Bad habits in the Wild Kingdom

Smoking, drinking, marshmallow eating…

Are there any other species outside of humans (and possibly, domesticated dogs) that have developed behaviors that are “bad for’em” but they persist in exhibiting such?

Is there an equivalent to imbibing in alcohol (or whatever gets their neurons off) on a habitual level amongst other members of the wild kingdom. I don’t mean those occasional incidents where some birds, or worse, elephants, have a fermented-berries-still-on-the-trees hoe-down, because those occurrences seem accidental.

I’ve spent enough bad habit time in parking lots observing to be firmly convinced that critters outside the highly domesticated (cats and dogs) do, in fact, fart around and play, etc. I’m thinking mainly of birds. I know little of the hinterlands’ creatures.

So, do other critters have developed bad habits amongst some of their crew?

I’ve read somewhere that horses’ll eat apples until it makes them sick. It’s entirely possible that it was a fictional work, though, because I cannot recall where I read that.

Elephants are known to travel to certain areas when a particular fruit is ripe.

Unfortunately it can foment inside the aminal and make it drunk, there is speculation as to wether this is deliberate inebriation. A large drunken animal like that must surely be a hazard to itself, just think of the hangover too !

Maybe thats why they sell Elephant beer over here.

Doorman sees elephant trying to get into a nightclub so he throws the elephant out.

Ten minutes later the same elephant tries again but he’s wearing sunglasses and gets in.

When the doorman is quetioned about this he says “But I didn’t recognise him”

Lesse…plenty of animals (Elephants for one) will attempt to engage in incest…usually it is the male trying to initiate with a sister.

Male lions will murder the cubs of their rivals.

Chimpanzees engage in “domestic” violence or whatever the ape equivilent is…assault each other, band together and wage war on other “tribes”.

Plenty of animals (sea lions) engage in rape…

Then of course their are the lemmings jumping off cliffs.

And that bluebottle buzzing round … it has got to die <Swipe , Swish,>

That whole Lemmings and suicide story is a myth propogated by Disney.

I couldn’t find it on, but this month’s issue of Discover had a small piece that mentioned there’s now a hypothesis that elephants and other animals search out fermenting fruit on purpose. The fruit is an abundant source of calories, and the alcohol doesn’t do them harm - it may actually do them good, if you take in mind the fact that researchers are now claiming that moderate intake of alcohol can lower your chance of heart disease.

Actually, I believe that any mammal will do this. I read a while ago (no cite, sorry) that man was an exception in that he won’t ordinarily engage in incest (redneck jokes aside). I have two cats who are littermates, and I knew when the time to get them fixed had come when I saw brother on top of sis.

My impression (with all the dogs I’ve known) is that they will overeat to a point that is unhealthy for them. Actually, I imagine most animals would do that if given the opportunity.

Except for the last, aren’t all of these types of behavior are good habits, from a natural selection standpoint? I had heard that by killing the cubs of their rivals (“murdering” seems to be a rather anthropomorphic description), a dominant male lion will cause the lionesses to go into heat and thereby increase the chance that he will be able to ensure the survival of his own genes. The same principle should apply to “rape” among sea lions and other animals (though again, that seems a rather anthropomorphic description of this behavior).

Just because some kind of behavior makes humans cringe, doesn’t mean it’s an an aberration. That’s why they call them animals, right?

And as for the lemmings, hasn’t that story been debunked by now?


Speaking of dogs stuffing themselves until they’re sick, horses will also do this with both grain (corn, oats, etc.) and also those Purina Horse Chow type of pellet foods. The difference is that horses can’t vomit, so anything a horse ingests stays down there, being digested whether the horse likes it or not, and causes icky and sometimes life-threatening conditions like colic and founder (laminitis).

The OP wasn’t clear whether you’re talking about animals in wild, natural conditions or not. Naturally, horses don’t normally have unlimited access to either large amounts of cracked corn, rolled oats, or Purina Horse Chow. Horses’ teeth can’t chew plain uncracked seeds like shelled corn and regular oats very well, so they usually just shoot right through undigested (wasted grain is the bane of every horse manager’s existence), and so the horse doesn’t get sick. But nothing in their evolution enabled them to cope with quick protein overdoses in the form of horse chow.

