Which Strategy Do You Prefer?
Last week I was wandering around downtown, and I came across an interesting situation. There was a vending machine and next to the vending machine was a trash can overflowing with vending machine food and wrappers. On top of the machine was a crow, and next to the trashcan was a black cat.
I decided to approach slowly, to see which would run away first. I was surprised at what happened.
I was reading this interesting article about crows the other day. Not really an article, more like a section of a book that was about biology, and evolution, and sexual selection. It was talking about how crows are one of the more timid birds out there.
This seems to be completely false, if you’ve ever come across a crow picking through your garbage, as they can be pretty resourceful scavengers, and when they find a decent hidden cache of food, they tend to want to protect it.
But in normal, everyday life, when they’re just hanging out, they’re pretty easy to startle. This book was saying that one way to measure the aggressiveness in any animal is the proportion between the weight of the male’s testicles and the males body weight.
Some animals are surprisingly timid. Silverback gorillas, for example, have pretty small testicles compared to its body size. Now most people will tell you that silverback gorillas are pretty aggressive, and you should probably steer clear of one should you happen to run across one at the supermarket. And if you know anything about those people that went to live among them for a while in the wild, then you know that you’re supposed to never, ever make eye contact with them, or else you’ll get a severe thrashing.
However, when you consider the size difference, then they turn out to be not so tough after all. People are much smaller than silverback gorillas, and from a silverback gorilla’s standpoint, beating up even the toughest, meanest cage fighter would be a walk in the park. It would be like some middle-aged out shape blogger trying to feel powerful by kicking somebody’s poodle.
Which is why you’ll never, ever see two silverback gorillas in the same place, unless they are in the same troop, and one is growing up to replace the older one. (Kind of like in Star Wars, where there is always one Sith Lord, and one apprentice. I wonder that if that correlation was on purpose.)
Many people understand that some silverback gorillas, or mountain gorillas are endangered. The reason for this is had they their druthers, silverbacks would spend their whole lives without running into each other. Because it always leads to a fight to the death.
And since they happen to have a short supply of testosterone, (e.g. their small relative testicle size) their best strategy is to simply avoid confrontation. They’ve developed a system; or rather Mother Nature has developed a system for them, where each troop, with its one silverback, lives far far apart from the next troop. So a population of gorillas needs and extraordinarily large area to survive.
Chimps, on the other hand, have pretty huge testicles for their body weight. And they are always fighting, and going to war with other troops of chimps. One of the main things that male animals fight over (if not the only thing, in some species) is females. Chimps have developed a completely different strategy than the silverbacks.
Instead of living far apart, so they avoid confrontation over who gets the females (if two silverbacks fight, the winner gets all the girls), chimps have developed a completely different strategy. Every male in the troop will mate with every female in the group. They’ve no reason to fight over women, since the women make themselves available to everybody.
While that may sound like a better solution that living seclusion like their silverback cousins, they have one rule that they live by which seems pretty ghastly.
If a chimp is out and about, and he runs across a female he doesn’t recognize (one he hasn’t had sex with) and she has a kid with her, he’ll immediately kill them both. The underlying theory is that in the chimp community, every male assumes that every kid could potentially be his, so they avoid conflict. But when he sees a kid with a female he hasnâ€™t mated with, he knows the kid isn’t his and he kills it.
Judging by the testicle size of humans, we fall someplace in between.
As I got closer to the vending machine, the crow make a “CAW” and took off, while the cat just looked at me, as if she were waiting for me to introduce myself or something. Then she simply went back to scavenging, apparently offended at my rudeness.
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