they don’t show the characteristic brainwave patterns like REM sleep seen in humans, and some, including most sharks have to keep swimming in their sleep.
But fishes do have a period of reduced activity and metabolism which seems to perform the same restorative functions as nocturnal sleep does in humans. Some are more obvious about it than others and actually rest on the bottom or in coral crevices, and parrotfish secrete a mucus “sleeping bag” around themselves before they go to sleep. If you get up quietly in the middle of the night you will find your goldfish in an almost trance- like state, hovering near the bottom of the tank making just the minimum correcting motions with its fins to maintain its position in the water column. If you put food in when they’re like this they take noticeably longer than usual to respond, as if they have trouble waking up.
Mr. Oliver Crimmen, Fish Curator, Department of Zoology, The Natural History Museum
Answer2:How can you tell if a fish is asleep? In human terms, they don’t have the type of day / night lives that we recognise on the old 9 to 5 routine. Some fish are active by day, others by night. Many fishes live quite still lives on a regular day / night cycle. (Deep down it’s pretty dark anyway!)
Why don’t woodpeckers get head aches?
Jack Lochray from Hampshire (age 5-14)
This question results from having humanised the woodpecker. It really means that if I were banging my head against a tree I would expect pain and a headache, not to mention a busted mouth, so how come the woodpecker can do it without pain? Firstly, the concept of pain felt by humans is difficult to transfer to other species including birds. We don’t know what they feel and what intensity it is. Secondly the woodpecker has evolved with the best design to hammer away at trees with its beak. Hence it has survived whereas all its rivals who evolved with features not as adept at doing it – including the ones who had to stop before they had uncovered the food they were seeking.
John Kilcoyne, scientist behind Brainiac LIVE