What else helps the weak?
October 7, 2011 2:08 PM   Subscribe

I sometimes hear people say "Humans are the only species that save the weak." Can you list some other lifeforms that do nurse the sick, help the disabled, etc., of their own kind?
posted by zephyr_words to Science & Nature (24 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I've read about wolves bringing food to sick, injured or elderly pack members, but my Google-fu is failing me, so I can't link to any evidence.
posted by BinaryApe at 2:13 PM on October 7, 2011

Elephants and meerkats.

Related Straight Dope forum.
posted by lunalaguna at 2:13 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Dog saves dog.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:14 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Koi have been seen helping sick koi to get to oxygen sources, and leaning against the sick ones so they don't flip upside down.
posted by d13t_p3ps1 at 2:18 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would think herding behavior is a way of saving the weak.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:23 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Vampire bats.
posted by justkevin at 2:27 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Dolphins will try to lift a sick dolphin up to the surface to breathe. It's theorized that this is why dolphins are known to help drowning humans: they recognize the problem from their own behavior, and since they are basically equipped with ultrasound machines they can see that we have lungs, like they do, and they figure out that we need to breathe. Dolphins have also been known to protect their ill members, as well as members of other species, from threats. Some species stick together in matrilineal bands and there's this one trio of dolphins where the father died and now the sons will never leave the aged mother alone: one guards the mother while the other forages for food. There's another story about these three brother dolphins who lost their parents and are now inseparable, which looks to me like some sort of nurturing-weakness behavior, but, you know, I favorited Nattie's comment about feeling bad for ignoring the Furby for a reason. Although I might have read some of these stories on one of those weird hippie dolphin websites so they might not be true (I googled "has anyone ever given a dolphin LSD?" last week and ended up on a lot of weird pages).

I think it's also hard to distinguish any social behavior from altruistic behavior. If a bees huddle for warmth, or some bees use their wings to circulate air and cool a colony (bees do this), is this just a bee playing its part in the role of the superorganism? Or is it a bee helping protect bees that would otherwise be weakened by a threat? What about a bee that gathers food that will be fed to larval bees? It seems like once you have social behavior in animals, the notions of individuals vs. the super-organism becomes unclear and so it would be hard to say if the various ants that protect the immobile queen are helping a weak insect vs. performing their roles.
posted by jeb at 2:36 PM on October 7, 2011 [20 favorites]

How about this incredible old video of a herd of water buffalo standing up to the lions?
posted by richyoung at 2:36 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Some animals seem to help weaker nonspecifics, too -- here's an orangutan apparently rescuing a bird, and I know I've seen similar videos where different primates do the same thing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8yl2pR1EIM
posted by foursentences at 2:45 PM on October 7, 2011

Best answer: I sometimes hear people say "Humans are the only species that save the weak."

Almost forgot - J. Frank Dobie has a good rejoinder to this in The Voice of the Coyote:

"The fang and claw conception of life in the wild has been overemphasized by a society devoted to propagating the philosophy of greed under the guise of free enterprise."

He goes on to cite a number of examples of animal altruism given by Kropotkin in Mutual Aid.

posted by ryanshepard at 2:46 PM on October 7, 2011 [14 favorites]

Let's look at it with a larger view: every time parents raise a child they are saving the weak. Every time a cat rears kittens, a dog nurses puppies, a bird feeds a fledgling.
posted by Mo Nickels at 3:01 PM on October 7, 2011

Wolves. Unfortunately, that's on a dvd I watched. One particularly heartwarming story was a male wolf from another pack (or a lone wolf) partnering with a female wolf to raise her pups together. That female's mate had died, and he'd become the pups' foster father.
posted by TrinsicWS at 3:01 PM on October 7, 2011

Battle at Kruger.
posted by tra at 3:06 PM on October 7, 2011

Just the other day, I saw my 35lb little dog snarl and jump on a 60lb German Shepherd, because the German Shepherd was playing too rough with my other dog, a tiny terrier.
posted by Ashley801 at 3:06 PM on October 7, 2011

Rats will clean and groom and share food with other rats who are old, sick, weak or dying.
posted by The otter lady at 3:20 PM on October 7, 2011

This week's Time Magazine has a story about parental favoritism and they cite examples of birds who favor the eldest born, but they also mention a type of bird who makes sure to spread out resources and protection, weighed especially to protect and nurture the youngest and the weakest of the offspring. I read the article today in a waiting room and I cannot for the life of me remember the kind of bird, and I can't find the text of the article "Playing Favorites: Why Mom Likes You (or One of Your Siblings) Best
By Jeffrey Kluger " online. But it shouldn't be hard to find if you're interested.
posted by lemniskate at 4:09 PM on October 7, 2011

I would think herding behavior is a way of saving the weak.

Or a way to always have a sick guy around to get between you and the chaps with the sharp teeth. Or maybe to have enough of you to run in different directions to confuse them.
posted by biffa at 4:18 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

As a kid, I witnessed a dog come to the aid of another dog that had just been hit by a car. I also understand that chimps are very good about taking care of anyone in their clan that can't fend for themselves.
posted by Gilbert at 5:21 PM on October 7, 2011

Best answer: We had a dog when I was a kid, who helped us raise a puppy. When the dog got old and blind and deaf, the puppy (now an adult), took care of his elderly friend, taking him outside when it was time, and bringing him in from the back yard for dinner.
posted by MuChao at 9:33 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would think herding behavior is a way of saving the weak.

No. Its a way of preserving the species as a whole, not individual members.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:38 AM on October 8, 2011

Response by poster: Interesting answers; thanks everyone. I am thinking similarly to jeb as far as the social behavior vs actual help in some cases. To me, the underlying behavior of dolphins swimming under sick dolphins and carrying them to the surface for air seems much different than a meerkat standing guard.
posted by zephyr_words at 6:20 AM on October 8, 2011

« Older nyc is my playground   |   Iphone: contract or no? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.