I know it's been awhile since I've posted. Work has been keeping me busy, but in the meantime, here's a few seconds of entertainment: a video clip showing a gibbon playfully teasing a dog -- literally pulling its leg. (Let's just call this an ironic prelude to a future essay.) Never posted a video before, so let's see if this works...
...Or, the Evolutionary Secret of Cats, Women and Homo Sapiens
About a week and a half ago, this little fleabitten kitten showed up in my front yard, so emaciated you could see his backbone protruding. As he trotted up to me, my immediate thought was to rescue him from an imminent fate of starvation.
He was given a temporary home on my front porch as my tenants and I provided him with food and shelter. Signs were posted around town and at my workplace -- and within days, a Good Samaritan took him away to a vet appointment and a new home.
Imagine a race of giant beings who will provide you with free food, shelter and backrubs simply for looking pretty and being friendly. ...For no practical or logical reason. Never underestimate the visual power (and subsequent behavior manipulation) of Cute.
Makes me think of humans in terms of symbiotic enablers. Would anyone have been as charitable towards a starving rat or opossum? All pets have to do is look and act cute, and we feed and shelter them. Because of certain qualities we find endearing, humans help perpetuate their kind -- enabling the survival of even the ones that may have lost skills their ancestors needed to survive in the wild. ...After all, how many packs of Pomeranians have you seen chasing after their prey in the woods?
The late Stephen Jay Gould wrote of the power of Cute in his essay, "A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse" pointing to biologist Konrad Lorenz who "...argues that humans use the characteristic differences in form between babies and adults as important behavioral cues. He believes that features of juvenility trigger 'innate releasing mechanisms' for affection and nurturing in adult humans. When we see a living creature with babyish features, we feel an automatic surge of disarming tenderness. The adaptive value of this response can scarcely be questioned, for we must nurture our babies."
Cute is what helps enable cats and dogs to share homes with humans . It's also why babies and children can get away with being irrational and demanding; why women can get away with being irrational and demanding; why Brad Pitt can get away with being a jerk; why Disney became a multi-billion-dollar corporate and cultural empire and why Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter think they can get away with what they say.
There was an ongoing debate on a newsgroup I sometimes read regarding evolution and sex differences. One of the posters took issue with the idea that most women are less rational, more needy and not as competitive and hardworking (career-wise) as men are. It may not be politically correct to say this, but if superficial features are all that is needed to get one's DNA reproduced, certain other attributes may eventually fall by the wayside. In fact, it's possible to see parallels between modern human women and the domestication of animals. I'll be discussing this topic more in depth in a future essay.
Of course, having a good personality helps, too. If that kitten hadn't been so personable, chances are, he'd have been dismissed as just another feral cat.
"At a conference for young conservatives, the editor of National Review urged participants to see the movie ['March of the Penguins'] because it promoted monogamy. A widely circulated Christian magazine said it made "a strong case for intelligent design," according to a New York Times article.
Actually, there is a simple evolutionary reason for why penguins and other cold-climate birds tend towards monogamy: for a penguin chick to be produced, the incubating egg must be kept warm at all times. This means that someone has to be sitting on the nest constantly -- which would prove problematic if only a single parent were there to do it. After all, the parent must eat (usually fish in the case of cold-climate seabirds, which means extended time away from the nest). The way around this problem is to have the parents either take turns sitting on the nest, or one bird helping to feed their partner. As seen with the mourning doves depicted earlier, there are usually some very practical, survival-of-the-species reasons for monogamous partnerships in birds.
And it isn't necessarily lifetime monogamy, either. The emperor penguins depicted in the movie are actually "serial monogamists" -- that is, they tend to change partners after raising the season's brood. Again, this is adaptive to those particular species' lifestyles.
Mewonders what their take would be on a documentary about the garish and polygamous tropical birds of paradise, in which the females raise the young along. Presumably, the climate allows for single-parent nesting.
Richard A. Blake, co-director of the film studies program at Boston College and the author of "The Lutheran Milieu of the Films of Ingmar Bergman" said that like many films, "March of the Penguins" was open to a religious interpretation.
"You get a sense of these animals - following their natural instincts - are really exercising virtue that for humans would be quite admirable," he said. "I could see it as a statement on monogamy or condemnation of gay marriage or whatever the current agenda is."
Apparently, Mr. Blake never heard of the Central Park Penguins, but I digress. The reason for "following their instincts", of course, is due to the natural stabilizing factors inherent in any wild-living species: successful reproductive strategies survive. Individuals with strong parental instincts raise offspring to maturity. Unsuccessful ones don't. ...They die, or don't reproduce themselves. Hence you get a more uniformly-behaved wild animal population.
Eventually I'll get around to discussing the irony of how religious-based social mandates are actually detrimental to the population in this regard, so... stay tuned!
July 28th: Well, that didn't take long at all. After only 9-10 days the fledglings had vacated the nest and were perched on a branch a few feet above.
They continued to call out to their parents for food. ...Mom and Pop didn't waste any time getting back to business, however -- for within days of the fledglings' departure, one of them was back on the nest, with the other (the male, I think) building it up with more twigs.
Now there's one parent sitting on a new clutch of eggs and the other looking after the first set of fledglings. (Perhaps this makes up for the fact that other songbirds raise twice as many chicks in a brood.)
Let's take a look in on Papa Bird and the chicks again.
1. July 20th. Hmmm, now it appears there are only two chicks total in the nest. I don't know if I miscounted (since at their youngest stage they're kind of lumpy and all one color, so it might have looked like there was an additional one), or one got pushed out of the nest -- as often happens with birds where there's only supposed to be a "set" number. In the case of the latter, it would have been too late to see if that's what indeed happened, since any of a number of other critters most likely would have found it before I did. Not sure if this is Daddy bird, either, since you can't see the neck feathers. In any event I have yet to see both adults at the nest, although I'm sure they must change guards at some point in the day!
4. July 23. It's been quite rainy the past couple days, and here we see what birds do when it storms. ...They sit on their branch and wait it out...
5. July 24. The chicks are about a week old, and their wing-plumage is already half grown in. At this stage, they're homely little things, looking more like miniature turkeys with their fat bodies and bald heads.