scary squirrel world SCIENCE IN ACTION: ALTRUISM IN SQUIRRELS

Patriots, altruism is a well-documented animal behaviour, which appears most obviously in kin relationships but may also be evident amongst wider social groups, in which an animal sacrifices its own well-being for the benefit of another animal.

Additionally, some animals engage in cross-species altruistic behavior even though there is no obvious gain. The altruistic act may even endanger the deed-doer, it's offspring, or others of its kind. For all intensive purposes, it appears that the animal providing assistance is simply being nice.

Much to the distress of many Patriots, some of Our Pals in the Animal Kingdom will provide aid and comfort to a member of the bushytail horde for no apparent reason.

For those who don't know, Our Pals in the Animal Kingdom are the animals that help us keep the slavering nutzys from obtaining squirrel world domination. Hawks, bears, snakes, etc. are some well-known examples. However, every now and then one of Our Pals aids a skwerl in what can only be described as an altruistic act.

We've reported on this deviant behavior on more than one occasion, but seeing is believing. Here are two videos for your consideration. On the left, a fairly recent report of a mother cat adopting a baby squirrel, and on the right a video from the archive in which a mother dog nurses a maniacal chitterbox...

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In our prior reports, we always wondered what would possess a dog, cat, or any other animal to help the bushytail horde. And we always concluded that the animal was deranged, cognitively impaired, and/or possessed by the skwerl(s).

In any event, if animals in general can exhibit altruistic behavior, are skwerls capable of altruism as well?

The answer to that question was answered recently in a study of the North American red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). The study, "Adopting kin enhances inclusive fitness in asocial red squirrels", was published online in the June 2010 edition of the Nature Communications Journal (see link below).

"Asocial" is putting it mildly. Tamiasciurus hudsonicus is one of the foulest skwerls on the planet. Behind a facade of fuzzy cuteness is a nutzy so mean it doesn't even like itself. Take a look at the photo borrowed from the study below. Awwwwwwww, soooooooo cute, eh? Now, click on it for a video of what this nutzy rouge does with 99% of the rest its waking hours:

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So did the researchers observe altrusitic behavior in their subjects? The study's abstract provides the answer:

Orphaned animals benefit from being adopted, but it is unclear why an adopting parent should incur the costs of rearing extra young. Such altruistic parental behaviour could be favoured if it is directed towards kin and the inclusive benefits of adoption exceed the costs. Here, we report the occurrence of adoption (five occurrences among 2,230 litters over 19 years) in asocial red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). Adoptions were always between kin, while orphans without nearby kin were never adopted. Adoptions were confined exclusively to circumstances in which the benefits to the adopted juvenile (b), discounted by the degree of relatedness between the surrogate and the orphan (r), exceeded the fitness costs of adding an extra juvenile to her litter (c), as predicted by Hamilton's rule (rb›c) for the evolution of altruism. By focusing on adoption in an asocial species, our study provides a clear test of Hamilton's rule that explains the persistence of occasional altruism in a natural mammal population. Source: Gorrell, J.C. et al. Adopting kin enhances inclusive fitness in asocial red squirrels. Nat. Commun. 1:22 doi: 10.1038/ncomms1022 (2010).

Ok, even a maniacal bushytail like Tamiasciurus hudsonicus can do a good deed now and then (albeit amongst close kin - those not so lucky probably got eaten).

This all begs the question: can science figure out a way to exploit altruism in squirrels? Specifically, can we turn the drooling chitterboxes away from squirrel world domination and get them to labor for the good of humankind instead? And we're not talking about some water-skiing nutzy either...

Patriots, the questions above remain unanswered for now. But before you start handing out copies of Altruism for Dummies to the bushytail horde, watch and consider the prophetic vision of disaster presented to you below.

See Veruca Salt hurled into a fiery furnance by altruistic skwerls

RELATED SITES/TOPICS
ARE SQUIRRELS NICE?
WHAT ARE SKWERLS GOOD FOR?
ARE DEAD SKWERLS FUN?
THE ROUGH GUIDE TO A BETTER WORLD


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