But I have yet to see a horse stuffing its face with horse chow while simultaneously moaning, “I know I shouldn’t be doing this…” I think homo sapiens has a lock on that.

And speaking of animal incest, here’s a true anecdote from one of those “My Life as a Vet” books:

The lady brings her cat in to see why it’s moping around, and the vet says, “Well, other than the fact that she’s pregnant, she’s fine.” The lady says, “Oh, no, she can’t be pregnant, she never leaves the apartment.”

“Well, she must have gotten out at some point, because she’s definitely pregnant.”

“Oh, no.” The lady is adamant. The cat never goes outside.

“Well, do you have any other cats?”
“Well, yes, there’s Tigger.”
“Well, is he a boy or a girl?”
“Oh, he’s a boy.”
“And has he been altered?”
“Well, then…” the vet says meaningfully.
The lady is appalled. “Oh, no, Tigger would NEVER do such a thing! Why, he’s her BROTHER!”

This is bad behavior from my point of view, but maybe there’s a sensible reason.

Our dog, and everyone else’s dog too, I’ve heard, loves to roll around in dead things. A friend said her dog was in heaven when the crew cleaning her septic tank left a little spill.

You wouldn’t catch a cat doing this.

Assuming this is a throwback to their hunting days, does the stench help conceal them – throw predators off the track?

Or are they marking the dead thing with their own scent, to show other dogs that this is their kill and they’d better leave it alone.

We’ve been talking about this at work all week. A search of Cecil’s Columns and Mailbag came up empty. You guys seem to know your animal behavior – what do you think?

I’m not a professional biologist, so I can’t answer in any specific detail. However, some general points seem obvious.

The existence in the wild of both individual animals and species is usually quite precarious. There is little or no room for “bad habits”, if you define them as behaviors that negatively affect the individual’s or species’ survivability, to persist for any length of time.

It is also generally incorrect to anthropomorphize an animal’s neural functioning. Even in a non-natural environment, it’s really not correct to believe that an animal can think to itself, “I really ought not to, but…” much less to determine whether it does.

No kidding. Back to quantum electrodynamics with you, Dick! :wink:

Though actually, didn’t you spend some time studying biology? Maybe we should accord you honorary biologist status.

Actually I have never even studied physics, at least not formally. One hardly needs to point that the real Richard P. Feynman passed away some years ago.

Sure. You would say that. Look for the Hiesenburg dueling scar. That’s the tipoff.

As to the question, cool! Uncle Darwin would probably say that selection puts a definite limit on “bad habits”. A good habit is one that promotes survival and/or reproduction, a bad one leads to extinction. Period.

The human species, for good and ill, is unnatural. We live not in harmony with nature but by skullduggery and warping things to fit our needs. If any evil lurks in our genes <snicker>, it surfaces only because we can get away with it. Alcholics, schizophrenics, homosexuals, hippies and Republicans (and divers other degenerates) survive and reproduce, with varing degress of success and/or enthusiasm.

Same with dogs. IIRC, they are in fact one species, variegated by human intervention into a blithering array of differences. I think being a chihuahua (sp?) is a bad habit in this sense, as theres no chance a chi. would survive in the wild. I think I’ve made my point. I’ll shut up anyway.

Auntie Pam, I don’t think anyone can really know why a dog does anything until we figure out some way to ask a dog! But, the assumption I’ve heard from most behaviorists is that this is an instinctual hunting behavior - the dogs roll in something smelly-but-harmless-smelling to disguise their own scent so that they can more easily approach prey.

Browsing animals like horses will occasionally get into a patch of locoweed, but I don’t know if they deliberately seek it out. On a similar note, I’ve heard that catnip causes a reaction best described as “stoned” in cats, and they definitely do seek it out, if it’s there to be had.