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Do Animals Cry and Do They Mourn?

What’s your definition of “crying“?

  • The act of expressing emotions through the production of tears?

  • The physiological response of your body to counteract dryness in the eyes?

If its the first definition, then No, animals don’t cry. However, if its the second definition, then Yes, animals do cry. Animals apart from humans don’t feel what we normally call/define “emotions“. If an animal produces tears in its eyes, its most probably the result of dryness in the eyes or an eye infection.

Of course, this answer isn’t completely comprehensive either. We have animals like elephants who remember the grievances caused against them by humans years ago. We know for a fact that elephants have excellent memories and can hold grudges. We know that elephant mothers are distraught when their calves die. In one village in Southern India, an elephant herd destroyed an entire village through which the corpse of a calf was dragged through (the villagers were disposing-off the calf’s corpse a few days after its death and the scent of the corpse attracted the elephants). Elephants go so far as to investigate the corpse – using their trunks to feel the body and the bones. Sometimes they come back day-after-day, to investigate the bones until the smell wears-off.

Other animals like rhinos, Western scrub jays, chimpanzees and giraffes may not hold grudges, but they have been observed “mourning” their dead. Research shows that rhinos and scrub jays converge around their dead comrades and issue vocalizations that sound different to their normal communication – similar to the sounds humans make when crying. Giraffes have been spotted waiting for their dead calves to get up for hours, even days on end. One of homo sapiens‘ closest relatives – chimpanzees – carry their dead offspring with them for days. Chimps have been noticed tenderly grooming their dead, arranging their fur, posturing their limbs and swatting away insects and predators, keeping the corpses safe for days.

Crying and tears have been observed during some of these cases, but not all. Therefore, there is neither clarity nor validity as to whether animals can feel emotion, can cry or can really mourn (according to our definition of these, at least).

In the scientific community, there is a huge rift between the two groups who study the phenomenon of emotional responses, mourning and crying in animals – one group that truly believes that animals can feel and the other group that believes that humans anthropomorphize animals (attribute human emotions to inanimate objects or natural phenomenon) . The debates and the fights for academic supremacy are endless. Currently, there is enough evidence to support both claims –

  • Animals can really feel.

  • Animals can’t really feel – we only think so, because we anthropomorphize them.

Unfortunately, this creates more problems when trying to understand this phenomenon. Additionally, the concern of possible anthropomorphism often scares researchers and scientists from conducting further studies; at the (assumed) risk of discrediting their other discoveries/research. You see, in the scientific community, one of the worst things a scientist can be accused of is anthropomorphism.

So, until we have more evidence, we cannot make definitive calls regarding the emotional capacity or “crying” ability of non-human animals.

 

NISHA PRAKASH

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The Truth About Sharks and Their Sleep

“Do sharks sleep?”

This is a question that many-a-curious-George has asked him/herself for years. But the answer, unfortunately, remains elusive.

For long, science has told us that sharks need to constantly swim to stay alive. Stop swimming and they die. Unfortunately, sharks and their sleeping habits are one of the least-studied aspects of marine biology. Add to this the immense behavioural diversity that each of the 400 species of shark in the world exhibit and you have yourself a recipe for confusion.

A breath of truth

There are basically two categories of sharks you need to consider when studying shark sleeping behaviours:

  • Sharks that have spiracles
  • Sharks that don’t have spiracles

Spiracles are two small openings located on each side of the shark’s nose, just behind its eyes. They are actually a type of gill-slit that are designed to let water pass through the shark’s body when the shark is resting on the ocean floor. These spiracles work even when the shark is covered in sand. Only certain forms of bottom-dwelling sharks like rays, nurse sharks, wobbegong/carpet sharks and skates have spiracles.

When a shark has spiracles, it can easily rest on the floor without having to worry about breathing. The spiracles push the water into the shark’s body and enable the processing of oxygen. So, instead of being forced to be on-the-move always, sharks with spiracles can rest on the ocean floor and do what they do best, ambush their prey.

