Liberal Arts Blog — Sex and Survival (Part II): Display and Camouflage
Liberal Arts Blog — Wednesday is the Joy of Science, Engineering, and Technology Day
Today’s Topic — Sex and Survival (Part II): Display and Camouflage
Animal behavior is, more or less, all about sex and survival. Last time, nyctinastic, deimatic, and aposematic behavior. If you don’t remember what these absolutely wonderful words mean, please review last week’s post. Remember — continuity is key to depth of thought. The gist: aposematic behavior is about using bright colors to ward off predators. But, of course, bright colors can also be used to attract mates. On the other hand, some species are more into camouflage than display. Which species do you identify with most? Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
COURTSHIP DISPLAY — favorite example?
1. Above is the male peacock spider — maratus volans. Looks quite patriotic don’t you think?
2. The birds of paradise of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and eastern Australia are particularly vain and particularly creative about it. Do not under any circumstances miss the the first link below. A video narrated by the incomparable David Attenborough.
3. Courtship display can involve “ritualized movement (“dances”), vocalizations, mechanical sound production, or displays of beauty, strength, or agonistic ability.”
NB: Display can be a male thing, a female thing, or a mutual thing.
CAMOUFLAGE: “Deception is the essence of war.” (Sun Tzu) Tactics vary widely. From owls to butterflies to carpet sharks to moths to the orchid mantis to the reef stone fish to catydids, the mimic octopus (not discovered until 1998), the chameleon, the right-eyed flounder, and the leaf-tail gecko (below)
1. “Animals with fur rely on different camouflage tactics than those with feathers or scales, for instance. Feathers and scales can be shed and changed fairly regularly and quickly. Fur, on the other hand, can take weeks or even months to grow in. Animals with fur are more often camouflaged by season. The arctic fox, for example, has a white coat in the winter, while its summer coat is brown.”
2.“The behavior of a species is also important. Animals that live in groups differ from those that are solitary. The stripes on a zebra, for instance, make it stand out. However, zebras are social animals, meaning they live and migrate in large groups called herds. When clustered together, it is nearly impossible to tell one zebra from another, making it difficult for predators such as lions to stalk an individual animal.”
3. “A species’ camouflage is also influenced by the behavior or characteristics of its predators. If the predator is color-blind, for example, the prey species will not need to match the color of its surroundings. Lions, the main predator of zebras, are color-blind. Zebras’ black-and-white camouflage does not need to blend in to their habitat, the golden savanna of central Africa.”
NB: “Background matching is perhaps the most common camouflage tactic. In background matching, a species conceals itself by resembling its surroundings in coloration, form, or movement. In its simplest form, animals such as deer and squirrels resemble the “earth tones” of their surroundings. Fish such as flounder almost exactly match their speckled seafloor habitats. More complex forms of background matching include the camouflage of the walking stick and walking leaf. These two insects, both native to southeast Asia, look and act like their namesakes. Patterns on the edge of the walking leaf’s body resemble bite marks left by caterpillars in leaves. The insect even sways from side to side as it walks, to better mimic the swaying of a leaf in the breeze.” Do not, under any circumstances miss the fourth link below.
PEAFOWL — peacocks, peahens, Charles Darwin, Amotz Zahavi, the “handicap principle” and Veblen’s “conspicuous consumption”
1. Clearly, a peacock’s gorgeous plumage is a severe handicap in flight.
2. Building on the insights of Charles Darwin, Israeli biologist Amotz Zahavi has “proposed in his handicap theory that these features acted as honest signals of the males’ fitness, since less-fit males would be disadvantaged by the difficulty of surviving with such large and conspicuous structures.”
3.“The central idea is that sexually selected traits function like conspicuous consumption: signaling the ability to afford to squander a resource. Receivers then know that the signal indicates quality, because inferior quality signallers are unable to produce such wastefully extravagant signals.”
NB: Human examples of the handicap principle could include: bungee jumping, the potlatch ceremony of the nootka of the Pacific Northwest, luxury cars such as the Rolls Royce or Porsche, or for that matter, Gucci and Hermes handbags.
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#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, 11/17/20PDF with headlines — Google Drive
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