Animal behavior explored in engaging book
Those are just a few of the behaviors in "Bats Sing, Mice Giggle: The Surprising Science of Animals' Inner Lives" ($13), now in paperback. Karen Shanor co-authored the book with Jagmeet Kanwal.
Animal life is a fascinating world for even the remotely curious. For me, behaviors are more interesting than simple facts of the weight of a rat or how many acorn woodpeckers are in a particular ecosystem.
The authors have doctoral degrees yet succeed in bringing the latest discoveries or interpretations to readers in an engaging way that invites page-turning to find the next behavioral surprise.
Neuroethologist Kanwal's research has indicated that some sounds not only send danger signals but also have an emotional impact that translates into behaviors. Although the behaviors are usually species specific, there are some brain processes and behavioral traits that are shared with humans.
Shanor is a clinical neuropsychologist, author of several books, consultant to corporations, and shares insights with viewers on CNN and elsewhere. She found herself compelled to join Kanwal in writing the book after hearing him at a seminar on the emotional brain and bats.
"He had just found out that bats giggle. The audience was sitting on the edge of their seats as they watched a mother bat cradling and hugging her baby, two bats squabbling, and one male who was mad and swatted (another) off the perch," Shanor said.
Animals, and that includes humans, express anger, grief, joy and fear as well as stress, the last a new topic in the paperback edition. Some animals have mechanisms to destress that humans could do well to remember, she said, such as taking naps or going off by themselves.
It would behoove us to pay attention: Sleep deprived rats and flies die more quickly than those deprived of food. Our best sleep comes in a dark room and a comfortable mattress.
The parrot fish, however, in preparation for sleep, spews out slimy mucous from a gland in its head and wraps itself in a mucus envelope. The slippery cocoon forms in 30 to 60 minutes and hides the fish from view.
Humans eavesdrop, and so do frogs and toads. The females listen in on male-male interaction and use the information to make mating decisions.
Humans are the quintessential imitators. Animals have mirror neurons to enable them to learn specific behaviors. Children use these cells to learn behaviors from adults and how to function in the world.
Sanor's then-puppy, an Italian mountain dog, intently watched the family's 14-year-old Belgian/German shepherd and was housebroken in two days, she said.
But why is it important that our children are taught about natural science and the animals around them?
If for no other reason, it's "to help them see what's really going on around us," Shanor said. "The main thing is to have a sense of wonder and awareness."
Shanor, once a science teacher in Somalia for the Peace Corps, knows that science doesn't have to be boring.
"It's how it's presented."
Parents can be a huge factor.
"Buy something for children that gives them a sense of confidence and a sense of awe that they can participate in nature in some way. We always need to inspire them and have a vision," Shanor said.
"Today, people are really excited, almost starved to be uplifted in some ways. Inspire. Be inspired."
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 350-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.
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