A look at Animal Social Groups

Kathy Stemke's image for:
"A look at Animal Social Groups"
Image by: 

The definition of a social animal is one that interacts with other members of its species for a common goal like raising their young or finding food for the group.

 Like brothers, the howls of wolves pierced the arctic air with different tones and pitches. Scientists tell us that sessions like this one are an opportunity for the wolves to strengthen their social bonds and communicate with either their own pack or neighboring packs. Other forms of communication are yipping, growling and body language. For instance, wolves snarl and their fur bristles when they communicate dominance, anger, or aggression. Their family group usually consists of 8-15 members with the alpha pair leading the way. Like many social groups, rank order is created and continued through a series of mock fights. The pack hunts together and raises their pups together.

Social groups, an important part of animal families, are vital to survival, companionship, reproduction training and protection. In fact, animals are extremely social and very few want to be alone. Social organizations vary on the basis of the following criteria:

1. Mating rituals
2. Social roles of the males and females
3. Group size
4. Types of dominance
5. Group composition
6. Types of interactions

Because lions are cooperative hunters and live in a social group called a pride, they are the most popular and atypical members of the cat family. Female lions are the structure of their society, because they raise the cubs, own and defend their territory, and hunt for the food. As fierce as the male lion looks with his huge mane, he exists to have sex and defend his right to be part of the pride. His chance of survival alone is very slim.

Preyed-upon animals like zebras, buffalos, gazelles and antelopes herd together for companionship and protection. Even intensely territorial penguins, which aggressively defend their nest, eggs, mates and chicks, will group together in colonies.

Primate social groups are fascinating to study. As part of this group we can see ourselves in some of their social interactions. Although most primates move, eat and sleep together, the composition and social habits differ greatly from species to species. The simplest social group called "noyau," consists of a female and her offspring. Monogamous family groups, like gibbons who mate for life, consist of one male, one female and their offspring. The polyandrous groups consist of a single producing female, several sexually active males, and their offspring. One-male groups like gorillas are characterized by extreme competition for takeovers by outside males. The strongest bond is between the male and his females. Multimale groups tend to get very large and are characterized by complex interrelationships and competition. The last type of primate group called "fission-fusion" is the most interesting. This social group tends to separate at times into homogeneous bands, and then periodically join for feeding and mating.

A famous fission-fusion group, the chimpanzees, had previously been thought of as ferocious animals with a crude social structure. Jane Goodall's studies revealed that they organize in bands, are loving and careful parents, and form attachments to their peers. When Dr.Goodall sat in their midst, she discovered that chimps use many facial expressions to communicate with each other, and use primitive tools like twigs to get termites out of termite mounds. She also observed their darker side, when a violent war between two groups ended in slaughter and infanticide.

An incredible, peace-loving species, the bonobos, are best characterized as a female-centered group that substitutes sex for aggression. When food was introduced to a group in captivity, their first response was to participate in sexual activity. One theory for the sexual activity at feeding time could be that excitement over food translates into sexual arousal. Bonobos actually play "blindman's bluff" by covering their eyes with a banana leaf. Juveniles make funny faces and even tickle each other. Incredibly, Bonobos will beg by reaching out an open hand, pouting their lips and making whimpering sounds. Does that sound like anyone you know?

Animal social groups and their human-like traits offer us a fascinating glimpse into our own human behavior. Animal life is perpetually astounding; and animal behavior worldwide provides a sharply defined learning opportunity that will continue to enrich our knowledge of the entire social order.

http://www.gender.org.uk/about/10ethol/a3_group.htm http://www.wolfcountry.net/information/WolfPack.html

More about this author: Kathy Stemke

From Around the Web