A shark’s spiracle (Image source)

So, what about sharks without spiracles?

See, this is where things get really tricky. Scans of “sleeping” sharks indicate that while the brains are inactive and unconscious, the rest of the shark is active and working. Just like in many other animals, it’s the spinal cord that is responsible for the swimming motion in sharks. Research shows that the synapses and neurons in a shark’s spinal cord are always active and always engaged in exchange of neural information, irrespective of what the rest of the body does.

What this means is that, the parts of the shark’s body responsible for swimming never stop working, even if the rest of the shark is asleep. So, the question of sleep & breathing doesn’t arise here, since sharks without spiracles don’t engage in what we humans traditionally term as “sleep”. Their brains remain unconscious, while their bodies continue to move.

But do sharks really sleep?

This still doesn’t answer the basic question – spiracle or no spiracle, do sharks actually sleep?

The answer – not really; at least not according to our description of “sleeping”.

Take a look at any dictionary and you’ll see that “sleep” is defined as an activity where
the mind and the body are suspended of consciousness“, where they “remain inactive until exposed to external stimuli“.

Based on observable evidence, sharks don’t really sleep. Often, bottom dwellers remain stationary, while being completely mentally active, observing the movement of animals swimming past. Irrespective of whether they ambush their prey or not, these sharks remain awake at all times.

Then there are sharks who do exhibit sleep-like behaviours, but don’t fall into deep slumber like we (or other animals) do; continuing to move through the water, always.

Why exactly these sharks remain partially-unconscious or lay so still, is unknown. But one thing is certain; these behaviours definitely aren’t proof of sharks resting or sleeping.

Of course, with the question of sleep, comes the question of dreams. Do sharks dream? The answer – maybe not. Since they don’t engage in traditional sleeping patters, scientists still aren’t certain whether they engage in REM and non-REM cycles; making any question related to dreaming redundant until further evidence is available.

For now, sharks and their sleeping habits remain heavily-shrouded in mystery. Let’s hope the future helps us swim past these cloudy waters towards clearer explanations.

-NISHA PRAKASH

(P.S: Featured image)

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Can Chicken Swim?

Have you ever seen that Friends episode where Joey and Chandler try to get their little chick to swim in the bathtub? And we all know how that ended – as expected, the chick began to drown and had to be saved. 

So, does this mean that chicken can’t swim?

As it turns out, technically they can, although they aren’t built to do so. 

Ducks, the natural comparison for chicken when it comes to swimming-related affairs, have: 

  • Webbed feet designed to create powerful strokes in the water.
  • Oily, water-proof feathers that don’t get wet.
  • Natural body-dynamics that help them stay upright in the water.

These are features that chicken don’t have. That’s what makes them so bad at swimming.  But this doesn’t mean that chicken can’t swim.

Experiments have shown that if the situations necessitated it (for example, during an attack from a predator or the lack of a road) and the conditions were right, chicken will not only attempt to swim to safety, but will swim successfully and not drown. 

Chicken can swim relatively well, although their strokes may not be as powerful as a duck’s because of the lack of webbed feet. If the water is shallow and the chicken are able to find a footing in the water without going under, a short swim won’t be fatal. 

Of course, their non-water-proof feathers will drag them down into the water in a minute or two and if they turn upside down when this happens, they are most-likely not going to be able to turn upright by themselves. Unless of course, something like a rock or tree bark or a step is there to help the chicken find their footing and land on their feet. 

So, to encapsulate: Chickens can swim, but they aren’t biologically designed to do so. Give a chicken a choice between a rocky road and a smooth stream, it will always choose the road. 

On this note, I sincerely request all of you to not try any swimming-related experiments or shenanigans on chicken. They are vulnerable creatures and deserve our love and respect. If you do see a chicken drowning, be sure to yank it out of the water or throw in a large stone or branch near it, so it can use it to get back out.

-NISHA PRAKASH