A Darwinian Lesson
~ Samantha Lewis
This week involves a little schooling. Yes…I can just hear the front door closing and computers being clicked over to Facebook, Twitter, or anything that is hosting a ‘world’s dumbest’ something or other. People sitting in from of their screens will say: What do I need this for? Well… you can never get too much education (and sarcastic humor) during your lifetime.
Here are two words; ecology, a noun: (1) The branch of biology that tells of the relations of organisms to each other and their surroundings; (2) The political movement that seeks to protect the environment, especially from pollution. (I know, I know…a political movement is a bit difficult to swallow seeing as that anyone in politics barely moves out of their own chair lately. So we’ll skip this particular definition for the lesson.)
Next: ethology, also a noun: The science of animal behavior. (And before you ask, yes, this can also be studied at a bar on a Saturday evening. Note: It is during football playoff season where you can really see exactly how animals behave.)
The point is, the above words are actually far different in meaning. Ecology, when speaking about the relationship between organisms and their surrounding environments, comes from the well-known ideas of Mr. Charles Darwin. This naturalist and geologist believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that all of life’s species descended over time from the same ancestors, offering up the theory that evolution resulted from what he called “natural selection.”
When moving on to ethology, this is the inner study – the downright facts – of why animals actually behave the way they do. For example, a dog that is wagging his/her tail being an illustration of some sort of behavior. When dog sees beloved companion coming, it stands still, looks at the individual, and begins to wag his tail. Why does this happen? As a greeting, of course. The dog is happy. But then, as the dog matures, the tail wagging occurs for many things – the companion, a friendly face, or a nice big steak. The tail wag is to tell the human that they won’t be devoured, they are loved, and also helps the dog survive.
We’re told that dogs get the tail wagging because wolves also wagged their tails. (An ancestor; hence, ecology.) But for each species – even though related – the trait can and will be used differently. When a wolf wags its tail they are probably on the hunt for food, and when they spot their prey they are calling the other pack members to help chase the prey down. Yes, still friendly. However, if a person decides to walk up and pat the wolf on the head…that would be a major mistake.
Various species carry the same traits, but do not use those traits the same. Putting that in an even easier to understand manner: The wolf will call out to the pack with a howl. That howl will denote various things to the ‘family.’ A dog will howl and it can mean anything from “Welcome Home” to “Back off, that’s my fire hydrant.” And, yes, a person sitting at the bar watching that Super Bowl in say…Seattle, looks up and sees an interception that wins the Patriots the game, and will use their howl to mean something else.
When it comes to the howl of the wolf, leave them alone and let them live in peace. When it comes to the dog, throw them a treat. When it comes to the Man, roll your eyes and watch out for a bowl of flying pretzels that could actually do more damage than the wolf in some respects. Especially if it’s thrown by a Seahawks fan.
Do we all stem from the same place? Sure looks that way. But this lesson, friends, shows you the difference between two in-depth theories and most definitely allows you to see when to pat a species on the head with its tail wagging…or simply move on and go about your business.
Don’t you just love science?