MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: Are there some animals or birds that do NOT live in communities?

Date: Fri Aug 6 12:03:43 2010
Posted By: dave armstrong, Faculty, Biology, Cedars Tutoring, Qatar
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 1280831098.Zo

Dear Sir/Madam!

Birds are of course animals as part of the Vertebrate (Chordate) group. Solitary is the word we use to distinguish animals that come together for mating and then tend to do their own thing. They would hunt, for example, in a small group while young if any degree of socialisation was developed.

You need to appreciate that many animals have to live alone to avoid competition. While predation often makes herbivores stick together, it seems that competition could make organisms avoid community. To start with the bird class you want to know about, consider the eagles and other large predators. Only rarely do some hawks (Harris hawks in US, I believe) “club together" in small groups. The norm is the isolated specimen, only mating bringing two together once a year. Birds are unusual in that their habits seem to cause flocking in most of the species we see.

The rest of the animal classes give us individual fish, similar to predatory birds. Pike are a British example, but knowing your origins would help to point out examples you may be familiar with. Moving to Amphibia, most seem only to come together in the mating season, while Reptiles similarly form very few groupings, except when food sources are localised or temperature hot-spots clump them together for warmth.

Invertebrate animals are varied, with social insects forming perhaps our greatest bonds in nature. Dragonflies, in the same group, can hardly be more different with large territories over which they rule alone. Simple invertebrates often swim together as currents sweep them along or build skeletal formations in the case of corals.

There remain Mammals. Perhaps you mean to concentrate on the most advanced group, so I will take the Order Carnivora as a type. They are well developed Mammals, with all of the group’s advanced features, but comparing the closely related dog and bear, we see an immediate adaptation to prey. While many cats and bears are individuals (consider the Polar bear), wild dogs are among the more social animals with complex hierarchy. Elephants and other herbivores have similar social groups, but if we glance at the early and simplest Mammals, many are individuals. Shrews and hedgehogs have hardly advanced from the Reptilian situation. Then the Platypus, Echidna and many marsupials show primarily individual behaviour.

We have developed our ideas in most of our minds from knowledge of our closest relatives, the other Primates. This order of Mammals almost always live in large groups, including ourselves. We therefore see individual living systems as unusual and incorrect in some way.

Instead of giving you references, can I simply commend you to a study of your favourite groups. The joy of zoology lies in the discovery of novel life styles in an animal you thought would be different. Even a passing butterfly could bring excitement when you realise it’s caterpillar was carnivorous!

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