Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Before I forget

I was in bed, nearly-asleep, in that bare sliver of consciousness before sleep that is little more than a hallucinatory theatre, when a strange idea flung itself on stage.

I've been thinking about animal behaviors, especially as it relates to play. I've read a few books on this, and was working on a smashing post which I will never, ever finish on the very subject.

I was thinking about a turtle I once had. I don't recall ever seeing it engage in play-behavior.

None of my experiences with reptiles/amphibians ever yielded any strong impression of behavior that even appeared to be play.

Some very quick and cursory Googling showed that the topic has been bandied about.

Perhaps some human apprehension toward reptiles/amphibians stems from lack of recognizable patterns.

Maybe they do play, but the behaviors are so distant from our own experience that we don't recognize them.

Riffing on this topic, I made a few very rough explanations:

1. Cold-blooded animals must conserve energy more than mammals/birds. They cannot afford to engage in seemingly-superfluous behaviors.

2. Reptiles/Amphibians do not commonly form social structures or engage in nurture behavior. The ones that do (alligators, I believe, may spend time with their young) often nest in isolated areas only now being monitored by researchers.

3. Brain structure? Not geared toward pattern-recognition or memory.

4. Aforementioned unrecognizable play structures.

Anybody have any knowledge on this topic?

1 comment:

Chris said...

Anecdotally, an iguana we owned had a very subtle sense of humor or play. His jokes were...hard to discern:

- he would sit among my wife's collectibles on a shelf, perfectly still, acting like one of them (rather than moving between the bed and windowsill and sunning himself),
- he would perch on top of my laptop cover, hanging-on by his front feet, staring at me,
- and he would wait until we brought home turkey sandwiches and then rush out, grab a huge mouthful, and run off as if he were being chased.

I'm sure there are other things he did that would qualify, though my wife would be more likely to remember them. I'd argue that what makes a play structure is something that looks like non-essential behavior, or behavior related to survival in absence of the stimulus (i.e., a dog running around in the backyard for the joy of running, or a cat attacking your feet through the gaps in basement stairs).

Admittedly, an iguana is also a lot more intelligent and thoughtful than, say, an anole or armadillo lizard (which really isn't saying very much). I never spent a lot of time around savannah monitors, chuckwallas, or uromastyx to see if they played any kind of game or engaged in any non-essential behavior, and from what I've seen, snakes don't do that either.