Although some animals choose a solitary life, most live in social groups. These groups may change though out the year in certain species, mostly as a result of mating, gestation and newly born young. Even those who choose to live an existence alone, come together during their mating season, leaving the female many times to form a group with herself and young ones. But, when we speak of a social group or "social animal" it is meant as an organized social agreement among certain animals.
On one end of the spectrum, there is the solitary giant panda bear, who map our their individual territory, coming together just to mate. Even the female's cub is shoved away after two years when she will mate and raise a new cup, once again. The other end of the spectrum are extremely organized social communities where each individual has a particular job to perform such as ants and bees.
Although most animal social groups are or have been under scientific study, there are some that are more popular to investigate than others.
We, as humans find the social behavior of gorillas and other closely related species fascinating because of their close likeness to us. In fact, the gorilla's DNA is 97% to 98% identical to our own. The gorilla is the closest human relative after two chimpanzee species.
In most social groupings there is a distinct leader. For gorillas it is the silverback, named for the silver patch of fur on his back. He is usually upwards of twelve years old with long canine teeth. Each troop (gorilla social group) is lead by one silverback. Younger males, ages three to four years, generally leave the troop by the age of five. They will form a temporary group of males until they are old enough to attract other females for mating.
Silverbacks, on occasion, are challenge for their leadership stature. When this happens they pound their chests, bear their teeth and scream. This is all before they charge at their challenger. It is not always an outsider, sometimes an older silverback will be confronted by another male in his own group. When the group's leader dies from disease or injury, many times the troop will split up looking for another male to act as protector to them. On occasion a new male will take on an entire troop. However, many times a new silverback will kill the infants belonging to the old silverback.
There is not an animal closer to the human heart, if not in DNA as the gorilla, than the dog. Because they are so closely related to wild canines such as wolves or coyote, yet normally they do not live in dog packs, we look to the wild and more natural conditions as to how they form social groups with humans. The domestic dog transfers the loyalty and devotion, they would normally display in a pact, to their human companions. And, humans relate these actions as love and friendship. Thus, many humans think of their pet dogs as part of their social group, the family or "man's best friend."
Domestic dogs do not take on this role in all societies. There are places that treat dogs as livestock for food, much as the same way we treat cattle.
Our interest in the dolphin social group grows out of their high intelligence and their friendly and playful attitude. Generally dolphins live in pods (or schools) of up to twelve. In some locations, where food is abundantly found, they can form larger groups called superpods which may consist of more than a thousand dolphins. The talk to each other with different clicks and whistles.
Dolphins are not strict in the structure of their pods and individuals may come and go. Sometimes when a dolphin is injured or sick, others will form a temporary pod in order to care for it. They will help to bring it to the surface to breath. This behavior, however, is not something they do for there own species alone. Dolphins have been observed helping others to safety or protect humans from sharks. They are a truly amazing creature which explains our extreme interest in them.
Observed within their pods, dolphins have been seen teaching their young to use "tools." They teach the young dolphins to break off pieces of sponge to use as a sponge cover while foraging for food. Scientist believe this behavior to be a learned one and not transferred by instinct.
Social Group Names
Of particular interest are the names used for social groups of different species. Many of these names are rarely heard of in everyday conversation, but are interesting to know.
Cete of badgers, Clowder of cats, Sedge of cranes, Brace of ducks, Gang of elk, Leash of fox,
Tribe of goats, Cast of hawks, Cry of hounds, Troop of kangaroo, Leap of leopards,
Span of mules, Nide of pheasants, Murder of crows, Sleuth of bears